French Connection 2: Marseille

July 20th, 2023

Saturday, June 3 – June 20, 2023

The French TGV – High Speed Train 2N2

June 3rd was another travel day for me, from Lyon to Marseille on the TGV. This is the famous Train a Grande Vitesse or “high-speed train” operated by France’s national rail service. With speeds up to 186-mph, it whisks passengers from Lyon to Marseille in just one hour & 46 minutes.

I just happened to have booked on SNCF’s newest train – the Euroduplex aka TGV 2N2. This is the French railway’s high-speed double-decker model. Of course, I sat on the upper level. Great fun!

View of Marseille From Nicole’s Balcony

My cousin, Nicole and her husband Tony, met me at Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles. The plan was to spend two glorious weeks with them in the south of France. They live on the 8th floor of a high-rise apartment building with a fabulous view of Marseille all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. I had an unforgettable time with Nicole and Tony and their extended family. Highlights are below:

La Corniche

La Corniche is the road that runs along the Mediterranean Sea from the Vieux Port (old harbor) in the center of Marseille out to a string of beaches and finally ends at Les Calanques National Park. The views are spectacular. Good seafood restaurants line the road, as well as beautiful seaside houses.

We passed villas on the Mediterranean and tiny towns with seasonal beach-houses and old fisherman’s shacks.

Les Calanques

Dinner one night was with Nicole & Tony’s son: Antony and Sara and their adorable almost 2-year old son, Matys.

Cousin’s Party

Marseille is the second largest city in France, with a population of about 6.2 million people. Founded by Greek settlers in 600 BC, Marseille has been a melting pot of people since its ancient beginnings.

Bourse et Chambre de Commerce

One of the best experiences in Marseille is the outdoor Fish Market, le Marche de la Peche. It’s held every morning on the dock in the Vieux Port. The intense smell of fish, salty sea breezes, and the sounds of fishermen’s wives hawking the day’s catch is lots of fun.

Marche aux Poissons

French “Open-Air Markets” are wonderful! They sell absolutely everything from fresh produce & anything edible to clothes & shoes for everyone to home goods. This one was along Avenue du Prado.

I went with Nicole and Tony, on a 4-hour road trip to visit their daughter, Aurelie and her family, who live in Plaisance-du-Touch, near Toulouse. On the way, we stopped at the medieval hilltop town of Carcassonne.

Entrance Into Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a double-walled fortified medieval city, first settled about 3500 BC. The inner wall was first begun during the Roman Empire from the 3rd and 4th centuries. The outer wall was constructed during the 13th century. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Towers and Space Between Walls

Inside the walls is a village complete with houses, shops, narrow streets, and the Chateau Comtal castle built about 1130.

We took a self-guided tour of the castle, which was a lot of fun. We climbed up and down the staircases within several towers, and walked across the top of the ramparts connecting them. It was a glimpse into medieval life.

View From a Tower

The narrow streets were crowded with tourists when we arrived. We walked around and looked in at some of the shops. By the time we left, it was raining and the medieval streets were empty of people.

We stayed at Aurelie and Vincent’s house for several days and played with their adorable son, Louis. Plaisance-du-Touch, a lovely town named after the Touch River, is a suburb of Toulouse.

Indoor and outdoor shopping is always fun in France. The modern supermarket was inside an air-conditioned mall and was bright and festively decorated with balloons and streamers.

We walked around the town lake which had a jogging path, picnic areas, athletic fields, and a restaurant at one end that has live music on weekends.

Lac Francois Soula

We drove to the beautiful historic city of Albi, about an hour northeast of Toulouse. Albi is famous for its 13th century cathedral and is the birthplace of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Sainte-Cecile Cathedral

The medieval city and the cathedral are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Medieval Street in Albi

Sainte Cecile Cathedral is a “masterpiece of southern French Gothic style.” The gigantic structure was built from 1282 to 1480 entirely of bricks. It is one of the largest brick buildings in the world.

Another View of St. Cecile’s

We had a tasty regional lunch at a cafe looking across from the cathedral. We entered the church and took a self-guided tour. We saw the room with religious artifacts and treasures, the chapel, the large choir area behind the Rood Screen, and the highly decorated sanctuary.

The elaborate colorful interior of the cathedral is in stark contrast to its stark red brick exterior.

