Archive for July, 2009

Hanging out in one of London's many pubs.

Hanging out in one of London's many pubs.

I’m just back from London. Like such other great cities as New York, Sydney and Paris, London always gives me a buzz. From the food and fashion to the music, mayhem and multicultural mix, there’s just so much there to absorb and be inspired by – this city keeps me energized and enthralled all day, every day. And what’s not to love about the pub culture and its endlessly descriptive and evocative pub names: Hog and Pound, Shakespeare’s Head, the Spread Eagle, Dog and Duck and the Coal Hole. This town has a sense of humor. And it’s also managed to keep so much of its historic charm – cobbled streets and old gabled buildings abound. (Stockholm razed so much of its inner city charm in the 1970s, unfortunately.) As an English lit major, I always fantasized that I would live in London someday. But given the crazily high cost of living there, I think I need to become very rich first.


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It’s funny, when you live abroad you hear all sorts of comments that you  don’t know how to take. My favorite is: “You don’t sound American.” Taxi drivers, store owners, waiters and all sorts of people say this to me.  To which I will dutifully reply, Oh, I am and then have to go on to explain where Cincinnati, Ohio is on the map. (Near Chicago is the most recognizable option.) Inevitably, the person will then reply “really, I always guess where people are from and never would have thought that you were American” and then go on to tell me where they assumed I was from. Typically, these options include the UK, Canada, Australia or France. It’s as if they think by telling me I sound like I am from England, that I will then admit, yes, you’re right. I am English. I was just kidding about the being an American thing.

I can never decide if I am being complimented that I don’t sound like a horrible American or if it’s more of a reprimand that I don’t sound like all those other wonderful Americans. Or, do I need to now apologize for fooling them with my accent? It’s kinda funny. One of my Swedish coworkers used to tell me that she liked me “because you’re not loud like other Americans.” And she did go on to tell me that she meant that as a compliment.

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The gorgeous striped rocks on one of the many beaches at Uto. Photo copyright Robert Corkery 2009.

One of the miniature rock islands located off of Utö. Photo copyright Robert Corkery 2009.

There’s no better way to explore Stockholm’s archipelago than by kayak. There are so many islands – somewhere around 24,000 – that you can easily hope from one to the next.  And thanks to Allemansrätten, you are also free to stop and picnic or camp.

One of my favorite trips was a few years ago with our friends Annelie, Jaakko, Durk and Naomi. The six of us  rented kayaks on Utö, then paddled our way out to an island about an hour south. Robert and I intended to camp and had our gear packed into the kayak with us. And our friends were just going to spend the day paddling with us. But soon they were having such a great time that they all wanted to spend the night too. So the four of them paddled back to Utö and spontaneously bought tents, sleeping bags and some other gear so as to stay with us.

Meanwhile, Robert and I scouted out a deserted island to camp out on. After we located a spot of our own with a gorgeous beach, we text messaged our GPS coordinates to our friends. They then joined us there and we had a fantastic evening, everyone pitching in to cook dinner, share drinks and make a fire. Conversations by the fire covered every topic and went in every direction: I was the only American, Robert the only Aussie and there was one Finn and three South Africans.

The night was gorgeous and special. As it was early July, the sunset lasted for hours. And the next day we swam and hung out on our own private beach, then moved on to the next island. It was a magical experience.

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Robert doing a happy jump of joy on Uto.

Robert doing a happy jump of joy on Utö. Somehow, this photo seemed to be the best summation of my relief at resolving my passport ordeal. (By the way, he got some good height, didn't he?)

Now that it’s over, I can breathe a sigh of relief. You see, I’ve been living in passport limbo. My old passport was due to expire in August, so I went to the US Embassy here and turned in my application, money and passport to get a new one. Not long thereafter, I received a note from my local post office informing me that there was a certified letter there for me to pick up. My passport.

For some reason unknown to me, Sweden has post offices set up in groceries where you can do all of your usual postal business. Whenever I receive a package, I have to go to a local grocery to pick it up. It’s kinda funny, but it’s not a problem. However, in order to get that letter with my passport in it, I have to show an ID. But my ID is there in the package, I tell the postal employee hopefully after showing him several other ID variations. No deal. He won’t give me my passport. So I go home and call the post office, only to be told: “Now that is a tricky situation, isn’t it.”

Thinking creatively, I decide it’s long past time for me to get my Swedish ID card. So I go to my bank and they are happy to give me one. But they need to see my passport to finish the transaction. It’s such a  classic catch-22 situation that in retrospect, it’s funny. At the time, it was not. I was having visions of myself stuck in Sweden for the rest of my life. I was not amused. In fact, I was rather pissed off. I needed that little passport booklet. It is my lifeline home and my necessary travel document to get anywhere else in the world.

So now I go back to my grocery post office and another person is working. I can tell that she wants to give me the passport and that she feels sorry for me. But she won’t break the rules, in spite of all the other various ID forms that I am showing her. So we organize a truce and she agrees to send the passport back to the US Embassy here. I was able to pick up my shiny new passport yesterday with no problem at all. Today, I had my permanent Swedish residence permit put back into it by the Swedish immigration authorities. And tomorrow, I will get my Swedish ID card. Now I am a valid person and can travel again. Yippee!

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Cincinnati has an “artsy swagger, infused with a casual combination of Midwest and Southern charm” according to the New York Times. How about that? My hometown is getting cool. Check out the details on where to go and what to see here: The New York Times on Cincinnati. I found some of my old favorites in the article here, as well as some new spots for me to look into the next time I visit.

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Another gorgeous sunset on the archipelago.

On Friday, we boated to a small island on the archipelago and set up for a long evening with friends. There were eight of us and we spread out a pot luck BBQ on the rocks, everyone chipping in to help with the preparations. The day was gorgeous and warm and truly just perfect. It’s so wonderfully Robinson Crusoe-like to be able to just tie up your boat and stake out your space on an island – being able to do this is one of the things I love most about living here, in fact. As a resident of Sweden, it’s actually my right to be able to do this.

Hanging out on the rocks with Judy, Rich, MB and Marilyn.

Hanging out on the rocks with Judy, Rich, MB and Marilyn.

It’s all thanks to allemansrätt or the right of public access. Part of the Swedish constitution,  allemansrätt gives everyone the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on the land. You can do all of this most anywhere except within sight of someone’s home. Basically, allemansrätt means that everyone has the right to enjoy nature. It’s so wonderfully Swedish to have the enjoyment of nature as a right.

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Alléviken: The ancient striped rock (gneiss) on the beach at Utö.

When I moved to Stockholm, a surprising number of people asked if I would be living anywhere near Zurich. They honestly confused Sweden for Switzerland. At the time, I smugly felt superior in my geography knowledge and told them to look on a map. But I also thought it was rather funny that I was moving to a place that so many Americans did not seem to know about. Then after living here for a while, I thought it was rather sad that people did not know how beautiful Stockholm and its archipelago was. But now in a perverse way, I’m also happy as I would prefer that the archipelago stay in the same pristine, non-developed state that it is now.

The forests, beaches and rocks are so lovely that it’s easy to imagine what this island looked like 100 or even 1,000 years ago. As we rode along the quiet forest paths on our bikes, we were pretty much on our own, although we did see a deer and her fawn at one point. And we also had the beach to ourselves even though it was a sunny day in July. But perhaps best of all, we only had to cycle a a few kilometers back into town to be able to hang out by the harbor and have a beer while we listened to live music. I feel so fortunate that I get to experience this magical place.


Along one of the many forest paths in Utö.


Hanging out at the Seglarbaren on Utö.

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