Berlin or Rostock and Warnemunde?

Berlin showed up on our Viking itinerary as one of the ports of call.  Geography never was my strong suit, but even I knew that Berlin has no oceanfront property.   Although Viking arranged free transportation by train to Berlin, we decided that we didn’t want to spend approximately 6 hours traveling back and forth.  Besides, we will probably never get back to Rostock and Warnemunde, but a few days in Berlin may indeed be in our future.

We did not regret our decision.  Our day started with a German breakfast of pretzels and “liquid gold”, the German invention we Americans call beer.

Our brewery tour included a choice of light or dark beer.

Our brewery tour included a choice of light or dark beer.

Our guide,  Enrico, shared lots of fun facts about 9th century beer consumption:

  • Beer was given to children because it was cleaner than the available water
  • It was drunk warm, like soup from a bowl
  • The monks consumed beer during their fasts; apparently it didn’t count because you didn’t chew it?
  • Beer was also thought of as liquid bread.

Fast forward to modern times:

  • Germans consume approximately 30 gallons of beer per person per year.  
  • You can buy beer anywhere and consume it anywhere.  It is okay to be intoxicated in public, just as long as you don’t do something stupid.   (A drunk person doing something stupid?  How often does THAT happen?)
  • Beer isn’t taxed, and the drinking age is 16.  Sorry kiddies–that’s the down side of having access to clean water.
  • The last two weeks of September is Oktoberfest in Munich, where the locals don their Bavarian costumes and yodel a lot.  If Enrico explained why Oktoberfest occurred in September, I have completely forgotten it.  That’s what happens when you write a post months after a trip occurred!
  • The beer labels at this brewery were quite interesting
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Clearly this beer is not one that would be a huge success in the USA

Next stop was the lovely little town of Rostock,  formerly part of  East Germany.  Enrico told us that on November 9, 1989, the citizens of Rostock danced on the wall in celebration of the peaceful revolution.  Germans commemorate October 3rd, 1990 as their reunification date, with a festival at the Brandenburg Gate.

We didn’t see the Brandenburg Gate on THIS trip, but we DID see Rostock’s Stone Gate.  p1160664

Enrico pointed out that there are no pigeons hanging out in this particular tower.  The reason?  The bricks were drenched with bulls’ blood.  Why that makes a difference, I don’t know.  I also don’t know whether cow’s blood–or any other animal’s blood would also do the trick.  After my beer breakfast, my mind wasn’t sharp enough to ask such insightful questions.

Other highlights of Rostock were its public University

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Enrico in front of Rostock University, which was established in 1419.

Its lovely town square, surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings,

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and playful fountains.

Kids enjoying the fountain in the town square

Kids enjoying the fountain in the town square

The Germans, like many Europeans, have a more open attitude about bodies and sexuality, as demonstrated by this bench in the fountain. (Yes indeed, it was IN the fountain)

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What better way to follow up our time by the fountain than with a visit to St. Mary’s Church?   Construction of this church initially took place in the 13th century, with renovations and restorations repairing subsequent damage that war and religious differences wreaked.

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This was the first time we saw a ship dangling from a church ceiling, but it wasn’t the last.

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This clock inside St. Mary’s Church is incredible. The craftsman ship is amazing. So much detail!

We were fortunate to have a guide who is getting his degree in education.  And what a wonderful teacher he will be.  He shared information about German culture and society.  Food in German is inexpensive, education is free and health care is free.  The state pays 185 Euros per child per month to parents.  All this is funded by a 35% income tax, with additional funding from taxes generated by exports.

One of the advantages of travel is learning how different societies address their problems.  Enrico’s thesis is on what he termed America’s fascination with guns.  As a contrast, he explained that 95% of the German police never fire their guns during their entire career.  When they do, they aim for the culprit’s leg.

Our return to Warnemunde was via a ferry.  Although the weather wasn’t the best, we wandered around this little seaside town, enjoying the sights.

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Warnemunde

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With skies like these, we decided not to linger

The best part of our decision to stay local was we had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the beautiful Viking ship.   We were welcomed back with open arms, and with glasses of champagne.  p1000567

Another bonus?  It was easy to get a reservation at The Chef’s Table, our favorite specialty restaurant.

Okay, just ONE food photo.  This first of five courses, beef carpaccio, gives you an idea of the artistry of the Chef’s Table’s offerings.  And yes, that red goblet by the plate is indeed a paired wine.

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Because we weren’t exhausted from a long trip to Berlin, we had enough energy to visit  Torshaven, Viking’s cozy little nightclub.   Here’s the band belting out some Gloria Estevan songs that they learned at the request of our friend, Jeanne.

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Gdynia and Gdansk, Poland

Our Viking tour had us scheduled for only a half day in Poland.  We docked in Gdynia, which just happened to be the departure port for my husband’s grandmother, who was pregnant with his mother when she left Poland in 1923, searching for a better life in the USA.  So that was kinda cool.

The tour choices were limited–a free city tour of Gdansk, or the optional tours to Stutthof Concentration Camp or Malbork Castle.  Given that we had never been to Poland before, we chose the Gdansk city tour.

I’ll confess that I didn’t expect much.  Squished between the two warring superpowers of Germany and Russia, it had been a battleground more times than I cared to count. Here’s what Gdansk looked like in 1945, after the Russians got through with it.gdnsk

First surprise was the 45 minute ride to Gdansk.  The main road was clean and green, with lovely trees, flowers and public buildings along the way.  We stopped briefly at the Oliwa Cathedral, (which didn’t much impress me), drove by Lech Walesa’s house (I don’t think he was home), then arrived at the city that for a brief period was known as Danzig.  (Until we arrived there I hadn’t made the connection.  I really should have paid closer attention in World History, Freshman year.)

“Amazed” doesn’t quite capture what I felt when I saw how this city had been restored to its former glory.  It is incredibly beautiful!

I love the pedestrian walkways in the old section of the city.

I love the pedestrian walkways in the old section of the city.

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It was not too crowded, because it was relatively early on a Sunday morning

I also wasn’t aware that Daniel Farenheit was born in Gdansk– are we starting to see a trend here?  In my defense, however,  he lived most of his life in the Dutch Republic.  Still, Gdansk is where he got his start and the city is rightfully proud of him.

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Tribute to Farenheit in Gdansk

Another of Gdansk’s claims to fame is the 14th century human powered crane that was used to load and unload cargo, and is still in working condition.  If you walk along the  river, you will come to the brick building that houses the crane and its giant treadmill.

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Here’s a scale model of the crane, the way it would appear from the river, a vantage point I didn’t have for my photographs.

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Workers would be strutting their stuff, inside this giant wheel shaped treadmill, which powered the crane.  Am I the only one that sees a great opportunity for an exercise video?  Just add music and spandex!

I loved the architecture–the attention to detail.  Check out these beautiful buildings.

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The building fas seen from a distance

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A up close view

The scales of justice appear atop several buildings

Everywhere you looked, you saw something beautiful.  Even the sewer covers were artistic!  If you click on the individual photos you should be able to get it to enlarge.

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This restored building was originally built in 1605.

 

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One of several gates to the city

And if you don’t think all of this is pretty bloody amazing, take another look at the 1945 photo to see the city after the Russians got through bombing it to kingdom come.  The Poles have a lot to be proud of.  (And I have a lot of Polish friends and relatives!)

Despite being well fed on the ship, we stopped in a little outdoor cafe, where I had the most incredible hot fudge sundae EVER.  Now I’m regretting not taking a picture of it — it was so gorgeous, not to mention delicious.  Oh well, you’ll just have to trust me on that one–till you can visit Gdansk and experience it for yourself.

One last sight before I end this post.  Neptune’s fountain.  It is definitely worthy of multiple views.

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One thing about the free Viking tours–it truly is the luck of the draw.  We drove right by the Solidarity Monument without stopping.  Friends that were on a later tour were able to get off the bus for a closer look, something that I would have liked to have done.

The take away?  I have a much greater appreciation for Poland and all it has to offer.  The great thing about a cruise is it helps you identify the places you want to visit again and linger.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn was the perfect respite from the opulence and grandeur of St. Petersburg.   We boarded a bus early in the morning for Viking’s included walking tour of the old town. Our ship wasn’t scheduled to depart until 9 PM that evening, so my thinking was that the tour would give us an overview and we would return later to visit the sights that most interested us.   At least that was the initial plan.

I don’t know whether it was the dreary weather, or the lingering effects of sensory overload from St. Petersburg, but after the tour concluded, WE concluded that the afternoon would be best spent partaking in some of the delights aboard our lovely ship.  Still, we have a few photos to share:

Notice the umbrellas in the foreground. It rained off and on during the tour.

Notice the umbrellas in the foreground. It rained off and on during the tour.

View of the medieval "lower town" from a lookout in the "upper town".

View of the medieval “lower town” from a lookout in the “upper town”.

Cars and buses are not allowed inside Tallinn’s old town, so we followed the city wall down the hill to the town square,

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main square

main square

where we found an abundance of shops, cafes, and a medieval pharmacy, which is still in operation today.

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We didn’t need to replenish our supply of wood louse infusions, earthworms in oil, or dried deer penises, so we left the pharmacy empty handed.

The Estonians seem to like three dimensional advertising.  Here are just a few examples.

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I loved the fire breathing dragon with the crown on his head, and the maiden advertising the “super sale”?  She had lots of similarly attired companions scattered throughout the square.

That evening, we had dinner at one of Viking’s specialty restaurants, The Chef’s Table.  This is a five course fixed menu, with wine pairings.  That evening we enjoyed the “Asian Panorama” menu.  The fixed menus change every three days, and we sampled three of them!

We started with chilled king crab made with coconut foam and curry, followed by lobster and chicken shu mai, which was a soft dumpling.  Now ordinarily, I am not a fan of either of those seafood items, but these were delicious.

Next up was a lemongrass and red chili granita with lychee foam (there was a whole lot of foaming in this restaurant), followed by the main course–Peking duck with a mandarin pancake.  Dessert was an Asian trilogy of chocolate banana spring roll, green tea cheesecake and yuzu creme brulee.

Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the food–I was way too busy eating, drinking and talking, but if I had, you would have seen that the portions weren’t huge.  At the end of the meal we were satisfied, not stuffed!

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Our happy traveling companions, at the end of our dinner, after lots of wine!