SETTING SAIL FOR THE NEW WORLD

SOUTHAMPTON TO CANADA: 12 September 2013

The next leg of our journey will take us from Southampton to Cornwall at the southeastern tip of the United Kingdom, Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and then on to Iceland, Greenland, and Atlantic Canada.[whohit]-Falmouth Dublin-[/whohit]

Here’s our plan.

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FALMOUTH, U.K.: 13 September 2013

PASTIES AND PIRATES

This is an interesting part of the United Kingdom with a great deal of history, and not all that much visited.

Cornwall forms the southwestern tip of the mainland of Great Britain.

One of the local specialties is the Cornish Pasty, which was one of the original fast foods. It was developed as a way to provide a hot, sealed meal for the workers in the mines of Cornwall.

The ingredients include “swede”, which some people call turnip but is a yellow turnip or rutabaga.

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A Pasty maker in Falmouth. Photos by Corey Sandler

The word is pronounced PASS-TEE, by the way.

Not PAIS-TEE, of course, which is something completely different.

In the Caribbean, on the French island of Les Saintes, native women still bake something similar: Les Tourments d’Amour, the torments of love which had their origin as a packaged meal given the fishermen heading off for a day’s work at sea.

 

DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: 14 September 2013

Upstairs, Downstairs, and Out in the Paddocks

Dublin is always a lively place: a city of students, of writers and poets, and a great brewery to lubricate the creative process.

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There’s Guinness on draught in those tankers. Photo by Corey Sandler

Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, the now-fiercely independent nation that shares the 32,600 square mile (84,400 square kilometer) island of Ireland.

The island is the third-largest in all of Europe, behind only Great Britain—a bit more than twice its size—and Iceland, about 25 percent larger.

We began the day driving out of Dublin along the River Liffey. The city has grown on both sides, and the waterway—once an untamed arm of the sea—is now crossed by a set of graceful bridges including one by architect Santiago Calatrava that uses the form of an Irish harp for its superstructure.

Our first goal was the National Stud, a sprawling home for retired racehorses and some of their offspring. The rulers of the roost were half a dozen stallions who lounge around for half the year before entering into a rigorous six months or so as studs for thoroughbred mares.

They (or at least their owners) are paid handsomely for their services.

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Photo by Corey Sandler

Later we moved on to Castletown, a restored private house that in other locations or circumstances would be considered a palace.

Castletown is Ireland’s showpiece Palladian-style mansion, located in Celbridge outside of Dublin on the River Liffey in County Kildare.

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Castletown: A drawing room and the stables. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you’d like a copy of any photo, please send me an email through the contact box on this page.

 

From the Baltic to the North Sea

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

Warnemunde, Germany: 8 September 2013

Love Locks and Whale Kites

On the pedestrian bridge that leads from the harbor where Silver Whisper was docked, the railing is festooned with hundreds of brass locks.[whohit]-Baltic Love Locks-[/whohit]

It’s not something you see every day…unless you travel a lot in Western Europe, where it has taken hold as a form of declaration of romantic entanglement. They call them “love locks.”

Here’s the idea: Hans and Angela decide to go steady. To signify their commitment, they head to the hardware store and buy a padlock.

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Love Locks

They write their names on the lock with a pen, or go the extra yard and enscribe them with a power tool. The lock is brought to the bridge and attached…and then the key is tossed into the water below.

And if love turns out to be less than permanent, I suppose one or the other returns to the bridge with a lock-cutter to remove the evidence.

We’ve seen these love locks in many places, most notable on the famous Accademia bridge in Venice. Sometimes the bridges end up bearing so many locked-up declarations that the authorities have to come in and remove them to prevent the bridge from falling down.

Warnemunde is a quirky, attractive little seaside resort in what was for four decades part of East Germany.

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Warnemunde

It was mostly spared from Allied bombing raids in World War II.  Across the Warne river, Rostock was all but leveled because of its many aircraft factories and shipyards.

And so in Rostock, you are able to see some interesting iconoclastic pieces of architecture.

There are hundreds of little seaside cottages in various German, Bavarian, and even Alpine designs. There are several distinctive Bauhaus-style structures, boxy buildings that place function over form.

And then there are the remnants of the quite unimaginative East German authorities: more than a few dreary Soviet-style apartment blocks and the Teepott, a large restaurant and conference center more-or-less shaped like a teapot.

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For us, the best part of our visit on a sleepy Sunday at the end of summer was the discovery that one end of the beach had been taken over by a kite club. They were flying objects of just about every description: dragons, snakes, twirling boxes, and best of all a large whale that rose and sank in the sky above the waves.

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All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you’d like a copy of any photo, please send me an email through the contact box on this page.

