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The Hermitage - St. Petersburg

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 As capital cities go, Amsterdam is small in comparison (pop. 700,000). It has a reputation for free spirited and very liberal lifestyles. Some might call it Europe's most "radical" city, but one cannot deny the beauty of Amsterdam and its rich history as reflected in its impressive monuments and architecture. Amsterdam is also a cultural center of Europe as exemplified in its over 141 art galleries and 40 museums.

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Bergen, Norway

 Situated along the Byfjord, Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, and one of its most charming destinations. The history of this city dates back to the early eleventh century when Olav Kyrre established a settlement and royal residence here. In 1240, Bergen replaced Trondheim as the capital of Norway, and the city quickly prospered under the guidance of the Hanseatic League. These German merchants soon controlled all trade in Norway and remained in the city for many centuries until 1764. Much of the city's architecture today reflects the lifestyle of the Hanseatic merchants, who resided in narrow row houses near the harbor.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

 Copenhagen was a fishing village until the middle of the 12th century; it grew in importance after coming into the possession of Bishop Absalon, who fortified it in 1167. Because of its harbor, it soon became a place of commercial importance and received municipal rights about the middle of the 13th century. It was repeatedly attacked by the Hanseatic towns. The city was chosen for the capital in 1443 by Christopher III, or Christopher of Bavaria. During 1658 - 59 it withstood a severe siege by the Swedes under Charles X. In 1801, during the Napoleonic Wars, in an effort to compel the Danes to recognize Great Britain's right of search on the high seas, a British flotilla, commanded by Horatio Nelson, destroyed a Danish fleet in the harbor of Copenhagen. In 1807 the city suffered great damage, and hundreds of persons were slain, when British naval vessels bombarded the city to prevent Denmark from surrendering its fleet to Napoleon. During World War II Copenhagen was occupied by German troops from April 1940 until May 1945.

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Dublin, Ireland

 Modern Dublin has the quirky flavour of a large town busily engaged in neighbourhood pursuits. Rows of shops, pubs, and bookmakers line the streets, sidewalk musicians sent their lilting tunes echoing down each narrow alley, and the horizon is unscarred by skyscrapers. Dubliners are always ready, at the end of a hard day's work, to stop for a convivial pint at the local pub, where music, politics, poetry, and the sharp smell of stout fill the air.

The name of Dublin comes from the Irish Dubhlinn, meaning "dark pool". But you?ll also see a much older Gaelic name on buses and signs: Baile Atha Cliath, "the town of the hurdle ford", which explains why Dublin was originally settled centuries ago - as a place to ford the River Liffey near its exit to the sea. The river, a system of tranquil canals, and the nearby Irish Sea all contribute to Dublin?s special atmosphere.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

 Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Dalmation Coast, curls around its harbor like a nautilus shell, protecting the antique treasures that lie within its 15th-century walls. Amazingly, most of the city was spared by the hostilities which recently raged all around it. Founded by Greek and Roman merchants, the town was originally known as Ragusa. With an invincible fleet of very fast ships, Ragusa became one of Europe's most powerful city-states, sending its merchants and emissaries all over the world, rivaling Venice and Genoa in influence. The town is beautifully preserved, with graceful Venetian style palaces and curved loggias bordering the gleaming white main placa. Walk through Renaissance portals to see the Rector's Palace, where the affairs of the Republic were conducted. A plaque on the entrance proclaims "Forget private affairs, and get on with public matters".

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Edinburgh, Scotland

 The name of this enchanting Scottish capital was most likely derived from King Edwin of Northumbria during the seventh century. During the eleventh century Malcom Canmore erected a castle on Castle Rock and built a chapel for his wife, Margaret. By the fourteenth century, Edinburgh was granted its first charter and the city began to flourish in trade and handicrafts. It became the capital of Scotland in 1482 and today offers some of Great Britain's most impressive historical monuments, which line the enchanting Royal Mile.

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Flaam, Norway

 With an average width of three miles and a depth of nearly 4,000 feet, the Sognefjord is the largest, deepest and most spectacular fjord in Norway. Deep inside the eastern arm of the fjord are the ports of Flaam and Gudvangen. From here visitors climb aboard an historic railway to climb more than 2,800 feet on a twisting, turning path to reach the ancient town of Voss. During the eleventh century, a cross was erected in Voss to celebrate the region's new Christianity.

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Geiranger, Norway

 Geiranger village is located along the scenic snow-covered Geirangerfjord in central Norway. The dramatic beauty of the fjord is breathtaking, with its steep mountains and rushing waterfalls. Visitors from all over the world have been traveling here for more than 150 years. From Geiranger, many different arms of the fjord can be easily reached.

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Gudvangen, Norway

 Gudvangen nestles at the end of a long arm of Norway's largest fjord, Sognefjord. This spectacular fjord probes nearly 110 miles into the heart of the mountainous interior of Norway, skirting around the southern edge of the great glacier massif of the Jostedalsbreen. Surrounded by 5,500 foot cliffs wetted by veils of tumbling waterfalls, the fjord is so narrow in some places that during the winter, the sun never reaches the valley floor. Perhaps the raw wild beauty and solitude of this place inspired the building of Sognefjord's medieval stave churches - several fine examples can be seen here. The entrances to the venerable wooden sanctuaries are guarded by grinning visages of fierce trolls and dragons, lovingly carved by long-dead Viking craftsmen. From Gudvangen, drive through the green Naeroy Valley up a narrow zig-zag road to the Stallheim Mountain Hotel, where you can enjoy a clifftop lunch with a view of mountains, the fjord, and ships, now the size of matchboxes, below.

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Hamburg, Germany

 Historic Hamburg is Germany's largest port and its second largest city. During medieval times, it was an independent state. Evidence of early settlements in Hamburg have been traced back some 15,000 years, but the city was established and fortified during the ninth century when it was under constant attack by the Vikings. During the early twelfth century, the city was granted free trade, and Hamburg surpassed all other European cities in commerce during the powerful era of the Hanseatic League. Hamburg was a focal point of attack during World War II, but fortunately many structures remain from medieval times, making one of Northern Europe's most adored destinations.

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Hammerfest, Norway

 Hammerfest, the world's northern-most city in the world with a population of 7,000 residents, is located in the wide but calm bay of the Province of Finnmark. The North Atlantic Gulf Stream provides the city with an ice free port all year round. Like most northern cities, fishing is Hammerfest's most important industry with tourism not too far behind as Hammerfest's short distance from the North Cape makes it an attractive destination to tourists.

The natural port of Hammerfest provided a good anchoring location in earlier days and this might account for the origin of its name: Hamer = anchor. Like Tromso, Hammerfest became a major location for the start or end of arctic expeditions in the 19th century. In 1890, the town was one of the first in Europe to provide electric street lighting. Of course, the sun's disappearance from the sky during the arctic winter from November through February may have contributed to this distinction.

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Helsinki, Finland

 Helsinki is laid out with spacious streets interspersed with many gardens and parks. Architecturally, Helsinki is a mixture of old and modern styles, with the old senate house and the Suurkirkko, or Great Church, representing the older buildings, and the railroad station, designed in 1918 by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, as a notable example of modern architecture. Helsinki is the cultural and commercial, as well as the political, center of Finland. The University of Helsinki has been in the city since 1828, when it was moved from Turku, where it was founded in 1640. The National Museum of Finland, the opera, and several theaters, presenting works in both Finnish and Swedish, are located here.

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Kiel, Germany

 Kiel is a city in north central Germany, in Schleswig-Holstein, a port on an arm of the Baltic Sea, at the eastern entrance of the Nord-Ostsee (or Kiel) Canal. The city has been noted as a port since the 10th century because of its excellent harbor, which is a tideless fjord. The chief industries here, aside from shipbuilding and naval maintenance, are the manufacture of soap, food products, machinery, and woolen goods. The city has a university and is a popular center for pleasure boating. In 1284 Kiel became a member of the Hanseatic League. In 1773 it came under Danish rule, and in 1866, as part of Schleswig-Holstein, it passed to Prussia. In World War I the city was the headquarters of the German Imperial Fleet, and in World War II its important naval base was heavily bombed by the Allies.

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Lerwick, Scotland

 The Shetland Islands are Great Britain's most northerly islands, situated nearly fifty miles northeast of the Orkneys. Lerwick is the capital of the principal island of Mainland and is Britain's most northerly town. On the southern tip of the island is Jarlshof, site of ruins of several Stone Age and Bronze Age dwellings as well as wheel-houses from the Iron Age. Elsewhere on the island is Clichimin Broch, another prehistoric site containing a Bronze Age fort

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London, United Kingdom

 One of the world's greatest cities, London is a melting pot of centuries of cultures offering an endless collection of historical and modern sites. Man has been traced in the area as far back as the Bronze Age, and the area was occupied later by the Celtics. The written history of London began with Roman occupation under the rule of Emperor Claudius. By the first century AD, London was an established trading center, providing the Romans with a central base from which to explore the reminder of Britain. In the centuries that followed, the city changed hands periodically and grew into a major world capital. One of the London's most noteworthy periods of history was when King Henry VIII ruled during the sixteenth century and disobeyed against the church of Rome by marrying six times.

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Olden, Norway

 At the end of the beautiful Nordfjord is Olden, a town that offers extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains. An Iron Age burial mound was discovered in this region of Western Norway, but in more recent history, most of the town were settled in the seventeenth century. In Olden, an historic church was built in 1746 and survived the Second World War.

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Oslo, Norway

 Beautifully situated at the head of Oslofjord and surrounded by lush hills, Oslo is the oldest of the Scandinavian capital cities. It was founded during the 11th century by Viking Harald Hardrada, Norway's first king. Today it offers rich historical treasures as well as many modern delights. Many of the city's finest sites can be found on the Bygdoy Peninsula including the Kon Tiki Museum and the Vikingship Museum, each displaying vessels from Norway's early maritime days. In the oldest part of town lies the 13th century Akershus Castle, containing the tomb of King Hakon VII. In northern Oslo, Frogner Park is home to 175 sculptures of stone, bronze, and iron completed by master sculptor Gustav Vigeland.

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Rostock (Berlin), Germany

 Rostock is a city in northeastern Germany, in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, on the estuary of the Warnow River, near the Baltic Sea. Rostock is an important seaport and, with nearby Warnemunde, constitutes one of the major shipping centers of Germany, receiving a large part of the oil supplies imported into the country. The city has a university and a college of music. A number of old churches, including Saint Nicholas' Church, dating from the middle of the 13th century, and Saint Mary's Church, a Gothic structure begun in 1398, are located here. The Gothic city hall was also built in the 14th century.

Rostock was founded in the 12th century on the site of a Wendish settlement and was chartered as a city in 1218. Subsequently, the city became a leading member of the Hanseatic League. Large sections of Rostock were severely damaged by bombings in World War II.

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Rouen, France

 The gateway port of call for cruise ships to Paris. A call at Rouen offers cruise passengers many centers of interest. It is a pleasure to sail up the Seine from the sea to Rouen surrounded by varied, beautiful scenery punctuated by cliffs, forest, chateaux, abbeys and other points of interest. A major regional capital, Rouen boasts plenty of medieval and renaissance riches as well as shopping facilities located right in the center of the city.

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Sete, France

 Along the southwestern coast of France near the dramatic range of Pyrenees Mountains is France's region of Languedoc and the port of Sete. This fishing village is gateway to Montpellier to the north. This historic city was the twelfth century site of Europe's first medical school, established after years of growing and trading medicinal plants. The school became a university in 1289. Under the reign of Louis XIV, Montpellier was the capital of lower Languedoc, and the city rapidly expanded.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

 For first time visitors, St. Petersburg is like nothing you've ever seen before. For those who have been before, now is the time of so many changes that the city may have changed beyond belief. Witness the amazing political and social changes that are developing so quickly, and the dramatic scenes of history that others can only read about. St. Petersburg lies on the river Neva, and is built on 42 islands, criss-crossed by rivers and canals. They are connected by 350 bridges. The river eventually leads to the Gulf of Finland. Inside the city the Neva is contained within granite banks, and on the "white nights" of summer the night rarely falls.

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Stavanger, Norway

 One of Norway's oldest towns, Stavanger is situated along the Byfjord, an arm of the Stavangerfjord. A bishop ruled the city from the twelfth through seventeenth centuries. At the end of the eighteenth century, Stavanger had developed a successful merchant shipping fleet and during the next century developed herring fishing and canning industries. Today the city?s historic monuments and grand houses reflect the wealth of its residents throughout its history.

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Stockholm, Sweden

 The city of Stockholm, built on 14 small islands among open bays and narrow channels, has been dubbed the "Venice of the North". It is a very civilized city, full of parks, squares, and airy boulevards. It has its modern section too, but in the center you are never more than a few minutes walk from twisting medieval streets and waterside walks. The first written mention of Stockholm dates from 1252, when a powerful regent, Birger Jarl, is said to have built a fortified castle here. It was this strategic position, where the calm fresh waters of Lake Malaren meet the salty Baltic Sea that prompted King Gustav Vasa to take over the city in 1523.

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Tallinn, Estonia

 Tallinn fronts a bay on the Gulf of Finland dominated by Toompea, the hill over which it has tumbled since the Middle Ages. The aura of the 14th and 15th centuries survives intact in central Tallinn's jumble of medieval walls and turrets, spires and winding cobbled hills; it's judiciously restored and fascinating to explore. Tallinn is also a national capital with government buildings, a university, entertainment and modern styles on its streets. Finns flock over from Helsinki on weekends. Tallinn is on a similar latitude to St. Petersburg and shares that city's summer "white nights" and short, dark winter days.

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Tromso, Norway

Located on Tromso Island, which measures 950 square miles, the capital of the northern Province of Troms has a population of 44,000 and is probably the most important port in Norway's arctic region. Although Tromso is located far north of the Arctic Circle, the North Atlantic Gulf Stream makes its presence known and creates a mild climate conducive to great vegetation.

Founded during the 13th century, Tromso developed slowly as a fishing village with a single church and eventually became the main center for barter trade with Russia. Six centuries later, it also became the "Gate to the Arctic" when Roald Amundsen and Friedtjoff Nansen used Tromso as the starting point of their famous expeditions into the far north. Even today, present Arctic voyagers commence their adventures in the city also known by the Norwegians as the "Paris of the North".

Several Highlights of sightseeing tours are the Ice Sea Cathedral (1965), the planetarium and the old districts with beautiful wooden houses. The "Midnight Sun", disappearing behind the horizon, can be seen from May until July. The Arctic dark dominates between November and January.

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Trondheim, Norway

 Trondheim or Trondhjem (ancient Nidaros), a port in central Norway, is the administrative center of Sor-Trondelag County, on Trondheim Fjord. Trondheim is one of the largest cities of the country, and a commerical center for the surrounding agricultural area. The principal industries include shipbuilding, metalworking, and the production of processed foods and textiles. The 11th-century Nidaros Cathedral, erected over the tomb of King Olaf II, patron saint of Norway, is considered one of the finest ecclesiastical edifices in Scandinavia and is the site of Norwegian coronations. The University of Trondheim (1968) is here. Founded as Nidaros in ad 997, the city served as the capital of Norway until 1380. Trondheim was occupied by German troops during World War II.

With 137,400 residents, Trondheim is Norway's third largest city and is located at the mouth of the River Nidelv at the end of the Trondheimfjord. Trondheim is the center for the wood industry and has well known shipyards.

The city was founded in 997 AD by Viking King Olaf I Tryggvasson because the settlement of an island on the River Nidelv was easy to defend. The King, who tried to establish a united Norway, later chose Trondheim for his residence Nidarnes. In 1152 the city became an Archbishopric. The city had bloomed into a spiritual center until the Reformation.

Trondheim burned down several times in massive blazes and, as a result of rebuilding, the architecture of today was formed after 1681. Most of the old manors and trade houses were built from wood until a city law was enforced to prohibit the use of wood as building material in 1832.

Remarkable points of interest are: The Dome (Nidaros Cathedral) built in 1152; the market square with a statue of Trondheim's founder, the Stiftsgarden, a wooden palace from the Rococo Epoch, the homes and trade buildings around the old port; the Palace of the Archbishop from the 12th century with a museum of weapons and armory, the V?r Frue Kirke (church) from 1739 at the Market Square, the Fortification of Kristiansten Festing (1684) with an amazing view of the city center, the Ringve Music Museum with its unique collection of old instruments, an open air museum and Fort Sverresborg built in 1180.

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Visby, Sweden

 Gotland and Oland are part of the Baltic islands that lie off the southeast coast of Sweden. Today Gotland is a blend of old and new with its natural beauty and cultural heritage. Folklore of Gotland tells us that the island rose out of the water every night, only to sink below the waves as the sun's first rays broke through. When Tjelvar, Gotland's first inhabitants, brought fire to the island, this spell was broken and the island remained above the water.

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Revised: September 26, 2009