Summer Vacation

Last night it began raining and there was thunder and lightning through a good part of the night. Then this morning the downpour was torrential. Really coming down. This makes it a perfect time to do a post about the highlights of our summer vacation. Mariette goes back to work tomorrow morning and I went back to my Swedish class today. Mariette had the entire month of July off, paid and next year after she has been working at her preschool for a full year she will get six weeks paid. People can bitch about various aspects of the Swedish system and socialism, but you won’t find any Swedes moaning about their vacation time. I don’t think too many people in most countries of the world get six weeks yearly paid vacation. That might make living in a socialist system pretty easy to take. In addition to the education, healthcare, blah, blah, blah.

Back in the U.S., Mariette worked as a nanny for a wonderful family in Palo Alto and helped raise two kids for 7 years. The family came over in 2010 and loved it and came back again this summer and we all filed away a lot of really great memories of their trip.

 

 

This is Sam. He will be 8 this year and reads everything.

 

This is Emily. She is 4 and don’t let that smile fool you. A second after Mariette snapped this photo, Emily pushed over that tree. Whereas Sam is tall and lanky, Emily is solid muscle, I’m not kidding. The Stanford volleyball or basketball team is going to get an cheerful enforcer around the year 2026.

And here are their parents, Derek and Gennie, who basically hit the lottery twice with their kids.  View of Halmstad in the background.

 

Off on a bike ride.

 

To the beach. We didn’t have as many nice beach days because the summer has been unsteady weatherwise, but that only meant we got to do a ton of other things.

 

One of which was visiting a dog breeder who lives about an hour south of Halmstad.

 

This little cutie is about five weeks old here and we will get her if the owner decides to part with her. We hope so, but will understand if she can’t bear to part with her.

 

 

Nothing in the world like a dog.

 

This foal was born the day before we came down.

 

Next stop was a beautiful nature preserve called Kullaberg.

 

 

After Kullaberg we went to the independent nation of Landonia a little ways away. The Swedish artist Lars Vilks (he of the notorious sacrilegious cartoons of the prophet Mohammed a few years ago) has built remarkable sculptures out of driftwood at the bottom of a long rocky path down at the sea and declared it a sovereign nation. Swedish authorities are not amused and you will not find Nimis (the name of the place) mentioned on any map or sightseeing brochure, yet it is the biggest attraction in the area. The above is an old farmhouse at the head of the trail down to the sea.

The day burned gorgeous (as many cloudy days did) and after an ice cream to fill up our tanks we started down the hill.

It is about a 30 minute hike down, very, very rocky all the way and was muddy in places due to rain earlier in the day. Bianca, who has mountain goat somewhere in her family tree, had the easiest time. This is the entrance to Landonia, a driftwood tunnel leading down to the towers.

Here are Sam and me at the top of the tallest tower.

There are some stone structures, too.

After Nimis and another stop in another town, we hit Laholm (the next town south of Halmstad) so Derek could check out the fishing. We left him there to try his luck and returned to Halmstad. That was one busy day.

Derek had a birthday while they were here, so that called for a cake.

Gennie is an absolutely superb cook and with out little local fish market supplying the salmon, fresh artichokes and a nice cake, this was shaping up to be one hell of a meal.

 

Mulkey family foto.

 

 

 

About a half a mile from where we live there are acres of blueberries and we all went out one morning for our share of the harvest.

 

Another fun time was hitting the go-kart track in town.

 

Sam had never driven a go-kart before and he did great.

 

 

 

And here is Emily getting the news that you have to be 7 to drive a go-kart. Sometime later Mariette was asking Sam what age he would like to be and, unusual for a kid who usually wants to be older, Sam said “Seven is a good age.” Emily also wanted to be 7 probably because of the day at the track.

 

Derek and I went on the big kids’ track.

 

Sam’s laughing about a mistake one of us has made, Mariette is concerned and Emily is thinking, “Just you all wait until I get out there . . .”

 

Halmstad has a really cool open air museum of buildings from 19the Century Sweden. Here is a windmill from around 1845.

 

This decorative piece dates from 1787.

 

Probably this potty as well.

 

This waffle dated from 2012 and was really yummy.

