Sunday, August 29, 2010

On the Train Again – Day 9

After a leisurely morning where I did next to nothing except for watch old episodes of Frasier with Norwegian subtitles, I’m back on the train and heading off to Gothenburg.  This time I’ve just got a short leisurely 4-hour journey out of Norway and back to the Swedish empire. 

Nothing at all too exciting going on here right now.  The train was packed full when we left Oslo, but has now actually become rather empty as many have gotten off at various stops in the southern part of Norway.  I’ve now got two seats to myself and am relaxing and stretching out.  This leg of the journey is on a Norwegian NSB train, rather than the previous two trips on Sweden’s SJ line.  Different looking trains, but really not much else difference beyond that.  My only beef is that the vast majority of the seats on this trip happen to be facing backward.  I’ve determined that I don’t really like riding backward, I’m much happier riding in the forward direction. 

Though I must say, this is by far the most scenic of any of the trips I’ve taken so far.  Norway is fantastically beautiful country (and I must say, definitely has the coolest flag of any of the Scandinavian lands). 

After today, I expect the blog postings to slow down a bit, as I get into a very routine week of work in Gothenburg.  There may be some surprises though, which could provide some interesting material.  And I’ll try to take some exciting pictures of our office to get the perspective of what the “real world” (as opposed to the “tourist world” of Sweden is all about.  I’ll be sure to keep my camera on me even at work.  You never know I’ll find something interesting.  :) 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

English as a Common Language – Day 8

Today I’ve been taking it pretty easy.  Just wandering around Oslo, seeing what I find to see, and avoiding the random rain showers that keep occurring. 

Before I give the daily recap, I want to go back to a topic I touched on a few days ago.  As I’ve pointed out, most everyone in Scandinavia speaks English.  But contrary to what most of them may want to admit, really, English isn’t a second language to them, it’s their common language.  In Norway, they speak Norwegian to each other, but they speak English to everyone else. 

Why is this important?  Because they have absolutely NO problem speaking English, if they know you don’t speak Norwegian.  But they only way you know is if you start speaking English first.  I’ve had the worst time as I start picking up small words and phrases in these languages, and when I use them, they assume I know their language and start talking to me in it.  This is fine, but then they find out I only really speak English, and THEY actually are feeling bad and apologizing to me because they weren’t speaking in English.  The moral of the story:  contrary to popular belief, it’s actually better not even to attempt to speak their language.  :) 

Today was rather uneventful, actually, so this should be short.  I started out on this dark and dreary morning heading up to really the only place that everyone said “you have to go there,” the Vigeland Sculpture Park. 


Though most people know it as “the park with all the naked statues.”  If it weren’t raining I probably would have wandered around longer, but as it was I can’t say it was particularly exciting.  It was a nice big park though.  At the center was the “tower of naked people” (I’m rusty on the direct Norwegian translation). 

It's made of naked people!

Moving on, I headed back toward the main part of the city, and did pass by a pretty cool cinema called the Oslo Kino Colosseum.  Looking it up after the fact, it’s the largest cinema in Northern Europe, and the largest THX cinema in the world.  Pretty cool building too. 

Yup, a theatre.  Oooh, Toy Story 3 now playing!

And then it started raining a lot.  A LOT.  I huddled with some people under an awning on a street corner and watched as the water slowly filled nearly to the height of the curb. 

Now it's REALLY raining

Then across the street from where I was avoiding the rain happened to be the National Gallery.  It was all art, but did have some pretty cool paintings, most notably Edvard Munch’s The Scream. 


The rest did include some pretty cool Picassos, Renoirs, Monets, Manets, and one of Van Gogh’s self portraits. 

I continued on to do some shopping, trying to find something definitively Norwegian to take home.  But instead was distracted by a bunch of pretty colored yarn. 

Norwegian yarn store.  Look at all the pretty colors.

I looked at a wide array of Norwegian sweaters, and decided that I wouldn’t spend $400 on something I actually WOULD wear, let alone something I probably wouldn’t. :)  Though some of them did look nice.  Perhaps I’ll find something before I leave Oslo tomorrow. 

I leave you today with one of the most “interesting” street art I came across in Oslo.  I call it Norway’s “Salute to Aluminum Foil.”  Enjoy!

A Norwegian Salute to Aluminum Foil

Friday, August 27, 2010

Oslo That Ends Well – Day 7.5

First a more thorough recap of the journey from Stockholm to Oslo.  The train emptied in Karlstad onto 3 waiting tour buses bound for Norway.  There were actually many people going to somewhere inbetween Karlstad and Oslo, which allowed one of the buses to load just those going direct to Oslo and we could go without having to stop. That wasn’t so bad.  The bus was relatively peaceful, and the windows actually clean so I could take some good pictures. 

