Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Friendships Are Life-Long

I have been so blessed to have a lot of really wonderful friends. Some have been in my life for only a short period of time, largely due to geography, while others have managed to really stick around despite the distance. While the internet has provided a number of services that make it easier to remain in contact with people around the world, nothing replaces actually have a chance to spend real time with them. What an amazing gift to have been able to visit with my lovely friend Malin twice in the same year.
Life being the way it is, she unfortunately had to be at work most of the time we were in Stockholm, but she was absolutely amazing in making us feel more than welcome. Mark really wanted to make sure he experienced Swedish culture through cuisine, and Malin was more than happy to help us out with that. During the course of our stay she made us Reindeer gravy with mashed potatoes and Lingonberry sauce, Swedish Moose Meatballs with milk boiled macaroni, ice cream with Cloudberry sauce, and Swedish pancakes with an assortment of berry toppings. She was an incredible host, and is just an all around amazing person who I am so thankful to know. What an amazing holiday.
And now I'll tell a bit more about the running around town that we had a chance to do. On Friday we did a lot of walking through the city. Once again we discovered a super cool church not far away from Malin's place. And yeah for fall colors!

Then we made our way to the main tourist shopping area of town. It was fun to wander around through the shops. I found a nice journal in a Swedish paper store which made me happy. Nice to get something that is so suited to my personality :) I also enjoyed the little mascot on the street.

Our walk took us through the shopping district and then to another entrance to the old town island. I enjoyed the entry gates. Pretty majestic.

We enjoyed more little tourist shops, yet somehow managed not to spend all our money. This time we avoided the pricey cafes in that part of town however. Definitely a wise move. I stuck to just taking some pictures rather than pulling out my wallet.

After a quick lunch we headed to the Music Museum and we really enjoyed it a lot. The price was right (only 50 SEK) and there were sooooo many hands on exhibits. It was super cool. Plus they had all sorts of different instruments from around the world to look at with headphones to hear samples of them in action

We might not have had a chance to get a good photo of the ABBA house, but we did enjoy the ABBA display they had which included actual instruments used by the band as well as a room where you could dress up and sing Karaoke. Pretty entertaining. Too bad my voice was mostly out due to my silly cold.
They also had a nice display about the opera singer Jenny Lindwho toured the world in the 19th century and is now featured on the 50 SEK note.
On Saturday, our last real day in Stockholm, Malin was free and so we sent Mark back to the museum for a while so we could do some shopping. It was great to have a little girly time and to enjoy H&M in its natural habitat. They had some good sales going on, and I had my fashion guru along to help me pick up a few things with which we were both well pleased. After the little fashion frenzy, we met up with Mark again for lunch at Max to try Swedish hamburgers. The place was pretty much packed out, which we soon came to see was a very common situation for the places Malin liked to take us :) It reminded me a bit of eating at City Super in Hong Kong and having to stare at people at their tables, willing them to finish faster so we could sit. We did finally get a seat and everyone enjoyed the freshly made burgers, and yet another taste of Sweden.
The three of us did a little more shopping to find a souvenir or two and even managed to get a couple boxes of The Royal Wedding Chocolate. We found it pretty entertaining. It was even more interesting when we opened it up at home and found an even larger photo of the wedding couple inside. The oldest Swedish princess and heir to the throne got married this summer, and these are some of the leftovers that they're trying to sell while they're still good. It really was very impressive chocolate, and we ate it in pretty straight order after we got home.
Wanting Mark to have a chance to experience Fika, which is the Swedish term for the time in the day when you take a break and eat something sweet, Malin took us to another packed out place. This one was a little French cafe that specializes in ENORMOUS Swedish cinnamon buns. One was more than enough for the three of us together.

