Category Archives: Why I Love Sweden

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…

A Swedish Valentine

 

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The Nordiska Museum in Stockholm devotes a great deal of space to Swedish courting and wedding customs, for good reason.  In Sweden, folk art is still revered.

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For centuries, humble rural people in little towns and villages all over Sweden celebrated love and marriage and family using the materials at hand: wood, yarn, thread, and simple fabrics.

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A young man courting a young woman used to spend many hours carving an elaborate wooden spoon as proof of his devotion.  The woman’s parents would also be interested in the young man’s skills and willingness to work; wood carving was a necessity of life in poor farming communities where most anything had to be made by hand.

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After the wedding, the courting spoon was hung on the wall of the new couple’s kitchen, but wood-carving never ended. Country people took inspiration and materials from the natural world around them. The handy little table above incorporated a twisted tree branch as a decorative snake. Did the wood-carver’s wife appreciate having a snake forever in her house? Personally, I’d have relegated the snake table to the guy’s Man Cave.  But that’s just me.

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I’d have loved the little dog bench, though.

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Brides spent many hours making wedding finery which was then passed down through generations. The hours were precious, stolen from housework and farm work.

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Material could be precious, too–colorful scraps of silk and cotton lovingly worked into heirlooms.

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Wedding finery was carefully packed away for future brides and grooms.

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A bride might surprise her groom with a special wedding vest.

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I love the handwork on this one, and I’m sure the embroidered designs had special meaning for the couple.

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A colorful wedding proclamation was another treasured keepsake, for those who could afford it.

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A special tapestry or painted wall hanging might do double duty as a Biblical lesson about Adam and Eve, and a decoration on the wall at the wedding feast.

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Then as now, getting married can be tiring work.  A mannequin in the museum shows a bride falling asleep in her wedding outfit, maybe during the feast.  But I’m sure she’s about to wake up full of energy to start her married life.

Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers, past, present and future!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Eugene, the Painter Prince of Sweden

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

If I were born royal, I’d for sure want to be a younger child.  It looks to me like Prince Harry has a lot more freedom than the more direct heir to the throne, Prince William.  In Sweden, Prince Eugene was the fortunate younger son of the royal family in the late 19th century.

Eugene was born in 1865 in Drottningholm Palace, on a beautiful island about an hour by boat from Stockholm.  It’s still the home of the Swedish royal family, and makes for a dreamy visit. Eugene was fourth in line to the throne, so he was pretty much free to do as he liked. Nobody expected him to marry and produce an heir, although he did cheerfully carry out many royal duties.

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What Eugene wanted was to paint and to hobnob with artists and writers. He found the perfect spot for his home on the island of Djurgarden, with views over the water of the Stockholm skyline. He studied painting seriously, in Stockholm, Olso and Paris.

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Today, his beloved home, Waldemarsudde, is an enchanting museum with the rooms left as they were at his death in 1947.

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His top-floor studio space is a gallery with rotating exhibits, some by artists the Prince patronized during his long life.

In his studio and on his peaceful grounds, Eugene contentedly painted the Swedish and Norwegian landscapes he loved. The painting just above is a beloved country home where he spent time.

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Eugene decorated his home with the work of other artists who were his friends. He considered “The Water Sprite” by Ernst Josephson, 1884, to be one of his best acquisitions.  Josephson did three versions of this painting of a character from Swedish folklore. Eugene offered it to the Academy in Stockholm, but they considered it too daring to accept.  It seems the problem was not so much the nudity as the style.  Josephson was breaking away from the time-honored traditions of Realism and Naturalism.  He was getting into the movement that later became known as Symbolism. Eugene was more than happy to keep the painting, which dominates his salon.

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Inside Waldemarsudde, Eugene studied, read, and entertained his friends–most of them artists, and many of them partisans of the then-radical ideas of the 1880s. Although he was named the Duke of Narke at his birth, Eugene much preferred artists to royalty.

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Having seen Drottningholm Palace, the Royal Palace in Stockholm, and Waldemarsudde, I’m with Eugene.  The palaces are showplaces, gilded, confining, and a little dreary. Waldemarsudde is a light-filled home.  I’d choose the artist’s life over the Royal Prince’s any day.

 

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Swedish Small Tables

 

img_2974If you come over to my house, you might disapprove of my housekeeping. You might not appreciate having one of my cats jump up in your lap and settle in as though she owned it (she thinks you came especially to pet her). But you will have a cup of good coffee, and you will have a place to set it down. I have a thing about having a little table beside every single chair or sofa in my house.  When I sit down, I need a lamp for reading. I need a place for my book and my coffee cup. I think this need comes from my Swedish ancestry.

