Edinburgh

Flag at half-mast for QE2

Another long-weekend adventure with my friend, Stephanie. We headed to Edinburgh in that small window where the crowds have gone but the weather is generally still pretty good. Of course the death of Queen Elizabeth put a twist on our plans so instead the city was fairly crowded, with nearly all the typical tourist sites closed. The road closures didn’t impact us too much since we had booked a tour outside of Edinburgh to see some of the castles and villages. Our guide said she had to make only a small change in the route back into the city so that was fine. It ended up being a fantastic trip, really, once we adjusted our mindsets and made the best of the circumstances. In fact, I’m glad it worked out as it did because we had the chance to be in on an exciting bit of cultural history. And because we missed the usual sites, I can go back again with Bryant and see everything. I think he’s going to love it, and he’s the one with Scottish ancestry. I found this serendipitous book at the library in Lund called “111 places in Edinburgh that you shouldn’t miss” so we will have plenty to do.

We packed in so much during 3 days that I can’t fit it all in one post so here are some highlights from Edinburgh proper… Old Town, New Town, The Royal Mile and the area around our hotel which ended up being amazingly convenient with a bus stop right in front, on a route that took us directly to the center of everything. The people were extremely friendly and helpful, though accents were a bit of a bother and we had some fun trying to communicate. Folks on the bus or street often wanted to chat and that’s how we learned what was going on with the Royal Processions, transportation cancellations, street closures etc. We were a bit slow on the uptake, not realizing what a big deal the Queen’s passing would be for Edinburgh. At one point we were “trapped” in a small area near the procession route, unable to cross in any direction. That’s when we tried haggis, neeps and tatties washed down with a local ale and followed by a leisurely afternoon tea at another restaurant in the closure zone. Not a bad way to pass the time considering that the crowd was so dense that we didn’t stand a chance of actually seeing much.

The Queen’s image was EVERYWHERE

The vibe in Edinburgh was certainly different due to the royal events. It seemed like every shop, and public space had some sort of tribute, some quite elaborate, to the queen. Some shops had signs indicating that the muzak was specially chosen to convey sympathy or otherwise demonstrate respect, solidarity or solemnity. Another strange happening was the seemingly unannounced minute of silence at the airport while we were in the middle of security. An intense Brit literally shushed us!!! While only one guy, as far as I could see, chose not to cooperate. He went boldly on his way without pausing. I felt a tad rebellious about being compelled to honor the queen, but I didn’t have the nerve to do anything different.

Dean Village and the river Leith
Dean Village and the Water of Leith
Armchair books, the national library and University

On the last morning we got up early to catch the sunrise over the Firth of Forth which is a fjord and estuary or “firth” where several rivers meet the North Sea. Our hotel was a 20 minute walk from Portobello Beach. Again we really lucked out on the weather!

View over the Firth of Forth

Because the weather was so perfect, we focused on nearby outdoor attractions such as Calton Hill, Dean Village and the Royal Botanic Garden. We even managed to squeeze in High Tea of salmon dill sandwiches and cream scones. The whiskey tea had a wonderful aroma, being barrel-aged in a whiskey cask.

A weekend in Amsterdam

My first visit to the Venice of the North wrapped up this morning with an early return flight to Copenhagen and then train to Lund. I missed the first half of Swedish class after all.

Stephanie, an adventurous friend I met at International Citizens Hub walks, invited me to sub-in for her travel companion who was not able to go on this trip at the last minute. I decided to take advantage of an opportunity that required very little on my part, and we had a blast seeing the canals and museums of this laid-back city. It was easy to navigate, with tons of good food options, museums and shops. It was hard to choose just a few to explore but we were quite happy with everything we did! The canals were much more elaborate than I imagined, and we spent leisurely hours strolling around admiring the views, with frequent fika and meal breaks. We had some great recommendations from Bryant’s Dutch colleagues and friends who know the city. One of my favorite foods was Bitterballen. They are similar to Spanish croquetas. YUM

Some nice restaurants were Bird Thai, De Haven Van Texel, which was right on the canal in a historic building, and some fantastic little sandwich, brunch and bakery stops! We enjoyed some local cheese chocolates from the grocery store, which is an experience itself.

