A Travellerspoint blog

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And finally we are off...

Days 1, 2 and 3

7 °C
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I’ve been very slow out of the gates with this blog for a couple of reasons...

Initially, on arriving in Frankfurt, jetlag proved a bit hard to overcome if I sat still for more than a few minutes, so we had to keep moving and, secondly, I've been having some trouble with my blog software and my IT support person has been less than supportive in helping me get up and running :) I've finally figured out there was a conflict of interest and we are actually in a blogging war! Those of you who aren't already reading Andrew's much more timely blogs you can find them here...


So, after some lively persuasion, I'm now up and running...

We're now cruising south on the Baltic Sea and are on Day 4 of our 15 day Scandinavian cruise - it's the only 'sea day' of the entire cruise and the first day we've had the opportunity to relax a little since leaving Sydney over a week ago. It's been a whirlwind so far and we've definitely packed a lot into the week.

Here's a bit of an overview:

We arrived safely in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight from Sydney via Singapore. Just the usual eating more than you need to out of boredom, drinking more than you should for the same reason (and because the laws of travel state you can drink alcohol at any time of the day or night as long as you are in either a plane or an airport,) sleeping and walking airports at strange hours and, voila, you’re on the other side of the world! This always both amazes me and leaves me slightly disorientated for a couple of days.

We also managed to get quite a bit of sleep prior to landing in Frankfurt at 8am, ready to attack the day without succumbing to the temptation to ‘just lie down for a few minutes’ – we almost succeeded.

Anyway, Frankfurt was another one of those cities that wasn’t on my radar as a ‘must-see’ or even a ‘maybe one day if we have time’ destination but that, ultimately, proved to be a happy surprise. Apart from the fact that smoking is a national past-time and the language is impossible to understand, either in written or spoken form, it’s a really interesting and quite pretty city.

I hadn’t done much research on Frankfurt before leaving home, but what I did learn was that the city has a population of less than 1 million but still manages to be both the financial and logistics hub of Germany. The Old City of Frankfurt was almost completely destroyed in a WW2 bombing raid in 1944, hence the city was rebuilt and is quite modern with the exception of a dedicated area that was purposely rebuilt in the old style and does a reasonable job of looking authentically ‘old’ in parts.

A city always looks its best when the sun is shining, and we were happy to wander around pretty aimlessly for an hour or so through the cobblestone streets and the local food market. There are some unmistakably impressive landmarks, but we had zero idea what their significance is as there are no explanations or signs in English. It’s pretty arrogant to expect any non-English speaking countries to speak or provide English translations routinely, but we tend to anyway. So we booked a guided walking tour for the following morning and kept walking the inner-city streets and parklands. It feels like the city is emerging from hibernation with little wildflowers blooming in un-mowed grassland and the sunshine is gorgeous.






Eventually, we do find our way back to the hotel for a very unadventurous drink or two and early dinner in the lobby bar.

Day 2 in Frankfurt started off cloudy and drizzly, the kind of morning where you would really just rather stay inside but, no, we’re only here for one more day, and so far, we have no real knowledge of Frankfurt other than the few facts I mentioned earlier.

We were pleased we made the effort, the tour was interesting, and the weather did finally clear a little.

The tour started in Romerberg - the city's main square which plays host to most of Frankfurt's important occasions, such as coronations and weddings, with every German wedding required to take place in a City Hall. Whilst waiting for our tour to start we witnessed one happy, newly wed couple emerging to the cheers of family, friends and anybody who happened to be in the Square at that point. We also witnessed one of the strangest things I've ever seen - a bunch of people, dressed to the nines, randomly scattered around the square speaking loudly whilst recording on their phones...maybe a TikTok conference field excursion?


In a repeat of the previous day we visited the Old City, which was actually only completed, with the various structures all resembling different pre-war architectural styles, in the early 21st century. We also learnt about Goethe, Germany's answer to William Shakespeare, visited the St Bartholomew Cathedral…the only structure to escape relatively unscathed from WW2, due to the fact it was largely built from stone rather than the wood used to build most of the other city buildings.


Interestingly, our guide (an American lady married to a German and living in Frankfurt) explained that WW2 is still a daily topic of conversation in Germany and there are many, many references and memorials to the impacts of that war in the streets of the city, including 'Stumbling Blocks' which are essentially plaques inset into the ground outside the last known residence of a person who died at the hands of the Nazis. Apparently, this has now become a global phenomenon with similar memorials appearing in cities worldwide.




