Category Archives: Sweden

My Saddest Post Yet – Hej Då Sverige

When I first went to Sweden it was with high hopes and excitement for all the good things to come. I was little prepared for what did come – on and off unemployment, loneliness, boredom, frustration, forced frugality, and all the other bad vibes you get when you apply for well in excess of 100 jobs and can’t even get hired to walk dogs (seriously? FFS!) and most of the time don’t even get the courtesy of a reply. Did my PhD count for nothing?

However even life gets sick of being a bitch after a while, and eventually a break through came. Friends entered my life, and somehow, Sweden worked its way under my skin. I learned to love the smell of autumn in the air, the crisp, cold, clear mornings. I looked forward to the snow arriving in winter to lighten things up and so I could cross country ski. The novelty of being outdoors cross country skiing or ice skating in -10 or -20 degrees C never quite left me. The anticipation of the first spring flowers and tightly rolled leafs on trees announcing winter was leaving and summer hadn’t forgotten us, the endless hours of day light in summer. I also learned to loathe the long hours of darkness in winter, and light candles to make it easier, and the constantly, never ending, thaw-freeze of the snow that left a slick of ice every morning. I learned to live with tunnelbana rides with strangers who thought you were a weirdo for accidentally making eye contact, the joggers who would stare straight past you rather than acknowledge you, black clothing, pretentious Östermalm people and rudeness from strangers. And somehow, even the bits I didn’t like, I actually in some weird way, learned to like as part of the quirkiness of Stockholm. But mostly, more than anything, it was the people I shared these moments with, my friends (and M), who made me fall in love with all the different facets of Sweden.

We knew when we arrived in Sweden that it wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. We knew a few months in advance that we were going to be leaving, we just didn’t know where to. And then, eventually, we did know where to, and we even had a date.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “the precious present”, referring to the fact that the only reality is right now, so live in the moment. Well that’s a darn hard ask when you know you are leaving a place, and are torn by the fact. Your head is trying to adjust to the fact that you must face new challenges in another new place all over again, while your heart is firmly stomping it’s feet and telling you to enjoy as much as you can while you are still there. I managed somehow to find a balance between these two states – when I was with my friends, there was no where else I would rather be, enjoying easy laughs and conversation, but when we had to start dealing with the reality – moving boxes, packing, phone contracts, telling work – my head stepped in and helped me cope by once again telling me to look forward to the new challenges and opportunities ahead of me. Coping mechanisms. It’s a bizarre state. You start to feel partly gone already, while still being there. You go through your clothes and shoes and all your belongings, and ask yourself do you really need it. You give away a lot of stuff. You realise you had a lot of “stuff” – exactly that, just stuff – that you can live without. You slowly break down your world around you and pack it into boxes. The only thing you can’t pack and take with you are your friends (but oh you guys so know I would have packed you all if I could!).

For me, saying goodbye felt that it went on for a long time, too long in fact. I started to get emotionally tired. I was going on holiday with my parents and my workmates would take vacation and not return before I left, so saying goodbye started almost 2 months before we left. It is strange to say goodbye to people you see every day when you are returning to the same place for weeks more to come. It doesn’t feel real. It’s hard to imagine that your life as you know it won’t exist anymore.

But some of my hardest goodbyes came on our last full weekend in Stockholm. Some of my closest friends decided to have a little Hej då Sverige party, combined with a kräftkiva (crayfish party) because M and I would be missing out on this August tradition.

Food

Kräftkiva food, nom nom!

I’m not a big crier, but needless to say, the girls got me crying. It was the absolutely unexpected presentation of gifts that got me started. It made it real. It was possibly one of the most fun and saddest evenings combined into one.  Impromptu karaoke concerts belted out at full volume of my drunken voice (compliments Amy Ma!) – showed me how comfortable I felt and how accepted I was. Having so much fun with people you are so comfortable with and know you can just be yourself because they accept you, and knowing it is probably going to be the last time you have them all in one place is damn hard!

