Tag Archives: Silversea

4 July 2014
 Copenhagen, Denmark

Time for Vacation

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

It’s a difficult concept, I know, but as your vacation aboard the beautiful Silver Whisper comes to an end, mine begins.

We head home for the summer and will rejoin our sister ship Silver Cloud in September.

We wish all safe travels.

If you’d like to see my upcoming schedule, visit the Silversea website at:


As we arrive in Copenhagen, here are some photos from our visit last week:

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Scenes of Amalienborg Palace, the Marble Church, and an unusual church spire in Copenhagen. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Along the waterfront, including the Danish Royal Yacht, the Dannebrog, at dock in front of the palace. And just past, our slightly larger yacht, Silver Whisper. Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo please contact me.

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Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)


2 July 2014
 Bergen, Norway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our last port of call on this cruise is the lovely Norwegian coastal city of Bergen, always a surprise even to those of us who have been here many times. It is one of those cities where the people seem to seek to enjoy every moment of every day.[whohit]-Bergen 2Jul-[/whohit]

Bergen is an ancient city and a modern town.

A bustling commercial center, an active fishery and a great public fish market, a laid-back Scandinavian culture, and a quirky freewheeling university city-state.

It was gray and drizzly for most of the day, but Bergen’s charms shone through. Here are some photos from 2 July:

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All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

And here’s a photo album of some of my favorite spots in Bergen from many visits.

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Bryggen, the ancient trading district along the harbor, and a fishing boat nearby. Photo by Corey Sandler

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A funicular runs from just above downtown to a hill overlooking the city. Photos by Corey Sandler

BERGEN6 Bergen University Museum

The University district is a city within the city, including a fine old-school museum filled with skeletons, stuffed animals, and missing most of the crowds in town. Photo by Corey Sandler

Bergen is said to have been founded by Olav Kyrre, also known as Olaf III.

Olaf was King of Norway from 1067 to 1093. He was present at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.

That battle, considered the end of the Viking Age, or at least the beginning of the end, took place between an invading Norwegian force led by King Harald Hardrada and an Anglo-Saxon army led by King Harold Godwinson.

King Hardrada (Olaf III’s father) and most of the other Norwegians were killed in a bloody battle.

Olaf survived and returned to Norway, where he founded the city of Bergen in 1070.

If he had won in England, London might well be a Viking capital. Salt cod in the pubs of Camden Town. Bangers and mash as the national dish of Norway.

The background music of Bergen is Peer Gynt by composer Edvard Grieg, who spent much of his life in Bergen.

Peer Gynt is the leading character of a favorite Norwegian folk tale about a poorly behaving boy who falls in love with a beautiful girl but is denied her hand.

He heads out to the country—meets up with nasty trolls at the Hall of the Mountain King and then to remote Mongolia, all the while still smitten by the girl back home.

I don’t mean to spoil it for you, but in the end, he gets the girl. Or she gets him.

The great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen wrote a five-act play in verse about Peer Gynt.

And when it premiered in 1876 in Oslo, it was accompanied by incidental music written by Edvard Grieg.

Modern Norway is a constitutional monarchy.

From the time of Harald Fairhair until the present day, Norway has had more than 60 named sovereigns. The current King belongs to the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, which has ruled Norway since 1905.

King Harald V, age 77, is well-connected.

He is first cousin once removed of King Philippe of Belgium and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg; second cousin of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and the second cousin once removed of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

And in waiting: 40-year-old Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

Speaking of princesses, last year, Norway received a huge gift to its tourism business when Disney released its film, “Frozen.”

Yet another Disney princess, this time Anna of Arendelle.

We proceed tonight for a day at sea and then the end of this cruise, at Copenhagen.

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

1 July 2014
 Kristiansund, Norway

In the Hall of the Mountain Data Farm

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our northernmost call on this cruise is at Kristiansund.

It’s a small place, much less populated than the confusingly named Kristiansand which is one of the most southerly points of Norway.

Kristiansand was named in honor of King Christian IV, who founded that southerly city in 1641, on a spit of SAND.

As should be very obvious, Kristiansund was named after King Christian VI in 1742. It gets the second half of its name from SUND as in STRAIT. A Strait is a long body of water that connects two larger bodies: sea to sea, for example.

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The ferry, claimed to be the oldest continually operated mechanized transportation in the world, crosses the harbor at Kristiansund to the various islands that make up the remote town. Just outside of town is a stretch of the spectacular Atlantic Road which connects many of the small communities along the western coast of Norway. Photos by Corey Sandler

So Kristiansund is where we are headed, about one-third of the way up the Norwegian coast at about 63 degrees north latitude.

That’s pretty far north, but not quite within the Arctic Circle, which is an arbitrary demarcation at 66 degrees 33 minutes and 44 seconds north, about 384 kilometers or 239 miles further north than Kristiansund.

The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed.

It directly depends on the Earth’s axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2 degrees over a 40,000-year period, mostly due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the Moon.

The Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15 meters or 49 feet per year.[whohit]-Kristiansund 1Jul-[/whohit]

Because it exists on small islands, Kristiansund is one of the most densely populated cities of Norway.

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Bales of hay and other food for livestock, stored for the short summer and the long winter ahead. Photo by Corey Sandler

On the day of our visit, there were almost 20 hours of daylight. Six months from now, about 20 hours of dark.

So what do they do in the winter? Sing, I guess.

The splendid Art-Nouveau Kristiansund Opera House, completed in 1914, is the oldest opera house in Norway and one of the few that survived World War II. Each year Kristiansund puts on Opera Festival Weeks in cold February: Norway’s largest opera and musical theater festivals, one of the largest in all of Scandinavia.

I’ve been to Norway and Kristiansund many times, but always have concentrated on the mountains and the fjords. This time, I dug deeper–underground to the Naas marble mine between Kristiansund and Molde.

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The barges to the interior of the cave, and a banquet hall 500 meters below ground. Photos by Corey Sandler

The mine has been in operation for decades, a family affair. It began as a source of slabs of marble and cemetery markers. In more modern times, the marble has been used for industrial purposes: ground up for use in other products including as a principal ingredient in the high-gloss paper used in some magazines and books.

But the global consumption of paper for books and magazines has been in decline since the advent of the personal computer and especially reading tablets like the Kindle and the iPad. And so the Naas marble mine has looked for something else to do with its mountain and the 60 or so kilometers of roads and caverns within.

Ironically, it may be computers that saves the business they are threatening.

The owners of the mine are installing high-power electrical lines and fiber optic cables and hope to rent out the caverns for use as data farms, holding huge amounts of information for companies all around the world.

