Biking to Point Reyes Lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore

We did just a short ride, 8.5 miles each way, from Point Reyes Beach North to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. But along the round trip we made 2,400 feet of elevation gain, with slow pedaling uphill. Thank goodness for an e-bike for Nancy and strong legs and lungs for Michael.

Lots of long, rather steep hills like this, where Nancy had plenty of time to get off the e-bike and rest…
while waiting for Michael to slowly make his way to the top.

Here’s a Strava map showing elevation changes out and back.

Surprisingly this turned out to be a wildlife tour, almost as good as Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, we weren’t expecting so much variety of flora and fauna, so we had only our i-phones, not the best for capturing animals at a distance. We saw elk with huge sets of antlers. These are not the same elk that we met in the Tetons; they’re tule elk, endemic to California. The species was almost extinct in the 1800s, but a small herd was nurtured and the population in the area is now roughly 400. We crossed paths with about 50 of them (at a distance, of course). Interestingly, the males seemed to hang around with their buddies without fighting or trying to rule a harem of females. They even mingled with the local cow population.

The light-colored animals with antlers are the tule elk. The dark ones are not.

We also saw birds of prey, deer and maybe mule deer.

Who is more curious? Us or the animals?

Several large herds of cows were free-ranging during the day and then headed to crowded barn lots in the late afternoon. We stopped to watch a coyote eyeballing one small group of cows with a newborn calf, probably hoping for dinner. He ran off when we started eyeballing him.

Newborn calf wobbling unsteadily on the right. Frustrated coyote skulking away on the left.

We heard sea lions on the rocks but couldn’t spot them.

The surf was filled with bobbing black blobs, but we decided they were probably seaweed rather than sea lions.

Gray whales pass the promontory at the lighthouse and we observed lots of spouts in the distance.

A couple spouts in this picture. Can you see them?

The seashore itself lived up to the promise of “thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands and expansive sand beaches,” the description from the National Park Service. We saw and heard raging waves of white surf against golden sand under a blue sky. The primo viewing spot is from the South Beach Overlook, with breaking waves stretching for miles.

Point Reyes National Seashore South Beach Overlook

Much of the shoreline is sand dunes, often covered by a pretty green and red succulent that seemed to be keeping the area stable, at least preventing the wind from blowing the sand around. This is ice plant, which was introduced to the region from South Africa in the early 1900s for erosion control.

Ice plant on the dunes almost looks a bit Van Goghish.

The ice plant has a very pretty flower.

Ice plant in bloom

Unfortunately ice plants are hugely invasive, taking over anywhere they are planted and spreading rapidly. They prevent native species from getting water and nutrients, killing off any other vegetation. They don’t actually control erosion because the sand shifts under their shallow roots. So various efforts have been undertaken to try to remove ice plant. We learned about this from an information plaque that praised the efforts of volunteers to remove ice plant from 180 acres of the Point Reyes Headlands. The plaque was, you guessed it, in the middle of an invasive mat of ice plant.

Ice plant removal is an environmental version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a seemingly impossible task.

Finally, the lighthouse itself…Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and operated as a manned station for more than a century. Now an automated light and fog horn are in place near the historic site to provide important navigational aid around the rocky shoreline. Stephen has climbed down and back up the 313 steps to the buildings, 25 stories! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the stairs were locked off during our visit so we couldn’t make the descent.

Long walk down. Even longer walk back up.

Visited October 2021

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Church of the Day – The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Truckee, California

We are featuring a very local church of the day. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church is one of the oldest religious organizations in the Truckee area. We drive and bike past the building often, but didn’t stop for a look until one of our readers suggested it. (Thanks, Tom!)

The church welcomes Truckee residents and visitors, actually anyone!

This church looks relatively new, and it is. The organization’s original structure was built in 1869 to serve the thousands of Portuguese, Italian and Irish Catholics who worked on the building of the Transcontinental Railway, a really big deal for Truckee and the Sierra region. Given that the railway was the hub of activity, the church was actually built on railway land, offering convenience for parishioners to attend services without having to travel far. A bell tower was added in 1883.

That church building burned in 1890 and was reconstructed in the same spot, with the bell tower rebuilt as well. The church moved in 1907 to Church Street (named after a wagon driver named Eli Church, not after the several churches located there). In 1949, construction for highway 267 (which now goes to Northstar) forced one more move, this time to the current location. It’s a couple miles from the center of Truckee, but very easy to get to on a bike path or road. The church, offices and rectory, as they appear today, were completed in 2011. The original church bell, cast in 1878, is in safe keeping off-site until a final location is identified.

Inside the church are seven lovely stained-glass windows. Scenes depict the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Saint Pius X, Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony, Saint Patrick, and Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Irish, New York, Nevada and local Truckee families donated the stained glass to honor their loved ones.

The altar has a colorful backdrop of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary which reflects beautifully in the polished floor of the church.

The Stations of the Cross are simple and literal. Here in the First Station, Pontius Pilate is depicted in the act of washing his hands of the condemnation of Jesus Christ.

First Station of the Cross

Today, the congregation is made up of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners. The pastor, Rev. Vincent R. Juan, delivers sermons in either English or Spanish. There is a sister church, Our Lady of the Lake, in nearby Kings Beach on Lake Tahoe. As expected, the Virgin of Guadalupe, popular among Mexican and Latin American parishioners, has a prominent position on the wall.

The Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe

While we were visiting, a church school group came out on the lawn to practice The Lord’s Prayer. Each child had a laminated strip with a short phrase and they had to line up to get the whole thing in the right order, all under the watchful eye of Jesus.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Before the COVID pandemic, roughly coinciding with the 150th anniversary, the parish planned a building project to create a church with a 500-person capacity. Unfortunately, as with so many other organizations, COVID’s limitations on participation has imposed financial hardship, not only slowing the construction plans, but also causing difficulty in everyday operations. If you want to contribute to the church fund, check out the official website

Pope Francis blessed the 150th anniversary of the church.

Much of the historical information comes from the Truckee Donner Historical Society, a great place to learn about the amazing history of the Truckee/Tahoe region.

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Grape Harvest at Buena Vista Winery

It’s autumn and time for the crush in California’s wine country. With visions of Lucy stomping grapes in a vat, we visited Buena Vista Winery, the oldest premium winery in the region, for a crush brunch.

First and finest!

The approach to the winery is a walk through history. Having visited Scandinavia recently, we weren’t quite sure why Leif Ericsson showed up at a winery in California. It turns out he discovered VINland, the wine land of North America.

That’s Leif on the left behind Christopher Columbus, with Juan Cabrillo in the back on the right.
Buena vista (good view) of the brunch setting

Actually the brunch was mostly an excuse to sample some of Buena Vista’s delicious wines, starting with sparkling brut rose and mimosas.

Bubbles, check. Clarity, check. rosy pink color, check. Taste, double check!

We stayed sober enough to learn a bit about the process. The winemaker explained that the grape harvest this year is yummy, very little fire and smoke in the region to threaten flavor, and perfect weather in recent weeks to aid the ripening.

Still some green on the vines…

As a hands-on activity, the staff had brought bins of grapes to be sorted and separated on the shaking machine. First is a horizontal conveyor and shaker with workers removing defective grapes by hand. Michael and Stephen got into this.

Is grape harvesting a possible post-retirement career for these two?

Next the bunches of grapes get a ride up a conveyor to the automated separator, which removes grapes from stems and leaves, resulting in a bin of “mostly grapes.”

The “mostly grapes” bin

Interestingly, the separated stem material still seemed to have a substantial number of grapes attached. The winemaker explained that this was a feature, not a failure, of the equipment. Closer inspection revealed that many of the retained grapes were well on their way to raisin status. These wizened grapes had some defect while growing and they clung to the vine much more strongly than the good grapes, which dropped off the stems quite easily.

Reject material

The “good grapes” are then dumped in large vats to age for up to 30 days before they are further processed.

The wine is held in barrels until it is ready for bottling.

Besides its functionality as a center for winemaking, Buena Vista is a nice spot for events. Perhaps an engagement…

Followed by a wedding dinner.

A wedding amid all these cutting tools could be very romantic, right?

For an extra fee you can get engaged in the Bubble Lounge.

We had the opportunity to sample a 2020 red wine from the barrel. Exquisite!

Kathy: “More, please.”

With that, a final toast to say good-bye until next fall…

Enjoying the good view.

a Stephen selfie to remember the day…

and a few bottles of Buena Vista Winery’s great reds to add to Kathy’s cellar.

Goodbye from Buena Vista!

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How was traveling in Scandinavia a year and a half into the coronavirus pandemic?

Now that we are past any country-to-country travel restrictions and safe on the ground in the US, we can claim success in navigating requirements and avoiding catching COVID (testing confirmed!) Our most important learning was that EVERY government makes assessments individually, with changes to its rules happening fast, sometimes overnight. What was true during our planning in July didn’t always apply in August and September.

Getting There

Our travels included flights from San Francisco to Amsterdam to Copenhagen, a train to Sweden, and flights from Stockholm to Amsterdam and finally DC.

Netherlands required an attestation of not having the virus, a simple paper form we could fill out before getting on the plane in SFO. This seemed to be the country with the most restrictions and the highest compliance. Masks were required on public transportation. Enforcers on buses and trams reminded passengers to wear them. Restaurants allowed indoor seating only with presentation of proof of full vaccination. Our US vaccination cards and digital records worked, with no requirement for additional tests or quarantine. There were numerous testing sites and big signs for vaccination centers.

Just as we were returning to the US via Amsterdam, Netherlands removed the US from its list of epidemiologically SAFE countries. “According to the Netherlands’ government, vaccinated travellers from the United States are obliged to follow the ten-day mandatory quarantine rule when entering the Netherlands.” That would have eaten nearly our whole trip if it had been in place when we first arrived. We’re not sure what we would have done if they had said this rule applied to us when we returned from Stockholm to Amsterdam to stay one night before flying to DC.

Denmark required a negative COVID test before being allowed into the country. With proof of approved full vaccination, anyone could enter from the US, with no requirements for testing or quarantine on arrival. We also completed an attestation of not having the virus. That was easy. They had the same nominal requirements for masks on public transportation, but less compliance. We were never checked for vaccination upon going into restaurants.

Getting into Sweden was super easy because we were already in Denmark.

“From 31 May 2021 regular entry requirements are enforced for foreigners entering Sweden directly from Denmark, Finland, Iceland or Norway, meaning it is no longer necessary to be covered by an exemption or present a negative COVID test. This is regardless of the foreigner’s citizenship. Sweden will always apply entry regulations according to the last country you enter from, even if this is only a transit country.”

This seemed too good to be true, but it was true. There were NO border checks with our train ride from Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden, so we don’t know how they would have checked our COVID status even if they wanted to. Swedes didn’t seem to have much concern about the virus. Masks were mentioned. Signs on the floor said to stay 1.5 or 2 meters apart, but there was little compliance.

