The Baltic:LLB’s Trip Diary from 2005

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Last month my mom, sister, niece, husband, daughter, and I went on a family cruise through the Baltic nations, beginning and ending in Denmark, visiting Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Germany in-between. Unlike the trip my husband and I took in 2001 to England and Wales, I didn’t keep an extensive journal via mini-recorder. That’s because I was the videographer for this trip. I plan on learning to use computer software so that I can hopefully share some of that video with you, but until then, I can provide an abbreviated journal because I did take notes in a small notebook, as well as pictures my husband and daughter took, and, when necessary, scanned photos from guide books bought for venues not allowing photography.

Day One: Monday, August 8th

We landed at 9 a.m. in Copenhagen after leaving Dallas on Sunday and flying to Denmark after connecting through Washington Dulles. A bus arranged by Holland America drove us to our hotel. As we sat on the bus waiting for other passengers, I noticed that the bus in front of us was run by a company called “Turistfart.” For some reason I found this hilariously funny, although my 13-year-old daughter was highly embarrassed (until later in the trip when she and her 15-year-old cousin went around photographing everything with names a typical eight year old – or children at heart like me – would find hysterical). Because we arrived so early in the day, we were unable to check into our room, forcing us to scrap my plan of taking a short nap before wandering throughout the area. Instead, we washed up in the hotel lobby restrooms, left our bags with the concierge, and sans sleep since leaving Dallas, started to, as my father always said during sightseeing vacations, “get a feel for the city.”

Copenhagen is an absolutely lovely city, filled with spired churches and interesting architecture. Our hotel was near the Tivoli Gardens, but it’s an amusement park – for some reason I hadn’t realized that – an we decided it would be more fun to simply continue wandering around.

Denmark does not use the Euro, but credit cards are accepted everywhere, from 7-11s (where we bought Coke Light – that’s what they call Diet Coke in Europe) to taxis, to every bistro and outdoor cafe we found. We meandered through the old section of the city, originally built (and once walled) in the 12th century. At one point we discovered a building with the word “bibleotek” on its door. Can you imagine being a bookie and not wanting to check it out? We didn’t realize until our official city tour the next day, but this was the library for the University of Copenhagen, which brings together the Danish National Library of Science and Medicine and the Royal Library’s university library department. The building’s interior is worth mention. I believe it dates back to the 1800s (it could be older, but I believe the original University Library was housed in the Round Tower – see below), The University itself, the first in Denmark, was founded in 1479. The library interestingly blends the old and the new; the ceiling is vaulted down the center, the ceilings in the stack’s are frescoed, and on the first floor there are dozens of computers.

Close by the library is the Round Tower, again something we learned about in more detail the next day. The tower dates back to the mid-17th century and was built by King Christian IV as an observatory and is connected to the Trinitatis Church. We didn’t pay much attention to that church, instead focusing our attentions on Nikolaj Church, originally built in the 16th century. The old city is filled with the steeples of old churches…our daughter came to love them as much as I did.

We continued to wander through the old city, eventually stopping for lunch al fresco on one of the town squares. The food was delightful, but we discovered first hand how incredibly expensive living in this city must be. If you are ever offered yogurt with berries and topped off by maple syrup, go for it! The lingenberry jam was particularly tasty too, and the only lingenberries we ate (they are not yet in season), a major disappointment to my husband, who looked forward to eating lingenberries in Sweden for some unknown reason.

After lunch we continued on, finding a magnificent statue of Bishop Absolon, the founder of Copenhagen, who lived between 1128 and 1201. Although Absolon was a bishop, he was also a warrior, and the statue shows him atop a horse, wearing chain mail, and holding an axe in one outstretched arm.

One of my goals for the day was to find an outdoor marketplace, and we found a small one nearby. I bought some cherries – my daughter and I love ’em…my husband, not so much – and she and I enjoyed them during our walk. We continued to meander, and at about two in the afternoon, made our way back to the hotel, where our room was ready. The new plan was to set a wake-up call for two hours, then wander some more in order to force ourselves to stay up until it was a reasonable hour to go to sleep, given the time change.

