Something Swedish


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Visiting Stockholm

For a list of things to do in Stockholm, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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I’ve been living in Sweden for three years, visiting for six, and yet have never made the trip to the capital until last weekend when a friend invited me along for the ride. While we didn’t have time to go to any of the museums or see many of the sites, we had fun nonetheless.  Stockholm seems to have a lot to offer when you have the time.

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After a 6 hour car ride we arrived at 3:00pm,  exactly ten minutes before the only thing we planned to do – a 90 minute boat ride. Our guide explained the history and significance of buildings and statues as we glided through the water with the beautiful view of Stockholm’s quaint skyline on the horizon. If the weather would have been better we would have seen it all during sunset, but it was grey skies the whole day. Still, Stockholm was beautiful.

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By the time we made it back to land around 4:30, it was dark and we were freezing (because of course when everyone went back inside the boat after 15 minutes, we stayed on the roof for an extra 30 soaking in the sites…and the frostbite)

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So, we walked towards the only thing we recognized, the royal castle, and darted into the first nearby café we found. It was cozy, the beverages were warm and the pie was delicious.  Little did we know that everything would be closed by the time we headed out again, being 5:30 on a Sunday.

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Café from Day#2, Chokladtoppen

Luckily we were more interested in walking around and looking at the buildings anyway. We wandered around taking photos of everything while laughing at nothing.

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My favorite part was all of the winding  side alleys.

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All the while, I made mental notes of everything I wanted to do when I came back (preferably during better weather).

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Eventually it was time to eat and go back to our hotel, we had more traveling to do the next morning. Stockholm at night and Stockholm during daylight are two very different things – both picturesque in their own ways. After about an hour of re-exploring the area around the castle it was time to go; my friend’s sister had a plane to catch and we had another 6 hour drive ahead of us.

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After doing research for this visit (naively thinking we would have more time), asking Something Swedish readers for advice on Facebook, and actually being there and getting a feel for the city here’s my list.

Some things to do in Stockholm:

Museums:
The Vasa Museum: See a ship that sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage (due to having too many canons) right outside Stockholm and was salvaged in 1961. Due to the low salt content in the water on the west coast on Stockholm the ship remained well preserved and is an incredible and unique piece of history.
The Nobel Prize Museum: Take a journey through the past 100 years of extraordinary ideas, inventions, discoveries, initiative and courage that has molded the world we live in.
The ABBA Museum: The one thing everyone knows about Sweden in ABBA, so why not learn more about them and “experience the feeling of being the 5th ABBA member”
The Museum of Spirits: Also known as the Absolut museum, this is a chance to mix  a liquor tasting with history and art of “Swedish people’s bittersweet relationship to alcohol”.

The Medieval Museum: A free underground exhibition that gives you a taste of history, from architecture to daily living.

To See:
Gamla Stan “The Old City” The original city of Stockholm before it expanded. This is where we spent all of our time/where all these pictures are from.
The Changing of the Guard Watch the ceremonial tradition outside the royal castle
Skansen World’s oldest open air museum displaying Sweden’s traditional culture and architecture
Stockholm’s Subway Art  90% of the subway stations are decorated with art (sculptures, mosaics, paintings, engravings) by over 150 artists, some worth a special trip to see.

To Do:
Boat Tours We did the “winter tour” but will certainly be back to do another, the bridge tour is supposed to be magical.
Hot Air Ballooning A unique way to experience Stockholm
Ice Bar Who doesn’t want to get drunk while in a winter coat, drinking from an ice glass and sitting on an ice chair?
Stockholm Improv This is supposed to be a very funny improv show about being a foreigner in Sweden.
Skyview on top of The Globe Get a great view of the city by sitting on top of the largest hemispherical building in the world. Or go inside the globe to watch some ice hockey!


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Mushroom Picking

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I know it’s been awhile and I hope you’ll excuse my absence – I was vacationing in the U.S. for 5 weeks.

(blog post in the works about Swedish related stuff in NYC)

Today I checked off a To-Do on my “become more Swedish” goal – I finally went mushroom picking. Ever since I’ve visited Sweden I’ve heard about how popular it is to scour the forest for mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms – but chanterelles.

“Do you want to go mushroom picking” 

“Sure! How hard can it be!”

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Step one: Have boots

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When I asked my husband what we need he simply said, “boots.”

“But, it hasn’t rained in days! It’s sunny and warm”

“Boots.”

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If it weren’t for our newly bought boots we probably would have given up half way through the three hour adventure and went home empty handed.

Step two: Know where and when to go.

Not being from Sweden and having grown up picking mushrooms and berries in the woods, we were a bit blind. Thankfully, in Sweden there is allemansrätten – which means that anyone can roam into nature freely without worries of property boundries as long as you don’t destroy anything. There are definitely good “spots” for finding chanterelles, but finding one is hard, and people want to keep it their secret. Mushroom picking season is in the late summer months, August and September being the best.

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So, we headed into the forest with no clue where/how to start.

Step three: Be patient

We didn’t find any chanterelles for the first hour. Instead we found every other imaginable type of mushroom. Naturally we didn’t know which ones are edible, so we stayed clear – but I took tons of photos:

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The classic red and white mushroom – flugsvamp:

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I’ve never seen so many mushrooms! All different shapes, sizes, colors – but none what we were looking for.

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I never knew mushrooms got so large:

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Or so ugly:

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This one reminded me of a moose antler:

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 Step four: Look closely

We were close to giving up when we had our very first spotting

“Guys!! I think I found some” followed by us running to see the mythical fungi:

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Our second (spotted by me) was strangely out in the open, giving us hope that we might find more:

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And our third – by this time all three of us had found some, so we were happy:

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But then we started finding more and learning where to look. Apparently chanterelles like mossy, dark, and wet areas, usually growing near the roots of pine trees or under rocks and aren’t too easy to spot even though they are bright yellow.

