Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer in Stockholm

The combination of these crazy light-filled (but not always sunny and warm) days, World Cup madness with many late-night games, trying to cram in as much exploring as possible when I'm not in school (especially on the little cycle that could), and plotting our next step after our current sublet ends this fall means that I've been a bit negligent about keeping track of goings-on here, so please consider this picture-heavy post a massive catch-up:

Mosebacke Terassen in Södermalm |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Katarina Kyrka in Sodermlam  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

Coming from a country that has a fairly hefty way of celebrating its national / independence day, it was a little odd to observe a rather subdued National Day here in Sweden earlier this month. Maybe its because the date is one where a few historic things all happened to occur upon, versus a date that marks a singular battle won? In any case, R was working and I was off from school so we met in the evening for a stroll around the northern part of Södermalm and a beer at Mosebacke Terassen where we enjoyed a crazy gorgeous view (unfortunately my piddly phone camera didn't do it justice, so please click here and here to see what we did).

Stålhästen on Strömbron  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Strömbron  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
NK on Hamnagatan, Stockholm  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

I'm still going to and from school on my trusty Cleo (who has since been outfitted with a proper basket, see picture towards the end). I generally take the same route which carries me past the majestic buildings along the edges of Gamla Stan, Helgeandsholmen, Skeppsholmen and Kastelholmen, and then through the busy shopping street of Hamnagatan—where I have my most frenzied encounters with locals and tourists alike. The former who turn and yell at you (and/or flick your bike, the nerve!) if you accidentally edge into the crosswalk and the latter who meander willy nilly down the bike lane and apparently can't hear the pling pling of a bike bell.

View from Observatorielunden  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Saltmätargatan  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

Some days this summer have been fantastically sunny and mesmerizing, while others are a bit gray and morose, yet thanks to the palette of Swedish buildings, even an overcast day is quite beautiful.

Summery dinner  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Dinner party  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

No matter what the weather's been outside, though, we've been spending many an afternoon (into the evening) having grand meals with our closest friends at our home or theirs. Lately our get-togethers have been pre- and in-between World Cup match feasts. And, as our friends' sweet daughter has gotten more comfortable around us, our evenings have been punctuated with dance parties, playing dress up and sing-alongs with her (most recently to the always-fantastic and my most-favorite-ever production, The Lion King).

Stålhästen at Hellasgården in Nacka  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Hellasgården in Nacka  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

This last weekend the summer solstice happened, which the Swedes celebrate with a little thing called Midsommar. The build-up, anticipation and actual celebration seem like a much huger deal than any other holiday and is the source of all those "crazy" things you hear about Swedish summers: doing a very funny frog-like dance around a maypole, drinking snaps and eating herring all night long, and just general flower-bedecked merriment. This year though, the weather was horrid: cold, windy, gray and rainy and knowing the temperament of Swedes (and their possession of clothes that befit any and all types of foul weather), I'm sure they carried on their yearly fun. Since our plans fell through for a number of reasons, though, I didn't experience that version of Midsommar, but I did start my own little tradition which included popping out during the few sunlit hours that there were to explore Hellasgården, a massive park, sauna and outdoor recreational spot on a lake not to far from where we live.

Knitted bag  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Sunday Pancakes  |  Summer in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |

And finally: thank goodness there's also been plenty of time for my little introverted heart to sit quietly at home alone to knit away a few hours (while practicing Swedish with YouTube) or to whip up some pancakes for the best kind of Sunday morning.

Yep, definitely still head-over-heels for this corner of the world.

One year ago: 
An Italian intermezzo &
Home linens &
Cavorting with the masses, or not (<--Midsommar in NYC!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Made for souls like mine

Kungsholmen, Stockholm  |  Made for souls like mine on afeathery*nest  |
I'm having a love affair at the moment...with Stockholm, of course.

It's a bit hard not to, right? Just look at it! It's beautiful, clean, cultured, efficient, thoughtful (in how resources are used and children / families / the elderly are supported), lively (but not TOO lively, as long as you steer clear of public places on weekend nights) and right now the weather is just glorious (which I've been told is quite special this year, so I shouldn't get used to it).

I also find most of Stockholm to be less opulently aggressive in its beauty than a place like Rome, which is no-questions-asked breathtaking. Stockholm is a bit more subtle in its allure. I like that. She's reserved, but worth getting to know.

In one of my many listicles up on Google Drive I pasted this quote sometime ago because I liked the rhythm of it, but now I realize I had saved it to describe how I would feel here:
"A wonderful cheerfulness has taken possession of my soul,
like these sweet mornings of spring which I delight in with my whole heart. I am enjoying my life in this region, which is made for souls like mine."