A vast painting of the Last Judgement fills the entire front of the church. A Rood Screen divides the central area of the cathedral and is one of the few remaining Rood Screens in the world. The area behind the screen is reserved for members of the clergy and the choir.

Chapel Behind the Rood Screen

Next to Albi Cathedral is Le Musee Toulouse-Lautrec which was the 13th century Bishop’s Palace.

Musee Toulouse-Lautrec

The museum owns over a thousand works by the French painter. They were donated to the city of Albi by his mother in 1922. The collection includes many paintings, lithographs, drawings, and posters.

The old bridge across the River Tarn in Albi was originally built in 1035 and is still in use today.

Le Vieux Pont – Old Bridge

Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France, with a population of over one million people, and is the capital of the southern Occitanie region. We took a fun ride around the Old Town on a little tourist train.

Tourist Tram

Toulouse is known as “La Ville Rose” – The Pink City because of the color of the terra-cotta bricks used in construction of many of its buildings. The city is the European capital of space industry and exploration and it is home to the world’s largest airline manufacturer, Airbus.

Old Town Street

Toulouse is classified as a “City of Art and History” because of its rich architectural heritage of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance buildings.

Aurelie and Louis

The Garonne River runs through the center of the city. The Hotel-Dieu Saint-Jacques and the Hopital de La Grave helped plague victims during the 12th century and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One evening we all went to an outdoor African music and dance festival. There was African food and vendors selling crafts and clothing. Families picnicked on the grass and it was lots of fun. Aurelie takes African dance lessons and we watched her group’s performance.

Here are a couple of photos of the ever-changing amazing view from Nicole’s Marseille balcony!

One day, Nichole and I went to the Old Port in Marseille. We saw the impressive Cathedrale La Major, whose foundation stone was installed by Napoleon III in 1852.

Cathedrale La Major

We walked past the modern Cosquer museum to the MuCEM – the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. We took the elevator to the roof where the views are spectacular!

Cosquer Mediterranee and MuCEM

It was a gorgeous day!! We took a “selfie” and admired the beautiful Marseille harbor.

From the roof of the modern MuCEM we walked across the bridge which connected the MuCEM to Fort Saint-Jean. The historic fort is part of the museum.

Fort Saint-Jean was built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port to guard the harbor.

Fort Saint-Jean

We explored the fort and enjoyed amazing views of the harbor and the Mediterranean Sea. The fort was used during the French Revolution and much later, occupied by the German military during WWII.

The Vieux Port with Notre-Dame de la Garde on the hill:

Nicole drove up to the Hotel Dieu Intercontinental so we could see recent renovations. The building had been Marseille’s main hospital since 1593 and Nicole’s mother had used the hospital decades earlier. The valet let us park in front and allowed us to tour the public areas of the 5-star hotel.

Another day, Nicole and I drove to L’Estaque, along the northern shore of Marseille. It was an area where Armenian immigrants settled after WWI, after the genocide, when survivors were deported from Turkey. Workers from the factories and shipyards of Marseille lived in L’Estaque.

Coastal Road Along the L’Estaque District
Les Plages de Corbieres

Nicole and I had lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant called L’Hippocampe (the Seahorse), which was located right on the shore. Lunch was incredibly fresh fish! So much fun!

Then we explored the fishing port of L’Estaque. There are only a handful of stands left, like Chez Magali, which sell Marseille’s original street food: “chichi fregis” long fried dough fritters topped with chocolate syrup.

One afternoon, we picked up Matys from his primary school and took him to the park:

One Sunday, we went shopping in Marseille and had a wonderful lunch at a Tunisian restaurant called La Fontaine. The decor was traditional and the food was hearty and very delicious.

La Fontaine – Tunisian Restaurant

The Association for the Research and the Archiving of Armenian Memory (ARAM) is an organization of volunteers who collect and archive artifacts relating to Armenians who settled in Marseille. Their objective is to safeguard as many documents as possible to preserve the history and culture of the Armenian diaspora in France.

ARAM’s artifacts are available to researchers and historians. Volunteers were rebinding old Armenian books and manuscripts when we visited.

Nicole is an active member of a Gospel singing group in Marseille. They had a performance on Sunday, June 18th in the town of La Ciotat. Nicole’s group joined with another Gospel group from Aix-en-Provence. Below is a photo of the flyer for the event:

June 18th was also Father’s Day in France so Tony, Sara, and Matys joined us in La Ciotat at a Lebanese restaurant to celebrate.

