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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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!

Viking Homelands Ocean Cruise

Okay, so initially we were planning to celebrate our 40th anniversary in April by traveling to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet,  but as my favorite philosopher once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Mike wasn’t able to make that trip, so instead, we will be celebrating with a Viking Ocean Cruise to the Baltic states.  We start in Stockholm and before we end in Bergen, we will have popped into all of the Scandinavian countries, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdansk and Warnemunde.  The Viking brochure provided this visual. vikingIn addition to celebrating both a birthday and an anniversary, this trip will be special because our friends, Tony and Helen (from Oregon) and Jeanne (from New York), will also be on the cruise.

We have been receiving Viking’s river cruise catalogues for many years, but had never traveled with them.  Then, in 2015 they began offering ocean cruises and one had exactly the itinerary we wanted.  We had been thinking that we should save cruising for when we were older and not able to do the more strenuous activities like hiking and biking, but after that week of Tibet’s squat toilets, I was more than ready for a little luxury.

All of the cabins have balconies, so the cruise price varies by size of cabin, amenities, initial boarding time, and priority for tour, spa, and specialty restaurant reservations.  None of the above was all that important to us, so we went for a lower cost cabin.  It just so happens that we prefer a lower deck, toward the center of the ship anyway, because there is less rockin’ and rollin’ in rough seas, and that’s where the less expensive cabins are.

Viking offers one free tour in each port, plus for an additional fee, you can choose among many alternatives.  Those alternatives can be a bit pricy so we decided to either opt for the free tour or venture out on our own.

We will be arriving in Stockholm two days before we board the ship.  Because we made our own flight arrangements (yes, I am more than a little anal about flight arrangements) and chose not to purchase Viking’s pre-trip package, we will have to get ourselves from airport to hotel, and will be exploring Stockholm on our own.  I bought the Kindle edition of Rick Steves’ Northern European Cruise Portsso that we can access the maps and information from my iPhone.  Just the information on Stockholm’s unregulated taxis was probably worth the price of the book!

Cruise Critic’s website had lots of helpful information about several of the ports.  One poster gave such detailed information about the Norway ports we will be visiting that I printed out her review and will be taking it with us.  Thanks to her, we will be riding the scenic train ride from Flam to Myrdal, then instead of taking the train back down the mountain, we will be renting bikes at the Myrdal cafe and riding to town.  Her description of the road down was the deciding factor!

Checking out our ship’s Roll Call on Cruise Critic allowed us to contact others interested in sharing a private tour in St. Petersburg.  We also were able to sign up for a “Welcome Aboard” party offered by Viking crew members for Cruise Critic participants (and you become a Cruise Critic participant simply by signing on to their website).    Don’t you just love the internet?  I hope my upcoming posts will be as helpful to future travelers.