In one of the churches we visited we asked the pastor if COVID had affected his parish. He said yes, of course. Most of the parishioners, including him and his family, had gotten it and it wasn’t too bad. He added that some of the older parishioners had passed away. He had taken over as head of the church a year earlier. We wondered if he was there because the former pastor was one of the seniors who had died. Rest in peace to those who left this world too soon.

Cleanliness is next to godliness…

Norway was a different story. We had planned on going there to visit the birthplace of many of Nancy’s ancestors, but the country wouldn’t even let us fly in when we were looking at options in July. Once we were on the ground in Gothenburg, less than a 4-hour drive from Oslo, we thought we MIGHT have been able to drive or take the train across the border with our vaccine cards, but by then we had everything booked in Sweden, with no extra time or energy to make changes. And, to be honest, we were facing COVID information overload, with too many details and updates to be confident in our options. So someday we will go back to Scandinavia to visit Nancy’s ancestral sites in Tromsø and see the fjords and northern lights.

Getting Home

Yikes! We almost didn’t realize that we needed to have a COVID test before being allowed back in the US (mostly because we didn’t even think about it). Fortunately, it was very easy to get an antigen test just a few blocks from our hotel. We did have to pay for it, about $60 each, but we got the results back in 20 minutes. Barely a dent in our time allowed for exploring. Best news: NEGATIVE!

Two test sites within a 2-minute walk (or scooter ride) on Vasagatan in Stockholm

When we were ready to leave, we had a bit of anxiety from the Stockholm airport folks who said our antigen test was good for only two days, not three days!!! One other passenger was turned away because of this and told to get another test and arrange a flight the next day. Fortunately, they accepted our full vaccination proof instead of requiring a different test.

Stockholm to Amsterdam was the least compliant flight of our trip, with immortal 20-somethings blatantly defying the rule to keep masks on during the Norwegian Air flight, right under the noses of the flight attendants.

When we finally left Amsterdam, timing of which was at the end of our 3-day test acceptance, we were “perfect,” according to the fastidious KLM agent. We were relieved and elated!


Odin is the king of the Norse gods, associated with, among other things, wisdom and healing. Maybe he was watching over us on this trip. As we return from Odin’s Land, enjoy this little ditty from Todd Rundgren about being a Viking (of some note). The Vikings had much worse travel issues than we did.

Song of the Viking by Todd Rundgren

“Caught a wind and we upped the sail
Lost two ships when it turned to a gale
Down went a third when she rammed on a whale
Though we despaired we could not fail…”

We were happy that we didn’t lose any ships on this trip.

Tips for international travel during COVID:

  • Check (and recheck again and again) the official foreign country travel site, the US State Department travel site, and your airline’s site for CURRENT rules, specifically for visitors from your country. (Our links are a start, but do your own research.)
  • Be sure to check (and recheck) RETURN requirements.
  • Have hard copies and digital copies of ALL your travel documents and health documents.
  • Have your digital devices (phones) fully charged to be able to show digital documents even if you experience delays.
  • Be flexible in case something changes and you have to accommodate the change.

We visited during August and September 2021.

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Amazing Artwork of Habo Kyrka, Jönköping, Sweden

The stunning interior of Habo Kyrka was painted by two of Jönköping’s master painters, Johan Kinnerus and Johan Christian Peterson, along with their apprentices, Joachim Conrad Schwartz and Peter Edberg. For their work they were paid 1000 riksdaler. This sum included the artists’ providing their own paint, which they made from scratch. We think this amount would be about $55,000 US today, not a lot for three years of work from four people. Kinnerus’s style was old-fashioned and his colors generally dark. Peterson had a more modern style with lighter and brighter colors. As you look at the paintings you will begin to see who painted which scenes. The style of the art is called “Peasant Baroque,” an appropriate description for art that is simple yet dramatic.

The striking bell tower outside Habo Kyrka. See the even more striking artwork inside…

It’s almost impossible to find a spot inside Habo Kyrka that is not covered with paintings with meaningful lessons, all painted on the original wooden planks of the walls and ceiling. The ground floor has the Ten Commandments. The Apostles Creed is below the galleries and the Lord’s Prayer is above the galleries. The ceiling has important biblical scenes such as the baptism of Jesus and the Last Supper. In essence the entire interior of the church is an illustrated guide to Luther’s Small Catechism, which all parishioners were expected to have memorized. Given low literacy rates centuries ago, the very detailed paintings were exceptional visual aids for communicating religious stories repetitiously and helping parishioners to remember them and reflect upon them over and over. Luther said, “If anyone does not seek or desire the Lord’s Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian.” All the parishioners had to do was look up each week to be reminded.

The Ten Commandments

Habo Kyrka’s illustrations of the Ten Commandments generally depict someone breaking the commandment, with a teaching example from the Bible. We needed help deciphering some of the commandments and Präst Andreas provided a thorough description of those where we were stumped, along with a helpful key to 18th-century German/Gothic lettering. (see below)

The 1st Commandment (“Worship no god but me.”) The illustration is Exodus 32, where after a long absence by Moses, the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ “

Later: “The Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.”

The 2nd Commandment (“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for he who misuses His name shall not go unpunished.” At the end there is also a reference to the third book of Moses (Leviticus) 24:10. “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: “Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.”‘”

How would these old-time stoners react to hearing OMG! on a regular basis?

The 5th Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill.”) Cain has murdered Abel. By the 1700s we can assume there wasn’t a whole lot of killing going on among the parishioners on a regular basis. The lesson of this commandment can go a bit deeper. Do not kill your fellow man’s (or woman’s) spirit with harsh words and deeds, for an actual murder is rarely committed without first having other negative thoughts and actions. Be your brothers’ keeper and bring goodness and blessings to their lives rather than pain or sadness (or death).

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The 6th Commandment. The text simply says, roughly translated: “You shall not commit whore (adultery or rape).” Below the text is a reference to the first book of Moses (Genesis) 34:26. This is the story about when Simon and Levi, sons of Jacob, killed Hamor and his son Shekem, as revenge for them defiling their sister Dinah. Without the Bible reference it’s quite impossible to guess, just from the image. (Despite the 5th Commandment’s rule “Thou shalt not kill,” there is a lot of killing going on for breaking the other commandments.)

If you break the 6th Commandment, expect to be put to death.

The 8th commandment. The text says, “You shall not bear false witness against your next. The story of Susanna.” (“Next” is how Swedes translate what we translate as “neighbor.”) We understand from the writing that the picture illustrates the story of Susanna, but there is no Bible reference, and this is quite a tricky one because the very interesting story of Susanna is found in the apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel.   

Susanna is saved. The ones who bore false witness? They were put to death.

The 10th Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife or goods.”) This painting of Joseph, who was accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife, is an interesting selection for the commandment because she is the one coveting someone who is not her husband. Is it surprising that a passage with gender roles reversed was chosen way back in the 1700s? The illustration could also be appropriate for the 7th Commandment (“Thou shall not commit adultery.”) If you are a musical theater fan, you might remember the way “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” depicted this story of Potiphar’s wife. Art comes in all forms.

Joseph was imprisoned but ultimately redeemed because the Lord was with him.

Paintings on the ceiling

In the Last Supper or the Holy Communion, note the devil crawling in from the bottom and Judas heading for the door. This is the second time in Sweden we’ve seen Judas portrayed as departing, in contrast to his position seated at the table in da Vinci’s and other versions of the Last Supper. Note too the figure in green next to Jesus. With a clean-shaven face and somewhat feminine features, this figure aligns with the theory that Mary Magdalene rather than the apostle John is seated next to Jesus. What inspired the painter to make this representation?

At the Last Supper, Jesus said that one of them would betray him.

Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). This gives Saint Peter the authority to lead the church after Jesus ascends to heaven.

Papal authority continues at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.

Jesus is baptized by Saint John. (Matthew 3:13-17) “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus is baptized by John. The Spirit of God descends like a dove.

The Apostles Creed* is below the galleries. Each section has an apostle with one of the 12 verses. According to medieval tradition each apostle wrote one of the verses. 

Präst Andreas shared some insight on the depiction of Saint Peter holding a key. Two words are written to the left of him: “Hiddekel” and “Phrat,” which mean Tigris and Euphrates, two of the four waterways that separated from the river that flowed up from the garden of Eden (1 Mos 2:10-14). The old Persian name for Hiddekel was Tigra, and this is the origin of the Greek name Tigris. In Arabic it is called Shatt Dijla. The twin rivers Tigris and Euphrates water the Mesopotamian plain. One theory is that the place where Eden used to be is now situated in the Persian Gulf and that it was covered by water thousands of years ago. The connection to Saint Peter here is not obviously clear, but there is a luscious fruit tree to the right of him, so most likely Saint Peter is standing in, or just outside, the garden of Eden, to which he has been given the key.

Saint Peter as depicted still holding the key to heaven. What is the significance of the deer? One looks like a unicorn but of course there are no unicorns in the Bible.

Doubting Thomas was so busy reading a book (today he would be looking at an iphone) that he didn’t notice the miracles surrounding him. When the other disciples said they had seen the resurrected Jesus, he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”…Then when Jesus appeared he told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29.

The lesson: Have faith with or without proof positive of the Lord’s existence.

An additional bit of background: According to Präst Andreas and the church guide, when one of the artists was painting the devil in the “…but deliver us from evil” portion of the Lord’s Prayer high up near the ceiling, the devil said to the artist, “I am ugly but not as ugly as you have painted me. And now I will make you even uglier!” The painter fell off the scaffolding. He was injured and said he was not coming back because the devil had gotten him. The congregation was not happy because they had a contract with him to paint the entire church. A legal lawsuit ensued and the judge told the artist he had to honor his contract, so reluctantly he came back and completed the work in the church. Thank goodness for contract law!

When you’re painting the devil and a victorious Death is standing on the pulpit next to you, falling seems almost inevitable.

From Präst Andreas, here is the 18th-century German/Gothic style lettering guide. Of course, the words above would be in Swedish, requiring translation to English. If you can decipher anything more in the paintings , please share!

We visited Habo Kyrka in September, 2021.


*Apostles’ Creed (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.*

On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

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Stockholm, the Venice of the North

Stockholm was established as a city in the 1200s, but it had Stone Age settlements nearly 2000 years before that. Like Venice, Stockholm is a charming place of canals and islands. The Swedish Atoll has 30,000 islands, according to Swedish tourism sites, although some may be little more than uninhabited rocks in the water.

Cruise boats in Stockholm don’t dwarf the neighborhood the way they do in Venice.

The city itself has 14 islands. We visited most of them simply by walking across short and wide bridges. Unlike Venice, Stockholm is filled with cars, bicycles and wide streets. We joined a walking tour of Gamla Stan, the Old Town, on Stadsholmen island, conveniently a 10-minute stroll from our hotel. Stortorget is the main square and one of the most popular spots in the city for visiting tourists. (Look at top Stockholm Instagram hits for proof.)

