Category: On Travel

Discover the World with Mispronunciations

People mispronounce words all the time, don’t they? And not only when it is according to accent, e.g, American English, British English. The old you say tomat(e)o, I say tomotto. That is not really a mispronunciation. It is a matter style, if you will. High time some folks come to grips with that. Never mind.

Anyhow, I am talking about words whether in English, French or Spanish and so on, that have the same pronunciation – most of them proper nouns, of course.

The ‘s’ in words such as Cannes or even Paris is silent, for example. But who is to know this unless they really know the cities, right, or the language. Wrong, the most savvy of travellers don’t always get it, right. I should know.

So when someone gets it wrong, what then? A) Ignore the faux pas, while feeling embarrassed for their ignorance, B) Correct them promptly, at the risk of being rude, C) Weave the correct pronunciation into conversation, quite politely.

I have been on both ends of all three answers and in the middle, too, watching on during such slip-ups. But in an early experience with this sort of thing years ago, not having been too far outside of Georgia, I mispronounced, okay I botched the word Bethesda, as in Maryland, only in the company of one friend, and her blunt correction left me marred until this day. Her voice, the weight of a strict teacher’s is still in my head. Needless to say, B is the wrong answer.

Then what about A? Wouldn’t it be best not to say anything? Your friend or associate will stumble upon the truth, sooner or later. Not necessarily. A few years ago, still a green expat, if you will, I pronounced Newcastle, as in England, New Castle, as in New York, time and again, until one bold person resorted to B, in a rather hit me over the head sort of a way. Shocked that A, no one had told me politely after all that time and miffed that B, when they did, they were rude, I refrained from pronouncing strange words, so I thought until recently.

In a casual conversation, I chatted easily about something I thought I knew about. After we had changed the subject, my associate so very cleverly and graciously weaved back to it, asking a question about the town/city I spoke of, pronouncing it correctly. So what do you think of Mar-baya, she said as in Marbella, Spain?

The rule here is that the two ll’s in some Spanish words such as Marbella, sound a bit like a ‘y’. Ok, how is an English speaking person to know that unless they have studied Spanish? Actually, though true, it is irrelevant to the point, which is well summed up in an apropos James Joyce quote.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

As for me, best get on with discovering, with a view that some tactful person will help me see (C) my way through it.






Living the Castle Life in England

Castles… England has much to offer in castles. Actually, all of the United Kingdom does, but for this reason precisely as well as the fact that I’ve had the occasion to hang out at only a few castles, if you will, over the years, I’m keeping this blog to England. Most recently this weekend, while celebrating a momentous family event, we stayed at Langley Castle Hotel and then toured Alnwick Castle, both in in Northumberland.

For castle buffs and historians, I do realise that Langley is not of the same category or class, so to speak, as the likes of Alnwick and the more well-known Windsor or perhaps Warwick Castle, all of which I have visited.

And thank goodness it isn’t or we wouldn’t have been allowed to stay there. Still, Langley has an intriguing history, built in 1350, during the reign of Edward III, and has been the estate of Lords and Ladies over the years. Sadly, two of the Lords were executed, at the Tower of London, having taken part in the Jacobite rising of 1715. Told you, intriguing history.

Anyhow, after this, the crown confiscated the property and later in the 1880s a local historian purchased it and saw to keeping its architectural integrity and all the rest.

Enough history to get the flavour of the Langley today—a fantastic example of tradition in the present and I hope with a future. Highlights of the castle hotel include the swish rooms with alcoves overlooking the beautiful grounds and its red-carpeted traditional spiral staircase.

Having lived like a Lord and Lady of the manor for a short spell, we went off to see how a modern day Duke and Duchess live. Owners of Alnwick Castle and its gardens, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, and his wife, Jane Percy, live large.

From the beautiful gardens, which the Duchess is best known for redeveloping to the grand castle itself, to which the couple have done extensive restorations and repairs, Alnwick is a thing of the past, as well as one of the now. As such the noble couple vacate it for seven months of the year, opening it to thousands of visitors daily.

