Category Archives: Posts from Base Camp

Posts from Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Protests and Disruptions

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

It’s now been three years since I visited Peru and journeyed to the famous abandoned city of Machu Picchu.  In order to do this, our group had to take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.  This all went very smoothly and I couldn’t imagine anybody having difficulty with it.  This week, however, thousands of tourists were stranded because the rail line to Aguas Calientes was shut down.

In the middle of Machu Picchu, Peru (July 2, 2014)

Two major protests coalesced in the Cusco area: one was about the cancellation of a promised airport in the region, while the other was by 20,000 teachers seeking higher wages.  As a result, the railway operator elected to close down for two days.  This reminded me of my own overseas encounter with local unrest:  a rotating local bus driver strike in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, that prevented us from skiing at an outlying ski area for a day.   There was nothing we could do about that:  it was far too small to be covered by the international news media and we were not reading the morning Italian papers.  In any case, we still had a nice day of skiing at the local area and simply took the bus the following day.

Machu Picchu, Peru (July 2, 2014)

However, there are cases where you can do your due diligence.  Just prior to leaving for Bosnia & Herzegovina, I read about some protests in Sarajevo that seemed to be getting a little out of hand.  As I was traveling independently, my only “fixed” plan was my hotel.  I e-mailed my hotel and immediately received a response:   these were anti-corruption protests at a local government building and it would not affect anything in the “tourist” areas of the city.

A rainy but very safe day in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina (April 23, 2014)

While I suppose that the hotel had a vested interest in ensuring my visit, I also felt better confirming the situation.  I figured that, having received their reassurance, the hotel might be more inclined to help me out if things did turn out ugly and I was exposed to a dangerous situation.   As it turned out, everything calmed down and I completely forgot about the protests when I was there.  I also found the hotels in both Sarajevo and Mostar to be very accommodating and concerned about their customers.

The old post office in Carleton Place, Ontario (June 2017)

Returning to the present:  I’ve been quiet about this summer’s travel plans.  There is a reason for this:  we decided to change our initial road trip destination because it was becoming too popular!  After reading one too many stories about the extreme tourist deluge hitting Cape Breton Island this summer, we decided to bail out.  For various reasons, including Canada’s 150th birthday, many Canadians are choosing to vacation in their own country this summer…and Cape Breton seems to be especially trendy.

A true Irish Stew in Carleton Place, Ontario

We are still going to do a road trip:  it just won’t be as far as Cape Breton.  It will focus on a unique part of our country and one that we haven’t visited enough during the warmer months.   In the meantime, I’m including a couple of pictures from Carleton Place, Ontario.  We stopped there recently on our way to Ottawa and enjoyed a seemingly authentic Irish lunch.  You never know what you will find, once you venture off the beaten path!

Searching This Site

(Kingston, Ontario)

I recently took a look at the blog and realized that I have over 260 posts already!  It’s now far too large for anybody to browse through in one sitting.  That also makes it hard to search: how do you know where I’ve been?

While there is a search function on this site, that only helps if you know what you’re looking for (and if I’ve referred to it). If you’re just curious and don’t have a particular destination in mind, one option is clicking on one of the archived months and hoping it leads you to something interesting.  Or you could do a search on a non-specific word: try a word like “beverage” for an interesting cross-section of results.

I’ve decided to use this post to make browsing a little easier. Here is a list, loosely organized by “Africa and Latin America”, “North America”, and “Europe”, of some of the places I’ve visited since starting this blog in 2014.  In each case, the link is to the first post on that particular destination…you can browse forward from there.  I’ve also included some of the more interesting “Travel Flashbacks” for trips prior to 2014:  those are marked with an asterisk (*).

Happy exploring!

Africa and Latin America

Costa Rica (Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio)

Peru (Cusco, Moray, Machu Picchu, Urubamba)

Chile (Santiago, Lake District, Volcan Osorno)

Argentina (Puerto Frias, Bariloche, Buenos Aires)

Morocco (Marrakesh*, Volubilis*, Oukaïmeden*)

North America

United States (Chicago, Washington, D.C.)

