What We Did On Our 2018 Summer Vacation, Day 4 (All Aboard)

Saturday, August 18 was the first day of our nine-day Baltic Sea cruise aboard the “Norwegian Breakaway”, a big-ass cruise ship decorated from end to end in New York-oriented stuff. Most of the year it serves the New York market, but for some reason did a series of back to back summer 2018 cruises out of Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea. Our itinerary called for us to stop off in Berlin (which is well inland, requiring a multi-hour train trip at the start and end of the day), Tallinn (Estonia), St Petersburg (Russia), Helsinki (Finland), and Stockholm (Sweden). To get that up to nine days, two days were spent at sea not doing a port call, and we spent two days moored in St Petersburg. All in all, nine days.

That Saturday, we got up, had breakfast, packed up and checked out of the Axel Guldsmeden, and took a taxi up to the cruiseport on the north side of town. Boarding was painless and our bags made it to our room within a couple of hours. We poked around the ship, found (oddly enough) a two-lane bowling alley with skee-ball games nearby, got our reservation in for a couple’s massage on the “sea day” we had scheduled after our day in Berlin, and had dinner in one of the “specialty restaurants” on board (the quasi-French restaurant called “Le Bistro”). I couldn’t tell you what the heck we ate, but we got pictures of it all anyway.

Carole is a skee-ball goddess, incidentally.

Curiously, it seems we took few if any actual pictures of our stateroom on the Breakaway. I guess when you’ve done a few cruises (we have done four) the staterooms all sort of start to look alike. Ours wasn’t that big despite being a “mini-suite” — the “suite” aspect of it was mostly in that we had a fairly large bathroom with a hotel-sized shower (cruise ship showers are usually about the size of a small phone booth). More to the point, our “mini-suite” entitled us to access to the “thermal suite”, a large quasi-private area directly below the ship’s bridge with a hot tub, a saltwater pool with waterfalls and jets, a sauna, a steam room, a “salt bath” room, and so on. It was indoors, with large windows looking directly ahead of the ship in the direction of travel. I have no photos of that, either, because we were strongly discouraged from roaming around the area with cameras and cell phones. (Much like the rules in a fitness club locker room.) On those days where we weren’t being rushed around onshore by one tour guide or another, we enjoyed just hanging out in the thermal suite and watching the Baltic slip by. (You can see beaucoup photos of the place on the Cruise Critic website; evidently they were allowed to take photos for publicity purposes on a day guests weren’t there.)

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What We Did On Our 2018 Summer Vacation, Day 3 (Tivoli)

Friday, August 17 was our first full day in Copenhagen and the last day before we embarked on our nine-day Baltic Sea cruise. We kept things simple and didn’t try to do too much; mostly we wandered around the legendary Tivoli Gardens amusement park and dodged a couple of showers. Tivoli Gardens is the second-oldest amusement park in the world, dating back to 1843. (The oldest is also in Denmark, for what it’s worth.)

In a nutshell, Tivoli Gardens is like a large park with ponds and trees and grassy areas and a couple of concert pavilions, with restaurants and carnival-style amusement park rides scattered here and there. It’s located smack dab in the middle of downtown Copenhagen and we got the impression that a lot of locals have season or yearly memberships and drop by in the evenings to see shows or to walk around the paths. It’s not the sort of thing I’d take a bunch of hyperactive kids to; they’d get bored pretty quickly. The high point of the day, for us, was watching a very nice Commedia dell’Arte show at the Pantomime Theater. Commedia dell’Arte is silent (no speaking lines) buffoonery mixed with ballet dancing. It stars Pierrot, a clown dressed in all white, Harlequin, a trickster dancer dressed in bright colors, and a cast of others. We liked it a lot.

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What We Did On Our 2018 Summer Vacation, Day 2 (Arrival)

Day 2 of our Baltic Sea vacation was our first day in Denmark. Our red-eye flight from Chicago got us to Copenhagen at 1 pm local time, which actually worked out well. By the time we got our bags (all four made it! yeah!) and caught a train from the airport to Copenhagen’s central rail station downtown, it was 3 o’clock and we could check right in at our hotel a couple of blocks away.

Hotels in Denmark are a bit different from what we’re used to back in the States — they (mostly) don’t have air conditioning and you don’t see as many chain names as you would back home. We wound up in a boutique hotel called the Axel Guldsmeden, two blocks from the train station (this was in fact the main reason I picked it; we didn’t have to worry about taking taxis to and from the hotel) and three blocks from the legendary Tivoli Gardens amusement park.

