The Retirees at Sea – Influenza

After a lovely day in Warnemunde and a session of cards and board games we went to dinner. I had been feeling light headed during the afternoon and had no apetite for dinner nor any wish for the after dinner show. We returned to our cabin. There was a full moon as we sailed from Warnemunde (I think it was Warnemunde) and I took my last photos for a couple of days. It was cloudy grey and despite the full moon darkening – just how I felt.

At sometime during the night I started vomiting and had tremendous stomach pain felt hot and the room was swimming. This went on till morning and throughout the next day. The ship was sailing for Oslo in Norway and I had no ability to do anything other than lie in bed. I was now hallucinating, feverish, vomiting and had diarrhea. Kerry nursed me as best she could with a damp washer to bring down my fever. For three days I hallucinated, ate chicken soup, drank water and fitfully slept while Kerry did what she could for me whilst staying sane with short trips from our cabin.

We had plans for Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm all of which were forsaken by Kerry to remain caring for me. After the 3rd day I was able to rise and visit the Infirmary where the doctor confirmed I had influenza and prescribed Tamiflu medication and a half dose for Kerry just to ensure she did not succomb. When in public (travelling to the infirmary each day for tests as to my fitness for my ongoing journey) I had to wear a mask, but otherwise I was confined to my cabin – in isolation. A biohazzard team would visit each day to disinfect the cabin.

So there I remained. Gradually the vomiting and diarrhea ceased but the hallucinations continued until my fever broke. I tried to rise for Copenhagen but there was no chance and Stockholm was the same although I did try and sat outside the cabin on our deck for a short time. Strangely they had an unusual wharf system (at least I think it was Stockholm) and I used my camera for the first time in 3 days.

Kerry was now becoming worried what might happen should my fever not break before Helsinki and our return flight home. She researched hotels in Helsinki and found one within the airport terminal. I was still unable to eat solid food or leave the cabin except for my morning and evening trip to the infirmary. As we sailed into the harbour I was feeling as though something had changed. The hallucinations had stopped and I had a reasonable night sleeping. So I opened the cabin door on our balcony to breath in some of the cool artic air and took these photos of the islands sheltering Helsinki, the multi coloured dressing cabins on one of the outer islands and at last the harbour.

On the morning we docked at Helsinki my fever broke and this was confirmed by the doctor who declared I was no longer infectious and free to go. We were last to leave the ship and Kerry and I travelled directly to the airport to locate the hotel, book a day bed and allow me to rest until our flight very late that night. My fever may have broken but I was weakened by the illness so much so that I slept from Helsinki to Singapore, and again from Singapore to Melbourne and finally home to Brisbane.

So despite the sour end we had a great time and the moral of the story is always have travel insurance!

The Retirees visit Warnemunde Germany

As we left a thick sea mist settled upon the water. Grey surrounded us and moisture hung in the air. the mist followed us for the two days sailing to Warnemunde and the joyous tune of the “Love Boat” blared into the fog. We killed time with cards and board games, feasting on the smorgasbord and other things which I have now forgotten. Little did I know that a sinsiter shadow was following me all that time.

Resting in our cabin I noticed we had a visitor in the form of a small land bird seeking refuge and probably lost in the fog.

The fog disappeared suddenly as we docked at Warnemunde. This is the port for Berlin 3 hours south. as we had spent 5 fantastic days in Berlin we were not considering sitting in a bus or train for 6 hours going to and from Berlin so we tumbled ashore to see what it had to offer. quite frankly I was pleasantly surprised.

From our cabin we could see a warm day rising. However I was now aware that I had a shadow. Warnemunde is a busy port as you might expect. Warnemünde  literally Mouth of the Warnow is a seaside resort and a district of the city of Rostock in Mecklenburg, Germany. It is one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. Founded in about 1200, Warnemünde was for centuries a small fishing village with minor importance for the economic and cultural development of the region. In 1323 Warnemünde lost its autonomous status as it was purchased by the city of Rostock in order to safeguard the city’s access to the Baltic Sea. It was not until the 19th century that Warnemünde began to develop into an important seaside resort.

We walked along the peir towards the railway station and the crossing into the township passing two other cruise ships of similar size to our SS Regal Princess before we encounter our first opportunity to purchase souvenirs. Out front of this establishment was a sand sculpture – why I don’t know exactly but it was very impressive in its artistry and detail.

A lefthand turn through a tunnel and we were out into the township with the rail station behind us. As we walked we encountered various buskers but this one caught my eye as very clever singing “Sitting on the dock of the bay”. the town’s fishing heritage can be seen with the fishing boats lining the canal whilst the new monarch of the seas stand large in the background.

