Month: August 2015

Lucky, Lovely Lubeck

August 8, 2015

Our first shore excursion on our Baltic Sea cruise was to Lubeck, Germany.

We began our tour on a motorcoach, which took us through the port city of Kiel on our way to to Lubeck.
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Kiel is not a picturesque town. 97% of the city’s buildings were destroyed during World War II. However, it is a college town and there are many international students there. Kiel is best known for its maritime activities, particularly sailing.
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In Lübeck we got another guide for our walking tour, although Christina stayed with the group. Giovanna was from the Italian city of Pisa. Her English was not as good as Christina’s, but, typical of Italians, she did a lot of “speaking” through hand gestures.
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Lübeck was not originally a German town; it was founded by Slavs. It later became a member of the Hanseatic League, as it became heavily involved in the Baltic Sea trade. Lübeck became powerful enough to be called “Queen of the Hanseatic League”. Its main product for trading was salt – a very important commodity especially due to its properties as a food preservative.
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After 1492, the city lost much of its power, as the center of trading transferred to the Atlantic Ocean after the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus, and the Baltic Sea diminished in importance.
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Lübeck in medieval times built gates to protect the city – there was a series of them at the north, south, east and west entrances to the city. A wall connected them and all construction took place within these protected walls. Only two of the gates remain, Giovanna said, but originally each entrance would have been fortified with three gates.

One of the four remaining city gates of Lubeck.
One of the four remaining city gates of Lubeck.
On the outside of the gate there are two dates – 1477 and 1871.  1477 was the year the gate was originally built, while 1871 was when it was saved from destruction to make way for a proposed railway to support the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.
On the outside of the gate there are two dates – 1477 and 1871. 1477 was the year the gate was originally built, while 1871 was when it was saved from destruction to make way for a proposed railway to support the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.

We wound through old city streets, and passed a puppet museum.
Puppet museum

A different puppet decorated each window.
A different puppet decorated each window.
Above the doorway of the puppet museum was this cute little guy!
Above the doorway of the puppet museum was this cute little guy!

Giovanna stopped at the junction with another street and directed our attention to a plaque embedded in the cobblestones.

This plaque remembers Lina Kesten, a Jewish woman who was born in Hamburg but lived near this spot in Lubeck when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Apparently similar commemorative plaques can be found in Berlin.
This plaque remembers Lina Kesten, a Jewish woman who was born in Hamburg but lived near this spot in Lubeck when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Apparently similar commemorative plaques can be found in Berlin.

We arrived in Market Square, where our guide pointed out facade containing two holes; another facade, covered with scaffolding, also had two holes.

What were the holes for?

.  These holes were put there to allow the wind to pass through.  Due to its location, Lübeck gets winds off both the Baltic and the Atlantic, so it is rather windy.  The holes were intended to prevent wind damage which, without an outlet, would erode the buildings as the blowing winds pushed along the walls.
These holes were put there to allow the wind to pass through. Due to its location, Lübeck gets winds off both the Baltic and the Atlantic, so it is rather windy. The holes were intended to prevent wind damage which, without an outlet, would erode the buildings as the blowing winds pushed along the walls.

Does “Gothic” conjure for you images of white faced girls dressed in black or 19th century novels such as Wuthering Heights? “Gothic” actually refers to an architectural style characterized by tall, narrow buildings. It was believed that the higher you built your house (or church), the closer you were to God, “Gott” in German.

Built in Gothic style was St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche in German), one of the most important churches in Lübeck, and certainly the most beautiful. At the point where we had the best view of Marienkirche and everyone was snapping photos, Giovanna pointed out the three roosters at the top of each of the towers as well as the cupola.

Why roosters instead of crosses?

The roosters on the towers and the cupola represented the prediction of Jesus that Judas would betray him when the cock crowed three times.
The roosters on the towers and the cupola represented the prediction of Jesus that Judas would betray him when the cock crowed three times.

Another story about Marienkirche has to do with the Devil on a stone slab:

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Under the sculpture of the memorial below is written, “Your homeland waits for you.”

This modern memorial is dedicated to the German soldiers who returned home after World War II.  The years listed are years in which soldiers returned home to Lubeck.
This modern memorial is dedicated to the German soldiers who returned home after World War II. The years listed are years in which soldiers returned home to Lubeck.

