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!

 

Helsinki 

Usually my blog functions as a substitute for postcards.  It is a way to stay connected with family and friends–a way for them to share in the wonder and excitement of travel without enduring the long plane rides, jet lag, and other miscellaneous discomforts of life on the road.

For this cruise, however, the free wifi was not robust enough to allow photo uploads.  Being a very visual person, I saw no point in posting without photos.  So, now that I’m   home, I’m playing catch up.  These postcards were way delayed!  But maybe my posts will be helpful to anyone that is considering the Viking Homelands cruise, or might be touring any of the Baltic ports we visited.

Now about Helsinki…

Helsinki was the perfect respite between the two sensory overload ports of Stockholm and St. Petersburg.  We took the included Viking tour, which was a morning bus trip with three stops.  And that was enough for us.

First stop was the Sibelius monument, which consists of 600 welded stainless steel tubes,

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The individual pipes really are quite spectacular

and a bust of the composer.

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Is it just me, or  does it look like he’s been beheaded and impaled?

The guide told us that Sibelius’s bust had seven wrinkles–one for each of his symphonies.  I wasn’t able to verify, but I’m not so sure I like that way of displaying accomplishments.  If that were the universal yardstick,  I’m either way behind  with achievements or way ahead with wrinkles.

Our guide told us that when Sibelius died in 1957, at the age of 91, the US Embassy was the only one to have a moment of silence in his honor.  Nicely done, USA.

Next up, the Rock Church, which is not its real name, but its real name is long, hard to spell, and not as descriptive.  So here’s the story:  two brothers got the bright idea to hollow out an enormous hunk of granite, turning it into, of all things, a church.  Lo and behold, their idea was the competition winner.   After four years of applications, permits and paperwork, plus one year of construction, the church was completed.  And here you have it.

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Our final stop was at Senate Square, where Russian Tsar Alexander ll stands, with the Finnish constitution in his hand and a bird atop his head (Just so you know, the bird is not a permanent part of the statue).   He was quite beloved in Finland, much more so than in Russia, where he was assassinated after freeing the slaves, providing an example of  common ground between Russia and the USA.
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Behind him is the Lutheran Church, which we opted not to visit.  Did you see all those steps?   Instead, we stopped inside the tourist information center, where we discovered this promotional brochure from a Finnish company.

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The Bonk Brochure
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One of many hilarious pages

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I was completely taken in by this brochure, and thought that
  1. the company was realand  2.  that it had an amazing sense of humor.
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Being a curious soul and having access to the internet, I decided to check this company out and discovered that it is actually fictional — the work of Finnish painter and sculptor Alvar Gullichsen.   I wish I’d known that when we were in Helsinki.  I would have explored that yellow building in the background, rather than posing for a color coordinated photo.