Saturday, June 25, 2011

Oslo, Norway, June 25

Saturday, June 25. Oslo, Norway. We took a ship excursion to see the Open-Air Folk Museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula, that has an entire village of 150 buildings collected from across Norway. We also saw the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park (with 192 statues containing 600 figures, all nude) and the Olympic ski jumping facilities at Holomenkollen. We are now sailing to Copenhagen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Aarhus, Denmark, June 24

Friday, June 24. Aarhus, Denmark. This is Denmark's second-largest city and the largest port. The oldest vaulted building (a church) in Scandinavia is here, with an estimated date of 1060. We visited the Aarhus Cathedral, finished in 1520. It is the longest and highest church in Scandinavia. Aarhus also has an Old Town, with narrow cobblestone streets and buildings dating from 1600 to 1900.

Berlin, Germany, June 23

Thursday, June 23. Our port is Warnemunde, Germany. Our excursion trip to Berlin, Germany, included Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, several sections of the Berlin Wall, a Russian war memorial, the book-burning memorial, the Reichstag (parliament) building, the Holocaust Memorial, Alexander Platz, Potsdamer Platz (with the Sony Tower), and a Spree River cruise. Princess Cruises chartered two trains to take excursion passengers to and from Berlin. The train ride was three hours both ways.

The Berlin Wall was up 28 years. 1,068 people were killed while trying to go from East Berlin to West Berlin; 4,500 people were successful. "With the wind to the west" is a movie about a hot-air balloon. We saw several sections of the wall that remain as a monument or memorial to that time and condition. There is a double-row of bricks making a line in the ground where the wall has been taken down. There were two walls with a no-mans land between them, with watch towers and machine guns.

On November 9, 1989, an East German official gave a broadcast speech in which he made a big mistake. He was supposed to announce that border restrictions were in the process of being revised, but he misinterpreted the information, and instead announced that the border was immediately open to all people. Tens of thousands of East Germans who heard the broadcast went to the border gates. The shear quantity of people stormed the gates and went through. The wall was now open and soon was taken apart by people. November 9th could not be celebrated by Germans because several bad things happened on that date, so the October, 1990 date of German reunification was chosen as the celebration date. Artists were asked to paint the sections of wall that were left standing.

The division of Berlin into four parts was supposed to be harmonious, so Checkpoint Charlie was a small temporary-style hut to demonstrate the temporary nature of the division. The two "military" men in front of the hut are Berliners trying to make money from tips for posing for photos.

East Berlin had a bus that gave rides to handicapped people. The driver sat in a separate compartment, and the engine exhaust was piped into the bus interior, so all the handicapped riders would die. Handicapped people had no value in Soviet society.

The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1789 to celebrate victories of the Prussian army, and has seen the victors of several wars walking through its arches. In WW II everything around the Brandenburg Gate was destroyed, but the Gate was relatively untouched.

The Reichstag (parliament) building was burned by the Nazis, so after the war Germany kept the decorative shell of the building and built a new functional building inside the shell.

The Soviet Union built a tall television tower, with a large spherical observation deck, to dominate the sky in East Berlin. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, when the sun is shining there is a reflection from the sphere that looks like a cross. The West Berliners call that "The Pope's Revenge".

The Holocaust Memorial takes much of a city block. It is a pattern of granite blocks of different heights, somewhat like a cemetery. The museum is below the memorial.

All German school children are taken to see the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which was one of the most notorious death camps and a training center for SS soldiers.

There has been a tremendous amount of building and growth in Berlin after the war, including Alexander Platz (plaza) (named after Russian Czar Alexander I) and Potsdamer Platz (with the highly noticeable architecture of the Sony Tower).

The Spree River runs through Berlin, and at some places was part of the no-mans space between the two walls. We had a river cruise to see the center of Berlin from the river perspective. Berliners are so desperate for being on the beach that they sit and lie on the edge of the river.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia, June 21

Tuesday, June 21. Tallinn, Estonia. We walked one mile to the Old Town portion of Tallinn. The first inhabitants were here in 3,000 BC. The Old Town actually consists of two towns with a high, very thick, wall between them. The wall, built in medieval times, was between an Estonia town and a Hanseatic trading center, remaining from when Sweden took Estonia from Germany.

