Thursday, July 30, 2015

0 Sweden, Part Four: Stockholm

"What else? We came here for love."

I'd just asked Kenny from The Good Gringo what had brought these perfect American English speaking food truckers to Stockholm. They had independently moved to Sweden for their significant others and then met in a Swedish for immigrants language class. And step was to start a food truck selling tasty burritos at, among other Stockholm locales, Hornstulls Marknad: a vintage street market on summer Sundays. The food trucks were awesome--we also got a killer chicken and rice plate from The Funky Chicken--and the clothes and accessories on display would make for a dream shopping spree for any self-respecting hipster. More than a few items caught my eye, but no room in this traveler's suitcase.

We spent three days in Stockholm during our Swedish stay, and loved the hip vibe, beautiful architecture, charming canals, hidden beaches, funky subway stations, and kid-friendliness. (In one child changing room I saw a sign for where to pick up free diapers and wipes if you ran short!) I collected brochures for intriguing-sounding museums like the ABBANobel, and Museum of Spirits, and would have loved to join the Swedes enjoying leisurely beverages on the water. But that's for next time, sans kiddos. Instead we shelled out $50 to visit the Junibacken, essentially an indoor playground most accurately described in our favorite TripAdvisor review as "Hell for adults, heaven for kids." A much more pleasant experience was had at Skansen: a gigantic outdoor museum that combined zoo, history, gardens, and arcade. But one of our favorite activities was family workouts on the ubiquitous outdoor workout equipment scattered across the city.

Our last night in Sweden, we needed to stay close to the airport for a morning flight to Germany. So what better location than on an airplane hotel? Jumbo Stay is a 747 converted to a hotel/hostel with basic rooms along the aisle and a fancy pilot's suite in the cockpit. The rooms are tiny but everything is immaculately clean and charmingly themed. And I can honestly say that of all the cramped sleeps I've had on red-eyes, this was by far the most comfortable.

You can find more pictures from our Sweden travels here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

1 Sweden, Part Three: On the Boat

Daniel from our exchange family had written that "it's not anything special or difficult about the boat" but that it would be easier for someone to show us than to write down instructions. So they showed Daniel's father who showed us...which turned out to be like a copy of a copy. Some details came through fuzzy. The fuzzy stuff was kind of critical for making the boat go.

We really wanted to take the boat out, but we also really wanted to not break the boat. Or get stranded on a remote island (see Paranagua, Brazil). We were not feeling our most confident selves as we headed to the dock with two kids and many life jackets. 

There were no problems loading everyone in, replacing the engine cover, and untethering the boat. We got the red kill cord attached properly, and thanks to the YouTube videos we watched about outboard engines we were all over lowering the engine into the water. But then there was this throttle and lever and ignition and gas pump and switch...and there are a lot of permutations of putting those together. 

We finally got the boat puttering and pulled away from the dock. Success! But as the engine gradually silenced so did the mood on board. We floated into a bank of lily pads. Jack started asking questions. Patrick began a tirade of regret: "I knew this would happen!" Even Charlie looked concerned. 

But we couldn't let panic take over. Like any ship under fire (I presume), we jumped into action and took our posts. With some oar paddling, manual untangling, and new urgency/clarity on the engine start, we got ourselves back on open water and the motor humming a healthy and victorious symphony out into the lake. High fives all around! 

That day we didn't venture far; we were pretty drained once the adrenaline-fueled euphoria wore off. But we were able to march to the dock with confidence for our next trip. The lake here is so pretty, dotted with an archipelago of mysterious islands. Our town Vrena's total population is around 600, so it is not often that we see another boat when we are out exploring. 

During a picnic on a little blip of land that Jack dubbed "Foster Family Island", he trekked into the trees to make his own hiking trail. Upon his return, the parents dismissed his stories about scary noises from strange animals--we're talking about 1,000 square feet of island and a four-year-old with an active imagination. But when Patrick took a turn on Jack's Path he did indeed encounter two snakes. Jack was very pleased that he was right and his parents were wrong.

So maybe we need to brush up on some wilderness knowledge, but we are feeling pretty awesome about our boating skills these days.

Click here for more pictures from our Sweden travels.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

0 Sweden, Part Two: The Eating Edition

Today we celebrated Mr. Charlie's one-year birthday with local venison for dinner and a  jordgubbstarta/cream cake with strawberries. Happy birthday to our littlest guy!

Jack was very complimentary of his father's master grilling and praised Charlie for his choice in cake. He was a pretty good sous-pastry chef, too. Jack has been a total culinary champ in Sweden--trying new foods and I think no *food-related* meltdowns so far.

Our home exchange family has directed us to all sorts of charming dining destinations we would never have found without them. We drove miles down back country roads to Ekenas Kvarn, a cafe and antique shop with little tables set up on a riverbank and a resident bunny rabbit for the kids to enjoy. When I had to choose from the dozens of different cookies on offer, the owner directed me to a favorite cashew cookie, a surprising chili chocolate biscotti, and a "midnight inspiration" she was proud of.

In Vrena there is one cafe, Pilgrimsbo, and we made plans to visit on one of the few days of the week it's open. Their specialty is cake in a cup: the blueberry was perfectly moist without being doughy and adorable in it's antique tea cup. We got their vegetarian sandwich with brie-like soft cheese, vanilla and rhubarb and gobbled it up. So unexpected and tasty!

While we certainly found pickled fish and other Swedish staples at these little cafes, we went for a really traditional Swedish smorgasbord at Ambrosia Restaurang in Nykoping. We got the isterband smoked sausage--they weren't kidding, we've never eaten something so smokey before--and the blood pudding served with lingonberries and bacon. The quantities were enormous, and of course supplemented with the smorgasbord salad bar and bread station. We had to roll out of there.

But one of the best things about this home exchange thing is having a real, equipped kitchen with spices, staples, and cookbooks to inspire. We pick up interesting ingredients at the grocer, farmer's market, or butcher, do some online research and translations (thanks, internet!) and put together some version of Swedish fare. The dinner of pea soup and pancakes with cream and lingonberries (a Thursday thing apparently) is definitely going to be a keeper. I guess we'll be doing more grocery shopping at Ikea in the future.

Up next: what this family is doing in between meals.

Click here for more pictures from our Sweden travels.
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