Category Archives: 2017 Winter Tours

Bookin’ it to Maastricht

Sunday, April 2, 2017

“Wait? You can go anywhere you want in the Netherlands for free if you have a specific book?!”, which is what we asked our friends Maartje and Ingo at dinner one night. And, their answer was ‘yes’ with the explanation of why and how.

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Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: FINALE


Tuesday, March 28

One more museum was on Kathryn’s list for art:  Sweden’s Moderna Museet (Modern Museum). Neither Max nor I would call ourselves connoisseurs or huge fans of modern art; but, I do like some of the work and I do appreciate some of the talent and I do enjoy being exposed to it; plus, there’s always my artist friend’s (Ellen’s) little voice in my head reminding me that no, just because it’s white paint on white canvas doesn’t mean I could do the same. So, on a beautiful sunny day the three of us ended up on another island, Skeppsholmen, where this building perched atop a hill.

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Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART V


Sunday, March 26

Another day of brisk but sunny weather, perfect for cruising the old town, an island that serves as a hub for Stockholm. In addition to wandering through the cobblestone streets and peering at buildings of various tones and tints of Sienna,

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Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART IV

It’s not your eyes… some photos are blurry due to not the best light or good camera action on my part.


Saturday, March 25

When Max and I searched for the entrance to the Vasa Museum two days ago we had to go around a rather large and imposing building. Come to find out the building housed the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history, our morning’s destination.

As we entered a cavernous hall, looking both left…

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I felt I had stepped into a smaller version of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum with its overwhelming displays of art and design. Here, though, the space felt manageable in spite of holding over one and half million artifacts (trust me, I didn’t count them, it’s what their own publicity states).

The Nordiska Museet was the brainchild of Arthur Hazeluis and his desire to preserve the Swedish culture; and, the inscription on one of the obelisks at the entrance states this perfectly, “There may come a day when a glance in the past is impossible to obtain.” In 1891 Hazelius also founded the world’s first open-air museum, the Skansen, described as Sweden in miniature. Both of these cultural attractions reside on Djurgarden Island along with the Vasa Museum and an amusement park (not open).

This zealous collector began acquiring historical items in 1872 showcasing them  in the Scandinavian-Ethnographic Museum. When the collection outgrew its existing site, private fund-raising began in 1888 for the current building. Designed by the Swedish architect Isak Gustaf Clason, the Nordiska Museet was completed in 1907.

When you enter the main hall you’re greeted by a towering block of King Gustav I Vasa (1496-1560), the first guy who ruled over a united Sweden beginning 1523. Carved from a piece of oak supposedly he planted (of course), the statue regally stares at visitors from its stepped-throne. It’s motto is “Be ye Swedish” setting the tone for one’s tour.

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And, if you’re like me and curious to know if this looked like him, here’s a 1542 portrait of the man.


With three floors of exhibits we started at the top (at the suggestion of the young man handing out the audio guides) and proceeded to walk through rooms of Scandinavian color beginning with the traditional wedding dress with its blooming crown of flowers…

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with some individual pieces offering braille descriptions…

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until we reached the one piquing our interest the most:  that of Sweden’s indigenous people, the Sami, living in Sapmi (this is their term for their people, not Lapp or Laplander). As a semi-nomadic society living in the north, the Sami’s livelihood depended on the reindeer; and, from this animal they obtained food, clothing, tools and shelter. Today only 10% actually practice reindeer husbandry.

The reindeer also provided an object for art, such as this one by a noted craftsman, Hatta. The story goes he lost his reindeer and ended up creating these sculptures. He made enough money from selling them he could buy his own herd. In 1978 this museum purchased one of Hatta’s reindeers shown below (roughly 8” x 4” x 3”). Matching exactly the fur from a reindeer’s hide to sculpt his small model, Hatta’s pieces are truly treasures.

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Like many native people whose land is dominated by a more powerful group, the Sami had others telling their story throughout the centuries. Historians presented them as ‘simple folk,’ and in the 1800s the Sami became the main tourist attraction in Sweden with their colorful clothes and winter wonderland reindeers. Scientists and politicians promoted this perception of the Sami, saying this indigenous group of people should be protected from modern society because they couldn’t handle it. They used phrenology to support this claim of an inferior people.

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As one vicar and folk school inspector stated in 1906, ‘Laps must remain Laps’.

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This popular misperception of the Sami began to change when they began their own publication in 1918 titled “The Same People’s Own Magazine”, later changed to “The Sami” in 1961. In 1952 Sami Radio came on the air, and in 1965 the show was broadcasted in Sami.

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By the 1950s the Sami’s began advocating for autonomy and control over their land. Now there are three parliaments, one in Sweden, Norway and Finland, with all three participating in a joint Sami Parliamentary Council (Russian Sami have been granted an observatory and partcipatory role since they don’t have an officially recognized parliament in Russia). The Sami flag, designed in 1986, represents the sun (red circle), the moon (blue) with the four colors featured derived from the traditional costume, the kolt.

Today approximately 80,000-100,000 identify themselves as Sami with roughly 20,000-40,000 in Sweden, 40,000-65,000 in Norway, 8,000 in Finland, and 2,000 in Russia. The range in population can be explained by (1) there’s no census and (2) to define oneself a Sami you either speak Sami and/or have a cross-generational connection. Their struggle for autonomy has sprung from centuries of being marginalized and patronized by the Scandinavian Governments. Today, at least, the Samis are recognized as an indigenous people by the United Nations but progress towards true self-direction hasn’t materialized according to a recent January 2017 report to the United Nations.

Jewelry, furniture, dinnerware, you name itif it sat in a house, clothed a Swede, or told of a tradition we saw it. I have to admit I began skipping some of the exhibits by the time we arrived at Table Settings displays; but, I did enjoy seeing the amount of documented textile material and patterns archived in a room of drawers, as did Kathryn.

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I also noted some women’s 18th-century (machine-knitted) hose, finding it astonishing that they knew this particular one belonged to a Miss Posse, maid-of-honor to King Gustav III (1746-1792). But, hey, if folk can attribute a shroud to Jesus why not a sock to a lady?

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With dazed eyes we decided lunch was in order, and, once again, we found a museum’s cafe the perfect place to eat and rest. We sampled reindeer stew (delicious, not gamey but rather sweet) and Swedish meatballs (also tasty and filling).

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You can probably tell from the name of the museum where we traipsed to next. Since it wouldn’t be open Monday and we had plans Sunday to doodle around Gamla Stan, the Old Town located on, what else, an island, we thought we’d better see it today.

It wasn’t a far walk from the Nordiska Museet… just across the bridge from Djurgarden…

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and a right turn away from the waterfront…

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and within 20 minutes or so we were in front of the museum. Like the Vasa, this museum didn’t shout out its name either but we found it behind another large building.

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Interestingly I saw a knitted tree like I’d seen in France standing in a traffic rotary medium. In later reading I discovered it’s a form of impermanent graffiti called Yarn Bombing used to decorate barren and cold public places. Definitely did the trick here.

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After the museum in the morning my energy was flagging at the thought of absorbing another museum’s tales; but, I didn’t want to miss out on any interesting artifact or informative nugget, so in I went. And, another knitted sculpture presented a perfect backdrop to snap a photo of Kathryn.

