Cruise Journal

August 9 | August 10 | August 11 | August 12 | August 13 | August 14 | August 15
August 16 | August 17 | August 18 | August 19 | August 20 | August 21 | August 22


Day 1 — August 9, Dover and the North Sea

Photos from August 9
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)


Day 2 — August 10, The North Sea

Photos from August 10
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)


Day 3 — August 11, Copenhagen

Photos from August 11
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Video highlights from August 11

Good morning! Or, as they say in Denmark: Godmorgen! It's been a day and a half since we boarded the ms Ryndam, and already we've settled into our temporary home: the pool has been broken in by the morning water-aerobics devotees, suitcases have been unpacked and closets jammed full, and our musicians have inaugurated the ship's myriad stages with their wonderful playing and singing. Welcome aboard! This morning we arrive at our first destination: Copenhagen. It would be presumptuous to assume we can see all of Denmark's capital in nine hours, but there are many ways to make the most of our time here. One is to become acquainted with the local culture, which is why we've dedicated page three of today's newsletter to the phrases and foods of Copenhagen, as well as a few tips.

Another way is to plan ahead. If you've already booked an excursion, great! If not, don't worry: we're here to help. For starters, you should know that Copenhagen is filled with bicycle-friendly streets. Half of the city bikes to work—and they are quick!—so please take extra care to watch for cyclers. If you feel confident on a bike, you can rent one from one of the many stations scattered around town. If your ideal ride is more leisurely than speedy, however, you may want to opt for walking instead.

Canal tours are another great way to get to know Copenhagen. Most tours take about an hour and include such sights as the Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, and the Little Mermaid statue. Find more information about canal tours at Copenhagen's visitor center, located across from the main entrance of Tivoli Gardens near Copenhagen Central Station.

Two more things to love about this colorful Baltic Sea gem: Denmark ranked Number One on the United Nation's 2013 World Happiness Report, and Copenhagen is the 2014 European Green Capital; it plans to be the world's first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

With that, farvel (goodbye) for now and we'll see you tonight at 7:30!

Lecture Notes by Natalie Springuel

Want to learn a thing or two on your vacation?

Certainly you'll want to sing with the Glee Club, catch some music, lounge by the pool, and stroll the streets of our destination cities.

Along the way, you'll have questions about this place we call Northern Europe, its people, its culture, its politics, and its natural world. That's where the Prairie Home Companion cruise education team comes in! So let's introduce everyone.

Paul Daniels is our resident Nordic art, architecture and design expert who can help you tap into the cultural contributions of Scandinavia.

Our resident Russian historian, Stephen de Angelis, can share stories of Peter and Catherine the Great, Rasputin, the Bolsheviks, Gorbachev, and Putin.

Annette Atkins can help us understand the human stories behind waves of migration between our cruising destinations and the US.

Jon Wiant will explore the depths of the spy world and its relationship to international affairs, from World War II, through 9/11, and the present.

Dr. Dan Johnson will talk about the medical and health care systems in various countries.

Lytton Musselman, our botanist, will share stories about plants and how humans have used them for centuries.

Rich MacDonald, the bird guy, will help you identify, either by sight or sound, anything that flies.

And me, I am passionate about the ocean and its species, from gargantuan to tiny.

Find us lecturing in the Wajang theatre. And the elevator is a great place to corner any one of us for some quality conversation!

An Interview with Aaron Humble, tenor, of Cantus

Can you give us a brief history of Cantus?

Cantus started in 1995 with a group of guys who just loved to sing together. In many of the small, private schools in the Midwest singers are assigned to a freshman men's or women's choir. After that first year the singers have a chance to audition for the "flagship" choir of the university. It was the desire to keep singing the men's repertoire that lead to the creation of Cantus. In 2000, the ensemble became a nonprofit and has been employing singers full time ever since!

What are you planning to do musically for the cruise?

Sing! In addition to performing in the larger Prairie Home Companion shows, doing sing-a-longs and all kinds of other fun stuff—we have three different solo programs that we will be singing on the cruise. These shows will never be presented exactly the same way twice as we will swap in different music to keep things interesting. Additionally, we have added pieces to our repertoire from each of the countries visited on the cruise—we'll play a little game of "Wheel of Ports" to keep you tuned in to the vocal culture of each city.

Do you have any favorite memories of singing on PHC?

Last fall we were on PHC at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul. It was the first time our new (at the time) bass, Sam Green, was on PHC. We ended up singing a new version of "Silver Lining" that included five or six different styles of the song in a variety of genres. One had a rap solo accompanied by beat boxing and Sam took the solo. His first solo appearance on PHC was rapping on public radio!

What are you most looking forward to these next few weeks?

The easy answer would be dessert. Lots of dessert. But one thing that many of the guys are looking forward to seeing is the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn. Estonia has an amazing tradition of choral singing and they have an area near the coast where they gather to sing their folks songs and choral music together. They've had nearly 100,000 people gather there to sing. That's more than 1/10 of the entire country. This spring we'll be reprising a concert we did a while back called "The Singing Revolution." It's any amazing story that recounts the role of music hastening the fall of the Soviet Union in Estonia in an entirely peaceful revolution. So much history happened at those song festival grounds and I can't wait to see them!

View from the Bow by Rich MacDonald

It's 6:00 in the morning, the wind is blowing nearly 30 knots, salt spray is in the air, and 30 of us are huddled in the bow seeking shelter from the gale blowing over the rail. We are the sunrise naturalists. Some of you we will see daily, some not so much. With the diversity of activities—coupled with the bothersome need to sleep sometime—we do not expect many to show up on the blind faith we will see a whale.

Our first Naturalist on Deck did not yield any whales but there were a good number of seabirds. Northern Gannets, Northern Fulmar, and Manx Shearwaters are long-winged pelagic seabirds that spend much of their life out of sight of land, only coming ashore a few short months each summer to nest. The Black-legged Kittiwake is a pelagic gull, all the more interesting for the fact that it eschews the effluvia of the human world. Lesser Black-backed Gull and Common Gull we normally expect to see much closer to shore, equally comfortable hawking handouts or eating just about anything that moves in the sea...provided it is small enough to get down its gullet.

Whether you are an early riser or not, there are plenty of Naturalist on Deck opportunities each day we are at sea, as well as most mornings. To join this band of hearty enthusiasts, go outside on the Lower Promenade (Deck 6) and walk all the way forward. Go through door of the starboard (right) glass enclosed staircase, up the flight of stairs, and through the bulkhead. We will be waiting for you!

Oh, and there is always coffee, tea, and pastries, in case you need further enticement.

Cabin Companions

Ask Grace Dow what secret elixir she takes that keeps her so energetic and joyous each morning her eyes open to the day before her, she'll answer with one word, "Curiosity!" It's been her secret for the past 31,025 mornings and counting. Originally from Canada, but now calls Edina, Minnesota her home, Grace is too busy living her life to take time to make a bucket list for it. From Medical illustrator of Hernia procedures, to oil painting artist, to breeding Border Terriers for show, to selling real estate, Grace still found the time to marry twice and raise 5 children. A veteran Sea Cruiser, this is her first Prairie Home Companion cruise and she is thrilled to be spending it with her daughter, Ginny, who hails from Kincardine, Canada nestled on the shores of Lake Huron.

Jokes at Sea

Charles Dickens walks into a bar and orders a martini. The bartender asks, "Olive or Twist?"

Why didn't Noah fish very often? He only had two worms.


Day 4 — August 12, Warnemünde

Photos from August 12
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

It's time to say farvel to Copenhagen and hallo to Warnemünde, Germany! But before we refocus our sights on the second stop of our trip, let's take a moment to look back on the wonderful city that is Copenhagen.

After waiting our turn to disembark the ms Ryndam, we were greeted with sunshine and a warm breeze—albeit a strong one—in Copenhagen. The citizens of Denmark's capital seemed to sparkle as much as the water surrounding it: never have we seen such well-dressed, handsome people on bicycles as we did here. Women in dresses nonchalantly navigating the cobblestone streets, men in crisp suits cooly swerving in and out of traffic—even the little ones were outfitted with the finest hair-dos and outfits! Besides feeling anxious that no one wore helmets, we were more than impressed by the suave, beautiful people of Copenhagen.

Just like Garrison mentioned in his show Sunday night, Copenhagen's bread, like its citizenship, also outshined all expectations, as did the magnificent vistas of colorful storefronts lining the winding canals. From the center of town all the way to Christiana, it seemed all of Copenhagen was united by a sense of style, sleekness, and purpose. Even the trees and hedges throughout town were trimmed into neat rectangles! The city was a definite pleasant change of pace from our rocky day at sea yesterday.

