Archive for the 'Travel' Category

So Long

The ten days we were in Sweden have gone by as fast as a galloping elk, but they’ve left an equally big impression. Looking back, we both liked Göteborg better than Stockholm, despite many warnings beforehand that it would be the other way around. Göteborg is smaller, therefore more accessible; and all the students make it merrier, more youthful, but also less touristy than Stockholm. Of course we may have been under influence of better weather in Göteborg, and we haven’t visited any of its darker parts that travelpedia warns about.

As always, fragments of memories remain:

The way the Swedish tour guide in the Stockholm Stadshus pronounced the word Maelaren (a lake outside Stockholm): a dry and short but emphasized ae sound, a thickish l, a very short but still audible a (not uh), followed by the most beautiful r, rolling, round, guttural… The Swedish language overall was a two-faced experience for us: unable to make out anything anyone said to us other than ‘hej’ and ‘tack’, we did recognize many written words, often more from Dutch or German than from English.
The Stockholm Stadshus (city hall) is another recommendation by the way. You must join the guided tour to visit it–something we don’t usually care for–but it wasn’t dreary at all. You get to see all the highlights with to-the-point commentary in about 45 minutes. Choose the woman guide if you have a choice, for Maelaren pronounciation bonus points.

The smell of fish (mussels even, in the entire Stockholm city museum; good thing we weren’t hungry) and dill (particularly on a small but colorful street market in the Katarina Bangata). Dill seems to be everywhere and on everything in Sweden. Sort of a national herb.

The rabarber och hallon paj (rhubarb and raspberry pie) in the Espresso House, accompanied by a capuccino. Forget Starbucks; when is Espresso House coming to Holland?

The wild, haunted and/or icy look in the steel blue eyes of so many Swedes (not that many did look directly at me–but that may have been me). Many Swedes have beautiful, expressive faces and dress very fashionably. (An observation by M., of course).

The smell of old boats (oil, wood, sea water) on the ships in the Maritiman museum in Göteborg. If you only have time for one museum in Göteborg, go to the Maritiman.

2008-09-15. One response.


More things to see and do when you’re in Göteborg: visit the botanical gardens, the design museum and a collection of 19 ships floating in the harbour.

We really liked the gardens; the fact that, for the first time this vacation, the sun broke through may have had something to do with that. The Botaniska Trädgårdens are a combination of a park, a few themed gardens, some perennial borders (always our favorite) and a complex of not so large hothouses (after last year’s visit to the Eden Project most hothouses don’t seem very large anymore). A temporary exhibition that we saw (and smelled) there, displayed dozens of different mushrooms. Autumn is in the air…

The Röhsska Museum for design and fashion was a disappointment. It first opened its doors at the turn of the 20th century, and built up its collection after the example of London’s Victoria and Albert museum. Boasting to have over 50,000 pieces in their collection, only a very small part of it seemed to be on display. The fashion part of the museum was closed altogether, not good for M.’s mood; she was still moping over Paris’ fashion museum being closed when we were there last year. The design exhibitions consisted of large window cases filled with separate pieces out of any context except for the period they were from. Small photos were put on the wall to evoke a feeling of the corresponding zeitgeist. Yes, we know that the first world war happened in the 1900-1920 period. We don’t need a photo of the trenches to remind us. We would however like some more information about the influence of the Jugendstil and Art Deco styles on Swedish design. But other than the designer’s name and a year, nothing is said about the items shown. They just sit there in their window cases. A missed chance. (BTW funny to see two computers on display, both Apple, as well as an iPhone.)

Finally I would really recommend the Maritiman museum, a collection of 19 ships and boats floating in the Göteborg harbour. You get to walk on as well as inside the ships, which is a great experience especially as the collection includes an impressive destroyer from the Swedish navy and a submarine. The destroyer has a very ‘real’ feel about it, as it’s fitted with mannequin dolls in navy costumes playing captain and first officer, and sounds of radio and morse signals echoing along the way. There’s a lot of very steep steps of course, and for the submarine you’ve got to descend on a small ladder, but that was definitely worth it. I shot about 200 photographs, with all those boaty and watery details being easy targets.

Today we took it easy, walking around the Slottsskogen park, seeing more elk, and doing some relaxed Saturday afternoon shopping. Luckily there’s enough Swedish design to be admired in the shops, if not in the museum.

(Photo below taken during our design field trip in Göteborg’s shopping streets; photos of the Maritiman museum will follow.)

2008-09-12. No responses.

