Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Travel Like A Pilot

The Case for Quality

I travel almost every week and to say I'm hard on luggage is an understatement. I've shared travels with Samsonite, Delsey, TravelPro, Hartmann, Olympia, Skyway, Victorinox, Tumi and Briggs & Reilly.

But lately I have grown frustrated at what I perceive is a general decline in quality in the "premium" end of the luggage spectrum.

All the manufacturers are pitching four-wheel "spinner" cases. While convenient, most have truly crap wheels.

And don't get me started on the abysmal quality of telescopic handles and zippers.

While quality goes down, the prices go up. So most road warriors I know choose one of two strategies:

1. Buy luggage with a great warranty (i.e. Briggs & Reilly)
Or 
2. Consider luggage disposable (to hell with landfills) and replace it annually at Marshalls

My philosophy has always been buy quality and let my favorite luggage repair refurbish them every couple of years - new wheels, fix the handle etc.
    
Last week, however, I had an unfortunate, if very memorable, luggage event involving an escalator in Vancouver Canada. It resulted in the permanent demise of my beloved Tumi / Ducati suiter. 

So, as I considered my options, it occurred to me the luggage many pilots use appears pretty rugged. They have have high impact sidewall edge liners, use single piece aluminum slide handles (instead of the usual telescopic ones), fit perfectly in overheads, have hooks made of metal and military grade zippers.  

 The Pilot Suiter

So here's the deal. I now know anyone is welcome to shop at crew supply outfitters and order pilot bags. And, IMHO, when quality is factored in, prices are a bargain.

Solid Rubber Grip Handles

One Piece Slide Handles

High Impact Sidewall Liners
and Lots of Custom Pouches

Yep, Roadboy now has a 22" "Stealth" expandable suiter made by LuggageWorks. It was assembled in Missouri :-) and is clearly built to last a lifetime.

Even when Roadboy is on the other end of the handle.


Raodboys Travels © 2019

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Scandinavian Food Finds

What the Heck is Quark Anyway?


A short posting here to celebrate some of the foods Roadboy found interesting in his visit to Scandinavia.

In this post we will answer the following questions:
Q. 1. Is Scandinavian food all weird pickled gelatinous fish?
Q. 2. What is Quark?
Q. 3. What is that water bath for eggs on the breakfast buffet? 
Q. 4. Can Roadboy get over bacon and eggs?
Q. 5. Why should we love porridge? 
Q. 6. Is Smorbröd mankind's most perfect sandwich?
Q. 7. Should you salt licorice? 

Answers:
Q. 1. Is Scandinavian food all weird pickled gelatinous fish?
A. No. Get over that cliché.  There are exciting culinary happenings going on under the midnight sun. Proof might be the four years in a row Restaurant Magazine pronounced Denmark's Michelin starred Noma Restaurant as the best restaurant in the world.

Q. 2. What is Quark?
A. I found quark in big bowls next to the yogurt on breakfast buffets. It had the velvety smooth consistency of heavy whipped cream and I noticed that younger people were piling it on instead of yogurt at the breakfast buffet. 

Turns out quark is a soft dairy cheese. It is low in fat and calories (!!!!) and can be used in recipes to replace yogurt or cream. I added it to my bowl of yogurt and loved it. It is available in the US at Whole Foods.

Q. 3. What is that water bath for eggs on the breakfast buffet?
A. Although many breakfast buffets offered the usual 4, 8 minute and scrambled eggs, many had eggs in little jacuzzi water baths. Turns out they deliver eggs that are not really soft boiled and not really poached. They were just perfect.   

Q. 4. Can Roadboy get over bacon and eggs?
A. Yep. While breakfast to an American is eggs and bacon, period, Scandinavian's graze from a dazzling array of fresh fruit and veggies plus yogurt for breakfast. After about 3 days I went straight for the big bowls of mango, vanilla, strawberry and traditional yogurt. To which I added flax seeds, muesli / granola, fruit purees, nuts and coconut flakes. It was so good!

I came home and immediately went to the bulk foods section in Sprouts to load up on goodies for my new found morning friend: yogurt.

Breakfast Buffet København

Q.5. Why should we love porridge? 
A. When I think of porridge it conjures up a fairy tales and bears. So imagine what happens when porridge is made as a savory dish. Sort of a love child with risotto. Or with tons of the add ins. Well the answer is delivered all day at Grød (click if you'd like). I tried their amazing risotto and pea porridge. Damn!

