Category Archives: Explore Europe

Should I Learn Swedish?


Major disappointment: the first time I went to Sweden, I kept seeing signs that said “Runt Hornet” on doors. I was enchanted. What a fine way to say “Ring the Doorbell!” Then I saw this sign on the corner of a building and went to investigate. Bummer! It actually meant “Round the Corner.” Oh, well, it still sounds cool.


And “Obs” must mean “Careful!”, especially if it’s printed in red.

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Smoking is “rokning.” I like the sound of the words.


Ok, I freely admit I’m a klutz in any language. Obviously, I don’t want to run for my train and risk “snubbeling.”

There are practical reasons to know the language.

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Every breakfast buffet has a big tube of this stuff. I thought it was some kind of hummus.


No such luck! It’s really “Fish Roe Paste.” Not my favorite. In fact, I had to discreetly spit it into my napkin and then look around for something to erase the taste. Lingonberry sauce?

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Sometimes, admittedly, words are not needed.


Sometimes, I’m not even interested in the words.


I don’t really want to know the translation of this sign in a subway car in Stockholm. For me, it says, and always will say “Sucks your job?” Or, for English speakers, “Does your job suck? Call this number and we’ll hook you up with a better gig.”

One big point in favor of learning some Swedish: it’s the second language in Finland. And the Finnish language looks much, much harder to learn.

In Finland, almost every single sign and caption is printed in both Finnish and Swedish. English is hit or miss.


At the Helsinki dog park near where I stayed in April, the rules are spelled out in great detail. Finnish and Swedish speaking dogs are all set. English-only speaking dogs are out of luck.

Yup, I guess this is telling me something. After years of traveling in French and German-speaking countries where I can at least muddle through with the native languages, I’ve found that  I love Scandinavia. Time to learn a little Swedish.

Now, about those Danish and Norwegian languages…

Helsinki Design Museum


Past and present are comfortable together in Helsinki. The Helsinki Design Museum occupies a neo-Gothic building designed by Gustaf Nystrom in 1894.


Inside, it’s the liveliest and most forward-looking museum I saw in Helsinki.


It’s all about beauty and color…


and form and function.


This intriguing outfit was part of an artist’s MFA project.


A Finnish necklace, designed by Bjorn Weckstrom in 1977, adorned Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the final triumphant scene of  “Star Wars.” (May the Force still be with her).

Finnish design is more than fashion, though. Finns are a practical lot whose work has found its way into all our lives.


Doesn’t everyone own at least one pair of orange-handled Fiskars?


Nokia’ first cell phone was about the size of a lunchbox. But the design kept getting smaller and better.


I especially liked a display by designers working on solving the problems so many women across the world face: giving birth in less-than-ideal conditions.


Designers have come up with portable, easily manufactured childbirth beds and chairs.


How about a portable shower stall?


Worn out from admiring all that fine design? Take a break in Eero Aarnio’s iconic Bubble Chair, a classic since the day he invented it in 1968! After a bit of a rest, head out to enjoy more of Helsinki.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, from ancient to contemporary, of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles.

Frederiksborg Castle: Renaissance in Knitting Needles

Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark is a riot of Renaissance elegance. A recent exhibit featured a jaw-dropping collection of hand-knitted ensembles based on the costumes in royal and noble portraits in the castle.

I love the idea of knitting, but I’m terrible at it. A simple scarf from my hands turns into a lumpy mess. So I was in awe.

The source portraits were hard to identify in Danish, so I gave up and just enjoyed the knitted versions of the costumes. How about an artfully ruched sleeve on a simple gray sweater?

Or an elegant dress based on two portraits from the 1500s? I’d cheerfully wear this if I had an occasion fancy enough.

Perhaps an elaborate lace collar?

I’d wear this dress too, if the artist knitted me one in a different color combination. Maybe subtle blues and purples?


The same goes for the pantaloon-turned-skirt number, based on a portrait of one Captain Sir Thomas Dutton. I’ll take one in grays and blues, please.

Two of my favorite colors, and an Elizabeth vibe…

A peplum number in deep blue.

Textures and colors fit for a long-ago princess…


I’m not sure of the inspiration for this creamy white wool coat. It kind of looks like a gentleman’s long-sleeved undershirt, lovingly sewn by his lady. Whatever. Just ring it up. I’ll wear it home!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, past and present, of Europe and the British Isles.

Christiania: Danish Hippie Haven

In 1970, a peaceful invasion took place in Copenhagen. A  small group of anarchists broke through a fence and took over the grounds of a former military barracks.


The area had defensive ramparts dating from the 1600s, when Denmark fought endless battles with Sweden. After about 1950, the military more or less abandoned the site. Hippies moved in and set up shop, making up the rules as they went along. They eventually gained legal use of the land and became one of the top tourist attractions of Copenhagen, right up there with Tivoli Gardens.


Today, about 900 people live in Christiania. Over the years, they’ve worked out ways to police themselves and cooperate with local authorities to provide some services. But it’s still all about freedom, just as in 1971.

I ventured inside early on a sunny but chilly spring morning. What would I find?


I had read that photos were generally ok, but to ask permission before taking any photos of people–especially those selling marijuana, which is illegal but freely sold when police are not around. Maybe it was too early, or maybe I was oblivious, but I didn’t see anything remotely like a drug deal. Residents themselves outlawed “hard drugs” some years ago, and they enforce the rules strictly.


