Category: Destinations

Bordeaux Riverboat Cruise

Bordeaux Riverboat Cruise

This is last post for the 2017 Riverboat Cruise. This article summarizes our seven day adventure spanning across the beautiful and historic French appellation of Bordeaux. We traveled by ship, hikes, bikes, and buses to get you this coverage! I also gave more detail here about the ship we were on and our accommodations. For those of you who follow jcmarxblog.com, you already got the daily articles, which are also in this summary, but you didn’t see the info about the boat, which is at the top of the article that follows.

For each day detailed below, some of them may be in the form of a link if that particular day had its own separate article. In those cases, just click the links and they will open on a separate page. Those can also be accessed from the buttons on the main page. Just click on Destinations then select France and you will see the areas under there.

Why a Riverboat Cruise

We just love riverboat cruises. They typically have around 100 passengers. The boats have a main lounge, and two restaurants. This is vastly different than a regular commercial cruise, where you might have 1,000, even up to 5,000 people or more. On a riverboat cruise, there are no lines for drinks or dinner, and the staff eventually learns your name. Riverboats have planned stops up and down their route along the river. Rivers were the life blood of any country back in the day. They provided a means to transport large quantities of goods long distances. As such, each city or town along a river usually has a story to tell. In Europe, those stores often go as far back as 60 or 100 BC. Riverboat cruises have planned daily stops at these historic gems. Activities include walking tours with local tour guides, bicycle tours along the countryside, or dinners and wine tastings inside local castles. And the nice thing is, after a day of adventuring, you get back on the boat and continue drifting down the river.

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Our cruise was along the two rivers that feed the wine vineyards of a region called Bordeaux, which is also the name of a famous city there. We spent several days after the cruise in the city of Bordeaux. The area of Bordeaux has been producing wines for over 2,000 years, and it occupies around 300,000 acres with 6,500 vineyards.

What is a Riverboat

We arrived in Bordeaux and boarded our riverboat around lunchtime on November 16, 2017. And as you can see in the picture below, riverboats are….oh wait a second, sorry wrong picture!

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Ahh, here we go! Riverboats are long and short. They have to be short in order to get under some of the more low hanging bridges. They also have to be narrow enough to go through the river locks.

But the first picture, with the sunken ship, is also interesting. This is one left over from WWII that never got removed. The Germans did this all across the river, in addition to leaving sea mines as they left the area. And it was effective, it took two years to make the waterway safe again. Soooo much history here!

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Not all of them are exactly the same, but they tend to have the lounge in the front of the boat. This affords the premium view while enjoying a beverage in the lounge, and they usually have an outdoor sitting area on the front so you can feel the wind in your face as you cruise!

The main restaurant is usually just underneath the lounge and most all of the tables have a view with a window. Nothing like eating breakfast while seeing the beautiful countryside scroll by your window.

 

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They also have another restaurant in the rear of the ship. This one typically specializes in the local cuisine and is a little more fancy. And of course, on the top is the sun deck. It has a hot tub, small putting green, and a walking trail around the outer rim. Plus lots of places to lounge both in the direct sun, and underneath a cover if you prefer.

 

 

While there are a few VIP staterooms, the majority of the rooms are all the same size. Each has a queen sized bed, or double twins, a bathroom with shower, and a small desk to work on. We also have a sliding glass door that functions as a giant window that we can either look out of, or open. This room had an extra benefit I had never seen, which was an Apple monitor used as a TV, but also with keyboard and mouse to surf the internet if you wanted. Yes, of course, they are all connected to the internet. You have wifi access everywhere on the boat. Another feature here I had never seen was that you could bring up the bow cam on your in-room monitor – how cool!

Day One – Arrival and Bordeaux Lite

 

After our arrival, we had a light lunch, then left the boat to just do a preliminary recon of the town of Bordeaux. We hit the jackpot on weather for this time of year. While back home, in Stockholm, there was a light dusting of snow already, here it is bright and sunny with highs in the low 60s.

As I mentioned earlier, we spent two days here after the cruise, so we will be discussing the city of Bordeaux in a separate article.

Day Two – Cadillac, Chateau de Rayne, and Roqueataillade Castle

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We did a early morning walking tour of the town of Cadillac. It is a very quaint, very medieval town. They have done a great job preserving as much of the architecture as possible. There is also a cool castle in the middle of of the town. I did do a full write-up of the town and the castle, so be sure to click here to go see that.

Chateau de Rayne

 

After the morning hike, we came back to the boat and had brunch, then piled in the bus for a short ride out to Chateau de Rayne. Great 17th century vineyard located in the Sauternes appellation of Bordeaux. This is considered “Grand Cru”, which means it is the pricier stuff that will probably never make it to our table back home, but we thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the tasting. They specialize in white wines, utilizing mostly Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. This ends up as a smooth, white wine that is not as bright as a majority Sauvignon Blanc wine would be.

Roqueataillade Castle

 

Spectacular classic war castle from the 12th century. It has remained in the same family since 1306, and they still live there today. It has a dry moat, and a two layered defense. It went through a major upgrade in 1860 to modernize it and it make more inhabitable during peacetime. This was a ten year construction effort and is known the world over among castle connoisseurs. There is also a perfectly preserved chapel on the grounds.

And the car, I have no idea what it is, but it looks really old. Inspecting it up close, it appears to be still in use!

Day Three – Pauillac Township and Chateau de Gruaud Larose

 

Started the day with a five mile walk. This included a tour of the very historic and cozy town of Pauillac, then out into the vineyards. These vineyards were literally out in the countryside of southern France. There was nothing pretentious or showy about them, they were just there. This is where they have always been for nearly 2000 years. But it is this lack of showmanship that makes them so appealing.

