Copenhagen and Baltic Cruise 2019-10

Copenhagen and Baltic Cruise 2019-10

Laurie and I spent most of a week in Copenhagen, Denmark, then boarded the Norwegian Getaway for a cruise around the Baltic, visiting Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden before returning to Copenhagen and home. Her sisters Cindy and Caral went with us, and Ann, a friend of Caral’s.


Copenhagen, Denmark 2019-10-07/10/11

We arrived in Copenhagen the morning of Monday 10/7, and first thing were entertained by the Danish Modern style of the airport. We picked up our Copenhagen Card (great deal, public transit and lots of attractions at one discounted price) at the airport, and were off and running. First stop was the Hotel Danmark, where we expected to leave our bags in a luggage room, but discovered a room was ready and we could check in early. Win!


Then, off to Christianborg Palace, where we visited the Royal Stables, ruins under the castle showing prior buildings on the site, and the Royal Kitchens (amazing collection of copper cookware). Otherwise, some general wandering about, and noticing that rush hour in Copenhagen includes a lot of bicycles.

We went for field trips out of Copenhagen on Tuesday and Wednesday (see below), then met up with Laurie’s sister Caral and friend Ann on Thursday for our first use of the subway (straightforward, simple, clean, safe) headed for Amalienborg Palace. We got distracted on the way by Frederiksstaden (a church clearly following the model of the Pantheon). And roadwork – with all the cobblestones everywhere, roadwork is a bit different than it is in the USA.

After Amalienborg Palace and lunch, Laurie and I headed for the National Museum of Denmark, which had all kinds of things of interest.

On Friday 10/11, we checked out of our hotel, took our bags, and went to visit The Little Mermaid on our way to the cruise ship terminal. Very proud of ourselves that with our carry-on only luggage it was entirely possible to take subway and bus to visit a tourist attraction, and then bus to the cruise ship entirely on our on.  And then we were on the ship.


Roskilde, Denmark 2019-10-08

Roskilde was the medieval capital city of Denmark. Today, there are several nice museums, and scenic walks available in this seaside town.


The Viking Ship Museum has the remains of several Viking ships that had been sunk intentionally to help control a channel. One even has the remains of the rail used to hold shields along the side. And they have many boats they have recreated using historical techniques and materials.

Roskilde Cathedral was a pretty typical cathedral, interesting enough but nothing exceptional.

Roskilde Museum has all kinds of artifacts from the Viking period. I was particularly interested in the bone artifacts – combs, chess pieces, buttons, and musical instruments.

Helsingor, Denmark 2019-10-09

Helsingor, more specifically the Kronborg Castle found there, is the historical inspiration for Shakespeare’s Elsinore, home of Hamlet.


Helsingor is about an hour train ride north of Copenhagen. The train line ends there, in a really interesting 19th Century train station. Kronborg Castle is an easy walk from the station, passing some public art along the way.

Kronborg Castle is mostly late 16th and 17th century construction, which has been nicely preserved and restored. There are some stunning tapestries and a lot of furniture, some as early as 14th century. And then there’s the lower level basements and storage areas, where a statue of Holger Danske (see the tale by Hans Christian Andersen) was donated by the WWII resistance group of the same name.

Back on the grounds of the castle, we realized “evil Sweden” is easily visible across the water. Denmark and Sweden had a long history of “who’s the king?” and taking land back and forth.

Danish smørrebrød sandwiches aren’t like anything you get in the States.

Warnemunde, Germany 2019-10-12

Warnemunde is a seaside resort near Rostock. The cruise ship company uses this port for excursions to Berlin, but we weren’t going to take 3 hour bus rides both directions. So we wandered on our own.


The first thing we found when we walked off the ship and headed toward town was a set of sand sculptures that were really entertaining. I wish I knew what they’d done to stabilize the sand for long term display.

We wandered the town, found an historic lighthouse worth climbing for the views, and got fingers wet in the Baltic Sea. It was too cold to go wading.

Day At Sea 2019-10-13

Lazy day hanging out and reading fiction, and playing with circus toys – spinning plates, juggling scarves and ball, devil stick, chinese yo-yo in a cruise sponsored activity.


