It was a bittersweet feeling to leave the ship this morning to fly to Iceland.  We have many new acquaintances whom we’ll probably never see again.  But Iceland calls. . .  We were in Stavanger just three days ago, then Flåm, and then Bergen.  Today we had to fly from Bergen back to Stavanger to go to Iceland.  It seems backward, but that’s how it is.

Norway must hold the world record for tunnels.  Thanks to Alfred Nobel, dynamite simplifies travel through the mountains in Norway.  On the 30-minute drive from the ship to the airport, we passed through five tunnels.  One was quite long–several miles–and even had an exit to another road from inside the tunnel.  There is one tunnel in Norway that is so long, there is a rest stop in it so that drivers can park and blink before they go into a tunnel trance driving such a long distance.  (We weren’t in that tunnel.)  When we arrived at the airport, we couldn’t help smiling at the signage.

When you've gotta go . . .

When you’ve gotta go . . .

 

All went well until we got on the plane.  I couldn’t believe the two seats I saw were the ones printed on our tickets.  They were immediately in front of the emergency door (is that legal???), but the stewardess assured me that we should be seated there.  Ok, fine.  It’s not a long flight and we probably won’t need the emergency exit.

I have no idea how anyone is going to get out through the emergency door with these seats in front of it.

I have no idea how anyone is going to get out through the emergency door with these two seats in front of it.

 

During the forty minutes from Bergen to Stavanger, I became increasingly tense and had to fight tears.  I just wanted to go home!!!!  Ted was seated on the aisle side and I was beside the door.  I couldn’t see anything to my left (Ted is bigger than I am) or to my right (no window in the door) or ahead of me (seat back of the next row).  I couldn’t even see anything between the seats ahead of me.  I was just sitting in a tiny little viewless world.

I finally told Ted I wanted to ask if we could change seats when we landed in Stavanger.  He said he was fine and it was only another hour to Iceland.  At the time, he didn’t realize that I was a long way from fine.  I talked to the stewardess and she said after the additional passengers boarded in Stavanger, she’d see what she could do.  Thank goodness, she found seats across the aisle.  Almost immediately after we took the new seats, I calmed down and Iceland sounded like a better idea than going home.  I’ve never liked caves, but I ride elevators and have had MRIs without incident.  I didn’t know claustrophobia was a problem until I was boxed into that tiny seat space.  Believe me, I’m checking seat assignments a lot more carefully in the future!

I took pictures of Iceland from the air as we approached Reykjavik.  Just like England, it doesn’t look like home.

Iceland from above.

Iceland from above.

Icelandic glaciers.

Approaching Reykjavic.

We arrived in Iceland today, the last leg of our vacation.  We are in a hotel with high-speed internet, so I can finally post some blogs again.  I’m going to date the blogs to match the days we were actually in those places, so if I have interested readers, you might want to back up to St. Petersburg, Russia and then move forward as I fill in the blanks.

So far, Iceland looks awesome.  We flew in from Bergen, Norway and didn’t arrive until late afternoon.  The Golden Circle Tour begins tomorrow morning.

The last stop on our 15-day cruise was Bergen, the second largest city in Norway.  Bergen was an important port of the Hanseatic League trading empire.  Because most buildings in the city were built of wood, Bergen has burned 16 times, the last in 1955.  Each time, until 1955, the city chose to rebuild in the old pattern.  The 1955 fire burned nearly the entire city.  Afterward, the city proactively worked to make itself more fireproof by adding open spaces in the city, more space between buildings, wider streets, etc. to avoid such a catastrophic fire in the future.  Sixty-two of the original wooden structures remain today, most on or near the Bryggen Wharf.  The city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because these buildings are relics of the wooden building style that used to be common in Northern Europe.

It was a cloudy morning, so we took our umbrellas for our walking tour of the city, but we lucked out.  There was only one ten-minute downpour and our guide was talking to us under an overhang at the time.  She extended her remarks a little bit, the rain stopped, and we moved on.

The Bryggen Wharf.

The Bryggen Wharf–a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

After the guided tour, we spent some time walking around by ourselves and enjoyed the city.  The architectural style is not what we see in St. Peters.  One of the alley shops sold moose leather products.  I couldn’t believe how soft and lightweight moose leather is!  I lusted after an expensive purse and an expensive carry-all.

My favorite is the bright blue building.

McDonald’s is in the cream-colored building on the right.  No visible arches.

This is one of the shopping alleys. We were under the overhang on the left during the rain.

This is one of the shopping alleys. We were under the overhang on the left during the rain.

These alley buildings are filled with little shops.

These alley buildings are filled with little shops.

A Viking restaurant--complete with giant Viking horns at the door.

A Viking restaurant–complete with giant Viking horns at the door.

 

Of course, Bergen is on a fjord (it’s Norway!), so there are mountains just behind the shoreline.  We took a funicular to the top of one and had some pretty views of the city.

A city view of Bergen from above.

A city view of Bergen from above.

Lunch time for the goats on the mountaintop.

Lunch time for the goats on the mountaintop.

 

Just as we found the Finnish version of Schroeder in Helsinki (Schroder), we found a form of Soerens in Bergen.  The ø changes the pronunciation of the oe to the way so many people in Oostburg and Hingham pronounced my name:  Zernz instead of So’-rens.  Maybe there’s a similarity between the Old World Dutch and the Old World Norwegian and they were just using the old form of pronunciation.  Whatever–it was fun to see Sørensen and fun to be in Bergen.

Soerens, Sørensen--probably the same thing.

Soerens, Sørensen–probably the same family line.

 

 

The storms that rocked our ship last night caused major mudslides in Flåm.  As a result, our train/coach excursion described as the “quintessential Norway experience” was cancelled.  Ted and I were looking forward to this excursion as one of the highlights of our cruise.  The trip is described as one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world.  The route climbs nearly 3,000 feet and passes through 20 tunnels, with photo stops at two noteworthy waterfalls and an open-air museum before reaching the famous Stalheim Hotel.  We were supposed to have lunch on the hotel veranda, overlooking the Nærøyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The return trip takes the mountain descent known as the Stalheimskleiva, one of the steepest roads in Europe with 13 hairpin turns.  It is described as “not a trip for those who fear heights” and can be found on the “dangerous roads” website.

The cruise director did an amazing overnight job of arranging an alternate (complimentary) excursion for those of us who were planning to take the railway/coach trip.  (The price of the rail/coach trip was refunded, of course.)  The alternate excursion was a three-hour cruise into the Nærøyfjord.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is one of the most beautiful fjords in the world and is largely unspoiled by human development.  It was a very satisfactory alternative to the rail/coach trip.

Our day began early.  We were told last night that we would enter the fjord at 7:00 am and that it would be well worth getting up early to see the scenery in the fjord along the two-hour approach to Flåm.  We’ve been getting up early every day since June 27, so what’s new?  We did get up early, and it was worth it.  In the early morning, low clouds and fog were hanging over the fjord, creating picturesque views all the way.

Near Flåm on the Nærøyfjord.

Near Flåm on the Nærøyfjord.  There is a road on the other side of the water.

Beautiful, just beautiful!

Beautiful, just beautiful!

 

This is described as one of the most spectacular fjord areas in the world, with steep mountains rising to nearly 6,000 feet above the water.  Some of the farms along the fjord are inaccessible for up to eight months of the year.  You really have to be self-sufficient to survive like that!  To communicate with each other, the population on this fjord has had a postal service since the mid-1600s.

You can't make up this kind of beauty.

You can’t make up this kind of beauty.

This farm has its own ZIP code.

This farm has its own ZIP code.  (Apologies for the window reflection.  There were no outside decks on this boat.)

 

While I was taking pictures along the fjord, a man sitting nearby told me that if I want beautiful pictures, I can just go to www.fjords.com.  I guess I could do that for just about anything I want to see, but why would I want to collect pictures instead of seeing these things for myself?  I don’t even want to check out that website!

Waterfalls are everywhere along the fjord. This is one of the larger ones.

Waterfalls are everywhere along the fjord. This is one of the larger ones.

We're happy to be here, even though it's 47 degrees and we're wearing two jackets each.

We’re happy to be here, even though it’s not yet 8:00 am, it’s 47 degrees, and we’re wearing two jackets each in July.

 

Flåm is a very small town.  That lack of development is part of what makes this fjord special.  Because it has such a small harbor, the larger cruise ships cannot dock here, so the town is not overrun with thousands and thousands of people each day.  It’s definitely a treat to visit a place this beautiful.

This is the entire town of Flåm.

This is the entire town of Flåm.  It’s about the size Hingham was when I lived there.

Compare the city map of Flåm on the right to that city map of Stavanger on the left. Definitely fewer streets!

Compare the city map of Flåm on the right to the city map of Stavanger on the left.  Definitely fewer streets in Flåm!

 

 

I haven’t written much about our ship.  It’s brand new.  It was christened and launched in March 2016 and it’s beautiful, with Scandinavian décor.  Does “heated bathroom floor” give you an idea of the level of luxury Viking provides?  There is a hot tub, an infinity pool, and another larger pool in the Winter Garden, which is a sunroom with a retractable roof.

The infinity pool and the hot tub.

The infinity pool and the hot tub.

 

The “regular” restaurant where we usually eat dinner is at least a three- or four-star restaurant.  No meal is less than three courses and all the food is superb and attractively presented.  The waiter always holds my chair for me and places my napkin in my lap when I’m seated.  The two additional restaurants have to be rated with four or five stars.  They serve five-course meals, including an unnumbered course to cleanse the palate before continuing.  The wines are perfectly paired to the food served.  The dining room provides a buffet for breakfast and lunch.  All of this food is included in the price of the cruise–another part of the luxury.

The buffet dining room for breakfast and lunch.

The buffet dining room for breakfast and lunch.

A piece of cheesecake Ted ordered for dessert one evening.

A piece of cheesecake Ted ordered for dessert one evening.

I don't remember what this was called but the chocolate mousse filling was to die for. The green line is chopped pistachio nuts.

I don’t remember what this was called but the chocolate mousse filling was to die for.  The green line is chopped pistachio nuts.  It has the recommended serving size of one tablespoon of whipped cream–just enough.

 

The staff is the closest I’ll ever come to having servants.  Ted and I are always “sir” and “madame” and the staff lives to serve.  I had a chance to talk with one of the staff members on a more personal level and I asked if Viking is a good company to work for.  (I was really asking if they are as happy as they appear to the passengers.)  The answer was that it’s a dream job with wonderful benefits and quicker benefits than other cruise lines.  There is also the opportunity to be promoted from within.  That makes me feel a little less guilty about taking off for a day of sightseeing with good wishes from the people who are staying behind to make our bed, clean our room, and prepare the food for our return.

