Friday, December 15, 2017

Scandinavia 12

Christmas Ornaments
From Scandinavia

          Since we got married we've made it a tradition to buy an ornament  for our Christmas tree everywhere we travel that year. After 45 years of marriage and our extensive travels we have quite a tree full.
          Sometimes our trip took place in the summer or off season and Christmas tree ornaments were not available. We then turn to refrigerator magnets, or key chains (by removing the chain and the ring it becomes a lovely ornament).
          So we don't forget where and when we traveled, we write on each ornament, the city and year we visited. Every December we decorate the tree and it becomes a waltz down memory lane.

Here are the ornaments we purchased from our Scandinavian trip:

Copenhagen, Denmark
Our last day in Copenhagen we were walking along a small cobble stone street with small shops lining the block. The quaint  buildings were built around the early 1700s. We happened to walk into one shop that had a nice selection of key chains. We bought one, disconnected the key ring when we got home and put the hook on.

Warnemunde, Germany
We were walking along the "seaboard" enjoying the warm sun, and  crashing of the waves. The cabanas were lovely and large. We came across a light house and  modern gift  shop. We continued to stroll and entered a small gift shop on the sand. This key chain was the only one that had the light house on it and the only one left. Two other people had looked at it and put it back so we snatched it.

Riga, Latvia
As we toured the town we came across an impromptu two man show in the street. The people surrounded the pair, clapped and sang along. Several young girls were dressed in traditional clothes, singing and dancing along with the music. On the way back to the ship we came across a souvenir shop in a romantic corner of the city lined with bistros. As soon as we saw this refrigerator magnet we had to have it. When we got home we converted it to an ornament.

Klaipeda, Lithuania
Klaipeda was an beautiful city full of flowers hanging from light posts, and in flower towers throughout the city. It got windy so we ducked into an Amber Shop to get out of the wind. The items were lovely, beautifully cut amber in jewelry and art work, but they were way out of our price range because they were real amber. We found a flea market on the way back to the ship and bought this refrigerator magnet  in honor of the amber we drooled over.

Trallinn, Estonia
Tallinn was so very beautiful! The old town brought a real feel for the days of maidens and knights. I truly felt I was in a fairy tale the entire time we were in the old town. We wanted an ornament that depicted the ancient castle and streets. We were fortunate to find this ornament, (not a keychain) in a small shop in one of the ancient building along the castle gates.

Helsinki, Finland
Our time was very short in Helsinki and we regret we were not able to  see  most of the city since we were on foot. We took a harbor cruise, and found out  that moose and other animals will occasionally wonder into the city. The tour guide told of a young moose got lost and ended up in the park full of trees. She talked bout the tourists and visitors surrounding the park taking pictures and the poor young moose scared to death. It's mother should ahve been nearby but wasn't. Eventually their animal game people came and got him on his way to the hills. We found this in a street market in honor of that brave little moose.

St. Petersburg, Russia
We were very fortunately to be docked in St. Petersburg for three days and two night. Hence, we had the opportunity to enjoy the city. I wanted a traditional ornament for this city because of its beauty and history. We found this in a Christmas shop along the canal and fell in love with it. It was actually an ornament .

Stockholm, Sweden
We bought this keychain at the Palace. We were so impressed with the clean, classy designs of Nobility, i.e. the ancient robes, crowns and scepters. The docents at the palace were very nice and anxious to answer any questions we had.

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Scandinavia 11

Heading Home

Leaving Stockholm

          Our trip home began at 5 am. We were to board at 9:10am...good thing we got started early!

          Our hired driver was supposed to pick us up at 5:30. He arrived at 5:15, traffic was non-existent. So we were at the airport before 6 am... 3 hours early. After getting our luggage tagged we were directed to the Business Class lounge, a ten-minute walk. The lounge was decorated in IKEA like decor, very comfortable. And of course, there was a buffet of great food. To pass the time we wrote and edited Slick Deal, our up, and coming book.

          Bill decided he wanted to head to the gate early. Good thing, customs, and immigration took over an hour. Not sure why since there were only 6 people online. The plane started boarding at 9:10 we made it there at 9:20.


          We got settled in our Business Class pods, dining on great food, watched movies, edited our books, and napped. Overall the flight was pretty uneventful. We agreed traveling Business Class is the way to go!

          When we landed in LAX  at 9:30we found a computerized system for immigration. The computer took our photos, and scanned our passports. By time we got our luggage it was noon and hot! We just came from 50-57 degree weather so it was a shock to our system.

          We took Super Shuttle home and found all was well.
          We sat in our living room, sipping ice herb tea and faced the long recovery from jet lag.

          Our trip now seems like a dream, thankful our journal and photos are well documented. While waiting for our flight in Stockholm, I picked up a travel magazine and thumbed through it. I found a quote that made me think and realize how true it is.

