Category Archives: Scandinavian Travel

Belt Buckles Beep

English: An example of Airport security.

English: An example of Airport security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Security at airports in a post 9/11 world is paramount. That is why it baffled me that, in August of 2004, as I returned with my mother and sister from a holiday in Sweden, that the airport security in Stockholm would simply run a scanner over my belt buckle, obscured by a sweater, and say “go on”.

 

Well, apparently they do just that. It made me feel terrific that they were so lax about it. I could have had anything under there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gun, a bomb, a 4th century Chinese sword:)? Well, at least in a few hours I would be home. And indeed I was. But that incident really opened my eyes.

 

The questionable behaviour of the security individuals is probably limited to only a few of them, but, if this ever happens to anyone who reads this in the future, do what I didn’t. Complain about it. Everyone’s life is being risked because of one person not being vigilant.

 

How safe can we really be if they do not even bother to lift my sweater? I began to wonder also about how thoroughly the bags were scanned and who was able to fly, plus a whole host of other security variables that are of paramount importance.

 

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi Inter...

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. This security post is located for entering the airport which means all people (visitors and passengers) have to pass such a control. Another control will be for boarding luggage before entering the secured area (passengers only). View towards the street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I boarded without further incident and settled in for a shortish hour and forty-five minute flight back to Stansted, from where we would pick up our car and begin the lengthy journey back to Gloucestershire. We got there and my big Labrador greeted me with happy kisses.

 

 

Sweet Sweden

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It’s always a thrill to go to a foreign country. It’s the smells, the sights, the sounds, the feelings and the tastes. It was the same feeling when we arrived in Stockholm at the Kom Hotel on Dobelnsgatan. Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to remember that.

Only about half an hours walk leads you to the harbour area, an area of the city that must have embellished its charm from other cities. It does seem odd that a city could have such heaps of the stuff. But its a different sort to most cities. This is very casual, very open, very……Swedish.

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On the first day, we came into the city’s central station where we disembarked. Fresh Scandinavian pastries were available here and the lingonberry jam‘s scent wafted throughout the entire station. It drew us to the cafe like bees to honey! The jam is the same kind as you get at IKEA. Twice as good.

They were as scrumptious as they smelt. Anyway, it was only a brief walk to the hotel room. A five-star one as well. Excellent. Neither was breakfast. I think they must measure them in tons, not calories!

We crammed ourselves full of scrambled eggs, orange juice, more scrambled eggs, which were delicious, and some swedish cereal. I don’t know what it was called but it smelled of fresh berries and fruit. The juices were as good as any.

Our consumption of large amounts of food was not without reason. Sweden is expensive, including its public transport, except for the bus to the airport. This means walking everywhere, which is counteracted by the fact that Stockholm is a small city.

It is split up amongst about thirty islands and has much to offer. For instance, there is the famous wreck of the warship Vasa, a sixteenth century warship now housed in a museum of its own. This is a fabulous exhibit! You may view the ship in all her glory!

Vasa

The ship overturned in Stockholm harbour, due to a top-heavy design, overloading and open gun-ports. Come on, Sweden, you guys know better than that. Your pride is hurt! Try, try again! They are a mostly neutral country.

The exhibit actually allows you to physically walk onto the gun-deck. Breathtaking. More so are the items that were recovered from the waters around the ship. These include food, clothing, drink, coins, cutlery and a game of backgammon, among other objects.

Skansen is definitely the largest and, hardly doubtfully, the best open-air museum in the country. It is fully functioning 19th century village that has worker in period costume who are experts in their field. Want to see a glass moose being made at the glass-blower‘s? You can buy one, too.

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Summer courses in arts and crafts exist here. Just click the link to find out more www.skansen.se. There’s everything here from wild animals to yearly events such as singalongs and summer festivals.

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This is part of the country’s character, also of Scandinavia‘s character. Norway and Denmark are just the same and pricy too. That means that the retail area of the city will wipe you out, with reference to Scandinavia’s chic reputation.