It was a beautiful day with a nice breeze so Matys wanted to throw rocks into the Mediterranean.

The Gospel performances were amazing! Most of the songs were in English. The two groups joined together at the end of the show and over 100 voices sang together for a rousing finale! Fantastic!!!

Monday June 19th was my last day in France. My cousin, Francoise, came over for lunch and we visited another cousin on the other side of Marseille.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Marseille on June 20th – Nicole and Tony drove me to Marignane Aeroport. I am forever grateful to my wonderful cousins. They are kind, loving, generous, wonderful people. Thank you, Nicole and Tony…..

Our running joke is that it rains a lot in Paris! Sure enough, when I changed planes at Charles de Gaulle Airport, it was raining in Paris….

French Connection: Chasse-sur-Rhone

June 21st, 2023

May 26 – June 2, 2023

French Countryside

Friday, May 26th was a travel day from Valencia, Spain to Lyon, France on Volotea Airlines. It was a pleasant and easy hour & a half flight. Volotea is another budget airline company which connects cities all over Europe. My amazing French cousins, Astrig and Claudine met me at the airport.

Rue des Marronniers in Lyon, France

We had dinner at Chez M’man, a “Bouchon” in the Bellecour district. A “Bouchon” is a type of restaurant found in Lyon that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, so it was fun to eat regional food at a family-run eatery. After supper, we went to Claudine and Astrig’s choir rehearsal.

Gomidas Choir of Vienne

My cousins are members of a very active Gomidas Choir which performs all over southern France. The group is named after the late 19th century Armenian priest and musicologist who collected thousands of pieces of ancient Armenian folk and religious songs.

Saturday Market in Vienne

Claudine and Astrig live in Chasse-sur-Rhone which is a small village just outside the Roman town of Vienne, about 20 miles south of Lyon, France. Vienne was a major urban center of the Roman Empire. Today, there are still many Roman artifacts all over Vienne and the surrounding area.

Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne

In the center of Vienne there is an original ancient Roman Temple. It was built at the beginning of the 1st century to honor the Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. During the Middle-Ages, the temple was used as a parish church. Until 1852, it was a museum and library.

Medieval Buildings in Vienne

We had a delicious Armenian lunch in Vienne at Les Frangins – Specialities Armeniennes restaurant.

We also went to see the interior of the French Gothic Cathedral of Saint-Maurice which was constructed between 1052 and 1533.

12th Century Cathedral Saint-Maurice de Vienne

The highest point in Vienne is Mont Pipet which dominates the landscape over the Rhone River. A chapel was built on the mountaintop in 1873 to honor Our Lady of La Salette. In front of the chapel, there’s an overlook with wonderful views of the town of Vienne and the Rhone River Valley.

Notre-Dame de Pipet

Below the chapel, on the hillside of Mont Pipet, is a Roman amphitheater. The Theatre Antique de Vienne, built between 40 to 50 AD, originally housed 13,000 spectators. It was one of the largest amphitheaters in the Roman Empire. Today, the theater is used for outdoor concerts and musical events, notably the famous annual Festival Jazz A Vienne.

Roman Theater Overlooking Vienne

One afternoon, we drove into the city of Lyon to the Parc de la Tete d’or to see their magnificent rose garden. It’s a large urban park of about 290 acres and has a zoo, a botanical garden, picnic areas, and a lake for boating.

On the way home, we inadvertently ran into a huge demonstration supporting the current Turkish president’s election. Cars carrying red Turkish flags stopped and parked in busy intersections in the middle of Lyon and totally blocked traffic for some time.

Place Bellecour

Another day, we drove east toward the city of Grenoble and met my cousin, Jean-Marie, in the gorgeous village of Villard-de-Lans. It’s located in the Rhone-Alps region of France and is a popular center for skiing in the winter. The architecture of the buildings in the village and the mountains beyond reminded me of Switzerland.

We had a delicious lunch of regional pate foie gras, roasted free-range chicken and fresh organic vegetables. Mousse au chocolat and raspberry coulis (sauce) over cheese for dessert. Yum!

Restaurant Le Geymonds

After lunch, we drove a short distance up a mountain road to the Memorial to the French Resistance in Vercors. The National Historic Site commemorates the place where, in July 1944, German forces surrounded and attacked the town of Valchevriere where Resistance fighters and civilians were living.

We parked the car and hiked to the tiny village. The small chapel has been restored but all the houses were in ruins.

Chapelle Notre-Dame de Valchevriere

Claudine and Astrig’s cousins own and operate a commercial flower shop out of the garage at their home. We went to visit to chat and admire the beautiful flowers and their lovely arrangements.

Flower Shop

About 30 minutes from Chasse-sur-Rhone is the Aqueduct of Gier. It’s an ancient Roman aqueduct built during the 1st century to provide water to Lugdunum, the Roman name of Lyon. It’s the longest and best preserved aqueduct in the region.

Aqueduc du Gier

The water came from the source of the Gier River, which is a tributary of the Rhone River. When completed, the aqueduct was 53 miles long.

Section of the Aqueduct with a Chorobate

A wooden model of a Chorobate, similar to our modern levels, showed how they were used to measure the slant of the aqueduct during construction.

Worker Restoring Aqueduct

One day, we drove about 2 hours from Chasse-sur-Rhone to the city of Le Puy en Velay. The word “puy” means a volcanic hill. Many tall isolated hills jutting up from the surrounding farmland were visible from the highway.

Our Lady of Le Puy

The Chapel of Saint Michael of the Needle was constructed on top of the tallest hill in 951 AD. There are 268 steps carved into the rock base to reach the chapel, so we did not attempt to climb them.

We parked the car and walked through the narrow medieval streets of the “Old Town” of Le Puy. The city is known as a center for lace-making and is also famous for green lentils grown in the area. Le Puy is a UNESCO Heritage Site because it’s one of the main starting points on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

We walked up a steep hill and climbed steps up to the 12th century Cathedrale Notre Dame. It was fun to explore the maze of small streets flanked by tall brightly colored buildings in the old medieval part of the city.

On another day, we went to the Museum of the Confluences which is located at the junction of the Rhone and Saone Rivers in Lyon. It opened in 2014 and is a science and anthropology museum.

Musee des Confluences

The museum is said to resemble a “floating crystal cloud of stainless steel and glass”. It was a wonderful museum to visit! There were breathtaking views from the upper floors and excellent exhibits.

There was an excellent temporary exhibition of photographs by Marc Riboud, a French photo- journalist who was born near Lyon in 1923.

Confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers

The area surrounding Lyon is the famous “Cote du Rhone” wine region. It was very interesting to drive along the eastern side of the sloping hills high above the Rhone River to see the vineyards.

The hills are covered with vineyards – every square meter. There are miles and miles of famous world renowned vineyards…..

We also visited more cousins: Agnes and her family. We had a delicious Lyonnaise dinner of regional sausages and potatoes outdoors in the garden.

Cousin’s Party

The city of Lyon is the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseille. It’s referred to as “Little Paris” because of its history, architecture, art and culture. Lyon is also the Capital of Gastronomy in the world. The Old Town of Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its long history which dates from Roman times.

The Hotel de Ville, constructed about 1651, is located on a large busy square known as Place des Terreaux. On the other side of the square is the Fontaine Bartholdi created by Frederic Bartoldi, the sculptor of our Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Place des Jacobins

It was a wonderful week with my cousins Claudine and Astrig and I am grateful to be able to visit them. They are generous, loving, considerate, and kind. I am so fortunate to know them. Thank you….

Spain: Xativa & Valencia

June 15th, 2023

Sunday May 21, 2023: Travel day from Amsterdam to Xativa Spain via Valencia. My granddaughter, Hannah, has been living in Xativa for the last year and working as an English teaching assistant in a rural high school. So, I was long overdue for a visit!

Schiphol Airport

One of the best innovations in Europe now are the low-cost budget airline companies that connect many European cities. I made a reservation on Transavia Airlines for the 2 1/2 hour flight from Amsterdam to Valencia, Spain. It was an easy and pleasant no-frills flight.

Thankfully, Hannah met me at Valencia airport and helped get me and my suitcase from the airport through two train systems to the city of Xativa.

A Quiet Square in Xativa, Spain

Xativa is a medieval city which is famous for its mountain-top twin fortifications and defensive walls simply called “Xativa Castle.”

It was a long walk from the train station through Xativa to the Montsant Hotel, which is located outside the city on the hill leading up to the Castle.

Montsant Hotel was built on the bones of a 14th century convent and the old stone buildings were impressive. The magnificent gardens had an amazing assortment of beautiful flowering plants and trees.

