a fuller life

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40 Countries, 40 Beer, and Rockin’ the Baltics

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I think I generally start most of my blogs with something along the lines of “We’re off again onparliament another adventure”… then I make some snide comment about how we live in a place with shit airport services… and then I start rambling… and while we did go on an awesome adventure, and while we do have shit air services… let’s go a slightly different route this time.

Two members of our travel family ended their vacation with tragic news… we’re all heartbroken for them and wish we could do anything at all to help and nothing we feel holds a candle to how they must be feeling… so while you’re reading this blog, if anything makes you laugh or smile, send those positive vibes to our friends. And when I’m being snarky – let’s face it, we all know it’s bound to happen – just carry on 🙂

We don’t normally take large chunks of vacation in the summer… we live in Canada and winter sucks here (well, we can make our own fun then too… but you know what I mean), so we like to take vacation in the winter to get out of here… or in the spring/fall when a lot of places are less busy and prices are generally better… but the opportunity arose and we decided to check out some of the Baltic countries in the summer with a fun group of travel friends. I think I whined enough on this one about how they need to stop planning things in the summer (and/or let Team Canadia plan something instead) that we may start to get out of that trend. I’m not really that whiny (and shut your mouth anyone who has anything to say differently!)

owlWe flew on points (dear Aeroplan, you are stupid and evil and mean), so we had to drive to another city to get points flights… but thankfully it’s the city where my family lives, so it meant we didn’t have to pay to park our car at the airport. SJ airport was dead – there was no one there but us when we arrived, and it didn’t get much more crowded since we were on the last flight going out for the day, and it’s a tiny plane that might hold 15 people and the co-captain doubles as steward. First flight was only 30 minutes and I practically sat up front with the pilots. Slept through it anyways – having not slept barely at all the night before, for no reason whatsoever… I’m not really the type to get stressed thinking about trip stuff, and I don’t pack until the day we leave pretty much ever, but it was a long night of wondering why I wasn’t asleep yet… (I guess I must have been excited). As long as I have my passport, some form of money, and Greg, I’m set. Though, I would prefer to not have to rebuy bigbenmy camera gear when I arrive somewhere new.

Halifax airport isn’t really that exciting… we grabbed some shit airport food, Greg had beer type #1 (just some Heineken), and then waited for Alice and Bill to arrive (their flight was delayed, thereby foiling our plans to veg in the Air Canada lounge and drink until it was time to board the second flight). There is a Starbucks and a Booster Juice (which closed before I could have some tasty juice … meanies). When they did arrive, we went back to the one restaurant so more food and beverages could be consumed. And when we left, they were calling the final boarding call on our flight to London… our flight that was not even supposed to have started boarding yet. Weirdos. Flight was maybe a third full – which was completely odd to me… I can’t remember the last time there was even an empty seat on a flight I was on… It was also uneventful. I watched some movie – Hotel Transylvania or something like that. It was fine. I mostly slept. The veggie meal was ok – hummus wrap. Never eat the plane eggs! (Wise advice, no matter what the situation, honest!)

Day 1 – Caution Rotating Parts and Four Dirty Penny Knee Wobblers

towerbridgeHeathrow customs was empty when we arrived, which was nice since we were starting to become a bit zombie-esque. Coming through the gate, we ran into Debbie trying to track down her drive. We used a car service (Just Airports – they were fine, showed up and whatever) to the hotel, and one room was ready when we got there… always handy. Ate our warm cookies (thank you Doubletree Westminster – that perked Greg up), left a now nauseous from driving backwards Alice in bed, and wandered off. We did a quick walk by of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey… and in behind Westminster Abbey in Dean Square we found a little summer fair going on. Hooray! I love that kind of stuff! We also found locally brewed beer from The Ringers Delight (beer type #2 for Greg). And then, more importantly, we found an OWL!! AND I GOT TO HOLD IT!! There was a tent set up with various kinds of birds… hawks and falcons I think for the most part… and a pretty white owl. Love!! I don’t remember anything else about the trip but the owl. Blog over 🙂 OK, maybe I wasn’t quite that excited. Post owl, we vegged in the park and drank our beer. Back to the hotel for a quick rest and a shower (sooo sleepy) and then we headed out to master the tube and find some supper.indian

So we took the tube to a stop near Tower Bridge and walked over quickly to take a look. Then we had reservations at 6:30 for an Indian restaurant (Café Spice) that Alice picked for us, so we headed there next. And we feasted, and feasted, and feasted some more. I can’t even remember all of what we ate… but every single bit of it was delicious… there was samosas with beets and tomatoes… I had a vegetarian platter of deliciousness, and there was ginger ice cream… without question the BEST ice cream ever… ‘cause I love ginger. I’m nice… (and was bursting at the seams) so I shared, and everyone liked it. Turns out Alice and Bill had been to that restaurant before and picked it again quite by accident… but it’s all good. It was wicked… well done Al! (Beer type #3 for Binja – Curious IPA … eventually I’m going to lose track of the names and shit…)

buckinghamFeast complete, we rolled ourselves down the road and around the corner etc. to meet up with the gang for a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I generally find crime legend stuff interesting (like historical stuff or cult stuff and not all the crazy cop shows on TV now)… but I know very little about Jack the Ripper… and I was so tired that I was not inclined to start caring at this point. But some of the gang was there and that’s why we went… so we met up with Herb and his gf Angelica, Ing, Mel, Melissa, Grandma and their gang, Michelle and Paul, Chris and Sarah (who I’ve cruised with before, but didn’t actually meet), Frank and Scott (who may or may not have surprised everyone by showing up… it’s unclear at this point whether everyone knew in advance or not… there was a postcard fiasco and I think team NY/NJ are currently winning)… and some new people. It took Mel some doing to find the tour guide (she was waiting by a Burger King or something, and not where she was supposed to be), but she finally did and off we went eventually. I was kind of expecting more of a hokey, spooky tour… and what we got was this person who is REALLY into Jack the Ripper, and who carried around a binder full of pictures to talk about. I’m not a good listener when it has anything to do with tour guides, and Iwall had been awake for the better part of 2 days at this point, so I didn’t get much of anything from that tour… except the part where she was explaining at some old boarding house that is now a pub or something, you could sleep in a coffin for 2 pennies a night… and for four dirty pennies, you could get a good ole fashioned knee wobbler.

Apparently the tour isn’t in a great part of London and we were on one of her few tours t
hat didn’t get heckled in some way. That area all turns into a market on Sunday morning and I totally would have been more down with that. After the tour we jetted back to the tube to get back to the hotel with some assorted hangers on. Stopped quickly to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey at night, to admire all the signs about humps at certain distances, and then at the hotel, immediately into the bed (probably after a quick wifi break… because when it’s free, people are all over that).

Day 2 – Team North America, Hot Crotch Blueberry Vodka, and Beware of Ketchup

westminsterSince we knew we had very limited time in London and everything we saw was essentially gravy, we didn’t rush to get up in the morning. We had some fairly terrible breakfast at the hotel – so terrible in fact that when they offered to take it off the bill, I kept my mouth shut and let them. Then Greg and I decided to go and check out Buckingham Palace since it was within easy walking distance of the hotel (and as we were walking there, we found loads of little coffee shops and cafes that likely would have been a much better breakfast option). Wasn’t all that busy at the palace, which was nice… except for the giant throng of people walking by on the other side… thousands of people, on some kind of organized walk. I haven’t bothered to look into what it might have been for. Checked out what of the grounds you could see, walked by some park, and then and watched them do some horse training nearby.

