Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Summer in Stockholm

Earlier this summer I wrote a post about struggling through summer more than I thought I would.  It was a hard season where I missed friends and teaching but after getting it off my chest and talking to friends I felt much better.

This post is more about what summer in Stockholm looks like.  There were lots of things that Jake and I noticed that Swedes do during the summer that we wanted to remember so I'm going to share about those even though summer has been over for a little while.

Swimming & Swimsuits
I mentioned this topic before in the Gotland post but I wanted to explain something that I still don't fully understand.  Swedes often head to the beach in their regular clothes and then change into their swimsuits at the beach or waterfront.  After watching countless people change on the beach we finally came to the conclusion that surely not all of them knew they were coming to the beach ahead of time or else they would have already had their suit on.  We also thought maybe they didn't want to wear it all day so they just brought it with them and changed into it when they needed to.  

Most of the time when we saw this Swedes would be wearing normal clothes and then they would wrap a towel around their waist and then pull their shorts and underwear down and then pull their swimsuits up.  Most of them have perfected this and so nothing can be seen while changing but some aren't as graceful.  As for women changing their top half most just take off their shirt and stand there in their bras before putting their swimsuit top over their bra before they slide it off.  I've also seen some ladies just topless while putting on their swimsuit top.
Jake is going to love this picture but this is what Swedes look like when they change.  Jake practiced at home before trying this in public and he got pretty good at it.  (I have a video of it too but he would kill me if I posted that.)

At some of the beaches they have a changing area on the beach but a lot of times Swedes just change right where they are even with a changing area close by.
The large face on the right hand side of this picture is a changing area.

Most females wear two piece swimsuits and the majority of them can pull it off.  For the most part Swedes are very fit so why not wear a two piece?  Most males wear shorts that are typically a little shorter than the swim trunks we would see in the US.  Some men wear speedos or really short shorts but not as many as you would think.  In the city it isn't that uncommon to see both males and females swim in their underwear either after a run or if they are down by the water at night and they didn't bring their swimsuits.  I've also seen people lay out in their underwear.

Little kids have the biggest range in swimsuits that I've seen.  Some run around completely naked both on the beach and at the little kiddie pools around the city parks.  Others kids, both girls and boys, might just have on bottoms.  Some kids have on what I would consider a regular swimsuit and there are just a few who wear one piece suits with long sleeves and capri like bottoms to block as much sun as possible.  Our SFI, Swedish for Immigrants, teacher told us that 10 or 15 years ago you would have seen more kids just swimming naked but now that is more frowned upon by outsiders so they cover the kids up more.

Here is a kiddie pool I laid out by this summer so that if I got too hot I could get in and cool off a bit. 


Another pool that they fill up in the summer for kids to swim and play in.  During the rest of the year it is dry and kids ride their bikes and scooters around it.

Parks, Open Green Space and Tanning
All parks and open green space is fair game for tanning.  Yes there is water all around Stockholm since the city is made up of 14 different islands but that doesn't mean Swedes will go to the water to tan.  Most parks become prime tanning spots over the summer.  People bring blankets and/or lounge chairs and set up camp for a few hours to soak up the sun.  Most of the time people are in swimsuits but I've seen some just in underwear. Once when we were picnicking with friends at a park by a church and an older woman, maybe upper 60s, sunbathed topless.  She mostly lay on her stomach but after the church crowd left she flipped onto her back to catch a few rays.  

Since the winter is so dark for so long the Swedes really worship the sun when it is out.  If they are eating at a cafe they will pick one with seating in the sun or they will walk on the side of the street that has the most sun.  At first I didn't get it but after our first winter here it makes sense.  I have never been paler in my life but I still have a hard time being in the sun all the time.  

