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Long days of summer

Written by Chaz on 16 September 2012

IMG_6947After sleeping late yet again, I woke up to another breakfast of a Swedish sandwich and coffee and sat out reading for a bit. Torbjörn and I then set out on bicycles to the nearby town of Bergshamra, where there is a small grocery store, to pick up some food. It was a gorgeous day for a ride, and our route took us through a farm, down to the water to a marina and into town.

I learned at the ICA grocery store in Bergshamra that you can order alcohol that is otherwise only sold at Systembolaget and have it sent to a rural grocery store, so that alcohol is available in places too sparsely populated for a Systembolaget store. I guess that’s more convenient, and it just goes to show the level of dedication to keeping the monopoly and making it workable.

Arriving home, we walked down to the beach for a quick dip in the Baltic under the broad blue sky.

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After swimming, I sat out on the porch and shelled shrimp for dinner before making some more headway in my book. Dinner was pasta with shrimp, salad, and white wine, followed by a dessert of rhubarb pie with vanilla sauce and ice cream, and of course coffee.

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The light was so nice after dinner that we did a quick photo shoot to remember the trip by, and then, still not wanting to go inside, we took a very long walk down to another bay, where the sun’s last rays were especially beautiful.

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We woke relatively early on Sunday and immediately headed for the dock, where an early swim was especially cold and thus very quick. We cleaned up and had a very relaxing breakfast all together on the porch, with smörgåsar with spicy tomato-ginger marmalade, cereal, filmjölk, coffee, and orange juice.

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Anna, Karin and Nils had to return to Stockholm that afternoon, so we made a trip of taking them to the bus in Norrtälje. We walked around town a little bit and looked in at Akeba, a neat furniture and home goods store.

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We had a fika at Tre Praliner, where we had actually eaten three years earlier when my mother visited Sweden. We sat out on the deck with kanelbullar, chokladbollar and coffee.

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IMG_7034After our fika, we drove over to the bus station with more than enough time for their bus to Stockholm, and sure enough, as we walked up to the platform with 15 minutes to spare, the bus was pulling up. But as we chatted and said a long goodbye, the bus pulled away! It turned out that the buses actually leave for Stockholm every 15 minutes, so we had been looking at the bus before theirs. Another bus came along shortly, we repeated our goodbyes, and they were on their way.

Erik, Torbjörn and I drove over to Coop, the grocery store, where we recycled various things into several bins: plastic, metal, paper, colored glass and uncolored glass. A large sign proclaimed that light bulbs could not be recycled there, and believe it or not, we actually did have a light bulb to recycle. The whole thing felt like a scene out of Portlandia, one of our favorite showsthis scene, to be specific.

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After yet another grocery self-scanning experience, we drove back to Lögla, where we had a relaxing afternoon, reading on the porch and taking a long swim at the beach. We began making dinner, for which we had big ambitions.

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Round one of dinner, a salmon vegetable stir-fry with rice, was excellent, and very attractive in the cooking process.

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Round two came a bit later: chorizo with korvbröd, senap (Swedish mustard), ketchup, rostadlök (the Swedish fried onions), grilled halloumi, and beer. It was excellent in a very different way from the stir-fry.

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After dinner, we took one last long walk around Lögla. Throughout the trip, I had been remarking on how much the Stockholm archipelago reminded me of Maine, my favorite place in the world, and how my Swedish family ought to come visit us there. As we looked over the water at the sunset, Torbjörn turned me and said with a knowing smile, “Very Maine, right?”

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The next morning, we woke up very early and set off for Arlanda airport, where I said goodbye to Torbjörn and Erik, pledging that we would see each other again very soon. As I made my way through airport check-in, and security, and into the departure lounge, speaking Swedish at every step, I realized how far my Swedish language skills had come, and how much further even they had developed on my 10-day trip — not just in vocabulary or grammar but also in just feeling comfortable using it. I picked up a Stockholm newspaper in the airport, which appropriately enough contained a story about Providence. I also seized the opportunity to have one last Swedish breakfast.

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My flight took me through Amsterdam, where I saw a Lego model of the Amsterdam airport and enjoyed one of my favorite beers in its homeland.

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Yet another wonderful time in Sweden. The next one can’t come soon enough.

