Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Götaplatsen, the Main Square and Cultural Heart of Gothenburg, Sweden

With only a couple of hours to explore Gothenburg, Sweden, I struggled over how to spend my time. My Collette tour manager had suggested a boat tour of the canals that lace the city. Never one to follow the crowds, I instead decided on a self-guided walking tour of the city center. Beginning at the bridge over the Kungsportsbron canal, I strolled down Avenyn, the main boulevard in Gothenburg. Scores of shops, restaurants, galleries, and clubs lined the broad avenue on its gently rising path to Götaplatsen, the city’s main square. At the far end, I snapped this photo through a whimsical fountain, looking toward Götaplatsen. Read More

Bartender pours an icy drink at the Stockholm ICEBAR

I’m definitely not a fan of being cold, so I thought twice about visiting the Stockholm ICEBAR during my Spectacular Scandinavia tour with Collette. I’d heard the walls were built of ice, likewise the bar stools were made of ice. Heck, even the drink glasses were carved from ice! And of course the bar must be maintained at below-freezing temperatures to keep all that ice in a solid state (23 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise). But in the end, the idea of an entire bar built of ice was too intriguing to pass up. Read More

Bartender pours an icy drink at the Stockholm ICEBAR

In the 1620’s, intent on making Sweden a mighty military power, King Gustavus Adolphus began constructing a fleet of warships. The Vasa warship, first of the massive vessels to be completed, was the most powerful warship that had ever sailed the Baltic Sea. It measured more than 226-feet long and was 164-feet tall from the keel to the top of its main mast. It had ten sails, 64 cannons, and 132 tons of ballast. And it was staggeringly heavy. Even so, the King insisted that hundreds of hand-carved wooden sculptures be affixed to the hull to broadcast his power and majesty.

The hull of the Vasa warship today, with its cannon doors propped open

The hull of the Vasa warship today, with its cannon doors propped open

Concerned about the ship’s stability, the supervisor of construction notified the Vice Admiral of the Navy about his concerns. The Admiral ordered thirty men to run back and forth across the deck while the ship was tied up in front of the Royal Palace. The ship rolled so alarmingly that the Admiral stopped the demonstration, terrified that it would sink at the dock. Even so, no one dared question the King when he ordered it to set sail. Read More

Vasa Warship was the most powerful vessel in the Baltic Sea...for a few minutes. It sailed 1,400 yards, capsized, and sank on its maiden voyage in 1628.

Member of the Swedish Royal Guards stands at the entrance to the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden

The Swedish Royal Guards have been protecting the Royal Family for nearly 500 years. First assembled in 1523, the guards were initially tasked with maintaining law and order in the city of Stockholm and serving as fire-fighters. Over time, their mandate was narrowed. Today the 50-60 soldiers who serve in the Royal Guards are responsible safeguarding the Royal Palace of Stockholm and Drottningholm Palace. They also act as an honorary guard to King Carl XVI Gustav when required, as well as performing honorary functions at state ceremonies.

This elite unit performs a changing of the guard ceremony every day from April 23 to August 31. On weekdays it starts at 12:15 p.m. in the palace outer courtyard and lasts about 40 minutes. On Sundays it begins at 1:15 p.m. During the fall and winter the ceremony is held several days per week. On special occasions the event turns into a full-blown parade through the streets of Stockholm, including a military marching band and a mounted Cavalry unit. Read More

From an early age, I was fascinated by the art of glassblowing. In those days, my exposure was limited to visiting tourist shops during family vacations, where glassblowers created a menagerie of crystal animals. I was transfixed each time an artist extracted a molten blob of glass from a blast furnace and fashioned it into a lifelike creature by forcing air through a blowpipe. To this day I have a box of those precious hand-blown glass animals, wrapped in tissue and stored in a safe place. My glass animal collection is one of the few things I couldn’t bear to part with when I sold my house to travel the world full time.

Glass works of art produced by the Glassblowers at Kosta Boda Glassworks in Sweden

Glass works of art produced by the Glassblowers at Kosta Boda Glassworks in Sweden

Glass blowing is an ancient art. Hand blown glass bottles have been found in excavations at a 2nd millennium B.C. Iranian archeological site. During the Roman Empire the art of glass-blowing achieved great popularity, eventually spreading throughout Europe, the Middle East, and into north Africa. By the 17th century, glass was being blown into shapes in many parts of the world. Still, most glass-blown pieces tended to be functional. That changed forever in 1962, when Harvey Littleton, a ceramics professor, and Dominick Labino, a chemist and engineer, burst onto the scene. During two workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art, they began experimenting with melting glass in a small furnace and creating three-dimensional glass sculptures. This “studio glass movement,” as it became known, launched glass blowing into the realm of fine art. Over time, the techniques were adopted by the likes of Tiffany and Steuben in the U.S., Hoya Crystal in Japan, and Kosta Boda Glassworks in Sweden. Read More

Video of the talented glass blowers at Sweden\'s Kosta Boda Glassworks, who make crystal wine glasses, from melting the glass to adding the bases.

Frederiksborg Palace near Copenhagen Denmark

Though I’m usually quite lucky with weather during my travels, an occasional storm is unavoidable. But inclement weather isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, it evokes a mood that seems perfectly suited to a site, and that’s exactly what happened during my tour of Frederiksborg Palace. Within moments of our arrival, thunder rumbled overhead and fat drops began to splatter the gravel. Cruel clouds roiled and descended upon the palace. Surrounded by bruised light, the green copper roof and spires glowed wickedly, like the inside of a witch’s cauldron. Read More