Berlin – The DDR museum

Ever wanted to know how it was to live behind the iron curtain in East Berlin before the wall fell in 1989? Well, then you should make sure visit the DDR museum, where you can really get a hands-on experience of history.

Located in Berlin’s historical district, close to the museums on Museum Island, the DDR Museum exhibits everything from the car of choice (which really just was one, the good, old Trabant with a several years’ wait list) to scenes from the daily life of both the main population and the wealthy few and it even has (among lots of other stuff) a life size typical East Berlin apartment replica. Disregarding the gun in the desk drawer, the apartment was not that different from what we oldies remember from the 70-80’ies (a mix of brown and orange ruled), but the apartments in East Berlin were of course in short supply and with endless waiting lists.

The last picture, the one with the grenades, is not from a military setting, but from a school yard setting (the world’s worse handball substitute ever)!!

The entrance fee to the museum is EUR 8,50 for adults and EUR 5,50 for children. It is well worth a visit, and if the weather permits, you can go for a tasty lunch in by the river afterwards.

Søndagsutflukt til Marumskogen i Sandefjord

Med et så fantastisk høstvær ute, må man jo bare ut og sluke kanskje de siste solstrålene vi kommer til å se på en stund. Selv pode og kompis klarte å brekke seg løs fra PS4-kontrollen for å bli med mor, mormor og hund ut på tur til Marumskogen.

Marumskogen er et bynært skogsområde utenfor Sandefjord med mange kvaliteter. Terrenget er småkupert, omkranset av bebyggelse og dyrket mark. Her finnes et vell av fornminner med det landskjente Istrehågan som selve perlen – et kulturlandskap i ordets rette forstand. Fin løv- og barskog på ulik bonitet, variert landbruk, golfbane, ørretbekker og skjønne turstier. Marumskogen er for nære rusleturer, trening, naturopplevelser og alle gode verdier. Spekket med stier og skogsveier på kryss og tvers (ut.no).

Vi valgte oss en runde på ca 5 km som både gamle og unge, firbente og tobente klarte å komme seg gjennom uten altfor store anstrengelser. Vi hadde ikke med mat denne gangen, men langs stiene i skogen finnes en lavvo og flere spiseplasser hvor man kan ta seg en pause og grille på bål. Ellers så har jo naturen stor underholdningsverdi i seg selv med bekker, klatretrær, soppspotting og tidvis ganske trolsk stemning.

Søndagstur til Skjellvika i Sandefjord

Skjellvika er en populær strand på sommerstid i Sandefjord. Den har både fine turområder, kiosk og greie toalettfasiliteter og man kan rigge seg til på både strand, gress og svaberg. En ekstra bonus for barnefamilier er at stranden er utrolig langgrunn, så man kan trygt slippe poden løs om ikke på egen hånd, så iallfall uten å måtte fotfølge til enhver tid.

Men, selv på høsten har Skjellvika nok å by på og forrige søndag dro jeg med meg mormor med hund og pode med kompis og fetter til Skjellvika for en rolig ettermiddag uten så altfor mange anstrengelser for “de gamle”, da jeg i løpet av helgen hadde kreket meg over 35 km for Stafett for Livet.

Strålende vær, fornøyd pode med venner som syntes vannet var verdt å vasse i (noe jeg overhodet ikke var enig i), hund som etterhvert fikk lov til å snuse litt rundt (mormor er naturlig nok nervøs for hundesykdommen som rir landet for tiden) og voksne som kunne sitte og nyte solen, gjorde dette til en perfekt ettermiddag og et kjærkomment avbrekk fra Playstation (sett fra de voksnes perspektiv).

