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Trip Report Around The World In Collars and Pearls: A Mother-Daughter Adventure

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I have always been lucky to consider my Mom to be my best friend, support pillar, fan, shrink, style consultant, drinking buddy and confidant. Her circumstances have recently made it possible for her to travel broadly and on her own schedule and in the spring of last year, I was fortunate to briefly piggyback along for a few days for part of her three week trip around Europe. We had a great time and swore we would do it again as soon as possible. So after an unexpected move to New York in the early fall (and finding myself with nearly a full free month to myself), I was delighted when Mom called me one day and said, “Darling, I want you to come travel with me in Europe for a bit! My treat!”.

“Yes!” came my immediate answer.

“There’s only one caveat,” said Mom. “You have to dress nicely.”

I paused. Mom sensed the pause and reveled in it before adding with emphasis, “you have to dress nicely all of the time!”

If you’ve never read any of my other trip reports, I should warn you that Mom is quite possibly the most proper, prissy and preppy person on the planet. My sisters and I are pretty certain that when she was born, she appeared wearing a crisp white collar button-up shirt with pearls. Which probably explains why she loves to call us out when our appearance is too casual for her taste. But kissing my comfy clothing good bye for a few weeks seemed a small price to pay for a great trip and chance to spend quality time with Mom, so I loaded up my suitcase with more crisp dress shirts, well-pressed work trousers, pumps and heels than any sane person would ever bring on her leisure travels and readied myself for an adventure. :)

As for our itinerary, Mom is ancestrally half Swedish, so she was adamant that we spend some time together in Stockholm, a place she had not been to for many years (and has never visited with her any of her daughters). Apart from Stockholm, we had complete carte blanche to determine our itinerary, so after much back and forth, we decided together on the following (if I may say, ambitious!) itinerary:

- Day 1/2 – I fly to Istanbul and we meet there.
- Day 3 – Istanbul
- Day 4 – Fly Istanbul to Cophenhagen
- Day 5 – Copenhagen
- Day 6 – Copenhagen -- Mom’s Birthday!! :)
- Day 7 - Copenhagen
- Day 8 – Cophenhagen to Stockholm
- Day 9 - Stockholm
- Day 10 – Stockholm
- Day 11 - Stockholm
- Day 12 – Stockholm to Oslo
- Day 13 – Oslo
- Day 14 – Oslo to Lisbon
- Day 15 – Lisbon
- Day 16 – Sintra Day Trip
- Day 17 – Lisbon to Porto
- Day 18 – Vinho Verde Tour Outside of Porto
- Day 19 – Fly Home

P.S. Since my trip reports double as my travel diary (lazy, I know), I go into a bit of detail. For that reason I’ll add bullet highlights summarizing each days’ adventures at the top of each new installment. Feel free to skip around! :)

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    It's great that your mum and you get along and can travel together without friction. The opening paragraph of your trip report sounds unusually fun ^^
    Looking to hear more.

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    Hi all, sorry for the delay, I finally am getting back to this! :)

    @Kaijai66 -- You're probably in Copenhagen now. I hope you're having a wonderful time and hopefully I'm not too late on these posts to be helpful! :)

    @Northie - Hello again! I hope all is well with you. Thanks for your kind words about my Paris report, we had so much fun on this trip too!

    @FuryFluffy -- Thanks for your note! Mom is my bestie and traveling companion of choice! Lucky me! :)

    @Progol -- You nailed it! Mom's a hoot! :)

    @Denisea -- Hello again!! :) At the rate I'm going, I'll get to the Sintra piece by xmas! :)

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    DAYS 1/2 – WEDNESDAY NIGHT / THURSDAY

    Highlights
    - The Turkish Airlines Experience
    - Hello, Four Seasons Sultanahmet!
    - Hagia Sophia – You Blow My Mind!
    - Striking a Deal in the Grand Bazaar

    I took the Wednesday evening flight from JFK direct to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. It was my first time flying Turkish and I was pretty impressed. I have always had a fascination with the country of Turkey – the intersection of cultures, the artwork and the legendary bargaining in the bazaars! But who knew that even the flight over would provide an opportunity to hone my bargaining skills?

    Due to my relatively last minute availability for this great trip, I had ended up in an interior seat in the middle of the economy cabin. If there’s anything I hate in life, it is being stuck in the middle seat on a long flight, so, of course, when the flight attendant came around and asked if anyone wanted to trade for an aisle, I leapt at the chance. I was all smiles until I was led to the row right behind the front of the cabin, which was completely filled with parents with young children (think under the age of 2!). Thus the stage was set for what would be the noisiest flight of my life . . . and right then and there, I made a mental note to myself – do your due diligence before buying anything in Turkey!

    It was the early afternoon on Thursday when I arrived in Istanbul. I took a cab from the airport to the hotel where Mom was staying – the Four Seasons Sultanahmet. OMG was this place fabulous!!! Canary yellow buildings, a landscaped courtyard, beautiful stone work, decorations recalling the regal Ottoman past, and all smack in the center of the action of old Istanbul! Not a cheap place, but luckily Mom was treating!

    After a smooth and friendly check in, I made my way to our room – a premium room with two queens. Nice, large, clean. And when I opened the closet and saw Mom’s collection of button-up dress shirts (mostly white) with structured collars, colorful slacks and skirts, all neatly hanging in careful arrangement, along with more footwear choices than I will ever own, I knew for certain I was in the right room!

    It felt good to clean up after the flight and, wanting to live up to my promise to Mom, I took some extra time to primp, eventually settling on a pair of white jeans and a navy dress shirt which I tucked into a woven leather belt and matching wedges. As often happens when I spend time with Mom, I did feel a bit like I was going to a country club, but a promise is a promise!

    Istanbul!

    How amazing it was, for the first time, to hear the call to prayer sounding from the majestic mosques of Sultanahmet. How fascinating to see women in burqas walking alongside women in Dior (in a place other than South Kensington!)! I was immediately drawn to the exoticism of the city and couldn’t wait to explore.

    Like me, Mom is a restless type when it comes to exploring new places, so we had arranged to meet at the Hagia Sophia and not waste any of our precious time in Istanbul. Mom had bought tickets in advance for us and so we did not have to wait long to enter.

    The second we entered, one word popped into my brain: “WOW!” How anyone had the audacity to contemplate building – let alone build – such a magnificent structure in the sixth century, I will never understand! Magnificent is really the only word for it – the swooping arches and impossibly life-like frescos... I know that there may be those who disagree with me, but if you only have time to visit one site in Istanbul, this should be it.

    Based on its proximity to Hagia Sophia, our next stop was the Blue Mosque. I am an architecture fan, so I was completely fixated on the minarets and domes of this marvel of a building as we removed our footwear and searched for a place to securely leave them during our visit (we eventually bribed a young boy to look after them!). Ever prepared, Mom produced two scarves from her bag and we draped them over our heads and entered the Blue Mosque.

    Like the outside, the inside did not disappoint. It was fascinating to watch as tourists milled around, most of them respectfully (but some cluelessly and rudely taking pictures – if you visit, please don’t do that!), while the faithful prayed. We didn’t spend very long at the Blue Mosque, but even a short visit made a great impression.

    Mom and I are both avid shoppers, so where else would our next stop be, but the Grand Bazaar! It was a pleasant, not too long stroll to get there from the Blue Mosque and we enjoyed our walk as the thriving metropolis pulsated around us: hawkers hawked, boys whizzed by on bikes calling out to us and women chatted on cellphones. To call Istanbul merely “lively” would be a great understatement! After some confusion, we found an entrance to the bazaar. Mom turned to me and meticulously folded back the cuffs of her black dress shirt. “Time to bargain,” she said, flashing her whitest smile.

    The Grand Bazaar is an amazing place. Think about any item that you can name and you can get it there. Fashion? Check. Jewelry? Check. Carpets? Check. Leather? Check. Electronics? Check. Fake leather? Check. It really is a mix between Wal-mart, China Town and Disney, all in the magical setting of Istanbul.