 

You feel this history as you walk through the area. These are vineyards that have been handed down from one generation to another, and whose roots and even dirt have countless centuries of producing the same quality and type of wine throughout history.

Chateau de Rayne

 

This vineyard is a shining example of continuous improvement. While these vineyards are extraordinary historic, they continue to reinvent themselves with the latest technology and customer facing presentations. This is outrageously expensive, but trust me, the profits are well worth the efforts. A vineyard like this produces some of the best quality wines at prices the average person can only dream about, and they will produce over 300,000 bottles per year (at premium prices).

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Check out this tower. It was built a couple of years ago. It allows the customers to go up six stories high and observe the beautiful grounds surrounding the chateau.

 

When we got to the top, they press a button and the walls fold out, affording us a spectacular view of their vineyard. This is above and beyond and sets the pace for their local competition.

Day Four – Blaye to Bourg

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The Citadel of Blaye

Easily one of the most historically interesting places we visited the entire trip! A UNESCO historic site, it was designed by the famous military architect, Vauban, and built to his specifications under the guidance of King Louis XIV in 1685. The idea was to seal off the Gironde river, thus indirectly protecting the city of Bordeaux from (primarily English) invasion. This was accomplished as the stronghold was so fortified, and so intimidating in the completeness of its design that it was never approached by the enemy during that time.

 

As you can see it is a sprawling endeavor, occupying over 95 acres. And the defensive goals were not only for the river, but also to protect invasion by land. Inside its walls was a complete, self sustaining village capable of housing up to 900 soldiers.

 

The site has been strategically important as far back as the Romans. To expedite construction time, Vauban´s design incorporated, rather then demolished, the presence of an existing 12th century castle.

There were even secret tunnels built into the design that would allow troops to reach fallback positions very quickly. Part of our tour included exploration of some of these tunnels.

Believe me, I could go on and on about this place and even break the internet by posting a flood of pictures. If you are ever in this region of the world, be sure to get a guided tour of this incredible military masterpiece.

Bicycle ride from Blaye to Bourg

 

 

This was a pretty intense ride. While only 18km (11mi), it was through some of the more hilly areas of the coast. And it also required a commitment; once we left on the bikes, the boat also departed! So there was no turning back. It was interesting because as we reached the top of one of the biggest hills, we were just able to see the boat cruising along the river below us. I hate that I wasn’t able to get a pic of that, but we didn’t really make any stops for the duration of the trip.

 

 

We got back to the boat just in time for lunch, and boy were we hungry after a ride like that! Jana was, apparently more hungry than me; you won’t find any frog legs on my plate! And the look on her face, well, she just doesn’t look that enthused about them. She does claim, however, that they were delicious; we’ll just have to take your word for that one!

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After that, we went in town for a wine festival. It was in a facility overlooking the river. If you look through my glass, you can make out our boat down there docked on the river.

 

And fortunately, I will not be running for any political office, so I don’t have to worry about this picture coming back to haunt me! But seriously, it was a great time. They had the cutest little French band you ever saw. There was wine, music, and dancing!

Back down the hill for another great dinner on the boat, and another magical day comes to an end. Hard to believe that was all just one day!

Day Five – Bike Ride to Saint Emilion

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Day Five – Saint Emilin. This is a beautiful medieval town about thirty minutes outside of Bordeaux proper. It was the fifth day of our cruise, and we rode our bicycles out here from the boat, which was docked in Libourne. It took us about two hours, stopping for photos and historic landmarks, etc. I documented this adventure in its own article, so click here to get the full story.

Day Six – Fronsac

Up and out early today. After a quick breakfast, we took the bus and headed out into the Fronsac appellation. This is an area northwest of Libourne and is known more for red wines. Being a right bank appellation, it uses a majority of the lighter and fruitier merlot category.

Chateau Boutinet

This is a privately owned vineyard, meaning it is not in compliance with the strict French regulations known as AOC, rather, they are experimenting and sort of going their own way. That means you will never see this wine in your local store, nor will it ever be exported. This is how wineries begin. This one is run by a husband and wife team. The wife, Nathalie, walked us around the gorgeous property.

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Note that there is a medieval castle on the property. Unfortunately, it is in pretty bad shape. Not from wars, but from time. They are slowly working to restore it, but it is a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Their goal is convert the castle into a Bed & Breakfast.

 

The fog this day was a dense shroud, inhibiting our sight, but at the same time, was also kind of romantic. After a fascinating and educational tour of the grounds, we were honored with a tasting of wine, which was of course from their own sweat and blood. It was quite good, we even bought a bottle to take back to the boat!

Chateau Rivière

 

This is the only pool I saw the entire time we were in France. This was an amazing castle surrounded by vineyards and beautiful gardens. The views are spectacular. Too bad we didn’t bring our bathing suits…. maybe next time.

 

And talk about history? Oh yeah. There are 25km of underground caves that were originally created through mining shale. There is a secret entrance that the French resistance used right under the noses of the Germans who had occupied the castle during the war. The small carvings you see in the stone there were done by the rebels as a means of secret communications.

 

There was even an underground spring running through the caves. See the rut carved into the floor – pure, clear spring water flowing through there. There were sitting areas and meetings rooms scattered throughout the underground labyrinth, all carved From the shale.

