This is the last in a series of essays
So we were nearing the end of our 12-day cruise and for expediency, we were booked on Hop On/Hop Off buses in Stockholm and Copenhagen. These outings are so convenient as encompassing city tours, unless, of course it is cold and rainy and your gear isn’t enough to keep you dry. In Stockholm we missed Old Town, the Cathedral, the Royal Palace, the Ice Bar and, most sadly for me, ABBA the Museum. (My husband disagreed)
In Copenhagen I looked out the bus window in longing at the rain drenched Tivoli Gardens and the changing of the guard at Amaleinborg Castle. The rain abated for a few minutes when I ran with dozens of other nerdy tourists to snap the quintessential photo of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.
In Helsinki, however, we had a gloriously clear day and it almost made up for my disappointments. We sat in long pews in the Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Church of the Rock because the interior was excavated out of – ta da! - solid rock. It is bathed in natural light which shone down on us through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome and is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics.
From there we were driven to a lovely park where the Sibelius Monument was erected to honor the late composer and consists of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave like pattern. It measures 28 feet wide, 34 feet long, 21 feet high and weighs 24 tons. We didn’t appreciate its mass and stark beauty until we were standing beneath it in the afternoon sun.
As we climbed the ship’s gangplank for the last time, I turned to the shore and silently waved goodbye to intriguing Scandinavia. Rick Steves, my and many others’ favorite travel writer, opines often about its uniqueness.
“It is Western Europe’s most sparsely populated, most literate, most prosperous, most socialistic, least churchgoing corner,” he writes.
The Danes, especially, would never cheat on their taxes or buy a gas guzzling car because their society as a whole would suffer. He was also amazed that they don’t ever jaywalk, even when they could, because it set a bad example to the children.
These thoughts followed me to my little state room and I wondered what was in store during our very last day at sea.
Since I owned a restaurant some twenty years ago, I was fascinated by the seemingly impossible task of feeding 2500 guests plus 900 crew members three meals a day. A tour of the ship’s main Galley took us passed rows and rows of plated desserts and huge vats of soup and pasta. There were stacked trays of breads and ovens filled with meats and poultry emanating an enticing mix of aromas. I smiled at the familiar stainless steel décor and listened intently to the head Chef who must order and store all provisions at the very beginning of the trip – including,18,000 eggs, 5000 pounds of beef and 30,00 pounds of chicken! As a self-described foodie, I appreciated even more the delicious efforts of the white capped staff who served us well for these twelve days.
It was tough to say goodbye to Manish and Polvin, our nightly waiters, especially after learning how many months they are away from their families while fulfilling our every gastric whim. We had one last drink with our traveling friends at the Schooner Bar and one last night of sleep in our softly rocking cradle. I ordered one last café au lait from my favorite barista the next morning before we were herded off the gangplank to our cabs to the Amsterdam airport. My husband kindly rolled my gigantic suitcase along the metal walkway, while I maneuvered his more manageable one. I decided I did enjoy most of my virgin cruise, which took us to remarkable countries that were actually not on my bucket list. I am not sure I will return to Stockholm and Copenhagen to see what I’d missed only because my wish list is so long. I am not sure I would venture on another cruise of this length nor can I shake the notion that a cruise is like Vegas on Water or Disney World for Adults.
I am sure, though, that it fed my thirst for traveling across the pond, which we hadn’t done in a few years and I’m dreaming of England where I can go to Downton Abbey, Liverpool and London so I can walk across Abbey Road like the Beatles did 50 years ago. Maybe I can find a river cruise to get me there! Cheers!
Yvonne Ransel lives in Bristol and occasionally writes essays for The Elkhart Truth.