Q. 6. Is Smorbröd mankind's most perfect sandwich?
A. Maybe. The Scandinavians have perfected elaborate open-face sandwiches (known as smorbröd). They were almost always topped with colorful eggs and greenery.

Shrimp Smorbrod

Smorbröd at the Karl Fazer Cafe Helsinki

Salmon and Potato Smorbröd

Sort of a Swedish Bahn Mi
(I also loved Somersby ciders, especially their "cloudy apple") 

Smorgastarta Sandwich Layer Cakes

Q. 7. Should you salt licorice? 
A. All throughout Sweden we found a seemingly endless variety of artisan licorice. They dust it with cocoa and fruit powders. It surrounds almonds. And then they salt the heck out of it. Well here is where Roadboy drew thew line.

Should you salt it? For me the answer was an emphatic No! Although loved their traditional sweet versions. 
 Visiting an Artisan Licorice Factory

In sum; for me the food in Scandinavia was a pure delight; no GMO, no "better living through science" Frankenstein food (courtesy of the mad scientists of Monsanto and ADM).

I leave you with two more things relative to food in Scandinavia. One, they invented the Smorgasbord (which Las Vegas has ruined) and two, everyone should have the joy of enjoying the amazing smell of hot cardamon buns fresh from the oven! OMG.

Smorgasbord

Cardamon Buns

Roadboy's Travels © 2019 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Destination North - FInland

Helsinki!

After getting immersed in Stockholm's spectacular scenery it was time to make our way to the docks to board the Silja Lines Serenade for an overnight Baltic "ferry" cruise to Helsinki.

Destination North
Finland
(Travel Poster by Finland's living treasure Eric Bruun)

I put quotes around the word "ferry" because when I think of a ferry boat the vessels that come to mind include the Washington State Ferry and Alaska Marine Highway System.

The Helsinki ferry, other than two levels of car decks, bore almost no comparison to any ferry I have ever sailed on. The Silja ship was the love child between a super jumbo car ferry and a cruise liner.

Upon boarding you enter at level 7 and find yourself in a five-story light-filled atrium called the Promenade Deck. A live band welcomed us.

The promenade deck contained an espresso bar, luxury boutiques and a variety of cafes. There were glass elevators at each end whisking passengers up to the 4 stories of cabins and the Sky Deck above. 

Above that was another level with a formal cocktail lounge. 

At one end of the promenade was a casino and showroom. At the other was the entrance to the ships massive grand buffet. There was an almost entire floor of duty free shopping below too. Elsewhere there was a kids club and health / fitness areas.  The Serenade was a floating resort.

The Serenade's Promenade Deck

Silja ships travel year-round connecting Stockholm - Riga, Stockholm - Tallinn and Stockholm - Helsinki. 

During summer the ships are filled with sun worshippers and tourists. During winter the ships carry more business people along with locals on holiday going to Christmas markets etc. As we left Stockholm two ships chased us past hundreds of spectacular islands and the Stockholm Archipelago.

Two Ships Chasing Us Into the Night

While everyone that booked through the tour provider had luxury cabins, I booked the closing portion of the trip myself and booked the least expensive cabin possible. Once I boarded the ship I realized that my cabin was the Di Caprio Suite in steerage (below even both the car decks). In fact, if the ships evacuation plan graphic was correct, my cabin was below the ship's water line. 

It was compact, immaculate and had a good bed fitted with great linen. I had figured "low in the boat" meant less sway and an easier time sleeping. Although I was worried a bit about claustrophobia, I took solace that Scandinavian's are world-class mariners. Despite that I laid out a flashlight and warm clothes "firefighter fashion" at the end of the bed before turning in. If the all hands signal clanged I was ready to get my ass in gear.

But before turning in I watched the sun dip into the Baltic Sea while working on my blog on the Sky Deck. Then about midnight I descended down to my little cabin and slept like a pup. When my alarm woke me at 6:00 am I returned to the grand buffet for an amazing breakfast and witnessed our ship glide into Helsinki past its vibrant waterfront market.

Helsinki's Art Nouveau Havis Amanda Fountain
(Ville Vallgren's once controversial sculpture has welcomed visitors since 1908)

We all disembarked and found our respective hotels. Mine was the Hilton Strand and it was really nice. My lovely room came with a view of one of Helsinki's canals. It was a parade of paddle boarders and kayakers.

