Wellness and Health at Sea: SPA Ahoy

By Marina Aagaard, MFE. Photos: Lars Horn, Baghuset.

This blog is about fitness and wellness at home and on the move, it is about everything, which betters the health and performance of me … and you.
It is not only about high-intensity training, buzz word of today, but also all the other actions, remedies and edibles, that make a difference:
Increase your energy and stamina and improve physical and mental recovery, so a.o. you keep illness at bay and avoid being away sick from duties or workouts.

Two things that work are SPA baths (popular since ancient times), which speed up recovery, and holidays, periods away from the everyday to undwind physically and mentally. And those two can be combined …

Stena Saga Pure Nordic Spa Wellness at sea Photo:  Lars Horn / Baghuset

From time to time for business or pleasure I sail north from Frederikshavn (north of Jutland, Denmark) to various destinations in Norway and Sweden. On the trip of this week – first trip of 2014 – I discover, that on board the ferry, Stena Saga, which carries me to a small weekend skiing trip, there is a spa.

And a 750 sqm. real spa, Pure Nordic Spa, it is. Not what I had expected on board a ferry. A big spa (cruise ship size at least) and not only big, but with both hot (sauna and steamroom) and temperate baths and a cold bath. The latter is a must – even if not all spa’s have one – for hot-cold baths, which boost immune system, skin and energy level.

Hot-cold bath e.g.: 10-15 min. sauna followed by 1-2 min. cold bath. Repeat 2-4  times. This gets the blood flow going. This is healthy, if you are healthy. Sick? Check with your doctor for special precautions.

Stena Saga Pure Nordic Spa Hot tub Photo:  Lars Horn / Baghuset

Another one of my favourites is on board, too. An outdoor hot tub. Hot water and a bubbly massage is nice in itself. An extra dimension: To lie in the hot water outside in the fresh air, which provides more oxygen for your brain and muscles … and an extra special experience in these months with temperatures below 0 degr. C … even if the walk to the tub with bare feet in the snow was rather cold (photo: Me pleased as a peach surrounded by water and men).

Stena Saga Pure Nordic Spa bath Photo:  Lars Horn / Baghuset

I also got a different and fun spa experience: In the temperate bath, where you can spend quite a long time effortlessly, you could clearly feel the movement of the ship, which made waves in the water. A unique sensation (photo: Me and others grinning; life is good today).

As a spa finale even more relaxation is recommended. After spa baths and treatments, you normally rest for about ½ hour, or longer, in a comfy chair in a room with a moderate temperature).
This ensures a gradual return to normal temperature and is very relaxing. And a view of the sea and sky is really very, very calming.

Stena Saga  Dato: 30.01.14 Foto:  Lars Horn / Baghuset

I can really recommend dipping into the water, when at sea, for a different mini-holiday. Ferry trips (or mini-cruises) are like ‘hotel stays afloat’, and reasonably priced (check for offers). Spa entrance is about half price of that ashore.

This was my first ‘dip’ into a spa on a ferry, but not the last …

Going to Work by Ferry: A Nordic Cruise

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Hi-ho hi-ho it’s off to work I go: Thanks to an invitation from colleagues in Bergen, Hordaland county, last weekend I was sailing from Hirtshals, Denmark, to Bergen via Stavanger, Norway, to present group exercise workshops. A 16-hour ferry trip, from mid-evening to midday next day … with a nice surprise.

In Denmark going on a ferry trip is no big deal; Denmark consists of Jutland, a peninsula ‘on top’ of Germany, and 1,419 islands above 100 square metres; 443 named islands, 73 of which are inhabited (Zealand and Funen are the largest). So most Danes have spent (a lot of) time on ferries – also on trips to our neighbours Norway and Sweden.

Scandinavian ferries are okay, fine, functional and ‘mature’. This time, however, the ferry was a bit different. The ferry carrying me to Norway was MS Stavangerfjord (fanfare):

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MS Stavangerfjord (photo: Esben Gees for Fjordline) is the world’s first and largest cruise-ferry powered fully by environmentally-friendly Liquified Natural Gas, “a giant leap towards cleaner shipping” – and a giant leap towards travelling with a clean(er) conscience!