18-20 Stortorget, a great place for a morning coffee and cinnamon roll

One of the top photo backdrops is the distinctive and pleasing architecture of number 18-20, brightly painted in orange and red. The Nobel Prize Museum is also on the square, celebrating the winners of prestigious prizes endowed by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and other tools of war. Despite the peaceful appearance, the square was the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath, a three-day execution by decapitation of nearly 100 Swedish royals and aristocrats in 1520 by the Danes. They worked with the Archbishop of Uppsala to justify the killings because of the heresy of the accused: a fine example of religious justification of violent acts. Count the white squares in the red building, said to match the number of people beheaded. According to legend, blood ran into the well in the center of the square and spewed out tainted pink water for weeks. Stortorget’s well from the 1700s was removed after the square rose above the water level, but reinstalled in the original spot in the 1950s. Today the water trickling out is actually sourced via pipes from Stockholm’s pure, fresh, clean city supply. Good to know.

We were encouraged EVERYWHERE to drink the clean and delicious Swedish water; however, we passed on the opportunity to sample this well.

Nearby is a runestone dated to the late 11th century. If you wonder about the inscription, ᚦᚬᚱ [..] ᛅᛁᚾ ᛫ ᛅᚢᚴ ᛫ ᛫ ᚠᚱᛅᚤᚴᚢᚾ ᛫ ᚦᛅᚢ […] ᛫ ᛋᛏᛅᛁᚾ ᛫ ᛁᚠᛏᛁᛦ […] ᛋᚢᚾ ᛋᛁᚾ, it has been translated to “Torsten and Frögunn they (let travel) the stone after …, their son.” Clear, right? Not much else is known.

U 53 runestone, an ancient mystery

Housing in Stockholm’s more posh areas can be very expensive and has been so for generations. Look at the windows at the left-center of this image. See anything unusual? We heard two stories: Either glass was very expensive in olden times or owners changed real windows to fake ones to avoid paying a tax that was imposed based on number of windows rather than based on size or value of the property. Probably both of these underlying causes contributed to the unique “windows” here.

They’re not real windows! So if the tax no longer exists, why not redo real windows?

As we walked from one island to another, we passed the Sager House, the Swedish prime minister’s home, a nondescript pale-yellow building with no visible security. It’s across the water from the Swedish Parliament and Swedish Royal Palace, so it’s a quick bridge crossing for Prime Minister Stefan Löfven or his entourage.

Sager House, home of a very important country leader. Where are the guards with semi-automatics?

Sweden has their changing of the guard, sometimes marching to ABBA songs! However, with cautious conditions during COVID, the pageantry is a bit subdued.

They’re just marching along, but we’re listening to “Dancing Queen” in our heads.

We saw Gustav Adolf II again (after meeting him in Gothenburg). Like St. Erik, he died young (age 37) after assuming the throne at age 16. The statue is very close to the parliament building and the spot where Greta Thunburg began doing Friday for Future protests as a 15-year-old in 2018.

Gustav Adolf II, king of Sweden from 1611 to 1632

Like Venice with its winged lion, Stockholm seems to love lions. The mighty beasts have historically been an important part of the Kingdom of Sweden’s coat of arms, but with forked tails instead of the wings of Venice’s lions. The Kungsträdgården, the King’s Garden, was part of the formal royal garden in earlier centuries. Today four large lions guard a statue of King Karl XIII, who ruled Sweden from 1809 and Norway also from 1814 to 1818. The large park has a beautiful sunken pool with fountains and it’s surrounded by stepped seating, perfect for enjoying the early autumn days when we were there. It’s a skating rink in winter. Ironically the focal point at the end of the pool is…a TGIFridays.

Note the crowns of Sweden and Norway on the globe.

Stockholm’s recent lion additions come in three different sizes (plus small tourist souvenirs). They’re actually concrete barriers installed after a violent attack in 2017 (a 10-minute walk in a different direction from our hotel), during which a terrorist drove a truck into sidewalk crowds, killing five people. These barriers are so much better than the plain block curbstones we normally see in the US. With smiling lion faces, they’re good for kids to play on and offer seniors frequent spots to stop and take a rest.

This is the medium lion barrier. The big ones weigh three tons each.

Stockholm is known for the artwork in 90 or so of its metro stations. We saw about a dozen of the stations in the city, each unique, some more appealing than others. It reminded us a bit of the Palettes of Keuka! This one at the Central Station (our most frequent stop) was one of our favorites.

The 1950s tiling is a bit reminiscent of blue azulejos tiles in Portugal.

We visited one of the smallest statues in the world, “Järnpojke,” “Iron Boy” or “Little Boy Looking at the Moon.” It’s about six inches tall, barely taller than its names are long! The idea behind this artwork by Liss Eriksson is that the boy (perhaps Liss himself) couldn’t sleep, but looking up at the moon calmed him and sent him off to dreamland. Stories suggest good luck or a return to Stockholm for anyone who leaves a gift or rubs his head. That explains the shine. Our tour guide told us if we rubbed the boy’s head we would get pregnant. No news yet on that front…

Tourists from several countries left the little iron boy small-denomination coins.

We returned at night to see the “moon” shining on the boy, still awake apparently. (It’s a small pinpoint of light mounted on a nearby building.)

Hmm…What happened to the other coins?

We don’t hear much about Swedish royalty in the US, but it’s quite fascinating to the locals. Prince Carl Philip’s mother was of German and Brazilian descent and his Danish-Swedish wife was once a model. He was first in line to the throne until a 1980 matrilineal primogeniture ruling gave his older sister Crown Princess Victoria that role, honoring birth order before gender. (You go, girl!) Victoria’s two kids are ahead of Carl Philip now too. Victoria married her former personal trainer. Victoria’s and Carl’s younger sister, Madeleine, married a British-American businessman. The entire Swedish side of the royal family is descended from the House of Bernadotte, who come from France, under the service of Napoleon. If you expected Swedish royalty to be blond-haired and blue-eyed, it just isn’t the case. In any event, the royals get their share of paparazzi treatment.

Prince Carl Philip, the tall, dark, handsome guy at the bottom, can still sell a magazine even though he’s only fourth in line to the throne.

While we were in Scandinavia the big news was the announcement of ABBA’s new Voyage tour, 40 years after their last joint public appearance. If you like ABBA—and honestly, how could you not?—the new songs will bring back fantastic memories. The voices are still as great as when they represented Sweden and won the Eurovision singing competition in 1974 with “Waterloo.” The rest is history. The twist for this tour is Agnetha, Björn, Bennie and Anni-Frid, now in their 70s, will have digital ABBAtars of the dancing rock stars so they will be seen as youthful images on the big screens at concerts. Something to look forward to in 2022. “Thank You for the Music!”

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Church of the Day – Habo Kyrka, Jönköping, Sweden

We rented a car to make a scenic 500-mile drive across southern Sweden from Malmö to Uppsala. On the way we stopped near the little village of Habo north of Jönköping along Lake Vättern to visit their local church. What a delightful find! Built in 1723, this “Wooden Cathedral” contains amazing religious artworks.

Habo Kyrka, plain red clapboard on the outside, but astounding on the inside.

The farm buildings we passed on our drive were painted bright red, with intact roofs, no swayback falling-down barns anywhere. From the outside, Habo Kyrka resembles these well-kept buildings, with solid construction and not a lot of ornamentation. We learned that a church renovation uncovered the baptismal font (from 1250) in a storage area and it contained traces of red, having been used to mix paint during maintenance of the building’s exterior.

Beautiful symmetry and simplicity: Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors to see all the people (and the art!)

The spire atop Habo Church is empty. A separate exterior tower was built in 1760 to hold the weight of three swinging bells, two of them from the 16th century. The bell tower’s structural design looks a bit like the tripods of the fighting machines in The War of the Worlds, but the tolling of the bells is quite lovely.

It was a perfect late summer Saturday morning and we arrived in the middle of a baptism ceremony, always a good sign that we have found an actual working church. (We were not the only interested tourists popping our heads in. Pardon the interruption!)

Notice the very busy walls and ceiling of the church, with religious paintings of the Catechism covering nearly every square inch of the interior. (More photos and info on the artwork of Habo Kyrka here.) The sanctuary has a lower level for families and an upper level for the young unmarried men and women, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. Through the 1800s, families separated for services and all the women sat on the left “spinnside” and the men on the right “swordside.” 

The lower part of the 14th-century altar depicts Jesus’s death and burial. With his resurrection at the top, Jesus holds the flag of victory. The two figures at the bottom are Moses carrying the Ten Commandments and his brother Aaron holding the sprouting stick. The clock is quite unusual in altarpieces. This one from 1750 only marks the hours—no minutes visible—with the boy above the clock striking iron cymbals with a hammer on the hour.

The altar is made of sandstone and was consecrated by the 14th-century bishop of Skara.

The 12 apostles are sculpted around the pulpit. Notice that each is depicted with unique characteristics and a personally identifiable implement, such as a square rule for James and a spear for Thomas. Jesus is in the middle and Death is at the top holding a scythe. Death may look victorious, but the sculpture of the risen Christ on the altar is higher in elevation than Death on the pulpit, providing important symbolism of resurrection.

An interesting feature of the church architecture is the presence of six private gentry boxes alongside the altar. From here the owners of country estates could observe the service after arriving via a private entrance. (The practice is not very different from VIPs using private suites at football stadiums today.)

Here is the view from one of the private boxes looking out to the pews, with today’s seating accommodating about 600 parishioners. Through the 1800s the church had seating for up to 2,000 people, primarily farmers and crafters. Did the gentry of old imagine that all these parishioners were looking at them when they faced the altar?

Notice the slight pink tinge of the baptismal font from its time of use as a “mortar for mixing red paint.”

Behind the private boxes are rooms where the high and mighty would take meals with invited guests. This space has been converted to the children’s room and an area for preparations for ceremonies. Look carefully around the top of the room and you can see new copper pipes for a fire suppression system, a major fire protection project completed in 2006. It’s a relief to see the pipes because it would be a huge cultural loss if this church ever caught fire and was destroyed. Präst Andreas, in the photo, spoke with us after the baptism. He was absolutely wonderful in showing us all over the church and relating some of its history.

The very old, very dry wood of the “Wooden Cathedral” thankfully has modern protection.

This is the upper deck seating for young unmarried men and boys.

Sit up straight and listen to the sermon.

Just across the way sat the young unmarried women and girls. A wink and a nod at Sunday services may have started many a relationship.

In this view toward the back, the woman below the altar is Queen Ulrika Eleonora the Younger holding different instruments. She was known to be a devout Lutheran. She loved music and played the clavier, although that keyboard instrument is not shown here. She was Sweden’s queen from 1719 to 1720, but then she abdicated to allow her husband Frederick I to take the throne.