Beautiful Sweden

And there was plenty of good pictures to take.  Green trees, deep blue lakes scattered and abundant, and rolling wheat fields.  Beautiful countryside!  That’s why I didn’t take a plane.

The hotel room in Oslo was quite a bit larger than the previous ones in Stockholm or Copenhagen, but I wouldn’t necessarily say “nicer”.  I also am in a smoking room, so the smell of stale smoke permeates the room.  But then again, so it also permeates the streets in all of Scandinavia.  Geez people, stop smoking. 

Hotel room in Oslo

After dumping all of my stuff and reloading to head out, I wandered out for my typical first orientation to the city.  I start walking until I get lost enough, then figure out where I am and find my way back.  And I usually find lots of good stuff along the way. Today I found… lots of shopping, and this jolly fellow who was quite pleased that I threw a crown in his podium. 

Hello kind stret person

I ran into Oslo Cathedral, and on to the Akershus Fortress.  Trolls guarded my journey.  

Norway likes their trolls

I also came across the Nobel Peace Center, which was interesting considering I found the Nobel Museum in Stockholm.  But the Peace Prize gets awarded in Oslo rather than the rest of the Nobels which are in Stockholm.  The Peace Center had a big exhibit on Obama, which I did not go see. 

Nobel Peace Center

Finally, as I continued my wanderings back towards the hotel, I came upon this large building, the only one in Oslo with 10-feet high fences and armed guards at all of the entrances. 

The only building in Oslo with a 10-foot high fence surrounding it.

After getting the evil eye from most of the guards who saw me taking pictures of the building, I knew for certain it couldn’t be any other building than… 

Must be the US Embassy

The U.S. Embassy.  Visitors unwelcome.  The sign out front pretty much says “go away”.  Actually, I think it says “if we didn’t ask you to, don’t come in.”  This is by far the highest security building in Oslo.  For comparison, the King’s Palace is right across the street.

The Royal Palace

And besides the Royal Guards patrolling out front, who will smile and take a picture with you if you ask nicely, there’s nothing too menacing or intimidating there.  You can even get close enough to actually touch the building… which I did just to prove I could.  Try that at the U.S. Embassy. 

Touch the palace (try doing that at the US Embassy...)

Of course, you could also be the Canadian Embassy on the other side of the palace, which occupies one floor of a non-descript office building, indicated only by the presence of the maple leaf hanging out front on the flagpole. 

Canadian Embassy... see the flag.

Tomorrow I’ll endeavor to go somewhere interesting.  Hopefully the rain is done after today, and I can have a nice day to explore with my last real day of “vacation”, before I head to Gothenburg on Sunday to get ready to work next week.

Plenty more interesting pictures in the Picasa album for you to check out. 

Nobody told me there would be a bus – Day 7

Up in the morning, actually kinda tired when I got up, which is a first for this trip.  Slept great last night though.  Today is the transit day to Oslo, and what a transit day it’s shaping up to be. 

After shoving everything back into the suitcase and laptop bag, I checked out of the hotel and had about a little over an hour to get to the train station, so I decided rather than hopping the subway down to the station, I would just walk the little over a kilometer down there.  It turned out to be a good choice, since it was such a nice morning. 

As usual, I make it to the train station earlier than I needed to, but that’s not a big deal.  It was nice to sit around and relax a bit first.  Then made it to the platform and the train arrived. 

Now, first off, this is not exactly a glamorous high-speed train like I came in from Copenhagen on.  Though honestly, speed-wise I can’t tell the difference and I think the difference in top-speed is only about 20kph in this case.  However, the bigger surprise that I had not been made previously aware of is that they are doing work on the tracks to Oslo, so after a 3-hour train ride to Karlstad, I get on a bus for another 3 hours to Oslo.  NOT impressive.  Here I was expecting a nice relaxing train trip, lounging in my meager window seat, looking out through a window that probably hasn’t been washed in 6 months, but it was my personal space.  Now, I’m going to be trapped on a bus for 3 hours after being trapped on a train for 3 hours. 

Oh well, I’m here for a Scandinavian adventure afterall, aren’t I?  Maybe the bus won’t be jam-packed full and I’ll have a little more space than I would expect.  I can think positively. 