It’s easy to see from where this reputation occurred. They are an immaculately dressed, clean nation of people who instantly have an uncanny talent in terms of fashion sense. It is this that leads us to the shopping district of the city.

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The district has much wider streets, for obvious reasons, than, say, the medieval heart of the city…Gamla Stan. More people, especially tourists, means wider streets. We spent the third day buying items of clothing.

Despite having said afterwards that it was mind-crushingly boring to me, now I like it. Strange, isn’t it. We learn to like some things later in life. This city captivated me when we went there and it would certainly do the same again. It had a well-roundedness that is only comparable to London or Paris.

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The harbour area? Well, we had a good old tour around the harbour on a tour boat with an English-speaking guide and saw the other islands. If I rightly recall, the tour was about 30 minutes and the old naval officer’s college was on the itinerary.

Don’t quote me, though. The boats are small in length. They were a little bit cramped. But, otherwise, they are as fine as any in the business. The waters that day were as crystal and glassy as any fairytale and have a unique air to them with their smell.

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As for the Royal Palace, frankly, it was a let-down. The building is extremely boring in architecture and that was the chief problem we had with the whole experience. The actual guards with their sky-blue uniforms and heavy-duty rifles look absolutely splendid.

They are the oldest still serving cavalry regiment in Sweden. Gold pickelhaube helmets adorn their heads. We observed them before going on parade and they were as playful a children. Thats nice to see. Not as regimented as we might assume.

Their opposite numbers were Swedish Marine Corps infantry who had a much more dull grey tunic and trousers, coupled with berets for headgear. Their band was exceptional and their drill made you forget that they weren’t all one person.

As the cavalry soldiers began to form up on foot and began to run around perimeter, in time and sequence with each other, the marine band commenced its overture. All in all, the Royal Palace was pretty good…and the trip was fantastic!

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So it came to pass that we headed home on a highway that reminded me very much of the ones I was used to in Canada, especially because they drove on the right. However, we saw typical Swedish countryside going by and even a moose!

As the farmhouses flanking the road passed, I thought to myself about what a wonderful time I had and about the lovely country I’d had it in. People ask me why I go to foreign countries when I could just look at google images.

I go for all the reasons I can not utter…

All the King’s Men

Stockholm, Sweden 073 - Early morning - Royal ...

Stockholm, Sweden 073 – Early morning – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

Late August in Stockholm. How about that? How about seeing the Palace Guards? If you go to the city, then you have the chance to experience that privilege. Although, you’d best be warned. DO NOT touch anything beyond the guard rail. If you do, it will be on pain of death.

That was what a young man tried to do during the ensemble before the changing of the guards the day we were there. The guards, a magnificent sight in their gold pickelhaube helmets with screaming sky blue trousers, will make their intentions very clear and bark at anyone who trespasses.

Stockholm, Sweden 068 - Royal Guard at the Sto...

Stockholm, Sweden 068 – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

This particular individual reached across the flimsy rail and had the nerve to touch a cannon that lined the main path to the palace entrance. I did not see this.

What I did see, however, was the guard who briskly marched toward the scene of the incident and yelled “UT!”, waving his hand in the air and brandishing a heavy-duty rifle! Lesson well-learned, not that I needed to.

Afterwards, the changing of the guard happened and we were subject to a wonderful display. The Marines that were taking over from them put on a fantastic march.

Marvellous people with kind and helpful hearts inhabit the city that will leave its charm lingering in your memory forever.

What more could be said about this dreamy fairytale land other than we had a lovely, joyous time in the Swedish capital and it was the experience of a lifetime!

A lonely night in Stratford

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London.

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two a.m. in the morning is never a good time unless you’re partying or asleep. But when you’re in the middle of a closed, open-air shopping complex in London’s Stratford area, its not good at all. I was here having come back from Copenhagen on a late-night flight. It took until past midnight to get through customs and then there was a wait for the bus. But I got there o.k.