MS Stavangerfjord powered by LNG funnels

At 170 m, 557 foot, in length, 25.000 tonnes, with room for 1500 passengers and 600 cars, MS Stavangerfjord is not your everyday ferry, it is big, brand new and with a touch of true cruise luxury.
Travelling to work suddenly became a Nordic mini-cruise.

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Brass, wood and lush carpets; the ‘smell’ of ships and cruising.

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A sneak peek into the gourmet restaurant … on the way to the buffet restaurant.

Norge MS SF buffet restaurant

Buffet restaurant and …

Lobster cracker and lobster fork

… buffet cutlery a little less ordinary:
Lobster cracker and lobster fork!

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Lounge is ready to party, but the night – and guests – is still young.

Norge MS S F sejlads i gråvejr

The truth about Nordic cruises; often grey and foggy (cool!) …

Norge MS SF dæk og regn

… and rainy too (not a problem, when you like rain, though).

Being at sea is a bliss. This is wellness, come rain or come shine.

P.s.: It is quite possible, though, to get (very) seasick on a Nordic cruise,
as the going often gets tough in the North Sea, but this time the waves were friendly. 

Travel Fitness and Cruise Ship Fitness: Improve Your Fitness (Program)

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

On a recent cruise I was at the ship’s fitness centre every day, because I needed to practice some training programs for workshops.
Day in and day out I witnessed a classical fitness scenario, lots of movement with little effect, and decided to do a tiny travel fitness tutorial, as it is possible to double your workout investment in half the time.

At sea fitness centre

The cruise ship fitness centre had lots of machines, some free weights and ample space for floorwork, but also the typical ‘fitness scene’ throughout the week:
Women at the cardio machines (not for hours, though, due to a 20 minute time limit) and on the floor doing 100’s of 80’s callanetics exercises, while the men where at the fitness machines working out.

Optimal travel fitness: It is time to move on. You want to trim and tone?
You must crank up exercise quality. You will get twice the effect in half the time!
This can be done with bodyweight exercises or with machine exercises.
A travel fitness program can be done in a very short time, 10-30 minutes:

3-10 minute warm-up (or extended cardio).
5-7 exercises for the major muscles
8-12 repetitions of each exercise.
3-10 minute cool-down/stretching for the major muscles.

Maximize workout time. Go from exercise to exercise without pauses (circuit training).
If you want more, you just start over from the first exercise, e.g. 2-4 rounds.

Machine exercises are simple, but effective for novices and beginners. So, if you are not used to doing fitness, and would like to try to get fit (or keep fit), while at a hotel or a cruise ship, the fitness machines provide an easy method of working out. You can do it.
Do that instead of hanging onto the same old mat exercises; don’t waste your time.

Important note: Some trainers will tell you not to use machines, as they are not really functional, and instead recommend free weight exercises.
However, if you are not ready or up to it, it is a lot better to use machines, than 1) not exercise at all or 2) do free weight exercises incorrectly.
If you are used to work out or have a trainer to assist you, it is another matter.

Free weight and bodyweight exercises are multi-dimensional and functional, e.g. relates to everyday and sports activities.
However, they do require 1) some knowledge of movement to be safe and 2) full body movements, full range of motion and in some instances speed to be really effective.
Below some exercises to get you started with bodyweight exercises; they trim, tone and burn fat all at the same time:

Happy holiday (or at home) fitness!

Final Cruise Day: Bye-bye Baltic

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Question “A Baltic Cruise, how cool is that?” can now be answered: Super cool! Though weather can be full of surprises, ranging from very hot to very cold, even in summer, and rainy, the sea, cities, sights and social events are not only cool, but also warm, hot and well worth experiencing; acting upon a Baltic Cruise bargain offer ‘paid off’ in full; a cheap cruise is also a cruise.

This cruise visited Kiel, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg and included tw days at sea. Many other Baltic Cruises includes Helsinki, too, so this could be a better option, if you have not been there before; interesting city.

Baltic Cruise Day 8: Disembarkation Day

10:00 Arrival Kiel
10:15- Disembarkation

Final day. Sun shining bright, a beautiful cruise through the Kieler Fjord and a safe return to Kiel according to the program with German Italian German-like precision.

At sea sol

Last seaborne sun-rays this time around. 

