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Mark Goodwin, our recently retired CEO, is greatly looking forward to leading a group of dedicated regular participants on a tour that is a complete discovery of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea commencing in Copenhagen. Our Scandinavian Discovery commences on 07 August and is an insightful introduction to Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The Discover the Baltic States tour, commencing in Helsinki on 24 August, is a comprehensive study of the non-Scandinavian countries circling the Baltic, from Finland to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and on to Poland, Northern Germany and back to Danish Jutland, Funen and finally, to complete our circumnavigation, ending in Copenhagen. You may choose to join Mark on either of these tours or you may wish to combine both programs, in which case we include an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Turku and a night in this former Finnish capital allowing you to link our two tours at no additional cost.

Mark has written an interesting article below on our Scandinavian Discovery and Discover the Baltics tours which we trust you will enjoy reading and may entice you to join Mark on this stunning adventure of spectacular scenery, fairy-tale cities, astonishing histories and a great mix of local culture and heritage. We need only a few more confirmed participants on each of Mark’s tours in order to guarantee them both and would encourage you to save up to $300 per person per program booking by our Early Booking Date of 23 February. Indeed, you would need to book any of our tours departing before the end of September 2018 prior to 23 February in order to secure this valuable discount on your tour price.


Hanseatic Wharf, Bryggen

Discover Scandinavia with me - Mark Goodwin

In recent years I've enjoyed the opportunity to visit the countries of Scandinavia regularly. I love the quaint cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Oslo and Bergen but I think, most of all, I enjoy the outstanding scenery and grandeur of the countryside, whether it be the great lakes, forests and gorgeous archipelagos of Sweden, the gently rolling green pastoral countryside of Denmark, dotted with magnificently majestic castles, or the breath-taking beauty of Norway’s fjords.

Outside of Scandinavia, we are inclined to lump the relatively small populations together as a single group, overlooking the distinctive differences of their geographies, histories and cultures: Denmark and Sweden, rivals for the Baltic trade, prospering and striving for dominance in the region and Norway dominated by one or other of them until the early 20th century. These histories make quite a difference to national sentiment in each country. However, all three countries are blessed with an enviable standard of living, enjoy a superb flair for design and at first seem to appear with surprising regularity in the list of the world’s happiest nations. We will try to discover some of the reasons behind these facts and learn about the Scandinavian countries and their people.

 


Frederiksborg Castle

Our Scandinavian Discovery program commences in Copenhagen, the Danish capital. Denmark is the smallest and it is flat in contrast to its northern neighbours. Copenhagen is a relaxed harbour city, pedestrian-friendly with extensive walking streets and parks which make exploring the varied architecture of its streetscapes a pleasure. It is full of interest but one of my favourites is its best town planning ‘set piece' around the Royal Palace. The Amalienborg is a complex of four matching buildings on a diamond-shaped square opening to the narrow waterway of the inner harbour. Australians may like to note that one wing of the Amalienborg Palace is the city home of a certain young Tasmanian, who has taken to the Danes' hearts as their Crown Princess and mother of their future monarch!

Across the water sits the magnificent modern opera house and in a direct line from it back past the palace, at the end of an avenue of handsome buildings, is the great dome of the Marble Church, a sister dome for Rome’s St Peter’s.

A journey into the fertile Danish countryside is a reminder that Denmark is one of only a few countries in the world to have established first-world living standards on an agricultural base. As well as enjoying some of the very pleasant landscape, we view Helsingor Castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, guarding the narrowest point of the Oresund: Sweden is only 3km away across the water. We also visit the splendid Dutch Renaissance style Frederiksborg Castle, nestled in beautiful birch woods.

 

Oslo Opera House

Crossing the Oresund by bridge and tunnel, we travel north to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city. As gregarious as Stockholm is sophisticated, boasting an eclectic blend of heavy industry, neoclassical architecture, a burgeoning contemporary arts scene, and recently voted the ‘most sociable’ place in the world, Gothenburg is a diverse yet authentically Scandinavian city with a toy-town charm. We visit the city and discover its highlights before continuing our journey to the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

Oslo is different, small, in a hilly setting on the Oslo Fjord. The chic apartments, cafes and galleries of its modern waterfront redevelopment are a showcase of Norway’s North Sea Oil prosperity. The extraordinary opera house rising like an iceberg from the waters of the harbour is the greatest expression of Norway’s new confidence and wealth; the sloping roofs are paved with bright white marble and a walk on the roof is surely a highlight of any visit to Oslo.