The Castle was Illuminated at Night

It rarely rains in Spain, however this was an unusually rainy week. Hannah’s school closed because of the rain! So, we decided to brave the elements and wander up to experience the famous Xativa Castle.

We had so much fun hiking up the steep hill and exploring the medieval castle in the pouring rain! And we got soaking wet!!!

Top of Xativa Castle

There was so much rain this week, the people of Xativa stayed indoors. Han and I had a wonderful dinner of local speciality foods at a restaurant called “Grandma’s House” – Casa la Abuela.

Supper at Casa la Abuela (Grandma’s House)
View of The Castle in the Rain

Han and I also took the train into Valencia, a 45 minute ride, to see the sights. Valencia is a beautiful city with amazing architecture, museums, markets, great restaurants, wonderful parks and gardens, and of course old historic churches.

Estacio del Nord & Plaza de Toros de Valencia

Of course, we had to have real Paella Valenciana – the authentic paella! No seafood; cooked with chicken, green beans, rabbit, snails, pork, and a special local short-grain rice. Very delicious at Palace Fesol Restaurant.

Paella Valenciana

Los Gomez Restaurant

No trip to this wonderful city is complete without Agua de Valencia! We went to the place where the tasty refreshing drink is the speciality of the house: Cafe de las Horas.

On my last day in Valencia, I walked across the city, along the urban Jardin del Turia, to the amazing City of Arts and Sciences.

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia – The Opera House

Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies cultural complex is the most important modern tourist destination in the city of Valencia. It is located at the southern end of the picturesque Garden of the Turia River.

On my last night in Valencia, Han and I had a wonderful dinner at a little sea-food place called Aladroc – Taberna de Peix located in the trendy Russafa neighborhood. The octopus and sardines were delicious!

I had a fabulous time with Han in Xativa and Valencia and I am looking forward to returning someday very soon.

Placa de l’Ajuntament at Night

Baltic Adventure 2023

May 22nd, 2023

After this trip, I have visited 81 countries in the World!!

Amsterdam: Wed. May 3 through Fri. May 5, 2023

Sign at JFK Airport

Jeff and I took an overnight flight from New York City and arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, May 3rd at 5:30 in the morning! The taxi from Schiphol Airport breezed through empty streets to the center of the city and the hotel we had booked online: the NH Collection Flower Market Hotel.

We were in Amsterdam for three days before starting a Baltic Sea Cruise on Saturday. We arrived a few days early to give our bodies a chance to adjust to a different time zone. We were tired from lack of sleep on the plane, so on our first day, we took a leisurely canal-boat tour.

The Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam is a delightful city with interesting architecture and many beautiful canals and bridges. We were eager to try Dutch cuisine so we searched for restaurants that served traditional “stamppot,” “bitterballens,” “poffertjes,” “stroopwafels,” “vlaamse frieten,” and “erwtensoep/snert.” And, of course, Jeff found De Kaaskamer van Amsterdam – an amazing cheese shop located in the 9 Streets district.

On our second day, we visited the Van Gogh Museum. We had pre-booked timed tickets which we purchased at home. This worked out well because all tickets for the week were sold out. The museum had expanded since our last visit to Amsterdam with a modern two-story glass entrance.

The Van Gogh Museum

The weather was glorious – clear 50 to 65 degrees – perfect for walking around the city and taking pictures. We visited Rembrandt’s House Museum and walked around several interesting neighborhoods.

We had read that there are more than 840,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. That’s more bicycles than residents! Many bicycles were decorated with colorful artificial flowers celebrating spring.

On Saturday, May 6th we boarded Holland America’s MS Rotterdam: our home-away-from-home for a 14-Day Cruise around the Baltic Sea to visit several northern capital cities: Copenhagen, Stockholm, etc.

Holland America’s MS Rotterdam

The Rotterdam was launched in 2021 and is the newest ship in the Holland America fleet. It holds about 2,600 passengers and 1,000 crew members.

The main pool area in the photos below had a retractable roof and was used as a multi-purpose area. The roof opened on warm days and during evening hours it became a social gathering place. At night, lounge chairs were set up with blankets so passengers could watch first-run movies under the stars. Popcorn was included!

The World Stage theater was located on Decks 2 and 3, all the way forward in the bow of the ship. It had 714 seats and was almost a theater-in-the-round. The multi-level Atrium was located in the center of the Rotterdam and connected restaurants and shops.

