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Live Trip Report: Three Weeks in Scandinavia, Croatia, & Italy

Live Trip Report: Three Weeks in Scandinavia, Croatia, & Italy

Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 12:07 AM
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Live Trip Report: Three Weeks in Scandinavia, Croatia, & Italy

,It's 11:00pm here in Helsinki and it's only been in the last hour that it's started to get dark.  It's been a long trip to get here, but we are finally in Finland at last.

Our trip started in Boston where we were able to bypass all the airport crowds in the Delta Sky Club.  Not being members,  it would have cost the two of us $100,  a price we would never pay, but based on a tip from the Internet we bought two day passes on eBay for $20. With complimentary refreshments, free wifi, and panoramic views, it was a great way to start a vacation.

After a quick transfer connection in Amsterdam, we arrived in Helsinki in the early afternoon.  While on our KLM flight I read an interesting article.   A researcher found that people often rave about their vacation more when they get home than when they are actually experiencing it because they are too distracted to take in the moment.  To avoid this, holidaymakers should talk about three highlights they discovered every day and  by doing so they will notice more around them and will be living their life in a holiday frame of mind.

Keeping this advice in mind, we visited several highlights today just in the short time we have been here. After taking a  tram ride from our hotel, Hotel Linna, to the city center we strolled along the esplanade lined with trees, gardens, and a pedestrian shopping area. At Teatteri Wine and Deli we enjoyed a delicious fresh salad with chicken and shrimp.

Feeling energized we headed to Stockman's which is Helsinki's biggest and oldest department store. I love visiting department stores in other places and lingered longingly in the home goods section which had colorful items in a clean Finnish design. They also have an interesting array of Finnish souvenirs and and an area dedicated to the children's books and television characters, the  Moomins, who have been popular here for decades.

In Senate Square we couldn't resist an evening visit to the gleaming white Lutheran church where people sat on the steep stone steps in front of it admiring the view. Inside we were immediately struck by the contrast between the simple clean design of the inside compared to some the ornate cathedrals we have seen in Italy covered with gold, mosaics, and brightly colored stained glass.  I spotted a beautiful organ and hope to hear a concert tomorrow.

To top off the evening we stopped at Cafe Kappeli on the esplanade for a cappuccino and a slice of apple crumb cake smothered in vanilla cream. In the 19th century this was a popular place for Russian aristocrats and military officers.  The interior features wooden bookcases, chandeliers, and cute tiny tables. I loved the retro atmosphere and we squeezed into a tiny glass covered alcove which was probably once prime seating.

Back at our hotel  we chose these places as the highlights of our day. One thing the researchers did not discuss,  though, is what to do when something goes wrong. Did I happen to mention the airline left our luggage  in Amsterdam and it took them 8 hours to get it here to our hotel? No, because after all these highlights in such a short time, it's now a distant memory.  I think we're experiencing life in the  holiday frame of mind already with more good things to come!
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Old Aug 4th, 2011, 12:55 AM
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Sunny Skies-We're Off to Visit an Island

Day 2 
The sun was shining brightly all day long today.  With low humidity and temperatures in the low 80s, it was the perfect day to explore Helsinki on a self-guided walking tour.  I love self-guided tours because you can spend as much time as you like in each of the places on the route and maybe even discover a few special places of your own along the way.

The National Museum of Finland is housed in an old building that somewhat resembles a church.  It is full of archaeological treasures. Right off we loved the first exhibit "Best Friends" which featured animals once owned by Swedish royalty. Tiny paw prints on the marble floor lead visitors to exhibits displaying jousting equipment, rocking horses, and clothing for a royal hunt. Our favorite exhibit featured tiny wooden doors with dogs painted on them. Inside each door was a historical photo of a royal pet matching the breed on the door and information about it.

Other exhibits were equally interesting. "Marked in Stone" displayed stunning photographs of prehistoric artwork found on stones throughout Finland. There were also old chests, grandfather clocks, and a wonderful dollhouse display. Dollhouses, we learned, were not originally intended to be toys. They represented the world in miniature and are surviving examples of interior decoration and life from past eras. Other rooms had archaeological treasures ranging from arrowheads to jewelry, many displayed  under photos showing where they were found.  I tried to imagine what it must be like to make a discovery like this.

