Blondes In The Nordics

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I know, I know.  The blonde Swede is such a stereotype, but in the Nordics I couldn’t help notice there were a lot more blondes around.  I took a look around me on a boat.  This is what I saw.
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We Stormed The Kastell – Vaxholms Kastell Fortress

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For centuries, Vaxholm Fortress (Vaxholms Kastell) guarded a crucial entry route into Stockholm’s harbor.    King Gustav Vasa (yep, the same one who commissioned that famous ship) built a fortress here and filled in other waterways to ensure that this channel was the only way into and out of Stockholm.  He had good reason to strengthen his defenses.  In 1612, Christian IV of Denmark tried to invade.  Czar Peter the Great of Russia tried to invade in 1719.

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In the mid 19th century, they upgraded, well sort of.  Sweden tore down the old defenses and built a giant new granite fortress there.  Unfortunately for them, the technology of warfare advanced between the time the new fortress was designed and when it was completed some 30 years later.  In its first test, a shell (instead of the old technology of cannonballs) tore a hole in the wall.  The fortresses high guns couldn’t really reach the new style of lower design boats.  Oops.

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Since it couldn’t really serve as a bastion of defense, Vaxholm Fortress was used as a prison.  I don’t think I would have liked to be incarcerated here.  The citadel seemed a little cold and wet.  The uniform didn’t look particularly warm either.  Can you imagine spending a Swedish winter like that?

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In addition to covering pre-20th century history, the museum contains exhibits on its more recent uses.  During World War II, Sweden remained neutral but heightened its military preparedness by strengthening its defenses and drafting conscripts.  The Swedes placed mines in the nearby Sea of Åland.   Polish ORP RyśORP Żbik, and ORP Sęp submarine crews were detained in Vaxholm’s Citadel.

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The end of the Second World War in 1945 signaled the beginning of “Cold War.” Swedish military was  on high alert.  The USSR was as close as nearby Estonia and the Russians had come sniffing their way before.  The archipelago became important because it was a gateway into the country.   Vaxholm’s Kastell Fortress monitored the area.  The military stopped occupying it in 1993 and in 2000, the absence of an external enemy meant all stationary batteries were deactivated in Sweden.  Today, its museum has artifacts thoroughout its history, from royal times to the mines and radar.  The incredible setting makes it all the more interesting and it’s well worth a visit.

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One of the coolest things about it today is that in addition to functioning as a park, it contains a hotel.  The best part is that nothing is closed.  If you stay, you can wander around, picnic, sit on the ramparts with drink, enjoy the quiet and watch boats go by.  Since the rooms have no radio, TV, or internet, you might not have much else to do.

My Visit To Louisana And Why The Dane’s Might Be The World’s Nicest People

 

When we were in Denmark, I decided to go see Louisiana (not the state), a modern art museum about 45 minutes outside of Copenhagen.  I found the train station, purchased tickets and was off.   At the third stop, a creepy guy got on and sat across from me.  It wasn’t long before he was mumbling under his breath.  He tried out various inappropriate words in different languages to see which got a reaction from me.

He also stared and moaned disturbingly at the paper with pictures of Denmark’s new female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She’s an attractive lady, but c’mon it’s the prime minister. Show some respect.

When he realized I knew English, he continued in English.  There weren’t empty seats so, I ignored him and kept my nose in my book.  Eventually it was too much and I asked him to “please stop doing that and be quiet”.  He said “no English, no Danish”.  The liar.  He knew a plethora of choice English words; I’d just heard them.  I was so focused on looking at my book and ignoring him that I missed my stop!  Uh-oh.

I got off (so did he by the way – yuck) and tried to figure out what to do.  Luckily, there was a 7-11.  A 7-11?  Yes a 7-11, here they also serve as train stations/ticket agents in smaller towns.  A young woman was behind the counter.  I explained to her what had happened and was sure to note the words he had said about her newly elected prime minister while leafing through the paper.  She got someone to cover for her, took me to the conductor, explained what had happened and got me a free ride to the museum!  I couldn’t have been more grateful. Take my word for it, the Danes are nice. Unbelievably nice. When I saw the museum, I was blown away.  It was amazing.* *Everyone has his or her “things”. Modern art and Danish design are two of mine. I still think that anyone would be impressed by and enjoy this place.  It’s got a beautiful seaside setting, nice cafeteria and thought-provoking art.  If you take a guided tour (or can subtly follow one as I did), the guides do a great job of explaining what you are seeing and putting it in context.

