The Romance of Northern Europe (14): Russia’s Glorious Hermitage

Hermitage EdifaceThe Hermitage in Saint Peterburg, Russia Hermitage Grand Entryway is one of the largest, oldest, and most magnificent museums in the world.Hermitage CandalabraThe Hermitage houses over three millions items Hermitage Jacob's Dream and includes the largest collection of paintings anywhere in the world. DSCN8924 This extraordinary palace was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 Hermitage Courtyard as her personal residence and private collection of treasures, Grand Hallway  but since 1852 it’s has been open to the public. Wiki. Attribution: A.Savin(Picture above from Wikipedia. Attribution: A. Savin.) The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment on the River HermitageNeva and include the Winter Palace, which was a former residence of Russian Hermitage Theatreemperors. It was our great privilege to enjoy a performance at their theater Golden PIllarsand tour this monumental complex during our Northern European cruise, Hermitage Splendor  and I wanted to share some of the Hermitage’s mind-boggling beauty with you.Hermitage Magnificent CeilingsI think one of the major differences between The Hermitage and other of the Hermitage Tapestryworld’s greatest art museums that I’ve visited—such as the Louvre in Paris, Hermitage Statue the British Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution, and Metropolitan Hermitage Malachite vaseMuseum in the U.S. and the Uffizi in Italy—all of these were built as museums. Hermitage HallThe Hermitage was built as a palace, and for this very reason, Hermitage Golden wall design even the intricate details of each wall are gold-encrusted displays of opulence. Golden PIllar CapitalsCatherine wasn’t showcasing world treasures, she was showcasing her home, Hermitage Door Handleand she wanted it to be unsurpassed for beauty apart from any furnishings.Hermitage Floor DetailAs in the Catherine Palace, every detail in each room is artistically crafted, Hermitage Parquet Flooringright down to the colors and designs in their elaborately parqueted floors. Hermitage Chandelier and CelingBut don’t look down for long. Looking up takes your breath away!Hermitage ChandelierThere are massive chandeliers in every room, Hermitage Ceiling 2and every ceiling is a masterpiece of art. Hermitage Window VaseThe windows are dressed with richly embroidered draperies, silk, Hermitage Draperies and velvet (note the marble window sills inlaid with gold-plated duct work)! Hermitage Window Vase Detailand a closer inspection of things only leaves one more and more enthralled! 🙂 Hermitage Sitting Room RoseFor instance, notice the balance and beauty in this rose sitting room. Hermitage Gold and Satin furniture detailsNow notice the gold and satin! Imagine reclining on one of these chairs! Hermitage FireplaceOh, and have I mentioned that each room has its own hand-crafted fireplace? Hermitage Harp by FireplaceCan you imagine sitting by a snug fire playing the harp in this room? Hermitage BedroomFrankly, it’s hard to imagine trying to sleep in a room this huge and grand…Hermitage Sitting Room Bluebut I could get used to eating at a silver table inlaid with mother of pearl. Hermitage Glowing ChandelierBesides being palatial, The Hermitage is one of the world’s greatest museums.Victor Hugo Hermitage There are rooms filled with “first editions” and original works by famous authors Chopin's Music. Hermitageand composers, ETC. Also, the Hermitage holds the world’s largest art collection, Hermitage Portrait Galleryincluding a phenomenal portrait gallery…Raphael Loggiasand my personal favorite: The Raphael Loggias, a long corridor filled with Angel Appearing to Mary. Hermitagepictures depicting the Biblical narrative from Genesis through Revelation. Abraham's Sacrifice. RembrandtThere are also entire rooms dedicated to the artwork of Rembrandt and other of Hermitage Ceilingthe world’s greatest artists. Even if you couldn’t read, I think by the time you’d Hermitage. Rembrandtfinished studying the pictures, you’d have some conception of God’s great love Alonso CANO. Crucifixionfor us through the life and sacrificial death of Christ, making a way for all of us to Hermitage. Satan cast out of Heavenbe reconciled to God through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Jesus.IMG_2014 Furthermore, God is preparing a home for his children in heaven that is far more Hermitage Sitting Room marvelous than we can even imagine—even more beautiful than the Hermitage! Storm tossed ship in stormIt is my prayer that everyone who reads this post will find refuge in God Hermitage. Leavingand that—before you exit this life, you will have peace in the assurance Hermitage Marble Pillars and Parquet Floorsthat God is preparing a special abiding place just perfect for you in heaven!