No internet to post this until later, so more updates to come as we go.  [9AM CET]

[Update 3:30pm CET]

Well, I actually made it.  Checked into the hotel no problem.  Plenty of updates to come later, but for now I’m off to wander the town… and find some food.  Mmm… food.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Museum Fatigue Sets In – Day 6

I really use the museums as a convenient excuse to drag myself to different parts of the city.  It works out pretty well, but after a certain point you just get sick of them all.  Today I finally reached the “museum fatigue” point, probably because there wasn’t anything historical about most of them themselves, they were just buildings with historic stuff in them.  Or something.  But, for my last day in Stockholm it went something like this: 

I started out heading over to the Ostermalm neighborhood, and went to the blandly named History Museum.  Even though its name was rather uninspired, the museum itself was probably one of the more interesting and well-designed museums I’ve been to yet.  Really, this museum is dedicated to the history of the Swedes, from before they were Swedes to where we know them today.  The museum itself was just interesting.  I give lots of credit to the airport-terminal inspired gallery, that I just thought was a creative design idea:

One gallery themed like an airport terminal

Following the History Museum, rather than taking the bus down to the next museum area, I decided to walk the kilometer or so down the road.  It was quite nice (until it started pouring down rain).  But along the way I seem to have run into Embassy Row.  Without looking too hard I ran into the Hungarian, Turkish, and Korean embassies.  Though according to Google Maps, I walked right past the US Embassy without realizing it. 

Hungarian Embassy 
Hungarian Embassy

Fortunately for the pouring rain, this time I brought my rain jacket with me, and all was fine.  I checked out the Maritime Museum, which was decidedly yawn.  Then I went next door to the Sports Museum, which was also pretty yawn, but they did have a curling stone, so I guess they aren’t all that bad.

A curling stone

Moving on to the Police Museum, this one was relatively newly constructed, and pretty poorly maintained.  And boring.  Though I suppose it was interesting looking at their CSI field kit display: 

Don't forget the numbers!

What is a field kit without useful numbers to put everywhere.  I don’t see any chalk though… how are you supposed to outline the dead body!?  Obviously an incomplete kit. :)

Finally made it on to the one museum today I was really looking forward to the Technological Museum.  This was pretty much like going to the science center, but also had some more interesting museum-like exhibits as well.  The museum is in what looks like it once was a top-secret national laboratory, or at least some non-descript industrial building that you really don’t know what goes on inside. 

Technology Museum

It was at this point museum fatigue started setting in, and after an hour and a half, I just had to leave.  I still saw plenty while I was there and it was certainly an interesting museum. 

I thought I was done with museums for the day, until I wandered past the Musikmuseet.  And of course, I couldn’t pass that up.  I’m glad I stopped, because it was a fun place to just play instruments and make noise.  Though it would have been nicer if I were there by myself, because all of the other people making noise on the instruments were driving me bonkers.  My music friends can relate, when there’s just people banging on instruments and making noise, rather than at least trying to do something melodic.  It’s like having a room full of 30 kids with recorders all noodling at once.  Kill me now.  But I digress. 

In an interesting coincidence compared to last night’s blog post, one exhibit offered me an answer to a question I didn’t bother to look up… WHO is that lady on the 50 kronor bill? 

AHA!  So that's who's on the 50 kr. bill!

Well now I know.  It’s Jenny Lind, The Swedish Nightingale.  A famous opera singer.  Though my favorite comment in the exhibit was something to the effect of, “What did she sound like?  We don’t know, because no recordings persist.”  But she must have been fantastic anyway. :)  Though I just keep flashing back to the movie Singing in the Rain.  Nevermind.

Among their many exhibits, including the obligatory tribute to Sweden’s own ABBA, was an entire floor with a salute to drums.  Seriously?  Are drums really that important that they need their own exhibit?  Every drummer I’ve known has been… nevermind. 

So the drums exhibit did include something I had a ton of fun with. It was a dynamic sculpture called the Rytmobil.  Basically it was this strange collection of noise-making stuff, that was played by a computer, and you could program your own drum beat track to control the 5 elements. 

A do-it-yourself music sculpture

My beat was pretty rockin, given what I had to work with.

The drum pattern I programmed into it.

That concluded the first bulk of the day, but a trip to Stockholm would not be complete without a stop at the World’s Largest IKEA store! 

Oooh, Aaahh.

Yes, it was big, 4 floors of Scandinavian-designed junk.  However, I can hear your question now, if it’s 4 floors, how can IKEA control you in one single loop around the store like they’re known for?  Easy, the main store is round.  You start at the top, and you wind your way down, round and round until you reach the bottom and check out.  Other than that, it’s like every other IKEA I’ve ever been to.  Except for the restaurant. 

So the top floor has the big IKEA restaurant, where I couldn’t resist enjoying some dinner. 

The IKEA restaurant, the most popular part of the store

The place was packed, crazy full of people.  But who can resist the quality cafeteria-style food at ridiculously low prices?!  For my diner I decided to break with the easy mold of meatballs and mashed potatoes and instead go with the more delicious sounding sausage, potatoes au gratin-ish, and pickled beets.  I splurged and also got a salad and chocolate mousse for dessert, with a lingonberry soda to drink.  All that for the ridiculously low price of 40 kroner, or about $5 US.  And it was yummy. 

My dinner.  Delicious.  And only 40 kr, or about $5.

As I then circled my way to the bottom of the store, I found on the second floor the 5 kroner cafe!  Everything 5 kroner! 

Cafe 5?  Everything 5 kr.?  That's insane!

5 kroner is essentially zero dollars.  OK, it’s actually about 65 cents US.  Still pretty good deal for your snackage.  Hey, it’s a big store, you’ll probably get hungry every floor or so.  Finally I made it to the bottom, where I found… ANOTHER cafe.  Geez.  I plowed through the warehouse of IKEA goods, and to the checkout, to find of course the snack bar.  (What if you get hungry before you make it to the car?)  All in all, it was interesting, but it was IKEA.  I would go again just for the food though. 

Well, that was a long day and a long blog.  If you made it this far, kudos.  Time for me to get ready to go to bed, before I have a 6-hour train ride in the morning to Oslo, where we will continue my final 2 days of “vacation” before heading down to “work” in Gothenburg.  As always, plenty more pics on the Picasa album.  See you in Oslo. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Money Rants – Scandinavia Edition

I’m taking this break from my usual vacation recaps to do what I do so love: rant about something I have zero control over.  Today’s rant:  Money.

Now, I have my issue with US money.  Yes it’s boring, yes it’s predictable, yes it all looks the same, but there are some good things going for that. 

Swedish money annoys me.  Someone had the bright idea to make the bills larger in size as the denomination goes up.  This sounds useful in principle, but for goodness sake, a 500 kroner practically requires a folder to hold onto, let alone a wallet.  I understand that the different size money helps people to differentiate easily, that’s good.  All I ask is that you take one of the dimensions and make it constant.  Make them all the same width and vary the lengths, that’s fine.  At least I can fit them in my wallet comfortably without them hanging all over the place. 

However, the Swedish 50 kronor note is by far the coolest looking piece of money I’ve ever run into: 

banknote%20sweden%2050%20krona%20obverse[1] banknote%20sweden%2050%20krona%20reverse[1]

I love the music theme of the bill.  I’m sure there’s some greater significance to it, but I don’t care.  I just like it. 

Then there are the 1 kronor coins, which get thrown around like US pennies (and are worth about a US dime), but are larger than a US quarter.  I don’t understand this.  The next larger denomination is the 5 kroner coin (which is maybe slightly smaller than a US half-dollar).  The problem is there’s nothing inbetween.  So as a result you get a whole lot of these “giant pennies” that just weigh down your pockets.  Not impressive. 

Danish money has its own quirks, not to mention its own exchange rate.  One thing I found interesting is that the smallest banknote they use is the 50 kroner note, any 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 kroner are in coins.  This means dealing with a lot of 20 kronor coins, and they’re like, real money.  It’s like having a $4 coin in US money, not something you want to just lose track of.  It actually feels a lot more like Canada where real money is in coins, rather than the US where anything in coins is pretty much useless. I know we Americans hate change (both the coins and the concept), and really don’t want to carry around pockets full of coins when we can have nice crusty disease-laden $1 bills to throw around.   But it seems to me like nobody has it right. 

Danish coins, 25-ore (cent), 50-ore, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 kroner

Not to mention, both Sweden and Denmark are E.U. countries, and neither subscribes to the Euro.  Having their own currency means that money changing is a big business around here.  You really find currency exchanges on nearly every street downtown.  (Which actually offer very competitive exchange rates, I found, at least exchanging among the Scandinavian currencies.) 

Well, that concludes the money rant for now, until I’m sure I’ll have something to complain about Norwegian money too.  But that’ll have to wait.  Go back and read my real blogs about stuff that matters.  :) 

Or continue to look at my constantly updated Picasa album

Stockholm Sweet Holm – Day 5

What a day it has been.  I’ve ventured all over Stockholm exploring, well, mainly museum after museum.  They call themselves “the city of museums” and I really can’t disagree.  You can’t go 50 meters in this city without running into one. 

I started out early, and found the one museum that opens earlier than all the rest, probably because it’s one of the most popular, the Vasa Museum.  Built to house the nearly-completely salvaged remains of a 17th century built ship, that was too top-heavy and sunk on its very first voyage not to be raised for 300 years. 

The Vasa

Everyone says this is the “must see” museum of all of Stockholm, and I’d have to agree it is quite impressive, as confirmed by the literally dozen tour buses parked out front and swarms of people coming in to view it, led by their tour guides with their silly little stick “follow me” signs. 

Moving on, I went next door to the Nordiska Museet, that really is a museum of Swedish cultural history.  Many displays showed Swedish life through the past several centuries, and how people live and work and do whatever it is that they do.  Interesting, yet I’d have to admit I didn’t spend a whole lot of time reading the displays, probably because they were mostly in Swedish.  :)  Though the architecture of these giant old buildings is pretty cool, and the central hall of the Nordic Museum was worth taking a picture of: 

The inner hall of the Nordiska Museet

It was at this point in the day that it started raining, something that it would continue to do throughout the rest of the day.  Having dressed as I did in Copenhagen and realized that wasn’t going to suffice for the colder, wetter climate of Stockholm, I took a detour back to the hotel to reequip myself.  Pulled out the raincoat, put on the goretex shoes, but still left the shorts on… I am a Seattlite after all. 

I hopped the T-Bane down to Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm.  Just stepping off the subway you realize you’re in a very different part of town from the main downtown core in Norrmalm. 

Olde town

Narrow little streets, mainly pedestrian traffic everywhere… I finally found the “charm” in Stockholm, I just had to know where to look!  This is what you would expect when you think of a European city.  After wandering a bit through the streets, I came to the Royal Palace, home of the King.  I happened upon the changing of the guard, which honestly seemed rather disorganized and non-ceremonial, but I’ll chalk that up to my own vantage point. 

Guard people

It was at this point, in the rain, after being smacked around by countless umbrellas by people who don’t know how to use them properly, that I decided to turn around and go back to the other side of the palace.  I went to Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, which really was two halls of statues and busts, and not much else.  Then I came to the Tre Kronor Museum, down under the palace, which contained a bit of the historical artifacts that weren’t destroyed when the original palace (the Tre Kronor) burned to the ground who knows how long ago.  Then I went upstairs and viewed the Royal Apartments, which was quite interesting.  Many of the rooms are used for special ceremonies and royal events, but when they aren’t they’re all open to the public (for a small fee) to view.  It was interesting.  Finally I made my way over to the Treasury, and went down into the vault to view a selection of crown regalia, which was quite unique.  I enjoyed that most all recent monarch’s crowns are Swedish-flag blue, which makes them look rather, cheesy, but Swedish. :)  I actually thought they were neat.  Unfortunately, unlike the Danish Treasury, pictures aren’t allowed in the Swedish one, so you’ll have to just imagine what they look like. 

Conveniently located next door to the palace is the NobelMuseum, celebrating the history of Alfred Nobel, and the Nobel Prizes. 

A noble Nobel museum

I found this to be a very technologically-savvy museum, with lots of interesting displays they have put together in very contemporary ways, using the latest technology.  It’s not a large museum, but definitely was interesting enough for a walk through.  Unfortunately, no dynamite was available in the gift shop as a souvenir.  Pity. 

Finally succumbing to hunger, I stopped by a small pizzeria and must have been hungry because I hate a huge Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza all by myself.  And it was delicious.  Certainly as good as most anything I would find back home… actually, comparable to Pagliacci, now that I think about it more. 

After a quick jaunt to the Post Museum, where I learned all about the interesting history of the Swedish Post service, I headed back on the subway to the National Museum  (not to be confused with any of the other museums that may seem national, this one’s the real National museum.) 

The museum is apparently in the process of restoration after 143 years of change.  Trying to let natural light back in after years of windows being closed off, and walls being put up, one of their galleries of busts is quite the view: 

Very utilitarian display don't you think?

As far as I’m concerned, this is brilliant.  Spare me the busts on a pedestal scattered about, just put them all out and let me look through them like they’re on the clearance rack at Walmart.  At least I know what’s there and it’s all in once place.

And thus the museum closed at 5pm, as with most all museums in the city, so I braved the 5pm rush-hour commute back to the hotel on the subway.  Crazy yet efficient.  After hating the confusing and difficult-to-navigate city when I first arrived, I now actually find it to be remarkably easy to get around once you figure out how everything works.  Or if you just aren’t afraid to get lost.  Now if it will just stop raining.

