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