Monday, December 15, 2008

Sta: Lucia

Hej Hej,

Well, Saturday was December 13th or Sta: Lucia day in Sweden. In most schools and work places the day would have been celebrated on Friday, with singing, lussekatt (saffron buns) and glögg (mulled wine)(well, maybe no glögg at the schools :) ). I attended B.'s departmental Luciatåg (Lucia train) on Friday. B. was dressed as a stjärngossar (star boy) and participated in the singing.

Here's a clip of the singing...

Saint Lucia/Lucy Day is celebrated on Dec. 13th, which was the shortest day of the year in the unreformed Julian Calendar. Lucia is one of the few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran church. The Church of Sweden is Lutheran and most Swedes are members of the church - although I'm not sure how many actually attend church on a regular basis. The story of the saint comes from Sicily (so it beats me why they always try to find a blonde Lucia in Sweden, unless Sicilians are known for their blonde hair???). Lucia means light, and perhaps that's why Swedes chose to continue celebrating this saint. Winter is incredibly dark here, so anything that brings light has got to be good.

Generally, young girls dress in white robes with one girl chosen to be Lucia. Lucia wears a crown of candles (real candles!). And the remaining girls hold candles. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Luica's life when she was sentenced to be burned (she had to stabbed to death instead). Boys also participate but they dress up as stjärngossar (like B. although lab coats are not necessarily the official costume of a starboy), tomtenissar (Santa's little helpers in red Santa-like suits) or as gingerbread men.

If you'd like to read the full story of Lucia Day you can find it here and for more background on the Saint herself you can check out this link: St. Lucy.

Today, the sun is shining, for the first time in what feels like a month, although I'm told it peeped out briefly last Sunday, but since I was in Stockholm on Sunday I must have missed it! I'm going to try and get out and enjoy a moment in the sun while I can. I hear its snowing in Vancouver, joy of joys. The gods must be trying to spite me :)

6 days until lift off...
God Jul,

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A little bit of silliness

Hej hej,

If we can't laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

A little bit of silliness to cheer you up on a grey day...(at least in Uppsala)

Vi ses snart! Twelve days to go!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jul i Sverige

Hej Hej,

Last weekend was a busy one. It was B.'s 30th b-day on Sunday so we went bowling (alongside about 4 little kids b-day parties - I just love watching little kid's bowling with giant 10-pin bowling balls) for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Then the group of us went to watch the fireworks. No, no I didn't organize them for B.'s b-day, it was just an advent celebration since Sunday was the 1st Sunday of advent. After that we had our bowling buddies along with about 7 more friends over for a sushi and wing supper. It was fun and although B. missed his friends from home he had a great time celebrating with all his new friends. Click here for some shots from the day!

Christmas (Jul) is a pretty big deal in Sweden. The first weekend of advent everyone puts up their stars in their windows and lights the first of four advent candles. The next candle is lit on the following Sunday, the third on the third Sunday, etc. Many families get together to celebrate the first of advent and attend a Christmas market or some event in their town. My friend, J. forwarded me this article about Christmas in Sweden... I thought it was an interesting read, especially since J. and I are headed to see nötknapparen (The Nutcracker) at the Stockholm Opera House tomorrow. It will be interesting to see the Swedish take on it.

Hope everyone is well! Two weeks until the trip home! Yikes!
Trevlig helg,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Det snöade!


Well, the dusting of snow has turned into mounds. We woke up to a bit of snow on Saturday morning and it started again during our drive back from Falun on Saturday. It continued to snow most of Sunday and all day Monday. And we are now living in a winter wonderland (for at least a few days, the temperature is supposed to rise again on the weekend).


Sunday morning looking out over our square

Monday afternoon while waiting for the bus

Today, I went on a walk to try and capture how much snow has fallen - probably a foot/33 cm since Saturday.

Falun Gruva

Hej Hej!

Last weekend B., S. and I drove up to Falun to check out the Falun Copper Mine. Falun is a town of around 55,000 and played a significant role in the history of Sweden.

The copper (and iron, gold and silver) mine is a Unesco World Heritage Site because of its "historical industrial landscape" and because of the fact that mining has been going on at "Copper Mountain" since 500 AD. Can you imagine?????!!!!!

The Mine is both a pit mine (as you can see from the photo) and an underground mine. Originally the miners would mine through firesetting. Setting large fires against the walls of the mine until the rock face would crack. They would then take their hammers and chisels and/or sledgehammers and chip away at the rock until they had some ore to send up to the surface.

Apparently the pit mine used to be three smaller pits but in 1687 an extensive cave-in took place. The galleries and chambers of the mine collapsed down to a depth of 1000 feet along with the rock walls that divided the three pits. Luckily this occurred around midsummer, one of the few times of the year that the miners had off, so not a single person was killed.

The minerals in the water of the mine preserve things very well. In one of the chambers, the staff put a Christmas tree (because the chamber was called the Christmas Gift - due to the fact that a large deposit was found there at Christmas time) five years ago. The tree is dead but it still is green and has all its needles. An even more impressive tale of preservation involves a miner named Mats. Mats was trying to finish up some work one evening and ended up being the last one in the mine. Unfortunately a rock slide occurred and he ended up dying in the mine. Unfortunately no one knew where he had been working so the body wasn't found. Forty two years later in the early 1800s a crew of miners came across a body. They brought it up to the surface and everyone was trying to figure out who this person was. There hadn't been any miners reported missing and the miner looked as though he had only been dead for a few days although his clothes were old-fashioned. The mystery continued until an older lady came up to see what the kerfuffle was about and she exclaimed, "Thats Mats!". He had been her fiance and it was quite a shock to see him so well preserved while she of course had aged. He had taken on some fluids though so he was a bit puffy and today the story of "Fet Mats" (Fat Mats) is in many school books across Europe.

There are over 4000 working sites in the mine and the deepest shaft that still exists is 680 feet deep and is bisected by an enormous wooden wall put in place to protect the pumps behind it. It is presumed to be the world's highest wooden construction. The miners would ride 7-8 at a time standing on the edge of this barrel going down the shaft and then have to swing out to the ledges and walkways and job off. They put up the wall so the barrel didn't hit the pumps on its back swing.

