Category Archives: 2017 Winter Tours

Netherlands in Winter

I just wanted to mention a few wonderful events in our Dutch life. This post will be brief (don’t worry, not an overload of  history or art lessons) but some touchstones that make our life pretty wonderful..

A Warm Hoorn Welcome

November 12, 2017

….the first being a surprise welcome package we found nestled in our cockpit upon our return from the States. Left by our Dutch family that morning  it certainly brightened our arrival to a cold boat:


And, the next day we received an extra treat:  Tika’s homemade cupcakes!

IMG_6812 (1)

A lovely way to be back on JUANONA!


Touch of Maine in Amsterdam

November 13, 2017

Now and then we hear of friends being on this side of the pond; and, that’s how we met up with Paul and Kym to wander the canal-ribboned streets of Amsterdam.


Seeing familiar places through the eyes of new visitors spices up life, and Paul and Kym’s exuberance and interest in exploring new sites reinforced how lucky we are to be living here. And, how great it was to be with them :)

Sinterklaas is coming to town…

December 9, 2017

Our friends, Deborah, Thijs, and Tika ensure we experience typical Dutch events; and, a few days after the official date of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) eve (December 5th) we shared a fun-filled evening. The Dutch celebrate this day with a wonderful tradition of what we’d call Secret Santas. Only they manage to add a fun twist to it by the giver having to make the gift, create an elaborately wrapped package relating to that gift, and leave it as a present from Sinter Klaas along with a poem that kindly teases the recipient while hinting at what’s in the package.

Fortunately they simplified it for us (we could buy a gift of 10 euros or less and not worry about the wrapping); yet, to give you an idea of how the real Dutch do this, check out these Secret Santa creations exchanged on the actual Dutch SinterKlaas day:  Tika’s (who drew Thij’s name)


and Thijs’ (who drew Deborah’s name).


They greeted us with our velvet tams (Pete, Sinterklaas’ assistant from Spain, wears one) and exchanged gifts with Sinter Klaas’ help,


sang some carols, and spent the night being Dutch celebrants. We loved it, especially since Max was able to take home the specially made present from his secret Sinterklaas (Tika)




Training it to Utrecht

December 14-15, 2017

Our to-see list of historic Dutch sites included one of the country’s oldest cities, located about an hour southeast of Amsterdam. So, we planned a two-day excursion and trained down and over to Utrecht. Unfortunately, our last minute planning meant we couldn’t see our friends Pascal and Sylvia of s/v Wateraap whom we met cruising the Danish islands this past summer. Hopefully, another time will work out.

As promised I won’t go into a lot of descriptions of the sites we saw but will mention the highlights:

The city’s medieval cobble-stone streets offer a step back in time as we strolled down the Oudegracht  (11th-century ‘old’ canal) one way and up the Nieuwegracht (14th-century ‘new’ canal) during our stay. The impressive Domkirk (cathedral) and Domtoren (its 14th-century tower) drew us to what was once the Netherlands biggest church.


Here, the cathedral used to cover most of this area until a catastrophic windstorm in the late 1600s collapsed the nave.

Reading about a fascinating tour under the church to see the former Roman settlement, we signed up and killed time by enjoying a bite for lunch. Can you tell how happy Max is? The Art University cafeteria offered one of the least expensive meals here :)  (Max always appreciates a good value)


We explored the Roman ruins with an audio guide automated by pointing a light beam at a sensor.


Although the area was small, we got a sense of history such as peering at this Roman ammunition.


At the Museum Catherijneconvent an amazing exhibit on Martin Luther showcased his writings, including scribbles in his personal copy of the Bible. 


What I didn’t realize was just how much of a PR guy he was. Using the power of the printed word (in German vs. Latin), he and his pal, the artist Lucas Granach, created a brand to spread his thoughts. Ever the promoter, Luther pushed his printer to improve the quality of Luther’s pamphlets. Five hundred years later we’re still talking about this man. No wonder he has churches named after him. And, you know you’ve made it when LEGOS recreates your image in plastic bricks.


Down the street a bit we entered the Centraal Museum, Here we viewed another special exhibit, this time on one of Utrecht’s famous sons, the artist Pyke Koch (1901-1991). His early work didn’t attract me…

IMG_7902 (1)

But, as I followed a chronological path through his paintings, I did like his later ones.

Pyke’s work sharply details images with perfection, but with a polish alerting you that it’s not real.  His self-portrait from 1937 exemplifies this ability. This painting also represents his membership in a Dutch fascist party.


However, when the party merged with Nazism, Koch dropped his membership. Briefly banned from exhibting after WWII, he continued his art.  His later portaits, such as the 1948 portrait of Baroness van Boetzelaer,


reflects his admiration of the 15th-century Italian painter Piero della Francesa.


Some of Koch’s work mesmerized me such as his Seasons paintings (1948-51)…


and his 1959 “Football Players V”.


After walking though the special exhibit we spot-checked some other items, one in particularly being this 17th-century dollhouse.

I’ve seen some of these creations collected by adults but never one with a garden. Pretty amazing.


Whoops! I’m renegning on my promise! Okay, on to our next site.

We’d read that Museum Speelklok offered a fascinating education on ‘self-playing instruments’. At first we’d pooh-poohed it but, having extra time on our hands before another museum opened, we decided to stop in. Were we glad we did! An enthusiastic young guide led us to the museum’s star attractions.

There was a player piano, one of fewer than 100 in the world still operating, that uses three violins (!) along with the usual instruments to make music:



Among the street and dance hall organs we saw the largest in the museum, and, yes, it was huge.


We also saw her favorite one, which became ours as well. I’m including two videos of this Parisian clock from 1870 created by Blaise Bonems (1814-1881) who loved birds.


Be sure to check out the second one to see just how involved his creation is.


After two days we were ready to head home hoping to revisit this city again.


Ushering in 2018

December 31, 2017

Another wonderful afternoon and evening with Deborah, Thijs and Tika beginning with ice skating, something neither Max nor I had done for a long time.


As Thijs and Tika could skate rings around us, Deborah kindly kept me company while Max ‘sped’ off on his own


but not before I snapped a photo of him with Tika :)


Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to join Tika for a lap (when she slowed down :).


We ended the day playing games, one being Catan, an strategy game created in Germany about 20 years ago (and one Tika typically wins!)


and another, a  centuries-old Dutch shuffleboard game called sjoelbak .


Thijs, who’s played this since a child, shared his techniques, although we all would need quite a bit more practice to beat him.

Back aboard we witnessed the glorious display of fireworks popping over the harbor across the way.

A great way to ring in the New Year – with friends and fireworks!



Revisiting Leiden and The Hague in 2018 

January 2-3, 2018

With Max wanting to collect more research on his ancestors in Leiden, I decided to visit the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden with its special exhibit on Assyria. I found myself amidst a cacophony of families on holiday. Although crowded, the exhibit itself gave an excellent insight into this Mesopotamian kingdom


focusing on the reign of Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.E.) and his capital, Nineveh.


Some believe Nineveh could have been the location of the ‘Hanging Gardens’ attributed to the earlier Bablonian Empire. Now this ancient plot of land is surrounded by the city of Mosul in Iraq. Unfortunately what few ruins remained were targeted by ISIS who proceeded to bulldoze one of the gates and some of the reconstructed walls in 2016.

After an hour or so of playing peek-a-boo with other visitors peering into the glass display cases, I opted to meet Max and head for our hotel in The Hague. We were both pleasantly surprised to find our $64/night room to be clean, quiet, and well-equipped with CNN and a Nespresso machine!


The Student Hotel is a combination dorm and hotel with facilities serving both students and tourists (I wish I had brought my laundry after seeing the line-up of machines). Begun in 2004 by an enterprising young man, he has opened similar hotels in other European cities. Definitely worth checking out his other locations for future stays.

The next morning we first visited The Humanity House, providing the visitor a feel for a refugee’s life. There are stateless people in the world, such as Palestinian refugees, who can’t get a passport (or much else in the way of affirmative ID) because their place of birth isn’t recognized by the world community. With a permanent exhibit of seven displaced persons telling their stories, including a Palestinian, we left this building realizing just how fortunate we are simply to have a passport.

Our main destination was Vredespaleis, the Peace Palace. The only United Nations building not in NYC, this beautiful structure was erected specifically for fostering peace. Surprisingly to me, the Russian Tsar Nicolas II (1868-1918) began this process.  He asked his cousin, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962), to host an international peace conference in 1899. This led to 26 countries gathering to discuss disarmament and international jurisdiction, which resulted in the establishment of a Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

A decision was made to construct a building specifically to host this international body. Queen Wilhelmina donated royal property and Andrew Carnegie gave $1.5 million with the stipulation a library be part of the design. A second peace conference was held in 1907, this time with 44 countries attending. The building was (ironically) completed in 1913 on the eve of WWI. The League of Nations’ Permanent Court of International Justice soon moved into the building, later becoming the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of the United Nations. The Hague Academy of International Law also resides here.

They don’t allow any photographs, so I grabbed this off the Internet. But, you can get more of a glimpse by clicking here.


To see the building you have to sign up for a tour, which only operates when the courts aren’t in session. Max had done so online and on Wednesday morning we joined about fifteen others as a young guide led us through the fabulous interior to the two court rooms. In each one he explained a relatively recent case:

In the PCA the guide related the case of Philip Morris vs. Australia over whether the tobacco company had to follow the plain packaging rules (use health warnings with no company logos allowed). Philip Morris tried to circumvent this rule by opening an office in Hong Kong where a bilateral trade agreement between Hong Kong and Australia would allow Philip Morris to continue using their own brand packaging. In 2015 the court ruled against the tobacco company, having seen its opening of a Hong Kong office as a way to avoid following Australia’s law.

