Copenhagen: 

 

Tom had a perplexing start to his day. While we were waiting for our latte’s at a table, we noticed a giant Rubik’s Cube right next to us. Obviously, being the engineers we are, we started solving it piece by piece. Ironically, neither one of us could remember how to solve the last layer, so we had to leave it behind with only 2 out of 3 of the rows solved. I also learned that my boyfriend is a nerd; Apparently he attended Rubik’s Cube club meetings while he was in college. 

 Our first stop was the National Museum of Denmark. Housed in the Prince’s Mansion, one of the earliest Roccoco buildings in Copenhagen, the National Museum has the largest collection of Danish cultural history in all of Denmark. Its  exhibition covers 14,000 years from prehistoric times to present-day lives. It would have been easy to spend our entire day there, but Tom and I had a lot more to see (not to mention, we’ve pretty much had our fill of museums for this trip). My favorite part was their collection of dollhouses, I always wanted one as a little girl. The scaling of each piece of furniture and the detail associated with it has always fascinated me. Tom couldn’t share my enthusiasm, because well, I’m pretty certain that he has never been a little girl. 😀

 We grabbed some Smørrebrød for lunch, a traditional open-faced sandwich of meat, fish, cheese, or spread, on a buttered piece of rye bread, before heading over to the Parliament building. Officially, the building is called Christiansborg Palace,  a metonym meaning, “Castle of the Realm.” It is the only one in the world the houses all three branches of the government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial powers. We took two elevators to the top of the tower, the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and were greeted with some scenic views of the city.
 After returning to ground level, we took a closer look at the Børsen, the old stock exchange. We passed by it yesterday during the walking tour, but I wanted a closer look at its spire. Built by Christian IV between 1619-1614, the building is known for its  the Dragon Spire which consists of four dragon tails wounded together reaching a height of 56 meters. I really admire the expressive artistry that older buildings have. It’s a tradition that has been lost and overtaken by a desire for modern, sleek shapes. At the same time, it would be unrealistic to build elaborately carved or scuplted details into structures these days since I’m sure the cost would be astronomical.

 We stopped by a few historical churches and then took a stroll along Nyhavn. Nyhavn is a man-made port dug between 1670 to 1673 by Swedish prisoners of the Dano-Swedish War. It was constructed by Christian V and served as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city, Kongens Nytorv the “King’s Square.” The harbor area was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. On our walk yesterday, Benjamin mentioned that the first tattoo parlor in the city was opened here, and the artist had a two sided machine. Back in those days it was common for sailors to put their names on their lady-friends, but it was also bad business for the woman. So if the woman handed the artist a few extra bucks, a wink, the tattoo artist would us the semi-permanent needle on his machine, allowing the name to wash away a few days later rather than being permanent. The famous fairytale author, Hans Christian Anderson also lived along this street for 18 years. 

 Our last stop today was to the Rundetaarn, or “Round Tower.” Originally built by Christian IV in the 17th century, the cylindrical tower is made of masonry with alternating yellow and red bricks, the colors of the Oldenburgs. It also has has an equestrian ramp rather than a staircase; this design was chosen to allow a horse and carriage to reach the library and for heavy and sensitive equipment to be transported to the astronomical observatory on top. Tom and I walked up the 7.5 turn helical corridor, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Are we there yet?”

Stockholm: Ticking Hands of Time

 We woke up first thing this morning and grabbed breakfast to-go during our walk to City Hall. Stockholm City Hall is the center of governance for the municipality, and also the location of the Nobel Prize banquet every year on December 10th. You may recall my previous post from Oslo concerning the Peace Prize. However, it is the only Nobel Prize that is presented in Oslo rather than in Stockholm. This is because Alfred Nobel specifically wrote this request into his will. Originally there were only 5 awards, Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Medicine, and Peace to award individuals who had made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of humanity. The Economics award was added by the Swedish Central Bank in 1968.

Interestingly enough, City Hall is not an old building. It’s celebrating only its 93rd birthday this year. Designed by the architect After City Hall, we stopped for lunch before heading over to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a the only almost fully intact Ragner Östberg in 1923, he desired for the building’s structure and facade to look old without actually being old. Ragnar drew inspiration for the interior rooms from a variety of historical eras, but also made major design changes as the building progressed and his whims of fancy changed. 

 

The Blue Room (although not actually blue) recalls the elegance of a wide open Italian piazza, an assembly space for various events and banquets. Knowing that patrons would be making their entrance via the grand staircase, Ragnar included a star on the far-opposite wall. It is said that if a person focuses on that star as they descend, they will maintain proper posture while all eyes are focused on them; and so far, no Nobel Prize winner has ever tripped or fallen as they enter a banquet in their honor. 

