Friday, July 31, 2009

Tyresta National Park

Yesterday, we spent the day in Tyresta National Park and Nature Preserve. Stockholm is the only European capital with virgin forest close by, about an hour south of the city center. Here you can find primeval forest with pine trees that are 400 years old, pristine forest lakes and a large number of unusual plants and animals.

The main entrance to the national park is at Tyresta village, which is considered to be among the best preserved villages in the Stockholm region and has been inhabited since the iron age. The buildings date back to the 18th century and have been preserved in their original state.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Call Roto-Rooter

What's worse than a plumbing problem? How about a plumbing problem in a foreign country and really limited knowledge of the language?

My kids were washing off their feet after spending the day at the park yesterday and, well, my daughter decided it was too strenuous to actually stand and do this. She decided to sit on the sink. That was barely anchored into the wall. With anchors that where twenty years old and jimmy rigged in with toothpicks, I later found out.

The horror that followed is still so raw it's really difficult to relive at this moment and let me tell you, I am not entirely sure, it can not be somehow be traced back to the Shaman. It'll be a while before I look back at this and laugh. Though, I know I will at some point.

Upon screams from my son that "Keeley ripped the sink out of the wall", I walked over to the bathroom. I was thinking she probably knocked the European style spray nozzle out of the shower.

Wishful thinking, I entered the bathroom to see her holding the sink up. Cracked anchors, icky black sink goo and cracked plastic piping lay on the floor. My son had a small glimmer of satisfaction in his eye and I think I detected a small smirk on his face, quite eerie actually, when he said to her, "You are going to be in so much trouble when Dad gets home!"

Ah crap..I had just received a text from him that he was on his way home and ready to start his five day weekend. Yeah. I am thinking this wasn't what he had in mind.

Getting a handyman in July or August in Europe? Lots of luck. The whole city is on vacation and has been since early July.

What ensued next was really much of a blur. A lot of internet surfing and trying to figure out just what the hell a Home Depot is called in Swedish. A whole lot more surfing to discover there wasn't one in the city center. A subway, a bus ride, $50 worth of parts and it was fixed. Actually in better condition that it was when we started.

Someday, it'll be funny. Just not today.


We spent the day in Haga Park yesterday. Hagapark is Stockholm's crown jewel and is said to be one of the best maintained English style parks in Western Europe. It's probably the nicest park I can recall spending time it. Nicer than Central Park, the Tiergarten and, even, Bangkok's Lumpini Park. What's even nicer is that it is about a five minute walk from our flat. It's actually located in the city of Solna which is the next municipality north of Stockholm.

It is an oasis in the city, offering vast amounts of green trees, fresh air and water for those who want to relax and refresh their souls. It is home to forest, gardens and many lakes. Another plus is that is immaculately kept and free of the urban debris.

The 50,000-square-meter park has a fairly-tale-like atmosphere, due to the many fantasy-filled structures, like the Ekotemplet, the blue Copper Tents, the Turkish Pavilion, and the Chinese Pavilion. It was said that the King Gustav III liked to sit under Ekotemplet for breakfast.


Haga was the project of King Gustav III during the 18th century. His royal architect was responsible for most of the park’s design. The King Gustav III’s summer palace stands in the middle of the park, and today it is open to the public during the summer months.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pay to Pee

You won't find a public toilet here that doesn't require paying a fee. It's usually 5-10 SEK. The conversion rate, which you can't help doing in your head no matter how painful, is about 7.5 Krona to one US dollar. It's fluctuating, it got as high as 7.9 last week. With the dollar tanking this week, it was down to 7.4 yesterday. The Euro trades at about ten to one and that's about where things should be to be just ridiculously expensive. Converting to dollars, makes it comically expensive.

Doing the simple math, you can see, that's nearly a dollar to over a dollar to go to the loo. I have been told that they charge to maintain the bathrooms. Strange that they can't maintain the bathrooms on the sizable amount of tax revenue they collect. Even stranger that no one else finds this pretty unacceptable.

Places like McDonald's and it's Swedish equivalent Max Burger charge also. Leading me to believe it's also about keeping the inordinate amount of crazies, drunks and drug users out of the bathroom. So again, it becomes a case of the majority having to pay for the irresponsible behavior of the minority.