The copper mine was very important to Sweden. The glory days of the Mine coincided with the period during which Sweden was established as a great power. And to a large part this position was financially based on the export of copper from Falun. At times the mine accounted for two thirds of the copper needed in Europe. The mine closed in 1992 but is now a museum and heritage site. In addition from the leftover iron bits they make the famous Falun Red Paint, which you will have seen on some of the houses in my photos! The paint factory is still in operation.

We look a bit like linebackers in these photos, but it was drippy down there so it was nice to have the capes!

Trevlig tisdag!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Beginning of the End

Hej hej,

Well, it has finally happened...snow has fallen and has stuck. Yuck. This truly marks the end of fall and the start of winter (even if the below zero temperatures had been signaling winter's arrival for at least a week). I had been hoping for a mild winter like last year but it seems that that my luck has run out. This was the view from our window this morning (we live above shops in a square).

The snow means that I'll probably be selling my bike earlier than I had anticipated. I got a bus pas yesterday so that will be my new mode of transportation.

This is also the start of our last month in Sweden. We are in the process of figuring out what we are going to sell, give away and take with us (not much). We're also trying to squeeze in a few more day trips to see some sites that we haven't made it to yet. So watch for a few more messages from Sweden yet!

Trevlig torsdag!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Copenhagen vs. Stockholm

Hej Hej!

So last week our friend, J., arrived for a visit and almost immediately we took off to Copenhagen. B. and I had already planned the trip before we knew she was coming but the three of us decided to go and after buying tickets with one airline that went bust we eventually made it there on airline number 2.

Reading the guidebook for Denmark, it made an outrageous claim. It said that Copenhagen was the most beautiful city in Scandinavia and that Stockholm shouldn't argue!!! Hmmmm. I had to wait to see Copenhagen to form an opinion but after spending 2 days there I would have to say that I remain faithful to Stockholm. Here are my reasons...

1. Stockholm is surrounded by water. It sits on 14 islands and the water is an integral part of the city, whereas in Copenhagen its more of a side thought.

2. Stockholm seems slightly cleaner to me (but I may be biased).

3. I like the old town of Stockholm better than the old part of Copenhagen (although it is beautiful too!)

I guess I have to be loyal to Stockholm, but for those of you who have yet to visit it, its definitely worth a visit. I believe that it is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

While in Copenhagen we ate well. J., B. and I had a couple of very nice dinners, and we managed to fit a "fika" in most days. The first day we visited J. and R. (also of Saskatoon via Kamloops) and had coffee with them at their house. That pretty much took the afternoon and we got lost on our way there on the bus (but only momentarily). The next day we went to the "Bodies" exhibit that has been traveling around the world but was currently on in Copenhagen. They had some amazing displays complete with real parts from real people - including cross sections of bodies - very, very interesting. The afternoon was spent sight-seeing with Ben's colleague, who took us on a canal tour (where most of our photos are from) and up the Round Tower. We saw the Little Mermaid on the canal tour and while the guidebook suggested we would be disappointed I wasn't. I thought she was lovely. Our last day was spent wandering around the streets, checking out the fancy dept. stores and visiting the outside of the castle and a round church. The weather was not the best but it wasn't terrible either so we did ok.

Some interesting facts I learned while touring around Stockholm with J.: 47% of the MPs in the Swedish parliament are women. The only country to have a higher percentage of women in parliament is Rwanda and that is mainly due to the fact that they have a 50/50 quota in place. Second interesting fact, in the Stockholm City Council 52 of 101 seats are held by women. Pretty impressive, don't you think!

J. left yesterday and I have spent the last two days recovering. No seriously I was tired :) Now I'm ready to start getting organized for the move back and for Christmas (and B.'s 30th!)

Here are a few shots from our week! Photos

The days got shorter by half an hour in the last week. I am not impressed. The city has decided to put on a light show for the whole month of November to try and counter the dark days. I just hope the weather improves otherwise I might be a gloomy girl come December.

Vi hörs!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Homeward Bound


Although the news travel fast there still may be one or two people left in the world who aren't aware that we are moving back to Vancouver. You heard me right. After 6.5 years of living in various places - Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Uppsala - we have decided to spend at least a few years in our hometown. B. got offered a post-doc at UBC with a very widely respected prof in microbiology and when we come back for Christmas its to stay. I'm still working on the job front, but I do have a few leads, well, just one so far, but I'm working on it. We already have an apartment lined up for Jan. 1st. We will be living at Arbutus and 10th. And guess what! It's just around the corner from a Swedish bakery so we'll be able to enjoy semlor in February, and perhaps even the odd princesstårta. Vad kul!

You might wonder how I discovered that it was right around the corner from a Swedish bakery, and so I'll tell you. The other day I found this website where you can calculate the walkability of your neighbourhood (not sure if this will work outside of North America - sorry international friends). You type in your address including city and province and it will show you all the shops, gyms, parks, etc. in your neighbourhood and calculate a score, which pretty much indicates whether or not you should be walking everywhere! This is the website: Our new neighbourhood scored a 88/100 = very walkable. My dad's house on the other hand scored a 17/100 = car dependent (although I noticed they didn't include the nearby vegetable/convenience store, which is very walkable, on their map). Just a fun waste of time, plus maybe you'll find some interesting shop near your house - like a Swedish bakery!

Other exciting news! A friend from Saskatoon is coming to visit us!! She just decided last week and is coming to stay from Nov. 4-12. We're all going to Copenhagen together, so it should be a fun trip. Now I just have to figure out what we're going to do...

Well, time to get out of my housecoat and get ready for work. I actually have work today, which now feels like an inconvenience since I haven't worked in so long :p
Hope all is well with you!
Trevlig tisdag!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Fall Wedding


Yesterday was a busy day. We attended both a christening and a wedding (and all for one family). The christening was for the son of our friend's C. and H. It was held at one of the oldest churches in Uppsala (practically next door to the cathedral). It was pretty similar to a Canadian christening, although it was in Swedish :p Here are a few shots from the christening.

The happy family!

After the christening we headed to Värmlands Nation for a fika, which included smörgåstårta and cakes. At this point we had some time to kill as the wedding didn't start until 4:30pm. Most people went home and we decided to walk home as the weather was nice and we wanted to enjoy the fall scenery. B. also wanted to get in a quick nap before the evenings festivities. Here are a few shots from our walk home.

