Thursday, March 19, 2015

Winter in Stockholm

I was definitely nervous about the winters in Stockholm before we moved but it hasn't been that bad.  I thought I would share a few thoughts on what winter is like in Stockholm since spring is tomorrow :).

Darkness- Reflectors
When I think about winter in Stockholm the word that comes to mind is darkness.  It is SO dark.  I have posted pictures comparing the sunlight at different times during the day and I'm sure some people think, "I get it.  It is dark. Get over it."  But it is so hard.  I never used to think about sunlight and how it affected my day.  It would get dark in Kansas in the winter and I would drive to work in the dark and if I was at work too late it would start getting dark but that is nothing compared to here.  In Olathe, I could leave school at 4 each day but I would usually leave between 4:30-5:30 depending on the day.  In the winter there were times it would be dark when I'd leave school towards the end of that range.  In Stockholm, I can leave school at 3 pm and I usually try to do that but even then it is usually dark by the time I got to the gym 20 minutes later.

The sunlight starts disappearing in October and then it is gone from November to February.  The shortest day of the year the sun comes up at 8:43 am and it sets at 2:48 pm.  One other thing to consider is how low the sun is on the horizon.  Even though it is up for about 6 hours on the shortest day it doesn't really get high enough in the sky to be seen depending on where you are.
 I did get to see about 3-4 really cool sunrises on my way to school before we started to gain so much sunlight each day that it was up well before I left for school. (The quality isn't great but it was taken while I was riding on the bus through a dirty bus window.)

This November Stockholm had a record low number of actual sunlight hours because it was so cloudy.  We had like 4-5 hours of total sunlight when the sun was actually able to break through the clouds during the ENTIRE month of November.  It was rough!  November is typically the month most Swedes dislike the most.  The sun disappears, it is cold and rainy but there usually isn't any snow.  Let's just say I want to be back in Kansas before the next November.
Since it is so dark and Swedes like to wear black they sell reflectors to put on your coats, strollers, backpacks, etc to help you be visible to cars.  You can also find some slap-on bracelets to wear around your wrists or ankles when you walk or bike.
Here are just a few of the reflectors you can find.  The ones on the right are like the slap-on bracelets that used to be popular when I was in middle school.
Once the light comes back Swedes can't get enough of it.  I didn't fully understand the light/sun obsession until my first winter here and now I get it.  When spring hits and the sun is out the cafes in the sun will be packed and then when the sun moves to the other side by the afternoon the cafes on the opposite side of the street will be full.  When you walk down the street you walk on the side in the sun or you sit on a bench in the sun.  Pretty much if there is sun shining you are in it.

One of the perks of all the darkness would be candles.  We didn't really light candles in Olathe but we do in Stockholm.  You can go through a lot of candles in one winter.  One thing we really looked forward to this winter was having candles lit every night.  We had to remember to keep the lights on in the apartment until after dinner so it wouldn't feel like it was time to go to bed too soon but once we had dinner we would turn off the overhead lights and light lots of candles.  I hope we continue to light candles once we are back in Olathe. 
The candles in front of the left window are actually electric and a typical Christmas decoration.  I put it up in November and we didn't take it down until almost March.  It was nice to have light without burning through lots of candles.

Snow & Temperature
While growing up and living in Kansas I have always enjoyed snow and thought it was pretty but I didn't like driving in it.  After the first winter in Stockholm I realized how much brighter it seems when there is snow on the ground.  We didn't get much snow the first winter.  There was more snow in Kansas than in Stockholm during the winter 2013.

 This is from last winter 2013 when we went on a walk.
 Now this is a lot of snow :).  I took this picture in February 2014 when we went up north to Kiruna, Sweden.

 We walked through this snowy area in Kiruna last year.  There were some trails that we walked on but there was so much snow!
 Kiruna, Sweden
This is a backyard in Kiruna, Sweden.  The snow fills up the entire backyard.  It was so neat seeing so much snow.
 I took this picture on my way home at 4:00 pm.  The snow just brightens up the sky.

