It’s Winter Solstice Time Again

Stonehenge in the snow (Pic: Reuters)

This Thursday, December 21st, we in the Northern Hemisphere will once again experience the Winter Solstice, an event celebrated by pagans for thousands of years.  After the solstice, the days will grow longer and the nights shorter, in the never ending cycle of seasons, nature, and the rebirth and awakening of the Spring after the Winter.

In order to compete with the pagan parties, Christians stole the Winter Solstice for their own, although Christ’s Mass was supposed to be a bit more subdued than the feasting and bonfires of the pagans.  It was Pope Julius I, in the 4th century, who declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th.  Origen Adimantius was a third century biblical scholar and philosopher (possibly a religious fanatic as well.)  The following excerpt is from the website Christianity Today:

The eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273, reflects a convergence of Origen’s concern about pagan gods and the church’s identification of God’s son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.

And for another take on the Winter Solstice, the following article was printed in The New York Times, yesterday, Sunday December 17th.   It was written by Mark Vanhoenacker, a fellow pilot.

At the Solstice, in Praise of Darkness

 For the roughly 90 percent of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice of 2017 is coming soon (at 11:28 a.m. E.S.T. on Thursday, to be precise). And if it wasn’t so dark out, you’d see how happy I am that the year’s longest night is sweeping down over the northern half of our planet, as naturally as the lid of a closing eye.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved the dark. My mother often recalled that as a small child I would sometimes grumble, “I don’t want the sun to shine, I want the moon to shine.” I decided to become an airline pilot in part because I believed that aviators might enjoy a particularly pure experience of night. The glow of the Christmas rituals I still love best — lights, candles, hearths — would mean little to me without the shadows that embower them.

To this dark but cozy and star-spangled corner of the calendar, I welcome like-minded pilots and air travelers; astronomers, of course; and any fans of “The Simpsons” who secretly cheered when Mr. Burns (“I call this enemy … the sun!”) tried to block out the light from everyone’s favorite ball of plasma. But whatever your feelings about the longest night, the winter solstice — transcendent, yet precise; celestial, but very local — is worth pausing to savor.

Indeed, while I hope to spend every Christmas at home by the fire, this is also my favorite time of year to fly. Night flights are often smoother, and they are almost always more sublime. Raise your window blind and you may be the only person to ever see how the moonlight falls on an ephemeral, rolling Narnia of cloud, while on a clear evening a city far below you may look exactly as we might most beautifully imagine it — as a shorthand for civilization, written in light on the pages of a darkened Earth.

When you look up, familiar, crystalline winter ornaments like Orion and the Pleiades appear, while auroras may offer the sensation, sometimes for several hours, of sailing across a phosphorescent sea. To reclaim a phrase from “Game of Thrones” — a show, ahem, that hasn’t exactly burnished winter’s reputation — the night is long and full of wonders. In contrast, pilots may greet the sunrise in the cockpit with a matching glare, and an inevitable “Star Trek” joke — “shields up!” — as we reach for our Ray-Bans and a phalanx of swiveling sun visors.

Pilots have more reason than most to follow the annual comings and goings of darkness. But Earth’s annual light cycle can profoundly affect all our lives, even in cultures remade by electric lights.

A solstice is an opportunity to remember that this cycle is caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis, a reason-for-the-seasons angle so important that desktop globes (you still have one, right?) are built to lean at it. The December solstice, inaugurating winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern, occurs at the moment the North Pole is most tilted away from the sun. Nearing this solstice, the northern world’s days grow shorter, and sunlight lands at shallower angles — heating the hemisphere less, and casting December’s familiar long shadows across the snow.

When this cycle was first explained to me as a child, my teacher advised me to imagine the “leaning” Earth as it arcs through its annual orbit around the sun. (Even as an adult, I like to close my eyes and relish the wondrous fact that you and I are sitting on a tilted blue-and-white planet that’s sailing around a star.) But such illustrations, however useful, make it easy to overlook the loveliest aspect of this Thursday: that a solstice is in fact a moment of rest.

