Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Well, it’s official. In two months, we’ll be in Yerevan…

I don’t remember where I found the featured photo– but it does appear to be a very clear photo of Yerevan. When I lived there, air pollution was so bad that we didn’t get to see Mount Ararat every day. I hope for many pictures of it this time…

Last night was interesting. Bill came home and got out his trusty computer, so he could do some administrative tasks for his job. I had floated the idea of maybe using credit card points to help pay for plane tickets to Yerevan and back for our anniversary in November. It costs a LOT to go to Yerevan– especially when you insist on flying in business class. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So we tried doing that, but realized that while the points would make our tickets significantly cheaper, we’d rather just let them ride and use them for a really epic trip in the future.

With that settled, I booked our eight crazy nights in Yerevan in mid November. I am pretty excited about this trip. I lived in Yerevan for 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid 1990s and haven’t been back since August 21, 1997– the day I left. Things have changed a lot since my departure, although there are still a few people there who remember me from those days. I look forward to showing Bill around and getting to know the city again. If all goes well, I’d like to come back with Bill and show him around the country. There’s a lot to see– and since it’s the size of Maryland, touring the country is doable. We’ll just have to stay out of the dangerous areas near Iran and Azerbaijan.

For this trip, I mainly plan for us to stay near Yerevan. Maybe we’ll go to a couple of nearby spots like Garni/Gerhard and Khor Virap, which are definitely must see excursions. It’s taken me a long time to convince Bill to go… and it’s taken some time to convince myself.

When I left Yerevan, I was really ready to get out of there. I was burned out and depressed. But I’m better now… mentally and emotionally, anyway. Physically, maybe I’m worse. I don’t think I have the stamina I had when I lived in Yerevan and used to walk all over the city. Luckily, we have money now, so we can take cabs. And the cabs now have meters! ๐Ÿ˜€

In any case, I expect this trip will go fine, and we will be able to come back for more fun, as long as we’re still in Germany and it doesn’t take two days to get there. I am very proud of Armenia. It’s come a long way since I first arrived there in 1995. I have a feeling my mind will be blown by the difference.

Even during the time I lived in Armenia, it changed so much. When we got there in 1995, there was no power in the airport or running water in the public restrooms… By the time I left in 1997, we had 24 hour power, and many places had running water. Now, Yerevan is like a lot of European cities, and has most of what you might ever want or need. The Peace Corps is still there, but Volunteers all live out in the regions. That was becoming true as I left, too. Yerevan is much too fancy for Volunteers now.

In fact, what was once called Hotel Dvin, the hotel where we swore in, is now a super expensive five star resort. I thought about booking it, but decided I’d rather be closer to the center of town, in a place where I can chat up the bartenders. So I chose Paris Hotel Yerevan. I almost booked the Marriott— which was called Hotel Armenia when we arrived in 1995 and stayed on the “old side” of the hotel. It was extremely Soviet in those days, with matronly women sitting on each hall and collecting the room keys (with huge bulblike keyrings) every time we went out of the room. I remember the hot water only worked for two hours in the mornings, and the rooms were downright rustic. After I left, Marriott bought the hotel and fixed it up, but I’ve read a lot of middling reviews. It is significantly more expensive than the hotel I chose, and I prefer to avoid staying in an American corporate hotel… especially one with ties to Mormonism.

On the other hand, you can’t beat the location of the Marriott, as it’s right on Republic Square. But, Paris Hotel is also very close and will probably be quieter. I’ve noticed a lot of street names have changed, and some iconic places have either changed or closed. For instance, I read that the big historic shuka (Pak Shuka) on Mashtots Avenue was bought by an Armenian oligarch who completely overhauled it. What a shame that is! I would have liked to have shown Bill that bustling marketplace. Hopefully we can visit a different shuka in another part of town that hasn’t been turned into a western style supermarket. They are really unique and something special to see.

I look forward to trying some wines, brandies, and local cuisine– especially horovatz (Armenian BBQ)– if I can get it. And I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones! As hard as being in the Peace Corps was for me, it was a life changing experience on so many levels. I might not be living in Germany if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps.

I’m also hoping that if this trip goes well, we can arrange a trip to neighboring Georgia. I have been in Georgia, but I haven’t had a proper stay there. Bill went there for work in 2008, but it was about a month after the South Ossetia crisis/Russo-Georgian War. I’d like to go there and try more wines. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Georgian wines are wonderful! And I l’d like to sample wonderful Georgian food and take many photos.

Anyway… 2023 seems to be our year to visit the former Soviet Union. I’m excited about this trip, as well as the one we have planned for next month, to the Czech Republic. This blog is about to come alive again!

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Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Anniversary number 21 will potentially be celebrated in…

Regular readers might have noticed that I didn’t write anything in the travel blog yesterday or Saturday. It was mainly because we didn’t do anything noteworthy until last night, when I reminded Bill that he’d wanted to take an anniversary trip in November.

Our anniversary is November 16th, and this year, we wanted to do something exciting. I would have wanted to do something special for our 20th anniversary, but our sweet Arran dog was dying of cancer and we didn’t want to board him. So we ended up taking him and Noyzi with us on a trip to our beloved Ribeauville, France, a beautiful town not too far away that is different enough to be a getaway. We love Alsace, but we’ve been there so many times… This year, we definitely wanted to do something different.

