Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Copenhagen - Day 13

Monday, September 21, 2015
The rains had cleared and we decided the morning would be perfect for our boat tour. 
On our walk to the boat launch, we passed Nyhavn and a lovely woman took the best photo of the whole trip - with only one take!
Being early, we snagged two front outdoor seats on the next boat leaving the dock. 
If you do nothing else in Copenhagen, you must take a canal tour. It is so delightful to see the architecture from the sea, as generations before have first seen the city.
The boat pulls out of a short canal and into Inderhavn, where we could see the strip near our hotel,
and then our hotel with construction in front.
One of the buildings we passed was Gammel Dok, a former warehouse built in 1882.
Today it houses the Danish Architecture Center and the 2-Michelin star restaurant Noma, which takes months to get in.
Then we pulled into Nyhavn. Our boat guide, who spoke fluent English, Spanish and Danish interchangeably, warned us to stay in our seats because the boats pass closely beneath the bridges.
Indeed they do! High water might be a problem.
More lovely views of Nyhavn, this time from the water.
The canal also serves as a "heritage harbor" for many historic wooden ships.
Someone seems to be living on this one.
Saw the narrowest house on the street.
See it? And then the other end of the canal.
One of the highlights from the water is the ultra modern Opera House, completed in 2005 for about $500 million.
It has a main stage with 5 other stages and 1,000 rooms.
Across from it is Amalienburg Palace, the royal residence since 1794. The family actually lives in the building to the right and a flag is on top (like now) when a royal is in residence. 
Then we entered the Christianshavn Canal, which is lined with a number of centuries-old houses that have been spared the fires of the city.
Along this canal, we had a great view of the spiral tower of Our Saviour's Church, completed in 1752, which has a walkway to the top.
Heard the stairs get very narrow toward the top. Not for us.
Coming out of the canal, we saw the "Black Diamond," Copenhagen's library, named for the black granite exterior that sparkles in the sunlight.
Following the boat tour, we decided to walk around the city center. We found our way to Stroget, Europe's first and longest pedestrian street. When it was inaugurated in 1962, shopkeepers were skeptical, but since then it has caught on throughout the world. More have even been added in this city. We stopped by the graceful Stork Fountain built in 1894 on Amagertov, which has been a popular meeting place since the Middle Ages.
Another main pedestrian street, Kobmagergade, branches off here. I liked the very old building tucked in between some newer structures to the right behind me.
We walked down a street to the Round Tower, which was erected as an observatory in 1642 by King Christian IV.
There are no stairs, only a spiral ramp for transporting astronomical equipment. You can still go up for great views of the city at about 137 feet high. 
On the pedestrian streets, we saw a lot of women pushing baby carriages. We later learned that Denmark has a negative birth rate and is encouraging people to have children.
Thought their choice of traditional baby carriages was interesting. 
We ducked down some side streets looking for lunch. Along the way we saw numerous "bicycle parking lots."
I don't know how people find their own. Denmark encourages people to ride bikes and places a 180% tax on imported cars to discourage driving. The city plans to be carbon neutral by 2025. We also saw a lot of the 3-wheelers with the cart in front to transport everything from children to groceries.
Back to lunch. Our first Rick Steve's recommendation Schonnemann ("best lunch in town") was booked solid so we made our way to his second, Cafe Halvvejen, on a side street in a basement.  Another tiny, tiny place. We got there just in time to snag a table - place could only hold 20 and there were people behind us. Here we got to taste the best "smorrebrod" - open-faced Danish sandwiches on a heavy rye bread. The owner said they are different every day. We had fried fish cakes, egg and shrimp, and bacon and potatoes, with accompanying sauces.
They were amazing. We passed on the traditional "snaps" that usually accompanies them.
Then we saw our red bus and hopped back on to go back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at the Little Mermaid statue along the promenade at Langelinie to get a photo. There were swarms of Asian tourists all around her, trying to take multiple poses with her. We were quite patient, but surprised at the spectacle. Ed managed to snap a quick one of me before the next bus of Asians unloaded.
The statue was erected in 1913, based on the character of the fairy-tale of the same name, written in 1836 by Hans Christian Andersen. (She has been beheaded twice but fortunately the original molds have survived and she is regenerated.) It is the most photographed symbol of the city.
From there we were able to walk back to our hotel. 
Tonight we had dinner at Puk Restaurant, which was recommended by some people from our cruise. Fortunately, we had reservations. Again, a very small place (maybe seats 40) in a basement. A group of 12 American business people had commandeered our little table so they could spread out. The proprietress admonished them and they gave it up, so we had a perfect little seat on benches in a corner. I was impressed she would do that but she said "but you have reservations!" It was the only table left. The food was impressive and Ed buried his head in his meat and potatoes. 