The towns economy depended on fishing for centuries so you would expect some history around that. I found a well preserved fishermans house which had been enlarged with a modern extension to house a museum. The front entrance takes you back in time to when the last of the fishing families lived there. It is very much like someones home at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. as you walk through the home you are lead to the extension and the history of the community. I was impressed with the charm and the stories told by this museum. Like the story of Stephan Jantzen who went to sea at the age of 14. In 1856, he was granted a patent for skipper on a long journey. In the same year, he became captain of the 38-meter Bark “Johannes Keppler”; Jantzen personally commissioned this ship and had shares in this ship, with which he circumnavigated the earth twice in the period from December 1856 to 1866, mostly accompanied by his wife and his firstborn son Magnus. The second son Varelius was born on one of the trips aboard. Both sons of Jantzen later became sailors as well.Jantzen sold his vessel in 1863 and became commander of the local sea rescue stations of the German Society for the Rescue of Shipwrecked Persons and received numerous awards from Germany, Sweden and Portugal for his bravery and daring in rescuing shipwrecked persons.

I was the only one interested in the fisherman’s house so when I emerged I was all alone. I headed toward the town square and found my co-explorers who were oogling the markets in the square. As is the case in small towns and villages of Europe there was a collection of vendors selling everything from suasages to sauerkraut. We gathered a few items for a platter whilst playing cards on the ship. One item that abound in Germany is white asparagus and they are popular. What was unusal was a pub off the square called the “Captain Bligh” from mutiny on the Bounty fame (a bit of the south pacific in Wandemunde).

The town is on the Baltic Sea coast and has large sandy beaches and a unique beach chair. There is not a lot of wave action but the Germans are at the beach in great numbers. Nearby is the mouth of the river and great lines of ships can be seen sailing into the wharves in the river. We walked down the beach and over to an odd shaped building house an inviting cafe serving odd german beers – a Rostocker for Rod and a Duckstein for me. Having quenched our thirst and sampled the odd beach chairs we moved into the fishing wharves area and the major tourist strip. Still our ship was the largest thing in sight.

We returned to the ship ready to rest play cards and nibble on our market snacks. Relaxing in our cabin I realised how industrial the area around thei town has become. Later that afternoon just as we were readying to sail I saw a naval ship sail past. It was only then that I noticed the naval base behind the undergrowth on the island beyound our ship.


The Retirees visit Tallinn Estonia

We have sailed from St Petersburg to Tallinn and in doing so we have picked up another “n” for Tallinn.

Tallinn is the capital, and the most populous city of Estonia. Located in the northern part of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea, it has a population of 434,562. It is a major financial, industrial, cultural, educational and research centre of Estonia. Tallinn is located 80 kilometres (50 mi) south of Helsinki, Finland, 320 kilometres (200 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, Russia, and 380 kilometres (240 mi) east of Stockholm, Sweden. It has close historical ties with these three cities. From the 13th century until the first half of the 20th century Tallinn was known in most of the world by its historical German name Reval.

The earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years with the  first recorded claim over the land laid by Denmark in 1219, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So when we anchored we (this occassion Rod and Kerry Hayes joined us) headed for the old city. We caught the bus but the trip was so short that our return was on foot. The bus driver gave us a helpful tip to get to the old city “straight ahead and turn right”. It was that easy so we were glad we had not forked out for an excursion from the ship.

Not long after leaving the helpful bus driver we did exactly as instructed and encounter an Adventist Church with a cobbled road leading us right into the old city. We passed an exotic backpackers hotel with the hire scooter chained to the fence, a witches den then the city gates. We wandered through the back streets imagining we were visiting a different time period. Our trip through the residences ended at the grand Hotel Barons and the city square opening before us. We passed a building with the most interesting door carved with wood reliefs and just beyound was the Polish Embassy with its Teutonic metal door.

Arriving at the town square we were surprised at how few people were there forgetting that the typical tourist does finish breakfast at the buffet until 10.00am. The Town Hall dominated the square.It has interesting rain water heads and the shackles for public floggings remain in place.


We had read that there was a castle on the hill above the old city the Parliament House and a grand cathedral so we made our way to the hill of Toompea. Through the city walls and up the hill to The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Estonian: Aleksander Nevski katedraal). It was built  in a typical Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. The Cathedral crowns the hill of Toompea. As the USSR was officially non-religious, many churches including this cathedral were left to decline. The church has been meticulously restored since Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

We tried to visit the Parliament but it was not open except for school trips. We also saw the remains of the castle (one tower) and some of its walls.

We walked on past the Parliament shop (yes a souvenir shop for Parliament), and found a pretty little park jammed in between the historical buildings atop Toomea Hill. The historical buildings have some interesting features the most surprising being a sculptural relief on the street frontage of the building commenorating an important person of history.

