Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Some Photos So Far - Home to Copenhagen

My photos hadn't uploaded via my Cloud yesterday, but now they have, so I thought I'd post some photos to go along with the journey so far.
At Seattle airport, rarin' to go!

View from our hotel room

Sherita loves her trolls!

Hans Christian Anderson and Adrienne

Lovely Nyhavn

This is the SCARY ride I made Adrienne go on

Tivoli Gardens lit up at night

In front of Frederiksborg Palace
Michael, our cutie patootie tour guide, and Adrienne

Day 2 - Copenhagen - Outside the City

Fun facts about Copenhagen:

36% of all citizens commute to work by bicycle.  I told you yesterday how easy and convenient the government makes it to do this, and it pays off.

50% of all power generated for electricity is via windmills/wind technology.

The water in the inner harbor is clean and safe for swimming.

The unemployment rate is a steady 5%.  If you're unemployed, the government will find work and/or retraining for you.  There is no such thing as "welfare" or "unemployment" pay.  The government will subsidize you while you are being retrained for new work.

The tax rate is about 49%.  What do you get for that 49%?  Free health care.  No doctor fees, no specialist fees, no hospital fees.  No such thing as co-pays.  Dental work is partially subsidized and prescriptions are partially subsidized.  University is 100% free, AND the government pays you $1,000 per month (before taxes) to go to school.  There is no such things as student loans or Sallie Mae.  

Workers get a minimum of 6 weeks paid vacation per year.  You must take vacation.  No such thing as selling days, or rolling days or not taking days.  MY KIND OF PLAN.

Women who have babies get 12 months of PAID LEAVE.  Yes.  You read that correctly.

It's pronounced Cope In Hay Gun.

There are no political commercials allowed on television.  

Okay, so our last full day in Copenhagen and I planned a full-day trip to visit some castles outside of the city.  We joined a group of 14 others from our cruise critic roll call to spend the day touring Roskilde Cathedral, the Viking Ship Museum, Frederiksborg Castle and Kronborg Castle.

Our cruise critic group is a nice bunch of people from all over the United States, Canada and a few stragglers from Australia and some other countries.  We spend months ahead of cruises meeting online, planning private tours, researching ports and sharing all we know.  I've made some great friends along the way.  I think being part of this online group has only enriched my travel experiences, especially when it comes to cruising.

Well, I digress....back to our tour.  We met our little bus and guide in a central location, a few minutes' walk from our hotel, at 9:15.  Our guide, Michael, was a young student, who was majoring in political science and history.  As with most Danes, his English is impeccable and he has a nice sense of humor and a terrific personality.  He told us about the Viking Age, which lasted from 800-1066 AD and made Denmark a local superpower that was in control of England.  Vikings are known for their savagery and plundering all over Western Europe, but besides being feared warriors, they were also smart and successful merchants and traders.  

Our first stop was Roskile Cathedral.  Roskilde used to be the capital of Denmark (900-1443).  Roskilde Cathedral is historical in that King Harald Bluetooth (after whom this current technology we know was named) chose Roskilde as the capital because of the fjord located there and it's strategic location of being in the center of Denmark at that time.  Bluetooth also built the first church, which later was expanded by the Catholic Bishop Absalon, in 1160.  This cathedral has become the burial place of the kings and queens of Denmark since that time.  It is a gorgeous cathedral and the ornate coffins of the various kings are well preserved.  

Our next stop was the Viking Museum.  There are lots of displays about the Viking Life, how various kinds of rope were made, and fabulous recreations of the viking ships.  There are also 5 excavated viking boats pulled from the waters in the fjord near Roskilde and it is amazing to see how well these wooden boats have held up for so long.  

We lunched in the little town where the Frekeriksborg Palace is located, then toured the palace itself.  The place could be the perfect playground for kids - there's hundreds of rooms and hallways and stairs inside the palace itself, and what appears to be close to 100 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, ponds and pathways outside.  This palace did not have any big strategic role in Danish history, but it is known as the most extravagant renaissance palace in all of Scandinavia.  It was controlled by King Frederik II in 1560, and he named it after himself.  Frederik's son, Christian IV, was born at the palace and had a personality and ego to match the size of the palace itself.  The most beautiful part of the palace is the old church.  It survived a very devastating fire in 1859 and is the only remaining part of the palace today that is 100% original.  The remainder of the palace was rebuilt after the fire.