In the ICJ we heard about Australia vs. Japan and the latter’s whaling. Japan said they had the right to whale for scientific research; yet, Australia disputed that claim by pointing out that the number of whales Japan was killing far exceeded what could reasonably be used for research purposes. In 2014 the ICJ ruled in favor of Australia; however, a year later Japan rejected the ruling (not something often done) and is still whaling.

We highly recommend going on one of these tours. The building itself is magnificent, with many countries having donated building materials and furnishings resulting in an eclectic but beautifully blended decor. And, just to be in the actual court rooms where momentous decisions are made resulted in my sitting up a bit straighter.

The very last tour was a stop a the Museum of Gevangenpoort or the Prison Gate for an MDT (Max Disaster Tour). This site we wouldn’t recommend, but we did see a horrific torture item: the breaking bench (essentially a place where every major bone was broken).


This item became more real to me when I read about it’s use in the biography of Peter the Great. Lovely.

But, we did shake off some of the gruesomeness by visiting the Gallery of Prince William V (1748-1806) upstairs. There a collection of 17th-century paintings, primarily by Dutch artists, William had acquired. A small room led to a larger gallery and there we let peace and beauty overtake the horrors from the prison. A much better way to end our two-day tour!



January, 6, 2018

Our last Saturday in the Netherlands we enjoyed a wonderful lunch aboard with our niece Katie and her partner Yorgos, who both live in Amsterdam.


The discussion wandered to lifestyles and Yorgos’ working on a blog about saving money. He mentioned the website, and we told him of how we first heard about this site from our friends Melanie and Anthony. When Yorgos’ site is up, I’ll include it in another post.

All impressive young folk, and we’re lucky to know them.



January, 7, 2018

And, I can’t end this post without my next day’s excursion:  Tassenmuseum (Bags and Purses Museum).


Deborah and I had a wonderful girly afternoon peering at an historical array of these items dating from the 16th century. Men (such as my husband) should appreciate our obsession with handbags.  Upon the invention of pockets, men stopped carrying purses while women’s bags just got heavier… Go figure.

And, with that I’ll close. :)


May you all have a wonderful new year!
















Winter Wonderland continued

78°13’24.02″N, 15°38’48.8″E

(Longyearbyen, on Spitsbergen Island, SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO)

Thursday-Thursday, December 22-28

During our six-day visit to this arctic winter wonderland we signed up for a variety of experiences, most being pretty unique to us, and all well worth doing.


Below is a recap our those adventures, but not a lot of pictures because it was too dark…


Coal Mine 3 Tour

With the coal industry being such an important part of Spitsbergen’s history we opted for a tour of Mine 3, a coal mine operated from 1971 to 1996 by Store Norske. In 2015 the company decided to re-open the deserted mine for touring, which is how we ended up standing in the chilly and eerie gloom of a coal mine one afternoon. With everything left just as it was the day the mine closed, right down to the jam jar in a break room with jam still in it, no wonder it felt a bit spooky.

Fortunately our youthful and extremely informative guide, Bodin, erased the spooky atmosphere. Being the only two visitors that day, we had a personal tour following Bodin through the miners’ typical workday. Her monologue definitely warmed up our tour as she nonchalantly would toss out “they finally added a cushion to the driver’s seat because his ass would sure get cold on the metal one.” I won’t even start to type what she said the miners called one of their tools, names associated with females because, as she noted, there weren’t any around…

But, back to more technical info. Mine 3’s coal is not only a drift mine, but also a low one. A drift mine means you access it horizontally versus digging down vertically. A low-drift mine means its coal is in a narrow, horizontal seam only two to three feet high (below is a part of the seam at a really narrow spot with the sulfur that’s part of it)


and, unlike the other mines operated by Store Norske, the miners at Mine 3 accessed this seam by hand!

In the dressing room we donned our mining suit, gloves, helmet and headlight using some of the actual clothing the miner’s used.

As we entered the area where trains transported workers to/from the tunnels and carted coal to a bin, she began explaining just how dangerous it was to work here. And, not because of the lack of safety protocols but due to the inherent risks of working with coal and the necessary machinery to mine it. One of her more descriptive deaths involved a runaway train where the driver jumped off only to be hit by the following, derailed carts. She said “they didn’t have to search for body parts because he had his jumpsuit on”…

To give you a feel of how it felt, Bodin offered us the opportunity to crawl through one shaft,

although it was taller than the actual vein the real miners had to use. Plus, they operated heavy equipment in these positions for eight hours a day… As Bodin says, this mine is where boys become men.


She also let us experience the total, and I mean total lack of light when the three of us turned off our head lamps.

Bodin mentioned the coal trolleys that used to ferry coal from the mines to this collecting spot. Trundling on aerial cables supported by wooden platforms, these carts would often spill coal dust and coal chunks all over the town.



Which is why it became the habit of everyone to remove their shoes and walk in stocking feet once inside private and public buildings, a tradition that continues to this day.

By the end of the tour both Max and I were shaking our heads as we imagined having to earn a living in such an environment. Bodin felt the same way, and her empathy and admiration for those who worked here came through loud and clear. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

Dog sledding

By far our most favorite activity was the dog sledding. And, what a magical time that was! We’d signed up with Green Dog, a company with over 250 dogs and ten people (owners, guides and handlers) and joined six others our first morning in Spitsbergen. Each sled carried two people and was pulled by six dogs, except for the lead sled which carried three people (two tourists plus our guide, Marcel) pulled by 12 dogs.

In a roomful of snow suits, snow boots, snow hats, snow mittens and headlamps, the eight of us with a mixture of nerves and merriment outfitted ourselves. Not only did the equipment ensure we stayed warm but also provided protection from the exuberantly jumping dogs.

Once outside Marcel gave us a well-honed, ten-minute lecture on how to handle the sled. The most important instruction being “do NOT ever leave the driver’s station even when you have the snow anchor out.” He also mentioned that as soon as the dogs heard the cold ring of the metal snow brake (like a boat anchor) hit the holder on the sled, they’re off. Meaning, you’d have to run a far piece to catch up with these energetic pups.

Not quite sure I had taken it all in, we helped harness our individual teams, ‘helped’ in the sense we held the two lead dogs on their long lead as the other four were also attached to the shorter leads.


Then, with everyone set, Marcel drove off in the darkness followed by another sled driven by two Malaysian guys, then us with a Norwegian father and his daughter serving as the caboose of our dog sled train.

I had opted to drive (steer?) first with Max sitting in the passenger ‘seat’ with legs stretched out front. I won’t lie. The first three minutes was a bit scary as I tried to remember all the do’s and don’ts issued by Marcel, one being how to use the foot brake while you’re standing on the runners. Well, I did test it, first with one foot, then with both, neither of which appeared to truly cause the sled to brake; yet, it did begin to slow it down as I lost my fear and gained a semblance of driving technique. Then MAGIC!

We’d read it’d be you and the dogs quietly running through the arctic darkness, which sounded a bit optimistic considering the noise of a pound-full of dogs yelping and howling in excitement as we prepared the sleds. But, once we left the compound, the huskies quietened down, intent on pulling their human cargo through the dark day.

Max and I switched off and he took over as every now and then we’d let out a whoop of pure joy as we rode our sled with our trusty team. And, they really did feel like ‘our team’. Just think:  you, the sled, and your dogs mushing through the star-lit day with only their panting and the sled’s runners making any sounds. If you could bottle this, you’d be a snow-globe vision in motion.

I will say I was always a bit nervous when outdoors around here, even on the streets downtown. Why? Because polar bears outnumber people (3,000 bears to Spitsbergen’s population of 2,500+/-), and it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of stories of the unfortunate few who have become polar bear snacks.

The Atlantic polar bear feast

Locals have seen them on the town streets, too, which made me constantly on the lookout when walking any distance along any long, people-empty walkways.

The government insists everyone have a gun if heading out of town for any outdoor activity.


which is why you see these signs on town doors,


And, this sign when leaving the town:


You know locals take it to heart when your taxi driver is standing watch with a rifle slung over his shoulder while using a flashlight to sweep the perimeter (especially downwind) when you’re out of the van checking for northern lights.

For a truly entertaining description on why polar bears aren’t something to be calm about, read Adam Cowlen’s article. If you’re like me, you’ll gain some valuable knowledge about these snow beasts while chuckling at his hilarious way with words.

So, realizing our gun-toting guide (who carried both a rifle and a pistol) was two-sleds ahead of ours, with our headlamps only illuminating about twenty feet in front of us, i.e., dogs’ butts, well, it made me just a wee bit scared to death. BUT, I had faith in the dogs thinking they’d be hauling ass if they smelled any bear. And, hey, if our time was up, at least we were doing something fun, right? At least that’s what I mantra’ed to myself now and then.

After an hour or so, we’d circled back to the pound, unharnessed the dogs and led them back to their individual homes,


disrobed, and celebrated with brandy-infused coffee and hot chocolate the amazing thrill of dog-sledding, thanks to our guide Marcel and the pups.

IMG_one of 260 Green Dogs Marcel

I’m sure we’ll be repeating dogsledding if another opportunity arises, especially as Max commented several times on how we were traveling like the South Pole explorers did over a century ago. Minus the hardships, of course!

Ice Cave Hike

Due to fear of being too cold and, more so, of becoming claustrophobic having to enter via a hole in the ground and subsequent crawling, I opted out of this adventure; so, the following is in Max’s own words of how he spent Christmas Day….

Ensconced beside the warm diesel heater aboard Juanona prior to our flying up to Svalbard, I had read about a trek up the Larsbreen Glacier where you can climb inside and explore an ice cave under the glacier. This sounded good to me, so I immediately signed up for a trek to take place on Christmas Day. It wasn’t until a day or two before Christmas that I began hearing murmurs of the strenuousness of the journey and I began to question my decision in view of my 62 year old body and lack of much aerobic exercise of late. But friends assured me it ‘wasn’t too bad’.

