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Articles Blog

Filtering by Category: Northern Europe

Visby, Sweden

Karyn Planett

Tossed into the Baltic like a wooden shoe, the island of Gotland is considered by many to be one of Northern Europe’s most lovely.  A mere 55 miles from the Swedish mainland, Gotland is richly forested, dotted with medieval towers, and blessed with a climate that is the envy of its neighbors. 

And the tiny town of Visby is Gotland’s jewel in the crown. 

Vikings and Merchants 

The island’s main city of Visby is a built-in-stone testimonial to the important strategic location Gotland once held.  As long ago as the 12th century, the fledgling city was an important partner of the influential German Hanseatic League of merchants.  As business flourished, Visby’s citizens grew more and more wealthy and their power base reached far across the Baltic.  Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, they established governmental departments and built buildings from which to administer.  They constructed lovely homes and many fine churches (seventeen, in fact), then surrounded their city with an imposing crenellated wall to protect themselves from invaders. 

This protection, however, proved to be inadequate for, over time, Visby was ultimately occupied by the Danish and Swedish forces, as well as by Teutonic Knights.  Many treasures were plundered, buildings were set afire, and Visby lapsed into a period of decline.  Piracy was rampant.  Visby no longer enjoyed its position of importance as a major link in the trade route between Northern Europe, the Black Sea, and cities of the Arab world. 

“The City of Ruins... 

Visitors interested in history and ruins can wander among Visby’s timbered and red-roofed homes, scale many of the thirty-eight towers scattered about, stand silently in one of the Gothic or Romanesque churches, or ramble along portions of the ancient stone wall that surrounds much of the city. 

Visby itself is laid out on three rather distinct levels.  At sea level, there is a road that skirts the perimeter of the town, with small park-like areas along the way.  Higher up is the town center with its many attractions, shops, and cafés.  Still higher is what one would consider to be the newest section. 

Sporting a pair of good walking shoes, you can stroll through one of the many tiny-but-wonderful squares.  One called Donnerplats boasts many fine period houses, including some that date back to the 17th century.  From this point, you can continue along the Strandgaten, which has long served as Visby’s principal area for trade and commerce.  Along this road are small museums and ancient establishments including the city’s oldest apothecary, as well as other unique ­buildings which house handicraft centers and galleries. 

...and Roses” 

Visby is proud to declare itself “the city of ruins and roses.”  Nature lovers will probably prefer to visit the Botanical Gardens, which serve as a home for a remarkable collection of native plants.  Visby enjoys a mild climate and a soil type that stays relatively warm, allowing plants to flourish.  Several trees in the gardens are centuries old.  And the delightful rose gardens offer a wide variety of extraordinary roses, most quite unique and rare. 

But roses aren’t found only in the Botanical Gardens; they decorate windowsills, cling to stone walls, and form colorful borders for buildings throughout Visby.  Rose fanciers will not be disappointed by the spectacular floral array offered by the good citizens of Visby. 

Among the many churches worthy of a visit are St. Nicolai’s (now in ruin) and Sty. Mary’s Cathedral.  Though St. Nicolai’s is but a shell of its former glorious self, it is almost mystical.  It dates back to the early days of the 13th century and is the work of Dominican monks.  Today it serves as the backdrop for summer music festivals. 

St. Mary’s Cathedral, recently restored, was built by German traders in 1225.  It was thankfully spared when much of the rest of the city was torched by invaders.  St. Olaf’s Church, another interesting highlight, stands in the shadows of the city’s imposing wall. 

Remembrances of Visby 

While the vision of powerful medieval buildings and the scent of colorful roses may serve as a sensory souvenir of Visby, you might wish to add to these great memories with something more tangible.  Throughout the city, you’ll amble past stores and shops offering such specialties as hand-thrown ceramic pots, traskor shoes (typical clogs of this region), magnificent glassware which is world famous, and more.  But should you wish to pass up these temptations, you should seriously consider savoring others such as the absolutely delicious saffron pancakes which are served with a drizzle of mulberry sauce and a dollop of sour cream.  You’re likely to find this specialty at a typical smorgasbord-type luncheon where an array of dishes is laid out for your buffet-style sampling. 

As your Visby visit draws to an inevitable end, you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree with proud Swedes, adventurous Europeans, and globe-trotting travelers who pronounce Visby a rare treat on a short list of extraordinary sights.  Visby is, quite simply, picture-perfect.

Stavanger, Norway

Karyn Planett

Oil And Water 

Norway, as any citizen worth his salt will tell you, is a nation rich with Nature’s bounty. Not only is it an eye-popping, jaw-dropping tableau, Norway is propped firmly on two solid economic feet. And, the basis for this posture is found in the oil and the water. Modern technology sets the pace for this advanced nation that is financed by the spoils of petroleum sales, hydroelectric power, plus the bounty from the sea. The country’s four million residents enjoy one of the world’s highest per capita incomes. And it shows. 

Oil and water. It’s as simple as that. 

A Glimpse Of The Past 

Scientists speculate that early man shivered his backside off in Norway around 8,000 BC. While short on agreement, many surmise that early fishermen and hunters may have made their way here from Russia or places further south. When the glaciers began to melt, game migrated north and guys in coarse, handmade outfits of skin followed right behind. Settlements dating back to 3,000 BC have been unearthed near Stavanger. In fact, there’s The Black Cave (Vistehola), quite near that provides evidence of early man’s ability to survive in this harsh climate.             

For the record, the name Stavanger probably comes from the Norse words “stav” (meaning steep cliff) and “angr” (meaning narrow fjord). So there you have it.           

While certain characters were important throughout the region’s history, we’ll highlight just a few. King Hakon VI (1340-80) married the daughter of Danish King Valdemar Atterdag. Their son Olav ascended to the Danish throne in 1375 then to the Norwegian throne in 1380 uniting the two nations. This union lasted until 1814.           

There were Norwegian Vikings of note, as well. And scholars point to the ransacking of an English monastery at Lindisfarne in 793 as a pivotal point in their history. It was then that Scandinavians took to the high seas in number, expanding their influence far and wide. In their sights were Germany and France, the British Isles, Iceland and Greenland, even the Mediterranean. They even reached Miklagard, what we now know as Istanbul. Leif Erikson made it to America five centuries before Columbus. And depending on whom you believe, these Vikings were either zealous traders and explorers or ruthless barbarians, freebooters and pirates who left others to tremble and beg God to be spared. As early as 800 AD, there was a large Viking settlement in Stavanger. Vikings became expert navigators and sailors and still master our vessels to this day. Stroll the waterfront and view the old seahouses to complete this extraordinary tale. Or gaze upon Fritz Roed's sculpture “The Sword in Rock” symbolizing Harald Haarfagre’s (Fairhair) 827 AD victory over local rulers consolidating the nation as one. 

Discovering Oil 

In the mid-20th century, locals tied up their fishing vessels and signed on to work the offshore oilrigs. Why? Because in 1969 oil was discovered in the North Sea. During the last three decades, the oil boom has resonated loudly throughout Stavanger. In fact because of this thousands of people from nearly 100 countries have joined the 100,000 local residents to share in this industry. A visit to the Petroleum Museum is a must. And wear comfortable clothing so you can climb on the rig model just like a true offshore oil worker.           

For the record, there’s enough oil (5 billion tons, more or less) in the North Sea to service Norway’s needs for the next four centuries. 

Other Interests 

Approximately one million Norwegians have emigrated to America. And, it is claimed that there are more folks living in the US with Norwegian ancestors than there are citizens of Norway living in Norway. Five million versus 4.3 million, according to a census of ten years back. So, if you’re one of those fair-haired folks who may have a trans-Atlantic connection, you might want to visit the Emigration Center. Why did these folks leave for the New World? What stories did they tell? Unravel this mystery and that of your ancestry while speaking with the center’s experts or doing research on their computers. It’s worth it. You just might be a missing link between the two nations.           

If you want to explore on foot, don’t miss Gamle Stavanger, “Old Town” complete with shaded back alleyways and a bustling harbor walkway. It won’t be hard to find the Fish Markets where you can sample bacalao (dried salted cod), a thick fish soup, or fish cakes made from white fish, cream and a dash of herbs and spices. 

The heartier might want to scale the 1800-foot Pulpit Rock for a glorious view of the mountains and the fjord. Others might want to pause in the Domkirke, Stavanger Cathedral, dating back to 1125. Though it was damaged by fire in the 13th Century, it still provides a quiet sanctuary for the faithful.

Before you return to your glorious ship, do sample a “lapper.” That’s a thick and tasty, traditionally Norwegian pancake served piping hot with a dollop of local jam and a plop of sour cream. In fact, take two… they’re not that fattening! 

St. Petersburg, Russia

Karyn Planett

City of the White Nights 

A gentle mist rises from the Neva River as Crystal Harmony slices through the grey-blue waters of the outgoing tide. Stand on deck as the morning sun lights the dachi, or summer houses, that dot the countryside. Further on, the riverbanks are lined with large apartment blocks and factories. Inside, the people face the day which includes, for many, studies at the University, work at the plant, or the daily ritual of tending to the family. As they consider this day nothing more than routine, for you it's something you've waited for perhaps for a lifetime...certainly since you'd read about the Czars and Czarinas, Peter the Great, the Hermitage, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the ballet and Barishnikov. Today, you shall see Russia. 

City Sights 

St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, is a beautiful city befitting a Czar with impressive squares, beautifully-maintained parks, broad boulevards or prospekts, and palaces and monuments that depict a previous regal life. Architects and city planners constructed a jewel of a city that reflects its imperial beginnings. It is mirrored in every gilded spire, each massive column, and ornate facade of windows. Unless you stick to a well-thought out plan, you might be tempted to just wander through the city streets. A formal sightseeing itinerary or guided tour will provide you with the best use of your precious hours ashore. 

The Peter and Paul Fortress looms up on the banks of the Neva River just across the Kirov Bridge. Within the fortress walls is the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral with its famous sarcophagi of Russian Emperors from the days of Peter the Great. Peter's tomb can be found within the Cathedral. 

St. Isaac's Cathedral, the third-largest domed church in the world, is topped off with a massive gilded cupola supported by 60-foot high pillars of solid stone. It is said that there are more than 200 pounds of pure gold decorating the structure.    

The battleship Aurora is tied up along the Great Neva River, a testimonial to her crew who went over to the side of the Bolsheviks in early 1917. Later that year, the Aurora fired the shot which ordered the revolutionaries to attack the Winter Palace and the Provisional Government which had retreated onto the Palace grounds. This ship's cannon shot literally signaled the beginning of Lenin's rule and the taking over of the government by the Bolsheviks. Today, visitors can see the Aurora where she has been moored since 1948. 