A pathway of leaves

The wedding was held in the Cathedral (which is humongous). There were only about 75-90 people there so we sat in a few seats at the very front by the alter (I think a few tourists sat in on the ceremony too :) ). In Sweden, the bride and groom walk into the wedding together so that everyone knows that they are both coming willingly to marry. They are followed by any attendants they might have. The ceremony was nice (again in Swedish) and some of the passages were easily translatable as they are typical passages from a English ceremony, e.g. Corinthians "Love is...""Kärlek är..." Singing the psalms was a bit trickier as we didn't know the rhythms or the words.

After the service we walked down to another Nation, where we started the evening with a glass of champagne in the library. When the bride and groom entered the building we were all waiting on the staircase and joined them in a toast (and a few hooras). Then it was time to enter into the dining room. The dining room was very beautiful with tall candelabras on the table and red velvet curtains. At every Swedish function we have been to, couples are not allowed to sit together (unless they are engaged), but are generally at the same table. It seemed we were at the English table, although most people speak English so well it wouldn't have mattered. The dinner started with a soup (it was a sit-down meal), then we had a reindeer filet, and this was followed by a cheese plate. Every course was matched with a wine (very posh!). In between the courses, and, in fact, during the courses, the MC would make announcements or invite specific people to come up to speak. There were also a couple of fun games for the couple and their parents to take part in. We also sing songs throughout the meal (the songs are printed in the program). As you can guess, this means that the meal takes quite a long time. In fact we had a 15 minute "leg stretcher" between the main course and the dessert. In total I think the dinner took about 4 hours. We then moved back to the library for the cake and coffee, and then it was time for dancing. They had a four piece jazz band complete with a singer. It was really nice, we got to practice our walt, our foxtrot and our chacha. But by 1am Ben was pretty beat so we took off for home.

Here are some pics from the day (sorry for the length of this post!):

Trevlig måndag,

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

E. goes to a Möhippa


Ok, so for those who aren't fluent in Swedish (which includes me) a möhippa is a stagette or a bachelorette party or a hen party depending on which country you live in. Apparently the word "hippa" is an old-fashioned word for a party. The male equivalent in Swedish is a svensexa, and again the word "sexa" is an old-fashioned word for party. Anyways, two Saturdays ago, I attended my first Swedish möhippa. This is an all-day affair. We met at the bride's house at 10am to surprise and kidnap her. Möhippas are usually a surprise. We gave her a list of articles to pack into a backpack and she was required to put on an outfit that was entirely pink (luckily she had pink pants, I don't know about you but I would be hard pressed to find pink pants in my wardrobe). We then drove down to this indoor fun-park thing, called a femkamp (five camp?). There we participated in five events, competing against one another, however, for the first event the bride had to sumo wrestle the groom (who was also attending his svensexa that day, which made it tricky as they had a six month old baby). We all tried to sumo wrestle, which is surprisingly hard work, and then we rode a Segway through a small course, raced go-karts, did archery and rode a mechanical bull. My favourite part was the go-karts! I had never tried go-karting before and man, oh man, it is fun. In the end I ended up winning third prize! Not bad. The bride got second (I couldn't very well beat the bride after all). After our mornings activities we stopped back at the house for lunch and then we whisked the bride to a glass-blowing hut where she got to make five different glass things, with the assistance of the glass-blower. Then it was time for more games and dinner. Before every activity the bride was given a riddle/puzzle to solve which would tell her what we were doing next. This möhippa thing takes a lot of organizing! I left at 11:15pm and was tired. Even without the normal drinking that takes place at a Canadian stag this was a long day!

Here are some shots from the day! The wedding is on Saturday so I'll be able to tell you about a Swedish wedding next week!

C. the beautiful bride

C. and H. "The Battle is on"

Don't I look like a jolly sumo wrestler?

The bride...looking somewhat scary

Getting our instructions, I choose not to wear the fancy racing suit

Me the speed demon

C. with one of her works of art

One of the games was for C. to taste various dips that we bought and try to guess what was in them. Yummm :p


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Uppsala...adopted home of Carl Linnaeus


Well, another summer is coming to an end (well here it seems to have come to an end up about a month or more ago) and that means that the Linné garden is also closing up for the season. (Carolus Linnaeus or Carl von Linné established the system of nomenclature that we now have today. He based his separations on the sex organs of the plants, i.e. the pistols and the stamens, the plants were organized into groups based on the number of each it had). B. and I had still not made it to the garden (although our hotel when we first came to visit Uppsala overlooked it), so I decided to make my way to that part of town today. Today was a beautiful day so it was the perfect time to check out the garden. I arrived in time for the 2pm English tour only to find out that it was going to be a private tour as no one else was there that day (at least not for the tour). So here's what I learned...

Carl Linnaeus did not actually establish the garden. It was Rudbeck The Elder who travelled abroad and brought back 800 plant species only to discover that the Queen, who had promised him the land to build a botanical garden (the first in Sweden), had abdicated the throne (this was Queen Christina who had travelled to Rome to become a Catholic). So he needed a home for his plants, and he took over his sister/sister-in-law's (I can't remember)kitchen garden. But this was not the best spot for a botanical garden as the soil was very alkaline and the Fyriså (Fyris river) often flooded the garden. Rudbeck the Elder ended up building a house by the garden (a very fire proof house) and he lived there and taught botany at the university. In around 1701, there was a great fire in Uppsala and most of the town burned down, including the castle, the cathedral and the garden (but not Rudbeck the Elder's house). This loss of the garden left Rudbeck so sad that he died a year later. His son, Rudbeck the Younger, was to take over teaching Botany at the University but because of the loss of the botanical garden and the loss of his father, his heart wasn't in it and Botany classes were not be found on campus. In around 1730, Carl Linné; came to Uppsala to take botany classes only to find that the so-called botany department was pretty much defunct. He was at a loss, he couldn't afford to go back home and he wanted to study botany. He happened to meet a man by the name of Celsius (not Anders Celsius who invented the thermometer; an aside:it was Linnaeus who reversed the scale so that 0 is the freezing point and 100 is boiling instead of vice versa; but his uncle). This other Celsius was also a professor at the University and offered Linnaeus a place to stay, and gave him a job as a demonstrator at the garden (some of the plants had survived the fire). Linnaues thus worked on the garden and started teaching Botany classes at Uppsala University. He never actually took a class in Botany and so was entirely self taught. Linnaeus expanded the garden and brought in animals, including monkeys that lived in little houses on the tops of poles. People were allowed in the main part of the garden but not in the various quarters, which were surrounded by hedges in the Baroque style. The garden flourished.

At some point, the King donated the Castle gardens to the University and these became the new Botanical Gardens. Linnaeus's garden fell into disrepair after the death of his son (another Botanist). About 100 years ago, the Swedish Linnaeus Society was formed and they helped to restore the garden based on Linnaeus notes. The university house that is on the property (and is where Linnaeus lived upon becoming a professor) has also been made into a museum. So the current garden has been in existence for about a hundred years. Last year, 2007, was the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus's birth and there were a lot of celebrations in the city. The people of Uppsala are very proud of him.

Here are few shots from my day! Enjoy!

Hej då

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A year ago...

I find it hard to believe that its already been a year since I arrived here in Sweden. Yes, a whole year! September 4th was my anniversary day and my goodness how times flies. Although it has not always been easy living here, I have truly appreciated the experience. And as I plan to enjoy my second kulturnatten (Culture Night) here in Uppsala I was reminiscing about all that has happened this year...

A year ago today, Ben and I headed out on the town with our friend Kim, from South Africa, who sadly left Uppsala last November. That is one of the things that has been great about being here, meeting so many new people from so many places but its also a sad part as we often have to say goodbye. I was feeling the pain recently as one of my good friends here in Sweden left to join her fiance in the Canary Islands. I guess the one positive thing about seeing people leave is the possibility of visiting them one day! :) And hopefully that will happen with everyone who we've met.

B. just left in the taxi to the airport and will be gone for three weeks. I'm trying to make a plan of attack so that I don't get too blue while he's gone. Luckily I started two distance education classes and my Swedish for Immigrants class this week. So I should be able to keep fairly busy.

The new words I learned this week are: modersmål = mother tongue (moders = mother's, mål=tongue) and huvudstad = capital city. Its been a slow start to the Swedish class, but hopefully it will pick up. The positive part is that I've already met so many interesting people in the class. Its like a mini United Nations with people from Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, South Africa, New Zealand, El Salvador, Chile, Mexica, Colombia, China, Lithuania, Poland, Bosnia, Sudan, Bangladesh and of course, the lone Canadian. Pretty amazing though.

I'll probably be lonely in the next few if anyone is in the mood to chat, give me a call or Skype me!
Trevlig helg (Have a nice weekend!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Visby, Sheep Island and Maneter!


We're just about finished up an exhausting weekend/week! I think I'm getting to old to do this whole vacation and work thing in the same week...but it has been pretty busy! Thursday I spent in Stockholm, teaching a class, prepping more classes and exploring the Nobel Prize Museum while I waited for B. and our friend, S.-l. to come into town. Of course, the train they were supposed to be on was cancelled so we ended up rushing to our final destination, a concert by the Latvian Symphony featuring a somewhat weird cellist (strange clothes, long curly grey hair which he kept having to brush off his face, you get the picture - but I guess you need to have some eccentricities to be that good). The concert was really good though and was in this concert hall that had seats all around it - which I've never experienced before.

After the concert we crashed at S. and J.'s for the night as we were rising early to catch our ferry to Gotland (well first we had to take the subway and two commuter trains to get to the ferry). The ferry ride was uneventful, 3.5 hours of smooth sailing and a crappy lunch.

Visby was a really neat town. Its the biggest town in Gotland and has around 20,000 inhabitants although not everyone lives in the town walls. Yes, it is a walled city! We spent the afternoon wandering around the town, examining all the old crumbled churches, going into the existing cathedral, buying godis (candies) at a candy sale!!! We then headed back to our cell, for some pre-dinner drinks and some cards. We literally were staying in a cell, as the hostel was an old prison, complete with barbed wire around the walls. It was an interesting set-up as all the rooms were pretty narrow.

The next day we checked out the museum in town, which has a lot of picture stones in it and talks about the Geology of Gotland, which is unique in Sweden. Nothing too exciting...although we did all seem to have more fun in the kid's science part of the museum then we should have. Next stop was to pick up our brightly coloured rental car (see photos) and to head up north towards Fårö (translation: sheep island). We stopped in the town of Bro to examine the old church which contains some picture stones in its walls and has some of the only remaining standing stones in a farmers field (which we almost drove by). Then we stopped at this place (the name I can't remember) that has an old fort submerged in the middle of a lake (Atlantis????). Apparently you can dive and check it out if you want. It seemed from the limited signage, that the fort might actually have been built over the lake, but we are unsure of that detail. We didn't have our scuba gear with us so we refrained from diving in :)

We took the ferry (5 minutes) to Fårö and continued our drive up to the south beach where our cabin was. The beach was amazing there, super soft sand, very calm sea, thousands of jellyfish (maneter). Yes, I'm serious, for every square metre there must have been 7 jellyfish. It wasn't that it was exceptionally warm so we weren't planning on going swimming and suntanning that much but its always fun to run into the ocean. We tried this the next day, the others made it out a ways (the jellyfish still didn't subside though), I made it up to my waist and then decided it wasn't fun standing on jellyfish and having jellyfish brush against you every second so I beelined it for the shore. And I'm the swimmer, not a brave one obviously. Our second day on the island we rented bikes and rode out to some sea stacks. The sea stacks were formed when either the sea subsided or the land rose and then the coral reefs were eroded by the elements, until only these towers of rock remained. Our bike ride was a bit of an adventure on tractor roads, read: bumpy, swampy and windy. We did see many sheep so the island lived up to its name, we also saw old wooden windmills, and houses and barns with very cool thatched roofs. Of course, we had to stop for a fika so we stopped at bakery and enjoyed some paj (pie) and some saffron pancakes, a specialty of the island. The pancake is more like a gelatinous/eggy pie with raisins, rice and, obviously, saffron in it. It is served with salmbår (a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry) jam and cream (of course).

The rest of our trip included more sea stack spotting, some frisbee playing, walks on the beach and wine. We got back to Uppsala at 11:15pm on Monday night and were pretty tired.

To check out our weekend click here...

Trevlig helg!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lund, Ales Stenar and Kräftor


Sorry for the long time between posts! I have been busy sightseeing around Sweden with my sister-in-law, and time seemed to fly by.

S. and I headed down south last week. It was my first time travelling long-distance on the train here. Of course it was 45 minutes late arriving in Lund but since we had no specific plans it didn't affect us. We arrived in Lund in the early afternoon on Wednesday after 6 hours of train travel. Lund is pretty far south, its about 25km North of Malmö which is the town you take the bridge to Copenhagen (Köpenhamm) from. It is an ancient town and was once of the religious centres of Scandinavia. To attest to this is the nearly 900 year old Cathedral that is at the centre of town. We went on a tour of this cathedral with a very enthusiastic tour guide. She started by talking to us about the astronomical clock that is in the Cathedral. The clock plays music and has dancing figures twice a day, but the other aspect of it is that you can figure out what day anyone was born on, and the period of the moon, as well as all the religious holidays. Apparently, I was born on a Thursday (Thursday's child has far to go they say!) We wandered around Lund for the afternoon, before picking up our snazzy orange and blue rental car with advertisements all over it and heading down to Ystad.

Ystad is the amazingly cute town full of half-timbered houses situated on the Baltic. It has the oldest half-timbered house as well as the only full block of half-timbered houses in all of Scandinavia. Our hostel in Ystad was right on the beach so we were able to take some nice walks along the shore. We set out on Thursday morning towards Ales Stenar, it was incredibly windy there...check out this (sideways) video

After checking out the stones, we headed down to the beach and bought some tasty smoked salmon and herring and tried to avoid the wasps. Next stop was Glimmingehus, a 15th century castle that an unpopular guy built. Since he was so unpopular the castle has numerous death traps, and the word must have got around as there were never any attacks on the castle.

We were on our way to Kivik, when we decided to detour into Stenshuvud National Park. We hiked up to Stenshuvud and had a nice view of the surrounding countryside.

Final stop of the day was Kivik, where we walked around a 3000 year old burial ground and bought some apples from a roadside stand. On our way back to Ystad I got a bit of a start. We had just entered a townsite and I was gradually slowing down when I saw a cop in the tree with his speed camera aimed directly at us...luckily, it was just a dummy dressed up as a cop, as I hadn't quite got down to the slower speed limit yet :p

Our last day we decided to take a quick dip in the Baltic before leaving. And when I say quick, I mean quick. You know the water is cold when its warmer standing on the shore dripping wet with the wind blowing. The trip had been smooth sailing up to that point, but of course, something had to happen. Our train was delayed out of Lund as they couldn't get the two halves of the train to attach. So an hour later the first half arrived. Of course, our car was on the second half so we had to wait another half an hour for that half to arrive. We were a couple hours later than expected but now it just seems somewhat funny.

Sunday, we decided to hold a kräftorfest (crayfish party). There were six of us in total and we managed to eat 3kg of crayfish and a fair bit of snaps. It was somewhat odd having a crayfish party with no Swedes to show us how its done, but Ben has been to a few so he showed us how to get at the meat, and we had no problems coming up with our own songs to sing in between the shots of snaps.

I am now worn out, but we are heading to Gotland this weekend with S. and J. Hopefully it will be a relaxing trip!

For some photos of our adventures check out:


Thursday, August 14, 2008

An interesting way to mow the grass


I guess its been a few days since my last post...but I haven't been partaking in many fascinating activities, and so I do not have many tales to tell. My days have mainly been spent watching the Olympics, of which, we have day-long coverage of (in Swedish of course). I am proud to say, as a pseudo-Swede, that Sweden has now won 3 medals, one of which was returned in protest by a wrestler who won bronze today. I think this is pretty successful as compared to Canada who has yet to win one medal yet has four times the population.

Anyways, the other day I was riding my bike home from my yoga class (which by the way is harder to do in another language than you might think), when I noticed something peculiar going on in the park. I have been riding through this park all summer and was somewhat surprised at the lack of landscaping going on there. The park is mainly trees and grass with a playground in the middle. The surprising part is that they have not cut the grass all summer, so it was about waist high and in my mind, a hotbed of mosquito love. But on this gloomy evening, there was some cutting going on in the park, and not by a ride-on lawnmower, or even a push mower, but by a HORSE AND BUGGY with some sort of lawn cutting apparatus attached to the side of it. Now I am curious why this one park in particular is being cut by a horse and buggy!!!??? The other parks have been cut using electric or gas-powered mowers so why is this park, which happens to be called Engelska parken or The English Park, being mowed in this environmentally friendly manner? Hmmm, I'll have to see if there is some news about it in the local paper!

S. is coming to visit on Saturday and I'm hopefully going to be traveling down to Lund and Åles Stenar with her next week - if we can find a place to stay - so I should have some more exciting events to report.

Sorry for the excessive use of the word "which" in this post...must just be my mood!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Arholma Nord och Kallt Krigen


This past weekend, B. and I headed out on an adventure to one of the island's in the Stockholm archipelago. Did you know that Stockholm had an archipelago? It is the largest archipelago in Sweden and one of the biggest in the Baltic sea. It stretches 60 km to the east of Stockholm and is made up of approximately 24,000 islands and islets (which is by the way a small island - I had to look that up). The village of Ytterby situated on Resarö island is one of the most famous villages in the archipelago as it is home to a quarry that contains many rare earth minerals. The village is famous for naming no fewer than 4 chemical elements - erbium, terbium, ytterbium and yttrium (once again, I came across this info on Wikipedia - it wasn't just lying around in my head). But we did not go to Resarö, we went to Arholma, which is situated in the North Archipelago.

To get to Arholma, we took two buses and a ferry from Uppsala, on the way back it wasn't so easy and we had to take a ferry, two buses, the subway and the train from Stockholm to get back (this trip totaled 5 hours vs. our 3 hour trip there). Upon our arrival in Arholma, we actually managed to go to the wrong hostel (who knew there would be two on such a small island) and were surprised to find a) no one in the office, since they didn't mention that it would be unmanned and b) that it was nowhere near the ocean since we had rented kayaks. We dropped off our stuff and proceeded to walk back to "town" to ask for some info only to pass another sign which named the hostel we were looking for, so we walked on to this hostel and then had to walk back 2 km to pick up our stuff and 2 km back to drop it off. We were slightly grouchy at this point.

Our real hostel was on the ocean, it was near the north of the Island. And to our surprise, it was actually on an old army battery (but more about this later). So, on to the kayaking. We walked down to the beach and put the kayaks in the water...later B. told me that he was surprised I even got in the water as the ocean was pretty rough (I asked why he didn't mention this before we left the shore!). We paddled to the southeast and ended up going down the inside of the Island, where it was supposed to be calmer. It was easy going to start as the wind was at our back and we pulled our kayaks up on an island to lie in the sun for awhile. We proceeded to paddle a bit farther and then it was time to turn back. OH MY GOD! I could barely get my kayak to move. It was so windy. B. estimates there were 60km/hr winds. The waves were splashing us but that wasn't really worrisome, the kayaks are pretty stable, it was just so frustrating. Needless to say, I am not the world's strongest paddler and my technique is not great, but I'm not a weakling either. B. offered to tow me but I thought that was a bit wimpy so instead we paddled separately and it took us nearly three times as long to get back to the hostel. I was not a happy camper.

But, things got better, we had a nice evening, and we walked into the "town" for dessert at the one restaurant in "town". On the way back it was getting dark and we came across numerous frogs on the road, and fairly big ones, so that was cool. The next morning it was raining, but since we had arranged to go on a tour of the battery (and it was inside the hill) it didn't bother us much. The tour was in Swedish so it was good practice for us, although we are not that familiar with terms of war in Swedish :) The guide did translate some things for us, but the Swedish version would take 5 minutes while the English version was one sentence. He did however, give us a private tour after the main tour was done and let us go up into the firing mechanism room of the 10.5 cm Bofors that was there (which no one else got to do).

So the short version of the tour is that this battery was constructed in 1965 but was not ready until 1968. It was built to be a last line of defense against a Russian attack during the Cold War. There were several other guns situated on islands along the coast and many of them could be fired from the Arholma base. There were over a hundred men posted at this base, although not all of them slept inside the hill, some slept in tents outside in the woods. The base was disbanded in the 90s and then the residents had to convince the government to keep it intact for use as a museum. It now runs four tours daily and people come from all over to see it...including off sailboats that pull into the bay. One of the funniest things we saw on the tour was a switch box with the words "Krig" -war and "Fred" - peace on it. Apparently, if the lever was on war, then the gun could be aimed back towards Sweden in case the Russians had made it to shore, whereas if the lever was on peace then it could only be fired out towards the sea.

Since the weather wasn't so nice on Saturday we left the island in the early afternoon but it was still a nice getaway. Here are some shots from our quick visit!
Photos from Arholma

The weather has now turned cool but hopefully it will turn back for S. and M.'s visit in a couple weeks...also for me who is stuck at home trying to fill my summer days!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ticks in Stockholm

Hejsan Alla,

Well, I made it through my whole week of camping in Norway without any mosquito bites or any other bug encounters of that kind...only to go to Stockholm for the day and get bitten by a tick!!! Crazy eh? S., J., B. and I went to play mini-golf (golfbana) and when we returned to the apartment I discovered a small black beastie behind my knee. He had already started gorging himself on my juicy blood but I managed to rip him out and he hadn't gotten too big yet. Of course, this started me thinking about Lyme Disease and Tick Borne Encephalitis, but I did a little digging on the internet and discovered that if you remove a tick within 36 hours of being bitten it reduces your chances of contracting the disease to pretty much nil. Regardless, I bought myself a thermometer and proceeded to take my temperature several times a day over the next few days. I know, I have an overactive imagination and it doesn't help when its left to entertain itself.

Besides that adventure I have settled into a summer-time routine. Go to the gym, cook supper, check out the internet, perhaps have a fika with friends, sleepwalk...well, the last one isn't exactly a routine, but since we've moved to our new place I seem to be sleepwalking or sleep talking almost every night. My favourite story to date is the morning that B. asked me if I remembered talking to him, I said "No, what did I say?" And he said, "Don't let the chicken out!". As soon as he said that I remembered my dream about coming upon a cave with a wooden door covering the entrance. There was a sign on the door that read "Don't let the chicken out", someone did in fact let the chicken out, hence my verbal admonishment. Unfortunately, its gotten to be somewhat of a routine, so the other night when I rose to use the facilities, B. can be forgiven for saying, somewhat exasperatedly, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?". To which I responded, "I'm awake! I'm just going to the bathroom! And do you have to be so mean about it!!!"

Well, B. is gone for a couple nights so we'll see if that affects my night episodes!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tunnels and Trolls

I just finished writing a super long email about our trip to Norway so I'm not going to repeat myself here other than to say that it was a great trip and that the scenery was amazing. So different from Sweden, somewhat similar to B.C. but in much larger doses. It seemed like every time we entered another valley it was more impressive than the last. One thing that I forgot to mention about our trip was the extensive amount of tunneling that the Norwegians have done. And I'm not talking about short tunnels. Most of the tunnels were at least 1.5km long if not longer. We ended up going through the longest tunnel in the world (at least on land) and it was 24.5km long. Can you believe that? I guess its more expensive to repair roads every year due to landslides than to tunnel right through the middle of the mountain. We kept expecting to see intersections in the tunnels that's how long they were! I have to say though, that tunnels do prevent you from seeing the scenery :)

The other thing I learned about Norway is that they have an affinity for trolls. I just looked up some information about Norway and Trolls on Wikipedia and found the following excerpt:

The Troll is a fearsome member of a mythical race from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England (also called Trolls at times, see Troller's Gill) – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds. In the Faroe islands, Orkney and Shetland tales, trolls are called trows, adopted from the Norse language when these islands were settled by Vikings.

Nordic literature, art and music from the romantic era and onwards has adapted trolls in various manners – often in the form of an aboriginal race, endowed with oversized ears and noses. From here, as well as from Scandinavian fairy tales such as Three Billy Goats Gruff, trolls have achieved international recognition, and in modern fantasy literature and
role-playing games, trolls are featured to the extent of being stock characters.

On our last day in Norway we drove down a mountain known as Trollstigen (sp?). In English, this translates to Troll's ladder. It had some serious hairpin turns on it, as well as the only Troll crossing sign in all of Norway :). That same day we stopped at the Troll's wall, the tallest vertical rock face in Europe at 1100m. Needless to say, the souvenir shops have profited off this love of trolls. There were trolls for sale in every shop, we did succumb and we purchased a small troll for our Christmas tree (we collect ornaments from the places we have travelled to). But by and large we managed to avoid the temptation to purchase some large troll statues for our home :)

I've finally posted the photos from our trip and you can check them out here:

Trevlig helg!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Canada Day Fest


We held our very own Canada Day party a couple of weekends ago...thanks to J. and R. for all the decorations! We decided to create a mix of Swedish party traditions and Canadian ones so we held a trivia quiz called a Tipspromenad (where you walk around with a partner or small group and try to answer trivia questions). We created a quiz about Canada to test our international friends on their Canadian knowledge (which is turns out was somewhat poor). I've included the questions in this entry so you can test your knowledge. Please keep in mind that we did have some Canadians participating so we had to make it hard enough to challenge them as well!For photos from our party click here:

Canadian Tipspromenad:

1. Which of the following was NOT a Canadian Invention?

a) Telephone
b) Zipper
c) Wonderbra
d) Can-Opener

2. In what year did Canada become the country it is today?

a) 1949
b) 1962
c) 1999
d) 2001

3. Which of the following is NOT a Canadian comedian?

a) Mike Myers
b) Will Ferrell
c) Jim Carrey
d) John Candy

4. What is the approximate distance from Vancouver to Newfoundland (coast to coast)?

a) 10,000 km
b) 5500 km
c) 7000 km
d) 12,000 km

5. Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada?

a) Robert Borden
b) Lester Pearson
c) William Lyon Mackenzie King
d) Sir John A. Macdonald

6. Canada is known as a hockey playing nation, but what other sport was invented by a Canadian?

a) Baseball
b) Curling
c) Basketball
d) Water Polo

7. What medical invention/discover was NOT invented/discovered by a Canadian?

a) Electric Wheelchair
b) Pacemaker
c) Dialysis Machine
d) Insulin Treatment

8. Which superhero was created by a Canadian?

a) Spiderman
b) Superman
c) Wonderwoman
d) Aquaman

9. What is the National Animal of Canada?

a) Moose
b) Cariboo
c) Beaver
d) Bison

10. If you were to travel from east to west across Canada, which of the combinations of cities is in the correct order?

a) St. John, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Winnipeg
b) Charlottetown, Montreal, Whitehorse, Yellowknife
c) Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay
d) St. John’s, Quebec, Toronto, Saskatoon

11. How many times would Sweden fit into Canada?

(You’re on your own for this one….take a guess!) (This was the tie-breaker)

Answers: 1. d 2.c 3.b 4.c 5.d 6.c 7.c 8.a 9.c 10.d 11. 22.2 times

Have fun!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Glad Midsommar! (Happy Midsummer!)


Well, we experienced the longest day of the year last weekend. Here in Uppsala, the sun rose at approximately 3:30 in the morning, and set around 10:15 at night. I have now gotten used to the fact that we eat supper when the light outside makes it feel around 4pm. But the birds chirping at 2 am is harder to get used too...

Here is an image of the church backlit by the lightening sky at 2 am (and this was on May 23 a full month before the solstice).

The midsommar/midsummer holiday is pretty much the largest holiday in Sweden (maybe even bigger than Christmas). Swedes gather together, dance around poles, sing songs, drink schnapps and eat sill (yes, every holiday seems to encompass these food items), and play games. One of my students described a pentathalon of sorts that he took part in, where the games consisted of throwing a rubber boot as far as you could, walking with a stick between your knees, drawing a horse pooing (he used another term) with your bad hand, blowing up a condom as fast as you could and there was one other game that I've forgotten. My midsummer was slightly more laid back than that. S., J. and I rented a car and drove to their countryhouse (B. was in France). It was my first time driving here and I was slightly nervous that I may have forgotten how after my lack of practice :) On our way to the countryhouse we stopped in Gränna and watched them make polkagris (kind of like candy sticks), and picked up some fantastic knäckebröd (a hard bread like Ryvita). The country house is just outside of a small town called Gällstad (pronounced Ylstad) and it is about a 4.5 hour drive from Stockholm.

As usual, Swedes celebrate midsummer on the eve rather than the actual day, so Friday was a busy day getting the table set up in the loft and prepping for the arrival of the guests, which included 5.5 other Swedes and an Australian. We spend the afternoon making our midsummer pole and the girls made flower wreaths for our hair (mine was rather shabby looking but hey it was my first time!). We then did some traditional dancing around the pole and played some kubb. Our supper consisted of the traditional Swedish holiday foods and we enjoyed plenty of singing (luckily our hosts supplied song sheets) and schnapps after every song. Some of the other guests also brought along some song sheets of our own so we even ended up singing a German song (see video clip). I think that our celebration was somewhat laid back in comparison to those of other people but it made for a nice day.

Some cultures have taken to mocking Sweden for its love of this somewhat pagan holiday. The midsummer pole is actually a phallic symbol so this prompts some lewd ideas. For a crazy take on the midsummer tradition, watch this now banned Ikea commercial which aired in Germany....

Here is a video of our more tame version of midsummer...

For more photos from my weekend...

Well, that's it for now! We're moving tomorrow and B.'s parents arrive on Wed. so its going to be a busy week! We had a Canada Day Party last night (thanks J. and R. for all the Canada gear) and it was a big hit - and I think fairly educational for our non-Canadian guests...I'll write more about that in the days to come!

Hej då

Monday, June 16, 2008



Well, we recently returned from a brief trip to Italy, and I grew to truly appreciated Swedish efficiency during our time there. The trip was fantastic so don't get me wrong, but some events that occurred at the airport made me wonder about Italy and Italians :) One prime example, upon arriving at the airport in Florence we discover that our plane is half an hour late, no big deal...but then time ticks closer and closer to the time of departure and no one has come to the gate. Approximately five minutes after the time we should have been departing, a P.A. announcement announces that the plane has been diverted to Bologna because of bad weather (there had been a thunderstorm). And that's all it said. There is still no one at the gate, and no other information has been provided. So we all sit there and wait to see what will happen. Approximately 20 minutes later a second announcement repeats the information from the first and then announces that they will give us more information in 15 minutes. This is still all happening over the P.A. system with no actual physical presence at the gate. The announcement never comes, but we notice that we now have a new time of departure of 2 hours late. Phew! We're going to get to leave today. Fast forward to the time of boarding. The Florence airport is very small and you have to take a bus to the plane and then walk up the steps, so we all board the bus, complete with about 25 children under the age of 3, and wait, and wait, and finally a bus driver comes and drives us to the plane, only there are no stairs going up to the doors of the plane and the doors are shut. So the driver sits there for a minute and as we wait the plane takes off!!! Apparently that wasn't our plane. Our plane is a bit further away at another waiting area. At this point, we just had to laugh at the chain of events that has transpired. But it ended well, we made it back only 3 hours late, and still made it in time for our dinner plans with friends!

If you want to check out our photos you can take a look at:
(yes, there are three albums, I know, I know)

Ahhh, long live Swedish efficiency!
Hej då

Monday, June 9, 2008

Galen Studerande (Crazy Students)


I know its been awhile since my last post and I apologize. We are about to head off to Italy so I thought I better write something before we left. Last Thursday was graduation day in Uppsala. Not graduation from university but graduation day from high school (a.k.a. gymnasium). Students select the gymnasium they will attend based on the skills they want to learn. If you plan on going to university then you go to a gymnasium that will give you the classes you need, if you plan on doing something more hands-on, ditto. Graduation day started early last Thursday, as I was walking to the train station at 7:20am, the students were already lined up getting their graduation photos taken on the banks of the river. High school students also wear the traditional white student hat that I mentioned in my previous post. The girls typically wear a white dress, and the boys wear a suit. So far, nothing crazy....but....

I got off the train around 2pm that afternoon, met up with my friend Julie, and we headed into town. We had barely left the train station before a cacophony of horns and music met our ears. Apparently the graduation students either rent big trucks or big trailers that are pulled by tractors, or just have their parents drive them around in a convertible or other car, with the music blasting and the drinks a flowin'. Please see pictures for clarification! This continued for pretty much the entire afternoon, so traffic was somewhat chaotic in downtown Uppsala on Thursday.

Well, we are off to Siena and Montalcino this week. The weather forecast does not look great for Italy which is too bad. We have been having amazing weather here. Plus 25-29 all week!
We went for a bike ride on Saturday evening and saw a hedgehog! Pretty cool (we also saw some sheep but that was somewhat less exciting). Last night we watched the Germany-Poland (Tyskland-Polska) match, but it was not as exciting as I had hoped and I found myself doozing off in the pub (no, I had not had too much to drink, only one glass of wine).

Anyways, I'll write once we get back on Sat. and tell you how the trip went!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sångerska om natten

B. and I talked to a few of you this past weekend, and we told you the strange story of the "Men's choral music in the night" but for those who I didn't get to tell the story to, here's a brief recap. Friday night, 3:30 am, B. and I are fast asleep, when I awake to quite a few people talking in our street. Next thing we know, 15 men are singing choral music. Needless to say we were quite confused as to why approx. 15 men were singing choral music in the dead of the night! I have to thank my students this morning for filling me in on the reason.

Apparently, the spring ball was on Saturday night (read: tuxedos and ballgowns). The custom is that the men's choirs from the various Nations (Nations are like frats but for both sexes and based on different regions of Sweden), go around to their dates' houses, and the dates of men who hire them (think sing-a-gram), and serenade them with three songs. The first is a wake-up song, then a love song, and then a farewell song. The girl to whom they are singing is supposed to light a candle in her window to let them know that she has heard them, without letting them see her. Then when they have finished serenading her, she lowers a bottle of punsch, a sweet alcoholic beverage out her window to the singers. So the "mystery of the men's choral group in the night" has been solved. Apparently, the women of the Nations also get their chance (this is Sweden after all), but they sing on St. Lucia day which is Dec.12, generally early in the morning, say 6am (women tend to be more sane). And since this festival falls during the winter, they generally enter the buildings, so you are not as likely to hear them.

A little bit of strange Swedish trivia for you!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cyklar Överallt (Bikes everywhere!)

When you first arrive at the Uppsala train station. You would think you had arrived in Amsterdam. There are bikes everywhere. Literally, 1000 people must park their bikes there at a time. I have yet to ride my bike to the train station because I worry about finding a parking spot for my bike :) It no wonder that bikes are so prevalent in Sweden, they provide awesome bike paths throughout the city and the countryside so its easy to bike around town without having to compete with cars.

It is an interesting culture - the bike culture - in Uppsala. First of all, since a lot of people living here are students, a bike is very useful because its a cheap form of transportation. You'll see girls riding their bikes to university in the shortest of skirts/shirts. You'll see a mob of cyclists travelling to the pub/bar together (although technically its illegal to ride your bike while drunk). But its not students alone who ride bikes. Older people are peddling along. People ride their bikes to work and people ride with their kids strapped to the back seat.

Uppsala is not very hilly, so most people ride a city bike. What's a city bike you might ask? Well, I happen to have recently purchased my very own city bike, so I will include some pictures (are you happy Dad?). The main features of a city bike, are a low cross bar, handles that curve towards you (so you don't end up with a sore back), a light on the front usually powered by friction from the front wheel, foot brakes - sometimes one hand brake, and only three gears.

Here are a few shots of my new bike!

Just to fill you in on what's been going on in our lives...we finally found an apartment. We are able to rent it until the end of December, its no longer in the city centre so we'll have to ride our bikes or take the bus to town now, but its closer for B. to go to work so that's good!

We are heading to Italy, specifically the Chianti region, in just under a month to meet up with some friends from SK. We will be touring around with them to Montalcino and Siena and we're super excited to soak up some Tuscan rays!

Ciao E.