Gullfoss, July 1


It wasn’t a nice day.  We awoke to rain this morning, but decided that since we’d come to Iceland to see nature, we’d do the best we could.


It wasn’t too bad in the morning, though it was very windy, but it didn’t rain too hard.  We stopped at Þingvellir, the national park and walked down through the rift with North america on the right and Eurasia on the left.  It started to rain as we left, and that was the end of the best weather for the day.  From that point on it started to rain more and more and got windier and windier.

We had a nice lunch in the spa town of Laugarvatn, then drove on to Gullfoss (which means golden falls).  It is a spectacular waterfall, but it was very, very windy and cold with the rain stinging cold against your face.  Fortunately we had our rain pants and coats.

Back in Rekyjavik we went to the settlement museum.  It is actually the basement of a hotel where the site was discovered during construction.  The archaeology was done on the site, and then they built the hotel overtop.

We walked, in the rain and wind, to try and find a restaurant.  Since the museum closed at five, and most of the restaurants started serving at six, we wanted to try and find something that was open so we could get in out of the awful weather.  We went in to Iceland Fish and Chips, which looked good.  However when the food came it was absolutely covered white with ground rock salt.  Enid took one look at her dish, and realized that she couldn’t eat it, so went to the kitchen and asked for a dish with no salt.  When it came there was no salt on the fish, but still was on the potatoes.  So now I really complained to the waitress, and she took it away and brought back more.  This was better, but while Enid was eating I wiped each of her potatoes off with a napkin to try and get rid of the salt.  I am sure that there was between 5 and 10 grams of salt on the food.  Then when we went to leave, no one was at the till to give us our bill.  We were tempted to walk out without paying (but we didn’t).

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Vik, Iceland, June 30


It wasn’t a long night, but we awoke not too tired this morning.  However it was cloudy and raining some.  At breakfast we talked to the B & B hosts about where we should visit today, and decided to travel the south coast route towards Vik.  The man suggested we drive what is known as the pipeline road, as the views were better than the main highway, so we did that.


There were many flowers blooming.  Especially pretty were the fields of lupine that covered the rugged hills.  The clouds did break for a bit in the morning as we drove by the Nesjavellir geothermal power station’s main collection point for the pipeline.


The pipeline is insulated and about 80 cm in diameter, covered with a rockwool insulated aluminum sheath.  The pipeline carries hot water to Reykjavik.  According to our hosts at the B & B the water starts out at about 98 C and loses only half a degree by the time it reaches the city about 30 km away.  I touched the covering sheath and it was very cool.  The pipeline rests on rollers and has many bends to counter both thermal expansion and earthquake tremors.  There is plenty of hot water here at the B & B, though it has a slight smell of sulphur.  I wonder how this will affect corrosion in the pipes.

We ate lunch in Selfoss, then bought a bit of fruit and some cookies at a small grocery store.  On our way out-of-town we saw a much larger store so stopped there to get Enid some granola bars.  They had interesting cool rooms built-in to the store.  One was for the fruits and vegetables.  A second one was for meat and dairy.  I would imagine that this is much more efficient than individual refrigerated coolers.

After lunch it began to rain much more heavily.  It’s unfortunate that the clouds were so low and heavy, as the scenery we could see was nice.  It would probably have been spectacular if we could have seen the tops of the mountains.

When we did reach Vik we stopped for a bit in a sweater store, and they had some nice wool items, though since I’ve already bought a sweater on this trip we didn’t purchase anything.  We drove to the ocean where there were large waves, a long black sand beach, and some jagged rock spires out in the water.  However it was cold, wet, and you couldn’t see much in the rain, so we quickly left.


There were two beautiful waterfalls along the highway.  The first was at Seljalandsfoss where the water falls over a cliff about 50 or 60  high.  There are trails up to and behind the waterfall.  We didin’t go in, but there were several people behind the waterfall.  Along the same cliff there are several smaller falls.  The biggest falls is Skogafoss near the village of Skogar.  It is a large falls that also plunges straight over the cliff.  We walked close to the bottom of it, and as it was both pouring rain and spray flooding off the falls, we would have been thoroughly soaked but for our rain gear.


