Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving in Stockholm

Last Saturday we celebrated Thanksiving in Stockholm...

in Nina's apartment with a beautiful, festive table and lots of delicious food

The hostess with the most-est and the lovely Marie ready to dig into our turkey

This was the group, pre-feast ... As the night wore on, we entered a state of food coma, only 
to be alleviated by a long walk around the neighborhood before waddling back
for dessert. 
It was an incredible meal, with everyone contributing their part to create
the perfect Stockholm Thanksgiving feast.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mårten Gås aka Blood Soup & Goose

I've had my fair share of bad experiences with geese, or rather, with one goose in particular (anyone from Market St knows the one I'm referring to). But betrayal by a goose - unheard of until I celebrated the Skåne tradition of Mårten Gås last weekend. 

K, K, & Gertrude

The story goes waaay back to about the 14th century when the modest monk St. Martin, actually French according to the legend, tried to escape being ordained bishop by hiding amongst a flock of geese. These geese, however, cackled so loudly they gave poor Martin away and he was unhappily sent to the ordainment. To get his revenge, Martin dined on goose for dinner - a meal which has continued through the centuries with Martin in mind.

perfect, fall-themed table - the candles are in real apples!

And so, we cooked ourselves up a goose (feathers and all!), hosted at the lovely home of P&K. As follows the Skåne (area of Southern Sweden) tradition, we started the meal with Blood Soup (this we didn't make ourselves) from the blood of the goose, mixed with spices and whiskey. I ate it, of course, and to be honest, it tasted a lot like gingerbread. Who would've thought?

The goose was served with red cabbage, boiled potatoes, and a delicious creamy sauce made from goose juices. Dessert was apple cake with vanilla sauce. And inbetween were drinking songs with shots of the classic Swedish liquor snaps, without which no holiday is complete. And so we celebrated this Skånish meal with good friends, good food, and an unlucky but very much-appreciated fresh goose.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

'Tis the Season (almost)

A few small red-berry branches - rönnbärs kvist - I found on our walk around Stora Essingen today can really add a lot to bring some holiday cheer to our little apartment

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Riga - The Paris of the Baltic

Boat cruises across the Baltic Sea depart from Stockholm every day, carrying passengers to exotic destinations like Helsinki or Riga. Most of these passengers don't really care where they're headed, and in all likelihood, won't even get off the ship until it's back in Stockholm. They're more interested in the tax-free drinking on board that earns these trips their rightful name: 'booze cruz.'

This is not to say our expectations were were far from these passengers' when our gang of 11 embarked on a trip to Latvia's capital city, Riga. However, I did care to see something of this city I didn't know existed before now, maybe get another stamp in my passport. And experience one of the infamous Baltic cruises I'd heard so much about.

I've never been on an overnight cruise like this to my knowledge, on a boat with 10 levels, multiple restaurants, swimming pool, sauna, movie theatre. It was all new and exciting... until I got on the boat and realized we'd signed ourselves up for probably the oldest vessel in the Tallink fleet. No matter, there were enough of us to make our own fun. And we did.

I can honestly say we dominated the karaoke, hands down. The word dominate is open to interpretation, but it can't be argued that we were the most musically active group in the bar by far. Wannabe, Gansta's Paradise, Killing Me Softly - you name it, we covered the spectrum.  

Upon our 11am arrival in Riga after 17 hours at sea, we set off and explored the city to the fullest extent possible in a 6-hour window, starting at the Finnish-owned Hesburger, of course, to eat away our hangovers. Special mayo, good burgers. Although I have to say I like Sweden's Max slightly more. 

We spent the next 4 hours wandering down Riga's narrow, cobblestone streets lined with beautiful buildings, apparently of German Art Nouveau architecture (according to Wiki). Small markets sold countless pairs of elaborately decorated, hand-knit socks and all the amber jewelry you can imagine. 

After a mediocre meal at an incredibly authentic Medieval restaurant in an old wine cellar, we headed back to the boat for our return journey and round II of karaoke of course. Then onward to the late-night disco. Perhaps it was the rocking of the ship, but I've never had more fun dancing. And I was never as happy as I was the next morning to get off a boat.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Studentum turns 10 Years Old!

Playing catch up....

a couple weeks ago, my company - formerly Studentum AB - celebrated its 10-year anniversary. (And in doing so, changed its name to Media Group). As is only right for any celebration of a decade, we did it big. 2pm cocktail hour at the elegant Berns Salonger - restaurant by day, nightclub/ concert hall by night - for champagne, sushi, magic, and many speeches of course. 

Berns Asian

Then back to the office for dinner, open bar, and dancing in the tech room-turned-club, complete with flashy lights and a smoke machine (which set off the fire alarm at one point).

And finally, a night of Studentum partying is never complete without a final stop at Stockholm's prestigious Cafe Opera. Where we got all the champagne we could ever want and more...

Let's just say it was a good thing I could sleep in on Saturday...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do it Yourself, IKEA Style

Last weekend was our annual trip to IKEA waaaaay out in Barkarby. Doesn't mean much to many of you, but basically it may as well be Ukraine if you don't have a car. Which we don't. Not that I want one, but for trips like these, it would be sooo nice. [our trip back home this time was, thankfully, in the backseat of PS and KS' lovely automobile - tack för det!]

Anyways, we were in desperate need of winter-izing our apartment. Around here, cars must be winterized with chain tires, boats must be winterized too. And yes, apartments as well - especially in a place with such harsh winters.

Our winterizing items: rug, curtains, candle sticks, and a shoe rack (see above) for our soggy, snow covered boots. And yes, I put our new shoe rack together myself. My first construction of an IKEA item! I was just a little bit proud... and how good does it look in our lovely little hallway?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Topp Loppet i Hagaparken

Last Saturday Team Cheetah DOMINATED
Team Cheetah at its finest (and most ferocious)

Loppet = the running race

And that is what Cheetah's do best - run fast. Hence the name of our team. And we lived up to that name. 

5 kilometers in the beautiful Hagaparken, just north of central Stockholm, through forests and along lakes. The sun was bright and the weather, perfect. Indian summer at its finest. Bands played along the way, accompanied by Brazilian dancers and go-go dancers in a disco tent tunnel. So much energy along the way! I finished in 23:27, and with that, have retired from races for the remainder of 2011. Now the months of hibernation approach, but I'm not ready to hang up my sneakers yet... 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Visiting Malmö

We spent last weekend in Malmö with Niks mormor & morfar.
They were so sweet,
welcoming us into their home,
preparing incredible meals for us,
and telling us stories, old and new.

me turning with the TT

We visited the city for a few hours on Saturday afternoon
and saw the sites, including the
 Turning Torso, tallest building in Sweden
standing at 54 stories,
and full of apartments

Nik with his mormor & morfar

It was a wonderful, relaxing weekend, despite the fact that I only understood about half of the conversation... still, I'm making progress every day!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

21km through the Venice of the North

Clear, blue skies. Perfect running temperatures. And a gorgeous city. It's an uncommon combination for the Stockholm Half Marathon, but last Saturday we were lucky, all 10,989 of us. 

This was the 11th year of an event whose 21-kilometer course weaves through Stockholm's center. Around the inner city --- into a tunnel through which hundreds of cars pass on any other day --- over to Kungsholmen island (and just blocks from home!) --- along the water to Gamla Stan (Old Town) and then Södermalm island --- and back to finish in front of the palace in Gamla Stan. Phewwww

Pre-race and feeling great with Tracy and Andre

With a strong start, I sailed ... well, almost .... through the first 7 km before realizing, hey, I've still got 14 to go. This seems to be somewhat of a trend for me with long races (see my post on the Annapolis 10-Miler last year which involved puking 4 times and getting 2 liters IV fluid). 

Around 8km, I started to slow down - and even had to walk at one point - before continuing at a much easier pace. I tried to concentrate on the beautiful surroundings and not the cramp in my stomach - which lasted throughout the race - and the pain in my feet. 

the start of the race, captured by NS; the first finisher came in at 1h4min!

