Siena – Day 4

We left Roma and headed north towards Firenze through the heart of Tuscany. We stopped along the way to visit Siena – one of my favorite cities in the area.

The Palazzo Publico tower can be seen from the outskirts of the city and is even more impressive up close.

Last time we were here (~9 years ago) the Duomo was being restored. It is now almost complete and we were able to really appreciate it.

As always the side streets hold lots of interest.

Roma – Day 3

Today we ventured to some of the piazzas of Roma: Piazza Navona with the Bernini Four Rivers fountain (and the artists trying to sell their wares), the Della Rotunda and the Pantheon, and Piazza Colonna with the carved column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius.

 

 

Of course we also had to visit the normal touristy stops; the Trevi Fountain (which had just finished being repaired and was dry), the Spanish Steps, and the wonderful side streets we discovered on the walk back to our hotel.

 

 

Lots of walking but with all of the good food we are eating it was wonderful.

Speaking of food, we capped it all off with a dinner at the home of Federica and Barbara in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. Just a small intimate dinner party for 20.

A really short video from the dinner party

Roma – Days 1 & 2

We set out for the third installment of European Vacation, Feikema family style. This involved the six of us descending on JFK from SFO, MSP and BNA. After the normal JFK high jinks, we all boarded a flight to Roma. We arrived in time to grab a quick pizza, a beer and/or glass of Prosecco, clean up and get ready for our welcome dinner. We joined twelve other intrepid travelers from across the US for ten days of exploration in the heart of Italy. Our journey was to take us from Rome through Tuscany to Liguria ending in Venice. We were pumped.

The next morning we visited the Forum and the Coliseum. Our guide was great and gave us a good sense of the expanse of the history that we were walking through. I had visited these sites before but the guide made a real difference.

 

 

After lunch (which was an amazing plate of Pasta Carbonara – because bacon!) we visited the Vatican Museum and St. Peter. The art and architecture were amazing but difficult to appreciate due to the crowds. In the Sistine Chapel everyone was warned many times, no talking and no pictures. Good luck. It was sad how disrespectful the crowds of seemingly every country were. Selfie sticks, blatant picture taking and noise. Oy.

Ghent and Bruges  – Day 12

Our final tour day, we visited the cities of Gent and Brugge (their spellings). We were not very familiar with either prior to the trip and had low expectations.
We fell in love with Gent. What a charming place. Of all of the cities we visited, this would be the first that we’d return to and spend time relaxing, exploring and getting to know it and the people better. There was eye candy everywhere.
This is the fourth place where the local guide claimed that their city was known as “the Venice of the North.” Gent wore that claim well.

 

We rode about 45 minutes to Brugge for lunch and a walk around the town. It was also very quaint and we might have enjoyed it as much as Gent if it didn’t rain about half of the time.
Both were beautiful and I know Belgium is a place we need to visit again.

Amsterdam – Day 11

After a day at sea having traveled 643 Nautical miles from Copenhagen to Amsterdam I woke up at about 5AM thinking we had arrived a couple of hours early. In fact, we just hit the locks on the edge of the Amsterdam harbor.

All of the canals and waterways in Amsterdam are below sea level. Amazing the way they manage the movement of water in this city.
They have been doing this for centuries. This windmill isn’t for power or for milling it was a pump that managed the flow of water for an ancient lock on the edge of town.=

Amsterdam is spread out enough that when you visit from a cruise ship you basically have two choices, take the day and walk the city, or visit a museum. Having toured 8 old cities in the last 10 days, we opted to visit the Van Gogh Museum. We loved it!

We did see many examples of their dense building styles as we came back from the museum.

Copenhagen – Day 9

Our weather luck finally ran out in Copenhagen and it drizzled off and on most of the day. It made the day a little dreary buy it also brought out great colors.
The bus made the obligatory stop at the site of the Little Mermaid and I took the required photos. 

We spend most of our time walking through the Tivoli amusement park and gardens. I visited there in 1976 and it brought back many memories. 

We also stopped at Amalienborg Palace and witnessed the changing of the guard. The Danish Royal family still resides here.

Visby – Day 8

Visby surprised us. It is the capital of Gotland Island, a popular vacation destination for residents of Stockholm.

This is a park near the university of Gotland with a view of the Visby Cathedral which opened in 1225.

The cathedral is certainly the most significant monument in Visby and is breathtaking in size and scope, especially given the year it was built.

You can also see the preserved walls of the old city dating from 1300. It is a UNESCO site (as was the old town center in Tallinn) and even the small houses inside the walls are protected. 

Riga – Day 7

Riga is about double the size of Tallinn and it feels even larger, likely because we never left the old city of Tallinn. Riga has done a pretty good job of mixing old and new. We started our walking tour near the main terminal on the Gulf of Riga and the mouth of the Daugava River. This is a statue that harkens back to Soviet days recognizing the Latvian Red Riflemen.

Fortunately most of the central part of town was already quite developed when the Soviets took it over and there aren’t many examples of the gray drab Stalinesque style. This is a beautiful part of the old central city called Livu Square.

I was entranced by fantastic architecture everywhere.

Tallinn – Day 6

Our time in Tallinn focused on the old city center (late thirteenth century). We entered through the Long Leg Gate Tower and wandered the narrow streets. There was no tourist traffic, only local residents and merchants.

 

Many of the main buildings were taken over by the USSR during the occupation. This is a building you didn’t want to visit before 1991.

Much of their architecture is stunning.

We also attended a short Medieval concert in what is left of an old Monastery.

St. Petersburg – Faberge and Canal Tour – Day 5

The interior of the Faberge Museum is stunning.

It is a building owned by a “Russian Businessman” aka oligarch who purchased the collection of the Forbes family so that he could bring them home to St. Petersburg. It was noble but not altruistic. They charge plenty for admission. Here is an example of a royal Faberge Egg.

In the afternoon we took a canal tour through part of St. Petersburg. The Peter and Paul Fortress was constructed to guard against a Swedish counterattack. After that it became a prison and housed Fyodor Dostoyevsky (among other high profile prisoners) for a time.

Next we came to the entrance to the Summer Garden on the Neva river. The architecture along the canals was beautiful. We saw the church of the Spilled Blood but unfortunately they were renovating much of it and we didn’t get much of a look.