Figuring out how to share our stay in Russia has been difficult but today I will show why St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great. It is built on a series of islands spread over a wide area. 60 rivers and canals crisis-cross the City and are spanned by about 400 bridges. The principal waterway is the Neva River.
Riding into Helsinki, Finland you see a skyline of contrasts…a giant Ferris wheel and the Uspenski Cathedral built in 1868. It is the largest Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe.
Driving through the city center I took a couple photos for my Finnish friends in th U.P. and the market street that is heated in the winter for shopping comfort!
Last stop was the Church in the Rock which is blasted out of granite and capped with a ceiling made out of copper wire and 180 windows. It was astonishing!
Riga, the capital of Latvia was founded in 1201. It is nicknamed “Paris of the Baltic” because of its buildings of remarkable Gothic, Baroque, Classicism, and Art Nouveau architecture.
Our walking tour of Riga still has my head spinning. Our guide had so much information and was so entertaining that it was a memorable day….for fun…not retaining facts. Anyway, the city a is a mix of very old and very new with lots of restoration taking place. We passed in and out of the medieval city several times through gateways of the original fortified wall.
As we walked Old Town our guide told us many interesting stories, such as why this cat is facing a certain direction…or should I say the cat’s tail is facing a certain direction to prove a point the builder wanted to make. We also saw many statutes around the cobblestone streets that gave you good luck or granted you a wish if you rub it. I get 2 wishes granted but couldn’t reach the top animal on the Brahman statue for good luck!
After spending yesterday at sea, we were ready to explore our next stop, Klaipeda, Lithuania which included a side trip to Palanga the home of Palanga Amber Museum. Amber is very important here and is considered the gold of the Baltic.
The former estate of Count Feliksas Tiškevičius houses the museum. You reach it by walking through a lovely Botanical Park that serves as a grand entrance. There is a statue of a young girl with a snake that represents the legend of how amber became the “gold” of the Baltic. There are many duck-filled ponds with quaint bridges and is just a beautiful area in general.
The basement floor houses an archeological display of over 5,000 pieces of amber with an explanation of how each type is formed and what if anything was preserved inside of each piece. Magnifying glasses revealed flies, grasshoppers, beetles, tree needles and many more items perfectly preserved in amber. Jewelry and decorative items were also displayed.
The first floor is decorated with replicas of furnishings that aristocratics of the late 18th century with have in their homes. All but this one item, a container of some type, had been sold or removed from the home over time. The tapestry above features this container so it must have been important.
We returned to Klaipeda and enjoyed a stroll through the charming town and discovered artwork such as this chess set scattered throughout the cobblestone streets.
Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen is the winter home of the Royal Danish Family. It was originally built to accommodate high ranking aristocratics but after a fire destroyed their palace it became the Royal home. Four buildings surround a plaza area which is guarded by soldiers. One of the buildings is now a museum which allows visitors to see how the royal family lived and it also houses the Crown Jewels.
In Nyhavn Harbor sits the Little Mermaid statute. Han Christian Anderson’s story ends quite differently than the popular Disney movie. Such a small statue draws a huge crowd!
After traveling on the Oceana ship Marina overnight we arrived in Germany to take a motor coach to Berlin. The ride was approximately 3 hours and the countryside was mostly farmland. We briefly stopped at the Charlottenburg Palace which unfortunately was undergoing repairs and was closed.
We saw several sections of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. One long section has been painted with murals by artists from all over the world. The walkways and roads have a double brick path which traces the actual length of the original Berlin Wall.
The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most important monuments with over 200 years of history.
Arriving at the Hotel Imperial Copenhagen after a long overnight flight from Detroit Metro with a close connection in Amsterdam feels great. We are glad to be back in Europe and looking forward to our pre-Baltic Cruise stay in Denmark. Our Hotel is close to the Tivoli Gardens and a short walk to the busy city center.
The next stop was at The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. The exhibit included five Viking Ships excavated in 1962 from Roskilde Fjord. They were part of a barrier constructed in the late 11th Century to protect the royal seat and cathedral at Roskilde. There were also reconstructed Viking Ships based on original, surviving ship finds.
Traveling to Amsterdam isn’t on our calendar this year but we couldn’t resist driving to Holland, Michigan for tulip time. We talked about going for years and decided the time was right this April. Our tulips were out and the weather was sunny and dry for a few days and we hoped the same was true on the west side of the state.
Holland has a Tulip Time Festival for a week each spring. This year it is May 6-14 so it is going on right now. You can get information about all the activities at http://www.tuliptime.com. We decided to go before the festival for a more low key trip. I’m glad we did because the tulips seemed to be at their peak.
Our hotel was an easy 5-10 minute drive to the downtown area but I did see several hotels right downtown that I would check out the next time we go. The downtown has many restaurants, stores, parks, coffee shops, and pubs. We particularly enjoyed our seafood dinner at Curragh Irish Pub. My blackened salmon, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables were delicious as were the scallops with pasta that Joe enjoyed. It was warm enough to eat outside in their large patio. Open tables were scarce that evening.
Besides the downtown area we visited two other must sees. The first was Veldheer Tulip Gardens/DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory on Quincy Street. You can walk around their fields of tulips and choose the ones you like the best. You can then place an order for those particular bulbs. They are mailed to you in time to be planted in the fall. I did buy 20 gladioli bulbs to plant this spring.