I pushed onward, fueled by a bite of banana, a chunk of power bar, and a sugar tablet - thanks to the 'rehydration stations' spread along the course. The last 5km was painful and slow. My sore legs were fixed in one position; it was all I could do to will one step after another. Even for the final stretch, I could barely muster energy to speed up at all, nevermind finish with the sprint I've been trained to do for so many years. 

but I DID IT! I finished!

no Swedish race is complete without kanelbullar (and coffee of course), available directly at the finish line 
(palace in the background)

2h3min after crossing the start, I finished the loop and crossed the same line to complete my first half marathon. I now have a greater respect for running 21km, and am in awe of full marathon runners. But I still hope to go the distance and finish 42km someday. And I know I'll do more halves... For now, though, I'm just concentrating on being able to walk normally again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Last Saturday was beautifullllllllll ... we planned to get some shopping done, but were too tempted by the sun and ended up sun-bathing beside the Lake Mälaren, enjoying what may in all likelihood be one of the last summery days for the next 9 months.

This was the Volkswagen Regatta on Lake Mälaren

These benches are perfectly made for sun-bathing 

I love these little piers, perfect little secluded spots

And now, just a couple days later, tropical hurricane Katia has been raging to the west of Sweden, causing some serious wind here in the east. I didn't know that Sweden even had hurricanes, much less tropical ones! Fortunately, there have been no power outages or flooding - the extend of my being effected is my biking, which has been slightly more hazardous than usual with branches covering the paths and much slower than usual, with the wind at times completely stopping any forward movement. Plus the fact that I arrived home from my Swedish class tonight soaked from rain. Just see if a little wind and a few rain drops stop me from riding ... no chance!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mushroom Picking in a Fairy Forest

Last Saturday, I set off with 2 friends by bicycle on a mushroom-picking adventure.

plockar svamp = mushroom picking

As a native Stockholmer, Joakim was the guide for Lauren and I, both American, who had no experience of mushrooms other than eating them. Here in Sweden, mushroom picking is an art, and people are often quite protective of their 'mushroom spots.' Luckily, Joakim was willing to share the intricacies of mushroom picking with us, of which there are many.

After a 30+ minute bike ride, mostly uphill, we found ourselves in a forest in the middle of Nacka (east of central Stockholm) near Sandasjön, or Sand Lake. The forest was incredibly beautiful - the perfect setting for a fairy tale - with sunshine filtering through leafy, moss-covered trees and a carpet of bright green ferns on the ground.

We first came upon a fresh spring, where we stocked up on water and found our first canterelle mushrooms - quite a delicacy. They were orange-brownish, and teeny tiny, nestled in damp spots beside rocks or between roots of trees. Prepared with knives, brushes, and picture books, we continued through the forest and along the way, tried to gain some idea of the mushrooms which were edible and the ones which were deadly. 

Our picnic lunch on a secluded dock re-energized us halfway through, after which we did our best to keep our "mushroom eyes" sharp. The treasure hunt peaked when I spotted a patch of canterelles which seemed to continue on and on. We gathered everything in site, and then headed back to our bikes.

Bags were slightly heavier on the downhill bike ride back to town, where we divvied up our booty. At home, I laid out my share on newspaper to dry only to discover after a couple days, most of them were full of worms. [I won't post the video Nik made of these worms] I'm not sure where I went wrong, but these creatures were most unwelcome in our apartment, and I promptly disposed of all but the canterelles, which I managed to salvage sans worms. However, in drying, the canterelles had shrunk to what amounted to only about 3 bites. Unfortunately, these 3 bites were burned and ended up tasting like fried crunchiness.

Never before have I made such a great effort for so little food - and never have I had more fun in doing so. I now am coming to understand the deep complexities of mushrooms, and will never again take for granted any food that contains this fungi - just as soon as I can manage to eat them again!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Visitors from L-town!