    I’ve heard the expression “getting lost in the bazaar” and that was precisely our goal. In contrast to most of the Turkish locals, Mom and I are both blonde, so we pretty much stuck out like sore thumbs. The result was that aggressive – by western standards – hawkers called us out, came up to us and tried to start conversations to entice us to buy every piece of junk you could fathom. Even if the pitches were aggressive and we always seemed to have a bit more company than we might have liked as we walked through the bazaar’s ancient corridors, the experience was in no way threatening and we had a great time browsing among the tourists and locals. For what it is worth, my suggestion would be that if you are a solo traveler visiting the Grand Bazaar, or Turkey, just expect a bit more attention then is ordinary and convince yourself that it is part of the fun and go with it. It is well worth the hassle.

    Eventually we found our way to a merchant selling nice costume jewelry and a turquoise necklace caught Mom’s eye. The shopkeeper eagerly offered to let her try it on, which Mom did. We both agreed that it looked quite nice under the collar of her black dress shirt. Game on!

    Mom: What do you want for it?

    Vendor: It is real turquoise.

    Mom: Yes. It is lovely.

    Vendor: It is very rare, real turquoise. Most you see here . . . <waves his hand broadly> . . . fakes. But mine, real. All real.

    Mom: Of course. It is lovely. And so is your shop.

    Vendor: Thank you. Yes.

    Mom: How much for the necklace?

    Vendor: One Thousand Turkish Lira.

    Mom: <Politely inspecting the goods>. I think that’s a little high. <She waits for the Vendor to resume>

    Vendor: I could do 900.

    Mom: <Twirls her hair and plays with the collar of her shirt, but stays silent.>

    Vendor: 800.

    Mom: I think it is high still. I would like this as a souvenir, but we have the same in our country too.

    Vendor: What can you do?

    Mom: 350.

    Vendor: <Laughs> No, No. It’s too low.

    Mom: 400 is all I can do.

    Vendor: <Pensive>.

    Mom: So?

    Vendor: For two such nice ladies, I make you deal. Best price. 450.

    Mom: <Breaks into a smile>. It’s a deal. <Extends a handshake to the vendor>.

    The item was bagged and we continued on our way. Soon we stopped into another store selling ceramic pottery. I have always had a thing for pottery, so Mom watched as I inspected the wares. “Darling, you should get something” she prodded eagerly. I nodded and picked up my favorite ceramic jug and brought it to the vendor. “Remember to negotiate,” Mom whispered in my ear, as a trainer might a boxer heading into the ring.

    But you know what? She was completely right! I, too, walked away with the item at a significantly discounted price off of the asking. Maybe I still got gouged, who knows, but I had so much fun. Negotiating in the Grand Bazaar is a kind of sport and everyone should participate during a visit to Istanbul!

    We had shopped to our hearts content and were about to leave the bazaar, when suddenly Mom's face lit up. "Darling, look at that pocket watch! It's perfect for Hunter. I should buy it for him!" (Hunter is Mom's boyfriend of about six months). But then, a mischievous twinkle came into her eye. I held my breath. "Actually, darling, let's have him bargain for it in the bazaar!"

    Mom reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone and face-timed Hunter. I did some quick math and realized it would be the morning in California, where Hunter lives. Hunter picked up, looking unsuspecting and freshly awakened from a good night's sleep. Mom and I waived at him with our biggest smiles.

    Hunter: Hi ladies!

    Mom: Hi, Darling. Nevermind too much pleasantness. We're in the grand bazaar.

    Mom whirled the phone around for him to see.

    Hunter: Wow!

    Mom: I bought this necklace. <Mom panned the phone to show off the turquoise around her neck>.

    Hunter: It's fabulous on you! I love it dear!

    Mom: And now. Hunter, darling, you're going to perhaps buy something. You're going to bargain with this man for this lovely pocket watch!

    <Mom flashed the silver antique in front of the screen before panning to the smiling vendor.>

    Hunter: I am?

    Mom: Yes, dear. He wants 400 Turkish Lira for it. By the way the exchange rate is 3 to 1. Now go!

    To my amazement, Hunter was a good study and proceeded to bargain with the somewhat bewildered shopkeeper over the screen. Eventually they settled at 250 Turkish Lira, which I thought was about right.

    Mom: Very good, Hunter dear! <Mom smiled brightly into the phone>. Now run along and enjoy your morning and we will speak later!

    So that was another first for me -- a virtual negotiation during my first visit to the grand bazaar!

    It was the early evening and the jet lag was by now catching up to me. So we made our way back to the Four Seasons for dinner at the Seasons Restaurant. The restaurant is located in the courtyard of the hotel, in a beautiful setting, and the food was very good. While I personally prefer to eat outside of hotels when travelling, after a first eventful day in never-a-dull-moment Istanbul, Seasons was a perfect and easy choice!

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    DAY 3 – FRIDAY – ISTANBUL

    Highlights
    - We visit Topkapi Palace
    - We walk to the spice market
    - We visit European Istanbul, have a great meal and make new friends.

    When it comes to travel, Mom and I are kindred spirits and do our best to wake up early in the morning to make the most of our time. So the next morning I slept until 7:30 a.m. to fend off my jet lag and met Mom downstairs for a delicious Turkish breakfast. Predictably, she’d already used the fitness center, primped for the day and was already in the midst of reading her second newspaper! ☺

    Our first stop of the day was the Topkapi Palace. We arrived right as it opened and mercifully avoided the notoriously long lines that I have heard so much about. Still, lines to see Topkapi are justified because Topkapi is really another can’t miss attraction. Yes, it is another palace, but it is a palace completely unlike any other in the world – the stuff of dreams.

    Topkaki Palace is actually a collection of buildings, which, altogether, formed the homes of sultans – the folks who ran the Ottoman Empire. Apart from incredible mosaic tiles and abundant views of Istanbul’s waterways, Topkapi Palace also boasts an abundance of neat Islamic artifacts and a real harem. I happen to love mosaic and tiles, so I was blown away by the craftsmanship and the mélange of colors in which the sultans lived out their pampered lives. But in a classic example of different strokes for different folks, Mom must have remarked to me no fewer than four times, “It’s lovely, dear, but it’s just too much for me! Too much!” Still, ever a true preppie, a few rooms did evoke gasps of pleasure from her, including one with a well-adorned pink dome which prompted her to declare with delight, “it’s like having a Lilly Pulitzer print on your ceiling!”

    After seeing the sights at Topkapi Palace, we decided to take a stroll through Sultanahmet to the spice market. The walk was again very pleasant – it is just so amazing to stroll through a city where ancient and modern merge so seamlessly and so vibrantly! On the way to the spice market, we walked past the Rustem Pasha mosque. This had been mentioned in several guidebooks I had consulted, so I suggested we stop in. It was worth a visit – less massive than the Blue Mosque, but with magnificent tile work. Fascinating!

    Finally we arrived at the Spice Market. I had been envisioning a spectacle to rival the intrigue of the Grand Bazaar, but this was nothing of the sort. Yes, the colorful, pyramidal displays of fragrant spices were beautiful to behold, and yes, you don’t get that sort of thing with regularity in the USA, but still, in the exotic confines of Istanbul, it all felt a bit underwhelming.

    It was by this point the early afternoon, so we decided to walk across the Galata Bridge to the European side of the city. I have to say that no trip to Istanbul can possibly be complete without a walk across this iconic bridge – but note, as you are enjoying the fantastic views of the city, watch out for the fishermens’ lines!

    If you haven’t noticed by now, Mom and I are walkers, so we took the opportunity to take a long, leisurely stroll through European Istanbul. We passed the Galata Tower – very tall, but we decided not to wait in line and to savor instead the views of Istanbul that seemed to be revealed with each twist and turn as we navigated the storied streets in the general direction of Istiklal Caddesi.

