sweden Malmø
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Virtual Travel to Sweden

I wrote a guest post some years ago, for a travel blogger, about a favourite place that I had visited. As we cannot travel irl, virtual travel will have to do today. there is some formatting errors as it is written with the old editor. (Who uses that now?)

Choosing a topic for my favourite holiday destination, was both easy and difficult. Easy because I knew it would be somewhere in Scandinavia, (for those who know me, I hear you mumbling an audible, “of course,”) but difficult because I could only pick one Scandinavian country.

Each region of Scandinavia has its own beauty, personality and appeal and it is hard to choose one over them all. In today’s case, Sweden won out. Tomorrow I am sure it will be Denmark, and the next: Norway……

Sweden, or ‘Sverige’ (pronounced in Swedish svair-ri-ah), is one of my all-time favourites to visit because it is full of Nordic vitality, culture and unique sights.

Don’t let the threat of a harsh winter put you off a winter vacation in Sweden, because the warmer jet stream ensures that the winters in Scandinavia are no worse, and even sometimes better, than the American or Canadian version.

 

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I enjoyed “fika” ( Swedish coffee and cake ) in a traditional Swedish cafe

In southern Sweden, you’ll find a fast-paced modernity in the large, cosmopolitan cities, like Stockholm and Malmø, but you will delight in finding they are also peppered with ‘old world’ charm.

The central area of the country is where rural Sweden and the philosophy of  ‘Ikea’ at its best, with rolling green hills, a dusting of snow in Winter and a countryside dotted with ‘Falun’ red cottages, barns, medieval farms and quaint churches, some with amazing, intricately-painted ceilings dating back to medieval times.

You’ll also see age-old Swedish traditions alive and kicking, from one end of the country all the way to the other.

From painted horses in Dalarna to summers with wild ‘surstromming,’ (fermented fish), or Crayfish parties, or relaxing lazily on the west coast resorts, where a tourist-driven, laid back lifestyle predominates. A local beach on the Bohuslan coast might be a lump of bare sun-soaked rock, striking, attractive, yet it is appealing and extremely popular to visitors and Swedes alike.

And don’t forget the far north, where a Swedish winter adventure might include viewing the northern lights, going dog sledding, snowmobiling or experiencing a mix of arctic and Sami culture that transforms a cold, dark winter into a snowy, white wonderland one might associate more with Santa Claus and his elves.

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Traditional painted horses from Dalarna in Sweden

You might ask:What made this place so memorable?’

The Swedish people themselves have a proud and varied history, are gregarious, hard-working and cannot go for more than a few hours without ‘Fika’: coffee and cake.

Just my kind of people!

You will find cafes and bakery everywhere serving Fika, and this experience coupled with a kanelbolle, or cinnamon bun, made my Swedish experience memorable.

So what are the top ten sights/activities for this destination?

1. Vasa MuseumStockholm:

See the ill-fated, triple-decked centuries old galleon that sank on its maiden voyage in the Stockholm harbour, replete with cannons, crew and gold-encrusted decorations.   Nearby is the Nordic Museum that is also worth a look.    

                                                            

Vasa Museum
Vasa Museum
Nordic Museum
Nordic Museum

IMG_02392. Skansen/Liseberg – Stockholm: an open-air museum with vintage Swedish houses, barns, dancing demonstrations and delicious traditional food. Stockholm’s Zoo is also located there, so if you yearn to see moose, reindeer, or a bear, you can do that when you visit Skansen.  Then, burn off the extra calories on the rides at neighbouring Liseberg, Stockholm’s oldest amusement park.

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Skansen – open air museum – Stockholm

         

 3. Gamla StanStockholm’s Old Town: a mecca for foodies. Commencing at the Royal palace, the “Old Town” consists of narrow alleyways, cute cafes, oh- so photogenic painted terrace houses, and shops full of traditional souvenirs to take home. Money exchanges/plenty of ATM’s are conveniently located here to help you on your mission!

Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan

 

 

  1. Radhuset Stockholm’s Town Hall: like a ‘mentos sweet’: plain and dull on the outside, magnificent on the inside. The Town Hall, built in the 1930s, is not only the venue for the Nobel Prize ceremonies; it has a Council chamber with a unique roof. The roof’s design was inspired by an upturned and decorated hull of a Viking longboat and the Town Hall also has a third reception room that is equivalent to an ancient Egyptian Pharoah’s temple. Surprising, and a definite ‘must-see’. Guided tours usually operate daily.town hall stockholmcity hall stockholm

 

  1. Stockholm archipelago – A leisurely boat trip past idyllic islands, the occasional fortress and stunningly beautiful nature. A photographer’s dream on a good day. Departs from Stockholm or Stromstad. Alternatively, if you are not a water baby:  the sites mentioned in the Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium’ trilogy are a great way to see more of Stockholm. There is an easy D.I.Y. walking tour of Stockholm. Maps available at the tourist office.

 

Stockholm
Stockholm

 

  1. Malmø – Skane, Southern Sweden: see the impressive “Turning torso” building, a feat of modern engineering; and Malmohus, a renaissance castle; as well as historic buildings in the Malmø Town Square including the Town Hall from 1547, Hotel Kramer and the old pharmacy: Apoteket. If you still have breath or run out of things to do, take a thirty-minute train ride and you are in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 

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Malmøhus

 

  1. Ystad –Skane, Southern Sweden: trace Detective Kurt Wallander’s footsteps, (from Henning Mankell’s famous novels and TV series). There’s loads of half-timbered cottages with thatch roofs too.

