Saga Pearl II Blog
Aug 3, 2014
Aug 5, 2014
Aug 7, 2014
Aug 8, 2014
Aug 9, 2014
Aug 10, 2014
Aug 12, 2014
Aug 16, 2014
Aug 17, 2014
Aug 20, 2014
Aug 21, 2014
Aug 25, 2014
Aug 28, 2014
Aug 29, 2014
Aug 3, 2014
Following a relaxing and smooth 3 days at sea following our departure from Dover we made our approaches to our first port of call, the British Overseas Protectorate of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula and Europe at the entrance of the Mediterranean overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar. The name Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Târiq, meaning “Mountain of Tariq”. It refers to the geological formation, the Rock of Gibraltar, which in turn was named after the Berber Umayyad general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who led the initial incursion into Iberia in advance of the main Moorish force in 711. Earlier, it was known as Mons Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules. Today, Gibraltar is known colloquially as Gib or The Rock.
The territory covers just over 2½ square miles and shares a land border with Spain to the north. Gibraltar has historically been an important base for the British Armed Forces and is the site of a Royal Navy base.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar has been a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations. Gibraltar was ceded by Spain to the Crown of Great Britain in perpetuity, under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, though Spain asserts a claim to the territory and seeks its return. In a referendum held in 2002, Gibraltarians rejected by an overwhelming majority (99%) a proposal of shared sovereignty on which Spain and Britain were said to have reached “broad agreement”. The British government has committed itself to respecting the Gibraltarians’ wishes.
Our first port of call had some splendid shore excursions on offer and the first one to leave the vessel was ‘The Rock’. This gave our passengers the chance to explore and learn about the iconic rock of Gibraltar as well as view many interesting and historical landmarks along the way. Having passed the frontier with Spain, our guests went on to see American War Memorial, British Naval Base and Trafalgar Cemetery before arriving at Europa Point and the only Trinity Lighthouse outside Great Britain. The stalagmites and stalactites of St Michael’s Cave on the upper Rock area made up the next part of the tour before the coach transported our passengers to the King Charles V wall where they had the chance to come face to face with the famous Barbary apes. Some time spent in the upper town to enjoy some duty free shopping rounded off this tour nicely and it proved a great way to learn more about Gibraltar, its rock and the history behind both.
The next tour to leave Saga Pearl II was only a short tour but proved to be a very popular one as it gave our passengers the chance to go in search of dolphins and other fascinating marine life. There are three different species of dolphins in Gibraltar’s bay and seven species of whale, as well as sunfish, flying fish and turtles. A local guide was able to provide our guests with detailed facts and background about the bay and its marine life while our passengers kept their eyes peeled for a look at some of the unbelievable creatures that were on show.
The final tour to leave was ‘Fortress Gibraltar’. Gibraltar has a fascinating and unique wartime history and this tour let our passengers learn more about it. Following a stop at Europa Point to admire the stunning views, the tour took them to the Nature Reserve, home of the Northern Defences Sector and another place where there was the opportunity to meet the famous Barbary apes, who are undoubtedly Gibraltar’s most famous residents. Continuing on to the Hays Level, there was a guided tour and a visit to an exhibition of photographs that illustrated the history of the World War II tunnels that our passengers later had the chance to explore for themselves. With a chance to learn more about the soldiers who were stationed within the tunnels during a visit to the east side of the rock the tour was full of information and fascinating facts for our passengers that really gave them a chance to immerse themselves in the history of the port.
We set sail in the early evening bathed in glorious sunshine and now make our way into the Mediterranean and on to our next port of call, a real favourite of mine, Mahon on the Balearic Island of Menorca.
