Munch Sign (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #23: We All Scream

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Had a Munch-themed day.  He’s the most famous artist from Norway, and the Munch museum is a lovely place.  Currently they have a fascinating exhibit comparing Munch with Van Gogh.

Why pair these two artists?  Well, it seems that in 2008 the curators of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam polled visitors about which Van Gogh paintings they were sorry were not on exhibit there in Amsterdam.  The winners were “Starry Night” (of course), the self-portraits…. and “The Scream.”

Yeah.  “The Scream.”

This gave them an idea.  If the public confused Van Gogh and Munch already, why not do an exhibit exploring their relationship?

It turns out there’s actually a lot to think about when comparing Munch and Van Gogh.  Even though Edvard Munch was ten years younger than his Dutch colleague, they both entered the art world the same year.  Van Gogh was a huge influence on Munch.

I had a great time at the exhibit, and was happy to see (one of) the original “Scream”s, as well as one of my favorite Van Gogh’s, “The Potato Eaters.”

The Scream (1 of 1)

Afterwards I took the streetcar to the Ekeberg Slope, a large wooded park that contains, among many other things, the spot depicted in Munch’s “The Scream.”  While at that spot working on my stupid Scream photo, I fell into a terrific extended conversation with a mountain biker.

He made an interesting observation about Americans.  “You are a much more mobile people than we are,” he said.  “In Norway, if the main business of a town closes, the people who worked there just stay put and go on public assistance.  In America they’d be much more likely to move somewhere else to look for work.”  I wonder if he’s right?

There were some lovely views from this high park.  This group of new office buildings are referred to as “The Bar Code.”

The_Barcode

 

And here’s a family enjoying the view.

 

Oslo_Fjord_1

 

And this gorgeous couple adding to the view:

Love at the Oslo Fjord

Love at the Oslo Fjord

I also had a great time taking a Segway tour of Oslo.  I had two tourguides, who for some reason were both named Andy.  “Our boss is also named Andy,” they admitted.  Some things are best left unexplained.

The Andys

The Andys

The only hitch to this particular Segway tour was when I fell.  My hands slipped off of the controls when I hit a bump and the device went forward and I fell straight back.  My foot was black and blue for nearly a month.  Worse, I might have jostled something in my spine, as a week later I began having nerve pain in the extremeties.  My doc and I are currently investigating.  The symptoms are gradually getting better, which I think is a combination of natural healing and the fact that I’ve been lifting weights for the last five weeks; surely getting a little stronger would help this sort of injury.

By the way, I saw this image on a wall in a hall in a mall in Oslo.  Does it remind anyone of a video game from last year?

Remind You of Any Video Game- (1 of 1)

 

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Oslo_Fjord

ScandiRAYvia #22: Oslo Intro

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My journey to Oslo didn’t bode well.  It was my first unpleasant train journey of the trip.  The train was extremely crowded and had, let’s just say, a compromised air conditioning system.  I was very glad to get off the train in Norway’s capital.  But I next made a mess of a very long walk to my hotel and was pretty grumpy by the time I got there.

The hotel, however, was fabulous.  Called The Thief after the traditional name of the island it sits on at the end of the Oslo Fjord, it’s Norway’s only 6-Star Hotel, and boy does it look and feel it.  My room was beautiful with more of that high-tech lighting I first experienced at Upper House in Goteborg.

Here’s some nice example of Norwegian design in a museum complex next door to my hotel:

Oslo Waterfront Design (1 of 1)

It was getting late in the day and I was tired from the train trip, but I freshened up and trundled out for a nice Saturday evening stroll through an extremely trendy, new area of the city.  It’s built on the bones of the old shipyard.  It’s right on the fjord and lined with overpriced restaurants filled with extremely attractive people.

Like this guy who was waiting for his date.

Hunk Waiting 2 (1 of 1)

Not that I’m a creepy stalker or anything, but hey, I did have the nice camera around my neck just waiting to be used, right?

Hunk Waiting 1 (1 of 1)

 

As I cast my gaze on the populace, I couldn’t help wondering if the socialist government of Norway provided free gym memberships to all of the men.  It certainly appeared to be so.  This is not a complaint.

I spent some time in the city enjoying its wonderful bookstores, which usually featured a great selection of books in English.  As my sole souvenir of the trip, I picked up a beautiful copy of Bill Bryson’s One Summer:  America 1927.

 

Terrific bookstore!

Terrific bookstore!

And while I was on my bookstore safari I met these adorable lions, who were using the poles in front of the building they were guarding as scratching posts.

Funny_Lions

 

Scandinavia seems to be a good place to be an opera house.  Here’s Oslo’s:

Oslo_Opera

I like an opera house the public is invited to walk all over.  Fun fact:  The construction of the site came in under schedule and under budget, so they took the extra money and time and hired an artist to create this interesting free-standing (floating) sculpture nearby in the fjord with leftover materials:

Oslo_Opera_Sculpture

 

In Oslo I went to my third of three movie theaters on the trip.  I have to say I was not impressed with them as a group.  Not one of them had a big screen, and the rows felt cramped compared to the nicer American theaters.  However, you’ve got to love the name of this cinema in Oslo:

I mean, what ELSE would you call a movie theater in this part of the world?

I mean, what ELSE would you call a movie theater in this part of the world?

Next up:  Munch screams and Segways tumble!

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Wes_Anderson_Shot_for_Charles

ScandiRAYvia #21: Go Go Goteborg!

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Today’s post is sort of a snapshot album of my time in Goteborg.

I climbed this series of staircases to check out an old fort.

I climbed this series of staircases to check out an old fort.

And here it is!  Great views from up here.

And here it is! Great views from up here.

If you look closely this photograph, you’ll see a bit of smoke coming out of one of the chimneys.  This sight is always the cause of great celebration in Goteborg, as it signals the fact that the church fathers have settled on their new Sexiest Lutheran Minister Alive.

We have a winner!

We have a winner!

Tree_House

Old Vs. New.

Old Vs. New.

Double_Sign

I didn’t make it to the movies in Goteborg, but I did enjoy not one but two Mexican restaurants.  Next to one of them was a gelato place run by an Italian guy.  It was the best gelato I’ve had since the last time I was in Italy.

Burritos_and_Gelato


El_Paso_2_mole

Lutefish_AGAIN_

Meteren Maiden

Meteren Maiden

Apartment_Block_with_Obama_Chem_Trail

I searched for this guy in 7-Elevens all over Sweden, but I never found him:

7_11_Coffee_Viking

 

Next:  ON TO NORWAY!

 

 

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ScandiRAYvia #20: An Island Dreamscape

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Near Goteborg are two extensive archipelagos, artfully named The North Archipelago and the South Archipelago.  I only had time to check out one of them.  I chose the South, largely because none of its islands allow private motor vehicles.  Impressively, your metro day pass also worked on all of the ferries that scoot around between the islands, so all you need to see them is a bit of time and patience.  In half a day I got to see a small fraction of what the islands had to offer, but that included a wonderful cross-island hike.

Here's the Southern Archipelago.

Here’s the Southern Archipelago.

The islands seem to have a contest that I can really get behind.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

There were lots of dreamy summer homes on Vargö, the main island I explored.

Island_Homes_2

 

Island_Homes_1

IG_Island_House

I shared the island with this very attractive couple and their adorable hounds.

Sexy_Backpacking_Couple

Backpackers_dogs

There were lots of picturesque sheep.

Fuzzy_Sheep

 

Not to mention a picturesque ferryman.

Adorable_Ferryman_is_AdorableI would have loved to have had more time to explore the islands!

Southern_Archipelago_1

 

Next up:  In and around Goteborg.

 

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Redoubt_View

ScandiRAYvia #19: Goteborg: Just Me and the Swedes

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My third destination was Goteborg, or Gothenburg. It’s Sweden’s Second City.  It’s a beautiful port and I liked it a lot.

Hat_bandFor the first thing, it was my first stop where I had a room booked in a non-Marriott hotel.  I used points for my stays in Stockholm and Copenhagen, and while both of those hotels were fine, Marriott is rarely the fun or sexy or jazzy hotel in any town.  Upper House was all three.  Perched on the top five floors of the tall black glass Gothia Towers, it was definitely swankier than I was used to.  This is not a complaint.

I tried to check in on the first floor and was gently informed that this was the check in for the regular hotel, and would I please take a seat while someone from Upper House came down to fetch me?  I was then escorted to the top floor of the building, handed a drink and placed in a comfy chair while they checked me in.

The room was super high tech with mysteriously automatic lighting throughout and a spectacular northwestern view of the city.

Goteborg itself charmed me immediately as I suspected it would.  It’s a terribly civilized place, and is more of a working modern European city than a tourist mecca like Copenhagen or Stockholm.  I felt like I was the only American tourist in town.

Goteborg has no subway; the ground is too muddy.  But they have a fantastic, extensive trolley system, which I used very successfully.

Nicest looking location for a Burger King that I have ever seen.

Nicest looking location for a Burger King that I have ever seen.

 

Canal_Sitting

 

peppy_girls

 

Alien mechs took over Goteborg while I was there.  So inconvenient.

Alien mechs took over Goteborg while I was there. So inconvenient.

One of the only known victims of Zodiac ever found in Western Sweden.

One of the only known victims of Zodiac ever found in Western Sweden.

Work sometimes follows you wherever you go!!

Work sometimes follows you wherever you go!!

Midnight

Midnight

 

Next:  Exploring Goteborg’s islands!

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Opera_From_Steeple

ScandiRAYvia #18: Copenhagen Sights!

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Scandinavia is full of examples of great modern design, and Copenhagen is no exception.

Here’s the epic Opera House, which opened in 2005.

The Opera House that Maersk built.

The Opera House that Maersk built.

You can’t tell from here, but its physical position is part of its design.  It’s directly across the canal from and in line with the Royal Palace.  The city didn’t want it built there.  But the Chairman of Maersk (which is headquartered in Copenhagen) said, “I’m paying for it.  I get to say where it is.”

Opera_Close

It was closed; I was sorry I didn’t get to go inside.

 

Then there was this very elegant office block duo near my hotel.

Nykredit_1

 

I saw lots of other nice things in the city.  Following is a random sampling.

I learned of this new pastime the Danish people had invented, known as “Smokebathing.”

Smokebathing

Few people realize the yucca plant is actually Danish in origin.

Danish_Yucca

The Church of our Savior, in addition to featuring the corkscrew steeple I climbed, has this out-of-control pipe organ supported by dressed-up elephants!

Elephant_Pipe_Organ

 

Group_Hug

Nyhaven (1 of 1)

 

Canal

 

 

Old_Boat

 

Statue

 

Statue_Family

 

The streets were full of dashing Danes.


Hunk_Cafe_2

Dashing_Danes

Park_Hunk_1

 

You should have seen him from the front.

You should have seen him from the front.

 

Parkgays

 

And so…

Thumbs-up to Copenhagen, which turns out to be pretty wonderful, wonderful after all.

Plus, the grocery store checkers look like this:

Checker_2

 

 

Coming next:  Back to Sweden, this time to Gothenburg!

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Park_and_Houses

ScandiRAYvia #17: Something is Radiant in the State of Denmark

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What began to win me over to Copenhagen was the people.  The Danes are the happiest people in the world (seriously) and this makes the city a pleasant place to visit.

I began to see this on my Segway tour, which gave me a good overview of the old portions of the city.