Our ship is relatively small–only 900 passengers and eight decks, compared to larger cruise ships with 6,000-8,000 passengers and 15-18 decks.  Once we docked beside a huge ship that even had a climbing wall on its topmost deck.  Our ship has a miniature golf course on the topmost deck.  Being small, however, means we can dock in ports with smaller harbors, so Ålborg and Flåm are on our itinerary and do not include the big ship crowds.

We're the baby ship--second from the left.

We’re the baby ship–second from the left.

The miniature golf course.

Our miniature golf course.  No climbing wall for us!

 

We have a guest lecturer onboard nearly every afternoon to discuss a topic of interest along our route.  Some of the lecture topics include the economic effect of the North Sea oil fields on Norway, the problems of the European Union, the rise and fall of communism, etc.

We also have onboard entertainers, as well as some who are brought onboard for one or two evenings.  There are two entertainment venues with a show in each most evenings.  Ted and I have attended many of them and especially enjoyed the tributes to the Beatles and ABBA.  (Not cover bands, but really good renditions of the songs.)  One night the staff presented a hilarious play that combined the story styles of James Bond and Maxwell Smart.  At other times, we attended a Parisian cabaret night, an evening with the Rat Pack, and a combination comedian/rock ‘n’ roll singer, which sounds weird but was very entertaining.

ABBA night. Good music!

ABBA night.  Good music!

 

One thing I find very amusing is that, in the public restrooms onboard, there are (recorded) birds singing!  I have no idea why I’d want to feel like I’m outdoors listening to birds sing while I do whatever.

Most of the time we are at sea, we can see land in the distance, but not always.  Still, the ride has been very smooth–until we left Stavanger today.  For whatever reason, the sea is rougher tonight.  At the end of the evening performance, we were all lurching against the walls on our way out of the theater.  Granted, nearly all of us drink wine with dinner every evening, but a glass of wine isn’t enough to make us stagger as we were doing.  We laughed and commented that, until this evening, we had hardly given a thought to being on a ship.

Our stateroom is on Deck 5.  With only eight decks, it’s easy for us to use the stairs instead of the elevator.  On each stairway landing, there is a sign like the one in the picture below so that you know if you should go to the left or to the right to reach your stateroom.  It makes me smile every time I see this sign because our stateroom number is 5009.  You’ve got to love cruising!

Yes, we had an odd stateroom.

Yes, we have an odd stateroom.  (P.S.  Check the outdoor temperature in the upper left of the sign.  It’s July up north!)

To be honest, I’d never heard of Stavanger (stah-vahn’-ger), Norway until it appeared on our cruise itinerary.  I had no idea why we’d stop there until I checked out the excursions offered.  Well, it’s in Norway, so I should have guessed that “beautiful fjord” was on the agenda.

We had a lovely four-hour cruise up the fjord and back.  The scenery was just like I always thought a fjord would look.  The highlight of the cruise was Pulpit Rock.  The top of the rock is 604 meters above the fjord.  You can hike to the top, but it is a nine-hour round trip from the bottom, and we didn’t have that much time.  We settled for photographs.

The square outcrop in the center is the "pulpit." It's much larger than it looks in the photo--consider it's nearly 2,100 feet above my camera.

The square outcrop in the center is the “pulpit.”  It’s much larger than it looks in the photo–consider it’s nearly 2,100 feet above my camera.

 

Continuing down the fjord, we reached a large waterfall.  The water is clean enough to drink and the waterfall was accessible to our tour boat, so the captain pulled right up to the fjord wall.  The crew filled buckets with waterfall water and distributed a glass of it to each of us.

Potable waterfall water--delicious!

Potable waterfall water–deliciously cold!

 

We had a lunch stop at a local restaurant along the fjord and were treated to Norwegian sweetheart waffles.  Instead of four square waffles like we usually see, these have five heart-shaped pieces joined at the points.  They were served with locally made (possibly by the restaurant owners) fresh raspberry jam.  The raspberry season lasts two or three months this far north.

When we returned to Stavanger (that’s with a hard g as in girl), we had time to walk around the pretty town.  There was a business section where a crew was setting things up for a festival (lots of small sales booth tents), complete with music (stage and big speakers).  In the residential section, the white houses were very picturesque.

As the ship tour director pointed out in nearly every port talk, the town has cobblestone streets and walks and requires comfortable walking shoes.

As the ship tour director pointed out in nearly every port talk, the town has cobblestone streets and walks and requires comfortable walking shoes.

DSCN5516

Later in our walk, we saw this bike parking. Cute!

 

By late afternoon, we were hungry, so we stopped in a restaurant for a snack.  When I saw the first baby carriage, I thought “wow!” and then I saw several more.  I can’t believe young mothers would rather push this around than a smaller stroller, but maybe it works better on the bumpy cobblestones.  I couldn’t help thinking “rubber baby buggy bumpers.”

With this buggy, you'd have the option of carrying the baby and filling the buggy with a lot of shopping purchases.

With this baby buggy, you’d have the option of carrying the baby and filling the buggy with a lot of shopping purchases.

If it's the sign icon, this must be the standard baby transportation.

If it’s the sign icon, this must be the standard baby transportation.

 

Norway ranks as the second happiest country in the world (after Denmark)–maybe because of this attitude.

A good philosophy!

A good philosophy!

What a beautiful, clean little town Ålborg is!  Denmark is recognized as the happiest country in the world and Ålborg is ranked as the happiest city in Denmark.  It’s hard to beat that on a Sunday morning.  It’s holiday time in Europe, so the streets were without crowds and the sun was shining.  It was definitely a day for happiness.

One of the first things we saw in Ålborg was a converted telephone booth.  There are still a lot of working telephone booths (with an actual telephone inside) in the cities we’ve visited, but no one wanted this particular phone booth.  The city of Ålborg said it would take it and the city converted it to a little tourist information center.  After doing so, there were a number of requests from other entities to buy the phone booth, but Ålborg told them they were too late; Ålborg is keeping it.

Surprise! Viking information is available here and we're on a Viking cruise. Hmmm. . .

Surprise! Viking information is available here and we’re on a Viking cruise. Hmmm. . .

 

On our city tour/walk, we passed some very tiny houses.  They were formerly the homes of families, but are now more popular for singles or just-married couples.

A row of little houses, complete with a single (?) resident.

A row of little houses, complete with a single (?) resident.

This house is called the "pregnant house." I have no idea what purpose the bulge on the front serves.

This house is called the “pregnant house.”  I have no idea what purpose the bulge on the front serves.

In a courtyard behind the little houses, we saw this apple tree. Our guide said it is a typical way to grow a fruit tree because it uses much less space in a small area.

In a courtyard behind the little houses, we saw this apple tree. Our guide said it is a typical way to grow a fruit tree because it uses much less space in a small area.

 

The post office in Ålborg dates back to the 1600s.  In those days, pigeons were used to deliver messages.  The pigeon holes are still visible in the old building, although delivery methods are more modern now.

There are nine pigeon holes on each face of the tower, just below the long narrow windows.

There are nine pigeon holes on each face of the tower, just below the long narrow windows.

 

Of course we visited a local church.  Even with the reduction in ornate decorations following the Reformation from Catholicism to Lutheranism, the old European churches are very beautiful.  Our Baltic Sea cruise is subtitled “Viking Homelands” and includes the lands in which the Vikings lived.  It is a tradition in the Viking Lutheran churches to hang a model ship from the ceiling.  God guides the ship safely on voyages and then thanks are given to God in return.

Here is the ship hanging in the Ålborg church.

Here is the ship hanging in the Ålborg church.

The altar of the church. There is a large pipe organ in the back of the sanctuary.

The altar and baptismal font (left) of the church.  There is a large pipe organ in the back of the sanctuary.

It's cold up here. Blankets are ready for worshippers.

It’s cold up here.  Blankets are ready for worshippers.

 

As we traveled through the European Union, we heard over and over again about the wonderful social benefits.  Health care is free for all.  In fact, this has created an industry called “health tourism.”  People from countries with expensive health care costs (e.g., the United States) come to these countries on a “vacation.”  Then, while visiting, they become ill with their existing expensive condition (cancer, heart problem, etc.) and have the condition treated/cured at no cost.  They return home, having spent less on the travel than they would have on the treatment in their own countries.

A similar phenomenon is happening in the schools.  Education through the college level is free to all.  In Denmark, students are also paid about €400 per month–enough for rent and food.  This is great, because it results in a highly educated population.  It also attracts many students from other countries who are seeking a first-class education without the heavy burden of student loans.

Denmark is a wonderful place to begin a new business.  Incubator buildings for start-ups are rent-free (paid for with tax income) and entrepreneurs are given an allowance to support them while their businesses become established.  In addition, at least in Denmark, everyone is cared for.  If you cannot make a living wage, the government will give you an allowance sufficient to provide you with a reasonable standard of living.

The cost of this is an income tax rate of 35-79 percent.  The tax on the purchase of a new car is 180 percent in Denmark.  (Not a typo–it’s a three-digit percentage!)  This definitely encourages people to buy smaller, less expensive cars!  The many social benefits are taking a toll on the financial base of the country because people from overseas who take advantage of the health care and educational benefits are not contributing to the tax income.

There is a downside to all of these “free” financial benefits.  Our guide mentioned that the generous benefits contribute significantly to a lack of initiative among some of the population:  “If I don’t like how things are going for me financially, I’ll just let the government support me.”  I heard a similar comment about initiative from a South Korean in one of my graduate classes.  I asked him about the focus on math and science in many Asian countries and he said it is true that Korea/Asia produces students who excel in math and science.  On the other hand, he pointed out, with the broader curriculum in the United States, students have opportunities to try out new ideas in many subjects and to develop new things in more than a single field of study.  My conclusion:  there is no easy solution to the best way of doing things.  Even so, Ålborg on a summer Sunday morning was a lovely place to visit.

The short version:  There was a mermaid who fell in love with a prince.  In order to marry him, she had to become human.  She decided to go for it, but transforming from an amphibian to a human takes time and, before she was human, the prince fell in love with another woman.  What a jerk!  On the other hand, what kind of sane prince would be hanging out with a mermaid?  But it’s a fairy tale, so we suspended belief and enjoyed the sight of the graceful and iconic statue of the Little Mermaid on the waterfront of Copenhagen.

DSCN5288

Look closely.  The mermaid’s feet are still transforming from mermaid to human form.

 

From that fairy tale sculpture, we walked to the next one.  Again, the short version and my apologies because I don’t know mythology, so I don’t know the names of the gods and goddesses.  A goddess from Denmark wanted more land for tiny little Denmark, so she asked the god, who was in Sweden, to give her some.  The god told her she could have as much land as she could plow in one night.  Being a goddess, she turned her four sons into oxen and plowed enough land to add a significant amount to now-a-little-less-tiny Denmark.