Aug 5, 2014
Mahon is a municipality and the capital of Minorca, located in the eastern part of the Balearic Islands. Mahón has the second deepest natural harbour in the world, over three miles long and half a mile wide. The name’s origin is attributed to the Carthaginian General Mago Barca, brother to Hannibal, who is thought to have taken refuge there in 205 BC. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was part of the Byzantine Empire; it suffered raids from Viking and Arabs, until the Islamic Caliphate of Córdoba conquered it in 903. Mahón was captured in 1287 from the Moors by Alfonso III of Aragon and incorporated into the Kingdom of Majorca, a vassal kingdom of the Kingdom of Aragon. Its harbour, one of the most strategically important in the western Mediterranean, was re-fortified. In 1535, the Ottomans under Hayreddin Barbarossa attacked Mahón and took 6,000 captives as slaves back to Algiers, in the Sack of Mahón.
The island changed hands several times during the eighteenth century, with France and Spain both capturing it. In 1783 the Peace of Paris returned the town to control of the Spanish but it was occupied for a final time by the British during the Capture of Minorca in 1798 before being returned to Spain for good in 1802.
Today it serves as the seat of the Island Council of Minorca. Towards the end of the 20th century, the renovation of its historic centre was made possible by income from tourism. A traditional cheese made on the island (Mahón cheese) is named after the city. Some believe that the origin and name of mayonnaise are found in this Minorcan city.
Two tours were on offer today and the first to leave the vessel was the ‘Mahon Scenic Northern Drive’. Our passengers were able to enjoy a journey along the scenic north road taking in some of Minorca’s charming seaside resorts. Most of the sightseeing was enjoyed from the comfort of the coach, although there were several stops where our guests were able to take photos to ensure some lifelong memories could be taken home with them. Having visited Puerto de Addaya, the trip continued to Fornells, a whitewashed fishing village on the rugged north coast. After this a visit to the lovely landscaped gardens of Cala Tirant was enjoyed before a trip to the highest point of the island, Monte Toro. With stunning weather and clear skies the views were simply incredible and it was great to hear the positive comments of so many passengers following the tour. The tour was concluded with a brief tour of the nearby historic monastery before returning to the ship in time for lunch.
The second and final tour to leave us in the morning was ‘Monte Toro and Binibeca’. This tour around the island revealed Minorca’s history and rural traditions with the first stop in Binibeca, a pedestrian village and coastal resort that is made up of white painted fisherman’s houses built in a Moorish style. From here our passengers travelled along the south coast to the Taula de Torralba, a megalithic ‘T’ shaped stone monument dating from 1,000BC. As with the previous tour our passengers also had the chance to visit the islands highest point, Monte Toro, before concluding the tour with a visit to an old Minorcan farm which has been modernised. It is still a family owned business however, and our guests had the opportunity to enjoy tasting some of their delicious cheese and Catalonian wine, which is produced for both local consumption and exported around the world. One or two of our passengers even took the opportunity to bring a couple of bottles back with them as gifts for friends and family at home.
By mid afternoon everybody was onboard so we set sail for Propriano, Corsica. As we sailed away the Food and Beverage team held a very special BBQ luncheon on deck washed down nicely with some complimentary Sangria.
Aug 7, 2014
Toulon is the town and port capital of Var département, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur région, south-eastern France. It is France’s principal naval base and one of the most important Mediterranean dry-docks and shipbuilding yards. Toulon’s fine bay opens to the east, but the most sheltered part, Petite Rade and Darse Vieille in the west which has a well-protected anchorage, is largely under the control of the French Navy. The Grande Rade, to the east, is easier to access. The Faron Mountains form an imposing backdrop to the town.
In World War II the Franco-German Armistice of 1940 left the Vichy collaborationist government in control of the French fleet, the bulk of which it concentrated at Toulon. But the Allied invasion of northwest Africa on November 8, 1942, prompted Hitler to abrogate the terms of the armistice, and he ordered the German Army to take over the rest of unoccupied France, including Toulon. While the Allies were trying to obtain the departure of the Toulon fleet for North Africa in order to keep it out of German hands, German troops attempted to seize the fleet on November 27. But the French were prepared for such a move, and Admiral Jean-Baptiste Laborde, the Mediterranean fleet commander, scuttled 73 ships, including cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, submarines, and one battleship. Toulon was liberated in August 1944 by French troops. In the old town, which was largely destroyed during World War II, are the cathedral of Sainte-Marie Majeure, the rebuilt church of Saint-Louis, and the naval museum; on the quay, on the site of the old town hall, is the new town hall. Toulon’s principal traditional industries, apart from its arsenal and shipbuilding, were fishing and wine making.
