Saturday, October 9, 2010

Getting Lost Around Town All Over Again

We finally moved into the proper flat this week. I say this week because it has taken a few days and lots of public transport (neither Henrik or I drive) to make it with all our stuff. We are still living out of boxes and bags, but things are gradually making their way into their proper place. Life here is starting to feel more real, now that I can say I have an actual address. The novelty factor has started to wear off, but so far I am still very content with Swedish life. Malmö is a very beautiful city too, and the sun is still shining most days, although it's getting a lot colder as the days go by. This afternoon on my way home from work there were lots of golden and orange leaves falling from the trees, and with the bright yellow sun shining and uplifting tunes playing on my iPod I couldn't help but feel content. Content and a little over-whelmed.But in a good way, if that makes sense? It's true that I have always hoped I would live in an other country (or even more specifically, I have always hoped I would live in Scandinavia) for a while if I had the chance. I just never imagined the chance would appear so soon. No time like the present though!

Monday was a special day in the Swedish Calendar: Kanelbullens Dag (Cinnamon Bun Day). As I have mentioned before, the Swedish take their fika buns very seriously. I think if I were ever to write my memoirs from my time living in Sweden I would have to give it the title "Swedish Fika-Buns Ate My Waist-Line". I mean, come on. A national day dedicated to a cake? I think I'm in heaven...

I'm really enjoying working in the theatre school, I've covered another dance lesson since my last post and I had a lot more confidence the second time round. I'm most happy when leading the Singing lessons though, as I was this morning. The students seem to be having a great deal of fun too, which is really important as we hope the school will grow and more children will want to join, so when they see how much fun we have I'm certain many more children will sign up! My next goal is to find more work. Now that I am in a permanent location I can call my own, I am able to teach from home, which means I can start giving private lessons. Now it's time for some shameless self promoting to anyone and everyone, to see if I can fill some hours with private students and get back into a more full schedule.I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for any opportunity that comes my way, and I am now attacking the job front with all my energy.

I've really started to notice the difference in economy between England and Sweden. Sweden as a country is doing very well, the recession is a thing of the past (though not forgotten) and the Swedish Krona is rising in value. This is all good for Sweden, and therefore it is good for me, while I am here! However, my British need to find-a-bargain is not fulfilled here. Not in the way it should be. You see, I still have English prices and numbers ingrained in my psyche. I think the best way to explain this is with another of my lists:

Cost of cheap supermarket own brand loaf of bread in Britain: About 54p.
Swedish equivalent loaf of bread: 20sek

Cheapest available own brand Super Noodles in Britain: 9p
Swedish equivalent Super Noodles: 4sek

Only two examples but they make a good point. I should point out that 20sek is about 1pound 84p, and 4sek is about 38p. Now in Sweden this is a reasonable price when compared to the national wage, though some may argue it's a little pricey. But for my British-brain it's outrageous! I find it had enough with all the extra 0's on the numbers (eg 100sek is only about 9pounds 50p!) but on top of that I never feel like I'm getting a bargain! I don't think I'll ever adapt to this new way of thinking...

Finally, 3 little thoughts:

1) I found a really nice, big, shiny conker on the floor today near the Malmö Opera House, while walking home from work. I brought it home with me. Henrik thinks the word conker is funny.

2) My local supermarket is called Willy's. It's huge.

3) Now that I've moved to the other side of town I have to re-learn my way in and out of the city. Everything is in reverse.

2 photos from this Summer
TOP: Henrik and I next to the boat (our means of transport between islands) in the Archipelago.

BOTTOM: Me, feeling the heat on a hot summer afternoon, again in the Archipelago. We spent an afternoon at a war museum built into a small island. The island had basically been transformed into a defense point, with underground caverns and lots of guns hidden in the land-scape. It was a really good afternoon and I was fascinated with the design of the island. The base hasn't been in use since the 1930s, but it's a great museum now!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photo Album: Crayfish Party 15th August

Click the Thumbnails to enlarge

The Spread..........A Close-up..............This one is waving

Just add snaps.................Enjoying the crayfish.....The boys

Tucking in

In the photos: Henrik, Gorel (Henrik's Mother), Gustaf (Henrik's Brother), Me (!), Liv och Ludwig (Gustaf and Kerstin's children).

Only person not shown in the photos is Kerstin, Gustaf's wife. She took the all the photos: thank you Kerstin!

Stay tuned...