Why in a mine? Because it offers a controlled and stable environment with inexpensive cooling for the thousands or millions of disk drives and memory chips.

That’s the plan. In the meantime, we took a tour by raft and on foot in what I would expect Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg would call the Hall of the Mountain Data Farm.

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Inside the Naas marble mine. Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)




30 June 2014
 Geiranger, Norway

Deeper into the Fjords of Norway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We head inland from the Norwegian Sea on one of the most spectacular watery highways into the interior of coastal Norway.[whohit]-Geiranger 30Jun-[/whohit]

Silver Whisper followed a twisting and turning pathway along the big Storfjorden, then into the smaller Sunnylvsfjorden, and finally the even narrower Geirangerfjorden.

On our way in, we made a brief stop in Hellesylt to allow guests to debark for an overland shore excursion that reunited with the ship at Geiranger, at the dead end of the fjord. The fjord, which includes sheer cliffs, impressive waterfalls, and patches of green and white, is one of Norway’s most visited tourist sites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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In the fjords near Hellesylt. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Seven Sisters waterfall between Hellesylt and Geiranger. Photo by Corey Sandler

The town of Geiranger is a pleasant little place in a spectacular setting.

This isolated little town is the third-busiest cruise ship port in Norway. As many as 180 ships visit during the four-month tourist season, depositing as many as 300,000 passengers—not all at once—in Geiranger, which has a permanent population of about 250.

As I said, it’s a beautiful set of fjords and a handsome, peaceful place.

Except: it is under constant threat of severe damage or even total extinction. Scientists worry that a big piece of a mountain called Åkerneset could one day collapse into the fjord.

And, they say, this would cause a tsunami that could destroy downtown Geiranger. Studies indicate as much as 100 million cubic meters or 130 million cubic yards of rock and earth could collapse. They estimate the tsunami would be about 30 meters or 98 feet high.

We hope the people of the fjord (and those of us aboard ship) are spared that particular bit of excitement.

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Silver Whisper at anchor in Geiranger. We climbed up the hill for a better viewpoint, stopping at the picture-perfect Geiranger Church, built in 1842. Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)


29 June 2014
 Flåm and Gudvangen, Norway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our epic journey leads us from Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea through the Kattegat and into the North Sea, and beyond to the Norwegian Sea.

Silver Whisper swung out to sea and then into one of Norway’s most spectacular waterways, the Sognefjord, to visit Flåm and Gudvangen.

About the name of our first call: if you call it Flam as in ham, they’ll know what you mean.

But the Norwegian and Danish letter Å, with the little diacritical overring at it top, is not “a” but more similar to “o” in most other languages.

So, FLOME, or something like that.

The village of Flåm is at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, a small arm of the spectacular Sognefjord which extends in from the Norwegian Sea.

The 204-kilometer or 125-mile-long Sognefjord is said to be the longest and deepest fjord in the world.

Flåm is on one leg of a horseshoe-shaped fjord; at the end of the other leg is Gudvangen, where our ship repositioned in the afternoon.

The sail-in on the Aurlandsfjorden in the early morning is always spectacular; so, too, the sail-out in the still-bright evening.

Not far from the open sea is the statue of Fridtjof at Vangsnes on the Sognefjorden.

Fridtjof was the hero of an Icelandic Viking saga. The original version dates from the 8th century, updated and continued about the year 1300.

German Kaiser Wilhelm II was a regular visitor to this part of Norway, and in 1913 he gave the statue as a gift to the Norwegian people.

Flam has been a tourist attraction since the late 19th century.

Truth be told, though: few people come to see the port.

It’s basically a train station and a few gift shops. The 20-kilometer (12-mile) Flåmsbana railway rises from the town at sea level to the high village of Myrdal on the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe. The trip takes about an hour in each direction.

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A sunny morning in Flåm, a spectacular setting with a gravity-defying railroad. Photos by Corey Sandler 

About lunchtime, Silver Whisper departed Flåm to sail around the corner to God’s Place by the Water.

I’m not attempting to make a religious commentary here.

Gudvangen means just that: “God’s Place by the Water.”

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Scenes along the way from Flåm to Gudvangen, ending with the hoisting of the “black ball” to tell other ships we were at anchor. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Approaching Gudvangen. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.


27 June 2014
 Copenhagen, Denmark. Hello, Goodbye

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

After a couple of loops of the Baltic, we are taking a jaunt into the North Sea and up the coast of Norway.

We say goodbye to guests who were with us, and welcome new friends aboard.

Here’s our itinerary:

Silversea Map 4415

Our voyage takes us from Copenhagen to the Norwegian fjord and coastal towns of Flam, Gudvangen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, and Kristiansund and to the glorious city of Bergen.

I’ll be posting new photos and text as we sail.

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Scenes of Copenhagen on a sunny day, a rare event in this preternaturally cool summer of 2014. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.


25 June 2014
 Helsinki, Finland

The Old and the New and the Strange

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Silversea Silver Whisper docked right at the base of the city of Helsinki, Finland. One of the many advantages of a smaller ship is the ability to come in close; there were several other much larger ships in port but we didn’t see them–only the shuttle buses bringing their guests from the hinterlands to the city.

For more details on Helsinki and a bit of the complex story of Finland, please see my blog entry for 14 June 2014.

On this visit the downtown market square held something old renewed, and something old in a modern version.

The old renewed was Kauppahalli, an indoor marketplace. The building has been closed for the past several years for restoration and has just reopened. It offers a glorious selection of the fruits, vegetables, seafood, and other comestibles of Finland.

The old in a new version was the Finnair Sky Wheel between our ship and the market. It opened a few weeks ago. Ferris Wheels, of course, are an old entertainment but this one is a of a modern design. It stands 40 meters tall, about 130 feet. There are 30 cabins, each holding as many as eight passengers. For a few Krone more, you can book the VIP gondola which includes a glass floor and a bottle of champagne.

We chose to go shopping instead.

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Kauppahalli Market, near Market Square and our ship. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Finnair Sky Wheel. Photos by Corey Sandler

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A modern shopping mall in an old district of Helsinki. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The old railway station in downtown is one of our favorite places, although a recent change has verged deep into the strange: one of the grand halls has been given over to a Burger King. Photos by Corey Sandler

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You want fries with that? Statues outside the railway station with the Burger King. Photos by Corey Sandler

We bid farewell and wish safe travels to our friends who have traveled with us on this cruise, from Stockholm to Tallinn, Saint Petersburg, Helsinki, and on to Copenhagen.