 

  1. Stromstad –Bohuslan, a beachside town on the west coast – see the Town Hall with its quirky history, take in drop-dead gorgeous views out to the archipelago,  and try the must-have Buffet lunch at Lalaholmen hotel.  You SO don’t want to miss the dessert. But you may want to skip the ‘surstromming’, (a fermented very smelly fish)and just party in the lively atmosphere and long hours of daylight hours in summer, or use Stromstad as a launchpad, for a high-speed boat trip to spend a day in Norway. 

    Stromstad
    Stromstad
  1. Lappland: Skellefteaa – track and hunt wild reindeer in their native habitat, go sledding, skiing or snowmobiling, or see Sweden’s oldest wooden bridge, and an utterly impressive Domkirke Cathedral, (a place of pilgrimage for centuries) and the pilgrim’s traditional cottages nearby.

 reindeer tracking

Skellefteå

Skellefteå Domkirke
Skellefteaa Domkirke

 10. Catch a glimpse of the mysterious Northern lights, or ski from February to June at Riksgransen, where, if you are lucky you may see the testing of pre-production European model cars that occurs in spring on the, still frozen, Arctic lakes.

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 If I could go again I would…

Spend more time relaxing on the Bohuslan coast, on a long summer night, visit Gotland to see the Viking relics and feast on Swedish delicacies such as reindeer, cloudberries, salmon, ‘Vasterbotten’ cheese and ‘Filmjolk.’

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Is a Swedish holiday for you? Something for you to ponder about?

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On Top of the World in Norway

Interested in seeing breathtaking views, experiencing a relaxing atmosphere, walking mountain trails through a UNESCO heritage valley and staying somewhere where an Emperor has stayed and with, shall we say, a chequered history? If so, then Stalheim hotel, in the mountains of Norway, between Gudvangen and Voss, on the West Coast, is the place for you. It certainly was a favourite spot for Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

I arrived here on the famous Norway in the Nutshell Tour, which takes you from Oslo, by train, across the eternal snows of the Hardangervidda plateau.

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Hardangervidda

The train then takes you as far as the mountain station of Myrdal, and from there you are required to change trains to traverse down the mountain range to the fjord below, on a spectacularly steep cog railway, (or Flambåna).

The trip doesn’t end at Flam either, for it is there that you move on to a boat for a cruise through the fjords, before finally reaching the town of small port of Gudvangen on the way to Stalheim. The cruise passes through Aurlandsfjord, Sognfjord, and into the narrowest parts of Nærøydal fjord, listed as UNESCO World Heritage areas and spectacular and unearthly scenic vistas such as this:

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Heading towards the narrow and steespest part of the Nærøyfjord

From the port of Gudvangen, you then take the public bus to the high peaks of the ‘fjeller’ – that’s Norwegian for mountains, to Stalheim where the hotel is located.

Stalheim hotel is only open in the summer months, as the mountain road leading to the hotel consists of 13 hair-raising bends, and is considered too dangerous for public transport, in winter. If your heart doesn’t falter going up, this is the reward.

My view from the Stalheim hotel

Unrivalled views can be had down the UNESCO protected Nærøydalen Valley where mountains look so like ‘trolls’ and people tinier than ants.

If you are into exploring, you can even find a Machine gun bunker underneath the terrace which dates back to the days of the Second World War.

You will want to have dinner and breakfast at Stalheim, for there is little alternative options close by, and the meals are usually included in the tariff. That leaves you with more time to savour that wonderful view. There is also a small folk museum behind the hotel to wander through.

My son in younger days, posing with a Gandalf-style ‘Lord of the Rings’ Pipe he purchased, beside an amazing view through our room’s expansive windows at the Stalheim Hotel

A Chequered History

The original hotel was built in 1750 as a postal inn, and during the late nineteenth century was modelled into a guesthouse on the road between Oslo and Bergen. It has burnt to the ground several times and been re-built each time.

In 1939, during Nazi German’s occupation of Norway, Stalheim hotel was taken over by the German Army as a site for Soldiers on R and R leave. The notorious Heinrich Himmler then concocted a plan to address the low birth rate of German citizens and produce more of his so-called Master Race, by setting up Stalheim and other places as a ‘Lebensborn’ home. This was to be a place where Norwegian woman who were already pregnant, or were willing to become pregnant, to German soldiers, could stay and give birth. There were eight Lebensborn homes in Norway – the former Stalheim hotel was one of them.

The hotel was again cursed by a fire in 1959, and sadly, 34 lives were lost. However, it was rebuilt into the current structure we see today.

PhotoCredit: Stalheim.com

Here is a video of the road down to the fjord and village of Gudvangen.

Stalheim Hotel – A fascinating place to stay with unparrellel views.

Something to Ponder About

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Soender Felding, Denmark
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Poetry Challenge – OctPoWriMo

The following poem is the one I have always liked and I wrote it so quickly – it must be that writing from the heart, makes a difference.

I am submitting it for the October poetry month challenge. A little late but I have been occupied with hosting my own poetry challenge, which ends this month, well, last month, now that today is officially November.

You can check out another of my poems here/2018/11/01/poetry-challenge-october-prompt-2/

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

‘Still in my Heart’

Home Sweet Home afar from me,
At least 10 hours over sky and sea,

A fairy tale land of red and white,
of rain, and wind, and winter nights.

Yet still you send my heart a flutter,
And here, I can but get your butter,

Cos’ when I’m sad and feeling down,
You can lift my spirits like a children’s clown.

What is this strange longing and connection,
I feel for such warm and fuzzy introspection?

Of land and family long dead and passed,
Would they think me to be completely daft?

Yet I am of them, and they are of me,
This continual spreading of the family tree.