When we travel I always ask the locals what to do and see. The sales women who helped us find a book at Reader’s World in downtown Holland asked if we had been to Windmill Island yet. We hadn’t so she suggested we visit the next morning. She volunteers there and when we arrive the next day we didn’t recognize her. Can you blame us?!
She was able to give our group the tour of the DeZaan Windmill which is America’s only authentic, working Dutch windmill. You can watch a short video at the welcome center which explains the history of how the windmill was brought from Vinkel, Holland. We got some more history and learned how a windmill actually operates on the tour. It is truly fascinating. We met the woman expert who operates the windmill and grinds the wheat and bran flour.
We also got to walk on the outside ledge by the blades. It was an extremely windy day which certainly was appropriate for windmill touring! At the end of the tour I was able to buy whole wheat flour and bran flour ground at this windmill. I have made several batches of bran muffins already.
It was a short visit. I know there is more to see and do but when you travel with vamos Ramos it’s a whirlwind tour. Anyway, another check has been added to our bucket list. Makes me want to put tulip time in Amsterdam on our calendar for next year!
Springtime in Greenfield Village means being on the lookout for baby animals…lambs in particular. We were not disappointed! Our first stop was at the Firestone Farm and shaggy sheep greeted us like old friends. They were probably looking for a snack but we had nothing. They followed us anyway and came right up to the fence where Joe was brave enough to pet this one. Definitely need to wash hands before lunch!
Next up is the maternity center. Under the barn is a cool, quiet, darkened sanctuary for the mothers-to-be, new mothers, and yes, the precious lambs! The poor lighting was not conducive to great photos but I wasn’t about to disturb them with a flash so…they aren’t the best shots but if you look hard you can see the babies.
Further down the lineup was this young calf. He also was looking for food and was not thrilled to find out we were empty handed.
Our next stop was lunch. We went to Taste of History for my go-to lunch–the railroad sandwich. My grandfather worked on the railroad so it’s in my blood. We noticed a sign done in the Corn Palace Motif as we waited for our order to be taken. Also, you know a place has good food when the squirrels are trying to break in!
After lunch we walked along the Swanee Pond and then took part in a sing along at the Stephen Foster House. Well, we listened to Stephen Foster play the piano and sing. No one else was singing either but Stephen was terrific.
We walked to our favorite house, the Daggett Farm, and got to see the dinner being prepared. The history of the farm was fascinating as well.
I spotted this as we walked. Drain covers have always fascinated me for some unknown reason. The covered bridge is always fun to walk across. Watch out for bikes and horse drawn carriages.
The beauty of having a season pass to the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village is that we can enjoy it for a whole day or just a couple hours at a time. We decided to go today on a whim rather than a planned-ahead trip. We arrived at 11:00 and were leaving at 1:00 pm. We passed many people just arriving. I’m looking forward to returning soon. Opening Day was a win!
We are in between trips right now so I am going to recall our last visit to Curaçao in late February and early March of 2016. It was our 5th vacation there and the first one without our daughters. Flying out of Detroit we were delayed first because of mechanical problems and then because we returned from the runway back to the gate to leave a passenger off the plane. Very weird start to a vacation but also maddening because we figured we would not make our connecting flight out of Miami. And we were right. Quite a few of us sprinted to the gate but found the plane was still there but the gate had already closed so we were rebooked on the later flight. That flight was delayed as well so we arrived in Curaçao late in the evening which meant the car rental offices were closed. We took a taxi to the hotel and were pleased to see that the Marriott was as beautiful as we remembered! Tip: Prepare for the unexpected and enjoy the things that work out.
View walking into Marriott lobby
The room we got was a regular room with ocean view. Nothing special until you walk onto the balcony and see palm trees and ocean. It was clean and comfortable. I recommend you book a package that has breakfast included. We thought we had but….didn’t. There is a pastry shop that has great coffee and light breakfast options.
There are suites available that are ocean front but we have always gotten the ocean view room since I love the palm trees. We like the Marriott because it is ocean front with a beautiful sandy beach. The swimming is wonderful. Some days the waves are huge and other days it is relatively calm. You can snorkel by swimming out to the drop off area or you can snorkel closer to shore by the rocks that help protect the beach area. We brought our own gear but you can buy or rent some from the Dive shop or check out a mask and fins at the pool area. The Dive shop also offers excursions. The beach is full of shells and I always return with a beautiful collection. There is also a wonderful pool area that has shade, lots of lounge chairs and a swim up bar. They serve lunch as well in the area you see behind Joe in the photo below.
There are several restaurants in the Marriott and there are a few within a short drive. The city of Willemstad is a 15 minute drive. You can do some shopping, eat at numerous restaurants, admire the colorful buildings, and walk over the Queen Emma Bridge which is a floating bridge that actually swings out of the way of the ships that need to pass. And, it lights up at night!
We also visited the studio of Nena Sanchez and bought several of her prints of island life. You can check out her work on Pinterest or pull up her website to see her colorful paintings. Her studio is across from a Flamingo Sanctuary! Be sure to check it out.
Nena Sanchez Studio
This trip we decided to brave a submarine type excursion for the first time. It was exciting to see the ocean floor with all the coral, sponges and many small colorful fish. I was hoping to see a sea turtle, dolphin, or a shark but did not.