To balance out all the history and culture we then visited the Kleinmarkthalle (the same small market we visited the previous day). Obviously, Andrew had to try the German sausage from a stall run by an 83 year old lady who has been selling sausages from this very spot for nearly 60 years. The queue was worth it – whilst I did taste it myself, Andrew did most of the heavy lifting, eating it whilst enjoying a German Riesling in a wine bar alongside the market that let you bring your own food - a reverse BYO!



At this stage, we’re still in a bit of a jetlag haze but manage to make it through the afternoon and dinner at a more traditional style German restaurant where we dined on schnitzel and potatoes. These Germans really do know how to eat and drink with a gusto heavy on the carbs!



Day 3 sees us leaving Frankfurt, bound for Stockholm, but not before a morning walk through a lovely part of the city to the Botanic Gardens, the Gardens weren’t actually open at that time, but it was still a very pretty walk through streets that reminded me of Amsterdam to some extent and through a parkland full of happy dogs chasing balls and joggers working off all those carbs.

Stockholm has always been a bucket list destination for me! I’m not entirely sure why; I think it has something to do with an image I had of long, long summer days spent in pursuit of healthy outdoor activities and long, long winter days spent in front of cozy fires drinking mulled wine.

We arrived relatively late in the afternoon and didn't have the opportunity to explore too much, but my first impression was of a very beautiful city, essentially spread over 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. Due to the fact Sweden has not participated in any wars in the last 200 years, the architecture is oldish and largely very grand. To go with the beautiful buildings, the people are also impossibly attractive and stylish. Our hotel had one of the most impressive lobby bars I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit, and I have visited a few!


We spent a couple of hours over drinks and dinner planning our next couple of days in Stockholm...

Stay tuned for the next 'episode'!

Posted by andrewmooney 07:54 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Gorgeous Stockholm

Days 4 and 5

4 °C
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After our first night in Stockholm, we wake to a beautiful, sunny morning, although the sunshine is deceiving, and the actual temperature feels bitterly cold as we exit the hotel for a day of exploring Stockholm.

We haven't planned any official tours for the next couple of days as we'll be boarding the ship tomorrow afternoon and have a full day of ship-organised tours booked in Stockholm the following day before we sail out at 6pm.

Instead we do as we always do and just set off on foot, with a vague plan to walk along the harbour esplanade towards the Djurgarden area - a route of about 13kms that would take us through an area of museums, embassies, a theme park and parkland on established walking tracks.


Stockholm is proving to be all we hoped it would be and the walk is stunning, with wonderful views of the harbour and the many incredible homes lucky enough to be situated here...







Despite it being a sunny Saturday, albeit a cold one, the streets and walking tracks aren't as busy as we would have thought and, once we return to the city area, most of the shops are shut. This seems a bit weird but maybe it's just a Swedish thing to take it easy on a weekend and confine shopping hours to Monday to Friday and Saturday morning. Probably a good thing as the windows were full of lots of very gorgeous things I would have loved to purchase but Stockholm is not cheap and I would have needed to exercise extreme levels of self-control. However, it all does seem a bit odd, it's also odd that there are only a limited number of cafes and restaurants open. Whilst we would have liked to find something in keeping with our locale, we were just too hungry to conduct a wide search and, instead, opted for Lebanese, as you do when in Stockholm. I absolutely love Lebanese food but would not ever have guessed I would need to travel to Sweden to eat the best version of it I have ever had. So good!


Stepping out of the restaurant there seems to be a bit more activity, and we follow the crowds further into the city to find cherry blossoms and moose burgers (thankfully Andrew had already eaten.)



We've now done many, many 1000's of steps since starting out for the day but we keep on walking and soaking up the sights...



It wasn't until we started chatting to our barman over a drink prior to heading out to dinner that we learnt it was a public holiday celebrating Walpurgis Eve when Swedes welcome spring by lighting huge bonfires and celebrating the end of a long winter by singing songs and drinking huge amounts of alcohol. In anticipation, most spend a quiet day ahead of a huge night. This also explains why it was so hard to get a restaurant reservation a few weeks out from our visit, but very happy with our choice and, finally, I get some Swedish meatballs without going to Ikea :)






The next day dawns overcast and drizzly and, of course, cold. We are due to board the ship early afternoon but still want to get some steps in before we embark and are faced with all the calorific temptations a cruise liner is bound to offer. Once again the streets are empty and getting a coffee for Andrew and tea for me is proving harder than it should be. It's Sunday morning after a huge night, and maybe, this time, the Swedes are just sleeping it off. There are a few touristy shops open in the Old Town but other than that, nothing. This time we Google and, sure enough, it's another public holiday with May Day (or Labour Day/worker's day) following Walpurgis Night, and by the afternoon the streets are filled with May Day demonstrations, meetings and speeches.