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This museum features history covering 10,000 years with the focus on the Vikings followed by the Medieval and Renaissance time periods. A timeline displayed on the floor helped navigating the labyrinth of rooms as they flowed from one era to the next.

I didn’t give this museum the tour this history cache deserved; but, I’ll provide some highlights (to me), beginning with the Vikings, the rascals who raided, plundered, and traded. Historians group the years 793-1066 into the ‘Viking Age’ based on the height of the Vikings’ impact on Europe.

As opposed to the rustic appearances one would normally associate with such rough characters the wealthy Viking actually could be described as quite foppish in his dress. Tricked out in fur-trimmed cloaks and tunics of bright blue and red with gold embroidery this manly man wore glittering silver brooches hung alongside his gleaming sword. But, there’s a purpose behind this ostentation:  by wearing their riches from plunder these guys served as walking recruitment posters to attract others to the gangs of looters.

Through ongoing research of graves and settlements we know that Vikings roamed far and wide, from Newfoundland to the Black Sea. The latter area they traded slaves for Islamic silver (Muslims couldn’t own a freeborn Muslim). A silver ring inscribed with “Allah” in Arabic script resides in this collection found in a grave site at Birka, the main trading center in the 700-900s.

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With all the silver floating around to this trade soon the currency of the times became Hacksilver, so called due to items being chopped up and valued on each piece’s weight. During the 9th and 10th centuries this metal almost exclusively came from the Islamic world.

So much of our understanding comes from burials, from the tombs in Egypt to graves in England, and the same for the Viking Age. Generally it’s a bit of a guessing game to puzzle out whose bones they are and the significance of items found alongside them. In one grave an older man and younger woman were found. The man appeared to be richly dressed with an oriental belt while the young girl [possibly a thrall (slave)] could have been sacrificed along with all sorts of animals, from horses to birds, joining this guy in the afterlife. Curiously a jar of brown hair was found but hard to explain why.

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Yet, historians quickly point out that not all of the Scandinavian livelihood revolved around pillaging and plundering. Most of the people during this time were farmers settled in agrarian communities. It was a hard life but important, obviously, as a food source. When those who were also Vikings went off sailing the women controlled the farm, thus gaining a certain amount of power. The key to the household’s storage symbolized this status of power, and women displayed the keys by wearing them around their waists (also practical way to access the home’s food, etc. while keeping it secure).

Reading in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC a theory behind the forming of this military raiding lifestyle seems akin to that of the demise of the dinosaurs:  cataclysmic dust storm [attributed to smashing comets/meterorites and volcanic eruption(s)] caused temperatures to drop beginning 536 C.E. Those inhabiting the far northern part of the world lost their food sources resulting in starvation and deathWhen the Scandinavian population began recovering over the next few centuries they learned that war was one way to protect themselves and their families in times of scarcity. Add in a sail and, voila! Vikings were born.

The museum wove the Sami into the Viking Age explaining that they established a strong trading pattern with the Vikings. The Samis’ high-quality furs were traded for silver among other goods.

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The Sami were also known for their hardy bows and skis. As early as the 8th century the Italian historian Paulus Diaconus (720-799) wrote of the Sami hunting on skis. [Regarding their reindeer husbandry, some believe the Sami may have adapted domesticating reindeer from the Siberians in the 5th and 6th centuries; and, to this day, some indigenous people in Russia (the Nenets) practice of reindeer husbandry is increasing while decreasing in other areas.]

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Besides trading the Sami and Vikings also shared similar spiritual characters. The Naoidi, the Sami shaman, could summon good or evil forces and travel between the male and female worlds. In Norse mythology there’s the Volva (wand carrier), a female shaman; and, in one grave archeologists found a body dressed both as a man and a woman. These shaman were considered a Seior or sorcerer, able to cast spells and predict the future.

The Seior’s symbol was a staff, and on Oland, an island off the coast of Sweden, one of the finest examples of a staff was discovered in a wealthy female’s grave. She was buried inside a ship with a man, probably sacrificed at her death. Bear claws around her body suggest her being wrapped in a bearskin, another indication of her importance. The richness associated with this female coupled with this staff implies she was a Volva as well as a leader of her clan.

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Another mythological figure for the Scandinavians was the shapeshifter or Sleipner who belonged to Odin, the king of dieties. Like the Naoidi the Sleipner could travel between different parts of the world. I won’t start down the bizarre path of Odin and his role in Norse mythology only to say he, too, could have effeminate qualities.

Women, too, could share male mannerisms such as the female warriors, the Valkyries and the Shieldmaidens.

I noticed quite a few strong women during my dash through this museum, notably:

Birgitta Bigersdotter (1303-73) whose political influence undermined King Magnus Ericsson (1316-74) partly by spreading the rumor he was having an affair with one his male associates. Why? Well, maybe it’s because she wanted him to wage war against the infidels, i.e., lead a crusade, vs. fighting the Danes, fellow Christians. She founded her own religious community and later became a saint in 1391 due to her visions and revelations (now one of the six patron saints of Europe thanks to Pope John Paul II).

Birgitta Bigersdotter

Queen Margareta (1389-1412) who ruled Denmark, Norway and Sweden after creating (forcing) a united kingdom called the Kalmar Union in 1397 (signed at Kalmar, Sweden). The union lasted until Gustav I Vasa wrested Sweden from Denmark in 1523 (he’s the big guy cut out of oak at the beginning of this post). Margareta, whose own son died, adopted her sister’s grandson, Bogislav of Pomerania, renamed him Erik (if my name as Bogislav I’d change my name, too), and proclaimed him king of Norway in 1389 and subsequent heir to her throne. Below is a 1388 horn with Norwegian coat of arms carved on one side and the other two probably intended to carry both Sweden and Denmarks’ when acknowledged as ruler of those countries in 1396.

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Queen/King Christina (1626-89) was Gustav II Adolf’s (1594-1632) only child and thus, was raised with the education and military training of a male heir. This decision could be due to her possibly being a hermaphodite (at her birth they thought she was a boy). Crowned in 1644 she abdicated in 1654 in favor of her cousin, Charles X Gustav, and left immediately for Rome where she is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. Interestingly, she developed a strong friendship with Rene Descartes and also championed the arts and sciences during her brief rule.

Swedish queen Drottning Kristina portrait by Sébastien Bourdon stor

Fredericka Bremer (1801-65) whose novel, HERTHA, championed women’s rights to study at university, to become doctors, teachers, priests, and who advocated for childcare out of the home such as day nurseries and infant schools. During 1849-51 she visited the USA and connected with feminists there.

Fredrika Bremer

Before I close on Swedish History I also want to mention:

Alex Oxenstierna (1583-1654) who served as chancellor of the realm for 42 years and whose contribution to Swedish government can still be seen today in some of the departments and institutions he formed…

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And,  how in 1921 after years of riots and rebellions due to hunger and poverty Sweden voted in universal and equal suffrage. With everyone becoming a Swedish citizen with the power to vote the country became a fairer welfare state, one envied today.