A wealth of tours were on offer today, ‘Aix-En-Provence’, ‘Highlights of Toulon & Cassis’, ‘Bandol and Sanary-sur-Mer’ or ‘Scenic Drive to Lavandou’. Around 120 of our passengers boarded their coaches to enjoy a ‘Scenic Drive to Lavandou’. After a short drive our passengers discovered breath taking views from the coastal road that stretches south-east from Hyeres to Le Lavandou. This tour offered unbeatable views of the “Massif des Maures”: the coastline, the islands of Porquerolles, the rugged shores, fine sandy beaches and the lush vegetation of this area. After a short stop in Le Lavandou for photographs, they drove back via Bormes-les-Mimosas, the so called Provencal Crib, through the Dom Forest, where the vineyards melt into a rich patchwork of cork oaks, pines and chestnut trees – the typical vegetation of the Maure range.
With all aboard at 1630 we cast off our lines and bid ‘au revoir’ to France and now make our way to what is one of my favourite cities, Barcelona.
Aug 8, 2014
According to legend, Barcelona was founded by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca in about 230BC, as Barcino. The region became part of the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century BC, was ruled by the Visigoths in the 5th Century AD, conquered by the Moors in 713AD and captured by Charlemagne in 801AD. Under Frankish rule, the city and the supporting region became the self-governing district of Catalonia. The region was absorbed into the kingdom of Aragón in 1137AD. Barcelona thereafter grew in importance as a Mediterranean trading post. Its prosperity diminished after the union (1479) of the kingdoms of Aragón and Castile and the subsequent imposition of restrictive trade policies on the city. In the 19th and 20th centuries Barcelona was a centre of Catalán separatism, anarchy and industrial unrest. During the Spanish Civil War, the city was the seat of the autonomous Catalán government and a Loyalist stronghold. It was heavily bombed in 1938 by the Nationalists, who finally captured the city on 26th January 1939.
The oldest section of Barcelona, formerly enclosed by walls, was built on the harbour and is crossed by the Rambla, a paved roadway extending from the harbour to the Plaza de Cataluña, the focal point of the city. The streets of the old quarter are narrow and crooked; in the newer sections they are wide and straight, with modern buildings. Dominating Barcelona’s skyscape are the fantastic openwork spires of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, a huge, unfinished Basilica, notable for the elaborate patterns and undulating curves characteristic of its builder, the Catalán architect Antoni Gaudí y Cornet. Several other buildings by Gaudí, including the Casa Milá, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Other local landmarks include the Church of San Pablo del Campo, the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and the Columbus Monument.
Quite a few guests took the opportunity to see Barcelona on one of our organised excursions today choosing either, ‘Montserrat with Rack Train’, ‘Mon Sant Benet Monastery’, ‘Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia’ or ‘Barcelona Panoramic’. The panoramic tour allowed our passengers to relax as their guide showed them the city’s highlights from the comfort of the coach, making brief stops at some of the major sites of interest so they could take photographs if they wished. Leaving the port they headed first to the city’s imposing Gothic Cathedral. From the heart of the Gothic Quarter they continued onto the Olympic Village built for the 1992 Olympic Games. In the years immediately after the Olympics this district lacked the feel of a real neighbourhood as many shops were still vacant but in the intervening years it has developed as a proper “barri”. Close by was the Forum coastline where they could have a short break to relax before the return drive to the harbour and passed by Montjuic Mountain with its spectacular panoramic view over the city.