Now, as we set our sights on Germany, we can look forward to more quaint water-side vistas in Warnemünde and breathtaking history in Berlin. Be sure to treat yourself to a bretzel (pretzel) or two, as well as some currywurst and sauerkraut. And don't forget the mustard and bier!

Rødgrød: Where German and Danish Cuisine Meet

Rødgrød (Danish) or rote Gruetze (German), meaning "red groats," is a tart pudding-like dessert traditionally made with fresh red currants as the base, but modern versions contain just about any, in-season, red fruit except strawberries, which do not have the desired acidity or bite.

2 pounds fresh red currants, stemmed (6 cups), plus more for topping
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup rose wine
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for topping

Bring 3 cups currants, the sugar, wine, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer until berries are soft, about 1 minute. Puree in a blender. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl (you should have about 1¾ cups).

Return strained puree to pan; bring to a boil. Add remaining currants, return to a boil, and skim if necessary. Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until cornstarch dissolves, then whisk into currants. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling in center and mixture looks clear, about 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

Divide mixture between 6 small glasses. Chill until set, at least 1½ hours and up to 8 hours. Dollop whipped cream on top, and serve with fresh currants.

An Interview with Marie Seidler and Marian Müller

Marian, when did you first know you wanted to be an opera singer?

When I was eleven years old I sang in Mozart's Zauberflote (The Magic Flute). I was fascinated by the whole opera thing and decided that I definitely wanted to be on that stage again.

And you make your professional operatic debut in Carl Orff's Der Mond at the Staatstheater Kassel next year. Can you give us a little background on that opera and your role in it?

Well, it's Carl Orff, so some of the music is very weird, as well as the plot. Der Mond means "The Moon, " and that's what the piece is all about. I'm one of the "Bursche," a bunch of guys singing together and commenting on all the stuff going on. I'm very excited to be a part of it.

Are there any points of interest for opera fans in Warnemunde that you'd recommend?

Berlin is just two hours away and that's really the place to be, with three opera houses, all of them very good, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world's most famous orchestras.

Marie, does singing opera in German feel very different than singing in a language such as Italian?

There's hardly any German opera for a mezzo, though "Octavian" is a wonderful part (Strauss Der Rosenkavalier) that I'd love to sing one day.

German language is perfect for music with a small vocal range such as songs. What I love about the German language is the crisp consonants enhancing the poem's atmosphere. Opera with a wider vocal range is much more comfortable in Italian—a language based on open vowels and consonants and helpful bridges between them.

View From The Bow: The Skagerrak and the Kattegat by Natalie Springuel

This morning, we officially left the North Sea and entered the Baltic Sea, by way of the Skagerrak and then the Kattegat. The Skagerrak (Skagen is Denmark's northern most town and rak means strait in Swedish and Norwegian) is a deep water channel that connects the northern North Sea, including the Norwegian Trench, to the Baltic Sea. North Atlantic seawater funnels into the Skagerrak, bringing with it oceangoing species like minke whales and white-beaked dolphins.

Our ship then made a sharp right and entered the navigationally complicated waters between Denmark and Sweden known at the Kattegat. The Kattegat got its name from the ship captains of the Hanseatic league who felt the straits here are so narrow and tricky that even a cat (Kat) would have a hard time squeezing through these holes (gat).

Harbor Porpoise — small, dark, dolphin-like marine mammals — have been frequenting these waters for centuries. Though illegal to hunt today, the porpoise was heavily targeted by seventeenth and eighteenth century fishermen who drove pods of them into fjords by taping the water surface with sticks. Once cornered, the porpoise were captured with nets then hauled onto the beach and harvested with knives. The annual ritual netted up to 3000 animals a year, an important source of food and revenue for fishermen and their families at the time. Though the population has never recovered to its abundance of yore, it remains one of the most common marine mammals in the North and Baltic Seas, including the Skagerrak and the Kattegat.

Cabin Companions

Though only two years apart in age, Jeanne Ellet and her younger sister Corki Nelson, had become sibling rivals growing up in Chicago. The rivalry continued to blossom even after the family of six moved to Union City, Tennessee. Even the fact that they both attended Memphis State University didn't help in bringing these two very bright and strong women together. That would come later in life. First there was their education to finish, then careers to pursue, and finally the responsibilities that go with parenthood. Jeanne was one of the first to carve a career in the new field, at the time, of Physical Therapist. And as for younger sister Corki, she got her Masters in Marketing, but at a time when it was a male dominated position. So instead, taught what she knew to other college students. Eventually, marriage would lead Corki to Texas, while Jeanne was happy to call Memphis her home. Eventually, Corki would get her big break in Corporate Marketing, and though she had to move a lot because of it, found great success. These days the sisters have become great travel buddies, including their first APHC Cruise, where Jeanne, a super fan of Prairie Home, and Corki had one of the thrills of a lifetime: singing "Sweet Caroline" with Garrison Keillor on the Sail Away Party and "Good Times Never Seemed So Good."

Jokes at Sea

What do you get when you cross a Lutheran and a Buddhist? Someone who sits up all night worrying about nothing.

Why shouldn't you have two elephants in your swimming pool at the same time? Because they'd only have one pair of trunks.


Day 5 — August 13, The Baltic Sea

Photos from August 13
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Lady Be Good — Rich Dworsky, Butch Thompson, and Jed Wilson

Although close geographically, we saw how different European countries can be as we traveled from Denmark to Germany today. The people, the food, the cities, the landscape: all that we saw, tasted, and experienced Tuesday was truly German.

A short distance from our port city of Warnemünde was the slightly larger city of Rostock—the parent town to Warnemünde, if you will. In Rostock, nearly all the churches and government buildings stood as testimony as to what war can do to a community. At Petrikirche (St. Peter Church), for example, placards told the story of the grandeur that once was, pre-World War II: namely, a steeple that was more than twice the size of the 117-meter one currently in place, which was destroyed by a bomb along with much of Rostock during the war. Even so, if you climbed the 169 narrow and winding steps of the present-day steeple, you were awarded with an awesome view of this quaint German city. The history of this stoic church goes on to explain how, when the steeple measured at more than 340 meters, sailors used it to navigate safely ashore. The church pays homage to its sailor patrons—and their patron saint, Saint Peter—by hanging model sail ships throughout the sanctuary. It was a sad yet beautiful blend of history and honor.

The rest of Rostock was teeming with people on holiday from all around Europe, if our ears properly related the myriad languages being spoken at all times. Sidewalk sales and currywurst stands drew shoppers in while obedient husbands and their equally obedient dogs waited outside shops for their deal-savvy better halves. The busy cobblestone streets, colorful storefronts, and abundance of towering rose bushes made for many pretty pictures—an apt portrayal of the picturesque European town we all dream to find.

Another such idyllic city awaits us in Tallinn, Estonia, but first we get to enjoy another day at sea. We look forward to seeing how everyone chooses to spend their time and hope you all take advantage of the many fun activities taking place around the ship from sun up to sun down! Rest up, and get ready for a fun Wednesday!

Lecture Notes by Jon Wiant

Watching and Being Watched: A Diversion

Surveillance and counter surveillance are integral themes in intelligence literature. Each of the spy films selected for our seminar illustrate in some fashion the pervasiveness of surveillance in the business. It is the insidious fact of spy business. "Our Man in Havana" encourages us to laugh at Noel Coward's complete indifference to the mariachi band following him. Alec Lemas', "The Spy who Came in from the Cold," perhaps mindful of surveillance, let his watchers carry the story's narrative.

Many years ago a colleague from British Security Service (MI5) passed this poem on to me, its origins unknown and its authorship anonymous. Are we all watched?

I Spy by Anonymous
Last Wednesday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again on Thursday.
I don't know why he went away.
He looked so furtive, half-alive,
I asked, "Are you from MI5?"
"Five or Six are one," said he,
"We all work for the KGB."
I saw the Red Star on his trilby!
I said, "You must be Mr. Philby!"
His answer haughty tho' ephemeral:
"To you I'm Comrade Major General!"
Reprimanded by a Red!
So back into my flat I fled.
Just yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
The bastard's from the CIA.

Residents of the Ryndam

Ever wonder where your fellow cruisers hail from? Check out these numbers — some may surprise you!