Bill sent an email to our regular boarding facility and confirmed that they had space for Noyzi. Then I got out our trusty champagne bucket, which we often use when we want a little fateful help choosing a place to vacation. I went through the paper slips from past drawings, removing any that we’ve already done or will soon do, and any of those that would not be good for a visit in November. Then I had Bill draw from the bucket…

Bill does the honors…

And the winner was…

ARMENIA!!! And Georgia… but I don’t know if we’ll make Georgia on this proposed trip, because I think we’d need more than the week we’ll probably have for this journey.

Now… it’s not yet engraved in stone that we’ll be going to Armenia. Bill has to get the days off, first. And then I have to figure out the logistics of the trip. Also, I’m still a bit worried about my gallbladder exploding. But Armenia did finally win a drawing, and it’s time we visited. It would be special and different. Bill can finally see where I lived for twenty-seven crazy months of my young life, and if he likes it, we can come back and see the regions.

So, today I will be researching places to go, flights, and the rest…

I haven’t been to Armenia since I left in August 1997. It’s changed a lot! A lot of street names have changed; there’s been a lot of construction and demolition; and in all, it looks like a much nicer place. It also looks a hell of a lot more expensive than it was back in the 90s. I found one luxury hotel that is charging about 400 euros per night. Consider that my first apartment in Yerevan was $50 a month. My second was an unheard of $100. No Armenian would have paid as much for either place, but I got the American rate. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway… wish me luck.

Below are a few photos from this week. See what I mean? Not much has been going on. Bill was away, and I had a cold. At least there are still some pretty flowers.

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Champagne Bucket trips, Finland, Latvia

Twenty-two things I learned on our epic Scandinavia/Baltic/cruise trip…

Hi ho, folks. I usually do a “ten things I learned” post after our trips. Since this was a comparatively massive trip that was divided into a few segments, I’ve decided to compose slightly more than double the usual list. I’ve found that the “things I learned” posts tend to get read more than the “blow by blow” posts. So, in the interest of engaging people, here’s my latest list of things I learned while traveling. Some of these things I mention will seem silly or irrelevant. Nevertheless, they are still things I learned on our trip. I hope some of you enjoy it!

Here goes…

22. In Northern Europe, you are encouraged or even obliged to forgo housekeeping for charitable purposes.

We stayed in four hotels. In three of them, there were signs encouraging or even requiring guests to skip having their rooms cleaned. In Oslo, it was a choice, which we did opt for, since we only stayed two nights. In Bergen, it was automatically skipped unless we requested it by 10 PM the night before. And in Copenhagen, it was encouraged. All three hotels claimed that they donated money saved by not cleaning rooms to environmental or women’s causes. I was actually surprised by how environmentally aware the hotels were. In Copenhagen, they even had a daily 6 AM jog sponsored by the hotel where people could jog together and pick up trash.

21. When you check into a hotel in Northern Europe, don’t be shocked if you’re asked to pay when you get your key, if you haven’t already prepaid.

We had to pay upfront for both Norway hotels and our hotel in Denmark. It didn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, but it was kind of surprising at the time.

20. At the moment,it’s hard to plan a land based trip up north. But that’s changing.

I had originally wanted this to be a land based trip because I like to stay at least a night or two in places I visit, especially when they are in countries I’ve never visited in the past. We ended up cruising on this trip, because it was simply more practical. I have a feeling that even though we were on a luxury cruise, it might have also been somewhat cheaper. The Rail Baltica project is making a land based trip to Baltic countries more feasible. I hope we’re still living here when it’s completed, or will be able to visit.

19. Sometimes, Norwegians are indistinguishable from Americans.

Or maybe we were just in places where Norwegians don’t have thick accents. I was often shocked by how much Norwegians reminded me of my countrymen! The one difference was that they tended to be taller, blonder, and a lot more beautiful. Especially the women.

18. Helsinki, Finland has an Armenian restaurant!

I noticed it on the bus ride from the port to the city center. No, we didn’t have a chance to visit it, but I did look it up. Apparently, it’s currently temporarily closed, as they are moving from their old location to a new one. I took a look at the menu and it appeared to be a great place to dine Armenian style. Maybe, if we go back to Helsinki, we can give it a try. As some of you know, Armenia is important to me, because I lived there for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

17. Most Finnish people have saunas, second homes, and boats… some women even give birth in saunas!

The ladies who did our harbor cruise tour told us that many Finnish people have their very own private saunas at home. They are considered very clean, so some women even have babies in their home saunas. That doesn’t seem appealing to me, but what do I know? The ladies also said that many people have their own boats and second homes, and that it doesn’t require a lot of money to have either. That’s just part of their culture. I clearly need to explore Finland more!

16. Estonia had a comparatively easy time during the pandemic, because people there naturally “social distance”.

Our tour guide, the hilarious Raul (Robin Williams come to visit in another life form), told us that most Estonians don’t have big families (same as in Finland). And when COVID-19 was especially terrible, it wasn’t so hard for the Estonians, because people up there are kind of solitary. He said the government would like to see more babies being made and is trying to encourage it, but Estonians aren’t so into the idea.

