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.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens, the name is almost synonymous with Copenhagen. It is the second oldest amusement park in the world. Oddly, the oldest in the world is not to far outside the city. Perhaps this means that both Danes and blondes have more fun. Going through the historic gates we amused ourselves with the fun house mirrors situated on a wall near the entrance before moving on to the first of the rides we would go on that day, a roller coaster. It was one of three we rode during our visit, 2 of them twice. They were not scary so much as fun. I found myself gleefully laughing the entire time we were speeding along the tracks.

The rides are set amid lush, beautiful gardens, hence the name. As well as an assortment of waterfowl, peacocks, including an albino one, stroll the grounds and cavort in the water features. Flower beds are almost obscene with color.

We were spun around and turned upside down by the thrill rides. On one of the roller coasters, the cars fashioned like an old train, riders are taken on two almost sideways loops, picking up speed on the second one. That was one of the ones we rode twice. The most popular attraction is a roller coaster called The Demon. We were welcomed by a laid back young man, his feet kicked up, as he checked for the ride admittance bracelets on the people going through the turnstile. "Have fun" he said, flashing an adorable, teenaged smile. The mercifully short ride features three complete loops, coaxing constant screams and squeals from the passengers. There is something for everyone, even the youngest visitors. A carousel and mini roller coaster provide parents with a way to distract small children. On a small, child-sized version of an adult drop ride a young blonde girl laughed with delight as she rode it several times, on her final go around getting her handsome, well dressed father to climb aboard with her. There is also a children's fort and climbing wall in one corner of the park. Restaurants featuring everything from upscale dining to the usual midway fare abound.

Even though the park is open till 11 p.m. on Sundays by 9 we could feel the park, and the patrons still left, begin to close down. Only the most popular and thrilling of the thrill rides were operating, just a handful of people, mostly teenagers, on them.

After taking photos of the extravagant light displays on the rides and themed buildings in the dusk not quite dark of the evening. got did the sun go down late there, we climbed aboard the first roller coaster we had ridden that day for one final thrill, ending our visit where it had begun.

Scandinavia 2017 - Marathon Shopping

While lying in bed Sunday morning enjoying the cool air from the open window wafting over us I began to hear the sound of cheers and applause from the street below. I got up, looked out the window and saw a number of recumbent bicycles go by a half block from our hotel. We discovered that it was the day of the Copenhagen Marathon. After showering and getting dressed we walked to the corner to watch the runners. The elite pack passed us followed by others, some in groups carrying balloons. Some wore bright pink in support of breast cancer research and those suffering through or having survived the disease. One particularly cheeky woman sped by wearing a pink tutu, her large, muscular, barechested male running companion in pink bike shorts,

We returned to the shopping mecca we had discovered the night before to search for mementos of our trip. Shortly we had bags filled with Christmas ornaments, a toy for our cat and amber jewelry. At one point in our wanderings we discovered a glass covered atrium surrounded by shops. Inside sculpted figures looked down at us from above the centuries old doorways of the stores there.

The tower of the late 19th century Copenhagen City Hall came into view. Across the street was the world famous Tivoi Gardens amusement park, which we had plans to visit late that afternoon. We checked our watches to time the walk from the park to the hotel that we would be taking after grabbing lunch and a cat nap.

Scandinavia 2017 - Hot Danish Sausage - An Aside

After a short while I noticed that the Danes are overall a tall people. If, in the middle ages, they were as proportionally tall I can understand why the Vikings were feared so much by the residents of the towns and villages they pillaged. I also noticed that they possess a larger than average number of larger than average powerful thighs. Perhaps this is a result of the Danish devotion to the bicycle. Our cab driver on the way to the airport said it was almost a religion.

These strong thighs, showcased in an assortment of shorts, tight slacks and snug jeans are a definite must see on anyone's Copenhagen checklist. In front of us on several of the lines for rides at Tivoli was a towering young man with exceptionally large teeth. I eventually came to the conclusion that their purpose was to balanced out his bulging quads crammed into stretch jeans like overstuffed sausages.....just making an observation, not complaining understand.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - Copenhagen By Night....Sort Of

Because of the somewhat challenging location of our Stockholm hotel our nights in that city tended to end early, so we decided to take a walking tour of Copenhagen by night. Well, sort of by night, sunset does not occur at that time of year until after 9 p.m.

