Spend a Day in Tantalizing TALLINN…

Spend a Day in Tantalizing Tallinn…

Surrounded by medieval walls, the UNESCO old down of Tallinn is a sensational display of the historic Baltic Sea. The capital of Estonia is steeped in Russian, Finnish and even history of the Huns.

There are several points in the wall were you can climb the stone staircases into the turrets. The fort is a museum open to tourists, where you can see the old battlements and even stone drop toilets.

Tallinn’s Churches

Home to 4 major churches and numerous small chapels, Tallinn shows a variety of different denominational places at their most beautiful.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the most iconic church in Tallinn. It symbolizes the time of the Russian Occupation in the 1800’s.  The architecture is fabulous, and the orthodox icons are spectacular.

St Mary’s Cathedral is a must see, although it is plain and white it is filled with the real coats of arms of the important families in Estonia, dating back to the medieval times.

St Nicholas’ Church at the center of Tallinn is full of ecclesiastical art, and features an amazing museum with artwork dating back to the 13th century.

There are many more old chapels dotted around, some hard to find. They are full of old wooden panels with painted iconography.

The Vibe of the Town is Terrific!!

This is a town where culture, food and drink come together in a market town square. Cobble stones bounce laughter and clinking glasses with the buildings creating a noisy and atmospheric energy, making the afternoon and evening into a really lively event. The beer is cheap, the food is fulling – I tried an Estonian delicacy of bear stew with a beer. Yes there are a few stag nights, but sometimes this adds a good vibe… even if you have to cringe inwardly on occasion!!

Tallinn has so many hidden alleys offering cafe’s and wine bars so you don’t have to stay in the town center. We found an amazing wine bar off an alley that was lined with old tomb stones dating back to 1500’s!!!

Tallinn is a jewel in the Baltic’s crown. It really does offer history and culture!!

 

A Day Trip to Schwerin Palace

Spectacular Schwerin – Palace, Town and See…

Mecklenburg Vorpommern – The North East of Germany

When all the fellow Baltic cruisers are making their 9 hour round trip from Warnemünde to Berlin, why not spend a day in the beautiful surroundings of Schwerin Palace.

The large external was added to the 16th century interior in the 1850, during the time of the Eastern Prussian Empire. It is so imposing alongside one of the largest lakes in Germany, and is featured on the Schweriner See.

The town of Schwerin

Not quite UNESCO – due to a fire in the early 1800s. It was rebuilt in a similar fashion but the roads were widened by meters – therefore it did not meet the strict requirements. Still, the old romantic lanes, with wooden beams make it special.

Inside the Palace and Gardens

Grand enough to rival any of the large castles and palaces of Europe, Schwerin Palace offers parquet floors, wooden inlays, baroque furniture and spectacular paintings.  The internal courtyard displays the original 16th century beginnings of the palace, mirroring the wooden beams and carved eaves of the old town.

Schwerin Palace is situated on a mini island. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens, willows, swans and an orangery. There is also a grotto, which is always fun!!!!

How to get to Schwerin???

If your on a Baltic Cruise, there is more than likely a tour to the Palace. It usually starts with a boat tour on the lake, and a tour of the town. Finally a guided tour of the palace and time to spend in the gardens.

If you want to do it yourself you can catch a train from the Warnemünde docks to the town of Schwerin. There is usually a change, however the travel time is usually similar to that of the coach. Check at the docks if there are other tour operators working independent of the ship. You could save some money. But- like any independent day journeys – make sure you get back to the ship on time!!!

A Cruising day in Copenhagen

A Cruising Day in COPENHAGEN

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Get that Hygge Feeling…

Copenhagen is right up there of popular places to visit in Europe – and we can see why. On a sunny day (which are apparently on the rare side) Copenhagen has a warm an vibrant feeling. I’m sure it has the same feeling on a rainy day, but be sure to rug up!! As the first stop of our Baltic Cruise we docked into the port and our first stop was the ‘Little Mermaid’. I think as tourists we are expected to overwhelmed with every national icon and memorial, but I am standing tall and announcing that we were underwhelmed with slightly compact statue that, if it wasn’t on our path into town, we would have been slightly miffed. It is a bit of a schlep along the docks.

Nyhavn

It’s the central focus of the waterways in Copenhagen. With our luck in the weather department on this cruise, we were able to enjoy it at its finest. The colours of the building lining the dock, as well as the old fishing boats create a really cool atmosphere and there is plenty of icecream to be had!!! In fact every second shop along the dock is an icecream parlour. It seems to be a bit of a Copenhagen specialty.

 

Palaces and Gardens

Copenhagen is home to the oldest royal family in Europe. Amelienborg Palace makes one of the main squares in Copenhagen, home to the current day queen, Margrethe II and Prince Henrik. In a similar set up to Buckingham Palace in London, there is a changing of the royal guards at 12pm every day.

The Royal Library and Gardens are a lovely courtyard garden to have lunch or coffee at the cafe. The gardens are situated between the Christianborg Palace and the Royal Library.

