Monday, August 31, 2015

Sweden Travel: Beach

We thought an evening pic-nick at the beach would be nice for us and for Isla. We enjoyed it, but the water was so shallow that Isla ended up staying on the sand with us. The name of the little town is lost to me right now, but they've built a nice little (but long) pier out to water deep enough to swim in with a restaurant at the end.

Denmark Travel: Copenhagen

I decided that Copenhagen is a must see. We are allegedly only 40 minutes away by train. It took a little longer because we couldn't use the automated ticket dispensers and had to consult a human. Those humans are in short supply, but much more helpful than the ticket dispenser. She sold us on a Jojo card and set us on our way to the train waiting just outside the office. We hopped on and got to Copenhagen around an hour later. I had overlooked the fact that we'd need another type of currency - the Danish Kroner. After being denied a pee in the digitally controlled toilet because I didn't have 5 Danish Kroner, we stumbled on a nice coffee shop not far away. We got some good advice, which we didn't follow, and instead went off on our own.

We did find the Copenhagen Red Cross charity shop. The volunteers were welcoming and amazing...

Italian cheese

I am depressed about the cheese. Even here in Rome only Italian cheese is available and it is all very anonymous white cheesey stuff. We did buy a small wheel of English cheddar, but during our drive it got too hot and sort of melted. The wax on the outside melted, then the cheese sort of oozed out. Ick. Sadly this leaves me without good cheese for the next 2 months. I'm going to look online to see if i can get an emergency delivery of Cheddar!

Roma Chiuso

Sunday in August in Rome and not even the cafe and pizza joints are open! I am reminded that this is a Catholic country....

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Roma in August

We travelled to Rome to drop off the dog's crate to have room in the car for our friends. Our wonderful Roman landlord has allowed us to leave that crate here in the apartment, and he allowed us to stay for a couple days. Rome in August is like a ghost town. Everything is closed and the streets are very quiet - a perfect time to drive in Rome. Yesterday we dropped off our ugly Renault Scenic and picked up a Fiat 500L. The sat nav took us through Rome, past the Vatican and a few other famous sights. I was amazed at how little traffic there was. When we first arrived I thought that it was nap time (which it was), but it is more than just nap time. Everyone is on holidays, including most shop owners. Cafes are closed, restaurants closed, clothing stores, half closed. The weirdest thing is the roads. Every time I've been in Rome I've had to worry about being run down by random drivers. This morning I stood in the middle of a four lane street looking up and down at the empty road.

It's not as if it is massively hotter here than the rest of Italy, at least to us. It is just that everyone takes a holiday at this time. It is a nice time to be here in some ways.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bavarian Clothes

Yesterday when we stopped in H. Bavaria we found ourselves in the centre of a town with 4 yarn/fabric shops and 3 Bavarian 'costume' shops. It was of course after closing, but we could admire their lovely window displays. On a dare (Christopher dared me to go in and try something on) we both tried things on. Christopher may or may not have bought his, you'll have to ask him about it. It was very pleasant to be the 'right' size. The jacket fit, the curvy bits worked well and in the right place, and the sleeves were the right length. After the Sicily curvy petites and the French skinnies it was a lovely, welcome change. I am now the proud owner of a Bavarian style grey wool suit with green trim and red velvet cuffs. I plan to wear it to work all the time.

Mantova Swans

Those of  you who don't have a retriever may be unaware of the spectacle created by a dog fetching a frisbee. She, and by extension, we, become the centre of attention. Yesterday when we arrived in Mantova after finding our hotel room, we took the dog to the water for a little swim. She loves fetching her floating frisbee, over and over and over.

As we were throwing for Isla, the local swans took an interest. When 29 swans start swimming towards you it is hard to know what to think. They look majestic, but also slightly threatening. An irate swan can easily break a person's arm, so we were a bit worried about 29 of them heading towards the dog. It appears that, like the local populace, they were also curious about this odd being swimming in their water and the strange possible food product she carried. The got to within about 2 metres of Isla before deciding to halt their stately advance.

Other facts about swans - their poo is the same size as Isla's. Ick.

Bavaria to Mantova, Italy

When I realized that our driving route to Rome would lead us past Mantova at an opportune time to stop, I thought it might be nice to see a town we'd liked last time. We were last here on our bike and barge tour that took us through the Veneto and into Venice. I remembered liking Mantova quite a bit and that it was surrounded by water - good for the water dog travelling with us. It was nice for a change to have a sense of the town. We parked in the parking lot where I'd had the unfortunate run in with the Tardis Toilet and wandered in through the city walls. Almost immediately we found a room at Residenza Bibiena. We walked around and enjoyed some drinks and snacks by the park, then for desert had a lovely gelato.

This morning we were up early to beat the heat and get a little exercise with the dog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Potsdam to Holzkirchen (Bavaria) Germany

We encountered really awful traffic on our journey from just out side of Berlin (Potsdam) to just south of Munich. Rather than repeat our 'no rooms at the inn' episode from yesterday we got off the highway sooner and found a nice town in Bavaria. Tomorrow we head to Austria and probably Italy...

Lund to Potsdam

A quick post to let you all know we are on the move again. Yesterday was from Lund, Sweden to what turned out to be Potsdam, Germany. We tried to stop at a number of other towns, but all the hotels were full. Potsdam is lovely and we may go back one day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Travel: What to pack?! Maybe Explicit Content for Some...

There will probably be too much information here for some, so if you feel squeamish about reading of my underwear, stop now!

Some of you, dear readers, will know how I struggled with deciding what to pack for 7 months in Europe. I contemplated bringing just a carry on full of bras, panties and shoes. How do you pack for multiple climates and cultures?

Having been to Italy before, I knew that acquiring shoes there was out of the question (they have skinny feet and I don't). There's also the dilemma of underpants and bras. I'm not a giant by any stretch of the imagination, but having tried to get Italian undies before I knew it was not possible for my size. God only knows where Nona shops...

In the end, I packed 11 bras, wait, no 13 including 2 sports bras; but only 7 pairs of undies. Sicilian women are lovely curvy people, but they are not large. They are perfect little petites. No undies for me. French women are rather bonier, at least where we were. The gals in the countryside looked a bit more Sarah sized, but still no undies for me. I did at one point contemplate walking up to a woman who looked my size and asking her where she got her undies, but I restrained myself. And then we got to South London.

What can I say about South London? There are some beautiful curvy women there! The bra shop stocked my size (and quite a bit larger) and there was lots of undies for me, even at the street market.  OH! at the street market you could buy large sized undies that had bum pads!

That still leaves me with way more than I can properly fit into my single suitcase. Did I mention the pairs of shoes I got? There were 2 in Italy, believe it or not (I sort of walk off the side of the shoe), then 2 pairs of handmade in St. Bertrand by the lovely Isa, and a few pairs of Espadrilles... And lets add the rag picking finds in France (a denim skirt and embroidered Chinese style jacket).... and there's the South London second hand scores (a couple dresses, some jeans, a lovely embroidered wool scarf)...

In retrospect the suitcase full of bras and undies would probably have been a good idea...

Travel: Icons of Laundry, or The Symbology of Wash

Regular every day tasks can take on a whole other level of confusion. Take laundry for an example. So far, we've been able to understand the strange symbols on the machine. That's Italy, France and England down. Here is Sweden it is a whole other kettle of smoke fish. First off, the laundry room has to be booked in advance on line. Your key fob only works on the door for the 1.5 hours you've got to do your laundry. After that you and your laundry are no longer as one.

Anyone who has tried to decipher the arcane symbols on a garment's tag to determine how it wants to be laundered has an idea of what we face deciphering these arcania. I've actually spent quite a bit of time working out what a circle inside a triangle means (nothing, it is a mistake) for labelling the yarns that I spin. Canada's national government even has its own guide to laundry symbols. So, confronted with a washer asking for instructions in Swedish, not in symbols; we were both at a loss. Of the 3 washers, only one had symbols. That one I understood and used for washing our new wool blanket. The international symbol for wool was created by the British Wool Marketing board you've seen it before; the 3 loops made up of 3 loops.

In the end a Swedish student put us out of our misery. The machines are almost completely digital and self sensing. They decide on the basis of how much your wash weighs whether it is a large or small load, what temperature it needs and how long to wash it. It even adds the soap. Your only choice is whether to add fabric softener.

The coolest thing, and something we've never seen before is the hot air cupboard. It has 4 racks inside that swing out so you can hang your laundry on them, then swing them in, close the huge double doors and hit play (well, it was a thermometer of half or full heat). That thing rocks! It dries without tumbling, so things aren't beaten, just gently heated with blowing hot air.

Travel: Off the Map - Renault Scenic "No Maps Found"

One of the features of our leased car is a TomTom navigation system. She speaks to us in dulcet tones about 'taking the motorway' and 'take the exit, turn left'. Except when she doesn't. It seems that whenever we are on the move, she looses her maps. Well, she's lost 'em again. For days this time. I did buy quite a number of maps and map books, but the tangled mess of some EU motorways would be impenetrable if not for her assistance.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

London to Sweden: Germany

I think the pictures explain the German Experience...

One bright spot in Germany... Holdorf.  This hotel and the East Indian Restaurant experience below.

Lund's Long Flea Market

Saturday morning I contemplated going to Copenhagen for one of their flea markets, then I discovered that Lund has its own Saturday morning flea market in good weather, on Sodra Esplace (Check the spelling). It was a sunny Saturday so we wandered over there from our apartment. The walk took us past or through the prettier parts of town (no so much concrete) and we gto a little lost. We did eventually stumble on the right street, and lo! it was the entire street! 2 blocks of fleas! We spent a pleasant hour or so rambling along picking up bits and pieces. Neither of us can get the hang of Swedish numbers so it was a little silly trying to haggle unless the person spoke English.

I got the wind up alarm clock I'd been looking for (50Kr) some more textiles, including a beautiful linen sheet with handmade lace for a baby's crib (I think it will become an apron), an antique oval wooden box, a candle wick trimmer and a wool blanket. If we lived closer we could have filled out our blue and white china theme many times over - blue and white china is very popular here in Lund.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sweden/Denmark Travel: Strangers on a Train

Unlike it's creepy name sake, this post is about kind people, not who murder, but who help in other ways. Today we (read Sarah) decided that it would be fun to go to Copenhagen, Denmark for lunch. "The train only takes 40 minutes",  I said. Well, the train took most of an hour and leaves you stranded in between an amusement park and MacDonalds ( I exaggerate slightly about the lack of other chain restaurants like Burger King, 7-Eleven, etc. ). We had struggled slightly at the train station to get tickets. The choices were whether we'd like to travel by ferry or over the bridge. There was no mention of a train. After standing in line for an interminable amount of time equal approximately to limbo, we were able to chat with a very amiable gal with excellent English who sold us a JoJo card and a bubble return and said there's your train just outside the window of the ticket office.  We hopped the train and arrived in Copenhagen around an hour later. Copenhagen is a cyclists paradise. Not a pedestrian paradise. There isn't even one of their much touted City cycles stations beside the train station... they seem to be for locals only. Add to that the fact you must pay (another different country... another kind of money) to use the station toilet and I was a bit put off.

I was won over by the locals however. When we finally stopped in at the mission objective (the Copenhagen Red Cross Charity shop) the wonderful assistants and shoppers really made me warm to Copenhagen. We'd attempted to change our remaining British Pounds for Denmark Kroner, but after waiting in line for 20 minutes gave it up as a bad omen. When I spotted our mission objective (secret to the rest of the squad, aka Christopher until our imminent arrival) I was somewhat reticent to commit to anything for fear of rejection at the till. When I finally decided I had to have the faux pearl earrings to go with my real pearl necklace the lovely gal at the till decided to give them to me rather than incur the debt of the credit card companies. When she discovered it was our first 2 hours in Denmark (let alone Copenhagen) she dug out a map and told us about all the best locations. A fellow customer (I use customer in the loosest sense) weighed in and informed of the wonders to be had in other parts, more isolated from the hubbub of tourists. All in all, I must recommend the Copenhagen Red Cross Charity Shop to everyone who finds themselves at a loose end in Copenhagen... their wares are well presented and curated and the staff and fellow shoppers are of the highest calibre.

