Saturday, June 27, 2009

To Norway, Land of Giants

The Norway/Sweden border stone

Wednesday we drove across Sweden, more Wisconsin Dells, then less wheat fields than woods, then forests and rocky, and, always, lakes. It was a gentle but changing countryside. We spent the night, Wednesday, at the Swedish/Norwegian border, literally, in a picnic area and border store parking lot right next to the border stone. We celebrated our passage to Norway by watching one of my all-time favorite Errol Flynn films, The Edge of Darkness, about Norwegian resistance to the Nazis, I mean, Germans. Great music by Franz Waxman, great casting, and one of the best-ever shoot-outs, as the village priest opens automatic fire on the bad guys; not at a video store near you. It was particularly meaningful in that the next day, Thursday, we spent much of the morning getting help from very diligent and caring Norwegian customs officials about getting our “deposit” back from the Nazis, I mean, Germans. We'll watch John Cleese's classic travelogue, “To Norway: Land of Giants,” some other time. Soon.

Our second night we camped at a real campground in Bogstad, overlooking Oslo. We even put up the Grey Wanderer's awning, first time, to emphasize the fact that we are camping, not merely parking. A day of washing, repairing, attempted repairing, and enjoying the sunshine and warmth. We'll visit the Norwegian Nazi Resistance Museum this weekend.

Update: Friday we moved to a more interesting campground (the marina), closer in to Oslo.

Gamla Uppsala

"New" Uppsala (from 13th century) from the east mound, in Gamla (old) Uppsala

Stone commemorating Pope John Paul II's having spoken here, c. 1998

The fine little Gamla Uppsala museum

Beowulf quote from a museum exhibit; they were not kinder and gentler times

Big mounds; 5th-6th century

Lesser, later mounds, still pretty old

Ex cathedral: in the 11th-12th centuries, the cathedral was in Gamla Uppsala; when the bishopric was moved to new Uppsala in the 13th century, they reduced this building to just the tower and chancel

Our campsite at Gamla Uppsala

Vicki had read that in nearby Gamla Uppsala (old Uppsala) were a cluster of burial mounds that were actually mentioned in Beowulf. We headed there, signed up for the English language tour, and found ourselves in the lone company of the two resident archaeologists, who were obviously pleased to see megalith hunters like us.

The mounds are indeed impressive, three or four very large tumuli and then a string of lesser tumuli along the rest of the ridge. It is estimated that there could have been as many as 3,000 graves in the general vicinity. All date from the late Bronze/early Iron ages, pre-Christian, about 5th or 6th centuries AD. The museum has a very interesting exhibition on the times and on the items found in excavations. Very little of the environs has been excavated, only two of the big mounds, but this will change shortly with construction of a new railroad line, providing the local archaeologists with at least 3 years of work. Rescue archeology, it is called. Anyhow, they gave us a book about Gamla Uppsala (in English), and we liked the place well enough to spend the night in the complex's nicely landscaped parking lot (along with three other Rvs).

Uppsala Cathedral

Uppsala Cathedral, 12th-13th century


Swedenborg tomb; he's remembered chiefly for Kant's ridicule

King Gustav Vasa tomb, flanked by his two wives, only one of which can be seen from either side, and which can't "see" each other

The kid's play-room chapel; every cathedral should have one of these

This cracked me up; I have been a fan of the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild and their products for many years; these are their Jesus dolls (from their "Little Thinkers" line) for sale in, you guessed it, the Cathedral gift shop

Linnaeus' tomb; he was the guy who thought up and established biological taxonomy (phylum, genera, species, etc.) which we all had to learn in the 10th grade

Linnaeus' garden, still maintained according to his classifications, by the U of Uppsala

After a week in Stockholm, including the trip to Helsinki, we decided to move on, first to Uppsala, and then west toward Norway. Stockholm is a great place, a city we have been impressed by and enjoyed as much as any we have seen. But we are ready to move on.

Uppsala is about 40 miles north of Stockholm, enough separation to be a completely different place, both historically and culturally. It is, of course, Sweden's university town, but it is also its historical religious center, with the Cathedral housing the bones of St. Brigid and St. Erik, the site of royal coronations and burials, including King Gustav Vasa, and also the tombs of two major Swedish academics, the philosopher Swedenborg and the biologist Linnaeus. The cathedral itself is Gothic, very attractive inside, with many interesting and enlightened features (see illustrations).

