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!