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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!

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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! ❤

NaNoWriMo go!

1 Nov

It’s that time of year again, where buttloads of people all over the world try to write novels of fifty thousand words or more in just a month’s time. When you break it down, it’s 1667 words per day, which doesn’t seem very difficult. But try making sure you are writing EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Miss and a day or two and the words really start to stack up, making it hard to catch up, and even harder to keep so many ideas streaming consistently.

I was going to get up and start writing writing writing, but instead I’ve decided to take it slow. I’ve got some things I need to do today so I’ll probably work on those first, and then a little later I’ll sit down and start with the writing. It’s only the first day, so I (like everyone else) have allll the creative ideas, and I’ll probably write way more words than necessary.

fun Val and Ben update time!:
Aside from me doing NaNo and looking for freelance writing jobs (and fixing my resume for teaching and writing out cover letters to hopefully get some kind of job before January or May – whenever there are teaching jobs available), Ben and I have gotten ourselves involved with the Stockholm International Film Festival. Both of us have signed up for helping with the opening night torchlight procession as well as doing all the sets and decor and such, and the volunteer coordinator decided that I’d be good for doing filmed interviews with the directors on the interview bus! As a result of volunteering our time to make this huge festival happen, we get free memberships to see screening of independent movies throughout the year as well as volunteer passes (and parties!!) So suddenly I went from not really having much to do, to having a whole bunch to do! November is going to fly.

I would like to apologize for the lack of photos that have not been happening. I’ll make sure to bring my camera along on my journeys (especially Christmas in the Arctic Circle, hopefully featuring some northern lights action!) We have a couple other things happening this month: I’m trying to convince Ben we should do a Thanksgiving potluck and invite some people over (we probably won’t – Thanksgiving is not a day that the Swedes have off work. Ben’s the best though bc he’s calling off so we can cook a Thanksgiving-like meal and also so I won’t be home alone reading everyone’s facebook updates about how they’re having SOMUCHFUN with their friends and families.) We have our first volunteer party this Sunday at a bar called KGB (it’s decorated how you think it is), we’re going to dinner at one of Ben’s coworkers’ apartment tomorrow, and we have a Christmas cookie making party to go to at the end of the month. So many things!

xoxo-
Val & Ben

p.s. so glad halloween is over with so I don’t have to hear about everyone enjoying their pumpkin spiced this and that.

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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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 ♥

Free Swedish classes are real!

12 Oct

We have finally managed to catch a break in our journey of fitting into Swedish society without personnummers: we found free Swedish classes given at the Red Cross (Röda Kruset.)

For those of you reading because you found this online somehow and are not family or friends from the states keeping up with us, do NOT go to the Röda Kruset at Hornsgatan 54. That’s the main Red Cross, but classes aren’t held there. You have to go to the mission in Hornstull (there’s a tube stop right around the block from it, although we just walked from the main Red Cross office.) The address is Lundgatan 55, and classes are måndag och torsdag from 18:00-20:00 and tisdag och fredag 15:30-17:30. Get there ON TIME because classes fill up fast and they have limited space.

Anyhow it was super fun, we were the only people from America there, and we had to be pulled out of the bigger classroom with three others from Morocco because we couldn’t understand a lick of Swedish. I’m considering trying to find a library and begging them to trust me with a library card with no personnummer so we can check out some kids books and try to learn in between classes. OH and we saw this amazing sunset on the way from the main Red Cross office to the mission where the classes were being held.Image

It’s a tad blurry, but there were about a million people on the sidewalk that were not amused that I was stopped in the middle in everyone’s way. OWELL.

On another note: we have decided that since we can’t spend this Christmas with our families (Ben and I both are used to large family get-togethers during the holidays), we’re going to hop a train and head to the snowy, mountainous Arctic Circle for three nights. We’ll be in Björkliden in the very north of Sweden, so it’s going to take us 18 hours by train to get there, and yes, it will be dark the whole entire time we’re there. We got a deal at Hotell Fjället (Mountain Hotel) so we’ll get to have homemade, traditional Swedish Christmas dinner made for us on Christmas. (For those of you wondering about my vegetarianism, I’m going to put it aside for the evening. I’ve considered it, and I might not ever get the chance to be in that area again, so if it’s elk and reindeer they want to serve me, then I guess I’m just going to have to eat it. Hopefully there’s no blood pudding involved bc I will not be able to handle that. Sorry, Swedes.) I don’t know what all (if anything) we’re going to do while we’re there. It’s a big ski town so at least there will be guests around in the lodge, maybe we can make some pals (if our Swedish is good enough!), and I have a strong feeling that Ben is going to talk me into going dog sledding.

And hopefully we’ll finally get to see some blasted auroras!

xoxo
Val & Ben

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Gamla Stan

10 Oct

Gamla Stan

Yesterday I took the day to walk around Sweden’s “old town” (Gamla Stan). On that island is the Swedish Royal Palace and a buttload of old architecture. Click on the picture to see more photos from yesterday! ❤

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