Crossing European borders with ease in southern Netherlands

The last part of my trip was very special. I’m visiting Lisa, a transplanted friend who lives in the southern part of the Netherlands. She and her friend, Vic picked me up in Maastricht, Netherlands, the nearest airport to her home in Colmont, and she offered to show me the town while we were here.

We started with lunch and window shopping along the main pedestrian street. I’ve seen these everywhere in Europe. We have them too – they’re called malls, but it’s just not the same as these outdoor social spaces. Here the restaurants spill into the street with tables under umbrellas, and people enjoy the weather, their friends, and a beer or coffee.

She took me to see the St. Servatius Bridge that the Americans crossed as they marched into the Netherlands to liberate it from the Germans in 1944. There are lots of WWII reminders here, including an American Cemetery in Margraten nearly as large as the one in Normandy.

We walked to a church that Lisa wanted to explore along a shady square full of tables. Vic waited outside. When we returned, we found him sitting with complete strangers who had noticed him standing alone and had invited him to have a beer. Being a people person, he joined them. So we sat too, a chance to talk with some locals. I’d guess the couple was in their 40’s, a generation younger than me.

We talked about a wide range of topics including the generous amount of vacation time (4 – 5 weeks) that Europeans typically get. We were surprised to learn that many self-employed people, like the woman, are lucky to get a week off now and then. She can’t afford to be gone from her shop for too many days. Luckily, she still does get the public holidays. The Netherlands is a Catholic country, so of the nine public holidays, seven of them are Catholic celebrations.

On the way back to the car, Lisa picked up cod for the next night’s supper at the outdoor market. Such a cool place to shop: take it home or eat it there. Here I learned that the Dutch like to eat their herring raw. Um, maybe I’ll try that next time.

The next day we drove less than two hours to Antwerp, Belgium, diamond capital of the world. We started our walking tour at the train station – a gorgeous building from the turn of the 20th century. The marble, the windows, the detailed craftsmanship was magnificent. But we really wanted to see the detail near the roof, so we hopped on the Ferris wheel right outside the train station and got level with the top.

I also highly recommend seeing the Antwerp zoo building, right next to the train station: old world colored tiling, gold leaf, and exotic statues including a turbaned young man on a camel, only begin to describe it.

Then we visited the Cathedral of Our Lady, the largest Gothic building in the Dutch-speaking world, and home to four Rubens paintings. So many opportunities in Europe!

On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store for a huge package of mussels to make with the cod we bought yesterday. It was only €4! Food is inexpensive in the Netherlands.

On the third day, a weather front was moving in so we started with the outdoor things we wanted to see first. Near Vaals, we drove up the tallest mountain in the Netherlands (actually a hill; much of the Netherlands is claimed from the sea and is actually below sea level). Vaalserberg has a tower overlooking three countries: Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As it turned out, we explored pieces of all of those countries over the five days I was there. If I’d had just a few more days, I could have added France which is also close to Lisa’s home.

By afternoon, it was raining lightly, and we drove to Valkenburg, Netherlands for lunch. It’s a walled city with 14th century castle ruins at the top. We wandered into a Saturday market where we bought mustard from a Belgian couple who made it. We ate a late lunch and from our outdoor perch, we watched a bridal shower party at the restaurant across the street. The bridesmaids wore gold sashes and the bride wore a funny hat and a lei. A bachelor party happened along and the groom (not her groom) offered the bride a drink from the whiskey keg that he was carrying. They toasted each other with much laughing and the groom’s party walked on. It’s such a delight to see how other cultures celebrate these special moments.

Sunday morning dawned with full-on rain, so we drove to Aachen Germany to the thermal spa, Carolus Thermen. There are spas all over Europe offering therapeutic hot mineral waters. Dutch doctors prescribe the waters for patients and they not only take time from work to go, but their insurance pays for it.