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

(Spoken by Jesus Christ in the Bible:  John 14:1-3)

The Romance of Northern Europe (13): The Magnificent Catherine Palace

Catherine PalaceSomeone asked me if I actually saw the Catherine Palace or just promised to Grand Stairwaywrite about it. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Condor Man (which is a ridiculous IMG_1825spoof on From Russia with Love…but our family all thought it was very funny),Catherine Palace front gate then I’d like you to know that, like Woody, I test out everything before writing Apple Blossoms about it in the comics (or this blog, whichever comes first).Spring at the Catherine PalaceYes, we really did go on a marvelous cruise of Northern Europe in the springtimeCatherine Palace Complex. Royal Russia. News and although this one picture (showing the magnitude of the palace complex) was taken by “Royal Russia,” all the rest of these pictures were taken by Alan and Kathi at Catherine Palace yours truly and my trusty husband of 41+ years,  Harpsichordwho has endured and enjoyed world travels and cultural experiences with me! Carriage at the Catherine Palace The Catherine Palace was originally commissioned by Catherine I in 1717 Eighteenth Century Palace Dress as the summer residence of the Russian tsars. Catherine the GreatThrough the years, it changed in style and grew in magnitude and opulence, Palace Guard but in January of 1944, the palace was totally destroyed by the German army Catherine the Great Portrait as they left after the bloody 872-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2.Rococo Decorations at Catherine Palace Today, much of the Catherine’s Palace has been restored to its former Rococo IMG_1821grandeur, but in order to raise funds for completing their renovations,Great Hall the Catherine Palace now rents out its dazzling “Great Hall” for special events, &Entertainment at Catherine Palace we enjoyed being beneficiaries of one of their magical evenings of entertainment!The gates of Catherine Palace Alan and I were part of a group who arrived at the front gates early enough to Music at Catherine Palacetour the palace before the concert, but even then we were welcomed with music!Spires of Catherine PalaceIt is said that more than 100 kilograms of gold have been used to guild the Front of Catherine Palaceglorious rooftop and intricate stucco facade of the Catherine Palace, Dining Room at Catherine Palacebut I think the complete value of this treasure house is beyond estimation.Gold GuildingFor example, the walls in every room are enhanced with gold-guilding, Beautiful Seteeand artfully adorned with exquisite furniture and statuary. Palace CurtainsStunning curtains line the windows.Parquet floor in Catherine PalaceThe floors are crafted with intricate parquet inlays; Ceiling Mural at Catherine Palace the ceilings are graced with ethereal scenes from the world’s great artists;Porcelain Fireplaceand each room has a gigantic, blue and white porcelain heat radiator. Portrait Hall. Catherine Palace The Portrait Hall covers 100 sq. meters and is filled with superb oil paintings. IMG_1771 In the Light Gallery (and on the evening we were there) over 696 lamps are lit Lights at Catherine Palacenear the mirrored walls and windows and hanging from the chandeliers, Hall of Mirrors giving the room a magnificent, golden glow. Lumiere. Be My Guest(Does this look like Lumière from Beauty and the Beast, or what??!) Royal Carriage Well, besides touring the palace and the Royal Carriage House, Chamber Music at the Great Hall we were treated to an evening of classical music Royal Dining Table and a royal reception (not really at this table) to try some of Russia’s famous Caviarchampagne (which I opted out of) and caviar (which was exotic but excellent). Catherine Palace GardensThe evening ended with a stroll through the perfectly manicured palace gardens IMG_1849while enjoying even more musical entertainment! Catherine Palace BandI couldn’t help but be impressed with all the music, and I believe it’s really true Russian Dancersthat Russians (and probably all of us) love beauty, music and dancing. Catherine Palace SpiresIt’s hard to even imagine the beauty and joy that awaits us in heaven!