In the 19th century part of town, Karl Johans Gate is a mini version of Berlin’s Unter den Linden expressing the fervent nationalism of Norway at that time when it had its own parliament but was stifled by the personal union of the Crowns of Sweden and Norway. It’s as elegant a promenade as any in Europe. We visit the Viking Museum across the fjord from the centre of town. The scale of the boats and the richness of the domestic crafts always take me by surprise. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is a truly prodigious effort by one man to express his views of human experience through depictions of the human body... hundreds of sculptures in a superb formal park setting.

 

Flam Railway, Norway

The train trip across the mountains to Norway’s west coast will be a highlight of the trip, climbing through snow-covered mountains, frozen lakes, waterfalls and mountain resorts, but that highlight may be quickly displaced by our experience of the fjords with their towering bare or forested walls, tiny villages, farmhouses with precipitous pastures and strange neon green waters. We stay a few nights in the tranquil setting of the Hardangerfjord, perhaps one of Norway's most beautiful, and here learn about the local way of life and enjoy some magnificent scenery.

We continue our program in Bergen, full of summer flowers in well-tended gardens, its charming wooden houses spreading up the steep mountainsides above the slate blue waters of the harbour. It also has an interesting history to explore - its prosperity first secured by German Hanseatic traders whose wooden warehouses still line the quay. A short flight then takes us to Stockholm. Here we immediately notice the change in landscape, which is gentle, rolling and forested. Stockholm is, I think, a city of a different character to both Copenhagen and Oslo: it is bigger and feels more business oriented, with more hustle and bustle. The setting is beautiful, comprising many islands and different views of its waterways, broad and narrow, which open up at every turn. I love the old Town, Gamla Stan, with its narrow streets, each of which ends back at the water.

The 'official' part of the city, Parliament, Palace, Opera etc is a magnificent assemblage of buildings each echoing the best models of style in the European capitals with which Stockholm might compare itself - a very grand expression of national prestige. We pick up on that theme again, when we visit the Royal Palace at Drottningholm with its beautiful park and leafy waterways on the edge of the city.

 

Vasa Ship

We also gain an insight into some of Sweden's maritime heritage with a visit to the Vasa Museum. The warship Vasa sank in Stockholm harbour at the beginning of her maiden voyage in 1628 and remained in her watery grave until salvaged 330 years later, in 1961. However, because the vessel had been covered for all that time by thick, airless Baltic mud, she remained in a marvellous state of preservation. After many years, the Vasa has been restored to her original glory with more than 90% of the original vessel intact. Apart from being the only preserved 17th-century ship in the world, the Vasa is also a unique art treasure – decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures.
 

I hope you will be able to share the enjoyment and interest of this scenically stunning program with me and perhaps consider combining this tour with our Discover the Baltic States program.

Discover the Baltic States with me - Mark Goodwin

I have spent many years watching and studying the Baltic States and it is fascinating to see how these countries, many of which were once perceived to be little more than grey satellites of the Soviet Union, have now blossomed into forward-looking, thriving and very independently-minded nations. During our tour we consider how each of these countries has been affected by its own history and how they have coped with recent membership of and difficulties within both NATO and the European Union.

In Finland, we learn how the country’s shared history with both Sweden and Russia has coloured its people and its cities, while glimpsing its pristine countryside, dotted with kempt barns and contented herds in tended fields. The Finns, like their Scandinavian neighbours, have always been talented designers, and never is this impression more evident than when exploring Helsinki. Here we meet friendly locals, learn about Finnish culture at the National Museum and experience the fine architecture of this classically elegant city. We also pay homage to the Finnish national composer, Sibelius.

 


Tallinn Old Town

As we take our ferry across the gulf of Finland, we soon catch sight of one of my favourite European cities, Tallinn. This, the Estonian capital, boasts an almost perfectly intact mediaeval town centre. Its market squares, winding cobbled streets, complete city walls and fascinating old churches are all captivating. The town could be straight out of a fairy-tale. However, although the Estonians are cousins of the Finns, they have a rather different nature and a completely divergent history, as we shall discover during our time in this charming city. Amber is a good buy here and linen shops are all the go.

We are fortunate that the Baltic capitals are, for the most part, conveniently located a day’s coach journey one from the other and so we soon arrive at the Latvian capital, Riga. Much of Riga’s historic town centre was faithfully restored after the war and what particularly captures the eye is the outstanding Art Nouveau architecture in a residential quarter close to the town centre. However, there are also some outstanding mediaeval buildings to explore and we enjoy a short concert in the city’s Dome Cathedral. We also take a trip into the surrounding countryside to see some of its ancient towns and castles as well as the Baltic coast.

I really love visiting Rundale Palace. Situated in the country shortly before crossing the border to Lithuania from Latvia, this splendid 18th century Baroque and Rococo castle sits in a French-style park-like garden.

 


Rundale Palace

Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, is a delightful city with lovely parks and interesting churches, a few of which we shall visit. There is an unusual church altar perched on an arch which straddles the narrow street below. Here church services are held from time to time, mainly catering for pilgrims who stand, sit or crouch in large numbers with their banners. Many of us forget that Vilnius is one of the largest still existent mediaeval cities in Europe and it is a real joy to explore. We also learn about Lithuania’s history and culture with a talk from a local expert (as we do in many of the other capital cities) and we visit the former capital city of Kaunus, as well as discover the jewel that is Trakai Castle.

As we travel through Poland, we experience the country’s lakeland region and catch a glimpse of the less-explored rural life of Poland before arriving in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

For a city almost totally razed to the ground in WWII, Warsaw has been remarkably restored to its former glory. Few things give me greater pleasure than to wander around the cobbled streets and lanes of this faithfully recreated, historic city precinct with its fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Nearby is a Stalinist-style skyscraper with a viewing platform from which there are panoramic views. A Chopin piano recital adds an extra touch to our stay in the Polish capital.

From Warsaw, we continue our musical theme, as we visit Chopin’s villa at Zelazowa Wola. We also experience Copernicus’s city of Torun en route to Gdansk back on the Baltic Sea. This historic port is among the finest cities in Northern Europe, distinguished by beautiful architecture and a thousand years of history. For centuries, it was Poland’s wealthiest city but for me its fascination lies more in the fact that it was here where the first shots of World War II were fired and it was in the city’s dockyards that the ideas of Polish ‘Solidarity’ took root. Naturally we explore the city and learn about its people and history but a stay in Gdansk also allows us to travel back in time to the age of the Teutonic Knights and to visit their 13th century UNESCO World Heritage Grand Master’s Castle at nearby Malbork.

 


Warsaw

The remainder of our journey through Poland takes us along the wooded Baltic coast through picturesque and historic towns till we reach Szczecin (Stettin in German), which lies on the River Odra and is a major port despite its being 50 km from the sea! It was part of the Hanseatic League and was an elegant capital of a Pomeranian Duchy but is perhaps best known as the northerly point of Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain.

Our next stop is the ‘Queen of the Baltic Coast’ and was once the most powerful of the Hanseatic cities. Lübeck is today an architectural gem and rightly listed as a UNESCO World Heritage city. I love to stroll through Lübeck’s picturesque mediaeval cityscape and I am also fond of the city’s justifiably renowned gingerbread. I read the Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Mann at university and he was probably Lübeck’s most famous resident. I can just imagine the pages of Buddenbrooks coming to life, as I wander through this evocative city.

Finally we head into Denmark, through the charming coast and countryside of Schleswig-Holstein. In Jutland, the Danish mainland, we learn about the arrival of the Vikings and the present Danish royal family at the impressive UNESCO site of Jelling, discover the European City of Culture, Aarhus, with its quaint old town and brand new, stunning ARoS Museum of Modern Art. We also explore Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace at Odense on the charming island of Funen before ending our tour close to Copenhagen.In essence, this is a wonderful, well-paced and informative tour staying in good quality hotels, with excellent lectures and first class local guides.


Mark Goodwin


I do hope you will be able to join me and I look forward to travelling with you.


Regards,
Mark Goodwin
Golden Compass retired CEO and Program Leader

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Meet Our Program Leaders

Meet Our Program Leaders

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Early Booking Discount

Early Booking Discount

Early Booking Discounts are now available for all 2018 tours! Registering before the Early Booking date secures a saving of up to $300 per person / $600 per couple per…

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2018 Guaranteed Departures

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Watch this space for 2018 Guaranteed Departures.

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Refer a Friend Rewards

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Receive a $200 discount off any Golden Compass tour when your friends or family book with us! Your friends will also save $100 off their own booking and there is…

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Sicily & Sardinia - 23 September - 12 October 2018

Come with us as we explore dramatic architecture of cities such as Syracuse, Nota, Catania and Taormina as well as the stunning scenery of Mt Etna and the volcanic Aeolian islands, the lively port of Palermo with the Mediaeval city of Erice and the outstanding Greek temples at Agrigento and the amazing Roman mosaics of Piazza Armerina. We also visit the ancient Nuragic and Roman sites of Sardinia, the charming ports of Cagliari and Olbia and the brooding mountainous interior of Sardinia around Fonni.

 



 

Inclusive of field trips, local guides, gratuities and many meals.