—from Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther
Kungsholmen, Stockholm  |  Made for souls like mine on afeathery*nest  |
As we settle into life here, we've fallen into a nice rhythm. I wake up early and have the morning to myself to pitter about exercising, making coffee, talking to my plants, tidying up and reading. Then after R leaves for work I set myself up at the kitchen table to study for a few hours before lunch and heading off to school. On the way back after class I'll stop off for groceries and get dinner started, then meet R on the balcony for a drink before sitting down at the dining table. We eat at home much more than we did in NYC—but that just means more dinner parties with family and friends, which is much better anyway. Coffee shop visits, though, are still a mainstay of daily life.

And at this point, almost all of our "administrative" things have been taken care of, like obtaining residency permits and IDs, registering for cell phone and broadband service, signing up with a doctor, etc. The only big thing left to do is reactivate bank accounts, which will happen very soon and then, well, we'll be living here 100%.

(Funny story about getting our IDs: My national ID is different from a citizen's and was processed via my already-approved residency permit at Skatteverket, the tax office. Since R doesn't want to carry around any of his passports on a daily basis for ID, and his driver's license is from Italy, he needed some sort of national Swedish ID as well. So, he went to the police station (where citizens go) to fill out the paperwork and have his photo taken. But, before an application can be processed, the requestor has to return with someone that can verify their identity—it's usually a relative, but could be an employer. Guess which foreigner got to go with him to wave around her newly-laminated Swedish ID to validate his identity as a citizen?).

All of which to say: I've fallen completely for this part of the world—although, perhaps we should revisit the topic come November...or March next year.

One year ago: The case for Svenska (<--Ha, how fitting!)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Café Pascal: my new go-to coffeeshop

I can finally tick the box next to "officially living here and settled in" because not only did I pick up my Swedish / EU ID card earlier this week (which together with my swanky resident card = no-questions-asked-legit) and receive all my boxes from NYC over the weekend, but I've found what may be my new, go-to coffee shop.

When I had plans last week to meet a friend for another fika / study session before class I took to Google to investigate somewhere different to try. And right there on Street View I saw Café Pascal, a recently-opened, cozy-as-can-be neighborhood place situated on a quaint little corner near a park not too far from my school.

The light streaming through two walls of windows, glowing from glass balls hanging above the display case, and shining from candle tapers in brass holders scattered about on various surfaces created the most warm, inviting, super-Swedish ambiance I could ever hope to find. Only in Sweden are candles lit on blazingly sunny days and does the little table where you can find napkins, sugar, honey, etc., also include extra candlesticks and candleholders so you can top your wooden table with as many as you'd like.

Plus, an exposed brick wall, a robin's-egg-blue counter, adorable potted succulents and enticing plates of savory dishes for lunch and chocolatey nibblies to accompany your coffee completely won me over. (Bonus: when I mustered up the courage to squeeze out a few Swedish words the gal behind the register didn't snicker even once.)

And best off all? The coffee was good. Really good. From Toby's in NYC to Pascal's in Stockholm, I've got my bases covered on both sides of the ocean.

One year ago: How sure are we about this Bella Vita nonsense?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Balcony life

It never occurred to me as odd that I was content to live without immediate access to fresh air for so many years in NYC. All of us locked up in our high rises a five minute walk and elevator ride away from wiggling our toes in fresh air (much less soft grass) was the norm. Having a balcony in an urban apartment now seems like the most extravagant thing in the world. Who needs gold-rimmed, claw-footed bathtubs or scented towel warmers when I can inhale actual, honest-to-goodness fresh air from my living room?

(Okay, maybe I don't need a sleek tub, but I wouldn't mind a washer/dryer or fireplace...)

Even when we had endless rainy days and cold fronts rolling through in May we hardly ever closed the balcony terrace door all the way. Since summer finally decided to show it's sunny face, though, we basically have another room as the door is always wide open these days. Starting the morning with a cup of coffee and the news (okay: my feedly blog list) out here before heading in to study or having a drink outside in the evening while kids run crazily below in the courtyard is pretty much the height of luxury for me right now.

One year ago: Turmeric Ginger Chocolate Tummy Tamer

Friday, June 6, 2014

Late to bed, early to rise

When people talk about the cold, dark Swedish winters, someone inevitably brings up the endless, summer sun. On all my previous trips here it was over Christmas, so I had plenty of experience with the former. But the latter? It wasn't until we began to be woken up by the rising sun at 3:45AM that I started to get this whole non-stop-daylight thing. Then, as if the mornings weren't enough, in the evenings we began to be tricked into thinking we could watch another episode or two of Homeland because it was still so bright out, but then a glance at the clock revealed it was already 10:45PM. That picture above? Taken last week at a quarter to 11PM. I could have been sitting outside reading if I wanted. (I wasn't, we just discovered the aforementioned Homeland and have been binge watching, thank you Swedish Netflix!).