Sandefjord – the Bugarden Dam

 

Northwest of Sandefjord center, you can find the idyllic park of Bugarden, with a community swimming hall, ice rink, several training fiels for e.g skating, football (sorry, I refuse to call it soccer), American Football, archery and volleyball, family activities like a play ground and benches where you can have a barbequeue, and (last, but not least), the Bugarden Dam. Earlier the Bugarden Dam had a swimming pool, but with increasing focus on stuff like, well, bacteria and the fact that they didn’t manage to keep the pool clean enough, it closed down way before I made my arrival to this world in the mid-seventies

Every youth who have gone to high school here, has a relationship with the Bugården Dam (in my case quite an ambivalent one), since it has a 1,2 km jogging track around it and it is a perfect spot for a 3000m running test.

Even though I used to really hate the Bugarden Dam in high school, I have in my older days grown quite fond of it; especially in the early morning where only the many ducks/swans and me are awake, before the mass invasion of all the ones wanting to spend some time outdoors.

Vatican City – St Peter’s Basilica

Our final, but one of the best, stops on our sightseeing tour of Rome was the St Peter’s Basilica, which played a major role in the “Angels and Demons” book by Dan Brown, along with other magnificent structures like the Castel Saint’Angelo, Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

It is an Italian Renaissance church in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome and actually the world’s largest church with a capacity for approx 60.000 people. Even though it is not the mother church of the Catholic church, it is considered as one of the holiest Catholic shrines (Wikipedia).

St. Peter’s Basilica is built on the tomb of St Peter, who was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. After the first Basilica was knocked down due to deterioation, it took 120 years to rebuild it  (done in and some of the most famous architects of the time contributed to its design, like Gianlorenzo Bernini, Carlo Maderna and of course the great Michelangelo

 

Visit to the Basilica is free, but there is a fee if you want to see the beautiful dome made by Michelangelo (approx EUR 10 for adults). It is also possible to buy “skip the line”-tickets from a tour operator from around EUR 20, incl an audio guide. We visited the Basilica a hot July afternoon (35-40 degrees C) and we had not booked any skip-the-line-tickets in advance, but still it did not take us more than 15 minutes to pass the security check and enter the building.

I am sure I could have wandered around inside for hours, just admiring the interior; awsome! Junior, however, started to get bored after about an hour, so since he had been a good trooper through 6 hours of sightseeing, we called it a day and took a taxi back home to the hotel. But, I will definitely return one day.

 

Paris – Notre Dame; down but not beaten…

It is so tragic when historical monuments are destroyed, being from pure accidents or from cruel acts of history-challenged religious fanatics. Art and structures are a way to understand the past and, based on that, create a better and more informed future. Up through the ages all religions have something to answer to when it comes to demolition of history, but in these enlightened days, we really should know better.

I am so happy that I for instance visited the Museum of Cairo before looters destroyed mummies and smashed artifacts in 2011. I am also very happy that I, even if this was an accident during repairs, was able to visit the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame before it went up in flames.

Even if I am a full bred atheist, I do respect all religions and I am always interested in learning more about their ways. A part of understanding the different religions is to look back to the past in the form of written material, art and holy places, and I much enjoy visiting cathedrals, churches, mosques, temples and shrines in the quest of knowledge and perhaps inner peace.

Notre Dame a medieval Catholic cathedral in Paris and is considered to be the one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It was largely completed in 1260 after 100 years of construction and has inspired both writers and poets up through the ages, with the famous “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, something that contributed to making Notre Dame the most visited monument in Paris (wikipedia).

So, what momentous events have taken place in Notre Dame? Well, according to the New York Times Henry VI of England was made king of France inside Notre-Dame in 1431. Furthermore, Napoleon Bonaparte, who also sought to save the storied cathedral, was crowned emperor there in 1804. In 1909, Joan of Arc, who had helped France battle the English and was burned at the stake centuries earlier, was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. The cathedral was also home to the crown of thorns and the tunic of Saint Louis, both of which apparently made it safely out of the fire and to Paris City Hall, according to Franck Riester, France’s culture minister. The crown of thorns is believed to be the same that Jesus Christ wore during the crucifixion. It was first housed at the Ste. Chapelle in Ile de la Cité, but then moved to Notre Dame.