Next door to the Segway place is the super-cool Downtown Copenhagen Hostel.  Now, I normally don’t talk about or even think about youth hostels that much.  I felt I’d pretty much aged out of them by the time I took my first trip to Europe at age 27.  But this place is just really groovy.  The ground floor is a large, extremely welcoming tavern, with lawn chairs lining the street and a giant bed for lounging on in one corner.  If I was twenty-two, I’d totally stay here.

Anyway, back to the Segway tour.  Our guide was a charming Estonian grad student and he guided us through many of the most important landmarks of Denmark’s capital city.  Everywhere we went I thought more and more about happy Danes.  At the Royal Palace complex we learned about how Queen Margrethe is famous for her smoking out in the plaza, and how Crown Princess Mary was an avid jogger who had coffee in the same little coffee shop most mornings.  You know, just out in public like a person.

 Note:  This is NOT my photograph.  No copyright infringement is intended.

Note: This is NOT my photograph. No copyright infringement is intended.

But that was just the window dressing.  Coming from a country where the government is so often seen as the enemy, it was once again a pleasure to see the benefits of living in a place where the government considered it’s role was to make the lives of the citizens better.

A few years ago, a large survey found the average health level of the Copenhageners to be not at all optimal.  The government began an ambitious program to encourage health and fitness.  You see evidence of this everywhere you look.

Check this out.  It’s trampolines ON THE SIDEWALK.  How fantastic is that?

[Sorry I don’t have my own photo here; not easy to get the shot when you’re whizzing by on a Segway.]

I think this emphasis on health contributes to the Danish happiness factor.  Look at these bicycles:

Those_Bicycles

Forty percent of Copenhageners commute by bicycle.  As in Stockholm, the bicycle lanes are raised, smooth, ubiquitous, and separate from car and pedestrian lanes.  (Also, oddly, hardly anyone wears helmets.)  With all that aerobic exercise comes a steady endorphin flow that I’m sure helps everyone’s mood.

Here’s another reason I think the Danes are so flippin’ happy.  Check out the Rosenberg Castle Gardens:

Normal_Tuesday_Afternoon

This is about 4:00 p.m.  On a normal, sunny, weekday.  It’s not a holiday, it’s just a summer Tuesday.

Every time I come to Europe I am reminded about how the people here have a much better idea about the importance of life over work.

If you  think this means Denmark is a country of shiftless, lazy people, check again.  It has one of the strongest economies in Europe.

The City of Copenhagen has a plan to be Carbon-Neutral within a few years.

I never saw litter on the streets anywhere I went in the city.

The tour was so successful even the brutally cliche visit to the stupid Little Mermaid statue couldn’t lower my mood.  For long.

Obligatory Little Mermaid Tourist Shot

Obligatory Little Mermaid Tourist Shot

Coming next:  More Danish Delights!

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Best View From Spiral Steeple (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #16: If You Climb It

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Since I first began my foreign travels, I have had the following informal rule:

If I can pay to climb it, I will pay and climb it.

Cathédrale_Notre-Dame_de_Paris_-_06This was true in my first European city, Paris, in 1987, when I first climbed the towers of Notre Dame (226 feet tall, finished in 1250) to commune with the gargoyles.  On that same trip, I climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa…when there were no rails!

Probably my most memorable climb was in 1989 in Sienna, Italy.  The beautiful main square of the town features the 289-feet-tall Torre del Mangia from 1348.  It stands proudly over a red scalloped Piazza like a royal scepter.  Per usual, I bought my ticket for the privilege of climbing it. Torre_del_Mangia

Like many towers, it gradually became slimmer as it got higher.  Even at its widest, it was pretty narrow.

And there was just one staircase, of course, shared by climbers going up and climbers going down.   This was not much problem near the bottom, but it got worse and worse as one approached the top.

For the last third it got very tight indeed.  The only problem with this, I happened to remember about 300 steps up, was that I am highly, highly claustrophobic.  Like, really, excrutiatingly bad.