What stops at the December solstice is the sun’s apparent southward and night-lengthening (or night-shortening, in the Southern Hemisphere) march across the sky. The true meaning of “solstice” — indeed, the word’s Latin roots refer to the stilling of the sun — was made clear to me by George Greenstein, emeritus professor of astronomy at Amherst. From his home in Pelham, Mass., Professor Greenstein has a good view of the western horizon. He asked me to imagine a continuous movie composed of photographs that capture the position of the setting sun (the rising sun would work equally well) throughout the year.

In this movie — with a soundtrack by Max Richter or Ludovico Einaudi, I’m thinking — the setting sun would migrate back and forth between its southernmost and northernmost positions on the horizon. The sun would accelerate toward the middle of its journey (around spring and autumn, when the lengths of the day and the night change most quickly) and slow down toward the extremes. Once the sun reached an endpoint, it would at last come to rest — as it will on Thursday — before its motion reversed. Earth orbits the sun continuously, of course. But the sun’s apparent annual motion is more like the pendulum of a great clock, one that steadily counts off the planet’s years, and ours too.

The poet Annie Finch is the author of “Winter Solstice Chant” (“the edge of winter sky/leaning over us in icy stars.”). During a phone call from her home in Portland, Me., she pointed out how neatly the solstice accounts for late December’s rich spiritual bottleneck of festivities and traditions in so much of the ancient and modern world. However we may celebrate the return of light to our skies and lives, she continued, we might also wish to pause to honor the darkness that will give way to it: “If you don’t experience the darkness fully then you are not going to appreciate the light.” A pause, of course, is just what we’ll be given on Thursday.

Ms. Finch also pointed out that the winter solstice, traditionally a time of introspection, can be a moment of warmth for communities small and large. “Darkness,” she said, “brings people together.”

When I heard this, I thought of how Thursday’s solstice is closing out a hard year — Ms. Finch would rightly rebuke me if I called it a dark year — for many. I was reminded, too, of my mother, who died just before the winter solstice of 2006. Unlike me, my mother found no comfort in darkness (she didn’t like flying much either). But she loved the winter solstice because she knew it marked the light’s rebirth. It was a win-win for us, you might say, and I’m glad it’s coming around again to a world that needs every shared wonder.

Posted in Seasons & Holidays | Leave a comment

Las Vegas Neon

more neon

cowboy and street

cowboy

fremont street zipline

zip liners

costume

neon martini

D Casino dancers

Fremont east

neon pump

east Fremont

praying mantis

light show

fountain

Bellagio

Posted in U.S.A. | 1 Comment

The Real Wild Las Vegas

sign

Two friends and I drove out to the Valley of Fire State Park for a look at more wild Las Vegas.   The Valley of Fire is only 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, but it seems a world away.

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There are camping sites and hiking trails in the park.  We stopped to view the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock, the petrified logs, and toured the Ranger Station.

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From the ranger station the road winds north through the red rocks.  We stopped to walk a short distance along Rainbow Vista trail.

road

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We were surprised to see a group of Desert Bighorn Sheep, the official Nevada state animal.  We saw just a few at first, then more.

first sheep

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We followed a few of the sheep through the red sand.  They were shy but not terribly afraid of people.

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3 sheep

sheep action

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Desert Bighorn Sheep

We saw most of the Desert Bighorn Sheep around the Fire Canyon Road.   Continuing northbound you reach the White Domes Area.  There is a 45 minute hike at the end of the road.  The only other wildlife we saw were Antelope Ground Squirrels.

FIRE CANYON ROAD

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antelope ground squirrel

Driving back out towards the ranger station we saw a group of young sheep.

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We entered at the west entrance, and departed the east entrance.  The last rock formation is Elephant Rock, near the east entrance.

elephant rock

welcome

 

 

 

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More From Natural Vegas

grand-canyon-regional-map

The Grand Canyon National Park is in Arizona, with 277 miles of the Colorado River running right through it. The Colorado River runs roughly east to west through the park, from Lake Powell on the Utah/Arizona border, to Lake Mead in Nevada, and passes through the Hoover Dam on it’s way south through Nevada and then California.  The west end of the park, and the river, is bordered on the north by the National Park and on the south by the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  It is also a short helicopter ride from Las Vegas.

