Saturday, June 25, 2016
We had a quick continental breakfast outside before touring the sites of Copenhagen. Our first stop was the grand Christiansborg Palace, on the tiny island of Slotsholmen. It contains the Danish Parliament Folketinget, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State. Parts of the palace are used by the Royal Family for various functions and events. The Royal Reception Rooms include The Tower Room and The Oval Throne Room where foreign ambassadors to Denmark are received by the Queen.
We had planned to have lunch here but instead walked along the river to the Amalienborg Palace, considered one of the greatest works of Danish Rococco architecture. Constructed in the 1700s, it is made up of four identical buildings: Christian VII’s Palace used as a guest residence, Christian VIII’s Palace used as guest palace for Prince Joachim and Princess Benedikte, Frederik VIII’s Palace, home of the Crown Prince's family and Christian IX’s Palace, home of the Queen and Prince Consort. In the middle of the palace square there is a 1771 statue of King Frederik V. There are no visible links between the residences. Seamus leaned up against one of the buildings to read his map in the shade and got yelled at by a guard.
Later we walked a little way along the high-end part of Copenhagen's largest shopping area around Strøget in the heart of the city. Strøget is one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets. Of course it was Sunday and all the shops were shut. This was quite incredible as the street was jammed with people.
By now it was late in the afternoon and we hadn't eaten. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant and had a very welcome beer and local fish with dill sauce. As big fans of Scandi-noir it would have been nice to take a bus trip across to Malmö in Sweden across "the Bridge”. But there were no busses running on Sunday, and the train runs under the main bridge deck and would not have given the same views.
In the evening, another movie, this time enjoying George Clooney and Julia Roberts in Money Monster.
The museum is made up of two main sections: the Viking Ship Hall, where the vessels are kept; and the Boatyard, where archaeological work takes place. The five Viking vessels originate from a blockade approximately 20 km north of Roskilde. They were deliberately sunk in a shallow channel during the 11th-century to block enemy attacks. Roskilde was the capital of Denmark at that time.
In the boatyard the traditions and culture of the Viking Age are brought to life, especially by the building of replica boats using authentic materials and techniques. Some of these are used in sea voyages to research Viking travels. We were able to board one, loaded with bales of trade goods. There are also exhibitions of other crafts, such as rope-making.
In Denmark boats were also subject to influences from Southwest Europe. Larger vessels that plied international trade routes gradually became heavier in design, enabling them to carry more cargo, and developments in rigging led to smaller crews.
On site was a restaurant whose menu was based on older more traditional food. We both had an open faced gravad lax — marinated salmon — topped with dill sandwich. Delicious. It was a beautiful day for a sail in a Viking ship but sadly by the time the reluctant rower changed his mind the tickets were sold out.
We retraced our steps hoping to visit Roskilde Cathedral, where 40 members of the Danish Royal family are buried. Unfortunately, there was a wedding taking place so we couldn't see inside. By now it was very hot. We walked back through the town hoping to do some shopping but it was Saturday afternoon and the shops were closed.
Back in Copenhagen we ended our day at the cinema — it is a are treat for us to be able to see movies in English. We saw the spy thriller, Our Kind of Traitor. We could have gone to Tivoli Gardens instead, but the crowds around the entrance gates discouraged us —too many loud, shirtless men often covered in tattoos and carrying Tuborgs. A quiet evening with Ewan MacGregor was much better.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
We navigated the sloping floors, waves and wind as we viewed the interactive and atmospheric exhibitions of life at sea in old fishing boats. With the howling wind it was like being back in the Port. Then it was on to see Denmark's role as one of the world's leading shipping nations throughout the ages from a personal and historical viewpoint. There was a big display of the technology that has made it possible to navigate the oceans — compasses, sextants, astrolabes, compasses, depth sounders, parallel rulers and even traverse boards, made of pieces of string and wood, where sailors would mark their course according to the half-hourly compass readings. The interactive displays allowed you to help a captain find latitude and longitude using classical navigational tools.
Displays showed how shipping has connected the world from the 1700s up until the present, where more than 90% of all goods are transported by sea before reaching our shopping baskets. We could even have received a real sailor tattoo - that comes off again. We didn't.
It was time for some much needed refreshment in the ultramodern cafe looking out over the bottom of the dry dock. I had a cold rhubarb drink, which was a bit sweet and we shared a rhubarb tart. Delicious. Rhubarb is something we never see in Spain so it was quite a treat.
Back in Copenhagen later in the evening we walked to the old Meatpacking District in Vesterbro, one of Copenhagen’s most popular places to go out. It used to be home to Copenhagen’s meat industry and still consists of three separate areas, referred to as the White, Grey and Brown "Meat City" for the dominant colour of their buildings. In recent years it has changed into a new creative cluster with a trendy nightlife and a broad range of high quality restaurants. We aren't used to arriving at eating places before eight o'clock at the earliest. Unfortunately for us, the place was jam packed with people taking advantage of the warm weather to have their dinner outside. We settled for a lovely authentic Thai dinner a short distance away from the hubbub of the meat packing district.
Once we arrived in Elsinore we decided to wander around its many charming pedestrian streets and find lunch. There were lots of interesting little shops. We settled for lunch outdoors at a restaurant full of locals. We opted for a platter with three open faced sandwiches: smoked salmon with dill; small shrimps; and breaded fish with a delicious mustard sauce. A glass of white wine completed the delicious meal.
Frederik II's Kronborg is at once an elegant castle and a monumental military fortress surrounded by considerable fortifications. It has not been inhabited by the royal family since the late 1600s. The castle houses collections of Renaissance and Baroque furnishings, and among the main attractions is the 62-metre ballroom, the very well-preserved chapel and the royal apartments. We found them all quite austere compared to royal living quarters in other parts of Europe.
Finally, we visited the Hamlet exhibition, which displayed photos of the many actors who had played Hamlet on stage and screen over the years. Back in the courtyard I had time to have my picture taken with Polonius, chief counselor of the king.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The first evening we had dinner with our friends in the restaurant that was part of a butcher's shop. By day the husband and wife were the local butchers and at night the restauranteurs. They just brought food starting with Russian salad, shrimps doused in rather a lot of mayonnaise sauce and some raw meat, not my thing. The main course was veal scallopini, something that we never see on menus as it is considered to be old fashioned but it was very good.
The next evening we met friends at the local pizzeria. While we were waiting the chef brought us some pizza bread, just plain pizza cooked in the wood oven with some basil on it. Delicious. After some starters we had our pizzas but of course were too full after our starters. We didn't mind as it was lovely to see our friends.
We had a trip into San Remo and a look around their high-end shops. It is always fun to people-watch here and especially to see all the fashionable Italians walking along the pedestrian streets making sure they are seen. Another trip took us up the mountain to beautiful Ceriana. We loved seeing all the vineyards and old houses. The first sight of the ancient hill town is always breathtaking. We visited Pellegrin's bar for an espresso. The owners are always happy to see us and vice versa. They are well on in their seventies and don't open all the time so on some visits we miss them.
On Sunday afternoon the weather cooperated with us and we had lunch outside on the beach with other Ceriana friends. I had some lovely tuna in sesame seeds. Delicious. It was fun to go inside and see a baby's christening lunch with a huge family filing the whole restaurant and the baby being passed around. The massive cake looked very good.
Probably our most delicious traditional food was eaten at our friends' house, beans and potatoes with garlic and lots of olive oil. The salad ingredients came from a little grocery store that sells primarily produce grown within one kilometre. Italian tomatoes taste like no other, especially the small tomatoes from Sicily. We had rabbit and farinata made from chickpeas, water and oil. The local bakery made wonderful bread, gigantic grissini sticks and something called Pane de
It was perfect seeing all of our friends but such a shame about the weather. Now, two weeks later our weather in the village is still not very good with mostly wind, rain and clouds. Today there were some people in the water but it is still cold. Usually, we are swimming every day by now. With all the bad weather we have completed almost all our packing except for the essentials. What a tedious job.
We couldn’t find the local taxi driver in any of his usual haunts so Seamus called him on his cell. The conversation ended with Seamus saying we will see you in "dos horas”, two hours. We were outside ready to go but still no taxi driver. Finally, Seamus called him again and he came speeding along the street. Our cabbie speaks no English at all. He thought we had called for the next day, "mañana." This was nonsense. We lurched from one side of his van to the other as we sped to the station. The ticket office was closed and the ticket machine didn't seem to work. We couldn't persist with the machine any longer as the train had been announced. Once on the train we kept waiting for the ticket collector and for the first time ever, no one appeared. Our plan was to pay once we were in Barcelona but the exit led us straight outside to Passeig de Gracias. I suppose you could say the taxi driver did us a favour. However, we won't be using him again.
Our dinner was at the Santa Caterina Market restaurant. It is always busy and we always end up sitting right by the open kitchen where we could watch eight chefs preparing their specialties. As always it was entertaining, especially watching the head chef making sure everything on the plates was perfect before the servers took it away.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
We had seen all that the Princess Maria had to offer on our previous voyage so this time we just headed towards the restaurant area for dinner. We waited a long time for a table and almost as long again for an underdone pizza. However, it was quite pleasant just sitting in the restaurant as the sun slowly set over Finland somewhere beyond the horizon.
The boat docked at eight in the morning. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that breakfast would be served until 10 and we wouldn’t have to leave the ship until 11. Needless to say we took our time over breakfast and missed the scrum leaving the boat at eight.
Since our plane didn't leave until six at night we had some time to explore Helsinki. We left our luggage at the train station and began wandering around, eventually ending up at the harbour. We decided that a boat tour might be a relaxing way to pass the afternoon, and it was. It was interesting to see all the small islands, under beautiful blue skies, enhanced by a very pleasant glass of champagne.
Once off the boat we walked around an indoor food market in what was probably the old fish market. The displays were mouthwatering with smoked salmon, gravad lax, fruit and vegetables, but the prices were staggering. With a final walk around the outdoor stalls cooking up salmon we left the port. It was time to go to the airport for our flight home. What a wonderful trip with blue skies and warm weather every day.
Back in the Port the rain, clouds and windy weather continue.
An old tram car marked the furthest spot German troops reached during the siege of Leningrad. Seeing this made me realize just how close the Germans were to the city. Today it would be right in the middle of the suburbs. In fact Russian troops were sent to the front lines in trams.
Closer to Petersburg we passed one of Vladimir Putin's residences, essentially a small palace. Our guide seemed well aware of the astounding wealth possessed by Putin and his closest associates. It seemed to be an accepted fact. On one of our tours something came up about Crimea. Our guide was very quick to tell us that Crimea always belonged to Russia and that the people of Crimea had voted to be part of Russia. Neither of us wanted to debate this with her so we let it go.
Peterhof is often referred to as "the Russian Versailles", and Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great's desire to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city.
We had some time before our tour so we were able to walk around the Upper Garden, which is quite formal with wide walkways and clipped hedges. It would have been nice to see everything in bloom in a couple of week's time.
Sadly, it was time to leave. We could have spent hours just walking around the gardens and canals.
Today the palace is part of the State Hermitage and now displays some of the museum's art from the 18th century. The restored interiors have walls dressed with marble and floors are covered with expensive parquet. Many of the floor designs incorporate eight or ten different inlaid woods. The interiors reflect the design traditions of Menshikov's era. We saw whole rooms covered with Delft tiles. In Menshikov's time there were twenty rooms decorated this way. Now there are only four. There were sculptures, paintings, engravings and furniture from Menshikov's time as well as his personal furnishings and belongings such as an exquisite astrolabe.
It was lovely to walk around the palace looking out over the Neva. Although some of the rooms were quite ornate and Peter the Great held functions here, the palace did have more of a lived-in feeling. We finished by having an espresso in the restaurant, which was very elegant and furnished as if in Menshikov's time.
We boarded a trolley bus along bustling Nevsky Prospekt. At first we couldn't spot the bus conductor because she was sitting in a seat like everyone else but eventually she came and sold us a ticket for thirty roubles — less than fifty cents. One lady was dressed like a babushka with headscarf, long coat and crochet skirt. The next day when we asked our guide she suggested that the Muslim woman probably came from one of the old Soviet provinces. She wasn't very complimentary about these people saying they came to Russia and worked very long hours for next to nothing and basically that they were different from the Russians.
We window shopped along Nevsky Prospect before coming to a large and busy shopping mall that had the same stores you would find in any other large European city. The prices were reasonable and Seamus bought a very nice t-shirt in Marks and Spencer's. By now we were hungry so we went up to the top floor and ate at a Marketplace — similar to Movenpick — where we went around to the different areas and chose the food we wanted. I had very nice gazpacho, salad and a Russian dish with salmon, potatoes and a cheese crust. Later we had an espresso and some Russian cookies. The meal was good and the price reasonable.
After a quick stop for Seamus to buy some shoes we returned to our hotel by cab, which was surprisingly inexpensive. We were in a bit of a rush as we had decided to take a boat ride up the Neva. Members of the French World Hockey team mobbed us in the elevator in good fun so we snapped some pictures. Unfortunately they were all at least a foot taller than me so the pictures weren't the best.
Our hotel was the home for several hockey teams: French, Canadians, Slovaks, Finns and Americans. We are a little out of touch with hockey right now and didn't spot any players we knew. The teams had their own areas so we didn't see very much of them except for the French.
Later in the evening we took advantage of the hotel's spa, complete with a strange-shaped swimming pool. We sampled the hot tub, shared the hot water pool with members of the French hockey team and immersed ourselves in the bitterly cold plunge pool. We then moved on to the hamman, regular steam room, caldarium, soft Finnish sauna that wasn't too hot and then the ice cold room. Here there was ice on the floor and no wonder because the temperature was -15. It was too slippery to walk on without footwear. Every so often we would go to the shower area to have buckets of icy water dumped over us. Finally, we finished up in the regular Finnish sauna where we sat on log stumps. It was a lot of fun trying all of these. My favourites were the caldarium and the soft, not too hot, Finnish sauna. All this made for a good night's sleep.
We had a short drive past St. Petersburg university and across the river to the Hermitage Museum. From the 1760s onwards the Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian czars. Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is most impressive.
The Winter Palace was built between 1754 and 1762 for Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died before the palace's completion and only Catherine the Great and her successors were able to enjoy its sumptuous interiors. Much of the palace has been remodeled, particularly after 1837, when a huge fire destroyed most of the building. Today the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, house the extensive collections of the Hermitage. The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world. We passed through incredibly ornate ballrooms, dining rooms, throne rooms and private quarters.
Cruise boats had not yet begun visiting St. Petersburg, so there were only moderate crowds and we could fully enjoy the beautiful exhibits in this amazing museum.