It was time for a snack and Lubeck is famous for marzipan!  We walked to Niederegger’s, the best place in town to buy this confection made primarily of almond meal and honey or sugar. The higher the content of almond paste in the marzipan, the higher its quality.

Display case at Niederegger's contains a village made of marzipan.
Display case at Niederegger’s contains a miniature Lubeck made of marzipan.
Marzipan can be made into a variety of shapes, and Niederegger’s sold gift boxes containing everything from miniature animals to castles.
Marzipan can be made into a variety of shapes, and Niederegger’s sells gift boxes containing everything from miniature animals to castles.

Our group was escorted to the second floor of the store, where tables were set up for us, and each of us was served a slice of marzipan cake, then offered our choice of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

I've got my cake, and patiently await my hot chocolate.
I’ve got my cake, and patiently await my hot chocolate.

I don’t think I had ever had marzipan before, although my mother loved it. Afterward, some members of the group had a few minutes to buy marzipan souvenirs.

Marzipan gift boxes
Marzipan gift boxes
Other bakery items at Niederegger's
Other marzipan bakery items at Niederegger’s

20150808_051840 20150808_051901After our marzipan treat, Giovanna took us to a modern part of town to see what are known as gangs in German. Gang means to go. A gang is a narrow alleyway which leads to a group of small houses, sometimes with a small courtyard or garden in the middle. The people who live there get to know each other, look out for each other – they’re like a small community.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraTo end our tour, we returned to Town Hall Square, where we were to meet in a half hour. I took a few more pictures in the older part of town, then went to see the inside of Marienkirche.

Rathaus (Town Hall)
Rathaus (Town Hall)

KODAK Digital Still Camera20150808_043630KODAK Digital Still Camera

St. Mary’s Church was built before the Protestant Reformation, so it was Roman Catholic; but today it is Lutheran.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The altar piece
The altar piece

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The walls and ceiling were decorated with painted designs.
The walls and ceiling were decorated with painted designs.
The organ has about 5,000 pipes.
The organ has about 5,000 pipes.
There were many images, in the stained glass windows, and the sculptures, of skeletons and the dead.
There were many images, in the stained glass windows, and the sculptures, of skeletons and symbols of death.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera

Stained glass window detail
Stained glass window detail

KODAK Digital Still CameraI found these symbols of death to be unusual; or at least, they reminded me of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Others told me, however, that such images are common in churches throughout Europe. The preoccupation with death and the dying may have originated in the Black Plague.

Our guide, Giovanna, had told us to look in particular at the astrological clock. It’s quite phenomenal.

Note the signs of the zodiac on the top portion of the clock. The bottom half contains a lot of information not found on regular clocks, including the phases of the moon.
Note the signs of the zodiac on the top portion of the clock. The bottom half contains a lot of information not found on regular clocks, including the phases of the moon.

Lubeck suffered only one bombing during World War II. Incendiary bombs were dropped on the town, destroying many old buildings, part of the wall that surrounded the city, and some of the gates. However, a British RAF officer apparently convinced his superiors that due to its beauty and historical value, Lubeck should be left alone. Lubeck today may swarm with tourists during the summer, but it has been able to preserve a lot of its historical heritage, its  offering to the public today. Once a major power in the Hanseatic League for trade on the Baltic Sea, it is now a major tourist destination for Baltic Sea cruises.

Photos: The sun on the Baltic Sea

While on our cruise in the Baltic Sea earlier this month, I saw and photographed many sunsets. Some mornings when we couldn’t seem to sleep past dawn, I also took pictures of sunrises. Then there were times when the late afternoon sun glistened on the water, casting everything else in silhouette…

