Our clients Larry and Kathy love traveling the world.
This year they are in Scandinavia on a Viking cruise. Follow their journey!
Amsterdam is located in the Netherlands, that being said; where is Holland and who are the Dutch? Well the secret is unfolded: Holland is a province of Netherlands and the Dutch are a Germanic ethnic group living in the Netherlands, well, now you know the rest of the story!
We arrived at the airport 5 hours early so we could use our United Club passes before they expired (I guess). Kathy used some of our United point to upgrade us to Premium Plus which allowed us to to sit right behind 1st class so we could see them convert their seats into beds while they drank free champagne and watch their movies on a big screen. Well, I can tell you I was impressed. The 5000 mile, 7 hour flight, was sort of comfortable with our 6 inch reclining seat and 6 inch elevating leg rest. The airport was a zoo, when we finally made it out, the highlight of the day was the Uber ride that took us to the hotel, I Love Uber! We arrived at 8:00 am and at 12:00 we started some of the walking tour down a busy street called Damrak that was filled with people, shops and things to see. We passed the oldest stock exchange in Europe, the Royal Palace, The New Church (600 yrs older than the Old Church (located in the Red Light District). We went through a 5 story store called De Bijenkorf that was amazing, but by then my new knee felt old, so we stopped at a sidewalk cafe for wine and fish and chips. We were only 2 blocks from the Red Light District but Kathy said the lights were prettier at night, so we found an Amsterdam Cheese Company and bought some cheese, chips, and wine and made our way back to the hotel to crash and save some excitement for tomorrow.
After an early breakfast, we tackled the local metro system and much to our relief found it relatively easy to navigate. We started at the Rijksmuseum that houses the best Dutch artists: Vermeer, Steen, Hal and Rembrandt, they were interesting – but no paintings of fish. Then on to The Van Gogh Museum. Not being an art connoisseur, I found his life more interesting than his paintings. He suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and cut off his ear with a razor after a disagreement with another artist, later admitting himself to a psychiatric hospital where he painted 75 paintings in less than 75 days and ended up shooting himself. (No pictures of fish here either.)
With no more museums to explore (a friend of mine suggested The Sex Museum but Kathy just smiled when I mentioned it) so we strolled through Vondelpark and people-watched. The Rick Steves city walking tour took us back to Dam Square where we stopped at Durty Nelly’s Irish pub for some needed rest and refreshments. The walk home took us through the Red Light District but there were no red lights anywhere, (what a disappointment).
My Apple Watch said we walked 15,000 steps today, I’ll have it worked on when I get back, I know we walked more than that!
We got up this morning ready to go to The Anne Frank House but when we looked at the tickets they were for a guided tour of Anne Frank that ended up at the Anne Frank House, our tour guide screwed up and got the wrong tour (everyone makes mistakes), but we enjoyed the walking tour as well.
I would be amiss if I didn’t give you some impressions of Amsterdam and it’s people. Almost everyone here speaks English, the people are very friendly and helpful unless they are on a bike (pedestrians do not have the right of way and you are fair game when you step into a bicycle lane, they are quiet and attack you from both directions. There are over 1 million bikes in Amsterdam not counting the 80 thousand that have been thrown in the canals when one is stolen to get rid of the evidence, brightly colored clothing does not help). Cannabis and prostitution are legal here, they feel it is going to happen anyway, so they should control it. There are all kinds of shopping and most people walk or ride bikes. We stopped at a “coffee shop” for a cup of coffee before the tour and Kathy said we better sit outside because of the smoke. We later found out that a coffee shop can not sell marijuana but they can charge for coffee and give you a joint-(well I Never)! Most expensive coffee I ever had. (They looked at us funny when we order coffee “American style” and did not give us anything but coffee.)
Later in the day after a short nap we went on a canal boat with wine and cheese and learned about the canal system in Amsterdam, they dammed the Amstel river and hand dug canals to carry the commerce and became the World’s Trade Center and thus the name Amsterdam.
15,500 steps today and I took the tram 3 times today.
We took a train to Haarlem today (the sister city to Harlem, NewYork), Haarlem is outside of Amsterdam about 20 miles, it is not quite as cosmopolitan as Amsterdam but has the narrow streets, lots of shops, canals, a Red Light District and a huge church called St Bavo Church.
