Days 21 and 22 — Tanking up on Vitamin D

Yesterday was sunny and warm and people flocked to the beach and stayed there.

Today was cloudy but warm. I took pictures of a “colony garden” settlement here in town. Around 1895 the government began to grant small plots of land to Stockholm factory workers on which they could plant vegetables and have a (really) tiny shack and get some fresh air and sunshine on their day off. The program helped Swedes feed themselves in times when food was scarce but today the program has evolved where many use their plots of land as summer residences. People who live in Halmstad or farther away, like Stockholm on the other coast of the country, come here for their summer holidays. I hope the photos do these “second houses” justice. Many of the residents are middle class postal workers, teachers, nurses, etc. Some of these houses are in much better shape than primary houses I have seen elsewhere, including the U.S. As you will see, Swedes do love their gardens.

This last photo was a real happy find for us. In California we lived about 4 blocks from a great produce market, The Milk Pail. We really missed it until today when we discovered this open air produce market on the city central square. Every kind of fruit and vegetable you can imagine. Oranges from South Africa and grapes from Italy. Swedish berries of every kind. Peaches and nectarines for a dollar a pound and bananas for fifty cents a pound. No idea how late in the year they stay open, but we will take advantage of them until the last day for sure.


Day 20 — Another Swedish Institution

Today, we sent in my application for a course that teaches immigrants Swedish to help them integrate with their new culture. I am told that students even receive a small stipend for attending in addition to the course being free. As a corollary, a person at the folkuniversitetet, which is the adult education program as far as I understand, is interested in me becoming an English teacher. Even though my command of Swedish extends no farther than “Pardon me, but I understand very little Swedish. Can you speak English?” (to which everyone replies, “Ja, sure.”), they want native English speakers only to teach English to Swedes interested in improving their command of the language. So, we will see if and how that pans out. Mariette told me that the woman was quite interested.

One of the curious aspects of Sweden to an American is the phenomenon called Ållsong. Any time a group of Swedes gathers of any size at all, there is a good chance that singing will break out. Nightly during the summer, thousands of Swedes gather at an outdoor amphitheater in this wonderful recreation of 18th Century Swedish life called Skansen for a couple hours of singalong entertainment. An hour of this is broadcast nationally from Stockholm and Lord knows how many people watch it. People of all ages, but particularly young people, fill the amphitheater and sing along with an assortment of Swedish pop singers, folk singers and entertainers. It is hard to fathom your standard disaffected American youth getting behind something so wonderfully corny as a several thousand strong sing along, but there they are every night rocking out with their parents and grandparents. I am beginning to think that this–there’s no other word for it–cornball institution is perhaps the best reflection of the workability of the Swedish system. Literally everyone there is happy and they are singing. It has to be seen to be believed.

Another Swedish institution is the tiny cottage on the seashore for the  family summer holiday. Here are some from a walk I took last evening.

You can see that some of these “stugas” are truly dinky.

The sun came out today and the water was like glass.

Then Mariette took  her camera and we biked out to Tylösand, the main tourist beach in the area for some shots at sunset.

Tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny, so Tylösand should be packed.

Day 19 — Contrasting Weather

We have been traveling to Sweden for the past eight summers and I cannot recall a day like today. While the U.S. is sweltering, Mariette upgraded her assessment of today’s weather from October to November.

Tonight we went walking after dinner and experienced the horizontal rain that our friend Ackie has mentioned from time to time. If I were on vacation with a week left, I would be miffed, especially since it is supposed to rain again tomorrow. Now that I am a resident I can either like it or lump it and I have decided to like it.

Having great rain gear helps, for sure. Below is one of the monster slugs that come out when it rains. This guy is about 5 inches long.

This is a church that was built somewhere in the middle of the country that a guy disassembled and moved to Halmstad and reassembled it shingle by shingle. It is quite beautiful inside but was locked this evening when I came by. I will get some pictures of the interior one day. A weather vane on top says 1721, so I am guessing that is when it was built. Another vane says 1950, so that may be when it was moved here.

This is the bell tower that was either on or near the church. (Probably near, I am guessing.) I climbed up to take the next shots of the view. The wind was whipping pretty good up there but once you get away from the coast the forest blocks the wind almost totally, so it is quite pleasant walking around.

And now, I am going to see if I can catch the Giants-Brewers game on the radio. The amazing internet.


Days 17 and 18 — A bit about prices

Mariette went down to the Mom and Pop fish stand and bought a large chunck of smoked salmon and sauce for $7. At Whole Foods in Mountain View it would have been 3X that, at a guess. Of course Mom and Pop do not have a lot of administrative costs. Pop goes out on his boat in the morning, brings in his haul, prepares it and Mom opens the stand about 2:00 and people come from the neighborhood or further away and buy up everything they’ve got for the day. Both folks are receiving their pensions and if they have to pay anything for use of the shack it can’t be much.

On a broader basis, we find food prices are about the same as in the SF Bay Area. Fruit is a bit more expensive, but we were buying ours from a little place called the Milk Pail in Mountain View that the Food Network said was the top produce market in the U.S. If there is any place we will miss in the U.S. it is the Milk Pail.

Anyway, housing prices are maybe a seventh of what they are in the Bay Area. I read recently that the median home price in Palo Alto is $1.6 million! One analyst said Palo Alto is the hottest real estate market in the world right now. Facebook execs flush with cash are looking to buy and that is keeping prices high.