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)


22-24 June 2014: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Looking for New Things in an Old Place

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We returned to glorious Saint Petersburg, this time greeted with near-summer-like weather. You can read more about an earlier visit this month in my blog entry for 15-17 June 2014.

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The spectacular Kronstadt Naval Cathedral is the central gathering place of the island. The old church, which suffered the indignity of being converted to a cinema during Soviet times, has been beautifully restored. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.


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The interior of the church is one of the most spectacular we have seen, mixing ornate Russian Orthodox elements with ring lighting that reminded us somewhat of Agia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.


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Kronstadt island was first developed by Peter the Great, and many of the naval elements includng canals, locks, and stone quays remain. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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You must see the Hermitage, Catherine the Great’s fabulously decorated palace. The problem, though–especially in the summer months–is that it can be almost impossibly crowded. It sometimes feels as if the entire population of small towns–or countries–stands between you and the treasures.

On this cruise, though, we took advantage of a special evening tour after hours. We had a brief tour of some of the great halls and then a  performance by a talented Russian orchestra in one of the halls. As is perfectly appropriate for Russia’s European window on the world, most of the music was European: Mozart, Brahms, Mascagni. In a nod to one of Petersburg’s greats, we also heard from Mikhail Glinka.

All test and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.


20 June 2014: Stockholm, Sweden. Goodbye and Hello

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Goodbye to old friends, leaving us here in Stockholm, and hello to new guests coming aboard today.

Stockholm is the largest city of Sweden, the capital, and the official residence of the Swedish monarch as well as the prime minister. We begin another cruise here, back for a loop of the Baltic: Tallinn, Saint Petersburg, Helsinki, and Copenhagen. Here’s our itinerary:[whohit]-Stockholm 20Jun-[/whohit]

Silversea Map 4414

Stockholm city was founded about 1250 and has been at the country’s military, political, economic, and cultural center for almost all of that time.

Greater Stockholm spreads across fourteen islands on the south-central east coast of Sweden at the mouth of Lake Mälaren.

Stockholm’s core, the Old Town or Gamla Stan, was built on the central island beginning in the mid-13th century.

The city rose to prominence because of the trade with the Hanseatic League and links with Lübeck, Hamburg, Gdańsk, Visby, Reval (today’s Tallinn], and Riga.

In the past few years, the Royal Family has been busy with weddings and baby showers. But they need not worry about running out of space for the in-laws and the sisters, cousins, and aunts.

The Stockholm Palace is the official residence and major royal palace of the Swedish monarchy.


The Royal Palace in the heart of Stockholm. Photos by Corey Sandler

The palace has 609 rooms and is one of the largest royal palaces in the world still in use. Alongside is the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament.

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Out in the country is Drottningholm Palace, the primary residence of the royal family. Commoners can tour the public rooms; in my opinion the classy way to arrive is aboard a century-old steamer that runs from near City Hall. Photos by Corey Sandler

Stockholm has an extraordinary collection of museums, about one hundred of them.

The National Museum of Fine Arts is in central Stockholm across the harbor from the palace. The museum was founded in 1792, installed in its North Italian Renaissance style building in 1866.

The collection include about half a million drawings from the Middle Ages to 1900, plus porcelain items, paintings, sculptures, and modern art.

The Moderna museet, the Museum of Modern Art, on the island of Skeppsholmen in central Stockholm, opened in 1958. Its collection includes pieces by Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí and Picasso, but not as many as there were when they were first put on display.

In 1993, life followed art. Burglars came through the roof at night, basically borrowing the technique laid out in the 1955 French movie Rififi. Six works by Picasso and two by Georges Braque were stolen. Only three of the Picassos have been recovered. On the plus side, an Henri Matisse work called “Le Jardin”, stolen in 1987 and worth about $1 million, was recovered in London and returned to Stockholm in 2013.

There’s also the Nordiska Museum, filled with cultural artifacts of Sweden.

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The main hall of the Nordiska Museum. Photo by Corey Sandler

In town in the History Museum, with a small but rich history reaching back millennia.

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The Historical Museum in Stockholm. Photo by Corey Sandler

But for my money—or yours—the must-see museum in Stockholm, and one of the great exhibitions anywhere in the world, is the Vasa Museum.

When your eyes adjust to the dimly lit hall you see before you the only nearly intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged and put on display.


The extraordinary Vasa Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

It is the 64-gun warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, nearly four hundred years ago. It was one of the largest and most heavily armed warships of her time, decorated with hundreds of sculptures, all of them painted in vivid colors.

Apparently they should have spent just a little bit more, on design and engineering. The ship was top-heavy and did not carry enough ballast down low near her keel.

On August 10, 1628, the ship sailed less than a nautical mile and then fell over and sank.

After then, Vasa was all but forgotten.

It was not until the late 1950s that the ship was found again, in a busy shipping lane just outside the Stockholm harbor. On April 24, 1961 she was brought to the surface, her hull mostly intact.

Thousands of artifacts and the remains of at least 15 people, along with articles of clothing, weapons, cannons, tools, coins, cutlery, food and drink, and six of the ten sails.

The Vasa Museum, constructed specifically for the ship, opened in 1990. Today, it is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.

One of our favorite places in Stockholm, not all that well-known and certainly not crowded, is Hallwyl House. This is the palatial home of Count and Countess Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, constructed in 1898 as a winter home for the immensely rich couple.

Last year, Stockholm added another museum to its trove of great treasures.

I didn’t say it was a great museum…but that’s just my opinion.

Abba The Museum opened on Djurgaarden island, next to the 17th-century Vasa museum and Skansen.

For better or for worse, the four members of Abba are back together, dressed like they never left the 1970s.

It appears that the group never threw anything away: costumes, instruments, ticket stubs, and hair gel.


Not high culture, but you might want to take a chance on it if your goal is to be a dancing queen. Mama mia! Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

14 June 2014: Helsinki, Finland

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Both Sides Against the Middle

Helsinki is a thoroughly modern Scandinavian city with a typically complex story for this part of the world.

Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland, but its roots reach back to Sweden, interrupted by war and occupation by Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.

Finland, roughly the size of Germany, is on the Gulf of Finland, just 300 kilometers or 186 miles from Saint Petersburg. Tallinn, Estonia is 80 kilometers or 50 miles across the Baltic Sea.

Modern Helsinki is Finland’s center of politics, finance, technology, and education with eight major universities.

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Scenes of Helsinki: The Helsinki Cathedral and the Ateneum. Photos by Corey Sandler

Helsingfors (Helsinge Rapids) was founded by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. It was intended as a trading rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today’s Tallinn in Estonia.)

