Friday, November 26, 2010

Europe Vacation - Intro Post

We recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Europe. The reason for traveling at this time was to visit Laura, who is spending a semester in Copenhagen. Emily also joined us for the entire two weeks, and Brian was with us for the first week. It was the first time that we have all vacationed together in perhaps ten years.

We did and saw too much to blog about completely. But this post contains links to eight other posts that capture some of the highlights.

The biggest highlight, of course, was seeing three special families.

The places we stayed were Copenhagen, Bergen, Drammen (with a day trip to Oslo) and Bondues (with a day trip to Paris).

And one of the delightful discoveries of the trip was the beer!

All of the posts this month are about our vacation, so another way to navigate through our vacation is to use the Blog Archive to look at the posts for November 2010.


One of the great things about our trip to northern Europe was the terrific beer:

The photo above was from the BioMio organic restaurant in Copenhagen where we had a variety of bottled and draft beers, including Ørbæk Fynsk Forår, Ørbæk Dark Horse, Økologisk Classic, and others.

In Copenhagen we toured the Carlsberg Visitors Centre. While their main brands include Carlsberg, Tuborg and Jacobsen, the tour included the largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world. There were 16,006 bottles on display:

The bar at the end of the tour had some more recent brews, which of course we sampled.

In Bruges, under the awning at Le Panier d'Or (and while it rained outside), we enjoyed Kwak beer in special glasses. Shown below are the small and medium sizes. There was also a large size that I did not see. The other two beers on the table were Leffe Blonde, another excellent beer from Belgium.

Another favorite Belgian beer was Grimbergen, also usually served in special glasses:

In Lille we enjoyed Rince Cochon (rinse the pig):

Drammen is home to the oldest brewery in Norway, Aass, whose beer we enjoyed. On the streets of Drammen I saw something that I had never seen before—a bulk delivery beer truck!

In Bergen we enjoyed Hansa beer. We also enjoyed ciders, which are much different in Europe than in the U.S.

Return to intro post.

UPDATE 12/29/10: Richard Feynman said: "All life is fermentation." Can be found in Six Easy Pieces, p. 66.


We had a delightful day in Paris, taking the TGV high-speed train from Lille (1 hour 2 minutes, nonstop). The first thing we did was a boat tour on the Seine. We cruised completely around Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité:

And we cruised near the Eiffel Tower:

After the boat tour we walked up Avenue George V and Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe:

We were in Paris on Armistice Day, and we think we saw President Nicolas Sarkozy's motorcade leaving as we walked up. We know that he placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe not long before we got there, and that he left directly for the G-20 summit in South Korea (where he would become chair of the G-20 for the next year).

After lunch at an Italian restaurant, we walked all the way down Avenue des Champs-Élysées and eventually out to Notre Dame. There was some sort of special service going on there for a British military unit, but tourists were still allowed inside. Below is the south rose window. At the lower right is a statue of Joan of Arc:

From Notre Dame we traveled by foot and subway to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur:

The Basilique du Sacré-Cœur is on Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. The views from there are impressive and one begins to appreciate how big Paris is.

Not far away is the nightclub district, and we found Moulin Rouge:

Six movies have been made about Moulin Rouge, the most recent in 2001 starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

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We visited many interesting places in and around Bondues, a small town in northern France between Lille and the Belgian border. One highlight was a visit to the city of Bruges in Belgium, a major trading center from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Below is just one of the many historic buildings, the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court):

The sun is shining in the photo above, but that was one of the few times that day! We took a canal tour, and also visited the Church of Our Lady. This church contains the statue "Madonna and Child," one of the few Michelangelo statues outside of Italy:

On another day we had cooking lessons at Les Toquées de la Cuisine in Lille (info in English):

Our cooking became part of our lunch in the restaurant upstairs.

Following lunch we walked around parts of downtown Lille. This is the Lille Opera House:

That day ended with a delightful dinner and cabaret show at Le Prestige Palace in Lille:

On another day we visited La Piscine museum in Roubaix, an art museum constructed in a former swimming pool:

The museum was popular that day! Perhaps because it was a rainy Saturday, and perhaps because they were having a special exhibition from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris of the drawings, photographs and sculptures of Edgar Degas (including the Little Dancer of Fourteen Years).

Return to intro post.


We had a delightful day trip to Oslo. Among the many interesting things we saw was the Viking Ship Museum:

We visited the Munch Museum. One of Edvard Munch's famous paintings is The Scream:

We walked on top of the Oslo Opera House:

We walked down Karl Johans gate, the main street of Oslo. The Norwegian Parliament is on this street:

At the end of Karl Johans gate is the Royal Palace. It was fairly dark by the time we got there, as the sun sets early this time of year in Norway, but we had our photo taken with the Royal Guard:

Earlier in the day we had tried to visit another royal residence, Oscarshall. It was not open to the public at this time of year, but we had a pleasant walk on the grounds.

Our last stop of the day before dinner was the Nobel Peace Center:

Return to intro post.


The center of Drammen has picturesque municipal buildings and a beautiful church. The statue depicts Saint Hallvard protecting an innocent woman:

Although St. Hallvard is the patron saint of Oslo, he is claimed by Drammen, too, and every year there is a re-enactment here of this story from the 11th century.

Of more recent vintage is the award-winning Ypsilon pedestrian bridge across the Drammenselva river, so named because it is Y-shaped like the capital Greek letter ypsilon (or upsilon):

Oslo is 40 kilometers northeast of Drammen, at the northern end of the Oslofjord. Drammen is at the northern end of the Drammensfjord. Both fjords flow south and join before reaching the sea. The Drammenselva river flows into the Drammensfjord. The city of Drammen lies on both sides of the river where it flows into the fjord.

