Saturday, September 15, 2018

Draken Boat -- Philadelphia

I enjoyed playing tourist so much in Europe that when I read about the Drakken Boat coming to Philadelphia, I wanted to see this Viking boat. Don humored me and Ashley voted to stay home on that hot Labor Day.

The tour was only so-so. It really mattered who your guides were. We had Cormac in the front. Cormac saw the boat in Maine while on a friend's boat and decided he wanted to be a part of it. This was only his second day on the job. He was a great public speaker, but had no answers.

In the back we had someone else who was from Russia, who had answers, but a soft voice. His words disappeared into the wind.

As we were leaving we heard the next tour guide regaling his tour with stories about ancient sea travel and Norse mythology. I lingered as long as possible.

I will admit I wanted to see this 10th century boat to see how it compared with Vasa, the boat we saw in Sweden. The short answer is: not really. The Vasa was built in the 17th century. It is MUCH larger than the Drakken. The Drakken was built as a war ship, the dragon on the front was meant to scare their enemies, and identify when the king was on board. When he left the boat (even for a few minutes) the dragon head came down. That was probably the neatest factoid I learned.

The Drakken is 115 feet from stem to stern, 26 feet wide, 260 square meters of silk sail, and a 79 foot tall mast made from Douglas fir. It sailed from Norway to the United States. Construction began in 2010. As the Vikings did not leave records about how they made their boats. This was was created using crashed warships and other artifacts. It is also modernized with things like fire extinguishers and life jackets, and an engine. The original Viking boats traveled from Norway to Newfoundland. This one traveled much, much further. With the engine, its top speed is 14 knots. Without them I think he said it was more like 4-6 knots.

The Drakken Harald sails with about 34-36 people on board. Viking ships of old traveled with 100 or more Vikings. They must not have cared as much about personal space in those days.

The boat is ornately carved with runes. I wish I had more time to study the details.

Ravens are from Norse Mythology: Huginn and Muninn

Firestone Library at Princeton University

My Facebook and local friends know my job search has not been taking the path I wanted it to take. I send our resumes. I get interviews. I get excitement in the eyes of the interviewees. What I do not get are job offers. There are only so many times you can do this same loop before realizing it is time to try a different path.

Hence, my July call and visit to J&J Staffing in Princeton.

Nancy and left things at I would call her in September to remind her of who am I and that I was ready to start temping.

Imagine my shock when I was checking emails in Helsinki after a couple of wifi free days. She had a position for me in Princeton University's Firestone Library starting a week after I came home from our trip -- a week before I wanted to start, but we made it work.

In hindsight, I should not have been surprised since I made a wish while rubbing the toe of a statue behind The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. I should have been clearer -- I want a permanent part-time job, instead of a temporary full-time gig. Anyone know of any magic places near Princeton where I can rub and make a wish? It is rare a wish is granted that quickly. The only other time I remember that happening was on Christmas Eve 1999. We worshiped at the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. During the service we were each given a rose and told to pray for something. When the prayer came true, return the rose to them with what happened. After five years of house hunting, I prayed we would finally find a house to move to in suburbia. Within a month we found the home we are still in 18 years later. A lightning bolt experience.

Back to Firestone. 

Firestone Library is not accessible to the general public. Eleven years ago while a student at Rutgers University I used my Rutgers ID to enter and do "research." Really go sightseeing. Don and Ashley were waiting for me in the lobby, or hanging out at Cotsen Children,s Library, the only area the public is allowed to visit. In the meantime, they have been undergoing a massive construction project since 2010. The plan is to finish it soon. I can't even imagine how impossible it was to access the stacks as the shelving was replaced. Fortunately that part is done. They are still working on two elevators and the main entrance. I don't know what comes next.

It has been a dream being able to go inside Firestone. The first week I used my breaks to play tourist ... up in the tower, around each of the six floors (from the top: 3, 2, 1, A, B, C ... I feel as if I need a Princeton degree to remember which direction I want in the elevator). 

Here are some pictures:

Up in the Tower -- I felt like I was still back in Europe

The view from inside the Tower

Old study carols. 
I identified this as a Boehm from 10 paces

Rare Books study area

A wall made from the fronts of card catalogs

My inner geek totally came out during my interview for this position. I still light up telling non-library types about if you lined up the shelves side by side they would stretch 70 miles. Or how this is one of the largest open stack academi libraries in the country.

I hope future placements are as much fun as this one has been.

Bialashu in the Baltic Sea Area

Bialashu was Ashley's favorite stuffed critter who came with us to Japan. She has since turned into my traveling companion.

Don and I made it a quest to buy a postage stamp in each country to "stamp" in his passport. Let's just say life has been busy at Princeton University while temping for the past three weeks, with four more to go (and a 10-day trip for a race in the middle). Even before that was insane.

We also photographed Bialashu in each country.

Here is Bialashu's photo album:

Denmark -- Town Square
Denmark -- airport

On the boat
Germany in the background


Saw this critter in the park and posed Bialashu with him


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Living la vida 1990s?

Last month the three of us embarked on a two-week Northern European cruise, which started and ended in Denmark. Perhaps the most surprising part of the trip was how many different foreign currencies we used. Thank goodness for credit cards or we would have come home with bank fees for converting the money, and extra money. By the time we reached Stockholm I had no sense of the exchange rate.

I managed to come home with less than a hundred euros as my only foreign currency. With a planned trip to Paris next week, they will be put to good use.

Home: US dollars 
Layover in Switzerland: Swiss Franc (.97:1)
Denmark: Danish Krone (6:1)
Germany: Euros -- with the caveat that most places in Berlin DO NOT take credit cards (.86:1 -- ouch)
Estonia: Euros
Russia: Russian Rubles (67:1)
Norway: Euros
Sweden: Swedish Krona (11:1)
Back to Denmark and the Danish Krona
Layover in Canada: Canadian Dollars (1.3:1)
Home again
Counting it all up, that makes seven different forms of currency in only 14 days. I believe that is a new record for me. Not sure it is one I aspire to try to beat.

Basically I wanted a place to write down the exchange rates since they vary. Nadya, our Russian tour guide, said the rate was in the thirties a year earlier. We should have spent more money since the rate was twice as good in our favor.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Return to Copenhagen: Bicycles

Within our first day in Copenhagen, Don declared the city had too many bicycles. That is a lot coming from him.

The Danish have a huge surtax on cars. A lot as in 150-180%, and the cars are not cheap in the first place. Hard to complain about 7% sales tax on cars in New Jersey. HERE is a blog post about the situation that explains it better than I can.

The Danish government did a huge push to encourage cycling. A quick eyeball, and I'd say most of the cyclists in Denmark are women. Don has seen statistics supporting my theory. Women feel comfortable cycling in Denmark. Cyclists wear their normal, everyday clothes while commuting. On our first few days it was very hot out, and the women were wearing sundresses.

Helmets are rare. Some people now wear something around their necks that looks like a neck brace, but is actually an airbag. It senses when you are about to fall off the bike and rapidly inflates. Fortunately we did not see any in action. Don thought about getting one, but it has not been approved for use (yet) in the United States. At $250 for one, he wasn't sure if he would really use it. Plus it would take up surprisingly a lot of space in the suitcase.

Don's real complaint was the amount of discarded bicycles. In places like this two-story parking lot by the Central Train Station many of the bicycles seem abandoned. There certainly seem to be more bicycles than cyclists. All over town we saw bicycles in states of neglect -- including missing parts and spiderwebs. 

Then there is the cycling traffic --- the cyclists have the right of way and are not sharing it with cars or pedestrians. Our tour guide referred to the bell on bicycles as a death warning. If you don't move when you hear that sound, the cyclist will run you over.

The city has made itself more bike friendly. In 2016 they opened the "Kissing Bridge." Other than having a lousy design, it is a huge success. They initially hoped 3,000-7,000 people would use it each day. Instead 16,000 people do (cyclists and pedestrians). It comes in at the center of the city near Nyhavn -- one of the most popular pickpocket, um...tourist, spots in Copenhagen.

The United States can (and in some places is) learning a lot from Copenhagen's example. On the other hand, Copenhagen could do a massive sweep of abandoned bicycles and clean up their city!

Return to Copenhagen: Wrapping Up

Before closing my notebook on this trip, let me add in a few stray notes about Copenhagen.

I wish our church had as many
bicycles lined up by it.
Sunday morning we attended St. Alban's Anglican Church, which was in the heart of the biking portion of the Ironman competition, a theme for the day. I loved their new priest's sermon. Revd Smitha Prasad embraced the chaos outside the church and declared "My God is a Gutsy God. God is the original Ironman." She continued with "the whole of God meets the whole of us in Jesus -- the good, the bad, and the ugly." And "we are in the business of cooperation, not in a competition like the Ironmen. We can talk, listen, or be quiet. It is not about being right or or wrong, but about being in a relationship with God."

I also loved that the church updated its website warning worshipers about the competition and suggesting alternatives, such as take the train and walk a couple of extra blocks rather than the usually more convenient bus line.

In the lead when I took this picture
We then tripped through the Ironman competition. In order to do the running portion of the race, they had to run 4.5 loops mile loops through the Nyhavn (port) section of Copenhagen, a section that is quite beautiful, but not four times in a row.

We then kept striking out. Tried to go to the Black Diamond Library I thought was open most of the time (therefore did not make it a priority). Only to find out it is closed on Sundays. Tried to go the the Jewish Museum (next door to the library, and in the hub of the Ironman action). It was about to close. "Come back Tuesday," was the advice. Maybe another time.

We finally decided to use Google maps, wifi, and an old-fashioned paper map to find an Aldi grocery store. Don likes shopping at the Aldi's in our area. Of note, they carried a fair share of Trader Joe items, which we have never seen in the states. The Aldi's in Berlin seemed to carry more specialty items. Don enjoyed looking around.

Food in general was an issue. Denmark is a very expensive city. It was not uncommon for us to spend $100 on dinner for the three of us, and still be hungry. That is with drinking tap water and only getting an entry. Don said he should have enjoyed the buffet more. A trip through our local Wegmans helped me appreciate how cheaply we can purchase food. 

I will end with a post about bicycles.

Return to Copenhagen: The Court Theatre and Theatre Museum

Don saw a tiny blurb in the Lonely Planet's Pocket Copenhagen guide about a theater museum. This launched a quest where we zigzagged the streets of Copenhagen darting between competitors in the Ironman competition. You just can't make this stuff up.

After much searching, and ending up in the wrong place at least twice, we finally found the museum near Christiansborg (not near Ameliasborg and also not near the Royal Theatre). All I can say was I skipped breakfast before going to church and my brain was not acting on all cylinders. 

Happily we find the Theatre Museum. Unfortunately their credit card machine was down. I've mentioned this in other posts, but the main way to pay for anything from a postage stamp on up is by credit card. The docent took pity on us and declared the only solution was we go in for free. Funny, I was thinking the only solution was to scrounge for whatever money I had in my purse (Danish Kronan, Euros, US Dollars ... ) and play "Let's Make a Deal." I liked his solution much better.

The Court Theatre celebrated its 250th anniversary last year. While it does not currently have a theater troupe associated with it, The Court Theatre still puts on productions.

We had the place mostly to ourselves. We could hang out in the royal boxes, walk all around the stage, visit the Green Room, see the "Throne Room," play with the sound machines (the old-fashioned ones, not the control panel Ashley is standing next to). The docent took us behind the rope and showed us their giant paint brushes. 

The stage is about 27 meters long (almost 90 feet), about the same as the space where the audience sits. It has a one meter (three foot) rise making it easier to see the people in the back. 

In the wings and hallways are props and costumes from past performances. 

There are three different sets of royal seats. I don't remember the third one, but the first was for the king and the second was for the countess when the king was not in attendance. I noted "countess" instead of "queen," so there must be a story.

A model of the museum and the different wings

 The green room was stunning.

The king's "throne" room. Let's hope the glass door is a new addition.

In the area around the stage (the fancy formal name escapes me), actors have signed their names over the years. They are only visible if you are on the stage, looking for the autographs. 

 Collection of paintbrushes used to paint sets that are on the floor. Easier on the back this way. Each one is about 3 feet long (as a guess, maybe 4-5 feet long). Don and Ashley, who have both painted sets, felt that was genius.
Ashley in her favorite spot in a theater -- near the control panel. Yes, it is a bit modern for a 251-year old museum, but it is still a working theater with modern needs.

Overall, the museum is probably not worth visiting on its own. However, had we planned better we could have done a combination ticket with Christiansborg Palace, which is worth seeing (though we were too tired from Russian castles and Frederiksborg Castle that we did not visit it). The ticketing structure overwhelmed me -- it was a la carte, but then you could do a combination ticket. 