Vasa Museet

Port side; the scale defies depiction, at least on my camera

Richly carved fantail

Carved gunports

Large scale model, depicting how the Vasa had been paitned (according to chemical analysis)

I had thought of the Swedes as rather severe people, yet there are all these instances to the contrary; this sign is right at the exit from the Vasa Museet, advertising the Nordic Museum next door

Vicki adds:

Stockholm—June 23, 2009

We have had a great visit here and the weather has been glorious—full sunshine but only about 70 with a light breeze. In a few minutes we will head for the cafe with its free wireless, post our blogs, back up TOM TOM and head out of town. I know Mark has talked about our “precious” Tom, but as the navigator of this adventure, I can't emphasize enough how wonderful he/it is. Having navigated 7 previous European trips, I know. If you are planning any trip to unfamiliar territory, get yourself a GPS.

We have walked over 20,000 steps everyday for several days (Mark adores his pedometer-he is on #3). City sightseeing requires lots of walking but the almost 12 hour day we put in on Sunday was definitely more than I want to do. We had a 24 hr Stockholm card which gives you free transportation and admission to all the museums, palaces, etc. Most cities in Europe have them but you really have to press yourself to get full value so this has been our first one. I don't think they are designed for the elderly! Admissions get to be terribly expensive though—averaging about $12 per person per site. In Ireland we got 20% off nearly everything for being over 60. However, there were no discounts in Germany or Denmark. Here in Sweden you have to be 65. It will be interesting to see what the different countries do—in New Zealand you had to be 60 but a resident of New Zealand. I guess they figured if you had the money to travel, you had the money to pay full price. Luckily, Sweden has been cheaper than Denmark so we are pretty much staying within our budget—especially when we can camp under the bridge (more about that in Mark's blog soon.)

Stockholm City Hall

City Hall from "our" island, Langholmen

Ceiling of city council chambers, Viking ship upside-down theme...

The gold room

Strindberg mosaic in gold room

The blue room, where the Nobel prize banquet is held; this is the view you'd get, as an honoree, walking toward the grand straircase, escorted by the Mayor, King and Queen, et al.

Of course, if your credentials are not quite up to it, there is always the back door to the blue room, which I carefully reconnoitered...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Older Stockholm

A shopping street on Gamla Stan

Said to be one of Stockholm's oldest buildings


On Knights' Holmen, buildings once belonging to the noble estate, now public buildings; Sweden's nobility is now merely "private" (but they do have an association and meet every few years)

The Center for Free Democratic Eelections gets its own island

Changing of the Guard

Palace entrance, main guard station

Vicki stood right next to the main guard guy

The band arrives; every other day, we were told, they arrive on horseback

Procession of new guards

Team captains meet at mid-field, shake hands, toss coin

Opening kick-off

The new guard is installed; and the band played on

Gamla Stan, Royal Palace, City Hall, and Vasa

Palace frontal view

Entry to royal chapel

Pix are not allowed in the Palace, but I could not resist this one, in the Treasury, of costumes the royal kids dressed up in back in the early 20th; from British Columbia

King for a Day

Sunday, after careful calculation, we bought a Stockholm Card, good for 24 hours of transportation, museum and other admissions, and headed to the Gamla Stan, the old city. Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands in a lake that opens to the sea. Gamla Stan is the oldest of these and the site of the Royal Palace, which is still used for state and royal events. We toured the palace, the royal apartments, the royal treasury, the royal armory, the royal gift shoppe, all interesting, if not overwhelming. The highlight of the palace tour was the changing of the guard, which took place at 1:15 (and for an hour or so more; the band played on...).

From Gamla Stan and environs, and after walking some of the old streets, we headed to the Stockholm City Hall. City halls are important buildings in the Scandinavian and Germanic countries, and nothing beats Stockholm's. It is not nearly a century old, but is well known for its setting, its size, its tower, its Italian/piazza lay-out, and most of all, for hosting the Nobel Prize banquet every December 10th (Nobel's birthday). (Dyn-o-mite!) The English tour was very good. It is also a working city hall, with administrative offices all about, council chambers, and the rest. And, nearly unique among city halls of my experience, it even has a sizable gift store.

