We are in Copenhagen, Denmark where it is a good day for mermaids, and also for fish, ducks, and umbrellas. The weather has really been superb with no rain and temperatures in the upper 60’s and low 70’s during our trip. But today it is raining. We don our weather gear and go looking for the Little Mermaid.
We spend the next two and a half hours with Sherman, our guide, as he walks us around Copenhagen and lets us in on the secret of why Denmark is the world’s happiest nation. Could it be their glorious past? They have a lot of statues reminding them of it.
This is a statue about the mythological founding of Zealand, the island where Copenhagen is situated. Swedish King Gylfi promised Gefion all the territory she could plow in one night figuring she would only be able to manage one acre. Crafty Gefion turned her sons into oxen and plowed up a lot of land which they threw into the sea creating Zealand. The hole became Lake Varnen in Sweden which is about the same size and shape as Zealand.
And then there are the statues of former Fredericks.
Finally sometimes it is good to put up a statue to remind you that you (Denmark) did some terrible things in the past that you wish to atone for. This statue of the slave, Queen Mary, was erected this year.
Sherman tells us that the Swedes are their sworn enemies. It seems like Sweden and Denmark have been feuding for years. Really? It is hard to tell all these blond people apart. Even though Sherman tells us that Denmark has become very good at surrendering, we can see traces of their militarism.
Maybe churches make them happy? Denmark is mostly Lutheran although not so many people attend services.
As we wind up the morning tour we must face the fact that although they pay 50% of their income in taxes in exchange for free health care, generous maternity/paternity leave, free higher education (actually the government pays you to go to college), job retraining if you quit a job you don’t like, old age pensions, liveable wages, etc. they are not miserable. In fact they are the happiest nation in the world.
During our afternoon tour we find some other reasons they are happy, great food! John and I take the Food Lovers tour which centers around the Copenhagen Market. The guide gives us so many treats that it is hard to swallow them fast enough.
At the end of today we are feeling pretty happy too!
Today instead of taking the train to Berlin we opt for a simpler and shorter outing to Rostock. It is not so much the place that is memorable but a person, our guide, Johannes. He is a graduate student in modern German language and history at Rostock University.
Johannes’s family has lived in the Mecklenburg/Pomerania area for centuries and they have experienced a lot of history. He is very forthcoming about his family’s role in Nazi Germany. Some of his great-grandparents were Nazis, even higher level Nazis. He told a story of one relative of these great-grandparents who was killed because she was handicapped in some way. When Johannes objected to it, they said that it was too bad that their professor was no longer living because he would have been able to explain it better. In other words, they had no problem with it.
His grandfather who is still living was recruited into the Nazi army when he was 17. He has a diary that he wrote of his experiences while in the army that he will not let his family read until he is dead. Johannes is hoping to use this diary to write a book about how it was to be a 17 year old conscripted Nazi soldier. He told us people only talk about their roles in Nazi Germany within their families although it is changing with the younger generation.
As we walk through the pretty reconstructed town of Rostock his commentary puts a dark edge on the scenes.
Johannes remarks that Germans are masters of building new things to look old.
Rostock was part of East Germany. As we drive into the city the suburbs have many Soviet style apartment blocks still standing. Most Soviet statues have been pulled down although there is still a Soviet fountain in the middle of town.
Since it is a lovely day we decide to stay in town and have lunch. We can make our own way back. We thank Johannes for his frank discussion about Nazi Germany and head into the city government square. Since we are both still having cold symptoms we need to find a pharmacy for cold medications. Rats Apotheke should do the trick.
Then it is off in search of some lunch. We are hoping for “wurst und kraut und bier” but settle for beer, French fries, and a curry dog. Curry dogs seem to be all the rage in Northern Germany.
This curry dog must be 18” long! And it is swimming in this awful sweet sauce. There is a sprinkling of curry powder on the veal sausage. I try to eat the ends where there is less sauce. This is a bad experiment!