15. There’s an old AIDA cruise ship stuck at Tallinn’s harbor…

As we were entering and leaving Tallinn, Estonia, I couldn’t help but notice the loudly painted AIDAvita, docked at the pier. It looked a little rusty, but I paid it no mind until I got back on our ship and did some Googling. The AIDAvita was sold and is now known as Avitak. But it still looks like an AIDA ship, even though it flies the Liberian flag and has been stuck in Tallinn since November 2021.

14. Everybody up north celebrates Midsommar… It’s a big deal!

I didn’t know about this holiday, which is celebrated in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and other northerly countries. This year, it took place on Saturday, June 24th, and I noticed lots of women wearing flower crowns on their heads. Raul, our guide in Estonia, said that starting on Midsommar Eve (this year, the 23rd of June– the shortest night of the year) people party all night and spend the next day recovering. When we visited Tallinn, it was Sunday, June 25th, and Raul said we probably wouldn’t see too many locals, since people still needed to recuperate from the festivities. Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st… but, of course, they’re going by the Summer Solstice. Midsommar represents the time between planting crops and harvesting them.

13. People in Estonia and Latvia are GLAD to be running their own countries now.

I’m not totally surprised about this one, of course. It makes perfect sense that people would take pride in their cultures and want to run their countries the way they see fit. Still, as an American who grew up in the 1980s, it was very interesting to hear about the Soviet times from the locals and how, on the whole, they were very happy not to be part of the Soviet Union anymore. When I lived in Armenia, I think the sentiment was probably similar, although I was there in the mid 90s, when times were more difficult. I did hear some people say they missed the Soviet Union, but probably only because they were tearing pages from books to wipe their asses when they went to the toilet. I’m sure they no longer long for those days.

12. Riga, Latvia has many beautiful art deco buildings!

I hadn’t known much about Latvia before this trip, other than what Bill told me about visiting there. I didn’t know there were so many beautiful buildings in Riga that managed to survive the Soviet era. I do remember some nice buildings in Armenia, too, no doubt built before the Soviet Union existed and imported a lot of industrial tackiness and weird architecture. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see that there are still many gorgeous old buildings there.

11. Visby, Sweden is a beautiful place, but I think I’d hate to own a home in the old town!

As we walked through Visby’s historic old town within its medieval walls, I couldn’t help but think I’d probably dislike living there. The local government is very strict about how locals can decorate or improve their properties, and as I saw and experienced firsthand, there are MANY tour groups coming through there. But I’m still really glad we visited. And luckily, we probably could never afford to live there, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

10. Liepaja and Karosta, Latvia, are still big military areas. But Liepaja has potential!

I had heard of Karosta before our visit there, to see the big naval military prison. I had not heard of Liepaja, which is one of Latvia’s biggest cities. I was surprised by how nice the town is. There are many trees there; music is a focus of the city; and the beach is surprisingly inviting. I hope we can visit again sometime.

9. I learned the tragic story of the Rose of Turaida…

And you can learn it too, by clicking here and reading up about it.

8. Religious people in northern Europe are typically Lutherans…

In 2023, I don’t expect *that* many people in Europe to be especially religious. Those who do practice religion tend to be Lutherans, although there are also Catholics. We visited several Russian Orthodox churches, too. There are still some Russians living in the Baltic areas.

7. Latvians love their “biggest” cave, which isn’t very big at all, and is more like a grotto.

Our guide explained that Latvians love the largest cave in Latvia, which is not a big cave at all. Gutmana Cave is not very deep and lacks the typical exciting formations one tends to see in caves. What it does have is very pure water, which locals claim bestow eternal youth and good health. Also, on the sandstone walls, there are many carvings and inscriptions dating back hundreds of years.

6. Norway has many, many electric vehicles…

I was very surprised by the sheer volume of electric vehicles in Norway. The cabs we rode in were all electric. We actually rode in our very first Tesla there. The train from Oslo to Bergen is electric. The gas stations have places for people to recharge their vehicles. Gas is expensive, and Norway has many rules regarding emissions and pollution. I read that as of 2026, a lot of cruise ships won’t be able to explore the fjords anymore.

5. If you visit Sigulda in Latvia, you might want to buy a walking stick… or jewelry.

I was surprised by the excellent handcrafts in Sigulda, especially given how reasonably priced they were. One of the items people typically buy there are ornate and colorfully painted walking sticks. We bought a small one for Bill’s granddaughter. I got myself some beautiful silver earrings. That reminds me… I need to look up the boutique online and see if I can order more. ๐Ÿ˜€

4. There is no more fishing in Bornholm, Denmark…

Bornholm is an island south of the Swedish coast. It belongs to Denmark. You’d think there would be many fish there, but the area has been overfished by humans, and lots of seals call the island home. So now, although there once were fish factories in Bornholm, they are now closed. The locals get their fish from other places. This trip really made me more aware of the environment and how our choices affect everything.