Speaking of equality, this museum pointed out the following with regards to the Samis:  “Our picture of the people who lived in the north of Sweden has been shaped by notes made by outsiders. Their descriptions are very often subjective and enigmatic. It is important to bear this in mind, for example, when reading about the history of the Sami.” 

Finally, two highlights of this museum:

The Gold room where 52 kg of gold and over 200 kg of silver mean Sweden has one of Europe’s richest collection of antique gold and silver. This came about due to a 17th-century law that the state must purchase any gold, silver or copper alloy unclaimed for over 100 years. The findings of this 5th- or 6th-century stash below in 1904 is the largest to-date and is called “The Lord of the Rings”…

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And, one I had completely missed but ran back to see after Max exclaimed about this extraordinary exhibit:  a quintessential MDT (Max Disaster Tour). It was composed of unearthed remains of some of the 1800 poor souls who lost their lives in the Battle of Gotland July 27, 1361 when farmers fighting the Danes were slaughtered because their fellow towns people wouldn’t open the walled city’s doors (there had been growing conflict between the farmers and the town’s residents).

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So, two excellent museums in one day meant time to call it quits. To home we went and feasted on, what else, our own Swedish meal, which Kathryn arrayed:  pickled herring, smoked salmon, vasterbotten cheese, knackerbrod (hard crackers), liver pate, and meatballs with lingonberry preserves. And, yes, we almost ate it all.

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More to come in PART V!

Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART III


Friday, March 24

It’s only appropriate that on the day we visited Fotografiska, Stockholm’s Photography Exhibit Hall, that a lovely photographer would join us. So, we awaited her arrival checking the street every now and then in anticipation. On one of the peeks out the window we caught sight of her, and our friend from home, Kathryn Davis, had arrived!

Unsure of her energy level after a long, overnight flight from Boson, we wondered if she’d be up for a photography exhibit; but, within an hour, she announced she was ready to go. We walked to the bus stop then hopped on the ferry Max and I had ridden the day before only to discover it wasn’t going to where we thought we’d be going; yet, I can’t say any of us cared for the sun was out, the sky was blue, and we were in STOCKHOLM for crying out loud.

We stayed aboard to return to the Gamla Stan (the island of the old town) then walked to Sodermalm, Stockholm’s southern island and ‘edgy, arty part of town’ as per THE LONELY PLANET. Stopping every now and then to take in the view, this one being a favorite of mine:

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Fotografiska doesn’t present itself as a museum but rather as ‘an international meeting place for photography’. Opened in 2010 this site remains extremely popular with its 20 or so exhibitions and over 770 events annually. Drawing over half-a-million visitors a year we added our bodies to that count and eagerly purchased our tickets.

Entering the first room I felt I had stepped inside a sumptously jeweled, Faberge Egg. The quiet darkness created a velvet softness instilling a reverence for the art displayed in front of us. Following my own path through the individual works of the four photographers, I became immersed in this visual feast.

If you ever get the opportunity to see any of these photographers’ work, do so. Their photographs mesmerize and leave an indelible impression on one’s mind. Each of the four represented such different perspectives of life views and art. All were stunning.



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I’ve appreciated this French photographer’s work in fashion magazines, but what impressed me even more was hearing how well liked he was in addition to being admired by both peers and his lens’ subjects. The curator’s description of his photography echoes this unpretensioness, stating ‘his work is defined by the simplicity and modest approach he has with his models’. Look at this gorgeous shot, one of many illustrating Demarchelier’s beautiful eye.
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However, when asked what his favorite portraits is,

it’s not an iconic photograph of someone like Lady Di,

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but Puffy, Puffy being his beloved dog.

I like this guy.

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A Child is Born

If you’re of the age when LIFE MAGAZINE was a household staple, then you’ll probably remember Nilsson’s mind-blowing images of embryos from the 60s. I do; yet, instead of feeling underwhelmed I experienced once again the wonder of how he turned the seemingly impossible into possible.


With such curiosity Nilsson contributed to the technical advancement in photography. As a Stockholm native, he holds a special place at Fotografisk. No wonder considering the images he left behind.


REN HANG (1987-2017)

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Human Love

My mind utters an ‘Aha’ when reading Hang was a poet as well as a photographer. Sadly he committed suicide in February of this year. You may recall seeing these provocatively posed portraits published online with the news of his untimely death . I remember being impressed by the powerful playfulness of his subjects. They appear less as subjects and more as collaborators. And, I enjoyed the discovery of understanding what was appearing in front of me, such as eyes of red thumbs.

Some of his photos are raw while others cause wonder but all are well-crafted. Standing in front of his work I am thankful his photographs will continue to share his voice with the world.

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SARAH COOPER (b 1974) & NINA GORFER (b 1979)


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These two women’s work left me spellbound. Their photographs, some made as collages, dominate a wall with their size and intensity of colors.

Stories lie behind each portrait, some presented in a series, and all deserve so much more time than what I gave them when touring this gallery space.

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The two photographers appeared in a short film explaining their work, which only made me want to see and hear more from them.

If I had to choose to have seen only one exhibit out of the four, their photographs would have been it.

And, if I had to have chosen just one photograph, it’s this one of a young Kyrgyzstan woman titled “The Leaving“, part of a series documenting that country’s tradition of bride kidnapping. Can’t you just see her fleeing?

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We left Fotografiska in awe of the artistic work we saw.  Meandering back to Gamla Stan and catching the metro home, we realized we had seen one of the true gems of this city. And, what a  magical immersion it was.

Next, history unfolds in PART IV…

Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART II


Thursday, March 23, 2017


Fortified with the VASA Museum’s lunch, we exit into the sun for a slow stroll home. Typically we tour one museum a day to avoid museum-itis; but, today we thought we’d check out the Medeltidsmuseet or Medieval Museum. Unsure if we wanted to put it on our ‘to-see’ list, we thought we’d scope it out since it was on our way back to the Airbnb apartment.

We boarded the ferry for a short ride with a gaggle of school young’uns

and landed on Gamla Stan, the old town built on one of the islands. Although we were tempted to just wander through the alley ways hemmed by old buildngs, we kept going knowing we’d back to this area during our stay.

Plus, it was a wee bit chilly.

We crossed one bridge

then another (note the kayaker)

to reach the museum. Surprisingly the sign pointed down, under the bridge, which piqued our curiosity. There an opportunity presented itself…

resulting in Max mimicking a pose he performed in 2003 next to another Romanesque statue.

We poked our heads into the museum only to be captured immediately by the displays, which led us through the Middle Ages in Stockholm. The museum came to be due to a crew digging for a parking lot in the 1970s. In doing so they found foundations dating 1530s, halted construction and built a museum instead around the old city walls. Lucky us. Not so fortunate those who needed the car park.

I won’t go into all the history but will provide a quick overview:

The first settlement was on the island of Birka, next to Stockholm, in 750 C.E. For roughly 200 years this town’s merchants and craftsmen traded internationally.

In 980 C.E. a Christian town, Sigtuna (named “God’s town”), overshadowed Birka and remained viable until plundered by pirates in 1187. (Max visited this one day and his write-up follows this one.)

