Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #54 (Wieliczka Salt Mines)

November 25th, 2015

Wieliczka Salt Mines on the outskirts of Kraków is one of the first 12 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, inscribed in 1978 (by the way, so is Kraków proper, which means that it was the undisputed capital of the World Heritage in the list’s infancy). Dating from the 13th century, the mines are recognized for being one of the earliest and most important European industrial operations.

There is hardly any limit to awe and fascination induced by the vast network of underground passages and halls that are adorned with remarkable artwork and decorations. The guided tour is fairly long, includes traversing non-trivial number of steps during the descent, and takes you through all of the most impressive spaces. If memory serves me right, it allows for sufficient “free time” at the most important points, such as the unbelievable Chapel of St Kinga.

We had a tour guide who spoke excellent English and exhibited a delightful dry sense of humor. His presentation obviously enhanced our experience, but I suspect that the awe factor of seeing the mines would compensate for even the least eloquent of tour guides.

Photographic evidence of this in our archives is lacking, unfortunately. This is one case where I can reasonably blame the inadequate equipment for taking pictures in less then ideal lighting conditions, but the truth probably lies in that being overawed by what I was seeing I did not give any thought to the quality of the photographic output. The couple of photographs that passed later quality control barely make a dent in the attempt to illustrate the remarkable monument to human ingenuity that the mines are.

Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland


Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland

Getting to Wieliczka Mines from central Kraków takes less than half an hour by bus. Excluding the bus ride, you need to budget three hours as the lower boundary for taking the tour and lingering.

A nearby medieval castle in Wieliczka that was the mines’ administrative headquarters as well as less-known mines in Bochnia have been added to this UNESCO listing a couple of years ago, but we did not consider visiting them. Bochnia is significantly further away from Kraków.

Travel Album, World Heritage

My World Heritage roster

November 1st, 2015

More for my own records than for public consumption – but, hey, feel free to peruse below the cut – here is my World Heritage sites roster, with links to my posts that contain relevant pictures. Links to UNESCO list inscriptions are provided as well, along with the year each site was added (in parenthesis).

I am using a liberal – and not entirely consistent – definition of “visited” for the purposes of this list. Basically, any site that I made a concerted effort to explore within the limits of accessibility counts as having been visited. For a geographical entity – such as a square, a city area, or a region – that is a simple criterion. For a historical or architectural monument, it gets more complicated: If interior access is possible, the site cannot be counted unless I stepped inside (as well as did not bypass the singular primary subject for which the monument is recognized, if such is clearly identified); conversely, if interior access is prohibited or allowed on rare basis, the site can be counted if I expressly stopped by to take photographs of its exterior.

The serial sites are counted if at least one part of it can be counted according to the loose definition above.
Read more…

Where we've been, World Heritage

Scandinavia wrap-up

October 27th, 2015

The serialized photo-diary of our recent Scandinavian trip is now completed, spanning 17 posts over the course of the last two+ months. In case someone never noticed the last paragraph in each of those posts and never perused the full gallery of 620 photos on Flickr, here are direct links to all Flickr albums related to the trip:

On a related note, those who would be interested in our brief “travel guides” to the places that we have visited, feel free to head over to the Travelog, and choose Denmark, Norway, or Sweden from the categories menu.

Hope you enjoy!

Where we've been

Chasing World Heritage: #92 (Skogskyrkogården)

October 25th, 2015

This is not my kind of place. A cemetery. I can recall a few instances of touring a cemetery on past travels, but in each case it was either part of a larger guided city tour (so I did not have a choice in the matter) or was right there where I was doing other sightseeing, so going in for a quick look was not taking away from the itinerary.

But this one is a World Heritage site, on the list for over twenty years now. Its short UNESCO description recognizes the fine landcsape design that blends nature and architecture, something that always piques my interest. As little as I ever consider cemeteries as places to visit, my desire to see as many World Heritage sites as possible won out in this particular case. We went to Skogskyrkogården while in Stockholm.

I cannot say that I was overly impressed. People who like cemeteries as stimulators of quiet reflection on life, universe, and everything, may be more enchanted with what these vast burial grounds can offer. Me, I can appreciate the pleasing contours of the main features and the neatness of the planned layout, but in the end, the rows of graves somehow do not co-exist in my head with the notion of enjoying the scenery.

Here are a couple of angles looking at the main architectural feature on the cemetery grounds, the portico that leads to the chapels of the Holy Cross, Faith, and Hope, and to the crematorium.

Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm


Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm

We walked a little bit between burial sections. The cemetery does not have many famous internments – Greta Garbo is nearly the only well-known name I can recognize among those whose resting place is Skogskyrkogården, and we did not come up to her headstone – so I only took a few random wide-angle shots.

Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm


Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm

We were visiting at the end of the day, when the setting sun offered a few opportunities to attempt to capture the scenery in HDR.

Skogskyrkogården cemetery, Stockholm

If you are into visiting cemeteries (and Skogskyrkogården is a major tourist attraction in Stockholm, which leads me to believe many people are into that kind of sightseeing), you can easily spend several hours on the vast grounds. For me, a little over half an hour was enough to consider the place visited for the purposes of my World Heritage collection. The cemetery is reached from central Stockholm via metro in about 20 minutes.

These and a few other pictures of Skogskyrkogården have been added to my Flickr Stockholm album.

Travel Album, World Heritage

Chasing World Heritage: #91 (Drottningholm Palace)

October 20th, 2015

As people who have been following this blog for a while might be aware, we have seen our share of royal palaces all over Europe. Some impress us more, others less so. Because we started practically with the grandest of them all – Versailles – one might argue that we had set ourselves up for being underwhelmed ever since. Nonetheless, we continue to make royal palaces an important part of our sightseeing itineraries. And the latest one we saw definitely falls into “wow” category.

Drottningholm Palace is among the palaces built in the 18th century that were inspired by Versailles. Its UNESCO description does not exceed even 50 words and simply calls the palace and gardens complex the finest example of a royal residence. We had an opportunity to see all named parts of the complex and we certainly concur with that laconic assessment.

Here is a perspective of the palace from its formal gardens area.

Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

Inside the palace, one can find a progression of impressive rooms, some more obviously homages to Versailles’ opulence than others.

Inside Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

For a bookworm, the library always holds an extra dose of fascination.

Library at Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

The royal guards at the palace are attired in the most blindingly blue uniforms.

Royal Guards at Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

The Royal Theater, dating from mid-18th-century, is the original building that is mostly built of wood and remains in use for occasional performances.

Royal Palace Theater, Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

Unlike the palace, touring the theater is possible only on a guided, timed-entry basis, at an extra cost to the basic ticket. We decided to go and not regretted it a second. The 35-minute tour provides tons of insight into the operation of a theater of this age as well as many interesting historic tidbits. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the auditorium, due to some copyright nonsense related to the decorations for the next scheduled performance. I could only attempt to take pictures in other rooms, which display costumes and some artifacts related to famous actors that performed here in the past.

Inside Royal Palace Theater, Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

Another structure of renown on the palace grounds is the radiant Chinese Pavilion.

Chinese Pavilion, Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

The colorful palette is evident in all rooms of the pavilion, with each room dominated by a major hue. Here is a corner when adjoining colors can be seen together.

