The Scandinavian Countries
and I just returned from a trip to the capitals of the four Scandinavian
countries…well at least we thought there were four Scandinavian
countries. There are only
three countries that consider themselves to be Scandinavian …they are
Denmark, Norway and Sweden, at least that is what these countries
believe to be the case. Finland on the other hand did not seem concerned that they
were not in that “club”. The
trip was organized by a group called Scandinavian Seminars, which itself
is sponsored by Elderhostel. While
Lila and I have participated in many Elderhostel programs before, this
was the first international Elderhostel that we had planned.
this means is that a group of senior citizens…yes, I am beginning to
include myself in this grouping…. take part in the program.
I say program rather than trip because the schedule involves not
just a short introduction to the city and/or the country, but rather a
comprehensive learning experience.
The program was planned to include five days in each capital,
with two overnight cruise ship/ferry rides between Copenhagen and Oslo
and between Stockholm and Helsinki.
We traveled by bus between Oslo and Stockholm.
Let me tell you first about the people that comprised our group.
We were about thirty-five people from all over the United States;
predominantly teachers and all were professionals who want to learn in
some depth about the country, the people, the culture (now that leaves
me out), music, art, politics, lifestyles, history, and many other
fundamentals of the Nordic society.
Our group probably had a medium age of about seventy, but I was
pleasurably surprised at the stamina, the intelligence and friendliness
of every individual involved.
We all got along extremely well, thoroughly enjoying each
other’s company, which was in fact quite important in that from early
morning through each meal to late in the evening we were continually
engaged in the program…together.
I just indicated our program required us to be ready between 8:30am and
9:00am each day (weekends as well, …this was harder than working) for
lectures, then a visit to a museum, castle or some other point of
interest, lunch, more lectures or scheduled visits and if we were
fortunate, we would have about forty-five minutes to change and/or
freshen up before dinner. Often
we had events scheduled in the evening such as a folk music recital in
Oslo, a classical recital in Stockholm at a magnificent old church and a
modern dance performance in Helsinki.
In Copenhagen we went to the world famous Tivoli Gardens for
dinner and then left to our own devices to stroll through the gardens,
listen to music and to watch people in play on the many rides.
will not give you a step by step itinerary of our visit to each country
as that would be as tiring for you to read as it was for us to
participate. But rather I
will highlight many of the topics that we learned and try to put them in
some context as we visited places of interest and gathered pertinent
facts about the country. In
past trips, my reports just had to deal with the meals and an excursion
to a particular sight. But
this trip was a constant learning experience giving me much more
information than I am equipped to deal with, let alone even remember.
In other words, it was work…concentrating on fact after fact,
detail after detail…and here I was prepared for a casual trip and lots
of rest. Well, that
is what Elderhostel is all about and this group of seniors walked and
walked all over town all day long to complete the program.
left Washington on Sunday arriving in Copenhagen on Monday morning
early. We were the first of
our group to arrive and so we had much of the day to get acclimated to
the change in the time and even walk around the area adjacent to our
hotel, which was in the center of town.
That evening we all met for the first time at dinner and had to
introduce one individual, which we had been asked to interview.
That was where the honeymoon stopped, for our first lecture the
following morning was at a school across the street at 8:30am.
Surprisingly I had expected the weather to be quite cool in Scandinavia
and for the first five or six days we had temperatures in the high 70s
or low 80s. Not having
sufficient clothes for this warm weather I had to buy more shorts and
light shirts. There was this one guy who constantly complained about the
weather, but I think I was justified in that the hotels, buses and the
restaurants are not air-conditioned.
After that I wore shorts every day for the three-week duration of
Our hotel as I indicated was in
the center of town as were all the hotels, which were arranged for the
group. The hotel in Copenhagen
was the oldest, with the smallest room and extremely warm.
We kept the window opened and they did get me
little electric fan...and it was
little. The bathroom had a
shower, but when you showered the
whole bathroom was wet as the
shower curtains were not very efficient.
We were supposed to have a squeegee, to remove some
of the water, but we were not that
we had to schedule our bathroom usage to minimize the water…who wants
to use a wet toilet. And it
was not too convenient to have to go to the bathroom during the night
with your shoes on. But
that is the flavor of Europe and in this instance. …Denmark.
With that said, let me add that wherever we went, in all the
countries there were always huge numbers of people out enjoying the warm
weather and extremely long days.
