Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

If I had to choose one word to describe Viking civilization, it would be mystery. The popular TV series by the History Channel paints Vikings as bloodthirsty warriors. While it is true they sailed far and wide, discovering new lands and raiding settlements, they spent most of their time farming. Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. They weren’t dirty, uncivilized cretins. Even the way we refer to them is incorrect. The word Viking hails from the ancient Norse word for a raid or trading trip. They often “went on a Viking,” but they did not refer to themselves as Vikings. It’s safe to say that most of what we think we know about Vikings is wrong.

One of five mysterious carved wooden animal heads found in the Oseberg Grave Ship

One of five mysterious carved wooden animal heads found in the Oseberg Grave Ship

According to Norse mythology, Vikings who died in battle sailed to Valhalla, an enormous celestial hall ruled over by the god Odin. To ensure a successful final voyage, eminent members of the society were buried in ships, surrounded by everything they might need in the afterlife. A pit deep enough to hold the ship was dug and the vessel was lowered into it. Dirt was mounded on top until the entire boat was covered. One of the most spectacular examples of such a burial is the Oseberg Grave Ship, which dates back to A.D. 834. Discovered and excavated in 1904, today it is displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. But if I had expected the Oseberg to provide clarity, I was sorely disappointed. If anything, it deepened the mystery. Read More

Mystery of the 1,500-Year Old Carved Animal Heads from the Oseberg Grave Ship

Taking a Troll Car to the Briksdal Glacier in Norway

Glaciers might be a dime a dozen in Norway, but I know of no other place in the world where I could get to one in a “Troll Car.” Actually, these 7-seater open-air buggies have only been transporting tourists to the foot of the Briksdal Glacier since 2004. For 100 years prior to that, farmers carted visitors through the fjord by horse and carriage.

The weather was grey and threatening rain on the day my Collette tour group arrived, but I wasn’t about to let a little bit of bad weather deter me. I snagged the front seat in one of the Troll Cars and whipped out my camera, intending to film the ride. The driver climbed in beside me and handed me a blue tarp. “You’ll need this,” he said. I thought he was worried about the rain. Since I had my hoodie pulled up over my head, I shoved the tarp down into the well around my feet. Within moments of heading out, the gravel path began snaking around the massive, roaring waterfall that Read More

PHOTO: Riding a Troll Car to the Foot of Norway’s Briksdal Glacier

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

PHOTO: Freezing My Butt Off 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

VIDEO: Raising the Vasa Warship from its Watery Grave in Stockholm, Sweden

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