Although the Rotterdam was larger that the last cruise ship we had traveled on, it didn’t feel big and overwhelming. Our favorite place to hang out was the comfortable Crow’s Nest on the 12th level.

We boarded on Saturday afternoon and the ship left Amsterdam that evening. The following day was a “sea day” which gave us plenty of time to explore the ship, settle in, and relax.

Monday May 8th, the Rotterdam arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark.

We got an early start and took the shuttle bus to a Metro station. After a couple of stops on the train, we got off in the center of Copenhagen near Nyhaven. We used Googlemaps and Applemaps to find our way around.

It was a glorious bright sunny morning and we walked along beautiful Nyhaven. Hans Christian Andersen had lived in several houses along the harbor during the early 1800s.

We continued along the main shopping street, Stroget, which is lined with all the familiar international clothing shops, restaurants, and Danish boutiques. We stopped for good coffee along the way.

We saw Christianborg Palace which is the seat of the Danish Parliament and houses the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark. The palace is also used by the queen of Denmark for official events. We had just one day in Copenhagen so we didn’t tour the palace.

We passed the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, one of our favorite museums, and we also saw the entrance to the famous Tivoli Gardens. We had spent a week in Copenhagen on our last visit 21 years ago and visited all these sights, so we didn’t feel the need to visit them again on this trip.

It was getting to be lunch-time, and we were lucky to find Tivolihallen, a Danish restaurant that served delicious “classic open-faced sandwiches” called smorrebrod. It was a family-owned restaurant and the old-fashioned dining room was cozy and comfortable. Of course, they spoke perfect English!

Later we discovered that Tivolihallen is listed in the book: “1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die.”

After a tasty lunch, we walked toward the Town Hall – Radhus. Although the building was built in 1905, the architecture was inspired by the Renaissance-style Town Hall in Siena, Italy.

There was a very interesting astronomical clock on display with 15,448 parts. The Radhus is the seat of Copenhagen’s city government so all local city government functions are performed there. They had a table of artificial flowers for rent for their frequent town hall weddings.

That’s a statue of Hans Christian Andersen near the Radus looking toward Tivoli Garden:

Tuesday May 9 – Warnemunde and Rostock, Germany

Everything we had read at home in preparation for this port said to go to the medieval town of Rostock and not bother with Warnemunde. So we made the trek, and it was a “trek” because we had to take a local commuter train first, then ride the tram to Rostock, then walk into the city center.

Steintor or Stone Gate

The Steintor, built in 1574, was one of the original gates into the medieval city of Rostock and leads to Neuer Markt which is the historic center. Marienkirche, St. Mary’s Church, was built in 1265.

The Rathaus or Town Hall

New Market Square (Neuer Markt) features pastel colored merchants’ houses, the pink Town Hall, St. Mary’s Church, and the Rostock Cultural History Museum.

Merchants’ Houses

There are bars and restaurants surrounding the square and a daily farmer’s market. It’s a good place to start a tour of the pedestrian streets of the Old Town. We strolled up Kropeliner Strasse, the main shopping street which was full of international brand name stores.

We had a good lunch in a big self-serve cafeteria located on the ground floor of a modern shopping center.

Afterwards, we took the tram to the train and then back to Warnemunde. Because it was still early, we decided to explore the seaside village. We were very happy we did, because we liked Warnemunde better than Rostock! It was a lovely seaside resort town with adorable fishermen’s cottages.

Two famous Warnemunde landmarks are the 19th century lighthouse and the popular Teepott Restaurant located on the seemingly endless beautiful white-sand beach along the Baltic Sea.

Thursday May 11 – Riga, Latvia (Wednesday was a quiet Sea Day aboard the MS Rotterdam)

Riga Castle

The ship arrived early in the morning and cruised up the Daugava River and docked near Vansu Bridge across the river from Riga Castle. It was a short walk to the medieval Old Town of Riga, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Riga Cathedral: Seat of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia

Riga, the capital city of Latvia, was founded in 1201 and had been a member of the Hanseatic League. This was a medieval confederation of market towns and merchant guilds in Northern Europe. The Swedish Gate is all that remains of the Middle Ages fortification wall which once protected the city.

The Swedish Gate

The old town center of Riga, the Vecriga, is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets lined with medieval churches and guild halls. Vecriga today is full of popular restaurants, art galleries, and museums.