Unfortunately, I did leave London (and England in general) without having had a chance to have dover_castlea Fullers beer… we drove by a building with Fullers on it on the way from the airport… but otherwise, the opportunity didn’t arise… so I will have to go back I guess 🙂

Back to the hotel, with Starbucks en route, to pack up our junk and meet everyone in the lobby for our bus to Dover (awesomely organized by Mel – thanks Mel!). Bus ride was 90 minutes or so, pretty uneventful… with the bad kids at the back, and we stopped and had a “comfort break” … which essentially means we bought some beer (put Binja at type of beer #4 and #5 for the trip… and if you don’t know who Binja is, you’ll have to wait until it gets explained later on). I believe Alice may have tried to kill people with nut allergies on the bus with some of the raw balls I brought us for the trip… she may possibly be allergic to raw hazelnuts or something. Oops.

sitckersArrived in Dover and a few of us got extra smart (Greg’s idea.. and Michelle too… NYers are so smart) and left someone watching luggage and went right to the line to check in… room was ready, lugged our stuff up… never got the free wifi working there, and met up with Alice and Bill to find some lunch. There was a pub just down the road and around the corner and that seemed good enough to us. Alice and I got sprayed with ketchup when a waitress dropped it walking by, and then nearly hit with tomato after that… beware the ketchup! When you pack light, you don’t want to lose a whole outfit to ketchup on day 2… eep. (Oh wait, free platinum laundry on the ship… hooray!!)

Had some beer (Binja beer #6) and pub food (fish and chips and bubble and squeak) and then wandered back to the hotel to get sorted (and de-ketchuped) and go off on a quest to get to the castle we could see on top of a hill. Asked the girl at the desk and she said it was a 10 minute walk with a gradual incline. That girl was not ridiculously fit (and I can say that because I know that category very well, but have been working very hard to leave it), so I call bullshit on her 10 minute walk with a gradual incline. We’re not really that slow of walkers, and it was more than 10 mins to get to the part where the gradual incline was supposed to start. Anyways, it was an ok walk to the hill, then a fairly steep climb up the hill, and then STAIRS!! Evil, horrible, stairs…practically straight up in the air. I lived.

It was getting close to the end of their opening hours when we arrived at the castle, so we hotel_viewbought whatever pass you use to explore the tunnels, and then we got to the top and the lady at the tunnels said we might as well go and look at other stuff since we wouldn’t get through the line for the tunnels in time… so we wandered off, went through some free, unguided tunnels, climbed things, and saw what I expect was pretty much everything else but the tunnels and one other small section. I’m sure they would have been interesting, but not the end of the world for sure. The walk back down was much easier, and we took the long route back to the hotel, exploring a different (but not interesting) section of town. En route we saw doors and poles full of stickers that you could use to access the castle… so if you’re feeling less inclined to pay, there’s your out… just grab the one with the day it is. Bought some water (I am ALWAYS thirsty) and took a FU1i picture in memory of last year’s European adventure.

dover_churchGot back to the hotel, chilled for a bit, wandered off to find some supper… and entered the pre zombie apocalypse. It was maybe around 6pm and Dover was DEAD! We walked around for a bit trying to find an interesting option for supper – and barely came across anything, let alone anything that was open. If people live in Dover (and they must, because there’s lots of homes), they don’t eat out for Sunday supper. We tried one pub, but the menu looked sketchy as shit (it was crazy long and there’s no way a restaurant could be good at that many things… and there wasn’t much without meat either… though we found out later it’s a chain in England), and we decided to leave. There was a few fast food places, but that’s not food. We tried the pub we had lunch at, and while it was not nearly full, it was apparently reserved for the whole night… so then we ended up back at the hotel and just decided to eat at the restaurant there.

Now we were staying at a Best Western, but apparently they seem to feel that they are very posh… someone needs to tell them to give up… they are not posh. But it took forever to get sorted in the restaurant, even though they weren’t full either. At that point, all I wanted was water… and I figured that would be easy enough to get when we go sat at our table. So they brought us menus, I asked for water. They took the order, I asked for water. They brought us bread, I asked for water. They brought us food, I asked for water… I think that’s when I finally got some. The others had ordered drinks from the bar (Binja beer #8)… in the lobby (and good thing, they never would have gotten them in the restaurant). During all of this, our waitress white_cliffsdisappears after the lobster scampi incident.

The lobster scampi incident: The couple beside us order lobster scampi. They were not happy with it AT ALL… they thought it was too expensive and that the small piece of lobster in it wasn’t lobster enough or lobster at all. Being from Canada’s (now known as Canadia) east coast and with family members who fish lobster, I wouldn’t have touched that “special” … they talked to several people (read complained), but stalled our dinner because everyone just kept dealing with these two complainers (We try lobster everywhere we go and this is not lobster, it’s too expensive, blah blah blah)… eventually they ordered something else… and eventually we got our dinner. It was fine. Poor Bill retired part way through dinner and wasn’t seen again until we met up in the morning to go on a quest for food in Dover – again.

view_from_dover_castleSo the original plan in coming to Dover the day before the cruise was to see the castle (check) and take over a pub for the night (fail… Dover is sadly lacking in pubs)… in hindsight, we should have stayed in London… but we had a fun night all the same. So we took over the hotel lobby bar instead (likely much to their dismay). Sat around having a few drinks (including Greg bravely drinking some.. er a lot… of the blueberry vodka Paul had been carrying around in his pocket for who knows how long… Hot Crotch Blueberry Vodka!… chased with Binja beer #9), and as the night got later, the lobby got emptier, and Paul made us a new friend Max… some kid whose brother was about the swim the channel in the wee hours of the morning. There was a couple of Spanish people sitting around and then sleeping in the lobby and Dionne (insert Mission Impossible or other suitable theme song here) did some masterful turbinesrecon work to figure out why they were sticking around (we think they were meeting friends who were arriving very late)… and also to keep an eye on the family of swim kid. All said and done, we met the kid, his brother, his parents (including his milf Mom… Dionne!!)… there was a foolish group photo, and then a toast to his success out on the road… and then we wandered down to the pier to watch events unfold. For some reason (I blame lack of sleep), we all seemed to have it in our head that he was just going to walk out to the beach and start to swim. In reality, there was a team of boats and he started from one of them and we didn’t see that… we got kind of bored with the waiting around. [Post cruise note – his name was Freddie Florin, he did swim the Channel in 14 hours 30 minutes and 31 seconds, and he’s raised over £25000 a couple of charities for children).

Oops… over 3000 words and we haven’t even gotten on the ship yet… thanks for staying tuned!

Day 3 – Scoring 5 for a 100 on Name That Celebrity

little_mermaidOur ride to the port was booked for 1pm… it looked close to the hotel, but it would have been a far walk we realized once we were in the cab… so we didn’t rush. Greg got up before me and went for a walk… I was using the day to finally catch up on sleep (though I woke up to my leg burning from the window acting as a magnifying glass!)… knowing we were getting on the ship and had a sea day the next day. I believe a bunch of them also went on a bit of a liquor run with Wes since he came back with beer. Thanks Wes!

Trying to find breakfast in that hotel was fruitless (likely in Dover in general it would have been fruitless)… we didn’t want to be in the taxi line early since ours wasn’t until 1 (and they were practically punching each other in the face over cabs, even when they were coming and calling out a room number), so we went to the same pub as the day before and had some lunch (Binja beer #10)… I had a sandwich of some type. It was fine, nothing to get excited about. Showed back up at the hotel just before 1, grabbed our shit, and the cab showed up. Perfect nyhavntiming.

From the time we left the hotel to the time we were in our room with one suitcase having already arrived and been unpacked, it had been 55 minutes. Check in was super quick… there was no line really, so I didn’t even need to use my newly acquired priority boarding from getting to Carnival platinum. They didn’t care one bit that we had a bag with beer in it. Our cabin had a sweet extended balcony (thank you Carnival ships for catching on fire and getting stuck in the middle of the ocean and driving the prices way down)… and there was a tasty treat of chocolate-covered strawberries and macaroons waiting when we arrived. Thanks Greg!

copenhagenSomeone attempted to plan a meet and greet, and we weren’t interested. We wandered up to lido and found the gang though, got our cool kids list, sat for a bit, and I raided the fruit buffet. Hung there until it was time for muster drill, it was the same as usual, and then we went up top to watch sail-away along the white cliffs of Dover. It was after 4:00, so the sun was terrible (for photography), but they were neat to see… the port of Dover is crazy active with ferry traffic. Then it was relaxing on the balcony, unpacking the other suitcase, having a rest and that kind of thing… I think we had a drink in the sports bar (Yo Mother Fucker, Sports Bar… Now). It’s a blur (Binja beer type #11).