At 4:30am the sky was already starting to get light and by
5:30am, daylight was with us until about 10:00pm
each night. At midnight
there was the last reminder of daylight.
The streets in all the cities
were packed with outdoor cafes serving coffee; cappuccino
or beer and they were always filled with people.
One must remember that come winter time, the available daylight
is very short and the cold temperatures, wind and snow unbearable,
…well that is how the locals refer to the long dark night.
So, when possible these stouthearted men and women engage this
warmer weather and longer day with the fervor of a Viking warrior.
had a Group Leader, Kelly who traveled with us for the entire adventure,
but in each country we were assigned a site coordinator.
In Copenhagen it was Anne Andresén, (an American lady married to
a Dane) who had enormous energy and a great knowledge of history and the
country today. Anne told us
that many of our English words have a Danish origin, e.g. Thor for
Thursday and Fri for Friday. The
alphabet has twenty-eight letters …with the Danish, Norwegian and
Swedish languages being somewhat similar.
The country has about 5.3 million people and the city of
Copenhagen has a population of about 1.3 million people.
It is a country based on a constitutional monarchy with a past
where Denmark, now the smallest in size, once owned Norway until it lost
that part of the country to Sweden in a war.
The monarchy yields a list of many kings but their names would
generally be either Christian or Frederick.
I would imagine that they liked to name the future king by a name
that meant something to them.
IV, who reigned from 1588 to 1648, had built up the country with many
programs that were quite significant for their time.
For example he set up the postal system, an important part of any
society. His legacy remains
in many portraits and statues to his memory throughout Denmark, and even
in Norway where he was also the King for a time.
The people of Scandinavia feel extremely close to their royal
families and the families in turn have readily adapted to life within
the country and not on the throne.
Today the Danes love their Queen Margrethe, a 61-year-old chain
smoking outspoken monarch. She
is also a dress and costume designer for theatrical events.
In all the Scandinavian countries, the Crown Prince or Princess
is one that is extremely attractive, well educated, including study at
first-rate American universities, very active in outdoor sports, and an
excellent marital prospect.
burned down twice, once in 1728 and again in 1795 leaving a history that
postdates those periods. We
did visit an open-air museum, Frilandsmuseet, where there were over 100
buildings from many rural regions
of Denmark, …including cottages, manor homes, windmills, watermills,
and poor houses. It’s
intent was to depict how farmers and small landholders
lived during the 1700s and the 1800s.
It was quite warm that day and we were
scheduled to have a typical
Christmas dinner that evening in a restaurant that was not
air-conditioned. It must have been at
least 90 degrees in the restaurant, but we
ate with all the trimmings. I
could readily understand why they usually wait until Christmas time of
the year to savor such a meal.
Danes are truly are very homogeneous group with essentially all of the
people enjoying the same language, religion, looks and they are a
generally pragmatic people. They
are willing to discuss issues, but not readily oriented to making a
decision. Denmark is a
welfare state, where five percent of the people are foreigners. This has come to pass, as Denmark has needed the assistance
of additional work force personnel to support agricultural and other
lesser jobs and they invited “guest workers” into their country.
The reference to “guest workers” leaves one with the impression that
they are segregated physically as well as culturally and that is in fact
true. Of the five percent,
2.7% are from Turkey, Pakistan, Hungary, Eastern Europe and generally
other “dark haired” people. They
live in ghettos and have great difficulty attempting to assimilate into
Danish life. They are
taught in their local language further restricting their ability to
become a part of the Danish people and culture.
The other 2.3% are Europeans who look like the Danes and can more
readily “fit in”.
percent of the people in Denmark are Lutheran.
A child is born Lutheran, unless the parents declare another
religion at the time of birth. The
Danes like the other countries of the region do not regularly attend
church (only three percent attend services), but because the government
sponsors a state religion and funds the church accordingly, there are
many registered Lutherans. Because
of the guest workers, Islam is the second largest religion, but there
cannot be a mosque in Denmark with a minaret…”because it would
disturb the Danish landscape”. Imagine
trying that in the Untied States.
Danes are not the fighting force they once were...I guess they have lost
too many times. In fact one
of the political parties wants to do away with the Defense establishment
and just have an answering machine that says, “We surrender”.
This attitude offers us the Danes mindset toward life.
As I indicated earlier, Denmark is a welfare state where the
people are taxed highly, paid lower wages, but are generally provided
for in all aspects of life by the state.