Across the river, on the south side of the Neva, is Palace Square which is acclaimed as one of the world's most spectacular. Here you'll find the lovely, baroque Winter Palace which was built in the mid-1700s, and the Hermitage Museum which houses close to three million pieces acquired over the years by seven czars. Within the Hermitage Museum is the Gold Room, or Treasury Room, which exhibits elegant gold pieces from Scythian tombs and jewelry from the private collections of Czarist nobility. Works by Gauguin, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Titian, and Rembrandt are all displayed here. In the center of the square is the Alexander Column, dedicated to those Russians who triumphed over Napoleon.             

Nevsky Prospekt is lined with impressive 18th- and 19th-century architecture. At the Alexander Nevsky Monastery you can visit the graves of Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky.

Beyond the City

Traveling outside the city proper is an interesting experience. Along the route you'll see a bit of the countryside and her rural people who tend this land. Near Pavlovsk is Czar Paul's elegant summer palace built by Catherine the Great for her son in 1777. In Pushkin, travelers visit Catherine Palace. Commissioned to create something on the scale of St. Petersburg's Winter Palace, the architect of Catherine Palace designed a 1000-foot long facade that is painted a beautiful blue. Also in Pushkin is Alexander Palace, surrounded by manicured gardens, where Czar Nicholas II lived with his family during the final days of Imperial Russia. 

Petrodvorets is the site of Peter the Great's Palace. Its most famous feature is the Great Cascade, one of the world's most spectacular fountain complexes. Here, water flows through a series of fountains designed as water games to entertain the Czars. 

Memories of Russia 

Whether you spend your time sampling Russia's finest caviar and smoked salmon, shopping for matryoshka (or nesting) dolls and fur hats, or simply striking up a conversation with a local schoolboy on a park bench, your impressions of Russia shall be etched forever in your mind. It's a country that has long held a fascination for Westerners who now view her citizens as friends in a friendlier world. Be prepared to photograph or video, sketch or simply remember your very special day ashore in Russia. 

A short blast of the ship's whistle and the glow of the White Nights of St. Petersburg will signal the close of this memorable day. 

Skagen, Denmark

Karyn Planett

If you look at a map of Denmark, you’ll discover that Skagen is indeed the furthest, most northerly point in the country.* Well the mainland part, considering that the Faroe Islands and Greenland are both autonomous countries within the Kingdom of Denmark. Anyway, that’s it, right there at the tippy top. In fact, if Denmark was a Christmas tree, that’s where you’d put the star. A milk shake? It’s where the cherry would go. You get the picture. Any further north, you’d better be wearing a wet suit.           

Perhaps that’s why so many famous Danish artists made their way to Skagen… because of its brooding, remote isolation. Its end-of-the-earth, on-the-edge-of-the-beyond feeling. Maybe that’s what inspired them for all the imagery that swirled through their heads. There’s a chance you, too, will be swept up in Skagen’s mystical magic as well as its defining sunlight, and just let your creative juices flow. 

What’s In A Name? 

First of all, it’s not Skah-gehn. Certainly not. Locals pronounce it Skain. Or, occasionally in English as The Skaw. Why? Because they can. There aren’t really a lot of them, only about 8,000, though that number multiplies in spades as the town receives some two million visitors each year.   

Some early visitors were rather famous and perhaps none more so than King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine. In the early days of the 20th Century, they enjoyed many stays in Skagen with a gaggle of friends. The spotlight, as it were, shone brightly on this tiny town. The royals enjoyed the comfortable surroundings of Klitgaarden, the official summer residence for Danish monarchs. 

There is a bountiful herring offering in Skagen’s adjacent waters for fishermen willing to risk these sometimes brutal seas. That colorful tableau, coupled with a predictably-glorious afternoon light, lured a retinue of Impressionist artists. With easel, brushes, smocks and such, these Scandinavians became known as the Skagen Painters. It’s a rather uninspired name for a vastly inspired group of artists. Their stories and works speak volumes of their talents and gifts as practitioners the visual arts. Art enthusiasts will mention the names of P.S. Krøyer as well as Anna and Michael Ancher. They gained great fame with their works. So, too, a gentleman named Holder Drachmann who was not only an artist but a poet, as well. There were others whose works are among those displayed in Skagen’s Museum. 

More of this story unfolds at the Anna Archer House, the home she shared with husband and fellow artist Michael. A peek into the Brøndrums Hotel gives even greater details as to the comings and goings of these celebrated artists who came in search of the perfect light. That’s not all according to a fellow named Arnold Bennett. He wrote in his 1913 Journal, “What strikes me now most as regards Denmark is the charm, beauty, and independence of the women. They go about freely, sit in cafés together, smoke without self-consciousness. They seem decidedly more independent than Englishwomen.” Perhaps that carefree lifestyle was also an attraction. 

For the record, Skagen boasts the largest fish oil factory in the entire world. It’s a simple factoid you might use some day in Jeopardy.   

Other Points Of Interest 

Nature lovers won’t be trumped by the artsy travelers, and with good reason. This part of Denmark is ripe with wildlife and landscapes, migrating sand dunes, sea eagles, and more. Many like to stand on the shoreline at Grenen, watching carefully for waves, because this is the tip of the top of Denmark. The cap of the Jutland Peninsula. It’s here that the North Sea and the Baltic Sea come nose-to-nose, crest-to-crest with dramatic results.   

And, if that’s not enough, there are the sands of Rabjerg Mile. Sounds like a World War II movie, remembering that this part of Denmark did see action, but it’s not. It’s the curious hiccup of Mother Nature where a massive, in fact Northern Europe’s largest, migrating sand dune is found. Traveling at a speed of approximately 50 feet per year, it won’t break any land speed records but it is impressive. If you stand at the base and stare up, you’ll grasp the fact that it is not only about 130 feet high, it also measures approximately one-half square mile. It’s so impressive, that over the course of 300 years, this sandy quirk of Mother Nature literally swallowed up the Skagen Church. Unlike the smaller structures in its path, the church’s tower still juts forlornly some 60 feet above the dune, a symbol to its divine resistance though parishioners abandoned the church in 1795.             

Well, ponder all these wonderful tidbits about this tiny little get-away that’s so spotlessly clean it seems one could eat right off the street. And, speaking of eating you mustn’t leave town without some sort of herring offering. For many visitors, it’s an acquired taste. Something possibly more familiar to our taste buds is the Skagen ham. Enjoy it with some freshly baked bread, a hunk of local cheese, and a fine offering from the microbrewery that has taken over the former power plant. So that’s what they meant when they said they were generating the juice. 

Saint-Helier, Jersey

Karyn Planett

“It hath thirteen parishes, little waste ground aboundance of Villages, and but one little Towne called St Helier, plenty of Cider.” 

So wrote Peter Mundy in his 1625 piece Voyages. Imagine, that was nearly 400 years ago. Today there are twelve parishes, an abundance of villages, a not-too-little town called Saint-Helier, and still plenty of cider. In fact, Saint-Helier is the largest town in all of the Channel Islands. Could Mr. Mundy have predicted this would be the case centuries on? Who knows? In one way, little has changed over these many years. In others, it has. You’ll discover the truth when wandering about this historic port town. 

The Channel Island Story 

It might not be what you think. The Channel Islands are, in truth, an archipelago just 12 nautical miles off the French coastline where Normandy flanks the English Channel. The closest land is France’s Cotentin Peninsula. Great Britain is approximately 100 miles away. It gets a bit complicated but these islands, in fact, do not belong to the UK or even the EU. No, they are identified as British Crown possessions enjoying an independent administration. There are actually two of these British Crown Dependencies. One is the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the other the Bailiwick of Jersey. “Bailiwick”, for those of us who were confused, is defined as a sphere of operations. Further, it is the “law of the district or jurisdiction of a bailie or bailiff.” Anyway, these islands once belonged to the Duchy of Normandy before William the Conqueror became King of England and the islands were turned over to the Crown in 1066. 

Jersey is the largest of all the Channel Islands, measuring nearly 45 square miles. And, though it’s not technically considered part of the UK, the UK is mandated to come to its defense if needed.  

Jersey issues its very own currency, which is the Jersey Pound and bank notes make great souvenirs for friends back home. Small bills will do, no need to break the bank here. Jersey even mints its own coins. That makes the nearly 100,000 island residents happy especially those living in Jersey’s only sizeable township, the one you’re visiting today. These folks represent about one-third of the island’s total population.

Jersey Boys and Jersey Girls 

Well, they prefer to be called Jerseymen and Jerseywomen, even though the other “Jersey Boys” are a big splash everywhere today. Approximately 50% of these Jerseymen and Jerseywomen were born on the island. Of those who immigrated here, the largest group came from other parts of the British Isles. Stands to reason. And then there’s the influx of tourists in summertime who bump the numbers up substantially. Why do they come, you ask? For many reasons, really. Well, for one… the cider. Locals have perfected the recipe over the centuries and, as Mr. Mundy observed, it’s evidently here to stay. In fact, there’s even a cidermaking festival in addition to the island’s Music Festival, Film Festival, and something called the Battle of Flowers. This last one occurs because temperate conditions allow for the most stunning gardens filled with rainbows of flowers. So, let the floral firefight begin.  

Locals not only celebrate their festivals, they truly enjoy the bounty their glorious island serves up. Appreciative inhabitants savor some of the freshest seafood Mother Nature provides including spider crabs, succulent oysters, fresh-from-the-sea lobster, and mussels (or moules as they’re called here).   

Apples appear in many dishes. Some specialties on offer include a delightful dumpling known as a bourdélot. There’s also a novelty you won’t find elsewhere. It’s a black butter that’s a mouthwatering concoction of cider, fresh apples, and a liberal sprinkling of secret spices. If you’re nice, perhaps some friendly lass will whisper into your ear which spices are used. And a typical apple brandy provides the finishing flourish. But if you just want a simple take-away snack, do try the “Jersey Wonders”. No, they’re not the next chart-topping boy band, they’re fried dough twists that aren’t on any diet but, when in Jersey, who cares? You must give this culinary delight a go. You simply must. 

Fortified To Do The Sights 

Time is precious so plan wisely. If you want a nice stroll about town, be sure to include a visit to Liberation Square, the former Royal Square. The original significance was to commemorate the 1781 Battle of Jersey and the final attempt by French forces to capture Jersey. Today’s significance is the commemoration of the liberation from German occupational forces who surrendered their hold on the Channel Islands only one day after Germany officially acknowledged its defeat. If military history interests you, you mustn’t miss the Jersey War Tunnels, a labyrinth of tunnels more than 1000 yards long that served as a 500-bed hospital for the occupational forces when the Allies invaded the European continent. For the record, this was the lone piece of British soil ever occupied by German forces during the entire Second World War. 

You can mull this all over as you gaze upon Mont Orgueil Castle, on the island’s southern tip. Constructed in the beginning of the 13th century, it saw combat more than a dozen times between the early 13th and 17th centuries as French forces attempted to take control of the island.  

