Friday, August 31, 2007

Le Tour de Sweden, Stage 4: Good Times in Gothenburg

On August 16th, we arrived in Gothenburg (or in Swedish, Göteborg), the third major city on our agenda!

I felt a rush of relief when our train pulled into the Central Station – finally, a familiar sight!! I stayed in Gothenburg during my first five days in Sweden, so apart from Lund it is the city that I know best. It is also home to several of our family friends, including Lina and her family. (Lina is one of the grandchildren of my mom's Swedish host mom.)

It took a little while to meet up with Lina (“I’m between the Central Station sign and the Pressbyrån!” — turns out there were several Central Station signs, and at least three Pressbyråns in the station) – but we finally dropped off the bike box at Lina’s office and spent an afternoon downtown with her and the kids.

We had lunch at the Saluhallen in Kungstorget square, where festivities for the Gothenburg Culture Festival were in full force. We ate our food at a picnic table amidst food stands selling every kind of food imaginable, a big music stage, a craft market, and a cooking demo.

Then Lina suggested we take a fun tour through the Gothenburg’s canals and harbor. Not only did traveling by boat provide a beautiful view of the city, but the high water levels provided an extra thrill – the clearance between the bridges and the water was so low that we were asked to get out of our seats and crouch on the floor.

For most of the bridges, we just ducked our heads…

But this one was really a tight squeeze!!

Afterwards, we walked through the city to a new park next the harbor, hosting more Gothenburg Festival activities. It was fun watching Maja scramble up the rocking climbing wall and bounce around on a giant trampoline while we listened to live music.

Our next stop was the Swedish ship Ostindiefararen Götheborg (East Indian Götheborg), a replica of a trading ship from the 18th century. In 2003, the Götheborg took a special voyage, retracing its traditional trading voyage to Africa, India, and China! A beautiful ship, and one of the largest full-rigged wooden sailing ships in the world!

That night, after a delicious dinner, Max and I took a walk to the beach near Magnus and Lina’s house to see the sunset:

And then it was time for bed! We were anticipating another busy day.

Our plan for the next morning? Liseberg! A great theme park right in the middle of Gothenburg. We rode Balder (a terrifying wooden roller coaster) and Kanonen (“the canon” – an appropriate name, it turns out), got soaked on the Flume Ride and Kållerado, went in circles on the Wave Swinger, danced around in the House of Mirrors, screamed with terror (truly) on the Uppswinget, and took several spins on the Lisebergbanan ("Liseberg Railroad"), my favorite coaster there. We even took a ride through the Fairy Tale Castle, which was a very low-budget version of Disneyland's Peter Pan ride (but Maja loved it!).

At 5PM, we left Liseberg and headed straight for the train station for a trip to Säffle. Hej då Göteborg!

Our visit to Gothenburg, by the numbers:
Length of train ride from Uppsala to Gothenburg: 4 hours (450 km!)
Bridges to duck under: at least 4
Loads of laundry on Thursday night (thanks Lina!): 2
Rides on Lisebergbanan: 4
Random 10-minute rain showers: too many
Weight of the giant Toblerone bar that Maja won at Liseberg: 2 kilos

The next installment: last but not least, Säffle!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Day Tripper

We interrupt this reminiscent broadcast for an important update: my first trip to Copenhagen! (No, going to the airport to pick up Max didn’t count.)

Lucky me – today I got to hang out with my mom’s cousin Conni and her husband, Charlie, who currently has a guest professor gig in Denmark. They also lived in Denmark in 2003, so they used some of their insider knowledge to show me the city. We had lunch at a great café (an old favorite of theirs) and then Conni and I took a walking tour (Charlie had to go to a conference, sadly).

Talk about great first impressions – what a wonderful city! As Charlie said today, “Lots of bikes, good beer, beautiful sights – what’s there to complain about?” Certainly all of those things work in the city’s favor, but there is something else that made this visit special – my favorite childhood book, Number the Stars, took place in Copenhagen!

I have probably read this wonderful book over 30 times. The author, Lois Lowry, tells the story of Annemarie, a 10-year-old girl who is growing up during World War II, in Nazi-occupied Denmark. I realized that the majority of my knowledge about Copenhagen comes from that book, and walking around Copenhagen, I saw Annemarie’s hometown and story come to life before my eyes: the Amalienborg palace and stories of King Christian X, Tivoli, the Østerbrogade…

And by chance, I spotted an advertisement on our tourist map for The Museum of Danish Resistance – and we made that our next stop. No other sight in Copenhagen is more connected to Number the Stars than this museum. There, I found more bits and pieces of the book's story on display: the Danish Resistance, young people with immense courage; the story of 7,000 Danish Jews who escaped the Nazis, many of whom fled to Sweden by boat; the complex political decisions made by the Danish government and King to protect their people from the Nazis. It was a very powerful museum.