Inside Chinese Pavilion, Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

The vast grounds contain several formal sculpted gardens with fountains and large wilder-wooded areas that are nonetheless perfectly maintained. The next shot is a perspective towards the palace along the main alley running from the wooded part.

Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

Don’t be fooled by the long focal length compression – the distance from where I stand to the palace is at least 800 meters, easily twice or more that of the opening shot of this essay.

And another perspective of the palace facing the lakefront on the opposite side of the gardens.

Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm

An un-rushed exploration of Drottningholm calls for at least five-six hours, which can easily be extended to a full day if you choose to have a picnic somewhere on the grounds. Combination tickets that allow entry to the pavilion and to the theater cost extra on top of general admission. “World Heritage” combo is the most expensive all-inclusive option, with guided tours at all points of interest (although you can choose to explore on your own, except at the theater).

It takes about half an hour to get to the palace from central Stockholm, by metro and bus. The bus routes that run to the palace from the nearest metro station number a dozen, with one departing every few minutes.

These and other pictures taken at Drottningholm Palace have been added to my Stockholm Flickr album.

Travel Album, World Heritage

Highlights of Stockholm

October 15th, 2015

Stockholm is the most visually appealing of the three Scandinavian capitals that we visited on our recent journey. This is in large part due to it being located on an archipelago with significant amount of water flowing between different parts of the city. Where eye-catching or simply colorful architecture meets expansive waterfronts it makes for magnificent panoramic views.

View from Monteliusvagen, Stockholm

The above shot was taken from Monteliusvägen, a walking path on the high bank of Södermalm district facing the Old Town. It has some of the best views of the city skyline, especially at sunset. Here are a few more perspectives. First, with the closer look at the spire of Riddarholm Church and the tower of the Stockholm Cathedral.

View from Monteliusvagen, Stockholm

Another prominent tower takes central stage in the next shot. This one belongs to Tyska Kyrkan, the German Church.

View from Monteliusvagen, Stockholm

And another perspective from Monteliusvägen.

View from Monteliusvagen, Stockholm

We did watch the sunset from the lookout on the path. Later on, crossing the bridge on the way to the Old Town, we looked back at the bank of Södermalm.

Sodermalm, Stockholm

A rare after-dark hand-held picture that came out well highlights a random attractive corner of Stockholm.


The Royal Palace looks pretty sober on the exterior, a massive but relatively unadorned building.

Royal Palace, Stockholm

The interior has some fine points but is markedly less luxurious than exuberant palaces seen elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavian monarchies all appear more ascetic than their more southern counterparts. Here is one of the more opulent rooms, a princess’s bedroom.

Inside Royal Palace, Stockholm

A view from the palace towards Strömgatan quay area.


And another perspective near the palace, along its side towards the Stockholm Cathedral.

View along Royal Palace to Storkyrkan, Stockholm

The cathedral – known as Storkyrkan (Great Church) in Swedish – is a fine example of Brick Gothic architecture that we already admired so much in Roskilde. Golden royal boxes, an impressive organ, and a monumental pulpit are the most striking features. Here is a perspective along the main nave towards the altar.

Inside Storkyrkan, Stockholm

We saw Royal Guards in action in all three capitals that we visited. Here is a company of Swedish ones marching towards their changing ceremony on a street in the Old Town.

Royal guards, Stockholm

The main square of Gamla Stan, the Old Town, is very picturesque. Its name, Stortorget, means “Big Square”, but it is big only in relative terms to the mostly narrow confines of the historic city core. In absolute terms, it is not too spacious and feels even less so with the number of tourists that linger here.

Stortorget, Stockholm

One of the more ebullient buildings in all of Stockholm is the Royal Dramatic Theater.

Royal Dramatic Theater, Stockholm

The theater acts as a book-end to Strandvägen, an impressive harborside boulevard in Östermalm district. Developed at the end of 19th century it houses many remarkable buildings, such as these hotels.

Strandvagen, Stockholm

Here is a perspective of Strandvägen taken from from Skeppsholm Bridge.

Strandvagen, Stockholm

In the opposite direction from the same bridge vantage point is one of the best perspectives on the palace and the cathedral in the background.

Royal Palace, Stockholm

And another perspective of the waterfront of the Old Town.


Even if you move away from the waterfront, you can frequently find scenic architectural ensembles in Stockholm. The next shot is taken in Vasastan, an increasingly popular residential neighborhood to the north of the city center.

In Vasastan district, Stockholm

At the Hötorget market, the stalls selling mushrooms and produce are an explosion of colors.

Stalls at Hotorget, Stockholm

Pippi Longstocking or Karlsson-on-the-Roof are the world-known children’s book characters brought to life by Astrid Lindgren, one of the most famous Swedes in history. We came across this small statue of her near the Junibacken children museum.

Astrid Lindgren statue, Stockholm

Back to views across water, here is another magnificent perspective of the Old Town.


A closer look at the Riddarholm Church, the resting place of Swedish monarchs and nobility, taken from the excursion boat.

Riddarholm Church, Stockholm

A view of the City Hall taken on the same boat trip.

City Hall, Stockholm

And several perspectives from the City Hall waterfront garden towards different parts of town.

View to Riddarholm Church from City Hall, Stockholm


View to Sodermalm from City Hall, Stockholm


View to Storkyrkan from City Hall, Stockholm

Aside from the Royal Palace and the cathedral, we visited a couple of major churches shown in the above shots (Riddarholm and Tyska), the most impressive Vasa Museum dedicated to the ill-fated royal ship that sank on her maiden voyage in the 17th century and was recovered 300 years later, and a couple of UNESCO sites farther afield from the city center. We spent most of our time walking the streets, quays and bridges of the city, enjoying the views. Or sipping rosé on a floating bar by Strandvägen. We could probably use an extra day or two to enjoy Stockholm even more. Which means that we are likely to come back again in the future.

These and other pictures of Stockholm have been loaded to the new Stockholm Flickr album.

Travel Album

Chasing World Heritage: #90 (Nærøyfjord)

October 10th, 2015

Of hundreds fjords that pierce the landscape in Western Norway only two are explicitly recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as a single site even though they are not near each other. Both represent the comparatively small appendages of the bigger parent fjords, and both are sited for their exceptional scale and grandeur as well as being the archetypal fjord landscapes. The part of the inscription that says “among the world’s longest” is misleading – it probably is valid only in comparison to other leaf bodies on the fjord tree, but even that does not seem to compute with the simple look at the map. Both of these fjords are only a few kilometers long. But those are among the most spectacular kilometers anywhere on the planet.

A big reason we went for the Norway in a Nutshell itinerary was because it included one of the two fjords, Nærøyfjord. After leaving Flåm on a ferry and traversing the less dramatic leaf of Aurlandsfjord, we entered our main target of the day.

Naeroyfjord, Norway

As was mentioned in the above post, the rain was a continuous nuisance during the ferry ride. And in a karmic payback for my habitual neglect of natural wonders on my travels, the rain intensified practically the moment that the above view opened at the mouth of the fjord. The positive aspect of that was that I suddenly found myself practically alone at my post on the upper deck; other competitors retreated to inside decks. On the other side of the spectrum, I had to ration how much my camera emerged from under my wind-breaker; I am not hard-core enough photographer to own any waterproof gear.

