Category: Destinations

Romme Alpin Ski Park

Romme Alpin Ski Park

Why?

This trip is another leg of our campaign to get out and enjoy the Nordic winters. Recall that we were abandoning the warmth of the hearth and getting out to see why so many people actually prefer colder weather environments. We conquered snowmobiling, reindeer sleds, and horse drawn sleighs in The Great Arctic Adventure . So it only seemed natural to take on snow skiing next!

About the Park

A lot of people from Stockholm like going to the Romme Alpin park in the winter. So many, in fact, that there are packaged deals available, where you pay a single fee and you get:

  • Bus trip to and from Stockholm Central Station
  • Rental skis, boots, helmets, plus whatever else you need
  • All day ski pass for the lifts on all slopes

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We did the one day outing, where you go out and come back the same day. Our cost was 800 kr ($100) each, but the prices vary based on various factors, so be sure to check their web site. We were able to book our package from the web site. There are other packages available that are multi-days/weekends. There is a hotel at the park, so it is ultra convenient. There are three or four different restaurants that vary by price and food selections. There is also an indoor area with tables set up so that if you brought your own lunch, you would have a place to sit and eat. There are plenty of areas to store your things, like backpacks, shoes, etc. Essentially, these folks have thought of everything!

Transportation From Stockholm

As with most of our adventures from Stockholm, we began our journey on foot to the subway. For us, that’s about a five minute walk. We took the red line to central station. Once at central, go out and all the way up to the ground floor. There are actually signs for Romme Alpin, or ask an attendant for directions to the bus station if you get disoriented.

 

The morning buses leave at 6:30am, then another batch at 7am. Don’t be late! The bus ride itself was about two and a half hours. It was a standard, but comfortable bus, much like any tour bus. There was a bathroom on the bus as well.

Once you arrive, make special note of where your bus is parked, and what time it is going to leave. Ours left at 4:15pm. Be sure to allow thirty minutes or more for returning your equipment.

Let’s Ski!

BED10648-0C76-4DBC-A8F6-F9807C4BF5C7Not so fast! This was my very first time on snow skis! And Jana hadn’t been on them in a long time. So we booked private lessons. This is not part of the package deal and has to be booked and payed for separately from the Romme Alpin package deal. You will need to call the number listed on the web page to book your lesson.

Getting the lessons was a great idea! Our instructor, Maja, was so helpful. Once I got to where I was able to stand up and made it to the top of the bunny hill, she would ski in front of me, backwards. So she was able to talk to me the whole way down and even caught me and prevented me from falling several times. This really helped me get up to speed quickly.

There is a special break in the lines that allows people accompanied by an instructor to get right on the lift, so there is no waiting to try again. By the end of the two hour session, I was able to hold my own. I even went down the next hardest hill. I guess all told, I probably fell four or five times, but they were all low speed, so no harm was done. Jana only fell once (I think she did it just to make me feel better).

 

Was it fun? It was absolutely a great time! Am I hooked on it and can’t wait to do it again? Well… by the end of the day, I could get around okay, and yes I went down the next hardest hill a few times. I even got down it once or twice without falling! But I essentially spent the majority of the day worrying about keeping my balance, so I couldn’t completely relax. I am sure that once you get the hang of it, you love it. But I am going to have to reserve judgement until I have been a few more times and am able to relax and enjoy it a little more. We plan to go out at least one more time this winter.

 

The Great Arctic Adventure

The Great Arctic Adventure

But Why?

The winters in Stockholm, Sweden, are long and cold. Unbeknownst to a Travelin’ Man raised in the sweltering summers of the southern United States, a lot of people prefer an area with more cold than warm. They enjoy snow skiing, snow boarding, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, bandy (like hockey but with a ball instead of a puck), and much more.

We are expats, and have lived in Stockholm for almost two years now. Last winter we buckled down and admired the snow from underneath our warm, cozy blankets. But this winter is different. This winter we decided to go out there and see what all the fuss is about!

Let’s Go!

As I mentioned, we live in Stockholm. And we don’t even have a car. The public transportation system in Stockholm is top-notch. Modern, efficient, and cheap. So we walked five minutes to the subway station. Since it hadn’t been able to get above freezing for a few days, there was still about two or three inches of old snow on the ground, which was a tad slippery.

