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Travelogue Slideshow by wayne rhodes

Scandinavia Prologue

 Tuesday June 7, 2022

Hij all. (Swedish for "Hello", though it is pronounced "Hey"!)

We're back! Actually....we are away, taking our first major trip since March, 2019. 

Since then, we considered blogging about our multiple home deliveries, house and garden projects, and favorite streamed TV shows (Ozark, The Good Place, Schmigadoon, Crash Landing for You ). But we quickly realized that most of our readers could write the same thing. So, we're off to Scandinavia for 2 weeks. Welcome aboard.

 As a reminder, travel with us with no hassle-- no masks (for you), no COVID testing, no airport delays, no early mornings, and no packing or unpacking. Just read and enjoy. 

Once again we are traveling with Tauck, and here is our itinerary:

Lots of ground to cover in 2 weeks!

The tour doesn't officially start until tomorrow. As usual, we got in a day early to avoid any travel snafus and to try to acclimate ourselves to the local time (7 hours ahead of Chicago). The passage was actually quite smooth. We left for O'Hare at noon Monday even though our flight wasn't until 3:50. When we landed in Zurich at 7am local, we were the ONLY people at Customs. Got through in literally 1 minute. Had plenty of time to make our connection to Stockholm. The Tauck driver was waiting right outside the door, and a 40 minute ride took us to the center of the city. During that whole time, NOT ONE PERSON asked about Covid or to see our vax cards. Conversely, the driver and the woman who checked us into the hotel made a point of telling us that Covid was in the past here. Hopefully they are correct.. "No rules."

After getting settled, we headed out at around 2:30 for a getting-to-know-you walk in Gamla Stan. This is an island (actually Stockholm is made up largely of islands and is one of a dozen cities known as "the Venice of the north"!), and is where the city was founded in 1252. As you would expect, it is full of cobblestoned streets (many very narrow), and old old buildings including a number of churches.

Many were blocked of from cars, but we did have to be watchful for bikes and scooters.

As on so many of our previous first-day excursions, it soon began to rain. But we were fully prepared with umbrellas and slickers. It was about 64, but being surrounded by water, pretty raw. The briskness, though helped us stay awake. And, as usual, many of the "must see" buildings had some form of scaffolding on them while undergoing repairs.

All of the buildings were old, but the ground floors were all retail establishments; a very touristy area. Souvenir shops, clothes stores, galleries, and food, food, food. We quickly learned another word: cream! And many other words were easily translatable.

We had picked up an area map at the hotel, but like so many medieval towns, Gamla Stan is very dense and the streets wind and go to several levels. So only the few major cross streets were marked on the map. It was easy to get lost, but also easy to reorient ourselves. 

We had been given a restaurant recommendation by a friend from a previous Tauck trip. We had to ask for directions from 3 different people, and even using GPS, we were still lucky that we finally stumbled across it.

Fem Sa Hus has been in business as a tavern and restaurant since 1694!! We timed ourselves to get there right when it opened at 5, so of course we were the first and only people there.

The menu featured traditional Swedish dishes. We weren't yet brave enough to try the moose carpaccio or fillet of reindeer, but our choices were still representative. Those of you who have traveled with us before know that we often rave about our meals. Well....this was no exception. Everything was very delicious and the service was 5 star.

After a basket of heavenly breads, we started with Toast Skagen with shrimps in mayonnaise, topped with roe.   

How do you say delicious in Swedish? It was smart to share!

Next, Nordic char with seasonal vegs, Sandfjord sauce and boiled potatoes for Wendy.......

Arctic char is kind of like salmon but more delicate.  The sauce was yum. The serving was at least 12 ounces worth--quite generous indeed according to our waitress. 

Wayne had Fillet of veal a la Anna Lindberg (the original owner) with morel sauce, red wine reduction and potato au gratin.

The veal was tender and flavorful, and the sauce was divine (way better than they look in the picture). The potatoes were also excellent.

And the dessert, Chocolate dessert with Italian merenque (sic) and raspberry coulis, was outstanding!

The "chocolate" part was a soft warm brownie. You can believe that we ate every bite! So much for reducing our sugar intake (and did we mention Wendy had her first Scandinavia donut tasting just an hour before dinner?) .

The meal give us some energy, but we were still pretty wasted from this long day. Then the 15 minute walk back to the hotel and Wayne fast asleep by 7:30.  zzzzzzzzzzz. Watch this space for more adventures on Wednesday and through the 20th. 




 Wednesday, June 8

Today started with a breakfast buffet.  We learned that the famous cardamom rolls (see below) are not breakfast fare (!) but that smoked mackerel and pate are (!!).  They had delicious croissants as well. 

The official tour does not begin until this evening, so in advance we had booked our own half-day walking tour guide, primarily for things Jewish related.

