Monday, September 19, 2011

Sweden, ya.

Our first real stop on the cruise was in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, I say "real stop" because the ship actually docked on its second full day in a small town called Warnemunde in Germany. There wasn't much to do around there; it's really just used as a gateway to Berlin, but since that required a three hour train ride each way, we decided to pass. We had signed up for a Segway tour of Warnemunde, but that tour was canceled due to "lack of interest." Basically, nobody else on the entire ship had signed up for that tour so it was canceled.

Since we no longer had a tour lined up, I basically treated the Germany stop as another day at sea--relaxing and not doing much. I did get off the ship and walk around the port town for a bit, but not a lot. Napping seemed a higher priority.

So the first real stop for me on the cruise was Stockholm! Before actually arriving at Stockholm, the ship had to travel through Sweden's archipelago islands--24,000 of them to be exact that were formed in the most recent Ice Age. They are beautiful and dotted with summer homes and chalets that can only be reached by private boat. The captain opened the helipad (which is located at the very front of the ship) so we could go out and watch the ship sail through the islands. Several of the ship's officers (and a crew member dressed as a viking) were also out there and posing for pictures with the guests.

After taking some pictures of our trip through the islands and grabbing some breakfast at the buffet, we headed down to check-in for our shore excursion. This time we had booked an excursion called "Sweet Stockholm" that included a tour of the city with a stop at a chocolate shop for a tasting of various Swedish chocolates. When we went to our meeting place and went to check-in for our tour, Chris noticed that there were only 3 tour number stickers (you wear the number of your tour on your shirt so the crew and tour guide know where you belong). He asked if we were the last 3 people to check-in for the tour and the guy looked at him and said "Actually, you're the only 3."

Here's the deal: we were the only people to sign up for this tour. But since we had the same circumstance for our German Segway tour and they had canceled that one, the shore excursion staff felt bad canceling our tour for a second time in a row. So they left the tour going and we ended up with a private tour!

It became something of a joke; we were tour number 22 and we spent the rest of the day saying things like, "Ok, everyone try to keep up!" "Do we have everyone? Look around and make sure everyone made it back to the bus!" I am sure this wore thin with the tour guide, but we had a great time. Our tour guide and driver (named Hans, OF COURSE) was somewhat surprised that we had such a small group, but it worked out for the best since it's always easier to talk to 3 people than it is 30.

Tour 22, where are you?

After boarding our van and meeting our tour guide and driver, we set out for Stockholm! The city is actually located on a series of 14 islands that are connected by 57 bridges. It's called the Venice of the North and while it doesn't have canals per se, the Baltic Sea flows all throughout the city. Our tour started with a drive through the city with the tour guide pointing out some of the more important points (such as various museums and government buildings) and then we drove to the chocolate shop.

The shop was called Chokladfabriken and they had a whole tasting area prepared for us. The young lady from the shop told us all about how chocolate is made, and we tried some basic white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate to get started. Then the fun part! They had 9 different truffles prepared for us with all kinds of exotic ingredients randing from ginger, tea, and a sea salt caramel with licorice flavor. It was all delicious and was over much too quickly.

Looking out over one of Stockholm"s islands

In the chocolate shop!

Our chocolate spread

It was then back on the bus as we traveled to the Gamla Stan; the oldest part of Stockholm founded in the early 1200s. Cobblestone streets are lined with shops and (expensive) old town homes as well as numerous churches and squares. The Gamla Stan is also home to the Royal Palace; Sweden has a constitutional monarchy and let me just tell you, their royals are VERY good looking people. Seriously, google them. Tall and attractive, just the way a monarchy should be.

We strolled with our tour guide through the Gamla Stan and saw some beautiful buildings and heard lots of stories of Sweden's history. We then had some time to wander about and do some shopping. Our tour guide, who of course became instantly enamoured with us probably for the reason that we were 1) fun and 2) under the age of 80 bought us some Swedish sweetcakes from a lovely little pastry shop near the Royal Palace.

A square inside the Gamla Stan

Shopping in the Gamla Stan

Posing with a statute of a Swedish troubadour

At that point, there was just enough time to drive back to the port before the ship left rather early for our journey to Helsinki, Finland! Once we were back on the ship, we went to a comedy magic show which was actually very good and better than expected. My experience with cruises thus far has been that the main shows are kind of unbearable, but the side acts are always really enjoyable. Then it was off to dinner (we had the second seating at 8:30) and then Chris and I played some craps in the casino. Right when we finished playing the cruise director, a lovely older British woman named Sue, walked by and we chased her down the hall (literally) and stopped her and invited her and the Hotel Director to dinner.

More on that later--since we ended up having quite the relationship with the Hotel Director on the ship. But I don't want to get ahead of myself....coming up tomorrow: Helsinki, Finland!

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