The Easy Way

"There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist."
Ayn Rand

I saw a guy with a nail in his nose today. This isn't really a commentary on Stockholm because, really, cities everywhere attract these sort of attention needing types. The exception is, in Stockholm, they are generally drinking beers while walking down the street. I am guessing there are no open container laws here and if there are, they aren't enforced. So, yeah, here he was nail in nose, beer in hand.

How old was he you ask? 15? 17? Nah, he was about 35. As soon as he saw myself and kids he got louder, apparently to draw more attention to himself. You know to really freak me out. Because, having just fallen off the turnip truck and it being 2009-- I've never seen an idiot with a large piece of hardware in his nose. Well, maybe not one who's five years out from an enlarged prostate, I'll give him that.

Stockholm is full of them. Which is interesting, I guess. But, more than anything it's so yesterday. The non-conformists need to come up with something new. The 1970s punk rocker---not shocking. The over tattooed and pierced thing--seen it. The gothic look. For real? People are still doing this?

And isn't conforming to non-conformity--well, conformity?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Ugly American Part One of Many

Faced with a four day weekend, I set out to take a small trip. To complicate things, I am trying to keep it relatively inexpensive seeing as we just went on vacation. Inexpensive European vacation, an oxymoron if there ever was one. Especially with a dollar more fit for lining bird cages than anything else.

Originally, we were headed to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark. Getting there turns out to be an ordeal. Three trains, a bus--sounds more complicated than what I had bargained for. Then I turned to the idea of renting a car. Ten hour drive, ferry to get the car over the water, $7 a gallon gas to get there..again, getting way more complicated than I have the tolerance for.

Isn't there a 1-800 number I can call and get the all inclusive deal? Some sort of mapped out, error free, baby stepped package for the easily overwhelmed? Someone would have thought of this in the US. Plus, we'd get free T-shirts to help market the idea along to other attention span challenged travelers. It's what we do. Actually, we just drive or fly. We don't bother fucking around with trains.

Really, I can't even blame it on my short attention span. My husband, who excels at conquering, complicated Kilimanjaro sized tasks, looked up from the computer and said, "Are you frikking kidding me right now?"

I'll eventually have to make good on my Legoland promise but a nagging voice inside my head keeps asking, "Can't we just wait until we get home hop in the car and make the 5 hour drive to San Diego?" We'd be guaranteed a rain free experience--with ice.

Plus, I hate the idea of spending my money in the highest taxed country in the world. Isn't it bad enough I am spending it in the second highest taxed place? It's like a subtle nod of approval.

Then I moved on, so I started racking my brain on where to go. I've been to many of the larger European cities so I started to look for the cheap, last minute airfares. Cologne, Bonn, Vienna--Yes, I know, Ugly American poster child here- but old buidings, old buildings, old churches. I am surrounded by old buildings. And I love old buildings, don't get me wrong, but I don't need to spend $3,000 to look at old buildings for four days. Especially, when I can walk outside and see old buildings all day long.

In my searches I see there is an airline called German Wings. They have cheap flights to Berlin. I love Berlin, a city worth going to again and again. Normally, such an airline might be a little frightening. I'd be a bit nervous to fly Turkey Wings or Poland Wings. But German Wings, I am OK with. The Germans may not be overly friendly but if there is anyone who I'd trust to maintain, fly and schedule flights--it's them. And I bet you could eat off of the floor of one of those babies.

Bah, it looks like there is some sort of World Cup festival going on in Berlin this weekend. Soccer, right? Don't even get me started on that topic.

Back to my search. Anyone of these cities would be a dream, if I were sitting planning the trip from my computer in Phoenix. But, I am in Stockholm. In the thick of it. So, I am not exactly sure what I am looking for.

Plus, old buildings and museums, at this point, aren't a huge selling point to my kids. Especially, when Legoland was on the table.

I am still looking and taking each city and googling "things to do in city". Museums. Hmm, Krakow has a water park. Who knew?

Then, I move on to what really makes me feel like getting on a plane and going somewhere. Sunshine and blue water. Now, I am down into Portugal, Spain, Greece and Turkey. It might be hard to actually drag me out of any of these places. Plus, it's high season--not really cost effective for four days, keeping in mind the ever eroding dollar. All and all, still considering Portugal...

