Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trip! Or, Repetition Makes Us Happy

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Søren Kierkegaard
So, it's Sunday, and we're home a week from Scandinavia, and Jenifer and I decide to see a movie. I figure by this time I have the whole driving-a-car-again-after-not-driving-a-car-for-23-days routine down, and so with utter confidence, nay, abandon, I pull into the lot of the local Regal Marketplace and park. We get out and proceed in the direction of the multiplex. One small detail, however, suddenly captures our attention. The car is still running. That's odd, I think, my keys are not . . . in . . . my . . . pocket!

I mention this not to draw untoward criticism of my driving abilities or general wherewithal, but to provide a moviegoing tip for the cost-conscious screenwriter. See, the manager, after contacting the licensed professional dour-faced police officer who eventually unlocked the locked door, gave us two tickets to the movie of our choice, so that we might "let go of our stress." I can't promise this strategy will work every time, but you never know. Lady in the Water, by the way, is a fine film.

But you're not interested in finances and stress reduction, you say. That's alright, since the plan all along was to recap the last two days in Copenhagen and then provide an analysis of What It All Means. Before we get started, however, I should point out that a smattering of photographs from the trip (to Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, for those just joining us) now accompany the text (thanks to Mozilla Firefox and not that other big-name browswer).

Friday, then, began with another helping of the Best Brunch Ever, served up at Cafe Europa. Jenifer and I had discovered this place towards the end of our last trip to Copenhagen, and it was one of the chief experiences we were determined to repeat. On our first stroll down Strøget this time, we both sighed in relief as we saw that Europa ("Since 1989") still occupied the same corner.

It's been suggested that I have a touch of OCD, so I endeavor where possible to try new things, to avoid the safe, familiar, comfortable patterns. This is most easily and fruitfully done when traveling. Sometimes, though, it's best to stick with what works, and that's where the concept of Repetition Makes Us Happy, as Jenifer likes to tease, really shines.

We followed up our repast with a trip to the Danish Museum of Art and Design, completing our Nordic design hat trick. The 20th century exhibits were the most exciting, and it was illuminating to see everyday objects -- chairs, lamps, posters -- embodying the concepts I'd studied in graduate school. Here the accompanying words of Adorno and Baudrillard and Lyotard came to life, here one saw how the design, production, and consumption of material culture informed a nation's identity. From "Ecology, recycling, and sustainable design":
Environmental design . . . incorporates embryonic concepts for new patterns of consumption, e.g. right of use instead of right of ownership, joint rather than individual ownership, and focus on opportunities for upgrading or repairing existing objects instead of buying new ones.
The Danes put this into practice. Perhaps one of the most visible ways is Copenhagen's City Bike program, wherein you unlock a public bicycle by depositing a 20-kroner coin, and then ride, rack the bike, and collect your deposit. (Incidentally, the white-and-green building in the background of the picture on the City Bike's home page is to my direct right in the "brunch" shot above.) I only wish the Danes would innovate a similar City Toilet program.

The museum also houses plenty of other artifacts, some illustrating the history of the famous Danish Design (originally inspired by English woodworking), others more regional pieces. Jenifer was particularly moved by the textiles, which illustrated the history of two highly regarded female designers and the studio they shared as master and apprentice.

Afterwards, we chanced upon more trail magic in the form of a two-hour conversation with a nearby shopkeeper, leaving just in time to cross town and catch our assigned seats for the further adventures of Will and Elizabeth. We found it thoroughly entertaining, as good or even better than the first one, though I missed a few lines of dialogue while trying to read the Danish subtitles.

Saturday saw us breakfasting once more at Europa -- our fourth such outing that week -- and then shopping a bit and spending our final Copenhagen hours at Tivoli Gardens, one of the world's oldest amusement parks (second only to one in nearby Klampenborg). Then back to our home in Islands Brygge and the reality of an early-morning flight.

