Category Archives: Travel

Surprise ScandiRAYvia Epilogue!

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I’ve been shockingly tardy in wrapping up my ScandiRayvia pieces. As 2016 starts, it’s time to finally bring my reportage on my trip to a close. You know, as I completed the trip six months ago.

I have one final surprise for you, Dear Readers, if you’ll indulge me on this tired topic just one more time.

Let’s roll back the videotape to Friday, June 26, 2015. Perhaps you remember the day as intensely as I do.

I’ve already talked about hearing about the SCOTUS decision while on a boat tour on the Stockholm Archipelago way back in ScandiRayvia #13. But what you may not know is that I left out a big part of the story of my day. Unless I’ve spoken to you about it on the phone or in person, you haven’t heard this part until now.

So. I’m having a great time at the Mälarpaviljongen bar that evening with Joakim Zetterberg’s friend Neil. As you may recall, Jay very graciously hooked me up with Neil and his very nice friends so I would have someone to celebrate the just-announced and life-changing Obergefell vs. Hodges SCOTUS decision.

Here's the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).

Here’s the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).

 

Here’s the part I left out of that evening:

At one point, Neil turned to me and said, “You know, I’m not Swedish. I was born in Texas.”

“No you WEREN’T,” I said.

“Yup. I grew up in Plano.”

“Well, I grew up in Bryan. I went to college with a raft of kids from Plano.”

Har, har, har, isn’t that funny, small world, etc. And that would have been that. Except, for some reason I still don’t really understand, Neil went on:

“I wasn’t born in Plano, I was born in Dallas. And my mother is from a little town called Blooming Grove.”

I paused.

After a minute, I slowly said, “Well, that’s… odd. That’s where my family is from. That’s where my Iveys are from.”

Then Neil paused. For a long time. Finally he said:

“Uh… my grandmother was Thelma Ivy from Blooming Grove.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found my newest Ivey cousin. In Stockholm. Neil and I share a great-great grandfather. He was a veteran of Gettysburg (and many other Civil War battles) with the colorful handle Hinton Clinton Gaither Ivey/Ivy (1844-1921). Which makes Neil and I third cousins. Neil has lived in Stockholm for many years, where he has a super cool job that I can’t really even tell you about.

Of all the things I expected to find on my ScandiRayvia trip, a Texas cousin was definitely not among them. It was one of the oddest coincidences of my life and one I’m extremely grateful for.

So if any of you see Neil on Facebook, be nice to him, or I’ll start singing show tunes.

And there’s not much else to tell. The trip home was very long but happily uneventful. And after three weeks away from my beloved LA, here’s how I felt when I got off the plane at LAX:

kiss the ground

I have no idea when I’ll get to take another trip that compares with ScandiRayvia, but I do know I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to take this trip and see so many places I’ve dreamed about seeing.

NOTE: There is a certain fluidity to the spelling of the Ivey/Ivy surname.

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ScandiRAYvia #29: Me and Greig!

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I spent my final full day abroad in the beautiful town of Bergen.  The day was mostly devoted to Bergen’s most famous son, the composer Edvard Grieg.

Though his heritage was Scottish (“Grieg” was originally MacGregor a few steps back up the famlily tree), by the time young Edvard came along, the family was resolutely Norwegian.  I have always loved Grieg’s work, particularly his collaboration with Norway’s most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen:  Peer Gynt.  I fell in love with the music as a kid and I love it to this day.

Even if you had no clue that Grieg was associated with Bergen, you could hardly miss it when come here, as you seem to trip over statues to the great man everywhere you go.  Here’s just two of them:

Grieg and Me

Grieg and Me

By the way, the statue is pretty much life sized.  He was a hobbit.  This statue is just outside the Grieg Hall, which is the premiere classical music venue in the city.  Seen from above, you can see that it’s shaped like a piano!

And then there’s this one:

Again with Grieg.

He’s not that tall.

The nice Swedish couple that took the first photo for me told me about a terrific tour they had just taken to the old Grieg summer house.  I signed up for it at the nifty visitor’s center down on the wharf.

Groovy Bergen Tourist Center (1 of 1)

The Bergen Visitors Center looks like a floating gay boxcar.

The tour started with a lovely bus drive out of the city, during which we learned about Grieg and his life with his wife Nina.  The only thing marring the trip was the clueless American mom who thought it was a good idea to bring an infant on a tour of Edvard Grieg’s home.  Was her precocious little tyke inordinately interested in Norwegian composers?  If so, then why was it so unhappy?  I tried to rise above the wretched noises emanating from its cryhole and concentrated on the tourguide’s words.

The Grieg Center, located on a small bluff over the fjord just a few miles outside of town, consists of three buildings:  A museum, a concert hall, and the old summer house.