St. Pierre & Miquelon

Canada (Pouch Cove (NL), Baie-St-Paul (QC)* Ottawa 2014, Ottawa 2015, Ottawa 2016, Toronto 2015, Toronto 2016, Elgin County (ON), Goderich (ON), Regina, East-Central Alberta*, Whistler (B.C.), Yellowknife (NWT)*, Iqaluit (Nunavut)*,)

Europe

Iceland (Akureyri*, Lake Mývatn*, Grímsey*)

Ireland (CashelInis Mór, Westport, Dublin)

Northern Ireland (Portrush)

England (Liverpool*, Cambridge, London)

France (Reims)

Luxembourg (Vianden)

Netherlands (Delft, Rotterdam, Groningen, Schiermonnikoog, Haarlem, Amsterdam, Edam)

Denmark (Copenhagen, Hillerød)

Norway (Oslo*, Bergen*, Balestrand*)

Sweden (Uppsala*, Stockholm*, Malmö)

Finland (Helsinki*)

Estonia (Haapsalu*, Tallinn*)

Czech Republic (Prague)

Poland (Auschwitz)

Slovakia (Bratislava)

Hungary (Budapest)

Switzerland (Andermatt*, Zermatt*, St. Moritz*)

Italy (Varenna/Milan*, Rome, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Venice, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Sestriere, Orvieto, Padova, Madonna di Campiglio, Bologna, Verona*)

Austria (Vienna)

Croatia (Dubrovnik, Split)

Bosnia & Herzegovina (Sarajevo, Mostar, Trebinje)

Montenegro (Kotor, Durmitor National Park)

Today’s cover photo is one of my favourites – it’s a mountain restaurant high above Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.  The food was cafeteria-style and not very inspiring, but what a great location!

Finally. I’m looking into an interesting new direction for this blog – stay tuned for the details!

Books and Travel Guides

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

As I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, I decided to make today’s post about travel guides and “books about other places”.

Some very popular travel guides perpetuate the myth that travel is only for the very wealthy.  When listing accommodations, these guides generally give only 5-star hotels and throw in the occasional 4-star hotel as a “budget” option.  They are often the same luxury brands we have at home (and generally avoid because of their exorbitant prices) and offer exactly the same experience that you would get in your home country.    This naturally leads to the question:  why bother traveling, if you could have the same experience at home?

A small Nova Scotian fishing village, just east of Peggy’s Cove

For such travel guides, I generally find that the cost of one night’s accommodation corresponds to what I will actually spend on a week (or more) of accommodation…with no increased risk or discomfort.   One travel writer (more about him later) says that the more you spend, the more of a wall you build between yourself and what you traveled so far to see.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

So…which travel guide do I recommend?  I prefer guides that have few (or no) recommendations for hotels and restaurants.  Such businesses can change very quickly and the information is often very outdated by the time you read it.  Instead, I like guides that focus on objectively describing what a place is like and form some kind of opinion on local experiences.

The famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove…sadly, being renovated during our visit

When I first encountered the Rick Steves series of European travel guides, I was quite skeptical.  His books and travels shows (broadcast on PBS) assume that the reader is American.  His appearance does not fit the stereotype of an advocate for smart budget travel.  And yet, when you read his guides closely, he actually makes a lot of sense.  He is the writer mentioned above who pointed out the inverse relationship between spending and experiencing.

Lobster Traps at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

I think Steves is strongest in describing travel in Italy, as he clearly has a passion for that country.  However, if you are traveling to any European country for the first time, you could do worse than read a Rick Steves guide.  I do disagree with him about the pace of travel.  As he assumes an American audience, he also assumes (unfortunately) that the audience has very little in the way of vacation time.  If you follow his sample itineraries, you could find yourself suffering travel burnout very quickly.

Swissair Memorial at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

However, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to travel guides.  I recently read John Hooper’s “The Italians” to gain a little more insight into Italy and Italians, as we will soon be in Italy again.  I also read Helen Russell’s “The Year of Living Danishly” just before visiting Denmark:  it was written by a U.K. resident who moved to rural Denmark after her husband got a job with Lego!  That, in turn, led me to “The Nordic Theory of Everything” by Anu Partanen (originally from Finland but moved to New York after marrying an American).  While it is definitely not a travel book, it is an interesting read because it challenges some long-held assumptions about the Nordic countries.  All of these reflective books provide insight that you rarely find in travel guides.