The St Bavo boasts of 5000 pipes for its organ, stands over 300 ft high, rebuilt in 1534 and the floor is covered with tombstones of people buried inside (people are dying to get in). We had misty rain and a temp around 65 (I assume it is still hot there). After our exploration of the church and surroundings, I managed to take a wrong turn and got lost in a residential area. After asking 2 separate people for directions, a young Muslim college student decided we were too old for directions so she said she would take us and proceeded to weave through the neighborhoods until we at last emerged in front of the train station. She would not take any money, hugged Kathy and went on her way, all I can say is “Thank You”.
Back at the hotel we had a nap and went out to dinner at St. George’s Argentina Restaurant, we meet George and had a great time visiting with him and another table with 3 young Belgians and a Canadian.
The stroll home through the Red Light District I finally saw some red lights, they were not as glittery as I thought they would be.
Delft is the home of Delft pottery. The Dutch East India Company was partly headquartered in Delft and they imported many exotic goods from the Far East, including Chinese porcelain, they were copied in Earthenware and are still around to day. This is another smaller community that looks very similar to its origin, with the 350 ft New Church built in 1572 that holds the remains of The Royal Family (House of Orange), the square between and the City Hall, it’s like time has stood still.
A statue of Hugo Grotius stands in the middle of the square. He was the 1st to establish international rules of the sea. He claimed that the oceans were a free trade territory, open to every nation. (Guess who didn’t like it? England.) After fighting a war over it, the eventual agreement was that “the sea within the range of a cannonball fired from your shore is yours, any waters beyond are open to all nations- thus forms the basis for today’s maritime law.” Since I do not have a cannon, I am going to assume any area within rifle shot is MINE to fish in.
Yesterday we got up at 2:00 AM to take at cab to the Amsterdam Airport because they wanted us there 4 hours before our flight. At 3:00 in the morning the cars were backed up 1/2 mile and inside the lines were about the same. It took over 40 minutes just trying to find which line we were supposed to get in, we finally reached our gate at 6:30 with a departure time of 6:50, it was as bad as 4th July on the inter-coastal in POC. 2 1/2 hour flight to Stockholm, Sweden, bus ride to ship, check in, we were finally in our room at 2:00 PM and we were beat. Kathy caught a bug and spent the afternoon in bed. We had a bus tour this AM so we do not have too many pictures.
Stockholm is built on 14 separate islands and connected by 56 bridges. Part of the water is salt and part is fresh because of locks on a lake that provides all their drinking water. While the rest of the world is sinking, Sweden ground elevation is rising each year because during the ice age all of this area was covered with huge amounts of ice whose weight compressed the land and now it is expanding.
If you make $50,000 a year your income tax is 60%, they have boats lined up along shore that they use for permanent residences. In 1862 Sweden was starving and borrowed money from Spain and England and had many people leave (Wisconsin, Michigan). During WWl and WWll Sweden stayed neutral selling ball bearings to both sides and later had the infrastructure to supply the rest of Europe to rebuild and they became rich. Because they had no destruction from the war, some of their buildings date back to the 1300’s.
They do not have legalize drugs, but do have some problems with drugs. Maternity leave for a women is 1 year (so the women will stay home with the infant) and 3 months mandatory for the male (so he will be involved) and if the male does not take the leave the woman loses 3 months of hers.
Education is free, even college, but they stress you must have the grades to go to college. They encourage students to take off 2 years between high school and college before they start.
Their government is a Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy (they have a royal family with no power). Everyone is taught English from kindergarten on.
The Swedish-speaking city of Mariehamn is the capital of the 6,700 Aland Islands, owned by Finland, and located between Finland and Sweden. It was first owned by Sweden and was lost to Russia who fortified it and later given to Finland as a demilitarized area. Russian St. Petersburg is directly East of it.
The inhabitants of the all the islands combined is only 30,000 with Mariehamn the capital. The islands are relatively flat, rising out of the sea after being compressed by the ice from the ice age, covered with rocks and trees. I saw many apple orchards on our way to their 300 meter mountain to take a hike. The hike was 5 miles down to the water’s edge and back (Kathy over did the walking and lack of sleep and stayed aboard, feeling much better after a Motrin and a morning at the spa and hot tub.)
I made the hike with both knees still intact and only a little winded and sweaty, all in all, a little proud of my performance.
Today we took a time traveling trip back to the 1300’s and visited The Castle of The Teutonic Order in Malbork. The Teutonic Knights were a Catholic religious order founded as a military order to aid Christians on the pilgrimage to The Holy Land, after leaving Jerusalem they were asked by the King of Poland to help get rid of some pesky Prussian and to convert them, they were successful but wouldn’t leave. They ended up building a huge castle in Malbork and 52 other fortresses and taking control of much of Poland and the people. The castle was built in the 1300’s of bricks and took up 52 acres and was impregnable, it was not taken until one of the Grandmasters converted to Lutheranism and gave up the castle.