There are many, many horses in Iceland, in fact I think we probably saw more horses than sheep or cattle.  We stopped for supper at Hella, after looking at a number of small restaurants (that weren’t very promising) along the way.  We thought about having the Iceland meat soup, but since there were at least half a dozen horse meat items on the menu decided not to try the soup, not sure of what the “meat” was, and instead had fish and chips.

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Stockholm, June 29


Vasa museum

It was our final morning on the cruise ship.  We’d booked a tranfer/tour to the central train station in the morning, and we had a nice tour around the city.  We first stopped at the Vasa museum and since it was early Sunday morning and we were the first ones into the museum, we had a really good and uninterrupted tour.  After this stop we drove to a few other spots in the city.  Our tour covered some of the same areas we’d been on with the Hop-on Hop-off bus, but the commentary wsa much better, and so we learned a lot more.


Scansen guides weaving birch bark shoes

JIt looked like it was going to rain for much of the morning, but by noon it had cleared up.  We walked to Djurgarden Island from the central train station and to the Scansen open air museum.  This was a very interesting place to go, as it has many old buildings from the early 1800’s to the mid 1930’s.  Many of the buildings were occupied by interpretive guides, in period costume, who described what was happening in Sweden at that time in history.

The park also includes a small zoo, with northern animals, and a children’s petting zoo.  In part of the park there is an open air restaurant.  We saw a man with a couple of children in a stroller.  He left his food on the table, and went to get something else.  The gulls swooped down and stole his food — he was not happy!

We stayed in Scansen until after 5 pm, then walked back  There is a pedestrian mall not far from the station, and we thought we would eat there, but couldn’t find much that interested us.  Finally we found a coffee shop that sold lasagna.

The high speed train travels the approximately 45 km to the airport in about 20 minutes.  They display the speed in the train, and it was over 200 km/hr.

As we were waiting to check in our luggage at the airport, there was a family in front of us.  The father and mother were figuring out what to do with their luggage — they had quite a lot — when suddenly the father looked around and went running off in the airport calling his child’s name.  His small daughter, about two or three, had disappeared.  It was a sickening feeling to watch the parent’s panic, but fortunately he found her in about a minute, as she had gone into a candy shop.  The parents were talking to the clerk with their backs to the childen while they dealt with the clerk; however Enid and I were facing forward, and never noticed the little girl disappear at all.  It shows how quickly and easily a tragedy with a missing child can occur.

We were about half an hour late leaving Stockholm.  I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, but Enid did.  With a two hour time change we got into Keflavik close to 1 am (but that seemed like 3 am to us).  The airport terminal was very crowded, and we disembarked the plane by a bus.  As there were no signs to indicate the baggage claim where we got off, we had a hard time locating our luggage belt in the crowds of people.

There was no Thrifty car rental desk in the terminal, but a man waiting in line for one of the other rental companies told us that we could take the shuttle, or just walk as it wasn’t far.  We couldn’t find a shuttle bus, so did walk, and it was about 4 or 500 metres away.  We were done with our rental agreement and driving off as the shuttle van arrived.

It was a very good thing that I had written down the directions to our B & B from Google maps in Stockholm.  The sun was either setting or rising — not quite sure which — as we drove into the yard.  It’s not well marked, and at first we weren’t sure where it was.  Finally we decided it had to be the last house on the road, so drove into the driveway, and the manageress came out and said “David?” so we knew we were at the right place.  It was a very long day, with about 12 km of walking in Stockholm, and then a long plane ride.

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Stockholm, June 28


Houses on the islands outside Stockholm

By the end of today, both Enid and I were wishing that we were able to fly out sooner tomorrow than our scheduled flight.  I think we have both had enough of European cities for a while.


The Stockholm archipelago

The cruise in this morning was very nice.  We passed by the islands in the Stockholm archipelago — there are over 30000 of them — and we said how much they look like the islands in a northern Saskatchewan lake.  Except for the cabins, since almost every island had several, and some had what looked like large hotels or apartments, the terrain is very similar to the shield.  SInce it is the result of the last ice age, I guess that isn’t surprising.