Supper was supper. Cruise ship food holds no excitement for me at this point. With each passing cruise, I find it harder and harder to find something I want to eat in the dining room. All the vegetarian options are pasta, pastry, or eggplant for the most part. I want vegetables. Raw ones… Not floating in terrible Caesar salad dressing. Wait tivolistaff was efficient, not overly personable (though it’s apparent they had been forced to learn our names), and the bar waitress missed out on business for the entire cruise by not asking Greg if he wanted a drink with supper the first night (we miss you I Wayan… you were sooo awesome). Service gets a little bit worse with each cruise I find… but the value is still there… so we’ll keep on keeping on for now. I’m going to see if I can do something about something different to eat next time before we cruise. Some fussy eater menu or something…. So I don’t have to eat at the buffet. The gang was all arranged in tables near each other and it was all good.

sunset_rough_seasThe Legend has no pub, so we had to find another place to hang. So despite the cricket that was mostly playing on the TVs in the sports bar, we pretty much took it over. The bartender was terrible and it closed early, but we made it work. There was drinking, TSA stories from Paul (including name the celebrity, which I am terrible at… I knew the guy that plays Spock in the new Star Trek movies and the guy that plays Darryl in the Walking Dead, and at most three others… I never know their real names… I’m terrible with pop culture). The night ended in the night club (bleck… I am even more terrible with pop music and I actually dislike it too… so great combo)… but it was worth a laugh. The Medusa heads on the walls may have been violated, but that’s all I am saying.

Day 4 – More Cowbell… er Cocktail Parties!!!

A real sleep in day… finally!!!! I did not get up early, and I was OK with that. When I did, we wandered around a bit. The Legend was my first ever cruise ship, so I checked out what was different – which was barely anything. They turned the adult only area of lido into the now slightly nicer Serenity area.

Cocktail party was the highlight of the day for sure… all you can drink for 2 hours for $20. Best palace_guarddeal on a Carnival ship for sure. I sweet talked the bartender into letting me have Guinness (about the only beer I’ll drink on a Carnival ship) instead of the shitty miller/coors/bud lite they were offering around (no offense friends from America, but except for your microbreweries, you are shit at beer)… and I don’t like the sugary drinks at all. We took over a corner and pretty much didn’t move (we were in the piano bar, and it’s probably the most action the piano bar got all cruise)… 2 hours later, much booze had been consumed (Binja beer #12), and it was time to wander off. Carnival’s head photographer Mr. Radu was offering a little seminar, so Mel, Melissa, and I wandered off to check it out. It was really more him just babbling a bit but I enjoyed it all the same. He showed some interesting pictures and I picked up a tip I didn’t know. After that, we tried to find the gang with no luck (Greg was with them, and it involved Binja beer #13 – the beer he brought on in Dover), so we deemed it lunch time and went for sandwiches (mmmm roasted red pepper, buffalo mozzarella, and arugula sandwich) and pizza.

sailaway_treatsI have little to no memory of the rest of this day… ‘cause that’s what sea days are for… and I drank a fair amount of beer. I think it was elegant night… because I do remember most of us were drunk or at least in a happy place for the elegant nights.

Day 5 – An Empty Bladder is a Happy Bladder

First port – Copenhagen Denmark. Didn’t put much time and effort into figuring out what to do here in advance as we had “local” guides from Sweden. We swung by the little mermaid statue (one of the lamest, popular tourist attractions I have ever seen and I have no idea why people go see it) to ensure it was lame (and more because it was en route) and then we were meeting friends of Alice and Bill at Tivoli… they were really nice and their vermin, er children, were cute… but they pee a lot.

We did a tour of yet another horrible European shopping street for tourists, saw the palace, city hall, and a few other fancy buildings. We had a tasty lunch of fish-related items (and Binja beer type #14) at Nyhavn … the area you always see in pictures with all the pretty coloured buildings… and about the only place I had on my to do list for Copenhagen. While we were eating, I willed the sun to come out and we wandered off to Tivoli… the amusement park that berlin_olympic_parktime forgot. It’s interesting and creepy all at the same time… the gardens are pretty, but everything is very tacky… and that effer is EXPENSIVE… just to get in… and then you have to pay for rides and stuff in there too. Wowza. Apparently it’s amazing all lit up at night, and we did find a juice bar, so it’s all good. And they recycle the juice cups … cool in my book.

We hoofed it back to the ship after that, stopping to look at a tall circular tower thing (I think it was a church) that showed up on the GPS, and walked through a nice park. Al and I had a nice chat… the boys were way ahead, as per usual.

berlin_wallSailaway was nice… we had received a fruit basket (that also had cheeses and crackers and stuff in it) from a friend (thanks Nic) and it was delivered this day (thankfully the day that fresh produce was also loaded onto the ship… yay watermelon!!)… so we enjoyed sailaway from our balcony with cheese, crackers, grapes, a frozen coffee drink, and beer (a repeat). At night, we ate dinner and likely hung out in the sports bar. We also sailed under a big bridge that connects a couple of Danish islands, and the ship only clears it by like 10 feet or so. It was quite dark (like 11:30) when we went under it, so I didn’t do much for taking pictures.

Day 6 – You Can’t Make Friends with Salad and Michelle’s Lunch Was Amazing

Today’s port – Warnemunde, Germany (gateway to Berlin). We booked a private company to brandenberg_gatetake us to Berlin (Alla Tours)… so we loaded up the bus for the 3 hour drive to the city. As we were loading up, the guide told us that we would split into 2 buses when we got to Berlin (the company doesn’t like to make you tour with giant groups, which is awesome)… and that worked out perfectly… since there was a big group of us that wanted to meet up with our friends Marjam and Uli for lunch, and meet their new daughter Emilia (Marjam and Uli, because I really like you guys, I refrained from calling your daughter vermin… and because she’s so cute).

art_near_checkpoint_charlieDuring the drive, the guide talked just about constantly… stabbety stab stab. I hate that… and apparently I wasn’t the only one… I heard much complaining… and even Frank’s pop music was starting to sound better at one point. At our comfort stop, I explained to the guide that I’d take a group with me to the new bus when it arrived and that she could stay with that group. This was me being nice in two ways… I knew my group were tired of listening to her yammer, and I also didn’t want the other group to have to wait around while we tried to sort out meeting our friends somewhere in Berlin. And while I am generally nice most of the time, any whining from the other group would have been answered with “Book your own fucking tour next time”. Moving on.

So we stop at a service station for the world to go pee (Binja beer type #15), and we get back onmemorial the bus and the guide explains that I would be taking a special group to the new bus with me and that they would know who they were. Completely not what I explained and making me look like an asshole. Oh well, broad shoulders and all that. When we got to Berlin, I explained that we were meeting friends and didn’t want people to miss out on sights because of our schedule. Stupid guide.

Our new guide Ahmed was awesome and he had his hands full for sure. The bad kids pretty much do whatever they want with no regard for time (except for maybe… and I mean maybe… the time we have to be back on the ship). Thankfully we’re all friends. Ahmed figured it out quick and it all went fine. So onto the tour… (and I think we were being punished by being shoved into a sweltering bus… they did try very hard to fix the AC, but no dice… and we got a new bus at lunch).

