Thursday, July 7, 2011

In Which we Spend our Last Day in Stockholm

I often find that I waste the last day of a trip wishing that I didn’t have to go home, or worrying about what time I need to get up in the morning, or how I will be able to fit everything in my suitcase.

This time, I did worry about getting up early (4am yuck), and I did manage to fit everything in my suitcase (the packing fairy didn’t come), but I was ready to head for home. We all missed Kent and wanted to sleep in our own beds in a city that didn’t have 62 sets of bells within 8 square blocks. Have I mentioned the bells? But before we came home, we had some shopping to do.

We stepped outside the door to our place to a swarm of huge bumblebees buzzing around. There was a tiny hole down by the ground and these bees had, apparently, taken up residence here over night. They were enormous, and kind of cute in a large fuzzy insect kind of way. Jacob said he wanted one as a pet.


You can see it one of them here, albeit a bit blurred. But you get the idea. It seems that the theme of this trip has been Bells and Bees. What is with that? I guess it’s better than, say, tornadoes and Mosquitoes. Or Gunshots and Cocaine. Or Dead Kittens and Spam.

Anyway, we stared at the Mega Bees for awhile, then headed out into the fray.


Sweden is really crazy about their royal family. Perhaps almost as crazy as the Brits are about theirs. Last summer the Crown Princess got married to her personal trainer who looks a bit, as Jacob observed, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings before he turned into Gollum. Anyway, their wedding was a huge deal and you can still buy any number of trinkety items with their faces emblazoned on them.

We wandered through the Royal Palace and came out one of the entrances where the Royal Guards are posted. The two in the picture were having a very formal conversation, standing straight, eyes forward the entire time. It was of course in Swedish so we could only guess what they were saying:

Lieutenant: Larssen, will you have a pickled herring sandwich for your lunch?

Larssen: Yes sir. With tomatoes please sir!

Lieutenant: Multigrain, white or pumpernickel?

Larssen: Ummmm Sir!

Lieutenant: Come on, Larssen, I don’t have all day!

Larssen: What was the second choice sir!

Lieutenant: White!

Larssen: Is there oat bread, Sir!

Lieutenant: I think so.

Larssen: I’ll have it on oat bread with Jarlsberg slices Sir!

Lieutenant: Very good. I’ll have that ready for you in 5 minutes when Magnusson comes to relieve you

Larssen: Don’t forget the pickles Sir!

Or perhaps:

Lieutenant: Larssen, have you seen my hand cream?

Larssen: The rose or the white lily Sir!

Lieutenant: actually it was the Mandarin and tuberose

Larssen: Ummmm Sir!

Lieutenant: Come on, Larssen, I don’t have all day!

Larssen: Magnusson had it last I saw it. He was taking it into the bathroom with him Sir!

Lieutenant: How inconvenient. What am I to do now?

Larssen: You could borrow mine, Sir!

Lieutenant: What fragrance is it, Larssen? Is it that Freesia and vanilla because I’ve tried that and it wasn’t to my liking…

Larssen: No it’s banana coconut Sir!

Lieutenant: That should be Fine. I’ll return it to you later today

Larssen: Don’t forget the pickles Sir!

Lieutenant: What was that last comment, Larssen?

Larssen: Nothing Sir! Have a nice day Sir!

We moved on and hit a few stores running until we came to the Swedish department store, NK. It was a cross between Ikea and Harrods, except better. We spent forever in there wandering the paper shop, or trying on clothes, or sampling the wares in the food hall.

I loved the fabric store, even though I have never sewed a single thing in my life except for the world’s ugliest pantsuit in Grade 8 home ec class which has hopefully since been burned or torn up into rags.


There was an entire wall of buttons in little tubes like these but I couldn’t get to the other colours as a gay couple was trying to match a missing button from a shirt and weren’t moving out the way.


The bolts of fabrics were very appealing. I kept picking them up and holding out yards of them like Mrs Olson from Little House on the Prairie, until the saleswoman came over and asked if I needed anything.