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We took the red line subway to central station, then hopped off and bought our tickets for the high-speed train. This train will whisk you from central station to the Arlanda airport in under twenty minutes (up to 45 min drive). From there, we hopped on our connecting flight to Helsinki. This was about a 45 minute flight. After a short lay-over, we boarded the plane destined for the Ivalo airport.

After about an hour and a half, our plane approached the frozen town of Ivalo, Finland. As we circled the airport, we could see what we were up against. It was like seeing a beautiful, frozen fantasy world. Thick forests of evergreen trees loaded with snow. While the color palate was simple, it was the presentation that blew me away. Bright white snow, tree branches loaded with powdery snow, silvery-grey frozen trunks, black shadows. The sky had distinctive layers of color. It was an odd bluish-grey that changed to an eggshell closer to the horizon.

Then I could see what I was sure was the airport, but where was the runway? You couldn’t even see it as it was covered in snow! And I’m not sure airport is the right term here. Air strip is more appropriate. See for yourself:

 

But here we are! After we got our luggage, we went out to the main area where there was a driver waiting for us. He would take us, plus about four others, to the resort. The roads, like the runway, are covered in snow. But the driver doesn’t seem to notice as we fly down the highway in the van like there was nothing to it.

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I took this one (above) as we were zipping along in the van. There’s a lot of information in this picture. Firstly, it shows that we’re moving pretty fast. And the white space between here and the woods is the other lane, so you can see how snowy the road is. You can also see from this picture how desolate and beautiful the area is. I think we saw two other vehicles during the twenty-minute drive. I have never seen this much snow in my life. 

The Resort

So here we are, at the Kakslauttanen Resort near Laanila, Finland, in the Lapland district of Scandinavia. Wait… where? That’s right, we are about 200km inside the arctic circle. Wintertime high temperatures here typically vary from (Fahrenheit) 10 to -20 degrees. It snowed some while we were here, but there was already about two and a half feet of snow on the ground. Daytime highs hovered around a balmy 0 to 12 degrees, falling quickly after the sun sets. And, mind you, the sun rises at around 10am and sets before 3pm this time of year.

 

But I have to tell you, this place is an awesome experience. The resort is incredible, there are tons of great things to do, and the staff is extremely helpful and friendly. They treat you like a VIP. By the time you get to your igloo, you can tell this is one of those vacations that’s going to leave a lasting impression on your life. And you should check out their website, it has more details and some fantastic pictures. Check it out by clicking here.

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We had booked all of our activities from the web, so when we checked in, they reviewed our itinerary with us. We got a map and directions on how to get to our igloo, then we loaded up our luggage on the “luggage sled” and off we went to our cozy igloo. As you can see, above, I got to do the uphills while Jana did the downhills. I could lie and say it was a five-mile trek through a raging blizzard. But in real life, it was a pleasant ten minute walk. It was snowing lightly, and there was no wind. While still completely covered with packed snow, the path had been recently plowed. Get off the path, sink in snow. More on that later.

Their big claim to fame here is the glass igloos. There are two different types of igloos. There is the stand-alone igloo, and there is the attached igloo. The stand-alone igloos are regular glass igloos. They are small but cozy and have a small bathroom but no shower (public shower building nearby). These are located in what they refer to as “the east village”.

The attached igloos are physically connected to a larger cabin and are a separate room inside the cabin. The cabins are set up for six people, so they are large, and they’re located in the “west village”. They have full bathrooms with shower, sauna, and a small kitchen.

The east and west villages are a good distance apart. You can only get from one to the other via a shuttle van, and it’s about a five-minute ride. Thus, each village has its own reception area and restaurant. We tried both sides and, from what we could tell, they both served the same food. The east side, the one with the small igloos, has a smaller, cozier restaurant since there are only 30 or 40 guests, compared to 70 or more on the west side. The west side restaurant isn’t as cozy, but it has more panache.

We stayed in the stand-alone (east village) for two nights, and the attached igloo (west side) for one night. I’ll detail each of them below.

The Stand-Alone Igloo (east side)

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In a word: cozy! It almost felt like entering a little hobbit-house. And even with all that glass, they were warm and toasty on the inside. Come on in and have a look!

There are two twin beds, one on each side, that you can push together in the middle, and a bathroom. The bathroom is toilet and sink only, no shower. There is a building not far away that has public showers. It also has additional bathrooms. There’s also a sauna and, for the true Vikings, an outdoor dipping pool. Seriously.