At a certain point the tight space became so crowded I couldn’t budge.  No way up, no way down.  People crawling over me, pressing into me.  Near darkness.

It was the worst claustrophobic incident I have had in my life.  Yecchh.

Anyway, eventually made it to the top with my sanity battered and bruised but otherwise intact.

_______________________________________

Steeple_DistanceCut to yesterday.  On my Segway tour my first day in Copenhagen, I noticed this incredible steeple:

“What is that?” I asked Rainer, our adorable Estonian grad student tour guide.

Rainer explained that it was the famous Vor Frelsers Kirke, or Church of Our Savior.

“Can you climb that tower?”

“Sure.”

Plans for next day made.

I took the bus to Christianhavn, the lovely district across the big canal from the old part of town.  I was planning on going there anyway, as I wanted to people-watch while in Copenhagen, and I wanted to people-watch Danes, not just tourists.  Christianhavn is a real neighborhood.

I made my way to the church and dutifully paid for my entry.  And started up.

When I first climbed the towers of Notre Dame, I was twenty-seven and slim.  As I began lumbering up the 380 steps of the steeple, I reflected upon the fact that I am now fifty-five and, well, not slim.  No matter!  As I have proven over and over again, I can climb anything if you let me go at my own pace.  My recent successful scalings of Nob Hill and Pacific Heights in San Francisco attest to this fact.  So bravely up I headed.

The Church of Our Savior was finished in 1752 and the corkscrew spire is 270 feet high.

Look at that steeple again.  Notice anything odd about it?

That’s right.  The upper portion of the climb is done on the outside of the tower.  Yeah, you read that right.  This is not an outing for the acutely acrophobic.

The first third of the way was just making our way up through the first levels of the church, and the steps were pretty normal.

Good_steeple_viewThen I got to the middle portion, still inside, but narrow, very steep and very high steps.  Really almost ladders.  Ugh.  But I did fine.

Finally, the steeple.  The outside part.  The good news was that the steps were very shallow on this portion.  Almost a ramp.  Easier, step-wise.

The bad news was… did I mention that at this point I was outside?  Now, you’d think this would be no problem.  I don’t have acrophobia.  Heights rarely bother me. In fact, I have frequently found them exhilarating,  I’ve frequently described myself as acrophilic.

So crawling up the outside of a skinny, brick, 600 year old tower shouldn’t be any problem for me, right?

Well.

That's the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark.

That’s the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark.

At first it wasn’t.  But then the higher I got, and the narrower the tower got, and the more crowded it got, the less okay I became.

The railing to my right seemed nice and solid, but it was the only thing between me and a horrible fall.  And I was frequently pushed up against it as other tourists heading down had to pass me on the left.

Then I began to think about how old the steeple was.  Up here near the top, it was literally less than two yards wide.  Had it been retrofitted lately, I wondered?  How much strain does it put on a narrow brick tower when hundreds of tourists climb up and down each day?  Wasn’t it designed for just one or two deranged curates to ascend and descend occasionally?

Water_Wind_Farm

The first wind farm I’ve ever seen that’s in the water! Denmark produces more power than it uses.

What if this was the day, the hour, the minute, that all this tired fourteenth-century masonry, undermined by thousands of bitter winter days and millions of heavy-footed tourists, finally decided to call it a day?  What if my desire to climb finally cost me everything?

My sense of unexpected and sudden acrophobia became sharper and sharper, but it was never quite debilitating.  I even found the fortitude to switch lenses on my camera at one point, which I assure you was no small feat.

Something that helped was that there were plenty of fellow climbers around me having a much worse time than I was.  I struck up a conversation with a nice but terrified British lady as she was heading up and I was heading down.

“If it’s any consolation,” I said gently, “It gets much narrower and scarier as you go up.”  I’m a giver.