Leaving Toomea Hill we walked down to the town square once more looking for lunch. We found the Raeapteek.

The Raeapteek is opposite the Town Hall, at house number 11. It is one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe, having always been in business in the same house since the early 15th century. It is also the oldest commercial enterprise and the oldest medical establishment in Tallinn.

The first known image of the Town-Hall Pharmacy is an oil painting by Oldekop, showing Tallinn’s Town Hall Square in 1800. The first photos of the building date from 1889. Of course we had to have a look. It is a combination of pharmacy and museum.

Looking through the window of the Raeapteek we could see the crowds swelling with lunchtime tourists, so we sought a quite little cavern of a place for a bite to eat. It was dark and the floor made of rough stone with only one lavatory services a multitude. It turned out that this was the back of a restaurant facing onto the square and hungary tourists were flooding in from there. Nevertheless we enjoyed lunch followed by a visit to another town square eatery for a cold beer and the use of their bathrooms.

We then ventured down a lane and into an artisans lane one side of which held the head stones removed from an old cemetery.

We had passed some of the city walls with ticket offices charging for entry into the tower rooms and the city walk atop the walls. I could not resist. We entered and climbed through rooms to the walk and traversed the walls as far as they remained in tact. If you look closely at photo 5 you may mistake the well for a lavatory.

After walking the walls we decided to call it a day and walk back to the ship seeing more of modern Tallinn. A very relaxed walk backpast the exterior of the city walls and onto the ships. Each of these ships carries about 3500 passengers and this day there were 3 ships regurgitating tourists int the old town. Thats a bit of commerce right there. Soon after returning we set sail for Warnemunde Germany gaining some great views of the harbour and its visitors.






The Retirees sailing for Tallin – Farewell St Petersburg

After our canal cruise and the evening with the folk dancers of St Petersburg we spent some lesuirely time aboard our ship before sailing to our next destination – Tallin Estonia.

Whilst we waited for the ship to sail out of the harbour there was plenty to do on board the ship but it was just too cold for us subtropicals to think about a dip in the pool or the hottub. So we strolled around deck and noticed we had been joined in port by an MSC Line ship. Our ship has this curious gangway which took you out over the ocean with a glass floor so you could see what sixteen stories looked like. Or we could laze in the weak northern sun and watch TV. Or take in the views such as the new bridge or the tourist boat racing to Peterhoff. when we finally did saiwe were surprised how big the harbour is. We passed a navy base which has become more a museum than active. And like all good sailors you must have a church to protect you whilst at sea. Only this one is part gold.

And we sailed on. This old harbour remains in use as shown by the new Patrol boat moored amongst the exhibits of the museum. There also appeared a vest of the earliest use of the harbour – a fortress with gun ports pocked across it.  As we passed the last gates (the storm surge gates to protect against tidal surges) we knew we were leaving St Petersburg – sailing into a glorious sunset.

The Retirees aboard the “Love Boat” – SS Regent Princess – St Petersberg

St Petersburg is just around the corner from Helsinki at the head of the Gulf of Finland. Russia’s second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, is an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea. It is situated on the Neva River, and was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Saint Petersburg has been the capital of Imperial Russia until 1918, when the central government bodies moved to Moscow.

It is often considered Russia’s cultural capital. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is home to the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. Many foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and businesses have offices in Saint Petersburg so it is an interesting place to visit.

We had been here in 2007 to undertake a canal tour to Moscow through Lake Ladoga and down the Volga. So we had done the Winter Palace, the Hermitage, Peterhoff and a few other things and wanted to do something a little more Russian rather than tourist.

We had previously arrived by plane but this time our arrival by cruise ship surprised us with the size of the new cruise terminal, the reclaimed land yet to be built on and the new monumental buildings on the skyline. Whilst we were taking in the vista we noticed a freighter along side and I guessed this was refuelling as it hung around all day. We also found these strange balls on tees on the highest deck on the ship. Remember I mentioned the medallions issued to us at boarding; well these are the tracking devices monitoring every medallion on ship and recording everything the medallion wearer does as well as identifying the medallion wearer to open his cabin charge his account etc.

We had selected a canal cruise for todays excursion. Peter the Great had lived in the Netherlands doing an apprenticeship in  ship building which gave him the knowledge when later as Tzar he built the port of St Petersburg. Hence he had copied the Dutch and their use of canals. We left the ship but found that the customs officers were on a break so we were unable to leave the ship and were left to wander aimlessly looking for a route to access our bus. When the officer returned he was somwaht indignant that we were concerned about missing our bus. As it turned out we had ample time to kick around in the Russian gift shops on the wharf – none today thanks!