It's strange to be in a place that feels so familiar. If I have a spiritual home, it's Copenhagen. And yet Jenifer and I both felt something of a letdown this time, a feeling we were loathe to acknowledge. Repetition wasn't Making Us as Happy as we expected. We realized after a few days that the city hadn't changed dramatically (apart from the swarm of high-season tourists), but that our expectations of repeating our honeymoon were unrealistic. This time the magic, the newness, was to be found in Sweden and Finland, which were previously unknown to us. And so returning to Denmark was like returning to an old friend rather than meeting a new lover. Not as wondrous an experience, but deeper.

Speaking of old friends, I was asked whether, in terms of the script research, I had found what I was looking for. I had conceived the trip, in part, as a research venture that would enhance my knowledge of Norse history and culture — what I needed to write my historical epic. In some ways I had found what I was looking for, discovering a wealth of material I hadn’t conjured from the pile of books I’d read. In a number of cases, however, plans that seemed sure bets on paper did not come to pass. So I decided to seek a middle way, a balance between structure and spontaneity: an idea of what I wanted coupled with a willingness to receive what the universe was willing to offer. More and more, I saw that sometimes my expectations were either unrealistic or too stringent, and the things that happened did so easily, without struggle. Sometimes letting go is the best way forward. Sometimes, Fun is Simple.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Back to a New World

We're back. More to come.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lies, All Lies

Always tell the truth. Otherwise you'll have a day like mine. Now, Denmark is a better place than most to have a rotten day, but your lies will always come back to haunt you in new and original ways.

For example, the building we're staying in? It was erected in 1903, not the eighteenth century. Our location, Islands Brygge? It means "Iceland's Quay," not "Iceland's Harbor". And Strongbow? It's a cider from the UK, not a Nordic beer. I hope you can forgive me in a way the travel gods have not.

Our trip to the island of Møn, in a region of Denmark called South Zealand (Copenhagen is in Zealand proper), was pretty much a non-event. Oh, we got to Møn, alright, but only as far as Stege. And Stege is a fine place for lunch, I suppose, but it doesn't contain the natural attraction of Møns Klint, the white cliffs of Møn. Those are on the other side of the island. You see, the Tourist Information (TI) folks gave us some travel instructions, and then we supplemented those with some timetable recommendations from the central station's information office. We thought we were in pretty good shape. Take a train to Høje Taastrup, change to another train and go to Vordingborg, and from there take a bus to Stege. In Stege, get another bus, and that would take us within three kilometers of the cliffs.

Well, we arrived in Stege and learned from the local TI folks that there was no other bus. The information we'd collected in Copenhagen was pretty much fictitious. In fact, the friendly guy behind the counter actually laughed when I informed him of my intentions. It was a friendly laugh in the vein of "they told you what?" combined with a little "that's a good one" and a touch of "God go with you." But Mr. TI dug in, consulted the Woman in the Back Office, and produced a detailed itinerary that would allow us to enjoy the cliffs for a full 80 minutes before getting back on the bus and then having the driver radio the next bus since there was only a one minute difference between the arrival of our bus and the departure of the next one and you just never know whether these things will run on time, do you?

All the while, my mind went back to a decision sciences course I had during freshman year. The professor had made a joke about a guy who swam halfway across a lake, decided that the other side was much too far to reach, and so turned around and swam back. I'd like to say that Jenifer and I thought long and hard about whether to go the distance, but with bellies aching and heads splitting, we decided to "eat it," as the Danes seem to call a sunk cost, and return home empty-handed. I'm sure more valorous travelers would have persisted, but sometimes, as Jouko says, "too much is too much."

The reality is that 80 minutes just wasn't enough time to do what we wanted. I've been journeying in each country, and I wanted to do a 30-minute journey at Møns Klint, where it is said that Odin himself waits in hiding until the age of the White Christ has passed. There's also a recommended 90-minute hike through the wind-twisted woods at the top of the cliffs.

As it was, we were gone for a good seven hours with nothing to show for it. Unless you count a good lunch, brilliant blue skies, oceans of yellow-green wheat and rye, dreams of story and structure, and each other. Maybe the travel gods, or even Odin, had one eye looking out for us after all.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Jenifer and I made our way through the National Museum today and then hit one of those afternoon lulls. I can't say I'm ready to come home yet, but the pace lately has been perhaps a little too lackadaisical, the city a mite too crowded, and the Danish theater system a bit too efficient.