Before the trip Mark and I had done a little research to find out top sights in Sweden, and one of the things we read about was the TV tower. Since we'd been talking about it since the first day and still hadn't made it there, Malin suggested we go and see it while she worked on making the Swedish pancakes for dinner. It was too bad she wasn't able to come with us, because it ended up taking quite a while to get there and back, and that meant less time to spend with her, but that's the way things go sometimes.
The walk there through Nobel Park, a place that was originally meant to house a large monument to Nobel (which was rejected) and now is the home to all but one variety of plant that grows naturally in Sweden, was really beautiful. We had to pause to get a photo or two along the way.

We also enjoyed lots of views of the TV tower itself on our walk up.

We took the turbo elevator thirty floors to the top and enjoyed the view from the restaurant as well as the outdoor caged in view on the level above. It was all pretty breathtaking.

The run/walk back to Malin's, after being informed by the bus driver that we couldn't buy tickets on the bus, was even more breathtaking. But somehow we made it and were rewarded with Swedish pancakes and amazing company. We stayed in the rest of the evening, tired after all the running around, and knowing that the 5 AM alarm would come all too soon once again.
All our transport home went pretty smoothly, but we still didn't get back to Marianske Lazne until about 6 in the evening, making the trip about the same length in both directions. In all, it was a really great trip and I'm so thankful for having had the chance to have yet another amazing travel experience.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fashion: A Luxurious Lifestyle

And now, without any further ado, I welcome you to Stockholm, Sweden.

It's a place of high priced residential areas

Luxury Liners (This one is now actually a hostel)

And fashionable shopping districts. (To be pictured in a later post.)
Since we've stuck around in Europe longer than expected, Mark and I were invited by my lovely friend Malin to come and enjoy a few days in the Nation's Capital. It was quite a change of pace from the last time I visited her at Christmas in '07 when we spent out time in the far north where the houses were few and far between and darkness fell around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This time we were in a bustling city full of life and activity.
Shortly after our arrival we were whisked off to a dinner at a trendy restaurant (Vapianos) where we feasted on pizza and enjoyed the fashionistas all around us. Having started our day at 5 AM with a three hour train ride in which we were joined in our small compartment by 6 noisy teens who enjoyed that we spoke English and therefore didn't understand them (hahaha) followed by the 80 minute flight and then an 80 minute bus ride, we were pretty much exhausted and therefore there are no photos of this part of the trip. It was nice to have a chance to hang out with Malin and her boyfriend Anders who had to leave on a business trip to Italy the next day and therefore wasn't around for the rest of our time.
Thursday we were off on our own from the beginning because Malin had to work as well. The free map we got at the airport ended up being a saving grace for us, and we used it to traverse the high priced neighborhoods with their fancy cars and multiple embassies. We were highly amused to discover that the Czech Embassy is just around the corner from Malin's house of all things. Too funny.
We didn't get far before we came across this lovely church. We didn't go in, but I couldn't resist snapping a few photos from the outside. I could definitely make a lot of calendars with different themes from all my travels.

As you can see from the photos, the weather was positively gorgeous. What you can't see is how frigidly cold it was. After weather in the 20's C for the past week or so in Czech it was a bit of a shock to our systems to now be facing temperatures scarcely above freezing. But we did our best to fight the wind that challenged us off the water, and took it all in stride.
After a nice wander around some of the lovely museums (I swear you could quickly break the bank if you actually went into all these amazing places!)

we decided to go on the boat tour. It took about an hour and we had English pumped through headphones to inform us of important historical facts, as well as the fact that we were passing the house of one of the band members of ABBA. Here are a few highlight pictures from the cruise (unfortunately they told us it was the ABBA house after we had already passed it so no picture of that.)