England 11
Canada 20
Germany 12
Australia 4
Taiwan 1

Alaska 19
Alabama 10
Arizona 8
California 110
Colorado 26
Connecticut 17
Washington, DC 9
Florida 37
Georgia 13
Hawaii 6
Idaho 4
Iowa 15
Illinois 17
Indiana 8
Kansas 8
Kentucky 2
Louisiana 3
Massachusetts 26
Maryland 26
Maine 5
Michigan 31
Minnesota 91
Missouri 16
Montana 12
North Carolina 18
Nebraska 4
New Hampshire 4
New Jersey 23
New Mexico 8
New York 58
Nevada 12
Ohio 22
Oklahoma 4
Oregon 29
Pennsylvania 19
Rhode Island 4
South Carolina 13
South Dakota 2
Tennessee 22
Texas 31
Utah 12
Virginia 25
Washington 43
Wisconsin 24
Wyoming 5

Copenhagen Botanical Garden by Lytton Musselman

One of the most beautiful parts of this charming city is the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. With 25 acres, it is smaller than most major European botanical gardens, but also one of the oldest and most prestigious. The garden was established in 1600 for the cultivation of plants used to compound medicines. Presently, it is part of the University of Copenhagen and a major research center for biodiversity studies in the tropics as well as the vegetation of the northern latitudes. Visiting it on a sunny summer day enhanced the beauty of the place with vistas across the water lily ponds to the large glasshouses giving the impression of a much larger place. Like other gardens, many plantings are laid out according to the plant community of origin. I enjoyed seeing mid-western prairie plants in full bloom, while not far away was an excellent collection of alpine plants. Neither alpine regions nor prairies are part of the Danish landscape, yet all these plants seemed happy in the late summer sun far from their homelands. One of the educational delights of botanical gardens is seeing relatives of familiar plants—an opportunity to meet family members. A group of us saw a relative of the common pokeweed of the southern United States, recognizable as a pokeweed but with different shaped fruits. We will be able to attend more family reunions because our cruise takes us to several of the major botanical gardens and botanical research centers of Europe—there is at least one in each port or nearby.

Cabin Companions

"They are the sweetest couple you will ever meet." That is what people say about John and Sandy DeLuca. Both retired lawyer and teacher first met 24 years ago in Raleigh, N.C. on a special van ride to the State Fair provided for the Blind & Visually Impaired. John was taken by Sandy's voice. As he put it, "The Voice takes the place of looks." And for John, Sandy's voice was a '10'. John obtained Sandy's phone number and called her up to ask her on a date. Let the record show that Sandy agreed to have dinner with him. Though John was smitten with her, he told Sandy at the end of that first date, that they should get together from time to time and be friends. Sandy agreed. Three years later, John attempted a surprise proposal by planting an engagement ring under her pillow, which Sandy never found. John called the Psychic Hotline for a little advice and tried the pillow proposal again and this time Sandy struck gold, or in this case diamond. This September 12th, these two 'friends' will celebrate 21 years of marriage, full of love, shag dancing, music, laughter and fun, like traveling to Minnesota in January to see PHC, and going on all of PHC's Cruises. They see these cruises as one big Family Reunion. So if you see these two, spend a moment with them. You will discover, they are sweetest couple you will ever meet.

Jokes at Sea

Two ducks were swimming along, and one of them said, "Quack!" The other duck said, "Oh, my gosh! I was just about to say the same thing!"

Overheard On Board

In the Showroom...
"I don't believe they should let Texans sing 'Oklahoma'; they get TOO enthusiastic!"


Day 6 — August 14, Tallinn, Estonia

Photos from August 14
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Video highlights from August 14

Bright sunshine and calm waters greeted us on our second full day at sea. Despite losing another hour as we cruise farther eastward, by 10 a.m most passengers were out and about and enjoying the many events taking place around the ship.

People looking for a more genteel way to wake up found their way to the Showroom to hear Garrison read poems from O, What a Luxury accompanied by piano segues from Rich. Catering to those who needed more of a jolt were Kate Beahen, Maria Jette, Heather Masse, Karan Casey, Aoife O'Donovan, and Dan Chouinard, all belting out Broadway tunes in the Ocean Bar. As familiar tunes floated out from the bar and into the atrium, more and more people joined in the fun until the bar was standing-room only and what seemed like half the ship was involved with a Sound of Music singalong. Meanwhile, on the twelfth floor, couples were rock-stepping to a jazzed up version of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" while on the bow nature lovers joined Rich MacDonald.

As lunchtime rolled around, half of our super-cruiser group—those who have been on all eight cruises, numbering 52 in total—joined Garrison for lunch at the Pinnacle Grill and our dedicated knitters gathered to click needles and chat in the Explorer's Lounge. This low-key vibe continued into the afternoon as Karan Casey's hauntingly beautiful voice filled the Mix Lounge, bringing a few to tears and all to a state of peaceful serenity.

As late afternoon rolled into the evening, the events ramped up a bit—a lecture on Imperial Russia by Stephen de Angelis, opera in the Explorer's Lounge, Scotch tasting in the Crow's Nest—as we prepared for dinner, Sons of Bernie, and dancing along to Kustbandet's music into the wee hours.

Do try to break away from the activities and get a little shut eye tonight, as we have a full day in Tallinn tomorrow! We're looking forward to eating dark chocolate and hand-painted marzipan, seeing Old Town's fairy-tale like Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats), and exploring the extraordinary town where people changed the course of their country's history by singing.

Lecture Notes by Stephen DeAngelis

A Roman legion outpost on top of the cliffs of Dover? I had read somewhere that Julius Caesar shucked oysters on the banks of the Thames and Britain (Britannia) was named after Emperor Claudius nephew, Britannicus (or vice-versa), but little did I know that atop those white cliffs still stand a lighthouse and garrison quarters over a labyrinth of tunnels—all Roman! Thank you, my traveling companions, for alerting me to this, as we were about to depart on Saturday.

That evening and the next day, on our way to Copenhagen and after "A St. Petersburg Overview," I recalled that the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, was half Danish with Viking red hair, and of a gentle nature inherited from his mother Princess Dagmar of Denmark. All the Danish royal relatives used to romp yearly at Bernsdorf Castle outside Copenhagen: Edward VII's wife, Aunt Alexandra, Uncle "Willy or Georg I, the King of Greece, and Nicholas's almost identical 'twin,' his cousin George I of England — each one often mistaken for the other, which greatly disturbed the Russian emperor, cousin "Nicky."

Years ago when I happened to be staying at the famed "Hotel Angleterre" in Copenhagen I was shown guest books from those Romanoff times, which included the names of many a Grand Duke—all the result of the House of Romanoff marrying into the Danish royal family—for reasons of commercial maritime advantage.

All these Baltic ports are intertwined with imperial Russia: Helsingfors (Helsinki) of the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, Reval (Talinn) an imperial Russian naval base, Stockholm—a longtime enemy of Russia until defeated and tamed by Peter the Great.

Tallinn Concert Ashore

If you enjoyed Peter Sheppard Skaerved's concert on Wednesday, please consider making a short concert part of you day's activities ashore in Tallinn. There will be a discounted admission for APHC Cruisers.

Here's a brief description of the program: On Thursday 14th August 'Gate Tower', Tallinn (Väravatorn), Peter Sheppard Skaerved will be giving a short lunchtime concert in Tallinn. This concert, given on a unique violin made in 1560, will include 17th century works by Biber and Torelli, and works written for Peter by Scandinavian composers, Poul Ruders (Denmark) and Rolf Martinsson (Sweden). APHC cruisers will be able attend this concert, at 1pm, for 11 euros.

Address: Väravatorn (Gate Tower), Lühike Jalg 9. This is a 15th Century Tower in the Old Town, about 200 yards from the Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral.

View from the Bow by Rich MacDonald

Well, it was a quiet day on the m/s Ryndam. The usual suspects were at the bow for the sunrise edition of Naturalist on Deck. Try as she might, Natalie was unable to find a marine mammal—no whales, no dolphins, no porpoises, no seals. Never fear, for she whips off her mild mannered mantle and transmogrifies into Super Nat(uralist)!

A little sleuthing turned up a Blue Mussel shell in the scuppers. What the heck was a Blue Mussel doing on a ship so far out of sight of land? A quick perusal of the surrounding environs offered a few clues. There were a few large, brownish, gull-like birds circling the ship. That's because they were juvenile Herring Gulls. Herring Gulls are both omnivorous and opportunistic in their diet and for coastal residents, mussels, clams, and crabs are an important part of the daily calorie intake.

When trying to crack some hard-shelled food, gulls quickly ascend, then drop the creature like a bomb. All-too-often, the bomb is a dud, failing to crack its armor. Eventually, after enough attempts, the calcified carapace cracks, exposing the proteinaceous interior, making for a tasty meal (that is, if you are a gull). Clearly some gull was able to score a mussel before we left Warnemünde and used the bow as the nut-cracking surface. They have to be careful, though. If they fly too high, the time it takes them to descend allows another opportunistic gull to swoop in to steal their meal.

So Super Nat(uralist) found the shell on otherwise quiet morning stippled with only the occasional bird, and turned it into a lesson in marine ecology: how gulls feed; how mussels secrete enzymes that turn into bissel threads, attaching themselves to their preferred rocky substrate, and more.

