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Trip Tales: Europe’s Baltic Region Part II – Top 3 by City

Last week’s post covered the logistics and point usage of our trip so this week I’ll focus on the sites, etc.  As a lot of ground was covered, today will highlight my personal “Top 3” in each locale.  Apologies for the poor photo quality – the main SD card was corrupted and is still out for repair so the majority of photos shown here are from the cell phone camera.

Stockholm, Sweden

  1. Vasa Museum – This warship was built in the early 1600’s and sank shortly into her maiden voyage.  Rediscovered in the late 50’s, a group salvaged this behemoth ship and made it into what is now the Vasa Museum.  One of the best museums I’ve ever been too!
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  2. Stockholm Archipelago – From well developed islands to tiny spots of land with just a tent, a sail through the archipelago on a nice day is not to be missed.  We viewed from our cruise ship but plenty of day trips from Stockholm are available.
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  1. Traditional Swedish Meatballs at Bakfickan – While available many places, I enjoyed a dinner of Swedish Meatballs served in the traditional manner (with fresh lingonberries and pickles) at Bakfickan – a restaurant next to the Opera with a lovely outdoor patio.
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Tallinn, Estonia

  1. The Old Town Walls and Towers – Fat Margaret and Tall Herman are the two most legendary of Tallinn’s towers but the wall in general is just fun to explore!
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  2. Raekoja Plats/Town Hall Square – Lined with restaurants this square is one of the hubs of life in the Old Town.  Grab a beer and some pelmeni (Russian dumplings) and savor the day.
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  3. Fun Fact – While not an attraction, I was fascinated to learn that Tallinn is a world leader in the technology field.  That’s right!  Estonians invented Skype and Kaaza and Tallinn is considered the Silicon Valley of Europe.

St. Petersburg, Russia

  1. Eliseyev Emporium/Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall – Right off Nevsky Prospekt this food hall was constructed in the early 1900’s and is an Art Nouveau gem both outside and in.  Stop for tea and a cake or to pick up some high quality edible souvenirs.
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  2. The Peterhof Fountains – While the weather was being difficult this day, the grounds and fountains of the Peterhof still adequately impressed.
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  3. The Hermitage – Enormous beyond words!  Personally, I was just as entranced with the elaborate interiors as with the artwork displayed.  So easy to imagine Tsarist life in these grand buildings.
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Moscow, Russia

  1. Standing in Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral – How many years I’ve dreamt of this moment!  Thank you weather for cooperating.
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  2. GUM Department Store/Upper Trading Rows – The beauty of this store surpassed my expectations!  With glass ceilings, elaborate flower arrangements and fountains throughout, it truly is breath-taking.  More a mall than department store in US lingo, GUM showcases most high-end, international brands.  Below a friend of Natty Gal is enjoying one of the famous 50 ruble GUM ice cream cones. (about 80 cents)
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  3. The Armory Museum, Kremlin – As if the ten Faberge eggs weren’t enough, the Armory Museum also boasts one of the largest collections of carriages in the world, including three that belonged to Catherine the Great.
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Russian Honorable Mention:
The subway systems in both St. Petersburg and Moscow live up to the hype and are not to be missed.  Some of the deepest and most beautiful in the world!

 

Helsinki, Finland

  1. Temppeliaukio/The Church in the Rock – This church, completed in 1969, was built directly into solid rock.  The dome is comprised of coiled copper.
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  2. Eating in Market Square – The many fish/food stalls within Market Square provide a great, low-priced meal in an unbeatable location.  Soak up the sun at a picnic table and enjoy watching the harbor activity and tourists and Finns alike as they shop the various stalls.
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  3. Local artwork and handcrafts – Of our stops, I was most impressed with the artwork and crafts in Helsinki.  While the usual tchotchkes were available, they had some fabulously unique pottery, glass wear, jewelry and woolen pieces.  Plenty of reindeer pelts for sale too, if you’re in the market for one of those.
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Cool dish that caught my eye!Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia

  1. Art Nouveau District – Riga is home to one of the richest collections of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.  The small but lovely art nouveau museum has a beautiful interior restoration.
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  2. The Entire Old Town – Just loved Riga and could see myself living here!  
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  3. These Tennis Shoes – Spotted in a shop as I was walking around in the old town!
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Klaipeda, Lithuania

  1. Sculpture Hunting in the Old Town – These sculptures are hidden in parks, on doorsteps, etc. throughout the small but charming town center of Klaipeda
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  2. The Hill of Witches – The Hill of Witches is located on the UNESCO World Heritage site Curonian Spit.  Founded in 1989, the hill now boasts more than 80 sculptures.
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  3. The Fishing Town of Nida – This town is in the southern most location on the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit.  Next stop on the Spit…Kaliningrad, Russsia.  Some of the town’s iconic weathervanes are pictured below.
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Warnemunde, Germany (day trip to Berlin)

  1. The East Side Gallery/Berlin Wall – This is Berlin’s longest remaining section of wall as well as the longest open air art gallery in the world!
  2. Brandenburg Gate – Like St. Basil’s, it’s just one of those photo ops you can’t pass up!
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  3. Ampelmann/East German Crosswalk Man – This charming crosswalk signal mascot has his own store full of souvenirs featuring the beloved fellow.
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Copenhagen, Denmark

  1. Tivoli Gardens – This has easily got to be one of the most innocent places on earth.  With rides for the kids and lovely beer gardens, restaurants and concert venues for adults, it’s damn near perfect.  Go on the Hans Christian Anderson ride to rediscover what it’s like to be three.
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  2. Nyhavn – Photogenic and active; Nyhavn is one place almost everyone stops while in Copenhagen.  Great for a beer, meal or post-dinner ice cream and some fabulous people watching!
  3. Freetown Christiania – A squatter’s commune composed of about 850 residents.  No photos on “pusher street” where dealers wear face masks to keep identities hidden.

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Trip Tales: Europe’s Baltic Region Part I

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As mentioned last week, July was spent exploring Northern Europe’s Baltic region.  With smaller capitals, this area lends itself pretty well to touring by cruise ship.  Oceania Cruises has a great (albeit, very busy) itinerary that offers three full days in St. Petersburg, Russia; full day stops in other Baltic capitals and an open-jaw format that began in Stockholm, Sweden and finished in Copenhagen, Denmark.  By adding on hotel days in the start/end cities, this trip gave a very good overview of the region.
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Grand Staircase, Oceania Marina
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Red Ginger Restaurant, Oceania Marina

As repeat cruisers with Oceania Cruises there are several things that appeal to us about the line:

  • great itineraries with longer time in port than comparable cruise lines
  • caters primarily to well-traveled adults
  • elevated food/wine quality
  • tasteful and sophisticated ship décor
  • moderate to small ship size

While I did use points for hotel stays on this trip, as you’ll see below my “bang per point” was not especially impressive.  Mid-to-higher end, well-located city center properties were running about $350-450/night this July and using points was an easy/lazy way to avoid tacking on several thousand dollars above and beyond airfare, cruise fare and sightseeing/dining costs.

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View from Window, Sheraton Stockholm

Sheraton Stockholm: Category 5 – Standard Award Night 12-16,000 points/night
Natty Gal Point Usage: 17,750 for Superior Room (standard room award not available)
TPG valuation $0.025/point
$443.75 per night valuation…OUCH!

Property Pros: Great location 5 minutes walk from the train station/Arlanda Express train, 5-10 minute walk to Gamla Stan, the new town and City Hall (site of the Nobel dinner), upgraded room had a great view of City Hall and Gamla Stan, on-site coffee shop made for cheap, easy breakfasts

Property Cons: Lobby a bit chaotic on changeover days when people are transferring to/from cruise ships

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Executive Lounge, Marriott Copenhagen


Marriott Copenhagen
: Category 8 – Standard Award Night 40,000 points/night

Natty Gal Point Usage: 50,000/night 40,000 standard + 10,000 upgrade (the only rooms available)
TPG valuation $0.007/point
$350.00 per night valuation ($280 base, $70 upgrade)

Knowing we just didn’t want to lay out any more cold, hard cash on this trip, I opened cards specifically to get the points for these stays.  The Marriott card was opened in February and the SPG card in March, 2016.  With the bonus point offers at the time, minimum spend requirements, etc. it was easy to get enough points for the stays within a month or two.

Property Pros: Good location short walk from train station (which goes to airport), Tivoli and the top of the Stroget pedestrian street; lovely waterfront setting, the rooms have enormous windows

Property Cons: A bit far out from some other sites such as Little Mermaid, Amalienborg Palace, etc., big business hotel, bit lacking in charm (as you’d expect)

Trip Tales: Hyatt Beaver Creek

Earlier this month I spent a long weekend at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek resort in Colorado.  This free stay was earned as a part of a promotion on the Chase Hyatt Card.  After a low $1,000 spend in 3 months, you receive 2 free nights at any Hyatt property, valid for use within one year.  The card has a $75 annual fee which is waived the first year and also offers Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status and an annual free night on your card member anniversary good at Category 1-4 properties. 

Wanting to get the biggest bang for my buck on the two unrestricted free nights, I looked up Category 7 Hyatt properties in the US and narrowed the trip down to Beaver Creek or NYC.  With friends in Breckenridge and never having done the Rocky Mountain ski thing, Beaver Creek is the property that won out!  A stay here definitely feels “1%-er” with prices to match at most shops and dining venues.  Below is a brief review of the property’s high and low-lights.

Highlights:

  • Location:  The Hyatt is situated slope-side right at the base of the Buckaroo lift and a short distance from the Centennial lift.  Views from the rooms, the main lobby and outdoor bars are spectacular!
  • Rooms:  The room had a great slope-side view and subtle, lodge-style décor.  A fireplace was a nice touch despite it’s very weak flame.  As a nice bonus, reception waived the $50/day resort fee for Platinum status – the $50/day parking fee, not so much. Plenty of outlets and hanging space/coat hooks for a wide variety of ski and winter gear.  Keurig coffee maker with a very full allotment of coffees, teas, cocoas, etc. was much appreciated.  Yummy toffee at turn-down.
  • Ski Valet:  Whether you bring your own or arrange equipment rentals through Gorsuch, the ski valet is a wonderful service that allows you to retrieve your pre-warmed boots and gear right at the base of the lift.  Bins provide storage for your shoes, odds and ends and any layers you may want to keep nearby.  Best of all – no schlepping equipment at the start or end of your day!
  • Slopes:  Miles and miles of stunning and relatively uncongested skiing.  Nice mix of terrain, good signage.  Can ski to Bachelor Gulch resort or take shuttles to other nearby resorts.
Beaver Creek Village
  • Activities:  So much to do!  Village shopping and dining right outside the door, spa services, pool and hot-tubs, ski school for kids and adults, S’mores happy hour, nightly live entertainment, Thursday Night Lights ski down and fireworks show, other outdoor winter activities (skating, tubing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, etc.), wine and craft beer dinners. 
  • Staff:  Very friendly and greet you by name, particularly those in the public areas (reception, lobby, bars, valet).  Concerned with your stay.

Lowlights:

  • The “Blow Me Away” Factor: While hard-pressed to find much to complain about, especially given the free stay, the devil IS in the details.  One morning there were no cups by the water decanter in the lobby.  Bar snacks/bowls of nuts in the lobby bar would have been a nice touch. 
  • Rooms:  The tissue holder was empty when we checked in.  Not a huge deal but should be automatic at this level of property.  Also requested more creamer and while some was brought, it wasn’t a lot.  Don’t see how it could have hurt to “overdo” on that note.

Good to Know:

  • The Hyatt BC and Beaver Creek in general is a family-oriented resort.  There will be kids around in all public areas.  If you do not want to be around children, this is NOT the place for you.  If you do have kids, the staff does an AMAZING job and they are all but guaranteed a good time.
S’mores Happy Hour
  • Hand-in-hand with the above, this is NOT a wild night-life destination.  Days were spent on the slopes followed by a nice dinner, nightcap at one of the bars in town or at the hotel and time in the hot-tub.  If you need a 3 AM last call, go elsewhere.
  • If you plan to ski for 3 or more days OR if you live near other Epic resorts and plan to ski there, it is far more cost-effective to get a season pass than to pay the daily lift fees ($150-180).
  • Check out local events/competitions that may be going on while you are there.  The Burton US Open was in Vail while I was there and being right on the half-pipe was an experience to remember!
  • A stand-out dining destination was Splendido at the Chateau, reachable by the complimentary Hyatt shuttle bus, both food and service were worth the mention!
 
Splendido at the Chateau
Check out What I Wore and check out The Points Guy for more great tips on earning free travel!
LOFT