For that price you could get a seven-room beauty with an acre of land right on the beach here in Halmstad. For $100,000 you can get a decent sized house on half an acre out in the country not too far from town. $100,000 wouldn’t buy a dumpster in San Francisco.

On the other hand, be sure to buy your shoes before coming to Sweden. Shoe prices are 2 and 3 times what they are in the U.S. No real reason why. There is a 25% sales tax on most items, which accounts for part of it but shoe prices are outrageous here. TV (60 channels), internet (MUCH faster here) and phone will cost us $100 a month with first three months free, which beats Comcast by a mile.

Other prices seem to be comparable to the U.S., even with the 25% sales tax. The prices on the tag reflect the sales tax, unlike the U.S., so what you see on the tag is what you pay. There is no tax on food and probably some other necessities.

On Saturday, went for a bike ride to a neighboring town up the coast and found this kvarn (windmill) being used as a home. At least it looked like someone was living there.

Then there was the stormy sea on our morning walk. The wind was coming up from the south.

Mariette says  this is a  typical October day. I have been inside for 3 hours and already have cabin fever. I’m out of here!


Day 16 — “There’s no such thing as bad weather . . .

. . .  only bad clothing.”

These words appear on the Swedish coat of arms or in the national anthem or somewhere because every Swede lives by them.

We set out to put it to the test today because we had a nice summer rain beginning in the afternoon. Here are shots of us in our new rain gear taking the dog for a walk after dinner:


The verdict–both of us dry as a bone. I don’t know what can be done about the searing heatwave across the U.S. but in Sweden, “There’s no such thing as bad weather . . .”


Day 15 — Further into the System

We went back to the government agency to get our ID cards but found we had to first fill in some other forms, go the the bank and pay for the cards, bring the receipt back, fill in more forms so we get into the health system and that was that. We will be fully into the system in a few weeks. It was noticeable how helpful the people were. So much for that.

Found a graffiti park nearby and took these photos. Doesn’t every city have a graffiti park? I don’t notice graffiti anywhere else in town, so this place must be it.

 Not every house in Sweden looks like this, but this one sure does!

The brand new golf academy opened up just north of where we live. That is the clubhouse beyond the water hazard.

Compared to the bike lanes in Mountain View, a white stripe painted on the street four feet from the curb, this is ideal. As you can see, it is nearly half as wide as the road itself and separated by a grass strip. These are all over Sweden, some run for a hundred miles. People travel a lot by bike and these bike lanes, introduced to the U.S. would be a boon to the national health index as well as reducing reliance on automobiles. But back to the golf academy. Here is what they offer in terms of practice and training.

The massive practice putting green they call The Himalayas.

A look from the driving range. Okay, onto every Swede’s dream vacation.

CAMPING! This campsite is jammed with trailers and families and Swedes are very creative at doubling the size of their trailers with fold-up rooms that  attach to the trailer.

I saw a survey recently that said 83% of Swedes’ ideal vacation is not to travel to some exotic foreign destination but to go camping on the west coast of the country. Here might be one reason why:

The beach at Tylösand.

People flock to the smooth flat rocks during “golden hour,” which lasts from about 8:00 to 10:00 (and probably has a collorary that in January it lasts about a minute), to watch the sunset.

Bicycles everywhere.

There was a concert at the hotel’s outdoor amphitheater and the were probably twice the number outside listening for free as inside the venue.

This place is packed during summer but it is going to get much, much more crazy a week into August, more of which at that time.

All for now.


Day 14 — Photos from Around the Neighborhood

Today was a great day for a vacation. So we took one. Nice workout in the morning, bike ride into town for errands and Mariette’s parents over for “fika” in the afternoon. Fika is coffee and pastries of some kind and it is a Swedish institution. Swedes are the world’s second-biggest coffee drinkers behind only the Finns and fika is probably a huge contributing factor.

Today’s post is mainly shots of our little house and surrounds.

Our little red house in the morning sun.

On the left is the woodshed and sauna; on the right is the guest cottage.

Shot from the far corner of the yard. It took more than an hour and a half to mow the lawn the other day.

The little local fish market.

Prins Bertils Stig, the trail that runs from the castle downtown for 16 km (10 miles) along the coast to Tylösand beach and winds back into the forest.

The coastline in Scandinavia is rocky for the most part but Sweden has some nice beaches and Norwegians come here to enjoy them just as Swedes go to Norway for the fjords.

These are some senior citizens who go swimming at the Handikappbadet (bathing place for handicapped people) each morning around 7:00  am.

At the right end of the railing is a ramp that can be used to roll wheelchairs down into the sea. The rocks in the distance is what I think is a spontaneous nude sunbathing spot. Scandinavians are pretty relaxed about things like that. There is an official nude beach on the other side of town which we will check out one day but you can bet we will not be posting pictures.

These next photos were taken with my cell phone camera, proof of which is my finger in the frame here. Mariette and Bianca on the golf course near our house.

Another shot of the course, same finger in frame. Halmstadians like to boast that this is the golf capital of Sweden but according the a guy I talked to at the large golf academy that opened here a couple weeks ago, there are great courses from here and on down south. This new academy is huge and has heated greens so you can play during winter. It also had a couple acre sized putting green he called “The Himalayas,” which gives you an idea of the undulations running all through it. I will get some shots next time I am out in the area. It is a pretty impressive place.

Mariette and friend silhouetted against the glassy evening sea. The air was completely still.

God nott (Good night).