Baltic Capitals

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. IMG_3349 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.IMG_3382  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. IMG_3385 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.IMG_3388

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.IMG_3399

 We did get to spend some time at Nyhavn. IMG_3368IMG_3413 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.

On our way to Oslo, we saw Hamlet’s castle. IMG_3415 The countryside looks much like the countryside in parts of  western Canada.IMG_3425

We stopped in Gothenburg which is Sweden’s second largest city, for lunch. IMG_3433

On first impression, to me Gothenburg is a clean and inviting city.IMG_3439

 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”.IMG_3456

We visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park where figures, sculpted in granite, depict a strange world of fighting and playing. IMG_3461IMG_3489 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.IMG_3496

City Hall in Oslo is a very modern and interesting building. IMG_3523 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.IMG_3502

At a higher elevation where we had a wonderful view of the city and the fiord, we visited the ski jump and the biathlon shooting range.IMG_3540IMG_3546

The next Baltic Capital that we visited was Stockholm, Sweden. IMG_3630 Stockholm, a city with many bridges,IMG_3679 IMG_3682

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.IMG_3577 The triple gold crown on the top of city hall is an old national symbol of Sweden.IMG_3629The ‘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. IMG_3604 The gold mosaics and walls of pictures in mosaic, as usual, tell a story.

It seemed that everywhere we went in Stockholm we kept running into trolls ……………… cute little fellows.IMG_3688IMG_3689

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. IMG_3698At 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,IMG_3720IMG_3693IMG_3721 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.

The church also housed the casket of Dag Hammarskjold who was the Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 until 1961 when he died in a plane crash on a peace mission in the Congo.IMG_3702IMG_3709

A visit to Gamma Uppsala (Old Uppsala),  took us to an interesting stone church with many interesting artifacts gracing its interior.

A wooden barrel with several locks which served as the church safe.

A wooden barrel with several locks which served as the church safe

.... and of course, a troll.

…. and of course, a troll.

Gamma Uppsala is also the site of Viking burial mounds.IMG_3734

A Viking marker telling a story.

A Viking marker telling a story.

 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.

We boarded the Silja Symphony for an overnight cruise to reach Helsinki, Finland.IMG_3760IMG_3744

Entering the post at Helsinki was like going through a maze of rocks and islands, walls and fortresses which seemed to go on forever.IMG_3756IMG_3755IMG_3752

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. IMG_3783 The interior of the church had little ornamentation apart from three 16th century statues of protestant reformers one of which was Martin Luther.

Just below Helsinki Cathedral is a big open square which serves as an outdoor market on Saturdays but busy with other happenings on other days.IMG_3773IMG_3775

We visited Temppeliaukio Church – a large Lutheran church, consecrated in 1969, built into a granite outcrop.IMG_3785IMG_3786

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. IMG_3791 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.IMG_3806

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.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia.

Protective walls and turrets surrounding the 'old' town.

Protective walls and turrets surrounding the ‘old’ town.

A view of Tallinn  from the Upper 'Old' town.

A view of Tallinn from the Upper ‘Old’ town.

A passageway from the Upper 'Old' town to the Lower 'Old' town.

A passageway from the Upper ‘Old’ town to the Lower ‘Old’ town.

A look at some of the architecture in the 'Old' town.

A look at some of the architecture in the ‘Old’ town.

A square in the Lower 'Old' town.

A square in the Lower ‘Old’ town.

Many of the old buildings had numerous narrow windows.

Many of the old buildings had numerous narrow windows.

Entrance/exit to the 'old' town.

Entrance/exit to the ‘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. IMG_3875IMG_3879 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’. IMG_3881 One of the first historical sites we saw was the Aurora which is an important symbol of the 1917 Russian Revolution.IMG_3895

For an overview of our 6 days in St. Petersburg, please click on St. Petersburg under My Travels and/or an overview of our river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow, click on Russia under My Travels.

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