I rejoined the group at the waterfront's outdoor market where you can't miss the Havis Amanda Fountain at the end of Esplanadi Park (that runs up the hill away from the waterfront). Today the fountain stands as one of the most beloved icons of the city (although it had been soap bubbled on our visit).

The artist meant the symbolism of the sculpture to symbolize the rebirth of Helsinki. But the women of Helsinki objected strongly to the nude "French Whore" imagery they felt served to objectify them with. Some further felt the sea lions (with their tongues out) surrounding the sculpture represented men's lust. Like the fury that can surround architecture (think I.M. Pei's now beloved Louvre Pyramid) good architecture and good art softens then wins over hearts in time.

We then climbed aboard a local ferry to the former military island fortress of Suomenlinna. 

Suomenlinna is a Unesco heritage site that preserves repurposed buildings from its days as a maritime fortress in the mid 1800's. The fortress was intended to protect Finland's eastern territories. But at the start of the 19th century it was overrun run by the Russians who controlled Finland until Finnish Independence in 1917. 

Signs of Russian influence remain throughout Helsinki. Especially in the two prominent cathedrals placed atop hills overlooking the harbor. Even toys in Suomenlinna's Toy Museum featured highlights from the Soviet Era.

Canine Cosmonauts from Russia's Soviet Era

I loved the old metal toys (what we used to call Campbell's soup toys).

More Antique Toys

After a day spent visiting the island (and an amazing lunch at the Island's Brewery) I decided to hit my hotel's executive lounge for a drink and snackies and call it a day.

The following morning we visited the Design and Finnish Architecture museums. The Design Museum had a major exhibit entitled Secret Universe by COMPANY: the studio of Aamu Song and Johan Olin. This couple has traveled the world seeking inspiration from the "endangered skills of traditional craft". They turn this global inspiration into design ideas for all sorts of products. 

Some characters by COMPANY

The Museum of Finnish Architecture (MFA) featured two interesting exhibits. One was a retrospective showcasing the 1904 art nouveau masterwork Suur-Merijoki Manor. The other exhibit showcased the work of Eric Adlercreutz. The Adlercreutz exhibit highlights the the important role that drawing plays in the profession of architecture. 

Suur Merijoki Manor was a country home commissioned by a wealthy St. Petersburg businessman, Maximilian Neuscheller. He hired not one but a trio of promising young architects: Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero) to carry out the commission. He spared no expense having the art, textiles and all furniture custom designed. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1919 the house was sold to the Finnish government who allowed the Finnish air force to use it until 1939. After it was badly damaged during the Winter War it was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1944 and eventually razed.

Saarinen's Sketch - Suur Merijoki Manor

Sketch by Adlercreutz

From there we enjoyed lunch at Karl Fazer's the art deco flagship cafe (Fazer is the Finland's chocolate emperor). We had salads and open faced sandwiches and (of course) deserts; all yummy!

Lunch Selections at Karl Fazer

After lunch we hiked up the hill to the iconic Uspenski Cathedral with its shining onion domes glistening in the summer sun.

Uspenski Cathedral
(The largest orthodox church in western Europe)

From the Uspenski you can see the even bigger Helsinki Cathedral on an adjacent hill.

Helsinki Cathedral
(Until Finnish Independence in 1917 Helsinki Cathedral was St. Nicholas Cathedral - named after Russian Tsar Nicholas the Grand Duke of Finland) 

At the end of the day I said my final goodbye to my traveling chums and checked into the airport Hilton rather than catch a crazy early shuttle. My hotel room came with an unexpected feature I truly loved; my own personal in-room sauna! I made good use of that after all the walking and cycling over the past couple of weeks.

Helsinki Airport Hilton's In-Room Sauna!
In the morning it was time for me to begin my journey home via London.

Scandinavia was a lovely place to spend a couple of weeks. Seemingly everyone spoke fluent English, the countries were immaculately clean, food was wholesome and fresh and we came to love Fika! 

We took some Finland, Sweden and Denmark home!



Roadboy's Travels © 2019

Monday, June 17, 2019

Stockholm!


The Gota Canal, Stockholm and Lovon Island

After two days cycling north and south from Helsingborg we shuttled north to view and take a ride along a few miles of the Gota Canal. 

Along the way we made a stop at a candy cane factory. The variety of hard candy was pretty amazing. Suddenly we all became 6 years old.

Endless Candy Canes

The Gota Canal was the largest engineering project in Sweden of its era. It created a 381 mile system linking 21 lakes through the use of 58 locks. The canal began in 1810 took 22 years to complete. However, upon completion it was rendered almost immediately obsolete for commerce due to the simultaneous development of an efficient rail network.

