Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ik Mis Holland

Vandaag was het weer koud en het dragen van winterkleren maakte me mis de nederlanden! zo, ik at hagelslaag voor onbijt! de beeste ooit! Zijn zo lekker!!!

p.s ellen, bedankt voor mijn mooi posti!! ik wil schrijf je snel terug! ik mis je zo erg. kom je snel naar florida, alsjeblieft! xoxo

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Adventures in Finland

I'm finally getting back to write more about our travels in Scandinavia.

Here are some of the great adventure stories Desi and I experienced while in Finland...

We had a long boat ride from Sweden and an even longer day running around Helsinki (I may or may not have been accosted by a was awkward). We decided to take a nap in Helsinkipuisto, the central park of the city which is located along the river. Lovely views!

I really loved Helsinki, despite how exhausted we were. The most confusing part is that they put most of the signs in Swedish and Finnish, obviously, but for us, these languages weren't that easy to read or pronounce! You gotta love being confused and lost in a foreign country. Plus, we were happy to find any excuse to yell, "Ahh Finlandia!"

Needless to say, we we turned around and confused...A LOT and entered the wrong trams quite often. But it was such a beautiful day that there wasn't much to complain about especially since we enjoyed a little in the sun. Then, suddenly, a troop of people showed up, busted out a boom box and started practicing the waltz!

At first we were pretty confused, this seemd like a very serious group (Is this a dance gang coming to steal our passports?) but they all matched up into pairs and started hopping around, doing the jitterbug. Awesome!

We found the best picnic spot on Suomenlinna Island.
We really enjoyed beautiful summer weather in Finland! And to think the whole time packing for this trip my mother was telling us to bring more sweaters, ha!

We spent the whole day at Summenlinnia and had some interesting Finnish pizza. complete with a strong bow cider and Tabasco know we can't live without hot sauce.

Oh, yeah, that’s us, just gambling in the grocery store. Which apparently its a normal sight to see in Finland...

While in Helsinki, we stopped to share some tasty treats at Fazers. 
No big deal, it's just the most famous bakery in Finland, and seriously delicious!
How do you say, "sugarfoodcoma" in Finnish?

After running around Helsinki all day, we took the night train up to the Arctic Circle!
Good thing we got to sleep because that ride was 13 hours long and all you see are trees, trees and more trees. We awoke in the middle of the night to look out the window for reindeer but instead just saw miles and miles of green whizzing past. That's when we realized that we really were headed to the middle of nowhere! Finland has some beautiful nature, that's fore sure.

We met Santa (it was kinda creepy) and mailed postcards home with a very official seal of approval. If you're a big fan of Christmas and happen to be in Finland definitely don't miss this spot!

Here I am keepin' it real in the Arctic Circle. 
Now I can check that one off my list! 

After our epic train ride we made it to Ylitornio, Finland for Heidi and Jarrod's wedding.
There was a lot of yummy Finnish food, and I dug into their delicious strawberry cake. Desi is a brave foodie and sampled some reindeer but wasn't very enthusiastic about...this could have been associated with the high amount of alcohol intake that is required at a gathering such as this.

Finnish weddings are definitely an experience, between the never ending flow of alcohol (vodka, cider, vodka punch, wine, beer...) these Finns know how to party! Plus, there was quite a lot of wild and crazy dancing to heavy metal and Bon Jovi songs. 

It was an intensely fun day and night and I'm so glad we made it up to the corners of the Earth to celebrate with our friends. Congratulations you guys! 

Heidi’s family showed us the midnight sun from the top of a mountain. What a beautiful sight to see!

This is a statue of a nice finish author Annikki Kariniemi, but I prefer to call her Finnish cat lady because once again, Desi and I couldn't read the sign and had to interpret the best we could.

After the wedding celebrations came to an end, we headed back "south" to Rovaniemi.
Desi, Heidi, Jarod and Anu (our Couch Surfing pal) took part in something special...
A summer time bobsled ride!

I’ve never been in a bobsled before and it was especially odd when it was about 95 degrees outside with a million mosquitos flying in my face. If you ever have the chance to ride a bobsled, don't pass it up. 

Heidi and Jarod head down the hill...

How beautiful are these views? Finland, I love your countryside.

And to sum things up, no trip to the Arctic Circle is complete with out reindeer!
We spotted these guys on our last day, finally! 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sinterklaas Arrived in Leiden

On Friday, I finally met the legendary Sinterklaas and his helpful (yet very controversial) friends, Zwarte Pieten. The Dutch holiday story is somewhat similar to the American tale... except for a few major differences. First, Sinterklaas lives in a castle in Spain and once a year he and all the Zwarte Piet travel by steam ship to The Netherlands in time for celebrations on December 5th when the little Dutch children leave their shoes out by the fireplace at night and wait for gifts. Seems fine, right?

Sure, it's a cute enough story for kids. However, the whole concept of adults (!!!) wearing blackface (!?) a curly wig (!?) and huge red lips (!?) was so shocking and weird to see in real life!  I mean, whyyyy is the blackface necessary? They say he fell down a chimney but I personally don't understand why someone would do this, especially given the negative history that black face represents. It's not so baffling to see adults dressing themselves up in costume or character yet the blackface... I just can't wrap my head about how that's justified. The funny outfit and feathered hat seem like quite enough to do the trick. Throw some cookies and me and I'll know you're Zwarte Piet, no blackface needed.

Never the less, beer in hand, I tried to muster up some cultural relevancy long enough to get a photo. Don't let the smiles fool you, this was an incredibly awkward moment for me. So, that's the story about the first (and hopefully last) time I met Zwarte Piet.

To finish up, here's our pal Sinterklaas dancing on top of the bar which is a clear indication that he most likely added a little something extra to his warm chocomel.

Since Ellen has to work a lot we have mostly been hanging out at night and making dinner together with friends. Most of the time we make some kind of variety of vegetables with satay because... it's the best sauce ever next to hot sauce, of course. Oh yes, I love that peanutty-goodness. You can put almost anything on fries over here and I'm happy to mention that satay sauce on my friets is now an obsession too.

Another night Marleen and I made some pannenkouken with apples, raisons, pineapple... yum! Dutch food isn't exactly the most interesting span of ingredients but on a cold winter evening, pancakes for dinner are a very good idea.

Monday, October 6, 2008

One day in Oslo

Our Scandinavia trip was so action packed that we only had one day in Oslo, Norway. Our origional hope was to somehow make it all the way out to Bergen and Flåm but in the end, that plan was logistically impossible. I hope to get there one day because we found a village that was described with slogas like, Visit a town of 100 people and 500 goats, famous for goat cheese! Oh, Bergen, I really do hope to meet you one day. 

We took an overnight train from Stockholm to Oslo and arrived early in the morning. Unfortunately, I had been terribly sick a few days prior (a little too much Midsummer fun, perhaps?) and by the time we arrived in Oslo, I just wanted to collapse. And I did, literally, on the train. Since we only had one day in Oslo, Desi and I decided to split directions and check out different things. First on my list was a doctor's office! I circumnavigated the train station a handful of times before finally finding a pharmacist who directed me to a private doctor, who directed me to a free clinic... where I was turned down for not being Norwegian (seriously!). Eventually, I spoke to a nurse who directed me to the emergency room, and I reluctantly gave in, terrified to accrue an enormous bill as would be the case back home. 

Finally, I arrived at the E.R. slightly delirious after what seamed like the longest walk of my life. I took number and sat down to wait. Fortunately, there were only about six or seven people in front of me and the wait wasn't long The doctors ran a few blood tests prescription for some antibiotics...for strep throat. Gross. The whole ordeal only took about an hour and a half but here's the crazy part...

A visit to the emergency room and medicine cost only about $40! "Relieved" doesn't even begin to describe the feeling of a broke, traveling 20something who was expecting a bill 100x that fee! Oddly enough, the receptionist even apologized for me having to pay at all (if only she knew!) Can you believe everything would have been free if I had been a Norwegian citizen? I completely understand why socialized medicine doesn't work in America, why are you too unorganized to sort our affordable healthcare? The Norwegians have a great thing going on.

Having survived my first medical emergency abroad, I picked up a coffee and forced myself to  trek around Oslo. Given the circumstances, I can't exactly say Oslo was my favorite spot on our trip. Hopefully next time I have more time and energy to explore! In the mean time, here are a few snaps...

The harbor in Oslo where I caught a tour of the archipelago.

Norwegian islands with adorable summer homes hidden on them! Taking a boat tour was a fun, relaxing (and windy) way to explore the archipelago!

A lovely day on the peninsula where the I toured the Folk Museum and Viking Ships Museum..

Wandering the open-air Folk Museum was a great way to explore the traditional old-fashioned Norwegian way of life! Especially on a sunny day!

How cool are these Viking ships!? They are huge, too!

Swedish Midsummer + Flower crowns

I went back to Sweden a few weeks ago just for a quick trip with my Mother and it was so nice to be back. 

I shouldthe rest of my Scandinavia trip since
that was the whole point of creating this blog...

This video should be a sufficient explanation of how we get down on midsummer...
How lovely to have our very own accordion player!


After visiting Stockholm, we headed out to the countryside for a few days of partying experiencing Swedish culture. Our group was 20+ international travelers who met up on Couchsurfing. Pretty cool!

We did lots of traditional things like, taking too many shots, eating roasted potatoes to soothe our hangovers, dancing around Maypoles. We also enjoyed in a traditional midsummer parade and of course, made our very own lovely midsummer crowns! It was quite a celebration indeed. You can find more posts about our trip to Sweden here.

...and put them to good use!

Playing a fun game of kubb...

Our lovely midsummer evening was complete with Swedish flag and of course, a Volvo!

Our international midsummer feast!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Swedish Midsummer Traditions... Maypoles and More Maypoles!

We were invited to celebrate Swedish midsummer with a large group of CS people in Darlarna, Sweden about 4 hours northwest of Stockholm.
Midsummer celebrations take place during the summer solstice in June, on the longest day of the year. There is a rich traditional way of celebrating midsummer in Sweden which includes visiting the countryside. We were lucky to have the chance to experience this great party in a traditional style.

After meeting up with a bunch of couch surfers in Stockholm, we stayed a cabin in the woods for five days and celebrated the. entire. time!!! Wikipedia says, "Midsummer rivals Christmas as the most important holiday of the year due to the copious amounts of alcohol consumed." Ha! This may in fact be true although, lets just say that for the rest of the trip anytime we did something silly our excuse was that we were still a bit tipsy from midsummer!
Hey, just think of this as a participant-observation study and it all feels very scientific. 

On our first day, we encountered a maypole party just up the road from our cabin.
It wasn't the best weather but I was too overwhelmed with excitement for the cute, traditional costumes, songs and dance to care! It takes half the group to help raise the maypole, all the while a folk band is playing songs, usually a string quartet. Once the maypole is up, everyone does a few dances around it. The most popular (and our favorite!) was the frog dance. I think it’s actually for children, but Desi and I were having a blast regardless, as this was the first midsummer experience for us both!

Here is the first of our many maypoles...

A few view of our cabin and surrounding farm...

(Almost) midnight sun...

Getting to know the other couchsurfers..

Another day, we visited the near by town of Orsa for their maypole party. 
The celebrations started off with a parade through the town, ciders in hand of course! and ended with maypoles, folk dancing, ice cream, more cider and more dance, so on and so forth. Lets just say that there are a lot of schnapps involved, which is actually scarier than you may think!

Getting the parade started with our new favorite expat, Ryan..

Time for another maypole!!

This time, we helped! Although, little Desi couldn't exactly reach very high!

Some folks, playing folk songs...

...and folk dancing too!

After that, we all had dinner together in Orsa, a handfull of roudy couchsurfers are pretty hard to miss.. especially since someone had the genius idea of bringing a box of wine. 
The vegetarian items on the menu were sold out so Desi and I with our two Australian pals (the wine smugglers) had our own little party on the terrace while a Swedish guitarist serenaded us with his best Beatles and Jimmy Buffet cover songs. After a bit, two heavily intoxicated Finns came to join our wine-sing-a lot-party. This resulted in me feeling the need to dance around the place with Desi to Jimmy Buffet melodies, sung in Swedish. Soon enough more and more people arrived out on the terrace and to dance and sing along (who knows what they were saying!?) I highly recommend starting midsummer dance parties in random places!
The end result:

It's sad to say that old, Swedish men were apparently my only suitors that evening.
I guess my dance moves were just too intense for the younger crowd. 
Unfortunately, this became an going experience throughout the entire trip...ha!
What can I say? I guess I've got an old soul. 

Stockholm City Guide

I picked some of my favorite recommendations for visiting 
Stockholm, Sweden
We had perfect summer weather and with so many things to see and do,
 (and eat!) I'd go far enough to say Stockholm was my favorite city 
from our entire trip! Second favorite? Definitely Copenhagen!


This was our #1 favorite place to enjoy the sunset and stuff ourselves! You can read more about our experience dining at Herman's 
(a total of four times during the trip!)
INFO: Fjällgatan 23, 11628 Stockholm, Sweden. +46 8 643 94 80 Metro green line, exit at the Slussen stop and walk up the big hill, you can't miss it! 

Our absolute favorite dinner spot, Herman's!

This delicious spot is actually located inside the ethnographic museum! 
I recommend the Indian platter or Greek platter
 and of course, the amazing homemade chai tea! 
Visit early to experience the museum and then be ready to eat for lunch around 11-12pm, keeping in mind this place gets packed around noon on Fridays. 
If possible, be sure to go on a sunny day so you can fully enjoy a picnic in their park complete with picnic blankets and umbrellas! 
We spent all day here and planned to go back but got caught in a terrible rain storm and the busses were on strike, bummer. 
INFO: Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen 34, Box 27140, 102 52 STOCKHOLM Tel: 08-519 550 00Take Bus 69 from the Central Station to Bus stop Museivägen.  

We stumbled on this place by accident while strolling around a popular shopping district of Stockholm. Although the location is pretty ritzy, don't be fooled. 
The meals were comparatively moderate when it came to the price and everything was served fresh and hot. With lots of different spicy sauces, which is a definite plus in my book. 
INFO: Norrlandsg. 13, 11143 Stockholm, Sweden +46 8 22 50 44.

This bar in the old town area is packed full with as many people as there are antiques all over the place. The fact that I had fun here despite practically being on my deathbed with a weird Swedish illness says a lot! 
It would be a nice way to end a walking tour of old town or just a fun night out. Easy location, its just a short walk from central station. 
INFO: Stora Nygatan 5, Gamla Stan (Old Town) Tel. 08-205793. 

::: MUSEUMS :::

This little museum has a wonderful collection of artifacts from around the world. When I visited there was a temporary exhibit about communist china in the 1960's. An entire summer day could be spent in the gardens and the collection is really interesting and for the most part kid friendly. Brush up on your Swedish because most of the collection lacks English descriptions.
 I know, I've already recommended this in the restaurants section but that's because we loved it here! 
INFO: Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen 34, Box 27140, 102 52 STOCKHOLM Tel: 08-519 550 00Take Bus 69 from the Central Station to Bus stop Museivägen. 

In the 17th century, a huge, fancy ship sank in Stockholm’s harbor during it's maiden voyage. Then, in 1961 someone found it in the harbor (333 years later) and restored The Vasa. 
Now she lives in a museum that also houses all the artifacts that we salvaged from the wreck. 
INFO: Galärvarvsvägen 14, Stockholm. Walk from central station, nice view of the harbor (20-30 minutes) or buses 47 and 69 leave from the Central Station.

Exploring the culture and history of Sweden in the last 500 years, this museum had an excellent exhibit on folk art and the indigenous Sami people. 
INFO: Djurgårdsvägen 6-16, Stockholm. Bus 44 or 47. 

 Unfortunately, this outdoor museum was the one thing in Stockholm that I didn't get to do. But I’ve heard so many wonderful things that I still needed to keep it on the list. Skansen is an open-air folks museum that opened in 1891. (I visited a similar one in Oslo and loved it!). 

 I feel like I should end this post by recommending Couch Surfing to anyone who is interested. This network is so much more than just wanting to stay for freeCouch Surfing is a cultural exchange that brings people together around the world. Honestly, I was skeptical at first too, but it really made our entire trip even more amazing because of the experiences that unfolded. 

For instance, we wouldn't have known about the epic international midsummer party had I not met Belinda on Couch Surfing. Of course we had a few frustrating moments, like getting locked in a guy's apartment! Creepy! 
But all of our other hosts were great and the locals we met gave us a few of the best tips to the city.

PS: Try using Google Translate to change a website's text into English for easier reading or trying searching topics in the country's native language, you might find some great local deals!

Adventures in Stockholm

It’s hard to even begin because visiting Sweden was such an amazing experience. Everyday we had such a wonderful time and met lots of new, interesting, travel loving people. At first, we thought traveling with Couchsurfing could be either a complete disaster or an epic adventyre.  Luckily, it was the latter. With an alternative travel and lodging plan, Desi and I had the chance to meet so many new people and engage in more local activities.

Our first night in Stockholm we met up with our Couchsurfing host, Belinda, plus my Mom and a few of Belinda’s friends (who were also heading to the cabin in Dalarna with us).

Herman’s was the most incredible eating experience I’ve had in a while!
 It’s a combination of perfect location plus an unbelievable, gigantic vegetarian and vegan buffet. The kind of place that food coma dreams are made of. Herman's a Swedish smorgasbord complete with diverse salads, lasagna, creamy hummus, hearty breads and tasty deserts! I was immediately addicted and over the course of the next month, Desi and I ate there a total of FOUR times! Anytime chance we had to stop in Stockholm we had to pay homage to Herman’s!

Aside from the food, there is an amazing view of the harbor and it was just a short walk from Mom's hotel! Perfect!

Here we are unpacking/repacking for our midsummer trip at Belinda’s lovely house. She was one of our favorite people from the trip. A fun-loving, expert traveler! The first night there were four Couchsurfers crashing at her pad and another night she hosted 5 of us! Thanks Belinda!