Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Market in the Old Town

Stockholm is sometimes called "Venice of the North" as it is built on 14 islands. There is water everywhere and Stockholm is a very pretty city. Compared to the US most buildings are old and Gamla Stan/the Old Town (which also is built on an island) is from the 13th century. According to Wikipedia "The town dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture. North German architecture has had a strong influence in the Old Town's construction."

I remembered that Gamla Stan has a Christmas Market every year and a couple of days ago, when the sun was shining for a change, I decided to be a tourist for a day.
The market takes place on Stortorget - a large square in the middle of Gamla Stan - and there were quite a few booths with food, clothing, and Christmas decorations. I did not buy anything as I do not have any space in my luggage, but I enjoyed looking at all the things that were for sale.

Then I took a nice stroll through the cobbled streets and alleyways. Despite the old houses, people live in this part of Stockholm. It gives Gamla Stan quite a nice feel with a mix of apartments, restaurants, and stores.

This is a very narrow alley - it is only about 3 feet wide. Fascinating really.

Sweden is a monarchy and the Royal Castle is also situated in Gamla Stan.

As the day was sunny I decided to take a walk along the water where there are lots of boats. These are used mostly in the summertime and go to different parts of the Stockholm archipelago that consists of about 30,000 islands. Some of the boats are restaurants and have entertainment.

The white ship is actually a hostel called Af Chapman.

And when I was on may way back to go "home" I saw several big moose as decorations. As it was still daytime they were not lit but I am sure they look nice at night :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

There are a lot of red houses

I have showed several pictures of red, older houses in the area where I have been for a while now. It is a rural area and these kinds of houses are very common in Sweden. It looks charming I think with the red houses with white trim and it seems to symbolize something very Swedish.

The red color is a special kind of paint called "Falu red" which historically originated from different copper mines. The most well known of these is Falu koppargruva = Falu copper mine. If you click on the links you get some more background for the paint as well as the mine.

Here are some more buildings with red paint and there are a lot of red houses! :)

This is the area where my friend has her apartment.

Also the bus station has a small, red building where you can wait inside if the weather is bad.

A view of the area where I am right now.

An older house that looks like a storage, i.e. no one is living there right now.

Also the church is painted red!

The school is one of the oldest in Sweden that is still in use. It started already in 1793 so it definitely has a long history.

And the small house where you take your garbage is also painted red. :) In Sweden most people are very diligent sorting the garbage in different "bins" for different materials. As this is a small area this sorting is not as extensive as in other areas and in this building you can only separate a couple of different waste materials.

Friday, November 20, 2015

World Toilet Day!

I was listening to the radio yesterday morning and heard about the World Toilet Day. At first I thought it was a joke but that was not the case.

November 19 every year is dedicated to the World Toilet Day. I had never heard about this day before and went online to find out more. I had never heard about the World Toilet Organization either but evidently this organization, according to Wikipedia, "is a global non-profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide."
Around 2.4 billion people (1 out of 3) lack access to improved sanitation and around 1 billion have to "go to the bathroom" in the open.

A lot of us just flush the toilet but big parts of the world have different kinds of bathrooms. When my dad worked for a few weeks in North Yemen in 1977 he showed pictures of and told us stories about different kinds of toilets where you squat. Squatting toilets seemed to be common which, of course, is foreign to most of us Westerners. The hotel room where my dad stayed had a flushing toilet though.
After doing a bit of research it seems as if the squatting position might be more beneficial when going to the bathroom. Here is one article:

Sweden is a highly environmentally aware country and most toilets here have two options - one where you flush with more water and one where you use less water. These kinds of toilets are becoming more common in the US as well but quite a few still use a tremendous (wasteful) amount of water.

And I just happened to see this article about a woman who became trapped in her own bathroom when using the toilet. That must have been a very long bathroom break.

Okay, I guess this blog can cover almost anything. ;)

Today colder weather has come to Stockholm and the winter clothes I brought are now very welcome. It has been unusually mild during October and November in Sweden.

Wishing you all a Happy Friday!

Image is borrowed from the internet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Gosh it is dark!

After 18 years at more southern latitudes than Stockholm I am realizing how dark it is in Sweden during the winter. It is easy to forget after a number of years.
It is a big difference between Stockholm and Weed when it comes to number of hours of daylight during the winter. Weed is at 41.4242° N latitude and Stockholm is at 59.3294° N. Big difference!

During most of October there were quite a few sunny days here in Stockholm and that made the afternoons and evenings quite a bit lighter. After Daylight Saving time stopped at the end of October the afternoons got darker quickly. For about a week now, the days have been gray and it stays only semi-light most of the day.
Today the sun rose at 7:48 am and set at 3:17 pm - 7 hours and 29 minutes of daylight. In Weed on the other hand the sun rose at 6:59 am and will set at 4:50 pm - 9 hours and 50 minutes of daylight. And it will of course get even darker until the winter solstice.

When Michael and I lived in Hawaii the days were about the same length every day. And the weather was about the same every day as well. It is interesting to live so close to the equator as there is a high degree of sameness when it comes to weather and climate.

Yesterday the sun was actually out for a few hours and I went for a long walk to a wonderful beech forest (not beach ;)). My friend's apartment (where I am now house sitting) is in the countryside outside of Stockholm with fields, forests, and farms.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sweden is now a changed country

For a long time Sweden has been accepting others who needed a safe haven. Until now, it has been possible to give those who came housing and help. This is not the case any longer.

When I booked my ticket to Sweden during the summer I had no idea that Sweden would change, maybe for good, in very dramatic ways in such a short time. And strangely enough it coincides with the time I have been here. Since I got here about 6 weeks ago, around 60,000-70,000 people have come as refugees. These are unprecedented numbers and the Swedish politicians seem completely unprepared that this could happen. Now, it has happened and they do not seem to know what to do or how to start managing this crisis.

Yesterday a decision was made to start implementing temporary border controls. It does not mean that Sweden is closing its borders but that they are requiring those who come to have valid passports or ID documents. The prime minister thinks that the number of reguees that are coming might even increase. Sweden has taken more refugees per capita than any other country within the European Union.

The situation in Sweden is getting serious as winter is approaching and there is not enough housing. Tents will be used to house some refugees, some refugees are housed in sports centres, and even in empty office spaces.

Not too long ago some refugees were sent by bus to a small town and parts of the refugees refused to leave the two buses they were traveling with. There have been different stories why they refused to leave the buses, but they were offered housing and food. It will most likely not be possible to pick and choose where you want to live as available housing is disappearing. This article was published about 2 weeks ago and the refugees finally left the buses.

Some refugee housing has also been burned down and the police is as unable to resolve these issues just as the politicians are. Where is Sweden heading? I don't think anyone knows as this is a completely new situation for Sweden and no one seems to be willing to make maybe uncomfortable decisions. More and more people seem to feel that Sweden is facing hard times and with more refugees coming into the country (who come from countries where there are wars and very different cultures) I have a feeling that Sweden is forever a changed country.

Maybe I am sounding harsh but I do not see a plan to help both the refugees and those who already live in Sweden. Without a plan, I don't see how this can be solved.

Around 1.3 million Swedes emigrated to the US in the 19th and early 20th century and came to states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. They left for different reasons:
They were, however, on their own and had to endure harsh conditions. The famous Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg wrote a series of books about these Swedish pioneers.

This is a trailer for the movie that was made based on one of these books - The Emigrants.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lakes and fall colors

I had packed quite a few winter clothes for my trip to Sweden but so far have not had to use very many. Fall and winter can sometimes come already in October. Fall is here but it has hardly rained and it has been mild with temperatures around 50 most days.

As I live at 3500 feet in Weed in California it is quite different to be at sea level now. There are many more deciduous trees and the leaves are turning colors. We do not have the multicolored leaves like some parts of the east coast in the US, but they are turning yellow and reddish brown. I am not used to seeing this after so many years at a higher altitude and it is nice with a change of scenery.

I am still staying with one friend mostly when I am in the Stockholm area and she moved about 2 weeks ago to a fairly rural area about 20 km from where she lived before. As I was on a trip, to other parts of Sweden, for about 8 days and just got back a few days ago I have not been able to go for walks much in this rural area, but am now trying to go for a walk every day to experience the wonderful Swedish forest. I love the green moss and that I can walk everywhere. I am, however, noticing that I have become "Americanized" and am sometimes thinking about where I can walk. Then I have to remind myself that Sweden has "the freedom to roam" or the right of public access to the wilderness (Allemansrätten in Swedish) which means that you can walk almost anywhere even if it is private land. That is one thing I have always missed since I came to the US.

I went to two different parts of Sweden - Värmland and Dalarna - to visit and check out those areas. I went to a small town i Dalarna that sits right next to a very nice lake. Sweden has almost 98,000 lakes and there is water everywhere. A nice change coming from the drought in California. These pictures are from the lake I visited.

These pictures are from the rural area where my friend now lives and this is what fall looks like right now.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


My first trip to the US took place in 1985 when I went to Los Angeles to visit the environmental organization Tree People. The founders of this organization (Andy & Katie Lipkis) had been in Stockholm where my dad and I met with them. They invited us and I felt that it was time for me to take a leap of faith and visit them. I was only 24 and had never travelled abroad on my own. That trip was definitely a leap of faith for me and I still remember how much I grew as a person during those 3 weeks when I stayed with Tree People and were taken care of like a "royalty" :) by members of this group.
As it is 30 years ago I don't remember details about everything I did but I was welcomed like Americans usually welcome people - with open arms and enthusiasm.

Despite a really bad cold that I caught I enjoyed myself tremendously during my visit and I still remember that I had thoughts that I wanted to live in the US. At that time I had no idea how hard it is to legally immigrate to the US, which maybe was a good thing. When I realized how hard it was to immigrate I thought that I would remain in Sweden and could not, even in my wildest imagination, foresee that I would meet with and marry an American.

It was pretty hard for me to come back to Sweden even after only 3 weeks as I felt "hit in the head" with the "smaller space" that was - and still is - in Sweden compared to the "bigger space" in the US. It is hard to put this into words but it is a feeling that permeates both countries. Sweden has been a fairly homogenous country for a long time (this is changing now with all the immigrants that are coming to Europe and Sweden) and there is a feeling of sameness in the Swedish society. People seem to appreciate to do things that others are doing, dress in similar clothes, have houses that look very similar, etc.
This is the opposite to the US where almost everything and anything is accepted and part of the American society. The number of people in each country is most likely a contributing factor (Sweden's population is only about 9.5 million people right now) but there is something else that has "colored" how things are done in Sweden. Exactly what that is, I do not really know but the word that came to me when I was thinking about this is "sameness."
A good example is something called "fredagsmys" in Swedish. It is a phenomenon that started some years ago when people in Sweden eat something "cozy" and maybe watch something on TV on Friday evenings. And this phenomenon actually spread to big parts of the Swedish population. Translated to English it would be something like "cozy Friday." The thought of something even remotely similar in the US is not possible.

I am now noticing this "sameness" when I am in Sweden and it feels odd to me as I have got used to the 'bigger space" in the US. One thing that attracted me to the US was the "bigger space" and all the options. This is a big thing for me as I have always felt different and the US is in many ways more allowing when it comes to differences. In that sense I have always felt more at home in the US.

Maybe Swedes are a bit like agent Smith in the Matrix movies. :)