Tag Archives: scandimania

Souvenir Makes No. 4: A Swedish Christmas

26 Jan

Yes, I realise that, 3 months after returning from Scandinavia, I still haven’t finished blogging about it. However, I’m faring better than when I promised you I would post some articles about my Scottish road trip, and I didn’t complete the tale until 9 months later. My tardiness is slightly improving!

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Despite not completing my Scandinavian saga yet, I thought I would show you that my little Swedish dala horse cutter (which has already come in rather handy for festive baking) was put to very good use this Christmas – to make clay tree decorations.

The ubiquitous little wooden horses hail from the Swedish town of Dalarna, and are a national symbol which dates back to the 1600s. The most common dala horses are painted red, with a white, green, yellow and blue harness, but I read that you can find horses in a variety of colours, with each local area producing the wooden ornaments in their own special design.

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I had enough clay to make seven, and I decided to decorate each with a different pattern. I used a tiny star cutter, which I bought to use in my pottery classes, although I think it was originally a cake decorating tool. I was able to attach the stars carefully to the surface of the piece, using a paintbrush and a bit of slip.

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When the designs were finished, I used a dowelling rod to pierce a hole in the top of each one, so that I can thread ribbon through when they are finished. I left one of them sans piercing, as I am toying with the idea of starting a wall display of dala horses in my bedroom, and this is going to be the first one.

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Given that each horse was only half a centimetre thick, I expected they would dry fairly quickly… not so! I patiently waited 2 weeks before the items could be fired in the kiln – then I set to work on painting the little creatures.

I tried to keep the colours to the traditional palette of red, white, green, yellow and blue, although I found that the poppy red and dark, galaxy blue appealed to me the most! I think it’s fair to say that none of the horses conform to the traditional dala design, but I am happy with the way they have turned out – especially the ones with the raised stars across the surface.

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One of our family traditions is the giving of a set of baubles each year. My mum, my brother and I each give a bauble to each other, so that no matter where we are in the world, we have matching Christmas trees. Over the past few years, I have been making a bauble for each of them every year, as well as one for myself. This year, my new sister-in-law Kate got involved with the family tradition, making a beautiful set of perfect crochet snowflakes! I can see this tradition running for years!

Finally, I come to the bauble I made for myself. I really loved the star designs, but for my own bauble I wanted something that reminded me of my wonderful adventure. I’m sure you can guess which one that would be! I painted mine, simply, with a blue blackground and a solid yellow cross, to depict the Swedish flag. My flat is so small that I don’t actually have a Christmas tree, but you can see my Swedish dala creation, hanging proudly on my aloe vera plant in my living room. I can’t wait to, one day, have him adorn a beautiful Christmas tree, which I’m sure he will do for many years to come.

Scandimania Pt 4: Gothenburg

14 Jan

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After a few busy days in Oslo, I arrived in Gothenburg in need of some rest and relaxation. Fortunately, the next 48 hours were not going to be another bustling city break – after a quick sightseeing tour of the city, I would be taking a ferry out to the Southern Gothenburg archipelago for some much needed peace and quiet.

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Gothenburg is fast becoming one of the hottest places to visit in Northern Europe. It’s cuisine, music, art and nightlife is attracting visitors from across the world, and after spending the afternoon there, I could see why. Despite the weather being overcast at best during my time there, the city felt buzzing, with lots of amazing independent boutiques, record stores, coffee shops and bars.

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In order to escape the inclement weather, I retreated into a wonderful coffee shop in the traditional Haga district, where I sampled a mouthwatering apple and almond cake, topped with pumpkin seeds and candied walnuts. It was absolutely delicious, and gave me the energy I needed to make the next stage of my journey, to the island of Hono, about an hour away from the centre of Gothenburg.

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I arrived by ferry, late at night, at the home of Sarah and Graham, which I found via AirBNB. The home was previously Sarah’s grandparents, and her grandfather had built the home himself. I had a beautiful, peaceful apartment on the top floor of the house, and Graham thoughtfully provided me with home-made bread and freshly-laid eggs. My R&R was off to a good start!

After the miserable, drizzly weather the day before, I was amazed to wake up the next day to sunlight streaming through the windows. Somehow, the fates had decided to grace my island stay with glorious, uninterrupted sunshine. I decided to make the most of it, and borrowed a bike from my lovely host Sarah, so that I could explore the island of Hono, and the neighbouring islands of Foto, Ockero and Halso, which were reachable by bridge.

