Visby – a cozy little town chock-full of history

As I mentioned in a previous post, this summer we headed to Sweden and Gotland. First, we drove to Turku and hopped on the evening ferry to Stockholm. Viking Grace and Oscar á la carte offered a tasty dinner and a good night’s sleep. The ferry arrived in Stockholm early on Monday morning and we steered our car towards Nynäshamn, where we would catch the ferry to Gotland. We had several hours to kill in Nynäshamn before our scheduled departure, so we walked around the town center, drove along the coast line and had a lovely lunch in the harbor at Nynäs Rökeri. The ferry trip with Destination Gotland’s ferry to Visby took 3½ hours. Once we arrived in Visby we checked into our hotel, Clarion Hotel Wisby. I had originally booked a standard double room but later decided to upgrade to a superior double as the standard room seemed very small, and once I saw our room, I was happy I made the upgrade. The hotel is situated in a building where a hotel has been run within these walls since the mid-1800s and includes a carefully restored medieval alley and columns dating back to the 1200s. We stayed in the new part of the hotel opened in 2013 and had a lovely sea view. I must give props to the reception staff for thinking on their feet. When I was checking in and asked about parking, I was told that there was no parking available as it needed to be pre-booked. I had reserved parking and actually had an e-mail exchange about this with the hotel, but there had been some mix-up and they had not reserved a spot for us. This was solved by giving us the space of the hotel manager who was on vacation. After getting settled we headed out to have a first look at Visby and find a place for dinner. As most restaurants were full of people, we ended up at a pub called Black Sheep Arms. The pub was nice enough, but the food was nothing special.

Starter of Scallops, apple and fennel in Oscar á la carte
Main: Smoked and confited fjord salmon with new potatoes,
lemon hollandaise and seasonal vegetables
Our hotel, Clarion Wisby
Hotel lobby
One of two breakfast rooms
Our room
Sunset from our hotel room

The Hanseatic city of Visby is the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia and since 1995, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage site list. The earliest history of Visby is uncertain, but it is known to have been a center of merchandise around 900 AD. It was inhabited as early as the Stone Age, probably because of the access to fresh water and a natural harbor. In 1361, Gotland was conquered by Valdemar IV of Denmark. In 1409, the island of Gotland was sold to Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As of 1470, the Hanseatic League rescinded Visby’s status as a Hanseatic town. Gotland was again taken into Sweden’s possession in 1645, by the Treaty of Brömsebro, after 300 years of Danish rule.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, which was good and of normal Scandinavian standard. Then, we headed out to explore the town. We decided to start by walking along the old town wall which is 3.4 km long and encircles the town center. The work on the ring wall was likely begun in the 12th century. Around 1300, it was rebuilt to reach its current height, acquiring the characteristic towers, although some towers were not constructed until the 15th century. While walking along the wall, we saw numerous old houses. The walk took us a few hours and then we explored some of the shops. After lunch we continued exploring the town (I will make a separate post about the food we ate). Eventually we returned to the hotel to put our feet up for a while and freshen up for dinner. Around dinner time we headed back out and explored some of the church ruins in Visby to work up an appetite. After dinner we retuned to the hotel to plan our adventures for the next day. Just as we entered the hotel it started pouring down, so we had excellent timing. As Visby is quite small, one day was plenty for exploring the town, so the following day we decided to head to other parts of Gotland.

View from one of the towers in the town wall
The wall has several hollow towers
A recently tarred old house
The barrier blocks are in the from of sheep
Visby Cathedral was officially opened in 1225
Inside Visby Cathedral
Gate to the cathedral
One of several church ruins
Another church ruin
Sunset from our room after a rain storm

Nothing was rotten in the state of Denmark

I had some vacation days that I had to use before the end of April and as hubby had enough frequent flyer points to get us two return flights within the Nordic countries we decided to take a short vacation in Copenhagen, Denmark.

We arrived early on Sunday morning, took the train into town, dropped off our bags at the hotel (The Square/) and headed out to explore the surroundings. We decided to walk to Rundetaarn or the Round Tower. The tower was inaugurated in 1642 making it the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. It is most noted for its equestrian staircase, a 7.5-turn helical corridor leading to the platform at the top at 34.8 meters above ground, and for the expansive views which it affords over Copenhagen. By the time we got back to street level we were hungry so we decided to go get something to eat. A place I wanted to visit called Paludan Bogcafé was a couple a blocks away so that’s where we headed for brunch. Paludan combines the traditional bookstore with a functioning eatery and it was a really cool place, plus the food was good.