 The Gold Room is opulently decorated in colorful gold mosaic, bringing to mind the glitz and glamour of the Byzantine Empire. The artist and his assistants only had two years to complete the room’s walls prior to a certain event that had to take place on a specific date for historical reasons. As a result, some mistakes were made with no time to correct them. The depicted castle is missing one of the three crowns (this was supposed to depict Tre Kronos, the Castle of Three Crowns), and the king riding the horse is without a head due to scaling errors (although it is historically accurate since the king was eventually beheaded). 

After City Hall, we stopped for lunch before heading over to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a the only almost fully intact (98% original) 17th century ship to ever be recovered. The ship was built on the orders of King Gustavus Aldophus in due part because of a military expansion campaign he initiated with Poland-Lithuania and his desire to enter the Thirty Years War. At the time, Sweden’s political and military power was an afterthought and neighboring nations barely acknowledged its presence. Gustavus is widely regarded as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. He was progressive in his governance, innovative in his military weaponry, raised Sweden to be a Great Power.

 The Vasa would have been the first double-decker war ship of the time, and one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. She was constructed under contract by private Dutch entrepreneurs between 1626 and 1627. The ship was richly decorated in symbolic carvings illustrating his ambition for Sweden. However, due to severe time constraints, and a lack of expertise (as no one in the country had ever built a double-decker), the Vasa’s final design proved too unstable and top-heavy. 

 On her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628, she was only 1300 meters out of port when a wind caused her to keel and ultimately sink. Fortunately for us, the ship-channel she sank in has a low salt content. This allowed her to lay relatively undisturbed and remarkably well-preserved for over 300 years. The Vasa did not sail again until her hull was lifted from the harbor floor in 1961.

 

I was personally astounded by the size of the ship. She is the first thing you see when you enter the museum, and she simply dominates the room. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of her intricate carvings and exquisite detail.

Our take-away from the day is that time is a double-edged sword. For some, time is a luxury, while for others, time is a looming specter. In both the cases of the Gold Room and the Vasa, had the designers had sufficient time to complete the tasks at hand, we believe that the inherent flaws could have been avoided. 

 Speaking of time, Tom and I spent the rest of our afternoon enjoy the Swedish tradition of Fika. Fika is equivalent to the British Tradition of tea-time, where people take a break from their day to savor some coffee and sweets. We went to Vette-Kaffen a traditional Fika institution. It was both tasty and relaxing. 🙂

Stockholm: Voulez Vous La Musique

Anyone born in the in the 50s, or the child of parents born in this period are familiar with the band ABBA. To date, they are the most successful pop band to emerge from Sweden, and have been only second in success to the Beatles. Furthermore, they are the only band from a non-English speaking country to ever top the charts of English-speaking countries.   

 I remember fondly the songs I listened to with my mother as a child, popular hits such as the “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” and “S.O.S.” would regularly feature on our car rides. Therefore, how could we not take some time to visit the ABBA Museum while we were in Stockholm?

 The museum documents how Agnetha, Björn, Benni, and Anni-Frid found their musical starts. It then demonstrates their creative process and the transpiring events that served as their inspiration. Memorabilia, outfits, and props are proudly on display while imaginative use of technology allows you to do anything from record a vocal track, dance in a music video, or take the stage as their fifth member alongside their holograms. 

 Tom and I tried the first two with mixed results. It turns out (although I’ve always known this), that I am beyond tone-deaf. Once I bowed out of trying to sing Dancing Queen, Tom’s solo vocals gained a much better score. It was abundantly clear that my inability to carry a pitch was bringing the team down. :(. We also tried to dance in a music-video but couldn’t manage to stop laughing. The hologrammed stage would have been interesting, but there was a line, and the performance would have been public to any passerbys. Stage-fright, a lack of dance moves, and not being a fan-girl were sufficient enough reason to hold back.

  
We then headed to the highest point in Stockholm to enjoy a breather and take in a scenic view of the city before heading back to the hostel for a break.

 After a brief repose, we grabbed dinner at an Irish Pub nearby before heading on an adventurous walking tour of our own. There are some well-documented odd, secret, and hidden items to be found around Gamla Stan, so Tom and I went on a hunt calling it our own Ghost Walk (quite a few of them were particularly morbid). We visited Hell, commemorated the Stockholm Bloodbath, and admired a Bartizan.

