Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Market, to Market

We slept late this morning to make up for the last two days. We have no more tours scheduled and enjoyed having no elaborate plans. We were even happier to gain an hour’s sleep last night as we moved westward to Helsinki, Finland.

The usual suspects met at the usual place at 10:00 and went in search of a HoHo bus. What we found instead was a shuttle from the ship to the Market area by the harbor. Unlike some HAL shuttles, this one carried a 5 euro tariff for all-day use. We didn’t intend to use it more than once in each direction.

We passed a number of large ferries in port this morning. They all seem to arrive at about the same time in the morning and leave at the same time in the evening. Unlike our vision of ferry boats crossing small rivers or even a bay, these are designed for overnight travel with cabins for passengers as well as room for cars and trucks. They are a favorite form of transit in this part of the world and tourists use them as readily as we use airplanes.

The Market area was really a collection of stalls like a flea market, but it had a prime location. Not only was it on a direct path taken by tourists from both the cruise ships and the ferries, it was across the street from City Hall, the Presidential Palace and Uspensky Cathedral and other government buildings on Senate Square. Several public squares and two cathedrals are close by. It was tushy-to-tushy crowded.

Vendors were selling locally made handicrafts as well as tchotchkes of dubious origin. There were lots of things made from wood and many sellers with handmade knit products. Jewelry stalls were also popular, especially with MA and Roxanne, both of whom made purchases. We think we have now completed all of our shopping except for the commemorative boxes we collect. MA could not find a box she liked here so she bought a crystal block instead. She also found a necklace she liked and Roxanne bought a bracelet.

This was not just a crafts market. Fresh produce, most of it local, was also available. There were blueberries in three sizes, just as we had seen in Kristiansand, except here the salesperson spoke impeccable English. We saw miniature cauliflowers; small potatoes and ears of corn; peas in the pod, and lots of fresh herbs. The aroma of dill was prominent.

There were also at least a half dozen food stalls but everyone was selling pretty much the same food. Little silvery fish which looked like skinny sardines were fried and then kept warm on a large flat-top. One vendor offered one to D who accepted and decided that it tasted like, well, fish. Large calamari rings were on the same griddle as was salmon steaks and salmon cakes. There were rice and veggies, too. It was really local street food but it was too early for lunch.

The skies were bright when we started out but grew darker and darker as the breeze increased. We decided that an early retreat to the ship might be a good idea. We were sure it was going to rain. We caught the shuttle back to the ship, had an early lunch in the MDR and read/napped before trivia.

Ah, trivia! We had not played in several days and were coming off a three-peat, three victories in a row. We do not count the days we don’t play. We were afraid we might be rusty and tired, but we pulled out a close victory by having a perfect paper again. That makes twice we have answered all of the questions correctly. Today’s prize was the travel mug, again. [What are the names of the two moons of Mars? India defeated which European country in a two-day war in 1981? What did Captain Cook called the islands we know as Hawaii]

Tonight was another formal night [tortellini/lamb chops]. Big yawn. We were in bed early again and we gain another hour tonight as we steam to Stockholm for our fifth port day in a row. We really need a day at sea.

Tomorrow – Stockholm, Sweden

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Taking Stock[holm]

The ship did not clear Swedish customs until 9:00 this morning, so we had time to eat a leisurely breakfast in the MDR. We met as usual at 10:00 and disembarked. Practically at the security check-point, we found a HoHo bus and, naturally, hopped on. We discovered that this was a special bus on the yellow route designed to ferry passengers to the city center where could ride the yellow, blue or green routes interchangeably all day. The HoHos were double-decker buses with sliding roofs, but we stayed on the lower level on the yellow line.

We opted to start the tour on the green line and Ed and D climbed to the upper deck so they could see better. The Hard Rock Café was the first stop after we began and we weren’t aware enough to get off to get the traditional shooter glass for MA’s brother Tim, not to mention that it was too early for lunch. Sorry, Tim, but we didn’t go back. The green line went on a north-south axis and, while it was interesting, there was nothing terribly important to us. As we rode through the downtown area, we saw a military band marching down a main street; a V-formation of propeller planes flying overhead; and the same fountain three times. We rode the complete circuit back to our starting point and transferred to the blue line.

The blue line had more to offer in terms of things we remembered. Once again, we saw the same fountain and some of the same streets we had already seen in the city center. Two of the sites we passed had been the scenes of political murders including that of Prime Minister Olaf Palme. We also had a stop at the Nordiska Museum which chronicles Swedish culture; it is next to the Vasa Museum which houses a 300-year-old ship which sank before it was even commissioned. The Vasa sat at the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor for all of those 300 years before being salvaged and put on display. Next on the list of places we did not visit was Skansen, a large recreation area which has museums and a zoo and is next to the Grona Lund amusement park. It is directly across the harbor from us and we can see the roller coaster and tower drop from the ship.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of the trip was the air show we passed between stops. In a large grassy field, we saw hundreds of spectators examining aircraft [helicopter, fighter jet, personal flyer] as others watched aircraft in the sky. We wondered if the flying formation we had seen earlier was part of this but had no way of finding out. We watched as a fixed wing/fixed gear plane did some barnstorming tricks as it flew overhead. At our distance, it appeared to be a wooden plane, but, again, we will never know. The next stop after the air show was the TV tower and as we waited there, we saw the barnstormer again. We discovered upon starting up again that we had simply circled the field and were on the opposite side.

We were back in the city itself in no time and got off at the next-to-last stop in an area full of shopping and restaurants [according to the HoHo brochure. The shopping was high-end – Georg Jensen, Orefors, Boda – and the restaurants were pricey as well. We wanted a simple but typical local meal but did not see anything that qualified unless we wanted soup; we did not want the large, heavy meals which were available. We wanted what the Scandinavians would consider a snack since they eat their big meal at mid-day. We ended up at TGI Friday’s, and, while the nachos were good and even hit the spot, we were disappointed in ourselves for compromising. On the other hand, we have eaten at Pizza Hut in Paris; McDonald’s in Versailles; and the Hard Rock in Buenos Aires, so should not have been surprised.

After lunch, we waited about fifteen minutes for the HoHo and returned to the city center which was the next stop. Once again we had to wait for the yellow line bus to return us to the ship. It was behind schedule, but our wait was not very long. By 3:10 we had returned to the Prinsendam and were heading to trivia. In a case of “déjà vu all over again,” we won for the sixth straight time although we did not have a perfect paper [What is the only insect which can turn its head 180 degrees to see behind itself? Who was the voice of the title character in the movie E.T.?]. We read and wrote until supper time.

The benefits of the 4-star cruiser visited us again. We received an invitation for to a reception in the captain’s quarters tomorrow at 12:15 to be followed by a private Mariner’s luncheon at 1:00. This afternoon, a Guest Services representative called to confirm our attendance. The 4-star cruisers have sailed at least 200 days with HAL and we have been treated well although the biggest benefit has been the free laundry service. We have also taken advantage of the 50% discount at the coffee bar. By this time next year, we will have passed 300 days on HAL, but there are no additional benefits that we know of.

Oopdate -- At dinner tonight [vegetable lasagna/fettucine de mare], Syarif came to the table to inquire about our intentions for tomorrow’s Mariner festivities. When we assured him that we would be at the captain’s reception as well as at the luncheon, he told us that we will be eating with the captain. The table will have the captain and the 4-Star Mariners. There are only eight on board, and we are four of them. It just keeps getting better.

Tomorrow – A sea day at last!

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