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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.
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.
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.
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, Stockholm Archipelago
This morning we were discussing options for what we could do today. Per has been wanting to take us on a boat ride to another island, and today there happened to be just enough people at the house to fit in the boat. Eva Lotta, Albin and Prince Hugo had gone into Stockholm. The weather report said 80% chance of rain, but we took the chance and decided to go to the island of Fejan, which has a small resort with an outdoor restaurant, boat access only…island right, duh.
Captain Per, Gigi, Bob, Jordan, Justin and Filippa piled into the little yellow boat with the 80 horsepower outboard engine and started out. There were some dark clouds to the west of us, and as we got out into open water with better vistas, we saw it was quite the ‘squall’ front heading east towards us. (Since we are on a boat, I can use the word ‘squall’ instead of something more mudane like ‘thunderhead’.) I thought we could get lucky and motor south and around the cloud and avoid the weather. Fejan Island was about a 30 min high-speed ride south of us.
First stop was Arholma Island for some ice cream, a little treat for the kids. Per also wanted to buy some care package snacks for his 15-year-old daughter Greta, who was nearby attending a religious Confirmation preparation summer camp. Per was bringing her Coke, chips, and candy. As she purified her soul, he was corrupting her physical body with this crap. Still, it probably made him Dad #1 in the whole camp that day.
As we pulled away from the dock, I saw some pretty impressive lighting bolts coming out of the black wall of sky to the west of us. Thunder very distant. We had time. Everyone put on raincoats and we beat it to the South. We were back in among islands and away from the open Baltic, but the water was very rough; it should have been calm. Per explained it was the coriolis effect from the storm: counterclockwise winds circulating around the squall brought wind and wave from the south, causing the rough seas. Boy, Per sure sounded smart. Delivery of junk food to the camp, bumpy trip through light rain with lighting now to the north of us, a few minutes checking the nautical charts to figure out where we were – there are a LOT of small islands out here that we are weaving our way through – and finally arrival at Fejan Island.
Fejan Krog (bar/pub) is definitely a Sausalito boat-crowd style locale. The people sail up from Stockholm; we also saw flags on the boats from Finland and Germany. There were about 15 largish (30+ feet) sailboats lined up along the dock. We snuck our little yellow speedboat in at the end of the line and anchored just off a granite rock. Restaurant is indoor/outdoor with a small bandstand/cushy chair patio off on the side with a bar cabana. So, we sat outside under the large awning at a picnic table, all smiles that we outran the squall, it did stay to the north and we actually had sunshine now. Lunch was very good, Per and Gigi had Caesar salads, I ordered Rodda (looked like steelhead), and had to trade with Justin because he liked my fish better than his Char; Jordan and Filippa split a Caesar salad – a foreshadowing of things to come this day. Per told us the story of his trans-Atlantic journey on a large sailboat with 5 other people from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean and back. He really does know his stuff about squalls and corydalis effects.
After lunch we moved over to the bandstand area – in the sun – to listen to a guy singing and playing guitar. He was a bit more than decent. He sang Coldplay, the Police, and even an AC/DC song ‘Thunder Struck’. Per and I were talking about asking the guy to let Jordan come up and play guitar, there were only about 25 people in the audience and it was all very casual and mellow, but Jordan was giving us the stink eye. C’mon, we said, we are on a little island in the middle of nowhere, have some fun, and who cares, you are never going to see these people ever again, what a great story to tell. Logic borne of a few beers Per and I had polished off. Jordan’s tea was just not giving him the same level of clarity of the situation.
Per is definitely the brave, social sort who does not let opportunity pass by, and at the end of the set asked the guy if Jordan could come up and play his guitar. The guy said yes, and Jordan did not hesitate, although he was not smiling. Jordan started in with a blues riff, and the guy immediately grabbed a harmonica and started jamming along. If you have had the chance to hear Jordan, you would know this all sounded pretty darn good. Jordan got claps all around from the people when he finished. Afterwards, the performer told us he had been to California – friend in Carlsbad – and had driven Highway 1 up to San Francisco.