And how about this stool? Is that not the cutest thing ever? Jacob says he is going to make one for me…


Next up was the toy department which featured rows and rows of smurfs, fabulous fabric toy houses that nested inside each other and were actually storage boxes, a high chair that looked like it was trying to get Baby ready for their first visit to the dentist, and of course, trolls. They are big on trolls here.


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I won’t bore you with the bazillion other shops we visited. but suffice to say, it was a good day. As we walked home, we passed through the square in the middle of the old town close to our apartment, and happened upon a protest, of sorts, against US involvement in pretty much everything. A Columbian band was playing, and they were pretty good, but the real highlight was the fact that we got to see the Man with the World’s Largest/Bushiest Eyebrows. Amazing! Check those babies out!


We tried to get to bed early as we had to get up at 4am, but here in the land of the midnight sun, when it is light out at 2:15 am and fully light by 3:30am, those pesky Circadian Rhythms get all mucked up. And so I was pretty much up at 3am and stayed up for the next 24hrs. Somehow we manoeuvred our way from the apartment, to the train station dragging our suitcases along the cobbled streets at 4:45am. Fortunately the residents of the Old town are well used to rackets and clatter all night as most of the streets and alleys are too narrow for delivery trucks to make it down them so deliveries are brought in on huge carts that, as far as I could tell, do not enjoy the benefits of big fat tires. We passed a few of these carts, some were heading for restaurants and cafes, the smell of cinnamon buns and cardamom cake filling the morning air. Gonna miss those…

As per our luck for this trip, the Airport train was practically waiting for us and rolled out about a minute after we got on board.

Our first flight to Heathrow was uneventful although I was so tired I could not figure out which coast I was looking at out the window. We were flying south, and I was looking out the right side of the plane and that should have been enough information for me but I was still baffled. Was it Denmark? How far West were we? Germany? Scotland? Perhaps it was Holland? I finally figured it out (it was Scotland) and realized that that section of the North Sea isn’t really that big and when you are up 40000ft, you can see a good deal. I have since learned that the German and Dutch governments have both installed these wind farms in sections of the North Sea. I didn’t take this picture, but it gives you a good idea of the scale of them. It was a bit surreal to see them scattered around out in the middle of the ocean.

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We landed at Heathrow and whiled away the two hour wait in the less than charming terminal 3 waiting lounge. This place is huge, and crowded, and full of expensive stores such as a Harrods outlet, Burberry, etc. Places where you can pick up a leather wallet for 1700 pounds if you happen to have left yours at home. These places just irk me. Perhaps they might notice that there is actually nobody in them (except the Harrods outlet which, FYI, actually has many of same items that are in the main London Knightsbridge store except they are cheaper) and they are a waste of space, and that if they would just go away, there would be more room for sitting down, and people we wouldn’t all be taking each other out each time you so much as turn your head to look for an empty seat. It’s the bookstores and candy stores that have all the people in them. Duh. Plus, (no, I’m not done yet) the place is permanently under construction, it seems, and half of it is all boarded up so it seems very incongruous to have all these fancy stores next to construction zones, and surrounded by the dishevelled masses waiting for their next flight. Ah well. I guess it’s better than Gatwick. Don’t get me started on that low-ceilinged pit of despair.

Guess who was at the airport? June and Tony! And also, Carol and Geoff (bit younger than June and Tony), Cliff and Barbara (sportier, Barbara has short, red brown died hair and Cliff has his keys on a lanyard around his neck), Sandy and Derek (more refined, Derek has loafers on, shorts and knee socks, Sandy has a tan, and is talking on her phone) and a few other archetypal English couples. I love them!

ANYWAY. Next was the flight to Toronto. Before we got on, the kids were taking bets on how long a flight it would be to Toronto given that it was close to 9 hours from Vancouver to London, and so it must be waaaaay less than that to Toronto from London. I started to explain the whole flying ‘up and over’ close to the pole thing but they weren’t listening. Zoe figured it would be 5 and Jacob said MAYBE 6. So you can imagine how thrilled they were when the Captain broke the bad news that it would actually be closer to 8 hours. WTF? It actually wasn’t a bad flight although we did have a few more brushes with adult movies, and the woman behind me appeared to be having some sort of issue with her tray table. Up, down, up, down, up, down. I finally turned around and gave her the kind of smile which I have used before when disciplining other peoples children to make it look like I’m really friendly, but am actually explaining that if they don’t stop the offending behaviour, I will stop it for them. This look is typically accompanied by some sort of death grip on the arm, which unfortunately I was unable to administer in this setting.

What I said: “Everything Ok with the tray table?”

What I meant: “Are you going to do that for the rest of the trip because if you are, I’m going to have to hog tie you and put you in one of the bathrooms. OK? Great. Thanks.”

What she said: “It’s fine”

What she meant: “Go back under your rock and leave me alone I’ll obsessively open and close the tray if I damn well want to to!”

She then went to sleep for the rest of the trip thank god.

We landed in Toronto where they have the annoying requirement  for those who are connecting to another flight, to collect all your baggage from the carousel, and then recheck it back into the system. It doesn’t matter that it has already been checked all the way through to Victoria, you still must do this or your bags will sit there unclaimed. Tons of people didn’t know this, and no one tells you. It’s only because I’ve done it before that I knew about it. I’m sure many people just go on to their final destination without knowing to do this, only to discover that their luggage is still in Toronto going round on the carousel.

By this time we had been up since last week or something like that and the prospect of another 5 hours across the country was daunting. We somehow struggled through although it felt like we were up there for days. They have those maps on the tvs that show your alleged ‘progress’ on the flight; we seemed to be flying over Bismarck North Dakota for so long that Jacob and I wondered if we had been stuck in the equivalent of one of those lap pools that has a jet of water that you can swim against and stay in one place.

When we finally landed in Victoria, it was sunny and crisp and clear and the air smelled amazing. We were all so happy to see Kent, and everyone was full of stories and yawns, and more stories and more yawning. We were all asleep by 9pm and that night, there were no bells although I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have noticed them at all. Really.

Thanks for reading. Until next time…



Monday, July 4, 2011

Stockholm I Think I Love you Part 2: Vikings!

We needed to get out of the city and escape the heat, so I planned a trip by boat into Lake Malaran to visit the Island of Bjorko. The site of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Birka, this island lies about 1hr and 45 minutes from Stockholm by boat, and was, in the 700s, a trading hub, and centre of Viking life.

Today, there is an excellent little museum, thousands of Viking burial mounds, recreated homes and some beautiful views.

The trip itself was great – this is Swedish Cottage Country and we passed some lovely spots, including this one with the best ever home-made water slide – it looked like someone had taken a bunch of your basic silver playground slides and welded them together.

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When we arrived, we went for a look around at the museum. They had lots of neat things found at Birka but the best part was a model of the original town of which, unfortunately, there is nothing remaining as it was built entirely out of wood and has completely disappeared. Guess I’ll just have to take their word for it!

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I was especially interested to see that there were zombies at Birka. This may explain why the place suddenly ceased to exist in 975 AD.

We then had a great lunch in the cafe. Of course, we had Swedish Meatballs:


Those are lingonberries.

It was then time for our tour which was given by a qualified archeologist who really knew her stuff.


She started by quashing many of the long standing myths around Vikings, including the one that they wore horned helmets! Can you believe it? WTF? What about all those helmets for sale in the gift shops in Stockholm? Shouldn’t someone tell the tourist trade? Then, to make matters worse, she told us that by no means did they put their dead in those Viking boats, set fire to the boats and send them out to sea! They just cremated them and buried the urns. I was starting to feel a bit ripped off until she cheered us up by telling us that they were still mighty warriors with axes and clubs with spiked balls on the end etc. We felt slightly better.


The remains of a Viking Hill Fort


Viking burial mounds


A Standing Stone. Clearly. Aren’t you glad you have me to point out the obvious?

The views were lovely – this is a shot of the only farm on the island, which has approximately 10 full time residents.


You may have noticed from the pictures that the weather was very different than the day before. It hovered around 20 all day and was very grey and even chilly at times near the water.

We stayed inside on the way back and drank tea, and were soon back in Stockholm.


I was so tired that I swear I did not hear the bells at all. Well maybe once.

Thanks for reading -



In Which we Swelter one Minute, and Freeze the Next, and I Discuss Hotdogs with Europe.

The weather has been as crazy here as it has been everywhere else, it seems, fluctuating wildly between cloudy and 20 and burning hot and 33. Yesterday was a 33 day. We had plans to visit Skansen, an open air museum on the island of Djurgarden and it turned out to be a pretty good idea as it was probably one of the cooler spots in Stockholm with large leafy trees, and enough of a hill to catch the only breeze around for miles.

Still, it was exceedingly hot. The museum is a great concept – they have either recreated, or brought in the original, buildings from all over Sweden to show how life used to be lived. Sweden used to include most of what is currently Finland and Norway, so there were original Sami settlement huts, Finnish huts, a recreated town with baker, stores, post office, craftspeople etc. There is also a ‘zoo’ with so called Scandinavian wild animals including Reindeer (OK I’ll give them that one) Bison, Elk, Moose, Brown Bears, etc.

It was an informative, well-presented way to spend a few hours.


I took this shot from the top of the hill – in front is a Sami settlement hut from the North, behind it is a Cathedral in Stockholm, and behind that you can see Stockholm’s attempt at becoming a so-called ‘modern city’ – a folly of the 70s where city planners decided all the original buildings in part of the downtown core should be demolished to make way for modern office buildings. These five ‘skyscrapers’ are one of the results. They are spectacularly ugly from a distance and even worse, in my humble opinion, up close.

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This was my favourite building – a 14 Century storehouse from Telemark in Norway. It reminded me of one my favourite children’s books, Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett.

Speaking of trolls, this rarely seen Lesser Ginchy Bumshow was wandering loose in the zoo…


Dude, your underwear…they’re not even boxers.

On our way out, we could see the crazy rollercoaster next door at Grona-Lund theme park. These people are strapped in and spin around as the ‘car’ zips around the outside of the track. Why.


We also stopped for hot dogs.


Me: Hey, Europe: FYI, this is not a hotdog. WTF? You are usually really good in the bakery department, Europe. Think of the amazing breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries that you make. And especially those really long baguettes! So why so short in the hot dog bun department? I don’t get it. Don’t you think it looks weird? 

Europe: You are crasy! Ve LOVE our hotdog buns like zat. Zey are ze bun equivalent of ze short skinny jeans and ze europop! Zey are like zose long cigarettes ve like! Zey look like ze…

Me: Yeah Ok, Europe, Whatever. I’m just sayin. You might not want to take those anywhere else in the world. You will be laughed at.

Europe: Ok fine. Don’t vorry ve won’t! And aren’t you leaving soon?

Me: Yes, in two days.

Europe: Vell zen you can go home and eat zose huge big hotdogs as much as u vant!

Me: Hey don’t take it the wrong way. We love you, Europe! It’s just the tiny buns. And the washing machines. Oh and those bells that ring all night. Otherwise you are fabulous! Really! I love you!

Europe: Veally?

Me: Yes really!

Europe: Ok vell actually ve like you too. Sorry about ze buns.

Me: No problem. Catch you next time:)



We also spotted this awesome giraffe crane from the boat on the way back to the Old Town.

By this time, we were all melting it was so hot and humid. We decided to head to the Absolut Ice Bar. It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s original, and it was also minus 5 in there so we couldn’t get inside fast enough. They give you these huge hooded fur-lined coats with mitts attached, kids are allowed, and those of us who don’t drink are served these lovely fruity concoctions, in ice glasses of course. We loved it. After our body temperatures had dropped to a more reasonable level, we were ready to go although it felt like a furnace again when we stepped outside.


The entire place is made of ice that is cut in the winter from a river 200km north of Stockholm. You can see evidence of this in pieces of river weed stuck in the ice.


Glasses made from blocks of ice. Bit chilly on the lips.

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The ice counter.


Jacob’s first time in a ‘bar’ and probably the first and last time he will even allow himself to be in a bar with his mother.

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My little ice princess.

We walked home to the Old Town and saw this Gold Guy along the way. (I checked to see if it was Eric from True Blood – nope) and Zoe entertained us all by not understanding that he wasn’t real until the last second…

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We stopped at the grocery store and I was delighted to see that they have pic-n-mix muesli bars here!

We slept well, despite the bells. That rang all night. Have I mentioned the bells?

Thanks for reading -



Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stockholm – I Think I Love you: Part 1, the Apartment

When you arrive somewhere late at night after travelling all day, who really cares what the place looks like. As long as there is a bed and I can make a cup of tea, I don’t care where I am. In the morning, however, I get a bit fussier. Waking up in Stockholm on the first morning was a rather drawn out affair owing to the bells which insist on ringing every fifteen minutes (did I mention that already? 62 times?) and the daycare. But once I was up and could take a good look around the apartment, I fell in love with its funky charm.

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My bed. The duvet is a huge sheepskin. Big sheep they have here…DSC07938 DSC07930

Love this spice cabinet with little glass drawers…haven’t seen this at IKEA.


Freezer on the bottom, Fridge in the middle, and Vodka up top!


The view out the kitchen window across the courtyard.

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Looking down into the courtyard. I can’t believe I took this picture. Some of you may recall I have a bit of a fear of heights. So even looking out from the 3rd floor I feel like I’m going to toss myself over the edge.I did envision myself bleeding on the flagstones, and I did have to stretch my arm out and take the picture without knowing what I was taking a picture of, but I still did it! I will not, however, let Zoe go anywhere near the windows, even though the sill is a foot thick, without snapping at her to Stay Back! and Be Careful! and Don’t Hurl Yourself out the Window! like she was going to but won’t now that I have told her not to. She just sighs and Jacob tells me to settle down.


The window sill.


How about this for a fireplace! I can’t imagine getting this up the stairs…

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Scenes from the kitchen.


This is the washer, which, like all washers over here, takes forever and a day to finish a cycle. What is going on in there? Just fill the thing up with water, swish it around for a while, drain rinse spin and let’s all move on. Civilisations could rise and fall while I’m waiting for my underwear to come out of the wash.

Anyway – this one doesn’t actually have a dryer in it, instead you must hang your clothes on the heated rack above the washer. So today it was 33 degrees in Stockholm, and as I don’t  know how to turn this rack off, it is approximately 52 degrees in the bathroom. At least the clothes will dry quickly.

Once we were able to drag ourselves out the door, we went for a walk through the old town.



The daycare on our ‘street'. Such great toys for the kids – so those must have been screams of joy.


It didn’t take long for us to find the ice cream. Love this picture.

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Or a fishing store, for that matter. This one was founded in 1862 or something like that. Jacob loved it.

Next was the most wonderfully bizarre store I have ever been in. The owner is obviously a collector, although one is hard pressed to determine exactly what he collects. One whole wall of the store was divided into little shelves, each shelf filled with some random article.

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Did you need a couch? Book about Shirley Temple?


Then there was the huge box of eggcups…


And the Abba record…


Jacob preferred Bruce Springsteen.

We then happened upon a lovely little chocolate store (how do these things happen?)

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Stanger, you ask? Yes, I answer!

I have not learned one single word of Swedish since I’ve been here and this is because EVERYONE here speaks impeccable English. Seriously they are better than most Canadians. And possibly better than the Welsh. In fact, the only Swedish I do know, I have learned from the Swedish Chef on the muppets and sounds something like “hurnch ty berndy boop de booby do, hurnch shmerndy bunder be do smork smork smork!” This is entirely phonetic, of course. If it was written in Swedish, there would be lots of those letters with lines through them and ‘sm’ and ‘ss’ and everything would end in ‘ham’ or ‘fenker’ or something like that.

Anyway. We spent the rest of the day on the hop-on hop-off bus which would, I am sure, have been much more interesting if we weren’t all falling asleep, and also stuck in a traffic jam in the burning heat. I wanted to hop-off alright. Right off the top deck of the bus and into the closest fountain would have been preferable. 

I did, however, spend my time looking for Eric from True Blood but nothing yet. Disappointing, but there are many many people here who look a lot like Eric from True Blood and so that’s Ok too. Yep. Sure is fine.

I don’t even really remember the bells that night. Ok that’s not true. I did hear them once or twice. Or 62 times. But it was a good sleep.

Thanks for reading - more tomorrow.