We set sail on the Gabriella for an overnight ferry ride to Helsinki, where its primary statue named Amanda, the daughter of the city, stands as a fountain in Market Square. Guess whose family is on our mind today?

Our late afternoon ride out of Stockholm into the Baltic Sea affirmed what we already knew. Stockholm is a beauty!

The overnight ferry offers gambling and tax-free alcohol making the trip a highlight for the young and restless but we found a peaceful place on the Captain’s Deck to hang out and watch the wondrous world go by. We’re in Helsinki for one night, then ferry it over to Tallinn in Estonia for a day and a night exploring the remnants of Russian rule and a people who have known national freedom for only one generation.  Apparently, theirs was a singing revolution. More on that tomorrow.

The weather’s cooled off to 17C and we’re glad of it. Here’s the day in photos.



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Doin’ the Tourist Thing

Travelling isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for certain. We thought, lights out at 8pm will give us an early start the next day. Ha. We rolled out of bed at 7:30am, much to our protesting feet, poor dogs. We arrived at the Vasa Museum at opening and took in an English tour to better understand how a Viking war ship sank in the Stockholm harbour 24 minutes into its maiden voyage and was recovered 333 years later with 98% of its original material intact. A Titanic story, really.

Then we headed over to the National Museum and discovered a terrific restaurant — they show up in the most unlikely places. Good prices, excellent food and a quiet setting. We toured the museum of mostly artifacts, then headed over to City Hall to meander around the Nobel Awards Hall and see where municipal politics take place — a grand old building constructed of over 3 million red bricks. Our guide confessed that this was his first tour of the first day on the job. 10 minutes in he forgot his jitters and we knew why they hired the guy. A terrific memory, passion for his subject and wonderfully personable.

Another early night ahead of us so our poor feet can recover somewhat before heading by sea to Helsinki.

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On the 5 hour train from Copenhagen to Stockholm, two young men sat across from us — one a native-born Swede and the other an immigrant from Lebanon.  They generously educated us on all of Scandinavia, but mostly Sweden, and provided lively conversation for the duration of the ride. That’s just one reason why we love train travel.

Stockholm’s temperatures shocked us into the reality of our northern journeying. At a latitude of 60 degrees, about the same as Yellowknife in the NWT, our evening walk demanded my down vest and a cardigan for Gord. It’s a pleasant change after the recent heat wave. Here are the photos of our first day in a stunning city!

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What was once a hippy colony of squatters is now a legit village within Copenhagen’s city limits and the property values are nothing to laugh at. Christiania still attracts potheads but its residents are responsible, tax-paying citizens with a history of freedom-loving communal living. The art is eclectic and everywhere. See for yourself.

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Copenhagen in Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Anderson wrote over 150 fairy tales, launching him into fame and fortune, and into the company of royals and the writing elite. For a famous guy, he failed at just about everything else he attempted — theatre, playwriting, cobbling and university. That is, until he put his own experiences into the fairy stories we all know and love.  If you’ve read The Little Mermaid or Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling or The Princess and the Pea, The Matchstick Girl or The Emperor and the Nightingale then you know the power of his pen. He gave us a tour of the city today. Well, a man dressed as him, anyway. Booking a local guide for a few hours helps us get a sense of the city and offers a glimpse into Danish culture we might miss otherwise.

Another glimpse on today’s agenda took us into Tivoli Gardens. Built in the mid-1800’s, Tivoli remains Copenhagen’s official amusement park with rides, games, cotton candy and mock-ups of Chinatown and the Taj Mahal.  The gardens invited us to sit a bit, so we did. I sketched while Gord read.  Temperatures feel cooler today and we’re grateful.

On our way home from the morning tour, we bumped into Soren Kierkegaard. Apparently, he hangs around in the palace gardens.  I wanted to ask him some profound philosophical question around existentialism but he didn’t look well so I left it.


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On Foot in Nyhavn

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The Heart of Denmark

Copenhagen welcomed us with blazing temperatures. While the Danes swam in pristine canal waters for relief from the unusual heat, we observed with interest and laughed alongside them. They say Copenhagen is the city of smiles and we agree.