Mom and the boys/oxen, plowing land to make Denmark.

Mom and the boys/oxen, plowing land to make Denmark larger.

 

Then it was on to the royal housing.  There are four arc-shaped buildings forming a circle in King’s Square.  The queen lives in one and the crown prince and his family live in another, putting the crown princess next door to her mother-in-law and the four kids next door to Grandma.  The crown prince’s family will move to the queen’s building when she dies.  I think the other two buildings house the parliament and offices.

The queen is much loved by the Danes.  She is a figurehead with even less Parliamentary power than Queen Elizabeth II, but she loves Denmark and her people.  She is 76, and the Danes are thrilled that she said she will continue to reign until she dies.  The crown prince and his wife are very popular and very much a part of Copenhagen life (it’s a small country).  They jog on the city paths, their kids go to the public school down the street, and the princess rides her bike to the school to bring the kids home each day.

In the center of the royal buildings is a statue of King Frederick II.  It is supposedly the finest equestrian sculpture ever designed.  King Frederick faces the cathedral, as is proper, since the king looks up only to God.  In truth, our guide told us, King Frederick II was a drunkard and could barely sit a horse, much less ride one.  He appears to be safely astride the horse in rigid sculpture form.

DSCN5301

King Frederick II on his horse, looking toward the cathedral.  All Danish kings were named Frederick.

 

Copenhagen is a very green city.  Its goal is to be 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2025–just nine years from now.  To achieve this goal, the city has created many green park areas and rooftop gardens.  Bicycles are a popular form of transportation, reducing carbon emissions.  In front of one of the cathedrals is a sculpture representing a serious consequence of global warming.  Polar bears cannot hunt from land; they hunt from ice floes.  One result of global warming is the melting of the ice floes, thus reducing the polar bears’ ability to hunt and survive.

The arc represents the increase in global warming, ending with the demise of the polar bear. (We went to the top of the church tower in the background for great views of the city.)

The arc represents the increase in global warming, ending with the demise of the polar bear.

 

We went to the top of the bell tower in the cathedral behind the polar bear sculpture (you can see it in the picture above) for some beautiful overlooks of the city.

What a beautiful view on a beautiful day.

A beautiful view on a beautiful day.  One of the few days we didn’t need to wear our jackets.

An up-close view of typical houses in Copenhagen.

An up-close view of typical buildings in Copenhagen.

 

On our way back to the ship, we passed a car show.  We could have been in Anytown, USA on a summer afternoon.

The car on the right is an Opel--the same brand (different model) we bought when we first got married. It cost us $2200 for the larger 2.2-liter engine.

The car on the right is an Opel, the same brand (different model) we bought when we first got married.  It cost us $2200 for the larger 2.2-liter engine.

Do you see anything you like, Brother Tom?

Do you see anything you like, Brother Tom?

 

Denmark has been ranked as the happiest country in the world, and it seems to be true, except at traffic lights.  Our tour guide gave us the Danish definition of a nanosecond:  it’s the time between when the traffic light turns green and the first horn honks.

This was the warmest day of our trip.  The temperature reached the upper 80s, and we spent the entire day without wearing a jacket or using an umbrella.

On Berlin streets . . .  The Brandenburg Gate, originally the west entrance to Berlin, is the only surviving city gate.  The Berlin Wall actually went around the Brandenburg Gate, putting it in the eastern sector of the city. . . . The Berlin street named Unter den Linden runs from the Brandenburg Gate to the palace.  People used to walk on that street to be seen, much like the Champs Elysée in Paris. . . . There is a saying that Berlin has three kinds of streets:  ein Strassen für laufen, ein Strassen für maufen, und ein Strassen für zaufen.  A street to walk, a street to shop, and a street to drink. . . . The Rodeo Drive of Berlin is the Kurfurstendamm.  That would make it ein Strassen für maufen. . . . We were advised not to jaywalk in Berlin because, as we all know, Germans like to follow the rules.

Because of all the bombing damage (60 percent of the city was destroyed in World War II and the rest was badly damaged), everything in Berlin is restored.  Our guide pointed out a large building that still needs to be restored, but there hasn’t been enough money to do the work.  In the meantime, the building is covered with a false façade and painted to look like the fully restored building.  No eyesores allowed.

Only a painted façade; not a usable entrance.

Only a painted façade; not a real department store.

 

 Berlin has a smaller population than Paris, but seven times the area of Paris.  With that much space, Berlin has no heavy traffic problems.  According to our guide, the city has reacted to that situation by setting up construction zones in order to create traffic problems.  He pointed out that we would see no one working in any of the construction zones (we didn’t) because their only purpose is to obstruct traffic.  If we noticed someone working in a construction zone, the guide told us to take a picture and send it to the mayor, because something is wrong.  If we saw only one person in the construction zone and that person was not working, it’s ok because he’s there to make sure no one else comes to the site to work.

At Humboldt University in Berlin’s Opera Square, there is an empty library underground.  This is in commemoration of the 1933 “burning of the books” when all books relating to communism were burned.

The Nazis executed over six million Jews in the concentration camps–the largest number of “undesirable” people.  At that time, Jews made up less than one percent of the German population.  Most Jews who were executed were from Poland, where Jews comprised less than nine percent of the total population.

There’s a concrete sculpture in Berlin that encloses two American automobiles.  I don’t remember what this symbolized, but the guide noted they had to use American rather than German cars because German men love their cars more than they love their wives.

What is this artist trying to tell me?

What is this artist trying to tell me?

 

When commercial buildings are constructed in Berlin, one percent of the construction cost must be spent on art at the site.

Our guide remembered the candy and raisin drop during the Berlin airlift.  He said that after so many food shortages, it was an extraordinary treat to have something sweet to eat.  Unfortunately, he never caught one of the dropped bags of sweets.

During our free time in the city, we went to a sidewalk beer garden and had a glass of German beer.  Then we got back on the train for the three-hour ride back to the ship.  (Note:  Only eleven of the 900 passengers remained on board the ship today.  Everyone else took one of the six or seven excursions to Berlin and the surrounding area.)  After a long and tiring 16-hour day of travel and sightseeing, we arrived at the ship and were greeted by the entire staff in full dress uniforms, forming two lines for us to pass through.  A small band was playing, the staff was smiling and singing, and we were each given a welcome-back glass of champagne.  What a homecoming!

You can't beat German beer!

Prosit!

Berlin has a dark history as a result of World War II.  More than 60 percent of the city was destroyed by bombs.  After the war, the country and Berlin were the spoils divided among the victors:  Russia, Britain, France, and the U.S.

The history of the concentration camps lingers, and Berlin is not trying to forget it.  There are memorials to five groups of people who were sent to the camps:  Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, physically and mentally handicapped people, and pacifists.  The city is dedicated to learning from history and has made a resolution and created a sculpture to affirm that there will never again be a war started by Germany.  There is another very moving sculpture dedicated to those who have lost their lives in all wars.  it portrays a woman holding her dead son.

The open roof of the memorial building exposes the sculpture to the elements, symbolic of the woman's suffering.

The open roof of the memorial building exposes the sculpture to the elements, symbolic of the woman’s suffering.

 

Our tour guide’s father was sent to a concentration camp for being a pacifist; his aunt lived in East Berlin and could not go to West Berlin to visit the family until the Wall came down.  Yet, the overall outlook of our guide and of Berlin is very positive.  Unlike Gdansk, Berlin rebuilt with modern structures, so it looks like a contemporary city.  Most of the city buildings are less than 60 years old, having been rebuilt in the 1950s.

The Berlin Wall was literally built overnight.  More than 18,000 Nazi soldiers were guarding the East-West city boundary of barbed wire.  One night, those soldiers were ordered to build the wall.  As people saw the construction, they jumped over the temporary barbed wire fence to escape.  Many were shot.

There were actually two walls–an inner one and an outer one–with about the width of a city street between them, and they surrounded all of West Berlin.  Why two walls?  Because it was easier to defend two lower walls with an open space between them than one higher wall that required only one attempt to escape.  The Germans called the open area a security strip; the West called it the death strip.  Why surround the western sector?  Not to keep the West Berliners inside, but to prevent people in East Berlin and East Germany from entering West Berlin.  Parts of the Wall remain as memorials and there is a double row of bricks following the line where the wall stood, so that everyone can see where it was.

Some of the Wall was left standing and citizens were invited to paint murals on it. This portion portrays the stream of people coming through the crumbled Wall.

Some of the Wall was left standing and citizens were invited to paint murals on it. This portion portrays the stream of people coming through the crumbled Berlin Wall.

 

The is an undecorated portion of the original Wall.

This is an undecorated portion of the original Berlin Wall.

 

The double row of bricks marking the placement of the 90 miles of the Berlin Wall.

The double row of bricks marking the placement of the 90 miles of the Berlin Wall.

 

The American Checkpoint Charlie was so named because it was the third checkpoint–Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.  In fact, it had little significance because it was never a true checkpoint.  If the American soldiers saw someone passing into East Berlin, their attitude was “So long, have a nice day.”  If someone was entering West Berlin, the response was “Welcome.”  It was only on the East that the Wall was significant.  Today, the real building from Checkpoint Charlie is in a Berlin museum.  The building on the street is a small fake.  The soldiers “guarding” the fake checkpoint are, in fact, university students earning extra money to pose with tourists.

This is the fake building, complete with fake soldiers, at the real site of the American Checkpoint Charlie.

This is the fake building, complete with fake soldiers, at the real site of the American Checkpoint Charlie (and in front of the real McDonald’s).

 

The population of Berlin is about three million.  Since the end of World War II, about two million Berliners have left the city.  During the same time, about two million other people have moved into the city.  The result is a new and different Berlin.

The history of Berlin sounds sad and depressing–and it is.  Berlin and St. Petersburg are emotionally difficult cities to visit as a tourist.  In spite of this, we found Berlin to be a lovely city, filled with positive energy.  The hotels and hardships are not forgotten, but Berliners are looking to the future, not the past.

Berlin doesn't want to forget. This is a "single stone," set very slightly higher than the surrounding cobblestones. Each one is inscribed with a name and placed in front the house from which that person "disappeared."

Berlin doesn’t want to forget.  This is a “stumble stone,” set very slightly higher than the surrounding cobblestones.  Each stumble stone is inscribed with a name and placed in front of the house from which that person “disappeared” in Nazi Germany.

 

I know the title is an overused pun, but I couldn’t resist.

Ninety-seven percent of Gdansk, Poland was destroyed in World War II.  After the war, the city decided to rebuild itself in the old style.

This is a before-and-after picture of one small part of Gdansk. The upper portion shows the war damage and the lower portion shows the reconstruction.

This is a before-and-after picture of one small part of Gdansk. The upper portion shows the war damage and the lower portion shows the reconstruction.

 

In days long gone by, there was a window tax in Gdansk, so most buildings were built tall and deep.  A typical building might have been 12 m wide, 70 m deep, and five stories tall to avoid paying the window tax.

Only two or three windows wide, but very tall and deep. It sounds dark to me.

The tax started after three windows, so most buildings are only two or three windows wide, but very tall and deep.  It sounds dark to me.

 

Amber, or Baltic Gold as it’s called, is plentiful in the Baltic region and Gdansk is its capital.  We had a chance to see the three kinds of amber (white, green, and yellow) and learned a simple test for real vs. fake amber.  When dropped into salt water, amber, which is very light, will float; fake amber will sink.  The city is so well-known for amber that the sports stadium and team color are yellow.

Go, team, go!! Amber, amber, amber!!

Go, team, go!!  Amber, amber, amber!!

 

Gdansk was the home of Fahrenheit.  Guess what he invented.  Given that information, isn’t it strange that the city, as well as all of Europe, uses the Celsius scale?

Fahrenheit's thermometer. Aren't we glad we have smaller ones now?

Fahrenheit’s thermometer.  Aren’t we glad we have smaller ones now?

 

On a playful note, we saw a toy museum as we walked around the city and, possibly, the city’s motto.

Not only retro toys, but a retro TV as well.

Not only retro toys, but a retro TV as well.

 

We're gonna party tonight!

We’re gonna party in Gdansk tonight!

 

 

This evening, we had dinner at The Chef’s Table, an upscale restaurant on the ship.  I would give The Restaurant, where we usually eat dinner, at least three stars for its three-course meals every evening, so The Chef’s Table would have to get at least four stars.

We had five courses, each with a matched wine.  (They don’t fill the wine glass five times, so we’re still walking.)  The appetizer was roasted pepper and tomato jelly with goat cheese latté foam.  It was actually pretty good, even though I don’t care for goat cheese.  It’s more more palatable in foam form.

Then came the salad, followed by a palate cleanser–bellini with a mix of prosecco and peach pureé and topped with peach juice foam.  Not to take anything away from the chef, but it tasted like an excellent crushed peach popsicle.

The main course was cod fillet, paired with Jerusalem artichoke.  Ted ate it, but I swapped fish for very, very tender chicken.

We finished with mascarpone passion–a mascarpone mousse with passion fruit cremeux.  It was topped with a raspberry candy sort of thing, two passion fruit seeds, and two pansy petals.  I had lavendar in England, and now I’ve eaten pansies.  I’m still waiting for the nasturtium salad.

Mascarpone Passion. I probably won't be making this at home, but it was scrumptious.

Mascarpone Passion. I probably won’t be making this at home, but it was scrumptious.

 

The four paired wines (none with the bellini) were perfectly matched to each course and complemented the flavors of the food.  Yes, it’s a tough life, but. . .

We walked back to our stateroom, and when we went out on our veranda, we saw a beautiful sunset over the Baltic Sea.  What a wonderful vacation we’re having!

Aaahhh. . .

Aaahhh. . .

While Tallinn was under communist rule, it was illegal to speak, write, or sing in the Estonian language.  In 1991, the people of Estonia had a bloodless Singing Revolution.  Approximately 300,000 Estonians gathered in an arena and sang patriotic songs in their own language.  They did this in the presence of Russian tanks, not knowing if the tanks would be used against them or not.  They were not.  In 1994, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Estonia became a free country again.

Tallinn has an old (high) town within the city wall and a–relatively speaking–new (low) town outside the city wall and downhill from high town.

A view of low town from high town in Tallinn.

A view of low town from high town in Tallinn.

 

There is a pharmacy in the new town that has been in business since Medieval times (I mentioned it’s a relatively new town), making it the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe.  It’s not far from a Medieval café where we were invited inside and were given samples of delicious honey-roasted almonds prepared in the Medieval manner.  Yes, the remarkable thing about this café is that it operates as it has since its Medieval days:  without electricity, running water, central heating, or any of the other amenities of the modern age.

The candles in the lamps are real, not electric.

The candles in the lamps are real, not electric, and provide the only lighting in the café.

 

On a sidewalk in Tallinn, we saw a girl playing a Medieval instrument.  Our guide didn’t know what it was called.  It has three rows of stops on the lower side of the neck like an organ, as well as strings like a violin, and it’s held in a guitar-like position.

What kind of instrument is she playing?

What kind of instrument is she playing?

 

We saw a typical-sized Medieval home on our city walk.  It is the smallest building in the city, and it’s hard to imagine that it housed a family.  It looks more like a playhouse for the kids.

There's not much space for living in this house by today's standards.

There’s not much space for living in this house by today’s standards, but it seems to work well as a small shop.

 

Of course Tallinn has the requisite elaborate cathedral in its city center. Of course it was beautiful inside.

Of course Tallinn has the requisite elaborate cathedral in its city center, and of course it was beautiful inside.

 

Although Tallinn has Medieval roots, it also has a modern side.

We thought of Dean when we saw this.

We thought of Dean when we saw this.

 

We were greeted at Catherine’s Palace, the summer home of Catherine the Great, with several five-piece bands playing American show tunes.  Go figure!  The palace is beautiful, painted blue with white and–of course!–gold trim.  It’s also huge!  I took a 360-degree video of it.  Ted thinks if it were a track, it would be a mile around the circumference of the palace.  This is the place where our guide went missing inside and we were adopted by another group from our ship to reach the lunch venue.

The front of Catherine's Palace has statues of Atlas holding up the pillars for the second floor of the building.

The front of Catherine’s Palace has statues of Atlas holding up the pillars for the second floor of the building.  Note the two Asian girls checking how their pictures turned out and not moving aside so others can take pictures.

 

The Hermitage is a world-class museum in St. Petersburg.  It’s a shame that it was so overcrowded, we couldn’t do anything except move through it with the herd.  It’s one of the places we had to wear booties to protect the beautiful floor.

One of the beautiful inlaid wood floors in the Hermitage.

One of the inlaid wood floors in the Hermitage.

 

There was an elaborate “peacock clock” on display at the Hermitage.  Every part of it moved on the hour.  There was a video of the clock in operation so you didn’t have to be there on the hour to see it, nor would you be allowed to stop the herd to watch it if you were there.  I can’t even remember all the things that happened when the clock marked the time.  It was almost like a Rube Goldberg machine–you thought you’d seen all the action and then something else started moving.

It looks like solid gold, but every part of this peacock clock moves when it chimes.

It looks like a solid sculpture, but every part of this peacock clock moves when it chimes.

 

Our visit to the ballet was very enjoyable.  You can’t go wrong with a ballet in Russia.  Best of all for lukewarm ballet fans, it was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which nearly qualifies as popular ballet.

The theater in which we saw "Swan Lake."

The theater in which we saw “Swan Lake.”

 

The most ornate building we saw (and there were a lot of ornate buildings!) was The Sacred Church of the Spilled Blood, constructed in the Byzantine style. The entire interior, over 7,000 square meters, was Byzantine mosaics.  It took a single craftsman a year to make one square meter of a mosaic pattern.

The mosaic process begins with painting a picture in reverse.  Then the tiles are laid over the painting to reproduce it with the underside of the tile facing upward so that the picture is still in reverse.  When that job is finished, a piece of wall paneling is attached to the back side of the tiles.  When it dries, the original reverse painting is peeled off, the tiles are cleaned, and the mosaic is complete in its proper perspective.  Whew!

Every wall and ceiling surface on the church is covered with beautiful mosaics.

Every wall and ceiling surface in the church is covered with beautiful mosaics.  It’s a stand-up church, so it has no pews.

 

Catherine’s Palace was probably the largest building we saw, but Peterhof, the summer home of Peter the Great (whom we were told was not yet great when he lived there) definitely had the most gold.  It’s no wonder the peasants revolted, given what the aristocracy was spending on summer homes, etc.  The grounds included extraordinary fountains and a huge park, and extended about a half-mile to the waterfront on the Bay of Finland.   With the city center across the bay, Peter’s guests could arrive by boat, walk through the park, and have a wonderful view of the fountains and the palace as they approached.  Peter was definitely creating a home court advantage.

The original palace had only the center section --less than one-fourth of the current building. Peter thought he needed something greater, so he added the rest of the building, the fountains, and the park grounds.

The original palace had only the center section–less than one-half of the current building. Peter thought he needed something greater, so he added the rest of the building, the fountains, and the park grounds.

 

While we were walking around in another park in the city, we saw Peter the Great and the missus.

She's on her cell phone, probably checking in on Facebook.

Catherine is on her cell phone, probably checking in on Facebook rather than staying in character.

 

At the end of our two days in St. Petersburg, we were transported by hydrofoil across the Bay of Finland to our ship.  As we were boarding the hydrofoil, the wind picked up to a point where it was dangerous to cross the gangway.  Boarding was halted with part of our group in the craft, and part on the pier.  When the wind died down enough to board (30-45 minutes later), we got on and sailed away.  The delay caused those of us onboard (about 100 passengers) to be late for our ship’s departure and meant the ship was delayed in leaving the harbor.  Better safe than sorry, but we wonder what it cost and whom it cost in port charges for the delayed departure from the dock.

A hydrofoil like we used for cruising the Bay of Finland.

A hydrofoil like we used for crossing the Bay of Finland.

 

We’re glad we had the opportunity to visit the Russian city of the tsars, but are happy to return to our Western world.

St. Petersburg, the city of the tsars, is known as the “Venice of the North.”  It is built on islands at the mouth of the Neva River and has many waterways, probably similar to the Mississippi River delta, except habitable instead of swampy.  We had to go through customs to enter Russia because it is not part of the European Union.  The tour director of the ship promised a free drink to anyone who could make a Russian customs officer laugh.  She didn’t have to buy any drinks, although some of the officers (mostly the women) were “pleasant.”  I even got a smile with teeth showing from one of them.  Mostly, they try to look scary and they bring the word gulag to mind.

The first thing I noticed about St. Petersburg was how shabby it is.  There are many magnificent buildings–all from the 19th century–but there is apparently little or no money available for maintenance.  Rust, peeling paint, and missing window panes are visible on many buildings.  Where bricks are missing, some plaster-type substance is smoothed over the damage, but not necessarily painted to match the façade.  Even some of the monuments and tourist attractions (palaces, museums, etc.) are shabby on the outside, no matter how opulent the restoration has been on the inside.  I won’t even get into the buildings constructed in the 20th century under communism.  I’m not sure they would pass a safety inspection in the U.S. and I would have been hesitant to enter any of them.  Outside of the city, however, the houses and buildings looked much better.  Some were even mini McMansions (an oxymoron, I know).