We decided to take the Hop-on Hop-off bus today, and by the end of the day we were glad that we did, as we are both tired.  It isn’t cheap for what you get, at 260 Swedish Kroner (about $40), but it got us to where we wanted to go. 

Our first stop was close to the State Historical Museum.  We stopped at a small grocery store, got some buns, fruit, cheese and cookies and ate our lunch in a park with a large fountain.  There were lots of little blonde haired children there with their parents, and one little girl that ran all the way around the fountain.


Rune stone

The museum had a nice display of Swedish history, with a timeline that showed artifacts from as far back as about 1000 to the present.  Enid was especially impressed byt the intricate embroidery that has survived to the present day.  In the basement, securely monitored and behind some heavy lockable gates, was the “Gold Room”.  It did have some beautiful displays of gold jewellery, coins, goblets, etc.  One of the neck rings for a Viking king, in gold, weighed 720 g.


Jewellery in the Gold Room

We got back on the bus and were going to get off at Gamla Stan, the old town.  Instead we decided to stop sooner, so got off at the city hall, which is a very large impressive building (it is where they serve the Noble laureates dinner).  It was Saturday, and there were many, many people who were getting married at city hall, and getting their pictures taken there.


Swedish guard at the Royal Palace

We caught the next bus 2 minutes later, and did stop at Gamla Stan to walk around.  It was very crowded, and the narrow streets were jammed with tiny shops selling souvenirs of all kinds to the tourists.  We didn’t see the changing of the guard at the royal palace, but we did see a marching group of soldiers there.

After we’d walked to the next bus stop, we were both tired.  We rode the bus to the end of the route, which was our cruise terminal.  Since their is commentary on the bus we got a very brief introduction to some places in Stockholm, and some ideas of what we will do after our tour to the train station is over tomorrow and we have several hours to wait until we go to the airport.

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Tallinn, Estonia, June 27


Fat Margaret tower

We had a very beautiful day in Tallinn.  It was sunny, about 15 C, and a gentle breeze.  We spent several hours walking around through the old walled city.

There are seven cruise ships in port that we can count, so peace and quiet was not the order of the day.  All the streets were busy with tourists, but for the most part we avoided the worst crowds.


The stone wall of Tallinn

Like Visby, the city is surrounded by a old stone wall; however, here the wall is much less distinct.  At many places the wall has become incorporated into the buildings, forming one of their walls.  The towers also seemed to me to be higher, and as much of the old city is built atop a hill, the total drop to the plain that makes up the level of the ocean is much greater than in Visby.


View of Tallinn from atop the St. Olav tower

We went into a number of the churches. — and there are many in the city.  The first we stopped at is St. Olav’s, which has a tall tower.  There are 234 steep spiral steps to the top.  I climbed up, but Enid did not.  From the top you get a very nice view out over the town.  However, it would not be a good place to go if you were afraid of heights, as the walkway (though fenced off) at the top is very narrow.  It has a one way direction sign on it, though of course most of the Oriental tourists ignored it, were going the wrong way, and so made it very difficult to get around.  Foolishly I walked to the top with my backpack on.  Since Enid stayed at ground level I should have left it with her as it was hard to pass people on the stairs with it on.


Street corner in Tallinn

Along Pikk street are old buildings that were once part of the guilds.  We stopped in the Tallinn City Museum before lunch, where we saw displays that clarifed the role played by the Great Guild.    The museum has good displays throughout Estonian history to the present day.  Unlike any place else we’ve been on this Baltic cruise, the Estonian’s pull no punches in showing their distaste for the Soviet era and Russia’s occupation from the 1940’s to 1991.


Porcelain display in the Tallinn City Museum


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

On the way out of the museum we passed the “sweater wall” and I bought a beautiful blue and white wool sweater.  It will be perfect for cross-country skiing.  We also bought a miniature icon in The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, so we have two souveniers from Estonia.


Wall and tower in Tallinn

After lunch we walked by Freedom Square with it’s large monument to Estonian Independence, and then by the Estonian Parliament and along the walls, with their gates and towers.  We tried to find the public market, and made it as far as the train station, but weren’t sure where the market was, so gave up, and walked back to the ship.


