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Venice and Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik“. The name conjures up images of a city so beautiful, many respect it as paradise. The town, as you enter it, sets a sight that you’ll never forget. The entrance to the old town from the north is very quaint indeed.

You walk slowly down a windy, s-shaped street that descends gradually towards the water until you reach the shaded area that has a waterfront overlooking the harbour from the south.

The 'old town' of Dubrovnik From the photograp...

The ‘old town’ of Dubrovnik From the photographer: Canon 5d + 24-70mm @ 45mm Slik Sprint Pro 2 tripod Redsnapper RSH-61 ballhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many cafes stretch across fortified medieval city walls next to the water’s edge. It’s a lovely cool walk along the pavement down here and you may also find harbour tours. The sea was as turquoise as the word itself. The waters as calm as silk.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there.

There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot. It was here that we spent the day, drinking cold drinks, repeatedly saying how gorgeous it was and basking in the sun.

The drive home was uneventful. We dined eagerly by Split‘s Old Town harbour area and boarded the ferry for Ancona. The boarding process was long and laborious and the passage equally so.

 

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore ...

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore en route from Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia. June 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The unloading process was dreadful. The cars were being brought off the ship at the same time the walk-off passengers! Ancona.

The town of seagulls! Not much to see here…just a dreary port and its docks. Full speed ahead to Venice!

There is one thing that I will never forget about the day we arrived. The rain. Boy it poured! It I stared deep into the blue. I was thoughtful.

Happy. Contented. Many good things. After all, maybe life had a calling for me after all. I was, of course, in Croatia.

A country that must have some of the most desirable coast in Europe. Our location, at that point, was a hotel just south of Split. We were situated by the sea as well.

Always a plus. We sat out on the terrace and had a scrumptious breakfast. We set out around eight-thirty.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there. There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot.

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As for the hotel, very posh. It was quite a walk from here to the train station. And the trains were crowded too, cattle class. In fact, I recall my mother saying that she was quite claustrophobic.

The train stopped at a lot of stations before reaching Venice and we passed Marco Polo Intl. Venezia Santa Lucia is the main station and you’ll have, at some point, to pass through Venezia Mestre station on solid land if you wish to see the island city.

 

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station (Photo credit: hartingale)

 

Once you’re there, then the fun begins. You’ll be able to enjoy the famous “Vaporetto’s”. These famous little boats are the buses and life-blood of Venice.

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The Rialto bridge . My mother spent some time photographing this as I eagerly looked on. The rain had abated and I had removed my raincoat.

It was really magical, despite the smell of the brown stuff. The sun began to shine from behind those dark and brooding clouds above.

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How about seeing the Piazza San Marco. Thats a wonderful place. You pay a small fee to go up the tower and have the most wonderful view. The centre of the tower stretches high above the square and you can see the whole city from here!

I took the sight in really well, feeling slightly giddy because of the height, and returned to terra firma.

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After this, we felt like having a drink. Why not stop off in a Cafe? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because two regular-sized glasses of lemonade will set you back six Euros! Yeah, its expensive here. Next, the shopping district. After a happy hour here, we headed again for our water-bus Vaporettos and casually made our way back to Central Station.

During our stay, a cruise ship came into harbour. Sacrilege if you ask me. Why couldn’t that hundred-thousand-plus-tonne monstrosity stay outside the city and boat its passengers into the city. The passengers were quite irritating too. Loud. Smelly. Overweight.

 

At least we left the next day. I never thought I’d say that about Venice, but I’d had just the right dose of holiday…

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The Adriatic (Credit to Rebecca Cox for photography)

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It was a late August day. We set out under bright blue summer skies in what is generally acknowledged as warm weather in England. It was an eventful journey. After having stopped in a lay-by and bought the usual assortment of refreshments for a journey from Gloucestershire to Luton Airport.

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport (Photo credit: bigpresh)

After a while, though, around Milton Keynes, my mother began to get agitated with “my navigation”. I was responsible for failing to identify three roundabouts that didn’t appear on the map. As it turns out, they weren’t on the map. Anyway, after a heated argument, we realised this and continued normally.

Upon arrival at Luton around six in the evening, we began the check-in procedure. No biggie. Neither was the flight.

We took off around eight and landed at ten. What WAS worrying, however, was that my father, who had set off across Europe some time previously to meet us at Venice’s Treviso Airport, was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. We tried calling his mobile.

No luck. While, initially, I thought this was probably a mobile phone reception problem, my mother began to worry. She began to fear he had had an accident and went frantic.

