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!

More from Eindhoven... Visiting Abbe's Museum!

While traveling around with my pal Abbe, we stayed with our friends Ellen and Carlos in Eindhoven. Upon arriving, we were excited to discover that Abbe had her very own museum... The Van Abbe Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art!
It was clearly a necessity to snap a picture of Abbe in front of her namesake.
So, naturally, we made a day of it and toured the museum as well.

Inside held a nice contemporary art collection, even though it isn't particularly my taste as my interested in modern art ends at surrealism. Abbe's favorite part was the elevator which made different sounds as you went up and down to different floors.

I enjoyed the temporary exhibit called Be(com)ing Dutch, which was about the diversity of Dutch culture and how it is absorbed by the variety of immigrants who are assimilating into Dutch culture as well as bringing more diversity with their own cultural ideals. The exhibition included a lot of photos and videos about the Dutch experience and one I found really interesting was about the naturalization classes that immigrants take to become new citizens. I guess that's the cultural anthropologist in me...

Here we are...

An intriguing light display... HA!

After that we showed abbe about downtown Eindhoven and I had a few déjà vu moments from being there as a kid. Since it was out last day we had to celebrate our trip with a nice glass of warme chocolademelk met slagroom!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weighing Witches in Oudewater

Before I can even explain this adventure, it is very important that everyone reading this understands how amazing Monty Python is. If you don't then maybe this will put you up to date...

Well, maybe Monty Python isn't exactly historically accurate BUT it is still hilarious! Thus, I felt a true need to visit Oudewater to see a genuine witches weighing station. Actually, Oudewater was known for holding 'fair' witch trials and allegedly, the men there weren't easily bribed. I find that hard to believe but, that's what they say. Supposed witches were weighed and if they were too light it was evident that they could easily fly away on broom sticks to meet with Satan (makes sense, right?) Therefore, if you're heavy enough to squash the broomstick you're clearly to fat to fly away to Satan and yet, you don't get burned to death! What a clever way to solve a problem.

We headed to Oudewater after our visit to the famous cheese market in Gouda. Typical Dutch style, the village of Oudewater was tiny and cute, with a similar museum to match.

A tiny door in a tiny town...

How cool is this house?!

Fortunately, I weigh more than 50 pounds so I’m not a witch! Hooray!

Uh oh! Abbe is so small she just might be a witch! It’s undetermined! Hahah just kidding Abbe!

Good thing we weren't burned as witches otherwise we wouldn't have this cute picture in front of the weigh house!

Gouda's famous cheese market

Originally, I wanted to visit Friesland again with Abbe so I could reconnect with my ancestors but we also wanted to visit Ellen and Carlos in Eindhoven so, it worked out better to head down south inserted.  Since I have visited the Netherlands so many times we tried to incorporate things I haven't done with things Abbe wanted to see as well. One thing we could definitely agree on was cheeeeeeeeese! I've been to the Alkmaar market in Noord Holland but hadn't seen Gouda yet so, this was a perfect fit. 

We set out for a trip to Gouda's cheese market followed by a visit to Oudewater to see the witches weigh station and later on to Utrecht. Carlos was our travel companion for the day and we had a silly time imitating Borat all around Gouda.

What is this?
And what is this??
And this one???

I learned that the cheese market is actually only open on Thursday mornings in July, a clear sign of a true tourist trap. Naturally it was packed but despite the crowds, it was a fun sight to see. Abbe tried poffertjes, tiny pancakes covered in powered sugar which happen to be a favorite treat of mine when they're doused in rum. We just had to get cheese at the market and much to our dismay, we ended up feeling obligated to eat the cheese for the next few days! It was delicious at first but an intense struggle to finish such a big chuck of cheese. Our eyes may have deceived out stomaches in that regard.

Farmers and merchants bidding on masses of cheese.
 Fun fact: You can't buy just one wheel of cheese, they come in a set of 12!

How cute are their traditional outfits? Complete with clogs of course!

We visited the old weigh house and watched a demonstration on how to make cheese. To be honest, it kinda killed our appetite for the stuff. That and the fact that you're completely innondated with the smell, sight and taste of cheese from every direction. An addition to our nausea occurred when a 'typical' American tourist raised her hand and started asking the cheese man a question...
"In America there is a place called Wisconsin. They make cheddar cheese. do you know about that? Do you know how they make cheddar cheese?" Oy, I always feel so awkward and embarassed when Americans speak slooooowly to foreigners. Luckily, the guide's casual response to her ignorance almost put us in hysterics!

"No madam, I am from Gouda, I make GOUDA cheese. And cheddar isn't American, it's from England. And I am not English, I am Dutch so I make Dutch cheese." Zing!

Just incase you didn't get the Borat reference earlier, here's the hilarious scene we couldn't stop reproducing... 

The Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam

On our way to Amsterdam Abbe and first made a visit to Leiden's anthropology museum. Funny enough, Abbe found a cat hiding in the bicycle rack, which she promptly chased until he conceided and snuggled with her. Sure, I love my cat but I don't consider myself a cat person like Abbe given that I’m impartial and for the most part uninterested in other people’s cats. *note the Dutch lady in the background trying not to laugh too hard at Abbe!*

While I love Amsterdam for the wonky buildings, lovely scenery, adorable canals, fantastic museums... I’m not really a big fan of Amsterdam in the summer. It's tourist mayhem with lots of annoying people flocking there to eat psychedelic mushrooms. I prefer to visit during calmer times to enjoy what the city has to offer without being completely bombarded by craziness and tourists puking in the canals. But Abbe was my guest, so, we headed over to explore Amsterdam together. As the story above may indicate, Abbe really, really (really!) wanted to see the Kattenkabinet, a museum dedicated to... you guesed it, C A T S! 

It seemed like a weird request but I just needed to see this unusual place first hand. The Kattenkabinet is quite literally a fancy, historic canal house, filled with any and everything about cats. I'm talking live cats, cat games, cat art and even a dead skinned cat (yikes). Later, we learned that the building was from the 1600's and our President John Adams stayed in this house one a trip to Amsterdam. although I was definitely creeped out (it really smells a lot like cats inside) this experience was of course worth the 5euro entrance fee! 

Abbe bursting with excitement before heading into the museum of her dreams

Abbe chasing cats...

Abbe with one of her many new friends... 

Yes, that is in fact a hissing cat devouring a dead bird. That's exactly what you'll find at a cat museum.

And here's the aforementioned dead cat with his live friend! 
Ahhh, this place was weird but irresistible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eindhoven and the caves of Maasctricht

Abbe and I stayed in Leiden for the weekend after my classes were finished. The following Monday, we left Leiden and arrived in Eindhoven to visit our family friends Ellen and Carlos who I've known most of my life. They're expats, a Dutch and Argentinian couple who we met way back when we moved down to Orlando. It's exciting to be here because I have a lot of childhood memories in Eindhoven as well as memories from growing up in Florida with their daughter, Anneke. During childhood visits to Eindhoven, we used to play in the park behind their friend's house. I don't recall it before but now there's petting zoo with adorable baby animals that we were naturally excited to meet.

After meeting with Ellen and Carlos in Eindhoven, we headed out for a visit to Nuenen. It's a city close by where Van Gogh once lived! We got a bit lost on the way and I was excited for Abbe to see the real Dutch countryside!

With Van Gogh in Nuenen...

Having a drink with Ellen and Carlos...

The following day, we traveled to Maastricht, the southernmost metropolitan city in the Netherlands. It's very posh but feels quite different from up north in Amsterdam and Leiden. They even ride their bikes differently in the south.

One our main point of interest were old mining caves that were used as shelters during World War II. Mining in this area dates back to the 12th century and the materials were used to build much of the Maastricht and it's churches. At first, I thought visiting caves would make me feel very clausterphobic (they did, a little) but for the most part while wandering inside, we felt like Indiana Jones, hunting for treasures. 

Entrance to the caves, just as spooky as it looks. 

There were a lot of really neat cave paintings inside too...

To finish up, here's Abbe enjoying the splendor of Dutch beer in Maastricht.