It's on this walk, however, that we get our first glimpse of the Viking Jupiter which will be our home for the next 15 days....


Posted by andrewmooney 14:36 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

A little taste of ship and Viking life

Days 6 and 7

7 °C
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After two amazing nights fending for ourselves in Stockholm, we embark our ship and hand ourselves over to 15 days of having zero need to, essentially, fend or think for ourselves. Although I never would have thought I'd succumb to this type of travel, I can now see why you could easily become dangerously addicted to it!

Firstly, it's an absolute joy to have your luggage delivered to your cabin and to unpack completely, knowing you don't need to pack again for the next couple of weeks. And that's just the tip of the iceberg (probably not a word I should use at sea - but then again, I also don't think the classical duet who play each evening in one of the ship's bars should play the theme from 'The Titanic' but they do, so....) and I'm discovering new and wonderful advantages to this cruising life at every turn.

We are learning more about ship life everyday and accumulating more and more stories which I'll share in future blogs, but in the first couple of hours we get acquainted with the ship itself, the Viking Jupiter...



It's classed as a relatively small ship by cruise line standards and carries about 930 passengers. Our room is about the size of my first flat in Adelaide, actually probably bigger and certainly much more elegant.


There are at least 3 main bars but, if you sit still long enough anywhere, someone will ask you if you want a drink.





There are also 4 restaurants, a beautiful spa pool with a sauna and ice room, and an outdoor pool which people are actually swimming in, despite it being absolutely freezing, clearly they are either crazy or English.


There is also a fantastic gym which we have even used a couple of times - it's very odd, but strangely mesmerising to use a treadmill at just about water level in a fairly hefty swell. I was surprised I managed that but I kept heeding the advice to keep my eyes on the horizon and it seemed to work.

We are to spend the night and the following morning in Stockholm before sailing out in the afternoon to visit, or so we think, these ports:

  • Mariehamn, Aland Islands
  • Gdansk, Poland
  • Bornholm (Ronne), Denmark
  • Berlin (Warnemunde), Germany
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Skagen, Denmark
  • Oslo, Norway (2 days)
  • Stavanger, Norway
  • Eidfjord, Norway
  • Bergan, Norway (2 days)

During the cruise we are scheduled to have only 1 sea day as we sail from Mariehamn to Gdansk but, as we soon come to learn, the weather plays a huge part in life at sea and schedules can change very quickly.

In the meantime, before leaving home we signed up for a number of shore excursions, most are included in the fare but some come at an additional fee. The excursions on offer are varied and cater to all sorts of different activity levels and special interests. Most of ours are either quite active, such as nature hikes and bike rides, but we have also signed up for all the guided city tours by foot and a couple of special excursions mostly centred around the Vikings. I'm not sure why but I have always been quite interested in Vikings, I think somewhat uncharacteristically, because I loved the Asterix comics as a kid. Obviously, the comic strip totally misrepresented the true nature of the pillaging and plundering Vikings themselves but you're not to know that as a young child.

Basically, we are going to be a lot more knowledgeable about Vikings by the time we disembark this cruise and I will share some of our findings in future blogs but, prior to departing Stockholm, we head off on the first of our 'Life of Viking' tours. A few facts learnt at this point are:

  • The average height of a male Viking was 5'8" and a rank and file Viking could expect to live between 40-50 years unless mortally wounded in battle, whereas a more senior Viking could potentially live more than 60 years
  • Female Vikings had the same status and respect as male Vikings (with many female warriors making up the Viking ranks) but their life expectancy was likely to be much shorter (around 30 years) with many dying during pregnancy or childbirth
  • Viking helmets did not include horns as most think
  • Apart from raiding, pirating, trading slaves and generally causing a lot of misery they were also traders, explorers and colonizers
  • Although they are probably best known for travelling west to the United Kingdom, they travelled much further to the east with evidence of them reaching Baghdad and Constantinople
  • Viking explorer, Lief Erikson was the first European to set foot in the Americas, beating Columbus to the continent by over 400 years

So there are a few Viking facts to keep you going for now - probably more than you really wanted :)

Next we set sail, overnight, for Mariehamn in the Aland Islands. Probably ignorantly, I had not heard of Mariehamn but we are in for a real treat!

Til, next time.... Tally ho!

Posted by andrewmooney 15:10 Archived in Sweden Comments (1)

Mariehamn, Aland Islands - who knew???