The Tivoli Gardens is a famous amusement park situated close to the town hall. It was opened in 1843, making it one of the world’s first amusement parks. This is a great place to visit at Christmas time.

Rosenborg Castle is one of the oldest castles in the town of Copenhagen. It has extensive gardens and art installations. Fortunately, it is on the walk back to the ship, and leads towards the old Fort of Copenhagen, which is worth looking at too. It features windmills and military barracks, dating back to 1664 it was created in the shape of a star with a moat at high earth mounds.

 

Luzern

Luzern|  Switzerland

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Day 11 of ‘Central European Alps by Train’

Our journey today took us from Milan through the mountainsides of Switzerland to Luzern, but not without some complications! Out Trenitalia train malfunctioned and terminated its journey at the Lake Lagurno. We were forced to change several times in the mountains to reach our final destination. However, as the scenery was so stunning we where not too fussed!

Luzern was very warm! If there is one recommendation I can make for accommodation in Switzerland in the summer- make sure you have air conditioning!

 

We spent the day wandering the old town, crossing the Chapel Bridge and watching the majestic white swan. The flowers on the Chapel Bridge were in full bloom, making the river so picturesque.

In the evening we found a brilliant local restaurant that specialised in cheese fondue and chicken. Unicum Luzern had super friendly staff who introduced us to the art of eating fondue! It was delicious!

Cooking in Milano

Cook and Dine

An Italian cooking class

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Day 10 – ‘Central European Alps by Train’

We had a wonderful lunch time (usually evening) Italian cooking class through Cook and Dine Milano. Aurora took us through the ingredients and instructions to cook a magnificent 4 course Italian feast!

Tagliatelle Bolognese, Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli, Aubergine Parmegana followed by Tiramisu. Prosecco and Cianti Classico essential!!

Verona

Verona

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Day 7 & 8 – ‘Central European Alps by Train’

I have to say that the train ride from Innsbruck to Verona was one of the most picturesque of the trip! We wound through mountain valleys, past spectacular waterfalls and emmerged trough the alpine into the Dolomite Mountains with their foothills covered in old grape vines and apple trees.

Verona is a friendly and relaxed city. If you want to get away from the major tourist centres of Italy, this old Roman town offers food, shopping and historic architecture, and a spectacular view from the top of the Castel San Pietro.

Our apartment was in the centre of the old town, and we can highly recommend it. Corte Realdi was contemporary, yet keeping with the renascence these that heavily features in Verona. And what more so than the Casa do Giuletta, inspiring Shakespear’s story of Romeo and Juliet.

The atmosphere at Arena do Venrona is buzzing during the evening. A large crescent of eateries offer traditional Italian food. We dined at Restorante Liston 12 and ate spaghetti di vongle. If you are looking for something slightly off the beaten path, I can recommend Di Trentin Agostino in Via Fratta near the Castelvecchio. They prepare a mean platter di mare!

We are sad to be leaving the land of Aperol Spritz, as I think we could recommend staying and exploring new the region of Verona and its neighbouring countyside full of medieval castles.

Salzburg and Hallstatt

Day 4-5 of the Central European Alps Train Journey


imageWe took the train from Munich and arrived in the picturesque city of Salzburg in under 2 hours.

Day 4 – Salzburg Cruise, Dinner and Concert

Before our very cultured evening we strolled around the Mariabell Palace taking in the immaculate gardens and spectacular view over the fortress in the distance.

Our cruise on the river Salzch took is past the medieval old town. We were guided along the river with interesting points of history, identifiable buildings and of course the reason behind the rivers name- Salt and the mining of it over the centuries.

Our dinner was delicious and featured spectacular views over the city from the panoramic terrace of the fortress. We had a divine bottle of Austrian white wine- a Weißburgener.

The Mozart concert was held in the Golden Hall of the Salzburg Fortress. The octet with a featured pianist pliers through Mozart’s better known pieces. It was a slightly surreal experience Bing in the birthplace of Mozart and listening to his music played high above the city!

Day 5 – Leopoldskronschloß and Hallstatt

Leopoldskron Schloß is the external film set for the von Trapp family in the sound of Music. You know the bit where the Countess is having drinks and telling Ct. von Trapp to send the kids to boarding school after they are married? Well it’s that bit. It’s situated at the back of the fortress and the walk is about 2 hours round and back over the fortress to the city.

Hallstatt is 1.5hrs drive from Salzburg. It was really the jewel in the crown of our time here in Austria. It is UNESCO- and from the pics you can see why! It isn’t easy to reach by train; you have to change trains and the station is on the opposite side of the lake- so you have to catch a boat. But….maybe this place is worth a bit of hassle!

Insight Vacations | The Treasures of the Balkans

A Luxury Guided Bus Tour

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Sean and I are very good organisers when it comes to travel around Europe. We are not scared to use the public transport systems or venture off the beaten track. When it comes to the Balkans there is a whole new kettle of fish to consider- ‘interesting'(!!) border crossings, lack of public transport and Cyrillic writing. So, we branched out to a new and unfamiliar form of holiday: The Guided Bus Tour.

