May 18, 2013

Travel Tips: What I learned from our trip to Europe

I'm no travel expert, but in preparation for our trip I did read a lot of what the experts say about travel to Europe.  This was my third trip to Europe, but it was the first time I had to do any planning for it.... someone else did the planning for me in the past.  So, I learned a few things I thought I might as well share what I learned. 


Ideally you would spend a whole week in a major city, but that's not always possible.  In a week you can see all the major sites without feeling rushed, and have time to relax and do more of the non-tourist things and get off the beaten path.  I recommend doing no more than 2 "touristy" things a day, and spend some time each day doing other things, like people watching in a park, strolling, shopping, exploring, etc.  If you only have a few days then just pick a few highlights; choose what most appeals to you, not necessarily what is most popular, since opinions vary on what the "must sees" are in each city.  We spent 3 nights in each city and hardly scratched the surface!

I highly recommend choosing an American hotel chain, such as Marriott.  You will get good service and have comfortable accommodations.  The staff will speak English, the beds will be normal, you will have a nice bathroom, and they sometimes have American power outlets as well (or have adapters you can borrow). 

Big cities usually have good public transportation.  Use it!  Buy 1-day unlimited passes.  But also be prepared to do a lot of walking.  Underground trains are very efficient, but you miss a lot.  Make sure you take time to walk around so you can SEE the city you are in.  Just balance your transportation between the trains and your feet.  Buses can be a great option... they aren't as fast (traffic can be pretty bad), but you can see more as you travel. 

See the major attractions... if they appeal to you.  But if they don't, skip them.  There is no reason to feel guilty for not visiting the most popular museum or castle or other attraction in a major city if you aren't interested in that particular kind of thing.  Unless you have unlimited time, or you already saw everything else, don't waste you time seeing something just because it's popular.  It's not worth it!  Every city has it's major museums, but there are always lots of smaller, lesser-known museums, which are often quirky and very interesting.  Find what appeals to you!  The museum passes you can get in most major cities including all the main attractions plus lots of smaller ones, which is a great way to discover something unusual that might appeal to you more than a major one. 

Get off the beaten path.  Find the hidden unique places.  Ask the concierge at your hotel.  Take time to just explore.  Don't be rushed. 

Dress in solids and neutral colors so you don't stand out.  Wear a scarf to blend in with the Europeans, even in summer (just make it a lightweight one).  Don't wear sneakers, but do wear comfy shoes... I recommend Ecco or Crocs (not the ugly original style... the cute ones!).  I wore Crocs ballet flats the whole time and they were perfect!  They are super light and comfortable, and they are water proof.  Jay wore Ecco leather lace up shoes the whole time and said they were perfect.  Jeans or black/dark pants are perfect, and always wear layers.... the weather changes quickly.  Even in summer you will want a light sweater.  For 2 weeks I took 1 pair black pants, 3 pairs jeans, 1 skirt, 7 shirts, 3 cardigan sweaters, 4 scarves, 1 coat, 2 pairs shoes.  I took enough underwear for every day (I did not want to do laundry) but I wore shirts twice.

We each brought a wheeled carry-on suitcase, and a shoulder bag carry on.  It was nice to not check any bags on the way over (a few in our group ended up having their checked bags delayed a couple of days), but we did check out suitcases on the way home... they were just full of dirty clothes by then so we didn't care of they were delayed, but we had extra stuff to bring home.... a bag of souvenirs and gifts in a reusable shopping bag I had stuffed into my purse.  I highly recommend bringing on.  It came in handy when we were out shopping during the day, especially if you get items from a grocery store... they usually don't provide bags, or will charge you for one. 