After the fire that broke out on the 15th of April 2019 was put out, president Macron stated that it would be restored back to its former glory. He had hoped for it to be ready by the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, but architects expect the work could take from 20 to 40 years. (Wikipedia).

So lots of both medieval and contemporary history in this magnificent cathedral. It is currently closed due to the fire and there is no information about when it would be opened for visitors again, but hopefully they will find a way to stabilize the structure so that the new generations can enjoy it as well.

Stratford-Upon-Avon – In the footsteps of Shakespeare

One summer I was bored, I impulsively jumped on a plane to London and took a train to Stratford-Upon-Avon to visit the birthplace of Shakespeare. Don’t ask me why I ended up there of all places, but my fascination of his comedies in general and Much Ado About nothing in special, might have something to do with it.

I spent almost a week in the small, cozy English village, soaking up the atmosphere, admiring the thatched houses and visiting historical buildings, like Shakespeares birthhouse and his new house as well as the house of Anne Hathaway’s parents, where Shakespeare courted his wife-to-be. A week in totall stressless harmony, engulfed in historic poetry. I even ended up having a two hour excistential conversation with a catholic priest at the local church. Quite interesting, especially me being an atheist an all, but that is a story for another time.

Norway – Kristiansand Zoo, 10 reasons why we always return

Kristiansand Zoo 30 km south of Oslo i Norway is not just an ordinary zoo. It’s a zoo, wilderness experience, theme park and water park all rolled into one and that is the reason we keep coming back.

The zoo outdates me with 10 years (without revealing my age) and when I was a kid I always wanted to go there, but never got the chance to (took forever to drive in those days). I guess you can say that that left me with a lifelong quest to finally go there.

When my son was little over a year I finally had a reason to go, and from our first visit we simply fell in love and in our first season we returned 10 times (with a total of 5,5 hours of driving for a return trip, that is considered crazy..). The next couple of years we went even further and bought season passes.

The reasons why we fell in love with the place are plenty, and here are just a few:

1. The animals

Of course, it is called Kristiansand Zoo, so I have to start with the animals. The place really focuses on animal welfare and they are also a part of global breeding programs and I also love the fact that the animals have plenty of space and you are not guaranteed to even catch a glimpse of them. The wolves, for instance, we are only able to spot like 10% of our visits.

 

 

2. Pirates

Kristiansand Zoo has their very own pirate, called Captain Sabertooth and he has both his own village, pirate boat (in which you can join and fight another pirate ship) and he also has several freebie shows during daytime in the summer and an evening show (extra cost) in July. Need I say that we have been to his show around 7-8 times?

 

The kids can also donate their pacifier to Captain Sabertooth for safe keeping in his vault, when they are ready to stop using it. For that they will be rewarded with a bonafide pirate diploma.

 

 

3. Cardemom Town

Cardemom is a small village inside the zoo, that is based on the very popular children’s book “When the Robbers Came to Cardemom Town” by Torbjorn Egner. Here you can visit the houses of many of the main characters and in season you can even stay the night in one of the houses. Several times a day during summer, the characters also come alive and play out some of the scenes from the book. In Cardemom town you can also buy legendary cinnamon buns.

 

4. The Huckybucky forest

Huckybucky forest is also based on a book by Torbjorn Egner; “Claus Climbermouse and the other animals in the Huckybucky forest”. Her you can take a train through the forest and watch scenes from the book played out. Mikkel Fox is as always out to eat the deadbeat mouse Claus and the other smaller animals in the forest. The bear is celebrating its 50th birthday, the baker intern is making cookies totally wrong and Morten Mouse is visiting his grandmother.

 

5. The Water Park

The waterpark is located next to the zoo and you have the option of either buying a combination ticket to both parks or standalone tickets. The first year the water was freezing cold, but now it’s better and last summer they even made an artificial beach here. In addition you have waterslides, an obsticle course, wace pool, baby slides and an indoor pool.

 

6. Crowds

Or, lack of crowds to be more specific. In the zoo (granted that you stay away from the feedings and freebie shows), you can find spots where you are more or less alone. Also, there are plenty of picnic areas where you can enjoy food you have brought from home. During winter they sometimes also make a fire where you can warm your own hot dogs.

 

7. Amusement park

Kristiansand Zoo also has an amusement park with obstacle courses through the forest, lotteries, carousels and much more..

8. Playground and petting zoo

In the park you can find several playgrounds for the younger ones. It aldso have several petting zoos where you can get up close with goats and pigs.

9. Hotels/cottages

If you want a stay-over you have plenty of offers. Across the street you have a nice hotel with a heated pool and right next to the entrance of the park you have the Dyreparken hotel, where all the rooms have an animal theme. If you want to live like a pirate, you have Abra Havn close by (here you will get a visit by pirates every morning during summer) and they even offer tree cabins (can’t wait to try these out…).

 

I sincerely hope I have been able to transfer my love for Kristiansand Zoo into this post. It is really a haven and a perfect spot for me that are not really a fan of big crowds and long lines. The ticket fee is a bit steep, but once paid most of the avtivities inside the park are for free.

Bulgaria – Macarena, green eggs and an intruder in the room

Once upon a time there were two friends in their early twenties going to Bulgaria for a week of party harty… But, despite the fairytale beginning of this story, it wasn’t exactly a castle of a hotel that met us and the receptionist was certainly not a prince. In other words, not the most luxurious of holidays, but certainly one to remember.

This is a while ago (let’s just say more years than I care to admit), before Gardermoen became the main Norwegian airport, so we embarked from good ol’ Fornebu with the magnificent Balkan Air, with wobbly seats and pissed off flight attendants that did not speak a word English. I tried to order a diet coke like 3 times and ended up with lukewarm pineapple juice.. When we finally could place our feet on Bulgarian soil, we were stuffed into a bus and driven by a suicidal bus driver along both narrow streets and steep hills and of course the bus did not have any seat belts. It’s a miracle we did not run anyone over along the way and when we finally reached the hotel, most of were still glued to our seats from fear.

To call it a hotel is kind of an over statement. Fair enough, it did have both a roof and four walls, but other than that the place was a wreck with tiny rooms, dirty bathrooms a grumpy old owner and all of the inventory was yellow from major smoking activity. But, we were not in Bulgaria to hang out in the room, so we basically did not care about the facilities and fell asleep instantly in the hard and uncomfortable bed (fully clothed of course, did not want to expose any skin to the dirty linen). Next day we demanded some clean sheets, and at least we got that for the remainder of the stay. During our stay we also quickly learned that they did not put out spare toilet paper rolls in the room and we did not get a new roll of toilet paper unless we produced the old one in an empty state. So, a couple of times we just stashed away the paper for a safety stock and traded the empty roll for a full one. 

On our first day in Bulgaria, we woke up starving and crossed the street to where breakfast was served. And let’s just say, that was the only day we bothered to get up for breakfast. It seems like the establishment looked at all their customers as potentially thieves, because we were all searched upon exit to make sure we did not smuggle out any food. Why someone would bother with stealing warm cheese, mystery soup and green eggs, I don’t know, but after being yelled at in a foreign language sounding like Russian for asking for more rolls (which in our opinion was the only eatable food at the whole breakfast) we decided that this was our first and last breakfast adventure. 

I know that the start of this story has been a tad negative, but we actually had a great time in Golden Sands, playing beach volley all day and partying all night.The summer back home in Norway was pretty crappy that year, so we really enjoyed our days in the sun. Ordering drinks could, however, sometimes be a challenge, since the bartenders were not always up to speed on drinking habits of Norwegians. For instance, when we tried to order Turkish shots (crushed Turkish pepper candy mixed with vodka), we ended up with plain vodka and a pepper shaker. 

This was the year of the Macarena (as if I hadn’t given away my age before..)and one night we thought it to be an excellent idea to ask every boy we met if they would like to come with us and learn the Macarena. I still want to knock my head against the wall just reminiscing, but we ended up with trying to teach 15-20 boys the Macarena, after first really considering just to sneak out the backdoor of the disco. Just to top that evening we ended up with a (pretty amazing,I am sure) karaoke version of the “Lemon Tree”, applauded by our new-found Macarena buddies. 

