Saturday, 2 June 2012

Cruise Review

Well, I promised I would do a write-up of the cruise, so here we go. I'm sure an exhaustive account would be a bit boring, so I'm just going to bring you the edited highlights.

Emma and Eve outside Bodiam Castle
Before setting sail, we spent a few days at my parents' house in Brighton. We took the kids to see Bodiam Castle, a very atmospheric place that I have fond memories of visiting as a nipper. It has an interesting history, never actually seeing conflict but more there to look impressive, and the interior was ruined in the English Civil War; however, it remains a superb example of a quadrangular (square-shaped) castle. The most fascinating parts, according to Eve (the three-year-old) were the garderobes: in other words, the toilets. Many of the rooms had these nifty ensuite facilities, which disposed of your business neatly into the moat below. Eve climbed giddily up the steps in each tower, looking for the next toilet. (Did you know garderobe means "keep clothes" in Old French? Yep, people kept what was usually their only outfit in the smallest room because the smell was the only thing that kept the moths away. Mmmm.)

So after this brief visit, we departed from Southampton. Only Emma and Heather disembarked at the first port of call, Amsterdam. (The two teenagers, Andrew and Hannah, stayed with their dad for this holiday.) Emma was thrilled to get a chance to see Anne Frank's secret annexe, having studied the diary in school. Apparently the place still retains a very emotional atmosphere.

Dragons in Tallinn Town Square
We then had two days at sea, with some very choppy conditions, before docking at Tallinn, Estonia. This is a very picturesque old city where we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the town square. The highlight of this day for Eve were the two dragons sticking their heads out of the old church. I took a close-up which you can see here.

Next was the undoubted high point of our voyage, a two-day sojourn in St Petersburg. I must admit to having been ignorant of some of the finer points of this fair city, such as the fact that it is crisscrossed by canals leading to it being dubbed the "Venice of the North", and the stunning Baroque architecture at every turn. We learnt a lot about its turbulent lifespan, from its inauguration by Peter the Great and the construction of its many elaborate palaces and churches, to the Soviet years when many of these were desecrated, to the subsequent downfall of the USSR, when St Petersburg started to enjoy a more relaxed European feel.

Gardens at Peterhof
Among the most interesting sights was the Hermitage, an art gallery and museum of gargantuan size, which contains the old Winter Palace of the Royal Family. It holds artworks by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso and Monet, among many others. We also enjoyed Peterhof, Peter's summer residence at the seaside, which features ornate gardens with gold-covered statues and over 150 fountains. It was definitely easy to imagine how the Revolution came about, as the ordinary peasants who couldn't afford a loaf of bread were none too pleased at the wealth and opulence enjoyed by the Tsars. Interestingly, the first Revolution came about in St Petersburg (then Petrograd) in February 1917, organised by members of parliament. It was not until October that Lenin's Bolsheviks seized command, beginning a hegemony that would ultimately come to be as resented as the royalty.

Two days later we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark. This was only a brief stop with about four hours to spare, so we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the harbour area, which has a peaceful quality. The main thing we wanted to see was the statue of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, which we found after about fifteen minutes. We had an interesting experience there. Now I'm not intending this story to be racist: I'll simply relate what happened, and I'm interested to know if anyone has seen anything similar.

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen: Eve still
traumatised from Japanese tourist
There was a sizeable crowd around this attraction, all busily snapping away, so it took some time waiting for our turn to get a picture. A large group of Japanese tourists were taking pictures of each other in front of the Mermaid. They were smiling and waving at the kids: not an unusual occurrence. But then one man put his arms out and scooped Eve up, presumably, I thought, in order to pass her to me so Heather could take a picture (the statue is on top of a boulder at the waterside, and you have to negotiate some smaller rocks to get close to it). But no: he proceeded to pose with our child while all his friends took photographs, before handing her back to me. Now I've got no problem with people telling me she's cute (I mean, they're right, after all), but this seemed to me extremely weird and not something most people in the West would dream of, with the culture of paranoia over children that exists. But to these people it seemed to be perfectly normal. What do you think? Anyway, here is the picture that we finally managed to get.

After this we had another couple of days to get back to Southampton, passing through the same patch of choppy water as the week before, then we got on a plane back to Edinburgh. All in all an amazing holiday. It was our third cruise but I think the best one. The ship was just the right size (not big enough to get lost in), everyone was warm and friendly, we met other families (there weren't too many kids on the ship so it was great for the girls to make friends), and the food was superb with lots of variety. The kids' club was awesome with three sessions a day lasting almost three hours each (yeah, we were spoiled), and the pool might have been too cold for a dip, but we did enjoy the hot tub.

At the restaurant

Emma and Eve with Kids' Club staff

Enjoying a beer on the top deck

What was your last great holiday?

Stop press: The ladies at Thinking Through Our Fingers are hosting an amazing giveaway which is open until June 7th. A critique from four different writers - who wouldn't want to win that?

And don't forget you can still enter my giveaway until June 11th!


KamilleE said...

This looks like a lovely cruise! Looks like you had lots of fun! The picture of Peterhof is beautiful!

I haven't been on a holiday since 2008 and even then, it was nothing special.

Chuck said...

I would say grabbing up someones kid like that in New York might get you shot! What was that guy thinking. Looks like you had a fun trip nonetheless.

My last great holiday was my trip to Fiji last year. I have page on my blog about it...kinda cool reading. I leave for Belize in two weeks, so that will be the NEXT great holiday!

Kyra Lennon said...

Yeah, it's so not normal to just help yourself to someone's kid! I think that would freak most people out!

Sounds like an amazing trip to some fab places!

Liwi said...

How cool! The pictures are great! I love old thing I just adore about Europe. Yikes to the Japanese tourist..who DOES that??? I don't know if that's a cultural thing....but at least now you know the little one will be forever in Japanese vacation pictures. I always wonder how many tourist pictures I'm accidentally in...

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Wow, looks like a great trip. Although the Japanese tourist thing would have given me a heart attack.

I'm very much a homebody. I prefer to hear about others vacations rather than taking them for myself ;)

Elise Fallson said...

What a fabulous trip! I so want to visit St Petersburg one day... And don't worry about the Japanese taking pics of your kids. The same thing happened to me with my daughter, twice actually. Once when we were visiting D.C., a tour bus of Japanese tourists arrived at the hotel as I was exiting with my daughter (about 3 at the time) and several women stood next to her and took pictures. It was weird. The second time it happened in Paris, but by then I was used to it. lol! Anyway, glad you all had a wonderful time! (:

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

My husband and I had an unexpected day long layover in Amsterdam on our way to Italy years go and we went to see the Anne Frank house. It truly is an amazing experience and I'm so glad we went, even if it was on the spur of the moment. :)

Cherie Reich said...

Wow! It sounds like you had a fantastic holiday!

Nick Wilford said...

Kamille - Peterhof was stunning and we were so lucky with the weather - a couple of days before it was pouring!

Chuck - Apparently it is something the Japanese like to do - taking pictures of white children, preferably blonde. The older kids' dad picked us up from the airport and said he saw this at Buckingham Palace.

I'll have a read of your Fiji page. Enjoy Belize!

Kyra - Well, luckily Eve was not too freaked out - she is generally good with people... I was going to say something but my wife whispered to leave it. One of those things... Yes, it was an amazing trip!

Liwi - It does seem to be a cultural thing, but no, you don't expect your kids to be featured in other people's photos!

Ruth - When I hear about other people's holidays I always want to go there!

Elise - We'd like to go back to St Petersburg. In two days we only scratched the surface of what there is to see... maybe we could all meet up, lol.

Well, I now know this has happened to others... but at the time I was taken aback. They don't seem to be worried about the reaction!

Madeline - I'd love to have seen it. We decided just Emma and Heather would go, as Eve wouldn't really have understood and so Emma could spend quality time with her mum.

Cherie - We did indeed!

S.P. Bowers said...

Your trip sounds amazing! Whenever we go to scottish festivals (laugh if you want) our kids wear kilts. We get a lot of people asking to take their pictures and I see a lot of people taking their pictures without asking. I've kind of gotten used to it since there's not much I can do about it. Other than watch them very carefully in case there's a crazy who wants more than a picture.

Shell Flower said...

Wow, that sounds like such a cool trip. St. Petersburg looks amazing. I'd love to go there.