A great ending to a wonderful two weeks in Northern Europe. Tomorrow the airport and home!

Copenhagen - Day 12

Sunday, September 20, 2015
We disembarked our Regent Cruise ship the Voyager at 9 am and easily caught a cab to the Copenhagen Admiral Hotel, our home for the next two nights. Since our room was not ready, we decided to get on one of the red "hop on, hop off" buses that stopped in front of our hotel. There are lots of these buses, but be sure to get the one associated with Gray Line. It included two different city tours and one boat tour, unlimited times for 48 hours, for less than $40 per person. As soon as we got on, it started to rain, which was just fine. We were dry and inside, getting a "lay of the land," and the opportunity to do it all again when the air cleared. No photos at this time.
Back at the hotel at noon, we checked in and headed to our "room with a view." We had guaranteed a water view, which we received. However, it is now a construction site, with some kind of building going up to our right and a large tanker in front being refurbished. Strangely, we didn't really care. It was too cold to leave the window open anyway, but something to check on in the future.
The rain had stopped and we headed out to lunch. Along the way we crossed Nyhavn, the most photographed scene in the city and very near our hotel.
Nyhavn is a 17th century waterfront, canal and entertainment district. However, we did not eat at one of the cute cafes because it was too chilly and they were very crowded. Instead, armed with Rick Steve's recommendations, we went to Holberg 19 (my grandmother's maiden name). It was the tiniest restaurant (which we later learned is the norm) and hard to believe he would recommend it.
It only seats about 15 people and maybe 10 outside on a sunny day. Two women work the whole place, and it took forever to get our food. However, it was lovely.
Since the weather had cleared, we walked to Hojbro Plads (plaza) where the tours begin. Since we had taken the red line this morning, we took the purple line this afternoon. This one goes on some of the other islands away from the city center. We didn't get off and on, but we liked just seeing the sights. Although Copenhagen is a big walking city, it is still spread out.
Copenhagen survived WWII pretty much intact because the Germans and the Allies didn't bomb it. The Germans needed it to get to support bases in Finland (remember, they sided with the Germans) so they just kind of came in one day and said we're here! Contrary to other countries, the Germans let the Danes' institutions function somewhat normally until 1943 when the Germans ramped up their influence. The Germans claimed they were protecting them from an attack by the British. Gotta love those German lies.  The point is that today Copenhagen has a wonderful mixture of old and new architecture -- some of it dating back to the 17th century and much from the 21st century.
Some of the areas we saw on this tour were the Town Square with the Town Hall (on the right), and the Dragon's Leap Fountain in the foreground,
the 1619 Dutch Renaissance Stock Exchange (on the right)
and the railway station.
On this tour our bus went to Christianshavn, on Amager Island. This area still has buildings from the 1600s because it escaped the fires of the center city. 
From here we drove past Christiania. I had planned for us to do a walking tour of it at 3, but upon reaching it, decided against it.
Christiania is a former 19th century military base that was abandoned. In 1971 a group of alternative thinkers ("hippies") moved in and squatted. In those 44 years, about 850 people of all ages, cultures and income levels have converted the barracks, workshops and powder magazines into places they can live and work. Just passing it was a sensory overload.
The walls of the buildings are painted with graffiti and the houses painted vibrant colors. Lots of organic gardening goes on here. Strangely, some of the best restaurants in the city are located here and we found out that the 2-star Michelin restaurant Noma is moving here. 
As we journeyed further on this island, we discovered another interesting lifestyle  phenomenon -- "allotment gardens," which have been around since 1891. Similar to "community gardens" that we have in the US, these plots are usually a little bigger.
The land is owned by the municipality and managed by an association that rents space to its members. Over the years, people have added pavilions, then tiny houses. Many are so fond of these that they spend their summers here, although they cannot live here the entire year.
After this tour, we decided to repeat our morning tour, without the rain. We rode past the 3 major palaces, Amalienburg, Christiansburg and Rosenburg, but we did not get off. Think we've had enough palaces for one trip.
Then we walked back to the hotel and discovered, upon chatting with the receptionist, that Tivoli closes TONIGHT! We wasted no time getting there since the best part is seeing it both by daylight and dark. We discovered that it is only open from the end of April to September 20!
I had been to Tivoli 45 years ago and was mesmerized then as now. Opened in 1843, it offers a mix of entertainment pavilions and rides, gardens and restaurants. Walt Disney was inspired to create Disneyland after a visit to this park. It is named after an Italian Villa near Rome that is famous for its fountains that Ed and I visited in 2012. Built on 20 acres, Tivoli comes alive at night with more than 100,000 lights.