From the Hualapai website:

The Hualapai Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe located in northwestern Arizona. “Hualapai” (pronounced Wal-lah-pie) means “People of the Tall Pines.” In 1883, an executive order established the Hualapai reservation.  The reservation encompasses about one million acres along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.

My friend Mike and I took Papillon Helicopter’s tour of the Grand Canyon that included a short boat ride on the Colorado and a chance to venture out on the Skywalk.

https://www.papillon.com/

helicopters

The tour begins at the Boulder City airport.  The approximately thirty minute flight to the west end of the Grand Canyon passes by the Hoover Dam.  The landing zone near the river is on the south side, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation land.  The short boat ride on the river is operated by the reservation.

Hoover Dam

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The helicopter dropped us near the river, in a pretty desolate looking area.

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We had a short ride along the Colorado, with our Hualapai Indian boat operator.   The river is muddy, cool and swift.

Colorado River

boat guy

After the short boat ride, another helicopter touched down just long enough for us to climb aboard and take off for the vertical hop up to the top of the canyon.

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Skywalk from below

Skywalk from below

At the top of the canyon, many helicopters and buses unload guests for the Skywalk experience.  A short van ride from the heliport and we were ushered into the Skywalk.

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The Skywalk is owned by the Hualapai.  It is very controlled.  The one thing that didn’t make me happy was the ban on cameras on the Skywalk.  They have photographers there and you can purchase photos, but you can’t take your own.

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So we did the walk over the glass panels and it was pretty cool.   We found a spot on the outside where you can take your own photos.

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The best spot for pictures of the actual Skywalk, is from the restaurant in the building.

Skywalk

The following two photos are professional shots which you can purchase on a thumb drive along with the photos of yourself taken by the Skywalk photographers.

11 NEGATIVE REFLECTION

14 SNOW DAY

The experience was fast paced and had a bit of a circus feeling to it, due to the amount of people milling around at the heliports.  The views were nice and I had really wanted to see the Skywalk since it’s construction ten years ago.

https://www.grandcanyonwest.com/skywalk–eagle-point.htm

All in all it was a fun way to spend half a day outside of the Las Vegas Strip.  Papillon has quite a few tours to choose from.  We began our tour at around 10 am and were back by 2:30 or 3:00 with about 1 1/2 hours at the Skywalk.

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Posted in U.S.A. | 1 Comment

Las Vegas Without The Neon

sunlit aspens

It’s been two months that I’ve been in Las Vegas for work.  For a person used to the green of Oregon and Florida, this part of Nevada seems very brown.  The Las Vegas strip is crowded, noisy and lit by neon 24/7.

trail sign

But just a short one hour drive from the Vegas Strip, there is a place you can get away from the crowds, the lights and the noise.

trail map

Mt. Charleston’s many trails are a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city of Las Vegas.   I hiked the Cathedral Rock trail, the shortest option.   The car park is at about the 7500′ elevation level.   The top of Cathedral Rock is at 8600.   So it is a nice short hike of approximately three miles round trip and a 1,000 foot elevation gain.

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Now in October the Aspens are turning a beautiful golden color.   Most hikers were accompanied by their four legged friends, which I was glad to see, but only made me miss my own dog even more.

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trail stairs

Mt. Charleston is a very nice break from what most people think of as Las Vegas.

VIEW FROM THE TOP

view from the top

 

 

flowers

 

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Wildlife at the top of Cathedral Rock

chipmunk

cathedral rock

aspens

 

 

Posted in U.S.A. | 1 Comment

Things to do in Palm Springs

Riviera sign

I met my sister in Palm Springs for a short 48 hours, a reprieve from a work assignment in Las Vegas.  She wanted to stay at a mid-century modern hotel, so we chose The Riviera.  The interior was definitely retro, and we liked that.  But the Saturday pool techno music was a little much for me.