    How neat it was, after seeing the sights of Sultanahmet, to walk down Istiklal Caddesi. If in the former head scarves predominated, here Mom and I felt right at home among the fashionably styled, European leaning component of the population roaming the streets as the day gave way to evening. And how much fun it was to stop here or there for a Turkish coffee and to sample Turkish delight! Mom loved the pistachio, but I liked the rose . . . yum, yum, yum!

    It was the evening by this time, so Mom and I made our way over to Asmali Cavit, a Meyhane – or tavern – that had been recommended to me as “good and lively” by a former co-worker who was for many years an Istanbul resident. From the moment we sat down at the restaurant, we could tell this was going to be a treat. The restaurant was busy, filled with people happily eating at tables quite close to one another, and it was pretty much dumb luck that we were able to score a table, but I am glad it worked out. We are both meze lovers, and couldn’t stop pointing at this and that as the waiters pushed around a cart showing off the days’ offerings. The food was simple, delicious and not frilly – our favorite dishes were the sardines, eggplant and beets. If you like Turkish food, it’s worth checking out.

    Mom and I do like our drinks, so of course we had to try the “national” drink of Turkey – Raki. Made from distilled grapes and aniseed, the flavor reminded me of Sambuca or Ouzo. We each ordered a shot, which came in a nice 4 cl glass marked yeni raki and accepted when the waiter offered to mix the spirit with water and ice. Mom was fascinated by the way the raki turned milky white when mixed with water, but I have to admit I was more eager to taste it than have a chemistry lesson, so we cheersed and sipped. Yum! And then we chased it with one of Turkey’s fabulously dry Efes beers, which I have to say was also delicious! (I should note that the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, has been seeking to replace Raki with Aryan as the national drink of Turkey . . . somehow, I think it will be an uphill battle for a salted yogurt drink to unseat a time honored punchy favorite!).

    Of the countries I have traveled to, I have to say that Turkey has some of the friendliest people I have ever met. We had finished our meal and were sitting sipping our raki and plotting our next move, when the gentleman at the table next to us turned to Mom and said, “you are American, yes?”

    I have to admit that being asked this question in Turkey, even in the comfortable confines of a western-leaning Meyhane, my antennae went up. But this proved to be completely unnecessary. And while I might have nodded politely and asked for the check, Mom, happily loosened up and pleasantly extroverted after a beer and some raki, struck up a conversation.

    Mom: Yes we are!

    Osman: Ah! I love Americans! I lived there!

    Mom: So do we and so we do we! Where did you live?

    Osman: San Francisco!

    Mom: Me too! Tooooo funny!

    Osman: My partner, Ali, and I love your necklace.

    <Mom fiddles with her purchase from the bazaar inside the collar of her red shirt dress>

    Osman: Most Americans we meet are wearing junk made in China. But I think you got the real thing!

    Mom: Luck, I guess!

    Osman: No, it is very well done! But I assume you got it here?

    Mom: Yes, in the bazaar! And my daughter bargained skillfully for a pottery piece as well.

    Osman: They have everything in the bazaar!

    Mom: But you MUST bargain! That’s the fun!

    Osman: Of course, yes! In the states buying things is so dull.

    Mom: I don’t know. Perhaps as a society we just like the predictability and ease of things.

    Osman: Ah, but how boring I find that! I guess it’s different strokes for different folks.

    Mom: Vive la difference!

    <We all cheers with our raki> ☺

    Thus began one of those great travelers’ conversations that covered everything under the sun from Hagia Sophia and Coit Tower, to Galata and the Golden Gate. Eventually, I checked my watch. Some how it was already 10 p.m. Between its sights and friendly locals, I gather that Istanbul is the kind of place where the day can just fly away from you! So we politely said our goodbyes, collected Ali and Osman’s e-mails, and got to our feet and flagged down a cab.

    And not fully over the jet lag yet, I was delighted to arrive back at a comfortable bed at the Four Seasons after a day well spent!

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    Thanks BostonBlonde, I thoroughly enjoyed your tale, on a day when I most needed it.

    I applaud your & your mother's spirited engagement & enjoyment of your surroundings. May you have many happy trips together.

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    Such fun, BostonBlonde.
    I enjoyed my trip to Istanbul with my Mum, too... such a great city to explore, isn't it?
    My Mum bought a great handbag in the Grand Bazaar, no bartering, just a "I'd like that bag, please" and the seller proceeds to extol the virtues of this fine bag, lots of unnecessary salesmanship on his part, to the point of using a lighter on it to show its' superior leather... at which my mother lost it and said "just sell me the bag!!!". No doubt she paid more than she needed to, but she loves that bag and it actually is very well made. Hasn't tested it in a fire situation yet, though :)

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    I've been waiting for this trip report! Your mother sounds very adventurous and young at heart. I am young at heart (and fashionable though not in your mom's price range) but not quite so adventurous when it comes to socializing.

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    Your trip sounds great and fun and unconventional !
    Your mom's character is so cool.
    You would inspire me to go to Istanbul and do the bargaining in the Grand Bazaar too ^^

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    @Traceilee & Rhea58 -- Thanks for your nice notes! It was a fabulously fun trip and more is on the way!

    @Bokhara2 -- Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad this report cheered you up. Writing trip reports always cheers me up -- talk about escapism from work! :)

    @Adelaidean -- Yes, even though I short-changed it, Istanbul is totally incredible. I needed at least another two full days!! Your hilarious story about the purse is spot on -- now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure the vendor broke out a lighter and "tested" the necklace on it as well! Must be part of the business school curriculum over there! :)

    @Marigross -- Thanks for your nice note. Mom is an original, I'll give her that. I, for one, haven't tried virtual shopping over a video chat, but I just might! :)

    @Vicky -- Thanks for writing! You're comment made me laugh since I myself am not particularly fashionable and am definitely not in Mom's price range either! :) But it is fun to tag along for free when circumstances permit! :)

    @Furyfluffy -- Thanks for your comments. What can I say, I lucked out with a pretty cool Mom (cooler than most of my friends anyway)... do make sure to go to Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar. It's incredible!!

    @Belinda -- A lady never tells her age! (But, whispers Blondie, she's a vivacious 52 and I just turned 30...)

    More soon...

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    DAY 4 – SATURDAY – ISTANBUL TO COPENHAGEN

    - A final stroll in Istanbul
    - A harrowing drive to the Istanbul Airport
    - A relaxing drive to the Admiral Hotel
    - A brief visit to Nyhavn

    The next morning, our last in Istanbul, we rose bright and early. After our typical workout, we primped and packed and took one last walk past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Istanbul and is a positively wonderful city and I definitely shortchanged it – you need four days at a minimum, preferably five.

    By late morning we made our way back to our hotel and got in our cab to the airport. I’ve always wanted to ride in a race car, and our driver, Mehmet’s taxi came close. A smiling and fearless older man of 60, he wove from lane to lane, barking in Turkish at his fellow drivers, all the while smiling into the rear view mirror at Mom (whose nails were tickling my forearm as she gripped it) and I as we tugged on our seatbelts in the back seat. There were definitely a few times when I could have sworn that we were up on two wheels!

    Eventually we made it to the airport – two hours ahead of time consistent with Mom’s conservative requirements - and checked in. Already shaken from our ride and with time to kill, we decided it would be prudent to go and find a martini. So we did just that and passed the time before our flight catching up on magazines.

    A short while later we boarded our flight and arrived uneventfully in Copenhagen. What a contrast from Istanbul! Our cab drivers really embodied the differences in these two cities. Our driver, Anders, was the polar opposite of Mehmet, and took us on a polite, orderly drive to the Admiral Hotel in Copenhagen where we were staying, all the while smiling attentively at us and always, without fail, using his turn signal. As we exited the cab, I couldn’t help but think about how big a world it is and the truism of the expression, different strokes for different folks!

    The Admiral hotel was not as opulent as the Four Seasons, but great nonetheless. After check-in through the lobby which truthfully reminded me a little bit of a nautically themed airport, we made our way to a well-appointed room with a fantastic view of the water and the sprawling city. The room was clean and of a good size; since I wasn’t paying I can’t comment on the value, but I was happy. Mom immediately set to work unpacking her suitcase and arranging its contents in the closets, while I read up on Copenhagen.

    It was the early evening by the time we left the room and we took a walk over to nearby Nyhavn, a lovely canal front district full of bars and outdoor restaurants. Nyhavn really seems to be a lifeblood of Copenhagen – filled with boat moorings and colorful buildings, you can really imagine what its cobblestone streets must have been like in the gritty days before tourism. Hans Christian Andersen used to live in this district and it was not hard to imagine that it must have been very inspiring given his fertile imagination.

    It had been a long day of travel, so we didn’t walk too long before we picked an outdoor table at random at a place calling the Heering restaurant. It was a Saturday evening and Nyhavn was festive with people walking along the canal, so we ordered a refreshing Danish beer and had dinner, Mom a tasty piece of cod, while I had a mediocre chicken dish. But the people watching was fantastic – young people starting their evenings, a brave few with strollers navigating the cobblestones, while sat and reflected on the great differences between Copenhagen and Istanbul!

    After dinner we headed back to our hotel for a good night’s rest, eager to begin the next day with fresh eyes for our adventures in Copenhagen.

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    DAY 5 – SUNDAY – COPENHAGEN

    - A nice morning jog
    - A visit to Christiansborg Palace
    - Bistro Lunch
    - Cruising on a Boat
    - Dinner in Nyhavn

    Sundays in Copenhagen are notoriously quiet (so I had read in the guidebooks and confirm to be the truth). But in a way it was splendid, as Mom and I treated ourselves to a later morning than usual and took time for a leisurely jog. The good folks at the hotel had recommended a lovely run along the waterfront (Larsens Plads) which spans from close to the hotel down to the famed Little Mermaid statue, and the star-shaped former fortress, Kastellet, beyond, so we donned our best athleisure and took off apace. I have to say even if she has 22 years of wear and tear on me, Mom definitely outpaced me and took the opportunity to drolly remark, “Darling, that’s it! We’ll need to find room for a treadmill in that tiny, new apartment of yours!” But the run was really lovely, all along the waterfront, past great old buildings and the Little Mermaid statue (already flocked with people) and gave a great daytime introduction to the city.

    Back in the room, after primping and a quick breakfast, Mom and I decided that a quiet Copenhagen Sunday would be the perfect day to visit nearby Christiansborg Palace, located on the nearby island of Slotsholmen (don't you just love these Scandanavian names?!). And after a pleasant walk, we soon arrived at the palace.

    I have to say that having recently visited Topkapi in Istanbul, I found Christiansborg Castle somewhat underwhelming. Was it large? Yes. Imposing? Of course. Regal? Yes, very regal indeed. But after Topkapi, it all felt a tad sterile. And certainly points were not won when upon arrival, we were notified that we needed to slip blue shoe covers over our footwear to enter certain rooms. Needless to say Mom was not thrilled with this situation.

    Attendant: Please cover your shoes with these, Madam. <Hands blue shoe covers to Mom>

    Mom: Oh, no, no.

    Attendant: I'm sorry Madam, you must . . .

    Mom: But I tread very lightly!

    Attendant: <Looks unimpressed>

    Mom: <Getting Desperate> I even wore ballet flats.

    Attendant: I do not doubt it Madam, but . . .

    Mom: I have nice wooden floors at home. No scratches! <Mom turns to me>. Darling, show the man a picture of my living room!

    Me: Mom, I don't have a picture of your living room.

    Attendant: I'm sorry, Madam. <Smiles politely as he extends the shoe covers in her direction>.

    And yes, it was pretty priceless to see Mom shudder as she reluctantly slipped the dodgy, hospital-like shoe covers over her treasured leopard print ballet flats and whispered to them, "sorry girls!".

    The visit to the palace was interesting enough and probably merits a stop if you are in Copenhagen. The kitchen was really neat -- with its brick-worked floors and copper pots, which I positively loved! And the Great Hall of the palace was well worth the price of admission alone -- the tapestries lining the wall are a can't miss attraction. I say this swallowing my pride since, as I confided in Mom, most of the tapestries on the wall are larger than my New York apartment!

    All that time spent in the kitchens had worked up our appetites, so after having exhausted Christiansborg, another short stroll brought us to a nearby café which had been recommended to us for brunch called Frenchy. Mom and I both LOVED this place. Simple décor -- think lots of wood and cute stools to perch on -- simple food -- simply delicious! Mom had the French breakfast, which came with just about everything you'd expect - eggs, yogurt and a small crepe - and I treated myself to a Croque Monsieur (hey, I went for a run on vacation, I deserve it!). And we washed it down with delicious coffee. All in all, it was the perfect stop for a lazy(ish) Sunday afternoon.

    It was by now 3:00 in the afternoon and we made our way back to Nyhavn where we had decided to board a small canal boat for a cruise around Copenhagen. Mom and I both love being out on the water, but be warned -- in chilly Scandanavia, being on the water brings down the temperature at least 10 degrees. Needless to say, we were both grateful that we had tied sweaters around our shoulders before leaving the hotel that morning and put them quickly to good use! The boat tour was pretty neat -- it covered a lot of ground and it was fun to sail along the city, seeing palaces, the opera house and, of course, our old friend the little mermaid. The tour lasted a little more than an hour and we both really enjoyed it.

    Happily back on land, we made our way back to the hotel for a quick siesta before venturing out in search of a Sunday night dinner in quiet Copenhagen. We had been warned in advance that many restaurants are closed on Sundays in Copenhagen and while we might have liked more choice, there was something refreshing about the fact that they allow themselves a day off. We Americans should really consider following suit!

    Returning to Nyhavn, we soon happened on a wharfside restaurant called Cap Horn. The best way to describe Cap Horn is carefully straddling the divide between authentic and kitsch. As for the authentic -- the worn floors, the fire place and the general atmosphere were totally superb. I could easily imagine what this place must have been like during the years before Nyhavn was transformed into a tourist hub. As for the kitsch – it was amply represented by the tablecloths, the napkins and the many, many examples of bric-a-brac that were on display all over the restaurant. In any event, the food was pretty good, even if the menu was a little limited. We both started with a glass of champagne, then had cod (a menu staple in Copenhagen) as our main courses, which we each washed down with a Danish beer. On the whole, we were pretty pleased with our choices for a low expectations Sunday night dinner.

    It was around 9:30 when we left the restaurant and a short walk back to the hotel was exercise enough to leave me grateful for a comfortable bed and a good night's sleep after an exciting day!

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    DAY 6 – MONDAY – COPENHAGEN – MOM’S BIRTHDAY

    - Morning mimosas
    - A shopping tour of Stroget
    - A lovely birthday lunch
    - A champagne surprise
    - Birthday Sushi
    - A little too much of a good thing!

    Shame on me for being a bad trip reporter . . . anyway, I’m back!

    Today was Mom’s birthday!

    As we stepped outside into the chilly Copenhagen air for our morning run, I could sense that it was going to be a very fun day. We did our usual route down to our familiar acquaintance – the Little Mermaid – and were back in the room to primp for what was well on its way to becoming a beautiful fall day.

    Knowing my travelling companion’s preppy sensibilities, I decided to wear my crispest white dress shirt, dark blue jeans and a navy blazer and a pearl necklace to honor the birthday girl on her big day. Hilariously, when I appeared, there was Mom, wearing the exact same outfit! “Why darling, you look adorable,” declared Mom. Adorable or not, I was far too mortified for us to set foot outside as complete twinsies, so Mom decided to replace her jeans with a pair of green plaid slacks, and, if you can believe it (I couldn’t) a pair of matching plaid pumps which she had brought along for the trip!

    As I’ve mentioned and you’ve likely deduced, Mom is an avid shopper, so I had planned for her birthday to revolve around her favorite pastime. In this regard, Copenhagen features one of the world’s greatest shopping streets – Stroget – and our plan was to traverse it completely!

    A moment later there was a knock on the door – a timely delivered breakfast surprise I had ordered up to the room – eggs, toast, orange juice and a half bottle of champagne to make mimosas. Perfect timing, Admiral Hotel!

    If you’ve read any of my other trip reports, you’ll know that Mom and I like to drink and enjoy our fair share of tipsy adventures together. We also share a “tipsy tell” – as my sisters like to call it - a pleasantly ticklish sensation that develops around the back of our necks after a few drinks which Mom and I affectionately refer to as “The Collar”. So needless to say, when I emerged from one last stint with the hairdryer to find Mom standing by the mirror giggling as she polished off her mimosa and tinkered with her white shirt collar, I could tell that the day had the makings of another tipsy adventure. (Spoiler alert: we had several such adventures during this trip!).

    A short cab ride later we arrived at the Radhuspladsen -- the massive square that seems common to every European capital, ostensibly intended to project the power of the monarchy. This square was a nice one and quite impressive with its towering red brick buildings. And feeling a bit loosened up after our breakfast mimosas, we were naturally reduced to giggles as we took turns trying to pronounce the word “Radhuspladsen” and locked arms to begin our stroll down Stroget.

    Stroget bills itself as the world's longest pedestrian shopping street. Whether this is true or not, I do not know with certainty. But Mom and I were not going to miss the opportunity to thoroughly explore it on her birthday! While different sections of this very long walking district which runs through the heart of the city do cater to different clienteles, almost uniform throughout is the loveliness of the architecture overhead, the cobblestones below and the alleyways which spinoff in different in directions, peripheral arteries to the historical city's Aorta.

    Our first stop on Stroget, right near the Radhus square, was Randers Handsker - a fabulous shop with about 200 years of history which offers for sale just about any gloves you can imagine. And true to form, after nearly an hour of careful foraging, we left the shop with Mom having purchased roughly, count ‘em, eight pairs (most to be gifted, fear not!).

    Continuing our stroll, we must have stopped in at least ten shops along Stroget before we reached the Lego store. Yes, you read that correctly. Like just about everyone I have ever met, I love legos. And the store did not disappoint. There were legos there that I would have never imagined possible -- alligators, lions, large bicycles. What a totally neat place! It was also cool to see the exhibit about the company's history spread throughout the store. We didn't buy anything, but it is a must see on Stroget.

    It was by now a little before 1 p.m. and we decided to stop for lunch at a recommended restaurant called Huks Fluks, located just a short walk from Stroget on nearby Gråbrødretorv. This lovely and quaint café had outdoor seating and we timed it right as we were able to score a table without a wait. The lunch menu had a number of nice, seafood-centric offerings, so I went with Moules Mariniers, while Mom ordered a salad with Smoked Salmon. Yum!

    With surprisingly warm fall sunshine breaking through the clouds, we ordered a bottle of Cava Rose to toast Mom's birthday anew. Which probably explains why, by the end of the meal neither of us could stop giggling while Mom fidgeted with her shirt collar and tortured our very patient waiter, making him help her learn to pronounce "Gråbrødretorv". Eventually we gave up and released him on the condition that he take a picture of us toasting the birthday girl.

    All too soon we left lovely Huks Fluks behind and continued our stroll down Stroget. Our next stop was the world famous department store, Illums Bolighus. What a cool place! Think fantastic, original, simplistic yet perky, functional design in vast quantities. I bought a lovely salt-pepper shaker set, which, as I write this, is comfortably resting on my sorry excuse for a dining room table!

    After a stop for a delicious cappuccino at Original Coffee in the Illums store, our next stop was Birger Christensen. This was a famous and fabulously fashionable (read: expensive) boutique and though we spent a good amount of time browsing, we didn't buy anything.

    Finally, our last stop on our tour of Stroget was the Bang & Olufsen flagship. But both being up to date on our tech needs, and with their product available in the USA, our visit was brief and we decided to make our way back to the hotel.

    It was 6 p.m. when we arrived back at the Admiral Hotel. A lovely surprise was waiting for us in our room -- a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries which had been sent to Mom for her birthday from Hunter. So after texting a picture of her smiling with the bottle to Hunter and leaving a voicemail left on his phone that was full of sentiments like "Isn't he so darling!" and "What a dear!" Mom popped the cork and we clinked glasses in his honor. Delicious!

    Never ones to waste good bubbly, an hour later we had finished the bottle and were already a very giggly pair as we hailed a taxi to take us to Sticks 'N 'Sushi located 10 minutes away by cab in the Tivoli Hotel. (There was a closer sushi restaurant to the hotel, but its name, Karma Sushi, seemed a little off-putting!).

    For a chain restaurant, Sticks 'N Sushi had a pretty fun lounge vibe, with good views and lots of dark wood. The food was also surprisingly tasty -- Mom and I ordered a variety of items, from Sushi to Sashimi to Salads and all came out very fresh, well served and delicious. And, of course, with both of us already feeling The Collar, we ordered another bottle of bubby to keep the giggles flowing. All told, it was a delicious meal and in the early stages of a lengthy and not inexpensive trip, it felt great to treat Mom, even though the tab came to roughly $250.

    Have you ever experienced that feeling when you stand up from the table you are sitting at and suddenly realize that you’re a bit past tipsy? If so, then you know exactly how Mom and I felt as we pushed back our chairs and stood up after dinner. Somehow all of those little bubbles we’d consumed over the course of the day had transformed the establishment we were dining at into a rotating restaurant, while Mom held on to her chair for balance as she rhythmically swayed back and forth to a non-existent breeze and tried to suppress her hiccups. Collecting myself, I made my way around the table and took Mom’s hand and we made our way out of the restaurant in spite of her stopping me every three feet to point to her shirt collar, fight through her giggles and declare in her best slurred speech such luminary musings as, “darrrling, I’mm feeellinng a lill all-kaa-hollll unnder myy colllarrr” and “darrrling, I’mma lill tippsssy . . . buttt immnott drrunnkk becuzzz imm wearr a whitecolllar and pearllsss!”

    Eventually we made it into a cab and piled into the backseat and rocked out to Scandavian pop while we sat in surprisingly bad traffic and our driver smiled politely at us in the mirror. (I could write a great separate trip report about cabbies musical choices around the world!).

    After a short walk back to our room – made more wobbly by the fact that Mom, woman of principal that she is, refused to remove her plaid pumps – we decided to video chat with Hunter to thank him for his generous gift.

    Mom: Helllloo Hunnner darrrrllling . . .

    Me: Hiiiiii Hunter!

    Hunter: Hello ladies . . . look at you all matchy matchy in your white shirts!

    Mom: Hunner . . . I jusswann . . . hic! . . . <giggles> . . . jusswannned to call and sayy thannk youuu forthechammmpagne.

    Hunter: You're welcome, dear! Happy Birthday! It sounds like you’ve had some of it!

    Mom: Yess, darrrling. <Points to her shirt collar, giggling> I'vve benn drinnkk . . . hic! . . . drinnkkinng . . . and nowww . . . hic-up! . . . now I’mm feeellinn the collarrr . . . <places her forefinger over her mouth, giggling> . . . isssa secret.

    Hunter: What is, dear?

    Mom: Issss . . . hic! . . . I’mmm a feeellinnn . . . hic! . . . <giggles> feeelllinnn a lill alll-kaaa-holll . . hic! <giggles>

    Hunter: <Chuckling> Well, now that you mention it darling, you don't seem completely sober.

    Me: <I point to my shirt collar too, giggling> Make that collars for two, Hunter!

    Mom: <Giggling> Isss sttrue . . . Hunnnerr darrrll . . . hic! . . . I’mm feellinn a liilll all-kaa-holll buttt I jussswann thannkk you forrrthechhammmpagne.

    And so on . . .

    A short while later we said goodnight, but not before I told the birthday girl in my own somewhat glossy speech that Hunter's a keeper!

    Happy Birthday Mom!

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    Re-reading this, and in the interests of completeness, I realize that I left out one cool shop on Stroget that Mom and I both liked: The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Store. A really cool store -- and worth a visit and some extra time if you need dishes! :)

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    Day 7 - Copenhagen - Tuesday

    • Checking out the royal jewels at Rosenborg Castle
    • Herring for Lunch
    • A visit to the Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek
    • I travel solo for a visit to Freetown Christiania
    • New friends from Scotland
    • The Collar, explained

    I have to hand it to Mom. After yesterday’s mischievous birthday antics, I would have been perfectly happy to sleep late and phone it in. But not her. There I was, at 7:30 sharp, being poked awake by this ball of energy, now one year older, who informed me that “Darling, sleeping through exercise is no way to begin a new year,” and that I had precisely fifteen minutes to ready myself for our morning run! Although I resisted, I ultimately gave up and the next thing I knew, there I was, trailing behind her, off in the direction of Kastellet. She was right though -- I for one did feel much fresher after some crisp Danish morning air.

    After we had returned from the hotel and cleaned up from our run, we made our way to our first stop of the day -- Rosenborg Castle. Truth be told, I was castled out by this point -- a shame given how many more were in our remaining itinerary (don’t worry, I eventually got a second wind) -- but I was excited to visit the famed crown jewels, which I suspect draw most of the tourists who visit Rosenborg. In fairness, the collection did not disappoint -- and Mom and I spent far too much time ogling the royal goodies that we poor members of the public can only peek at. In case you are wondering, our collective favorite piece was a smashing number -- a necklace and matching earrings -- made of shining green emeralds and gold.

    It was a gray and misty day outside, so we decided to keep our visit to the palace’s esteemed gardens brief. Even in October they were very impressive and I can only imagine how fantastic they must look in the height of summer! On the whole, Rosenborg Castle is a worthwhile stop during a visit to Copenhagen.

    It was now lunch time and we made our way over to nearby Restaurant Schoennemann, a tried and true local restaurant that has been open, as the waiter proudly told us, since the late 19th century. Usually in places like these I worry that the same food has been in the pantry since the opening date, but here that was certainly not the case. We both ordered herring dishes -- my love of this fish having been discovered during our visit to Holland (see how travel broadens you!) -- mine with mustard flavor, and Mom’s pickled and spicy, hearty portions both. And, of course, since this old school restaurant is very proud of the 140 varieties of snaps and aquavit that they have on offer, we each washed down our lunches with a small tasty danish beer and a shot of traditional aquavit. This was a very cool place and is a good lunch option if you find yourself at Rosenborg Castle.

    It was by now raining in earnest and chilly when we exited the restaurant, so we decided to make our way over to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. What a fabulous museum! The exterior impresses even before you enter - a stone edifice with gracious curves and a Scandinavian dome protruding from the top. On a Tuesday, the Museum was not particularly busy, so we approached the ticket desk, where possibly the most well-educated ticket saleswoman on the planet was seated.

    Mom: Two tickets, please.

    Saleswoman: Yes, here you go.

    Mom: Thank you. What does Glyptotek mean anyway?

    Saleswoman: Ah, you don’t know?

    Mom: <Rolling her eyes a little>. No, I’ve never heard that word.

    Saleswoman: Everyone here knows it.

    Me: <Biting lip to stifle laughter>.

    Mom: Well, I guess I do not.

    Saleswoman: Can you guess what it means?

    Mom: <Sarcastically>. An institute where Glyps are produced?

    Saleswoman: <Missing the humor> What is a Glyp?

    Mom: I don’t know that either.

    Saleswoman: Glyptotek means a home for statues. So now you know.

    Mom: Thanks!

    The Glyptotek is definitely appropriately named. There are many, many statues, tastefully laid out around the neatly designed interior of the building. One thing I found unique and well-done was the use of plants and trees as part of the building infrastructure. Very innovative and very twenty-first century. The collection at the museum is impressive and a visit is a great choice for a rainy day in Copenhagen.

    It had stopped raining by the time we left and we debated where to go next. I very badly wanted to see Christiania -- the so-called “free town” -- which I had read about in guidebooks. Mom, however, was having no part of it. So we decided to go our separate ways, me off to this strangely unique district of Copenhagen, while Mom returned to Stroget to take care of “unfinished shopping business”. So, after I promised her to be careful, and she promised not to buy any more gloves for anyone, we parted ways.

    Christiania has to be the single strangest place I’ve ever visited. It makes Haight Ashbury and Amsterdam’s redlight district look tame and bucolic. Everywhere you look -- total sensory overload -- graffiti, smelly people, dirty people and tourists warily traversing this strange landscape at all times being supremely careful not to trigger the ire of the locals. I stayed for about a half hour, took no pictures, and then made my way back to civilization. And nearly burst out laughing several times as I imagined Mom walking around here in her black trousers, pink dress shirt and pearl necklace. She definitely made the right decision - for her anyway - by going shopping instead. It was by now nearing 6:00, so I texted her to see where I could find her. The answer came back, Ved Stranden, with an address. So I made my way over and arrived half an hour later.

    Since leaving the Glyptotek, Mom and I had had completely different afternoon experiences. I had visited a circus of sorts and spent the afternoon with unbathed EU secessionists. She had gone shopping on the quaint streets near Stroget (with two shopping bags to show for it) and then made her way to Ved Stranden, a cozy wine bar not too far from the Admiral Hotel.

    Ah, Ved Stranden. Every city needs a place like this. A lovely, chill, relaxed wine bar, with lots of wood and bottles on the interior, seating close enough to be conversational but not claustrophobic, and fabulous wine offerings. And cool furniture. Really cool furniture. I loved it from the moment I entered.

    A moment later I spotted Mom, who was sitting at a table having a lively conversation about the crown jewels we’d seen earlier with a Scottish mother (Imogen) and daughter (Fiona) pair - similar to us in age - at the table next to hers. I made my way over and deduced from Mom’s folded back cuffs and pink cheeks that perfectly matched the tone of her dress shirt that the nearly empty glass of Shiraz in front of her was not her first of the afternoon. :)

    After my adventure in Christiania I was eager for a glass of wine myself, and it wasn’t long before a server appeared and gave me a complete run down -- super thorough, bordering on overwhelming -- of their offerings, many of which focused on “natural wine”. I think he must have been able to tell from the blank look on my face that I had no idea what he was saying, because after a few minutes, he smiled, said “I know just the one,” and walked off. A moment later he returned with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for me and a glass of Shiraz for each of Mom, Imogen and Fiona from a new bottle he had just opened, even though they hadn’t ordered refills. My kind of place on a dark, rainy fall evening.

    It is true, our Scandinavian itinerary had been inspired by Mom’s Swedish roots, but her other one half is Scottish. So needless to say, after a few glasses of wine she was having a great time talking to her lovely new friends about all things Scottish (including their fabulously incomprehensible accents!). Eventually it came out that they would be in Porto at the same time as us later in our adventure, which Mom found to be the funniest thing ever.

    Mom: Oh dear . . .<giggles>

    Me: What?

    Mom: That wasn’t that funny, was it . . .

    Me: It was pretty funny.

    Imogen: Yes, pretty funny.

    Fiona: Agreed.

    Mom: Oh dear . . . <runs her hand over her shirt collar, giggling>

    Me: <Big eye roll>

    Mom: I’m beginning to feel The Collar . . . <giggles>

    Imogen: And what, pray tell, is The Collar?

    Me: <Bigger eye roll>

    Mom: Its . . . <giggles> . . . when I’ve had a little to drink . . . I get the nicest little tickle around my shirt collar . . . <giggles>

    Me: <Biggest eye roll>

    Fiona: <Confused> You mean, like a buzz?

    Mom: <Vigorously shaking head no> No . . . its . . . <giggling> . . . it’s a tickle . . .

    Fiona: Sounds like fun.

    Mom: It’s so nice . . . <giggles, pointing to her collar proudly>

    Imogen: When I get buzzed, I just get the munchies and eat crisps.

    Fiona: When I get buzzed, I feel like I am in a fishbowl.

    Mom: <giggling and pointing at me> She gets The Collar too . . .

    Me: <Shrugging> Guilty as charged.

    Fiona: Must be genetic.

    Mom: <Giggling as she gives me a tipsy hug> Oh yes! Aren’t I the best Mom, darling!

    Me: Well at least now we know “The Collar” is not a Scottish thing!

    Fiona and Imogen were really lovely people to speak to -- the kind of random conversation that is probably my favorite part of travelling. At some point Mom and Imogen realized they share a mutual love of vinho verde, and then and there cell phone numbers were exchanged and a solemn pact formed for a chauffeured day of wine tasting in the Portuguese countryside. With that, we left Ved Stranden and made our way back in the direction of the hotel to Nyhavn. We decided to stop for dinner on the Nyhavn strip one more time and found a place at a restaurant called Havfruen. Both of us ordered mussels, tasty comfort food that hit the spot, and I washed mine down with a tasty draft Hoegarden, while Mom, who had been giggling pretty much non-stop since announcing the onset of The Collar an hour before, stuck to good, old fashioned water in a successful bid to sober up to facilitate an orderly suitcase packing in advance of our train to Stockholm tomorrow.

    Our visit to Copenhagen has been wonderful, but I am definitely ready for a change of scenery!

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    Day 8 - Copenhagen to Stockholm - Wednesday

    • Farewell Copenhagen
    • A really long and boring train ride.
    • Hello Stockholm
    • The Vasa Museum is Fabulous!

    The next morning, we said our goodbyes to the lovely Admiral Hotel and made our way to the train station. We had booked a high speed train to Stockholm, which, even at high speeds, would take us five hours. Luckily I had brought along plenty of trashy magazines for just such an occasion, so it was a pleasure to settle into our seats - I took the window, of course - and watch the world pass. For such a long train ride, I have to admit it was pretty uneventful. Lots of countryside, little of interest to speak of. So we both took the opportunity to nap as we glided along, a luxury that we rarely afford ourselves in our Americanized whirl-wind approach to vacations.

    Soon we arrived at the train station and hailed a cab to bring us to the Hotel Diplomat. Located in a beautiful Landmarked building on the waterfront, a stones-throw from Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s famous old city) and the upscale Ostermalm district where our cousin Per lives with his wife Birgitta, we were immediately pleased with our choice. The room also did not disappoint -- spotlessly clean and with a smashing view of the waterfront. The only drawback was that instead of two separate beds, all that was available was one king -- but the views and the overall room package more than made up for this snafu, which was easily addressed anyway by the construction of a throw pillow barrier.

    It was the mid-afternoon by the time we had settled in and Mom had unpacked and meticulously hung up her wardrobe to exactly her liking. Glancing at our watches, we decided that we’d have just enough time to hop into a cab and visit the world famous Vasa Museum. While Mom and I both love sailing -- preppy, I know -- neither of us really qualifies as a naval history buff, or for that matter, any kind of history buff. But the Vasa Museum was unlike any museum I have ever been to - ever. The main attraction is a massive wooden ship from the 17th century which sank, was salvaged and is preserved in the museum. It is truly amazing, as are the related exhibits about the lives of the people who lived at the time of the ship’s hey-day. Mom and I thought we would be in and out in a half hour, but ended up staying until closing. Make sure not to underestimate this place and to give yourself enough time!

    After an intellectually stimulating visit to the museum, we were ready for dinner on the early side. Sturehof, a restaurant close to the hotel, had been recommended to us, so we made our way over. This place is clean, modern, popular, and, frankly, fancy. But to my amazement, we didn’t have to wait for a table and were able to sit right down and immediately commence great people-watching. We both started with salads and had fresh, delicious fish as our main courses, with a glass of wine each to wash it down. In hindsight the meal was ok - not great - and given the prices, this kind of place is better left for business dinners where someone else is treating. But the people-watching really was first rate.

    It had been a long day of train travel and we were both tired, so after dinner we made our way back to the Diplomat. Mom checked in with Hunter, I read, and we called it an early night.

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    @Debbielynn - Thanks for your nice note! Scandinavia was a great surprise for me -- it hadn't been high on my bucket list, but I had a great time and am glad we went. The design in that part of the world is fabulous.

    I am primarily a frustrated novelist, so for now all I've got is type. Pictures are on file, waiting to be worked through, along with other vacations from the last three years... talk about an arrears. And a bad rhyme! Hopefully I will get to them soon! :)

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    Recognizing that I am never going to finish this report at the rate that I am going, I’ve decided to post the rest in much abridged format. If you want to know more about any of our adventures, or excursions please let me know and I’ll gladly expand on them. :)

    Day 9 – Thursday – Stockholm:

    Walking Tour of Gamla Stan. Fabulous self-guided walking tour of the fabled old streets, culminating in a visit to the royal palace. The walking tour was great – amazing old, colorful buildings, although some of the atmosphere was diminished by the presence of too many tourist shops (how many Swedish flag key chains can people really buy?!). Lots of cobblestones, so ballet flats are a good choice in the old city. Tasty lunch at 19 Glas – excellent salad and wine selection.

    Royal Palace Stockholm. Underwhelming royal palace – very austere feeling and probably something you can skip if you are visiting other palaces on your trip. (Felt especially blah compared with Topkapi, the bar by which all others must be measured. But it is fun to visit the jewels and dream… :)

    Ostermalm. Lovely afternoon/evening stroll in trendy Ostermalm. Dinner at Nybrogatan 38. Great choice! Very good, fresh, clean food and a trendy crowd to match. A very pleasant evening.

    Day 10 – Friday - Stockholm

    Shopping Day! Birgitta took a day off from work to join Mom and I for a fun shopping day. We covered a lot of ground and about an hour into the day it was pretty clear to me that Mom and Birgitta are shopping soulmates, as she shares Mom's classic collars and pearls taste. First stop was Biblioteksgatan – out of my price range, but okay for Mom and fun for me to dream. Next stop was Nordiska Kompaniet. What a fabulous place – a shopping hall to the order of Harrods or Bloomingdales! Something for everyone. In my case, “something” meant a lovely Nordic salad serving set. Yum.

    Lunch with Per at Rakultur. Another excellent meal – this time, Sushi. Delicious and Fresh. Well worth a visit if you find yourself in the neighborhood or just need your sushi fix.

    Abba Museum. After lunch, Birgitta left us and we succumbed to our curiosity and visited the Abba Museum. Neither of us feels particularly strongly about Abba – but I was humming Dancing Queen by the time we left. Lots of funky costumes to check out as well. Worth a stop and allocate about an hour.

    SpiritsMuseum. At lunch, Per and Birgitta had invited us over to their house on Saturday evening for a small get together they dubbed “Midsummer in October”. Knowing that we were planning to visit the Abba Museum, they recommended a stop at the nearby Spiritsmuseum – a paean to Aquavit, the Swedish national tipple, which we would be trying at their get together. What a very strange museum. Lots of neat artwork relating to Absolut vodka, collections of Swedish Drinking Songs (Snapsvisor, with which we would be destined to become well acquainted) and a strange room which simulates a hangover. 45 minutes here ought to do it and only if you have an interest in the subject matter or are in the neighborhood. But after our visit, we did prolong our stay with a stop at the lovely on-site beer bar.

    Dinner at Ardbeg Embassy. Recommended by Per and Birgitta, this place had a very tasty, authentic Swedish menu, with a focus on meat. It also specializes in whiskey, but we didn’t try any. Probably a great place to go to sit for many hours with good friends, but a nice dinner for our purposes as well.

    Day 11 – Saturday - Stockholm

    Slept in and then a visit to Fotografiska. This place comes highly recommended for a reason – it is the best photography museum I have ever visited, imaginably the best in the world. Some of the pictures on display were a bit . . . forward-thinking . . . so it may not be a great destination for families. But we really enjoyed it. The ambience was also definitely contributed by the neat, repurposed building which houses the institution. Not to be missed.

    Migraine! We were going to take a boat ride around the city's waterways, but disaster struck when I came down with a migraine. I don’t know if there are any other migraine sufferers out there, but once I get one, there’s no going back – only medication and sleep helps. So back we went to the Hotel Diplomat and I accepted some old school mothering as I drifted off to medicated sleep.

    On the bright side, I managed to sleep my migraine off and woke up just in time to catch Mom mid-primp getting ready to head over to Per and Birgitta’s. My migraine was gone, so I spruced up quickly and off we went.

    Midsummer in October. People in Sweden know how to live. Per and Birgitta had a lovely, relatively spacious, if Scandinavian minimalist, apartment nearby and we enjoyed chatting over light snacks. Shortly after we arrived, they ushered us and the other three couples that they had invited into the dining room and we sat down around their table.

    Per explained that we would be celebrating the Swedish holiday of Midsummer (typically held at the Summer Solstice) in October in honor of our visit to our ancestral homeland. I had never heard of Midsummer, but as Per explained it is a lot of fun – an outdoor holiday with lots of aquavit and dancing around a large pole. Obviously, in October and urban Stockholm, we couldn’t be outside but Per determined to replicate the aquavit portion of the holiday for our entertainment.

    In front of each person was a shot glass into which aquavit was poured by the person to your left, as well as a tall chaser glass for water or beer. The person at the head of the table leads those assembled in a song (a Snapsvisor) and at the end of the song, everyone looks each other in the eye, toasts and drinks a small shot of aquavit. After everyone has done so, the person at the head of the table passes the aquavit bottle to the person to his or her left, whose turn it then is to commence the refilling of the glasses and to sing. The game ends once everyone has gone around the table and had a chance to lead a toast.

    Regrettably, my migraine medication precluded me from sharing in the aquavit, but I did have a great time toasting with water, as those around me grew increasingly festive with each additional toast. Among the highlights from the evening were Per’s mournful rant on the ineptitude of Sweden’s national soccer team, everyone holding hands and dancing around a sad, solitary balloon labeled “Maypole”, and watching Mom, who, judging by the contrast of her adorably rosy cheeks against her crisp, white shirt collar by the time it was her turn to toast, was already pleasantly tipsy, lead the table in a slightly slurred and very giggly rendition of American Pie. Aquavit is strong stuff and it was quite amusing at the end of the evening watching Mom and Birgitta shake with laughter at their swaying reflections in Birgitta's full length mirror as they explored Birgitta's extensive costume jewelry collection and clumsily adorned their collars and cuffs with an assortment of her goodies. With my migraine gone and Midsummer in October a stirring success, it is fair to say that everyone was happy by the time we called it a night.

    Day 12 – Sunday – Stockholm to Oslo

    Gamla Stan Revisited. The next morning I woke up on the early side. Not surprisingly given the prior night's festivities, Mom stayed in and slept late, so I decided to make the best of my time and go for a final walk in Gamla Stan. Again, a very lovely place. Since it was Sunday morning and I was dressed nicely (we had been invited back for late morning brunch by Per and Birgitta), I stopped into the Storkyrkan, or Great Cathedral. I sat for a bit as the service went on, which was very peaceful. The Cathedral is like many in other European cities -- large and imposing -- but in true Scandinavian fashion, incorporates some brick, rather than relying completely on stone. It's worth a visit if you like these types of buildings or want a quiet moment during a visit to Gamla Stan.

    Smorgasbrunch. A short while later I returned to the hotel and picked up Mom. And back we headed to Birgitta and Per's place. Who would have ever guessed that this couple was so talented at putting together a brunch? Not me, but I'm glad they were! We had a delicious smorgasbord -- perfect gravlax, toast with eggs, knackebrod (crisp cracker bread with fish roe), herring, local cheese, whole grain pancakes and yogurt, with delicious bloody marys to wash it all down. I do not know where they found the time to prepare such a feast, but worry deeply about my ability to reciprocate when they come to visit New York!

    Train to Oslo. We had checked out of the Diplomat Hotel and eventually the mid-afternoon arrived, which was time for our train to Oslo. Per and Birgitta took us to the station and then we were off, with Stockholm fading into the background. The ride to Oslo was peaceful with views of beautiful forests for much of the way until night fell.

    Hotel Continental. After arriving, we checked in to this centrally located hotel, where the rooms featured tasteful, contemporary decoration. While it was not quirky or a hip boutique, I would recommend this as a very comfortable and reliable option if visiting Oslo. As it was already pretty late, we ate dinner at the hotel following our arrival. Nothing to write home about.

    More soon...

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    Day 13 – Monday - Oslo

    We started our Oslo journey with a visit to the lovely Frogner Park, where the famed Vigeland sculptures had been recommended to us. On a perfectly clear and crisp fall morning, this was one of my favorite activities of our entire trip. Set in a marvelous park setting, there are many statues, which depict the human form in various ways, including a towering (if slightly phallic) monolith. Don't miss a visit if you are in Oslo.

    Our next stop of the day was a visit to the Munch Museum, which, being some distance from the Frogner Park, we reached by cab. This modern museum, unsurprisingly, focuses on the life of Edvard Munch, and houses many of his paintings. Please note that The Scream is not there -- it is instead at the National Gallery (where we visited the following day) -- but there are enough wonderful paintings to make this a worthwhile excursion.

    Our clear day had turned somewhat cloudy, so after a light lunch, we continued our Museum visits with a taxi ride to the Viking Ship Museum. This was another place that is not to be missed. In a simple setting, with austere white walls, the museum hosts large Viking ship that gives the viewer a real sense of the boats these brave adventurers ventured forth in. Very neat and very Scandinavia.

    After a brief rest back at the hotel, we went to dinner at the Engebret Cafe. Located in a traditional building, this tasty restaurant also served traditional Norweigian cuisine. It is a good choice for a meal in Oslo, although I must say that I found the culinary scene in Oslo less exciting than in Sweden and Denmark.

    Day 14 – Tuesday – Oslo to Lisbon

    The next morning our first stop was the National Gallery. I found this museum to be a good microcosm of Oslo -- not overwhelming, manageable and worth a visit. The main draw here is the original version of Munch's "The Scream", which like any famed masterpiece in any city had lines of people waiting to see it, making the experience somewhat unpleasant.

    Mom has a soft spot for boats, so we decided to take a brief cruise around Oslo Fjord. (Ok, in fairness to her, I also wanted to be able to tell my friends back home that I sailed on a fjord during my vacation). The experience was ok, not great, but it did provide nice views of the city. I wasn't blown away by the scenery - I think you have to go a bit further afield to view the best Norway has to offer. Also, make sure to bring an extra layer, as it gets chilly on the water!

    In hindsight, I think two days in Oslo was appropriate. We left having attained a good feel for the city and I am glad we included it in our itinerary, as I know many choose not to. But I was definitely ready for the warmer weather which greeted us as we stepped off of our plane in Lisbon and hopped in a cab to the Internacional Design Hotel.

    Ahh, the International Design Hotel. Two words for you: Stay here! What a fabulous hotel! Centrally located on a lovely plaza in the thick of a historic district, this quirky hotel delights with its location and flare. Our room had a very small terrace outside of it, and it was sensational to step outside and find yourself in the thick of Lisbon's bustling life (yes, even on a Tuesday night), and then to step back inside to a quiet room, insulated by solid glass paned windows. Highly recommend.

    More soon... :)

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