3. Only one restaurant on Bornholm still smokes fish the old fashioned way.

We visited Hasle Smokehouse, a “museum restaurant” in Bornholm, where the proprietor still smokes fish over an outdoor open fire. His establishment is the only one that still operates that way. It’s allowed because the place is also considered a museum, but he told us that the government sends him warning letters every year about public health/foodborne illness dangers. I can attest that the smoked herring is delicious, health risks notwithstanding!

2. Copenhagen, Denmark is fabulous…

I already had an idea that it was fabulous, as this was our third time in the city. But, we clearly need to go there and spend a few days. A couple of nights at the end of a long trip, a night on the way to Rostock, and a few hours as part of a cruise is not sufficient to really appreciate how cool that city is. We need to do a long weekend there. We also need more time in Stockholm and Helsinki… Hell, all of the places we went to were great! I wouldn’t change any aspect of our trip.

And finally, 1. It wasn’t a bad idea in 2023 to go to Northern Europe instead of Italy, France, England, or any of the biggest European hot spots.

Granted, it seemed like everyone was on vacation when we were, but I don’t think as many people came to Northern Europe as some of the most touristy European cities. I’ve been reading a lot about how many people have descended upon Europe this summer. It didn’t seem so bad where we were, with the exception of Bergen. But even Bergen wasn’t that bad… A bonus was that the weather, by and large, wasn’t that hot. However, we did encounter hot weather and a couple of chilly days. I read that the weather last week wasn’t so great, either. So, you take a risk… Still, we were very lucky on our trip, and got to see most everything we planned to see. I still want to see more of the fjords. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance.

Anyway… I could probably add even more to this list. You learn a lot when you go on two week trips to half a dozen countries! But I’ve got some other stuff to do. Noyzi needs a walk; I need to practice guitar; and I have at least one more blog post to write. So I’ll wrap up this post now… I’m glad our big trip worked out the way it did, hectic as it was. We had a good time.

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Champagne Bucket trips, Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines

July 2… time to go HOME.

On the morning of July 2, it was time to start the process of ending our big trip of 2023. Again, I can’t say that I was sad about it. I love going on vacations. I enjoy traveling– seeing new things, buying new stuff, meeting people, eating different foods, and drinking different beverages… especially the adult varieties. But it all has to end eventually.

I missed Noyzi. I craved having access to my washing machine. I worried about the pile up of mail. I even had fond memories of my bed, which really needs a new mattress. And, even though not that many people want to read my blog posts about our travels, I was really itching to write and upload all of the photos I took over the two weeks we were gone. I prefer to write on my desktop computer, which is at home. So, home was where we needed to go.

Bill checked out of the hotel, while I went to the handy self check-in kiosk in the hotel lobby. I printed our luggage tags and boarding passes, and we made our way to the luggage drop off point, which was actually a pretty stout walk within the airport from the hotel. It was especially rigorous, since we had heavy bags. I was thanking God that I booked business class on the plane, because it got us into the short security line, and we were able to get through and into the SAS Lounge (which also serves Lufthansa passengers) in no time.

The Copenhagen Airport has a pretty decent lounge, although I didn’t make full use of it. I just sat in a nice chair and drank sparkling water while we waited until it was time to make our way to our gate. Once we got there, we found it backed up with a lot of passengers and not enough seating. Typical! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was a little worried that maybe our plane would be like the one we flew out of Bergen on… two by two seating in a very narrow aircraft. But it was a nice spacious plane, with three seats per row. Since we were in business class, we had an empty middle seat, and we even got served “breakfast”… which was mostly stuff I don’t eat. But they did have warm croissants and orange juice, which was fine for me. I also appreciated the chocolate they gave us afterwards!

The flight was perfectly lovely, and we landed on time in Frankfurt. It took forever to get our bags, and I think we might have even been the only ones who checked baggage. We were the only ones we noticed from our flight waiting for bags, which took over a half hour to get to us. While we were waiting, we encountered more Americans. One was a woman who looked a little annoyed when I sat down in a chair near her luggage. She changed her tune when she started wondering aloud about transportation and Bill helpfully piped up with local insider info. She asked us where we were from, and we answered America… but now we live here in Germany, and boy has it changed us in profound ways.

I don’t know what the woman and her husband were here for. The way she was dressed and the amount of luggage she had suggested that maybe she was going to go on a Rhein cruise or something. But those usually start in Basel, Switzerland or Amsterdam, Netherlands. They do pass through the Rheingau, though, and I often watch them and think… maybe I’d book one of those if I didn’t live so close to so many of the stops!

We found the Volvo and drove home, quickly unpacked, and I started doing laundry. I turned on the robot mower to deal with the very high grass. I checked out our rain barrel, which was full of nasty critters I’ve been killing all week. And I’ve been writing on this blog for a solid eight days. I’ve still got some more to write about, but the actual blog series on our big Nordic trip is over now. I hope some of you enjoyed it.

For those who are curious… This trip ran us approximately $22,000. We don’t usually come close to spending that much on a vacation, and we spent more than we had to. This was not an economy trip, by any means. We were also gone for two weeks, traveling in style in a very expensive area of the world. So…

*Cruise was about $12,000 or so… Concierge E on Regent Seven Seas Splendor, which is a luxury class, all inclusive cruise ship.