Highlights include the 350 cherry blossoms in bloom, the sprawling stairwells leading to the staterooms and the rooms themselves with the many paintings and wall hangings. And if you are a Downton Abbey fan, which I reticently admit I am not, you’ll appreciate the exhibition from the filming that took place at Alnwick.

Back to life as I know it, which is not bad, not bad at all, I must say I rather enjoyed the castle life, if only for a short spell.

London Lights Up European Tour

Lately, I have run into a few Americans in European cities who have decided to give London a miss on their tour or I’ve heard my friends and acquaintances tell of their travels abroad sans London, too.

‘What is up with that?’ I have asked often. ‘London is a great city. You will never tire of it, promise!’

‘Not the problem,’ I have been told.

‘Then what is it?’

It’s expensive, really expensive. Fair enough, but you are not coming to live in the place for pete’s sake. You are coming to visit and when it comes to entertainment for free, London has much to choose from. From checking out its many cathedrals to its eclectic neighbourhoods, right in central London, the city promises to light up any European holiday.

Literally, this past weekend, London lit up in a special way. Though you will always find Leicester Square heaving, it was teeming that much more with Londoners and tourists alike this weekend, those keen to see what all the light of the Lumiere Festival was about. There, was the Garden of Light, first stop on Lumiere’s map.

Though a bit crowd shy, Paul and I wrapped up and joined in with the sightseeing on Saturday, the second night of the event, but chose to make Leicester Square, our last stop with a view that we would grab a bit to eat at one of our favourite spots in Covenant Garden. Not a chance. Never mind, we ended up in South Kensington, where we lived when I first arrived in London.

Posh neighbourhood indeed, but even there one can get a bite to eat without breaking the bank. Though we had planned on sitting down to one of the many neighbourhood restaurants, we ended up grabbing a take away from Rotisserie Jules. But I digress.

Back to Lumiere and where we started, (Mayfair), we got off to a slow start, when daunted by the crowds herding into Grosvenor Square to see the two, possibly three light displays—Brothers and Sisters, Spinning Night in Living Colour and the Light Bench. Not sure if we saw the latter or not. Never mind, we headed to Regent Street, where things literally lit up.

With the famous shopping street closed to cars, crowds adored the 1.8 London display on one end of the street, streaming like a ribbon in the wind,  and on the other end was Les Lumineoles, fluorescents of the fish species. Also on Regent’s street was Keyframes light show, beamed from Liberty’s Department store.

On from there we headed to Piccadilly, where perhaps our favourite was 195 Piccadilly, a display of picturesque faces on the building next to Maison Assouline. Eager to escape the crowds, however, we took side streets into St James and into what was perhaps the heart of the festival, Les Voyageurs, The Travellers, featuring amazing characters perched on buildings around the area or seemly flying through the night.

Having had our fill of crowds, ranging from young to old, we decided to give a miss to Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Mall and King’s Cross. Okay, so we missed out on a big part of Lumiere but not because we were tired of it, or of London.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’

And though Lumiere is over, such events as it have a way of lighting up an already happening city, an enlightening stop on any European tour.





Expat Takes An Extended Holiday in January

While the first week of the New Year means back to business for most, it means an extended holiday for me and has done so for the last fifteen years—wedding anniversary time.

Over the years we have celebrated as far away as St Lucia and as close as London and many times in fantastic cities somewhere in between such as Dubrovnik, one of our most memorable commemorations.

This year, we added Florence, Italy, to our list and made memories that we will treasure for years to come. While there was no sunshine to soak up, the food, fashion and culture made up for it.

With so much to see and do, we hardly knew where to start in Florence. Aptly, since Paul had some work that could not be ignored, we began to taste the flavour of the city in our beautiful room, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, perhaps Florence’s most recognised bridge.

From there, we did a reconnoitre of the shops on Via de Torbabouni, akin to New Bond Street and Madison Avenue, and those around it, paving the way for my solo expedition the next day.

Ending the day, I visited the Ferragamo Museum and was reminded of my first brush with luxury brands, some thirty years ago. Not that I could afford anything as such, but my very stylish boss at the time (you know who you are) absolutely loved Ferragamo shoes and rightly so. While I likely had a shoe obsession long before I moved to New York City, it definitely exacerbated in the company of the luxury brands and those who wore them. Still, no Ferragamos for me on this trip, but I did look long and hard at a pair of limited edition wedges, an original design of the master himself.