Aug. 7, 9:02 p.m.
Aug. 7, 9:02 p.m.
Aug. 7, 9:03 p.m.
Aug. 7, 9:03 p.m.
Aug. 7, 9:03 p.m.
Aug. 7, 9:03 p.m.
Aug. 8, 6:37 p.m.
Aug. 8, 6:37 p.m.
Aug. 8, 8:49 p.m.
Aug. 8, 8:49 p.m.
 Aug. 8, 8:57 p.m.
Aug. 8, 8:57 p.m.
Aug. 10, 10:36 p.m.
Aug. 10, 10:36 p.m.
Aug. 11, 5:38 a.m.
Aug. 11, 5:38 a.m.
Aug. 11, 6:39 a.m.
Aug. 11, 6:39 a.m.
Aug. 12, 6:22 p.m.
Aug. 12, 6:22 p.m.
Aug. 12, 6:23 p.m.
Aug. 12, 6:23 p.m.
Aug. 12, 6:27 p.m.
Aug. 12, 6:27 p.m.
Aug. 14, 7:39 a.m.
Aug. 14, 7:39 a.m.
Aug. 15, 5:54 p.m.
Aug. 15, 5:54 p.m.
Aug. 17, 8:20 p.m.
Aug. 17, 8:10 p.m.
Aug. 17, 8:17 p.m.
Aug. 17, 8:17 p.m.

Baltic Sea Cruise: Copenhagen

Aug. 7, 2015

After breakfast in the Scandic Palace Hotel dining room this morning (buffet style – yummy breads, pastries, cold cuts, eggs, bacon, yogurt, etc. – and great European coffee!), Dale, Elmer and I walked the pedestrian streets. We wanted to try to get the international phone cards and were told “Fona”, a big electronics store, would have them. Stores don’t open here until 10 am so we walked around a lot first.
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We stopped at Lagkagehuset and bought four pastries (after all, we’re in Denmark – where else to get great “Danish”?), which got a bit squished in Dale’s bag but we didn’t expect to eat them until we were on board the ship. I’d heard of this place from a friend who was in Copenhagen a few months ago. I highly recommend it – there are several of these pastry/coffee shops around town. They have a large variety of different pastries – it’s hard to choose only a couple!
20150807_02103020150807_021522The guys got ahead of me because I stopped often to take pictures of unusual or unique things.

Copenhagen is a bike-friendly city - bike trails and bike lanes everywhere; no wonder there are so many bicyclists here! It's cheap, healthy and good for the environment!
Copenhagen is a bike-friendly city – bike trails and bike lanes everywhere; no wonder there are so many bicyclists here! It’s cheap, healthy and good for the environment!
Lego ninjas!
Lego ninjas!
Sidewalk opinion
Sidewalk opinion

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Ice cream flavors
Ice cream flavors

20150807_02263320150807_02275220150807_023019Dale grew impatient with this, but what was the hurry? We came to some open squares and fountains also.

20150807_023054  Interesting window displays:20150807_02343920150807_02452820150807_033743Look very closely at this boot ad. What do you notice is strange about it?

20150807_023349More ice cream – and this place has churros too!
20150807_024620We saw public art:

20150807_024816 20150807_02464920150807_024722 20150807_024801We got back to Fona just as they were opening the gate and walked in along with several others. No luck on the phone cards – we could either get one for Denmark only or for Europe only, but NOT the U.S. Very frustrating! For anyone reading this, if you go to Europe and just have to have a phone, your best bet may be to buy a Vodafone (a temporary phone that allows you to make international calls) and rely on WiFi hotspots for your Internet fix!

On the way back, we made some new friends:

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METADATA-START

This silver guy was friendly, but the quiet type....and very tolerant to put up with these two!
This silver guy was friendly, but the quiet type….and very tolerant to put up with these two!

We came to a Lego store (Legos, you may recall, originate in Denmark), where we admired the amazing Lego creations, including animals, bicyclists, a snake-like dragon twisting up toward the ceiling, and even an entire wall mural made of Legos! .

20150807_032306 20150807_032403 20150807_032418 20150807_032455On our return to the hotel, Dale and Elmer went back to their rooms – I had no reason to go back upstairs because everything not consigned to the ship line was in my bag that I had with me. I had taken a shower earlier and changed into a clean shirt.

So I took some photos inside the hotel:

View from our hotel room window
View from our hotel room window
On the second floor near the elevators was the collected luggage of the cruisers from that floor. Downstairs in the lobby, the amassed luggage took up nearly the entire space!
On the second floor near the elevators was the collected luggage of the cruisers from that floor. Downstairs in the lobby, the amassed luggage took up nearly the entire space!
Mermaids etched in glass on the hotel stairwell
Mermaids etched in glass on the hotel stairwell

Then I waited outside, enjoying the sunshine.