So to you girls who made my life in Sweden so special (and you know who you are, even if you’re not in the picture below), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made every day easier and became my family away from home. You touched me with your openness and acceptance, and I know I have built friendships that will last a life time. I will miss you all and endeavour to constantly, ruthlessly, encourage you to move to Vancouver with me!

xxx

Love you guys (and you other guys who aren’t in this picture too!).

Så hej då och så lange Sverige, jag ska saknar dig. Och tacksåmycket för alla. A little piece of me has turned Swedish.

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I’ve Come Full Circle

When I first started this blog, my aim was to write for one year, capturing my life in Sweden from midsommar to midsommar. Well I’ve come full circle and now it’s time to write about my final midsommar in Sweden. However, don’t fret, I will be continuing this blog, so if you enjoy reading it, my sporadic post entries will continue in their sporadic, random way.

Midsommar this year was lovely. I invited all of my nearest and dearest friends who were going to be staying in Stockholm for the event (many/most people leave the city headed for the archipelago and other wonderful (west coast) destinations for midsommar). It was a very casual, slightly less traditional affair compared to our last couple of years. We arranged beforehand who would bring what, so we had enough of all the “right” foods (by now if you’ve been following this blog you know the drill – herring of many different assortments, knäckebröd (hard breads) and cheese, potatoes, boiled eggs and caviar etc…. plus the strawberry cake, yum!) and of course beer and wine to wash it down! Oh, did I forget to mention the snaps? Yip, some of that alcohol/rocket fuel to chase down some of the fish…

As we were staying in the city this year, I arranged for everyone to go to Djurgården, near Rosendals (click here for a google map). Well, in fact, all I did was suggest we meet at the blue gates and walk in and find somewhere nice to sit and picnic. There was no contingency plan, no plan B for if the weather turned sour (which it ultimately does almost every midsommar) but this year we were blessed with near perfect sunshine.

Midsommar

Colourful, sunny, happy – what more could one ask for midsommar.

A rugby ball found its way to the picnic, and kept a few people entertained for quite some time before the food came out. After the food, it was also used as a way to burn off some energy and make room for more food.

Rugby

Rugby?

A set of kubb also made it’s way to the picnic, much to the amusement of many of us. The main aim of kubb is to knock over the evenly spaced wooden blocks of the opposing team (sounds easy, but it’s not actually that easy, especially after a few snaps), and then finally knock over the “King” block in the middle. You have to throw the sticks in a very particular way, and this makes it a bit more of a challenge.

Kubb

A game of kubb.

This was also my parents first midsommar experience, and sadly, my last (for the foreseeable future at least).

Excellent company, great food, loads of sunshine, a little wine and snaps, some light exercise… what a fine midsommar!


Mariefred and Gripsholms Slott

We made three attempts at taking the boat out to Mariefred, where Gripsholms Slott (castle) is located.

The first effort was thwarted as I woke up feeling a bit off colour, and then spent the day hugging Mr. Porcelain (I thought only kids got these 24 hour tummy bugs, not adults, but I seem to be afflicted by such things about once a year). I think mum and dad were perhaps happy to have a day off from holidaying. We re-attempted this trip 2 days later, on a Monday, without checking the schedule, because it was high tourist season so of course the boats would be running every day. Ahhh, wrong. I should have known this seeing as the museum where I work is not open to the public on a Monday. It is very common in fact for public entertainment places to be closed on a Monday, so if you’re ever planning any museum/boat trip etc., on a Monday – check it’s open! We took the tunnelbana (subway) to the boats to discover, nope, we’re not going today.

The third time, we were in luck.

M was all amped because he planned to take his road bike on the boat with us and when mum and dad and I returned by boat in the late afternoon, he was going to bike back to Stockholm, somewhere around 140km I think. So the bike came with us… everywhere.

The boat trip out there takes about 3.5 hours. And it’s not just any old boat, it’s a steamship! How cool is that!! (Ignore the environmental destruction caused by burning coal in this post please!).

SS Mariefred

The steamship, SS Mariefred, that takes you out to Mariefred and Gripsholms Slott.

