Our Date On The Island of Långholmen in Stockholm, Sweden

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We visited Stockholm March of last year (when I made the Queen of Sweden smile and met Camilla Parker-Bowles at the Vasa Museum).  Some places March means spring, it doesn’t in Sweden.  We decided we had to go back to enjoy the city and the nearby archipelago in summer. We chose wisely.  It was a fantastic trip.  We stayed in the Södermalm neighborhood in a boat on the Riddarfjärden, a bay of Lake Mälaren in central Stockholm.  We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening picnicking and walking around the island of  Långholmen.

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Långholmen, the long island, was rocky and barren until 18th century prison inmates covered the island with mud dredged from the surrounding waterways.  It undoubtably made the waterways deeper and more easily navigable for larger vessels.  It also had the effect of providing fertile soil.  When things start growing, leaves drop, providing more organic matter for plants.  Before long, the island was lush retreat.  Trade and merchant ships introduced of exotic seeds, making its vegetation unique.  As a result, it is a popular place for walks, picnics and a cold dip in the lake.

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We trekked around the island passing a few people walking their dogs, people singing with guitars, a group of teenagers escaping their families apartments, boatbuilders, several rabbits and even a handful of kayakers.  We enjoyed this view of Kungsholmen (complete with a beach bar) on our picnic.  It was so peaceful.

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At the Stockholm Water Festival in 1993, a JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft crashed on Långholmen. It caught fire but the pilot ejected successfully.  Thankfully, no one was killed and only one injury in the large crowd of spectators.  We happened upon Thomas Qvarsebo‘s stainless steel sculpture commemorating the incident.  It is paper plane with its nose drilled into the ground.  It was so striking that I took a picture and looked up what it was later.

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Boats are everywhere.  Although the Swede’s love worshipping the sun, the climate requires a cabin.  The classic wooden boats looked like a great way to experience the country.  If someone’s rented one for a day, I’d love to hear about it.

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The walk from Södermalm along the Riddarfjärden was fascinating.  Many of the larger boats were homes or hotels!  By the way, the former Långholmen Prison is now a hotel and hostel, complete with a restaurant and pub.  If we hadn’t found unique boat accommodations, we probably would have stayed there.

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We had great views of the city towards Stadhuset and Gamla Stan.  This is the
giant Västerbron bridge that links Södermalm to Kungsholmen.

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Pilanesberg

Pilanesburg Game Reserve is different from the rest of the area because it was made from a volcano millions of years ago.  While in the park, you only notice its incredible beauty.  From the air, you can see its volcanic origins. 
Unlike Kruger, Pilanesburg has only been open since 1979.  It is known for it’s natural beauty.  We spent a day driving through the park looking at wildlife.  I wrote about seeing lions up close, but we saw lots of other animals too.  The elephants were a favorite.  The are massive animals, but they aren’t gruff.  Their depth of feeling is immediately apparent.  We saw a few solitary males.
How did we find the elephants?  When we drove around, our guide looked for signs of them.  The park’s big, so seeing them was not guaranteed.  We saw big piles of fresh poo, indicating elephants are nearby (notice the dung beetles in the pictures below).  If you want to feel better about you job, dung beetles spend their days pushing giant balls of poo all over, including up hills.

Although they usually just stood there, I took a lot of pictures of the wildebeests because they look so striking.  We usually saw them in large groups.  You can see them playing follow the leader in one of the photos below.
Even when we didn’t see animals, we enjoyed the park’s amazing natural beauty.
We’d already seen giraffes at Bongwe and found them enchanting.  They were also favorites at Pilansberg.  Their personalities were delightful.  They were curious, social, engaging and a bit coy.
Zebras were everywhere.  At first, we took pictures of each one we saw.  By the end, we’d seen so many that we didn’t reach for the camera and joked about them being a buffet for other animals.  They are the only animal related to the horse that has never been domesticated.
How can you not fall in love with a baby Zebra?
This Rhino was pretty entertaining.  I wish I’d gotten him on video.  He walked over and rubbed himself all over a giant rock (The rock is at 10:00 in relation to Mr. Rhino).  Seeing animals interact with their surroundings in such a natural way was one of the big highlights of the day.

We heard all about how many rhinos are killed every year by hunters (for their heads an tusks) and the severe problems this presents for the survival of the species.  When we were in at Cabela’s in the US, I felt entirely differently about the owner after I saw a photo of him with the rhino he’d killed.

The hippos were surprisingly graceful for their size.  If you look closely, you can see the babies.  Even the babies were enormous.
The ostrich was entertaining, really funny and got close to our car.  He was not afraid.  If he had been, he could have run quite fast.   Their eggs are enormous and are sometimes decorated as souvenirs.
We loved seeing the baby warthogs.  Our guide told us that they were probably no more than two weeks old!
Not surprisingly in such a beautiful natural preserve, you saw lots of birds.  They had a covered pavilion by the pond/watering hole that would be a perfect place for birdwatching.
Pilansberg ruined zoos for us.  Seeing the animals just doesn’t compare to seeing them in their natural habitat.  There, you can really start to see their characteristics and personalities.  I think we just added “safari” to our bucket list.

 

Las Aventuras De Los Gringos En Madrid

Last weekend, we met our friends, Boris and Natasha, in Madrid.  We did a walking tour from Rick Steves‘ book.
 
Boris and Natasha (names were changed to protect the not so innocent)
We started at Puerta del Sol.  The building below was Franco’s headquarters and people tried to escape from questioning by jumping.  Others claimed to have been thrown from the windows.
The square is also the place where Napoleon’s troops shot Spanish protestors that was commemorated in Goya‘s painting, The Third of May.
The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showi...

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon’s troops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days, it is a hugely popular public area where the biggest dangers were the huge lines to buy lottery tickets for the big drawing (the king won once) and the hordes of fashionistas at Topshop.
The guard’s hats are flat in the back so they can lean their head against the wall while smoking.  He says they wouldn’t catch anyone in a footchase.
Reading that page in the guidebook was so exhausting that we had to stop for sustenance…at a confiteria.
Sorry, they were so good that I we dug in before taking a picture.
We walked to Plaza Mayor,  a huge public space that was used for bullfighting, royal showboating, the Inquisition and its subsequent “bonfires”.  We saw it filled with a Christmas market.
We needed a cafe con leche, so we popped into a cafe.  They came with churros, so of course we had to eat them.  Properly fortified, we were ready to hit the market (Mercado de San Miguel).
Stuffed as we were, walking through was enough to make us hungry.  The food was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
We went to a convent and bought some cookies (we didn’t intend for it to be a food tour even though it clearly turned into one).
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In 1906 there was a royal wedding procession past this spot. Someone threw a bomb along with the flowers. It killed 23. The statute below memorizes the dead.
Madrid’s Cathedral
The Royal Palace
Madrid is a really beautiful city.  We whiled away the afternoon strolling public squares, grand promenades and wonderful Retiro Park.
 
Un poquito Espagnol will get you a long way in Madrid.  I was delighted to realize I learned some by osmosis in the US.
 

It Was So Nice, I Did It Twice!

I couldn’t let summer go by without getting in the lake (at Bains de Paquis). I have to pinch myself when I say this, but I get to see it every day! Sooner or later, I had to get in. It is fed with water from the Alps.  Luckily, I am a girl from the north.
 
The views were beautiful from the water and I did a cannonball off the platform above. In fact, I had such a good time in the lake that I did it again a couple of days later.  This time at Genève-Plage.*

I jumped off the lower platform a couple of times.  The top one was closed.  It will be mine! As you can see, it was a beautiful day.
*Bain des Pâquis is on the Right Bank, while the Genève-Plage is across the lake on the Left Bank.  Generally, the Left Bank, is considered a bit more genteel than the more bohemian, Right Bank’s Bain des Pâquis. They were both nice. To deliver the complete story to you, I feel obligated to try out some more swimming spots and report back.