Sunday, August 30, 2015

Adventures Down Under: Getting There is Half The Fun-NOT!

There's a reason I'm heading off on this trip with my son Rob and not my husband Craig. Nothing would induce Craig to fold his body into the postage stamps that pass for airline seats these days for a trip halfway around the world... well, nothing that didn't involve tranquilizers and gratuitous violence.  So this is our long-awaited mother and son trip.  James and I went to Japan, Rob and I are visiting Australia.  We're flying on New Zealand Air, so we decided to turn our 2 hour layover in Auckland into a 2 day visit. Why not break up the flight and knock off another country while we're at it?
We paid $1000 extra for a "Skycouch" which basically meant the 2 of us have 3 seats that have kind of an extension to make a bed- a very short, narrow bed.  How short? Well, I had to curl in a fetal posture and still had people walking past whacking my feet. If that's what happens to 5 foot nothing me, goodness knows where they found the models that recline so invitingly in the ad. Must be 70 pound midgets.  
What I expected

REALITY

We warmed up on our evening hop to San Franciso, then boarded the 13 hour real flight to NZ at 9:30 pm Wednesday, landing at 5:30 am Friday after a (mostly) sleepless night and 2 bland airline meals.  I rate NZ Air below both Singapore Air (the best I've ever flown) and Iceland Air (just plain fun, and GREAT First Class accommodations) but still better than any domestic airlines, if only for their much less crabby staff.  From Security to Stewardesses, the Kiwis are unfailingly polite.  I am (of course) chosen for a random screening as I go through customs on arrival, but their apologetic style makes me feel badly for inconveniencing them by my uncanny ability to upset the passport picture matcher rather than be annoyed by the delay.  
They say that travellers to New Zealand will not be bothered by jet lag since the time difference approaches 24 hours. "They" lie.  We step outside into a dark New Zealand morning.  I am tired but excited.  Rob, however, is wilting.  He has a sore throat and a fever.  Uh oh.  I know what that means. Once again, it is our lot to aid the population crisis by disseminating a killer virus amongst the locals.  You can thank us later.  
The first taxi driver in line is a chatty New Zealander named Monte.  He learns that Rob will be driving in Australia and takes pains to explain the nuances of navigating roundabouts from the left lane.  He bridles a bit when he hears that we are only staying in his fair land for 2 days.  New Zealand, he tells us sternly, has more beautiful countryside, friendlier people, and less crime than Australia and we are certainly making the wrong vacation choice.  Rob answers "Yes, but does New Zealand have kangaroos?" Forced to confess his kangaroolessness, Monte returns to the finer points of driving.  The Sky City Hotel where we are staying is much farther from the airport than I had been led to believe and, as the meter rises, I begin to worry.  I only exchanged $100 US for $130 in NZ dollars.  We arrive at the hotel just shy of the $90 mark so I give Monte $100, leaving me with only $30. Clearly, we're going to need more money for the return trip. (After a few $30 hamburgers, I just decide New Zealand is expensive but, hey, they have kiwi birds and penguins on their brightly colored money and that's just cool.) 

Monte gives us his number to call for a return trip and even offers to give us a free city tour the next day after our trip to Hobbiton.  We step into the Sky City Hotel at 6:30 am. Check in is 2 pm. Rob is starting to shiver and refuses to talk because his throat is so sore.  This ought to be fun.   
We walk until we find a coffee shop that serves milk shakes. When we order, the waiter asks, "Milk shake or thick shake?"  Confused, I answer, "milk shake." He brings chocolate milk.  Ah ha. Later that day we order a thick shake and get a milk shake.  We also discover that catsup is tomato (pronounced to-mah-to) paste. It's kind of fun to be the ones with the accents. Heads turn when we speak and people are anxious to help.  We go back and hang around the hotel lobby until they decide Rob's zombie appearance is detracting from the decor.  Ironically, the billboard just outside the lobby reads, "Fear the Walking Dead."  Oh, I do.  


We finally get checked in to our hotel.  I had hoped to go to the local track which is having a harness racing meet tonight but one look at Virus Boy tells me that isn't happening. We find a marvelous channel that shows racing, including the local meet and I enjoy watching flat and harness racing, pretending that I'm really there having a bit of a flutter instead of in a generic hotel room.  It's 8 pm but my body insists that it is after Midnight, so I finally fall asleep half a world away.  
At 3 am, my body says to get up and feed the chickens.  I check Facebook instead.  I wake Rob at 6 and he insists manfully that he is ready to explore.  Yesterday in our search for throat-soothing milk shakes, we found a store and purchased orange juice and lots of bottled water.  Thus fortified we troop down to the lobby to join our Bush and Beach tour to the Hobbiton Movie Set. There are 11 of us in the Mercedes van bearing the most excellent moniker "Thrain." (Though I'm told the other van is christened "Smaug," which would have been even cooler.) 




