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. 

Alta: Our Predecessors

Every morning so far, we have woken up to the howling of the dogs, and this last day in Alta was no different. I’ve actually found myself enjoying the sounds of the wilderness around us. It awakens our soul’s connection to the natural world, and reminds us that it or she must be given respect. 

Our ancient predecessors, and even the descendants of ancient indigenous tribes such as the Samí, have always respected the gifts that she gives us. While the daily lifestyles and survival tactics of the prehistoric man are not readily known, much information is often derived from the fragments that they have left behind. We explored some of these shadowy traces with a visit to the Alta Museum. 

Author Andreas Haldorsen

Credit: Andreas Haldorsen:

Alta is home to the largest concentration of Rock Art in Northern Europe. The first stone, dubbed the “Pippisteinen,” was found only 60 years ago. In the present day, over 6000 carvings and paintings have been registered. The art is dated to be from 7000 to 2000 years ago, and depicts a Hunter-Fisher Society. 

On the panels, there are many scenes depicting hunters stalking prey with spears or bows and arrows; Fishermen are seen fishing with lines in the water. Of particular interest or the boats, which start off small in earlier drawings but progressively show larger and more ornately carved boats in later drawings.  Since similar carvings were found in Southern Norway, one hypothesis is that long-distance voyages may have come into being. 

Credit: Petr Brož

 A creature that is featured prominently is the bear. It is believed that bear was not only hunted, but also worshipped. There are drawings showing tracks leading vertically through a carved image and crossing the horizontal tracks of other animals. Anthropologists have speculated that this indicates the bear’s connection to the afterlife, that the tracks indicate an ability for the bear to pass between the different layers of the world.  

Credit: KSENIA NOVIKOVA / NRK

 Before we visited the Alta Museum, we had gone to the Alta city center for a late brunch. We also got to catch some of the finishers of the Finnmarksløpet, the northernmost sled dog race in the world. The 1000 km (about 630 miles) race entrants had left on March 5 with a 14-dog team. This means that they spent a total of 6 days racing around Finnmark, Wow!

After the Museum, we went into town looking for a coffee shop and cinnamon rolls, but ended up settling for ice cream since Tom saw a shop and started craving it. We then returned to the hotel to pack for our travel day tomorrow and take a nap before our last day of Northern Lights hunting. The forcast wasn’t looking optimistic, but after driving south for about an hour we saw a few shimmers. The lights were more tranquil than the previous two nights, so it seemed as if they were sad to see us go.  

 

Merry Christmas from Jodhpur!

imageWe all woke up late this morning due to the festivities of last night. The staff had cleaned up the cake (from the glitter firecrackers) and shared some slices with us. Nick didn’t pull his string aggressively enough, so he decided to pour all of his glitter over my head. -_- I may still be sparkling….

Craig, one of the new friends we made last night, was traveling alone so we invited him to explore the city with us. We trekked up the hill at the center of the Jodhpur old city and entered one of the seven gates of Mehrangarh Fort.

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The fort is situated 400 ft above the city and surrounded by thick walls. Within the complex are several palaces known for the intricacy of their carvings and the botanical diversity of their courtyards.

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Legend says that Bhaurcheeria, “The Mountain of Birds,” initially had a single human occupant. In order to build Jodha’s fort, Cheeria Nathji, “Lord of the Birds,” was forced to leave. In his anger, the hermit cursed Jodha:

“Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!”

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Nathji was only marginally appeased by the construction of a house and temple within the fort that was in close proximity to the cave that the hermit had meditated in. However, even to this day,the area is plagued by a drought every 3 to 4 years.

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As an even more extreme measure to ensure his new site was propitious, Jodha buried a man named “Raja Ram Meghwal” alive beneath the foundation. In return, Meghwal’s family was guaranteed to be looked after by the Rathores. Even to this day, his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, an estate beaquethed to them by Jodha.

imageAfter catching a gorgeous view of the “Blue City” from high above, we started our descent on the other side of the hill, and came across some traditionally dressed girls with baskets on their heads. I find it quite fascinating that even in this modern-day and age, a diverse array of traditional clothing can be seen in India as a stark contrast to the more readily adopted Western Clothing.

imageWe then paused by the Jaswant Thada for a breather, before continuing to engage in some aimless traipsing through the streets.