Insight Vacations is not really aimed at our demographic. That being said we certainly didn’t feel on the outer dying out trip. In fact we were not the youngest on the tour by far!

Insight Vacations looked after us from the beginning; we were very happy with their updates and attention to detail. As we arrived in Bucharest we were greeted by the tour leader, who had last easy contact d us by email with a welcome introduction.

Staying in great hotels and eating specially selected and local food really made our experience better. There was no guessing- it made the tour so much more relaxing!

Our tour took us through the majestic mountains of Transylvania, across th plains of southern Romania to the old capital of Bulgaria: Veliko Tărnovo.

The new capital of Sophia was surprisingly cosmopolitan and then we were absolutely floored with the newly built Skopje in Macedonia.

Lake Ohrid was spectacular, with the old Byzantine chapel stretching out to the sparkling water.

Albania was a real experience- not to mention the border crossing!

Montenegro and Croatia never fail to please- and with three days to ourselves we had a well needed rest after some packed travelling days.

Bosnia was a real eye opener- we had an amazing experience with a local family in one of the shelled tower blocks. We were able to discuss the siege of Sarajevo with some actual survivors.

Serbia and Belgrade offered some interesting history and we looked over the conference of the Sava and Danube rivers from the Fort.

Finally we made it to Budapest. This was a real Jewel in the crown of our tour, with a Danube Dinner Cruise and an evening at the Gundel Restaurant.

We had a fantastic and unique experience with Insight Vacations, and would not hesitate to travel with again if an itinerary took our fancy!

Sean and I would like to thank Judit (tour leader) and Dario (driver) for making our trip so unforgettable. And we would also like to thank our fellow travellers for being awesome companions!

Sarajevo

Sarajevo | Ready for Tourists

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Most people think of the Balkans War when they think of Bosnia Herzegovina and Sarajevo. I knew nothing about the city itself apart from the shelling and siege of the city.

Sarajevo has a rich and ancient history running all the way back to the Ilyrian tribes who were conquered by the Romans.

The Ottoman Empire was one of the major influences over the eastern architecture with mosques and baths lining the city streets.

Sarajevo is in the area of Herzegovina- and as a present to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor from the Sultan in Istanbul he gifted Bosnia in the north of the country. But, as a clerical error Herzegovina was added to the paperwork and Sarajevo ‘accidentally’ fell into the hand of the Austro-Hungarians in the 18th century. It was, of course, the location of the assassination that sparked the First World War.

The western part of the city is full of Viennese buildings and Catholic Churches, making Sarajevo one of the most interstates cities we have seen in a religions sense.


The city of Sarajevo is littered with what the locals call ‘Roses’. Createds in the streets filled with red paint as a reminder of where the grenades and shells fell during the siege of Sarajevo between 1992-5. Building still have bullet wounds and shell marks, but slowly slowly the city is being repaired and rebuilt from the disaster of war.

The tunnel of life is situated on the side of the airport. It was a 800m tunnel under the UN controlled international airport that was dug and used to provide the struggling citizens of Sarajevo with food, water and fuel supplies. Today you can visit 25m of the tunnel at the Tunnel of Live museum.

Mostar | Bosnia Herzegovina 

Mostar | Bosnia Herzegovina

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Mostar is in the region of Herzegovina. It is a beautiful old Ottoman town with a bazaar, harram and many mosques. Today it is a tourist hot spot and when I say hot- in the summer time it is roasting!

The most famous icon of Mostar is the beautiful bridge. It is a tradition of the young men to jump from the middle of the bridge as a right of passage into adulthood, they were then able to attract the most beautiful girls in the city to marry. Now days they just do it for the cash! I think they wised up?! It is quite dangerous. The water is freezing from the mountains and not very deep.

Mostar was heavily influenced by the passing trade of the Ottoman Empire exporting their goods to the Venitians in the 15th century. The name Mostar comes from the Turkish ‘bridge keepers’. Later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire rules the city, building larger more western buildings like you can see the facade of above. Most of these buildings were destroyed during the Balkans was between 1992-5. The bridge was hit by both sides but was finally destroyed by the Croatian offensive. It was rebuilt in the same style of white limestone with a very polished surface.

Travel Tips for Mostar

You can day-trip from Dubrovnik. There are many companies that do this- you need your passport and any relevant visas. The boarder crossing is very busy in the summer so be prepared to wait a little.

It gets very hot in the summer and there is not a lot of shade. Sometimes over 40°C. Wear sensible clothes, drink water and footwear should be very considered as the streets are very rounded lumpy stones and the bridge is super slippy!

Try the Cevapi. These are fingers of beef in pitta with onion and paprika sauce. They are cheap and really lovely. I can recommend the restaurant below, it is similar to all the average restaurants in Mostar and very cheap! The local beer Mostarski isn’t bad either.