History, history, history. It might just be time to enjoy a local cider and a bowl of steamy mussels, freshly harvested by local fishermen who’ll happily share an island story or two. You’ll be the luckier for it.


Riga, Latvia

Karyn Planett

Baltic Bastion

An icy wind whipped off the grey-blue Baltic, buffeting those souls scraping out little more than a subsistence existence long, long ago. Today, however, Riga’s 800,000 give-or-take residents hurry past the very spot where those weary folk staked out their small homes, rarely taking notice of the remnants of earlier citizens who founded their city in 1201. Often, they jostle past massive ramparts and baroque facades as they scurry off to jobs in this active seaport. Visitors, on the other hand, journey from nations afar to Riga to bask in the splendor of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, to study the Jugenstil Art Nouveau architecture, or to pause in the quiet naves of stone-cool cathedrals. The city’s compactness affords even the hurried traveler a satisfying inspection of the capital city of the Republic of Latvia, the geographical “center” of the Baltic States.

Where The Daugava Meets the Ridzene

Considered by local historians as the crossroads between Western Europe and the massive, consumer-thirsty Eastern markets, Riga remains an active business community sprawled along two rivers. This explains her long-standing past as a viable market town. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the city of Riga grew into one of the Hanseatic League’s most important trade centers. Specifically, city fathers were given special permission to transport a variety of goods along the Daugava River to cities further east. The expansion of an efficient rail and road network enhanced trans-shipments confirming Riga as one of the Baltic’s leading business centers. The city’s economic success then spilled over into its respected centers of learning, cultural outlets, as well as scientific endeavors.

Churches and Cherubs

Old Town is home to two of the city’s inspiring churches. St. George’s, constructed in 1202, is considered Riga’s oldest structure. Originally a meeting house and later a chapel, it remains the city’s only Romanesque monument. St. John’s, built by the Dominicans at the end of the 13th Century, has conducted services for more than 400 years. Destroyed several times, it is today a jumble of architectural styles.

St. Peter’s is revered as one of Riga’s most magnificent houses of worship and dates back to 1209 when it served as a merchant’s church. As the 17th Century drew to a close, this structure received a new Baroque façade by R. Bindenschuh, the city’s master builder. 

Doma (Dome) Cathedral is recognized as the most massive church in all the Baltic States. The reality of Bishop Albert’s wish, its foundation stone was laid in 1211. Inside the serene confines is the cathedral’s organ designed in 1884 by the German company, E.F. Walker. Its music still rattles the soul. 

Scattered about the city are architectural curiosities in the form of rooftop adornments. Among them are masked figures, animals, and cherub-like faces. A wander down Alberta Street will introduce visitors to the Jugenstil Movement that features these images in its architecture.            

As It Once Was

Honoring the traditions of days gone by, Riga’s Ethnographical Open-Air Museum is a snapshot of early life of the Latvian people. Serving as a prototype for other European open-air museums, these doors opened in 1924. Masters of 18 different crafts weave and carve, fashion pots and perform typical music surrounded by windmills and homesteads. Many of the structures were built between the 16th and 20th Centuries. 

Riga Castle, home today to the country’s President, was originally designed for the Order in 1330. Draped along the banks of the Daugava, it affords the leader with a clear view of the busy river and the cargo-laden vessels. 

Three Brothers and A Star 

During Riga’s medieval period, it was traditional that members of a single handicraft all reside on the same street. “Tris Brali”, or the “Three Brothers”, is in fact a trio of dwellings standing shoulder-to-shoulder, timber-to-timber. The oldest (#17) dates back to the 15th Century and the most contemporary only to the end of the 17th Century. Their styles range from Medieval to Baroque. Found within is the Latvian Museum of Architecture. 

A “star” was born in Riga in 1948 only to light up the sky, the world’s most celebrated stages, and Hollywood’s silver screen gaining him a coveted Oscar nomination. He began to study dance in Riga at age 15, then later under famed Alexander Pushkin who also taught Rudolf Nureyev. Our “star” performed with the Kirov Ballet, dazzled millions in the films “The Turning Point” and “White Nights”, and was nominated for Broadway’s Tony Award as “Best Actor in a Play” for “Metamorphosis.” Ballerina Gelsey Kirkland gushed about him, claiming he is the “greatest male dancer on earth.” 

Riga’s famous native son is none other than … Mikhail Baryshnikov. 

Portland, England

Karyn Planett

Isle of Slingers 

Thomas Hardy coined the term “isle of slingers” after the Portlanders, known far and wide as excellent stone-throwers, slingers if you will, defenders of their land. Small wonder, as the terrain is composed almost entirely of limestone. Today, massive piles of rocks are testament to the quarrying of “portland stone” that’s existed here for centuries. 

In fact Sir Christopher Wren, architect and resident of nearby Weymouth, incorporated portland stone when rebuilding many of London’s landmarks, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, after the Great Fire in 1666. Sadly, millions of headstones for fallen soldiers were cut from portland stone after both World Wars. As a nice counterpoint to all this, the United Nations Headquarters in New York features its gleaming white luminescence. 

Wartime 

For 500 years in the days of sail, Portland headquartered the massive fleets of the British Royal Navy. Though the island juts from the shores of Dorset County into the wild vagaries of the English Channel, the construction of two monster breakwaters in 1848 created what is still one of the world’s largest man-made harbors. This made an appropriate home for the armada with which England projected her influence around the globe. 

In time, modern warfare necessitated some alterations. The danger of submarine attacks in World War I convinced the Admiralty to sink HMS Hood at the mouth of the harbor so surface ships could still pass yet submarines were prevented from launching a sub-surface attack. 

As World War II raged, the proximity of hostile air forces on the European continent required the British fleet to decamp to Scapa Flow off the northern coast of Scotland. Nonetheless, Portland was one of the major staging areas for the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Most recently, though, the naval base has been closed. The facilities are used, instead, by Her Majesty’s Coast Guard Search and Rescue service. 

Peacetime 

While the English Channel’s wind and weather are considered problematic to some, those seeing their glasses half full find them “reliable”. So, in 2000, the Royal Yachting Association found the waters of Weymouth and Portland to be Europe’s best for a variety of sailing events. In that same year, the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy was established as the UK’s premier sailing venue. 

In 2005, the Academy was selected as the site for all sailing events in the 2012 Summer Olympics and, on the completion of a new 600-berth marina in 2009, it became the first Olympic venue open for business. 

That same reliable weather makes the harbor a favorite for snorkelers, divers, and wind surfers. Nearby quarries are heaven for rock climbers. And the South West Coast Path National Trail highlights the 21 kilometer perimeter of the island. 

Nearby 

The southwest of England is rich with much of the history that draws us to the British Isles. From the pre-historic strangeness of Stonehenge to the beginning of man’s soaring imagination captured in Salisbury Cathedral; from the castles of Portland, Sherborne and Corfe--monuments to the days of kings and conquerors--to the Abbotsbury Swannery and Gardens and the Bovington Tank Museum--evidence of more modern pursuits both peaceful and otherwise, there are a wealth of attractions within a two-hour drive of Portland. There are certainly more choices than one can hope to do in a day, so choose wisely. 

Oddities 

And what would any English community be without its share of eccentricities? Portlanders start with a special name for those “strangers” from the rest of England—kimberlin, derivation unknown. 

Nor is it known where locals come by their pathological fear of rabbits. Yes, bunnies, Thumper, cute little furry friends. So ingrained is this fear that the word rabbit has been banned in favor of such labels as “underground mutton”. Some surmise that the superstition originated with quarry workers who believed the presence of rabbits presaged the occurrence of rock slides and they would leave work for the day if a r_ _ _ _ t was spotted anywhere near their workplace. The fact that a few of them spent the rest of the day in the local pub suggests they were soon relieved of their misgivings. 

Just north of town is one of those strange English hill figures. Carved into the bedrock is “Rude Man” a 180-foot tall naked male figure carrying a 120-foot club. Again, one can only guess at the circumstances that might have brought forth the effort to not only conceive but the energy to construct such an item. Boredom? Divine inspiration? Strong drink? The list is long. And, the list of reasons for visiting this fascinating port is equally long. 

Olden, Norway

Karyn Planett

Nordfjord’s Frontier 

A web of waterways defines the bone-chilling beauty of the Nordfjord. Sixty miles of cobalt-colored waters lap the banks of jagged rocks and verdant patches wending their way from the churning strength of the chilly North Sea to its terminus at a spot called “Olden.” In fact, there are three short arms of the inner end of the Nordfjord and our destination is the southernmost. As Crystal’s white bow slices its way to Olden, farmers in the Oldedalen Valley will be greeting their summer day as did generations past. Often they don’t seem to notice they’re virtually wrapped in the arms of a Gustave Dore landscape. In fact, these hearty Norsemen might not even know that the 2004 National Geographic Traveler magazine named the Norwegian fjords the “world’s best unspoiled travel destination.” As you can imagine there was stiff competition in this class of 115 candidates! Perhaps they might also be unaware that UNESCO declared these ribbons of waterways the well-deserved distinction of a “World Heritage Site.”           

But you know, and that’s exactly why you’re here. 

Mother Nature’s Touch 

Olden is flanked by mountains that jut 5500 feet from sea level. The melting waters of the Jostedal Glacier, which covers 300 square miles, take credit for the powerful rivers that flow into Olden and Floen Lakes and also feed the pounding waterfalls nearby. Glaciers, you might remember, are those immense frozen seas of ice that scour out massive valleys as they inch along, constantly growing, shrinking, changing color though reflecting only blue light. Fjords were formed when the glaciers retreated and the seas flooded these gouged-out profiles. For the record, Jostedal is Norway’s largest glacier and is considered Europe’s last remnant of the Ice Age. 

One waterfall of note is the postcard-perfect 200-foot-high Buldrefossen Waterfall. The nearby JOL Bridge, built by hand in 1883, spans a 200-foot-deep gorge and reminds us of man’s determination to address his environment despite the formidable obstacles. 

The area of Stryn features the 9-mille-long Stryn Lake and some of Europe’s finest summer skiing. The Videseeter Hotel (videseeter means “mountain farm” in Old Norse) is famous for its osier willows, its collection of traditional artifacts, and the spectacular view the Hjelle Valley and Lodalskapa Peak in the distance. 

Briksdal Glacier is a massive shelf of ice that flows some 4,000 feet down the Briksdal Valley. In places, it measures 1300 feet deep and is said to be Europe’s largest glacier. As it registers the sun’s warmth, a crackling sound fills the air as precarious chunks break loose and tumble down to the icy fjord in a thunderous roar.   

Her Proud Citizens 

Self-sufficient, sturdy, hard working -- all terms that apply to fjordlanders who live on isolated farms called seters that dot the valleys and high plateaus. Operating, often, in a cashless society, they trade services and supplies, travel by boat, and cling to a lifestyle passed down through time. These people tend to their dairy cattle and sheep herds or pick fruit on a long summer’s day. A few still hitch stout, cream-colored fjording horses to 2-wheeled farm carriages called stolkjaerrer. Others fish or harvest nearby forests. Hiking is a welcomed pastime especially when the cloudberries are ripe. Locals enjoy them with homemade cheese, crispbread, even a sip of aquavit, Scandinavia’s distilled “water of life” beverage that packs a real wallop. 

For holidays the women sport their traditional dyed wool bunads, considered to be Europe’s most often worn national dress. Outsiders who simply visit in summertime often own hyttes, a type of wooden holiday home that’s long on rustic charm and gripping scenery. 

Poking Around The Town 

Olden, with fewer than 750 people in a 7-kilometer radius, is … tiny. You can see it in a heartbeat. But, do leave time to step into the Olden Old Church dating back to 1759. Prior to that, there was a traditional 14th-century “stave” church on this site. In fact, some of the original timber was used in the church doorposts. 

The William Singer home in Olden, known as Singerheimen, houses paintings, documents, and personal memorabilia of this American-born millionaire artist. After Mrs. Singer’s death in 1962, the home was to be a place of rest for Nordfjoreid nurses. Instead, today it’s a museum dedicated to William H. Singer Jr. (1868-1943) who first visited Olden in 1908. Many of his valuable works capture Olden’s stunning beauty and reflect his love for this area, which he visited again and again.  

Now, should you wish, you can simply pass your time in Olden searching for a can’t-leave-Norway-without-one troll to accompany you home. This extraordinarily unattractive creature is said to want power over mere mortals but, instead, is as stupid as the stump from which he was carved. All too soon, it’s time to depart this sliver of Norway, which you will probably agree is among the world’s best unspoiled travel destinations. 

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England

Karyn Planett

England’s Northeastern Frontier 

Lines drawn in the sand rarely serve as little more than something to tug and pull about. Those on one side gaze longingly across to the other. It’s the “grass is always greener” syndrome. The “why did the chicken cross the road?” quandary. The “Capture the Flag” contest that goes on, and on, and on. My goal post is over there, yours is over here and it’ll be one heck of a scrum, mates, to see who wins this scrap. Scotland is over there. England is over here.           

The English Northeast, where you are now, is one of those global oddities that’s witnessed more than its fair share of conflict since, well, primitive man cobbled together a sod-roofed hut along an icy river hoping to carve out a hardscrabble life. This formidable task was never easy because Northeastern England is home to a harsh landscape, a brutal reality clinging to some craggy cliffs, precious little tillable soil, bitingly-cold winds, and stinging sheets of endless rain.           

You’ll soon learn about the Romans who marked the northern boundary of Britain for nearly three centuries by constructing the imposing Hadrian’s Wall. Remnants can be found in the nearby Penine Hills. The Normans left their signature, as well, with powerful castles and soaring cathedrals. The guides will fill in the blanks of these chapters of the story as well as that of Northumbria, the Anglo-Saxons, Danes, the kingdom of Scotland, and Normans. It’s been a right proper scuffle that’s been etched indelibly into the minds of today’s people both north and south of that arbitrary line.               

So Where Are We Today? 

Well, you’ll soon discover, as you explore Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, that today is a different day. The Geordies, as locals are called, have cast off their sooty past highlighting their role in the Industrial Revolution, and have marched briskly into the 21st century. Having said that, they still speak with a strong accent to the outside listener, a dialect quite similar to that spoken by the Anglo Saxons some 1500 years ago.           

Nonetheless, they’ll welcome you and encourage you to take in the sights beginning with St. Nicholas Cathedral. Considered to be one of the country’s smallest, it dates back to the 15th century. Another important cathedral is found in Durham. Begun in 1093, laborers and artisans needed some four decades to finish the enormous task. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and worth a visit.           

Grainger Town, for history buffs, is the heart and soul of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Dating back to the 1830s, it bears the name of its founder, Richard Grainger. A Victorian feel is its signature. And the city’s seven bridges are something for which the locals are quite proud. They’ll tell you that one of them, the Tyne Bridge completed in 1928, is from the same era as her more famous counterpart, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A walk along the city’s Quayside Boardwalk, skirting the northern banks of the river, is a must if you’ve got some time to spare.           

There should be little free time, however, if you plan your day wisely enough to get out to Alnwick Castle. This 12th century fortress was captured on canvas not only by such celebrated painters as Van Dyke and Titian, but on camera by filmmakers, as well. A keen eye will confirm that, yes, this powerful castle served as the backdrop to two Harry Potter films. Watch them again and you’ll certainly see.           

Little Known Facts 

Did you ever hear the saying, “It’s like carrying coals to Newcastle”? Basically it means you’re doing something completely useless, unnecessary, superfluous. To that point, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne needed no coal in the Middle Ages because it was a successful coal mining center already. Therefore, it was in no need of coal shipped in from abroad.           

During the Industrial Revolution, this area was crucial because local coalmines literally fueled the fires that changed the course of history. Industries flourished, railroads began to spin their webs across the countryside. Ultimately the riverbanks were lined with skeletons of ships under construction as the shipbuilding industry flourished.           

Another little-known factoid is that some well known musicians herald back to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne or the Northumberland region. Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner for one. That’s right. Oh, you might know him as “Sting.” Others include Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, Brian Johnson (lead singer of AC/DC) and Dire Straits. Eric Burdon of the Animals and Rowan Atkinson, AKA Mr. Bean, can trace a bit of their lives here, as well.           

And, lastly, should you ever find yourself competing on the TV show “Jeopardy”, you just might be asked which city was the first to have an electric street light. If you guess Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, you could walk home with the loot. Yes, it was in 1879 that a local shopkeeper named Sir Joseph Wilson Swan hung the world’s first electric light to illuminate his shop on Mosley Street. For the record, Swan secured his patent for said light in 1878. Thomas Edison received his patent the following year. And the rest, as they say, is history.  

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Karyn Planett

Nearly 300 years have passed since George Berkeley wrote to his friend Lord Percival about his visit to Londonderry. See if your impressions match those of this enthusiastic traveler.           

“The city of Londonderry is the most compact, regular, well built town, that I have seen in the King’s Dominions, the town house (no mean structure) stands in the midst of a square piazza from which there are four principal streets leading to as many gates. It is a walled town, and has walks all round the walls planted with trees, as in Padua. The Cathedral is the prettiest in Ireland. My house is a fashionable thing, not five years old, and the cost eleven hundred pounds. The Corporation are all good churchmen, a civil people, and throughout English, being a colony from London. I have hardly seen a more agreeable situation, the town standing on a peninsula in the midst of a fine spreading lake, environed with green hills, and at a distance the noble ridge of Ennishawen mountains and the might rocks of Maghilligan form a most august scene. There is indeed much of the gusto grande in the laying out of this whole country, which recalls to mind many prospects of Naples and Sicily.” 

Well, perhaps the references to Padua, Naples and Sicily are a stretch, but there you have it. What is certain is that Londonderry is an ancient city worthy of a visit. 

On The Banks Of The Foyle 

Londonderry is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in Ireland. As early as the sixth century A.D. the Irish Saint Columba (also known as Colmcille) lived here and built a monastery on this site in 546. The city was known as Derry, derived from the word “Doire” which means “oak wood.” The Vikings attacked several times over the years, inflicting great damage.     

Again and again the city faced the heavy hand of war for it lies perched strategically on the banks of the Foyle River where it meets the Lough Foyle. It was the British who were ordered to seize Derry in the 16th century. Though they prevailed, their success was fleeting and they were eventually overrun. Not to be defeated, James 1 decided to conquer the region by introducing English loyalists who were given land grants to the surrounding area. These “Plantation” settlers, mostly Protestants from Scotland and England, were viewed by the Irish as land grabbers sent to take away their ancestral land. The situation was understandably volatile.     

Powerful walls were built during the early 17th century by something called The Honourable The Irish Society to protect the settlers. The London Trade Guilds underwrote much of the fledgling community’s construction for they hoped for mercantile successes. The last straw for the local Irish people came when their beloved city of Derry had the prefix “London” added as a signal that the Scottish and English settlers were there to stay. 

The Siege of Derry 

In 1689, following increased tension between the Irish and those from Scotland and England, the lid literally blew off the factional powder keg. The Derry people slammed shut the gates to their city to thwart the Catholic soldiers who were advancing under the orders of James II, England’s last Stuart king. For nearly four months, the people of Derry were cut off from the outside world, left to die of starvation and disease. Some 7,000 people, approximately one-fourth of everyone huddled within the city walls, died. It has been said that the people vowed “We will eat the Catholics first and then devour each other before surrender.”      

The siege ended when a relief ship broke through the lines. Proud citizens will tell you this tale and end with the quip that Derry is known as the “Maiden City” for successfully thwarting all advances. Local guides will point out the details of this story as depicted on St. Columb’s Cathedral’s siege memorial window. In addition, the Tower Museum offers an impressive depiction of the troubles experienced here. Its award-winning presentation is viewed as a fair and unbiased look at the Irish conflict. 

A ramble along the mighty city walls, more than a mile in length and two stories high, will bring to life the fortifications needed to ward off attacks by forces bent on overrunning the city. 

Tracing Your Roots 

The dark days of the 19th century drove many a desperate Irishman from his homeland. Pushed away by hard times and hunger, he and his frightened family boarded crowded ships by the score, bound for the New World. In just over two weeks, America’s “streets of gold” were theirs to walk down.    

Their statues are depicted in Waterloo Place and aboard the copper-bottomed wooden clipper ship Minnehaha, which regularly transported emigrants across the Atlantic. Her figurehead is displayed at the Harbour Museum. (Another famous woman is commemorated nearby… Amelia Earhart who landed at Ballyarnett in 1932 after having been the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo.           

The Northern Irish and the American people have many shared leaders. Historians tell us that eleven American presidents can trace their ancestry back to this province, among them Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.             

Down at Derry Quay, tucked behind the Guildhall, is the last bit of land thousands of emigrants saw as their ships’ deckhands cast off the lines. While their vessels creaked and groaned, these souls held high their heads and hopes. They sailed off into the night, into a dark sea bound for America. Perhaps, your ancestors were among them. 

Liverpool, England

Karyn Planett

Land of the Fab Four and Football

A Liverpudlian by any other name is, well, a… Liverpudlian. And he speaks a wee bit of a clipped dialect known as Scouse. English, yes, but a dialect nonetheless that is straight from the banks of the Mersey River made famous by Jerry and the Pacemakers long before we needed one or even knew what a pacemaker was. If you are a die-hard fan of this music, including that of the Beatles, then you’ve undertaken a pilgrimage to the exact right spot. On the other hand, if you’re interested in what else Liverpool has to offer, then you’ve also come to the right spot for there is much to entice even a hardened traveler.

A Tale Of Two Cities 

History and culture. Hard times and rock-n-roll. 

