Friday, June 17, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011 – Tallinn, Estonia – Sunny – 61F

St. Petersburg, Russia to Tallinn, Estonia: 159 Nautical Miles

A grand day in the Capital of Estonia

Tallinn 5-26 (Small)

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, the smallest and northernmost Baltic republic, was founded in 1154.  Tallinn is situated on the Gulf of Finland bordering Russia on the East and Latvia in the south.  It became an independent country following the demise of the Soviet Union. Today, it has a population of 400,000 people.  The language is Finno-Ugric, which is pretty much Finnish.  Finns and Estonians can easily understand each other.

Today, our companion ship is another German ship, the AIDA blu.

AIDA blu (Small)

AIDA blue and Jewel OTS (Small)

As we leave the ship, the wind is extremely strong (caused by the two ships generating a wind tunnel).  We went out ahead of our group to get a good seat on the bus.

Our tour today is the “Glory of Old Tallinn” and our guide, Anna, speaks excellent English.  It is “warm” day by Estonian standards, especially in the sun.  This is important since the entire tour involves walking.

 On tour Glory of Old Tallinn (Small)  

On our way…

The statue below is not that of Vladimir Lenin but rather Johan Plika.  We were told he was the founder of modern Estonia (he was a commander during the Estonian War of Independence – 1918-1920).

 Johan Plika founder of Independent Tallinn (Small)

Our bus took us to Toompea Hill (Castle Hill) the starting point for the walking tour.  This upper part of Old Town dates from the early 13th century.  The pink Parliament House (the exterior colors influenced by Catherine the Great during a visit here) stands in front of the original Toompea Castle on Palace Square.

Parliament House Castle Catherine the Great Remodel (Small)

Parliament House

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (of Nevsky Prospekt fame), a Russian Orthodox Church, was built in 1894.  Estonia, like much of the Baltic Countries, are not avid Church goers (the guide told us 17 percent of the population attend church).

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Small)

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Palace Square

The hill and in fact the Old Town is dominated by souvenir shops. 

H and Knight (Small)

Meet my friend, Sir Souvenir

Tall Hermans Tower on Toompea Hill (Small)

The Dome Church on Toompea Hill

Toomkirik, the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, is the oldest church in Tallinn.  It has a very unusual structure on one of its wall – a sundial.  Not a good choice for time keeping since Tallinn only gets about 70 sunny days a year (and we just used one up).

Toomkirk Cathedral oldest church in Tallinn 1 (Small) Toomkirk Cathedral oldest church in Tallinn 2 (Small) Toomkirk Cathedral sundial (Small)

Sundial on Toomkirik

The tour next walked to the lookout point, which afford a nice view of the lower old town.  Near the lookout, there are numerous souvenir shops but we wandered off to some of the side streets and discovered an even better lookout point.  Also present are vendors selling roasted almonds (with brown sugar and who knows what else).  I hesitated grabbing almonds with bare hands after others had done so but they looked awfully good and I was banking on everyone practicing good hygiene.  The almonds were really good and we both had several.  Hope my assumptions were solid.

E at Viewing Platform (Small)

Ellen and Lookout Point

From this vantage point, we could see St. Olaf’s Church and the Nuunatorn, one of the towers in the Medieval City.

View from Overlook (Small) Jewel OTS in distance (Small) H and E at Overlook (Small)

Lookout Point (top); The Jewel of the Seas through the buildings (middle); both of us at Lookout Point (bottom).

The walking tour continued down to the Lower Town – over cobblestone street and narrow stairways.

 Heading to Old Town (Small) E on Stairs to Old Town (Small)

Top: Heading to Lower Town; Bottom: Ellen and Cobblestone walkways.

First stop in the Lower Town:  The well with the wheel below called the “Cat’s Well”.  The townsfolk thought the well was inhabited by a witch so they threw cats down the well to vanquish said witch.  All that did was contaminate the water in the well.  Who knows what happened to the witch?

Cat's Well Old Town (Small)

We stopped at Town Hall Square.  This is a very picturesque square with colorful buildings and shops.

Town Hall Square (Small) Town Hall Square 1 (Small) Town Hall Square 2 (Small)

The yellow building below is site of the Apteegi Apothecary, the oldest pharmacy in Europe (ca. 1422); it is now a restaurant named “Molly Malone”.

Town Hall Pharmacy (Small)

The Town Hall was not only where town business was conducted but where public punishment was carried (not capital punishment – that was performed outside the city).  The public pillory was located in this building.  Another interesting feature of the building was the dragon down spouts situated along the top of the structure.

Town Hall (Small)

From here, the tour was headed for a concert at one of the local churches.  We told Anna that we were leaving to go on our own – she gave us a map and we were on our way.  The tourist information office gave us some options for internet and health spas within walking distance.  The old town was beautiful with stone buildings and stone walls (below).

