Category Archives: Baltic Sea Cruise

“See” Day

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“See” Day

After Tallin, Estonia we had a sea day…in my case it was a “see” day because that evening was the last of the four Princess Production Shows – Born to Dance! For those that are just jumping onboard, this post is part of a series about an 11-day Baltic Sea Cruise I took in August. My niece, Peanut, and her boyfriend, Special K, are entertainers on the ship. Peanut sings and Special K dances, it’s kind of amazing to watch them. And yes those are nicknames because this is still an anonymous blog, kind of…I’m keeping the pen name.

This day started with a behind the scenes stage tour open to all of the passengers. Special K was assigned to work this event. Peanut joined me and mingled with the other guests and answered questions. The most frequently asked question was about their makeup – as in who does it? Spoiler – the cast does their own. Except when Special K is a Sorcerer, then Peanut does his eyeliner but it isn’t in her contract.

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It was great to hear from the production crew and go back stage. The backstage is like a gigantic theater version of Tetris. They have gotten very creative with storage out of necessity. It’s not as if they can move stuff to Joey’s garage if things get tight, they have the space they have and that’s it. After the tour I had a greater appreciation for the behind the scenes choreography that happens with each show. Unlike the dancers on the stage, their dance is supposed to be seamless and invisible to the audience – they do a phenomenal job.

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In-between stage tours, long walks with Peanut and smoothies, I was hustling back and forth to the cabin. Sadly my daughter was getting sick so I was fetching her tea and ham croissants every couple of hours. I purchased DayQuil at the rate of $1.25 pill which seemed steep for something you wouldn’t take at a Rave (yes, I’m old). My girl rested most of the day as I coated myself in hand sanitizer and blew air kisses her way.

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That night we went to watch Born to Dance, a nod to many of the most beloved Broadway Shows, the emphasis on dancing. Here’s a clip that Princess created for the show – Born to Dance

This was an incredible show and the entire cast really nailed it! I watched both the 8pm & 10pm shows as I didn’t want to miss a minute of them on stage. I’m grateful my own kids aren’t into theater because I would be the most outrageous stage mom on the planet.

Naturally I posted an obscene amount of photos when I got home. Most of Peanut and Special K’s family and friends won’t get to see these shows so they were happy to see the posts. The next day my daughter and I were scheduled to tour Berlin.

Stay tuned…

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Estone-a-what?

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Estone-a-what?

After two action packed days in St Petersburgh, Russia we were ready for a slower pace. My niece took my daughter and me into the Old Town section of Tallin. Her boyfriend had drill duty on the ship that morning and planned to meet us later. The walk from port to town was easy to navigate.

Tallin is the capital of Estonia. Estone-a-what? you ask….Estonia, a small country which borders the Baltic Sea with Russia on it’s right and Latvia on it’s left. It went by the German name of Reval from the 13th century through the first half of the 20th century. They’re pretty keen on changing city names in that part of the world (St Petersburgh to Leningrad – back to St Petersburgh). It was also known by it’s Russian name of Revel and a few other names. Such a pretty country, strategically located, many larger more powerful countries were eager to take over the place.

After being passed around like a party platter between the Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and plenty of guys named Vlad, Estonia gained her independence in 1918. Independence was short-lived as Estonia was occupied by the Red Army, then the German Nazis at various times during World War II. Despite the occupation, Tallinn was never razed or pillaged and as a result has kept her Old Town charm. Unlike many of the sites we visited in St Petersburgh Tallinn did not experience significant war repair renovations to it’s Old Town. Estonia reclaimed it’s independence in 1991 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Enough with the history lesson, what did we do in Tallinn…we ate and shopped and it was divine. We started with mini pancakes dolloped with Nutella and a shocking amount of confectioners sugar. Peanut (niece) went with raspberry preserves and condensed milk (OMFG are you kidding me???!). I sampled both as was my duty as the eldest adult. I proclaimed Nutella the winner but the condensed milk did cause me to hesitate (actually it caused my heart to stop momentarily, defibrillator anyone?)IMG_9239

After stuffing our faces with mini pancakes we walked around a bit to fight the carb coma that threatened our ability to stay upright. We wandered around the open air market where we looked at knits, Christmas ornaments, hats and other odds and ends. We found a side alley which featured a couple of cat statues….ON THE CEILING (paw prints and all). I stopped to buy a postcard for Rob & Laura and entrusted the store clerk to mail it for me after I purchased the postage.

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Me after consuming mini pancakes.

Then we decided to pour some caffeine on the morning and headed to a favorite cafe. Peanut and Special K have a favorite cafe in every port along the Baltic Sea. I’ve yet to be disappointed in their selection. This place in particular had fantastic Chai Tea and something I really appreciate, a sense of humor as noted on the sign.

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After Special K (niece’s BF) joined us we headed to The Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, because that’s what my kid is into (makes sign of the cross, says silent prayer). It was a predictable assortment of horrific devices used to inflict as much pain as possible in creative ways – explanations and diagrams were provided. Then it was time for lunch because who doesn’t get hungry after a morning of mini pancakes, cats on ceilings and torture devices.

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We walked a bit more after lunch to the scenic overlook and passed through one beautiful street after another. The weather cooperated fully with blue skies and a just right air temperature. Cleaner than an Epcot Country it seemed like something out of Shrek (inspiration for Duloc?). Thanks for the memories Estonia.

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Fiera!

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Fiera!

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I went on the Baltic Sea Cruise in large part to see my niece and her boyfriend perform on the ship. The ports were secondary in my trip planning. Honestly, it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. Such an ambitious itinerary and a gorgeous ship. I quickly adapted to someone else doing all the cooking and cleaning for 11 days

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We finished our second day in St Petersburgh with a Princess Production Show named Fiera! This show was developed in-house with input from seasoned professionals including American Idol Director and Choreographer, Danny Teeson. It was a musical with a carnival atmosphere. The plot was simple, a father, the Ring Master, struggled with letting his daughter go. The daughter fell in love and the cast of characters danced and sang their way through the process.

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The songs were familiar – “Born This Way”, “Man in the Mirror”, “Sweet Child of Mine”,  each sequenced to help the story unfold. The dancing was phenomenal with colorful costumes and vibrant sets. It was quite the spectacle, much more technical than I would have envisioned for a cruise ship. In fact all of the production shows blew me away.

 

From Russia With Love…Part 2

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From Russia With Love…Part 2

The second day of our St Petersburgh Alla Tour was another jam packed itinerary which included – the Metro, a cruise on the Neva River, Yusupov Palace (Rasputin Exhibit), Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood,  St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the grand finale – Peterhof Fountains & Gardens.

The Metro in Russia is home to some gorgeous underground spaces, sadly we did not see those (kidding, maybe). We took a ride on the subway to the Admiralteyskaya (good luck spelling that) stop, which is 86 meters below ground. Greek Mythology and nods to Peter the Great were displayed in the metro mosaics that we came across. I think these guys are trying to catch the subway – img_8970.jpg

The Neva River was chilly so my daughter and I stayed in the cabin while the rest of the tourists froze their оценить off. The picture below was taken from the river cruise, it features the Saints Peter and Paul Fortress & Cathedral –

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Next up was the Yusupov Palace which hosted a Rasputin Exhibit. Fun fact: Rasputin was a close family friend and adviser of sorts to Nicholas II and his family. He was particularly close with the Empress of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, who credited Rasputin with keeping her son (heir apparent to the Russian Empire) alive. Alexei suffered from Hemophilia and it is thought that Rasputin was able to assist in some way.

