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FINALLY a christmas post!

23 Jan

It finally happened – I went through and fixed up the good pictures from Christmas, and deleted the rest. I really should have done it before it was gramma time here at my apartment (my mom, my gramma marie and my gramma kathy all decided they were rich enough to come and spend a little over a week with me and Ben!) It was a really fun visit, but more on that later bc I finally am trying to post about mine and Ben’s first Christmas together in the North Pole!

Some of you have already heard this story, and if that’s the case then feel free to click on any of these pictures and it’ll link you directly to the slideshow I put up of all of our christmas pictures.

SO. First I have to point out one thing: I don’t have the best of luck when traveling. I mean, I always get wherever I’m going safely, so I can’t complain or anything. It’s just that I never get where I’m going when I plan on getting there. Something always happens that I end up having some weird delay (flashback to the time me and the boyfriend at the time decided to take a vacation to Maine, and I got so dehydrated that everyone thought I had OD’ed or the bird flu or something that they had to pull the plane off the runway after it had taxied off and call and ambulance and OH that was embarrassing.) This time the culprit was French-made trains.

You see, the long distance trains here in Sweden were getting a bit run down so they took a bunch of bids on companies that could build new trains, and this company in France were the lucky ones to build the new trains. The only problem is that while planning and building the trains the French didn’t take into account the extremely cold temperatures that the arctic experiences. As a result of this poor planning by some company whose bid clearly didn’t include fully functioning trains, trainloads of people get sort of abandoned by the SJ trains every year. This year it just so happened to us. On our first trip since moving here. In -30°C weather. OUCH. So here we are standing on a platform with 80 other people excitedly waiting for our transfer train in a little city in the middle of Sweden (Boden), 10 hours away from Stockholm on Christmas Eve, with no clear way of how we’re getting home. So instead of seeing HOORAY WINTER WONDERLAND and enjoying our Julbord (Swedish traditional Christmas buffet) we are looking at this:DSC02055Hey, what’s happening everyone that’s supposed to be transferring trains with us!?!) I don’t have a picture of it, but there were a bunch of kids (aka people younger than me) taking pictures of their frozen nose hair. Eventually some woman managed to find out on her cell phone that our train had been cancelled. We all thought she was joking until two guys that appeared to work for the train company told us that they didn’t know where the train was, “it should be here, you all better go inside while we figure out what’s going on.” We did that. And in the meantime those two men disappeared and no one else was working since it was Christmas Eve and that left about 80 of us standing around in this lobby area trying to figure out what’s happening. Within about 10 minutes or so some guy popped in the lobby and spouted a bunch of stuff in Swedish and half the people picked up their crap and started booking it outside, leaving the rest of us (Ben and I, a couple Germans, and a whole bunch of Asians that were heading up north for a skiing trip) standing around trying to figure out what’s happening. DSC02057Long story short, a bus came – it filled up and even though our crap was loaded on we got kicked off the bus – cabs were called and paid for by the train company and we made friends with the Germans. We shared some chocolate and they gave us some dense bread they made in case we didn’t get to leave the lobby in time to make it to our hotel 7 hours away for our Christmas dinner. Ben was convinced it was a big fat social experiment.
Eventually our cab came, the last one duhhhh, and we continued our trip with these two nice men (the cab driver, and this other guy from the train that was trying to go to Narvik – who was incidentally from Cali!) After almost 8 hours in the cab we made it to the hotel with a half hour left on the buffet, and the hotel made sure they left it all up until we were done.
Before we left the night before (since our train was an overnight train), Ben had a really great idea that we fast until Christmas dinner, because it was supposed to be a really fancy and delicious ordeal, and we were supposed to be there at like 5pm so it wasn’t going to be a big deal, but by the time we got there it was almost 10pm and BOY were we famished. Anyhow, I feel like we regretted deciding to fast at the time, but looking back on it dinner was so delicious that it was worth it.

