Something Swedish


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Something Swedish in New York City: Visiting The Highline

2013-06-24 05.50.06It’s that time of the year! Visiting family, friends, and good ol’ NYC. Last year was my first “visit” back home, but not my first time being a tourist (I’ve done that every time my husband came to visit me over the years). Experiencing your own town as a tourist is like visiting a completely different place. You want to do, see, and learn more which means actually appreciating all that stuff around you that you would normally ignore. This is especially true in NYC, where there is so much going on all the time and not enough time to slow down to even notice.

Last year I had been in Sweden for only 6 months before we came back, this time the gap has been a whole year and a lot has changed in that time: Namely me. I’ve adjusted and adapted to my life in Sweden, so I’m here to tell you that reverse culture shock is a real thing. For my visit last year I ignored Something Swedish, since it wasn’t anything to do with Sweden, but since I now have readers from all around the world who might think it’s fun with a change of scenery, I’ll try to give you a taste of my trip!

Our first big outing was to the Highline, which we have been meaning to see since it was opened in 2009. The Highline is a public park built on an old elevated freight train track which preserves the old history and structure and adds a beautiful touch of greenery, artwork, and plenty of places to sit down to relax and soak up some sun. Stretching between Gansevoort street (south of West little 12th) and W29th street, it’s a great walk above the busy yellow cab filled streets below with an awesome view of Manhattan from a new angle among the rooftops, which is amazing for photos.

The old tracks:

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The view down Manhattan Streets:

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Artwork:

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Relaxing:

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The rest/random:

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There are lots of entrances/exits so this is a great way to walk through a small part of the city to get where you need to go with some refreshing scenery, no cross walks, honking cars, or street vendors. Great for easing back into the hectic city from a small laid back town in Sweden.

Bonus! Hubby has started up his own blog and his first post is featuring his select favorite photos from today’s outing. Check it out here: Ensorcella


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S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time!

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Photo Credit: Recepten.se

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the  Recepten.se recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.

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This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.

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Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.

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Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.

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St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.

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Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

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It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!


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First Snowfall: Första Snöfall

When many people (Read: Americans) think of Sweden they think of snow. And Polar Bears (Which there are none of). A snowy winter is how I know Sweden to be, not only because of that stereotype, but because I have spent all of my visits here during Christmas time.

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I’ve always loved snow, but I welcomed this snow with extra glee. It doesn’t snow nearly as much in the Southern tip of Sweden as in the rest of the country. Yesterday was my first “first snow” in Sweden, especially because I finally have something to compare “Snowy Sweden” to. The best part of the first snow early in December? Saying goodbye to Dreary Grey November. I’ve never experienced a Swedish November before, and I have to say it was the worst. On December 1st the sky finally opened up and revealed it’s blue self again, and then gave us snow to brighten our long nights as we hung decorations.

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This will be my forth Christmas in Sweden, but my first full winter. My visits were usually barely enough time to enjoy Christmas and New Years. I’ve never been here long enough to enjoy Christmas shopping, Christmas Markets, Lucia, or Advent.

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I was surprised to see so many cyclists out braving the weather. I could barely walk without falling. There are more tire tracks than footprints in the snow.

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An interesting difference that I find in Sweden is the lack of shoveling. As soon as the snow accumulates at all in NYC you hear the whole neighborhood shoveling as its still snowing. And then again an hour later, and early in the morning. The sidewalks are COMPLETELY shoveled. In Sweden – not so much. I didn’t see or hear a single shovel, nor see a shoveled sidewalk. Instead, we just walk on the bumpy and slippery snow and ice on our way to work and school and try not to fall down. I guess it is also a different mentality than “If someone falls on my property because I didn’t shovel they can sue me” which is pretty unlikely to happen in Sweden.

In Sweden, instead of using rock salt before it snows or right after, there is always a layer of gravel on the ground from December – April. I guess it gives traction and breaks up the snow a bit, but it doesn’t melt snow and ice like rock salt does. And it looks so messy for months!

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Some photos of the beautiful sky we had today, taken from the new bridge that goes over the train tracks (2:30pm). I couldn’t quite capture it. To see photos of today’s picturesque sunset from a great view, visit this blogpost: MovingtoSweden

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A snowman I found outside my apartment, and a soda can – perfect way of measuring snow!

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Vocabulary:

Snow: Snö

Snowman: Snögubbe


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Standing in Shakespeares Inspiration

As I crossed the cobblestone courtyard, ducked through the small dark and narrow passageways, climbed the steep and sagging brick stairwells, marveled at the untouched chapel, watched the swans swim around  the castle moat, heard my voice echo in the tremendous ballroom, looked out the windows to see the cannons pointed towards the coastline of Sweden – I was imagining Hamlets plight. Envisioning the ghost of his father, eavesdropping, deceit, secrets, murderous plots, revenge, and a death stained fencing match. Shakespeare may or may have not ever been to the Kronborg Castle (known as Elsinor), but he was inspired by it nonetheless, and framed the most famous play in history within these walls.

Exploring the underbelly of the castle, originally built as a stronghold fortress in 1420. Continue reading


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May Day And The Classic Car Parade

When we went out yesterday I was hoping to see protesters and street demonstrations marching with red flags for International Workers Day. In New York some large events have occurred on May 1st tied to this holiday over the years, but I’ve never been aware that it was a huge deal or even a set date. People protest when they want.  In Sweden May Day is a “Röd dag” (red day) which means a national holiday when almost everything is closed and the Swedish flag is raised. The labor movement has been an important part of Sweden since the end of the 1800’s.

While on the look out for protesters we were met with something much better prowling the streets of Halmstad. The Classic Car Parade! 

(See the Swedish flag in the background? Those are only up on red days) When we hit the street I saw an old American car in front of me and said “Hunny, look at that car!” He told me to look around, because there were dozens of them! I can be so blind.

It felt like being teleported back in time to the 60’s! It was amazing to see so many showing off. They were all driving nice and slow- perfect for photos!

There is usually no traffic allowed on this street, aside from buses. We assume buses had to change route since we didn’t see any and can’t imagine how they would have managed.

They  certainly caused some traffic but being the thoughtful and respectful Swedes they are, there were people at the intersection to make sure traffic moved smoothly (There are no lights).

Some people in the group that organize the event are really into the 60’s culture and were dressed up for the occasion. (Couldn’t capture it though) Hubby said he recognized a couple of them that  sport the long side burns all year round and it suddenly made sense.

Hubby’s favorite car out of the bunch

Some were in mint condition and others were more rustic.

Love the vibrant colors! Such beauty’s! A unique part of Swedish culture to stumble upon, the love for classic American cars.


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The Things I Tell Myself While Learning Swedish

Learning a New Language is a Long Journey on an Ever Changing Path.

It Takes Time: I need to constantly remind myself that this is one of those things that I cannot get really good at overnight- or even over a few months.

Every Word is an Accomplishment: When I feel like I should be further along than I am, I look back and count all the new words I’ve picked up.

Memorizing is Not Learning: It doesn’t count as a new word until you can use it, until it pops into your head when trying to form a sentence.

If you get it Wrong, it’s Okay: As long as you are in the ball park, it is an improvement- one step closer.

People Will Understand You: Even if you mess up, most of the time your message will get through. As long as you try.

Only Speaking Will Help: Even immersion doesn’t help if you don’t participate. Reading, writing, listening, and practicing in your own head won’t make it easier to actually use the language.

Perpetual State of Learning: Even after you are done with SFI, SAS, and what ever course comes after that, you will always be learning the language. It will take years to feel perfectly comfortable, it will take tons of practice and different situations to become adaptive and use the language the way it should be. You will learn new words every time you talk to someone new.

You Sound Different: Stop obsessing over the accent being “wrong” or “off.” It will never sound natural or perfect. Just like when someone is speaking English- it is easy to tell that they are from a different country, or even just a different state. So what?

Breath: You might feel like your anxiety is taking over, and that you are the only one who turns bright red while speaking Swedish, but you are not. Use your anxiety as adrenaline and run with it instead of freaking out and falling down.

Stop Comparing: Other people in class will be better than you. They will pick it up faster, have better pronunciation, and understand more. Don’t compete with them, everyone learns at their own pace. It’s not a race, it’s better to actually learn than to seem to be the best.

ä, ö, and å Are Real: These are actual letters. They are not A’s and an O with funny hats. Concentrate on dotting your vowels, it does change the meaning and pronunciation of a word.

You are Not Just Learning a Language: You are learning a culture and its traditions. It is not just the words you learn, but when it is proper to use them. Learning the nuances of the language is just as important as reading the context of everything around you.

It Won’t All Line Up: Let go of your understanding of language. Everything will not switch over perfectly, in fact most things will not line up at all. Sentences are formed in a different order, definitions of words are slightly different, tenses are different.

Translation Not Included: English has words that don’t exist in Swedish and Swedish has words that don’t exist in English. That’s just the way it is.

Stop Relying on Google Translate: Pick up a dictionary instead. That bad habit of double checking if what you are about to say or write makes sense by putting it through Google Translate- stop it. It’s better to get it wrong and be corrected. Don’t get stuck relying too heavily on something you can’t use in real conversations.

Stick With It: Swedes will switch to English if they realize you are not Swedish, or that you are struggling. If you are able to, continue speaking as much Swedish as you can even if they choose to speak in English.

Swenglish is Okay: For now. If you don’t know a word, or exactly how to express yourself, it is okay to substitute English words into Swedish sentences or vice versa while you are learning.

No One is Perfect: Native English speakers get English wrong all the time. People who have been speaking English as a second language for 30 years still make mistakes. It’s not rare to forget a word or mess up in your own language, of course you will stumble with a new one.

In their Shoes: Remember all the people over the years that have spoken to you in broken English. They must have felt the same anxiety, panic, embarrassment and struggle- but were brave enough to use their limited language skill.

In My Own Shoes: I always admired anyone for trying to speak English as a second language. I felt compassion, and tried my best to understand them or help them if needed. It helps to imagine others will feel the same way towards me – they will not laugh, or think I am doing it wrong. It’s all about perspective.

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All of these are easier said than done, but it is a start. 

  Hope my photos inspire you to take “The Road Less Traveled,” whichever path it may be.

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Return of the River: “flodens återkomst”

We’ve been noticing a hint of Spring in the air the last three or four days. The temperatures aren’t as frigid, the wind isn’t slapping us in the face as hard, and you can actually feel the warmth of the sun caressing your check. Hubby and I went for a walk yesterday, the plan was to show me how to get to my SFI classes and see how long the walk takes (straight forward 15 minute walk). Afterwards we planned on continuing our walk to the beach and take some photos. The ground was wet and the wind was a bit too chilly so we decided to skip the beach, but it was a good thing we had the camera with us. Just as we were arriving at the bridge to go to town we noticed that the ice on the river was melting. A true sign that spring is arriving – we are no longer experiencing freezing temperatures every single day, almost all the snow on the ground is gone (it’s been the same 4 inches of snow and ice lingering for 3 weeks now). I know that people usually consider the first sign of spring to be when they catch the first glimpse of flowers starting to bloom, to that I say that the vendors selling tulips in Stora Torg are also a delightful reminder.

I dragged hubby closer  to the water so I could take a few photos, turns out we arrived at the perfect time.  The last chunks of ice were drifting down stream, breaking in front of our eyes and before we knew it most of the ice was gone beneath the bridge. A few minutes later and we would have missed it.

It’s nice to have our river back, released from Winters frozen grasp. We could hear the sounds of the ice cracking and crashing surrounded by the white noise of rushing water. It was pretty amazing to watch as one huge sheet of ice broke lose and started moving, like a boat leaving a dock. I took several photos to document its movement, I like that you can see our shadows appearing and disappearing as it passes us by:

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I could have filmed all of this, but I think the stop and go captured it nicely. We crossed the bridge to find where all the ice had come to a halt, large chunks of ice building up and climbing on top of one another.

And so, the ice is not all gone but it is a good start. Until then, it’s a fun photo op. I was excited to go around along the (deep) edge of the river to get a different angle under the bridge, hubby followed along saying that he’s been “supporting my antics since 2008.”

Two days afterwards and the ice is now all completely thawed. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s nice to go out without needing to bundle up.

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