Education is totally free, as is health care and prescriptions,
religion is supported by the state, and a retirement pension is
provided. Parents are also
given a stipend for each child in school; college students receive money
for expenses while they are attending college and retired people receive
money while being supported with housing and healthcare in their later
can reach fifty one percent of the income and the Value Added Tax (VAT)
is about 25% on most purchases, but the people still live well…for
they are taken care of by the state.
Fifty percent of all people own their own home…house or
condominium apartment. Fifty
three percent of all people live in cities or towns and a surprising
forty three percent continue to smoke…seems like a lot more.
Paperless marriages are an accepted fact with one-third of
marriages ending in divorce. In
fact there are divorce trains operated on weekends, which are designed
to let children visit the other parent.
Child support money is predefined according to the child’s age
and is paid to the government, who in turn pays it to the other parent.
Gay marriages are permitted civilly and abortions are free.
useful information…the Queen is the nominal head of the Lutheran
Church, there is on average 1.7 births for a Danish couple, but 5 births
for a Moslem couple…now here is a problem of concern to the Danes.
In about five hundred years the Moslems could take over the
country if the Danes would let them know where the “keys” to
government are held. Pregnant
women are given four weeks of pre maternity leave and twenty-six weeks
of post birth leave at full pay and then fifty-two weeks of parental
leave (either parent) at 80% of salary.
All workers get six weeks of paid vacation.
So life there is not too bad at all…the government is taking
care of you.
Most people, I am told, eat out only two or three times a month, use a
bicycle and public transportation to get around…a few families may
have one car. There is nine
years of compulsory education for children, the Lutheran religion is
taught in the public schools, and most students go on to university.
Retirement is at the age of 65 years or one can retire early at
62 years of age and get 80% of their salary until they reach age 65.
Retirement pensions equivalent to our Social Security is $12,000
for a single person or $15,000 for a couple.
The inheritance tax is set at 43%
While in Copenhagen we did walking tours of the old city,
Christianhaven, toured Christianborg Palace and Tivoli Gardens where we
had dinner and watched the fireworks.
We also went to Kronborg Castle, which was the setting for
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that he based on Danish mythology’s
Amleth (move the “h” to the beginning of the word and hence,
Hamlet). As a group we
visited Louisiana a quite large modern art museum with beautiful grounds
surrounding the buildings and overlooking the river.
This picture shows a tapestry from their collection.
We also toured a number of other churches and buildings where the
royal family has lived since 1784.
There are many canals running off the river and through
Copenhagen providing it with a shoreline for cafes and restaurants.
We had a boat ride through the canals and the river where there
is a 1913 statute of the Little Mermaid, made infamous by one of
Denmark’s favorite sons, Hans Christian Anderson.
Jewish population today in Denmark is about 8,000 people. We did try to
visit the Synagogue but were told that the Rabbi and the Secretary were
away and there would be nobody to let us in.
We did get an opportunity to see the outside of the Synagogue as
we toured through the city. During World War Ii there were about 7,000 Jews in Denmark
and upon the German invasion and occupation of Denmark, 6,200 Jews were
hidden in Sweden. Of those
Jews that remained in Denmark, only a handful survived death at the
hands of the Nazis.
Denmark is quite small, about one-third size of Maine, and at the closest point is only two miles from Sweden. Today there is a bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden enabling the people of both countries to visit regularly. Denmark though has an extensive shoreline but is home to no wild animals. Greenland and the FAROES Islands also belong to Denmark. For a very personal touch, we were invited to have lunch one afternoon at the home of our site coordinator, Anne Andresén’s home, which she shares with her husband Arne, who had also given us a lecture about Denmark.
The Cruise Ship Ferry
all the Scandinavian countries being relatively small and somewhat
remote from each other there is an extensive set of ferries transporting
people along with cars and trucks. The most sophisticated is certainly the cruise ship ferry,
which provides all the comfort of a cruise ship for an overnight trip
from Copenhagen to Oslo. Later
in the trip we would once again board a cruise ship ferry to travel from
Stockholm to Helsinki. These
ships carry about 2,500 passengers, boarding people and vehicles at
around 4:00pm with a scheduled departure of 5:00pm.
On our approach to Oslo we passed fiords and some striking
scenery, but certainly not what is along the west coast of Norway.
