Monday, May 26, 2008

3 Meals, 3 Countries, 1 Day plane flights.
Only in Europe.
This past week I had a conference in Luxembourg, a fine place which is often overlooked on the tourist map, but will be the subject of a future Linköpinglivin' blog coming soon.
When the Wednesday - Friday conference ended, I decided to spend some time in the English countryside across the channel from Belgium, which is just north of Luxembourg. A couple train rides later, I was in London, but not before waking up to breakfast in Luxembourg, a train ride to, lunch in and some sightseeing around Brussels and finally a Eurostar "Chunnel" express train under the English Channel, my first experience of this heralded transportation triumph. Dinner in London then completed my accidental accomplishment.
3 meals, 3 countries, 1 day.
And without any plane rides.
Only in Europe.
I love this place.
Okay, in looking at a map, one could perhaps pull this feat off in Central America or Southeast Asia, but certainly not North America.
3 meals, 3 countries, 1 day.
Good times.
Pictures above:
1. What some consider the grandest square in all of Europe, Brussels' Le Grand Place is seen here with schoolchildren complementing the impressive views.
2. Belgium's beer is known to be the finest in Europe (along with the Czech Republic's).
3. With my friend Andrew who lives in Luxembourg. The valley below makes Luxembourg's vistas striking, leaving Luxembourg greatly underestimated by most tourists.
4. A quick weekend in the English countryside of course included a friendly greeting from the sheep.
5. Brussels' city icon is a little boy called, well, Mannekin Pis. Legend has it that the city was once burning in a fire and one courageous youngster did everything he possibly could to put the fire out. London's Big Ben, Paris' Eiffel, Rome's Colosseum and Brussels' Mannekin Pis (Dutch for "little man pee").

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Glorified Failure: The Vasa Museum

For a country known worldwide for high-quality, extraordinarily efficient products and standards, the story of the 17th century Vasa warship is hard to believe.

Back in the Swedish dynastic era of the 1600s, and in the middle of the wars between Catholics and Protestants, the naval battles determined all power, especially for the countries in and around the Baltic Sea. It was then that Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus commissioned (or commanded) a premiere warship. Two years later, with much fanfare and celebration, the Vasa set sail for the Baltic with over 400 crew on her maiden voyage.

Astonishingly, after a couple light wind gusts, the slight breeze of Stockholm Harbor proved to be too much for this newly-built and latest example of Swedish quality and, just 20 minutes into the inaugural voyage (!), nowhere near outside of Stockholm Harbor, the King’s premiere warship started taking on water and sank, taking down 50 of the 400 crew with her.

Almost as amazing as the sinking of the Vasa itself is the fact that, over time, it’s location in Stockholm Harbor was forgotten. Not until 1956 did a Swedish shipwreck specialist finally find the wreckage and immediately the raising of the Vasa was underway.

The key element to turning this one-time failure into a modern day success was the waters of the Baltic Sea. These less-salty waters have a unique quality to preserve ships over the course of hundreds of years, whereas normal saltier waters of oceans and seas will have eroded the ships over the same period of time. When the Vasa was raised in 1961, it was remarkably intact and resembled the same ship that sailed for all of 20 minutes and sank 333 years earlier.

Today, the oldest and best example of an ancient warship anywhere in the world is found in this incredible museum in Stockholm. The Vasa Museum, with its very impressive organization and exceptionally-informative context and content presentation, tells the compelling story of a failed ship that eventually became one of Europe’s most mesmerizing museums, seen by a now-annual one million awe-struck visitors-per-year. Leave it to the Swedes to turn a miserable failure into a success, after waiting patiently for 333 years.

The last picture above is of Dan and Shena Hinds, previously seen in Salzburg, Austria during Christmas ’07, who came through Stockholm this past weekend on their way home to Seattle. They are the latest of what is becoming a respectable list of people who, let’s face it, have gone a LONG way out of their way to come see me in Sweden.

Thanks, Dan and Shena. Fika forever!

Monday, May 12, 2008

European Shorts

I just can’t do it.

This past weekend brought temperatures higher than most summer temperatures to southern Sweden and even higher than those in Los Angeles – 23 degrees Celsius/78 Farenheit. We here in Sweden know a good and fleeting thing when we see it, so a summer celebration took place a little early around here, but…

I just can’t do it.

Whether you’re playing volleyball, Frisbee, KUBB or whether you are lakeside, riverside, sailing or napping in the sun, when that first delightful weekend-long reminder of summer hits Sweden, the celebration is on, but...