The canal houses are fascinating. Many of them are super narrow because they were built in an era when structures were taxed by their width. There is a weekend in June when many homes and their odd gardens are open to visitors. That would be a treat!

I was tickled to find out that Miffy the Bunny is Dutch and had to hold myself back from buying every variation in a fever of nostalgia. And now the Miffy theme song is stuck in my head…

There are so many museums! We saw 2 of the most famous, Rijks and Van Gogh, plus the Van Loon (where the Obama family dined a few years ago on their visit to Amsterdam) Maybe we should have chosen the history museum rather than the Van Loon, but it was one of the impressive canal houses so I really wanted to see it, and it was interesting. Also small, which was a plus, since by that time we were quite tired having walked 46,000 steps in the first 2 days!

Pictured above we have the Narrowest Street, the film museum eye where Stephanie set up a remote shot, the station underpass with a Delft tile ship scene, the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum from Vondelpark and JenJill in the Van Loon garden. The rest of my photos are not downloading so I’ll post a few more later. Now I have lots of catching up to do for my Swedish class. Finals next week. Oj oj oj, fy fan! But it was worth it.

Racing toward summer!

Every year, time seems to accelerate as Spring arrives, and this year is no exception.

Valborg already seems like a distant memory and I never got around to posting about it! The crowd of 30 thousand people never materialized but the idea might have been enough to keep some folks away- in the end 20 to 25 thousand people attended over the course of the entire day. We passed by the city park twice during the day just to see what was happening. Then Bryant and the kids lost interest before the main event! So I met up with a friend for the final concert and bonfire. I enjoyed the Prince medley in particular and had a nice view in spite of the crowd.

With level 3 Swedish written exam completed I took some time to enjoy the nice weather and lunch at the Skissernas (Museum of Sketches)

We had lunch at the avant- garde restaurant and then explored their collection of “Artistic Process and Public Art”. It was really fun to see the kinds of sketches and smaller scale process works created prior to the final projects of some famous artists such as Henri Matisse, Diego Rivera, Siquieros, Christo and Jeanne- Claude.

Also this week I managed my first authentic, all in Swedish webinar about Hedgehogs, how they are at risk and how to help them.

Our firstborn is making plans with friends for a summer tour of universities in the UK. We met with the other families today to discuss and approve the plans over fika, green tea, Chinese sunflower seeds, which are jumbo sized seeds boiled in seasoned water, then roasted, along with the usual fika treats. A nice afternoon!

Roma

Bryant and I coordinated on our posts about the latest family trip and found it challenging to summarize, but here’s what we’ve got so far!

We wanted to go someplace warmer for winter break, and chose Rome. It was an easy 2+ hour flight from CPH, and we had never been there before. We thought it might be less crowded than usual, though we didn’t anticipate the headaches of new covid restrictions. Luckily we managed to get Vaccine Passports and it seemed like the kids would be OK with their US vax cards. We didn’t realize that those would be invalid 6 months from the second dose so it was super lucky that we returned on Jan. 3 because their cards expired on Jan. 6 (by Italian rules) Sweden isn’t even offering boosters to under 18s yet so we might not be able to travel far for Spring break.

Anyway, we booked flights for an 8 day visit, and nabbed an AirBnB in the historic center of Rome in a cool old building in a neighborhood dating mostly from the 1500 and 1600s.  Here are a couple of pics of the place and a map its nice central location near Castel Sant Angelo.

We were so satisfied with our Tours By Locals experience in Athens that we went for it again. We found a guide with a good profile and asked him to help us out with seeing the key things in Rome. We ended up doing 3 half days – Ancient Rome (Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum), Villa Borghese, and the Vatican (art galleries and Sistine Chapel) along with Castel Sant’Angelo.  Each outing, Ennio showed us around, told us all about the history and culture of the place, and stories about the art and artists. Seriously great way to immerse in Rome! 

We did a little walking around on our own and saw the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.

We also really liked the food tour we did in Athens, so we looked to repeat it in Rome. We had a great guide (Chiara) who took us around to lots of little places for great samples – aperativos, great cheese and salami sampler, Roman pizza, Michelin-starred Pasta Carbonara, and tiramisu. All really good. It was a little rainy in the evening, but not so bad and we only needed the umbrella a couple of times. 