The Romanov family’s close relationship with the wandering monk led to public outrage and ultimately the murder of Rasputin on December 30, 1916, which occurred in the Yusupov Palace. Speaking of Rasputin, I found myself in a rather twisted rabbit hole while Googling about the guy. Here’s a link if you’re feeling brave – Rasputin’s Junk on Display…

After the palace it was time for the church tours. Technically both churches are categorized as museums now which is an important distinction in determining who pays to keep the lights on. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is a gorgeous display of what you would expect in a Russian church – multiple onion shaped domes covered in gold and gorgeous mosaic tiles that create the icons which adorn the walls.

The church was erected to honor Alexander II who died after being fatally injured by a carriage bomb, plotted by the Peoples Will (an extremist group) on March 1, 1881. The location where the fatal injury was dealt is marked within the church (below).

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Like most of the historical sites in St Petersburgh, the Church suffered damage during the Siege of Leningrad which lasted from September 1941 until January of 1944. For two and a half years the residents of Leningrad (now St Petersburgh) were trapped in the city. Suffering through air-raids, artillery barrage, starvation, and no access to outside supplies resulted in up to a million deaths (through the siege and evacuations).

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St Isaac’s Cathedral built between 1818 and 1858, was also damaged during the siege. It is filled with beautiful mosaics and a gorgeous stained glass Jesus.

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The final stop of our two day St Petersburgh Tour was Peterhof Fountains & Gardens. We didn’t have time to stop for lunch so Demetris, our driver, got bagged lunches for the 13 of us. They were delicious, our guide and driver really took care of us (Thank you Alla Tours).

Construction of Peterhof began in 1710 at the direction of Peter the Great. It’s been dubbed the “Russian Versailles” and it is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

According to Wikipedia – “The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens located in Petergof, Saint Petersburg, Russia, commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to the Palace of Versailles by Louis XIV of France.”

I can’t speak of the actual palace at Peterhof but the fountains and gardens were spectacular (feature photo). You could spend a month walking the grounds here and you wouldn’t get bored.

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After 90 minutes of draw dropping beauty we made our way back to port. It was an exhausting day of touring but I needed to stay up to watch my niece and her boyfriend perform in the Princess production of Fiera!

Stay Tuned…

 

From Russia With Love…Part 1

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From Russia With Love…Part 1

One of the ports on our 11 day Baltic Sea Cruise was Saint Petersburg, Russia. To be honest, it was never on my travel bucket list, I didn’t know much about it. We booked the trip last minute so I could see my niece and her boyfriend preform on the ship. They both got jobs as entertainers and this cruise was one of the itineraries during their 9 month contract. I started digging in a bit and somehow convinced my husband to send our daughter and me.

To prepare for this port I watched The Last Czars series on Netflix. It was really well done and fairly accurate according to people who know more about Russian History than me (nearly everyone). Saint Petersburg featured prominently in the series as it was the capitol of the Russian Empire from 1712 – 1918. Nicholas II was the last Czar of the Russian Empire, he ruled from November of 1894 until he abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917. Spoiler – he was a shitty Czar. Whether that was due to malice, ignorance or ineptitude is up to debate, perhaps a toxic mix of all three. If you plan to visit or just need something to binge watch, I recommend the series (Netflix feel free to send me something for the plug).

With my newfound interest, I decided to book a tour during our two day stop in Saint Petersburg. After stalking cruise experts online and reading dozens of reviews, I went with the Grand Group Tour with Alla Tours. The group sizes were much smaller than the ship excursions and the prices were better with similar itineraries.

The morning we arrived in Russia I was a bit nervous. I grew up during the Cold War, Russia was enemy #1 for a big chunk of my youth and let’s face it, they get bad press on the regular – land grabs, election rigging, poisonings, scary stuff. So I open the curtain to my cabin balcony and THIS greets me –

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Russia is that a missel or are you just happy to see me?

That was a bit intimidating…according to our guide, Roman, it is an 87 story sky scrapper (not a scraper, a scrapper) which is owned by a petroleum company. Oh and Roman said it looked like a corn husk. Roman also said the Crimea land grab was fake news so draw your own conclusions.