I just can’t do it.

No one can accuse me of not being open-minded or attempting to adapt to my new culture while living abroad. I’ve eaten herring, suffered through strömming, sat in a sauna (only once), drank more coffee than needed in a lifetime, biked through the snow in winter, paid taxes on goods and services at 17% or higher, “danced” around a fertility pole (okay, I was taking pictures and therefore happily “observing”), reveled around crayfish like it was chocolate, taken holidays I didn’t even know existed and even learned a new language (c’mon, be nice). I’ve made an admirable effort to fit in while in Sweden and Europe, but every man has his limits, his dignity.

I just can’t do it.

I’ll have you know I even tried them on (from the comfort of my own private fitting room, of course). They were admittedly some of the most comfortable clothing I’ve ever worn, but…

I just can’t do it.

If it's needed to have a true experience of living abroad, then I guess I will just always have to settle for almost having a true experience of living abroad.

I just can’t do it.

You can take the man out of America, but you can’t take America out of the man. The knees are as far as I go. Though climate change is real, I simply refuse to prepare for the oncoming flood.

I just can’t do it.

I have not and will not wear "European" shorts.

Monday, May 05, 2008

When "Paris in the Spring" is Closed and Wet

After almost two years of living abroad, I like to think I’m a bit of a savvy traveler. Finding ways to avoid crowds of tourists and smoothly work my way around a city or region has become it’s own enjoyable challenge. To creatively re-discover a place is one of the rewards of travel. This was my third time back to Paris (and always visiting people, mind you!).

So when my “Valborg” weekend in Paris faced a bank holiday where almost everything was closed, I thought it would be a good reason to stroll and picnic like the Parisians. Then it started raining and I knew a blog entry was blooming…

So provided you have enough foresight to pack an umbrella for "Paris in the spring," here are a few things to do when it’s raining and everything but the Louvre is closed (and if you’re ever in Paris on rainy holiday weekend when the only museum open in the whole city is the Louvre, I trust that you already know not to go anywhere near it!):

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise: Why visit a cemetery when you’re in the “City of Light” (or “Love,” as the case may be)? Because this isn’t just any cemetery. One Parisian friend of mine called it “the most beautiful park in Paris, “ which is saying a lot. Quite simply, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The list of those laid to rest in this location reads like a history of France, plus multiple non-French who made a contribution. Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and beloved French singer Edith Piaf are the most visited memorial spots, but composer Chopin, poet Balzac, artists Gericault, Ingres, Delacroix and David and so many more significant contributors to Western culture can be found here. Check out the website and take a virtual tour of what could be the world’s greatest cemetery – yeah, I know it sounds strange, but it’s true:

Promenade Plantée: This 4.5 km walk runs through the city and is an old railway route converted into an outdoor garden. Even in the rain, this can be a good walk as you rise above the city, breathe in the fresh air from plants, flowers and trees and take in a still very unknown part of Paris.

Seine River Walk, Eiffel to Notre-Dame: Fortunately, even on a treasured bank holiday, Parisians can’t close three of their most famous sites. Walking along this legendary river from Monsier Eiffel’s tower to the Notre-Dame Cathedral takes about an hour and can be a true Parisian delight. While en route, I successfully found one spot (Pont de la Concorde bridge) where with a 360 degree turn, one can see virtually all of Paris’ most famous sites at once (Eiffel, Les Invalides, the National Assembly, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, Pont des Arts bridge and, of course, the Seine). Not a bad spot, even in the rain.

Le Marché: Just pick one and enjoy. The outdoor markets, and some indoor ones, throughout Paris are an experience unto themselves. Choosing just the right cheese (of the 400 or more available) with just the right fruit with just the right bread topped by just the right wine is a vintage French experience. Ask for help along the way and have a ball…

Fika in a French Café: Two of the best European traditions at once – you don’t really think the famous cafés of Paris would close just for a little bank holiday, do you?

Pictures above:
1. Just bring an umbrella and Paris is great, even in the rain.

2. Trying to take unfamiliar pictures of the world's most photographed tower, this one through some vegetation, is a fun challenge.

3. The Père-Lachaise cemetery is a never-ending view of impressive tombstones memorializing France's favorites, plus a few more.

4. And when the sun clears, the beauty of French squares like the Place des Vosges is overshadowed by the joy of Parisians (and a few wanna-be Parisians) embracing spring.

5. The Hotel d' Ville is probably my favorite building in Paris, especially at night - it just seems to scream "Vive la France!"