Christmas morning I donned pretty much every article of warm clothing in my wardrobe prior to the hotel pickup. Our group consisted of a large Danish family of 7, a single Dutch fellow, and our Norwegian guide. We were driven to a lodge near the outskirts of town and outfitted with snowshoes and headlamps. We started up the valley which multiple glacial events had carved out between two huge rocky ranges, the snowy peaks of which were barely visible in the murky light. Our guide helpfully and accurately, it turned out, told us to unzip our jackets and sweaters to let the heat out as we hiked. Zip them up only when you start to feel the chill.

The ascent took 3 1/2 or 4 hours, slowed by one of the group who was struggling mightily but to his credit, did not turn back. (The one opportunity to do so occurred when another group passed us on their way down. The guides would not let you walk alone out there, not least because of the polar bears for which they carry guns).
Eventually we reached the entrance to the snow cave, which our guide was happy to see had been shoveled out by the earlier group.


Once inside, there is a narrow path that twists and turns for hundreds of meters in a wide array of patterns, shapes, and variations in the ice. Dazzling crystals hang from the ceiling in some areas,


while in others the sides are comprised of ice that has been hardened by centuries of slight melting and refreezing under pressure from the weight above.



After we’d had our fill of exploring, we shared welcome mugs of hot water mixed with berry syrup. The journey down took another hour or more, and the sight of the hotel at the end of the day was welcome indeed.

City Tour

While Max tested his physical endurance on the ice cave hike, I joined six others for a ‘city tour’ led by a laconic guy named Finn. Having been out the previous day  on the hunt for northern lights and not seeing any, our cab driver Alex had given us an impromptu tour of Longyearbyen. Which meant I was a little familiar with Finn’s first destination, the Kjelll Henriksen Observatory (KHO), located about 10 miles from town on the hill where Mine 7 is located.

As Finn plowed through the snow drifts we peered through the frosty glass in hopes of glimpsing something other than darkness, but the only thing we managed to see was a vague shadowy outline of something large in the distance. Okay, turn around and head back to town for more sight-seeing, or should I say, more imagining what we’re suppose to be looking at.

But, you can always learn more, and Finn’s commentary on the history of Longyearbyen punctuated with anecdotes and stops for photos made the two-hours pass quickly.

Driving by the hospital (which I wouldn’t haven known was a hospital) Finn informed us only minor operations are performed here, with the complicated cases flown to the mainland for treatment. He also said pregnant women are required to leave the island three weeks before their due date but added any unexpected deliveries have been successful. Nice to know. The fact that high-level medical care isn’t available on the island means one doesn’t come here to live out their life.

Finn also mentioned 14 police kept strict tabs on any criminal activity, specifically any involving drugs. The town banishes for a long time anyone convicted of a drug violation. Alcohol use is high and a concern, which seems typical when reading about isolated northern communities.

His commentary reminded me of a recent TV series I’d seen on Amazon Prime:  Fortitude. There, no one was allowed to die on the island. How they managed that scenario, I don’t know.

We passed a relatively small, well-lit building with huge glass windows. The back-up generators are in there, ready in the event of any power outage from the energy plant. Norse Gods & Goddesses forbid. Loss of heat and power in a place such as this could quickly become fatal.

One of the highlights came from a sighting down at the harbor. We saw an Arctic Fox! Unfortunately, my phone camera didn’t capture it so well as you can see.


However, I was in the car with two professional photographers, Karim and his wife Maria, and their two clients, an Aussie and Kiwi, on an Arctic photography safari. Karim did immortalize the fox on film, and I’m hoping he’ll post it on his website. Even if he hasn’t, both his and Maria’s site are worth a long sight-seeing tour.

Finn, meanwhile, told us an interesting story about the solitary boat below.


The owners originally planned do cruises, but ended up instead harvesting glacial ice for water: Svalbaroi at 69.95 euros, or $83.93 a liter.


Not everyone thinks this is good for the world, which I can understand.

Another highlight was the Global Seed Vault opened in 2008. Sitting on a hillside on the way to the airport, a green glow alerted us to the vault. The light comes from an art installation, Perpetual Repercussion by Norwegian artist Dyvek Sanne, and it’s really the only visible part of this international food mine extending 100 meters into the side of the mountain.


This natural icebox holds over 400,000 crop seeds from around the world.


According to the gatekeepers of this vault, the Crop Trust, Longyearbear’s location offers the best safe-keeping for the world’s seeds: a remote but accessible site; the large capacity of a 100-meter tunnel; geologically stable with low humidity; well above sea level; and, a natural-freezing zone due to the permafrost.


Serving as the backup for 1,750 seed vaults throughout the world, in 2015 Syria withdrew seeds it had stored in this ‘doomsday vault’, returning some two years later.

Yet, in spite of its height and freezer temps, this vault didn’t prove impervious to global climate change. In 2016, due to an unusual amount of rain and warmer temperatures, some permafrost melted and flooded the first 15 meters into the 100-meter tunnel. No damage occurred, but water-proofing the vault is now underway.

Svalbard Museum

If you’ve read any of my posts then you know, if there’s a museum close by, we may be in it. And, yes, there’s a museum here offering a quick perusal of the area’s history. So, on our last full day, we wandered down one of those deserted walkways I mentioned above, my head swiveling like the girl’s in The Exorcist movie as I panned the area for any large, white furry creature looking for a holiday meal. (Although, I heard they, supposedly, don’t eat you but just chew you up and spit you out. Reading about this later I found they DO eat you. Either way it doesn’t sound good.)

Attached to the University building, the museum guides you on a circular walk through displays of early explorers, whalers and hunters… the wildlife… local geology… and current residents.


I used some of our photos here in the previous post, but here are several showing the effect of global climate change on the ice cap. Not Good.



Like many establishments here, they welcomed visitors with Yule-time treats.


That is good.

Svalbard Museum offers an excellent introduction to this area, well worth an hour or two of one’s time–a visit we should have thought to do sooner versus later.

And, Finally, Northern Lights!

Knowing northern lights operate on Mother Nature’s schedule, not ours, I’d convinced myself not to be disappointed if we didn’t see any. But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t go a’hunting for them… four times… :)

And, we saw them two times during those forays out of town (one with that gun-toting taxi driver, Hendrik Sanio :).

Not being equipped with the best camera for snapping night shots, we received several photos from other folks with us, and I’ve put them below.

Here’s Hendrik’s:

Hendrik Sanoi Photo (1)Hendrik Sanoi Photo 2

And from our friends Ali and Hanieh:

Ali and Hanieh Photo (1)Ali and Hanieh photo Norse God (1)

And, a few more from two brothers, Josh and David Redlich from New York City, who were packing in as many activities as possible between Christmas and New Years in Bergen, Oslo, and Longyearbyen.



As you can imagine, all of us were in awe of the Arctic sky as the Northern Lights pulsed from gray to white to light green.  And, yes, it was spectacular! :)


Saving the Best for Last…

Although we had expected the small hotel to foster evenings of card-playing and conversations in the cozy lobby, most times it seemed folk were content to stay in the company of their family or friends. However, we’d lucked out when we met Ali and Hanieh, both living and working in Munich with Hanieh temporarily in Oxford, England with a Research Group.

Dogsledding and Northern Lights were highlights of our time in Longyearbyen. but these two were the best Christmas gift Svalbard could have given us.


And, the perfect ending to a magical time in a wintery wonderland!

As I write this it’s the first day of a new year. May 2018 bring everyone peace & love in healthy & happy lives.


A Winter Wonder Land

78°13’24.02″N, 15°38’48.8″E

(Longyearbyen, on Spitsbergen Island, SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO)

Thursday-Thursday, December 22-28

Okay, we’re not going home for the holidays. No one is heading over here. So, what to do?

Why, go north, of course! Which is how we ended up in the Svalbard Archipelago on Spitsbergen, in a town 814 miles from the North Pole.

No, we didn’t spot any jolly guy driving a reindeer-sleigh across the sky, although, there is a mailbox for him. Yes, it was cold, but not too cold at all (10 to 30 degrees). And, yes it was dark (24-hours). But, boy, was it AMAZING!

Thanks to warm air coming from the south and an offshoot of the Gulf Stream (West Spitsbergen Current) it’s not that cold, or not as cold as one would think.


Compared to other Arctic lands, the relatively mild climate offers sustenance for marine life, birds, and land mammals in spite of half being covered by glaciers and the other half pretty barren. We couldn’t really see the landscape it being dark and all, but we read the view is similar to what it had been at the end of the last ice age.

Having friends who sailed here during summer months we have toyed with the idea of doing the same; but, the vast distance to sail would require wintering over in Tromsø or some other Norwegian port due to the short cruising season.

Visiting here in the winter came about thanks to our Swedish friend Michael’s enthusiastic description of his time here last January. Flying in seemed a lot more practical (and easier) than traveling by boat, and a wintery wonderland for Christmas appealed to our interest in exotic locations. Which is how we became two of the roughly 600,000 annual visitors to Spitsbergen with 50% of those passengers arriving on summer cruise ships.

With backpacks stuffed with warm outfits but no sunglasses (I reminded Max he didn’t need his after he packed them) we flew from Amsterdam to Longyearbyen. We had to overnight in Copenhagen due to limited, connecting flights to Svalbard. Fortunately, we decided to book a hotel room as otherwise this would have been us (which has been us in the past)…


and, could be us in the future for as Max observed “doesn’t look too bad because you can actually stretch out”…

Because the Svalbard Archipelago isn’t part of the Schengen agreement* (or EU), we had to go through passport control when entering and leaving.