This lasted for a couple of hours, during which time I had to ask a cop, or carabinieri, for some money to use for a payphone. For the next hour or so, my mother seriously fretted due to the fact that we could not get in touch with him.

To clear my head, I stepped outside. It was then that my father, quite by chance, drove by. This was a great relief to my mother and I. It transpired that he had no signal and was lost. Right now. Time to hit the road.

Its after one o’clock in the morning and we need to rest so the first night will be a “pit stop” in an autostrada, their motorway, service station. The car we were using was a Volkswagen Polo and it was CRAMPED.

I had to stuff my foot through, then wedge my shoulder in and, finally, use levering force to get into the car. Good times! So we arrived at a spot just outside Trieste where the next four or five hours was a combination of restlessness and hovering a round in the shop with some hanging out under the stars.

That was cool! On the road again…We went to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Lipica 1580 Stud Farm. Lipica’s history is heavily influenced by the Habsburgs who ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for circa 650 years.

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan...

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan stallion, Australia Deutsch: Favory Pallavicina, gekörter Lipizzanerhengst, Australien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses, especially the Spanish Horse, were valued for both military and commercial reasons. Archduke Charles chose to build the Royal Stud Farm in 1578.

We hung around the stables while being given a guided tour and took photographs. The farm was a lovely place, greenery abound!

The port of Trieste was highlighted by bright Italian sunshine that laid the container ships bare in the light of day. We crossed the border shortly thereafter and promptly found a market on the Croatian side and bought the best grapes I have ever tasted from the lady depicted below.croatia 3 116

It was a hot day and I had my T-shirt off, (wolf whistles) after having stepped out of the car, and strode over to the barrier, from where we could see the brilliant Azure of the water in the bay. I can still remember the radiance of the sun against the tarmac. It was tremendous that day.

The first night at a campsite was spent at a reasonably cheap place on the coast that had a traditional style Slovenian seafood restaurant. Every meal I ate at a restaurant on this trip was dead seafood still looking at me.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner (Photo credit: The Hungarian Girl)

It was a lovely restaurant, surrounded by terracotta houses that, in turn, surrounded the bay. However, I didn’t finish my meal and never got to grips with the cuisine in the region.

The sea by the campsite was crystal clear. As dusk set, we decided to have a dip. It was a good choice. Water that seemed to come out of a hot spring greeted our feet and we were “bitten by the bug”. Pitching the tent was fun and games. It was a two-man tent, which meant my dad had to sleep in the car.

That was interesting. It was a noisy night. We had a group of teenagers for neighbours and they were four or five in number, shreiking till all hours. More than that, there was an equal number of guys to girls. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

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A little while later, we made a stop in a small Croatian town that struck me for two reasons. Firstly, because of the Croatian architecture. The buildings were made of granite and were quite different to those on the Slovenian side. At least in appearance anyway. This could have been Rovinj.

The second reason was that a woman behind the till in a shop was the only person we encountered who recognized my father’s North American accent. We stopped by the waterfront for a while and had a drink there, the cool stone pavement was a relief.

Street Walking

Street Walking (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

We were sat by the harbour. I don’t recall if it was the one featured at the beginning, but it was lovely.

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Later on, in the city of Pula, we saw the roman amphitheatre shown above. The amphitheatre is amongst six of the largest surviving, out of 200, amphitheatres from the great empire and was constructed between 27-68 A.D.

It is also unique because no other survivor has four side towers and all three architectural orders, or styles, intact. Please don’t mistake me for an expert. In fact, that is information off the net and we never went inside. But we got a few good shots of it, laugh.

Split was the best! It wasn’t much to look at from afar. Lots of old soviet-style apartment blocks straddle it to the North and South. However, the harbour and old city were gorgeous. This is a typical scene.

We rested here for a night and spent some time around the harbour. It was paradise.There were tenors singing in the Mediterranean warmth. Heaven.

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Dubrovnik, nestled in the hills, afforded us great views…but it was the residents that were fascinating. The parking arrangement was crazy.

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And so, I’ll leave you there. Bye!

(Credit to Rebecca Cox for the photography)

Oslo, the harbour city & London

Royal Palace 2

Oslo. Oslo the harbour city, travel far outside it’s sheltered harbour and you will very soon be in fjord country, able to take a trunk steamer on a guided tour to see how the last ice age that left Norway with this iconic landscape.

Oslo

Oslo (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

In the city itself, you’ll find chic shopping centres, the Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace, situated on the far side of a park, but well within walking distance.

My experience began when I relied on some rather ill advice from my father that I would see the Northern Lights from here.