Waiting for us outside were the tour buses looking like suckling pigs nussling the sow – that is a pretty big sow! All aboard the bus and off we go to find our canal boat. Round and round until we came to the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood. One of the main sights of Saint Petersburg, it is erected on the site where political nihilists fatally wounded Emperor Alexander II in March 1881, the church was constructed between 1883 and 1907, funded by the imperial family. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in 1932. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables. In July 1970, management of the church passed to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and it was used as a museum. The proceeds from the Cathedral funded the restoration of the church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship. We stopped for 15minutes to get a picture of the “church” and 10 of those minutes were spent by the guide tracking down lost passengers.

Following our stop at the Church we took a much more direct route to the canal and boarded our boat. The canal boat was not  flash but basic and rudimentary in many ways.  We cruised out into the Neva to see St Petersburg from the water. The city has many historic buildings, universities, archane lighthouses ( for the traffic on the river), residences and decaying decadence. Not the best tour but looking back we were sheltered from the rain and able to sit down and take in the view. I took the following photos;

Our canal tour ended and we boarded our bus for the reutrn to the ship – oh no not before we visit the souvenir shop. Not just any shop but St Petersburg’s biggest! Our tour guide is paranoid about losing tourists so I check out with her about looking around outside rather than looking at the mind numbing tourist trinkets. She agreed and we bolt for the outdoors and find ourselves in the suburbs with a mall stretching away from us. At the commencement of the mall is a pink and grey cathedral with a maroon church beside it. These are the places of worship for the citizens of the suburbs and whilst plain when measured against the tourist sites, interesting in their own right.

After viewing the cathedral and the church we walked down the mall just looking at everyday people going about everyday business. Our tour guide had asked us to be back in 30 mins so we turned around and returned to the souvenir shop to board the bus with the rest of our group who were loaded up with crap from the shop. Back to the ship and rest up for the night activities. I noticed the daily paper for the ship announced a folk group was the special entertainment in the auditorium. Hey we going off ship to see the same thing – how does that happen? Free on the ship or pay for an excursion – not happy Jan!


The Retirees in Helsinki – Preparing to move on – Princess Cruise around the Baltic

The excitement of Porvoo behind us we decided we would determine the best means and route to our cruise ship – another excuse to use our pass for free rides on the trams. We walked away from the bus station and caught a tram which we had determined would take us to our cruise ship terminal. Well we took the wrong tram in the wrong direction. It took some time for us to wake up and but for a monumental church which we had not seen before we would not have worked it out. So we got off the tram and investigated the church and the surrounding apartments in their art deco style.

Kallio Church is a Lutheran church in the Kallio district of Helsinki. It was designed by Lars Sonck and represents National Romanticism with Art Nouveau influences. The National Romantic style manifests itself in the use of traditional Finnish materials and in the massive body of the church, as well as in nature-inspired colours and decorative motifs. The grey granite church, completed in 1912, is one of Helsinki’s most readily identifiable landmarks. The church has a height of 65 metres, and its cross is 94 metres above sea level. The Estonian coastline can be seen from the tower. The church is on a hill, and it forms the northern end point of a 2.5 km long street axis made up of three streets.
Kallio church is a hall church with a transept. The load-bearing walls are built of red bricks and clad in Finnish granite. There is seating for 1,100 worshippers. To stand below it looks more like a skyscraper than a church. We circumnavigated it and then entered. It is plain interior when compared to Italian churches. The church is decorated with Christian symbols such as roses, lilies, palm branches, laurel crowns and pearls to pass on the message of the Gospels.
Across the road is a block of apartments continuing the art nouveau theme. That is as far as we got when our return ride arrived. This time we did make it to the cruise ship terminal, but it was the wrong one. Helsinki has two major terminals and below are pictures of the wrong one so far as we were concerned. It appeared there is no tram goes to the new terminal.


Not only was this the cruise ship terminal it was the tram terminal. We alighted our tram unsure about how this was going to work. The tram moved off and stopped at the next stop 100m away. So, we walked up and reboarded the tram and after an appropriate waiting time (no ships no people) the tram returned to our stop – again we were surprised how close we were. If Kerry had not recognised the tunnel to the bus station, we would still be on that tram. We walked to the apartment put our feet up and had a drink – less to carry on the ship. We cleaned out the fridge for dinner then packed for the cruise ship tomorrow.