Stockholm became the next and lasting economic settlement with the fall of Sigtuna. Situated in the shipping lanes going to and from Lake Malarian, the town attracted the merchants and craftsmen. With the economic growth came protection as the Royals settled in with a fortress and palace.

The city’s name first appeared in writing in July 1252 in a letter of patronage for Fogdo Abbey; however, the origin of the name is still up for grabs since ‘stock’ can mean boundary posts or water that piles up or defensive logs around the town (they use to ring the harbor’s waters with posts to discourage landing of large boats carrying unsavory characters).

The town evolved into a thriving metropolis, at least for the area, with a population between 5,000 and 7,000 during the latter part of the Middle Ages. When most Swedish towns averaged 500 and the next largest city being Finland’s Turku with 3,000 residents, Stockholm definitely qualified as the happenin’ place.

Being the most prominent site of the Kingdom of Sweden, Stockholm attracted the attention of other kingdoms, primarily Denmark. The Danish Queen Margrethe Valdemarsdotter beseiged the city 1391-95 eventually forcing Sweden and Norway into  the Union of Kalmar in 1397 with Denmark leading the pack.

This union set the stage for bloody battles between Sweden and Denmark such as…

The Battle of Brunkeberg 1471 when the Swedes won a decisive victory over the Danish King Christian I and his Danish-Swedish Army.

The Bloodbath of 1520 when Danish King Christian II, after besieging and occupying the city, invited those to whom he granted amnesty to a feast at the Castle only to take them all prisoner and then publicly execute them the next day either by beheading or hanging. Great hospitality.

But, out of the bloodbath came freedom when Gustav Ericsson Vasa, a son of one of the headless and drooping tongue victims above, mobilized resistance to the Danes. He won independence in 1523 becoming King Gustav I. This feat is celebrated as National Day on June 6.

I have to confess. I wanted to know why all of these guys are facing to their left, showing their right side; yet, when checking quickly on the Internet, it appears that studies are done on just the opposite:  why portraits had sitters showing their left side due to, and I quote SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, “Generally, the left half of someone’s face (the side controlled by the emotive right brain) is more expressive, and surveys in European and American art museums have found that some- thing like 56 percent of men and 68 percent of women in portraits face the left side of the canvas and thereby show more of the left side of the face. Crucifixion scenes of Jesus suffering on the cross showed an even stronger bias, with over 90 percent facing left. (By chance alone, you’d expect closer to 33 percent, since subjects could face left, right, or straight ahead.” Curiouser and curiouser…

According to some historians, I’m now out of the Middle Ages (I won’t bore you with that trivial nugget of info) so I’ll stop with this abbreviated history lesson. At least you and I now see the connection between this Vasa guy and the other one who ordered a ship built that sailed. Well, sailed ever so briefly.

Interestingly the Medieval Museum hosts another old ship, built in the early 1520s and outfitted with guns. The Riddarholm Ship (it was found in the Riddarholm Canal) didn’t sail too much either. Her construction was deemed poorly built with cheap timbers.

I followed the prescribed path through a sampling of how life was lived via the exhibits of artifacts and a recreated town street.

One of the displays catching my eye was a 1535 painting, “The Sun Dog”. First, I was struck by how un-middle-agey it looked with the astrologcal glowing circles in the sky and, second, I thought what a weird name for a painting. The picture is the earliest image of Stockholm and represents an actual astronomical event on April 20 of that year. As per The History Channel’s site: “Also called parhelion, mock sun, or phantom sun, sun dogs are an atmospheric phenomenon that result in bright spots of light in the sky, often as luminous rings or halos on either side of the Sun. They are formed when the Sun’s light refracts through ice crystals high in the Earth’s atmosphere. Though they may be formed anywhere in the world during any season, sun dogs are usually formed in very cold climates and are most conspicuous when the Sun is low.” If our friend Seppe, an amateur astronomer, had been with us, I wouldn’t have had to look this all up.

The hour went quickly ending especially due to my seeing another lone visitor (the museum maybe had five of us there) and discovering she was from Iran, which led to conversation away from Sweden’s history. Love those chance encounters. I eventually did meet up with Max who asked if I had seen the torture picture… I obligingly took a snapshot for him to add to his MDTs (Max Disaster Tours).

And, on that happy note we caught the metro at Central Station and headed home.

PART III coming soon…




Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART I


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Although sailing into the Baltic provides an opportunity to visit Stockholm, we thought we’d fly there in the event our route changed (which it’s be known to do). So, on a Wednesday morning we took an easy flight to Sweden’s capital, one of which we’ve heard many favorable reviews. A photo pulled from the Internet gives you an idea of how lovely this cityscape is. With its 14 islands and over 50 bridges, Stockholm offers an abundance of both natural and manmade sites to explore.

Like the Netherlands, almost everyone you meet speaks English, and within one hour of landing we’d made our way to our airbnb. Also, like the Netherlands, Stockholm’s public transportation offered great options for reaching various destinations, including an airport bus into the city. [FYI:  If anyone’s planning on visiting here, we found purchasing one of the SL Travel Cards extremely worthwhile. We rode buses, trams, subways and ferries throughout our seven days for roughly $7/day. However, in doing the calculations for the Stockholm Pass (museum & site card), we opted not to buy one based on entrance fees for the sites we wanted to see.]

Tossing our backpacks in the apartment we walked around the corner to provision for a few days. Surprisingly we discovered the prices for groceries seemed in line with what we’d been paying in Hoorn. What a relief as it made shopping a pleasant task versus one where you’re constantly picking up an item only to place it carefully back on the shelf in search of a different (read “cheaper”) option.

Over dinner we laid out a tentative plan for seeing key sites during our week stay, beginning with one of the main attractions:  the VASA.


Thursday, March 23

The next morning the sun shone and the temps were brisk but not cold. Armed with our Travel Card we hopped on a bus, then tram and found ourselves on Djurgarden, one of the 15 islands that comprise Stockholm. This island offers multiple museums, one being Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. Unfortunately, we had read it was closed for the winter; but, two other museums more than made up for not visiting Skansen, the first being the Vasamuseet or VASA Museum that houses the original 1628 War Ship built for King Gustav II Adolf.

You’d think with such a major site the path to the museum would be clearly marked, but it’s not. After a few times of retracing our steps and asking some high school kids, we managed to arrive at the entrance.

And, WOW. I have to say I was taken aback by the sheer size of this relic greeting us as we walked through the doors to the exhibit. Just that feeling alone is worth the ticket to get in. My photos won’t do the VASA justice but here’s a blurry pic that gives an idea of the height…

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and, here’s a cut-away diagram that shows the levels.

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If you’re wondering how this wooden ship (the largest wooden vessel raised and conserved with 95% being original!) managed to stay intact all these years, the best description I can give you is a big “OOPS”…

This magnificent ship, similar to Henry VIII’s flagship, the MARY ROSE, was this monstrous boat for the Swedish king’s fleet. And, like the English king’s flagship, the VASA managed to sink within hours of its sailing. Actually, it was within 20 minutes of its first sail, which, to me, qualifies for a huge oops…

The cause? The VASA simply was too tall, too narrow, and not enough ballast (weight) in its bottom despite 120 tons of stones. The 60+ brass guns didn’t help, either.

