Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sweden Part 2

Life was simple in Sweden. No bills to pay, no phones call to return, no schedules to keep. That's what vacations (without kids) are like. It was the perfect getaway, and I ate up the freedom while it lasted. Generally, I'm a planner. I like to scope out our vacation spot before we arrive to see what activites are in the area, etc. For some reason I didn't do any of that before this trip. I just knew that once we got there, we'd figure out something to do. I was right. There was plenty to do:
enjoy a rainbow
go on a hike without bothering to pack a ton of water beforehand--yep, that's Jamie drinking fresh mountain water--no filters needed!appreciate a view, virtually untouched by man

A couple of things stood out for me during this trip. First of all, we had the chance to sit in airports a lot, primarily in the United States. At least every other person we encountered was preoccupied by a technological gadget in one form or another (cell phone, texting, iPod, laptop--you name it). Jamie and I were definitely in the minority as we sat without our gadgets handy or in use. I eavesdropped on lots of conversations. Once we got to Sweden, a country that is far ahead of ours, technologically speaking, I was able to count on one hand the number of people I saw on their cell phone or laptop. Even in the bustling city of Stockholm, people actually were talking to each other, face-to-face!! I noticed it right away, because it was such a drastic difference from our preoccupied society over here.
Another thing I noticed as we drove up to Are is that Sweden is very natural. There are no billboards along the sides of the road. They don't have interstates at all. Most of what you see are trees, mountains, and rivers/lakes. Between Stockholm and where we drove (8 hours away), there were many communities, but really only one other large-ish town or city. Swedes don't appear to "over build" like we do here in the USA. As we passed lake after lake, I thought to myself that if this were America, there would be huge mansions and condos built around the entire lake, most likely obscuring the view of the lake itself. This is not the case at all in Sweden. It was absolutely refreshing, and if I'm honest, it made me long to live there just a bit in an effort to avoid all of the commercialism here in the States.
This is a view back towards our resort town, Are. Although quite small compared to resort towns in America, this seemed to be the largest tourist spot anywhere close to where we were. This is a big ski community. I noticed the lack of houses built on the mountain (sure, it's a ski mountain, but NONE of the mountains nearby had houses on them).

Okay, the only negative part about Sweden was the cost of things. For example, I saw a pair of Crocs ($30 in the U.S.), and they were $70! I bought a paperback book before the trip home ($7 at the most in U.S.) and it was $15! Gas was over $5/gallon. So, it doesn't look as though I'll be moving to Sweden any time soon, unless I win the lottery (that I don't play), of course.

One last thing that I loved about Sweden (and Europe, in general) were the public bathrooms. I know, I'm weird. As soon as we got off the plane in Stockholm, I went to the bathroom and it looked similar to this:
I just loved that each "stall" was its own, private bathroom. I couldn't see anyone else's feet or hear their business *ahem* and I got to wash my hands in my own, private wash basin. I found it delightful just to go to the restroom in most places.

Then back to reality we came, in the Atlanta airport waiting for our flight home for 5 long hours. Ugh. Back to people rushing about, not paying attention because they're chatting on their phone. Loud bathrooms. We saw lots and lots of soldiers in the airport, and at one gate where there were about 20 soldiers waiting to board, one older gentleman was approaching each soldier, giving him or her a hug, and saying that he was keeping them in his prayers. Airline attendants allowed soldiers to move into first class if there were empty seats. My kids came and jumped on us in the bed the next morning after we got home, chatting excitedly about everything that they had done while we were away. Sweden was great, but home is great, too.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sweden Part 1

I have been a blog slacker lately. I guess I can attribute it to having too much fun this summer and not enough time to blog. Yep. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

One thing I've done this summer is take a trip to Europe with my dear husband. We decided to go to Sweden. Okay, so Italy was my first choice, but that wasn't going to happen so we settled on Sweden. I'm perfectly happy and very thankful that we got to go anywhere at all, so I certainly was not going to turn down the opportunity to go to Sweden. We were able to arrange to have my in-laws drive down and stay with the kids so that we could go for our 10-day trip. It actually came together quite easily, and the kids really enjoyed having all of that time with their g'parents. It was like a special treat for them.