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Travel: Varanasi

Given how hectic and crazy the past few days have been, I’m happy that today was just a “kick back and relax” transit day. With an early afternoon flight out of Khajaraho en route to Jaipur, we savored the luxury of sleeping in. 🙂 Unfortunately, I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up at 8 am of my own accord, this happens pretty consistently for me regardless of how late I went to bed the previous night.

imageThe downside of visiting a smaller town is the limited amount of conveniences that we have grown accustomed to as Americans. This is not to say that neither of us were adaptable. Contrary to that, both Nick and I have the prior experience of traveling through Asia, and we were prepared for the likelihood of the squatting toilets, limited hot water, lack of heat, and taking sponge baths from a bucket. Still, warmth would have been nice given how cold it was in the room last night and this morning.

imageOur flight to Jaipur included both a stop in Varanasi and a layover in Delhi. Varanasi, is recognized as the Holy City for Hinduism, and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is set along the Ganges River. You may recall that the Ganges is the Holy River. It is considered sacred and is personified as the goddess Ganga.

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Credit: Babasteve

The common belief is that bathing in the river, results in remission of sins and facilitates Moksha – liberation from the cycle of life and death. Many Hindu’s pilgrimage to the Ganges to immerse the ashes of their dead. The river is also a water lifeline for millions of Indians across the country, as it is the largest body of water in India. Unfortunately, the cumulative purpose of the Ganges has resulted in it being named the 5th most polluted river in the world.

At Varanasi, I picked up an interesting row-mate named Wayne. It turns out that he was also born and raised in New Jersey! (Jersey City to be precise). He also happened to spend a few years living in Houston.

imageSometimes I think the world is so large, that I can’t even begin to explore all of it, and then coincidences such as these happen that remind me how small the world can actually be. We had a very thorough conversation and I quickly became envious of him. Wayne is a General Orthopedist that works in contracted positions. This has somehow allowed him to work in Europe, Africa, and now Asia! He also happens to own some great sports cars (although they are in storage) such as the Lotus, Ferrari, and Maserati. Still, my jealousy had its limits. Averaging 18-hr days for continuous weeks with a brief reprieve of a week here and there takes its toll.

We parted ways at Delhi and Nick and I caught our connection to Jaipur, “The Pink City.” After arriving at our hotel, we were both happy to settle into our rooms and savor a long, relaxing hot shower. I also had time to Skype with  friends from back home ^_^.

Travel: Roman Art

After exploring the depths of Rome, I ventured onwards to Trajan’s Forum. This Fora was the last Imperial fora to be built, and was overseen by Apollodorus of Damascus. Built between 106 to 112 AD, it was constructed from the spoils of war amassed from the conquest of Dacia.

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The most notable icon of this sprawling complex is Trajan’s Column, a triumphal tribute commemorating Trajan‘s victory during the Dacian Wars. Completely freestanding at 98 ft high (125 ft including the pedestal), the shaft is composed of a series of twenty 11 ft diameter colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing  32 tons. It is most recognized for its spiral bas relief, at a total length of 625 ft, the frieze winds around 23 times, and depicts the epic wars of Romans Vs. Dacians. (I saw a miniature replica of this exact column wrought in gold in the museums of Vienna, Austria).

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Taking another breather (after all, one can only ponder the historical significance or art and architecture for so long), I stopped by to admire the Monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.  This monument is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sobering reminder about the tragic losses of war.

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Around the corner I decided to take a leisurely stroll through a park. This area was formerly the Circus Maximus, the first and largest stadium used primarily for Ludi in Ancient Rome. Ludi are public games directly connected to Roman Religious Festivals, and were sponsored by noble Romans or the State for the benefit of the people and the gods.

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The last stop of my day was the Vatican Museum After Dark. Despite not having a full day, I was so proud that I discovered these tickets as it allowed me to enter at an allocated time and avoid the massive lines that tend to form during the day.

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I can’t even explain the overflowing stores of art that burst from the confines of each room. I was completely overwhelmed by the detail of the marble sculptures, the intricacies of the woven tapestries, and the breathtaking wonder that overtakes you when mortal eyes lay their gaze on the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.

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Do you not feel humble when you see the masterpieces of renowned artists that consistently challenged the constraints of art? Are you not jealous of the skill that they were blessed with? If you could have any artistic talent, what would it be, why?