The hotel was comfortable and far-from-cookie-cutter, with “Bali-esque” decorations and quirky room features like a stone bathtub with handheld shower and no shower curtain. They had a breakfast buffet you could add to your room for a pretty decent fee and that way we had a Danish-style breakfast (albeit without any danish) each morning without having to venture out.

We didn’t do a whole hell of a lot our first day what with having arrived on a red-eye and all. We walked around and looked at things and took pains to stay out of the way of the gazillions of cyclists that were absolutely everywhere in Copenhagen. They didn’t move at the batshit dangerous speeds we’d been told to expect, but you had to watch out nonetheless — stepping out into a street blindly just because you didn’t hear a car coming was not advised.

We walked past the Tycho Brahe planetarium, walked by but not through the Christiansborg palace (Carole had a fun time walking on the decorative tiles in a pool at Bertel Thorvaldsen Plaza), and wound up getting ice cream in a little shop on the waterfront along the Nyhavn canal. It was a beautiful sunny day, but we were pretty zonked. We walked back to the hotel, had a light dinner in the little brasserie attached to the lobby, and passed out.

Everyone spoke English, by the way. Most of them spoke it very, very well. The only people we met who didn’t speak English were tourists from elsewhere in Europe, some of whom only spoke French or German. As far as we knew, anyway.

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What We Did On Our 2018 Summer Vacation, Day 1 (Across The Pond)

This past August we took what was probably our most ambitious vacation ever — a nine day cruise around the Baltic Sea, stopping off in quite a few countries along the way. I say “ambitious” because frankly, we ran ourselves ragged in the course of things by trying to do as much as humanly possible and then some, and as a result, didn’t have as good a time as we probably would’ve if we just flew to some random island in the Caribbean and drank mai-tais for a week.

Our plan was to fly to Copenhagen, take a couple of days to adjust our internal clocks, then hop on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship for nine days of port calls around the Baltic Sea… followed at the end by two more days hanging out in Copenhagen to relax before having to fly back.

Day 1 of our trip was Wednesday, August 15. We flew United to Chicago and SAS from Chicago to Copenhagen. It made for a long day of flying, especially with a nine hour layover between flights thanks to United dropping the later flight we were originally on and putting us on an earlier flight that got us to Chicago around noon. So, we actually used some of my Hilton points and got a room at the O’Hare airport hotel and crashed for a few hours, then headed back over to the airport proper for our 10 pm red-eye flight to Denmark. My United Club membership and Star Alliance Gold standing got us into the SAS Lounge in the O’Hare International terminal, which was interesting because a) it was about the size of a phone booth and had no restrooms inside, so you had to go back out of the club to use the facilities, and b) had TONS of liquor and meats and cheeses and things, INCLUDING RAMEN NOODLES. The United Club lounges I use for business trips may be huge, but they don’t have all the goodies European airlines consider de rigeur.

The flight proper took about nine hours and we tried as much as possible to just sleep, hoping to arrive the next day in Copenhagen somewhat refreshed. Bizarrely, SAS planes do not have air vents over each seat and it got very stuffy during the flight. Apparently this is common to European carriers — no air vents. We got free seatback TV and movies (they had pretty wide assortment of movies, available in English, Danish, French, German, and Japanese) not to mention a free “comfort kit” which consisted of a sleep mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear buds for use with the TV system, and a “shoe bag”. They served us a hot dinner a couple hours into the flight and another hot meal — not breakfast, exactly, but more of a hot lunch — an hour and a half before landing. We were glad for the food, but all in all we’d have traded it for cool air and fewer disruptions.

People who fly to Europe and elsewhere routinely won’t be surprised to hear us say it, but SAS coach class travel beats the hell out of US domestic coach class travel. All except for that “no air vents” thing.

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Pig On A Park Bench

Remember that line from “Eleanor Rigby” — “Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear”?

I’ve been spending my free time the last few days writing up our August 2018 cruise to the Baltic Sea, curating photos, and so on, all with an aim to posting it all to our WordPress blog at some point — and I know absolutely no one’s going to look at it.

I guess it’s mostly for our benefit, so Carole and I can look back in a few years and go “oh, yeah, it was Estonia where we saw that statue of a pig sitting on a park bench”.

Still, it beats zoning out in front of the television, right? Right?

(Okay, I’m a lonely person.)