I am not ignoring the Swedish general election that has just taken place, but instead fully intend to publish my own update, reporting on my own experience and understanding of the election that has just taken place, from an outside point of view. Stay tuned!

End Radio Silence

At last, I am writing another update for my Blog. When I last posted, I was back in the UK to celebrate my Dad's 65th Birthday. I had a wonderful time at home and really appreciated spending time with my family again. One thing I never mentioned was a small highlight (one of many!) to my visit home. While in Stockholm I was finding myself increasingly frustrated with the lack of reading material. Of course, the newspapers are in Swedish. So are the magazines. To get an english magazine I would have to go to the Central Trainstation to pick up an over-priced out of date english edition. The library had a small selection of english literature, but there wasn't anything I wanted to read. I know beggars can't be choosers but seriously, I had read most of the books there. There were a couple of series I really wanted to start but the first books were all missing (probably already on loan) so I couldn't take out any of those. I re-read some stories, as they had a couple of Terry Pratchett books and I never get tired of those, but on the whole I was disappointed. The washroom in the basement of the appartment block we were living in had a small make-shift library that the residents had thrown together. It consisted mostly of swedish books, but I found a John Grisham book that looked worth a try. By the time I was heading back to England I couldn't wait to stock up on books and max out my luggage weight allowance for the flight home. So imagine my absolute delight when, on arriving home, I find an envelope waiting for me. I opened it up and realised it was a birthday card from my Aunt and Uncle that had been saved for me, rather than sent on to Sweden. Inside was a gift card for Waterstones (UK Book Shop)! I was absolutely psyched, and the gift couldn't have been better timed. I was desperate for new reading material, and couldn't wait to spend it on something exciting. I bought 2 books, one was a fantasy book, the first in a series, by Jonathan Stroud, and the other was a book about the lives of Chinese women by Xinran, a Chinese Journalist. I've read the second, and will start the fantasy novel soon. I also bought a Jodi Picoult book called "Picture Perfect", which I have almost finished, and I borrowed the final book in the Twilight Series from my sister, and finished it in record time. So I am definately making up for lost time with the rate I'm gobbling up literature. And my Mum made the best offer ever, to send me magazines in the post so that I have some light reading material. Of course, it's also important to me to try and learn to read in Swedish, and I try to read an article in the newspaper, or on the TV guide, every day. It may only be 100 words long, but it's important to me to keep trying!

Once I arrived back in Sweden, I moved half way across the country, to Malmo in the South of Sweden, where I am now living and working. Housing and travel has been a bit of an adventure for the last month or so. Let me try to bring you up to date on my current situation, by using the following list:

1) July 21st - August 27th. While living in Stockholm I was staying in Henrik's Mother's appartment in Central Stockholm, and occasionally having short stays at his Uncle's house on Alon, an island in the Archipelago.

2) August 27th - I travelled to England for my Dad's 65th Birthday. Let the good times roll!

3) September 1st - Back to Stockholm. I arrived in the small hours of the morning, so technically the 2nd.

4) September 2nd - Morning flight to Malmo. Staying with friends on a beautiful farm in Horby. I've never stayed in such a wonderful place, with sheep, horses, chickens, cats, a dog and lots of home grown food. I felt truly spoiled! We were waiting for our appartment in town to be available.

5) September 4th - First day of the new job. More on this later.

6) September 6th - Back to England. This time, Birmingham. I was supporting Henrik in a recital he was performing on the 7th. Then we went to my family home, packed lots more of our stuff, spent some quality time with my family again. Henrik met the guinea pig, the parrot and the cats we have at home. We went out for a lovely dinner at the best Fish and Chips Restaurant in town, and of course I had Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas. It was beautiful.

7) September 8th - Fly back to Malmo. This time we are living in a lovely appartment in Lorensborg. The appartment belongs another kind member of the family, and we are staying in this one until our appartment is available. We are waiting for the tenants to move out, they have the place until 30th Sept, as agreed in the contract. The place we are staying in is beautiful, and I'm grateful for the generosity of Henrik's family and friends, that have enabled us to have somewhere to stay while waiting for our appartment. I honestly can't wait to get in to our place though, and start unpacking my new life properly.