In 1703 Peter the Great founded his new Russian capital, Saint Petersburg, at the end of the Gulf of Finland.

From the start, Peter was determined that Russia be a great maritime power—as a young man he traveled through Europe to learn about shipbuilding and tactics, even working for a while as a tradesman.

Once Peter had his capital, he began to expand his reach toward the Baltic and his neighbor to the west: the Finnish region of Sweden.

In the Gulf of Finland he built the fortified naval base of Kronstadt.

This didn’t merely upset Sweden. Other European states were also concerned, especially France, with which Sweden had a military alliance.

In 1757 the Swedes decided to fortify the Russian frontier, and to establish a naval base at Helsinki as a counter to Kronstadt.

Work began on the islands off Helsinki in 1748. It became the great naval fortress of Sveaborg.

Svea as in Mother Svea, the national emblem of Sweden. Borg as in fortress.

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Sveaborg, now Suomenlinna Fortress in the harbor of Helsinki. Photos by Corey Sandler

In a brief diplomatic somersault during the Napoleonic Wars, France’s Emperor Napoleon agreed to allow Czar Alexander I to push Sweden out of Finland in 1808.

The Russians easily took Helsinki and began bombarding the fortress. To the consternation of the Swedes, the commander of Sveaborg negotiated a cease-fire and surrendered almost 7,000 men to the Russians.

He may have realized he was in a no-win situation. He may have sought to save civilian lives in Helsinki. And he may have fallen victim to psychological warfare by the Russians who surrounded and isolated Sveaborg.

In the 1809 Treaty of Fredrikshamn, Finland was ceded from Sweden and became an autonomous grand duchy within the Russian Empire.

Although the Finns never particularly liked the Swedes, they were even less happy with the Russians.

But the Russians helped develop Helsinki into a major city. The Russians expanded Sveaborg with more barracks, fortifications, and naval facilities.

During the build-up to World War I, the fortress was beefed up again as part of the outer defenses of the Russian capital of Saint Petersburg.

The Russians rebuilt much of the heart of Helsinki in neoclassical style, resembling Saint Petersburg.

Just above our ship on the hillside is the Uspenski Cathedral, one of the last obvious vestiges of Imperial Russian occupation of Finland. Completed in 1868, it was modeled after a 16th century church near Moscow.

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Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki. Photo by Corey Sandler

But in 1917, as Czarist Russia was devolving in Revolution, Finland won its independence.

Among the first acts by the Finns was to drop the Swedish name Sveaborg in favor of Suomenlinna, which means Finland’s Castle.

The Finns headed straight for a small Russian Orthodox Church on the island. They took down the onion domes, converting its tower into a lighthouse.

Today Suomenlinna is no longer a fortress. Instead it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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More scenes of Helsinki: the market. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The old-fashioned National Museum and the very, very modern Kiasma art museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

After World War I, the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was tense.

Some Finns held a dream of “Greater Finland” which included the Soviet-controlled portion of Karelia.

That did not sit well with the Soviets; the 1930s Finnish border was only 20 miles away from Leningrad—today’s Saint Petersburg.

In addition, the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland—the sea approach to Petersburg—was Finnish.

Up north, the entrance to the vital port of Murmansk was also flanked by Finnish territory.

And so, the military history of Finland during World War II is mostly shades of gray.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Finland was on the side of the angels at any point.

Between 1939 and 1945, Finland fought three wars: the Winter War alone against the Soviet Union, the Continuation War in association with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, and finally the Lapland War at the instigation of the Soviet Union against Germany.

So, they fought against the Soviet Union before they fought with them.

And they fought with Nazi Germany before they fought against them.

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

12 June 2014: Riga, Latvia

Reborn Free

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

I was once 22 years old.

And my wife and I raised a couple of children from birth to adulthood—including a not-so-wonderful period of time in which they were 22 years old.

You remember the time, right?

Latvia and Estonia each emerged from behind the Iron Curtain 22 years ago.

Both countries are by no means newborns; their history goes back thousands of years.[whohit]-Riga 12Jun-[/whohit]

They were under the thumb of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for the second half of the 20th century.

And now they are in their twenties: full of energy, embued with talent, prone to momentary flashes of brilliance and great, clumsy stumbles.

A Photo Album: Riga, Latvia 12 June 2014

RIGA Street

On the street in Riga. Photo by Corey Sandler

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All photos by Corey Sandler, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

This year, 2014, Riga takes the spotlight as the European Capital of Culture.

We’re coming in summer, but Merry Christmas nevertheless. Riga claims that the idea of a decorated Christmas tree began right here. There are documents from the House of Blackheads reporting a tree was raised in 1510.

It wasn’t an evergreen with tinsel and LED lights. It was a pyramid-shaped wooden structure, decorated with dried flowers, fruit and vegetables, and straw toys.

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A Christmas Tree in downtown Riga. Photo by Corey Sandler

Then, some say, the tree was paraded around the meeting hall before being set on fire to signify the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

Actually, the Blackheads were active in Riga and in Estonia and both places claim bragging rights.

Russian and Soviet Shadows

In the 1880s, under Czar Alexander III, a period of Russification began.

When the Soviet Union swept in at the start of World War II and then again in the Cold War years from 1945 to 1991, there were more intense efforts to Russify Latvia.

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A Soviet World War II Memorial in Latvia. Photo by Corey Sandler

Waves of Russian immigrants came from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia itself. In 1935, ethnic Latvians made up about 80 percent of the population; today, about half.

With independence in 1991, Latvian was made the official language. There is, though, bilingual education in primary schools for ethnic minorities including Russian, Yiddish, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Estonian, and Roma.

At the same time, they are trying to remove foreign words, mostly Russian and English terms.

Despite two world wars and German and Soviet occupation, Riga has managed to retain a colorful and handsome central core, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rebuilding some of its greatest churches and buildings has only been completed in the last decade. They range in design from Gothic to Modernist.

The city is particularly notable for its extensive Jugendstil or German Art Nouveau architecture. Many of the more spectacular structures were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, a Russian architect who worked in Riga early in the 20th century.


Some of the amazing Jugenstil or German Art Nouveau architecture in downtown Riga. Photos by Corey Sandler

 All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.


10 June 2014: A New Journey Begins. Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

A Beginning and an End

Welcome aboard. Our cruise aboard Silversea Silver Whisper began yesterday in Copenhagen.

We’re set for a circle of the Baltic, from Denmark to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Russia, Estonia, and Sweden.

Silversea Map 4413

We begin our cruise in the Baltic in Gdansk, a place of great history for Poland, two World Wars, and the Soviet Union.[whohit]-Gdansk 10June-[/whohit]

Gdansk may have seen the first military action of World War II, and also the place where the first successful opposition to Soviet rule arose four decades later.