There was an inquiry but no one was blamed probably due to the original shipbuilder having died during the first year of construction and the second one simply saying he was following the first builder’s plans. Plus, the king had signed off on the plans adding a second gun level and, thus, more imbalanced weight; but, I don’t know if I would have reminded the king of that fact.

The ship’s name comes from Gustav II Adolph’s family’s 14th century symbol:  a sheaf of wheat. Here he is in a portrait dressed as the roman emperor Augustus, the Caesar of peace. Monarchs likened themselves to those Roman rulers of old; and, for the Swedish Kings, it also poked at the German Emperor, part of the Holy Roman Empire. Although, I must say grown men dressed like this for a formal portrait brings to mind a great Halloween costume versus an impressive dynasty.

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He commissioned the VASA in early 1620s and building began. Four hundred men within three years built this floating battleship. At over 173 feet tall, 39 feet wide and 100 feet long, this baby is BIG.

Evidently, the captain supervising the construction demonstrated the VASA’s instability to the Admiral by having 30 men run to and fro on the upper deck. And, yup, the ship could easily capsize. Unfortunately Gustav wasn’t available for this exercise as he was leading the army in Poland and impatiently waiting for this ship to arrive. And, like many reporting to such a leader it’s easier to be a yes-man than to deny the more powerful person his gratification, especially if that powerful person’s nickname is “Lion of the North”.

So, the VASA was set free on August 10th, 1628 with all the pomp and ceremony one would expect.

Brightly painted sculptures adorned the hull and bowsprit with red figuring prominently as a small model shows. The decor implies the righteous power of the king to defend the country and the Christian faith. Hard not to be impressed when you see this thing moving under full sail.

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Yet, imagine if you’re one of the lucky ones to set sail on this inaugural voyage. Pretty cool, eh? The cannons fired celebratory shots and the hooping and hollering must have been deafening as she proudly left the dock.

Then think of how your stomach might lurch when a gust of wind tilted this top-heavy ship to one side followed by the surge of relief when she righted herself and continued on its way.

But, now a second, stronger burst of wind hits the sails and the deck tips enough where you know in your gut that this thing ain’t coming back up straight and level. That’s when I’d be thinking not too happy thoughts as my feet start sliding and screams begin hurtling around the ship.

On August 10, 1628 that’s what happened.The VASA sank with water flooding through its gun ports.

What had begun as a monument to Swedish power settled in 100 feet of water at the bottom of the harbor. At least thirty lives were lost with over 100 being saved; yet, records at the time aren’t clear on how many were actually aboard and how many drowned so take those numbers with a grain of salt.

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Two reports, one by the English ambassador

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the other a joint letter to the king (Erik Jonsson was a Vice Admiral and the Squadron commander).

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Seven floors comprise the exhibit, which begins with an informative movie. Immediately following the film a guided tour provides useful background for one’s wandering up and down the various levels.

The lowest level holds the remains and artifacts found when the ship was excavated. We saw skeletons of 15 of those unfortunate enough to go down with the ship. Like the MARY ROSE, the archaeologists and historians pieced together plausible lives for those who were aboard using clothing found on or around the bodies…

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the crew’s wooden utensils (the seamen and company of marines would sleep in groups of 6-8 between the cannons on the gun decks and had to provision their own food until the ship reached the open sea)…

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money found in a sailor’s leather pouch (pay was composed of cash, cloth and rations, and an ordinary seaman’s salary was roughly 10% of a senior captain’s; below is a week’s salary for a sailor)…

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and even food they’d eat based on a pewter crock’s remnants of butter.

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And, of course, the bones provided information on individual’s genetic make-up, including an unusual skull deformity of unfused foreheads shared by two women and a man (you can just make it out on the skull below).

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coupled with the women also having a bulge at the base of the skull, a rare inherited trait.

But, how did the VASA ever get found? It’s thanks to the persistence of a private researcher, Anders Franzen, who knew the brackish waters of the Baltic served as a determent to the nasty, wood-eating shipworm who lived in saltier seas. Another factor providing a helping hand in preserving the VASA was the polluted waters in which she was found. Years of dumping waste in the harbor produced hydrogen sulphide as debris rots consuming oxygen; and, waters low in oxygen meant some wood-attacking creatures found it difficult to survive.

In the 1950s Franzen searched for the VASA’s remains and managed to find the hull on August 25, 1956 with a Navy diver Edvin Falting. Good timing as the city was getting ready to dump more stone from building piers in that area. I won’t go into the details of how they lifted her, floated her to land, puzzled the 14,000 scraps together, and then preserved her other than to say just the spraying of PEG (plyethylene glycol, also used in lipstick and skin lotion) took 17 years. Just know the meticulous attention to detail, including determining the actual pigments used to paint her,

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resulted in not only the pleasure one gets from seeing the VASA but also pioneered methods that assisted in preserving other wooden ships, such as the MARY ROSE on display in Portsmouth, England.

It’s an onging challenge to maintain this relic. Humidity caused by thousands of visitors resulted in harmful sulphur and iron deposits on the ship’s surface… the 1960s bolts used to hold her together have begun rusting (they’re in the process of replacing all 5,300 of them with stainless steel versions)… and VASA’s 800-900 ton weight (as much as six jumbo jets) twists the hull 1 millimeter per year. Those problems are all being addressed but it’s only through constant surveillance that the VASA can hopefully remain as a wonder for others to exclaim and learn about.

By now we’re hungry and buzzed from two hours of being in VASA land, so we decided to check out the cafe. And, boy, are we glad we did! Not only was it relatively inexpensive but it was good. We got side salads for $1.50 each (he ordered two, I got one) only to discover they came with free bread and olive tapenade. Now, that’s one happy-man smile :)

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Stay tuned for PART II


Bits and Bobs of the Netherlands: PART IV

Wednesday, March 15


Unbelievable! Another gorgeous day in the Netherlands and off we go to catch the ferry to the western-most Friesian Islands, Texel (pronounced ‘Tessel’).

Just over an hour car ride due north and a 20 minute ferry ride brought us to the harbor where we checked out marine supplies. If there’s a boat store, there’s Max. Along the way we passed a trawling net being repaired. I wish I had gotten a close-up of the guy working on the netting because it appeared to be similar to the way they must have done the task way back when.

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At the marine store we asked for, what else, fresh kibbeling and were directed to a local restaurant with instructions ‘not to go to the one directly over the dyke but the one called Van der Star ‘. By now I’m surprised we haven’t sprouted fins; yet, if we did, they’d be fried ones…

Then off to see the island’s landscape (a lot of farmland bounded by dunes and seas). On the windward side is a small marine complex, Ecomare. This site evolved from rehabbing marine animals and releasing them to the wild.

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Now it’s an educational site as well as tending to sick or wounded sea animals.

The museum part of the building provided information on the Wadden Sea (between northern Netherlands’ mainland and its outer barrier islands) where half of its area is exposed twice daily. In 2009 UNESCO designated the area as a World Heritage site. Like many museums these days the exhibits appear to be geared towards youngsters, which actually is wonderful as who better to absorb valuable information for future decisions about their surrounding sea and the life that populates it?

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One rooms showcased the skeleton of a sperm whale, which had washed ashore in 2012 .