Shiny_Domes

Nice View From the Top of the Steeple

Going down the steeple was scary because, since I was on the inside now, I couldn’t hang on the railing for dear life.  The center core had nothing to hold onto.  I hadn’t realized until I started down that I’d been depending on the outside railing so much.  I was shaking a bit by the time I made it to the steep, middle, indoors  portion of the climb.

Our_Savior_1This was the steep portion, and while it wasn’t scary, it was much more dangerous going down than going up had been.  Falling was a real possibility.

I made it out alive and looked back up admiringly at the tall, skinny tower I had just conquered.  I thought back to that harrowing 1989 brick tower climb in Sienna.  Despite my fears today, I realized that I’d still take Tower Acrophobia over Tower Claustrophobia any day.

I’m glad I did it and I’ll continue climbing stuff as long as I am able to!

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Red_Huse

ScandiRAYvia #15: Ray Meets Copenhagen at Last

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First Impressions

Copenhagen Train Station (1 of 1)

Note:  All of the photos in this edition, except for the title shot at the top, were taken with my phone, not my real camera.  The management regrets any inconvenience to the reader.

So.  After my big love affair with Stockholm, could my next port of call, Copenhagen, possibly compete?  This is what I was wondering as I lumbered off of the train.

Tivoli_GateOutside:  Iron gray skies and lots and lots of grim, drab, reddish brown brick.  And across the street?  The famous Tivoli Gardens, which I’d read about all my life, was not the glittering fantasy garden I’d always imagined.  It’s a hundred years old, and it feels much more like Coney Island than Epcot.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on Tivoli.  But it wasn’t the glittering, shimmering fantasy land that I’d always imagined it would be.

 


Some of the attractions at Tivoli Gardens were renovated and modernized.  In about 1923.

Some of the attractions at Tivoli Gardens were renovated and modernized. In about 1923.

Then there was this guy.  I realize we Americans dress like slobs, but really?  A tie at an amusement park?

Tie at an Amusement Park (1 of 1)

Visually, Copenhagen, with its brown brick and flat, ancient fortress-town feel, simply cannot compete with fairy-tale, hilly, island-sprinkled Stockholm.  Frankly, very few cities could.

The park had the usual unlikely claims outside food shops:

Original?  I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Original? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

 

Outside the park, Copenhagen wasn’t winning my heart yet, either.

Of course, they went there:

Yeah, They Went There (1 of 1)

And why is there a statue of Danny Kaye in the middle of Copenhagen?

Danny Kaye (1 of 1)

And all that dreary brown red brick.

So was this to be my lasting impression of Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen?  It turns out all it took was a little Segway tour to begin turning me around on the Danish capital…

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Late_Sun

ScandiRAYvia #14: Stockholm Wrap-Up

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This post will be short on words and heavy on pictures.

Stockholm has pretty much everything an American traveler could want.  It’s staggeringly beautiful, both in its natural setting and its layout and architecture.  It’s got a really superior public transportation system, including subway, buses, trams and boats.  It’s very tourist-friendly.  There are a million things to do, both indoors and out.  It’s populated by very attractive, friendly people who all speak beautiful English.

IG_Steeple

I’ve wanted to see the city for so many years, it’s surprising that it lived up to my expectations.  But it did.

This waterfront street is Stockholm's most expensive address.

This waterfront street is Stockholm’s most expensive address.

Through the porthole into the past.

Through the porthole into the past.

But How Are The Mens?

Swedish men tend to be cuddly and/or buff Vikings with very well groomed strawberry blond beards.  Not short, but not exceptionally tall.

Yes, this is a real thing.

Yes, this is a real thing.

Conclusion

I’d go back there in a minute.  Particularly for a reason I’ll tell about in a later post.

Here’s some more pictures of lovely Stockholm and its archipelago:

shore_house_1

 

shore_house_2

 

shore_house_3

 

shore_house_4

 

vax_holm

 

red_tower

 

 

I have no idea who this important-looking person is.  I was too zonked that day to figure it out.

I have no idea who this important-looking person is. I was too zonked that day to figure it out.

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