Aalborg, Denmark

Yet another advantage of cruising?  You visit ports that you probably would not have found on your own.  We had never heard of Aalborg before our Viking cruise.

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Is Aalborg Europe’s happiest city?   The tourist board certainly thinks so and after spending the morning with Jane, our cheerful–and informative– tour guide, I think it might just be.

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Jane told us residents are happy because they feel safe and they have what they need.  Although taxes are high, there is no charge for education, pensions are universal and health care is provided.  University students live in cheap apartments, get a stipend and have free tuition.  In Denmark, Jane told us, people are cared for.

What I found interesting is that although mothers get one year paid maternity leave, and families receive a per child payment, the average family size is less than two.  Especially with those long winter nights…

Aalborg is a lovely little city, very clean, artistic, and orderly, with a nice mix of old, preserved buildings along more modern edifices.

The Jens Bang house (on the left)  was built in 1624.  Mr Bang was a very successful merchant, but unfortunately was never accepted by the power structure.p1160937

He took architectural revenge, however, by decorating the side facing city hall with these grimacing creatures, who are sticking their tongues out at the politicians of the day.

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Here’s a closer look.

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The rather irreverent Danish sense of humor continues to this day, as displayed in these figures found in a gift shop.

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No, I didn’t buy any presents here.

Our tour included a visit to the monastery/nunnery, where proximity led to a flurry of construction.  It seems that in the 1400’s, unplanned pregnancies were resolved by bricking up the nuns (into walls) where they (and their unborn children) were left to die.

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What a difference a few centuries can make!

We also visited the local churches where we saw something rather novel: refreshments being offered in the church proper.  They really ARE a very welcoming community!

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Sign posted outside a church. I guess when you feel happy an cared for, that feeling can be extended to others that are less fortunate.

As with other Scandinavian churches, this one had a ship hanging from the ceiling, which we were told is meant to symbolize passage from this world into the next.

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If you happen to visit Aalborg and have a hankering for some good ol’ American fare, not to worry.  This wonderful town has you covered.

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On our way back to the ship we were treated to a “reenactment”, something those of us in the northeast are all quite familiar with.

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As the ship pulled out of port, residents gathered to bid us farewell, waving flags while loudspeakers broadcast Danish music.

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Yep, they sure looked happy.  And we were too, after spending the morning with them!

 

Copenhagen

The great thing about cruising?  You get to sample lots of different places without having to pack and unpack.  The downside?  Your stay in a fantastic country like Denmark is way too short.  Not only that, but you are doing so much and seeing so much, your blogging gets delayed till you get home.  Then, if you are me, months later you start looking at photos and trying to decipher your notes only to realize how much you have forgotten.

Our Viking itinerary included two stops in Denmark–a full day in Copenhagen and a half day in Alborg.   For both stops, we opted to take the included Viking tours, and we were quite happy with our decision.

Of course, we knew we HAD to see the iconic Danish landmark, The Little Mermaid, which was within walking distance of our ship.

What was surprising to me was how close she is to the shore.  It was possible to climb out to join her on the rock, an impulse our guide requested that we resist.  Other tourists, however, did not feel so constrained.   I’m thinking that I probably shouldn’t have waited till they cleared off to take my shot.  It might have been a far more amusing photo to see them cavorting alongside her.

Our guide mentioned that the mermaid has a less famous sister down the road a bit,  who is affectionately known as the “Dolly Parton version”.  Hmmm, wonder why Walt Disney didn’t include HER in his movie?

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Also alongside the harbor is the Opera House, a gift from Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller, the Danish shipping magnate.   The building design has been compared to a spaceship, the grill of a 55 Pontiac and a fly. Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller’s response to suggestions for modifications?   “I’m giving you a gift, not a gift certificate.”  p1160743

The Danes are rightfully proud that the harbor is so clean that you can swim in it.  In fact, someone used the roof of the opera house as a diving board to prove that very point.  (Was it Maersk Mc-Kinney Moeller?  Unfortunately, I don’t remember — but I DO remember that Maersk lived 98 years, so maybe.  I certainly had fun envisioning the old guy balancing on the roof’s edge. )

Copenhagen is a lovely city with the requisite number of palaces, towers, forts, churches and statues.  Here are just a few of the images from our city tour.

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This horseman is surrounded by four identical buildings, all housing members of the royal family.
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Notice the three crowns atop the tower. If my memory is accurate (and that is a pretty big “if”), they represent the three countries of Scandinavia.
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A profound quote from our former president, is as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

We were getting close to experiencing sensory overload, so after the tour concluded,  we returned to the ship for lunch.  The fortress was within walking distance of the ship and was the perfect place to spend the rest of our time in port.p1160806

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Who knew that a fortress could be so peaceful?

Another beautiful departure, as we headed for our next stop: Aalborg.

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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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