Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is the second oldest amusement park in the world, and surely one of the most famous. It inspired Walt Disney's concept of Disneyland, and it's a wonderful place, even on a damp day, to spend time with two of the cutest little Danish boys you'll ever see.

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Even Mommy was getting a little tired after all of the rides.

Lauritz is already a car buff and a Hot Wheels fan (he asked his mother to translate Hot Wheels into English for us) and this was the first of no fewer than three rides around the course.

Where has August been, you ask? Brian may have been feeling a bit tired by the end of the afternoon but August, even though he wasn't quite big enough to go on the rides, was still enjoying keeping an eye on things. Click on the photo and take a look at that face peeking out of the carriage just after he woke up.

So all good things come to an end. We saw Lene and the boys off at the train station, and caught the bus she pointed us toward straight back to our ship.

A great day...

A Special Day in Copenhagen

An unsurpassed highlight to this cruise was a reunion with our Danish exchange "daughter" Lene and the chance to take her and her two fabulous little boys to Tivoli Gardens. As we cruised past windmills on our way into the dock at Copenhagen, our former exchange student Lene was transporting Lauritz, age 4, and August, age 1, into Copenhagen by train.

We managed to arrive at the track where their train was arriving about two minutes before the train pulled in and there they were, ready for action. They're not very cute, are they?

Lene (she's Doctor Lene now and well on her way to being an orthopedic surgeon)took us for a long walk around the city. She doesn't know Copenhagen as well as she knows Aarhus, so we were actually lost for part of the time, but it's a flat city, we needed the exercise, and Lene was the one pushing the carriage!

We stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants lining the canal.

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There's always something to look at, even while having a drink.

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We weren't going to let the rain, and even a sudden torrential downpour, slow us down.

After lunch we strolled by the Royal Palace but the guard had already changed and there was a lone and damp sentry standing on duty.

As we walked off lunch, we kept our fingers crossed that the weather would remain decent enough to enjoy Copenhagen's world-famous highlight for children.

Gdańsk Poland

We're still trying hard to pronounce it way the Poles do - think of putting the word "dine" into the middle of it, i.e. G'dinsk.

We'd arranged a private tour in advance with some other folks on the same cruise through the Cruise Critic website. Gdansk (Danzig during German rule) is known as the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement, so it was fitting that our pleasant young guide took us first to the Solidarity Monument.

On the way, though, we passed some particularly artistic Polish tagging and couldn't resist a quick picture.

The monument is obviously an important place to the local citizens.

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There had recently been an annual remembrance ceremony.

Democracy is flourishing, as evidenced by an anti-European Union banner displayed at the monument.

Later that morning we drove by Lech Walesa's house, but couldn't see too much except for a high wall and security cameras.

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We took a walking tour of the Old Town, which consists largely of one long street. If we understood our guide correctly, the Soviets largely destroyed German-controlled Gdansk on Stalin's orders toward the end of WW II, and the Soviets were largely responsible for the recreation of the Old Town that we viewed, built out of the rubble twenty or more years after the war.

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Eventually we reached the water. Gdansk has long been an important port city.

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We also visited a couple of churches and heard a brief organ recital, as well as stopping by a sandy beach. The highlight of our visit, though, was listening to our 34-year-old guide tell us she remembers standing in line with her grandmother for food, as we wandered through this prosperous-looking city, part of the "New Europe" that is flourishing, especially compared to the "old days" when it was a Soviet satellite state.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Footnote to Estonia

For much of Kathy's and Brian's lives, Estonia was simply a part of the Soviet Union. In fact, it's one of those countries with a sad history of repeated conquests. From the 13th century onward the country was run by a succession of Danes, Teutons, Swedes and Russians, with the Germans taking it over for awhile in WW II.

According to Wikipedia, "Estonia regained its independence on 20 August 1991. It has since embarked on a rapid programme of social and economic reform. Today, the country has gained recognition for its economic freedom, its adaptation of new technologies and was one of the world's fastest growing economies for several years. However, Estonia's economy was second worst hit of all 27 European Union members in the 2008-2009 economic crisis, contracting sharply in the first quarter of 2009."

We enjoyed our visit and we wish the Estonians well as they continue to build their own country.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tallinn Estonia

We'll make one last snide reference to poor old St. Petersburg simply by noting that our stop at Tallinn was literally a breath of fresh air. Even their tourist office has a slick site. It was a pleasant 15-minute walk on a lovely day from the dock into the center of the walled Old Town.

We bought postcards for grandkids, enjoyed a cappucino in a sidewalk cafe, and just wandered around the place for a couple of hours. No crowds, no tour guide, no on and off the bus in the rain... No, we're not being fair to St. Petersburg but Tallinn is a place we'd be happy to visit again.

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Here's Brian writing postcards to grandkids.

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Lots of art for sale...

It was interesting to see the old women lined up outside the church to accept donations from the exiting parishoners.

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Apparently the Estonian language is related fairly closely to Finnish. This photo, however, must have been taken in Gdansk, Poland, our next stop, because an Estonian reader has pointed out very politely in a comment below that the sign is in Polish! Now that we look carefully, at the bottom of the photo we can now even notice the word "Gdansk." We'll leave it right here as a reminder not to get so far behind on posting our photos next time.

Looking down beyond the walls toward the sea...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Winding Up St. Petersburg

One more cathedral and one more palace to go...

We first stop at St. Isaac's Cathedral, the largest church in St. Petersburg, with a dome that was orginally gilded with more than 200 pounds of gold.

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The interior with its detailed mosaic icons is impressive.

Quite a dome. Underneath the dome is room for 14,000 standing worshippers. (only the elderly and the infirm worshippers sit down in Russian Orthodox churches).


The grand finale of our tour is a visit to Yusupov Palace, privately owned by the family of the same name between 1830 and 1917, and most famous as the site where the mysterious "mad monk," Grigory Rasputin, was murdered, assassinated, or, as they used to say in Chicago, bumped off.
We first trudge through the living quarters of this mansion with a throng of other tour groups to gaze at all of the opulence.

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We see the same type of ceramic room heaters we've seen in Viennese palaces.

We then crowd into a small but beautiful baroque-style theater. This is a miniature jewel box of a room, complete with a "Tsar's Box" for royalty and a surprisingly deep orchestra pit. It's back in use for concerts, and cruise-ship passengers in port at the right time can buy tickets.

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But now it's time for the grand finale of the grand finale. We wait our turn in line behind other tour groups and eventually crowd into a small room. It reminds us of that hidden elevator in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and we brace ourselves to descend to the cellar, but it turns out there's no elevator.

Finally we walk down some stairs and it's our turn to stand in the small room where Rasputin attended his last dinner party. Anna tells us the story in blood-chilling detail. Basically, Rasputin was a hard fellow to kill. Of course, the palace was looted of its treasures after the revolution, it was burned in the 1950s, and everything we're seeing, like much of what we've seen throughout our tour, is a restoration, but still... It's a compelling story we first read as children - the Mad Monk who could control the hemophilia of the young Tsarevich, and the tragic ending to their lives - so it's a strangely fitting place to end our tour of St. Petersburg, a magnificent city still co-existing somewhat painfully (in our opinion) with the ghosts of its imperial and Marxist past.