Of course, those shots that I did manage to take came out foggy and soft in this weather (and not greatly composed either). You know what they say about what interferes with a bad dancer, so I should not really be complaining, but knowing that I am able to take great pictures in good weather I am mightily annoyed at the weather gods for screwing up the day. Thankfully, I have a modicum of aptitude for post-processing. Still far from works of art or my usual standard of postcard-like, but I managed to get a few shots to at least passable.

Naeroyfjord, Norway


Naeroyfjord, Norway

In a bit of irony, I think the best pictures were those where parts of settlements on the shores were included in the composition. Maybe, there is something to my self-awareness that I am better at photographing human-made landscapes.

Naeroyfjord, Norway


Naeroyfjord, Norway

For a little bit under an hour the sheer cliff walls guided our boat from one bend to another.

Naeroyfjord, Norway


Naeroyfjord, Norway

Plenty of waterfalls of varying size and ferocity provided glittering ornamentation seen through the drizzle.

Naeroyfjord, Norway

And in the end, we reached Gudvangen at the very tip of the fjord. It is but a smaller Flåm without the railway, and we had neither inclination nor really an opportunity to see what it could offer.

Naeroyfjord, Norway

For a car-enabled traveler, Nærøyfjord is within the day-trip boundary from Bergen. I suspect that for those who truly want to experience the fjord, a couple of days is the minimum stay in the area, which would allow for activities such as kayaking or hiking.

These and a few more pictures from Nærøyfjord have been added to my Flickr Western Norway album.

Travel Album, World Heritage

Western Norway: Flåm and Aurlandsfjord

October 5th, 2015

Our fjord exploration on the recent Scandinavian trip was facilitated by the popular itinerary called Norway in a Nutshell.

If you are traveling in Norway independently of any tour operators and cannot set aside a couple of days of self-driving to and staying around the most scenic fjords, this itinerary may be your only option to include fjord-seeing in your overall plans. Nonetheless, I cannot be any more emphatic: This is NOT the way to see fjords. It gives you no more than a fleeting impression, significantly diluted by waiting for and then traveling on crowded modes of transportation.

It should be mentioned right from the beginning that the weather gods decided that the day of our journey was the perfect time to offer us rain as opposed to sunshine. I will allow that in good weather I may have been more satisfied with the experience.

There are variations of the same itinerary in terms of point of origin and direction of travel, as well as similar pricier options sold by other companies (they may throw in something marginally more exciting for the extra cost). In our case, we made a loop of Bergen – Myrdal – Flåm – Gudvangen – Voss – Bergen. You basically get sequence of tickets for all legs of the trip and can listen to occasional commentary via public address systems, but are on your own otherwise.

The first and last legs are made by local train which runs on the same Bergen Railway track we already saw on the way from Oslo. It’s 2 hours from Bergen to Myrdal and over an hour and a half from Voss to Bergen (if there are no delays). The scenery is pretty but hard to fully appreciate from a moving train. And in our case, we ended up riding the same stretch of this track 3 times, which felt like a waste given many places that we did not get to see.

The leg between Myrdal and Flåm is more exciting. It takes place on the historic Flåm Railway, which is one of the steepest rail tracks in the world, descending at 5.5% gradient for majority of the distance. The ride is certainly picturesque and includes a photographic stop at a waterfall near the top (which for me was somewhat underwhelming). But again, you see all of the scenery from the windows of moving train. There are tunnels and various obstructions for parts of the way, but even when the view is clear and even at a fairly slow speed, you get possibly 30 minutes of the scenery, tops.

Of the photographs that I made on that descent, none blew me away in the post-processing and a couple only made the cut after I applied some tilt-shift to them.

On Flåm Railway, Norway


On Flåm Railway, Norway


On Flåm Railway, Norway

Upon arrival in Flåm, a free, small, but full of information Railway Museum is an excellent choice for any visitor. If you want to learn how people lived in these parts before the advent of the railroad, how that road was built, and what changes it brought along, this is a fascinating narrative with tons of artifacts. The collection includes several old engines, such as this one.

Flåm Railway Museum, Norway

Among the limited customization of the itinerary available to us was selecting how long we would stick around in Flåm. The default option is about an hour and twenty minutes, which should be sufficient for seeing the museum and possibly getting a quick bite to eat at one of the fish stands or cafes. There is not much more to do on Flåm waterfront – it is perfectly a tourist trap. Some other diversions require significant time outlay and can only be undertaken with any practicality if you are staying in the area overnight.

Here is a shot of Flåm waterfront. The buildings on the right are eateries and shops. The white building in the background on the left is a hotel which could be a great base for a stay in the area.

Flåm waterfront, Norway

We opted for staying in Flåm for over 3 hours on the slightly misguided expectation that it would offer more entertainment in itself. In truth, that should have allowed us to have a leisurely lunch at one of the better restaurants, but we made do with the aforementioned fish stalls. Instead, we simply lingered in the mountainside park above the waterfront, traversing a number of walking paths and stopping by strategically placed benches. From one of those lookout points, I took this picture of Aurlandsfjord that is definitely among the top shots of that day.

Aurlandsfjord seen from Flåm, Norway

The next leg of the trip, from Flåm to Gudvangen, was a ferry ride along two fjords.

This was the most important part of the itinerary and it was in many senses the most disappointing. The boat ride takes 2 hours, but it is a scheduled passenger ferry, built in a way that limits unobstructed vantage points to observe the scenery. There are a few hundred tourists on the ride along with you, all fighting for the same limited space to take pictures. I commandeered myself a choice spot on the upper deck and would not budge from it for the entire duration of the trip. I got plenty of queer looks and plenty of semi-accidental bumps from people who tried to slither into that same space. The experience for me was significantly diminished by having to endure all of that activity. Tranquil journey it was not (and I allow that for some poor soul who never got to take a good picture I may have been the chief source of irritation).

Some groups of visitors talked loudly enough amongst themselves that the public address announcements could not be heard above their voices. Not that there was any coherent narration. It sounded as if the information was broadcast in at least a dozen languages, but little of what I managed to catch carried significant interest.

And it was raining. Not hard, but persistently, making all surroundings gray and bleak.

I kept pressing the shutter as much as I could but I hardly have 50 good pictures to show for it. Some of the best are of the settlements, some larger, others tiny, that sit on the shores of Aurlandsfjord.

Along Aurlandsfjord, Norway


Along Aurlandsfjord, Norway

It was not all bad. I always imagined the feeling of seeing a fjord “opening up” in front of the ship, with mountains on both sides moving apart to reveal the plane of water beyond the bend, and I got to see it with my own eyes on a couple of occasions. The next two shots are part of one such progression, taken several seconds apart.

Cruising on Aurlandsfjord, Norway


Cruising on Aurlandsfjord, Norway

And another perspective that hints at the next bend.

Cruising on Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Small waterfalls were a recurring feature on both sides.

Along Aurlandsfjord, Norway

And a wider-angle perspective at a more open part of the fjord.

Cruising on Aurlandsfjord, Norway

At the mid-point of this ferry ride, we left Aurlandsfjord and entered another fjord, which was the prime target of the entire trip as it added to my collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites. But I will leave celebration of that to a separate blog entry.