My sleep was thrown off a bit at first, but now we're getting better about resisting the urge to stay up just because it's light out with a few tweaks.

First, we just accept we cannot stay up with the light because we inevitably get up when the sun rises, so we go from 7-8 hours of sleep to 3-4. Not good.

I've also stopped lighting candles every eve, as they fill the apartment with even more light than that from the sun and we're trying to achieve the opposite.

When we do turn in, I batten down the blinds in our bedroom to block out the day (night?) light, but first crack one of the windows so fresh sea air wafts in to lull us into a deep sleep. While we do keep the door to the living room open so air circulates, I make sure it's only ever-so-slightly open, since the living room is drape-less and thus practically glowing by 4AM.

Oddly enough, as long as I can make it into bed before 11:30PM'ish (such a dramatic change from NYC!), I wake up fully energized between 6 and 7AM, so rather than fight it, I just get up. In the quiet hours before R rises, I can work out, have some coffee/tea while I check the news, blogs, email, Facebook, Instagram and what not, and then sit down to study for a few hours before a nice brunch and heading off to school on my bicycle. By the time post-dinner hours roll around I'm already starting to droop enough that even the sun-lit sky can't keep me out of bed.

One year ago: Date night, sort of

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Evening bike rides

When I was younger and summer vacation stretched out endlessly, I remember wheeling my bike out of the garage to go for a spin around the neighborhood in the evening. Fireflies flitted about, the air carried the aroma of backyard barbecues, and the heady scent of magnolia, honeysuckle and wisteria hung heavy in the twilight.

I had forgotten what that felt like until we recently became a two-bike family (see Cleo and Caesar posing prettily above). We've taken to heading out for a short jaunt before dinner, exploring the nearby trails that line either side of the Årstaviken bay on our island and across the way on Södermalm. There's something amazing about being able to leave our house and be in a legitimate forest in 5 minutes—and we're still within city limits! That's one of the things I love most about living here so far: everyday life and nature/fresh air/movement are so intertwined and accessible.

One of the best things about these woodsy meanders off the main thoroughfares is coming across the urban garden lots scattered about Stockholm. Since most Scandinavians live in quite small footprints, cities offer up tiny plots of land you can purchase to build an adorable wooden cottage upon, complete with your own proper garden. It's so fun to peek over red wooden fences and see the beautiful landscaping and quaint architecture.

And thanks to allemansrätten ("every man's right"), a Swedish freedom granted to all people that gives them (us) the right to walk, cycle, ski, run, etc. on any land and pick moderate amounts of the flowers, apples, mushrooms, or other goodies that we find there as long as we don't damage anything, I can pluck an armful of fragrant wisteria from alongside the bike path to take home with me for the dinner table.

One year ago: All the small things

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Swedish deluge (or, SFI Day 2: when things get real)

Sveavägen coffeshop  |  The Swedish deluge (or, SFI Day 2: when things get real) on afeathery*nest  |
After the first day of language class last week I was feeling quite optimistic—we went at a good, easy pace and I had two dates lined up with girlfriends (both native Swedish speakers) to help me review before the next class. Unlike improving my Italian, a language I at least know how to pronounce pretty well, learning Swedish is a bit problematic because I have no idea if I'm speaking correctly or not, so having someone help is 100% necessary right now.

The day after Day 1 was a holiday, so my first study session with a Swede happened at home over a fika (wherein I tried my hand at making chokladbollar...let's just say I'll need to try again) before we went to a rousing dinner party with the same friends that helped us break in our new apartment (no dancing this time, but just as much hilarity as last time).

The day after that was our second day of school. It was gray and raining heavily and I had my second study session with another girlfriend at a coffee shop before class that afternoon. Once we got settled and caught up with each other, she too very sweetly ran me through all of Day 1's notes and corrected my (mis)pronunciation.

After two review sessions, you can see why I was feeling quite confident walking into class on Day 2—but that feeling didn't last long at all.

Our new teacher decided to cram two days of lessons into one since we had missed the day before and she didn't want us to be behind other students when our class is merged next week. In three crazy-pants hours we covered (I don't say "learned" because I can't call what we did learning):
  • Numbers
  • Dates
  • Months
  • Seasons
  • Years
  • Time
  • Weather
  • Indefinite singular nouns (note: 5 groups of nouns...)
  • Indefinite plural nouns
  • Definite singular nouns 
  • Definite plural nouns
  • And lastly...a hint of verbs (4 groups of these)

Here's hoping today includes a lot of review.

One year ago: Sublime Saturdays and Sundays