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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yellowstone recap...

Now that I'm finally done recapping our Sweden trip, I can share a bit about our trip to Yellowstone.

We were in Yellowstone National Park July 1st-July 7th with Chris' parents & Erin. We had a blast! I could say so much about how beautiful it was, but I think some pictures will explain for themselves. I took about 550 pictures, so I tried to select some of our favorites to share.

We spent Friday night at Lake Lodge in a double cabin, Saturday & Sunday nights at Canyon Lodge in single cabins, Monday & Tuesday back at Lake Lodge in the premier cabins, and Wedensday night at the famous Old Faithful Inn.

There was nearly twice the typical amount of snow in Yellowstone this winter and there was still snow falling in May. Hence, there was still snow on the ground especially at some of the higher elevations (i.e. Mount Washburn).

The buffalo herding season was just beginning when we arrived, so on the first few days we were there we would see mostly solitary buffalo grazing. As the week went on, their numbers grew and especially in the mornings and evenings we would see huge herds of buffalo with calfs grazing in the Hayden Valley.

Our favorite wildlife encounter was definitely on Wednesday morning when on the way from Lake Lodge to Old Faithful a bear walked across the road 2 cars in front of us. We were able to jump out of the car & take some great pictures. We were much closer than the recommended 100 yards distance as you can see from the pictures. It was crazy in hindsight, but the bear did not seem at all disturbed by the tons of people gathering along the roadside to watch him.

The entire time we were gone, I felt like I was in another country just because of the vastness and natural beauty that surrounds you everywhere you are. There are certainly no gas stations, fast food restaurants, or banks on every corner; the animals roam free and graze on what they hunt/find themselves; there is a quietness that is beyond words. It almost made me want to pack my bags & move to Montana!
Jenny Lake & the Grand Tetons
Sign at the entrance coming from the Grand Tetons

Us at the Elephant Back trail summit overlooking Yellowstone Lake

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone & Upper/Lower Falls

The buffalo often walk right along the roadside & cross the road at their leisure!

The trail up to the Mt. Washburn summit was snow covered...hazard was perhaps an understatement!

The famous entrance to Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs

Debbie, Erin, & Roy on a trail we couldn't finish because we couldn't cross the abundance of water left behind when snow melted in the creek.

Views from the Pelican Valley (gorgeous!)

Wapiti Lake. Sadly, this is near the trail where a hiker from California was attacked & killed by a bear on Wednesday (about 12 hours after we were there).

Our super close bear sighting!

Grand Prismatic Hot Springs

Old Faithful which erupts about every 91 minutes.

Morning Glory Pool at Old Faithful's Geyser Basin & Hot springs

Old Faithful Inn with the yellow "Jammer" truck cruising by...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Days 7 & 8

Saturday (Day 7) was a continuation of the Midsummer celebration in Sweden. As tourists, we didn't anticipate how many museums, restaurants, and shops would be closed in honor of the holiday. We quickly found out that the answer is a lot!

We wanted to see some of the archipelago and the Baltic Sea so we took a 1 1/2 hour boat trip out to Vaxholm Island. We were able to see some other islands and a little of the archipelago in general on the ride out. There is a fortress on the island that you can tour, however, it was closed for Midsummer. The shops and cafes on the island were as well...boo. We walked around the island for an hour or so, but once we discovered it was pretty much shut down, we took the boat back to the city.

We had intentions of visiting the history museum which has a huge collection of Viking history and memorbilia. However, it too was closed for Midsummer. So, we spent the remainder of the afternoon cruising around shopping in Gamla Stan and seeing a bit more of that part of town. We did see the narrowest street in the city, random, but cool!

We headed back to the hotel earlier than usual (we usually didn't make it back to the hotel until 9:30 or 10 p.m. because it's so light outside until around 11 p.m.) and started packing up for the trip home.

Day 8 (Sunday), we took the Arlanda Express to the airport about 6:15 a.m. We left Stockholm at 8 a.m. on Sunday & arrived in home-sweet-home Nashville about 5 p.m. Sunday.
We had a wonderfully fun trip and enjoyed spending so much time together!

Day 6

Saturday (Day 6) we took an off-the beaten path adventure!
We had high hopes of going out to tour Gripsholm Slott (Slott=castle) in the town of Mariefred until we found out at the Visitor's Center that it was "an all-day affair".
We had hoped to spend 1/2 day or 2/3 of the day there and still have time for something in the evening.

Saturday was the celebration of Midsummer when everyone in Sweden celebrates the summer solstice. There was a celebration at an open-air museum that we wanted to go to on Saturday afternoon.

The traditional route to Mariefred to see Gripsholm Slott is via a 3-hour steamboat (S.S. Mariefred) and either the steamboat or a 2-hour steamtrain ride back to Stockholm. We discovered that an express passenger train runs to a small town about 2 miles from Mariefred. So, we bought tickets, took a map, and took the 1-hour train. We high-tailed it down Route 223 and about 40 minutes later we were in Mariefred! The train ride was less than scenic, but the walk through the countryside to Mariefred was amazing! Touring the castle was so much fun and we enjoyed our short little walk around the town itself. I fell in love with Mariefred & would have loved to spend all day there.

We returned to Stockholm and headed to Skansen, an open-air museum that displays replica buildings and houses in various regions of Sweden. They also have regional animals on display, have a zoo, an aquarium, and craftsman shops. We so enjoyed watching an artisan create glassblown figures. It was amazing! We brought home a beautiful blue & yellow (Sweden's colors) glassblown bird and a lovely glassblown flower bloom. Because of the midsummer festivities, Skansen was beyond crowded. We were able to see some of what the celebration is like, and indeed it is a celebration.

Sweeds typically celebrate the summer solstice by singing & dancing around a maypole. The women and children wear handmade flower and greenery wreaths around their heads. There are picnics on the lawns around the maypoles with traditional Swedish fare (lots of herring & other fish, breads, & cheeses).

It was another busy, fun day!

Day 5

Thursday (Day 5) was another rainy summer day in Stockholm.
Our plan for the morning was to walk to the museums we wanted to see. Not anticipating rain we set out for the day with inappropriate attire and no back-up transit plan. So we pretty much got soaked! It's a bit funnier now thinking back, but it certainly wasn't funny at the time.

We spent the morning at the Vasa museum and the Nordic Museum.
The Vasa museum houses the famous Swedish warship that set sail on its maiden voyage in 1628 less than a few miles from port. It was excavated in the 1960s & restored. It's now housed in a massive museum. The ship itself is inside, 1 level of sails sit atop the roof of the building, and the other sails on the masts were not recreated. It's hard to fathom just how large the ship was.
Unfortunately, the museum is quite dark & because the ship is so huge it makes is quite hard to capture a picture of it. Below is one picture of the ship and a picture of a small scale replica of the Vasa.

We didn't have much time, but did stop by the Nordic Museum which houses multiple collections related to the lifestyle and culture of the Swedish through the country's history. It was definitely interesting to learn a bit more about Swedish holidays and festivities, home decor, and such. The most amazing part of the museum was definitely the building it was housed it. It was gorgeous!

Thursday afternoon, we took the ferry to Drottingholm Palace on Lake Malaren. Lake Malaren is huge and gorgeous, as is the palace! The current royal family resides at Drottingholm, so you cannot take pictures of the palace as you tour it and only a small section of the palace can be seen on the tour. You can tour the grounds at your leisure which was so fun. It was definitely a beautiful place.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stockholm Day 4

Let the major sightseeing begin!!!
With the conference over, we had all day to do as we pleased.

We spent the majority of our day in Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and spent a little time in the evening walking to the island of Skeppsholmen.
We started the day by visiting Storkyrkan, a cathedral built in 1279 that sits next to the Royal Palace. It houses the famous statue of St. George & the Dragon and is also the site of royal weddings and ceremonies. It was stunningly ornate!

Our next stop was the Royal Palace. Most of Sweden's prized historical posessions are housed throughout the palace. We toured the Royal Chapel, the Royal Apartments, Gustav III's collection of antiquities, the Treasury Museum, and the Tre Kronor museum. They have so many great things on display, but by far one of my favorite collections was the Royal Attire and Royal Crown Collection.

Although the Swedish royals no longer live in the Royal Palace in the city, it is still guarded on all perimeters by atleast 10 guards 24/7. The changing of the guard ceremony occurs everyday at 12:15. It was quite crowded, but we were able to see it from a distance. It was quite a ceremony!

We also toured the Riddarholmen Church also in Gamla Stan. The Riddarholmen was built in the late 1200s & is the only remaining medieval abbey in Stockholm. Many Swedish monarchs and aristocrats are buried in tombs inside the Riddarholmen Church.

We left Gamla Stan and headed across the harbor to tour the impressive City Hall. The City Hall building is set-apart from other buildings in the Stockholm skyline by its tower with 3 gold crowns on top. We took a guided tour of the building including the banquet and reception halls where the Nobel Prize laureattes and their guests gather every December for the Nobel Prize ceremony.

We left Gamla Stan for the day and walked to Skeppsholmen Island. On the way to Skeppsholmen we walked by the af Chapman, a ship turned into a guest hostel.

On Skeppsholmen, we walked to a church and took shelter there while it rained (again!). We walked to Kastelholmen, an old castle/fortress built on the edge of the island. We couldn't go inside, but it was neat to see from the outside.
Day 4 was definitely a packed day, but we were able to see so much & had a blast!!!