*Business class plane tickets from Frankfurt to Oslo, Bergen to Stockholm, and Copenhagen to Frankfurt, probably about $2,000 or so.

*A compartment on the train to Bergen from Oslo, about $500

*Hotels for eight nights, about $2,000 or so. Those, we paid at the hotel, rather than ahead of time.

*Trip insurance for a year about $1,000 (covers all trips all year)

*Food, booze, shopping, transportation, tickets to activities etc. about $4,500

I also havenโ€™t factored in how much Noyziโ€™s boarding was. We had to prepay that in cash before we left.

If we’d wanted to, we could have pared down costs considerably. This summer, we really just wanted to enjoy ourselves. We definitely aren’t alone. Europe is teeming with people this year, and prices are pretty high. I’m happy to report that most of these costs were paid off before our trip started. We just need to work on paying off the stuff I didn’t pre-pay or pre-book.

It was a special pleasure to visit Finland and Latvia, two places I had never been to before, and learn about other places I’d never heard of, like Visby and Bornholm. It really was a good time, albeit very different from our usual road trips south!

So, that about does it for this series. I have to close now, as workmen have just shown up to replace the windows in my house. Hope to see some comments at some point!

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Champagne Bucket trips, Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines

Getting off the Regent Splendor and into Copenhagen…

The morning of Friday, June 23, would be a “changing day” for us, as Dr. Phil would say. That was the day we were to disembark from Regent Splendor and go back to a land based lifestyle.

To be honest, I wasn’t that sad about getting off the ship. We had a good time, and Regent Splendor is, for sure, a gorgeous, comfortable, well-staffed vessel. But I looked forward to a still floor at night, a day without tour buses, and not having to dress up for dinner. Also, I was legitimately tired. I know it sounds crazy to need a vacation after a vacation, but in my daily life, I don’t spend time with many people. I was also still dealing with the remnants of the cold I caught in Norway, and trying to unpack the many new things I saw, heard, and did over the course of our long vacation. So, I wasn’t too depressed about disembarkation day. For me, it was time.

The last Regent Splendor breakfast…

The night prior, we packed our bags, tagged them with group Yellow One stickers, and went to bed. We had our last breakfast in the stateroom, did one last thorough check to make sure everything got packed, and then made our way to Deck 5, which was the lowest the stairs and elevator closest to us would go. I think our original plan was to go to Deck 4, which was where the exit was, but we ran into Gail and Ger at the Coffee Connection area– where people could get coffee drinks and desserts at any time. We only used it once, on the last full day, when I stopped there for a double shot of espresso to get me through the last bus tour.

We had a nice final chat with Gail and Ger as we waited for our group to be called… and it never actually was! We were among the last people off the ship! I didn’t mind, because we were headed to the Clarion Hotel Copenhagen Airport, which has a check in time of 3:00 PM. Since it was still about 9:30 AM when we disembarked, we had plenty of time to kill. And kill time we would, because there was a HUGE line for taxis. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it took about an hour before we scored a cab of our own. I managed to get a shot of a customs dog inspecting cargo while we waited.

A very friendly Pakistani man– one of several on our trip– invited us into his cab for the roughly forty minute trip to the hotel. The guy told us that he was born in Pakistan to a wealthy family. His siblings were all people with prestigious jobs. His children moved to the United States, where they enjoyed high level work with handsome paychecks. But he was happy as a Copenhagen cabbie, where he provided an honest and necessary service to people like Bill and me. As he talked, I could tell that he was more interested in interacting with Bill. He said a few things that were blatantly sexist, mostly about the female leaders in Denmark.

I had agonized a bit over where we would stay for our two nights in Copenhagen. At first, I wanted to stay downtown. But then, when I realized we would be leaving the city on Sunday morning, I figured it would be best to stay near the airport. Clarion Hotel Copenhagen Airport is the closest we could get. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

When we arrived at about 10:00 AM, a bunch of people were checking out. We had originally planned to drop our bags and go into the city, but it turned out they had a room ready for early check in. Bill paid an extra $70 or so, and we were able to go straight to room 1140.

Room 1140 was very spacious and offered a nice view of the area. It had a large bathroom with a bathtub and a shower, and his and hers sinks. There was a desk with an uncomfortable chair that faced the mirror. However, I was able to move the chair to the other side, so that was a plus. I don’t like looking at myself when I’m writing! The room also had a minibar, but it was the kind where if you move anything, they automatically charge you. That wasn’t so good, since we couldn’t use the fridge to cool anything personal.

When we got into the room, I realized that I really just wanted to rest. The weather was kind of crappy, anyway. The sun was coming in and out, but there was also lots of wind and some rain, which was much needed, from what I understand. So I got into my nightie and laid down on the bed. Soon, I was fast asleep… for three hours!

I think Bill took a nap, too, but he slept for a much shorter time. He’s such a good egg. He let me take my very long nap without interruption. Obviously, I needed the rest.

When I woke up later, it was mid afternoon. The hotel has a restaurant that stays open all day, so we decided to go get something to eat and try some Danish beers (although my first one was French– Kronenbourg 1664). So that’s what we did… and I was delighted when the blond waiter, an obvious local, immediately spoke Danish to us! I guess we look the part.

