Monday, November 27, 2006

For the LOVE of Scandinavia!
(November 22-26, 2006)

Joy and me in Lilla Essington

The second I stepped off the plane, my Scandinavian love was back. Everything was so nice, so pleasant, so wonderful. I hopped on the Arlanda Express train, a beacon of efficiency and comfort, which zoomed through the beautiful countryside landscape and into the center of Stockholm in 20 minutes. After a little searching, I saw Joy approaching me in front of the coffeehouse at George - our renedevouz point. It was soooo wonderful to see her ... and in Stockholm! It was almost surreal. I do like meeting friends in different places.
Day 1: Catching up, exploration and the start of fikas
After Joy and I enjoyed our first tea time together and a little rest at her place (a standard student housing room), we headed out to town at around noon to make sure we caught at least a few hours of sunlight. Since it was my second time in Stockholm, we could bypass the tourist-y things and get into the real lifestyle. As always, our destinations are planned around meals, so of course our first item of business - lunch at Joy's favorite cafe by the water, Copacabana, where I had a yummy crayfish sandwich.

Overlooking the many canals in Stockholm, which consist of 14 separate islands connected by 57 bridges

an outdoor bar that is desolate during the winter, but still offers great views

shopping the streets of stockholm

Joy admiring some of the old architecture in the center of town

Overlooking the canals at sunset. It's not even 3pm yet.... the kid's book tells us to look to the left if you like boats and to the right if you like cars. This is to the left.

There's one of the many statues of the king who is always pointing towards the water. The sky at sunset is really beautiful.

Gamla Sans - old town. This is a very tourist populated street, but luckily there are few tourist in town in Nov. I found the same cute cafe with brick walls and the best sandwiches that I remembered from 6 years ago! Stockholm gets very festive for Christmas. This tree is one of several that went up for the holidays.

The Tunnelbana (aka subway)

The subways in Stockholm are wonderful! So quiet, clean and efficient. They are deep underground and accessed by escalators. The time the next train is coming is posted, both at the platform and at the top of the esacalator so you know if you need to haul. A coffee ad that exclaimes "Press and enjoy!" The swedes are a lot more open about their sexuality.

And now more seriously, the numerous stations serve as platforms for art.

Day 2: Walking around, cooking all day and the feast On the second day, after a little snafu on a meeting point (I attempted to use the pay phones), Joy and I walked around a little island called lilla essington where we had lovely buns. Then we had persian food for lunch (there is a lot of middle eastern cuisine due to the immigrants) and then the remainder of the day was devoted to the turkey feast!

New condos on lilla essington. Balconies are the in thing now. And all buildings have to follow a color code (and you thought they all just naturally looked color-coordinated and wonderful together). These all look appropriately colored.

ah - scoop up your potatoes at the supermarket! 9.90 crowns for a kilo (translation - $1.40/2.2 lbs = $0.64/lb)

Joy and I prepared our first turkey ever! He was 6.4 kilos = 14 lbs. We brined him the night before at Joy's boyfriend's parents graciously appointed flat. We had him packaged up in two garbage bags with salted, herb water.
Joy with the turkey in her rollie. Yes, we are rolling a 14 lb turkey in a shimmering gold suitcase thorugh the streets of Stockholm at 4 pm.
After a little stress of trying to find the apparently out of season apple cider, we put the turkey in a roasting bag with apples, onions and more herbs at an unknown temperature. 3.5 hours later .. voila!
We also made all the normal fixings from scratch - mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, mashed sweet potatoes, green sting beans, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin bread pudding (with canned pumpkin carried over from the states. No canned pumpkin in Scandinavia)
Lingonberries! Instead of cranberries we used the all time favorite Swedish lingonberry, picked fresh from the wilderness. But when we ran out, Henrick went up and down his student corridor for lingonberry jam - there is definitely no shortage! These are each 1.5+ kilos!
Thanksgiving was a success! Of course most people didn't have anything to compare to, since we celebrated with 8 swedes, 1 belgium and 1 aussie. But Joy and I thought it was good :)
Day 3: Shopping and dining with the Swedes.
After morning tea, we realized that the sun would be setting soon so we jetted out at around noon to shop and explore the city. We met up with Joy's friend, Henrick and his friend, Lucy, at a children's bookstore. I got a book to add to my international children's book collection - the famous tale of Pippilongstocking.
Centralen - I remembered this structure from a photo I took 6 years ago. I thought it was just a random snapshot, but it turns out that it is the center of the city! It's a main shopping area with one of the major department stores (Athlens - pronounced ah-leans), where we also took a fika to rest.
Dining in style
Joy's boyfriend, Otto, cooked us and some friends a fancy proper adult dinner. I got a good glimpse into social gatherings in Swedish culture. They don't go out to eat as much, but rather invite people over for dinners and gatherings. So even guys cook a lot. This mirrors their culture of once you are in the circle, you are in. Joy and I were in this night.
First course - traditional herring and the dense bread. And yummy cheese!
Alcohol! The Swedes are serious about their alcohol. Several times Joy and I, who are light drinkers, were told "We don't trust people who aren't drunk." We were also told that we were "low liquid maintenence." Hey, that's a good thing! Here we have red wine, beer and the famous Schnapps. You don't just say cheers and drink. No no. You SING a drinking song and then exclaim "Skal!" (Cheers). Here Otto (aka the flan-monster) and his cousin sing to the 4th drink, the syrupy dessert one, which Joy and I passed on.
It was great night with delicous food and great company. 3 Swedes and 2 Americans made for an interesting conversation about cultures from anything to education to travel to pop-culture to politics. Ie. their education is paid for by the government. Our left wing is their right wing.
Day 4: Final fun - city escape and city adventure.
Drottningholm - the Queen's palace. This is where the royalty lives, which is about a half hour commute outside the city. To beat the sunset, we cabbed out there at around 1 pm. I think this is the only real touristy thing we did during my trip - except there were absolutely no tourist there now.

Me in front of the palace

This is the most well-preserved royal palace in Sweden. Built in the 1600s, this castle represents European architecture for the period, giving it a postion on the UNESCO world heritage list. There is even a little Chinese palace, which Otto pointed out was based on what they thought a Chinese palace would look like - no one had actually ever gone to China. They were a little bit off.

Guard! Most Swedes serve in the military for 1 year. This is one of the post you can get-not bad.

The grounds are really beautiful, though pretty barren in the winter. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was nice to escape from the city and see the suburbs.

We stopped for lunch where Joy and I shared this shrimp smorgasbord, a traditional open-faced sandwich.

After returning to the city, we hit up the julemarket (Christmas market) at Hornstull near the water. It was very festive and I saw a real native Swede in a traditional tent and ate reindeer meat. December brings julemarkets, glogg (spiced warm red wine) and saffron buns.

Princesa torta. A slice of traditional birthday cake. Its green outside is rich, thick marzipan (almond paste). The inside consist of 3 types of cream, including a layer of jam. Yum! This was one of the last fikas that Joy and I shared.

Our last evening was spent celebrating Emily, Joy's aussie friend living in Sweden, birthday. We went to Emily's place, a typical swedish apt - a one bedroom, living room kitchen and yes, they really do have ikea furniture. Then after hitting up an Indian restuarant we went to a Debaser, a club/music venue, to see the Kooks. We waited in a queue (apparently queueing is the new in thing to do in Stockholm) to get in. We saw the encore, stuck around a bit to people watch, which is one of my favorite pasttimes. We saw lots of people in the fashion of stripe shirts and skinny jeans. Then we called it a night.

The next morning, it was off to the airport ...

Joy and I drinking hot chocolate. Svea is a slang word for Sweden - like saying Mother Sweden.

I had a wonderful time with Joy in Sweden! It was nice just to hang out and see the Sweden that Joy loves since I had apparently already done all the touristy stuff 6 years ago. So, this time, I really got to see first-hand the Swedish culture - we hung out with the Swedes, dined and shopped and chatted with them. Joy and I had many great tea times and lazy mornings, fikas, explorations and of course, non-stop chattering. I already miss Joy and the Scandinavia I grew to love. We were asked constantly by the Swedes, why did you choose Sweden? Joy and I would just look at each other with a knowing smile. Why not? I would definitely not mind living in Scandinavia again!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It was only a matter of time before I returned to a place very dear to me - Scandinavia! Scandinavia represents a series of first for me. 6 years ago... First time living abroad (in Copenhagen), first time in Europe, first time seeing the sunset at 3 pm and my first thanksgiving away from home so I guess it is fitting that I am returning for Thanksgiving again. This time it's Stockholm. My good friend, Joy, is studying in Stockholm and so I jumped at the opportunity to return close to my "homeland." Scandinavia is not a place for tourism persay, but to live. And I want to see Joy and her life in Sweden. We bonded quickly when we both learned we had a love for Scandinavia, travel, food and tea. Then we went on to share a bizarre understanding of Tokyo and fondess for Thailand. Despite both of us being world travellers, we manage to keep in touch and of course, visit each other in our random places. So, that's the background. I leave tonight for a weekend in Europe. I haven't been back to Western Europe since bidding farewell to my Copenhagen flat in Dec 2000! 35 degrees F, gray, rainy and sun setting at 3.... and I'm sooooo excited!!!! Ahhh... fond memories of my good 'ol Scandinavian days!