Tomorrow I’m off to Ostermalm, another different neighborhood, with more different and interesting things to see.  Perhaps some other things that I’m not quite used to yet.  One more day in Stockholm then another train and off to some adventures in Oslo for a couple of days.  Now it’s time to relax. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I’m on a train – Day 4

When you’re dead tired and go to sleep at 9pm, you wake up early.  It was all I could do to sleep until 6am.  It rained all night in Copenhagen, which actually was kinda nice.  It felt much more like home.  I ate breakfast around 7am, with what has become the usual breakfast fare for Denmark.  I’m interested to see how this will differ from my breakfast experiences in Sweden and Norway, if at all.  I’ve also determined that indeed my stomach does not enjoy eating breakfast in the morning, which is probably the result of never really eating when I get up in the morning back home.  But I eat here, because if I don’t eat I starve. :) 

After getting to the train station a bit early, but only because the hotel was boring and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to make it to the station easily, I am now on Sweden’s finest, the X2000 high-speed train bound for Stockholm.  The first leg of the trip from Copenhagen over to Malmo in Sweden was interesting.  We crossed the Oresund Bridge, opened in 2000 to connect Denmark with Sweden. 

Riding a train is a new adventure for someone who grew up on the west coast, where trains are a novelty for most people.  My most significant train traveling experience is on the Disneyland Railroad, and somehow this doesn’t equate.  But the train is very quiet and smooth moving for the most part.  Quite enjoyable so far.  Though on the first leg to Malmo I was traveling in the forward direction, at Malmo we switched and I’m now watching everything go by right-to-left, like a Japanese magazine.  As expected, the purported “internet connection” on the train is spotty at best, and generally doesn’t seem to work at all. 

Copenhagen in Review

What can I say about Copenhagen?  It was a lovely city.  Definitely a very pedestrian-friendly city, with bikes taking up the space where the people aren’t (and often where the people ARE too).  I did find the Danes to be very friendly, yet reserved, which I can relate to easily considering I find Seattlites the exact same way.  Speaking English was never a problem, and the Danes would try to use clues to determine whether or not you spoke English and just switch to it without asking.  I only had one instance where I really didn’t say anything and I was asked if I speak Danish or not.  It was almost as if they didn’t want to offend me by speaking Danish to me if I spoke English.  Very polite they are. 

The city itself I found to be very safe.  Sure there were lots of dark streets at night, but never once did I feel like I was in a place I shouldn’t be, or that I should be on guard.  It took me several days to notice the distinct lack of panhandlers, for whatever reason.  Rarely do I find a big city in North America where I’m walking down a street in the downtown core and somebody isn’t rattling their cup asking for money.  Or the Canadians, who I’ve determined are the masters of the panhandlers con game, where instead of just asking for money they give you some sob story about how they don’t have money for the bus or whatever.  I swear I hear some of the most creative con stories when I am up in Vancouver.  But enough about our problems, back to Copenhagen.  Lovely place, plenty to see, go visit it when you have the chance. 

Evening Update

The internet on the train was so lousy I never was able to post the first half, so I’ll just continue it here.

Ah Stockholm, you’re everything Copenhagen isn’t.  What a stark difference in cities.  I’ve determined that Stockholm is the New York City of Scandinavia, but without the charm.  Perhaps that’s a bit too harsh, but when I first got off the train, I really did not like this city.  First of all, it has to be one of the most confusing, impossible to navigate cities I’ve ever been to.  In addition to streets that rarely go straight for longer than 2 blocks, they change name every block, and if you’re lucky enough to find a street sign on the side of a building you might have some clue as to which way you’re going.  Compound that with a crazy ton of people crowding the streets, and you’ve got a not-very-tourist-friendly city.

But I managed to find my way around, get what I needed to, and make my way to the hotel.  Stockholm presented the most difficult of any of my hotels to book, because it was just difficult to find a reasonable hotel at a reasonable price.  As a result, I’m kinda out of the way, but it’s not too bad.  The room is… quaint. 

Hotel room in Stockholm

After settling into the room, I decided to wander out around the city for a bit.  Truth be told, if you don’t try to look at a map and figure out where you are, the city is reasonably navigable.  The Stockholm subway or T-Bane as they call it, is remarkably efficient and can get you somewhat close to most places you want to go.  Also, some of the stations are really cool, especially the one I found tonight at Kungstradgarden Station.  Down one of the longest escalators I’ve ever been on (seriously took about a minute to get from the top to the bottom):

Very long escalator down to the Kungstradgarden Station

Into this cavernous subway platform that looks like it was blasted out of solid rock.  I think it was designed to look this way, rather than actually being that way.  But it’s still remarkably cool.

Kungstradgarden Station, way cool

For dinner tonight, I decided to take a break from my constant attempts to “sample the local cuisine”, because I've noticed that as a result of my “sampling” over the past several days, I’ve managed to starve myself.  SO, I went to TGI Fridays and ate a big tasty hamburger and fries.  And it was guuuuuuud.  And now I think I’m going to sleep better than I have all week.  Tomorrow it’s back to living it up Scandinavian style.  But tonight… is done. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last Day in Copenhagen – Day 3

This morning I woke up before the clock tower woke up.  Apparently (though I was too tired to notice it the first night), the clock tower only chimes between 8am and midnight.  When I was lying in bed this morning waiting patiently for the quarter chimes that didn’t come, I found this out.  So that’s why they didn’t wake me up all night long! :)

I just got back from a delicious breakfast of, well, food.  I’m sure I violated all laws of Danish cuisine in the ways that I combined the food to eat it, but what do I care? 