I took this picture lying on a bench and looking straight up at the clock tower on the city hall across the street and a copper statue in front of it.
I took this picture lying on a bench and looking straight up at the clock tower on the city hall across the street and a copper statue in front of it.

Those guests going on the cruise (most of the hotel guests, it seemed) had  been told to gather at 11:15 in front of the hotel or in the lobby so we could start boarding buses by 11:30. This took longer than expected, of course – the mountain of luggage had to be loaded first and it also took a long time to get all passengers on the buses and make sure all were accounted for.

Every single chair and table in front of the hotel was full by the time I went outside, so I sat on a bench. Gradually the tables in front of the hotel emptied as bus numbers were called. By the time the others joined me, we had more comfortable seats at a table to wait. Our bus, #3 of 4, finally was called for loading at around noon.
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Our driver took the “scenic” route, driving past many landmarks which he told us about.

National Museum - the White Buses temporary exhibit was one I really wished to see. We'd have another day in Copenhagen at the end of the cruise to go see it!
National Museum – the White Buses temporary exhibit was one I really wished to see. We’d have another day in Copenhagen at the end of the cruise to go see it!

We got slowed down at one point by the changing of the queen’s guard – a line of uniformed men with tall black hats had emerged from the royal palace and was marching in the street in front of us.

Changing of the guard slowed traffic.
Changing of the guard slowed traffic.

When the bus pulled up at Terminal 2, I saw our ship for the first time – it was enormously long – kind of like a stretch limo for ships! –  with Holland America Line and Eurodam emblazoned on the side in white letters against the black hull of the ship.  This being my first cruise, I’d never seen a large cruise ship up close and its massiveness was amazing to me.

My first look at our cruise ship - my jaw dropped in awe at its massiveness!
My first look at our cruise ship – my jaw dropped in awe at its massiveness!

For the first several days on the cruise, I got excited every time I saw a cruise ship and tried to determine its size compared to the Eurodam.

To be continued…

My Baltic Sea cruise journal: Flying to Copenhagen

My husband and I returned from a 12-day cruise on the Baltic Sea last Wednesday, our first cruise ever!  Since the Internet on cruises is expensive and not very reliable, I kept a hand-written journal, and over the next few weeks will edit and transcribe here. Getting ready to leave was nerve-wracking, particularly because I was switching health insurance and had some problems getting my medications before we left.  Fortunately, the night before we left (Aug. 4), I got a good night’s sleep!

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August 6 (Thursday)       air travel and arrival in Copenhagen

People talk about how awful air travel is today. As far as the airport security & check-in is concerned, it wasn’t bad. In security, you have to remove your shoes (unless you are 12 or under – I guess they figure children aren’t likely to be potential shoe bombers), and walk through a chamber where you have to stand with your legs spread a little apart and your hands over your head – similar, I guess, to your stance if you are put under arrest on the street. A few people (not us, thank God) are picked at random to go through a more rigorous screening – the people right behind us had to go through that.

We boarded this KLM plane to fly from Chicago O'Hare airport to Schipol airport in Amsterdam.
We boarded this KLM plane to fly from Chicago O’Hare airport to Schipol airport in Amsterdam.