Having set sail at 5:00pm our main Cabaret Showtime presented another fun evening’s entertainment with the master puppeteers, John and Josef “Stars on Strings”. Following the fabulous performance our guests had the chance to play with the puppets themselves and they soon realised it’s not as easy as it looks!
Aug 9, 2014
Valencia, is one of the major cities in eastern Spain and the capital of Valencia Province, and set on a fertile plain near the mouth of the Tura River in the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the largest cities in Spain and a centre for agricultural marketing, manufacturing, and communications. Industrial establishments in the city include textile mills, chemical works, metalwork’s, shipyards and breweries.
Valencia is the centre of an archbishopric and it is also the site of the University of Valencia and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. A museum of fine arts and an art school are in the city. Two gates remain from the 14th-century city walls built on Roman foundations. Among important buildings in Valencia are the Gothic cathedrals (13th-15th century) and the 15th-century Gothic silk exchange which, in 1996, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today’s excursions included; ‘Vall D’Uxo & the San Jose Caves’ and ‘Valencia on Foot’ which began with a panoramic tour passing the Gothic, Baroque and Arabian architecture for which Valencia is famous. This was followed by a gentle stroll in the city that also took our guests to St. Mary’s Cathedral and the old quarter where they had some time for independent exploration of this fabulous city.
Come 4:00pm I gave the order to cast off as we set sail to our final Spanish port this cruise, a new one for me, Almeria.
Aug 10, 2014
Almeria is an old Moorish town, founded by Calipha Abd-ar-Rahman II of Cordoba in 955AD. Its mighty castle, the Alcazaa, is the second-largest Muslim fortress in Spain after the Alhambra in Granada. During the Middle Ages the city was one of the major Moorish strongholds in Andalusia, and it was attacked on numerous occasions by the Christians. It was also a centre for silk production. Almeria was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1489 and was devastated by violent earthquake in 1522. The ports also suffered from the raids by Barbary pirates throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
Since 1960’s, the pleasant climate has attracted many tourist to Almeria, and the district has also become a centre for intensive agricultural production, with massive ‘invernaderos’(plastic greenhouses) allowing farmers to grow vegetables all year round.
The first of today’s excursions was “Cabo de Gata & Nijar Natural Park”. The transportation for this tour was four wheel drive jeeps and took our passengers to one of the most beautiful and ecologically rich coastal strips in the Western Mediterranean covering 131 square miles and offering volcanic rock formations, salt flats, rocky coves, jagged cliffs and is noted for its drought adapted flora. Next to leave was “Scenic Andalucía”. A tour through some of Andalucía’s most rural countryside, crossing the Tabernas desert, after which the tour entered the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada passing through villages of white washed houses, before returning to Almeria and the ship through the Alpujarras Mountains.
We now make our way further west and bid a fond farewell to the Mediterranean, next stop is the capital of Portugal, Lisbon.
Aug 12, 2014
As forecast on our trip north, having passed through the Gibraltar Straits, we did encounter a certain amount of ‘motion of the ocean’ nevertheless Saga Pearl II was able to make her ETA into the River Tagus and as we approached we were greeted with a glorious day and one of the most stunning sunrises I have seen for some time.
Our pilot joined me on the Bridge shortly before the famous 25th April Bridge, most reminiscent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The river Tagus was in full ebb (around 4 knots or so) as we gingerly approached our berth at the new passenger terminal, right in the heart of the city. I lined the ship up parallel to the berth and allowed the current and gentle breeze to do the hard work and as soon as our moorings were made fast our gangway was duly landed.