Travel: Beneath the Streets of Rome

My day started off fairly morbidly as it began by exploring a Capuchin Crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. When moving from an old monastery in 1631, the monks arrived bearing 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo then oversaw arrangement of the bones amongst soil that had been brought from Jerusalem by order of Pope Urban VIII.

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During the lifetime of the crypt, as monks passed away, longer-buried remains were exhumed to make room for the newly-deceased and the reclaimed bones were added to the decorative motifs.The average time span of decomposition was 30 years, and the total skeletal remains number 3,700.

Six rooms with individual themes bear the following names:

  1. Crypt of the Resurrection
  2. The Mass Chapel
  3. Crypt of the Skulls
  4. Crypt of the Pelvises
  5. Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  6. Crypt of the Three Skeletons

If you recall a former post, from my visit to Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, despite modern-day opinions on death, bones, and gore, one could understand the thought behind such a display. It is not meant to be macabre, but a gentle reminder that each lifespan is but a swift passage on earth and even we can not escape our own mortality.

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Experiencing a strong desire to bask in the roman air and sunshine, I emerged from these depths to stroll above ground. This led me to pensive pondering while admiring the infamous Trevi Fountain. I’ll speak more about the history and myths behind this landmark site in a future post as I came back to this location a multitude of times.

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A hop, skip, and jump away is an archaeological dig called the ‘City of Water.’ Discovered in 1999 during reconstruction of the former Cinema Sala Trevi, it is a little-known tourist destination.  The excavation is merely 400 m², but reveals a 4th century Roman mansion built upon two former insulae and a section of aqueduct. This section is part of the Acqua Vergine and actually connects to the Trevi Fountain!

 

Travel: Catacombs of Rome

I woke up early this morning to catch a fast train back to Rome. It only took about 1.5 hours, and I didn’t want to waste my entire morning by sleeping in (although there’s no denying that I was very sleep-deprived at this point). After arriving at my hostel, I gave myself some decompression time to regroup while I figured out where I could most optimally spend my day.

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My first stop was the Catacombs of Callixtus, it is an underground graveyard that is 20 km long and occupies 15 hectares.  The tomb got its name from the belief that it was created by Pope Callixtus I, a deacon of rome, by enlarging early pre-existing Christian hypogea during the 2nd century. It was continuously used for burials through the 3rd and 4th centuries. As the years passed into the 9th century, the crypt suffered from disuse and decay as it was subject to enemy ransacking and the relics were translated to the various churches of Rome.

The catacombs are best known for containing the Crypt of the Popes as this site held the remains of 16 popes and 15 martyrs.

Catacombe

It was a little creepy walking through these arcades. You could see the narrow niches that had been carved into the bedrock, and imagining oneself lying in those small spaces was quite, gruesome. It was a true maze, and it’s terrifying to consider the possibility of getting lost in the cold, damp, passages.

2013-05-30 08.37.45From there, I strolled down Appian Way,  one of the earliest Roman roads of the ancient republic.

It was strategically important in that it connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia, in southeast Italy. 

This is represented by its very common name, as recorded by Statius

Appia teritur regina longarum viarum

“the Appian way is the queen of the long roads”

At the beginning of Appian Way, lies the Church of Domine Quo Vadis. The small building lies on the site where, according to the legend, Saint Peter met Jesus while the former was fleeing persecution in Rome.

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The presence of St. Peter is confirmed by an epigraph in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian that reads Domus Petri (House of Peter). It is here, that according to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (Domine, quo vadis?). Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” (Eo Romam iterum crucifigi).

On a marble slab in the center of the church, are two embedded footprints. They are believed to be a miraculous sign left Jesus.

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The final stop of the day were the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest Roman public baths built between AD 212 and AD 216 during the reign of Emperor Caracalla. A slightly longer construction period between 211-217 AD is provided by Chris Scarre.

To meet this constricted deadline, over 2,000 tons of material would have had to be installed every day over a six year period. Historical records show that the idea for the baths were drawn up by Septimius Severus. A complex  hypocaust system burning coal and wood beneath the ground was utilized to heat the water that was provided by a dedicated aqueduct.

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I would have loved to experience them at the peak of of its life. Can you imagine having a FREE spa experience in this huge architectural complex? What is your favorite relaxation activity?

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