E and old town walls (Small)

We did find the recommended health spa but she had no openings for the day – she did tell us there was free internet next door.  The internet place was run by a couple of students who spoke perfect English including slag and swear words.  The internet was free and we did catch up on everything.  

We did some more walking through the town, stopping at McDonalds (yes) for McFlurries (1.3 Euros each).  After McDonalds, we thought it would be wise to track down the shuttle pickup location, which we did.  Then it was back to the town to look for some souvenirs.  There was no bargaining in Tallinn so retail it was.

Tallinn seemed to have changed incredibly for the better since we were here in 2001.  St. Petersburg may be imperial but Tallinn is picturesque and very walkable.  Some of the sites are in the pictures below.

Shopping Street (Small) Old Town Gate (Small)

Entrance to Old Town shot from McDonalds

City Walls leading to shopping area (Small)

We eventually got back to the Shuttle Drop; initially, the shuttle guy wouldn’t accept our tour sticker as passage but he eventually took it.  The ride back was short. 

The day in Tallinn had remained weather perfect even during the sail away (below).

Tallinn sail away (Small)

Dinner was in the Windjammer Cafe (Ellen with Cafe artwork).

E at Windjammer (Small)

At dinner, we had a chance to chat with Betsy Bogart and Wayne Boyd, the Piano/Guitar/Vocal group on board.  They are from Burbank CA and are starting their contract on the Jewel OTS.  They told me they might make my next lecture.

Bob Trunell was the Showtime Headliner tonight.  He is a magician – comedian and we have seen him before.  He has simple yet entertaining illusions (even though I figured out how he pulled one of them off).  He is also very funny and always seems to find the right foils from the audience.

When we got out of the show, I was able to get another of those “White Nights” Sunsets (9:45 PM), including one with a jet contrail in the picture (far below).

Sunset 945 PM 5-26 (Small) 

Sunset and Contrail (Small)

Clocks move backward (yea…) tonight.

Seas are smooth.

Monday, May 30, 2011 – Harwich, England – Partly Cloudy – 62F

Gothenburg, Sweden to Harwich, England: 527 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage: 3131 Nautical Miles

Disembarkation Day

Happy Memorial Day

We never got the chop expected from the notorious North Sea but I still got up so early – those biorhythms need some serious re-calibration.  I was pretty much awake when the JOTS arrived in Harwich at about 4 AM (the shuddering of the ship as it maneuvers to the pier can’t be missed).

The JOTS has returned (Small)

Jewel of the Seas – Voyage Completed

Instead of just getting a transfer to the airport, for just a few dollars more, we have a combination tour and airport transfer this morning - “Panoramic London and Heathrow”.  We grabbed a lightning quick breakfast at the Windjammer (a zoo this morning) and met at the Coral Theater at 7:15 AM.  Soon we were off the ship, had our luggage, and were in the first two seats in our tour bus (best seats in the house and the only reason I was able to get some of the pictures below).

  On our way to London (Small)

On our way to London

It may be difficult to see in the picture below but there is a radar tower in the distance.  In WWII, Britain (who invented Radar) had three such radar towers in operation.  Their main purpose was to spot German warplanes and give people ample warning to seek shelter.  The one in the picture is the only remaining tower and is now a national monument.

Radar used to detect German aircraft (Small)

WWII Radar Tower National Monument

We also passed the Ford Plant (below).  Ford was been building cares in England for 100 years at this plant – the wind turbine supplies electricity for the plant.

Wind Turbine at Ford Plant (Small)

Windmill at Ford Plant

After a nice rest stop about 60 minutes into the trip (at a very nice highway Oasis), were were at the outskirts of London.  Today was a Bank Holiday in England so the traffic on the highways was very light.  Today was also the day of a major marathon race in London.  Many of the streets would be blocked and access to some of London’s most famous sites would not be possible.

The first site we came to was the “Tower of London”, where many were imprisoned or worse.  We were able to get a good view of the Tower from the Tower Bridge.

Tower of London (Small)

The Tower of London

Tower Bridge (Small)

Crossing the Tower Bridge

Our driver was able to find a small side street from which we could a good view of the Thames, the Tower Bridge, and the British Warship HMS Belfast (WWII).  We also managed to get someone to take our picture against such a famous landmark.

We at the Tower Bridge (Small)

Tower Bridge and the Thames and us

E and Tower Bridge (Small) 

Looking good along the Thames

Tower Bridge on Thames (Small) 

The Tower Bridge

 Buckingham Palace maybe (Small)

Tower of London

Battle Ship Belfast (Small)

HMS Belfast on the Thames

London Skyline (Small)

Skyline of London with St. Paul’s Cathedral

 Parliament 1 (Small) 

Big Ben and Parliament across the Thames

The next real stop was at Covent Gardens, where we had a full hour to explore.  Covent Gardens started out as a small flower shop and now it is home to upscale stores, vendors, and street artists.  We walked around the various streets (three pictures below).

