Monday, June 23, 2014

Celebrating the start of "summer"

This past weekend, we bundled up and celebrated what is meant to be the start of summer. In such high latitudes, the longest day of the year - June 21 - is a big deal. 18 hours and 37 minutes of daylight is certainly worthy of pomp. Bring out the trumpets, let loose all reason. Will there be games? Yes! Should I have a whiskey at noon? Absolutely! Indulge to your heart's content - it's Midsommar!

And so we did - although under the most un-summer-like conditions. Clouds covered the sky for most of the day and the gorgeous island we were welcomed to was a wind haven. But no matter - we (15 of us in all) hunkered down in whatever clothing we could get our hands on and made the best of it, with a roaring fire in one of the three tiny cabins to bring back the feeling to our toes and fingers when we could no longer deny our numb digits.

a roaring start to my lap around the island

That fire was especially critical for me after swimming around the island on Saturday morning. The water was just under 60 degrees F (about 15 degrees C) and the air was a bit cooler, made more so by the rain spattering throughout the day. But I'd lugged my wetsuit all the way from Stockholm - 5 hours by bus, 35 minutes by car, and 10 minutes by boat - and by God it wasn't going to be for nothing. It's only about 500m around the island, but in such temperatures (and with the fear of whatever creatures could be lurking in those treacherous waters), it was a feat.

the sky just a bit before midnight

Thankfully the spots of rain let up in the evenings so we could sit on the north-facing deck and enjoy long dinners with this view. It is truly an incredible place to be in any weather. Now for some summer temps please!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Travel woes in Sweden

Hello, Midsommar in Sweden! Or rather, the eve of Midsommar Eve. Undoubtedly one of Sweden’s biggest days for travel. Which means the usually speedy 2-lane (sometimes 4-lane) roads that cross the country are jam-packed with travelers, eager to celebrate the coming of “summer” (which means rain and 10 degrees C today) with snaps and pickled herring. Isn’t that what we all crave when we think of summer?

But before all that, we sit in a very long line of cars which, for NS and I, has made what is usually a 4-hour drive from Stockholm down to Västervik more like 6 hours. But that’s just speculation – we’re not there yet.  

It feels like half of our journey so far has been at a full stop. And when we’re not motionless, our bus driver is driving in circles trying to find the next pick-up spot. One disgruntled passenger went so far as to yell at our driver from the back of the bus (this never happens in Sweden).

Transportation in Sweden doesn’t get more exciting than this. And it’s not only the start of Midsommar weekend. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Miss Voon swanky town

On Wednesday night, we celebrated NS' birthday. 32!! How did that happen?  I remember planning a big dinner with friends for his 24th in Australia! Where does the time go?

Anyway, I'm always one for surprises - both surprising and being surprised - so I planned an evening out for just the two of us, as has become our birthday tradition. 

We met at one of Stockholm's infamous landmarks, Svampen - the mushroom - in the middle of the main square of the city's posh-est neighborhood (only the best for my älskling). And led him to the Scandic Anglais hotel's roof-top terrace:
Photo from Scandic hotels

Nice, huh? 

We ordered G&T's and sat perched along a high bench overlooking lovely Humlegården - the Bumble Bee Gardens - and Kungliga Biblioteket - the King's Library. 

When we'd finished our drinks, we headed onward to our table at Miss Voon, a trendy new Asian fusion restaurant up the street. Michelin recommended, Miss Voon's food is incredible and is served beneath low-lights and soft electronic tunes. Our set 4-course menu consisted of

  • lobster tacos
  • salmon tartar sushi-type thing (hard to hear the very long description from our waitress)
  • lamb rack with curry sauce
  • rhubarb strawberry compote with almond cake and vanilla yoghurt 

Each course was so fresh and delicious! Although the portions were small, I thought at the time, I was perfectly satisfied by the end - a welcome experience compared with my typical over-eating-followed-by-never-wanting-to-eat-again status quo when eating out. 

As we paid the bill, we received a gift bag with an "inspiration book." I was excited about the possibility of getting a few new recipes to try out at home, but alas, it was just a fancy book of professional photographs of Miss Voon's food and the restaurant itself. Anyone interested in a new coffee table book?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

There's something about zebra cakes

Who knew what joy those amazing little hexagon-shaped bundles of preservative sugar heaven, wrapped in thin white frosting with chocolate frosting stripes could provide? They're every health-nut's worst enemy, and yet - I can't resist them. Seeing them is like a beaming back to the school cafeteria where I ate lunch from the age of 9 to 18, often finishing up the meal with one or two zebra cakes.

Zebra cakes, a product of snack cake manufacturer Little Debbie, come twin-wrapped, 10 packs to a carton.  That's 20 times the joy of biting into this yellow cake and cream filling combination. But I think the key to zebra cakes is their consistency. They've got a firmness that almost crunches when you take the first bite. 

I had the rare opportunity to buy zebra cakes of my very own several months ago here in Sweden. [I can tell you, they're definitely not on the shelves of any grocery store in the country - probably because the preservatives used in them are illegal on this side of the ocean.] 

MP and I at the end of the night - mustaches were clearly made for us

But the American Embassy thankfully filled the gap. The American Women's Club hosted a Mustache Ball there in April, and I was one of a couple hundred attendees, clad in a mustache of course. I can't say that the mustache was any great success - it was relentlessly itchy and kept shedding in my mouth, making any conversation a challenge. 

But the "store" of American goods (aka table lined with Little Debbie items, Doritos, and Cheetos) was a very welcome surprise indeed. 

MP and I chatted with the girl manning the table for at least 20 minutes about our favorite Little Debbie items and how we eat them, at which point I purchased my own package of zebra cakes. However, I (mistakenly) saved them for later only to realize, upon eating them several days later, that zebra cakes should really be enjoyed directly from the box for maximum freshness, err rather... crunch. A smooshed zebra cake is a disappointment.

You just have to try them yourselves. Although I can't guarantee you won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Taking on Kungsholmen by Kayak

We had friends in town last week. And what better time than to do the things you always talk about doing in the city where you live? Because for a limited time only, you can do those things together. So we did just that. We biked everywhere, everyday - sometimes in gorgeous sunshine, sometimes beneath heavy, ominous clouds. We picnicked. We visited the Old Town and museums. We ate dinner on cliff tops. We made skagen from scratch.

And we also kayaked around the island we live on, Kungshomen.

that's the cafe up there - who wouldn't want to rent kayaks from this quaint place?

I've been talking about kayaking around Kungsholmen since we moved to the island 3 years ago. But as often these things go, we never got around to doing it - there's always another time, right? 

Last Sunday, though, we made it happen. I booked 4 single kayaks with a lovely fellow named Richard of Kafe Kayak (on Wednesday, mind you - have to be quick with the ever-planning Swedes!). That was my first mistake - 4 single kayaks. But of course I can make it around the island! Not a worry in my mind! 

We arrived right on time, and after adjusting the balancing pedals to our heights on land, we were off! 2 hours and counting! 

A scenic stretch to start along the south side of the island with gorgeous, elaborately lined rooftops marking a soft rainbow of facades. Then around the corner past Stadshuset, the City Hall of Stockholm. And on to calmer waters in the narrow channel separating Kungsholmen from the central station.

obviously we're pro's

Little did I know that this quite narrow channel turns into a wind tunnel - against us, naturally. My arms were pretty tired and we weren't even halfway.

My energy came in spurts. I got inspiration from a fellow kayaker who passed at literally triple my speed, with seemingly no effort at all. Arms straight-ish. Torso upright. Paddle only until your waistline. I don't know if this is correct kayaking, it's just what I interpreted from observing speed-demon-athlete-muscle-man sweep by, nearly creating a wake for us to flounder over.

Back in the open water on the last third of the journey didn't do me much good either. Apparently, I've come to discover, kayaking makes me sea sick. Me, who's been on boats my whole life! How could this be? I'm convinced it's just kayaks... has to be, right?

Anyways, by this point, I needed to get out. But what could I do? Keep on paddling. My sea-sickness was worsening with every stroke, even as I tried to distract myself by watching all the happy people laying on the cliffs, enjoying the summer day. I had so often been one of them, watching kayakers cruise by - and they'd always made it look so easy. Perhaps they don't actually go around the entire island? That must be it. 

We eventually did make it back to the floating dock of safety - miraculously within a few minutes of the 2-hour mark - and I dragged myself onto the wooden planks and collapsed. I made it! 12 kilometers! (Or so we decided, as running around the island is 10.) 

A big check on the to-do-in-Stockholm list. And truly deserving of the entire pizza that followed - that is, one pizza for each of us.