Riviera green lounge

lobby

We found a few places we would recommend.

We ventured out to the main shopping/tourist area fairly early and found L’Atelier.  The breakfast there was very tasty and fresh.  The cafe latte was just what I needed.

Iconic atomic

Iconic Atomic card

iconic atomic 2

Our favorite shop was Iconic Atomic, voted the best vintage clothing store in Palm Springs.  I found a cute vintage dress, and the owner took the time to give us dining and sight-seeing recommendations.  He was very helpful (and colorful).

pink building

bike rack

 

Quite a few things about Palm Springs are colorful, including buildings and bike racks.

Riviera pool

During the mid-day heat, the downtown streets are empty.  It is too hot to walk around, so lounging by the pool is the only acceptable past time.  The Riviera has two pools, one very busy and one less so.   We chose the less busy pool where the lunch was good, but the music was not to my taste.

Buzz brochure

Buzz route

The Buzz, a free trolley around the busy tourist area was great.   It has a stop right across the street from The Riviera.  The Buzz trolleys come by every 15 or 20 minutes, and it is free.  No worries about having a glass of wine and then driving.  We used it both evenings we spent downtown.

uptown

purple palm

purple palms lanterns

purple palms lounge

purple palms pool (2)

selfie (2)

A stop in at the Purple Palms for a drink had us wishing we had stayed there.  It has a beautiful and quiet pool area and a wonderful historic restaurant and bar.  We enjoyed a glass of wine and then walked to our dinner spot.

Lulus sign

Lulus from above

Dinner at Lulus on the main drag was quite good.   We tried the cold Cucumber Avocado soup, and the Chilean Sea Bass.   We were very happy with our meal, and happy we had made reservations.   We walked right in to our table while those without a reservation waited outside.

cucumber and avocado soup

Chilean sea bass

lemon sorbet

flourless triple chocolate cake

Our outdoor table next to the sidewalk (under the misters) gave us a great view of the busy main street, where we saw groups of women on a Girls Night Out, straight couples, gay couples, families with kids, and quite a few bachelorette party goers enjoying the night.

buzz

A free ride back to The Riviera was appreciated.

top of the tram

Sunday morning we got a breakfast packed by L’Atelier and rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the valley floor up to 8,516 feet.  As advertised, it really was 30 degrees cooler at the top.  The tram was full of hikers, campers and rock climbers.   We did a short 1.5 miles trail and took in the view of Palm Springs from 2.5 miles up.

park sign

There are 14,000 acres in the state park and wilderness and over 54 miles of hiking trails.  It was our favorite part of the weekend.

looking over Palm Springs

trail sign

squirrel

view

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aerial tramway

The drive between Las Vegas and Palm Springs is about four hours and fifteen minutes.  We spoke to a woman from LA, a much shorter drive.  It appeared to us just from observations that Palm Springs is a “Girls Weekend” destination, and also seems quite gay friendly.  We think the Palm Springs vibe is changing from the old rat pack feeling to a younger and edgier crowd.   There were a lot of new structures under construction too.

We enjoyed our 48 hours in Palm Springs.  A ride up the Aerial Tram is a must do.

Posted in California | 1 Comment

Blue Notes

I’m in  a blue mood, a good one.   I recently painted the outside and inside of my house blue.   Now I see beautiful blues everywhere.   I found these note cards in Sweden.   They are from Danish designer and painter Birthe Koustrup (1917 – 2000).   http://www.koustrup.info

Lotus Flowers, Handbook of Decorative Motifs by Birthe Koustrup

Decoration inspired by the Kakiemon familys work, c. 1780, Japan. Handbook of Decorative Motifs, Birthe Koustrup

Composition from a motif painted on a water pitcher, Song Era. Handbook of Decorative Motifs, Birthe Koustrup

 

Flowering Apricot. Inspriation from a Chinese Vase, Kangsi period. Handbook of Decorative Motifs, Birthe Koustrup

Design on a jar of ointment, eighteenth century, France. Handbook of Decorative Motifs, Birthe Koustrup

A blue door in the town of Halmstad, Sweden:

Dalarna blue

Another blue door, in the town of Simrishamn, Sweden:

blue door

Posted in Art | 1 Comment

The Relæ Experience

relae sign

To many, Copenhagen is a foodie destination.  You can’t think of Copenhagen without thinking of Restaurant Noma.   But Noma closed early this year.  No worries.  There are still two restaurants in Copenhagen ranked in the top 50 of the world.