Tallinn, Estonia 2019-10-14

On our cruise around the Baltic, we visited Tallinn, Estonia. Its a small city, with the port an easy walk from downtown. On the way, there’s a large and informative sign about Estonia.


Its a very picturesque city, with a lot of buildings remaining from the middle ages. There’s a great plaza in the middle of town. And the town hall there has a cute gargoyle – which was at work with all the rain while we were there.

The highlight of our visit was the KGB Museum in the Hotel Viru, which was built for Western visitors during the height of the cold war. Guest rooms alternated with surveillance rooms. A KGB control center on the top floor was abandoned when the KGB left Estonia, with only the highest priority items removed, the rest remains to today. Direct link telephone to who-knows-where, camera used through pinholes, recording equipment, gas masks, bait purse testing staff who weren’t supposed to have Western currency, and all kinds of other toys. And a fascinating tour guide.

We also spent time walking remnants of the medieval city walls. The stairs the guards had to walk were really narrow and steep. But at least they had comfort facilities available!

St. Petersburg, Russia 2019-10-15/16

For this port, we chose to go ashore only with cruise sponsored excursions. That made the visa situation a lot easier to deal with, even though we still had to go through passport control every time we got on or off the ship.

St. Petersburg Day 1

“Imperial St. Petersburg”, with a bus tour to Peterhof, a palace and grounds built by Peter the Great starting in 1709 as a response to Versailles. The bus tour took us past numerous churches (converted to swimming pools, skating rinks, or storage buildings in the Soviet era) and other buildings of interest. We had terrific weather for visiting the grounds of Peterhof, a little chilly but bright sunshine.


Inside the palace… opulent isn’t a strong enough word. I was particularly fascinated by the floors, and the intricate woodwork they displayed. Separate photo gallery of floors:

According to our guide, we were very lucky to come so late in the season, as the crowds were much smaller. In the garden that seemed to be true. Inside the palace… well, I’m glad there weren’t any more people than there were. After the palace, we went and had lunch at a nearby hotel, and back on the bus to make a quick visit to Palace Square (more tomorrow), St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral (tomb of Nicholas II and family), and other sites in passing.

After returning to the ship for dinner, we went out to a performance of “folk dance and music”, which seemed to me to be “Ballet Folklorico de Russia”. I think I’d have preferred to go to the ballet. Ah, well…

St. Petersburg Day 2

“Pushkin and The Hermitage” expedition was a bus trip to Pushkin, a suburb of St. Petersburg with Catherine Palace (and some Alexander Pushkin sites) and then The Hermitage, one of the great art museums of the world.


Catherine Palace was built by Catherine the Great starting in 1717. Our tour guide described her as “Cinderella Girl”, who went from servant to mistress to Empress of Russia. There are “E” motifs throughout the palace, for Ekaterina. Also the “Nyet, nyet ladies” as our guide called them, grandmother age women in every room to tell the tourists not to touch things, to stay behind ropes, to keep moving, and so on. Most rooms had these huge stoves in them for heat, covered with Delft tiles. And the floors…. take another look at the link to the floor photo gallery above. Wow. And then the formal gardens, not quite as extensive as at Peterhof, but still. The Palace was badly damaged by the Nazis in WWII, but the Soviets considered it a point of cultural pride to restore it, and the current Russian administration continues the restoration work.

Then back on the bus, and return to St. Petersburg for lunch and a visit to The Hermitage. On the way, we passed a monument showing the closest approach of the Nazis to Leningrad during a 900 day siege .

The Hermitage is a terrific museum, formerly Palace. Lots of things to see, and I’m glad we were there “off season”. I’m not sure if I’d have survived “on season” crowds. And more OMG floors. There were some objects I was happy to see in person, having previously made their acquaintance only through books.


Helsinki, Finland 2019-10-17

In Helsinki, we first did a full circle of the city on the Hop On Hop Off bus, listening to the recorded narrative. Then we did another round, hopping off and on again to see things of interest. This was a short day in port, we may need to come back to Helsinki in the future.


Finnish is the language I was least comfortable with on this trip. Russian has a lot of cognates, once you’re past the Cyrillic alphabet. I was glad to find everyone spoke English, and a lot of signage was in English as well. We lucked into an orchestra rehearsing in the Rock Church – a church literally hollowed out of a huge rock. They might even have been playing Sibelius. Then the National Museum of Finland, which had quite a bit of history of Finland that was new to us. The train station was architecturally interesting.


