It Is a Small World – Yes, another one of these stories.

For my part, I put responsibility squarely on AFS – American Field Service – for my desire to travel the world. AFS opened my horizons when it allowed me to spend a summer in Sweden when I was 17 years old.

We were driving into Kristiansund, a small town on the Atlantic where we planned to eat lunch. No idea about the town other than it looked pretty in the brochures. At the first roundabout, I took a “wrong” street. It put us at a harbor parking lot with a lone wooden building that said “coffee roaster” and “museum café” and had about 40 people sitting outside on benches. It was a warm, sunny day. Since we wanted lunch, we drove on, circled town, saw nothing eatery-wise to catch our attention, and being Sunday the stores were closed so the town looked quite dead. Gigi thought we should head back to the little place in the harbor as I was looking for smoked mackerel for Justin and I (seeing all the fisherman catching mackerel on the bridges picqued our appetite). Turns out, it was only a dessert place and so we found ourselves eating what food we had out of the trunk and promising the kids we could have a treat afterwards from the café.

In the café, the young girl behind the counter spoke an English that sounded just a bit too familiar to us. She asked us where we were from and we said California. Turns out she had spent a year of high school in San Luis Obispo. She asked, “Do you know AFS?” AFS Alum, just like me! That really got us talking. We talked

about the AFS chapter in Kristiansund, and where the 5 other Kristiansund high school students went in America. She said, “I was really lucky to get San Luis Obispo.” Oh, you got that right, girl, you got that right. My grandfather was born in Arroyo Grande just south of SLO in 1891. I spent many weekends and most summer vacations as a boy there at grandma’s house. I told her that we always went to Avila beach to swim and San Luis pier to fish. She then said that she actually lived in Avila Beach. Wow, a Kristiansund-Avila Beach connection!

Small world.

I…Can’t…Drive…60km per hour!

This blog post is a bit bitchy as I am complaining about the driving.  Sammy H would hate driving in Norway!

View from our Hostel

Norwegian Fjordland. Sandwiched between all those spectacular mountains and the fjords and the sea are all these small, windy roads. My Swedish friends warned me about the roads, but you really have to experience them to understand just how difficult it is to get from point A to point B in the Fjordlands. One of the reasons we set up base camp at Andalsnes, and did not drive to other fjords areas was the fear that we would have too much trouble getting out of them and setting ourselves up for the long drive back to Stockholm.

Yesterday was a doozy. We wanted to drive the ‘Atlantic road’ near Kristiansund. It is

The start of the Atlantic Road.

listed as one of Norway’s 16 National Tourist Roads, and you see the road featured prominently in local tourist info brochures. It was pretty cool, all 8 km. The road hopped along little islands, only open Atlantic ocean to the west. However, it put us on a route that was long and slow.

Toll roads and ferries. Expensive! The other thing our friends warned us about is how expensive Norway is. Not only do you have the food, accommodation ($180 for a Youth Hostel), and gasoline (at over $8 a gallon), the toll roads and ferries will get you good. Two ferry rides and 3 pay tunnels got us back on the mainland and the main road to Trondheim.

Stoping to wave at Maine across the Atlantic

Then in the Trondheim area the automatic toll stations reappeared. We had experienced these outside of Olso. You see a sign that tells you that a toll station is approaching and the cost. Your car gets its license plate photographed, which we were also warned about but did not get the information on how to pay these tolls. All we knew was that heavy fines would come through the car rental agency if we did not pay them. That had us freaked out for the first day of driving in Norway. These auto toll stations seemed to be set up every 10 kilometers or so on one stretch of highway. The tourist information office in Andalsnes did give us a brochure explaining how to set up an online payment subscription, pretty much like FastTrak in the Bay Area. In Trondheim, these tolls stations reappeared, and again they were like every 10 km. The toll is for the tunnels. And man, the Norwegians have bored a lot of road tunnels through the granite rock. Several were 3 to 7 km long. Two of them went under the water. While we were inside, and we had a long time

Light at the end of the tunnel! After 6km, this is a reassuring site.

inside some tunnels to ponder this, we marveled at the engineering feat and really did not begrudge the tolls that were being levied to pay for these engineering marvels. We probably spent close to $100 dollars in tolls and ferry fees yesterday.

Speed limits. I cannot tell you how liberating – in a road warrior sense – it felt when we crossed the border back into Sweden. The road straightened out, it got wider, and the 80 km speed limit sign did not stop me from driving 100 km.

You just cannot cover much distance on a map in Norway. The normal speed limit on the roads in Fjordlands was 60 km – 36 miles an hour. It took us 8 hours to drive from Andalsnes through Kristiansund to Trondheim (with stops of course, that darned outstanding scenery). The ‘normal’ main roads between towns cap their speed limits at 80 km, and they often drop down to 60 km in every town you drive through. 80 km – that is 48 miles per hour, 60 km – 36 mph.

We found lots of speed cameras along the way. The nice road authorities give you a warning with a blue sign with a camera on it, maybe a half kilometer before the camera, but you do have to slow down. Of course, nobody is driving the speed limit because it is so low. The low speed limit must make sense for the 8 months when the weather is crap here, but not in summer time. This was another little stress point at first, because I did not fully clue into the cameras, and since traffic was over the speed limit and I was pacing the other cars, for the first day of driving I was passing these cameras driving over the speed limit. Oh well, I can just hope now that I don’t get a ticket billed to my credit card. With the traffic cameras and the toll cameras, it felt a little like big brother watching me while I drove through Norway. However, as Gigi told me while we paying yet another toll, “Just think of it as the price of admission to see this beautiful place.”  And she was right!

Final mileage for the trip to Norway was 2,313 km…thats 1,437 miles in 6 days! Whew!

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…