Cabin Companions

Tim Breen, a Family Court Judge in NY State, grew up in Glenn's Falls, NY and his Partner for 29 years, Michael Gleason, a pharmacist, who grew up just three skips of a stone up stream in Hudson Falls, celebrated their first year of marriage this past June. They first started listening to APHC in the mid 90s and became addicted, a good addiction indeed. They get their weekly fix every Sunday afternoon where they spend their time working in the garden, or while playing with their King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Bertie, listening to Garrison's News from Lake Wobegon. As Tim sees it, when it comes to great America weavers of tales, there have been only three, Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor, sort of the Murderers Row of storytellers.

After a couple of disastrous cruises in the past, Tim and Michael had come to the conclusion that vacationing on the high seas was not their cup of tea. But when they heard about this APHC Cruise with one of the destinations being St. Petersburg, a place that piqued Michael's interest, they decided to give this cruising thing one more go. What they discovered is that APHC Cruises are like no other cruises out there. The variety of musical guests, the access to the all the great talent connected to the show, and being surrounded by so many fellow Prairie Home fans has given them a new perspective on cruising. Perhaps enough to entice them to go again — if there is another one in the future.

Jokes at Sea

Why do seagulls fly over the sea? Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bagels.

Overheard On Board

Passenger 1: "Where are we going today?"
Passenger 2: "We're not going anywhere because we're at sea."


Day 7 — August 15, St. Petersburg, Russia

If "charm" were defined by a city, that city would be Tallinn. The uneven cobblestone streets and pastel-colored buildings, proud steeples and rusty-looking rooftops all combine to create an atmosphere that is at once familiar and fantastical.

Like the other cities we've visited so far on our Baltic Sea adventure, Tallinn plays to its strengths when it comes to catering to tourists. But beyond the costumed hostesses and plethora of wool-sock-and-linen-strewn storefronts was a glimpse of Old World Europe. This could best be seen on the narrow side streets sprouting from the larger plazas. Two particularly refreshing discoveries along these roads were a corner art-and-jewelry store dedicated to local wares made by artists who attended university in Tallinn and currently live there, and a basement glasswork shop tucked into a refurbished cellar along St. Catherine's Passage. The soul of Tallinn shone through in these distinctive stores, communicating a message that, while it may parade as a made-for-tourists village, authentic Tallinn is a unique, artistic, and deeply individualistic city worth seeking out.

One of the best parts of traveling is enjoying the drink and food specific to a place. In Tallinn, this meant "crisp black bread"—fried dark bread filled with seeds and topped with roasted garlic—and Saku beer and the Estonian sandwich: a thick slab of black bread topped with sour cream, herring, pickles, lettuce, and hard-boiled egg. Pair these things with a sun-drenched patio and you have an ideal Tallinn afternoon.

Tomorrow brings us to St. Petersburg, Russia, and as such we need to prepare to encounter yet another completely unique and intriguing culture. We hope you are as excited as we are for the opportunity to delve into such a rich cultural experience!

Lecture Notes by Stephen DeAngelis

My first trip to Berlin, just after the wall came down in 1989, was poignant and ... spooky: Checkpoint "Charlie", "No Man's Land," the decay of once sublime "East Berlin" now crowned across the horizon with a lineup of construction cranes rebuilding everything ruined by the its former Soviet occupiers. All now a veritable phoenix!

And then another decay came to mind, so amusingly portrayed by Joel Grey in "Cabaret." Now I see it as the most exciting city in Europe, the glue holding the rest of the EU together, a Reichstag in almost daily serious discussion with the Kremlin: Merkel and Putin only speaking "Ost-Deutsch" to each other.

It was in Berlin that Anna Anderson was pulled out of river in 1920, at age 19, and soon proclaimed, "I am Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia." After long drawn-out court sessions and claim after claim by her and her lawyers on sequestered Romanoff fortunes still lying in the back of European bank vaults, the case ended with "not enough evidence." And finally, DNA testing done on biopsies of her liver, still remaining in preserved liquids, showed that she bore no match to surviving Romanoffs, including Prince Michael of Kent, whose grandmother was Grand Duchess Elena, the 1st cousin of Nicholas II. She was a fraud.

And on to Talinn with a language not Indo-European and the first former member of the Soviet Union to declare itself sovereign — "do svidanya" to the Kremlin. I still visit the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky there, which Nicholas II built in 1900 and was hated by the locals, who saw it as an offense to their deep-seated Lutheranism and a regrettable intrusion of Russia into their lives. The town is still for me a jewel box.

An Interview with Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O'Donovan has been surrounded by music all her life. Her mom is an organist and pianist, and the four O'Donovan kids grew up singing around the house and in Ireland. Her dad, Brian, has hosted the radio show, "A Celtic Sojourn" on WGBH in Boston for 25 years. "His show airs on Saturday, a few hours before A Prairie Home Companion, so he opens up for Garrison every week," says O'Donovan. "A lot of passengers on the boat from the Massachusetts area have come up to me and said, "We listen to your dad on the radio on Saturdays, too."

Aoife's early bands include Crooked Still and Sometymes Why, and she also appeared on the 2013 Grammy winning Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo Yo Ma and Chris Thile.

In 2013, she released her first solo alum, Fossils. "Probably the coolest thing about it is that nearly all of the harmony parts were sung by my little sister, Nuala. She's a great singer and there's nothing like sibling harmony."

Collaboration is a big part of Aoife's persona, as are the subtle and certain vocal touches she adds to everything she does, making her one of the most sought after singers on the scene. "I love to sing," she says. "And I love to sing with other people, and maybe they want to sing with me because I love to sing with them."

Aoife begins production on her new record in September, and in November she tours with banjoist Noam Pikelny. There's a gig with the Cincinnati Symphony and Roseanne Cash in January — and after an impromptu performance at Telluride this summer with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz, the trio will collaborate on new work and possibly tour the UK and Europe in the coming year.

View from the Bow by Natalie Springuel

Why haven't we seen any whales yet?

Have you ever seen a whale in a lake? The Vikings used to refer to the Baltic Sea as the Eastern Lake, and there lies the answer to why we haven't seen any whales in the Baltic Sea.

Whales live in the ocean, they like that wide open expanse of saltwater. The Baltic Sea, for all that it appears wide and open from the deck of the ship, doesn't legitimately qualify as saltwater. The Baltic Sea is significantly less salty than the North Sea through which we traveled on our first Day at Sea. Not seeing whales in the North Sea was just a matter of bad luck (do try again on our last Day at Sea!). Not seeing them in the Baltic is a matter of habitat.

Up to 250 rivers and streams drain into the Baltic Sea basin, where freshwater input annually surpasses the influx of saltwater from the ocean. The result is that the Baltic is one of the world's only truly brackish seas. Brackish waters are much more common in estuaries rather than as a sea.

Whales and dolphins usually don't bother with brackish waters. There isn't enough of their favorite foods to make it worth their while. However in the Baltic, porpoise, grey seal, and ringed seal are the exceptions. Small and beautiful, these three marine mammals do make it worth your while to scan the brackish water horizon.

Cabin Companions

If you ever wondered if Garrison Keillor's "Little Radio," with its Midwestern spin on life would play halfway around the globe, then you need to have a conversation with Richard and Tina Dent of Australia. Tina emigrated at the age of ten from the UK, while Richard is a fifth generation Aussie. They met on their first day of college and are now "29 years into a 50 year marriage contract." Both work in the field of Disabilities and Community Services and live in Melbourne with their three children. In 2003, while having dinner at a friend's home, they met an American, Sherry Anderson, who kept laughing when Richard spoke. She commented that he spoke like a Minnesotan and asked if he had ever heard of A Prairie Home Companion—he replied he had not. She gave him a copy of the Pretty Good Joke Book, which Richard loved. In 2006, he took the entire family to see the Prairie Home movie and they all became fans. They are excited about being on their first PHC cruise and were thrilled to meet Garrison in Dover. They would love it if APHC would visit the Land Down Under, where, if Richard and Tina are any proof, all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.

Jokes at Sea

Why didn't the oyster give up her pearl? She was shellfish.

Overheard On Board

Overheard on the Nav Aft
Passenger 1: "Maybe you should get a massage in town tomorrow."
Passenger 2: "I'm not sure I feel comfortable removing my clothes in a foreign country."


Day 8 — August 16, St. Petersburg, Russia

Photos from August 16
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)


Day 9 — August 17, Helsinki, Finland

Photos from August 17
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

All the research in the world couldn't have prepared us for the grandeur and beauty of St. Petersburg. From Peterhof Palace to the Church of the Spilled Blood to the 65 rivers and canals, everything about Russia's cultural capital was breathtaking.

