Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fun in Finland

The second day in Helsinki, we walked and walked. Joe is so good with maps and has so much better a sense of direction than I have. It is really impressive. 

Under his direction, we walked to Finlandia Hall, Helsinki’s answer to Philadelphia’ Kimmel Center. He needed to see more if it than I did, which is the case with a lot of buildings, so I waited in the comfortable lobby while he investigated.

Then on to the Rock Church. It wasn’t very far from Finlandia, and the walk took us in a different direction, more residential than commercial. I’d never seen anything quite like the Rock Church, which was excavated directly into solid rock. It was beautiful in a cold kind of way. Like most of the churches in Scandinavia, it is Lutheran.

We then headed back towards the Fish Market. Joe wanted to see a building not far from there and I wanted to do a little more shopping, so we split up and met for lunch. Both of us wanted to go to Marimekko, which we did, and then returned to the hotel for a long nap. It was not yet four o’clock and I’d walked over 12,500 steps!

Dinner was at a Czech restaurant across from the hotel. The goulash was a bit spicy for my taste, but it was a pretty place and Joe enjoyed his mixed grill. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hello, Helsinki!

The Silja Symphony is one of those great big gihugic vessels that are not really our cup of tea. But we wanted the experience of sailing out of Stockholm, passing many of its thousands of islands. So that’s what we did to get to Finland. Unlike our voyage from Oslo to Copenhagen, where we traveled Commodore Class, this time we were in steerage. The room was so small that Joe’s bed was folded up until he was ready to get into it. And the neighbors were noisy: kids running up and down the hall shrieking in the early evening and late into the night, drunks bellowing as they returned to their cabins. 

But we did see some beautiful scenery, including many of those islands. We lost another hour on the clock somewhere in the sea, so we were a bit scrambled when it was time to disembark. But it all worked out. Helsinki has the cab thing under control — a queue forms and three cabs fill at once and pull out, then the next three, and very soon we were at our hotel

Our room wasn’t ready, so we stowed our luggage and walked down to the Market Square where we boarded a canal cruise boat — in 1-1/2 hours we saw many lovely sights from the water and learned a bit about Finland’s history. It got cold up there on the upper deck, and it was 1:30 when we returned to Market Square. 

There we noticed the tents of local cuisine and indulged in platters of reindeer, red cabbage, potatoes, and grilled vegetables. Neither of us could finish!

From there is was a climb up to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, so beautiful in a very ornate way. 

Helsinki differs from the other Nordic cities we visited. To my way of thinking, the architecture in many places exhibits a Russian influence — bulky buildings with a kind of militaristic appearance. The same is true, for me, of sculpture in the city.

This MAY mean "bus."
Then there’s the language. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian have many commonalities and by the time we left Stockholm we were starting to recognize the cognates. We knew for certain that “bat” was boat in all three languages. And we were getting the feel of the way nouns were sort of piled on top of each other. Finnish has nothing to do with those languages. There’s a whole nuther configuration of consonants with impossibilities like double K and double A, sometimes all in the same word!

The hotel is large and modern with a heated floor in the bathroom (Finland takes winter very seriously). The room was one of the largest we’ve had on the trip, especially after the microscopic cabin on Symphony. 

We were tired at the end of the day and after our huge Finnish lunch, neither of us wanted much dinner. The hotel had a tapas bar, so we went there, thinking how odd it was that our first tapas would be in Finland. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Leaving Sweden

On our last night in Stockholm, we had planned to go to the Grand Hotel for the famous smorgasbord there. It sounded delicious. But the walk to the photography museum had my feet complaining (they were at 12,000+ steps at that point) so we returned to the hotel for a rest and then decided to walk back up to the Nobel Square which was bordered by interesting restaurants. The one we chose was very nice and we decided to eat outside rather than in. There were heat lamps in the ceiling and blankets for laps or shoulders, and it was all very comfortable and cosy.

Saturday was our last day in Sweden. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel, stowed our luggage in their closet, and hurried down to the pier for the Hop-On/Hop-Off. Our destination was midway through the circuit — an island with a pair of museums. First we went to the Modern Museum. There were works by Picasso, Modigliani, even Dali, and some other lesser-known artists. One exhibit was photographs depicting racial segregation in South Africa; this was difficult to view. Adjacent to the Modern Museum was the Architecture Museum. Joe found it interesting. We lunched at the Museum Cafe, shopped in the shop (I had thought I was done shopping until I saw some very nice alligator clips with magnets on them, and then there was a pair of socks inspired by one of the artists and . . . ) and then hopped back on for four more stops, hopping off at Gamla Stan for the last time. 

The Old Town had changed its character while we had been gone! Snaking through the square was a band of Hare Krishnas — I hadn’t seen any of them in years. They were peaceful and pleasant enough, but certainly impeded foot traffic. Also, it turned out that today was the Stockholm Marathon, and runners were everywhere — even popping into hotel lobbies to use rest rooms! 