The mineral waters went throughout the facility. There were so many different ways to enjoy it: a big pool inside, two pools outside with massaging waterfalls, jets coming out from the sides, and a portion of the cycle that whirled the whole pool in a circle. The water was so fast that everyone was caught up in the current and laughing with delight; it was bit like body bumper cars. There was also a cold pool (62 F), a hot pool (100 F), two large Jacuzzi-like tubs, and a steam room. Everyone seemed to have the same idea of enjoying the waters on a rainy day, so it was packed. We saw every body type; no one seemed to be hung-up about their shape the way people can be at an American beach or pool. Even the largest of German men were wearing tiny speedos.

This attitude continued on the upstairs level with multiple saunas and three additional pools, and where nude participation was required. I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit to nude public bathing in my blog, but my tag line is “inspiring others to live full out,” and I can’t inspire you if I don’t live full out myself.

I was naked and afraid at first, wanting to strategically place my towel. But everyone was so nonchalant, that I dropped it. My daughters asked how it was. I told them that when you’ve been without a man as long as I have, the first one was pretty interesting. Well, maybe the first four or five. But after a while, it’s like “Meh.” I did notice that couples tended to look at each other and everyone else looked you in the eye, to show that they weren’t “peeking.” I would definitely do it again.

So what’s the thread that ties all of these days together? I was amazed as how easy it was to experience multiple cultures, even on the same day. There were no border stops, no need to get passports out, no need for multiple currencies. The EU works. The next time I plan a European trip, I’ll look for more places close to borders so I can mix it up; oh, and with thermal spas.

 

All photos of Carolus Therman spa were taken from the internet. For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen Norway – a short but delicious visit

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

Experiencing Oslo Norway – Jazz to Vikings

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

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Posted in enjoying other cultures, friends, learnng new things, living full out, small world, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Experiencing Oslo Norway – Jazz to Vikings

Our Oslo experience was shorter than anticipated – Kay and I had food poisoning for two days and were housebound. Sometimes the body insists on resting. But before that happened, we had fun.

One of the pleasures of having my niece, Carly, along was that she has experience traveling in Scandinavia, and could recommend places to see and things to do. She was particularly taken with the Oslo Opera House. It is designed to look like an iceberg, quite appropriate in this northern climate.

So our first night in Oslo, we went to the Opera, or rather, the Oslo Jazz Festival held at the Opera House. The festival opened with a concert with Ketil Bjørnstad, who explained things only in Norwegian, but music transcends language. Still, it was clear we were missing something, as the audience laughed often, and uproariously at times. Some of the vocal pieces were sung in English. I enjoyed all of it. Afterwards, we walked on the roof.

Yes, the Opera House’s slowly rising roof-line is intended to be walked upon.  Carly recalled climbing it in March with snow and ice on it. We were much luckier at this time of year. It was more of a ramp, well-lit in the dark. (It was finally late enough that we experienced darkness at night.) The view of the city across the water and in the stillness was peaceful. We stayed longer than I thought we would.

Walking through the city, you see a mix of modern and old buildings, somewhat jumbled together. The Opera House is located about a block from the Oslo Central Train Station. I love that they added the new station to the old building, and remodeled it to house restaurants and shops. We ate there at a Scandinavian restaurant prior to the jazz performance. The duck was fantastic.

The square around the station was lively and fun. Police on horseback rode through the square and talked with the people enjoying their leisure time. Some of the sculptures stumped me – what on earth did the artist mean? On the other hand, I enjoyed the sculpture of Thor’s hammer and the stories of Thor I heard over the next several days.

Oslo is very proud of its maritime history, and it has several museums covering the topic: the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the Fram Polar Ship Museum. All of these are easy to access using the Hop-on Hop-off Oslo bus. Of these, we only had time to see the Viking Ship Museum.

