WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL COPENHAGEN; CROWDED GDANSK
The Little Mermaid
While most of the Baltic seaports visited by cruise ships are easy to negotiate for independent types, Copenhagen is probably the most cruiser-friendly. The cruise ship dock, Langelinie Pier, is located within walking distance of almost all the tourist attractions - the Little Mermaid, Nyhavn, Tivoli Gardens, and Stroget, the long, narrow, pedestrian shopping street that winds through the city. If you don't feel like walking, for very, very little money (USD $10 to $12) you can get a hop-on, hop-off bus pass -and catch the bus right at Langelinie-- that will allow you to make the circuit of touristy sights. You have to change routes, though, if you want to go to the Carlsberg Brewery, Christiana or the Ice Bar, and pay again for a different route. Or, you can pay approximately USD $40 and get an all-lines pass (the only way you can get to Christiana, named for Hans Christian Anderson and set up as a kind of hippie enclave) but that also includes the two hour canal boat tour.
I grew up in southern California and spent most birthdays in my formative years with my family at Disneyland. Going to an amusement park, even one in Denmark, isn't on the top of my “must-do” list but I did learn two things about Tivoli Gardens. Our cruise stop was the usual 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., but people who had been to Copenhagen before said that Tivoli was really not terribly enjoyable unless you were there in the evening, when they had light shows and fireworks. The second thing I discovered was that Tivoli Gardens originally opened in 1843 and in 1949 was Walt Disney's inspiration for Disneyland.
Spire in Copenhagen
If it weren't for the fact that the weather had turned again, that it was pouring and windy and really cold, I think Copenhagen might have been my favorite one-day stop on this cruise. While many of us were shivering, cheerful Danes seemed perfectly happy in their shorts and T-shirts; it was summer and nothing, certainly not a little rain or wind, would ruin that for them. I stopped at a colorful pub in Nyhavn, an ancient little harbor with colorful historic houses and shops, where you can usually sit outside and commune with vendors, other tourists and street performers, but it was pretty dead because of the rain. I had a beer (every glass of Carlsberg beer that is purchased, world-wide, creates a donation to several Danish and international charities) and then went off in search of a “polser” cart before heading back to the ship. Polser carts are hot-dog carts and while the dogs are different, the cost-benefit and sentiment about them are the same for Danes as they are for New Yorkers with their kraut dogs or Chicagoans with their “all-dressed” dogs. The most popular in Denmark is a bunless sausage dipped in ketchup on a piece of wax paper on the cart shelf, and indeed, you can stand and watch businessmen elbow-to-elbow with tourists dipping and munching.
One of the difficulties of a Baltic cruise is sorting out money. Our cruise started in the UK so it meant British pounds. Then we went to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany… all use euros. In Denmark we had to use Danish kroner, in Poland it's zlotys, in Russia it's rubles, in Estonia it's kroon and in Stockholm it's Swedish kroner. Only in Finland were we able to go back to the euro. We were lucky; Regatta's purser's desk will sell and buy back local currency (for a price… we paid 5% to buy the currency but nothing to change it back to USD). That was certainly a convenience for most of us since even bank ATM fees would have been similar and the ATMs don't buy the money back. The last thing I wanted to do was arrive back in San Diego with a pile of unused kroon, kroner and zlotys.
Tourist Galleon in Gdansk
I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Gdansk but I had pictured a smaller and more compact center than I found once there. Another Hanseatic city, the waterways are graced with the typical burgher-style houses in cheerful colors. It's a beautiful little city, filled with old cathedrals, winding streets, charming and smiling residents, great coffee and lots of little places to stop for pierogi or sausage or borscht, and plenty of ice-cream stands in the summer. The riverfront area is particularly charming and a lovely place to stroll.
Most cruise ships have to dock in Gdynia about 17 miles away, but because of traffic between the two cities, the distance is best measured in time. It can take more than an hour, I've been told, to get to the historic center of Gdansk from the port city of Gdynia, and by bus or car, it can take over half an hour to get from the port of Gdansk into the center of town as well. Road construction is expected to continue into 2010; maybe then it will be a more comfortable commute. Those of us on Regatta considered ourselves very lucky indeed; we were able to dock right at the port in Gdansk.
I knew two things about Gdansk before I arrived: it is the purported center of Baltic amber bargains, and it had been the site of the Polish Solidarity movement and the home of Lech Walesa, the hero of the movement who later became the President of Poland. Those two things I knew for sure.
One of the onboard enrichment lecturers during my cruise is an expert on Faberge eggs and Baltic amber. He told us that amber is the easiest of all stones to replicate in plastic; because it's made of prehistoric tree sap, it's pretty lightweight. He gave us three methods to spot fake amber: 1. Hold it. Real amber gets warm. 2. Lick it. Real amber has no taste, plastic does. 3. If there's a whole bug in the amber, it's fake. As I wandered through the streets of old Gdansk, with their stands and kiosks filled with amber jewelry, I didn't find a single piece that looked like it was real stone. Not one! Some even had very obvious mold-marks on them as well, and most just looked like plastic; I certainly didn't test them by licking them though.
At the end of the free time in the city center our guide took us to the Gdansk shipyards to see where Solidarity started, where the riots were, those riots that helped with the dismantling of the old Soviet Union and its hold over the Polish people. And then, as we made our way back to Regatta, she told us that Lech Walesa, the head of the movement who was later elected president of a free Poland, was perceived as a terrible president. She told us that only 1% of the population voted for him for a second term and that the rest of the world had a much higher opinion of him than did the Polish people, for whom he was mostly forgotten.
Page One | Page Two | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six | Page Seven | Page Eight