From the City Hall, we crossed town to the Vasa Museet. Early in the 1600's, to conduct a war with Poland, the Swedes built a giant warship, the Vasa, largest of its day (think Elizabethan; more than 200 feet long). Unfortunately, it had design problems, so to speak. It was launched, provisioned, manned, and sailed exactly 1300 meters before catching a breeze, capsizing, and sinking in the harbor. There were various attempts at raising the Vasa, but eventually it was forgotten. 300 years passed. In the early 1960s, through the persistence of one man, the ship was found, and, with 20th century engineering, raised. The Baltic is really a very big lake, brackish at best, and sea worms do not devour the wood as in other places. So the Vasa that was raised was very largely intact (even the sails and rope and clothing). Much conservation, and a little restoration occurred, and the ship is now on display at the Vasa Museet. It is, simply, one of those things one has to see to believe. Its size alone is fairly staggering. The amount of wood carving all over the vessel is no less impressive. (It was desgined to impress the enemy). No pictures can do justice to this sight. But I tried.

From the Vasa we raced back across town to the vicinity of City Hall again to catch the last historical canal tour of the day, a one-hour narrated voyage that we were glad we did not have to pay for. Interestingly, it took us right by Langholmen, the island on which our “campground” is located. Also the national prison, now a youth hostel. (Bringing back memories of my 1982 Columbus Monthly article on potential uses for the Old Ohio Pen). The Swedes are so smart. Despite the boat ride, subway, buses and trams, we still logged 22,000 steps on the old pedometer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Helsinki in (Less Than) a Day

Arriving in Helsinki harbor

The (Protestant) Dom; the interior very sparse, except for statues of Luther, Melancthon, et al.

The Senate Square statue of Czar Alexander II, who was nice to Finland (no statue of Stalin)

In the harbor produce market, the monument to the Czarina; she was nice to vegetables

The blue building in all the travel hall

National art museum

National theater

Details from the 1931 Helsinki train station, said, by Michelin, to be of "National Romantic" style

Just about everything was closed for Midsummer Eve, but, thank god, Kapelli's was open

In Kapelli's, Rodin's very famous "Young Girl Dribbling an Imaginary Basketball"

National history museum


Finlandia Hall, part of the national music complex

Interior of Church in the Rock; it would make a great Unitarian church

Ceiling of Church in the Rock; 14 miles (or was it light-years?) of copper tubing

Sibelius monument; he did play the organ, right?

The Russian Orthodox Dom


We arrived in Helsinki about 10AM Friday, in more rain. We decided to forego the bus tours, etc., and just did it ourselves, buying a day-pass on the local public transportation, about 14 euros for the two of us. Helsinki's major sites are pretty close together; and, given a few more hours, we could have done it all on foot. By noon it had cleared, and we visited the harbor, the harbor produce market, the Senate area, all the neo-classical buildings, the Protestant Dom, lunch at Kapelli's, then the Parliament buildings, the music center Finlandia, the Church in the Rock, the Oopera (stet), the Sibelius monument, and then the Orthodox church, hopping on buses and trams when needed. The tram drivers spoke superb English and gave us helpful advice. In view of the holiday (see below), most everything commercial, except the market, was closed...a good thing for us.

It was an interesting place, almost exotically different, Russian, sort of, and we are pleased we made the trip. (We are not going to St. Petersburg, since the Ruskies seem not to really welcome independent tourists; visas are time-consuming, expensive, etc.). Helsinki was founded in the 17th century and, unlike most European sites, has no Medieval nor earlier past.

We are even more pleased that we didn't drive. It would have taken days and days and cost hundreds and hundreds.

We got back to the Gabriella in time get a window table for two for the buffet/smorgasbord, for which we had been preparing (fasting) all day. I am sure we have had better meals, but few more memorable. See illustration for the menu. I am sure I tried each and every seafood items and all the Scandinavian items, plus much more, the Mediterranean and Asian. And cheese. And desserts. I actually liked the herring, in all its varieties of preparation. There were four varieties of caviar. And free beer and wine. Only the cheese course was lacking in variety.

We spent the next few hours digesting. About 11 we went up to the band/dance area and spent a few hours there. All this was occurring on midsummer eve, a high Scandinavian holiday, and these people know how to party. The ship was all decked out in greenery, and at midnight there was a special live performance, American discotheque from the 70s. Sort of. But it was entertaining.

We were back in Stockholm by 10 the next morning, the rain ended, a beautiful mostly clear mid-summer day on which we simply lazed about the campground, reading, puttering, exploring the island of Langholmen, and planning our next travels.