I just had to wait here until the underground opened, then travel across London to get the bus home to Gloucester from Victoria station. It was going to be a long night, “so just wrap up  warm on the bench and sit tight tight!” I thought to myself.

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the...

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the Tube (Photo credit: AndyRobertsPhotos)

Anyway, about three a.m., these two guys come up and start chatting to me. They weren’t threatening,  just  “night owls”. They were ushered on by a security guard but not before they asked if I was Australian, because of my accent. I said “you got it!” and smiled. After they left, I had a giggle. I’m Canadian!

Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

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A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

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Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

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There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

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Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Oslo, the harbour city & London

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Oslo. Oslo the harbour city, travel far outside it’s sheltered harbour and you will very soon be in fjord country, able to take a trunk steamer on a guided tour to see how the last ice age that left Norway with this iconic landscape.

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Oslo (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

In the city itself, you’ll find chic shopping centres, the Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace, situated on the far side of a park, but well within walking distance.

My experience began when I relied on some rather ill advice from my father that I would see the Northern Lights from here.

Nobel Museum (HDR)

Nobel Museum (HDR) (Photo credit: balachandar)

Too far south, a shame given that this three-day stretch had a high-pressure system of bright sunshine coming through. 

I had a bog standard way to get there. Ryanair cattle-class. Oh Yes.

You get to land about fifty miles from your destination after having spent an hour and a half in squashed seats that stink with cranky cabin staff.

You know the feeling of being a valued customer, but its cheap. Once I had passed through customs at Oslo’s Torp airport, I proceeded to the arrivals lounge, where I was greeted by the heady smell of some sort of air freshener.

Taxi? Not a problem. Cheap? A problem. Don’t expect this to be cheap. Its Scandinavia, folks. Finding the hostel was interesting. The driver had no idea where the street was, but eventually we found it.

So there I am…I try to enter my dorm, with three other sleeping guests, as quietly as possible. By the way, the guests were male. Too bad.

And so it was that I dozed contentedly after having had my flight arrive late in the evening and before, inevitably, one of us had to use the bathroom and switch the light on.

This is where the fun starts. I consider this to be what travelling is all about. In the early morning before everyone has risen, you see their own city probably as they’ve never seen it before: in the early morning light.

Oslo Opera at dawn

Oslo Opera at dawn (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Actually it could be any unsociable time of day and solitary place.

But this is what pays off from sleeping in airports and cramped seating arrangements.

A chance to see something different.

A walk. Where to? Oh, any old place if you’re an avid photographer like me. Tollbugata, a joyous suburb where my hostel was, right at the southern end of the city by the waterfront.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so it was that I began to wander aimlessly through the area, snapping random shots, staring at a small ship in drydock and, not wanting to disturb my roommates, walking to the central station. This was about 3:00 a.m.

It was cosy inside the station when people decided they would be more considerate than stand by the automatic doors.

I do remember one thing, a homeless man, too weak to help himself, was helped inside by good samaritans. A nice city. After about four ice age…I mean..ehm hours, the place began to open up.

If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia and walked by a cafe, you’ll never forget one thing. The smell of pastries. I could’ve been lured from half way across the city by these.

Gorgeous soft, chewy outsides with fruity jam or marmalade in the middle…yum, I’d better not get too excited! I eventually worked out the payment system. It was cash-deposit-box-style arrangement. No till.

So, anyway, I casually drifted towards the harbour through a birch-treed park. I knew Oslo had lots of parks in it. I was told this by a young lady who I had started talking to (not to talk about parks :P) on the flight there.

And so the harbour appeared and I began to look for a harbour tour. I found a lovely old trunk steamer that offered tours plus a bar area on deck.

Given that the weather was glorious bright sunshine, I chose this option and boarded the ship.

The cruise lasted about two-hours and cost forty-six pounds. It was well worth every penny. As we came out of the harbour, having set out at 10:30 a.m., we began to see Norway’s fjords in all their glory.

These were formed, we were told, by the last ice age and they were magnificent to behold! So I drunk in the view quite happily over a pop drink and observed the ship skim over the glassy, azure water in a relaxing, almost ghostly manner.

If someone had told me to go back to the U.K. at that point…no way! There were other sights to see, such as the old naval officer’s academy on an offshore Island.

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour (Photo credit: BBM Explorer)

This building has everything to offer, it is now a maritime museum, from Norway’s oldest known boat (2,2oo years old) to a mock-up deck of an old sailing ship and information abound. Therefore the harbour cruise is suitable for anyone wishing to travel here.

Next was the Nobel museum with an exhibition on famous Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, a man of many talents and who also won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was a champion ice skater in his youth and he led the team that crossed Greenland’s interior in 1888, also coming to fame by way of a record-breaking North Pole expedition to 86°14′ north latitude.

The expedition lasted three years. The museum has, as you come out the other end, a row of all the people who have won the Nobel prize. Now for the business district of town.

Oslo is quite a high-brow place, with high-value clothing being the norm. Scandinavians have a reputation for dressing well.

The names of these shops are entertaining as well. Fancy shopping at “Bik-Bok”? The city has bicycles for hire and at reasonable rates too, maybe two pounds per bike.

It should be mentioned however that you may have to do a lot of uphill pedalling here.

Bycycles in Oslo.

Bycycles in Oslo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Need I say why? Its not really viable to shop here or use bikes if you’re on a cheap budget like me. Better just to walk and, of course, try and book for a period of clear weather.

This doesn’t have to be in the summer, although you should go at that time for the long evenings.

 

 

So as we reach the high ground above the commercial area of town, we reach a city park that has a footpath running through it with plenty of green grass and birch trees lining it.

Naturally for a traveler, this is too good to miss. Often a city’s little nooks and crannies are part of the adventure.

Suddenly a building begins to appear through the trees. Let’s see, baroque in architecture. A large expensive building. Certainly no nook or cranny here.

A large sand visitor’s area in front of it. Two men dressed in traditional uniform clutching high-power rifles.

It must be the Royal Palace! Seen above, it is a very special building indeed…the sands glow orange in the evening light. It’s stone sides as well. How could a squarish building be so beautiful?

The colours that reflect off the pillars of the main entrance, with their long shadow cast on the building are truly breathtaking.

The next morning, I decided to see Oslo’s famous Opera House, as seen below. DSC_0678

This is where Oslo’s richest make their mark; in this building that stylishly reflects the colour of the water next to it. As you can tell, the building is modern, the ground first being broken on 17th of February 2003.

Norwegian firm Snohetta is responsible for the design and tickets for guided English tours cost around £12.

Information about performances, dates, shopping, educational aspects and contact info may be found at www.operaen.no. This was a picturesque moment for me.

The Opera House adjacent to me, the setting sun…just fine. By the harbour, there was a girl with a stall selling crepes and they were great. Thinly-spread, crispy and with lingonberry jam…yummy! 

As I stand in the queue to the check-in for my flight home, I find myself grateful for the experiences I have had and will continue to have through the coming years of my life.

Danish with icing.

Danish with icing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on, as we approached Stansted, I was reminded of the gunpowder plot, seeing fireworks pop-up all over the place as we fly over southern England. That night, I met up with my sister, who was living and still lives, in London where I spent the night in her flat.

Our mother joined us the following morning. We spent the day in Hyde Park viewing a group of temporary sculptures by Anish Kapoor and separated.

After this, I had a little jaunt down to Marble Arch and photographed the Animal War Memorial, basking in sunlight, before meeting up with them again and visiting an Elizabethan-style building.

However, it wasn’t built then. I spent some time in Hyde Park photographing the geese, the park itself and other surroundings. The day also included the usual doses of Cafe Nero, always good in London.

That concluded my weekend…a thoroughly enjoyable one!

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I scanned the sky but never saw them. I kept training my eyes through the planes window…did I just see green? I don’t know. I was tired.

But keep looking…no. No sign of them. The Aurora Borealis were elusive this year. Welcome to Tromso!

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Tromso (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

What was stunning and worth the trip, though, was the sight of the fjord in the grey dusk light that evening, capped with snow on the peaks surrounding and on the Island of Tromsoya, home to Tromso, in the middle. This sight made the trip more than worthwhile.

 

 

After arrival, I headed for the Tourism Information desk and was answered by a nice Norwegian girl, who was typical of Scandinavian beauty, with a pleasant demeanour about her.

I asked for a map of Tromso. It was a worthy addition. Anyway, now for a cab. The fare set me back as it does in this part of the world. My wallet was emptied…completely.

But the ride was only twenty minutes. My accommodation was a small hostel-like affair with four rooms that also doubled as the owner’s family house.

“Home Sleep” for any of you who wish to keep it in mind. Its supposed to be a good location for viewing the Northern lights most of the time, though.

Tromsø from Above II

Tromsø from Above II (Photo credit: Adrián Pérez)

Upon turning up, I gazed at the house and noticed that it looked as though nobody was home. I walked up to the door and knocked. No answer.

After a brief conversation over the phone and having asked next door, we  agreed that Samuel, the co-owner, would be home shortly. No prob.

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Tromso (Photo credit: Richard H Martin)

Ok, so we’re in now. As for the room, very comfy. More than expected. Samuel assures me that it is possible to see the lights from here. I smile inwardly and ask Samuel about the buses.

There’s a stop outside apparently. Not far. From here, I can catch the bus into the centre of Tromso. Its an idyllic place.

Right, next morning, after having tried to view the lights in the city the previous night and getting spectacularly lost, I caught the bus.

A VERY interesting experience, due to the fact that my hostel was above the town on a hill with a sloping gradient towards the fjord. At least it isn’t towards a concrete building.

Then left along the water’s edge and into the centre of town. Now we can see the sights of the place. I should note the bus was full and the roads were sheeted with thick ice. The driver had to sideslip the vehicle down the slope. Great fun!

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway

English: A road bridge at Tromsø, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s The Polar museum, with a concrete footprint identifying where Roald Amundsen set off from here on his expedition to the North Pole.

The museum has exhibitions about much of Norway’s arctic heritage, such as whaling and seal-hunting expeditions, including the old ships that were used on these adventures.

We have an arctic cathedral made of wood. It’s small and cosy. Then there’s the library with signs in about sixteen different languages, most of them Inuit, the post office and, most importantly, many Northern Lights tours. Sadly I had to hope they would come over the town.

They didn’t, but there are organisations that will take you overland or by boat to locations where a better viewing opportunity is probable due to clearer weather.

Be prepared to fork out though, the cheapest deals are about £82 for an adult and the most expensive is about £200.

Details can be found on the web, particularly at www.visittromso.no where details of boat, bus, minibus or photo excursions are displayed.

Flights to Tromso via Oslo from London  and on to Trondheim from Tromso plus back to London again cost me about £250.

If you wish to find a hotel in Tromso, there is a reasonably-priced Radisson or, if you want to go low-brow, you should be able to find a hotel from £100 a night.

The Radisson is right in the centre of the town. Trondheim…for a night. After a short flight from Tromso, I find a cab and have the driver take me direct to the hostel, a shabby place right in the centre of the town.

It turns out, however, that a seven-eleven is nearby and the city centre as well is close. Trondheim’s most famous landmark, the cathedral, is on the opposite side of town.

It’s a worthy experience too! With a stained-glass window of purple and reds, a sinister Gothic appearance and a low entrance fee with a cafe and gift shop area, its a must-not-miss.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral (Photo credit: kjd)

The cathedral was formed around 1070 and was an important place for Catholic pilgrims in northern Europe until the Reformation, since when it has been the cathedral of the Lutheran Bishops of Trondheim.

And so, after hanging around the central station for awhile-it was bitterly cold-I headed happily for the airport.

I found a nice Norwegian girl to talk to in the gate area and, after a short flight, pitched up in Bergen’s airport terminal lounge. Leather reclinable seats too!

And finally, home…happy times!