Later on, we disembarked in Gudvangen and had to make a beeline for the buses waiting for everyone on the same Nutshell itinerary as us. This was both efficient in that the buses were there and ready as well as further irritating in that they apparently could not accommodate a handful of people who left the boat last. So we sat on the bus for about 20 minutes while the drivers sorted out the shortage of seats.

The bus then drove through more rainy but pleasant scenery for the next 50 minutes to get us to Voss. Along the way it made a directionally-useless detour in order to descend down a historic narrow steep and winding road, providing another mild highlight of the itinerary. I drew the line at not taking any pictures through rain-splashed bus windows.

In Voss, we had about 45 minutes to wait for our train back to Bergen. We were hoping to take a quick stroll to town center from the station, but the rain was now falling much harder, and we spent those 45 minutes at the station gift shop checking out every single souvenir that it had to offer.

Overall, the journey lasted 13 hours, of which I count at least half as being spent waiting for public transportation or being transported alongside large quantities of public getting glimpses of scenery beyond the windows. And the equation would be even worse if we did not linger in Flåm those two extra hours. In my mind, definitely NOT the way to experience the magnificence of Western Norway.

The positive is that the glimpses we caught make us want to come back one day and see it right.

These and a few more pictures have been added to my Flickr Western Norway album.

Travel Album

On Mount Fløyen, Bergen

October 1st, 2015

Getting to the top of Mount Fløyen above Bergen is a special treat for two reasons. First, the funicular ride itself. Most other funiculars that I know take less than a minute to travel to their upper terminals which, coupled with 10-15 minutes wait to depart from the lower ground, makes the experience somewhat fleeting and unexciting. On Fløibanen, you may still have to wait the requisite 10 minutes for the ride. But it takes nearly as much time to traverse its comparatively longish ascent, giving you enough time to appreciate the changing view angles. It also makes a couple of stops along the way to accommodate locals who reside on the mountainside, which can be amusing when one of those locals, burdened by several shopping bags, finds herself surrounded by a few dozen tourists.

The second reason is, of course, the views. You get to see all of Bergen from here. In the golden hours of the evening it is simply magical.

Here are several different focal-length perspectives of Bergen Havn.

View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

The only minus is, you can only see the roofs of Bryggen from here, not its colorful front houses that we saw in this post. The brown roofs are towards lower right corner in the above photograph.

Another part of central Bergen is in the next shot, with St. John’s Church as the main feature and the piers of Damsgårdssundet beyond.

View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

A close-up of harbor-level buildings with Korskirken and one of the hairpin turns of the mountainside street.

View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

A view of Lille Lungegårdsvannet, which is actually originally a natural lake that was shaped into its current form in mid-20th century.

View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

The buildings on the far side of the lake comprise the multi-gallery art museum that we did not fit into our itinerary. We did, however, spent a pleasant half-hour full of contemplation and people-watching on a bench under the trees by the lakeside.

The viewing platform is not the only point of interest at the top of Mount Fløyen. There is also a large park with a children’s playground and many walking and jogging trails. In the wooded area, a gallery of primitivist wooden sculptures attracts adults and children alike. Which clearly bothers this creature that is just trying to do its business.

View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway


View from Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

The sunset occurs really late in these parts of Norway in early August, and we did not stay on the mountain for that. Nonetheless, it was certainly one of the highlights of our Bergen stay.

These and other pictures taken on Mount Fløyen have been added to my Flickr Western Norway album.

Travel Album

Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen

September 28th, 2015

This church is reasonably recommended but not exactly among the top sights even in a city like Bergen. It requires comparatively non-trivial time and effort to get to. It is actually not the original church, which was destroyed by arson just 20 years ago, but a replica rebuilt in a different location. And yet, I specifically targeted a visit there on our sole day spent entirely in Bergen.

This was primarily a surrogate World Heritage site visit. Of the few dozen such churches surviving from Medieval times only one, Urnes Stave Church, is recognized on the UNESCO list. Its location is in general vicinity of the fjords that we were visiting on this trip but far enough to require time allocation that we could not spare from our itinerary. Since the style of architecture known as stave church nowadays survives almost exclusively in Norway – although replicas and imitations exist elsewhere in Northern Europe and also in the United States – as a self-professed aficionado of architecture I had to make an effort to see one while in Norway. Original Fantoft church dated from mid-12th-century and it was the only one of the stave churches that we could get to on our own using public transport, so it basically picked itself.

Here is a shot that attempted to take in the entire church.

Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway

As is frequently my lament, my “tourist” vision overpowered my “photographic” one. While I spent sufficient time looking the church over and absorbing its unusual build and atmosphere, I did not look hard enough for best angles and best lighting to take pictures. The results leave a lot to be desired.

Nonetheless, here are several close-up angles.

Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway


Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway


Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway

A fragment of the church interior.

Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway

Wooden carvings are nearly the only ornamentation that exists inside the church, otherwise it is beautifully minimalist in decoration. Here is a fragment of a bench carving.

Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Norway

Half an hour is likely the very upper limit of the length of visit to the Fantoft Stave Church. But you need to budget no less than an hour and a half overall to get there and back; the light rail from Byparken in the center of Bergen takes under 20 minutes to Fantoft station, from where a slight uphill walk leads you to the church in another 10 minutes.

Pictures of Fantoft Stave Church have been added to my Western Norway Flickr album.

Travel Album

More from Bergen

September 24th, 2015

Bergen is one of those cities that is mostly known as a gateway to something (in this case, fjords). Most of the itineraries, even those that make the city a base for regional exploration, leave at best a single day for getting acquainted with Bergen. Although it is bigger in size than an average “intraday” point of interest, it is certainly not a large metropolis. And Bryggen aside, its other sights on offer are not of a true must-see caliber.

We also planned only a single full day for Bergen exploration. But because we had two additional nights in town, we ended up with a better feel for its charm and vibrancy than a basic one-day visit would allow.

We will start with a picture of houses that extend Bryggen waterfront. The shot is taken from the same vantage point as several of the shots appearing in the Bryggen essay.

Bergen, Norway

These houses date back only to the beginning of the 20th century, although some of the area was built up in the 18th century. In fact, the Hanseatic Museum that we mentioned in the Bryggen entry edges its way into the frame at the very right of the picture.

Here is a different perspective of these houses, with the museum making another effort to get in on the right, and the commemoration of the victims of the World War I in the foreground.

Bergen, Norway

And another perspective of the same row of houses in the early morning.

Bergen, Norway

A perspective on the nearby part of the harbor dominated by Mount Fløyen in the background.

Bergen, Norway

At the top of the frame you can see the upper terminal of the funicular, next to a lookout platform that offers fantastic views over the city. I have posted a panorama taken there in my Scandinavian announcement and will make yet another post of additional views from that elevated point.

This is Sjøfartsmonumentet, or Maritime Monument, tracing the history of Norweagian seafaring exploits on the main town square, Torgallmenningen.

Bergen, Norway

There are other attractive squares in the city center. Here is a gazebo at Byparken.

Bergen, Norway

One church in Bergen that warrants coming in is St Mary’s, at the edge of Bryggen, that has been renovated and re-opened sometime in 2014. I normally observe “no photography” signs posted at some of these sights, but the pulpit of this church was so unusually ornate that I had to be disobedient for once.