Last weekend, our dear ex-flatmates from London - Chiswick W4 to be exact - paid us a visit here in Stockholm. It was their first time to the Venice of the North, and lucky for them, one of probably the last few weekends of summer-ish weather (although as you can see from our attire below, not too summery). 

this was the only pic of the wknd of all 4 of us, taken just before they left on Sunday
 when we were quite exhausted from all the festivities

It was so great to host them, showing them our new city and re-living years of memories on South Parade. We walked all over the city on Saturday (so much so that my calves were killing me the next day), stopping at our favorite drinking holes along the way. Then drank a couple bottles of Duty Free wine* in our local park Rållis, before dinner at lakeside Malarpaviljongen, after which we continued on to cocktails overlooking the harbor at the elegant Gondolen and finishing off the night at the outdoor, hipster-central club Debaser.

We mustered all the energy we could for a hungover Sunday to the closest island of Stockholm's archipelago, Fjarderholmen. Beautiful, picturesque, and the meal we had - I was full for the entire day. All in all, a fabulous weekend! 

*thanks for that Cass and Andre

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quilty @ Sjöstugan

On Sunday afternoon, 3-Swedish man Irish-music band Quilty played at the cozy, beautiful lake side cafe Sjöstugan [lake cabin] in Bergshamra just north of Stockholm's city center. Unlike my mom, who seeks out Irish anythings around every corner, this concert found me - Nik's brother and his wife live close to the cafe and invited us to join. 

We sat at a picnic table beside tall reeds, surrounded by apple trees just turning ripe. The music was great, the kladdkaka delicious (despite slow lines to the counter), and the day - a perfect, nearly fall day. K and I did sneak in a swim before dinner - because summer isn't over just yet. 

And I couldn't resist 450g of Sjöstugan's homemade muesli, all organic except for the butter. Mmmmmmmmm

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cupcake Stockholm

For months I've been aching to try Cupcake Stockholm, and this evening as I biked home from work, I decided: today is the day. I can't say I was disappointed

The top is a classic Red Velvet and the one below is Fäbodjäntan, which is apparently a very strange old Swedish movie (really not sure where the name came from, but it was kind of a strange cupcake as the top was sprinkled with pepper). They also had one called the Michelle Obama (chocolate, raspberry, and licorice) and the Elvis (chocolate, banana, and ... wait for it ... bacon).

I fully indulged in these delicacies, as last night I ran the 5K i-form race in 23:26 minutes (not a far cry from my old days of running cross country) and placed 23rd out of 837! 

Nothing like a Thursday night of red wine, tacos and cupcakes!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beautiful Fredhäll

I know it's been waaaaaaay to long - but that means it's been a good summer, right? It absolutely has, and as much as I want to catch you up on all the happenings, it's a bit too much for me on this Tuesday night as my eyelids are starting to droop and it's not even 10. So for now, I will leave you with a photo I took this evening as Nik and I traversed the rough terrain of Fredhäll's cliffs only a couple blocks from our apartment in search of a perfect swimming spot.

We passed this little boat, where a couple was having dinner on deck in the sunset. (No, I wasn't spying, I just casually took a shot of the view which happened to include their romantic  meal). 

We weaved our way along the cliffside to a little swimming dock where I did a quick 'Swedish change' as I call it (Swedes are ever so fond of changing into their bathing suits beneath their towels by the water's edge, which takes quite a bit of practice to accomplish and is even harder in reverse taking off a wet bathing suit) and we plunged in. After the initial shocking chill, the water was incredibly refreshing, more so after my 90-minute hot Bikram yoga class, which I managed to complete only by dreaming of my swim. 

Nik keeps saying it could be the last swim of the year, but another good day always seems to come along - hopefully there will be many more.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Midsommar in Steninge

Sweden's Midsommar is like America's 4th of July
minus the fireworks
plus lots of snaps (really strong liquor) and pickled herring
and a Midsommar pole which everyone dances around like a frog

And so, for the occasion, we drove 6 hours across the country to Nik's dad's family's stuga  (cabin) right on the North Sea.

Here's the view from the house

And this is what the traditional Midsommar lunch looks like - boiled potatoes, a wide variety of sill (pickled herring), and snaps... also knäckebröd with just a little bit of butter ; )

Feeling good after... how many shots was it? And it's only lunchtime!

After lunch, it's game time! And here is croquet's all-star blue team

The weekend was lots of fun with tons of food, drinks, and merriment by all. My only request: that Midsommar holiday weekend be extended to at least a week. But I really can't complain with my 3-week holiday right around the corner!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Goodbye Solna, Hello Fredhäll

We’ve moved! And are now official residents of Stockholm. We live in an area called Fredhäll on an island called Kungsholmen which makes up the western part of the inner city. 

Fredhäll is a beautiful area – we are literally surrounded by parks on 3 sides, and are just 2 blocks from the water where you can go swimming off gorgeous cliffs. We have downsized from 67 to 40 square meters – a bit of an adjustment – but everything fits! And our flat already feels at home.

about to start moving out last Saturday morning

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beautiful beautiful Nationaldagen!

For the last 28 years, Sweden's National Day has celebrated on June 6. The day may not go back very far, but it is very much a part of welcoming summer today as a 'Red day,' or nationwide day off. 

So why celebrate on the 6th of June? Well, for one thing, King Gustav Vasa was supposedly crowned king waaaaaaay back (as in 1523 way back) on June 6, marking the end of Danish domination over all of Scandinavia. Then, on June 6, 1809, a new constitution was approved in Sweden, limiting the monarchy's power. So it's a pretty important day.

We celebrated the occasion in gorgeous Hagaparken with a picnic of crayfish, champagne, strawberries, chocolate cake, brie, and sandwiches. Despite it's close proximity to our flat, we had never been to Hagaparken before. It is truly a beautiful place, and on such an incredible day - cloudless skies, about 80 degrees - it was heaven, with its winding paths through lush forests and cliffs along blue lakes.

Entertainment in Hagapark's natural amphitheatre included singing of the national anthem as well as performances by opera singers from Stockholm's Kungliga Operan and by Caroline af Ugglas, Sweden's very own Janis Joplin. A great day in Sweden for sure. Now looking forward to the next national celebration: Midsummer!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Race around Djurgården

And so summer running season has begun, and with it, another race. Last Wednesday, 2 colleagues and I ran the Milspåret around the very beautiful Djurgården. There was a 5k and a 10k - we signed up for the 5k, although 10 minutes before the start, we thought maybe we'd made a mistake and signed on for the 10k. Fortunately not. The group of a few hundred runners warmed up together, dancing to Eric Saade's Popular (if you haven't seen it, watch here for Sweden's 2011 Eurovision song, which came in 3rd - although you probably won't want to waste your time watching the whole thing, a minute will suffice) on this windy, sunny evening, then headed to the start line and were off. 

The first half of the race followed a small river lined with trees and a perfect running path along the edge. Then through the forest and along a rolling field in to the finish. The race ended, in my case, 24:45 minutes after it started - a fast 24 minutes running alongside Tracy, who kept me going when I felt like slowing down. She finished 10 seconds ahead of me in 7th place for the women; I came in 8th out of 82! Not too shabby. And Maija finished her first 5k race ever - hopefully not the last : )

Take 4 of post-race joy

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Game of Kubbspel

Kubbspel = horseshoe + bowling a la Viking style

Kubb is the ultimate Swedish summer game, as I discovered last Saturday at my first Birthday Bender and first experience playing Kubb. Basically, the kubb 'court' is made up of 2 rows of wooden blocks with a tall wooden 'king' block in the middle. Each team tries to knock down the blocks on the opposite side using wooden sticks [note these can also be used to vent frustration by throwing them at opponents rather than at blocks]

The game of Kubb is sometimes referred to as 'Viking chess,' although there is no real evidence that it goes back that far in time. Regardless, Kubb became popular in the 1990s when sets were made in the masses, and can now be found in almost any Swedish gas station all summer long. Apparently, the game is also gaining international recognition - there's even a World Championship, started in 1995, on the Swedish island Gotland. 

kubbspelarna [the kubb players] / birthday bender partakers

Although my team lost both matches, I still enjoyed my introduction to Kubb. And I have to say, its pretty convenient for relaxing in a park: drink in one hand, stick in the other. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kungsholmen Runt

Crossing the finish line of a race is a truly glorious moment. Whether a 1-kilometer competition or a 42-kilometer marathon, the sense of accomplishment almost always overshadows the feeling of exhaustion, which anyone is bound to feel if they've given it their all. 

On Saturday morning, I ran the 10-kilometer Kungsholmen Runt around the island of Kungsholmen in central Stockholm. I hadn't raced in almost a year (the last time being the Annapolis 10 Miler last August, during which I puked 3 times, again after, and had to have 2 IVs pumped into me to keep any liquids). But crossing the finish line on Saturday, I remembered what it is that brought me back. Fortunately this time, sans puke.

this is me, not looking my finest, but about to cross the finish

A friend asked me to run the Kungsholmen Runt with her the Thursday before, giving me a total of 2 days to prepare. Not to worry, though. I've been cycling to work almost every day for the last few weeks, and have been running a bit - well, a very little bit - lately. But in those 2 days, I trained mentally, deciding to aim for a decent time, but also not pressure myself to the point of sickness.

The weather on Saturday (as the last few days in Stockholm have been) was incredibly gorgeous: not a cloud in the sky - which nearly never happens in Sweden - and temperatures around 75 in the sun. It felt like heaven, and only 4 days after what I hope will be the last snowfall! 

The bana, or course, itself was a beautiful loop around the edge of the island, with views of the city, starting and finishing in a lovely park by the water. I got to the start line less than a minute before the starting gun fired. Still, I was able to settle into a good pace early on, and stayed pretty constant throughout the 10K. I finished in around 52:49 (my chip actually didn't register so it's an estimation based on video footage). Regardless of the precise time, it felt great - and the bullars (sweet buns) at the end never tasted so good!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A City of 2 Faces: Buda and Pest

Budapest is a beautiful city, where we spent a gorgeous weekend over Easter with our dear friends B & G...
This is the Danube River, which divides the 2 sides of Budapest: Buda to the West and Pest to the East. Although Buda has the palace and many other attractions, Pest is the place to be - and so that's where we stayed, in's .... er.... finest, Broadway Hostel, finest at least for 10euro/night

This is Instant, the first bar we went to, recommended by our friendly hostelkeeper, and conveniently located just around the corner. It didn't look like much from the outside, but once you were inside, it was like walking into someone's bizarre dream spread over 3 floors and a maze of 26 rooms. I couldn't really capture it with my camera, but this was just a small taste - a herd of paper-mache rabbits swinging across the ceiling. Naturally.

St. Stephen's Basilica: Budapest's largest church, with space for up to 8,000 people; we went to Easter mass there, we climbed to the top (all 65 meters), we passed by it at least 30 times throughout the weekend. And a fun fact about this enormous structure: it's home to the mummified right hand of St. Stephen. Who knew?

This is the Royal Palace of Budapest, located on the Buda side of the Danube. It's beautiful, and has an amazing view of the city from high on the hill. Unfortunately, after some confusion about whether or not the palace was actually a boarding school, we made our way up to what we thought was Parliament. Walking around the Palace, we didn't bother to read a single sign, and left satisfied at having seen this house of governing. Later that evening at a bar, we met some locals and described the day's events at which point we realized it was the Palace and not Parliament that we visited. Note to self: must read signs next time

Oblivious at the Palace

The Szechenyi Baths, where we spent Easter Sunday afternoon lounging in the 20-some baths and dozens of saunas of all different sizes and temperatures. As they've done here since the spa was built in 1913, we hopped from pool to pool, soaking in the healing mineral waters. Forgot to bring flip flops, which everyone else seemed to have, but so far no unsightly foot diseases

And so our getaway ended far too soon, but it was a wonderful trip with great friends in an incredible city

And one of the best parts? These 4 beers only cost us 1000 Forint, or about 4euros. Gotta love Eastern Europe!