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.

Smoking Fish, real rain, move into Stockholm

MONDAY, 7/16 Stureby, Stockholm, Sweden

We are now in Stockholm staying in our friend’s parent’s house. Their family is vacationing on Menorca (Spanish island) and celebrating the father’s 70th birthday. The house is in a very nice suburb of Stockholm, houses around here have quite large yards. Driving in we saw many, many high-rise apartment blocks. Stockholm is very urban, and with the long winters being outside is not fun, so buildings are big and boxy with lots of interior, climate-controlled space. Today, we will start exploring this northern urban oasis.

On the weekend we tried some fishing for torsk (cod) and abborre (sea bass). The cod fishing was done half-heartedly at best. When I was here in 1979 they were plentiful. You jig for them – not kilts and bagpipes – just bounce a shiny piece of metal with a hook on gone by the 90’s, it is a wonder the Swedes did not starve to death. Man cannot live by potato and dill weed alone). Per says they have not caught a cod in 15 years, but the news says the cod are coming back and every year they give it a try. Conditions were not good to start with as it was windy, we did not set anchor and the boat was drifting. This meant we were jigging sideways instead of up and down. No fish. I think Per just wanted to give my boys the experience without really thinking we would catch anything.

Fishing for abborre was much more rewarding. Fishing for abborra was very much the same as fishing for bluegills at Gigi’s parent’s lake house outside of Auburn. Hook, worm, bobber, short fishing line. BAM! The fish dart out from under the boat dock and hit the worms. POP! On the dock, flapping around. Dad gets to get smelly hands removing fish and putting a new worm on. Repeat 5 – 7 times. Justin caught 4 eating sized fish 8 to 10 inches. Abborra can get much bigger, but do so out in deeper water.

Per said we had to smoke these fish for a real treat. We salted them and let them sit overnight, then set up a little smoker that the 4 headless, whole fish fit perfectly into. Sawdust and camping alcohol fire and 15 minutes they were done. They were TASTY! Salty and smoky and warm. Of course, we only had appetizer amounts to try, but everyone was attacking their thimbleful of smoked fish.

Our time out at the country house finished with real rain, not the off/on sprinkles we have had our first week. Per’s family was wrapping up their 3 weeks at the summer house and had to clean up everything so it would be in shape for Johan’s family (Per’s younger brother and co-owner of the property) to come out for their 3-4 week stay.

Today is blue skies and windy, time to experience the Stockholm subway system and the 1000 year-old ‘Venice of the North.’ After a breakfast of hard bread, butter spread and thin sliced Swedish cheese, of course.

Deciliters, Grams and Cups – My Attempt at Baking in Sweden

This is my first blog post and I thought I would write about my experience a couple of days ago with the metric system.  Per’s daughter, Filippa, turned 12 on Thursday and I decided that I would make her a birthday cake as my gift.  As many of you know, I love to make birthday cakes…the more extravagant the better! I wanted to make Filippa a real American-style birthday cake. I had to make the cake from scratch because the Swedish store here in the countryside didn’t have a traditional American-style cake mix. The kitchen here is pretty well equipped and Eva Lotta helped me find most of the pans and ingredients I would need. I just needed to get a few more things at the store.

Bob and I walked to the store and it turned out to be a 10k round-trip excursion – whew.  Despite my aching feet, I enjoyed the beautiful walk on a small country road lined with the traditional red and white painted Swedish cottages surrounded by fields of wildflowers. Per and Eva Lotta told me that the houses are painted red because it preserves the wood against the harsh winters here.  The paint originated as a bi-product of copper mining in the 1500’s and was used by wealthy people to simulate the red brick color of affluent homes throughout the European continent. Makes sense.

Time to make the cake.  The kids had gone off to the disco party and I was going to “stealthily” bake the cake before Filippa came home. I found a recipe on the web at one of my favorite sites and luckily it had a US to Metric conversion calculator.  So, I clicked on the little button and it recalculated my recipe. Great!!!  However, as I began to pull out the measuring cups and spoons, I noticed that everything was in deciliters and not in grams as my recipe required.  Hmm, how to go from dry measurement in grams to liquid measurement in deciliters? I searched on the web for a converter and found that one cup equals 240 milliliters. But I needed grams, which is a weight measurement. So I went from grams to milligrams to milliliters to deciliters, which eventually got me to, what I think was the right amount.  There was probably a much easier way to do this and all you engineers out there can let me know. The one thing about baking is that it is a scientific process and if you don’t have all your ingredients/chemicals in the right proportion, things could go very wrong.  So at 10pm as I was pulling my cake out of the oven, I was praying it would be ok.  It looked like it had risen properly. I hope it tasted good. Oh, one other thing I had to contend with, they don’t use vanilla extract over here.  Apparently, Scandinavian’s use something called “vanilla sugar”. It looks like powered sugar and tastes kinda like vanilla.  I didn’t know how much to use so I just winged it.  Since I am STILL suffering from jet lag a bit, I got up at 4am and decorated the cake so Filippa would have a surprise in the morning.  Well, she loved it!  She was showing all of her friends on Skype. It was her first big, American birthday cake!  At the little celebration, the cake got rave reviews from all the kids and cousins -everything turned out just fine.

Fejan Island Photos

Per and Bob. The ride tussled what hair we have. The beer has not yet arrived.

The Squall

A brief pause for Captain Per to determine our location.

Arrival at Fejan Krog. Parking was tight. No valet service.

Outside lunch area

Jordan jamming the Blues with the featured performer