The food in the restaurant was good, although the portions were small. I didn’t mind the smaller portions, actually. I wasn’t super hungry, and it was just enough to take care of me for the rest of the day. I guess the hotel restaurant is popular with locals, too, because I noticed there were several reservations. It was empty when we came in, but it was pretty much packed when we left! Maybe it’s just the only “local” restaurant in the Kastrup area, although the hotel is connected to both the airport AND a metro station. And the train will get you downtown in about 13 minutes!

After we visited the restaurant, we went back to the room and ended up watching a 70s era movie with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed. No, it wasn’t Smokey and the Bandit. It was called Gator, and it was a drama. I confess that I wasn’t paying close attention to it, even though it was in English. However, I enjoyed it enough that I downloaded a greatest hits album by Mr. Reed. When we got home on Sunday, I played it. I had forgotten how entertaining and genuinely talented Jerry Reed was. It made me glad I was born in the early 70s.

The next morning was Saturday, and we had the day to venture into Copenhagen. The weather was actually somewhat worse on Saturday, but I was feeling more energetic after my day of rest. Over breakfast, we thought about what we might like to do. Copenhagen’s aquarium is located very close to the hotel and we thought maybe we might like to go there. But then I read the reviews, which indicated that weekends there are crowded. I wasn’t in the mood for crowds.

Copenhagen’s awesome metro!

So, we decided that we’d just take the metro downtown and wander around, like we usually do. Maybe we’d stumble across a museum or something, or find something cute to buy for Bill’s grandchildren. I’ve been on a lot of metros in my time. Copenhagen’s metro is very easy to use and reasonably priced. It was easy to find our way to the center, which was still vaguely familiar to us after fourteen years away. Our visit to Copenhagen in 2019 did not include a stop downtown.

We walked around a bit, and I got lots of photos… I was a little tempted by shopping, but then I remembered that we were flying, rather than driving. My bags were stretched to the limits as it was.

Eventually, it was time for lunch. We went searching for a place, and then it appeared, just like a beacon… An Italian restaurant called Accanto. We were warmly welcomed to sit down and enjoy a lovely lunch, accented by expensive, but tasty, wines by the glass. What I especially loved about this place, besides it’s “cozy hygge” vibe, was that we were not rushed at all. The waiters were very friendly; the food was good; and they even threw in some limoncello.

After our long lunch, we decided to stop by a very cool food market, where we picked up some wine for the evening. We took the metro back to the hotel. On the way there, I got a rather obvious sign that my cold was finally finished (glad I had tissues). And we spent the evening enjoying wine and watching more Danish TV. I know that’s kind of boring, but we were a bit vacationed out. I was glad to have the chance to relax a bit before our journey back to Germany. The hotel, by the way, also has a spa with a salt water pool. But I didn’t make use of it during our stay.

Below are some photos from downtown Copenhagen…

And some more before I close this post…

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Champagne Bucket trips, Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines, tours

Many critters were born free in Bornholm, Denmark…

Our final day of the cruise was in Rรธnne, a town in Bornholm, Denmark. We had a late excursion, which took place at 4:00 PM. To be honest, I was kind of tempted to skip the last bus tour, as I was a bit “toured out” by Thursday, June 29th. But that would have been a big mistake, because I ended up liking Bornholm the most of all the tours during our week on Regent Splendor.

I mentioned that we stopped in Rรธnne, but actually, our bus tour (The Best of Bornholm) didn’t really go through the town that appeared closest to the pier. Instead, we basically had a tour of the Danish island of Bornholm, which is off the southern coast of Sweden. Once again, this was a place I knew absolutely nothing about before we went on this cruise. I ended up finding it a very charming place. Several British passengers on the tour with us mentioned that it reminded them very much of Cornwall.

There were other tours offered besides the one we went on, but they were mostly fully booked by the time we signed up for the cruise, back in late April. So “The Best of Bornholm” it was, and it was a good time, even though I was tired, and even though our guide didn’t have the best “stage presence”.

I was charmed by the rustic beauty of the island, even spotting a large wild hare and several deer cavorting in nature as our guide droned on, rather haltingly. At first, I was a little annoyed by the guide, but as I listened more closely, I realized that he really did know a lot about the island. I suspect that if he was giving us the tour in Danish, he’d be a lot more engaging to listen to, because I noticed that when he spoke Danish, he sounded a lot more animated. I have empathy for that issue, since I know firsthand that it isn’t easy to speak a language that isn’t your mother tongue, especially if you aren’t practiced. I don’t know how often our guide gives tours in English, though.

The first thing the guide pointed out were the huge parts of windmills that were being built. They are destined to be installed in the Baltic Sea, where they can generated power for people on dry land. I have seen the windmills all over Europe, but was never close enough to one to appreciate their massive size. Those things are HUGE!

Part of a windmill.

We visited a really cool looking round church called Osterlars, which, besides looking really handsome in the Danish countryside, also had the added benefit of a clean public toilet. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The guide pointed out the metal rings installed in the wall around the church. The rings were where the locals parked their horses and buggies on Sundays. Each family had its own “parking spot”.

Next, we stopped in an adorable town called Gudhjem, which was right next to a beach. The guide said that there used to be a lot of fishing there, but the fishing had stopped, mostly because the waters were depleted by overfishing and the many seals who had descended upon the place. There weren’t any seals visible when we visited, but the guide said it was a very normal thing to see them hanging around the beaches.

We stopped at Hammershus Fortress, vast medieval castle ruins that were partially demolished around 1750 and partially restored sometime around 1900. Our visit didn’t include actually going to the ruins, which were a stout walk from the parking area, but visiting a wooden overlook that gave us good views of the ruins, as well as a flock of sheep grazing nearby. It might have been fun to go to the ruins, but that would have taken a lot of time that we didn’t have. But… I did mention to Bill that I liked Bornholm enough that I wouldn’t mind coming back for a land based visit. If we ever do that, maybe we can visit the ruins properly.

As we continued on our journey, the guide explained some interesting history about Bornholm’s role in World War II and how it was not liberated at the same time the rest of Europe was. Even though Bornholm was part of Denmark, some people did not consider it a part of NATO, because former Soviet leaders determined that there would be no foreign military activity on the island. They decreed that any NATO military troops on Bornholm would be considered an act of aggression against the Soviet Union, and that Denmark should keep troops there to prevent any NATO military action from occurring. The Soviets were especially against any US troops having a presence there. Of course, now, no one doubts that as part of Denmark, Bornholm is also part of NATO.

At around this point in the tour, it was time for us to taste smoked fish. There are many fish smoking facilities on Bornholm, but only one place still uses an open fire to smoke fish, rather than more modern facilities. So, we stopped at that smokehouse, which was also deemed a “museum”, which made it possible for them to smoke fish the old fashioned way, and we tasted their product, washed down with cold, Danish, draft beer (or soda). This was included in the tour. The young, affable guy who spoke to us about the smoked fish said that he had to get the fish from other places, as there aren’t enough fish around Bornholm anymore.

After we tasted the fish (which I found delicious, though I know not everyone likes fish), we headed back toward the ship, the guide talking the entire time about other unusual and interesting towns in Bornholm. It really does look like a nice place to spend a week or so. I’m sure they get their share of tourists, but it wasn’t nearly as busy as Visby was.

Incidentally, I read today that the current Splendor cruise, which has been doing a ten day Baltic itinerary, had to skip Visby. They had 40 MPH winds that prevented them from docking!

Now, a word about the last day of food…

For lunch, we stopped by Prime 7, which was serving lunch that day. The speciality restaurants mostly serve dinner, but sometimes, they have a short lunch service. Thursday was the day for Prime 7, and that was the only day we visited a specialty restaurant for lunch.

Our waiter was a nice fellow, who was a little more familiar with us than I’m used to on cruises. He came up to us with a big smile (good thing) and immediately addressed as a William and Jennifer. I stifled a laugh and said, “No one ever calls us that. I ended up telling him that we go by Jenny and Bill.” He hit upon one of my many personal pet peeves.

It’s not that I need to be called Mrs. I just think being called Mr. and Mrs. is polite and businesslike. I dislike the American fake familiarity trend that has everyone assuming we should all go by our first names. In our case, no one who actually knows us, ever calls us by our first names. I personally hate being called “Jennifer”, because it reminds me of being yelled at by my mother. Also, it just doesn’t suit me. If he had called me Mrs. as a matter of course, it would have given me the chance to tell him which name I preferred. Besides, it’s just more professional.

So, after we told the waiter the preferred versions of our first names, and kind of cringed at the faux pas, he brought us our lunches. Bill had pork barbecue sliders. I had a burger. It wasn’t the way I would have fixed it for myself, but it was tasty enough. Afterwards, we had dessert. The waiter brought out a carousel of mini versions of Prime 7’s desserts for us. We each ate one, but I think the idea was to try them all. As if I need more encouragement to expand my backside. ๐Ÿ˜‰

After our excursion on Bornholm, we had our last dinner in the Compass Rose restaurant. I didn’t see any specials that interested me, so I wound up having a steak for dinner. No wonder my heart rate has been elevated lately. We ran into the same waiter we had at lunch, who, to his credit, remembered our names. But then he called Bill “Mr. Bill”. I asked him if he knew about the old Saturday Night Live character, “Mr. Bill”. Naturally, he didn’t. So I had to explain… People have been calling Bill “Mr. Bill” forever, not just because his name is Bill, but also because he had a “Mr. Bill” moment when he was in high school. One of his buddies literally backed over him with a Subaru Brat (car)! Oh noooooo!

Poor Mr. Bill! Always having accidents.

Anyway, here are photos of the last supper on Splendor… We were allowed to dress casually for it, because everyone was packing their luggage for disembarkation day. I had a baked potato with my steak. It tasted like it was pre-baked and chilled, then heated up. I guess I can’t blame them for that, but it kind of spoiled the magic a little.

Although I thought we might visit the Meridian Lounge one more time, it wasn’t to be. We decided to go back to the room and rest up for the next day… when it would be time to leave behind Regent Splendor for more plain lodging.