First stop, after the palace (Schloss Charlottenburg) where we initially stopped was Berlin Olympic Park. We didn’t know we were going there, it wasn’t on the “agenda” and hooray… we love checking those out. There was a cool tower we could go up to the top of and get a nice view of the whole grounds and Berlin. Fun! And there was something for Greg to climb.

reichstagWe did a bit of a driving tour of around Berlin and then onto lunch. Ahmed was very helpful in us finding Marjam and Uli… or having them find us (I essentially just kept passing Wes’s phone to him to explain the where). I’m pretty sure the restaurant is kind of touristy (Gasthaus Krombach), at least during the day… but the food was fine …. Had sausage with curry sauce (this I’m pretty sure was ketchup with curry powder in it) and fries… which I left on the plate. And beer (Binja beer #16). Michelle and Melissa and I’m not sure who else had Italian food across the street, and it was apparently amazing.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend very much time with Marjam and Uli, but some is better great_belt_bridgethan none… so back on the bus, and Ahmed took us to see a piece of the Berlin wall that remains… a plain normal piece that’s not all painted up or anything. And he came to life a bit around them, telling us about how he used to work for CNN and he was in the room when the press release about the wall being opened back up was read accidentally on the air. They were team number two to break the story.

Now I’m not a Berlin wall expert for sure… I knew the general gist of things, but I had no idea of some of the history behind it… that they essentially bricked up most of the access between east and west overnight, forcing the masons to work at gunpoint. And that in many places there was more than one wall… there was a lot of space between one wall and the next, with spotlights and guard towers and the like. All I really remember is having poster of a spray-painted piece of the wall when it came down, and hearing about it on the news. Really interesting. I listened the whole time. It’s rare.

helsinki_olympic_parkWe stopped at a couple of other places – Checkpoint Charlie, where there is also a big art display of painted pieces of wall (whether they are former parts of the wall, I have no idea)…a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, which was really stunning from a photographic standpoint… except for all the teenage vermin wandering there and trying to jump block to block… also nearby the Hilter bunker… which is now just road and ground… We drove by some palace/museums known as museum island (thankfully, sorry Melissa) including a square where the Nazis went on a crazy book burning rampage in the 30s, stopped at some square with some buildings (Gendarmentmarkt) and I don’t know what the significance of them was, and it wasn’t interesting enough to look it up… stopped at Brandenburg gate (where again I didn’t listen to the significance) as well… and did the rest from the windows of the bus… the Reichstag, the Victory column, the first street light in Europe… and then back to the initial palace/museum place to meet up with the rest of the group.

When we got on the bus, there wasn’t a peep to be heard. Very weird. They seemed to like that helsinki_eatsguide we didn’t have though, and she was on the bus with us the way back to the ship… and didn’t talk the whole time thankfully. But I didn’t really care much about her story about the power plants and stuff. Paul bought some dried strawberries for Michelle and she shared with us and they were yum. There was also another rest stop, where I got ice cream and paid to use the restroom in a place with a shiny toilet seat cleaner… and Binja got 2 more kinds of beer to try (beers #17 and #18… one of which Marjam has since told me should be drank from a glass and not the can, so we have to go back). We also watched for deer and/or rabbits (Michelle :P). Berlin was awesome, for the record. We’ve loved everywhere we have been in Germany and would totally go back.

Dinner was open seating when we finally got back to the ship… I think we were gone at least 10 hours. We had dinner with Alice, Bill, Herb, Ingrid, and Angelica… with a waiter who was much more interesting than ours (and who wouldn’t let Greg have dessert because he didn’t eat his broccoli). It was amusing enough. Alice, Angelica, and Herb… probably even Ingrid had red meat for supper. It’s a trend.

rock_churchThey brought an oom-pah-pah band on the ship until just about when we were leaving and they were selling beer and steins, so you know where Binja went after dinner (type #19). I’m pretty sure I had a shower instead…. very important information, I know.

The next day was another sea day, so we hung out late and closed the ship down likely again. Ingrid – aka Beyonce – won herself a beer stein (and beer, but the mean bartender nixed her beer for some reason) showing some little blond thing what’s what with some Beyonce song…. Something about single ladies… maybe it’s called that… I don’t know. She’s got moves though, for sure (says the white girl with no rhythm :))

Back in the sports bar, Alice whipped out the Scope bottle to learn all the gang about making finnish_liquerchicken bones (Fireball mixed with chocolate milk). Marjam and Uli also brought some homemade apple schnapps for the gang (thanks!!!), and there was much of that consumed as well. Plans were made for double dutching with fat hookers in Amsterdam and having vicodin with Vikings… I’m not even sure myself, so don’t ask. End the night with pizza… well, not me… I wanted ice cream and the machine was broken. I blame the vermin… they must have dirtied it or something so it needed to be cleaned right when Bill and I decided to cave and go get some. Bastards!

Day 7 – The Wall of Paul and a Carnival Strip Show

Sea Day! Sea Day! I think we had eaten some food and gone for a walk when Paulieon rang us up and said they were hitting lido. We wandered around a bit and caught up with them. We went through the photo gallery for a laugh, knowing Paul stops to get his picture taken all the time and was on a first name basis with most of the ship photographers… so we found all the pictures of Paul, or of Paul and friends, put them in one section, and did a photo shoot of Paul in front of them. I think we were making the Carnival photo staff nervous, and when Frank checked a bit later on the wall, it was gone… never to be seen again. We played some trivia (and/or terrorized the people that were already playing trivia)… you should know, that a female fox is a foxy lady 🙂 … my contribution… the folks around us totally didn’t need a whisper 2000 to hear what answers we were using… and tall_shipseventually we ended up playing cards on lido until it was time for dinner. So Chris (initially known as budgetman, and now to be known at least by me as assman) and Sarah taught us some game they knew, and we taught them bugger (my Dad would be so proud). Chris gave us all new names… Greg was beer ninja… and I changed it to Binja to shorten it… and it stuck. In case you were wondering where that came from. I can’t tell you anything more about Greg’s ninja skills as they relate to beer… I’d have to kill you.

Cards until supper… then supper, and then hangin’. Seas were getting rough, so that knocked a lot of people out of commission. We went to see the illusionist show… I hate the Carnival shows… they are always stupid… when we went to this one, I thought we were in the wrong place and we were there to watch strippers. Once they got over that part though, the illusions were dull… the music was ok… and I don’t think you need to make use of the Carnival dancers in everything. Paul swears the illusionist is a server from lido. After that we checked out a British comedian… not_darkAustin Wright… kind of boring. Then it was late and we went to bed.

Day 8 – The Boys Have the Girls Covered, but You Can’t Touch Them

Today’s port – Helsinki, Finland. We got off the ship first thing and went off on a tram adventure… it was all good once we sorted the ticket machine at the little station (pretty much a ferry station) by the port. So our little band of merry cruisers wandered off and found what remains of Helsinki’s Olympic park… and as per usual, we always seem to find sites by the back door, but we wandered around and finally found something with the rings on it. You know, proof and all that. From there, we hoofed it here and there through a park (good call Paul) to the rock church. I’m not churchy, but the concept of this one intrigued me… so we checked it out, some meany other tourist was getting too close when I was trying to climb down a precarious piece of rock pile so I actually had to ask him not to push me so I didn’t fall on my stupid face… then we walked down to check out Market Square before our boat tour (get off a ship, get on a boat… we do that a lot for some reason).

sunsetSo Market Square… they had me at market. We love markets… so we ate some reindeer (reindeer delight – reindeer meat, sausage, potatoes, and garlic sauce… it was yum)… Binja tried another beer (#20). Walked around, bought some (expensive but worth every euro) cherries and blueberries (you have no idea how I excited I can get about fresh fruit unless you travel with me)… and then off to find our boat. Alice hooked us up with a lovely boat tour of the canals in Helsinki… it was a nice day, just a little windy, and we took over the upper deck, drank Finnish cloudberry liquer cut with champagne (Binja tried another beer – #21), and we vaguely paid attention to what we were seeing as we hung out with friends. The only stop we made on the tour was to Suomenlinna – UNESCO site (another one for me) with a brewery (Binja beer #22). So when we got there, several of us just headed for the brewery… and we pretty much didn’t see anything else on the island but the way to and from the brewery… the beer was delicious… the best one of the trip for me since they had a porter… we had about an hour on the island… though we actually had a little longer since the same jerk family that subwaywere late when we were trying to leave were late again from there.