In Stockholm last month, I admired countless pretty little tables. The one above is more of a cabinet, really–all the better.  It’s in the island home of Prince Eugene in Stockholm–more about him in a post to come.  Above it, there’s a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia.

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Prince Eugene was a younger son of the royal family, so he did not have the pressure of marrying and producing heirs.  Instead, he designed and lived out his life in a beautiful house/studio, Waldemarsudde. He was a very good landscape painter.  And he appreciated fine workmanship and artistry in all things.

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No IKEA space-fillers for Prince Eugene.

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If he wanted to write a letter to one of his artsy-Bohemian friends, he sat down at a proper desk, like the one above with its delicate wood inlays. I saw similar exquisite little tables, desks and cabinets all over Stockholm.

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The simple but beautiful little table above is really more of a shelf unit, cleverly attached to the wall. It was at the nearby Thielska Gallery, another formerly-private home full of art and distinctive furniture.

I loved Sweden.  I’ve already figured out a way to return to Stockholm in the spring.  There are any number of cups of good strong Swedish coffee waiting, with my name on them!  And there are plenty of handy little tables to set them on.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, history and culture of Europe!

 

 

 

Goteborg Doorways

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Sweden’s second largest city, Goteborg, is more edgy than elegant Stockholm. It has more of an industrial vibe. But it still has plenty of beautiful doorways. The Art Nouveau gate above led into the vestibule of an apartment building near the University.  I’d move right in.

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Green doors are popular. Some are simple and some are ornate.

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Red doors are even more popular. Very Inviting!

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These somber church doors reminded me of some of my more dour Swedish ancestors, who joined the great migration from Sweden to Minnesota in the 1850s. I didn’t actually get inside this church because a funeral was about to begin.  The guests, mostly very old, REALLY reminded me of my ancestors.

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In the church vestibule, I opened the blue door above for a very old man who had just been dropped off in a taxi and had made it up the stairs with some difficulty. The doors in this church had porthole-like windows, just right for this seafaring city. Was the old man attending the funeral of an old shipmate?

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Goteborg has a thriving waterfront–with a spectacular new Opera House. I’m already plotting a return.  I want to open more doors.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

 

 

Doorways in Kalmar

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First impression of any building: the front door. A well-chosen one is unique and inviting. This one looks like a face, don’t you think? Maybe a friendly cat?

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The Swedish town of Kalmar has a lot of unique doorways. Kalmar was once an important strategic town, on the old border between Sweden and Denmark.  It still have a wonderful historic castle. Where there’s a royal castle, people always go to the trouble and expense of putting up fine homes and grand public buildings.

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Some Kalmar doors are beautiful in their simplicity.

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Some are  a little more elaborate.

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Beautiful shades of red, blue and green are favorites everywhere in Sweden.

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Sometimes flowers add color, even at the very end of the way-too-short Swedish summer.

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How about some classic geometrics?

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Sometimes a door invokes the past.  This one is on a grand seafront building, right next to an inviting beach.  I’m thinking “Bad Hus” means “bath house.” How about a swim?

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Not today. It’s early September. Leaves are changing and the days are getting cold in Sweden. We’ll have to wait for summer! I hope to be back.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Kalmar Castle Doorways

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Kalmar is a pretty town on the Swedish Baltic coast. It has a spectacular Renaissance castle on a site that was of strategic importance for many centuries, starting about 800 years ago.

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Naturally, it has spectacular doorways, beginning with the dry-moated entrance.

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Some of the doors are clearly defensive.

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Some are more decorative, but still formidable.

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Some are meant to impress and possibly intimidate, like the one just past the drawbridge.

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This door features the regal lions of Sweden.

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Inside, doorways reflect the luxurious tastes of kings and queens.

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The doorways of Kalmar Castle are all worth entering.  Everything is more spare than Renaissance castles and palaces in England, Austria, Germany, France or other European countries.  But that very spareness has its own Nordic elegance. The castle is a fascinating look at the unique ways that Renaissance ideas played out in Scandinavia.

The shop has books about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, apparently because most of the major rebuilding and decoration of the castle was done during their lifetimes. And at least one Swedish prince was known to have courted Elizabeth I. Of course, we all know that she said “No!” to marriage. But at the time, Sweden was a great naval power.  I wonder if Elizabeth gave some serious thought to a Swedish alliance. How might history have been different if she had said “Yes!” to a Swedish prince?

Castle doorways always lead me to questions like this.  It’s why I travel.