Here we saw the three Viking ships I had read about before starting this journey, the Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships. I had learned that a “Viking” was not a nationality or tribe, but an occupation. The fjord boat trip we took showed just how little land there is in Norway along the coasts for farming. The Norwegians fished and farmed what they could, but at other times, they had to look outward, to the sea. So these farmers joined raids of other lands. And the best place to find gold and silver were churches and monasteries, starting in 793. Since the Norwegians were not yet Christianized, they did not have the same ethical boundaries as others about raiding churches.

The other use of Viking boats was to search elsewhere for a place to settle as the population outstripped the land for farming. These expeditions to find unpopulated lands gave the sea-farers the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.

I recommend reading about the Vikings prior to visiting the Viking Ship Museum, as it’s hard to get the rich context just from the museum.

The other Museum we visited was the Norwegian Folk Museum, or Norwegian Museum of Cultural History an open-air setting of 150 historic buildings moved there, including a Stave Church from 1157.

Stave Church from 1157, highly carved granary, house interior

These buildings were often highly decorated with carvings and cut-outs. A granary could be quite beautiful. And we could walk into many of the buildings to see period furnishings.

Even the building placement was as authentically as possible. For example, most farms were settled on hillsides. So houses and buildings like food storage and granaries were in a row above the farm buildings. The run-off from the farm buildings fertilized the garden at a lower level yet.

They also offered demonstrations (folk dancing, lefse making and baking, farming practices, wool carding and spinning, and funeral rites) that provided a rich experience of Norwegian life in the 1700-1800’s. I highly recommend it.

At the end of our stay in Olso, we all parted ways; Carly went home. Kay went back to London, and I traveled to my last stop to see a friend in the southern part of the Netherlands. The Scandinavian part of my journey was over.

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen Norway – a short but delicious visit

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

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Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

August 2019. Our second day in Bergen, the plan is to take a five-hour boat ride up the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest (127 miles) and deepest (4,291 ft) fjord. Then we’ll transfer to the scenic Flam Line that will take us up to Myrdyl (one hour), and transfer to a different rail line there, the Bergen Railway for a ride back to Bergen (two hours). The whole trip with time for transfers was to be 11 hours, but it didn’t turn out that way.

The boat tour was amazing. After exiting the harbor, we were motoring past and through the islands along Norway’s coast with the Norwegian Sea – above the North Sea! The sky was full of dark clouds and a few burst open. The girls decided to stick it out on the open back deck for the sake of their photography, but I found a front row seat on the lower level, and happily snapped my photos from inside.

What struck me most about the islands is the variety. Some were barren of anything but a few low scrub bushes, others were bursting with evergreens right down to the shoreline, often right across the channel from each other. The shoreline along the mainland was full of tiered streets of houses with boat houses along the shore. The further we got from Bergen, the fewer the houses.

By the time we got to the opening of the Sognefjord, the sky had brightened so I spent more time on the deck. The shoreline cliffs along the fjord rose steeply, 3300 feet and more.

Occasionally there was enough flat land for a boat house or other small building. Some places were level enough to crowd in a few houses, maybe a hotel, and a dock, where the boat discharged and picked up a handful of passengers. At very few points we did see farming, but the practice seemed wrong, going up and down the hill, not along the contour.

While the scenery on the boat tour was reason enough to take it, our destination was Flam, a village with a tourist-focused railroad line that goes up to Myrdyl, a stop on the way to Oslo on the Bergen Railway.

The Flam Line was proposed as an extension of the Bergen Railway to serve the district of Sogn around Flam, with the first plans drawn up in 1893. Construction started in 1924 and ended in 1940. Bureaucracy boggled the mind back then too.

The Flam Line from Flam to Myrdyl is 12.6 miles, rises 2841 ft, has 20 tunnels, one bridge, and a large number of fantastic scenes including several spectacular waterfalls pouring into the river below us; we could also see hardy folk riding bikes and hiking along the river.

All of this is explained in three languages on the train speaker system. We even had a stop where we could get out for photos. This tiny spur is the third most-visited tourist attraction in Norway, and rightly so.