The next day, I ventured to the Gucci Museum, though I can’t say I am dripping in Gucci designs. My personal favourites are their watches, of which I have bought a few over the years. Still the museum, which charts the history of the brand from a 1920’s meagre leather goods shop to a modern day luxury brand, is fascinating. Running through Gucci’s history are a few everyday items such as the horse bit and bamboo, which have become icons of luxury.

Michelangelo's  David,
Michelangelo’s David,

Nevertheless, Florence isn’t just about fashion, it’s about culture more than anything else. From the Galleria Uffizi to the Galleria Academia, Florence houses a stunning display of original paintings and sculptures. Most notable, of course, is Michelangelo’s David. Even if you have seen pictures, copies of the statue, there ain’t nothing like the real thing, which is a good segue to Italian food.

Most memorable has to be our anniversary dinner at Il Palagio, housed in the Four Seasons. Looking at my beautiful menu, I commented to Paul that we might be in for another Era Ora experience where we had no idea what the dinner would cost. Remember, Copenhagen?

Not so, he said, smiling and then explained the custom of giving the host, the man, the menu with the prices and spare his guest (s). There you go, I ordered away and for the first time had pigeon. I know, I know. But it was excellent, as was the surprise anniversary cake of sorts, made by the restaurant’s chef, presented with a red rose for me.

If that wasn’t enough to confirm Florence as a romantic city, we witnessed a marriage proposal the next day at the Gucci Museum café, lad on bended knee and all.

It’s the perfect place to consider holy matrimony, since Florence is perhaps best known for its holiness. Not only evident in its symbolic art all around the city, Christianity’s mark on Florence is on display in and outside of its many churches, cathedrals. Its most famous, the Duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore, is a magnificent Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata.

Having vowed not to climb to the top of the Duomo, some 463 steps, Paul and I stopped just short of the cupola, as we were short on time and I must admit, breath, too. Still we saw up close and personal Giorgio Vasarils famous frescoes of the Last Judgement.

Breathtaking, even if we didn’t get the best view of Florence in the end. Still, we felt we experienced the best of the city, racking up another memorable celebration. Here’s is to extended holidays in January, even if is back to work today.


Precious Memories Safe: More to Come in Paris

Friday’s terrorists attacks in Paris painfully remind us of how vulnerable we all are, how fragile life is. On this note, today with bloggers, journalists, people around the world, I mourn the loss of the 129 people who died there and express grief for the many other lives that have been shattered, too.

Also, we mourn the loss of security, as we have known it as a free society, in this great city, at least for a while.

But as atrocities of the past have shaken us, have robbed us of liberties and caused us great pain, also they have connected and strengthened us in our darkest hours, so that we have overcome. So will this one.

As I watched the end of BBC Breakfast this morning, I was so very touched by the show of unanimity around the world, different world cities flying and displaying the tricolour, the French flag, on buildings, in the air, and so on.

Wistfully, I remembered some of my special moments in Paris, a city where people go to celebrate life, soak up youth, and quite frankly run free. Most recently, I was there on Mother’s Day, unable to be in the US, but outside of the Musée d’Orsay, a favourite hangout, I spoke to my mother, soaking up the Parisian atmosphere. How very special.

Memories are precious, for sure. And though intangible, they are safe and well as long as the human mind is so. To this comforting end, surely Paris will be safe and well again, soon and very soon. Until then, may the spirit of freedom reign, not only there but also in other notable world cities, too.






Hundreds Play What City Is This?

Thank you to the nearly 350 people who played my travel game, What City Is This, and the high percentage (approx. 50%) who shared it or liked it for an opportunity to win one of five scratch globes to map their travels.

Scratch that, the scratch globe that is (I am still assembling mine) and replace it with a scratch map, equally as novel but less fiddly, offering instant mapping.

The winners are: Bubuth Suarez, Naveen Jonathan, Nisha Trichinda, Evan Denuevo Sudario and Anna Summer.