My husband and daughter slept…I did not. Even though our daughter slept, she was incredibly tired, so keeping her awake for a few more hours was critical. This was her first major “trip,” and she promised to follow my advice on getting acclimated. She did a fine job for the most part, even though we were all more than a little cranky by then. We walked in the opposite direction of the old city this time, around and by a series of lakes, one of which was located behind our hotel. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, and we enjoyed ourselves. Eventually we stopped at an outdoor cafe on a pier for a soda, and then went back to our hotel at around 6:30 in the evening (it’s so far north in this part of the world that it doesn’t get dark until two or three in the morning), where we showered and got ready for bed.

I was the only one who wasn’t hungry, but just as we were ready to nod off, our phone rang – my mom, sister, and niece had arrived from Los Angeles, and did we want to meet and have dinner at the hotel? My daughter was anxious to see her cousin, aunt, and grandmother, so off we went. We told them of our experiences sight-seeing that day, and then we talked about being stopped by security at the airport. I’d forgotten to pack my “good” manicure scissors in my suitcase and instead stashed it in my toiletry kit, which I kept in a tote bag with me as carry-on luggage. Because these were pointed scissors as opposed to blunted ones, I no longer own this particular item. As for the rest of our group, the mini-screwdriver my sister had packed in her carry-on to use if the screws on anybody’s glasses came loose was taken away as well. Oh well. Better safe than sorry.

The next morning, after breakfast, we boarded buses for a sight-seeing tour around Copenhagen, which included some lengthy walking tours. We had a terrific tourguide, and I will share with you the highlights of what she shared with us. I know very little about this part of the world, although what I do know is always a constant embarrassment to my child, who was equally embarrassed by the notebook I used throughout the trip.

Denmark is comprised of 400 islands and has a population of 5.2 million. The population of the old city is half a million. Greenland is part of Denmark. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland form the Nordic Union; the citizens of these countries do not need passports to travel throughout the Nordic Union, and can also relocate anywhere within.

We drove by Nazi headquarters in which some two dozen Danish VIP’s were jailed during the war. The story goes that when the allies bombed the building, they knew ahead of time that these men were held on the top floor, and so flew in low and bombed the lower floors only, which allowed more than half to survive. This sounds more like folklore to me, but perhaps it’s possible. Another bit of history about WWII. Niels Bohr (whose granddaugther is Olivia Newton-John – one of those bits of trivial flotsom my brain carries around), who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922, was a professor at the University of Copenhagen – a bust of him is prominent on the University’s main building, was a jew and in danger from the Nazis. The Royal Air Force arranged his escape from Denmark through Norway, where he was secreted to safety.

Denmark stayed neutral during the Napoleonic Wars, but since its navy was second in size within Europe to England’s navy, in 1801 Admiral Nelson attacked in order to commandeer the Danish navy. He failed in this endeavor, but Wellington attacked in 1807 and succeeded.

There are some 2,400 churches in Denmark; about 70% were originally built prior to the Reformation. Denmark has the highest taxes in the world, and has a Church Tax as well (but no tithing). If a citizen is Lutheran (and Denmark is a mostly Lutheran country), his tax goes to the Lutheran Church. If a Catholic, it goes to the Catholic Church, and so on.

The Church of Our Lady Cathedral is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Originally built in the 13th century as a Catholic Church, after the Reformation in 1536 it became a Lutheran Church. It was destroyed by Wellington’s attack in 1807 but rebuilt as it is seen today in 1829. The royal family attends church here.

 

 

Schwerin Castle & Cathedral, Germany

In the next week or so I plan to upload the trip diary from our family’s recent vacation through the Baltic, but will tease again this week by sharing some /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages from the city of Schwerin in the former East Germany, home to the Castle Schwerin and Schwerin Cathedral.

 

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