The branches are like the ancient Birch
Resilient, pervasive til one drops off the Perch.

If only I could stay or perhaps visit more often,
But my responsibilities and circumstances rarely soften.

So I must dream and wish and be ever so frugal,
And if I can’t afford to travel there, there is always Google!

~ The Sunshine Elves

Andrea Heiberg
Poetry Dedication:

In memory and thanks for a great friend, Andrea Heiberg.

You are watching now from another place, I place I cannot yet go.

Just what are you thinking, I do wonder.

~Amanda

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Travel theme: Snowy

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chiniophilen

A few days ago, I saw this meme referring to those who love snow. Yeh, that’s me, for sure! My hand’s up, waving frantically in enthusiasm for snow and the colder elements. People in the northern hemisphere must think I am stark raving mad, and I can see where they are coming from, when cold surrounds them for the majority of the year. However, not only do I love the snow and cold, I crave it! I am even married to a man whose nickname was Snowy!!! My holiday destinations usually encompass snow in some form as you will see here.

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There is plenty of Snowy scenes in Iceland in winter

A friend who knows me very well saw the meme and said, “This is SO you, Amanda!”

She knows! I thought.She knows me so well. She knows for instance that I have a preference for low light, that I hate the blazing sun and glare and suffer from the effects of it; and she knows that I feel energized when it is cold and finally she knows that being in a snowy place fills my heart with contentment!

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Skellefteå – Swedish Lapland

You think I am crazy too? Then I challenge you to find me a person that feels energized on a 37 degrees plus day (97 for Fahrenheit readers), and I will be genuinely surprised. Even the Spanish/Mexicans etc need a siesta at high noon!

28th April MM photo
Iceland

There are many that claim they crave warmth and heat. Chionophile deniers, I accuse them, under my breath! These are the people who can’t wait to travel to tropical island destinations for holidays or go out in the heat and glare of the midday sun, without hats and sun protection. And yet, it is these same self-confessed sun ‘worshipers,’ who are spotted at these tropical destinations – exactly WHERE, I ask?

Mostly you will find them languishing on a hammock/bar stool/ beach towel/ or a day bed dotted with cushions in trendy colours. Yes, languishing in the SHADE of course! Why? Because it is SO HOT, they state wafting their limp hand back and forth in front of their face in a vain attempt to create some a cooling air flow.  

They seek out a beach umbrella, covered verandah, or simply the protective branches of a shady tree, out of the sun they so dearly love, and they sit, often accompanied by cool drinks, lathered with swathes of ice, sipped in an effort to do what….. to COOL down! A little hypocritical, don’t you think? Perhaps the sun-worshipers are closet chionophiles at heart?

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A Sunny snowy day – but no heat, thank goodness, in Norway.

Snowball Zermatt
Switzerland  delivers on the Winter Wonderland

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This is one of my favourite Snowy photos. The blue light exudes calmness.

Lunch with Edmund Hilary at 760 metres at MT Cook /Aoraki
Probably not the best place to put my hand for the photo!!

Lunch with Edmund Hilary at 760 metres at MT Cook /Aoraki
Magnificent awe-inspiring Mt Cook – what is not to like?

Lunch with Edmund Hilary at 760 metres at MT Cook /Aoraki
Snow is so much fun! And the reflection is not bad, either.

Lake TekapoNew Zealand Christchurch to Queenstown cont'd
I love the contrast between the stone and the snow here

Of course, my comments are only in fun. (These days in social media platforms, words can be misconstrued so easily!), so I want to make it clear that I am only having a friendly jibe at these sun ‘worshipers.’ For whilst I love the cold and it gives me energy to get about and do three times as much as I would have accomplished on a hot and sultry day, I too crave a bit of a balance. I can be out in the snow all day but do enjoy coming home to a wood fire and a warming cup of cocoa or wine!

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Feeling blue? Not me!!!

I hope you enjoy some of my travel photos from my contented or snowy places! They make me feel cool just looking at them.

Linking to Ailsa’s Travel theme- Snowy

Snowy places are Something I always Ponder About

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kristina ohlsson book review
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Not Your Average Crime Novel – ‘Unwanted’

kristina ohlsson book review
Unwanted

‘In the middle of a rainy Swedish summer, a little girl is abducted from a crowded train.’

Suspicion immediately falls upon the husband who has previously been violent towards his estranged wife in the past, but is he really the killer? Despite hundreds of potential witnesses about on the platforms, no one notices that the girl  is taken from an arriving Stockholm train. Days later, she is found, dead, her body dumped outside the emergency department of a hospital, in the far north of Sweden.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you will almost certainly know that I have a predilection for crime fiction. Especially Nordic crime fiction. Many of the Scandinavians write in a highly descriptive way that gives a depth to the narrative and the  visual imagery. This sets them apart, I feel, from crime writers from other regions. And it doesn’t help that I like the dark, rain-sodden, fog- filled descriptions of the Scandinavian countryside! Well, I am a winter person, living in a sun- soaked country where everything is hot and dry and brown, so can you really blame me?

‘UNWANTEDis a brilliant first novel by Swedish author, Kristina Ohlsson and gives me  no reason to change my overriding view of  Scandic crime novels. Yet it is better than your average read. Far better. Whilst the crime might be a tad more unsavory than that found in other novels, the reader is spared the goriest of details, yet remains fully aware of the terror taking place.  Skilled writing, I think!