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Yup, that says gallon, yup as in US gallon! You would be very hard pressed to find any other French wine bottled in a gallon jug. The guy that owned the place back in the 70s wanted to be able to impress his American friends when they came to visit, so he always kept some around.

I was just fascinated with this place. We didn’t stay long enough to see the entire sprawling estate so will come back here if we are ever in this area of the world again.

This, combined with the private tour given by the owners of the other vineyard we did today just made for a great day.

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Day seven – Cognac. It’s amazing how many people associate the Cognac with the brandy, without even realizing it is actually a city in France, and a wine appellation as well. I’m not saying I was one of them, just pointing that out… Anyway, Cognac is covered in its own separate article, so please click here to review that on a separate page.

Sadly, that was the last day!! It was an amazing adventure that I would give a five star rating to anyone who either has an interest in seeing southern France, or who is interested in learning about French wines. Or both! Thanks for reading along and for all your continued support!

Cognac, France

Cognac, France

Sadly, this was the last day of the cruise. 😦 It has been the most amazing and certainly in the top five of all of our travels! But it’s not over yet – Cognac was a unique and fascinating city! This was a full day excursion. Our boat was docked back at its starting point in Bordeaux. It took around an hour an a half to get to Cognac by bus from Bordeaux, but as you can imagine, it was a scenic ride. There may have been a small nap or two along way…

Cognac, the Brandy

You think wine is complicated? Hmph. It takes seven liters of wine to make one liter of cognac. Cognac is in the brandy family. The word brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which translates to burnt wine. Cognac is made by heating up the wine, then capturing the vapors and converting them back into liquid. As part of this process, the liquid is separated into three different types. One of those parts is collected over several iterations, then it is run through the process in place of the wine. It gets stored in special containers, eventually making it into oak barrels. Then later, based on the master brewers sampling, it may or may not be transferred to different barrels, and/or moved to different locations, or it may be blended with another batch. It is mind boggling how complex the whole process is.

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Once completed, it can be stored indefinitely without impacting the flavor or quality. We saw some racks, shown above, that had been stored since 1815! Might be a tad expensive, I’m thinking.

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Speaking of expensive, here’s a bottle of Baron Otard premium. Note the price. People pay untold fortunes just to get an empty crystal deancter that it was stored in. Think about how rare they would be; when you pay almost 4,000€ for a bottle of cognac, how long do you think it would last? Exactly, that’s why finding empty ones is a challenge!

Chateau de Cognac

We arrived at the castle of Chateau de Cognac at 11am. The original castle was built way back in the year 950 in response to Viking raids in the area. Funny to hear this sort of history after living in the land of the Vikings for a year and a half!

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Fast forward another five hundred or so years to 1494, Francis I was born in this very castle. In fact, see the window on the bottom right? He was born in that room. But his father wasn’t king, so Francis wasn’t born a prince or a king, he had to work his way to it. He became the king of France in 1515, and reigned until his death in 1547.

King Francis I was a battle king, and rode many times into the bloody battles with his men. One of his more famous conquests was the taking of Milan. He was even captured once by the enemy.

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King Francis I was close friends with Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo came to settle in France in his later years. In addition to being a painter, he also had a great passion for architecture. The room shown above was designed and constructed by Leonardo. Isn’t it amazing that things like this are just sitting out there? And, in this case, in such great condition and open to the public.

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And although it’s hard to tell from this picture, it was inside a chapel that is inside the castle. This is the exact spot where Richard the Lionheart married off his son, Philipp.

The castle took on several different owners over the centuries, including King Charles X. At one point, in 1795, it fell into the hands of the government and was targeted for destruction. Two local wine growers recognized the historic value of the property and purchased it. The two gentleman were monsieurs Otard and Dupuy. And ever since then, its deep, dark cellars have been used to store and age some of the worlds finest cognac.

Today, it is still used to age Baron Otard cognac. Rows upon rows of old and new barrels. And the storefront is located here, as well. There is an elegant sales floor where they have their product displayed.

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After touring the castle, we walked across town towards the Hennessy showroom. We toured their cellars as well and had a great tasting, shown above. Classy, huh? If you are even a remote fan of cognac, then you have had Hennessy before. They are world renowned. They only keep 1% of their product for sale in France, the rest is exported all over the world.

We did get spend some time strolling through the small, cozy town that is Cognac. As you can imagine, it is a town rich in European history and culture. It has a very small town feel to it. They have tried as much as possible to preserve as many of the old buildings as they could.

And, sadly, this concludes our cruise. I hope you have enjoyed the trip, although probably not as much as we did! But I thank you for following along with us and for your continued support – thank you!

 

Saint Emilion Bike Tour

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Definitely one of our more laid back days. And we deserved it! Slept in a little, and had a late breakfast. It was nice to slow down a little bit. I know, poor me, wha, wha, wha. Anyhow, we were docked at Libourne, France, which is where we departed from on our bicycles at around 1pm.

What’s nice about bike tours is that you can penetrate deep into the mainland, but you get a view of an area that other tourists just don’t get to see from a car or a bus. We really hit the back roads on this one, and even got to eat some grapes right off the vine. I had always thought wine producing grapes didn’t taste very well, but these were actually juicy and delicious. Think about what just happened for a second. A bright, sunny day, riding a bicycle on the bumpy back roads of France, stopping to eat some freshly picked grapes right off the vine! Wow.

Along the way, we would stop so that our guide could give us information about significant landmarks or historical sites. Plus I think she maybe wanted to give us a rest. 🙂 This particular site is of the ancient trenches built by the Romans, probably around 50 B.C. This is the technology they used for controlling the vines and irrigation to produce grapes they used for making wine. And here it is, just sitting out here in the middle of this vineyard, essentially the middle of nowhere. You would never see things like this without a local professional guide.