Congratulations to each of them. Shortly after this post, each winner will receive a direct message from me with instructions on how to claim their map.  If not claimed within a week of messaging, I will select alternate (s).

Again thanks to everyone who played for a chance to win the prize. And though the contest is over, the game is still available to play. Click here. So why not test your travel knowledge or just play for fun.  In the meantime, What City Is This?














Do You Know Your World Cities?

I’ve been travelling internationally for years now, long before I moved to London some seventeen years ago. My first stop might very well have been London, or was it Manila, if you don’t count Mexico City. But I do! So never mind where it was.

Anyhow, after returning from Scandinavia earlier this summer,  I found myself browsing my photographs over the years and wondered had I truly become a globetrotter. Quickly, I disqualified myself, knowing full well that I have many more miles to travel.

Still I have seen a few places and gained so much for it, so I thought it would be fun and also a tad bit eye opening to share some of the photographs via a game. Thus, I created ‘What City Is it?’.

Click here to play the game and share with your fiends on social media  to enter the draw to win a scratch globe to map your own travels.  So go on get guessing.

A Memorable Flavour of Denmark

Though it was a month ago that we returned from Scandinavia, memories of our time there hang over me like a refreshing morning mist, even if I have rushed off to the US somewhere in between, encountering a very different world. But that’s another story. For now, I bring you the final blog in the three part series on our tour of three of the Nordic states. Off to Denmark, we go!

Twenty minutes on a ferry and Sweden was behind us once again, as we had stopped over in its second city, Gothenburg, after leaving Oslo, Norway’s capital. But this time we were in Denmark, home of Kronborg Castle, aka Shakespeare’s Elsinore Castle, Hamlet’s home.

As anxious as I was to visit the castle, we took a stroll around the town of Helsingor, actually more like a trot to find some food. You see, after a near bust up over whether we would eat food on the ferry or not, I knew that time was of the essence.

Thus, we dashed into a charming restaurant that served smorrebord only, traditional open Scandinavian sandwiches. The manager explained that they offered one plate only with three kinds of sandwiches—fried fish, shrimp and egg, and a meat—alongside beer and a shot, all for less than 10 pound sterling. Before I dared to say no, never having acquired a taste for beer, he offered soft drinks or a small bottle of wine in lieu of the beer and the shot.

Secretly, I dreaded yet more bread and what I presumed would be cheap wine. I haven’t had a soft drink for well over a year, but I couldn’t risk tipping our relationship over the edge. And at that stage wine was welcome, although water would have been wiser.

‘We’ll stay, ‘ I said and opted for the red wine, while settling down at the sturdy wooden table. Paul followed my lead. Though he appreciates beer, he did not fancy a shot in the middle of the day. Wonder why?

Surprisingly to both of us, the food was delicious, though I only ate the toppings and left the rye bread. And I enjoyed the wine, too. Thank goodness, we got off to a good start in the land of Danes. And after lunch despite the sporadic rain we took a stroll around the pretty tourist town.

The likes of Windsor with a castle as its backdrop, Helsingor was bustling with people. Most noticeably, even there, was the country’s international flavour alongside the traditional foods and designs. But in the interest of time, we didn’t tarry; we headed to the castle.

  • Kronborg Castle is a perfect place for the imagination to wander. Built from 1574 to 1585 by Frederick II, the lavish castle was a symbol of power in those days but tragically burned down in 1629.
  • Christian IV rebuilt the castle and though it was captured by the Swedes some thirty years later and plundered and then used as a military defence for years, in the early 20th century, the Danes restored it to its original glory and proudly open it to the public as a World Heritage site.

After rushing through our tour, we headed to the capital. The approach to Copenhagen is similar to driving into London, not literally, but unless you come from the East, where the London’s skyline is amazing, you might be disappointed until you are in the belly of the city. Not that everything in between is totally unattractive in either metropolis, but the modest houses, dreary shops and neighbourhoods, don’t represent the heart of the world- class cities at all.

At last in the Danish capital, we got what we expected—a vibrant capital with much to see and do. Though much smaller in population (approx 562,000) than London, for example, its shopping is on par with most cosmopolitan cities and its sightseeing and culture are competitive, too.