When we pulled into the Myrdyl Station, most people got off including us. We were all transferring to the Bergen Railway, going to Bergen from here. But something went wrong. The tiny station’s departure monitor stated that the train to Bergen was cancelled “due to problems with the electricity supply.” Now the station in Myrdyl is not staffed except for the café people, so there was no one to help us rebook a later train. And while the population of Myrdyl was about 100 when the railroad was being built, no one lives there now, so there are no overnight accommodations.

We all milled around, some people panicking, waiting for someone to help us. Finally an announcement: the Bergen Line was indeed closed until further notice. There was no estimated time for fixing the problem, so the only thing the Flam Railway people could do, is return us all to Flam and transport us by bus to Bergen, even though the problem was on the other railway.

This made perfect sense; they couldn’t strand us up there. Yet we witnessed a mad dash to the train, everyone afraid of not getting seats. This was silly, as we were the same number of people who came up. On the way down, we heard the train speaker system giving us the same facts and pointing out the same stunning sites as on the one-hour trip up; a real two-for-one bargain. Upon reaching Flam, the train operators instructed us to reassemble in the parking lot to the left of the train platform.

And we did. But no announcements were forthcoming. Yellow-vested officials wandered through the crowd, answering questions, which were the same questions they heard every few feet. It would have been more efficient for someone to stand on a platform and address all of us at once. But no. Here’s the snippet of news we got: “Buses have been ordered from Voss, the nearest town, which is an hour away. They should be here in 10 minutes or so. The trip will take three hours to Bergen.” Given the short time-frame for the buses to arrive, people did not break ranks and go back to the Flam restaurants for food before the long trip back.

An hour later, the crowd was getting restless with no buses and no news. People dashed away to use the facilities, buy snacks, fruit, or water, and hurried right back. A bus finally did show up and some of the crowd rushed it. The yellow-vested officials pulled them back off the bus and replaced them with families with young children.

Forty-five minutes later the final two buses showed up, and everyone got a seat. Now we could settle in for the three-hour ride to Bergen. The remaining hiccup was that our driver had been driving all day and he could only take us to Voss. There we moved to another bus with a fresh driver. We finally arrived at the Bergen Bus Terminal after 11:30 pm, four+ hours after our anticipated timing. After walking home and showering, we’ll get to bed after midnight.

Now for a quick sleep, because we have a 7:57 am train to Oslo tomorrow morning, traveling the same rails through Myrdyl that we couldn’t get on earlier today. This train ride is considered one of the top 10 for scenery in the world. But after a day like today, I’ll have to push my appreciation for it. Travel is transforming, but one has to be prepared for hiccups, and adjust one’s attitude. The best part of this story is that Kay and Carly and I will continue to laugh about it over the years: a great travel story.

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen Norway – a short but delicious visit

Experiencing Oslo Norway – Jazz to Vikings

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, living full out, Make lemonade, Mother-daughter bonding, Positive Thinking/Choose Your Attitude, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Bergen Norway – a short but delicious visit

August 2019. Bergen may be my favorite stop so far on my 10-city, 8-country summer trip, except for that one incident, but more about that in a later blog.

Right away as we stepped off the plane my curiosity was piqued. A huge sign on the mountain across from the airport says BERGEN?. What does that mean…are we in Bergen or not? It turns out this was the winning entry in the competition for an art installation at the airport in 2017. The jury said, “The artist does not seek to provide textbook answers, instead pointing to the universal human experience of being new to a place. Bergen is the place – but the place for what? The question mark contains an infinitude of possibilities.” Sounds artsy-fartsy to me, but I don’t explain things, I just report them.

Bergen is on the west coast of Norway, and we had to fly over the mountains on the east side to get there. From the plane we could see flat-topped mountains with vast amounts of snow even in August. Perhaps they were glaciers. Then as we came into Bergen, we saw the land where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and many fjords, the intersection of the two.