 

Our Introduction To The European Football Championship 2012

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la ...

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la Eurocopa disputada en el año 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup).  Here, football/futball/soccer is huge.  People here are excited.  We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis.  We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games.  Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.

Meilleurs résultats Euro

Meilleurs résultats Euro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s how it works.  The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament.  Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section.  Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history.  The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans.  Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments.    To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup.  They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams.   It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships.  The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.

Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound.  Most offices have several pools.  Friends make informal bets.  It’s crazy.

In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners.  Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage.   Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games.  Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.

English: UEFA European Football Championship a...

English: UEFA European Football Championship appearances by country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries.  History also may play a role.  We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries.   Here are some of the rivalries:

This European  Cup has had a few controversies:

  • They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
  • Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
  • BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine.  It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
  • Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.

If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy.  Most tournament games air in the morning in America.

2011 By The Numbers

999      A conservative estimate on the number of times we have been lost (or at least taken wrong turns).

998      Pots of yummy, Swiss yogurt eaten.  I know that this number is a bit low.  We found the world’s best cottage cheese a couple of months in.  It definitely hurt our yogurt consumption.  We will try to do better next year.

45        The number of dollars paid in speeding tickets.  Astoundingly, we have gotten fewer tickets than anyone we know.  We were “lucky” enough to get ours in France so we paid it in Euros, much cheaper than tickets in CHF‘s.

40        Number (more or less) of cute pairs of heels in my closet here that have gone unworn due to large amounts of walking and heel eating cobblestones.   What has happened to me?

30        Roughly, the number of times I have been honked at while driving.  This works out to more or less one honk per drive.  Not too shabby.

17        Number of languages we can watch tv  in.  They are: French, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Mandarin and Thai.  Unfortunately, we can only understand 1 or  2 of these.

15       The approximate number of emails he receives when I post pictures of him in      “fashionable” attire.  I get calls saying “what did you post about me because my email is blowing up”.

13       British TV Shows viewed (don’t judge): Top GearGrand DesignsWallace and GromitSnog Marry AvoidTake Me OutHow Clean Is Your House (it is extremely motivational to put on while cleaning), Horrible HistoriesGok’s Fashion Fix/Gok’s Clothes RoadshowSherlock (fantastic, a must see), Doctor WhoJamie’s Great BritianTime TeamHistory of Ancient Britain (History of Britain is better).  We did not watch the royal wedding even though there is still excessive coverage of it on British TV.

12        Countries Visited: DenmarkSwedenSpainFranceEngland, Scotland  (him), Germany (him), Belgium (me), Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.

11        The number of hours our jet lagged, germ filled bodies slept upon returning to Switzerland (this was followed by several lengthy naps and another long night’s sleep).

10        Tours (KarlsburgBurgundyCheese FactoryCailler Chocolate Factory,  Underground LakeTour of LondonToledo, Cullian Diamond Mine, Nelson Mandela’s Home, Soweto, unsure if safari’s count as an official tour.

9         “Exotic” foods we have eaten: bugs (South Africa), pigeon (England), crocodile (South Africa), horse (at home purchased from the local grocery store), gelatinized foie gras (France – definitely worse than the bugs), ostrich (South Africa), snails (France, bien sur), wild boar (Switzerland), quail (Spain) and duck (France).

8          The number of times he has taken the wrong train, tram or bus to and/or home from work.

7          The approximate number of times I grocery shop in a week (this includes visits to the Patisserie to buy bread).  Before our move, I prided myself on being able to get by for almost two weeks on one shopping trip.  Now that I carry everything home (and therefore buy less at a time), look for sales all over and try to buy the freshest, I have septupled my trips. Craziness.

6(ish)   Fantastic, Unforgettable, Once in A Lifetime Hikes in Switzerland: Gruyeres Cheesemaker’s Path, La Salevethe MatterhornJungfrauLavaux, many around Geneva.

5         Meals eaten out at Geneva restaurants since we moved (due to their high cost and our unwillingness to bankrupt ourselves).

