A Night at the Royal Opera House Muscat

One activity that needs to be high on your ‘must-do’ list if you visit Oman is a night at the Royal Opera House in Muscat.

On my first visit to Muscat four years ago, I wandered round the outside of the white building, but couldn’t get inside even for a brief glimpse. Of course, what I really wanted to do was get in to see a performance, but I never got the chance. Continue reading “A Night at the Royal Opera House Muscat”

Västerbottens Museum, Umeå

This museum is about everything Västerbotten

I was only in Umeå because that was where the bus ended up and it was where I could pick up the night train back to Stockholm. I’d spent the summer walking northern Sweden’s Kungsleden trail and now I was on my way home. Continue reading “Västerbottens Museum, Umeå”

The British in India Museum

Entrance to British in India Museum
Spot the museum

The British in India Museum is hidden away in a warehouse in Nelson (Lancashire). It’s not signposted and is difficult to spot. We drove past it several times before we spotted the sign over a side door to the warehouse reception area. As it’s closed at the weekend I’d already waited a long time for the chance to see it and so was determined not to let its camouflaged location beat me. Hardly surprising really that it ranks at one of the top five least visited museums in Britain.

inside the British in India Museum

The museum started life as the private collection of Henry Nelson who had served in India in the 1940s. He came home with a suitcase of souvenirs and continued to develop his collection and his interest. By 1972 he had enough to open a museum.

Tiger skin

The museum is as museums used to be. It smells musty and is crammed with artifacts and memorabilia; everything from a tiger (complete with black and white photo taken of the party who shot it) to medals, newspaper cuttings to weapons and clothes to model soldiers. There’s a lot of information to read and even more to see. We walked round several times, each time seeing things we hadn’t noticed first time round.

soldiers on stilts
The Indian Princely States could not afford war elephants, so they trained infantry on stilts to combat the elephants of their wealthy neighbours. The officer is on foot.

Originally the museum was housed in a building in Colne and it moved to its present location a few years ago after the death of its founder. His son now runs the museum, but it is a sideline to the warehouse. The entrance is shared with the warehouse reception. The man on reception walked us through to the museum and from then on we were left to our own devices. He told us that there are a lot more artifacts in storage, but it’s a massive job searching through everything and getting it all catalogued.

collapsible camping chair
A rather ornate, but completely collapsible camping chair. It puts my canvas camping chair to shame.

Although it seemed obvious that the museum could do with a full-time curator and a new roof, as well as a bigger space, part of me hopes it will never change. There aren’t many museums left like this and visiting it is an experience in itself. And I like that I’ve been to one of the least visited museums in the country.

ornate chair
Detail from the top of a carved chair

detail from ornate chair

I wonder what the number one least visited museum is? Maybe I could go there next?

Sambo books
I’m sure I had some of these as a child. They seem so politically incorrect now.

Here’s a short clip of the museum I found online.

Can you recommend any unusual or little-visited museums?

Friday Flickr – Millesgården

Sunshine, sea and sculpture. A great way to spend my first day back in Stockholm.

For this week’s Friday Flickr I’ve returned to Sweden.

Millesgården, just outside of city centre Stockholm, is the former home of sculptor Carl Milles.

His house is now a gallery for sculpture and artwork. Best of all, the beautiful grounds, running down through terraced levels from the house to the sea, are a fabulous sculpture park.

I visited on my first day back in Stockholm when I returned from Northern Sweden. It was a hot, sunny, blue skies kind of day and Millesgården was the perfect way to spend most of it outside.

I took so many photos. I’d take a photo of a particular sculpture, then see if from a different angle or with a different backdrop and shoot a few more.

To access the Flickr album click on the image below.

Millesgården, Stockholm

 

 

Friday Flickr – Skansen Open-Air Museum

My first Friday Flickr album is from Skansen Open-Air Museum in Stockholm. It was the world’s first open-air museum and is huge. AND it has bears!

As part of being super-organised with my new website (and being super-enthusiastic) I’ve decided to have a regular feature.

Yes, just like the real bloggers.

As I have an abundance of photos that I’m slowly trying to upload to Flickr, I thought I could do myself a favour and make my Flickr albums multi-functional by using them on here.

I’m also thinking that linking my social media accounts in this way might generate more readers and be good for my SEO. I sort of understand what SEO is and why it’s important, but actually I don’t really. Pearls of wisdom in the comments section below will be welcomed.