Bergen, Norway

Rosenkrantz Tower is another worthy attraction, with several small exhibitions related to Bergenhus Fortress and the history of Bergen, and nice views from the roof gallery. The best shot of the tower that I took happens to be a night-time one.

Bergen, Norway

And here is the harbor view from the terrace.

Bergen, Norway

The only good elevated points for photographing Bryggen must exist at the hotels that line up the quay in the above picture. You cannot see Bryggen from Fløyen, and you can only see it sideways from the top of Rosenkrantz Tower.

Bergen, Norway

The vibrant fish market at the center part of the harbor quay offers wide selection of raw seafood, plus many other delicacies, as well as many opportunities to get a nice snack. I managed only one passable picture of the goods on display and it barely illustrates the amount of available seafood.

Bergen, Norway

We came across several examples of street art on the walls of buildings. This was a work in progress, we even stopped for a few minutes to observe the artist once he returned to his chair.

Bergen, Norway

And a couple of more night-time shots. This is Vågsallmenningen, with a statue of Ludvig Holberg, the writer and philosopher whose other statue we already saw in Oslo. He was born in Bergen.

Bergen, Norway

And this church-like building is actually a shopping center, Kjottbasaren.

Bergen, Norway

These and other pictures of Bergen have been added to my Western Norway Flickr album.

This is not all from Bergen. Two of the stops on our tour of the city warrant individual blog entries.

Travel Album

Chasing World Heritage: #89 (Bryggen)

September 19th, 2015

Bryggen is one of the most impressive recent additions to my growing collection of World Heritage sites. Picturesque, full of historic significance, and able to retain many of its original features, this old wharf is recognized by UNESCO for being the only remaining preserved outpost of Hanseatic League as well as for its wooden urban structure common to centuries past.

I took advantage of our base in Bergen sitting literally at the corner of Bryggen and made efforts to photograph the historic wharf at different times of day, including late night and early morning, and, most importantly, with assistance of a tripod. I am pretty happy with the results, it should be said.

Let’s start with daytime view of the scenic Bryggen waterfront.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

These 11 colorful houses as well as almost 50 other buildings that are located behind them comprise the boundaries of the erstwhile self-governed German enclave on Norwegian coast that was home to Hanseatic traders, their staff, and their warehouses. They were all built between 14th and 16th centuries and have always been made of wood. The district endured numerous fires over the centuries, always to be rebuilt to stand as before.

A morning-time close-up.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Nowadays, practically every building in Bryggen is home to a store or a gallery, many of which are quite interesting to visit.

Another angle from another morning that takes in all 11 front houses of Bryggen.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

The harbor front area extends both left and right from this row of houses, but the buildings populating those areas belong to later times. Here is a look along the quay past Bryggen all the way to Rosenkrantz Tower at Bergenhus Fortress.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Now, the after-dark view.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

The six houses on the left appear to look just like the Bryggen houses (and are often included in panoramic views as parts of Bryggen) but they were actually built comparatively recently.

A night close-up of Bryggen houses.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Once you walk into Bryggen, you will find yourself on a narrow street such as this.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

A corner of Bryggen.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Stockfish, a dried unsalted variety of fish, was a key good controlled by Hanseatics. The only square of the district, Bryggestredet, is now adorned by this wooden sculpture.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Here is a view of Bryggen from the back.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

The Hanseatic Museum is located on the same quay but in a section that has been primarily built in the 18th century. The museum offer wealth of information on the history of the Hanseatic trading empire. It also offers a good look at how an 18th century merchant and his staff worked and lived. Here is a fragment of one room in the museum.

Hanseatic Museum, Bergen, Norway

There is also a “heat-house” that can be separately visited on the museum ticket. Since fire was a deadly hazard in a wooden district such as Bryggen, its use was restricted to a few buildings at the edge that were somewhat more fire-proof and offered heat-based amenities that were not available in majority of Bryggen buildings. This is a shot of the common dining room inside the Schøtstuene.

Schøtstuene, Bergen, Norway

A sunrise shot of Bryggen.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Another sunrise shot, with a longer exposure.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

And a wide-angle HDR composite that takes in Bryggen and neighboring areas, also taken in the early morning.

Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

As can be guesed from that last shot, Bryggen sits practically in the center of Bergen, so getting to it is just a matter of a short walk no matter where you stay in town.

Bryggen is one of those places that you can claim to have seen after spending as little as 30 minutes in the area. If you decide to peruse shops and galleries, you may end up adding a few hours to that. Visiting Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene, and possibly Bryggen Museum (not the same as Hanseatic) takes another couple of hours. Finally, walking to the other side of the central harbor for views and photographic shots of the kind shown above can take another hour, since you will have to pass through the fantactic fish market where you will undoubtedly stop once or twice. All together, it could be 5-6 hours to get the most out of Bryggen.

These and other pictures of Bryggen have been added to my Flickr Western Norway album.

Travel Album, World Heritage

On Bergen Railway

September 15th, 2015

We left Oslo via train on Bergen Railway, which takes about 7 hours to reach its final destination in Bergen. It is a comfortable and superbly scenic ride, highly recommended if you can spare sufficient time in your itinerary.

At the speed of about 200 km/h, through the glass window, and – let’s be honest here – with my middling skills, not many of the pictures that I had snapped along the way survived the post-processing quality control. That being said, a small pictorial selection could still be assembled to illustrate the ride.

In the beginning, as much as half an hour or so out of Oslo, the train still goes through towns with seemingly reasonable population density.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

And then, it is all lakes, forests, and mountains.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway


Along Bergen Railway, Norway


Along Bergen Railway, Norway

The villages along the way become smaller and farther apart. Almost invariably they cling to a foot of a mountain at a lake shore.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway


Along Bergen Railway, Norway

Some houses occupy choice heights.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

As the train climbs higher above the sea level, the landscape changes. The settlements here are surrounded by more rocky and barren landscape.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

The next shot probably illustrates the vastness of the spaces the best of all. The most sharp-sighted may even discern people on the road, for better understanding of scale.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

A close-up of what I think is a two-household hamlet.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

Village of Finse, at 1,222 meters above the sea level, is the highest point of the railway. Our coach stopped in front of this re-purposed railcar, which is part of the lodging-and-restaurant complex. You can see the fragment of the frozen lake beyond the railcar. The date is August 3rd.

Finse, the highest point of Bergen Railway, Norway

On the opposite side, here is the snowy landscape of Finse.

Finse, the highest point of Bergen Railway, Norway

One more mountain village, slightly lower in elevation; snow does not completely melt in summer here either.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

And a fragment of another lake among snowy mountains.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

A couple of hours later, closer to Bergen, the landscape acquires fjord features.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

And a pretty rare sight – a big bridge spanning two sides of a fjord.

Along Bergen Railway, Norway

In twenty-five more minutes, we will arrive in Bergen.

These and other pictures from the Bergen Railway ride can be seen in the Western Norway Flickr album.

Travel Album

From Copenhagen to Oslo by ship

September 10th, 2015

Although I already reported on our exploration of Oslo here, here, and here, I am now taking a step back in time to talk about how we got to Oslo from Copenhagen.

We took the overnight ferry that connects the two capitals. Although I use the word “ferry”, it is a veritable cruise ship, with several decks of cabins, entertainment, restaurants, shops and all amenities one can think of. While it is probably a notch below luxury cruise lines seen in Caribbean ports, it still offers a comfortable and mostly enjoyable experience for the approximately 15-hour voyage. Just don’t expect much from the restaurant service.