The weather was perfect for cycling. Equipped with some bread and cheese in my rucksack, I set off on my adventure. The entire day was so peaceful – the island itself is home to breathtaking, unspoilt scenery and surrounded by deep blue waters.

The islands seemed almost deserted, with the exception of the areas around each harbour. At the first harbour I passed, I noticed a small shop was selling delicious local preserves, which I felt obligated to sample! The fig and hazelnut was to die for, and became a perfect accompaniment to my picnic on Hono beach.

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Being on the islands allowed my thoughts to easily unwind and settle, leaving me with space and energy to appreciate the simple things in life – sun reflecting off the water, the sound of the breeze filtering through the trees.  Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Soon enough, as with all the other stages of my trip, it was time to move onwards to a new destination. I felt so relaxed that I was actually ready to head home, but this would have to wait for just a few more days. It was time to travel towards my final stop – Copenhagen. This little creature did his best to accompany me on my journey, but sadly I had to leave him behind! Until next time, little kitty.

 

Scandimania Pt 3: Oslo

3 Jan

After the tradition and tranquility of Trondheim, my arrival in Oslo was a jolt to the senses – as soon as I stepped off the train, I felt like I was in an entirely different and exciting city. I arrived after dark, and was dazzled by an impressive display of lights from every building. This is a beautiful city by night! I strolled along the waterfront, and simply tried to take it all in.

I’m warning you in advance – I didn’t have time to do any crafting whilst in Oslo, I was too busy immersing myself in everything the city had to offer. To be honest, I feel like I fitted so much in to 4 days there, I barely know where to start…

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Taking my cues from the bronze tiger at Oslo Centralstasjon, I decided to spend my first morning prowling around the city, getting lost and finding treasures. I started my day at the Akerhus fortress, which, from its imposing position on the waterfront, has defended Oslo for hundreds of years.

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I was really lucky with the weather – every day was cold, crisp and sunny. Many of the locals I spoke to asked me why I had chosen to visit Norway in November – most tourists either come in the warm Summer months, or during Christmas. At this time of year, the city is relatively uncrowded, and the colours of the leaves turning added to the gorgeous surroundings.  From the walls of the fortress, you could get a fantastic view of the city, and a great perspective on the Radhus, Oslo City Hall (below).

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It’s free to visit the Radhus (a welcome fact when you’re staying in one of the most expensive cities in the world), and the building is simply magnificent. As this is the City Hall, it’s a focal point for the city, and I learned that the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place here every year.

I was really impressed by the amount of decoration on every surface within the hall. As well as the enormous murals that make up many of the walls, there are also huge friezes of geometric patterns, whose colours shift as they travel across the walls. I visited the City Hall in the late afternoon sun, so light was illuminating different parts of the artwork as I looked around. Amazing!

In particular, I loved the stylised birds in the staircase, and and the sheer scale of the murals. I learned that Henrik Sorensen was responsible for the beautiful images on the wall of the main hall, with othern Norwegian artists contributing to the works in other parts of the building, such as the one below, taken from the Festival Gallery, designed and painted by Axel Revold.

I could have spent hours looking at the art and the murals here, but sadly I arrived only 40 minutes before closing. I would definitely visit here again, especially as I didn’t get a chance to look at some of the tapestries on the walls, which were also made specially for the City Hall. 

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As I had just seen the home of the Nobel prize ceremony, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look round the Nobel Peace Centre next, before continuing my exploration of the city. It was really informative, giving lots of information on who has won the peace prize each year, and even walking you through how a candidate is nominated and selected for the prize.

There is art everywhere you look in Oslo, which adds to the feeling that it is a vibrant city. Despite the fact Norway is much colder than the UK, all the outdoor artworks encouraged me to spend more time outside, rather than cozy and warm inside.

With this in mind, on the second day I decided to hire a bike and cycle up to Vigelandsparken, one of the main tourist attractions in Oslo. The park is home to the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. It is is the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, and it contains 212 sculptures of men, women and children, all produced by Vigeland himself during the 1930s and 40s.

The sculptures are all made of either stone or bronze, and some are life size, whilst others are absolutely enormous! My favourite work was a fountain, with bronze trees around the perimeter, which each had a person sitting inside the branches. Around the walls of the huge fountain were bronze tiles depicting all sorts of relationships – parents and children, siblings, friends and lovers.

It’s inspiring to see one artist’s vision in its complete form – the whole park is a testament to Vigeland’s work.

The next stop on my Oslo expedition was the place that kickstarted the whole Scandinavian journey: ever since learning about the Oseberg viking burial ship on a BBC documentary a few years ago, I have become fascinated by Viking culture, and have been reading Viking sagas and learning as much as I can. It was this interest in Vikings that inspired my Orkney adventure earlier in 2014, and it was a desire to see the Oseberg ship which got me thinking about planning a trip to Norway. Words cannot describe how excited I was to be here!

One of the greatest joys of visiting Oslo out of season, was that I had the Viking Ship museum almost entirely to myself! It was just me, three Viking ships, and a handful of other stunned visitors, for the few hours that I was there. As soon as I walked in, I was brought face to face with the elegant bow of the Oseberg ship, the most preseved Viking ship to have ever been found. It is a myth that Viking burial customs meant that the dead were deposited in boats, which were then set on fire as they sailed into open waters. In fact, many boats were buried beneath the ground, containing the dead and any objects that they might need in the afterlife.

The Oseberg ship was found in a field around 100km south of Oslo in 1904, and the fascinating thing about its discovery was that it did not contain a King or Warrior, but a wealthy woman and her younger servant. Little is known about the pair, but aboard the boat with them were slaughtered farm animals, chariots, caskets and valuables. Considering the ship is over 1200 years old, the quality of the carvings is exceptional. I learned that these originally would have been brightly painted, and when the boat was originally unearthed, the colours were still visible. However, in order to preserve the ship, scientists had to use chemicals that did not save the paint.

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This was absolutely a bucket list activity for me – I’m so glad I got to see it!

I needed to come back down to Earth after my Viking ship adventure, so I spent the afternoon strolling around the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is five minutes’ walk from the Viking ships. At the Folkemuseum, you will find buildings from different eras from across Norway – a sort of medieval theme park! It was really relaxing wandering through the various farmsteads and traditional villages.

 

Just as the sun was fading, I found myself walking towards a genuine Norwegian stave church, on the top of a hill. It had been transported from a town called Gol, an hour North of Oslo. The church was built in the 1200s, but was transported to the Folkemuseum in the late 1800s when the people of Gol proposed demolishing it to make way for a new church. It was mind blowing to be standing in the doorway of a building that was over 900 years old! I nabbed a passing tourist to take a quick snap of me, but I realise the pictures don’t do it justice. Fortunately, for this one, I don’t really need pictures – every time I think of the stave church, I can still smell the incredible scent of 1000 year-old, smoky, pine sap coming from the walls of the building.

I can’t believe one city held so much excitement! I wanted to get every last drop of experience out of Oslo before I had to leave, so on my final afternoon, I had time to quickly take the train North, out of the city, to Holmenkollen,  the famous ski jump used in the Lillehammer winter Olympics in the 1990s. Despite my fear of heights, I bravely made it right to the top – the views were totally worth it.

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After a thrilling week in Norway, it was time to wave Ha det! to Oslo, and return to Sweden. However, I wasn’t sad to be leaving, because I know I will definitely return to this amazing country.

Scandimania Pt 2: Trondheim

28 Dec

Right, I know I’m taking my time in posting blogs at the moment – life has been frantic and I’ve hardly known whether I was coming or going. I’ve really been looking forward to spending an hour or so, casting my mind back to my amazing Scandinavian adventure, and sharing my memories here on the blog. Here goes!

So, after waving a fond farewell to Stockholm, I took a flight North West, to begin 6 blissful days in Norway. It was my first visit to this beautiful country, and I divided my time between two places which couldn’t be more different – firstly, the historic city of Trondheim, in Central Norway, and then onto the capital city, Oslo, in the South. It truly  was a tale of two cities.

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I am lucky enough to have friends that live in central Norway – Emily is originally from England, but teaches at an international school in the historical city of Trondheim, and lives there with her Norwegian boyfriend Magnus. When they heard I was visiting Scandinavia, they kindly said I could stay a few night with them, and see what Trondheim has to offer!

It’s a beautiful, traditional city, which actually used to be the capital of Norway until 1217. It was founded by the Viking Olaf Tryggvason, and there is a tall monument to the man himself in the centre of the city square.

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I only had 2 days to spend in Trondheim, so I tried my best to fit as many sights as possible. The city itself is peaceful and picturesque, especially the idyllic Old Town area, with its brightly coloured buildings.  I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nidaros Cathedral,  as well as walking all the way up to the Kristiansen fortress overlooking the city.
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I was happy to see that the city was not immune to guerilla crafters! Many of the statues had been adorned with handmade orange scarves, which I’m sure the statues were grateful for, given that it was just above freezing!

Of course, no holiday would be complete without some crafty purchases, so it will not surprise you to discover that I found a wonderful craft supplier in Trondheim. In the evening, I met up with Emily to stroll around the town. Down a quiet cobbled street, I spotted M. Sommer, which supplied an abundance of ribbons, buttons, trimmings and fabrics. The shop is something of a Trondheim institution, and has been in the same place for 125 years!

It was difficult to know what to pick, when there was so much to choose from! Finally I found the perfect souvenir – some ribbon in the colours of the Norwegian flag. This will be perfect for decorating an item for my flat. I also picked up some lovely blue and green glass beads, as I thought I could probably make a necklace that would remind me of the light sparkling on the waters of the Norwegian coastline.

On my final evening, Emily and Magnus took me to a traditional Norwegian diner in the Old Town. It was called Baklandet Skydsstation and served wonderful, hearty Norwegian food. The diner itself was beautifully decorated with handmade cushions and old portraits and embroideries. I had the most delicious meal of poached salmon in a broth, and I even had a little taste of Magnus’s wild reindeer stew!

I felt refreshed and relaxed after my brief break in Trondheim – the next stage I had to look forward to was a scenic, six-hour train journey through the mountainous Norwegian landscape, towards Oslo.

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Thank you to Emily and Magnus for making me so welcome in your beautiful home city! Onward to Oslo…..

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Scandimania Pt 1 – Stockholm

29 Nov

I am back from my adventure to Scandinavia, and I had an amazing time. I saw so many beautiful places, visited eye-opening galleries and museums, tasted various Scandinavian cuisines, and met so many inspiring people that I barely know where to start!

I guess, in that case, the only logical place to start would be at the beginning. I began my trip by flying into beautiful, crisp, Autumnal Stockholm in Sweden. I had a fantastic few days here, filled with museums, galleries, river cruises, history, art, amazing food and new experiences.

My first stop in Stockholm was Djurgarden, an island midway between Norrmalm and Sodermalm, where many of the main museums are situated. There was one that I had been waiting patiently to visit for ages: Skansen. Skansen was the world’s first ever open-air museum when it opened in 1891, and contains reproductions of Swedish villages and communities from different eras.

 

You are able to visit a 19th Century High Street, replete with a smithy, a potter’s, a bakery and a glassworks. Guides kitted out in historical dress are on hand to answer questions and demonstrate the skills. I was able to watch the glassblower creating beautiful Christmas baubles in her workshop, and also spent some time watching a pair of silversmiths creating bowls.

There are also houses and farm buildings which have been transported from across Sweden for preservation at the museum. It was a bit surreal to be walking between virtually deserted villages, occasionally catching a glimpse of someone in period dress. As you can see, the souvenir headband from my Scottish adventure was getting well worn!

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If you are visiting Stockholm and want some tips for what to see, I would definitely recommend checking out the Vasamuseet, which is also on Djurgarden. It was completely amazing! The museum houses the Vasa ship, which sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was refloated and preserved in the 1960s. It’s absolutely enourmous, and the salvagers were able to preserve the ship almost in its entirety. My completely rubbish photo does not do it justice. Maritime history is a huge part of Stockholm culture, and the Vasa really felt like the jewel in the crown of all of the city’s exhibits.

Even when I wasn’t visiting museums, I thought Stockholm was a really cool city to walk around and get lost in. I spent hours strolling around in the old town of Gamla Stan, which is full of gift shops and boutiques, and round the suburb of Sodermalm, where much of the action of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is set.

One fact that I learned whilst in Stockholm is that The Moomins are some of Sweden’s national treasures! The original stories were actually written by a Finn called Tove Jansson, but were originally published in Swedish – they seem to have an enduring appeal here.

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I spotted some gorgeous Moomin cookie cutters during my wanderings around Gamla Stan, and I can’t wait to use them to produce some delicious Swedish cookies. I also couldn’t possibly leave Sweden without a souvenir of the iconic Dalecarlian, or Dala horse.

My time in Stockholm seemed too short, but soon enough it was time to move on to my next destination – an excursion into Norway for a few days before returning to Sweden. Next stop, Trondheim!

 

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