The town square, with the the oldest town hall in northern Europe, must have seen many deaths as countries fought over this land that provides access to the Baltic Sea.

Most Estonians don't like the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral, built across the street from the Estonia national parliament, because it was an attempt to flex Russian cultural muscles.

The upper (Estonian) town has several view points along its outer wall. The very narrow streets are cobblestone. There are numerous outside cafes and craft vendors.

Tourism has been very strong after the separation from the Soviet Union. The young Estonian females are all blue-eyed blonds; strongly Scandinavian and northern German.

St. Petersburg, Russia, June 20

Monday, June 20. Petersburg, Russia. Day two of our tour. Czar Peter the Great had the Peterhof Summer Palace built to rival Versailles, with a 300-acre park, and fountains that function on gravity.

Czar Alexander I and his wife had four daughters, but needed a son to continue the family dynasty. Their fifth child was a son, but he had hemophilia. Czar Alexander I and his wife were desperate to find medical help for their son, who was very ill. They heard about Rasputin, a monk who had a reputation for healing people. Rasputin was asked to heal the hemophiliac son, and Rasputin did help the son. Rasputin was admired by Czar Alexander I and his wife and he started having influence in the governing of Russia. This was not approved by several wealthy and influential men that were relatives of the Czar, so they secretly plotted to kill Rasputin. The poison-laced drink did not kill Rasputin, so he was shot several times and was thrown into the Neva River, hoping his body would be washed out into the Baltic Sea. It was December and Rasputin's body stayed in the icy area it was thrown into. Czar Alexander I and his wife were devastated by the death of Rasputin. It was discovered that Yusupov shot Rasputin, so Yusupov's palace and riches were taken away and Yusupov was sent to Siberia. We toured the Yusupov Palace and saw where Rasputin was poisoned.

The Church of the Spilled Blood is very ornate inside and out. It is a memorial for Czar Alexander II at the place where he was assassinated.

St. Petersburg, Russia, June 19

Sunday, June 19. Father's Day. St. Petersburg, Russia. Sweden owned this land, but Czar Peter the Great launched a war in 1700 to take this land. Czar Peter the Great wanted Russia to have access to the Baltic Sea, to make Russia less Asian. The city is named after his patron saint. Thousands of peasants cleared forests and drained swamps. When Russia went to war with Germany in 1914, the German-sounding name of St. Petersburg was replaced with the more Russian Petrograd. The city was renamed Leningrad after Lenin's death in 1924.

During WW II, Hitler's army surrounded Leningrad for 900 days. Over 650,000 people died from fighting or starvation. The citizens voted to restore the St. Petersburg name in 1991. The city has tens of rivers and canals.

The sunrise today is 4:40am, and sunset is 11:22pm!

Day one of a two-day tour. We had a brief ride around St. Petersburg, prior to a tour of the Hermitage Museum. Cruise ship tours can enter the Hermitage at 9:00am, prior to the 10:30am opening for other tourists. The Hermitage art collection includes Raphael, Rembrandt, Monet, and others. The Hermitage Museum used to be the Winter Palace, which, after Peter's death, was built for Peter's daughter Czarina Elizabeth, and for Czarina Catherine II.

We toured St Isaac's Cathedral, with its large dome and many mosaics (because paintings deteriorate in this areas high humidity. After a wonderful lunch with entertainment, our next tour was a canal boat ride on several canals and the Neva River. We went beneath numerous very low bridges. An enterprising young Russian man was on the first bridge, waving to us as we came to that bridge. He then ran to the next bridge and waved to us as we came to that bridge. He continued that for all bridges. He was waiting for us and our tips, when we returned.

Czar Peter the Great had the Peter and Paul Fortress built, to guard the mouth of the Neva River, that was taken from Sweden. We toured the fortress and the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral (in the fortress).