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If you Look closely there, you will see that some snow has accumulated on the top glass sections. That’s because it was snowing at the time I took the pictures. When it’s not snowing, the snow on the glass melts away and you can see the sky above.

 

The beds recline, so you can comfortably lay and watch the stars above you and, if you’re lucky, you might even see the Northern Lights right from your bed!

The small igloo felt like a camping trip, you know, a little wild. Like a big, civilized tent protected from the frozen wonderland. This definitely wasn’t one of those leisurely sit around vacations, so we didn’t actually spend a lot of time in the igloo. We were either on an adventure, or in the restaurant/bar area. Which brings up the next subject….

East Side Restaurant/Bar

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I told you it was cozy! The service was top-notch, and the food was outstanding. It may be a rustic, cozy resort, but make no mistake, this is fine dining. Each dish was cooked to perfection, and eloquently presented.

Now, in case you haven’t ever been to Scandinavia, they have a lot of reindeer here. We actually saw some in the wild. And as you know, they’re great for pulling sleighs through the snow (the flying ones are further north). We actually did a reindeer sleigh ride while we were here. So why am I bringing this up in the section about the restaurant? Well, because they also like to eat reindeer. I have to admit that I have eaten them, too, even in Stockholm, and…. they taste better than beef steak! I’ve never been a big fan of venison. It has that wild taste that is actually not bad, it just takes some getting used to. I always thought reindeer would be like that, but it’s not. It just tastes like a more flavorful steak and, in most cases, is more tender than beef steak.

 

 

So, having said that, the reindeer steak here was exquisite. So tender and juicy, and cooked to perfection. It was served with a red wine sauce and tasted like heaven. It really was the best dish I had the whole time we were there. You cut it with a butter knife, perfectly pink on the inside, melts in your mouth. YUM!

I know, hard to hold a candle to a review like that, but the wild boar was also good in it’s own right. And the desert was very unique and tasty. Cloud berries on top of a custard-like pudding inside an edible pastry bowl. Delicious Nordic tart!

 

 

The bar is downstairs from the restaurant. While yes, it is a bit dated, it just adds to its charm. There was a good selection of wine and plenty of custom cocktails. They didn’t think it was cold enough to light the fire (far right-hand side of the pic), but happily did so at our request.

The West Side Igloo

Brace yourself… here it is:

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We stayed in this one for one night. As you can see, the igloo is literally attached to the cabin as an adjacent room. The log cabin architecture with the attached glass structure gives it a modern-primitive hybrid appeal.

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There is way more space than two people could use here. As I mentioned before, there isn’t a lot of downtime since you are pretty busy with all the activities.

 

 

But if you do have a little downtime, this is a great place to have it! Fireplace with rocking chair, comfy snuggle area, kitchen (with fridge), and yes, that’s a sauna in the bathroom! Now for all you city slickers out there (like us), there is one tiny catch. As with the small igloos, there is no TV, radio, or WiFi (there is WiFi in restaurants/bars). You come here to unplug and relax (so bring your WiFi hub).

 

Now I know it seems like I’m up-selling the attached igloo over the smaller stand-alone, but they are really just two different types of vacation. We actually did like staying in the small one every bit as much as the larger one. In fact, if we came back by ourselves, we would prefer the smaller one. However, if we had some friends come with us, staying in the cabin would be a total blast! Did you hear that part about having some friends come with us? Oh, and you have to make your reservations about six months in advance. So…. friends, let us know ASAP!

West Side Restaurant/Bar

 

As I alluded to earlier, the west side facilities are a little more upbeat, vs. the cozy, rustic appeal of the east side. They are also bigger and, at peak times, more crowded. The food is the same on both sides. For the dinner over here, we had beef steaks. They were cooked perfectly and served in a feisty pepper sauce. But as soon as I took that first bite, I realized how much tastier and juicy reindeer was over beef. Just sayin’.

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The bar on this side maintained the igloo theme to perfection. There was also a regular bar if this one was full. Spectacular, eh? They’re also working on a tower that has, you guessed it, a glass igloo at the top. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready when we were there.