We worked our way up some fairly hilly terrain (phew, glad I don’t smoke anymore) to the magnificent medieval town of St. Emilion.  This is the same name of the famous wine appellation that you will see on some french wine. Don’t worry, I’ll be giving a wine lesson later.

Saint Emilion was an 8th century monk who left Brittany to seek refuge in the caves of Ascum bas. He wasn’t actually a saint then, haha. His goal was to become a hermit, but he managed to develop something of a following over the years. He and his fellow monks worked the lands to produce wine, utilizing the caves beneath the city as cellars. He became very well known in the area, with his fame extending beyond his lifespan. In the 9th century, the town of Ascum bas was changed to Saint-Emilion.

This is one of those towns you definitely want to spend some time wandering around and enjoying the local shops. Some of the local wineries are represented right here in town, so you can even go to a tasting or two if you wanted. Beware, it is a tad hilly in some places, and others are near 45 degrees angled! We really enjoyed this town. There is a lot to do and see, so we would very much like to come back here again.

From there we were bussed back to our beloved ship, the Amadolce and once again enjoyed a lovely dinner and a relaxing evening aboard the boat. On some evenings, we had a lecture from an onboard wine expert, which was very educational and informative. This was, of course, accompanied by a tasting.

Cadillac, France

So you learn that France has a town named Cadillac. Should you have already known this? Do you know the relationship between the French city and the famous car company in Detroit? I sure didn’t. I will tell you, there is actually a relationship, but I’m not going to tell you what it is – ok maybe I will tell you at the end of this article.


Just an absolutely lovely medieval town right off the Garonne river near Bordeaux. Like many towns in this area, it has a good and bad history with the river. Prior to having modern river locks and dams, the towns along the Garonne would occasionally be inundated with the angry backwash and literally flood. At certain times in history, flood levels in the city were as high as 12 meters – that’s nearly 40 feet! But this is the same river that helps water some of the oldest vineyards in the world, and was the lifeline for supplies and commerce for the people living here. Today’s locks and dams keep the river at bay, for the most part, although some minor flooding does still happen on occasion.


As much as possible, the town has preserved the structures from the days of yore, some dating back to the 12th century. Much of the town is built around the 17th century castle. It was a party castle, meaning the famous duke that built it used it to entertain other aristocrats and politicians. It boasted 60 bedrooms, over 20 fireplaces, and had walls covered in gold and silk tapestries. Old Duke Epernon fell from the kings favor and died in disgrace. His son took over the castle and continued construction and decoration efforts. It eventually came to be plundered during the French revolution. The state took it over in 1818 and converted it into a women’s prison! This remained until around 1952, when it was converted into a tourist attraction. Just love the european history!

And that’s it. Oh wait, yes, the name Cadillac. The name of the French town was adopted by Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the founder of Detroit and Governor of Louisiana, on his arrival to what is now the United States. The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan are named after him. Pretty interesting!


Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala, Sweden

Overview (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Population: 149,245 (2015)
Density: 3,100/km2 (7,900/sq mi)
Elevation: 15 m (49 ft)
Weather: Cold winters, mild summers
Warm season: May – Sep
Language: Swedish, English is very common
Currency: Even though Sweden is in the EU, they do not accept the euro or any currency other than the Swedish crown (SEK).

Founded in the 12th century, Uppsala is 71 km (44 mi) north of Stockholm. Some scenes from The Girl With the Dragon Tatto were filmed here, and it is the hometown of the fictitious character Christine Daaè In Phantom of the Opera. There was also an episode of Vikings that took pace here.

But its biggest claim to fame is its impact on religion, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries, but still largely influential even today. It is also the locale where the famous Queen Kristina, daughter of Gustavus the Great, abdicated the throne in 1654.

The city is also home to the Uppsala Cathedral, where Gustavus Vasa is buried. And it is home to the oldest university in Scandinavia, built in 1477. There is a ton of additional history and sites here, so you can easily spend a day or two taking it all in.

Logistics

We took the train from Stockholm central station. You don’t need an exact time to rush to; there is a train that leaves about every 20 minutes. You do have to commit to a time when you buy your ticket.

The train cost was 190 SEK ($30) for both of us, one way. Different trains will make different stops and so travel time will vary. Ours got us to Uppsala in about 40 minutes.

It was a very grey, overcast day, so sorry if the pictures are a bit dreary.

The Castle and Botanical Gardens

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It´s a working castle and only has tours in the summertime, but the beautiful castle grounds and botanical gardens are open year round.

The gardens began construction under the rule of Queen Kristina (that’s not her in the pic, that’s my lovely wife Jana), but were turned over to the University in 1644 by King Gustav III as a botanical garden.

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While this is not the University itself, it is affiliated with the university. I just included it here because of the fantastic Scandanavian architecture (above).

The Uppsala Cathedral is much older than it looks. It was built (inaugurated) in 1435 and is one of the largest in northern Europe, with towers reaching 118.70 metres (389.4 ft). And as I mentioned, the crypt of Gustav Vasa is in this cathedral. He is considered the  Father of Sweden since it was he who raised the army that retaliated against and defeated King Christian for the infamous blood square. That battle was the catalyst that permanently separated Sweden from Denmark.

After the church, we walked around town some more. It´s a small and cozy town, easy to move around in and not over run by tourists (like us, haha).