* The 1985 Schengen Agreement–named for where it was signed in Luxembourg–removed the European border checks for those citizens whose country signed this treaty. Almost all the EU countries signed (with Great Britain being one which didn’t). For citizens of non-Schengen countries, you’re only allowed up to three cumulative months in Schengen countries after which you must leave for three months. We’re allowed to stay due to our application and acceptance for temporary Dutch residency under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT).

With growing tourism over the past 15 years the plane was packed with excited folk like us,  and, when we landed in pitch black we joined them snapping shots of our winter destination.


The airport crews joined in the fun


and locals welcomed arrivals with hot glogg (Glühwein) and crisp cookies.


Another greeter was a vision in white and one I never wanted to be this close to:


Svalbard Hotell & Lodge, Longyearbyen’s newest accommodations, became our home over the next six days, and what a great place to enjoy what the area offers.


Due to our assigned room’s reading lights not working, Jason upgraded us to a suite (!), which included our own Nespresso machine :)  We always felt welcomed by the reception manager Ana and her staff, several of whom we met such as Christiana from outside of Newcastle, England and Alexander from Russia.

Ana moved here from Tromsø with her family when she was seven and told of being in elementary school where she was one of two classmates in her grade. She was helpful, friendly, and extremely patient -as were all of her staff- as every hotel guest, us included, asked about the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights. This obviously was THE question as we gazed at the board right above their heads, displaying the real-time strength of the aurora borealis.


One aspect of our trip did surprise us:  the excellent meals at the hotel’s restaurant. As Max commented “Who would have thought to come here for the food?!” The breakfasts were superb with an a la carte spread of yogurts, power shakes, fresh-cut fruit, cereals, cheeses, meats, lettuce & tomatoes, pastries, breads, eggs, bacon, and plenty of condiments and spreads as well as juice, coffee, tea and water. And, yes, we did make sandwiches for our lunches a few times.

Luckily we reserved a spot for Christmas Eve dinner here; and, we feasted on a mouth-watering buffet compliments of Christian’s husband, Grace, who hails from Oban, Scotland, and is the hotel’s chef.


For Christmas Day dinner we opted for another restaurant, the Nansen (named after Fridtjof Nansen, 1862-1930, a famous Norwegian polar explorer), located at the Radisson Blu Hotel, and the only other eatery open that day. Max ordered the “Arctic Special” consisting of whale, seal, and reindeer meat, not a particularly PC meal (and, sorry about the seal, Andrea!). No, none tasted like chicken, and, yes, the seal tasted a bit fishy.


Before I move on from the food and hotels, an interesting fact is the Svalbard Hotell & Lodge’s link to another one of Norway’s polar explorers, Eivind Astrup (1871-1895) whose statue greets you close to the entrance.


Unless you’re an avid reader of polar exploits, you may not be aware of how his pioneering of dogsleds and skis dramatically altered Arctic explorations. As you can see, the wooden version is a good likeness!


The hotel’s founder is a descendent of Astrup, which explains why the restaurant is named Polfareren (polar explorer) and why Astrup’s framed mapping tools and diary hung on the restaurant’s wall. Couldn’t have been a more fitting place to stay considering Max’s keen interest in polar exploration.

The tales of this land fascinated me, which means the following is a brief bit of history about this area supplemented by our visit to the Svalbard Museum:

As a land of rocks and permafrost, Svalbard is an Arctic Tundra with no trees, no forests, no agricultural areas, and few species of flora and fauna; however, before its ground became permanently frozen, some dinosaurs did inhabit this land and these waters (Svalbard was submerged for millions of years). In the early part of this century, they discovered fossils of swan reptiles (plesiosaurs) and fish lizards (ichthyosaurs) in Svalbard.


Those animals existed during the Jurassic period and were later replaced by  those more suited to an Ice Age.

Fast forward millions of years to 1194 when the name ‘Svalbard’ (‘Cold Coasts’) was first mentioned in Icelandic annals, although not necessarily meaning this specific group of islands. In 1596 when searching for a North-East route over Siberia the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz formally discovered the largest island of this archipelago and named it Spitsbergen, Dutch for ‘jagged mountains’.


During the 17th century these waters became whale-hunting grounds for Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, English, Germans, French, and Spanish with Russians joining in at the beginning of the 18th century thanks to Tsar Peter the Great’s desire to expand his realm. With no international restrictions, these nations harpooned the valuable Greenland right whales (or bowhead whales) to the point of extinction.

Graves provide proof of these early visitors and the dangerous lives they led…



with display cases exhibiting some of the items found:

this wide-brimmed hat…


woolen cap…

IMG_8122blue coat…


and, leather shoes.


With the decline of whaling, the 19th century brought hunters and trappers. Until the mid-1800s the Pomors (from Russia’s White Sea coast), familiar with Arctic grounds since the 1700s, focused on catching walrus during the summer. In winter months, when the weather didn’t allow hunting, they entertained themselves with games and handicrafts. At Svalbard’s Museum we saw some of the artifacts from their time here, such as these crosses.


Arctic foxes,




and polar bears


became the main quarry for hunters and trappers from the end of the 1890s to 1941.

And, they were some hardy folk. Imagine calling this ‘home’?

Posh tourists and adventurers also travelled to this northern land to enjoy the great outdoors.

In addition to the larger game, seals, birds, duck and goose down added extra income to the 400 or so inhabitants (6% being female) during the first half of the 20th century. With plenty of space and animals to hunt, Svalbard stayed a terra nullius or no-man’s land unfettered from any one-country’s domination. However, this changed due to the discovery of coal in the 19th century.

Between 1898 and 1920 coal miners registered over 100 claims. With the resource now in the land versus roaming around it, it became necessary to clarify ownership and settle disputes regarding these claims. The Spitsbergen Treaty was drawn up and signed in 1920 giving Norway sovereignty over Svalbard.

Since the original 14 countries signed the agreement [Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United States, the UK (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa)] 22 more countries have added their signatures to the treaty, the most recent being North Korea in 2016.

Although Svalbard is under Norwegian administration and law, all citizens of the signatory nations have free access to live, work, and trade here. Taxes are substantially less than mainland Norway’s (16% vs. 40%) and collected for the sole use of Svalbard’s administration. Additionally, no military operations are allowed.

Currently Norway and Russia operate coal mines on Svalbard, subsidizing the operations to maintain permanent settlements on this arctic land. For a lengthy but fascinating explanation on Svalbard’s evolution from 1925 to the 21st century, click here.

We stayed in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen’s largest permanent settlement with 2,200 population, about 70% being Norwegian with the remaining being multinationals. Due to tourism English is becoming the de facto language, which made it easy to visit this icy land.

The other towns are: Ny Ålesund, an international research station with about 40 people*; Barentsburg, a Russian coal mining town, population around 400; and, Sveagrua, a Norwegian coal mining town with an uncertain future. A few weather stations also are sited on Spitsbergen and other Svalbard islands.

*The famous Norwegian explorer, Raold Amundsen, explored the Arctic with airships in 1926 and 1928 using Ny Ålesund as his base.


Longyearbyen is named after Michiganite John M. Longyear, an American businessman, who visited Spitsbergen on vacation in 1901 (back then this was a destination for the elite). He returned several years later after analysis of some coal proved it to be of the highest quality.  An astute business man, Longyear and fellow investor Frederick Ayer established the American Arctic Coal Company. The AACC began mining coal in 1906.

Just a side note… Longyear and his wife Mary moved to Boston in 1899, dismantling their stone mansion in Marquette, Michigan, and moving it lock, stock, and barrel to Massachusetts to please Mary. Mary’s interest in the Christian Science Religion resulted in her home becoming a museum dedicated to the teachings of Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy. The museum moved to a new location on Chestnut Hill in 1998 with the Longyear mansion becoming, what else:  condos. the_longyear_story_graphic

Longyear Brookline Home

Back to the Arctic tale… For ten years AACC mined coal until selling the company to a new entity, the Norwegian mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (SNSK), in 1916. Store Norske became the dominant coal enterprise, buying other companies as they came up for sale and eventually becoming 100% state-owned. As this Norwegian company grew, Longyearbyen became a ‘company town.’ Store Norske even issued its own currency: ‘Spitsbergen money’ in the form of wage vouchers until 1980 (!).

A total of ten mines have operated on Spitsbergen between the early 1900s and today: Norway’s Store Norske owned eight; and Russia’s Arktikugol Trust (also state-owned), two. Currently only two of them are still operating: Norway’s Mine 7 and Russia’s Barentsburg. NOTE:  SNSG is a subsidiary of SNSK.

svalbard-mine map

During our visit we met locals who spoke of the current dilemma facing their community. With Norway going ‘green’ the politicians in Oslo want to close down the coal mining operations, temporarily leaving Mine 7 still operating. The coal is used by the local power plant as well as exported for energy usage and making high-quality steel parts (BMW and Mercedes use it in manufacturing their cars).

Locals, however, want to re-open one of the closed mines–Lunckefjellet, near Sveagruva. Originally Swedish, it was purchased by Store Norske in 1932, and irregular operations continued; but, as of 2014 this mine was only kept in standby mode. To permanently close it will cost about $1 billion; yet, with the rising price for coal, some investors say they can operate the mine for less than the cost to close it. And, this is the richest coal vein for Store Norske.

Ironically, one local told us the head of Longyearbyen’s Local Government drives a ‘green’ car, a Tesla, whose battery is charged by coal…

If Norway decides to shut down all of the island’s coal production to (a) stop subsidizing the operations and (b) go completely green, Spitsbergen would have to import ‘dirty’ coal. Actually, they’ll have to import coal in about ten years anyway because that’s the amount of reserves remaining in Mine 7 (unless they go re-open Lunckefjellet).

With the gradual closing of mines locals say the community has changed. They didn’t say how but I’m surmising the area feels less cohesive than one dependent on a single industry. The government wants to build up other economic activities including tourism, research and higher education. Regarding education, UNIS, The University Centre in Svalbard, opened in 1993 and currently has 759 students (50% Norwegian and 50% International) with all courses taught in English. Tuition is free and the focus is on Arctic biology, geology, geophysics, and technology with degrees from undergraduate to postgraduate. If you like snow (or ice), sounds like a great place to get a diploma (which is how Christina, who worked at our hotel, ended up here).

It will be interesting to see how Norway and Spitsbergen resolve this issue. Svalbard is an important strategic foothold in the Arctic, with both Norway and Russia having subsidized their coal operations for that reason. Although the 1920 Svalbard Treaty doesn’t allow any military activity, Norway views Svalbard as a military presence in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Russia has been expanding its military base in the nearby Franz Josef Archipelago.

Furthermore, if these two countries do end up closing down their mines, other countries may decide to move in. Case in point–in 1910 Russia bought the Pyramiden mine (closed in 1998) from Sweden, and the Barentsburg one, still operating, from the Dutch in 1932. Hmmmm, can anyone say “North Korea”?

Next:  why we enjoyed Longyearbyen so much :)


Cathedral Squares

Cologne and Aachen

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 5-7, 2017

We’d heard some European cities celebrate the Christmas season with flair, including warm wine and hearty hot dogs. Since sipping glühwein and noshing on street treats while perusing a variety of wares augments the holiday spirit, we decided to check two out on our way to Hoorn. Of course, we can’t just go to a market when a huge stone presence, i.e., cathedral, demands your attention first. Almost like having to eat your peas before you can have cake. So, off we drove.

Leaving Denmark, we headed for Cologne. Part of the religious experience, evidently, comes from climbing 533 steps (someone else counted them, not moi) up a spiraling tower. I later found out a good friend who mountain-goated up the same tower became so sweaty he had to change his shirt before getting on a plane that same day.

Fortunately, three side platforms offered breathers from the heart-pounding slog and a respite from pressing one’s four limbs and trunk against the stone walls to allow the fortunate descenders to descend. By the time we reached the last 10% we faced a metal scaffold-type staircase with open risers. No thanks. Just typing this now I feel perspiration beginning to form on my fingers.

As I watched Max slowly disappear to the tippy-top I saw I had company, both young and old, unwilling to make the final ascent. Fifteen minutes later Max emerged saying the view wasn’t that spectacular due to iron grating:


yet, he got some great photos, one being of our “dessert” way down below:


After retracing our steps with our hearts pumping normally we exited the tower area and entered the main part of the cathedral.


This huge Christian edifice got its start in the 4th century as stated in some documents naming Cologne’s first Bishop, Martenus, back then. By 870 a structure was consecrated. Cologne hit the jackpot three years later when the bones of the Three Magi (am sure they are real…) were moved from Milan to this town in 1164. To house these money-makers, a glittery golden reliquary was ordered and completed in1225.


As an increasing number of pilgrims strolled, pitter-pattered, and crawled to this relic, the Catholic powers decided to build a new cathedral in the new Gothic style to accommodate the prestige (and crowds, and the money they brought) associated with the pilgrimage. Building began in mid-1200s and finished in 1880 when Kaiser Wilhelm I saw the last stone placed.

Chapels galore, soaring stained glass, statues,

and tombs, some featuring pretty relaxed looking folk,


filled the cathedral.

We walked, we stared, we peered, and then we left for the treasury. Here we found the typical wealth found in Catholic religious buildings, so we breezed through, stopping when something flashier or older than usual caught our eyes. Frankly, the most interesting site–which, of course we don’t have a photo of–was the medieval, stone signage stipulating the length of firewood to be donated each year thanks to some nobelwoman’s will.

But, NOW our reward:  the Christmas market :)


Because we were driving we had to forgo any alcoholic beverages in spite of the tempting glow they’d bring to offset the chill. However, we managed to partake of some edibles while joining the crowd of shoppers. And, Max, who had the camera, delightedly got his payback. Now he could snap photos of my stuffing my face, which I gleefully did.


Hey, I’m not shy when it comes to food.

After an hour of winding our way through other Christmas marketees we ended up back in  the car and heading for our next tourist duet–market and cathedral; however this one promised a more (to us) interesting tale as it was associated with the first Holy Roman Emperor: Charlemagne (742-814 C.E.).

The city of Aachen boasts plenty of historical Charlemagne sites, but we focused on three:  the cathedral; the town hall; and, a museum that tells us why we should be here.

So, going in reverse order, we spent over an hour learning about the early Roman settlement (thanks to the thermal springs). Then quickly caught up to the most famous Aachenite:  Charlemagne.

Both he and his brother, Carloman (not too imaginative with the names), became co-rulers, inheriting the throne on the death of their father, King-of-the-Franks, Pepin the Short (714-768). A fraternal war seemed inevitable if Carloman hadn’t died in 771. Charlemagne (aka Charles the Great, aka Charles I, aka Father of Europe) basically doubled the size of the Franconian Empire. The title ’emperor’ suited Charlemagne nicely since his realm matched the glory (and size) not seen since the height of the Roman Empire (96 B.C.E. to 180 C.E) .

Charlemagne selected this German town as his seat of government in the 709s and proceeded to build his palace including the famous octagonal chapel around 800. With Christianity as his realm’s religion–make that ‘required’ religion– it’s no surprise he poured a lot of money and effort into his place of worship, the Royal Church of St. Mary (which you’ll see a little bit later on here).

The museum explained the site of Charlemagne’s palace with a video diagraming the buildings.


It also continued past the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire moving into the later centuries, covering Napoleon’s occupation in 1794  and his desire to be seen as a Charlemagne figure himself…


The city became known for its high-quality needle production in the mid-1800s with one company, Schmetz, over 160 years old, being the first to standardize needle sizes in the mid 1900s…


A fun historical item relates to the 2014 movie THE MONUMENT MEN, which tells how the allies in WWII found the Nazis’ hidden art treasures, one of which is the crown being tried on for size:


Today Aachen has earned the reputation of as a German technology leader thanks to the RWTH Aachen University.

By now we felt well acquainted with this city’s history and wanted to explore the two major sites, the first being the Rathaus or Town Hall. Just a short stroll from the museum, this building stands on what once was the King’s Hall. Charlemagne constructed his palace based on the former Roman basilica, and the Rathaus along with the Church contain the largest remnants of the Emperor’s Aachen palace.

In the 13th century a decision was made to build a new structure to be used both as the town’s administrative center and as a banquet hall. Subsequent natural (fires) and unnatural (WWII bombing) disasters resulted in rebuilding and renovations. By 1979 the final construction was completed.


Prior to entering this rather large building we spotted two tall men ahead, one being a guy with a gold crown, robe and staff. Inching closer we discovered a film crew interviewing them. We just snapped a photo


then went inside and began our self-guided tour through elaborately decorated rooms, such as:

The Master Craftsmen’s Court where cloth makers submitted their wares for quality inspection…


The 1727 White Hall where portraits of envoys who participated in the “Aachen Peace” ending the Austrian War of Succession in 1748 (including the Earl of Sandwich)…


The Red Hall where the treaty negotiations for the above peace were supposed to occur but hierarchical disputes meant it wasn’t used…


And, the Coronation Hall, the largest secular Hall in the Holy Roman Empire by 1349.

Today it’s where the International Charlemagne Prize is presented. Originating in 1950, the prize is awarded to an individual or organization who’s work has contributed to European unity or cooperation between its states.


On the way down we caught an excellent view of the Christmas market (and, this was only 1/4 of it).

As we reached the ground floor of the Town Hall and headed for the front door we poked our head into the Council Hall, cordoned off except a few yards beyond the doorway. This room featured portraits, two being Napoleon and Josephine,

and has been used for the City Councilors and Town Mayor from 1349 to the present with the exception of some interruptions between 1943 and 1951.


Oh, and you know that person standing with Santa in the interview we saw? Turns out it’s the Mayor (!). We recognized him from a photo in the Town Hall brochure :)


Now, onto the biggest draw here:  Charlemagne’s church (which has been expanded as the bronze models below show).

We missed the English-speaking tour but were able to glean enough from the brochure. Passing through the main entrance we passed by the original bronze door from 800.


Continuing on we entered the octagonal church, the core building of the Cathedral known as the Palace Chapel and the first post-classical cupola constructed north of the Alps.



Charlemagne was enamored of all things Roman, including art and architecture, which is why mosaics patterned after the famous ones in Ravenna, Italy adorn the ceiling of his chapel. And, this octagon worship house is something to see. I mean, look at these mosaics (!)

Because we weren’t part of an organized tour we couldn’t reach the Shrine of Charlemagne, a gold chest holding Charlemagne’s remains; however, Max did manage to snap a photo (it’s the reliquary in the back):


This one in front of Charlemagne’s is the Marienschrein or Shrine of the Virgin Mary.


Again, if we had been on that tour, one of the other key sites was Charlemagne’s throne on the second floor, supposedly a recycled piece of marble where kings sat from 936 to 1531 after being anointed and crowned at the altar below.

We ended up in the Treasury where we peeked at religious items, typically gold and gem-encrusted, and, of course, reliquaries. I must say if you were to build a church and wanted to ensure others funded it, be sure to throw in some old relics of a Saint. Better yet, make it some item tied to Jesus and his mom, and you’ve got yourself a pilgrimage site on par with Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela.

For that’s what Aachen did. This cathedral possesses four primo relics: the church Mary gave birth in (uh-huh, sure)… Jesus’s original swaddling clothes (i.e., diapers)… a cloth used during John the Baptist’s beheading (couldn’t have been a kerchief as not much use there)… and, drum roll… THE loincloth Jesus wore during his crucifixion!

Hey, at least time-dating proves these textiles are truly old, going back to the 1st and 2nd centuries post-Christ.

These relics are exposed to public eyes for ten days every seven years, the last time being June 20-30, 2014. Why every seven years? I don’t know but, trust me, you better reserve a spot in a line if you want to be there in 2021.

To display the four relics above necessitates snapping the lock off the Shrine of Mary, and, some of the recent locks being on display:


Alas, we didn’t see the actual relics but did see some of the other most valuable items held in this treasury:

the arm reliquary holding Charlemagne’s ulna and radios of his right forearm…

The bust of Charlemagne; as a huge fan of the man, Charles IV (1316-1378) donated this in 1349 along with the crown used during his 1347 coronation. FYI:  Pieces of Charlemagne’s cranium truly are in the head here.

The real Reliquary of Charlemagne (which makes the one in the church a copy), also attributed to a donation by Charles IV…

The Cross of Lothair from the 10th century and “one of the most valuable objects of medieval gold work” according to the write-up…

And, the Cappa Leonis or coronation cape from the 14th century (name based on the assumption Pope Leo III (750-816) wore it).


Another one I found intriguing was the crown Margaret of York wore at her wedding to Charles the Bod in Bruges 1468; made in England around 1461, Margaret donated this with its leather box when visiting the church in 1475.


More reliquaries and religious artifacts abounded, but we’d had enough religion for the day. We left and walked into the Christmas market, which, considering they have the Three Magis’ bones rattling around in that reliquary, makes perfect sense to host an amazing Christmas market, right?

Another opportunity to eat and walk, we joined the jolly crowd, and, once again, Max was captain of the camera.

Yet, I managed to grab it to document his purchase:  glühwein for a cold winter night.

As twilight approached we left Aachen to drive the last leg of our winter road trip. Heading back to Hoorn we realized just how much we’d been able to see and experience, yet another memory to cherish.



PART VI: Hygge Land!

Central Jutland

Sunday-Monday, December 3-4, 2017

After our Sunday morning in Odense walking in Hans Christian Andersen’s footsteps we drove off the Island of Funen and back onto the mainland, or Jutland. Our next destination promised immersion into Denmark’s first official rulers in Jelling. This town gained prominence in the 10th century during the Vikings’ hey day. Here, Kings Gorm of Old (ruled 936?-958/9) and his son, Harald Bluetooth (ruled 958/9-985/6/7) established Denmark’s monarchy. The current monarch, Queen Margrete II, can trace her lineage back to Gorm, which is why some people consider this country’s monarchy the oldest in Europe.

FYI:  Harald’s son, Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014), and his grandson, Canute the Great, (985/95-1035) expanded Harald’s kingdom as both of them became kings of England.

Back to Jelling… Christianity also ‘started’ here in Denmark according to a rune Harold Bluetooth raised around 965 C.E. And, to see this stone as well as one by his father, Gorm, was the primary reason we found ourselves standing in front of these magnificent proclamations. These two, large runic stones sit in front of a church possibly constructed on Harold’s King’s Hall.

Gorm’s stone is a tribute to his wife Thyra. (Hmmm, maybe I should be getting a chisel and a big stone to write something for Max? :) ). Gorm’s inscription eulogizes Thyra shortly after her death in 950:  “Gorm King made these monuments in memory of Thyra, wife his, Denmark’s adornment.”



This runic stone is the first time “Danmark” (Denmark) is named as such.

Hewn in 985, Harald’s stone states:  “King Harald bade this monument be made in memory of Gorm his father and Thyra his mother, that Harald who won himself all Denmark, Norway and made the Danes Christians.”


The third side of Harald’s stone (above) features a male figure. Jim Karachi, the founder of Bluetooth technology, thought this was Harald, and being a fan of Denmark’s first king, used this figure (adding a mobile fan and a laptop to the illustration)

bluetooth logo

and the runes for “H” and “B” for his logo.

Later he discovered it was actually Christ, not Harald, on the rune. No matter, Christ would be just as apt to use a cell phone to text his disciples and a computer to pen his sermons as Harald could have used it to call on his Viking bros.

Speaking of Jesus, Christianity had been moving north for awhile. Two bishops, most likely under orders from the big guy sitting in Rome, brought Christianity to the Baltic Coast. One, Willebrord (658-739) came from Ireland and later served as the Bishop of Utrecht. Evidently he didn’t have a lasting affect, at least not on the Danes. One hundred years later, Ansgar (801-865) actually established churches in Hedeby, Birka, and Ribe. He became the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. But, Harald is taking credit for making Christianity his country’s religion.

What I really enjoy is seeing how these pre-Christian beliefs of Teutonic mythology populate our daily lives:  Tuesday comes from TYR (god of war); Wednesday, ODIN  or WODEN (Supreme god); Thursday, TOR (god of thunder); and, Friday, FRIGGA (wife of ODIN and representing love and beauty).

The runic stones sit in front of a church which dates from about 1100 C.E. It’s uncertain where they first stood, but Gorm’s, after being used for a bench in front of the church, was placed in its current location around 1632. Glass displays encase both of these fascinating pieces of rock. You can just make them out to the right of the people figures below. (Photo taken atop the South Mound.)


The church is situated between two man-made hills as illustrated by this 1591 drawing.

The North mound held a burial, possibly Gorm, whose body was later re-interred under the church (where the white zig or zag is marked in stone below).


We climbed the South Mound, which is the larger of the two, yet didn’t serve as a grave, whereas the North one (below) did.


Surrounding the area is a wooden palisade erected by Harald in the late 960s. With a height of about 14 feet and a circular length of almost a mile, this wooden barrier protected a Viking settlement where remnants of three longhouses have been found. Today white concrete pillars represent the original site of this 1,000-year-old wall.


Within the palisades two rows of granite stones were discovered. When pieced together they formed an outline of a ship; yet, no reason has been sufficiently explained for its existence.


A new museum provides information on this historical birthplace of Denmark. In spite of feeling a lot of display space was wasted, the exhibits were helpful in our understanding what we’d be seeing once outside.

We finished touring and stopped in for a–yes, Carol M.W.–a coffee :). The friendly owners welcomed us and explained the increasing crowd outside was awaiting the arrival of the Jule Man (Santa Claus). Interestingly, Jule comes from the winter Viking celebration, Jól, when they toasted to the gods for the start of lengthening daylight.

With his arrival it was our departure (you can see people standing on the South Mound in the background), and we left for another church, this time Ribe Cathedral, standing in the oldest town in Denmark. We ended up spending the night here, and for $65 managed not only to get the typical room & breakfast, but a room with a private bathroom (he upgraded us) as we were the only ones staying there. An advantage traveling in the off season.


The next morning we walked down the truly quaint cobble-stoned lane surrounded by water

to this extremely imposing religious building.


St. Ansgar (the guy mentioned above, but now he’s a ‘saint’?) asked for and received permission to build a church on this site in 850 or so. Two hundred years later the core of the current Romanesque-style building was constructed following those found in the Rhineland. Subsequent years other structures were added and parts renovated resulting in what we saw:  another cathedral filled with tons of important architecture and relics.

And, once again, I could inundate you with the 60 items to see (check out the self-guiding brochure). But, I’ll spare you except for some of the highlights:

A ‘sanctuary’ door knocker from about 1225 – if you touched this you were afforded asylum by the church according to medieval law. Looks like Max is safe.


Oops, wrong door. Thankfully Max found the right one before the authorities tracked him down.


The gravestone of Iver Munk (1470-1539), Bishop of Ribe – Quite a colorful figure as (a) he and his brother led a revolt against King Christian II (1276-1332) and (b) in spite of a vow of celibacy he flaunted two wives and several children.

Grave stone

Outfits – pre-reformation:  Munk’s clothes recreated from his gravestone;


post-reformation. I think Munk’s cost a wee bit more…

post refor

A relic – One of the items in the small museum on the second floor was a reliquary cross that ‘probably held a piece of the real cross’… yeah, right, and I’m a Martian.

cross relic

A little man (painted above the cruxifix) – in the museum they said this was a puzzling figure yet the church brochure described him as ‘Atlas supporting the arch’.

puzzle man

Fresco – painted around 1537, Mary & Jesus on a pillar in the Nave.

Ifresco 1530

The Apse fresco and stained glass – Artwork by Carl -Henning Pedersen created 1982-87, a Matisse-style artwork that brings an exuberance and freshness to an 800-year-old building.

pedersen 2

pedersen 1

We also walked up the tower:  added as a “commoner’s Tower or civic tower fashioned after Netherlands and Belgium towers after the collapse of the northern turret 1283. My fear of heights kicked in; and, by looking at my white-knuckled hand I think you get the picture…


The view however was lovely…


but, my dainty size-nine feet couldn’t pitter-thump down those stairs fast enough!


This was our last site in Denmark. Our Hygge tour had come to an end, but not our admiration and interest in this lovely country.


Just a few more stops and we’ll be home…





PART V: Hygge Land!

Moving a tad North, then a bit West

Friday-Monday, December 1-4

Packed up and ready to go, we headed north from Copenhagen to continue exploring Funen Island, our first stop being Frederiksborg Slot, the summer castle Frederik II (1534-1588) bought as a manor. A favorite of the king, it was also the birthplace of his son, Christian IV (1577-1648) who heavily renovated the place. Unusual in not being on a coast or river, Frederiksborg was constructed for the specific pleasure of the king, not for defense. And, it was definitely a beautiful ‘home’.

We arrived early, which gave us time to gaze at this magnificent building (and to pose).

A popular royal residence during Christian IV’s time, the castle increased in importance after his son, Frederick III (1609-1670), became an absolute monarch. From then until Frederick VII (1808-1863) signed the constitution in 1848, all kings were anointed (not simply crowned) in Frederiksborg’s stunning chapel.

That latter king, Frederik VII, frequently stayed at this castle until a fire in 1859 destroyed much of the building. Considered a national treasure, the brewer magnate, Carl Jacobsen, stepped in and helped raise the funds to restore Frederiksborg. It being a symbol of Danish greatness, he convinced the powers-that-be to establish a National Museum here in 1877, partly to offset Denmark’s loss of the Schleswig and Holstein duchies in 1864 (and, if you want to read some confusing history, try following that yo-yo’ing ownership of these two territories).

Jacobsen’s wish came true in 1878 when King Christian IX (1818-1906) signed a royal decree creating a National Museum at Fredriksborg. We’re lucky he did for this castle offered the same spectacular touring as Rosenborg did the day before.

And, as with Rosenborg’s surplus of information, I’ll limit our touring to some of the highlights:

We entered the “Rose” room, called the Knight’s room during Christian IV’s time. This served as a dining room for the court. Note the real antlers on the wall. I guess they ended up with venison for dinner. A lot of it by the amount of the antlers stuck on stucco deer noggins.


One of the most spectacular rooms is the Chapel.  Until 1848 when Frederick VII (1808-1863) signed the constitution, Denmark’s kings (and queens) got to be supreme beings beginning in the mid0-1600s.

Can anyone say “gilt”?

Each interior shouted sumptuousness, including the royal bedrooms.

As we passed through the linked rooms, we noted some oddities, such as the 17th-century elevator chair allowing the king to rise up through the floor. Hmmm, you’d think they’d want to come down from the ceiling.


However they landed, they managed to land in rooms promoting self-adoration, such as the Audience Chamber where the above chair sat. Christian V (1649-1699), Frederik III’s son, outfitted this room in a baroque style,

all to pay homage to himself with portraiture and grandiose decor.  I have a feeling we may be seeing a similar theme in a white house before too long.

With so many rooms (over 80) one could get lost, and, that we did in spite of following the little map. I also found myself zipping through some, halting my speed-tour if I recognized a name. Which is how I dallied a bit longer in Countess Leonora Christiana’s (1621-1698) space.


Daughter of Christian IV and his second wife, Kirsten Munk (1598-1658), this princess married Corfitz Ulfedt. He later betrayed his father-in-law, which resulted in both Corfitz and Leonora being branded as traitors. Crofitz eventually escaped while she ended up spending over 21 years in solitary confinement. During her imprisonment she wrote an autobiography which became a best-seller. If any of the excerpts are true, it’s no wonder it still fascinates readers.

Leonora spent the last few years of her life at a monastery, and the room displayed an altar cloth she donated in 1697 with a poem she wrote and signed.



I’ve only given you a tiny peek into this castle’s amazing history. Throughout the entire castle, portraits and paintings of important scenes related Denmark’s history. The picture below captures the 1169 victory of Valdemar the Great (with his sword) and Bishop Absalon (with the cross) over the Wends, a Slavic-speaking people living on the Baltic Sea’s southern coast and who plundered Danish coastal towns. The historian, Saxo Grammaticus (150-1220), documented the account in his GESTA DANORUM (STORY OF THE DANES).


While so many large paintings tell the history of Denmark and its royalty, I relish the ones relating smaller moments such as this one of two kings, Christian IX and Edward VII of England, enjoying a conversation. They were in-laws as Alexandra, one of Christian’s six children, married Edward in 1863, one of the six reasons Christian IX was called “Father-in-law of Europe”.


Every now and then we’d get a glimpse of the surrounding grounds,


with Max testing if the windows actually opened.


We ended up in the 2009 photographic gallery focused on portraiture. Here we saw the realistic portraits by the Danish artist Mads Rye


with a video demonstrating his technique.


His style reminded us of our friend Graeme’s amazing paintings (Graeme Smallfield), the latest one shown below:


We are fortunate to have friends who are able to express themselves through wonderful art, Graeme being one, with Ellen, Bobbi, Deborah, KathrynBrad , Suzanne, Rebecca, Layne, Kathy, Tracy, and another Traci being a few of the others. Each have their own style, all marvelous. I envy their ability to pen scenes in paint, clay, glass (and other materials) as opposed to words. I predict a future post on their work!

Our tour completed we headed for our next site, a museum I’d been wanting to tour since first reading about it this summer:  the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The name comes from the original property owner’s villa called ‘Louise’; and that name just happened to be the name of the owner’s three wives. Makes one wonder if that’s how he chose his spouses?

Initially built in 1958 and expanded to its current circular shape by 1991, the museum features a menagerie of international, modern art in its low-slung building. Did we get lost (again)? Yes, numerous times, and that’s even holding a map.  At one point I had to get directions from one of the guards who, by the way, shared my feelings regarding some of the artists’ bizarre work.

But, back to our wanderings, which first led us outdoors before the sun set. Reminding us of the lovely Kroller-Mueller Museum in the Netherlands,


but, one perched beside an expanse of water looking across the Kattegat to Sweden, versus inland.


We followed a path dotted with sculptures…

and ended up back inside. For several hours we alternated between feeling besieged by what some call art, such as the video of a spitting mother,

to extremely puzzled by Ed Atkin’s avatar “Dave”,

to finding ourselves captivated in wonder


by art in the form of a chain-reaction video.

Easier to understand were the static paintings and photographs, which lined walls:

David Hockney’s (b. 1937) “A Closer Grand Canyon”…


George Condo’s (b.1957)  “The Lunatic”…


and Reineke Dijkstra’s (b. 1959) “Beach Portraits” (one shown here).


Being a Friday night with extended hours, the museum began to fill with other viewers–an entertaining way to spend one’s evening.

After a cold night (but met a great group of Scots at our B&B, which warmed up the atmosphere),

we drove to Roskilde, home to a Viking Museum and a Cathedral. The Viking Museum ended up being a quick walk-through. The one in Oslo spoiled us with its three, almost complete hulls and grave treasures. In Roskilde what was worth seeing were the five different models of very, partially reconstructed ships used during those times:

the fishing vessel, probably more for transport than fishing based on a number of rowlocks removed…

IMG_5388 (1)

the coastal trader with a crew of 5-8 men, primarily propelled by wind, average speed of 4-5 knots…


the ocean-going trader with decks fore and aft and an open hold midship, crew of 6-8 men, average speed of 5-7 knots…


the small longship with 13 pairs of oars and holding about 30 warriors, average speed of 6-7 knots….


and, the most impressive–the longship, with 30 pairs of oars and holding 65-70 warriors, average speed of 12 knots (2.5 knots when half of the crew rowed).


How’d you like to see THIS row into your neighborhood?

Of course, where there’s a ship, there’s my captain… and, a good sport he is :)


Exiting the museum we walked up the hill to the real treasure of Roskilde:  the Cathedral. Driving towards the town you notice two spires on the horizon, alerting you that a rather large building was up ahead.


And, you’re not disappointed. Standing next to it you feel the grandeur of this soaring brick and mortar. Roskilde being the capital during the Viking Age, Harold Bluetooth (king from 958 until his death in 985/86) first built a wooden church on the site. Subsequent churches followed until Bishop Absalon (bishop 1158-1201) started this one in the 1170s. By 1280 the main body was complete, resulting in “one of the earliest examples of French-inspired Gothic brick architecture” (Roskilde Cathedral Guide).


Like most of these medieval (and earlier) cathedrals, I could flood you with so many amazing details, but won’t. I will tell you this cathedral holds the bodies of many kings and queens, one of the most significant being that of Queen Margrete (1353-1412). Her reign began as a regent to her son Olaf II (1370-1387). After his death at age 17, she ruled, becoming one of the most significant leaders due to her forming the Kalmar Union of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1397, which lasted until 1523.


She adopted a relative, Eric of Pomerania (1381/82-1459) naming him as king in 1397.  To reinforce the legitimacy of his rule (and cash in on her fame) he moved Queen Margrete’s body from Sorø to Roskilde in 1413 in an elaborate, three-day ceremony.

Unfortunately, Eric’s reign didn’t garner the popularity of his adoptive mom. A messy situation ensued between Eric and the nobles resulting in his being deposed in 1439 by the Danes and Swedes, followed by the Norwegians in 1440. Nothing like a squabbling bunch of rich folk and a leader who just doesn’t cut it. But, let’s move on…

Chapels on either side of the nave hold subsequent kings and queens. Christian IV’s is particularly notable with two large paintings highlighting key events in his life:  the 1644 sea battle aboard TREFOLDIGHED when he lost his eye


and as a judge exposing forgery.


What’s really cool about these works of art is their setting. What looks like three-dimensions


turns out to be two.


Along with coffins of the king (with his sword on top)

and immediate relatives is a statue by Bertel Thorvaldsen commissioned by Christian VIII in 1840.


In the chapel of King Frederik V a total of 12 coffins reside with his being the focal point:


A peculiar item one of the chapels was a column noting the height of royal visitors. I guess royalty gets a cathedral column instead of a home wall!

hieghts pilla

The booklet pointed out another interesting item:  a padlocked mouth carved on one of the Canons, Hans Henriksen, because he refused to give up the location of the church treasure during the 16th-century Reformation.


Looking up we saw King Chrisian IV’s private box


and a 1400 clock where we heard the bellowing of the dragon when Saint George kills it (but missed capturing it) followed by the chiming of the bells

reminding us our time touring Roskilde Cathedral was up.

