I had long promised Adam a non-running trip. When his 40th birthday was rolling around this past December, we had been anxiously seeking various cruises to celebrate. Dubai, South America, Panama Canal, Southeast Asia, Greece, and the Baltics were all on the table. Ultimately, we drug our feet and couldn't make any decisions for months. However, I received a tip about an airfare war in March and within a couple of hours, we solidified our trip to the Baltics.
Visiting Russia was at the top of my own list. After taking an Imperial Russia course at Emory as part of my history minor, I briefly sought out adding a Russian Studies minor to my diploma. Though I ended up 2 credits short in the end, I truly enjoyed the classes I took in Russian history and literature. My favorite book of all time is Doctor Zhivago and my collegiate copy is well-worn from multiple readings. Sometime before I neared 30, I started writing down a bucket list and included "Visiting the Hermitage Museum".
Though I knew our time in Russia would be limited for this trip, 2 days would give me enough of a taste to satisfy a bit of my curiosity. Current politics aside, the country has such a fascinating and unique history that seeing even a smidgen of it was going to make me happy.
Top 10 (in no particular order)
The Hermitage Museum
Stockholm with new friends
Eating outdoors in Tallinn
Soviet Nuclear site
Listening to jazz on Saturday afternoon in Copenhagen
Table 322 antics
Run in Amsterdam (side note: I ran 104.4 miles on vacation!)
Painting Russian nesting dolls
Monday, May 1-Tuesday, May 2: Atlanta-->London-->Amsterdam
We flew from Atlanta to London, London to Amsterdam. I slept for about 6 hours on the overnight flight and felt anxious to spend at least of couple of daylight hours in Amsterdam being productive. Adam slept maybe 20 minutes on the plane and was exhausted. So I left him to nap in the hotel and I took off on a 5 mile run around the town.
I finished in a park a few blocks from the hotel and walked around a bit just enjoying a chilly afternoon. When I came back, we asked the front desk for a quick and inexpensive dinner recommendation and ended up getting a Hawaiian pizza (me) and a gyro (Adam) at a little restaurant near the hotel.
Wednesday, May 3: Amsterdam-->Copenhagen
Our flight to Copenhagen was super early and we ended up paying extra for the shuttle to get us to the airport at gross o' clock. We killed a little time at the Copenhagen airport Starbucks (re: I needed a Venti and a croissant) before we hailed a taxi to the port. I was a little nervous that it was too early to check in, but luckily we pretty much just walked right up and didn't even have to stand in a line!
We spent the next couple of hours grabbing lunch, saying good-bye to WiFi, and checking out the boat. I went to the gym for a run after the muster station drill and then enjoyed some wine on the balcony before dinner.
Our table of ten started out slowly with introductions, but warmed throughout the evening. There was an older couple from Israel who would only be with us the first night as they got their seating time mixed up, but the other couples would eventually be the people we spent most of our last day on the boat with. Kevin & Nicola from Ireland, Karen & Rodrigo from Guatemala, and Mike & Derrick from Philly (via Canada) would prove to be an added bonus to our amazing trip.
Adam and I had a drink at the pub after dinner and listened to the guitarist play a myriad of classic rock songs.
Thursday, May 4: Sea Day
Going across time zones, we lost an hour on our sea day. But Adam was still catching up on sleep and happily spent half the day lounging in our room. I made my way to breakfast and then hopped on the treadmill for 15 loooooong miles on one of 2 treadmills facing the mirror. Even my iPod couldn't save me from the boredom.
Adam and I got a late lunch after that and then wandered around the ship until we stumbled on BINGO. Sleep slapped me across the face at that point and so we went back so I could catch a nap myself before we got gussied up for formal night.
Dinner was even better with more conversation this time around and luckily there were very little lulls in the conversation. It was really fun getting to know people from all over the world and as each day progressed, I began to look forward to our dinners together more and more.
Friday, May 5: Riga, Latvia
We decided when choosing shore excursions to do a basic city tour in Riga. Our guide walk us around the small town and gave us information about various sites as we passed them. Most of the tour groups ended up listening to an organ concert for half an hour in the Riga Cathedral, built in 1211. Though it has been modified throughout the years, there was certainly that "old bones" feeling about the interior.
The tour itself was okay--it was difficult to hear our guide sometimes and we often would catch just the beginning or the end of the importance of a site. However, the day was absolutely stunning and seeing a city that looked very different than home was a great experience.
Saturday, May 6: Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn was one of the few cities we didn't have an agenda. After speaking with my mom and a colleague, they both indicated that just walking around the old city was perfectly lovely and no tour was necessary. So we took the shuttle from the ship to the old town and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours wandering the streets of Tallinn. We saw beautiful flower markets, old fortresses, and cobblestone lined streets that looked like something out of a movie. I bought a hat from a wool shop and eventually, we sat down for beer and a hearty snack in the main square.
Unless you apply for a private visa, the easiest way to see Russia while cruising as an America is to go with one of the ship tours. Disembarking the ship was vastly different here as each person had to have a 2-day visa created for them. Much in the way TSA checks your boarding pass and ID, the customs officials go over your documents. However, instead of glancing at you, the agent stares at you for an uncomfortable amount of time before creating your visa and handing you back your documents.
Monday, May 8: St. Petersburg, Russia
The second day in Russia was an all day tour that started at Catherine's Palace in Pushkin. We were able to get the scoop on the celebrations of Victory Day--May 9th. The whole city was preparing for parades and celebrations much in the same way we celebrate July 4th in the US. Streets were decorated with orange and black ribbons as a symbol of patriotic support.
Back on the bus, we took a few photo stops in the city and then had lunch at a local restaurant where we had Caesar salad, meatballs & potatoes, and a spongy white cake for dessert.
Tuesday, May 9th: Helsinki, Finland
A visit to an ice bar was on the docket for Finland. We took a short tour of the city make our way around to a couple of government buildings, embassies, and historic sites.
Wednesday, May 10: Stockholm, Sweden
Our Irish tablemates Nicola and Kevin (along with latecomer Cece) did not have any excursions planned for Stockholm so we paired up with them to ride the Hop On/Hop Off bus. Somehow, we managed to purchase tickets for the 2 different tour companies and I sprinted back to the ticket office to try to exchange ours. Luckily, they were able to switch them and after that minor SNAFU, we carried on with our day.
Thursday, May 11: Klaipeda, Lithuania
We weren't docking until noon so I used the morning to get in a short run before starting the rest of the day. It wasn't easy after drinking with the Irish all day, but I felt better after the first mile.
Derrick and Mike had also signed up for the Soviet Nuclear Site tour and we arranged to meet beforehand to ensure we got on the same bus. We got a small glimpse of the port town as we left to head out to the site.
We stopped at a restaurant for a meal of beer, borscht, potatoes, more potatoes, and potatoes with meat. Our guide warned us that Lithuanians really like potatoes.
Friday, May 12: Sea Day
I decided to try to run a 20 miler on the last day at sea. It was arduously boring, but I broke it up into 3 sections and just tried to keep the pace super easy. After a shower and food, we met up with the table crew and played on the rock climbing wall.
Then we froze our butts off playing 9 holes of mini golf.
I actually ended up seeing Karen and Rodrigo as well as Kevin and Nicola while grabbing breakfast in the Windjammer. One last goodbye!
Adam and I hung out for awhile just outside of the port as we needed to kill a little time before taking a taxi to the Airbnb. I was a little nervous because we had been without communication for so long, but we got the address, found the right place, and the Spanish girls staying prior to us allowed us to leave our luggage so we didn't have to haul it around all morning.
We walked towards the city center and decided to take the Hop On/Hop Off bus to get our bearings on the city. After about an hour, we had completed the circuit and I suggested we get off to grab something for lunch.
I woke up and headed out a couple of blocks to run around the 3 large lakes that separate the city center from the Nørrebro district. The lakes are lined with gravel paths and are basically a runners paradise. I ended up doing 2 loops that equaled around 8 miles or so and loved every second of being able to enjoy a city in this way.
We had nearly an entire day left to spend in Copenhagen. I went on another lovely run at the lake.
We were in Amsterdam for 8 hours and had just enough time to sleep before going back to the airport. Our flight to Dallas was 11 hours and after the lovely technology of our British Airways flight, we found that they had the overhead TVs on the American Airlines flight. I ended up finishing Shoe Dog and a bunch puzzles in between a nice nap.
Landing in Dallas was jarring to say the least. Gone were all the svelte, conservative mannered Scandinavians. In their place were the 'Mericans. But I was ready to make that final flight back to Atlanta and sleep in my own bed.
Jeff kindly picked us up from the airport and let us tell stories the entire way back to our house. Being reunited with the pups was the perfect end to a pretty perfect vacation.
P.S. Thanks for the memories table 322. You made this trip 100% more fun. We hope our paths cross sometime in the future!