Much of the artwork was a throwback to the psychedelic 60s and 70s.


Other murals looked more contemporary. I liked it all.


I liked the sculptures too.


I didn’t bring a skateboard! Too bad.

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Hippies were the first great recyclers. They figured out how to survive and thrive on the leftovers of materialism. Christiania has a huge warehouse stocked with recycled toilets, sinks, bathtubs, stoves and refrigerators, and all kinds of building materials.


The community depends on tourist traffic. Restaurants look friendly and appealing, but there are probably no Michelin stars.


Venturing out of the main tourist area, I found charming handcrafted homes, bright with flowers.


Nobody is allowed to actually own a home or property in this enclave. If a resident leaves, the community decides whether to invite someone else to move in. I’ve read that about 180 of the original residents remain.


After I left, I learned that tourists had been assaulted for taking pictures of residents. I figured this dog, supervising the warehouse, wouldn’t mind.


There are plenty of grungy sights within Christiania, but my impression was of a tranquil haven of social freedom. Yes, I’d go back!

Travel offers so many doors to open! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia.

Easter Time in Helsinki


Helsinki in early April is chilly and blustery.  All the children are bundled up in one-piece snow suits. I was wishing I had one! Finland is not a place for religious pageantry and parades as in Southern Europe.


The Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral is impressive in its grand spaces, but very austere. Aside from Martin Luther gazing skyward, there’s not much to look at. And (at least on an admittedly quick stop) I didn’t see a children’s corner with little chairs, or posters about bake sales, or ladies dusting things, or a single clergy person.


The National Museum of Finland was a much more church-like experience. This pulpit is from the church in Parainen, Finland, dated 1650. At the time, Finland was a frontier to the west of Sweden–and very handy as a buffer between Sweden and Russia. Newly built churches were required to have pulpits. Lutheranism was the state religion of Sweden, and everybody was expected to sit still for it or else.


This pulpit is from the Kalvia Church, around 1726.  I like the cloudy heavens painted on its ceiling just above the preacher’s head.


Wait, there are hourglasses? Four of them? How long is this sermon going to be, anyway? Better not ask.


My favorite item was an altarpiece depicting the Last Supper. It’s from the Ylane Church, dated around 1675.


The faces are friendly and everyone is having a nice time together. There seem to be only 11 apostles. Apparently Judas has already left the building.


Jesus (with spiky sun-ray halo) seems to be holding a child in his lap. So the story is maybe doing double duty here: “Let the little children come unto me.”

The museum also had wonderful religious wood carvings dating back as far as the 1200s. I liked St. Martin on his horse, about to share his warm cloak with a beggar. He was carved and assembled from several pieces of wood around 1320.


I gazed for awhile at the Archangel Gabriel, carved and gilded around 1500.


Then I was back on the friendly but chilly streets of Helsinki, wishing I had a striped snowsuit and a red polka-dotted hat with flower ears.

Stockholm Subway Art

 

img_2795It goes without saying that Stockholm metro trains are clean, bright and efficient.

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But the subway experience is also artful, like so much else in Sweden.

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All subway stations have some kind of cheerful art.

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It might be on tunnel walls.

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Or it might be on the floor. And the floor is almost always clean enough to drop something without worrying about the 5-second rule.

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A piece of sculpture might greet you as you enter.

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Or museum artifacts might have a special spot in a station.

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In beautiful art-filled Stockholm, there’s always something to see–even underground.

Affordable Europe: Hotel la Roseraie in Chenonceaux

 

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The town of Chenonceaux has, somewhat confusingly, a spectacular chateau called Chenonceau–without the X. Many people consider Chenonceau the most beautiful chateau in the Loire Valley.  It’s certainly the most unique:  it is actually built on a bridge that crosses the river.  It’s understandably popular. The thing to do is to stay in the little village of Chenonceaux so as to arrive early. The town makes a perfect base for driving around the Loire Valley.

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I generally avoid hotels recommended in Rick Steves guidebooks. They’re nice, but occupied by large numbers of Americans.  I would rather be rubbing elbows with Europeans when I travel to Europe, even if I can’t understand much of what they’re saying.  But Rick-recommended Hotel la Roseraie is a winner.  It’s a small hotel, with only 17 rooms.  It’s not the fanciest hotel in town, but it’s surely the friendliest.

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Rooms are warmly decorated. Ours had walls that had been laboriously covered with the very same sprigged fabric that made up the curtains. Dated? I prefer the term “faded elegance.”

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The bathroom was totally up-to-date, though; it would pass muster any day on HGTV.

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The owners, Sabine and Jerome, welcome returning guests as family.  Guests do return again and again to enjoy the leafy terrace and flower gardens.

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There’s a charming little restaurant which needs to be booked because it’s popular even with people not staying in the hotel.  I don’t like the feeling of being obligated to eat in a hotel’s restaurant, but this was a delightful experience.  It was traditional but not too formal, the food was fresh and delicious, and no one looked askance at my admittedly fussy vegetarian requirements.

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Just outside town, there are Roman ruins.  Julius Caesar is known to have actually slept there–or so the locals say. When I was there, the ruins were partially covered with plastic.  Maybe next time, there’ll be a little visitor center.

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The village, like all French villages, has a top-class bakery.  One of those strawberry tarts is waiting for me!