This winter we had more snow than last winter and it was great.  One nice thing about the weather in Stockholm is that it is really consistent so once it snows it usually stays around for a while.  Plus, the weather stayed below freezing most of the time so the snow stayed as snow instead of melting and then refreezing and turning into ice.  Since we don't have a car in Stockholm, the more snow the better!  The snow reflects the sunlight and brightens everything up plus it is pretty.  We were both hoping for a record snowfall this winter which didn't happen but we were excited that we had more snow than last year.
I take the metro and a bus to work and then walk about 5 minutes after the bus ride.  This was on my walk to work.

The temperature wasn't that bad this winter.  It was around freezing, 32 degrees, most of the winter give or take 5-10 degrees.  There were definitely longer periods of cold days in Kansas than in Stockholm this winter but then Kansas would have several really nice days when we were still holding out around 32 degrees.

Winter Weather Gear - Adults & Kids 
Black is a very popular color even during the summer but it is the most worn color in the winter.  Everyone has black or dark pants and a dark coat.  Most adults wear boots, skinny jeans, a sweater and then a coat and scarf on the way to work.  The bigger the scarf the better.

One thing I have had to get used to is not wearing too many layers.  Since I walk everywhere instead of driving my heart rate gets up higher so if I'm outside and walking for several minutes I'm not as cold as if I'm just sitting in my car.  There is definitely a balance between too many layers and sweating and not enough layers and being frozen.  I've mentioned this before but Swedes dress for the date on the calendar and not the actual temperature.  Several times Jake and I have noticed on a nice day they are still in full winter gear even though it could be 55-60 degrees.  And then in the summer if we have an usually cool day they will still be in tank tops and skirts.

If you are here in the winter you would see shoes like this all over Stockholm.

Jake has renamed Fridays to "Friday Night Tights" because you will see lots of girls in tights on Friday even in the middle of winter.  He kept asking me when I was going to wear my tights around. #notgonnahappen

Kids wear outside pants like ski pants or a full piece suit in the winter.

Lots of reflectors on the suits since it is so dark in the winter.
This picture is from my volunteer school.  You can see all the coats, outside shoes and outside pants hanging up.

Strollers with Sleeping Bags and Animal Skin
Just because it is cold and dark doesn't mean the kids stay inside all winter.  You will see tons of strollers on walks, at the park or to and from the store.  In the winter most strollers have footmuffs or bags that look like sleeping bags for the kids to sit in.  Some kids sit on reindeer skin or wool to stay warm in their strollers.
Gray modeling an awesome lion hat and the black puffy thing is his footmuff.

Not a great picture but can you see the kid standing on the board on the back of the stroller?  Those riding boards are really popular here.
Sledding & Helmets
Last winter we walked around one weekend in the snow just to get some fresh air.  We stopped by a park and saw tons of kids sledding.  The first thing I noticed was that almost all of them were wearing helmets.  I was impressed and then wondered why we don't do that in the US.  Maybe it doesn't snow enough in Kansas so people don't regularly go sledding in the winter like they do here but it just seems like wearing helmets would be a good idea.  Kids wear helmets for sledding, skiing and ice skating.  Pretty much any outdoor activity where they could bump their head they wear a helmet.
 See the yellow on the right-hand side of the picture?  They wrapped the tree to protect kids from hitting it.  They did that with several trees and other hazardous things.

 This sled is awesome and about $80.
 Notice all the strollers?  Just because it is cold and there is snow on the ground doesn't mean you stay inside.

They also have really awesome sleds here which isn't surprising.  We saw kids jumping stairs at one park which was fun.  Some of the sleds have steering wheels that actually work so they can decide where to go.  We went back to the same park this winter to watch the kids sledding.  Jake really wanted to ask someone if he could go down the hill but we are in Stockholm and talking to strangers is a no-no.
Video of the kids sledding and jumping over the stairs.
I've also seen parents pulling their kids in sleds on the way to and from daycare or school.  Seems like a great idea to me.  Kids easily slip and fall and this way you don't have to worry about the kid falling and you can walk as quickly as you can in the snow without worrying about your child.  I wonder if people in the US who walk their kids to daycare or school ever do this.

Sidewalks, Bike Paths and Gravel
I have been very impressed with how clear the sidewalks and bike paths have been. (Taxes might not be the devil after all . . . cough, cough.)  The city is really quick to plow the roads as well as the sidewalks and the bike paths.  The bike paths are typically just a clear as the roads.  They use four-wheelers or tractors with snow plows on the front to clear the sidewalks and bike paths.

The sidewalks are usually covered in gravel to give you some traction.  The gravel is so much nicer than salt because you don't have to worry about the salt eating away at your shoes or making things feel gross.  The ground is usually covered in gravel from the first snow fall in November or December until March or April when they think we are done with the snow.  After we have cleared the "it probably won't snow again" mark the city comes around and sweeps up all the gravel that has been covering the sidewalks all winter long.
You can see some gravel on the ground at this metro platform.  They have big bins around town with gravel in it that they spread out for traction.
Lots of people bike to work even during the cold, dark winter and in the snow.  I've seen people biking on snow covered paths before the plows have been out because it was still actively snowing.  It is impressive!

Sport Break
The kids get a Sportlov or Sport Break for one week towards the end of February.  The schools are out this week and most families go on ski trips or other family vacations.  Different parts of Sweden take their Sport Breaks during different weeks but it is usually weeks 8, 9 and 10.  (In Sweden, we count by weeks and use them regularly.  It took some getting used to but now it is fine and makes sense most of the time.)  Schools have this week long break in February and then other week off for Easter which is really nice!

Semla Day
Sweden has several food holidays.  One we really enjoyed this year was Semla Day.  They actually have Semla season which includes a couple of weeks before Semla Day, aka Fat Tuesday.  Last year we didn't know what it was but I saw the picture of a semla roll on the calendar and saw them at the store so we had some on that day but they weren't very good.  This year we started noticing when they appeared in the cafes and we made sure to try a few different ones.  They are good but not my favorite.  It is basically a sweet bun or roll filled with almond and cardamom paste and vanilla whipped cream on top.
On Semla Day I went to Vete-katten to pick up some semla rolls.  The line was long but they had a good system for getting us through quickly.
 We found one with chocolate and it was probably my favorite semla roll of the season!

The US needs to have food holidays.  Our Swedish friends were asking if we had any foods in the US that we have just during a season like they do here and we couldn't really think of anything.  There are times when we might eat strawberries because they are in season but we don't have a strawberry day.  There are certain desserts that they have here that you can really only find during that season like semla rolls.  The next food holiday is waffle day and I am pumped!

Santa Lucia Day
On December 13th the Swedes celebrate Santa Lucia day.  They celebrate the festival of lights on that day since the winter is so dark.  I guess the date used to coincide with the winter solstice (shortest day of sunlight) but then the calendar changed and it no longer does.  A girl dresses up in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of lit candles on her head.  The candles are real once the kids get old enough but old enough could be 8-12 years old.  We had a St. Lucia Day celebration at school where the kids paraded into the lunch room and sang some songs.  Lucia had on a white dress with real lit candles on her head and other girls held candles.
St. Lucia Day celebration at school.
After the musical performance we had pepperkakor, gingerbread cookies, and glögg, which is spiced cider (that usually has alcohol in it but not when we had it at school).  Of course there is a special pastry for this celebration that goes by a few names: saffron buns, lussekatter or Lucia's Cats.  Saffron buns are a sweet bun flavored with saffron and cinnamon or nutmeg and they have raisins.  The buns are very yellow looking and I just couldn't get into it.  Saffron is a very expensive spice that they keep at the cash registers to monitor how much people buy.

 We went to Kungsträdgården to listen to a St. Lucia concert.  It was chilly but they had some fire pits to help keep us warm.
 The concert.  They had to be cold only wearing those white dresses/robes. 
Video from the St. Lucia concert at Kungsträdgården.
 We also went to a St. Lucia concert at a church.

Video from the Lucia Concert

The lights and decorations around the city are really pretty as well for Christmas.

Hope you enjoyed learning a little about winter in Sweden.  We both wished we had more snow but at least this winter had more than last winter.

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