In Russia, you need a visa ($200 each) to explore on your own.  With a certified tour guide, you don’t, so we opted for the two-day excursion offered by the ship.  We had the same tour guide (a Russian from St. Petersburg) both days and noticed that no matter what we saw and no matter how shabby it looked, there was something about it that made it the biggest, the best, and the most wonderful in the world.  She was obviously–and rightly–very proud of her home town and her country, but it reminded me of my GED students who made a habit of being aggressive because they lacked self-confidence.

Tour any attraction in St. Petersburg and you’ll find that you’re sharing the space with an incredible number of other people.  Occupancy limits are apparently not a big issue.  In some of the venues, we needed to put  “booties” on over our shoes to protect the beautiful inlaid wood floors (future picture coming).  There was an employee sitting in every room to make sure the line of visitors kept moving.  If the line stopped or slowed down too much, the tour guide got notice to move things along.

That doesn’t begin to describe the experience of passing through the palace, museum, or other venue.  There are so many people, that the line just fits between the ropes and it’s more like being herded through than walking through the rooms.  Don’t try to set up a photo–that’s moving too slowly.  Just snap and keep moving.  When we were in the Hermitage, one of the most famous museums in the world, there were so many people, it was difficult to even change places.  It’s possible that we only made it through the building because the entire mass of people moved as one.  It was impossible to get a good look at the displays.

We had another travel adventure in Catherine’s Palace.  (She’s the one who became Catherine the Great and the palace was her summer home.)  As we were putting on our booties, our guide moved ahead.  When we raised our heads from looking at our shoes, we couldn’t find her or the lollipop-like sign she carried above her head to identify her in the crowd.  We frantically looked around the room, didn’t see her or any recognizable group members, so forced our way through the human mass into the next room, thinking she had moved on.  We still couldn’t find her, so we approached one of the museum employees (few of whom had any knowledge of English) and gestured our problem to her.  She let us cross the forbidden floor area to check in the next room.

We still didn’t see our guide, but saw another group from our ship behind us.  Trying to reach that group was impossible, so we followed a group from an unidentified (to us) country in the ever-moving line through the entire palace.  When we went out the single exit, we sat down and waited until we saw the group from our ship emerge.  We knew the bus and the ship wouldn’t leave without us, but we were eager to see someone familiar.  The other group adopted us and their guide called our guide to tell her we were safe and would meet her at lunch, since all our groups were going to the same restaurant.  “Comfortable” is not a word we would use to describe how we felt between losing our group in the huge crowd, not understanding the language of the country, and being adopted by the other group, but as Shakespeare said, “All’s well that ends well.”

I have more to describe and beautiful pictures of Russia to post, but with the slow internet, this overview is going to have to suffice for now.

Aaarrgghh!  The wi-fi on the ship is so-o-o-o slow, I’m pretty sure that dial-up was faster.  I mean that literally.  Last night, after attending a great cover show of the Beatles’ music, I got impatient while trying to upload a picture to post on my previous blog entry, so I took a shower.  Even though I reduced the quality of the picture, it was still uploading when I finished my shower.  I know this is definitely a first-world problem–slow internet on my vacation cruising the Baltic Sea on a luxury ship in a stateroom that even has a heated bathroom floor–but the internet is an integral part of communication today, so it’s frustrating.  It’s also making it harder to keep up with my blogging while my thoughts are fresh.

Well, relaxing and enjoying the amenities of the ship is not hardship duty, so I’m off to do something non-internet related.

Note: If the air temperature is 64 degrees, and the water temperature is 68 degrees, is it really summer?

Helsinki is known as “the white city of the north.”  Like Stockholm, it is built on an archipelago and it must be built on the same kind of granite base, given that our city tour took us to the Rock Church.  The walls of this circular church are rock.  I’m not sure how the center opening came to be.  The ceiling over the sanctuary is a circular skylight.

The rock wall behind the altar goes all the way around the circular church. The white upper part of the photo is the skylight ceiling. Of course, it's a Lutheran church.

The rock wall behind the altar goes all the way around the circular church. The white upper part of the photo is the skylight ceiling. Of course, it’s a Lutheran church.

 

We also visited the Jean Sibelius monument.  Sibelius was a famous Finnish composer, best known for Finlandia.  It’s not the national anthem of Finland, but it’s important to the Finns.  I think it must be like America the Beautiful for us.

In the picture below, note the Asian woman.  There are large groups of Asian tourists everywhere we go and they all take lots of pictures.  They immediately go to the center front of the site and then take a carefully posed picture of seemingly every possible combination of people in their groups.  Afterwards, they remain in place while they check each other’s pictures.  When a group finishes, there’s already another Asian group in its place, repeating the process.  This makes it nearly impossible for anyone else to take a picture of the site without including unknown Asians.  There are many derogatory comments from non-Asian tourists about this.

A sculpture of Sibelius, complete with Asian tourist.

A sculpture of Sibelius, complete with Asian tourist.

The other part of the Sibelius monument.  Very Scandinavian.

The other part of the Sibelius monument. Very Scandinavian.

 

Paavo Nurmi, “the flying Finn,” is remembered in a Helsinki statue.  He won nine gold and three silver medals in his twelve events in the 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympics, and he set 22 world records.

Nurmi always practiced running naked, so the statue portrays him that way.

Nurmi always practiced running naked, so the statue portrays him that way.

 

As we were leaving, Helsinki, we saw our (possibly) Finnish name on a store window.

Schroder--just like they pronounce our name in Missouri.

Schroder–just like they pronounce our name in Missouri.

 

 

Alfred Nobel is the password in Stockholm.  He invented dynamite and that made all the difference to the city, which is basically built on a granite base.  With dynamite, it was possible to blast granite away and adjust street levels.  As a result, people didn’t have to climb stairs to reach different levels of roads.

The rock here was blasted away, making the shoreline accessible to the city above.

The rock here was blasted away (with dynamite, of course), making the shoreline accessible to the city above without climbing stairs.

 

Stockholm is built on an archipelago larger than Indonesia, so there are a lot of bridges in the city as you travel from island to island.  We saw some interesting things on our city tour, including a parade that included marching bands.  That was fun!  ABBA (I wish I could type the backwards B) Museum is in Stockholm and continues to produce income for the group.  We saw a beautiful city on our bus tour, except for one building.  See the picture below.

This is beyond a doubt the ugliest building we saw in Stockholm. It's the U.S. Embassy.

This is beyond a doubt the ugliest building we saw in Stockholm.  It’s the U.S. Embassy.

 

On our walking tour, we passed an interesting bathroom (or toilet, as Europe calls it).  One of the men in our group tried it and said there was a stainless steel cover that, when removed, revealed a hole for use.

The toilet and the brave man who tried it.

The toilet and the brave (desperate?) man who tried it.

 

Some of the buildings we walked past had “gossip mirrors.”  The mirror allowed the person on the second (or higher) floor to see a person at the building entrance.  When the doorbell rang on the first floor, the gossip mirror made it possible to decide whether you wanted to answer the door or not.

The black triangular thing mounted on the building above the white sign is the gossip mirror.

The black triangular thing mounted on the building beside the window and above the white sign is the gossip mirror.

 

We went into a small bakery and bought a sweet roll just so we could take a picture of the original painted ceiling.  I can’t even imagine a ceiling like this now.

We could see from the open doorway that the ceiling was beautiful.

We could see from the open doorway that the ceiling was beautiful.

Eating a sweet roll was no hardship to get a good look at this ceiling artwork.

Eating a sweet roll was no hardship to get a good look at this ceiling artwork.

 

Our transfer from the Paris hotel to the airport insisted that we had to be picked up four hours before our departure time, so we were up at 4:45 a.m.  Yippee!  Best of all, we had two hours to kill at the airport, waiting for our flight time–time that I would have preferred to spend sleeping prior to the pickup.  Oh well, as the French say, c’est la vie.

The ride to the airport was weird.  The driver was grumpy (probably because he had to get up so early, like us) and began our acquaintance by arguing with another driver in front of the hotel about a parking spot.  It didn’t get better.

It was still dark outside when, without a word to us, the driver parked the van with the engine running, got out, and walked around, apparently looking for a street sign.  Even Ted and I could tell we were driving in circles, and this wasn’t a nice neighborhood.  I kept telling myself that our travel agent absolutely would not book us with an unreliable service, but I was mentally questioning whether or not my purse would be an effective weapon.  The driver got back in the van (thank heavens!) and we continued to meander around.  We stopped at the entrance to an alley and, again, the driver got out without a word, left the engine running, and then disappeared down the alley.  A few minutes later, he reappeared with three women.

This happened once more, except that by the third time, it was getting light, so it was slightly less scary.  Ted and I were less worried, but the three women wondered what was going on.  We told them what had already happened and the five of us decided there might be one more pickup.  Sure enough, the driver returned with two more passengers.  After that, it was a daylight trip the rest of the way to the airport.

The adventure wasn’t over.  When we arrived in Stockholm, we found the cruise representative and learned that our name had erroneously been omitted from the pickup list.  The lady told us not to worry, that we’d straighten it out onboard.  She put us in a nicer car with a much nicer driver than we had in Paris and we went directly to the ship where we were greeted with a glass of champagne and our stateroom key cards.

Our stateroom is a deluxe veranda with outdoor seating, complimentary mini bar, complimentary laundry, complimentary room service for meals, etc., etc.  The ship’s maiden voyage was in early April, so everything is brand new and beautiful.  Of course, the cruise crew lives to meet our every need before we know we need it, so life is very, very good.

That's us on the ship with Stockholm in the background. Hey! It's sunny for a change! And we're only wearing light jackets instead of warmer ones.

That’s us on the ship with Stockholm in the background. Hey! It’s sunny for a change! And we’re only wearing light jackets instead of warmer ones.

Our stateroom. The veranda with two chairs and a table is "behind" the foreground of the picture; sofa and easy chair on the left; dresser and desk on the right; bathroom behind the wooden wall beside the bed; double closet across from the bathroom. It's like a large hotel room with an outdoor porch.

Our stateroom. The veranda with two chairs and a table is “behind” the foreground of the picture; sofa and easy chair on the left; dresser and desk on the right; bathroom behind the wooden wall beside the bed; double closet across from the bathroom. It’s longer than and about as wide as our family room with an outdoor porch.

Here’s a quick rundown on some of our highlights in Paris.

It’s Paris.  What else really needs to be said?  But still, . . .

The main traffic law seems to be “the bravest driver wins.”  Pedestrians trump traffic.  If you even look like you want to cross a street without a traffic light, the vehicles will stop for you.  Having said that, if you’re at an intersection with a traffic light and have not crossed the street before the light changes, you will hear a chorus of horn honking.  Horns also honk loudly for anything–people or vehicles–that require use of the brake.  Motorcycles weave in and out of the traffic, driving between lanes and going to the front of the line at the red light.

