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Queen Victoria 2010 Cruises
Baltic Explorer and Jewels of the Mediterranean - Part 4
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10 August – Helsinki

After two days in Russia it was nice to arrive back in Euroland; Finland uses the Euro as its currency. Although our arrival was a long way from town, in the Western Harbour, this is generally where large cruise ships are berthed. Princess Daphne was nearby, but smaller ships moor in the Southern Harbour which is very close to the town. Unfortunately the weather in Finland was very different, much colder and raining. Unusually the shuttle bus into town was not free (8 Euros return) and with all the construction work in the area it was easier to go by bus than to walk off the port and then look for trams.

We were dropped at Erottaja, just on the western corner of the Esplanade. The two main areas of interest for us extend from there in two directions. We started by walking north along Mannerheimintie, passing the famous Stockman’s Department store on the right, the largest department store in Scandinavia, and then the monument to the Three Blacksmiths. This area was full of scaffolding and road works. Continuing along Mannerheimintie we reached the Parliament building just as it started to rain, and we discovered one of our umbrellas was broken.

The rain was only a short storm and we continued to visit the Temppeliauko (Rock) Church. We arrived just as the doors opened at 1000, and it was quickly filled with coach tours. We stayed for a short time to listen to some music as the acoustics are one feature – they are fabled largely because of the huge copper spiral forming the domed roof. At the back of the church is the National Museum, which was not yet open, and the modern Finlandia Hall. This completed a small circle and we passed the Parliament building again and then detoured to look at the railway station. This was built in 1916 and is a masterpiece by Eliel Saarinen and regarded as a national Romantic masterpiece. Our guide book described it as reminiscent of an enormous old radio with the pompous men on its facade admiring its controls. It looked depressing in the rain.

We soon reached the Esplanade and strolled along the wide pavement with its expensive shops until we decided it was even nicer to walk through the middle of the gardens. The well known glass factory of Iittala has a large showroom there. We have some iittala glass at home collected over many years. The original glass factory was set up in the village of iittala in southern Finland in 1881. Early designers included the modernist Alvar Aalto, and the first piece we have was a unique design of curved vase dating from 1936. We also have a lot of pieces of Ultima Thule, designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1968. The design was inspired by melting ice in Lapland, and the distinctive style for dishes and glasses has a vertical cascade on the main part of the glass which ends in a puddle of spherical balls with three small spherical feet. Now the design theme has expanded into cutlery, saucepans, china and even small fireplaces. Their current marketing statement is ‘Lasting design against throwawayism’. They also have three retail outlets in London.

The Market Square is at the end of the Esplanade and is full of market stalls, selling a mixture of local craft and fruit and veg. The Town Hall was built by Engel in 1833 and was originally designed as a hotel; the Presidential Palace is just a few steps further along. We had now reached the bridge over the canal and climbed up the hill to the Uspensky Cathedral. It is a brick building which was designed in 1868 with some blue and gold colour on the domes. There was a display of modern icons in the vault and we were able to descend and meet the artist.

The Uspensky cathedral is on the Katajanokka peninsula and our Cunard map indicated there were ice breakers here, with a pedestrian walkway around the peninsula. The modern ice breaker fleet moors here in the summer, overlooked by the Naval Barracks and rows of modern apartments. Further along we reached the Katajanokka Terminal in the South Harbour, where we had expected to moor. Beyond the Uspensky cathedral in the North Harbour there was an old lightship now in use as a cafe, and then a number of beautiful vintage sailing boats, many for charter.

It was now after our normal lunchtime, and there were no interesting local delicacies for sale in the open air market, but the old Market Hall was full of interesting ideas. Eventually we bought too much smoked reindeer and salamis, and half a large dark brown loaf, and made our own picnic. The large bowls of soup which office workers were consuming looked glorious too. Refreshed we crossed the Esplanade and climbed up to the cathedral and Parliament building.

We enjoyed our day in Helsinki, and with the opportunity for ferries to other places it would be an excellent place for a long holiday, as long as it was summertime. Pauline visited once in November twenty years ago for a conference and reported temperatures which were so cold she had to buy special winter clothing.

12 August – Oslo

This is our third visit to Oslo so we had no plans to take organised tours, and anyway we were only there for the afternoon. On our last visit we had spent most of our time in the Museums on Bygdoy Island, having got there by ferry from the town moorings. It was time to see more of the town, and the museums there. We arrived in Oslo ahead of schedule having taken a short cut down a shallow channel. Nevertheless the best town moorings, beneath the Akersus Fortress, were already occupied by Costa Atlantica and Holland America Prinsendam. The latter used to belong to Cunard, then was named Royal Viking Sun, and arrived in the Cunard fleet at the same time as Sagafjord and Vistafjord. She is a fine traditional ship, and although a lot smaller than QE2 she is in the same mould.