Our next stop on our walking tour was Temppeliaukio Church "Church of the Rock" which had been created from blasting out an area in solid granite. It's actually on top of an old bomb shelter and is capped with a dome created out of a coil of copper.

After grabbing a tasty picnic lunch at Stockman's, we took a 20 minute ferry ride to  the sea fortress Suomenlinna located on an island. Built in the mid 1700s, it wasn't until 1973 that the last Finnish Garrison left. Today it's a UNESCO World Heritage site with winding paths you can explore which weave in and out of a park like setting dotted with cannons and cafes. Our favorite was Piper Cafe with tables outside on a rock terrace where we enjoyed Chilean wine infused with strawberries and a grand view of the islands. Below us people swam at a tiny beach tucked into a rocky cove.

Dinner tonight was at Strindberg located along the esplanade with outdoor Parisian style seating.   It was a great place for a slice of quiche and a salad.
Having spent the day on a walking tour, my feet felt as if they could not take it any longer. Amazed that it was actually 10:30pm even though it was still light out, we headed back to our hotel thinking about all we had seen in just one day.
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Old Aug 4th, 2011, 02:36 PM
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It's been a warm sunny summer in Helsinki and by 9:00am the city was bustling with activity. While old trolleys ambled beside swiftly moving trams, people everywhere seemed to head to the esplanade where street entertainers were out in full force. High on a hill with onion domes that gleamein the sunlight stands the Russian Orthodox Church, Upenski. Built in 1868 for the Russian military when Finland was part of Russia, it stands in sharp contrast to the Lutheran Church because of the ornate decorations.

Down by the harbor the market place was busy. Booths sold everything from colorful Marimekko style bags to fruits and vegetables. On display were plump peas bursting out of their shells side by side with tables piled high with farm fresh blueberries and strawberries which were scooped into baskets with plastic sand pail shovels. Salmon fillets sizzled on the grill besides stacks of fresh shrimp and scallops.

All too soon it was time to head to our ferry to Estonia. The woman at our hotel assuredness we needed to just walk down the street and the pier would be right there, but it turned out to be a 25 minute hike with luggage. I would recommend to anyone going there that they take a taxi.

Ou Tallink ship, Super Star, was enormous. We were struck by how clean, modern, and up to date everything was for only a two hour
voyage. We scored a locker and could not believe our luck when we found a table and shares outside in the shade.

The medieval section of Tallinn is wonderful. Our hotel is right in the heart of the old town and was once a bank. Outside we followed the sweet savory smell of cinnamon to a cart where a girl dressed in medieval costume mixed almonds and spices in a copper pot with a large wooden spoon. Others also dressed in costume enticed people to come to their restaurants, yet among all this old time ambiance, Segways cross crossed to and fro across the cobblestone village square.

After a complimentary dinner at the hotel, we stopped by a German Style beer hall where a Bavarian traditional band played songs ranging from Roll Out the Barrel to Auld Lang Syne while couples danced. We hoped to get a snack, but decided to pass on the snacks offered which included roasted chicken gizzards. It's now past midnight and we're back at the hotel, but outside the square is alive with activity. Sounds like fun, but we'll wait until tomorrow to check it out.
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 02:22 PM
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To see photos, go to explorer bear.blogspot.com

Late last night we found out why the Hotel Barrons in Tallinn places cute little boxes of earplugs in every room.  Outside on the cobblestone streets an establishment was having some sort of shindig that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. There must have been some sort of sporting event going on because cries of, "Defense defense!" echoed through our third floor room.

All in all it really wasn't a problem and we started the day with renewed energy. At the Estonia City Museum we learned that during World War 11, much of the city was destroyed.  Photographs, artifacts, and posters showed how this now thriving town has changed since it became free from Soviet occupation 20 years ago.

In a cafe filled with Old World charm known as sweet tooth, I was delighted when my cappuccino arrived with a decorative leaf etched into the foam.  I had just learned of that art form last week.  Just down the street is a candy shop where visitors can crate their one marzipan animals in a studio settings and paint them with food coloring. 

Tallinn has many winding alleys, so it's not always easy to follow a map.  Looking for Cafe Pierre Chocolateria was quite a challenge.  It felt as if we circled the town a few times to find it, but when we did it was worth it.  Located in a tiny courtyard, it's decorated with Indian print tablecloths, colorful plump pillows, sprawling vines, and flower pots bursting with flowers.
While sitting at our table, we experienced the most amazing "back door" experience: a bride and groom arrived and sat down at our table with us for photos.  How unusual tow have your wedding photos taken at a tourist
Restaurant,  but if the photographer was looking for an ideal setting this was it.

Next we climbed the tall steeple of Saint Olav's Church.  It has a narrow spiral staircase where you can find yourself in a forced march to the top with nothing but a rope to hold onto.  The view at the top made the time worthwhile pas one could see the modern, sprawling city of Tallinn just beyond the walls if the medieval town.

At 6:00PM sharp our overnight ship Tallink Victoria pulled out of the harbor headed for Stockholm.  It seems brand new with plenty of fun placed to explore.  the duty free area was stocked with everything from tummies to alcohol.  Shoppers piled their carts high with goods.  Outside on the deck big sausages were on the grill giving it a party atmosphere.

Dinner was a buffet with a choices ranging from "Whole Foods" type salads to meat and fish.  Kids had their own buffet, but wasted no time heading over to the "Make Your Own Sundae" area on a table heaped with 

We ended the evening with a show and agreed that being on a cruise ship, even if for one night, is a pretty nice way to travel.
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 11:42 PM
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For photos go to http://explorer bear.blogspot.com

Waking up this morning was like being in a storybook setting. As our ship slowly wound its way through the archipelago of Sweden, tiny red houses dotted the landscape on the islands surrounded by tall pine trees.

Although we were sad to leave the ship, Stockholm struck us immediately as a lively city. The Nordic Museum is housed in a beautiful old building and features exhibits ranging from fashions through the ages including a huge display of men's swimming trunks to Swedish traditions and furnishings.  My favorite exhibit showed how Christmas is celebrated and had a  tree with beautiful ornaments.

Just around the corner is the Vasa Museum. It is a one of a kind museum featuring a 17th century wooden battle ship that sank over 300 years ago on its maiden voyage after 20 minutes.  Because the Baltic Sea is less salty than others, it does not support the life of wood bores who would normally eat the wood. In an incredible feat of engineering, the ship was raised out of the harbor in 1961 and reconstructed using 95% of its original materials.  

The ship was built by order of the king and was designed to impress with brightly painted carvings of lions and Roman emperors on it. Unfortunately the ballast could not support its height and although it left Stockholm in all its grandeur to cheering crowds and gun salutes, the captain's worst fears were met. It was not seaworthy.

Last night we ate at a really fun restaurant in the Gamla Stand section of Stockholm.  Vapiano is a lively hip restaurant offering freshly made salads, pizza, and pasta. What makes it unusual are two interesting concepts. One is that you travel from station to station to order your food and swipe a card to keep an ongoing tally of your bill.  Then, once the food is ready, you pick your own herbs from flower pots placed on every table. A small open air greenhouse in the center of the restaurant keeps all the herbs fresh.  The only problem we encountered was a party of six swiped our table while we were off ordering even though our stuff was there. They acted rather put out when I went to retrieve our items and they offered no apologies, but luckily we found another table nearby.

Exploring the area after dinner, we passed the Royal Palace. It will be like being in a different type of storybook setting when we explore it tomorrow. 
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 11:44 PM
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My apologies for the incorrect link above. The iPad separated the words. The link is explorerbesr.blogspot.com
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Old Aug 7th, 2011, 01:42 PM
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You can see photos on my blog at explorerbear.blogspot.com


Sometimes a rainy day can really dampen the holiday spirit, but with enough planning ahead, it can make even a day with downpours seem worthwhile,

Down at the harbor this morning we noticed a huge Princess cruise ship.  I imagined what it must have been like to wake up early in the morning, peer out your porthole window, and see Stockholm in all its glory.  We ran into a group from the ship at the Royal Palace and slipped into their group for a guided tour.  Of particular interest were stage coaches including a tiny one for a child and wooden sleighs for sleigh parties in the 1800s.

We stopped in the cafe just outside the cobblestone courtyard for a royal treat at what turned out to be royal prices.  For a slice of carrot cake  known as "royal cake"  to share and two cappuccinos, the cost was just over 22 dollars US.  

The National Treasury had large brightly lit display cases full of crowns made with 24 karat gold, rubies, and emeralds. We didn't linger in there too long because outside in the courtyard was a changing of the guard with soldiers in full dress uniform with gold helmets,  horses, and a band.  

