Friday, August 28, 2020

Splendor, surpise in Stockholm, from Abba Museum to Nobel Hall

Stockholm, with its beautiful location on the water, is considered one of the world's prettiest cities.

From street bazaars to Nobel pomp, Stockholm spells variety. 

STOCKHOLM is a city of water, museums, street markets, stately squares, lively arts, buskers, pomp and subway art to knock your socks off.  
It's a city of contrasts, home to the Nobel Prize ceremonies, a museum celebrating the musical group, ABBA, a famous ship museum and a connection to rock legend Frank Zappa.
Inhabited for years by the Danes, it has been Swedish territory since 1523 and underwent a renaissance in the 18th century.  This enrichment era included architectural, artistic, government and economic expansion, along with development of the sciences, medicine and literature. 
IT SEEMS fitting that Stockholm is home to the revered Nobel prizes, six international awards given annually for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics and the promotion
Stockholm's imposing City Hall has a prime location.

 of peace. The Nobel Prizes, first awarded in 1901, were established by the will of inventor Alfred Nobel and are traditionally awarded on Dec. 10, the anniversary of his death. We Americans proudly recall that the  2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to our U.S. President Barack Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people".
The colorful Swedish flag waves on a boat trip with Stockholm skyline behind.
FOR ANYONE who loves ABBA or "Mamma Mia," the flashy ABBA Museum is worth a visit with its interactive displays and narratives from the artists. Find it near the impressive displays in the Vasa Museum.  Its wares include the 17th century war ship, salvaged centuries after she sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628.
Besides ABBA (acronym for the four singers' names), there's another musical tie to the city.  A famous 1973 Stockholm concert was immortalized because singer Frank Zappa's group appeared in transition,
The ABBA museum celebrates one the successful music groups.

between the subversive vaudeville of the original Mothers of Invention and the juvenile obscenities of later albums. Zappa memorabilia abounds.
THE CITY's modern subway system, Tunnelbanan, has flashy art and is among the most dramatic in the world, with its elegant ceramic figures, glass prisms and colorful murals contributed by 70 imaginative Swedish artists.

Stockholm's subway system offers wild art.
Narrow streets, winding alleys, medieval charm and a sophisticated cultural life all beckon the traveler, with some of the world's most posh waterway architecture, a beautiful Royal Palace, a Parliament to rival London's and the Nobel Prize reception hall.  Grand architecture, street fairs, buskers, street food, fine eateries and the relic of that mighty warship point to the variety that personifies Stockholm and its love affair with the water.
We had only a couple of days, and could easily have stayed a month, to further explore the city's enticing green gardens, cobblestone walkways and a Swedish food feast we barely sampled. If all this sounds appealing, toss in a 700-year old Old town and one of the world's most elegant cathedrals -- and prepare to enjoy a Stockholm visit.

Traditional yellow houses date to early 19th Century painters.
UP NEXT: While we're in Scandinavia, let's pop over to Skagen, Denmark, a picturesque port town at the north end of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. The famous Skagen Painters are inspired by the area's special light and landscape. On Skagen’s northeastern outskirts, locals go to Grenen Beach, to step one foot each in two bodies of water. Here is the convergence of the Skagerrak and Kattegat seas. The artful homes have a distinct style -- traditionally yellow with orange tiled roofs, many inhabited by artists . Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at nature, travel, family and the arts:

Friday, August 21, 2020

Wonderful Copenhagen offers city sophistication, village charms

Denmark's lovely capital Copenhagen, offers spires, canals, fun food and a famed pedestrian paradise.

Danes loved to walk and bike, and tourists follow suit.

IMAGINE, if you will, Denmark's two most famous citizens stopping to share a coffee and a chat.
Although they were vastly different men, Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kirekegaard might have bumped into one another while taking their morning constitutionals.
The year would have been around 1850, where both men frequented Copenhagen's waterfront district.
Both shared an abiding love for this lovely corner of the city.  Both would likely have carried books under their arms.
Anderson, Denmark's beloved fairy tale writer, and Kierkegaard, theologian and existentialism's progenitor, loved walking the streets of the largest of Denmark's 500 islands.  
St. Alban's is Copehnagen's finest example of Gothic
architecture, and not far from the Little Mermaid.

