Friday, August 24, 2007

Baltic Cruise, part 5: at sea and Copenhagen

August 19 - At Sea

I woke up with my right eye severely swollen. I'm pretty sure it was the makeup I was wearing the night before (I don't wear makeup very often because it annoys me, but up until now, it never really annoyed my skin). Lance didn't want to go to breakfast with me looking like I was punched in the face (this would've been a good time to order the free room service...too bad you have to order breakfast the night before). I put several anti-allergy drops in my eye and put a cold compress on it, and within half an hour, it looked almost normal. So we went to the buffet.

I don't really know what Lance was doing late in the morning, but I was in the Princess Theater at 10 AM for a cooking demonstration that was given by the Maitre d'Hotel and one of the executive chefs. They demonstrated 2 Italian dishes - Penne All'Arrabiata and Scampi Fra'Diavolo - and one of the pastry chefs demonstrated a very easy Black Forest Cake that can be made with a store-bought chocolate sponge cake. (If you are interested in any of these recipes, leave me a comment.) After that, one of the other chefs came out and sang a song for us ("Only You" by the Platters)...I think in order to work on a cruise ship, regardless of your job, you have to know how to sing or be otherwise talented. Anyway, the demo ended with a tour of the Capri Dining Room galley. Lance was really glad that he didn't go to the demo with me, because they asked wives to volunteer their cooking-novice hubbies to go up for the Scampi Fra'Diavolo, and I would've volunteered Lance in a heartbeat. HAHA. And he would've retaliated by adding extra crushed red pepper to the shrimp...of that, I have no doubt (the wives had to taste test their husbands' efforts).

Around 12:30 or so, we had lunch and lingered on the deck for awhile, since they had live music playing. It was mostly calypso stuff (and some reggae), which seems more appropriate for a Caribbean cruise. But it was nice, and it was sunny and pretty warm that day, so we could almost imagine that we were cruising the Caribbean.

At 2:30, I went up to the sports deck to participate in On Deck for the Cure, the Princess Cruises version of the Walk for the Cure. We had to walk 35 laps around the track (5 kilometers). Of course, we also had to donate the money for the walk, rather than soliciting donations...hehe. It was $15 minimum and we got free baseball caps. Most importantly, it was for the fight against breast cancer, so I was happy to do it.

That took about an hour...and it was a rather boring hour. I didn't have any music to listen to and there's not much that's interesting to look at when you're way out at sea. Some ice sculptor was carving a fish out of a 200 lb. ice block on deck 14, which I could see from the track, but it wasn't that thrilling to watch.

Once I was done, I met up with Lance, who had been lounging around in our cabin, and we got ice cream. Yeah...undo all that hard work, I know. No Death by Chocolate for me this time. (You pay extra for this ice cream, by the way, but the price is comparable to Baskin-Robbins, so it's not unreasonable...unlike the price of drinks.)

At 5:00, after I showered, we went to the Passenger Talent Show in the Vista Lounge, expecting comedy gold. Anyone could sign up for it, so we figured there would be people who only thought they were talented, but were actually horrible and unintentionally funny. That's what we were hoping for anyway (you know, kind of like American Idol auditions). But the 7 participants were actually really really good (there was this one amazing young girl who played outstanding classical music on the piano). This one brave man sang a Chinese opera, which was actually kind of uncomfortable (he sounded like he was being tortured to death very slowly), but he had a good voice and you had to give the man props for having the guts to sing it.

The talent show was less than an hour, as are most of the shows on the ship, so at 6 PM, we were able to catch a showing of The Astronaut Farmer in the Princess Theater.

After that, we had dinner and then went back to our stateroom to pack up the suitcase (they collect your suitcases the night before the cruise only keep out what you need for overnight and the following morning). We put our suitcase out in the hall and it was collected immediately...I had to admit, it made me really nervous to part with the luggage, particularly when there were still several hours left of the cruise. We had special colored and numbered luggage tags that determined what group we were in for disembarkation. We were scheduled to be one of the last groups to leave the ship, on account of our flight out of Copenhagen being so late.

We went to see a show and then dragged our weary selves to bed.

And thus ended our last full day of the cruise. Arrival in Copenhagen was scheduled for 5 AM the following morning.

August 20 - Copenhagen, Denmark

We weren't scheduled to disembark until 9:15, so we had the clock set for 7:30. I woke up before then, because they made an annoucement when we arrived in Copenhagen and then at 5 minute intervals as they were calling groups to disembark. The announcements can be heard in the hallway outside our room, so it was muffled, but I'm a light sleeper.

Lance woke up early too, and we made our way to the breakfast buffet with what was left of our stuff...they wanted us to vacate our rooms at breakfast. The buffet was filled with insane numbers of people...more than I had seen at any other time. I was worried we wouldn't find a table, but we found one in an overflow area.

Disembarkation was an absolute nightmare. After breakfast, we had to go down to one of the public rooms on deck 7. They had CNN on the big screen in the Explorers Lounge, so we went there to wait. They called our group about 15 minutes late, so we didn't leave the ship until 9:30. We were led to a bus and once it was full, we were driven to the airport.

Instead of going directly to the airport, they took us to a special area set up for the cruise lines. All of our luggage was being kept in a giant tent, divided by the luggage tags that we were given. So we had to go to the Pink 4 area, since that was the color and number of our tag, and find our luggage. Fortunately, that went quickly (and we got to go past the line of people waiting for luggage, because we were 2 out of only 4 people flying Air Berlin). Then we were herded into this hangar and divided into lines based on what airline we were using. Fortunately for us, we were put into the shortest line (those flying back to North America would end up waiting in line for hours to check in for their flights, and some of those people had flights just shortly after noon).

Even though our line was short, it took forever to get through it. They even passed out free bottles of water, figuring we would probably die of dehydration before we were able to check in. We finally got to the end of our line, and were told that we were in the wrong line (they apparently put us in the British Airways line instead of the "All Other European Airlines" line). So we got into the other short line, but only one employee was working it, and she kept leaving her desk. So we waited. And we waited. Finally, we got checked in and our luggage was taken from us again. We took a shuttle to the airport, bought a train ticket, and were on our way to the center of Copenhagen.

By some miracle, we got there around noon. We figured we had a good 5 or 6 hours to kill before we had to be back at the airport (and we were already checked in for the flight, so we could go straight to the security checkpoint). It was lunchtime, so food was first priority. I had briefly studied a map of Copenhagen, so I knew that the main train station was directly across from Tivoli Gardens. But we came out on the backside of the station, so we had to walk around to find Tivoli. There was a Hard Rock Cafe right next to it. Lance was excited about this...until we found out that their grill was broken and they couldn't do burgers. So we went to Burger King, against my better judgment. I wanted to eat actual Danish food (smorbrod, for example, their famous open-faced sandwiches), but Lance wanted something comforting and familiar. I gave in (and was sorry a few hours afterward when it felt like I was kicked in the food and I do not get along). I should say that Copenhagen (and Scandinavia in general) is ridiculously expensive. We paid the equivalent of $8 for my crispy chicken sandwich value meal (value - HA!), and only slightly less for Lance's double cheeseburger value meal.

As we were stepping into BK (which just happens to be by the town hall, which is right by Tivoli), I noticed that the hop on - hop off tour buses picked up people right by the town hall. We decided to go that route because then we could get off wherever looked interesting and walk around. We had no particular agenda for Copenhagen, and that's the way we like things. I hate being confined to rigid schedules and itineraries, and Lance hates it only a little less than I do.

So we took the "Mermaid Tour," which is, of course, named for the famous Little Mermaid statue. We stayed on the bus until that stop (and it's funny, but the bus took us right back to the Star Princess), got out, and then walked a little bit to another spot on the bus route (Gefion Fountain and St. Alban's Church) and caught the bus again at that point. Within two minutes of getting back on the bus, I was enticed to get off again by the sight of Amalienborg Palace, the winter home of the Danish Royals. Now, I know I said before that I was sick of royal palaces. And I was. We didn't go inside. But the square was so beautiful, and the elegant Frederik's Church, with its huge green dome, was just begging us to go in and take a look. So we did. Lance was attracted to a street just off the square, which had several embassies, so we poked around there. And that area also has the ultra-modern opera house, one of the most expensive in the world, which is located on the island of Holman.

Back on the bus, and I was stricken again a few minutes later with the need to be off the bus. We had arrived at Nyhavn, the colorful and irresistable old harbor, lined with medieval gabled houses and sidewalk cafes. We didn't get off the first go round, but Lance decided we should take the bus tour again and go back to Nyhavn and get off (even though, as it happened, Nyhavn was only a 5-10 minute walk from the place where the bus started). So we did the bus tour again, which actually seemed to go faster the second time (since we already paid once, we didn't have to pay again), and we hopped off at Nyhavn and walked from there to the neighboring shopping district, which winds its way back to the area with Tivoli and the town hall. Copenhagen is actually an easy city to navigate and it's very compact (I got a free city map at the tourist office, but it unfolded to this huge size, so it wasn't very convenient...after awhile, we didn't care about losing our bearings anyway). We could've walked to all the sights we saw on the bus tour, and it would've been a reasonable distance. But it was raining off and on, so I suppose taking a bus some of the way was for the best.

It was late afternoon as we made our way through the main shopping area, stopping in every souvenir shop we could find. We were looking for another Christmas ornament, which were easy to find everywhere else we had been, but pretty scarce in Copenhagen. We finally struck gold at the last souvenir shop on the street. They had special edition Hans Christian Andersen glass bulbs which depicted scenes from his famous fairy tales. I wanted to get The Ugly Duckling since that was really the only one of his fairy tales that I know. But Lance thought it had to be Christmassy, so we ended up getting The Little Match Girl. It came with a little booklet of her story in different languages. (I was only vaguely familiar with the story, and now having read it, I find it kind of depressing.) So that's one of the more unconventional ornaments we've gotten from our various travels, but I like it. It shows that we were in Copenhagen, but it also gives us something cultural.

I just want to say that I REALLY LOVE Copenhagen. This city rocks! I'm pretty sure Lance liked it just as much as I did, and like Stockholm, it's a place we'll want to visit again (and next time, I swear I will make a side trip to Helsingor so I can see Elsinore Castle (real name: Kronborg Castle), which inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet).

It started raining pretty hard as we were leaving the souvenir shop, so we hurried to the train station, making a quick detour at 7-Eleven so Lance could get a soda. Then we were on the train and off to the airport. By then, I was feeling very nauseous from lunch, so I wasn't sure I wanted to eat dinner (not that we could really afford to anyway, with what little kroner we had left). But after sitting awhile, my stomach calmed down some, and I got a blueberry muffin and a chocolate milk, which cost around $8. Ouch.

Our flight left around 8:30, and we got back into Dusseldorf at 9:30, crossing our fingers that we would make the 10:00 S-Bahn to head toward home. We managed to get there with 10 minutes to spare, and arrived back in Geilenkirchen just before midnight.

~~ Click here for the final photo set (cookie for you if you've looked at them all) ~~


GODCHICK said...

I love all your pictures, makes me want to do a Baltic cruise!! What are those glass dome globes in the shopping district picture of Nyhavn?

Would you do a cruise again? On another cruise line?

Karyn said...

I never did quite figure out what those glass globes were...each one had a different object in it, and an advertisement. The only thing I can figure it that they were advertisements for local shops and companies.

I told Lance that if we were to do another cruise, I would want it to be either an Alaskan cruise or Caribbean...something where we can either see a lot from the ship (as in the Alaskan cruise) or just relax on a beach without the hassle of dealing with massive amounts of people and organized tours (we're happy to go off on our own if it's easy enough to do so). I would want it to be a smaller ship, and I would want the cruise to be shorter.

I would do Princess again (we're automatic Captain's Circle members), but seeing as how I have nothing to compare it to, I'm open to other cruise lines. My mom did a Carnival cruise to Key West and Cozumel, and she had a lot of fun.

Aftalion said...

Hello Karyn!! I am from Argentina, and ready to star the Star cruise on June 1st.
It was very useful to read your comments, plenty of good humor.
One question about something I read that you do not mention:
Stockholm berth seems to be in Nynashamn, quite far from the city, and our schedule is 10 to 5.Do you think we will have time to see anything?
Thanks, and thank you for your help! Alberto

Karyn said...

Aftalion -
We booked tours through the cruise line due to time constraints, so we were able to do a guided day tour of Stockholm. We even got a little bit of free time (no more than an hour) to explore on our own.

If you don't have that option, you will still have time to do some sightseeing as long as you plan ahead and have transportation from and to the ship worked out in advance. The cruise line or a travel agent should be able to assist you with this.

Have a wonderful time!