Day 8

3 °C
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Having now spent our first night on the ship, we awake to find we are docked in Mariehamn, the capital of the Aland Islands, an archipelago spanning approximately 6,700 islands, which sit halfway between Finland and Sweden. I can confess I had not previously, consciously, heard of the Aland Islands, let alone Mariehamn, but here we are and we're about to be educated!

As seems to be the case with many areas in Scandinavia, ownership has changed many times over the course of history, but currently (and presumably for the foreseeable future) the Aland Islands are an autonomous territory under Finnish sovereignty, so theoretically, we are in Finland. This is quite exciting as, ignorantly, I had no idea we were going to Finland on this trip.

Approximately 30,000 people live in the 30 or so inhabited islands which had, until the early 1800's been part of Sweden, and to this day they both speak Swedish and identify culturally with Sweden. They have their own Government of 30 elected representatives and also have one seat in the Finnish Parliament. That's a scary amount of politicians for a relatively small population!!

Mariehamn itself has a total population of around 15,000 and is a very pretty town that sits between two harbours and attracts over 2 million visitors each year. It seems like this tiny part of the world is punching well above its weight in terms of both politician and tourist to resident ratios.



Our chosen activities for the day are a guided tour of the city and nearby areas in the morning, followed by a nature hike in the afternoon. The hike has been classed as 'demanding' with a duration of 5 hours, including the 1.5 hours return bus ride and coffee and pancakes at the end. As yet we don't really have a grasp of the fitness level of our fellow passengers but, all indications to date would point to the fact there won't be too many people on the tour with us. However, as we head off, the bus is full of eager nature lovers.

Sadly it transpired that many, despite all communication to the contrary, had taken the title 'nature hike' to mean a small walk through nature whilst the guide explained the history of the rock formations and the various moss and lichens, and the level of activity may have come as a bit of a shock. Ultimately only about half the group completed the entire hike with, sadly many struggling, requiring the guide to hang back whilst the rest of us forged ahead, some virtually running, presumably to ensure they didn't miss out on the pancakes.






It was bitterly cold but amazing to be out in the fresh air in Finland of all places!!

Back on the ship we enjoy a few drinks, dinner and a nightcap in the bar listening to Mark, the resident guitarist/vocalist generally feeling like life is good!

Tomorrow is a sea day as we sail south on the Baltic Sea to our next port (or so we think) of Gdansk, Poland.

Posted by andrewmooney 13:08 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Sea Day(s)

Days 8 and 9

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Having left the surprise package that was the gorgeous port of Mariehamn the previous night, we are spending today at sea as we sail south to Gdansk in Poland. It's our only scheduled sea day and I'm looking forward to it as an opportunity to settle into what will be our home for the next couple of weeks and explore all the ship has to offer a little further.

We are definitely still very much novices when it comes to cruising and have a lot to learn but by Day 3 of the cruise (Day 8 of our entire trip) we are already settling into a routine of sorts.

Viking Cruises prides itself on providing a 'destination focussed, culturally immersive travel option' (that's straight from the brochure) with marketing focussed on adults-only cruises on ships without casinos. There is an emphasis on providing a daily offering of activities, lectures and presentations to enhance your experience of the ports/areas you are visiting. Viking has definitely delivered on all they promised and we are beyond impressed!

So on days we are in port we have a schedule of pre-booked shore excursions and, depending on the ship's onboard itinerary, possibly a lecture and always a 'Port Talk' at 4:30 in the afternoon, where you are given an overview of the country/city you will be visiting the following day, along with the specific details of each of the shore excursions. The ship also publishes the 'Viking Daily' which is delivered to your room each night with a full list of everything happening the next day. It all works like a very well-oiled machine - even when things go awry which they will in the days to come!





There are five main dining options onboard. One is casual buffet style, one is more formal a la carte, and one is a poolside cafe that is open for lunch. There are also two specialty options, one Italian and one chef's choice degustation - both of which are a bit more 'fine dining' and are included in the fare, but you are limited to the number of times you can dine at each. The latter two require a booking made in advance but tables can not be booked in the other restaurants, so it's just a matter of turning up and taking the table you are given. In all cases the tables are spaced enough apart that you can, without being rude, pretty much ignore the guests at the next table but, if you choose to, you can also engage easily enough. This is where caution should be exercised and the same caution should be applied when choosing a seat in any of the bars.





