Did I say that I would write this last Monday? Oh well, only a mere 6 days late, not much to tell anyway!
Now, when we headed into the Baltic Sea on our way from Copenhagen to Stockholm, we were informed that the lengthy distance in between was due to the ship being unable to fit under the bridge connecting the Danish capital to Malmo in Sweden. It was therefore a little of a shock one morning to find the ship heading straight towards the same bridge that we supposedly couldn’t fit under! As we approached the structure, the captain came over the speaker confirming that we were going under with only a 75m height gap! Of course, everyone raced up to top deck and I must say that it was a rather unusual sight; the top deck was blessed with nothing but sky for the past two weeks only to be marked by this gigantic structure for a few minutes! You may remember that last year, I travelled across it by train on the way to Malmo, I guess the only thing left to do is drive over it…maybe one year!
The remainder of our journey back to Southampton was rather choppy with up to 3m swells making it near impossible to do anything aboard hence a movie marathon was in order for the next two days…and that’s it, the Baltic countries (bar Norway, Latvia and Lithuania) can now be ticked off!
So where next? In September, I have decided to follow one of the conventional ‘backpacker’ trails and fly out to the Indian capital, Delhi for a few days (traveling down to the Taj Mahal) and then hopping over to Kathmandu in Nepal to take a helicopter/plane tour around Mount Everest (hopefully landing just below Base Camp!). Full details to follow 🙂
Contrary to my previous post, I think one day at sea is plenty for me, however, I discovered yesterday just how many films are ‘on-demand’ so between that and gyming it, I was occupied!
Today was something of a ‘make it up as you go along’ (well that’s the story of my life but more so on this occasion) type of day as the majority of the ship decided to coach it off down to Gdansk (which is 14.5 miles from here BTW) whereas we thought it best to stay in Gdynia where the ship is docked. From prior research on YouTube, Gdynia is just your average port city and that’s what it essentially is! I think it’s better sometimes to visit places that are not necessarily on the tourist trail, that’s how you can get a real feel for a country.
I do have to say that if you are visiting Gdynia via ship, it is probably best to follow the road signs as the outskirts, let’s just say, could be better, nonetheless it’s all accessible! Now, when you think of a small port city, do you think of skyscrapers? Your answer is most likely no, however, come to Gdynia and you will see the Sea Towers towering over the city…
Why the barbed wire you may ask? When I saw the area, I instantly had flashbacks to the Quattro Towers in Madrid, the complex comprising of apartments, restaurants, Polish banks and a Marriott hotel seemed to have been plonked down in a best effort to rejuvenate what looked like a run down area. Now, this is OK providing that the buildings surrounding it do not have barbed wire protecting them, makes for good photography though!
Aside from the Sea Towers, the city also offers a harbor where a few vessels are permanently docked, a small beach and just your typical Polish city centre all of which you can probably see in 2/3 hours…
The primary reason that we returned to the ship early, however, is that as of 4pm, we won’t have any internet access until Saturday morning when we return to Southampton bringing our Baltic cruise to a finish!
It’s straight back to work for me on Sunday so any happenings over the next two days will be posted at some point on Monday along with details of my next adventure (it’s somewhere in Asia…hint hint!)
Before I start banging on about Helsinki, I keep forgetting to write about the so called “white nights” phenomenon that we have had the pleasure of experiencing over the past few days. Basically this is when the sun sets at some ungodly hour (think it’s around 12 30am) only to rise again 2/3 hours later so effectively you are sleeping in broad daylight, messes around with your body clock I must say!
Anyway, Helsinki, for some unknown reason when I visualise of the city, I think modern architecture. This is partly true, however, there are sights i.e. old brick churches mixed in too and it works surprisingly well.
As usual, we docked at the port around 2 miles from the centre so decided to scrap the “walking into the centre” idea and simply stroll around the various harbors. Despite this, it actually turns out that the road we were walking along ends up in the centre anyway hence that’s where we ended up.