The city is built on the terraced sides of a range of low hills overlooking the harbour. In the older section the streets are narrow and crooked, but the newer section has straight, broad, tree-lined avenues, handsome squares and extensive public gardens. Lisbon is the seat of an archbishopric and contains many old churches, convents and monasteries. It is also the site of the Sé, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral built in the 12th century and partially ruined by earthquakes. A Hieronymite convent in the suburb of Belém was built in the 16th century to mark the discovery of a sea passage to India by the navigator Vasco da Gama. It contains the tombs of da Gama and the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. The complex was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Another Heritage Site, the 12th-century monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça (inscribed in 1989) is north of Lisbon. Notable educational and cultural institutions in the city include several libraries, museums, colleges and universities, the oldest of which is the University of Lisbon (1288).
A number of our guests took the opportunity to see Lisbon on one of our organised excursions today either choosing ‘Arrabida Mountains’, ‘Palace of Ajuda and Lisbon Overview’, ‘Estufa Fria and Lisbon Overview’ or ‘Lisbon Panoramic’ following a busy port intensive cruise so far many guests preferred the relaxing ‘Lisbon Panoramic’ tour. Our guests enjoyed an informative commentary during a relaxing drive through Lisbon and its environs, stopping to take photographs at famous landmarks and places of interest. They could view the Monument to the Discoveries and Belem Tower before enjoying refreshments at Pasteis de Belem, one of the oldest and most characteristic cafes in Lisbon. Afterwards, they continued their tour past some notable sights including Jeronimos Monastery and the Parliament buildings. On their return to the ship they also stopped at the top of Eduardo VII Park to take in the panorama of the whole city, and cross the suspension bridge to view the Statue of Christ the Redeemer.
All aboard was set for 1:30pm as we now have a full speed run north to Dover and with the threat of a just a few minor lumps and bumps along the way I was keen to ensure we made a prompt getaway.
As today was our last port of call for this cruise (well other than Dover of course!), Kayleigh and the cruise team got the passengers moving and grooving as we sailed away with musical accompaniment from the wonderful SAGA Orchestra.
Aug 16, 2014
Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is a British Crown dependency just off the coast of Normandy. St. Helier is the capital and the only sizeable town on the island, and makes up one of its 12 parishes. It takes its name from a sixth-century hermit who is said to have been martyred by marauding pirates. The town’s medieval parish church bears his dedication and was built on the site of his martyrdom. Another historic building in the town is Elizabeth Castle, built by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was Governor of Jersey, and named after Queen Elizabeth I. The town’s Royal Square was laid out in the 18th century, and is noted for its statue of King George II, which is the ‘zero milestone’ from which all distances on the island are measured. The town is predominantly Regency and Victorian character, and in recent years some of the central streets have become an attractive pedestrian precinct.
Our well trained staff and crew made the preparations for our tender transfer in a timely manner so that those on our first excursions could head off as soon as our anchor was suitably ‘brought up’ The “Jersey Island Drive” tour took our guests on a scenic drive along the seafront, passing the historic Elizabeth Castle and St. Aubin’s Village en route to beautiful St. Brelade’s Bay before visiting some of Jersey’s 12 small parishes.
The next tour to depart was the “Jersey War Tunnels” which started with a leisurely drive to the War Tunnels complex, where our guests were able to visit the underground hospital and an exhibition that tells the story of the Occupation, D Day Landings and the Liberation.
There were two tours in the afternoon; the “La Mare Wine Estate” which took our passengers to the La Mare vineyard, for a taste of Jersey wines, cider, the famous Apple brandy and some Jersey chocolate; the last tour was the “Floral Jersey” excursion which took in the floral beauty of Jersey with a look at two of the island’s charming but contrasting gardens.
At 6:15pm, together with the rest of officers and staff, I formally welcomed our guests at the Welcome party in the Discovery lounge. Although only with us for a short time I was keen to ensure our passengers knew they were in for a good time, that’s the benefit of these shorter ‘taster’ cruises for those who have never travelled with us before; from the comments I received I believe that in 24 hours we have already ‘converted’ more than a few!