 

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: 10 September 2013

Almost Anything Goes

The last time we visited Amsterdam, a few months ago, we made a beeline for the reopened Rijksmuseum, newly emerged from a ten-year makeover as one of the most spectacular art museums in the world. You can read about that visit in an earlier entry in this blog.

This time we had cheese on our minds.

We walked from our ship toward the floating flower market of Amsterdam and I began my day focusing on tulips and other wondrous blooms. The colors seem to be painted using a palette not found in nature: the artist Van Gogh, the centerpiece of another great museum in Amsterdam, made more than a few studies of flowers.

Later in the day, with an hour or so to spare, I devoted myself to learning a few new tricks in Adobe Photoshop: I converted a photo to black and then hand-selected a few blooms to pop through in full color.

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Flowers, As Arranged by Corey Sandler

But I mentioned a hunt for cheese. Growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I fondly remember neighborhood specialty food shops including cheese stores. My favorite was Kimmel Muenster, a form of slightly sweet muenster cheese laced with pungent caraway seeds.

As supermarkets and big box stores took over the sale of nearly everything, Kummel Muenster disappeared along with the specialty stores. I have spent decades trying to recapture that flavor.

Silversea corporate chef David Bilsland—you can read a bit more about him in earlier postings of this blog—had put me on to a possible substitute: cheese with comino seeds. And so that was our quest: comino cheese.

Across from the flower market was our target: a row of stores selling many varieties of Dutch gouda and other cheeses. And there, hidden in plain sight, were rounds of komijn kaas: comino cheese.

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Gouda is not quite muenster, and comino is not exactly caraway. But after all these years, it was close enough for a celebration. We’ve got the evidence in the refrigerator in our suite.

In other news, there’s a new King in town: 28-year-old King Willem-Alexander took the throne on April 30 of this year.

This followed the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix, who in retirement has taken the name Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix.

Oh, and the Argentinian-born wife of Willem-Alexander is now Queen Máxima, although that is a title without office in the parliamentary nation of the Netherlands.

Somewhere, Prince Phillip sighs.

A PILOT TAKES TO THE SKIES

The weather in the North Sea and the English Channel can be rough this time of year, and we were reminded of that when we left Amsterdam and headed for what was supposed to be the last port of call on our cruise, at Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Amsterdam, like most of The Netherlands, lies at or below sea level and so its harbor is protected by locks that help prevent high or low tides from affecting commerce and property.

As soon as we cleared the lock out of Amsterdam, we came head-on into a fierce storm.

My wife and I are pretty rugged seafarers and so we had already dined and were fast asleep when a bit of excitement took place on the top deck of Silver Whisper.

Because of the rough conditions, the pilot we had taken on board in Amsterdam was unable to get off our ship to the small boat that had been sent to bring him home. And so a helicopter was brought out, and the pilot was winched up from the pool deck.

We slept through it all.

The next morning came the other shoe: it was too rough to take on a new pilot for the approach to Zeebrugge, and so we were forced to miss that port call. Instead, we crossed the English Channel and pulled into Southampton that evening to spend a peaceful night tied up at the dock.

Out to Sea Again September 2013

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

First of all, apologies to all for the delay in posting. We’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties in the Baltic (I blame Vladimir Putin. Why not? . . . our satellite uplink got bollixed while we were in Saint Petersburg during the G20 meetings.)

We are now aboard Silversea Silver Whisper, on a two-month journey from the Baltic through the North Sea to England and Ireland and across the pond to Canada and America.

Tallinn, Estonia: 3 September 2013

The Answer is Blowing in the Winds of Change

There’s change in the air in Tallinn, Estonia.

But that’s hardly news.

Estonia has been through more changes than just about any other country. An ancient tribe (the Aesti), the Swedes, the Livonians, the Germans, a brief sniff of freedom, the Russians, the Germans, an even shorter breath of liberty, the Soviets, and then finally the Baltic Way.

Estonia is still a place apart, though. The architecture is wonderfully quirky and the folk tales are even quirkier. But the principal barrier to widespread integration is Estikel, the almost-singular language of Estonia.

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Tallinn Old and Reborn

Estikel is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, which include Finnish, Estikel, and Hungarian. It actually is said to have its roots in the Indian subcontinent.

But things change. Estonia is one of the technological hubs of the Internet; Skype and several other elements of the computer lingua franca were developed here.

And there has also been a burgeoning invasion of tourists. At first from Europe, and now from around the world.

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We arrived on Silver Whisper in early September and there was a whiff of fall and a promise of winter in the air. We also found that the billboards are becoming more and more oriented to the outside world: Europeanized and (increasingly) Americanized.

We could have gone to see the latest Jennifer Anniston movie, dubbed into Estikel (probably would have been every bit as intelligible as the American version.) Or we could have ordered a hamborger at the new Striptiis joint along the waterfront.

