Baltic Capitals – 2012
It was mid September, 2012 when we landed in the Copenhagen airport arriving via Vancouver, Seattle, Reyklavik, Iceland. We were met by our Tour guide, Anya who was a big, strong, heavy dutch woman ………. sort of reminded me of a barracuda with a big heart and a warmth about her that I knew immediately we would be well cared for on this trip.
Copenhagen is a very old city and the buildings certainly reflect that. There are no tall skyscrapers in Copenhagen as buildings restrictions here will not allow those tall buildings to ‘spoil the horizon’. There is however, one tall building (over 10 floors) that somehow got around the building code and that is the Radisson hotel and casino. In Copenhagen it is referred to as the ‘one mistake’.
On our tour of the city, we visited Christiansborg Palace, which is the Queen’s royal reception palace and the seat of parliament. Picture taking was not allowed beyond the entrance. There is a multitude of different reception rooms such as the Tower Room, the Thrown Room, the Fredensborg Room, the Dining Hall, the Library Anteroom, The Queen’s Library, the Green Room, etc. The Great Hall is covered with tapestries, historical in nature with intricate and colorful designs. The tapestries, having been carefully commissioned, are a visual expression of the artist’s interpretation of a thousand years of Danish history from Viking times to the present day.
We visited the Amalienborg Palace. It consists of 4 separate palaces around an open square. One palace is the residence of the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II. A second palace is the residence of the Queen’s son, the heir to the throne, and his family. A third palace is for royal and government visitors. The fourth palace is a Museum. There is a big Lutheran church in the background. The Queen was not at home as there was no flag flying in front of her residence. There was a flag flying in front of her son’s residence which indicated that their family was there. We did not enter any of the palaces. We watched the guards with their Canadian beaver hats marching back and forth in front of the two royal residences.
Our tour of the city took us by the National Museum, Thorvalsenson’s Museum, the Stock exchange, etc. One stop was at the location of the sculture, the “Little Mermaid”, a tribute to the author Hans Christian Anderson.
We did get to spend some time at Nyhavn. Until 1970, Nyhavn , a wide street divided in two by a narrow canal, was frequented by mainly sailors. Now it has shops and restaurants and has become a real tourist area.
From there we travelled to Oslo, Norway. It was a very scenic drive ……….. hilly and rocky ……………. much like the terrain around Lake Superior. My first impressions of Oslo were very positive. It appeared to be a very clean and progressive city with much construction happening. The skyscape is often referred to as the “bar code”.
We visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park where figures, sculpted in granite, depict a strange world of fighting and playing. There are 58 bronzes of men, women and children which flank the footbridge over the the river and many granite figures surround the 17 meter high granite obelisk adorned with 121 intertwining figures which stands in the center of the park. The facial expressions and the body accuracy of these granite figures is amazing.
City Hall in Oslo is a very modern and interesting building. The walls and ceiling of the rooms are painted murals with a few tapestries. All of the murals depicted stories and our guide was very good at telling them. It is here in Oslo that the actual presentation of the Nobel Peace prize takes place.
is located on 14 islands between the fresh water lake of Malar and the Baltic sea. City Hall stands out in my mind as a most impressive building. The triple gold crown on the top of city hall is an old national symbol of Sweden.The ‘blue room’ was not blue but red brick. This is where the annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet is held for the 5 disciplines; Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/medicine, Literature and Economics. The actual presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize takes place in Oslo. The stairs from the banquet hall lead into a room where the dancing is held. The gold mosaics and walls of pictures in mosaic, as usual, tell a story.
Approximately an hour drive north from Stockholm and well worth the time if you ever visit this area, is an old University city called Uppsala. At one time Uppsala used to be the main port of Sweden; however, with receding waters, it became too shallow to accommodate the larger ships being built and Stockholm, which is much closer to the Baltic Sea, became and continues to be the main port.
We visited a very tall 2 towered Lutheran Church, originally built by the Catholics but turned over to the Lutherans following the reformation in the 1500’s. The floor was covered with heavy rings – used to pull up sections of the concrete to get down to the tombs below. The church held many tombs of important Swedish rulers.
A visit to Gamma Uppsala (Old Uppsala), took us to an interesting stone church with many interesting artifacts gracing its interior.
Excavations had previously determined that these ‘Viking mounds’ were the tombs of Viking royalty. We were probably on the site of an early Viking settlement.
Upon arrival in port we immediately went on tour with our first stop being Helsinki Cathedral, a gleaming white Lutheran cathedral with green cupolas, situated at the top of a long steep flight of stairs. The interior of the church had little ornamentation apart from three 16th century statues of protestant reformers one of which was Martin Luther.
We stopped at the Sibelius Monument. The sculpture in Sibelius Park was erected in 1967 by a sculptor, Eila Hiltunen in commemoration of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), a composer who played an important role in the development of Finnish national identity. Using ones imagination, the sculpture could possibly represent organ pipes, the Northern lights, an ice formation, etc??
A ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia located just across an arm of the Baltic Sea, was a misty, rainy trip for us and certainly photography and/or sightseeing was out of the question. However, once we arrived in this capital city port, the rain stopped and the day turned into a great day for sightseeing.
It is only 20 years ago that Estonia gained its independence from Russia and the country is going through significant changes. They went from a country of one ferry to Helsinki every two weeks, to three ferries every day to Helsinki. Now, the country receives about 20 ferries a day from various places. The population of the country of Estonia is presently 38% Russian.
Many towers and walls which at one time protected this city from invasions, were evident in both the upper and lower ‘old’ town.
After returning to Helsinki by ferry, we were off to St. Petersburg , Russia. There were no pictures allowed at border crossings into Russia. The countryside here was treed and swampy. Before arriving in St. Petersburg we managed to get a picture of the Russian heating system – above ground pipes – only turned on when ‘it gets cold’. One of the first historical sites we saw was the Aurora which is an important symbol of the 1917 Russian Revolution.