Ever present city street map in hand we began by exploring a park near the hotel. It contained the imposing Rosenburg Have, a massive, moated affair dating from 1624. The surrounding park is the oldest and most visited park in Copenhagen with 2.5 million visitors per year. That evening there was a group of young women dressed like the Pink Ladies from Grease. We had no idea why. The park was originally a royal pleasure garden as well as the place where the fruits and vegetables for the intimidating palace were grown. We strolled through the grounds and took the obligatory photos before forging on.

We found ourselves in an area, largely closed to cars,  where "mall" stores, 3 H&M's, one for men, one for women and one for kids, Footlocker, Zara et al were located. A banner stretched across a storefront announced that Sephora was coming soon. Kitchy souvenir shops were sprinkled in between the name brand stores. A singer performed in a centuries old square.

This was the moment when our Copenhagen maps became invaluable. We were not "lost", we were just not sure exactly where we were. This was also the moment when, due to the late sunset, we realized we had miscalculated the hour and the restaurant by the hotel, where we had planned to eat that night, would be closed by the time we got back.

So dinner was foraged from the small store on the corner and eaten in the room before, once again, falling into bed exhausted, having walked well over 10 miles that day.

Scandinavia 2017 - Our Room Upgrade

We wandered through the streets back to the hotel, received our card keys to our upgraded room, retrieved our luggage and made our way upstairs. Opening the door we were delighted to see our new digs. A pair of damask covered chairs flanked a small round table, two windows looked out on the charming street scene below. The beautiful white Swedish embassy was directly across from us. Viewed through the canopy of trees that flourished in the park like median strip a turreted brick building dating from 1855, which over the next few days I became quite fond of, stood on the corner,

There was noise from the street but we live in a city and are accustomed to that. As we attempted to cat nap before a planned evening walk a group of Danish men in suits and dress shirts sans ties played boccie ball in the strip. Since all of them were tall and fairly handsome this did not bother us too much.One passed out cigars to the others as a single, extremely pregnant woman sat on a bench off to one side. There was a group of middle aged women waiting for transport to some event or other chatting, loudly, on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. To our dismay they returned at 2 in the morning, presumably drunk from the sound of things, laughing equally loudly as they had been chatting before, until close to 3.

Occasionally in the alley behind our apartment in Chicago we hear women early in the morning,also presumably drunk, talking loudly. But they are usually arguing about who took who's man.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - The Danish Design Museum - Overawed

After spending a few minutes browsing the small art fair in the inner courtyard we entered the museum proper. The first few galleries featured artifacts manufactured in the last 5 years or so and almost seemed to be advertisements for the companies that produced them. "At least we didn't pay for this" I thought to myself.After weaving our way through these we got to the good stuff.

Danish Modern, anyone that grew up, as I did, in the 60's probably remembers the groundbreaking, elegant, sensuous and spare furnishings and objects where form and function met to create a stunningly beautiful whole. The museum treated us to room after room of wood bent into shapes that seem almost impossible and cloth molded into furnishings that are breathtaking and whimsical all at once. Walls filled floor to ceiling,with row after row of brightly colored pop art posters assault and delight the eye. A glass and chrome grand piano with its small, round bench balanced on a twisted pipe of steel reinvents the instrument. The familiar and unfamiliar blending, sculpture meeting music making function.

A narrow gallery showcases chairs housed in white cubicles stacked 3 high along it's walls. The cubes focus the viewers attention on the form of the chair. Boards, which pull out from slots in the walls, provide information about the pieces on display.

There is an amazing costume collection. Standing in showcases are richly embroidered gowns hundreds of years old in a remarkable state of preservation. A heavily beaded flapper dress is shown lying flat as the weight of the glittering beads would make it impossible to hang. Street dresses from the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's show the simple yet stylish Danish fashion eye. A magnificent black gown, it's long, almost mandarin sleeves trimmed with black and white feathers beckons us back for a second look. "I can see that on the red carpet" remarks a young girl to her friends giving me hope for the fashion sense of the next generation.

The curves of the more intricate yet still simple 18th century furnishings in the collection show the historical influence of the stripped down pieces which revolutionized modern design. Thoroughly sated, my soul refreshed, a common feeling after a particularly satisfying museum exerience, we returned to the Copenhagen streets.

Scandinavia 2017 - Serendipity and The Danish Design Museum

It was not on our agenda. Truth be told we didn't even know that it existed. This is a lesson in how serendipity works.

Serendipity Part One

We wandered a city, turned a corner at random and then in a fairly nondescript building behind a fairly nondescript courtyard we see a sign saying "Danish Design Museum" My husband said "Should we go in?" Through the courtyard we could see an inner courtyard. I suggest that, at very least, we could take a gander at that. We pass though the street side courtyard, some young, student looking people were constructing something out of wood (we never did find out what) off to one side and went through the doors.

Serendipity Part Two

While taking a cursory glance at the admission fees we are informed that the museum is free that day, we merely needed to leave our bags in the lockers off to the left.

Serendipity Part Three

The locker costs 20 Danish kroner. We have no Danish money on us. A kindly Danish gentleman hands us the appropriate coins then continues on his way. Danish gentleman, we are in your debt...THIS MUSEUM ROCKS!!!

Scandinavia 2017 - We Walked and Walked and Walked.......

Our first stop on our first full day in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid statue seen from the land. We waited for the bus tour crowds to clear some before taking our turn to observe the legendary art work. I noticed the expression on her face is pensive, wistful, almost sad. Perhaps the model was just bored, or perhaps she was sore from spending so many hours posed in that awkward position.

We visited the nearby Kastellet, one of Northern Europe's first and pest preserved fortifications. It is still used by the Army to this day. We walked around the ramparts enjoying the views of the city. We traded photos with a couple from New Hampshire visiting Copenhagen as part of a cruise. We watched amused as two small children chased a duck across a lawn below before the annoyed bird flew off. We took a selfie by the windmill and were yelled at as my husband posed too closely to the small guard box near the installations entrance.

A family of swans, the parents with 4 babies, floated in the lake beside a beautiful Anglican church, one reaching it's long neck up to graze on the leaves of the weeping willow tree growing on the shore. More ducks, along with coots and gallinules shared the water.

We walked on to the palaces, which are arranged around a cobblestone courtyard. Guards, their uniforms with the large fur hats looking more like costumes, stand and march about.Although it was an activity shared by dozens of others, I will admit that it did feel odd photographing a soldier doing his job. Especially since the bayonets and guns they carry are properly lethal.

We wandered the streets. Took photos of an ancient church sitting in the middle of a block, turned at a random corner and came upon something wonderful.

Scandinavia 2017 - Things to do on a Sunny Day

The piers fronting the ocean were packed with locals in various stages of undress. It seemed as if the entire population of the city had called in sick to work. The sidewalks teemed with humanity wearing as little as legally possible.

Our hotel was on a beautiful street lined with stately historic buildings.. A park  ran down it's center, also awash in the hordes of the half naked. We later learned that it had started it's life as a canal but had been filled in leaving a lovely tree laden esplanade in it's wake. Due to temporary problems with it's reservation systems on top of the hotel being fully booked, we were given a room for a single night on the first floor right off the atrium lobby. We were promised, for a modest extra charge, an upgrade for the rest of our stay. Unpacking as little as possible, since our luggage would have to be stored by the hotel from 11 till 2 the following day, we changed in to cooler clothes and headed out to enjoy the incredible spring acting like summer day ourselves.

We headed for the Nordhavn, the north harbor, one of the most photographed areas of Copenhagen. Venerable townhouses painted bright colors stood, as they have for, in some cases, over 200 years, along the sides of a boat filled canal.

We were tourists, it was hot, we decided we would behave as what we were and embark on a canal boat tour of the city. Not only was the cruise out to the ocean front area cool and refreshing, the tour gave us a wealth of information about the city and it's long history. What we learned that day became invaluable over the next three days as we navigated our way through the tangled mass of streets.

The ultra modern opera house was pointed out. It is a multilevel structure, 4 of them built under the water line. We were told about the 400 stairs leading to the top of the spiral black and gold steeple that can be seen from a number of different vantage points in the city. We sailed by the 17th century Stock Exchange building. The three addresses occupied by Hans Christian Andersen on the Nordhavn canal were spotlighted. We later had lunch outside of one of them. Like almost all of the of the buildings along the street it's ground floor has been converted into a restaurant. We sailed by the iconic Little Mermaid statue learning that the sculptor's wife posed for him after he had difficulty finding a model willing to work bare breasted. The palace of the Queen and /Crown Price were shown to us as well as the pavilions where she boards her yacht and, tied to a pier, the gold and white yacht itself.

After disembarking and the aforementioned late lunch we returned to the hotel, spent from the long day having got up at 5:30 that morning to make our train.We found an English language movie on t.v. and settled in for the evening, That night we dreamed of the three eventful days in the beautiful city we had ahead of us.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - The Blur of High Speed Rail

We had, as it happened, an overly romantic notion of what the rail trip would be like between Stockholm and Copenhagen. As it turns out the countryside looked much like that found in the upper Midwestern United States.