Sometimes all you see is a sliver:

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Sometimes they even took some digging to get to:

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Or reaching down into a dark hole in the ground underneath a boulder covered in moss:

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Some more tips:

~ Check that your chanterelles are real – there are yellow look-alike mushrooms that can make you sick.

~ Be careful of ticks.

~ Bring drinking water.

~ Have fun!!

 

 


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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! It’s a special holiday in Sweden that we just don’t celebrate in New York City, so I was excited to see it.

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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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Swedish Seasons

Now that I’ve been in Sweden for almost 10 months (wow!) I’m getting to experience all the seasons in Sweden, and it has been a roller coaster! A very cloudy and rainy ride recently.

Southern Sweden is a comfortable mix of warm, but not too hot, summers, and cold, but not unbearably freezing, winters. Notice I only mentioned two seasons? Spring and Fall/Autumn come and go so quickly you can barely feel it in the air.

In SFI we learn the seasons (årstider):

Summer (sommar): June-Mid August [2.5]
Fall (höst):  Mid August-October [2.5 months]
Winter (vinter): November-March [5 months]
Spring (vår): April-May [2 months]

But in fact this is only an estimate.

In Sweden there is no small talk about it officially being the first day of Fall. Not because the season is so brief, but because seasons are not noted on the Swedish calendar. You “feel” when a season arrives, you don’t “know” ahead of time. Just by looking at an American calendar I can tell you the dates of the seasons in 2012 are: March 20th, June 20th, Sept 22, and Dec 21st.

In Sweden (and Finland) the seasons are determined according to a consistent 7-day temperature reading. Its Fall/Autumn because its been below +10°C (50°F) for long enough to consider the season change. When will it be Winter in Sweden? When it’s cold enough 7 days in a row (Below 0°C/32°F). This means that the seasons change at a different times all throughout Sweden since there is such a huge climate difference in the North and South.

Rain, Rain, go away…

Before moving here I didn’t really think about Sweden having a lot of rain, just the stereotypical land of snow. For the past two weeks it has rained at least a little (usually a lot) everyday, with an overcast hiding any proof of  sky or sun. I started wearing my light winter jacket and scarf this week, mostly because of the wind, but it reminded me that winter is coming and the days are getting shorter. Not that I wouldn’t mind the extra 15 degrees(F)/8 degrees (C)  in NYC, but I think  I’ve adjusted to the Swedish weather. I don’t mind the rain and cold as much and have gotten used to always carrying a sweater and umbrella all year round. Aside from the wind and rain it doesn’t feel like the temperature has dropped too drastically, but that’s because we had a chillier than normal summer. In fact, I read a newspaper article about Swedes needing to take extra D-vitamins to make up for the lack of sun this summer and  that the sick season will come early.

The end of summer means the end of some of my favorite things:

The hustle and bustle of tourists ended over a month ago, now the streets feel empty without all the outdoor dining and the sound of clanking plates and glasses.

Eating waffles in the open air  museum

Buying gelato from the local ice cream truck.

“The tower is closed. Welcome back next summer.” Looking over the town from above the trees.

I’m determined to spend the next few weeks of good weather taking long walks before it becomes too cold and dark. After that I think I’ll be baking cookies. Something to look forward to!


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Street Theater Festival: “Gatuteaterfestivalen”

Performers and sideshow acts flooded the streets of Halmstad as they entertained us by telling unique stories with magic tricks, illusions, crude jokes, fire juggling, sword swallowing, cultural dancing, claustrophobic acrobatics, music, improvisation, and flipping off of trampolines. The Gatuteaterfestivalen is the only street theater organized in Sweden. Every year for the past 15 years over a dozen performances from around the world- Italy, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Belgium and more, come to Halmstad to entertain.

Many of the acts are fun and light-hearted, while others have a more serious tone and convey meaning and emotion. Some are heavily influenced by culture, while a few were inspired by silent films. Most performances take place outdoors, while a couple have limited seats in small places like moving containers and trucks.

Joel Salom To say that this act from Australia is a juggling act would be an understatement. An hour filled with huge personality, hysterical improve, amazing and unique juggling, singing, cool musical effects, an “accidental” strip tease, and a robotic dog named Erik.

CampingTeatret A Danish Traveling Circus

Tony Rooke – Once we climbed into the small container and were immersed in total darkness, stories unraveled before us in a small light box. With only his hands, magic, illusions, and story telling skills, this performer from Australia creates a magical atmosphere where you forget the man behind the curtain.

Karolin Kent – Hailing from Sweden, this dancer incorporates yoga, martial arts, photography, improvisation, and theater into her performance. Wearing nothing aside from the burden of a humongous and heavy skirt dragging behind her, she makes her way to her stage. Perched atop of a pedestal 4 meters tall, she tries to talk but has no voice – only gurgling sounds. The theme of this beautiful and striking performance is the oppression of women in societies and cultures around the world.

Cirque Inextremiste – From France, an extreme and dangerous juggling, balancing, jumping, and climbing act that keeps the audience on their toes. High on a trampoline with fire, propane tanks, and a gigantic ball, you don’t want to blink and miss a beat. Very funny and interactive with the audience, be careful you don’t get your hat lit on fire!


Cie Circ`ombelico – “Da/Fort” is an amazing show from Belgium worth piling into the back of a warm truck with 40 other people to experience. Silently the performers fill the small “room” with intense emotions of everyday life and relationships through body language, facial expressions, and a lot of acrobatic physicality. You never know if they are coming or going, leaving or staying, falling or rising. No photography allowed, but they stick around to chat afterwards and serve drinks.

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