On one day that we had to ourselves, we did a little self-guided walking tour, from the apartment to the Passeggiata del Gianicolo with pretty amazing overlooks of the city, in to the Trastevere neighborhood for a snack and a view of a church with a really cool mosaic, across the bridge to the island in the Tiber (world’s smallest inhabited island) and then finally to the Jewish neighborhood, where we ate overlooking the Portico di Ottavia, and back to the left bank of the river.

The weather was pretty good and in spite of the clouds, it was significantly lighter. An additional 2.5 hours of daylight made a big difference. Sites were busy but not overly crowded and the nightlife was vibrant but not crazy. Our location was remarkably quiet except for the birds (gulls?) and city sounds like the occasional ambulance or recycling glass sounds, no big parties or crowd noise. The trucks were sooo tiny, even compared to the small vehicles in Sweden.

Amalfi

After 4 days, we had plenty of Rome, and wanted to see something a bit different. So we booked a hotel on the Amalfi coast in the town of Amalfi. The town was full of tunnels and hidden staircases and passageways carved out of or through the hillside. Hotel Luna was a 13th century convent founded by St Francis of Assisi, and then converted to a hotel around 1818. Apparently it also was the place that Ibsen wrote the Birdcage, and Wagner wrote some operas and was very popular with famous creative types and VIPs such as Sweden’s King Gustav VI. It was a very cool place (stunning Moresque tiles and architecture) but the advertised pool and beach were closed for the season (which was not disclosed on the Booking page for the place …). 

From Rome, we took a train to Salerno (saw Mt Vesuvius from the train), and then a shuttle to Amalfi.  The coast road is REALLY twisty, and we saw a lot of cyclists of all kinds enjoying the curves and the scenery.  Unfortunately, the curves from the back seat of a van made for some pretty motion-sick people!  H was really sick on the way to the hotel, and I was pretty bad on the way back.  Which was a little unfortunate because the scenery was AMAZING.  The sea, the little villages, the steep cliffs, and the lemon orchards were super-picturesque.

The day we arrived was New Years Eve, so we signed up for the NYE prix fixe dinner there. It turned out to be an 8 course monster where 2 courses would have been a full meal. It started at 8 and finished at midnight when everybody got a bottle of bubbly to pop at the same time for a toast.  The kids made it to 10:30, but then had to bail out.  Jen and I stuck it out.  There was some cool music as well – a trio of musicians and singers that played and sang all night.  We took a bit of video here. 

O Sole Mio sung by an actual singer in an actual Italian hotel.

Breakfast was tasty and coffee in the medieval cloister courtyard was pretty nice too!

On New Years Day, we took a taxi up to the clifftop town of Ravello and enjoyed visiting the grounds and museum at Villa Rufolo. 

We had a snack at a little bar on the town square to fortify ourselves for the walk back down to Amalfi.  We had heard about this route that was over a thousand stairs, and figured, as long as we were going down, it cannot be too hard, right?  Well, it was pretty remote and sketchy in a few places, but it was clearly the path as we passed (and followed) a number of signs.

We finally made it back to Amalfi and had a bit of a lie-down, as we all had sore feet. For dinner, we had booked a table online at a place that turned out not to be open (kind of a flaw of the system to let you book for a closed restaurant …) but it was a really happy mistake as we were able to squeeze in at La Gemma, established 1872, which turned out to be the best food of the entire trip.  Amazing pasta, risotto, bread, wine, dessert, the works!  In a super-cute little setting and great staff.

We gathered lots of sea glass, tumbled rocks and tile fragments from the stony beach, but the water was a bit cold for swimming. The last morning in Amalfi was about getting back to Rome, and included the twisty, sickening van ride, and then a train trip that was already longer due to being unable to book on the fast train and then waiting for the ambulance for a sick passenger. Sigh. We ended up back in Rome about an hour later than planned, hungry and frazzled. But lo, what did we find in the Roma Termini? Five Guys? Greasy American burgers in the train station? Sign us up! It was just like in the US except for the pickles, which were not as good.

Our last night in Rome was pretty chill – a bit of shopping for H to pick out a birthday outfit and then packing/cleaning for our return flight to Sweden via CPH, no testing needed and the flight left 20 minutes early!

Andra Julen i Sverige

Our second Christmas in Sweden. How time flies! We had more concerts, parties and events this year before new Omicron restrictions kicked in. On Monday I went to a concert at Lunds Domkyrka with traditional music of the season, including Lucia songs, ambient Celtic style vocals performed in the dark, acapella, candle light processional with chanting, and then more traditional music accompanied at times by harp, flute, organ, and other instruments. It was especially enchanting/ spooky in the dark with only the light from 4 advent candles and those carried by the singers. Later in the week we gathered with the group from Minnesota at one of the Malmo locations. The MN meets Sweden theme for drinks and appetizers was very clever and tasty.

The weather certainly has been colder and snowier than last year which made for some pretty snow covered scenery and lighter night skies …and slippery sidewalks. These have been some of the shortest days of the year at only 7 hours (most of which are cloudy) and we are looking forward to more light. But the dark doesn’t stop most people from enjoying the season. Kids play at the park, folks are out shopping, skating etc, in the dark, and the VinterLund programs in the center are still crowded most of the time.

We did our annual X-mas Eve bookstore visit in Lund just before closing, and it was pleasantly empty, with just a few customers and no lines.

Then home for duck confit, sweet potatoes, green beans and mushrooms, with Passionfruit Pavlova for dessert. Santa was very generous and everyone had some nice surprises, including JenJill who enjoyed her new sled. We haven’t found a snowy hill of the correct scale yet but here she is in the courtyard testing out her sled.

the younger one was done

Tonight we journeyed to Malmo to get our pre-flight covid tests. We enjoyed dinner out at a fabulous Lebanese restaurant, Occo, and then finished our packing. Hopefully travel to Rome will be smooth. It might be hard adjusting to full time N95 masks, even outdoors, but at least we are able to go. I feel like there is so much more to document about this week, but now it’s quite late so I must get to bed. Wishing you all a lovely, healthy holiday!

GOD JUL!

Julbord, Jul Dance Show

Last week we enjoyed a hike around the castle grounds followed by a Julbord (christmas buffet) with friends from MN. Check out Melissa’s blog for more about this fun afternoon!

After the Julbord, we drove in search of a Cut Your Own Tree Farm per request of the younger Noiceling. The older one was home recovering from a cough. Unfortunately it was rather difficult to find, and by the time we arrived it was pretty dark. So after looking around a bit we settled on a pre-cut tree. Now we know how to find the farm next year.

The youngest had a Jul NY Dance Show at Lunds Stadsteater. We were all surprised by how big and elaborate the show/venue was, so it was quite impressive that she was able to get past some significant stage fright and lead her small group in their two dances. She didn’t want pictures posted and we weren’t sure about the dance school photography policy, but a Swedish band provided some musical entertainment and made it clear that we should post about their music. So I only have a few pictures of the two hour extravaganza. The band was called PARi and they have some songs on Spotify. Some of the dance school students were their backup dancers. I’m guessing they are Melodifestivalen hopefuls!

We’re so proud that our kid pushed through the fear and supported her team. And the performance was fantastic. She got a big confidence boost out of the whole stressful event and intends to enroll again. I hope she doesn’t choose the pole dancing class. I’m not kidding. Those kids were amazingly strong and graceful, but I’m not ready to be the mom-in-the-audience for that part of the show, lol.

Before the 2 hour Show

Everything Jul except the weather! More photos from our walking and hiking. Open house in the neighborhood allotment colony, and the strand near Bjärred. The cloudy-meets-clear sky made for some interesting views. Lower left is the same apple tree from before.

After a nice hike out to see the swans…the immature mute swans being pushed around by some adults. They would bop them on the behind with their beaks and shove them! …Bry and I stopped for lunch at the former train station (1901-1938) with original floors and beams, beautifully refinished. Very good food. I had cod in mustard sauce, one of those Swedish things that I have grown to love. Also the Christmas rice pudding, which I have at every opportunity. I think Golden Grove Goods citrus marmalade would work well as a short cut to this dessert!