More on that in the next post.

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Champagne Bucket trips, Latvia, Regent Seven Seas Cruise Lines

A phrase you don’t hear everyday, unless you’re on a prison tour near Liepaja, Latvia…

On the morning of June 28, 2023, Bill and I woke up to our breakfast delivery. We probably should have done breakfast in the suite every day. It was a lot more peaceful than going to the restaurants were. Not only could we enjoy the sea breezes on our balcony, but I could also dispense with putting on a makeup and bra, at least for a short while.

After filling up on breakfast, we got dressed and I put on a layer of makeup. I was kind of excited, for we were finally in Liepaja, Latvia, which was a stop I had been eagerly anticipating. Why? Because that’s where Karosta Prison is, and I had been curious about that place since 2009, when I first read about how the former Soviet military prison had been turned into a B&B for the moderately kinky, which I am.

I’m only half kidding… I seem to remember that in the late aughts, Karosta Prison, which had functioned as a military prison until 1997, had been converted into an entertainment venue for those who were curious about the experience of being incarcerated in a Soviet style prison. Back when I first read about the place in a 2006 Guardian piece, there was a very intense “reality show” available, where paying guests could pretend to be new inmates. They’d be photographed, and then put through their paces by a military “warden”, given a medical check up by a “nurse”, and spend the night in strict silence on thin mattresses in an actual jail cell. Participants had/have to sign a waiver agreeing to the conditions of the prison, realizing that they might be treated badly as part of the program.

In 2023, it looks like the reality experience has been watered down a bit. Now, it’s a three hour experience, although it is still possible to book an overnight at the prison, too, if you call ahead. My guess is that a lot of tourists were either freaked out by the original package, or conditions changed due to COVID. But anyway, even back in 2009, I didn’t think I could take the extreme package that was still being offered then. I much preferred the idea of just a simple tour, then going back to a luxury hotel room. ๐Ÿ˜‰

We had to move out of Germany in 2009, so I never got a chance to plan a land based trip to Liepaja, which is one of Latvia’s largest cities. There was a time when a person had to get special permission to visit Liepaja, owing to the fact that there are many military facilities there. Even to this day, there are military facilities operating in Liepaja, but back in the Soviet years, it was a place where there were a lot of top secret Soviet military operations. So, even though there’s a lovely beach there, and it’s well known for being the source of a lot of Latvian music and musicians, it wasn’t a top tourist spot until after the Soviet Union fell apart.

After another quick visit to the Constellation Theater, where we traded our tour tickets for group numbers, we headed out to the tour buses. Our tour guide, who confessed to being born in 1990 and spoke with a noticeable stammer, did a good job of showing us around.

First, we visited St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church that dates from 1903. We were warned to cover our shoulders and knees, and ladies should have something to cover their heads. No photography is allowed inside. Well… sure enough, there were people on the tour who either didn’t read the instructions, or didn’t care about the request for modest clothing. They showed up in shorts. The information had specifically indicated that men were not allowed to wear shorts in the church. The kind woman who was running the church tour didn’t make anyone cover their legs or cover their heads, as they do in the Wiesbaden Russian Orthodox Church.

We learned that the church was not used for its original purpose during the Soviet years. Russian officers used it as an entertainment venue– for watching movies and working out. Our guide told us that the Russian officers didn’t like the church’s amazing acoustics, because it made watching movies difficult. They closed the interior dome to eliminate the acoustics. Efforts to reopen the dome are ongoing today. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the church was given back to the Latvian Orthodox Church, under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The inside of the church is beautiful. There is also a little souvenir shop where visitors can buy candles and light them. Bill lit candles for his dad, as he often does when he visits churches. The area surrounding the church is also home to military facilities and some housing.

After we visited the naval cathedral, we went to a beach in Karosta for a quick potty and photo stop. I took some photos of the beach near Karosta, and some of the buildings we passed on the way there.

Then, we made our way to Karosta Prison. I had to laugh when the bus stopped, and with great enthusiasm, he said “Let’s go to the prison!” There’s something you don’t hear everyday!

We didn’t get the “official” Karosta Prison tour. Our guide told us about the prison and used a teenager to demonstrate how the prisoners were forced to march for hours. We also caught some of an official tour, where a guy in a military uniform appeared to be giving visitors a little taste of the prisoner experience.

Karosta Prison, which dates from 1905 and looks it, was not a place for thieves, rapists, or murderers. Rather, it was a place where sailors who were either mutinous or somehow got into trouble– maybe they got drunk or were late to formation or something– were sent for a few days to straighten them out. And it was, indeed, a miserable place. Inmates had two opportunities per day to go to the bathroom, with very tight time limits. They spent their days cleaning, doing exercises, and marching, all in strict silence.

I was glad to visit the prison, although I might have enjoyed a more in depth tour than what we got. Nevertheless, my curiosity is now satisfied. I’ve seen it, and I don’t know that I need another visit there. I got lots of pictures, too.

We loaded up and moved on to Liepaja’s city center, where we visited Liepaja Beach, which was pretty inviting. I miss beaches! Our guide pointed out the skeleton of a structure that was meant to be a Soviet era five star hotel.