After fighting Stockholm's rush hour traffic we found our platform and boarded car number 3 searching for seats number 47 and 48. We discovered, a little to our chagrin, that our seats did not have a window. After a short time I was less upset about this than I was at first. For those who have traveled by high speed rail you know how fast the outside world flies by. Forests and fields become a green blur. Combined with the ups and downs and occasional wild swings back and forth on this particular route a window right by our seats might have been nauseating.

 I spent much of the time observing a dad trying to keep his two young sons entertained and distracted during the 5 hour ride. For the most part the boys amused themselves, getting along remarkably well for brothers. Not fighting and arguing as some do, particularly at the tender ages of these two. The small one had an "boo boo" at one point, we didn't see the accident, but is was a sweet sight to see the father comfort him. He seemed a loving and attentive dad, enjoying this time with his sons.

Pulling into the Copenhagen station after a ride described to us by a Stockholm tobacco shop keeper the day before, not inaccurately, as resembling a roller coaster, we got off and discovered that the temperature was in the mid 80's with bright sun and that the population of Copenhagen had lost it's collective mind.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - The Search for the Black Metal Spire

On our first visit to Gamla Stan I spotted, in the distance,  a fascinating black metal spire rising above the rooftops. Intrigued we set out to find the church it was attached to. Asking nearly everyone we encountered in the shops that day noone seemed to know what we were talking about. In the tiny, ancient streets we had lost sight of the spire. Circling back to the palace, where I had first seen it, we spotted it again, and, our direction now seeming plain, set forth. Finally we found what we were looking for.

The spire sits atop a 13th century church that had once been part of a monastery. The church, though it has been added to and renovated over the centuries, is beautiful and impressive. The elusive spire was added in the 1800's in a gothic revival style.The church sits on an island across from the Gamla Stan. The building used as the palace after the original burned and the new one was being built stands across the street. It, as well as most of the other venerable structures on the island now house courthouses and the other various flotsam and jetsam of Stockholm's justice system.  

Feeling satisfied in succeeding in our quest we returned to the waterbus dock. While waiting we watched form a park bench as rush hour came upon the city. People, on foot and on bike, passed by heading home. We shared the top deck of the waterbus with others who had just finished their work day. We enjoyed the air, the sunshine and the fresh smell of the water during our last ride on the watercraft we had enjoyed using so much during our stay. We had a final dinner in the hotel's restaurant that night before going to our room and doing the last minute preparations for our train trip to Copenhagen the next morning.

Scandinavia 2017 - When We Played the Palace

Compared to the photos I have seen of the changing of the guard in London, Stockholm's is a mush more intimate affair. A group of 8 or so of the blue coated guards comically high step it out to the middle of the courtyard. Shouts, in Swedish I presume, are passed back and forth between a couple of the guards. They play with their rifles a bit, march about a little, trying to make it appear as if there is a purpose to what they are doing, one guard leaves his station, another takes his place and that is pretty much it. Admittedly, the lack of grandeur did not keep us from taking pictures of the event.

Assured that the Swedish Sovereign was safe we began our tour of the Swedish Royal Place. Prior to that moment I had the impression that the Swedes were somewhat reserved in the decoration of their surroundings. This notion changed when I stepped into the palace. It is difficult to describe the opulence, perhaps if you imagine the paintings of the Sistine Chapel in your living room, or in this case the palace drawing room, there are several to choose from in the royal residence, you can begin to form a picture.. Walls are covered in silks and tapestries, furnishings are richly gilded and upholstered in silks, velvets and brocades. Two portraits by the Flemish master Franz Hals hang on the walls in one room looking as if they were an afterthought. I could see the queen saying "My aunt gave me the two Hals and she's coming to visit. I have to hang them SOMEWHERE!"

On a grand staircase naked cherubs, cherubic genitals in full view, hold up lanterns. Other naked cherubs cavort across the painted ceiling, I began to feel dirty, really, really dirty.

There is one reception room that appears to be the size of a football field and the main guest room looks as if it could sleep 12 comfortably. It has an adjoining valet's room since one wouldn't want to share a room with the help but wants them close by in case one needs something.

The banquet hall is inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. I was a bit concerned the ceiling, also frescoed to within an inch of it's life, would give way under the weight of the massive chandeliers. In other rooms built in showcases house glassware, some of it dating back to the 17th century, silver, Meissen china, and a multitude of other entertaining necessities.