Our first stop was the Palace Square which features the Alexander Column, the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building. It was gorgeous and we got a clear morning which is rare as SP only averages 60 sunny days a year.

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Winter Palace completed in 1762 was the first building constructed in the square and became the primary residence of Russian Czars. While visiting the Palace Square we ducked into a souvenir shop which, immediately offered Russian wine and vodka to all the customers, it was 8am (slurs speech, it’s 5pm somewhere Ruskii). My daughter tried on those big furry Russian hats, eyed the Faberge eggs and ultimately fell in love with this Russian nesting doll –

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I didn’t buy it at the time because $45 seemed outrageous. Then when we got home I found it on Amazon so, someone will get this at Christmas….shhhh.

The Hermitage (1764) was our next stop, the place is infested with gold and precious works of art. We had the good fortune to see works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and countless other artists at a mind numbing pace.

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Danae, Rembrandt (1636 w/later revisions). This painting was seriously damaged in 1985 when some jackass threw acid on it. Extensive restoration and repair were done with some of the damage left intact so as not to entirely redo the painting.

After a couple of hours, my daughter was going numb from the barrage of information so she started to amuse herself by photo-shopping Michael Jackson’s head on famous works of art. I thought it was genius.
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After the Hermitage we went to a restaurant for lunch which consisted of Borscht and Chicken Kiev. I enjoyed it, DD is not a fan of beet soup but she tried it and the chicken was better received. We were given pastries with a cream inside as dessert, yum. Next stop was the Peter & Paul Fortress and Cathedral.

The Cathedral featured the remains of the Romanov Family, including Nicholas II the last Czar. Their bodies were not interned until 1998 with the exception of Prince Alexei (born as heir to the Czar) and Princess Maria. The remains suspected to be of Alexei and Maria were not discovered until 2007. These bone fragments have since been tested and identified as the missing Romanovs though the Orthodox Church has not yet interned them with the rest of their family. The entire family was murdered in July of 1918 after being held captive by the Red Army in the city of Yekaterinburg (pssst…watch the series, you will not be bored).

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We finished the day with a trip to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin. It was exhausting, crowded and monotonous – gold, mirrors, chandeliers, hall, followed by more gold, priceless antiques, rare works of art and yes, more gold. Keep in mind this Palace, along with the other cites we visited had extensive renovations after being devastated in World War II. I kept thinking of the people that went hungry while all this gold was being brushed on for the renovation.  Here’s the backyard –

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…and more gold for the road, stay tuned for the rest of St Petersburgh!

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Bravo! (Indeed)

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Bravo! (Indeed)

Bravo was performed on the second night of our 11 day Baltic Sea Cruise. My niece’s voice recovered significantly from the prior day. She sang I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables, I was overwhelmed. Special K (her BF) was featured with his partner in a gorgeous dance during the show. It was amazing to be there to watch them. I went to both shows, I did that for each production.

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The next day was Stockholm, Sweden. This was officially travel day 3 for my daughter and I and we both hit the jet-lag/time change wall HARD. We got maybe 2 1/2 hours of sleep Saturday night and Sunday we walked 11 miles. Stockholm was a lively place with gorgeous architecture and tasty treats.

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Järnpojke, the “Iron Boy”: Stockholm’s smallest statue. Located in the Old Town section in the courtyard of a Finnish Church. The statue is said to bring good luck if you rub his head.

This began our first day of the Peanut/Special K Cafe Tour, they took us to their favorite cafes in each port except the two where we hired guides. We arrived by 10am and spent the next 6 hours exploring, eating, shopping and eating again. My one dessert a day rule was a distant memory by lunch. I would love to go back in a less zombie-esq state.