So, onto my first Friday Flickr (drummm rollll) …

It’s an album filled with the best of my photos from Skansen, a photogenic place if ever there was one.

Skansen can be found on the outskirts of Stockholm and was the world’s first open-air museum. It was opened in 1891 and has been growing ever since.

It showcases historic buildings from the full length of Sweden and also has a zoo and an aquarium. People dressed in periodic costume demonstrate crafts from times gone by like breadmaking and glass-blowing.

But best of all, I got to see bears. Real ones! They looked so cute and cuddly. Well, except for their huge claws. I think I’m probably glad I didn’t meet any in the wild when I walked the Kungsleden.

Fika

I spent a very long day wandering round and only stopped for one quick coffee (couldn’t miss out on fika, especially when it looked like this). I saw pretty much everything except the aquarium, but felt like I was rushing. I would have liked to have taken it slower and had more time to watch the animals. Two days would have been much better, but there were so many other things to see in Stockholm and my time was running out, so I couldn’t really justify it. I’d definitely go back again though.

Click on the image below to access the Flickr album.

Skansen Open-air Museum, Stockholm

The website for Skansen can be found here.

A year ago I was at Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa has been and gone again. It’s always on the last Tuesday of January and brightens some of the darkest days in the British winter. Shetland being so far north, it gets even gloomier than Manchester. Something hard to believe with the gloomy, drizzly weather we’ve been having lately.

Last year I was fortunate to be able to spend a week in Shetland and attend the festivities. I got to have one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life (and there have been a few!) and to cross a challenge off my 60 things to do before I’m 60 list.

I’ve been following it closely online this year and wishing I was there. I’ve just been reminiscing with my photos. The low light, rain and fast moving Vikings made it difficult to get good photos, but even the worst photos have good memories behind them and I love looking back at them. I’ve selected a few of the better ones and have put together a Flickr album.

Up Helly Aa

I’ve written a few other posts on Up Helly Aa and they can be found by clicking on the links below.

After my trip last year, I wrote about the day and the night parts of the festival.

I’ve also written an overview of what Up Helly Aa is.

My potted history of the festival can be found here.

The Up Helly Aa website can be found here.

 

Up Helly Aa 2015 (the night)

Burly men in beards and bras. Definitely a night to remember.

As I watched the flames die down and the burning galley turn to ash, I was buzzing with everything I’d seen, heard, felt and smelt so far this evening. It was after 9pm, but the night was only just beginning. It would be at least 12 hours until I’d get to bed. With exhilaration coursing through my veins and anticipation tingling my nerve endings I made my way to the primary school where the evening’s entertainment was just beginning.

It was already busy when I arrived. I gave my name at the door and, thanks to Linda, the daughter-in-law of the man I’d met earlier at the galley, my name was on the list and in exchange for 25 quid I was given a wristband. Up Helly Aa is expensive. The costs involved in making the detailed costumes and weaponry and building the galley are no mean amount. I don’t know if any of my £25 went into a general Up Helly Aa fund or if it was all to cover the costs of the evening, but either way by 8am I definitely felt I’d got my money’s worth.

A disrespectful tribute to Elvis. He was sat on the toilet which flushed each time the music changed.

I headed first for the toilets to peel off a few layers of clothing. A couple of girls were fluffing their hair and applying extra make-up. They looked very glamorous and in my trousers and plain top I felt very under-dressed. I mentally kicked myself for not having packed an outfit on the off chance I got lucky enough to be invited to a hall. Fortunately I’m not one for letting the wrong outfit get in the way of enjoying myself and I made my down to the far end of the school corridor where I stashed my bag and extra clothing. 

Buxom ladies at a local cafe

This area was doubling as the ‘bar’ area and people were sat around tables enjoying a beer, glass of wine or something a little stronger. No alcohol is sold in the halls so it’s strictly BYO. Most people were very well prepared, with stacks of plastic glasses as well as the booze of their choice. Alcohol is not allowed in the main hall so throughout the evening people were disappearing back here to return a while later with an extra glow to their cheeks. 

