Saturday, 5 August 2017

Copenhagen and Stockholm

I’m dividing my blog entries into travelogue and writing; this is the description of the travel from leaving Kiel to touring Stockholm, with Copenhagen in between. Unfortunately wifi on the ship was sufficiently slow I couldn't upload photos in realtime, so this is several days late.

Saturday July 29 was Boarding Day for Writing Excuses Retreat 2017. There were enough of us that it took four trips of our one shuttle bus to get us all to the boarding building, where we had to give our baggage to porters, go through long lines for checking our passports and tickets, and for airport-style security.

Back at the hotel the retreat organizers had divided us into groups semi-randomly: counting off into from 1 to however many it took to get about 6 people per group; if I recall correctly there were 18 groups. Each group got on a bus together with a “treasure hunt” much like the ones Margaret made for the kids when they were little (and which the kids started making for each other). Each group got an envelope with the first clue for a puzzle, which led in a chain through several locations on the ship, where a pair of instructors would give us the next clue. Our group was “Norse Mythology”; the story was about stopping Nidhogg from destroying the roots of Yggdrasil. It was a fun way to meet a few fellow attendees and learn the layout of the ship. Unfortunately...
After the first couple of clues we decided we really needed to break for lunch – a huge buffet on Deck 14 – which took us to a little after 2pm, when our rooms became available. We separated to go to our rooms, leave our carry-on baggage, and meet back up at the next clue location. Unfortunately a couple of our group encountered delays and didn’t make it back before the rest of us decided we had to move on before the instructors had to leave their posts to prepare for the (supposed) 3pm muster. The first instructor agreed to send on our missing members to our next destination, but when we got there we were the last group for that pair of instructors, so they left for the aforementioned preparation. I stayed behind to wait for our group members, but eventually gave up and left; I never did complete the hunt, but heard a brief summary from the ones who did finish.
Somewhere late in the treasure hunt we heard that the 3pm muster was moved to 6pm. It never had made sense to have it at 3 because last boarding was a little before 6, and the muster is how people find out where to go in an emergency and how to use a life jacket. The information our organizers got from the cruise line turned out not to be consistent with reality, starting with our rooms and the all-important shipboard identification cards supposedly being available right when we boarded. I can’t blame Whodunit, the travel agency, because they’ve organized two very successful retreats with a different cruise line in 2015 and 2016.
Dinner took the same approach as on the 2015 cruise (and I presume also 2016). The cruise line assigns each passenger a table, but our organizers gave us each a little card saying which of those tables we were to switch to each night. Instructors stayed at their original table. This gave us a chance to meet more instructors and more writers. The food was good as long as you had the right expectations (high-class cafeteria food), and in more sensible portion sizes than the 2015 cruise.
Sunday was Copenhagen. A large group of us took a bus tour of parts of the city; others went on a different tour, some explored on their own, and some went on a special tour organized by one of our Danish colleagues. Our tour first stopped to see the little mermaid:

The lighting was from the right, behind her back, so I couldn’t get the angle I wanted, but I’m reasonably pleased with what I did get.

We then went to a fountain with a statue of a Norse goddess Gefjon who created the island of Zealand by plowing out Lake Malaren with four bulls.
We wound up at Christiansborg Palace, a set of government buildings, and took a tour of the Royal Receptions, still in use by the royal family (but not at the time we went through). Most of my indoor pictures didn’t turn out well, but I got this one of the former royal thrones, which are no longer used.
Monday was a sea day; Denmark is only about 15 kilometers from Sweden, but Stockholm is about 1/3 of the way from the southern coast to the north of the country.
Today was Stockholm, where once again some of us took one bus tour, some another, and yet others explored on their own or stayed on the ship. A few of the highlights, most of them in the Old City, the original part of Stockholm, built on an island.
The smallest statue in Stockholm.

A pair of mirrors (facing into the window) that let the inhabitants spy both ways on the street.
A statue of St. George slaying the dragon.
A church with ‘gargoyles’ in the form of dragons.
The Nobel Museum, which has displays about the prize-winners; unfortunately there wasn’t time to go through it. Above it is the Swedish Academy, which awards most of the prizes.
The next stop was Skansen, an outdoor museum meant by its founder Artur Hazelius to preserve knowledge of the old ways people lived before moving into the city and becoming urbanized. Once again most of my pictures didn’t turn out, but here is one of a sod-roofed house. All of the buildings were transported from their original locations; they aren’t modern replicas.
Finally we visited the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a large wooden warship, a huge monument to the ego of Gustavus Adolphus, one of the Swedish kings, who demanded a second row of cannon to make an even more impressive display. This made the whole thing too tall for its breadth, and it tipped over and sank after sailing less than a kilometre. One of my fellow writers said it was the equivalent of the Challenger disaster: the experts knew it was a bad idea, but the higher ups wouldn't listen. It was rediscovered and raised in the mid-20th century, and the museum was built around the drydock where they restored her.
Unfortunately back at Skansen the tour guide told a few people went off to look at reindeer saying they were close by, but neglecting to think that reindeer moved around. Naturally they couldn’t get back to the meeting point on time, and she started to leave them behind. Fortunately there are these things called cellphones, and one of us was able to call one of them and guide them back to the bus. We accumulated a few smaller delays that added up to getting back to the ship about twenty minutes late. Thus I walked in late on the Tuesday afternoon session, along with the others from my bus who went.
It’s evening as I write this, with dinner about 45 minutes away, and we’re on our way to Tallinn in Estonia.