Perhaps you, too, found yourself constantly replacing the St. Petersburg you expected to find with the St. Petersburg that was actually in front of us. Yes, the Soviet-era apartment buildings are there and locals openly refer to the corruption that holds back their economy, but there are also 500 museums, unparalleled views, and beautifully maintained, fully functional, and wonderfully colorful buildings around every corner. Even the subway system plays a role in the city's artistic personality.

Thanks to HAL and the many fabulous tour guides leading the excursions, we felt that we got a genuine taste of what St. Petersburg has to offer. But equally insightful was the time spent blending into the scenery and simply observing: listening to the myriad languages being spoken, watching locals skillfully navigate tourist-filled sidewalks, squinting at the sparkling post-rain streets, wondering how the golden cathedral domes stay so bright, smiling along with the wedding parties taking photos at the city's most stunning spots. By the end of our two days here, we discovered St. Petersburg as a city bursting with personality and life—a city that defies any stereotype pinned to Russia as a whole.

Tomorrow we arrive in Helsinki, Finland. Like Stockholm and St. Petersburg, Helsinki is made up of numerous islands, with a city center located on the mainland. We're back to the Euro for currency (remember: €1 = $1.37) and another new language (see the "tips" section). It's smaller and walkable, however, so we should have no problem diving in and immersing ourselves in this city known for architecture, design, and being the northernmost capital on the European continent.

Lecture Notes by Rich MacDonald

What bird is that?

I recall the first time I was asked that question.

On the very first day of the very first Prairie Home Companion cruise, one of you approached me with that very question. It was the birding equivalent of 50 questions except I get to ask questions with answers other than yes and no. Where did you see it? What size was it? What color was it? Were there any other distinguishing features? Eventually I zeroed in on Blackpoll Warbler.

That question has been asked almost daily since, usually prefaced with, "I am sorry to bother you, but I have a dumb question..." This modest introduction typically leads to wonderful conversations that might encompass birds, physics, literature, and more. If you haven't already figured it out, please know that I, for one, eagerly anticipate my conversations with every one of you.

With the ready accessibility of smartphones and digital photography, if you find a mystery bird/plant/animal, snap a few photos. A poor photo actually goes a long way in identification.

A corollary question to "What bird is that?" would be "What do you talk about when there is no wildlife?" My motto is "Why use 100 words when 1,000 will do?" In short, there is ALWAYS something to talk about. We all use weather as a conversational ice-breaker, but it is an integral component of the natural world. The vast topic of oceanography provides hours of conversational topics: bathymetry and currents, cycling and transport of nutrients, primary productivity of phytoplankton, the aerosolization of sodium chloride (salt) and its role in forming cloud condensation nuclei. And I am only just getting started.

The moral of this story: enjoy your day and feel free to approach the Education Team with your myriad questions. But be warned: If you get one of us going on a passionate subject, you might get a longer answer than you bargained for.

An Interview with Bob Douglas

Texas-born Bob Douglas has lived in Minnesota since his college days. In the early years of A Prairie Home Companion, Bob did mandolin duties and played spoons in the show's house bands, the Powdermilk Biscuit Band and the New Prairie Ramblers.

You've been playing with PHC for many years. What are your fondest memories from the early days?

Having the opportunity to sing and play music with some of my heroes—to play with my own musical friends for appreciative audiences.

Can you tell us about your time touring Europe with the Canadian group The String Band?

I made three European trips with The String Band—we started as street singers and were picked up by a manager and started playing clubs and festivals. We returned for a three-month tour and then a four-week tour—mostly in West Germany, but also in France and Switzerland.

What can folks expect to hear when they go to see you perform on the cruise?

Two old friends having fun with each other—not much polish, but a lot of humor and a very mixed bag of Americana folk.

Any upcoming projects you'd like to tell people about?

I accompany the University of St. Thomas choirs on some of their tours—next year we go to Peru—this winter to Salt Lake City. Every Thursday noon, I play with Show'd Up Band at UST, with faculty and staff in a longtime session of acoustic music.

View from the Bow by Lytton Musselman

Plants as War Heroes

Like the origin of most botanical gardens in Europe, the St Petersburg Botanical Garden was founded as a physic garden, a place managed by apothecaries for growing plants used in the compounding of medicines. Peter the Great established the garden and from the equivalent of a corner pharmacy it has grown into one of the great botanical research institutions in the world and today is administratively part of the Komarov Botanical Institute. This institute is now one of the leading botany research centers of the world with a museum of more than 7 million specimens. On Friday we toured the glass houses seeing a marvelous array of plants from around the world, meticulously maintained. Here we were at latitude 60°north (about the same as Anchorage, Alaska) with flourishing mangos, coffee, bananas, and pineapples. But the real heroes of the garden are those plants marked with a red and white ribbon of the order of St George. These survived the terrible four-year German blockade of Leningrad (as it was then) during the Second World War. Conditions became desperate. Many citizens starved to death. There was no heat for the greenhouses meaning certain demise for tropical plants in the Russian winter. So curators took the plants to hospitals, where precious heat was directed, and tended them there. Many of these honored plants are now very large, obviously healthy with no indication of their trials except for the ribbons.

Cabin Companions

Most people who've spent time with David and Taylor Rosenberg, from Phoenix, notice two things about them, they are a fun couple and they pack light. David, a retired ER doctor, and Taylor, a retired paralegal, met at a dance and have been married for over 17 years. They booked this cruise (their third) the day it was announced on APHC. Three weeks later, they remembered that they had a wedding to attend in Portland, OR the day we left Dover. EMI arranged for them to join the cruise in Copenhagen allowing then to attend the wedding and still enjoy the majority of the cruise. Now, as Paul Harvey would say, "is the rest of the story." The Rosenberg's made it safely to Denmark; unfortunately their luggage did not, leaving them with just the clothes on their backs and two cameras sans battery charger. They did receive two bags from the airlines that contained a t-shirt and toiletries. On arrival to the ship, they were given free unlimited laundry service and disposable underwear, which they say are pretty good. And PHC's Thomas Scheuzger lent him a battery charger. David's take on all this is, "When things go wrong on vacations they tend to be more memorable." And this one will most certainly be.

Jokes at Sea

What does the Little Mermaid wear? An algebra.

Overheard On Board

Lido Deck: "I'm trying to decide if I should knit or have another drink."

Nina the Tour Guide: "Putin and Merkel—they are on kissing terms."


Day 10 — August 18, Stockholm, Sweden

We were graced with ample sunshine and blue skies again today in Helsinki. Since it was Sunday the city was slow to wake up, but once 11 rolled around the streets started filling with people and savory aromas of paella, fried rice, egg rolls, and grilled meat, wafting up from the farmers' market, lured people out into the bright, beautiful day.

Some of the most intriguing and beautiful sights in the city were its many churches. The most obvious example of this is the Helsinki Cathedral: intriguing because it is a Lutheran church shining atop a hill in a way that is very un-Lutheran like, and beautiful because it is, well, beautiful. Built in 1852 and designed by architect Carl Ludwig Engel, the Cathedral is considered the symbol of Helsinki, as was apparent by its appearance on most souvenirs.

Another church on (or, rather, in) a hill—Rock Church—was awesome in a less obvious way. Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, the underground structure is built inside a massive block of natural granite. Its walls are bare rock and its domed ceiling is covered in a circular spiral of copper wire, and as the sun shone brightly into the chapel through the 180 vertical windows, a warm, comforting, and curiously meditative sense of peace filled the space, even amid the dozens of photographers eagerly attempting to capture the unique environment.

Rounding out the Helsinki Church Tour, if you will, was Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Completed in 1868, the building's red-brick façade and golden cupolas are markers of Russia's influence on Finland's history and the muse of many an artist.

Even without taking into account the city's monuments and structural beauties, the atmosphere and sparkling sail-boat-polka-dotted water were enough to cause us to fall for this lovely northern city. You can be sure we'll be dreaming of Helsinki's charm as we sail toward Stockholm tonight.

Lecture Notes by Paul Daniels

The Court Theatre at Drottingholm Palace

Stockholm has, of course, many delights, some of them on the "beaten paths," but like any great city, many of them are more tucked away. One of these, and a favorite of mine, is the Court Theatre (Slottsteatern) and Theatre Museum at Drottingholm Palace. Drottningholm is a huge complex of 18th century buildings, a portion of them still in use by the current Swedish royal family, on the shores of Lake Malaren. Appropriately, they sit among equally beautiful formal gardens, but are not far from Stockholm itself.

I first knew of the Court Theatre when I attended an Ingmar Bergman film festival in college. Among the films featured, and by for the most hopeful and uplifting, was "The Magic Flute." It's a delightful "film within a film" about a performance of the opera at the Court Theatre in Drottingholm. Of course, being a Bergman film, it explores the complicated relationships of the performers both in the opera and off-stage. It's a sweet, lovely, sometimes difficult, exchange back and forth between actors being actors and the actors being themselves. In the midst of all of this is the marvelous 18th century Court Theatre itself.