The scenery on the two hour drive to Hobbiton is delightful.  Everyone has that one landscape that speaks to them.  For some it is beach or forest or desert.  Me, I'm an Entwife, and these rolling green hills fit my mental fantasy perfectly.  The green green grass is dotted by trees- some deciduous, some palm trees, all offering shade to the creatures that graze their verdant slopes. Flocks of Romney sheep intermingle with Jersey and Holstein cows.  Occasional horse herds and beef cattle appear betimes.  It is Spring and most ewes have a pair of lambs nuzzling at their udders.  The occasional farm house looks well tended but comfortably distanced from any neighboring farms.  None of those horrid gated communities with houses 5 feet apart in this fair land.  Pastures are fenced with unpainted rails, a land tamed but not devoured; bridled but never broken.  

Genius Cow.  (Just Keep Reading...)



The town of Hobbiton, as built for the Lord of the Rings movies, was dismantled to leave the land as it was on this working sheep farm.  It became a tourist attraction anyway so, when the Hobbit movies were being filmed, the family that owned the land specified that a permanent set was to be built.  Now the largest tourist attraction in New Zealand, the set is beautifully maintained and a feast for the eyes, if a bit penurious to the pocketbook.  We were fortunate to be on the first tour of the morning and our little group had the place to ourselves, though we could see the hordes of tourists crowding through half an hour behind.  Everyone told us how lucky we were that it wasn't raining and, indeed, the drizzle began shortly after we reached the hotel.







We spent the drive back learning about the number one product of New Zealand (powdered milk for babies  called "Cowala")  It turns out there's a reason that the Holstein (Fresian) herds are dotted with Jerseys and the occasional Guernsey.  Holsteins, of course, produce the bulk of the milk while Jerseys are there for the milk fat. Guernseys, it turns out, are the border collies of the cow world. (Who knew?) The brainy Guernseys lead their dimmer Holstein cousins on their daily 10 mile walk from pasture to milking parlor and back, creating the fittest milk cows on the planet. (I think I got more of the animal lecture because the driver knew I was a vet.) Anyway, we came back to the room and supported New Zealand's second largest industry by having lamb for dinner.  Tomorrow, Australia!!

Aside: My co-workers at The Pet Doctor thought I needed a little piece of work to carry with me.  Sandy made me a little  stuffed sperm to journey with.  Dubbed "Spencer," my little friend has been featuring in photos, leading Rob to exclaim, "Get your sperm off my pizza!" He then reflected, "Those are 6 words no dude should ever have to say."






Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our Last Days (And All the Dogs of Sweden)

 

It is Saturday and we are running out of things we want to do in Stockholm, even though we have three days left here. Craig never visited Stockholm on his mission, so he thought we would want a lot of time to explore the city but we're finding out that we enjoyed the small town of Lund and surrounding countryside much more. The truth is, a big city is a big city. There are still crowds and traffic noises (especially the omnipresent ambulances) whether it's Seattle, San Francisco, or Stockholm. We decide to try to visit one of the Stockholm archipelago islands like we did at Göteborg. This is a different experience though. The line to board the ferry is long, the boat is crowded, and, since it is a hot day, everyone wants the few seats outside. (We seem to have arrived in an unseasonably hot summer. Many days have been over 80 degrees and all the locals are commenting on the heat. One thing one quickly discovers is, just like they don't have ice in their drinks, they also aren't prepared for heat with any fans or air conditioning. Businesses and homes are built to retain heat - no doubt a blessing most of the colder times of the year. But when it's hot - being inside is not comfortable. Walk inside a bakery or little shop and it's 95 degrees and utterly airless. We've tried to eat outside as much as possible, but then we run into another problem. Outdoor seating is where all the smokers are. Swelter inside or choke outside - that's summer dining in Sweden.) So, after an hour long tightly packed ferry ride, we finally arrive at the island of Vaxholm. It's OK, but not much to see. There is a castle across the little waterway. You can take a boat to it, but Craig is feeling crummy, maybe from the heat, so we eventually ride back on the same ferry. Except it isn't a ferry. This is another travel axiom we have learned. We call it, "Ignorance is Expensive." We thought the ferries to the archipelagos of Stockholm were just like the ferries in Göteborg, covered under the ubiquitous bus pass. But, as we prepare to exit the "ferry" we find that it is a private service and that the price to exit the boat is now 350 crowns. (We also learn that Stockholm has a 6 day bus pass for a fraction of what the two 3-day passes cost us. We never thought to ask. As I said, ignorance is expensive.)