The Central Market is one of the largest and most visited markets in Eastern Europe. The buildings were originally constructed in the late 1920s as German zeppelin hangars. Each one is a speciality market.

Riga Central Market

The city of Riga is also famous for its more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings constructed between 1901 and 1908. Elizabeth and Albert Streets are outdoor galleries showing off the beautiful architecture.

The Powder Tower, built in 1650, is part of the Latvian War Museum and served as a repository of the city’s gunpowder.

Latvian War Museum & Powder Tower

Bastejkalna Park runs across both sides of the Pilsetas canal and is home to the Latvian National Opera, the Freedom Monument, and the University of Latvia.

Bastejkalna Park

Friday May 12 – Tallinn, Estonia

Calm seas prevailed as the ship left Riga, Latvia and cruised to Tallinn, Estonia. A shuttle bus dropped us off at the Russian Cultural Center near the Viru Gate entrance to the Old Town. Tallinn is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recognized as one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe.

Viru Gate

Tallinn grew in importance as the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League during the 14th to 16th centuries. The city was well fortified during the Middle Ages with a large city wall and 66 defensive towers. The wall and many gates are still standing today.

Buildings in Town Hall Square

We walked through the Vira Gates along a narrow cobblestone street to Raekoja Plats – the bustling Town Hall Square. Today, the colorful 15th century buildings around the large square house restaurants and other tourist shops. In one corner of the square is the Raeapteek.

The Raeapteek

Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy – Raeapteek – is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has continually operated on the same premises since 1422. An exhibition room displays goods sold at the pharmacy during medieval times including snakeskin potion, mummy juice, powdered unicorn horn, tea, jam, gunpowder, and marzipan. The historic site still operates as a modern pharmacy today.

Kaera Jaan Restaurant

We had a delightful lunch outdoors at Kaera Jaan Restaurant on Town Hall Square. The restaurant was named after a folklore character and is a popular song.

Most of the streets in the Old Town are limited to pedestrians. Tallinn is actually two towns: an upper one and a lower town. Historically, the Upper Town belonged to wealthy aristocrats while the Lower Town housed poor ethnic Estonians.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

There are several paths leading up to the Upper Town called Toompea Hill. We climbed steps on our way up, but later found a narrow cobblestone street which led back down to the Lower Town. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral opened in 1900 during the Czarist Empire on top of Toompea Hill.

St. Nicholas Church

On the way up to Toompea Hill, we passed St Nicholas’ Church which was built from 1230 to 1275. Today, the church functions mainly as a museum of religious art.

Tall Hermann Tower or Pikk Hermann

Tall Herman Tower was a defensive tower built in 1371 in a corner of Toompea Castle – home to today’s Estonian Parliament. The tower was the highest stone tower around the Baltic Sea during the Middle Ages. Today, Tall Hermann flies the national flag as a symbol of Estonia’s independence.

Part of Tallinn’s Medieval Fortification

After visiting the beautiful city of Tallinn, we returned to the ship in the late afternoon. We enjoyed a game of Trivia with Jean and Ed, friends we had met on a previous cruise. Later, we had a delicious dinner in the lovely Rotterdam dining room.

Saturday, May 13 – Helsinki Finland

The distance is 50 miles between Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland. During the night, the ship crossed the Baltic Sea and arrived in Helsinki very early in the morning.

Old Indoor Market Hall 1888

It was a ten minute shuttle ride from the ship to the port of Helsinki and the bus let us off near the old indoor market – Vanha Kauppahalli. What a treat! The Old Market Hall was opened in 1889 with 120 stalls and six shops in the central gallery. There were shops selling fish, reindeer soup, elk kebabs, etc.

We strolled along the port and browsed at the outdoor Central Market – Kauppatori. We crossed the street and went to see the exterior of Uspenski Cathedral, the orthodox Church of Finland from 1868.

Uspenski Cathedral

The grand Senate Square, is lined with impressive landmarks: Helsinki Cathedral, Government Palace with offices of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, and the main building of the University of Helsinki.

Helsinki Cathedral
Government Palace

The Art Nouveau Central Railway Station – Rautatieasema Jarnvagsstation – was designed by the renowned architect Eliel Saarinen in 1919 and is a monumental landmark in the capital of Finland. The building has been selected as one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.

We continued our self-guided walk of Helsinki through the downtown business district.