Tallinna Linnahall

Right by the dock is the large Soviet era concert hall, the Linnahall concert hall, built in 1980.  I walked to the top of the badly maintained stairs to see what the top was like.  It appears to be totally unmaintained, doubtless an intentional snub to Russia.

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St. Petersburg, June 26


Canal in front of Yasupov Palace

It looked a bit more cloudy this morning, so we took our umbrellas with us on our last day in St. Petersburg.  However, it did not rain on us although the street was wet as we exited from the first museum.


Assasination of Rasputin

It did not take us long to get to Yasupov Palace, where we first went down into the basement to see a display about Rasputin, as this is where he was killed.  Following this we walked around the rest of the palace, including a brief stop in the concert hall where we heard a Russian men’s chorus sing a selection for us.  The Yasupov’s were as wealthy as the Romanovs, and the furnishing and interiors of the palace were equisite.  It was very interesting that they tried to hide their possesions in secret rooms within the palace, after the Russian Revolution; however their treasures were all discovered within about two years.


The blue room in Yasupov Palace


The dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, topped by a golden dome that is over 90 metres high, was our next morning stop.  The interior of the church is huge, and beautiful.  Not perhaps as opulent as the Church on the Spilled Blood, but it so big that it’s interior seemed very uncrowded, even with the crowds of tourists.  At the top of the dome on the interior is a symbolic white dove.  From the floor it doen’t look very large, yet 90 meters above you the actual size is over 5 metres wide.

From the cathedral we walked on the streets of Moscow to a small restauraunt Gogol named after the Russian author.  Here we had a nice Russian meal again, this one the most expensive, but it was in a nice small room where we were the only clients.


Store along the Nevsky Prospekt

After lunch we walked along the Nevsky Prospekt, the largest street in St. Petersburg.  We went into a couple of stores, one of which sold high end foods and candies..  Our guide indicated that even in the Soviet era it was the store where you could buy the most expensive foods.  We also went into a fur coat store.  They had some beautiful mink coats there.  We talked to our guide about how politically incorrect it would be in Canada to wear real fur.  She had difficulty understanding why.  We did have a good time sharing with her some of the differences in culture in Russia and Canada.

We stopped in at Kazan Cathedral, a functioning Russian Orthodox church.  Restored after the fall of the Soviet Empire, it has a beautiful silver iconostastis.  There was a long line of worshippers waiting to kiss the Icon of our Lady of Kazan.  Our guide was most interested in this church because she is a Tartar.


Violet glass in the State Russian Museum

After this we went to the State Russian Museum.  It contains much less art than the Hermitage, but also many, many times smaller crowds trying to see things. I most enjoyed the art from the late 19th and 20th centuries.  “Barge Haulers on the Volga” by Repin was one of my favorites. It reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of hauling York boats up the North Saskatchewan River.  I would have liked to have seen a better exhibition of art from the Soviet period.  Our guide rather rushed through this part of the exhibit, and I would far prefer to have seen it than the old 15th century paintings.

We drove back through a big traffic jam in central St. Petersburg.  At the parking lot near the museum there half a dozen tow trucks loading up cars that were illegally parked.  One of the big problems was double parked cars which blocked one complete lane of traffic, and which our guide said was illegal.  Our driver cut in and out beside buses, vans and other cars to find a way through.  He made good use of the GPS on his phone which constantly showed the updating traffic jams.


Fortress guarding St. Petersburg

We were back on board ship by 4:30.  As we were eating supper our ship pulled away from the dock, and we are now sailing down the Gulf of Finland towards Tallinn, Estonia where we will be tomorrow.  In the Gulf there are the remains of old fortresses which once guarded the port of St. Petersburg.

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St. Petersburg, June 25


The Grand Canal at Peterhof

We had an early morning start at 8 am; however clearing passport control and getting off the ship was very easy.  There were no long lines at this time of day, and we walked out with almost no wait.


