Month: September 2018

Captivating Copenhagen: Scintillating City

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen

My Baltic Sea Cruise on Norwegian Breakaway began with embarkation port Copenhagen, Denmark. I relished the opportunity to spend a couple of days in this unexpectedly alluring city!

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Borsen (old stock exchange)

If you can overcome the high cost of staying in the city, the rewards are priceless! I made it my mission to make the most of my precious time in Copenhagen by getting a comprehensive overview and then prioritizing which locations I wanted to investigate further with a double-decker bus tour. I was thrilled to learn that not only would I get the second morning of touring the city free, but that Gray Line Bus has an arrangement with the cruise lines that provides shuttle service to the ports included with your double-decker ticket. I would be able to spend the whole day on day one, and all morning on day two, exploring the city with transportation provided – followed by a convenient means to reach the port for my cruise.

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Little Mermaid Statue

What I like most about the double-decker bus tours is your ability to explore independently, at your own pace, without spending valuable time on public transportation and with long-distance walking. I don’t mean to knock public transportation – and often take advantage of it when traveling – but I find that in a very expensive city where I have limited time the convenience of the double-decker bus is a good value, because I can spend more time enjoying what the city has to offer and less time worrying about how to get from “point a” to “point b,” and then doing it.

Ultimately, I ended up getting off the bus at almost every stop – something I don’t usually find myself doing on these tours. You don’t hear as much about Copenhagen as some other European capitals – yet Copenhagen is no less endowed with incredible sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.

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Tivoli

I started my day walking to the bus stop with a detour into a coffee shop by the train station (my very modest but very expensive hotel only offered breakfast at an additional mind-bogglingly high charge.) The aroma wafting from the cafe was mesmerizing to my sense of scent, enveloping me and dragging me in for what turned out to be some of the most delicious specialty coffee and pastry I had ever savored. The barista was tolerant of the few pitiful words of Danish I could muster, providing service with a smile. I gazed out at the locals strolling past Tivoli across the street, and tourists stumbling out of the train station in the other direction, looking baffled and enthralled all at once, just as I had done the day before.

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City Hall

I left the cafe immanently satisfied and made my way to the bus stop next to City Hall. Tourists frolicked in the square facing City Hall, its tower proudly rising up into the skyline like a boastful exclamation point. I boarded the bus brimming with excitement of how the city would inspire my other senses – and my expectations were exceeded!

The bus meandered through spectacular public squares patriotically lined with Danish flags, past indulgent old palaces dripping with opulence – and the sleek lines of ultra-modern structures exemplifying the cutting-edge Denmark of today. I departed the bus filled with wonder at almost every stop, and strolled along the canals, pedestrian retail zones, and historic areas. All of my senses fully satiated, I felt happily whole.

Copenhagen was a fitting first stop on this cruise through the Baltic – a preamble of the exciting, thrilling, and inspiring journey I was about to undertake!

My video tour is available here:

 

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The Journey of Anticipation Waiting to Travel

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“Party Store,” Houghton Lake, Michigan

It has been said that the journey is more important than the destination. A destination can be spectacular, but in a way the arrival is anti-climactic – something that often doesn’t occur to us until the time comes. The building of anticipation can be an important factor in the experience of travel – a journey in and of itself, and one of the elements that make travel so rewarding. I am often asked if I ever get tired of traveling so much – and my answer is a resounding “no” because I never tire of the exploration factor. That said, however, when you travel frequently some of that anticipatory energy gets lost in the whirlwind of planning and taking off, without as much time to contemplate the thrilling journey ahead. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been dumped into the destination stage without building up to that climax when my travels are back-to-back.

It can be tough, though, waiting when you are anxious to get going. The two best ways to deal with this are through savoring the experience of planning and preparation, and through finding distractions to pass the rest of the time. Through researching more about the places you are going, you will not only fuel the fire of that anticipation, you will have a more rewarding experience once you arrive, because you will have a better understanding of the place’s culture… whether that means sampling different types of sushi at a local restaurant to find your favorites before your trip to Japan, researching Mayan culture before you visit the Ziggurats of the Ancient Mayans in Mexico, learning about the life of the black bear before your trip to Smoky Mountains National Park, or, as I did a couple of weeks ago before my road trip through Michigan with a local, watching some videos and tutorials about the local accent and lingo! (Thanks to that, I arrived informed, realizing a “party store” is a “convenience store,” the “U.P.” means “Upper Peninsula,” and a “refrigerator” is a “frigerator.” [Added bonus: it’s fun to get “fluent” in regional dialects from your home country!])

