Tuesday, October 10, 2017

An Autumn Evening

The soft glow of streetlamps filters through the trees still carrying almost their full canopies of leaves. Further south autumn colors are at their peak, it will be a couple of weeks before it is our turn to be, once again, treated to this annual dazzling display of nature. This year, due to unseasonable high temperatures and scant rain, some leaves have been burned. They fall to the ground, dry and withered, a dusty brown. But as I look out from my 9th floor kitchen window or travel through the city I see the first splashes of yellow, red and orange. Despite the warmth the fountains have been turned off, put into hibernation in anticipation of the season ahead. The sun has moved further south in the sky, it's light slanting in from an angle instead of streaming down from straight above as it does in the summer. Even the most sunny and temperate of afternoons are now bracketed by cool mornings, evenings and nights. Many claim fall as their favorite season. Time can languish in the summer. In autumn you can feel it moving ahead. Soon there will be the merriment of the holiday season, when you can find solace from the occasional chaos of the world by celebrating and being surrounded by family and friends.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - Epiloge

I love to travel, this blog makes that evident. I love to experience new places, see new sights and observe different cultures. It is easy, in a country that stretches "from sea to shining sea", to become myopic and unaware of the wealth of treasures and experiences that exist outside our national borders.

What I do when traveling may not be all that different then those things I do when I am at home, but the backgrounds to those things differ, sometimes greatly. Wandering the tiny lanes in Stockholm's Gamla Stan is something quite different than hustling down Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Stockholm's Durgarden, a beautiful urban oasis, serves the same purpose as Chicago's lakefront ribbon of parkland but with it's own unique flavor.

Copenhagen's bustle happens on streets lined with beautiful 18th and 19th century facades. In Chicago it happens among brawny, historic late 19th and 20th century buildings, many of them architectural masterworks.

In Copenhagen tiny pleasure and  sightseeing boats ply canals, in Stockholm boats provide transportation across the sometimes broad waterways which separate the islands of the city. I cherish the memory of riding on the top deck in the open air watching the fairy tale skyline of old Stockholm come into view.

 I look back fondly on getting lost on bikes in Copenhagen as the street names changed every 2 blocks. That was how we found the quiet cemetery with it's towering poplars, a lovely and peaceful spot to remember and reflect on loved ones who have passed on. It is something we may have missed had we taken a more conventional route.

But as I land in Chicago, as plane wheels touch the ground or a train I am on pulls into Union Station, I am glad to be home. It is my anchor, my place in the world which is mine. I love to travel, but I also love to come home.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 = A Royal Sendoff

We had an afternoon flight home which allowed us one final morning in Copenhagen. We decided to have breakfast at the small restaurant across the street, having enjoyed it so much the day before. They seemed to have eggs on hand that day as we didn't see anyone dash across the street to procure them as we had on our previous visit. We chatted with the proprietor. On our first visit he had apologized for the cool weather. After we informed him that it was no different than what we would be experiencing at home at that time of year, mid to upper 60's, he explained that he thought the entire U.S. had the climate of California. On several occasions we found that some Europeans don't have a concept of how vast the U.S. is. Several expressed surprise upon learning the the population of the Chicago metropolitan area exceeds that of the entire country of Denmark. The charming proprietor told us that he lived in 250 year old army barracks which, when built, were considered to be outside the city. He mentioned to me that he was planning a 1 month road trip to the U.S. with his family and if I had any "must see" suggestions. I was somewhat at a loss, the U.S. does, after all, take up a third of a continent, except to say that unless you are crazy about agriculture the states of Nebraska, Kansas, et. al. could probably be skipped. There is the surreal, rugged beauty of many portions of the Southwest, The history of the south and the east coast, and, of course, my beloved Chicago. He realized he would have to research and plan more thoroughly.

Being only a block from the palace there were a number of embassies in the area. Across the street from our hotel, visible from our room's window, was the Swedish consulate. We felt this was fitting since our trip began in Stockholm. In a row around the corner were the embassies of Venezuela, Portugal, The Netherlands and Ukraine.

The fountains across from the palace courtyard were turned up full that last morning, tall plumes of water shot up into the cool air. After waiting for the bus tour groups to move on we took photos before continuing to the courtyard for one last visit before returning to the hotel and leaving for the airport. As we walked across the courtyard one of the guards, in his tall fur hat, shouted sharply something in Danish and struck the butt of his rifle smartly against the stone sidewalk. A pair of black sedans with tinted windows rolled across the venerable stones, one disappearing into a recess in the Prince's palace, the other stopping just outside it. Was it the Prince? Perhaps the Queen herself? Or just the nanny escorting the royal children back from soccer practice or returning home after a trip to a Danish Walmart.