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The next port was Helsinki, Finland…and can I take a hot second to just say WOW places I never dreamed I would visit, thank you dear husband for sending me. Of course there was a favorite cafe and a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. We visited the church built into rock and the Sibelius Monument by Eila Hiltunen, dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). I also had the best whitefish (w/OMFG amazing garlic sauce) of my life under the orange tents in the open air market.

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The next port was St. Petersburgh, Russia…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BS Tour

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BS Tour

I’m going with the BS (Baltic Sea) Tour for the post title. Sure it’s low hanging fruit, I’m still in the funk of time change. For those that are just joining us, I took an 11-day Baltic Sea cruise with my daughter. We went for the ports and more importantly to see my niece, Peanut, and her boyfriend, Special K, perform on the ship.

Travel was rough, we encountered a significant plane delay and lines that make that Popeye’s chicken sandwich debacle seem like child’s play. Nonetheless we soldiered through and made it to the ship on time. My niece greeted us in our cabin and suddenly the hassles of international travel melted away in an instant. My daughter and I got situated, cleaned the first layer of travel filth off ourselves and sauntered over to the dinning room.

We selected anytime dinning because committing to a specific time each evening seemed too confining. The first night we agreed to share a table with randoms to avoid a longer wait. I find this part of cruising fun because I could talk to a baked potato, for hours. My DD however, would prefer to eat in a closet. The meal was fine and I managed to stick to my “one dessert a day rule” (Creme Brulee) for day one.

That evening there was a show with Peanut, Special K and the entire cast so naturally we went. The show was good, better than what I expected on a cruise ship (my expectations were cheesy glitz). Peanut had a bit of a cold and I could tell she wasn’t 100% not sure if the other audience members were aware, I’ve watched her perform since the womb. She waved and sang to me from the ultrasound when I took her mom to the OB appointment late in pregnancy (that’s a slight exaggeration, very slight). Nonetheless, I was thrilled to watch her perform in front of a thousand shipmates.

I went to the 8pm and 10pm show and sat in the first row for the early show. The second show I was in the way back and I noticed she sounded different. One singer in the show really stood out, Willis White, that man had Broadway oozing out of him. I later found out he’s been on Broadway a bunch of times, that’s the Holy Grail for my niece. She told me the next day she had them use a track for her voice in the second show to preserve her voice for upcoming shows. Unfortunately, she had to lip sync to someone else’s track because they hadn’t yet recorded her voice for this particular show.

Day two was a sea day which means you can sleep late and play Bingo. Actually there were a ton of activities to choose from, we chose – sleep, eat and chat. Got to spend time with Peanut & Special K while getting familiar with the ship. Peanut was sipping tea that smelled like licorice and woodsy sacrifices. Some crafted concoction to soothe her vocal cords to get her back to 100% for this evening’s show, Bravo.

It was a mellow day of recovery for all until things picked up in the evening. Peanut and Special K could not join us for dinner due to sound checks and other show prep, so my DD and I wandered back to the dinning room. This time we waited for a table for two. The table was situated next to a couple who were very chatty (more like a table for 4). We didn’t mind though they were very nice.

The husband was a Special Ed teacher and while we were there he got a call from a former student who called to let him know about a job he got. This student struggled a lot in high school and this teacher had a profound impact on his life. With guidance, grit and determination this former student managed to become a lawyer and called to announce his deep into 6-figures salary. I was honored to be sitting near someone so influential in the life of someone who once struggled.

Oh and did I mention the dessert? Dear Gawd, they had something called a Chocolate Journey which should come with a warning label – Instant addiction: You will be haunted by this dessert for all of your remaining days, consume with caution. You’ll still eat it, you’ll just have a better understanding of the craving that will shadow you for the rest of the cruise and the debilitating moment of disappointment when each night you check the menu and it’s not there. It kind of resembles a viking helmet or at least part of one. It’s a combination of crisp-creamy-hazlenut-chocolate magnificence.

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…..and now we shall have a moment of silence for those that have never experienced a Chocolate Journey and for those that have and are not able to experience it again.