The house is not a mansion, but a pleasant and rustic retreat from the city:

summer villa

 

Of course, the grounds have yet another statue of Mr. Grieg:

Second Grieg Statue (1 of 1)

The highlight of the day — indeed, one of the highlights of the trip — was a mini lunchtime piano recital of Grieg’s music in this lovely, turf-covered concert hall:

Turf Covered Concert Hall (1 of 1)

 

The performer was the very handsome and talented Håvard Gimse.  It was a “teaching” recital, so we also learned a lot about Grieg’s music between pieces.  I did not get a photo of him, but here’s one for your reference:

Havard Gimse

Håvard Gimse. (Not my photo; no copyright infringement is intended.)

At first I was worried, because Ms. Entitled American Parent Person fulfilled my darkest fears and brought her INFANT INTO THE CONCERT.  Who does that?  Luckily, my heroic tourguide nipped that shit in the bud within two minutes, and we adults were left free to enjoy the music.

Once the horrible baby was banished, I had a few minutes of near perfect happiness.  Enjoying a live concert of beautiful music, in this lovely hall, presented by such a dashing performer, with the gorgeous sun-dappled fjord in the background, felt like a perfect way to end my Scandinavian journey.

Troldsalen:  My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.

Troldsalen: My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.

Even more perfect:  The concert hall’s name is Troldsalen, which means, of course Troll Hall.  The summer villa is named Troldhaugen, or Troll Mound.  (LOVE.)

Edvard and Nina even have a troll grave, buried into the side of a hill:

No mere tombstone for Norway's greatest composer!!  The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.

No mere tombstone for Norway’s greatest composer!! The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.

 

After the concert, which I didn’t want to end, I personally thanked our tourguide.  “Much better for you to handle it than for me to…. which I would have,” I told him.  Then it was back to town and packing for home!  I was tired, chilly and ready to return to loud and sunny Los Angeles.

Next:  Obligatory Deep Thoughts on the Way Home!

 

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Me and Bergen (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #28: Beautiful Bergen

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The final stop on my ScandiRAYvia was Bergen, Norway’s second city.  It’s on the southwest coast of the country, and it’s a gorgeous city with a rich history.  And one of the prettiest MacDonald’s you’ll ever see.

I stayed in the local Scandic hotel, and it was my least favorite of all of the hotels on my trip.  It wasn’t offensive or terrible, or anything, just very business-like.  It was also quite large, run with Nordic efficiency and consequently felt a bit like staying in a very comfortable bee hive.

The room I was in also had the single most obnoxious piece of decor I’ve ever experienced in a hotel room.   Check out this American bald eagle image.

Ghastly.  Just GHASTLY.

Ghastly. Just GHASTLY.

The best part:  IT WAS BACKLIT.  It was like having a Coors ad over my bed.  Eeeeek.

But on to Bergen.  This was the coldest I’d been on the trip while at sea level.  It was about 40 degrees there.  In July.  Imagine February.

By this time, I was getting a bit homesick.  But I was still glad I included Bergen on my itinerary.  I think it’s a very underrated tourist destination, and I wished I had had more time to explore it.

There’s a funicular that takes you high above the city for some great views.  I never met a funicular that didn’t like; I’ve taken them in Naples, Paris, Switzerland, LA (Angel’s Flight!)  and any other place I can find them.  My only regret was that I didn’t have a sunny day with blue skies for my vista photo:

Bergen Vista (1 of 1)

But it’s gorgeous!  Here’s some snaps I got while wandering around the city:

Bergen Emo (1 of 1)

 

Bergen Deco (1 of 1)

I’m always a sucker for Deco.

University

University

 

Okay, so I'm a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.

Okay, so I’m a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.

 

Ridiculously attractive McDonald's.

Ridiculously attractive McDonald’s.

Bergen is famous for its Fish Market.

Colorful Bergen Houses (1 of 1)

 

Bergen Fishmarket (1 of 1)

 

Next:  In the Hall of Edvard Grieg!

 

 

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Fjordgull (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #27: Cruising the Sognefjord

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The day after my arrival in Flam, I boarded a small cruise ship which took us on a three hour journey through two branches of the massive Sognefjord.  We were never in the widest portion of the fjord (fjooey!) but the scenery was spectacular nonetheless!

Fjord Promontory (1 of 1)

Fjord Village (1 of 1)

Another Fjord Village (1 of 1)

Heavier and later than usual snowfall in the mountains created dozens of falls like this:

Little Green Fall (1 of 1)

Smoke over the hotel (1 of 1)

 

Does this valley remind you of another place?  It sure does me!

Does this valley remind you of another place? It sure does me!

 

My Ansel Adams shot.

My Ansel Adams shot.

 

Fjordfarm (1 of 1)

Lots of these little farms along the fjord. Imagine February.

 

Reflection-o-Rama!

Reflection-o-Rama!

 

Back on dry land, I went into a little Esso station in the village and saw this ad.  This guy works out at my gym!  I had fun telling him about seeing his print ad the next time I saw him at Crunch.

Sorry for the crappy quality of this phone picture.  But this handsome guy works out at my gym!

Sorry for the crappy quality of this phone picture. But this handsome guy works out at my gym!

Up next:  Bergen, the final port of call for ScandiRAYvia!