Then we ended up at the nicest little Italian restaurant called Villa Romana. I had the pepper steak, and Jana had pasta with beef. Both were delicious! Great food and a good wine selection, highly recommend.

And that’s about it. We walked back to central station and took the train home. It was also around 40 minutes to get back. We want to go back in the summer to see the botanical garden in all of its beauty, but there is also a viking burial mound that we didn’t get a chance to see, so we will be back!

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

 

Copenhagen, Denmark
(stats courtesy Wikipedia 2017 data sample):
Pop City Proper: 1,295,686
Metro Pop: 2,036,717
Municipality: 86.39 km2 (33.36 sq mi)
Elevation: 1 m (3 ft) to 91 m (299 ft)
Weather: Cold winters, mild summers
Warm Season: Jun – Aug
Currency: Danish Kroner (DKK or kr), credit card friendly
Language: Danish, but good English in most areas

This article documents our 2017 (second) trip to Copenhagen. Our very good friend, Melissa, was visiting from the US and we all went together on this trip. We were there a total of three nights and four days. The weather was warm but cloudy most of the time, and we got caught in the rain a couple of times. But when you’re with people you love, a little rain doesn’t stand a chance of even putting a dent in your fun!

The journal below is organized by day, with the events of that day underneath. This is more of a diary format, not as formal as my write ups. Click on the underlined links to get the full details of that discussion. It will open the event in a separate page so that the journal will remain open for you and you can come right back to where you left off. All of the restaurants will be reviewed on a separate page, and the link for that, along with a quick review of the hotel are at the bottom of this article.

Day One

Central Station always feels like crazy hustle bustle to me. Everybody’s rushing around, most pulling luggage behind them, all going in different directions but all seemingly focused on where they’re headed. Shops and stores, restaurants, cafes and bars all around, all crowded. It’s like seeing the inside of a giant human anthill.

Jana has been here so many times she could navigate it with her eyes closed. Melissa and I were like country comes to town pacing behind a very confident Jana. Up, down, around, and eventually outside and down a long exterior walkway next to the rails. Since we arrived at central by subway, we couldn’t completely trust it being on time, especially with the summer schedule still in play, so we arrived pretty early. Nothing to do now but dig in and wait. At least it was a nice sunny day.

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Click here to come ride the train with me! This is my second time doing this. I just love a long train ride. And southern Sweden, in particular, has some of the most gorgeous countryside in Europe. We arrived at Copenhagen Central Station about five and a half hours later, a half hour later than expected.

We checked in at the Manon Les Suites hotel (see review of hotel at bottom of article). We were pleasantly surprised at the size of the room and overall swank factor of the hotel.

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After we checked in, we went over to the Tivoli Gardens. Click here to see the full write up of this magnificent park. We walked around the park and gardens for a bit. It was a pretty crowded, as you might expect of an amusement park on a warm summer evening, but the layout was done so well that you just didn’t feel cramped. Every now and then, this formal marching band would just appear on one of the main paths, then disappear after a brief show. Dreamy.

Once we had walked up a good appetite, we went to the Nimb Restaurant and had some drinks and a savory dinner on their private terrace as we watched the people go by.

Day Two

We went on the The Culinary Experience food tour. This was a four hour, four kilometer (2.5 mi) walking food tour.

It was delicious, even though the rain tried but failed to ruin it. We got to see some some very nice sights that most tourists never see, and our guide gave us a great historical perspective of the areas we went through and even how the food itself changed over time. It was very nice.

We did the one hour canal tour from Nyhavn. It was a guided tour that went up the main canal and around some of the smaller ones. It was fun and educational, plus we got some great pictures from the water.

After leaving a wine bar, we got ambushed by a really bad thundershower. We were all soaking wet, even though we had umbrellas. Returned to the hotel and ordered pizza delivery!

Day 3

Lounged around a bit in the morning, then went and had a great hamburger at Halifax Burger Restaurant for lunch. This is one of the places I formally reviewed on the restaurant list. You must go here if you’re in Copenhagen!

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We did the Urban Tour, which is a 3 hour 15 kilometer (9.3mi) bicycle tour. There were frequent stops for our guide to tell us the historical perspective of things around us. The clouds built up during the tour – did we make it without getting drenched? Click here to find out.

After the bike tour, we walked around some, did some more window shopping, then had dinner at Peder Oxe. Cool name for a restaurant, eh? It was a pretty unique place. Check out the review of it at the end of this article.

 

Day 4

Once we checked out of our hotel, we left our bags with the front desk and took the metro down to the National Aquarium of Denmark (Den Blå Planet). Very well done aquarium and media presentations.

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Click here to check it out. Also got lunch at the cafe, which wasn’t half bad, and was also included in the restaurant reviews.

Well, that’s it. We went back to the hotel, got our luggage, and walked over to the train station. A great visit with our friend Melissa. The rain tried to douse our fun a couple of times, but we didn’t let it ruin our good time!


Accommodations

Manon Les Suites – Good location. It was a 15 minute walk from the train, and we easily walked to all of our attractions.

Nice hotel suite. Around $400/night. Sounds pricey, but it really was a suite and it was very roomy for three guests. A private master suite with full bath. Comfy day bed in living room and half bathroom. Could even sleep another on sofa in living room. Refrigerator and sink. Full bath has no shower door, causing bathroom floor to essentially flood. Not a malfunction, typical European shower design.

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Awesome and unique pool, which we ooo’d and ahhh’d over but did not swim in, this time…

Restaurants

Click here to see the full reviews of all the restaurants we went to, complete with pictures, addresses, and The Travelin’ Man’s recommendations.

