Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ribe Night Watchmane

We're staying in Ribe-- a tinymedieval town on the western coast of Jutland, Denmark. It's a ridiculously cute town, with curving cobbled streets, leaning buildlings, a long and illustrious history as a viking outpost and medieval trading port. The lanes criss-cross the town almost randomly and change names every couple of feet, it seems.

But they have a Night watchman who emerges at 10pm to do a history tour of the town, singing traditional songs, explaining a bit about the various buildings in town and their occupants, and how Ribe has evolved since it was foundedi n the 8th century. We went along with a huge gaggle of schoolkids. It was a blast!

Trekking Across Denmark

"Across Denmark" sounds pretty daunting, doesn't it? It's a total of three hours from coast to coast, including traffic from Copenhagen. But off we went this morning, fortified with extra wienerbrod and sugar-buns and a deadline to arrive in Roskilde before 10am.

Stopped for fuel -- which is expensive here, of course. it's on par with the rest of Europe (about 8 bucks a gallon) and we imagined the horror and chaos if gas hit $8 int he US. It's four now, and from all the wailing and breathless media coverage, you'd think it was a sign of the apocalypse. We've got a little diesel Hyundai as a rental car, which is great, actually. Good gas mileage, diesel is a wee bit cheaper, and a small car is much easier to maneuver in the times we've had to drive it into the city. Mark fits in it easily, which is the primary consideration. Renting a car is always a bit of a crap shoot when we go on vacation -- they have brands and makes of cars here we dont' see in the US, and some of them are tiny indeed. There is a little Fiat compact that we see dozens of that is, perhaps, a little smaller than a SmartCar, and a few Ka's (a car so small they dropped the r, we joke) and some truly microscopic little Mazdas. An awful lot of people drive very nice Audis and Mercedes, but most cars are small, serviceable, and easy to park. We actually saw a pickup truck today, and it warranted a second look -- we hadn't seen any before. We've got the car for the whole trip, which sounds a little insane when you consider that we're staying put in one city for three or four days at a time. Only at the end of the trip are we driving anywhere substantial, and between the major cities (Stockholm - Copenhagen, Copenhagen to the ferry to Norway, etc. I tried out the rental just picking up the car for the few days we needed to drive between places, and frankly it was much cheaper to get the car for the whole month, even if we had to pay for parking in every single city (which we didn't -- we had free parking at Stallmastaregarden and at the Kong Arthur, and at today's B&B. Score!

Roskilde, our first target for today, is best known for the Viking Ship Museum, which is on the "must-see" list for Denmark. it's more than just a few (5) salvaged ship skeletons -- it's a working shipyard where they test out buidling ships in the traditional way. In 2007, they built a replica of one of the found ships in the museum, The Sea Stallion, and sailed her to Dublin. There is a cool exhibit about it, and a film about the experience. The ship sits outside at the docks ehre, along with over 30 other ships of various sizes and origins, from huge viking longboats and trading boats, to smaller fishing vessels and tradtional danish and Faroese fishing boats. All made by hand, with traditional tools and traditional methods. It's really fascinating. There are workshops at the museum showin blacksmithing, woodworking, ropemaking -- it's a real,working ship yard. I love the old bones of the five ships that have been put together from the salvages pieces. The boats were scuttled on purpose to block the sound, and retrieved piece by piece and measured, preserved, and put together.

Just up the hill from the ship museum is the huge Domkirke -- the burial place of all the Danish kings and most of the Danish queens since the 14th century. The church itself is a mish-mash of styles -- it's obviously been added to nearly continuously for centuries. It's a brick church, too -- for some reason, having a huge church built of brick seems a bit odd to me -- I don't htink of brick as something you build tall towers with. But apparently it is. Inside, all the nooks and crannies are filled with monuments/mausoleums and coffins. Some of them are...big. And ostentations. That's what happens when you are royalty, i guess, and someone else gets to design your memorial. They're stunning and enormous and gaudy in most cases. Some of the side chapels have lovely paintings,and one is done in absolutely amazing trompe l'oeil that was real enough taht i jerked back to avoid whacking my elbow on what looked like a large carved head on the wall...but which was absolutely flat. The church has a lot of odd, dark, rather forbidding decorations, otherwise -- the King's Door is frightening, really, and there are weird gates of turned metal that look more like the doors to a dungeon than the doors to a tomb. Interesting, but in a rather strange way. Apparently Harald Bluetooth is buried here, but it is noted int he little guidebook that he is "walled up".

We made a quick stop in Ringsted to see the oldest brick church in Scandinavia...which was of course closed (unexpectedly, actually, it was suppoesd to be open and only a little handwritten Likkut sign on the locked door). But that was ok. We stopped at the ice cream shop in the main square, to make up for it.

The only other thing on the "must see" list for today is Trelleborg Viking fortress -- a huge round hillfort dating from 980 that is on the western coast of Zealand, just before the huge bridge to the rest of Denmark. Our GPS failed us miserably on this one, and refused to recognize that it even existed and so we had to rely on the too-small map to try to find the place and missed twice before hitting ont he right tiny little farm road. I should note that it was labelled, but only if you came from the other direction and were paying attention tot he tiny turnoff into the one-lane road. We did eventaully find it, but it took an extra half and hour and we arrived just as the museum part closed. Luckily, the site itself is open and we got to walk on the earthen mounds and see the burial grounds of this huge viking fort. it is a mighty familiar sort of place -- like the ring forts of Ireland and the remainso f round forts from the Roman era -- a high earthen wall surrounding a community of houses. The foundations here are odd: the shapes of the houses/buidlings is roughtly boat-shaped and they are arrangedi n groups of four to create interior courtyards. It's a rather impressive place, really, and I enjoyed being able to compare it to the other forts that I've seen from earlier (and later) eras. The technology might be a bit different, but the basic structure is the same. Interesting.

I timed things perfectly, of course. Just as walked back to the car, it started to rain. Hah! We got to do our drive-to-the-other-coast (a drive of maybe 90 minutes total) while it rained, and by the time we reached our B&B for thenight, it had stopped. Cooled off about 35 degrees, too.

One thing that is very noticeable is that Denmark is FLAT. Really, really flat. The hills roll gently, but from high ground I think you can see all the way to Germany.

We checked in (into the renovated stable block) at our B&B and then grabbed our coats to walk into the little town of Ribe.

It's ADORABLE. Seriously, the main part of town is an extremely well-preserved medieval trading town, with curving cobbled streets and precariously leaning half-timbered houses. The winding roads change names every block or so, but as long as you can see the spire of the church (by far the tallest things for miles) you can usually get your bearings. We walked through town, reading the plaques on buidlings that were built in the 17th century, some earlier, and ended up on their main pedestrian street to look at the shops and cafes. Closed, of course, since it's after 6, but we had a good look around, checked out which restaurant we are supposed to meet at later for the Night Watchman's tour -- a huge draw in thsi teensy little town -- and clomped back to the room to get warmer clothes.

I went from long sleeves to a t-shirt today and just about broiled at lunch, then by dinner was in silk long underwear, a long-sleeves t-shirt, a fleece, and my rain jacket. And gloves. if I had a had, I'd be wearing it. The wind can be fierce.