Other items I brought along in my day pack that I thought were helpful:
- a small flashlight
- small ziploc bags
- a few rubber bands, twist ties, paper clips and safety pins (all in a zipper bag)
- Tide to Go pen (you will inevitably spill something!)
- lip balm
- ear buds (for listening to audio tours)
- credit cards (2, just in case one has a problem.... make sure they don't have fees)
- debit card (for getting cash from ATM's, or for when vendor's require a PIN... see below)
- copies of your passport (leave the original in the hotel safe in your room)
- Advil or Tylenol or the inevitable headache
- a water bottle.... a Bobble is great because you can fill it anywhere and it has a built in filter
- small umbrella
- small notebook and pen

I recommend you only use cash when you have to.... street vendors or small shops.  Otherwise you plastic.  First choice is a no-fee credit card.  Capital One does not charge fees, nor does the Marriott Rewards Visa, so those are the two I took.  Debit Card fees depend on your bank.  Make sure you check.  You don't want to be withdrawing cash frequently and running up fees, so try to estimate how much you will need for your whole stay in the country... if you have a little leftover make sure you use it up the last day so you don't have to change it back to US currency..... you will lose a lot.  Using a credit card gets you the best exchange rate and is the most secure, so use a card any time you can.  For cash, you always get the best rate from a bank ATM (make sure it's affiliated with an actual bank).  Never go to an "Exchange" place.... they charge huge fees and you don't get the best exchange rate. 

I was told that we wouldn't be able to use our American credit cards to buy subway tickets from machines because they don't have the chip technology, but that wasn't true.  We used them just fine in all the machines (both debit and credit) in London and Paris.  There were a couple of small shops that wouldn't take American credit cards, or that would only take debit cards (because you have to have a PIN if it doesn't have a chip), but most places will allow you to sign for a credit card if you don't have a PIN.  It's a good idea to always ask first when you enter a shop or restaurant, "Do you take American credit cards?"... just in case.   

Also, before you leave home inform your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling outside the country.... otherwise your cards will be declined because they will think it's stolen. 

You really need a smart phone while traveling.  My husband only has a basic phone so he just left it at home and we relied on my iPhone.  He has an iPad that he used to check his email when we were in our hotel room.  

If you want to communicate with people back home you can pay through the nose for international cell service (assuming you have a phone with the capability), OR you can do what we did.... use email and text messaging using wifi.  We used "WhatsApp" which uses your regular cell phone number for doesn't use any data or cell service... only wifi.  The app costs $1 but you have unlimited texting for free, anywhere in the world.  You can also use iMessage using wifi to contact others who use iMessage. 

The other app I used frequently (and which saved my hide plenty of times!) is Pocket Earth offline maps.  Before you leave on your trip download the maps to the cities you will be visiting.  They work offline (using GPS to track your location) so you can see exactly where you are even when you don't have wifi.  It was super helpful!  Google maps is helpful when you have

I also downloaded Rick Steves' Audio Tours app.  You will want to download at home the tours you plan to use and then just listen to them for your personal guided tour, usually just hitting the highlights of major attractions.  These are really good.  And they are totally free! 

The only other app I used was British Airways, since all our flights were with that airline.  I was able to easily check in for all our flights as check in became available (when we had wifi).  I could have done it without the app, using Safari, but it's just so much easier using the app.  So, I recommend you download the app for whatever airline(s) you will be flying.  If you are flying on different airlines you can use an app like TripIt to track them all in one place (and your hotels too).... you just email your confirmations to it and it puts them all in an itinerary for you.  It's pretty slick.  I also downloaded the Marriott app since we stayed in Marriott properties (all but one) but never ended up needing to use it.  I would have come in handy though had I had to make any changes or needed info. 

There are a million other travel apps out there and I downloaded a whole bunch, but these are the only ones I really used.  Ones I downloaded but never used include Fodor's City Guides, London Tube Map (handy, but the small cardstock version I got was handier), the London Pass App (I did use it as a general reference at one point), XE Currency (exchange rates, but needed wifi so it wasn't very handy). 

I didn't plan this part of the trip... my parents planned it since this was a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, and we were the beneficiaries!  I had never considered going to Copenhagen before, but I loved it and now I want to go back!  It's a really cool city, the people are friendly, and everyone (I'm not exaggerating) speaks excellent English.... most hardly even have an accent! 

We stayed in the Copenhagen Marriott, which was beautiful, right on the canal bank, within walking distance of the Central train station and several bus stops, close to Tivoli, and had an excellent breakfast buffet. 