In this novel, you are very much taken along for the ride with the detectives, seeing what they see, thinking what they think. Readers are given more insights into the police process and procedures. We see how it is they try to piece the murder puzzle together: what steps must be followed, what angles have to be investigated, when discovering a new lead and how collaboration reveals important snippets of information. I’ve not found this in other crime novels. So it comes as no surprise to find that Kristina Ohlsson herself has worked for a police organization in Sweden and no doubt this makes her writing all the more authentic, and readable. It seems like real life!

Many crime novels reach their climax via a detective/investigator fitting the pieces of information together by having a private epiphany of sorts, which is only partially  shared with the readers until the final reveal; thus the reader is usually left to figure out his or her genius in crime analysis, for themselves, before a later explanation is given.  But not so with Kristina’s writing. She takes you along, on the roller coaster, with her characters, and I found this terribly appealing and definitely a ‘can’t put down’ factor.

The reader is also reminded that police detectives are humans with their own sets of personal entanglements and dramas and the policeman’s families also suffer from a case. Peder, a mid level detective on the team, with ambitious, slightly misogynistic leanings, begins to have marital problems as he tries to juggle the needs of his infant twins, his tired depressed wife, his long working hours and his own personal needs outside of work. At one point, he breaks down and it is his Mother who attempts to console him in a profound statement:

‘Things will change, Peder,’ she says. ‘Misery has its natural limits. There comes a point when you know for certain that things can’t get worse, only better.’

Now that we have been introduced to Peder, I am sure his personal journey will continue in subsequent novels, in this crime series. I will surely ponder about that.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

CPD (Can’t put down) Factor: 9.5/10

The good: Wonderful descriptive writing and imagery without being over the top

The bad: Haven’t found anything bad about this book yet.

The Ugly: We learn that police make blunders and have to live with that, somehow.

What will you think of it?

Will you enjoy it as much as me?

Who are your favourite crime authors?

 

Trondheim river
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Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Travel

I have followed Sally’s blog for some time and her regular weekly feature with changing themes gives photography buffs a good array of choice and inspires creativity. I am thrilled to have a chance to blog some of my favourite travel photographs in her Challenger’s choice week.

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A perfect day on the river!

Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge

20160623_204028-k A Great spot for lunch!

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A world like no other!

Joyously or not the photograph becomes the source of reality, but it can also become a dreamlike force for interpretation. So if photography is memory, then the image is the moment–a moment of sanctuary in a lifetime of them. [Source: Sally D]

Even when I am so old I can no longer travel, I will have my photos and memories to ponder about.

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Three Seconds – To the Dark Side

It is a strange feeling when you start to feel support for a villain, even if it is just a fictional character. If  on reading this post, you’re thinking that sounds a tad like the so-called, ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ you’d be right, – because I have just finished reading Three Seconds, a Swedish crime novel, set in Stockholm, an offering from writers Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom.

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Stockholm in Winter

Being set in Sweden, with vignettes in Denmark and Poland, was enough to pique my interest in the story, but that increased tenfold when I began reading about Ewert Grens, the ageing Swedish detective. He is the kind who stubbornly refuses to give up on unsolved cases, and the plot contrasts him with another character, Piet Hoffman, a man with a secret life, who risks everything he loves every single day. As I read on, I thought, ‘Could these men ever be free of the choices they’d made?’

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The book makes you think and such is the skill of the authors that the reader might even find him/herself, as I did, admiring the villain, who is known to you from the start. No matter how murky his world becomes, no matter how much deception or corruption this character engages in, the reader is, surreptitiously, drawn to the ‘wrong’ side of the moral and legal fence, rather than championing the side of the police hero, who solves the crime.

I began to admire the criminal’s intellect, his fortitude and his cunning, to the point that I even began to secretly wish for him to ‘to come out on top,’  to be free, to beat the odds, yet knowing that he couldn’t possibly ever win. It was then that I thought, “How could I be siding with criminality?”

On reflection, I think, it is because the villain in this story is so human. He is just like any of us, a man faulted with good and bad feelings, a man with mixed emotions. A man who shows tenderness, and hardened self-control, but also one that faced some tough choices in navigating a duplicitous existence in the criminal underworld. Yes, that is why he has my sympathy.

Freedom is a package deal – with it comes responsibilities and consequences” – Anonymous

And so the plot continues until the final reveal and ‘twist,’ that arrives almost in the very last sentence! You are on the edge of your seat until the last. Wow… my kind of writing!!!

The inclusion of a final appendix of ‘notes,’ felt as if the authors wanted to answer the questions I already had spinning around in my head. That’s a unique and welcome surprise in a crime novel, especially considering the plot is not completely fictional! Knowing that gave me so much more to Ponder About.

Winner of the Swedish Crime Novel of the Year for 2009, Three Seconds dominated the Swedish best Sellers list for 18 months and was translated into English, in 2010.

Highly Recommended.  Forestwood’s Rating: 9/10

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

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Sweet Saturdays – Traditional Icelandic Cake

As I get a little older, (I am clearly a little in denial!), I have to watch the waistline a bit more than previously and thus look forward to the weekends to indulge in baking and eating some sweet treats, and sticking more to rabbit food rations, through the working week. This week I was reminded of the wonderful ‘Hjonabandsaela’ or Blessing of the Marriage cake at a lunch!  It is not only light and delicious, it is traditional comfort food at its best, and it originates from Iceland!20161011_101255

Fridays are the traditional wedding day in Iceland. The pagan Icelanders believed the day was dedicated to Frigga, who just happened to be the goddess of marriage! Engagements sometimes last for 3 -4 years, so after waiting that long,  it is little wonder that cake features prominently in the celebrations!

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At the wedding feast itself, a ‘Kransekake’ or traditional Scandinavian wedding cake, is eaten. This the wonderfully Scandinavian stack of crispy, concentric almond-based pastry rings, decorated with icing and flags, which looks and tastes incredible.

