Bergen and Norwegian Natural Beauty

Another city on a fjord, Bergen is the perfect starting point for a tour of Norway’s rugged landscape and seascape. First, we take a very scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen. We have a celebrity sighting in Oslo; lesbian activist and comedian Kate Clinton and her friends are also vacationing in Norway. We introduce ourselves with Mary offering the unimaginative “I love your work,” and Kate tells us they will also be “doing the boat tour.” Then we board our different train cars and never see them again.

Fantastic scenery out the windows of our train, Mary makes 10 videos and after taking about 100 pictures. Here’s a small sample:

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We arrive in Bergen, sisterhood of the rolling suitcases, and make our way to the wharf area and our hotel, passing some sidewalk and street art along the way.

These colorful buildings form Bryggen, the historic commercial district. Foundations in this area date to the 12th century, but trading really got going in the 1700s.

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The brick buildings look like those we saw in northern Germany, because they were built by the same Hanseatic League merchants. Bergen was the northernmost outpost of the League, and supplied Atlantic cod (easily salted, dried, and shipped) to people throughout Europe.IMG_2771

Tucked behind the colorful waterfront, this house from the 1600s survived many fires and is the oldest in Bryggen.IMG_2793

Las  Chicas eschew cod for  a more familiar Norwegian snack:IMG_2759

The following day, our real Norwegian adventure begins with a mild train ride back to a small mountain town where we board a narrow gauge train that will take us to Fläm and Aurlandsfjorden. Railroading!

En route to Fläm, the train stops beside a giant waterfall where Mary is out the door first to photograph the scene without people.

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Then the rest of the passengers disembark to see the waterfall and enjoy a little recorded music and a dancing “spirit of the mountains”. (See video at end of this post.)

After descending to sea level, we arrive in Fläm where our Fjord Safari boat is blocked from view by a giant cruise ship. We brave the souvenir shop with the British hordes, walk along the water and up a hill, then it’s time for Fjord Safari! We dress in fashionable waterproof coveralls, life jackets, hats, and goggles.

The boat is like a zodiac–made for ocean waves, hard bottom, inflatable sides, and ropes to hang on to. Joel, our fuzzy faced captain, steers from the back of the boat, while we 14 passengers sit roller-coaster style in rows facing forward.

We putt-putt past the monstrous cruise ship, Joel guns it and we fly across the fjord in search of wakes so we can bounce and swerve and aim for the fjord’s cliffs. We slow and float and Joel talks about waterfalls and how fjords are fresh water on top and salt water below.

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More speedboat racing and swerving, then floating at this village famous for its brown cheese. “It wins awards,” says Joel.

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Speed and wind and waterfalls. No rain, and orange-tinted goggles are not necessary.

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IMG_2942Joel drops us off at Gudvagen on the Nærøfjorden where we board a van and drive back to the regular train, and back to Bergen. Great memories of the UNESCO World Heritage Area: “The Norwegian Western Fjords.”

We eat dinner al fresco beneath red tents on the wharf, consuming paella and merluza (hake) cooked by Spaniards! And weak 2.5% beer, much to Mary’s dismay.

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We brave the rain on the next day, exploring a bit more of Bryggen and its archeological museum.

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Map shows the town in 1276

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Partially built frame of an old trading ship, and map showing the trading region including Ireland, England, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Europe.

Some archeological objects

To end our Norwegian experience, we visit KODE, the modern art museum. At KODE 2, the JC Dahl exhibit shows Norway in its stormy glory of seascapes and mountain storms.

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We’re lucky that our fjord adventure did not include raging seas, only clouds and beautiful waterfalls.

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Thank you Norway for amazing art, and watery outdoor adventure!

A little taste of mountain music :

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

 

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Oslo : Mostly Outdoors

Las Chicas are eager to visit Norway for the first time. Another leg on the Interrail pass proves to be a little less about comfort, as NSB (Norges Statsbaner or Norwegian State Railways) changes us, unannounced, to a bus. Some three hours later we land in Oslo, drag our bags through the train station and are greeted by one of many sculptures to come.

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An ultramodern city full of amazing art, architecture, great food, masses of water and forest, and only one full day to explore. So we make the best of the remaining afternoon hours because the sun isn’t setting before 10, and take a stroll through the city nearby.

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We don’t go far before we encounter one of the many trendy pop-up restaurants for dinner. Beer, sweet potatoes fries and Thai curry will do the trick.

IMG_3236After dinner we continue on our walk, past fountains and flowers.

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6B879536-1F44-4B60-84FE-0F7083FF1552the Parliament building, called the Storting or Stortinget in Norwegian meaning the “great assembly”,

2AC6A937-8049-44F1-BDE1-F52C7A5F5076and onto the Royal Palace.

IMG_3247Behind the palace we find water and mushroom-like creations that amuse us.

0B39EE1A-8B36-4337-A92C-BF9A4E129EE5We also enjoy some of the local street art.

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“The Priest” by street artist Dolk, who we discovered in Malmo.

The art of a local eatery close to the hotel.

After a short sleep, we head out into Oslo. We have many great tips from the Visit Oslo website. Architecture and outdoor sculpture parks should keep us busy for the better part of the day.

First to Frogner Park, where the Vigeland Sculpture Park is located. We join multitudes of tourists at the entrance to see the 200+ sculptures. Gustav Vigeland created these wonders over a period of only 20 years from 1924-1943 and donated them to the city of Oslo; the land was donated free to display this collection. The theme is focused on family and the human condition.

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3435BE1D-9676-4C6E-9FED-A5EF95A9F4A1Some pieces are a bit startling, like the series depicting the struggle between reptile and human. With the exception of the one embracing a woman, it appears the lizard is battling with or consuming the human. One source suggests the reptile represents evil and reflects the struggle of the human condition.

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596D7646-878B-40C8-AD60-F2364DFF9C1DOnto the lighter side, here are a few of our favorites.

83DEE129-7DDA-4FA4-AC7B-1723DE7F8F84The fountain, originally designed for the outside entrance of the Norwegian Parliament building.

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The Wheel of Life,  a sundial positioned at the very end of an 850-meter axis.

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The Monolith, 14.12-meter high, a symbolic sculpture consisting of 121 intertwined human figures.

Next stop, Oslo’s waterfront and the Aker Brygge Wharf, previously an old shipyard. The boardwalk is full of  many fabulous restaurants, but we choose gelato for our noontime refreshment,

IMG_3302while enjoying the SUPs in the harbor.

IMG_3300We head to the Astrup Fearnley Museum, designed by starchitect Renzo Piano.

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Surrounded by water and the second sculpture park of the day,  Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, we opt for outside art and bypass the inside collection.

Onto the Oslo Opera House, with a few local sights on the way.

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It’s a bit warm to take advantage of this sauna boat.

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A favorite, the olfactory history moment.

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Oslo Opera House, home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, designed by a local architecture firm and the recipient of many awards.

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Many interesting features,

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with great rooftop views,

IMG_3348including the ever-present cranes dotting the city and building the future Oslo.

IMG_3346Onward we test the pedestrian bridge,

A30A286E-800F-411B-A7D0-AE1D4E4BC30Cwith its interesting views of the Barcode district, 12 buildings designed to resemble a barcode.

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Evening is quickly approaching and the third sculpture park awaits us. Another trip on Oslo’s impressive transit takes us to the bottom of the park, with many surprises ahead.

Shortly after entering the park we encounter sculptures by some well known artists:IMG_3368
Auguste Rodin’s “Cariatide Tombee Á Lúrne”

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Venus Vistrix”

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Salvador Dalí, “Venus de Milo Aux Tiroirs”

What a special evening this turns out to be. We amble up hills and around bends to discover other unexpected treasures. The park is open 24/7, with little or no apparent security. It’s an amazing collection.

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Sarah Sze, “Still Life with Landscape”

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Dan Graham, “Pavillion”
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Louise Bourgeois, “The Couple”

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Hilde Maehlum, “Konkavt Ansikt” (translated, Concave Face)
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Sean Henry, “Walking Woman”

In addition to art, we explore archeology.

8A19B9F5-9303-472B-A1CB-7DDC8734637ASteinsetning – Stone Circle
This megalithic structure, once likely 7 stones now 4, was not excavated.

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Skålgroper – Cup Marks
These cup-shaped indentations are the most common form of rock art in Norway, dating back to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. The natural setting enhances the beauty of everything around us.

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But one last surprise.

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Fujiko Nakaya, “Pathfinder #18700 Oslo”

 

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Return to Gothenburg

Gothenburg is the second stop on our Interrail trip through Scandinavia. We reserved a hotel, but surprise! there are two hotels with the same name in different locations. Hmmm… taxi it is. We arrive across the Göta älv river into Lindholmen, home to a tech park, conference center, and our hotel. It’s definitely not the Gothenburg Lisa visited before. So we drop our bags and catch a free ferry back to the action.

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Mary’s dream commute: bike + ferry

We have the evening to ourselves before meeting up with Lisa’s cousin Kim tomorrow.  Our walk from the ferry takes us by the harbor.

IMG_2352Gothenburg harbor with the large schooner 

IMG_3199View with the “Lipstick Building” in the background

We search for the Customs House. The Customs House was the departure point for Lisa’s grandmother in 1897 when she emigrated to the US, on her own, at the age of 20. Instead we find a Casino that seems to be in its place, but later, with help from Kim, locate it on the backside of the Casino, by the river.

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We take a quick detour to Postgatan Street, the place where the immigrants paused while waiting for their paperwork to clear. The next day Kim explains that some never made it out of this area, instead losing their money to gambling, whores, or getting robbed.

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After wandering for a while we finally find a street with several restaurants of interest. Where do we eat? El Barrio, the “South American Fusion restaurant.” We devour delicious Bolivian tapas and sweet potato fries, a favorite in these parts.

We get a late start meeting Kim due to the torrential rains. It has not rained for months. Sweden had as many as 80 forest fires simultaneously this summer. We think this is a good sign for the drought stricken area. Kim’s partner Robert joins in the tour.

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A quick history tour before heading to the docks for shrimp and wine. We visit  Postgatan Street again,

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and then onto this memorial to Holocaust survivors.

IMG_2357A remembrance of the Holocaust circa 2009

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In 1621, when Gothenburg was settled a church was built on this site, named Gustavi kyrka, after the king who had fallen in battle the year before. Later converted into the cathedral, now standing, Domkyrkan, renamed for Gustavi Domkyrka.

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A young visitor walks along the map of the old city, laid underneath his feet in stone.

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Seahorse unicorn, Mary’s favorite.
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Kronhuset, the oldest building in Gothenburg, served as a munitions depot until 1954.

And a quick stop at the city market,

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After saying goodbye to Kim and Robert, we head to a nearby Gothenburg Botanical Garden. Among the amazing display of flowers and fountains,

the quiet serenity is quickly interrupted by dance jam/party hosted by DJ Mr. French.

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Flashing lights and music so loud it followed us all the way out of the park. We head back to our hotel to relax.  Perhaps we are not the only ones that find some entertainment among the chairs placed at the entrance to the elevators on each floor.

On our last morning we take a walk along the water by the hotel before departing for the Central Station en route to Oslo.

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IMG_3229“Kuggen” (Swedish for cog), part Chalmers University of Technology.

IMG_2424Rainbow flags all around celebrate Euro Gay Pride the weekend after we left.

IMG_3232Outside the dining room of our hotel, this sculpture spins slowly in a Göta älv river inlet.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Malmøhus Slot (Castle) and the Mexican Suitcase

We take in a little bit of Malmø history and visit the Malmøhus Slot, before heading north to our next Swedish destination.

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Originally built in 1434 Erik av Pommem, then King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, this castle, aka Malmøhus Fortress, was important to Danish sovereignty at the time.  The Sound was a vital passage to the lucrative trade of the Baltic region. Rebuilt and renovated several times, in 1658 it came under Swedish rule. And by the end of the 18th century, the fortress no longer had any military significance so was converted into a prison, housing over 1,000 prisoners until 1914 when the prisoners were moved to a new location.

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As we head out the gate after being a little bored by this slice of history, we see a large poster advertising an exhibit inside. The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives. Perhaps not a topic of interest to many, but Las Chicas, having lived in Catalunya for two years, have developed an interest in Spanish history. Curious about this seemingly out of place exhibit, we pay the admission fee and head inside to investigate.

In December 2007, a Mexican filmmaker, Benjamin Tarver, discovered three boxes of negatives in the possession of his late aunt. These negatives had belonged to a family friend, General Francisco Aguilar González, a Mexican Ambassador to Vichy, France, in 1941-42. Apparently Aguílar managed to smuggle out the negatives in their twenty trunks of belongings on their return to Mexico.

Upon investigation, Tarver discovered the boxes contained 4,500 original negatives of the Spanish Civil War, negatives taken by Civil War photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Fred Stein and David Seymour (Chim), that had disappeared 70 years earlier.

Pictured from left to right, Taro, Capa, Stein, Seymour (Chim)

Born Gerda Pohorylle, Taro was one of the first recognized female photojournalists. Of German Jewish descent, Taro was raised in Leipzig but fled to Paris in 1933, where she met André Friedmann. The two reinvented themselves as Taro and Capa, and worked together to photograph the Spanish Civil War on the front lines. Taro lost her life in only one year into her coverage of the war, during one of the fiercest battles, the Battle of Brunete. She was the first female journalist to lose her life on the front lines of war.

Robert Capa, aka Friedmann, was a prominent photojournalist in the 20th century. Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, he fled Hungary for Berlin at the age of 17, because of his leftist activities, and enrolled in journalism school. He then moved to Paris in 1933, where he met Taro and Stein.

Third in the crew was Fred Stein. Also born a German Jew, Stein fled to Paris in 1933, when he was unable to practice law in his home country. In Paris he worked as a photographer and kept company with intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt.

Chim was born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw Poland to a Yiddish/Hebrew publishing family. He took to photography early and traveled to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. Recognized for his political  photographs, he photographed the entire Civil War in Spain, but from a distance, centering in on the complexities of the political landscape of that time.

The photographs tell the story of war from a variety of angles: the soldiers and their families,

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the political climate, still not well understood by many today.

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Translation: Workers! There are only two ways to win the war. Fight with determination at the front, and work tirelessly at the rear. Comrades, work intensively and with enthusiasm! So we will win!

The suffering and destruction,

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People pressing against the gate at the morgue, waiting for news about their relatives.

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Following a major air raid in Valencia

and images of a proud people supporting their country. (Below: Soldiers working alongside farmers in the fields.)

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Taro’s photos depict some of the most hideous results of the war, including her photos from the morgue. They are a bit too much for me to photograph.  Instead, here is the comment attached to these photos,

“Taro showed the atrocious consequence of a new kind of war, in which the civilian population became the main target of enemy forces.”

The content of the exhibition was made into a documentary, “La Maleta Mexicana” (The Mexican Suitcase), available on Amazon. You can read more about the story and related information,  A Secret Archive: On the Mexican Suitcase

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Malmö: Cool City by the Sea

Las Chicas return to 🇸🇪 Sweden in hopes of escaping the unrelenting summer heat of Berlin. Our first stop is Malmö, just across the channel (30-minute train ride) from Copenhagen. Record breaking heat in Malmö too? Hotel air-conditioning to the rescue!

Malmö’s city center contains a mix of very old and very new buildings. St. Peter’s Church in the Gothic style, built in 1319:

The church is under renovation, so it holds services in this dome festooned with small rainbow ribbons representing universal inclusiveness.

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Starchitect Santiago Calatrava’s Twisted Torso, which twists a full 90 degrees from bottom to top. With 54 storeys, it’s the tallest building in Scandinavia:

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Above is an new extension designed by Australian Kim Utzon for the World Maritime University (below), a United Nations Institution. The brick university building is the former Malmö Harbor Master’s building.

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During a day of walking around the city, Mary relaxes in a temporary lounge chair, among many couches and chairs built for fans of the upcoming Malmö festival.

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The Clarion Hotel makes its bid for Scandi-cool design:IMG_1138

Green glass curves greet us as we emerge from the train station. It’s called “Glasvasen” and designed by Kanozi Arkitekter.

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Like other Scandinavian cities, Malmö boasts thought-provoking public art too.

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“Non-Violence” by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, 1 of 16 of his knotted guns around the world.

“Way to Go” includes nineteen bronze shoes that represent artists from different eras and professions. The shoes point to a place that was important to each artist.

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“Optimistic Orchestra” by cubist sculptor Yngve Lundell.  He said it was a tribute to “two positively disobedient people,” Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“Rubato – Free Flow” by  Eva Hild. She created this aluminum curvy sculpture as an antidote to the city’s boxy buildings.

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“The Spectral Self Container” in colorful fiberglass by Matti Kallioine, with small boat harbor on the left and harbor buildings behind it.

Sculpture and shadow along the canal, but we fail to get name and artist!

From architecture to design, we visit a Swedish design store. Mary spots the neck bike helmet, created in Sweden, on sale; then we see a cyclist wearing one. We spot several cyclists using this self-inflating balloon helmet throughout our travels in Scandinavia.

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More Swedish specialties! Below left: “Upcycle” display from the festival, how to use recycled glass and broken cement. Below right: “Caviar” fish paste that comes in tubes in a variety of flavors from shrimp to garlic. Mary tests this savory spread at the hotel breakfast buffet and dislikes it.

We bike to the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus (cold bath house) on the sea. We walk out the long pier to an old wooden building perched on pilings. The original building was constructed in 1898, but has been renovated several times since then.

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Lisa riding the rental bike with ferry to Finland in the background; locks and tiny lockers at the bath house.

The bath house has single sex bathing areas, plus single sex and co-ed sauna spaces.  Open all year so winter guests alternate icy plunges into the sea and steamy or dry saunas. We pay our fee and enter the women’s side, changing out of our clothes and into nothing! Textile free” like everyone else, we walk outside, past the bath (actually sea water) surrounded by an interior deck and changing rooms.

Ready for this new Swedish experience, we head to the exterior deck and staircase into the open sea. Women and girls of all ages enjoy the water and sunshine.  Lisa immediately heads into the sea and dives right in. The temperature is perfect as we swim and float, get out for some sun, in again for more swimming.  At the bath, we experience lagom (pronounced laaaw-gum), the Swedish word for health and contentment.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

 

Cologne Cathedral between Roman Towers and Crane Houses

The spectacular sky matches the spectacular Cathedral as we walk from the Rhine River to its entrance.

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Above: the Ludwig Museum of Modern Art in the foreground.

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The back of the cathedral

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North side, flying buttresses

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North tower

Below are more details of one door, and carved figures around the same door.

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Construction began in 1248 and didn’t finish until 1880! Emperor Wilhelm I presided over the opening of what was the tallest building in the world. (Four years later, in 1884, the Washington Monument topped it.) Over the years, builders and architects worked from the original plans, so the church remained Gothic in style throughout over 600 years of construction.

The interior height of the nave is 144 feet, one of the tallest in Europe.

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The stained glass windows didn’t last through the centuries, World War II bombings and battles near the cathedral shattered many of them.  During reconstruction in the 1950s, builders replaced some windows with clear glass.

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Below is a photograph taken in 1945 showing the destroyed railroad bridge and damaged cathedral. (Note: Poor photo quality, as the photo displayed under plastic.)

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Modern art made its way into a south facing window in 2007, when Gerhard Richter created a random pixel design in 72 colors to cover its 1,200 square feet.

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Above: Floor mosaics

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God, Jesus, the 4 apostles, and a world map that doesn’t include North and South America.

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The Crucifix of Bishop Gero, 10th century, the oldest known large crucifix.