We headed out right over the same bridge and back into Gamla Stan. Having a guide was a lot easier and more informative than doing it on our own. All in all we walked 5.4 miles (not including a short subway ride).

Some things we learned along the way:

The name "Stockholm" comes from the logs (stokker; much like the English "stockade") which were put up around the original island (holm) to keep enemy ships from docking there. There was no explanation how their own ships would dock!

Health care is fully paid for, as is all education through university.

All schools start the same day and end the same day. That ending day happens to be this Friday, and it is apparently a big deal here for people finishing elementary and high school. All along the way we saw and heard students celebrating, honking horns in their cars or open-backed trucks, wearing white caps (which indicate they did well on final exams), and gathering for parties. Reminded us of the noisy gay pride parade in Vienna in 2012!

The subway system is called "the longest art gallery in the world". 

The station we went to was 33m below ground. Yikes!

The art work is different than in, say, Moscow. It is more of a social statement than pure decoration. Shown below is ceiling artwork--characterizing workers. 

Though there are many very old buildings, there are obviously some from succeeding centuries and architectural styles (though with a few exceptions, no building is over 4 stories; just like in Paris!).

Here is an example of late 19th-century ornamentation.

Sweden, Norway, and Denmark all use a krone (sometimes pronounced "crown") as currency, but all three are different. But everything's credit card here--so for the first time, we may not even secure any local currency (unlike past trips, we didn't secure any currency in advance). Times change! 


We stopped first at one of several memorials to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat posted in Hungary, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jewish lives during WWII.       

The briefcase represents his "day job". 

Next we went to the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, the largest of the 3 in the city. It was built around 1870 and considers itself progressive, with a female rabbi--though it's not officially part of the progressive movement. There are approximately 25,000 Jews in Sweden--making it the largest Jewish community in Scandinavia.  Like elsewhere, here in Sweden, affiliation rates are down (only 4,500 are affiliated in Stockholm).  Like everywhere, recent surges in antisemitism has made life for the Jewish community more precarious.

Truly magnificent!

The synagogue guide opened the ark for us. One of these Torahs is the original from when the building first opened.

At the entrance to the sanctuary is this sign:

It basically says "this is the only way you can make a telephone call during Shabbat"!!! The synagogue also had Lulav and Etrog holders (for Sukkot)--first time we'd seen those! 

Outside the temple is a memorial for the Holocaust. It contains the names of 8,000 victims (with the locations where they died) who were related to Jewish Swedes. Interspersed among the panels are black metal arcs of the Star of David. These symbolize the chimneys at the concentration camps. As in Jewish cemeteries, there were small stones placed by visitors- in memory of those who died. 

Another interesting component of the memorial was a brick pathway (bricks donated from Hungary) winding its way from the memorial (symbolizing the camps) the street and toward the river (symbolizing freedom).  

At the end of this brick path is another Wallenberg memorial.

This granite globe is about 1.2 m in height. On the side toward the bay, the stone bears the inscription Raoul Wallenberg. On the opposite side, leading to the Holocaust Monument, is inscribed the name Aaron Isaacs (the first Jew in Sweden). The globe contains the line: “The road was straight, when Jews were deported to death. The road was winding, dangerous and full of obstacles, when Jews were trying to escape from the murderers”. This sentence appears first in Swedish, followed by English and then in 22 languages, beginning with Polish, given that this is the language of the largest group of victims, followed by the other 20 languages of the countries from which the victims originated.

Next, we walked past the Government Building, where Parliament meets.

Sweden has basically the same type of constitutional monarchy as Great Britain. There is a king, but he does only ceremonial duties and has no actual power. 

Next, we went to the Jewish Museum, in the same building where the original synagogue (from 1795) was located. They did a fascinating job of repurposing the building with lots of explanation about the original Jewish community and the challenges with welcoming Jews in subsequent centuries (from Eastern Europe in particular). Highlights were the recently-renovated murals and the original pulpit. According to the promotional brochure, (the restored  building) "may be one of Europe's last surviving synagogues done in the German style." The museum guide shared that Sweden (because of its 200+ year old history of neutrality) was not at all involved in WWII--which means Jews were safe here. Indeed, he shared that Jews were evacuated here from Denmark during the war. 

When we started out it was a little chilly, but by now it had warmed up so that we were in shirt sleeves. We had also walked enough to work up a thirst and a taste for the Swedish specialty: kardemummabullar (cardamom buns). So our guide Eva took us for fika (coffee break) and pastry (we decided to pass on the pizza slices topped with tuna, but they sure looked tempting!)

Bulle means bun, and these were definitely first class. Kinda sticky and very tasty.

 Here is a recipe if you want to make your own. We sat outside overlooking the bay where the fresh water from the river meets the salt water from the Baltic Sea. 

