Stockholm’s Archipelago

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Archipelago – ar·chi·pel·a·go. noun \ˌär-kə-ˈpe-lə-ˌgō,

  1. An expanse of water with many scattered islands
  2. group of islands

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There aren’t that many true archipelagos; Stockholm’s archipelago is the real deal.  It has more than 30,000 islands!  I guess it’s not all the surprising.  Stockholm itself is made up of 14 islands that are connected by 50 bridges on Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea.  It’s definitely a maritime city.  When we visited in March, I took a boat tour of the area, but it was too cold to really enjoy the outer islands in the Baltic.

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For Stockholm’s residents, the archipelago is a easy escape and their holiday retreat.  There’s an island for everyone.  Partiers, those looking for peace and quiet, sunbathers, woodsy hikers, campers, B&Bers, luxury hotel lovers…there’s an island for everyone. The archipelago is easily accessible via ferry.  There are two main ferry companies.  One with larger, faster boats (Cinderella Båtarna), the other (Waxholmsbolaget) with charming smaller boats that make it feel less like a commute and more like a pleasure cruise.

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We took the Waxholmsbolaget boat to Vaxholm.  The journey was half the fun.  The boats are adorable with wood interiors and brass details.  It’s the perfect place for a picnic.  We sat outside and watched the hustle and bustle recede.  I was worried about not hearing our stop.  The boat docks, people disembark and it pulls away with remarkable speed.  I shouldn’t have been, locals (who all speak great English) volunteered to let us know when we got close.

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The Cinderella boat back was larger and a bit faster, but didn’t have quite the charm.  My advice, take either one.  You can’t go wrong.

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Stockholm’s archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It consists of 20,000-50,000 islands off the coast of Sweden that offer a buffer to the Baltic Sea.  “Skärgården,” as the area is known to the Swedes, was formed by glaciers that carved out and deposited granite that protrudes from the water.  As a result, it is full of reefs and shallows The islands get progressively less rocky, sandier and smaller with fewer trees the further you get from Stockholm.

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Vaxholm  is an idyllic archipelago town with well-preserved wooden villas from the turn of the 19th century.  Everything about it says cottage cute. It has nice restaurants (especially if you like fresh fish), a wonderful bakery, charming cafés, and way cooler shopping than your average resort town.  I wanted to decorate with and wear things from just about every shop.

DSC_0234DSC_0247DSC_0232Although you can rent bikes, we spent an afternoon doing a big walking tour of the area.  There are plenty of trails, sidewalks and quiet streets.  We tried to get away from the business district to get a look at how people live there.  Even without the cute shops, restaurants and hotels, it was very picturesque.  I loved the brightly colored houses and cute gardens.  We saw backyard meals, people walking their dogs, mowing their lawns and cleaning out their garages.

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The have a decent sized marina and with the essential nearby farm stand and ice-cream stand.  Across the narrow strait is the historic Vaxholm Fortress.  From the shore, you can see several small islands with adorable but solitary houses and a dock.  Vauxholm is the last easily accessible place in the archipelago by car from Stockholm and is even accessible by bus.  In fact, it is the most populated archipelago town and people live there year-round.  Tiger Wood’s ex-wife Elin Nordegren grew up there.  Don’t worry through, there’s no hustle and bustle, it’s perfectly tranquil.

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Can We Talk?

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If your language were as pretty as French you would want to talk more too. I like French movies.  When compared to American movies, they tend to be much heavier on the dialogue.

The French love dialogue.  They also love a good argument and sometimes indulge in it just for fun.  They don’t need to have strong feelings on a subject in fact virulent emotion in such arguments is frowned upon.  Think of it more like intellectual debate.

People watch television news programs to see such debate.  These French talk shows almost always have 4 or more people in the discussion. More discussion, less point/counter point. In their minds, how can you have a meaningful discussion without fewer people?

In France (not in private Switzerland) such debate isn’t just left to television, intense discussion of politics, religion and current events occur during regularly, even during casual social encounters.  Be prepared to participate, but don’t be as emotional as they are on the Sunday morning round tables.  You’re expected to express and intellectual analysis, but not attempt to convert others to your way of thinking or get hot under the collar.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done.

P.S. If I could talk in French without a horrible American accent, I would never shut up.  Except perhaps to listen to other people say beautiful things in French. Oui, mon amour.

Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame

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One of the hardest parts of French is getting the genders straight.  French nouns are either masculine or feminine.  There’s no logical way to discern whether the noun is masculine or feline, you just have to memorize it.   Adjectives change to agree with the gender and number of the nouns they modify.  This means that most of them have four forms!

Traditionally, when you saw the name of a profession, you would immediately know whether the professional referred to was a man or a woman from the form of the noun.  It’s comparable to using the term policeman or policewoman (instead of police officer) in English.  In Switzerland, French is changing to make professions more gender neutral by standardizing the names.   The poster above reads “the times change the language changes too.”   It’s not the only way the French language is changing in Switzerland.

As a newcomer, you don’t want to make a faux pas or embarrass yourself.   Knowing the correct way to address people is part of this.  It is made a little easier by the Swiss custom of not using Miss.  That way, you don’t have to find out someone’s marital status refer to them appropriately.  All women, regardless of their marital status, use Mrs.   It’s a sign of respect…just call me Madame.

We Rocked The Boat – Our Boat Trip Up The Rhine

One of the Rhine’s most renowned sections is the Rhine Gorge in Germany (aka the Middle Rhine, Rhine Valley and Romantic Rhine). Technically, this area starts in Mainz and ends in Koblenz (that area is the stretch of the river designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site).   A boat trip down the Rhine is an excellent way to see the area’s magnificent landscape, towns, vineyards, castles and fortresses.   We’d heard that the stretch between Bingen and St. Goar (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was particularly beautiful.   It was.

It’s UNESCO World Heritage Site means that there are no bridges.

Castles + vineyards + valley = storybook cute   There are at least 30 castles in the 66 kilometer (41 mile) stretch from Rudesheim to Koblenz.   Why are there so many castles there?

The Rhine has been a major transport route since Roman times.  Where there is money, there are those that want a piece of it.  River barons built the castles to impose tolls on the river traffic by controlling their stretch of the river.  If boat captains didn’t pay the toll, they would be treated to “complimentary room and board” in a dungeon until they paid.

From the dock at Bingen, we could see something that looked like the Statue of Liberty.  We weren’t far off; it was Rüdesheim’s Niederwalddenkmal.  Built by Kaiser Wilhelm I from 1881-3, it commemorates the founding of the German Empire after the end of Franco-Prussian War.  Essentially, it sits near the French border and serves as a warning to France that they will get another whooping if they try to invade again (or at least that’s how it was explained to us).

The toll tower “Mäuseturm,” known as the Mouse Tower, was the first sight we saw from the boat.  The name comes from a legend in which the tower belonged to a cruel ruler who oppressed and exploited the local peasants. in his domain. During a famine, he refused to distribute any of the tower’s grain supplies to the starving peasants.   When they threatened to rebel, the ruler tricked them, telling them to wait in an empty barn for him to come with food. He ordered the doors barricaded and set fire to the barn, commenting “hear the mice squeak” (referring to their cries).  Returning to his castle, an army of mice began to swarm him.  He fled to the tower, they followed and ate him alive.  Yikes!

We barely had time to listen to the story before seeing our first ruin, the ruin of Ehrenfels Castle (Burgruine Ehrenfels).  The rapid succession continued for the rest of the trip.  Wow!  We were amazed.

Built in the early 1300’s on a strategic hilltop, is Burg Rheinstein.  Prince Frederick of Prussia bought the castle and rebuilt the castle in the 19th century.  Nearby the impressive medieval Burg Reichenstein is a now a modern hotel.

Burg Sooneck, also known as Saneck, Sonneck and Schloss Sonneck (click on the link to find out its relationship to Swiss history and the Battle of Sempach), was an infamous haunt of the river’s robber barons. The Crown Prince of Prussia, Frederick William IV, and his brothers Princes William, Charles, and Albert bought the completely derelict castle and rebuilt it as a hunting castle.

The tiny town of Niederheimbach has the 13th century Heimburg Castle and the little church called St. Mariae Himmelfahrt.

Lorch is a small town that has a lot for its size.  You can easily spot it’s church, Pfarrkirche St. Martin (Saint Martin’s Parish Church), from the water.  In the 18th century, the witch’s tower served as a sort of jail for wrongdoers and “witches”.  The Nollig ruins (Ruine Nollig on the Rheinsteig trail), overlook the town and are the remains of the old town fortifications on the rugged ridge.

Bachrach is over 1,000 years old, and I thought we were getting a little long in the tooth.  Just like the house of an octogenarian, it accumulated bits and bobs over time (the walkable city walls, 16 watchtowers, the picturesque “Malerwinkel”, the ruins of St. Werner’s Chapel).  Stahleck Castle (Burg Stahleck), one of the most photogenic castles, sits on a hill above.  It was destroyed by the French in 1689 and is now a youth hostel.  I’ve stuck him in some cheap hostels before, but never a nice one like this.

St. Saphorin

St. Saphorin, one of the towns in the Lavaux Vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is known for its white wine, terraced vineyards and its beauty. It is not false advertising.  This place is insanely beautiful.  They weren’t lying about the terraces or the wine either.  

Lots of things have to come together to make a town this cute.  They include: winding streets, gorgeous views of the lake and mountains,  stone buildings, cute decorations, adorable fountains, narrow alleys, Roman ruins and, of course, free wine.   

Winding streets? Check.
Gorgeous views of the lake and mountains? Hmmm.
Yeah, that’ll do.  Check.
Stone buildings?  Check.
Cute decorations? Check.
The cute decorations were everywhere.
Adorable fountain?  Check.
Narrow alleys?  Check.

St. Saphorin is built on a Roman site.  In the basement of the house where I grew up, there are canned goods, potatoes and onions.  In St. Saphorin, they have excavated Roman ruins in their crypt. 

Roman ruins?  Check.
Free wine?  Check.
The town was handing out free glasses of wine and bread sticks.   It was really good.   Okay, so free wine doesn’t actually make a town cute, but it doesn’t hurt either.   They receive bonus points for the bread sticks.

What Will I Learn Next Week in German Class?

Americans are not known for their facility with foreign languages. Yesterday, I reached a new low in my quest to learn other languages. I had my first German lesson…ever. My teacher is very nice, but was surprised to learn that I knew no German. He asked me if I knew any words in German. My head has been full of French lately and all I could pull out was auf Wiedersehen (thank you Heidi Klum and Project Runway). He said, “surely you must know other German words.” I have watched a movie or two in my day and promptly pulled out the German word for what you do in the bathroom. He laughed and promptly taught me how to turn it into a verb! I think we are off to a good start.