Sun in Sweden isn't the same as the sun in Kansas.  Since we are so far north the sun has to go through more of the atmosphere before it gets to us so the UV level is lower which means we won't tan or burn as easily.  When we biked across Gotland our first day for 3.5 hours I forgot to put on sunscreen.  About halfway through I realized my arms were a little warm and that I should probably put sunscreen on but I didn't.  The next day I was pink and a little tender but it was nothing compared to what would have happened in Kansas.  The first few times I went to lay out I put on SPF 30 sunscreen and came back with no color change.  The next day I went without sunscreen and came back a little pink and it went away the next day.  I realize not wearing sunscreen isn't a good idea but I was annoyed with the lack of color.  I noticed at the grocery store that they sell SPF 6-20 and next summer I am planning on buying a lower SPF so I can protect my skin but still get some color.

Picnicking and BBQs
Since the Swedes love the sun and it is up for 18.5 hours in the summer they like to spend the evenings outside picnicking and barbecuing with friends.  The waterfront by our apartment is covered with people in the summer.  Sometimes they bring baskets of food, or they might order take out at a nearby restaurant and some barbecue with a grill.  In Stockholm they have one time use grills that people use to barbecue.  The grill is about $3-5 dollars and takes about 20 minutes to warm up but once it is warm it stays warm for a couple of hours.  So many people use them that there are special onetime use grill trashcans around where you can dispose of your grill after you are finished with it.
Starting the grill
 I was really craving hamburgers, baked beans, and potato salad this summer and we finally got around to having it for dinner.  The Bush's baked beans were expensive, about $5 for a small can, but they were worth it.  The beans are in the pot on the grill.  


Finally, summer on a plate!
 In this picture you can actually see the grass which was rare during the summer.  During the day this is completely full with sunbathers and at night it is full of picnickers.
 This is also usually covered with people.

 Another night we decided to try the hamburger place by the water but we got it to go so we could sit on the dock.  Most hamburgers in Stockholm are horrible but this one was actually pretty good and they sold Dr. Pepper!  Any guesses how much two hamburgers with fries, a beer and a Dr. Pepper costs for dinner?  In the US I would say about $20-25 if you get it at a fancier burger place like Smash Burger.  In Stockholm . . .$52.20.

Temperature & Air Conditioning
We were really looking forward to the weather this summer. The majority of the summer we had sunny days with temperatures between 65-75 degrees.  There were a few days that were really hot and it was up to 80 degrees and maybe just a little bit over but not much.  I heard a few people complain about it being too hot and I just shook my head.  Go to Kansas and then we will talk.  (Side note: Jake's boss in Stockholm went to Olathe for a week during the summer and he wrote Jake an email wondering how on earth we lived there in the summer.  It was 100 degrees and I think he thought he was going to die.  Our answer was air conditioning and then we told him to go to Mi Ranchito because if he is in KC he might as well enjoy the awesome food even if the weather is horrible.)

May was really nice this year.  It was warm, 65-75, and sunny.  June was not as nice.  It was cooler and rainy or cloudy most of the month.  I would say the average temperature was 55-65 degrees.  July warmed up to 65-75 with a few days at 80 degrees and not much rain.  August was also pretty nice but there were a few colder days when my parents were here.  It has still been really nice here even in September.  It has been 60-65 the last few weeks and I love it!  I am excited for cooler weather though because I miss coffee and I just can't drink it when it is this warm.  (Now that I'm getting around to posting this it has been really cold this week.  It got down to freezing last night and it has been rainy.  I am excited for all the coffee I'll be drinking this winter!)

Very few places have air conditioning in Sweden.  Our apartment doesn't have it but we live on the corner and have lots of windows which gave us a great breeze whenever we were hot.  We also have lots of trees around so we don't have much direct sunlight except in the mornings so that helped our apartment stay cool.



 This is what our AC looked like on full blast :) plus we have a fan we would run in the living room to help circulate the air.

If you notice the windows don't have screens which was strange at first but I really like it.  When my parents visited they asked if we had many bugs since the windows are open and we don't have screens and the answer is not really.  We had the most bugs in August and we had a few flies come in but as long as we left the windows open wide enough that they could find their way out it was fine.  There are hardly any mosquitoes or any other bugs that bother us.

