Thursday, July 29, 2010

Vikingskipshuset, or the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

After a day and a half at sea, we arrived at our first port of call, Oslo, Norway.  Oslo dates back to the Viking age and has a rich nautical history.  The Oslo Harbour is the busiest in Norway with industry, trade, and tourism.  We were not the only cruiseship in port that day.

For our shore excursion, we chose one titled Norwegian Adventure because it would take us through Oslo as well as to visit three museums: the Viking Ship Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the Kon-Tiki Museum.  Our first stop was the Vikingshipshuset, or the Viking Ship Museum.

The Viking Ship Museum is a small venue, almost too small for the number of tourists visiting the day we were there.  However, it's not small when you consider that it houses three large Viking ships and various items that are related to the Vikings and their nautical ways.  The building has a few places in the corners of each room where you can get a birdseye view of the ships and see inside them better than from the floor level.

The ships themselves were fascinating and well preserved, even the intricate patterns carved into the wood.

If you go, here's information you'll want to know about hours, how to get there, and how much it costs.  There's a giftship in the front of the museum that is small and open, before you go through the turnstile entrance.  Restrooms are on the lower level just behind where you purchase your tickets.  If you're touring with an excursion, it's best to scope out your souvenirs and use the restroom first; you'll still have time to explore the museum without being delayed by lines in either place.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Barbie goes to London

Several months ago, one of my coworkers gave me a Barbie from McDonald's Happy Meal.  Barbie's top had London emblazoned across it, so I kept her on my desk as a reminder that I was working and saving our money so we could make this fabulous trip to London and places beyond.  I told my coworker then that I would take Barbie with me when we went, and so I did.  See what Barbie was up to on her tour of London.

Of course Barbie's first stop had to be at a McDonald's.  After all, that's her heritage ~ well, at least this edition of Barbie has her heritage from McDonald's. This particular McDonald's is on High Holborn, just across and over from the Holborn Underground station.  It is also just across and over from the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel where we stayed for three nights pre-cruise and two nights post-cruise.  And where we grabbed free wi-fi to post the earlier blog entries from London.

Speaking of the London Underground, we used the tube to get around to the sites for the first two days we were in London, and of course Barbie needed her own seat.

Our first London attraction was the London Eye.  We had a bit of a wait in the queue line, so Barbie thought she'd pose for a picture.

Obviously, a girl's gotta eat, so Barbie enjoyed her second meal in London at My Old Dutch pancake house.

Barbie's second day in London found her doing one of the required activities for all first-time visitors touring London - riding on a double-decker bus.

She also enjoyed the boat tour on the River Thames where she posed for pictures with backgrounds such as the Tower Bridge, the London Eye from the Embankment, and Big Ben.

All the touring around London took its toll on Barbie so she had a good long rest while we enjoyed the cruise portion of our vacation.  But as soon as she heard we were going to Stonehenge, she got herself together so she, too, could be there.

Barbie, this trip wouldn't have been the same without you. I was surrounded by boys. It was nice to have some girl-power.

And to my coworker - you know who you are - thanks for sending her my way!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bad Doberan, Germany

When I first read that our excursion in Germany would take us to Bad Doberan, I did a double take to make sure we weren't going to an animal shelter for bad dobermans.

Bad Doberan is a town in the Mecklenburg region in the northern part of what used to be East Germany, not too many miles from where we ported at Warnemunde.  Just outside Bad Doberan is a monastery that originated in the Middle Ages, completed in the late 1360s.  There are still original bricks and some original stained glass windows.  The building is a beautiful piece of architecture and is still in use today.  The monks made the bricks that were originally used, a process which took four to twelve months per brick to make.  Hearing about their brick-making reminded me of the Israelites during their time in Egypt when they were forced to make bricks yet not given the straw they needed. 

So here are some photos both outside and in from the Minster at Bad Doberan.  If you're in the Mecklenburg region, it is worth the visit, and if you have a guide to tell you the stories of the monastery and subsequent history, then that's even better!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Church of the Spilled Blood

When we were planning our cruise, one of the pictures on the Disney Cruise Line website was of Mickey Mouse standing outside the Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

The church is officially known as the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood as it was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. You can read more about it here.

This striking building is an icon in St. Petersburg and a must-see (at least from the outside if you don't have time to go in) for any visit to the city.  We had some time on our afternoon shopping excursion to walk from St. Isaac's Square over to the Church for some pictures. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Beatles Walking Tour, London

As mentioned in a previous post, one of the tours we took while in London was a Beatles walking tour. We met the tour guide, Richard Porter, by the Tottenham Court Road Underground Station (exit 3). The tour is 8GBP for adults, children under 15 accompanied by a parent are free. You don't make a reservation; just show up on the designated day at the designated time ( for more information).

Our first stop on the tour was Paul McCartney's offices, MPL Communications, LTD. MPL stands for McCartney Productions Limited but evolved into MPL Communications, LTD over time.  Just a few blocks away is Trident Studios where the Beatles recorded Hey Jude among others.

Not far from here was a "mystery" stop - where the Gentlemen's restroom on Broadwick Street was the significant Beatles landmark!  In November 1966, John Lennon was in a skit with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore playing the doorman for the exclusive "Gentlemen's Club."  This was also where John Lennon started wearing his famous round glasses in public.

As we continued on, we paused by this mural in Soho that was inspired by the Beatles' album cover from their Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We strolled down Carnaby Street which was the "happeningist" street in London in the late 1960s during the height of Beatlemania.  Now it's mostly cashing in on nostalgia and memorabilia although some effort is being made to return to the high-end fashion that it was known for decades ago.