And, of course, there are plenty of photo opportunities from the upper deck, so here is a selection.

We’ll start with farewell looks towards Copenhagen. You might recognize the towers of Church of Our Savior, Chritiansborg Castle, and the dome of Frederik’s Church.

Copenhagen view from Oslo ferry upper deck


Copenhagen view from Oslo ferry upper deck

Picturesque villages dot the coast of Zealand along Øresund (which in English is called simply “The Sound”).

Along Øresund coast

The narrowest point of the Sound is where Kronborg Castle sits, if you recall from this post. The ship glides past the castle offering several brilliant perspectives.

Kronborg Castle viewed from along Øresund


Kronborg Castle viewed from along Øresund

We slept for a few hours in a cabin that felt a lot like a compartment of a long-distance train from the memories of our youth. And then got up early enough to catch the later part of the sunrise over the North Sea.

Sunrise in North Sea

Timestamp tells me that the next picture was taken just 63 seconds after the previous one. The view on the two sides of the ship was drastically different.

Sunrise in North Sea

The islands in the Oslo fjord kept the proceedings picturesque, and the coastline occasionally exhibited “standard” fjord features of jutting steep sides.

Sailing up Oslo fjord

This place, called Oscarsborg Castle, is still about an hour away from Oslo, on an island in the middle of the fjord. It took its present form in mid-19th century, but the earliest fortifications here date back a couple of centuries more.

Oscarsborg in Oslo fjord

Coastal villages in Norway are no less picturesque than the ones we left behind in Denmark.

Along Oslo fjord

One of the larger populated islands in Oslo harbor.

An island in Oslo harbor

A perspective of the Akershus Castle prior to mooring in Oslo.

Akershus Castle, Oslo

And a look at Aker Brygge, a popular shopping and entertainment area on Oslo waterfront that we largely bypassed in our limited time in town.

Aker Brygge waterfront, Oslo

These and other pictures from the sea voyage have been added to both Copenhagen and Oslo Flickr albums.

Travel Album

Oslo fjord

September 5th, 2015

Oslo fjord is not a true fjord in geological sense – its creation was not owed to glacier erosion. Instead, it is what is known as a rift valley. As the result, it is not overly narrow, nor does it have steep cliffs flanking it – in other words, it does not offer dramatic scenery painted by our imagination at hearing the word fjord. But in Norwegian, this word can mean a variety of waterways, and a deep inlet definitely qualifies for the term.

The shores and multitude of islands on the fjord are quite picturesque. We undertook a two-hour fjord cruise on a tall ship while in Olso, which is something I highly recommend to any visitor to the Norwegian capital. Just make sure you station yourself as close to the bow as possible for the best sweeping views.

As is always the case, major points of interest take on a whole different perspective when viewed from water. Here is a look at the Akershus castle.

Akershus castle viewed from Oslo fjord

The Opera House.

Oslo Opera House viewed from the fjord

Remember how we walked on its roof (as described in Highlights of Oslo)? You can see hundreds of people doing likewise in the above shot. We actually went to the Opera House on the next day after the fjord cruise, sufficiently early in the morning to have the roof practically to ourselves, unlike these mid-afternoon visitors.

The settlements on the shores and islands are invariably scenic.

On Oslo fjord


On Oslo fjord

This lighthouse, called Heggholmen, has been established nearly 200 years ago and remains active today.

Heggholmen Lighthouse, Oslo fjord


On Oslo fjord

Among the most picturesque and fascinating coastal features are the rows of bath houses. Where there is no beach, people build cabins from which you can descend directly into the water.

Bath houses on Oslo fjord


Bath houses on Oslo fjord

We did see a few people taking advantage of the sunny August day, longing on the bath house terraces and even taking a dip. Thirty minutes later a rainy cloud moved in. I suppose the bath house can also act as a shelter from rain.

Coming back into town at the end of the cruise, this is the view towards the City Hall.

View to the City Hall from Oslo fjord

Later that day, as we were watching sunset from Akershus’s ramparts, we saw our ship leave for an evening cruise.

Tall ship going out on Oslo fjord

These and other pictures from our Oslo fjord excursion have been added to my Oslo Flickr album.

Travel Album

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

September 1st, 2015

As mentioned towards the end of the Oslo highlights essay, there is one attraction in Oslo that I rate as unique and utterly fascinating. It is the Vigeland installation in Frogner Park, which consists of over two hundred of bronze and granite sculptures by a single Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland.

The sculptures represent a wide-ranging study of human body, emotion, and interaction. I am not enough of an expert to judge the artistic quality of the work but the cumulative effect is tremendously impressive.

Here is the view along the main axis of the park.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

A closer perspective of the main fountain.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

58 bronze sculptures are located on the central bridge. Here is a fragment of it.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

Let’s take a closer look at these. What do they represent?

This looks like a simple contemplative figure. A thinker? A schemer? Or do you sense a hint of disapproval in his pose?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

A couple doing tai chi exercises?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

A woman coming to an important decision in her life?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

The continuous conflict between male and female parts?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

Next one is easy. I don’t have boys, but I know the expression really well.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

Being together again after a long separation?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

Passionate joining? Or figure skating practice?

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

The focal point of the installation, the Monolith, surrounded by 36 figure groups.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

Each of these 36 statues brings a piece of the “circle of life” message. Here are a couple.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo


Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

The view from the Monolith towards the fountain and the bridge.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

And another elevated view from the farthest point into the park, looking back onto the Monolith.

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

We lingered for nearly three hours in the park. If there is a must-see in Oslo, this is it.

These and other pictures taken in Frogner Park have been added to my Flickr Oslo album.

Travel Album

Highlights of Oslo

August 29th, 2015

Oslo has one of the lowest “tourist attraction quotients” of all of Western Europe’s major cities. The reputation is, admittedly, mostly deserved. There is not much in terms of must-see in the Norwegian capital; not truly any significant historic monuments; not really any museums or art galleries of world renown; and not any exceptional ambiance or vibrancy that can make a city a magnet for visitors. There are a few impressive architectural masterpieces but probably not of the kind to be worth visiting Oslo all by themselves.

At the same time, I feel that Oslo is quite underrated. A determined visitor can find quite a lot of interesting things to do there, from cruising on the fjord to admiring Edward Munch’s works, from climbing aboard a 120-year-old polar exploration ship to walking up the sloping roof of a stand-out 21st-century building. It is more than just a nice city – it is a pretty interesting place to get to know.

I suppose the question is of relative attraction. There are other places in Europe that rate as more attractive destinations than Oslo. On our recent itinerary, it was objectively the least impressive major stop. But I am happy I got to see and explore it.

Let’s start with a long look along the main pedestrian street of the city, Karl Johans gate, that leads up to the Royal Palace.

Karl Johans gate and the Royal Palace, Oslo

We chanced to be there during probably the best summer day Oslo was going to experience all year, and the street was quite busy. Not Ramblas-busy or anything of that kind, but you get the drift. And yet, you only had to step a block or two away from it, and the number of pedestrians on the street would dwindle to a veritably provincial quantities.

A closer look at the palace.

The Royal Palace, Oslo

It takes some advance planning to get on an English-language guided tour of the place, but it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our stay in town. The presentation is very lively, the rooms are worth checking out, and the history of the comparatively young monarchy is quite interesting.

While on the palace square, we accidentally came across the changing of the guard ceremony. Here are the Royal guards.

The Royal guards, Oslo


The Royal guards, Oslo

Churches are not a major feature in Oslo (in fact, the natives freely mark themselves as a not overly religious nation). Only the Cathedral might be considered a place of worship worth touring, primarily on account of its uncommon ceiling paintings. Here is a fragment.

Inside Oslo cathedral

The City Hall’s vast interior space is definitely a sight to behold. The setting of the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, it is marvelously airy and brilliant.

Inside City Hall, Oslo

The City Hall is partially seen on the right of the next shot and I have to admit that I find it too industrial-looking for my taste. It does not spoil that view, though.

View from Akershus Castle, Oslo

Akershus castle is none too remarkable a point of interest but some views from its ramparts, such as the one above taken before sunset, are quite grand.

The building of National Theater is one of architectural delights.

National Theater, Oslo

Where Oslo seemingly exceeds most of the other capitals is in density of statues on its streets and squares. They range from famous Norwegians to manifestations of human body to animals to random scenes or symbols. Henrik Ibsen on the left and Bjørnstjerne Bjornson (a writer, politician and Nobel prize winner) on the right are in the previous shot.

Around the National Theater is the highest concentration of cultural personalities. This is Per Aabel, an actor and dancer.

Sculptures in central Oslo

And this is Ludvig Holberg, a philosopher and playwright.

Sculptures in central Oslo

Gunnar Sønsteby, a resistance hero who is one of the most respected figures in Norwegian history, is immortalized with his bike.

Sculptures in central Oslo

A woman on the City Hall square.

Sculptures in central Oslo

A feline in front of the central train station.

Sculptures in central Oslo

And an esoteric piece called She Lies in the lagoon off the Opera House.

She Lies, Oslo

The Opera House is an undeniable highlight, of significantly more modern nature – it was completed in 2007. Its sloping forms allow any visitor to literally freely walk on its roof. Here are a couple of angles that may not be truly illustrative of the experience.

On Opera roof, Oslo


On Opera roof, Oslo

In the center of the city, there are plenty of pretty houses and attractive points of view.

In Oslo


In Oslo


In Oslo

Rain bothered us only intermittently while in Oslo – and allowed for this opportunity to catch the moment when it stopped on one occasion.

In Oslo

As you can probably surmise from the last few shots, the automotive traffic in the center of town is tranquil to the point of being barely existent. Surprisingly, among the few cars we saw passing by, there was a significant percentage of vintage vehicles, more so than anywhere I’ve seen. I only managed to capture one of these beauties while it was stationary.

In Oslo

Among the best museums in Oslo is the Viking Ship museum, which showcases three ships in different stages of preservation along with a treasure trove from a viking burial, and the very impressive Fram museum, which allows you to walk around the famous polar ship and provides wealth of information about science and the history of polar exploration.

In Viking Ship museum, Oslo


In Fram museum, Oslo

And another sculpture, so to speak. This is called the Liberté project – a trio of working toilets doubling as an artistic installation which is meant to celebrate France as the inventor of both the highest and the lowest institutions of a modern society: a democratic constitution and public toilets. As one website puts it, it “allows an intimate relationship with its audience; the visitors fulfilling the work, performing inside.”

Toilets with a message, Oslo

I don’t know if I would be able to put on a proper performance under such hallowed motto. Your mileage may vary.

There is one other attraction in Oslo that for me rises to the level of fascinating and unique, but it is worth a separate blog entry. Stand by for that. I am also splitting the excursion around Oslo fjord into a separate essay. Which creates a bit of a paradox: A city declared the least impressive of all of the stops on the itinerary is providing plenty of material for these pages. Thank you, Oslo – is all I can say.

These and quite a few other pictures of Oslo have been uploaded to the Flickr Oslo album.

Travel Album

Chasing World Heritage: #88 (Kronborg Castle)

August 25th, 2015

The imposing Kronborg Castle in 16th-18th centuries controlled the narrowest part of the naval gateway to the Baltic which ensured its place in the history of Northern Europe, forming the basis for its UNESCO recognition. It is also a fine example of Renaissance architecture and, for some people most importantly, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (called Elsinore in the play – the English name for Helsingør, the town where it is located – it could not have truly been the setting of the famous play since the events in it must be taking place at least three hundred years before the start of the construction of the castle in 1574).

This is my favorite shot of the castle, from the second ring of defenses across the moat.

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

It is impossible to divine from the picture, but I actually got myself a slightly elevated vantage point in the form of a wooden dining table. And still, the angle remained visibly upward. I am starting to begrudge more professional – or simply more patient – photographers their ability to find better angles. That might explain my new-found willingness to lower my standards of behavior and climb with my feet onto a table in full view of disapproving public.

Be as it may, here are a few more upward angles with various perspectives of the castle.

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark


Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark


Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

The castle interior is a bit on underwhelming side. There are a few impressive spaces, some original tapestry, massive fireplaces, intricate ceilings, and interesting objects. But overall the impression it leaves is of being a bit empty and unadorned. Which, you will hear if you join a guided tour, only makes sense since the castle was never a permanent royal residence – it was mostly furnished with the travel furniture that the court brought along when it arrived.

Here are a couple of interior shots. The first is in the Great Hall.

Inside Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark


Inside Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

There are several different “routes” to explore the castle on your own, plus a separate chapel which inhabits the oldest original space within the walls. A fragment of chapel’s benches.

Inside Chapel at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

Inside the first ring of defenses, there is some impressive artillery on display.

Artillery at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark


Artillery at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

It was an interesting visit, although not to the level of being blown over by what we saw. I want to be careful in staying away from direct comparisons but it feels as if we have seen more awe-inducing castles on our travels. We spent a little under two hours at Kronborg, including the half-hour introductory guided tour. I have no doubt that a true connoisseur would find hours worth of exploration there.

Helsingør takes about 45 minutes to get to from Copenhagen central station; trains run every 20 minutes at their least frequent during the day. The walk to the castle from the station is another 10 minutes or so.

These and a few other pictures of Kronborg Castle have been added to my Copenhagen Flickr album (scroll to the end of second page).

Travel Album, World Heritage

Chasing World Heritage: #87 (Roskilde Cathedral)

August 22nd, 2015

As I posited a number of times on these pages, I combine secular attitudes with healthy dose of admiration for religious architecture. Due to the European-centric nature of my travels to-date, a few synagogues and Mezquita aside, most of such architecture that I encounter is of ecclesiastical nature. Since I rarely pass a chance to step inside a church for sometimes very quick or sometimes rather detailed look, I have to admit that after a while they start to blur. Each church obviously has its individual features, but without a truly standout or unique one – think Brunelleschi dome in Florence or the colorful domes of St Basil’s in Moscow or “whispering gallery” of St Paul’s in London – I recently find myself struggling to recall a defining element of many cathedrals that nonetheless appear marked as must-sees in my travel notes.