On our way out of dinner the receptionist of the hotel told us that our cab driver and the man going to Narvik were on their way back because the border to Norway was closed. That’s right, America! Norway CLOSES for Christmas! So the DSC02089hotel saved two plates for the guys so they could have some Christmas dinner too, which was really nice of them. We saw them the next morning after breakfast and hung out with them for awhile before they took off for Norway, round 2!  I tried really hard to get the amazing mountains in the background, but it was too bright outside for the camera to pick it up. (That’s right, I said bright. I was under the impression that since we were so far up north we wouldn’t have ANY sunlight. That’s what the weather channel says. That’s what everything on the internet says. That’s what the sunrise/sunset charts that don’t chart any data bc they say there isn’t any to chart for that far up north during that time of year say.) It gets PRETTY BRIGHT though. The sun never ACTUALLY comes over the horizon. I’m not sure if it’s because there’s so many mountains or what, but we got really amazing sunrises and sunsets while we were there. At least, some really amazing colors in the sky during those times. And we got to see the moonrise every evening we were there while we were hiking.

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Anyhow, if you want to see all the pictures you can go to THIS LINK and it’ll take you to a slideshow of all our pictures. I can’t use flickr anymore because I ran out of free space and I don’t feel like paying for it, so I’m using shutterfly and I can’t figure out how to caption the pictures yet, and I’m also not sure if it’s linked correctly so if anyone’s having problems with the pictures just let me know and I’ll try and fix it!

xoxo-
Val & Ben ♥

oh also we didn’t see any northern lights maybe next time!

Pre-vacation blurb!

23 Dec

So I was planning on blogging before we left for our little Arctic Christmas vacation. However, as life has it I didn’t do it. We’re pretty sure we’ll be equipped with wireless on our train ride (18 hours, 1400 km…the equivalent of driving from Pittsburgh to Kansas City, MO) Whether or not the wireless pulls through, I’ll have plenty of time to go through the pictures I’m still waiting to post. (curling, homemade gnocchi for the first try, snowmen, etc etc)

ANYHOW. As part of Christmas presents to our families we’ll be posting AT LEAST one blog while we’re gone to catch every one up with what’s been happening.

God Jul från Sverige!
Val & Ben

p.s. we’ll be closer to the North Pole than any other person we know on this whole earth this Christmas, so keep your fingers crossed we get to see some Northern Lights! We’ll be experiencing 24 hours of darkness every day (Santa gets no sun in the winter) so we’re not sure what kind of pictures we’ll be able to get, but we’re really hoping for these auroras! ❤

Långholmen!

25 Oct

I know it’s going to sound crazy, but I’ve been hitting a slight wall with motivation to get out of the apartment. I’m not necessarily bored, between editing pictures, trying to find meetups and fun things for us to do around town, and now NaNoWriMo will be here in about a week – I’ve got plenty to do. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m trying to stick to seeing things that are free. (If i’m going to spend money to see an awesome museum or something, I’d like for Ben to be able to come with me, especially since attractions like that are always more fun with someone else there to talk to about the things you’re seeing.) So I’ve been getting up in the morning and trying to search the internet for all kinds of things to do or places to see while Ben is working, and I’ve seen a lot of the free things. There are a lot of gardens and greenspaces here, I’ve seen a lot of them, and frankly when it’s cold I don’t feel like trekking around a garden by myself. Again.

ANYHOW. I dove a bit deeper into a bit of Stockholm history and found this island here where the Swedes used to send all their prisoners – Långholmen! Well now the prison is a hotel. So I decided to go look at it. I thought it was pretty charming. The hotel didn’t really look like a jail to me, but who am I to say what a Swedish prison from the 1800s should be looking like now (especially since it was renovated in 2008!)

I’m hoping to go see Långholmen again when spring comes. Apparently when all the prisoners were there, it was a barren, rocky island. It didn’t really have any plants or anything, just a jail. One of the punishments the prisoners at the time faced was dredging up all the much from the waterways, and as a result the island is now covered with a plethora of flora. I was excited when I read that because we all know how I’ve been on a quest for more autumn colors than yellow (although now the yellows are turning into a deeper shade that’s starting to appear more orange than anything.) WELL there was a lot of yellow, but there was also a BEACH. It was really, very small. I’ve read the place gets crowded in the summer, and I’m not surprised. That tiny beach could fill up with just my mom’s side of the family. I’m thinking there are more smaller beaches around the island. I didn’t go looking for them though, even though it was beautiful outside it was COLD. Especially by the water, gusts of wind seem to collect themselves there. There’s also a school located right behind the hotel, it’s called the Långholmen Folkhögskola. From what I can gather of the terrible translations I’ve been getting online is that it offers college classes (I saw a Swedish as a second language course I’m going to go fantasize about taking), but when I was there I saw a class of small children as well.