On a final note: A smart move from the Cruise Ship Company: You could choose ‘self assist’, meaning that if you carry your own luggage from the ship, with no assistance, you can leave the ship early as soon as clearance is given by the port authorities.

A huge number of people chose the ‘self assist’ option! So even if the set-up with several smaller color-coded groups were smart, there was some chaos and a rather long waiting time. But you did get ashore somewhat faster, than other guests … maybe …

At sea bathroom

Hard to say ‘goodbye’ to a pool restroom with a view like this.

At 11:30 the ‘White Group 2’ went ashore – and as Kiel is ‘been there, done that’ for now, it is time to head back home to home country.

Arrivederci ship. Auf wiedersehen Germany.

Cruise Holiday At Sea Day: Senses Go Overboard

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Baltic Cruise Day 7: At Sea (again)

At sea all day, all night, what a delight.
The calming view of the sea, the gentle rocking of the ship … and chefs catering to your dinner desires: Cruising is sense-sational: See, hear, touch, smell and taste it. 

The Baltic Sea (415,266 km²) is located between Central and Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 10°E to 30°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands.

Below: Morning and evening view at sea. Mmmmmmmmm.

Baltic sea during cruise ship holiday

At sea sunset bjerg

Daily program offers morning walk pilates, aerobics and more aerobics, yoga, stretching, salsa, zumba, merengue, bachata and oriental dance plus sports, games, demonstrations, quiz show, bingo, a show at the theatre (a new one every night) and Champagne Disco Night. Today was a fitness, dancing and relaxation (wellness) day.

Cruise ship song and dance show

And – the last chance for cruise ship overeating – a five-course Gala Night dinner at the restaurant. So dancing afterwards was ‘compulsory’.

Cruise ship dance lesson

Food art food photography

Cruise ship dinners are very nice, but with a few exceptions (e.g. above), not really unique photo opportunities. Other dinners can be, so food photography (foodstagram) has gone overboard (guilty as charged)! Result: In some restaurants food photography is prohibited. So if you want to do this on ships or elsewhere: 1) Do not use a flash (natural light makes the food look tastier), it destroys the restaurant mood, and 2) be very discrete in order not to disturb or aggravate fellow guests (no standing or standing on chairs etc.).

Bon appétit.

Baltic Cruise Highlight: Art and Architecture Mega Bling

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Baltic Cruise Day 6: Excursion Day Saint Petersburg

In the DAILY cruise ship program it says “St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ or ‘Paris of the East’, but its beauty is really a brand all on its own (…) with a vibrant cultural life that is second to none.
So: Gone in 60 seconds (to buy tour ticket)!

Faberge Egg St Petersburg Russia

07:00 Arrival St. Petersburg
18:30 All on board
19:00 Departure St. Petersburg.

Option 1: Buy cruise ship ½-1 day tour excursion: Price range EUR 39.90 – 155.90.
Option 2: Step off the ship (if you are very well prepared).

The cruise ship tour prices are quite hefty, however, they include a ‘landing card’ allowing you to enter Russia for the day and tickets to the museums (and lunch in some cases). So picking a tour could be a wise choice.

Important: In order to enter St. Petersburg on your own, you must have 1) a passport, valid for at least another 6 months, 2) a visa (apply for this well in advance), 3) a good sense of time and direction – and head back very early (many cruisers have had difficulties in regard to timely transport back to the ship), 4) a good guide-book and map or some knowledge of the russian language and 5) conservative clothing if you wish to visit sites of religious importance. 

Visiting Russia for the first time, I chose the excursion and got lucky: It truly was ‘the best of St. Petersburg’; an awesome day in the company of the guide Marina (my namesake), an extra-extra-knowledgeable and entertaining guide.

Mathryoshka Dolls Russian Dolls

Saint Petersburg (in russian Санкт-Петербу́рг or everyday name Питер, “Piter”), is a city and federal subject of Russia. It is situated by the Neva river in the north-west of Russia. Population is approx. 5 mio. inhabitants.