In the 20th century, a beginning and an end.

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Scenes from the old city of Gdansk on a glorious June day. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gdańsk, Gdynia, and the spa town of Sopot make up the Trójmiasto, the Tri-cities.

Gdańsk is at the mouth of the Motława River, a branch of the Vistula or Wisła, Poland’s longest river.

The Wisła flows 650 miles or 1,400 kilometers through Kraków and Warsaw before reaching the Bay of Gdańsk.

Norwegian Vikings sailed up the Vistula, and it was later a major trade route from the Polish-Lithuania confederation to Western Europe.

Sopot is considered Poland’s premier seaside resort, which might seem faint praise since the country was cut off from the sea for decades at a time. But it is a lively place today.

Sopot became part of the Free City of Gdańsk under the Treaty of Versailles and the Grand Hotel (now the Sofitel Grand Sopot Hotel) was a popular casino and spa in a golden age between the wars.

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The Grand Hotel Sopot. Photo by Corey Sandler

The First Shots of World War II

At 4:45am on September 1, 1939, the elderly German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, supposedly on a goodwill visit opened fire on the Polish garrison at Westerplatte in the port of Danzig, today’s Gdansk.

On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Within two weeks Warsaw and most of western Poland had fallen to German forces.

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Silver Whisper sailed into Gdansk and docked at Westerplatte, within a few hundred feet of where the first military action of World War II took place in 1939. Today a monument marks the unhappy moment. Photos by Corey Sandler

Under terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which carved up the region to the satisfaction of Hitler and Stalin, the Germans were met by Soviets coming west. The Germans displaced most ethnic Poles, sending millions of Jews and others to concentration or extermination camps.

About 35 miles east of Gdansk is the Stutthof concentration camp.The origins of the camp date back to the prewar Free City of Danzig. Nazi functionaries made plans for a camp to detain and eventually exterminate undesirable elements. It opened in August 1939, before the German invasion.

Under German occupation, Poland was dotted with concentration and extermination camps, about 457 in total. About 5 million Polish citizens went through the camps. About 1.1 million were murdered at Auschwitz, about 870,000 at Treblinka, 434,000 at Belzec, and 200,000 at Sobibor.

When the Soviets led the charge back toward Germany in 1945, what little was left in much of Poland was destroyed by infantry and aerial bombardment. The Soviets killed or displaced millions more.

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Scenes of Gdansk, a handsome city rebuilt from the rubble of German, then Soviet assaults in World War II. Photos by Corey Sandler

Modern Gdansk

Today Gdansk is a handsome and bustling city. It appears centuries old, but most of what greets visitors has been rebuilt since World War II.

So, World War II essentially started in Gdansk, and there followed four decades of misery as a Soviet puppet state. But the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union also has some of its roots here.

The Solidarity workers’ union rose at the Gdansk and Gdynia shipyards.

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The Gdansk Shipyard and monuments to Solidarity. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some of the people involved in the events were very well-known:

Pope John Paul II, born Carol Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice near Krakow.

Lech Wałęsa, born in 1943, was an electrician. Soon after joining the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk, he became a leader of the dissident trade-union there.

He was harassed by the Communist authorities, fired in 1976, and arrested several times. In August 1980, he was instrumental in political negotiations that unexpectedly led to an agreement between striking workers and the government.

The United States and other western powers and groups provided aid and applied pressure, emboldening the Solidarity trade union.

In the United States, some unusual overt and covert alliances formed including American union leaders and incoming president Ronald Reagan, unnatural allies.

Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. By 1989, Brezhnev was dead and the Soviet Union teetered on collapse.

In that year, the Polish government allowed part of the Parliament to be freely elected, and candidates allied with Solidarity won nearly as many seats as the ruling Communist party.

In November 1990, Lech Walesa won Poland’s first direct Presidential election.

All photos and text copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.


3-4 May 2014: Constanţa, Romania and Istanbul, Turkey

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our politically adjusted tour of the Black Sea has come to an end. Because of bad weather in Nesebar, Bulgaria we are headed now for Istanbul.

I want to wish all of our guests—old friends and new—safe travels. I will be going home for a brief vacation, returning in June on our sister ship Silver Whisper in the Baltic.

We enjoyed a spring-like day in Constanţa, Romania. I went with a group of guests to an unusual part of Europe: the Danube River Delta, a thicket of willow trees and other flora. We were escorted by a flotilla of frogs alongside and flocks of birds (eagles, herons, hawks, and more) above.[whohit]-Constanta and Istanbul 3-4May-[/whohit]

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In the Danube River Delta of Romania. Photos by Corey Sandler

The delta reminded me a bit of river deltas in Costa Rica. Without the crocodiles and caimans.

Romania—like Bulgaria and Turkey— straddles the crossroads of history. Its past, and to a great extent its future, hinges on the land and sea bridge between Europe and Asia.

Romania is roughly the size of the United Kingdom but with only about one-third the  population, just 20 million people.

Hungary and Serbia are to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the northeast and east, and Bulgaria to the south.

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Riverboats and a floating hotel in the Danube Delta near Tulcea. Photos by Corey Sandler

Its eastern portion, which includes the capital city of Bucharest is relatively flat and easy to traverse.

But running through the mid-section in a rambling “S” are the Carpathian Mountains heading down from western Ukraine and southernmost Poland…and heading west toward Serbia…the Transylvanian Alps.

In August 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, Romania declared neutrality. Two years later in 1916, under pressure from the Allies eespecially France, which was desperate to open a new front), Romania joined with Russia and the Allies, declaring war against the armies of the Central Powers which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans.

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Tulcea, and a field of rapeseed. The crop is used to produce canola oil for cooking as well as biodiesel fuel, a renewable crop for a renewing nation. Photos by Corey Sandler

As the price for their entry the Romanians demanded recognition of their claim to Transylvania, which had been controlled by Austria-Hungary since the 17th century and under Hungarian rule since the 11th century.

The fighting did not go well, and the Allied front collapsed when the Bolsheviks took Russia out of the war.

Romania, left surrounded by the Central Powers, signed an armistice.

In just a bit more than a year, about 748,000 Romanian civilians and military died in the war.

At the end of World War I in 1918, Romania was larger than it had ever been or would ever be again.

During the Second World War, Romania again tried to remain neutral, but on June 28, 1940, it received an ultimatum from the Soviet Union.

The Soviets were carving out spheres of influence, part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with Germany in 1939.

