Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Scandinavia #6

Riga Latvia
          Our next Ports o' Call was Riga, Latvia. It was 54 F and drizzly when we headed to Old Town. The President was working in the castle (Riga Castle), so all castle tours were canceled. But the castle is an amazing structure built in 1330 on the bank of the River Daugava.  It was heavily guarded with sentries standing in their little houses like in London and marched from one corner o the building to the other with their automatic weapons (M16s).

Old Town Riga
          We continued our walk through town, the maps are very confusing. So we decided to stroll through the city. We found the "Three Brothers," three old style buildings attached and beautifully designed in medieval times about the late 1400s.

          The drizzle turned to light rain so ducked into St. Peter's Church to rest. There was a service in progress (we forgot it was Sunday). The building started around 1300s (Gothic) with multiple arches in every corner of the church. The outside was old bricks and turrets.  We happened upon two gentlemen playing French horn and Tuba. Locals stopped and clapped along while singing Latvian folk songs.

          Old Town has many parks and small cafes hidden out of the way alleys, nooks, and corners. The cafes were covered with flowers, wrought iron bistro tables and chairs, all very romantic. The city was considered the "Paris of the Baltic" when it was part of the USSR. I could see why!  

          The sun came, it turned out to be a lovely late afternoon sky. We stopped at a park and enjoyed the huge trees and flowers for a while. We didn't say much, just took in the spirit of the ancient city.

Afternoon Tea
          We got back to the ship just in time for Afternoon Tea.  It was held in the lovely formal dining room, with the panoramic view of the city. Crystal chandeliers hung from a high ceiling, white linen tablecloths, crystal glassware, china and real silverware. A string quartet played the entire time, distinguished waiters in white jackets scurried around to meet your every want, and a dress code for attendees made it an extraordinary experience. The pastries, sandwiches and various teas were delicious. The head cook had a lovely dish waiting for me with my gluten-free diet.

Leaving Latvia
          We sat on our veranda and watched this charming medieval town pass by us as we left the docks. Our reservations were for 8:00 dinner at Toscana, a select restaurant on board. The interior of the restaurant was just like Italy, the food amazing. We lingered over dessert enjoying our seating partners from Australia.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Scandinavia #5

Klaipeda, Lithuania

          Our next Ports o' Call was Klaipeda, Lithuania. As we pulled into the dock we could see beautiful forests along the shore with wonderful looking hunting lodge buildings across the channel from the ship. It was a beautiful morning with a dew dark clouds.

Rainy Day
          We left the ship to tour the town, we got about a third of a mile from the ship when rain began to pepper the sidewalk. We ducked under some trees, but still got wet. We decided to cross the main street and get under a huge oak tree. I began to pour as we crossed the street. We go under the trees but got soaked. We ran to an awning and waited until the rain let up. Finally, we headed back to the ship for dry clothes and it dumped on us again.
          We changed and grabbed our rain gear and left again. It didn't rain again that day!

Old Town Klaipeda
          The cobblestones of Old Town were much larger than the ones in Copenhagen or Warnemunde. They were like slick boulders. You had to be careful where you stepped and how. As we entered Theatre Square we saw the most amazing use of flowers displayed. The pile of flowers was at least 5 feet tall with a well-shaped dome that went to the ground. It was magnificent. These flower domes surrounded the cobblestone square.

          We walked through old town, we were passed by horse drawn carriages while the town church bells rang out at noon. I actually felt I was in a Rembrandt painting surrounded by 15th-century building and flowers hanging from the light posts, as the horse clip-clapped along the stones. On our way back to the ship a group of people was gathered on the bridge. The swing bridge had opened to let a boat pass. It was interesting how the bridge was operated by two men turning the mechanism, the way they did it centuries ago.

Evening on board the ship
          We had reservations at the Polo Grill, a formal dining room with rave reviews. We dressed and waited for our time for dinner in a quiet spot at the Barista, sipping hot chocolate and watching the ship leave the harbor.
          The Polo Grill was beautifully decorated in old English steakhouse style. The food was excellent!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Scandinavia #4

Warnemunde, Germany

               Our first Port o' Call was Warnemunde, Germany. When we woke up we immediately went out on our veranda. The ship had arrived at a quaint little German seaside village. Warnemunde was in East Germany and had little contact with the west. The town was also a vacation spot in the summer for East Germans. Apparently, this town was heavily bombed during WWII ruining many of its historical buildings. Under communist rule, few ruins were fixed. There are stories of people hiding many artifacts from the communists that were thought lost during the war. They are now displayed with great pride.

          We ate breakfast and headed to town. The weather was cold, breezy and drizzling. I had to keep reminding myself it's early fall in the Northern Kingdom.
          Our stroll through the town square was on cobblestones lined with buildings since the early 1800s. The shops and restaurants were in German but we found many locals spoke excellent English.

          We found ourselves in a residential area with 2-3 story homes, flowers were cuddled in every corner possible. We also noted the blooms on the flowers were rather large and vibrant in colors.
          It was getting colder with light rain so we ducked into a Lutheran Church, St. Christopher. It’s alter was built in 1475! It also had a statue of St. Christopher (7 feet tall) carved in 1507!

          After warming and drying out we continued our stroll on the seaside. Fortunately, the sun was out and no clouds. The beach had beautiful,  white sand that glistened in the sun for miles. Large covered Cabanas lined the sand. We wanted to stick our feet in the blue ocean but the weather was cold (50F) and decided not to.

          As we walked along the coast, families walked with their children, baby carriages and strollers. Many were from other parts of Germany vacationing on the coast-again many spoke very good English.

          Clouds blew in and the rain started up. On our way back to the ship there were sand sculptures, beautifully done and very intricate.

          We spent the rest of the rainy day on the ship at the well-stocked library on the 14th deck, looking out at the ocean. We were even served hot chocolate.

          We kept talking about how beautiful Warnemunde was. For so long many of the countries and cities were hidden behind the Iron Curtain that we forgot how beautiful this part of eastern Europe was...until now.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Scandinavia #3

Leaving Copenhagen

          It was time to leave for our long awaited cruise of the Baltic Sea. But we were sad to leave Copenhagen. It was all we expected and even more.
          We had reserved a driver and car to pick us up and deliver us to our ship, the Oceania Marina. We were surprised how smooth the check in procedure was. This was our fifth cruise, our first with Oceania. We have cruised with 4 different lines, Celebrity Cruise Line was our favorite. So we will see how much we like this line.

The Cruise Line
          We went through the initial check in, security and had our luggage taken for security check on the dock. We were an hour early for embarkation and thought we would have to wait, but they let us board. As we entered the lobby, a string quartet played classical music, the lobby was majestic with wrought iron, tiled floors, etched Lalique glass and crystal chandeliers.
          Our stateroom was not ready but the lunch buffet had just opened for serving. We had an amazing lunch. The view of Copenhagen and the open sea from the 12th deck was breathtaking. We still had some time before our room was ready so we investigated the different common areas. Every decoration, from carpet to ceiling was amazingly thought out.

          They called our room and we headed for the Deck 8. Our stateroom was very nice, plenty of drawers, a  large closet and a lovely veranda that looked right out to the sea. Our luggage was waiting for us by the door. Ever thing arrived including a small duffel bag that was not ours. I gave it to the porter and said, "This is not ours." He apologized and left with the duffel bag.

          We changed and went for a soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi. The air was 56 F but the thick robes they left us kept us warm. We soaked for 20 minutes, drinks were served to us in the tub. It felt good to be totally warm inside. We returned and found the same small duffel bag by our door again.  I found an attendant and said, "This is not ours." He apologized and left with the duffel bag.

          We showered and dressed for dinner. Now, we usually take cruises along the west coast of the US and one Caribbean cruise. Seldom do we need to dress for dinner other than something clean, tidy and nice. We didn't realize that Oceania was a luxury liner and we were expected to dress for dinner every evening. So we dressed and headed to the dining room. We shared a table with a sweet older couple from Kentucky who were celebrating their 60 anniversary. It was nice to celebrate a monumental year with them. And surprisingly, they had a glutten-free dinner waiting for me, it was delicious!

          It was around 10:00pm, we had already left the docks and we sailing the Baltic Sea. We stopped and looked out the deck on the way back, the moon was almost full and left a lovely trail of light on the water.

          We returned to our stateroom only to find the same duffel bag waiting for us by the door, third time. It was like indigestion, it kept coming back! I gave it to the night steward.  I really felt sorry for the proper person.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Scandinavia #2

Copenhagen, Denmark

          We spent five days in Copenhagen, a wonderful city, and friendly people. The weather was cold, damp but sunny most of the time we were there. It misted once, poured once.

          Their idea of "a full breakfast" is a Smorrebrod (smorgasbord). The service people at the hotel were attentive and provided breakfast each morning consisting of tables and tables of food. Janet got hooked on lox, Bill seemed addicted to herring. We discovered the breads of Denmark are scrumptious, very hardy and flavorful. And the choice of berries was never-ending. Janet is gluten-free but they had many gluten-free options available plus a special bun that was full of nuts and seeds.

Sight seeing
          Our first full day of sightseeing was amazing. We took the Hop on, Hop off bus tour that allowed us to stop and get off at sites along the route. The route took us around the capital, a most beautiful city, clean and full of fresh flowers. The architecture was fascinating. One can see why Hans Christian Anderson was so inspired by the city.
          We strolled over the Nyhavn Bridge (Danish for Heavenly Bridge) We saw padlocks on the railing. They were Love locks. That means sweethearts lock to a bridge to symbolize their love. The sweethearts' names or initials are carved on the padlock, and the key is thrown into the canal to symbolize unbreakable love.

          A walk down ancient Magstrede Street, one of the first communities built in the late 1500s. I could imagine horses trotting down the narrow cobblestone streets, men in long coats, hats, and lace, women in big skirts as in the Rembrandt paintings.

          On our walk through town, suddenly the traffic stopped. Not sure what happened we waited by the curb. We heard marching thinking it was another parade. It was the changing of the guards marching from one castle to another. This happens several times a day and the traffic stops and patiently waits.

Iron Man Contest/Gay Pride Parade
          We had caught the bus early the next day to continue our sightseeing. The bus had to change its route several times. Then we found out the Gay Pride Parade was that afternoon and took up the entire main square. Of course, the buses had to be re-routed. That was Saturday, then Sunday morning we woke up to the Iron Man Contest which began and ended in front of our hotel! It made sense since there were lots of strong men in the hotel carrying bikes on their shoulders. The feeling was similar to the Olympics held in Los Angeles, you couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement. We met families from around the world cheering on the contestants.

Rosenborg Castle
          We did manage to visit the Rosenborg Castle built in 1606 by King Christian IV as his country summerhouse. The main castle is now used as a beautiful museum.  The dungeon was about two stories below the castle where the crown jewels are kept under heavy security. The pieces were beautiful, I'd never see such intricate work in gold and precious stones on crowns and ceremonial swords. Queen Margrethe II has been incumbent since 1972.

          As we walked around the city, we noticed that the parking signs read PARKERING vs. PARKING. We also noticed local people riding their bikes everywhere. Bikes are lined up along "Parkering for Bike". The locals also ride their bikes to work dressed in business clothes, i.e., suits, hats, wool coats, and heels!

Romantic good-by to Copenhagen
          Our last night we went for a walk down the canal at 9:30pm with an almost full moon. The city was well lit with many of the cafes open along the canals. It was cold (52°) so we bundled up. Bill noticed that many of the cafes had heavy blankets draped over the chairs. So we stopped for hot chocolate at a cafe on the canal cuddled up under our individual blankets. Small boats sailed by, the water rippled in the moonlight and the light from the businesses across the canal eliminated the water. It was terribly romantic, right out of a romance novel.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Scandinavia #1


We just returned from a wonderful 23 day trip to Scandinavia. Though Jet Lag has reared its ugly head, we wanted to share our adventure.

The flight
           On August 17, we flew Scandinavia Airlines (SAS) nonstop from LAX to Stockholm, a 10-1/2 hour flight with a connection to Copenhagen, another 2 hours. Because of our old age and long hours on flight, the only way we could survive was to go Business Class. Unfortunately, the flight left 2 hours late from LAX, something about the terror attack in Barcelona. 

           Our flight was uneventful, comfortable and relaxing. The food was fantastic, breakfast, lunch and constant snacks. Our meals were served on China, with silverware and real glassware!

          Because of our delay in leaving LA we were 2 hours late for our connection to Copenhagen. Our next flight wasn't scheduled for 2 more hours so we enjoyed a wonderful time meeting people from all over the world! All of us were waiting at the airport for different reasons and shared travel stories. It was rather entertaining.

Landing in Copenhagen
          We finally landed in Copenhagen at 3:30pm (LA Time 5:30am). Our hotel, The Strand, is located on one of the many canals that lace the city. Our hotel was built in 1869 and was originally a linen manufacturing company. It makes sense, being so close to the river and getting shipments from the harbor. It seems the Danes repurpose old building probably because they are built so well.

          After registering, we went in search of lunch. You'll never guess, Mc Donald's! They even took our credit card without batting an eye. The weather was cold and muggy, bundle up time. We did have some drizzle. They say this is normal for this time of year.

          It cleared up so we continued our walk along the canals. It was lovely, and romantic. The sky was perfect for pictures of the amazing architecture. Because we were so far north the sun set late, around 9:00pm.

          We got back to the hotel, made plans for tomorrow and passed out about 7:00pm. Jet lag started right away for us.