Another Icelandic tradition is for a groom to send presents to bride’s family, on the morning after the wedding.  Whilst the ancient tradition is by and large, forgotten in modern times, it is still customary for a bride and groom to exchange personal “bed gifts and cake.” The traditional religious ritual, the ‘Blessing of the Marriage’ is undertaken by the priest, after the wedding couple leave the wedding feast, when the bride and groom are finally alone! This is the cake for such an occasion!!!

This weekend’s sweet treat!

Hjonabandsæla -Blessing of the Marriage

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Ingredients:

1 cup rolled oats

1  cup plain flour

1 cup dark brown sugar

150 gram butter

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cardamon (optional)

Rhubarb jam or other not very sweet jam such as cranberry.

Mix  thoroughly softened  (not melted) butter with the sugar. Add flour, bicarbonate of soda and oats

Press 3/4 of dough into greased tin. Spread jam on top, sprinkle the rest of the dough on top.

Bake in medium hot oven approx  30 -40 minutes.

To Make your own Jam

Bring to boil:

2 cups chopped rhubarb

juice of 1 orange

1/2 cup strawberry or cranberry (lingonberry) jam

2 tablespoon sugar

Cook 10  minutes and allow to cool. You can add more sugar if you think it is too tart.

NB Tips:

  • If mixing by hand, use quick cook rolled oats, instead of whole oats.
  • Instead of rhubarb jam, you can try cranberry, blackberry or plum jam.

Something to Ponder About

 

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Hanging Around in Helsinki – Part II

So there I was, walking about in Helsinki, [read previous post here] when I discovered  what delighted me the most about this city was the many fantastic things you can see on foot, without spending much at all.

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Esplanadi park – Helsinki

Having just eaten a ‘larger than life’ Cinnamon bun, at the iconic Cafe Esplanadi, opposite the park on Pohjois-Esplanadi, followed by another – yes, another, salmon lunch at the Market Hall, (read more about Helsinki food options here), I set off through Helsinki’s streets to burn off some calories.

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Tuomiokirkko

My walking path through the city took me to the iconic Senate Square and the very impressive and landmark that is Tuomiokirkko. This Lutheran cathedral, built in neoclassical style, in 1830-1852, was originally a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who through the imperialist era, was also the Grand Duke of Finland. It is a must see!

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This church is also a very useful navigational mark for any tourist, dominating the city’s  skyline as it does, from every angle, as you can see below.

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Tuomiokirkko

The cathedral is decorated in spartan Lutheran style, quite different from the next stop on my walk:

Uspenski Cathedral

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Walking easterly from the market square, I didn’t stop to buy paella, berries, reindeer meatballs or furs at the many market stalls, but continued in the direction of Katajanokka peninsula and Uspenski Cathedral, a red brick orthodox church with gilded ‘cupola’ style towers. It is a good stretch for the calf muscles getting up the steep path to the church itself, [definitely not wheelchair friendly], but the view from there does make it all worthwhile.

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If you are thinking, ho hum… another church… think again, as it is the largest orthodox church outside of Russia. Much more ornate than the Lutheran cathedral, the cupola domes were even gilded in gold for the church’s anniversary and are often illuminated at night.

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 If you are a fan of Russian style icon art, Uspenski is a great place to visit. Just don’t expect to see the famous icon of ‘St.Nicholas – the wonder maker’, which was stolen from there in broad daylight, back in 2007, and has yet to be found. It’s free for visitors to enter the church and also handy to know that they do allow photography inside.

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I could also chat about walking past various Marimekko outlets and seeing unique Finnish clothing design at Stockmans retail centre, or the fact that 60% of the world’s ice breakers are built in Helsinki, but it was the Helsinki architecture, located behind Uspenski, that really garnered my attention.

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Helsinki architecture
Helsinki architecture

I saw so many wondrous examples of Art Nouveau buildings, with ‘Jugenstil’ detailing, often coloured in the soft pastels, so popular in that era.

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“Can you imagine what it is like to live in one of those buildings?” I say to my Finnish friends.  I doubt I’ll ever know, as they proceed to tell me it is actually very expensive real estate. Furthermore, I noted that security grills and pin – codes to enter the doors are, no doubt, a more contemporary addition.

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Suomenlinna UNESCO World Heritage Site

My walk, continued following a short ferry ride, across the Helsinki archipelago, to Suomenlinna – (formerly known as Sveaborg): a military fortress  dating back to 1748. Due to its strategic position between three nations, this fortress served not just the Russian Military, but also the Sweden government of the day, (hence the name Sveaborg), and in later times, an independent Finland.  It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991, and one can make their way around the many cobble stoned roads, walls and tunnels, on foot.

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There is no charge to visit the island, only the nominal fee for the ferry ride over there, unless you want to enter the museum, which I didn’t, as there was SO much to explore on foot.

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Another Church???

Back on the mainland, I must tell you about another church I saw on my walk:  the very unique Tempooliaukko, or Rock Church. The concept of a “Church in the Rock,” was  first mooted as an competition for architects in the 1930’s, before WWII. Economic challenges meant plans to build the winning design were shelved until the 1950’s. It was finally opened in 1969.

Helsinki church
Church in the Rock

Quarried out of the natural rock that one finds in Helsinki, the church provides excellent acoustics for all kinds of concerts and visitors may enter, anytime, unless there is a wedding ceremony taking place. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a wedding was concluding. As they exited the church, the bride and groom were congratulated by a larger group than they anticipated –  applause from a host of tourists waiting outside! Heads up – they do ask for silence when you are inside the church, but photos are welcome!

