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Planning Retirement Online

Travels With Alice

October 2016


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

Look out each month for the latest story in our exciting new series Travels with Alice. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy her fascinating insights into human behaviour and great locations .

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

Spotlight on Scandinavia

Copenhagen's waterfront cafes
Copenhagen's waterfront cafes

This year, it’s Scandinavia. And Alice’s good friends from Phoenix, Betsey and Cokie, have asked if they can join us.

We agree on a 15-day Coach Trip through Denmark, Sweden and Norway, sampling the delights and discovering the highlights of these three very diverse countries.

Pickled Herring, the Tivoli Gardens and Hans Christian Anderson

First off, Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. Here we stroll along the Nyhavn waterfront, considered the city’s most picturesque corner. Colourful 17th century houses in pastel shades front the harbour, housing tempting cafes and bars. We stop to sample the Smorrebrod, traditional open sandwiches: slices of rye bread heaped with meat, fish or cheese with trimmings. We like the traditional pickled herring, best washed down with a cold Danish beer.


Pickled herring with trimmings on rye bread; traditional Danish Smorrbrod
Pickled herring with trimmings on rye bread; traditional Danish Smorrebrod  

Alice remembers best the proliferation of bicycle riders nearly knocking us down in these biker friendly streets. The time-honoured way to wind up the day is a visit to the Tivoli Gardens, when the pleasure gardens’ famous midnight fireworks light up the sky.

Jeanne, Betsey and Cokie and Danish cow, Tivoli Gardens
Jeanne, Betsey and Cokie and Danish cow, Tivoli Gardens

On the itinerary is an excursion to the Hans Christian Anderson Museum in Odense, his birthplace in 1805. Although this revered Danish author is known worldwide for his fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid”, “The Emperor's New Clothes" and “The Ugly Duckling,” I was amazed to discover he was also a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels and poems. 

Here you can read the original manuscripts of his tales and especially his autobiography. The son of a struggling shoemaker and an illiterate washerwoman, he attended the village school. “My childhood was the worst time of my life,” he said. In time, though, he was fortunate to be sponsored for further schooling and his talent nurtured. You’ll become aware how much his own life is reflected in the tales, tales of virtue and resilience.   

Scandinavian style, Nobel Prizes, and painted wooden horses

We and the coach travel by ferry from Denmark to Sweden, a short voyage across the waters of the Kattegat strait, and on land to Stockholm. Here we drive by the very grand Grand Hotel, but this palatial 19th century mansion is not our accommodation for the next two nights. We are staying at one of the very sleek and modern hotels targeted for the businessmen who come to this international business centre.

It’s a weekend when the rates are low (no businessmen in town). Taking advantage of weekend rates, our cost conscious tour can still provide very comfortable accommodation. Our coach, too, lives up to its billing as a five-star, luxury air-conditioned 40-seat coach with extended leg room and on–board rest room. Happily, too, there are only 34 of us, to allow for even more space, a mix of British, Canadian, Australian and American.

Exploring the city’s streets, I linger in front of the shops displaying the iconic Scandinavian style of furniture, known for its simplicity and purity of line, using beech, cherry or teak woods, reminding me that Alice and I had furnished our first homes with similar tables and chairs and bookcases in the 1960s when Scandinavian design first burst on the scene. This was before the days, fortunately, when the Swedish company Ikea’s flat packs conquered the world. I couldn’t have coped. 

A visit to the imposing City Hall is on the agenda and the Gold Room, whose walls are covered by 19 million gilded mosaic tiles. This is the venue of the annual presentation banquet for the Nobel Prizes in science and literature. Swedish chemist, industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel left his fortune to finance the prizes. The peace prize is awarded in Oslo.

Nobel hoped that the knowledge of his invention, patented in 1876, would help eradicate war – optimistically believing that mankind would never dare unleash the destructive forces of dynamite.  

Picture-book Swedish countryside; Dalarna province
Picture-book Swedish countryside; Dalarna province

North of Stockholm is the Dalarna province considered the most intensely picturesque region. Here are the classic red cottages with white doors and window frames, rolling green meadows and the water of the lakes bluer than blue. Not to miss: a visit to the workshop in the village of Nusnas to watch the craftsmen carve and paint the Dala horses, the decorated wooden horses that have become the symbol of Sweden.   

The making of the horses began centuries ago when the men working in the forests, during long winter evenings, carved the horses and brought them back to the village for the children to play with. Later, they became an important source of income for poorer families; even young children had to learn to carve  wooden horses after returning home from school.

The decorated Dala wooden horse, a symbol of Sweden
The decorated Dala wooden horse, a symbol of Sweden

I buy three, in brilliant blue, green and red, for the grandchildren. I regret now that I did not buy one for myself to treasure. Each Swedish household, it is said, has at least a pair of them.

Glaciers, fjords and legends of the waterfalls

From the bucolic peace of this southern Swedish province we cross into Norway and west to the Norwegian Fjordland, a wonderful world of soaring mountains, icy glaciers and fjords, the inlets that the glaciers carve deep into the coastal cliffs.     

We stay at the remote village of Geiranger at the head of the Geiranger fjord and begin the day with a cruise on its mirror like waters. Listed as a World Heritage site, the fjord is nine miles long and roughly one and a half miles wide. Spectacular waterfalls cascade down its cliffs.

Cruising the Geiranger fjord; ahead the Seven Sisters waterfall
Cruising the Geiranger fjord; ahead the Seven Sisters waterfall

We cruise close to the most spectacular, the Seven Sisters, a waterfall that consists of seven separate streams. The legend is that they dance on one side of the fjord, while a single waterfall, known as the Suitor, dances on the other side. They flirt with each other from across the fjord.   

Seafood and Schnapps

We travel south to the historic port of Bergen, considered Norway’s most naturally beautiful city, fronting the sea and flanked by seven, often snow-capped mountains, surrounding the city centre.

Bergen still largely looks to the sea for its living, as can be seen from the dockside fish market, the largest in Scandinavia. We walk from stall to stall marveling at the variety of fish and seafood and the artful display.

Bounty from the sea displayed at Bergen's fish market, the largest in Scandinavia
Bounty from the sea displayed at Bergen's fish market,
the largest in Scandinavia

That night we must decide on which gourmet fish restaurant we should dine in. We finally decide on the one that will take us without a reservation, but we do have another night to savour more fish delicacies. We do though get into a rather heated discussion about schnapps. Remembering the drink my grandfather tossed down before dinner, I say it is whisky in a shot glass. Cokie and Betsey tell me, I am wrong. Schnapps is not whisky. It is aquavit, a spirit like clear vodka, distilled from either grain or potatoes. It is then flavoured with herbs, spices or fruit oil. The spices vary throughout the Nordic countries.

Our waiter recommends the traditional caraway. The anise is good, too, as an aperitif, with lemon peel. It packs a powerful punch, though. The minimum level of alcohol is 37.5%.

A long journey east now, to Norway’s capital, Oslo.

A startling sculpture park and Viking warriors

You’ll have certainly been wowed by Norway’s natural wonders, but there is one man-made wonder you should not miss. This is Oslo’s Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. There are 212 sculptures of nude men, women and children of all ages, in stone and bronze, all captivating. But one that will really take the breath away is a 20 metre high obelisk, a writhing mass of sculpture that depicts the cycle of life as Vigeland saw it – a vision of humanity playing, fighting, teaching, loving, eating and sleeping - and clambering on and over each other to reach the top.

Cycle of Life, sculptor Gustav Vigeland's obelisk in Oslo's Vigeland Park
Cycle of Life, sculptor Gustav Vigeland's obelisk in Oslo's Vigeland Park

You can’t leave Oslo or Norway without a visit to the Viking Ships Museum and take a trip back in time to when the Vikings, a seafaring people, traders and warriors, had explored and conquered much of northern Europe and roamed the Atlantic as far as the North American mainland.

At the Museum you’ll see a trio of ninth-century Viking ships that were retrieved from ritual burial mounds. These vessels were used as burial ships for chieftains or others of noble rank. Buried with them were goods that would make the afterlife as comfortable as possible.

Similar longships with ornately carved prow and stern, both of which rise high above the hull, braved the rough Atlantic seas to reach America. Around 1000 AD, more than 400 years before Columbus landed, Norwegian Leif Eriksson founded a colony he called Vinland on the shore of North America. Today we know it as Newfoundland.

Ninth-century Viking longship, retrieved from a ritual burial mound
Ninth-century Viking longship, retrieved from a ritual burial mound

Whenever I think of Vikings, though, I am reminded of our guide, who told us we were pronouncing the name incorrectly. It is Vik like Vick-ing and not Vi like VIE-king. So we must always say VICKINGS


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