In southeastern Norway the land does not rise above the fjords as spectacularly as in western Norway. In the photo above, the hill on the other side of the river is Spiralen (or Spiraltoppen), which we climbed. Below is the view looking upriver (northwest) from near the top:

And this is the view looking southwest toward the fjord:

In Drammen there is a pleasant walking and biking path next to the river, but these sun-bathers found the chairs a little cold!

Else and Tore have a beautiful cottage on the Oslofjord. On our way to the cottage we stopped for a view of the Oscarsborg Fortress in Oslofjord:

World War II in Europe began in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The war escalated significantly in April 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. The Germans sent a naval task force, led by the heavy cruiser Blücher, to Oslo to capture the Norwegian king, parliament and gold. The Germans considered the defences at Oscarsborg too weak to stop them, but they didn't know about the underwater torpedo battery which sank the Blücher on 9 April 1940 in the Battle of Drøbak Sound. This delayed the fall of Oslo long enough to allow the king and parliament to escape, taking the gold with them.

Return to intro post.


Bergen is on the west coast of Norway. This is the only place we stayed where we didn't know anyone. We stayed in a hotel near Bryggen, a series of distinctive commercial buildings with roots going back to the Hanseatic League in the 14th century:

From Bergen we took a Norway in a Nutshell tour. We took a train, bus, boat, and then two more trains back to Bergen. The boat went from Gudvangen to Flåm on two branches of the Sognefjord quite far inland from the coast. The fjord was spectacular, with snow above about 500 meters:

Notice the following in the photo below: the steep slopes into the water; the agricultural use of land wherever possible; the gray sheds at the water's edge; the white house up high; and the sheer waterfall. We saw lots of waterfalls.

From Flåm we took the Flåm Railway, a popular tourist train, to Myrdal (elevation 866 meters) where we changed to a commercial train back to Bergen. The Flåm Railway is the third steepest adhesion railway in the world. Before reaching Myrdal the train stopped at the Kjosfossen Waterfall (in the background in the photo below) where there was snow. Alas, the Huldra only come out in the summer and so we did not see them.

On the day after the fjord tour we took the commercial train from Bergen over the mountains to Drammen, near Oslo. This took most of the day. We were in the last car, and in the photo below you can see the rest of the train ahead of us:

This train line is the highest mainline railway in northern Europe, reaching an elevation of 1,237 meters (4,058 feet). We had sunny skies and plenty of snow. Cabins were popular in the mountains:

Tunnels are ubiquitous in Norway, for both railways and roads. The Flåm Railway goes through 20 tunnels in 20 kilometers, and there were also plenty of tunnels on the train ride from Bergen to Drammen.

Return to intro post.


One of the most unique things we visited in Copenhagen was the Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of our Saviour):

This church has a beautiful altarpiece depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a massive pipe organ supported by two elephants, and the largest carillon in northern Europe. But the most impressive feature is the spire with its external staircase. We climbed to the top, where we had wonderful views of the city:

We also climbed the Rundetårn (Round Tower). This features a 7.5 turn spiral ramp inside the tower leading to an observatory on top. It is attached to a chapel, not visible in this photo:

We saw the royal guards marching through the streets for the changing of the guard ceremony at Amalienborg Palace:

Note the bicyclist in the photo above. There were a lot of bicycles in Copenhagen.

We took a harbor tour, and saw many interesting sights including the Black Diamond (Royal Library):

The most famous landmark in Copenhagen, especially from a boat tour, is The Little Mermaid. Alas, it was absent. It had been sent to China for display in the Danish pavilion at the Worlds Fair in Shanghai. That fair ended 31 October 2010 and at the time we were in Denmark the statue was in transit back to Copenhagen. But we saw a replica in the sculpture garden at the Carlsberg Visitors Centre:

Carlsberg Beer was founded by J. C. Jacobsen in 1847. He built his brewery on a hill (berg) on the outskirts of Copenhagen and named it after his 5-year old son Carl.

In 1909 Carl Jacobsen, then the owner of Carlsberg Beer, was inspired by a ballet based on the 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen to commission The Little Mermaid statue and donate it to the city of Copenhagen.

In addition to H. C. Andersen, other famous Danes include Tycho Brahe, Søren Kierkegaard and Niels Bohr. (There are numerous posts on this blog that mention Niels Bohr!)

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Three Special Families

The best part of our trip to Europe was connecting with three families involved with student exchanges. In 1973-74 Nancy lived as an exchange student in Drammen, Norway (near Oslo). Below is Nancy skiing in the mountains of Norway that winter, from a scrapbook that her host siblings pulled out during our visit:

We spent time with all three of Nancy's host siblings—Gunn, Else and Nils:

Four years ago we hosted Marion as an exchange student from Bondues, France (near Lille). Below is Marion with Laura and Emily in Paris during our visit:

In the photo above you can see the Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.

We stayed with Marion's parents, Carole and Thierry, during our visit to France:

The above photo was taken in L'Hermitage Gantois in Lille, where we had dinner to celebrate Marion's birthday. This hotel opened in 2003, in a set of buildings that had been a hospital and hospice from 1462 to 1995.

And, of course, the reason for taking our trip at this time was to visit Laura who is presently studying in Copenhagen and living with a host family. On our first day they treated us to a wonderful brunch:

Laura's host sister Stine is in the photo above. Below are her host parents, Brian and Nina:

In the photo above the building in the background is the Copenhagen Opera House.

All three families entertained us in grand style. We extend our grateful thanks to all of them for their wonderful hospitality and the time that they took out of their busy schedules to show us their part of the world.

For the record, the student exchange programs were AFS (Nancy), Rotary (Marion) and DIS (Laura).

Return to intro post.