Jul 242010

We left Stockholm early on a sunny and brisk breeze.  Crossing Sweden it grew colder and colder turning gray and blustery.   After stopping for a lunch picnic we put on polartec and socks and cranked up the heat.  Soon after crossing the border into Norway farms began to be bigger, valleys  enormous and  cultivated in lush rolling sections dotted with prosperous and beautifully maintained red and white trimmed farmhouses, barns and other out buildings.  The countryside is vast.   The highway was excellent and driving seemed easy from the passenger point  of view.

Pulling into Oslo mid-afternoon it was cold and threatening rain.  But this morning we awoke to brilliant sunshine and shorts and tee shirt weather.

Oslo is a compact city with lots of parks and inviting avenues lined with trees and wide pedestrian areas dotted with fountains and flowers.   We have had a leisurely day of savoring Munch and his 19th century Norwegian artist contemporaries in their National Gallery.

City Hall was a worthy visit with its own fascinating history of  construction and decoration begun in 1938 and completed in 1950 but  suspended during the Nazis occupation.  Built and decorated entirely out of materials from all parts of Norway by Norwegian artists, it is a functional 20th century structure in contrast to the other city halls we seen thus far reminding us that Norway has only a recent history as an entirely independent country from Sweden.

So Long Stockholm…

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Jul 222010

Just when you learn your way around the subway system, know the shortcuts around the construction, are recognized by the neighbors and identify the local landmarks, it is time to move on.

We have really enjoyed Stockholm. Our last day has been so relaxed. We spent the morning checking out the fabulous blue line subway station art that we had seen on the web, taking a tour of City Hall, checking out what the Nobel Museum says about Al Gore and Barack Obama, the National Museum of Art and finally wrapping up with a boatride around the 14 islands of Stockholm seeing the city from a different perspective.

Stockholm and more…

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Jul 192010

An overnight ferry from Turku put us in Stockholm early this morning. Today has a been one of settling in. Laundry, getting acquainted with our neighborhood, figuring out how to pay for parking and all the other minor/major travel challenges upon arriving in a new city/country. Also we are tired. I was up at 3 AM watching us glide along the coast and into the fjords as the sun rose. It was so spectacular that I just decided I can always sleep when we get home. This country could not be missed! Bob has been amazing placing all faith in our goddess of GPS, Emily Garmin, who now seldom scolds us with RECALCULATING, RECALCULATING. It has worked so well!!!! She warns us of speed traps, cameras and lots of things we don’t always understand and directs us to take things like the second slip road onto highway whatever.

The four day apartments stays (which we have here in Stockholm) are a welcome respite from hotels. Breakfast and light dinners in the apartment with more abudant mid-day traditional local fare works very well for us. We also enjoy “living,” albeit so briefly, in neighborhoods instead of the tourist/commercial areas where most of the hotels are located. Everyone is so helpful. We just stand on a corner with a map or perusing the parking ticket dispenser and soon the village is there offering help and debating amongst themselves in their own language the best way to help/guide us. It never ceases to amaze us and we ask ourselves if we are so gracious and forthcoming at home.

Yestesrday, before boarding the ferry in Turku in the early evening, we spent the day exploring the countryside outside Helsinki which is verdant, productive and lush. Driving in the morning through the farms and then in the afternoon we spent going through an original Victorian wooden fishing and shipping village, Old Rauma. Although it dates back to the mid-fifteenth century as a village, the current structures are early and mid-19th century replaced and rebuilt after numerous fires razed the original town. Currently, the 600 buildings/houses are all lived in but preserved as a World Heritage site. Their description does not refer to the clapboard ornate mid-nineteenth century style as Victorian but Mid-century Romantic or Empire Cladding describisng the wide clapboard siding. After all they weren’t under the influence of the English queen.

Raising Some Helsinki…

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Jul 162010

Helsinki is a bustling modern city without the medieval heritage that we have been steeped in for the last few weeks. Their history and development parallels our own in the US. Streets have the feel of energetic faviorite US cities like Chicago–nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings interspersed with contemporary and very recent new structures.

Construction of the sea fortress Suomenlinna beginning in 1748 turns a scruffy cluster of fishing shacks into a WPA project that literally laid the foundation for Helsinki.

In 1748 Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. The Swedes and the French cooperated to fund and build a “Gibraltor of the Baltic” to protect against the growing threat from Russia. They brought in craftsmen and builders and their families and also hired locally. Because the project heads (French and Swedish) needed to improve the health and stamina of their workers, they also developed housing, food sources like gardens and stock. In fact the same mill the split timber for the houses and ground grain for bread. So once up, the fortress serves a base in King Gustav III against Russia in 1788. All is well until Russia has another go at ’em and 1809 Finland becomes part of Russia and the fortress houses a Russian garrison for the next 108 years. In 1918 the fortress is returned to Finland and serves as a prison while they throw out the occupying forces. The fortress has also served as a Finnish Military Academy and now is a UNESCO World Heritage site paying tribute to a particularly tricky kind of military architecture prevalent in France and unique to this site.

To the coast…Klaipeda

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Jul 102010

Klaipeda is like a time warp. Stark concrete buildings and people who look like they are still under Kruschev’s thumb. Women are squat, stocky in droopy housedresses, men are loud boistrous, singing and slapping one another on the back in comradeship. It is afterall Saturday night and we are being serenaded with Lithuanian drinking songs.

Drive from Vilnius was easy on a “freeway.” We are off to explore the Corian Spit tomorrow. Weather has turned hot. The abundant parklike green of frequent showers in Vilnius has been replaced by weeds, wilt and diminished hope.