We each had a private cabin (not like the one on our last cruise, but
good for one night) and carried along an overnight bag (we were advised
to leave our regular luggage in container bins as the rooms are small
and getting on and off the ship would be more cumbersome).
On the ship is an extensive selection of restaurants, cafes, wine
bars, nightclub, and shops selling every conceivable tax-free article. Both times the ship was quite full, but the service never
suffered. In the morning we
had breakfast and by 9:00am we had arrived at our port of debarkation.
It was a great way to make the trip and a bit of fun as well.
I enjoyed it because for a few hours there was no site
coordinator and I could just sit back and relax…. no lectures or trips
to take. Did it sound like
I needed a rest?
Marit Lund, our Norwegian site coordinator, met us on the dock in
Oslo as we disembarked the ship. Collecting
our luggage, we all boarded the bus, toured around the city of Oslo
before going to Vigeland Park. Vigeland
Park contains many sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, who began his work in
1921 and worked through World War II and the German occupation.
It is a magnificent park with a centerpiece that is a 470-ton
monolith with a hundred supporting sculptures that depict the varied
stages and forms of human life. This
is the picture of the most beloved statue of a baby crying and
scrunching his face in fury: a statue that has been painted red,
parodied’ and even stolen
from the park.
also visited an 1892 ski jump that was rebuilt and used during the 1952
Olympics that were held in Oslo. The 1994 Olympics, however, were held in Lilliehammer,
Norway. We were then taken
to the hotel and temporarily released so that we could check in and take
our luggage to the room, but without much fanfare we were then directed
to a conference room across from the hotel to begin our lecture series
(no rest for the Elderhostelers).
was called Christiania when it came under Danish rule and it was not
until 1924 that it was once again called Oslo.
You all remember King Christian V of Denmark; we sure did …
because he kept reappearing in the story of Denmark’s history for his
most valuable contributions to the social order.
Norway has a population of 4.5 million and Oslo has approximately
500,000 people. Norway,
like Denmark is a constitutional monarchy and again the Norwegians do
care for their royal family. Norway’s
King Harald may be seen as a bore, but he is forever his father’s son.
King Olav V had stood up to the German’s during World War II
and history has treated him very well.
Norwegians are now focused on the upcoming marriage of Crown
Prince Haakon Magnus. What
makes this marriage so exciting is that he has chosen a single mother
who has close ties to Norway’s outlandish 24-hour party people.
And to complicate matters even further for the royal family, the
father of her child has a conviction for cocaine possession.
Now, see even the royalty have family issues that need to be
far back as the Viking Age, which lasted during the period 800 to 1066,
Norway became a Christian country.
----Writer’s note: How do they know that the Viking Age ended
in 1066 – that must have been one hell of New Years Party --- Okay,
all you Vikings have to leave Norway now. By
the way my childhood dream was crushed when I learned that the Vikings
did not have horns in their helmets ….my mother bought me a Vikings
helmet that had horns – it was my favorite. ----- Now back to the
story: In the 1500s (that’s better) the Lutheran religion was
introduced into Norway and the Catholic priests had to become Lutheran
ministers. Could have been
worse for the Catholic priests…they still had a job.
Now 90% of the population is Lutheran, which is good because it
is the state religion and a majority of Parliament has to be Lutheran.
was the capital of Norway before it was moved to Oslo soon after 1250;
then a Black Death spread across Europe and economic disaster spread
throughout Norway. In 1380,
Norway was in a union with Denmark that lasted about 400 years ago.
After a war between Denmark and Sweden, Norway was then lost to
Sweden. In 1814, Norway
setup a constitution and then in 1905 a face off between Norwegian
soldiers and Swedish soldiers resulted in Norway breaking away, but a
real drama was evolving. Norway
had no King…what were they to do!
Well, they went to Denmark and recruited Prince Carl, who was
engaged to be married to a British Princess.
Now you cannot tell me that this is not exciting.
We must however move on!
Norwegians were a very homogeneous people until the 1960s when guest
workers were introduced into the country.
In 1974, the borders were closed through changes in the
immigration laws making it more difficult for foreigners to come in
unless they were seeking political asylum.
Well, I am sure that did not sound very reassuring to the guest
workers so many of them left to return to their country of origin.
Like Denmark, Norway is a welfare state with income taxes ranging
from 38% to 55%, but the country is currently on an economic high as a
result of oil discoveries in the North Sea region.
April of 1940, Hitler invaded Norway because he wanted the western
coastline…. and the King fled to England and set up a government in
exile. Now an interesting
fact: Quisling who was a nazi collaborator in Norway set himself up as a
head of government. Today
in the American vernacular “quisling” means collaborator.
Norwegian Nazis helped Germany and after the war thirty-seven of
them were convicted of war crimes and executed.
During the war, 767 Jews from Norway were sent off to German
concentration camps, only 24 returned.
A like number of Jews were sent to Sweden, where almost all
survived and ultimately returned to Norway after the war.
made a visit to a group of museums that were particularly enjoyable for
me (No, not because there were less signs to read) because they were
associated with Arctic exploration and maritime expeditions.
When I was young, probably the first book I can remember reading
was “Kon Tiki” (No it is not true…that I was 35 at the time).
The Kon Toki museum commemorated Thor Heyerdahl’s raft trip
from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. Thor
Heyerdahl, who is Norway’s most famous 20th century
explorer, made the 5,000-mile journey by raft in 101 days.
He sailed Kon Tiki, a balsa raft along the route he believed the
natives traveled, attempting to prove that the Polynesians would have
come from Peru many years earlier.
We also visited a museum, which had preserved Viking ships, some
of which were over 1,200 years old.
These ships, as pictured here, were found in some Norwegians
and were in fact burial grounds, which not only contained the remains of
the Vikings, but servants and all the necessities to support life,
should they have returned to life on earth.
The size of the ships also served as an indication of the social
status of the person buried.
also went to the FRAM museum; The FRAM was a ship used during three
polar expeditions during 1893 through 1912.
The first two trips were to the North Pole and the last trip
during the period 1910 to 1912 was to Antarctica and the South Pole with
Roald Amundsen. Roald
Amundsen discovered the South Pole arriving just before Britain’s
Scott reached the pole.
in Oslo, we also visited a Norwegian Folk Museum, an outdoor museum of
150 buildings from villages and towns located throughout Norway. We
visited a stone church from the year 1280 where people stood to pray,
since there were no seats. There
was an old farmhouse, which had a section of the home designed to house
the animals and even the carriage, all located in just one big room.
our stay in Oslo we also visited the National Museum of Art featuring
the paintings of Edvard Munch; a Folk School, where children age 16
years and older go to study as part of an enrichment program; the City
Hall and the Resistance Museum. The
Resistance Museum tells an excellent story of the Norwegian resistance
against the Nazis during World War II. It opens with the 1940 invasion by the Germans and goes on
through the history of the occupation to the end of the war and the
results of the subsequent war crime trials.
Lila and I and two other couples visited the Oslo Jewish
Synagogue, shown here, an Orthodox synagogue in Norway.
While the synagogue is Orthodox, most of the members are not,
though they want to preserve the tradition. The Synagogue is over 100
years old and unbelievably was never disturbed during the war.
A young Jewish woman who detailed much of the history of the
congregation and Jewish life in Oslo today escorted us through the
synagogue. There are about
1,100 Jews now living in Norway; 950 in Oslo and approximately 150 in
the northern city of Trondheim near the Arctic Circle (the most northern
Jewish settlement in the world).
we learned quite a lot about Norway, its people and culture and it was
time to leave and head to Sweden. Getting up early (which was no different than any other day),
we boarded our bus for the ride to Stockholm.
It was a great time to relax and think about what we learned,
catch up on some reading (I usually lasted about two pages before I
would fall asleep) and watch a few videos that Marit had left on the bus
for us. We did stop at the
Norway – Sweden border for a tea and pee break…much appreciated, but
the best fun was our stop at a road side rest that had a really neat
playground ride for kids. It
was something to see these seniors spinning around and going up and down
in and out of the sand (I started it) with the kids looking on in
amazement. Great fun!
The bus pulled into Sweden about
6:00pm and cracked its windshield as it was turning around in a tight
location. I told the driver
to blame it on the seniors…you know how combative they are, but he
said no. Kim, our Swedish
site coordinator, met us at the hotel.
A Swedish family adopted Kim as a Korean War baby and the only
life she knows is as a Swede, but obviously she does not look Swedish.
Only recently has she begun to sense any bias due to her oriental
facts about Swedish history: (hang
in here it really gets better).
