Notes from Puzzle Palace

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia

Today we have 4 northern European stops.  These back to back to back stops are a bit much.  I long for a sea day to catch up on everything. Because there are four stops in one post, this is perforce photo heavy.  With all thoughts on our recent purchase, this blog has taken second seat. I'll try to do better in future. 

May 24

Gdańsk, Poland

On this day, we woke up and headed down to the Insignia Lounge to get our bus numbers.  I let George decide on the tour we would take and he chose going to a church!  Again, Hades has frozen.  The tour wasn’t just one church, but two and it was a walking tour.  Two shocks in one tour from him.  (in my defense - the pickings were slim - George)

When we arrived after a short bus ride, we were taken for a short walk around the city and given an explanation of the area we were in.  The area looked very much like many other cities on the baltic sea.  Pointy houses on both sides of a canal with granaries and warehouses intermixed. 

Through listening to the onboard lectures I was reminded of the Hanseatic League.  Yes, the familiar structures make perfect sense.  

As you cross the bridge into the old city, there is a large gate with four openings. 

When you are inside the city looking up, you will see that the building above the gates are actually what look to be houses.  We walked along the outside of the old city for a while and of course all the ladies looked at the shiny amber that was in the shop windows. 
We also saw the oldest working wooden crane in Europe.

Our next stop was a street that was filled with old homes that had wonderful old porches on the front.  The other side of the street only had porches. No homes.  It’s a stark reminder of what happens in wartime.  When will people learn?  

This is as good a place as any to insert this information.  Our guide told us that the long lines of people we saw were Ukrainian refugees lining up for food or clothing or other items that were donated by the people of Poland.  She said the government opened the borders, but most of the initiatives in Poland were started by the people themselves.  She told us that almost every home in the city has Ukrainians living with them.  This is such a wonderful social outpouring of care and concern for others.  It’s a shame more people around the world cannot be like that.  

Ok.  Enough of that.  We looked at quite a few buildings and took the obligatory photos before going to our first church. St. Mary’s Church.

This place was stunning.  It wasn’t just a church, it was a museum.  The wall inside were stark white.  It really made the object, artifacts, and paintings really stand out. 

The first thing we saw when we entered was an astrological clock.
It was built in the 1400’s by Hans Düringer.  It is completely made of wood and truly beautiful. The windows were stunning as was the pulpit.

As with most churches in Europe, everywhere we walked we were standing on a dead guy. In one corner the custodians had removed some of the plaster and had allowed the frescos underneath to be shown. 

There was some more of the city to be toured, but after we went to the restroom stop, George and I left the group and promised to be at the Green Gate at the appointed time. Off we went to do some amber shopping. Of course I bought a few pieces.  We also found another statue of Neptune and My lover had to pose with my favorite god.  

We met back with the group and boarded the bus again.  We now went to the town of Oliwa.  Here we went to yet another church, but this time it was for an organ concert.  (The second of this cruise)  This time we went to the Gdańsk Oliwa Archcathedral. This is an old Cistercian church consecrated in 1594.  It is a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Classical styles. 

The church has 23 altars and measures 107 meters long. It holds a massive pipe organ which has a number of moving angles with bells, trumpets, stars, and suns.  At the time it was built it was the largest in Europe.  We were told it has 96 registers, 110 voices, and 7876 pipes. The size of which range from no bigger than a matchbox to 30 feet long. 

In reality, it is two organs put together through modern technology.  There is a smaller organ to the front of the church. 
Either way, the music was stunning.  The first piece that was played was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and the base just bellowed through the church while the reverberations could be felt in the small of my back and the bottom of my spine as I listened.  The only problem?  This piece should last for around 10 minutes.  The concert gave it 2 minutes and 12 seconds worth of time. Sacrilege! I know, I know, they only played the first fugue.  Regardless, it was a beautiful concert.

We returned to the ship and had the usual dinner in the grand dining room.

24 May

Klaipeda, Lithuania

Today we decided to go for an E-bike ride.  We met the bikes at the pier and first began with a tour of the old city.  We saw some of the old buildings. 

At the city square a number of shops were set up selling scarves, trinkets, and more amber.  Here’s a note to all, it is much much cheaper in Lithuania than in Poland. I saw a pendant winking in the sun at me from across the square and headed over to purchase it. As usual, when we got close, George grabbed the same piece I had my eye on.  