Fountain at Peterhof

Albina and our driver arrived just before 8 and we told them that we didn’t have any interest in touring the subway.  So instead we went straight to Peterhof Palace, where our early arrival (because we’d skipped the subway) meant that there were few people around and so we go to see the gardens and fountains of the lower garden (the ones operating this early in the day) without a lot of people crowding around.


Fountain at Peterhof


The church at Peterhof

At about 10:30 we got in line to get into the palace.  Our guide held our place in line for a while as we looked around the upper gardens.  Both here and at Catherine Palace later in the day you must wear shoe coverings to protect the wooden parquet floors. You aren’t allowed to photograph inside the Peterhof palace, but Enid’s phrase as we entered every room, “Oh my goodness!” aptly describes the incredibly beautiful rooms and their furnishings.  There is so much opulence that without pictures to recall it has all become a blur of gold and beautiful architecture.

After lunch in a Russian fast-food restaurant (Enid and I each had a bowl of borscht, I had beef stroganoff, and Enid had a puff pastry filled with cheese), we went for a drive of about an hour through the countryside to Tsarskoye Selo, or Pushkin.  We toured Catherine’s Palace, along with the thousands of others in groups surging through the halls.  Albina our guide was very good at sneaking in to lines on the outside edges, and since there was only the two of us, she could get away with it, so we avoided some of the bigger traffic tieups.


Inside Catherine Palace

What you see in the palace is not much of the original building or its furnishings.  Since the palace was almost totally levelled in the seige of Leningrad, it has been almost entirely reconstructed.  The reconstruction is an amazing work though, as where some of the original decoration existed it was hard to distinguish it from the new work.  Not all of the artifacts survived the Second World War, since some were broken and others lost or presumed stolen; however many of them were taken from the palace by the Russians and stored safely away, so that some of the original dishes, porcelain, and furnishings are on display.  Only that it was a bit duller and the gold not so shiny distinquished the old from the new.  Many of the halls and ballrooms are enormous, as big as a large gymnasium, and the walls covered with ornate gilt work, mirrors, and candlelabras.  Over 1000 candles lighted the original ball room.


Inside Catherine Palace


The restored exterior of Catherine Palace

Exiting the palace we walked through the gardens.  The “gardens” are not what North Americans think of as a garden.  Really they are a manicured forest, with many highly trimmed trees, and gravel paths.  There are ponds, and fountains, but almost no flowers.

Because of early start today, and that we were such a small group that we could avoid many of the heavy crowds, we were actually done early and got back to the ship by 4 pm.  It was a tiring day, as we did a great deal of walking and climbed many steps in the palaces.

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St. Petersburg, June 24


The church on the spilled blood

The cruise company tells you many horror stories about clearing Russian immigration.  In our experience they are telling a lie, since it was a very easy process this morning.  We were out with some of the early tour groups, and waited in line for not more than 20 – 30 minutes to go through passport control.

Alla tours representatives arrived right on the scheduled time and met us outside the terminal where most of the Alla participants were waiting.  Our private guide, Albina, met us and took us to our car and driver.  She did an excellent job of describing to us the sights which we saw today.


Ceiling in the Hermitage

“Overwhelming” would be the one word which best described our reaction today.  We started in the Hermitage, which has a magnificent collection of art, especially for the two centuries starting from the 1700’s.  However the rooms in which the art is displayed must be some of the most luxurious rooms ever built.  I took as much time photographing beautiful ceilings and arches, as on the pictures hanging on the walls.  There were also beautiful mosaic tables, so finely crafted that you can hardly see the joints between the stones.  The peacock clock is a spectacular piece of beautiful engineering (and it still runs, but only for about two hours on Wednesday evening).


Ceiing in the Hermitage


Gilded chairs in the Hermitage

After about two hours in the Hermitage we had lunch in a Russian restaurant.  I had a cabbage soup Shchi and Enid had pelmeni, a kind of stuffed dumpling like ravioli, but better.


Church on the Spilled Blood

We went to the Church on the Spilled Blood where Tzar Alexander II was assasinated in 1881. The church has the typical onion domes of Orthodx churches, but not all of them are gilt.  Several of them are covered in coloured mosaics.  The interior of the church is almost entirely covered in mosaics, pictures of stories from the Bible, and icons of the saints.