Nobel Museum (HDR)

Nobel Museum (HDR) (Photo credit: balachandar)

Too far south, a shame given that this three-day stretch had a high-pressure system of bright sunshine coming through. 

I had a bog standard way to get there. Ryanair cattle-class. Oh Yes.

You get to land about fifty miles from your destination after having spent an hour and a half in squashed seats that stink with cranky cabin staff.

You know the feeling of being a valued customer, but its cheap. Once I had passed through customs at Oslo’s Torp airport, I proceeded to the arrivals lounge, where I was greeted by the heady smell of some sort of air freshener.

Taxi? Not a problem. Cheap? A problem. Don’t expect this to be cheap. Its Scandinavia, folks. Finding the hostel was interesting. The driver had no idea where the street was, but eventually we found it.

So there I am…I try to enter my dorm, with three other sleeping guests, as quietly as possible. By the way, the guests were male. Too bad.

And so it was that I dozed contentedly after having had my flight arrive late in the evening and before, inevitably, one of us had to use the bathroom and switch the light on.

This is where the fun starts. I consider this to be what travelling is all about. In the early morning before everyone has risen, you see their own city probably as they’ve never seen it before: in the early morning light.

Oslo Opera at dawn

Oslo Opera at dawn (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Actually it could be any unsociable time of day and solitary place.

But this is what pays off from sleeping in airports and cramped seating arrangements.

A chance to see something different.

A walk. Where to? Oh, any old place if you’re an avid photographer like me. Tollbugata, a joyous suburb where my hostel was, right at the southern end of the city by the waterfront.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so it was that I began to wander aimlessly through the area, snapping random shots, staring at a small ship in drydock and, not wanting to disturb my roommates, walking to the central station. This was about 3:00 a.m.

It was cosy inside the station when people decided they would be more considerate than stand by the automatic doors.

I do remember one thing, a homeless man, too weak to help himself, was helped inside by good samaritans. A nice city. After about four ice age…I mean..ehm hours, the place began to open up.

If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia and walked by a cafe, you’ll never forget one thing. The smell of pastries. I could’ve been lured from half way across the city by these.

Gorgeous soft, chewy outsides with fruity jam or marmalade in the middle…yum, I’d better not get too excited! I eventually worked out the payment system. It was cash-deposit-box-style arrangement. No till.

So, anyway, I casually drifted towards the harbour through a birch-treed park. I knew Oslo had lots of parks in it. I was told this by a young lady who I had started talking to (not to talk about parks :P) on the flight there.

And so the harbour appeared and I began to look for a harbour tour. I found a lovely old trunk steamer that offered tours plus a bar area on deck.

Given that the weather was glorious bright sunshine, I chose this option and boarded the ship.

The cruise lasted about two-hours and cost forty-six pounds. It was well worth every penny. As we came out of the harbour, having set out at 10:30 a.m., we began to see Norway’s fjords in all their glory.

These were formed, we were told, by the last ice age and they were magnificent to behold! So I drunk in the view quite happily over a pop drink and observed the ship skim over the glassy, azure water in a relaxing, almost ghostly manner.

If someone had told me to go back to the U.K. at that point…no way! There were other sights to see, such as the old naval officer’s academy on an offshore Island.

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour (Photo credit: BBM Explorer)

This building has everything to offer, it is now a maritime museum, from Norway’s oldest known boat (2,2oo years old) to a mock-up deck of an old sailing ship and information abound. Therefore the harbour cruise is suitable for anyone wishing to travel here.

Next was the Nobel museum with an exhibition on famous Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, a man of many talents and who also won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was a champion ice skater in his youth and he led the team that crossed Greenland’s interior in 1888, also coming to fame by way of a record-breaking North Pole expedition to 86°14′ north latitude.

The expedition lasted three years. The museum has, as you come out the other end, a row of all the people who have won the Nobel prize. Now for the business district of town.

Oslo is quite a high-brow place, with high-value clothing being the norm. Scandinavians have a reputation for dressing well.

The names of these shops are entertaining as well. Fancy shopping at “Bik-Bok”? The city has bicycles for hire and at reasonable rates too, maybe two pounds per bike.

It should be mentioned however that you may have to do a lot of uphill pedalling here.

Bycycles in Oslo.

Bycycles in Oslo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Need I say why? Its not really viable to shop here or use bikes if you’re on a cheap budget like me. Better just to walk and, of course, try and book for a period of clear weather.

This doesn’t have to be in the summer, although you should go at that time for the long evenings.

 

 

So as we reach the high ground above the commercial area of town, we reach a city park that has a footpath running through it with plenty of green grass and birch trees lining it.