 Covent Gardens 1 (Small) Covent Gardens 2 (Small) Covent Gardens 3 (Small)

We also tried, with no success, to find free Wi-Fi.  I thought we had found the grail at a Starbucks right by our bus spot.  The Starbucks in London do not offer free Wi-Fi – you need to buy a Starbucks card to get internet access. 

Covent Gardens is in the West End Theater District and many popular shows were currently playing.

Lyceum Theater (Small) Lyceum Theater 1 (Small)

The “Lion King” at the Lyceum Theater (above); “Shrek the Musical” at Drury Lane Theater (below).

Lion King Drury Lane (Small)

Our tour continued with a great view of the London Skyline (top)  and Victoria Station (bottom).

London Skyline 2 (Small) Victoria Station (Small)

The bus drove by Parliament Square for a great view of the Parliament Building.  In the front, there is a statue of Richard the Lion Hearted on his horse.

Parliament and King Richard the Lionheart (Small)

Parliament – Richard the Lion Hearted Statue

Westminster Abby is across the street from the Parliament Building so the bus gave us some photo ops (from the bus).

 Westminster Abby 1 (Small)

Westminster Abby 2 (Small) Westminster Abby 3 (Small) Westminster Abby 4 (Small) Westminster Abby South Exit (Small)

Westminster Abby (top: From the back; top middle and bottom middle: From the front; bottom: The South Exit, where dignitaries and the recent Royal Wedding guests depart).

Another swing around Parliament Square gave me a chance to get a picture of Oliver Cromwell.

Oliver Cromwell at Parliament (Small)

We also saw other sites as we made out way of the city.

New Scotland Yard (Small)

 New Scotland Yard

Harrods (Small)

Harrods Department Store

Soon, we were on our way to Heathrow.  The ride took about 15-20 minutes and the bus dropped us off at Terminal 3 at around 12:30.  We checked in and checked out bags, passed through security (did not take off our shoes) and made our way to one of the many Departure Lounges to join a zoo of other passengers waiting to find out their gate assignments (below).

 Waiting at Heathrow (Small)

The small and quiet lounge at Heathrow

While waiting for our gate assignment, we spent 3 pound ($4.80) to check our e-mail and chat with the kids for a few minutes. 

At around 3:50 PM, we found out our gate and proceed over – not too far in this case.  At Heathrow, once you enter a gate area, you cannot leave without having to be rescreened when you get back.  We stayed outside the boarding area until pretty much the last minute to avoid the multiple screenings.  Another reason for not checking in until near boarding is the lack of seats in the small boarding “cage”.

Our plane was there, a good omen, and the flight boarded and pushed on time.  We had great seats on this flight – 21H and 21J (second row exit seats) – with plenty of leg room and a window.  The only way to fly.

It had started to drizzle but that wasn’t going to be an issue.

Flight 91 767-300 (Small)

The plane boarded on time and took off on time – despite a few bumpy intervals as we skimmed the cloud tops, the flight was relatively smooth. 

 Heathrow Climbout 1 (Small)

Heathrow Climb Out

Heathrow Climbout 2 (Small)

See the strange gray stream across the wing

IMHeathrow Climbout Clearing the Clouds (Small) 

A hint of blue sky

Blue Skies (Small)

Breaking through the clouds

Smooth Air (Small) 

Above the clouds – what a blue sky

I am writing this on the plane at 4:31 Chicago Time.  We still have a ways to go.  This is what we are looking at right now (below) – off the coast of Newfoundland.

4-30 PM CDT (Small)

We had two meals on board – dinner (Chicken and Kishke – which was very good).  There was some difficulty in getting our meals to heat properly so the flight attendant offered us complimentary wine for our troubles – the wine was pretty good. 

The second dinner consisted of a spinach tart – I was skeptical but it was pretty good.  The flight attendant also gave us a personal cheese pizza (the regular meal).  That worked out fine except that the expiration date on one of the meals was several months ago.  I plan to contact American about this.

The plane began its descent into O'Hare a little early.  The approach this time was straight in – probably over Evanston (below).

 Nearing ORD the Lake shoreline (Small)

Over the Lake

Final Approach ORD (Small)

Over the North Shore

Touchdown (Small)

Touchdown – smooth as silk

Immigration was quick – our luggage was there – and before I could think of calling a cab, Danny was there with the kids.  A great surprise.  The trips were tiring but we really enjoyed these two cruises.  I would do the this cruise combination again (Transatlantic and Baltic) and figure out a way to deal with the multiple time changes.