Having seen on other boat trips how quickly the prime seats get snatched up, we got there about 30 minutes early… along with quite a few others! But we got seats on the upper deck, on the outside, tucked in just behind the wheel cabin. We saw the captain of the boat. He was dressed in his best steam ship captains outfit, dark blue jacket and pants, complete with cap, and he looked about as old as the boat. I guess there are not so many skippers who know how to drive these things anymore. Sadly I didn’t get a picture. We had a beautiful day for it, super sunny, and even sitting outside, we were so sheltered and it was lovely.

Västerbron

Approaching Västerbron (the West Bridge literally translated) on our way out of the city.

Grippsholms Slott

Approaching Gripsholms Slott on the boat.

Gripsholms Slott is sort of the main attraction in Mariefred. Mariefred itself is a very cute, quaint little village, but the main reason people go there is to see the castle. It has a wealth of history (if you want to know more click here) and today houses a museum. We contented ourselves with a walk around the outside of the castle, and sitting in the castle grounds to eat our lunch. You do get to walk through part of the forecourt, I guess it would be called, and have a nosy around the outer part of the castle there, which we did. M and I have both been to this castle museum a few years ago.

Castle grounds

Entering the castle grounds – M and his bike!

Up close

Getting up close to the castle.

The day passed remarkably fast. We had time for a quick dip in the water – well M and I decided to take a quick dip, while dad just dipped his feet in – before we had to re-board the boat. M set off on his 140 km bike ride home, while we sat in luxury on the boat. We had decided to take dinner on the boat on the way home, as it is 3.5 hours and leaves around 4:30 pm, so crosses right over dinner time. We had put our names down for a seat on the out going boat trip, and when they announced we could enter the restaurant, I could see why one had to sign up early. People went rushing for the doors of the restaurant – and remember, this is a little steam ship, it’s not a full blown restaurant, and seating capacity is limited, so much so that they serve dinner in two shifts. I was a bit concerned they might have over booked the tables, but as it turned out, the majority of the people had not booked so were turned away. That left us and those who had booked ahead to eat some yummy food, in what turned out to be rather cramped style, and it was also boiling hot, given the hot food, hot day and lack of a breeze. But it was good to get to experience dinner on a steam ship.

 


Vaxholm

I tried once, a few years ago, to go to Vaxholm with my sister right before Christmas, by taking one of the boats. We got up early with plans to catch an early boat to maximise our day, only to discover that the sea ice was already too thick for the boats to go there.

This time I didn’t make that mistake (well, it was summer). We jumped a boat in the city and headed out for a day of looking around Vaxholm. Check out Vaxholmsbolaget for more details on the boats, schedules, prices etc.

Boat to Vaxholm

A typical boat that travels out to Vaxholm.

We passed a beautiful boat under full sail on the way, which was one of the many fabulous views we had as we left the city, alongside Gröna Lund the amusement park, Djurgården, Lidingö….

Full sail

Under full sail.

Vaxholm is on the outskirts of Stockholm, but on the inner edge of the Stockholm archipelago (see a map here). It is a picturesque little town, although often referred to as a city, of somewhere near 5000 inhabitants. It can be accessed by boat and also by bus from Stockholm. People commute from Vaxholm into the city for work every day. In summer, it becomes quite a draw card for those wanting to get out of the city and into the archipelago, without having too much time to do so (Vaxholm is really only the start of the archipelago). Most of the houses are wooden because until 1912 wood was the only material allowed to be used for building there, presumably to preserve the characteristic look of the town.

Bike

Bike leaning against a red house.

Hus 14

House number 14.

We stopped and enjoyed fika (coffee and cake) at a small cafe, that was very busy. It had a buffet of cakes to choose from – yum! We managed to avoid the days only downpour by lingering over fika, before heading back out into the sunshine to take a few hours to look through the museum at the fortress.

Cake 1

HUGE cake!Cake 2Cake mmmm yum.

It is also famous for its fortress, which was the last (first?) line of defense between Stockholm and invaders coming in via the archipelago.  It was originally built in 1544 by Gustav Vasa (who was Gustav Vasa?). However over the years it has been added to and greatly changed. Today it houses a museum showcasing Swedish Coastal Defense and Navy, as well as the defense offered by the fort over the years. It was a good strategic placement for defending the city because the narrow strip of water beside it was the main entry point into the inner archipelago and thus easily defended. This museum came complete with movement triggered noises which did make a person jump the first time they were encountered, and clearly a kid-friendly aspect to it also.

Monster

What’s odd in this picture?

We ended our museum outing (another museum, good work mum and dad) by finding a quiet spot to sit in the sun, eat our picnic lunch and enjoy watching the boats cruise by. Very relaxing – in fact, so much so that we almost missed the last small boat of the day connecting the fort to Vaxholm, whoops! But we made it. We took the bus back to Stockholm to get a different view of the route to Vaxholm.


Birka and Vikings

For most people, when you think of Sweden, somewhere in the gallery of your mind, you conjure up an image of Vikings – long pony tails, big, buff, blond, bearded men, buxom women, hats with horns… That, at least is the image I get, and I think I blame it on Asterix, that funny cartoon… However, this is not the true image of Vikings, as we learnt when we headed out to Birka for the day.

Birka is an historical Viking settlement, a boat ride away from Stockholm (for details of getting there, click here). Originally founded in the 9th century, Birka was Sweden’s first real town. Historians have done a great job of preserving/reconstructing this town. There are numerous archaeological sites, from whence a great deal of information has come. You get off the boat and there is the option of a museum guided tour (yes there is a little museum) in English – excellent!

Mälarstrand

View along Mälarstrand as we depart the city by boat, into Lake Mälaren.

Museum

Reconstruction of a scene from the village in the museum.

Here we learnt that our images of Vikings are largely misguided, and in fact, most were fishermen, hunters and traders, with Birka being the central hub of all of this activity at the time. Of course, there were wars as well, but I don’t think the Vikings had a monopoly on war. We headed outside a bit away from the museum, and it was pointed out that the humps on the ground were in fact ancient burial mounds. These burial mounds contain anywhere from a single, but more commonly, multiple bodies.

Burial mound

An example of a burial mound at Birka.

After this short guided tour we were let loose to explore the island that Birka is located on (called Björkö). We walked around for a few hours, and found a little church, sheep (my goodness, no! I thought NZ had dibs on all the sheep?), reconstructed houses and fences how they were built way back in the 9th century, and a sail boat built as per the technology of the 9th century.

Church

Outside the church at Birka.

Inside church

Inside the church.

Inside church 2

Another view inside the church.

Viking boat

A viking sailing boat built as it would have looked in the 9th century,


A PhD Defence and Party

I’m always a little surprised by how many people are not sure what a PhD is. On the other hand, when I was at high school and an undergrad, I didn’t really know what it was either. I know many of you know very well what a PhD is, but if you don’t here’s an easy break down based on my experience/knowledge through the NZ Uni system in sciences.

You go to university. You do a 3 or 4 year undergrad degree (depends on your uni/course/country if it is 3 or 4 years). A typical path after this, if you want to study further, is a Masters degree. This is usually a 2 year degree, involving once again sitting in classes, albeit small classes, with intense amounts of work to do, and at the same coming up with an idea for a project, collecting the data for the project, analysing the data, and writing up a dissertation/thesis i.e., a long report about what you did, how you did it, what you found and what it means. A PhD comes after the Masters. It can range from 3 – 5 years of study, again depending on uni/course/country. It usually doesn’t involve sitting in classes any more (although I’ve heard in the US you still have to take some classes at this level, and I know in Sweden you have to take short courses, up to a certain number of points). You come up with an idea of something you’d like to study – or you come up with an idea in conjunction with your supervisor – collect the data, analyse it, write it up, and try and publish peer-reviewed articles from it.  You are essentially working as a “scientist” without being paid (unless you’re in Sweden where they pay you to do your PhD). At the end, the work, put together in a book called a thesis, is read by about 2 or 3 poor suckers who have to wade through 3 – 5 years of your work/writing, and you get some feedback, things to tidy up etc… In Sweden (and in many countries in fact, although I managed to skip this part) you do an oral defence, that is, you present your work, and then get asked loads of questions by a panel of usually 3 examiners (the same suckers who had to read your work). It varies somewhat from uni to uni and especially from country to country. Basically it is a few years of really intense work, where you start to be treated like someone who can think for themselves.

So when you finish it, it feels pretty good.

As I’ve mentioned before, M and I went to Sweden so he could do his PhD there. The Swedish system typically has a 5 year PhD, but as M had done extra courses during his Masters, he was ok to do his PhD in 4.5 years. He worked a lot. He worked late nights. He worked weekends. He went away to conferences (a lot!). Sometimes I’d wonder when I would get a chance to see him. Anyway, then he finished. He had to do the aforementioned oral defence. I missed this as I had my own exam on at the same time (I did one paper in the year for interest and the exam time clashed with his defence – seriously!). So I have nothing to write about that, except, apparently, he did very well, and he passed. 😀

Dr.

The new Dr!

In Sweden it is pretty standard to hold a party directly after the defence – directly as in the same day at least. I can understand people want to celebrate the achievement, but I don’t think many people realise the extra stress added at a critical time of finishing up in trying to organise something like this. As it turned out, M’s party worked out just beautifully. A typical party is quite formal, with speeches etc… M hates that sort of thing so he deliberately chose a venue that was casual and laid back – Cafe Sjöstugan on Brunnsviken (highly recommend by the way – click the name to see more about it).

M guessed about 40 – 50 people would attend, and arranged for dinner for everyone, or rather, discussed with the cafe owner what she could do for dinner. The cafe specialises in organic/ecologically grown produce, right down to the wine coming from a local producer.  Everything is “home-made” i.e., cooked there, so it has a real home-touch to it. The setting on the side of Brunnsviken is amazing, surrounded by trees, out of hearing range from the road. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere to it, and on sunny days you can sit outside. The table settings were wild flowers picked that day. Now rather than write so much more I will let pictures tell the story, with a little bit of text in between.

Table Cafe Sjöstugan.

A table in the cafe all set for dinner.

Fabric decorations

Little fabric, hand made decorations are arranged on the window sills, another feature giving the cafe a home touch and keeping it casual.

A gift

A gift for the new Dr., contributed to by work mates, friends and myself.

Speech

Despite keeping it low key, some speeches were inevitable.

Congratulations Dr. D!


Meet the Parents

After almost 7 years together, M’s and my parents had still not met. It was simply a matter of geography – our parents live literally half a world away from each other. M and I have had many conversations where we entertain ourselves with how a “meet the parents” scenario might go, both of us over emphasising various little traits and the awkwardness they could produce. In reality however, the biggest barrier would be the language – both sets of parents have different native languages, and if anything, communication might be a problem.

So when the opportunity finally arose for our parents to meet, we had one last giggle at how awkward things could turn out, then sucked it up, accepted that our parents were adults, had met many people from different countries in their lives, had coped well without our interference for 60+ years, and then got on with it. My parents were here in Stockholm to visit us. M’s parents were coming up from Germany as he was defending his PhD thesis and having a PhD party (more on that later). So the meeting ground was neutral – our apartment. It couldn’t have been easier.

I’d like to regale you with some funny tales and awkward moments, but they just didn’t happen. Everyone was really excited to meet – I think M and I were the most nervous! While there were a few communication break down moments, with both M and I on hand to either translate (well, that was M’s job) or simplify the English, or remind mum and dad not to use so much Kiwi slang, it all went smoothly. I think the biggest thing to mention, that even rates this as something worth writing about, is that it took almost 7 years for our folks to meet. I wonder if that is a record?

The nice thing about our parents meeting was that later that evening at M’s PhD party when both sets of parents didn’t know anyone, they naturally gravitated towards one another, having become friends earlier in the day. Now my next question is, how long until they meet again?

Parents