To set the scene a little, there are a few things to be aware of…

  • There are 930 passengers on board the ship, 167 of which are Australian (apparently a record number and evidence that all the marketing and newspaper inserts are working). Apart from a smattering of English, New Zealanders and Canadians, the rest are Americans. Every single tour guide will assume you are American and customise their stories to suit :( The better ones will ask and adapt accordingly, which is appreciated
  • Most of the passengers are travelling in groups of two, however, there are also quite a large number of bigger groups and a small number of solo travellers but by day 2 or 3 they appear to have found each other and started to form their own little travelling parties.
  • Prior to boarding the ship I had anticipated, largely due to the marketing suggesting the cruise is quite active, that the average passenger would be a relatively fit and inquisitive person in about the same age demographic as Andrew and I. However, as it turns out, we are very much in the younger percentile and definitely much more mobile than most.

With the above in mind, we need to:

Firstly, avoid sitting next to or near large groups, particularly if they are large groups of Americans - you will not be able to hear yourself talk or think. After a few days, this seems to sort itself out with different groups tending to congregate in different areas. The nice quiet bars where people are reading or chatting quietly or the rowdy bars where it's more of a party than a cruise - then there's the more middling bunch which is where we find ourselves most of the time



Secondly, avoid sitting next to the person who puts their hand up during every single Port Talk, interrupting the presenter to ask a question that has already been addressed during the same presentation, and...

Finally, be aware that every guided tour that involves walking will be a lot slower than you would have liked.

None of the above is meant as a criticism but, having an awareness will help you navigate your day for the best outcome. It's also not an exhaustive list but, with time, we will learn more that I will share in future blogs.

In the meantime, our first sea day looks like this....

  • 8am - a yoga session on the pool deck which is surprisingly strenuous and hard on the knees
  • 9am - breakfast
  • 9:30am - a lecture on "The Vikings" by the ship's resident historian
  • 11am - a session at the gym on the rower and treadmill (this is where I find the rest of the passengers on the ship under 65)
  • 1pm - lunch in the World Cafe, the buffet-style dining option where optimum self-control is required but plenty of healthy, salad type options are available so it's not too difficult
  • 2 to 4:30pm - I have been so tardy in writing this blog that I can't actually remember what we did but no doubt we did something, maybe I did do some blogging
  • PXL_20230505_074558317.jpg
  • 4:30pm - attended the Port Talk to learn about our destination for the next day - Gdansk in Poland, which actually sounds quite interesting and we are looking forward to our day there
  • 5:30pm - head to the Viking Lounge bar where are regular barman, Wayan, already knows I will have a prosecco, which worries me slightly until I realise he knows what everyone is going to order (this regularly happens on board with all crew remembering your room number and your preferences - it literally blows my mind!)
  • 6:30pm - change for dinner - although none of the options are 'formal' or even 'semi-formal' it is expected that you will wear smart clothes with men requiring pants and a shirt with a collar and women a similar level of attire in all restaurants other than the World Cafe (buffet) where you can get away with basically anything (within reason)
  • 9pm - head back to our room for a good night's sleep ahead of a big day in Gdansk tomorrow

Also to note - we have also agreed to a rule whereby the only time we are allowed to take an elevator is if we have a drink in our hands, otherwise we have to take the stairs. As we are on deck 5 and the restaurants, bars, theatre and disembarkation points are on decks 1, 2 and 7, this makes for quite a workout each day.


This ship has been unbelievably steady and quiet to this point and we're sleeping like babies, so it's odd when things start to get a little unsteady and we are jolted awake the following morning. Literally.

It seems we will not be going to Gdansk today after all, despite coming to within a couple of hundred metres. Despite a valiant attempt, the conditions are just too rough for the Captain to dock the ship. All excursions are cancelled, and the crew scramble to deal with another day at sea - something that, apparently, takes some planning as, obviously, there are more passengers onboard during the day to be fed, entertained and generally care for. Although I was quite looking forward to visiting Poland, albeit briefly, for the first time, I'm not massively disappointed. I enjoyed yesterday and now know we will have no trouble keeping ourselves entertained for the day. So, essentially it's a repeat of yesterday, except a lot rougher and, for the first time, there are bowls of dried ginger scattered around the ship.

Rather than docking in Gdansk, the Captain informs us we are setting sail, slowly, for our next port, Bornholme in Denmark. That is until, a few hours later, the Captain again comes over the PA to inform us the conditions are even tougher in Bornholme and, consequently, he has made the decision to skip that too and head straight for Warnemunde in Germany (the port that accesses Berlin) and we will have an additional day there.

So what we're now learning is that plans can change very rapidly at sea and I feel for the Shore Excursion and Cruise team that needs to scramble to change excursions and generally keep us entertained.

Posted by andrewmooney 16:00 Comments (2)

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