Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Copenhagen is Cool!

One of Northern Europe's most populated cities, Copenhagen was the second stop on our June Disney cruise.

Located on two islands (Zealand and Amager) and several islets, the city is known for being environmentally friendly and having a high quality of life. According to Wikepidia, 36% of its citizens cycle to work. This is definitely something that we witnessed. The number of bicycles was astounding and very different from the U.S. Most of the streets are lined with bike paths and every corner has bike racks, making it possible for bicycling as a form of transportation.

We decided to visit Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in the world. Tivoli is actually more than just rides - it also has gardens, theatres and restaurants. In fact, the park was an inspiration for Walt Disney, who visited before creating Disneyland. The influence is apparent when you visit. Its international theme reminded me of Epcot.

Our tour took us into the park before it opened to be public, giving us the opportunity to view the gardens before the crowds came. The gardens and architecture are beautiful and create the perfect setting for relaxation and fun.

After touring the grounds, we were able to go on some of the rides, including one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world. The roller coaster only has hand breaks, so one of the staff rides with you and applies the breaks as the cars head downhill. Despite feeling a little weird about the hand break, we really enjoyed the ride. The kids begged to go on it again and again.

While some of the buildings and rides in the park as original, much of the park was destroyed during WWII. The Nazis actually entered the park and set off 5 fire bombs. Some of the buildings were rebuilt, and new buildings and rides have been added over the years.

The second part of our tour took us out of the park and onto a canal boat where we viewed the city. The architecture was breathtaking.

Boating is another popular mode of transportation and entertainment in Denmark. Many boats are docked along the canals, including small house boats, and of course many more were in the harbor. The tour guide shared that some live on the house boats in the canals during the summer. In fact, this is so popular that there is a 25-year waiting list for a space for your houseboat. Better sign up now!

I would definitely recommend visiting this amazing city full of beautiful architecture and culture. Home of Vikings, Hans Christian Anderson and a long history that dates back to the 1100s, you will find much to enjoy in Copenhagen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 3 - Oslo, Norway

On our third day, the Magic landed in our first Scandinavian stop - Oslo, Norway. Home of the Vikings, fjords, a modern cosmopolitan city, and warm friendly people, Norway is also known for glass making and skiing and other winter sports.

We took a shore excursion that featured the heritage of Norway. Our first stop was the Viking Museum. We were most excited for the opportunity to see real Viking ships. The museum has 3 of the best preserved Viking ships that have been found as well as items found on the ships. The ships had been used to bury important people, which is how they ended up being preserved. The composition of the ground, temperature, and other environmental factors helped make it possible for the ships to be preserved and found.

Burial houses were built on the ships and the person's belongings and treasures were buried with them. These items are displayed in the museum as well, including wagons, horses, textiles, jewelery, weapons, and tools.

Our next stop was the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, which is an outdoor museum with over 155 houses from all major regions of Norway primarily from the 17th - 19th centuries. There are several medieval houses, including the Stave Church from around 1200 AD.

Our third stop was the Sculpture Park. The park contains 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures, all modeled in full size by Gustav Vigeland, who also designed the architectural setting and the layout of the grounds.

We were quite fortunate on our trip. the weather was unseasonably warm. The weather in Oslo was in the mid-70s and sunny during our tour. It was a beautiful day to be in a beautiful country.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 2 - A Day at Sea

Since I only had limited access to the Internet while on the ship, I will be adding a few more posts about our trip. Here is one about our second day.
Our first full day on the ship was relaxed with little on the agenda. This is actually my favorite way to vacation - sitting on a deck chair reading a good book. However, I am most excited about visiting all of our upcoming stops. I am so excited to see all of these places I have never been and cultures that are in some ways so different from mine.

We spent the day in the English Channel and the North Sea. (Lucky for me, the sea has been quite calm and much like the waters of the Caribbean.) Our most exciting site was watching a cruise ship pass us. Yet, watching the sea was quite calming and beautiful.

Most of the entertainment was inside today (the weather has been getting cooler). Disney does a fantastic job with family entertainment. Some of the choices today were making flowers out of paper (origami), a game show where the contestants were children and their parents (sort of fashioned after the Newlywed Game), and Bingo. There was also movies running all day in the theatre and at the Goofy Pool, three pools, and plenty to eat and drink.

In the Kids Club, the children had visits from Peter Pan, Lilo and Stitch, the Little Einsteins, a princess, and more. The kids LOVE the kids club and ask to go there constantly. This makes for some guilt-free couples time.

This evening was the formal night for dinner followed by the play "Twice Charmed" in the Walt Disney Theatre. We also saw a comedian who gave the kids a lesson in how do do comedy. Ben was quick to get on the stage and show everyone his new signature walk.

Amazing Event of the Day: Kristina sat quietly and politely through an almost 2-hour dinner. I think that the dress was transforming for her. I will have to send her in one to school everyday! lol

Ben entertained everyone with nonsensical jokes and funny jabbering He asked his cousin about lacrosse and was told that he called his stick "my spoon." Ben replied "I call my stick 'my fork." Ben added "but I don't really kno0w what you are talking about."

The kids are having the hardest time with the time change. Ten o'clock here is 5 p.m. at home. It is like we are trying to put them to bed at 5 p.m. Yet, when it is time to wake up, they don't want to get out of bed.