In the meantime, we've decided it's Phuket, Thailand for Christmas. It's an idea everyone can agree on. Maybe we are all going Euro.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Uber Tolerance

Witnessing the usual barrage of visual assaults on any given day in Stockholm got me to thinking about over tolerance and it's effects on the longevity of society as a whole. Perhaps it isn't the role of government to criminalize certain activities and it is more the role of society to ostracize certain behaviors. A concept that predates modern religions and practiced by tribal peoples throughout the world. Interestingly, I don't write this as a bible-thumping zealot, as I identify myself as much an agnostic as anything else.

When a society loses it's moral bearings, it can not exist in a vacuum forever. Something will eventually come along to fill that vacuum. It does not shock me that Islam is filling that vacuum in Europe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ice, Ice Baby...

The following three things you won't find in Sweden and probably the rest of Europe.

1. Self cleaning ovens

2. Self defrosting freezers

3. Ice Makers

Had a little mishap with the freezer last night. It turns out someone didn't completely shut it and it defrosted. Which wasn't entirely bad because it was looking like it needed defrosting and I really had no burning desire to proactively defrost it, even if I knew how.

In the meantime, my entire stash of ice melted. I don't understand the lack of ice use in the rest of the world. I mean, it's ice--an important component to any respectable drink. And I promise you, as an American, you won't know how important it is to you until you are faced with living a life without it.

Imagine your Big Gulp with no ice. Well, really imagine no Big Gulp. Imagine a 4 Ounce Gulp with no ice. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. I don't even drink Big Gulps. But, I like knowing I have the option to get one--anytime, day or night.

A German woman once told me that they didn't use ice because it was bad for your digestion. I don't know how true that is. I think the same person told me they didn't shower often in the winter because it was bad for your immune system.

Basically, this puts me back to cracking ice cube trays circa 1978.

In Germany, we inherited an extra freezer from one of the ex-pats who was being repatriated back the the US. I used it solely for ice, because by that time I had developed an odd obsession with ice. The entire freezer became my ice stockpile. I was cracking ice cube trays as fast as I could freeze them.

I would implore the cashier at McDonalds to give me lots of ice. "Viel ice" I would emphatically state. Each time I would get four ice cubes instead of the usual two. I've given up on begging for ice at restaurants, it's just too depressing. But, many times I'll notice that if the waiter knows we are Americans, he will add ice to our drinks. I think they are amused by our use of it.

I am faring better with the ice thing this go around. I am still hoarding it. But, I've come to accept it's just the way it's done.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Simple Observation

I alway compare the Swedes with the Germans. They are the same in as many ways as they are different, really. Much as a Texan and a New Yorker may be, I suppose.

The Swedes are helpful and generally quite pleasant people. Recently when struggling with a map, a woman come over and offered some lengthly assistance with directions. When going through the self check out (bad idea to do in a foreign language, by the way), a woman came over and offered me some help. Today, coming back from a run, at the cross walk, a young guy, struck up a conversation with me about running .

Living among the Germans for nearly a year and a half, I can't remember one time when a random act of kindness was shown. I rack my brain and try to think of one instance. I can not.

I always muse when such small acts of decency are shown, that the Germans would have kicked me and pushed me out the door. Not much of an over exaggeration. It was not uncommon for them to walk up to the table where I would be eating lunch with my 3 year old daughter and put their cigarettes out in the ashtray on my table. I recall once when first arriving in the country, I did not know to weigh and label my bananas. The cashier took them, glared at me and without a word, threw them under the counter. I had a neighbor, who never, not one time glanced my way or uttered a hello. And I saw him nearly every day.

The Germans are known for their cool reserve, I suppose. A reputation rightly earned. They say it is difficult to earn a German's friendship but if you do, you have a friend for life. Probably a lot of truth to that statement. I never got that far.

The Swedes do not like confrontation and seem to avoid giving unpleasant news. The Germans revel in it. "Yes, there is no milk and there won't be any until next Thursday" they'd tell you with a glimmer in the eye. Where as the Swede may tell you the same bit of news but with a bit more optimism and a lot more empathy .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Finally, Random Men Giving Me Money

OK, so it was only 20 crowns and he was a raving nutter, but's a step in the right direction.

So, I met a shaman on the T-bana today. I am not really sure why I entertained the notion of speaking to him. I thought perhaps he would be blog-worthy, I guess. And he did not disappointment. Truthfully, I thought once I told him I didn't speak Swedish he'd go away. But, he persisted and he wasn't peeing himself, shooting up or performing any of the other standard issue city past times.