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Romance of Northern Europe (12): St. Petersburg

IMG_2183St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city with a population of over 5 St. Isaac's Cathedralmillion. It is also Russia’s second largest and most western city. DSCN8953St. Petersburg was named for St. Peter, the Apostle of Christ, and  it’s filled withChurch of the Savior on Bloodfantastically ornate, colorful and unique churches and cathedrals. Peter and Paul Fortress The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site IMG_1326 and hosts one of the world’s largest and most impressive art museums,Neva River  The Hermitage (which I’ll write about in an upcoming post). DSCN8943 Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 at the intersection of the IMG_1715Neva River delta and the marshlands at the Eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in the IMG_2228Gulf of Finland. Tens of thousands of workers died building the intricate grid Trinity Bridgeof canals and (eventually) the 342 bridges that interconnect this beautiful city. IMG_2175St. Petersburg has earned such nicknames as “Venice of the North” Hydrofoil and  “The City of 101 Islands.” IMG_1914Personally, I would call her the Amsterdam of the North, IMG_1204since the canals are lined with colorful buildings IMG_2260 and alive with boats IMG_1522of every size and description. Western High Speed DiameterThere is the ultramodern “Western High Speed Diameter” for road vehicles, IMG_2215but I would say that—in St. Petersburg—ships rule! Unlike most cities, St. IMG_1401Petersburg has gone through a series of name changes that reflect the political IMG_2214upheaval of this great nation. During World War 1, Lenin changed the name to IMG_2223Petrograd, and after his death in 1924, the city was named Leningrad in his The Bronze Horseman (monument to Peter the Great)honor. It wasn’t until 67 years later when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that DSCN8937St. Petersburg was again called by her first (and—to me—best) name. IMG_2190Do you know what your name means? Mine means “pure battle maiden,”  IMG_1222and I’ve tried to live up to that name, but over the course of my life, IMG_1711—in troubled times—someone might have called me something less. 😦 IMG_1517None of us are always consistently what we aspire to be, nor is life as idyllic as we IMG_2282wish it to be, but it is our “name” and aspirations that make us truly unique.IMG_1375No matter what your name is, or if  you’ve changed it several times or failed to IMG_2208live up to it, there is a “name above all names.” We don’t have to die for our God; IMG_1722He died for us! All He asks is that we repent of our sins, believe in Christ and trust Him to save us. He will help us grow in our ability to love and be kind.IMG_1718It’s true we’ll never be as flawless as we’d like to be, but God loves us anyway! IMG_1903“Jesus, name above all names
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
Blessed Redeemer, Living word.”

~Naida Hearn

“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:13).

The Romance of Northern Europe (11): Peterhof Palace


IMG_1253There have been many palaces in Western Europe that have taken my breath IMG_1237away, but the stunning opulence of St. Petersburg’s Grand Palace at “Peterhof” IMG_1291caught both Alan and me by surprise. Peterhof has been called the “Versailles of IMG_6455Russia,” and I think it’s a well deserved title! The 30 great rooms of this baroque IMG_6457mansion are exquisitely decorated with lavish chandeliers, inlaid parquet floors,IMG_6452magnificent murals by masters, and decorative artwork embossed in gold. IMG_1321In fact, in 1717 Peter the Great resided at Versailles’ Grand Trianon, and many ofIMG_1244 the features of Peterhof (like this flooring) are almost exact replications. IMG_1247There are both upper and lower gardens at Peterhof and a brilliant system of IMG_1294water reservoirs and storage pools to provide for spectacular water fountains.IMG_1267If you have a chance to visit, be sure to take time to stroll through all the lovely IMG_1270formal gardens. (Yes, the fountains and gardens are also a bit Versailles-like!) IMG_1317Peterhof was built on a 200-foot bluff with sweeping views down IMG_1280to the Gulf of Finland along the  shore of the Baltic Sea, IMG_1275 and there are delightful pathways through the woods  leading to other retreats IMG_1281and royal residences along the shoreline. It’s definitely worth taking the time to IMG_1303 explore the grounds, and you never know whom you might meet along the way! IMG_1305Of course, if you can’t jaunt over to Russia just now and are wishing for a IMG_1307 beautiful stroll through some gardens filled with  spring flowers and tulips, IMG_1313you can always join me here (see below) in Holland (MI) for the Tulip Festival!Holland Tulip Festival copy

Have you ever thought about the way to try to imitate what we admire, no matter who we are? Not only do we try to imitate the gorgeous gardens of Holland here in Michigan, even someone as “great” as Peter the Great studied the palace of Louis XIV and incorporated many of the French king’s ideas when planning his own “yard and garden” show…which has lasted as a stunning spectacle for almost 300 years and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Way to go, Peter! I do admire your style! However, I have to confess, I admire the Apostle Peter even more (for whom the entire city of St. Petersburg was named)…who worshiped and imitated Jesus Christ. Although Jesus never built a monument, He has influenced more people than anyone else throughout history, and I study Him every day, trying to become like him…his grace, his love, and his goodness. Whom do you admire and imitate? I hope Someone GOOD!