Gilt icon stand in Peter and Paul Cathedral

From here we went to Peter and Paul fortress, which includes the cathedral where the Romanoffs are buried.  The gilt work in this church is almost beyond belief, it is so staggeringly beautiful.  Interestingly the last Russian Tzar Nicholas II (and the rest of the family) is not actually buried in the church, since he had abdicated the throne before his execution, and so was not a tzar at the time of his death.  The entire family was reburied in the 1990’s in a room attached to the end of the church, but not in the main building of the church itself.


The Hermitage from the Neva River

Finally we concluded the day with a one hour boat ride through the canals of St. Petersburg and on the Neva river.  There were so many tour boats out on the water that it was a miracle none of them collided.  Travelling on the water is an interesting way to see the buildings of the city, and it gave a good perspective on where they are located (actually all of the buildings we were in today are quite close to each other, though you generally can’t see one from the other).

As we travelled about today we saw at least six weddings taking photographs.  Our tour guide said they always want to get their picture taken at the nicest spots.  Today was a Tuesday, but our guide said that some bureaucrat tells people on which day they will get married.  She was surpirsed when we said most people in Canada would get married on a Saturday.

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Helsinki, June 23


Three Blacksmiths Statue

Today was the first day we’ve arrived at a port in mid-morning, docking at about 10:30 am.  We were again amongst the first passengers to get off the ship, and took the second shuttle bus, for €10 into the centre of Helsinki.


Selling fish from the boat

Helsinki is a fairly modern city unlike the others we have been in on this cruise.  It has no walls or ancient buildings.  We walked through the market, where many stalls were being set up, selling vegetables and fruits.  We saw one woman selling fish directly from the back of her boat.  At another stall a young woman was selling flowers pressed between glass.  Enid bought a small one for her miniature wall at home.


Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

We went to the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral.  It sits high on a large rock overlooking the harbour.  Unfortunately it was closed on Monday so we could not go in.


Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

From here we walked towards the Lutheran Cathedral.  We arrived just in time to avaoid a large tour bus, and go into the church without it being crowded.

After lunch in the Esplanade, where we were dive bombed by a couple of gulls as we ate, we walked to a grocery store where Enid got some granola bars.  There were young women riding on bicycles, or walking around town wearing bright green bibs, marked “Tourist Information”.  They were giving out information about Helsink and so Enid had asked one where we could find a store.

We then walked towards Temppellaukio Church.  It was rather hard to find from our city map.  It is blocked off from view by many apartment buildings, and it isn’t a tall structure as it is embedded right in the rock.  Without the GPS on the phone I’m not sure we’d have found it from the maps we had.  The church has a huge copper domed roof.  There was a piano concert in progress.  All around the piano were “No Picture” signs (a camera with a red slashed circle over it) and right beside it stood a woman taking a picture of the pianist.  Since the signs were right around the piano only,  and everyone else was ignoring them and taking pictures of the church, so did I (but not of the pianist).  As we were exiting the church a large tour bus of Oriental tourists was entering, and jabbering loudly,  The girl at the front desk was trying to “Sssh” them with her finger over her lips, but wasn’t having much success.  Although there were signs all around in many languages saying “Quiet” it didn’t seem to be having much effect.

After leaving the church we walked back to the Stockmann Store, a very large high-end department store.  Enid must have been tired as she hardly looked at the women’s shoes!

A shuttle bus was waiting, and we were back at the cruise ship in mid afternoon, about 3:30 pm.   

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Sunny Visby, The Walled City, June 22


The walled city of Visby

We had a big problem with time adjustment today.  Both Enid and I thought we needed to set our clocks ahead an hour — that was how we both read the ship information.  We wanted to make sure we were up early so that we could get one of the first tenders off the ship into town, and wouldn’t have to wait for a boat.  They indicated in the entertainment we went to last night that the tenders would start leaving about 7:30.  So we thought if we got up at 6:30 we would easily eat breakfast and make the first transfer.  We both missed the announcement that we should set our watches back an hour overnight.