Our AirBnB was in the old part of the city, as were all of our lodgings so far. We were on the bottom two floors of a tiny burgundy house squeezed between two larger ones. The walkways to the back on both sides led to additional houses back there. How do they get furniture in and out?

Bergen started out in the flat area around the harbor, but soon sported houses hanging on the mountainsides, including ours. That meant that every trip down came with an uphill return.

After quickly settling in, we headed down to the harbor and the fish market, the heart of the town. On the way we appreciated all the pedestrian streets, broad swaths of road with cobblestones and monuments, and flower festooned gazebos and parks.

We soon came across the jewel of it all, their shallow lake, Lille Lungegårdsvannet, with a fountain. Our paths would cross the lake park several times in our short visit here. At the lake, we struck up a conversation with a local who recommended a restaurant for supper, and off we went.

But once we reached the harbor, we let our eyes decide for us that we must eat right in the fish market, which has been running since 1796! It was a riot of colors, rich smells, and cooking aromas so strong I could almost taste what we smelled. We had the opportunity to sample reindeer and moose sausage, and local honey. But it was the seafood that was the focus of all.

It didn’t take long to decide on the Spaniards in rubber waders boiling, sautéing, frying and otherwise transforming all manner of SEAfood into seaFOOD. When the flirty guy taking our order found we were from Hawaii (they always ask this to open a conversation that might lead to a sale), he immediately said “Aloha? Is that the word? Teach me some others.” I ran through a good list. “And would the ladies like mussels to start?” Oh yes.

Oh, the mussels! I learned to eat them on the trip I took to rural France in 2017, and haven’t been to a place where I can get them since. The only thing wrong with them was that there weren’t enough to feed all three of us hungry gals. Luckily the rest of the food came quickly. Carly and I had kabobs of shrimp, salmon and halibut; Kay had lobster. We all shared.

After that it was only 8 pm, so we wandered and snapped photos of the colorful houses along the Bergen Harbor, every bit as pretty at Nyhavn in Copenhagen, and far less crowded. Bergen was founded in 1070, and was at one time the capital of Norway. The harbor is Norway’s second busiest port.

I wanted to ride the Bergen Funicular up Mount Fløyen for the view of the city. Kay and Carly tried to climb it, with their scooter injuries from Helsinki still hurting! Luckily there were several stops on the way up and they joined me at the first stop.

The sun was glinting off the harbor water and it was easy to spot the lake. Breath-taking. The funicular is one of Norway’s most visited attractions. It runs until 11 pm, but even then I don’t think you’d see full darkness with the city lights on. And after a very long day, I was not about to wait around to find out. Good night all.

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, living full out, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

August 2019. Wow, we thought Stockholm was cool (no pun intended). But Helsinki far exceeded our expectations. Everyone was so friendly. I guess they aren’t jaded by an overwhelming number of tourists like some of the other cities we visited. And although the Finns are known for not saying much, everyone we approached was very helpful.

And shopping was delightful. Helsinki is full of second-hand stores, our favorite shopping experience. Near our flat, we found eight thrift stores within four blocks. Summer sales were in full swing at all the regular stores. And they all had good stuff, though given the climate, the goods leaned toward woolens, leathers, and even furs, including hand-muffs! Helsinki people show excellent taste, sometimes funky, sometimes cat-walk gorgeous. Okay, take that with a grain of salt; anything beyond Croc sandals is dressed up for me.

The city itself has a turn-of-the-(last)-century glamorous feel with the highest number of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe, more than 600.

The Helsinki train station is a great example. It received a second-place BBC award for most beautiful train stations, beaten only by New York’s Central Station. Built in 1914, it serves 200,000 people every day. And Helsinki has a surprising number of trees along streets and in parks filled with people enjoying the summer hours. This is the furthest north we are traveling, and dusk arrived at 10:30 pm.

We learned about the Finnish trait of grit (sisu), the attribute that gives them resolve, patience, hardiness, resilience, and gets them through the long winter. At the same time, they have the highest score on the European Happiness Index. (That had to be measured in summer when they describe themselves as manic with 22 hours of daylight.)

We learned much of this, including sisu, on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus that passes through Helsinki. We had to exhibit sisu to get around. Our first day, we shopped, but my legs ached and I went back to the flat early. Kay talked Carly into renting one of the ubiquitous scooters after shopping another two hours. She had been enticing me since London, but my response was always “Hell No!”

Carly was a more compliant victim and both of them maneuvered onto one scooter. In short, within two minutes, they crashed the scooter at high speed going down a steep hill, and abraded many layers of skin (knees and elbows), on very rough pavement. They parked the scooter which remained pristine, and hobbled home sporting blood. Our flat was on the third floor, 52 steps. We weren’t sure they would be able to walk much the next day.

So we planned to take the tourist bus. But we didn’t know that 1) some stops (the nearest to our flat) were eliminated for road construction; and 2) there are two Hop-on Hop-off bus services that look very much the same, but take slightly different routes. We found ourselves waiting at closed stops and hobbling after buses to the next stop only to lose them turning corners. We finally gave up after about three hours of limping, wandering, and window-shopping.

Frustrated, we finally found a taxi to take us to the Sibelius Monument, celebrating Finland’s greatest composer,  Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). It was fairly far out from the city center. When finished, we couldn’t find a taxi back, so we searched again for the Hop-on Hop-off stop. Found it! Waited about 15 minutes and the bus rolled right past us. WTH?! Then we spotted that bus stopping, about a block further on. We shuffled over, knowing we’d wait about 20 minutes for the next one. Then a bus from the first service rolled past, but of course did not stop. We were near tears with laughing and crying when our bus finally arrived and stopped. Now we could enjoy the rest of the route in leisure and also get closer to our flat when we disembarked.

Next day, we took the tourist bus again. I got off at the Rock Church (unassuming outside with skylight strips, gleaming copper ceiling, and roughhewn walls inside), while the thrill seekers, Kay and Carly, stopped at the Linnanmaki Amusement Park (free entrance and no lines!). We gathered again at the flat, with one thing left to do in Helsinki: enjoy a public sauna, the ultimate Finnish experience. The plan was to hail a taxi there and back, but none drove past and we walked the whole way to Loyly, open until 10 pm.

This was a co-ed swimsuit-required sauna, though other types were available. We checked-in and received two towels, one for sitting and one for drying. We showered, found the sauna, carefully placed the sitting towel, and steamed until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I was expecting a hot-tub to sooth my aching legs. But no. What they offered was a dip in the Baltic Sea, just outside the building. Despite the chill that comes with evening and a breeze, lots of Finns were doing just that, or at least sat outside in towels with drinks. Typically one goes from the sauna to the sea several times in an evening. Even my thrill-seekers declined this delight.

What I did find was a real fire, and a chance to get into my serene space. I wondered what drew Finns to a sauna as a regular thing. When I saw different groups engaging in talk, laughter, and libations, I realized this was the equivalent of going out for drinks after work in the US, only healthier. Loyly even had a restaurant attached.

After another shower, we braced ourselves (sisu) to find a taxi home. Nope. We did attempt to board a bus, but they wouldn’t take a credit card and none of us had cash Euros. So we resolutely backed off the bus, and continued our walk all the way to the restaurant for a very late supper.

The next morning we needed a taxi for the airport to fly to Bergen Norway. Kay Googled taxis but not one company had a booking process shorter than 3 hours. It was 6:30 am and the earliest available taxi pick-up was 9:30. Our flight was at 10:30 with a 30 minute ride to the airport. We were not about to miss our flight again. So, this time burdened with all of our luggage, we hobbled out to find a taxi. Score! Within three blocks!! Yeah!!!

Yes, we believe we learned the lesson of sisu well; maybe well enough to attain honorary Finn status.

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Bergen – a short but delicious visit

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, Serenity rituals, thifting - thrift stores, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

August 2019. So what’s the best way to get from Stockholm to Helsinki? Cruise there! Yes, the Viking Cruise Line has an overnight ferry that connects the two cities. So we get our transportation and our hotel all in one cheap price. Add in The Buffet in the evening and the breakfast the next morning and it’s still cheap – under a hundred dollars each. Now if we had been transporting a car like most of the folks on this boat, it would be a different story.

There are three of us now; my niece Carly has joined us. She was the original inspiration for this trip, having taken a travel class for interior design while a Senior in College. I fell in love with Scandinavia at a distance through her FB posts. Now she’s joining us for the last couple legs of our trip.

Her first question when we got on board was “Did you get us a room with a porthole?” Uhh, no. Notice the term “Economy” next to accommodations. I figured it’s only one night, and we can manage anything, right? But really, did they have to put us in the basement with all the Swedish school groups? We were on Floor 2 and nowhere did we see an elevator button that said Floor 1. One set of elevators didn’t even have a button for Floor 2: we had to take a flight of stairs down when we got to the bottom of that elevator. Seriously, even the car decks were above us.

The cabin was built for four people. Thank God there were only three of us. The cruise line kindly painted us a big porthole, but it didn’t help much. The berths hung two on a wall. Given the need to have space to store our luggage on the floor, we opted to use two uppers and one lower. Kay and I volunteered to sleep in the upper berths. When I struggled to climb the ladder in the middle of the night, I cursed myself for choosing unwisely.

We got out onto the upper decks ASAP; we needed air. As the ship pulled away from the dock, we enjoyed shoreline views of Stockholm. Gradually the cityscape turned to islands with cottages (how do the people get out there?) and then to uninhabited islands and vast amounts of water.

It was right nippy on the windy decks so we explored the rest of the ship. It had several restaurants besides the main buffet, shops, a spa for massages and facials, a night club, an outdoor bar with entertainment, and a sauna with hot tubs. Of all of these, we were most excited about the sauna and hot tubs, and determined to do this right after dinner.

We were hungry by the time we went to eat. We had the first seating at 5 pm in their restaurant called The Buffet. I’ve never seen anything like it. The list of the items on the menu was mind boggling. The cold herring choices alone numbered nine. We ate a lot of pickled herring back in Manitowoc, especially during the Christmas holidays. I recall going into a butcher shop just before Christmas to find a huge sign over their herring offerings: “Holiday Herring Headquarters.” My prior experience made me excited to try some different types. It turns out I only like the kind I grew up with: Ma Baensch’s pickled herring with onions. The blueberry herring was particularly awful.

But there was so much other food that I didn’t miss the herring. The one thing that didn’t seem well represented was vegetables. Well there was that lettuce salad that no one took.

If the dessert table could groan, it would have, laden with so many choices my teeth hurt just to look at them. I have to confess that the three of us ate so much that we went into a collective food coma.

Carly was jet-lagged, and Kay and I hadn’t slept much the previous night. So we agreed to take a little nap before hitting the sauna, hot tubs, karaoke bar, and seeing a nightclub act or two, perhaps watching moonset over the Baltic Sea. Next thing we knew it was 7 am. Dang. We rushed off to breakfast, again at The Buffet Restarant.

Up near the Arctic Circle, it doesn’t take too much travel to find yourself in another time zone. I hadn’t realized that Helsinki would be one hour ahead of Stockholm and two ahead of London. It appears that the cruise line understood this and the need for people to be ready to disembark the next morning at 9:15. So they cleverly showed two hour hands on the clocks, each with their respective country flag.

By the time we had finished breakfast, and went down to the room to finish last-minute packing and brush teeth, it was 9:15. Time to say good-bye to our floating hotel room, with regrets that we didn’t take advantage of some things we could have done. But on the optimistic side, we will be better prepared the next time we do this. And really, was it so bad sleeping underneath the car decks?