It's interesting how other cultures view children. I've not heard of the Japanese thing, though it makes sense. My friend is married to an Ethiopian man, who, when new in the States, used to try to pick up babies from their mothers on the bus. In Ethiopia, they sort of have that "it takes a village" mentality, so the children belong to everyone in a sense. My friend had to tell him that he,especially as a black man, was scaring the crap out of people because nobody picks up random children in America. To him, it was totally normal to pick up a child in public to help the mother out, and to fawn over the cuteness or whatever. Everyone does that there, and it would be rude not to. So, yeah, culture really gives people a different perspective.

Anyway, sounds like you should have a lot of writing inspiration both by settings and experiences you had on your trip.

C.B. Wentworth said...

Wow! What an amazing trip. :-) Thanks so much for sharing all the details. Estonia and St. Petersburg are both places I have on my bucket list.

Jessica L. Celaya said...

Sounds like you had fun! I can't imagine the castle toilets. That's just crazy, but back in the day I suppose it worked. Thanks for sharing.

Emily R. King said...

Amazing pictures! The one of you with the Mermaid statue is great. How weird that Eve had her picture taken with a stranger. Wouldn't it have been nice to know what that man was thinking?

Leslie said...

That sounds like a fantastic cruise! And I agree that the mermaid statue is very cool! My kids (okay, me too) would love taking our pics with her.

I have a special place for England in my heart. I lived in England for about 7 years total in my childhood when my dad was serving over there in the Air Force. One of these days I want to travel back there with my husband and family.

And also, thanks for stopping by my blog and your kind comment on Leigh's blog. It's so nice to "meet" other writers online.

Julie Dao said...

You have a beautiful family! Looks like you all had a great time on the cruise. I love that picture of the gardens at Peterhof - how amazing is that fountain?! I've been to London but would love to travel back someday to see other parts of England. There's something so romantic and intriguing about Europe that you can't quite experience in the U.S. I love it!

Martin Willoughby said...

Now that's an interesting holiday...though it looked a bit cold.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

How fun! That sounds like the trip of a lifetime to me. That is odd about the guy posing with your daughter though.

The last trip we had was in Jan. when we went to San Antonio, TX and watched our grandson play as QB in the Army All-American Game. I got some pretty pictures of the River Walk area.

Thanks so much for stopping by to say hello, and for sharing your family vacation with us.

Kathy M.

Unknown said...

Sounds like you had tons of fun. I love that Japanese tourists part. haha I lived in Taiwan, did a study abroad in China, and spent a month in South Korea. In all those places people wanted to take my picture. Love it.

Glad you and the fam had fun. I'm jealous.

Nicole said...

Lovely pics! Thanks for sharing.

Morgan said...

Boring? Pffffft!

Love it. Love the pics. It's weird to think all we bloggers have real lives and families and everything outside of writing, LOL. Thanks for sharing, Nick! :D

Leigh Covington said...

Oh my goodness... I don't even know where to begin. It's all so amazing and beautiful! I'm totally jealous. Looks like a wonderful time with many great memories!

Ciara said...

Oh my, I would have freaked about the Japanese tourist. When I was in China, they kept pulling my hair out. They'd never seen blonde hair. Also, they kept pulling me into pictures. I must be in a 1000 photo albums in china. Ugh.
Looks like a fantastic trip!

Tobi Summers said...

It sounds like you had a great time (though I don't blame Eve for being traumatized by the Japanese tourist... creepy!). And all the pictures look amazing!

Nick Wilford said...

S.P. - I didn't know you had Scottish festivals! I'd like to see that. I suppose it should be taken as a compliment, but I don't really agree with it.

Shell - Yeah, a lot of problems can arise from culture clash.

I certainly got a few ideas from some of the characters on the ship!

C.B. - No problem! Hope you get to them.

Jessica - Well, when you think normal common people had to go in a pot and empty it out of the window...

Emily - I know - but I have since learnt that is quite normal for them!

Leslie - I hope you get to go back there. Whereabouts in England was it?

Julie - That was just one of the many fountains. It was a bit overwhelming!

I've been to a lot of places in Europe - I would like to see more of the US!

Martin - Actually we were lucky - Russia was really sunny but with a nice breeze. We were fully expecting it to be freezing!

Nick Wilford said...

Kathy - That sounds like a nice trip. I assume Texas is still quite warm in January?