So we awoke at 6:30, and it seemed like the ship was still quite far out to sea.  I showered, then Enid, and we went for breakfast.  Everything was closed.  We looked at the ship’s clocks and they were an hour different from our watches — they said it was 6:10 am.  So we went back to our cabin and tried to go back to sleep.  We got up just before what we thought was 7 am, and went back up to the cafeteria.  It was still closed.  So we waited for another half hour, then went back up, waited for about ten minutes and were the first people into the cafeteria.  After breakfast, we thought it was now 7:15 I went down to the lounge to get a tender ticket which they’d said would be available by this time, but there was no one there.  We waited until just before 8 am (our watch time) and I went back to the lounge and a woman there said they’d decided not to give out tender tickets unless it got too congested, so I should just go to the gangplank.  So that is what Enid and I did.

However, as we walked down the hallway we noticed that the clock said 6:55 am.  Sometime in the past hour the clock had been turned back two hours.  We were not at all certain what time it really was now,  but we got on the very first tender, and sat behind two other Canadians.  They said it was seven o’clock, and it turned out that they had done almost exactly the same as us, gone for early breakfast, only to find that the cafeteria was closed.  The crew didn’t even wait for the tender to be filled, so we were very early into Visby this morning, before 7:30.


Visby botanical gardens

We first walked along the old city wall beside the ocean, until we came to the botanical garden.  We spent the first part of the morning here, enjoying the very lovely flowers.  They had many short stemmed roses with huge blooms, as well as many other kinds of flowering plants.  It was beautiful sunny day to enjoy the flowers, one of the nicest days we’ve had so far.


Visby botanical gardens


Walls and tower gate of Visby

After the garden we walked about half way around the walled city.  The wall started in the 1300’s and over the next centuries was added on to several times, and made higher.  Much of the wall is still intact, with numerous guard towers along it, and old city gates.  You can walk up into some of the towers and get an idea of the view from the wall down into the moat outside.


The walls of Visby


Ruins of St Karins Kirka

There were at one time 16 churches inside the walls of Visby, but only one is still intact.  The stone walls, some in better repair than others, are all that remains of the others.  We went into the one operational church, St,. Mary’s Cathedral,  which dates from the 12th century.  They are in the middle of a major restoration project, so the outside of much of the church is covered in scaffolding, and the interior was blocked off by a wire fence.  However you could go into the church and photograph it, even though it was Sunday morning, as we were there so early that the service wouldn’t start for almost another hour.


St. Marys Cathedral

We walked around though the narrow cobblestone streets, looking for the Gotland Museum.  We had a very hard time following the map we had, as there are many, many intersecting streets, and our map only named a few.  Finally we felt certain that we had gone too far, and identified a named crossing so could locate ourselves.  We had to walk backwards about a kilometer, and even then we couldn’t find the museum, as it wasn’t in the location marked on our map.  Finally we found the tourist information office — and at the same time spotted the museum.

We thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  It was very modern, with most of the displays in Swedish and English.  The lowest level has displays of large pictograph stones known as the “Picture Stones of Gotsland”.  Dating from the 5th to 12th centuries, these stones are unique to this area.  Their exact purpose is not known, though some of them may have been grave markers, or simply carvings to record important historical events.  Many of them were carved into the shape of an axe head, and stood ten feet or so tall.

Another fascinating display was in the area called “The Treasury” which displayed kilograms of silver jewellery and gold and silver coins from about the 1300’s.  These were probably buried by the local wealthy people of Gotsland when it was invaded by Denmark at this time.  Then the location of the hoards was lost, and some of them were accidentally discovered just recently.  What was perhaps most interesting about these coins was their origin.  Many of them came from the middle east and Arabian countries — Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and many others — and showed the amazingly huge trading empire that was maintained by the ancient northern peoples.  There were hundreds of bracelets of solid silver, gold spoons, and other artifacts of gold, silver and bronze.

By now we were tired after a long day of walking, so were happy to wait in line for our tender back to the ship.  Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long and we were back on board by about 2:30, an hour before the final deadline.

Posted in Europe, 2014 | 1 Comment