Though we enjoyed touring the city by boat, soaking up the atmosphere from the water, we walked around its pretty streets, too. Favourites sights and activities were glimpsing The Little Mermaid and then checking out the Hans Christian Andersen exhibition.


The first night we would have the crème de la crème of the holiday meals booked well in advance at Era Ora, Copenhagen’s oldest Michelin star restaurant, after not being able to secure a place at Noma, which has two Michelin stars and has been voted the world’s best restaurant three times.

Also the only Italian restaurant in Scandinavia to hold a Michelin star, however, Era Ora did not disappoint in food or atmosphere. After struggling to select a bottle of wine for less than £100, Paul leaned over and asked a very important question.

‘Do you have any idea what this is going to cost?’

Houston, we have a problem, I thought to myself, suddenly realising that we could be in for a very big conversation as well as the most expensive meal that we’d ever paid for, just for the two us!

And we were (the latter, that is) but after inconspicuously agreeing that it was no one’s fault, we enjoyed the moment and wrote it off as an investment in our marriage.

Still, we opted for a lesser meal in courses and in price the next night, having been referred by a shop assistant to a new trendy place, owned by former sous chefs of Noma. That’s where we discovered organic wine – the new thing in Denmark and apparently in London, too.

Would we go back to Copenhagen? Of course, it is a world class city and though I had been warned that racial issues might crop up in Denmark more so than any other place, I found its capital the most diverse in character and in population of all the three capitals that we visited on the tour—the other two, Oslo and Stockholm.

Admittedly, we only tasted the flavour of Denmark and Copenhagen might not be representative of the country, but there, if not anywhere else in the country, there is a ubiquitous feeling in the air that one whiffs in cities such as Paris, London and New York. This is a place with both heart and soul, which brings its varied people together to a similar rhythm, if you will.

Like other world cities it has its problems, but even underneath its cloudy skies, one thing is clear–Copenhagen is youthful and vibrant, even in its old age, and by design, is leading the way to a more eclectic Scandinavia.


Food – Unpretentious Michelin star restaurants galore! We loved Era Ora!

Shopping – The Stroget has both high-end and high street shopping – something for everyone!

Copenhagen – A capital city with a fantastic atmosphere. Nice to tour, even in the rain.

Krongborg Castle – Historical and magical!



Laid back shop assistants – Though I made friends with the person I actually bought from, very nice, others were less than interested!

Tacky touristy restaurants – The food capital of the world has some undesirables, too. Don’t they all.

Limited Parking – Not just in Copenhagen but also in Helsingor, one is best to ditch the car.



Fjords, Food and Other Natural Features of Norway

When we reached Norway, the terrain changed literally. The wide paved roads, some of them red, with clear markings down the center were behind us, replaced by roads with potholes and no dividers at all, seemingly stretching for miles ahead. Earlier I had wished for Norway, at last bored with the manicured land and pretty red houses of Sweden.

Now I questioned the whereabouts of this unrivalled beauty yet to come.

‘You do realise the scenery will be same,’ Paul said, focusing on the narrow curvy road.

“Not hardly,’ I boasted remembering crossing the Florida, Georgia state line as a child, after a visit with my grandparents –one state’s smooth roads barely discernible underneath the car tires, while the other’s were rough and rocky, as if the car had a flat.

Just then some free ranging goats and elks wandered across the road. Admittedly, our Swedish guide had warned us about Norway’s unregulated sheep, some sleeping on the roads in areas mimicking hinterlands, but she had not mentioned this lot.

As we drove by cautiously, we knew it would be slow travelling onwards. Not only would we have to worry about hitting carefree sheep and incurring the sorrow of doing so as well as a heavy penalty, but also we would have to fret about elk, goats and possibly reindeer, too.

And so we tarried and even if I did need to make a stop, we kept moving. With Sweden’s lovely rest areas replaced by small Wc’s akin to out houses and coffee stalls, we began to truly understand the meaning of a layman’s pit stop. We gave them a miss and pressed on to Roros, a debatably charming former mining town in Norway, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in the 1980s.

Glad to be in the middle of somewhere, we ascertained that it was the farthest that I had been north ever, some 444 kilometer (276 miles) away from the Artic Circle, Here we saw day, even if it was dusty, stretch well into night until around 11.00 p.m.