More to come…

 

 

 

Rough Start…

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Rough Start…

I recently returned from a cruise along the Baltic Sea. This is not a trip I ever intended to take, it wasn’t even on my trip radar. When my niece told me in February that she took a job as a vocalist on a ship, the itinerary suddenly became irresistible. Bonus, her longtime boyfriend also got a gig on the ship as a dancer. Oh to be twenty-something with remarkable talents…

My husband could not take two weeks off from work so he planned a shorter trip with our son closer to home in Nova Scotia. So it was just my daughter and me on the cruise. The itinerary was intense – 6 ports in 11 days plus Copenhagen where we got on/off the ship.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Stockholm (Nynashamn), Sweden

Helsinki, Finland

St. Petersburg, Russia (2 days)

Tallinn, Estonia

Berlin (Warnemunde) Germany

Oslo, Norway

The main reason I was on the ship, to the see the production shows that included my niece, Peanut, and her boyfriend…we’ll call him Special K. There were four production shows during the cruise – Sweet Motown, Bravo, Fiera! and Born to Dance.

Peanut and I planned to meet for lunch in Nyhavn. I mapped out the Metro station, printed out walking directions (no international cellular so I knew I would be off the grid upon landing) and planned our arrival to the ship together. Well that didn’t happen :(. Instead my carefully planned lunch date in Copenhagen was replaced with 2 1/2 hours on the tarmac at JFK waiting to take off. This is one of the most first world problems you could ever have so I moved on.

When my daughter and I landed in Copenhagen we were greeted with a YUGE line to get through passport control. I had visions of missing the ship entirely. Yes, cruise addicts I know I should have flown over the day before but the trip was expensive and I felt guilty that the hubs and son weren’t with us so I didn’t want to extend it. Rookie mistake.

Now I don’t often cut in line but when I do, it’s at the Copenhagen airport to avoid missing the ship. My apologies to the 732 people that were ahead of me. In my defense, I didn’t realize I was cutting the line until I got to the front of it and then I was like – I can’t go back there (at least a 1/2 mile to get to the end of the line). While I was standing near the front, getting my bearings and trying to determine the best course of action, the Line Gods smiled upon me and they opened up a new lane. So did I actually cut or did I just have the good fortune to be standing near where a new lane opened? (Makes the sign of the cross, whispers “I’m sorry” towards the heavens)

All of my line cutting assholery was of no use toward getting our luggage that took a solid hour. At this point it’s 2:30pm need to be at port by 5pm, I’m not panicking, plenty of time. We get outside to another line, taxis this time, 20 deep but moving quick, easy peasy. We get into our taxi, a sweet ride – Tesla, Model S possibly 2018, didn’t ask. Steel gray exterior, interior was black leather with red trim, Gaw-Gee-Us! Should be at the ship within an hour, no problemo. Until…

When we get to the center of Copenhagen I notice a lot of people, drinking champagne and whooping it up. Turns out it’s Pride weekend and the place is packed. So packed in fact, that we encountered an unusual amount of closed avenues. As we crawled our way through the crowded streets, fare ticking up, up and away, I tried to enjoy the only glimpse of Copenhagen I would get outside of the airport. There were a lot of good looking men, I mean really good looking. I don’t normally notice men, I’m in married auto-pilot so when I notice a guy, it’s rare. I saw three outrageously handsome dudes in the span of 20 minutes, never happens. Then I remember, Pride, well that makes sense.

This cab ride is supposed to take 40 minutes, it took 90. The cost was double what I had anticipated but we made it to the ship on time! I didn’t take a picture of the outrageously handsome men because I respected their privacy (momentarily stunned and couldn’t get to the phone in time). I did however, take the obligatory bicycle photo from a slow moving vehicle (featured photo).

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Another crappy photo – this one taken from the bus on the way to the airport to go home. The masses really do commute by bicycle.