Our berth in Filipstad was on the opposite side of town, but no further to walk into the centre. A shuttle bus was available but there were queues and it was not free. We walked. Since our last visit even more new building works are in progress along the waterfront and there are little canals, home to small boats. The castle area is also suffering from construction work. Meanwhile the sun was shining on the Nobel Museum and the City Hall, with its fountains. We passed the National Theatre and another fountain before reaching the Royal Palace. Here we were able to walk into the gardens and for a short while we joined a queue for a tour to go inside. The tours take place every 20 minutes and up to thirty of the forty places can be and often are pre-booked from post offices and some shops. Unfortunately the next English-speaking tour with spaces was at 1400, and it was not yet 1330. We were also not sure if even then we would get a place so we decided to go and watch the changing of the guards instead.

Our next visit was to the Historical Museum which was free to visit. It is an Art Nouveau building and was opened to the public in 1904. The exhibits fill 4 floors, although we spent most time on the first floor which depicts life in Eastern Norway from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. The first room, ‘From Ice Age to Christianity’ displayed tools and equipment, including the Snartemo Sword from the early Iron Age (about 500 AD) which was part of a compete set of weapons in a grave. In the next room the Viking Collection displays weapons, tools and ornaments found in Viking graves, and includes the world’s best preserved Viking helmet, from Gjermundbu, together with a coat of mail and a collection of weaponry. The Medieval collection is mainly church art, including stave church doorways and sculptures. The paintings from the ceiling of the Al Stave Church in the Hallingdal Valley, from about 1300 AD, are unique. Upstairs there is a small Egyptian collection of mummies and mummy cases before the Coin Room, with rare Norwegian coins dating from 1015 as well as modern mint coinsets. We walked quickly through the American display in order to see the Arctic and SubArctic displays of traditional clothing, tools and equipment.

From there we walked along the side of the park, passing University buildings, the Grand Hotel and the Stortinget until we were forced into crowded pedestrian shopping streets and the Cathedral.

This was the planned end of our walking tour and we went back to the City Hall, only stopping at the Taste of Norway delicatessen (in Tordenskioldsgt) which was advertised in our tourist map. We were delighted to find it was full of all sorts of meats and cheese and it was difficult to drag ourselves away. Although the costs seemed double UK prices, we could not resist some reindeer salami and local brown goats cheese after having a wide ranging discussion with the owner. We have a fridge so hope they will keep. As we left we were presented with a box of local strawberries to taste back on-board, and these were really excellent and full of flavour. A must to visit and return to next time in Oslo.

13 August – Kristiansand

Kristiansand is to the south and west of Oslo, and is Norway’s Floral Town. It is almost at the most southern point of Norway. We moored in the rain next to P&O Arcadia, yet again, and as soon as we arrived we were joined by a little tourist train; this was the local alternative to a shuttle bus and again it was not free but good fun for old folks and children. It parked next to a large stuffed elk, and the ship’s photographer arrived in the same corner shortly afterwards.

Founded in 1641 Kristiansand is Norway’s fifth largest town and the capital of southern Norway. It is a town full of useful shops with only limited souvenir shops. We had to search to find postcards. It is a tourist destination but mainly for people from the Nordic region. This was the sort of town where even McDonalds and the Norges Bank have historic and interesting buildings. We should emphasise that the only ‘food’ we have ever eaten in a McDonalds has been ice-cream which is very cheap and probably more unhealthy than any other ice-cream – they also have clean toilets which is useful in UNESCO Heritage Areas.Kristiansand Domkirke, the cathedral, was built in 1884. We arrived just after 1100 and the sung communion service is on Friday at 1130, and then there is a free organ concert at 1300.

To our surprise from 9 to 15 August Kristiansand was hosting the Otera Open – Swatch Fivb World Tour 2010 of beach volleyball. We had once seen a similar competition set up in Stavanger. The streets and gardens are used to make artificial volleyball courts, with tons and tons of sand. Tickets have to be purchased to go to see the important matches but several other courts are free for spectators. One court was next to the cathedral; another was directly underneath the Fortress. The Fortress mound is open during the summer and the building itself is open on Sunday afternoon. The vintage cannons, dated 1677, which still point out towards the seas, have elephant horns. The waterfront gardens also have a group of three granite fountains, used as paddling pools by local children, and overlooked by rows of apartment buildings. In another green space, at the end of July, there had been a sandcastle-building competition, and the results were still standing to be admired.

Near the port we had glimpsed 3 wooden masts and now detoured to investigate. The tall Ship Sorlandet was built in Kristiansand in 1927 and claims to be the oldest operational Full-rigged ship in the world. The 2010 Tall Ships Race had only recently passed through Kristiansand and there were still books and pictures for sale in the shops of these beautiful ships. The Sorlandet features on the front cover of the tourist information leaflet. Finally we passed the Fish Market and indoor and outdoor cafes which are on the edge of the Cruise quays before we walked back to the ship.

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