Monday, July 27, 2009

Vacation weeks 2 & 3 (of 3)

Just got back to Stockholm after our Southern/West Coast swing and am getting ready to pack up and head out on the final leg of my long vacation to Seattle for a few days.

After the first week of boating and messing around at the summer house, we took off for a week long road trip to the Southern part of Sweden, Skåne and Österlen. It's truly a beautiful part of the country, and a bit different than any other part. Reminds me a lot of Nebraska by the sea oddly enough. Wide open fields right next to rocky seascapes, and the weather seems to be a bit more temperate than the rest of the country.

We started off with a 2 night stay with some friends of Cecilia's parents outside Malmö. In addition to their fine hospitality, we enjoyed a round at Bärsebäck Golf & CC, site of the SAS Masters Cup (which just finished). My golf season kicked into high gear here and I shot my best round ever, a 9 over par 80. It was enough to drop my handicap to a respectible 14, which subsequent rounds would show is probably too low. Crappy thing about the Swedish handicap system is that you can lower your handicap pretty easily with a good round (I went from 18 to 14.1), but when you play 3 crap rounds after that (which I did), you don't raise it nearly as quickly (I'm now at 14.3 despite 3 horrendous rounds). So with my one-time fantastic round, I basically shot myself in the foot for the upcoming company tournament in September where I'll have to play on a 14 handicap.

After our stay north of Malmö, we pointed the Volvo east towards Simrishamn to meet up with some of Cecilia's old friends and tour the countryside, including a beach stop, tour of an apple orchard, a couple small fishing villages and ending at a great little B&B in the middle of nowhere where we enjoyed a great dinner. Highlight was the parmasean cheese sauce served w/the steak Cecilia had. Tasted fantastic and the chef gave me the recipe which is embarrassingly easy. Cream, paramsean cheese and a bit of lime juice. I'm going to give it a go tonight to see if I can recreate it.

We took off early for another round of golf among the apple orchards and along the sea at Lila Vik. Not the worst round in the world, those would come later. Cecilia did have a brain fart which made for a good laugh around the 13th hole (see picture below for explanation).

After our round, we meandered along the coast south towards Ystad, stopping at about every antique store and flea market on the way before finally arriving in Ystad. It was sort of a last minute decision to stop here and we booked a room a couple days in advance. A wildly popular detective series ("Wallander") was filmed here, and now the Brits are doing an English version. All English actors speaking English, but its set in Sweden and all the characters have Swedish names. If it doesn't sound strange, take my word for it, it is. Anyway, the cast and crew totally booked 2 hostels for about 2 years and that on top of it being high season, we were left with the one hotel room left in an ancient hotel on the main street. Sounded good, until we got there. The receptionist said it wasn't a double, but 2 single beds. "Fine", we thought, "we can just push the beds together". Wrong. The room was essentially 2 closets they combined. 2 single beds, with a 1/2 wall separating them, and, the kicker, 2 mounted TV's on either side of the 1/2 wall. The 2nd kicker, the toilet was in a closet. 3rd kicker, so was the shower, only a different closet. By far the strangest hotel room we ever stayed in.

A nice meal and we were off the next day for some outlet shopping on our way back to Stenungsund. Our final week there was spent at the summer house just relaxing and doing a bit of gardening, which continuously surprises me how much I enjoy weeding. I could sit there all day just turning dirt. Cecilia and Carl-Axel kept interrupting me with dinner and other small trips though. In the end, I got most of one entire flower bed done and it's looking good considering it was basically a lawn when I started.

That was it really, 3 weeks and we made a few trips, but in the end it felt like we didn't do too much. I don't think Cecilia was ready to head back to work today, but I think I will be when I get back from Seattle. That said, I need to do a bit of packing before I leave tomorrow.




Cecilia doing her impression of the Turning Torso in Malmö


Another shot of the Turning Torso. Its an apartment building apparently.

At Clas & Kerstin's house outside Malmö. Theme for the vacation: Pimms Cup.


Enjoying some freshly made Gaspacho after meeting Cecilia's old friend Maria and her boyfriend Frederik. I don't remembering it being quite as blissful as the expression on my face would indicate. Good though.


Cecilia sampling some of the Applemust from Kivik's Musteri


Relaxing and deciding what to have for dinner at our B&B in Österlen.

Golf at Lila Vik.




Even though I look good, I don't think I hit the green here.




So there was a little sign next to this green "contraption" advertising smoothies. Cecilia was disappointed when, despite her best efforts, no smoothie came out of it. "It" being the BALL CLEANER. Cecilia is catching on to golf quickly, but apparently still has a way to go.


Cecilia was a bit overly enthusiastic about the poppies we found. I did check her bag for contraband.


The hotel. You can see the double TV's hanging on the wall.



Ales Stenar - These extremely old rocks in a formation that no one know's definatively why they are there.





Down the hill from the rock circle thing towards a little harbor where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of....


Fresh Ale (shelf life 3 months), potato salad, shrimp salad, 2 kinds of smoked makerel, and freshly baked bread. Delish.

Back at the summer house, admiring my flower bed work.

It don't get more Swedish.

Crayfish dinner before we left the West coast. Delish.


Wine on the train. I'm finding I love riding the train between Stockholm and the west coast. Even though we rode the slow "milk train" and it took almost 5 hours, it's more enjoyable than flying.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Swedish vacation (week 1 of 3)

(don´t judge grammar or spelling, this was hastily put together on our way out the door...) *



The first week of our summer holiday in Sweden has come to a close. If the first week is any indication, the remaining two are going to be fantastic.

We began last Saturday with a comfortable ride on the fast train from Stockholm, first class. Apart from the free coffee and slightly wider seats, I'm not sure what makes it first class. Crossing the breadth of the country in 3 hours is nice (it would take considerably longer to cross the length but we'll save that for another vacation).

A (terrible) round of golf at our home course in Stenungsund Sunday morning before readying the sailboat for our trip to Åstol, a small island in the western archipelago. We had a pleasant 2 hour trip to the island Brattön, where Cecilia's sister and family have their summer house. Cecilia and I spent our first night, which for me was one of fittful sleep, on the boat, and we departed for Åstol just after lunch. With I at the helm and Carl Axel as navigator we made the hour and a half trip through some relatively choppy waters and arrived at the disgustingly picturesque harbor. A few Pimms Cups (the quintessential summer drink) and a change of clothes and we were ready for what brought us here: Daniel Lemma at the smokehouse.

For those of you who don't know, Daniel Lemma is a Swede of ethiopian descent who's rise to fame (in Sweden) came when he penned the soundtrack to a hilairous film here. He's enjoyed moderate success with his subsequent releases but hasn't quite made a name for himself outside his homeland. I've been a fan ever since his first release and his song, "If I used to love you" was what Cecilia and I had our first dance to at our wedding (5 years ago in August!!!). The venue for the show was a 75 or so capacity dining room at a retaurant where smoked shrimp are the specialty. Between the friends/family, all you can eat shrimp, and the fact the venue was so small I could have refilled Daniel's water glass without getting out of my seat, it was easily one of the best musical experiences of my life. After the show I had a beer and a chat with Stephan, Daniel's very talented muti-instrumental backing musician aboutBreaking into the US and the music industry in general.

The plan was to leave the next day, but the weather was so fantastic and having nothing really to do, we poured a few more Pimms Cups and laid back in the harbour and relaxed for another day.
After making it back to the mainland, we loaded the car up and headed out to the summer house at Råö, which has been in Cecilia's mother's family for 3 generations. Cecilia is taking up the project of interviewing her grandmother about the history of the house for a coffee table book to be published in a very limited run (of 1, so don't be looking for it in your local Barnes & Nobel any time soon). We spent the next 2 days gardening and doing odd jobs around the house and its looking pretty good.

Today we are taking off for a roadtrip down south to Skåne, where the dialect boarders on Danish, for some golf and sightseeing.

The Swedish is coming along now. I can more or less follow any conversation I hear, with varying degrees of comprehension. I can almost always figure out at least generally what people are talking about. Speaking has proven to be the most difficult, but my interactions with Swedes have ceased to begin with "Pratar du engelska?/Do you speak English?" and I'm taking a stab at getting my message across, with varying degrees of effectiveness. When things get a little over my head I just pretend I know what people are talking about and just nod. It reminds me of how David Sedaris described learning French. Whenever someone would say something, he'd reply, "d'accord/ok" and see what happens. Fortunately I haven't found myself in my underpants in a doctors office waiting room, surrounded by fellow fully clothed "waiters" as a result of my faked comprehension, unlike Sedaris...yet.

Enjoy some pics from the last week...and the video of DL playing at Åstol at the bottom (if it ever finished loading...)

*computer froze so this is getting uploaded a week after it was written...(Cecilia)




a lovely couple.



Captain and skipper



Daniel Lemma and Stefan





Åstol...what you see is the extent of it.



It looks nice, but not nice enough to tempt me. Its not the Florida or South Carolina or Indonesia bathwater temperatures I am used to.


The family enjoying mackerel at the summer house.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer houses, 1/2 marathons and world records

So not much new has been going on in these parts. I ran Göteborgsvarvet, the 1/2 marathon in Göteborg over the weekend. I set 2 records.

1. Largest 1/2 marathon in the world with over 60.000 runners. It showed. I was in the last starting group and was constantly hopping hither and yon about the course avoiding the slow(er) runners. Needless to say, I wasn't entirely pleased with my time, but considering I only trained 3 days for a 1/2 marathon, 1:51 is fine. It wasn't enough to beat the 3 other guys I was running with, which meant taking charge of the kitchen for the making of the paella after the race. T'were good.

2. Largest Ukulele ensemble playing the same song for 5 minutes. We played some song that aparently Scando's know but I have never heard it. "Rock around the world". Cecilia even picked up a spare uke, learned the 3 chords and joined in with over 650 other ukers. T'was fun.

Jaime and Laura (friend from HS) are coming over Kristihimmelsfärdsdag break. That's Ascension day for you not in the know or as I like it, the literal translation of "Christs Sky Journey Day!" I have a 4.5 day weekend because of it. We are heading out to the Archipelago and are praying for sun.

Oh I guess I haven't blogged since going out to the summer house. It was awesome. Hasn't seen many visitors in the past year and a half so there was a lot to be done. Found out I actually like gardening. Who knew. Throw the iPod in, some tasty jams (the Staple Singers or 70's Ghanian funk will do the trick) and I can weed with the best of them. Really looking forward to spending some time out there this summer. That and golfing (as soon as our damn shipment w/my clubs gets here).

K. Must clean before Jaime gets here tomorrow. Hej då!

Walpurgis(!!!) night. Wikipedia it. I don't know what it is, but it involves fires and like all good Swedish holidays, copius amounts of booze.

I basically weeded the whole time we were there. I guess you could say I was the Constant Gardener.


...see

View out over the water from behind the house. It's nice in case you can't tell (and I'm still weeding down there by the Volvo).


Swedish brine shrimp and a little Rose. Pre-grill staples.

Amped for the world record try (w/Camila's sambo Eric, dressed in hideous GAIS colors)

Ceecers picking up the chords
video


"High five for great success!!"

Paella and sangria while watching the Eurovision finals (which were crap). I won't even bother explaining what it is for the North Americans, but ABBA won it with Waterloo a long time ago.

What one looks like after 21km and a few drinks...not so patiently awaiting the 2am korv.


Friday, April 24, 2009

The Daily Show

Found this link on the English language Swedish news site I follow over here. Man I love the Daily Show.

http://www.thelocal.se/blog/20090423/436/

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tina

Last night Cecilia, Carl-Axel and I hit up Globen (Stockholm's appropriately named big indoor arena) to check out one Tina Turner, born November 26, 1939 in Nutbush, TN. That makes her 69, going on 70. It's truly amazing what exercise and a boatload of money can do for your appearance. She was a fantastic performer and still has full control of her trademark rough and raspy voice. It was good to hear some of the old classics of days with Ike, but I wasn't too much of a fan of the later solo stuff. One very strange moment came with "We don't need another hero", the song she wrote for "Mad Max and the Thunderdome" where she starred along Mel Gibson. She came out dressed up in her outfit from the movie, and sang next to a 7ft tall roid popping "dancer" decked out in what appeared to be a futuristic characature of a Trojan warrior outfit. I was dumbfounded.


However, she more than made up for it on Proud Mary and Nutbush City Limits. I didn't realize how excited I was to see Proud Mary, her rendition of which is pretty high up there in the list of Iconic performances in Rock history (see link above). I'm glad I got to see it. Me and the 60 year old lady in front of me were definately enjoying ourselves.


On another completely unrelated note, my most recent gastronomic gem of a find is Kräft Ost, or literally Crawfish Cheese. It's a delicious blend of spreadable cheese, bits of crawfish, salt brine and dill. Sounds repulsive, but tastes so mmmmmm. Great after concert snack.

On a sad note, my cousin is in the hospital in Cleveland with a mass in her brain and is going to have surgery this week. It's pretty serious. My thoughts are with you Steph.


(mmmm....fishy cheese)


(Enjoying a beer at intermission. Intermission at a concert you say?? I'm convinced they were watching out for all the old folk's and thier overactive bladders. I think I saw maybe 10 people as young as Cecilia and I there. It's a shame kids today don't respect the classics...what with thier heavy metal and rap music)


(Tina)

(Fancy retracting arm thing that took her over the crowd during Nutbush City Limits)

Friday, March 27, 2009

3 months in....

2 paychecks in to the new job here and they haven't let me go yet. It's a small victory each day. Things are a bit slow, so hopefully this pesky little financial crisis will get itself cleared up and we can all go back to being productive.


Won free tickets to a stand-up comedy show a while back from the English news website here in Sweden. What I didn't know when I got there was that the opener was in Swedish ("headliner" was a Brit). I settled in for what I thought was going to be a loooooong 45 min of staring blankly at a guy doing his damndest to make me laugh. Fortunately my comprehension has picked up a bit since moving here. I laughed at everything I understood, which was about 10%. Unfortunately for the guy, everyone else only laughed at about 20% of his jokes. That means, I'm 50% fluent right??


I've all but quit the free gov't sponsored SFI language program. It's just not structured enough for me. I had 1 good teacher for a while, but even she couldn't compete with the constant flow of new students with varying levels of comprehension. I'm studying at home for a while and I think I'm going to pay to go to a class at the "Peoples University", folkuniversitet. Classes are a modest 2.000 SEK (~USD250) per 10 session class. Hopefully the old economic principle of free ridership (WARNING: that is the first of many in what is likely to be the blog post for how not to use hyperlinks) holds true and classes will be better/more efficient if students are forced to pay.

The only other thing keeping me from attaining fluency are these damn Stieg Larsson books. I have never really been one for crime thrillers, but I'm certifiably addicted, about a year later than everyone else in Sweden. It's like reading the DaVinci code after Tom Hanks went off galavanting after the holy grail on the big screen and EVERYONE already knew the story. It's exactly like that actually. The cinematic interpretation of the first book is in theatres now, with the very talented Mikael Nyqvist playing the Tom Hanks role. In fact, if anyone is looking for good foreign movies, he's got a couple really good ones: As it is in Heaven and everyone's favorite pre-almost-too-disturbing-to-watch Moodysson film, Together about life in a 60's commune in Sweden.

Winter looks to be on the way out, but as I've been warned by many a Swede here, there is really no telling in April and May. We could be in for more snow, which seems pretty unlikely to me, but then again, I've spent the majority of my life in tropical climates...it hurts just writing that. I didn't know how good I had it.

Anyways, we had a great Easter break, and I use "break" to the fullest extent of its meaning, boardering on "hiatis". Somehow a Sunday holiday turned into a 5 day weekend. For being a pretty non-religious society, they like to celebrate the religious holidays...in the most pagan nature worshiping ways of course. Apart from the symbolism of eating lamb, there is really nothing "churchy" about it. We went out to Cecilia's aunt and uncle's summer house about 2 hours outside Stockholm in the archipelago. The spot is amazing, and despite my aforementioned tropical upbringing and the fear of all water colder than body temperature, I managed to hop in the just above freezing (3degC/37degF) water after a litte bastu/sauna. Unfortunately, I wasn't intoxicated to the point of numbness.

Here's some picture of what is hopefully the end of winter and begining of spring, taken over the last month or so...

(Cecilia outside our apartment building here)

(Walking up some old streets on Södermalm, where we would like to live)

(Very suprised to see this since they are all but failing in the US. Maybe the only Tully's in the world serving Nacho's. Unfortunately they found it utterly incomprehensible that "dirty chai" could exist...."but a chai doesn't come with espresso!!" " No, @$%^, buddy, but amazingly enough, if you dump a shot of espresso in an ordinary Chai beverage, you can make a whole new and doubley wonderful beverage". I stomped out in disgust, which Cecilia quickly reprimanded me for. )

(Spring arrived bringing cucumber mint cocktails)

(Cecilia's uncle's house. We stayed in the little house in the foreground....

...with a sweet view of the water)

(Heading out for a run with the Lago's)

(Breakfast on the water)

(Sunset on the water)

(Despite the thin layer of blubber, I am not ready to traverse the arctic waters)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Grind...

Been a while, but nothing much has happened in a while. Cecilia started working and is already too busy. She has some fun projects though. Working with the Brittish Embassy and a beer importer to launch Fuller's new beer for the Swedish market and doing the opening of the new Kosta Boda glass hotel(http://www.kostabodaarthotel.se/). Me, I'm valuing the Trade name of a swedish chewing tobacco product. Fun times.

My classes at Svenska för Invandrera (SFI or Swedish for Immigrants) started. I think usually people on contract get private language lessons, but my company didn't want to and I didn't really want to push it...after all they gave me a job without a proper interview, so....Besides, I wanted the "real" immigrant experience. By that, I mean what all the political refugees from countries not-friendly with the US experience.

SIDENOTE: It’s a real debate here on the efficacy of their integration process. Swede's are being accused/accusing themselves of being racist, the integration programs are failing and highly skilled workers in areas of need are being left on the sidelines while they deal with the Swedish bueuracracy. Case in point (which is sad or hilarious depending on what mood you're in): A friend of Cecilia's works at a large engineering firm here. They are experiencing a severe shortage of qualified engineers, so what do you do. You go to where you know the engineers are. Where is that? Driving taxis in Stockholm, of course. They gave their engineers some jingle and had them go jump in taxis in Stockholm and see if the drivers were engineers in whatever country they came from. No joke.

So back to the Swedish lessons...They've gotten off to a very slow start. Have to get your personnumer (SS#) to sit for an assessment. Got that after a week. Went for my test the week after. Waited 2 weeks after that for class to start. 1st class wasn't class, but another assessment test that concluded exactly what the first did with regards to my placement. I show up for my first "class", and the group was going for a field trip...ice skating. I'm not against ice skating, but at 5:30pm, in my suit (yes, this isn't Seattle with chino's and fleece jackets) mentally prepared to begin my long journey to fluency, a jaunt around the rink with my new classmates is not what I had in mind. How does that lesson look? (Foreigner: Oj, jag faller!/Ow, I fall Teacher: Nej, du föll/No, you fell). Anyhow, me and a Cuban guy I met at the first class/2nd test who was supposed to start in my class was of the same opinion as I was, so we sat in on another class while ours went off gallivanting around central Stockholm.

In my first "real" class that wasn't ice skating, things went very slowly. We went through some exercises, sat around a table in groups where we were supposed to be conversing in Swedish, but mostly just staring at each other and speaking English when we did talk. How the hell do you describe what you do in Swedish when you've been here for 3 months and what you do is bioinformatics. What the hell is that you ask? Me too. I'm still not sure, but apparently it involves genomes and writing computer programs (so the people in my class aren't dumb). Anyway, when you struggle to come up with "Jag är hungrig/I'm hungry" describing bioinformatics is a ways off.

Once we were done staring at each other and speaking English, the teacher went around the room and asked us how we learn best to figure out how to structure the class. Normal answers all around, going through exercises, speaking with the teacher, etc. Then we come to 2 Indian IT consultants. We spent the next 45 minutes while they told the teacher how to teach. I could go into details, but the whole process exhausted and frustrated me and I don't want to relive it. I ended up gnawing my fingernails to stubs to keep me from jumping out of my chair and bludgeoning them. Suffice to say, they desired a bit more structure in their lessons.

After all this, I've come to the conclusion that my quest for Swedish is going to be largely an endeavor I embark on by myself. Free lessons are great, but if they go too slow and cause near aneurisms, I think I can do better on my own, with the help of my live-in tutor. Since then I've been reading and translating whatever material I can get my hands on and just last night found Lätt Svenska Nyheter (Easy Swedish News or as I call it, Svenska Nyheter for manniskör som är dum i huvud/Swedish News for idiots). I'm reading that and reading the articles out loud for Cecilia and doing a bunch of Swedish-talking in the house, so things are progressing....in spite of SFI.

Here is a picture I took from my phone on the way to the tube from home this morning. Nice and snowy.



Senare
B