This was our second trip to Norway. We had taken a ferry over to Norway 10 years ago when we stayed a few days in Copenhagen just to say we had been to the country. This visit to Oslo allowed us to really see a little more of the country and its capital. Our ship docked right in town next to Akershus Fortress where we started off the day taking a walking tour in the fortress providing some of the history. We moved on to City Hall which was really an interesting building. There is sculpted artwork around some of the outside walls of the building that tell the mythology of the region. The walls inside the building are painted with more traditional stories about the history of Norway and the city. There are also many pictures about Nobel Prize winners inside City Hall. We were unaware that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo and not Stockholm like the other categories of Nobel Prizes. The winner of the peace award is actually determined by ex-politicians from Norway. We saw pictures of past winners such as Barrack Obama and Jimmy Carter. Outside City Hall is the Nobel Peace Prize Museum that shows all past winners and what they did to earn the award. The most interesting building in Oslo is their new opera house. It is a very modern looking building where you can walk on the sloped roof of the structure. It was built to be an iconic building of Oslo and have a similar affect for the city like the Opera House in Sydney has done for that city. We didn’t think it had that type if impact to us but it certainly is an interesting building. Outside the building in the harbor is a unique glass sculpture (looking like an iceberg). We finished up the tour walking over to the cathedral and then down the main city walkway that goes all the way to the Royal Palace.
After the tour we continued walking around the shopping area and found a harbor walkway where we came upon a very interesting old fashioned 3 masted ship (Americo Vespucci) from Italy that was used for sailing instruction. It was an extremely well maintained ship and combined both the past ship design with modern naval use. We walked down the harbor viewing many of the ships and ferries. The area has been built up very nicely and there is a large shopping area along one side of the harbor. On a subsequent trip to Oslo we would like to visit the Viking museum which requires a ferry to get to. This museum contains three Viking ships that were dug up in pristine condition because they were found in clay that prevented any damage to the wooden construction of the ship.
Aarhus was a new stop for this ship. Even though they had been doing the Baltic for a while this was the first time they had stopped here. Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark behind Copenhagen where we stop on our return from St Petersburg. Although it rarely receives cruise ships, it did a marvelous job of helping the tourists get the most out of their visit. They handed maps out to everyone and had a trailer brought into the port to act as a tourist center with plenty of local people inside to help answer questions about their city. They provided homemade rye bread treats with Denmark butter – so good! There were people located on the walkway into town to help answer questions and provide guidance to where people wanted to go. They even had someone asking you to fill out a survey when you were walking back to your ship to see what they could have done better. It was a very impressive effort by their tourist bureau to work with cruise ships now and in the future. They had some vendors inside the port selling crafts from the area. Some of these vendors mentioned that our ship was much better for their business than the German cruise ships they normally see.
We started off our walk in Aarhus to Den Gamle By. This is open air museum that has many small buildings reconstructed to represent three timeframes in Denmark history: 1864, 1927 and 1974. Michelin rates this place a 3 star international museum to visit. It takes about a half hour to get there from the cruise port (1 ½ miles). The majority of the facility is focused on the 1700 and 1800’s. There are people walking the streets and in the buildings that depict the era that they represent. It was really enjoyable spending a few hours seeing how these people lived. There was even some information about Hans Christian Anderson and where he grew up. He is the famous author of children’s books such as the Little Mermaid. The more modern areas of this open air museum were not quite as interesting but it was nice to look at the contrast in Danish history. The highlights though of the museum were certainly viewing the people dressed up in the style of the era and watching them perform the tasks that were performed hundreds of years ago.
After visiting this museum we walked around the city taking in the views. It was harder to recognize what you were looking at as you walked around because the maps provided were in Danish with not much English available. The cathedral was certainly an impressive building and we went inside to view it. There was also an art museum that is quite unique because it has a colored 360 degree walkway on top of the building. We were able to visit a small Viking museum along the way which depicted the findings of a small Viking village found while constructing a modern building in the city. They maintained the area and built this museum in the basement of the building where the village was found. They reconstructed one of the Viking houses that was uncovered and marked the outlines on the floor of the museum of the other houses that were found. All of the relics found during this dig were presented in this museum. When we were walking around in the morning we saw a long line of people waiting in line for Starbucks, couldn’t imagine until we learned that today was Starbuck’s opening day and they were providing a nice goodie bag. There were some nice shopping walkways in the city but the only things we purchased were at the vendors in the port.
This was really a nice surprise port to visit. We had extremely low expectations and we were very happy with what we saw in this city. We still look forward though in visiting Copenhagen in another week.
Another interesting point as we were leaving Aarhus is the Great Belt Bridge (entrance to the Baltic Sea). Our ship went under this bridge just after sunset and it only cleared this bridge by a few feet. We were up on the top deck watching and it was really quite a sight. We had had a beautiful sun set that day and we could still see a little of the orange from the sun set as we viewed the bridge. It was a nice little extra sight of this cruise.
This is almost our first trip to Russia. Tallin is in Estonia which was part of the USSR until 1991 when it declared its independence. It is supposedly one of the most technological advanced countries and much of the internet technology we were told comes from here. We saw none of that and only saw the old city of Tallin. In the fourteenth century St Olav’s Church was the largest building in the world. Today not so much but it still is an easily seen sight throughout Tallin. We did our own walking tour in this city.
Once again we had beautiful weather. Temperatures got up to the low 70’s after starting out in the high 60’s. You could not ask for better weather to walk around a city and explore. The old city is only about a 15 minute walk from the port and your first entrance into the city is in a very picturesque guard gate with a large cylindrical defensive tower by it. It is actually one of the icons of the city that you see in every souvenir store. A short 5 minute walk from the entrance is St Olav’s Church which actually looks very plain except for the very high steeple. From there we wondered the city until we decided to go see the main city square. In the square was a symbol of a snake wrapped around a glass indicating that this was one of the first pharmacies in Tallin dating back to the 1400’s. Around one of the corners was the Old Hansa which is a restaurant with people dressed up from the 1200’s serving you food. There is no electricity in this building and you eat by candle light. There are many stores around the area that sell the famous Russian dolls and Faberge Eggs. After spending a few hours roaming the lower city we walked to the upper city and viewed the magnificent St Nicholas Church. This is the patron saint of seaman and was built back in the 1200’s. It is a very pretty and different looking church like the typical Russian Orthodox churches you see. Right across from the church is the Toompea Castle which doesn’t look like a castle at all until you walk around it and see some of the lookout towers and old rocks that were used to make up the castle. The building structure across from the church has been rebuilt into more of a palace looking structure and is not used for the Parliament. After looking around a few of the lookout points at the top of the upper city, we walked back down to the city square and found a place off of the square to have a little Russian beer. At this point, we visited a few more places and headed back out of the old city back to our ship. This was a great city to view before our visit to St. Petersburg tomorrow.