The original pipes and façade from 1736 have been restored and placed in the 1962 organ.

The first religious structure at this spot is believed to have been built in the 12th century. The church standing here in 1622 had a different shape, with three towers (see the seal below). It was rebuilt later with its current architecture of late provincial baroque. Over time the Habo Kyrka site became a meeting place at the junction of seven roads. However, the center of town shifted several miles away when a railway was built.

Habo Kyrka is one of many pilgrimage spots for the Church of Sweden (Svenska Kyrkan). Whether you drive, bike or walk here, the church is a beautiful destination. Come for a peaceful respite, spiritual renewal or simply to appreciate the exquisite art inside.

Visit Habo Kyrka and get your pilgrimage passport stamp.

Visited in September 2021

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Construction in Stockholm

So many of the beautiful churches and government buildings in Stockholm are partially hidden from view by scaffolding. We were a bit disappointed and didn’t bother taking pics of construction sites. As we were leaving Sweden we realized construction here is “a thing.” We thought we were back in Shanghai in the late 1990s with cranes visible in every direction.

A Gamla Stan (Old Town) view from far away showing a small sample of active construction projects.

The structure wrapped in white above is St. Nicholas Church, Storkykran, the Stockholm Cathedral, the mother church of the Church of Sweden, Svenska Kyrkan. It’s the oldest church in Gamla Stan and one of Michael’s top targets for church of the day. (Next time…)

The Swedish Parliament House, the Royal Palace, lots of popular tourist spots are also obscured by cranes, scaffolding, plastic wrap, “sorry for our mess” signs, etc. The only thing we didn’t see was bamboo scaffolding.

Here’s the prime minister’s home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and… another crane. This is just across the bridge from the Parliament House, hidden by a giant wrap.
Sometimes it takes creative posing to block out construction…

Apparently we’re not the only ones who have noticed and perhaps complained about this construction activity. It was actually planned before COVID, but the lower tourist turnout over the last year and a half ended up being good timing. The goal is that “Sweden’s capital soon will have a global city status.” We thought it already did have that status.

No it’s not what we had in mind. But then again, we were supposed to be here a year and a half ago (before COVID shut down our travel plans).

Outside our hotel we saw plastic tubing going in for heating a very wide sidewalk. Stockholm’s temperatures can drop to the high 20s (°F) from November through February, with a couple of inches of snow spread across up to 10 days a month.

This is along the Vasagatan, named for King Gustave Vasa, considered the founder of modern Sweden, ruling for nearly 40 years in the 1500s. It’s a busy commercial street and connects the rail and metro station to the Old Town, Gamla Stan.

The workers get things done fast. Just a day or two later, the sidewalk is being closed up and repaved.

One Stockholm travel site we checked said, “Autumn, from September to November, is cool and quite rainy as early as in September.” Fortunately for us, every day of our visit was sunny, warm but not hot, and beautiful.

We didn’t take too many other photos of construction since we we wanted to see the UNobstructed buildings, but after the fact we realized the level of work was quite impressive. We will have to come back in five years to see Stockholm after all the construction is completed!

Visited in September 2021

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Church of the Day – Gothenburg Cathedral, Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg, Sweden, is a prosperous small city that is home to large R&D centers for AstraZeneca (recently in the news for its COVID vaccines) and Volvo car company. Gothenburg built its first Protestant cathedral in 1621. The town suffered a very large fire in 1802 and an earlier cathedral was completely destroyed. By 1815 they had rebuilt, resulting in this current cathedral.

Note the tower capital rather than a spire.

The sanctuary is in gleaming white and gold with gray accents, a color scheme implemented during an innovation from 2013 to 2015. The half-columns here are wood but covered to look as if they’re marble.

A lot of thought went into coordinating this interior design.

The two stunning angels were rescued intact from the 1802 fire. The rest of the altar is gilded wood reconstructed after the fire. The theme is the empty cross as it appears after Christ’s resurrection. The style could be described as high imperialism, neoclassical rococo or contemporary with the cathedral overall.

Here’s a side pulpit described as Empire style. Its elegant style does appear to be fit for a Roman emperor. Everything is gold: evangelists, angels, pinecones and the drapes.

The organ is relatively new, installed in 1962. The church has Friday and Saturday lunchtime concerts as well as other special concerts and recitals.

A church brochure observes that the organ façade is contemporary to the cathedral. More thought and planning…

We haven’t seen this in Protestant churches before. Confessional booths were installed in 2002 on both sides of the pews. The guide says, “Confessions are now held in Protestant churches but are not considered a sacrament as in the Catholic church.” The guide also says the congregation jokingly refers to them as the “trams.” See the sanctuary picture for another view.

With alternative styling, the “trams” could pass for 1950s diners.

We liked the Children’s Cathedral, a quiet side room with a small altar, pew and religious objects in the cupboard. Kids can do thematic play with a religious bent, readying them to be active in the church as they mature.

Note the multi-ethnicity of the kids on the rug.

A statue of a rather stern-looking Peter Wieselgren decorates the grounds, now a public park. He was a Lutheran minister at the cathedral in the 1830s-40s and was instrumental in the Swedish temperance movement. At that time Swedes were poor, drinking was heavy, and the spirit of choice was Brännvin, a liquor distilled from potatoes, essentially Swedish vodka, now made into aquavit. His efforts led to laws that rationed alcohol. (A vote on outright prohibition failed in 1922 51%-49%.) In the 1960s, rationing was replaced by very high taxes that remain in effect to this day. Any serious drinker in southern Sweden makes road trips to Germany for their cheap booze.