We make a quick trip underground to see the 14th century foundations of the original palace, it burned in the 1600's. The palace was rebuilt in the 1700's Truthfully this trip was mainly to use the restroom in that area. There seems to be a dearth of public restrooms in the Swedish Capitol. The restroom, to clear up any questions, is modern and does not date from the 14th century.

I left hoping that the monarchs are comfortable in their home and don't ever feel cramped. I was a little disappointed we did not encounter her royal highness in her bathrobe with her hair in rollers. Perhaps next time.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - The Family Jewels

As opposed to the cloudy skies and rain of the previous day the morning broke bright and sunny. After enjoying another generous breakfast spread we stepped outside and were treated to the spectacle of a massive cruise ship doing a slow 180 degree turn in front of the hotel before docking. Waiting for the waterbus we met a couple from Spokane spending 9 days in Stockholm with their young daughter and toddler aged son. They took the wrong waterbus trying to get to Durgarden ending up at our pier instead. We took a family picture for them. The now ubiquitous pair of swans swam by.

That day we had decided on viewing the Swedish Crown Jewels and a tour of the Royal Palace. The jewels are displayed in a series of underground galleries. Kept dark, presumably for preservation of some of the fragile fabrics, some details are difficult to see. The venerable trunks and specialty boxes where the jewels were originally stored are shown. An ermine trimmed coronation robe stands in one case, it's train spread out behind it.

The gems adorning the crowns, scepters and ceremonial swords are massive. The gold crowns are encrusted with diamonds and quarter sized emeralds and rubies. Some pieces literally drip pearls. Several looked so heavy I wondered how a sovereign did not collapse under the weight of them. A halo of emeralds surrounding a opal form a flower on the hilt of one sword. The sword blades are heavily engraved, their scabbards are almost as impressive as the weapons they encase, although this is one area where the low light level makes it difficult to see detail.

As the two young, slightly flirty but professional, blonde (again) guys told us when we purchased our tickets for the palace package the jewels exhibit is rather small. We finished in time to climb the stairs to daylight and make our way to the central courtyard to see the changing of the Palace Guard.

Scandinavia 2017 - Gamla Stan

The waterbus drops us at Gamla Stan, the oldest section of Stockholm. It's a place of tiny, winding, centuries old, cobblestone streets and narrow alleys. 17th century buildings are the norm, some are even older. We strolled through the plazas surrounding the Royal Palace. We went inside and visited the quiet chapel. It is soothing, a beautiful and inspiring place for those of faith to worship. We photographed, as did others, the Palace Guards in their bright blue uniforms, doing their jobs, occasionally goosestepping across the plaza, perhaps to relieve the boredom of standing in a guard tower staring straight ahead for hours, resembling the toy soldier Christmas ornaments I hang on my tree each year. Later we see several of them struggling with a cart piled high with the bright blue coats, apparently just returned from the Royal cleaners.

Church bells toll as we eat lunch at a table outside an iconic Stockholm building. We saw the narrow, bright pink structure over and over in photos of the city before our trip. It sits on one side of the plaza where the Nobel Prize Museum is found. A treacherous, minuscule, winding stairway leads down to a basement dining area and the single tiny restroom. A cute, young, hipster boy, dressed all in black, goes by walking a dog. A lovely girl in a beret and stunning floral embroidered coat strolls past us into the restaurant. Two dowagers, looking as if they hail from Chicago's snotty northern suburbs emerge from the Nobel Museum. One wore a ridiculous,massive brown hat, flowing cloak and tennis shoes. The make up of her companion preceded her into the square, her drawn on eyebrows and impossibly large, impossibly red lips as ludicrous as her skin tight vinyl pants. We saw her drinking a short time later, even though it was only 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Perhaps she was trying to dull the residual pain in her hands from the considerable effort it must take to apply her cosmetics every morning.

We returned to the plaza later after exploring the ancient streets lined with galleries and ubiquitous tacky souvenir shops. One window glows gold with amber jewelry. In an antique shop, filled with an eclectic assortment of trash and treasure, we purchase a plate, to join the collection of others on our kitchen walls, of a boy staring down a goose. We take time to sit on one of the benches. Two small children drink from the rusty pipes of a fountain before attempting to climb it. A pair of twenty something boys stand chest to chest, their phones held in opposite outstretched arms, taking a double selfie.