Wendy and Eva

The last stop on our tour was at a beautiful overlook where we could see 3 of the 14 islands (and some of the 54 bridges) that make up Stockholm.

One of the islands features a large amusement park!

The 3-masted ship just to the left of center had a long useful life during the
19th century. Now it is used as a hostel!

The long walk back through the Old Town ended this excellent tour.

We rested for a while and then finally got to meet the group. This is our 12th Tauck trip, and we have done others with other companies, and the groups always have 20 - 30 people. This group has only 10!! Our guide told us that was all that had signed up (as opposed to people canceling), and that the last few tours have been the same way. So people are not yet traveling in the numbers as they were pre-Covid. It remains to be seen whether this small-sized group will work to our advantage or not.  When there is a larger group, you can find your "peeps."  In a small group, you have fewer prospective "peeps" to choose among. 

The first official sight-seeing stop was at the Vasa Museum. A marvel of a museum! Must see! We had a special after-hours tour arranged. The Vasa was a warship built in 1628 by King Gustavus II. At the time, it was probably the largest warship in the world. What made it so big was that it had two decks of canons (36 in all). Each one weighed about 1,100 pounds. Unfortunately, the builder did not take this into account (!), and did not make the overall girth (couldn't resist using this word today, wink, wink!) of the ship wider. So it was quite top heavy. On its maiden trip, there was lots of ceremony. Many people were on deck, and the gun ports were open. A strong gust of wind blew just as it set sail. It listed, and water rushed into the gun ports. Down she went!!!! How embarrassing!!!!!! And she sat there until being floated to the surface in the 1970s. As our guide explained, the fact that she sunk in the Baltic Sea accounted for her long-term (300+ years) survival. The Baltic is brackish--meaning that the creatures who would normally feast on a wooden ship cannot exist in its environment.  As a result, when it was brought to the surface, it was primarily intact--98% of the original ship is on display. Surrreal. And over 7,000 artifacts from the ship were also recovered. The fact that the she was put on exhibition here only a few miles from where she actually sank makes this quite a special museum. Quite impressive.

The back of the ship is called the transom. In those days, you could tell the whole story of the ship just by interpreting the images there (just like stained glass windows in a church).

This one shows two griffins at the top (representing Gustavus I) crowning his son. The son's arms are either protecting or showing power over the people. Then there are some other nobles and the royal coat of arms. Other figures connote more information.

Back on the bus to what out guide said was one of the best restaurants in the city. OH NO!!!!!!
Fem Sma Hus again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At least we knew the food was good! We had a private room, and they gave us the set menu. In our past trips, we would have considered this a near culinary disaster but either we have mellowed significantly (unlikely) or we were sleep-walking (more probable).  We took it in stride. There were no repeats from the night before.

The appetizer looked similar to the shrimp we had last night, but it was actually different.
Gubbröra is a traditional appetizer originating from Sweden. It's usually made with a combination of anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, onions, sour cream, chives, dill, and white pepper. The salted anchovies are cut into small pieces and mixed with pieces of hard-boiled eggs, sour cream, chopped onion, and herbs. So delicious   We will definitely try to make both of these when we get home.

Then, chicken. It was prepared much like the veal from the night before, as it had a lovely sauce (this time tarragon based), some roasted potatoes and root vegetables and sauteed red peppers. Outstanding.

The desert as well looked like the prior one, but again it was different. It was a champagne glass filled with heavenly chocolate mousse topped with raspberry puree. Alas, it was gone before we could snap a photo. The amount of caffeine in this dish alone was guaranteed to have an effect on our ability to sleep later--but we took the risk. 

And so ended our loooooong day in Stockholm. BTW, the sun set on Wednesday night at almost 10:00pm!  

wendy and wayne 


Copenhagen - Day 1

Friday, June 10, 2022

Though it seems like we just got to Stockholm, it was already time to say goodbye. This itinerary hits the 3 big capital cities, but almost as an afterthought. The real focus is on the west coast of Norway and the fjords. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

An early 6:30 am departure was necessary because the Stockholm airport cut down on personnel during the height of Covid, and has never replaced them. So even though we had priority check-in for our luggage, we still had to wait in line ONE HOUR to get through security. Our flight was then a little late in coming into Stockholm, so we did not get to Copenhagen until around 11:30. 

Luckily, our first stop was lunch. It was a typical "local" type restaurant (not) that Tauck likes to feature (the sign outside said "California and Asian cuisine". Say what!?!?!?!) It was a set menu for everyone of pea and asparagus risotto, chicken in hot sauce (chicken again?), and white chocolate mousse with rhubarb confit. Filling, but nothing to write home about. But.....we did have a nice view of one of the canals.

Copenhagen, like Stockholm, is built on a number of islands, so there are many rivers and canals that lead to the sea.

