Cruises are an easy way to cover lots of ground, so we decided to float around the Baltic and visit six major cities. It was an efficient way to cover lots of ground and was cost efficient too, considering the weakness of the dollar vs. the Krone, Krona, Euro and Ruble.
We also decided to add a couple days in Copenhagen before the cruise and in Berlin post-cruise. Therefore, I plan to write four separate blog posts: Part 1 covers Copenhagen, Part 2 The Cruise Part 3 Estonia, Sweden and Russia and Part 4 Berlin.
We settled on Royal Caribbean, sailing May 10th, 2014.
I used to work with Jack at Leo Burnett, so we’ve been friends for years. It turned out to be a perfect match. We did lots of touring together, but they enjoyed museums – I prefer anything but. We would always meet for dinner to compare notes.
Jack was an intrepid planner (that’s what we were after all: Media Planners) which made for a well laid out trip. He also loves figuring out public transportation. We took a taxi only once. It was all trains, subways and buses. We were part of the fabric of each town we visited plus we saved a bunch of money…gobs actually. Without his penchant, I might not have been as adventurous.
Although we ate like sailors — this WAS a cruise after all — we shouldn’t have worried our little heads. We actually lost weight. No surprise. Lisa’s Fitbit calculated that we walked almost 90 miles! I didn’t leave Europe with a heavy heart…it was with tired gams.
I took 927 photos, but only have just about 300 total in each of the three recaps. I’ve minimized your exposure to the many buildings, cathedrals and parks we saw. Once home, I couldn’t tell them apart. They start to all look alike.
Buckle your seatbelt, the trip begins!!
Thursday, May 8, 2014
SAS takes 90% off the price of a ticket for babies. Need I say more? There was a young’un near us to the right and one a couple rows behind…stereo bawling, all night long.
It was empty, smooth and silent…the first of our many heavenly trips on public transportation.
After booking the cruise and flight, we THEN started looking for accommodations in Copenhagen. We had decided to go early to adjust our clocks and have time to explore the city. There was a dearth of hotel rooms — the only ones we could find were in the $600/night range.
Turned out the finals for Eurovision, a giant musical event, were taking place in Copenhagen that very weekend. In retrospect and given the enormity of the event, I’m amazed no one we’ve mentioned this to has ever heard of Eurovision.
Thirty-seven European countries hold their own contests and then send finalists to Eurovision to participate in two semifinal and one final round. The winning country becomes the host for the next year. Abba became famous after winning this completion.
This year’s competition was very controversial. On the boat we were able to watch the final 26 acts perform and the voting. The contestant from Austria was a lithe fellow, clad in a bejeweled gown. He had long painted nails, long flowing locks and a beard!
Apparently, a BBC announcer had dissed him/her so there were demonstrations and rallys calling for the announcer’s dismissal. So, the win may have been from sympathy votes. One thing is certain, his win caused great consternation in Russia. How dare they honor a transvestite! Oh so juicy.
Want to know more about the competition, which is a happening in Europe? Check out this link:
Fortunately we were able to find a reasonable priced two-bedroom apartment through AirBNB. It was easy bus ride north of the center city.
If there’s such thing as an A+++++ rating, she’s a deserving candidate.
Our first outing was a boat tour which originated from the heavily-photographed Nyhavn Harbour. Unfortunately, it ended up pouring. This was the worst experience of the whole trip, so in perspective, not so bad. We did get a good overview of the city.
We went past the Mærsk headquarters and the relatively new Opera House which is dubbed The Pencil Case, Cowboy, Pumpkin or Toaster. It was funded by Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, the founder of Mærsk Shipping and the richest man in Denmark. Some say the Opera House looks like the flag of the tax-evading, hippy village located across the water from Maersk Headquarters, so is a one-fingered salute to Mueller.
We walked along the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, known as Stroget. Because of Eurovision, it was especially lively, with various stages set up so everyone could sample some of the music.
A photo I sadly missed was of a display window with live mannequins. They were having fun waving at passersby (me).
At five o’clock, they were scheduled to have the Guinness World Record Longest Kissing Chain (in an effort to kiss prejudice goodbye) on the Stroget. The idea of staying to participate was vetoed by majority vote. But Kevin and Lisa did take a crack at it.
At the corner across from this government building, a fellow on a bike waiting to cross the street was staring at me and smiling. Finally I asked him what his problem was. It sounded like he said “you are ugly” and waved at his mouth as he smiled more broadly. Lisa was floored and I started laughing. Either a nut or he got his English wrong.
We found out the next day that he was saying I was “hygge leit” (pronounced hooglee). It is an overused expression in Danish that means “cozy” or “gives a warm feeling”. I’m not sure why, but the whole experience really tickled me. I can still see his earnest face.
We did a little grocery shopping but were intrigued by a small shop selling fresh-made Italian food. We stopped in and bought lasagna from a little old guy named “Mr. Terrible”. True to his name, the lasagna was indeed terrible. Turns out in Denmark it’s an insult to the cook to salt food, so they make sure there’s plenty in it during prep. ICK! We could hardly eat it.
The next day we took a free tour. These were offered in Copenhagen, Tallinn, Stockholm and Berlin. The strategy behind this business model is that the guides work hard for the tips, which are their only income. These tours ranged from 2-3 hours in length and were wonderful. Our guide in Copenhagen was Jane, an Irish citizen and immigrant from New Zealand. She was a treasure trove of information.
Because this blog post is partly so we can remember our trip and some of the interesting facts gathered along the way, I have put that learning in italics. Read only if you’re interested in finding out more about Copenhagen.
Taxes range from 44 to 77% in Denmark. Pays for everyone’s education and medical care.
There is a 200% excise tax on cars and motorcycles.
It is the happiest country in the world (according to who?) but has the highest divorce rate.
Although Denmark was a founding member of the EU it doesn’t use the Euro. Although, the Krone is tied to the Euro.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the Prime Minister. No one in the group knew her name. But, she was famous at one point when she took a selfy with Barack and David Cameron – Michelle glaring in the background. She is married to the son of a well-known UK politician.
Their beloved Queen Margrethe II is an over-achiever with three degrees and the ability to speak in five languages. Her son is Crown Prince Fredrik. His very down-to-earth wife, Mary, has charmed the nation. Their five children, including twin 4 year olds, attend public schools.
The Danes are progressive. The eldest CHILD gets the throne, not the eldest son.
Many Danes no longer go to church, which is why many of the building have been converted to other uses. There was a sign at the entrance of this church saying “I am not a church anymore. I am a museum.”
The major literary Danish hero is Hans Christian Andersen. Orphaned at seven, he begged to join the ballet as an actor. After repeated attempts, and no acting skill, he became a singer until his voice changed. He continued to hang around the theater where the manager heard him telling stories to the younger boys. Therein began his career. Apparently though, his original stories were quite violent…blood and gore and tragedy. What fun!
At the famous Nyhavn Harbour the buildings were houses of prostitution. In the 60’s, to drive out the prostitutes so the harbor could become a tourist attraction, the city dolled up the buildings by painting them the current colors. This alone didn’t work, so they decided to place picturesque ships in the port. Before that could happen they had to clean out the several feet-deep pile of empty bottles, wallets and similar detritus on the bottom of the harbor. The strategy worked so well, the tall-masted sailboats have resided in the harbor ever since.
The most expensive beer you can buy in Copenhagen is at that tourist-trap harbor. Our tour guide suggested just buying a six-pack and a bag of chips and sitting on a bench near the harbor. Seems there’s no law against public alcohol consumption.
The number one restaurant in the world is in Copenhagen: Noma. It has a five month waiting list. Although they serve 20 courses, Jane told us one of her customers told her he they left hungry. It had to be all about the presentation.
We did learn a bit of Danish history along the way. In Berlin, it was all you heard about — their past was indeed sordid. The Danes managed to save thousands of Jewish lives during the war. Of 8,000 Jews living in Denmark, only 42 died. There is a movie about Christian the 10th who was instrumental in this feat starring Pierce Brosnan. I’d put it on the Netflix list if only I could find it. Never got the name.
At the end of the tour, and armed with suggestions from Jane, we took off to explore more of Copenhagen.
There weren’t many homeless people on the streets. The couple we did see had prominent signs promising to do any work available. Seemed like a very Danish way to not beg while begging.
In all the European cities we visited, biking was huge. In addition to a sidewalk, there was a one-way bike lane, heading the direction of street traffic. If you mistakenly walked on that part of the pavement, you ran the risk of being run over. It didn’t take long to figure out where to walk.
On the way down from the top of the Round Tower, we stopped in to see an exhibit about hats. Who would ever know it could be so interesting? In fact, I’m going to contact our Museum of Modern Art about bringing the exhibit to Charlotte. I went a little crazy with the camera here because I loved this display. I hope you enjoy the following photos of costumes from the Royal Theater, various kinds of hats, creative hats of all kinds and Kevin modeling a couple in the “try one on” room.
From the top of the tower, we saw where the National Museum of Art was located. Jane recommended checking out their Free Friday Night event with music, dancing, drink and nibbles. Jackpot! The front of the museum was the old building. There was a new building on the back. This is where the music was performed (which we just missed) It was Queer Tango Night (their term). Queer of every flavor danced the Tango. Splendid fun!
Easy to catch the bus — not so easy to get into the building since we didn’t have a key and the buzzer from the ground floor didn’t work. This could have been a big problem since we didn’t have phones. But neighbors on the second level buzzed us in. Not understanding our explanations as we passed them at their door, they glared at us as we made our way up to the fifth floor. Catastrophe dodged!
Saturday, May 10th
Eva Marie delivered sweet rolls and walked to the grocery store with me so I could buy the two bottles of wine we were allowed to bring on board. Along the way, I told her I thought the candidate, Nicolai Poulsen, was particularly appealing.
AS a last kind gesture, she delivered us to the boat in the larger car she had borrowed from her sister. Didn’t I say she deserved an A++++?
Of all the cities we visited, I loved Copenhagen the most. It was probably a combination of the generosity and kindness of Eva Marie, the energy of Eurovision, the lovely, helpful people we met everywhere…and the fellow who told me I was “oooglee”.