Immediately upon introducing himself, he alerted me, in his broken english, that he was indeed a shaman. "A shaman, really", I answered. Now my interest was peaked. I'd never actually met a Shaman before, this could get interesting.

He was going on, something about his third eye and my energy. Laced in his monologue was a little about how he was never taught English in school but taught himself and was from Stockholm all his life.

Then he opened his wallet and tried to hand me 20 krona. He would not take no for an answer and finally threw it in my bag.

Apparently, it was OK, because he was only a "dealer". Paying it forward or something like that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hogback or CommieBlock?

"You have two choices, you can either..." It usually starts like this and it's generally a choice between two really unappealing options. Though sometimes to mix it up it's a choice between a couple of blissfully wonderful set of circumstances. ''

"You have two choices" I say, "CommieBlock or Hogback?"

Hogback is a vast expanse of nothingness in Northern New Mexico. It's a dusty, empty and desolate town anchored by the tiny Navajo town of Shiprock on one end, Farmington on the other and surrounded by vast expanses of open sky and red bluffs. A place where dreams go to die or simply are never born. In recent times, it's a place where dreams are vaporized into pseudoephedrine and Drano puffs of smoke before they ever have a chance to be acted upon. Casualties of the crystal meth craze that has scorched the earth of many small, western towns in the United States.

We have driven through Hogback many times over the years. We use it as sort of a bar--a measuring stick of yuckiness. So, it's not unusual for it to be a choice in this game. Today.

"You have two choices" I say, "CommieBlock or Hogback?". At this point I always have to qualify that it's only these two choices. Given license, she'll generally come back with a third--more appealing alternative. And the game is nothing, if not a lesson in critical thought. Even when it's the version of the more pleasant options, she'll usually find a way to have all them all.

She surpises me today. She answers "CommieBlock" without hesitation. I can't answer that quickly. It's a tough call.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Going with the Grain

I've taken to eating Mueslix. We all have. And it's really good.

It's not like we don't have Mueslix in the United States. We do. It's sits on the shelf next to the Grape Nuts in the cereal section where no one actually buys anything. Oh sure, you've glanced at it once or twice, saw that it was about $6.00 for a small bag and headed straight back over to the Cheerios.

Last stay in Europe, I never even picked up a bag of the stuff. I've watched the Europeans mix it into their yogurts at breakfast without the slightest bit of curiosity. I don't know what changed. But I bought it; I like it. It's good stuff.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


We spent the day at Skansen today. Skansen is an open air museum and zoo located on Djugarden (an island in central Stockholm). It's purpose is to show the Swedish way of life before industrialization.

It has a full replica of a 19th century town. Throughout the buildings you will find craftsmen in traditional dress such as shoemakers, tanners, silversmiths, bakers, etc. The zoo houses a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, red fox, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine. As well as other popular animals.

I really enjoyed the day there and the weather was, again, perfect. Particularly, I loved the island of Djugarden. It is a large National City park and is only home to historical buildings and monuments, museums, galleries, the amusement park Gröna Lund, Skansen, yacht harbours, and large stretches of forest and meadows. It is spray paint free, meticulously groomed and an oasis in the midst of the city.

Friday, July 17, 2009


The Personnummer is, basically, like your social security number. In Sweden everyone who resides here for a year or more gets one. It is issued by the tax agency and it's needed to get pretty much anything done. Bank accounts, library cards, grocery store discount cards--they all want your personnummer.

Apparently it opens one to the world of highly coveted "social benefits". Social benefits -- it conjures up visuals of invitations to parties where the beautiful people hang out or special tables at select restaurants. However, social benefits to a European means something else entirely.

People's eyes light up when they question whether you've received your personnumer? They love to remind you that you won't have to worry about healthcare anymore. Mmmmkay. Just yesterday, I read on a chart that Swedish doctors are among the lowest paid in the industrialized world. Somewhere around an average of $66k per year.

That's a little concerning.

In any case,  apparently I can not get a personnummer as I am only slated to be here for 50 weeks and not the minimum 52 required to qualify. I don't get to snuff my nose in the trough of social benefits. I, instead, get to pay $2 for a can of coke and $90 for a pair of Levis. A direct result of all those free social benefits.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fuel for the Soul

Something wonderful happened to me today. I was on my way for a run and a car was backing out of a parking garage and nearly ran me over. That wasn't the wonderful part. The good part was what kind of car it was. It was a Chevy Avalanche.

I don't even particularly like the make or the model. I was just downright ecstatic to see a truck. Any truck. The bigger the better. Then I looked around and noticed several more SUVs and trucks. It was some sort of service center for American made cars and trucks. Well, back when American car companies were actually shareholder owned and made cars by market mandate.

I was moved almost to tears at this point.

"Yes!" I wanted to scream. Somewhere in this land of banal conformity. Somewhere in this bizarro world of global warming dogma--even here -- there are rebels!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Bus to IKEA

You really can't complain about a free bus to IKEA. For me, an admitted organizational freak, a day at IKEA is something akin to a day at Disneyland. 

This is supposedly the largest IKEA in the world. Though I have to say, it didn't seem any larger than ours in Phoenix. It seems to lack in the plastic products. A syndrome, I have noticed most of Europe seems to suffer from. And when you do find them, they are four times as expensive as the plastic products in the U.S. Stuff we take for granted that we can pick up for a buck, will typically cost three, four or five. As opposed to just costing double what you'd usually pay. I've always assumed it has something to do with the fact that plastics are a petroleum product and anything associated with oil is taxed with impunity here in Europe.

It's just my theory. It could also just be that cheap plastic products are fun. And well, yeah...we all know what leftist social planners think of bourgeoisie fun.

This IKEA is located in the suburb, Kungens Kurva, about a half hour from the city center. It's a nice ride and a good opportunity to see the beauty of the countryside. Sadly, even this far out, the Commie Blocs are still ever present from any vantage point. I wonder how far north I'd have to go to be rid of them?

Overall, it was a decidedly normal shopping experience. It was a gorgeous day here in Stockholm, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures hovering near 80. Once in Kungens Kurva, mega stores stand invitingly like the giant diversionary retreats that they are. Parks, theme restaurants -- even (be still my heart) fairly maintained and manicured landscaping and piped in music in the parking lot.

All this and free drink refills in the IKEA restaurant. Still no ice,  but I'll take what I can get. It was an easy day in Stockholm. The kind of days I like.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Shower

No really, I hadn't noticed this until coming to The Flea Market. But, my daughter has assured me that it's the way it's been in all the hotels too. Surely my shower in Germany had an actual base that was raised from the floor, didn't it? I would have noticed this. But, yeah, it appears this is standard issue here in Sweden. The shower floor and the floor are one.

Notice the piping and faucet in the photo. That's the shower. Standard Operating Procedure: you just hang a curtain and you are good to go.

Doesn't the floor get all wet you ask? Yep, pretty much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Million Programme

The Million Programme is the common name for the housing program implemented in Sweden between 1965 and 1974. The aim was to see that everyone could have a home at a reasonable price. They reached to build a million new homes (apartments) in a 10-year period. Much of the existing, older housing was demolished to make way for the new structures.

If anything could be argued as being a crime against humanity, it should the results of this program. Hopeless, dreary, a blight on the landscape--these adjectives can not even conjure up what these housing blocks truly are and this is simply from the perspective of having to drive by them.

One of the main goals behind the planning of these residential areas was to create 'good democratic citizens'. The idea was to build a high quality dwelling with services including schools, nurseries, churches, public spaces and libraries nearby. Most of the apartments were of the "standard three room apartment". This is 75 m², planned for a model family of two adults and two children. (807 square feet).

Undoubtedly these were utopian ideas dreamt up in the minds of left wing elitists. People who would never have to walk in their halls. Like most leftists ideas, when brought to fruition, they are spirit crushing. They have become known for high crime rates and racial segregation.

You will find them anywhere left wing ideology permeates. More closely to home, Canadian cities are filled with them. Often referred to as Commie Blocks, because of similarity to the housing built in the former Eastern Bloc countries they are dull and grey concrete structures with little in the way of frills or aesthetics.

It is my belief that an ambitious program should be undertaken to remove these depressing eyesores. They hold no place on a continent that has a birthrate that is below sustainability. To pretend space is an issue and that people need to live on top of each other, especially in the suburban areas outside of the cities, is absurd.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Public Transportation

The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond.  ~Edward McDonagh

This is the part where I am supposed to laud the wonders of public transportation. Marvel at the ease and organization of getting around sans automobile.

Not really feeling it.

For starters, it rains here. A lot. Which means I often get caught in the rain. You can never plan for the rain, you just have to assume it will rain at some point during the day. Never mind the blue sky with out a cloud on the horizon. Within twenty minutes it can be just the opposite. As a rule of thumb it goes like this, if you bring the rain gear, it won’t rain. If you don’t bring it, it will rain.

It never rains in my car or my garage. Especially since I live in the desert. I've really kind of engineered my life to be away from rain. In Phoenix, we get six inches of rain a year; even then I complain.

Also, there are never strangers in my car. The only people in my car, besides myself, are people I allow in. Public transportation forces me to share space with the rabble. People that, quite frankly, would never see the inside of my car.

I was always lead to believe public transportation was cheap. Transportation for the worker. The Proletariat’s Chariot. Ha! It will cost me $250 a month for 30 day unlimited subway/bus/train cards for my family of four. I checked my household accounting records and saw that in a bad month I would only spend about $200 a month to gas up two autos in the States.

For a single trip through two zones (the minimum) the cost would be somewhere around $5 USD. For a single trip. Apparently this subway thing wasn’t intended for families.

So, it leaves me rather confused. I can’t live in most of the suburbs because “it’s where all the social problems are”, having a car is discouraged due to the environmental impact (though many Swedes do drive) and using public transportation is nearly as expensive as having a car and ten times less convenient. It’s no small wonder so many Swedes remain childless.

Though, I am at least some degree thankful for the cost because I reason it keeps the real ne’er-do-wells off the subway and simply on the streets where apparently they belong in a “compassionate society”.

We could have had a car. A car was part of the compensation for coming here. We opted to trade it out for a larger, nicer apartment and high priced tuition in an international school. (damn you, global  recession!) Our reasoning was a car would be more of a hindrance in the city. We reasoned public transportation and walking would be OK.

After all, you can actually have a parking spot in a garage a block from your apartment. I’d still end up walking in the rain. Perhaps we were right and I will catch on to this public transport thing. In the meantime, I have caught myself eyeing the ‘SMART” cars and saying, “maybe one of those wouldn’t be too bad”. My daughter quickly reins me back in, reminding me we wouldn't all fit in the tiny car.

I think about it for a minute and add, "Sure we could, you just gotta think outside the box. Reese could sit on your lap."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Paradox of Stockholm

Stockholm reminds me of that episode of Seinfield where he is dating a girl and her appearance can vary significantly depending on the where they are. Throughout the episode he continuously moves her to places where she has the more attractive appearance.

In Stockholm I can be walking in one city block and feel like I am in Greenwich Village or the upper East Side. I can walk a block away and feel like I have to be walking in the ugliest city on earth. The trees disappear and things look bleeker and less inviting.

It can really effect your outlook and mood. One minute strolling along on the tree-lined street thinking, "Yeah, this is OK, I can do this for a year" and ten minutes later the world is darker and my thoughts turn more to, "Blech".

My twelve year old daughter recognizes this also. We'll be walking along commenting on how we like this area or that area and when it abruptly changes (and it always does) she'll joke that we are "ooops, back in North Korea".  A comparison to the drab, unadorned grey landscape that fills the capital of the communist country, Pyongyang.

Another phenomenon is that many of these bleak unassuming facades hold some of the most wonderful interiors imaginable. A dull, old and uninviting entrance way can miraculously give way to a sleek, modern,  tech-savvy interior.

While I find the city itself less than awe-inspiring. It lacks the wonder of many European cities. I don't feel the specialness in the air as in, say, Paris or the richness of the history as in Berlin. But as far as interiors go, the Swedes do them well. These are, after all, the people who gave us IKEA.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Laundry is Serious Business

I have spent the last week trying to gain access to the state of the art,  twenty first century communal laundry room downstairs. 

Swedes take their laundry room seriously and I found this out at the Stay at Kista Hotel I recently stayed at.

Me: I'd like to get a key to the laundry room

Mean Front Desk Clerk who Clearly Holds Americans in Disdain: Do you have a time booked?

Me: No, is that necessary?


Me: Well, then, I'd like to book a time.

MFDC: For when? (pulling out giant ledger and pen)

Me: Right now would be good. 

MFDC: Ten o'clock!

Me: Ummm, OK. (noting that it is about 9:45)

MFDC: But, DO NOT use this key before ten o'clock because it will INVALIDATE the key before you.

Me: mmmkay, uh, yes, ofcourse....

I retreated back to my room and watched the clock until ten where I was met with an entirely empty laundry room. I had figured as such.

This laundry room has a complex computerized booking system and scan cards. Of the four times I have tried to gain access, I have been successful only once. This is not small feat considering the entire system is in Swedish.

I want regular access to this wonderland of laundry so badly I can not stand it. The machines are state of the art, stainless steel European beauties. There are machines in there--I don't even know what they do--I just know I wanna use them. Strange looking contraptions meant to do wonderous things to fine European textiles, I imagine. OK, so I have never actually seen these fine European textiles but I am sure that I have read that they they exist. 

Oh no, this is not your college laundromat.

The room stares out tauntingly at me as I press my face to the glass longingly looking in. Something like a slick IKEA advertisement, it's almost like it's laughing at me---teasing me that I am resigned to use the old washer in the Flea Market upstairs.

The washer upstairs works well enough, though it's a mystery to me why it takes 90 minutes to wash a load of clothes. Why there is no dryer, a common scenario in Sweden, is yet another. I have noticed that there is an appliance store less than a block away. Skip the yearly trip to Cyprus or Phuket and get a dryer. Alas, it is the European way. Why make things easy when it is so much harder to keep them difficult?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Enough Already With the Spraypaint

I am running this morning through what is supposed to be a idyllic park setting, a green oasis in the surrounding concrete and my entire focus is on the spray paint on nearly every available surface. The benches, the poles, the red farmy looking buildings, they haven't missed a surface.

I don't know who they are or what their message is but it is unsightly. I try and conjure up images of Swedish gangs roaming the streets and marking their turf but it is hard to envision the capri wearing, man-bag carrying male folk among me working up the level of testosterone needed for such endeavors. But I digress....

I am a person who is keen on esthetics. Certain things should be a certain way. It is probably a genealogical trait from my German DNA. Order. And parks should be kept free of spray paint.

Especially if I am paying north of 60% of every Krona in taxes.  I know my sleepy little, unsophisticated burg of Chandler, Arizona manages to clean up a painted message in less than 72 hours and I have to wonder why such a cumbersome tax system can not manage this feat?

In the park spray paint abounds, park benches stand weather worn and unpainted, trees and bushes grow over and park play equipment conjures up memories of my 1970's school yard. Hardly the vision of a socialist utopia or is it?

Monday, July 6, 2009


I am riding on the T-bana to get to the hotel to collect the rest of my belongings to bring back to the subletted apartment I have dubbed the "Flea Market". Exhaustion has set in after nearly three weeks in hotels spanning South Florida, Phoenix and Stockholm. I am still nursing the remnants of a particularly nasty summer cold that zapped much of my energy and enthusiasm. I can barely make out the names of the stops being called and do not have the energy to try and decipher them this evening.

But, I know that when the women a seat over and across from me begins  to jostle her bags that my stop is near. She is in cover, a Somali I am guessing. A striking woman by any measure who bears a strong resemblance to the 1970's supermodel Iman. She catches me looking at her. What she does not know is that I am thinking she belongs in a photographers studio not on this  city train to a suburban ghetto.

As she gets her bags, I know to collect my purse and the stop is announced. Sure enough, my thoughts were correct. I step off the train into the abnormally warm Swedish evening. I must walk through the Galleria to get to the hotel. Although it is late and a Wednesday, the mall is a beehive of activity. I walk by the McDonald's and notice there is not a seat to be found.  Girls are running through the halls, giggling, buying ice cream and working their cell phones. Women are everywhere, waiting for buses, traveling back to the characterless concrete boxes that permeate the city.

I do not see a woman this evening who is not in cover. Only the cover varies. Sometimes it is only the head, adorned in a fashionable and colorful scarf. Sometimes it is a colorful full body and head cover. Many times it is the, disturbing to western sensibilities, full black hijab. I could be on the streets of Islamabad or Riyadh but I am in a suburb twenty minutes from still greatly homogenous Central Stockholm. 

This is Kista. A corporate bustling center of professionals by day, somewhere else entirely by night. You would recognize the corporate names --the most prominent being the headquaters of the Swedish owned telecommunications giant--Ericsson. I also know this is only one of many areas like this. The areas the cab drivers and more vocal Swedes will tell me to avoid.

It is important to note that I saw nothing ominous this evening. In fact, everything I saw looked incredibly normal. What is abnormal is the complete segregation of two clashing cultures very much at odds with each other. What is puzzling is how Swedes can think this will end well.