DSCN0683Wanting a bit of a relax after the whirlwind of the last night months, we chose a transatlantic cruise for our honeymoon on the Queen Mary 2. I’d always been curious what it would be like to cross the Atlantic by ship, but unsurprisingly several months on a small wooden ship with hard tack à la 1690 did not sound appealing. However, spending a week in an ocean liner with afternoon tea and dressing for dinner (more reminiscent of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) sounded heavenly. (Not to mention a wooden-paneled library of 8,000 books!)

Unusually, the cruise we booked had a day stopover in Le Havre for its 500th anniversary before the usual seven night crossing. It was nice to explore Le Havre but also nice to start our days at sea. While the Atlantic is cool in September, we enjoyed our enclosed balcony that enabled us to drink tea or relax outside in colder or wetter weather than was ideal for the open decks. We were surprised at the number of events listed in our daily program (evening performances and dances; lessons on flower arranging, pilates, bridge, and more; planetarium shows; pub quizzes; and interesting lectures) in addition to the gym , pools, and spa. Not to mention the delicious dining options like a regular three course supper.

It was incredible how self-sufficient this little floating city was for a week. Imagine the logistics to ensure all those food choices for around 2,000 passengers. The staff were all amazing (something like 1243 personnel on board). We learned too late that you have to book the tours of the ship on the first day to get a slot anytime during the week; we’d wanted to understand better how it all works (and how they “make” their water). It was impossible not to marvel at the incredible accuracy required when you appreciated how extremely isolated we were. I think it was the second or third day at sea that I thought about how very in the middle of nowhere we were (also about this time they announced we were 100 miles north of the site of the Titanic) and how significant that seemed.

We admit our honeymoon choice was an unusual one–underscored by the fact that while we did meet another couple our age on their honeymoon, most passengers were 30-45 years our senior. But the only time that really mattered was in getting seats for events. While our generation shows up at the earliest about five minutes before start time, we would routinely be without a seat if we came fifteen minutes before an event began.

dscn0629.jpgBut some things you didn’t need a seat for–like the sunsets. One of the best parts about heading west (besides an extra hour of sleep every night as we changed time zones) was that the front of the ship faced the sunset. We enjoyed the view once from the Commodore Club and another time from the top of the ship. So many options.

Despite all the luxury, we most appreciated Queen Mary 2 when we hit the edges of Tropical Storm Hose on our last two days. Being on an ocean liner versus a regular cruise ship makes a significant difference during storms with winds at 11 on the Beaufort scale. (I personally felt very safe with the crew and just enjoyed the extra rocking though my dancing was off at the 1920s ball.) It was wonderful to wake up on Friday morning with the Statue of Liberty outside our window and the storm behind us.

DSCN0755New York City offered the first warm, perfect weather of the trip, so we spent most of our time enjoying and exploring Central Park. I was excited to finally try out the rowboats and to catch up with a few people during our 24 hours there before we flew back to London.

 

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Through luck, I was able to attend the Royal Awards Ceremony and Banquet at the City Hall where the Stockholm Water Prize is given back in August. I wish someone had given me some etiquette pointers in advance (when the royals are present you do not clink your glasses in toasts for example). Dr. Joan Rose gave a wonderful speech about her work on drinking water standards. As a dessert lover, my favorite moment might have been the trumpet fanfare to the troop of servers bringing in dessert with sparklers on the trays!

The Water Week as always was a whirlwind of coffees, sessions, meetings, meals, and more with an amazing community of people who work on water around the world. I fell in love with the Art Deco styled Vete Katten, cafe. (Try the Princess torta.) I had a fun final evening with friends at the Dance and Mingle, which was held with a Eurovision band. The Scandic Haymarket’s recent Art Deco makeover made it an amazing place to stay. I loved that my room overlooked the square, which held different kinds of markets every day of the week.

After a wonderful Stockholm World Water Week, we decided to relax by taking a Viking Line overnight cruise to Helsinki. I’d never been to Finland before, and it was fabulous to leave Stockholm by sailing past all the amazing small islands where people still live while commuting to the capital. It was really nice to relax on the ship, and I can easily say that the multi-course meal we had at the No Name restaurant was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had and it was not much more than the smorgasbord option.

Getting off the boat it was easy to see what a friend who used to live there described as “the white church and the red church.” Uspenski Cathedral is a red brick Eastern Orthodox cathedral. We arrived in the middle of a service, which meant I was taken back to my time in the Middle East with the icons, the incense, and the chanting–always inspiring. Wandering along the streets, we meandered our way to Market Square, which contains the Havis Amanda statue and where the Helsinki Cathedral dominated the view with its vantage point on the hill above. The stairs up to its white walls and green dome seemed very steep; the sanctuary was plain as one might expect of a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. We went down to crypt and ended up having a hearty carrot soup and bread there to support the local boys’ choir. We then continued our wander to the “Church of the Rock” with its rock interior walls and amazing acoustics. We had just sat down to admire it when we were told a baptism service was beginning and we needed to leave.

In the Helsinki Central Railway Station, I saw the fanciest Burger King I could ever expect to see in my life–beautiful wall mural. The station itself is another incredible Art Deco building. An easy walk from the train station, we enjoyed some peaceful time at Kaisaniemi Park with its lovely botanical gardens. Of course no city tour would be complete without an excellent cafe like Karl Fazer, which had incredible hot chocolate with the local candy Marianne (chocolate pepperminty goodness). Afterwards, we enjoyed a lovely stroll through Esplanade Park, which is beuatiful and led us back to the South Harbor (cute stalls and boats) on our way back to the Viking Line ship. One thing I have to share about the park is how much we loved the Talking Statues! There were several things we wanted to explore that we just didn’t have time for: Suomenlinna, UNESCO World Heritage; Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, similar to Skanson in Stockholm; and so much more.