Then back on the bus to head into the city center and a stop at Christiansborg Palace. This is actually the third palace on this site, as the prior two burned down. 

As Denmark has the same kind of government as Sweden (a constitutional monarch --with a monarch as head of state but not head of the government), the palace is actually used as the home of the Danish Parliament. Since the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court also work in this building, it is the only building in the world that houses all three branches of government!

But the areas for public viewing, the "reception rooms" (and that is what they're used for today) all reflect the pomp and glory of royals from centuries past.  

The music room:

...the throne room:

Not such impressive thrones, but it's kind of a moot point. Since the Queen has no official power, she never actually gets to sit on the throne!

Many of the rooms were similar to, though not as ornate and opulent, as in some of the other palaces we have seen across Europe. But there was one amazing room. It is the Hall of Tapestries. It is decorated with 17 colorful tapestries representing 1,100 years of Danish history from the Viking Age to the year 2000. The tapestries teem with the figures of kings, queens, heads of state and other prominent figures that have shaped the history of Denmark and the rest of the world.

They feature scenes from the siege of Copenhagen by the Swedish army on the night between 11th and 12th February 1659, and from the Second World War when dark clouds hung over Europe in the shadow of Hitler’s Third Reich. However, the tapestries also record momentous and positive change, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first moon landing. Like the Bayeuux Tapestry and the transom on the Vasa, people could "read" these tapestries to understand all of the Danish (and world) history being portrayed.

The artist behind the illustrations was Bjørn Nørgaard. A team of weavers from Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins et de Beauvais (in France) worked on the tapestries for ten years.  They were a gift to Her Majesty the Queen to mark her 50th birthday. The work of art was inaugurated on the Queen's 60th birthday on 16th April 2000. 

Though woven on large looms, they look like needlepoints. The work is so amazing that we feel it is necessary to show the 9 large ones here. 

Each of the larger ones is probably 10' x 10'...just huge!

On the bottom left of each are world figures from that century. You can certainly identify the ones from the 20th century. The figures on the right are famous Danes from that period. Click on the one above to expend it and see how many other famous events and people you can identify.

 After that, we were bused to our hotel. The Radisson SAS is one of the largest buildings in the city (and located right across the street from Tivoli Gardens). .Again, they also prefer not to build skyscrapers here, and keep most buildings to 4 or 5 floors. But this one was designed by a famous Danish architect (all the way down to the chairs, rugs, and pictures on the walls), and he somehow convinced the powers that be to allow it to be built. 

And then it was time to eat again! The sun doesn't set until around 9:30, so when we headed out at 6ish, it still felt almost like the middle of the day. This time we went for real Danish "smorrebrod". We had the hotel's area map which kind of steered us in the right direction.. After a few false turns we finally found it: Kobenhavner Cafeen (which means "Copenhagen Cafe!). Though it is only 40 years old, it is designed and decorated to appear much older. 

We have been burned in the past by ordering wayyyyy too much mezzes or tapas, so we were careful this time. We only ordered three dishes, but really had to force ourselves to even make a dent in the third.

The first was friteret rodspaetefillet (fried plaice) with baby shrimp, mayonaise, and lemon.  Perfect!

Next, kerrysild met friteret aeg, log, kapers og karse. Or, as we would say: curried herring with deep fried egg, capers, pickled onions, and pea shoots. Amazing!!!! (the herring is hidden under the shoots.)

Last, klassisk roastbeef med remoulade, agurkesalat, peberrod or sprog log. That is paper-thin slices of roast beef with remoulade, horseradish, gherkins, and fried onions. Sublime!

Being smorrebrod, each dish came on a bed of dense brown nut bread. As a side bar, Wendy was in Copenhagen in the summer of 1974 and sampled smorrebrod then.  Perhaps her memory is faulty--but she seems to recall that, in the day, smorrebrod were still beautifully presented but were more like dainty tea sandwiches. We shared that perspective with our waiter and he acknowledged that smorrebrod are bigger in the 21st century and, indeed, people are snobbier about their smorrebrod in this day and age.  Who knew?  

As we walked back to the hotel, we remembered what our guide had told us about the different vibe between Copenhagen and Stockholm.  The streets of Stockholm were pristine, people were well mannered, even the cyclists were quite polite.  Copenhagen has an entirely different vibe.  More energy, wilder tattoos, more hair colors, a more diverse, electric, animated and open social scene  One could say the 21st century version of Woodstock. This too is very different from what Wendy observed in 1974.  Her headlines from Copenhagen were that it was like an extended Crate & Barrel in sensibility and style. OK that was a stereotype and she was looking forward to some lovely retail therapy here.  That said, on this visit, she hasn't yet picked up any hint of a Crate & Barrel vibe. For pity.  

And so ends our first day in Denmark. 

PS: many, many electric cars both here and in Sweden!