Get the COPENHAGEN CARD!  Not only does it include the major museums and attractions (including Tivoli!), but transportation too!  It's an excellent value.  We used the trains and bus system, both of which were excellent. 

- Frederiksborg Palace (houses original Karl Bloche paintings)
- Kronborg Castle ("Hamlet" castle)
- Vor Frue Kirke (original "Christus" and 12 apostle statues)
- Open Air Museum (like a Danish version of historic Williamsburg, VA)
- Tivoli Gardens (oldest amusement park in the world, beautiful gardens)
- Canal Boat Tour (fascinating and informative tour)
- Nyhaven (cool area with shops and boats)
- Trinitatus/Round Tower (cool church with attached tower with cool views of the city)

I loved this part of the trip, but I'm not going to really give tips here because most people wouldn't even think of traveling.  My family did just to visit where our ancestors came from.  It was fascinating, and it's beautiful.  There are lovely small towns with cools shops, beaches, forests, historic churches, etc.  It's mostly a resort island for Europeans, particularly Swedes because it's so close. 


If you can swing it, stay at the London Marriott County Hall.  Not only is the hotel gorgeous and elegant (in an historic building) with excellent service, the location can't be beat!  It sits in Westminster, right on the Thames, next to the London Eye, looking across the river at Big Ben and Parliament.  It's right next to the Westminster Bridge where you can catch the Tube to pretty much anywhere in the city, but it's also within walking distance of many sites.  Seriously, save money elsewhere and stay here!  We were lucky enough to have all 3 nights covered by our Marriott Rewards points.  If you are planning a trip to London in the future, I recommend getting the Marriott Rewards Visa and charge everything to it (just pay it off every month) to rack up the points you need (lots!).

Traditional English food is not particularly exciting, and food in London is pretty pricy (like everything else).  Indian food is extremely popular in London, and plentiful, which is a great option if you like it (I love it, but my husband... not so much).  Surprisingly, one of the best options we found is a local chain called "EAT."  They are located all over the city and it's very affordable and quick.  They have a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, tasty desserts, and other snacks, such as yogurt with granola.  You literally grab it from a shelf and pay at the counter, but they will toast your sandwich for you.  We ate there several times (at different locations) and it was always very good.... nothing fancy or extraordinary, but fresh and tasty.

It is hard to say what the "must sees" are in London because it really depends on what you like.  Several of the main museums are free, which is great, but other major attractions, such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul's Cathedral (to climb the tower) require entry fees.  If you want to see those 3 then I recommend you purchase the "London Pass" which include entry to those... plus a lot more... but it will pay for itself even if you only see those 3.  It also includes the Thames River boat tour, which is informative and fun (the guides are usually very witty), and a nice way to relax for a bit (it's not too long). Another great thing about getting the London Pass is that it means you don't have to wait in lines to buy tickets at the major attractions, and there is sometimes a "fast pass" type entrance.  Purchase your London Pass in advance online

Tower of London:  It's extremely popular so it's always crowded.  It's also huge so it takes several hours to see it.  Go first thing in the morning.... be there when it opens.  If you have the London Pass you do not have to stand in line for a ticket... just go to the main entrance. 

St. Paul's Cathedral:  It is amazingly gorgeous and huge.  The climb to the top of the tower is really hard.... lots of steep narrow steps... but it's totally worth it.  The views are amazing.  However, I don't recommend it if you are claustrophobic. 

Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours:  These are big open top double-decker tourist buses (not to be confused with the double-decker city buses) that provide transportation along with recorded information along the way.  It's a nice way to get an orientation of the city, however it's very time consuming because traffic is terrible, so don't use it as a means of transportation (too inefficient) unless you are spending more than a few days in London and don't mind spending most of a day just looking and listening rather than doing.  These tours usually include a boat tour too... the same one as the London Pass, so you don't need both.

British Museum:  This is free and focuses on ancient history and culture, not art.  So, if that's your thing, then go!  If it's art you are interested in, skip it and go to the National Gallery instead (also free). 

National Gallery:  It's free and has some wonderful art.  They also have free wifi in the lobby.  Bonus! 