Summer Clothing
I would not say I know a lot about fashion and most of my life I haven't really paid much attention to it but once we moved here I tried to look around to see what people were wearing.  I wanted to fit in . . . or rather not stick out.  The summer dress code for Swedes included lots of dresses and skirts.  Most outfits were black or white or a combination of the two.

Sheer shirts were also very popular with girls of all ages.  Girls in their 20s and 30s would wear a sheer or see through shirt with a bold color bra.  The shirt might be white with a black bra or a hot pink bra.  Older ladies also wore sheer shirts but most of the time they had on white bras.  I have a few see through shirts but I have always worn them with a camisole but apparently that is the Kansas way to wear them :).  When my mom was asking me what she should pack for her trip here I suggested a sheer shirt with a colored bra but she didn't seem too excited about that.

There are of course short shorts with pockets hanging out and sometimes butt cheeks.  I didn't see very many capris but there were lots of dresses and skirts.  I picked up a few skirts and dresses this summer and they were really nice to wear around.

Black is a very popular color here all year but even in the summer it is often worn.  There were lots of black dresses and flowy black tank tops.  I ended up buying a black dress and a black flowy tank top that is out of my comfort zone but Jake loved it.  I didn't get a chance to wear either yet but we have a warm trip coming up so maybe I'll bring one of those with me.

One thing Jake and I both have noticed is that here they seem to dress for the season not the weather.  So in the summer they are in shorts, dresses and tank tops even if it is kind of chilly out but once the calendar turned to September it turned into fall clothes with long pants, boots and coats even though it is still 65 degrees outside! 

Swedes also tend to be a little wussy, in my opinion - without trying to offend anyone, when it comes to the cold, which is strange right?  No one thinks of Sweden as a warm country but when it gets just a little bit chilly they have almost full blown winter coats on and if they are eating at a restaurant outside there are heaters and blankets all around.  It just seems so strange but maybe I'm missing something.

Vacation
Sweden practically shuts down the month of July.  This is not an exaggeration.  Swedes get 5 weeks of vacation and they take 3-4 consecutive weeks in the summer.  Day cares close for a month, doctor's offices are closed, and restaurants shut downs.  When we were in Nyköping for Midsommar there were several restaurants closed for the summer.  There is actually a Swedish law that says your employer cannot deny you 3 weeks of consecutive vacation if you have the days and ask for it ahead of time.  They can turn you down if you ask for 4 weeks but 3 is a guarantee.  Most people go to their summer houses during their time off.  Most of their summer houses are in the archipelago or in the country.  The summer house might belong to their parents or grandparents or they might own it.  No matter what the case is they go there for 3 weeks to a month and just chill.  Jake does not understand what they do the whole time and why they wouldn't want to travel or change things up.  Swedes on the other hand do not understand how we, Americans, don't take off time in the summer and how a week off work would be long enough to do anything.

Last summer we were waiting for our work visa to be approved so I could quit my job and we could move over here.  We submitted the paper work in July and it seemed like it was taking forever.  Now we realize it is because the government shuts down for a month so they weren't there in July when we submitted it and when they got back in August they were behind because they were gone for four weeks.  We were finally approved on August 20th and flew out of Kansas City on August 23rd.  This year we tried to be smart about things since we knew they were closed in July so we applied in June for our one year renewal and we were finally approved on September 18th.  We could still legally be here while it was being processed but it would have been nice to have it on time.

 Holidays
This summer we celebrated a couple of holidays in Sweden.

Midsommar 
On June 20th we celebrated Midsommar which is actually June 21st but in Sweden they tend to celebrate the holiday the day before the actual holiday.  (The big Christmas celebrations are actually on Christmas Eve.)  Midsommar is the day with the most sunlight of the year and it also happens to be our wedding anniversary.  The sunrise was at 3:30 am and the sunset was 10:08 pm.  Even after the sunset it was still light.  It is more like dusk and then it turns into dawn before the sun rises again.  It doesn't get fully pitch black in the summer.

