June 30, 2010

More Norway

After the busy day seeing Håkon’s Hall et cetera, we woke up very early to take a fjord tour. We took a train to a bus (which went down a road with an 18% grade) to a boat, which led us slowly around a fjord. The weather was terrible – rainy and chill the whole day. The fjord was beautiful though – they are steep glacial valleys (my favorite kind) and can be a mile deep. On the sides are small towns, some inaccessible by roads. They all apparently have medieval stave churches, a style of building unique to Norway, but unfrtunately they all seemed to be hiding behind other buildings. The boat dropped us off in Flåm, a tiny town pretty much used only by tourists. We had a surprisingly decent lunch despite the lack of options, and then took pictures with a large troll holding a Norwegian flag. The next leg of the journey was a historic train up the steep mountain, with a stop at a huge waterfall with a singing troll, sort of a Norwegian siren with long braids. That train took us to another train, which took us back to Bergen. There we had delicious Vietnamese for dinner, followed by the best carrot cake I’ve ever had.

Saturday we went to some shops and then the Bryggen tour, which gave us a guided tour through Bergen’s historic fishing town. It was an important trade center in the Hanseatic League, and life there was so terrible they had to give the apprentices tests of strength before they could join on. The current Bryggen was built immediately after the fire in 1702, with each building in exactly the same location as the ones that had been destroyed. They areconstantly being repaired, as the salt content of the bay has changed with the construction of something or other, and now the foundations (basically, boats filled with shoes and sunk) are rotting away. The buildings now sit at funny angles, leaning into each other and over the paths between them. It’s really adorable. On the tour we learned all about life then, the Hanseatic League (which I knew pretty much nothing about before), and the later fish trade. The Hanseatic Museum even has 150-year-old salt cod hanging from the ceiling for luck.

For lunch we went to a hot dog stand called Kong Oscar’s Pølsar, where they had the most impressive sausage menu I’ve ever seen. I had a reindeer dog, 150 grams, which stuck out from the bun on both sides. The meat was gamey and smokey, but it needed more toppings than just fried onions and ketchup. Afterwards, we left for Copenhagen.

Going home tomorrow – will try to update more before then.

June 19, 2010

Sweden: Brudparet

Today was the royal wedding and associated parade – a little bit of a letdown. The entire town was pumped for this parade featuring the newlyweds and it went by in all of 15 seconds (the cortege was 150 meters long, and there had been newspaper announcements, street closures, extra police, a first-aid station). There were about 30 times as many people at the Blackhawks parade last week.

Before that, though, we went to the National Museum of History, which was informative and well-designed. It was successfully directed at children and adults (in Swedish and English) – probably one of the few museums I’ve ever seen to do this well. It followed Sweden from prehistory through the Viking age, with a section devoted to asking children (and others) to question the idea that history is truth. When discussing ancient people named for their styles, it asked whether they would be the Rotningar people or the Ikea people; next t0 a collection of hand-axes was a collection of plastic bristle brushes. It was all very clever. There were more skeletons than I’d expected, and a room with child/adult co-burials and pathologies. The second floor had a history of Sweden, with a timeline on the floor. It went from Viking times up to the present, including an informative room on social reform and modern governance. In the basement was an impressive gold room with the treasures from Viking hoards (did you know jewelry was divided into weight classes for easy exchange?)

We went for dinner in Kungsholmen at a little Indian restaurant (after much debate).

Here are interesting things we have noticed about the Swedes. Many are, of course, tall and blonde. However, many of these are not real but dyed blondes. The amount of women seems to be greater than the number of men. Most of those women are between 25-35 and are either pregnant, pushing a buggy of one or more infants or toddlers, or both. The number of children (all blonde) is astounding. We could attribute it to the mandatory 450 days of parental leave couples must take — but then, why so few men? And why so few other children? I’ve hardly seen any over-10s, no teenagers, and very few college students. This bias continued today, a weekend and pseudo-national holiday. They are also exceedingly polite: when Mom didn’t know to take a number at an electronics store, the man behind her traded places – “you were here ahead of me!” They are intense about queuing, resulting in a small conflict today. People are, on the whole, very friendly and polite, and they all speak English. And not only formal English, but colloquialisms and slang. It’s all very impressive. Stockholm, too, is very nice and kept-up. There is very little litter and, possibly due to its status as the Greenest City inEurope 2010, no pollution (my skin can tell). There are so many bikes that major streets have a bike lane separated from the street itself. It’s also extremely safe. Most bikes here are locked only to themselves, and some only with a thin cord; some aren’t even locked at all but just leaned against a wall. I asked about theft and was informed that people would be suspicious of someone carrying a bike (indicating the wheel was locked) and would inquire.

Also, the light! It got dark about half an hour ago (at 11.30) and I would classify the sky now as medium-dusk. I woke up at 3 and it was already light. Plus, the dusk is in the north and it feels like everything’s on a tilt. Crazy!