Portobello Road Market:  Go early on a Saturday morning, when most vendors are out.  Go hungry and grab breakfast from one of the carts and eat while you browse the amazing market.  Super fun!

Parks:  Take time to enjoy the lovely parks.... walk leisurely, people watch, etc. 

Theatre:  Go see a show!  There are TONS of options, so everyone can find something that appeals to them.  Unless you are into going to clubs at night, the theatre is where you want to be!  Either order tickets online at home (and pick them up at will call) or risk it and go to the half-price ticket location (just like in NYC) on the day. 

Other:  Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, etc., are all cool to see, but you don't have to spend a lot of time there... just look, take photos, etc.  Be prepared to do a lot of walking so you will see more!  Explore!

The Underground ("Tube") subway system is excellent.  Either get an "Oyster Card" that you refill as needed, or just buy a Travelcard (1-day to a week, depending on how long you are there) which gives you unlimited travel on the Tube and bus system. 


Again, I recommend Marriott properties.  Location is always important, especially in Paris because there are some scarier areas.  We opted to stay in a Courtyard in Boulogne-Billancourt near the southwest edge of the city.  It is a newer property (only a couple of years old) and it got rave reviews on Trip Advisor.  It was affordable, clean, quiet, and the staff was excellent and spoke English well. The neighbor felt very safe... lots of families.  In fact, there was a cute park right in front our hotel where we enjoyed watching the locals play with their children.  There were several cute neighborhood patisseries and cafes nearby, and the Metro 10 line station was just a short walk away.... it takes you directly to the heart of the city, so even though it's out of the way it was very convenient.  I would definitely stay there again. 

We ate mostly in cafes, bakeries and bistros. They were all good and generally affordable.  Avoid places that look like they cater to tourists... they usually aren't as good.  One day we got a baguette, Nutella, and a couple of bananas from a neighborhood grocery store and enjoyed that for breakfast... it was our cheapest meal for sure, and possibly our favorite... probably partly because we ate it in the park while enjoyed views of Paris!

Get the Paris Museum Pass which covers all the major sites with the exception of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Couer.  We ended up not doing either of them, mostly because they are time consuming and expensive.  The Eiffel tower has great views, but frankly I prefer the view OF the Eiffel tower (especially from the Trocadero area across the river), which is free.  Enjoy the view of the city from the top of the Arc de Triomphe instead, which is included in the Paris Museum Pass.

The Musee du Louvre (close Tuesdays) is huge... unless you love museums and ancient art is particular, just hit the highlights, or skip it altogether (gasp!).  I know, that sounds crazy, but if you are pressed for time you might be disappointed.  Most people can hit the highlights in less than 2 hours and be satisfied.  The Mona Lisa is small and disappointing (covered in dark glass and heavily barricaded), but just beyond it is the best stuff.  Stick to the Sully and Denon wings.  If you prefer 20th century art then save your energy for the Orsay. 

The Musee d'Orsay (closed Mondays) is fantastic.... it picks up where the Louvre leaves off; impressionists, post-impressionists, etc.  You can see all of it in about 4 hours, but if you only have 2 hours you can still see a lot.  I highly recommend starting from the top (the 5th floor) and work your way down.  The best stuff is at the top and you get to see it while you are fresh in the beginning, rather than at the end when you are tired.  Then you finish on the bottom floor and are ready to exit from there.  

Don't forgot the Musee de l'Orangerie at the west end of the Jardin des Tuileries... it's small so you can see it all in about an hour.  This is where Monet's Water Lilies are.... see that first (main floor) and then go downstairs for even more lovely stuff. 

Take time to walk down the Champs-Elysees... this is perfect to do after leaving the Arc deTriomphe.... and walk through through the gardens (Tuileries). 

Notre Dame Cathedral is amazing, but Sainte-Chapelle is gorgeous for it's stained glass windows.  If you can get tickets to a concert at Sainte-Chapelle then do!  

If you have an extra day (which we didn't have) go to Versailles (or another day trip outside the city) but that takes a whole day.  I would also have loved to go to Giverny (Monet's home).... next time!  :)

The Metro is excellent, like the London Tube.  Buy a "Mobilis" pass each day (unlimited use) for the best value.  You just get them from the machine in any station.  