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The High Altar from 1322 is topped with a solid 15-foot slab of black marble

On the streets and underground, we see remnants of the 1st century Roman colony, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.  Beneath the Roman gate on the Cathedral plaza, we chat with two Camino de Compostela de Santiago pilgrims, beginning their long walk to Spain. We wish “Buen Camino” to them on Jakobsweg, as it is called in German.

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We also visit a stone tower, which marked the northwest corner of the Roman settlement. Check out the 2,000-year old mosaic design.

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On our way to mid-morning ice cream, we passed another tower, its base from Roman times.

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Roman foundation stones even support the cathedral. This hall cuts through the foundation stones:

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Also beneath the cathedral is a partially reconstructed storage chamber believed to part of a wealthy Roman merchant’s house.

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Mary has to squeeze in one more tourist outing, so she visits the Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum. Brutally hot due to no air conditioning, she rushes through the history of assorted sports. The museum details the Olympics’ beginning in ancient Greece and displays a replica of a Greek bronze discus.  Also pictured below, a mechanical betting machine from the early 20th century, used in 6-day racing (people on bikes in a velodrome) and horse racing.

Our final morning walk along the Rhine River takes us below three 17-story cantilevered shimmering glass and steel buildings.

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Reminiscent of the harbor cranes that served Cologne’s shipping industry, they are each called Kranhaus (Crane House). Built in 2008, architects Alfons Linster and Hadi Teherani designed them.

On our last night in the city that was once part of the Roman Empire, even the spectacular cathedral is dwarfed by the sky’s colors at sunset.

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© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

 

Artsy Cologne

Las Chicas have a surprisingly art-filled holiday in Köln (Cologne). Most famous for the Cologne Cathedral, we enjoy the artistic side of the city beginning with our hotel, Art’otel.

The hotel features art prints of SEO, a Korean-born artist who now lives in Berlin. The colorful theme of her works is water – flowing and making connections.  In addition to prints of her art posted on the walls, each room has a large glass reproduction of one of SEO’s works that doubles as a wall in the shower.

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Beyond the hotel, the Rhine River creates its own natural art.

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Other art decorates the city, like HA Shult’s  golden winged car on top of the municipal museum.

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Or this more solemn remembrance:

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One cannot travel in Germany without regular reminders of the violence of the past, and the strength of those who resisted, endured, survived and died.

We continue our art-filled day with a visit to Museum Ludwig, home to an impressive collection of modern art.

The first collection we view is from another Korean artist who migrated to Berlin,  Haegue Yang, winner of the 2018 Wolfgang Hahn Prize. ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) 1994 – 2018, is an overview or survey collection ranging from textiles to journal entries, room-sized sculptures to small collections in cases.

I am moved by a series of journal entries posted on the wall talking about Yang’s immigration to Germany.  She writes,

” A person can be nervous spending even one night at another person’s house. Imagine so much more so in a foreign country. More over, I couldn’t read anything, so was suddenly illiterate. I didn’t know the language so I became deaf and dumb…” 

I have shared these experiences. Art is meant to evoke feeling, to connect people and experiences. But there is no apparent connection in the diversity of pieces in this collection. Regardless, they are engaging.

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The Intermediate – Tilted, Bushy, Lumpy, Bumpy – 2016

IMG_1988Sol LeWitt Upside Down – K123456, Expanded 1078 Times, Doubled and Mirrored

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The exhibit also provides opportunities to interact with the art.

But this is only the beginning. We enjoy art from Mark Rothko,

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Earth and Green, 1955

Helen Frankenthaler,

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Stroke of High Tide I, (Flutschlag I), 1974

and one of my favorites, Paul Klee. Klee and Kandinsky have been on our minds lately as we learn about the Bauhaus movement, celebrating its 100th year in 2019.

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Hauptweg and Nebenwege (Highways and Byways), 1929

There is also a brilliant collection of Pop Art.  Original works by Warhol and Lichtenstein.

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IMG_2024Claus Oldenburg, Giant Soft Swedish Light Switch (Ghost Version), 1966

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Tom Wesselmann, Landscape No. 2, 1964

Before leaving, Mary takes the opportunity to create some pop art of her own.

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© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018