It all began about a year ago around this time. My music of choice is Smooth Jazz. Over the last so many years, I would receive emails about Dave Koz (a saxophone player) cruises. But, every time I would click on the link to find out more about it, it would be sold out. For the next year!
So, I happened to get one of those emails while Jim was sitting there playing on his iPad. Once again — sold out! I mentioned to Jim that every time I got notice of one of these cruises it would be too late. And that it was so frustrating.
Fast forward a few months to my birthday. As I sat there opening my gifts, I was knocked back on my butt by my gift from Jim. We were going to go on the Dave Koz Smooth Jazz Baltic cruise. Are you kidding me? It was sold out. How did you get this booked? It turned out after my comment, he called the agency coordinating things and they had a cancellation and there was one cabin available. SOLD!
So in early May, we flew off to Copenhagen to begin our cruise. Having never sailed on one before, we didn’t know what to expect and hoped we’d get our money’s worth. I’m not much of a fan of cruises, but this one was in a class by itself as far as I was concerned.
Once again, I can’t be effusive enough about transportation systems in Europe. After retrieving our luggage, we made our way to the machines to buy our 3 day city passes. We hopped on the bus that would take us to our hotel and wow! … the bus stop was right across the street from our hotel. Talk about convenient! We arrived three days early to allow for some sightseeing and we were sure glad we did. We loved Copenhagen. Well, not the prices so much. I’ve since learned that Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. For about $32 each, we had unlimited use of the buses, trains and metro for 3 days which we decided was a real bargain.
Waiting to check into the hotel, we struck up a conversation with a couple who were going on the cruise too … their 6th. We could tell this because they had the Dave Koz luggage tags. And a mountain of luggage. The cruise had several themes going each day … all white night, 50’s night, prom night. We like to travel light and chose not to add the additional clothes to our luggage, not to mention additional bags. These new friends assured us we would love it even more than we expected. We took their word for it.
Off we went to explore. Can you believe bike paths along the streets that were wide enough for a compact car? Lots of bike riders. And church steeples … lots of them and very artistic. And old. Very old. And water. Everywhere. And great beer! The one I especially liked was (Something)Master Blonde. I haven’t been able to find it listed anywhere on the Internet.
Tivoli Gardens and people out enjoying a nice sunny day. Jim got flashed by a girl pulling her straps back up. And there was a young girl who was topless, but she kept her arms crossed over her chest. I suspect she wasn’t quite ready for this adventure.
And yes, the trampolines were built into the sidewalk along another canal. Cool! Notice the bike in the background with its basket. Sometimes children would be in it and sometimes an adult!
Some of those steeples I mentioned.
Our favorite neighborhood, Nyhaven, where we had an enjoyable lunch while people watching. We especially enjoyed the group of guys who imbibed a little too much and were having a great time.
Finally, cruise day arrived. Excited! We had to wait to check-in until all the musicians were checked in … wow! There were sure a lot of them. Hmmm … this should be good. As we boarded we all got a baseball cap.
At sailing, we all gathered pool-side for free champagne or whatever elsethey were passing out. We took them all. While we were imbibing, all the musicians were introduced, like we weren’t already fans and didn’t know most of them on sight.
In our room, we found a memory book with bios of the musicians, pages for autographs and vinyl pages for photos. A line up of all our choices of venues and musicians were all listed in bold black so as to make it easy to decide who we wanted to see. Sometimes we have a hard time deciding as we needed to be in two places at once.
Our first port of call was Stockholm, Sweden. We liked it, but not as much as Copenhagen. We did manage to happen upon the changing of the guard as we were walking down the street. And we found a cute street to shop and people watch, not to mention catch a beer.
Back to the ship for more entertainment and on to our next port, Tallinn, Estonia. I had read that Tallinn was a favorite city of a lot of people and it didn’t disappoint. I loved it.
I would go back there in a minute. It took us awhile to get our bearings once we got off the Hop-on/Hop-off bus. We didn’t know which stop we got off and ended up walking through a huge park, but finally managed to find our way into the Old Town section. While we were there, we kept hearing music and wondered where the bar was. Rounding a corner, there the music was! Saxophonist, Vincent Ingala and percussionist, Arthur Thompson were riding in a pedicab playing as they rode through town.
We probably shouldn’t have had that one last beer because we just made it back to the ship in time. Luckily there was a group of women who were even later than us — well, truth be told — we walked faster down the wharf. Whew! Are you getting the idea that there was an abundance of beer drinking going on with us? How else to people watch?
More musical entertainment on the ship while we sailed on to St. Petersburg, Russia. If you went on an excursion with a group, you didn’t need a visa. And without a visa, you couldn’t wander around by yourself. Since the issues between the U.S. and Russia, what with expelled diplomats and such, and with Russia closing the U.S. Embassy in St. Petersburg, you definitely didn’t want to chance getting separated from your tour group! I kept a watchful eye on Jim as he has a history with getting lost.
While there would be a lot of historical stuff to see, I think we all found our guide to be interesting. We woman were most interested in how she managed to walk in those shoes all day. I know my feet hurt in my sneakers by the end of the day. I think the men just liked looking at her.
We signed up for an excursion that lasted 10 hours. We were most interested in seeing Catherine’s Palace and the Amber Room. The place was huge!
It seems when Peter the Great married Catherine, he constructed a more modest palace for her. He had been married before, but when he saw Catherine, he thought she was the most beautiful woman. Based on her portrait, I didn’t share that view. So, he put his first wife in a convent, (convenient) so he could marry Catherine. Ladies, if you husband ever develops an interest in convents — get out of Dodge. Quickly. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was the one who enlarged it to this size. You can never have too many rooms, I say.
Elizabeth used 100 kg (about 220 pounds) of gold on the exterior. Real gold, folks! Boy those were the days. The inside was no less extravagant. The Amber Room was so impressive. I thought amber was a gem or mineral, but it is actually fossilized tree resin formed over a long time. Who knew? Well, my friend, Paul, probably knew. We weren’t able to take photos in this room, so I had to use one from online on the St. Petersburg tourist website. I couldn’t find any way to give credit for this photo, so I hope I don’t get arrested and put in a gulag.
Another interesting place we stopped to see, but couldn’t get very close to, was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It was built to memorialize Alexander II following his assassination in 1881. While riding out in public, a bomb was thrown at his carriage, but didn’t kill him. With the carriage in ruins, the rebels took that opportunity to place another bomb under the carriage, which then killed Alexander. This church was very colorful. The Germans, while bombing St. Petersburg, did not have luck bombing this church since the domes had all been painted black. But, by some luck, an undetonated bomb did fall on one of the domes which was not discovered until renovation began on the structure. Imagine the worker’s surprise when they looked up and saw a live unexploded bomb above their heads. Run! Luckily, it was diffused successfully.
Our last stop was Peter and Paul Cathedral where the tsars and their families are buried. The altar was beautiful. And big.W
We dragged ourselves back on the ship, ready to sit and be entertained with the best music. And we were! Those musicians who weren’t playing were usually in the audience enjoying. Usually, they couldn’t handle just observing and would borrow an extra instrument and join whoever was on stage. What fun!
Next stop, Helsinki, Finland. I didn’t take any pictures there. We were only in port for 5 hours. We took the shuttle into town, but found we were there too early for shops, etc to be open. We needed to be back on ship at 1:00 p.m. and since we were in the downtown area, it was like any other downtown in the world. 😦
As we left port, we knew the next day would be an at sea day and our last day before departing in Copenhagen. And what an at sea day it was! One of my favorite guitarists, Peter White, had his own pub named for him on this ship. Not in real life, but for this cruise. It was a little small and always filled to capacity if it seemed he might be playing unscheduled. I did manage to worm my way in on this Helsinki night as I was determined I would not leave this ship without seeing him.
Our last night, for the big concert, whoa — Peter White! What an ending! So many other musicians joined him on stage and they were enjoying themselves so much that it made us feel a part of it all.
Left to right: Vincent Ingala, Jay Gore, Peter White and Dwayne Smith
That week I fell in love with Vincent Ingala, Jonathan Fritzen, the Peet Project aka The Bad Boys of Budapest, and Jay Gore. Jim fell in love with Mindi Abair. When she played Summertime, she won him over — big time.
The Dave Koz Smooth Jazz Cruise for 2019 will sail around Australia. Jim and I decided we were not interested in going to Australia for that one. But, once home and realizing how much fun we had, I put us on the waitlist. Both weeks had sold out while on the ship. We’ve done so many cruises and they have all been the same. Silly games to occupy the time. Or cooking demos. Ship entertainment is usually crew members … and only at night. This one was truly special. Music went on all day. These were the real deal. The Grammy award winners. Keeping my fingers crossed we get to go to Australia. And hopefully managing to save for it so I don’t end up in debtor’s prison.