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Archive for April, 2009

I just chased a pair of seagulls off of my balcony. I am absolutely determined to not let seagulls nest in my balcony window boxes again. It’s my balcony and I don’t wait to share it. Maybe if the seagulls were nicer I would let them do it, but they are mean and the swoop and they squawk. Loudly. In Copenhagen, I saw one gull swallow a large baby in a single gulp. I am afraid of them. I know that’s wimpy of me and I know that I am being a bit cruel in chasing them off, but I do have my reasoning. You see, two years ago a pair of seagulls nested in my window box. When we came back from holiday, they had made a nest. They were rather sweet looking. When eggs appeared a few days later, I did not have the heart to get rid of them. I thought the chicks would hatch soon and be on their way and I could plant my flowers. I was wrong. Instead it seemed to take forever for the eggs to hatch. Mom and dad would take their turns sitting on the nest and if I so much as tried to open my balcony door, I would receive a very mean squawk. And if I attempted to ignore them and simply walk to my table at the other end of the balcony, I would be swooped and squawked at. I did not like being swooped. Once the babies hatched, mom and dad got even more protective. And mean. I understood their reasoning, but I got tired of being harassed.

The babies were kind of cute and we enjoyed watching them grow. But they were soon a tasty temptation for other gulls and mom and dad were constantly at war. Robert and I tried our best to help, even going so far a to rescue a dropped baby twice. Eventually, all the babies died and I truly felt very bad about that.  Even so, I don’t want to share my balcony. It’s simply too stressful.

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As many people who know me know, Swedish has not been an easy language for me to learn. In fact, it’s been downright difficult. I was definitely one of the worst students in my classes and that is not an easy cross to bear for a former honor roll student. Though it’s been a while since I took Swedish classes, I do notice my gradual levels of improvement in learning the language. There are days when I am reading something in Swedish and understanding it and then suddenly realize, oh, that was Swedish. It’s almost like I’ve had osmosis of the language.

Swedish can be a funny sounding language as it is very singsong and does often sound just the way the Swedish chef on the Muppets pronounced it. In general, the Swedes aren’t as chatty as we Americans and there are many conversations where everyone makes a mmmmm sound as a filler during a lull. That mmmm used to throw me a lot in a meeting as it was typically delivered with almost a question sounding inflection at the end, leaving me wondering if I was supposed to be responding to something.

There are a lot of word definitions that amuse me as well, including the fact that  gift means married and it also means poison. Bonusbarn means stepchildren, but if you look at it literally, it does mean bonus children. And on the purely useful side, I find it quite practical  that in Swedish, there are words to specify grandmother and grandfather on both sides of your family. Your mother’s   mother is mormor, while your father’s mother is farmor. And a person that you are living with but not married to is your sambo.


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Spring miraculously arrived here in the last three days. All of the sudden, the tulips, daffodils and forsythia are blooming. The grass is starting to turn green. A few buds are appearing on the bushes and trees. And perhaps best of all, the

The window box on MB's balcony.

The window box on MB's balcony.

Daffodils outside my front door.

Daffodils outside my front door.

cherry trees at Kungsträdgården  are now out in all their glory. We stopped by there on Sunday and it seemed like the blossoms cast a magical pink glow on everything. It was stunning. Hundreds of people were strolling amongst the blossoms and taking photos, basking in their beauty and simply sitting on the steps by the fountain. (As a side note, Kungsträdgården translates to the king’s garden. Given its close proximity to the royal castle, it was once used to grow vegetables for the king.)

Anyway you look at it, Stockholm is alive again after a long winter. And it’s not just nature that is putting on a show. All the sidewalk cafes are putting out their tables and chairs again. Those that did not make their appearance this weekend will be out by May 1. Fountains have again been turned on at Sergels Torg and Kungsträdgården. Plus, the street cleaners have been getting rid of all the sand and gravel on the sidewalks, thereby making walking a less gritty business. And what I particularly love is that all the boats are moving from land and into the water again. From Friday until today, it seems like all the marinas have been busy putting the boats in their rightful places.

I love it. I just hope that it doesn’t snow again tomorrow. . .

The cherry blossoms at Kungstradarden

The cherry blossoms at Kungsträdgården.

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There is nothing like a sunny day in this city to bring everyone outside. Especially when it’s the sunniest and warmest day we have had so far this year –about 20 degrees C (68F). From along the water at Gamla Stan to Sergels Torg to Kungstragarden, the streets were jam-packed with people of every age, size and shape. It was good to be out, especially since I was lucky enough to get to go out on a friend’s boat. My friend Mary and I were picked up at Nybroviken, directly in the center of the city and flet a bit like rock stars to be taxied around in such a cool manner.