Femtioett

Since we recently returned from Athens where we maxed out our children’s travel energy and goodwill, I knew that my 51st birthday wishes should be modest when it came to their involvement.

My own celebrations started early in the week with a trip to Malmo to see Melissa and try out the Chocolate “Tea” menu at Peter Beier Chokolade. By the time I arrived after missing my intended train, it wasn’t really Fika time so we went to lunch instead, at my favorite Vietnamese place. Then we returned to PB where she treated me to chocolates and coffee for my birthday. And we managed a full afternoon of walking and shopping!

The IKEA cabinet that I’ve been wanting for years, is now back in stock! The stars aligned, and Bryant and the kids got it all set up for me to display my future knitting and craft projects. Now my yarn stash is elevated to art, and I can enjoy it without any feelings of guilt (for buying more yarns). What could be better for my birthday! Passionfruit is in season (I love it in yogurt, or salad dressing, or any dessert, but especially with chocolate) and I have been indulging in more ambient lighting with timers. And for the ones that do not have timers, IKEA has a new Smart System that Bryant will install for me to enable lights go on and off automatically and with dimming options!

My birthday weekend continued with a short visit to the history museum and fika with friends, and then dinner out at a nice restaurant in Lund. And Bryant willingly DROVE so that I could wear fancy shoes and not have to walk home in the dark chill of November. That means he couldn’t enjoy more than a few sips of alcohol and had to deal with city parking (we actually discovered a great place to park for cheap on the north side!) so this was a special treat. Then the big finale on Sunday, High Tea at the Grand Hotel! Though my British friends did not recommend it for the tea menu, I was satisfied with the novelty and tradition of the event. True, the scones were not the best, but good company and the Grand Hotel vibe made it a beautiful afternoon. It happened to be Father’s Day as well, so we didn’t get the private tea room I had reserved due to staffing issues, which in the end didn’t make much difference. There was a nice selection of sweet and savory tea goodies, and we had a lovely time.

Athens

Our first European travel since moving to Sweden (other than Copenhagen) finally came together this week as we spent 3 days exploring Athens. The trip was short and sweet, focused on the historic sites of the ancient city. The flight was an easy 3 hour non-stop hop from CPH.

We started strong with a food tour by Julia Pant, a local guide whose grandfather ran a butcher shop in the central market for many years. We tasted our way through the market … olives, fish soup, souvlaki! Then on to Julia’s shop where she showed us how to make tzatziki, and a tomato-feta appetizer with some of the very last fresh tomatoes of the season. We enjoyed local wines and yogurt sour cherry dessert. After a shot of rakia to “warm us up” we headed off again to a fish restaurant where we tried a creamy fava (yellow pea) lemon dip with chickpeas, giant white beans, calamari and fresh fried whole anchovies and fresh local grapes. Julia said the girls were some of her most adventurous eaters and the only American kids who tried everything including the anchovies (which they loved). And we all loved everything, except that we were very over full. Luckily we were able to walk it off through the Plaka neighborhood before bed. It was a fun evening with “Ioulia and Yiorgos” and the couple from the Netherlands who shared our tour.

Sleep, however, was hard due to the traffic outside our hotel. Cars and scooters/motorcycles ran basically all night out the window. Next time we’ll check on the room details because I’m sure the ones on the opposite side were much quieter. But the location was perfect for access to the places we wanted to see. We used earplugs and white noise and slept fairly well since we were pretty tired!

I remembered JenJill! Here she is at one of many churches dedicated to Saint Sophia/ goddess of wisdom. Here we discovered that we are not allowed to take photos of JenJill because it would violate the rules around commercial photography and she might be confiscated by guards. Horrors! So we were very careful during the rest of our visit, taking covert shots, even though it’s not fair to poor JenJill. We guess “influencers” have ruined our fun by abusing famous sites for product placement. At least JenJill was able to pose uninhibitedly and wave to her very own wise Sophia before we were informed of this rule.

The second day was a customised walking tour with Ioanna (who was awesome and we fully recommend). We told her how long we had and what we would like to see, and she took care of the rest.