Exploring the countryside

Written by Chaz on 23 August 2012

We rose relatively earlier on my first day back in Lögla, having planned to make a trip to Linnés Hammarby, a botanical garden that was once the summer home of Carl Linneaus. Linneaus is the mastermind behind the modern system of categorizing plants and animals. It was another beautiful day in the Swedish countryside, and I felt a bit like the family in “Little Miss Sunshine” as the wide-open sunny landscape rolled by outside.

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We arrived at Linnés Hammarby and signed up for a tour of his house before walking around a bit on the grounds. There was a vegetable garden and a pasture of horses and sheep. Interestingly, the symbol shown on the sign below, also engraved on the command key of millions of Macintosh keyboards, originated in Sweden. The command key originally featured only the Apple logo, but Steve Jobs felt that was an overuse of the company’s logo. Its replacement is a Scandinavian symbol for a tourist attraction, and Apple designer Susan Kare found it in a symbol dictionary and decided to adopt it. The symbol thus took on a life of its own.

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We returned to Linneaus’ house, where we were led through its rooms by a very well-intentioned tour guide whose English left something to be desired. I think I could have understood her better had she spoken Swedish. After our tour into the Sweden of a few hundred years ago, we were ready, of course, for a fika. We returned to the cafe at the garden’s entrance, and were soon enjoying a platter of sweets: a chokladboll, or chocolate ball; a monster-sized kanelbulle that reminded all present of Cafe Saturnus; carrot cake; and a nut tart. And coffee all around.

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After our tasty stop, we took a walk through Linneaus’ own garden, filled with the many flowers that he so carefully categorized. The grounds were beautiful, and Anna suggested making a visit an annual tradition.

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Leaving the garden, we drove to the nearby city of Uppsala, home of Sweden’s oldest university, founded in 1477 and considered one of the best in Europe. Even though we had just had a fika, we beelined to Ofvandahls konditori for lunch. In spite of their extremely tempting pastry case, we all ordered baguette sandwiches — a few of salami and Brie and others of ham and cheese — and of course more coffee.

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We took a stroll through old Uppsala, and a guy from Denver picked me out of our group to ask me directions, hesitatingly asking me if I spoke English. I guess my cover was blown. It was especially amusing since he could have just asked any Swede, all of whom speak English nearly as well as I do.

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We walked up to the university library and stopped in at the exhibit of the Silver Bible, Sweden’s most valuable book and one of the best remaining examples of the ancient Gothic language. As we entered the exhibit, I realized it actually wasn’t my first time there. I had visited with my mother during my first visit to Sweden.

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After visiting the library, we returned to the car and set off in the direction of the archipelago, stopping along the way for groceries. We had a simple but wonderful dinner of korvar, the Swedish hot dogs, complete with fresh onions, peppers, roasted onions (very popular on korvar) and the delicious Swedish strong mustard. Though it wasn’t fancy, the meal was great, and at this point in the trip, the simple pleasure of another meal outside under the evening sun with my family was perfect.

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Nils, who had stayed behind in Stockholm to work, arrived after dinner on a bus, and we had a delicious strawberry cake (and coffee) once he got there. We sat around talking for a while over dessert, nearly entirely in Swedish.

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Anna had discovered that the only rebroadcast on Swedish public television of the Allsång performance we had attended was at 2:45 in the morning, so in order to see whether we had actually been shown on the broadcast, we dutifully stayed up to watch. We passed the time by playing cards — I tried to teach spades, but didn’t get very far — until the film “Little Children” came on SVT. After half-heartedly following the extremely creepy film, the Allsång broadcast finally began, and thanks to the fairly distinctive pattern of the shirt I had worn, I spotted myself not once but three times. (You can see the episode for yourself on SVT’s website.)

Tired beyond words but delighted to have become a Swedish television star, I headed off to bed shortly afterwards.

Back to nature

Written by Chaz on 22 August 2012

The following day, with four full days remaining to my time in Sweden, Karin, Erik and I rose early and took the pendeltåg to the tunnelbana to the Roslagsbanan to a bus. In no time flat, we were back in Lögla at my family’s summer house. And after quickly packing up a picnic, we hopped in the boat and sped over to the national park of Ängsö, which we had also visited the previous year.