We made our way along the Baltic past Skeppsholmen, an old military island where you can still take classes in how to craft a wooden boat or see modern art at its finest. Next we passed the island of Djurgården – the king’s game hunting island in days of old. Now you can go to the classic  amusement park of Gröna Lund where wonderful roller coasters and other rides are charmingly packed into a relatively small space or you can also go to the Vasa Museum, a fantastic museum that is home to a real warship and a great story. In brief, the Vasa set sail in 1628 only to sink before making it out of the harbor. The ship spent the next 333 years under water and then somewhat miraculously, the Swedish Navy managed to pull her out of the water in one piece. Now we can all see this fantastic warship and the museum is one of the most populat tourist destinations in town.

Continuing on our tour, the lovely buildings of  Strandvägen were next in our sights and then we made our way under Djurgårdsbron (a bridge to Djurgården) and along the lovely canal that leads into the more open waters of the Baltic. As the boating season is just starting, we pretty much had the canal to ourselves and we all felt extremely lucky to be out and enjoying the spring-like weather from the water. For a break, we stopped at Fjäderholmerna (the feather islands) just outside of town and had a mini picnic there. Again as the season is early, we had had the place to ourseulves and it was fantastic to wander around on our own. The boat trip felt like a perfect way to welcome in spring. My thanks to Jodi and Doug for the excursion!

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I could not resist sharing this clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’ve long been a fan of this irreverent comedy news show from the US.  In this episode, Jon sends one of his reporters to Stockholm to try and make someone here apologize for inflicting that horrible social democracy on the US. It’s pretty funny stuff. I thought it was particularly pertinent and worth sharing given my recent blog on how socialism has become a dirty word in the US (see March 25th).

The Daily Show

And here is part 2 as well.

The Daily Show, part 2

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I get bored by the sameness of many of the restaurant menus in Stockholm. Instead of trying something new, even a newly opened restaurant by a big name Swedish chef will stick with the “tried and true” options of some kind of salmon, boiled potatoes with dill, some kind of caviar and lingon berries with ice cream for dessert.

Been there, done that.

Truly,  I like all those options, but I would love to see a bit of variety and experimentation in a menu. And at a good price.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised with the creative menu and good service at the newly opened restaurant of the Story Hotel. I was there with some girlfriends and we enjoyed checking out the options. The watermelon salad with feta cheese, mint and onion came recommended by my friend Pingis and was particularly tasty. And while my mini beef rolls could have used a little more spice, they were tasty and looked great. Plus, I don’t think I saw salmon and potatoes on the menu at all.

Giving credit where credit is due, I do know there are some wonderful places to eat in Stockholm. I do enjoy the Asian at East and Berns, Marie Laveau makes a pretty good jambalaya, Ho’s has good Chinese, Herman’s has great vegetarian, and so on. I have also eaten some of the best salmon I have ever had here in Stockholm. So don’t think that I am knocking the local favorites. But isn’t variety supposed to be the spice of life?

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This evening, I did my favorite ride around the perimeter of the island I live on. Though it was cool, the day was sunny and I rode straight downhill to the water to take the path that circles around Södermalm. This ride never fails to make me feel happy with where I live as I pass by picturesque canals, small harbors that are beginning to fill up with boats again, bridges, other islands, waterside parks and funky cafes. The mix is really intriguing and today I got yet another reminder of the unique parts of Söder as my usual path was blocked and I had to take a detour. I was a bit grumpy at first as the blocked area is one of the more picturesque parts of the path and the detour featured an exceptionally steep uphill climb. But as I got to the top of the hill, the detour veered off into one of the hillside garden colonies of Södra Tantolunden — small plots of land complete with charming mini houses and gardens for city dwellers. They are fantastic.

Many of these garden plots date back almost 100 years and are difficult if not impossible to buy into — one colony that I checked out had 450 people on the “interested” list. Most allotments have play-house sized cottages of one room and a porch. But there the similarities end as each plot takes on the personality of its owner: a garden of Japanese-style minimalist design might sit next to one that’s jam-packed with flowers and garden ornaments. In the summer, there are a profusion of

The canal between Soder and Langholmen.

The canal and boat harbor between Södermalm and Långholmen, as seen last autumn.

One of the many colony garden houses, as seen last autumn.

One of the many colony garden houses, also from last autumn.

blooms, some plots with just vegetables, many with both: gardens of roses, azaleas, zinnias, sunflowers and snapdragons sharing space next to strawberries, carrots, artichokes, potatoes, carrots, apples and grapes. Just now, people are starting to clean up the winter debris and large piles of branches lined the path. Some crocus are blooming and the grass is only just starting to get green. It’s all a promise of what’s to come. And it’s a slice of paradise in the center of the city.

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