Distractions can include packing ahead (a good idea anyway because it helps keep you from forgetting things when you add to your suitcase piecemeal over the course of a few days as you think of them), working more (more money for travel = good thing!), cleaning out your car before a road trip so the journey will be more comfortable for you, cleaning your house so you have a pleasant environment to look forward to when you return, or, my personal favorite, becoming a “tourist” in your home town by revisiting the local sites, taking in a concert, or sampling a local craft brew you hadn’t yet tried.

It’s inevitable – the day will come when you embark on your trip. And once you reach that point, the time building up to it will be gone for good. Make it count! Consider it part of the journey, part of your experience, and allow yourself to take the time to allow the anticipation and excitement to build in you and embrace that delectable feeling – one of the greatest pleasures in life!

I’ll be back next week with a continuation of my Norwegian Breakaway Baltic Sea cruise – I thank those who came seeking the next installment for your patience while I am posting “from the road” (still exploring Michigan) with limited time. And if you are interested in my off-the-beaten-path Michigan road trip with a native “Michigander” that will be coming up too so follow my blog!

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Brilliant Berlin: City of Contrasts and the Vital Lessons of History

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Checkpoint Charlie

Aboard the Norwegian Breakaway’s Baltic Sea cruise, the first stop (after embarkation point at Copenhagen) is Warnemunde, the gateway to Berlin for cruise ships. However, it’s no small feat to get to Berlin from there – as a 2 hour train ride each way is required. Fortunately, the trip is well worth it! Be prepared for a very long but exciting day if you decide to make the trip!

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Holocaust Memorial with Reichstag in the Background

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most compelling sites in Berlin. I was fascinated by the positioning of the Holocaust Memorial in relation to the Reichstag building. The official name for the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” but this name is controversial given the fact that Jews were not the only population of people sent to concentration camps or the gas chambers. As someone with Polish ancestry I can appreciate the spirit of this controversy and will refer to it as the Holocaust Memorial here. The memorial encompasses 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights lined up in rows. It is a sombre sight, in many ways resembling a cemetery, but one where the departed are nameless and without individual identity, perhaps a metaphor for the way that those who died in the Holocaust were perceived by their executioners. It is movingly fitting that the Reichstag stands tall in the background – its giant glass dome a metaphor for the new transparency that would be imposed on German leadership for the people. It is the Parliament building, where the general population can advance up through the dome and have an overview of the political proceedings below. Like many landmarks in Berlin, these places and their design serve as reminders never to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Another stunning reminder is the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, standing crippled next to its modern reconstruction. It stands testament against the perils and destructive forces of war, at once eerie and beautiful, a deeply moving sight to behold.

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Checkpoint Charlie “soldiers”

Checkpoint Charlie is yet another reminder of the possible consequences of war – of people divided, of people deprived. This was the gateway through the Berlin Wall, passing through which was a dream for many that would never come true. Despite the fact that it is a highly touristy photo opportunity, it is still well worth the visit for its historical significance and the chance to reflect on the lessons of the past.

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Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is an impressive span of eclectic art, much of it promoting freedom and celebrating human resilience and will. Given that the wall previously represented oppression, this is a fitting message for the former East German area of modern Germany.

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TV Tower

The Fernseheturm, or TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It towers over the city of Berlin, in the heart of the former East Germany, like a giant exclamation point amid the capitalist bastion of Alexanderplatz, abound with corporate skyscrapers and an abundance of retail shops. The irony is inspiring!

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Brandenburg Gate

No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin. Originally commissioned by Prussian King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, it was here that the ceremony to celebrate the reunification of Germany post-Cold War took place. It aptly represents the span of German history and resilience of the German people.

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Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace, completed in 1713, is the largest palace in Germany. It serves as Berlin’s best answer to the baroque style of architecture so prevalent in many of the historic structures throughout Germany. Here in Berlin, this baroque style fascinatingly stands in such sharp contrast to the brash and minimalist Socialist Classicism architecture of the former East Germany that you can still find in other neighborhoods of Berlin.

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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz is the site of the State Opera, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and university buildings. The greatest draw to Bebelplatz, however, is that it was the location of the Nazi Book Burning in 1933, where approximately 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi Students’ League and Hitler Youth following a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. A memorial of empty bookcases can be viewed beneath a glass panel on the ground.

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Lunch featuring German specialties

Berlin’s a big city to explore, and what better way to refuel your resources mid-visit than a delicious lunch of German specialties? This plate of Sauerkraut, German potatoes, sausage, pork, and tasty meat patty can really give you the energy boost you need to embark on such an adventure!

Berlin is a fascinating city of contrast and the vital lessons of history. You can view my tour here:

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Breakaway to the Baltic: Norwegian Breakaway Cruise through the Baltic Sea

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Norwegian Breakaway: Canvas for Artist Peter Max

The Norwegian Breakaway can hold a capacity of 3,963 passengers (double occupancy), 1,657 crew members, and launched in 2013. It is one of the larger ships on the NCL fleet. I sailed on the Breakaway through the Baltic Sea in May-June, featuring the destinations of Copenhagen, Denmark (embarkation port); Berlin, Germany; Tallinn, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia (overnight stop); Helsinki, Finland; and Stockholm, Sweden.

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Trendy Studio Cabin on the Breakaway

I booked a studio cabin for the trip, which, as you can see from the photo, was somewhat cramped but comprehensive, classy cabin. With the studio cabin category, NCL inspires solo travelers to feel like VIPs, through locked door access to the studio cabin hallways (think: velvet rope), a studio lounge with a specialty coffee machine and other amenities, and a dedicated solo travelers’ concierge that arranges meet ups like group dinners, entertainment, and activities for those craving some companionship for others in the same “boat…” Being an introvert myself and someone who tends to stay very busy during a cruise I opted out of these gatherings, but was pleased to see that such an effort was being made to accommodate solo travelers paying a premium to book passage alone.

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Ice Bar, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway has spent much time sailing out of New York City, and this association with New York is heavily apparent in the decor of the ship. One example would be the Ice Bar (photo above,) which features images of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Empire State Building. I found this to be an oddity, since I tend to associate the concept of an “ice bar” with Scandinavia, not New York. The Spice H20 outdoor lounge features images of a Rockaway Beach in Queens. Artist Peter Max’s signature Statue of Liberty image proudly graces the front of the ship, and more. Perhaps a reader will “get it” and leave a comment, but I couldn’t grasp the motivation behind featuring New York so profoundly in the ship’s decor. If you are from New York taking a vacation on a cruise ship, isn’t New York probably the last thing you want to look at? Or wouldn’t you want to “breakaway” from the Big Apple?

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Lido Deck, Norwegian Breakaway

The Lido Deck is expansive and features a water park boasting enormous water slides! Also available are a rock climbing wall, basketball court, ropes course, mini golf, and more. Due to lower Spring temperatures in the Baltic, the Lido was not heavily trafficked on this particular itinerary.

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Bliss Nightclub, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway is almost daunting in its sheer size, but once you get your bearings there are many options for dining and entertainment. Aboard you will find multiple theaters, nightclubs, and restaurants (both complimentary and specialty.) The Breakaway has some of the finest entertainment I have experienced on a cruise ship, including a Cirque du Soleil show, wine tasting musical, and ballroom dancing show all of which I found to be outstanding – a quality comparable to Las Vegas shows. Be prepared to pay extra for some of the shows.

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Le Bistro, a Specialty Dining Venue on Norwegian Breakaway

Public areas of the ship are extremely clean, luxurious, inviting, and well-maintained. Typical of Norwegian’s style, the decor is modern and trendy. The ship is kept in immaculate condition – I found no signs of wear-and-tear or rust.

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Lobby Chandelier Spanning Three Floors, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway Baltic Cruise features a 9-day itinerary, which I found to be far more satisfying than the typical 7-day itinerary. At this time of the year, the Baltic area is experiencing the “White Nights” effect, where it only gets dark for a couple of hours out of each 24 hour day (in the winter, the effect is the opposite, with limited time of sunlight.)

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White Nights: Moon in a Bright Sky at 3:00am

I highly recommend the Norwegian Breakaway, whether you choose to embark on the Baltic Itinerary in the Summer or a Winter itinerary closer to home! You can view a full tour here!:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored, and I receive no wage or salary!

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