Under Nazi and Soviet pressure, the Romanians were forced to retreat from Bessarabia and northern Bukovina.

And then Romania went one step further, joining the Axis powers.

And Romania shrunk further. Southern Dobruja was ceded to Bulgaria, while Hungary received Northern Transylvania as a payback from the Axis.

Then as is now, oil was a major factor in war. Romania was the most important source of oil for Nazi Germany, which brought bombing raids by Allied forces.

In August 1944, with Soviet Russia moving to retake Romania, Romania changed sides and joined the Allies.

King Michael was a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria by both of his parents, and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.

Still alive at age 92, he is one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II, along with the former King Simeon II of Bulgaria.

But Romania’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany was not recognized at the Paris Peace Conference of 1947; even though the Romanian Army had suffered 170,000 casualties after switching sides.

And now Romania was held by the Soviets.

In 1947, King Michael I was forced to abdicate and leave the country, and Romania was proclaimed a people’s republic.

Romania remained under military occupation and economic control of the USSR until the late 1950s.

During this period, Romania’s vast natural resources were drained by the Soviet Union. Private firms were nationalized, and agriculture collectivized.

The Communist government established a reign of terror, carried out mainly through the Securitate secret police.

Many “enemies of the state” were killed, deported, or sent to forced labor camps and prisons.

Records show hundreds of thousands of instances of torture or murder by the state.

In 1965 Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and started to pursue a path somewhat independent of the Soviets.

Ceauşescu’s small separation from the Soviet Union drew the interest of Western powers. They saw him as an anti-Soviet maverick, or at least a pawn that could be played to widen a schism in the Warsaw Pact.

Romania received massive loans from the West—more than $13 billion—to finance economic development.

Ceauşescu ordered the export of much of Romania’s agriculture and industrial production to repay its debts. Food rationing was introduced and gas and electricity black-outs were common.

Ceauşescu shut down all radio stations outside of the capital, and limited television to one channel broadcasting two hours a day.

He enveloped himself in a cult of personality: Ceausescu was Romania, and the other way around.

By some accounts, in his final years Romania was the most Stalinist regime in the Soviet bloc.

In late 1989, demonstrations broke out.

Ceauşescu went on a state visit to Iran—another paradigm of democracy at the time—and left the job of crushing the revolt to his wife and cronies.

When he returned, he blamed the problem on foreign interference.

Ceauşescu and his wife Elena fled the capital by helicopter, but were eventually arrested by the army. On Christmas Day 1989, they were put on trial on charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide.

The trial lasted all of two hours. They were found guilty and immediately sentenced to death, taken outside the building and put up against a wall.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the 1989 Revolution, Romania began its transition towards democracy and a capitalist market economy, a process that has been somewhat successful.

Romania joined NATO in 2004, and the European Union in 2007.

And today, though Romania is better off than when Ceauşescu was in power, it still remains desperately poor in many regions.

We wish Romania (and its neighbor Ukraine) well. And to our guests: arrivederci. Till we meet again.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)


2 May 2014: Odessa, Ukraine

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We slipped into Odessa under cover of darkness and woke to a glorious day in one of the most handsome cities of Europe.

And at the close of the day, we sailed out of port with all guests and crew accounted for.

In between: some of us witnessed what may be the beginning of the end of peace–and independence–in this huge tinderbox nation. Riots broke out between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine factions: from rocks to firebombs to assaults on a government building and deaths.

We had previously canceled our scheduled port calls to Yalta and Sevastopol in Crimea; there was not much debate about the need to do that once the southernmost portion of Ukraine came fully under control of Russia. But Odessa seemed secure, a place with a significant history of many cultures living together and creating art and music and society.

But Vladimir Putin’s Russia has found ways to stoke the nasty fires of separatism, especially in places where Ukraine has been heavily Russified over the past century: the eastern portion of the country is predominately populated by ethnic Russians who were brought there by the Czars and then the Soviet Union.

On the day we arrived in Odessa, a football match was scheduled between a local team and one from the eastern part of Ukraine near Russia. The morning started with parades of football supporters. Somewhere in that mix, it appears, were some bent on provocation and violence and by the end of the day Odessa was fully in the mix.

Competing marches of pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian football supporters became marches of pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia activists and eventually violence and death.

We wish beautiful Odessa and the people of Ukraine the best. We hope to return to a free, safe, and happy country again.

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A pro-Ukrainian demonstration in the morning, and a bandura performer in the park. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Inside some of the mansions of the beautiful city of Odessa. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Church of the Assumption in Odessa, a place of solitude and grace in a time of near-war. Photos by Corey Sandler

28 April 2014: Trabzon, Turkey

Finding Trabzon

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Trabzon has been a major trading port for millennia. Modern Trabzon has a population of more than 230,000 in the city.

The Republic of Genoa had an important merchant colony within the city that was similar to Galata near Constantinople (north across the Golden Horn) in present-day Istanbul. Trabzon formed the basis of several states in its long history and was the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond between 1204 and 1461.

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The astounding Sumela Monastery, completed in 386, was somehow carved into the cliffside about 1,200 meters or 3,900 feet above sea level in the Pontic Mountains near Trabzon. We don’t know much about how they were built, and even today it is a difficult task to get to them: car or coach for an hour into the hills, transfer to a small dolmus minivan up a switchback road, and then hike up a path better suited for goats than people. Photos by Corey Sandler

During the late Ottoman period, the city became an important Christian center. One of the former treasures of the region is the Trebizond Gospel, a Byzantine illuminated manuscript with the text of Gospel Lectionary, dating from the 11th century and 10th century.

The book was richly decorated with gold and jewels by the Trapezuntine Emperor Andronicus. In 1858, the Trebizond Gospel was presented by the Orthodox Metropolitan of Trebizond to the Emperor Alexander II of Russia, who donated it to the Russian National Library, where is held to the present day. Good luck getting it back.

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Some of the ancient frescoes at Sumela. Photos by Corey Sandler

As Turkey has developed, Trabzon has grown with it.

The coastal highway and a new harbor increased commercial relations with Central Anatolia and the outside world. Nevertheless, Trabzon is by no means as developed or Westernized as Istanbul or port cities like Kusadasi on the Aegean.

The current ethnic background of the people of Trabzon is mostly Turkish. There is still a small community of Greek or Pontic-speaking Muslims and some Armenians.

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The Agia Sophia Church was built in the 13th century, converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Era in the 16th century, made a museum in modern Turkey in 1957, and returned to its role as a mosque about a year ago. Its Christian icons and frescoes are covered by curtains during Islamic prayer times. Photos by Corey Sandler

Since the end of the Soviet Union, there has been immigration from Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus—mostly Georgia.