Also, Roros was where we got our first taste of good Norwegian cooking at Vertshuset, likely the best restaurant in town. From then on dinner would play a key role in our experience in Norway with family owned businesses serving up home made meals replete with fresh, local ingredients, featuring bread to my detriment. Glad you remembered I’m gluten intolerant. I forgot.

Still, the best of food was yet to come in Denmark, but that is another story.

Admittedly, however, Norwegian cooking made up for the cooler atmosphere, particularly further north, not only in the air, but also in the people. There, even hospitality staff served with a cool curiosity and watched us suspiciously. In the guests, we saw an austerity and a preserved a way of life. To my mind, we fell into what I call the outsider trap, suddenly aware of our differences and wearing them like they were an inferiority complex. In Sweden we had worn who we are with equality.

In Roros, at breakfast, we walked into a chilly room filled with middle aged to elderly Norwegians. The waiter found us a place with two ladies who smiled demurely but who kept silent. Momentarily, there seemed to be an inherent defense for a way of life that would cast a spell on our holiday. But thankfully, as we drove further into the natural beauty of Norway, the spell lifted.

An overnight in the Lom region, where we had another lovely dinner at the Fossheim Hotel, would see us through the fog, metaphorically. From then on any fog we experienced would be as mystical and beautiful as the very fjords it hung over.

From crossing Sognefjell, Norway’s highest mountain passage, beginning our fjord tour, to driving through Hallingdal Valley to ending our scenic drive in Oslo, Norway’s capital, we witnessed exceptional beauty, from close-up waters surrounded by glistening mountainous rocks, some snow capped, to distant lakes, bordered by grassy, robust mountains.


Need I say more about the fjords, both Sognefjorded and Hardangerfjorden; they speak for themselves. But I will say that Norway’s most burgeoning tourist town, Bergen, was well worth the visit, if only to see Bryggen, the unequivocally beautiful Norwegian street, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, too. And then we went off to Oslo, the country’s capital. A smaller capital by comparison to many with a population of just over six hundred thousand of Norway’s five million people, Oslo is replete with character, culture and clean-cut folks, most of them seemingly with a clear conscious. Here is where I inadvertently left my reasonably expensive coat in the waiting lobby of a restaurant for two hours or more. I found it just as I had left it.

Never mind the surly taxi driver, who like the one in Stockholm over charged us or the young man in the cinnamon bun shop on the Bryggen, who wasn’t sure whether he should serve me or not. Norway is definitely off the beaten path and all the better for it.


THE FJORDS – Formed by glaciers during the ice age(s), Norway’s fjords are deep, narrow and elongated seas or lake drains, with steep land on three sides. Stunning scenery!

BERGEN – Norway’s most energetic city on the Fjord route. Bustling with lots to do and see.

  •  Bryggen – Pretty street with wooden houses – a UNESCO Heritage site
  • Funicular Ride – a train ride up to a high point over looking the city. Great views!

THE FOOD – Great restaurants, even in not so great spots, but fantastic at the likes of the Walaker Hotel in Solvorn!

INGENUITY – Engineering fetes all over the place in roads built in and over the mountains. The tunnels are built through the mountains and are complete with wi fi, roundabouts, etc.…the longest one we were in was 22 kilometers (13.5 miles).


RAMBLING SHEEP – As cute as they are, sheep should not be allowed to hold traffic hostage, particularly at the mouth of a tunnel.

RESERVED LOCALS – Perhaps there is a shyness rather than reservation, as of the five million people, only a fraction of them foreigners.

ROAD TOLLS – Somebody has to pay for the new tunnels and the new roads. Never mind! They do stop charging when the work stops.

POOR ROADSIDE AMENITIES – Fuel up in the city or you’ll be walking for miles and take a restroom break, too, or brave a roadside stop.


Sweden Exhibits Youthfulness, Despite Old Age

Until recently Freja (not her real name), whom I met when I first came to London 17 years ago, was all I knew about Sweden, her straw blonde hair, friendly smile,  ruddy cheeks; her eagerness to speak English; her proudness to be Swedish alongside her desire to be a part of the wider world.