As usual we had to vacate by 10.00am. We decided to catch an Uber to the cruise ship given we had all this luggage and there is no tram will take us there. Fun and games ensued. Once we walked out of the apartment we had no internet and therefore no contact with the Uber driver but somehow we found each other. A friendly chatty Muslim from the middle east or Africa originally, we could not understand him nor could he understand us so he took us to the cruise ship terminal we visited yesterday. Fortunately, our ship was docked and in view so we frantically pointed out the ship and he obligingly searched out the terminal delivering us safely to the SS Regal Princess. We made our way to the check in tent where we were issued with an electronic tag. this was to prove an interesting experiment in big brother.

The Regal Princess is a mighty big ship. Here are the stats;
Class and type: Royal-class cruise ship
Tonnage: 142,714 GT
Length: 330 m (1,083 ft)
Beam: 38.27 m (126 ft)
Height: 66 m (217 ft)
Draft: 8.57 m (28 ft)
Decks: 19
Capacity: 3,560 passengers
Crew: 1,346

After finding our cabin down the back of the boat (in proper naval parlance – the stern of the ship), we took a walk around and I took some initial photos of the distance from our cabin to the lifts to take us to the brasserie on floor 16. We also went to the centre of the ship (midships) and the marble stair cases, the casino and the gift shop.

We decided there was plenty of time to explore the ship, so we found a good possie on the stern deck near the bar and watched as the ship cast off and set sail. Nearby was the SS Sapphire Princess and the musical exchange on the ships horns as we left was interesting as the Regal Princess’s horn plays the tune to “Love Boat”. This gave us a chance to see the islands sheltering the harbour of Helsinki and some of the other vessels plying the water ways.

So life aboard the ship began and I am confident there were 3,500 plus passengers on board. Our first port would be St Petersburg where we would anchor for two days. But before then we had our first experience of dining on board and taking in the show. At dinner we purchased a bottle of wine for consumption over the next few nights and there is a story about this bottle of wine. However the show was superb. A Beatles cover band, they dressed the part, played the music and sang the songs just like the Beatles. It was not long before we were on our feet singing and dancing along.


And so ended our embarkation day from Helsinki. St Petersburg tomorrow.

The Retirees in Helsinki – Passing time in Porvoo

Today we are off again on the local bus this time towards the east and Russia to a town called Porvoo. Porvoo is situated on the southern coast of Finland approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Helsinki. It is one of the six medieval towns in Finland, first mentioned as a city in texts from the 14th century. Porvoo is the seat of the Swedish-speaking Diocese of Borgå of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

The Porvoo Old Town is a popular tourist destination, known for its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings and 15th century cathedral, the Porvoo Cathedral. The Old Town is recognized as historically and culturally significant as one of the National landscapes of Finland.

Once again we walked over to the bus station. Now familiar with how it operated we waited at gate 1 first in line to board the first bus to Porvoo. As our bus left the bus station, I noticed that two giraffe were keeping an eye on us so I took a precautionary photo to identify them should there be trouble with giraffes later on. We travelled for an hour to the east of Helsinki and arrived at the bus station of Porvoo. Very ordinary. An open square pocked with bus stop signs from and to various places and a municipal building that looked like a public toilet block – which it was and it was locked of course.

We were seeking the old town and there was plenty of signage but we had arrived on Mothers’ Day and before 10.00am so nothing was open. Or so we thought. We walked into the old town finding old style Finnish homes with narrow cobbled streets becoming more and more prevalent. Without knowing where we were going Kerry smelled out an open shop – a mixed tourist shop/fabric shop. I had been looking for a new shaving brush and lo and behold what should I find in the most unexpected place.

But that was the highlight until the Fins started to move about. We made it up to the church square to view the 15th century cathedral the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. From there we wound our way through the old town with its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. Whilst strolling through these back streets a local hare hopped into view. We accidentally encountered this hare as we moved around the village – he must have thought we were hunting him. Once we reached the highest point in the village we discovered a set of natural stone steps which have some folklore around them – apparently a witches path where many people suffered damaging falls. Long dark winter nights, a vodka shout and voila those steps become a bitch.

At the end of the natural stairs we found the Manse – so out of keeping compared to the size and style of the village you had to guess it belonged to the church. As commented earlier it is Mothers’ day and the church is open with early morning services. Inside is an austere dome and walls unadorned with any artwork. On the one hand this is suggesting the church utilises its funds for the community but on the other it is suggesting the congregation doesn’t care for their church. Outside the church gate we encounter a bust of Albert Edelfelt and an example of the his art making Finnish culture visible.

Edelfelt was born in Porvoo. He began his formal studies of art in 1869 at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society. He married Baroness (friherinnan) Ellan de la Chapelle in 1888, and they had one child. He also had romantic relationships with many other women. He lived in the Grand Duchy of Finland and made Finnish culture visible abroad, before Finland gained full independence.

We made our way down into the commercial section of the village where things were becoming more alive. Kerry was taken with the animal pelts on sale at a shop. However, what did surprise us was the old river warehouses where traders would land goods and collect products for sale in Helsinki. Speaking of trader/travellers I thought we had found where Robert of Umbria had left his Fiat but he flatly denied it.

Remember I said this was Mothers’ Day. Well we chose a hotel for lunch, but it was a special menu for Mothers’ Day and we had a window before the dining room would be full of local families celebrating the day. Well we had a 3 course lunch finishing inside our window of opportunity. Nothing remarkable about lunch but we were stuffed and needed to walk it off. We crossed the river giving us a bigger view of the wharf area and the size of ship visiting Porvoo wharves. This side of the river has undergone redevelopment but in a style sympathetic to the old village. In a park surrounded by the modern Finnish style we encountered a monument to the three distinct cultural influences on Finland – Russia, Sweden and since the beginning of the 20th century Finland.

At the end of the park is a footbridge connecting the new with the earlier and old. We crossed and were stunned to be confronted with a jumble of rusted bikes looking as though they had been dredged from the river and carelessly cast on the bank. Tangled into the knot of bicycles were a few chairs. No indication as to whether this was recovered litter or a symbolic piece of street art. However, a few hundred yards along the bank another pile and this time a shopping trolley included. We encountered 2 further piles of junk which answered the question of the reason and origin.

Parvoo is very pleasant with parks scattered throughout and a strong historical connection with Finland. We were making our way back to the bus station and in a small park running down to the river we came across a monument to J L Runeberg (featured image) . Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a Finland-Swedish lyric and epic poet. He is the national poet of Finland and the author of the lyrics to Vårt land (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) that became the Finnish National Anthem.

Our trip to Parvoo was coming to an end. Sitting on a bollard each we waited patiently for the bus back to Helsinki which eventually arrived almost like an afterthought. The journey back to the city allowed us to rest our weary feet and relax before our walk back to the apartment.

The Retirees in Helsinki – Searching for Sibelius

As we enjoyed the weak sunshine on the ferry returning to the mainland (not the sloop shown in the picture below) we decided to go to the Stockman building. We had noticed a roof top something on the Stockman so our next port of call was the roof top of that department store. The roof top bar was exposed cold and windy – the girls tried to enjoy a G&T but an accident with the delivery lost part of the G&T and left us looking for a warmer spot. In front of the Stockman is the monument to the workers of Finalnd. It was getting colder and nearing our dinner time so we returned to the apartment to warm up.

The following morning Kerry and Rod were leaving us to visit an exchange student they had hosted many years ago. To use some of the remaining time together, we decided to find the church called the Rock. Walking through the village past the local museum we spotted an opening in the rock face in front of us – here was the church. Recently constructed and without any charm I saw it as a gimmick and soon lost interest. Rod and Kerry departed at the Rock church whilst we set out to find the Sibelius memorial.
Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957), was a Finnish composer and violinist. He is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.
Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music for The Tempest (1926) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he stopped producing major works in his last thirty years, a stunning and perplexing decline commonly referred to as “The Silence of Järvenpää”, the location of his home. His home was named Ainola after his wife.
Our trip started by tram and then a walk through a park. On the way we passed an unusual church. Its colour first caught my eye then the unusual rounded end and the bell tower with its reliefs/murals on its ceiling. There was a service being performed and parents were dropping off and collecting children from the attached creche.

Beyond the church was the park and across the park is the memorial. The memorial acknowledges his connection with the Finnish countryside and his musical composition.

We then returned to the city and visited the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. Helsinki Cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki, located in the neighbourhood of Kruununhaka in the centre of Helsinki, Finland. The church was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St Nicholas’ Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. It is a major landmark of the city. Austere and lacking the glitz of a catholic cathedral the building does not resonate with the riches of the roman church.


Having seen the Sibelius memorial I decided I wanted to visit Ainola so the following day we went to the bus station to catch a bus out into the country. Whilst waiting for the bus we walked through the station and out of the station onto another square where we encountered and odd structure that turned out to be a church and found that we were within walking distance of the Central Railway Station – in fact we could see the damn thing.

We returned to the bus station and awaited the arrival of our bus. It arrived shortly before the appointed time. we boarded and paid our fare took our seats and waited for departure time when the bus left precidely on time. Having caught our bus we found ourselves some what lost. Without a route map we were not certain where to get off the bus and missed our stop meaning a 15 min walk back to our stop. Fortunately, the only other passenger waiting at this bus stop spoke excellent English and gave us some further directions – which we followed and proved to be wrong. So here we are in the wilderness of Finland and not a clue where that was. One thing though, our bus ticket seemed valid wherever we travelled. We got onto back roads looking for a lakeside walk and end up at a resort at Onnela.

