And Now for Something Completely Different….

As we walked through Arlanda Airport on the way to our flight to London, we came upon a unique sight right in the middle of the terminal.  A fish pedicure!  You put your feet into a tank of tiny “Piranha-like” fish who munch on your feet and clean them of all the dry skin and calluses. Eeeewwww!  The boys really wanted to try it and, I have to admit, I was curious too.  OMG!  That tickled so much, I could barely stand it.

The little fish did a good job because our feet felt really smooth afterwards!  I don’t think you’d ever find this in the USA. Check it out at

Rituals: It’s Three O’Clock. Time for Ice Cream.

We have found that afternoon ice cream is an important ritual for our boys. They look forward to this, and we have been very consistent about finding them a dairy treat each afternoon. When we arrived in Sweden, we found that 3:00 coffee/tea was quite common. Our boys have their afternoon two scoops in a waffle cone. This might seem indulgent, or fattening, or whatever. Or, you might say, “I wish I could do that, too!” The treat comes in many versions: soft serve with sprinkles, cold stone creamery-creamy, gelato, frozen case prepackaged cones or bars. Sounds tempting, no? All good, as long as you don’t need to worry about your waistline. Our boys sure don’t need to worry about extra calories.

Everything we are doing seems to be unique and new. We have been moving quite a lot. Think about where we are sleeping. At home, boys had the same beds in the same room for a year and a half now. In the last month, they have slept in 7 different beds. Wake up time is variable. Each day we are doing new and different things. No schedules to be beholden to. Ice cream in the afternoon is an anchoring constant (And perhaps the high probability that salmon will be on the menu for a meal).

I am sure that finding more rituals to observe will help us to maintain our balance on this trip. Right now, we have afternoon ice cream.

Salmon. Salmon. Salmon. Let me count the ways…

Can I get sick of salmon? Maybe, but not yet. Not that I want this to be a foodie blog, but food is fun to write about, and it is one of the easiest parts of a culture to identify. My family has always enjoyed salmon, and Scandinavia has to be one of the salmon lover’s Meccas in the world. Here are some of the ways we have eaten salmon this month:

Grav Lax. Had this for lunch today on French baguette with sweet dill mustard sauce. This is a favorite of Jordan’s. Grav Lax is salmon cured with sugar, salt and dill. The sweet mustard sauce – hovmastersas – is a required compliment to this fish

 Smoked salmon. Had this for breakfast today with tomatoes on bread at the youth hostel. Actually, it was a bit too salty.

 Salmon teriyaki. Had this for dinner last night. We have been avoiding the ‘S’ word – sushi, not salmon – because it is what Justin would only want to eat. We finally could no longer avoid it. We took a break in Karlstad on our way to Norway, and just happened to park across the street from a sushi restaurant. Now, Stockholm has several sushi restaurants, but Karlstad? There were 8 Japanese people eating in the restaurant, always a good sign. The sushi chef was a woman, which Gigi noticed immediately. First time Gigi has ever seen a female sushi chef, oh so Scandinavian. Salmon featured as the prominent sushi fish.

Here are some other ways we have eaten salmon, not in the last 24 hours:

Grilled salmon fillet. Jan bought a whole, farmed Norwegian salmon for 40 Kr/kilo, which is like $3.00/pound. We filleted it and put one side of it on the BBQ with minimal spices.

Per’s Norwegian Salmon Packets

Salmon packets on the BBQ. Per has this thing for eating food that does not require plates. He loves to serve fish and chips in newspaper cones. This salmon is a Norwegian dish, Per explained to us that hikers would make the packets, carry them in their backpack and grill them over a fire for a meal. You take a piece of salmon, salt it, add dill and chopped veggies – in this case parsnips, carrots, onions, zucchini, asparagus – double wrap in tin foil making a packet and grill on BBQ. Skin side of salmon is down. Simple, but really good, and the veggies carmelize. Eat it out of the tin foil.

The Sauna King

I remember taking quite a few saunas during the summers I lived here waaaaay back. We would be 5 or 6 naked guys in a sauna seeing who could stay in the longest. Sometimes the ‘cool off’ was a jump into a cold lake. It seemed like every summer house had a sauna. This trip the sauna has not featured so prominently. In fact, we have only had two opportunities for a sauna, and both reaffirmed my memory that saunas are wonderful.

Jan’s wife Kirsi is Finnish, and it sounds like not having a sauna room at a Finnish summer house just does not happen. So, when Jan and Kirsi bought their Swedish summer house sans sauna, they had to build one. They attached the sauna to the house, and it has a glass door. Our American sensitivity to nudity immediately made us think, “This is weird,” as the shower for the house is right there and you can see people showering through the glass door. But, then again this is a private family sauna. Kirsi told us that her daughter Anna asked us if we would be doing a co-ed sauna. Thankfully, no, as this sauna was going to be au natural. The stove was wood burning – none of this electric nonsense. You get the wood smell, a different type of heat, and LOTS of water being poured on the hot rocks on top of the stove. (No chance of short circuits, as is the case with electric stoves). Jan insisted we try the black soap from Finland, which is made from pine tar. Get the real Finnish scent on our bodies. Afterwards, we cooled down on his deck with a beer and dared the mosquitoes to drink our warmed blood.

Our second sauna opportunity came at Stephan and Cici’s house. Per warned us that Stephan is a sauna fanatic, and will sauna until sunrise (4:00 AM or so in summer). We had a 3 family backyard party on a Monday night – summertime everyone seems to be on vacation – complete with taco bar and Albin’s 500 watt DJ setup. By 5:00 the first round of the sauna had begun. It started with just Stephan, Per and myself – au natural. Stephan treated us to baudy sauna songs and also described his sauna. What a smile he had on his face when talking about it. Special wood burning stove, automatic water-on-the-rocks sprayer that was connected to a pull string running on the walls (anyone who wanted steam just tugged on the string), music player in the cool down ante-room. There was a small pool outside to jump into. This was a Rolls Royce sauna. He had built his dream sauna. After dinner, the sauna time began in earnest. Stephan was so elated when we filled it up, no more bench space. It became swimsuit sauna, as we were all not that good of friends…except for Stephan, who apparently always saunas in the nude. I eventually saw him put on clothes around 11 PM.

Stephan’s little slice of paradise

Honestly, a few hours of sauna-ing really does leave you relaxed and ‘floating on little white clouds’ as Stephan would say. I have an open space in my back yard that would fit a sauna house. I may have to bring Stephan – the Sauna King – over as a consultant for creating the perfect sauna environment.

Bikes and Brews

I started the day trying to ride Jan’s extra winter bike, the chain completely frozen and rusted from winter road ice, and I immediately fell over the bike because the chain did not move. Result: Two bandaids on my left forearm and two holes in my shirt from tears.%¤#”! Stupid. Switch bikes.Swedish homes seem to have multiple bikes, many from the grandparents’ days.  Head out on a 30 minute ride with Jan to Sodermalm with a defective helmet, the plastic sun visor is broken. It has three positions – up , normal, tilting (visor down, ready to meet your opponent). Things get better. Reach his brew club operation in the basement of an apartment block in Sodermalm. Drink lots. Then down to an awesome viewpoint across the water to Gamla Stan and city hall. Riding on the round cobblestones, not the flat rectangle ones, maybe 200 years old, very

bumpy, visor in tilting position, won’t stay up. I feel very medieval.Then to Oliver Twist pub near Mariatorget, Jan’s favorite pub because of great brew selection. Find SIX North Coast Brewery (Fort Bragg CA) brews on tap – and I had worried about not bringing North Coast brews in my bag from USA to Jan – ridiculous that I have found a pub in Sweden that has THE BEST selection of North Coast Brewery brews. So I insist on drinking Swedish microbrewery with the tower of North Coast Brewery taps staring me in the face. Food – Johnsons’s Frestelle – VERY Swedish, stayed away from the chicken wings on the menu. Back on bikes. Find the Carib bar on the water where we celebrated Eva Lotta’s birthday. Another pint. Life is good…except for the 30 minute ride back to the house. Fell over trying to unlock my bike. Survive ride back to Jan’s house. HAH! Promise Gigi an ‘anything you want’ day.

Great day

It’s A Small World…After All

Waking up to pouring rain, thunder and lightening did not bode well for another day walking around the city.  Wednesday was Eva Lotta’s 41st birthday and we were going to a Caribbean restaurant under a bridge in Sodermalm, the main southern island of Stockholm City.  The arrival time was 1pm and we were praying that the weather would improve before having to walk out into the thunder and lightening.  Things only got worse as our departure time approached.  Hail stones! Coming down really fast!  Things did not look good for a nice outdoor lunch under a bridge.  But, the one thing we’ve experienced about Swedish weather is that as fast as it comes, it can go. So, as we left the warmth and security of our lovely temporary home, the rain eased a bit giving us a chance to dart to the subway station.

Arriving at Sodermalm, we walked about a quarter mile under umbrellas to the restaurant. We had to go through a metal fence down to the dock.  It looked a little “shady” at first but as you headed down the walkway you begin to see this really cool space with outdoor tables on the water and a glass enclosure filled with wooden tables.  The owner, Pierre, happily greeted us at the door taking our drink order.  He’s a friend of Per’s sister and lives part time in Barbados – which is what inspired his restaurant. It was very quiet on this day due to the weather. Hugs were abundant as we greeted the family. We had Marie (Per’s sister), Birgit (Per’s mother), Eva Lotta, Per, baby Hugo, and the four of us. Per’s mom was excited to see Bob, her long lost American son.  She has been suffering from dementia but was so happy to see


us and did remember a lot about Bob’s time as an exchange student with her family. The food was delicious and we laughed, told stories, and caught everyone up on our lives back home.

After lunch we took the opportunity to walk with Marie to see her home, meet her son, Henrik, and explore the island.  Suddrmalm is the trendy place to live.   It used to be an island of poor people living in tiny cottages along the sea. Quite ironic that today it’s an area where the “new money” lives and these cottages are worth big bucks. Marie told us to walk down to the area called “SoFo” – Soder Folkungagatan – similar to “Soho” in New York.  This was definitely the place to be!  Lots of trendy, artsy shops, thrift stores, upscale eateries and markets line the streets. Every once in a while a little park would pop out of nowhere and the boys would race to find something to climb on. At one such park the boys were playing on the merry-go-round along with a father and his 4 kids.  Jor

dan seemed to speaking with him about something and they were both laughing and smiling.  After awhile Jordan came back to sit with us and I asked him what they were talking about.  He said the man and his family were from Menlo Park and his daughter played for the MP Striker’s Soccer Team.  Can you believe it?!  We are halfway around the world from the Bay Area in a small neighborhood park on an island in Stockholm and we run into a family who lives not to far away from us back home.  I guess he was pretty amazed when Jordan told him where we lived and that he used to play soccer against the boys MP Striker team.  It truly is a small world.  The family ended up leaving before we had a chance to chat.  Who knows, we’ll probably run into them again!

The $20 Dollar Cheeseburger

No, this is not a Carl’s Jr. style advertisement. No sexy women dripping ketchup from their burger. Today, we went to the Vasa warship museum. I had seen the Vasa some 30 years ago when it had just gone on display and the museum curators were still working on stabilizing the 300 year-old wood. The ship was in a huge hall behind glass back then. Now, the ship is fully preserved and is free standing in the middle of the museum. You can walk all around it and there are 3 viewing floors. It is spectacular! Think of the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean. Really. The film

makers studied the Vasa warship and used it as their inspiration. Of course, this fact completely hooked Justin. Even without that little tidbit of information, however, anyone walking into that museum is ‘hooked’ by the sight of this ship. It’s 60 meters long, two rows of below-deck cannon ports, and over 60 cannon placem

ents. 200 plus carvings and sculptures adorn the ship. It looms large and black in the space, glistening from the preservative used on the wood. The side galleries on the floors tell of ship life, history of 1628, skeletons found in the ship, how it was raised. Besides the city of Stockholm itself, this is easily the coolest thing to see here. Even the museum café is cool. You sit on a terrace overlooking one of the many harbor areas with varied vintage ships moored to the

docks, a steady stream of tourists – and Stockholmers to watch. We are on the open-air “park island” of the city and people stroll the waterfront promenade on their way to and from the 4 other nearby attractions.

If you did not know, the Vasa was the greatest European warship of its time, but it sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. It was top heavy and gusty winds tipped it sideways enabling water to pour into the open gun ports, sinking the ship in the middle of Stockholm’s harbor.

Per found us and we went on to our next little adventure. We took a car ride, convertible top down through Stockholm. Per drives an Audi A4 Quattro he bought in Latvia. Per has a very good Latvian friend and apparently things are much cheaper in Riga. Per says Russians like to give new things to their ‘girlfriends’ and the market for upscale, used baubles like Audi A4s is quite glutted and prices are a steal. As we came out of the Wasa museum, Per was on the line with the Swedish DMV working on the ownership transfer papers from Latvia. Gauging his face, DMV Sweden has the same customer service as DMV California.

Destination was Haga Park, where the Crown Princess lives with her newborn daughter, the first in the Next Generation of Royals and therefore destined to be the future queen of Sweden. But of course, you all have been reading the German version of People and have seen all the photos. Quite the high society story this year. We did not see the

palace, but we did walk around the iron fence with the security cameras. Everything outside the fenced area is quite open to the public, and very scenic. Wide lawns, old oak trees, wide walking paths, beautiful water vistas, and always green, green, green. Reason for going to Haga was that Jordan had a tennis date with a friend of Kirsi. Jordan got an hour of tennis in on a clay court. Justin got to suck on beer infused limes with me, Per, and 3 of his buddies who showed up. We were drinking Coronas. I told the guys about the Corona ‘change your latitude commercials.’ I think I changed my latitude in the wrong direction – drinking Corona at Latitude 60 degrees north means foregoing the palm trees and warm weather. They were having a guys night out, and they insisted we were not cramping the vibe, so after Jordan was done, we walked to O’Leary’s Sports Bar and Restaurant.

Think Irish pub meets Dave and Buster’s with ribs as the signature dish and BBQ sauce on all the tables. This is a chain, and it was done well, meaning we could have been back in the states. Thus, the $20.00 cheeseburger. Ambiance costs money. All those Larry Bird and Tom Brady posters on the walls, the imported Sam Adams on tap. Irony is, of course, that we were paying a premium to feel like we were not in Sweden, but rather Boston. Ah well, go with the flow, do what the locals want to do. Really, we did have a nice dinner; these guys were very enjoyable to be around. The game part was downstairs – 9 lanes

of disco bowling, a computer car racing room, pool tables, air hockey, basketball shoot, etc. We played pool, air hockey and shot hoops.

And to top the day off, Per asked me to be the godfather for his oldest daughter and stand with her at her confirmation at the church on Saturday. I am honored. I still don’t know which protestant religion the church is, however…

Pleasant Encounters in Unpleasant Circumstances

Tuesday July 17th

Part of the fun of traveling in unfamiliar places is having to go with the flow in unpleasant circumstances, then realizing you gained something positive from it.

Yesterday, we finished a long day of walking around Stockholm, our first day in the city. We wanted to head home. At the subway ticket booth, the lady kept telling me, ‘No, you can’t go to Stureby.’ I did not understand why at first, but it turned out the subway line was closed (accident or breakdown) and she was trying to tell me I had to find an alternate route. To stay brief, we figured out we had to go to another station to board busses as the alternate way home. We made it to the bus stop only to find hundreds of people already there waiting. After an exhausting day walking around, this was a depressing sight. And… only one bus showed up into which the crowd proceeded to anxiously cram. Probably ‘normal’ people packing by Tokyo standards. The bus driver was calm and kept saying something about Bangladesh. The pleasant encounter was a lady, in the moment was Gigi’s siamese twin, who started talking with Gigi and referring to our predicament as “standing sardines packed in a can”. She was our age. Turns out she lived in Palo Alto for 3 years and went to community college there. She also had lived in Thailand and Malaysia for several years and gave Gigi tips on those countries. She also helped us find our train once we got off the bus. We made it home and were actually elated by the unexpected sardine bus ride.

Today, the weather looked beautiful in the morning. I advised the boys to wear shorts, and we only packed the rain jackets as a last-minute out the door thought. We headed to Skansen, a huge outdoor museum for historic Swedish buildings with working artisans and a zoo for Nordic animals. By noon the skies started clouding up and it was cooling down. Then the lightning and thunder started. Then it hailed and poured rain. Positives? First positive: The wolverines, wild boar, bear, bison, lynx (3 kittens included), wolves were all very animated and were entertaining. You know, when it is warm the animals just sleep. Today, they were up and moving around, and yes, finally heading to their shelters. It was kind of funny watching the hail bounce off the brown bears’ heads and them looking up at the sky. Second positive: when running through the rain to get out of the park, we were in the Sami/Lapplander village area and I saw smoke coming from a Sami house. The Sami are far north nomadic reindeer herders. We ducked in and there were 12 other people sitting on reindeer pelt covered benches in a circle (house had 6 sides, some strange law existed saying Sami could not build 4 walled houses because it diluted their culture. Their traditional houses looked like teepees), and an iron stove in the middle with a fire. Cozy! Forced intimacy with fellow visitors seeking shelter from the rain. We sat next to a docent who told us much about Sami culture, including the colored strips around their ankles that tell which region they come from, and keep the snow out of their shoes. Justin found a pile of reindeer pelts behind our bench and bedded down in them. He was just too cozy and was really mad when we wanted to move on. It was still raining. To be honest, I was with him, but we moved on any way. Third positive: Running again through the rain and being diverted by a flooded path, we found a flat bread bakery, and what do traditional bakeries have? Wood burning stoves. More warmth. We saw how flat bread is made from barley dough the traditional way, and were allowed to eat as much hard bread with butter that we wanted, as we were almost the exclusive visitors to the bakery at the time.

Now, at 8 PM it is again blue skies and sunshine out. Tomorrow, we are going to an alternative artist colony area to celebrate Eva Lotta’s birthday at a Caribbean restaurant.

My Day in Stockholm – By Justin

Yesterday, We went to the royal palace and I saw the king of Sweden’s crown, I also visited a candy cane store, and went on a boat ride. The king’s crown is in a treasury. The king’s crown is in his palace down 5 flights of stairs in a glass case. The king’s crown is red and gold. The candy cane store sells a lot of candy. The candy cane store even makes the candy. The candy cane store has a lollipop bigger than a tennis raquet. The boat ride was about famous places and things. The boat ride was an hour. The boat is called Hop on/Hop off. I liked the crown the most.