Afterwards, we made our way towards the famous Little Mermaid Statue, but first we stopped to admire an enormous, imposing fountain (the largest monument in Copenhagen) called Gefionspringvandet, or in English, the Gefion Fountain. It features the legend of the Norse goddess, Gefion, who was promised by the Swedish King Glyfi all the land she could plow in a day and a night. She turned her sons into oxen and went to work. As legend has it, all that earth was then thrown into the sea to become the island, Zealand, on which Copenhagen is located.

After snapping a shot of Den Lille Havfrue sitting on her rock, we walked through the Kastellet, a fort from the 17th century, and then back through the city to the train station to meet Charlie.

We had a delicious Carlsberg beer and called it a day! I'm already looking forward to going back.

Oh, and I also picked up a small souvenir:

More on the final stages of my Tour de Sweden coming soon.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Le Tour de Sweden, Stage 3: Undeniably Uppsala

Stockholm, while amazing, was a bit of a whirlwind tour, so I was happy to take an hour-long train ride north to Uppsala for a few relaxing days. This time around, our oh-so-gracious hosts were my mom’s Swedish “host sister,” Christina, and her daughter Matilda, who is living at home for the summer.

Matilda served as a fantastic tour guide for our first day in Uppsala (August 14th) and helped us plan out our second day as well. It was so fun to see Matilda again -- the last time was when she was 13 year old (and I was 10) and she stayed with my family in California for the summer.

Day One:

The Domkyrkan! Our first stop in Uppsala was the giant domkyrkan, or cathedral. It seems that almost every city in Sweden has an ancient church in the middle of downtown. Uppsala is no exception. The Uppsala Domkyrkan, however, has earned some bragging rights – it is the largest and tallest church in Scandinavia. The building’s construction began waaaay back in 1245 and it absolutely towers above everything else in the city. It’s also home to the relics of Saint Erik and Carl Linnaeus’ grave.

Everything Linnaeus. Every town, city, and state in Sweden is celebrating the 300th birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the world famous Swedish scientist and botanist. Uppsala, dubbed “the city of Linnaeus,” has really pulled out the stops because it was this city that Linneaus called home for much of his life. There is even a special Linnaeus Bus to take you from one Linneaus attraction to another!

We visited the Linnéträdgarden, and I got my first glimpse ever of a REAL Linnea flower, linnaea borealis.

It was dried, not alive, but I have only ever seen the tiny, pink bellflower in pictures, so it was a bit of a thrill to see it in person and not just on paper. The garden was beautiful, as was Linneaus’ house. It’s the oldest botanical garden in Sweden, with about 1300 species. Not bad. I love that my name is connected to such an interesting and famous scientist.

Christina took Max, Matilda, and me out to dinner on Lake Mälaren. The food and the view were fantastic, and we had a brief celebrity sighting: Thomas Fogdö, a very successful Swedish downhill skier who, in a training accident in 1995, became paralyzed from the waist down. He’s still in great shape and uses his fame to motivate others and economically support the rehabilitation of injured athletes – pretty cool.

Day Two:

Uppsala’s History and Culture.We spent the morning walking to Uppsala Castle and meandering through Uppsala University’s Botanical Gardens – magnificent. Over 9000 species, several fountains, and, you guessed it, more exhibits on Linnaeus.

We also went to University of Uppsala’s Museum Gustavianum which was full of interesting things, including objects created (or belonging to) famous Swedes like Carl Linneaus and Anders Celsius, as well as Egyptian artifacts and an anatomical theater (where medical students and the general public could observe the dissection of corpses – mostly executed criminals – until the late 1700s!).

Later in the day, we went to the Museum of Uppland. The price was right (free) and they had some great exhibits on indigo, the history of Uppsala from the Viking Age until today, and a children’s corner where I introduced Max to some of my favorite Swedish books: Sven Nordqvist’s Festus and Mercury, the adventures of a funny old farmer and his cat.

We wrapped up our day in Gamla Uppsala (“Old Uppsala”), where the history of the city really begins. There are three huge 6th-century burial mounds, and the Old Uppsala church, which was built on top of the ruins from a pagan temple.

A few other fun snapshots from Uppsala:

The sign is supposed to say, Turistbussar (“tourist busses”) but someone has edited it so it now reads turistpussar (“tourist kisses”). :-)

At the botanical garden there was a huge bench -- definitely an opportunity for silly pictures. Even Max's legs were dangling (he's 6'1"!) .

Last but not least…

Our visit to Uppsala, by the numbers:
Pictures taken: over 200
Designated “Sightseeing in Uppsala” landmarks visited: 9 out of 13
Delicious dinners: two (thanks Christina!)
Liters of ice cream consumed: several
"Fun" rating (out of 10): 11

The next installment: Gothenburg!

‘Til next time,

Friday, August 24, 2007

Le Tour de Sweden, Stage 2: Sightseeing in Stockholm

We only stayed in the archipelago for a night (easily too short of a stay), but our agenda called for us to return to Stockholm to explore the city.

We were able to visit two other family friends, Jacob and Lovisa (siblings, and the grandchildren of mom’s my Swedish host mother), who both live in Stockholm. Jacob housed Max’s bike for a night and then cooked us a wonderful dinner when we returned. Lovisa graciously lent us her apartment so we had a place to stay in the city, free of charge! What a deal.

Stockholm is a gorgeous city. It’s sometimes called “the Venice of the North” because the city is built on 14 islands and surrounded by waterways. Wherever you live in the city, it is easy to find a canal or a lake where you can fish, boat, or swim (the water tends to be very clean.) The subways are breathtakingly cool (click on this link to see what I mean) and make getting around the city a breeze. People were friendly, and the weather was amazing, which definitely contributed to how much we enjoyed our visit.

August 13th was the day we dedicated to exploring Stockholm. The day before, we had purchased the Stockholm Card – for about $40, we got 24-hours of unlimited public transit trips, free admission to “over 75 attractions!” and the convenience of carrying around a simple piece of paper rather than kronor of all denominations. It all added up to a pretty good deal, considering the admission to many museums was between $9 and $15 and each Tunnelbana (subway) ride was $3!

The obvious strategy was to spend all day trying to visit as many attractions as reasonably possible. It was an exhausting day, to say the least!


The Vasa Museum! Anyone who goes to Stockholm but doesn’t visit this museum is crazy! The Vasa was a huge Swedish warship constructed in the 17th century. Only a mile into her maiden voyage, due to insufficient ballast and poor design, the boat capsized in the Stockholm harbor. In 1961, after more than 300 years, the boat was discovered, salvaged, and reconstructed. The boat now sits inside the museum and it is massive! Since I last visited the museum (when I was eight years old), they have remodeled the museum and the history component is fantastic. Well worth the visit! (Picture snagged from Stockholm Visitors Board.)

Skansen. Have you ever visited Colonial Williamsburg? Sturbridge Village? Well, Skansen is Sweden’s outdoor “living history” museum, and it outshines all of the places like it that I’ve seen – probably because it was the first of its kind in the world. (And it’s huge! Check out its map!). My guidebook hit the nail on the head when it said, “Partly because of the attention paid to accuracy, and partly due to the admirable lack of commercialization, Skansen manages to avoid the tackiness associated with similar ventures in other countries.” It was very enjoyable.

The boats. Our Stockholm Card allowed us to take the ferries from island to island for free, so we took a nice ride from Norrmalm (the city’s modern, commercial center) to Djurgården, a beautiful green island that is home to the Vasa Museum, Skansen, and Gröna Lund. (Aerial picture also snagged from Stockholm Visitors Board). We also took a canal boat tour around Djurgården and learned a little bit about the history of the area. It was a nice tour and it was equally pleasant to have the opportunity to sit down for an hour!

The History. Take Gamla Stan, for example. The “old town” section of Stockholm has been around since the 13th century, and has plenty of tiny alleys, walkways, and restaurants to explore. Stockholm has royal palaces, a medieval museum, an ancient cathedral… and what other city has a 340-year-old reconstructed warship sitting in a museum? You tell me.

Getting lost. It’s really easy to get lost in old cities. The streets are never set in a nice, even grid, so part of the fun is wandering around with almost no idea where you area. Thankfully, the city really isn’t that big, so you’ll inevitably run into a bridge, canal, or building to reorient yourself.

Craziest moments:

Repacking the bike box in the middle of Västra Skogen. We thought we might be able to take the bike (sans box) on the subway. The station agent on duty sternly told us otherwise. Mr. Station Agent then watched in amazement as, in less than 10 minutes, we disassembled Max’s bike in the plaza just outside the station’s entrance and fit it inside the box. Poof! Bike? What bike? We were let through the subway entrance gate with a smile of wonder.

The Muffin Café. AMAZING GOURMET MUFFINS. Wow. And wow again. (Highly recommended. I think it’s on Drottningsgatan).

Vilda Musen! The “Wild Mouse” ride at Gröna Lund amusement park. You had to pay per ride (we had free admission to the park), so we chose one ride, and we chose right! A wild little roller coaster. Such a blast.

And finally…

Our Stockholm visit, by the numbers:
Boat rides: 3
Subway rides: at least 10
Bike box toting stints: 2 (could have been worse)
Hours spent looking for a restaurant we couldn’t find: 1 ½
Hours spent trying to repair camera buying a new camera: 3 ½
New cameras: 1! (Didn't get to use it til Uppsala, though.)
Soccer fans spotted on the subway on their way to the big game (Djurgarden IF vs. Hammarby IF): hundreds and hundreds!
Drunken soccer fans we saw get arrested: 1
Hours of fun: lots and lots!

The new camera:

The next installment: off to Uppsala!

Keep reading, keep commenting, love,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Le Tour de Sweden, Stage 1: The Stunning Stockholm Archipelago

My mom’s been nagging me to get on with the blogging, so here I am! I’m back. Let’s get started:

Max and I left Lund on the 11th with an agenda: visit lots of family friends and explore Sweden! Our first stop? Stockholm.

The four-hour train ride was a breeze. Unfortunately, we ran into some trouble once we arrived at Central Station in Stockholm, where navigating through the station, the subway, and the city with Max’s bicycle became a major hassle. When I originally envisioned this tour of Sweden, I had not anticipated that we (er… Max) would be toting a giant plastic box with us (see previous post to get an idea of the scale of this thing).

But there was no other option! Max was invited to a big five-day bicycle race in Switzerland (which started after our tour of Sweden ended), which meant he needed to ride. So, along came the bicycle. Just imagine the challenge of negotiating escalators, train aisles, tiny elevators, stairs, stairs, and more stairs with this box! In short, it was a difficult addition to our vacation, but Max handled it very well, and it all turned out okay.

We dropped the box off at Jacob’s apartment in Stockholm and then we took a nice hour long walk along one of the city’s many canals. All the Swedes were out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather, and we got our first glimpses of downtown Stockholm and Gamla Stan (old town) before we arrived at Slussen to hop on a bus out to the island of Värmdö, in the Stockholm archipelago.

In the archipelago, we met Tomas, an old family friend. Tomas and his family (Anna, Britt, and Elin) were very welcoming, and Max and I had our own little cabin at their summer house. After we arrived, we went blueberry picking with Tomas and Anna (Tomas’s wife). I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite childhood stories, Blueberries for Sal, when we found a great patch of bushes where the berries were so plentiful you could stand in one place for five minutes and just pick, pick, pick.

We gathered two huge buckets full of berries and enjoyed eating them for breakfast the next morning. We finished our day with a swim in a lake that is only a five minute walk from the house and Tomas’s mother, Britt, cooked us an amazing salmon dinner. We enjoyed the summer light and talked late into the evening.

The next day, after a morning swim, we took a hike along the small peninsula to see the Baltic Sea. It was fun to explore the woods and we picked more wild blueberries, cherries, and raspberries (which we enjoyed on the spot). When we neared the shore, Tomas stopped to show us some amazing rock pools that were formed thousands and thousands of years ago when the area was covered with glaciers.

The holes are massive, and Tomas suggested that I take a picture with a person in the frame in order to show the scale. I got a not-so-great shot of Max, and decided to move to a better place to take another picture. I made to step down one of the smooth, damp rocks when I slipped and fell BAM! down the rock.

I slid down the rock on my forearms and back, which left some nice scrapes on my arms and attractive dirt smudges on my clothes. I recovered fairly quickly from the shock and felt very lucky that I had escaped injury free (the only real blemish was my embarrassment at falling after Tomas had warned us about 20 times to be careful on the slippery rocks). But then I looked down at my camera, which I had been holding in my hand when I fell.

It was broken. Smushed. Toast. Well, crap, I thought. That was really dumb. That’s when I really started feeling shaken, stupid, embarrassed, and massively disappointed. I had broken my camera (my mom’s camera, actually) on day TWO of my vacation, without so much as taking a picture of the Baltic Sea.

But such is life. You move on. The day got better once we returned to the house – another swim in the lake, a delicious smörgåsbord for lunch, and a pleasant bus ride back to Stockholm.

So, forgive me for the lack of pictures! I was unable to take any more pictures of Värmdö. Or too many more of Stockholm. The next day, I tried to get a same day repair but failed, so my parents just said, “buy a new one.” And I did.

In sum...

Our Värmdö visit, by the numbers:
Broken cameras: 1
Mosquito bites: 23 (really, I counted).
Beautiful sunsets: 2
Buckets of blueberries: 2
Swims in the lake: 3
Delicious meals: 3
Bike boxes to tote: zero!

The next installment: life in the big city of Stockholm.

Keep reading!