Travelin’ Man’s Guide to Stockholm

This is an index of all of the current Stockholm activities and places that I have documented. More are being added every week, so be sure to sign up for notifications at the bottom of the page so you will get notified when I add a new article.

Each entry below has a thumbnail image with the name and a description of the attraction. If you want to see the Travelin’ Man’s detailed article of that attraction in a separate window, simply click on the underlined text.

The attractions are grouped by which island they are on. The amount of time for each attraction is given. Use those two pieces of information to help plan a day of sightseeing in and around this beautiful city.

Archipelago

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Fjäderholmarna [2-3 Hrs] Stockholm’s closest archipelago island, and the 30 minute boat ride was scenic and relaxing. It leaves from the Strandvägen ferry terminal. There are several great restaurants to choose from, some scenic walking trails, and a blacksmith that makes jewelry right on the island.

 

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Vaxholm Dinner Cruise [3 Hrs] The cruise goes non-stop from Stockholm to the beautiful Vaxholm. You really can’t go wrong here, the dinner, drinks and cruise were all excellent; we and everyone around us had a marvelous time.

 

Lake Mälaren

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Drottningholm Palace Cruise [4-5 Hrs] Ok, spoiler alert here, in case you haven’t already heard, Drottningholm Palace (aka Summer Palace) is one of the nicest palaces in all the land! It is in this palace that the royal family actually lives.

 

 

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Skokloster Palace – [8-9 Hrs] It’s a boat ride from Stockholm to the Skokloster palace and back. Experience the breathtaking beauty of lake Mälaren’s shoreline. On board cafeteria and bar, and the trip includes an onboard tour guide who will call out noteworthy sights along the way.

 

Djurgården

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Skansen [4-5 Hrs] It’s a museum, a zoo, and a historical town replica. It’s all of those things and all outdoor. There are some rides and activities for children. It also offers some fantastic views of Stockholm.

 

 

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Vasa Museum [2-3 Hrs] This museum displays an almost perfectly preserved ship that sank off the coast of Stockholm in 1628. They claim that it is the worlds only fully preserved 17th century ship. And it is completely intact.

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The Viking Museum [1 Hr] The big challenge for museums is how to present their wealth of information in a way that will be interesting, and also to present it in a way that you will remember it. The Viking Museum does a pretty good job at both of these things.

 

 

 Gamla Stan

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Rooftop Tour [2 Hrs] Walk around on the roof of the old parliament house, eight stories up! Get a full 360 degree view with no windows, walls, or barriers. And the guides give great historical perspective on what you’re looking at.

 

IMG_2817Stockholm Free Walking Tour [2 Hrs] It’s definitely a tour worth taking, even for locals since you probably walk right past a lot of this stuff but don’t know its history.

 

 

Norrmalm

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Under the Bridges Boat Tour [2 Hrs 15 Mins] I listed this one under Norrmalm even though it cruises around Södermalm because the tour departs from the main island. This one was just ok, and didn’t get a good rating. Some good tour information on architecture and history.

 

 

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Stockholm – Intellectual, fashionable, and very cultural. More than 100 museums, some world renowned. Picturesque, stately beauty of a city on the Baltic. Magnificent palaces, exquisite restaurants, unforgettable boat tours. By mid summer, over 18 hours of daylight per day!

 

Södermalm

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Segway Tour [2 Hrs] We had a nice route that took us around Södermalm. I say it was a nice route because they kept us away from the heavy traffic areas and we had limited big intersections to get through.

 

Other

IMG_8163Hagaparken [All day] This is a massive and beautiful sprawling park across the lake from The Stockholm University campus. Not only is it a gorgeous display of nature, but it also has the Haga Palace, King Gustav III’s Pavillion, botanical gardens, a Chinese pavilion and gardens, a Turkish Kiosk, and it is also the site of the Swedish Royal Burial Grounds.

 

 

 

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop Total (2014): 264,579
Area Total: 414.57 km2 (160.07 sq mi)
Density: 640/km2 (1,700/sq mi)
Elevation: 1 m (3 ft)
Weather: Brisk winters, warm/hot summers
Warm Season: May – Oct
Currency: Euro, credit card friendly
Language: Italian, good English in most places

What’s so special?
Often referred to as “a floating masterpiece.” It is difficult to describe how Venice makes you feel. So popular in the movies, it is familiar, even if it’s your first visit. While she is not snobby or arrogant, she says like me as I am, or go away. The depth of culture and history could occupy a person for years, not to mention the exquisite architecture. You can really feel history all around you, everywhere you go here. And fine dining, whoa, the simple travelin’ man almost went hungry due to all the fancy restaurants!

When I said that Ljubljana was an easy town because there weren’t so many famous things to see that you felt you had to hurry around to get to them all, well that doesn’t hold true for Venice. You could spend a week in here and still only have scratched the surface on sight seeing. Nonetheless, we paced ourselves and tried to take it easy while still taking in some spectacular sights.

We were there in early May and hit the jackpot with the weather. It was very warm, but not uncomfortably so, and it only rained a couple of times, but didn’t last long and wasn’t very hard. We were there for two and a half days (three nights).

We did a lot of walking here. Well, everyone does since there are no cars, haha. We found it easy to navigate around, and believe it or not, a compass actually comes in handy here. Check the map before you head out and use the sun or a compass to go in the general direction you need, and you will get where you need to be.

