Deserts are about getting rid of what you don’t need – you travel through them and leave behind whatever isn’t absolutely necessary. They whittle you down to your bare essentials, and leave you a better, if more battered, person afterwards.
Let me tell you that a long weekend in Death Valley is neither so romantic nor so transformative. It was lovely and I learned a lot about the different types of deserts, but I also learned that all those rocks and so very little vegetation gets me a bit down.
The desert, the National Park Service would like you to know, isn’t desolate. There are lots of forms of life there, and they are just as deserving of protecting as more verdant areas, like jungles or forests. This is true. But it just seems so damn barren. It was a beautiful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Am I a better person for having gone to the desert? I believe that travel always widens your perspective on the world, both in terms of what’s possible to do and what’s out there. But it’s not like we were roughing it. The National Park has a lodge, and we stayed there. It was lovely.
There’s nothing like seeing the barrenness to understand why those literary metaphors of sloughing away what’s not important exist in the first place. You can’t have anything that isn’t necessary if you’re going to survive there. The land can’t support it.
I would absolutely recommend a visit, though. The land is striking, you can channel your inner geologist, and maybe even pretend that you’re Gertrude Bell or Lawrence of Arabia.
Stockholm was the last place we visited on our Scandinavian journey. It was a good almost-three-week trip. It spanned the summer solstice, so there was plenty of sunlight. Just look at the color of the sky in these photos – it’s amazing.
The cruise stopped at other ports too – we explored a number of towns. I’ve narrowed the photos down to a couple of the larger cities: Stavanger and Molde. Molde was the furthest north we went, and we were there only a day or two after the summer solstice. The sun rose at 3:30am and set at 11:30pm. How did we sleep? Blackout curtains.
We also visited Alesund, which has lovely art nouveau buildings. Wilhem II used to vacation there with his family; there was a fire in the early 1900s that burned down about half the town. So Wilhelm foot the bill for rebuilding it, hiring the best European architects. The result is a fabulous art nouveau city. But I was sick during that port visit, so I didn’t get to see it. My husband and daughter tell me it was very pretty.
We took a cruise through the Norwegian fjords while in Scandinavia. (In fact, the cruise was the reason for the trip.) We did two shore excursions that involved animals: we went to a goat farm and to the Norwegian Fjord Horse Centre. The center works to preserve the breed, which is the only one native to Scandinavia. Mountainous western Norway is particularly suited to goat farming, since the goats like the mountains – there’s not enough room for cows.
Bergen is a lovely town of about 200,000 people on the coast of Norway. It’s the second biggest city (after Oslo), and we had a great time exploring it.
Hanseatic League Remember your history lessons, where you learned that the Black Plague killed 1/3 of the European population? Well, the disease had a 50% fatality rate in Norway and 80% in Bergen. That’s right, after the Black Plague came through, only 20% of Bergen was left standing. That’s when the Hanseatic League came in to take over the business side of things.
Bergen isn’t big, but we did leave the harbor for a bit to walk around the city center. There’s a nice pedestrian shopping district (I bought a sweater from Moods of Norway) and some lovely buildings from the 1800s-ish.
Old Town Then it was time to head back. We went back through the old part of the town, exploring some of the twistier streets.
If you’re spending time in Scandinavia, I’d definitely recommend a day or two in Bergen if you can fit it in.
We visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum founded by a Carlsberg of the brewing family, while we were in Copenhagen. I wanted to go because it has a famous bust of Pompey; it turned out that we showed up on free admission day. Yay! (We splurged and ate lunch at the museum, an always expensive proposition. It compensated for not paying admission.)
It’s got a good collection of antiquities. I’m always (of course) most interested in anything Ancient Rome, but there was also a handful of artwork from the 1800s. It’s a lovely museum, worth a few hours of your time.
You enter the museum (after you buy your ticket) through a central atrium. It was a bright day in Copenhagen, this room was not air conditioned. (It’s clearly not normally that sunny; it was hot.)
There are a lot of heads on pillars (aka busts) in the Glyptotek. LOTS. These are a few antiquities that aren’t busts.
Like I said earlier, there was also some art from the late 1800s, both French and Danish – lots of early Gaugin, actually – but this post is long enough as it is and the majority of the art in the Glyptotek is of the ancient variety. It’s a nice little collection.
We took a vacation! A big one, too. We spent a little more than two weeks in Scandinavia. I’d never been to Denmark, Norway, or Sweden before, and we managed to hit all three.*
I’m going to be spreading out the photos over the next couple of weeks in a series of posts, so stay tuned if there’s a particular destination/sight you’re interested in.
We spent a total of about three days in Copenhagen, much of it just walking around the city. Urban hiking is the best.
This is the bit of Copenhagen that’s on all the postcards. It’s like the Eiffel Tower in Paris: it’s the most touristy thing ever, but you have to go.
Gardens and Flowers
I was surprised through the whole trip to see an amazing number of flowers. My kid (who lives in drought-riddled California) couldn’t get over how green everything was. It made me remember how much you enjoy nature when it’s cold and white and grey for winter.
These are a couple of photos that don’t really fit into categories, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave them out.
Did I mention that we did a lot of walking? And we only stayed in the center (largely). I’d’ve loved to explore more. Next time!
* I should tell you: I don’t enjoy the if-this-is-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belguim cramming in of sights and stops. I would have loved to spend way more time in each city/country. Nonetheless, we got a decent overview of each place. I think. Next time, in depth!