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
by Henry Miller

          I want you to know how much we have enjoyed sharing our journey with you and hope you have enjoyed it as well.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Scandinavia 10b

Stockholm, the Amsterdam of Scandinavia.
Our last day of touring! Breakfast was included every morning of our hotel stay. the Breakfast Buffet was to die for!! It catered to any taste, foreign or not! We discovered Scandinavian breakfast pate which is delicious. Hope we can find it in the US. We also fell in love with Lingonberries. The lobby offered free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. It was a gathering area for guests and visitors. We met many fascinating people especially from Nordic countries such as Iceland and several Lap Landers.

ABBA Museum
This was the first time we went to a museum dedicated to popular musicians. It was made up of multi-media displays of the band's history, music, and costumes. We had no idea the problems they faced just getting started. They broke up in 1982 but their music lives on in movies,  radio and in this museum.

Riddenholman Church
The church is where many of the kings and queens of Sweden are entombed along with many members of the Swedish nobility. It dates from the 12th century, founded by St Francis of Assisi and his order of monks. It was interesting to see the different phases of completion of the church.

We missed the bus back to our hotel and had to wait half an hour for the next one. Freezing cold, we slipped into a cafe called Brassieret. It looked like it was plucked right out of 1930s Paris. French accordion music played over the sound system.  We ordered a couple of hot chocolates to warm us up. This little brassiere was very romantic.

Royal Palace
We spent the morning at the Palace. The crown jewels were beautiful,  tasteful, simple and elegant. The upstairs of the palace were the living quarters of the King and Queen. However, when their children were young there was no place for them to play. So they moved and now use the palace as their office (they are there daily) as well as for receptions/ ceremonies. The second floor now is a showcase for the beautifully designed clothing royal clothes, historical items and history of the Monarchy. All of it was quite an education.

We found out that our timing was way off. There was to be a Royal Event scheduled for tomorrow 10:00am. The king was making an appearance to accept the credentials of the new Ambassadors to Sweden. They were arriving in traditional carriages and horses. Really wish we could attend but we would be at the airport leaving for home.
Just a note: When we finished the tour we were hungry. I asked one of the guides if there was a cafe on the Palace grounds.
"Oh there are many cafes in Old Town, just...throw a it"
We looked at each other, "You mean a stones' throw from here?"
"Oh yes, a stone's throw."

Grand Hotel
We were headed for the Opera House with a string of restaurants along the side. Across the street however, was the Grand Hotel built in 1874. We simultaneously said. "Let's go to the Grand."
The Grand Hotel was beautiful, very high class. We were afraid they wouldn't let us in since we were traveling and looked well...worse than casual. They were very nice and directed us to the "less formal" eating area, a lovely restaurant with large windows facing the harbor.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Scandinavia 10a

Stockholm, Sweden

A Five Day Stay

We stood on the veranda of our stateroom and watched the scenery pass as we pulled into port. We were surrounded by islands with dense trees and small houses/building. The trees were beginning to change to fall colors. Everything worked as planned; our driver arrived right on time to pick us up from the dock and delivered us to our hotel.
After being on the ship 10 days, completely coddled with servants and food (all day long) we had to forage for ourselves. It was a rude awakening to get back to the "real" world...

Vasa Museum
The forecast said, “heavy rain all day”. So we took our rain gear and carried it around all day. Not a drop, but freezing cold with many gusts of strong wind! We went to the Vasa Museum, a 1623 warship that was supposed to be high tech for its day. It sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage and rested at the bottom of the harbor for 333 years. In 1950 it was brought up from the sea mostly intact. It’s an amazing ship if only for its massiveness.

Swedish Historical Museum
The Swedish Historical Museum is all about prehistoric Sweden and the Viking era. The Vikings were big, mean,  light-skinned people, and smart enough to figure out how to navigate the Nordic seas all the way to Newfoundland! Then they went south to Portugal in the 12th century. Some were described them as "giants with fire colored hair".

Changing of the Guard
The next day after breakfast we left for the Royal Palace. It was raining, heavy winds and only 50 degrees. The rain got heavier with gale winds as we walked. We had to navigate cobblestone streets, up a slight hill. The wind was pelting the rain at our face and front of our rain gear, We slipped and slid on the cobblestones. Because of Stockholm's drainage system, we didn't see much in the way of flooding or major puddles. We made it to the palace just in time to see the Changing of the Guard. They wore full uniforms (including feathered helmets), and rode on huge white and brown horses and mounted military brass band. The musicians actually played while riding their horses!
Afterward, we decided to take the three-hour trip back to the hotel and let the storm blow through.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Scandinavia #9

Tallinn, Estonia

Cruising to Estonia
We sailed for Tallinn, Estonia overnight and hit a storm. We were rockin’ and rollin’ all night. We woke up to a dark, cloudy, rainy morning and dreaded the 2 km (almost a mile) walk to the old town. 

Then we heard the PA system announce there would be a shuttle bus provided for those who wanted to explore Tallinn on their own. You gotta love Oceania Cruises. (They take the pain out of almost everything.)

