Things That I Have Learned In Stockholm, Sweden

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Things I have Learned In Stockholm, Sweden.

“Mamma mia, here I go again.” ABBA 

Stockholm is often known as the ‘World’s Smallest Big City’ or the ‘World’s Biggest Small Town’.

 Gamla Stan (Old Town) is a small island in the center of Stockholm and was once the entire city of Stockholm. Now it is a very cool place to explore.

Since the city streets are so narrow, there is no room for cars, making this part of Stockholm “pedestrian only.” It is great for photographs and souvenirs and can be very crowded.

Fotografiska,  is a real Stockholm success story. They opened 8 years ago in a beautiful old brick building (a former tollhouse) in Stockholm harbor and have, over the years, presented some fantastic exhibitions with many of the world’s best photographers.

It is one of the largest photography museums in the world with branches scheduled to open in New York and London.

The city is sometimes referred to as ‘Venice of the North’, thanks to its beautiful buildings and exquisite architecture, abundant open water and numerous parks.

The total absence of heavy industry makes Stockholm one of the world’s  cleanest cites.

Don’t worry about tap water. I’ts delicious.

The city became the venue for the  first Nobel Prizes awards, in the year 1901. The Nobel Museum in Stockholm is a small museum on a big, noble subject.

Small displays cover Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize ceremony and artifacts donated by Nobel Prize winners. Current and past Nobel Prize winners are honored through display panels and touch screens.

It barely ever gets dark at night in  the summer .

At the height of its empire, Sweden built a large warship the Vasa to symbolize its power. It was so big and heavy that on its maiden voyage in 1628, it sank less than a mile out of  dock. In 1956 the ship was rediscovered and then salvaged. Now, you can see this ship in the Vasa Museum. It was weirdly very interesting.

The Swedes have a lovely afternoon tradition of taking a coffee break (often accompanied by a yummy pastry). This tradition is called fika, and you should definitely indulge, too!

The Abba museum is perfect if you are an ABBA fan. With a slogan “Walk In, Dance Out” you know that this is not going to be a boring museum visit. Learn about the history of ABBA, try on costumes, and even sing on stage.

One of the most popular candies in Sweden is salmiak, licorice flavored with ammonium chloride – a salty chemical compound resulting from the reaction between hydrochloric acid and ammonia.  Most people outside Scandinavia and Iceland hate it but I am now addicted to it.  

A hop on hop off ferry is a fun, comfortable way to experience  Stockholm. 

Moderna Museet is situated on the pretty island of Skeppsholmen and can be accessed via a ferry from Slussen or on foot from the Östermalm district. It is located in a former power station. The bright red museum attracts big names in contemporary art.

The museum is specialized in Scandinavian and International art of the twentieth and twenty first century. The changing exhibitions throughout the year are attracting visitors from all around the world. .

Sweden’s largest architecture museum, Arkdes, was founded in 1962.

It is attached to Modern Museet and worth it if you are into architecture and design.

The Lydmar Hotel is a great place to stay.  The location is fantastic, being within walking distance of Gamla Stan, Kungsträdgården station, and the Strömkajen ferry.

Sweden is moving closer to a cash free economy. It was impossible to use cash in Stockholm – except at Seven Eleven.  

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Traffic In Iceland

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Traffic In Iceland

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” Dan Rather

The Icelandic people say that the increase in tourism has changed the traffic situation in Iceland. Twenty years ago scarcely anyone living outside the city owned a car but now it is different. The roads are crowded.

The tourists make it more and more dangerous to drive. It seems to Icelanders that anyone can rent a car in Iceland. The tourist short stop in the road for a photo op is a particularly common accident.  

As an American from a busy city, the situation looks quite different.  I wasn’t driving but there were empty roads as far as the eye could see. It seemed like you could just sit back and enjoy the landscape. 

 Every now and then you will come to a point in the road where you realize, that the only reason why there are so few people in Iceland killed by car accidents is that there is so little traffic. Some of those roads look like they would be treacherous in winter. 

The trickiest part of driving seems to be the tunnels. When driving in, you feel like  you are entering a huge cave built into the rock. They can be as long as six miles. I am claustrophobic and I just had to put my faith in Rocky our driver and in the hope that it did not end somewhere in the middle of the mountain. One of them felt like it would never end.  It is quite possible that while you are in a tunnel, it suddenly narrows into one lane with periodic widening bays. Cars coming in the opposite direction pull over and wait for you. Apparently our direction had the right of way. Luckily we did not meet a truck.

I think  the biggest road problem in Iceland are the sheep. It is far more common to be cut in front of by a group of sheep than by other drivers.

There are actually way more sheep than drivers on Icelandic roads.

Drive safe,

JAZ

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

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The Western Wall

“Everywhere I look, I see something holy.” Terry Pratchett

We visited the Wall on our first day in Jerusalem. It is the Western Wall of the Second Temple that survived the destruction by the Romans, making it the most sacred construction for the Jewish people.The Wall is the closest place to where Jews believe the presence of God resides on earth.

Our guide Dvir, takes us to the viewing point on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building. I had seen the view before.

You can see the entire Western Wall, as well as the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

I looked down awestruck at the presence of history.

Dvir takes us to a  private chapel in Aish Hatorah where we are left with our thoughts to write our prayers for the wall. That was incredible. I spent a long time composing each person’s prayer.

We walk through security and metal detectors and go our own ways to the wall.

Dress modestly.There is a separate side for men and women.

I find a place against the crowded wall and put my hand on it. I can feel the humans who have been there before me. Women are praying, rocking, bobbing, reading and chanting close to the wall.

The woman next to me is praying and sobbing uncontrollably. I try not to pay attention. She says something to me in Hebrew that I don’t understand. She asks me for a tissue in English. I had left my purse with Dvir and I never have tissues. I reach in my pocket and there is one thing – a tissue. I give it to her and now she is holding on to me and praying. I am forced into the present. Old and new come together.


As is the custom, I have quite a few prayers to put in the wall. Papers are stuffed and folded in every reachable crack.

The flecks of blue, yellow, and peach post-it notes, white paper with red, blue and black pen, scraps of graph paper and lined paper are all rolled into balls, wadded, curled, folded, and stuffed together in-between the rocks pressed in place by thousands of hands. I find a perfect place for each of them.

It’s hard to focus on prayer or a spiritual moment. There are so many women praying. Kids are running around.

A troop of Israeli soldiers are dancing and singing loudly.

Tourists are photographing, talking loudly and taking selfies. It is hard to feel the past.

But then I realize that women have prayed here with children running around for thousands of years just like this without the cell phone photos. I understand at that moment that I am as much a part of the history of the wall as the stones are. I feel incredible amazement at this connection.

Special thanks to Dvir Hollander, for his knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness. If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at Hollander2000@gmail.com.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Phu Quoc, Viet Nam

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton

By the time I arrive on the island of Phu Quoc, I had traveled for a few weeks and covered a lot of interesting sites. Phu Quoc island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and closer to Cambodia than Viet Nam, It is not a very well-known destination outside of Viet Nam.

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The sky was blue and it was hot. There was a beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, clean water to swim in, a book about the Viet Nam War that I wanted to read and a beachfront restaurant and bar.

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Though there were things I wanted to see on this island, I suddenly had no pressing need to go anywhere.

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I mustered up the energy to walk down the beach and explore my surroundings. I was in the tourist area.

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There were many hotels. In fact, I got lost on the way back and had to ask which one was mine, There were a lot of tourists but I did not hear any American English. The non-English speaking Vietnamese waiters would say things like “‘wunderbar or nostrovia when appropriate. They were used to throngs of German and Russian tourists.

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Beds were set up along the beach competing for cheap massages, manicures, pedicures, threading, (hair removal – which hurts by the way).

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It was really funny to do that on the beach.

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There was definitely a separation of tourists and locals on this resort beach. In a few years I fear it will run the risk of being another “anywhere beach.”

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Five star resorts do a really good job of separating you from the culture of a country. There were all kinds of resorts in all price ranges on this beach which gave it a funky quirky atmosphere.

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Further south on the island there are quiet beaches with local fishermen, white sand, kids , crabs and shells that are easy to get to by boat.

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The hotel I stayed at was La Veranda. It  is a French colonial style hotel on the beach. A lot of the staff doesn’t speak English but they are so charming and helpful. The front office deals most efficiently with the language barrier. It’s nice to stay at a hotel that gives jobs to the local people .

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I think it is the staff which makes La Veranda so wonderful. From the moment I arrived Lian was making sure all my requests had been taken care of.

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I had the best morning yoga classes on the beach and best massage of a vacation ever with Tham from the spa.(going to yoga 7am)

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Definitely book him advance when you go.

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The manager is always visible talking to guests, getting feedback and making sure everyone is having the best experience there. The level of care at La Veranda is amazing.

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Watching the sunset on Phu Quoc, I can really feel the miracle of a day. I am grateful that I lived these days on a beautiful beach.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