So - off tonight to the night watchman's tour at ten, and then tomorrow? Up through Jutland to Arhus and Aalborg.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rush Hour in Copenhagen

Copenhagen: Day 2

Sunny and gorgeous...and HOT today. Perfect!

We're off today to see Amelianborg Palace, the Nationalmuseet, and the City Museum, and whatever else happens to fall into the path-- of course, I misread the notes and the Nat'l Museum is not open on Mondays. Lots of things are closed on mondays, actually -- check the schedules carefully.

At any rate, fortified with several lovely frosted pastries and a sugary, round bun sort of thing, we ventured off into the old town again, this time to check out a few of the church interiors that mark wouldn't let me go into yesterday (even if they weren't having services, we were never sure!) and visit a few museums. It was actually too warm for a fleece vest by about 10am, i spent the day with it looped through my daypack, keeping the side of my leg warm. Ugh.

Amalienborg Palace contains a small museum of memorabilia from the previous kings and queens of Denmark -- a series of rooms that are decorated and left just as the monarch had lived in them (compared, I think, to the photographs that were taken of the rooms when they were in power -- including photos from the 19th century, when the whole process of photography was pretty new. it's interesting to compare the rooms as they are now (even behind glass) and the early photograph. The whole place is -- as several guide-books noted -- a paean to the Danish monarchy, a bit more like an avid collectors hoard of Elvis memorabilia than museum-pieces, but it's a nice visit. There is a whole room devoted to the recent christening of the royal twins, who are now fourth and fifth in succession to the throne. All sorts of traditions were upheaved by the birth of twins -- the single christening gown that has been used for the last dozen or so ceremonies was not enough, the whole 'enter into the list' of succession thing was confused.

We watched the beefeater-hatted guards march around in the palace square, but we didn't stick around for the formal 'changing of the guard',which should include a full military band and all sorts of yelling and saluting, since the flags were out, signalling that the royal family was in residence. They moved here from Christiansborg Palace after the last major fire (in 18-something). From within the castle square (or pentagon, really) you can see Marmorkirken (Marble Church),which is currently half-concealed by scaffolding and surrounded by workers and cranes and trucks. It looks like they are re-doing the gilding on the copper dome, among other things. Inside, the main part of the church lies under the dome, so it's round. It's quite a spectacular dome, too -- painted and lit brightly in the center as if it had an oculus there, like the Pantheon. Very un-church-like, except all the latin inscriptions.

It was a bit early. but the day was so lovely that we decided to walk along the original harbor of Copenhagen, Nyhavn, and look at all the boats and then pick one of the two dozen cafes to have lunch at. We sat in the sun, drank wine and beer, and people-watched..ate lunch...more people-watching and sun-basking. And then we had ice cream. See? Such a tough day so far!

We walked to Christianshavn and admired the truly stupendous houses on the island, and discovered that my book lied and the Orlogsmuseet (Naval Museum) was closed. Considering that the book was the guide that came along with the Copenhagen card, published by the city...well, I was a little disappointed. But, since we were nearby, we took a brief walk into Christiania -- the squatters free-state in the middle of the city, which is a sort of hippy, artsy, alternative-lifestyle sort of place. It gets a lot of press as "free christiania", and there is a lot of discussion about it, but in general I just found it dirty, completely covered in graffiti, and simply a curiosity. I guess I just don't grok the whole bohemian/art-y lifestyle thing. The main drag, Pusherstreet, has been cleaned up by police raids, so you don't really see many drugs being sold, but there are some cafes and art exhibits that you can see. We made just a quick detour. I was contemplating climbing the 400 steps (the last of which are on the outside of the steeple) of the Vor Frelsers church next door, but there was a funeral in the church and so we passed.

I wanted to check and see if the National Museum really was closed, since the book said it was, but it also said that the Navy museum was open, so it has a lousy record of accuracy. it was indeed closed...I'm a little irked, actually, that I didn't check more carefully -- that was one of the museums that I really did want to see (their prehistory exhibits are suppoesd to be very good), and we're deciding if we want to stick around in town to see if tomorow (opens at 10) or if it's more important to get to Roskilde and see some of the sights outside of Copenhagen. We'll probably move on, but we'll play it by ear tomorrow.

We did, however, want to go to the city museum for Copenhagen, which is out in the boonies in Vesterbro -- it's a bit of a confusing museum, with exhibits on the history of Copenhagen from it's founding to the last decade with lots of displays of old stuff from the excavations of the city and collections of modern pieces that show the evolution of Copenhagen from a port city to a medieval power to the modern day. A bit hard to follow, since timelines and explanations of the history are mixed in with displays of typewriters and record jackets but it's a very neat museum. They also have a high-tech multimedia exhibit on "being a Copenhagener" which we were engrossed in for a long time. Interviews, movies, letters, personal histories and artifacts with immigrants to Denmark and what it means to be a Copenhagener -- focusing a lot on recent immigration from muslim countries, and the history of integration in the city. It was fascinating.

Since we'd already walked about 6 miles (Mark has a pedometer in his iphone), we figured "what's a few more?" and decided to go look at the Elephant Gate at the Carlsberg Brewery. We didn't really want to go on the tour (one brewery is much like the other, really, and it's too hot to drink beer and then walk back!) but the gate is quite famous. We walked along the main shopping street for this area of the city, around the Central station and out into the boonies. Frankly, I didn't really like the street much -- sure, lots of shopping, but it's a four-lane busy road with narrow sidewalka and other than the fact that all the signs were in Danish, it could have been any commercial zone in any city. Not my cup of tea, really. It was a really ugly street, to be honest. But, it got us out to the brewery with little fuss, and we discovered a handy bakery at the end, so we could have a tasty pastry and recover from the walk...before walking back to the hotel.

We picked a different route and went up a parallel street towards the main part of the city, and walked through the remaining bits of the Red Light district near the train station. About half of the shops on our side of the road were sex shops (with their wares prominently displayed in the windows -- it was hard not to stop and examine things, "what on earth IS that?", and as we neared the station,t he rest of the spaces were filled in with gambling establishments and topless bars. It was quite colorful. I'm not sure I'd want to walk around here after dark, but we got a bit of a laugh out of it.

Forty-five minutes later, we were back in the hotel to shower and laze about. We summoned enough energy to go out for pizza again for dinner, but that's about it. At the moment, we're stitting inthe little garden atrium of the hotel -- although a man with a pipe just sat down at a nearby table, so we're going to vacate pretty soon and get out of his smoke cloud. Ugh. For a country that is so focused on healthy living and such, a whole lot of people smoke. We were really excited about the outdoor seating at nearly every restaurant, until we realized that they can still smoke ata those tables -- they are outside, so fair game.

I was talking to mark about my comment yesterday on the number of bikes in the city, and we both commented on the fact that only a few people wear helmets -- kids do, nearly always, and especially when strapped in to the child seats on bicycles, but adults? Maybe 10%. Most people manage to hold umbrellas, or talk on cell phones, or carry briefcaes and bags and still maneuver their bikes without incident. In the morning, they have a rush-hour and traffic jams all of their own.

Tomorrow? Off across Denmark. Nah, don't be so impressed, you can do it in about 3 hours, coast to coast. But we're going to Roskilde to see the Viking Ship museum (and possibly row in a viking boat) and across Funen to visit Odense and then to the mainland and across to Ribe on the west coast. Probably with a stop in Legoland...you never know.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Oh! I forgot!