Julia - I suppose it's just being friendly really. Though I think you should draw the line at kids!

Nicole - You're welcome.

Morgan - I know - who'd a thunk it... Glad you enjoyed the post!

Leigh - We certainly saw some beautiful places - would recommend the cruise to anyone.

Ciara - It seems to be something about the blonde-haired, blue-eyed look (though Eve has hazel eyes...) Sounds like you were very popular!

Tobi - Luckily she wasn't too freaked out - she's pretty confident with strangers now... We couldn't quite believe it though!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick - what a great cruise .. and you certainly saw some interesting places ... I'd love to go to St Petersburg .. one day!

I guess - thankfully Eve wasn't too phased as you say - also they don't know her name or yours .. so no harm done .. just a little odd.

So pleased you saw Bodiam .. the setting is beautiful isn't it - and you passed me on your way there!!

Good luck with all things now and for the summer - cheers Hilary

Mina Burrows said...

The cruise sounds wonderful! And 3 hours for kids to play every day...awesome. Man, you were spoiled. Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Great pics! looks like good times. We did a four day Carnival Cruise in March and it was a lot of fun. We're planning a Disney Cruise for later this year.

Nick Wilford said...

Hilary - Thanks - yeah, we would have passed pretty near to you. The drive to the castle was beautiful too!

Mina - Lol, it was 3 lots of 3 hours actually. We felt like complaining that we had them between 1 and 3 when there was nothing to do! :D

Stephen - I've heard a lot about those Disney cruises. My wife wants to go on a Greek islands cruise next but not til next year at least - I need to get a job!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Oh my goodness. SO MUCH FUN! It looks like you had a blast!

Lydia Kang said...

Dude, that whole "take my kid and use her as a photo prop" is really weird.
Um, weird.

Still, sounds like overall the trip was pretty awesome!

kjmckendry said...

Beautiful pictures. Glad you had a great time!

My mother-in-law is Japanese and this would have freaked her out as well. I'm not sure why these tourists you encountered thought it was ok.

We had a great time on our recent Caribbean cruise, but our best trip recently was skiing in Whistler, Canada.

Nick Wilford said...

Peggy - We definitely did! Wow, it already feels like so long ago.

Lydia - Tell me about it.

Kathy - It was extremely odd, but as I have since learnt, not unique.

You're such an active family. I don't think I could ski to save my life!

Jessie Humphries said...

It's hard to imagine that I will EVER get over to that part of the world! It's so beautiful though. I am living vicariously through those pictures :)

Unknown said...

Looks like an amazing time was had by all! Am planning a cruise next year-- so this was inspiring lol

Nick Wilford said...

Jessie - There's so many places I want to visit. Glad you liked the pictures!

Damyanti - Hope your cruise goes smoothly next year!

Deana said...

Oh my goodness! This is my dream vacation! It looks like you all had a blast:)

Nick Wilford said...

Deana - It was the best cruise we've done - really laidback.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love that last shot in particular. Very...cruisey :)

Tina said...

I love cruising, and have been on two. One was to the Caribbean in 1987 as a grad present from my Grandmother to my sister who wisely chose me as her friend to come along ;-)
The 2nd was two summers ago as my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking all their kids and grandkids to Alaska. Our group of 14 had an amazing time, and our boys, 10 and 13 at the time, had never experienced anything close to that kind of luxury. We're a camping family for our vacations.
This summer I get to return to Alaska, but on a different cruise line and a different route as I help my best friend celebrate her 50th birthday.

As to the Japanese tourists grabbing your daughter, that was creepy. Even if they'd asked it would have been creepy...I'm Swedish, and have been to Denmark and that statue, so I know exactly where you were.

It's lovely to see my blog in your side-bar. Thank you so much. I know my visit is late, but it's nice to finally meet you. Congrats on finishing the challenge.
Tina @ Life is Good

Nick Wilford said...

Lynda - Thanks! We did pretty well on the weather front.

Tina - Our first cruise was in the Caribbean too - in 2006 on our honeymoon. That was a great grad present! Alaska looks really interesting to visit. Enjoy your trip this summer!

I have a feeling we will be telling the statue story for many years, lol. No problem on the side bar - you reminded me I need to update my blog roll with more of the excellent people I met during the Challenge!