Aug 17, 2014
Cherbourg in Normandy, is a port town with a remarkable seafaring history. One of the first places that the Titanic visited on her fateful journey and quickly liberated from the Nazis after the Normandy Landings, Cherbourg has a rich and often tragic past. Both events are marked in outstanding museums in the city, with a brilliant Titanic exhibition in the famous Citè de la Mer (‘City of the Sea’), which is also home to the incredible La Redoubtable, the world’s largest submarine open to visitors, and the Musée de la Libération (‘Liberation Museum’) inside the 19th century Fort du Roule that crowns the summit of the Montagne du Roule.
Cherbourg holds an arsenal of the French Navy. It is also a ferry port with links to the English ports of Poole and Portsmouth, the Irish port of Rosslare Harbour and St Helier on Jersey. From the fort, you are afforded a splendid scene of the sprawling city, port, naval arsenal and yachting marina. Beside the marina is the Plage Verte, a large green space that is perfect for enjoying a stroll by the coast and is popular for local events and outdoor activities.
Our first excursion to depart today was the “D Day Beaches” which started with a drive to the Arromaches, a modest seaside resort, which owes its fame to the fantastic ‘Mulberry operation’ which was an integral part of the Allied Landing in Europe in June 1944, followed by a visit to the Landing Museum and cemeteries.
The second excursion was entitled “Bayeux Tapestry and Cathedral”, which included a trip to the first French town to be liberated after D Day and the chance to visit the cathedral and the 900 year-old Bayeux tapestry.
With all aboard at 5:00pm we cast off our lines and make our way slowly back to Dover, now at the end of a very successful taster cruise. Despite it being the last night we had another packed entertainment programme kicking off with Cruise Director John who held his Sherlock Holmes quiz in the Shackletons bar, while guest speaker Malcolm Macfarlane talked about The Music of the 60’s. The Restaurant Department opened the main show with their tear jerker performance of hand mime then came Steve Love Band with more disco dancing music.
Aug 20, 2014
Our turnaround in Dover came and went in the usual whirlwind and by 4:00pm, safety drill completed, we cast off and set sail on our second ‘mini’ cruise a ‘Gallic Getaway’. Over the next four days we would visit Jersey, Honfleur and Zeebrugge.
Having chatted about Jersey just a few days ago I’ll save you a repeat of the information but needless to say the call was most successful and I do hope it is not too long before I get to visit the beautiful little island again.
Come Wednesday morning we were gliding along the Rouen Channel towards our berth in Honfleur. The charming port of Honfleur is a medieval town located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine in Normandy. It is especially known for its 17th century picturesque port, characterised by timber-framed houses, which has been a popular subject of 19th century artists including Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind. From these men emerged the Honfleur School and Honfleur itself was considered to be the ‘cradle of Impressionism’.
There are buildings and monuments dating from this time still standing today. St Catherine’s Church, in the heart of the old town, was built by the townspeople at the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Having only modest resources at their disposal, the townspeople’s main building material was timber from the nearby Touques Forest and the construction methods used were similar to those employed in boatbuilding. Today, it is the largest remaining wooden church in France and was classified as a historic monument in 1879.
A selection of tours were on offer today; Honfleur Walking Tour & the Eugene Boudin Museum, Fecamp Benedictine Site & Etretat and the Spirit of Normandy. Many of our Guests opted for one of the excursions but for those who did not the charming little town was within each reach, being only a 5 minute stroll away.
As we cast off at 5:00pm ‘Doc Roc’ aka Chris Lee opened tonight’s entertainment with his very interesting and entertaining lecture on the ‘sound of the 70’s’. This was followed in earnest by our very own Explosive Productions Cast in their high beat action packed performance of ‘Jersey meets Mersey’ featuring the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Liverpool’s finest, the Beatles.
Aug 21, 2014
Zeebrugge is a village on the coast of Belgium and a subdivision of Bruges, for which it is the modern port. Located on the coast of the North Sea, its central location on the Belgian coast, short distance to Great Britain and close vicinity to densely populated industrialised cities, make Zeebrugge a crossroads for traffic from all directions. An expressway to Bruges connects Zeebrugge to the European motorway system; one can also get to and from Zeebrugge by train or tram.
Aside from being a passenger terminal with ferries to the United Kingdom, the harbour serves as the central port for Europe’s automotive industry and is important for the import, handling and storage of energy products, agriculture products and other general cargo.
The harbour was the site of the Zeebrugge Raid on 23 April 1918, when the British Royal Navy put the German inland naval base at Bruges out of action. Admiral Roger Keyes planned and led the assault that stormed the German batteries and sank the ships in the harbour to block the entrance to the base for the last seven months of World War I.
The first excursion “Ypres: In Flanders’ Fields gave our passengers the opportunity to learn about the dramatic history of the war and battles in and around the town of Ypres. Archdeacon Arthur Hawes, his wife Melanie and Cruise Director John laid a wreath together with a few of our passengers who had relatives buried at the monumental allied cemetery, an extremely moving moment for all.
Our second tour to leave this morning was ‘Romantic Bruges’ This tour gave our passengers the chance to discover the ‘Venice of the North’ on a walking tour and a canal boat ride through this most magical of cities. A thriving commercial centre throughout the Middle Ages, the city boundaries still coincide with those from medieval times. Our guests passed charming domestic buildings with their distinctive gables, tree-lined canals with their early bridges and through the bustling marketplace.
To bring this fabulous taster cruise to an end we decided to go out in style and tonight’s entertainment featured our own talented crew in our ‘Crew Show’ with singers, dancers, puppeteers and magicians to name but a few. They took their bows to a standing ovation and I cannot tell you how proud I am of each and every one of them, a superb end to a superb few days.
Aug 25, 2014
This is quite a rare port to start the Captain’s blog for a cruise, but it is indeed our first port of call since leaving Dover on Friday afternoon. In case you are wondering how we have made such a fast transit from Dover to Stockholm then I should point out we did cheat a little. The distance via the Skagerrak would have been 1,097 nautical miles. However I decided to take a ‘short cut’ and took advantage of the Kiel Canal. This shed 185 nautical miles off the distance, which is about 11 hours sailing time at full speed. We picked up the Stockholm pilot at nine o’clock this morning and weaved our way through the archipelago so that we were alongside the berth in the centre of this beautiful capital city by 1:00pm.
The sun was shining as we arrived although the weather did change in the evening, becoming misty and then raining. We are staying overnight here in Stockholm and there are shore excursions running both this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Today we had three shore excursions operating which were a Walking tour of Stockholm; City Hall and Vasa Museum; and Waterways of Stockholm. The walking tour of Stockholm allowed passengers to discover the most charming part of Stockholm, the old town, and see the magnificent Royal Palace where they could see houses dating from the 16th to the 19th Century. They could also view the exterior of the Cathedral, the oldest church in Stockholm and see Stortorget, the Great Square which is dominated by the old stock exchange and houses the Nobel Museum.
The second tour, City Hall and Vasa Museum, began with a drive through the city and across the Western Bridge to the Island of Kungsholmen for a visit to the distinctive redbrick City Hall in the old town. The Island of Djungarden was the next stop where passengers visited the Vasa Museum on the waterfront to see an amazing restoration of the Vasa warship which sank in Stockholm harbour after being launched for her maiden voyage in 1628. The third tour, Waterways of Stockholm, took passengers on a boat trip where they could view the city and sail past the national park of Djungarden.
Our evening’s entertainment commenced at 8:45pm with Literary Journalist Peter Kemp interviewing our special guest, author Jonathan Coe. This was followed by our very own Explosive Productions Cast who performed their tribute to the music of the “King of Rock n Roll” Mr. Elvis Presley in “Love me Tender”
As I write this I can hear the rain hammering against my office window and I hope those passengers, or more likely crew, who are enjoying a night out in Stockholm don’t resemble drowned rats on their return to the ship. Let’s hope the rain has cleared by the morning!
Aug 28, 2014
Saint Petersburg is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. It was founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27th May 1703 and was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years. As we arrived today the weather was unusually cool with just a light breeze. The formalities of the immigration procedures were completed surprisingly quickly and the passengers were soon eagerly heading off to explore this incredible city.
Today we had five shore excursions for the passengers to choose from. They were St Petersburg Highlights, Hermitage and Gold Room, Peterhof Spectacular, Yusupov Palace and St Nicholas Naval Cathedral, and An Evening of Folklore.
The first tour, St Petersburg Highlights, started with a drive to the historical centre of the city passing the Academy of Fine Arts, the university and Rostral Columns. Passengers then moved on to photograph the beautiful panorama of the River Neva and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Then after a short drive there were stops at St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood and the historic ship Aurora. To finish off the morning everyone enjoyed some shopping at the local souvenir market.
The second tour, Hermitage and Gold Room, took passengers to see one of the world’s greatest jewellery collections at the fabulous Hermitage Museum. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and now has a collection of around three million works of art.
The third tour, Peterhof Spectacular, began with a drive to the Hydrofoil Pier where passengers then cruised across the Gulf of Finland. They then had a guided walk of the Lower Park which Peter himself designed, along with the 300 acre fountain complex, fed by underground springs. The tour ended at the Grand Palace Terrace where there were wonderful views over the gardens.
The fourth tour, Yusupov Palace and St Nicholas Naval Cathedral, took passengers to see the Yusupov Palace where they could admire the splendid interiors of one of the most beautiful palaces in St Petersburg and visit the cellar that became the setting of the murder of one of the most scandalous figures in Russian history – Grigory Rasputin. They then moved on to one of the oldest Russian orthodox churches, St Nicholas Naval Cathedral which combines Baroque–style with elements of traditional Russian Architecture.
The final tour, An Evening of Folklore, was wonderful as it showed lively Russian Folkloric songs and dances at the Carnival Concert Hall. The magnificent performance was made up from traditional songs and dances used during celebrations from all over Russia, combined with classical aspects of ballet and modern dance. During the interval our guests were treated to champagne, vodka and snacks to help make this an evening to remember.
Aug 29, 2014
We continued our stay in St Petersburg into a second day. The tours for today were a combination of those that passengers might have missed on the previous day, as well as a few new options. A highlights tour took passengers to some of the most interesting historical sites in St Petersburg including St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Another tour, the Hermitage and Gold Room, led our guests to explore the magnificent halls and staterooms of the elegant Winter Palace. On the full day tour ‘Royal Palaces and Parks of Peterhof’ they started with a guided tour of the Grand Palace, viewing the staterooms, dancing and audience halls together with a suite of rooms designed by Rastrelli. Afterwards, they descended to the Lower Gardens, featuring 150 fountains, four cascades, pavilions and palaces overlooking the Gulf of Finland. After lunch they travelled a short distance to the Park of Alexandria where they visited the Cottage Palace.
The afternoon tour ‘Peter and Paul’s Fortress and Canal cruise’ visited the oldest structure in St Petersburg, the Peter and Paul Fortress located on a small island in the Neva river delta. Cruising along the waterfront, passengers could see the formerly feared KGB building, the Baroque Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum. Also visible was the beautiful Cathedral of the Spilled Blood.
All aboard was set for 5.30pm and shortly afterwards we were on the way to our next port of call Tallinn, Estonia. This will be my last blog for a while as I will, in fact, be heading home from Tallinn to join my wife Kelly and our little boy Corey. For those who don’t know Kelly is expecting our second bundle of joy in just a week's time so the Office has very kindly arranged for me to be home in time, or so I hope! I’ll be handing over command of this fine vessel to Captain Kris Majdzinski and I’d like to wish Captain Kris and all the passengers and crew of the Saga Pearl II enjoyable sailing and smooth seas. Until next time.....