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ScandiRAYvia #26: At the Foot of the Sognefjord

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At the end of my long rail journey on July 5, I ended up in the beautiful little village of Flåm.  It sits at the foot of a branch of the Songefjord.

Now, technically, I’d been on a fjord for days.  The Norwegian capital of Oslo is at the foot of a large, wide fjord:

oslo fjord map

And while it’s beautiful, it’s not really what you think of when you think fjord.

But THIS IS:

No more pining necessary.

No more pining necessary.

This is the view looking north from Flåm.

As I stood there, I reflected on my ScandiRAYvia adventure, and how I’d been seeing places I’d dreamed of seeing for most of my life.  At that moment, the majesty of this spot and my awareness of my great good fortune to have the opportunity to see it simply overwhelmed me.  I stood there and cried, like…. like someone standing there crying.

Travel is so important to me, and it’s such a privilege.  It’s a privilege of health.  It’s a privilege of money.  It’s a privilege of time.  It’s a privilege of luck.  And I have all four of those in spades.

Health?  Yeah, I have Type-2 Diabetes.  But I’m beating it back!  Yeah, I had a double bypass thirteen years ago.  But it saved my life!  Yeah, I have severe sleep apnea.  But it’s 100% successfully treated with the C-PAP.  Etc.  Despite these realities, I’m healthy enough to traipse around Scandinavia.  I’m 56 and I have carried my own (heavy!) bags the whole trip.  Hiked probably an average of ten miles a day.  Climbed things like this:

Steeple_Distance

And this:

Stupid_Staircase

My health and strength have not abandoned me, damn it.  Who knows how long I’ll have it?   Need to use it while I can!

My financial future is a complete mess:  I have virtually no retirement, no nest egg.  I basically cannot afford to get old.  BUT right now I’m working and was able to pay for this magical journey.

So yeah, I’m lucky.  Lucky to have been able to make this dream of mine come true.

And so yeah, I cried.

Here's my hotel in Flam.

Here’s my hotel in Flam.

 

Flamcottages

These sweet cottages are vacation rentals.

 

Next:  Cruising the Sognefjord!

 

 

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ScandiRAYvia #25: Weird No Photos Edition, Sort Of

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On July 7, I took the train ride I’d been so looking forward to.  The train ride that was one of the main reasons I created my ScandiRAYvia adventure.

The first the segment of the journey took me out of the urban bustle of Oslo and into the Norwegian countryside.  The scenery was gorgeous northern farm with endless postcard-ready red barns.

Then we began climbing.

And climbing!

Eventually we made our way to the town of Myrdal, where we changed trains and began our steep descent on the legendary Flamsbana.

The Flamsbana is one of the steepest train journeys in the world that runs on normal tracks.  It was gorgeous and a bit hair-raising.

Unfortunately, it was a terrible day for taking photos.  Try taking good pictures from a moving train.  Every now and then they’d stop at a particularly nice view to let us take photos, but the crush of the crowd really kept that from being a viable option.

So what was arguably the most beautiful day of my trip is the one I have no good visual recording of.  Sorry about that.

But trust me, it was FABulous.

However, at the end of the day, we arrived in beautiful Flåm, the tiny village at the bottom of the mountains and at the foot of a large branch of the Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway.

To compensate for the lack of photos for this beautiful rail journey, here’s two more shots from Oslo:

Groovy condo on the waterfront in Oslo.

Groovy condo on the waterfront in Oslo.

Where they decide who gets the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I'm nominated this year.

Where they decide who gets the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I’m nominated this year.

 

Next:  The Fjords, for realz!!

 

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Vigeland_5

ScandiRAYvia #24: One Last Day in Oslo

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I really enjoyed Oslo.  I could picture myself spending lots of time here.  It was easy to be comfortable in such a well-put-together city.

Of course, I’d have to be rich to spend much time here.

I realize I haven’t shown you the Oslo City Hall yet.  I love how severe it is:

The Oslo City Hall does NOT want to hear about any of your nonsense.

The Oslo City Hall does NOT want to hear about any of your nonsense.

Getting around the city was a snap, with the subways, buses, and trolleys.

I Do have to give a thumbs down to the TGI Fridays in the city center.  Despite having a charming hostess from San Diego, the service was ridiculously slow.  I was there on a Monday afternoon, hardly a rush time, and after waiting for a cheese quesadilla for an hour I gave up and left.

Straight Outta San Diego

Straight Outta San Diego

 

On my last day in the city I took everyone’s advice and did a quick tour of the remarkable Vigeland Sculpture Park.  This is a huge park dedicated to the unusual work of a single artist:  Gustav Vigeland.  I got lots of pictures on my visit, which was briefer than I wished because it was really starting to rain.

In  a perfect world I’d spend hours in this park with the camera, preferably RIGHT after it opens, so I wouldn’t have so many other gawkers to contend with.

But check out the strange and beautiful work of Gustav Vigeland!

Vigeland_1

Vigeland_2

Vigeland_3

Vigeland_4

Vigeland_6

Vigeland_7

Vigeland_8

Vigeland_9

Vigeland_10

Next:  ON TO THE FJORDS!

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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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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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