Relæ takes reservations 60 days in advance, and I was right there online waiting to put in my request.   Even 60 days in advance, we had a choice of 530 pm or 9 pm, the main dinner hours already snapped up.  We took the 530 even though most of our dinners had been later and it is light until 10 pm.

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Relæ is ranked #39 on the website http://www.theworlds50best.com/.

We liked that Relæ’s atmosphere was very casual.  It might be high end food with high end prices, but the feeling was relaxed and comfortable.

We had a kitchen table, overlooking a food prep area.  I wanted that, and it was nice to talk with the chefs.

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The Relæ manifest is made very clear:

manifest

We chose, as usual, to do the full Relæ experience with wine pairings, approximately $250 for the food and wine.

menu price

menu

They had asked in advance about food requirements, and I had responded with no red meat, chicken or pork.  That seemed fine with them.  They substituted fish for the lamb in the above menu.  All your utensils for each course are handily stored in a pull out drawer right at your table.

silverware drawer

green strawberry tart

Our first appetizer was a green strawberry tart.

tarts and wine

As you can see in the photo, the wine was a bit cloudy.  I hadn’t expected that.  It turned out that I liked only about half the wines, and one I was unable to finish.  If I had it to do over, I would have ordered the full food experience, and skipped the wine pairings.  Some of the organic wine was just too organic for me.  But several were quite good.

One of the chefs preparing frozen almond milk crumbles:

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Celtuce, oregano and almond

The green strawberry tart was followed by celtuce with oregano and almond.  The celtuce was served on a bed of frozen almond milk crumbles, which began to melt immediately.  As I took this photo the chef recommended that I not wait much longer to enjoy the dish, as it was melting.  These details I would have missed if we hadn’t been seated at a kitchen table.

A chef preparing the oyster dish:

making oysters

Oyster with cucumber, juniper and seaweed vinegar:

oyster, cucumber and juniper

The oyster dish was awesome, and my favorite so far.  But wait, there was much more to come.

Buteo label

The Buteo, an Austrian white, was one of the wines I liked.  A 2015 Weingut Micahel Gindl, Weinviertel.

Buteo

After the oyster we had trout with crispy skin and browned butter.  This was much better than expected.  The crispy skin was delightful.

Trout with crispy skin:

trout

trout and cripsy skin

The next course was a fava and fennel creation, over which they poured fava bean oil.

fava and fennel 2

fava with sauce

The view of the kitchen from our table:

table with view

They chefs told us they love to work with vegetables and that the restaurant has its own farm.  They concentrate on what is in season and grown locally.  Our next course was carrots, with egg yolk and hollandaise.

carrots, eggyolk and hollandaise

 

L and carrot

As a little surprise extra, they had created a dish using turbot cheeks:

dish

Instead of the lamb on the menu, they served us turbot in butter with kohlrabi.

kohlrabi and seaweed

One of the wines that I did like, Groll n’Roll ’16, Sebastien Babass, Chanzeaux (France).

pouring red

After the eight courses of appetizers and fish, we had three types of dessert.   The first one was a pancake with fresh cheese, rhubarb and black olives.

fresh cheese, rhubarb and black olives

Another Austrian wine that I liked, a Sauvignon Blanc 2012 by Andreas Tscheppe, Glanz.

SB

Second dessert was curd with whey, buttermilk sorbet and woodruff.  The menu says “chervil”, but my notes taken right from the chefs says woodruff.

buttermilk and chervil, whole

buttermilk and chervil

And we finished with strawberries and sage, a sage parfait with strawberries and strawberry powder.