The Rialto Bridge

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You’ll definitely be seeing the Rialto bridge. It’s one of the main bridges to get across the Grand Canal. It’s also the oldest one (there are four total). When you stand on that bridge overlooking the canal, after the selfies, you just can’t help but think of how many people have crossed since it was constructed in 1591. Think of all the gondolas that have gone under that bridge. Let your mind slip back in time and picture what it must have been like all those hundreds of years ago. And here you stand over four hundred years later. Given how they say the whole city is slowly sinking, it’s likely the bridge won’t be accessible four hundred years from now. Think about that while you’re standing there. I have these time warp flashbacks all over this city.

Saint Mark’s Square

 

 

You’ll want to read up on your Venice history before getting the significance of Saint Mark’s Square. There’s a lot to see and take in here. The artwork carved into the buildings, the Saint Mark’s Basilica, the clock tower, even the famous horses of Saint Mark. Although the ones atop the Basilica are replicas, the real ones are inside.

We also did the tour of the Palace there. Don’t be intimidated by the line, it moves pretty well. This wasn’t what I expected in a palace tour, but only because I didn’t read up on it first. This was not a palace where royalty lived and occupied. It was strictly for business. And I will say, by the time we left there, I understood a lot more about their history and evolution of their government.

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IMG_2491You want to talk about fresh seafood? Yeah? Well we stumbled across this open market. I’ve never really seen anything like this before. And checkout the swordfish. You ask for a swordfish steak and they literally hack it off for you right there while you wait. And I even saw one of the eels trying to slither away! How’s that for fresh?

The Islands around the Island

 


There are dozens of other islands in the area around Venice. There are boats that circulate between them. Sort of like a hop on hop off but for boats. We used this service and went to three of the larger islands north of Venice: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. They each have their own stories to tell and their own charm and beauty to share, as well as shops and restaurants. I definitely recommend doing these.

Accommodations

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We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast called Ponte Chiodo. We arrived from the airport via boat, and this place was easy to find from the landing dock. Our host was extremely helpful and very friendly. When we first arrived, he sat down with us and reviewed the map of the area, pointing out things for us to do and recommending several restaurants and bars in the area. You can never go wrong getting info like this from a local.

As you can imagine, being Venice, this was a historic house. It was very romantic, well cared for, and very clean. The room and bathroom were quite spacious. There was a covered sitting area where breakfast was served. It’s surrounded by the well kept and beautiful grounds. We brought a bottle wine down one evening and just chilled out sitting there. I would definitely stay here again. We were on the third floor, and the stairs were very narrow and steep, so make sure you’re up to the task of man handling your luggage.

Restaraunts

I know I may have exaggerated at the opening when I said Simple Man went hungry in Venice. Well, that was just for effect, haha. Truth be told, most of the places in Venice are way over the top fancy, but even though they’re on an island, surrounded by seafood, there was plenty of beef and other options to satisfy even the simplist palate (mine). All three of the dinner restaurants we went to were at the recommendation of our host, and they all rocked. I’m not going to discuss venues or prices here,  because they were all quite fancy and a little on the pricey side, but well worth it. We also booked in advance for all of them. All three were of the finest quality and all three are highly recommended.

Antica Adelaide: Very small but nice restaurant literally less than five minutes from where we were staying. And as you can see below, Jana with the fancy, me with the good stuff. She got the cuttle fish in the black sauce. Mine was fantastic! Who would have thought I would be eating ribs and sausage in such a fancy place? It was excellent.

 

 

 

Nono Risorto Pizza: This was probably the cheaper of the three places we went, and yes we got pizza. I mean come on, we’re in Italy! Very nice atmosphere, we sat outside in their own private courtyard at a quiet table for two. There was special dim lighting that added to the effect. It was very romantic. Lots of other traditional Italian selections on the menu. I didn’t post a picture. Just close your eyes and imagine pizza with round salami slices on it – you got it. But I could have posted a picture of the extremely cozy outdoor setting. Bad JC.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova: This was an easy walk from where we were staying. It was raining on the evening we were there, but this place made us feel nice and cozy. A quiet table against the wall, and a bottle of of an Italian red valpolicello. As you can see below, Jana is definitely not afraid of the fancy stuff. Hers was the well presented scallops and vegetable lasagna. But check out my beef strips, they were very delicious. And I didn’t share.

 

 

 

 

Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop Total (2013?): 204,849
Area Total: 84.49 km2 (32.62 sq mi)
Density: 2,400/km2 (6,300/sq mi)
Elevation: 2 m (7 ft)
Weather: Brisk winters, warm/hot summers
Warm Season: Apr – Oct
Currency: Euro, some places still don’t take credit card so bring cash
Language: Italian, mostly good English

What’s so special?
It is a beautiful and very historic city, dating back to the protohistoric period. Outstanding and well preserved Roman exhibits. Diverse European history, which is reflected in the architectural styles throughout the city.


Perhaps the most famous thing you will want to check out is the Piazza Unità (Unity Square). This is the largest sea-front square in Europe. And its timeless, majestic beauty will move you. There is just not a lens wide enough to capture what it feels like to stand there. What you can’t see behind me is the beautiful Gulf of Trieste!

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One of the things that did strike me about Trieste is its history with and dedication to the Roman era (1st and 2nd century AD). There was one place where they found this old archway imbedded into a building. They gently tore the building down and uncovered a trove of Roman artifacts, including the still intact archway.

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Another even more dramatic example of that is the Roman theatre. They found traces of it underneath a building, then took down all the buildings in that area and dug down deep, uncovering the almost in tact Roman theatre. Go see this place and feel their ghosts still there enjoying a theatrical presentation.