Some of the original people of the region, the Laz, are also found in Trabzon and in small villages outside of the city. The Laz are descendants of one of the chief tribes of ancient kingdom of Colchis.

They were initially early adopters of Christianity in the region.

However, most of them converted to Sunni Islam during Ottoman rule in the 16th century.

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The Ortahisar Buyuk Fatih Mosque in Trabzon dates from 1316, although its earliest use was as a Christian church used for the coronation of Byzantine Emperors. Photo by Corey Sandler

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In Trabzon, on a hilltop overlooking the harbor, is a much-loved ornate home known as the Attaturk Country House. Turks come on pilgrimage, some making multiple visits, which is more than Attaturk did: he stayed only two nights.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

27 April 2014: Sinope, Turkey

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Anatolia, which the Greeks called Asia Minor—is the westernmost protrusion of Asia. Modern Turkey, famed for spanning Europe and Asia at Istanbul, has the majority of its territory in Anatolia.One theory is the Black and Caspian Seas were vast freshwater lakes until a massive flood about 5600 BC.

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Regional elections were conducted recently in Turkey; some of the political flags still fly after the politicians have gone. Photo by Corey Sandler

The flood came from the West: the Mediterranean spilled over a rocky sill at the Bosphorus, creating the strait that now connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Sinope is one of the high holy places of self-interest and cynicism. The town, on the most northern point of the Turkish side of the Black Sea coast, was the birthplace of Diogenes.

Diogenes was born about 412 B.C. in the Greek colony Sinope, and died at Corinth about 323 B.C.

Diogenes was the man who walked about carrying a lantern in the daytime to help him in “looking for a good man.” He apparently could not find one.

Alexander the Great met the famous philosopher when he was in Corinth and wanted to reward him.

According to the story, Alexander asked, “What can I do for you?”

Diogenes was said to have replied, “Stand aside. You’re blocking my sunlight.”

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Scenes around Sinope, including a bakery where we stopped to pick up a fresh sesame bread right out of the oven. Photos by Corey Sandler

The modern city of Sinope has a population of about 37,000. Used as a port by the Hittites, the city was re-founded as a Greek colony in the 7th century B.C.

Sinope flourished as the Black Sea port of a caravan route that led from the upper Euphrates valley.

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The Archeological Museum of Sinope is like a graduate course in history: Colchis Greek, Roman, Ottoman, and trade objects that reach back to the other end of the Silk Road in Persia. Photos by Corey Sandler

By 1850, the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. Deeply in debt, it relied heavily on British and French loans. And it drastically reduced the size of its Army and Navy.

By 1853, Tsar Nicholas I saw the reductions as an opportunity to press Russian claim in the Trans-Cacasus and along the Danube River.

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A simple but elegant mosque, from about 1361, in Sinope. The design in this part of Anatolia is closer to that of the Middle East, less influenced by European styles as you would see in Istanbul. Photos by Corey Sandler

Today there are many parallels in Crimea and the Ukraine and between Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin. Nicholas I pushed to recapture or expand Russian territory, and in the process brought pushback from European powers.

In July 1853, Russian forces occupied several Ottoman Principalities along the Danube.

In the Black Sea, Sultan Mejd ordered a squadron of frigates, steamers and transports to establish a supply corridor to the Ottoman Army in Georgia.

The Ottoman fleet was met by the onset of winter, and ended up at Sinope.

On November 30, 1853, the Imperial Russian Navy crossed the Black Sea to Sinop, attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet in port there.

The Russian bombardment went on long past when it was clear the Ottomans were defeated, killing many Ottoman sailors who were no longer combatants.

The “massacre of Sinope” was one of the events precipitating the Crimean War (1853-1854) in which Great Britain and France joined with the Ottoman Empire against the Russian Empire.

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The monument to the fallen Ottoman sailors in Sinope. Photo by Corey Sandler

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

24-26 April 2014: Istanbul, Turkey

The Bridge Across Time and Continents

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Istanbul, one of the great cities of the world, is a place where ancient history comes alive.

Across its long history, Istanbul served as the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire from 395 to 1204, the Latin Empire (1204–1261), again the Byzantine Empire from 1261 to 1453, and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922).[whohit]-Istanbul 24-26Apr-[/whohit]

It is the place where East meets West,

Where Asia meets Europe.

Where Islam meets the Judeo-Christian world.

Where ancient culture meets—and sometimes intermingles—with modernity.

Here in Istanbul we wish safe travels to many guests who have been with us since Monte Carlo and before, and welcome new friends who will sail with us through the Bosporus Strait and into the Black Sea.

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Our voyage from Istanbul into the Black Sea. Because of the unrest in Ukraine, we have had to rework our itinerary, removing Yalta and Sevastopol in the Crimea; we have added Sinop in Turkey.

Istanbul is on the European side of Turkey, straddling the Golden Horn and fronting the Bosporus Strait that runs from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.



The 6th century cisterns of Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque and the 5th century Valens Aqueduct built by the Romans. Photo by Corey Sandler

Kapalıçarşı, the Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, encompassing more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops. As many as half a million people visit daily.

It opened in 1461.

Three decades before Columbus.

Nearby is the smaller but very colorful and flavorful Spice Market, at the western side of the Galata Bridge.

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Scenes from in and around the Spice Market and across the Golden Horn along Istaklal Avenue near Taksim Square. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Sultanahmet, is known to the outside world as the Blue Mosque, named for the colorful tiles within. It was completed in 1616.

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Inside the Blue Mosque. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Blue Mosque melds two centuries of Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church building. Only the sultan was allowed to enter the court of the mosque on horseback.

On the western side, a heavy iron chain spans the entrance, so that even the sultan had to lower his head in religious acknowledgment.

Within, the walls and columns are lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles in more than 50 designs. Those at lower levels are traditional in design, while at gallery level they become flamboyant with representations of flowers, fruit, and cypresses.

Süleymaniye is Istanbul’s second largest mosque. It is actually a bit older than the Blue Mosque, completed in 1558.

Again, it combines Islamic and Byzantine architecture. The design of the Süleymaniye also plays on Suleyman’s representation of himself as a ‘second Solomon.’ It references the Dome of the Rock, which was built on the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

Here are some scenes of Süleymaniye. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856. The name means “Cannon gate Palace”.

Construction began in 1459. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people.

The palace functioned almost as a city within a city, encompassing dormitories, gardens, libraries, schools, and mosques.

Within the palace, the sultan and his family could enjoy privacy, making use of secret passageways and grilled windows.

After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapı Palace was transformed into a museum of the imperial era. Only the most significant of the hundreds of rooms are open to the public today.

Hagia Sophia began as an Orthodox Christian basilica, converted to a mosque, and now a museum.

The Emperor Justinian had materials brought from all over the empire: Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, large porphyry stones from quarries in Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria.

Hagia Sophia’s massive dome is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture.

It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

The Greek name for the original cathedral was “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.” From its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except for the period between 1204 and 1261 when it was a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Latin Empire.

And then under the Ottomans, the cathedral was made a mosque in 1453, a role it continued until 1931.

In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey and first President, determined to separate Islam from politics, transformed Hagia Sofia into a museum.

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums has three collections in the Eminönü district, near Topkapı Palace: The Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

One of the great sights of Istanbul is relatively young, Dolmabahçe Palace. This was the last of the Ottoman Palaces, heavily influence by European designs and customs in the mid-19th century.

Here is an album of photos from inside and outside of Dolmabahçe. Photos by Corey Sandler

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All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

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Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:


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Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)


23 April 2014: Kusadasi and Ephesus, Turkey

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Kusadasi is a place that has been bystander to history for eons.

It has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, Croesus, King Midas, and thousands of travelers and merchants who came to the city on the ancient Silk Road that reached back to Persia and the Middle East.[whohit]-Kusadasi 23Apr-[/whohit]

And a short distance away is the spectacular city of Ephesus, once a great Greek and then Roman city with a population of several hundred thousand and then one of the most important early cities of Christendom.

Today, the invaders arrive by cruise ship and airliner.

Here’s an album of photos from Ephesus and nearby sites.

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The Library of Celsus, the Greek theater and other sites at Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler.

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The Basilica of Saint John near Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Storks atop a former minaret, a street scene in Selcuk. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Bonjuks to ward off the evil eye, and an honest merchant’s stall near Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The ancient Isa Bey mosque. In a row in Selcuk is the pagan Temple of Artemis, the Christian Basilica of Saint John, and this Muslim mosque designed by an architect from Damascus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Temple of Claros, an unreconstructed site once home to an oracle. Photos by Corey Sandler

20 April 2014: Valletta, Malta

Easter Sunday on the Crossroads of the Med

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The two-and-a-half island nation of Malta is not quite like anywhere else. Especially on Easter Sunday.[whohit]-Valletta 20Apr-[/whohit]

Once I figured out we would be visiting the island nation on Easter, I knew exactly what we would be doing: a pilgrimage to Vittorioso to see the parade and procession. More about that a bit later.

Malta is pretty much right in the middle of the Mediterranean. 93 kilometers or 55 miles south of Sicily and Europe, 288 kilometers or 180 miles north of Tunisia and Africa. East of Gibraltar, and west of Alexandria and Jerusalem.


Our sister ship Silver Cloud at the dock in Valletta on a previous visit. Photo by Corey Sandler

And, of course, that location made it so very important as a crossroads and rest stop for invaders, crusaders, pilgrims, and traders.

It is heavily Catholic and has a long tradition of Christianity, and yet it was greatly influenced by the Middle East and the British Empire.

They also speak (along with English) a language of their own: Maltese.

The Republic of Malta covers just 300 square kilometers, 116 square miles. It is one of the smallest and most-densely populated countries in Europe.

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The major cathedrals in Valletta and Mdina are among the most spectacular in Europe. They hold fabulous art, much of it imported (along with the artists) by the Knights of Malta who held the island during the Crusades. Photos by Corey Sandler

Malta is actually about twenty islands, islets, and rocks. Only three are inhabited: the principal island of Malta, and the secondary island of Gozo.

In between them is the tiny isle of Comino (Kemmuna): just over one square mile and home at last count to less than a dozen people.

Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Sicilians, the Knights of St John, the French and the British.

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Doorways and balconies in Valletta, above, and Mostar below. Photos by Corey Sandler

The last colonial power was the British, and for that the Maltese suffered greatly, and stood up bravely, during World War II as the Axis powers pummeled Valletta.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and, depending on who is making the call, it can claim to be—with Rome—an Apostolic See. That term is applied to a church or a community founded directly by one of the Apostles.

The fine print is that there were some gaps in the leadership and ownership of Malta over the past two thousand years.


A mysterious alleyway in the Alice-in-Wonderland town of Mdina. Photo by Corey Sandler

But in any case, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul was shipwrecked and ministered on the island.

Along with its Christian sites, several Megalithic Temples may be the oldest free-standing structures in Europe.

According to Catholic belief, Christianity arrived in 60 A.D., in the personal hands of the Apostle Paul who—according to a detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles—was being taken by ship to Rome under arrest for a religious infringement.

Paul had asked to be judged before Caesar, his right as a Roman Citizen. Another prisoner on the same ship was Saint Luke, who made his own record of the voyage.

The vessel wrecked just off Malta.

According to the accounts, the men who washed ashore were taken to the villa of Publius, a leader on the island. Paul cured Publius’ father of a fever, and that was sufficient to convince Publius to convert to Christianity.

Malta went from the Romans to the Byzantines who ruled from Constantinople for four centuries, which brings us up to the year 870.

Next up were Arabs and Moslems, who took control of Malta as part of the Emirate of Sicily, and later the Caliphate of the Fatamids in 909.

The Arabs advanced the island’s irrigation and farming, and also brought the Siculo-Arabic language which would eventually become Maltese.

Maltese is a Semitic language using 30 characters based on the Latin alphabet.

The Muslims allowed Christians to continue to practice their religion, although they had to pay a tax as a sign of subjugation.

Today, Malta is among the most Catholic nations on the planet. There are something like 360 churches. And on Easter Sunday, well, they sure know how to celebrate.

We were early off the ship and traveled with some friends to the town of Vittorioso, on the less-visited other side of the harbor from Valletta. There were thousands and people there to see the marching bands, procession, and a most unusual race.

What was quite lacking, thankfully, were very many other tourists. Here’s a bit of what we saw.

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High Mass was celebrated at the Saint Lawrence Church in Vittorioso, which dates from about 1660. It was used for just a few decades by the Knights of Malta before they relocated across the harbor to Valletta. It has to be one of most impressive parish churches anywhere. Photos by Corey Sandler

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After the services, a marching band proceeded through the crowded square, followed–at first by a solemn procession of men and boys holding aloft a statue from the church. Photos by Corey Sandler

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And then the race was on, as the bearers ran up the hill from the church to the central square of the Three Cities of Malta, where processions from other towns met them. After catching their breath, the bands and the bearers returned to their home churches. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.