Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Land of the Midnight Sun




True Scandinavians


Todd has always maintained that he comes from Viking stock.  To prove it, he would point to the painted wooden horses and Dip-In-The-Pan (a traditional Swedish stew with pig knuckles, sausage, and other unidentifiable pork parts) that his family brought out every Christmas.  The Peterson name is apparently up for grabs between Norway and Sweden, as his family purportedly came from some fishing village on the Norwegian/Swedish border.   "Peterson" is the Swedish spelling; however, some Norwegian immigrants apparently changed the Norwegian spelling of "Petersen" to "Peterson" in order to appear highbrow.  (What Todd seems to forget, when he teases me about my Germanic heritage, is that his mother's maiden name is a very Teutonic "Schneider.")  Our children, however, have clearly inherited the Viking genes.

Crazy Vikings

Whatever the case may be, we ended our summer vacationing in the Far North, traveling vast distances in very few days in order to explore Todd's homeland.  This lesson about packing too much in should have already been learned, but alas! If you don’t learn from history, you are destined to repeat it.

Learn this: Horns In Battle = Getting Stuck In The Eye

We flew into Göteborg from Paris, a stopover destination due to cheap Ryanair prices.  As a first introduction, Göteborg was modern, industrial, clean, cool, and rainy.  Water and pines forests surrounded the city, and we rode the ferry everywhere despite the rain.  A quick walk and dinner, a night at our lovely dockside hotel with delicious licorice treats, and off we went the next day to Stockholm.

Modern Sculpture With Viking

Hanging out enjoying the short-lived summer
Stockholm’s skyline is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  The city’s water-bound location, spread out over 14 islands in this northern archipelago, reflects and magnifies its mix of 19th-century and modern beauty.  

Glorious Skyline

Water, water everywhere

We stayed on a boat-hostel called the Gustav Klimt, with tiny, bohemian cabins and a shared bathroom.  The girls were thrilled by these exotic accommodations complete with porthole; Todd was barely able to squish his six-foot-two frame into the narrow bottom bunk.  The following day we spent at Skansen, Stockholm’s famous outdoor historical museum, where you can see how life used to be in the northern wilds.  This park is part zoo, part old-town, part historic village, part playground, with examples of living quarters including docents in historic dress practicing domestic arts from 100 or more years ago. 

Old-Time Swedish Hut

We even found a Swedish horse, along with a squirrel.  The set-up for kids was incredible, inviting Tia and Sasha to run from one thing to another with glee. 

Look, Gram, what we can ride!!!

Acting Nutsy
From there we spent the afternoon at the Vasa Museum, an incredible building crafted around the ill-fated ship the Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.  It is a story of human pride and hubris; King Gustav insisted on completing it despite boatbuilders’ doubts.  No one had the courage to tell King Gustav that thirty men running from one side of the boat to the other could set it rocking enough to capsize. Sure enough, as soon at the Vasa set sail, a light breeze sprang up and knocked it over, killing at least 15 people and stunning the thousands who had come to watch.  In 1961, the Vasa was raised from its bed of mud and cleaned; the remains of 8 of the dead were salvaged and their lives reconstructed.  We were all fascinated.

All the woodcarving was another big mistake, adding to the Vasa's topheavy load

The next morning we explored the Viking Museum while Todd went off to visit his friend Tim.  Tia and Sasha showed yet again that they clearly have Scandinavian roots.

Viking Girls with Sacrificial Dog Skeleton
They also demonstrated their prowess at Viking weaponry:




and early Viking boxing:



We then joined Todd and Tim in Uppsala, where we toured the Protestant cathedral and the surrounding gardens, the old church (where an impromptu quartet sang haunting harmonies in the vestibule), and an outdoor dinner in magnificent evening sunshine. 

Uppsala Gardens

Reflected Beauties

We also lit a candle in the church for my mom, her presence always on our minds and in our hearts as we traveled onwards.

We Love You, Nana

And off we went to Oslo, again a stopover city, for a brief tour via the tram and a trip to Frogner Park, home of the artist Gustav Vigeland’s famous statues.  Despite the fact that it is the world’s largest statue park and Norway’s biggest tourist attraction, we were more impressed by the excellent children’s playground next door.

Somehow Vigeland's work reminds me of Dante's Inferno

Our trip to Bergen via railway is part of the “Norway in a Nutshell” experience, highly touted as the way to see the best of Norway.  And the trip was spectacular, the train winding its way through forests to the still-frozen spine of Norway’s Hardangervidda, the highest mountain plateau in Europe.  Each railway station along this route puzzled us with their scores of rental bikes; we laughed at foolish tourists pedaling along in the 30˚F weather on well-paved bike paths.  It wasn’t until we saw the glorious bike paths heading down past cascading waterfalls to the ice-blue fjords below that we understood why someone would brave such a forbidding outing; we wish we had.

Desolate and beautiful

Sod House and Wildflowers

Fun with Dad on the train

Bergen: another stopover city, another boat-hotel, this time more comfortable, but more expensive.  We had time for a walk through the botanical gardens and a absolutely delicious but outrageously expensive dinner of salmon, reindeer, and halibut.  We walked home in the twilight at midnight only to be scolded by rule-loving, early-rising Germans on the boat when we made too much noise. 

Amazing that this exists in the Northern hinterlands

Balestrand was our final stay in Scandinavia, a beautiful picturesque town marred only by the concrete multi-story box-like hotels built into the 19th-century Victorian neighborhoods.  The German phrase for such an disaster is a “Faust im Aug,” a fist in the eye. 

 Soviet-style Concrete Block does not belong here

We reached Balestrand by boat via the Sognefjord, a four-hour boat trip on one of Norway’s most famous and longest waterways, faintly reminiscent of Washington’s Puget Sound but ten times grander.

The scale of grandeur is spectacular

Fishing village with waterfall and glaciers

 While in Balestrand we hiked for hours up the mountain until we reached snow, a small crystallized dirty patch that nevertheless allowed us to throw snowballs at each other.  The following day we rented bikes and rode along the fjord in rain, mist, and slanting sunlight, pulling over each time a train of cars passed us after they disembarked from the ferry. 

Biking the Fjord

Our return trip took us back into the Sognefjord to the tiny town of Flam, dwarfed by huge cruise ships that plied the fjord and engulfed by the massive crowds emerging from the Flam Railway.  We joined these flocks of tourists for the final leg of our journey, a trip up the Flam Railway, dubbed “The World’s Steepest Railway”  and “Most Spectacular Tourist Attraction.”  Well, attract tourists it does: the train was packed, and the engineer obliged the shutterbugs with well-placed stops to admire the enormous waterfalls. 

Beware: siren-like Huldra lurk to lure unwary tourists to their death...

The remainder of the trip—a train ride to Oslo and then Moss, on the outskirts of RyanAir’s airport, with an early flight from “Oslo” (aka Rygge) to Malaga, and a car ride back to Puerto—was fraught with anxiety, as news from my sister about my mom became more and more frightening.  I literally dumped our two carryon suitcases as soon as we got into the house, repacked them with clean clothes for the girls and me, and left for the Rota terminal within a couple hours.  But Scandinavia has stayed on my mind every time I look at my blue-eyed, blonde-haired Swedes (or Norwegians?), so Nordic-looking that everyone on our trip spoke spontaneously to them in Swedish or Norwegian, much to their delight and embarrassment.  This is a place we are sure to revisit. 

My Scandinavian Family


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