 

 

 

The next day is Sunday. Craig is still feeling a bit below par, but manages to navigate us safely to the local ward building. A member of the Stake presidency immediately hits us up to speak. Craig feels his Swedish is not up to the task and declines, but the guy looks so disappointed (fresh blood in a tiny congregation is not to be sneezed at, you know) that I say I'll do it - in English though. Since virtually everyone in this country speaks excellent English, I do not think this will be a problem. In fact, however, when they call me up, they provide a translator - a young man who served his mission in Minnesota. (Guess they figured a Swede could handle the winters there without a shiver.) It is a really weird experience having someone translate for me. I talk about missionaries, my own conversion, and James' call to Japan. (There is an audible murmer of excitement when I mention Japan - as, indeed, I have noticed in Sweden any time I mention where James is serving. Japan just seems really really foreign, I guess. Afterward, one of the sisters tells me that she really wanted to go on her mission to Japan, but ended up in Temple Square in Salt Lake City. I say, "You are so tall- she's got to be 6'2"- you would really stand out in Japan. My son is tall and blond and he says he loves being the center of attention there." "Yes," she sighs. "I too love to be the center of attention. It is because we are firstborn." Craig, says, "We've got to get those two together!" I don't know, with that combination of genes, their children would be Valkyrie.) Anyway, it's hard to speak with a translator because every time I finish a sentence, the translator starts in and I forget what I was going to say - especially since members of the congregation chime in and correct the translator's translation (like I said, they all speak English anyway.) It is disconcerting to say the least, but, it certainly introduces us to the whole ward and I feel like we have a bunch of new friends by the time we head back to the hotel.

Monday is August 11, our actual thirtieth anniversary, and the last day of our vacation. Craig had planned a spectacular balloon ride but that's not going to happen. In sharp contrast to the day before, it is cold, windy, and raining. Instead, we decide to do one more museum. We decide to see the Vasa museum. I'm really glad we went. It really is something you couldn't see anywhere else in the world. The Vasa is a HUGE ship, commissioned as a royal ship by King Gustavus Adolphus and completed in 1628. She sailed off on her maiden voyage and sank with all aboard after only 1500 meters (makes the Titanic look sturdy.) There she lay buried until 1961 when she was hauled out of the clay and eventually put on exhibit. The size, workmanship, and carvings are amazing. (Since she never saw battle, she's nearly perfectly preserved.) It was pretty cool, and worth the long line in the rain to get in.

 

 

How would you like to be hit by a spiked cannonball????

 

Afterward, Craig decides to go on another sort of pilgrimage. He drags me on 3 buses, 2 trams and a train to visit - wait for it------ the Apple Store in Stockholm. He has an app on his phone that tells him the location of all the Apple Stores in the world and we just happened to be near one. Sigh. We finally get there. I'm sopping wet, my feet hurt. He walks around, basks a bit in the glow from a hundred little retina screens and says, "Okay, let's go back." Geeks. What are you gonna do.

 

 

After a really weird dinner (don't ask- it involved pork and something green) we are preparing to pack. Craig had to buy a new bag to bring home all the Swedish chocolate and Swedish dark syrup he's been craving all these many years. (Even though he's bringing home enough chocolate to pave the house, I wouldn't count on getting any of it. I see that miser's look in his eyes. I'm pretty sure our freezer (and waistlines) will be bulging for months to come.)

 

Our adventure has come to an end. If we're still around in another thirty years, maybe we'll come back, if our walkers will fit down the aisles, that is.

Happy Me (waiting for bus)

Much Less Happy Me (waiting for bus)

 

 

 

THE SWEDISH DOG REPORT:

Every dog I saw in Sweden, breed verified as much as possible by owner. (Husband's opinion - he thinks every little white dog is a Bitch On Frizzy) - completely discounted.

 

West highland white terriers- 5

Smooth fox terrier- 2

Wire- haired fox terrier- 2

Labrador-18

Bichon frise-3

Labradoodle- 4

Yorkshire terrier- 3

Bernese mountain dog- 2

Malinois- 2

Miniature pinscher - 5

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel- 4

American Staffordshire terrier- 2

Siberian husky-3

Poodle (miniature)- 14, Standard-1

Shih tzu- 3

Saluki-1

Lhasa apso- 5

Afghan-1

German Shorthaired Pointer-1

Shetland sheepdog- 6

Border collie-1

Miniature schnauzer- 10, Giant schnauzer- 1

English Bull Terrier-1

Chihuahua- 14

Boxer- 2

Samoyed-1

Scottish terrier- 3

Danish Swedish farm dog- 13 (Pictured below)

 

Rottweiler- 3

Chinese crested hairless-1, powderpuff-1

Valhund- 3

Welsh springer spaniel-1

Irish terrier-1

Pumi -5

German Shepherd-9 (including one white)

Whippet-1

Norfolk terrier- 1

Norwich terrier-1

Soft coated Wheaten Terrier- 1

Portuguese Water Dog-2

French Bulldog- 6

Doberman-1

Pit bull terrier -3

Cocker spaniel- 3

Flat Coat retriever- 3

Rhodesian Ridgeback-1

Weimereiner-1

Bolonka-1 (pictured below)

 

Pomeranian- 5

Daschund-2

Collie-1

English Cocker-3

Irish setter-1

Havanese - 4

Pug- 4

German Pinscher-1

Norwegian Puffin dog- 2 (pictured below)

 

Boston terrier-1

Vizsla-1

Nova Scotia Duck Toller- 2

Mixed breeds- 32

 

Dogs are entered in the order in which I first identified them, with no attempt made to alphabetize or otherwise categorize them. (It's my list, after all.) Breed identification was made more difficult by the clipped coats and natural ears and tails. Many times, I ran after someone with a mixed breed to make sure I was not missing some cool breed I'd never heard of like the Danish-Swedish Farm dog (which has a lot of variety in coat and coloration- reminiscent of our Jack Russell Terrier before they split into the Parson Russell version.) My notes include a lot of things like, terrier mix, collie mix, Huge wolf or shepherd mix, etc- but I decided to just lump them as mixed breeds at the end. Sweden has a rescue group that brings a lot of stray dogs over from Spain for adoption- most are shaggy little things that look like some sort of large yorkie cross. Dogs are permitted most places here. I saw them on the trains, busses, ferries, races, and restaurants (where they generally are provided a bowl of water by the waiter.) I only saw no dogs allowed signs on one beach and a few gardens. Dogs are generally well-behaved, though I saw one chihuahua that wanted to eat the pug going by on a train. (I guess chihuahuas are the same the world around.) I saw one rottweiler wearing a muzzle on its walk and one doberman in the subway that had cropped ears and a docked tail. Cropping and docking are illegal in Sweden, so I am sure the dobie was an import. I was excited to see the tiny brown Bolonka- a cousin of the Havanese, and the Norwegian Puffin Dog was new to me as well. So that's it- my completely random list of every dog I saw in two and a half weeks in Sweden. Make of it what you will.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Trains, Temples, and Trotters!

Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Lund. So far, it was probably the most fun place we had visited, but the B&B had new guests coming, so we had to pack it up and move it out. We managed a picture near the Domkyrka with the hometown newspaper for a little free publicity when we get home, then went to see one last museum. It turned out to be a bust: just the ruins of the foundation of 9th or 10th century church under a restaurant. The old Catholic Church was torn down during the Reformation when all of Sweden was declared Lutheran by the King. All that remains are the rocks that were its foundation, so they built a restaurant on top of it. Yawn. We drag all of our luggage through the streets and Craig happens to notice a hand-written sign in the window of a beauty parlor that translates to Now Available: MASSAGE! Time for me to see if there really is a Swedish Massage to be had. Turns out the masseuse is from CHICAGO; she married a Swedish man and attended massage school in Sweden. Does this still count??

 

After a pretty good hour-long rub-down, we park ourselves near the Lund train station for a couple of hours watching dogs, people, and some mounted police before we catch our final train toward Stockholm and check into a really minimalist B&B. (It was cheap.) The location was unique for us; sixth floor apartment, with a window overlooking a mortuary. The day had been warm, so we lay down (with the windows open) and listened to Stockholm. We estimate it sounds like NYC on a very, very calm day.

 

Thursday morning is our day to visit the Stockholm Temple. We do a session there and take some pictures, then go in search of some Swedish food. (This has been harder to find in Sweden than you'd think. As nearly as I can tell, Swedes live entirely on pizza and sushi, with an occasional smattering of Thai. Pizzerias dot the Swedish landscape like Starbucks dot Seattle, pretty much one or more to a corner.) We decide to try our luck in the absolute heart of Stockholm - Gamla Stan (Old Town) and there, in the middle of the ancient square, directly across from the Alfred Nobel Museum, we find a Swedish restaurant. (No doubt it's just there for the tourists.) I have the Swedish meatballs and Craig has the Swedish platter consisting of salmon, herring, shrimp, and reindeer. (Don't look for Rudolph at Christmas this year, kids.)

