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.

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!

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!

Sofiero Castle in Helsingborg

was a summer royal palace, just across the Öresund from Denmark at the narrowest point. In the top picture below, the little darker grey rectangle is the castle at Helsingør Denmark, better known as Elsinore from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

King Oscar collected rhododendron from around the world and took advantage of the brook and ravine to establish unusual varieties.

While Margareta developed the rest of the grounds with many kinds of gardens, including an enchanted forest which made a nice photo op for Jen Jill.

One lovely, wooded section features “sounds” most naturally provided by birds and wind. The blackbirds cooperated astonishingly well by singing near their sign as if on cue.

A magical, musical soundtrack added another element to the sculpture garden. You can hear the violin music in the clip below, just complementing the rushing water of the creek.

Tjolöholms Slott

Built by the wife of a British-Swedish aristocrat, who died just after building began, this castle has a relatively short history. The Dickson’s wanted a horse farm close to their Gothenburg home. They hired an architect and began construction in 1894, on a stretch of rugged coast just south of Gothenburg. It was a working port and farm which employed over 100 people. Today the “workers village” accommodates visitors. This is where we stayed in Mor Amanda’s Stuga. Just below the estate’s church, conveniently located to make sure the villagers had no excuse for lack of attendance.

More soon about dinner at the castle and exploring the grounds!

Minneapolis Expats

Today we met up with a nice couple who moved here from Minneapolis. They’ve been in Malmö since October so we had a great time comparing notes on local amenities and our experiences with relocating. They are tons of fun and a great resource! They live near the Turning Torso. We walked through Stor Torget, which is also on the little map. The rides are a temporary summer thing. And the wind is so strong here I don’t think I’d ever risk the Ferris wheel! Hyllie is the second train stop out from Central Station. The red x is about where the library is, and Lilla Torg is a favorite for restaurants with covered outdoor seating, especially this week with all the rain predicted.

I’m finally getting around to finding some cash for the few things that require it. These are the first Kronor I’ve seen… the rate is about 10 sek to one dollar. So I need to find a store that takes cash in order to break down these bills. What I need are small coins of 5 or 10 kronor (crowns) for use in coin operated machines, for bathrooms and storage lockers, etc.

Cash is generally not used at all in Sweden. The intention is to eliminate coins and paper gradually. I think their currency is fun, though! They feature cultural icons rather than political figures. These are Greta Garbo and Birgit Nilsson with Jen-Jill.

Limhamn

Lily, Bry, and I rode to a nearby community on the coast. It was paved trail all the way so pretty easy. Next time we’ll bring swim gear and enjoy the water.

And here is the Øresund Bridge in the background. Denmark will open to our state (Skåne) on June 30, so maybe we’ll be able to see Copenhagen this summer.

Jen-Jill, gazing longingly toward Norway. I guess we’ll have to be content seeing Sweden and a bit of Denmark for this year.

Midsommar Celebration

We were lucky enough to be invited to a Midsommar party at a lovely private home in Södra Sandby, just outside Lund. The hosts live in a beautiful restored 1914 house with a large yard. And the weather was perfect, which we are told is not the norm. Someone mentioned that 2 of the last 6 years had good weather. That is usually part of the conversation, along with how the strawberry harvest is doing (not at its peak this year, but it will be a good one!)

The group was very inclusive, with people of different backgrounds and ages, with English as a common language, which made it easy for us to join in the fun. The kids met some peers who will most likely run in the same circles around Lund! They had a good time playing games, and chatting. And Lily loved their bunny, Jupiter, a cuddly little guy! There were enough kids to keep the party lively.

Jen-Jill got her own blommakronor so she could properly introduce the feast.

Many traditional foods were served, including a cheese pie, beet salad, and 5 kinds of herring, my favorite was in a creamy mustard sauce. It is the “baby” herring, suitable for the timid palate. The day-long feast was enjoyed by all and we are really grateful to Philipp and Anna for including us in their celebration!