A day in Estonia
 Tallinn, is the capital of Estonia. I call the "Fairy Tale City". This is a country we knew nothing about, absolutely nothing.

It started to rain just as we got into town and ducked into the Tallinn City Museum. Since the rain was coming down heavily, we decided to pay $3 and stay for awhile. The town apparently has been a settlement since 1300 BC! The town was named and built on a hill as a fortress in 1100AD. It is a definite medieval city. The towers, fortress, and castle still stand as well as the homes of the rich from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Old Town
The bus dropped us off at a park and we walked three blocks to Old Town. We turned the corner and saw high grass-covered earthen walls on our left with a long flower market lining the street at the base of the ancient wall. Ahead was the medieval gate to the old city with tall stone towers capped by clay tiled conical (cone-shaped) roofs on either side. We felt like we'd been transported to the days of Knights and Vikings, except this was the real deal. Not of fake Hollywood recreations. We wandered further and found street after street of fantasy-like scenes.

Walking through Old Town was like walking through a fairy tale:  Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc. A few narrow streets took us past several embassies of foreign nations.  We were amazed that the city has been so well preserved and rebuilt after so many invasions  We came across the town square lined with colorful outdoor cafes and restaurants. We stopped and had hot chocolate at an outdoor, covered cafĂ© surrounded by ancient brick buildings. We stayed about an hour just enjoying the view of the square. It is such a beautiful, quaint, charming city. I hope to come back to Tallinn some day.

As the ship left the dock that night and sailed north, the fog rolled in. From the sea, we could see the castle towers on the hill with the fog staying close to the ground. It looked like the town was floating on a cloud.

Last night of the cruise
Tonight is the last night of the cruise before we disembarked in Stockholm tomorrow morning. There was a farewell party in the top deck lounge with full-length windows. The sky was black with a half-moon shining bright and trailing its light along the choppy sea. It was a magnificent sight.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Scandinavia #8b

St. Petersburg, Russia
Tour of the Hermitage and Symphony Performance

We were told to "dress" for the evening. The tour was after hours reducing the crowd.

 The Winter Palace and Hermitage was amazing. Just as it was the last time I was here, it took my breath away. The craftsmanship of the ceilings and wood inlays of the floors were so delicate and lovely. The tour through the Hermitage lasted 90 minutes and included a great collection of Rembrandts and collectibles. Then what we had been waiting for, the St. Petersburg State Symphony performance. We were shocked to see it was a full symphony orchestra!  We sat in a large room surrounded by Rembrandt paintings, skylight and ornate ceiling listening to a great collection of the masters. The program included the Blue Danube and Barber of Seville. Afterward, we were treated to a Champagne Reception in the atrium with cherry juice for non-drinkers. When we left the building, several cathedrals and buildings across the canal were lit up against the black night sky reflecting in the canals. It was romantic, I couldn't have planned it better myself.

There were four buses full of people returning from evening events at the same time. Customs took forever and the line to get back onboard was 30 minutes in the freezing cold. Good thing we dressed in layers! We were cold, tired and hungry as we were it was heartwarming to walk into our stateroom and see two covered plates of food waiting in our room.
(For a video of the performance copy and paste:;_ylt=AwrC5pauf8VZ53QA7QosnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByZWc0dGJtBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQDBGdwb3MDMQ--?p=st+petersburg+state+symphony+orchestra%2C+hermitage&vid=097cd68070ce51eefa78ab88c9028efa&

We were docked in Russia for a total of three days. It is a Magical City.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Scandinavia #8a

St. Petersburg, Russia

I never thought I would step on Russian soil again, never in my wildest dreams! I was in Russia in 1990 for 3 weeks (went to St. Petersburg, Moscow,  and Prague, Czech Republic). It wasn’t until we cleared immigration and I actually walked past customs, that it sunk in that I was actually here...again.

Faberge Museum Tour
          I saw only a few Faberge Eggs last time I was here because they on an exhibition to the US. I had forgotten how gorgeous they were. The intricate detail of design was truly amazing.

          The museum is housed in the  Shuvalovs Palace, one of the most beautiful palaces in St. Petersburg, formerly owned by the Naryshkins and the Shuvalovs, two famous aristocratic families.

          Carl Faberge was French-born but lived in Russia for many years. He began making decorated eggs for Peter the Great and his royal heirs. When the revolution occurred he escaped to Switzerland where he died around 1920. When he fled, his workshop was left behind and hidden by friends. After WWII Faberge’s heirs retrieved the workshop and sold it to an artist in Italy. They also sold him the Faberge name.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on board the ship, hit the hot tub, and had dinner with our new international friends on board.

Tour of the City
We took a bus tour through St. Petersburg and it was better than I remembered. The streets are repaired, the buildings no longer in shambles and so many new skyscrapers than before. But the sense of antiquity and charm of the city still remained. We spend time touring St. Peter and Paul Fortress which contains the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. The cathedral was Marvelous!

After the 4 hour tour, we returned to the ship at 1pm, had lunch and relaxed in the library.