We took a walk on a nice trail to a fish smoke house to get some fresh smoked fish to snack on. In contrast to the Fejan Krog, this place was quite pathetic; they obviously went the wrong route in trying to establish a business. Crummy plastic mini-golf course holes sat in the grass, the café/picnic lunch store was quite the rotting building. Still, they had the smoked fish part right and we ate fresh smoked mackerel with some more beer and ice cream.
I told a story about how I had once said ‘ass onion’ instead of ‘asshole’ in Germany because of pronouncing the one vowel wrong. My boys thought this was funny and started repeating ‘asshole/ass onion’ over and over in German. Turns out the only other patrons in the café were an old German couple.
On the way back, Jordan and Filippa got into a teasing shoving match, which lasted the whole walk. This was the most Filippa had engaged with Jordan. We adults were smiling because it was a real breakthrough. Filippa even started speaking a little English.
Filippa and Jordan got the chance to pilot the boat back home full throttle in the calm parts, which they thought was excellent. Justin was curled up under the bow cover and napped. The trip was faster and smoother coming home, as we were travelling with the weather and not against it.
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The family we are staying with here in Sweden love to go boating. They have a 30 year-old speed boat that they go on almost everyday. Their 17 year-old son, Albin, loves to whip people around on the inner tube. Its like trying to hold on to a merry-go-round going 35 knots in a circle. I also tried water skiing as you can see on the blog. Must think I’m pretty good at it…wrong! My mom took a picture of me in the few seconds I was up! But you just keep thinking I’m good at it and I won’t be ashamed.
Sometimes we even go out of the bay and onto the ocean. Albin was the first to inner tube out there. We were doing our best to make him fall off and finally he did. When we got him into the boat he said, “It’s @!%#ing cold!” and so we road off into sunset, warm and ready for the next day where it would be Albin’s sister, Filippa’s, birthday. She would be turning 12.
A Swedish summer tradition is to have a kraftskiva – a crayfish feast. There are rules to this. First off, traditionally crayfish season started the first Saturday in August. No crayfish eating before that date, although the well connected to the underground crustacean black market could procure the little devils ahead of time. Hosting the first kraftskiva was a great coup in Swedish country home social scene. Everyone gets together around a table decked out in everything red, they drink akavavit and beer and sing silly drinking songs, and consume up at least a pound of dill-infused crayfish each. That is many, many crayfish.
However, this is no longer the case. The indigenous Swedish crayfish population crashed in the Great Crayfish Plague of the 1970’s to 80’s. Now, crayfish can be purchased year round, but they are imported from Turkey or China (although the Chinese crayfish must be eaten immediately upon opening as they tend to be of low quality and break quickly). The price I saw in the store yesterday was 380 Kronor/kilo, about $30.00 a pound.
Per has declared the dawn of a more eco-friendly, wallet friendly, and really fantastically delicious alternative to the imperial crayfish: the mussel skiva. Per ordered 4 kilos of fresh Swedish mussels yesterday from the market. These mussels were farm raised on the west coast of Sweden. Eco friendly, they are sustainable, actually improve the environment with their natural filter feeding, and don’t travel in a plastic bag halfway around the world. Price was 55 Kronor/kilo. And they were the largest eating mussels I had ever seen. As an added culinary bonus, mussels can be cooked in a myriad of sauces; they are not culturally limited to dill seasoning. Per cooked the mussels in a white wine, shallot, fresh parsley and goat cheese broth, AND IT ROCKED!!! Jordan ate his fill. Justin dissected them, claiming many times to have found the tongue of the critter.
Since children of non-drinking age, and non-drinking spouses commanded the table, we skipped the stupid drinking songs. I bet the old standards like, “Vi tar det nu, vi tar det nu, vi tar det nu, skal,” (We take it now, repeat, repeat, drink) would work just fine in the presence of mussels. The table clothes should be a light blue, Eva Lotta’s favorite color. The sun even came out this afternoon. Mother nature approves of the mussel skiva. May your bread sop up delicious broth.