We then went around the corner and came to the Stebulkingas peliukas (magical mouse).  Legend has it if you whisper in his ear and believe in the magical powers of the mouse and your wishes will come true. 

Around the base of the sculpture is a piece of advice: Transform your ideas into words-words become miracles. Just across the road from this was a Piano and a giant chessboard.  

This city is full of fun sculptures and I’m sorry I didn’t look it up before coming here.  Should I ever return, I’d love to see some of those we missed.  Until then, this web page shows a number of them that we missed. 

Next we saw a ship that was originally used to teach students to sail which had been turned into a restaurant.

A little ways down the street we saw chimney sweep on top of a building holding a rope that held his belly.  Again, legend says if you make a wish to loose your belly and blow it up to him, he will take away your belly.  (FYI: It hasn’t worked for me yet.)  
Next up we saw a small pot of money spilling out on a pedestal at a former house of ill repute.  

From here we traveled on to the ferry.  While waiting for the boat, I ran off and took a photo of a little girl blowing a kiss to a young boy on the opposite shore. 

Eventually, we boarded the ferry and crossed over to the Curonian Spit.  This is a 98 km long piece of land that is owned both by Lithuania and Russia. It has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site.  It is mainly known for its shifting sand dunes.  We traveled around a very small section of the island, but it was so beautiful that George and I immediately decided we are going to subject our friends Oskar and José to a bike trip there one of these summers.

One of the cool things we saw was a submarine. 

When we returned to the pier, we next went around to visit the ghost statue.  The legend behind this statue is that this ghost was sent to warn the guards at the nearby castle of the impending attack by marauders.  The alarm was rung and the castle survived.  Sadly, the ghost only gave that warning one time and the castle later fell.

When we returned the bikes to the pier, I ran over and snapped a photo of the boy receiving the kiss.  Typical of young boys, he didn’t show much interest as he had his back to the young lady with the crush.  

We walked back towards the boat restaurant and found a place to eat.  The restaurant we were at boasts a 1kg potato and meat dish.  1KG! Can you imagine? George ordered a salmon dish, and I ordered a potato salad and fried cheese.  You can’t go wrong with cheese.  Interestingly enough, I enjoyed the dark beer more than the light one this time.  Who knew? 

We found a building that is a puzzle of sorts. If you push the middle button, you can open and close the building. 

Back to the ship for another of those free drink nights in the insignia lounge followed by dinner in the dining room.  It was a wonderful day and I would recommend this tour to all going to this city.

And then we turned on the news. It is a horrible day when school children are killed.   19 children and 2 teachers.  When will Americans learn?  When will gun control start?  This senseless killing is unnecessary.  It’s a real shame that the NRA has such a hold on the senators who won’t vote for a simple background check when someone wants to buy a gun.  The only thing we can do is vote these selfish fools out of office. Something needs to be done. 

25 May

Riga, Latvia

Today we did not have a tour.  We decided to take a day off.  No.  We didn’t.  George told me many years ago of a organ concert he had heard here so I started to hunt it down.  I found the church and even discovered that there would be a concert at noon.  So off we went.  Around 10 we boarded the bus and walked into the old town to find the church.

Along the way we were tickled by the bars sitting right across the road from St. Peter’s church.  The seating was bumped right up against the walls of the church.  The sinners club was the best.  I also got a kick out of the local ashtrays.  

Down the road we saw a sculpture of a bunch of animals standing on top of each other.  This one is a tribute to Hans Christian Anderson’s musicians of Bremen.  We went around the corner and came to a nice little park with some lovely sculptures.  But first, the park held a cute little maze.  Here we saw an armadillo, a unicorn, and a dragon all watching over the children playing in the park. 

Around the corner we found the entrance to the Dome Cathedral.  This was our mission for the day.  We came here to see the organ concert and we were not disappointed. We arrived 1/2 an hour later and George found a good place to sit while I went around and took photos of some of the windows and icons, etc in the church.  

I was struck by the repairs in the church.  Two of the main columns were held together with steal ribbons and there were many support beams between the arches of the vaulted ceilings.   To hide the work, some of the metal poles were in the form of a cross rather than the usual bar.  The church had tombstones leaning all over the walls. The floor was a newly placed, lifted wooden floor with air holes placed periodically.  I wondered about this, but let it go and went back to where George was sitting and joined him to wait for the concert.