We buy a ticket for the tram and then transfer onto the S-bahn which takes us back to ship. (It is always a little scary to take transportation that you are not sure whether it will take you where you need to go.) It is a good deal for 2 euros.
Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table where the theme is Sweet and Salty.
NOTE: John tells me that some of the pictures are reversed or upside down on his laptop. Everything looks fine on my iPad. So sorry if this is happening, I do not know how to fix it.
We drop anchor here in Gdynia at around 6 AM and our tour needs to leave at 6:45 AM. We have only a short time here in this area as the ship leaves again at 1 PM and the port where we are anchored, Gdynia, is an hour bus ride from Gdansk. Why all the leading “Gd”s? “Gd” means the place is marshy much like Marshfield, MA must be a marshy field place. John is quite excited to be in Poland since he is half Polish and half Polish Jewish and is only second generation in the U.S.
Our guide is a chipper older lady who knows a lot about Gdansk, architecture, and history. She lived through the Soviet times and is so excited about having tourists and especially about the many new shopping malls. (I want to tell her that brick and mortars are dying but do not want to burst her bubble.)
Our walking tour takes us from the Golden Gate to the Green Gate along the Long Market Street.
Here is a fact I did not know. The original Prussians ethnically were not Germans. They were Slavic Poles and Lithuanians. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenots.
Here is the original gate to the city which is now an amber museum.
When I say old city gate, I mean reconstructed old gate. Gdansk was bombed to smithereens during WWII.
And here is what the picture on the left looks like today –
And here is the modern view of the picture on the right –
Here is an interesting political development in modern Poland. A right-wing party was voted into power recently and there is a large segment of the population who are very upset about it, including our guide. She says people are slipping away from democracy. In protest these liberal groups have been putting T-shirts on monuments with a constitutional slogan.
Next we have a demonstration about amber and how to tell whether amber is real or not. Real amber, unlike plastic, floats. Real amber can burn like a candle. Or you can trust a merchant who has the “real amber” certificate in their store (such as this one.) So actually the whole amber thing is a shopping opportunity.
Since our shopping opportunity is supposed to last half and hour John and I go out into the square and look at some archival photos of Gdansk. We also take selfies.
Now it is time for pierogi making. Yay! We are all ushered into a restaurant where we don plastic aprons and are given a bunch of dough and filling. After a demonstration we are on our own!
Best part, though, is that once our group is finished making a whole lot of pierogis, the chef takes them away, cooks them, and we sit down to a pierogi feast. They are stuffed with a seasoned, minced pork and are really good!!
After a little more walking around we go to a place called Goldwasser. There we will taste a mighty spirit that has actual flecks of gold in it. Plus we get some snacks to go with it.
On the way out we have a surprise gift! Each of us gets a small bottle of Goldwasser!
It is almost noon and time to get back to the ship since we have an early afternoon departure. I spend some time washing out some items and taking a nap. We head down to the port talk about going to Berlin the next day. After listening to the port talk about the 3 hour un-air conditioned train ride in each direction and becoming increasingly concerned about our stamina for such a thing since we both have colds, we decide to pull the plug on going to Berlin and opt for a gentler tour to Rostock tomorrow.
Later we have dinner in Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant on the ship. Tonight’s dinner is more successful than our last foray there. Here are some of things we had –
In crossword puzzles the answer to the clue “confused or bewildered” is “at sea.” But here on the ship being at sea means that we are stopping at no ports. So it is a good time to sleep in, hand wash a few things, and go to a couple of talks in the Star Theater where we are always entertained while waiting with 50’s music. Most of the people on the boat are in their 60’s and 70’s and were not bopping to “Throw Momma from the Train a Kiss” when they were teens.
And, of course, eating is a main activity on an at sea day.
I take a picture of our room service breakfast and my lunch but I will spare you.
Here is the view from the front of the boat.
We go to the Port Talk for tomorrow which is Gdansk . We learn that Gdansk was 90% destroyed in WWII and has now been rebuilt to look as it was. I am wondering if this will be a Gdansk World kind of experience.