Don't worry if you don't speak French.  Contrary to popular belief, Parisians are nice and willing to help... they are just a bit reserved and proud.  They want you to try speaking French, but you only have to know a few basic phrases.  Always be polite and a bit formal.  Just begin with, "Bonjour madame/monsier.  Parlez vous anglais?"  They will generally reply in a very humble way indicating that they speak very little English, but it's usually more for the sake of modesty, and they are embarrassed by their accent.  But they know more than enough to communicate with you.  Just speak slowly, use short sentences, and avoid slang.  Don't be too overly friendly or smiley.  The only other phrases you need to know.....
- merci (thank you)
- sil vous plait (please)
- pardonnez moi (excuse me)
- au revoir (good bye)

So, those are my travel tips, in a nut shell.  I'm sure there is lots I'm forgetting, so if there is something specific you want to ask about then feel free.

Bon voyage!

May 14, 2013

Paris Day 2

This morning we stopped at a market and bought a crusty baguette and a jar of Nutella for breakfast.  We hopped on the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe where we sat on a bench and ate our breakfast with an amazing view of that magnificent structure.

Then we took the tour of the arc, climbing all the way to the top with amazing views of the Champs-Elysees and the whole city.  Personally I think it's a better view than the Eiffel Tower, not nearly as crowded, and it's WAY cheaper (included in the Paris Museum Pass).

Next we strolled down the Champs-Elysees to the Jardin des Tuileries and then crossed the bridge to the Musee d'Orsay.  We spent about 4 hours there and saw everything.... amazing!  We love all the impressionist art.  (We actually prefer it over the Louvre.)

Then we headed to the Rue Cler market street where we had an early dinner and did a little browsing.  We walked along the Seine looking at the artists selling canvases and bought a lovely painting of Paris featuring the Eiffel Tower which we are excited to frame and put in our home.

Then we headed to the Trocadero area to view the Eiffel Tower from the other side of the river.  We bought crepes with Nutella and sat on a bench in the park to watch the sun go down and the tower lights come on.  It was lovely and relaxing, and a wonderful way to spend our last day in Paris.

It's been a wonderful trip but we are glad to be going home tomorrow.  These 2 weeks have absolutely flown by, but we miss our children.

Goodbye Paris!  Until next time!

May 13, 2013

Paris Day 1

Today was BUSY!  We did a lot and it was fun, but slightly exhausting.  That's OK though.  It was all good.  We had a quick continental breakfast in the hotel so we could get a jump on our day.  We took the Metro to Notre Dame (even though our hotel is a little outside of the center of Paris it's very convenient to the heart of Paris via the Metro; we don't even have to change lines) and walked around it for a bit.  It's an amazing structure and a remarkable monument to the faithful dedication of those who built it.  

After that we walked just up the street to Sainte-Chapelle. The stained glass is stunning!  We are also excited to learn that there would be a concert in the chapel that night.... Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" which is one of our favorites.  So, of course we bought tickets.  

We walked along the Seine down to the Louvre where we spent a couple of hours, mostly spending time looking at the paintings. Then we had a traditional French lunch at Cafe le Nemours.  I ordered a Croque Monsier and Jay got the Croque Madame.  

We kept walking north up toward the L'Opera, then down through the Place Vendome, then through the beautiful Jardins des Tuileries.  We sat next to the fountain to rest for a while and relax before going in to the Musee de L'Orangerie to view Monet's "Waterlilies" and many other Impressionist works.  

Then we headed west toward the Eiffel Tower, enjoying the scenes along the way.  We also stopped at the Musee L'Armee and Napoleon's Tomb.  It's pretty impressive..... a massive shrine to a little man. The guy was pretty full of himself.  

The weather was lovely so we enjoyed lying on the grass in the park next to the Eiffel Tower.  And yes, we did a little smooching.  It's Paris!  

We took the Metro back to where we started so we could catch the concert at Sainte-Chapelle.  It was excellent!  They chamber orchestra was excellent, and the setting was so unique and interesting. Very memorable!

