Northern Capitals Cruise

Since we had enjoyed our April 2004 Mediterranean cruise so much, we felt the time was right for an encore performance, this time to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We decided to stay with the same company, Costa, and chose a Northern Capitals cruise from and to Amsterdam, with stops in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Bornholm. On the following two pages, we will attempt to provide a few glimpses of this fabulous trip.

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Amsterdam

[July 22, 2007] We flew from Nice to Amsterdam and got there around 9 AM, so there was plenty of time to stroll through the city [1]. We walked around under grey skies and tried very hard not to get run over by bicycles that are everywhere and move at alarming speeds. We came to the conclusion that bikes and boats were the predominant modes of transportation in Amsterdam [2], though there is considerably less to fear from the latter. When we got caught in a five minute downpour, we decided to head to the ship and board early. The Costa Atlantica was huge! [3]

Once the boarding formalities had been taken care of, the weather had cleared up sufficiently for us to enjoy our very own balcony. As our suite was port-side (that's on the left side of the ship for you landlubbers), we had a great view or the northern part of Amsterdam under beautiful white clouds [4]. We sailed in the evening and followed the North Sea Canal. On the way, we had a lovely view of polders, i.e., land that was reclaimed from the sea and actually lies a few feet below sea level [5]. Around 10 PM, we approached IJmuiden [6] where the ship had to go through a lock to be raised to sea level. This is definitely not the way one expects things to work!


Strolling through Amsterdam Bikes 'n' boats The Costa Atlantica

Strolling through Amsterdam

Bikes 'n' boats

The Costa Atlantica


Clouds over North Amsterdam Polder along the North Sea Canal LLeaving the canal at IJmuiden

Clouds over North Amsterdam

Polder along the North Sea Canal

Leaving the canal at IJmuiden

At Sea

[July 23, 2007] The day after we left Amsterdam was spent at sea, giving us plenty of time to explore the ship and its facilities. Our suite was wonderful and didn't feel cramped in the least [7]. This impression of spaciousness was heightened by a mirror that covered the wall behind the bed [8]. We took advantage of the glorious weather to walk around outside [9]. Blue skies, a calm North Sea... we were definitely on vacation! [10] The Costa Atlantica even featured a water slide [11], and of course there was an indoor pool as well [12].


Our suite on board... ...was very comfortable Strolling on deck 3

Our suite on board...

...was very comfortable

Strolling on deck 3


The weather was glorious There even was a water slide! The indoor pool

The weather was glorious

There even was a water slide!

The indoor pool
Copenhagen

[July 24, 2007] Copenhagen, our first stop! Getting up that morning we saw that the blue skies of the previous day had given way to a dismal gray, hinting at the very real possibility of rain. The first stop of our shore excursion was the obligatory Little Mermaid. So many tourists were there that it was a real challenge to get her on her own [13]. Why do so many people feel that they embellish sights by planting themselves in front of them? Never mind. By the time we reached Amalienborg Castle to witness the changing of the guards [14], it had begun to drizzle. We didn't have to leave the bus for the rest of the excursion, but we did decide to stay in town and explore some of sights we had seen from the bus on our own. We walked to Kongens Nytorv [15] and into Nyhavn, an amazingly beautiful canal bordered by colorful houses [16]. The fact that it was now raining hard made the colors come out even better.

On the other hand, we were getting wet, so we walked back to Kongens Nytorv [17] and from there into Strøget, Copenhagen's premier shopping street (as well as the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe). We briefly escaped from the rain by browsing the gorgeous Georg Jensen store on Amagertorv [18]. That square also features the very interesting late 19th century stork fountain [19]. We continued along the Strøget to Råhuspladsen, City Hall Square [20]. Copenhagen's town hall is modeled after the one in Siena (Italy); the gilded statue in the center represents Bishop Absalon, the founder of Copenhagen [21]. Because of the weather, we decided to skip the Tivoli gardens and boarded the shuttle bus that took us back to the ship. As it turned out, this was the last time we had to cut short a visit because of the weather. It's no big deal, though, since we both want to go back to Copenhagen.


The Little Mermaid Guards at Amalienborg Kongens Nytorv: King's New Square

The Little Mermaid

Guards at Amalienborg

Kongens Nytorv: King's New Square


The picturesque Nyhavn Back on Kongens Nytorv The square Amagertorv...

The picturesque Nyhavn

Back on Kongens Nytorv

The square Amagertorv...


...and its stork fountain. City Hall Square City Hall Façade

...and its stork fountain.

City Hall Square

City Hall Façade

At Sea

[July 25, 2007] The center of the ship is the very colorful main lobby [22]; it is actually ten stories (well, decks) tall and features three glass elevators. At the bottom level, on deck 2, are the tour desk, the guest relations desk, and the 'La Dolce Vita' bar. One level up is the photo gallery where one can view the literally hundreds of photos taken by the staff every day, buy prints, cameras, camcorders, memory cards, film, batteries, and so on. Both levels give access to the ship's two-story dining room, and so one tends to go through the lobby several times a day. Moving from the lobby in the opposite direction, towards the front of the ship on deck 2, one gets to the 'Casino Fortuna' [23]. In addition to one-armed bandits, there are roulette, blackjack, and craps tables. One floor up, one can find the 'Via della Spiga', the ship's very own shopping street [24]. In this photo it looks deserted because the shops are closed whenever the ship is in port, probably due to customs regulations.


Our ship's colorful lobby The Casino On-board shopping arcade

Our ship's colorful lobby

The Casino

On-board shopping arcade

Stockholm

[July 26, 2007] We awoke early from intense sunlight that came streaming into the room through a gap between two curtains. The weather was incredible, and the scenery spectacular: the Costa Atlantica was making its way through the 80 kilometer (50 mile) long Stockholm archipelago with its 24,000 islands [25]. We stayed on the upper deck admiring the view until well after the Stockholm skyline came into view [26]. Eventually, we rushed through a cursory breakfast and joined our shore excursion. The first stop we made was at Stadshuset, or City Hall [27]. Built between 1911 and 1923 and made up of some eight million red bricks, this is an impressive structure, indeed. The courtyard features four large statues which, according to our tour guide, depict people who worked on the construction of the building [28]. Inside, we visited the Blue Hall, so named because Ragnar Östberg, the architect, had originally intended to cover the walls in blue plaster but changed his mind when he realized that the red bricks were more beautiful [29]. Every year on December 10, the Nobel Prize banquet takes place in the Blue Hall. We also visited The Golden Hall, the walls of which are covered with some 18 million pieces of gold mosaic. Only a very small example is shown here [30].


Through the archipelago Stockholm skyline Stadshuset: City Hall

Through the archipelago

Stockholm skyline

Stadshuset: City Hall


City Hall Courtyard The Blue Room (really!) Mosaic in the Golden Hall

City Hall Courtyard

The Blue Room (really!)

Mosaic in the Golden Hall

Our next stop led us to the Vasa museum [31]. This museum opened in 1990; it was built to accommodate a single item: The warship Vasa, which sank during its maiden voyage in 1628. The Vasa is the only 17th century ship that has been salvaged intact, and as such it is of great interest. Because it is feared that light can harm the fragile wood, the inside of the museum is kept extremely dark, making it rather difficult to photograph this truly huge (69 meters or 226 ft. long) ship. Because flash photography is curiously allowed, we can post a photo here [32].

After several more stops, the tour came to an end, and rather than go back to the ship, we decided to spend the afternoon wandering around on our own. We strolled through the lovely Kungsträdgården, 918 acres of what used to be the King's Garden [33]. Given the superlative weather, the Stockholmers were out in force, and everywhere one looked one could see people (and not just tourists!) gather in groups [34]. We strolled down Drottninggata (Queen's Street), a rather up-market pedestrian shopping street that was brimming with people [35] before making our way to Gamla Stan, or Old Town, where we watched the drill of the palace guards [36]. The old town is wonderful and extremely well taken care of; photo opportunities are literally around every corner [37]. The day after our visit to Stockholm, there was supposed to be a parade of tall ships, and to our delight, some had already arrived [38]. Instead of heading back into town to board the shuttle bus, we walked to the Costa Atlantica. One more time, we looked back at this great city that we were definitely not thrilled to leave after so brief a visit [39].


The Vasa museum The Vasa The lovely Kungsträdgården

The Vasa museum

The Vasa

The lovely Kungsträdgården


Enjoying the beautiful weather Drottninggatan: Queen's Street Royal castle guards

Enjoying the beautiful weather

Drottninggatan: Queen's Street

Royal castle guards


In the old town Tall ship The ferry terminal on Stromkajen

In the old town

Tall ship

The ferry terminal on Strömkajen

Aboard ship, too, there was much to do. We attended several lectures in the Coral Lounge [40]; they were given by an Italian university professor named Stefano Paba. He made fascinating presentations about Hans Christian Andersen, Saint Petersburg, and the Vikings. We went to the English talks, but Mr. Paba also made the same presentations in Italian, French, Spanish, and German! His enthusiasm made it a joy to listen to him. There were many places where one could get a cappuccino on board, and the Florian café was one of them. It is an exact replica of the famous Florian Café at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and it was amazing to encounter it on board [41]. Every night, there were shows in the Caruso theater [42]; from show music to variety shows, from jazz to dance numbers and acrobats... there was something for everyone. Contrary to what many people believe, it is impossible to be bored on a cruise. In fact, the exact opposite is the case: it is impossible to take advantage of everything that is being offered.


The Coral Lounge The Florian Café; The 1000 seat Caruso theater

The Coral Lounge

The Florian Café

The 1000 seat Caruso theater

Helsinki

[July 27, 2007] We began our city tour at the Jean Sibelius monument [43]. The work by Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen consists of some 600 stainless steel tubes welded together individually and manually textured by the artist. Public pressure demanded that the abstract monument be supplemented by a figurative element; the artist chose a sculpted portrait of Sibelius at age 45 when, according to our tour guide, he still had hair [44]. Fortunately, we were given some time to walk around the truly beautiful Sibelius park [45]. Next we visited Temppeliaukio, the Rock Church. It was built in the years 1968 and 1969; because it is literally carved out of rock, nothing leads one to suspect what is inside when one stands in front of the unassuming entrance [46]. The inside is almost perfectly circular; light is provided by 180 panes of glass between the walls and the ceiling, which is made of 22 kilometers (13.75 miles) of coiled copper wire. All this gives the church a unique appearance [47]; it is clearly a must-see if one is in Helsinki. Next, we visited the Uspenski Orthodox cathedral; the inside [48] provided an interesting contrast to the Rock Church we had just seen.


The Jean Sibelius monument Face of Sibelius at age 45 The lovely Sibelius Park

The Jean Sibelius monument

Face of Sibelius at age 45

The lovely Sibelius Park


Entrance to the Rock Church The circular interior Inside Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Entrance to the Rock Church

The circular interior

Inside Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

As had become our habit, we stayed in town after the tour and grabbed a quick bite to eat at the market (note the Uspenski Orthodox cathedral in the background) [49]. Silly though it may sound, it felt good to be able to deal in euros, a currency we are obviously familiar with. We ascended the steps [50] leading to the Helsinki (Lutheran) Cathedral; it was built from 1830 to 1852, originally in honor of Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia. Until Finland gained independence in 1917, the cathedral was called St. Nicholas' Church. So distinctive is the structure with its light green dome that many people consider it the symbol of Helsinki [52]. Immediately to the left of Helsinki Cathedral is the university library, another fine building [52]. We spent some time wandering around in the center of town [53]. RIght next to the market, there is this beautiful fountain which, apparently, caused quite a stir when it was inaugurated: not only is the bronze maiden naked, but she is turning her backside to the government! [54]


The market Steps to the Lutheran Cathedral The Lutheran Cathedral

The market

Steps to the Lutheran Cathedral

The Lutheran Cathedral


The university library Streetcar on Aleksanterinkatu Fountain by Eteläesplanadi

The university library

Streetcar on Aleksanterinkatu

Fountain by Eteläesplanadi

The second part of this trip report is on Page 2




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