Then later we go to a talk about the Bayeux Tapestry which we have seen when traveling in France a few years ago. It is a 70 meter piece of linen embroidered with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The fellow talking is very informative and has interesting graphics which he stands in front of the whole time he is talking. So that is a bit frustrating.
Afterwards John gets a negroni sbagliato which is like a regular negroni but substitutes champagne for the gin and club soda. I have a sip. It’s pretty tasty.
Our dinner tonight is Venice Carnival at the Chef’s Table. With the exception of the main course the rest of the dishes are red-ish in honor of the Venetian painter Carpaccio whose paintings featured a bright red.
We start with roasted pepper and tomato jelly with a goat cheese latte foam. It is tasty but more in a gazpacho way. The restaurant is slammed tonight and I think the jelly has sat out too long and turned into soup.
Next we have the eponymous Carpaccio. We get some sea salt and olive oil to put on it. I think we improved it.
Next we have a palate cleanser of peach juice foam which they call a Bellini. Meh.
For the main course we have a cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke risotto and a tartufo foam. It is very good.
Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia. John has recuperated a little and I am only a little sick at this point. Ah, Viking cruises, on four cruises we have four units of sickness. When we travel on our own we are rarely sick. Maybe we should either stay home or only travel on our own.
Anyway, Tallinn is a lovely town with lots of medieval buildings. We do a walking tour with Eneken, a very tall Estonian. One thing we learned from listening to The History of English podcast is that Estonians are not related to Latvians or Letts who are Slavs. Estonians originated from around Siberia and split into three distinct groups after they crossed the Urals-some went to Finland, some to Hungary, and some to Estonia. So their languages are similar.
Eneken tells about the school system where children are taught four languages, Estonian, English, Russian, and German. Tallinn is about 30% Russian, a holdover from Soviet days. Russians are made up of modern Russians and Soviet Russians. The older generations still hold suspicions of each other. The Soviets (makes clear that it is not Russians) deported thousands of Estonians to Siberia due to un-Soviet thoughts. Estonia only free since 1991 and the populace seems very patriotic.
During our second free time and because we are not sure there will be enough time to eat lunch we stop at the Peppersack for a snack and bathroom break.
We get back to the ship with about 45 minutes turnaround until our next outing, Soviet Flashback. We walk back down the long pier and encounter a vintage Soviet bus.
This excursion is a tongue in cheek look at life in Soviet Estonia. Our “General” lines us up and checks our passports and makes us march around the bus in an exaggerated fashion. He is quite funny.
On the bus he shows us pictures of Katyusha rockets and his beloved leaders, Stalin and Brezhnev, and we applaud. Then we all have a shot of vodka and a gherkin.
After pulling into a parking lot we de-bus and he gets serious and talks about his experiences. His grandfather was deported to Siberia and our guide had to hide in the forest to avoid being drafted by the Russian army where he would have gone to fight in Afghanistan.
After the liberation he worked with the Peace Corp. volunteers where he learned, among other things, John Denver’s Country Roads. We all sing together on the way back.
We have a great time on our Soviet Flashback tour and now have a couple of hours until dinner. Amazingly we stay awake. I guess we are over jet lag.
Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table is called “La Route des Indies” and is centered around spices. It is a really tasty dinner.
Today we have a BIG day. We need to be ready to go at 8 AM for the lengthy process of getting off the boat and through immigration into Russia. The humorless border agents take a long time looking at each person’s passport and giving out provisional visas. However, after about an hour of rigamarole we are on our bus and heading into downtown St. Petersburg for our tour of the Hermitage.
Even though the museum does not open until 10:30 and it is 9:30, there are scads of people waiting on line in the huge Palace Square.
ALERT! I went to a lot of trouble putting in Cyrillic characters in this next section and now I see they have come out as question marks. I am not taking out my original text.
Nothing to do while waiting in interminable lines to get into the Hermitage? Why not have a ??? ????That’s hot dog to you non-Cyrillic readers. (At last a use for my three years of college Russian!)
We have tickets that let us in early. But lots of people also have these tickets and we are shuttled from one line to the next.
It is now 10 AM but even this half hour head start means that there will be fewer people angling for a look at the masterpieces. As someone who has been here when there is no advantage, it is much less crowded.
So we have about an hour and forty-five minutes to look with time out for bathroom breaks. Our guide tells us that if you went to the Hermitage every day and looked at each piece of art for one minute during opening hours it would take eight years to look at everything. So you get an idea of how few items we can look at for less than a minute. It is a little frustrating.
Here are some things that we see –
First we walk down a hall full of czars and czarinas and wives of czars. Then there is a hall with famous generals. Next are fancy reception and throne rooms. One room has a gold peacock clock which has mechanical movement and opens its tail (but not today.) You can click through for bigger renditions if czars are your thing.
We are hurried through the medieval and early Renaissance paintings because we must get to the da Vinci paintings. I am sad that we cannot tarry at the art that I love. The Madonna and Child Enthroned reminds me of the Maesta at the Uffizi. I take a quick detour and snap a few pictures.
The two da Vinci paintings are lovely Madonna and Child works. The early one has the BVM looking barely old enough to have a child. It is very crowded and the light from the windows reflects off the glass covering the paintings. Our guide says we should not try to take pictures and just get the image from the internet later but there is something about taking your own pictures.
Next we hurry by a Michelangelo sculpture, The Crouching Boy, 1530-1534. Perhaps my picture should be titled Boy Crouching While Americans Don’t Look at Him.
Now if we can just wait another ten minutes until the bathroom break we can see a Caravaggio and then the Rembrandts.
The Hermitage has a fabulous collection of Rembrandts. While the guide talks I walk around looking for a couple of my favorites.
It is around noon and after our promised bathroom break we walk across Palace Square to the new section of the Hermitage holding Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. People are beginning to ask when we will have a little sit down and lunch. Not until 2 PM says our guide.
I ask John if he is having trouble with allergies because he has been sneezing a lot. No, he says, I have a cold. DANGER! DANGER! Not only do I not want John to be sick but I got pneumonia on a Viking River Cruise. I do not dare get sick. Right now, though, it is just my knee that is troubling me. It has been hurting since I fell in Oslo. We have been going up and down a lot of stairs today. I am having trouble bending it.
Nevertheless we soldier on. The Hermitage has a large collection of Impressionist paintings. There were two citizens of Imperial Russia that had large collections starting from the beginning of the movement. When the Revolution came in 1917 the Soviet government kindly expropriated the collections and put them in the Hermitage. So most of the art they have was created before 1917.
Here are a few I liked –
So now it is 1:30 PM and we finally get back on the bus to ride to the Storage Facility for the Hermitage. Only about 10% of the entire collection is in the display rooms of the Hermitage the rest of it is in this state-of-the-art storage and restoration facility. But first we have lunch in the canteen.
At this point my phone punks out because it has been surreptitiously updating itself and I cannot get back to taking photos until I go through some protocol that needs WiFi. So I cannot show you our delicious (sarcasm) lunch which was done in color-blocking that Mondrian would be proud of. We had dark red borscht, a plate of white meat chicken in a white sauce with white rice, and a dark brown chocolate muffin with chocolate chips. It was the reddest, brownest, whitest meal I have ever had.
We are not allowed to take pictures at the facility so let it suffice for me to say that we saw some old frescoes, fabulous antique clothing, a bunch of old furniture, and restored royal carriages.
We are pretty tired out by the time we get off the bus, go through immigration again, and head up to our room. We decide on room service and an early bed time tonight.
Today we have a lovely day in Helsinki. I think I am going to have to put some of my pictures in a smaller format because I have so many pictures of food!!! Our excursion is a Taste of Finland! Unlike yesterday’s tour this one was much better with a personable docent and lots of great information.