It’s still a fascinating country, populated by mostly lovely people who all seem to be ready to burst into song at any time to declare, “We’re free, we’re free!”

I’ve decided to cut them a bit of slack for that reason. I just hope the Estonians will hold on to much of their character and culture along the way.

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Saint Petersburg, Russia: 4 September 2013

The Long Haul to Nicholas’ Last Stand

Saint Petersburg and all of Russia is never an easy place.

Russia is one of the bastions of bureaucracy. This one country (all right, it is the largest country on the planet, but still) is probably the principal reason that the rubber stamp industry still survives.

Silver Whisper arrived this morning for a two-day visit. The lovely, smaller vessels of Silversea usually get the best parking space in town—right on the River Neva at the English Embankment—but today we had to settle for circling the block and tying up at the somewhat further-out Sea Passenger Terminal at Ploschad Morskoy Slavy.

Why were we denied our view of ancient Petersburg?

Because the town has been taken over by the muck-a-mucks and the minions of the G-20 global economic summit.

River traffic has been curtailed, roads are closed, some museums are subject to sudden and unexpected and never explained lockdowns.

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Views of Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg, the final home of the Romanovs

I covered some of these sort of political events when I was a reporter, and I know this: nothing gets accomplished at the meeting itself. Everything has been pre-wrangled, pre-edited, and scripted. All that remains is the grip-and-grin photo session of world leaders.

Putin is here, of course: it’s his country (at least that’s the way he thinks of it.) So too is Obama and 18 or so other world leaders.

We wish them well, and expect little. (Okay, maybe not too much for Putin; he’s a scary dude.)

In any case, our goal was to stay out of their way.

And so this morning we headed from the ship to the Primorskaya Metro station about a mile away and zipped beneath the traffic jams and the police checkpoints to Vitebsky station to catch a train to Detskoye Selo (also known as Pushkin.)

We went not to see Catherine’s Palace (been there, done that, very nice but way too crowded) but instead Alexander Palace.

We were sitting pretty when we got to the ticket counter at a few minutes after 10 in the morning. . . until the agent told us in Russian and sign language that all trains had been cancelled until after noon. Why? Just because. (G-20…)

We finally made it out to Pushkin and walked through the town and out to Alexander Palace, which has been on our list of should-sees for some time.

The palace was designed in 1792 for Catherine the Great as a gift for her grandson, the future Alexander I. It is a relatively simple palace, some say austere, but it certainly has more than a bit of grandeur about it.

The reason it is of interest is that it was the final personal residence of Nicholas II and his family from 1904 until their arrest in 1917. They went from there to a lockdown 850 miles east of Moscow and eventually to their mass execution.

Like nearly all of the treasures of this part of Russia, the palace was severely damaged by the Germans who encircled Petersburg for 900 days during the blockade of World War II. It has not been fully restored, but a dozen or so rooms are open and they are grand…and a bit poignant.

Nicholas and Alexandra were, by the standards of their peers, not really party people. They kept to themselves most of the time, even choosing not to live in the spectactular Catherine’s Palace just down the road.

At Alexander Palace, we were taken by some of the portraits and toys and riding uniforms of the Tsarevich Alexei and some of the clothing and dolls of his sisters.

Not to defend the Czars particularly, but Alexander Palace is one place to go for a sense of the last of the Romanovs as a family. Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof are spectacular but hard to relate to. Alexander Palace was a home.

If you would like a copy of any of my photographs, please contact me through the tab on this page.

 

Helsinki, Finland: 6 September 2013

A Glorious End of Summer in Finland

There must be a Finnish word that is the equivalent of the American expression: “Indian Summer.”

And Indian Summer is a short but very sweet reappearance of warm temperatures and blue skies while autumn and winter are preparing to arrive.

That was certainly our experience in Helsinki this time. On previous visits in the heart of the summer we have experienced winter-like weather; today we could have gone to the beach.

Which is pretty much what we did. We took the public ferry from the city market to Suomenlinna Island in the middle of the harbor.

Suomenlinna was first built up by the Swedes, who held Finland for seven centuries from about 1200; they called it Sveaborg, as in the fortress (borg) of Mother Sweden (Svea).

Finland, which for nearly all of its existence has lived in a very rough neighborhood, has been occupied and assaulted by just about all of the powers of the Baltic: Sweden, Germany, Napoleon, and Russia amongst them.

Suomenlinna (renamed by the Finns when they gained their independence), is a sprawling complex of fortresses, barracks, armories, and dozens upon dozens of very large guns aimed out to sea to protect the entrance to Helsinki.

We spent a few hours strolling in the Indian Summer sun, storing up some warmth for the coming months as we head to northern Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, and Atlantic Canada on the next few cruises.

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Helsinki and Suomenlinna, Helsinki. Photos copyright 2013, Corey Sandler