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Rachel’s Post: The Greatest Ship: A Mostly True Story

I will tell you a story.  It’s a true story and it happened a long, long time ago.

The story starts on the coast of Sweden, in the capital called Stockholm.  At the time, the country was ruled by a ferocious and powerful king named Gustavus Adolphus. Because of his reputation, he went by “The Lion of the North” for short.  Gustav had a hankering to rule the world.  He was doing pretty well taking over Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark until 1628, when he made one fateful mistake.  Gustavo had been so successful in the past building up naval fleets, taking over small countries and kicking dogs, that he decided over herring and vodka at dinner to build a mighty boat.

This wasn’t going to be a small fishing charter, or even a pleasure cruise for eating mackerel buffets.  This was going to be the largest and most powerful ship ever built.  It would defy God by having not one, but two cannon decks on board.  He designed it himself, then expertly delegated the construction to some guys who had the word, “Viking” on their resume.  The mighty ship was assembled exactly according to the design.  Gustavo named it the “Vasa” which means something like “really oversized wooden donkey” in Swedish.

Finally the day to set sail had come.  Gustav could hardly sleep the night before, because he was so excited to take over the world in his sailing donkey.  Of course, he would stay at home during the conquest and let his minions actually do the “taking over the world” part.  When they returned victorious, he would take all the credit. Continue Reading…

The flights to, arrival, and exploration of Stockholm


I got on the plane to London from Chicago at 8:05 Sunday night.  I was able to get a Emergency Exit seat, which makes Robert a happy camper with leg room on eight hour flights.  I sat next to Al and Kathy, who both work for the Olympics.  Pretty cool.  Al was an Aussie and Kathy was a Brit.  We discussed accents and our respective careers.  It was a peaceful flight over.


In London, I met Rachel… or she met me with a tackle hug from the back.  We hopped on our flight to Stockholm with the goal to not fall asleep.  We both had our copies of Rick Steve’s Scandinavia out and were trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible before we were actually in Scandinavia.

They had wifi on the high speed train:

I don’t drink coffee:

Stockholm is made up of 14 islands, which help make it ridiculously beautiful.  The streets are cobblestone and all of the buildings are four or five stories tall creating all of these alleyways.  When you look down a major alleyway you can usually see water.  Well, that is how it is on our island, Galma Stan, which is where the entire original town was.  I found a neat hostel online that had rooms with only two beds and is the nicest and cleanest hostel in which I’ve stayed.  The room was a little cozy though. Continue Reading…

Rachel’s Post: Safe & Sound in Stockholm

Everything you already know about Sweden is true.

Yes, everyone really is blonde (and beautiful).

Yes, all furniture is made at IKEA.
Yes, they really do offer Swedish meatballs in every restaurant.

We arrived in Stockholm after 15 hours of travel. My body is violently rejecting the notion that it has been hurtled forward through multiple timezones. Just add 7 hours to your current time, and youll find us, living in the future.

We are staying at a hostel, built in 1747, on the island neighborhood of Gamla Stan, where “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series takes place. Stockholm is actually a series of 14 islands, connected by bridges. Each island has it’s own unique flavor (Imagine Central Park, Brooklyn, Edinburgh, and Tokyo all in one city). Continue Reading…

Week 49: A Day in Amsterdam

I left Berlin at 12:30 in the morning.  This was my first experience using a sleeper car on the train.  I found my car and room, but it was already locked.  People who had gotten on earlier were already in bed and asleep.  I tried to knock timidly to no avail and then knocked more thoroughly.  Suddenly a hand appeared from one of the beds wrestling with the latch and waving me in speechlessly.  The door to the room listed the bed assigned to each person so I quietly slid into my bed and tested to see if I could fully extend my 6’5 body… nope.  I tucked my bags out of the way of everyone else and put on my blinder.  As I slept through Germany, I came as close as I would to Twistringen, where my mom’s mom’s mom was born, Dinklage, where my mom’s mom’s father was born, and Hohenwestedt, where my mom’s father’s father was born.  I went to sleep thinking of my heritage with a weird feeling of home wishing that I had more time to stop and explore my family’s history.  I awoke with an hour left to Amsterdam.