We start at the Old Market which is full of wooden stalls with lots of Finlandish taste treats. There are pastries, canned game, reindeer, and all sorts of fish.
We get to have a taste of smoked reindeer and this is followed by a sit down tasting of delicate gravlax and crawfish and chili mayonnaise on Swedish rye.
We have some time to look around on our own. John and I take the time to walk around the market but also have a little sit down with a cup of cappuccino.
Then we venture to the outdoor market. There is lots for sale here. All sorts of fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, and items for the home. It is hard to imagine holding this fresh air market when the temperature is way below zero. Our guide tells us that sometimes when visiting dignitaries visit their president whose palace is right across the street he takes them to the outdoor market to sit and have a cup of coffee and a treat.
right across the street from
The outdoor market is a wonderland of berries and mushrooms plus cooked items, clothing, and housewares.
Finland is 70% forest and 20% lakes. The Finnish people are allowed to go foraging and fishing for no fee everywhere.
We now have some free time to look around the market and the surrounding area. We go to the Town Hall (free bathrooms!), the Presidential Palace, and the Uspenski church which used to be Orthodox when the Russians were in control here.
After meeting up again with our party we walk to Senate Square and either the square is so big or the population of Helsinki so small that everyone can fit in it. There is a statue to Czar Alexander II because he was nice to the Finns and let them have some autonomy. The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral is also here.
We board our mini-bus and take off for a short tour of the city when our guide realizes she has left two people behind. This is the second day in a row that our tour has lost people. After a while they are found and we hurry back to the boat.
Dinner tonight is at the Chef’s Table where we further ingratiate ourselves by talking about Croatia with the Croatian manager. John actually hints that he may be a distant cousin of the owners of Pilato Winery. We have no shame but now we do have a standing invitation to eat at Chef’s Table. Mission accomplished.
Dinner tonight is Asian Panorama. Here are some of the dishes –
We start today with some breakfast room service which allows us to avoid the crowded early morning food scene. The food come like a big puzzle all fit into a large tray.
Today is our first excursion and we are supposed to learn about Viking life. One thing I notice here in Scandinavia is that they try very hard to paint Vikings as explorers and adventurers rather than marauders. We get on our bus and fight through a lot of morning traffic to Viking Aliv! which is kind of a hokey Viking theme attraction.
At Viking Aliv we see mock ups of Vikings, Viking houses, Viking food, etc.
A few things we do learn are that the word “window” comes from the Vikings. Their homes had no chimneys, just a triangular eye at each end for the wind to pass through or “wind eye” which morphed into window.
Two other factoids are that Viking sails were woven of wool and that Viking helmets had nose pieces but no horns. The German composer, Wagner, was the inventor of horned Viking helmets.
We also go on a ride through a Viking story, Ragnfrid’s Saga, which tries to be Disneyesque but fails.
From there we go to an actual Swedish history museum where we see real rune stones, burial sites, and gold ornamentation of the Vikings.
We would have liked to stay longer but our time is shortened due to the fact that our leader has miscounted heads and left someone behind at Viking Aliv! and we have to go back and pick her up.
Finally we go to a restaurant, Sjatte Tunnan, in Gamla Stan, the old town, which is kind of a pretend Viking dining hall. We have a glass of mead and a pate that is made in the shape of a pear with a lingonberry sauce. It is pretty tasty!
We get back in time for the mandatory safety drill and a quick lunch before we head off through the Stockholm archipelago.
The archipelago is quite lovely with small islands with summer homes upon them. We do some relaxing on our deck and watch the world go by. Until tomorrow morning we will be steaming our way to Helsinki, Finland.