As a result it has always been primarily used to provide pleasure craft access to the Baltic Sea. Sadly for us, Wednesday was a day filled with rain, so we were unable to ride and had to settle for just viewing the canal in transit to Stockholm. 

One of the Gota's 58 Locks 

In Stockholm, after settling into our waterfront hotel, we learned about the myriad of transportation options available. The City is comprised of an archipelago and islands so it requires ferry's, subway, buses and trams.

City planners have also incorporated a wonderful network of separated bike lanes throughout the city. Much like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bikes and electric rideshare scooters travel in a lane set apart from pedestrian sidewalks and automobile roadways.

Cyclists Use Separate Lanes
(cycling past a magnificent collection of wooden boats)

Thursday morning the weather forecast called for a mixed bag of medium to heavy rain followed by clouds. Nonetheless, we stretched shower caps over our helmets, mounted our bicycles and set out on an urban ride to explore the city. We began by visiting Long Island. This island is Stockholm's Alcatraz. serving as a prison for 250 years. Now Langholman prison has been developed into a unique (and ideally located) hotel and hostel. Hotel rooms were created from the old jail cells. 

Langholman Prison Hotel

After departing the island we crossed one of Stockholm's largest bridges into the central city the forbidding clouds exploded in a massive thunder and lightning storm accompanied  by a deluge of rain. This prompted a quick detour to seek shelter in the courtyard of Stockholm's City Hall.

 
Setting out Just Before the Deluge

After waiting out the downpour we continued on to Stockholm's old town called Gamla Stan. Along the way we viewed the royal palace to watch the changing of the guards. 

After lunch we biked past the Grand Hotel where former president and Mrs. Obama, the president of South Korea and a host of global dignitaries had assembled for Sweden's Brilliant Minds conference.

We passed lots of security details as we pedaled past the hotel on our way to cross the bridge to Kungliga Djurgarden. This is Stockholm's pleasure island. It houses an amusement park, museums (Nordic, Vasa, Viking and Abba), historical monuments and the Skansen open-air museum. Since the rain had stopped we went on to enjoy 40 minutes of riding circumnavigating the island.

That evening we explored Stockholm's remarkable Fotografiska (photograph) museum. This is one of four Fotografiska's (others are located in London, New York and Talinn).

Stockholm's Fotografiska is famous for both its exhibits and its restaurant. It popularity keeps it open until 1:00 am many nights of the week. 

When we arrived the restaurant was booked for the entire evening so we tried the less formal cafe. It turned out to be excellent. There were three major exhibits in place (which is about 1/2 of the museum. A new exhibit "Memoria" by James Nachtway was being set up and would open just a few days after we left. The balance of the museum featured three exhibits. The first we viewed was a somewhat terrifying photo essay comprised of ocean artifacts / pollution all documented by Mandy Barker. She said when the tried to garner interest in increasing pollution in our oceans, interest waned.  When she created visually appealing photos of the waste, people were drawn to them. Then they'd read the descriptions and the meaning behind the photos would sink in.

Beauty Followed by the Disturbing Reality of the Scene
(Sea Pollution) 

The next exhibit was the "Light Within" portraiture of Vincent Peters. I found it to be dazzling. His photos felt like they allowed the viewer to see into the very soul of his famous subjects.   

Charlize Theron

David Beckham 
(2001 - Before the Skin Art)

The last exhibit "Vanishing Traces" by the Dutch photographer Scarlett Hooft Graafland seemed to seamlessly blend fantasy with reality.  

Dunes Like You

After a day of tempestuous weather, the sun set serving up a spectacular sunset.

Sunset Over Djurgarden

Friday was our final day of riding and we began it with an early ferry ride to Lovon Island. The morning had a few lingering overcast skies, but those melted into brilliant sunshine which held for the rest of our visit in Stockholm. On Lovon Island we cycled a 30 mile loop through its villages, lush pastures and idyllic farmlands. We all agreed it was our best day of cycling and a picture perfect way to close the cycling part of our trip. 

A Village on Lovon Island

 Lovon's Fields Ablaze

 Wrapping up the Ride

On the Return Ferry to Stockholm

Friday night concluded with a farewell dinner. Happily, we still had two additional free days to explore Stockholm before departing for Helsinki. And explore we did.