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We had lunch shortly after we arrived: delicious, light sandwiches of ham, potatoes and Dijon mustard in tortillas, along with kanelbullar and coffee. We sat out in the lovely sun, took a quick swim in the frigid water and spent a while just relaxing. I was in the middle of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and was completely enthralled (we joked that he should be Swedish with a name like that), and the shore of the national park was the perfect place to read.

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After a while, we took a long walk around the island of Ängsö, spotting the cows for which the park is known. The island had been farmed for many years before it became a national park, at which it became entirely protected. But it soon became overgrown, and authorities realized that the farming was actually necessary to create the beauty the park had been designed to protect.

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After a bit more reading and another kanelbulle, it was time for the short boat ride back to the mainland.

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The grill was fired up shortly after we got home, and before long, the table was set and yet another fantastic meal was ready. There’s something about eating dinner under the incredible evening sun that makes it that much tastier. We had steak, halloumi cheese (very popular in Sweden, and really yummy), tzatziki sauce, potatoes and a salad.

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For dessert, we had a freshly-baked rhubarb pie — naturally, accompanied by coffee. After making a bit more progress on The Devil in the White City, it was time for bed.

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Open-air entertainment

Written by Chaz on 21 August 2012

The next morning, we met some of Erik’s friends at the natural history museum near Stockholm University, where I studied during my first visit to Sweden. We spent a few hours exploring the museum and had the “day’s menu” lunch in its cafeteria. Having had enough of the museum, we took the subway back downtown to Östermalmstorg, known for its food hall, which I also visited during my last stay in Stockholm. Erik and I stopped for a fika there.

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We walked from the food hall to the spårvagn, a trolley that connects downtown Stockholm to Djurgården, the lush island that holds the open-air museum of Skansen. As we had done a year before, we were planning to attend the evening’s broadcast of “Allsång på Skansen,” a nationally televised singalong, held on eight Tuesdays in the summer and hosted for a second year by Måns Zelmerlöw, who got famous after he was on the Swedish version of American Idol. The show, which features a mixture of traditional Swedish songs and more modern songs performed by each week’s guests, is a perfect example of something that’s culturally ubiquitous in Sweden but absolutely unknown elsewhere — in other words, world-famous in Sweden. I was especially excited to see the show again because among the guests were Markus Krunegård, one of the artists I’ve gotten to know from listening to Swedish radio at my desk — part of my strategy to keep my Swedish up; the Original Band, an ABBA tribute featuring members of the original backup band; and Miss Li, another Swedish artist.

Our trip on the spårvagn took us past the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, which was hosting a stage performance version of Ingmar Bergman’s famous “Fanny and Alexander.”

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After we bought admission tickets to Stockholm, Erik and I had a bit of time before the broadcast’s rehearsal, so we walked around the museum a bit. The museum is a combination of traditional Swedish architecture and a zoo of Nordic animals.

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The Nordic animals were much more present than on any of my previous visits to Skansen, and we saw reindeer, brown bears, red foxes, lynx, and buffalo.

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Heading back to the Skansen stage, we met Karin, a friend of Erik’s from high school, and a few Japanese exchange students, and found a place to watch the Allsång rehearsal.

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We got a few korvar, Swedish hot dogs which are vastly superior to their American counterparts, for dinner after the rehearsal, and hurried back to claim our spot. The show was fantastic, and we had a great view of the action. By this point in my visit, I had already figured out with delight that my Swedish was much, much better than it had been a year prior, so it was fun to be able to follow along with the show much more.

IMG_6627Above, Måns Zelmerlöw, the show’s host. Below, the Original Band perform “Dancing Queen.”
IMG_6642IMG_6638Above: Miss Li, and the crowd at Skansen. Below: A celebration of fifty years of the Svensktoppen list of hit music, and Markus Krunegård.

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We retired from a great evening at Skansen to a pub downtown for a few drinks before heading home. After sleeping late again the next day, we were re-energized and headed back downtown for my last full day in Stockholm. I spent a bit exploring some of the stores in the central shopping district, including the trendy new Weekday.

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Erik and I had an early dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant near Odenplan called Tang Long Pho that, despite being written up in the newspaper, was just mediocre. We took the tunnelbana down to Zinkensdamm, on Södermalm, and walked up to Skinnarviksberget, a rock outcropping that overlooks the lake Mälaren over to Kungsholmen and Gamla Stan. Erik’s friend Koppen met us again and we watched the sun set. Even though the weather wasn’t great, we were far from the only people who wanted to enjoy the view of the city.

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We retreated shortly after sunset to Koppen’s and not long thereafter to Spånga. Stockholm had once again been very good to me.

Sun and water

Written by Chaz on 19 August 2012

The next morning, after sleeping very late again, Erik and I made our way back to the pendeltåg and rode it downtown, where we found a beautiful city bathed in fine weather.

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We walked down toward Kungsträdgården and spent a few minutes exploring NK, an enormous department store where we met up with Erik’s friend Patrik and walked across Gamla Stan to Södermalm. We turned left along Katarinavägen and watched the many enormous ferries down below. It was a truly beautiful day, and the view across the water was stunning.

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Meeting Koppen, another of Erik’s friends, we walked down a long staircase to Stockholm’s photography museum, which sits on the water’s edge. We ordered beers from the museum’s adorable cafe, outside overlooking the sea. Sitting on the shore, overlooking the city and sipping pale ale was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.

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We parted ways with Koppen and Patrik and took the tunnelbana back downtown, where we walked up to Hötorget to have dinner at a Scandinavian restaurant called Pyttirian in the Kungshallen food hall. I ordered pytt i panna, a traditional Swedish dish whose name means “little pieces in a pan.” It could have passed as a breakfast dish in America, though it was heartier and more savory: a hash of diced meat, onions and potatoes, with a fried egg, cucumber and pickled beets. Erik opted for a smörrebröd, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich, of Brie cheese, bacon and sundried tomato. Both were very good, and different from other things I’ve had. Even though I spent four months in Sweden, I didn’t do a very good job of exploring the local cuisine.

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We had planned to meet up with Patrik again after dinner to sit outside and enjoy the Swedish evening sun with a few beers. In order to do that, we needed to get a few beers. And, of course, there’s only one store in Sweden that sells normal-strength beer: the state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget. And when you’re trying to buy alcohol at a reasonable after-dinner hour, nearly every Systembolaget has already closed its doors. Every evening, the Systembolaget across from the train station in central Stockholm, which has slightly longer hours than most, becomes one of the few stores in the entire country that will sell you alcohol. And very likely, you aren’t the only Swede who would like something to drink.

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Not only was there a long line both inside and outside the Systembolaget, but the scene inside was one of the most unruly and chaotic I have ever seen in Sweden. Apparently the bunch of Swedes who shop for booze at the very last minute in the last place in the country selling it are not among Sweden’s most rule-following. We selected a few beers, waited in the long line to pay and made our way out just before closing time.

We met Patrik again and walked over to Skeppsholmen, a small island in central Stockholm that has a bunch of green space and the city’s modern art museum. The island is one of my favorite places in Stockholm for its views from every side, and we picked a nice patch of grass to sit and enjoy the sun. We stayed until nearly eleven, when the light finally began to fade.

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Erik and I returned to Spånga shortly thereafter and again enjoyed a long night’s sleep.

Sweden once again

Written by Chaz on 9 August 2012

Nearly three years ago, I was leaving to spend a semester studying abroad in Stockholm. It was awesome. And so about a year ago, I was again leaving for Stockholm to spend a week with my contact family and reacquaint myself with the country I missed so much. I returned from that trip with renewed affection for the place. So it was only logical that, when it came time to plan my first real vacation from work, I decided to return to Stockholm. This time I wasn’t as curious to see whether it would be as wonderful as I remembered it in my head — I was pretty sure it would be — so I was just looking forward to relaxing, seeing my family, enjoying the sun and having time off away from work.

I arrived at the Stockholm airport early on a Saturday morning after an easy flight from Boston through Amsterdam, where immigration and security couldn’t have been more efficient. My Swedish family picked me up and before long we were on the way to their summer house in Lögla. We made a quick stop along the way in Rimbo to pick up some groceries, and after a little breakfast at home during which I remembered how delicious Swedish cheese is, we took a walk by the shore.

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Though I knew I shouldn’t for jet lag’s sake, I was dying to take a nap, so I closed my eyes for a bit. When I woke up, a major blueberry pie operation was underway, so I jumped in to help pick the stems off a ton of freshly picked berries.

