Sunday, September 12, 2010

Scandinavian Vacation

We have been home for 2 weeks after spending a month in Denmark, Norway & Sweden. Our trip included visiting 35+ art, cultural and history museums, viewing hundreds of sculptures and outings to several major sculpture parks (who knew?). We learned much about Viking and Nordic maritime history. Saw recovered and restored boats and ships (remember the "Kon-Tiki"?), visited palaces with 600 rooms, sailed past 1,000s of islands and navigated more fjords than we knew existed. We were in awe of the scores of Edvard Munch paintings we viewed, including 2 of the 4 "Screams" existing in the world today (one of which was only recently recovered after being stolen and thought lost forever). We ate fresh fish and seafood galore (think fresh king crab legs a foot long, huge lobsters, mounds of shrimp piled 3-feet off the table, herring done a dozen different ways, etc.). Spent 3 days north of the Arctic Circle and were at one point further north than all of Alaska and Canada. While we did not hike trails up mountains this year because I am still recovering from my cancer operations, we did walk for hours and hours through beautiful cities and towns. And whenever possible, stopped for a daily beer (or two) in friendly gay pubs.

Things that surprised us in Scandinavia: Most people do NOT have blonde hair and blue eyes. There are a LOT of "big and plump" stores (esp. in Norway, see Dressmann XL stores) and a lot of people who obviously need to shop there. Winters are less severe than they are in much of the US due to the warm Gulf Stream (only 1 fjord in Norway sometimes gets ice, e.g.) There may be more 7-11s in their cities than in any of ours. (Wikipedia says “On a per-capita basis, Norway has one 7-11 for every 47,000 Norwegians.”)

"What's 'in' in Scandinavia?" Long, loose, cotton scarves wrapped around the necks of both men & women. Dressing up at night (i.e., sports coats). Naked mannequins in store fronts during clothes sales. Nude statues everywhere in public places (most with semi-erect you-know-what's). Irish pubs and sports bars (esp. O'Learys) on almost every block with TV watching soccer crowds spilling on to the sidewalk. Heavy-metal music t-shirt everwhere (Iron Maiden had just finished a Scandinavian tour). Long pedestrianized shopping streets. 7-11s and Burger Kings on nearly every corner.

Copenhagen highlights: Harbor tour starting from Nyhavn, 'Bike Copenhagen with Mike' tour, National Museum, Viking Ship Museum and cathedral in Roskilde, Tivoli Gardens (second oldest amusement park in the world), Danish Jewish Museum, Thorvaldsen Sculpture Museum, Round Tower and gallery, Rosenborg Castle, National Gallery of Denmark, Ny Carlsberg Glyptoek museum, climbed the spire of Vor Freisers Kirke, Royal Cast Museum, Danish Resistance Museum, National Arts Museum, Danish Museum of Art and Design. Celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Danish Navy with a parade of vessels in the harbor. Gay Copenhagen: Copenhagen Rainbow Guesthouse, Jailhouse restaurant, Oscar Bar Café, Masken Bar, Amigo Sauna, Be Proud dance club.

Bergen highlights: Bryggens Museum and walking tour of Old Bryggen, Det Hanseatiske Museum, Bergenhus fortress, Fish Market, Fløibanen funicular to the top of Fløyen mountain, 'Norway in a Nutshell' 12-hour tour (Flåm Railway and museum, Sognefjord cruise).

Hurtigruten Cruise: This cruise should be on everyone's 'must-do' list; it is considered to be the 'world's most beautiful cruse' by Frommer and other travel guidebooks. We sailed the 7-day Northbound cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes. Signed-up for 3 Excursions: Glacier adventure Svartisen (Ørnes - Bodø), Lofotr Viking Feast and museum, Birdwatching safari near North Cape/Honningsvåg. Disembarked and walked through towns of Ålesund (lost a camera when it fell in the fjord, an UNESCO heritage site of Art Nouveau architecture), Trodheim (Historic center walk, Cathedral of Trodheim, Archbishop’s Palace and Rustkammeret), cross Arctic Circle (66° 34’) and Tromsø (Polaria arctic aquarium, Mack's Beer Hall).

Oslo highlights: Edvard Munch Museum, Henie-Onstad Art Center, National Gallery, Theatre Museum, Vigelandsparken (sculpture park of Gustav Vigeland), Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Norwegian Resistance Museum, Akershus Castle and Fortress, Norwegian Folk Museum, Viking Ship Museum, polar ship Fram Museum, Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl) Museum, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Holocaust Center at Villa Grande (home of traitor Vidkun Quisling). Gay Oslo: London Pub, Hercules sauna.

Stockholm highlights: two boat cruises (Under the Bridges and Royal Canal), Vasa ship museum, shopping medieval streets of Gamla Stan, National Museum, Modern Art Museum, Katarinahissen elevator and half-day walk through Södermalm, Millesgårde Museum of sculptor Carl Milles, Royal Palace (royal apartments, armory, treasury, Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities), City Hall tour and Tower. Gay Stockholm: bar/resturants Torget, Mälarpaviljongen and Side Track.

You will notice there is NO theater, opera, or other productions for the entire month. It is not that we did not try. We were, after all, in the land of Ibsen, Strindberg and Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus and in cities where musical theatre and opera thrive. But NOT in August, it seems. Even small, local stages were dark. As it turns out, the very next week after we were leaving Scandinavia, opera season began in Stockholm; "Cabaret" opened at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen; "Next to Normal" opened in Oslo; a revival of "Surgar" was coming to Stockholm; and a Norwegian version of "August: Osage County" was opening in Bergen.

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