 

Derek and Geniveve took a break from all the fun and went to Oslo for a few days.

 

They arrived on the first sunny day anyone there had seen in five weeks.

 

This well preserved Viking ship dates from about 1000 AD.

 

 

Gennie at the wheel of Amundsen’s ship that sailed to the South Pole.

 

And this is one of Thor Heyerdahl’s rafts from one of his little jaunts around the world. Norwegians have a thing for sailing.

 

And Gennie has a thing for shrimp.

 

Near the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world’s largest by a single artist, and one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.

 

 

Homage to the world’s Terrible Twos.

 

 

 

 

After Oslo, they went to the middle of Sweden to find where Derek’s ancestors came from. The place is called Heartland.

 

 

Sure enough, in a church cemetery they found Derek’s relative who had emigrated to the U.S. at age 13 with his 3 year old sister, put on a ship by their parents. This was definitely before the age of helicopter parenting. Many emigres requested for their remains to be returned to Sweden. I mean, there is a line from the Swedish national anthem about wanting to die in Norrland, so those roots run pretty deep in Swedes.

Meanwhile, since the cats were away-ing, the mice were playing.

This is Halmstad’s Busfrabiken, or mischief factory. 2000 square meters of trampolines, climbing apparatuses, slides, sponge guns and junk food for kids. They can really work off the excess energy here. It would be great to have something similar for grownups as it is great exercise trying to follow these kids through tunnels, up walls and you-name-it.  Instead, adults get Las Vegas. And heart disease.

 

 

Time for, what else, an ice cream.

 

Emily loves to paint and since she was two, she and I have been doing collaborations. Picasso is reported to have said that he had spent his whole adult life learning to paint like a child. I am trying to be smarter and going straight to a child for lessons. We have actually sold a couple of our collaborations. Sam helped on one of our sales as well when he was five.

 

Another playground, another place for Sam to climb.

 

There was lots more stuff we did, like Adventureland, Halmstad’s amusement park. They opened those three monster water slides that I posted about earlier and we went down them. One has since been closed as a couple people were injured on it. Well, three, if you count my getting a sore neck after Derek and I went on it together, caught air coming over a bump and my head whiplashed into the slide at the bottom. One day’s worth of a sore neck was worth it, though.

Then there was the indoor water park at the Halmstad Arena, a massive sports complex with ice rink, handball and floor hockey courts, gymnasium, soccer fields and a really cool indoor water park with slides and all kinds of stuff.

Anyway, we had a blast the whole time and can’t wait for them to come back again. The week after they left, the weather held for several days, but we would probably just vegged out on the beach and what fun is that? The things we did together were a lot more kid-oriented and a lot more fun.

Tomorrow it is back to the real world. As real as it gets in Sweden anyway.

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O-ringen

Today marked the end of a weeklong orienteering meet here in Halmstad. More than 30,000 participants crammed the city, already crammed by vacationers looking to soak up some of the beautiful Halmstad summertime. The weather has been spectacular all week and they held the competition at just the right time.

For those unversed in orienteering, which includes myself, a few basics. Orienteering is basically running through the forest with a topographical map in your hand looking for different markers, which denote a leg of the race. The competitor who finds all the markers and makes it to the finish line first is the winner. Simple. In a country that is 2/3rds forest being able to find your way in the woods seems like a natural activity, as natural as becoming lost in the woods.

Orienteering originated in Sweden as training for the military in land navigation, but as I say and can attest to, Swedes spend a lot of time in the forest, so it soon became popular with the people in general. The sport is biggest in Scandinavia but there are orienteering clubs in many countries including the U.S. and urban orienteering is growing in recognition.

The O-ringen is the largest orienteering event in the world with all kinds of races spread out through the week for all ages and levels including mountain bikes.

With Halmstad’s hotels already packed with vacationers (the beaches and warm water make Halmstad Sweden’s Riviera) places had to be found to stuff another 30,000 folks. (The population swells to about 3X the usual in summer.)  The air force base just outside of town was selected and I went by there to check it out.

Camp entrance.

People set up camp wherever, though neatly, in typical Swedish fashion.

Even the beer cans are orderly here.

A mile or so away from the campsites they set up an O-ringen village with food, gear, a radio broadcast and even an art gallery. A local artist set up an exhibition of his work and I spent some time speaking with him. Very wild, primitive work, which I liked. Anyway, today, I talked to an acquaintance who knew this guy back in the day and he worked for my friend’s sandwich business and did very well at it. Every day he would go out to the beach with his cart full of sandwiches and sell them all. One day my friend decided to follow him to see if he could find the secret of his success. One thing to know about Sweden and all of Scandinavia in general is that people are a lot less uptight about their bodies and nudity. Many resort areas have clothing optional beaches or resorts and Halmstad has just such a beach. My friend followed the super salesman down to his spot near the nude beach and discovered that he was taking off all his clothes and selling sandwiches all day in the nude. (His art was just as wild.)

Getting back to orienteering, the army maintains a presence at the events and they were out there recruiting.

They were engaging the kids in fun and games like seeing how long they could hang from a bar. I can’t imagine that happening in the U.S.

Also, loading up a kid with pack, helmet and (wooden) rifle and letting him run an obstacle course just for laughs. Since Sweden has not been in a war in over 200 years, I get the impression that the Swedish military is more fun and games, like when we used to play Army as kids. At one time, a year of military service was compulsory and had an aspect of national service to it, I think. Nowadays, the Swedish military is all volunteer.

Flags of the countries participating (I think).

Concert stage.

Today was the grand finale, so I decided to check out out. You had to be kind of an orienteer to just find the place but I managed. That there in the background is the bike parking area, though there were bikes parked all along the way in.

I arrived with a crush of people, all of whom seemed to be participants as nearly everyone was wearing orienteering outfits. This was the healthiest looking bunch I have ever been around, I’ll say that.

As I said above, Swedes have a more relaxed approach to the fact that human bodies have needs. It is most acceptable when out in the woods to relieve oneself Number 1. These nifty little items enable you to do it in a crowd. The blue porta-potties were for women and Number 2s. For Number 1s, there is no reason why this should not catch on. First time for everything and I had never seen anything like this before and I imagine you haven’t either.

Orienteering clubs from all over congregated together with their club flags.

There is probably not a less spectator-friendly event in the sporting world than orienteering since it takes place in wild unmarked terrain. But at the start and finish lines they had a closed circuit broadcast of the finishing stretch.

 

 

The finishing lanes.

 

Competitors punch that little red thing on top of the post which clocks them out of the race.  On the guy to the left, you can see his map and the band on his left forearm which holds, I think, his compass and the markings for where all the marker locations are.

 

With staggered starts, everyone runs together. Different classes and age levels can all be on the course at the same time. Here are some runners entering the finishing area.

 

They had somehow already determine that this young woman won her class and the second she punched out someone placed a wreath around her neck.

And off she went to the finish/media tent to be interviewed.

 

This guy punched out and then checked out, exhausted.

 

It’s hard to see, but the guy with the white X on his back and carrying a flag was the winner of the 85 and older class. I saw something on a website this morning that there is a 94 year old guy who has done the last 44 O-ringens. 94!

 

The army was here as well, showing off their equipment and impressing the kids.

 

The real little kids were sequestered off in their own area complete with brightly colored vests. In orienteering, competitors are required to punch out even if the quit the race because if they don’t then no one knows whether they are out on the course really lost and they send out a search party. You would hate to be sitting in a chair rubbing your bunions when the search party returned to find that you weren’t lost at all but simply hadn’t clocked out at the finish. Every contestant who starts must clock out at the finish since that is the way they check to make sure someone isn’t out there wandering around totally lost or up a tree with a hungry bear below.

 

Having spectated my fill, I pedaled down the road to a nearby dairy farm. Obviously, that is not me on the bike, but sure is a pretty shot.

 

This is the castle at the Wapnö dairy farm where most of the milk in Halmstad comes from.

 

 

This is the milking carousel. They move a cow onto it, clear her udder and hook up the milking machine. The carousel rotates slowly and the cow kicks off the hoses at some point and when she comes around to the gate, they back her out and that is that. This was shot through a window so that is why is is worse quality than the other shots.

 

The cows seemed willing to put up with it.