Everybody crowded in for a better view under the arch and was ordered by an honor guard to "stand back right now!"  Glancing under the helmet I spotted a pony tail and realized it was a girl.  Outside the rain poured down, but the guards performed for over 30 minutes.

Our plan was to eat lunch in the cafe at the National Museum, but the small salad bar alone cost  close to $25.   At breakfast this morning an American chemistry professor visiting from Hawaii told us his family ended up having a meal at the 7-Eleven to save money so we had what I would call a hot dog with a view down at the harbor at what seemed to be a popular hot dog cart.  Their "French hot dog" was a hot dog inside a hollow French roll.

Back at the National Museum we rented audio guides and saw paintings by Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh.  We discovered why people toted around gallery stools with them. The narration of each painting often included information about the artist and the painting, the  inspiration for the work, and what the curator had to say about it.  Pride of place must go to a collection of Rembrandt portraits, including an early self portrait, finished with a copper frame.  This work was stolen from the museum in 2000, but was thankfully found by the police, and returned to it's rightful place, five years later.  The art gallery is housed  in a lovely building along Stockholm's waterfront, very close to the Grand Hotel.

Dinner tonight was back to our new favorite restaurant, Vapiano, which I just found out from my sister that it's her favorite restaurant in Washington  DC.  On the way we stopped  at Stortorget Square, location of the Nobel Museum. It is so picturesque with the gabled houses.

At the restaurant we again had freshly baked pizza and caprice salad.  I love it how you can pick your own herbs out of the pots.

Walking back to our hotel, the rain poured on, but thinking back to seeing the marching guards and everything else we saw,  it truly was a memorable day.
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Old Aug 7th, 2011, 02:10 PM
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Thanks for the live report, ExplorerB! Great photos.
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Old Aug 8th, 2011, 01:05 PM
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Thanks, Judy, for following my blog. Stay tuned for another entry about Stockholm.
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Old Aug 8th, 2011, 01:07 PM
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Check out my photos at explorerbearr.blogspot.com



In November of 1963, my mother joined my father in Stockholm while he was here on business.  She told me stories of the grand hotels, the beautiful city harbor, and the friendliness of the people.  In fact she was here when JFK was assassinated and told me about how people stopped them on the streets, asked if they were American, and told them how sorry they were about what had happened.  She often wondered aloud if we in America would do the same for someone from another country under the same circumstances.   Today as we toured Stockholm, I wondered if I was seeing some of the same places she had seen.

This morning we got an early start to our day.  About a five minute walk from our accommodation, Hotel Parlan,  is Saluhall.  It opened in 1888, and is the most beautifully appointed indoor market I have ever seen.  

Fruits,  vegetables, meats, pastries, and cheese were all displayed in glass cases which they were busily polishing like fine crystal when we were there.  The fruit was displayed as if in a museum and the potatoes were so fresh, the earth still clung to them.  Water in pitchers at the cafe came with slices of lemon, lime, cucumbers, and sprigs of mint.

Skansen is Europe's oldest folk park.  After paying for our tickets, they explained it was on a  mountain so we should take the funicular to the top. At the upper station, the view was beautiful, but as we suspected, it was not on a mountain at all.

Skansen has something for everyone.  We learned that the reindeer lving there have been extinct in the wild in Sweden since the 19th century and both males and females have a full set of antlers.  Children squealed with delight when they saw baby animals and were allowed to pet many of them.

The nice thing about Skansen is you really feel as if you are in the countryside when you are actually in the city.  Many of the historic houses had people inside dressed in period costume, but unlike Plimoth Plantation where they pretend they are in the 17th century, these people are only there to tell you about the history. I like it that way best.  

My favorite place at Skansen had two allotment huts.  To me they looked like quaint tiny  wooden houses with pretty gardens, but the true story is that during World War 1, fruits and vegetables were so scare in the city that people were given tiny plots of land in the country to grow a garden and the families lived in these houses in the summer not much bigger than a garden shed.

Other activities at Skansen included a horse and carriage ride, vintage rides for children, and walks through beautiful gardens. Craft studios and bakeries offered old fashioned treats.

On the way back to our hotel we peeked into Junibacken which is a place where story book characters come to life.  I love the Pippi Longstocking books by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren's and probably read each book 20 times as a child.

