Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wednesday and Thursday, June 11 & 12, At sea

We awoke Wednesday morning to an announcement that the ship was unable to dock in Ronne, Denmark, as scheduled. High wind conditions had made the port too shallow. So we were taking a longer route to St. Petersburg, requiring us to be at sea for two days instead of one. They made up for it by offering us a free drink at the bar, but we didn't bother to try to get to one of the many bars at the right time. It didn't quite seem a fair exchange, but then at least they were making sure we stayed safe.

Actually, we still had a very full day, both days. Classical Action provided a second performance by Leila and Jake, whom we have gotten to know quite well through the tour. We have dinner every night with Leila and her boyfriend Dominick and Charlie Hamlen, the founder of Classical Action. Jake and his partner Curt Branom, are at the next table from ours. We enjoyed getting to know them all on the cruise.

The highlight of Thursday was another Classical Action concert featuring mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (known as "Flicka" to her friends). Since her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1970, she has become "one of the most beloved musical figures of our time" (quoted from her celebrity profile in the daily ship report) with innumerable performances "in opera, concert, and recital." We were thrilled by her performance, to say the least. Then following the concert, we attended a small private reception for her. We were amazed by her graciousness and friendliness when we thanked her for her magnificent performance. She said she had heard about our house and would love to come see it some time, as she lives across the bay in Alameda. Of course we welcomed her any time at her convenience.

Here is a very brief excerpt from the concert.

Also present at the reception was Charlene Baldridge, writer and poet, whose poems were the lyrics of pieces composed by Jake Heggie and which were sung at the concert by Flicka. It was quite a remarkable event to have the composer, the lyricist, and the performer all present at a single event. We got to know all of them on the cruise. Charlene is a delightful woman whose poems are tremendously moving.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, Copenhagen

We did not sign up for a planned excursion in the morning, so we took a taxi into the heart of the shopping district and spent the morning walking around in town taking pictures and shopping for a pair of sandals for Andrew. In the afternoon, we had another opportunity to spend hours on a private tour of the newly built opera house. It makes you wonder if these Scandinavian countries are vying with each other for the most spectacular opera house. LIke Oslo, Copenhagen's is also beautiful and lavish and awesome.

After a brief rest back at the ship, Andrew expressed a desire to go to Tivoli Gardens and promised to ride the roller coaster with me. Tivoli Gardens, which first opened in 1843, was said to be Walt Disney's inspiration for his theme parks. Incredibly, Andrew rode three roller coasters and another ride that had us flipping upside down as we spun around high in the air. I guess we got too excited by all the thrill rides because now I regret I didn't take any pictures of the rides. We did get a few by a fountain in the amusement park though.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday, June 9, Oslo

We docked at Oslo at 8am on Monday. Have you ever wondered how much can be squeezed into one day when you have only had one hour of sleep? We found out on this day. Because of the fourteen hour night on Saturday night, neither of us could sleep even after taking a sleeping pill on Sunday night. We think we got an hour of sleep at most, but that didn't stop us from participating in every opportunity to see all the sites we could the next day.

We started with a shore excursion to an Norwegian national "open air museum" where a number of ancient structures from all over the country had been transported. The first was a tiny church made of wood called "staves". It was only about 12 feet by 20 feet inside with no benches. It was standing room only apparently for the worshippers.

After touring the other houses in the collection, we were off to a Viking ship museum where we viewed the remains of three Viking ships, dated from about 900 A.D. along with a number of other artifacts unearthed along with them.

After lunch back at the ship, a small group of us were taken on tour of the new opera house of Oslo, by special arrangement through Classical Action. Andrew and I walked from the ship to the opera house, but it was farther than we were told so we were late. Fortunately, they were very accommodating and helped us find the right group to join after about fifteen minutes.

Finally, we had just one hour to taxi across the city to see the Vigeland Sculpture Garden, which Andrew had previously told me about. It is a huge park full of sculptures of men, women, and children, by a single artist. We had to race through the park snapping pictures and then grab a taxi back to the ship just in time before the ship set sail for Copenhagen.

Here are the pictures from the day. Hopefully they can give you a better idea of what we saw than I could adequately describe:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Arriving in England and a concert at sea

I have been trying to set up this blog ever since we arrived on the ship. I think I now know all the things to do wrong, so maybe this time I can get it right. Unfortunately, I've lost everything I wrote before. (Don't even ask how... It's too frustrating a story.) So now I will try to summarize events again and post a few photo albums.

Saturday, June 7

We arrived at London's Heathrow airport about 7am after a thankfully uneventful flight. From there we were bussed to a hotel to have breakfast and wait for another bus which then took us to Dover where we boarded the ship and enjoyed the view of the famed "white cliffs of Dover" until the ship set sail about 6pm.

Here are some pictures of our first day in Europe:

[Instructions: You can view the small pictures right here on this page by clicking the right arrow triangle in the middle of the picture. If you want to see the larger pictures, click the link in the lower left corner of the image where it says "2008-06-07 Dover...". I won't repeat these instructions every time I post an album.]

At 8:30pm we joined our table for dinner where we were seated with the head of Classical Action, Charlie Hamlen, whom we have known since hosting two of their fundraising concerts in our home in the past couple of years. We were also joined by a delightful young couple, Leila Josefowics, an internationally acclaimed violinist, and her boyfriend, Dominik Weber.

Sunday, June 8

Being so exhausted by the trip, Andrew and I both slept over fourteen hours, not waking up until 1pm. Unfortunately, that foreshadowed a pretty difficult time with jet lag for the next few days. More about that later.

Since this was an "at sea" day, sailing toward Oslo, Norway, we fortunately did not miss anything by sleeping so late. In the afternoon, we attended an incredible concert given by Leila, on violin of course, and Jake Heggie on piano. Jake, also played at our Classical Action concert, last November, and is himself an internationally acclaimed composer, whose most recent work was an opera which premiered in Houston in February.

Leila started playing violin when she was three years old and held her first solo performance with full orchestra at the age of eight. She signed with a managing director at the age of 12, and that first director was in fact Charlie Hamlen. Today at the age of 31, she travels all over the world, giving solo performances with all the great symphony orchestras. She has also mentioned that three different composers are currently creating new works for her specifically to debut.

For a glimpse of the afternoon performance, try viewing this video:
Liela Josefowicz and Jake Heggie

Here are some more pictures from this day, including the sunset at 10:30pm and some pictures of Andrew in his tuxedo on the deck.

I'll have to continue this later. It is now Thursday afternoon and I hope to be able to post pictures and tell you about our time in Oslo on Monday and Copenhagen on Tuesday. Wednesday and today have been "at sea" days. Weather conditions prevented us from stopping in Ronne, Denmark, and forced the ship to take a longer route to St. Petersburg, where we will land tomorrow morning.