The Theatre dates to 1766 and is the oldest theater still in use anywhere in the world. Candles and candlelight have been replaced by safe, but authentic looking, electric versions, but almost everything else is intact and put to use as it would have been in an 18th century opera or ballet. There are the hand-operated wooden gears for moving the painted wooden waves back and forth for ocean scenes and the large boxes of rocks that simulate thunder when shaken. You'll see many other special effects explained as well. You'll also notice that the only truly comfortable seats were those installed for the king and queen. Seeing a summer production (we missed one by only one week on this year's cruise) is a real treat.

While being transported back in time by seeing a period piece staged as it would have been in the 18th century, it's easy to get swept up into the sheer joy and playfulness of "making theater," especially when you see the ingenuity of the creators of this theater and its many tricks. It's definitely worth the time to tour the theater even if schedules don't align to see a performance. There is also a fine museum that focuses on the Drottningholm Court Theatre as well as 17th-18th century theater in general.

Short of visiting the Court Theatre, I can still recommend, after all of these years, Bergman's "The Magic Flute." Maybe it will stay with you as it did with me until you see the Court Theatre in person on your next visit to Stockholm.

An Interview with Jens Lindgren of Kustbandet

Where are you all from?

We are from the Stockholm area. Three of us are from Ipsala.

You all have been playing together a long time. Can you give us a brief history of your group?

Kustbandet started playing in 1962, in the wake of the traditional jazz boom that started in England (London) in the late 50s. Our role models were Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, et al. We were about the only ones at that time, but still toured more than 20 countries. We performed on A Prairie Home Companion in 1977 at the Fitzgerald Theater while on tour in the U.S. We continue to play concerts, jazz clubs, and festivals and celebrated our 50th year as a group in 2012.

What can folks expect when they come to hear you perform?

We try to catch the spirit of the bands performing in Harlem and other American cities during The Jazz Age and Swing Era. We love to play for dancing!

Are you planning on doing anything special musically for the cruise?

We have a little surprise for you...

Where are you most looking forward to visiting these next few weeks?

We are just looking forward to performing for the A Prairie Home Companion audience and to get to water our flowers, pay our bills while seeing Stockholm.

Peat's Sake — Life in a Wet Desert by Lytton Musselman

Bogs don't elicit the same affection as a lake or pond. They are usually considered mysterious and mucky—not places for fun. About one fifth of Estonia is covered with peatlands, bogs and fens with poor drainage resulting from glaciation and characterized by extensive populations of peat mosses, small plants that hold twenty times their weight in water. As we found from our excursion to the large bog at Põhja-Kõrvemaa, they are indeed mucky. Several of our group fell through the floating mat in to the cold, dark muck. Peat mosses float on the surface of the water establishing a flexible foothold for a distinct assemblage of plants that can survive the high acidity and low fertility of the floating mat—but not the weight of well-fed cruisers. Many of these plants have adaptations for water conservation even though their roots are in water, specialization necessary because the high acidity and low fertility creates a nutritional equivalent of a desert. These include blueberries, Labrador tea, heather, and the fascinating insect eating plant, sundew, that supplements its hardscrabble existence by trapping and digesting insects on its sticky leaves. Over time the mosses and shrubs form deposits of peat — coarse organic material. Estonia is one of the five leading nations in production of peat for horticulture. Possible expansion of the peat industry for energy production both nationally and for export is of concern since these unique habitats are the homes of numerous endangered plants and animals and because extraction is outstripping regeneration of the peat mosses. Põhja-Kõrvemaa is one of several large preserved peatlands in Estonia.

Cabin Companions

Vincent Wright, has been on every cruise but one. He's enjoying this voyage with son Randall, daughter Neischa, cousin Sandra Lopez and granddaughter Zoe. Everyone has a story. Vincent has dozens of them, enough to write a book. In fact he's in a book called Scalawag, written by Ed Peeples. Born in Harlem, Vincent says of his parents: "My father gave me brains, my mother gave me a heart." He went to high school with future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and, more importantly, picked up the saxophone. He was drafted into the 101st Airborne and assigned to the Military Band where he honed his saxophone skills. After "growing up" in the service, he was ready to take on the world. Wanting to continue studying music, he went to France to study music with Aaron Copeland's teacher, Nadia Boulanger. It was there he developed a healthy ego as he found something he excelled in—the saxophone. The journey continued as a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He won the Outstanding Faculty Award his first year. He also formed the Richmond Saxophone Quartet with three of his students, playing classical music. He'd eventually work for Lincoln Center and finish his academic career at C.W. Post in Long Island—and this is just the Cliff Notes version of Vincent's life!

Jokes at Sea

What did one ocean say to the other ocean? Nothing, they just waved.

Overheard On Board

Leaving for a walking tour of Helsinki:
Woman 1: "I wear Toms all the time. They're just so comfortable!"
Woman 2: "Oh yes, definitely." (To woman 3, whispering): "Toms are a kind of shoe, right?"


Day 11 — August 19, Stockholm, Sweden

Photos from August 19
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Video highlights from August 19


Day 12 — August 20, The Baltic Sea

Photos from August 20
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but after two days surrounded by Stockholm's sparkling waters, blue skies, and colorful buildings, we find it hard to believe that anyone could define Sweden's capital as anything other than breathtaking.

We were yet again gifted with lovely weather the past couple days; even the brief downpour today didn't put a damper on our zigzagging from Old Town to Åhlens department store to the Vasa Museum to everywhere—and anywhere—else we could get to in 48 hours. The hop-on-hop-off boats and buses were a relief to our tired feet and allowed us a chance to explore corners of the city that would otherwise have been neglected out of sheer exhaustion. One such example was City Hall, where the Nobel Banquet is held every year and where an entire hall is covered with a mosaic mural detailing the history of Sweden. And it's not just any mosaic: the hall that holds the annual Nobel dance is covered with 10 kilos of 24-karat-gold tiles. But much of Stockholm's beauty came from its elegant atmosphere. The skyline of centuries-old buildings and sleek new designs blended as seamlessly as the locals' perfect hair, skin, and outfits. It seemed that nothing was out of place here; even the road construction had an odd sense of dignity to it, as if it had been planned out decades in advance.

From the water to the churches, the food to the fashion, Stockholm effortlessly crept in to our hearts and minds and will forever remain until we can return to its immaculate beauty.

Lecture Notes by Jon Wiant

The Spy Novel as Cold War History

The Cold War gave us the contemporary spy novel and spy film.  John Kennedy's fascination with Ian Fleming's James Bond took the spy novel from a sub-genre of mystery writers into a class by itself. In the half century that followed, James Bond became synonymous with intelligence.

Gifted writers and pulp fiction hacks alike churned out hundreds of "spy stories." In print and in film, these creations became our new realities.  From them we learned not only threats but also capabilities — real and imagined — as well as tradecraft and technique. The spy thriller reflected our world and helped shape it, creating entertainment for the masses, while often confounding the professional and deviling the historian. 

John LeCarre was the Apostate. His spy novels disdain action, weapons, and motorcars. Instead they are explorations of love, alienation, and betrayal—the essential 20th Century themes. LeCarre leaves us bereft of flag-waving certainties, navigating a morally ambiguous universe without benefit of charts.

James Bond fights Colonel Olga Kreb for Queen and Country. Bond is our avenger who stole upon the Communist citadel and destroyed it. He beats the Reds and their successors—and then beds their women. No wonder a former MI6 chief called him our "very best recruiting sergeant!"

LeCarre forces us to confront another history. The Berlin Wall, a defining architecture of tyranny, is his Cold War icon. It separates good from evil but LeCarre's heroes are compromised individuals who lack the certainty to define with any precision the line between good and evil. "Sometimes we must do wicked things to save democracy" C explains to Alec Leamas in The Spy who Came in from the Cold. And Leamas slips into a counterintelligence deception that threatens all that embrace it—not the least of those is Leamas himself.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold has the air of authenticity throughout, thanks in great part to the bleak black and white photography by Oswald Morris. Hal Erickson, writing last month in The New York Times, observed, "The film was condemned as incomprehensible by those filmgoers accustomed to the simplistic melodramatics of James Bond; seen today, the double-crosses and double-double crosses seem all too clear and credible."

Which is the better Cold War history?

An Interview with Karan Casey

Karan Casey was born in Ballyduff Lower, Kilmeaden, County Waterford, Ireland, a tiny village, with a church, a school and no pubs. "I was probably the last generation to be sent off every day to go out and play. Our dad loved to gamble on horses and my younger brothers and I would build fences and race down the hill at them like horses, and nearly kill ourselves. It was great fun and we only came home to be fed and then went off again."