Even after her boyfriend’s ex-wife of Afro-Caribbean descent referred to her as a ‘thing’, she responded with minimal upset as if she understood on some level the limitations of such thinking. It could have been just as easy to cry reverse discrimination and own the experience. Yet, she rejected it and got on with being Swedish in an evolving English country.

All those years ago Freja taught me all I needed to know about her country to enjoy a visit there—that Swedish pride, anchored in tradition, not only soars far beyond Nordic shores in its big brands–Ericsson, H&M, Electrolux, Volvo, SAAB, the Stieg Larsson books, and so on—but lives largely in its people, its very atmosphere.

From the warm welcome we received at Arlanda airport by our middle-aged lady taxi driver, who was pre-arranged by our tour agency, to the heartfelt farewell from the young man at our hotel, we felt a spirit of kindness, of willingness, and quite frankly of youthfulness.

Of course there were the anomalies—the calculating taxi driver, who doubled the fare while putting on a friendly face, and the surly waiter, who pretended to be deaf mute while serving us and chatted openly to others—but aren’t there always? Call them big city swindlers, as both incidents happened in Stockholm.

Never mind them and their limitations, we found Stockholm, in particular, youthful, very much a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes feel quite old and stale and is often trapped in racial and/or ethnic quagmires.

Surely, there are such predicaments in Sweden as in all cities, but with a largely indigenous population of just over nine and a half million people (more than two million of them in Stockholm); the attitude of acceptance for other ethnicities doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Also, most folks speak English. How superficial and selfish of me to report this happily, you might say. It’s not the only language in the world. Of course not, but the Swedes cracked the code years ago that their lovely Germanic language would keep them limited, thus from about aged seven learning English becomes mandatory, according to the hop on hop off bus tour we took in Stockholm. Really! Yes, we got with the tourist programme and weren’t disappointed!

Anyhow, English brings the Swedes together with visitors from as far away as Asia to as near as Finland, all of us greeted with a smiling ‘hey’ and it doesn’t stop there. Without a flinch, unless English is undeveloped or rusty such as in the countryside, people regaled us fluently with tales of history and explained menus and so on.

For example, our lady taxi driver prepared us for what was ahead Including the consistent pretty red houses, which date back to the 16th century. Then a special paint called Falu red was created and used in Falun in the copper mines in Dalarna. Nowadays, the red paint is used out of tradition up and down the country. Also, she mentioned the undulating manicured land, bubbling springs and placid lakes. In short, she described Sweden as a well-preserved country, yet a progressive one.

What she didn’t mention, however, was the fetish for old American cars, a theme we noticed around Sweden, town and country. Perhaps it is something to do with roots, as thick American accents were all over the place, namely the big cities.

America? Perhaps that’s why I took to Sweden so instantly. The hospitality there felt almost American. And like the good old USA, Sweden has much to offer and a few things not to be desired too, more than I can write about in one blog, hence the highlights and low lights, too.


STOCKHOLM – A world-class city with an old town heaving with cafes, shops and narrow cobblestone streets,  fabulous high-end shopping and varied museums–one of them, the Nobel Museum, which we visited.  

SALA SILVER MINE – A well-preserved mining village with guided tours of a mining shaft. Though it was cold and dark 40 meters below ground, it was a fascinating experience. But don’t forget walking shoes or boots.

GOTHENBURG – This is Sweden’s second city with petty canals and fun restaurants and home of the Avenyn, their street often referred to as the Champs Elysees of the South. Non mais belle!

OLD LINKOPING – An open-air museum, which shows what small town Sweden looked like one hundred years ago. A must see.

Low Lights:

Borlange – Not sure why we stopped in this town, except as a stopover. No hotels or restaurants of noteworthy calibre.

Gondolen – This is apparently one of the top restaurants in Stockholm but likely a tourist trap with good views of the city. Here is where we encountered the rude waiter and okay (at best) food.

In Stockholm, taxi drivers can legally rip you off because of zoning. Don’t ask me?

Hotels don’t necessarily provide a safe in the room, so on with the backpack, whatever your age and ability.

Next stop, Norway…stay tuned.