Subject: Scandinavia and St. Petersburg - Part 2 (Scandinavia)
Hi Ziners, continuing....

Overview: In Scandinavia we visited 5 cities: Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, and Stockholm. In each city we stayed for 2 to 3 nights. We cruised overnight from Copenhagen to Oslo, and followed the Norway-in- a-Nutshell tour from Oslo to Bergen. The rest of the legs we traveled by air.

After arrival at a new city, we'd have a vicinity walk with the program director around the hotel, also a half-day sight-seeing tour on a bus with a local guide. Then the rest was free time, or you could join one of the optional tours.

Helsinki: Helsinki was a welcome sight coming from St. Petersburg - suddenly we were free to walk around without being on guard all the time; and there were real orange juice and real Danish on the breakfast table. Our hotel was not far from all the attractions, so we took it easy, bought a one-day transportation pass, rode ferries, buses and tram to places.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen is expensive. A glass of beer in restaurant cost 45 DKR ($1 US = 6 DKR), and a cup of tea costs 24 DKR. Minimum wage in Denmark is $12 US.

After a day in the city, Vincent and I took off to Hillerød to see Frederiksborg Castle on a free day. We enjoyed the tranquility of a small town for a change. Frederiksborg Castle is often called the Danish Versailles. (One way transportation from Copenhagen is 7 clips on the clip card for two persons traveling together. One person needs 4 clips.)

Tivoli - we made a group outing to the Tivoli one evening. Vincent and I ate in the Chinese restaurant in Tivoli, it was one of the worst Chinese meals we've ever had. Walt Disney supposedly modeled Disney World after Tivoli. We did not stay for any show or the fireworks. It was quite cold that day, many of our members left soon after dinner. Some even saw no attraction to having dinner in Tivoli, and walked back toward Nyhavn where our hotel was and had dinner somewhere along the way.

Helsingør and Kronborg Castle - Vincent and I joined an optional tour to Kronborg (the one with questionable Shakespeare ties) and then continued on to the fishing village of Gilleleje. Despite what several tour books said about Kronborg Castle, I enjoyed the trip, especially with a guide who explained things and made our visit interesting. The style of Kronborg Castle is very similar to Frederiksborg Castle, only Kronborg is almost bare and Frederiksborg Castle is full of museum stuff. The visit to the Gilleleje village was enjoyable, we sampled delicious fish cakes and ice cream there. We bused from Gilleleje directly to the pier in Copenhagen to board a DFDS Seaways ship for an overnight cruise to Oslo. As soon as we got off the bus, each person was handed a ticket/key with cabin assignment, very efficient. We had a nice Smørgåsbord dinner on board the ship.

Oslo : Oslo was a blur between the fairytale Copenhagen and the quaint Bergen. We visited the Oslo city hall where the Nobel Peace prizes are awarded, we also visited Vigeland park, saw Monch's scream in the National Gallery, rode ferry between Oslo harbor and Bygdøy peninsula. The weather was sunny, and the ferry ride was enjoyable.

Leaving Oslo, we rode our tour bus for a while then got on a train to start the Norway-in-a-Nutshell trip to Bergen. The scenery along the train ride was great but the views were often blocked by many tunnels and snow-sheds, and the train windows were not panorama. Between Myrdal and Flåm there was a famous waterfall, the train made a stop for passengers to get off to see the waterfall. From Flåm to Gudvangen we rode on a boat for a 2-hour cruise through branches of the Sognefjord. Our bus driver from Oslo was waiting for us at Gudvangen to drive us the rest of the way to Bergen.

Bergen: Bergen is quaint, so is our hotel, the First Hotel Marin. At this stop Vincent and I were assigned a very spacious room. I think members of the group took turns to get larger rooms, and Bergen was our turn.

The Fish Market sells many kinds of seafood. Boiled shrimp were about US$1 per pound. Some of them looked delicious, but Vincent could not bear the sight of boiled shrimp since after we had one liter of boiled shrimp at a harbor front restaurant in Oslo. So we walked by, no more shrimp or seafood until he felt better.

I did order a sushi dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Nama the next day. The sushi was good, and on a Friday evening the restaurant was packed. The waitress told us that business is very good all year round. Bergen's tourist business is booming, there were 220 cruise ships visited in 2003, and they expect more cruise ships to visit this year.

On a free day, we took the bus to visit composer Edvard Grieg's home at Troldhaugen: . By the way, Norway is more expensive than Denmark, because everything is tagged with a 24% VAT tax, including food in restaurants.

Stockholm: We arrived at Stockholm in the midst of the city's marathon and food festival. The program director took us to the food festival immediately after hotel check in, which was a mistake because we were hot and thirsty and saw jam packed people, so many of the tour group did not like Stockholm at the first sight.

However, after taking a walk along the harbor to Gamla Stan (the old town) and saw the beautiful harbor, we began to like Stockholm. In the end, we liked Stockholm a lot.

We had a group city tour the next morning, visited the Vasa museum, ended with a food demonstration in a restaurant and lunched there. Then the rest was free time.

In the afternoon Vincent and I went on a scenic boat ride to see Stockholm from the water. We also went to the Grand Hotel by the harbor. We were not hungry for the Grand Hotel's $50 smørgåsbord dinner at 4:30 pm, so we sat at the bar's veranda to have a drink and a view of the Royal palace across the harbor. The Grand hotel is the grandest hotel in Stockholm and is where the Nobel prize guests stay. The Royal palace across the harbor is where the King works, not where his family lives.

The next morning we went on a 10 am City Hall tour. City Hall tours are guided, and tours may be cancelled if there are important city functions. So if touring the City Hall is important to you, do it early, don't wait until the 3 pm tour on your last day, because it may be cancelled.

I enjoyed the City Hall tour. It is very elegant and yet available to the citizens. One can rent the Blue room or the Gold room for wedding parties. The Blue room is where annual Nobel banquet took place on 12/10, and the hall is actually red not blue. After seeing all the red brick laid out, the architect liked what he saw, so he scrapped the plan to lay blue marble on top, but the name of Blue Room stuck. After the City Hall, we took subway to visit Drottningholm castle, this is where the royal family lives. The gardens were very pretty and peaceful. We sat on a bench in the shade and just took it all in. We did not buy separate admission to see the Drottningholm Royal Theater on the same ground, but other members of the group who did said it was beautiful and not to be missed.

>From the Drottningholm Castle, we took a one-hour boat ride back to the City Hall. The boat we got on was a boat with a dining room, so Vincent and I had delicious halibut for lunch and enjoyed the scenery along the way.

The tour group had a farewell dinner at the City Hall's restaurant. The entrance to the restaurant is separate from the City Hall, therefore one could not get to see the City Hall by going to dine at the City Hall restaurant.

We flew home the next morning. Mei-Ching (Massachusetts)