The overnight train from Berlin to Amsterdam:

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace – Dam Square in the late-17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde:

I only spent a day walking around Amsterdam before I flew on to Edinburgh so I felt the least amount of connection with it.  I walked from the historic train station to the Royal Palace where I sat for a while reading and people watching.  There were 30 or more people who were standing dressed as a princess, a monster, and everything else you can think of.  It was interesting and obviously tourist central.  I then decided to walk down past the Red Light District and follow the canals around until I eventually made my way back to the train station after a baguette.  I truly missed having a local person with whom I was staying to show me around and ground me to the area as I had been blessed with in every other town I had visited.  I could tell that I was tired and frustrated with only a day in Amsterdam.  I hopped on the train from Amsterdam to the airport and struck up a good conversation with a young man from the southern part of the Netherlands.  My time in Holland came and went too quickly.

The bags looking back up the street toward the train station:



Week 49: Berlin: Sites, History, and Hospitality

When I first think of Germany, I think of WWII and the Berlin Wall.  Both horrible events which occured in the previous century, so pretty recent.  I also think of half of me with my mom’s side of the family because our ancestry is fully German.

I was blessed again with an amazing host, Bob, who is from upstate New York.  I rented a bike and he showed me around the city via bicycles.  We rode from his house to the Victory Column (from where Obama made his speech last summer in Berlin)…

Berlin Victory Column
(Pic from Wikipedia):

Looking out from the Victory Column after climbing it towards the Brandenburg Gate:

We then rode down the street above to the famous Brandenburg Gate.  The Berlin Wall was built right outside the arch.  This is from where Reagan spoke and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall”and Clinton spoke in 1994.  The Chariot, Quadriga, on top was installed in 1793 (facing East into the city).  From 1814 to 1919 only the royal family was allowed to walk through the center archway so I chose to walk through it numerous times for a nice confidence boost.  It worked.

Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall in 1989 when the Wall came down (Pic from Wikipedia):

Brandenburg Gate and Me:

Hotel Adlon right on the east side of the arch (where MJ stayed):

We then rode by the Reichstag building (which is the site of the German Parliament), the  Berliner Dom (which is the largest church in Berlin and Protestant), and quite a few other famous and beautiful buildings.

Then we arrived at Checkpoint Charlie which is the most well known Berlin Wall crossing point.

Checkpoint Charlie:

Then we followed the road down to where a section of the Berlin Wall is still standing in it’s original place.  From 1961 to 1989, the Wall was built to stop immigration from East Berlin to West Berlin, however, 5,000 people still attempted to cross to West Berlin and estimates are 98 to 200 people were killed trying to cross.  I was only six when the Wall came down, but do remember watching the people rejoicing on television even at six.

Berlin Wall and Me:

Wherever the Wall was they put brick down representing where it stood:

Then we road our bikes to where Hitler’s Bunker had been.  It is now a parking lot and the only thing marking that it was Hitler’s Bunker is a sign on the side of the parking lot.

(Pic from Wikipedia)
“July 1947 photo of the rear entrance to the Führerbunker, in the garden of the Reich Chancellery; Hitler and Eva Braun were cremated in a shellhole in front of the emergency exit at left; the cone shaped structure in the center was part of the bunker’s ventilation system.”
Bild 183-V04744

Today (Pic from Wikipedia)

Today (my lousy picture):

After this we rode back to Bob’s home.

I went out exploring on my own and looking for a post office to mail post cards and ran into the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church for which Bob told me to look.

Back around 1900 (Pic from Wikipedia)

Today, after surviving WWII:

Berlin Guitar store across the street from my host’s home (Praise Jesus!):

Maggie people watching:

I must once again say how amazing my hosts have been on my Europe trip.  Bob and Ralph were excellent hosts.  Bob took me all around Berlin and was continually helpful.  I asked Bob if we could go out for a German dinner one night so we did.  I asked if I could pay to show my appreciation for letting me stay with him.  The bill came and I got out my wallet and I think that Bob saw that the bill was all the Euros I had left.  So he quickly took out money and paid for our meal telling me that I would need my money on the rest of my journey.  I was challenged by Bob’s hospitality and many of the people with whom I stayed in Europe.  I am excited about continuing the chain of hospitality when I get back to the States and daily.

My hosts, Bob, Ralph, and Bailey, with me:

Good business model:


Me and German dinner:

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