Naturally for a traveler, this is too good to miss. Often a city’s little nooks and crannies are part of the adventure.

Suddenly a building begins to appear through the trees. Let’s see, baroque in architecture. A large expensive building. Certainly no nook or cranny here.

A large sand visitor’s area in front of it. Two men dressed in traditional uniform clutching high-power rifles.

It must be the Royal Palace! Seen above, it is a very special building indeed…the sands glow orange in the evening light. It’s stone sides as well. How could a squarish building be so beautiful?

The colours that reflect off the pillars of the main entrance, with their long shadow cast on the building are truly breathtaking.

The next morning, I decided to see Oslo’s famous Opera House, as seen below. DSC_0678

This is where Oslo’s richest make their mark; in this building that stylishly reflects the colour of the water next to it. As you can tell, the building is modern, the ground first being broken on 17th of February 2003.

Norwegian firm Snohetta is responsible for the design and tickets for guided English tours cost around £12.

Information about performances, dates, shopping, educational aspects and contact info may be found at www.operaen.no. This was a picturesque moment for me.

The Opera House adjacent to me, the setting sun…just fine. By the harbour, there was a girl with a stall selling crepes and they were great. Thinly-spread, crispy and with lingonberry jam…yummy! 

As I stand in the queue to the check-in for my flight home, I find myself grateful for the experiences I have had and will continue to have through the coming years of my life.

Danish with icing.

Danish with icing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on, as we approached Stansted, I was reminded of the gunpowder plot, seeing fireworks pop-up all over the place as we fly over southern England. That night, I met up with my sister, who was living and still lives, in London where I spent the night in her flat.

Our mother joined us the following morning. We spent the day in Hyde Park viewing a group of temporary sculptures by Anish Kapoor and separated.

After this, I had a little jaunt down to Marble Arch and photographed the Animal War Memorial, basking in sunlight, before meeting up with them again and visiting an Elizabethan-style building.

However, it wasn’t built then. I spent some time in Hyde Park photographing the geese, the park itself and other surroundings. The day also included the usual doses of Cafe Nero, always good in London.

That concluded my weekend…a thoroughly enjoyable one!

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I scanned the sky but never saw them. I kept training my eyes through the planes window…did I just see green? I don’t know. I was tired.

But keep looking…no. No sign of them. The Aurora Borealis were elusive this year. Welcome to Tromso!

Tromso

Tromso (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

What was stunning and worth the trip, though, was the sight of the fjord in the grey dusk light that evening, capped with snow on the peaks surrounding and on the Island of Tromsoya, home to Tromso, in the middle. This sight made the trip more than worthwhile.

 

 

After arrival, I headed for the Tourism Information desk and was answered by a nice Norwegian girl, who was typical of Scandinavian beauty, with a pleasant demeanour about her.

I asked for a map of Tromso. It was a worthy addition. Anyway, now for a cab. The fare set me back as it does in this part of the world. My wallet was emptied…completely.

But the ride was only twenty minutes. My accommodation was a small hostel-like affair with four rooms that also doubled as the owner’s family house.

“Home Sleep” for any of you who wish to keep it in mind. Its supposed to be a good location for viewing the Northern lights most of the time, though.

Tromsø from Above II

Tromsø from Above II (Photo credit: Adrián Pérez)

Upon turning up, I gazed at the house and noticed that it looked as though nobody was home. I walked up to the door and knocked. No answer.

After a brief conversation over the phone and having asked next door, we  agreed that Samuel, the co-owner, would be home shortly. No prob.

Tromso

Tromso (Photo credit: Richard H Martin)

Ok, so we’re in now. As for the room, very comfy. More than expected. Samuel assures me that it is possible to see the lights from here. I smile inwardly and ask Samuel about the buses.

There’s a stop outside apparently. Not far. From here, I can catch the bus into the centre of Tromso. Its an idyllic place.

Right, next morning, after having tried to view the lights in the city the previous night and getting spectacularly lost, I caught the bus.

A VERY interesting experience, due to the fact that my hostel was above the town on a hill with a sloping gradient towards the fjord. At least it isn’t towards a concrete building.

Then left along the water’s edge and into the centre of town. Now we can see the sights of the place. I should note the bus was full and the roads were sheeted with thick ice. The driver had to sideslip the vehicle down the slope. Great fun!

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s The Polar museum, with a concrete footprint identifying where Roald Amundsen set off from here on his expedition to the North Pole.

The museum has exhibitions about much of Norway’s arctic heritage, such as whaling and seal-hunting expeditions, including the old ships that were used on these adventures.