Don’t drink! He’s watching you.

Visited September 2021

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A Sampling of Our Scandinavian Food Delights

With Michael’s love of seafood and Nancy’s Scandinavian heritage we were quite successful in finding something we could eat—and truly enjoy!—during our visit to Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

Seafood of all shapes and sizes at a Stockholm market

Did we already mention the Dutch pancakes? Savory or sweet, they stand up to any French crepe.

Very thin batter, apples and cheese. Can’t go wrong.

Michael loved the Danish smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich that is unique to Denmark. Some that he ordered were almost like a full smörgåsbord buffet on a piece of bread. Rye bread as a base will support anything and everything. Although Michael went for classic seafood content, the method can be used for any food, even leftovers. Just pile on complementary flavors with a bit of artistry. In fact, Kathy has frequently made great smørrebrøds without even realizing it.

Based on height alone, this smørrebrød of “plaice” (a flatfish), salmon, shrimp and, if that’s not enough, microgreens, may have gone a bit overboard, but Michael ate every bit.

Scandinavia is known for herring in multiple forms, but we’re not big fans (although Nancy’s parents and grandmother loved it), so we generally skipped it. However, salmon is everywhere too.

Salmon, pickled onions, rocket salad and in the background a Swedish dumpling (Stockholm)

Some Scandinavian seafood was over the top for us. Michael tried eating ALL the parts of a giant prawn he ordered in Amsterdam, but the deep-fried head and legs were too much.

Yes, apparently this is an edible delight!

The Swedish meatballs we tried were excellent, a lot like those made by Nancy’s mom and other Midwest descendants of Scandinavians. One main difference from Italian meatballs is seasoning. Swedish meatballs often have allspice and cream, giving them a whiter sauce and lighter flavor than Italian meatballs made with oregano and tomato sauce. They’re generally served with a dill cucumber salad, another Midwest staple. Although this sample had more tomatoey content than expected, the meatballs here were good enough to try several versions.

You MUST have mashed potatoes, not pasta, with Swedish meatballs

The unique meatball meal addition we didn’t have in Michigan in the old days was lingonberries. More recently we’ve seen preserved lingonberries at IKEA, of course, but never tried them. They are very good, tart when picked from the vine, but sweetened for eating. We don’t need any furniture, but next time we see an IKEA we’re stopping for anything lingonberry!

Stockholm’s public market had great offerings, lingonberries of course, but also chanterelle mushrooms and green figs, so fresh and tasty compared to the brownish-purple ones we often get in the States.

Lingonberries and more at the market

We could always find “American” food. Plenty (way too many) McDonald’s, Dunkin’s, Burger Kings, etc. but we stayed away. American faves always had a slightly different twist in the non-chain Scandinavian restaurants.

Delicious (California?) avocado toast on the darkest rye bread imaginable. In Copenhagen.

We did try pizza. More outside US than in US, rocket (arugula) is popular on pizza. It certainly looks pretty, but we’ve become spoiled eating Stephen’s superb homemade pizzas, so we weren’t overwhelmed.

A very pretty Amsterdam pizza with prosciutto and rocket

Italian is popular here, like everywhere. Here’s a Swedish version of pasta and prosciutto. It almost looks like a Danish smørrebrød.

Delicious meal in an Örebro restaurant

We even found a great steak-frites place in Stockholm, bringing back memories of our favorite, Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Steak, check. Salad, check. Fries, check. Sauce, check. Where are the profiteroles?

We were pleased with the choices of ethnic (i.e. non-Scandinavian) restaurant choices. We ate Mediterranean meals several times. The moussaka was fantastic, as good as anything we had in Greece.

Moussaka, tsatziki and a Greek salad (authentic, with no lettuce)

We read several blog posts devoted to finding the best cinnamon rolls in Stockholm and decided to test their recommendations. We visited one or two or three…or more of these bakeries. To be honest, we couldn’t tell much difference between the different bakeries as they were all good. The cinnamon rolls here are fairly light, with very thin layers spiraling around a center, and LOTS of cinnamon. Alternatively some had cardamon, nuts or other slight variations. They were all tasty, but not quite as good as the hot cinnamon rolls we loved from Braud & Co in Reykjavik, Iceland. (We even made a trip to town to get some once when we had a layover of a couple hours at the Reykjavik airport.)

Lots of cinnamon and big chunks of sugar on these Stockholm cinnamon rolls.

Stockholmers seem to have a love for sweets, beyond cinnamon rolls, as do we. We never had difficulty finding something to satisfy a craving. Don’t forget our Gränna candy sticks.

Chocolate, fondant and a fruit tart for Chris

Finally, we enjoyed Scandinavian beer. We visited the Heineken Museum in Amsterdam and sampled their nice, light, familiar beer. We tried numerous other good beers, also quite light. Here’s one at the restaurant of the Fotografiska Museum near the water. (The current exhibition “Nude” was a bit racy so we aren’t sharing any photos.)

The Luma Pils beer (from Danish Carlsberg) was so light we could check out the view of the Gröna Lund amusement park across Saltsjön Bay.

Ending with latte art and baked goods from one of Stockholm’s Vete-Katten bakeries (always at the top of the recommended list). Cardamom is worth a try but cinnamon will always be our favorite.

Latte art and a cardamom bun. We LOVED our trip to Scandinavia.
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