Scandinavia 2017 - A City Within a City

We noticed, during our time in Copenhagen, that it appeared nearly every building had a courtyard. Doors to the street would occasionally be left open offering the passerby a glimpse into this hidden world. I have seen this before in cities where front yards are rare. In San Francisco apartment buildings and Victorians hug the sidewalk in an even line. Behind them yards, home additions and even the occasional cottage can be found. In Mexico's classic colonial architecture the courtyard is often the center of home and family life.  In Amsterdam, as in San Francisco a separate world exists behind the centuries old canal houses which stand shoulder to shoulder along the streets. I was in the yard of one open to the public. A small wing jutted out of one of the homes next door. In the yard of the other sat a copper roofed gazebo. Across the small yard where I stood, sitting amid the flower beds, was a tiny caretakers house. There are also the half homes, originally slave quarters, in the yards of homes in New Orleans, not to mention the famous courtyards there.

They might all be considered cities inside of cities. Some of them may be purely functional, providing access to portions of the buildings difficult to reach from the street, but they can also be places for socializing, sharing time with friends and family or conversing with neighbors across the "back fence". Or occasionally they be a place of your own. An inner place of quiet and solitude away from the noise and crowds of the  city.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - I Scream, You Scream

After packing up our dirty clothes and newly acquired Scandinavian treasures we ventured out to the Nordhavn, the place where our Copenhagen adventure began. We had passed a corner ice cream store several times over the last few days and decided it would be a nice way to wind up our final night. The early evening sun made the brightly painted buildings glow. We sat at a table savoring our farewell treat and watched people enjoy the feeling of being outdoors after, like us, suffering through the confines of winter's cold.

A burly young man did push ups against a bridge post. Another large, young, handsome Danish lad sat a table away facing us, his shorts slightly hiked up stretching over his now ubiquitous powerful Danish thighs. Others dined and drank at the tables of the outdoor restaurants there, these also becoming ubiquitous.

Some, like us, snapped photos on their phones.I wanted to change my Facebook profile picture. Later I decided to eschew the shots taken that evening in favor of a view captured earlier in the day of me standing beside my rented bike, Copenhagen's beautiful, 17th century Stock Exchange building in the background.

Before returning to the hotel we took a final stroll down the 300 year old street and bridges of the Nordhavn, seeking out the residences of Hans Christian Anderson, he lived at three different addresses on the street, and enjoying for a final time the sights and sounds of one of Copenhagen's most iconic scenes.

Scandinavia 2017 - Bike, Bike and Bike Some More

One of the activities we had planned and looked forward to was a day spent biking through Copenhagen. After the egg run breakfast we took off on the bikes we had rented from our hotel. They were heavy, sturdy, upright affairs which forced us to ride like the wicked Elmira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. In case anyone wonders, riding on cobblestones is a teeth rattling experience.

Copenhagen map in tow we cruised through Christiania, Copenhagen's most hip neighborhood. We circled a small lake with an island in it's center. Trees were in full blossom, masses of queen anne's lace clustered at the water's edge. The scene was bucolic, beautiful and peaceful, if one ignored the garbage, homeless people and occasional heap of feces.

We then headed out to a palace and it's grounds pointed out to us by the charming desk clerk at our hotel. We pedaled past block after block of venerable facades interspersed with verdant green parks. Ducks and swans swam lazily in small lakes. Swan shaped boats plied the waters in one, the spires and turrets of buildings in the background created a photo worthy moment.

We locked up the bikes by the wrought iron gates of the former pleasure garden of the palace.We wandered through the tree shaded, green oasis. We rested on a bench looking across a vast lawn through the plumes of a fountain at the royal residence this space had been originally created for.

Heading back we ate lunch, later than we should have, both of us heavily fatigued, after stopping at a bike store so my husband could purchase a bell for his much loved bike at home. Revived we headed to the waterfront and towards our hotel. We retraced steps we taken that first day. We past again the pavilions used by the Queen when boarding her yacht. The royal gold and white vessel could be seen moored in the harbor. We rode through the palace courtyard and returned to the beautiful street that had been our home during our stay in Copenhagen.

Scandinavia 2017 - A Tale of Tattoos and Eggs

For breakfast on our last full day we opted for a small restaurant across the street from our hotel located in the turreted brick building I had become so fond of gazing at from our room. The proprietor, a delightful Iranian gentleman who had emigrated to Denmark 30 years before, rose from one of the sidewalk tables to take our order. As we settled ourselves in the sunshine of the still cool morning air he went to a table and roused a heavily tattooed young man who had been huddling under the blankets that are ubiquitous in the outdoor restaurants in the city,.

The young man went inside. Shortly he emerged and sprinted across the street to the small shop on the corner which had proved itself a godsend on several occasions during our stay. Moments later he came up the small flight of stairs that led to the sidewalk from the small shop, which, incidentally, boasted that it always had 200 bottles of wine on hand. (we never bothered to count but took them at their word), carrying a 6 pack carton of eggs. Apparently our order had exhausted the restaurant's egg supply.  The breakfast was so good that we returned to it on our last morning in Copenhagen. I guess the  egg order had arrived overnight as there was no egg sprint witnessed that final day.