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However you find them, Finns do enjoy their summertime.  My walk back to the hotel took me via a summer music festival, street musicians, and even some impromptu flea markets along the main street.  I would like to have enjoyed a dinner at the beautiful Kappeli restaurant, but alas, it was Saturday night and the stern-faced maitre told me it was booked out!

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I guess it will just be Something I’ll Ponder About

Linking to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks and Friendly Friday Photo Walks

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Hanging Around in Helsinki – Part I

“So what’s Helsinki like?” I am often asked, when people know that I’ve visited Finland.

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“Well, there are loads of great things about Helsinki, itself, ” I usually tell them, “…not the least of which is great design in clothing, architecture, romantic historical sites and a great summertime atmosphere.” [N.B. Most Australians only travel to the Arctic in summer!]

“But first up,” I then say, “you need to know that the people of Helsinki eat a good deal of fish, freshwater fish, that is. Even sometimes three times in a day. So when I think of Helsinki, I think of Salmon, and lots of it.”

And I remember it is not just ordinary salmon, because the thing that struck me about Finns, was that they had taken Salmon to a whole new level, like as in Heinz 52 different varieties.

Now I love Salmon, so I was pretty happy with this, until I realized how hard it would be be to choose which one to buy! I needed help to choose between Tsar’s salmon, Cold Smoked Salmon, Flamed Salmon, Lemon Salmon and Rose Pepper Salmon, etc. and in the end, feeling rather befuddled, I settled on Cured Salmon with Basilic??

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“But freshwater fish? Why only freshwater fish?” –  my Australian friends might continue to ask.

Apparently the waters surrounding Helsinki are extremely low in salt, due to the existence perhaps of only one, narrow channel entering the Baltic sea from the open ocean, (and that is around Denmark, for the geographically challenged). Therefore, the Baltic waters contain a multitude of freshwater fish varieties, but almost no prawns, (read: shrimp), or mussels, as those are the species that need salt water to flourish.

On a perhaps unsurprising side note: fishing or angling, in Finland is free and does not require a special permit, as it is considered every man’s basic right.  – Yay for Finland!!

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“But, surely there is not just fish to eat in Helsinki?” they continue to ask me.

“Certainly not!! There are many other indigenous styled foods, such as ‘Bear’ pate and ‘Reindeer Snacks.’ ” I venture.

If truth be told, when I first saw the reindeer ‘chips,’ I started to wonder if the Finns were chewing on Rudolph’s antlers for morning tea??? Feeling slightly bilious at that thought, I opted for a tin of reindeer pâté instead. But then I thought of home. And how I would explain a tin of reindeer/bear meat to Customs officials? I mean, Customs officers in Australia, take CITES and moreover, bio-security, very seriously: just ask Johnny Depp and Amber – if you haven’t – Heard. (apologies –  bad pun!!).  Thus, I ended up buying neither….. window shopping was the mantra at this store.

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I digress. We were discussing Helsinki, itself, weren’t we?

If you do want to try any of the aforementioned foods of Helsinki, the place to go is definitely the covered and historic Market Hall, located right on the main square, adjacent to Helsinki’s harbor. It’s usually crammed full with locals, but is truly the best ‘old world-foodie’- style atmosphere, you can find in the 21st century and the food is good, seriously good.

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From 8 am, visitors cram like sardines, into the deli stalls, micro-cafes, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, (well: gourmet soap and candle stalls), for candles, seafood or cheese supplies or, they do as I did, they just hang out there for a delicious lunch.

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Outdoors, I found more food and craft markets on the harbor square, selling both hot and cold foods, fruit and vegetables, fresh berries to die for and a variety of furs and traditional handicrafts of the kind that seem to fascinate cruise ship tourists, but few others!

Once I’d  filled up on Finnish food, I decided to work off the extra calories with a stroll uptown, through both the Helsinki Botanic and Observatory gardens. In early summer, the gardens are lined with the omnipresent Birch trees.

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That made me muse romantically that their delicate branches hang like the braided locks of a long-haired girl, lazily swaying in the cool breeze.  I was also besotted with the tulips naturally peppering the garden verges and bare spots in the grass, almost like weeds, whilst the local squirrel population delighted me with their frivolous antics in the lower treetops.

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I wanted to tell you about Suomenlinna and the marvelous architecture that you find in Helsinki, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Find my earlier post Finding my Feet in Finland here

Something to Ponder About

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Finding my Feet in Finland

I was surprised with what I found. Can I say that?

I knew so little about Helsinki or Finnish history.

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The Nordic regions weren’t a focus of the Australian school curriculum at all. In fact, growing up in Australia in the sixties,you would be considered a bit of a nerd, or at least a well-read child, if you even knew of the country called Finland, (unless, of course, you had Finnish heritage or a ‘Euro-vision’ Song Contest fanatic in your family).

Armed with this startling lack of knowledge, and the little I had gleaned from my post- school reading, I flew into ‘Vantaa’ airport in Helsinki, en route to Norway. And let me say again, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

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First impressions of Helsinki:

There is something about the smell of the place that I can’t quite put my finger on. It has the smell of Scandinavia, or at least that is what my nostrils tell me…. but I can’t be sure just what this is. So I challenge my thinking a bit more.

It is then I realize, it is not the smell of a country iself, but the smell of clean, crisp, fresh air. Air that is unadulterated by the pollution that besets many cities today. The proximity of Finland to both the North Pole and the Baltic sea, as well as its clean energy sources  clearly gives Finland this privilege and I for one, revel in it.