Roskilde Cathedral offers its standout feature on approach. It is built of bricks. Although I have seen one or two Brick Gothic buildings in my past travels (as well as a couple more later on this same trip), this is my first major point of interest where I have been actively aware that a magnificent edifice is made of bricks, as opposed to stone slabs. It helps to appreciate the architectural accomplishment when you recognize its relative uncommonness.

The cathedral is recognized by UNESCO as the earliest example of northern-european brick-built building which continued to influence religious architecture for hundreds of years. The original brick structure was built in 12th-13th centuries and then royal additions happened through centuries, the latest as recently as 30 years ago. There are plenty of impressive details inside the cathedral, and quite a number of lavishly executed royal tombs.

My photography remains lacking in that I cannot convey the magnificence in pictures. The task was not helped by the fact that the cathedral is fairly closed in by surrounding buildings – and I did not manage to find a remote elevated viewpoint to attempt to take the whole structure in. The exterior shots only reveal the cathedral in fragments. Here are a couple.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark


Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

The view along the nave away from the altar.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

Pulpits are always among my favorite details of any church.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

A view towards altar from the upper gallery.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

King Christian IV’s private box is one of the most jaw-dropping features of the cathedral’s interior.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

Of the many chapels in the cathedral each is impressive in its own right, and each is centered on a deceased royal family. Below is one of the chapels that happens to originate with the already mentioned king, Christian IV.

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

I will remember this foremost as a “brick cathedral”, but overall it is an outstanding example of sacred architecture, well worth its UNESCO designation.

These and other pictures of Roskilde Cathedral have been added to my Copenhagen Flickr album (scroll to the second page).

Roskilde can be reached in about 25 minutes from the main Copenhagen station via trains that run at least once every 20 minutes at off-peak times. A 10-minute walk from the station through the town center will take you to the cathedral. There are other points of interest in Roskilde (for instance, a viking ship museum) that may be worth checking out if you come to town with more than a single purpose in mind.

Travel Album, World Heritage

Highlights of Copenhagen

August 19th, 2015
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Northern European capitals get short shrift when compared to their more southern counterparts. The overall “tourist attraction quotient” – including things like can’t-miss museums, famous art collections, street ambiance, food scene, night life, etc. – is probably lower in places like Copenhagen or Stockholm compared to the likes of Paris or Rome.

To say nothing of the weather factor.

Nonetheless, Copenhagen – the first stop on our recent itinerary – did its best to charm with its colorful and grand architecture, intimate and wide spaces, impressive points of interest, and sufficiently non-threatening skies. (We also had superb culinary experiences on every one of our nights in town, which obviously only helped the overall impression.)

Here is the view of the city center from the viewing platform atop Church of Our Savior.

Copenhagen view from the tower of Church of Our Savior

The dominating tower on the left belongs to Christiansborg Palace, one of four major royal palaces inside the city boundaries. It is now primarily the seat of government, in addition to allowing access to the royal apartments and two other museums.

The winter residence of the royal family, Amalienborg, holds daily changing of the guard ceremonies that are a big tourist attraction. If you ask me, the ceremony is quite boring, but when the crowds disperse afterwards the view of the square and the Marble Church nearby is fantastic.

Amalienborg Palace Square and Frederiks (Marble) Church, Copenhagen

“Marble Church” is a nickname, officially this church is called Frederik’s – and it is one of the most impressive churches in town, in no small part on the account of its massive dome. Among the statuary under the dome are these saints that are seemingly engaged in some theological disagreement.

Fragment of Marble Church, Copenhagen

One of the most striking buildings in Copenhagen is the Old Stock Exchange, built in 17th century.

Old Stock Exchange, Copenhagen

Caritas Well (Caritasbrønden, in Danish) is the oldest fountain in Copenhagen, over 400 years old now. It sits on a square that is part of the Strøget pedestrain zone in the historic city center.

Caritas Well, Gammeltorv, Copenhagen

We climbed not one but two elevated points in Copenhagen. The tower of the Church of Our Savior that provided the opening shot of this essay is a more celebrated – and, in a sense, more exciting – high viewpoint, but the platform atop the Round Tower is easier to reach, offers more space, and I would argue facilitates better perspectives of the city roof line.

Here is one shot from Round Tower (Rundetårn, sometimes spelled as Rundetaarn), with the spire of St Peter’s Church in focus.

View from Round Tower with St Peter Church, Copenhagen

And another perspective, with the imposing tower of St Nicholas Church in the foreground and the Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelsers Kirke) seen farther back.

View from Round Tower with St Nicholas Church, Copenhagen

And a view over one of the pedestrian streets of central Copenhagen, Købmagergade.

View from Round Tower over Købmagergade, Copenhagen


In Copenhagen

I made no records and have not been able to figure out what this statue on the leafy square next to Round Tower may represent, but it made for a nice composition.

In Copenhagen

One of the most colorful areas not just in Copenhagen but in all of Europe is Nyhavn. It was awfully hard for me to pick just a couple of shots of its canalside buildings from among many for this essay.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen


Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Love locks craze is everywhere. Copenhagen is no exception.

Love locks at Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Colorful houses appear on many central streets.

In Copenhagen

Sometimes it is not the house itself but a shop sign at the entrance that attracts attention.

Shop sign in Copenhagen, Copenhagen

The mix of old and new architecture is frequently seen in different parts of Copenhagen. This juxtaposition of Christian’s Church and some harborside modern buildings is an example.

Old and new in Copenhagen

On the other side of the harbor, the modern photographic museum on the right contrasts with more aged look of the museum of military history on the left, Jewish museum on the right back, and the tower of Christiansborg in the background.

Harborside in Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle Gardens (frequently called Kongens Have, or King’s Gardens) is the large tranquil park in the city center that is home to several diversions. Rosenborg Castle, in the background of the next shot, is my favorite of the royal palaces in Copenhagen, both exterior- and interior-wise.

Rosenborg Castle Gardens, Copenhagen

This fearsome earth-bound gargoyle and its brethren guard the City Hall.

On City Hall Square, Copenhagen

And around the corner one can find a statue of one of the most famous Danes in history, Hans-Christian Andersen.

Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen

There is also an Andersen statue inside Kongens Have.

Another point of interest related to Andersen is the statue of the Little Mermaid, located on the waterfront to the north of city center. The sculpture is one of the most popular attractions in Copenhagen, but I would be hard-pressed to explain why.

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

It is a nice sculpture, I suppose.

On the way to seeing the Mermaid, one can pass the impressive Gefion Fountain and the beautiful Church of St Alban.

St Albans Church and Gefion Fountain, Copenhagen

Old Navy barracks are a frequent feature in different areas of town. These days, some house small museums while others are being redeveloped into residential or business spaces.

Old Navy barracks, Copenhagen

Christianshavn is a residential area to the south of historic city core with a lot of attractive architecture and appreciable laid-back feel. The main canal that goes through it is chock-full of boats.

Christianshavn Canal, Copenhagen


Boats on Christianshavn Canal, Copenhagen

Here is a street in Christianshavn which is home to the already mentioned Church of Our Savior.

In Christianshavn, Copenhagen

You can see the exterior spiral stairs that lead to nearly the very top of the church – yes, we climbed that, how could we not!?

Overall, Copenhagen certainly achieved a “would like to come back” status in our hearts. There is plenty to see and do and plenty to admire.

These and nearly a hundred other shots from Copenhagen can be seen in a new Flickr album.

Travel Album