Tonight for dinner we are going to the other of the Viking Seas’s premium restaurants, Manfredi’s. We have a mostly bad meal. The positive things I can say are that the bread is very good, once he got past the errant bones John’s sea bass is good, and the dessert we make for ourselves, Parmesan with honey, are all good. Here are some pictures –
Today is the day we board the ship, Viking Sea, for our trip around the Baltic. But first we head downstairs to the RBG Bar and Grill where breakfast is being served at the hotel. It is very busy in the breakfast area with mobs of Americans bound for cruises today vying for the food as if it is the last meal they will ever have. I really do not like the buffet mob scene. What I tend to do is go to the area of the buffet where there are no people, the table of the unloved. As long as I do not have to be part of the noisy, grabby rabble I am happy with whatever I can cobble together for breakfast.
Today the hordes were not appreciating some smoked meats, radishes, pickled cucumbers, and liver pate. I look at these unloved ingredients and think, banh mi!! I find a loaf of dark bread that no one is eating and cut a slice and make a really delicious open-faced bahn mi. Yay, for unloved food!
Later in the morning we head out to the ship, the Viking Sea. Since we are on our own, we take a taxi instead of the Viking bus. Our taxi driver is confused and takes us to the wrong place. When he realizes his error he turns off meter. Before you know it we are through the formalities of getting on the ship and in our cabin. Here’s what it looks like.
Our cabin steward, Jerek, tells us all the ins and outs of our cabin and life aboard in general. We spend some time looking around and figuring out where we will put stuff later when our luggage is delivered. While waiting for our bags, we sample a little lunch.
John introduces himself to the bar team and we run into Castor who was on our previous cruise in June, 2017. He recognizes John and gives us hugs. It is nice to see someone we know. They refer to us as Sir John and Miss Mary.
After a sampling of various salads I decide on the squid and shrimp salad. The baked salmon is also really good.
When we return to our room our luggage has arrived and we spend some time getting it all sorted out. It is so nice to think that we will not have to live out of suitcases and unpack and repack repeatedly. A hint that I picked up on Cruise Critic is that you can put magnetic clips on the walls and hang all your various papers up. Underneath the wallpaper the walls are made of metal. I think it will really help us to keep our stuff orderly.
Even though we are feeling much more alert today, after our afternoon room organization we spend a little email catch up and sleepy time. Today instead of feeling drugged when we wake up we are much more alert. I think we are turning the jet lag corner!
We get dressed in fancier duds for our dinner at Chef’s Table at 8PM. Since the staff will probably be all new since we were here last time, we have to make them understand that we will probably be dining at this venue every other night regardless of their “rules” of only three reservations. Everyone is very nice, earnest, and sweet so we are off to a good start.
Our dinner tonight is called a Gastronomic Journey Through Time. First course is an amuse bouche, Roman Empire Delicacy. I am not sure what is ancient or Roman about it but we are served a romaine and cucumber gelee with a goat cheese mousse paired with a tangy Riesling Kabinett, Selbach, Mosel wine from Germany. I think the gelee is weird.
Next we have an oxtail consommé paired with a San Leonino Chianti Classico Reserva, 2014. Both the wine and the soup are very good.
Next we have a palate cleanser, “medieval black and blue,” which consists of vodka, mint, and mixed berries. It is dark red and I keep expecting to taste beets. Meh.
Here is a picture of our main course plus John who is looking dapper tonight. He substitutes a glass of wine for his traditional beer.
The main course is a real standout. It is Renaissance-style lamb filet with sweet potato mash, and a glazed carrot medley. We talk to the chef about it later. It is cooked sous -vide to a perfect internal temperature earlier in the day and then quickly roasted later at service. We like it a lot. It is served with a Donnafugata Sherazade from Sicily.
Finally there is a course that we can do without, dessert. I am a real dessertaphobe and this is especially true if the dessert features chocolate. So I mostly just look at the 21st century nut brownie with pistachio ice cream and sip at the Torre Vento Dulcis in Fundo (Moscato) from Apulia, Italy. (We were there in March!)
Even though we have harangued everyone with our explanation about why we need to eat at the Chef’s Table outside of the regulated times, they are nice enough to take our picture towards the end of dinner.