(1) ~ 1250 Sweden is known as Sweden apart from Denmark
(2) ~ 1520 Protestant Reformation and Sweden closes its borders and has no contact with other nations.
(3)~ 1780 Sweden starts to open
its borders culturally and for trade with other nations.
1860 increased emigration from Sweden, mostly to United States.
(5)~ Jews and Catholics were forbidden from being teachers, doctors,
nurses; Jewish activities were limited.
As increased immigration of Swedes to the United States occurred
(approx one million people), government responded by giving greater
legal freedoms. This was followed by an increase in nationalistic
feelings focused on retaining people, which then gave birth to
(6) ~ 1930 dark era prior to World War II, passive involvement in World War II, collaboration with the Nazis. During the war, the Lutheran church focused on “solving” the Jewish question…that is they wanted the Jews to leave Europe. But by 1942 they realized that the German solution was the annihilation of the Jews and the Swedish diplomats started to turn against the Nazis. In particular, Roald Wallenberg worked to save Swedish Jews from German death camps and is honored in the United States and Israel, as well as other countries for his humanitarian efforts. Sweden did support the German war effort with products from their factories.
(7) ~ Today there are nine million people in Sweden of which 16,000 are Jewish.
is about the size of California, is a constitutional monarchy like
Denmark and Norway. The
Swedes love their unpretentious King Carl XVI Gustaf and his daughter,
the very beautiful Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée.
She is the Crown Princess and heir to the Swedish throne. The Swedes are described as being private, stiff,
industrious, well organized and not opinionated.
Again, like her sister Scandinavian countries Sweden is 87%
Lutheran but most members do not attend church.
We were told that the motto of the Swedish people is that “Moderation
is Best” or that no one should be better than anyone else. That actually tells quite a bit about life in Scandinavia. There
is no motivation to excel, to be better than someone else, to push
oneself to higher expectations, or to achieve greater rewards in one’s
life. It is a beautiful
city that has retained all its original beauty.
This picture depicts buildings in the old part of the city.
following descriptions were told to us about the three Scandinavian
countries and Finland:
Danes would say Swedes are boring:
Swedes would say Danes are party
Swedes would say Norwegians are
Finns have more extreme attitudes,
feelings, etc. than Swedes.
more can I tell you about life in Sweden, that you already do not want
to know!!! Well here
goes…birth rate is low, father gets 10 days off when child is born and
parents can get up to one year off at 80% of salary (father must take
two months of the twelve months). Each
family gets eighty dollars each month for each child through the age of
16 years. Abortions are
legal and state funded. People
from other cultures are finding an increasing bias from Swedes (as our
site coordinator is realizing). Little
tidbits of information that tend to show what life is like in
Scandinavia…people are protected, taken care of and supported by the
Stockholm is a
great city…very modern, filled with wonderful stores, restaurants and
cafes. It is a composite of
many islands and lakes, with the old town section being over 750 years
old. The King of Sweden awards the Nobel Prize, each year in this
city, except for the Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo.
Alfred Nobel discovered dynamite and made a fortune and left a
legacy that funds these awards to deserving recipients each year.
I found the city to be very dynamic and filled with character.
While there we visited the City Hall, the Parliament and had the
opportunity to experience excellent food.
We visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm,
which is built around the ship Vasa, with only the largest masts showing
through the roof. The Vasa, built in 1628, sunk as it sailed away from its
berth on its maiden voyage. It
sank right in the harbor, and was forgotten for three hundred years. It was raised in 1961 with its hull largely intact and is a
magnificent looking ship, but poorly designed.
Its center of gravity was too high for its hull design and it
just tipped over and sunk.
Lila and I also toured the grounds of the Stockholm synagogue, but were
unable to visit inside the building, which was constructed in 1870.
We were able to view, however, the Memorial of the Holocaust
Victims, with 8,500 names engraved on a wall.
But now it is time to move on to or last country and
city…Helsinki, Finland. I
hope that you did not forget all I had to tell you about Copenhagen,
Denmark; because by the time we arrived in Finland I thought that our
visit there was during an earlier trip.
Once again we board the cruise ship ferry again for our journey
from Stockholm to Helsinki.
The Cruise Ship Ferry Again
This trip was similar to the cruise ship ferry trip from Copenhagen to Oslo, except that when we awoke at 7:00am, the ship was not moving. I soon found out that the water was not running (or the toilet was not flushing) as well. A call to the Purser’s desk advised that the ship would be moving again in about fifteen minutes. That was very assuring since the toilets were not operating. Sure enough in about twenty minutes the water and came on and a few minutes later the engines started and we were on our way again. What a relief…no, not that we were moving again, …Well, the bathrooms…oh never mind. The next day in the newspaper we learned that fish had entered the cooling water intake and clogged the system. I understand that the ship was going to serve fish that evening for dinner.
Are you getting tired yet…I was
museum-ed out by this time, but on we went!
I did take some liberties and did not attend each event in
Helsinki and in turn just went out and walked through the city enjoying
the people and the architecture. Helsinki
has a very compact downtown or central city area.
It is very easy to walk around and see most all the sites.
Figure 11 is a picture of most important Lutheran Church in
Helsinki. We did travel
outside the city to see a folk school and to Ainola for a tour of the
home of composer, Jean Sibelius. Nokia,
while not a national shrine has certainly put Finland on the economic
map. They are very proud of
their “Nokia” and hold it up as a shining example of success.
And success it is, for if only the people in Finland that I saw
using a phone were using a Nokia the company would have been a success,
but we know that there are Nokia phones used all over the world.
with Nokia in place, unemployment is 11% (i.e. 550,000 people out of
work of the 5.2 million people in Finland) or representing almost all
the population (567,000 people) in Helsinki.
Shipbuilding is a major industry in Finland, as they build many
of the cruise ships now sailing the oceans.
Because of it past history with Sweden, Swedish is the second
language of Finland. Finland
was part of Sweden and then in a war with Russia, was lost to the
Russians in 1808 only to become independent in 1917.
Their dislike or loathing of Russia is quite pronounced and
defines their recent history.
history of Finland is defined shortly as follows:
(1) Early history < 1150AD Once under glaciers, which later became lakes; Finland is not of Indo European ancestry, but came from the east...the Urals similar to the Hungarians. Their language is significantly different from the Scandinavian countries and not readily understood by their closest neighbors.
(2) Sweden 1155-1809 The Swedes that came to Finland settled along the coast, while the Finns themselves settled around the lakes and the Lapps settling the north. The Swedes we were told, were brutal...used the Finns as ammunition. The Swedes did not get along with the Russians and the Russians twice destroyed Finland as they tried to keep the Swedes in check.
(3) Russia 1809-1918 Finally, Russia invaded Finland and kept it. About the time of Alexander I of Russia, Finland was given the opportunity to manage its own affairs. Things started to get better, there was a growth of national identity through a book of Finnish poems called Kalevala. In the middle of the 1800s, there was widespread famine and economic times turned very bad, but then in the early 1900s Lenin promised Finland independence.
(4) Independent 1918> in 1939, Stalin and Hitler agreed to split up Europe, with Russia getting all of Finland. But then Hitler decided to attack Russia and Finland, because of their hatred for the Russians fought against Russia with Germany but on different fronts. Finland lost and surrendered in 1944, paying reparations to Russia for many years thereafter. To this day, they do not refer to World War II…only the Winter War and the Continuing War.
Finland today is a social welfare state much like Sweden. They have a woman President and no royalty. Finns are a private people who protect their space, they do not readily speak to others and very sensitive to facial movements and eye contacts. Military service is mandatory and lasts six months. The Lutheran church is the single largest religious denomination with all children studying the religion when they are sixteen years of age. We did visit the Rock Church, pictured here, in Helsinki, a very modern church built into a rock wall, which is also used for concerts because of its unique acoustics.
One morning, a group of us went to the synagogue in Helsinki and had a tour by the principal of their religious school. The synagogue was built in 1906, it is modern Orthodox and they now have a community center, a religious school and an old age home for fourteen people on the grounds. There are 1,400 Jews in Helsinki, 150 Jews in Turku and a very small Jewish settlement in Tampere, but there is no synagogue there. During World War II, Jewish soldiers in Finland fought on the side of the Germans against Russia, but refused to accept the German Cross awarded them by the Germans.
Well, the time had come and we were
readying ourselves for the journey home.
We had to get up very early, so what is new here, and went to the
shopping mall, where they keep the airport.
First flying to Copenhagen and then direct to Washington, D.C.
was not quite as bad as I anticipated, but then we were upgraded to
business class. It was a
great trip, with wonderful people and an opportunity to learn about that
part of the world. That is
what Elderhostel is all about.