4          The number of snow tires that are currently on our car (also the number of regular tires currently in storage).  Anyone ever heard of all season tires?

3          Family members who have visited; also the number of times the washing machine repairman has visited our miniscule washer.

2          Dogs given away (and are very happy with their new families)

1          Bridge jumpaerobed destroyed, and container shipped to Switzerland.




 

Dinner in Malmö

 
Our last night in Copenhagen, we went to dinner in Malmö, Sweden.   To get there, we took Øresund Bridge. It is not just any bridge. At 7,845 meters (25,738 feet), it is Europe’s longest road and rail bridge (the rail is on a second level below the road) and a pretty impressive engineering feat. To keep shipping lanes unobstructed and avoid interference with planes from the nearby airport, the first portion of the bridge is a tunnel!
 
The tunnel

You emerge from the tunnel on an artificial island (created from the earth dug out for the tunnel).  From there, the suspension bridge starts.

Artificial island created from the earth excavated for the tunnel
The bridge from the island
View of the Øresund Strait from the backseat

The bridge made getting from Malmö to Copenhagen quick and easy (you can still take a ferry). It created a renaissance in Malmö and some people who live there commute to Copenhagen. Prior to that evening, my knowledge of Malmö was almost entirely derived from The Millennium Trilogy, sorry Sweden.


Beautiful landscape on the way to Malmö, it is traditionally an agricultural area. 
We had dinner in the Old Town. It was great to walk around the old streets and window shop. There were lots of very trendy looking people grabbing dinner and drinks outside.
We drove from Denmark to Sweden, ordered in English, ate Spanish Tapas and followed it with Italian espresso. Next time, we will try to be more international, but it’s definitely not a bridge to nowhere.

Padlocks of Love – “Luccheti d’Amore”

When we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, we walked across the Brygge Broen, a bicycle and pedestrain only bridge.  When I saw these locks, I had to stop and look. I’d read a story about padlocks from the Pont de l’Archevêché on the Seine in Paris. They disappeared in the middle of the night after the city of Paris said they were concerned about their effects on their architectural heritage. People were upset over their disappearance and the locks “magically” reappeared.
Although this custom has allegedly been around since before WWI, it has become much more widespread. An Italian book that was made into a movie Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) was released in 2006 featured the “Luccheti d’Amore”. In Italy, the movie became like Twilight in the U.S. increasing the padlock’s popularity. As the locations for and numbers of padlocks have risen, their notariety has grown. They are now widespread and getting media attention. Some are even listed in travel guides.

Other places where this occurrs include:

Some people decorate or write on theirs.  50 years!  Everyone should be so lucky.I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

Beer Tours – If You Want To Improve Yours, Just Ask Us?

We’ve had a beer or two on our day and have been on a few brewery tours. While we were in Copenhagen, we toured Carlsberg.
Carlsburg had several things going for it.  It has decent beer (sorry Heineken). It has a nice campus. It has a decent place to sit and drink your free beers.  One of the best parts of the tour was the Guinness (ironic) Book of Records certified world’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles (currently +/- 20,000). The other nice part was the history of the company and it’s role in Danish society.
Sorry, I couldn’t fit them all in. Not even close.
They have a copy of The Little Mermaid Statue. The family commissioned the one in the harbor.  You get to see a bunch of old machinery and, like the Budweiser tour, there are stables with horses (no horses in the stables on the Heineken tour).
 

Several things go into making a good tour.  We enjoy a tour and here are some easy ways to make a factory/product tour better:

  • Show funny old commercials. Even ones that the suits setting up the tour don’t think are funny.
  • Have a location with a view.  Look out over mountains, the sea, the city, even a garden. Guinness does a good job with this.  Their Gravity Bar has the best view of Dublin.
The second best part of the Guinness tour
  • Provide plenty of silly photo ops.
  • Try not to be as obvious about making it a giant commercial for your product. Yes, Guinness Tour I am talking to you. Miller, please pay attention as well.  World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, you might be a lost cause.
  • Have knowledgeable people who can actually answer questions about the product. Olde Mecklenburg, Thomas Creek and lots of American microbrews do this well.
  • If at all possible, try to show production.  We eat it up. I’m not sure if you can still do it, but you used to be able to do this at Yuengling and some of the Milwaukee breweries.