the royal city.

Last weekend we finally made our first trip to this country’s capital. After being one of the people who spearheaded the trip and figured out the train schedules, I had an inauspicious start to Saturday: Min Ya, Katie and I had gone to our very first gasque, a fancy dinner with lots of drinks. I stayed out quite late and had a bit of a hangover… but made it to the train station nonetheless and tried to sleep on the train. Which is great, because nothing can go wrong – well, too wrong – when you have our lovely crew. Here’s a photo Andrès’ girlfriend took of us, which I think could be used as a sitcom promo. I mean, we’re basically a walking ensemble comedy.

Anyway, it was a beautiful fall day, and so we spent the morning mostly just walking around the city, which was also beautiful. Stockholm has about a million museums, but it seemed silly to waste such a sunny day – there are fewer and fewer as the fall progresses – inside looking at exhibits. So we we walked around the royal palace (I imagined what it would be like to be here for the World Cup city sprint in the winter, when they truck in snow, and sighed again) and the rest of the old city on an island referred to as Gamla Stan, along the waterfront, and around the island of Skeppsholmen, which is part of the Royal National City Park. It was nice.

We did break our museum rules a bit. We had been told that there was a great cafe at the Moderna Museet, a modern art museum that just happened to be on Skeppsholmen, where were already. So although we didn’t pay the hefty fee to actually see the museum itself, we checked it out and saw some of the cool artwork that was outside. One particularly intriguing part was a courtyard with mirrors and pools of colored liquid hanging above your head. It made for good pictures.

We also went to the Nordiska Museet, a culture museum in quite the amazing building. They were having their annual chocolate festival, which is why we splurged and payed admission. The chocolate itself was kind of a bust – very few free samples! – but we got to check out the museum, which was pretty cool. Lots of history, handcrafts, furniture, and an exhibit on the Sami. But even just being inside was a treat – here’s a view of the main hall from the top floor.

The whole time we were wandering around, we were kept company by our good friend Carl Linnaeus, who popped up in a surprising number of different places around the city. This one was in the Humlegården park.

Late in the afternoon, we wandered by what has to be my favorite church I have seen so far in Sweden: St. Johannes Kyrka. It was closed, so we couldn’t check out the inside, but I spent a lot of time taking pictures of the outside. I love the bright green of the copper against the bricks, and the unusual shapes of some of the building’s lines. The details were pretty great, too.

After a lot more walking around and dinner at an Indian restaurant, we called it a day and got back on the train. We had thought about staying later to check out the city’s nightlife, but Min Ya and I were pretty much toast and it was a struggle for me just to stay awake until nine. It was probably a good decision for our pocketbooks, too. But at the end of the day, we all were left thinking, wow: Stockholm is a really great, beautiful city. I already know I’ll be back. There’s museums I want to see, and I’d like to just spend more time there. Until then, Stockholm, goodbye.

kräftskiva: no shellfish allergies here.

Kräftskiva. What a great invention by the Swedes. This is supposed to be how it goes: you have a nice lawn party at your lake house, grub up some crayfish with your bare hands (you may or may not be drunk yet), boil them, drink schnapps, make silly hats, eat crayfish, drink some more schnapps, eat some more crayfish… etc, etc. An end-of-the-summer celebration that ends with everyone in falling-down drunk in their nice clothes, possibly splattered in shellfish shells. How lovely. We had to try it.

Except. We’re broke-ass students, and we certainly don’t have a lake house. Instead, Reto bought some pre-cooked crayfish from the store, and I bought some shrimp to boil up (“recipe” below the jump!), and we sat in the little kitchen on Andrés’ floor in our giant dorm building. And we didn’t have any Schnapps, just one 3.5% beer apiece. Despite those potentially buzz-killing changes, my first-ever kräftskiva (yes, I’m planning to do this every year for the rest of my life) was awesome.

I mean, Reto made me a newspaper hat. And put a crayfish on it.

Apparently the Swiss are great milliners.

The crayfish were simple: all you had to do was defrost them. Despite the fact that Reto suggested we get one box for every two people, there were about a metric fuckton of crayfish in one box and I’m really glad we only had one. While the horrified, dead, dethawing crayfish watched, I poured their giant prawn friends into a vat of salty, dill-filled boiling water (hint: that’s the recipe: a bunch of dill in some salted water, go). Mmmm! Tasty! Or, if you’re a shellfish, Ack! The horror!