Her dad and two grandmothers loved singing at home at and parties, "And we had a fair few parties", says Casey. "A teacher in the village decided I was going to be a soloist and I was really blessed to have all these people teaching me a load of songs."

Singing jazz in clubs after college, she came to the U. S. on a Morrison Visa and joined the Irish traditional folk group Solas (Gaelic for Light), singing five songs on their debut album. She's recorded 5 albums with them, and will celebrate their 20th reunion with concerts this year and next.

Casey has released seven solo albums and collaborated with notable artists all over the world. The Wall Street Journal describes her as "one of the true glories of Irish music today."

She is married to Niall Vallely, a concertina player and arranger who composes contemporary classical music. "He arranges for me, too, when I can get him," says Casey.

They day they get off the ship, their family will move into a new house, and in January Casey will tour the U.K with her lifetime hero, Maura O'Connell. A tour that will perhaps include the U.S. in May 2015.

View from the Bow by Rich MacDonald

My little yellow field journal of waterproof paper is developing a growing list of the species we have been observing, heavy on birds, and ultimately transcribed to the flip chart near the Deck 7 front office. Steaming into Stockholm, the narrow shipping channel weaved through a complex archipelago and was, by far, the birdiest maritime leg of the trip. Birds by the dozens, the scores.

The brilliant white of Mute Swans stippled the shoreline, nearly 100 during the two hours I was on deck. Mute Swans belong in Europe. And Asia. Their range encompassing the mid-latitudes of Europe with a narrower swath through China.

Unruly "vees" of Cormorants, some winging to feeding grounds, some returning to roosts, a few even beginning the southward journey to warmer climes, coupled with two-tone slaty-black backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the commonest seabirds, abundant everywhere we looked.

Hooded Crows flew back and forth across the channel. The most conspicuous bird of our two-week adventure, many of you have commented on the goodly sized bird with the saddle-shoe plumage. Now you know.

A Gray Heron stock still amidst the shoreline Phragmites. Two Black Scoter, sea ducks, sitting on the water, bulbous bill with prominent yellow markings designed to swallow Blue Mussels whole. An impossibly thin-necked Great Crested Grebe, molt well underway to drab winter plumage. A behemoth of a raptor, a White-tailed Sea Eagle (modern field guides nix the "Sea" from its name) gave flight in search of food.

By Stockholm, morning's list: eighteen species. To those of you who braved the chilly bow: it was good to see you; to everyone else: come join us, either in the morning or during the day when we are at sea, and share the camaraderie of naturalists on deck.

Cabin Companions

You can be on the fanciest ship on the Seven Seas, with all the bells, whistles and mermaids a cute mouse can offer. But if you don't have a Crew that is professional, meticulous, considerate and friendly, you might as well be cruising on the Staten Island Ferry. The m/s Ryndam is blessed with such a crew. They all do their jobs with a Fred Astaire flair and an Audrey Hepburn smile—from Forward to Aft—not to mention the countless dozens we never see, who do their magic when no one is looking. We wish we could name them all, but we would have to add two or three more pages. Instead, we are highlighting just three of the Ryndam wonderful staff.

In her first year with Holland America, you will find Merry Rosari, greeting and serving everyone early in the morning and throughout the day with her Million Dollar Smile. And if you are really lucky, you might catch her singing a song and hear her beautiful voice. Then there is the team of May and Bobby on the A-Deck. Mayard Husin, an 11-year veteran, is the Lead Stateroom Attendant. His teammate, Bobby Silalahi, is a six year veteran who quietly goes from room to room, cleaning up our messes and leaving us fun towel topiaries to greet us every night we return to our rooms. So, from all of us at APHC—and our wonderful guest Companions—a very heartfelt thank you to the crew of the Ryndam.


Day 13 — August 21, Århus, Denmark

Photos from August 21
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Our sea legs were put to the test last night after exiting Stockholm's calm port, and continued to be tried throughout the day today. But the barrage of white caps and wind couldn't stop us from making the most of our third full day at sea. This morning the Lido was full of people enjoying a leisurely breakfast. The sun was there, too, providing those who were lucky enough to nab a window table an extra dose of vitamin D.

As the afternoon progressed, so, too, did the amount of activity around the ship. Treadmills and weight machines stood in for the cobblestone streets we'd grown accustomed to using as a gym. Those resting sore feet and muscles challenged their minds with crossword puzzles and books and conversation. Some people even chose to brave the temperamental weather and walk laps around the ship, receiving rosy cheeks and volumized hairdos in return.

With tonight being the big dance competition in the showroom, the dueling teams used the afternoon to get some last-minute coaching from Joy and Todd up in the Crow's Nest. Shouts of "yeehaw!" and step-by-step instructions could be heard all around deck 12, and team members made use of the room's free space to put finishing touches on their moves. Everyone looked fantastic—it will be a close call for the judges to pick a winner!

We've been on the ship long enough now to have discovered nooks and crannies to which we can escape, and it seems many people opted to do that today. We hope you were able to relax and rest so you can fully enjoy Aarhus tomorrow. We don't have much time there—we are docked for six hours—but we encourage you to still get out and explore, as the city has much to offer. Our top picks for Aarhus include the Latin Quarter, which is the oldest area, dating back to the 14th century; the Aarhus Cathedral, a 12th century church featuring Denmark's largest stained-glass window; and the vibrant botanical garden, filled with flowers and plants from around the world and located in the center of the city.

Lecture Notes by Paul Daniels

Ever since the delightful day I enjoyed in Helsinki I've been struck by the importance of light and color in the lives of Nordic people. As we all experienced three days ago, the brilliant sunshine and the strikingly blue skies made for an almost magical day – at least for me and for the many, many people I saw crowding the streets in downtown Helsinki. Everyone seemed caught up in the utter perfection of the day. Having experienced winter in Norway several times and the seemingly never-ending darkness, "brightening" to twilight, I was reminded of a similar urgency by Norwegians to soak up all of the light and warmth possible, knowing what would be coming in a few short months.

In Helsinki I was among those many people visiting the stunning white Lutheran Cathedral at the top of the many steps above Senate Square and then making my way to one of the main shopping streets, the Esplanade. We had been told by our excursion guide earlier in the morning that the street and its broad green mall would be full of handicraft booths and impromptu food vendors. In fact, we'd been told that one day a year, the day we were there, the government gives permission to anyone who wants to make and sell food to do so. Many people were taking advantage of this permission and were crowding the green space with their make-shift restaurants. I was on a different mission so didn't stand in line to taste their delicacies.

My goal was to visit one of the flagship stores that has placed Finland on the international scene for modern design since the mid-nineteen fifties. The store is Marimekko and it continues to draw thousands of tourists and locals alike, especially on a sun-drenched day like Sunday. The rich, vivid colors and almost child-like simplicity of prints on clothing, bedding, housewares and jewelry seemed to jump off the shelves. Maybe it was just me, but everyone seemed a little happier just browsing the large store and in no particular hurry to return to the throngs outside. It seemed a place of true delight.

I was struck by how light and color must help make the long winter and its cold and darkness bearable. I live in a similarly cold climate (Minnesota), but we have the help of a lower latitude and the presence of brilliant winter sunshine to get us through the season. If Finland were my home, I would live for the kind of respite that summer brings and for the sustaining presence of vivid color in so many items of daily life. This winter, I'll be remembering the special day in Helsinki and hoping its memory is helping to sustain our Finnish friends.

An Interview with Adam Granger

You were a part of A Prairie Home Companion's first house band — The Powdermilk Biscuit Band. Can you tell us about that time? Fondest memories?

Amazing, though I didn't appreciate Garrison's talent in those days like I do now, having been younger and stupider then. Touring with the show was the first time I saw outstate Minnesota. I had been working in Nashville before I moved to Minnesota, and it was a night and day difference in every good way.

Who were your early influences?

Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt, Rov Acuff, Doc Watson.

You're known for your use of the flatpick guitar technique. What are some fundamentals of that particular style?

Flatpicking is moving a plectrum rapidly up and down on the strings of an acoustic guitar. The primary vehicle is the fiddle tune. I've compiled a book, Granger's Fiddle Tunes for Guitar, containing 508 of these tunes in guitar tablature. Ironically, I have developed a hand problem, which now prevents me from flatpicking fast.

Any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about?

A new CD this fall—my 16th—called Tim and Kim. Fifth album of original songs and tunes.

View from the Bow by Natalie Springuel

To the North Sea we go a whale hunting!