We have an arctic cathedral made of wood. It’s small and cosy. Then there’s the library with signs in about sixteen different languages, most of them Inuit, the post office and, most importantly, many Northern Lights tours. Sadly I had to hope they would come over the town.

They didn’t, but there are organisations that will take you overland or by boat to locations where a better viewing opportunity is probable due to clearer weather.

Be prepared to fork out though, the cheapest deals are about £82 for an adult and the most expensive is about £200.

Details can be found on the web, particularly at www.visittromso.no where details of boat, bus, minibus or photo excursions are displayed.

Flights to Tromso via Oslo from London  and on to Trondheim from Tromso plus back to London again cost me about £250.

If you wish to find a hotel in Tromso, there is a reasonably-priced Radisson or, if you want to go low-brow, you should be able to find a hotel from £100 a night.

The Radisson is right in the centre of the town. Trondheim…for a night. After a short flight from Tromso, I find a cab and have the driver take me direct to the hostel, a shabby place right in the centre of the town.

It turns out, however, that a seven-eleven is nearby and the city centre as well is close. Trondheim’s most famous landmark, the cathedral, is on the opposite side of town.

It’s a worthy experience too! With a stained-glass window of purple and reds, a sinister Gothic appearance and a low entrance fee with a cafe and gift shop area, its a must-not-miss.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral (Photo credit: kjd)

The cathedral was formed around 1070 and was an important place for Catholic pilgrims in northern Europe until the Reformation, since when it has been the cathedral of the Lutheran Bishops of Trondheim.

And so, after hanging around the central station for awhile-it was bitterly cold-I headed happily for the airport.

I found a nice Norwegian girl to talk to in the gate area and, after a short flight, pitched up in Bergen’s airport terminal lounge. Leather reclinable seats too!

And finally, home…happy times!

Copenhagen

English: Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark

English: Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Just let the name roll off your tongue; Copenhagen.

It brings up images of a cosy little harbour city with cobbled waterfront streets packed with, on the water’s side, stalls decadent with all sorts of christmas wear on one side and stone-masonry cafes with tiny oil lamps burning outside on the other, the smell of Danish pastries wafting into the heavens. Thats in November, of course.

This is also presuming that you are willing to catch a 7:10 a.m. Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Malmo on the Swedish side and take a coach to Copenhagen’s central station.

From here you are a walking distance from the hostel district and can find one easily for £20-30 a night.

This means, in my case, a basic six-bed dormitory-style room complemented by a free breakfast. Tram links are readily available here and the world-famous Tivoli gardens is nearby, but not cheap.

They are, however, magical at Christmas time. With the lanterns hanging from the birch trees and the chatter of happy children all around, this is a must-not-miss.

Tivoli Gardens at night

Tivoli Gardens at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any number of souvenirs may be picked from this place and it’ll occupy your evening nice and snugly.  The gardens will have a stunning array architectural pieces in their bounds too.

Very Arte Noveau, especially the Crystal Palace. The gardens will probably take more than one evening to tour if done properly. Up for sugar-roasted peanuts? Fine. Just grab a bag full from a street vendor outside.

If you are in the right mood for clubbing, you can go clubbing with your fellow hostel-users and wind up staggering back to the hostel only to wake up at two again restless and wind up taking a brisk walk to find another club until dawn.

Fun times. One thing strikes you in the early morning as you hover around the city’s inner gardens , complete with a small lake, swans and a hangover.

That thing is how many Danes get up and run at dawn. Health is a national concern in this good land.

Jacque Saly's monumental sculpture of Frederik...

Jacque Saly’s monumental sculpture of Frederik V on horseback at Amalienborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then the Amalienborg Palace. This is the King’s residence. Its two main buildings are split by Amalienborg Square, across which the Royal Danish Guards patrol their Monarch’s haunt.

Their uniforms look like something straight out of a Hans Christen Andersen book, but then he was a citizen of the “smallest big city in the world”.

English: Palace Guard, Amalienborg Palace, Cop...

English: Palace Guard, Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is the aforementioned waterfront with the smell of pastries being baked wafting from the cafes.

That’ll never leave you. What about “Den Lille Havfrue“?

The Little Mermaid is there too.

Don’t take a splash in November, though.

And, sadly, that’s all that can be accomplished within a weekend.

Although don’t make the same mistake that I did…that is assuming that, just because the incoming coach runs between to large cities, that it will do so on a Sunday.

 

 

The best way is via rail link between Copenhagen and Malmo, plenty of time before your flight is due to arrive.

This precaution will set you in good stead for a nice weekend break in a city and ensure a safe return to your homeland, having many stories to tell and pastries to gobble. Good luck!