After the boat tour, we puttered around the market a bit more… and then it was time to get the tram back to the boat… and that was all going fine until we had to switch to another tram… and just about the whole system shut down because there was a broken one… it was getting close to when we needed to be back to the ship, so we split up, grabbed two cabs, and headed back. I bought a mug in Helsinki.

During the cruise, we changed time zones a lot, and it was starting to get very light at night time. It was after midnight when we went to bed after Helsinki and it was still not really dark out. Neat!

PS: Ingrid’s neato superhero shirt she was wearing this day took the blog title… or her talking to Chris about it anyways.

Day 9 – White Russians and Museum Zombies

Today’s port – St. Petersburg, Russia. This was the only overnight stop of the cruise and it was a jam packed couple of days. We booked a tour with Alla Tours again in this city, and I had been coordinating with Alla for months. She was outstanding.

sphinxThrough customs in the morning, without having to wait on Carnival tours or anything stupid like we expected… customs didn’t take that long. Found the Alla Tours people no problem. They were filling vans and taking them as they filled them, which was not ideal… and they were just not getting it when I was explaining that certain people would want to stick together. Fortunately our van was fine (us four, and also Wes and Liz and Hollie and Sean… )… but it’s not likely how we would have sorted it. Oh well.

So vanned up and off we went to our first stop was some random place along side of the Neva river where there are some sphinxes (super old ones that used to be in Egypt)… and some lion looking thing that people seem to rub… cause people rub things. Then we stopped at a tall ship that is now a gym, and where we could see some tall pillar looking things that used to be light houses (rostral columns)… I dig light houses.

Next up, we checked out one of the subway stations … the tile work is pretty fantastic… the one we got on the subway in had mosaics depicting the ancient Olympics… we took a ride to the next station (holy eff, they have fast subways)… and got off at a station where the mosaic were all seafaring-related. They are crazy deep in the ground, so I hope those escalators never get subway_artturned off! … and then we were off to the Hermitage.

For the first little while, this building was interesting… but a terrible thing happened here… our guide started a horrible trend of having to point out every washroom in every place we went for the rest of the day… and then we had to wait every frigging time for people to go pee… probably even when they didn’t have to, just because there was a washroom there. We were at the Hermitage for about 2 hours, and that was about an hour too long for me. I really had no idea what we were getting into in Russia … I knew some of the palaces were now museums, but I didn’t expect us to spend so much time in them… and I didn’t expect to spend so much time inside.

fast_subwaySo yea, Hermitage… full of old, pretty, and/or shiny stuff… we had early entry and the place was still a madhouse … there was an interesting and crazy intricate bird clock (that apparently still works, but they barely ever run it and they don’t tell people when they do because people would storm the place or something)… At the end, we were given about 15 minutes of free time to look at impressionist paintings or sit on our asses… this was the only part I really liked… I love impressionist work… and there was a few paintings from Picasso’s series of instruments he did… both our guide and the internet say my favourite one (Guitar and Violin) is in the Hermitage, but I couldn’t find it with all the other Picasso stuff… if it was there, it’s likely best I don’t know at this point. The others were nice too.

After the Hermitage, we went to lunch… food was fine… salad, borsch with sour cream, and view_from_hermitagepotatoes with dill for me (no meat version of the meal)… and we tried another beer (Binja beer #23). Service wasn’t overly friendly, but I suspect a language barrier 🙂 and it was nice getting to have a chat with Hollie.

After this, we went to Catherine Palace I think… it was another palace, with a room with amber on the wall that cost over 10 million (in a country where people are still starving and poor, there is NO NEED to have a room with 10 million plus in décor for tourists to gawk at… especially since it’s not the original one… which was stolen during the war)… grounds were nice… was happy to be done there when we were done. We also saw Peter and Paul fortress that day, including going inside the church there. The churches are pretty elaborate in St. P, but the novelty of church and palace wear off quickly for me. Don’t judge me.

inside_hermitageI think that’s all we did this day… it was kind of a blur…. But I remember the food. We met up with Alla and her husband for dinner… they took the four of us to a Georgian restaurant as a thank you for arranging such a big group. Alla ordered a bunch of different dishes for us to start with, and we ordered our own mains… it was way too much food, but it was all delicious. Alla and Igor were very lovely and it was nice getting to chat with them. They drove us back to the port and Alla walked us back in to the building after that. A really nice gesture on her part… and she had some interesting stories of what people expect from them as tour operators, what people complain about, and about life in Russia overall. Apparently they should be able to make the ballet more “wow”.

A lot of the rest of the gang went back into Russia on a night tour, and it sounds like it was a bit goldof a clusterfuck (totally not Sarah’s fault… sounds like there were some assholes on it… but I have every faith that they made short work of them)… we did some laps around the top deck to walk off some of the food we ate and just relaxed… and then we called it a night… because there was a Russia day 2, and Russia is exhausting.

Day 10 – Ra Ra Rasputin, Koala Apple Juice, Turning Off Canadia, and Frank Lost His Ass

Started the day in the rain… unfortunate since we were going to finally get to spend some time outside instead of being trapped in palaces (I’m very thankful about how much I get to travel… we bust ass in the real world to be able to do it… but two days of palaces that are really museums gets tiring… you can’t always take a real step because there’s always someone in your way… etc etc)…

So first we get dragged to a souvenir shop (under the guise of it being a place we can pay for the tour)… I know people wanted to buy some stuff, and I bought a few things… gifts for friends… but I was over that place pretty quick… and apparently we missed the vodka samples… but it was pretty early in the morning… and then we were off to do our canal tour in the rain…. Greg and I stayed outside anyways, since you couldn’t see much through the windows of the boat… catherine_palace2our friends in another bus arrived at the same time, but they got routed to the other boat and we had weirdo strangers…. The water level was pretty high in the canals, so it was pretty tight clearance under some of the bridges… literally they would have taken your head off if you were standing up, and with some of them, even if you were sitting in the back… we had to get down on our knees for a couple of them. We didn’t take a very interesting route in my opinion, but it was nice to be outside. From here, we ended up at Yusupov palace… the guide claimed this one is her favourite.

This is the palace were Rasputin was killed, and that bit of it was kind of interesting… since I have, in the past at least, had some vague knowledge of Russian history. You had to pay to take pictures in this palace and I didn’t bother. I bought my mom some postcards of it though… she would love all the palaces and the furniture in them and all that kind of thing… but she would hate all the people for sure. The downstairs bit was a bit macabre, but to me it was better than more chandeliers and stuff.

Next up, 2 more churches… St. Isaac’s first… by this time we were all wet and at our max for churches and palaces I think. The inside was amazing, just like all of the others… I enjoyed the time we spent waiting to get in more than I did the time inside. We ended up waiting near our group of friends, which was nice… and there was fresh air, also nice. All of these sites are SUPER crowded in July, and generally I have a lot of patience with this kind of thing, but I was getting to the end around catherine_palacehere. Someone on our tour was starting to get on my goddamn nerves with their constant need to block everything we looked at so they could take pictures of each other in front of it… and then take some more pictures… very selfish… I have a very low tolerance for that. If you’re with a small group of people, and you know you have a fairly limited amount of time at every place, try thinking of others for a change. I deleted a lot of pictures of the back of one of their heads since he kept walking in front of me with no regard to my existence at all. Anyways, some people are selfish… rant complete.