Alas jet lag was beginning to overtake us. We stopped at a small bakery to purchase croissants and sweets to create a dinner in our hotel room that night and cross a bridge taking us to the waterbus dock. The squeals of the chilly riders of the amusement park attractions sounded across the water as returned to the hotel dock..

Scandinavia 2017 - Durgarden and the Vasa Museum


Chicago has it's lakefront, New York has it's Central Park, Stockholm has Durgarden, a sometimes serene, sometime frenetic urban oasis with something to entertain almost anyone. As the light rain continued we explored the lush parkland. We climbed a small hill and looked out over an old cemetery, we walked past the, we were informed later by a crew member on the waterbus, extremely expensive amusement park. It's concessions were not yet open for the season but from the water we saw several of it's rides operating later in the day. We passed the ABBA Museum, trying to suppress our laughter as we didn't want to insult the locals and headed to the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa Museum

In 1628, for reasons that have never been completely determined, a grand new warship, which the King of Sweden had taken great pride in, was launched, and after traveling only 1400 yards, promptly capsized and sank to the bottom of the waters which surround Stockholm. It took at least 30 people down with it. Due to the coldness of the water and the low saline content, which kept water dwelling worms at bay, the ship remained largely intact. It sat in the water for over 300 years before being raised and preserved.

A museum was constructed to house the ship and tell, not only it's story but some of the maritime history of Sweden at the time of the ship's construction. I had looked forward to visiting it since we had first decided to embark on this trip. I was not disappointed. The massive vessel sits in the middle of the building designed for it. Displays about it's history surround it on several floors allowing you to view the ship from different levels and vantage points. Although you cannot enter the interior of the ship there is a section where portions of it are recreated so you can get the feeling of what sailing in that era was like. It was a hard life full of the constant danger of not only battles at sea but also disease and sometimes horrific injuries (think peg leg pirates). Some of the artifacts retrieved are remarkable. Clothing, personal effects and kitchenware, even the tattered remains of a full sail, described as having the consistency of a spiderweb when discovered in a heap in one of the holds, is displayed under a protective glass cover. One can imagine it filling with wind, pulling the ship through the water. The ship itself is described as one of largest museum artifacts in the world. A small scale model shows how it appeared when it first launched, it's intricate carvings brightly painted. Some of the colors were created by crushing semi precious stones such as azurite and malachite.

The ship requires ongoing conservation. Conservators can be viewed behind a glass screen as they measure and analyze pieces of wood which lie in piles in the lab. Other technicians working on computers can be seen inside the hold through the open cannon ports. There was a man on a hydraulic lift working on the exterior of the ship. It is a fascinating, exciting and very special museum. It is always a joy when something eagerly anticipated not only lives up to your expectations but exceeds them.

The rain had dissipated as we left the museum. We made our way through the verdant park to catch the waterbus enroute to the next part of our adventure.

Scandinavia 2017 - Our First Morning

Our hotel room was a nice, comfortable but curious affair. As we entered the gleaming, modern bathroom was to our right and a closet was located on the left. The major portion of the room was down a short flight of 3 steps. In one corner of it was a small, round table and a Scandinavian modern design chair. An equally modern style floor lamp graced another corner. There was a tiny keyhole window set in a wall that appeared to be 18" thick, which, coupled with the extraordinarily high ceiling gave me the feeling that I was bedding down every night in a medieval  tower. Not inappropriate considering Stockholm's long history.

Virtually every review of the hotel mentioned the expansive breakfast buffet included with the room. It certainly did not disappoint. We selected each morning from piles of sliced meats, baskets of breads and pastries, an array of cheeses, several varieties of herring (it was Sweden after all), eggs, cereals, coffee and at least 4 different juice options. The choices were dizzying.

Fortified, we returned to the room nnd amassed our provisions for the day before going downstairs to catch the waterbus heading to the island of Durgarden, an urban park home to several attractions including an amusement park, the aquarium and the Vasa Museum, one of the top items on our Stockholm checklist. A pair of swans glided by and a light rain fell as we waited at the dock under our umbrellas.

Scandinavia 2017 - Tired But Determined

Our hotel was a converted, century old flour mill, a boat ride away from Stockholm's historical center. Using our 72 hour unlimited transit passes we boarded a water bus and rushed to the top deck to experience the first of several rides across the broad waterway which our hotel fronted. Dead tired, having pretty much gone the entire night without sleep during the long flight, we took a short walk through what we discovered was Stockholm's high end shopping district. The names Prada, Chanel and Gucci, among others graced the ground floor storefronts of the historic buildings. The gold and white facade of the Royal Dramatic Theater, the national theater of Sweden, glittered in the early evening sun.