I reiterate, there’s is nothing wrong with meat and cheese for breakfast.  I would eat this at every meal.  For your analysis, that’s a heap of bacon, next to some white bread with salami and brie, some swiss-like cheese on the side, with a slice of rye bread slathered in Nutella (ok, that was an odd combo, but I was half asleep when I did it.)  A glass of organic apple juice (that tasted severely watered down, or just band) and a cup consisting of greek yogurt (or yoghurt, as they spell it) with maple syrup and some granola stuff on top.  I have enjoyed this both mornings so far, but it was a bit odd the first time. 

And for the record, yes Mom, you look like a fool when you’re sitting down to eat and take a picture of your plate.  However, because I know you like to see pictures of food, this was included for you. :) 

While I’m on the topic of food, the Danes really seem to like bacon.  And honestly, can you blame them?  Bacon is delicious.  Though they also like the heavily peppered kind (not for breakfast, just for everywhere else), which isn’t so bad either.  So for lunch, I took a shot at a bacon dog from a street hotdog stand (so ubiquitous throughout Copenhagen city squares). 


Yes, that’s a hotdog wrapped in bacon, and then inserted into an oddly designed form-fitting hotdog bun.  I’ve had multiple people inform me that “oh, you must eat a hotdog in Copenhagen”.  I came, I ate, I was underwhelmed.  I may give it another chance elsewhere in Scandinavia.  Maybe I need a plain-Jane dog.  Maybe that’s where the flavour’s at. :) 

So once again, I set out too early for anything interesting to be happening in the city this morning.  Businesspeople walking down the streets to work, nothing too exciting other than that.  But I did make it over to Vor Frelsers Kirke, the church with the big spiraling staircase spire, and seemingly the only thing my mom remembers from when she was in Copenhagen 35 years ago and keeps asking me if I saw it yet.  YES, I saw it, and you’ll see about a dozen pictures of it in today’s Picasa album update. 


Of course, I made it there the first time at 9:30am, well before its 11am opening to climb to the top of the tower.  But through the miracle of blogging, I’ll skip forward to where I actually climbed it sometime around 1pm when I made it by there again.  It’s a long way to the top, up some very narrow staircases, and through crowds of people causing traffic jams midway up the spire which no doubt would never be acceptable in the overly-litigious and safety-conscious USA.  Thank goodness we’re in Denmark. 


Climbing the tower reminded me a lot of going down to Olympia and climbing up the Washington State Capitol dome, back when it was safe and possible to do so.  Except that that was mostly solid steel staircases, and this was basically wood everywhere.  But sturdy wood, I think…

It should be noted that this is a real working bell tower, which we were made patently aware of when the 1pm chimes started tolling and reverberating throughout the entire tower.  Though it was cool to actually stand next to the bell and see it ringing.  Deafening, but cool. 


Once at the top of the spire, a fantastic view of the Christianhavn area of Copenhagen. 


Plenty more pictures on the Picasa album

Moving on… I also took a canal cruise to see the sights.  It was actually very reminiscent of a canal cruise I took in Amsterdam many years ago.  But still interesting and a good way to see everything from the water side.  Also watching these long flat boats trying to navigate some very low, and very narrow canal bridges was entertaining. 


The trip also took us past the site of The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen’s treasured landmark. 


So treasured, in fact, that the Little Mermaid is on vacation, and has been replaced with a billboard.  She is currently on display in the Denmark pavilion at the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai.  As the billboard notes, there is a 24/7 live feed of the Little Mermaid where she sits in the Denmark expo online at  I guess I didn’t need to come here to see it. 

Following some shopping adventures as I meandered my way back to the hotel, I did stop and pick up some creature comforts of home, namely a nice Diet Coke, or sorry, Coca-Cola Light.  My sister would have serious issues here, considering how much Diet Coke she lives on.  Last night at the exorbitant hotel markup a 0.25L bottle of Coke was available for the low, low price of 25 DKK, or roughly $4.25.  I saved myself some money and picked up a 0.5L bottle at 7-Eleven for about $3.50.  I guess it’s strength in volume in America.  I can’t imagine there really is enough shipping cost involved to increase the cost of Coke that much over here, so it must just be the novelty factor. 