Another view of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse (still being renovated, 30 minutes later)

The pictures in today’s post are all from our 2009 visit to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.   Coming up next:  arrival in Italy!

Not a Travel Flashback on Skiing in Val Gardena, Italy (2013)

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

In my last post, I said that I would dig up some photos from a 2013 ski trip to the village of Selva (in the famous Val Gardena of northern Italy) and write a “Travel Flashback” post on it.  I found the photos, but have decided against a traditional “Travel Flashback” post.

Chapel in the snow, on the Sella Ronda route

I have to admit that I did write a flashback post about Val Gardena.  Alas, I wasn’t very happy with the post.  It has now been 4 years since visiting Val Gardena and there have been other ski trips to northern Italy in the interim.  Ski trips are the ultimate in “experiential travel”:  you’re not just observing, you’re interacting with the dramatic mountains.  However, it’s hard to effectively convey that interaction in writing many years later, especially without any significant notes.   It also would have been much different if I had not been skiing in Italy since then, as there would not have been any conflicting memories from 2014 and 2016.

Blue skies high above Val Gardena

Importantly, this was also one of my last trips before deciding to launch this blog.  Over time, I have developed strategies for blog entries that don’t require me to spend precious vacation hours in front of a computer.  I can now create the framework for a blog post in a few minutes, if necessary, and fill in the details later.  Back in 2013, however, I didn’t have those strategies.

Everything is bigger in the Dolomites

The only real travel revelation during that trip?  This was the first time I had stayed for an entire week in a “half-board” (breakfast and dinner included in the cost of the room)  arrangement and I was worried that the food would become tiresome after a couple of days.   Not at all!  The food was great at the Hotel Europa and we enjoyed getting to know the restaurant staff during the course of the week.

Our hotel in Selva (Val Gardena) – right across the street from the gondola station!

And what about the skiing?  While not as challenging as the larger ski areas in Switzerland, I remember this much:  there was an epic dump of snow on the third day that left us with outstanding conditions for the rest of the week.  I don’t have any good photographs from that day but there is a brief video from that morning (you can link to it directly here).  The powder was even deeper in the afternoon and it was difficult to leave the slopes at the end of the day.

Looking up from the lower slopes of Val Gardena

Despite not being able to create a satisfying “travel flashback” post about it, I still look back very fondly on Val Gardena.   There’s something to be said for living in the moment and not spending too much of your trip thinking about blog entries.

Skiing in the dramatic Dolomites never gets old!

If you want to know more about skiing in the Val Gardena region, you can start by checking out the posts from my 2014 trip to nearby Cortina d’Ampezzo (here, here and here).

Returning to the present:  our trip to Madonna di Campiglio is rapidly approaching.  The next blog entry may well be from Italy!

This Year’s Travel Plan

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

2016 ended up being a busy year for travel, with three major trips (Italy, Chile/Argentina, and Denmark/Sweden) and a number of shorter trips within Ontario.  So…what’s in the cards for 2017?

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that another ski trip is coming up soon.  Last year, I spent some time in the Cinque Terre region of Italy before skiing for a week in the “Via Lattea” ski region surrounding Sestriere.

On piste madness! (Unheard-of mid-afternoon deep powder on an open piste at Sestriere, 2016)

This year, I will be skiing at a completely different resort in the Alps:  Madonna di Campiglio, in the beautiful Dolomite mountains.  This is the 4th time I will be skiing in Italy since 2013.  Why Italy again?  There are quite a few reasons for this.

Our lunch venue above the resort of Sansicario (Sestriere, 2016)

An important factor is the cost.  The other major alpine skiing countries of France, Austria and Switzerland are simply more expensive than Italy:  the lift tickets, the food, the hotels and even the ground transportation are presently all cheaper in Italy.   Switzerland suffers additionally from a very unfavourable exchange rate.  There are also many airports in northern Italy and the airfares to those airports are generally less expensive too. As a bonus, the on-slope food in the other major Dolomite resorts (Cortina d’Ampezzo, Val Gardena) was among the best I have ever had.  It may be cheaper, but it’s not because of a lack of quality!

Our ski group passing through the rocks at Pomedes (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

Another factor is that skiing in Italy is easily combined with something completely different.  This year, we will be spending a week in Italy before hitting the slopes.  There are many things to see and do in northern Italy that have nothing to do with mountains and skiing.  In addition to last year’s visit to the Cinque Terre region, I’ve previously acclimatized to Europe in places like Venice, Verona and Varenna.

Shocked and awed at Forcella Staunies (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

I have to create at least a little bit of suspense about the trip, so I’m not going to name the two main towns we plan to visit before arriving in Madonna di Campiglio.  However, I will say that our flight to Italy arrives in Rome (we’re returning from Bologna)…so that gives us a lot of options for our first week.  Regions such as Tuscany and Umbria are obviously very strong contenders!

Mountain restaurant at Son Forca (Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2014)

As for the rest of 2017, I have not made any definitive plans yet.  However, it might be time for a road trip and I really haven’t spent any time in the U.S.A. since my trip to Washington D.C. in April of 2014.

The main thing, however, is that I don’t want to overplan and commit to anything too far in advance.  One of the best parts about visiting Denmark last November was the immediacy:  I didn’t research it for months or years beforehand.  It just emerged out of an unexpected brief gap in my schedule and a frequent flyer plan point redemption offer. I still have a significant number of points in another frequent flyer program that may result in a similar opportunity in 2017.

The horses who “lifted” us to Armentarola (Cortina d’Ampezzo 2014)

The ski photos in today’s post are some of my favourite ones from Cortina d’Ampezzo (2014) and Sestriere (2016).  I will see if I can locate some Val Gardena photos for a “Travel Flashback” post on that resort before leaving for Italy.

And the next destination is…

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

In my last post, I mentioned that I will soon be taking a very spontaneous and brief overseas holiday.  This was done using some frequent flyer points that I needed to use.   Read on for the big reveal!

Part of the fortifications at Suomenlinna (Finland)
Part of the fortifications at Suomenlinna (Finland)

I usually try to visit places during the “shoulder season”:  this ensures that at least some sights are open but also means that the crowds aren’t too bad and the prices aren’t too high.  Visiting Ireland in early June of 2014 was a prime example of smart shoulder season traveling.  However, for a November holiday in the northern hemisphere, pretty much everything is “off-season”.  Nonetheless, I am determined to make this work.

It won’t be easy.  Firstly, I am actually traveling even further north than my base camp of Kingston, Ontario.  This means that the days will be very short…I’m counting on darkness by 4:00 p.m.

Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland
Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland

Secondly, I’m quite sure the weather will be dreadful.  With temperatures probably hovering around 5’C, it will be cold enough to be uncomfortable (especially with the anticipated dampness) but not cold enough to have a delightful dusting of snow.

View from the top of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki
View from the top of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki

Thirdly, many of the sights (especially in the smaller towns) are closed for the season or have drastically reduced hours.  I found one that is only open from 11:00 to 2:00 p.m. each day!  This will require some serious planning and a lot of creativity.

Helsinki's waterfront
Helsinki’s waterfront

My arrival destination is something new and different for me:  despite having been to 30 European countries, I have never been to this one.  In fact, it is the only “western” European country (other than a few micro-states) that I’ve never visited.

So, despite some formidable obstacles, I am very excited to announce that my next destination is…Copenhagen, Denmark!  I’ve got some ideas to make the trip special; I’ve already got a ticket to a sporting event (in nearby Sweden) and will take advantage of the fact that Christmas is a pretty big deal in that part of the world.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

Feel free to send me a private message (or post a comment on the blog) if you have any specific recommendations for this trip.  There’s nothing wrong with a little crowd-sourcing!  And don’t forget to check back here soon – it will soon be time for my Danish adventure!  In the meantime, this post is accomapnied by some previously unpublished photos from our 2012 trip to Helsinki, Finland.

Crash Course in Spanish…and Taking a Blog Break!

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

After a very long trip from Buenos Aires to Kingston (via Santiago and Toronto), we finally made it back home.   Despite some challenges, we had a great time and have an entirely new appreciation of two large and distant countries.  We will certainly return to South America some day!

Boat at Llanquihue, Chile
Boat at Llanquihue, Chile

You may remember my post about taking a “Duolingo” crash course in Spanish just before departure.  We actually kept on taking the courses while we traveled, as this gave us an opportunity to apply what we were learning.  In terms of vocabulary, the app was  a great way to learn a lot of words in a very short period of time.  We felt very comfortable in restaurants; it was also possible to figure out the essence of newspaper articles.  As for non-food conversations…this was a lot more challenging.

Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus. in Puerto Varas (Chile)
Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus. in Puerto Varas (Chile)

Duolingo was teaching us “Castilian” Spanish:  the Spanish spoken in the Castile region of Spain.  This was fine for reading.   However, there are some very dramatic differences in jargon and pronunciation between Castilian and Chilean or Argentinian Spanish.  To name just one:  the “LL” combination, which is pronounced like the English letter “Y” in Spain or Chile, is pronounced as “SH” in Argentina.  Not even close!

Sea lions in Puerto Montt, Chile
Sea lions in Puerto Montt, Chile

Making things even more difficult was the speed of the language.  A  large proportion of Argentinians have at least some Italian ancestry, so it was not too surprising that the pace and rhythm of the Spanish here sounded almost like Italian.   We also found that Duolingo was not as effective in learning grammar.  We learned the basics but the subtleties of tenses, etc., are not well suited to a mobile app.

Yes, we hiked the path of desolation!
Yes, we hiked the path of desolation!

Still, we are really glad that we made the effort to learn some Spanish.  It ensured that we ate well…and, perhaps more importantly, gave us a push to resume our language studies in French and German.  We have a stronger grammatical foundation in those languages, so the Duolingo emphasis on vocabulary makes it a useful way of achieving fluency.  As a result, nearly 6 weeks after returning home, we are still using Duolingo for French and German!  We have not continued our Spanish studies…but will be well-positioned to pick it up quickly the next time we need it.

We were very surprised to see a submarine in Puerto Montt, Chile!
We were very surprised to see a submarine in Puerto Montt, Chile!

And now, it is time to look into the future.  I have been creating blog posts on at least a weekly basis since February of 2014.  While I do have at least one major trip planned for this winter, I am going to be decreasing the frequency of posts for the next little while.

I took lots of pictures of Volcán Osorno (Puerto Varas) - including the photo at the top of this post
I took lots of pictures of Volcán Osorno (Puerto Varas) – including the photo at the top of this post

I hope you’ll keep reading the blog.  I encourage you to use its handy search function:  with well over 200 posts to date, I’m sure you’ll find something of interest!  There will be travel flashbacks and other travel-related posts from time to time…and rest assured that I will resume frequent posting during periods of travel.  There is some exciting and unusual stuff in the works!

 

 

 

 

Learning a Language in 5 Days

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Yes, I said that the next post would be from “on the road”.  While I am on the road already, I actually wrote this at home.  One of the best parts about running my own blog is that I can change my mind!

As I do not speak the language of the two countries I’m visiting on this trip, I decided to try an experiment.  Could I learn the language in less than a week, using only online tools?

More Cuban Crocodiles in Stockholm, Sweden
More Cuban Crocodiles in Stockholm, Sweden

I decided to try my experiment using the “Duolingo” app/website.  You can use it to learn multiple languages…simultaneously, if you want!  There are two ways to start working on your foreign language skills:  as an absolute beginner, or using a five minute placement test that will send you directly to your approximate level of fluency.  Just for fun, I decided to do the placement tests for French and German.  I was curious to see how my fluency in each of those languages would be assessed.  I figured that my German grammar and pronunciation would be better but I thought that I had better French vocabulary.

Swedish primates grooming each other.
Swedish primates grooming each other.

The placement test gives you a percentage score that represents your fluency in that language.   It also adapts to your performance:  if it is clear from the start that you don’t know very much, the remaining questions will focus on the basic components of the language to more accurately determine where you need work.  My scores confirmed that my French skills were not measuring up to my German ones.  Even so, it was encouraging to see that I was not too far from fluency.  I was tempted to work on those languages…but, alas, that would have to wait.  I had another language to learn.

Check out the grin on the reptile, at the bottom right!
Check out the grin on the reptile, at the bottom right!

My progress with my new mystery language is erratic but very tangible.  While I am nowhere near fluency yet (I just passed the 6% fluency checkpoint!), I have learned an incredible amount in only a few days.  With no books and no charts to memorize, I am learning more organically…almost like a child learns a new language.  It’s scary, because I usually learn by note-taking and then studying what I’ve written.  Somehow, much of what I’m seeing and hearing is actually sticking with me, even though I am not writing it down.   This forces you to learn intuitively and invent your own rules for the language:  it’s very hard at first but eventually you remember those rules better because they belong to you!

These are the globes that travel to the top of the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm
These are the globes that travel to the top of the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm

The cool part of using a program like Duolingo is that you can proceed at your own pace.  You can use it anywhere that you have Internet access.  It’s better to use it privately, so that you can hear the language (and speak it back into your computer), but you can still skip over those parts if you need to work silently.

Approaching the top of the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm
Approaching the top of the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm

Studies have shown that learning a completely new language is an excellent way to keep one’s brain from deteriorating with age.  I’m excited to report that it can also be fun.   Over the next couple of weeks, I will find out if it can be useful too!

I promise that my next post will really be from my mystery destination.  In the meantime, here are some more pictures from our 2012 visit to Stockholm, Sweden.

Travel Flashback: Stockholm (August 17, 2012)

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Another day, another blitz of the various attractions covered by the Stockholm Card!

We started off by visiting the Vasa ship.   The Vasa was a huge, overly ornamental and excessively armed ship that was launched in Stockholm with much fanfare in 1628.  Alas, with all of the bells and whistles, the engineers failed to take certain things into consideration.  Foremost among those considerations:  would it float?  Sadly, it did not even make it out of the harbour and sunk ingloriously after a mere 20 minutes.

The Vasa ship
The Vasa ship

However, the ship was magically preserved over the centuries at the bottom of the harbour until it was rediscovered in 1956 and finally exhumed in 1961.  Some restoration was obviously required but the ship now stands proudly in its own museum in downtown Stockholm.   While the environment is strictly controlled and does not lend itself well to photography, it was still fascinating to see the 17th century version of the Titanic.  It’s much more impressive, and perplexing, when you see it in person.

A couple of lemurs at Stockholm's Skansen open-air museum
A couple of lemurs at Stockholm’s Skansen open-air museum

Our next stop was Skansen – the “original” open-air folk museum after which many others are modelled (and sometimes even named).    Alas, we were starting to grow a little weary of museums by this time and we decided to focus on Skansen’s small zoo rather than the other elements.

This lemur crossed the line and was subsequently sprayed
This lemur crossed the line and was subsequently sprayed

We spent a fair bit of time “walking among the lemurs”:  there is a large area that you can walk through with about 20 of these odd creatures also wandering around.  They don’t harm humans but aren’t supposed to jump on your back because it could easily become a habit for them.  If they do jump on your back, a staff member will come running out and spray them with water:  the lemurs don’t like that!  It was strange to be hanging out with these creatures from Madagascar; we didn’t quite trust them but they also didn’t seem to be very dangerous.

Some of Skansen's primates
Some of Skansen’s primates

After observing the primates for a while (they all seemed to have those nasty-looking red behinds), we visited some of the indoor enclosures.  We saw rare Cuban crocodiles there, accompanied by this text:  “Since there is an embargo from American authorities regarding Cuban goods, crocodiles born in Cuba are not allowed into the U.S.A.  They are regarded as communistic crocodiles, in the eyes of American authorities.  On the other hand, if they are born in Sweden, they are allowed [and this is] the only way for American zoos to acquire this rare crocodile.”  I wonder if this still applies, given the recent thawing in relations between Havana and Washington?  You can read more about these crocodiles here: I certainly didn’t realize that they were kept in a Russian cosmonaut’s apartment for a while!

Is this a communist crocodile?
Is this crocodile a communist?

As this was our last full day in Stockholm, I pressed onward and visited the Ericsson Globe Arena.  This is a famous globe-shaped sports arena towering 130 metres above Stockholm. I mention the height because I did not go inside the arena:  I rode a globe-shaped “elevator” on an external track to the top!   This is definitely not recommended if you are prone to vertigo but it was a nifty way to see Stockholm from a completely different perspective.   Once again, the Stockholm Card covered the admission cost.

The Skyview ride to the top of the world's largest spherical building: the Ericsson Globe
The Skyview ride to the top of the world’s largest spherical building: the Ericsson Globe Arena

While I’ve got more pictures from Stockholm to share, I’m going to keep them in reserve for now.  The next blog post you see will be from our 2016 journey to the Southern Hemisphere.  Stay tuned to find out what I’ve been hinting about for the past couple of months!

Travel Flashback: Stockholm (August 16, 2012)

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

On our first day in Stockholm, we had an unforgettable experience at an international soccer game between Sweden and Brazil.  However, we also found a lot of other things to like about Sweden’s capital city.  Today’s post is about our second day in Stockholm.

The National Museum in Stockholm (as seen on our boat tour)
The National Museum in Stockholm (as seen on our boat tour)

Stockholm offers a multi-day combination tourist pass called the Stockholm Card that includes all public transit, museums and a host of other attractions.  We easily made it pay for itself, although we raced around at a blistering pace.  We began with a tour of the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet), the Postmuseum and a boat tour of the downtown area.    The Palace was appropriately huge and opulent; the Postmuseum included oddities such as a realistic portrait of a Swedish postal director from the early 1900s that was made entirely from postage stamps!  It was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen:  kind of like a mosaic but using stamps instead of stones or pieces of glass.

The streets are very narrow in Gamla Stan (the old town) area of Stockholm
The streets are very narrow in Gamla Stan (the old town) area of Stockholm

The boat tour turned out to be rather brief (it was free, after all) but it was still nice to see Stockholm from another perspective.  It is built on 14 islands and, as you’ll see from my next blog post, has quite a fascinating naval history.

Mårten Trotzigs gränd - the narrowest street in Sweden
Mårten Trotzigs gränd – the narrowest street in Sweden

We worked up quite an appetite navigating the narrow streets of Gamla stan (the oldest part of Stockholm) and had a fun outdoor lunch at one of the local restaurants.  Downtown restaurants generally have a lunch special (called “Dagens rätt“) with a price corresponding to the local “lunch allowance”, so we took the opportunity to have some Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce.  In the afternoon, we went to the Nobel Museum [“Nobelmuseet“].  This was important for us to see but the last “site” of the  day was, to our surprise, even more impressive.

One of the sculptures at Millesgården in Stockholm
One of the sculptures at Millesgården in Stockholm

Carl Milles was a sculptor who created most of his enduring works in the first half of the 20th century.  His home overlooked downtown Stockholm and was turned into a museum after his death.  The  home/museum is interesting (it looks as it did during Milles’ lifetime), but almost all of his major works are outside.  The complex is called Millesgården.

Another one of the ethereal sculptures at Millesgården
Another one of the ethereal sculptures at Millesgården

While he created all kinds of sculptures, Milles is best known for those that appear to defy gravity and even take flight.  You can see a few of them here, as well as a very small portion of the extensively landscaped grounds overlooking Stockholm.

More of Millesgården, with some of downtown Stockholm in the background
More of Millesgården, with some of downtown Stockholm in the background

Millesgården is relatively difficult to find, if you are based in the downtown area, but it is well worth the effort if you would like to have an unconventional art experience.  While I did my best to capture them in my photographs, the sculptures are even more impressive when observed in situ.  It turned out to be one of our favourite stops on our whirlwind cultural tour of Stockholm.

Stay tuned for the highly unusual next day in Stockholm: who would have thought there would be an element of Madagascar to our visit?