Start with the fact that Liverpool’s one-half-million people celebrated their well-deserved recognition as a World Heritage Site in 2004. In 2008, they’ll toast again when their city becomes the European Capital for Culture. Liverpool is recognized as England’s finest Victorian city. Sadly, though, there is a tarnished veneer on this wonderful façade. Hard times and the economic downturn of the 1980s left their sullied mark. Nonetheless, the people of Liverpool are resilient and have a long past to fuel their momentum even when times have been tough. 

As early as 1715, Liverpool was already a bustling seaport. Ships manned with local men and young boys transported regional cotton goods and hardware to the shores of West Africa. Terrified slaves were then crammed into the emptied dank holds to begin their torturous crossing to the West Indies and the fledgling communities in Virginia. Raw cotton and tobacco were packed into the once-again empty ships and sent back to Liverpool where the whole profitable and regrettable practice began anew. The rich got very rich. The poor had employment. This sad tale is spelled out, along with the story of great ships, the Battle for the Atlantic, and the emigration to the New World, in detail at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Albert Dock. 

The Liverpool docks were alive with activity again between 1830 and 1930 when a whopping nine million people lumbered up gangways with bundles of possession, a world of hope, wide-eyed children in tow, and little else to set sail for the New World. 

Following the First World War, Liverpool went into a tailspin. The impact of the shrinking British Empire and the advent of the airplane resonated across empty docks and echoed in abandoned warehouses. World War II brought this scene back to life. One million American military personnel gathered here prior to the D-Day Invasion. 

So much history, so little time. Thankfully there are excellent museums to highlight the part of the tale that piques your interest including the Western Approaches Museum housed the Western Atlantic Command Center for the Battle of the Atlantic. Military history buffs should visit. Check for opening hours.           

The Tate Gallery is an offshoot of London’s famous Tate and features modern art. Liverpudlian Henry Tate of Tate & Lyle Sugar is the man who made this all possible. It’s found at the Albert Dock.           

Albert Dock, by the way, was built between 1841 and 1845 and is the site of Britain’s most extensive collection of Grade 1 listed preserved historical buildings. Phew. Iron columns and a formal colonnade alert you to the five stories of shops and restaurants in addition to the museums. And there are more museums on William Brown St.           

As far as cathedrals, there are two you mustn’t miss. The Metropolitan Cathedral, which was to be larger than even St. Peters in Rome, was completed in 1967. Due to and economic downturn, plans were scaled down and it is now lovingly referred to as “Paddy’s Wagon.” The Anglican Cathedral, only completed in 1978, is a category of superlatives: Britain’s largest; features the world’s third largest bell; highest Gothic arches ever constructed (107 feet); largest vault and organ (9704 pipes), and so on. Sports fans that remember the 1989 tragedy at Hillsborough Football Stadium should pause at the memorial to the 96 fans that lost their lives. 

OK. The Beatles and Football

Well, soccer (as Americans know it) is a passion of Liverpudlians. If there’s a game on or a practice, visit either the Everton Football Club at Goodison Park or the Liverpool Football Club at Anfield. And you’d best be wearing the team’s kit if you want to make friends with the fans.           

The Beatles. Whether a fan or not, you must agree they inalterably changed the course of contemporary music. And their story unfolds for you either at “The Beatle’s Story” at Albert Dock or during the Magical Mystery Tour, a 2-hour bus journey down Penny Lane including a look at Strawberry Fields, homes and haunts of the Fab Four, and a look at the Cavern Club (not the exact original, however) where those local lads who started the “British Invasion” performed 275 times between 1961 and 1963. Wear rose-colored glasses, psychedelic bellbottoms, and a flower in your hair. And while there, discover what it means to be “just another brick in the wall.”

Klaipeda, Lithuania

Karyn Planett

A Peek Behind The Once Iron Curtain

Whether we lived before the collapse of the Soviet Union or view it as Ancient History, there’s always been a bit of intrigue swirling around the Baltic States. We outsiders imagined stout men in itchy tweed suits with three-day growths and hand-rolled cigarettes flapping as they whispered their mysterious tales. And women, hardened by the heavy hands of war, who could birth a baby and move the tractor without batting an unadorned eyelash. Make no mistake, Lithuanians are hearty and capable and able to tackle the fate before them but, today, they do so in Versace jeans and Tag Heuer watches. They ripped open the curtain that shrouded them from the West and the rest of Europe, then embraced all their trappings and traditions. This is the new Lithuania. 

But First We Celebrate The Past 

Reminders are everywhere in this 760-year-old city. In the architecture. In the carved wooden headstones called krikstai bearing witness to those who came before. The testimony of a time when Germany ruled Klaipeda and named it “Memel.” And the more contemporary period when Russia was in control. During WWII, Klaipeda was the Soviets main ice-free port for the Eastern Baltic so they provided much of the infrastructure. Their designs are often stark, perhaps “sterile”, lacking flurry or fancy. But as this nation’s third largest city today, there is a bit of everything in Klaipeda from days gone by.           

Klaipeda traditionally played an important role in trade and commerce throughout the centuries. Some consider it in the exact crosshairs of Europe, both historically and geographically. Think about its physical location being surrounded by Russia, Belarus, the Baltic, Latvia and Poland. Goods and people traversed this city as soon as someone wanted to swap a fish from his kurenai fishing boat for a reindeer pelt from the mountains. Goods also arrived via the Dane River, then were hefted aboard vessels bound for cities throughout Europe. Money changed hands. Men grew powerful and built castles and manor homes. Memelburg Castle is just that. Dating back to the 13th century, it once served as a bastion of Teutonic Knights. Today’s structure, from the 19th century, houses a fine museum. 

Some Locals Were Truly Trapped In The Past 

We’re talking about bugs and leafy bits, for example, encased in drips of pinesap compressed over time to form amber. Fossilized resin from 60 million years ago. That’s when some hapless insect stuck his foot in a blob of goop and sealed his fate forever. 

Sad for them, good for us because we’re in the amber capital of the world. “Baltic gold” country. Found along the coastline of the chilly Baltic Sea, amber is this country’s national gem. And our fossilized friend is now ready to decorate a slender wrist or delicate ear lobe. Ah, such are the twists and turns of Mother Nature and her whimsical ways.           

Courish Lagoon, Nida, Palanda, and Juodkrante are known for their amber deposits. Many fine examples are on view at the Amber Museum in Palang, the former get-away of Count Tiškevičius from 1897. 

And, speaking of Juodkrante, this is home to the Hill of Witches. Dotting the paths in this cool forest are 80 wooden sculptures that depict local folklore and fantasy. An eerie chill is sometimes felt by those who dare visit the Hill of Witches.  

Flying Free 

Now, unlike the glassy-winged whateveritwas that’s trapped in a fine piece of amber, other representatives from the animal kingdom are wild and free to take flight. And they do so by the millions in this part of the world. You need not be an ornithologist to appreciate the majesty of the birds overhead, as witnessed at Ventė Cape. In the late summer, early autumn some three million of them soar daily on the winds overhead. Scientists tag on average 60,000 to 80,000 birds every year. This program allows specialists to track the birds’ migration and behavior, providing them with important data. 

Other Freedoms

Religious freedom is something one might take for granted if he was never in jeopardy of losing it. But that’s exactly what happened here under Soviet control. Today, Lithuania’s fine citizens are free to practice their faith without fear. Remember this if you visit the 17th century Church of Annunciation in Kretinga. A Franciscan Monastery, it features a 400-year old altar and burial crypts. 

Nearby is the Kretinga Museum with exhibits of Lithuanian clothing, tools, art and antiques. Another section remembers the thousands of Lithuanians who lost their freedom, sometimes their lives, deported to Siberia for crimes we do not know. For additional Cold War intrigue, there’s also the Soviet nuclear missile base in Zemaitija, shuttered up for more than 30 years. 

And, finally, something for everyone. The Curonian Spit, site of the shifting dunes now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Battered by the sea, sculpted by the winds, these dunes show no mercy for anything in their path. In fact, a small community had to be moved in the 1730s when the sand simply marched forward to swallow everything in its midst. The great dune in Nida stands a mighty 170 feet high.

And speaking of Lithuanian curiosities, pick up a traditional weathervane from Nida that is typical to this region and no other. 

Holyhead, Wales

Karyn Planett

Lo here I sit at holy head,

With muddy ale and mouldy bread:

I’m fastened both by wind and tide,

I see the ships at anchor ride.

All Christian vittals stink of fish,

I’m where my enemyes would wish …

On this bleaky shore,

Where loudest winds incessant roar,

Where neither herb nor tree will thrive,

Where Nature hardly seems alive. 

Well hang on to your hat because a lot has changed since Jonathon Swift wrote Holyhead, September 25, 1727. And, today, it’s all before you. 

A Wales’ Tale       

There have been many tales to tell since the first Neanderthal padded through some 230,000 years ago. Over the last 9,000 years, the Welsh area has witnessed a permanent community of settlers who worked hard to carve out their lives here. This was not without strife, as history was written on the shields of Celtic Britons, Romans, the warring Deceangli tribe, Anglo Saxons, and Normans. Ultimately, it was England’s Kind Edward I who conquered Wales in 1282 declaring it an English Principality. It is for this very reason that Prince Charles is known today as the “Prince of Wales” because the next in line to the English throne carries that title. He was invested with this title in 1969 at Caernarfon Castle by the Queen. For the record, there are some Welshmen who bristle at the thought of an Englishman being the Prince of Wales. Open that discussion with a local if you need further, sometimes heated details.           

Wales became a full member of the United Kingdom only as recently as 1801. Little more than one decade ago, some official duties were passed to the National Assembly for Wales by the approval of the Welsh citizens.           

The heavy hand of industrialization was felt across the Welsh landscape even as early as the closing days of the 18th century. Vast finds of coal and iron ore fueled this growth. Miners and other workers swelled the population, especially in the coal mining area. By 1901, some two million people called Wales home. Occasionally, there was labor unrest and confrontations between these workers and the English owners of the mines. One-quarter of a million people worked in the coal industry in South Wales in the opening days of the 20th century. By 1980, that number had dropped to a mere 30,000. All the while, seaports were built up and railways designed to carry coal away. Yet, it was the oil industry that signaled the death knell for the miners and mining. Over time, it was tourism that breathed life back into this fine land. The locals thank you for your participation.

Everybody Loves A Star       

Well, the quintessential Welsh actor would have to be Sir Richard Burton. He wore the look of his homeland … handsome, sculpted, and tousled. Sir Anthony Hopkins was Burton’s equal, many would claim. Another Welshman, he. Famous Welsh women include singer Dame Shirley Bassey, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones CBE, and fashion designer Laura Ashley. Singer “Sir” Tom Jones began his career belting out songs for the workingman in local pubs. Well, just know the list of important Welsh figures is far too long to list here.

Holyhead and Surrounds       

Holyhead is about as remote a place as you’ll find in Wales, if you can find it without the Captain’s help. It’s about as far north and as far west as you can get and still be in Wales. In fact, it’s basically the steppingstone to Ireland with Dublin about 70 miles away. Holyhead is perched on an island called Holy Island, a stone’s throw from the island of Anglesey, poking into the Irish Sea. The mainland is 15 miles away from Anglesey across the Menai Strait. 

With a population of only 12,000, Holyhead’s citizenry is dwarfed by the two million people who pass through on the ferries every year. Pity they don’t stay around to visit the likes of the South Stack Nature Reserve, home to 4,000 nesting birds. Or Penrhyn Castle or Beaumais Castle, nearby and rich with history. The Ffestiniog Railway is a fine introduction to the area being it’s Wales’ oldest narrow gauge railway. But certainly they’ll have time to pause and pay their respects at St. Cybil’s Church then step into a typical tearoom for a spot of tea and hot buttered sultana teacakes, or into an eatery offering local favorites. Fish and chips, cockles or salmon, roast Welsh lamb, lamb and veggie soup called cawl, Caws Aberteifi cheese, or laverbread. The latter is an acquired taste – it’s oatmeal laced with pureed seaweed served with your standard bacon and eggs. Yum. Remember, when in Wales do as a Welshman does. It’s part of the travelers’ traditions.

Helsingborg, Sweden

Karyn Planett

The Swedish Twin

Swedish locals boast that their beloved Helsingborg is the twin sister to Denmark’s Helsingør, also known as Elsinore as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In fact, they claim that these two thriving, historic cities are the oldest twin cities in the world. It’s not a difficult concept to accept when you realize that they’re separated by a mere sliver of water, that of the Øresund.

They’ll go on to explain that all this seems to stem from the word “helsing”, which is the translation of “narrow passage.” And that it is. It’s so small that you could almost fling a herring across it. The zippy 20-minute boat ride between the countries is over before you can ask, “Is this seat taken?” That’s the good news. The bad news is that this close proximity set the scene for bloody conflicts throughout the ages, like teenagers sharing a bedroom. That story follows. 

Political Ping Pong 

Military strategists, governments, and enterprising merchants have long understood the importance of controlling waterways. And maritime geographical chokepoints take on a disproportionate importance. Think of the Strait of Gibraltar, the Dardanelles, the Strait of Hormuz, and the English Channel. What will be revealed before you in Helsingborg is yet another example, this time for the Baltic. That’s why, as early as 1085, Helsingborg was officially founded when King Canute the Holy gifted land in a place called Lund to the St. Laurentius Church. On May 21st. At least that’s the date generally considered to be the city’s birthday. 

In the early 15th century, Danish officials placed a levy on all merchant vessels that sailed through this busy sound. These fees were called “Sound Duty”. Bureaucrats knew all too well that this money would bring power. Power would then bring privilege. These funds soon found their way into the coffers of the Danish Crown. All the while, trade flourished between the European continent and Scandinavia. 

Conflict ultimately became the new norm. Flags were raised and lowered as Helsingborg was alternately controlled by the Danes and then by the Swedes. After a significant loss of life on both sides, again and again, a final push occurred. An important battle ensued in 1710, the result of which was Denmark’s final retreat from this land. It became forevermore Swedish and the guns of war were blessedly stilled. 

A stone watchtower, known as Kärnan, looms above today’s Helsingborg and bears silent witness to these unfortunate events. Dating from the 14th century, this tower was once a segment of a larger, powerful fortress. A spiral staircase leads up this 100-foot tall structure offering a fine view of the city. It’s found in Slottshagsparken, atop the Terrace Steps, and can be reached by a series of walkways leading up to Stortorget from Helsingborg’s main square 

The Past and The Present 

In addition to the Kärnan tower, several other historic structures in Helsingborg still stand, many restored over time. Among the older examples is the 14th-century St. Mary’s Church, known locally as the Sancta Maria Kyrka or Mariakyrkan. Its bold brick Gothic façade and 15th-century altar screen are worth a look.  

Contemporary times are more directly represented by the addition of a bustling harbor to handle the shipping activities; an efficient railway system linking Helsingborg to cities beyond; commerce in many forms; even a thriving rubber factory that brought great wealth to an industrialist named Henry Dunker. Along with this newly found wealth came cultural advantages. Concert halls and museums grew tall against a growing cityscape. Meanwhile the population reached the 100,000 mark.

Helsingborg residents are never far from the sea and enjoy summer days at the shore. For recreation and a respite from the daily routine, they also visit a place called Sofiero with its manicured garden. Dating back to 1864, it was the home of King Oscar II and Queen Sophie as well as their son and future monarch, King Gustaf VI Adolf and his English wife Crown Princess Margaret. Until 1970, these were the palace grounds and summer home for Swedish royalty. Sofiero gained acclaim and recognition when it was named “Europe’s Best Park”, a category rich with a long list of potential winners. Gardening enthusiasts will enjoy, among other delights, thousands of colorful rhododendrons. It’s an ideal spot for a picnic amongst the rainbow of blossoms. 

To See or Not To See: That Is The Question: 

If you get a move on it you can actually visit two Kingdoms in a single day. Swedish Helsingborg and the Danish capital city Copenhagen. Rarely can even the most intrepid traveler experience such an adventure. Thanks to the Øresund Bridge, opened in 2000, you can. You can also visit Kronborg Castle, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Pick up a copy of this riveting tale and read it once again when you’re back onboard, nestled into a comfy deck chair, the sea just beyond. Will you see yourself as Hamlet or Claudius, Ophelia or Gertrude? And will you at long last be able to discover if there is truly something rotten in the state of Denmark?

Helgoland, Germany

Karyn Planett

One Island or Two?

Helgoland, as it’s known in correct German, is Heligoland in an Anglicized parlance. It’s a pair of islands*, or not, in the North Sea just west of the Jutland Peninsula, and smack in the middle of the Helgoland Bight. Did you find it, them? No? Well, we all know where the North Sea is, right? The Jutland Peninsula is that finger of land that sticks out from Germany, and is home to most of Denmark’s geography. It was also the site of a couple of historic naval battles between the British and German navies. Just know that the Helgoland Bight is that corner of the North Sea where the Jutland Peninsula meets mainland Germany. Now, all this should be … Crystal clear.

But what is not so clear is how Helgoland, inhabited since prehistoric times and boasting a current population of just above one thousand souls, came to be associated with a brand new “land” only a few hundred kilometers to the northeast, established as recently as 1968, and hosting a seasonal population in excess of two million. Can it be that Helgoland and Legoland are connected only by linguistic coincidence?  Something to ponder as you read on.

The Frisians

The Frisians were a pagan society occupying the north coast of what is now Germany. They were eventually dominated then subjugated by the Franks who moved up from the south bringing Christianity with them. Radbod, the last Frisian king not some steamy Grammy-winning rapper, fled to the island of Helgoland at the end of the seventh century. The Frisians held out long enough (probably because few others cared about a rock less than one square mile in size) that today this could be the only place on earth with a majority of ethnic Frisians. So if you ever wanted to meet one, this is your chance. Oh, BTW, Victoria’s Secret model Doutzen Kroes is an ethnic Frisian. Now you know. 

 

The Danes

In the 13th Century, Helgoland became part of the Danish kingdom and gradually the island took on greater strategic and economic importance. The fishing industry began to thrive. Then as commercial shipping grew with industrialization, the islanders became adept at the sport of “wrecking”, or salvaging shipwrecks. In fact, they have been accused of actually causing shipwrecks using an oft-frowned-upon technique called “false lights” where fake navigation lights were used to lure ships onto the rocks. Helgoland was also a station for pilots who guided ships safely into the ports of the Hanseatic League and even today it provide pilots for ships entering the Elbe River bound for the port of Hamburg. Denmark turned over control of the island to the British in 1814. 

The Brits And The Germans

During the Napoleonic Wars, England used Helgoland as a transit point for espionage conducted against the little general, then as a forward base to keep an eye on the French fleet. With the building of the Kiel Canal, Germany claimed the island to protect its western end. The British and Germans came to blows in the area twice during World War I. The Battle of Helgoland Bight was the very first engagement of the war and a British victory succeeded in keeping the capital ships of the German fleet in port for most of the remainder of the war. After that, only minor engagements were fought in that part of the North Sea. 

Helgolanders

What does one do on a typical day on a small rocky island with no motor vehicles? The people of Helgoland have turned primarily to duty-free shopping, or selling as the case may be, as a base for the island’s economy. Located only a short ferry ride from several European countries sporting whopping taxes on spirits and cigarettes, enterprising islanders have established an array of shops offering these “essential” commodities. 

Visitors not intent on stocking up on these items can choose from a variety of pass-the-day activities. Among them, strolling out to a promontory known as “Tall Anna”, a 150-foot sea stack at the north end of the island. Germany’s smallest nature reserve is on the island and hosts a variety of nesting seabirds. A trolley service is also available for touring the landscape. Seafood lovers can cross by boat to a small nearby sand island called Düne to enjoy lobster and crab claws. If you do go independently, remember to be back aboard your ship before sailing.

Oh, Yes! Legoland 

Legoland was established in 1968 near the town of Billund, Denmark site of the original Lego factory that was founded in 1949 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. This theme-park celebration of the popular little building blocks is apparently connected to Helgoland only by linguistic coincidence. Sorry.

*Though called “an island”, it’s really two islands now after a storm broke off an uninhabited chunk of land from the main mass. 

Greenock, Scotland

Karyn Planett

A Seafaring Past 

“So it’ll be Greenock you’re visiting, lad? ‘Tis a wee far way to travel but you’re here now, so have yourself a look about. Welcome to our fair city. We’re right proud of it, you know.” 

That’s a typical greeting you’d hear from pleased residents, pleased about your journey to their historic port. Over time they’ve had a lot to be proud of, going back to the early days when this was little more than a gathering place of hardscrabble fishermen. That was approximately the latter part of the 1500s. Those hearty souls would clamber aboard their boats, cast off the lines, and take to the sea. They’d leave behind a warm hearth, hot tea, and a wife with her hands full. She’d tend to the house, care for the children, and knit fisherman sweaters to keep her fellow warm from the icy splash of the waves. Then, when the haul was brought ashore, she’d help scale and skin and maybe salt the fish, side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with her man making do as best they could. These are the stories written in this community. Much has been said about these men and women with weathered hands, strong backs and an even stronger character and faith. It was Sir James M. Barrie who said in his Rectorial Address at St. Andrew’s, May 3rd, 1922.

“You come of a race of men the very wind of whose name has swept to the ultimate seas.” 

One Man of Great Genius 

On a cold January day in 1736, a child was born in Greenock to a prosperous shipwright named Watt. The proud father named his son James. Over time, James developed a skill of making mathematical instruments. He exhibited an interest in steam engines and, at the age of 28, was given a model of a type of steam engine that had been in existence for more than 60 years. It had been patented by Thomas Savery who later went to work for a Thomas Newcomen. Watt’s model was, indeed, a Newcomen and it was his to repair. The full-scale ones were used to pump water out of the mines that catacombed this country. Watt’s attempts to repair the engine failed so he sat down to create a better design. In 1769, Watt received his first patent on one of his engines. He partnered with a John Roebuck whose business was sold to Matthew Boulton. Boulton & Watt was born. They set about manufacturing steam engines, which were in great demand not only in the mining industry but others such as waterworks, iron mills, and distilleries. A hugely successful businessman, Watt retired at the age of 54 and embarked on a lifelong path of research. He died at 73 leaving behind the unit of measurement of electrical and mechanical power we are all so familiar with, the watt. 

A Firth By Any Other Name is a….

Wait for it…. a fjord. Or, a narrow inlet. So, the Firth of Clyde is just that. And Greenock is draped along the southern bank of the Clyde River right where it becomes the Firth of Clyde. Shipbuilding became an active business along the wharfs in this area, after the breakwater and piers were built. As ships from here went further afield they became involved in trading commodities for profit. Well, not all the profit went to the men and boys who stared danger in the eye and hoisted sails as pounding seas and ripping winds stung their eyes and tossed them about. Some made sizeable fortunes, others very little. Many ships made roundtrip voyages to the Caribbean and, on their return leg, their holds bulged with sugar from the sweltering sugar cane fields. It’s claimed that there were, and someone counted, four hundred such vessels in Greenock port at one time. Cargos were offloaded into the fourteen sugar refineries where the raw product was processed. Locals can tell you that story. 

Armed with this information, you’ve two or three choices for this day in Greenock. Carefully planned, there’s time to travel to Glasgow to meet some of the local Glaswegians. That’s what they’re called. It’s almost worth the trip just to listen to their extraordinary accent. Their dialect has also been called “Glasgow Patter.” Then there’s the glory of Edinburgh. It’s a long way to go and you can’t miss the ship so do plan wisely or plan it for another day. 

You could also visit the surrounding countryside to discover what a glorious area this. Final option is simply to spend time with some locals and perhaps enjoy a pint or two. If you do stay in Greenock, be sure to sample the fine fare on offer. 

Local Specialties 

A five-minute walk from the port takes you into Greenock proper. Then, you can take a leisurely stroll along the Esplanade enjoying the sights of the River Clyde. Those interested in Victorian architecture can admire the facades of the Customs House, the Municipal Buildings, and the McLean Museum. Foodies will be in their prime with the offerings here. Scottish working families have been enjoying potatoes since their arrival from South America in the late 16th Century and they’ve perfected many potato recipes. Crofters, farmers who rented small plots of land with the right of pasturage, ate meat sparingly but had plenty of potatoes, milk and cheese. They also ate wild mushroom and game but the people of the sea ate of the sea. Herring was known as ‘silver darlings.’ Ladies who prepared them for the market were called ‘herring girls.’ They gutted, salted and packed these tiny fish from daybreak till sundown. And a skilled, hard worker could gut as many as 60 fish per minute. Today, Scotland has a hugely profitable salmon farming industry. Well, you’ll learn all about this if you pop into a local pub for a memorable meal. And, don’t forget to chat up a Greenock local. Perhaps ask them to quote a bit of Robbie Burns. The author was from a mere scone’s throw away.

Geiranger and Oyę, Norway

Karyn Planett

Quaint and Quainter 

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” 

Those words were written by Emily Dickinson, the acclaimed American poet, in a letter to Dr. and Mrs. J.G. Holland in 1864. Ponder them as you enjoy the tireless summer sun that refuses to yield to the night. Thankfully your journey along this sculpted Norwegian coast takes place when last November is a distant memory and the next is far from your present thoughts. The moment for discovery is now.   

A Sight To Please Norse Gods 

As the midnight sun sweeps higher in the sky, a thousand photo opportunities will come and go, slipping silently past the ship's bow. All around, the waters are still and smooth like a blue-grey satin sheet ... the only ripples are those trailing from the ship's white stern. Just beyond the reach of your floating vantage point, is a sheer cliff of jagged rocks capped in a light dusting of winter snow. Beyond, a ribbon of waterfalls cascades past hand-tilled fields like a summer garland in a young girl's hair. A blast of the ship's whistle echoes between the chiseled overhangs announcing your arrival in some of Norway's most spectacular scenery.

A Snowflake Falls

Fjords, sometimes spelled fyords or fiords, are "narrow, generally deep inlets from the sea between high cliffs or steep slopes", or so defines Webster's Dictionary. It's such a lackluster description for one of Mother Nature's most impressive accomplishments that Mr. Webster should be chastised!           

Fjords are waterways created, geologists say, by receding glaciers that carved deep troughs that were then compacted under the massive weight of the retreating ice. These glaciated valleys were drowned by the incoming sea that surged inland during the final days of the Ice Age. Oddly enough, the far end of the fjord is often deeper than it is at its inlet. 

Geirangerfjord, which comes from the Old Norse words geirr (spear) and anger (fjord), enjoys the luxury of ice-free, year-round navigation due to the fact that the "warm" waters of the Gulf Stream are carried along on the Norway Current. "Warm" is a relative term, by the way, and one might think twice before swimming in these waters! It is one of the smallest fjords and is actually a serpentine-shaped appendage of the Storfjord. Nine miles long, over 800 feet deep, some 700,000 visitors come to take in its majesty every year. 

The Village of Geiranger 

Tiny Geiranger is a famous little village perched at the end of this magnificent fjord. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s so glorious that most travelers want to view it from above. From the Dalsnibba Observation Point, 5000 feet up, the spectacular setting is breathtaking. Geirangerfjord, in all its splendor, lies sprawling at their feet. Photography buffs have been known to shoot till their fingers cramped, catching the ever-changing landscape as clouds drift past casting a grayish shadow on the green-blue waters. 

But the classic photos of Geirangerfjord are shot from a spot called Flydalsjuvet, or Flydal Gorge. This dramatic rock precipice, one of Norway's most photographed vistas, lures visitors out to witness the world below. From here you view all of Norway's natural spectacle--frothy white waterfalls, a wall of endless green, the tiny village of Geiranger, plus your ship at anchor below.           

Another important lookout point is Eagle's Bend, up a narrow mountain road that twists to conquer the steep terrain in eleven hairpin turns with the uppermost bend known as Eagle's Bend. Roads can be crowded so independent travel to these spots need to be timed carefully.           

It’s On to Oye, Is It? 

Oye is a tiny little hamlet of 1500 people, give or take. Of course, that number swells in summertime with visitors who are there to take in its one important landmark, Hotel Union Oye.  Dating back to 1891, it sits beside the sculpted Jhørundfjord with the Sunnmøsalpene peaks forming the backdrop. Its rooms are named for the members of royalty and aristocracy whose visits are memorialized in the hotel guestbook including Norway’s Queen Maud and King Haakon VII, Netherlands’ Queen Wilhelmina, Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II, even Karen Blixen who wrote “Out Of Africa”.  

If you wish to take all this in from sea level rather than from some lofty height, simply buy a picnic of local sausages, smoked salmon, hot-from-the-oven bread with fresh butter, mountain cloudberries, a Norwegian waffle with jam and sour cream, the peanut-butter-like brown goat cheese, and a chilled pils beer. Find a bench, stare at the sky, and celebrate your day in Norway's little bit of heaven. Remember to take along a warm jacket for the day can turn rather cool in a heartbeat. You are, please recall, in the land of the mighty Vikings! 

Galway, Ireland

Karyn Planett

A Cobbled Labyrinth 

“If you ever go across the sea to Ireland

It may be at the closing of the day

You can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh

And watch the sun go down on Galway Bay.”

--Arthur Colahan, Galway Bay, 1947 

How lucky are we? We are sailing across the sea. As well, we’ll have the chance to watch the sun go down on Galway Bay. It’s right good luck, this. One might even say it’s the luck of the Irish, or at least the luck of those who become, if nothing else, Irish for the day.

Turning Back The Clock 

Well, let’s touch first on the history of this city before we actually begin our adventures. It’s best to know a wee bit about what you’ll be seeing, isn’t it? It should come as no surprise that Galway City grew from a fledgling fishing village at a spot where the River Corrib flows into Galway Bay. In fact, the water practically rips right through the heart of the city. The spot was known originally as “The Claddagh.” Fishermen from here wouldn’t take to the seas if they saw a woman with red hair on their way out. They felt it spelled bad luck for them. Today, you’ll be lucky to see the white swans that swim in this area. 

In 1232, some serious stone walls were erected following the takeover by an Anglo Norman named Richard De Burgo. The real wall-building took place about 40 years later and you’ll see some remnants of that work even today. Well, ultimately in 1396 Richard II bestowed upon fourteen powerful merchants and their kin all the governing powers. You’ll learn of these folks, and their strong allegiance to the British crown, for they’re known as the “Fourteen Tribes of Galway.” Strong trade developed between Spain and Portugal before other eastern seaports left Galway in the proverbial dust. 

Before we leave the history section, we could learn a few factoids about Galway. Wine put Galway on its feet, so to speak, for the importation and distribution of this nectar of the gods created early financial success for the merchants. A devastating fire nearly destroyed Galway in 1473. Making lemonade from lemons, the landed aristocracy decided to build rambling manor houses as the city saw a new design in a more orderly fashion. Lynch Castle is one of those estates. It was once the home of Galway’s Mayor. Many believe Christopher Columbus happened upon Galway four years post-conflagration and probably worshipped in St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. 

Now things really get good. The term “lynch” is said to have been coined in Galway. Supposedly the Mayor’s son murdered a Spaniard. Each man was crazed with love for the same woman, thus a true crime of passion. The son’s sentence was “death”. Not one member of the local population stepped forward to carry out the execution so the Mayor, James Lynch Fitzstephen, was compelled to do it himself. Now, no official record of this event can be found. So, is it legend or lore or history? Anyway, others trace the term back to a Virginian, Captain William Lynch, who was identified as handing out illegal punishments back in 1782. Whatever, it makes a good yarn. 

Another great story swirls around The King’s Head Pub. It’s said a Galway volunteer executed the vanquished Charles I and, for this deed, he was awarded the land on which this pub is found. 

And on a cheerier note, the Great Famine of 1845-47 wiped out approximately one-fifth the population. Perhaps that’s why the townsfolk are so festive today, for they’ve survived a whole host of challenges over time.

Galway Today 

That was then, this is now. Galway today celebrates a vibrant nightlife, award-winning seafood, beaches for miles, festivals, lucky fishermen on River Corrib’s Salmon Weir Bridge, and fine shopping for traditional items. And you’ll hear a bit of Irish Gaelic spoken as you wander about. While wandering, be sure to visit Kennedy Memorial Park, named for President Kennedy who visited Galway not long before his death. 

Ah, you must also learn about the oysters. You’ve lots to sample. There’s fresh-from-the-sea lobster, as well. Step into a traditional Irish pub and sample the fare offering home-made soups, local cheeses, Irish soda bread and, of course, pints of Guinness. And while you’re there, some fiddler might emerge with a troupe of little Lord-Of-The-Dance wannabe’s to add entertainment to your meal. If the full complement of musicians is in tow, you might also hear bagpipes, harps, tin whistles and a goatskin drum called a bodhrán. 

Well, the clock is ticking. If you’re a sightseer you’ll be off to discover all that Connemara has to offer. There are the Cliffs of Moher, named for the Mothar fort that was demolished during the Napoleonic Wars. They’re found between Hag’s Head and O’Brien’s Tower. It took 300 million years to create them, slightly longer than a bathroom remodel. 

And, finally buy yourself a handsome tweed cap, some typical Irish linen, Celtic pewter and perhaps a bit of jewelry. Galway is famous for its Celtic crosses, some inlaid with Connemara marble. More famous, though, is the Claddagh Ring. You’ll see them everywhere with their identifiable two clasped hands around a heart, often topped with a crown. You must be careful how you wear them, though, for it carries important significance. Here’s a primer:

Right hand, heart facing out, you’re available.

Right hand, heart facing in, you’re not.

Left hand, heart facing out, you’re engaged.

Left hand, heart facing in, you’re already married. 

Oh, it gets so complicated sometimes. Better buy two. And, please do enjoy your day in Galway. 

Fowey, England

Karyn Planett

Cornish Landscape and Lore 

"This Cornwall is very primeval: great, black, jutting cliffs and rocks, like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn. It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful: and so free and strong."

--D. H. Lawrence, Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith, 7 February 1916

The green and craggy land of Cornwall lies at the very toe of England, kicking its rugged coastline into the waters known as the English and the Bristol Channels. And Fowey is on the southern flank of this misshapen boot, punched into the sole like a tin stud. 

This dramatic landscape is dotted with the remains of prehistoric stone round houses that protected the early inhabitants from the relentless conditions (though in those days the climate was a few degrees warmer). These poor souls were descendants of the early nomads who roamed the countryside hunting game, such as elusive pig, lumbering ox, and a species of deer, and gathering what the moors and hedges had to offer. As their civilization advanced they developed farms from fields they had cleared of stubborn stones and stumps from trees they'd felled for their housing timbers. Archeologists have discovered the ancient burial mounds, sacred cemeteries, and the remains of houses numbering more than 500. These henges and menhirs, as they are known, are today protected and visible throughout the land. 

Modern Man Leaves His Mark 

As mankind advanced, the landscape became more and more altered by this advancement. The mining of tin and copper ore was responsible for much of this alteration especially by those men, known as "tinners" who were involved in the tin mining process. For some two hundred years they and their descendants toiled beneath the earth's surface, wax candles stuck to their helmets for light, and in the many quarries scattered about the land. The extracted tin was sent to blast furnaces for smelting, then heavily taxed by the government in a process known as "coining," and sent to the main market in London where the metal was further refined into pewter and bronze. The port city of Fowey was one of the main seaports that accommodated this trade. 

Mine records indicate some 30,000 men were employed in the pursuit of mining tin and copper in the first half of the 19th century. Then, large foreign deposits were discovered in Australia and Chile causing the bottom to fall out of Cornish mining. Almost half of Cornwall's miners sailed off to these established mines in Australia and Chile as well as to the newer mines springing up in what was then Malaya and the country of Bolivia. During the height of mining in Cornwall some 300 mines operated at a demanding pace to supply the world in tin and copper. Sadly, there are no more mines still in operation in the Cornish countryside. 

Giants, Piskies, Saints and Mermaids 

Long and lonely nights led to some rather fanciful imaginations for the Cornish people. Parents told their huddled children of great giants who roamed the land such as the Giant Cormoran and his wife Cormelian who, as the legend goes, were responsible for the construction of St. Michael's Mount. Jan Tregeagle, a mighty giant indeed, pilfered money and land from his great master and was sentenced to trudge the moors weighted down by immense bags of sand as well as to endure other nasty tasks. In fact, his legend takes us to Dozmary Pool where it is said he was forced to drain the pool with a broken seashell. Historians believe these "giants" were larger-than-life memories of the burly Celts who truly had towered over the local Cornish people who themselves became the fodder for the characters known as piskies, or dwarfs. 

The most famous Cornish legend of all centers around King Arthur who, it is written, received his famous Excalibur sword from the waters of Dozmary Pool. 

And one mustn't forget the many mermaids who played an important role in maritime lore here. Some mermaids were good … granting wishes to those who gave them assistance. Others wreaked havoc on the land and seas when scorned by local fishermen. 

In addition to these imaginary people there were real, live saints. In fact, there was a period in Cornwall known as the "Age of Saints." During this time, from 490 AD until 650 AD, a parade of wise people migrated to Cornwall from Ireland, Brittany, and Wales to establish a following of the local residents. Several of these "saints" became quite famous and are revered even to this day. Among them is the very important St. Piran, the Patron Saint of Cornish Miners, who was believed to have lived more than 200 years. Another important saint, known as St. Petroc, is said to have conquered the only remaining dragon that terrorized this region.

Now any Cornishman or Cornishwoman worthy of this title will fill you in on all the details of other saints who passed this way. They may even relate their colorful folklore from memory. These local people might even recite Cornwall's history including the glory days of mining, or they could quote passages from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (known as "Q"), D. H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, and Daphne du Maurier all of whom passed this way. Then again these folks may just introduce you to a traditional Cornish pie, rich with everything from giblets to pigeons, pilchards to bream. Or they might introduce you to the most marvelous saffron buns and Shenagrum. For such is the life in Cornwall and the citizens who reside there. 

Hardangerfjord and Eidfjord, Norway

Karyn Planett

“The Norwegians are like their landscape, rather vertical.” 

So said John Gunther’s friend as reported in his 1938 edition of Inside Europe. Well that can’t be all bad, can it? In fact, when you think of it, this is a whopping huge compliment. What’s not to like about the landscape, especially in the fjords. The cliffs all soar from the coastline like alters. And the ribbons of waterfalls cascade to the sea like a young girl’s ringlets. Norway is a land of superlatives and you’re soon to sail right into its vortex.

Fiddling Along Hardangerfjord 

Here are two facts you can dazzle your friends back home with. First, Hardangerfjord is Norway’s second largest fjord with depths of 3,000 feet. AND, this magnificent body of water lent its name to the nation’s important musical instrument, the ever-popular Hardanger fiddle. Celebrated artists including composer Edvard Grieg and musician Ole Bull rambled this countryside on foot and horseback drinking in its magic, which later inspired their musical contributions. They certainly must have paused at Skykkjedalsfossen, the nation’s highest (at 1000 feet) waterfall that tumbles with a deafening roar as it rips down the craggy cliffs. Or stood in the spray of Voringfossen, the region’s other famous waterfall noted for its numbing beauty. One can imagine that they stopped to sample other delicacies on their journey like fruit, particularly cherries, from this region’s 500,000 fruit trees. Sated, Grieg passed the days writing Opus 66 in nearby Fossli Hotel, an establishment that has welcomed travelers since 1891. Tourism was in its fledgling stage at that time with guests arriving by steamer from Bergen with few options for accommodations. Many came to simply amble about the countryside, picnicking as they went. Before the hotel’s construction, Grieg spent afternoons at a tiny hytte (hut), complete with writing table and piano, clinging to the fjord’s shore in the hamlet of Ullensvang. This cottage is today part of Ullensvang Hotel’s lovely gardens.           

The region’s natural history comes to life at the Hardangervidda Nature Center perched atop the great mountain plateau that looms 4,500 feet above sea level. Did you know that 15,000 wild reindeer, give or take, call the Hardangervidda area home? That’s half of Europe’s entire herd. In the past, they were used much like cattle or horses to haul logs or pull sledges. This and other bits of history come to life at the Center. 

Crystal’s First Call In Eidfjord 

Long anticipated, our Captain sets his compass for Eidfjord for Crystal’s maiden call, the jumping off point for destinations already mentioned… and more. This tiny tucked-up-into-the-ends-of-the-earth village is postcard perfect. Superlative-laced.

The view encompasses Onen Peak standing a mighty 5,319 feet tall and dusted in snow. The hamlet of Eidfjord is welcoming though small on a world-traveler’s scale. Many visitors quickly make their way to the sights further afield. 

Some scramble the footpaths along the Eio River, a rich waterway that once served as a lure for fishermen bent on filling their creels with prize-winning salmon. A smoked salmon sandwich might be your reward before reaching the next destination. 

It’s no mystery that hearty souls set down their roots in this countryside. And, have done so since the Iron Age. In other parts of today’s Norway, early man appeared 10,000 years ago slogging along in the sludge of melting glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. Though many of their stories are lost to modern man, the Viking burial mounds live on as testimony to their presence. It was during a particularly restless period that clans migrated from the seas to these rugged interiors and began to farm. They lived… and died here. Found on the Haereid Plateau just outside Eidfjord, some 350 graves dating back to 500 AD remain to this day. Visitors to these hallowed grounds can almost feel their presence and hear the sagas of those long departed. 

Norwegian Souvenirs and Traditions 

Souvenir hunters might add to their wardrobe while in Norway with the purchase of a traditional bunad, that “double-shuttle woven wool” embroidered ankle-length dress each Norwegian woman owns. Handed-down-from-generation-to-generation adornments include silver buckles, buttons, brooches and more. For the men, the garb includes black knickers, a bright vest with silver buttons, contrasting waistband, and a blousy white shirt. Garments worn by the Sami in the north are quite different with woven caps, red fringed shawls, embroidered short skirts over long boots and embroidered reindeer-skin coats to cover it all during the cruel winter months. 

Troll figures are other souvenirs that find their way into many suitcases. These extraordinarily unattractive characters are claimed to have power over mortal men though they are easily tricked. 

Other traditions focus on meals. Norwegians love fish including cod (torsk) and haddock (hyse) as well as cheeses and berries fresh from the deep forest. Multer berries, what we call cloudberries, are a summertime favorite. Norwegian brown cheese is surprisingly quite delicious. Gudbrandsdalsost is made with goat and cow milk and cream. Ekte Geltost is from only goat milk and cream. They’re both wonderful on crisp bread, eggs, and just about anything that isn’t moving. And at the end of the day, Akevitt, the water of life, makes an appearance. Brewed from distilled potatoes, it’s flavored with everything from herbs and spices and packs a distinct whollop. 

At day’s end, when the ship’s whistle blows, throw your rucksack over your shoulder and set sail for a new horizon. Eidfjord in all its glory is now another chapter in your travel journal.