Vienna, Austria

Because we know that our time here in Germany is coming to an end, we’ve begun to visit some of the places that are still on our list to see before we make our way back to the States.  Oddly enough, we had yet to really spend any time in Austria.  Outside of driving through briefly on our way between parts of southern Germany, we’ve never really seen much of it.  So, we rectified that with a trip down to Vienna.

We wanted to stay in the downtown area to limit the amount of time getting to see the heart of the city, so we stayed in a hotel not too far from the city center.  The location was great, but it had a few surprises for us once we arrived.  The biggest one being that we had to share a bathroom with an adjoining room.  Not the greatest hotel that we’ve stayed in, but certainly helped us to see more of the city due to its close proximity.

Our first day we stopped by the Schonbrunn Palace, that was the imperial summer residence of the Habsburg family that ruled over Austrian empire.  The palace was enormous and was impressively appointed inside.  One of the highlights was seeing the room where Mozart played  for the royal family at the age of six.  We then walked around the gardens and found the Vienna Zoo that was located within the garden grounds.  The zoo was quite impressive and had a large list of animals, and we enjoyed seeing tigers, monkeys, rhinos, bats, elephants, penguins and many others.

Our second day we spent walking through the heart of the city and saw some of the more well-known sites such as: St. Stephens Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, the Rathaus, and the Karlskirche.  We even stopped by the Sacher Cafe to have some of the “world famous” Sachertorte cake, but were a little underwhelmed with the taste.  It’s just another example of how Europeans and Americans have different opinions on what level of sweetness preferred in desserts.  That night we went to a concert at the Wiener Muzikverein, where the orchestra was dressed in Baroque-style whigs and clothes as they played works written by Mozart.  The concert lasted about an hour and a half, and was quite nice due to the great music and impressive decorative style of the music hall itself.

For our last full day, we did a lot of walking around and saw some of the city outside the inner-most ring.  It was a very nice day to just explore without looking for anything in particular.  That evening we went and did something that we thought was quite neat: Exit the Room.  Essentially, Exit the Room is a place where they lock you in a room and you have to solve puzzles to get yourself out within one hour.  It was really fun, but we just missed the hour mark by 40 seconds.  Definitely one of the highlights of this trip.


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Warmunde & Rostock, Germany

We finished our trip hitting two ports in northern Germany.  Warmunde is the closest port to Berlin, and many of the passengers made the six-hour round trip train ride to get there.  Instead of doing this, we elected to spend the day walking around Warmunde.  The town was small and offered very little to see, but it was nice to simply get out and walk around.

The next day we pulled into Rostock, and then visited Schleswig-Holstein which is coined the “Switzerland of Germany”. Along the way we were also supposed to see the “City of Roses”.  However, what they don’t tell you is that all the roses die off around late July, which of course allowed us to see the “City That Used to Have Roses”.   Over the course of the day we visited various small houses and we spent some time on the Lake Schwerin.  These stops were pretty forgettable, and it was a far cry from warranting a comparison with Switzerland.

However, we were certainly anxious to get home in these finals days, so that probably played a part in our ability to enjoy these last stops.

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Stockholm, Sweden

We had the fortune of spending two days in Stockholm, which was my second favorite city to visit behind St. Petersburg.  During our first day we spent time driving around the city, and got a chance to see the Concert Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.  The Peace Prize is the only Nobel Award given outside of Norway, and this was at Nobel’s request upon his death.IMG_1187

We then visited the City Hall building, that has been in its current location since 1907.  Our guide spent some time telling us the interesting story behind how Ragnar Ostberg constructed the building, and how it holds the Nobel Peace Prize banquet every year in its impressive Golden Hall that has over 18 million mosaic tiles on its walls.  City hall was impressive, and is one of the most easily recognizable places in the city.

Later that day we had a walking tour of the downtown area, and got to visit the city’s old center.  The buildings were very colorful and the overall architectural quality of the area was quite quaint.  There were plenty of small cobble stone streets to explore, and the shopping was certainly plentiful.  We also got a chance to visit the Royal Palace, but have to say that it paled in comparison to many of the others that we’d seen.

IMG_1165Finally, we visited the Vasa Museum.  This is a museum that was built around the dry dock holding the famous Vasa ship.  It originally sank in the Stockholm Harbor in 1628 on its maiden voyage.  To clear the way for other ships, the city had the masts chopped off and left the ship there.  Then in the 20th century, the city attempted to try and find the ship once again.  After the located the vessel again, they raised it and found that it was in nearly perfect condition as the low salt content in the waters had done little to damage it.

The following day we spent the day walking around the downtown area just taking in the city/streets/people.  On our ride from the ship to the city center, we got a ride with a cab driver who enjoyed taking trips over to New York City because the clothes were so cheap.  Gives you an idea of how expensive things are over in in Sweden.

One final things to say about Scandinavia: they have a lot of blondes there!  Kim noticed how much she fit in with the general population there as those with fair skin and light hair certainly out numbered those that didn’t.

Have to say Stockholm was a great city!  My favorite from those in Scandinavia.


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Helsinki, Finland

Unfortunately, our next stop paled in contrast with St. Petersburg.  Helsinki was much smaller and the weather played a big part in the stop being much less enjoyable.

Our tour took us on a walk through the city, and we first stopped at the Temppeliaukio Church, and had a chance to walk inside an take a look at its unique copper ceiling.  The church was built underneath a rock formation, and stands out in the middle of the city.

We journeyed around and got to see the site of the ’52 Olympics that were held in the city, and stopped off at a coffee shop for a short respite.  Then, we had to board a bus due to the ever-increasing rain fall and drove around where we caught glimpses of the other major streets of the downtown area.  Ultimately, we wound up in the city’s main square where the Helsinki Cathedral and the main university buildings are located.

Not the highlight of our trip, but another interesting place that definitely warrants more time and better weather to fully appreciate.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

Next up is the eastern most point of our trip, the great city of St. Petersburg.  We’ve had friends visit the city previously, and they mentioned how awesome it was.  I can certainly say that it didn’t disappoint.

Fortunately, we had two days to see a lot of the city and even make it out to one of the palaces outside the downtown area.  We spent roughly nine hours each day going from site to site, and there was still quite a bit that we didn’t get to see.

Our first day we started out by driving by some of the enormous apartment buildings where over a quarter of all the city resides.  With a population of over 5 million, you can imagine how large these buildings were.  I couldn’t get a picture that did their size justice.  On our way to Catherine’s Palace, we got to drive by sites such as the building used as the Soviet Party headquarters, as well as the monument dedicated to the exact spot where the Russians stopped a German assault on the city in 1945. Our visit to Catherine’s Palace was an impressive one.  Both it’s decor and surrounding gardens were quite lavish, and it’s easy to see why Catherine I and II spent quite a lot of time there.

Next up was a visit to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, that was finished in the mid 1800’s and has a pure gold-plated dome that measures 333 feet.  The sheer size of the building reminded me of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  To end our first day we stopped by the Church Spilt on Church Blood; so named because it’s built upon the site where the Russian Czar Alexander II was assassinated.  While we didn’t have time to go see the inside of the building, viewing the outside was definitely a highlight.

Our second day started with a trip to the Hermitage.  This museum is located inside the Winter Palace, another residence of Catherine II.  She originally started a collection there in 1764 that was made available to just a small few.  Today’s collection has more than 3 million exhibits.  Unfortunately, the museum was a mad house.  It’s clear there is no attempt to optimize the crowd sizes to ensure visitor comfort.  We did get a chance to see works from Michelangelo, Leonardo Di Vinci, Monet, Picasso, and others, but it was in the midst of utter chaos.   Those that were there with us got to hear Kim’s appreciation for some of the works there in the museum.  She was “honest” in her ideas on some of the impressionist paintings when she saw one particular exhibit and commented: “What is that crap?  I could paint that!”.  Always a good time when you get Kim in a museum.

Our final major stop was at Peterhof, the famous palace built by Peter the Great.  Many call it the “Versailles of Russia” and it was easy to see how it garnered such a comparison.  We spent time seeing the ornately decorated fountains and gardens, before ultimately catching a hydrofoil back to the city.

In retrospect, I really wish we’d had another two days there.  Our short time was just too brief for truly seeing all the place has to offer.  For me, this was the pinnacle of the trip.

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Talinn, Estonia

Next up on the trip was a visit to Estonia.  The country became part of the Soviet Union in 1944 after taken back from the Nazis.  Surprisingly, the country didn’t seem to have much of the Soviet-style buildings and infrastructure that I had expected before the visit.  However, our tour guide did have quite a bit to say about Russia and Putin.  She made several comments on how Estonians are very fearful that the “Great Sleeping Bear” might be waking up after watching the situation unfold in the Ukraine.

First up on our tour was a visit to a famous amphitheater in the city that has been the site of concerts by many famous acts such as Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, and Metallica.  It also is the place where the country holds some its largest musical festivals.  The tour guide was very proud of the site, and it seemed to be a very important place for the Estonian people.

Next we headed into the old town to see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St. Nicholas’ Church, and some of the old walls that protected the city since the 1400’s.

The day was very relaxing and we had some great weather.  The city was quaint, and was surprisingly well maintained. One of the things that will certainly stick with me was when I bought some ice cream, and it had to be the worst I have ever tasted in my life.  I’d best describe it as frozen paint.  Not sure if it was indicative of all Estonian ice cream, but I’ll never forget how insanely gross it was.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

As I mentioned before, we were always looking forward to the opportunity of seeing Copenhagen from outside the confines of the airport.  I’ve always heard great things about the city, and our day didn’t disappoint.

To start out our tour we visited Tivoli Gardens, which is an amusement park inside the city.  Unfortunately, we got there 30 minutes before it opened and had to wait around for a while and the temperature was rather chilly out.  Once inside, we spent the time grabbing a bite to eat and watching people enjoying some of the rides.  We had only but an hour so our time there was fairly short.

We then went to visit some of the more famous sites in the city such as the Christianborg and Amalienborg Palaces.

Lastly, we stopped to see the famous little mermaid statue inspired from Copenhagen’s own Hans Christian Anderson that wrote the fairy tale.

All things considered, Copenhagen was one of the highlights of the trip and is definitely a place I’d visit again to see in more detail.


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