 

Ample shade on a warm day, plenty of grass to munch on and the public address system would be gone by the end of the day. Next year, the O-ringen will be in another part of the country. What’s not to like about a cow’s life in Sweden?

 

 

Our Neighbors to the South

No, not Germany or Italy, though the weather was very Italy-like again today. Too warm, even, for Mariette’s taste. Swedes begin tipping over if it gets to 28 C., which is 82 F. That generates headlines about heat waves. Of course, when it is in the low 20s in January, nobody bats an eye.

We took a trip to the next town south of Halmstad just to check it out as we had only been there once before. Laholm lies about 15 miles south of Halmstad and is a small, pretty town of about 6,000. Like any coastal city worth its salt in Sweden, Laholm was built on a river. In the town church there is a record of all the priests who headed the congregation and the first name listed was in 1399, so the place is old compared to North American standards. Here are some shots of the place.

At the fountain in the central square.

Looks like Pippi Longstocking.

Overlooking the River Lagan.

Lots of people fishing even in the middle of the day when fish aren’t biting. On a day like today, though, who cares?

Across the river between the poles were these large white globes of varying sizes. Some were several feet in diameter. Driving range of the Norse gods, maybe, or someone’s sculpture installation.

That boat in the middle is a steamboat that makes trips down to the beach at the mouth of the river about 3 miles further downstream.

 

 

 

 

Can’t visit a town without seeing its church. The cemetery here was pretty crummy actually but the inside did not disappoint.

 

 

Love that blue ceiling. Very, very pretty church.

 

 

Nice illustrations on the ceiling. Clearly these do not date from 1400.

 

And that’s Laholm. The contrast when we got back to Halmstad was striking. Things are happening in Halmstad. Not so much in Laholm. But if casting your lure in the river is your thing, Laholm is your town.

 

Beach Weather

Summer finally seems to be here. Temperatures in the 70s, water temperature in the upper 60s (believe it or not, people living in Northern California), bright sunshine and the beaches were packed today. This is the Swedish summer weather I fell in love with beginning in 2004 when I first visited here. Here are some shots today from Sweden’s Riviera, the beach at Tylösand.

 

 

 

 

 

Another great benefit of living here was a documentary we saw tonight about Paul Simon and his travels to South Africa in 1986 to make his Graceland album. I was unaware of the controversy that surrounded his going in violation of the worldwide boycott of South Africa because of apartheid. Wonderful documentary made doubly so by being able to watch it without commercials every 10 or 15 minutes. You don’t have to pay extra to avoid advertising interrupting your attention on the government run stations here, which is a blessing you don’t realize until you experience it.

All in all, life continues to be great here in the summer.

Summer Happenings

We had a very, very mild winter, the mildest in over half a century. But there is no free lunch in life and our mild winter is being balanced by a cool summer. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Sweden was that the summers were unbelievably here. 75 degrees F., sunny skies, little rain, absolutely beautiful weather that went on day after day after day. Sure, it rained occasionally, but that just kept the lawns green and it often rained at night. This summer we have had a lot of rain so far, lots of clouds and lots of wind. Temperatures have been in the 60s usually or lower 70s. I suppose I should be complaining but when I check the weather across the U.S., I shut up real quick. Compared to most of the U.S., Halmstad is still paradise.

Despite the clouds and rain, there are still blocks of time during the day to get some sun, or get out and do stuff. And Swedes do stuff all year round. This past Saturday there was a car show at the local swim stadium. Compared to car shows in the U.S., it was not much: a lot of Porsches and Mustangs and Corvettes. There were a few notables, however and though I did not pay the $10 to go inside and look at Mustangs, I did catch a couple of beauties that were parked outside.

 

This was a Morgan, what  year I do not know. Really gorgeous car.

 

 

 

 

 

Very clean Pontiac Bonneville, complete with dice.

 

But this was the coolest car I saw there, a 1951 Saab.

 

 

 

The photos don’t really convey how unbelievable funky this car is. The front end appears wider than the back end, which appears to be coming to a point. Check out that tiny rear window. I love that car.

Anyhow, that was Saturday. Next post will feature the world’s largest orienteering competition, being held this year in Halmstad. 30,000 strong, running with maps through the forest. That’s orienteering.