We started with the Acropolis and the Parthenon (along with the rest of the temples on the hill). It was amazing to learn all the history and it really struck Bryant how complicated the histories of things can be. For example, the Parthenon housed a christian church and a mosque at different times, as well has having been the subject of canon fire from a Venetian invasion! Here are our favourite shots from the Acropolis.

After a delicious lunch, the afternoon was all about the Acropolis Museum. Most of the amazing sculpture is not kept on the site of the temple, but rather in a very modern and nice museum next to it. You can see it as the modern black/glass rectangle in the picture of the Theater of Dionysus above. While there is a lot of the sculpture and art in Athens to look at, much of it was “taken” (however you choose to interpret that) by Earl Elgin and sits in the British Museum (where we have seen them as well). Read more here. The art and guiding by Ioanna was amazing, and the process of walking through the long history of the place was awesome, and exhausting. But, we got a couple of snaps of the art in the museum.

After the Acropolis Museum, we made our final stop for the day at the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture started a restoration project on it this year, so there is a bunch of scaffolding blocking it. Most of it is (obviously) collapsed, although it was huge when it was originally built. Hadrian’s arch is interesting as it was a gift from Athens to the Roman emperor Hadrian, as they were co-existing with the Roman occupation pretty well, and (ever diplomatic) they decided to show their appreciation for him not destroying the city. On the side facing the Roman area it reads “the city of Hadrian” and the other side (facing the Athenian area) reads “the city of Theseus”. The marble roof portion was interesting to Bryant. Because they started with wood in their building, they used big nails to hold it together. The rectangular decoration on the roof was simply that they were keeping the look of the nail heads, even after they had moved on to marble as the material.

Finally, we let Ioanna go, and we had dinner at a super-cool patio in the Plaka.

The next day we started at the main Athens Museum of Archeology. LOTS to see in this collection, and Ioanna led us thru the history, connecting it to the stories of Homer and the actual archeological artefacts that connect to it. Interestingly, there were many bronze statues made, but few survive as the Roman’s melted them down for the material.

We rounded out the day with Ioanna at the Roman Agora, the Temple of Haifestus, and Hadrian’s Library. There is too much to talk about so, here are some interesting snaps from the day.

Dinner ended up being a little light, and we were all really wiped out!

The next day was the last day, but we still squeezed in the original Olympic stadium (all solid marble!) with some fun geometric pictures and a hall with the torches! And then the Lyceum of Aristotle. Nothing like walking around the first western university! Finally, we walked back to the hotel thru the city gardens, and passed some more excavations. This city is amazing for how the ancient and the modern are right on top of each other!

And then it was time to head home. A jam-packed trip, but we did our best to see Athens. Next up, Rome!

On the mend

Lily and I rode the train to Malmö for her Handkirurgi appointment. The hand specialist said the cast could come off- she can use a velcro wrap for a few weeks until it stops hurting and moves easily.Then we stopped in our old Hyllie neighborhood to have lunch at her favorite place from those weeks we spent near Emporia Mall. They have tightened up covid restrictions since then, so we had to eat at separate tables 10 feet apart!

Hyllie water park is known to have one of the best cherry blossom displays in Skåne. We checked it out, but it’s just started to turn pink. Skåne is about 3 weeks behind its average Spring. This photo was taken through the wind blown waterfall. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to stop by again.

This Good Boy entertained us on the train back to Lund

We enjoyed another stroll on Plommonvägen, still holding its blossoms in spite of wind and hail last night! Here’s Lily at the intersection of Plum and Cherry. Last weekend we went hiking at Cherry Dale but the blossoms hadn’t started.

Körsbärsdalen (Cherry Dale) meadow is supposed to be showy in spring.

The stage coach hotel stop from 1666 now features outdoor brunch in Dalby, on the way to Körsbärsdalen, just a few miles outside Lund. The bike trail from our house should be an easy ride.

And the parks have been really pretty with all the spring color.

And this is the last year EVER for the skunk cabbage! It’s been declared invasive (even though this yellow variety doesn’t seem to be) so it must be removed from the botanic garden. They’re letting it flower for the final time since it was added to the collection in the 1860s.