Tea-dancing OAPs find themselves in an aerobic class

I found my way to the main hall and pushed through men in fancy dresses to enter. The 48 squads make their way around the 11 participating halls and put on a short performance in each. There are two to three squads in each hall at a time and once they’ve all performed, the band strikes up and everyone is pulled up onto the dance floor to be whirled around in a series of traditional dances with names like Strip the Willow, Eightsome Reel and St Bernard’s Waltz

Green Been / Red to Come – the numbers representing the squads

A board behind the band held the numbers representing each squad. The numbers started out red and were changed to green once the squad had performed. 

‘I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore’


As the squads are all male and many performances require female characters, the squads adhere to the traditions of theatre from years’ past and enthusiastically embrace cross-dressing. It is said that lingerie shops in Lerwick do a roaring trade in the month before Up Helly Aa with all the butch builders, plumbers and roadworkers piling in to buy their bras. Shakespeare would have been proud.

 

The Jarl’s squad arrived at about 12.30am

As the squads are meant to be in disguise most performers wear masks, heavy make-up or dark glasses, only revealing their identities once their performance is finished.  

They must’ve been feeling hot



The performances are outlandish and tend to be risqué with the squads having names like Fat Bottomed Girls (pink frocks and well-endowed bottoms) and Horny Germans (lederhosen and William Tell hats). Some acts had performers removing clothes, thrusting their pelvises and generally behaving in ways you wouldn’t want your granny to see. Except the grannies here had seen it all many times before and didn’t bat an eyelid. Other performances poked fun at local issues, one such being the skit performed by the Clangers. The squad were dressed as the pink woolly Clangers from the 1970’s children’s TV programme and in the style of the programme, which was quite subversive in some of the issues it alluded to, pulled no punches in referring to all the ‘clangers’ they say Shetland Islands Council have been responsible for. 

‘Fat Bottomed Girls’

As well as performances and dancing and trips to the bar there were visits to the buffet. Hot soup was being served along with unlimited mugs of tea. Plates were continually being replenished with sandwiches, cakes and biscuits. The tea was welcome, especially when it got to about 5am and I was starting to flag. A couple of mugs of tea and I was raring to go again. 

A ‘Fat Bottomed Girl’ watching ‘Putindabootin’ Russian dancers


It did strike me that, despite all the merriment, party-spirit and alcohol, no-one seemed really drunk. There was none of the falling around you see on Saturday nights in city centres. No-one burst into tears or started a fight. And I didn’t see one person throw up. I don’t know if it was because of the mixed age group or because everyone knows everyone else or just because of the laid-back character Shetlanders all seem to share, but I do know I liked it. 

He wasn’t really naked

By the time the last squads had performed, the last tunes had been danced to, and the last mugs of tea had been supped it was 8am. There weren’t quite as many people as there had been earlier, but there were still a lot. Everyone was still cheerful as they made their way out, shouting their byes and dispersing to their beds. 

In need of a bikini wax

I walked back to Tesco car park where I’d left my van. I was surprised to see the burger van in the car park was open for business and had a customer. How could anyone still be hungry after all the food in the halls? I wasn’t surprised however, to see the customer was a man wearing a tutu. 

In need of a diet


Note: my photos are RUBBISH. Trying to take photos of fast-moving performers indoors whilst facing a spotlight was a challenge way beyond my photographic abilities. I’ve included a few here anyway as they at least give an idea of what some of the performances were like.


To read about Up Helly Aa day click here.


I’ve written about the history and traditions of Up Helly Aa here and here.


The main Up Helly Aa website is here.

Selma Lagerlöf in Falun

Following in the tracks of Selma Lagerlöf.

Selma Lagerlöf is one of Sweden’s classic authors. She lived from 1858 to 1940 and worked as a teacher until the Swedish royal family persuaded her to give up teaching and supported her financially so she could develop her writing career. (Note to self: write to Queen and ask her to support me to give up teaching so I can write full-time).

Selma Lagerlöf
Portrait of Selma Lagerlöf in the Dalarnas Museum

Although she’d been writing since childhood, she wasn’t published until 1890. Once published there was no stopping her and it was only five years later that the royals began supporting her along with the Swedish Academy.

Selma Lagerlöf
Sculpture of Selma Lagerlöf outside the Dalarnas Museum

She travelled and some of her novels are set in the places she visited such as Italy and Jerusalem. In 1909 she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I first came across her when I was researching my trip to Sweden and looking for books to read by Swedish authors who write outside of the Nordic-Noir genre (of which I’d already devoured massively).

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, published in 1906, tells the story of a young boy who misbehaves and is rather nasty. He is shrunk by a passing elf and ends up on the back of his famly’s white goose just as it decides to join a flock of passing wild geese and migrate to the far north of Sweden.

Selma Lagerlöf on 20 Kronor banknote
Selma Lagerlöf is featured on one side of the 20 kronor note. Nils riding his white goose is on the reverse.

The book is all about the adventures he has travelling the length and breadth of Sweden with the geese.

Lagerlöf was commissioned to write the book by the National Teachers’ Association and it was intended as a geography reader for schools. She spent three years researching wildlife, geography and folklore before eventually publishing the book in 1906.

Although the book was intended for children, its remit made it a useful resource for me. I learnt a lot from it, as well as enjoying the story and her style of writing. It was in this book that I first heard of Skansen, a place I made sure I visited and spent a wonderful day at when I was in Stockholm.

Dalarnas museum
Dalarnas Museum in Falun
Dalarnas museum
Dalarnas Museum from across the river

Selma moved to Falun in the Dalarna region of central Sweden in 1897. Consequently, the Dalarnas Museum in Falun has a permanent exhibition on her and her work, including a replica of her study.

Selma Lagerlöf's study Selma Lagerlöf's study Selma Lagerlöf's study Selma Lagerlöf's study Selma Lagerlöf's study Selma Lagerlöf's studyHow wonderful is this study? I want one just like it.

She lived on the hill overlooking the town on what just happened to be the street where the prison I was staying in was. I tried to find her house, but as far as I can make out it no longer exists. Which is probably why her study is in the museum.

As well as the exhibition on Selma Lagerlöf, the museum gave an interesting overview on the culture of the region.

paintings, Dalarnas museum paintings, Dalarnas museum paintings, Dalarnas museumpainting of mine, Dalarnas museumPaintings pictured different aspects of the culture and daily life. There were some great ones of the mine in Falun.

local costume, Dalarnas museum local costume, Dalarnas museum

The local traditional costume is so colourful and detailed.

painting Dalarnas horses, Dalarnas museum Dalarnas horses, Dalarnas museumDala horses are iconic images of this region. They have been made and sold since the 17th century. Even today the genuine articles are still hand-carved and hand-painted in the traditional colours.

paintings, Dalarnas museumThe horses are decorated in a folk art style known as kurbits. This style was used on material, walls, crockery … just about everything that could be painted or printed really.

But back to Selma … the more I learn about her, the more I think I have in common with her. I made a list:

  • We’re both teachers
  • We both like writing
  • We’re both interested in the culture, folk tales, geography and wildlife of Sweden
  • We’ve both been to Italy and Jerusalem
  • We’ve stayed on the same street in Falun

So to continue following in her tracks, I just need to:

  • Get the Queen to give me money
  • Get my picture on the £20 note
  • Win the Nobel Prize for Literature

Don’t mock! It could happen!

The Blue Tower – home of August Strindberg

A chance to nosey around the old home of one of Sweden’s most loved writers.

I didn’t know much about August Strindberg – I’d seen one of his plays, Miss Julie, performed last year – but that was about all I knew. So I can’t say I was going to visit his old apartment because I’m a big fan. The real reason was because I’m nosey and love seeing how other people live.

Over the years, August Strindberg occupied 24 homes in Stockholm. He moved into the Blue Tower shortly after it was built and stayed for four years. Even though he didn’t stay long, this is the home he’s probably most associated with as it’s the only one open to the public.

The Blue Tower
The Blue Tower isn’t blue.

As a new-build, the apartment was full of mod-cons like a toilet and central heating. He didn’t have a kitchen, but his building did have a lift.

Lift in the Blue Tower

The original lift is still there and taking it is quite an experience. There are no automatic doors here. The passenger (is that what you call someone who takes a lift?) is responsible for sliding and locking into position the doors and gates. The dark wood panelling, pull down seat and gold mesh made me feel as though I was a character in an old film.

Lift in the Blue Tower Lift in the Blue Tower Lift in the Blue Tower

The rooms of his apartment are pretty much as they were in his day with most of the furniture having been his own.

Strindberg's apartment
A mask of Beethoven, his favourite composer, hangs over the piano
Strindberg's apartment
The rooms were similar in style to the sets in his plays
Strindberg's apartment
Strindberg called the wicker furniture ‘Lagerlunden’ (The Laurel Grove) after a cafe popular with writers and actors
Strindberg's apartment
I alway like a nice coffee pot

As the apartment had no kitchen he either ate out or had food delivered.