 

Day 366 — Thanks for reading

Okay, here we are one year after the beginning of this blog. I determined to write a new post each day about life here in Sweden and failed miserably. I think this is post 221, so I did roughly 2 posts every three days.

I endeavored to chronicle our first year here and I was successful at that, I think. Anybody reading the blog got the highs of our year: moving, getting our wonderful dog Bianca, our housewarming party, my struggles with Swedish, the changing fall colors, the looooong Christmas season, last year’s ultra mild winter, the spring flowers and, recently, the beautiful Swedish summer. As I reviewed the blog, there weren’t really any lows. The closest thing was some of the songs in the Melodiefestival. Swedish pop music is pretty awful, I have to say. Well, actually, losing ESPN America was a bummer and I need to find something before football season starts.

As to understanding more about the Swedish character which stereotypically is rather cold and withdrawn, I have not found that to be the case. I have run into countless Swedes and have found them chatty and friendly. Maybe having Bianca the Icebreaker along on my walks helps. I don’t find Swedes cold and standoffish. But I can say the same for the Iraqis, Nepalese, Filipinos, Serbs, Turks, Iranians, Kosovoans, Germans, Chileans, Palestinians, Bosnians, English, and other nationalities that I have met at school.

As for understanding the Swedish model for creating a society, I think I understand that better than I did, though my lack of language skills is preventing me from grasping it at the level I would like. I guess that will come with time.

Keeping this blog has helped my transition from the U.S. to here because I forced myself (a little, anyway) to look for interesting fodder for the blog.

I have had some requests to keep this thing going and certainly there is some unfinished business such as finishing my Swedish course and obtaining a Swedish driving license, neither of which will be a walk in the park.

So, here is what I think I am going to do. I am going to keep it going for another year but won’t be posting “every day” like I have been. I think I will just post when something eventful happens or I discover some new aspect of life here that I think people will be interested in. I think I will try and organize it a little better and make it not so dull looking. But we will see about all that. If you click on the little “Follow” thing at the bottom right hand corner, you will be sent notifications when new posts go up, if you are interested still.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of the super nice swimming pool at the local swim stadium. It was another gorgeous summer day and I went for a swim after class.

Swedes know that summer days like this are not a guarantee, so when they get one, they really enjoy it.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more. It has been a wonderful year for us in a wonderful part of the world and I hope you have enjoyed sharing it with us. So long for  now.

Dan, Mariette and Bianca

 

 

 

Days 364 and 365 — Almost the end of the road

We have been here almost a year now with tomorrow being Day 366, and we are finishing strong. Today was one of the rare perfect San Diego days: 75 degrees, blue skies and gentle winds. A perfect day for summer, so that is what we did. Summer. Mariette has been enjoying her vacation immensely.

New flowers seem to be coming up all the time.

Six months ago, this scene looked totally different. One thing I never experienced was four completely different environments in a year. Never had seasons living in the Bay Area. It adds a lot to see the changes.

Lunch buffets are a big deal here in Sweden. They are called dagens (dailies) and for 10 bucks you get salad, main course, drink, coffee and dessert. A lot of people take advantage of them, especially workmen who come and really pile up their plates. This place is a conference center about a mile from our place and they have a dagens each weekday.

Nothing fancy but two entres each day and really good.

And, just as you bag your own groceries, you bus your own dishes. There is a saying in Swedish, “Själv är bäste dräng.” (Oneself is the best workman.) There is another one I heard before moving here: “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.”

After lunch, it was time to hit the beach and a crab’s eye view of the action, or lack thereof.

Around 4:00 people start leaving the beach and there is usually a free concert at the Tylösand hotel’s amphitheater.

Then, this evening was a perfect time for a picnic, so off we went to a spot above an abandoned granite quarry (of which there is no shortage) with a great view of the sea.

We inaugurated the picnic basket and blanket that my students from the English class I taught at the Folk University gave me.

As per usual, Bianca eats first.

We couldn’t have had a better day. These don’t happen every day, so when they do, people take advantage of them. Tomorrow is Day 366, so I am going to summarize our first year in Sweden and hopefully find the insight that I seem to have missed in the first 365 days.