The resort was just starting to re-open for the spring (they were clearing the snow from the ground) but the restaurnat was open for lunch. After a simple lunch we got some further directions and made our way back to the highway to await and flag down another bus.
Finally, we arrived at Ainola although you would never know it from any street signs. We walked along the dirt track towards a suspicious group of vehicles suggesting a carpark. Arriving at a kiosk/café/toilet we were relieved to learn we had arrived – this was Ainola home of Jean Sibelius. And there was an English guided tour due to start. So we had struck it lucky.

The tour only covered the lower floor of the house as the upper floor was considered unable to handle constant trafic of visitors. The tour of the house was great. Here in this country cottage Finland greatest composer lived and worked or should I say his wife lived and worked – he spent a lot of time in Germany and the US and did not handle money well. Further he saw music in colour – the green fire place was “F” major. We went out to the grave site where he and his wife lay and the laundry and bath house, the potato store and the place where the sauna once stood. For most of his life the house did not have running water or electricity. They had two helpers – a cook and a house maid both who stayed with them for years. I cannot see anyone replicating this lifestyle today. Well you may be wondering how we got home – train. Yes we caught the bus again to the end of the line where we caught the train into Helsinki and the underground home.

The Retirees in Finland – Helsinki

Our time in Berlin had expired. Our flight to Helsinki awaited.

Helsinki is the capital and most populous city of Finland. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, it has a population of 650,058. The city’s urban area has a population of 1,268,296, making it by far the most populous urban area in Finland. Helsinki is located north of Tallinn, Estonia, east of Stockholm, Sweden, and west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. It has close historical ties with these three cities.
Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki’s status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. Russian Emperor Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland, and to bring the capital closer to Saint Petersburg. Despite the tumultuous nature of Finnish history during the first half of the 20th century (including the Finnish Civil War and the Winter War), Helsinki continued its steady development. A landmark event was the 1952 Olympic Games, held in Helsinki.

It was cool when we arrived at the airport and joined the queue for a cab. There is a flat fee for a cab from the airport and the volume of our luggage proved to be a difficulty until one fellow took the attitude that he would make it fit which he did. The trip into town seemed quite long and on arriving the apartment seemed not to exist. Eastern European architecture (and this looked familiar to St Petersburg architecture) approaches things differently. In this case there were two entrances one for apartments 1 -20 and another around the corner for 21 to 40. We unloaded our luggage and took a walk to get a meal. Just down the road was a Nepalese restaurant completely empty save for a little brown fellow behind the bar. Yes they were open but the kitchen would be closing in an hour. With no pressure from other customers we were soon enjoying a variety of Tibetan meals. It turns out the restaurant has been there for 25 years – just odd! At least I thought a Nepalese restaurant in the heart of Helsinki was a bit odd.

The following day we made our way to the bus station/underground station and purchased a multiride ticket and caught the underground to Central and the CBD. Later we were to find out that had we walked through the bus station we would have viewed the central railway station – we were literally 10 mins walk from the CBD. The escalator into the underground was very steep and long. That’s because the bus station is underground but on top of the underground if you get my meaning.

On board the underground train we travelled 1 station and surfaced at the Central Rail Station and a department store called Stockman. This store was to become a landmark for us to orientate ourselves. From there we walked down a park lined avenue to the markets and the wharves. Trams were everywhere. We were to learn that the trams all ran through the CBD. Each route would start outside of the CBD run through the CBD to the suburbs on the other side. There did not appear to be any inter suburban connections.

The sea is a major part of life for the Finnish people. Car ferries (moving mainly semi-trailers) criss-crossed the Gulf of Finland uniting Tallin and St Petersburg. However, we were down here to catch the ferry to the naval fortress Sveaborg. Helsinki is sheltered by a host of islands but unlike Brisbane which is sheltered by some large islands, these islands are rocky outcrops up to a few acres in size the biggest being Sveaborg. The trip was very pleasant, provided you stayed inside out of the icy wind that represented Spring and the cost was included in the bus pass.

Suomenlinna (or Sveaborg (Swedish), literal translation in Finnish is Castle of Finland and in Swedish Castle of Sweden is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands and which now forms part of the city of Helsinki. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finnish-speaking Finns, it was renamed in Finnish to Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is still known by its original name in Sweden and by Swedish-speaking Finns.

The Swedish crown commenced the construction of the fortress in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. Sweden started building the fortress in 1748, when Finland was still a part of the Swedish kingdom. Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710–1772) (his grave is located on the island) and his gigantic fortification work on the islands off the town of Helsinki brought the district a new and unexpected importance. Fortifications were also built on the Russian side of the new border during the 18th century and some of the Swedish ones were added to. In addition to the island fortress itself, seafacing fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. The plan was also to stock munitions for the whole Finnish contingent of the Swedish Army and Royal Swedish Navy there. In the Finnish War the fortress surrendered to Russia on May 3, 1808, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian forces in 1809.

Arriving at the Island you first observe the naval academy still in operation on one of the adjoining islands and a long low set pinkish building forming the boundary wall to the community/fortress inside. Cobbled streets abound creating a real problem for Kerry’s feet. Still she soldiered on (pardon the pun).

To access the fort you pass through a tunnel out into an unexpected domestic looking scene. The island also supported the families of the sailors stationed here. Timber houses with odd rain catcher/water heads? In a climate as cold as this it seemed strange that timber was the predominant building material and those rain water heads must have had something to do with snow. In the centre of the island sits a very plain church far more like I expected of a protestant congregation. The fence however is made up of Swedish cannon and boat chain. The island still functions and in the distance we could see apartment accommodation. There was the occasional brick home with their own style of double insulation with memorabilia filling the voids.

As we crossed the island we came upon a bridge over a streamor canal. Internally the island supports a vibrant shipyard repairing sailing vessels but the original purpose is never far from view. We found the dry dock which once must have catered for very large vessels but today hold sundry ships awaiting attention. Stacks of cut and drying lumber stand protected and awaiting the call to service. We found a little restaurant in the boat yard and enjoyed fish soup with crusty bread. After lunch we continued our walk through the tunnel in the fortifications to a central square. The tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd is prominent in the square and our walk continued onto the batteries hidden in their grassed mounds facing to the sea. Resting in the residential blocks behind the batteries are a number of museums, including the last surviving Finnish built submarine, Vesikko.

Having toured the battlements, we returned to the wharf where we had arrived and returned to the city. Despite it being the middle of the day I was happy to have my ski jacket to protect me from the wind.

The Reirees in Berlin – Potsdamerplatz, the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate and Ballhaus

After visiting Berlin’s Victory column we jumped a bus and found we were riding the 200 bus which meant we reached Potsdamerplatz and its shops. There we found the Sony building  which had three extraordinary features – its domed roof a lego giraffe and the Corroboree Restaurant. We all felt a cringe to find an Australian Restaurant calling itself “Coorboree” so we moved on. The menu did not appeal as a genuine Australian restaurant. We found an underground shopping centre which exhibited a series of photos showing Potsdamerplatz during the cold war with the Wall intact and the celebrations after the Wall came down. In the background you can see the Esplande Hotel which had been the mecca for high society prior to WWII. My last photo shows the same site today.

Our plan was to hop off the bus at Potsdamnerplatz and make  our way to the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe. Although we had visited the monument during our Segway tour we had not visited the information centre below the monument. It does not take too much to realise this is not a place of joy. Tragic tales of individuals and families as well as the history of the development of the Final Question does not make for enjoyable reading – just the opposite – it horrifies just how wide spread the camps for the detention of Jews were across Europe. I put down my camera as this was not the place to be taking happy snaps.

We needed a lift after that. So, we walked passed the US Embassy back door to the Brandenburg Gate to pick up a bus and found the Gate was cordoned off – some big wig was due to arrive and the whisper among the assembled crowd was that it was Charles and Camilla. This made sense – tucked in beside the Gate is the US Embassy beside which is the French and around the corner the UK Embassy. We determined how to circumnavigate the obstruction but as we did so the Royalists amongst us decided they needed to get a peek of the Royals.

Not so much me. I found a seat in the sun and waited. The others did get to glimpse the Royal couple (not quite sure what joy that brought) and then joined me. But this Regal interruption had also caused a disruption to the bus service. More shoe leather. Eventually we found a tram which we thought would take us to Ballhaus – the only remaining Berlin dance hall. Now the tram was not a problem but finding this relic was proving difficult. I spotted the Titanic Hotel and across the road Hostel Ballhaus Berlin – it is now backpacker accommodation with the dance hall not open tonight. However, there is a small dinghy bar claiming to be Berlin’s oldest surviving pub – it looked the real deal. So, to drown our sorrow we ordered some drinks and sat at a table in the beer garden when I spotted standing forlornly in the yard two sections of the Berlin Wall. I started looking closer and further into the yard were four more sections of the Wall. The bar keep told us that the owner of the pub had bought them following the destruction of the wall on the basis that they may be worth something one day. Well from what I have seen these bits of Wall are as rare as hen’s teeth and are probably worth more to buy than the entire pub. What a great find but no one was putting it in their handbag to take home.