When our cab arrived and the driver was told our destination, he exhibited alarm. So many streets had been closed off for the runners! His colorful language provided a vivid commentary as he tried a couple of different routes, finally leaving the city via some sort of throughway and coming out at the ferry terminal. We needn’t have worried — there was plenty of time before sailing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Skansen and Beyond

Thursday was our day to visit Skansen. We spent most of the afternoon exploring about one-quarter of the park. It is immense. We concentrated our time in the area where the buildings from various times in history had been transported to this setting, and learned a little about life in Sweden many years ago.

There isn't a lot of verbiage to share, but I did take pictures.

Yes, I'm Swedish!

Joe indulges . . . .


Tools used for blowing glass

In the evening we returned to a restaurant we had enjoyed four years ago, Sallys. They no longer serve the pasta dish that I remembered so well, but I loved the reindeer filet that I chose. And no, it doesn't taste like chicken.

On Friday morning we split up for a few hours. Joe wanted to try to visit a yellow church he had noticed from the Skansen ferry and I wanted to stroll on the shopping street. So we did that and met at lunch time.

We spent much of the afternoon at the photography museum. There were three exhibits. The first one seemed to be "What is the strangest photograph we can make?" The third one Joe called, "Women staring into space." But the second one was well worth the cost of admission and the walk out to the museum. It was comprised of the photographs of animal conservationist Nick Brandt, and while we didn't know it was going to be on (and, in fact, it closes in two days), we were so glad that it was. The photos of the various animals, the elephants in particular, were poignant.

Stockholm is an archipelago, comprised of many, many islands. Boats are everywhere, both private and public. In addition to the sight-seeing hop-on/hop-off boats, there are commuter ferries. Citizens of Stockholm spend a lot of time on the water.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Welcome Home

We got up early on Wednesday morning and left Hotel Alexandra right on time. Off we went to the central train station in downtown Copenhagen. I was standing in line at the information booth when a young woman asked if she could get ahead of me -- the man in the booth was her colleague and she needed to ask him for a key. Of course I let her in, and while we stood there, she was kind enough to explain how to find our train. Without her help, we wouldn't have managed to get to the train on time. And after the Kalundborg incident, we were a wee bit anxious that everything go smoothly this timie.

Our track was #26 and the secret was to go down the steps for tracks #5 and 6, walk to the very end of the platform (seeing signs that said "Track 26 -- 10 minute walk") and take an elevator up one level, walk about six steps, take a second elevator down one level, and there was Track 26! It was almost like trying to find Platform 9-3/4!

The train ride was comfortable, and the train was nearly full. As we crossed the border into Sweden, once again Joe said, "Welcome home."

A little more than five hours of beautiful countryside later, we arrived in Stockholm where as we got off the train, we were greeted by this person. Sweden had just issued a statement of welcome to refugees, and this girl was the personification. Her companion had plastic bags of groceries to give to refugees.

(You can see Himself with his backpack and carry-on. Yes, we did three weeks away with those two pieces of luggage each.)

Not being refugees, we went to Scandic Gamla Stan, where we'd stayed before. My replacement credit card was waiting for me at Reception!

We settled in and then walked up to the Nobel Museum where we spent about an hour and a half. It is a wonderful museum and we not only learned a lot, but emerged hopeful and optimistic about the future of humanity! I learned about the nomination-selection-announcement process, and was intrigued that nominees who are finalists and who are not selected to receive the prize remain secret for fifty years.

This year's announcements are just a couple of weeks away, so excitement is building. We learned about the announcement process, which happens on the second floor of the Museum.

There were photos of all of the winners, explaining why they were chosen.  There was a section of artifacts -- the microscope used when a particular discovery was made, the original draft of a manuscript, the hat one was wearing when he learned he had won the prize. On our previous trip we had visited the section on the life of Alfred Nobel, so we didn't return this time, but we did very much like seeing his Will, where the terms of the prize were set out.

It is the kind of place that makes one think. A question on the wall was "What will your legacy be?" This was in the area where the various winners' accomplishments were shown. In another area there were video vignettes of winners sharing their hopes for the future. The question then, "What are your hopes for the future?"

It wasn't quite time for dinner, so we decided to go to one of the places on the square and have a drink. The couple at the next table turned out to be locals, shop owners, in fact, and just the nicest people. We had a lovely time talking with them, and looked forward to visiting their shop in the next day or two.

Dinner was at Traditions, a chic restaurant with a traditional Swedish menu. Meatballs in brown gravy with lingonberries were my choice, while Joe tried the potato dumplings. Dessert was a chocolate mousse sort of creation settling in cloudberry sauce. Heavenly! We got to talking with the couple at the next table; turned out to be a Belgian woman on holiday, traveling with her university-age son. They were so pleasant. I told her that we'd not been to Belgium (yet) but we were filled with admiration for Dirk Brosse, and she said that he was beloved in his home country.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Cycling in Copenhagen

I've never seen as many bicycles in one place as I did in Copenhagen. The city is very bike-conscious and is constantly striving to improve conditions for cyclists. There are designated bike lanes and currently a project is to make these lanes wider. A current program is testing the right for cyclists to turn right on red. Many, many people ride their bikes to work. The desk clerk at our hotel told me it takes her ten minutes whereas the bus would take half an hour and cost money.

Some adults and most children wear helmets.

I was fascinated by not just the quantity but the variety of bicycles that I saw in Copenhagen, and this post is just photos of the cycling sights I saw.