 

This is going to sound silly, but it was actually kind of hard to cook the shrimps correctly. I read that you’re supposed to cook this kind until they turn bright orange, but they never turned bright orange. So I let them merrily boil away for a while until Min Ya said, “enough! I think they’re done now.” Thanks Min Ya!

In fact, I think she might have the most shellfish experience of all of us; Min Ya proved to be the most adept at eating crayfish and scooping out every single last bit of meat, even the ones that might not be meat (“Yeah, you can eat that part, but I’m not going to tell you what it is, it’s better if you don’t know”). We tried to learn lessons from her, but it just got sort of tiring, even if they were delicious. Thank goodness for the giant shrimp, which only require a very elementary level of peeling.

So we played with our food. Yay! We’re children! A true kräftskiva.

On a serious note, when I arrived home from Atlanta, I was emotionally and physically exhausted (I tried to sleep on the plane, but at one point I woke up to find the extremely overweight Greek man next to me staring at me creepily and intently…. it was hard to sleep after that). I had two texts and a facebook message saying that my friends were cooking dinner and making gin and tonics. I ignored them, turned off my phone, and went to bed. Cheerful drunk parties seemed so far from where my head was at; I wasn’t sure I even wanted to see my classmates.

After sleeping for twelve hours, I changed my tune. I loved these guys, and I remembered it. I knew that the best way to start feeling better, to start feeling okay about the world, was to fall back into our silly, childlike friendship, to drink coffee and eat cake and talk about poop (yes, that’s about fifty percent of our conversation; we’re adults; we’re scientists). I think that my perspective is still a little bit different than in the careless days earlier in the program, but by the time we were crushing crayfish skulls together on Thursday, I was right at home again, and I had to think how lucky I was to have friends like these who send you messages saying, “crayfish party tonight.” I mean, how many people get those messages? Crayfish party? What?

So, next summer, especially if you’re feeling a little bit down, find some crayfish and some funny hats. Or at least find some giant shrimp. You can thank the Swedes. I did.

Atlanta, again.

I’m all out of sorts and I can’t sleep. What day of the week is it? As I lie in bed at night, physically exhausted to the core, I toss and turn for hours. It’s like going back to he days before I stopped ski racing, when I could never fall asleep. At the time, I thought that was my default mode. For the last two years, I have slept like a baby – until now. Maybe for the first 23 years of my life I had jet lag.

Last Thursday I got up before the crack of dawn and walked through the rain to the train station. By the end of the day I was in Atlanta, Georgia, sitting on my grandfather’s back porch with my family. Last week, my grandmother passed away. The service was scheduled for Friday, and I was lucky to be able to get back to the States on such short notice. My jeans, sweater, and tall leather boots were out of place in Georgia in September – some details get lost in the shuffle when you’re in a hurry.

I don’t know what to write about my time in Atlanta, except that it was very sad to arrive and have my grandmother, who was truly a force of life, not be there. At the service on Friday, tears streamed down my face as my father described some of the outlandishly stubborn and unique things his mother had done as a mother. My uncle Chris and cousin Jessie read a poem and a story that were so well-written, so put-together, and so perfect a reflection on Abie that it stunned me; not just to sit there in the big Presbyterian church thinking about her, but to think of what an amazing family, all sixteen kids and grandkids, Abie and my wonderful grandfather Peter have created. And also, I was glad I hadn’t volunteered to speak because nothing I could have written would have matched the beauty of Chris and Jessie’s words.

After two more days with the family – it was great to see them, and great to see my parents – I had to hop on a plane and go back to Sweden. In some ways it was too short a time; despite flying across the Atlantic, I had not been able to go to my real home, or see the fall foliage that I’m missing so much. In terms of things that I would like to do if a trip home suddenly materialized, well, I didn’t do any of them.

But the time was well spent. I love my family, and we hadn’t had a reunion with the entire crew since before my youngest cousing Pablo, who is five, was born. I left satisfied, and as happy as I could be given the circumstances. Thanks, family, for helping me get home.

Now if only I could get some sleep….