I think I have said this 2 or 3 times on this trip alone, however, the city is home to it’s own tram network, just like all the rest, it depends upon the rolling stock as to whether it is accessible.
We were also lucky enough to be in Helsinki on market day, this not only provides fresh fruit and vegetables but also a wide range of souvenirs, very appealing to my PAs, not so much me with a million seagulls swooping up and down!
Tomorrow is yet another day at sea (think we all need a break after 5 consecutive days of visiting new places!) before we dock at our final port of call, Gdynia in Poland (well it’s only supposed to be the porting city for Gdansk, however, attempting to source a wheelchair accessible taxi company who speak English is impossible, Gdynia looks nice though!) on Wednesday 🙂
Before I begin writing about my two day stopover in St Petersburg, Russia, the thought struck me earlier that I forgot to talk about the public transportation accessibility in Tallinn! The city possesses it’s own tram and bus network; akin to many European cities i.e. Budapest, the trams are a little hit and miss with only the newer rolling stock having low floor access, however, the majority of buses have this feature.
Anyway, back to yesterday and our first day in St Petersburg. As I mentioned in the previous post, we chose to tour with I Love Travel after reading Cory Lee’s experience with the company. A lovely lady met us outside the cruise terminal and whisked us away into the city passing some of it’s famous landmarks such as The Winter Palace and The Peter and Paul Fortress…
After stopping off to purchase souvenirs and grabbing a bite to eat (Sushi in Russia – why not!), we headed down to the pier to board the accessible boat for a river tour. Now, when watching the video on Cory’s blog, I noted a nice metal ramp being put into place to bridge the gap between the pier and the boat itself strong enough to sustain the weight of an electric wheelchair but for me, a piece of plywood, someone could of broke that with their own weight…wasn’t even funny and took a glass of whisky back on the ship to recover from my near drowning experience! The positive side to this, however, is that you do get a whole new perspective of the city from the water…
As I mentioned we had two days in Russia which is the furthest point on the cruise hence today our tour guide took us to visit the Peterhof Palace. Peterhof is located just outside the city and is commonly referred to as the “Russian Versailles” with the inspiration, as implied, taken from the city of Versailles by Peter The Great.
The grounds are mostly accessible albeit a little bumpy and comprises of many fountains (including a ‘trick’ fountain with the idea being that standing on the wrong stone triggers a fountain of water, however, in reality it’s just a guy standing behind a bush pushing a few buttons!).
Peterhof also backs on to the Baltic Sea (or the Gulf of Finland to be exact) hence offers great views, especially towards the Lakhta Centre which is currently under construction but will become the tallest building in Europe…how exciting!
All in all (bar the near drowning experience), I Love Travel is a great company to tour the city with, very knowledgeable and will do their upmost to assist wheelchair users.
Tomorrow, we begin our very slow journey back to the UK stopping off at Helsinki. If we dock at the correct port, we should be in very close proximity to the centre but who knows 🙂
I must say that leaving Stockholm last night through the fjords was probably one of the most awesome views from a cruise ship thus far! We also learnt that Estonia (our port of call for today) is actually 2 hours ahead of the UK rather than 1 as previously thought…fun fact right there!
Anyway, I’m pleased to say that we docked in Tallinn at the planned port meaning it was a mere 15 – 20 walk to the Old Town in the heart of the city…
Akin to Bruges, the majority of the Old Town comprises of cobbled streets and drop curbs are scarce making it a nightmare for Superbunny plus the pavements become very tight at points! However, if you look beyond this, the area does have stunning architecture, one of my PAs likened it to Disneyland!
Now, financial districts, yes I know that I have a thing for them everywhere I go but they do have their uses as on this occasion. As you might expect reading the above, nearly all the shops and restaurants in the Old Town have steps whereas the New Town with all it’s glass skyscrapers doesn’t thus that’s where we eat.