We followed their custom on a visit, before Covid gutted our travel plans.
Copenhagen remains high on our list of favorite cities, and we've booked a return for next spring -- fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, we're sharing commentary and favorite photos of Scandinavia's largest city. Those clever, fun-loving but stylish Danes have managed to combine urban sophistication and Continental charm with the laid back feel of a small village.
Pedestrians still rule in Copenhagen, where its famed walking street Strøget, remains the backbone of the city as it has for decades.
It's history dates back to 1960, when the city's old but beloved narrow streets were threatened by expanding shopping areas around central Copenhagen.
Book your tickets to Tivoli ahead.

"Sidewalks were becoming more and more crowded," our guide told us. "Pedestrians were bumping into each other, cars couldn't move."
So Copenhagen's City Council established a car free pedestrian zone from the westerly Town Hall Square to Kongens Nytorv (The Kings New Square) in the eastern part of the town called “Strøget.” It includes a maze of small streets and historical squares fanning out from “Strøget” and the mediaeval part of Copenhagen. It's nearly 3.2 kilometers and Danes consider it the oldest and longest pedestrian street system in the world, dating back to Roman times as it does.
Gefion Fountain, famous for its oxen and the famous goddess.
a colorful reputation 
and have become expert at recreational pursuits.  More reserved, rural Scandinavians consider Copenhagen a den of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, "a Valhalla of vice," our guide jokingly offered. It's true that Denmark was the first country in the world to abolish restrictions on the sale of pornographic literature to adults.  Yet Copenhagen is also famous for its art and culture, including its world class Royal Danish Ballet, and of course the famous Little Mermaid statue, which rises green and sleek from the waterfront -- smaller than most people expect. She is immortalized in Andersen's tale of a mermaid who falls hard for a mortal prince who, alas, loves another.
Church of Our Savoir has a top stairway. 
AN ARCHITECTURAL delight is the Öresund Bridge which links the city to Malmo in southern Sweden. It supports a four-lane road carrying six million vehicles a year, with two train tracks on a lower deck, transporting eight million people a year. It was once possible to walk across the bridge, during "open bridge days," but that was curtailed a decade ago.
You'll want to spend part of a day in Tivoli Gardens, famous for its fun rides, lovely gardens and delicious albeit expensive food. If you're a fan of churches, Denmark's Church of Our Saviour is a beautiful baroque edifice famous for its helix spire and winding external staircase which offers fine views of the central City. It is also noted for its carillon, the largest in northern Europe, which plays melodies every hour from 8 a.m. to midnight. 
The city sits on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager. Its historic center, contains Frederiksstaden, an 18th-century rococo district, home to the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace. Nearby is Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance-era Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by gardens and home to the crown jewels. Freetown Christiania is a hangover from the hippy days of the 1960s and 1970s, a colorful commune of around 1,000 free-thinking residents, still thriving today.
Danes know how to relax and enjoy.
OUR FAVORITE haunt remains the city's colorful harbor area, Nyhavn, with its memorable character -- and lively characters, plus an array of sturdy fishing boats, hardy sailors, graceful yachts, tatoo parlors, beer joints and cheap smørrebrød, those famous open-faced sandwiches invented in Denmark.  If you're there early, you can also sample coffee and a warm Danish. Funny enough, the origin of the famous pastry is not Danish at all, but derives from a strike amongst bakery workers in Denmark in 1850. Bakery owners were forced to hire workers from abroad, including several Austrian bakers who brought along their traditional pastry recipes.
Keller and Cookie aboard a Stockholm ferry transiting the city's many islands.
UP NEXT: We're touring the colorful Scandinavian capitals. Up next: Stockholm, 14 islands and 50 bridges on the Baltic Sea archipelago. Come with us on the cobblestone streets to the old town Gamla Stan, visit a 13th-century cathedral, the Kungliga Slottet Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum. We also take time for a water taxi ride. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, family, nature and the arts:


Friday, August 14, 2020

Helsinki hurrah: Finland's finest city boasts art, churches, water, sauna

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers pay their respects to Jean Sibelius in Helsinki.
Cookie peeks out from behind a bronze of Sibelius, erected to appease
critics of the larger, abstract sculpture which remains dominant.


 AS MUSICIANS and artists, we made our first tour stop in Helsinki at the memorial to the famed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. Aptly named the Sibelius Monument, it was erected in 1967 by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen.
It is a striking abstract sculpture, as impressive to the eye as the dramatic composer's work is to the ear. It can be seen from a half mile away and  resembles clusters of organ pipes. 
Helsinki Cathedral is beautiful to admire from the outside.
The intriguing jagged monument consists of over 600 steel pipes unevenly grouped together at various heights.  Part of the monument can be "walked under," and the highest pipe reaches over 27 feet in the air. We watched people sing and shout at various places around the monument, as the pipes carried their voices.

The much photographed landmark was designed to embody the spirit of Sibelius’ music, but its abstract nature caused complaint from the people, so a more traditional image was commissioned. It rests near the larger original tribute sculpture.
ONE CANNOT miss Helsinki’s most famous landmark, the Helsinki Cathedral. The brilliant white building with the green dome dominates the skyline.  We'd seen enough cathedrals for this trip, so we admired its beauty from outside, making our way slowly up the steps to notice its sweeping lines.
Our fellow tour bus passengers view Uspenski Cathedral.
After Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square, our guide took us to nearby Market Square then we did a drive-by of the famous red brick Uspenski Cathedral.
Completed in 1868 in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki, the Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and red brick facade, it remains a vivid symbol of the Russian impact on Finnish history.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, Finland's neighbors have dominated its history.  First it was part of the Swedish Empire, then of the Russian. Finland did not gain its independence until a little over a century ago, in 1917.
Its language and culture are neither Scandinavian nor Russian, but a Magyar-Estonian hybrid, the result of migrants who came from the southeast.
OUR FAVORITE view of Helsinki is from the water, and it's easy to line up a two-hour harbor cruise, where you'll see the iconic city images from the Gulf of Finland.   
Helsinki has lots of water besides the Gulf.  The Vantaa River, brooks, ditches, bonds and wells count for 500 square kilometres of Helsinki's total 686 square kilometres.

Helsinki from the water offers memorable views.
The M/S Helsinki offers lunch and dinner cruises, a relaxing way to enjoy a Nordic summer afternoon or autumn evening. We found the boat comfortable and the food fresh and with a Finnish flair -- rye bread, meatballs, smoked salmon, salads and berry pie. 
The Finns invented the sauna, here
at Loyly in Helsinki.

We couldn't "Finnish" our visit without a sauna, an invention of Finland.  The oldest Finnish saunas date back 10,000 years ago, after the Ice Age. Originally, saunas were earth pits covered with animal skins. The first saunas with stoves and chimneys were used in the western countryside and spread to 18th century city saunas. We spent a typical sauna evening in Löyly, a modern seaside sauna with a stylish, glass-walled restaurant and sweeping views. Löyly is the Finnish word for steam. The place is so named because of the steam released when water is thrown on hot rocks. The soft moist heat warms the body and relaxes the mind. A two-hour booking costs 19 euros and includes a towel, seat cover, soap and shampoo. A swim suit is the order of the day at a public sauna, but if you have friends in Helsinki, you'll likely use only a towel -- or your birthday suit.
Enjoy this link to hear "Finlandia," by Jean Sibelius: "Finlandia" Youtube video

The Gefion Fountain of Copenhagen features oxen pulling a
plow driven by the powerful Norse Goddess Gefion. 
UP NEXT: While we're in the neighborhood, we invite you on our continuing tour of lively Scandinavian capitals.  Next up, Copenhagen, then on to Oslo and Stockholm. Tourism is gradually opening up and Americans are beginning to travel again. Even if your journeys are strictly via armchair while we await a vaccine, come enjoy the cities we visited just before the virus curtailed travel. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, art, nature family and more:



Friday, August 7, 2020

Trek through Yellowstone Park, Covid times, yields familiar pleasure


 Bison grazing and the steam of geysers in the background, two classic Yellowstone attractions.Covid can't diminish the pleasures. 


 Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers in Yellowstone.
The two make an annual trip now for the 14th year.  

Ranger Don demonstrates a new extendable arm prototype at Yellowstone's South Entrance
An extension "arm" is used by rangers to share Park maps.

A PILGRIMAGE through Yellowstone National Park in "Covid times," takes adjusting to. But the nation's first national park is still glorious.
First, though, you'll be greeted by a masked ranger.  Instead of handing park maps and updates with a bit of welcoming chit chat, he or she slides the papers through an opening with a special extension arm, and appropriate distancing.
We missed some of the most visited attractions of the park, hoping to make another trip later when autumn casts its golden cloak over this beautiful part of our world.
THE UPPER Geyser Basin is part of every visit, since Yellowstone has nearly half of the world's geysers.
It's still a wonder to behold, even though one approaches with a mask.  We miss making pleasant eye contact with happy people from all over the world. It's fun to observe the surprised expressions and satisfied smiles. Covid masks hide them but we know they're there.
A drive up to Lake Hotel and a stroll to the lake is a must for us, even when we're not staying there. The beautiful lobby usually features live music and the restaurant is the most elegant in the park. Lovely Lake Hotel was built in 1891 and is the oldest operating hotel in the park. Some rooms are closed, but we found one for $365, if you're interested.  There are cheaper places to stay, though, including the nearby Lake Cabins. 

 The graceful 1891 architecture of Lake Hotel captivates, here the veranda.


 An elk gives a bird a ride and a rest near our favorite Roosevelt Arch

COVID-19 mitigations at Old Faithful
 Masking is part of park protocol, here at Old Faithful.
ONE OF OUR favorite Yellowstone spots is  that colorful exit through Mammoth and Gardiner where we always pose by the iconic Teddy Roosevelt Arch. This triumphal north entrance arch symbolizes to me the enduring aspect of the park, even with  Covid.   We also visit Grand Canyon's Artist Point view of the Lower Falls, always full of cars and campers, but we find fewer people at Lookout Point, a stunning vista of the falls, closer to Canyon Village with an active osprey family.  We enjoyed a hike into Fountain Pots near day's end, when crowds thinned.  Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see the wonders,  including bison aplenty.
GUESTS ARE for the most part practicing physical distancing, but that's tough when people are eager to see the waterfalls, critters or geyser spoutings.
The park's management, Xanterra, has  implemented extreme hygiene protocol in the lobbies, at registration desks, counters and food areas.  We saw sanitizers all around, at check-in stations, reception areas, hotel lobbies, restaurant entrances, elevators and exercise areas. Hard surfaces and public spaces are cleaned twice as often, we were told by a reception worker.  Room cleaners at Lake Hotel spend particular time with high-touch areas.  Unlike past summer before the virus, it is possible to book a "short notice" room.   
CHECK WEBSITES though, because offerings are changing daily. As of this posting, select lodging is available at Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Grant Village, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Old Faithful Cabins, Lake Cabins, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Gateway towns offer lodging, too, in West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Cooke City, Red Lodge, Livingston and more. Check or

 The Sibelius Monument in Helsinki honors the famous composer.

UP NEXT: There are  plenty of places hurting from the decline of the travel industry. But Scandinavia is opening up and Finland will begin admitting foreign travelers again next week. On Aug. 11. Many restrictions are removed or lessened. With that good news, we take you to Helsinki, Finland’s southern capital. A highlight for us is the Sibelius Monument, honoring the great composer. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, family and the arts: