THE BALTIC SEA – June 2010

There’ll Be Grey Clouds Over the White Cliffs of Dover…

Storms were gathering over the White Cliffs of Dover as we boarded HAL Eurodam with not one single blue bird in sight. Just as it had rained during my one and only trip to Southern California, the nostalgic images cast by popular songs of yesteryear proved quite misleading.

Notwithstanding the brooding, dark clouds and the spiteful, chill wind, we ventured onto the veranda of our stateroom to see the famed White Cliffs as they stood silently over the ocean. They must be beautiful on a sunny afternoon. However, they looked rather menacing on this dismal day.

And so we set off to sea again. The open ocean was remarkably calm for such a wretched day. In spite of the weather, Huckleberry B and I looked forward to our 11-day voyage around the Baltic Sea with visits to Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden ahead of us.

A Chocolate Quest in Copenhagen

Once upon a time, just a couple of days ago, Huckleberry B and Moonriver visited the township of Copenhagen.

Did we not just leave this fair land?” Moonriver asked his beloved as he cast his eye about.

Indeed we did”, replied Huckleberry B. “And now that we have returned we must find that which we forgot when last we ventured here.”

Through the fog which lay between his ears, Moonriver tried to comprehend that of which his Huckleberry spoke. Try as he might, he found himself unable to solve the riddle she had posed. Finally, he resolved to ask her to explain her meaning.

This land is famed for many a thing”, B said with a smile. “Amongst them include skiers, pastry and a Tasmanian princess. Also included is one of the things you love the most!

Chocolate?” Moonriver asked with hope within his greedy heart.

Your favourite!” Huckleberry B made his spirit soar.

And so they set out upon their quest; to find a chocolate merchant within Copenhagen’s cobbled streets. But nowhere was such a vendor to be found. They searched first here and then they searched there. They hunted the north and then the south. They searched both hither and yon. But nowhere was a chocolate artisan to be found.

They even caught a bus to assist in their search. Though all the historic buildings of Copenhagen flashed by, nowhere – but nowhere – was a chocolate store to be seen.

Finally, Huckleberry B and Moonriver found themselves by the water; at the place where the Little Mermaid enjoyed basking in the sun. Perhaps she could tell them how to complete their mythic quest. Yet the Little Mermaid was nowhere to be found.

She’s visiting a far away land in the East”, Moorvier read from an adjacent sign. “A place called Shanghai! She’s gone to see the World Expo!

But her sister remains in this town”, Huck B added, “Let us find her and hear what wise words might spill from her lips.”

And so the pair raced to the Tivoli Gardens, in search of the Little Mermaid’s sister. Past the tulips and beyond the daisies, they cast their eyes about. And behind the pirate ship, across the lake, they saw the Little Mermaid’s sister resting upon a rock.

She’s an original copy of her sister”, Moonriver read from the notice board.

How can a copy be original?” Huckleberry B mused.

And so they asked the resting mermaid where Danish chocolate might be found. But the Little Mermaid’s sister remained silent and spoke not a single word. Try as they might, neither Huckleberry nor Moonriver could persuade her to reveal her secrets.

Despondent and despairing, the couple set off again down the cobbled streets of Copenhagen. Finally, they came across a narrow alleyway with shops on each side. Looking down the avenue, it seemed to extend forever and ever.

One foot ahead of the other, Huckleberry and Moonriver trudged along as they continued their quest. Past every manner of shop they walked. Pastry, frankfurters, cow hide, wrist watches and ice cream they passed.

Then, in the distance, they espied a simple sign: “CHOKOLAT”.

They stopped in their tracks. Were their eyes playing a whimsical trick on them? Could they trust what they were seeing?

Slowly they moved forward, fearing always that the mirage may vanish before their weary eyes. One step, two steps, three steps and four they plodded, closer and closer to the oasis.

Finally, Huckleberry and Moonriver stepped across the threshold and found themselves within the store. All around them cascaded fountains of chocolate. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and gold. Never before had their eyes gorged upon such a feast.

Do I still breath,” mused Moonriver, “or have I entered the Kingdom of Heaven?

Huckleberry simply smiled as she exchanged gold coins for a bountiful supply of chocolate treasure.

And so, Huckleberry B and Moonriver returned to their ship, their bags laden with chocolate of all varieties. On their balcony, they munched away as they watched Copenhagen disappear over the horizon; the land of Hans Christian Andersen.

Estonia: A Tale of Gingerbread Houses and Vegemite

With deep apologies to Hans Christian Andersen for my account of our day in Copenhagen, I now proceed to our morning in Tallinn, Estonia.

One of the (many) benefits of cruising is that your ship takes you – from time to time – to a destination you would probably never consider visiting. Estonia is one such place. Huck B and I agree that this small nation on the Baltic, of which we know very little, would not make it onto a list of places we felt a keen desire to visit.

Yet the town of Tallinn is a little gem, which we would recommend to anybody travelling to the region.

Unfortunately, however, not everything went to plan.

Huck B had engaged the services of a local guide to show us around the medieval town. Given her knowledge that he was a homesick Australian, she even brought a large jar of Vegemite to present to him. Regrettably, even the lure of Australia’s favourite breakfast spread was insufficient to motivate our Australian friend to read his email conversation with sufficient care to note that Eurodam was docking at 11am. Had he done so, I suspect he would not have arranged for his colleague to meet us an hour earlier, at 10am.

As it was, we negotiated the maze of narrow cobbled streets in Tallinn’s old town and eventually found our meeting point at half past eleven. By that stage, our guide had long since departed, having evidently decided we were not going to show up. We plonked ourselves down on some steps, took a sip of water from the bottles we were carrying and waited for a short time in the vain hope that our guide would totter along and, perchance, explain to us what it was we were looking at. However, it was not to be…

Being the kind-hearted and thoughtful person she always has been, Huckleberry B decided to leave the jar of Vegemite with the bar staff of a pub adjacent to our flawed meeting place. A subsequent email exchange has confirmed that our errant Australian guide has collected his gift and is now a happy little Vegemite… as happy as can be. We trust it has brought a rose to his cheeks.

And so we set out on our self-guided tour of Tallinn’s old town. Our journey was akin to walking through an enchanted town from a fairy tale, complete with gingerbread houses with pitched roofs and pastel coloured walls. We enjoyed our tour, but soon found ourselves plodding back towards our vessel.

Moonriver

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