We found a small burger stand amidst the fashionable surroundings. Sitting at a table on it's tiny deck we people watched as we noshed on our deep fried delicacies. 2 men in suits rode past on their bicycles, one steering with one hand, the other holding his cell phone up to his ear.Well dressed women, in heels and platform shoes, did an admirable job of walking gracefully over the uneven ground cover of brick and cobblestone. We noticed even those sporting more casual attire had a certain smart, crisp air about them. They were slim, trim and overwhelmingly blonde, most of them naturally so.

The lack of sleep had begun to wear on us. Bodies aching, minds beyond fuzzy, we walked back to the water bus dock. Pulling out the schedule provided us by the hotel I discovered that we had just missed one boat and the next was 45 minutes away. We both quickly acknowledged that we would not be able to last that long. Gambling on the gesture transcending language and cultural barriers I raised a forefinger in the air as a cab approached. 20 minutes and the equivalent of $20 latter we were deposited in front of our hotel.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Scandinavia 2017 - A Bus, a Train and a Bus

Following the directions given to us by our airport information kiosk guardian angel we boarded the bus which would take us to the commuter train. After several stops at the airport the route took us through the forests and fields which lie between the airport and Stockholm. The bus deposited us at the commuter rail terminal. People rushed across the large plaza connecting to their various buses and trains. The train, clean, spacious and modern, sped us toward the city. As we drew closer the forests, a mix of evergreens and birches just beginning to display their spring buds, diminished, giving over to clean lined, almost spare, traditional Swedish houses and equally clean lined, spare mid rise apartment blocks. As we were to discover over the next two days, Swedish architecture, even that hundreds of years old, has a no nonsense, form follows function feel. Although not completely devoid of ornamentation, what there is, while as beautiful and elegant as what I have experienced elsewhere, is restrained. The fairy tale buildings of Stockholm, with their spires and domed turrets, appear as if they had taken the advise of Coco Chanel, looked in the mirror and removed one accessory. One even sees this aesthetic carried over in the groundbreaking Scandinavian designs of the 50's and 60's.

As we drew closer to the city colorful graffiti began to appear along he walls which run alongside the tracks proving that bored teens transcend countries and continents The main train station, like many in Europe, is venerable and elegant. It's grace shows even through the glare of neon, noise and cheap trendy shops.  

Our last ride was on a bus which traveled down broad avenues lined with grand facades before passing through a tunnel and emerging into a much more modern realm of apartment complexes.With the assistance of several Swedes we managed to get off at the correct stop and check into our home for the next three nights.


Scandinavia 2017 - Just One More Little Thing

Both my husband and I decided that it would be best to visit the men's room before sojourning on to the hotel. Fortunately one was located just a few feet from us. Unfortunately, from what we could ascertain from the Swedish speaking maintenance crew, a plumbing disaster had occurred closing the men's side of the restroom. My husband went off on a search, fruitless as it turned out, for another. In extreme desperation and following the leads of several others we went into the side marked "Damen". In a somewhat surreal manner I witnessed as I waited with the luggage while my husband took his turn, a number of men entering and exiting the women's restroom, yet not a single woman. Perhaps there is as deep meaning in this regarding matters of social structure and its effects on bladder control but I have no idea what that meaning could be.

Our luck began to turn as we made our way to the information desk to find out how to get to our hotel. There a lovely young woman not only gave us directions but also advised us on which public transit pass would serve us best, sold the passes to us and provided us with maps with routes highlighted and handwritten notes to help guide us.

Thanking her profusely after our airport ordeals we stepped into the sunshine and began the next step of our adventure,

Scandinavia 2017 - Then There Was That Thing With The Luggage

We proceeded to the baggage claim area. We passed carousel after carousel searching in vain for our flight number. We asked at an information desk and were told that SAS carousels were further down and around the corner. We headed further down and around the corner. We met another couple, coming in the opposite direction. They had sat directly in front of us on the plane as well as been directly in front of us in the immigration line. They informed us that they also could not find our shared flight information and so, by association, our individual luggage.

I located a board listing flight numbers and corresponding baggage carousels. Our flight number was not listed. Had we entered "The Twilight Zone"? Should I start looking for Rod Sterling? Had we been "Punked"? The four of us headed to the lost luggage counter and took call numbers, not unlike a delicatessen. As we stood in line waiting for our numbers to be called a man walked up to us pulling a cart carrying several suitcases.

"Are you from the Chicago flight?"

