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Photo Post – Alaska

One of the reasons for the big gap in posting around here this summer was because during the first half of August, we were off cruising the inside passage of the Alaskan panhandle. Although I’m not a fan of large cruise ships (and the time trapped “at sea”), the scenery was spectacular as advertised.

Below are a few of my favorite shots, and more are in this gallery. I have some 360° images still to be posted.

Golden Gate Bridge

We sailed out of San Francisco and under the Golden Gate Bridge, but just barely since this is a huge ship.

Creek Street

Creek Street in Ketchikan. All of the small towns in which we docked had a Disney-esque tourist feel to them. This felt more genuinely historic than the others.

Lake Mendenhall

Most of the back half of the trip was spent under cold, gray skies. That still made for some interesting images, like these very low hanging clouds around the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau.

Tracy Arm Fiord 7

One of many incredible views as the ship cruised up the Tracy Arm fjord. Huge mountains with long waterfalls, magical clouds, and, not seen in this shot, large chucks of ice in the water.

Coffee Service

I just found it amusing that, while observing some absolutely spectacular natural beauty, passengers could still buy their expensive coffee from that cart in the lower right.

At Sea

While I’ve written a little about each of the seven cities we visited on the big trip (the posts are here if you want to catch up), there’s still some time unaccounted for.

Because it takes a while to move a huge ship between ports and down relatively narrow channels (that’s our boat in the picture, waiting at the pier in Tallinn), two days of the cruise were spent “at sea”.

This was the part I was least anticipating, mostly because I don’t do well with the kind of organized fun that I’ve often seen as part of the cruising cliche.*

Big Boat

However, if you think of the ship as a huge resort complex (with many of the associated options) that some genius engineer managed to make float, it’s not so bad.

Although they said we had 2600 passengers on board (plus about half that many crew), it rarely seemed crowded, other than the last minute lines returning from shore excursions.

Most spaces were very comfortable and surprisingly open, decorated in a style reminiscent of most of the upper middle priced chain hotels I’ve visited (think Hyatt/Mariott/Westin). Pleasant, but not worth taking pictures of.

Onboard activities, of which there were many, ran the spectrum from standard Vegas lounge acts (and a casino, of course) to an interesting showing of a documentary on moving and preserving a New York theater presented by the filmmaker.  And shopping, of course.

The ship also had plenty of outdoor activities and spaces available, although they didn’t seem to get much use due to the cool, windy weather on the two at-sea days.  But some of those spaces did offer wonderful vantage points for pictures.

Of course, you could always find a quiet corner to sit, read, and watch the ocean go by. Or eat yourself silly at the buffet that was open 24/7 (with some surprisingly good items).

All in all, large-ship cruising is not necessarily my favorite way to travel (the last time we cruised was somewhere back in the 90’s and many things have changed for the better since then) but this experience was still very enjoyable.

If you’d like to see a small collection of pictures of the ship and views from it, visit the At Sea set on my Flickr page.

I’ll be posting more pictures to Flickr as I review everything I shot second time, but this will probably be my last post about the trip here.  The normal stream of irrational rants will resume. :-)


*I’m old enough to remember that height of 70’s TV cheese, The Love Boat, which set a standard for cruising cliches for two decades or more.

Oslo

So, we arrive at the final port of our cruise and it was clear as soon as we docked that this visit was going to be something special.

After all, it’s not every day that you get a close-up view of a medieval castle from your balcony. How cool is that?

The picture below is one of those shots, showing one tower of the Akershus Fortress, built starting in the 1200’s to defend the city and gradually enlarged over the years as the population grew.

Akershus Fortress

Our 100% walking tour (yeah!, no bus) began with our guide leading us across the street and through the grounds of the Fortress, which now include several museums and monuments.

From there we spent the rest of our very short time in Oslo wandering around the beautiful downtown area.  As in almost all our other stops on this trip, we were again fortunate to have gorgeous weather and many people were out in the parks and cafes enjoying it.

The centerpiece of our tour, and of the port area of the city, was the massive City Hall building which dominates the port area.

Although the exterior is somewhat bland and boxy*, the inside is something else.  Brightly colored murals detailing Norwegian history and life by native artists cover many of the walls

The ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize is held each December in the central atrium of the Hall and it’s a very impressive space, although I thought it actually looks smaller in pictures and on video.

And after another far too brief day in port, it was time to leave.  Add Oslo to that list of cities visited on this trip that we will definitely be returning to in the future, possibly at the top of it.