Strawberry and sage

You might think that we would be staggeringly full at this point, but the dishes were small and you are guaranteed the table for 2 1/2 hours.

It was delightful and the food excellent.

kitchen view

Posted in Denmark, Food and Wine | 2 Comments

Christiansborg Palace, Cophenhagen

Copenhagen street

After disembarking from the Juno, we spent one night in Goteborg.  The next morning we took the fast and easy train from Goteborg to Copenhagen, about 3 1/2 hours.  Arriving in Copenhagen, we had just 24 hours until our international departure, and it was raining.

Christiansborg Palace

With just a few hours to kill until our dinner reservation at Relae, (ranked #39 restaurant in the world by http://www.theworlds50best.com), we walked in the rain to the Christiansborg Palace to pay a royal visit.

The Alexander Hall:

reception room

I’m glad we did.  We bought the ticket allowing access to four venues;  The Royal Reception Rooms, The Ruins, The Royal Stables, and the The Royal Kitchen.

We started with the Royal Reception Rooms.

The Princess Chamber:

hall way

 

The Queen’s Library:

library

The Abildgaard Room:

pink room

A poster in the The Dining Hall describing the origins of the table and chairs:

dining hall info

The Dining Hall:

dining hall

My favorite room among them all was The Great Hall.   It is lined with beautiful tapestries created by Danish artist Bjord Norgaard.  These are not old tapestries, but given as a gift to Queen Margrethe II in 2000 on her 50th birthday, and completed on her 60th.  They narrate 1000 years of Denmark’s history, from Viking times to the present.

The Great Hall:

Great Hall

My sister taking in all the intricacies of The Viking Age tapestry, my favorite.

Viking tapestry

The Viking Age tapestry created by Bjorn Norgaard:

tapestry

After the Royal Reception Rooms, we walked to the Royal Stables.  They have several exhibits, including a stuffed horse, and a film, but I was disappointed that we saw no live horses.  The Danish kings were known for their white horses.

stables

 

horses exhibit

One area housed all the carriages and tack:

horse tack

We toured the ruins under the palace and then walked back to our hotel, just two blocks from the central train station.

It was still raining as we passed the Dragon Fountain, near Tivoli.

dragon fountain

 

L and fountain

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Göta Canal Day Four

We had motored through Lake Vänern during the night.  The sunrise was spectacular, and very early.

sunrise 1

sunrise 2

Lake Vänern is at 48.3 meters above sea level.  On this day, the last day of the Classic Canal Cruise, we end in Goteborg (Gothenburg) on the west coast, and sea level.  After breakfast we arrived at Trollhättan.   The Trollhättan locks are a staircase of four locks, dropping 32 meters.

There are three lock systems here, the two oldest not in use.  We toured the Trollhättan Canal Museum, watching a very interesting film on the history and construction of the lock system.

Nils Ericson walk

The Old Locks

oldest lock

oldest lock from the bottom

Then we followed the Nils Ericson Walk, a self guided tour of the old lock system, first built in 1800.  The second set of locks were built in 1844.  Once a year they celebrate “Falls Day” and let the water flow over the original falls.  I think they told us it was one day in July.

The Second Locks  From 1844

second lock

Even though we’d been watching the lock procedures for four days, I still found it fascinating, and these locks were the deepest ones yet.

The following series of photos were taken as we descended from the top of Trollhättan and into the second level.  The new canal office, on the left as we descended, was built in 1935.

top of Trollhattan

T 1

T 2

T 3

T 4

T 5

T 6

T 7

Captain Albert

After descending the Trollhättan Locks, we cruised the river towards Goteborg and sat down to our last lunch on the Juno.

along the river

table

lunch menu

fish soup last lunch

fish soup

strawberry cake

On the river we passed one of the Juno’s sister ships, the M/S Diana.  She is the youngest of the three ships, launched in 1931.  It is customary for the younger ship to blow their horn first, and the older ship answers.

Diana

purple fiels

At the dock in Goteborg the crew lined up for farewells.

farewell

K shakes hands

 

 

Posted in Sweden | 2 Comments