The worst part of the trip was being on the plane. The space we had at our seats was very confining, very cramped. Dale and I were in the very last row – 44 – which was against a back wall, so we couldn’t put our seats back. The people in front of us could, of course, which restricted our space even more.
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Dale and I actually weren’t seated next to each other. Dale was on the aisle of the middle section and I was in the middle seat between two (unrelated) young men. The guy next to me on the aisle patiently got up 2-3 times so I could go to the bathroom.
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We were traveling with my sister Mary and her husband, Elmer, but they weren’t sitting near us; they were in row 33 (also up against a wall, it turned out). I imagined Mary in one of these seats. It was barely large enough for me, I couldn’t imagine how such a seat would be adequate for her, because she is very heavy. I checked them out during one of my trips to the bathroom – Mary was lucky to be sitting next to the only empty seat on the plane! So, effectively, she had 2 seats. When I saw them, Mary was sleeping sprawled over the two seats with a blanket over her head.
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I hardly slept on the 7-hour flight. I tried the inflatable pillow I’d brought with me, but had a hard time blowing it up – I’d fill it with air, but then was unable to stop it up before much of the air leaked out. Finally I succeeded but when I put it around my neck, it left like it was about to choke me in the front. I got used to that but still found it uncomfortable.
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In the flight magazine, there was a list of entertainment options. One of the movies being offered was Far From the Madding Crowd, which I’d seen advertised on PBS and thought it looked interesting.
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When the headphones were passed out it took me some time to untangle the cord and figure out how to fit it over my ears. I had to look at the guy next to me to see how it worked. They weren’t very comfortable and the sound wasn’t great so I missed some of the dialogue but figured out what was going on for the most part.
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We passed through some heavy turbulence and I got scared. I exited from the movie to follow the flight path, and prayed. The captain made an announcement but it was too soft to hear what he said.
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I noticed that our altitude was remaining steady and gradually the turbulence ceased. I turned back to the movie, but it started over from the beginning so I had to search for where I’d stopped it. I watched the end, but had missed some important scenes so I had to back track again.
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Finally I was ready to sleep. I took off my glasses and put them in the inflatable pillow’s cover, and I put an eye mask over my eyes. I couldn’t get comfortable, though, and the straps pulled the mask unevenly. I twisted and turned and finally pulled the mask off. Then I couldn’t find the cover with my glasses and groped around on the floor trying to find them but I had no room to maneuver. I told myself not to worry, that I would find them in the morning but I became anxious, thinking what if there were an emergency and I couldn’t find my glasses? Or what if someone steps on them trying to get out?
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I groped around some more – still no luck. I forced myself to be still – I’d be fine and the glasses would be found, I told myself. I dozed off.
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Eventually I found myself awake and groping around for them again – and this time I found them! I managed to doze off again by making myself be still using meditation breathing techniques.
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In spite of the minimal sleep I’d gotten, I didn’t feel tired during our two-hour layover in Amsterdam. We tried to get international phone cards but found out something: the ones being sold in the airport were for Holland only. Later we’d find out this was true in every country we visited.  Warning to any Americans wanting to stay connected in Europe (especially if you’re going on a cruise): Don’t tamper with your phones! Just rely on WiFi and hot spots in Europe. Cruise lines will sometimes offer a WiFi station on the dock near the ship at ports of call. You probably will not be able to make phone calls, however.

The airport in Amsterdam has many of these little shops where you can buy tulip bulbs and flowers.
The airport in Amsterdam has many of these little shops where you can buy tulip bulbs and flowers.
At Copenhagen airport - a very welcoming sign!
At Copenhagen airport – a very welcoming sign!
There was a Lego store in the Copenhagen airport. Legos are originally from Denmark!
There was a Lego store in the Copenhagen airport. Legos are originally from Denmark!

I didn’t sleep on the flight to Copenhagen either, and I was excited looking out the window of the bus and snapping pictures on the way to our hotel.

Thorvaldsen art museum murals
Thorvaldsen art museum murals
Scandic Palace Hotel, Copenhagen
Scandic Palace Hotel, Copenhagen

By the time we got to Scandic Palace Hotel, I was finding it arduous to do simple things, like climbing a flight of stairs. Once we got to our room, I read a little and wrote in this journal, but soon got sleep. I lay down for a nap and fell asleep in no time!

~

At 3:30, I woke up and we called my sister’s room. Elmer had just gotten up and he was going to wake Mary up. We said we’d meet up with them downstairs in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I took some pictures in our room.

I was delighted to find something like this in Copenhagen! In the hotel room, a recycling wastebasket!
I was delighted to find something like this in Copenhagen! In the hotel room, a recycling wastebasket!
View from our hotel window - there was a noisy bar below but we were too tired for it to disturb our sleep for long!
View from our hotel window – there was a noisy bar below but we were too tired for it to disturb our sleep for long!

