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Scandinavia: A Journey Through Time

My first trip to Scandinavia almost didn’t happen. Before the borders came down in Europe, I was headed to Denmark from Amsterdam. After a long train trip, I arrived at passport control and was summarily rejected from entering the country. Turns out, I had left my passport in Amsterdam. It was a nightmare to get a new passport at the American Embassy, but I was determined I would not leave the fjords without seeing them for myself.

So, I returned shortly after renewing my passport and spent a few days in Denmark first. If you’ve never been to the cathedral at Roskilde where the Danish kings are buried, or seen the Viking museum, well I would say it is a rite of passage for Viking enthusiasts. The Viking museum holds five ships that were sunk in a line along the Roskilde fjord in order to keep enemies from raiding the tender inland. Legend held that Queen Margaret I who ruled over the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden had the ships sunk blocking passage to Roskilde. The ships were raised in the 1900’s, and archeological diggings still take place around the cathedral, a treasure trove of details about the complicated history of the area.

When I arrived in Sweden (with my passport!), I was overloaded with history. Maybe that’s why it seemed a more peaceful place to me. I went to the nature park where many historical huts and houses are collected for visitors and countrymen to walk through time in a peaceful, country setting. The workers were dressed in the colorful costumes one associates with Sweden, full of flowers, embroidery, linen and lace, etc. There was a wedding in an old chapel, and I thought it was a great idea to have one’s wedding in the middle of the historical buildings of one’s country. The wedding pictures would have so much added interest. I’ve seen weddings pictures being taken near the Forum in Rome, and the bay of Naples. Great!

I will digress just for a moment… I must say that as a young backpacker the beauty of the people made a great impression on me. Who gets to be blond, blue-eyed, and tall…. AND tan? Not me. Ok, everyone goes for different looks, but I had to just sit and watch the people in this country. It was an amazing sight.

Now I am reduced to enjoying loganberry cookies and Swedish meatballs from IKEA, but I will not forget my trip to Sweden as a young backpacker.

But wait! There is one more country in Scandinavia, and perhaps the most important one to me. Norway. I have Norwegian heritage, and I will have to say that Norway has some of the most incredible sites. There is a fantastically preserved Viking ship, and the Kon Tiki raft that Thor Heyerdahl used to cross the Pacific ocean. In Vigiland’s park, the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland are jaw dropping. Then, you can hop on the train to Bergen for a “Norway in a Nutshell” view of the Fjords. Try some caviar at the fish market in Bergen, climb to the medieval Stave church, and enjoy the ancient forest. I have led two trips of students and colleagues back to Norway to see some of these incredible sites. To my students, perhaps starting the day off with a waffle bar breakfast complete with all the toppings was the best part. To me, it was just being in Norway…Scandinavia, for that matter because after all of the amazing sights I just listed perhaps the most amazing one was when I first stepped off the train in Copenhagen. I saw the people…tall and of a certain statue. Wow, I thought. These are my people! I looked just like them. That is an experience that Americans sometimes feel when they return to that ancient place from where their ancestors first emmigrated. It happened to me, and maybe it will happen to you someday.

We celebrate Sweden this month during our Dessert Club. You are welcome to come and get a taste of that old country, and maybe inspiration for your own journey back through time.

An English Trip I Will Never Forget

When I first went to the world famous “Pudding Club” in Mickleton, England, it was a little tour I arranged with colleagues at work. We were all teachers, and the idea of going to one of the quaintest parts of England, and taking part in a traditional feast of desserts was just the kind of unique and eccentric activity that attracted us.

It was an experience that was more than I could ever have expected. We arrived at Heathrow Airport one morning in late May, rented our cars, and headed up to the Cotswold villages. We had a full day of sightseeing planned before arriving at our destination, and as it turns out we needed every minute of that sunshiny, spring day. After a 1.5 hour drive from Heathrow, we arrived in Burford for lunch. At Huffkins cozy stone bakery/teahouse, we had the most extraordinary High Tea with three tiers of typical English fare including cucumber sandwiches, scones, strawberry jam, clotted cream, cream cakes, and traditional tea that just seems to taste different in England than it does anywhere else.

Our joyride took us through beautiful towns like Burton on the water, Stow on the Wold, Guiting Power, Broadway, and all the way to Mickleton, just ten miles from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Three Ways House Hotel is tucked into the tiny village, and it has been the gathering place for the Pudding Club for more than 30 years, lately becoming famous for inviting non-club members to its charming traditional dinner and dessert feast.

But you have to do it right! That is what the English would say, and after one of the most charming days I have ever had, I absolutely agree. After a full English breakfast the next morning, we headed off for a hike in the Cotswold Hills. Hiking is called rambling in England, and we rambled through old paths, fields of rapeseed, and under trees with a profusion of bluebells growing underneath. We ate lunch at the Ebrington Arms, and continued on toward Hidcote Gardens. In the gorgeous afternoon, we walked from village to village only a half mile from each other, each one filled with beautiful stone cottages, some with thatched roofs, some covered in ivy, most with historical markers, and all with beautiful spring flowers bursting from window boxes and hedges.

When we returned to the little inn, we changed, took a little rest in the garden, and then gathered in the lounge for Elderberry spritzer where we met the MC for the evening. Just like we do at Woodstock Inn every month, the MC gave the rules for the evening, and we entered the dining room. We ate a traditional meal of roast and potatoes, and then were charmed by the parade of desserts, all lavishly described by the MC with hints of personification like “Now, be sure to clap for each one. They all have feelings, you know.” It was a ridiculously charming evening filled with playful scolding for not finishing a bowl of dessert “Think of Oliver and more please?!, for goodness sake,” and a judgement and rating of desserts at the end.

It was a capstone evening following a charming day, and the most memorable part of our little spring journey to England. When I bought Woodstock Inn in 2010 it was my desire to bring my love of international culture to the inn, and I desired to start a dessert club that would bring the same joy to others as it did to me. I’m happy to say that we have begun the dessert club tradition and hope to bring the same kind of love and charm to our guests as I felt tucked in that little village inn in Mickleton, England.

Some English Inspiration…May Dessert Club

Join our England inspired Dessert Club this month, May 21, 2016! Come join us for Bangers & Mash, Harry Potter’s Treakle Tart and more!

Romance in Marrakesh, Morocco

One of the most romantic bed and breakfast I have experienced is the Riad Kniza in Marrakesh, Morocco. Riads are the old mansions and palaces filled with the history of exotic Morocco. They are not like driving up to an old southern mansion, or cruising by a grande dame on the Venetian canal. Not at all. Our Riad was hidden down a small alley in old town Marrakesh, only distinguished by a small gold sign and a very old and solid wood and cast iron door.

But once inside that door, the magic carpet may as well have been waiting. We were whisked into a welcoming room where we were treated to tea and pastries as our luggage was taken to our suite of rooms. Every aspect of the cozy dining room was lush and dripping in luxury from the antique Persian rugs, heavy silk curtains, intricately detailed fireplaces, and velvet pillows.

Then, we were taken to our room. Wow. Just wow. Rose petals were strewn over the Persian carpets leading into an incredibly beautiful room separated into a lounge and sleeping area by Roman columns. There were lounge beds typical of old Mediterranean places, but here covered in a beautiful, patterned silk. A few steps further on was the silk-covered bed framed by velvet-fringed curtains. There was a cupola above the bed that was intricately detailed. The windows were wooden and opened onto the large main courtyard. The bathroom was all white marble with gold fixtures highlighted with deeply fragrant rose petals. Fresh flowers were tucked in the corners. An antique silver kettle of hot water awaited our desire for tea, and a three-tiered display of pastries were at hand.

It was the most beautiful presentation of a room I had ever experienced. It was an incredibly romantic room. Each morning we had our breakfast on the rooftop of the riad overlooking the city. In the courtyard we would retire for spa services. The personal attention was beyond anything I had ever experienced, and I truly felt I was living one of the 1001 Arabian nights.

When I bought Woodstock Inn Bed and Breakfast and decided to theme the rooms around European countries, I simply had to include a room based on my experience in Morocco. Of course, it is not a European country, but I have reached across the Straight of Gibraltar to highlight this most incredible art and architecture. When you arrive at Woodstock’s Moroccan room, you will find a little photo album with beautiful photos of Riad Kniza. Enjoy!