Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's 2:50 in the morning. Rise and shine!

Wow. If an electronic journal could gather dust, I'd be sneezing right now. Almost a half year without an entry. Quite pathetic. And it's not as if there haven't been things worth writing about.

I'm such a prisoner of inertia sometimes. Sure, I've suffered from a case or two of what a Francophile whom I once knew well would refer to as ennui. But I've also had an interesting experience or two. Let's see ... I've been to about a dozen shows, attended my first two operas, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first (and second and third) time(s), gotten into and out of a relationship, and taken a couple of vacations -- including a trip to Stockholm.

Ah, Stockholm. My new favorite city in Europe.

From Stockholm - Day 3

I had such high expectations before going. After all, the trip had been in the works for a good seven months -- beginning shortly after my Swedish-born friend at work became pregnant. Her parents were planning to visit after she gave birth, and they've got this thing against staying at hotels, so they were looking for someone to trade apartments with. I gladly volunteered, because I'd wanted to go to Sweden since visiting Scandinavia World at Epcot Center about six years ago. (Yes, I visited Disney World as a childless adult. Don't judge.) And that interest kept growing as more and more Swedish bands became my favorites. Shout Out Louds, Club 8, The Radio Dept., Acid House Kings, The Legends, and most everyone else on Labrador Records.

(Ah, hell. Just did some fact checking and found out that there's no Scandinavia World at Epcot Center. The closest thing is Norway Pavilion. Swedish friend won't be happy if she sees this. Good thing she's preoccupied with the baby.)

Anyhow ... Stockholm exceeded all my expectations. It's an intriguing combination of new and old -- both sleek and quaint at the same time, all seemingly without trying. The waters are beautiful, the streets are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful and the people are beautiful. None of that was much of a surprise, really. What did surprise me a bit was the incredible friendliness of the Swedes and their amazing command of English. It was easier for me to figure things out there than in Taiwan.

And staying at my friend's parents' wonderful apartment made things even more enjoyable. They live in a very artsy but ultra family-friendly neighborhood called Södermalm. It has a SoHo/LES feel about it, except for the family-friendly part. Hmm ... so maybe it's more like Park Slope? But Park Slope's not all-too-artsy. See why
Södermalm is special?

The highlights of the trip were an excursion to Gotland and a traditional Swedish dinner at the apartment of my friend's aunt. Gotland is a large island to the southeast of Stockholm. (If Stockholm were Boston, Gotland would be Nantucket.) You get onto it by taking a three-hour ferry ride to Visby, its largest city. The place feels as if it had stopped aging after medieval times. The remnants of a medieval wall surround its center, and medieval ruins dot the narrow cobblestone roads that crisscross every which way.

From Gotland
And the dinner with my friend's relatives ... it was already a treat to live as a local at an apartment in the city, but a traditional dinner made us feel even more at home. Learned so much about Swedish customs, politics, history and hospitality. It was a bit embarrassing how much more my friend's relatives -- including her very bright 19-year-old cousin -- knew about the U.S. and the world than the average American.

Definitely can't wait to go back. My friend tells me that her parents are planning to visit again around Christmas time. Another swap, perhaps?

Oh! Almost forgot to circle things back to the title. Take a look at a picture I snapped after a night out.

From Stockholm - Day 2
See the orange band in the horizon? That's no Photoshop trick. That's the sun rising at 2:50 in the morning. And it had only set about five hours earlier at 10:00. Just crazy.

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