One night (I would guess late), we were walking back to our hotel all singing and giggling (charmingly giddy of course) and found the door to the hotel locked. We started to panic of the idea of spending the rest of the night outdoors, so we started to pound on the door, first kind of calmly, and then more frantic, until the door was opened by a half a sleep receptionist. We politely thanked him and stormed in, just to not finding our room. We had managed to walk into the wrong hotel (#woops!). After a real humble apology to the receptionist we then walked a bit shamefully one block further to where our hotel in fact was. When we reached the correct hotel, we had reverted back to our giggly state and our receptionist was in a party mood and invited us in to the backroom for some champagne. We did not quite fancy neither more alcohol, nor spending time with a really old guy (I would guess mid-thirties but bear in mind that this is the perspective of a 20-year-old), so we politely declined and went to our room for some welcoming sleep. Then, later that night, I woke up when someone was opening our door and entering the room. I lay still as a mouse and hardly breathed while the person was hovering over our bed for a while before exiting. I briskly woke up my friend and we barricaded the door for the rest of our vacation. 

On the last night we stuck to only drinking soda and since our flight was early we ordered a wake-up call in the reception (again, revealing my age…). The next morning at 07:00, we woke up by 1 pcs furious tour guide almost knocking the door off its hinges. Turned out the reception had forgotten to wake us up at 06:00 as agreed. The tour guide gave us 5 minutes to pack up before the bus left and luckily we had completed the packing the previous evening, so we were more or less ready. Despite us making it to the bus on time, the tour guide continued to yell at us and bad mouthing us the whole trip to the airport, assuming we had been partying all night.

So, even if the hotel was not at all as promised in the advertising, the receptionist tried to get us drunk, someone entered our room during the night,green eggs for breakfast, pissed off tour guide and an awful airline (where, at the return someone had thrown up in the seat behind us, so it stank all over the cabin…), we did not utter one word of complaint towards the travel agency. Even though I am still kind calm and patient, now many years later, I am not THAT calm and at least I would have wrangled the neck of that brat of a tour guide. 

So, vacation on a budget did deliver, if not that luxurious feeling, so at least plenty of stories that are still amusing to think about, so sometimes the cheapest holiday turn out to be the most  memorable.

Rome – Piazza Navona, ancient square with lots of charm..

 

Piazza Navona is an almost 2000 year old square in Rome, built on an ancient stadium used for athletic competitions. As Castel Saint’Angelo, it also features in the movie based on Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons”, but its fame was secured long before that time. It consists of a square, with 3 fountains; “Fountain of the Four Rivers”, “Fontana del Moro” and the “Fountain of Neptune”. Around the piazza you can find several small restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the view and watch the people passing by. A bit over-prized of course, but considering the location, well worth the extra euros.

 

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The «Fountain of the Four Rivers» is placed in the center of the piazza. It was designed by Bernini in 1651 and depicts the four rivers and continents for which the pope’s authority had spread at the time; the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and the Rio de la Plata.

 

Fountain of Neptune

In the northern part of the piazza is the “Fountain of Neptun”, commissioned in 1565 and designed by Baccio Bandinelli. This massive fountain features the God of the Sea, trident in hand. He lords over four cherubs representing the rivers Nile, Amazon, Danube, and Ganges. Neptune holds his hand out as if to calm the waters, the ultimate symbol of power.

 

Fontana del Moro

Fontana del Moro is a fountain located at the southern end of the piazza. It represents a Moor, or African, standing in a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin, surrounded by four Tritons. It is placed in a basin of rose-colored marble.

To sum up; even if Piazza Navona is definitely one of the tourist traps in Rome, it is well worth a visit. Investigate the work of art, breath the 2000 year history of the place and just sit and enjoy life in one of the restaurants around the piazza.