What about the strangers on the train you ask? Well, after stumbling upon a decent Mexican place (where the bar maid made excellent cocktails (try spelling that after a few)), we made our swift way back to the train station in an effort to get home to let the dog out for a pee. Much to my consternation, it was impossible to discern which train, and which track would host a train which would return us to Lund, Sweden. Standing in front of a computer read out which at least had a Swedish destination (Goteburg) and mumbling to myself in an audible fashion, a very kind woman asked us in excellent English where we wanted to go. She then clued us in to the secrets of Scandinavian trains. First you must know the ultimate destination of your train. Those to Sweden either ended at the Copenhagen (aka Danish) airport, or continued on. Those which would continue on generally left from track 5 or 6. Then, in addition to the track, the letter denoted those cars of the train which would stop at our destination (Lund) In the end, the kindness of strangers got us home. We'd never had identified the correct train, let alone the correct track and correct car. The kindness of strangers got us on the train.

The strangers on the train got us home. Our train stopped, inexplicably to us, one station away from our original departure station. Inexplicable because the lovely voiced multilingual conductor/engineer had departed and a surly Swedish/Danish announcer informed us of the dire news. We'd been happily chatting away to a Swiss gal who had come on the train at an earlier stop and was heading for the University of Holigner (SP?). While Swedes haven't struck us as demonstrative, they are informative. After a few inquisitive looks at my seat-mate, he informed us that our train (one stop away from Lund, our temporary home) lacked a driver, but the train on the platform opposite was headed for Lund and did have a driver. Toute Suite we hot footed over to the other train.

People are tall here in Scandinavia. They are acquainted with short people, so there are two steps for the short, one step for the tall. I didn't catch that. What I did catch was about an inch of the step for the tall. Luckily I righted myself without injury, and had a good laugh with the 2 meter tall specimen in the seat opposite. Let me not disclose how much of my thigh was exposed in this little incident. I maintain that I would have made that last inch if not for the slit in my dress being inconveniently (decently)  short. Christopher quietly slid into a seat without incident - sigh.

Sweden Travel: Food Familiar and Strange

We met a Swedish couple visiting their son at Fowlds Cafe in Camberwell London and I asked what iconic Swedish food I simply must try. Among the food to try are Swedish style crawfish, which are only available in August. Yesterday, at the fresh food market, we found a wonderful fishmonger who had some, and so we embarked on an iconic Swedish food experience. And Lo! it was good. Now, we didn't go full hog with the experience because the tradition is to do a shot of schnapps after each crawdad. We stayed largely sober with just a glass of our imported, much travelled, French champagne. We also enjoyed a wonderful smoked mackerel, really very good, smoked just the way I like and finished with amazing strawberries. The joy of travelling from south to north is that you follow the season for particular foods, like strawberries. We've sadly gotten past the ripe blackberry line which we had just caught the beginning of in London. We'll have to drive south slowly, scanning vacant ground to find the ripe blackberry line as we travel next week.

One of the joys, and one of the travails of travel, is new food. In our homogenized world, it is actually quite difficult to find really new food. More strange and unsettling is the food you expect to taste the same, that tastes subtly or completely different. Its like ordering an egg salad sandwich on rye and getting tuna salad instead. Both are good, but your tastebuds are expecting sulphuric eggs, not fishy tuna. Take butter for example. Mexican butter tastes so different from Canadian butter it isn't really the same thing at all. Then there is the shock and surprise when you find a food that tastes exactly the way it 'should'. It is quite disjointing as well, but sometimes comforting. The Swedish smoked mackerel was one of those foods for me. Coming from a land of immigrants it is hard to know sometimes what foods and flavours originated where and how transformed they've been by their time in Canada. Smoked mackerel that I like is apparently purely Swedish style. It makes some sense with similar landscape, forest, field and sea.