The trip out to Malbork was through really lush farm land. Poland has taken about 2 million refugees from Ukraine and have Ukrainian flags flying on all public building in solidarity. They have a zero birth rate and their population has diminished by 2 million people. There are stork nests on all the chimneys but no babies. (Where is sex education when you need it.)
Gdańsk is a major Polish Port on the Baltic, and it was basically destroyed by the Russians in WWll whereas Warsaw was obliterated by the Nazi. They have tried to rebuild it to look like it was. The pedestrian walkway was covered with people due to a holiday. They are known for their big deposits of amber and have jewelry stores everywhere, it was like walking through a mine field until Kathy reminded me that I had bought her some amber earrings in Warsaw. Phew! That was close.
This is an Island owned by Denmark. Like every other property in The Baltic it has been the possession of the Soviets, Germans and Swedes. It is called the “Jewel “ of the Baltic. The cities are clean with pretty red roof homes and lots of farmland. They have a milder climate where it seldom snows and good beaches. During Covid lots of Danish came here because there was no place else to go and liked it wanting to return, with the return of tourism there are no vacancies. At one time it was a major fishing area for herring, in recent years the herring population has decreased by 90%. We visited a round church built in the 1300’s that is still used today. Our guide was a Jim Bauer lookalike, making me wonder if Jim might be a Viking?
Yesterday we were in Berlin, a 2 hour train ride from the ship, then a bus tour of the highlights and history of the city since WWll including a section of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. Since almost everything was bombed in WWll most of the buildings are new, including a very modern multi level glass train station. We had a typical German lunch (German sausage, roasted beef, sauerkraut, potatoes and apple strudel-beer) and did a tour of the Berlin Nazi concentration training camp, then 2 hour train trip back, we were beat when we arrived back at the ship.
Today we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, You cannot see all of Copenhagen in one day, it should be a destination port. Denmark is made up of 400 islands, so there is a very developed canal system left over from when it was a major shipping port. It had one of the largest sailing ship shipyards in Europe and they are continually using landfill type methods to create more land from the sea. Originally a small Viking fishing village, The Danish say they are the true Vikings and the Swedes are liars and the Swedes say the same about the Danish, both are very competitive against each other. Denmark was occupied by the Nazi but not bombed by them, so much of their older structures are still intact (although there were major fires in the 1800,s that burned much of it). There is an amusement park over 130 years old that Walt Disney visited twice before he started Disneyland, a 400ft church steeple with an outside spiral walkway to the top, a 1 mile pedestrian walkway with all the designer shops in it and an old “red light” district along a canal that has a continuous assortment of outdoor restaurants, bars and people. The city is full of museums, parks, promenades, palaces and waterfronts. And the Little Mermaid statue is located here that is as popular as the Statue of Liberty for us.
The fastest mode of transportation is bicycle and it is known to be one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. As you can tell, I was impressed!
What a neat little town! The ship docks right inside the cobblestone streets of the city.
It is what you would consider an Oil Boom Town. 200 years ago this was a poor fishing community, herring fish showed up in the fjord and they shipped herring all over Europe, then something happened and the herring left these waters and went to Iceland. It killed the economy, all they had left were swarms of these small disgusting fish that in desperation they caught and put in a tin can and tried to sell, the sardines were a hit. In 1952 the government hired a geologist to check for oil under the sea, he said he could drink all the oil they could find because there wasn’t any. In 1968 the Phillip 66 Company, after drilling many dry holes, found oil on the Norwegian Shelf and made it one of the world’s largest exporters. They made a deal with the oil companies that after expenses they got 80% of the production, it was massive. Instead of spending it all they started an investment pension fund limiting to only 4% that could be spent and putting the rest away. It is now the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. Norway has one of the highest living standards in the world, ranked first in The “World’s Happiness report,“ and currently ranks first on the OECD Better Life Index, the Index of Public Integrity, the Freedom Index, and the Democracy Index. Norway also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.. “
Well, it makes want to move there, they do not spend more than they take in. Most of their energy comes from hydroelectric and brag of having more electric cars than anyone (I could only stand so much so I told them where I came from 50% of the people drive electric cars, ha, we call them golf carts). They have good ties with the UK and the USA. They have extensive reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood and fresh water. Mild climate and beautiful scenery.
We had an 80 year old guide today who rides her bike to work and walks everywhere. The Norwegians, like the other Scandinavians, stay active and look to be in good shape. We did a bus tour of the city and then did 3 museums. The Fram Museum featured the Norwegian ship “Gjoa”, a specially built steam and sail combination ship that was designed to crush through ice and went further north and south than anyone had before, including completing the first thing journey through the Northwest passage that took 3 years. The Kon-Tiki museum houses 2 crafts built by Thor Heyerdald to test theories of early travel from Peru to the Polynesian islands on a balsa wood raft (The Kon-Tiki) in 1947 that took 101 days at sea. And the later using a hand made boat made of reeds sailed from Morocco to Barbados to prove that Africans could have populated America. Later we walked to the city central and strolled Karl Johans Gates, a pedestrian walkway through Old Town from the train station to the Royal Palace with lots of people, restaurants, shopping and this to see. Norway is a pretty country.
We started the day on a bus from the end of Hardangerfjord, a waterway deep inland with high mountains on either side, up into the mountains in a drizzly fog, and it was still beautiful. The mountain side was covered with green from trees, grass and moss and the peaks of the mountains shot straight up with waterfalls in every direction. It was some of the prettiest country I’ve ever seen. We stopped along the way at a hotel that had an overlook of a valley as beautiful as Yellowstone Canyon that has hosted the Kings, Queens and Princes of Europe. In Voss we boarded a train and took a 1 hour ride to catch another train that took us on a journey up the side of the mountain to Flam, it was gorgeous. Another train and a bus returned us to the ship and memories of spectacular scenery from a country I didn’t know existed. Norway is a 10!
Our guide told us electric cars make sense if you have hydroelectric power to charge them (96% of their electricity is produced by hydroelectric) but if you don’t have that, the carbon footprint created to generate the electricity needed to charge an electric car is greater than a petroleum car, in addition the energy it takes to get the materials needed to make a battery. They use the money from their petroleum to make massive long tunnels through the mountains and large bridges over the fjords. The Gulf Coast current goes from the Gulf of Mexico up the east coast to Iceland then turns and goes to Norway (if you want to get in touch with us just put your message in a bottle and throw it in the water, and we can get it in Norway). The landscape inland is made up of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, tunnels and waterfalls and is beautiful. Blah, blah, blah, we had a Great day.
Alborg is a 1000 yr old Viking settlement located 20 miles up the narrow Limifjord at its narrowest point, no big cruise ship can make it up to it. It was a major Viking trading port with many structures from the 1500’s still being used. Our guided tour thru the 4th largest city in Denmark was a contrast of the old world and the new, with wooden structures dating back to 1495 with cobblestone sidewalks to glass plated windows on a tiled pedestrian walkway. Our guide told us a little about living in Denmark. You have to apply for a permit for citizenship, have an address and a job for 5 years, take classes in Danish and in civics and pass tests on each after 5 years and then submit it all for citizenship for a total of 7 years. Once you are a citizen your tax rate begins at 50% of your income up-to 75% depending on how much you make. They discourage owning a car with a 180% tax on the purchase of a car. They have a mandatory 1% church tax to help support the work of the church. You pay 4% into a pension fund that is matched by 8% from your employer. You are charged an extra fee if you accumulate too much money in your banking acct. But you get free schooling through your masters and students get an allotment each month to go to school, free health care and a pension. You can apply at www.Denmark/backtoserfdom .com. There is an old converted red-light District, now 400 ft exclusive apts. During the red light days they would put a statue of a dog in the window, if the dog was facing out you could come in, if it was facing inward they were busy. There were also unusual items on the windows called gossip mirrors, they face both ways so you can see who is coming and going without opening the windows.
Our last day was in Bergen, Norway, once the capital of Norway, the busiest port in Norway in both freight and passengers with 300 cruise ships stopping there each year. 50 % of the visitors are from Germany and Britain, they did not give a percentage for Texans but there were quite a few of us. They have mild winters there because we send them warm water from the Gulf in the Gulf Stream and mountains to block the cold winds, We did a bus and walking tour in the rain, they were having a festival of old sailing ships in the harbor that we saw from a distance, but because it was our last day we stayed on the ship to pack that afternoon. We flew straight from Bergen to Newark, and then to Houston. Scandinavia is a beautiful place and we had a great trip. My “old” knee did great until the last day, now it looks like I may have to replace it with a newer model, I may go electric. It was fun and it was great, but it’s GREAT to be back home.
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