Until the Beatles had their first performance at the London Palladium, the British newspapers hadn't given them much coverage. However, the thousands of screaming fans gathered outside the Palladium on October 13, 1963 became newsworthy, and this event is said to be the beginning of "Beatlemania" in London.  The Palladium is still in use and is currently the scene for Sister Act.  Although the singing nuns don't get quite the attention that the Beatles did.

The next stop on our tour took us to the site of the Beatles' last performance - 3 Savile Row, home of the Apple Offices, where they ultimately had a recording session on the rooftop January 30, 1969.

Another site on the tour was the Indica Art Gallery, significant because this is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met.  Paul McCartney was a benefactor of the art gallery, and Yoko Ono was having an exhibit there.  Paul invited John to come with him pre-opening and while there, the two met.

No Beatles tour would be complete without a visit to Abbey Road, so we hopped on the tube from the Green Park station and went to St. John's Wood station which is a two block walk from Abbey Road.  You wouldn't know you were at Abbey Road without a map because the street sign is very rarely there; it's usually stolen by a fan every time it's replaced.

At Abbey Road, you can take your life in your hands to get a picture of yourself in the crosswalk, or you can be safe like us and just take a picture of the crosswalk.  This is a busy street in a residential area, and the crosswalk is actually right around a curve so it's difficult to watch for traffic.  You can also see the Abbey Road Studios here.

There are several Beatles tours offered by tour companies in London. We picked this one because it got excellent reviews on and we were not disappointed.

Our tour guide is also the author of the book Guide to the Beatles' London (ISBN: 0 953875903) and, as it turns out, the owner of the Beatles Coffee Shop where you can buy souvenirs, located at the St. John's Wood underground station.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pictures from Stonehenge

Stonehenge. A mystical formation in the middle of a field. A wonder that draws thousands of people weekly to stand in amazement at this formation and think about the people who built it, who lived there, who used it for whatever its true purpose was.

We've all seen pictures of Stonehenge. It's a readily identifiable structure that is one of those things that you just recognize.

But when you see it in context, literally in the middle of a field, you wonder how it survived, standing tall, for all these centuries.

Yes, those are cows out in the field around the Stonehenge site.

And this is a view from Stonehenge to the highway.  In spite of its proximity, Stonehenge is so much more than a "roadside attraction."

It's truly a splendor.

For more information about Stonehenge, visit the website at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

From the London Eye

We have nearly 3,000 photos from our trip, so as we get them reviewed and sorted, I'll be posting some of them here in hopes of sharing visually some of the sights and sites we saw.

Our number one thing we wanted to do while in London was the London Eye ( - or as the locals called it, the Wheel.  The London Eye was built for the year 2000 and became so popular that it has remained a leading attraction in the London area since then.  The London Eye is located right along the River Thames, just a short walk from the Waterloo station.  We took a chance and booked our tickets online using the Flexi- option which allowed us to pick our day but not lock in our time for our "flight" on the Eye.  If we had picked both day and time, we could've saved a few GBPs but because we weren't certain of our plans for that day, we opted to use the Flexi-option.

If you're planning to visit the London Eye, be sure to make your ticket reservation online to save yourself time in the queue.  There is a separate line for picking up pre-ordered tickets and it was quite a bit quicker than the queue for those purchasing their tickets right then.  You just bring your confirmation and whatever you used for payment when you pick up your tickets.

The ride itself is a slow moving one; in fact, it rarely stops - they load it while still in motion, so you just walk on.  About 20 people or so per capsule and it takes about 30 minutes to go all the way around.  The views from the top are amazing.  You can see much of the greater London area which is a great way to get your bearings if you're new to the area.

So here are a few pictures from our half-hour on the London Eye.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stonehenge, or what to do on an unexpected day in England

The morning dawned with our only plans being to have breakfast
(included with our room) and return for another trip through history
at the British Museum. Our planned tour of Canterbury and Leeds Castle
had been cancelled, and we had "seen and done" all of the highlights
that had made our list. So while the boys were still sleeping, I went
for a chat with Steve, the wonderful concierge.

I had a fleeting thought about a matinee at a theater but of course
the theaters are closed until the evening. I knew the boys would not
endure a whole day at the British Museum even though DH could.
Besides, we had spent time there yesterday and by my count were over
two hours already there.

The concierge gave me a few suggestions and offered a tour booklet to
see if that sparked anything for me. It fell open to an afternoon tour
of Stonehenge... we had both the time and the funds (thanks to the
refund for the cancelled tour), so Steve checked the availability and
was able to make all the arrangements for us!

DH was delighted that one of the pickup points for the tour was at the
Royal National Hotel, just a three minute walk from the British
Museum, so on the way, we dashed through the European rooms and
brought our collective time to past the three hour mark. Which is what
we had negotiated for a time limit so as not to only see the British
Museum on our visit to London.

Our Stonehenge Express tour is through Evan Evans tours. They were
prompt with the pickup times and surprisingly, the motorcoach was full
after our last pickup. It is a warm day, hitting about 80, and
thankfully the air conditioner is working. We didn't always have that
experience on our other tours throughout this journey.

So Stonehenge. Wow. What an amazing site. No way is this just an
ordinary pile of rocks. About seventy miles southwest of the greater
London area through the rolling hills and wide opened fields, this
wonder sits in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. But what a rich
and mysterious history this place has. Stonehenge is an English
Heritage site. They have an audio tour that takes about 45 minutes if
you listen to all the components and explains the site as you stroll
the path around it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Photos from Helsinki

> I don't know if these pictures will post via an email update to the
> blog, so consider this a test.

> Here are three pictures of us taken by my third-cousin in Helsinki.