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen – short but delicious visit

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

Posted in eating, learnng new things, links to my past, travel as a transformation tool, Wisconsin roots | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I could live in Stockholm Sweden

August 2019. I think I could live in Stockholm. Not year-round, but definitely for a summer. If possible, I’d like to be here for the summer solstice some year. Are you in?

I’m not even sure why I say this; maybe because it reminds me of Wisconsin – in fall. Here it is, the very beginning of August, and there are leaves on the ground already. The air is crisp and clean. It’s clear that the residents consider this summer. They are in shorts while I’m bundled up. One early evening as the temperature dropped, I was wearing a sweatshirt, rain jacket, big scarf and gloves; at the same moment, the locals didn’t seem to mind the chill in the air at all.

It’s a vibrant city, growing, with lots of construction cranes in the air. The architecture is a nice mix of old and new. The city covers 14 islands, so we see water everywhere. People seemed happy and hopeful and relaxed. They look me in the eye and smile.

There are parks everywhere including one on either side of our flat. And the parks are full, with people playing boule, a game where opponents throw or roll a heavy ball as close to a target as possible. In one park on an early Friday evening, there were so many boule teams playing on the crushed gravel walkways that people who were just passing through had to walk on the grass. Of course it was still light out at 8:30 pm. Locals also gather on the grass to eat picnics late in the evening.

The food was great everywhere we went. I think my favorite restaurant was a place called Meatballs for the People. Basically it was meatballs, meatballs and more meatballs, but such a variety: beef, beef and pork, veal, moose, wild boar, and vegetarian. We ordered the moose and the beef. I asked if they had any vegetables and the waiter looked at me a bit confused. “There are pickled cucumbers and lingonberries on the plate.” Very reminiscent of my Czech upbringing with pickles considered a vegetable.

And I got my fill of really good black licorice (lakrit): licorice ice cream, licorice cream inside of chocolate squares, salted licorice; it was everywhere. The next place we go is Finland where they eat tar ice cream. As a representative of the Dairy State, I’ll be checking that out.

But Stockholm’s appeal is more than all that. There’s an atmosphere of inclusion that I’m enjoying. The Vasa Museum integrated an exhibit about the role of women in Sweden’s history of boat building. We also happened to be here during their Pride Fest, called Rainbow Weekend. Pride flags flew everywhere, including buildings, buses, street cars and statues. The population is somewhat diverse, though not as diverse as London. And I loved the fact that the Swedes are so tall. I almost felt small while among them.

Finally, there is SO much to do and see in Stockholm. They have so many museums and we barely scratched the surface. I can highly recommend the Vasa Museum. In 1628, on its maiden voyage, the King’s warship, the Vasa, newly built to support the King’s war against Poland, sunk in 30 meters of water soon after it blasted the 64 canons on board. The boat was top heavy (the guns) and tipped, allowing water into the gun ports. It sank almost immediately, where it was preserved in the brackish water. In 1961, it was raised, nearly intact. They sprayed polyethylene glycol on it for 17 years to replace all the water in the structure of the wood. It stands four stories tall – impossible to capture in an image that really shows the scale. A model displayed how it would have been painted and gold gilded on the many statues.

But this museum is only one of 53 in Stockholm! There’s so much more to see and do. So yes, I’ll be coming back here someday.

 

For other essays about my summer 2019 Europe trip see:

Living a lifetime in one place – Morgarraz Spain

Finding my happy place in Edinburgh Scotland

Watching the horsey set party in England

Copenhagen in one day

Scary train trip – Copenhagen to Stockholm

Floating hotel – ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

Getting around Helsinki with sisu…or not

Bergen – a short but delicious visit

Bergen – Sognefjord boat and Flam Railway trip with a hiccup

If you like this essay, please leave a comment. You may also enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column.

 

 

 

Posted in enjoying other cultures, German and Czech heritage, learnng new things, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment