Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jul markets

The thing to do in Sweden in December is to go to Christmas markets. SWEA DC had its julbasaar at the Swedish Embassy last Saturday, and we spent the day at a few central, historic Christmas markets in Stockholm.

Andy in Central Stockholm, 11.15am.

Glögg (mulled/spiced hot wine) is a crucial component of any jul celebration.

Very cute traditional market in Stortorget (the Big Square) in Gamla Stan (Old Town)

Our fellow revelers, yo.

The tramride that took an hour to go 1 mile. As you may be able to tell, it was cold. Like between 0 and 5 Fahrenheit.


Now this is the kind of coat you need in Sweden.

The Christmas goat (the julbock) watching over the market at Skansen.
We even got to witness the crowning of "Sweden's Lucia". These seven girls (one is hidden) had been voted on by people around the country, and the winner is going to represent Sweden in Italy (where the story of Lucia originates). On the left you can see the Italian ambassador speaking to the crowd. My cousin's daughter sang in the choir you can see behind the Lucias. Very nice!

[This picture is actually from another night, when I found this statue in the snow, accompanied by beautiful carols played out into the cold evening on a trumpet.]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow and stuff

So, we've actually been back for a while from the north. Here are some photos of what we have been doing and seeing.

Above is Stockholm in winter. You can see City Hall peeking up behind the trees. This was taken about a week ago, before the more copious snow we have gotten.

To the left is the Åhlens building, which is a Macy´s-like department store down town.

This is Sergels torg, a central hangout area in the shopping district of Stockholm. There's a little Christmas fair going on there, where you can buy wool sweaters and princess dresses (the latter, however, only if you are 3 feet tall or under).

At Thanksgiving, we had an awesome pot-luck dinner party, hosted by Expat-in-Stockholm and her lovely husband. There was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato mash, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and three delicious desserts! Yuuuuuuuum!

And we have gotten some of that northern weather with us down here. It has dumped snow. We have about a foot on the ground, and it has been snowing a bit every day. We are at a high of 10 degrees Fahrenheit today (-12 Celsius). We are told this is unusual for Stockholm, but as far as I can tell, rumors of the "not snowy" Stockholm winters are completely untrue and we have actually moved to the Arctic.

Which caused us to get ourselves early Christmas presents...

Cross country skis! (oh yes)

And we really lucked out when we got this apartment (through the equivalent of Craig's list). This photo shows me, about to ski into the woods, with our apartment building behind me. We can literally put on our ski boots and walk out the door to ski. No travel needed. So totally awesome! Now I just need to figure out this skiing thing...

Above is "Winter Road" - one of the forest roads that are purely for pedestrian/bike/ski traffic. Somehow, they are plowed, but not salted or graveled. Perfect.

The last day or so, we have also gotten beautiful rhyme covering our trees. Here's the view out of our living room!

And a 'night time' (most of the time) closeup.

I have to admit, it is hard to deal with the darkness. And it's been so cold over the past few days.

Naturally, we focus on the fika to stay warm and happy.

Happy first of advent!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Our Nordic weekend continued on to Östersund, where my uncle and aunt live. We had coffee, got some new hats, hung out with family, and saw the town. Here are some photos...

Main street, with a cute cafe we visited.

Main street some more.


Fixing the tree topper in the central square.

Storsjön. Very foggy because it was very cold but the ice hasn't set yet.
The high humidity laid a layer of rhyme over all the trees. Lovely!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The bright Christmas lights of Sundsvall

Our second day in Sundsvall was on Lyslördag (the Saturday of Lights), which is the day each year that Sundsvall lights the Christmas lights in downtown Stone Town (see previous post). Another lovely tradition!

After catching a delicious breakfast at a local cafe, we headed out for an on-foot tour of the town, stopping in to hear jazz at the Kultur Magasin. This place is a renovated warehouse/manufacturing complex that has been enclosed by a glass roof and houses the library, city museum, art museum, cafe, and more. Very lovely.

We also enjoyed art by a local artist, Sune Blomqvist (picture courtesy Sundsvall Museum).

It was a mix of portraits and landscapes, and well memorialized this late son of Sundsvall.

We went on to take a look at the local university, Mittuniversitet (Mid Sweden University), which is spread among several northern cities. Here is the entrance...

And here is a shot of the campus, which is on a piece of land that juts out into the bend of the river. All these house-looking buildings were connected by either enclosed walkways or large glass spaces (that also looked like cute houses).

With all this snow, you could ski between classes. (haha.) But I digress...

As the light was getting dimmer, we gathered with the locals at beginning of main street, for The Parade. The Parade was led by an enthusiastic woman in a white cape and a choir of white-clad folk with torches. There were hordes of people who had come to celebrate, and it was nice to hear singing in the bitter cold wind. We got candles to hold, but the wind was blowing too much to keep them burning.

These torches are real!

All throughout town, candles were burning as night fell.

After a moving speech by Sven Wollter, who is maybe the Jack Nicholson of Sweden (I mean by this he is a famous, dramatic actor who has been around a long time), the Christmas tree was lit to a chorus of angelic voices.

As well as the other buildings around the big square.

And the lights along the entire main street! Ooooooh! Ah! [gasps of wonder]

Then, we trekked with the torch-carrying choir, lady in white, Sven Wollter, and several of the crowd, over to the side of the river to witness the lighting of the [they tell us] World's largest Advent candle! You can see it on the right hand side of the photo below towards the top. I swear, it looked impressive in real life.

And maybe you can see Sven atop a platform, wishing us all a happy start to the Christmas season!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cheers and happy Thanksgiving!!

Sunset in Sundsvall

Finally, I'm getting the chance to sit down and write about our weekend trip up north. Had a job interview yesterday (! went well, I think! fingers crossed...) and I am feeling better after my first cold of the year. Looking forward to coming to visit the US in a few weeks. But, back to the weekend...

On Friday, we headed up to Sundsvall, which is located on the eastern coast of Sweden, on the Gulf of Bothnia. It's about 250 miles north of Stockholm, and takes about 3.5 hours on the X2000 speedy, vomit-inducing train (goes so fast, things fly by too quickly...). Unfortunately, our first train was cancelled, so we had to wait at the station for a couple hours, but that was an improvement over the 5 hour replacement bus ride. Once aboard, the train was running late, so had to speed at maximum allowed speed (200 kilometers per hour), which only made us feel queasier.

But when we arrived, we found the adorable city of Sundsvall (that neither of us had been to). After its founding in the 1600s, it slowly increased in population until the 1800s, when it sounds like there was a major expansion. In 1888, the entire down town burned down. It was probably adorable two story wooden buildings like in many cute Swedish towns. Using insurance money and other funds, the town was rebuilt in stone in elaborate, awesome style. As a result, the down town area is called Stenstaden, or Stone Town, which cracks us up, since that is the name of the (very similar, of course) core area of Zanzibar City (Tanzania).

Did you spot the picture from Zanzibar? Can you spot five differences between the photos? haha.

While the sun is setting around 3.10pm now in Stockholm, in Sundsvall, it set well before 3. (Ok, so that's not really a big difference...) The path of the sun in the sky became clearer in this town, somehow. We noticed better how low in the sky it is...

Here we have high noon in Sundsvall.

And gorgeaous sunset sky (around 3pm)

So, what could we do? Of course, we had some fika (post still to come)! The Barista cafe seemed to be decorated by architects and interior designers, with these awesome egg/nest chairs in the windows, chairs made of felt "rocks", and a lounge area where teenagers hung out on a platform of mattresses and pillows, complete with blankets. Very cool.


More to come, but I thought it wise to split this trip up into two or three posts. Soon, a post on the fun Christmas lights of Sundsvall!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lost in Translation

So, Sweden has a lot going for it in general... Even if we only have 7 hours of daylight and it is cold, blustery, and rainy (hello November, as my friend the expat says), just the institution of fika (upcoming post) makes it a lot easier to deal with.

However, a few things aren't quite right here... and here is the first:

(No, I didn't mean Andy!)

It is NOT Halloween anymore, people. It is November.
(This is the main shopping street in downtown Stockholm, Drottninggatan, yesterday.)

Of course, I understand, Halloween is an American holiday. It has been brought to Sweden in its most commercial, least-tied-to-tradition version. Nobody gets trick-or-treating here, and apparently, not the idea that Halloween is only the 31st of October either.

This brings me to funny English words that take on new meaning. Often, I blame the Brits, thinking that perhaps this is a term used in British English, that I simply don't know/use, since I am American. This is the case with words like After Work (for happy hour) and Take Away (for To Go/Carryout). But there is a serious epidemic of...

Muffins are cupcakes! No wait, cupcakes are "muffins with frosting"! No, wait, I think they are just the same thing!

There is a "Muffin Bakery" chain that I assume is trying to bring the fancy cupcake trend to Sweden.... Oy vey!

And that's all for today...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran´s Day

Happy Veteran´s Day to my favorite veteran and all you veterans out there. Thank you for your service. And to all the family and friends who are missing their loved ones today, I can only empathize and say thank you, too. I haven´t forgotten.

And here to cheer you up are some cute cats ...

General Petraeus thanks you for your service.