We took the PromoTurismoFVG two hour tour of the city. When you book your tour, remember to make sure you get English. We were the only non-Italian speaking people in the group so they did each segment in Italian, then summarized for us in English as we walked to the next area. Not the best way to get it, but it got the job done.

Accommodations

We stayed at the Residence Liberty hotel. Great location, centrally located for walking the city, and only a couple of blocks from the water. This place felt pretty special to me. First of all, it’s more like a suite compared to most places we stay in Europe. We had our own kitchen, and the bathroom was huge.

The setting was historic, meaning it’s very old. Some people don’t like this type of rustic feel. But we stay in a lot of B&B’s that are set in old, historic houses, and this definitely feels like that.

The staff was awesome. There was no bar/restaurant.

Restaraunts

Citta di Cherso: Service was good, and you do need a reservation. Good quiet atmosphere. Small but not cramped in. Good wine, only offered regional. We got the malvasia wine, it was excellent.

Scabar: They misplaced our reservation but still were able to get us a good table. Overall the food was a little fancy but very good. Again, we got the malvasia wine. Good prices. Note that this place was too far to walk, we used a taxi.

Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Our goal here was to do the gorge and the Lake Bled area in one day. This was one of the very few European vacations we’ve been on where we actually had a car. We left Ljubljana fairly early, getting to Lake Bled in just under an hour. From there to the gorge is only 15-20 minutes by car.

The weather was absolutely perfect while we were there, which was early May. Cool mornings, mild afternoons just right for walking.

The currency in this area is euros, and everyone we encountered spoke excellent English.

Lake Bled

For anyone who is unfamiliar with this area, it is probably one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit. We managed to be there while the weather was just absolutely perfect. And little to no wind made the lake itself look like a sheet of glass, as you see in the pictures. The castle, especially from down below on the lake, has the look of a fantasy novel or fairy tale. It is probably one of the most stunning castles I have ever seen. I mean seriously, if it looks this good in pictures, just try to imagine how it looks in real life. And then repeat the experience when you’re up in the castle looking down on the lake and island.

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They have these really cool boats that will take you out to Bled Island. They’re called pletnas. They’re similar to the gondolas of Venice, but bigger and covered. A guy stands up on the stern of the boat and uses oars to row while remaining standing. They are around €15 per person, round trip.

We got there pretty early and were the first ones on the boat. Got us a good seat up front, but meant we would have to wait for more passengers to arrive. They try to fill up the boat before leaving. But we didn’t mind, it was such a gorgeous morning and there were some fish swimming around the boat that we enjoyed watching for a bit.

The boat ride to the island was surreal. The water was like glass, and the only sound was the oars gently dipping into the water as we glided silently along. Sitting up in the front provided the best photo ops of the castle, the island, and everything in the area. Do yourself a favor and get the person sitting across from you take a picture of you as the backdrop is just gorgeous.

The island itself is pretty small and only has a couple of buildings. One was a cafe where we sat and drank espresso while looking down at the lake. There is also a small 17th century church with a tower. Follow the walking trail around the island and keep an eye out for the rather large fish skulking around close to the shore.

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All told it took us just under two hours. Once we got back on land, we had planned to have lunch up at the castle. You need reservations, which we had, but the island took longer than we thought so we had to cancel. Which in a way is bad because the restaurant is outdoor and overlooks the lake and island.

IMG_2344But it’s also good because we stumbled across another jewel. Apparently this area is famous for its cream cake. But the place we settled on was where it all started, so of course we had to see what the original was like. Sinful, that’s what! And we had a seat right up against the rail and overlooking the lake. The name of it was Restavracija Panorama. It’s on the pathway that leads around the lake toward the north heading to the castle. The rest of the food was ok, and good wine, but it’s the atmosphere you’re going to enjoy the most.

Once we finished our most excellent cream cake, plus meal, plus wine, we were feeling as though we needed a good hike. Well, you saw the castle, right? A helluva hike it was! It was pretty steep, with a combination of steep inclines and stairs in some places. Just take your time and enjoy the views and you’ll be there before you know it.

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Inside the castle itself was not really all that spectacular, but it is definitely worth the hike to see the views. It’s like your up on a cloud looking down on paradise. Just magnificent. Makes you feel like a Greek god or something. And of course the walk down was much easier. 🙂

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Vintgar Gorge

We came to the gorge from Lake Bled. Driving, It only took about 15 mins to get there. If you’re not worn out from climbing up to the castle, the gorge is well worth your time, but it is also a good bit of walking. If you just wanna go take a nap or whatever, you could always come back to the gorge the next day. But we were still taking revenge on that cream cake and so decided to conquer the gorge in the same day.

But one way or the other, hopefully you can manage a visit to the Vintgar Gorge. I want to say it is just gorge-us? Haha. Seriously, it is a sight to behold. You don’t tour it from the top looking down, oh no, you are down in it! Wooden and cement pathways were constructed along the bottom sides of the gorge in the 1890’s. So you are literally walking almost right over the very river that cut the gorge. The path is quite safe and sturdy. You can see signs everywhere of fresh maintenance updates on it.

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It features beautiful green water with several waterfalls. The stone walls are over 100 meters (300ft) high in some places. The water is translucent, but green. Just amazing. All told I think it’s around 1.5 meters (about a mile), so double that for a round trip. There is a €5 fee per adult to enter, and there’s a concession cabin along the way.

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And by the way, that’s called the Šum, and it’s the largest river waterfall in all of Slovenia. What looks like glare in the picture is actually heavy mist from the waterfall. Have fun!