After purchasing our $15 tickets, we began with a walk-through of the park before it got dark.

Love this little park tram.
Then we checked out some possible restaurants. Several were high end and already booked. We did find seating at the Groften, which was quite large and full of festive, well-dressed people (for an amusement park). House wine here.
Afterwards, we walked around, watching the lights come on.

We had coffee in an area overlooking a lake and had fun watching one of the rides turn people upside down. Not for us. The air was cool, but not cold and lots of families were enjoying the last night of the park. What a lovely way to spend the day!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Berlin - Day 11

Saturday, September 19, 2015
Back to Berlin. I was last in Berlin in 1970 when it was still split in two. What I remember then is how new and modern West Berlin was. Then I remember crossing Checkpoint Charlie and going into East Berlin. The contrast was stunning. It looked like the war had happened yesterday instead of 25 years earlier. Buildings were still in rubble and the streets were gloomy - no glittering high rises or trendy nightclubs as in the west. The only thing new seemed to be utilitarian apartment buildings and some repairs to sturdy office buildings that had escaped demolition from war injuries.
What a difference 45 years can make -- or rather 25. Since the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989, the reunification has brought miraculous changes and blended the two parts into a seamless melange of towering office buildings, luxury apartments and condos, 5-star hotels, fancy shops, and numerous night clubs to support the night life for which Berlin is known.
Our boat docked in Rostock, previously part of East Germany. We then boarded a bus for the speedy 2-1/2 hour trip to Berlin on the autobahn. Along the way our guide reminded us of German's history. It is a relatively young country, coming into being in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War when the various Prussian kingdoms were merged. Today Germany has about 80 million people and is the 16th largest country.
Our first stop was to the Reichstag.
Built in 1894 to house the Parliament, it mysteriously burned in 1933 when Hitler rose to power. (What did he need with a pesky Parliament anyway?) Badly damaged during WW II, it was partially refurbished in the 1960's. (Remember, it backed up to the wall on the West German side.) After reunification, it was fully rebuilt with the expertise of famed English architect Norman Foster. When he restored the dome, he made it glass with an indoor walkway going to the top.
No time for that today but on the list for a return visit.
Across the street in a modern white building is the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
We learned she is very popular, even after 10 years. The Germans have no term limits and no one seems to want to challenge her for her job.
Although the Brandenburg Gate is nearby, we saved that for later and drove around the city for awhile, looking at other sites and trying to get a sense of what had been East Berlin, now merged. There is a beautiful canal that meanders through the city, some of which is along the path of the wall. Our guide told us that when they rehabilitated the area, the citizens wanted to remember where the wall had been. So, imbedded into the walkway along the canal and elsewhere in the streets, there is a double row of bricks where the wall had been.
In the background of this photo is a modern bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. 
Crossing over other bridges, we could see the Berlin Cathedral (Protestant) in the background
and another distant view of the Reichstag dome.
Then we saw the Concert Hall, built in 1821, and the German Church, both now restored.
We crossed over into the former East Germany so we could approach the Brandenburg Gate from the front on Unter den Linden Street, once again a grand avenue. This way we could see the copper statue of Winged Victory and her 4-horse chariot.
This has been the supreme symbol of the city, unified or divided, since its completion in 1791. Two rows of 6 Doric columns form the gateway proper. This is a replica - the remains of the original are in a museum. The gate was incorporated into the Berlin Wall, and more visible from the East German side during occupation. Thus, I could only see it from a distance in 1970.  I sort of feel like I still saw it from a distance today, since it is the most crowded tourist site we have seen on our trip. Hooray for freedom!
Then we walked through the gate and by the American Embassy. An entire city block next to the embassy (coincidentally) has been set aside for the Memorial to the Memory of Murdered European Jews.
This memorial is comprised of 2,711 rectangular concrete blocks of various sizes. The number is intentionally random.
The artist, an American, challenges us to think about what this sculpture means to us. At first glance, it resembles coffins or tombstones.
But the assemblage lends itself to a second consideration. I am still trying to decide what I think, but from a design standpoint, it is amazing. I'm sure photographers have spent hours trying to capture the shadows created by these precisely placed blocks. 
Then we went to the remaining nearly one mile section of the wall. It has been decorated by 116 artists from around the world who were invited to participate.
Prior to the wall, 2.6 million East Germans fled to West Berlin and the Soviets realized they could not afford to lose this manpower. So on August 13, 1961, they erected a wall, essentially in 24 hours, to keep people in. Some people who had crossed over for the day to visit friends or relatives were trapped, and it took weeks for them to get back. Ultimately the Soviets built a 112-mile long wall, which was actually a double wall with a "death strip" between.
Then we went to see ""Checkpoint Charlie," which is now in the middle of a busy street, surrounded by tall buildings.
Although physically authentic, it is manned with actors dressed as American soldiers who will pose for photos. Nearby was a Museum of the Wall that I had visited in 1970. It showcases the many creative and often successful ways people got across the border. 
From a distance we could see the TV Tower, built in the 60's by the Soviets to pick up airwaves and show their power. Ironically, it was put up after the Communists had closed all the churches.
But the "Pope's Revenge" is a cross that shines on the globe when the sun hits it just right. To the left is the Town Hall.
We visited the main shopping street Kurf├╝rstendamm in downtown Berlin -- also known as the Champs Elysees of Germany.
Along the way we saw the major department store KaDeWe, founded in 1907 and huge. All the street's original art nouveau and neo classical buildings were destroyed in WWII, but one remains as a Peace Memorial -- the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Protestant).
It has been preserved as a ruin so people will not forget the atrocities of war.
We had lunch at Ranke 2 Restaurant nearby where Ed indulged in sausage and I had goulash soup.
Afterwards we boarded the bus and drove through a residential section that had been used by American officers after the war. We toured an Allied Museum that was not very good.
Our final stop was to Charlottenburg Palace for a quick photo.
Built in 1699 for Sophie Charlotte, the first Prussian Queen. It is the largest palace in Berlin and has one of the largest collections of 18th century French paintings outside of France. A tour for another day.
Then we drove back to the boat, arriving around 7:30. We had time for a German buffet dinner in the Veranda and made it to another song and dance show by the Jean Ann Ryan Company featuring songs from the 70's. Another great performance. We passed on the lounge acts, since we have to prepare to leave the boat early tomorrow. Way too soon!!!