I totally forgot to post the picture (not a very good one, the cows did not cooperate once they figured out that we did not bring food) -- but Carolina and her family have Highland Coos. I think I mentioned it,but I just got around to resizing the picture so I can post it.

Copenhagen: Day 1

When we went to sleep last night, the forecast was for rain today. Nope! Dawned sunny, albeit cool, and stayed that way all day. Well, until the very end, when we were tired, as far from our hotel as we had been all day, and needed to walk back to the other end of town in the rain. We got damp enough it wasn't really even worth trying to catch the S-tog tramway.

Copenhagen is supposed to have this great bus, tram, train, metro system...and we hardly saw a bus all day and never did see any of the trains or trams. Compared to Gothenburg and Stockholm, where they are a constant presence, they just never seemed to be around when we walked. I can only assume it meant we were walking in the wrong parts of town, or something.

After stuffing ourselves full of Wienerbrod and croissants (and coffee for mark) at the nearby bakery, we just starting walking "towards town", to the main pedestrian zone in the city, admiring the buildings and the various churches we kept finding at every turn. Copenhagen has a huge network of pedestrian-only streets through the middle of the city, and scattered throughout the rest of the city are some random blocks and squares that have attached pedestrian zones -- eventually, it seems as if half the city will be only for people and bikes, with cars relegated to the outer fringes.

And bikes there are -- thousands of them. I don't think I've ever seen so many bikes in my life. Hundreds of them in racks near every bus stop and every big building, lining squares and filling the bike racks (which are as numerous as trees here, i swear) on every square. Every single street is lined with bikes just leaning against the walls -- all stolid, dependable, simple sorts of bikes (no fancy racing bikes here, or big heavy mountain bikes -- Copenhagen is the purview of the Cruiser in all it's styles). Nearly all of them sport a basket or two, many have one (or two!) child seats strapped to them, and a few even have a big square cart in front, making them more like a reverse-tricycle than a bike (think of something that looks like an old-fashioned ice-cream cart -- two wheels in front with a bin,and one behind.). Everyone rides bikes, and the bike lanes on most roads seem to be better planned and better maintained than the roads themselves. I thought Stockholm was bike-friendly, it looks positively tame compared to Copenhagen. Our hotel rents bikes, too -- we may try that tomorrow. Of course, I haven't been on a bike in about 20 years, so that could be a fun experiment. If I post tomorrow from a hospital room, you will know immediately that it's because of a bike!

Our timing worked out perfectly to join one of the canal tours (in a shallow open-topped boat that barely slips beneath some of the low bridges in the canals) and we enjoyed an hour floating around the main canals of Interhavnen and through the old neighborhoods of Holmen island, where everyone seems to have their own boat moored in the canal. It was interesting -- not so much because it told us any of the history of the city, as advertised, but because we got to see some of the areas and neighborhoods that we probably wouldn't make it to on foot, and we got to see the main harbor views from the water. The Black Diamond of the library, the Opera House, the Royal Theater, as well as some very nice views down the canals themselves, filled with sail boats and tons of people. And, the guide on the boat did the tour in three separate languages (Danish,English, and German) and swapped between the three without pause. It was quite impressive, really, and "low bridge! Watchyour head!" sounds remarkably similar in all three.

Mark decided to look for more food and coffee while I climbed the Rundetaarn (Round Tower) for the views out over the city. The tower was originally an observatory (the oldest in Denmark, from 1642). The inside of the tower doesn't have stairs -- to get to the top you walk up a huge spiral ramp, which is unique in Europe. It's a bit of a hike to the top, but the views out over Copenhagen are cool -- especially looking down on the rabbit-warren of streets and red-tile roofs just below the tower itself.

Very close to the tower is Rosenborg Castle and the huge castle garden (if you look on a map, they seem to cover about a quarter of the main island. Someone (several someones, I'm sure) has spent a lot of time, a tremendous amount of time, turning rows of beech trees into rectangular shapes. Seems rather weird, actually, since the trees are lovely in their natural shape, but the perfectly straight, perfectly block-shaped trees make for impressive avenues. There are a dozen different areas in the gardens, and we only saw the English knot garden and the large meadow of camelias (I think?) in six different colors before we went to the castle itself.

Only the state rooms are open, and some of the items displayed are really interesting (a number of brass clocks, and a room that is nearly completely mirrored are among the surprising finds), but the real draw is the Treasury beneath the castle, with cases full of extraordinary ivory carvings and cameos and steins and other tchotchkes that the rich and famous would give to the king. Some of the work is astoundingly ugly, but they are fascinating nonetheless because of their detail -- a 10" tall stein carved with intertwining branches and flowers, all perfectly formed is sort of mesmerizing, really -- how long would it take to actually carve that by hand? Without a dremel? One cup of coffee too many, one slip of the hand, and months of work have to be redone. I suppose the point was to show how rich you were, that you could afford to have this made and give it to the king, who probably just had it shipped off to a storeroom anyhow.

We listened to the advice of two gentleman sitting on a park bench to try an italian sandwich shop on the Stroget for lunch, which once again reinforced our "how to choose lunch" rules. Packed, bustling, and very, very tasty. Mark is so much more pleasant when he's had food. Oy. We were in a bit of a hurry, since i wanted to see the Royal Stables at Christianborg palace, andthey were only open from 2-4. They are completely restored -- in fact, completely rebuilt, due to changes in the rules as to how horses can be stabled. The old stable had stalls that were too small and the new law didn't allow the horses to be left in them for very long. So, they basically gutted the place and rebuilt it (using the same materials and as much of the old stsables as possible), including digging down the the floor over a meter and expanding all the lovely wood and stone horse stalls into even lovelier wood and stone "openboxes" that are three times the size. The troughs are still granite, the stall walls are still dark-stained wood, and the whole stable actually looks like the inner aisle of a huge stone church, big stone columns and all. It's really nice. I'm also a sucker for the bits and bobs that make up the old carriages, and the stables have almost twenty examples, some of them several hundred years old. The stable was theonly part of the castle to survive both fires (which destroyed the first two versions entirely).

Another thing that nearly always fascinates me are excavations and old foundations of things (crumbly bits!) and Christianborg has a huge underground walk through the excavated remains of the first castle built there inthe 12th century by city founger Bishop Absolom. They were restored about five years ago and you can walk through to see the remains of the old castle walls, towers, and wooden water mains built into the early stone castle here. The current castle is about the sixth iteration of a castle here (and it's more a manor house than castle, if you ask me) -- the previous two versions before this one burned to the ground because of faulty construction. A heating pipe lit a fire in the hollow spaces above a ceiling and the fire raced through the first building until it reached the attic...where they were storing wood to dry. The replacement palace was designed with firebreaks and better fire-fighting capabilities, but when it, too, was lit on fire by a faulty heating grate, the crew to fight the fire was denied entrance to the great hall (the fire had started inthe hollow passages underneath it) by the steward because he'd just polished the floors. It burned to the ground in a spectacular fashion and it was years before it was rebuilt. A lot of the art and furniture didn't survive the blaze (which was described by one person as a volcano, as if Vesuvius had erupted in the middle of the palace. It's quite a visual).

We also did our turn as Tourists today and ambled out to see the Little Mermaid statue, along with gaggles of other poeple. It's really quite tiny, and very close to shore. I was expecting something a bit further out, to be honest. But, now I've seen it, and can assure peple that yes, I've been to Copenhagen, I've seen The Little Mermaid, and survived. Frankly, I was more impressed by the Gefion fountain, which is a rather amazing thing with bulls and spouting water and rock-filled waterfalls. Amazing in a "um..why would anyone build that..." sort of way. Still, we sat and admired it in all its glory for a few minutes before heading on. We were going to walk around the fortifications on the island, but it decided at that moment to pour down rain and we simply stuck our hands in our pockets, ducked our heads, and walked as quickly as possible back to the hotel. It's still raining, but it's subsided to a faint drizzle, at least.

Tomorrow? Out into Copenhagan again-- Amalienborg Palace, the National Museum, the Navy Museum, and more pastries, I'm sure.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Denmark, here we come

Up early this morning to have breakfast with our lovely hosts and drive to Helsingborg for the ferry to Denmark. We originally were going to take the new Oresund Bridge, but I'm glad that we took the ferry and spent the morning in Helsingor instead.

I don't like boats, really. And I really don't like boats that you drive trucks onto -- that just seems like a recipe for disaster, you know? The ferry is enormous, and does the trip every 20 minutes, and I don't remember any recent issues with ferries sinking, but still! We arrived about two minutes before the 8:20 ferry left, drove on and had just enough time to sit on the deck and swap out our Swedish Kroner for Danish Kroner and pack the envelopes back in my bag. it was a bit too cold and windy to stand on the top deck and see Kronborg (Elsinore/Hamlet's Castle) as we neared Denmark. It's practically a short-enough distance to swim (about 4.5km). We parked the car near the station and took off walking into town.

Helsingor is fabulous - the first thing we see coming across the street from the car park, is a slightly leaning, whitewashed half-timbered house in the medieval town center...followed by an entire street of them. The town was made very rich by the fees/tolls they charged for any ship passing between Sweden and Denmark, and it shows in the really grand houses that line the older part of town. We just poked around in the alleys and main streets before ending up at the Saturday morning street fair in the main square of the town. By lunchtime, nearly every shop had racks and tables of things out in the street and there were tents nad tables in the main square--we weren't really sure if this was a regular occurrence or not, since we had just gotten used to deciphering Swedish signs and Danish is enough different that we're a bit flummoxed by things. Luckly, we did figure out "one way street" before we messed up and drove the wrong way.

We walked along the harborfront to Kronborg Castle--which is a huge tourist draw for Hamlet fans, since the rumor is that Shakespeare based his play Hamlet not only on a Danish story about Amleth, but also sited it at this particular castle. Probably he heard about it from a traveling troupe of actors who performed here, but the story definitely stuck. It's an interesting castle, although no my favorite; there is a lot of art contained in the castle, but the rooms themselves are plain white and lack most decorations, probably because the castle was garrisoned by the Danish Army and then taken over by the Germans in WW2. The only room that is still in the same shape it would have been in the 16th century is the chapel -- which is pretty cool, I'll admit. We toured the casemates under the castle bastions and the state rooms, and Mark had to carefully inspect all the cannons lining the steep earthen defenses.

Of course, the first thing that he asked when we approached the castle to see the grass-covered banks was "how do they mow the grass on them?". The sides are probably 60 degrees. My immediate response? "Sheep. They lower them down on ropes..." I thought he was going to have to sit down, he was laughing so hard. The fact that we actually did see a rope and pulley system a bit later had us both wheezing with laughter.

Helsingor is only a few minutes from Fredensborg Slott, which is a royal residence and not open to tourists (at least, not today). We walked up to the gate and watched the very serious guard in his giant fuzzy hat walk back and forth a few times, and snapped a few pictures of the castle. It was still raining a bit, but we walked up the hill to the castle gardens hoping to see the sculptures, but everything is in the middle of restoration work and so we merely trekked around to the back of the castle, saw more fierce-looking young men in fuzzy beefeater hats marching smartly around in their tap shoes (seriously, they have metal bits on their shoes so they sound snappy when they march on pavement, like tap shoes). Oh! And we saw a dozen or so monuments in the back garden that look for all the world like giant erections. Yup. A field of penis sculpture. Closer examination shows them to be some sort of obelisk-like things with draped ivy on the bottom, but...well, I'll post a few pictures when I get through them and you'll think the same thing I did, I guarantee it!

Frederiksborg Slott, on the other hand, is stupendous. The rooms are carefully and completely restored, the art on display is great, and I spent the whole time walking around looking directly UP at the ceilings, which ranged from a rather sedate coffered ceiling with gold medallions to a ridiculous, over-the-top, frou-frou concoction of rococo decorations in a dozen different colors. I actually was laying on my back on the floor, staring up at the ceiling and trying to figure out how to take a good picture...the docent of the museum was a bit surprised. I think he was sure I'd fainted or something. The grand ballroom is a riot of colors and i can't imagine having a huge ball there with women in multi-colored dresses and men in their equally colorful finery (remember, this was the 18th century, they were dressing in the french style)...it might actually be nausea-inducing.

Many of the rooms have the best trompe l'oeil work that I've ever seen --the "marble" walls are simply paint, expertly done, and you've pretty much got to press your nose against it to realize that it's not real.

Mark also enjoyed identifying pictures of Christian IV (I think?) all over the castle, because the portraits,all of them, show a man with a very tiny head and a very large behind. Even if you grant some leeway to the artists for messing up the perspective, the guy in the paintings is pear-shaped. "Yup! Another one! Tiny head!" After looking at rooms of 16th and 17th century portraits, you realize that a lot of the faces look the same and the stylized clothing and expressions cover a multitude of artistic failings. Seriously - a lot of these portraits of women look like men in dresses, and we found at least one painting where every single person in the frame seemed to have exactly the same face. Maybe they found one guy who could paint faces really, really well...but he could only paint ONE of them. I don't know.

The GPS once again got us into Copenhagen and to the hotel without a single hitch. We're staying at the Hotel Kong Arthur, which is right on the canal (not the main canal, Inderhavn, but one of the smaller "so"s to the northeast) and we even scored a parking space in the small courtyard. We're on the fourth floor, which has a few angled beams in the room, but we can open the windows and lean out over the road and we've got a ton of space. Nice.

Scouted out a bakery for breakfast tomorrow (the hotel doesn't include breakfast, which is a change, and I refuse to pay $30 a head for a breakfast buffet that isn't so stellar that I'll write songs about it) and as we were discussing what to do for dinner, we both smelled it...pizza. Perfect, hot, garlicy pizza. We just followed our noses to a little downstairs hole-in-the-wall pizza joint run by an energetic Italian guy and absolutely packed with people. Always a good sign, when you can barely squeeze into the place. When we travel, we try to find the places that people are lined up outside of, or that are packed full of people -- usually they are the best places to eat. The fancy places with candles and white tablecloths can be great as well, but so far, we've had great luck with the local favorites.

I promptly took a bit of just-from-the-oven pizza...and burned the roof of my mouth. I hate that.

And tomorrow? Off to explore Copenhagen -- the three palaces in the city, dozens of churches,the pedestrian-only Stroget that covers most of downtown. And bakery. Don't forget the bakery -- the quintissential "Danish" pastry is pretty dang tasty!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Red-Carpet treatment

We just spent two days visiting Mark's relatives in (and around) Hishult, Sweden -- it was an absolutely splendid trip and we had a great time with Carolina and Christer and their family. They fed us great food, took us to see all the places in the area related to Mark's family and made us feel so welcome in their home.

We stayed in the little red house that belonged to Christer's mother, which is only a little way from the main house, but is very quiet and private. We got to walk by the Scottish cows every morning on our way up to the house -- yes, they have Scottish Coos. Carolina bought them from someone online who wanted them to "have a good home" and so now they have five big fuzzy red cows in the field across from their house (a neighbors field, actually!). We joked that now they would never be able to sell them...the man they bought the cows from has actually visited them to make sure they are happy. If they ever sold the cows...he would know. They have a bull, two cows, and two calves right now. I imagine if we visit in a few years, they will have a dozen!

They drove us out to the family farm in Putsared - which Mark remembers from when he was last in Sweden, it belonged to his great-uncle and now the family pastures cows there and sometimes stays in the house in the summer time (even though it does not have running water). We stopped by to visit Evy (his mother's cousin, which makes her his..oh, I can't figure out the family tree past first cousins) and her husband Stig in their house in Hishult. They are moving soon to an apartment in Laholm where it is a little easier to take care of things, so they are busy packing and planning. Stig built the house himself (which I find rather amazing...I've only known of one person who build their own house, and now I know three of them!).

From there we drove to meet Lars (ok, let's see, a second cousin to Mark?) in Hoor. (sorry, can't do the o-with-umlaut thing, please imagine them there). I met Lars thirty years ago, when he visited Mark just when we started dating. He looks the same -- and we decided to ignore/deny the fact that thirty years had passed. Perhaps ten, we decided, that would be ok. Lars was terribly excited to show us his latest project: a spectacular new pipe organ for the church in Hoor. He is SO proud of it, and so obviously passionate about the music and the organ that it is contagious.

I have never actually been inside a pipe organ before, and not only did we get to hear Lars play a very complicated piece designed to really show off the different "voices" the organ has, he unlocked the little door in the side and let us climb inside (not while he was playing..that would be painful, I think!). I never realized just how much goes on inside of something like this -- and this organ is built with the technology and materials of the 17th century - oak and pine and lambskin and wooden bellows. No electronics, no motorized blower, no carbon fiber. Every key is attached to the pipes and air with wooden slats and small metal pegs -- it is like a complicated sculpture inside with pipes and bars and levers and tabs everywhere. I can't imagine what the plans look like to build it, but the end result is really fascinating.

We collected a few more family members on the way to get ice cream: Carolina's son Emil,and Lar's wife Birgita and their son Magnus. We even had a brief visit from Alice, their daughter, who whirled in with a bunch of her friends, waved hello, and then (with the embarassment that teenagers have about their parents in full show) bolted to be with her friends. She and her father had a conversation entirely in Swedish (which neither Mark nor I speak beyond takk and ja/nej) and yet we understood exactly what the conversion was about -- the tone and facial expressions said it all, and we laughed all the way to dinner. It was really good to see Lars again - hopefully we won't wait another 30 years!

Our hosts plied us with even more food and tasty treats when we got back to their farm, and we slept like stones.

They wanted to show us some of the more local stuff on Friday, and so we visited the church where Carolina works now -- a small stone 11-th century church in Ysby, and the new project Christer is working on (the building renovation for a new dairy/cheesemaking endeavor that someone in town is starting). Yes, they both have jobs in the daytime, and farm "only in the evenings" Christer says. Uh-huh. That's two jobs. At least. Then we drove up to Bastad (bow-stad) to see the beaches and the amazingly ugly (and expensive) new houses build along the water. The town is absolutely mad in July, she says, and they don't drive there at all until after the tourists leave. We stopped in the little town of Boarp at a deli to pick up some ham that Carolina wanted us to try, it is a speciality they have locally, but they were out.

But I still had a grand old time with the town....BORP! I can't quite pronounce the vowels properly and now the town will forever be BORP, at least to me. Just saying it makes me giggle. It actually made me chuckle out loud even as I typed this. Yes, I'm easy to amuse. BORP! BOORP! I can't help it. I think after this, they decided to try to teach me to pronounce things properly, but I just can't manage the a-with-the-little-o over it. It's pretty funny when I try, though.

We finally got to see their other house -- the one they built several years ago, intending to move from the farm house they are in. It's beautiful. I thought that had hired someone to build it for them -- Carolina designed it -- but it turns out that no, Christer and his sons built it themselves. We also got to see the new apartment in Laholm because we all drove to see Ebba (their daughter) play in a recital. The school was so unorganized though, that we did not attend -- I think Ebba was very glad, since we told her we would stand in the front row and do The Wave and take lots of flash pictures and tell everyone that we were there just to see her! She said later that it was good that no one came, it was an absolute disaster. At least she was laughing about it.

We had dinner and sat and talked for hours afterwards -- one thing I can say, Carolina made sure we had food, good food, and lots of it! Every time we stopped anywhere, food appeared ! And what can I say? Any culture that involves chocolate and marzipan for breakfast is ok in my book.

Southern Sweden is beautiful, and seems very, very familiar to me -- and i realized why: it looks like southern Minnesota. All those Swedes left Sweden and traveled until they found a place that looked just like home.

Tomorrow? Off to Copenhagen via the ferry to Helsingor (and Kronborg Slot -- Hamlet's Castle). Can I just register now that I don't really like boats? And especially boats onto which they drive trucks? Gah.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Oy, the wind! It's howling today -- the clouds cleared from all the rain overnight, but it was cold and very windy today as we walked through Gothenburg. It's the second largest town in Sweden, a huge shipping port, and has the buildngs to show for it; although only few of the 17th century buildings remain, most have been replaced by stone mansions along the canalfront and huge 1960s housing blocks south of the main part of the city. We went directly to the huge car-park near the bus station and left the car to walk around the older part of town, on a small island in the main canal -- the remains of the original walled city are very visible here.

We walked through the main pedestrian area of the city (lined with shops of every sort) and went to the cathedral (which is a very plain-looking building, actually). Inside, it's simple and nearly all-white. it does have some unusual details, though: along eah side of the church are glassed-in cases that look for all the world like tram cars (and the locals do call them "the trams", apparently) that were used for the private conversations of the bishops, and the cross hanging over the alter is an unusual sort: no christ on the cross, just his abandoned clothing. I probably wouodn' have even noticed this, to be honest, if every single guidebook hadn't mentioned it, but once you know that it's a rather weird version of things, it's hard to not notice.

The Fiskekirke ("Fish Church") is not really a church, and never has been, but it's the oldest indoor market in the city and while it's small compared to the others, the array of fresh fish here is amazing. People come from all over the city to buy fresh fish and prepared lunches. We were a bit early for lunch, but some of the shrimp salads looked amazing. Our primary goal, though, is Maritiman -- the "floating maritime museum" along the waterfront. Twenty boats of various types (from small local tug boats to a destroyer and a submarine) are tied up along the pier and are open for boat-nuts to poke into every nook and cranny. Not quite my cup of tea, but Mark loves it and clambered down into the submarine and into the engine rooms of the boats to look around.

We passed by the Stadmuseum (the city museum) and decided to have lunch in their cafe -which turned out to be one of the best lunches we've had so far -- the dagans ratt, or daily special: bread, salad, coffee, and a meat pie was excellent. We realized we needed to go back and plug the meter on the car parking, so we quickly went back to the car ad got another two hours of time, before walking through the botanical gardens to see the palm house -- a replica of the Crystal Palace -- and look at the not-quite-blooming-yet rose garden, which will be spectacular in the summer whne all three thousand plants are in bloom.

The central part of town around the main square and the central train/bus/tram station is filled with bicycles, and we stopped quickly in the the main station to look around. it's the oldest train station in Sweden,with lovely woodwork and decorative details. Our final stop before leaving the city was to see the Kronhuset - a 17th century brick building originally built as an artillery depot and now used as a concert space. The buildings wasn't open to look inside, but it is a good representation of what all the buildings in the main part of the old town would have looked like. For someone like me who likes old buildings, it's a gem. And, in the courtyard, there is a lovely bakery and chocolate shop. Can't beat that!

it's only about two hours down the coast to Hishult, so we have a pretty leisurely drive this afternoon, with a stop at the harborside fortress in Varberg -- which is very much like the star-forts we saw all along the coast in Ireland and Scotland -- obviously a very popular layout. The wind was so fierce that we were having a hard time walking up the steep cobbled lanes inside the fort...and of course mark went up on the battlements to peer over the very edge. I really shouldh ave demanded the car keys, just in case he pitched himself over the edge on a wind gust.

The GPS led us directly to Carolina and Christer's, and we settled in for the evening to catch up and drink coffee. We are staying in the little house that belonged to Christer's mother, which is just a short walk from their house. They are charming people, and we're really enjoying seeing them again (they visited us in Colorado about two years ago, as part of their trip to the US). They farm here ("as a second job, only in the evenings" Christer says) with sheep and five huge, fuzzy Highland cows. Carolina bought them, she said, and the seller was very concerned that they have "a good home", and even came to visit after they were here. We laughed and told her that she could never get rid of them now -- they would know.

Slept like rocks. Tomorrow -- off to visit more family!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rain and a last look at Stockholm

Our last day in Stockholm and we woke to gray skies, but we packed up and loaded the car after breakfast and then walked into town intending to take the Under the Bridges Tour (a two hour cruise through the canals around the city)...after we tracked down Marten Trotzig's Grand, the narrowest street in Gamla Stan.

It started to rain when we got off the T-bana and we figured it would be short-lived, so we just slogged on. We eventually stopped and took refuge under an awning and watched the crowds of people (mostly school kids, who we think were on a scavenger hunt, since they all came by in pairs with sheaves of paper and stopped at the same buildings) for a while. We had to resort to the mapping feature on Mark's phone to find the narrow little alley.

Deciding that cruising around in the rain wasn't going to be much fun, we opted instead for the Historiska Museet - the displays on vikings and medieval Stockholm were amazingly well done and interesting; the gold room, in particular, with the finds of dozens of Viking and later-era hoards was fascinating. This museum has the only three gold collars ever found. It also has the remains of what was reputed to be th elargest hoard ever found, which was dug up in the 18th century by a local nobleman. He brought the find to the King, who was unable to afford to buy all of it and so the museum has only a couple of small gold torcs and a few sword decorations...the noblemftok the rest of the find and melted it down to make ducats and pay off his huge debts! Mark liked this museum far more than the Nordiske Museum, and we wandered around for most of the morning.

We found Ostermalms Saluhall -- a huge indoor market -- and browsed around for lunch along with half the population of Stockholm, I think. We eventually settled on take-away from one of the vendors -- chicken (kyckling) croquettes, swedish moose meatballs with hunter sauce, gruyere potatoes, and bread from one of the bakeries. Great lunch, and now I can say I've eaten Swedish Moose Balls. Which were quite tasty.

Mark was inexorably drawn to the Armemuseum, so we made a quick detour to walk through the exhibition there before we headed back to the hotel to pick up the car. We have a reservation near Gothenburg (which I have been told is Yoh-te-burry) tonight, so we're heading across Sweden, past Lake Vannen, and down to Floda where we're staying at Naas Slott. The rain and wind picked up with a vengeance and by the time we arrived there it was gray and cold. Since we showed up very late, I had made arrangements with the caretaker to leave the keys and such and we spent a few minutes trying to find the "blue box" with the promised instructions before we could get in and dry off. It's a lovely place - the mansion was built by one of the burghers who was involved with the Swedish East India Company, and we stayed in the south wing of the house (which is actually a separate building, it just looks like it's connected from the front). Very comfortable and quite lovely - although i can't quite get used to the "two separate duvets" on the double bed. After a very quick foray to find dinner (local pizza place, which actually stayed open late to feed us -- we hadn't checked the time and didn't realize that they were actually closing when we showed up!) we were back and asleep in minutes.

Off to Gothenburg tomorrow and then on to visit family near Hishult.


I've been corrected (and we probably should get a dictionary!) that the Squeezy Bacon in a tube is actually just bacon-flavored cheese.

I'm quite dissappointed. I was sure it was just bacon in a tube....but no. It's just flavored cheese-food. Hmph.

Now I'm a bit concerned that there is shrimp-flavored cheese, too. That's just too weird to contemplate.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stockholm 3: less walking, bigger stuff

We did a bit less walking today -- we still hoofed it to the Tunnelbana station but our destination today was Drottningholm Palace and we actually figured out the bus and train schedules (in Swedish, no less) to get out there. We decided against the boat, since we're going to take the Under the Bridges tour tomorrow (well, we were going to do it today, but the Vasa museum was far too interesting to leave, so..tomorrow it is!)

It apparently rained buckets this morning before we got up, and it was forecast for rain until mid-day, but everything looked like it was clearing up as we left the hotel, so I didn't bring a rain jacket. For once, I was right. It cleared by lunchtime and was sunny and gorgeous (albeit win-dy!). We definitely luck out with weather on our vacations.

Drottningholm is interesting -- in comparison to the Kungliga Slott (Royal palace) in Gamla Stan, which we toured around on Saturday, and which is designed/finished by the same architect, it's a much more typical baroque and rococo style building. The obvious comparison is to Versailles (which was built at the same time, so the rumors that thisis meant to be "a copy" are false, according to our very knowledgeable guide) with the long, perfectly symmetrical facade and wings, and the extensive French and English gardens is apt. Inside, it's french silk wallpaper, rococo and neo-classical mirrors and gilding, and not much of a trace of good old-fashioned Swedish aesthetics. Nothing is simple, everythign is a bit overwrought, most notably the main staircase which is a riot of faux painted marbles and sculptures and trompe l'oeil ceilings and alcoves. The effect is nearly perfect - I had to touch a few of the walls to confirm that they are, indeed, just paint. Some of the perspective-bending ceiling paintings are realistic enough to fool a first glance, and make the rooms look taller and larger than they are. Drottningholm is actually quite small, as apalaces go -- it is meant as a true summer home for the king, even though the current family lives here most of the year.

But it's the gardens and the remarkable Chinese Pavillion that are really fun. Over 700 lime trees in perfect, neat rows surround carefully laid out and pruned pleasure gardens, all leading to the fanciful pavillion at the far end -- a concoction of mock-oriental design and color -- "like a chinese lacquer box plopped down in the swedish countryside" our guide said. it even has a private dining house where the table and the cabinets rise up out of the floor so the cooking and serving happens below, and no servants are required to stand tableside to serve things. it's all just cooked and raised up on pulleys into the little gazebo. The king and his friends used to take a carriage from the palace to have parties here, among the tschotkes of chinese dolls and painted porcelain.

Back in town, we got stuck in a tunnelbana station a bit further away than we anticipated -- we manage to decipher something about "road work" and "20 minute delay" (we think!) from the very serious sounding announcement. But, the walk was nice and we were back on the tram to Djurgaden easily enough, once we navigated our way around the station and figured out which direction we were facing once we emerged at ground level. At least the streets are consistently labelled here (even if most street names have about thirty letters, I swear).

The Vasa museum was tops on our list to visit (and should be tops on anyone's list to visit -- it's absolutely amazing to see this huge, tall, narrow ship almost entirely intact, in the museum. Once you stand on the floor near the huge rudder and stare up at the insanely narrow, towering stern of the ship, you understand immediately why it sank promptly, in the harbor, on its first voyage out of the docks. Blub glub glub. Originally, they thought it was the weight of the guns shifting from side to side that did her in, but they were all found well-fastened when the ship was discovered and raised in the 1960s. The current theory is that she had far too little ballast to balance out the huge, top-heavy ship. The rest of the museum is fascinating, but it pales in comparison to just looking at the enormous, fully-restored ship sitting in the middle. Nearly everything is the original wood (preserved with some sort of chemical soup) and the restorers put the thing together like a giant jigsaw puzzle, matching up nail holes in individual pieces as they went. It's just a stunning work of art. I could have stayed for hours just staring at the bits and pieces all over the ship. It was for that reason taht we missed the boat tour -- I was hanging, agog, over the railinglooking down on he main deck.

We went a little further onto the island, and just walked around the park for awhile -- sat on the bluff overlooking the harbor at Prince Eugene's Waldensudde and walked up to the vast gardens at Rosendal palace (and never did see the actual palace, which is kind of funny, castle-hunter that I am). It was just a lovely, perfect evening to wander around and sit on the various benches.

Street food for dinner - Sergels Torg was filled with the 'International Food Festival" and we downed a couple of enormous sausages and picked up a half-dozen desserts (hey, you have to set priorities!) before finally trekking back to the hotel. On the way we ran into a gentleman we'd met at Drottningholm (he asked us to 'test' his photograph by holding up our hands to "hold" a building on our palms so he could help a friend of his get "the perfect tourist picture"). he actually lives only a few blocks from our hotel and we passed him walking up the street....a rather weird, deja-vu-ish sort of experience. We assured him that we were not stalking him, and had an enjoyable chat on the way from the metro station. How odd!

It's early still, and we're in the hotel room, stuffed full of bratwurst, baklava, and English fudge and probably ready to crash for the night. it took all of four seconds for us to kick off our shoes and socks and collapse.

Oh, and may I just register that I think it's against the geneva convention to charge for using the bathroom at a mall? We ducked in to the Gallerian mall (a ginormous mall near the central station) and luckily we had 10 kroner to put intot he turnstile or we'd have been out of luck. Phffft! Although, I will say, Swedish public toilets are among the nicest I've ever been in and very, very clean.

Tomorrow? The Under the Bridges tour, and if I can manage to convince Mark, the historic museum. We have to leave Stockholm by about 2:30 (We're going to be in Gothenburg tomorrow night) and we'll probably not have time to do much. But we'll try!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stockholm 2: Footsore and sunburned

Another absolutely fabulous day in Stockholm -- warm, sunny, a bit windy, and perfect for wandering around. Wandered around Riddaholmen this morning before things opened, taking pictures of the outside of the Riddarholmskyrkan before we joined the guided tour at the Radhuset (City hall). Which is unlike any city hall I'm used to -- we never hosted the Nobel Prize dinners in any sort of city hall I'm aware of. It's an interesting building -- dozens of different styles and colors that is at once harmonious and just slightly jarring. A room of gold-leaf mosaic tiles follows a plain, pale-painted drawing room. After walking around for an hour, we decided that our original plan to climb the 365 steps to the top of the tower was probably not the best thing to do, considering how exhausted we were yesterday (and how we're both feeling a bit sore and tired.

Yes, blame me. I over-commit. Or over-plan. Take your pick. I have far too much stuff on the list for us to do than we can possibly squeeze in. And we tend to go non-stop from 8am-8pm before crashing, packing in as much as we can. That's how we always go on vacations -- up early, out all day, crash like big crashy things at night, exhausted. We often end up at the end of our vacation with aches and pains and too little sleep. Go-Go-Go!

At any rate, we walked back across the bridge to Gamla Stan again to visit the Nobel Museum and eat lunch in their cafe, sitting outside and looking over the main square and basking in the sunshine. We are continually amazed that women in high-heels can walk across the cobblestone streets.

We were going to go to Skepsholmen to visit the Architecture museum, but we decided to get off the 'hop-0n/hop-off' boat early and went to the Nordiska Museum. Mark really felt cheated -- he thought atht a museum that was supposed to be representative of life in Scandinavia shoould have more in it than a wing of costumes, house interiors, and pictures of men in bathing suits (the temporary exhibition). I, personally, loved the home interiors from the 19th century, the 30s, the 50s and a modern room. And, walking through the displays of historic costume is guaranteed to interest me -- I even lost a half hour pulling out al the drawers in the textile display area to see examples of weaving, needlework, crochet, and knitting in the various styles throughout Sweden. I did expect a few more examples of the bunad in the collection, though. There was only one. The building, though, is quite interesting.

We walked along the waterfront and gawked at all the people heading to Gruna Lund,the amusement park, and finally wended our way to Skansen, where we spent the afternoon looking at houses and farmsteads and churches of every sort moved to Stockholm from the far reaches of Sweden for an open-air recreation of the different regions. it was sunny, warm, and strolling along the cobbled lanes to look at farms from the last few centuries (including a storehouse that dates to 1320) and people-watching was a lovely, relaxing afternoon. We had been worried that it would be Disney-esque sort of place, all commercial and in-your-face (like the much-mentioned Bunratty Castle in Ireland, which still can reduce us to giggles), but it wasn't Bunrattified at all -- very low key, very little commercial glitz. You can tell they can really gear it up in the summer months during high-season, but right now, it's just starting to fill up and not everythign is open yet.

Caught the train back to central Stockholm and hiked back to the hotel -- I swear, that walk is getting longer and longer every time we do it -- there's bus service that is closer, but it's actually quicker to just walk to the nearest Tunnelbana station...but at the end of the day, the slog back can feel like miles and miles.

We drove out into the world looking for food tonight. The area we're in is pretty thin on the ground with restuarants that are open for dinner (and even fewer of them are open on Sunday night) and we figured the pickings would be better further out in one of the "shopping areas"...which were also closed, along with anything even remotely attached to them. We ended up, of all places, in McDonalds. Which is ok - we do specifically try to stop in a McDs in every country we visit, to compare notes (the ketchup is not as sweet here, and the pickles are a bit odd, but otherwise, just the same), and we wandered through a grocery store (which is fun, since everything is a different brand and we don't actually read any Swedish).

Mark simply would not take a picture of the enormous sausage that I found (figuring quite rightly that I would be forced to make some sort of off-color joke about a bright red sausage the size of a whiffle bat), but he did deign to take a photo of the Wall of Food in a Tube...more specifically...BACON in a tube. Along with shrimp, crab, cheese, ham, and a variety of other combinations of Squeeze Food. I was giggling helplessly. I can't decide if Squeezze Bacon is the best
invention evah, or a sign of the apocalypse.

Probably the latter. We didn't buy any (no place to keep it at the moment), but we might have to, even if we just empty it out and take home the tube proclaiming BaconOst!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Stockholm has to be the cleanest city that I've ever been in. We spent the day in Gamla Stan (old town) -- the original island of medieval Stockholm -- walking around the narrow cobbled lanes and around the royal castle and cathedral, and all the buildings are in good condition (or actively being fixed and under scaffolding and tarps), painted lovely ocher shades that make the curving streets seem as if they are bathed in sunlight, even when they are shadowed. It's a lovely place.

Easy to get lost in, despite the fact that it's about 1/2 mile from end to end. We spent the morning just wandering around, then went to the Kunglinga Slottet (royal castle), a huge square not-too-castle-looking castle to see the State Apartments and public rooms. They've got more room here than Buckingham palace, decorated most in the rococo style with tons of gold leaf, over-dramatic scenes on the ceilings, and chandeliers the size of a volkswagen. It's really sort of odd to move from one room that is very much like the florid style of Versailles (gold leaf, red velvet and the like) to a simply decorated room of pale greenish-gray walls, gray woodwork, and white ceilings. it's like going from "woah! Royalty!" to the sedate, calm interiors of IKEA. I kid, of course, but there is somethingquintissentially Swedish about those colors and simple style that are immediately recognizable.

There are actually five different museums in the complex -- and only one wing is really open to the public --so we wandered around the armory museum (which contains, among other things, a really cool collection of carriages), the crown jewels, and the museum tucked under the walls of the original north wing with the remains of the cellars and walls of the first fortress build here - Tre Kronor, Three Crowns. I'm a huge sucker for the bits and pieces that always show up under these old buildings, so we spent a while poking about in the museum there.

The cathedral, Storykyrkan (well, it's not technically a cathedral, but it's accepted as one) is lovely, and has the original of the much-copied St George and the Dragon statue along with some truly spectacularly over-the-top royal boxes/pews. I can't imagine acutally sitting in one, they'd give me nightmares of being swallowed up by frou-frou and gold leaf.

Popped in for lunch in one of the hundreds of little restaurants that line the alleys (it's going to take a while to get used to paying $5 for a glass of diet coke) and followed lunch with a long walk along the original streets of the island -- a couple hundred yards in from the current shoreline, and linked to it by dozens of narrow, twisty alleys. It took two tries to find the medieval Stockholm museum, but it was worth it -- more bits and bobs from the old town and even a stretch of the original city wall (now twenty feet down from ground level).

We made a valiant attempt to wander around the National Museum but we were done. Even ice cream, eaten while watching the boats dock nearby and enjoying the sun, wasn't enough to perk us up. We took the metro back up north and staggered to our hotel room to fall into a coma for three hours. The fact that it was still bright outside at 9pm when we ventured out to find dinner, is still a bit weird.

Tomorrow? Lots on the docket -- Skansen, the architecture museum, Stadhuset, Riddarholmskyrkran, City museum, possibly a quick trip out of the city to see the Anunshog burial mounds after dinner. Probably too much to actually get done, but...well, we're going try!It's supposed to rain on Monday, so we're going to try for some of the more "indoor" pursuits and make sure to visit Skansen and the island of Djurgarden while it's sunny and gorgeous.

Now? To sleep. Possibly to dream. most likely to sink into a coma that won't even be broken by the morning sun rising...at 3am.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jet-lagged and overly bright!

We went for a walk last night after finding our hotel (the absolutely charming Stallmastaregarden) at about 10:30--and it was light enough to read the paper outside..we should have known that we'd be woken up at 3:30 or so by bright sun.

Seriously -- not only does it feel like noon to us jet-lagged Denverites, but it LOOKS like noon. This is going to take some getting used to. it's nice -- I mean, who doesn't want to be able to be out and about until the wee hours? -- but even with the shades down, it's awfully darn bright in here.

It's absolutely gorgeous outside (supposed to be mid-60s today) and sunny today and tomorrow. Woot!

Our hotel is north of the city a bit -- a bus ride or about a 15minute walk to the nearest Tunnelbana (metro) stop and then another fifteen minute walk to Gamla Stan -- Old Town -- our target for today. We're going to walk around the remains of the medieval town, see the castle (one of several, actually), and probably spend the afternoon at the National Museum (or just wandering around eating ice cream, you never know). Things are only open roughtly 10-4 (or sometimes 5), so today is our day to figure out how this is going to work. We might make great progress, or we might dawdle about and do nothing but people watch.

I've got a good map (several, actually) and we're set. Metro station map, Stockholm Cards, Camera. Check!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scandinavia Mocking

Ok, yes, mock away. You're going to laugh. But here's the FIRST PAGE of the seven-page travel planning doc (which is supported by multiple other documents, including a day-by-day color-coded chart --and if you think I'm going to post THAT for public consumption you're insane) and lists of opening times, checklists of things to see, etc)

I left our housesitter a seven page documennt. The follow is only the FIRST PAGE of the multi-colored, color-coded daily plan. I think I should seek treatment.

So...mock away. I deserve it.

Scandianvia Day 1

We're off! Left the dogs in the capable hands of our housesitter, Rainer (and our neighbor, Bacon Lady) and slogged through the deluge to the airport to start off our trip to Scandinavia.

I had the standard pre-trip anxiety attack -- what have I forgotten? What if we get there and Sweden is CLOSED? What happens if we miss our flight? -- and rushed about like a demented weirdo for the afternoon before we left. Made a last minute run to pick up a spare pair of glasses and i still forgot to return all the library books. Oh, well.

We packed last night, really (although we've been piling up things on the dining room table for a week or more) and I managed to come in under 35 lbs (for a month! A new record!). Plus camera gear, of course. And Kindle. The guy at the security checkpoint int he airport commented that our trip must be a good one, if the amount of camera stuff is any indication!

But, we're in the lovely BA lounge, enjoying free glasses of wine and dinner, and I'm starting to calm down. I might take another glass of wine, though.

So -- off to Stockholm (we arrive tomorrow) and four days there,then to visit family in southern Sweden, and then onwards to Denmark, Norway, and finally Russia! Yeeha! (Yes, I'll post the embarassing and entirely too detailed charts of the trip. I promise. Mock away.

As for now, I'm going to finish my wine, relax, and see what I can do about getting seats together on the plane. More later from Sunny Scandinavia!