The language befuddles us, but almost everyone speaks English in a pinch, although I’ve had quite a number of folks address me in Danish, expecting a ready response.  “Sorry, English,” is the best I can offer.  I say “Tak” as often as I can.  You can’t go wrong with “thank you.”

We heard Scandinavia is expensive and we thought, “okay, we’ve endured Switzerland’s prices, London’s too, not to mention Paris.” We were in for a shock! Lunch at a street-type vendor (a bit risky for me with my gluten-free requirements) easily costs $65 CAD. The wait staff don’t expect tips because their wage is respectable. Wine is out of the question while we’re here due to the initial price, plus tax. Danes “picnic-drink” their alcohol, meaning they don’t drink in pubs or bars because they can’t afford to.  They drink curbside or in the park. How to cut food costs here?  The guide book suggests eating the main meal midday. Markets and grocery stores are good as long as the items don’t need refrigeration or cooking.  A quick snack of pickled herring, tapas or a sandwich works for most. We’re figuring it out as we go, listening to how the Danes do it and eating a little less.

Our accommodation here is a “find”! The Lutheran Church runs a guest house (Bethel Hotel) in the centre of the action at about a quarter of the price of other hotels in the neighbourhood. The room is a good size, clean, staffed with knowedgeable and friendly folks, and within a one or two metro stops of the major sights. The view from our room takes in the bustling canal-side shops and eateries.



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Artsy Aarhus

On the way to Copenhagen lies a small city of importance, so we popped in for a couple of temperature-breaking days to walk the cafe-lined canal, check out a luscious yarn shop, wash clothes, explore a living colour-wheel and enjoy modern art Danish-style. Aarhus may be small but it’s delightful!  In part because it was just so good to get off the train!

Particularly so. Wednesday and Thursday, we spent an extra long time riding the rails due to a mismanaged train connection on the part of the railway, a delayed border crossing, a train cancelation and an extended wait to reschedule. The German train system is struggling to meet population demands and apparently what was once a state-of-the-art system declines because of a lack of maintenance and funding. We felt it.

Here is Aarhus. Charming and rambunctious!


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Hot City

Temperatures hit 29C today so we added a siesta to the day’s mix and made the most of morning and early evening for venturing out. Even so, taking in the canals by boat cooked us up good and the tram ride home baked us to a crispy state of done.

We’re in for the evening and the forecast promises torrential rain. I hear thunder. The skies open.

To recap: like most European cities, Amsterdam consists of a city centre along a major river, circled by concentric rings, serving folks who want to avoid traffic congestion. The tram system provides handy transport for foot-weary tourists — us among them. It’s an economic and practical way to get a sense of the surroundings.

The Dutch love their gardens, especially their flowers. The city’s flower market stretches canal-side, stall after stall after stall of bulbs and signs promising huge and dependable blooms. Residential doorways, window boxes and wrought iron balconies display red and coral geraniums, purple pansies, lavender, rosemary, honeysuckle and a whole host of annuals against a backdrop of red brick and cobblestone. Lovely!

We’re in for an early start by train tomorrow. Our final destination? Hamburg, Germany.

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Boats and Bikes

After a long, sleepless flight, and a bit of a wait for the Uber pick-up we arrived at our charming B&B to an early check-in. The biggest question of the day, should we sleep or eat? We opted for the latter and found a sunny spot canal-side at Greenwood’s where the server sat us at the best table in the house. A terrific start to 4 weeks of European adventure.

After a short nap we headed out to wander. Herring is in season so street-side venders offer it up on a plate with onions and pickles.  My kind of food! Temperatures are in the mid 20’s Celsius and it’s Sunday so friends and family gather in open skiffs with all the picnic trimmings and putter up and down local waterways. Everyone else rides bikes. I read somewhere that Holland’s bike count is about double its population. That’s a lot of bikes. And cyclists own the road. No kidding.

Already we’ve walked a hundred miles, or so it feels, and jet lag descends like a storm so we’re off to bed and look forward to an artsy day tomorrow.


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