Monday, June 5, 2017

Europe 2017 Post-Cruise Review

Throne Room - Rosenborg Castle - Copenhagen Denmark

Europe Post Cruise Review - June 2017
Copenhagen Denmark & Brugge Belgium

Friday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 2nd  / Debarkation

The Little Mermaid - Copenhagen
Debarkation from the Regal Princess was very smooth and we were at our hotel The AC Bella Sky by 10:00 am.  The hotel is a full service modern unique styled high-rise hotel located outside the old town area and decorated in Danish Modern design. Due to a Festival this weekend there were few rooms available near the old town. Our rooms were not available when we arrived so we checked our bags, bought a Copenhagen Card, and were off to the Metro Station just a short walk from the hotel.  We were in downtown Copenhagen about 10:30 am.  We walked over to the Nyhavn originally a busy commercial port where ships from all over the world would dock. The area was historically packed with sailors, ladies of pleasure, pubs and alehouses. Today the beautiful old houses have been renovated and classy restaurants dominate the old port. No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in the area dating back to 1681. The design of the house has not been altered since that time. The famous Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, used to live in no. 20. This is where he wrote the fairy-tales 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', and 'The Princess and the Pea'. He also lived twenty years in no. 67 and two years in no. 18.  We had sit down and enjoyed a beer and a coke to make plans for the day.  Since the location and timing was right to witness the Changing of the Royal Guard at noon we walked over to Amalienborg Palace…a must for anyone with a taste for royal history and the life of Denmark’s royal family who still resides inside the palace.  After we watched the changing of the guard we made the long walk to see The Little Mermaid.  Unveiled on 23 August 1913, The sculpture is made of bronze and granite and was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up everything to be united with a young, handsome prince on land.  A very busy site with tourists, but as we’re on our own we can stay and travel at our own pace.  We returned to Amalienborg Palace to visit the Museum with nice displays of the Royal Family.  We then returned to the Nyhavn for lunch at Nyhavns Færgekro located at No. 5 along the docks.  I had the Danish Smorgasbord platter with Salmon, Herring, Roast Beef, Chicken Salad, Shrimp, and more.  It was very good.  We then walked over to Gammel Strand were we took a Grand Canal Tour on an open top canal boat.  We saw: The Opera, Amalienborg palace, The Old Stock Exchange, Christianshavn, Our Saviours Church, The Sixtus Battery, The Black Diamond library, and of course, the Little Mermaid from the waterside. Plus some very interesting neighborhoods on the hour long tour.  After the tour we walked over to the Strøget: Copenhagen's largest shopping area centered in the heart of the city. Strøget is one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops.  From here we returned to the Metro Station for the ride to Bella Station and our hotel.  We then got our room and bags and retired for some much needed rest.  A great day in Copenhagen.

Saturday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 3rd  / Post Cruise Day 2

Tivoli Gardens entry
Our hotel room is interesting, DW says it’s like a prison cell, not really that bad, it is basic but has all the amenities.  We walked to the Metro and were soon in Copenhagen eating a Danish (Spandauer) at Taffel Bay.  Our first visit was to Rosenborg Castle featuring 400 years of splendor, royal art treasures and the Danish Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia. Rosenborg Castle was built by one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, Christian IV, in the early 17th century. Among the main attractions is the Knights’ Hall with the coronation thrones and three life-size silver lions standing guard. Tapestries on the walls commemorate battles between Denmark and Sweden. The interiors are well-preserved and all original.  The crowns of the Danish kings and queens are kept in special vaults and are embellished with table-cut stones, enamel and gold ornamentation. We sat on a bench in the lovely park before heading towards the 17th century Round Tower and joined the Strøget as mentioned yesterday one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops, from budget-friendly chains to some of the world's most expensive brands. The stretch is 1.1 kilometers long and runs from City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) to Kongens Nytorv.  We were certainly entertained as there was a parade on the Strøget featuring countries from South America doing local dances as the parade…pretty much as they do during Festival in Latin America.  We finally made our way to Christiansborg Palace, located on the tiny island of Slotsholmen, and contains the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State.  We toured the part of the palace used by the Royal Family for various functions and events. The Royal Reception Rooms include The Tower Room and The Oval Throne Room where foreign ambassadors to Denmark are received by the Queen. The Throne Room gives access to the balcony where the Danish monarchs are proclaimed. The Great Hall is the most imposing room in the palace. This is where you will find the Queen's tapestries (contemporary pieces featuring Danish history).  We wanted to end the day at Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen…a must for all visitors. Tivoli Gardens was founded in 1843 and has become a national treasure and an international attraction. Fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen visited many times, as did Walt Disney and many other celebrities, who all fell in love with the gardens. First we enjoyed a nice meal at Grøften, a restaurant with a long 131-year tradition and one of Tivoli's oldest and most venerable establishments.  We walked the park taking in all the interesting and unique sites and amusements.  We had ice creme cones from the century old Vaffelbageriet, rated as one of the ten best ice creme parlors in the world by National Geographic Traveller (and others).  I tried a licorice flavor since that is very Danish and a scoop of berry (including Ligonberry)…the berry was best.  We treated ourselves to a taxi back to the hotel as I was ‘walked-out’ by this time.  We enjoyed a few cocktails in the SkyClub on the 23rd floor of the hotel and enjoyed the views of the Copenhagen area and Baltic Sea.  It was a great day of site-seeing in Copenhagen.

Sunday / Travel / Brugge, Belgum / June 4th / Post Cruise Day 3

Madonna of Brugge
We have a 5:25am boarding time for our flight so we were up about 3:00 am and in lobby by 4:00 for our taxi to the airport.  Being that early checking our bag and security was fairly easy and soon we were eating a Danish at the famous Copenhagen bakery Lagkagehuset's airport location when it opened at 4:30 am.  Yes fresh!  Soon we were on our hour and a half hour flight to Amsterdam and no passport control this time at Schiphol and our short connection flight to Brussels was easy.  We arranged for a car service transfer to Brugge and after retrieving our luggage the driver was at the meeting location at the designated time with my name on his iPhone and easy to find.  His car was parked very close and we were off to Brugge arriving at 11:30 am.  We are staying at the Navarra Hotel...this charming hotel is in a 1600’s era building and only a 5-minute walk from the town center Markt. Our rooms were not ready so we took a walk to the main square then to Cambrinus my favorite establishment from our previous trip for a light lunch and first two Belgium beers including a Tripel Karmeliet, one of my favorite beers from last trip. Then we went to see Michelangelo's "Madonna of Brugge". Yes the one from the movie 'Monuments Men'.  This 500 year old piece looks beautiful and is the obvious pride of Brugge.  We have already had a long day so we returned to the hotel to check-in and rest.  DW hit the bed immediately and I unpacked and settled in while setting up internet.  Then a nap and rest.  DW was done for the day but I went out for a walk around town.  It is much nicer once half the tourists have left town, Brugge is primarily a day-trip place for tourists staying in Brussels or Amsterdam, on bus tours, or on cruise ships docked in Zeebrugge.   I too retired early after a long long day.

Monday  / Brugge, Belgum / June 5th / Post Cruise Day 4
Our view from breakfast table this morning
The sun does not rise as early here as in Scandinavia so we slept very well.  We did get out about 8:30am in order to take photographs before tourists arrive.  Got some good photos from the most popular locations.  We then had breakfast on Markt Square awaiting the opening of the 12th century Basilica of the Holy Blood at 10:00 am.. The Basilica and museum were both beautiful and historical and we learned that the iconic Relic of the Holy Blood itself would be displayed from 11:30am-noon today so we returned for that.  An amazing experience.  Between the two visits we took a nice boat ride along the canals in Brugge.  You can get a good perspective and really see the 14th-15th-16th-17th century buildings and homes built along the canals that had access to the sea at that time.  Brugge was such an important and rich merchant city at that time and to be able to have such an important Christian Relic, the dominating and towering Belfry of Brugge, and the first Michelangelo outside of Italy shows it’s dominance during that period.  We are lucky that so much has been preserved for us today.  We stopped at a grocery and had a midday break at the hotel.  We had a afternoon walk and visited some of the lesser known areas of the old town.  There are fewer tourists in the city today than yesterday so that has helped.  We had drinks in the nice Hotel Garden then went to dinner at a new hot restaurant called Bones.  There were as many more locals than tourists as it’s new to Brugge and the concept is: Ribs.  Yes a rib joint in Belgium.  They did have a bottle of Texas BBQ sauce on each table as well as a large bottle of Merlot wine.  DW ordered a Large Salad with Goat Cheese and I had a full rack the Sweet Ribs served with Slaw and Baked Potato.   When I finished that they brought me a full rack of the Spicy Ribs. It's 'all you can eat'.  The recommended beer, Tongerlo blond, was also very good.  It was a great meal and a touch of home although certainly with a Belgium style.  We went to a gelato shop (Fred's) for dessert and ate our cones on the Markt Square enjoying the view and people watching.  Just a short walk back to the hotel to retire for the evening.  Another great day in Brugge.

Tuesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 6th / Post Cruise Day 5
We had rain overnight and we slept very well.  Light rain off and on in early morning so we adjusted our plans for the day and walked over to the Jan Van Eyck for breakfast.  We had spotted this pretty place on our walk yesterday.  We ate inside and had wonderful omelettes, bread, coca cola, and hot milk. Great breakfast and huge omelettes. We walked down to Burg Square and visited the beautiful City Hall Museum and Chambers…they were very interesting.  We picked up some gifts at one of the many chocolate shoppes in town and stopped at a local market for some snacks then returned to the hotel for the afternoon since it’s chilly & very breezy today.  We have seen most of the major tourist or historical sites so we are good having some down time updating this review and since we are just across the English Channel from Great Britain we are getting numerous English speaking stations on television.  The weather improved in the evening and we went on a walk and enjoyed some of the residential areas and canals near our hotel location.  We also did the local ‘fast food’ thing and had Belgium Fries at a local frites location.  BTW-they have a Frite Museum here in Brugge based just on the local delicacy.  I had another nice beer in the hotel bar: Westmalle Trappist Triple before turning in for the evening.

Wednesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 7th / Post Cruise Day 6
Chateau of Loppem
We slept well and the weather is still breezy but not as chilly this morning.  We have a tour of Flanders today scheduled with Quasimodo Tours and they picked us up at the hotel about 9:00 am.  We only had one other couple from Australia with us on the tour so the van was quite comfortable.  Our tour was through the beautiful countryside and we passed through several villages including the beautiful Village of Lissewege, drives along the numerous canals including the Stinker and Blinker, and numerous sites.  First stop was at the moated Castle of Tilleghem, then we went to the very historic Chateau of Loppem with it’s collection of art and historic artifacts.  Lunch was next at the original location of the former site of the Monastery Ter Most.  The monastery was destroyed long ago during the 16th century, but the most amazing thing was the huge surviving tithe Barn originally built in 1220 and the oldest Gothic building in Belgium.  This was a huge wooden/stone barn that has survived and is stilled used today.  We drove to old Flemish community of Damme and saw the Shellemolen Damme windmill, the old medieval town square, and the old Cathedral.  Our final stop was at the Fort Lapin Brewery where we sampled Belgium beers and our guide gave us Belgium chocolates.  It was a great day in the Flanders countryside and we were dropped off at our hotel about 5:15 pm.   It was Jazz night at our hotel with live music at the bar, but we didn’t stay long as I wanted to visit Le Trappiste a 4.9 rated bar (highest I have seen), where they have a very wide selection of beers at a fair price.  It’s located in a medieval era cellar and even had a beer that DW enjoyed: a peach flavored beer.  I had the Triple Karmellite beer.  For dinner we decided to return to Bones as it was on the way back to he hotel and easy.  Again a very good meal.  We did some pre-packing and settled after a long final day in Brugge and Flanders.

Thursday  / Travel / June 8th / Post Cruise Day 7
Brussels Atomium
We were up early to finish packing and meet out driver to the Brussels airport at 6:30am. We had a new driver and he was late arriving (7:00) but we were finally off…it went well but there was huge traffic on the airport road as we approached Brussels so he went to the outer loop and it was also bad.  He began a cross city and neighborhood route that was even worse IMHO.  We were in 8:00ish city traffic that included local commuters, delivery vans, school buses, pedestrians, and we even had to follow a bike for a while.  It made me anxious as we were already behind schedule.  We did drive by the Atomium and the Japanese Garden Tower before finally arriving at the airport.  We again wondered why the driver drove through the parking garage and not the drop off area, but it did turn out to be the easiest way to enter since the airport was under heightened security with military and police at the entries.  It was now 9:00 am but Delta had ample staff at baggage check-in as well as a pre-security check.  We then went through regular security followed by passport control.  It went smoothly…100% better than Amsterdam.  We made it to the gate where they were already boarding our flight where we had one more security check and finally our boarding check.  Fortunately the flight was only half full so we were able to each get two seats and soon we were off at the scheduled 10:25 time.  Again the entertainment system did not work on this flight, but you could use your iPhone to access the Delta entertainment system and movies.  We arrived in Houston by way of Atlanta about 6:00 pm Texas Time.  We drove to Huntsville for the night and Tex-Mex food and arrived home at the ranch on Friday.