If you missed the harbor porpoise in Saint Petersburg, or the hauled out grey seals on the approach to Helsinki, fear not! There is still time. In fact, our chances of seeing whales and dolphins catapult upwards as we venture north from Arhus and west into the North Sea. How do we know? The Ryndam's route crosses ferry lanes that connect England to mainland Europe. Biologists stationed on the ferries in recent years report all kinds of charismatic megafauna in these waters. Minke whales, the smallest of the baleen whales but still an impressive 25-30 feet, are the most likely. Pilot whales, humpback whales, sperm, and even orca are sighted here! Or look for fast moving pods (groups) surfacing repeatedly. If they leave a bit of a splash: white beaked dolphins. If they leap nearly clear of the water as they zoom forward, a splash of yellow on the flank: Atlantic white-side dolphins.

A word to the wise: you won't see them if you don't look!

Scan the horizon line slowly, from bow to stern and back again. If you have binoculars or a camera zoom, keep the horizon in the top third of your field of view for maximum sighting. Keep at it. With any luck, your eyes will land at the right place at the right time: a dorsal fin, a blow shooting skyward, a large arcing body...

Do scream and let your neighbors know you saw something, and then we can celebrate!

Cabin Companions

Those who end each day at the Crow's Nest have seen some Wobegonians who can dance! Above is Mike McNamee, daughter Grace, wife Karla Taylor, and family friend Hannah Cleeton. Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland, the family is on their third PHC Cruise.

Mike and Karla began taking dancing lessons when Grace went off to college. Mike said, "The biggest hang-up for men is that they don't want to embarrass themselves." To which Grace responded, "No one is studying you—and if they do look, what they see is a person having a good time."

For the McNamee's, dancing is a great way to connect with each other. Karla urges Mike to dance with other women she notices would love to dance but have no partner. For Mike, though, she will always be his true Ginger Rogers.

Dancing is a family affair for the McNamee's. As Mike puts it, "What I like about dancing with Grace is, I spin her. I put my hand out and she hits it almost every time. We connect very easily." Grace adds, "My dad is the human metronome, keeping the count and never missing a beat. He makes me look pretty."

Jokes at Sea

Hear about the ship that ran aground carrying a cargo of red paint and blue paint? The whole crew was marooned.

Overheard On Board

At the Captain Q & A:
Passenger: (asked a question regarding the engines ending in): "So, how many screws have you got?"
Captain: "Two propellers and about a million screws ... You must be a submarine guy."


Day 14 — August 22, The North Sea

Photos from August 22
(Click one of the photos to see the full gallery)

Video highlights from August 22

First thing's first: congratulations to the Waltz and East Coast Swing teams for winning last night's competitions! We did not envy the judges' tough task of choosing winners among the four excellent groups, but we definitely enjoyed watching the process. We look forward to seeing more dance moves up in the Crow's Nest the next two nights.

We're well on our way to our final destination now, and another day at sea is ahead of us. But before we set our sights on Dover, let's take a minute to reflect on our last port stop: darling little Århus. In reality, Århus is not a small city: with an urban population of 319,000 and a metro area of 1.2 million, it is the second-largest city in Denmark and claims the unofficial title of "Capital of Jutland." But with its pretty vistas, sidewalk cafes, and picturesque canal area, it felt more cozy than cosmopolitan.

If you went in to town today, you likely noticed the abundance of twenty-somethings. That's because 13 percent of the population in Århus is made up of students, which is likely why it had a more youthful feel than the other cities we've visited.

As you know, though, Århus is anything but young. The Latin Quarter, for example, dates back to the late 14th century, and Den Gamle, located near the botanical gardens, was the world's first open-air museum. And then, of course, there was the cathedral: built in the 12th century, this towering red-brick structure, with its white-wash walls and dark-wood décor, was first Catholic, then, after the Reformation, Lutheran, and it was stunning. So, too, was the impromptu hymn sing that took place, courtesy of some of our passengers. Thank you for filling the sanctuary with your beautiful voices.

Lecture Notes by Natalie Springuel and Rich MacDonald

Safety At Sea

Yesterday's windy Naturalist on Deck made reviewing nautical charts impossible, so Natalie moved everyone just inside the bulkhead for an impromptu nautical chart lesson. The conversation meandered—North Sea, Baltic Sea, and all the places in between—discussing whale habitat, ancestral Scandinavian homelands, landscape comparisons across the ocean, the challenges of eutrophication. Seven uniformed crew marched up the stairs from the Lower Promenade to where we lingered, then peered through the bulkhead.

"There, hanging from the railing, I see it," said one crewman into a radio.

Hmmm, "hanging from the railing." That is where we hang our packs for ready access to field guides. Turns out crew on the bridge noticed an unattended backpack and found it ... well ... suspicious. They couldn't see us inside the door. For the crew, enough time had lapsed for an unattended pack to warrant investigation.

Concerns resolved, we felt sheepish as the crew apologized for the interruption. "Really," we assured the crew, "we all feel so thankful for your vigilance and determination to keep everyone safe at all times."

Winds howling, ship rocking, this experience was a reminder at how amazing it is to be floating in the middle of the ocean with nary a care while the crew attends to every safety detail so we do not have to. They look out for our comfort, sure, but safety comes first.

Think for a minute. Have you been turned away from Stephen's Russia lectures in the Wajang Theater because of a packed house? Safety. Did you chuckle at the apparent first day silliness as 1,200 NPR listeners squeezed on the Promenade answering roll call? Safety. Did you feel disappointment (then maybe relief) that you couldn't venture outside and witness last night's gale firsthand? Safety. And did you know we altered our route today due to prevailing wind? Safety.

Safety and risk management is invisible to us passengers. We live in blissful content that all's well at sea on the m/s Ryndam. We have a feeling that is just how Captain Timmers and his crew want it. And for that, we are thankful!

Cabin Companions

Lynne Cherry is more proof that APHC fans are "above average." Lynne grew up in rural Pennsylvania, the backdrop for the most formative years of her life. As a child, she learned to become invisible while in the woods, sitting motionless so animals would come out and sometimes gently poke at her. At the age of eight, she began writing stories and drawings of the animals she saw. Early on she knew she wanted to become an illustrator of children's books.

At ten, the woods she loved got bulldozed and destroyed; an event that would profoundly change her life. She received a BA in Art and a Masters in History. After graduating she started illustrating other authors' children's books. In 1990, she wrote and illustrated her first children's book, The Great Kapok Tree, which won numerous awards. She went on to illustrate 29 more books.

She's produced ten documentary films. Her latest is We Sing Out, a short documentary following the last two years of Pete Seeger's life mentoring 4th graders on writing songs for change.

Lynn has lectured to children, teachers and NASA scientists on the dangers of climate change. For Lynne the message is clear: offer positive solutions and empower everyone to make a difference by instilling hope inside them.

For more, go to

The Folks Behind the Scenes

APHC Staff
Tony Axtell, Sound Engineer
Debra Beck, Logistics Manager
Joy Biles, Producer — The Writer's Almanac, newsletter
Theresa Burgess, Office Manager, newsletter
Ellen Burkhardt, Researcher, newsletter
Tom Campbell, Production Manager — The Fitzgerald Theater
Alan Frechtman, Tech, newsletter
Kay Gornick, Legal — Permissions and Contracts
Kate Gustafson, Managing Director
Jennifer Howe, Assistant to Garrison Keillor
Sam Hudson, Producer/Tech Director
Mark Humphrey, Piano Technician
Janis Kaiser, Lighting Designer
Jon McTaggart, President, American Public Media
Kim Meyer, Production Assistant
Ben Miller, Web and Video Producer, newsletter
Dan Rowles, Director
Thomas Scheuzger, Transmission and Broadcast Engineer
Kathryn Slusher, Music Librarian
Noah Smith, Sound Engineer
Albert Webster, Stage Manager / Touring Manager
Dan Zimmermann, Sound Engineer

(those we can't do without)

Ferry Alons — BanoPro
Tom Burgess, tech
Sheryl Burkhardt, host
Sue Campbell, host
Jack Campbell, tech
Kim Christensen, knitting and host
Matt Keillor, host
Todd Meyer, host
Sam Miller, office
Kate Moe, host
Tom and Char Nash, host and desk
Kevan Olesen, office manager, newsletter
Janet Rowles, host
Brian Sanderson, tech
John Saucke, bagpipe, Scotch tasting, host
Andrea Scheuzger, host
Tim Slusher, tech
Kristina Stierholz, office
Ryan Yount, office, host

Executive Meetings and Incentives
Carolyn Acevedo
Dianne Austin-Young
Jean Churchill
John-David Hatch
Caroline Hontz
Dina Rego

Cruise Bulletin

Visit our journal of daily updates to see the highlights from this year's cruise — including videos, photos and notes — or relive your time aboard the ms Ryndam »

A Prairie Home Companion Cruise is produced by Prairie Home Productions and presented by American Public Media. Ship's registry: The Netherlands.
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