 

 

We do a little shopping, stop by the Royal Palace (No, the King would not see us - but the guard was polite about it.) and marvel at the narrow alleyways all through this little section of Stockholm. The old buildings really are pretty cool, and I find that I am actually beginning to like walking on the cobblestones.

 

 

By Friday we have had it with museums and churches - time to break out of the tourist box! I find a Stockholm race track but the website is all in Swedish. In an astounding feat of linguistic legerdemain, Craig translates enough to figure out the time and location, and that TODAY is free entry! We take several trains and busses across town and know we have arrived when we join the very non-touristy cooler-bearing, race-form reading, boot-stomping crowd heading to the track. It's a TON of fun. I find out that harness-racing is really big in Sweden. The horses are all trotters (I don't see any pacers) but they run two really cool pony races where kids aspiring to one day drive their own sulky can race their trotting ponies on the same track as the big boys. Afterward, the winning pony gets a wreath and a ribbon and the driver get interviewed for TV. Many in the audience are parents of the kids and/or owners of some of the horses racing, so it is a fun crowd with none of the hard-core gambling or heavy drinking sometimes seen on thoroughbred tracks at home. I twist Craig's arm and make him place a fifty crown bet on an American horse - all the other USA horses have won. It loses, but at least we can now say we've had "a bit of a flutter." They even have a race just for women jockeys in which the girls ride instead of drive their trotters. I've never seen this before but am assured by the elderly couple next to me that it's a popular tradition brought over from France. Their daughter is riding and we sympathize when she comes in third. We head back to the hotel (2 days in the minimalist B&B were enough) having had more fun watching horses in the sun than we've had in all the museums put together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Swans Yesterday, Snails Today


Being a basically shallow person, I usually prefer things like horses and pastry shops to museums and churches while traveling. (I also am bored by ballet- so sue me.) However, today is our last day in Lund, we have to return the cool James Bond rental car, and we've pretty much seen all of Craig's old mission haunts we came here to see. So we decide to just go to TripAdvisor and see what the average tourist likes to see. Naturally, the answer comes up as museums and churches. There is supposed to be a cool bird sanctuary though so we try that first. The bird sanctuary is pretty much devoid of birds (or they're too far away to really see.) We do see a lot of large snails, small butterflies, and some really vicious stinging nettles. ( I saw the stinging nettle a bit late- my hand still smarts.)

Nary a bird to be seen.

Still looking for wildlife to photograph, we head back to town, where Craig captures forever on pixels the elusive yellowcatinadoorway and the persistent wasp that has, as nearly as we can tell, been present for every meal we've eaten since Göteborg.

Time to give up on exciting creatures and make for a museum. We head for the Kulturen (The Swedish Museum of Culture - billed as the second oldest open-air museum in the world, open since 1892. Bet your first question is: "What's the oldest open air museum in the world then?" That was my question too, so I looked it up. The answer is the Skansen Open Air Museum in Stockholm. Guess the Swedes just have a thing about culture and fresh air.) It is a series of ancient buildings, each open to the public with different exhibits inside and surrounding several large courtyards. I bet SCA gatherings are a blast here!

Wow! These Medieval guys were short.

Itty bitty heads too.

The modern 18th century kitchen. Looks like mine without the microwave.

Sleeping for a thousand years sounds pretty good at my age.

But is it bigger on the inside?

Love the ancient tapeworm and kidney samples.

We spend a lot of time visiting the well-done exhibits, then head over to tour the Domkyrka, a huge gorgeous old cathedral in the center of Lund.

Craig had to explain this panel to another tourist. I trust your knowledge of the Old Testament is somewhat better.

I just liked this goofy church cow. I don't know what she symbolizes.

This is right out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

This one is particularly puzzling. Why are these two guys creeping up to steal Scrat's acorn? And should we tell Dreamworks?

Then, secure in the knowledge that we are as cultured as we are going to be without resorting to a bowl of Activia, we return to the B and B for the night. Craig and I will be sorry to leave Lund for the big city of Stockholm. We both love the country feel and the gorgeous cobblestone streets. I especially love the gently rolling hills of pastures and farmland. I've decided that's my favorite landscape. (That makes me an Entwife. ) Craig likes the Sequoias of California and the mountains. (He's an Ent.) If you can't handle the Tolkien references, find another blog.

I can't get enough of these cool cobblestones!

A rare photo of the mythical bicycle graveyard.

I still haven't been to Stonehenge, but this seems like the Swedish equivalent.