Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's the tourist island!

"Nej" "Jo!" "Nej..." "JO!!" Simon and I argued as we always do, and he seemingly loves... If not for the fact that I feel he encourages my my almost violent desire to take the opposite position of any stance, I would think he regretted teaching me that "Yeah" means "Yes," but "YO!" means an emphatic yes in terms of arguing. I think he was encouraging my bad habit (which he must secretly enjoy) in teaching me that one. I remember Stockholm 3 years ago and the alarmingly silly parallels of Stockholm for me then and now (shown below, me in Greta Garbo Square pretending to be an elephant both times):

This particular trip, Simon chose to take me to a place which had previously scared me off as a "tourist island." I had pridefully boasted having done every single thing one should do when in Stockholm, save for the uber-touristy items like tasting reindeer or visiting the aforementioned island of Gröna Lund. Upon his departure, a Canadian friend I met on the comedically pathetic boat hostel I stayed on took a photo with me in front, asking if I'd ever been. "Of course not!" I replied, unknowing that I'd later return and have a day to remember the rest of my life there.

Simon argued that it wasn't so much a tourist island, but more of a recreation island for Swedes. All I know is there's a boat in a museum, roller coaster, zoo, and more picnicking sunbathers than can be adequately accounted for without taking a 3 hour census.

Simon wanted to have such a picnic and knew I'd need supplies. Having just eased off the vegan kick I was still eager to load up on gurka (cucumber), tomater, vindruvor (grapes), sallad (lettuce), och olika frukte (and various fruits). Unwittingly, Simon packed one of my favorite Champagne bottles of all time, one I had grown rather attached to at Austin's downtown sushi joint, Kenichi. The bottle is called Deutz, and I had more than my fair share (typical). Simon had first tried to open the bottle himself, but I quickly snatched it away. We've got to leave such things to the pro's, and after a satisfying pop and fizz over my left hand, we laid under blankets of sunlight coyly shooing away black-headed geese prodding around in search of snacks. Admittedly, some parts of the small island reaked of geese shit, the hills overlooking boat ways, quaint architecture, and happy joggers made this little gem something I swiftly kicked myself for previously missing. Generally when I mention Stockholm, the first thing I hear former tourists bring up is, "Did you see the boat in the museum?! How did they get that in there?" Which refers to the famously sunken ship which was resurrected from the Baltic and cradled beneath the construction of a surrounding museum. Stuffed with produce, we passed the building and crunched through gritty paths until arriving at one of the largest, most insane looking constructions I'd ever stumbled upon (and later rode). The "Insane" as it were seemed like a fun and daring idea up until the moment my legs were dangling over the edge and I began to question the reliability of the machine's design. 2.5 seconds later? We'd survived and Simon seemed all but hell-bent on playing a game, but relented to let me play ringleader (also typical) and jumped into 4-hour queues for 4-second rides.

I tried to play my usual games of, "Spot the American, Guess Which is Brit?, and Definitely Scandinavian..." only to learn that there is something about adolescent females that throws me off completely. All were healthfully plump, over-accessorized, commanding attention, and had altered their natural hair colors in some way. Oh, Hanna Montana... is it possible your plastic pearls have infected those overseas as well? The most dangerous ride of all it seemed to me was the simple chain swing which seemed to deem my body weight and proportions unacceptable for its aerodynamics and I felt as though I'd surely tip into the water (or worst) onto the ground. I tried to look as brave as my six-year-old counterparts spinning around with me, but admittedly I was a bit scared. I lifted up my iPhone (which was tragically lost on a flight back from Germany) and snapped this photo of a small girl sitting in the rattling chains as we prepared for take-off. Maybe she was as scared as I was? Maybe she was just telling herself she was? Outwardly she perhaps felt as I did, brave and terrified all at once but electrified with excitement at being exactly where she was at that very moment.

In case you wanted more photos from the trip...

...before I add the rest of the stories.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lunch for Frukost

Lunch for frukost. That's we had. Lunch for breakfast almost every day, and I loved it. Having grown in the far reaches of Southeast Texas, bordering bayous and swimming in swamplands, I grew up on grits, gravy, green beans, and one other traditionally trashy staple. Breakfast for supper. The few times my mom would cook, and when I say "few" I mean pizza delivery guys knew us by name (as did McDonald's drive-thru workers), she would scramble up all the 69 cent Grade-A eggs we had, sprinkle them with Colby-jack cheese, pepper them with a vengeance, and make hash browns (pre-cooked of course). This would supplement our smörgåsbord of white bread toast, butter, and jelly (don't you dare call it jam). It was as gross, grossly unhealthy and at the same time, as heavenly good as such artery-clogging garbage might sound. Grease 'n grits, I chomped my way through supper, slurping it down with a near-grainy sugared sweet tea (iced naturally, but to us that was the only type of tea, so no need for specification). I'd swat at mosquitoes, then awaken to a bloated belly and feel both hungry and full at the same time again. Time has passed, and both tears and pounds have dropped from me. I now nurse an unnatural obsession with healthy food and breaking from my invisibly connected past which shows itself through in this one meal.

Having lunch for frukost instead of frukost for dinner (frukost meaning the Swedish word for breakfast). Simon would chop the cucumber, papprakor (red bell pepper), and set out the kanel (cinnamon) to go with min kaffe (always French-pressed). He'd fill the glass bottle with tap water, set lettuce-leaf-adorned plates on the table, and break off just enough knackebrod to keep me both happy and from feeling guilty at the American-demon, "Carbs." We'd eat healthily, lightly, and happily. We'd talk, and sit at a table... Things my family NEVER did! We'd play with Spotify (think of it as a better version of Pandora), make jokes about one another, and slowly work on his delicious, soft bread from the bakery 'round the corner. He'd use his ever practical cheese slicer to make micro-thin films of flavor for that bread and I'd heartily twist both his salt and pepper mill to my heart's content, trying to drench the tomat och gurka in as much sodium as one would need to have a full-blown heart attack by the age of 30.

I write this from the Stockholm-Arlanda airport, but I feel as though I've already arrived back "home." I just thought to myself, "Here," in America, "We rush and rush to do things. We have no time to eat healthily so we get junk food or calorie-laden meal bars, then take 2 hours out of our day for the gym or some boot-camp or that new Ab-Ercize video we got on the Home Shopping Network." We have no time for our friends, spouses, wives, husbands, kids, that book we're writing *guilty cough, those online courses we've been meaning to take, or even enjoying the sanity of our own life! Maybe we should eat breakfast. Simon said the ever-nagging phrase himself, "It's the most important meal of the day," and if like me... you don't necessarily like "breakfast," then by all means just say you're being Swedish, and have lunch.... For frukost.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Greatness of Grinda

How do you pronounce Skarsgård? It might help if you try getting a bit of knäckebröd stuck in your throat, and don't even think about pronouncing the "sk" like you would in English. When asked what the term meant, Simon replied "It's the Swedish archipelagos!" Then seemed surprise that I needed to know what that term meant as well. Grinda is part of the collection of islands (archipelagos) that surround Sweden, and is proud to offer nothing more than peace and quiet. Their website may boast that it's just one hour from the "madding crowd" of Stockholm, but I'd give it about 2 or even 2 and a half. We queued up for a boat just outside the national museum, staring across the water at the palace as we road out on a cloudy day. One doesn't need to purchase a ticket in advance, just hop on and pay before you hop off. I had a nice Grüner Veltliner shoved in my purse and idly sipped away the swaying commute. We bounced from island to island, depositing families to their tiny, tucked away houses and picking up vacationers like ourselves. The 2 hours felt like 3, or possibly 4 and we were let off at our final destination with a host of soon-to-be-drunk businessmen. We had no idea how to get to where we needed to go, but Simon assured me that there was nothing but our hotel on the island (save for 1 cafe, 1 hostel, and 100 boats). For so small an island, the menu varied enough (traditional Scandinavian of course) to keep me interested and there were enough wines to keep me occupied for several days had I intended to stay longer than just the 1. Our hotel/cabin was decorated in natural wood, bamboo, and then more wood. It was spacious, calming, and posted no door numbers, only pictures of birds and fish that corresponded to the pictures on each room's key-chain. Grinda's Wardhus had that ingeniously simple, beautiful Swedish design to it. No bathtub but a large, smart shower. No television, but a quiet view of little red houses and trees. We wandered on trails, naming flowers and searching for a "Bad" (Swedish for swimming area) so that Simon could "cool off" in what, a Texan, could only describe as frigid waters. Noting the signs which indicated Grinda was home to Sweden's only and most unusual serpent," I was cautious to say the least (think: frightened hipster girl in hot pink Ked's, crunching nervously through a forest looking down the entire time).

The next morning, our breakfast was included and I was surprised to learn that at Grinda, like Simon, they had lunch for breakfast too. It was your usual pastries, cracker bread, boiled eggs, yogurt, granola, jam, but then the Swedish add-on's of spicy mustard, red bell pepper, salted meats, cheeses, cucumber, and tomat. I consumed more than my fair share of coffee, tea, and watermelon then set out with Simon's camera snapping what I thought to be artistic photos of utterly astounding island. Soon we had to go and hiked through the woods to the other side of the island to await whatever ocean craft would swing by next. I got bored, and therefore mischievous (bad habits of mine) and decided to sneak down to the water to see if I could so much as stand in it. It went as well as you might think, but I must admit, the high summer sun did something to my southern skin that made the neither salty, nor sweet Swedish sea water feel as though my legs were being licked with cold breath. I remembered that I still had some small boxed wine I purchased at the Systembolaget in my purse, tiny, Italian adult juiceboxes really, and decided to use the Baltic as my own personal wine chiller. We weighed the wine down with rocks and I threatened to swim halfway across the sea if needed should a large boat's wake pry it from our makeshift refrigerator. The boat finally came, the sun refused to leave, and I fell asleep on a deck chair, once again, sleeping on Simon's shoulder.


Simon planned and prepared (and possibly prayed) that my trip would be a good one. Kungsholmen was part of that plan from the start. Boasting several "kitchens" in a single space, it's like a 5-star place meets a mall food court. That idea sounds just as terrifying to you as it did to me, but stay with me on this one. When not penned up in the Swedish winter (which I naturally assume is all other weeks save Midsummer) the people rush to be outdoors in any way, shape, form, and for any reason that they can imagine. I had always heard of "Sun-worshiping Swedes" but didn't truly grasp the term until now. If a cafe has outdoor seating? They're there. If there is an unoccupied patch of grass in the city? They're rolling up their pants and sleeves to bake in it. Situated on the water facing Södermalm, Kungsholmen is neither outdoors nor in. It's indoors when you want it to be, but outdoors otherwise. The ceiling is a patchwork of colored sticks, painted wood in the heated tropical colors that inspire the near-East cuisine. It's Asian? It's Swedish. There's sushi? But also beef. Do you want wasabi? Perhaps caviar and mayonnaise? It's beautiful, and the staff can't be beat service-wise (this is coming from the most difficult of difficult-to-please, mind you). Maybe it was the Champagne talking? Maybe it was the delicious food and kind waiter? Maybe it was the fact that Simon probably paid his rent in our small dinner? I say it's worth it, if not for the cuisine, just for the breathtakingly beautiful walk there (you pass some very famous, historic Swedish sites along the boardwalk lined with boats). Get there before sunset, but don't leave until after, unless of course, you came during Midsummer. That means you'd leave at 3 a.m., and that would be madness.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mariefred for Midsummer

There's waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and there's waking up having fallen off the foot of the bed into a dustbin filled with dirty needles and feces. That's how I awoke. Disgusting? It was, but that's how I felt. Having traveled for about 21 hours (including airport time) and sleeping for almost none, I was awakened at the crack of god-knows-when to board a subway to a train to a steam train. The steam train was a tourist novelty that our half-English, half-Swedish friend insisted upon taking. It was located in a village miles from any bathrooms, convenience stores, and human life... save for a very angry old drag queen (I'm not making this up) who crept out of his house to yell at small childen, "Det ar min blommar!!" Apparently he had flowers, they were his personal flowers, and the Midsummer-dressed children wanted to pick them. He was not amused by this.

Between weary scowls and complaints as to taking every form of travel save the ever sturdy camel, our steam train finally arrived. I attempted to compensate for the lack of sleep on Simon's shoulder, finding myself jarred and my head wrecked against a wooden wall every two seconds. Lucky for me, I could hardly notice the pain of my travel worn head being pounded against hard surfaces because I was too busy recovering from the constant ear-piercing shriek of the train's whistle. Our friends couldn't be more amused, and I couldn't have been more ready to murder a group of people as then. Needless to say, I did not put my best foot forward. We finally stopped (THANK GOD), and ordered some traditional Midsummer dishes, all of which involved herring and some sort of mayonnaise. Apparently in Sweden all holidays, including Christmas, involve some sort of herring and some sort of mayonnaise. Together.

Having endured over 40 days as a vegan (and arguably anorexic) it was a fight to get me to eat it, but a joy to endure the fat suffering. I drank no less than 5 gallons of water realizing that in comparison to my Swedish friends, the relentless Texas heat had taught me to replenish my thirst continuously. Much to my dismay, our meal caused us to miss the ever-famous "SmåGrodorna" song, but my disappointment quickly dissipated with the arrival of our steam boat (yes, Simon's friends were really into steam travel this day). We leisurely ate and drank our way, salmon and punschrulle all the while, passing up island after island until we arrived home. Stockholm. It had been a sleepy, white-wine soaked day dotted with families and little girls donning flower wreaths in their hair. A good day. En glad midsommar.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Champagne Bar

I'm at least 7 floors above Slussen overlooking gay party-boats, edges of Gamla Stan, and the seemingly endless waters of a Swedish coast. Island by island, Södermalm is perhaps the best (or at least a personal favorite). Shortly after the aforementioned catastrophes of connections bouncing from Austin to Oslo to Stockholm, I was here at last . Simon had a special surprise for me, and after breathlessly climbing what seemed to an American as an endless number of stairs, we arrived.

It was white and simple, what little "embellishments" were mere accents to the plain charm of a quaint bar that opened up into what appeared to me as also a plain, simple, and quaint balcony. My first step outside of the door was welcomed by sea breeze, not sweet, not salty, but the inexplicable "langom" I kept hearing of. I wasn't overwhelmed with seagulls and wind, nor beaches, nor any hint at the aroma of fish. Just sweet, clean air gently tousling my travel-weary tresses and gently tugging at our cotton textiles. Simon was no longer at my side but I was too high (both in physical distance from the earth and also from the enjoyment of our view) that I hadn't noticed until he suddenly reappeared with two gently fizzing champagne flutes. Moet & Chandon (the French kind, the real stuff) seemed to dominate both this and, as I would soon discover, other bars all over Sweden. Studies prove that there are upwards of 10 million bubbles in each glass of champagne and each brushed the tip of my nose and soared to my head making me happier to bathe in the sunlight. Everyone around wore sunglasses and sandals, welcoming the brilliant rays (apparently a fleeting experience in Stockholm). I felt home, I felt happy. I hope we go back.