Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and home

The final stops of the MacMania 3.5 cruise ping-ponged us across the Baltic sea, from north to south, before returning us to where we began to make our goodbyes.

We’ve truly been blessed with good weather on this trip. With a single exception (see below), every single day on this cruise has been sunny and warm, with high temperatures in the 70s and even 80s. From now on when I hear people talk about how cold Scandanavia gets in the winter, I’m not sure if I’ll really be able to believe them. Maybe this is how the Scandanavians keep all the good warm weather to themselves? It’ll probably take a winter trip to this region to convince me that it’s not all midnight sunsets and warm breezes. I hardly expected a tropical vacation when I signed up to cruise the Baltic, but that’s what we all got.

As we docked in Stockholm I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Our Rick Steves guide book raves about the city, but I knew nothing about it and had essentially no expectations. Boy, was I impressed. On a sunny day, with the water glinting as you cross one of Stockholm’s dozens of bridges, Sweden can’t be beat.

The city is built on numerous islands, connected by bridges. We started at the cruise dock, walked onto the main island housing the city center (including a royal palace and numerous narrow streeets—be sure to check out the final MacMania 3.5 photo gallery for pictures), then eventually made our way through the high-rent district of town and onto an island that houses an amusement park, an open-air museum, and a 17th-century sunken Swedish warship.

That warship is the Vasa , and it was a flop, sinking in Stockholm’s harbor on its maiden voyage. But the brackish waters of this part of the sea helped keep it from rotting, and in the 1950s it was discovered and raised. Now it’s a view into a time when humanity’s cutting-edge engineering efforts weren’t spent on operating systems and microprocessors, but on wooden ships with tall sails and massive cannons. The Vasa is housed in a museum that was essentially built around it, so it somewhat apes the ship’s design, including tall sail-like suspensions in the center.

After our warm day in Stockholm, we returned to the Westerdam for yet another overnight sail, this one to the small city of Visby, a medieval harbor on the west coast of Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic. Stockholm was my favorite city on this adventure, but Visby might have been my favorite stop—and it was all too short, only about six hours.

Visby is apparently famous for its roses, and they were everywhere. We walked next to and through the city’s ancient (and very intact) medieval wall, hiking on the trails just outside the wall and marveling at its medieval watchtowers, which still proudly fly the Swedish flag. Honestly, standing outside the city wall made me feel more like I was playing World of Warcraft than being a real-life camcorder-toting tourist.

Back inside the wall was Visby’s mind-boggling botanical garden. There were cool places to sit in the shade—good on yet another hot, sunny day—and beautiful, sun-swept flowerbeds. The combination of Visby’s pure air and the vast number of blooming flowers gave the air a scent and quality that I’ve never really experienced before. I could’ve spent all day sitting on a towel in the center of the park.

Our early return from Visby gave the MacMania cruise participants their next opportunity for conference sessions, and I don’t think they were disappointed. Chris Breen presented an advanced GarageBand session that blew me away, mostly because I’m a music fan and not a musician, so I’m amazed at the skills of people who can make music. David Pogue had ‘em rolling in the ailes with his massive three-hour iPhoto blow-out. And I attracted a small but loyal audience to learn about iDVD, DVD burning, and the like.

Another day, another port, and so Friday was a visit to the southern coast of the Baltic, our southernmost point on our journey—and the port of Warnemünde, Germany. Warnemünde is a sleepy town near the larger city of Rostock, Germany, and both are apparently summer destinations for the residents of northern Germany. I’m afraid I can’t comment on just how quaint the old town of Warnemünde is, because like many other cruisegoers, I took advantage of Germany’s excellent rail system to visit a larger German city. Many cruisegoers went to Berlin, but we decided to save Berlin for our next visit (my wife spent a semester in East Berlin in the early ’90s and says that if we’re going to go back there, it needs to be for longer than a half-day).

Instead, we rode the rails to Hamburg, another city with water all around. We met up with some old family friends who trained in from Frankfurt for the day, and even took the kids for a visit to the Hamburg Zoo, where my daughter got to feed an apple to an elephant. They don’t do that sort of thing in American zoos. It rained some on our day in Germany, the only rain we got on the trip. It was also a little cooler—in the mid-60s, which honestly we enjoyed as a respite from all the heat we’ve been getting.

When we returned to the ship, it was already pretty late—almost 10. There was just time for a quick late dinner and some German beer via a local German brewery. I don’t think it’s legal to go to Germany and not drink their beer, although I hear that some have tried.

Our final stop was the port of Århus, Denmark, just a stone’s throw from the fabulous world of wonderment known as Legoland. My wife’s parents live an hour away from America’s Legoland (it’s in Carlsbad, California), so we skipped that side trip. In fact, because our visit to Århus was originally scheduled as a day at sea, the MacMania cruise did something unprecedented—we held classes while we were in port.

As it turned out, I think everyone was pretty pooped out and willing to skip another Danish port to get some time learning more about the Mac. The big session on Saturday was David Pogue’s in-depth guide to Tiger, which packed the room for a full three hours. People who came to MacMania 3.5 expecting to get some information about Apple’s new operating system certainly got a big shot of Tiger knowledge.And just like that, it was over. We had our final “Ingenious Bar” gathering that evening in the ship’s Crow’s Nest, attended by myself, Chris Breen, Geek Cruise captain Neil Bauman, Geek Cruiser and Perl guru Randal Schwartz, and hosted by broadcaster and podcaster Leo LaPorte. Everyone got a free drink and discussed all sorts of topics, from Mac-related matters to seriously unrelated matters, including a spirited discussion of exactly when the “Star Trek” TV shows Jumped the Shark.

After the Ingenious Bar closed up shop for the last time—with Leo signing off in true broadcaster fashion—we headed for dinner in the Westerdam’s dining room, and all the ship’s Filipino and Indonesian dining staff made a point of making a final visit to talk to my kids. I think my kids (a baby and a toddler) gave as much delight to the staff—being so far away from their own kids—as the staff did to my kids. After dinner, we packed our bags and got ready to disembark.

It was a great group of Mac users and Mac experts on this cruise, and it was also a great joy to meet the family members they brought along. And, no doubt, many of us will meet again —after all, MacMania 4 (Mexican Riviera) is coming soon, with MacMania 4.5 (Italy and the Mediterranean) due a year from now. I can’t wait. And if you’ve enjoyed these cruise blogs, consider being a part of it sometime by joining us on one of these trips of a lifetime.

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