                “Ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”           (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
 “There is none good but one, that is, God.” (Matthew 19:17)
(Credit for the three pictures from inside Peterhof goes to their official literature, since no one is allowed to film inside the palace.)


The Romance of Northern Europe (10): Exploring Tallinn, Estonia

IMG_1137Although Tallinn is the birthplace of Skype, one of the world’s top ten digital IMG_1060cities, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 5,000 years, has a population Tallin Old Town Wikiof 430,000,* and is the capital and largest city in Estonia, I had virtually never IMG_1044heard of it until we went on our Northern European Cruise last spring. We came IMG_1155into the city via the Tallinn Passenger Port, which is one of the busiest cruise Toompea Castledestinations in the Baltic Sea. We docked very close to Toompea Castle, part of Shipthe fortification system for “Old Town,” the ancient city center, IMG_1089and commenced with a delightful walking tour of the city. St. Olaf's ChurchSt. Olaf’s church (far right) was the tallest building in the world IMG_0907 from 1549 to 1625 and is still an impressive landmark today, IMG_0921although there are many beautiful churches! (Lutheran, St. Mary’s Cathedral)Alexander Nevsky Cathedral(Russian Orthodox, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) IMG_0936(St. Nicolas Church, was dedicated to the patron of fishermen and sailors in 1275, but today it’s a concert hall and houses a museum of ecclesiastical art.) St. Catherines PassageIn many ways, Tallinn has never lost its Medieval look and charm, IMG_1099 although now everything has a touch of modern class added! IMG_0929Ancient walls are adorned with modern art for sale, IMG_0941and the town center is flanked with inviting open air cafes,IMG_0961some with snuggly sheep skins adorning the chairs. Talk about warm and plush!IMG_1093We visited in May—a great time to travel!—and there were flowers blooming IMG_1018everywhere. IMG_1141The markets were also bursting with colorful bouquets for sale. Town Hall Square Raekoja platsThe Town Hall Square (aka “Raekoja plats”) is home to “Raeapteek,” founded Raeapteek Pharmacy  in 1422 and one of the world’s oldest continuously operating pharmacies! IMG_0951Of course, not all the attractions on the square are quite so ancient. 🙂 IMG_0985After a long morning of trekking all over Old Town IMG_0959 learning about Tallinn’s heritage IMG_0960and taking in the sites, IMG_0966 we were treated to a traditional tea IMG_0967 featuring both savory and sweet, stuffed croissants IMG_0969 in a historic restaurant. (This fresco was painted on the ladies’ bathroom door!)IMG_0963I mean, this was a seriously, authentically ancient building! IMG_0989After a chance to rest and relax, IMG_1016we made our way past some lovely lassies in traditional garb Fat Margaret Towerto the “Fat Margaret” Tower and city gate, IMG_1071 which now houses a fascinating little “Estonian Maritime Museum.”IMG_0906There’s also an excellent open air museum in Tallinn, which we didn’t see, IMG_0890because we just didn’t have time to see it all, hear it, taste it, or experience it all.IMG_0938But, I think that’s just the way it is! My dad used to always paraphrase Huckleberry Finn: “You pays your nickel, and you takes your choice.” IMG_1154No matter how hard we try, we’re only going to experience bits and pieces of life. IMG_0925We’ll notice certain things, but we may never really understand them. Ship LightWe’ll figure out some things…but there will be all sorts of things we miss. IMG_1162      That’s why I’ve chosen to put my trust in God, who alone is omniscient! On this wonderful “cruise” called life, we’ll never get it all figured out, but God knows and understands everything, and He can lead us into the ways of peace.1 Cor 13 We See Through a Glass Darkly“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

(*The above aerial view of Tallinn was taken from Wiki Commons)

The Romance of Northern Europe (9): Berlin: Bustling and Hopeful

IMG_0496Berlin, Germany,  built along the Spree River, IMG_0652 is the largest city in continental Europe, IMG_0424 and second only to London in the European Union. IMG_0482 During World War II, it was the third most populous city in the entire world, IMG_0359 and still today, its metro area hosts nearly 4.5 million people IMG_0353from 180 nations around the world. Checkpoint Charlie Before Alan and I visited last spring, Checkpoint CharlieI envisioned Berlin as a city still in recovery IMG_0372  from the massive destruction of World War II, IMG_0414 but I was truly delighted with what I saw.IMG_0452 It looks to me like Berlin has overcome Memorial to Murdered Jews —but not forgotten, and I hope will never forget—her past. IMG_0423  I believe Berlin is passionately pursuing the present O2 Worldand working toward a hopeful future. Museum Island The city is full of beautifully restored historic landmarks, IMG_0468 like the Brandenburg Gate IMG_0677 and the Berlin Cathedral (Dom), IMG_0402but the downtown area is filled with dazzling, new architecture, Spree River Downtownand everywhere you look, Berlin is still very much under construction. Banhof Posdamer PlatzIf you ever want to visit Berlin, know that it houses Europe’s largest grade- Train Stationseparated train station, the Hauptbahnhof, which has free internet, luggage Inside Train Stationlockers, some 80 shops, and provides excellent service to around 300,000 IMG_0412passengers every day! Also, if you’re downtown and looking for a good lunch IMG_0305 spot, I can definitely recommend Reinhard’s in the Kempinski Hotel! IMG_0388 Although many things have changed about Germany since World War II, IMG_0389some things haven’t changed…like their scrumptious traditional dishes IMG_0390and their world-famous apple strudel. (Altho, Jon’s Gerlinde makes the best!)IMG_0308Well, there’s no end to the fun things I could share about Berlin, but I want to IMG_0466leave you with a thought shared with us by our charming tour guide. IMG_0511The tallest building in Berlin is the TV tower, the Fernsehturm, which dominatesIMG_0521 the skyline. (Photo bombs in fact…look back at the museum & cathedral pix.) IMG_0621Our tour guide called this “the Christian’s Revenge,” because no matter where Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm)you are, the sunshine reflects so that you see a cross shining over Berlin, Crosses in Windowsrather like the crosses you can see in this hospital window, reminding us that Berliner Domthrough Christ there is forgiveness, healing, and hope for all nations and people.

“And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

The Romance of Northern Europe (7): Aarhus—Come See with Me!

IMG_0150Okay, I’m going to make a few embarrassing confessions: 1. I’m a baby boomer Aarhaus:Emerald Princess 5.14.13 copy 2. Alan and I are now “senior citizens,” and he usually wants to take the guided tours rather than zipping around on our own where we don’t know the language and haven’t much clue about where we’re really supposed to be going IMG_0242 3. Even though I was a history major in college, I’ve really never studied “Aarhus” in my entire life. Have you? Aerial view wikiAarhus is Denmark’s second largest city, but it’s actually the largest port. IMG_5424It’s roughly the geographic center of the country: on the east coast, midway north on the Jutland Peninsula (in red). IMG_0099In addition to its commercial importance to Denmark, IMG_0114Aarhus is a lively cultural center, and hosts “Aarhus Festuge,” IMG_0155Scandinavia’s largest themed festival, at the end of each summer. IMG_0159 However, we came when spring was just bursting into bloom, IMG_0154and that’s a perfectly wonderful time to visit too! 🙂 IMG_0105Our tour guide took us first to visit Aarhus Cathedral, which is so large thatDSCN8894  I couldn’t get a good picture with my camera of the real thing! IMG_0119It’s  the tallest church in Denmark (96 meters high) IMG_0104as well as the longest (93 meters) and seats 1,200 people.IMG_0108 It was built between 1190-1300 but renovated with Gothic vaulting in the 1500’s. DSCN8888We were able to spend some time appreciating this majestic place of worship, DSCN8884& the tour was perfectly timed so we could also enjoy a magnificent organ recital! IMG_0116After a guided bus tour of the city generally, we stopped briefly at the  IMG_0146 ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, which is brand new, one of the largest museums IMG_0151 in Northern Europe, and still planning finishing touches. IMG_0149 It has a circular “your rainbow  panorama” at the topIMG_0144 from which people can view the city through rainbow-colored glasses. IMG_0142If you come to Aarhus, the ARoS is definitely worth a visit! IMG_0166However, my favorite stop was our last: to “Den Gamle By,” IMG_0179which takes you back in time from the 21st century to the 16th century. IMG_0173If you’ve ever enjoyed a visit to Greenfield Village in Michigan, IMG_0174you’d probably love the Den Gamle By outdoor museum! IMG_0182It premiered in 1914 and is the oldest outdoor museum as such in the world. Water Mill 5.14.13 copySeventy-five historic structures were collected from all over Denmark Aarhus 5.14.13 copyand transported to this site. IMG_0171Most of the buildings are from the 15-18th centuries, IMG_0175and they’ve been arranged into street scenes to give you the feel for life Windmill 3 5.14.13  copyduring the different time periods. IMG_0177Also like Greenfield Village, Aarhaus Garden 5.14.13 copyit is a living, active community  IMG_0228where friendly souls in period dress carry on with life IMG_0172just as they would have 300-500 years ago! IMG_0190Luckily for us, IMG_0191pastries have apparently been around for many centuries. IMG_0193“And as ’twas a June day, and just about noon day” (well, maybe May afternoon), Bakery 5.14.13  copy 2“they wanted to eat—IMG_0195like the best of us!” IMG_0197 (What? You’ve never heard “The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet” ??) IMG_0199No hideous spiders, but we sat near the city well and sure enjoyed our pastries! IMG_0198All told, our day in Aarhus was just splendid from beginning to end. IMG_0209Many things were delightfully unique, 5.14.13 copyand many things were comfortingly familiar. Aarhaus 5.14.13  copyTravel is like that! It expands our horizons and helps us grow…makes the world seem smaller because of how much we humans share in common, and then it makes the world seem bigger because of how different we are too, and how much more there is to learn! 🙂

Have you ever considered taking a trip to heaven? You may have never even heard of it, the way I’d not heard of Aarhus, but it’s a real place, even though neither of us has ever been there yet.  Did you know that “heaven” is mentioned 550 times in the Bible? Jesus tells us that “no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). That same person (Jesus) tells us that he can take us to heaven when we die if we repent of our sins and trust Him to take us there, surrendering our lives to him as our Lord and Savior. Are you interested? Are you on your way? I am, and it’s been the trip of a lifetime…even more exciting than the best ports of Northern Europe! I hope to meet you…either on the way down here…or  up there someday! Blessings—

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 11:25).

(Aerial view of Aarhus, Denmark from Wiki Commons)

The Romance of Northern Europe (6): Cruising Fjords in the Baltic Sea

IMG_0016One of my favorite joys in cruising is just that: cruising! IMG_0043Cruising through the fjords along the coast of Norway was especially enchanting. IMG_0020We weren’t in rugged mountain areas like we’ve seen in New Zealand and AlaskaIMG_0025 but lollygagged through gentler fjords IMG_0048filled with islands IMG_0023and dotted with homes. IMG_0035On this particular cruise of Northern Europe, we only had two days “At Sea” IMG_0062where we traveled throughout the day without ever reaching a port. IMG_0024On those days, we were filled with fresh sea breezes from the rising of the sun IMG_0086unto the going down of the same…until the sun set in lilac and golden splendor.IMG_0030Alan and I spent a lot of time walking & soaking up the views during days at sea.IMG_0058Our captain gave great commentary and would tell people just where to look IMG_0074and what they might be seeing that would be of special interest. IMG_0029I probably should have kept a journal with notes IMG_0036so I could give you more details on what we saw. IMG_0045But, alas, my eyes were so full of wonder IMG_0034at IMG_0084all IMG_0089theIMG_0096fascinating townsIMG_0052and remote, romantic islands, IMG_0041that I failed to retain much specific information to share, IMG_0066although I hope you’re able to enjoy my “Impressions of Norway.” IMG_0057I will say that cruising through the Baltic Sea— IMG_0068especially through the fjords of Norway—was an experience I’ll always treasure. IMG_0038It’s an adventure I would happily repeat. But, if I ever get to go again, I’d like to sail up the northern coast of Norway to some of the more wild, remote fjords. IMG_0093“From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same the LORD’s name is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3).