In addition to this, some random tourist tried to physically remove me from a picture they were trying to take when I was trying to take a picture myself. Not really true to style, but more because I was tired and cranky, I turned off my Canadia-in and shoved them right back, finished taking my picture… and then photo bombed their picture with an obscene gesture as I was walking away… yes, in a church. Helps that I’m not religious… it’s just a building to me.

fortressNext up… more church. This one was one of the two sites I really wanted to see in St. Petersburg though – our guide kept calling it the church on the blood (and since its name is too long, I’m going with that too)… this is one of the ones with the neat coloured roof bits, built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated. It’s pretty on the outside, the inside is insane… it’s painted everywhere, gold all over. Nice to see once… may cause seizures. Got shoved some more while trying to exit in an orderly fashion and was at my maximum for getting pushed out of the way, so shoved back and stormed out. I calmed down quick, but I’m not fucking invisible… I know other cultures don’t value personal space like we do and have crazy high populations, but jesus… watch where you are going even a little. I heard Sean laughing, I’m sure of it… so I think they got it 🙂

From here, we were supposed to take a zippy fast boat ride to the Peterhoff… but we ended up having to go on the bus instead because of the weather. We had Russian takeaway lunch – crepes (mine had tomatoes, cheese, and basil… and was pretty tasty), a juice box with apple juice in it and a picture of a koala made of apples on the front (I didn’t touch that, but when Greg drank it, I busted up laughing and couldn’t stop for a while), an apple, and a chocolate bar… could have been worse for sure. The gang on the other bus smuggled pizza and sandwiches off the ship in preparation.

So, the Peterhoff… this was the other place that I wanted to see. Thankfully we were there on a feast_in_russiaMonday and it’s not open on Monday, which meant we couldn’t go in and no one could go to the bathroom!!! Hooray!!! Someone asked if we were going in when we got there and my first thought was to want to punch them in the face. We were there to see the grounds… yay for a couple of hours of being outside, of not being herded constantly by a guide (our guide was Julia by the way… she is very passionate about Russia and its history and I liked her and mostly listened to her… but she has no concept of free time)… the grounds were beautiful… it didn’t rain the whole time… just kind of gray and dreary, the fountains were pretty spectacular, and there was enough space that I could get away from the group some and just enjoy the area. Yay for any anywhere that I can put my arms out and spin… not that I did that… but I could have if I had wanted to… there was wifi there…if you care. Anyways, if you go to St. Petersburg for some reason, go here… it’s cool.

ceilingBack on the bus and back to the ship after that… and that was ok with me to be honest… I was all Russia’ed out. I think I would have enjoyed a lot of those spaces a lot more spread out over a week and probably without a guide so I could come and go as I please. I’m happy I’ve been, and I would totally go back to Russia… just needed some free time to get a drink (you can’t drink water in all the museums and palaces… I was parched!!) or just wander or sit or enjoy. Greg did get a beer (#24) for the drive back to the ship with a couple of others, so at least there’s that… might as well use the leftover rubles for something 🙂

Back through customs, we stopped at the duty free and bought some beer and chocolate… That cryptsnight, we hung in the sports bar, where we discussed the drinks of the trip… or how our group influences drinks… or something like that… after being in Russia, and surrounded by White Russians… we somehow ended up with Baileys, pina coladas, maple syrup, whipped cream or something or another… but people did the pina colada all the time after that if they were happy and the white russian if they were said.. it was funny.

I went to more ship shows than normal on this one, and probably just because of the peer pressure hehehe… tonight we went to see the hypnotist… and I gathered up the rest of the gang who didn’t come once Frank ended up on the stage (I likely would have left otherwise)… it was a bit of a laugh, and at the end of it, the guy did something to Frank so that when he would leave the stage, he would think he had lost his ass. I don’t really buy into the whole thing, but I think Frank really did think he lost his ass… it was a good laugh.

We got our first hour of time back going the other way, so we stayed up quite late (hooray).

Day 11 – Estonia (and Sarah) Likes Cock

church_on_the_bloodIt was raining and a bit ick when we got into Estonia, so we stalled going off the ship for a while. It was just the four of us in Estonia, and our mission was pretty much to find the kick in the cock tower and to eat pancakes and drink beer. We walked to an old prison that wasn’t open yet first, and then headed in to the old town. There was a tower we had on the agenda where you could try on medieval armour and stuff… we found it without really looking. The power was off there, and in North America, it would mean it would be closed… but not in Estonia… so we climbed up to the top… there was light enough to see for most of it… camera or phone screens did the trick for the rest. Back down at the bottom, we had a lot of fun trying on different pieces of armour and stuff. We had the place to ourselves and the person working there didn’t give an eff what we were doing, so we started taking it out to the street so we could take pictures (was pretty dark inside with no light) and stage epic battles of course.

Then we wandered through a garden behind the city walls where there was a garden as art kind of display going on… some of it was quite nice… and then up more steps to a high point so we could see down into the city… back down the other side, stopping here and there (bought a couple of souvenirs here and there). Ran into Wes and Liz and they gave us the heads up on the alkoholipood that we didn’t pass on the way up since we went another way. Score!crazy_art

Back somewhere central, we found Kompressor for pancakes and beer (Binja beer #25)… we got there at just the right time as it got super packed as we were getting our food. The pancakes were the shit and the beer was good, and it was a good price for all of it. One of the beers or bottles had Coq in the name… from there, more wandering to kind kiek in de kok tower (and I made Greg kick it)… found a place to have another beer (brewery that was out of all but one of what they actually brew…. But another beer for Binja to try… #26… I had coffee). From here, back to the ship… with a stop at the alkoholipood… where we left with a giant bag full of beer (#s 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31) and a few ciders and other things… for a grand total of 20 euros. The bag was so heavy, Greg actually hoisted it on his shoulder to bring it back to the ship, with the firm instruction that there would be no stopping the whole way back. We did have 2 sea days coming up… might as well be stocked up , right?

russian_takeawayBack on the ship, for the first time ever, we decided to check out the past guest party… that was all Greg… I haven’t gone to one in forever, but I’m glad we did… a bunch of them were there (should have known) and with handy dandy friends from NY/NJ, you end up with a lot of drinks. We were pretty drunk by supper I think… I don’t know what I was drinking, but it was pretty yum. Checked out a bit of the liars game or something after supper and it was stupid so we left… back to the sports bar until it was time for the adult scavenger hunt… Michelle informed us all that we were coming and winning so to get ready.

What happens in an adult scavenger hunt stays on the ship… but here are the few details you fountainsget to have… I lent my shoes to an excellent drag performance, humans can be stripper poles, if you don’t take your bra off fast enough you might get strangled, and even people you least expect can whip a bra off mighty fast to help a team, white girls can make a valiant effort at shaking their ass, you never know what might be handy if you hide it in your dress in advance, people will do quite a lot to win shitty champagne and plastic trophies, and Carnival has some pretty horrible employees (stuff it horrible blond bitch running this event). The other teams had no really chance with Michelle in charge and we (more they… we were morale support and photography services for the most part) did win… and much shitty champagne was consumed over the next few days. Thankfully there was Finnish liquer (thanks Al) and flavoured ciders (thanks Estonia) to cut it with. And oh, if you’re extra lucky, you might just win a stick on a ship 🙂

trick_fountainPizza to soak up the booze before bed and call this crazy fun day complete.

Day 12 –There’s Nothing Worse Than a Belligerent Gay

Slept in, ate some food…and puttered around until party time… Mom Ingrid booked us up another cocktail party since we had so much fun at the first one… so the afternoon was spent getting drunk in the piano bar. DJ Frank supplied us with some tunes… it was all miss for the first while… all MJ all the time… a particular area of hell I don’t deserve dammit!!!… but it got better for at least some of the songs after that. I did learn though that I may be dead inside and that my momma didn’t raise me right because I’m not an MJ fan. Frank and I have made a deal for next cruise, so it will be all good. I know it’s always me… I don’t like or even know a lot of popular music.