The Danes are orderly folk. They, along with their Nordic brethren, take pedestrian right of way literally, which means that you'd generally have to try to get hit by a car while crossing the street. You'll come to an intersection, the cars will stop, you'll hesitate, the cars will wait, you'll lose your footing on a cobblestone, the cars will wait, and then you'll get the idea that maybe you should start walking. At least that's been my approach.

As for the movie theaters, as we discovered last time, you get assigned seats, like you would for a play. And so for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, we had a choice of seats in center of the front row, or off to the side in the second row. Not so great. So we reserved some center-center seats for Friday night (tomorrow we'll be visiting the island of Møn). We wanted to see it today, goshdarnit!

So, with nothing else to directly occupy us until the jazz starts up, I decided to continue my ethnographic study of Scandinavian pants. You see, the folks up in these parts have some different ideas about the nature of pants and how to wear them. The predominant style, especially in Denmark and Sweden, is the variety known as Hobbit pants. In some parts of the Western world, these go by other names, such as capris, pedalpushers, or even clamdiggers, but here the Hobbit pants reign supreme for both male and female members of the species. I am not sure whether this particular innovation is due to a chronic shortage of cotton in the region, or whether the raising of hemlines was meant to facilitate the rampant use of bicylcles. It's even possible, I suppose, that shorts are deemed ineffectual in protecting one's knees against the ravages of chilly summers that rarely exceed 30 degrees Centigrade.

In Sweden, a growing minority of young men favor extremely tight black jeans that are worn very low. They give the impression that your legs make up only 1/3 of your total height. Add to this the fact that the wearers are invariably buttless wonders, and you have a disturbing vision of Burtonesque puppets somehow walking under themselves. No, it doesn't make any sense.

The Finns include both styles in their national fashion repertoire, but the most striking sartorial element of the culture is actually the large population of neo-goths. In my American arrogance (I haven't jettisoned all of it), I thought to myself that these kids weren't quite getting goth "right," but then I considered my own estimable goth background (essentially one day back in 1997 when I wore my October Project T-shirt, black Levi's, and critical theoryappropriate Dr. Martens all at once) and let the matter drop.

And so, dear Readers, it is now time to track down some Faroese music and find a new battery for the camera, so until next time I bid you hej hej.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Hello again from Boomtown. It's not an Internet cafe so much as a gaming center, and so I've been set up on a rig using a browser called Opera. It works reasonably well, I suppose, but most of the usual Blogger controls are missing, which means that all y'all get a free pass today on running down links to Wikipedia. I even tried adding a few pics, but yer just gonna hafta wait.

So yesterday featured a day trip to Roskilde. This is a beautiful city situated at the bottom of a long, narrow fjord. It was once the seat of Viking power and features an impressive cathedral in which kings like Harald Bluetooth are buried (he's actually interred vertically in a column). Jen and I visited Roskilde last time around, but we wanted to hit the Vikingeskibs Museet again, especially for the chance to sail a Viking Age boat.

We were hoping not to run into a particular British family, since last time their gross incompetence at rowing definitely tempered our experience. We lucked out in that regard, but I suppose there's really no good way to train 16 people from different lands in the fine art of hand-eye coordination in a matter of minutes. After putting the oars in the water, we pulled on the command of our captain (who spoke at least German in addition to English and Danish), and our tangle of oars somehow got our small trading vessel away from the dock. The square sail went up, the wind caught it, and we were cruising. Perfect.

Once you work in these open craft, you see just how amazing it was that the Vikings were able to sail to lands as far away as Iceland, Greenland, and North America. The quarters are extremely tight -- there's no privacy, nowhere to go to get away from it all, and no protection from the elements. We got to watch a team of museum researchers prepare a warship for a month-long journey to Dublin (as part of a cultural exchange project). Each team member had been screened both physiologically and psychologically -- the North Sea is not a good place to have a breakdown, I suppose.

Back in Copenhagen, the sounds of the jazz festival made their way to our fifth-floor room, and so we headed out to the quay. The sun was going down (pretty amazing here in the north), the wind was blowing, the ice cream was cold, and an amazing Faroese singer by the name of Eivør Pálsdóttir had the stage.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Home Again

We've returned to Copenhagen. Jenifer and I spent much of our honeymoon here four years ago, and it's great to be back. It's also quite excellent to be out of a train. The Ribe station is closed on Sundays, so we prevailed upon the heavy-metal teen who'd made the mistake of sitting too close to the ticket machine for help with getting us across the country. After multiple attempts with three different credit cards, we secured our tickets and made our way north to the Bramming station, where we needed to transfer and head east all the way to Copenhagen. Fine in theory, but once again our lack of reserved seats meant we had front-row tickets to that cubicle-sized space between cars. Add in a platoon of German nature scouts (some even wearing lederhosen), a couple of bicycles, and a camel (okay, I made that one up), and we were a tad tight on space. But Denmark is a small country, and one can take anything for a few hours.

We called our bed-and-breakfast hosts from the Copenhagen central station upon arrival, and then headed out Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard to a section of the city called Islands Brygge, which means "Iceland's Harbor" -- our host Jens's grandfather used to pilot ships for the two- or three-month trip to Iceland. The strip of land along the water looks in every way like a beach, but with brown grass instead of sand and bicycles everywhere. There, in all their glory, the layabout Danes lay about, soaking in the short-lived summer's precious rays.

We walked past Reyjaviksgade, and then past Njalsgade, finally reaching our street, Egilsgade. Perfect, as Egils Saga was the first Norse saga I read when beginning my research. We were five stories up in a building from the 18th century. We met Jens, who gave us a lay of the land, and then we set out for Strøget, the world's longest pedestrianized street at one kilometer.

We ate at the Cafe Nytorv in the wide, cobblestoned plaza also called Nytorv ("new square"), where a local jazz troupe performed a blend of experimental and traditional jazz. Our trip happened to coincide with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Jen was met with a dearth of vegetarian fare, and so resorted to the Greek salad (supplemented later by ice cream). I decided to finally attempt the traditional Danish fare called smørrebrød, literally "spread bread." Smørrebrød, as I understand it, is a catch-all term for open-face sandwiches that can hold any number of toppings. In this case, it was three varieties of pickled herring. Along with a packet of butter, I was also supplied with a container of pure lard. I'm not normally a big fish eater, but the meal was excellent, and I was sure that the ancestors were smiling upon me.

Today was essentially another travel day, but tomorrow we return to Roskilde and its Viking Ship Museum.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Excellent Style

Greetings from Ribe, Denmark's oldest town. We got to Copenhagen from Helsinki yesterday morning, and then took a train to this sleepy tourist town near the west coast of Jutland. Tip: get reserved seats, or you'll find yourself standing in the space between cars for the first three-and-a-half hours.

Today we saw the middling Ribe Vikinges Museum and the excellent Ribe Viking Center. The museum wasn't up to the standard set by the Historical Museum in Stockholm, but then its collection of artifacts is far smaller. The center was a recreation of Ribe from 750 CE on, and is a fine example of how to do things in a decidely non-commercial, non-cheesy way. The falconry demonstration especially was excellent.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. On Tuesday I worked out with Jouko. Now, I lift heavy and am pretty good in a few movements, but heavy is relative and I knew there would be nothing I could do to impress this guy, who set a world record in Atlas stone lifting. Of course, I had nothing to prove, but I also hadn't hit the gym in a couple weeks.

We started with deadlifts. I was excited to do this movement, but also a little apprehensive since I hadn't done proper deads in several years and for some reason my back had been bothering me every now and again during the trip. We used Jouko's special Chinese bar, which he actually uses as the strongman in Invincible. We did several warmup sets, and my back seemed fine. Jouko did his top set with well over 200 kg for 10 reps, and at the top of each rep he sang the number in Finnish. Hilarious. I ended up pulling 140 kg for five reps. Jouko said I could have done another 40 kg, which is probably true, but I was happy to keep something in the tank and not stagger through the rest of my trip crippled. And Jouko said, "You have excellent style." I was pretty pleased, since it's not every day you hear that from someone who's pulled 435 kg for a single.

The rest of the workout was pretty straightforward: two or three sets of pulldowns, rows, overhead presses, tricep pushdowns, and curls. All machines or cables, which was interesting since I usually do free weights. I'm still pretty sore.

I was honored to lift with Jouko, and afterwards I realized that this was our version of golf.

The computer is about to shut down -- so I'll catch up in Copenhagen.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Helsinki to Hämeenlinna

We found ourselves with an extra day in Helsinki, and we used it well. We started at the National Museum, where we saw Akseli Gallen-Kallela's triumphant final work, frescoes from the Kalevala inside the building's dome. Stunning, inspiring works.

We then hit the tourist office to get information on a harbor cruise, bought our tickets at the nearby waterfront market, and enjoyed lunch at Aino. Jen had an amazing nettle soup and goat cheese salad; I had the salad, grilled whitefish, and a remarkable beer by the name of Strongbow (or Cúthalion as we say in Sindarin). Afterwards we walked along the promenade and got what we've come to call charcoal ice cream. It's dark grey stuff based on a popular candy here in Finland that's similar to licorice. I'd spell it for you, but then I'd exhaust my allotment of vowels for the post. We sat for a long while in the square by Stockmann's until it was time to head to the water.

The harbor cruise through the archipelago was a splendid way to spend an evening. You might even say "romantic." A fine dinner, beautiful weather, and island after island filled with charming summer homes, most of which had little sauna houses by the water.

The next morning we were picked up by our guide to Hämeenlinna, Jouko Ahola, who drove us the hour to his hometown. Jouko was the World's Strongest Man in 1997 and 1999 and has starred in Werner Herzog's Invincible and Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. His next film, 7 Millionaires, premieres in Sweden in September.

Jouko drove us around his town and showed us why Hämeenlinna is the "town of parks." Finland is a lush country and public parks are a top priority in cities. One we drove through even has some old-growth forest remaining, though much of it was destroyed in a fierce wind storm. After lunch, Jouko went off to attend to his housebuilding business, and Jenifer and I toured Häme fortress and the adjacent prison museum. Oddly, neither were as creepy as one might expect. Later in the afternoon I joined Jouko for a workout in his gym. That experience was a true privilege and deserves a post of its own.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Form and Function in Finland

The past several days we've spent wandering the streets and museums of Helsinki. This city takes its architecture and design very seriously, which is no accident considering that the city is the only European capital without a medieval past and was actively planned by a Berliner and modeled, in part, after St. Petersburg. The three main styles are Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Functionalism. The buildings are very dramatic, and even modern buildings fit very well with the older ones, even those that look like they come from a Soviet version of Blade Runner.

On our first day, hobbling and lurching, we did a walking tour that took us through the marina and examples of all the architectural styles. The city streets are a blend of old and new, with narrow, wire-guided trams running along tracks and expensive luxury cars bustling through. A trip down Bulevardi, a wide residential street, took us to Saaga, a restaurant featuring traditional Sami dishes. Jenifer had root vegetables with wheat and cep (mushroom) soup. I had snow grouse with mashed potatoes and crowberries. These little black berries have a tart flavor that quickly dissipates, and are exclusive to northern Finland, Sweden, Norway, western Jutland in Denmark, northern Canada, and Alaska. For dessert we had cranberries served in a bowl made of ice, with hot caramel sauce drizzled over them. Very tart, strong, and good!

On Saturday we visited Kiasma, Helsinki's modern art museum. Our favorite piece was an installation called "Solitude and Stability." After taking off our shoes as instructed, we "carefully and silently" entered a dark room. We stepped onto the gold-painted wood floor near a smooth boulder -- and then our reality shifted. Everything was moving, and the boulder was somehow gliding towards us. Jenifer squealed as we fought to maintain our balance, and suddenly we realized that the floor was moving back and forth, and the boulder was moving independently. Most of the exihibits were equally thought-provoking and amazing.

Next we visited the Design Museum, located in the heart of the city's design district. The museum provides an in-depth history of Finnish graphic, furniture, and industrial design over the past 150 years. Just as with the Historical Museum's Viking Room in Stockholm, we could see the lasting influence of past Finnish designs on modern products. For example, a particular stool designed in the early 20th century is still mass-produced and today available through IKEA. We even saw a number of these stools in the open-air market by Helsinki's harbor. And old glassware designs are still sold by iitaala, a major Finnish design firm.

Afterwards, we walked to the main square in front of the cathedral and enjoyed a traditional Finnish meal. Jenifer had onion and cep pancakes with dijon sauce and root vegetables. I had reindeer soup, followed by the "forest man's skewer" -- reindeer meat and moose sausage, as well as mashed potatoes and lightly marinated cabbage. Again the food was excellent.

Today we continued our journey through Finnish art at the Art Museum of the Ateneum. This museum houses the most significant part of the Finnish National Gallery, featuring the country's finest paintings and sculptures. Most of the work dated no earlier than the 1860s, when Finland's artists began seeking a cultural identity independent of the influences of Sweden and Russia. Landscapes, portraits of Finnish everyday life, and the Romantic depictions of the Kalevala, Finland's national epic, formed the bulk of the collection. The museum is currently running an exhibition featuring works from all the Nordic countries -- Finland, the three Scandinavian countries, and Iceland -- as well the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Two things about the collections particularly struck us. First, the great number of women painters represented and the high esteem in which they were held in their day and after. Second, the paintings of Akseli (Axel) Gallen-Kallela, who has been called Finland's national painter. Some works are powerful landscapes, others are intimate portraits of both European luminaries and everyday folk, and still others were highly stylized depictions of scenes from the Kalevala. These last were particularly bold, with strong outlining around the figures, vibrant colors, and a style reminiscent of N.C. Wyeth's illustration work.

We've been both moved and surprised by both the powerful creativity of the Finns, as well as how highly they value design in all forms: from everyday objects designed for function and beauty to commanding public buildings and spaces.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Backing Up to Catch Up

Ryan deigned to allow me another post on his sacred blog. It is "Holy Embers of Dreams," after all!

There are a couple of days in Sweden that we simply didn't have the opportunity to share while in Sweden and before arriving in and writing about Helsinki. So, here we are backing up a bit so everyone is caught up with just how awesome our trip really is. In case you were doubting.

I'll pick up with the two museums that we saw on Tuesday--that seems like a long time ago now--and then finish up our Swedish trip before Ryan comes in with a new post about recent adventures in Finland.

Tuesday was rainy, a perfect day for museums. After another wonderful breakfast, armed with a borrowed umbrella, we wandered out of Gamla Stan, through Norrmalm, and over to Ostermalm in search of the Historical Museum. The icon for this museum was quite fitting for our trip: Odin All-Father, on his eight-legged steed Sleippnir. We entered the museum to discover that it was free for summer visitors--another great freebie for us. our guidebooks had recommended the Stockholm Card to save money on museum entry fees. I'm glad that we followed our instict to not get one, as museums were largely free because of Sweden's interest in boosting both domestic and international tourism.

Anyway, aside from the many economic benefits, the museum had a wonderful exhibit on the Viking age as well as a prehistory exhibit that gave the history from the earliest migratory communities up to the Viking age. Both were really fascinating. The only down side is that most of the information was available in Swedish only--such as the specific labels to the artifacts--but the major writing was available in two or three languages including English.

One of the biggest things that we drew from looking at all of these amazing artifacts were the underlying impulses in design and functionality that inform todays Scandinavian designs. It was quite powerful, for example, to see a number of glass flasks used for drinking wine, that had to be held up in iron or some form of holder because they had no bottom. You can find similar shapes in your Ikea or Pottery Barn catelogues, now being sold as vases to hang on the wall. In Pär and Anne's shop, there were cognac glasses that didn't have stems or vases, but were shaped so that they could be full, and yet set on a table. They were quite beautiful and evocative of that Viking era--whether the artist or the shopkeeper recognized it. It really is amazing how sophisticated and beautiful their objects were.

And, I can't forget my favorite part of the Viking museum, learning about the women of the age. gender roles were pretty divided, but women were given an equal say in the society as a whole. Women who wore keys identified themselves to others as women who owned and ran the farm or region. So, although she would be expected to maintain most of the domestic role, unlike other societies where only men could own or run farms, women had an equal right and were equally respected in doing so. They also had a voice in councel meetings and related. And, extremely nice jewelry.

I also learned about the Völlur, Staff-bearer. She was the wise woman, the high priestess. She had a short staff--more like a scepter at 80 cm long, made of iron with bronze tips on both ends. The upper end had a decorated tip, but i can't find words to describe it. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures of the artifacts. The collection of her objects included bronze bowls for various ritual purposes, a profusion of jewlery with sacred imagery, and a great deal of indications of her power, wealth, and knowledge of herbs, the natural and spirit worlds. It was quite impressive.

After the Viking exhibit, we went to the prehistory one--because even Vikings had a history. It was fascinating, but mostly in Swedish so we didn't catch much of it. My overall feeling was "Peter Jackson did a really good job with The Lord of the Rings." The Rohirrim really evoke this pre-Viking era in the design that was used to depict their society and culture. Many of the shapes in the weaponry, the armor, even the buildings and designs within can be seen in these pre-Viking (around 600 CE) artifacts.

Following this museum visit, we headed back toward the canal for lunch at the swanky Strandbrygge restaurant, which was literally on the water on floating platforms. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was great as well. We were under an awning, as it was raining, and they had little heaters running. One of the neatest things about cafes and restaurants in Stockholm was the presence of blankets. In this swanky place, there was a blanket for each chair in a lovely sky blue, the shock of color against their otherwise dark-brown and beige furnishings (from comfy sofas to trendy tables and high-backed wicker chairs).

After a satisfying lunch, we went to the Nordic museum where we looked at Scandinavian folk art and furnishings and design throughout the years starting in the 18th century and ending in the present. It was really interesting, and one can definately see the past influences on the present designs in both response and reaction, as well as honoring the tradition.

After this museum, we hoofed it back to Gamla Stan for dinner, an evening at a cafe, and then back home to prep for our next excursion--Birka.

We got up bright and early and headed into Norrmalm to catch the ferry to Birka on wednesday morning. Birka is the site of the oldest Swedish Viking settlement. We had expected a sort of reinactment sight, but we actually got something more like a battle field site in the US: open fields with a general sense, due to the rises, of where the original wall of the community would have been. The brochures boast of learning various Viking skills--black smithing, ship building and sailing, archery, etc--but we didn't see any places around that offered these experiences. As it turns out, from midsummer until July, everyone is pretty much on holiday, so only a few tours of the site are run and the vistor's center museum is open. There was a lot of great information in the museum, including a replica of a Vössur's staff, so that was a cool.

It was rainy that day, but it held off for the first part of our walk toward the site, where we got a little lost, wandered a bit, and as it started to rain, took refuge in a small chapel--Ansgar's chapel. Unfortunately, no restrooms, but a bit of forest nearby so my problem was easily solved. Ryan decided to journey while in the chapel, I kept watch. When he was finished, the rain had stopped and we headed back toward the visitor's center--prepping for the ferry which would leave at 3. There was only one ferry out, so we wanted to make sure that we were on it! On the way back to the ferry, we got a bit turned around, found our way back to the chapel, cut across a few wheat fields and then finally found our way back with time to spare. So, I had dessert--raspberry pie with vanilla sauce (like vanilla pudding)--while Ryan tried mead. I tried mead and it was horrid.

Our trip back was nice, a bit uneventful, and we were tired! Back to Gamla Stan for dinner, and then we were in bed relatively early.

Our last day in Stockholm was really nice, with a trip through Skansen after a morning of shopping. And as Ryan said, we spent most of the afternoon-evening with Pär, Anne, and Sophie--and a few minutes with Gustav (he and ryan had quite a conversation about beer, cars, and other 'guy stuff') while Sophie, Anne, and I did some yoga. I was wearing a dress at the time--as everything else was in the laundry--so it was kinda tough for me!

And so, this brings us to the late night and early morning, bringing us to Helsinki.

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