Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cruise, Baltic Sea Region

Warnemunde is located on the Baltic Sea coast in what was once East Germany, and it gave me a thrill to be traveling on East German soil. I was even more pleased that the tour we took to Bad Doberan was on the territory of the Slavic tribes (the Wendish) who once inhabited that region. We visited the Doberan Minster, a former monastery founded as the local Slavs began to convert to Christianity. Most of the Slavs weren't convinced, though, and they burned the place down a couple of times before they finally converted. They actually massacred all the inhabitants of the monastery one time, a fact which our guide neglected to mention as he kept everything lighthearted.

Anyway, the Doberan Minster was extremely impressive, and I greatly enjoyed visiting it and would have liked to stay longer. However, we had to move out to make our train ride, which was advertised as the main part of the excursion, but which only lasted 10 minutes. That was when I decided I had had enough of excursions, and from then on we mostly did our own thing. Anyway, after the absurd train ride, we drove to Kuhlungsborn, a seaside town with a very nice beach on the Baltic Sea. The water is cold, but the sand is very soft. We took our shoes off and walked on the beach.

Nearly all the buildings were new construction. They must have torn down most of the Communist-era buildings. Our guide said the West Germans invested so heavily in East German infrastructure that now they have better roads than West Germany.

Our excursion was for only part of the day, so after our return, we zipped up our raincoats and headed into Warnemunde for a look around and a stop at a post office. We mailed postcards to family members, and we got caught in a drenching downpour. We took shelter in a pub, where we had to drink two Rostocker beers because the rain continued for a while. We were actually pretty pleased about drinking Belgian beer in Belgium and German beer in Germany, so we did not feel put out.

For the rest of our trip we would experience "passing showers," often heavy ones. We kept our jackets and umbrellas ready.

On the sixth day we arrived in Copenhagen. I had really been looking forward to Copenhagen and had extensively planned our day. Based on the location of our ship dock and the availability of transport, we of course adjusted the plan, but we did pretty well. We took a public bus to the New Harbor (Nyhavn), and then we took a walking tour through the city to end up at City Hall and Tivoli. To my surprise, Mom wanted to see Tivoli, so we found the entrance. However, it was $20 to get in, and it would have prevented us from going to the National Museum, which is free. We turned around and went to the National Museum.

However, first we stopped at City Hall to look inside, and there was a tour going up the tower right that minute. We decided to get in on it. I felt pretty guilty about that later, because it turns out that 300 steps are a lot of steps, and their city tower is higher than the Statue of Liberty. I couldn't believe I dragged my mom into that! She was a trooper, though, and made it to the top.

The day was intensely windy even on the ground, and the rain started up again while we were at the top of the tower, so we went right back down again. Then we walked straight to the museum. It was an awesome museum. We had this hilarious lunch in which the salads seemed to be made with whatever someone happened to have in the garden: delicious fresh vegetables. However, for serving a dry and flavorless sausage like that one, they ought to be ashamed to call themselves a Germanic people. The bread was good, served in a flowerpot. This was the first black bread on the trip. Black bread is sour, and I have never liked it very much, but I always eat it anyway because it reminds me of Saint Petersburg.

We only had time for the Danish Prehistory exhibit, because I had to read nearly everything and inspect all the main exhibits. I get extremely enthusiastic about prehistory. Our favorite exhibit was a striking display of lurs, long bronze horns that they hung together in a glass case.

We took a boat taxi back almost all the way to the port, then walked through a park, stopped to see the Little Mermaid, bought some postcards, and returned to the ship. The next day we were scheduled to drop anchor off the Swedish island of Gotland. I was booked for a bicycling tour that only takes 25 people; I got the last bike. It was raining, but I was ready with my waterproof biking jacket. Disappointingly, the winds were too strong, and the cruise line did not feel it could safely transport us to shore in the "tenders." We stayed on the ship and went directly to Riga.

Cruise, North Sea Region

This year my mom and I took a two-week cruise to northern Europe. I have been wanting to take my parents to Russia for years, and a cruise was a safe and comfortable way to do it. I had actually offered to stick to just Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but Dad said if he was going to go all the way to Russia, we were going to darn well cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian. Although I am anxious to do that, planning for the Trans-Siberian was just too much for me, and I wasn't getting it done. True to his word, Dad didn't come for just Saint Petersburg; but Mom did. The cruise was her idea.

We flew into London Heathrow and boarded a transfer bus to the cruise ship, Regatta on Oceania cruise line. Really, don't ask me for a cruise line recommendation; I prefer to stay in a mountain hut. I did like getting lox for breakfast every morning, though.

The cruise line always arranged for its guests to have an escort. Even for the bus to the ship, there was a local guide on board. She was amusing--something like an older and slightly more reserved Bridget Jones. I managed to sleep through some of the chatter. England was also my first experience with having to hurry up and get back on the bus after a brief stop. Needing to meet schedules while on vacation was something of a first for me.

We traveled through the North Sea. Our first stop was Belgium, where Mom and I took a full-day excursion to Brussels. This guide was the absolute best tour guide in the whole wide world, so I was feeling pretty positive about tours at this point. He knew his material, he was funny, and he made sure we always knew where there was a restroom. What more could you ask for? We had a fun time driving around and seeing the sights, we got a walking tour too, and he turned us loose for lunch. Mom and I ate an extravagant lunch of mussels and French fries, a local favorite dish, along with some Belgian beer, Leffe Blond.

The next stop was Amsterdam, where one of the things our guide talked about was how great the tour guide in Brussels was. She herself could have looked after people a little better, but the scenery was positively delightful. We passed one dream house after another in the Dutch countryside. I've always thought I wanted a cottage with a small garden in place of a lawn, Such houses are nearly nonexistent in the States, so I was surprised to see one after another after another.

We stopped a couple of times to view windmills, and we spent a long time visiting the porcelain factory in Delft. We were given free time for lunch in Delft, and then we drove back to the ship, taking time to stop in The Hague at the Peace Palace. I have read so many scholarly materials that were published in "The Hague, Netherlands" that I was really psyched to see The Hague.

After the Netherlands, we had a lazy day on the ship, crossing the Kiel Canal. We landed in Warnemunde on day 5 of the trip.