It’s so much fun to talk with people.  At the Bastille Day parade, the lady standing beside us said, “Since you’re wearing Eddie Bauer jackets, I assume you’re from the States.”  She was from Arizona.  At the fireworks, we stood next to a family from Ohio.  We met Felix, a Frenchman born in and still living in Paris, at a cafe and chatted with him for about a half hour.  At our Eiffel Tower dinner, we sat with a couple from Australia and another couple from Brazil.

No matter where we were, any food I saw in Paris looked delicious.  In England, everything looked washed out and sometimes grayish.  We even had pale carrots in England, not to mention a horrible pepperoni pizza–and it’s hard to ruin a pizza.  We’ve tried a number of new foods in Paris and they’ve all been delicious.  The French seem to deserve their reputation for good food.  We ordered organic omelettes (they’re French, after all) with fresh raspberries and strawberries on the side.  It took awhile to come, so we thought they must have waited for the hens to lay the eggs and then picked the berries while we ate the omelettes–and maybe they did.  Those were the best omelettes and berries we’ve ever had!  A little corner cafe offered boeuf bourguignon, Julia Child’s signature dish, so we had to try it.  In the U.S., it would be called beef stew, but the wine sauce made it so very French.  Mmm-mmm good!

The candy in the second row from the right is decorated with edible gold. We bought a few pieces of another kind of candy and agreed it was the best chocolate we've ever had.

The candy in the second row from the right is decorated with edible gold. We bought a few pieces of another kind of candy and agreed it was the best chocolate we’ve ever had.

 

In addition to the  police escort to our hotel after the Bastille Day parade, we also saw some criminals.  We were going through security at the Eiffel Tower when about ten guys (we heard they were pickpockets) came running through the crowd, followed by several running policemen chasing them.  One of the guys bumped against Ted’s arm as he ran past our group.  We’d been warned about pickpockets, and keep our possessions well protected, but we didn’t expect to actually see real, live criminals.  We were on a streak:  the following day, we had to wait to cross the street while marchers demonstrating for racial equality in Paris passed by.

I saw a double-decker, open-top tour bus that advertised “Slididing top.  Never cold or wet.”  Yes, the top apparently slidides.

After our Eiffel Tower dinner and our Seine River cruise, we took a moped-type topless carriage back to the hotel.  I wish I’d taken a picture of it.  There was just enough room for the driver in front and the two of us in back.  The back of our seat was trimmed in blue tinsel with flickering blue twinkle lights coloring it.  The driver asked if we wanted music for the ride.  We said “yes.”  He asked what we like.  I said “Elvis.”  I was kidding.  The driver was not.  He must have used something like Pandora, because the open-top vehicle blasted “Jailhouse Rock” and a few other Elvis songs for all to hear on our short trip back to our Paris home.

Written on the surface of the "first floor" (58 meters up) of the Eiffel Tower.

Written on the surface of the “first floor” (58 meters up) of the Eiffel Tower.

 

I haven’t had time to write about some of the special things we did in Paris.

Our dinner in the Eiffel Tower was a romantic night out, with the added excitement of the pickpocket chase and the follow-up of a sunset cruise on the Seine.  When we looked out at Paris from the Eiffel Tower, my first words were “It’s a white city!”  In honor of the Bastille Day holiday, the Tower was lit in red, white, and blue–the colors of the French flag.

One view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

One view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

View of the Museum d' Orsay from our Seine River cruise.

View of the Museum d’ Orsay from our Seine River cruise.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

 

Late sunsets this far north put the Bastille Day fireworks show at 11:00 pm.  There was a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower from the Tuilleries, and the park was across the street from our hotel, so we walked over and joined thousands of others to watch the display.  Since the Eiffel Tower’s design uses the structural components as its form, it’s possible to shoot fireworks out of the Tower.  To begin the show, the entire Tower twinkled with light.  It was like the magic of Disneyland.  Then, in addition to the typical fireworks in the sky, some were shot in succession out of the sides of the Tower from the top down, while others swirled around the Tower.  Lighting would change the color of the Tower, sometimes in bands of different colors.  It was really beautiful and different from any other display we’ve seen.

You can see the Eiffel Tower through the fireworks on the left.

The shadow on the left is a statue and looks like the guy is watching the fireworks.  Just ahead of him, you might be able to see the Eiffel Tower through the fireworks.

 

One evening, as we walked in the Tuilleries along the Seine, we heard the sound of bagpipes–reminiscent of our recent time in Scotland.  We looked around to find the piper and saw him standing on a bridge, wearing the kilt, and piping his Scottish heart out.

A wee bit o' Scotland in Paris.

A wee bit o’ Scotland in Paris.

 

Au revoir, Paris.  We’ll definitely be back to see more of you.

It was always a given that we would visit the Louvre while we were in Paris.  The Louvre was once the king’s palace, and it’s impossible to describe how large the building is.  Part of one floor is for administration and most of one wing is an art school.  We had a three-hour private tour (one other couple and us) of the Louvre and, even excluding the offices and the school, we couldn’t describe three hours as a good start.  It was more like we made it through the door.  The guide said there are 30 km of exhibition halls–about five miles–and there are more articles in storage than on display.  We saw mostly major works of art as our introduction to the exhibits in the Louvre.  The building itself is impressive, and it gave me a little quiver to know that I was looking at the original Mona Lisa and the original Venus de Milo in the Louvre.  We’ve been in other art museums, but the Louvre is the Mecca of art museums, and it was thrilling to be there.

Check out the ceiling. It’s one of the zillion beautiful ceilings in the Louvre.

This is one of the rooms the Louvre displays as part of an exhibit replicating Napoleon's apartment at Versailles.

This is one of the rooms in a Louvre exhibit that replicates Napoleon’s apartment at Versailles.

This is Leonardo da Vinci's "Apollo." The guide told us people are calling it "Apollo Taking a Selfie."

This is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Apollo.”  The guide told us people are calling it “Apollo Taking a Selfie.”

 

The Louvre was the king’s palace and the Tuilleries (twee’-ler-eez), across the street, was the king’s park.  The park is about 1.5 miles long and borders the Seine.  There’s a section with carnival rides for kids (probably not there during the king’s residence), there are lakes and gardens, and there are lots of trees and walking paths, complete with a plethora of chairs and benches.  Many people joined us in relaxing in the Tuilleries.

One of the lakes and gardens in the Tuilleries.

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Here’s a Thom and Katie-style foot shot to show how relaxed we are sitting at the Round Basin in the Tuilleries, just like the people you can barely see on the other side of the basin.

. . . the Arc de Triomphe.  We got hungry.

The Arc de Triomphe was a hefty hike from our Paris hotel, so we set out, subway passes in hand, to figure out the subway system and manage a transfer to reach the Arc and look down the Champs Elysees (shahm l-e-z’).  By the time we walked to the Metro stop we thought would be best and figured out which zone we were in and which one we were heading to, not to mention how to validate the subway pass, we decided to go to a cafe and have lunch before making the excursion to the Arc.

It was in the cafe that we met Felix, a native Parisian, and became involved in a lengthy conversation with him about Paris and other things.  The Paris Opera House was across the street from the cafe and there was a Metro stop in front of it, so we headed over.  It was unexpectedly impossible to cross the street to the Opera House because hundreds of bicyclists riding yellow bikes and wearing yellow shirts stopped the traffic and circled the area.  No one in the crowd seemed to know what was going on except that the Tour de France was a long way south, so this was something else.  Scandinavian flags were evident among the group, but the rest is a mystery.

Bicyclists!

Bicyclists!

 

When we made it across the street, we noticed tourist-type people on the balcony of the Paris Opera House and decided to see if we could go in to see the inside.  (That’s the Opera House in the picture above and you can see the people on the balcony.)  For seven euros, the answer was “yes,” so we bought tickets.  What a fortunate decision for us.  The Paris Opera House is considered the most beautiful in the world.  It’s huge and magnificent.  We were able to walk around on three levels and every new view seemed more beautiful than what we’d already seen.  The last performance of the season was scheduled that evening, and it was sold out or I think we’d have bought tickets.  Attending a performance of either an opera or a ballet (they do both and can produce two shows simultaneously) will determine the timing of our next visit.  We don’t even care if we like the show (although it will most likely be excellent)–we just want to see/hear a performance in that wonderful building.  Note:  We’ll also have to see the Arc de Triomphe next time.

While looking at the displays in the Opera House, we saw Gene Kelly on a video.  Reading the information and watching the video, we learned that American dance is a distinctive and respected art form, combining the modern with the traditional and influencing the way ballet is now performed throughout the world.  Gene Kelly, in fact, was a leader in developing modern dance and directed ballet performances in the Paris Opera House.  We had no idea that American dance had such an influence on the art.

The grand staircase in the opera house.

The grand staircase in the opera house.

One of the many hallways in the opera house.

One of the many hallways in the opera house.

Let the show begin! (Can you see the guy cleaning the stage floor?)

Let the performance begin! (Can you see the guy cleaning the stage floor?)

We returned to our hotel too late to blog about our first day in Paris yesterday, but I’ll catch up on that later.  Today is Bastille Day, a national holiday.  Museums and other buildings are closed or have limited access because of the holiday, so we’ve worked our sightseeing plans around that.

We went to the Bastille Day parade this morning.  The parade route was just two blocks from our hotel, so we didn’t have to fight traffic.  We did, however, have a surprise when we left the hotel.  There were policemen at the corner who would not let us walk on the street to the parade route.  We had to go another way, which was three blocks instead.  All along the three-block walk and along the parade route, there was a heavy police presence.  I counted 25-30 police personnel at the intersection where we watched the parade.  People were allowed to stand at the intersection, but not all the way along the street.

It was a military parade that began with a flyover of jets with red, white, and blue “smoke” trailing behind them.  Then I think every version of French military plane flew over in groups of three or four planes.  Following the “air show” (nothing showy like our air shows–just a flyover), we watched units from every possible military division march by.  I was surprised they all used a vocal cadence instead of a drum.  There was only one band, and that was near the end.  (Probably in order of importance–the band carried musical instruments, not weapons.)  Women always marched at the end of the unit.  Hmmm.  After the marchers, came the tanks, and finally, the helicopters overhead.

We walked back to our hotel, but were not allowed to enter the street on which the hotel is located without showing our key cards at every intersection.  When we arrived at the final block, one of the policemen at the corner escorted us the half block to the hotel door.  Neither of us has ever had a police escort before!  We think all the security is due to fear of terrorism on a national holiday.  In my opinion, with all the military presence and all those weapons concentrated in this area, a terrorist would be pretty stupid to strike, but nobody asked for my opinion.

Now we’re off to continue celebrating the holiday with some sightseeing and (if the 40 percent chance of rain doesn’t happen) to attend a free concert and fireworks at the Eiffel Tower this evening.

More on Paris later, including some pictures of the parade after I download them.

Note:  Security near our hotel was probably very strict because President Hollande was viewing the parade from the stands less than two blocks away.

 

We took the EuroStar train from London to Paris, and it was awesome!  It took two hours and 15 minutes to make the trip at speeds of 200-300 km/hr.  There were two tunnels that were 35 meters below the English Channel bottom and each was about 25 miles long.  All the necessities were included with our seats:  USB outlets, electrical outlets, headphone outlets, vanity mirror, laptop storage groove beside the seat, adjustable footrest, reading light, pocket for holding small items, overhead and underseat storage, and reclining seats that did not invade the space of the passengers behind us–there was that much leg room.

We had a full meal served to us in our seats.  There was also a snack/dining car, but the delivered-to-our-seat meal was included in the ticket price and the dining car was not.  I had some kind of quiche with a dinner roll, a salad, a beverage, a raspberry tart for dessert, and a piece of chocolate to finish it off.  Not to mention beverage service that included wine, of course.

EuroStar seat amentiies: vanity mirror at the top; pocket for small items; tray for food, laptop, etc.; and drink holder.

EuroStar seat amenities: vanity mirror at the top; pocket for small items; tray for food, laptop, etc.; and drink holder.

European-style drink holder. Only bottle fit the opening.

European-style drink holder. Only bottles fit the opening.  The USB port is below the bottle and the cover over the electric outlet is below that.

 

The next wonderful surprise was our hotel.  We have a small suite with a seating area, sleeping area, and bath.  There’s an amazing amount of storage space, so we unpacked four days’ worth of stuff and put everything out of sight.  We haven’t had window screens anywhere we’ve been, so there must be a shortage of bugs in Europe.  An added amenity in this hotel is the electrical blinds outside each window (hotel windows open in Europe) so we can open the windows and still have some privacy.  BTW, you pronounce privacy with a short “i” if you’re British.  I don’t think we’ve ever been in such a clean hotel room–spotless and probably dust-mote free as well–and it’s a great place to hang out.  What a shame that we want to see Paris more than we want to hang out in our room.  If it had a little kitchen, it would be a nice one-bedroom apartment.

Seating area in our hotel room.

Seating area in our hotel room.

Our hotel "bedroom" with a media island separating it from the seating area.

Our hotel “bedroom” with a media island separating it from the seating area.

Very European bathroom off the bedroom. The bidet is behind the half wall.

Very European bathroom off the bedroom. The bidet is behind the half wall.

 

After we settled in, we spent our first hours in Paris walking to the Louvre and strolling through the Tuilleries after dinner.  Life is good!

Just in case I have a reader or two who checks my blog every day, you might want to go back to Edinburgh.  We had spotty internet for a few days, making it difficult to download photos and to post blogs.  I’ve updated the last few days now that we’re back in the big city (London) and have better wi-fi service.

Today, our last day in Britain, included a visit to Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace and home of Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway.  It was yet another fulfillment of an English major’s dream to walk in the same village in which Shakespeare walked.  Having seen a Shakespearean play in the New Globe Theatre in London and having walked in Shakespeare’s home town, I can leave England with joy in my heart.

A wooden carving of Shakespeare. The split in his head indicates his dilemma to be, or not to be. (Really! That's what the plaque said!)

A wooden carving of Shakespeare. The split in his head indicates his dilemma to be, or not to be. (Really! That’s what the plaque said!)

 

Really scary Shakespeare! I'm not sure who buys this poster.

Really scary Shakespeare! I’m not sure who buys this poster.

 

Fun with Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare.

 

It was bittersweet to say good-bye to so many new friends with whom we’ve spent the past twelve days.  Some we might see again if we visit the areas in which they live; most we will not.

Our travel group in front of Anne Hathaway's house.

Our travel group in front of Anne Hathaway’s house.

 

It’s been a wonderful tour of Britain and I can now clarify some terminology:  The single country is England; the island is Great Britain and includes England, Scotland, and Wales; and the United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Tomorrow we will board the train in London and will travel beneath the English Channel to Paris.

The history we are learning on this trip is so interesting.  I’ve heard it all before, but being in the places it happened makes it more real:  Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Battle of Culloden, the MacDonalds vs. the Campbells, and now, as we leave Scotland and return to England, Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall marks the northern edge of the Roman Empire in England.  It’s just south of the Scottish border.  Parts of it are still visible, and there is a 118-mile trail that people walk across England to follow the wall.  While we were taking pictures of the wall, I heard an Australian woman from our group sarcastically say that she’s going to send her picture to Trump to show him how build a wall.  (We still haven’t met a non-American who likes Trump.)

Some of the remains of Hadrian's Wall.

Some of the remains of Hadrian’s Wall.

 

We had lunch at the Robin Hood Pub, a small, rural establishment.  The authenticity of the pub was charming.  We had soup and sandwiches with locally brewed beer (or other beverages) and good company.

The Robin Hood Pub. Robyn (not Hood), one of our new friends from Australia, is in front of the fireplace in a white shirt.

The Robin Hood Pub.  Robyn (not Hood), one of our new friends from Australia, is sitting to the right of the fireplace.

 

As we drove along the shores of the North Sea, we saw a unique place–a small community of about 40 people who live on an island or on a causeway, depending on whether it is high tide or low tide.  In the picture below, it is low tide, so the causeway to the community is visible.  Visitors are regularly rescued because they try to beat the tide to the community, but it swirls around behind them and traps them in water and mud.

The school is the "lump" on the right of the strip of land.

The community is built on the “lump” on the right of the strip of land.

 

We finished our day in Jorvik, the Nordic name for York, a market city.  The walls of the city and the four city gates (one facing each compass direction) are still standing.  The streets are exactly wide enough to accommodate a carriage.  The gutters along the old butchers’ street allowed the blood from slaughtering to flow away.  The former butcher shops also have hooks above their doors and windows from which butchers used to hang the slaughtered animals that were for sale.  Thankfully, that’s no longer done today.

There are lots of low, narrow passageways that go between streets, and a huge cathedral to show the power of the market city.  (In medieval times, the size of the cathedral was indicative of the strength of the city.)  Unfortunately, the York cathedral is missing many of its stone statues.  The statues were symbolic of the Catholic faith and were destroyed when Henry VIII declared England a Protestant country and ordered the removal of all evidence of Catholicism.

One of the carriage-wide streets. Notice how three people might have difficulty walking side-by-side in the street.

One of the carriage-wide streets.  Notice how two or three people might have difficulty walking side-by-side in the street.

 

Part of the front of the York cathedral. You can see where the stone statues used to be.

Part of the front of the York cathedral. You can see where the stone statues used to be.

Edinburgh is built on an old volcano which was reduced to half its size due to erosion from glaciers during the Ice Age.  The city is built on seven levels.  It’s hard to notice unless you’re on a street or bridge that allows you to look down to another level.

The Edinburgh Castle.

The Edinburgh Castle.

 

Interesting things unique to Edinburgh include the Elephant House–the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.  She was a single mom at the time and spent her days writing at the café because it meant she could save money by not heating her flat.  Saving money isn’t her problem any more, and the people who allowed her to spend her days at the café are also doing well from the tourist business.

Where J. K. Rowling did her best writing.

Where J. K. Rowling did her best writing.

 

Near the Elephant House is another restaurant with a lifelike sculpture of a little dog named Wee Bobby.  Wee Bobby’s owner always ate at the restaurant.  When his owner died, Wee Bobby sat on his owner’s grave every day until the one o’clock cannon was shot.  Then Wee Bobby would go to the restaurant, where the owners continued to feed him until he died.

Speaking of the one o’clock cannon, it is shot from the castle every day except Sunday to mark the time in Edinburgh.  Our castle guide told us that most cities mark the time at noon, but the Scots know it’s more economical to mark the time at one than at twelve.  Truth or legend, you decide. 

Information about the One O;'clock Gun.

Information about the One O’clock Gun.

 

English major highlight:  Edinburgh has a 200-foot-high monument to Sir Walter Scott.  It’s the tallest monument in the world to an author.

Sir Walter. Probably trying to compose a new poem.

Sir Walter. Probably trying to compose a new poem.

 

It’s been fun to see Scottish men wearing the kilt (the kilt, not kilt).  The tour guides wear them and so do the street performing pipers, but we also see “regular” men wearing them.  It definitely makes you wonder if what they say they wear under them is really what they wear under them! ?

Our Edinburgh visit ended with a Scottish party at a five-star restaurant.  We had a delicious dinner followed by a wonderful after-dinner show featuring Scottish songs and dances.  The haggis was delicious.  Really!  I also liked the turnip/potato mash served with the haggis.

This is the Piper who piped is in to dinner. I like the sound of the bagpipes.

This is the piper who piped us in to dinner.  I like the sound of the bagpipes.

Today we went to the birthplace of golf at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  The golf course is right on the North Sea and–can you believe it?!–we had the best weather of our trip so far!  The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and the temperatures were well into the 70s.  It felt as if it were summer, and we were even able to take off our jackets.  The North Sea beach in front of the golf course is the setting used in Chariots of Fire.  It looked just as it did in the movie.

We’re not interested in golf, so we walked around the city instead.  The highlight of my day was finding an awesome bookstore without even looking for one!  The sidewalk sign announced “a haven for bibliophiles” and that was an irresistible invitation for me.  What a store!  They have “over 45,000 books” jammed together from floor to ceiling and sliding library ladders to roll along the shelves to reach the high books.  I bought a book.  Shocking, I know.

Our other destination today was Edinburgh.  We had time to wander around the city for awhile and will be going back tomorrow for city and castle tours.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were sunny and warm two days in a row?

Ted at the North Sea shore.

Ted at the North Sea shore.

 

Me in the awesome bookstore.

Me in the awesome bookstore.  Do you see the sliding library ladders?

When I was in grade school, I read a book in which the heroine went to the Isle of Skye.  I don’t remember anything else about the story except that she wondered if she was “in Skye” or “on Skye.”  Today we went to Skye, so I asked a resident which was correct.  He told me that he’s always said “on Skye.”  At last my mind is at ease about that question.

We visited a beautiful garden on Skye.  It reminded me of the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island.  In addition, it had huge western red cedar trees (noted on a sign as native to the U.S.) that reminded me of those we saw in Mt. Rainier Park with Thom & Co. on one of our visits.

Also located on Skye is Eilean Donan Castle.  James Bond and M went to this castle in Goldfinger.  Sean Connery went again with Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment.  As we were leaving the castle grounds we saw our first “no drones” sign.  Cool!

DSCN3865

 

We spent most of the day driving through the Highlands again and made a stop at Loch Ness.  None of us spotted the Loch Ness monster, but we had a chance to enjoy the pretty Scottish Highlands scenery and to eat a nice lunch in the Loch Ness restaurant.  The sun even came out for a few hours!