 One of my favorite stops was the statue, “Boy Looking at the Moon.” Arguably the smallest public sculpture in Sweden, it was sculpted by Liss Eriksson in 1954 and retells the memory of his childhood when he would sit on his bed and stare at the moon through his window on sleepless nights. It is made of sandstone and wrought iron. Superstition says that he will bring good luck to anyone that rubs his head. He was wearing a cute knit hat and scarf when we visited him, a gift that Stockholmers like to provide him with during the winter, so we merely patted him on his head. 

Stockholm: Gamla Stan

Our hostel of choice is located in Gamla Stan, the old town. This part of Stockholm is located on one of the small islands of the city’s earliest settlements, and it still maintains its medieval character. 

 After grabbing our customary coffee and snack, we took stroll down the waterfront to catch sight of the Riddarholmen Church. This church is the final resting place of all of Sweden’s monarchs. Parts of the church date from the late 13th century when it was first built as a greyfriars monastery. The building is only open to visit during the autumn and summer, so Tom and I were unable to get inside.

 
Our next stop was the Stockholm Cathedral, the oldest church in Gamla Stan. The facade is in the Swedish Brick Gothic style, but my favorite part was the wooden statue of Saint George and the Dragon. (If a sculpture or statue of this particular biblical event is housed in a house of worship, it is commonly what I admire the most). Attributed to Bernt Notk (1489), the statue was commissioned to commemorate the Battle of Brunkerg (1471), and serves as a reliquary containing the saintly remained of George himself in addition to six others.

 Adjacent to this lies the Stockholm Palace, the official residence of the Swedish Monarch. Nicodemus Tessin the Younger formed its shape like that of a Roman Palace. When he passed away in 1728, the chief architect role passed on to Carl Hårleman who is largely responsible for the the Rococo interior. Construction had started in 1697, but did not officially complete until 1760. This is because work on the building was paused for 18 years due to the expense of the Great Northern War. 

 We then took a leisurely stroll through the Skansen Museum, the first ever open air museum, founded in 1891. One can experience over five centuries of  Swedish history in a visit, and there were several animals romping about in their habitats. The only disappointing part was that the aquarium required an additional fee to visit, and despite my desire to have a close-encounter with lemurs, neither of us could justify paying an additional $12 for it. After all, the USA has some of the best zoos in the world. 

Alta: At First Sight

 The trade-off we made to stay in Alta, which is a bit off the beaten path, was having fewer day activities unless one wants to shell out $$$ to go dog-sledding or snowmobiling. I personally would have liked to visit the Sorrisniva Hotel, a hotel that is carved entirely out of 250 tons of ice every year, but at an entrance fee of $24, the price was too steep for either Tom or I to justify.

We intended to have our time in Alta be a bit lazy hazy, so we slept in and savored some extra sleep. As a result, we didn’t roll into town until the early afternoon. We popped-in to check out the inside of the Northern Lights Cathedral before grabbing some coffee and free wi-fi at a nearby pub.

The current design of the church is the result of a competition in 2001 that was won by a collaboration between schmidt hammer lassen architects and Link Arkitektur. The city council wanted an icon that would highlight Alta’s role as a gateway to the Northern Lights. In the words of founding partner John. F. Lassen, “The Cathedral of the Northern Lights is in its design a result of the surrounding nature and local culture. The building is a landmark, which through its architecture symbolizes the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights,…The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful. It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature.”

 The sun sets earlier in the North than it did in Oslo, so we were greeted by darkness when we exited the pub. Outside, waiting for us was a varied display of ice sculptures. Some depicted human forms while others were animal sculptures. My favorite, however, was a realistic human heart that had a beating red light inside it. The heart was enclosed by icy brick walls, and I interpreted it as a metaphor for the warmth and life that lies in each of us despite whatever cold, outer, exterior persona we may present to the world. Tom thought I was overthinking it, but I personally like trying to analyze the message an artist is trying to convey.

 We then hopped into the car for Day 2 of our hunt. This time we drove about 2-hours west. The forecast was looking good for clear skies, and based on the lessons from yesterday, we knew we had to look for the stars. After all, if you can see the stars clearly, then you know that clouds are not obstructing the view. Eventually, I started seeing a light green shadow to our back right. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether I was hallucinating it due to my deep desire to see the Northern Lights, but Tom pulled over to have a look and verify my suspicion. It turned out I was right!

 Not too long after, bands of green danced across the sky. Tom and I were so excited about our discovery that we couldn’t help but laugh, and hug, and smile. It was a glorious gift that the universe had presented us, the gift of light. After you truly see the lights with the naked eye for the first time, you know exactly what to look for. It is true what they say, that the lights dance. You can see the shape and the density of the bands and swirls change as the particles shift with the wind. I was so happy to be able to share the experience with someone that is so special to me. 

P.S. I didn’t exactly have the right photography equipment for this shot, so we faked the lighting we’d need by using the car’s headlights.  

Oslo: Ashes of Vikings

The one thing Tom and I do every morning is to take some time to savor a good cup of coffee. We are both aficionados of this savory drink, and it’s a great way to to warm us up from the inside out before we venture off to galavant about a city blanketed in snow. 

Since our legs and feet were so tired from walking about 10 miles yesterday, we decided today would be a museum day. Specifically, we would pass our time by visiting the museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula, an area that still maintains its rural vibe, and houses the Oscharshall Palace, the summer home of the Norwegian Royal Family.

 Our first stop was the Norwegian Folk Museum, an open-air museum that has many traditional buildings on site that allow you to explore the daily lifestyles of Norwegians from the 16th century and onwards. They also had a few exhibit halls that displayed typical wardrobes and furniture from these eras. The primary reason I wanted to visit however, was to see the Gol Stave Church.

 This one is from 1212, meaning that its over 800 years old! Stave churches were medieval Christian churches that developed in Northern Europe. The name for this type of structure is derived from the Old Norse term “stafr,” meaning the type of timber framing where load-bearing ore-pine posts support lintels. It’s a descendent of palisades construction from the Viking Age. Logs were split into two halves, driven into the earth, and a roof erected over it. 

 The Gol Church falls under a smaller sub-category called the Borgund Group. The stability of the structure is further enhanced by cross-bracing that joins the upper and lower beams and posts. This essentially creates a truss which allows for the weight of the building to be transferred into the ground without the need for intermediate posts, creating a wider, more open, interior space. 

Next, we stopped by the Viking Ship Museum, because what visit to Norway would be complete without getting the chance to learn about Viking history? 

 

  

Oslo: City of Tigers II

In 1870, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote a poem titled , “Sidste Sang”. In it, he illustrates a dramatic fight between a horse and a tiger. The tiger, metaphorically represented the dangerous city, while the horse symbolized the security of the countryside. This is where he first referred to Oslo as Tigerstaden, which represented his perception of the city as a cold and dangerous place. 

 This has not been the case for Tom and I. We have found this snowy, northern city to be warm and friendly. Our barista from earlier this morning graciously gave us a list of restaurants to eat at, and even attempted to teach me the word for “thanks” in Norwegian, “Taak”. (I hope I haven’t been butchering the word too much, but I always like to learn how to say “please” and “thank you” when I travel. I’ve found it is a simple way to show your enthusiasm for the local history and, even though they may laugh, the locals often appreciate your effort.) 

 Making use of one of the barista’s recommendations, we ventured towards Aker Brygge, a unique, waterfront development that was completed in 2014. It was formerly the site of a shipyard and industrial buildings. Vingen, a restaurant attached to the Astrup Fearnley Museet was difficult to find, but incredibly tasty! Tom had the Eggs Benedict, while I had their version of a Katz Pastrami Sandwich.

 After a brief break, we ventured back into the cold to explore the history of the Akershus Fortress. Construction of the fortress is believed to have started around 1290 when King Hakon V realized that the city needed a stronger defense center than that which currently existed. Since it lied adjacent to the sea, it allowed Norway to prosper commercially while providing the nation with a strong military presence. 

 The Akershus Fortress has never been successfully besieged by a foreign enemy. However, in 1940, it surrendered to Nazi Germany without combat. The Norwegian government evacuated the capital when it was unprovokedly assaulted.

  
Our feet getting wary, we decided to make our last stop for the day before heading back to the hostel to rest our laurels. The Oslo Opera House is uniquely designed such that the roof of the structure angles to the ground level. This creates an elevated plaza that allows pedestrian interaction with the building. Tom and I climbed all the way up and were greeted with a panoramic view of the waterfront.

As a structural engineer,the fact that this roof is merely supported by thin angled columns is intriguing. How, exactly did they analyze the load paths/patterns through the asymmetrical characteristics of the column geometry?  The minimalistic framing and specialty glass allows for optimal views of the surrounding water. 

 From the roof, and at ground level, we observed the sculpture, “She Lies.” The stainless steel and glass fabrication resembles ice and depicts a symbol of power for the region. As it lays on a transient concrete platform, it is free to turn with the bidding of the tide and the wind. I think the sculpture is a metaphor. For as quick as the tides change and the wind changes direction, so too can the power shift.  

P.S. Tom is currently passed out next to me. If anything, my boyfriend could certainly hibernate through a long winter if instinct required it of him. 😛

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