So we left on a Thursday afternoon to begin our long jaunt across the big water. I haven't travelled to Europe since high school, and I seem to remember that I was able to sleep on the long flight, but that didn't happen this time around. Try as I might, I could NOT go to sleep! By the time we landed in Stockholm around 11 a.m. (Sweden time) the next day, I was exhausted. We groggily retrieved our luggage, got our rental car, then set off to find our hotel in Stockholm, which was about an hour's drive away. Luckily, we had also gotten a GPS with the rental car, or else we would have never found our hotel. Driving in Stockholm is like having a tooth extracted an adventure, to say the least. Not only could we not pronounce the names of any of the streets, because they all have names like Bergsjogrottorna, but the streets are not well-marked. Anyhow, we got to our hotel room, showered, and crashed for the next 3 hours or so. Once I had a bit of sleep, I was ready to hit the town. We wandered around looking for food, then just walked around sight-seeing. Jamie's been to Sweden probably a dozen times, but this was my first time so I was like a kid in a candy store. Here's an example of what most of the streets look like in Old Town (Gamla Stan), Stockholm.

Being a big city, most people either ride bicycles, walk, or use a form of public transportation. Since it's summertime and the temps are more favorable to being outdoors, all of the pubs were filled with outdoor diners. There were people everywhere!! We ended up on a street which was very popular, judging by the number of people there with us, and found some souvenir shops and such. There seemed to be ice cream shops on every corner, so we finally stopped into one place where they were making the waffle cones in the dining area. It smelled so good, and the ice cream was awesome! They also had a Ben & Jerry's down the street, which had a waiting line out the building and around the corner, but we can get that, we were very impressed with the ice cream and waffle cones that we chose. We walked over and saw the outside of the Royal Palace, then headed back to our hotel to call it a night.

The next morning we got up and prepared to make the 8-hour drive to the resort town in which we were staying, Are. (There's supposed to be a small circle above the 'A' in Are, but I don't have a Swedish keyboard, folks). It's pronounced almost like the word "oar-ay", but you have to rolllllll your rrrrrrrrr. Try it. They have funny, cool vowels in Sweden. I never did say anything properly. Luckily for us, English is the 2nd language for nearly everyone in Sweden, so once we said Hello to most folks, they spoke English to us. The Swedish word for "hello" is "hej", pronounced "hey", so we were always greeted with "hej hej!", which was very confusing because I usually said "Hey!" back and they started speaking Swedish. My dazed, glossed-over eyes probably gave them the hint that I am American, however.

I digress. Our trusty GPS got us out of Stockholm and took us on the scenic route through the countryside of Sweden. Here's what some of that looked like as we were driving.

The red house with white trim is pretty standard there. As are the barns and farms. Sometimes we'd see a green with white trim house, or a yellow with white trim house, but they are ALL the same style and size, generally. More to come on that later.. There are moose crossing signs all along the roadways, but the moose (meese?) aren't around in summer...I don't know where they go, but there was even a moose farm near the resort and it was closed for summer. I was disappointed about that. I really wanted to kiss a moose.

We finally arrived at the resort and were impressed by all of the views. Mountains right outside our front door. A huge, beautiful lake right off our patio. It was simply breathtaking.

We took some time acquainting ourselves with the resort and such, then enjoyed a buffet dinner (it wasn't called a smorgasboard, but it was similar to one, I think) at the resort. Herring is a very popular dish in Sweden, so there were about 3-4 varieties of herring on the buffet, along with some other seafood. I don't eat seafood, so I didn't partake in any of that, but I did have some AUTHENTIC Swedish meatballs and man were they gooo-oood. Haha!

The next day we decided to go in search of a couple of waterfalls that were just a few miles (or km) away. It was nice to get out and stretch our legs and hike a little, after being stuffed in an airplane and/or a car continuously the past couple of days. The first waterfall is called Ristafallen and is 14 m high. Here's a nice shot of it and also of the view leading to the waterfall. There are rivers and lakes practically everywhere in Sweden. It's a lovely country.

Then we progressed down the road to the Tannforsen waterfalls, which is 37 m high. This had to be one of the most impressive waterfalls I've ever seen. I really love waterfalls, so it's not unusual for us to scout them out whenever we're on a trip somewhere. But WOW. The pictures cannot do this waterfall justice at all, unfortunately. You'll just have to go to Sweden and be amazed by it yourself!

I'll probably leave off here with Sweden Part 1, since it's gotten lengthy already. Do you want to go to Sweden, yet?