Funny story - I was taking some pictures of the kids since they were all dressed up for formal night. After taking a picture, Ben ran over and said that he wanted to see one of the pictures. He looked at it and then said "look mom, that is my first best smile." I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because he added, "see I'm not smiling crooked." I looked at the picture and realized that he was right This was the first picture where his smile was not crooked - his first best smile!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Preparing to Leave

The last two day of the cruise have been at sea. This is actually a great way to end the cruise with days of relaxation and rest. However, these days are bittersweet as we become keenly aware that the trip is winding down. Thoughts of home and work become more frequent. So does the urge to anxiously try to do it all.

And what will we do without the evening magic trick by the waiter, four course dinners, having the room refreshed three times each day, a show every evening, and animals made of towels and chocolates on our bed every night. Oh yes, and childcare available from 9 a.m. to midnight daily.

Actually, Ben is taking a class right now with his dad on making animals out of towels. Maybe he will do this for us at home every night!

Funny story: This morning, Kristina decided to practice her magic tricks on Ben (trying to copy the waiter). She found a couple of coins and was starting her act. Ben said "make more of them. Make a thousand and we will have lots of money."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Flowers, Trees, and Other Plants in Scandinavia

I was asked to talk about little more about my observatios of the flowers and other plants in the area.

Again, this is something that was different from what I imagined. I had thought of it as been too cold for many flowers. On the contrary, there are many. Maybe this is another example of how they get maximum enjoyment from the warmer season here.

In fact, I saw alot of flower boxes and pots, as well as flower beds. Window boxes were also prevalent. I would imagine that these are a little easier to maintain here than at home where my potted flowers burn up quickly. Not surprisingly, pansies are popular. I saw other potted annuals, liked geraniums.

Of course the place that I saw the most flowers was in Tivoli (the amusement park in Copenhagen). This is an amusement park and a garden. I took many pictures there and will share them on Facebook later. The flower beds were amazing there.

Apparently, trees are a big industry here, especially in Sweden. In fact some of the items in the souvenir shops are made from local woods. They seem to have alot of varieties of trees as well.

Well, I will have to put more thought into this and add more later as I think of it.

Struck by Stockholm

Stockholm is beautiful, clean, friendly, and has much history. Our tour focused on the history of the area. We visited the Old Town area, which is from the Middle Ages. They have done a great job preserving this section and you can really get a feel for what living then was like. The streets are quite narrow. One passageway was just enough room to walk through.

Stockholm is another city made up of islands and bridges (can't remember the numbers). In one section is the sea and the other section of Stockholm is on a lake. There is a lock (sp?) separating the two. The water in the lake is quite a bit higher than the water in the sea.

Our tour then took us to Sigtuna, Sweden's first capital. Again, we were able to see some very old buildings. Sigtuna is now a small fishing village on a lake. We were there on Saturday; the locals seemed to really be enjoying the weather and the sun. We walked along the shore and saw many quaint cottages right on the lake's shore.

We then stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. We tried a local beer and had chicken covered in cheese.

Food in general here - they eat alot of Salmon and other smoked fish!!! I have grown a little tired of it. Actually most of our experience of local foods has been on the ship. We only had two meals on shore.

We noticed that there is alot more beer drinking. We especially noticed this in London. We were walking back to our hotel at the end of the work day. Pubs were overflowing with men in suits drinking glasses of beer. There is also alot more smoking. Even the kids commented on it and were counting the cigarrette butts on the streets of London. I guess that is one was to practice their counting!

The tour guide talked a little about the governing system in Sweden. While it would be hard for me to imagine, I can definitely see the benefits of their higher taxes. The unemployment rate is extremely high, and their economy is extremely good. There seems to be little poverty there. Education and health care are virtually free. One nice feature is that parents with newborns get 500 days of maternity leave (both parents) and are paid 80% of their salary.

Funny for the day: (I hope I am not repeating myself) The kids have been struggling with adjusting to the time change. They have been having a hard time going to sleep at night and then a hard time getting up in the morning (that alone is amusing to me cuz they are both early risers). A couple of days ago Kristina said "I don't have any big idea why Ben and I are so tired on this trip!"

Stockholm's biggest trade is wood. They have a wide variety of trees that are quite beautiful.

Another thing that I noticed in the countries that we visited is that boating seems to be big here. This seems a little odd since their summers are so shored (just about two months in the areas that we were). I guess one reason may be that it has been handed down through generations (maybe starting with the Vikings). That is just a guess. The other reason may be that they want to get maximum enjoyment out of their summers, since they are so brief.

Well, again there is more to come. I hope you are enjoying this. Let me know what you else I could share. I will dedicate another post to the landscaping and flowers.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tallin and St. Petersburg

We spent the last two days in St. Petersburg. That city is much more than I ever imagined. It is full of palaces and amazing architecture. We took a canal boat cruise on the first day - an excellent was to see the city.

I had not idea that St. Petersburg is actually a group of islands divided by a river and canals. This means that you can see much of the city by boat.

Yesterday, we went to Catherine's Palace. This is actually in Pushkin which is like a suburb of St. Petersburg. The palace was absolutely amazing. Sadly the Nazi's resided in the palace when they occupied the city in WWII. They destroyed much of it. Much of what we saw was its recent reconstruction.

Yesterday evening, we went to the Russian Ballet, which was amazing. First, we ate dinner in a local restaurant which is located in a palace. Then we were taken to the ballet, which was in (yes, you guessed it) a palace. It was an intimate theatre. The audience seemed to be completely made up of people from the visiting cruise ships. Yet, their ability and performance was amazing. We saw (the happy version) of Swan Lake. During one of the intermissions, we got to meet the principle ballerina and got pictures taken with her.

Well, today we are in Tallinn, Estonia and are looking forward to learning more about this country that I had never heard of before.