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Shortly afterward we sat down to a delicious dinner of salmon, potatoes, and salad, followed up by the blueberry pie, fresh from the oven. Over dessert, we discussed the difference between kanelbullar, the famous Swedish cinnamon rolls, and other kinds of pastry bollar. Boll, which is the word used for such treats as chokladbollar (chocolate balls), translates to ball, but bulle, the root of kanelbulle, doesn’t really have a direct translation. And the large sugar that goes on kanelbullar, known as “pearl sugar” in Swedish, is barely known in America. This led to Nils imitating a Swede trying to buy pearl sugar with half-English in an American grocery store: “I am a foreigner and I need sugar for my balls!”

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After dinner, we took a walk down to the dock to enjoy the late Swedish sun.

IMG_6276IMG_6277IMG_6279Left to right: Torbjörn, Nils, Karin, Anna and Erik.

When we got home, it was time for “Grattis kronprinsessan!“, literally “Congratulations, crown princess!”, a television show that airs every July 14 to celebrate the birthday of Victoria, the crown princess and next queen of Sweden. The show featured performances from several well-known Swedish musicians and raised money for the princess’ fund, which benefits sick children. It was, to say the least, incredibly Swedish.

IMG_0013By the end of the show, I was already falling asleep again, and even though I was in bed by 10, I slept until nearly one the next day. Clearly I was not only jet-lagged but also a bit behind on sleep. After a light breakfast and an afternoon relaxing and reading, we had a dinner of herring and gravlax and packed up to drive into Spånga, outside Stockholm. We stopped along the way to pick up some groceries at Coop, which was an exceptionally Swedish experience. We loaded specially made baskets onto a specially made double-decker cart and proceeded to scan each item we chose with a handheld scanner that automatically totaled our purchase at the register.

Arriving home, Erik, Karin and I walked to the pendeltåg, the commuter rail, to head downtown and walk around a bit, since we still had a few hours of light. We alighted at Karlberg station and walked down to the path along Karlbergskanalen, strolling down towards Stadshuset, the city hall where the Nobel banquet is held.

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Turning east, we continued onto past the Swedish parliament onto the island of Gamla Stan, up to the picturesque Stortorget at its center.

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Walking down through Slussen, we headed up to Monteliusvägen, a walking path that has incredible views across Lake Mälaren to Gamla Stan, Kungsholmen and Norrmalm. The city looked radiant in the late evening sun.

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We returned to Spånga via a pendeltåg station on Södermalm that I never knew existed, after a very warm welcome back to Stockholm.

Saying goodbye

Written by Chaz on 5 September 2011

I slept late on my second to last day in Sweden, and after I packed my things, we headed back to Lögla for one last gasp in the country. After the trip, and stopping at the grocery store, it was of course time for a fika. Anna had made kardemumabullar, like cinnamon rolls but with the flavor of cardamom instead of cinnamon, and sockerkakor, which we know as pound cake. They were both amazing, and it was wonderful to be back in the tranquility of the Swedish countryside.

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After one more dip in the Baltic, it was before long time for dinner: beef, halloumi again, potatoes, salad and green beans.

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After watching a rerun of the previous night’s Allsång to see if we had gotten ourselves on television — unfortunately, we had not — and looking at amazing photos from my family’s spring trip to Iceland, it was time to head to bed for my last night in Sweden.

I rose early on my last day in Sweden, determined to squeeze every last drop out of my remaining time, and we went for a long walk around the shore, ending with a swim.

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Even my last meal in Sweden was remarkable. It’s very traditional in Sweden to use a cheese slicer, the sort that scrapes off a thin slice, all the time. In fact, it was originally a Nordic invention. I had a fried egg and some sliced Swedish cheese on toast. Delicious.

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I packed up my things and we left for Stockholm’s Arlanda airport with plenty of time to spare. But when we walked into the airport, prepared for an emotional goodbye, I was hit with an entirely different emotion. The departures board grimly informed me that my KLM flight to Amsterdam had been cancelled, and it was immediately clear that there was no other flight to Amsterdam that would get me there in time for my connecting flight to the U.S.

Naturally, the ticketing office was using the kölapp system, the much more efficient alternative to lines that is only used at supermarket delis in the U.S. but is nearly universal in Sweden. (You take a little piece of paper with a number and wait for it to appear on a screen.) The numbers were being called at a glacial pace, so I bid farewell to my family, assuring them that the airline would have to do something for me.

Luckily, thanks to earning “elite” status after our trip to Asia and a trip earlier this year, I was able to take a priority kölapp slip and got rebooked after only about an hour onto Air France flights through Paris. The KLM agent even gave me a coupon for 100 Swedish crowns worth of food in the airport. And so, before too long, I was rushing for my flight, which turned out to be wearing a nice retro paint scheme.

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Before my trip, I was very curious to see my reaction to my second time in Sweden. Over the last two years, I’ve really built up Sweden in my head: wonderful people, wonderful scenery, wonderful culture, and so forth. And I wondered how much of that had a basis in reality, and how much was just me romanticizing my time abroad. I’m happy to report that Sweden, on second visit, was just as wonderful as I remembered. And I was especially surprised and pleased to realize how much progress I’ve made with the language. Even though I still have tons more work to do, I feel much more like learning Swedish is an achievable goal.

The moral of the story, of course, is that I really need to figure out a way to get back there for another extended period. Ten days just wasn’t nearly enough.

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Singing along

Written by Chaz on 1 September 2011

I began my last full day in Stockholm with the ultimate trip down memory lane: a return to my apartment in Sundbyberg, just outside Stockholm in the direction of Spånga. Erik and I took the tunnelbana to Duvbo, and despite having been up the station’s escalator hundreds of times, I was still impressed by its height and length.

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As two years prior, the front door of the apartment building was unlocked, so we went right in to the first landing and saw the door of my apartment. Having done just about enough creeping, we walked down to the center of Sundbyberg and hopped the pendeltåg into Stockholm.

I had two errands to take care of in Stockholm before starting the day’s touristing. First we stopped by the Stockholm tourist bureau to buy a map of the city’s ABBA tour, a gift for my friend Joanna. And second we stopped by an office building downtown to drop off a copy of my friend Vernie’s fantastic senior thesis for her Swedish host family.

IMG_3672In the last two years, Stockholm has added yet another means of public transportation: the spårvagn running from Sergels torg down to Djurgården. And in fact the spårvagn ended up coming in handy quite a few times during my visit. We hopped on at Sergels torg and rode all the way to the end of the line, Waldemarsudde, the former home of Prince Eugen. The prince, himself an artist, spent some of his life in Italy and brought back art, and his house is now a museum of his collection, temporary exhibitions, and the house and grounds itself. The weather was fantastic, and our walk down to the museum past the cruise ships, Baltic ferries and pleasure craft was spectacular.

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After exploring the museum and its grounds, we rode back up to the Djurgården ferry and headed over to Slussen. Once again, the views across to central Stockholm were fantastic.

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We walked from Slussen down to Fotografiska Museet, the photography museum, which is new since my time in Stockholm. The museum, perched right on the Baltic by the ferry terminals, was terrific. In particular, I really liked the exhibit of Liu Bolin, a Chinese photographer known as the invisible man because of his knack for painting himself right into a photograph.

We took the tunnelbana up to Odenplan to meet Erik’s friend Jasmin, and as it had begun to rain a bit, we made a beeline for dinner at Ramen Ki-Mama. Both Erik and Jasmin are in Stockholm University’s Japanese studies program, so it was only fitting. It was my first ramen since our ramen in Hong Kong, and I have to say, it compared very favorably. The near-natives approved too, which is worth something.

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After dinner, we headed back to Djurgården for a Swedish tradition: “Allsång på Skansen,” a one-hour singalong at Skansen, Stockholm’s outdoor museum, that features well-known Swedish musicians and is broadcast live on Swedish public television. The songs, all widely known in Sweden, are available in a little book, and the host says the number of the song they’re going to sing so that you can find it in your book. The TV broadcast also has the lyrics at the bottom of the screen, karaoke-style. The show had a new host this summer: Måns Zelmerlöw, a pop singer who rose to fame from Swedish Idol and Melodifestivalen. The show also had a “web host,” Anton Lundqvist, who, I was shocked to learn, is younger than I am.

We had seen the show on TV at Lögla, and since the show is free to attend after you’ve bought a ticket to Skansen, I thought it would be pretty cool to go. We arrived a few minutes before the show’s live broadcast began at eight, and immediately wished we had allowed more time.

IMG_3723The line to buy Skansen admission tickets.

But we did make it inside in time, and while our viewing spot wasn’t optimal, I had a pretty good view thanks to my height. I was really glad we went! There was a huge crowd, and lots of people had brought signs. It was also a beautiful evening — the rain held off — and the view from Skansen out over the city was great.

IMG_3768Above: Måns and Anton, and a whole lot of blond heads. Below: the crowd at Skansen and the view over the city.
IMG_3771IMG_3822IMG_3794IMG_3804Above: Erik, Jasmin and the Allsång lyric book; and Allsång‘s youngest, most excited fan. Below: Måns singing a Killers song after the broadcast ended, and an excited fan.
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Allsång was also interesting to me culturally. I can’t really imagine the U.S. having an equivalent, not least because there aren’t that many songs that the whole country shares as folk knowledge. Sweden is a small enough country that this kind of thing is possible. The show also reflects Swedes’ well-deserved pride in their country and its capital. The show always opens with a song called “Stockholm in my heart,” really a love song to Stockholm.

After the show ended around 9:30, there was still plenty of light, so we took a walk through the Nordic animals section of Skansen, checking out the foxes and the bears. Exhausted, we took the spårvagn back to the central station, where we parted ways with Jasmin and headed back to Spånga. Another wonderful, busy day in Stockholm.

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Indulging the tourist within

Written by Chaz on 30 August 2011

Erik and I began my third day in Stockholm with a major tourist attraction that I somehow missed during my first time there: Stadshuset, the city hall and home of the annual Nobel Prize banquet. Actually, “somehow” is a bit euphemistic, since on the day my program toured Stadshuset, I was playing hooky to visit Emmy in Barcelona. So, determined to redeem myself, I made visiting Stadshuset a priority of my return to Stockholm.

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Stadshuset sits at the bottom of Kungsholmen, an island just east of Stockholm’s business district. The posh neighborhoods of Kungsholmen are also the home of Mikael Blomkvist, the male protagonist of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Thanks to its location, the views from the grounds of Stadshuset are fantastic, and I took in the sights while we waited for our tour to begin.

IMG_3378IMG_3380IMG_3402At right, the omnipresent Citybanan construction as seen across Lake Mälaren.

The tour began in the “blue hall,” so called because it was originally intended to be blue. Today, the room is the home of the annual Nobel Prize banquet, which brings the laureates from all over the world to Sweden. Anyone can enter a lottery to attend the Nobel banquet, and the odds are actually not terrible. But the hall is surprisingly small, so guests, even the famous ones, even the royal ones, have surprisingly little room to sit and eat. Such is the suffering of glamour.

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We filed upstairs into the beautiful Stockholm city council chamber, which overlooks Lake Mälaren. Lawmakers somehow squeeze themselves in around Stadshuset’s busy tour schedule to manage the affairs of the city.

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Anyone from anywhere in the world is allowed to get married in Stadshuset, if you’re willing to waiting to get on a months-long waiting list, and our tour guide made a point of explaining that this is true for couples of any gender. Unfortunately, when you get into some of the lesser-used rooms, some of the art chosen by the building’s architect doesn’t exactly scream wedding to me.

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Our tour guide said that, in fact, there was quite a bit of outcry about some of the art in Stadshuset when people first saw it. But the designer prevailed, I guess.

After leaving Stadshuset, we walked along Norr Mälarstrand, the southern edge of Kungsholmen, past plenty of boats and adorable little cafes. Someday, I kept telling myself, I’ll be one of the beautiful people who hang out at these places.

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We turned onto Kungsholmstorg and walked up towards Rådhuset. When we passed a branch of Systembolaget, the state-run liquor store, I couldn’t resist doing a bit of journalism inside. As it turned out, the Absolut vodka, theoretically a domestically produced item, was about twice as expensive in Systembolaget as in the duty-free shops at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. That’s one way of getting people to drink less.

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We took the tunnelbana to Rådmansgatan and walked across to Cafe Saturnus, which is well-known for its enormous kanelbullar, a Swedish cinnamon roll. We stopped for a fika, and though Erik resisted having a kanelbulle and stuck with a sandwich, I had traveled too far for such healthy nonsense.

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Leaving Saturnus, we walked through Humlegården, a large urban park, to Kungliga Biblioteket, the royal library, which is akin to our Library of Congress.

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We walked down to Stureplan, Stockholm’s fanciest square, where the most attractive and the wealthiest mingle. Being neither, we had to move on. The “mushroom,” visible in the picture below, is a common meeting place.

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We walked over to Östermalms saluhall, a food court that is a much fancier version of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market and bears almost no resemblance to the food courts of Thailand or Singapore. The market is a feast as much for the eyes as for the stomach.

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We took the tunnelbana down to Gamla Stan to indulge me in one more tourist sight: the beautiful island of Riddarholmen, which adjoins Gamla Stan and overlooks Norr Mälarstrand and the bluffs of Södermalm. From Riddarholmen, we could see central Stockholm, Stadshuset, Slussen and all the way across to the Västerbron.

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We walked back to Gamla Stan and up to Stortorget, the historic center of the city and now a tourist mecca, ringed by cafes.

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We took the tunnelbana up to Fridhemsplan, where we stopped at Prisxtra, the grocery story of my youth. My favorite part of the Prisxtra was always the self-service salad greens station, where you can mix and match. And, as further evidence of halloumi’s popularity in Sweden, it was on special.

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We retired to Spånga for another night of grilling and relaxation.

Homecoming at last

Written by Chaz on 30 August 2011

IMG_3173After one last beautiful swim in Lögla, I packed up my things and drove with my Swedish family back to their house in Spånga, just outside central Stockholm. By the time we got there, of course, it was time for another fika, after which we enjoyed a nice pasta dinner. Erik and I headed to the pendeltåg, the commuter rail whose name reflects the pendulum-like nature of its operation, to go into the city to meet a couple of his friends. Even just being back on Stockholm’s amazing public transportation system began to bring the memories flooding back.

We got off the train at Stockholm’s central train station and walked down to the old town, Gamla Stan. Though it was nearly 8:30, it was still sunny. The low angle of the sun had begun the extended sunset of the Swedish summer, making the city even more beautiful than normal.

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After meeting Erik’s friend on Gamla Stan, we walked across Slussen, past the Djurgården ferries, onto Södermalm, Stockholm’s trendy southern district. Though we had taken a very indirect route, I was very grateful for the reintroduction to the city.

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We stopped at a couple places for a drink, and I was delighted to find that my Swedish had dramatically improved since my first time in Sweden. Though I spoke some Swedish in Lögla, Erik and his friends took more of an immersion approach, and I did pretty well. (The drinks helped.)

After a while, we headed back to Spånga on the subway, the tunnelbana. For some of my stay in Stockholm in 2009, part of the Blue Line was closed for construction, making it much more difficult to get to and from the city. When it reopened, about halfway through my time in Stockholm, I wrote, “Seriously, you have no idea how much better my life is now.”

And, of course, for my return, the same section of the line was closed again, because construction on the Citybanan project continues. When I found this out, I half-joked that I would have cancelled my trip if I had known that. And so, as a result of having to take the same Green Line detour that I became so accustomed to two years ago, I once again found myself waiting for what my friends and I used to jokingly call the “mot Hjulsta,” or the train toward Hjulsta, in our most awful American accents.

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My second day back in Stockholm was even more of a trip down memory lane. After another pendeltåg trip from Spånga, Erik and I walked down Klarabergsgatan past Sergels torn and the magnificent NK department store to Kungsträdgården. Our route took us past the Stockholm offices of my future employer, where we took a mandatory photo.

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We stopped in at Max, Sweden’s climate-smart adaptation of fast food that was a favorite of my previous stay, for an inexpensive hamburger before walking down to Skeppsholmen, one of the several islands of Stockholm on which the Moderna museet, the city’s modern art museum, sits. One of my favorite things about Stockholm is how much water there is, right in the city center, and the walk down to Skeppsbron highlighted that.

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The museum, which was my favorite in Stockholm, had overhauled several of their galleries, so we spent quite a while there. After we finished, we met Erik’s friend Stephanie near the bridge and took a nice walk around the island and its smaller neighbor, Kastellholmen.

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We took the ferry from Skeppsholmen over to Slussen to have a fika on Gamla Stan before hopping the tunnelbana back to Spånga to make dinner.

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We had planned to grill hamburgers for dinner, and while we had some issues navigating the minefield that is charcoal, they turned out very well. We tried grilling some vegetables as well after dinner, but we didn’t have enough heat left.

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My time in Stockholm was off to a great start!