DSCN3824

 

This is just one of many beautiful views of the Scottish Highlands.  Like all beautiful things, a picture does not equal the real thing.  We saw heather growing everywhere and wish we could be here when it blooms and turns the mountains purple.  It was cool (we wore layers of jackets) with rain, fog, and heavy clouds all day, which is typical here, but I can’t help imagining that this might have been even more gorgeous in the sunshine.  Still, when you think of the Highlands, you think of the Highland mists, right?
DSCN3797

 

Here we are in Glen Coe (glen = valley), also called the Valley of Weeping because it is the site of the largest Scottish tribal massacre in history.  The MacDonalds offered hospitality to the Campbells on a stormy winter night and the Campbells murdered 80 MacDonalds while they slept.  Those who escaped froze to death in the Highland cold and snow.  The mountains behind us are the Three Sisters.

DSCN3789

 

We took a boat ride around Loch (= Lake) Lomond this morning.  The song with the line “You take the high road and I’ll take the low” was written about Loch Lomond.  Rob Roy, a Scottish outlaw, folk hero, and the Robin Hood of Scotland had a cave hideout on Loch Lomond.  The cave opening isn’t much larger than a doorway, so “CAVE” is painted on the rock to help visitors find it.  (It’s to the left of CAVE between the two rock outcroppings.)

DSCN3764

 

We saw these flowers while we were walking around the village tonight.  There were yellow and white ones too.  As a non-gardener, I have no idea what they are, but I enjoyed the sight.

DSCN3811

At Windemere (not Lake Windemere, because “Windemere” means “windy lake”), there was a steam-powered train to take visitors to the sightseeing boats on the lake.  The train zips along at a dazzling 4 mph!  Note:  Beatrix Potter lives on the north shore of Windemere.

Steam train taking off

 

The soil must be horrible in the Scottish Highlands because everywhere you look, there are stone fences and stone buildings.  You’d only use that much stone if it were plentiful.  It made me want to stick a spade into the ground just to find out if there’s any topsoil at all.

Sone house and stone fence

 

William Wordsworth, one of the Romantic poets, is buried in Grasmere, in the Lake District.  This is his family plot in the cemetery.  The poet’s headstone is third from the right.  This was another English major’s highlight on our trip.

Wordsqworth's family graves

 

This statue of the Duke of Wellington stands in Glasgow.  People keep putting a traffic cone on its head and it was costing the city too much to keep removing it, so they decided to let it be.  I’m not sure what opinion this expresses about the Duke.

The English love their pets.  During World War II, England didn’t have enough food for its people.  As a result, many pets had to be put down because they couldn’t be fed.  After the war, people could have pets again and they were so excited about it that, for a period of time, there were more choices of pet food than human food in the stores.

When people find out that we are from the U.S., the first thing they ask us about is Trump.  They want to know who is voting for him and they can’t believe there’s a chance he will become our President.  So far, none of the people we’ve met wants Trump to lead our country.

There are three million people and nine million sheep in Wales.

At a roadside stop we saw a trash can with a serious, regulation, printed sign above it.  The sign said “Please take your litter home.”

Today we bought ourselves a cinnamon roll and a long john for a snack at a coffee shop.  In Wales, they are a Chelsea bun and Swiss bun respectively.

One of our hotel rooms had a sign above the light switch at the door.  It said “This room is not afraid of the dark.  Please conserve energy and turn off the lights when you leave.”

 

Today we are in Liverpool and saw all things Beatles, including Penny Lane and the Mersey River.  A man from Istanbul took this picture of us.

Paul, John, George, Ringo, and us

Paul, George, John, Ringo, and us.

Brief history lesson:  Henry VIII was married, had no son, wanted to marry Anne Boleyn instead, couldn’t get permission from the Pope for a divorce.  Result:  Hank decided to start his own church, make himself the head of the church, give himself a divorce, and destroy all things Catholic in Britain.  Because of this, there are many ruined abbeys in Britain, so of course we had to visit one in Glastonberry this morning.

More interesting in Glastonberry is the fact that it is the home of all things King Arthur (including Merlin’s possible home) as well as the setting of Harry Potter’s life story.  It’s a laid-back hippie town with lots of interesting-looking people walking around and incense odors wafting out of shop doorways.

Lunch was served at a farm that was built in 1240.  The first thing Ted said when we arrived was “It smells like a farm.”  It’s a national historic site and the family lives on site and operates it as a bed and breakfast, as well as a farm.  The bread pudding and “berry mess” (translation:  berry kuchen) with ice cream made from the farm’s own milk were delicious!

We went out for a group dinner and an evening of Welsh music tonight.  New foods I ate/drank tonight include Welsh rarebit, honey mead, and ham hocks.  Our tour director told us that the Welsh are all about music (cf Tom Jones and Shirley Basye).  As she sang, one of the singers walked around to several men in the audience, including Ted.  Singing Shirley B’s “Hey, Big Spender, spend a little time with me,” she ran her fingers through Ted’s hair.  Watching his face turn as red as his shirt was fun.  She probably picked the best-looking men in the room for her act.

Instead of trimming trees back from the road, a rectangle was cut in them. It's like driving through a tree tunnel.

Instead of trimming trees and hedgerows back from the road, a rectangle was cut in them. It’s like driving through a tree tunnel.

 

Phone booths are everywhere and actually have pay phones, as well as ATMs and wi-fi access in them.

Phone booths are everywhere in Britain and actually have pay phones inside, as well as ATMs and wi-fi access.

 

This is "Friend of Freedom." Note the pigeon perched on our friend's head.

This is a statue of John Batchelor, “The Friend of Freedom.”  Note the freed pigeon perched on John’s head.

Just when I was wondering if the English summer ever gets better than windy, mostly cloudy with intermittent showers, and highs in the upper 50s and low 60s, we had a beautiful day.  Today it was mostly sunny, no wind, and in the upper 60s.  I only had to wear one jacket layer instead of two.  Yippee!  It’s summertime in Britain!

We visited an abbey this morning.  It was very pretty and had beautiful gardens.  Luckily, that wasn’t the end of the day, because I was still mostly asleep that early in the morning and had a hard time getting excited about it.

The next stop was Polperro, a fishing village in southwest England on the coast of the English Channel.  It was a charming town and very picturesque.  The tide was out and it was interesting to see so many small boats sitting on the muddy shore, waiting for the tide to come in to set them afloat again.  With the sun shining and our single jackets unzipped, we enjoyed walking around the village.

After that, we went to Plymouth.  The Mayflower left from Plymouth and we had a chance to climb the “Mayflower steps”–the stairs the Pilgrims used to board the Mayflower.  I tried to see Massachusetts, but it was too far away.  We also had an hour harbor cruise.  Plymouth has one of the three best natural harbors in the world and is a major base of the British navy.

To finish the day, we had a group dinner at a pub that opened in 1250 (the year, not the time of day).  I had steak pie and STP (sticky toffee pudding) with clotted cream.  Everything was delicious except the clotted cream.  It tasted like butter to me and eating a lump of butter as a garnish didn’t rate “delicious” on my scale.  It was an interesting day experiencing the local culture and the local food in small towns.

The santcuary of Buckfast Abbey.

The sanctuary of Buckfast Abbey.

 

Polperro with boars waiting for high tide.

Polperro with boats waiting for high tide.

 

The Mayflower Steps.

The Mayflower Steps.

Today we saw Stonehenge.  It is believed to have been built around 3000 B.C., making it over 5,000 years old.  (Busch Stadium only lasted for about 40 years.  Go figure.)  Although the stones are definitely huge, the circle itself is much smaller than I thought it would be.  Traffic on the road approaching Stonehenge was strung out for a lo-o-o-o-ng way in a single lane, reminding me of Field of Dreams.  Did the builders of Stonehenge hear a voice telling them “If you build it, they will come”?  Stonehenge is in the Salisbury Plain, famous for being very windy.  Ted estimated 30-35 mph sustained winds, and I believe it!  A pretty sight was poppies in bloom in the fields all around Stonehenge.

After Stonehenge, our tour took us to Bath.  Bath is a very upscale city and probably puts Beverly Hills to shame in price per square foot.  Many homes are over $5 million.  They aren’t luxurious enough, though, because there is no green space around them, so the new development (which looks as old as the old houses) starts around $10 million, including some grass.  Mind you, this is for what we’d call a condo–three windows wide in a long building with probably close to 100 individual units.  Zoning laws in Bath require that all new structures be built in the same color stone and in the same style as the original structures from the days of the Romans.  Oh, goody!  My new $10M house looks just like the 2,000-year-old one down the street!

Speaking of Romans, we had a tour of the original Roman Baths.  The water is sulphurous, so it’s stinky.  I don’t know what would make anyone think bathing in stinky water would be good for you, but it supposedly promotes long life.  We were advised not to touch the water because it’s untreated and filled with bad germs and bacteria.  There goes my long life!

The day ended in Exeter at our hotel.  Dinner was a welcome reception for the group and we sat with a very nice couple from Australia.  (More than a third of the 47 people on the tour are from Australia.)  The four of us spent about three hours talking, so I’m thinking we might have some new international friends.

Who is that good-looking couple at Stonehenge?

Who is that good-looking couple at Stonehenge?

 

Poppies in the field.

Poppies in the field.

 

Street are in Bath. We know it's a human because one of our group members saw him blink.

Street art in Bath. We know it’s a human because one of our group members saw him blink.

Today was our last day in London, so we finished up our list of things to see–the Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  We hoped to make it to Buckingham Palace as well, but our invitation to dine with the queen was apparently lost in the mail and the palace was several additional miles of walking from where we were, so we skipped it.  We walked over 12 miles today and are not being passed by many native Londoners any more.

Today was also International Day for us.  A couple from Poland asked us to take their picture at the Tower Bridge; a lady at lunch asked if we are from Canada (if Trump wins the election, we’re going to tell people we are Canadians to avoid embarrassment); and at dinner we met a young lady from Germany.  We also learned that people “pop in” at destinations and that the response to “thank you” can be “no worries.”

Our 15-day land trip through England, Wales, and Scotland begins bright and early tomorrow morning.  Fortunately (?), it’s a weekend day, so breakfast will be later than usual–at 7:00 am.  If we’re going to get up at such uncivilized hours for 15 consecutive days, I have doubts about how much I’m going to enjoy the next two weeks.  It better be a really good tour!

To avoid having to pay to use a public toilet, we “popped in” at a hospital along our way and discovered that “exit” becomes “way out” in England.

 

Some playful person added eyes to the water fountain in St. Pauls Park

Some playful person added eyes to the water fountain in St. Paul’s Park

 

A pretty English garden.  The trees are all precisely trimmed.

A pretty English garden.