And then it started.  It was beautiful.  The first piece?  Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  And this time the organist played the entire piece.  My heart was full.  The sound was wonderful, but subdued.  Listening to George’s description of when he first heard this, I was a bit disappointed.  But then I looked up and saw the cracks and support beams.  Not only is the floor sinking, but the volume of the organ as beautiful as it is is contributing to the cracks. No wonder it wasn’t played as loud as I expected.  

The organ isn’t as large as the one we heard in Oliwa Poland, but it was much more beautiful.  It has 6718 pipes.  The largest being 30 long, the shortest is only 13mm.  It has 116 voices and 144 registers. It can be played from one of two consoles in the upper or lower gallery.  It is blue and gold.  Lots and lots of gold. This was well worth the trip.  I simply loved the concert.

From here we walked back towards the city center where we stopped at a coffee shop for a bit of lunch. I had a hot apple wine and loved it.  Cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and apple all in hot water.  It was just what I needed on this chilly day to warm me up.  

We then took off in search of a puzzle shop that was a few blocks down the road.  When we got there we found a number of puzzles that we didn’t have and once we paid, we went on our way.  

On the way back to the bus, we saw the Lithuanian Beer Festival and decided to go in. Nope.  You pay at the gate, are given a pass, and a mug and told to go have fun.  Since we only had 20 minutes before the last shuttle left for the boat, we decided to pass this time.  

We also found another statue of my favorite god.  

And did I mention these people obviously like to drink?

Back on the ship we took a nap and went to dinner as usual.  

27 May

Tallinn, Estonia

Today George chose the tour. We walked to a couple of churches and then around the old town before heading back to the ship.  Shocking!  He chose another church!  I’m beginning to wonder what is wrong with my husband.

We docked around noon and disembarked around 1:30 pm.  Our first stop was at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  It is a beautiful church with 5 onion domes crowned with gilded crosses rising to the sky above.  Around the outside there are a number of mosaic images.  Inside there are three altars and a whole lot of gold and silver icons. Photographs are not allowed so I cannot show you my own, but I did find this website.

The next church we entered was St. Mary’s Cathedral. The guide was trying to tell us something, but the organ was playing.  George and I sat in a pew and listened.  This was just a practice for a concert that would be held at 5pm.  I wanted to go back, but my lover knew he would need a nap.  This church is the oldest in Estonia and still has the 17th century pews, pulpit, and altar.  

From here we walked around the town a bit before heading to a restaurant for lunch (! It was 3pm!) and a beer tasting.   The main building in the square was the town hall. One of the interesting stories we were told was that if people could get to the lower city where the town hall was and live there for 1 year and 1 day, they would become a freeman.  They were no longer a serf. 

Lunch was a salad served with a pils and a weizen beer.  Now I’m not a wizen drinker but this was good with the salad and the dressing.  The main was sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes.  Heavy but good.  This was served with a dark beer.  Also quite good.  I got a kick out of the bathroom doors.  It fit right into the theme.  Want to know how to say cheers in Estonian?  Just say "terrible sex". This bit of language learning made everyone in the room break out in laughter.

From here we were given time off and we went into a medieval store.  I purchased a couple of horn mugs and a lovely berry schnapps.  

Back to the ship we went.  Along the way we saw two buildings that stood out from the guide's descriptions.  The first was the ugliest building in Tallinn.  Linnahall. It was a bunch of steps. It was build by the former Soviet Union in 1980 to show the world their mastery of concrete-pouring.  Now the structure is cracking and falling apart.  Originally it held an ice hall, a seaport, and a 5000 seat amphitheater. It has been closed to the public for safety reasons but the rooftop can still be accessed.   It is truly an eyesore in this lovely city. 

The second building was a skyscraper.  The guide told us it was 70% concrete and 30% microphones as the KGB occupied the whole of the 15th floor. 
We listened to many quips and I got the distinct feeling the Estonians don’t care much for the Russians.

We returned to the ship around 6pm.  Tonight we decided to skip dinner and just enjoyed an evening in.  

I leave you today with a few of the Soviet Era sculptures and buildings that we saw over the past 4 days.  I'll let you decide what you think.

Tomorrow is Helsinki.  Back to Scandinavia.  Until then, Happy Puzzling and Smooth Sailing.


  1. Pictures are not visible for me.

    1. Never mind. As there were so many pictures, it took about 5 minutes to load the pictures =)

  2. didn't the guide call that building micro-crate?

  3. Loved every word and picture My father’s family was from Riga my husband would of Love the organ concerts Thank you for sharing