Saturday's highlights were Stockholms's amazing Vasa Museum, a great lunch (cherkessian chicken stir with walnuts - seated among the relics in the Medelhavet Antiquities museum), a cardamon bun from Brod and Salt and a visit to see some very ornate royal coaches.

 Cardamon Buns

 Symbolic Masts Above the Roof of the Vasa

The Vasa Museum dramatically chronicles the discovery, research and eventual raising of the Vasa. Vasa was launched on its maiden voyage August 10, 1628. It sailed about 1300 m and then sank due to poor design (hill was too narrow and lacking in balast).

The sunken ship remained in its brackish water grave until the 1950's when it was once again discovered. After an assessment peiod the decision was made to raise it for research. Salvage and raising the ship produced a treasure trove of artifacts as well as the remains of 15 victims from its crew of 450.

This museum is not to be missed.

Inside the Vasa Museum         

Next we visited the royal coach display in the palace. We'd hoped to see the royal armoury too, but that was destined to reopen the following Monday after a multi-million dollar renovation.

The Crown Prince's Coach
After a return to the hotel we enjoyed a dinner at waters edge and came to realize our time in Stockholm was just about complete. Sunday we would board an overnight ferry to Helsinki.


Roadboy's Travels © 2019

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Helsingborg - Cycling Begins

South to Landskrona - North to the Skaret Peninnsula

After a short ferry ride to from Heslingor Denmark to Helsingborg Sweden on a really quiet and clean (electric power) commuter ferry, we were ready to get on our bicycles.

Like Cøpenhagen, Helsingborg respects bicycles. City streets are designed to separate drive lanes for bikes from cars and both away from the walk lanes for pedestrians. Woe be to a pedestrian that walks into the cycle lane without looking. The last thing they hear will be the ding ding's of a hundred bike bells.

We began with a warm-up ride to familiarize ourselves with our new bikes. Then ot was off for a  little teaser ride. The 12 miles ride offered wonderful views along Helsingborg's waterfront and up into surrounding hills. 

A Car Show at Sofiero Palace

Passing the summer palace built by Crown Prince Oscar for his wife Sophie we saw a vintage car show in progress. Later, when Oscar become king, Sophiero palace was renovated and upgraded.

Our day ended with a welcome drink and extensive smorgasbord dinner.

 Welcome Reception

 
Our Smorgasbod

First Cycle Day - Helsingborg to Landskrona
The first full day of cycling was almost completely along water. We ventured south making a first stop at the Raa Fishing Museum for a introduction toe the past fishing industry. From there we pedaled on to the Cittadellet stronghold where a lovely picnic lunch awaited us. After 31 miles we were back at the hotel.

Raa Fishing Museum

Cittadella

In the evening we gathered again for a visit to a artisan Swedish licorice factory. The rage in Sweden is (very) heavily salted designer licorice. I bought some passionfruit dusted chocolate covered licorice. 

Licorice Factory

An Evening Walking Back tot the Hotels After Dinner

From there we went for a lovely dinner in a relocated farmhouse. After a walk home, Roadboy was ready to crash into bed.

Second Cycle Day - Helsingborg to Skaret and on to Angelholm)
The second full day of riding is the epic ride of the trip. today we pdealed north to the Skaret Peninnsula. This ride took us from waters edge up into rich rolling fields of wheat, barley and (thanks to climate change) Sweden's newly emerging vineyards.

It Was This Big!

A Thatched Roof Farmhouse

Uphill, against the wind cycling, was rewarded with lunch at the Flickorna Lundgren hillside garden cafe. The cafe featured giant egg soufle's topped with thick sliced bacon. The souffle was washed down with homemade rhubarb, orange or strawberry lemonade.

Lunch at Flickorna Lundgren

After lunch we faced even more wind on a ride to wrap up in Angelholm. One rider characterized the windy ride as "like doing 5,000 squats and then getting hit by a truck". Everyone made the full ride though and we climbed on to a train for a return to our hotel in Angelholm.

Arriving at Mid-Point Lunch Stop

Lunch Stop

After a long ride and a huge lunch, everyone was still pretty full. So later in the evening many of us ventured off to find a light dinner in Helsingborg. 

After dinner I went to peruse a local grocery store (I really love perusing European grocery stores) and then walked around the city before crashing into bed.

Sunset Over Helsingborg

Tomorrow we are off for a 4-hour motorcoach ride to Stockholm (possibly with a short ride along the way along the Gota Canal).


Roadboy's Travels © 2019