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Outside small pools held seals and dolphins either in various stages of rehab or, sadly, kept for life here due to no possibility of survival in the wild. Some of the baby seals let out mournful cries, which almost made me cry.

Others bobbed perfectly vertically as they took in the afternoon sun.

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All during our self-guided tour I thought of our friend Andrea who works with an organization (Marine Mammals of Maine, I believe) saving stranded seals; so, this one’s for you :)

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Wanting to catch the late afternoon ferry back to the mainland and JUANONA, we left Ecomare and drove the 15 minutes to the harbor. During the drive we compared this island with Vlieland, just to the east and the one we cruised to last summer. Although the terrain and offerings are similar–expanses of beautiful beaches protected by dunes and patches of green forests–Vlieland, to us, would be the one I’d want to return to due to feeling wilder, less cultivated. Part of the ambiance comes from no cars being allowed (except for locals) and part due to being a smaller island. But, Texel warrants seeing for, I imagine, during the busy summer months you can experience an explosion of vacationeers squeezing every ounce of summer out of the magnificent beaches adorning this island.

Thursday, March 16


Back on the road we pointed south to tour the WWII museum we should have seen as opposed to another we followed our GPS to a week earlier. Located in a wealthy suburb 5km west of Arnhem, The Airborne Museum covers one military operation code name “Market Garden”. Conceived by Britain’s Field Marshall Montgomery and supported by General Eisenhower, Operation Market Garden became the largest airborne battle in history. Buoyed by the success of Operation Overload (D-Day) and the Battle of Normandy many believed they’d be home by Christmas.

British, US and Polish forces along with Dutch resistance fighters prepared to retake Arnhem and the surrounding area by seizing the bridges over the lower Rhine. Once the area was secure then the Allies would continue to push the Germans back into their homeland, right to the heart of Berlin.

If anyone’s read the book A BRIDGE TOO FAR or seen the movie, then you know what a disaster this turned out to be. I’ve read that Market Garden was the Allies’ only major defeat of the Northwest European campaign thanks to multiple factors. As Stephen Ambrose identified in his book, BAND OF BROTHERS (which, by the way, is an excellent HBO series based on the book), there are five reasons for the Allies’ failure:

  1. German opposition out-manned and out-gunned Allied paratroopers.
  2. Allied paratroopers lacked weaponry necessary to take out German tanks.
  3. Allied intelligence failed to detect the presence of the experienced German 2nd SS Panzer Corps.*
  4. American infantry and British armor failed to coordinate.
  5. The Allies failed to adequately protect its long 80-mile supply line.

* In the museum we learned a British intelligence office named Urquhart alerted Allied command to two German Panzer divisions just outside of Arnhem; however, this information was pushed aside (possibly due to being past the deadline for stopping the operation) and Urquhart was put on sick leave. The Dutch Resistance also warned the Allies of a new group of tanks at Arnhem. Like Urquhart, they too were ignored.

Lots of articles and even conflicting opinions can be found online regarding this military operation; some believe it weakened the Germans’ defense while others think it was a major disaster. However, there’s no denying the suffering battles such as this cause.

Begun on September 17th and running for nine bloody days, Arnhem was destroyed, and over 30,000 soldiers and civilians died, were wounded or captured. Under the Nazi’s continued occupation over 22,000 Dutch citizens died of starvation during that winter. The single road running south to north, from Eindhoven to Arnhem, was termed “Hell’s Highway”, another indication of the brutal fighting incurred during this battle

Over 95,000 civilians were forced to evacuate, and we recently met someone whose family spoke of having to leave at a minute’s notice only to return after the war to find nothing survived. Yet, the museum made it very clear that the Dutch never blamed the Allies for their loss of family, friends, and homes. Not only did they never blame them but many also created close bonds with the Allied soldiers. A monument at the entrance to the museum speaks to this bond and to the Allies’ recognition of how these people welcomed them as liberators.

The Museum is located in a mansion, which served as both German and British HQs during the war. Now, a lovely building surrounded by peace and tranquility I found it a bit difficult to imagine the mayhem and destruction caused by that September battle;

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yet, this museum quickly immerses one into the horror of war, including the opportunity to experience the hell of the fighting by walking though a Disneyesque-like movie set filled with the sights and sounds of the battle.

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Quotes of those involved, both military and civilian, adorn the walls. We began with the soldiers optimistically hoping it’d be an easy battle

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only to have that wish morph into surprise and despair as the Germans fought back and kept control of the city.

The following maps display the maneuvers for anyone interested (blue = Allies, red = Germans).

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What the charts don’t show is what the troops called ‘Hell’s Highway’, the road running from Eindhoven north to Arnhem. I’m sure it’s a road I never would have wanted to travel.

Photographs and artifacts added to that feeling of being there followed quickly by thank god we’re not. A piece of wallpaper brought you right into the house where some soldiers voiced their feelings,

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and a group of airmen standing in a British airfield waved good-bye to fellow soldiers heading for the fight.

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In the gift store I noticed a book about Audrey Hepburn. Thinking this was a bit odd I later found out she had lived in this area during the war. Born in Brussels to a British father (who later divorced his wife) and a Dutch mother, Audrey’s childhood was spent in England and then the Netherlands.

With the start of the War, Audrey’s mother returns to the Netherlands thinking it would remain neutral; however, the subsequent invading by the Nazis and with one of her brothers shot in retribution, Audrey’s mother ceases her support of fascism and, like many others, focuses on surviving the war.

During this time Audrey continues her love of dancing begun at a young age. She stages secret blackout performances and earns money for food by teaching dance to younger pupils. She made it through those years becoming both the glamorous and gracious actor I remember

as well as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF . I’m sure the latter position outshone any starring role in a Hollywood movie.

Out last stop in Oosterbeek was at the war cemetery where 1,700 pristine tombstones stared back at us. I can’t tell you how many times both Max and I think or utter outloud ’there but for the grace of god/spirit/luck go I’.

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s’-HERTOGENBOSCH (translates to woods of the Duke)

Before heading north we continued south to the hometown of an artist whose work fascinates and repels me:  Hieronymus Bosch (1474-1516). Having seen his work in various museums I wanted to visit where he had created fantastical creatures populating his religious landscapes and portraits.

Ironically, none of his original artwork hangs in the town from which he took his name. His most famous, the triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, is in Madrid’s Prada Museum.

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Why Spain? Well, this prized Dutch painting may have landed there due to Philip II, King of Spain, being an admirer of Bosch’s work. And, in case you forget, Philip easily created his own little hell by championing the Inquisition during the 16th century. He got his comeuppance thanks to William of Orange, aka, William the Silent, joining the northern rebels and starting the Netherlands on the road to independence in the 1560s.

But, I digress. We had wanted to see the special exhibit held February-May 2016 when 17 paintings (out of 24 remaining) and 19 drawings (out of 20) found their way back to their original home here in s’-Hertogenbosch; but, it was sold out months in advance. Yet, the beauty of this museum filled with copies of his work means you can get as close as you want to stare at the mind-blowing scenes Bosch created from his imagination.

His drawings appear to be individual features of his paintings versus whole scenes; but, they were fantastic in detail and well-worth any time spent gazing at the fine-lined figures.

Bosch drawingWhen viewing art such as this I think how amazing it would be to hear the creator speak of hs inspirations. Even more wonderful would be to sit at a table with two artists living in that same time period and hear their discussion. Just imagine such a conversation between Bosch and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)!

After an hour we’d were totally Bosched-out and with heads filled with both nightmarish and whimsical beings we drove home to JUANONA and ended our week of bits and bobs tour of the Netherlands.


Next… a rendezvous with a friend… :)


Bits and Bobs of the Netherlands: PART III


Sunday, March 12

We are so lucky! Our Ipswich friend Anne, a fellow cruiser now in Cartegna with husband Peter, arrived with no problem and she woke to a picture-perfect day in the Netherlands :).

With sun out and wheels at hand we ventured off to Friesland, the northeast province of the Netherlands. Max and I sailed there summer 2016 on our way to and from Norway. When cruising there last July we had taken advantage of traveling via bikes and trains. This time the three of us traversed the IJsselmeer in our rental car via the famous barrier dyke, the Afsluitdijk, landing in Harlingen where we had last been with JUANONA almost a year ago.

Oddly enough we spotted a creature not usually seen in the Netherlands, or, for that matter, in most European countries.

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For the first time in a while we could enjoy a coffee outdoors,

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then managed to visit a Norwegian sail-training ship alongside one of Harlingen’s quays with very personable trainees aboard.

From there a clockwise drive took us along polders and acres of farmland along roads made for teeny cars. Believe it or not, the lane below is two-way, and this was the case for many of our back-country drives.

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Out of all the towns we visited Dokkum was the highlight with its working windmill. Our friends Gus and Helen had stopped here in their Sabre 38 and tied up in front of one of the windmills. Unfortunately our draft is too deep to easily travel these particular canals, which is why we decided to visit by car. We purchased mustard ground there… and, I took a shot capturing the ‘windblown look’ at the top of the mill. Behind you get a glimpse of the picturesque setting where we strolled soon after.

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A local restaurant recommended by the windmill operator served up excellent kibbeling (fried cod) for lunch before we hopped back in the car to continue our circular route.

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Our Sunday drive, which included Holwerd and a drive-by of Sneek, provided Anne with a feeling for this part of the Netherlands, often missed if one isn’t heading northeast of Amsterdam.

We could have expanded our trip to visit Hindeloopen, a lovely little port where we stayed end of last July, but our stomachs were starting to grumble for dinner. If you thought all we did was drive from one refreshment to the next, you wouldn’t be far off…


Monday, March 13

The one and only time Anne had been in Amsterdam was as a baby, so she and I trained down to explore this canal-ringed city. All I can say is we walked and talked, and talked and walked, interspersed with coffees of course.

The day being sunny and not too crowded with tourists, with the exception of school groups, we ended up doing a counter-clockwise tour of the city. Thankfully, Anne’s navigation skills came in handy as I became completely turned around when approaching the Museumplein from the opposite direction. But, since Amsterdam’s streets are fascinating anyhow, no matter. At least that’s what I told Anne and myself.

Poking into shops, stopping for a lunch at the Rijks Museum cafe, and just experiencing being in a lovely urban culture was enough for both of us. By the time late afternoon rolled around we were both ready for home and one of Max’s meals, a great way to end any day.


Tuesday, March 14

Another day of exploring before we had to drop Anne off in Eindhoven. And, another glorious day of sun, so we drove south to Waterland, located between Hoorn and Amsterdam. Allegedly this area provided the grid-layout of Manhattan in New Amsterdam when the Dutch settled there in the 1600s. By the way, If anyone is interested in how the Dutch established Manhattan’s culture, and its continuing influence today, read THE ISLAND IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD by Russell Shorto. Max enjoyed it and passed it on to me. The information is not what we get in our history books, possibly because the Dutch (or the Native Americans) didn’t write the history of this area.

Our first stop set a high standard. Di Rijp enchants any visitor with its storybook streets and homes. And, it definitely felt well-taken care of. But, first, the regular stop:  our koffie break.

It was at the cafe that Anne noticed a whaling mural. When we asked about it, the owner said the inland town used to front the ocean, and had been a major port with ships sailing regularly to Spitsbergen. FYI: as per the Rijks Museum about a display we saw last year:  “In 1980 archaeologists investigated the graves of 185 Dutchmen – whale hunters and workmen of the train oil refineries – who had died on or near Spitsbergen during the 17th century. The skeletons were still wearing their knitted woollen caps. Each cap was individualized; the men recognized one another only by the pattern of stripes on the caps. The men were bundled up so tightly against the fierce cold that only their eyes were visible.”. 

Who would have thought it?

The cafe owner mentioned a whaling museum, which we tried to see, but it was closed until later this spring. Yet, like in most of these Dutch villages, just slowly slowly ambulating down the bricked lanes peering at and in houses through their un-curtained windows provides entertainment. Oh, yeah, and having your photo taken next to an old lock :)

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Monnickendam, established by the Benedictines in the 14th century, was our lunch spot. This also use to be a major port but now you see more pleasure craft than trawlers berthed at the local marina.

Max had been here before in search of a boat part, and the Tourist Office had given him a map of the gable stones adorning many of the old homes. These plaques identified the owner by trade, interest, or family name. As we walked down the streets we searched the brick facades matching the stones with the brochure’s description:

The Golden Hand:  hewn by the current owner of the house, the hand represents the “Golden Hand of God” with the palm holding the initials of his beloved.

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Pirate ships:  This one dates from 1763. Pieter Winkes changed from captaining a pirate ship in the West Indies to inspecting the Het Lanselvaare, one of the local, rope-making yards. The reason? To care for his sick wife who took ill while he was sailing.  

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And, this one tells of the five Jews grocers Leo and Lies Hordijk hid during WWII. Fortunately, all survived.

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Since we obviously looked like tourists…

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it’s never surprising but always welcomed when a local stops to ask if we need help. This time our impromptu guide informed us of the 17th-century glockenspiel in the former town hall (from the 15th century). He mentioned the bells were a little off tune (he couldn’t tell and we didn’t care) but in ten minutes some horses would come out and the angels would sound their trumpets. Sure enough, we heard the bells

and then we saw the hooves of the prancing horses with the angels tooting.

Our last waterland town was known for its 17th and 18th wooden houses, some painted a specific grey called ‘Broecker grijs’ like the one in the photo I pulled off the Internet. Interestingly this color, they say, came from the landscapes painted by Monet and other artists. I haven’t found any other reference to that, though.

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Broeck of Waterland (there’s also a Broek op Langedijk further north, which we visited last fall) is known for its cleanliness but, frankly, all of these places look spick-’n-span to me. (Actually, throughout our touring of the Netherlands this past year, litter seems to be just a sprinkle of trash every now and then versus a widespread occurrence.)

We needed to head south for Anne’s flight so this was our last stop in our tour of Waterland. Must say, it’d be great to do a bike trip around here. Of course koffie stops would figure prominently…

Seeing a friend off is always a bit sad, but she promised to keep in touch regarding her and Peter’s cruising plans. They’re headed into the Mediterranean. Hopefully, more reunions are our in our future!

One more ‘Bits and Bobs’ on its way…



Bits and Bobs of the Netherlands: PART II


Saturday, March 11

Fast forward to the weekend and we are eagerly anticipating another reunion, this time with a cruiser friend from Ipswich, UK.

With a rental car for a week we opted to toot around parts of the Netherlands that are harder to reach via public transportation. To use a phrase of our English friend Anne we’re seeing some ‘bits and bobs’. The car also gave us the opportunity to pick her up in Eindhoven.

But before we arrived at the airport we used the day for exploring one of the loveliest parks in the Netherlands with a side stop at a Museum featuring the WWII military operation, Market Garden. Yes, another Max Disaster Tour (MDT) in the works.

Let me just say unless one is addicted to seeing dusty, rusty relics, faded artifacts, and lots and lots of guns, skip this museum. (We later discovered the WWII museum we should have visited–and did so another day–was the Airborne Museum in Osterbeek; but more of that in another post.)

Thankfully our next stop brought us out into the bright sunshine just down the road. The De Hoge Veluwe National Park began as an estate for a wealthy businessman and his wife, Anton Kroller (1862-1941) and Helene Muller (1860-1938).

Helene Müller and Anton Kröller

Since then it’s become a lovely refuge for visitors wanting to wander in a 63-acre expanse of forests and sand dunes.

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The destination had been on our radar for a while, not the least due to the park’s museum, the Kroller-Muller,

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cocooned by mother nature and a sculpture garden.

Map sculpture garden winter 2016

Why Kroller-Muller is a ‘must-see’ is due to Helene’s passion for Van Gogh. She became a big fan of the artist, whether due to her initial taste in art or due to the influence of art critic H.P. Bremer, himself an admirer of that artist’s work. However it started, their collaboration with her money and his expertise resulted in the second largest collection ever of Van Gogh’s work. It was here we spent most of our time at a special exhibit of Van Gogh’s studies leading up to his famous “The Potato Eaters” (hanging in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum).  All I can say is thank god he didn’t stop at that one.

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To understand how this 1900s hunting estate fell into the hands of the government I read a little about the Kroller-Mullers, specifically the origin of Anton’s wealth.  FYI:  If you’d rather just skip to the exhibit, just scroll below to the museum photo. 

As the eventual owner of Wm.H.Muller & Co. (he married his business partner’s daughter), Anton successfully expanded the business of distributing corn, iron ore, and timber to global markets, building it up to be ‘one of the most powerful European commodities trading houses’ (Biography Anton Kroller (1862-1941) – Arielle Dekker, University of Groningen).

Due to the Netherlands’ neutrality during WWI, Anton continued to grow rich from supplying both England and Germany based on lucrative contracts he had negotiated. His businesses included shipping, and the amount of shipping he did helped build Rotterdam into a world-class port.

What to do with all of this growing pot of coins? Why hunting grounds, of course. In 1909 Anton began buying up real estate with his company’s money. In 1915 the Kroller-Mullers hired a sought-after architect, Hendrikus Petrus Berlage (1856-1934), to design an impressive lodge to go with the grounds. The Jachthuis St. Hubertus (St. Hubert Hunting Lodge) was completed in 1920 (but only after many strong disagreements between the eminent and controlling Berlage and Helene, the client).

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But, what’s a hunting ground without things to hunt, which led to the park being stocked with game (red deer, wild boar and wild sheep). Meanwhile Helene hunted paintings and proceeded to stockpile Van Gogh’s and other artists’ pieces. A fairy-tale for the wealthy was coming to fruition.

Or, so it seemed until 1923.

Anton’s wealth wasn’t quite what it was made out to be… investors and, later, a former accountant, accused Anton of cooking his books (he should have stuck to BBQ-ing his game). Yet, like so many white crimes, Anton wasn’t charged in spite of almost causing the demise of Rotterdamsche Bank due to unpaid loans while leaving his investors stranded.

Later the entire estate and art collection were put in separate trusts by the government with the Kroller-Mullers permitted to live in the house. Evidently Anton donated the estate and art to the state around the time his finances were taking a dive. Good timing I’d say.

But, thanks to the scandal and with apologies to Anton’s victims, we, along with thousands of others, are able to enjoy a beautiful piece of the Netherlands, both geographically and culturally.

One of these days we’ll sign up for a tour of the hunting lodge, but today our focus was on the museum, which hosted a smattering of other artists in addition to the Van Goghs Helene so avidly collected.

This museum was a jewel, beginning with the building nestled among the trees.

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Fortified by a delicious and inexpensive lunch at the cafe we headed to the Van Gogh exhibit featuring his early years.

The first room introduced us to the struggling artist as he began his journey as a struggling artist. Photographs by Henri Berssenbrugge (1873-1959), a Rotterdam photographer, allowed us to step back in time during those years.

Since the curator captured well the essence of what we walked through, here the exhibit’s introduction:

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And, to set the mood, here are two of Berssenbrugge’s photos from that era:

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Below are some of Van Gogh’s sketches from 1881 to 1885 (the second one is of Sien, his mistress for over a year around 1883 when living in Hague).

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You can definitely see the resemblance between Van Gogh’s sketches and the features of his potato eaters. I’m just glad he wasn’t painting moi.

In November 1885 he paints ‘Autumn Landscape’, his last one in the Netherlands.

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Roughly three months later he moves to France and there it’s as if his palette exploded with color. From ‘Pink Peach Trees’

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to ‘Langlois Bridge at Arles’, he enters the major league of impressionists (recognized only after his death, I think) and continues to paint intensely over the next five years until his death in 1890.
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Other artists’ work also captured my attention, and not necessarily because I’d want to hang them my home. It’s just that they caught my eye either due to the artist’s name or the art, such as the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s (1872-1944) ‘Composition with red, yellow and blue’ 1927…

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Vilmos Huszar’s (1884-1960) tribute to Vincent Van Gogh (‘Vincent’ 1915)…

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Charley Toorop’s (1891-1955) ‘Old apple tree blossoming’ 1949…

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and Ger Van Elk’s (1941-2014) ‘Alkmaer’ 1983.

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After an hour or so of perusing the inside art we went out the back for a quick stroll around the sculpture garden. There we saw some pieces by some sculptors whose name I recognized…

‘Femme accroupie” 1882 by Auguste Rodin (1840-1970)

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‘Curved form’ 1956 by Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) …

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and  ‘Animal head’ 1956 by Henry Moore’s (1898-1986)…

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as well as some we didn’t… ‘Hoofdstuk 1’ 2010 by Jan Fabre (b.1958-).

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By now it was time to head further south to Endhoven to pick up Anne, so we entered the back door and exited the front door of this fabulous museum taking advantage of snapping one more photo of two men enjoying the late afternoon air.

The one on the right is by Oswald Wenckebach’s (1895-1962) ‘Mender Jacques’ 1955.

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I must say I’d love to have this one in a garden. Along with the live model, of course.

Onwards we go to retrieve Anne and return to JUANONA where the only sculptures we’d see would be formed by ice and Max’s famous G&Ts.

Part III of Bits and Bobs coming up…