After the concert we walked though the Latin quarter, picked a bistro at random (there is one on every corner) and had a late dinner.  Then we took the Metro back to our hotel.  Whew!  What a day!    

May 12, 2013

Paris via the Chunnell

This morning we said goodbye to London and travelled by train to Paris via the "Chunnell" under the English Channel.  It was not quite like the scene from "Mission Impossible".... our ears were popping and we had no WiFi.... but it was pretty cool.  And it's a great way to travel rather than flying.... you don't have to go all the way out to the airport (leave from the center of the city instead), you can carry aboard all the liquids you want, you don't have to wear a seatbelt, and you can walk around anytime and leave your tray table down the whole time if you want.

We checked in to our hotel which is outside the center of Paris in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, but very accessible by Metro.  It's a quiet neighborhood with a lovely park right across the street.  We enjoyed walking up and down the main boulevard looking in shops and sat in the park for a while people watching.  There were lots of families with children out enjoying the lovely spring day.  It was delightful, and we could almost pretend we were French, though I only know a few phrases, and Jay knows even less.  We stopped at a patisserie for paninis and pastries.  Oh my.
People watching in the park. 

Our cute and quiet hotel. 
I think Jay is tired of having his photo taken.

It's been a nice relaxing day... very welcome after the whirl-wind days spent in London.  Though we are looking forward to more of that as we explore Paris tomorrow.

May 11, 2013

Last day in London

This morning we joined the Saturday crowds at Portobello Road Market. We had fun looking around and found some great treasures. And the song was stuck in my head for hours.

Then we were off to the Tower of London. We didn't stay very long because it was packed, which was a bit disappointing. Oh well. 

Next we visited St. Paul's Cathedral which is even more spectacular than you can imagine. (Rick Steve's audio tour was great.). We walked the hundreds of steps all the way to the top.  I'm gonna be sore tomorrow!  But it was amazing!

Then we headed to Westminster Abbey but we missed that last entry by 2 minutes. Why they won't let anyone in after 3:30 is beyond me!  Bummer. I was almost in tears. I lied. I WAS in tears.

Instead we took a lovely walk through St James Park to Buckingham Palace, which was really fun. And I already starting planning our next trip to London. Now I just have to convince Jay....

Then we headed to the theatre district and randomly picked an Indian restaurant for dinner. It was not fabulous but it was pretty good. Then we went to the Palace Theatre to see "Singing in the Rain!"  So amazing!  It rains on stage!  Twice!  What a fun show!  I highly recommend it. 

It was another long and busy day, but super fun!  We are off to Paris tomorrow!

May 10, 2013


Our first full day in London started out kind of chilly and drizzly but it cleared up and was quite nice later on.  We started the day by taking the Hop-on/Hop-off bus your around the city to get our bearings. We also took the Thames river boat cruise which was fun. The guide was very funny.

We visited the National Gallery which has many lovely paintings. The building itself is gorgeous as well. We did a lot of walking, just exploring. We had lunch at the Sherlock Holmes pub. 

This afternoon we went out to the suburbs to the Dr. Who Shop and museum. It has a lot of props sand costumes from the show, including a Tardis. We took lots of photos for our kids since they are such huge Dr. Who fans!

Then we grabbed a quick dinner on our way to the theatre. We saw "As You Like It" at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.  The production was excellent and we really enjoyed it. 

We are beat but it was a fun day!

May 09, 2013

A Travel Day

Today was mostly spent traveling. We left beautiful Bornholm this morning, taking the ferry back to Ystad, Sweden and then the train to the airport in Copenhagen. We had a couple hours just hanging out in the airport before we flew to London. We arrived in the evening and took the Tube to our hotel, which is amazing!  It's the Marriott County Hall, a gorgeous historic building right on the Thames river next to the London Eye, looking out at parliament and Big Ben!  It got suddenly chilly and was drizzling but we went out anyway, walking along the river. We stopped in to a little restaurant and had a delicious late dinner. We are excited to get going tomorrow morning and start seeing the sites!

May 08, 2013

Last day together

Today we spent our last together as a family on this trip. Jay and I will be traveling alone for the next week.  Some of the others are traveling on their own too before going home.