In answer we lunged at the cart like hyenas lunging on a carcass to reclaim our luggage. No explanation was given, either by the airline nor the poor man we had mobbed as we tore our bags off the cart. We walked through customs without being stopped and after well over 2 hours we were certain our ordeal was finally over.

Scandinavia 2017 - Welcome to Sweden

Sitting near the rear of the plane we were among the last to leave. We straggled, jet lagged and sleep deprived, through the debris laden plane. The vehicle was, in a word, trashed. Blankets, pillows, garbage and empty water bottles were strewn about looking like the aftermath of a cross between a riot and a rock concert. I almost expected to see a stray, single shoe or discarded empty hash pipe among the messy, swirling heaps.

Leaving the jetway and entering the immigration area was a further descent into chaos. There were lines, of a sort, if people standing as much as 3 and 4 across could be considered a line. Clumps of humanity massed in front of too few immigration agents who were being very, well, the kindest word for it was thorough. Invasive is another term that comes to mind. We, somehow, got into the slowest "thing that resembled a line". People were standing at the window for 10 minutes or more before having their passports stamped and being allowed to proceed.

Eventually my turn came.

"Are you traveling alone?"

"No, with my husband, he's next in line."

Have you been to Europe before."


The immigration officer looked me up and down then began to flip through the blank pages of my recently renewed passport.

"I just had my passport renewed."

I attempted not to sound too anxious or defensive.

"What is the purpose of your visit?"


"Is Sweden the only country you will be in?"

"No we are also going to Denmark."

"What is the date and time of your departure/"

"The 24th and I forget what time."

I didn't want it to seem like I was being evasive about the time. By this time I almost expected him to ask, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" (For those that don't understand this reference goggle "MacCarthy Black List") He picked up his stamp. I held my breath. He slammed it down onto my passport, with a tad more force than I thought necessary and yelled "Next!" I hightailed it through the doors. My husband followed seconds behind. After quickly verifying that he was with me the same immigration officer that had just held my feet to the fire stamped his passport in a matter of seconds.

After well over an hour we were now free to roam about Sweden without fear of official reprisal.

Scandinavia 2017 - Notes From a Disheveled Mind

An 8 hour overnight flight. I can't say I slept, I rested. It was a little less than three hours to our destination. I got up and headed to the tiny airplane bathroom. I washed my face and made sure my legs still operated as they were supposed to. We were passing just south of Iceland. The air outside was a crisp, bracing 56 degrees below zero. At almost 40,000 feet the words of David Bowie's Space Oddity came to mind, "here am I sitting in a tin can", well, flying, but one gets the idea. I noticed for the first time that the Scandinavian Peninsula resembles the sexual organs of the human male. My mind craves caffeine.

Early after the flight took off they dimmed the lights on the plane. Some, like myself, closed our eyes and settled into the closest approximation one can get of slumber while sitting upright. Then, after an hour of whit I presume the airline assumed was nonsense, the lights were brought up full. Carts filled, literally filled, the aisles laden with libations and food. We ate, the lights were once again dimmed and I began to feel like I was a lab animal being subjected to some type of sleep deprivation/feeding experiment.

As the next day dawned, sooner than I felt it should have, were it being considerate, bright daylight reflected off of the cloud cover below. My only thought was that I hoped that by the following morning the time tested order of night and day would return to normal.  

Scandinavia 2017 - Prelude

It was a concept which, over time, became an a idea, which, over time, took on mass and solidified into me and my husband waiting,at Ohare Airport, several hours, for an overnight flight to Stockholm, Sweden. My husband loves water. Stockholm is a city built on islands. From Stockholm we would travel by train down the Scandinavian peninsula, which, we hoped, would be awash with lush, spring green, to Copenhagen, a city also built on islands.

During my recent job search i found myself in the sometimes uncomfortable position of informing prospective employers that we had a prepaid trip on the horizon and any new position would have to accommodate it. Neither I or my husband had ever been to Scandinavia, so it was virgin territory for both of us.

As we waited at the gate CNN reported the latest in a growing list of indiscretions by the current administration occupying the White House. Events had been moving so quickly that we wondered aloud what we would come home to in a week and a day's time. But until then there were winding medieval streets to be wandered, a massive 17th century ship rescued from the waters of Stockholm to be viewed and the 2nd oldest continuously operating amusement park in the world, Tivoli Gardens, to be visited. Until then there were adventures to be had and cultures to be experienced. Until then there was a new, at least to us, part of the world to discover.