We left Roskilde and drove off the Island of Zealand onto the Island of Funen, stopping in Odense, Hans Christian Andersen’s (1805-1875) hometown. Here, we followed the city map (and the easy to spot footsteps)


from his parents’ tiny, two-room home located in the right-hand part of this house,


where he slept on the bench opposite his parents’ bed


prior to eventually finding fame and fortune in Copenhagen. I won’t go into his life story but it’s an interesting rags-to-fame one.

Our time in Denmark was almost up but not before two more stops, soon to be told…









PART IV: Hygge Land!

And, more Copenhagen’ng

Friday-Friday, November 24-December 1, 2017

Like most world-class cities, Copenhagen’s offerings are many, one being located in the Rådhus, Copenhagen’s Town Hall. A famous clock tick-ticking away on the ground floor, open for any and all to view. The creator, Jens Olsen (1872-1945), grew up wanting to be a clockmaker. Excelling in mathematics, geometry and drawing, he moved to Copenhagen in 1902 where he repaired clocks and binoculars but also worked on calculations for a world clock. By 1924 he succeeded in figuring it all out. Boy, did he succeed, because the World Clock of Copenhagen is a piece of wizardry. As a professor of astronomy stated in 1924, “Both from an astronomical and a mechanical point of view, Jens Olsen’s draft rests on a firm foundation and testifies to a combination of two different kinds of qualifications rarely seen in one and the same person“.

When it began to tick in 1955 the foreign media announced it was “the eighth wonder of the world”. Unfortunately, the creator did not live to see his masterpiece, because he passed away before work was finished.

Although electricity made mechanical clocks obsolete during the early 1900s, Olsen’s clock will last for thousands of years (so long as humans continue to wind it once a week). And, that’s a good thing considering one of its gears was designed to rotate once every 25,273 years. The latter was a bit too much so they built a fraction of the gear to cover 3,000 years.

This magnificent clicking piece tells:  solar time, sidereal or star time (if you’re like me, here’s what that means:  click here), the planets’ positions, the time zones, the Gregorian date, and Julian day number (another bit of astronomy of which I’m woefully ignorant; and, if you are, too:  click here.)

As noted above I don’t truly understand what these 15,448 working parts are doing. I need our friend Seppe to help us figure this out, but for now, just gazing at the beauty of this timepiece is enough.

A few more days found us exploring Vor Frue Kirke (aka Church of Our Lady) initially built in 1191 and subsequently rebuilt due to fires. Here, the Royal Family worships.  Bartel Thorvaldsen’s statues of Jesus and his Apostles adds a richness to this simple but elegant interior, which aptly mirrors the unassuming ‘everydayness’ of this monarchy.

Close by is the University of Copenhagen where we passed one of Max’s heroes, Niels Bohr, a father of quantum theory.


Our next destination was the Round Tower built by King Christian IV (appropriately nicknamed ‘The Builder’) between 1637 and 1642 to continue the astronomical achievements of Tycho Brahe. In 1697 Denmark’s astronomy professor, Ole Rømmer (1644-1710), started using the tower as a planetarium, making this Europe’s oldest functioning observatory; and, in the 1760’s astronomer Thomas Brugge used the hollow core of the tower as his ‘point zero’ calculation for surveying Copenhagen to draw a more accurate map of the city.

We made the easy climb to the top via a tranquil, sun-lit spiral walkway


where we passed the privies, both old…

and new;

and, which happened to be next to the library established in 1657, which once housed 10,000 or so books from the university. Our guide books noted that Hans Christian Andersen would have used both the library and the old privy.

A final staircase provided a panoramic view of the city.


We returned to the old bell loft that once served as an excellent place to dry laundry and is now a lovely spot for art exhibits and hot coffee. :)

After our coffee we headed for our final site of the day, the Rosenberg Slot, built as a pleasure palace by, whom else, King Christian IV in the early 1600s. Used into the 1700s as a royal residence, Rosenborg provides a stupendous perusal of monarchy’s living quarters.


But, we had to wait until the next day to tour it due to limited opening hours.

Which we did, finding ourselves outside this refreshingly ‘small’, guarded castle.

The walls, ceilings and floors of the rooms alone are worth touring, but when you include the furniture, decor and momentous, this site provides a magnificent walk through historical artifacts.

The Great Hall on the second floor (third for us Americans) contains the throne. Frederik III, Christian IV’s son, turned Denmark into an absolute monarchy in 1660, and this room certainly speaks to this god-like attitude. Note the three silver lions guarding the throne, having done so since 1670.


We asked the guard in the room about some of the items, and he became a wonderful guide telling us about the throne and the 12 tapestries adorning the walls (Christian ordered these to promote his victories in the war against Sweden 1675-1679). Not the first, nor the last, time we’ve benefited from an informative guard in a museum.

IMG_5099 (1)

In spite of the location and beauty of this castle, Christian IV’s great-grandson Frederik IV (1671-1730) desired a more modern summer residence, so in 1710 Rosenberg became a storage unit. Consequently, this castle hosts an amazing collection of valuable objects initially serving as a way to impress the king’s guests and, since 1838, a museum for the public to tour.

With three floors and a basement filled with the Royal treasury it’s easy to be stunned by the wealth of these antiques. We wandered for over an hour, room by room. Below is a small sampling of what we found the most intriguing:

Secret music channels hidden by tiles piped in tunes in Christian IV’s Winter Room.


Not a particularly shy guy, Christian IV paid for a gilded statue of himself with money from his tilting victories during his 1596 coronation.


An MDT (Max Disaster Tour) item drew our attention when we spotted some clothes and discovered blood stains.  The clothes date from 1644 when Christian IV he lost an eye during a naval battle with Sweden.


Off this room stood his delft-tiled bathroom.


Something really bizarre was an 17th-century chair in the next room. A sitter would be grabbed by the arms while a tube soaked a sitter’s bottom. When released from the chair a trumpet sounded to announce the joke.


Equally odd were three royal wax figures, such as this one of Christian IV’s son, Frederik III ….


Each room had its own theme, this one being marble installed 1668 (check out the ceiling).

IMG_5062And, then there’s another unusual contraption:  the speaking tube connecting Christian V’s chamber to the opposite end of the castle.


Up another floor we reached Federik IV’s (1671-1730) corridor with a bust of one of his peers and allies during the Nordic Wars, Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725).



In Federik IV’s hall the lenticular portrait of him


changed to his sister’s when viewed from the other side.


In Christian VI’s Hall stands his wife’s, Queen Sophie Magdalene’s, lathe for turning ivory (a popular past time back then).


In Christian VII’s (1749-1508) Hall, a regal portrait of him footnoted by busts of two young boys, one being his heir the Crown Prince (Frederick VI, 1768-1839) the other, a commoner named Carl, the prince’s playmate as part of the modern upbringing…


Christian VIII’s (1786-1848) room, a mantle clock featuring the king surrounded by books and papers reflects his love of culture and science.


Christian VIII’s son, Frederik VII (1843-1912), became Denmark’s last absolute monarch when he used the pen (located in the middle of the display) to sign the democratic constitution in 1849.


Filled with thoughts of pomp and circumstance we ended up in the basement where more valuable artifacts were stored.

We saw the barrels of “Rosenborg Wine” with one bottle from 1615 and now tasting like a dry sherry served at the New Year Banquet and a few other special occasions…


Frederik IV’s toy soldiers…


Armor with its elephant shoulders representing the most prestigious order of chivalry, the Danish Order of the Elephant (the elephant linking the post-reformation honor with its predecessor:  the pre-reformation Catholic “The Fellowship of the Mother of God” order whose design included a tower-bearing elephant)…


The basement also hosted the crown jewels willed by Queen Sophie Magdalene in 1746 to reside with the crown, not to any one individual. And, of course, the pièce de résistance of the crown jewels, the crowns, themselves:  Christian IV’s…


and his grandson’s Christian V’s and his consort’s, Queen Sophie Magdalene’s.


Our tour complete, we exited the castle and walked through the gardens to another residence filled with a collection. Christian Ludvig David (1878-1960) made his money as an attorney and began stocking his house with art, beginning with Danish paintings and sculptures and growing to include 17th and 18th-century European furniture and decorative art. Davis also acquired a formidable amount of Islamic art, and it’s this collection that the museum is known for.


Here we also found a friendly guard who could have served as an excellent guide, if he had time. Even the few moments we spent with him enlightened us on the importance of what we were seeing.


Because of my lack of knowledge of Islam, my interest soon waned in spite of their being excellent explanations of the different periods which the items represented. If we hadn’t just been inundated with Rosenberg grandeur, I would have had more energy for Davis’ stunning collection. But, both of us were ready to stretch our legs in a brisk walk versus slowly meandering through more displays.

Being our last day in Copenhagen we made our way to one of the ‘must-sees’ of Copenhagen. To reach it we walked through another famous site, the Kastellet. Commissioned 1662 by Frederik III, this star-shaped fortress also held the Monument for Denmark’s International Humanitarian Efforts since 1948.

Copenhagen, fortezza Kastellet

The coming twilight lent the surroundings a reverent air

as we read the granite walls with the name of the fallen.

As it grew darker we quickly made our way to our last Copenhagen site:  Little Miss Mermaid. Named after a Hans Christian Andersen character, this statue came to be thanks to Copenhagen’s philanthropist, Carl Jacobsen (the same guy responsible for the Glyptotek). Moved after seeing a ballet about the story, Jacobsen had Edvard Eriksen sculpt the little fish girl. Which he did using a ballerina’s face and his own wife’s body as the model.

I’d heard recently (and also read) the actual viewing of Little Miss Mermaid is anti-climatic; so, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But, I felt it was the perfect ending to our explorations of this city. And, with the darkening sky we joined the other tourists, totaling maybe seven,

and took turns posing in front of this young woman sitting on the rocks.

Farewell to a lovely city and onwards to more of Denmark’s rich history.