Sleepy in Stockholm

Wednesday, Sept 11

We have arrived, after a nearly 8 hour flight from Chicago, during which we suffered through multiple bouts of crying toddler syndrome (despite being seated in Business Class – who brings a toddler in Business Class?). We reached our Airbnb that we’re staying in around 9:00am.  The flat is in a very old building. The 2 flights of stairs leading up to our flat are worn down in the middle with at least a century of wear. Our flat has a small kitchen, a decent sized lounge (living room/dining room) and 3 bedrooms. There are a couple beds in each, so this fairly small flat can sleep 8 people (albeit in rather cramped conditions, 2 of the beds are just full sized).  There is one bathroom. Unfortunately, it has a rather nasty sewer smell that seems to be coming from the sink. We’re keeping the door closed at all times so as to keep the smell contained in the one room. Our intention was to head out straight away to get some groceries and start exploring, but we were exhausted after our flight. So, we took a nap for a few hours.  

In the end, we didn’t do so much exploring our first day here.  We did make it to 2 different grocery stores. On the way to the grocery store, we stopped at Naturbageriet SATTVA – a little bakery – to have our first Swedish cinnamon rolls.  The idea for this whole trip started when Rob found out that there were lots of cinnamon rolls in Sweden and Norway. I will say, the first ones didn’t disappoint.  We’ll be having lots more before we leave Sweden! As we started out again for the grocery store, Rob spotted some sweet little chubby birds flitting along at the edge of the sidewalk and in the street under a parked car.  They were so chubby and cute, not afraid of us. We got a good shot of one, see pics. It turns out they are house sparrows. Later we found some hand-carved birds in a shop that helped us identify the ones we’d seen in the street.  

The first grocery store didn’t have any pizzas for Rob, so we headed to the second one, doing a bit of shopping in the touristy shops along the way.  We are staying on the island of Gamla Stan, which is one of the oldest parts of Stockholm. Many of the streets are very narrow and are now pedestrian only. The main street just up from us is filled with touristy shops, both cheesy souvenirs and nicer things like woolens with Scaninavian designs and wooden shoes.  I’ve already bought a pair of wooden shoes with soft orangy-red leather uppers. Rob was able to find a pizza that he likes, but struck out on chocolate milk. We bought 2 kinds, and both were pretty gross. After eating dinner, we were off to bed a little after 7:00pm. Tomorrow we’ll get out and really start to see what Stockholm has to offer.

Another Place

While viewing properties with Cathy in the Waterloo area on the north side of Liverpool, we found we were just a 10 min walk from the beach.  As that was our last property to view for the day, we decided to talk a little walk out to the water and check it out.  To our surprise, we discovered a series of iron statues of men looking out to sea.  At the time, the sky was dark and clouds loomed low and heavy above.  A few sprinkles fell.  The statues looked forlorn, like a slow exodus.  From our initial vantage point we couldn’t really tell which were statues and which were people.  That added to the allure.  As we got closer, it turned out that there were more statues than real people.  After further research, there are nearly 100 statues along a 2 mile stretch of beach.  Some are right up at water’s edge in low tide, others far back from most high tides.

I was interested in finding out how the rising and falling tides have affected the statues.  They have been on this beach since 2007.  We saw one directly out from us that had tilted severely to his left.  He was pretty close to the low tide water’s edge.  Another, much further back, was buried to his waist.  Nearly all of them exhibited rust and decay in their faces and legs.  Many of the legs had barnacles and seaweed growing on them.  It seems birds like to rest on their heads, as many had bird droppings dripping down their chests and backs.  It would be interesting to go back at high tide and see many of them just heads or chests above the water.  Unexplained to us, even after reading the Wikipedia article are the round discs at chest and bum.  The installation is called Another Place by Sir Anthony Gormley.

It’s hard to see, but the closest statue is on the left between the dunes. Others are scattered further away

Tuesday: Shoes and Views

The sun came out today and the weather was a little bit warm, temps were in the mid-60s.  With more rain in the forecast I figured I needed to make the most of this relatively nice weather.  I started out by making my way to the Wallace Collection near Baker St.  The Wallace Collection is a permanent display of 16-19th century paintings, objects, armor, and weapons.  For a limited time, there is an additional display scattered throughout the rooms of Manolo Blahnik (famous shoe designer) shoes, hand picked by Señior Blahnik, himself.  He has often found inspiration in the Wallace Collection and chose shoes to compliment the displays.  I went for the shoes, as did many other women, ignoring the paintings and making a B-line for the shoes.  I’ve included some of my favorite designs in the photos.  The Wallace Collection also has a significant section of armor and weapons.  I found the detailed inlay work on the 16th century guns especially interesting.  My favorite is the happy looking lion.  Little does he know he is about to be shot.

After the Wallace Collection, I had some time to kill before meeting Cathy so I wandered down Oxford St for a bit, then headed over to Bank station to grab a quick bite of lunch from Pret a Manger.

Cathy and I met up just after lunch to view the Sky Garden at the top of the affectingly named “walkie-talkie” building.  The Sky Garden is on the 35th floor with viewing platforms overlooking The City of London and beyond.  We spent about an hour up there admiring the views.  We thought there would be more of a garden feel to it than there was.  Yes, there were tropical trees and landscaped areas around the perimeter, but the middle was overtaken by a 3 story restaurant and there was so many walkways and sitting areas with cafe tables that it didn’t really feel like a garden.  But, let’s be honest, no one comes up here for the garden, they come for the views, which were spectacular.

After the garden, we wandered down to the Thames.  It was low tide so we walked down onto the rocky area only exposed at low tide and looked around for interesting things.  We didn’t find any ancient pottery, but it was neat to be by the river, anyway.  Cathy had to leave for a lesson, so I started looking for a cafe where I could sit for a bit and use the WiFi.  I walked for a while, heading east out of the City.  By the time I started to come across cafes that weren’t very full (thus I wouldn’t feel like I needed to leave right away to give someone else my seat) I was nearly back to my flat.  So, change of plans, I just went back to the flat for free tea and WiFi.  

After Cathy’s lesson, we met up in Greenwich at the Cutty Sark pub, one of my favorites in London.  It’s a cozy place with a couple of floors, laid out sort of wonky like it had been expanded over the years.  There are low ceilings and little nooks scattered around for an intimate chat with friends.  It sits right on the edge of the river with great views of passing boats and the Millennium Dome.  As we arrived, the weather was getting windy and our views across the River Thames were of darkening skies.  Sure enough, about halfway through our meal rain started pelting the windows of the pub.  We had a cold, windy walk back to the Tube station to get home.

Sunday: Markets and Memorials

As I sit here in my little flat on Monday morning typing up thoughts on yesterday and enjoying my City view, it is properly raining outside.  The kind of rain that inspired the rain shower head.  It’s not a storm, just a constant flow of rain.  I’m not really looking forward to going out today, but that’s the subject for another day’s blog.  For now, back to yesterday.

Whenever I come to London I plan my trip so that I can spend my Sunday morning wandering the markets in and around the rapidly gentrifying Spitalfields neighborhood in East London.  This was the neighborhood that Cathy and I lived in when we were flatmates back in 2000.  Then it was a working class neighborhood with few pubs and the only eateries were truly authentic Indian restaurants, the kind that are far too spicy for me to eat more than a few bites of.  Today, many of the old buildings have been torn down and replaced with newer ones or converted to luxury condos and chain stores.  Cute, trendy pubs and restaurants abound.  It’s really interesting to see how much it changes each time I come.  And to see the holdouts like the 24 hour Beigel Bake (bagels, but spelled funny) that has been open on Brick Lane since 1976, back when the neighborhood was primarily Jewish.  Today the neighborhood is full of millennials.

Despite the gentrification, or perhaps because of it, the area around Spitalfields has quite a bit of street art.  I started my day by taking a back road over toward the markets on Brick Lane and stumbled across lots of street art near the old Shoreditch Underground station.  Just behind the old station is a new enterprise called the Nomadic Community Garden.  A group of citizens convinced the landowner to leave the land empty so they could use it to make a community gathering place.  I was there pretty early in the morning, so only a few others were there, mostly also taking pictures.  It serves many purposes: a safe place where street artist can practice their work without fear of arrest, a community garden, a hangout spot.  It had a very hippie vibe to it, probably a lot of pot smoking happens there later in the day.  People have taken bits of this and that to fashion benches and a few outdoor bar areas.  It seemed the sort of thing that one would expect to find in Asheville, so I felt right at home. Here are some of my favorites from both inside the Nomadic Garden and the surrounding area:

After leaving the Nomadic Garden I walked the last few blocks to Brick Lane.  My first order of business was to seek out halloumi fries.  Last year when I was her I saw them at the market, wanted to get them, but had just eaten a big meal.  I figured no problem, I would just get them the following week, since, on that trip, I was here for 2 Sundays.  To my disappointment the halloumi fries booths (there were 2 the first week) were not there the second week.  I’ve been talking about them ever since.  My friend, Ginger, affectionately refers to them as hooligan fries.  Well, to my happiness, the halloumi fries booth was about the 4th booth that I passed, so I stopped immediately to get some.  They were pretty good, maybe not as amazing as I might have hoped after more than a year of looking forward to them, but good, none the less.  For those of you unfamiliar with halloumi, it is a cheese that can be fried in a frying pan or fryer without melting.  So for the fries, they just dump a bunch of fry shaped pieces of cheese into the fryer.  I had a range of sauces that I could top them with, I went with a piri piri sauce (similar in color to paprika but spicier).  Yum!

Once my fries were in my belly, I did a bit of shopping through the markets.  Cathy met up with me a bit later.  The shopping was pretty much as expected, but was made slightly more exciting when we encountered several photographers with big cameras with massive lenses.  They seemed to be photographing random men on the street.  Upon closer inspection, the men were not random. But models mixed in with the usual Sunday market shoppers.  That’s when I remembered that this is Men’s Fashion Week in London.  We just might have been part of a shoot for that.  So, if you’e perusing photos of Men’s Fashion week, watch for me in the background, I’ll be wearing a bright red skirt with geese along the bottom, I will be hard to miss (which is why I probably wouldn’t make the final cut).

Cathy had plans at church for the afternoon, so we split up after lunch.  I took a short nap back at the flat, then headed out to find Postman’s Park.  I was watching a movie a while back (of course now I can’t remember which) with a scene in which the characters are walking along the river Thames and stop to read plaques of self-sacrifice.  In real life, the plaques are not at the Thames, but at Postman’s Park bear the Museum of London.  I wanted to go and see for myself a memorial dedicated to those who gave their lives to save others in everyday settings (as opposed to war heroes).  The memorial was set up in 1900 on a lovely little green space in the heart of the City, surrounded today by modern skyscrapers and massive old stone buildings.  The plaques on the wall are done in pale green tones on white tile background with flowery decoration framing the side of each one.  I’ve included phots of some other the most interesting ones.

Kew Gardens

What an adventure I had this morning! One that has occasioned me in the severest personal terror I ever experienced in my life.  Have I got your attention? Well I should, it is rather a dramatic way to begin a journal entry. However my day was not nearly so exciting as the woman who originally wrote these words. I will come back to her words later.

I did, however, have a lovely day with Cathy at Kew Gardens on the west side of London. When I woke, it was drizzly, cold, and windy; not the kind of day that inspires one to visit a garden.  But, as it drew time to meet Cathy the sun started to peek through the clouds.  En route to Kew Gardens we stopped at a cute little tea shop. I had my first cream tea of this vacation. A cream tea simply means black tea, accompanied by a scone, clotted cream (like soft cream cheese without the tang), and strawberry jam.  It was lovely, as always.

I had never been to Kew Gardens before today.  It’s fun to find things in London that I still haven’t done.  The gardens are very nice.  They spread over several acres, have a few different green house areas, as well as some ponds,woodland areas, and the River Thames flows along one side.  The Chihuly Glass exhibit that was at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville last year is currently her at Kew.  As before, I really like some of his pieces while others fall a bit flat for me.  We started out wandering toward the Hive, a massive art installation meant to mimic a bee hive and raise awareness of the importance of bees.  It has a sonorous sound/music that is piped out from its hive-like structure of metal.  After that, we headed over to the Princess of Wales pavilion, to check out the giant lily pads, tropical plants, and carnivorous pants.  

From here, we made our way to the former residence of King George III (yes, the one who lots the American colonies). The house dated from about 1800.  George and his wife, Charlotte (yes, the one for whom Charlotte, NC is named) lived here until their respective deaths.  Charlotte gave birth to 15 children, 2 of which stayed alive long enough to hold the British throne.  George III’s granddaughter was Queen Victoria.  Cathy and I had lots of discussion over how she became Queen while she had uncles who were still alive.  I’m not sure we came to a satisfying conclusion.  The house, itself, was possibly less interesting than our discussion and direction of British royal lineage.  I did, however, find the nearby kitchen (separate building) and adjoining vegetable garden interesting. The kitchen facility was nearly as big as the main house, just with 2 floors instead of 4.  And, to get back to my opening statement of drama, we read those lines from the diary of a woman in the Queen Charlotte’s employ who generally tried to avoid the mad king George when walking in the gardens, only to encounter him one day.  A scene which she very dramatically described in her journal.

From here, we meandered toward the river, then back toward a large pond that had a mother swan with 7 babies trailing behind.  Onward we want, through grass filled with goose poo toward the Treetop Walkway.  We climbed about 4 flights of stairs to a walkway level with the tops of the trees.  It was quite windy today, and if you stood still you could feel the walkway swaying with the wind gusts.  Yikes, but beautiful!  As we slowly made our way back to the entrance to the gardens we stopped in one final green house, the Temperate House to view a selection of plants from Cathy’s native New Zealand.  There were a few more Chihuly sculptures in here.  There was also a vey Victorian looking spiral staircase leading up to a second story walkway around the perimeter.  The views from above were pretty great.

All in all, we were at the gardens for about 4 hours, hence the great number of steps for the day!  My Fitbit tells me we walked 20,483 steps. 

New York City

I am off on my latest adventure alone, no Rob with me.  It feels a bit strange to be traveling without him.  But, here I am in New York, en route to London.

I spent the day with Jeff and Jo at their condo in Queens.  We started our day with lunch.  They live in a very ethnically diverse neighborhood, so Jeff wanted to introduce me to some of the different cuisines around, rather than just go with the NY standby of a slice of pizza.  He took me to Bamboo House for Nepalese mo mos (steamed dumplings).  He had beef mo mos in a spicy broth.  The waitress said it was medium spicy, but to our Scandinavian palates, it was really very spicy.  Wisely, I chose the chicken mo mos without the soup.  Much better and not spicy at all.  For dessert we stuck closer to the familiar: cupcake and a banana chocolate tart.

After lunch we returned to Jeff’s apartment/condo, where Jo was waiting to greet us and show me around their place.  They have been busy painting the rooms in fun colors.  Jeff has become quite the handyman, removing wallpaper, painting, and even making plant stands with his new woodworking skills.  Jo’s plants are beautiful!  I’ve included a montage of some of my favorites.  We chatted for the afternoon.  About 5:00 I hit the road to take the subway back to my hotel for the night.  I had taken an Uber to get to Jeff’s from the hotel near JFK airport, and felt like I didn’t really experience any of NYC.  So, on the way home I opted for the subway.  I wanted to grab something light for dinner along the way.  My plan was to find a sandwich somewhere, but as I walked along 37th Ave, I spotted a traditional NY pizza place and figured that since I was in NYC, I ought to have a slice of pizza.  It was huge, and more filling than I had intended, but I feel like it was the right thing to do.  While I ate at a table facing the street, I watched the people walking by.  True to Jeff’s word, his is a neighborhood of great diversity.  I saw blacks, whites, young, old, children, teens, girls in headscarves, men in long white tunics, Indians, Latinos, Asians.  It was pretty cool to be a part of that diversity.

Tomorrow I am off to London. Blog posts will likely not happen everyday, but I’ll try to find a few interesting things to share.

A Vanderbilt House Party – The Guilded Age

This spring, the Biltmore Estate added several new characters to the house. Mannequins sporting re-created costumes of actual clothing worn at Biltmore House are scattered throughout the rooms. They set the stage for a house party circa 1905. There is also a new audio tour to accompany the costumes. Your tour begins in the breakfast room and carries you throughout a typical day as you progress through the rooms. You pass mannequins dressed for a leisurely stroll on the grounds, dressed for a swim in the indoor pool, and servants dressed for the work they performed, finally emerging in the grand banquet hall just in time for a formal dinner complete with entertainment by a rising opera star.

Costume designers scoured old photographs of the Vanderbilts and their guests in order to re-create every detail of the period attire. They even brought in an Oscar winning costume designer, John Bright who worked on Downton Abbey, to consult. I was pretty impressed with the outfits. The exhibit runs for 2 and a half months (ending May 27), which surprised me as I meandered from room to room. They clearly spent a lot of time and money making these costumes and recording the new audio. It seems a shame to take them down and hide them in a storage room somewhere after just a couple of months. Maybe they will stay longer and the end date is just for show to generate interest now. I guess we’ll see.

Going for a stroll. I loved the boot laces and the belt detail.
I noticed that Edith, in the original photograph had a corset and extremely cinched waist, while the mannequin with her dress looks much bulkier (normal) through the waist. Interesting that they chose not to cinch up the mannequin. It feels a bit less authentic this way.