Stockholm, Sweden 2019-10-18

Unfortunately, I had a GI system upset, and slept through the port stop at Stockholm. Laurie went ashore on her own, and apparently had a great time at Skansen, the worlds oldest open air museum.


Day at Sea 2019-10-19

Another lazy day, recovering from stomach issues and preparing to head for home.


Copenhagen, Munich, Chicago 2019-10-20

We disembarked from the ship, and transferred to Copenhagen’s airport, where we waited for our flight to Munich and then back to home. About a 20 hour  travel day, with a 4 feature movie flight  from Munich to Chicago.

Travel Tip – Learn (a little of) the Language

If traveling somewhere that uses a different language, 12 (or more) weeks ahead start listening to language lessons. The “One Minute Language Lessons” series from RadioLingua  is a good place to start. The BBC Languages page is another good source. What’s available online keeps changing, search for things like “language tips for travelers” and see what you find.

Once you have learned a little of the language, use it! The local inhabitants will be pleased that you made the effort. In some places, demonstrating that you’re not concerned about speaking a language perfectly (by demonstrating your lack of facility with theirs!) will make people more comfortable about using their imperfect English with you. And in all cases, you’ll be astonished to discover how small a vocabulary you need to achieve communication, and even have interesting conversations.

Travel Tip – Power Management


Today’s traveler carries several different kinds of powered devices. Whether smartphone, tablet, digital camera, all three, or something else they have in common that they need power. You’ll almost certainly have to recharge them while you travel.

Get and carry a travel power strip, plug adapter, and voltage converter. Also several USB power supplies, and any custom adapters you need. My current set includes a cable and USB adapter for an iPod Touch, a cable and USB adapter for a Kindle, a device specific cell phone adapter, and a device specific digital camera battery charger. They all fit in a small bag I keep in my day bag. Make sure you have plug adapters that will work where you are going – Europe is different from the US, both are different from the UK, and Africa and Australia are different from each other and all the rest.

Verify that all your powered devices will self-adjust to different current standards. The US is 60 Hz 120v power, most of UK and Europe is 50Hz 240v and will blow up powered devices that aren’t built to adjust to that power.

In the near future, I expect to be able to carry a single multi port USB adapter and a few cables, instead of the collection I need today.

For keeping track of the cords, see Travel Tips – Cord Management.

Getting coached by David Allen

This is a really informative 15 minute video, showing bits of David Allen in a coaching engagement, getting someone started on GTD.

Travel Tip – Carry on Only

Carry on only if at all possible. Yes, it is almost always possible. Checking bags slows you down at both ends of the trip, and reduces flexibility if changes are needed in the middle. I have missed flights waiting for Customs to inspect checked bags. See Airline Travel – Carryon Only for a case where having carry on only prevented a problem.

Get a slightly under sized rollaboard. That way when you over stuff it, you can still get it in the overhead. If you get one with a top front pocket, that’s where your 311 bag of liquids goes. Don’t make the security line wait while you unpack to find your liquids!

Travel Tip – Set Timepieces to Destination

Set timepieces to the time zone of your destination as you depart.

If traveling across more than a couple of time zones, it is useful to start being aware of the time at the destination a few days ahead of time, and start adjusting your sleep if possible.


Travel Tips Overview

This post serves as a description of the Travel Tips category and series of posts.

I have been travelling for long enough, even if not all that often in a year, to have accumulated a bunch of techniques for making it easier or better in some way. Some are things I have learned from reading blogs, listening to podcasts, or watching videos. Some are things I figured out for myself, often by having something go not nearly as well as it could have. I’ll put a bunch of these posts out, and keep adding to or updating them as my knowledge or opinion changes.

Western Mediterranean 2015-11

Our Western Mediterranean Cruise

We had a small family travel group visit the Mediterranean, flying to Barcelona, then cruising on the Norwegian Epic to Naples, Rome (Civitavecchia), Florence (Livorno), Cannes, Palma Mallorca, and back to Barcelona. “We” was me, my wife Laurie, my father, Laurie’s sister, and her cousin. Full photo collection on Flickr, with subsets linked below.