The New Town is in stark contrast with smooth pavements and drop curbs as you would expect making it much easier to roll around…
Before my laptop battery completely dies, tomorrow we dock in St Petersburg where we will spend 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) touring the city with ‘I Love Travel’ including an accessible boat tour which should be an experience 🙂
It was yet another day at sea yesterday thus giving time to gym it with a visit to the jacuzzi for a finish, oh and watching a NATO warship exercise from afar. I think we are quite lucky on this Baltic cruise as the ship appears to be only half full meaning that if you wish to visit the gym or go for a swim, you can unlike the Caribbean cruise a few years back where you were fighting for space in the pool etc.
This morning we docked in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Unlike Copenhagen, it is situated within walking distance of the centre (if you know where your going unlike us!). We began our meander into the centre with Superbunny by following some fellow passengers who turned out to be lost too, in fact, I’m pretty sure we did a massive circle! On consultation of Google Maps, it turned out that we still had a 45 minute walk ahead of us and it was at this point that we ditched the ‘walking into the centre’ plan. When I researched Stockholm prior to the cruise. I discovered that the city possesses a TOWER quite close to the port and it was this that became the foundation of our new plan. In order to get to the Kaknäs Tower, it was necessary to traverse through essentially a wood or a forest, quite surreal considering it’s in the middle of the city!
The tower itself stands majestically on it’s hill and offers panoramic views, quite cheap too, around £6 pp.
On reflection of this Baltic cruise, it seems that it may have been better to have a private tour guide picking us up directly from port as it has become clear that, unlike the Caribbean, the ports are much further out of town…oh well, always a next time! Saying that, we have a tour booked for St Petersburg and sourcing one as we speak for Helsinki on Monday (fingers crossed!!).
Tomorrow, we dock in Tallinn, Estonia where the port seems to be in proximity to the centre but, as we have clearly found out today, maps lie so will be…interesting! 🙂
Firstly, I must point out that we do not have Wifi on the ship (well we do, however, it is $70 per 100 minutes used and I ain’t paying that!) hence we are simply using 4G when we are in port!
Anyway, back to yesterday when we had a full day at sea. I have become to enjoy these days as it forces you to just stop rather than rushing around lots of places tiring yourself (as well as PAs!) out. I think the majority of yesterday consisted of lying in bed listening to music/books, oh and visiting the gym (yes, for those who don’t know, I have joined the gym back home!) with a showing of The Greatest Showman on top deck to round the day off!
Today was the turn of visiting the Danish capital, Copenhagen, sound familiar? As we spent 4 days here last year, the plan was to take a leisurely stroll into town and visit what we missed i.e. a walk around Nyhavn and The Opera House. Now this is me your talking about, nothing ever seems to go to plan! We woke up this morning expecting ourselves to be docked nearish to the Opera House but no, we seemed to be docked in a cross-between industrial estate and barren wasteland some 7 mile away with the only real option to hop on the shuttle bus. In the UK, especially in Bristol where you have Avonmouth docks, you see conventional coaches with no wheelchair access to and from the city centre. We therefore thought it best to leave Superbunny to the confines of the ship and head out in the manual. A thought then crossed my mind, this ship is full of people with mobility scooters so how were they supposed to get to the centre? Unbeknown to us, the cruise line laid on accessible transport for just that purpose!
The one thing I remember Denmark (and I think Sweden has similar) in terms of accessibility is that for many of the pavements that are cobbled, they have essentially wheel lanes comprising of concrete slabs making for smooth riding. We headed down to Nyhavn to grab lunch, it needs to be noted that many restaurants in this area have steps either up or down so eating al fresco is the only viable option or, in my case, be carried down a flight of stairs!
Tomorrow is another day at sea, plan is for a little gyming and swimming before we dock in Stockholm (if we make it!!) on Thursday 😊
…and there goes the horn signaling our departure from Zeebrugge!
Bruges, the so-called hidden gem of Belgium. As mentioned in the previous post, a taxi was necessary to transport us from the port of Zeebrugge into the centre. We chose to use a company called Hendricks Taxis (well they seem to be the only company in Bruges to have a wheelchair accessible taxi!!), however, little did we know that taxis are not allowed in the actual port area! After chatting to a very nice guy on the dock, he radioed through and allowed the driver to literally drive up to the ship, we were then all set for the short journey into the city…famous last words!!!
Now, when the taxi aka van left portside, the sat nav informed us that we would arrive at 10 13am. This time came and guess where we were…the middle of the Belgium countryside driving through little villages! I think the whole palaver was due to this brand new road linking the port to the city not registering on the system hence a very confused sat nav.
In terms of accessibility, Bruges reminded me a lot of Reykjavik in Iceland, your main chain shops and restaurants i.e. Carrefour are all level and accessible, however, if you are seeking something more local, bar the few odd buildings here and there, you have no chance! The majority of shops and restaurants have steps and even when there is level access, the doors are quite tight and much too narrow for Superbunny resulting in lunch at Burger King, that was another palaver! The seating area was upstairs so common sense prevails to install a passenger lift but no, the delivery lift in this BK is the preferred choice of elevation and, shock horror, it broke on the way back down meaning a swift trip to the kitchen was necessary for a reboot.
We were lucky enough to be dropped off in the main square meaning that all the sighs were within walking distance but beware, certainly the centre of Bruges is mainly cobble stones so a bumpy ride but definitely worth a visit!
Our taxi driver seemed to find the correct way back to the ship which took 20 minutes rather than an hour! Tomorrow we have a day at sea and then the next port of call on Tuesday is Copenhagen… Again! Hopefully we will see the little mermaid this time rather than being stuck on a tour bus trying to find it 😊
Something felt not quite right today as we headed down to Southampton to begin our 2 week Baltic Cruise aboard the Sapphire Princess, perhaps I associate traveling now with flying from Heathrow, Gatwick or even Bristol! The thought that you can travel to Russia by boat from the UK is one of which I had never thought of before now.
Anyway, we chose to purchase cruise parking on a ‘meet and greet’ basis enabling us to simply drive the van to the terminal and then the guys take care of the rest! Now, I’m not being ageist here (honestly!) but it is common knowledge that cruises are mainly targeted at (BTW we are now sailing through Portsmouth as I type), shall we say…the older generation? This thought stuck with me as we made our way through the terminal and onto the majestic ship, I would say, bar from a few kids, we are some of the youngest on here! Nonetheless our staterooms (albeit a little outdated) are majestic, here’s the view from my balcony…
It was at this point that one of my PA’s discovered a joyous safety video on our TV. You get all sorts these days but this one seems to top that. Think of a Disney song but then a bit of a cheese whilst conveying a meaningful message of what to do if the boat was to sink (what a thought to have).
Our first port of call tomorrow is Bruges in Belgium, however the ship docks in a neighbouring village meaning a taxi is necessary to travel to the centre so we will see how that goes!
So for my next adventure, I am taking a 15 day cruise around the Baltic Sea departing from Southampton in June. Here’s the itinerary thus far (I’ll be adding to this over the coming months as I actually decide what to do in each place!!):
Day 1 – Travel down to Southampton
Day 2 – Bruges, Belgium
Day 3 – At Sea
Day 4 – Copenhagen, Denmark (yet again!!)
Day 5 – At Sea
Day 6 – Stockholm, Sweden
Day 7 – Tallinn, Estonia
Day 8 & 9 – St Petersburg, Russia (Touring the city with I Love Travel including an accessible boat tour and a visit to Peterhof)
Day 10 – Helsinki, Finland
Day 11 – At Sea
Day 12 – Gdansk, Poland
Day 13 – At Sea
Day 14 – At Sea
Day 15 – Return to Southampton
Sounds fun!!! 🙂