Nothing much more on my intended calendar for the day.  I think I may just take it easy tonight and maybe venture out again later to wander around a bit more.  Tomorrow we’re off to take the high-speed train on a 5.5 hour trip to Stockholm.  Looking forward to some exciting changes of scenery along the way, in order to arrive at another city built around the water.  But 3 nights in Stockholm to explore another new town.  That’s the excitement.  And now I shall rest. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I would walk 500 miles… around Copenhagen – Day 2.5

An eventful day, which consisted of me walking all over Copenhagen, which felt like I walked forever, but in actuality according to rough calculation using Google Maps, was probably about 4 or 5 miles in total.  Probably at least .5 miles of which was running to find a dry place to get out of the rain. 

I set out around 9:45am, where of course nothing opens until 10am.  The streets were relatively quiet… afterall, it IS a Sunday morning. 

The streets of Copenhagen on a Sunday morning

I continued down to my first destination, the Round Tower.  The Round Tower is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, and originally housed the library of the University of Copenhagen, in addition to the observatory tower, but that’s long gone.  Now it’s just a tower. :) 

Called the Round Tower because it's round.
Round on the outside

Round we go some more.
Round on the inside

Continuing up the continuous 7.5 revolution walk to the top, you reach the upper views of the old city, dotted with towers over the rooftops, somewhat reminiscent of Mary Poppins, but not in London. 

Spires stick up everywhere.

After the Round Tower, I went on to the National Gallery, which houses many of the national art treasures of Denmark (too bad I didn’t find anything treasurable).  Though I did admire the layout of some of their galleries, particularly the large one that had all walls after walls of painting crammed into it. 

Less modern, but still art. It's amazing how many paintings they cram onto the walls.

Yeah, and that wasn’t even the whole room.  It looks like a great puzzle game to line up as many straight lines as you can in the room, and make it look like you knew what you were doing.  I think the Amazing Race should go here and have a challenge to count all of the pictures in the room. :) 

My visit here was unceremoniously cut short by an ear-piercing fire alarm which caused the entire building to be evacuated.  I decided I had enough anyway and started walking across the street to the King’s Gardens and the Rosenborg Castle.  Of course, as soon as I was exactly halfway between the two, the skies opened up and proceeded with a 30-minute light-to-heavy downpour.  It had rained earlier in the morning before I left, but the skies were clear when I left the hotel so I didn’t bring my raincoat.  Oops.  I’m from Seattle, I should know better than that.  In any event, after hiding under an inadequate tree, followed by a bus stop shelter, then diving through the rain to the stone archway at the entrance to the gardens, whereupon as I got closer to the castle, the rains would become more and more daunting.  I eventually was under a small entry archway probably 500m from the castle, with about several other groups of people avoiding the rain for about 15 more minutes until there was a slight let up.  Finally I made it over to the castle where I managed to dry off inside while viewing the royal palace and the ever popular Crown Jewels. 

Crownly!  Jewely!

I didn’t pay the 20 kronor fee for permission to take pictures, so I just managed to avoid the security people and take simple pictures from dark corners of the room, while she had run over to harass someone else who was taking pictures. :)  It worked out, but now I think I’m a fugitive from the Danish government. 

After making it over to yet another of the Queen’s royal palaces, I meandered my way back to the hotel, stopping for lunch at a sidewalk cafe serving Italian food.  It was tasty, but I wasn’t quite as hungry as I thought.  I tend to get that way while I’m on vacation, but have to force myself to eat or I will not feel zesty later on. 

International Travel Observation #2 – Europe Edition: 
Up is on, down is off.  Why is this so difficult for you and your freaky-deeky light switches to understand?  As far as I’m concerned, someone installed every switch in Europe upside down. 
While I’m on the subject of Europe… what’s the deal with these baby strollers?  I swear, every parent pushes around their kid in this Sports-Utility Stroller that has the big wheels and looks like you could go 4-wheeling in it.  I’m sure there are people in the States that have these, but I must say they really stick out here.  In the States, I see people trying to go with the minimalist approach to strollers, just enough you can maneuver tight corners and get where you’re going easily, not such that you need to signal lane changes lest you cripple an old lady crossing the street.  But I digress…

It’s 8:30pm now, and I plan to head back out and over to Tivoli to see their nightly water light show and fireworks barrage at 10:30pm.  The firework mayhem at Tivoli appears to be a regular 10:30pm occurrence, so I have determined that trying to go to sleep before 10:30pm any night will be ill-advised anyway. :)  Tomorrow is the last day in Copenhagen before I venture across Sweden to Stockholm for 3 more nights.  I think I’ve sufficiently seen most of what I wanted to here already anyway.