Who Can Live Without It

Wifi on our trip to to Sweden is proving to be a mixed pleasure. In Stockholm, free wifi was abundant: in our shabby guest room (don’t know whose router that was, switched over to ssl to be on the safe side), at the Espresso Houses, in random shops; just not at Skansen and the Royal Palace (can the Swedish royal family live without Internet?). In Göteborg, it’s a different matter. Our hotel (not shabby at all, hotel Vasa) has free wifi in the rooms; anywhere else there’s wifi allright, but there’s nothing free about it. So no Internet while I’m typing this (thank you WordPress iPhone app) at the Göteborg NK Espresso House, enjoying a large cappuccino and a rhubarb/raspberry pie. A small one.

Yesterday I saw some stunning photography from the Farm Security Administration collection at the Göteborg city museum. Apparently in the 1930s the government sent photographers out in the field to document how people lived at the time; which was around the time when my own parents were born. Beautiful shots of people from around 1935-1940 staring you in the face. I can never get enough of staring back. It may be the closest thing we have to a time machine.

Photo by Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration, 1935/6

2008-09-10. One response.


I’m in ABBA country. So many Agnetha and Björn look-alikes have passed me by these last couple of days, I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if someone had started singing in the street.
The first half of the trip took us to Stockholm. A wet city, as it’s built on islands, but also because of all the rain we had. We had fun at Skansen, a combined park, outdoors museum and mini zoo. It’s located on one of Stockholm’s greener islands, Djurgård, which is also home to the Vasa museum. This museum is built around a complete and original 17th century warship, the Vasa, named after a Swedish king. The ship sank on its first trip, only hours after it had left the wharf. We heard a tour guide explain how this might have had something to do with ever-changing requirements during the design and building of the ship. Sounds just like a regular IT project, only with boats.

There was a lot of shopping to be done of course, interspersed with cappuccinos at the Espresso House and strangely sweet yoghurt ice creams at the Gallerian. Stockholm’s city center looked a bit dreary in all that rain. The large amounts of concrete used to renovate the city in the 50s and 60s didn’t help either. It could easily be used as the décor for a cold war spy movie, with a Russian spy defecting to the West.

Yesterday morning we visited the City Museum. Not a big museum, but with several creatively designed expositions, it’s a perfect museum if you have one or two hours left. In the afternoon we took a train to Göteborg which, on first impression, looks a bit more laid back. To be continued…

The 17th century Vasa warship

View on Stockholm from Södermalm, the southern island

2008-09-10. No responses.

A Late Arrival

This plan was doomed from the start: leave from work at 4PM and try to reach Antwerp within two hours, so I could collect my badge and goody bag tonight instead of tomorrow morning (together with 2000 fellow JavaPolis visitors). It was worth a try, but I should have known you can’t beat the Dutch rush hour at its peek. Exactly one hour late (an hour spent halfway through in a traffic jam caused by people looking at an accident on the other side of the road) I entered the Metropolis building–only to be disappointed by Stephan himself. So that’s one beer less to drink tonight, in an attempt to go to bed early and be on time tomorrow morning.
Anyway, all will be forgotten when I sit down tomorrow for the first keynote–and after that for all those sessions I’m looking forward to: Gosling, Gafter, Bloch… Sessions about EJB3.1 and Guice and Scala… (Of course, since I didn’t get the goody bag with the program yet, I’m listing all these from memory so I’ve probably forgotten one or two). I’m sorry to say I will probably miss the JRuby session with Ola Bini and Charles Nutter: you can only see so many introductions into Ruby and Rails.
And in the meantime I’ve done a little reconnaissance in Antwerp’s town center after checking into the hotel. As always, the city is great fun to be in Christmas time: nicely decorated and full of life (and beer). I had some Belgian fries at Frituur No 1 and walked around town a little. I nearly bumped into someone looking a lot like James Gosling, taking snapshots of the Antwerp cathedral. Perhaps not the right moment to ask for an autograph…


On the road to Antwerp…

2007-12-11. No responses.

JavaPolis Going Nuclear

Just when I was about to drive off to Antwerp for this year’s JavaPolis, I learned that a fire has started in Antwerp’s nuclear plant ‘Doel’. Apparently the fire is located in a side building and there’s no immediate danger to the public. Which is exactly what I would say to prevent complete chaos from breaking out…

2007-12-11. No responses.

Where To Marry In Paris (Part 3)

(This is part 3 of 3; part 1 is here, part 2 is here)

We returned from Paris late Sunday evening (March 25th).

What remained was images, shreds of memories, and many of them, in spite of the short time we were there:

The Nautilus-like decoration of the Arts & Métiers subway station.

The American girl in the brasserie too close to the Eiffel tower (but we were too tired to go any further), shouting, “Sir, you’re from Philly, sir?” at an unsuspecting Frenchman wearing an Eagles cap.

The closed doors of the Fashion museum that we had wanted to visit after the Eiffel tower and lunch; apparently, the museum is now closed for visits altogether. We were lured to it by an entry in the Lonely Planet guide, promising “some 100,000 outfits and accessories from the 18th century to the present day”. Instead, we kept walking along the Seine to the Museum of Discovery (Palais de la Découverte), hoping to find traces there of the turn of the 19th century world exhibition that took place there in 1937. However, besides the building itself, very little reminded of that historic fact. The museum houses several themed exhibitions, some very entertaining (animals, visual tricks), some extremely boring. In the animal exhibition, a little rat was showing how it had been trained to run around in a maze and get a tasty snack at certain intervals. Somehow, that reminded me of our own wanderings across Paris.
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2007-05-11. 2 responses.

Where To Marry In Paris (part 2)

(This is part 2 of 3; part 1 is here, part 3 is here)

There’s a lot in Paris to be seen besides museums. Unfortunately, most of these things are outdoors and can best be visited with a bit of sunshine and a pleasant spring temperature. As we had neither of these on our short trip, we had to spend a lot more time inside the shops on the boulevard des Champs Elysées than we normally would have. We had to admire the view of the Eiffel tower from underneath it. And we had to extrapolate what it’s like to spend a day in the park from sitting on a bench in the tuileries for 10 minutes in the only rays of sunlight that we did get.

There is however another very important indoors activity to be done in Paris, as in every part of France: eating! At lunchtime, heavy rains were usually poring down on us, making it impossible to sit down in a park with nothing more than a baguette and some Coulommiers or other cheese. At dinnertime, we were forced to eat out as we stayed in a hotel room, so we really were unable to do some shopping at a nice Parisian market and have a go at the local ingredients ourselves. In short, we couldn’t help but eat out twice a day; and as we felt obliged to do as the Parisians do, we just had to eat a hot meal twice a day as well. What a punishment…
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2007-04-01. One response.

Where To Marry In Paris (part 1)

Even though Paris is only a 6 hour drive from where we live, we never actually go to the trouble of finding a hotel and driving up there. Until now. It’s been 27 years since I last spent some time in Paris–more time than the average hour it takes to drive through it when we’re on our way to the south of France. 27 years, that’s more than anybody should have to wait to return to Paris. So we finally found a decent hotel (see map below: marker A) and arrived after a smooth enough ride through the streets of Paris (thanks to Eva, who for some reason wanted us to take a scenic route off the highroad when we entered France, but thankfully got herself back on track as soon as we reached the city).

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2007-04-01. 3 responses.

Down and Out in Toulouse and Oslo

Rådhuset, Oslo After being completely flushed away by heavy rain last week, from the streets of Toulouse, M. and I now find ourselves in the city of Oslo. She has to work, I get to play. Or at least to wander around the city a little. Disappointed by the (walking) distance from the hotel to the Munch Museum, but also pleasantly surprised by the radiant, sunny weather (although the sun doesn’t seem to reach much higher than in Holland on a midwinter’s day–it does make you very aware the you’re closer to the pole), I decided to change plans and explore the city center and the harbour. So I walked round, all the way down Universitatsgata, which eventually leads to a strange looking, huge red brick building with two towers, called Rådhuset (town hall), behind which you’ll find the waterfront: a little fish-auction where fresh fish (I’m assuming it’s fresh) is being sold directly off the fisherboats, and a long quay winding along Aker Brygge, which appears to be Oslo’s Port Vell, with restaurants and shops on one side, and yaughts and ferries on the other.

Aker Brygge, Oslo There’s a smell of seawater, shrimps and diesel oil; shrieks from the seagulls flying around; creaking of boats on the gentle waves; sharp light of the sun low on the horizon; a murmur of the Norwegian language that creaks much like the boats do; and of course the constants sound of rippling water. There’s an old looking seagull, lying near the edge of the quay, looking out over the water, bathing in the sun, with a tired look on its face; it won’t budge however close I get. Is it near its end, waiting to die, reminiscing over the days when it would fly around freely over this harbour, hunting for fish, scavenging for people’s leftovers?

Carcassonne By Night A french-speaking couple walks by. It’s only four days ago that we left France after a two-week holiday, the car boot stacked with wine, driving all the way home from Carcassonne (where we stayed) in one day to have some more preparation time for Oslo. You can only travel so much, it seems, before you start getting enough of it–and it seems that M. is certainly reaching that point (she did four more trips this summer). What an impressive city, Carcassonne. Very touristy of course, but you can hardly blame the city for that. Carcassonne is a city in the south of France, some 200 km north of Barcelona. It was originally built as a walled city in the Middle Ages, then eroded away in the centuries after, because its walls weren’t up against newer methods of warfare (like explosives and catapults). In the 19th century, a French architect decided to restore the old city to its former glory, rebuilding the walls where necessary, as well as the coned roofs on the towers–and filling in some of the details using his own imagination. Which is of course always the danger of restoring things: you’ll be tempted to rebuild them “as they were”, being under the illusion that you end up with the original thing.

2006-09-20. No responses.

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