Inside Rundetaarn
My delicious goat cheese sandwich for brunch
Hubby’s ham and mushroom omelet
Inside Paludan Bogcafé

Next we wandered around for a couple of hours and stopped for a beer at The Taphouse. The place offers 61 beers on tap and the selection may actually change during the day. After enjoying our beers it was time to head to the gathering point for a walking tour we had pre-booked with Viator. It was a 2.5 hour guided food tour during which we would visit five different food/drink stops and learn about food history and culture from our guide. We were a group of 10 people plus the guide. The tour started with a traditional Danish hotdog in Rådhuspladsen or City Hall Square. The Danish hotdog is served with apple ketchup, mustard, remoulade, chopped onions, fried onions, and crisp, sweet pickles. The sausage or pølse is distinguished by a very bright red color and called Røde Pølse (red sausage). I really enjoyed the hotdog. Then we actually went to The Taphouse that we had visited just before the tour and had a little beer tasting of two beers and tried to guess which of the 61 beers we were tasting.

The city hall
Rådhuspladsen
The Danish hotdog
Our merry tour group at The Taphouse

Next we walked to a restaurant called Godtfolk where we were served smørrebrød and some more beer. Smørrebrød is an open-faced sandwich that usually consists of a piece of buttered rye bread (rugbrød), a dense, dark brown bread, topped with commercial or homemade cold cuts, pieces of meat or fish, cheese or spreads, and garnishes. The smørrebrød we were served was a shrimp and egg one and it was super delicious. Our next and final stop of the tour was Torvehallerne. The history of TorvehallerneKBH dates back to 1889, when Grønttorvet (greens market) was established at Israels Plads. Grønttorvet closed in 1958, and only in 2011 when Torvehallerne opened did Copenhagen again have a fixed marketplace in the middle of the city. Torvehallerne is a marketplace that offers Danish delicacies, local vegetables, fresh fish and meat, chocolates, baked goods, pizza, etc. Torvehallerne consists of more than 80 shops located in two buildings and an outdoor stall area in between the buildings. We had a look around the “savory” building and then got to taste the local fishcake with some remoulade sauce, which was quite nice. To finish off we strolled through the “sweets” building and ended with a small dessert, flødebolle, which is a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat with a marzipan biscuit base. This was not to my liking as I do not like marzipan. All in all, the food tour was a great experience and good value for money.

Shrimp & egg smørrebrød
Flower stall at Torvehallerne
Produce stand

After the tour finished we made our way back to the hotel and got our room. We unpacked and took it easy for a couple of hours. As the food tour was quite substantial we did not need a big dinner so we headed around the corner from the hotel and ended up at a place called Rosie McGee’s and had some pub grub. The food was nothing to write home about and the place in itself was quite an experience.

Second post on Copenhagen will include, e.g. a canal cruise and a visit to Tivoli Gardens.

Escaping Christmas

This year we decided to escape the Christmas hype and stress and travel somewhere warm. We chose Dubai as the weather is guaranteed to be warm, the flight time (around 7 hours direct flight) is bearable as is the time difference (+2 hours). Our flight took off in the early evening on December 19th and arrived in Dubai at 3 am. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, Intercontinental Dubai Marina and we got a taste of the lifestyle in Dubai right away as the taxi was a Tesla Model S. After checking in we headed straight for bed.

Super comfy king size bed to sleep in
…and a glass-box bathroom

We woke up around 11 am the next morning, got unpacked and headed out to check out the neighborhood. After grabbing a late breakfast and some coffee at a nearby Starbucks we explored part of the Dubai Marin area. After strolling around for a few hours we decided to spend some time at the hotel pool just relaxing and recovering from the early morning arrival.

Part of the Marina was lined with food trucks
Dubai Marina Mall ceiling decoration
Time to relax at the pool

Then it was time to think about dinner. While walking around the Marina area we had spotted a place called Pier 7 that houses seven restaurants. After checking out these restaurants online we decided to try out Asia Asia. Before heading out we made a pit stop at our hotel’s bar Ginter for some G&Ts. Luckily we were early enough (a little before 7 pm) to get a table without a reservation. The place was almost full by the time we had eaten and left. We started with an 8 piece dim sum basket and chili garlic edamame. My main was steamed sea bass in a soy broth with bok choy and bamboo shoots, hubby ate ribeye teriyaki with roasted kabocha, parsnip miso & glazed ancho chili. The food was delicious, service really good and the restaurant décor was interesting. While walking back to our hotel we stopped at Pinkberry for some frozen yogurt.

View from Ginter’s terrace at dusk
Entrance to restrooms at Asia Asia
Some of the dumplings
Ribeye teriyaki
Inside Asia Asia
Terracotta soldiers in the elevator lobby of Asia Asia

We had booked a desert safari for Friday afternoon/night. We kicked off the morning with an excellent brunch at Bistro des Arts. The brunch was delicious and affordable. For AED 99 you got the cold buffet, one main course, one crêpe and a hot beverage. You could also add AED75 to select three cocktails but we skipped this option. First we picked various cold breakfast foods from the buffet and some juice. Then we both had a variety of eggs benedict for the main and shared a crêpe to round it all off. Once we were fortified we jumped on the metro and headed to the Mall of the Emirates. While there we received word that the driver would come and pick us up at the hotel at 2 pm for the safari so it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for our desert adventure. Safari post to follow.

Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates