Subject: Scandinavia travelogue, part 2 (long)
Hello Ziners:

DAYS 4-7

We spent four nights and three days in our rorbu. The weather was fair, which means that it only rained a little bit and only when we were in the car, that the temperature oscillated between 11C and 19C without important differences between day and night ( there isn't any big difference between "day" and "night" there, indeed). All in all, it seemed to us that 19C was almost "hot" weather, while we had left home at 38C just 48 hours before.

The main activities during astay in the Lofoten are :

1.. take long drives to admire the enchanting land-and seascape 2.. go fishing with the boats every hotel or rorbu company rents 8 usually fishing outings take place towards 06.00 p.m.) 3.. go on a boat excursion 4.. visit the Lofoten Aquarium, the Lofoten Museum, and so on But, to our taste, number 1) beats every other activity, because the sights are definitely breathtaking.

We weren't interested in fishing and couldn't take a boat excursion because the one we had chosen on our last day was cancelled. The Aquarium, Museum and so on are rather unimpressive. For example Lofotr museum ( Viking village) in Borg, combines the reconstruction of a Viking collective house, with a walk to a lake where you can board the reconstruction of a Viking vessel, and an old barn where some agricultural implements of the 18th and 19th century are on display.

And everything is outrageously expensive.

So we drove a lot, and it was quite tiring because the E 10 here, especially in the more far out islands, becomes a narrow lane. But it was worth every effort.

We don't go that much to restaurants, because I have special dietary requirements, but we dined out twice in Henningsvaer, at the Fiskekrogen and at the Bl Fisk( the latter being the restaurant of hotel Brygge. On both occasions the food was great, and both restaurants are right on the port. Hotel Brygge has the best view, an enchanting one, indeed.

On Thursday we faced the drive back to Sweden, choosing a different itinerary and staying all the way on the E 10 which takes in its Norwegian section the name of Kong Olavs V ( King Olaf's way). This makes up almost a loop with the road we took to get there, and the views are always first class.

DAYS 8-9

We stopped for two nights in Abisko Turiststation , which is a complex owned by the Swedish national Touring Club, and made of hostel-type dormitories, a central hotel-like building, and a dozen or so cabins. We chose to stay in a cabin, which is the most expensive accommodation at #300.00 for two nights, but the cabin is really spacious, on two levels, with a large living room and a decent kitchen. Dishwashers are extremely rare though, and we didn't have one nor here nor in Henningsvaer.

Abisko looked very attractive this time. The weather was very different than in our previous passage, actually we had two days of clear sunny sky and the temperature reached 28C.

We spent the whole Friday on a walk along the Abisko river, that enters here the big Torne Trsk lake. Hiking here is very easy because the path is not steep, actually it goes up and down over low hills. We walked to a suspended bridge and stopped a couple of hours for a picnic on the river shore, where we made acquaintance with two lovely women ( one in her 70s one about 35) who were starting a six days walk from hut to hut in the region, which comprises some of the highest peaks on Sweden ( all around 2000 meters, not very high mountains). We tasted the river waters, reassured by the old lady who is a mountain guide and seemed to know what she was talking about.

It was heartwarming to see two ladies, of so different ages, walking alone for weeks. This is a fine example of what the Swedes think when they think of a vacation: no television, no noise, alone amidst the wilderness or on a boat on a lake or sea.

We had a chance of visiting a handicrafts exhibition about 5 kms from Kiruna on the road to Abisko.

The works on display were really fine. We were there minutes after opening hour, so no artist was at the site, but later on in the day ther would be some. We bought a very small painting made in the patchwork technique using textiles and leather.

We spent the rest of our day in Kiruna visiting the two main ( or only ) attractions in town: the LKAB Infomine, and the Kiruna Kyrka.

LKAB is the company that started the industrial development of iron ore extraction more than a hundred years ago. It arranged a small part of the former mine as a museum . You are taken by bus 540 meters below ground and there an employee-guide will explain the different operations of the mine, in the past and at present. The visit lasts 2 hrs 45 min and is quite interesting, although the opinion ofthe Lonely Planet guide of this visit being one of the most significant sights in Sweden seems somehow emphatic to me.

Kiruna Kyrka, as some may guess, is a church, but indeed a very special one. It was built in 1912 and it has an exceptionally modern shape, it's entirely made of iron and the exterior of wood painted with the typical swedish red Falu paint. Beautiful gilded statues board the roof, and a matching belfry makes the right pair in the middle of a nice park. This is definitely a unique sight, and a pleasant one. I wouldn't say the same about the 1963 iron belfry of the Municipal House of which the local inhabitants seem to be very proud.

Our return flight to Stockholm was direct and very pleasant. We landed in Arlanda at 07.15 p.m. and piched up our rental car, a luxurious Volvo V 70 station wagon 2.4, (which is an oversized engine for European scale) with leather interiors. The price with Hertz was the same we paid for the Ford in Kiruna.

We stopped to buy some groceries. Luckily enough supermarkets seem to be the only thing that is open until 09.00 or 10.00 p.m seven days a week. Every other shop, museum, gallery, palace is rather invariably open from 10.00 or 11.00 a.m. to 03.00 or 05.p.m. and this is a very limited interval for tourists that would like to fill in the more things they can in their sightseeing day.

We reached our home in Vaxholm at 10.30 p.m.

Following the instructions we found the main door keys hanging on a hook in the shack in the garden. No house in Sweden has tall fences, or closed gates. No one cares about leaving one's possessions ( a bicycle, a spider car swung open, even a boat with the engine keys in the keyhole) unattended in the street or at a pier for hours or days. It's evident that thefts are very uncommon there. What a difference with southern Europe , where one must be very aware of his own trousers, otherwise someone will slip them off him in a minute.

DAYS 10-14

We rented this apartment from " Destination Stockholm Skargarden" an agency that is based in Ljustera, one of the 14000 ( or 24000, there are diferent versions ) islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago. The reservation was made via e-mail. Their website is quite nicely set, the only drawback being that they don't accept credit card payments, so we had to send money through my bank, with extra big commissions.

The price we paid ( about #780.00 for a week ) was really fair, though, especially because the apartment was really nice. Actually it was a two level home in a row, in a very secluded lane yet less than a mile from the town center of Vaxholm. It boasted a huge kitchen, a large living- room and both equipped with everything, from dishwasher to garlic press, to audio-video system with CDs and tapes; a small garden in the rear and a small sitting area in the front and a lot of real and mock plants in the house and garden. Two bathrooms and , again, no towels or linen, and no opportunity to rent them, so we had to take them from home. Since it's not very handy to carry the whole set of linen and towels on an international low cost flight, we limited ourselves to one large towel and a sleeping sack. The temperature was so high throughout the week that we didn't really needed any blanket, so hygiene was more or less assured.

Vaxholm is the center of the intense boat traffic to the outer archipelago ( the inner archipelago is west of Stockholm in lake Malaren). The old part of the town sits in its own island, and has some interesting shopping, a bunch of good restaurants ( especially Hotel Vaxholm). Large woods are at a stone's throw, from our window we commanded a ( distant) view of the boats plying from Vaxholm to the many islands and to Stockholm, and of the thousands vessels of any size that go by. Here everyone owns a boat ; many Stockholmers have a weekend home or hut in the islands and use it every time they can.

We spent one week in the Stockholm area. We had visited Stockholm before, so we went into the city just once to visit the City Hall, i.e. the place where every year, on December 10, the great Nobel prize dinner is held. The palace is really beautiful, although it's less than 100 years old, and it's made in the "national romantic" style, which defines a composite style with strong influences from Italian and Spanish renaissance, but with a lot of variations, like a breathtaking hall all covered with gold- layer mosaics with an art deco influence. The guide was a very smart boy, speaking fluent Italian, who made the visit interesting and amusing.

We visited Uppsala, that boasts a fascinating Old Town and a very ancient University. One thing that we found very interesting was the Carolina Rediviva, the University library, that displays in three small rooms extraordinary manuscripts and miniatures from all the ages. Gamla Uppsala is a romantic old village with a nice old church and Viking remnants.

We took of course a boat excursion with the omnipresent Vaxholmbolaget, the boat company that assures service to almost every inhabited island in the archipelago. It was a terrific day, the sights changed constantly, and the weather was so fine. We went as far as to Maja, one of the largest islands that is inhabited throughout the year. One major drawback of this service is that one boat does a long series of islands, and you have only a limited choice of departure and return times. For example, from Vaxholm to Maja we left Vaxholm at 9.50, we reached Maja at 12.35 and then we could only go back at 2.00 p.m or at 5.00 p.m, so it took the whole day, because the 5.00 p.m. boat stopped at every island and it took her 3 , 5 hours to go back. Maja has three or four villages, each consisting of not more than 10 houses. Practically no shops, and just one restaurant.

So, a very nice trip but you couldn't bear more than one in a week!

We visited Tyresta National Park, a short hop southeast of Stockholm, for a nice walk in a beautiful fir forest ( full of mosquitoes).

We visited Drottningholm palace, one of the nine royal palaces of Sweden, and one of the most praised, but really I wouldn't say that it can compete with palaces like Versailles or Schonbrunn .

The setting is really beautiful, the interior consists of a very limited number of rooms, of medium interest.

We had to stay at home on Friday because my daughter was ill. Luckily she recovered quickly and on Saturday we were ready for the next leg of our journey.

DAYS 15- 19

We had all the time to get to Skavsta airport, so we spent one hour in a huge supermarket just to buy some eatable souvenir of Sweden, notably Dumle bonbons ( toffees covered with a chocolate layer).

We had lunch at the airport and flew to Lubeck with Ryanair. Lubeck is the airport Ryanair calls Hamburg-Lubeck, and it's not very handy for Hamburg, but perfect if you want to visit Lubeck. This had been my intention for years, but I thought that, while being an interesting city, it was not worth a dedicated trip. I have the same opinion now. This city, former head city of the Hanseatic league, has interesting architectural features from the 15th to 19th century, notably the huge Holstentor ( a town gate built in 1477 with adjoining former salt storehouses), more than one remarkable church, and a lot of houses of the mercantile bourgeoisie of its heyday, among which the Buddenbrook house ( where Thomas Mann himself lived). The town center is surrounded by water and there are tourist boat tours on the channels and river.

We checked in at Radisson Senator hotel, a perfect example of this chain of comfortable upper bracket hotels that are a tremendous bargain, at least in the summer. Our standard room had a King bed and a supplementary bed, a very comfortable bathroom, and breakfast was first class, all at #110,00 for three.

One of the plates that I can eat when I go to restaurants is steak, and that's my luck , being as I am a steak enthusiast. We had an excellent steak dinner at Block House , one in a chain of steakhouses where Block stands for the name of the chain owner. American Master Rib-eye was tender, juicy and flavorful.

On the next morning, after the Sunday Mass ( yes we were eventually able to find a catholic church), we drove our Chrysler PT Cruiser ( one of the worst cars I ever had to do with; I don't know if it exists in the U.S. and someone may give me his opinion, although it's out of subject in a travel site) to Berlin, with a short break in Neuruppin, where we had lunch at a patisserie and visited the rather interesting local church, formerly part of an Abbey.

With a moderate expense of #135,00 (the cost of car rental from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning) we had the chance to see both Lubeck and Berlin in one shot.

We had reserved an apartment in the Mitte district, not properly in a central position, but with very quick and easy access to the center both via U-bahn ( subway) and Strassenbahn ( tramway).

The small studio had all the basic requirements, but really nothing more than basic, The owner was a very mice person, though, to the point that, when i reserved via e-mail in March, I was stunned to read that he didn't ask for any deposit , he reserved the apartment upon my word that I would eventually arrive on August 8th. The bathroom was very small, but modern and efficient. The wooden floor had seen better days. The kitchen was good enough for preparing very simple meals for three (alas, no dishwasher ). The condominium that comprises the three apartments is in stunningly shabby condition, eastern European old ( communist) style. All this said, I can't decide myself on whether to recommend it or not; whether to go back in case of another visit to Berlin or not. After all we lacked nothing during our stay, although the standard is far from standard tourist apartment in the western world. Consider that the price for one night was #65,00. And visit their website for some photo (remember, the depressing internal stairway and hallway is not shown in the photos).

For dinner we opted one night for another branch of Block House (Karl Liebkneccht strasse), and We also had lunch in an interesting very modern restaurant with italian inspired cuicine, Am Karlsbad in Am Karlsbad 11,practically hidden in the rear of a modern building Considering that many travelers have extensively reported on Berlin, I will not make my story any longer, and I will only express a general opinion.

I went there mainly pushed by my interest in architecture, especially contemporary architecture, and we know that Berlin has been in recent years an exceptional training ground in this domain.

We visited some of the museums and they're first class. We listened to a nice concert in Konzerthaus, which is a remarkable concert hall.

But beauty and ugliness are so intermingled in this town, and its vastitude and heterogeneousness so remarkable, the number of ruined areas where evidently no decision has been made on how to use them so high, that I'm not able to give a precise opinion. I'm glad I was there , but I think I wouldn ##t go back again for the moment.

A final word on this vacation: Scandinavia proved itself a first class destination, especially for nature lovers. As my wife kept saying, she felt she was not prepared for so lonely places sometimes. We are all so accustomed to the hassle of our cities that we may suffer from abstinence. After our first trip to southern Sweden and Copenhagen in 2001, we were absolutely happy to go back. The German addition to the itinerary was interesting, although not really of arresting beauty.

Hoping not to have been boring, Ciao!