I believe Mom Ingrid was also trying to kill me (and I love her for it, of course)… every time I greenhouselooked up, several more Guinnesses appeared on the table in front of me. I even shared some of them and they just kept appearing again. So after the two hours, the party ended, but we didn’t leave… we busted out the beer stash from our room, people got some pizza, and we kept at it for the afternoon. Good times 🙂

We didn’t go up until about 7:30 and dinner is shortly after 8… and we had to get ready for another stupid elegant night… well get ready means change clothes, as that’s about all we do… but it’s still stupid… people should wear whatever they want and people should mind their own business. Moving on… after dinner, we were going back under the Great Belt Bridge, so it was neat to see that and have there still be light enough to take some pictures.

estoniaSo here’s something you may not know… this gang of friends we’ve made over the years travelling contains some brilliant, shining examples of excellence in humanity… and I know you wouldn’t know it from reading my blog because I normally just talk about all the ridiculous shit we do… and it’s too bad for you if you don’t know them… but we know them and know that they rock… From being one of the funniest mother fuckers I have ever met in my life to helping Grandma in and out of boats, across the street… or planning a little lido dance party for a lovely girl with down’s syndrome that 2 weeks ago they didn’t even know… making people feel included, sticking up for people in the gang, and never leaving a man behind … even if they are bringing up the rear… these folks are awesome. Cross any one of them and the gang will probably tell you to fuck off, and if you’re around us anywhere, you might think we’re rude or terrible… but you have no idea what you’re missing… so bugger off 🙂steps

Day 13 – Watch Out For Exploding Champagne

Sea day! Sea day! We got free drink thingers from Carnival and you had to use them in the dining room, so a big gang of people met up for lunch in the dining room. Best meal I had on the ship I think… salad and a pita with hummus, veg, and sprouts… it was delish! Tasty girly drink as dessert.

Went to a thinger in the theatre in the afternoon… battle of the sexes or something… it was pretty stupid, but we did have to cheer for Ing, Herb, and Gel. Played some trivia, and with a group effort ended up winning a ship on a stick… I don’t like stuff and clutter, so in hindsight, I should have given it to someone else… more sports bar in the afternoon, a cake for Ingrid at supper to thank her for everything she did for everyone in planning our cocktail parties, and sitting around drinking whatever was left of the booze after supper.

tallinnGreg hurt his back at some point this day, so part of the day was spent just trying to make him take it easy… he’s not great at that… and thanks to Alice and Mel for the drugs and stuff … a big help for sure. We have an awesome cruise family 🙂

Day 14 – Red Light District D Team – If You Fall Behind, You Stay Behind

Amsterdam was meant to be the last port on our cruise, but a big gang of us decided to get off the ship there and spend the weekend in Amsterdam. It takes a long time for a ship to come into Amsterdam because it has to go through a locks system… I guess our ship had 4 metres of clearance on each side or something… I watched a bit as we were going through, while packing at the same time. Had some breakfast in the dining room (sparing poor Greg another trip to lido) and then headed off the ship (with quite a few others I think, since the guy with the clipboard of names had many pages). Our hotel was very close to the port (Doubletree Hilton Centraal Station), so despite Greg’s still sore back, we walked over to it… no more than 10 minutes, and the walk was fine with suitcases… the only real problem was navigating around all the people.

Paulieon popped out of nowhere to greet us when we were getting close to the hotel (he may alsoalkiholipodhave ninja skills), and they had a room already, so we would have had a place to put our shit if ours wasn’t ready. I had realized on the ship that I had booked the room with a credit card that had expired months before, but all was fine when we got to the hotel and our room was even ready. And there was warm cookies again… so we dumped our shit, drugged Greg up a bit, and headed out to explore the town with Michelle, Dionne, and Paul (armed with beer in bags … some stranger said something about a 80 euro fine for drinking beer in Amsterdam in the day, but it sounds kind of fishy to me).

Paul might as well have been a homing pigeon set to return to all of the parts of Amsterdam the average person would find interesting… coffee shops, the red light district, bars… so it was all good… and interesting… people are super friendly there… and it was nice walking around mid-morning (which must be pretty early for there) before shit got all crowded and stuff. The D team was definitely working the red light district right about then… but we saw it… some crazy Jamaican with something gross growing out of his face screamed at or was singing to Michelle (and it’s likely best he started to laugh or Paul might have fucked him up)… and then headed to the Bulldog for some beer and whatever (Binja beer type #32… letting him have Heineken again because it was extra cold… just ask Dionne… and #33)… tried one called La Chouffe from Belgium I think… was quite good… the bartender from Ireland was chatty and friendly… after that, we started to head towards Anne Frank House and a place that has lots of beers (but didn’t go in and drink any… oops)… we were meeting up with Alice and Bill, who stayed somewhere else in Amsterdam… and the others had to meet up their tour. Stopped for crepes on the way… yum. Though apparently the one I was eating wasn’t that delicious at the bottom of it, when I gave it to Greg. Sorry dear.

amsterdamSo we hit an Irish pub for something to eat… it was closest and Greg was starving. There was more beer (Binja beer #34). And Alice got cider with a weird disease in it… strangely enough, that always happens to her… she’s likely also more observant than the rest of us. Wandered around a bit after that in some square… where there was a tower or church or palace or all of the above… more importantly, there was a store selling juice… hello carrot orange juice for Ange. Better than Christmas. Didn’t stay out too much longer after that… Greg was being forced back to the hotel to rest his back. I was trying to coordinate getting everyone together for a group canal tour at night. Starbucks en route… it was in the lobby of our hotel… who am I to say no to that… and it was hot out… and I was thirsty!

Mom Ing took care of us again later in the afternoon and snuck us into the elitist, but containing free drinks and snacks, fancy lounge for Hilton peoples… so we hung there for a while (thanks Ing!!)… got the canal tour figured out for the most part, and worked on being operation central for also coordinating with Alice and Bill… that didn’t work out great.. between Bill having the plague, Greg having a sore back, and being in different locations, we didn’t quite get things worked out for having everyone at the canal boat. Herb, Ing, and Gel joined Greg and I for dinner… we went to an Argentinian place near the hotel where the food was average, the service was slow, and the restaurant was hot, and the company was great (insert Binja beer #35). The waiter was a crack up though… he was trying to explain a couple of dishes that had chicken breast in them, and whenever he said breast, he would rub his hands in bikesfront of his chest and say brreeeaaassssttttttt…. After that, we went to where I thought we had to meet the boat (which wasn’t right), and eventually found it (all Ingrid again)… found the gang, and off we went. Much to our dismay, a large group of teenage vermin joined our boat, but they ended up being fine (and in the back)… unfortunately, the boat didn’t really have anywhere where you could actually be outside during this progress.

Post canal tour, a bunch of us headed back to the red light district to see it at night. I’ve now seen it as many times as I need to see it in life. I have breasts… wait, bbrrreeeaasssttssss… and I know what they look like, so I think it loses something for me. Definitely not the D team working at night… and the street was mostly filled with early 20s euroboys… definitely for tourists, that place. We got a laugh out of a guy taking his walk of shame (or success, to each their own) out of one of the little window areas, and from one of the ladies screaming her bloody head off at some stupido who was taking pictures. I wonder if there’s a section with naked men, and/or a section that’s not for tourists with an incognito name like “the library district” or something. Can’t be arsed to even google it though.

houseboatsBack to the bulldog for more beer, and we did finally manage to meet up with Alice and Bill then. Dionne had poutine (maybe we can’t claim it as a national dish?), we made her go pee before we left, and then she actually led us back to the hotel… very helpful. Good work Dionne (and as promised, I have included it here that you got us back safely with not a single wrong turn and no map).

Day 15 – The Last (and Never-ending) Supper

We had a lazy morning (there was some element of forcing someone to rest their back in this… and then some of just me wanting to be kind of lazy)… and then we headed out to meet Alice and Bill at Anne Frank house. It was overcast when we left, but too hot to bring things like jackets and stuff… we tried to buy tickets online like smart people so we could skip the giant line, but apparently we needed to also be smart people weeks in advance… we also planned to grab something to eat along the way, but the walk took longer than we thought it would. Anyways, we get there and the line wrapped down the road, then back along a church, and then back behind a church, and then back up the other side of the church. Arg!

We, of course, say fuck it to that line and decide to go and get something to eat instead… and to red_lightcome back later maybe at some point. I thought I saw a bunch of interesting looking cafes en route, so we went back in that direction, and there was a few, most of which weren’t open, and several of which didn’t look to serve food… so we went to the Pancake Factory instead. It was yum, Greg had beer (#36), all good.

It started to pour while we were there, so we decided to head back to Anne Frank house to see if the rain wiped out some of the line… we waited under an overhang at the bar beside the church for a bit, and eventually the rain pretty much stopped… and the line was about half of what it had been before, so we decided to stick it out. In the meantime, as Greg, Bill and I stood in line, Alice wandered off and lifted an umbrella from a hotel or something. She’s handy to have around, that one.

anne_frankWe were likely in line about an hour… but it seems to be THE tourist attraction to see in Amsterdam that doesn’t involve drugs, sex, or alcohol… it was interesting to see. I remember reading the book as a child, and I plan to reread it now having been there. We certainly take a lot for granted, and I’m glad to have never been persecuted in life for my beliefs… I wouldn’t have survived that long without being able to go outdoors.

We split off again after this and headed back to the hotel for more back-resting for Greg… had some fries covered in mayo (WAY WAY WAY too much mayo) en route… seems to be something Amsterdam is known for… and stopped so Greg could have a proper lunch (and beer type #37)… so he had a sandwich closer to the hotel and I had some chocolate cake 🙂 (having failed at finding a bakery that was open that had anything I wanted to eat while walking around Amsterdam)… then Starbucks, and then the command center reopened again while I tried to sort out getting everyone to the same place at the same time for the last supper. Many FB messages were exchanged, and eventually we just pancakeshad a meeting in the lobby and sorted it out… we forced an executive decision of an Italian place near the hotel and Melissa and Michelle got it sorted out (and Michelle made Greg put his foot down)… Greg was already back in the swanky special Hilton area hanging with Ingrid before then. Bill was too plaguey, so they couldn’t make it out to meet us… they also had a much more productive afternoon than we did.

So, troops were rallied and off we went to the Italian place that could accommodate a group of 17. Much like every restaurant we saw there, they were severely understaffed, and the poor waitress likely wanted to die when we showed up (even though they knew we were coming)… food took effing forever and it was impossible to get a drink (though Binja managed beer type #38), and it was all kind of a clustereff with missing/wrong orders and screwed up cheques… food tasted fine… nothing to get overly excited about… but it was nice to celebrate with the gang… and we weren’t just celebrating the end of a trip… I reached a life goal in Amsterdam… my 40th country (the goal was 40 countries before I turned 40)… so check that off with a few years to spare (and onto the next goal). We were probably there like 3 hours… great company and a great send off to the end of another adventure. Some goodbyes in the street, then more at the hotel, and then off to bed.

weirdoWell, Greg to bed and I packed up our shit since we had a cab coming in three hours to take us to the airport…. Stupid early flight… and we had extra special points flights on the way home.

Random Amsterdam fact… I really wanted to just stick my arm out and clothesline a biker at many points in this city… it’s great that so many people bike, but giving them pretty much complete control over the entire city is insane… and I was getting pretty tired of their ridiculous bells by the time we left… though I guess that’s better than them hitting me with their bike… but people need to walk somewhere!

Sarah and Chris, we missed you in Amsterdam…. white Russian 😦

Day 16 – Bacon Panini, Hold the Bacon and Amsterdam Has No Passport Control?

Hotel fails to call us with a wakeup call, but I had set my phone as well… they do call when our flying_homecab shows up (which is early)… and off to the airport we go. No effin clue where to check in… it’s not all sorted by airline there… it’s more sorted by three big sections, each serving a bunch of airlines… makes more sense really… check in machine takes about 20 tries to recognize my booking, but Greg’s works fine… but we get it sorted with lots of time. There’s pretty much no security, which surprises me, since it is Amsterdam… but cool with me. Get through, and Billiam is already in line at Starbucks… and it’s a long line and I get to sneak in, which is great. Starbucks girl is crazy friendly… and that was true of just about everyone we dealt with in Amsterdam.

Find some food, that includes a bacon panini for Greg that is in fact a cheese and tomato panini, and head to the gate. Quick flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt… cause Germany is totally on the way to Canada from Holland (stupid effing points flights)… through passport control in Germany and the guy is perplexed as to why we entered Europe in England and were now coming from Amsterdam… as soon as they held Alice and Bill up, I knew what was happening… Europe is terrible at stamping passports, especially if any part of your journey involves a cruise ship (or Italy, where they just don’t give a fuck)… so they have to explain to the guy, and once they said cruise ship, he pretty much just gives up and stamps them through… we explain the same thing… and we all leave with him shaking his head and saying something that sounded like “ug, Amsterdam”… quick wait and we’re onto the next plane and headed to Heathrow.

playgroundHeathrow I liked much better when we arrived as it was ghost-town esque. This time it was an effing mad house… I especially like that they pulled Bill and I out of the line and thoroughly searched our carry-ons because there was electronics in them… without ever bothering to tell us that you have to remove every single thing with an electronic pulse in it… but Greg went through fine with my whole bag of camera gear… and then I was randomly selected to have my bag swabbed after I had already been through the thorough search… but they were all very friendly, and when I made a crack about all the pockets in my travel bag, the girl actually laughed… once through, you didn’t even know what your gate was until 15 mins before it was scheduled to board… so there were people lingering everywhere… found some food… pretty tasty for airport food actually… and then eventually headed to our gate… flight was packed coming home, they took forever to board it, but we had lovely seats just two to ourselves on the side… right behind Alice and Bill actually. It was the only flight on the way home where Greg and I were even sitting together… but I slept through the first two completely, so it wouldn’t have mattered.

Slept some en route, watched a movie (The Place Beyond the Pines… it was fine)… Greg likely englandwatched several because he doesn’t sleep on planes)… ate a bit of terrible plane food (though I did learn from the packaging that England once grew a really big onion and that armadillos can walk under water)… and eventually we were back in Canada. Canada customs was fine… we never spend much and we never bring home anything out of the ordinary… waiting for our luggage, we had fun watching a beagle sniffing peoples bags and jumping suitcase to suitcase on the spinner (my theory is that was totally our fault because there were people on the flight coming from Amsterdam). The beagle sniffy-sniffed Alice’s bag but there was nothing crazy in there – maybe just a lingering smell of hoarded cruise ship pastries and cereal. Our suitcase lost the strap en route, so likely it went around a couple of times since we were looking for something lime green. Oh well… everything made it back… through the rest of customs, bag back on the spinner, and off to find something to eat in Halifax… we had a few hours to kill there.

Not much for restaurants there, so we headed back to the same one we hit on the way… ate a fairly terrible burger (one of the very few times I ate meat the entire time we were away)… which came with ice cold fries… and when I asked for hot fries (I don’t even like fries, but if I am going to pick at them, I want them hot), she brought me fries that were only slightly warmer and had been through the fryer more than once. No tip for you, sneaky bugger.

copenhagen_eatsThen Starbucks, and then we sat and waited. We could have almost driven home in the amount of time we had in Halifax, but oh well. Made it to SJ, Dad was waiting, luggage arrived, headed to my parents place, quick visit, got my car, got some caffeine, and hit the road for the hour or so drive back to our house. Got home, were astonished by how much the garden went crazy while we were away, went to bed, and called it an adventure.

PS: I missed a Carnival beer for Greg on the ship, so bring the total to 39 different types we can remember him trying… and I’m pretty sure during cocktail parties and the past guest party, there’s bound to be one more in there somewhere.. so we’re calling it 40.

Normally I would add some super astounding, life changing, boredom defying words of wisdom and/or closure to the end of the blog, but this one has gotten long enough already… so stay tuned and safe travels… and for my city dwelling friends, be careful that nature doesn’t touch you!

(and those who didn’t make the Baltics journey with us, you were missed!)

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One thought on “40 Countries, 40 Beer, and Rockin’ the Baltics

  1. Interesting. Very helpful for someone looking for tips on Baltic cruise.

    Will consider taking the Berlin tour.

    Will try Binja.

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