This morning we visited one of the famous round churches (Ostlars, the largest). Then we drove to the cute seaside town of Guhdjem where we walked around and looked in shops. We got a couple of small souvenirs. Then it was on to Hammershus, ancient ruins which were fascinating and more extensive than I expected. The views we amazing too. 

Then we split up for a while.  We were in a car with my brother Peter and his wife and we drove around to find the other 3 round churches, to a hardware store to find a Danish flag, and found a wonderful "Antik & Retro" shop in Nylars where we bought a few wonderful treasures. 

When we got back to the hotel we had some time before dinner so we rented bicycles and rode through the nearby forested areas and a local neighborhood. It's so beautiful!  It was a lot of fun. Something I've always wanted to do. 

We all had dinner together at Poul P, a small restaurant in Ronne owned by a local artist who has a gallery next door. The food was excellent and we had a private room upstairs so we were able to talk and laugh freely. 

Back at the hotel we all sat in the common room and Stephen, my brother (and the best photographer among us!) plugged in his laptop to the TV and we watched a slide show of our trip. Then since we all head our separate ways in the morning, and some are leaving very early, we said our goodbyes. For now. I am SO grateful to my parents for providing us with this wonderful opportunity!  It's been a fantastic trip and we have had the royal treatment!  

We could have easily spent a week in Copenhagen and another on Bornholm!  We saw just enough if Denmark to make us want to come back!  I hope we can someday. 

May 07, 2013

Family Heritage

The view of the Baltic Sea from our hotel room
A fantastic day on the island of Bornholm. We are staying in Ronne, the main city. The island is small with lots of quaint little towns and many farms. The view from our hotel room overlooking the Baltic Sea is stunning!

This morning we drove from our hotel on Ronne to Bodilsker (a small village) and visited the church (Bodils Kirke) where my 3rd great grandfather, Peter Nielson (1824-1894), was christened. It's a medieval church built in the 1100's and is still in use today. The bell tower was constructed later in 1610 and we got to go up in it. The caretaker gave us a little tour and explained how he rings the bell manually (so it won't crack) twice a day. There was a second bell installed in 1841 but it is only rung on special occasions, when 2 bells are needed.

The church is small but lovely. We all sat in the pews and read aloud excerpts from Peter's diary. He immigrated to the US in 1861 with his wife and son, but up until then he had lived in Denmark (Bornholm and Copenhagen). It was fun to be where he lived.

Then we split up into small groups in cars and drove around the island exploring for a while. It's truly lovely! I can certainly see why it's a popular vacation spot. We found a little town called Svanete (a cute fishing town) where we walked around and checked out the shops. We found a glass shop where they were demonstrating their handblown and fired glass techniques. It was so cool! We watched for a while and bought of a couple of small glass bowls as souvenirs. There were lots of other cool shops too but the glass shop as by far the most fascinating.

Then we headed down south to the beach. The sand is very white and extremely fine and soft. We walked along the beach and even got our feet wet. The Baltic Sea is VERY cold, but it was fun.

Then we drove back to our hotel and took a short rest before heading to Hasle and Vang Havn for dinner at Le Port, an amazing restaurant looking over the water.

The food was exceptional! There were two kinds of dense bread (one flavored with anise which was different but very good) along with 2 like a mayo flavored with white garlic that is sweet and incredibly delicious, and the other was like a whipped butter with herbs and musli in it. Very good! Then we had smoked salmon, which I liked more than I expected I would. Then an absolutely divine soup with a lobster cake in it. I don't know what all was in it but it was unbelievably delicious!

 Then we had veal with mushrooms, potatoes, parsnips, and whipped parsley root (?) which was also excellent, and then finished with a dessert of a white chocolate dessert with a rhubarb sherbet that was unexpectedly delicious. The service was fantastic and the owner, Gabriela, was so sweet and friendly and gracious. We watched the sunset during our dinner (which is very long and slow this time of year.... it stays light very late!), which was beautiful. We spent a perfect evening enjoying fabulous food and excellent company in a fantastic setting.