Dinner tonight was at Ortagarden where they serve a primarily vegetarian buffet. It was okay, but a little like eating at a church supper.

After dinner we walked down to the modern shopping district in town. Nothing  was open, but it was fun to see the stores.  Stockholm has swift modern subways and trams, but in the shopping district we spotted an old tram, probably from the 1950s which is still in use.  All around it people were snapping photos.

Heading down to the shore, the setting sun cast a glow on all of the buildings.  I could have sat down there for hours admiring the scenery.  I wonder if my parents once enjoyed the same view.
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Old Aug 8th, 2011, 02:22 PM
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So far so good? More later I suppose...glad for memories of Kappeli Cafe, Church of the Rock, Vasa museum, etc.

Bill in Boston
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Old Aug 8th, 2011, 10:09 PM
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Hi Bill,
I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. Stay timed for four days in Norway.
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Old Aug 8th, 2011, 10:12 PM
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Editing correction for above to Bill - Stay tuned for Norway!
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Old Aug 10th, 2011, 12:05 AM
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The sun was shining brightly when when we left Stockholm this morning.  Unlike when my parents were here in 1963, there are so many options for airplane flights at rates unheard of in the United States.  Our flight on Finnair to Bergen, Norway was only $50.   When my parents flew out of Stockholm so many years ago, I learned from my sister that they flew through Amsterdam and that nation's Crown Princess Beatrix flew on their flight on the way to JFK's funeral.

Bergen, Norway is on the western coast of Norway and is so picturesque.  The city of Bergen is quite modern, but the historic area where we are staying is charming and retains an old world flavor.   Only 10 minutes from the waterfront, some of the wooden houses here date back to the 1600s.  We are on a small lane too narrow for cars so it's very private.   Our accommodatiom, the Bergen Guesthouse, is really nice and very affordable for this area.  Homes have flower boxes and small container gardens bursting with flowers.

Once we unpacked we headed down hill to the Bryggen which was once an old German trading center.  At the Hanseatic Museum which was  an old merchant 's house, we leaned about the fishing trade back in the 1700s.  Because the merchants living in the house were from Germany, they were not allowed to marry any of the local girls.  Most of the house is original made from pine.  With age, the floors with all of their original knots, have become very creaky.  The sleeping areas were enclosed inside walls and looked uncomfortable.  In the exhibition area, 100 year old dried cod hangs from the walls and ceiling.

Along the waterfront, the stores are for the tourists, but fun to explore.  Many sell hand knitted nordic sweaters which I learned years ago often means hand knitted in China if you're not careful.   My favorite stores sold items of Scandinavian design.  They had plastic picnic dishes and containers in colors of sherbet which I wished I could buy, but it cost $25 just for a child's set of plastic spoons.  

Down the  street is a lively fish market.  A fish market has been there since the 1500s, but today it's mainly for the tourists who eagerly gathered around grills cooking fresh salmon and shrimp kabobs. 

Just a short walk from our accommodation is the Floibanen.  It's a funicular that travels 1000 feet to the top of  Mount Floyen.  

From the top, all of Bergen and surrounding towns, islands, and distant fjords lie majestically before you.  

We thought the view was stunning, but it was also very chilly so we scurried inside to a cafe with panoramic windows.  

Before heading back down, loud music drifting up from the waterfront.  Bergen is a popular concert venue and tonight American rapper Kanye West is performing.  The cheers from the crowd  echo throughout the old town.

Due to a rainy forecast, our plans to tour the fjords have been put on hold for now. Cross your fingers for good weather for us in Oslo where we can try for a fjord tour again.
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Old Aug 10th, 2011, 06:32 AM
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So this is an on going trip report? Hope weather will permit a boat trip to see some fjords. Bergen is a favorite city from traveling...bryggen, harbor market, nygardensperken. Can you believe that that dried cod as shown in museum was once a valuable trading commodity?
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Old Aug 10th, 2011, 02:00 PM
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To Ozarkbill- This is a live trip report. They told us the weather was not good at the fjords today so we will try again on Friday. Did you visit them from Bergen or Oslo?
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Old Aug 10th, 2011, 02:01 PM
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To see our photos, go to explorerbear.blogspot.com

It seems like every summer I find a new town that I claim is the prettiest town I have ever seen.  Today I would have to say that Bergen, Norway is right up there with the best of them.

It was very chilly when we ventured out this morning and we quickly realized our lightweight sweat jackets from Target wouldn't be warm enough.  Not willing to pay literally $100 or more for a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Norwegian flag or a  moose logo, we chose a rather unpretentious looking department store and found nice jackets for around $30 .  

Feeling much warmer, we walked all over town admiring the fountains, parks, and sailing ships in the harbor.   While enjoying a cappuccino and croissant, we watched people strike poses on some stepping stones in a fountain in front of a statue playing the violin.  

While the food at the fish market looked delicious and we saw people eating sandwiches heaped high with shrimp, we decided to have lunch at Peppe's Pizza right on the waterfront.  They had heated outdoor lamps and kindly placed blankets on every chair.

No visit to Bergen is complete without a harbor cruise.  The  White Lady was a 50 minute cruise and they too had blankets to wrap yourself in outside.  We sailed past several cruise ships, a naval academy, and a training center for workers on oil rigs in the North Sea.  They had life boats placed on ramps headed down toward the water to practice with in the event of an emergency.

Back in town we stopped by an old wooden building, now a museum, where the German merchants would enjoy their meals back in the 18th century.  All of the cooking pots were on the lower level.

After dinner tonight we decided to explore the many small cobblestone lanes winding throughout the town.  Just off the water front is this cafe with a wonderful retro sign which lights up at night.

In front of it, though, just out of the frame of the picture is something more somber. It is a memorial to those who died in the tragedy in Oslo.  We stopped for a moment and although we could not read the messages, many pictures drawn by children reflected the feelings of everyone. One picture had the sun crying.

Before heading in for the evening, we walked along the water's edge.  All cameras were aimed into the west where the sun was sinking below the horizon, an end to a memorable day.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 10:40 PM
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The water in the harbor inlet was as still as glass this morning casting a perfect reflection  of colorful wooden houses and boats on the way to the airport.  Already the city was waking up and the fish market was setting up for a busy day.

Our flight to Oslo was under one hour and the view was spectacular the whole way.  Pine forests surrounded pristine lakes and tiny villages .  We will have to come back and explore some of these hidden places.

Once again my suitcase did not make it onto the plane, the second time this trip, but after it was quickly located somewhere else in Noway, and a promise was made to deliver it this evening, we boarded a swift modern train to the city center.  Our accommodation, Cochs Pennsjonat, is right behind the Royal Palace.  The Royal Guard was having a concert when we passed through and we followed them to their bus.  They kept in perfect cadence even as they boarded the bus while the drummer kept the beat.  We noticed the guards in their sentries. Each one had a crisp royal uniform and hat, but also carried rather intimidating looking modern weaponry.  As they stand at their posts they continually scan the area from left to right and back again.

The waterfront is just a 10 minute walk from here and is lined with many museums. While visiting the Resistance Museum, we learned that during World War II, Norway was invaded in April of 1940.  Old photographs, letters, hand stenciled newspapers, and videos told the story. 

Just outside the museum is the Akershus Fortress. Parts of it date back to medieval times in the 1300s.  The old stones were quite an interesting contrast to the enormous cruise ship sitting in front of it.

Food is so expensive here.  We decided to go to a gourmet grocery store and have a picnic right at the harbor.  We  weren't alone with this idea either and it was so pleasant to see the ferries, sightseeing boats, and fishing boats come to shore.  Following a wooden boardwalk along the harbor, we came upon a group of people dancing,  Some had fancy dance moves while others just kept moving to the beat.

Walking back to our accommodation, we noticed pretty cafes in park like settings ringed with tiki torches.  Each cafe had almost a party atmosphere.  Tomorrow it is supposed to be a warm sunny day. With our Oslo Pass in hand, we will explore what this city has to offer.
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Old Aug 13th, 2011, 10:44 PM
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"Every object has a history that also relates stories of its time period." This was the message on a sign hanging above an exhibit in the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, but its message stuck in  my mind today as we set out to explore the museums of Oslo.

Weather wise, this has probably been our best day on our trip so far.  Although we have had very little rain at all in any of the cities, today it was sunny and warm with low humidity. The Oslo City Hall is an impressive building with a bell tower and carillon. Inside we took advantage of the free English tour and learned that in the great hall just inside the entrance is the place where President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize.  Opened in 1950, it has Europe's largest oil painting.

The Oslo Pass includes a ferry ride to the  island with the museums. In the evenings it turns into a dinner cruise.  The  poster said, "Shrimp au natural, bread, butter, and lemon," which I thought was funny.  

 In the Viking Museum we learned that during the age of the Vikings, 800-1050 CE, wealthy people were buried in boats.  At the turn of the 20th century, two Viking ships were discovered buried in mounds.  Archaeological excavations took place and the items, including the reconstructed boats, are in the museum.  Items found in the boats such as carriages, animals, cookiing supplies, and tools tell the story that the people probably believed in the afterlife. Balconies jutting over the boats are conveniently placed in the corners. Apparently the type of blue clay the boats were buried in prevented a lot of decomposition,

The Fram Museum has many artifacts which tell about the life of polar explorers from Norway, Nansen and Amudsen.   This story was told through a series of storyboard panels with excerpts from the explorers' journals as well as their photographs.  In the center of the museum store is the actual sailing ship, the Fram, and we were allowed to explore it inside. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live on a sailing ship in the winter. 

The oldest folk park in Europe is also on the island.  With our pass we were able to tour it late in the day.  The highlight was a stave church.  Stave churches are built completely out of wood due to a lack of stone.   Only 28 of these churches remain in Noway. The one we saw dated from the 1200s.

Inside the exhibition hall was an extensive display telling the story of  the Sami people. Although the Sami people still celebrate and value their ancient traditions today, the museum explains, people are people everywhere, and the technology the youth has is all the same even though the museum shows an office with a computer that is five years old. This shows that an exhibit can never catch up with real life. 

While waiting for our ferry back to the city center, an ordinary ferry pulled up.  Looking inside we noticed men dressed in tuxedoes. Suddenly a bride and groom stepped out with the entire wedding party and guests.  The groom looked like a prince in full military attire with a sword.

Just a short tram ride away is Vigeland Parken. Between 1924-1943, Gustav Vigeland worked on designing this 75 acre park which is always open and illuminated at night.The statues are unusual in that they show people expressing different emotions, all nude,  There are 28 bronze statues on a bridge crossing a stream, and marble statues surrounding an obelisk,  People had fun climbing on the statues to strike funny poses.  The most famous statue is on the bridge.  It shows a toddler who seems to be enraged and throwing a tantrum.

Back at the waterfront, the boardwalk was  full of energy.  In the evening Oslo looked beautiful with outdoor cafes and the castle lit up on the hillside.  I noticed that the full moon bathed the harbor in light.  Tomorrow we will see the moon rise again, but this time it will be in Venezia!
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Old Aug 14th, 2011, 09:33 AM
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Whenever a day includes an airplane flight, it always seems to take up a lot of time just to get to the airport, but today our bus connection was quite easy and allowed for some sightseeing time too.

After a delicious breakfast of a chocolate croissant and cappuccino, we walked down to the National Gallery.  Inside we saw paintings by Norwegian painters which showed the landscape.  All cameras aimed at Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" which was placed behind protective glass.

Our flight to Venice was on Ryan Air. We have flown with them before so we paid $10 extra to choose our seats first.  Our prior experience from Pisa  to Paris was  every man for himself with backpacks flying down the aisles to claim the best seats.  In Oslo, everyone boarded very calmly.

There's something magical about arriving in Venice by train.  As it crosses the causeway, you can feel the excitement of the passengers.  Arriving by train today we felt some of that same enthusiasm  as the plane flew close enough to the island to make out the significant landmarks.  

Riding the vaparetto to our hotel, we noticed a lot of people just sitting down by the canal taking it all in.  Our accommodation, Pension Guerrato, is right next to the market near the Rialto Bridge.

Dinner tonight was in the prettiest cafe next to the fish market at the top of a small wooden bridge.  Had we not received directions and a recommendation from the helpful receptionist at our accommodation, we would not have known of this trattoria.  We sat outside under an arbor where we enjoyed  pasta with fresh scallops and asparagus.

No evening in Venice is complete without a visit to Sam Marco.  In the evening  the buildings are ringed with lights that look like candles.  Small orchestras played romantic tunes to the delight of everyone.  If you sit at a table to listen, you pay for the entertainment, but sitting on the steps, you get the concert for free.    Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes can be schmaltzy, but somehow seem appropriate, even hopelessly romantic when heard in San Marco Square.  Walking back to the hotel, I wished we could stay here longer.
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