Tag Archives: Stockholm

Estonia and Russia

St. Petersburg Church of the Spilled Blood
St. Petersburg Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

Our ride to the airport was filled with anticipation. Sharon and Linda turned out to be quite nice, and we enjoyed getting to know them. They’d be on the ship for the first segment of seven days, disembarking in Copenhagen, but continuing on in Europe for a few weeks afterward. Stylish and practical, they each managed with a single small suitcase, which I envied as we wrestled our three huge bags out of the van.

Almost the entire ship turned over in Stockholm. I think only three rooms did not disembark, so the check-in queue was pretty long. In true Seabourn fashion the line shuffled along quickly and efficiently, and we soon found ourselves standing in front of an agent. “I’ll be with you in one second” she announced, turning away while she fiddled with some papers. Out of nowhere we heard a familiar voice “Mr. Graham and Mr. Merker!”and we were reunited with a smiling Belindah. Belindah worked in guest services and was promoted during our last trip. We were delighted to see her. (Last week she was promoted again—we felt like her good luck charm and beamed like proud parents when we heard.)

There are several staff members and other guests we knew from our World Cruise, so in some ways it was like returning to summer camp; we knew our way around and the routine, but we were still excited to be here and looked forward to enjoying the whole experience.

Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm

 

The first week flew by. We only had one sea day that first week, so those lazy long days of slow sailing would have to wait a while.

Our first stop was Tallinn, Estonia, and we were not sure what to expect. George’s former colleague has a cousin living there, so we agreed to have lunch. It’s always good to see a place through the eyes of a local, so we purposely kept out afternoon free so we could meet.

George in Tallinn
George in Tallinn

We filled our morning with a bicycle tour. While there isn’t much to see in Tallinn, it was fascinating to hear our tour guide talk about what life was like under the USSR and how it is today. He never complained about the occupation, and did not regret being drafted into the Soviet Army. Yet he clearly believed Estonia is better off independent and worries that it may not last. He pins his hopes on NATO ensuring that Russia will be held to her boarders, but I got the distinct impression he was concerned.

Tallinn
Tallinn
Tallinn Market
Tallinn Market

Our lunch date had a similar reaction. He’s an American who did well in Russia, but realized the current political and, therefore, business climate is not really tenable. Luckily he fell in love with a lovely (and brilliant) Estonian woman and is happily living in Estonia now. I think he enjoyed discussing American politics with some fellow Americans, exploring many of the nuances lost in the media. He agrees with me: our primary system is ridiculous—we’d be better off with a national primary all on one day, closely followed by an election by popular vote. Why do we allow Iowa and New Hampshire to have so much influence on who ultimately runs? It doesn’t make sense.

imageSt. Petersburg, Russia, was our next stop and, luckily, we would have three days to explore. We managed to squeeze in Peterhof (aka The Summer Palace), Catherine’s Palace, Alexander’s Palace, Pavlovsk Palace, and The Hermitage (aka The Winter Palace).  It was a whirlwind, we easily could have spent two weeks here–there is so much to see.

Catherine's Palace - detail
Catherine’s Palace – detail

When the communists took over, they wisely decided to preserve some of the opulence, mostly so the common person could witness the disparity between the rich and the poor. Of course they only preserved a few, and World War II devastated what was left. They are still restoring them—I’d love to go back in 10 years and see the results. If you’re interested, there is a great book about the work called Saving the Tsars’ Palaces.

I find it odd that they surrounded the repentant Mary Magdalene with a frame of golden porn actors from the 80's.
I find it odd that they surrounded the repentant Mary Magdalene with a golden frame of moustached porn actors from the 80’s.  I’m not judging.

Our tours were able to get us into some sites an hour ahead of the general public, so we could enjoy the more popular stops, like the Hermitage and Catherine’s Palace, before the unwashed masses arrived.

We attended a performance of Swan Lake—how exciting to actually see it in Russia. Even though it was a production which catered to tourists, the Principle Dancers and the Orchestra were fantastic. The rest of the cast seemed unenthusiastic, hitting their marks with facial expressions that seemed to say “I have to remember to pick up cat food on my way home from work”.

Here are my pictures.  I apologize, on some devices some pictures are sideways, but when I fix them they are sideways on other devices.  Click any picture to enlarge.

Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
OK, I won't put under with my Jedi mind tricks. I promise.
OK, I won’t put you under with my Jedi mind tricks. I promise.
Alexander's Palace
Alexander’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace - detail
Catherine’s Palace – detail
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace

image

Winter Palace - is it me, or is there a ton of homoerotic detailing?
Winter Palace – is it me, or is there a ton of homoerotic detailing?
Winter Palace ceiling detail
Winter Palace ceiling detail
Winter Palace window
Winter Palace window
Penitent Mary Magdalene
Penitent Mary Magdalene
Winter Palace
Winter Palace
The Original Facebook
The Original Facebook
Winter Palace detail
Winter Palace detail
Winter Palace
Winter Palace
St. Petersburg Bridge detail
St. Petersburg Bridge detail
Peterhof - Summer Palace with fountains
Peterhof – Summer Palace with fountains
Peterhof - fountain detail
Peterhof – fountain detail
Peterhof - Fountains
Peterhof – Fountains
Peterhof - fountain Detail
Peterhof – fountain Detail

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Peterhof - George on the Balcony
Peterhof – George on the Balcony
Peterhof detail
Peterhof detail

 

Please share!

©2015 Kyle Merker

 

 

Super Troupers

 

We are at it again: Sailing from port to port, checking countries off our to-do list ask quickly as Santa crosses bitches off of his “nice” list. You know who you are.

We left Fire Island a week and a half ago. We had to meet our ship, the Seabourn Quest, in Stockholm on August 1st, so we came a few days earlier to see the city and adjust to the time difference.

Stockholm was great. They, along with the rest of the region, have been experiencing an unusually cold and grey summer. Not that their summers aren’t usually on the grey side, but this year was apparently worse than usual. Luckily the sun has been following us all week.

We were pretty jet-lagged in Stockholm, but we managed to stagger around bleary-eyed anyway, doing our best to “push through”. Our standard practice is to live on local time upon landing and not take a nap. We once deviated from this plan many years ago and, after our extended nap, the jet-lag took over a week to subside instead of the usual two days.

I’m always amazed by jet-lag. On day two you realize just how bad you felt the day before. You feel really good, but when you wake up on day three you finally understand how much of a zombie you were on day two. Jet lag only seems really bad in hindsight.

When we checked-in to the Marriott, the clerk suggested an upgrade. Breakfast would be 300 kroner, but an upgrade would be 350 and included breakfast. We didn’t hesitate.

Stockholm Pride
Stockholm Pride

After dropping our bags in our room we walked into town. It was pride weekend, so rainbow flags were flying everywhere; on buildings, in parks, on public busses and in stores. SAS Airline had a fabulous banner proclaiming “Love is in the air!”. We even stumbled upon a group wedding of 19 couples tying the knot in city hall. They take gay pride seriously here.

My Swedish friend Bo (I’ve written about him before, he’s not only our Fire Chief, but I’m pretty sure he’s the love-child of Aunt Clara from Bewitched and Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes) was kind enough to suggest a list of places to see, plus he introduced us to his close friend, Janne, who agreed to meet us for lunch.

Janne met us at a beautiful old wooden food hall called Östermalms Saluhall. Several vendors were displaying their goods including beautiful fresh fish, produce, cured meats, jams, jellies and candy. Lots of candy. There were three restaurants, and Janne recommended the one with typical local fare. I was disappointed to learn that the Swedish Fish was void of red candy, but I ordered it anyway and it was delightful.

George and Janne getting our lunch.  That's Janne in front of George
George and Janne getting our lunch. That’s Janne in front of George

We shook Janne’s hand and said our goodbyes, heading towards the old section, called Gamla Stan. Janne said he was walking that way and would escort us to the entrance, just a few blocks away. He is a charming man who has known Bo for many years. I pressed him for some randy “Bo stories”, but he stayed true and revealed little.

At the entrance of the old section, we shook Janne’s hand and bid a fond farewell, after which he thought he might stroll through the old section with us. We glided through ancient streets while hordes of tourists swarmed the shoppes around us. We stopped at a small Café for a beer where the cute waiter, after telling us he was not Italian because he’s from Naples, said he needed someone to teach him Swedish. We suggested Janne, and the waiter seemed interested, but to everyone’s surprise Janne refused. I guess teaching handsome Italians his native tongue was more than he could handle, but we did make him blush! We paid the check and said our good-byes.

After a few steps, Janne said he was going in our direction and would walk with us a bit. After a few blocks, he took a left while we went right, but not after saying goodbye yet one more time. I was beginning to feel like the stewardess who gets the job of standing at the exit door saying individual goodbyes to everyone leaving the plane. But this goodbye stuck. We headed to our hotel while Janne walked on. He is a very nice and interesting man. Thank you, Bo, for the introduction.

Dangerous and I'll-designed
Dangerous and Ill-designed

That evening we had one goal: Dinner. It took a lot of walking to find someplace. We set-out to find the Trip Advisor recommended restaurants by the marina, but the one we preselected was closed. We checked out the other restaurants but decided against them. You know when you’re over-tired and you can’t make a decision? That was the state we were in.

We retraced our steps, hoping to find a place we noticed in the park called The Green Queen. Well, we found it. What were we thinking? This was Gay Pride and, had we thought about it, we would have realized that a restaurant called The Green Queen is gayer than Lance Bass and Perez Hilton singing Bette Midler hits and show tunes, while wearing rainbow-sparkle Bob Mackie headdresses and riding a West Hollywood Pride Parade float. After fighting through a tsunami of tight tank tops we found a table, but quickly realized it was cafeteria style. So I guess it wasn’t that gay, after all, despite the staff looking like Village People casting call rejects. We left and pressed on.

We were tired and wanted to be served in a nice, peaceful restaurant, so we hit the streets once again, finally landing in a small Mediterranean place. It was great. Calm. Friendly staff. Perfect food. Cold wine. The only drawback was the carafe of water they put on the table: George had not noticed the spout on the side, so he drenched his lap when he tried to fill his glass. We got a fit of the giggles so bad our cheeks hurt.

The next morning we went back to town and toured City Hall, which is where they hold the Nobel Prize banquet each year. The place is spectacular—I highly recommend a visit next time you’re here.

Ceiling Detail - City Hall
Ceiling Detail – City Hall
Wall Detail - City Hall
Wall Detail – City Hall
Windows--City Hall
Windows–City Hall
Firefighter mosaic detail - City Hall
Firefighter mosaic detail – City Hall

 

It was time to meet our ship, so we packed up and checked out. The hotel ordered a taxi, and we waited a long time for it to arrive. Two women were also waiting, so we shared the cab. We’ve since became great friends, and we’re sad when they disembarked in Copenhagen. But there were many ports between Stockholm and Copenhagen, so you’ll have to stay tuned.