Friday – Saturday

We left directly from work, taking the Blue Line CTA from downtown to the airport. We haven’t done that before, and it surprised us with how well it worked, getting us there quickly. We had trouble getting our carryon bags stowed, due to the coats and small bags other people had put in the overhead bins. We got to Toronto in time to wave at Dad and Laurie’s cousin Jon as they boarded, and to join the line for our boarding group. We flew Air Canada, which was new for us. We noticed the crew were all very pleasant, yes?

Saturday night

It was not the best plan to look for dinner at the same time as the Barcelona/Madrid futbol game. But we had entertainment cheering for the local team at the neighborhood restaurant we settled in. And the food was pretty good, although paella with pasta rather than rice seemed a bit unusual. Barcelona photos.


Some of us spent the morning wandering the Gothic quarter, to see what we could see. Interesting churches, streets, and statues. And coffee/breakfast at two different places. One was a pastry shop next to the police station. Yes, police seem to be the same everywhere, enjoying their coffee and donuts.

A highlight of the morning was not once but twice being stopped and asked for directions. And better yet, being able to correctly give them! In a mix of bad Catalan, fair Spanish, and poor French. It got the job done.

Then to the port, and boarding the ship. Norwegian manages this well, boarding 4,000 passengers about as efficiently as possible. We have cruised enough to have learned some tricks – one is what to do immediately on boarding. If you’re early, as we tend to be, the stateroom won’t be ready yet. No problem, find the open dining room and have lunch. Avoid the buffet, it will be a zoo.

About the ship…

The Norwegian Epic is very different than the Jewel class ships we have cruised on before. Twice the size, with a very different layout, which after a week on board we think is a mistake. We prefer the buffet and outdoor cafe to be at the stern, rather than in the bow. Having elevators only fore and aft, with none midships meant a lot of walking one direction on one deck, using the lift, then walking back. We really missed the Spinnaker Lounge, which on the Jewel class ships is forward on an upper deck, with large windows for a good view. It’s often a good space for quiet reading during the day. We never found a space like it on the Epic. The Epic also has no porthole seats on the public decks, our favorite place for evening people watching as those who dress up go to dinner.

The food was overall very good. The menus were interesting, and the food was well prepared. My preference is generally for the buffet, while my father likes the dining rooms, so we did some of each. The food was at least good and often better in all venues. The service was generally fair to poor. In the Manhattan Room in particular, it took more than two hours for what should have been a 45 minute to one hour meal, according to the greeter. Points at which service failed: length of time from being seated to being asked about beverages, length of time from all menus down to taking an order, length of time from utensils down to plates being cleared, length of time from plates cleared to being asked about dessert, length of time from being asked about dessert to being asked about coffee or tea, length of time from delivery of dessert to delivery of beverages. Just about every point where an attentive waiter had an opportunity to provide excellent service was a complete failure. And when we tried to talk to the floor manager, we were asked to wait some more. My advice, skip the dining rooms and use the buffet. Yes, it gets busy and you will have to stand in line for the most popular entrees. But you know what you’re getting into, and won’t be surprised.

The shows we watched were some of the best we have seen, on board or on land. My standards are very high, having spent ten years making a living in theater. “Burn the Floor” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” had great production values, terrific lighting and costumes, and were well performed.

Overall, Norwegian Epic met our needs and most of our expectations, while not being our favorite cruise ship. A few photos from on board.

One additional note about the ship – the extra cost satellite internet is not worth the cost. I understand and expect that satellite connections will be slow. On the other hand, the inability to reliably render it’s own login and logout screens, and taking more than 30 minutes of connectivity without downloading even email headers is unacceptable. WiFi can be found ashore at all ports of call, plan to catch up while in port.

Speaking of ports…

Naples (Tuesday)

We docked downtown in Naples. It is easy to walk off the ship and into the city. Laurie, Dad, and I went on excursions to “Tunnels of Naples” and visited Pompeii. See and for reviews. WiFi is available at many cafes, have a little something while catching up. Photos from Naples and Pompeii.

Rome (Wednesday)

We dock in Civitavecchia for Rome. Getting out of the port we took a shuttle bus to a public bus to the train station, easily done by following signs, and costing a few Euro each. We could have followed the directions I found on the internet to walk to the train, and next time we will. Getting tickets to Rome was easy, and the hour or so train ride had its own entertainment, listening to and watching the other passengers. Total cost for transport to, from, and around Rome (including a day pass for the Metro) was under €30 each, much less than the “Rome on your own” shore excursion.

Too late to do anything about it, we realized that there are several sites in Civitavecchia that would be of interest. Next time we will probably spend the day there. Laurie did get her feet into the Tyrrhennian Sea. Photos from Rome.

Florence (Thursday)

For Florence, we dock in Livorno, a large commercial port. Research ahead of time suggested that public transport would be difficult to get to, so we took a “Florence on your own” excursion. It turned out to be a good choice, with an engaging guide on the bus ride in and out. See Trip Advisor.

A particular success was finding a supermarket just off the square with Il Duomo, and getting our lunch there. The city of Florence provides free WiFi in all public squares, up to two hours. Photos from Florence.

Cannes (Friday)

The Norwegian Epic is too large to dock in Cannes. Tenders run continuously while there, making on and off fairly easy. Tenders are reserved for excursions first, then first come first served. There wasn’t much we were interested in, so we just wandered around looking at buildings and narrow streets. We did have a success experience asking some policemen for a pharmacy, and getting directions all in French. Buying the OTC drugs was a successful transaction, but done in English. Not quite as satisfying a travel experience. Laurie waded in the Ligurian Sea. The city of Cannes provides free WiFi in the port area. Photos from Cannes.

Palma, Mallorca (Saturday)

This stop was frustrating in numerous ways. The Norwegian Epic is too large for the pier at the center of the old city, so we docked a $15 and 8 km shuttle bus ride away. I had been expecting a “walk off to the center of town” experience. Then we discovered that the 2pm arrival time coincided almost exactly with most attractions closing for siesta. More time in online research ahead of time might have turned up this issue. We did enjoy wandering streets, the outside of the cathedral, the Arab baths, the church of Sant Francesc and learning a bit about Ramon Llull. Photos from Palma.

Barcelona (Sunday)

Back to Barcelona, where we were up early to clear out of our stateroom by 8:30a.m. We dropped our bags at the hotel (see review at TripAdvisor) and took a hop on hop off bus tour (review). We hopped off to spend a couple of hours at Sagrada Familia (see review), and I could have taken longer. Fascinating building, with a mix of beauty and oddity, for my taste. I was a bit disappointed at being outvoted by our group at several other hop off opportunities, but the audio on the bus was interesting and informative as we rode around the city.

After checking in to the hotel, those of us with energy headed out to the maritime museum across the street. (See review) We were distracted by the sound of drums, and followed them through a large wooden door into a small private park. We watched a ceremony with people in ornate 17th century clothing, taking place in Catalan. We later discovered (in a mix of very bad English and some even worse Catalan, leavened by Castellano) that we watched the installation of a new colonel commanding the citizens militia. What wasn’t clear was if this is a current organization or a group of historical reenactors. I suspect the latter, but finding out without potentially insulting the man we were talking with was beyond my language skills without advance planning. Another link to photos from Barcelona (same as the link above, no need to take it twice unless you want to).

And then we returned home on Monday. The flight from Barcelona was delayed by computer problems on the ground, which eventually caused trouble with our connection in Toronto. I lost count of the number of times our passports and boarding passes had to be reviewed. I would have thought once to enter Canada, once to leave Canada, once to board the next flight would have been enough, but it was at least twice that many times. In any case, that whole rigamarole, along with US (i.e. TSA) screening (because European screening is clearly not good enough theater) and the late arrival meant that when our Chicago flight departed two minutes early, we were not on it. Fortunately, Air Canada found us and at least a dozen others in the same situation another flight within an hour or so.

And now to recover from jet lag.

GTD Reviews

I recently posted an explanation of the regular reviews I use in Getting Things Done (GTD). On review, I find I’m pretty happy with it. Rather than repeat it all, here is a link to it on

SF Online Bookstores

Some online bookstores that specialized in science fiction, referred by Nicola Griffith writing Keep the money in the family on Charlie Stross’ blog.