On a more personal note, we’ve been doing well trying to be as Swedish as possible. I’ve been getting better at cooking more things besides quinoa and steamed veggies (my go-to in Pittsburgh), but I still fail miserably at making lentils in a pot without them becoming lentil mush. On Saturday there is a SHOCKHOLM 2012 parade happening, so we’re really looking forward to going to that, and on Sunday we’re going to a NaNoWriMo meeting with some Swedes! Ben may or may not come, he’s definitely not doing NaNo, but I’m trying my hardest to get myself out there while meeting like minded people.

Until later! xoxo –
Val & Ben♥

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Food. Cooking. Booze. ALLL the good things.

22 Oct

WELL a mediocre amount of things have been going on at our new Stockholm home. The Stockholm tax office has put me to shame (halfway!) by sending Ben a letter in the post basically saying “turn in yr resident id card by Oct. 29 or good luck going through the whole process of getting a personnummer.”

I didn’t get one though. So my theory of try, try again is still valid. Plus, we already got our id cards in the mail from Migrationsverket so we’re just going to march our American butts over to the Skatteverket on Wednesday and show them our id cards. Yes, I’m taking mine over too, just by some weird coincidence my letter got lost in the mail. (Although I am having this grand vision of my personnummer making a trip to our mailbox before we can get over to the Skatteverket to show them Ben’s id card.)

In other news, I’ve been cooking a lot of really delicious things as of late.

huevos rancheros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

banana/orange mimosas with strawberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pizza with spinach, fresh mozz; with crust and sauce made from scratch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I’ve also made some chocolate chip cookies, which I didn’t like the pictures so they don’t get to be public (I have to work on my ratios, metric system + Val guesswork = I need to try another batch of cookies.) Ben took them to work today though and he said they were gone when he left this evening. I’ll have to trust that no one dumped the whole lot in the trash.

 

We’ve also made a quest to the beer section at one of our most recent grocery trips. That’s right, we broke down and bought some overpriced, low-alcohol beer. And even if it was low-alcohol, it was the most delicious beer that either of us has had since we got here. My favorite was the porter, Ben liked the Trashy Blonde (hoppy, but not hoppy enough.) And surprisingly, the Bishops Finger wasn’t all that bad. (I was afraid of it. It was this weird, almost pinkish color, but not fruity. Terrifying.)

 

 

We’re also working on a little project that involves taking pictures of some of the art in the subways. We rode up and down one of the lines almost completely, but it didn’t seem to have much art. We’re thinking a lot of it is along the blue line, which has been closed since August (but reopens tomorrow!!) So keep an eye out for that. We got some decent pictures of some of the stations, but if I’m going to commit to doing something like this, I don’t want to half-ass it.

Oh and I mentioned we got our resident cards in the mail! Well I basically look like a criminal in mine. Don’t think it’strue? Check it out. I didn’t smile bc no one else smiled in their pictures, and basically I didn’t know if I was allowed. (Also don’t tell me that’s ridiculous, because in your passport photos you are not permitted to smile, and I didn’t feel like getting reprimanded in Swedish, OKAY.)

 

No more news for now really, it’s been slow moving here. Basically, I’ve been lacking a lot of motivation to go out neighborhood-exploring because it’s been so boringly and consistently gray outside. And I still don’t have a functioning iphone to help me get around. I tend to have lots of luck with getting mega turned around getting off the trains here. (There’s two exits to almost every train station, and if you get off the wrong one…screwed.) It’s especially difficult because I don’t recognize the street names enough yet to remember where they all are in relation to each other. I’ll get used to it. Consider it a day off.

xoxo-
Val & Ben ♥

 

becoming legal in Sweden

16 Oct

Before Ben and I moved here this month, I did an extensive search on the internet about the process of becoming a legal immigrant in Stockholm. I needed to find things out like “uh, how do you even start the process of living somewhere other than the US?” and “what is a skatteverket?” and “how do you find a place to live again?” and “how long is it going to take for me to get a bank account so I’m not stuck paying for everything in usd?” Either I wan’t typing the right info into Google for all the answers, or some of the information on the Migrationsverket and Skatteverket’s websites was not so specific or conflicting, but needless to say I didn’t find out much.

Well. Luckily for you (or maybe luckily for no one except myself), I am able to answer some of these questions accurately! After getting yr visa approved through the Swedish embassy of whatever country you come from, these are the things you have to do before you can get anything legit in Sweden (bank account, phone plan, renters’ insurance, supermarket discount card, etc etc etc.)

1.) get an appointment with the Migrationsverket ASAP. you have to e-mail the Migrationsverket at biometribokning-solna@migrationsverket.se – include all the names, designation numbers (beteckning), and contact info. You find the beteckning off of your visa acceptance letter. They should text you an appointment within three days. Yes, a text message. (In our case, we had to send two e-mails because our first was ignored or not gotten around to. When we got our appointment it was for almost a week and a half after the first time we tried to get an appointment, so make sure you leave yourself some time for this to happen.)
You can try to just go to the Migrationsverket and take a number, and they will get to you if an appointment doesn’t show up. This is not a good way to do things, we tried. When we got there, they were on number 200, we had number 205. Not so bad, right? After about an hour of people going up to the windows and numbers not being called we started talking to some of the people waiting with us, and it turned out they had only done one number (200) since 9 that morning; it was noon. Not surprisingly, once someone gets an appointment they do not pass it up.

2.) go straight to the Skatteverket. The main Skatteverket (tax office) is located somewhere close to T-Centralen. Don’t go to that one, you can get to the one in Sundbyberg by walking or train (it seems that it takes about 40 minutes either way, you have to back-track a little on the train. However, the train might be worth it, Ben and I got turned around walking because of construction and ended up going almost an hour out in the opposite direction.) The Skatteverket in Sundbyberg is not nearly as busy as the one by T-Centralen. Don’t tell them that you don’t have your resident ID card yet (that’s what you get photographed and fingerprinted for at the Migrationsverket), just tell them “yes, I’ve been to the Migrationsverket.” You get a short form to fill out, take a number while you fill out the form, and you should be called up shortly after you’re done with the form. Take all of your papers that you’ve received so far. The more papers you have, the more prepared you look, and the more they’re willing to just process your things. We had our visa acceptance letters, lease, passports, reciepts from the Migrationsverket (they’ll give you one if you ask) and Ben had his offer of employment papers and some other paper from his employer. When we came in August we stopped at the tax office and we were told we couldn’t start the personnummer process until we had our resident ID cards, but when we went yesterday we didn’t need any further paperwork than what we had back in August, and they didn’t ask for us to present our ID cards, just our passports. And make sure you have some kind of Swedish address to give them. They do everything by post so they’ll need somewhere to send your personnummer.

We were told by a random woman that we met in a store that overheard our American English that if one person tells you no then just keep trying. We haven’t had success on the bank account thing with that, but as far as the Migrationsverket and the Skatteverket go, it is totally true. If you go to the Skatteverket in Sundbyberg and they don’t let you process your form, even if you have a Swedish address, your passport and acceptance letter for your visa from the Migrationsverket, just go to the Skatteverket close to T-Centralen or just come back the next day or so. It can be done without the resident ID card in hand.

It was a huge relief to just have those two big things out of the way, and now our resident cards should be here in a week and our personnummers should be here within the month, and we should be free to open bank accounts and credit cards and get discounts on grocery shopping, hooray!

And if you’re in the position we were in back in August, we’re told you can start with your closest Swedish embassy with getting your fingerprints and photograph taken and getting a resident ID card BEFORE you move to Sweden. I highly recommend doing that, as it’ll save you about two weeks or so in getting a personnummer. If you don’t care about having a bank account, then I guess you don’t have to care about doing these things in a timely manner, but try paying rent without a Swedish bank account and no fees. It’s a bitch.

xoxo –
Val & Ben♥

p.s. helpful links!
www.skatteverket.se
www.migrationsverket.se

walking, walking, walking…finding!!

15 Oct

So we’ve been here almost two whole weeks! Today we accomplished a lot (including me waking up before 8am for the first time since getting here, OH.) I’ll post more about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I just wanted to give everyone a nice little picture update on what we’ve been doing. I think I can finally say we’ve officially mastered the grocer. And we should be official residents within the month! As well as more details about what we’ve been doing are going to come a buttload of things that we’ve already learned about being here. Hopefully it’ll be able to help future residents of Sweden figure shit out before they cross the ocean (or countries or ice sheet or whatever) to get here. There are a lot of things that I wish we would have known that might have made things a little easier. Those things deserve an afternoon of brain power devoted specifically to accurately blogging about.

      

 

AND as always, you can click on these pictures and it’ll lead you to the albums that contain a WHOLE BUNCH MORE fr yr eyeball pleasure!

xoxo
Val & Ben ♥

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