However, if you are into theater, I would recommend visiting it. If your visit is as quiet as ours was, you will be able to enjoy all of it.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Return to Copenhagen: Frederiksborg Castle

Our return to Copenhagen was uneventful. We were able to eat until we were full, and leave the room around 9 AM. We expected to be kicked off the boat at 6 AM, so 9 AM was a treat. We were glad we bought the bus ticket to the center of town, especially since we paid for the tickets from some magic shore credit account that was the use-it-or-lose-it type of account (the surplus went to our room steward). 

Before our cruise, Tine, our AirBNB hostess, let us keep a spare key to her apartment. Once we made it to the center of town we walked to her place and dropped off our suitcases and were free to go sightseeing.

We bought a Zones 1-99 all-day metro pass and took the train to Frederiksborg Castle. Ellie, a friend, raved about the palace and town saying if you only go to one palace, this is the one. It is an easy 45-minute train ride from the Central Train Station.

We were hungry when we arrived in the town of Hillerod, so we found a cafe. I had the "Stone Age Meal," which sounded very Paleo -- a salad plus beef stir fry (no rice). Don had the lasagna and Ashley had an avocado salad with smoked salmon.

According to the Rick Steves' book on Copenhagen, this castle is the "Danish Versailles." It is overwhelming.

Devastated by a fire in 1859, it has since been restored. Generations of monarchs have lived here. There are four floors of rooms to see covering 500 years of Danish history, most items include an English translation but seems the most interesting items did not have translations, or maybe that is what made them even more exotic. That is a lot to absorb.

The top floor covers the past century from when Iceland split off from Denmark (in 1918) until as close to today as possible. It included current pictures of the royal family.

Of note, we only saw two beds during the entire tour. I guess royals don't sleep.

At one point we saw a couple of women in old-fashioned clothing dash through the halls. Cosplay? Reenactor? About 10 minutes later I overheard a tour guide say in English, as she pointed to a portrait, that the group had "met" the princess earlier. I couldn't tell which princess. Umm...okay.

The Great Hall had a fun exhibit about the life of crowned Prince Frederick (age 50), who is next in line to be monarch. He is very well loved by the general population (as is his mother, Queen Margarethe). The exhibit even included the bicycle he used to transport his kids to elementary school when they were younger.

No one's three generation picture is as cool as this one.

A Gutenberg Bible
I was disappointed the chapel was closed to tourists. It was a Saturday afternoon in the summer and the chapel is also the local church. They had five weddings and two christenings scheduled for that space. After asking different guards, all of whom thought it would be open "at some point" for tourists between events, a guard who seemed to be in charge and told us to meet him at 4:15. If things ran on time, they would open the chapel for about 10 minutes. Since Rick Steves raved about the chapel, if it could happen, I wanted to see it.

We finished up inside and toured the gardens a bit. Though not as fancy as Peterhof in St. Petersburg, they were still quite admirable.

THAT'S how you make an entrance!
The King came into the room on his chair through a hole in the floor.

Christian V's coat of arms

The wallpaper in this room was restored
within the past couple of years.

Ashley's world history class coming to life.

Another astronomical clock
(saw one at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg)

The reenactors who popped up out of nowhere.

Royal nick knacks in a curio

The gardens were partly modeled after English maze garden. In at least one section, it was used for growing food.

It was time to visit the inside of the chapel. It has a very long main aisle, and a box for royals. The ornate organ looked impressive. I was confused because the organ has a date of 1863 on it, which surprised me because they had a major fire in 1859. I would have thought they would still be rebuilding other things four years later, not investing in an organ. The chapel was not damaged. The chapel is where royal weddings and coronations take place. It looks regal.

King Christian IXs mark

Coats of arms

After exhausting the castle, we took the train back to Copenhagen. Here we noted there are specific train cars specifically for baby carriages and others just for bicycles. We knew they were bike-friendly, but there is also enough of a baby boom to merit train cars just for strollers and their parents.

I was disappointed to learn after we returned to Copenhagen we missed the Gay Pride Parade by about an hour. Gay Pride Week was scheduled to go through Sunday, but ended on Saturday because the Ironman Competition was taking over Copenhagen on Sunday. I really think there are enough weekends in the summer they could have both had their time, but what do I know. Maybe Copenhagen is just that happening of a place.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe and noted the gay pride decorations.

Lots of Gay Pride flags flying

The view out the Hard Rock Cafe window of City Square -- the hub of Gay Pride events.

Back to our room for the night. It was a bit tight for the three of us and our luggage, but we had been warned. Best feature was the window looking out to the courtyard below. It provided a nice breeze on the hot nights.