If you’re interested, there’s a small collection of pictures with commentary from our time in Oslo in my flickr photostream.

Overnight we sailed back to our starting point and the big trip we had planned for and anticipated for months was over.  Almost appropriately, it was raining in Copenhagen as the bus took us to the airport, just as it had been the day we left.

Anyway, I’ll have a couple more posts about our experiences on the cruise coming soon, not to mention a bunch more pictures, and then it’s time to move on to something else.

Like planning where in the world to go next.


*Our port lecturer said the building has been included on a list of the ten ugliest building in the world. That’s rather harsh since we have at least ten in DC that are worse. :-)  See what you think.

Gdansk

This sixth stop on our grand tour of the Baltics was my least favorite and on the bottom of the list of places from this trip to revisit.

Which is not to say we didn’t have a good time touring the area and learning something of the history and culture.

Part of my dissatisfaction was due to the amount of time we spent on a bus in workday traffic traveling between Gydinia, the port where our ship was docked, and the old town section of Gdansk.

Blame part of it also on amber.

It seems the stuff was everywhere (including “incredible bargains” on the ship :-) and the excursion we took started by touring a small workshop turning out almost every type of amber trinket possible.

And, of course, we had lots of time to shop for their products in the company store after the tour. Not my choice or my thing.

Anyway, after that came the ride to Gdansk and the view from the bus displayed an area with a very industrial face, not surprising because of their long history of shipbuilding and shipping.

It also had a look reflective of more than four decades of centralized planning under Russian-dominated Communist control.

Dlugi Targ

We passed one immense, blandly colored apartment complex that the guide said was over one kilometer long and at least ten stories high.  There were several similar structures in the same area.

At the end of the ride we arrived at the old town section of Gdansk, an area that beginning in the 15th century was a busy trading center.

While the city was heavily damaged during World War II, most of the structures in this historic area, some with very ornate decorations, have been restored in the years since the iron curtain lifted.

As you can see from the picture, the streets were very busy, likely due to the arrival of some beautiful summer weather.

This view is of the Dlugi Targ (Long Market), the main road (now a pedestrian area) through the old town section.  Shops and restaurants line either side, leading up to the prison tower in the background.

After a far too brief walking tour (maybe I do want to return), the bus headed back to the boat, taking an historical swing past the Gdansk shipyards, where the Solidarity movement that lead to Poland’s independence began in the 1980’s, and the monument to the workers killed during conflicts with the government.

However, I never did see the “very popular beaches” that were somewhere over there on our left (and then on our right).

If you’re interested, more pictures from Gdansk and the port city of Gdynia are in this set on my Flickr page.

Just one more stop on the big trip, headed to the Norwegian capital of Oslo.

Tallinn

Our fifth stop on the big trip was a little different since it’s probably the only city of the seven we visited that is not well known in the US.

Indeed, my only experience with Tallinn prior researching the cruise, was the episode of the Amazing Race 15 in which the teams spent about as much time as we did (as in, not much) running around the old town.

Anyway, Tallinn was a very nice surprise. The lower old town section we explored, considered to be one best preserved in Europe, has a Disney-designed medieval feel, although populated with much friendlier and more genuine people.

Viru Gate

In the picture, those towers were on either side of the Viru gate at which we started our walking tour and are part of a defensive wall build in the the 1500s, most of which still stands (largely restored, of course).

A town has been in existence on the same location since the 1150s but despite that long history, Estonia has only been an independent country since 1993 when they were cut loose from the former Soviet Union. Before that the area was claimed at various times by the Danes, Swedes and Germans.

However, in the past 17 years the people have been working hard to bring their nation into the modern age, establishing both dynamic tourism and high technology industries. Interesting fact: Skype was created by a trio of Estonian developers.

The day we visited Tallinn was near the start of the annual Old Town Days, a two-week music and arts festival that seemed to have attracted lots of visitors besides those from our ship.

And there were plenty of restaurants, all with patio seating, waiting to serve them on a sunny and relatively warm early summer day.

The charm and atmosphere of old town Tallinn is hard to explain in words so take a look at some of the pictures I took in this Flickr set.

Once again, this was another city I would like to return to explore in more depth and, since it’s only a three hour ferry ride from Helsinki, it should be easy to combine the two for another Scandinavian vacation.

But for this one, we have two more ports and the next stop is Gdynia and Gdansk, Poland.

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