For Midsommar we went to Nyköping which is a small town southwest of Stockholm.  We took about an hour long train ride which wasn't bad at all.
Most Stockholmers go to their summer houses for Midsommar so the city is usually pretty empty and a lot of places are closed.  Last year we were here on Midsommar before we had moved here and we went to Skansen which is an outdoor, open-air museum and it was packed.  This year we wanted to try to experience a less crowded Midsommar and thought a small town might be the best option.  It was good but lots of shops and restaurants were closed which made finding places to eat a little bit challenging :).
 We found out where the Midsommar celebration was in town and decided to join it.  They had folk music and singing.
 The maypole
Notice our outfits for Midsommar.  I have on long pants, a tanktop under my sweater, a scarf and a coat.  It was about 45-50 degrees and not very sunny.  There were a few brave souls who wore white dresses but most of us were in coats.

 There were lots of people sitting around on picnic blankets enjoying lunch and cake with strawberries.  Everyone had cake with strawberries but we missed that memo and it looks like we also missed lots of yummy cake too.

4th of July
I realize this is not a Swedish holiday but we did celebrate with my friend Lisa and a few of her friends.  We met at a park, had a picnic and just hung out.  July 4th is Jake's favorite holiday.  He loves shooting off fireworks.  For the past 10 years we have gotten together with his guy friends and their girlfriends and now wives to shoot off fireworks.  We even made it to the one right after our honeymoon but this year we missed it.  We were both sad but it was nice to at least do something on the 4th.

Crayfish Party
One of Jake's coworkers, Tim (who went to Taiwan and Beijing with us) and his wife Mona, invited us to a crayfish party.  Crayfish parties are typically held in August.  We met at a park on a Sunday, August 3rd and had a party.  I don't like crayfish but I still had a great time.  One of Mona's friends brought a song sheet and we sang a few songs during the party.  There is a traditional Swedish song you sing before you drink schnapps (a shot of liquor) and we did sang that at the party.  I even tried some schnapps and it was awful!  We had Västerbotten pie (Västerbotten is a kind of cheese), salad, bread, crayfish, raspberry pie and I brought chocolate chip cookies which are very rare here so most of the time Swedes call them small cakes.  One girl at the party said my cookies were the best cookies she has ever had in her life.  Can't think of a compliment better than that . . . until she asked for the recipe :).
We also had lots of guests this summer.  We had Jake's parents visit us in June, Bob was here in August and my parents were here about a week after Bob left.  Hope you enjoyed a little peak into summer in Sweden.  It ended up being a pretty great summer.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Switzerland: Questions & Answers


Where did we go?
We went to Geneva, Nyon, Yvoire (France), Gruyere, and Bern, Interlaken, Grindelwald and Zurich, Switzerland.

Where is it and how did we get there?

I added this question to the Questions & Answers list after talking to a friend and they didn't always know where all these places are on a map especially in relation to Stockholm. Jake also claims to have suggested this but since I don't remember that conversation and he doesn't read the blog he will never know who gets the credit :).
 Stockholm is the green marker and you can barely see Switzerland because all of the blue markers cover it up.  We had a direct flight from Stockholm to Geneva and it was 2 hours and 35 minutes. The flight back to Stockholm from Zurich was about 2 hours and 25 minutes.
We basically started in the bottom left hand corner of Switzerland and worked our way to the top right hand corner.  We landed in Geneva, stayed with Scott and Kirsi in Nyon, took a boat across Lake Geneva to Yvoire (France), went to Gruyere with Scott and Kirsi, then drove to Bern, had dinner in Interlaken but stayed in Wilderswil, visited Grindelwald and then flew out of Zurich.

How long were we there?
We were in Switzerland for 6 days.

What language do they speak?
Switzerland is a little confusing because the country has four official languages.  They speak Swiss German and French primarily but they also speak Italian and a small percentage speaks Romansh.


What currency do they use?
Even though there are four official languages there is only one currency and that is the Swiss franc.  One US dollar is about 0.94 Swiss francs so the prices were easy to convert.


Were things expensive?
It really varied depending on the city.  Geneva and Zurich were expensive but I didn't feel like Interlaken or Grindelwald were that expensive.

Would we be able to live there for a year?
I would love to live in Switzerland for a year!  I have always wanted to go to Switzerland and it was beautiful.  I think I would prefer to be on the Swiss German side because I think that language would be more helpful to know but Geneva was pretty so I wouldn't mind living there as well.  It would be more centrally located for traveling which would be nice.  I realize Stockholm is a lot closer to Europe than Kansas is but it is hard to get direct flights with short flying times from Stockholm sometimes.  (Insert rolling of eyes and pity parties for me here.)

What was most memorable thing about the trip?
I think the most memorable thing about this trip was going with my parents.   We've been on a couple of vacations with Jake's parents and I know my parents have wanted to go on one with us for a while so I'm thankful it finally worked out.  We had a great time so I'm sure we will go on another trip again sometime in the future.  The highlight of our time together though would probably be going to the top of Männlichen.  It was such a neat view and it was fun sharing that with my parents.


What was the food like?
The food was great.  All of our dinners with Scott and Kirsi were excellent plus eating at a home was so nice.  The other Swiss (and Mexican) food we had was great.  Schnitzel is really popular and we've had it a few times in Stockholm and also in Germany.
This schnitzel had bacon, tomatoes and cheese baked on top.

Least favorite food?
I'm not sure I had a least favorite food.  There wasn't really anything that stood out that I saw at restaurants that really turned me off.


Favorite food?
Schnitzel.  Hard to go wrong with battered and fried meat :).

Would we want to go back?

We would definitely go back.  It was such a beautiful place and I would love to see Interlaken and the Alps one a clear day.  I know Jake and my dad would love to try paragliding so I'm sure they would be in for another trip back too.

What was I most surprised by?

The paragliders.  I had no idea it was such a popular sport.  It was neat watching them gliding through the air.  It would be an incredible view if I wasn't to terrified to take the leap!  

Another thing that surprised me was that I didn't feel as claustrophobic in the Alps as I do in the Rockies.  This Kansas girl is used to being able to see for miles and sometimes after being in the mountains for a while I feel like I can't breathe because they are so close to me and I can't see very far.  I didn't feel like that in Switzerland.  It could be because I wasn't surrounded by the Alps like I am by the Rockies when we stay in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Or it could be that now that I live in a big city and I can't see for miles like I am used to so I don't feel as claustrophobic now.  The past two visits home have always included car trips through Kansas and I remember seeing the plains and just being able to breathe deep again.  I didn't realize that I missed being able to see the horizon over fields until I saw it again.  The flint hills really are beautiful but very different from the Alps.


Did we do anything we thought we wouldn't do?

We pretty much followed our itinerary but we did take a boat across Lake Geneva to Yvoire, France after Scott suggested it and we really enjoyed it (other than when I lost my Vivofit).

What did I learn about myself on this trip?
I learned a not so fun fact about my attitude that I already kind of knew but it stuck out one particular morning more than I would have liked.  I am not a morning person.  It takes me a while to get going in the morning and maybe even longer until I would consider myself perky :).  I realized on this trip that I really struggle waking up and then immediately riding in the car for a few hours before we get out and do something.  Riding in the car in the morning makes me sleepy which then means I start the whole "waking up" process all over again and tend to be kind of grumpy.  So it looks like I need to work on being less of a grump in the mornings and after I fall asleep in the car.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Switzerland!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kara's Parents Last Day in Stockholm

We had an amazing time in Switzerland with my parents but we only had one more day to show them Stockholm before they flew home so we tried to make it count.

On Wednesday, August 27th I took my parents on a walk around our neighborhood.  (I posted earlier that we did this the morning before we left for Switzerland but I got the days mixed up and my OCD isn't going to let me keep it in the wrong order so you can skip over the next few pictures because they are just copied and pasted from the last blog.)

We walked around by the waterfront by our apartment before going to Drottningholm.
This tree is in the park by our apartment.  The middle of the tree is filled with cement but they added lines to make it look like tree bark.
These grass squares were full of people in the summer.
 The waterfront area by our apartment was recently redone just a few months before we moved into our apartment.  It is one of the most popular waterfront areas in Stockholm and it is pretty obvious why that is the case.

 I love this view.  I pass this spot when I run.  We are definitely going to miss our little island when we move back home.

We hopped on the metro and then a bus before arriving at Drottningholm which is the summer palace of the royal family and where they actually live.  I think Drottningholm is really pretty and much better than the Royal Palace on Gamla Stan.


You can take a tour of Drottningholm which Jake and I did in June when we visited Stockholm before we moved here but the tour was pretty boring so we skipped it and just walked around the beautiful grounds instead since it was such a nice day.
We walked by the building that looks like a circus tent and the Chinese Pavilion.
We had Thai food for lunch after visiting Drottningholm.  Thai food is really popular in Sweden because a lot of Swedes go to Thailand for vacation and they love the food so now there are lots of Thai places around the city.
After lunch we went downtown to do a little shopping and to show my parents what the big department store, Åhlens, looks like.  (Åhlens is similar to Von Maur or Nordstroms.)  
Jake met up with us and then we went to Södermalm to meet my friend Lisa and her son Gray for fika.  I wanted my parents to meet Lisa and for Lisa to meet my parents.  Since they both hear about each other I thought putting faces to names would be a good idea plus I was able to meet Lisa's mom and sister when they were here earlier this year.  Södermalm is the hippy part of Stockholm that we have nicknamed Lawrence (Kansas) because it just has a different vibe.

After fika we walked to get a better view of Stockholm from a raised street in Södermalm.

This is Gröna Lund which is an amusement park.


We stopped by City Hall on our way back to the apartment.



Before we called it a night we walked by the rocks close to our apartment.  We call them the lizard rocks because in the summer they are covered with people sunbathing and from the metro the people look like lizards soaking up the sun.  During the summer the rocks are full of people barbecuing and picnicking with friends.  We wanted to have a picnic with my parents on the rocks but we ran out of time and it was getting kind of chilly at night but they could at least see how beautiful it is.

 I love this picture because there is a power boat, sail boats - big and small and kayakers all enjoying the water.


These are the rocks by our apartment.

*I thought I would mention some of the things my parents brought us so that I would remember all the random stuff we've asked people to bring when they visit.  They brought us: allergy medicine, eye drops, Living Beyond Yourself bible study by Beth Moore, Italian seasoning (the ones they have here don't taste the same), butterscotch chips (I like to eat these by themselves or mixed with chocolate chips. Not healthy but SO good!), fruit snacks, shoe covers (vented bags that my mom made to put my indoor shoes in when I put them in my backpack), elastic with clips on each end to pull my sheets tight under the mattress, and sheets for our sleeping bags so we can use them if we stay at a hostel or if it is too warm for a sleeping bag.  She made the shoe bags, elastic with clips for my sheets and the sheets for our sleeping bags.  If you don't have someone in your life who can sew and make all of the random projects you come up with, you are missing out!  They also brought junior mints for me, beef jerky for Jake and some slippers to wear around the house but those were all surprises.  Thanks for bringing all of our goodies!

The next morning I took my parents to the airport bus stop and hugged them goodbye until we come home around Christmas.  We had such a great time with them in Stockholm and in Geneva and the rest of our trip in Switzerland.  Thanks for flying out to see us and for looking at all the everyday stuff that makes up our lives here!