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)

Shoes-day Tuesday: Men’s Edition

Travel is a main passion and, as such, my husband and I are continually on the lookout for comfortable shoes to take on trips.  Recently Natty Guy has been searching for a pair that will work with jeans, chinos and possibly even shorts for an upcoming trip to Northern Europe. 

While catching up on my Feedly stream I came across a review for a company called Allbirds whose Wool Runner ($95) was recently dubbed by Time Magazine as “the world’s most comfortable shoe”. Natty Guy checked out the site and ordered a pair.  They came last week and he’s barely taken them off since! 

Made of New Zealand merino wool uppers and castor bean (yes, castor bean!) insoles, the shoes are: 

  • Machine washable
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Moisture wicking
  • Odor minimizing
  • Flexible and movement conforming
  • Cool in the heat and warm in the cold
  • Soft enough to wear sockless
  • Boast a low carbon footprint
  • Have a 30-day no questions asked return policy
Currently the shoe is available in 4 color choices for men and 3 color choices for women.  We particularly like the black sole on the men’s version for it’s metropolitan feel.  Fingers crossed that additional styles will be on the way soon!
Allbirds Men’s Wool Runner with Alternate Colors Below
 
Allbirds Women’s Wool Runner
NORDSTROM.com