Our final stop was at Kronborg Castle.  We call it Hamlet's castle because Shakespeare's play takes place at Kronborg.  There is some disagreement about whether or not the bard actually visited Kronborg, but nonetheless, Hamlet the play takes place here.  Kronborg is situated at the narrowest point of the strait of Oresund which was the only navigable way from the Baltic to the North Sea.  The Danish king would collect taxes from all of the ships passing by. These taxes are what supported the expenses of Denmark for several centuries.

All in all, we had a great day touring these fascinating places of historical interest and beauty.  

Adrienne and I were dropped off at our hotel and we have pretty much hunkered down this evening, resting and doing some repacking in anticipation of getting on the cruise ship Eurodam tomorrow morning.  

We sail at 4 PM tomorrow, and our first day after that is a sea day.  Our first port (on Friday) will be Bergen, Norway.  Bergen is Norway's second largest city.  We've got a walking tour planned for that, with a funicular ride planned after.

The Journey Begins

Flying from the Sacramento area on the West Coast to any European destination involves multiple flights with at least one connection somewhere.  It also involves a lot of time....at a minimum - 12 hours.

For me, I slept pretty well Friday night, but was awake at my usual time of about 5:00 AM Saturday morning.  Packed and ready to go, Sam and I were out the door at 8:30 and off to the airport.  Sam was flying down to L.A. for her 10th year high school reunion, and I headed north to Seattle, where I would meet up with Adrienne.  Arrived Seattle shortly after 1 PM, then we had a really nice and fun lunch with Mikey at the airport.  Our next leg, a flight on Icelandair, was leaving at 4:30, so we enjoyed a leisurely meal of sandwiches and soup at one of the airport restaurants just outside of the security area, so Mikey could enjoy some time visiting before we left.

With all of the preparation for the trip that he made on Adrienne's behalf, you'd think he was going on the cruise too.  It would have been super for him to join us, but alas, he seems to be of the opinion that the ship would experience quite a bit of "motion" out there in the open seas, and that doesn't seem to be his cup of tea.  It's actually quite calm, but I think I have an uphill battle trying to convince him otherwise.  Maybe one day......

Our flight to Copenhagen via Reyjkavik, Iceland, was just about 7 hours, and was smooth and uneventful.  We had an hour layover there, then boarded a second flight for Copenhagen.  That one was 3 hours, and we landed on time and without incident.  Customs and luggage and all that later, we found the train to the City Center, bought our tickets (a whopping $4.30 per person) and hopped on the train.  Another 10 minute walk to our hotel, and we were checked in and in our room by 2:00 PM.

From past experience we knew we'd be reaching that point within a couple of hours where we'd just "hit the wall", so we hurried out to find a little cafe or someplace to have an early dinner, and then walked back to the hotel.  By 5 PM, Adrienne was out cold, and I was having a very difficult time trying to keep my eyes open.  A few hours later, I woke up to see the sun beginning to set.  I watched it for a little while, and then tried to go back to sleep.  Adrienne also woke up for a brief period, then went back to sleep.  I faded again around 9:00 and slept through till about 2:30.  Sigh.  Jet lag is not the greatest thing.  I stayed awake then, and waited for Adrienne to wake up.

Our hotel room is lovely.  It is quite large by European standards, is on the 12th floor of the hotel, and looks out over a gorgeous lake and the western part of Copenhagen.  The beds are super comfy and we have everything we need.  Our rate also comes with breakfast in the mornings, so Monday we went down about 7:00 AM to find a fantastic buffet of foods - hot eggs, bacon, potatoes, baked beans,  deli meats and cheeses, fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, cereals, nuts and seeds, yogurts, juices, milk, coffees, teas, toast, danish pastries.  OMG.  Where to start first??? Hahahahaaha.  Everything was delicious and we enjoyed some relative quiet that early hour of the morning.

After breakfast, I had made plans for 2 tours for us.  The first one was a guided walking tour of the older part of Copenhagen called the City Center.  Our guide was none other than Hans Christian Anderson himself.  Hans had come to Copenhagen as a 14-year old to try to make it as an actor and singer in the theater.  He failed miserably.  He then tried his hand as a ballet dancer.  Again, failed miserably.  Finally, undaunted, he began writing to the theatre and found a modicum of success.
He then went on to write a number of fairy tales, meant for adults to read to children, and based on life lessons.  Bingo!  He hit pay dirt.  We all know of his fairy tales - the Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, etc.  He lived out his life in Copenhagen, never married and died at the age of 70.

We enjoyed our introduction to the main areas of the City Center - the City Hall, where we learned a little bit about the Danish government and constitution, some of the architecture and how the city used to be surrounded by a large wall with an actual moat around it's outside, churches, and the courthouse.  Hans was extremely entertaining and had us all laughing a good part of the 90 minute tour.

After that, Adrienne and I walked about 10 blocks down towards the canal area, called Nyhavn.  We hopped on board a canal boat for a one hour tour.  The open-air boat took us out towards the harbor, passing the Royal Yacht, the new Opera House, and the Danish Navy base.  We meandered in and out of some smaller connecting canals, and passed under several very low bridges, where only the shortest in the boat did not need to duck down.  (cough cough....Adrienne)

The canal tour over, we walked back up towards the City Center, along the Stroget, a pedestrian-only boulevard filled with shops of all kinds - high end retailers down to kiosks selling ice cream and touristy gift shops.  We were pretty hungry for lunch by this time, as it was pushing 3 PM, so we found a nice cafe across from an open square and went in for our meal.

It was nice to sit and relax, and do some people watching.  Copenhagen's population is about 500,000 inside the main city area, and there are many young people there, since the University is located in this same area.  Most Danes who live in or near the city center and work or go to school there, ride bikes.  The streets are set up quite nicely to cater to the bikers, with very wide bike lanes (about twice as wide as we have at home) and smaller, cobble pedestrian sidewalks.  The bike is the cheapest and most convenient way to get around, as the tax rate on automobiles is 300%.  Yep.  I'd buy a bike too.  The government really wants to discourage autos, so catering to bikers is the way to go.  They have a wonderful train, metro and bus system, and your bike is allowed on all of those.  There are dozens upon dozens of places to park/lock your bike, and it is all free.  There are even city bikes that you can rent by the hour - $5 an hour.  You can pick up a bike pretty much anywhere other bikes are parked, and the city bikes even have little engines in them if you get tired of pedaling.  They have little machine card readers on the front for you to swipe your credit card.  Easy peasy.  When you're done riding, you just park it and leave it wherever it is you are.

For the evening, I had planned for us to spend some time at Tivoli Gardens.  Tivoli opened in 1843 and was designed to be a combination of an amusement park and a flower garden.  More than 4 million people visit Tivoli each year.  It is the second oldest amusement park in the world.  It consists of 21 acres of gardens and flowers, and at latest count, about 25 rides.  There's a couple of really fun roller coasters, including one that is very similar to Disneyland's beloved Matterhorn, called the Mountain Coaster, built in 1914 and is one of the oldest remaining wooden roller coasters today.  Walt Disney and his friend Art Linkletter visited Tivoli in 1951 and it became of one 5 parts that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland, which opened in 1955.  The twinkling lights of Disneyland's Main Street are an homage to Tivoli Gardens, as there are a number of buildings and gardens that are beautifully lit at night here in Copenhagen's Tivoli.

Adrienne and I rode a number of rides, most together, but she was OH NO I WON'T BE RIDING THAT when it came to the Demon, a wild zero gravity upside down looping roller coaster.  I went on it twice and loved it.  I did get her on another roller coaster-y type ride called Monsun.  It dangled you over the ground while it swung back and forth, simulating a roller coaster but not going up or down very high.  Here's how it is described:

Feel the wind in your hair and the rush in your stomach.

You will be literally blown off your feet when the Monsoon lifts you up in its mighty arms and sends you 12 metres up in the air, first one way and then the other - while you breathlessly laugh with your friends opposite you
Okay, well, I wouldn't say Adrienne was laughing.  In fact, she was screaming and howling the entire time.  Big baby.  (jk)  But hey, I am VERY PROUD of her for going on the ride.  She stepped outside her comfort zone and pushed her envelope.  Will she go on it again?  NOT IN A MILLION YEARS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!

We spent over 5 hours at Tivoli, and enjoyed seeing it get dark, and all of the beautiful lights come on throughout the park.

We returned to our hotel a little after 10:30 and were happily exhausted. It was another great day in Copenhagen.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Viking Voyage August/September 2014

Well, it is one day before we fly out to begin this year's wonderful new adventure in globe-trotting.

Adrienne, my BFF of 40+ years, is celebrating her big 6-0 in October.  Each year, she and I grab a few days to go away someplace together that neither of us has visited before.  Usually it's just a 3 or 4 day deal, but this year, being such a momentous event, we're going all out and taking an 18 day cruise (plus 3 days in Copenhagen before the cruise) that I am calling our Viking Adventure.

Keep an eye on this blog, I will be posting as often as time and internet access allows.

Off we go!!!!