My favourite room was his study. If I love noseying around people’s homes, I love even more seeing their desks. Unfortunately, this was the only part of the apartment behind glass. I still got a good look though.

IMG_8559
His desk is laid out as it was when he died

Even though electricity was included amongst the mod cons in the apartment, Strinberg didn’t use electric lighting. His lamps were powered by kerosene and he was partial to candlesticks in the shape of naked female bodies.

He used the highest quality writing implements – his pen nibs were made from British steel, his ink was French and his paper hand-made.

As well as writing plays and novels, he was interested in science, astronomy, occultism, painting and photography.

The apartment adjoining his also forms part of the museum and this is set up like a ‘real’ museum with lots of artefacts and pictures and plenty of information about his life and work.

The street outside his apartment looked worth exploring too, but I had other places to be. I think this is an area well worth coming back to though.

Street outside Strindberg's apartment Street outside Strindberg's apartment

Swedish Culture and Traditions at the Nordiska Museet

Stuffed swans and seven types of biscuit. Those were the days.

I’m an anthropologist. I’ve even got a certificate to prove it.

I don’t use my anthropology officially in my day-t0-day life, but unofficially? I find it a great excuse for being nosey. I love finding out about how other people live and think, about their beliefs, culture and traditions. Learning about other cultures is one of reasons I love travel so much.

Whenever I’m in a city with a cultural museum I put it high on my list of must-see places.

Nordiska MuseetThe Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) in Stockholm is Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history, so of course I had to spend a few hours there.

King Gustav Vasa
This huge wooden carving of King Gustav Vasa greets visitors as they enter the museum.

It’s situated next door to Sweden’s biggest tourist attraction, Vasa, so I combined the two on the same day. They were both included in the 3 day Stockholm Pass I’d bought as well, so I didn’t have worry about separate admission costs.

Here’s the blurb from the website:

The Nordic Museum has exhibitions about life and work, trends and traditions, in Sweden from the 16th century to today. Our collections include clothes and fashion, textiles, furniture and interiors, jewellery, photography, folk art, glass and china. The Museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius.

I wasn’t sure how interesting this was going to be from the description. Clothes, jewellery and china aren’t amongst the things I find most scintillating, but as I was already in the area and it wasn’t going to cost me anything, it was worth a look.

As it happened, I found it far more interesting than I’d hoped and I ended up staying until closing time.

Here’s some of what I found.

7 types of biscuit
Seven types of biscuit

Around the turn of the last century it became more common to invite people round for coffee than for dinner. This wasn’t necesarily the easy option though, as it was expected that you would offer seven types of biscuits. And, get this, guests would be expected to try all seven types. It would be rude not to. With my love of all things fika, I’d have been in my element at one of these gatherings!

dinner partyThe upper echelons of society didn’t compeletely give up on their posh dinner parties though. Tables would glitter with gilt bronze, crystal, silver and mirrored glass. Each place setting was completed with a menu written in French (very posh) and a whole set of glasses. Each course was served with a different wine to accompany it and each wine was poured into a fresh glass. There were a lot of courses.

Dishes on a typical menu included chicken farce in broth, filled puff pastry, steamed turbot fillets, venison steak, ox-tongue farce, roasted hazel hen, goose-liver terrine, asparagus, English plum pudding, ice cream, cheese and fruit.

These weren’t choices; each dish was served as a separate course and everyone got a helping of everything. I don’t even know what half of them are, but it seems very meaty. I think I’d have stuck to the biscuits. And maybe the wine.

Dessert table

This dessert table had me salivating. I doubt I’d have been allowed to eat any of it though. Laws stated what the different classes could serve on their dessert tables. What? The poor were limited to nuts and honey-soaked fruit, whilst the rich could serve pretty much what they wanted.

Roast swanFor festive occassions the rich really went over the top. The centrepiece of this table is the roast swan that has been stuffed back into its plumage. The same plumage could be used over and again with a new roast sitting in it each time. Not sure I’d fancy that. Wouldn’t it get smelly?

The museum wasn’t all food. There were also displays on Swedish festivals which I found quite interesting. The displays on furniture, costume, and jewellery were ok, but it was the food through the ages that most caught my attention.

I did decide I wanted one of these chairs though.

chair