Snowmobiling Excursion

Everything we did here was first-rate fun. But I have to say the snowmobiling was my favorite. This was my first time on one, and it was a real blast. Very much like riding a motorcycle. This was a two-hour adventure. Next time we’ll opt for the four-hour deal.

 

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As you can see, above, we are pretty bundled up. I must say I always thought riding a snowmobile in 10 degree (Fahrenheit) weather would be cold. But with the gear, the windscreen on the snowmobile, and the fact that it had heated handles and heated foot holds, it wasn’t the slightest bit cold. In fact, as Jana demonstrates, you can even roll around in it! She said that the effort made her sweat a little.

 

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After riding the trail through the breathtaking landscape for about an hour or so, we stopped for a snack. The guides provided ginger snap cookies and warm blueberry juice (very popular out here). Then we mounted up again and rode for another hour.

That was our morning run. We had another run that night, yeah pitch dark! The idea was to try and get a glimpse of the Northern Lights, but we weren’t able to catch them. But it was still a fun three hours of night riding! I actually got tossed on that ride. The trail got really bumpy, so I drifted over to the edge a little bit, trying to get away from the bumps. A little bit more, a little bit more, then sloosh, two and a half feet of unpacked snow! The machine literally just sank into it, then went on it’s side, and off I went! The helicopter ride to the hospital was actually kind of fun – haha, just kidding! The guide came over and together, we heaved the snowmobile back onto the trail and kept right on going!

Reindeer Sleigh

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This one requires a little backdrop detail. Our host, pictured here, was an authentic Sami. Sami are an indigenous people of Scandinavia. They inhabit the extreme northern regions of Scandanavia, extending into the far north-western reaches of Russia. They are similar to the American Indians in that they live off the land, and they put back more than they take. They were, and still are today, fisherman, hunters/trappers, sheep herders and, of course: reindeer herders. They are very good at these things as their people have been doing them for over 5,000 years. In fact, in some regions of the Nordic countries, Sami are the only ones permitted to herd reindeer.

So our reindeer sleigh activity was extra special since it was fully executed by our Sami guide. He lives in a remote area of the remote area we were in! In fact, some inhabitants of his small village did not even have electrical power until 1989. And in his own words, he does not live in the forest…. he is the forest. He hand crafted all of the harnesses and equipment used for our trip, and he owned and trained the reindeer.

 

On Vixen, on Dancer…. oh wait, ours was named Uril. Hmm, and the only red noses I saw were on people’s cold faces!

It was a great time. We plodded along at a decent pace. The thing about this was, it was not only taking us through some magnificent wintry forest land, but it was so calm, peaceful, and quiet. These next pictures are just too beautiful to put in a smaller arrangement, so bandwidth be damned, I’m going to give them to you raw and full-sized so you can really take them in. Note that the lighting here is just fascinating. These are completely untouched.

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I think that last one was Santa’s summer-house. After an hour or so, we returned to village. Our guide had a tepee all set up for us with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, and a warm fire to help us thaw out.

 

He even sang us a song in his native language and told us some stories about his village and their customs. It was a special time that we will never forget.

The Horse Ride

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This was another nighttime excursion with a side benefit of possibly seeing the Northern Lights. And darn it, they eluded us again. It started out nice and clear, but a few minutes into the ride, it clouded up and even snowed a little.

But even despite being thwarted by the Aurora Borealis again, it was a wonderful and romantic time clip-clopping along the snow packed trail.

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Unfortunately, once the clouds rolled in, it was pretty dark, so we didn’t get a lot of pictures after this one. I know we look insanely photo-chopped into this picture, but I swear we really were there. No really, we were there. The whole trip was real. Of course it was…. no way it was a fake trip!

Epilogue

All-in-all, this turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. You’re so remote and in such a different climate and environment that it almost felt like being on a different planet. And everywhere you look is like seeing a postcard because it is so beautiful. I know a lot of people are scared of the cold and the snow, and I used to be one of you! But with the right gear, it isn’t really that cold. There was only one time the entire trip I felt cold, and that was after the reindeer sleigh ride. My feet got really cold and took a while to thaw out.

We would love to return to this frozen dream world. And would especially like to come back with some of our friends and stay in the party cabin, er uh, the attached igloo. There are still a lot of other things that we didn’t squeeze in. Like the husky sled adventure, Santa’s village, and hey, we have to go back since we didn’t get to see the lights!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the 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.