Stockholm Too…

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Jul 222010

Just three sites today and we fell into the apartment spent. We started with a fascinating visit to the Vasamuseet, a museum built specifically to house a 1628 warship that sank on it’s maiden voyage in Stockholm’s harbor. It was raised 333 years later and is now preserved with amazing related exhibits. Just across the street we then took in the Nordiska Museet in a wonderful building finished only about 100 years ago. The Folk Art display could have kept me there for the entire day but the other floors which explored trends and traditions, life work and play in Sweden were all interesting too.

Breaking for a traditional smorgasbord, not another until MAYBE Oslo, we enjoyed chatting with our waiter whose story turned out to be that he left Chili as a very young child with his parents who were persecuted by Pinochet in the ’70s.

A walk around Skansen which claims to be the world’s oldest open-air museum housing a collection of about 150 original historical village and farm buildings moved to Stockholm from all over Sweden. It is a kind of Williamsburg crossed with Disneyland. But the authentic historical part made Kristin Lavansdatter come alive for me.

We are now more familiar with the layout of the city and its wonderful blend of Baroque and Neo-Classical buildings with exciting contemporary architecture. Sparkling water at every turn and trees make the city a very soft space even with traffic and loads of people.

We are considering a walk to track Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomquist tomorrow among other attractions.

Each day we still wake up with excitement and anticipation of a new adventure. The weather seems to be unrelentingly perfect. Residents of Stockholm complain about the heat but for the most part with lots of water it is very manageable. Stockholm has the feel of a major European capital with miles and miles of a mix of historical and contemporary buildings. Although it is much more crowded than any place we have been to date and bustles with energy, traffic and noise is almost subdued–very quiet, seldom honking and traffic moves in an orderly rather than agggressive way. Of course many people take off for the month of July so that might also be a factor. Maybe it is the water and trees everywhere or just the beautiful weather but everyone seems to be savoring the moment. Like most Baltic big cities, there is a lot of construction and road building everywhere. Summer, after the thaw is the only time it can be done


A Smattering of Stockholm…

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Jul 202010

The locals leave during July. With good reason. Stockholm is OVER RUN with tourists–particularly cruise boat travelers from all over Europe. My mother-in-law had a wonderful Louisiana expression that applies here–“You can’t stir ’em with a stick.” Crowding is more noticeable only because up until now we have not run into packed exhibits or areas.

So we joined in to see Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city and definitely Tourist Central. The day was brillant and we capped it off with a boat ride to Drottningholm, palace and actual residence of the King of Sweden, his wife and his American educated daughter (Yale) who is now doing an internship with the European Union.

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.

Tallin…Top to Bottom

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Jul 152010

We arrived in Tallinn yesterday afternoon, after about a 3 hour drive from Riga. We made contact with a former colleague of mine,Carl Orav, last night and after a delightful dinner he led us through the old town of Tallinn.

In the years I worked with him, I didn’t realize it, but he had an amazing story which is probably typical of many Estonian families. Born in Tallinn in 1943. His father had graduated from the Estonian equivalent of West Point in 1940 and was an officer in the Estonian army. The Russians swept through the area first and commissioned him as an officer in the Russian army and he went off to fight Germans. When he realized it was a losing cause with the Russians, he deserted, and came back to Tallinn about the time the Germans were coming through, so the Germans commissioned him as an officer in the German army and eventually he became an officer in the SS. When the Russians were headed back, he commandeered a German army truck, drove to Tallinn, picked up the family and drove to Germany, where they stayed until the war ended. After the war his family lived in several refugee camps until they could get passage to Sweden. His father took a job as an engineer in a factory for several years, then since many other members of the family,grandparents, aunts and uncles, had immigrated to the US, they were able to do so as well.

Carl also gave us the insight that most of young, slender, attractive blonde women we have been seeing dressed in stylish, flamboyant and provocative clothing were young Russians who had grown up in places like Riga and Tallinn and they or their families chose to stay when the Soviets pulled out. Today, Michele checked it out in many of the shops we were in, asking each attractive, slender, blonde woman if they were Russian. Some responded reluctantly, but she hit 100%. So much for the mythology that Russian women all weigh 250# and wear kerchiefs and potato sacks.

On to Helsinki tomorrow,


The following views have some historical tidbits and then a collage of shop signs follow.

Along with sightseeing, dinner and tour with Carl, we also had my November election filing papers notariized by the American consul and shipped them off via DHL to California. I guess it is because of our age but what an amazing experience it is to track the package which will arrive in just two days!