When we met downstairs at 4 pm, we decided to go on a canal tour. One of the canal tour companies I’d heard of was about ½ the price for the same tour. It wouldn’t have been too far to walk, but it would be for Mary, so we took a taxi.
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The driver was a Lebanese Danish citizen, and although he charged a lot, he was entertaining – very talkative. He spoke several languages but was fully bilingual in Arabic and Danish. Although he didn’t know which company was the one we wanted, he happened to drop us at the right one, whose name I recognized as soon as I saw their sign.
The tour was relaxing and I took lots of pictures, although I didn’t get what the guide was saying half the time – by the time I’d begun processing his remarks, he’d switch to another language and seemed to be saying a lot more in Danish and German that he did in English!

Nyhavn from our boat cruise
Nyhavn from our boat cruise

NyhavnNyhavnAn interesting old buildingPeople all over the city were taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather, which Danes do not take for granted.

People all over the city were taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather, which Danes do not take for granted.

Domed greenhouse and Copenhagen residents on foot and bikes
Domed greenhouse and Copenhagen residents on foot and bikes

BoatsDanes enjoying a balmy evening along the canal.

Canalside bars
Canalside bars
A young man enjoying a sandwich on his boat
A young man enjoying a sandwich on his boat
The Little Mermaid statue is dwarfed by the swarm of tourists that come to see it.
The Little Mermaid statue is dwarfed by the swarm of tourists that come to see it.
Queen's yacht
Queen’s yacht

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Copenhagen Opera House
Copenhagen Opera House
I loved this building with all the windows. It is the Danish Architecture Center.
I loved this building with all the windows. It is the Danish Architecture Center.
Old Stock Exchange (Børsen)-until 1974; one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen - situated on the island of Slotsholmen and built by King Christian IV (1577-1648) in 1619-1640. He wanted Copenhagen to be a financial & trade center.
Old Stock Exchange (Børsen)-until 1974; one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen – situated on the island of Slotsholmen and built by King Christian IV (1577-1648) in 1619-1640. He wanted Copenhagen to be a financial & trade center.
Tower on the Old Stock Exchange
Tower on the Old Stock Exchange

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This bridge dates from Feb. 1459.
This bridge dates from Feb. 1459.
This is one of the oldest bridges.
This is one of the oldest bridges.
Elmer, Mary & Dale enjoying the canal tour.
Elmer, Mary & Dale enjoying the canal tour.
This tower has a spiral staircase going all the way to the top.
This tower has a spiral staircase going all the way to the top.
The smoke stacks visible in the background are no longer in use - it was a power plant but Denmark is converting to wind and solar energy.
The smoke stacks visible in the background are no longer in use – it was a power plant but Denmark is converting to wind and solar energy.

Hanging out on their boatsAfter the tour, we went to have dinner in Nyhavn. There were many restaurants lining the canal, but there were people everywhere, enjoying this beautiful afternoon! I decided to choose the first restaurant that a.) had an empty table outside and b.) had a bathroom. There was a public toilet but it was down a flight of stairs and Mary couldn’t manage it. So we ended up at Fyrtojet, where our server accompanied Mary and Elmer to the bathroom while Dale and I saved a table outside. What with wine and our selections from the dinner menu, the meal was very expensive (and we didn’t even have dessert) – over DKK 1,000! But we spent a couple of pleasant hours relaxing among the thousands of other diners. After all, we were at a sidewalk café in Europe on a perfect summer day!! Something I’d been dreaming of for years!
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On return, Mary and Elmer got a bicycle taxi for a bit less than the taxi we’d taken to get there – and it was more fun! Dale and I walked back, mostly through pedestrian streets lined with modern stores, restaurants and cafes. He stopped in one of the few still-open stores to find out about international phone cards. I waited outside and spotted a Lagkagehuset right next door! I knew we were very close to the hotel. The famous pastry café was closed but we could return in the morning.
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Back at the hotel, we just hung out in front, enjoying the last rays of sunshine and warmth of the day – it was 9 pm, and across the street a clock chimed the hour. Elmer had gone to get Mary ice cream, returning with an individual sized contained of Ben and Jerry’s brownie chocolate ice cream. Mary shared some with me.
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I slept pretty well, in spite of the noise at the bar below.