The city oozes of history, even if it is a young city compared to European standards; founded on 27th of May 1703 and named Saint Petersburg after its founder Peter the Great. It was renamed a couple of times, before going back to the original name; Petrograd (Петроград, 1914–1924) and Leningrad (Ленинград, 1924–1991). One famous inhabitant is the former Russian president and present prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Highlights of the day were the Summer Palace (in Pushkin), the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum and Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (Saint Petersburg). Snapshots below.
Even though I have visited many interesting sights, I do not think I have ever seen anything as colorful, gilded and otherwise lavishly decorated as these places …

Gate Catherine's Palace the Summer Palace Pushkin RussiaIMG_9753 IMG_9675

IMG_9671IMG_9694 Saint Isaac's Cathedral Saint Petersburg Russia IMG_9827 IMG_9803 Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum three million works of art St PetersburgIMG_9941

IMG_9977 edit

In summary, even if the tour missed one of the only 75 sunny days per year (44 days according to guide), the day was mind-boggling; history highs and lows, from architectural bling to bulletholes in churches … and no matter where you looked, up, down, right, left, everything that glittered was gold (almost).
Exception: The Amber Room, Summer Palace, a room made of amber in every colour. The room was looted during WW II and then restored at an estimated cost of approx. 140 million USD. The room may not be photographed, so you have to see it to believe it.

Daily program, if one chose not to accept the St. Petersburg mission, offered stretching, aerobics, yoga (sample classes are free, but regular yoga classes cost 10 EUR), Tiburon dance, country dance, lots of games and demonstrations. Those arriving back late could still make to participate in merengue and ‘spanish dance’ as well as bingo, karaoke and, of course, Russian Disco night.

‘Totally sightseeing’ day meant very little time for on board activities today, that’s okay.

A World of Wonders.

Cruise Through History: Ancient and Arty Tallinn

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Baltic Cruise Day 5: Excursion Day Tallinn

Stop today: Tallinn, Lyndanisse, the capital and largest city of Estonia. The city has appox. 420.050 inhabitants and is situated on the northern coast of Estonia (just 80 km south of Helsinki, Suomi-Finland on the other side of the Baltic Sea; estonians are a Finnic people speaking Estonian, a Finno-Ugric language).
The city was founded around 1100, and later conquered and occupied by Danes, Germans, Swedes and Russians before declaration of independance  in 1991.

Alexander-Newski-Kathedrale Tallinn Estonia

09:00 Arrival Tallinn
15:30 All on board
16:00 Departure Tallinn

Cruise ship moors close to the city centre, so it is easy to step onto the tourist information centre on the quay and get all the information you need, take a TallinnSightseeing tour (approx. 2½ hour) or simple walk around the city centre – or both.
Cruise ship also offers several tours (at a price).

Inevitable images: Some ancient, some arty architecture and mixed emotion moments:

Vanalinn Tallinn Estonia Rooftop view

Souvenir shop Tallinn Estonia Old town Vanalinn Tallinn EstoniaModern architecture Tallinn Estonia

Modern building architecture Tallinn Estonia

Modern fusion architecture Tallinn Estonia

Tram Tallinn Estonia War of Independence Victory Column in Freedom Square, Tallinn EstoniaMuseum Tallinn EstoniaModern architecture Tallinn Estonia Tallink building Modern hotel architecture Tallinn Estonia

Supercars on a race in Tallinn Estonia

MS Estonia ferry disaster memorial

Last photo: Estonia memorial: MS Estonia was the name of a cruise ferry built in 1979. The ship sank i 1994 in the Baltic Sea with 852 lives lost; primarily Scandinavians and some Estonians. One of the worst maritime disasters ever … and one that impacted international concepts of ferry safety onwards.
 

Summary:
A sight to see. An amazing city centre, the very well preserved Old City, Vanalinn, built between the 15th to 17th century, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other interesting ‘sites’ were the modern parts of the city, avantgarde buildings and designs mixed with greyish Russian architecture. The quiet Kalamaja part of city with wooden houses, Tallinn-Houses from 1920-1930, was also unique.

In conclusion you could easily spend much more time there, more time for visiting the Tallinn tunnels, museums, beach, the Kadriorg Palace (baroque pearl of Estornia) and Garden and surroundings.

Daily program offers stretching and more stretching plus yoga, aerobics and more aerobics, medison dance and samba, cumbia, mix latino as well as lots of games, demonstrations, bingo and karaoke and today Nordic Disco with DJ Marco.

Early departure meant more time on board, so there was ample time to sample. Today was a dancing day. To even things out a fine four-course meal did its job.

In my dreams.