The Romance of Northern Europe (4): Gourmet Cuisine

DSCN8835So, the most frequently asked question I get about cruises is: “How’s the food?” DSCN9071I’m going to discuss cruise food, but all the pictures are from our last trip to Pie, chocolate peanut butterNorthern Europe with the Emerald Princess so you can see what you think!Berlin Apple Strudel The dishes are as good as they look. (This was from an excursion into Berlin.) Appetizer, scallops, etcAlso, you can order milder, more simple food than you see in the pictures, IMG_3294such as this classic Fettuccini Alfredo in a parmesan basket that was amazing! IMG_2792Alan gets tired of gourmet and orders hamburgers or hotdogs sometimes.MenuIf you don’t like what’s on the menu, they always have a list of standbys you can Strip Steakorder, such as sirloin steak or salmon (at least, on the Princess Cruise Line), and there are always vast buffets with oodles of choices. Alan and I have been on so DSCN9074many cruises, and on so many different cruise lines, that we’ve occasionally Russian Broschetasted food we didn’t relish and have definitely developed preferences. We are not connoisseurs of octopus, and although people flocked back to the buffet line Berlin Veggieswhen a fresh octopus emerged from the kitchens of Costa, we would rate their cuisine at the bottom of the list for our personal taste. Their dinner “steaks” were IMG_0013about as thin as breakfast steaks in America, and it might be simply a cultural difference, but the food was not “up to par” by our standards. Our first cruise Cake, Black Forest Tortewas to the Hawaiian Islands for our 20th anniversary, and I remember the luxurious feeling of being able to order anything off the menu without worrying IMG_3282about the price—a totally new experience for me. It reminded me a little of being  in the hospital after having a baby, where I could happily order orange juice,Tallin Tea Break Scones milk, AND tea for breakfast, along with whatever else I wanted on their menu.IMG_3280 As we were always on the raw edge of feeling poverty-stricken in those days, so Alan is pleased! this was a great luxury to me. Of course, hospital food is not to be compared with IMG_2795cruise food, which is in a totally different league, and second only (perhaps) to Baked Alaskaextraordinary local specialties (such as salmon in Alaska or Clyde’s in the U.P.)IMG_3289 Still, Alan and I often order three desserts between the two of us,Lobster copy and nobody bats an eye. And, we’ve both had more than one lobster for dinner, DSCN9070although in recent times we’ve had to use much more discretion about what we Mahi Mahi eat so that we don’t gain too much weight!! (However, with such a busy Cook's Paradeschedule of 12+ hour days sight-seeing this time, we actually didn’t gain any IMG_0012weight, which was happily shocking to both of us! 🙂 ) I think both Alan and I IMG_3283agree that so far our 3-continent transatlantic cruise with Celebrity is our IMG_2796#1 favorite as far as all-around excellence, although Celebrity is generally more IMG_3296 pricey. I am a “great deal” shopper, and to date, the majority of the “great deals” IMG_3288that I’ve tracked and purchased have been with the Princess Line. I usually buy IMG_2798 one of the least expensive cabins (inside), and I wait for remarkable deals, such as our Tahiti 10-day cruise that I snagged for $399 per person (20 years ago).Russia caviar Alan used to worry that cruises were “too expensive,” so I encouraged him to plan a trip and compare costs. He planned a one-week trip to Florida: We flew Seafood Medleydown, rented a car, stayed at a beach front hotel, and ate out. The tab for that trip was more than I’d been paying for our two-week cruises. So, cruising is DSCN8838extremely luxurious, but if you’re a bargain shopper, it can actually be a great way to get to exotic places that you might never otherwise afford. And, I figure Shrimpthe food alone would more than cover the price of the cruise—if you actually bought and paid for at a restaurant what you would eat on a ship  (which I would Lamb shanknever do because it would be too expensive). So, over all, Alan and I were delighted with the food on the Emerald Princess. In fact, I think cruise food is Baked Alaska copygenerally excellent and cruising is a great way to travel, especially if you want to experience a lot of different places and cultures in a short time. DSCN9069I don’t know about you, but I love to cook and I love to eat! I often use my cruise experience to help dream up new recipes to try and expand our home menu. In the Bible, we learn that human beings need spiritual food as well as food for their bodies (Matthew 4:4). God is the “Master Chef” of all chefs and offers to feed us if we’ll come to him! I hope that you—like me— are daily feasting at the Lord’s table, learning new spiritual lessons to try and being nourished by His Word. 🙂

“I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).DSCN9068

The Romance of Northern Europe (3): Cruising with the Emerald Princess

IMG_1155I’ve met a few very rich people who disparage cruise ships as “cattle haulers,” butIMG_1157for my Scottish dollar, I think cruising is an incredibly good deal  and pretty IMG_0810much like Disney World afloat…but with even more to offer for less. IMG_2289Let me illustrate this by discussing our voyage around the Baltic Sea last May. IMG_2297We entered the terminal in Copenhagen & sailed aboard the Emerald Princess,IMG_2292 a 5-star ship christened in 2007 that’s nearly 1,000 ft. long and hosts 3,080 IMG_2294passengers served by 1,200 staff from around the world—which translates into a Our Waiters whole lot of personal attention per person and an opportunity to meet people IMG_3303from many lands & cultures—even better than a trip around World Showcase! IMG_2299The Emerald Princess has 4 pools and 7 whirlpool spas, sunning decks, a library,IMG_2300shops, a jogging track and exercise gym, organized sports and games, classes,  IMG_2298various types of games, over a dozen restaurants…& mostly all complimentary. MoviesIn the evenings you can watch movies under the stars or take in one of their Entertainment live shows. One evening we heard an amazingly gifted violinist, although we IMG_3278usually opted out of the organized entertainment, preferring quiet time together.IMG_0031You can stroll around the decks enjoying the breath-taking scenery… morning IMG_0248noon, IMG_0005or evening, Fjordsand the views are ever changing and always stunning…even better than Disney! IMG_3277Well, at least most days. One day looked like this! 🙂 But remember,IMG_2794 the ship isn’t just for entertainment, it’s also for spending quality time together.IMG_2303For me, it’s like staying at an all-inclusive world class resort that also provides IMG_2326 transportation from fascinating port to port across the seas while you sleep! IMG_0069Once you’re on the ship, you never have to unpack your bags again, IMG_1171and “they” do all the driving, so all “we” have to do is enjoy the view! IMG_2301Or, if you’re in a mood for something even more relaxing, IMG_0805you can generally find some beautiful live music playing somewhere, IMG_0042although there are also many quiet lounges where you can read or talk quietly. IMG_3218There are art galleries with dazzling paintings by renowned artists, IMG_3273and art auctions where you can bid on famous reproductions as well. IMG_2796And, the food is OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD. (Yes, this was my dessert one night!) IMG_2793There are fabulous buffets (if you like) for each meal where you can choose your Breakfastown food and sit wherever you want…most always with a gorgeous view. IMG_0010You can also dress up and go out to “your table” every night if you wish, whichIMG_3285we always did, because we the loved the gourmet cuisine & romantic ambiance. SnacksFor the hungry-hearted or those who may have missed a meal, there is food Pastriesavailable I think pretty much 24/7…again, free and really appealing! DSCN8836In fact, the food was so remarkable that I might write a separate post about it tomorrow, because that’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get:    How was the food? IMG_7408The food was great! In fact, our entire trip was just incredible! DSCN8834The only thing nobody relishes is the mandatory rehearsal at your muster station so you’ll be prepared in case of emergency. Everybody has to show up with their life jacket and know just where to go and what to do in the event of disaster. IMG_0030

Having experienced the Emerald Princess, I can definitely commend her to you if you’re considering taking a cruise. May I also ask you, have you considered taking a journey that will lead to heaven? Having committed my life to Jesus as the Captain of my soul, I can unequivocally commend him to you as a pilot whose ship will never require an emergency evacuation. It will not sink, because Christ has risen from the dead as the “first fruits,” proving that those who believe in him will also be resurrected “in the last day.” It is also a ship loaded with spiritual abundance that makes the cargo of the Emerald Princess look paltry… spiritual blessings like love, joy, peace, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Jesus provides everything for our journey, so all we need to do is climb aboard. And, the final destination is heaven through a mysterious expanse of universe that we can’t navigate on our own. Are you ready? Are you willing? Are you aboard? If you’ve got any questions, please ask. Or, read the Bible, where answers can be found!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there you may be also…I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:2,3,6).