If it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the first picture in that set was of a tree loaded down with Heron nests. When I was a kid out in Horse Creek we had a tree with three nests in it that we called the Heron Condo, so it was fun to relive the experience a bit.
The last picture there is of an amazing amusement park which sadly wasn't open. We did come a bit after the tourist season, and it's so cold now that it might be dangerous to ride, but we were a bit disappointed that we weren't able to try it out.
After a quick lunch break we headed to the Old City. I could have taken pictures there for hours, but I only got a few at this point in time. It was a bit hard with the glare in some places so I wasn't able to capture the Royal Palace. Of course, it isn't exactly the castle most people would like it to be, but according the tour it has something like 160 rooms, so I'm guessing it's a pretty nice place, and the royal family use it mostly only for events, preferring to reside a short way outside the city instead.
We went into an old church and I was intrigued by the massive statue of Sir George and the dragon. This guy must either have gotten around or at least have been very popular because he's seriously everywhere. There are large statues of him in Prague as well. Just interesting.

We stopped for tea at a cafe that ended up being exorbitantly expensive right in the heart of old town. We later saw pictures of ABBA standing in front of the cafe so maybe it was a bit more special than we could ascertain on first perusal. Anyhow, from there I led us a bit astray, thinking it would be a short walk back around the old city island. Instead we ended up pretty far out in the middle of nowhere, but at least we got a nice view of this monumental building.

We did make it back to town where we stopped at a much cheaper cafe for coffee before heading back to meet Malin for dinner, but I'll save our food consumption for a later post.
For now I'll end with this comment about fashion. From what we were able to grasp, the current trend includes skinny jeans, converse, and big scarves. The coats were typically black, but in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Despite all the trendy people, we did discover, however, that there are also lapses in judgment that lead to sights like this:

A little gift from the sea.
And that completes day one/two of our lovely visit to Stockholm.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Funfairs Are Laughably Ludicrous

At least around here they are. Perhaps a better term would be ghetto. Honestly, I'm not sure how these places survive. Often in Cheb the funfair would come to town and park itself in the parking lot at Tesco. Occasionally I would see a kid or two in the inflatable jumping castle, but beyond that the place was more of a ghost town than the creepy haunted house that at least had mannequins inside.
While I complained that they must have some sort of sinister underside that sponsors them, Mark insisted that they've owned them for so long that it doesn't cost that much money to move them from place to place. Okay, maybe not, but still, the people all gotta eat! They have to make money somehow, and even if they charge 40 KC (a little more than $2) for a ride, they can't exactly be making bank if no one is riding.
Well, this past week the funfair made it's way here to Marianske Lazne. While they might not have many guests, they make plenty of noise in the form of some sort of music being pumped out of the speakers set up everywhere around the attraction. Mark and I were wandering past last Monday and felt bizarrely attracted to the place. Maybe curious is a better word. Whatever way you want to look at it, we decided to go in.
I'm not sure the precise term for Carnies in Czech, but that is definitely what we found there, along with equipment that had clearly been around for several decades. I still hold that they must have some sort of darker business sponsoring their livelihood, they did have several fully functioning rides and we decided to give it a go after all.
First up, the swans! We were told we couldn't sit in swans right next to each other since we were the only people in the entire area, so we had to sit on opposite sides. Much to his disappointment, Mark's swan didn't want to soar quite as high as mine did. Ah well. I had a great time and was fully amused.

We wandered a bit more and decided to give the bumper cars a whirl. Mark was a perfect gentleman and I was perfectly merciless. Quite entertaining. Not good for photos, but a great time all the same.
Then we had the thought that cotton candy would be a fitting end to our little escapade at the funfair. When we went to the little food shack the guy told us at first that they were all out, but then he found someone who could help us. Unfortunately (?) they didn't use this lovely and definitely ghetto cotton candy machine:

Instead they actually had a newer one that they pulled out and whipped us up a batch. I watched as loose strands of the sweet sugary fluff broke free and floated up in the air looking all shimmery like a spiderweb in the sun. They didn't use any food coloring in it, so it was just white, but still tasted classic.
It's a terrible picture, but it'll have to do, and you can at least see the cotton candy. Sadly, as I was turning to take this picture of myself I tripped over some big metal something. I'm not even sure what the purpose of the big thing was, but it did a glorious job bruising my ankle and breaking the skin. Not a great thing to have happen right before I was planning a big trip, but I didn't do it on purpose. Just like I didn't catch a bad cold on purpose either. (sigh)
Anyhow, we walked around with our cotton candy and headed out of the funfair and into a large parking lot where they were still storing some monster trucks from the exhibition they'd had the night before. We didn't go to the show, but we enjoyed being able to get up close to these beasts :)

When we got home Mark's Mom was a bit curious about what drew us into the funfair, but we had such a great time. It was the sort of thing that helped us forget about all the things that can stress out so much at this period on life, and let us just laugh and be kids for a bit. It really was great fun, even if not the most sanitary experience (I didn't share how dirty the fingers were on the man who made the cotton candy for us...)
And for those wondering where the pictures of Sweden are, no worries, they're coming. I just wanted to have a chance to get this bit in first. The night before we flew out I had a horrible time sleeping. I had a bad cold, and I always get nervous before a flight, so I spent a long time thinking of all the acrostics I could use for titles. At least I'm entertaining myself :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Feelings After Long Labor

There's nothing quite like the good ache your body experiences from a day of seriously hard labor. Right now mine is working off two days of intense digging, combined with a minor head cold that I'm really hoping will clear off before Wednesday when I head to Stockholm.
As I was pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill I found myself contemplating other times my body has really ached. I suppose the most dramatic would naturally be when I broke my back. Fortunately, young bodies mend pretty quickly, and by this point that horror is all just like a passing whimsy, almost something that didn't really happen to me.
I remember, too, the brief period when I tried out for basketball in high school. We ran stair laps around the gym and by the end of the first week of practices I was pretty sure my legs were just going to fall off. Unfortunately, with that experience, I never had the chance to discover what it would feel like to actually become acclimated to that sort of training. I soon learned that, despite the fact that we were told there would be a freshman team and no one would be cut, it was clearly more important to have lived in the community for a long time, because I was cut and a girl who never came to the pre-practices ended up on the team. Curious, and rather doubly painful. But this post is not about failures, but about a slow and tedious triumph.
Perhaps "triumph" is a bit premature at this stage. We still have quite a lot of work to do before this little episode is complete, but right now my body is telling me I've definitely achieved something.
So here is what our project looked like in the beginning. We're trying to clear the dirt out of what will eventually be the greenhouse at the garden spot.

We started this work last Thursday, and at the end of that day had managed to dig out about the amount of a small grave. Keep in mind that beside the digging we then have a decently long haul up a hill to the place we have to dump all this conglomeration of dirt and rocks, so it's definitely a lot of work.

On Saturday, a week and a half after the project was begun, we came back and attacked it again. This time we started in the morning and managed to do about this much more.

I added the picture of me in the hole to give you some idea of just how much dirt we're really talking here. I'm beginning to feel like we're digging out a swimming pool.
Saturday we worked doubly hard. After a short lunch break we came back and tackled the hole once again. It's seriously body numbing sort of work. Mark takes a couple of massive wheelbarrows full, and then I take a couple of baby loads just so he can have a bit of a break.

Sunday we were back at it in the afternoon. This time we rotated his dad in for hauling the wheelbarrows as well, and that helped so that we weren't over pushing our already aching bodies. It might be a bit hard to tell just how much more we managed to get done in these last pictures here, but we totally undercut the ground under our ramp, so it is now a much smaller island. I'm not quite sure how we'll manage when we don't have the dirt for the ramp and have to just shovel to the outside, but we'll see what we can manage.

It's actually Monday morning here now, but I really wanted to publish a blog on 10-10-10 before I ran out of time. Rather a magical date after all, isn't it?
After our long day of work Mark and I went out for dinner. We've found a place close by that is fairly cheap and they make a pretty tasty "Mexican Tortilla." It doesn't exactly taste like Mexican food, but it's not bad. So we went out and filled up after all the hard work, topping it off with yummy fried apple rings. Then we went for a walk under the stars. It was super clear and no moon so it felt like we could see forever. A perfect end to a long hard day. Glorious. Cold, but glorious :)