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Heading into Helsinki after a long haul flight, I look out airport-city bus window to see Green everywhere and it is not the same green; there are 101 varieties of green.  Brilliant green, apple green, mint green, moss-green, and of course, leaf green in the many trees, plants, grassy fields and forest. Beautiful!

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Then I notice that all this greenery is punctuated haphazardly here and there by massive granite rocks, seemingly flung around like a giant’s marble set. One that is over 560 million years old. The remnants now lying still and intractable. Permanent.  Polished smooth by glacial action and natural forces through time.  Houses, trees and modern infrastructure with simply no alternative, but to build around these stoic, granite monoliths.
But don’t visualize a stark moonscape of rock, because it is not like that at all, purely because there is so much greenery and interesting architecture.Because, shading almost each and every boulder, you will find the ever graceful Birch trees. Quintessentially Scandinavian. Being summertime when I arrived, the Birch branches let their long leafy tresses sway gently in the sea breeze. It felt like a welcome party, beckoning me forward to experience Helsinki.

BIrch in Helsinki

Yes, there is something wonderful here. I feel instantly comfortable, even though I am an alien in this environment and a solo female traveler. ‘Hey,’ I remind myself, ‘I don’t even know any Finnish words yet!’  But it is only a matter of minutes after setting down in my hotel at the harbour, that I quickly understand ‘Moi’ is ‘Hello’ and ‘Kittos’ means ‘thank you.’  Essential language if one would like to eat or drink in public!!

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If you fly into Helsinki from the west, you will undoubtedly spot the coastline of Finland, dotted as it is with thousands of islands and small skerries. Maritime navigation must be a nightmare for the inexperienced sailor!  Particularly as: “The southern islands in the Gulf of Finland are mainly of low elevation,

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But, perhaps I should tell you a little more about Helsinki, other than what you find in the usual tourist brochures?

Finland share its borders with Russia, Sweden and Norway and I do think the history with these neighboring powers is reflected in the capital’s architecture. When you imagine Helsinki, imagine glass conservatories, crisp white, copper green or even red painted domes and turrets and lemon yellow or eggshell-blue buildings adorned with white window details, all of which echo the historic Swedish and Russian imperialist regimes and their respective architectural styles.

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The clothing, lifestyle and culture in Southern Finland also evokes a typical Scandinavian summer day: cool and crisp in the morning, warming towards a lazy long afternoon where time becomes confused, (it may be 10 pm and some are only thinking about dinner).

Imagine also long shafts of golden evening light and cool glades with shadows resting languidly behind a festive main street atmosphere. All this, at the onset of twilight, before the night makes its slow descent to darkness.

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The capital city Helsinki is a fashionable place… a secret I am sure is kept from the rest of the world. In the storefronts, I see elegant dresses with unique and beautiful designs and lots of bold bright colour…of which ‘Marimekko’ is famous. [And if anyone knows me, they will tell of my preference for this exact thing: bold, bright colour]. So I wear a happy smile!!!

20160528_160903Gorgeous dresses with a distinctive, personal flair, not seen in my corner of the world, adorn many of the formal wear shops in the streets of Helsinki. Who would have thought I would find this so far north?

I also spot botanical, Linnean- inspired prints in delicate, lightweight fabrics, all with that indefinable something, that says ‘Scandinavia.’ It is so light here in the summer and like the beech and birch wood, Finland also seems free and tolerant…  a little like the mentality the Scandinavian summer landscape seems to suggest. Helsinki has me feeling all romantic!!!

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Mind you, the Finns are a little reserved with strangers, but this will only be a bother if  you expect American or Australian open-mindedness towards strangers. Despite the staging of a multicultural music and ethnic festival held in the city during my stay, I could still feel the Finnish character: that wonderful Scandinavian persona, but with an inner stoicism that visitors may find a little aloof. Rather, than thinking this was a negative, I preferred a more romantic view of the people. One where Finns guard their privacy and others’ privacy, with the respect it deserves.

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There is so much more to Helsinki and Finland, and I will talk about that in the next post. After all, there are some of the most iconic sites found around Helsinki, not the least of which is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Suomenlimma Fortress.

For me it is   Something to Ponder About.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Legacy of Olav and Nidaros

Nidaros Domkirken
Nidaros Cathedral – the northernmost cathedral in the world

“Olsok (literally “Olaf’s Wake” or “Olaf’s Vigil” – that is the eve of St. Olaf’s Day) is now the Norwegian name for 29 July, traditionally the date of the death of King Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway, in the Battle of Stiklestad, east of Nidaros (Trondheim), Norway, in 1030.

  Olaf II Haraldsson (995 – 29 July 1030), later known as St. Olaf, (or St Olav), was King of Norway  1015 to 1028. Born in Ringerike, he was the great grandchild of Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway.

Even as a young boy, Olaf had a strong conviction that he was going to lead Norway and be their eternal King that would unite them into one Kingdom. As a Viking chieftain, he went raiding through Estonia and Scandinavia, but it was whilst awaiting the close of  winter in Normandy he was baptised in Rouen Cathedral, (now Notre Dame), by Robert the Dane, Archbishop of Normandy.

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Nidaros Cathedral side door

 

The year 1015 saw Olaf back in Norway and with the support of the five Kings of the Uplands, Olaf declared himself King. Furthermore, he then conquered the south of Norway, founding Borg, (now the town of Sarpsborg), and even made peace with the King of Sweden.

However, his reign over a united Norway was not to last, and he was forced to flee into exile, from Canute the Great who had the support of discontented Norwegian nobles. When Canute’s Regent was lost at sea, Olaf took the opportunity to seize back his kingdom, but died at the ensuing Battle of Stiklestad.

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Stiklestad Church where Olaf fell in battle Source: Wikipedia

It is said that Olaf’s body is buried somewhere near the present day site of Nidaros cathedral,  by a stream. Some time after the burial, legend has it that Olav’s coffin rose up out of the ground, and was re-interned. Rumors begun to circulate in the community about Olaf’s exploits and his legendary status, and when the coffin again rose up out of the burial site as second time, the people opened it and it was said to “smell like roses”.

Burial place of St Olav
Burial place of St Olav

A year after his death, he was canonized as a Saint. Construction  began on the Nidaros Cathedral in 1070 over the burial site of St. Olaf. The oldest parts  of Nidaros, still in existence date from the middle of the twelfth century, as fire has reduced the cathedral to ruins until the Reformation.

As the northernmost cathedral in the world, it is a site of pilgrimage even today.


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Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway built to honour St Olav

 

Olaf was canonized by Bishop Grimkell in Nidaros on 3 August 1031, and is remembered as Rex perpetuus Norvegiae, the Eternal King of Norway. [He is, however, remembered] more so than his attempts to finally and forcefully convert the country to Christianity, Olaf’s martyrdom at Stiklestad appears to have contributed decisively to establishing the Church in all parts of the country.” [Odd Steinar]

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Pilgrims would leave their mark on Nidaros cathedral walls to ward off evil

It seems that Olaf, like many Scandinavian kings, used his Christianity to gain more power for the monarchy and centralize control in Norway. The cult of Olaf not only unified the country, it also fulfilled the conversion of the nation, something for which the king had fought so hard. [Wikipedia]

 

And today the Olsok legacy lives on, not only in Scandinavia, but also in many parts of the world, where Scandinavian heritage is honoured. Whether this was Olaf’s primary or secondary intention, it is clear that he is remembered as Norway’s patron Saint:  the King who united Norway for the first time.

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In Trondheim

Something to  Ponder About

 

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Shadow – Book by Karin Altvegen

Very Lord of the RingsNowadays people talk a lot about chasing happiness. There are a multitude of books courses about being happy. Feeling happy has become something that we constantly desire convinced that when we have found the secret to being happy, everything will fall into place perfectly. Not being happy has come to be equated with failure. Is it possible to be happy each waking day, year in year out? Is it something worth striving for? Karin Altvegen explores this in her novel, “Shadow.”

Prior to reading this book, I had only read one other book by this author. Shame which had been described as:

“An existential thriller about the power of fear and the brains capability to repress things that is to painful to remember. About the fatal consequences of an atypical childhood.  And about the biggest shame of all: The feeling of not having been loved by one’s parents.”

It seems this theme and moral stand is continued in Karin’s novel, Shadow; So it was with trepidation and a pre-conceived idea that I read this book. And it certainly was about not facing one’s fears and loneliness! The shadows of the past can be forgotten, but their imprint might be indelibly fixed.

This is the story of a son trying to emulate his father: a psychological thriller about relationships and how the past can influence the future – how actions live on after they are long forgotten – what starts from a lack of good parenting, is then compounded by a serious lack of communication, ends with characters who take drastic and monumentally tragic couses of action.

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Featuring the writers Alice and Axel Ragnerfelt who hold a dark secret, ‘Shadow’ is a family history marked by what seems almost to be a generational pattern of despair. communication.

“She remembered how at first she was so proud to bear the Ragnerfeldt name. Her friends would get a dreamy look in their eyes whenever he was mentioned, and they wanted to hear all about what he was like. But when they noticed her ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm, she was met with suspicion, as if her words had sprung from envy. No one wanted to hear anything negative about Axel, the national treasure. She stopped saying what she felt and joined his crowd of admirers, at least outwardly. It was easier that way.”

One protagonist ponders the moment at which a personal calamity begins?

“When does the first flake fall that will form the snowball? At what stage does the movement start? Was it the day when he secretly chose the linguistic path, …. By now everything had been in motion for a long time. There was only one hour left until what they thought was theirs would be lost for ever.”

“But even a bell’s invisible crack is revealed by a dull peal. Had the evil always been inside him? Or had it taken over when everything was stolen from him. When all that remained to him was the ability to shatter in order to retaliate.  Too late he realized that he had directed his revenge at himself. That what he had shown himself to be capable of had chained him to a shame too heavy to bear.

So how does he handle it?

Gratefully he felt it (the alcohol) take over. The feeling of liberation when the brain when numb. When he was no longer capable of comprehending the depth of his pain. Why weren’t human beings born this way? With their blood spiked from the start with a small percentage of alcohol? With the defense mechanism disconnected and the soul in a state of peace. Was survival really so important that it outweighed all suffering?

Sometimes I think that today we have trouble finding happiness because of our deep fear of suffering. Is happiness a type of contentment?
Contentment is a feeling of having obtained or achieved what can reasonable be desired. And this novel discusses individuals who struggle with contentment…..the courage to settle down and dare to be satisfied with what they have.Very Lord of the Rings

But then on page 154 Altvegen writes, “Someone who puts caution first stifles the life he’s trying to save.”  and the writer’s astute observations made me ponder more about happiness and life, but in a different way.  A tale of murder and family secrets is not for everyone, yet I wondered why this novel was left sitting on my TBR shelf, for so long. It is seriously good.

Shadow is a novel  by Karin Altvegen from 2007 that has been translated into English.

Rating: 8/10

The good: Skillful and suspenseful convoluted plot that switches back and forth with  surprising twists and turns. The depth and layers of this book gives me somethings to ponder about.