Pedestrian Business Street
Young Ukranian Folk Singers

Before taking the shuttle bus back to the Rotterdam, we strolled through the beautiful green Esplanade Park. Tents were set up with people selling a variety of ethnic foods. Local people were sitting on benches and enjoying the bright sunshine and good weather.

Esplanade Park

Sunday May 14 & 15 – Stockholm, Sweden

The Rotterdam sailed calmly from Helsinki to Stockholm overnight. The ship was scheduled to be in the lovely port city of Stockholm for two whole days. Wonderful! Stockholm is one of our favorite cities.

Gamla Stan

The ship cruised past beautiful pine-tree covered islands as it approached Stockholm harbor. The 20 minute shuttle bus ride into the city dropped us off just outside the historic old district of Gamla Stan.

Swedish Folk Dancing

There was Swedish folk music and dancing in one of the little squares in Gamla Stan when we arrived.

The narrow streets in Gamla Stan are reminders of its medieval roots. We took a cruise around the harbor.

We had a delicious Swedish lunch at a little restaurant called Stockholms Gastabud Bar & Bistro.

Smoked herring three ways and cranberry cake with linden berries for desert.

The Riddarholm Church

The Riddarholmskyrka, built in the 13th century is one of the oldest churches in Stockholm. The church served as the final resting place of most of the Swedish monarchs until 1950.

I took the photos below in two of Stockholm’s Metro stations. Most of Stockholm’s Metro stations have some sort of art installation and are definitely worth seeing.

One of the best sights to see is Stockholm’s City Hall and we were lucky to walk in and book a tour. The famous building was built between 1911 to 1923 and houses government offices and conference rooms. The City Hall is famous because the Nobel Prize banquets are held there in the “Blue Hall” every year.

Stockholm City Hall
Nobel Prize Banquet Room: “Blue Hall”

Thursday May 18 – Aarhus, Denmark

We enjoyed a restful Sea Day on Wednesday and arrived in the commercial port of Aarhus early the next day. The shuttle bus dropped us off near the DOKK1 – the modern library which was voted “the best public library in the world” by the International Federation of Library Associations.

DOKK1 Library & Cultural Center

Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark, located on the eastern shore of the Jutland Peninsula. Aarhus was founded in the early Viking Age (8th century) and is one of the oldest cities in the Baltics.


Stroget is the main shopping street but today was a holiday so almost all of the stores were closed. The architecture was a mixture of historic and modern.

Cathedral of Aarhus

The Cathedral of Aarhus is the longest church in Denmark and has the tallest spire. The church was completed in 1350 and can seat 1200 people. I read that all Danes pay 1% of their income directly to the Danish Church through their tax system. Opting out is an option, however 75% of the people actually contribute.

ARoS Art Museum

The Aarhus Art Museum has a collection of Danish and international works of art. The architecture of the building was supposed to be inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy but the interior reminded me of the the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Interior of ARoS

“Your Rainbow Panorama” is a permanent installation mounted on the roof of the museum designed by Olafur Eliasson. It is a circular multi-colored glass walkway. Visitors can walk around inside the structure for magnificent views of the city looking through colorfully tinted glass.

Your Rainbow Panorama
Skyline Views From the Roof

The MS Rotterdam left Aarhus Thursday night and we enjoyed a Sea Day on Friday May 19th. We re-packed and relaxed and enjoyed the ship as we cruised back to Amsterdam.

Saturday May 20: We gave ourselves one more day in Amsterdam. We left the ship and checked into a hotel near Schiphol Airport. From there, we easily took the Metro into Central Station.


Cuyperspassage is the name of a tunnel at Amsterdam Central Station that connects the city with the river. 46,000 traditional blue and white Delftware ceramic tiles were used to decorate the walls.

We were lucky to have another beautiful sunny day to explore Amsterdam. The city was more crowded with tourists this week, but we walked around the Jordan district and enjoyed our last day.

Heertje Friet

Sunday May 21, 2023 – travel day: Jeff flew home to New York City and I continued my travels to Spain.

Apt Sign at Schiphol Airport

The NYC Orchid Show

March 23rd, 2023

The New York Botanical Garden has a special Orchid Show in March every year. It’s a wonderful preview of spring with a riot of vivid colors and warm sweet scents. It was a mild winter this year, but after a chilly snowfall, it was wonderful to walk among the exquisite blooms in the conservatory.

Outside, the Botanical Garden’s tropical conservatory looked like this: