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!

Finally Back to Scandinavia... SWEDEN!!

It’s hard to even begin because visiting Sweden was such an amazing experience. Everyday we had such a wonderful time! With Couchsurfing it was even better, because 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 + vegetarian/vegan buffet... 
A Swedish smorgasbord complete with salads, lasagna, hummus, thick breads, and deserts! 
I was immediately addicted and over the course of the next month, Desi and I ate there FOUR times! Anytime we had a stop in Stockholm we had to pay homage to Herman’s!

Aside from the food, there is an amazing view of the harbor and the place is just a few blocks 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!

Worst Pubic Transport Ever! Tram Scam!

We left Eindhoven the next day to meet up with my mom again in Den Haag. I showed abbe around Delft and we had yummy Mexican food before meeting up with mom for a glass of wine and a glimpse of fireworks that you can see bursting over the beach at Scheveningen. On the way back to the hotel from Delft we encountered a horrible experience on the tram.

Apparently we were supposed to stamp 3 slots on the card and we only stamped 2 (that’s what the hotel said to do!) so, this jerk of a tram officer gets in my face and starts yelling on and on about how we didn't stamp enough zones... Well, I told him we're so sorry and clearly confused and please can we stamp out stripencards once more to have the correct zone. Well, this guy was a real jerk and on some kind of power trip. He and his colleague block us into our seats and continue to yell at us despite our attempt to correct our mistake. Anyway, this guy is just berating us over and over, we almost miss our stop because he just keeps going on and on about how we messed up.

Then he says that we have to pay 38 euro each for the fine (for a stamp that costs about €1.5!!!!!) and we had a bunch left on our card so we asked him to just stamp the rest of what we would have needed... Of course we would have done the correct amount if we had known. But the hotel people gave us the wrong infomariton and we believed them because the time we asked the driver what to do he gave us the complete wrong information and left us in the wrong part of town! Well, neither of us had enough money since we were leaving the next morning, so then he starts bartering with us which seems totally illegitimate and illegal! Plus, he wouldn't take a credit card...he ONLY wanted cash!

Well, we're blocked in the tram and can't get out and since we didn't really know the rules or how much power this guy had we didn't want to get in serious trouble or get arrested over a stupid €1.5 ticket so he just starts bugging me about how much money i have in my wallet, i mean, he was up in my face yelling at me that we had to pay! Interrogating me as if we had just done something horrible! So, i gave him the last money i had which was a €20 bill... AND HE PUT IT STRAIGHT IN HIS POCKET!!!!!!!!!!!! I wanted to jump up and kick him over and take my money back! what an ass! After all that he just was totally ripping us off and he just took the money for himself right in front of me because he knew that there wasn't anything we could do about it! Ughhhhhhhh.

Thinking about this situation makes me so angry! Well, then I told him I wanted a receipt and I think that’s what he gave me so I am going to have mom take the tickets down to the station and fight it because we were completely taken advantage of! It ruined my whole day because I just felt so violated! Despite how hard I tried to assimilate into Dutch culture and pay attention to my surroundings and study maps to know where I was going and etc... I still get caught up in some crazy scam! The entire Dutch tram system is in complete shambles. There are hardly ever maps that show the interconnecting routes and besides that, there are not any cohesive maps that tell passengers how many zones a particular route crosses (a lot of passengers are tourists, especially in a place like Den Haag). I could understand strong a punishment IF there were frequent and easy to read maps and explanations for passengers, but this is not at all the case! And the drivers are hardly helpful, you wait up front for so long until they decide to answer your question and the few times I have asked, they gave me the wrong information.

So, my point in all this is that the Dutch government really needs to work on the tram situation because it is ridiculously out of control, confusing, and corrupt!!!!!!! Things like this frustrate me more than anything because we made an honest mistake and tried everything to correct it but someone who felt like they were more powerful took advantage and exploited our lack of understanding for the situation. And it really pisses me off because everyone knows that there are jerks out there who never pay the right amount and still don't get caught! Uggggggggakjlhdsfjklahsjdkf what a crappy system! But, all in all, that would be my biggest complaint and most uncomfortable situation from the whole trip.

End rant.

On a lighter note, here we are, drinking champagne on the plane home from Amsterdam! Goodbye for now, Holland!

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 at the Heksenwaag 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! and 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. 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...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!! the town was tiny and cute, just like the museum!

A tiny door in a tiny town

Adorable old house

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

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!

Visiting Gouda: And what is this? CHEESE! And what is this? CHEESE!

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 it worked out better to visit southern parts instead. 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. And one thing we definitely agreed on was cheeeeeeeeese!!! I've been to the Alkmaar market in Noord Holland but hadn't seen Gouda yet!

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

Gouda was covered in tourists. I learned that the cheese market is actually only open on Thursday mornings in July, a clear sign of a true tourist trap! Despite the crowds, it was a fun adventure and Abbe got to try poffertjes, tiny pancakes covered in powered sugar (my favorite treat!). 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 intense! 

Farmers and merchants bidding on masses of cheese.
 You can't buy just one, the wheels come it a set of 12!

How cute are their traditional outfits? Complete with clogs!

We visited the old weigh house and watched a demonstration on how to make cheese, kinda killed our appetite for the stuff.  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? How to they make cheddar cheese?" (I always feel so awkward when Americans speak slooooowly to foreigners!)

His 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!

I couldn't help but remember the Borat scene in the cheese isle. Since Carlos loves Borat and youtube here is something special for him!

Pilgrimage to the Kattenkabinet

On our way to Amsterdam we visited the cultural museum in Leiden and Abbe found a cat hiding in the bicycle rack, which she promptly chased and snuggled with! I love my cat but I don't consider myself a cat person like Abbe! haha! I’m impartial and for the most part uninterested in other people’s cats. I loved love cultural museum! they had a great collection of artifacts from old Dutch colonies and lots of other places. in the Mesoamerican room there was a jade encrusted skull! too cool! I was in heaven, but Abbe really needed to get her cat fix so it was just a quick stop. *note the Dutch lady in the background attempting not to laugh too hard at Abbe!*

I’m not really a big fan of Amsterdam in the summer. there are just waaaay too many tourists and annoying kids flocking there to eat psychedelic mushrooms and etc. I prefer to visit during calmer times so I can enjoy what the city has to offer without being completely bombarded by craziness... but since Abbe was my guest, I made a great sacrifice and headed over with her. she really, really wanted to see the kattenkabinet (she is obsessed with cats and this was mecca for her) plus, I needed to see this unusual place first hand! its some one's house filled with live cats, cat games, art of cats and even a dead skinned cat (don't ask me why). later I 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

Abbe chasing cats

yes, she definitely is cat crazy! hahah

Abbe's new friend

my favorite work of cat art (yes, that is a cat hissing and devouring a dead bird)

the grand finale...the dead cat with his live friend!! ahhhhhh

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Visiting Eindhoven and the caves of Maasctricht

Abbe and I stayed in Leiden for the weekend after my classes were over. On Monday morning we left Leiden and arrived in Eindhoven to visit our family friends Ellen and Carlos who are expats, a Dutch and Argentinian couple who also lives in Florida!

It's exciting to be here because I have a lot of childhood memories in this area as well as memories from growing up with their daughter back in Florida. Behind our friend's house there is an adorable petting zoo with baby animals that we were more than excited to meet.

That day, we visited Nuenen, 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 and a mix of different European atmospheres, Dutch...but not so Dutch! they even ride their bikes differently in the south! hahah. One our main point of interest were old mining caves that were used as shelters during WWII. the mining in this area dates back to the 12th century and the materials were used to build much of the city and it's churches. Inside, we felt like Indiana Jones!

Entrance to the caves

There were a lot of really neat cave paintings inside as well...

Here's Abbe enjoying the splendor of Dutch beer in Maastricht!

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