So that's everything caught up, in a very brief and basic form. Let me tell you about my new job. I'm working as the singing teacher in an international theatre school, affiliated with one of the inernational schools in Malmo. We effectively run a weekend activity where the children learn songs, dances and drama sketches and perform them at the end of term. It is a wonderful opportunity for me because it enables me to teach in english, and meet a huge ex-pat community. I've also had lots of interest from students for private lessons, which is fantastic as that is what I was doing most in England and I'm really keen to carry on in Sweden. I've also made friends with my colleagues, Mattias (Drama Teacher) and Victoria (Dance). It feels really good for me to be making friends of my own, so that I am not just relying on Henrik's friends for socialising (although they are also lovely people, there's something to be said for being independent!). I've also met a lovely lady called Vanessa, who has a child at the theatre school. She has been helping us out with registers, selling tshirts and looking after the children during their breaktimes. She is a Drama Teacher at one of the Universities in Malmo and has been really helpful and friendly to me. She is actually from England, but married a Swede and now lives with him in Sweden.

I've faced various challenges with my work so far, the most memorable being this past Saturday (18th) where I actually took the dance classes, and another singing teacher covered the singing lessons. Victoria is performing in a national tour at the moment, and she won't be available for every weekend. When she is away, I am the cover-dance teacher. I really enjoyed teaching the routines to the kids and working on the steps with them. It was a great 3 hour work out for me too, as they have so much energy!

Speaking of work-outs, I put on about 7lbs this summer...maybe even more, I couldn't find a reliable working set of scales. I'm supposed to be a UK size 12 on the bottom, 10 on top, but now all my clothes feel tight! There, I've said it. Now I'm accountable to everyone who reads this blog. I'm going to try and get back in shape. I'm not planning any major weight loss, but I need to get fit again, so I will be checking in with you all. I just need a set of weighing scales now! Keep checking for updates on my progress. That will encourage me to work hard!

I think I've caught everything up to date now, and as I'm in a more permanent location for the time being, I will be updating on a more regular basis once again. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

I have briefly returned to the UK, to celebrate my father's 65th birthday. I arrived in the UK on Friday at 21.45 BST, 2 hours later than scheduled. First the flight was delayed in Stockholm, then we faced further delays before finally landing at London Gatwick. We were so delayed that there was no-one at the gate in London to drive out the tunnel-link to the plane, so that we could all disembark. We had to wait while they found someone. I think my sister describes an event like this as being sent to "fail-jail".

My brother met me at the airport and drove us both back home. Dad was really surprised to see me as we had kept my trip a secret. Saturday was a nice day of chilling out at home, before we went out to dinner at a lovely oriental buffet, which had food from China, Malaysia and Thailand. Delicious, and very entertaining to see my father try to eat with chopsticks.

I brought a few tastes of Sweden home with me, but only a few as I didn't want to over do it and I'm still working out what the tastes of Sweden are! (No rude comments please.) In the end I decided on a large tube of Kalles Kaviar, two jars of ABBA Sill and an Elk Salami. No one's tried the salami yet... I think I may have to lead the way on that one. I get the feeling my family think it's a joke. Every time I explain to someone that I brought home Moose, they think I mean mousse.

Yesterday I baked a chicken and bacon pie for dinner. In the evening I went with my brother and sister to visit my aunt and uncle who live in the next village. We took a box of old photos and memoirs that my Grandma left behind when she died (about 15 years ago now I think) and went through them. My sister is taking some time to research the family tree, as a hobby rather than a lifetime commitment. It was really interesting to hear stories about people I never even knew existed, and to share memories of our childhood. We ended up staying until quite late, without noticing the time. I was so pleased to get to see my aunt and uncle (and both my cousins who were home) before going back to Sweden on Wednesday. I laughed so much as we recounted old memories and heard new stories. I laughed so hard I think I burned enough calories to earn an extra cinnamon-roll next time I have fika.

Today my brother, sister and I went out for lunch, followed by a trip to the cinema to see Toy Story 3D. For lunch I guessed it: Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas. Inspired by all the memory-sharing last night, I am going to delve into the family photo case this evening and dig out some memories and photos. Tomorrow I think I am going to one of the nearby cities to do a little shopping with my brother. Wednesday is the end of my stay, and I will be returning to Sweden via London Gatwick. I have a meeting for my new job on Friday 3rd, and will officially begin teaching on Saturday 4th September. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kalles Kaviar, Crayfish Parties and Singing

I have developed a new addiction, to accompany my fika addiction. It is for a product named Kalles Kaviar (see pic). Kalles Kaviar is a swedish food product that is most commonly eaten on a hard-bread such as Ryvita. But I eat it whenever I can. I enjoy is most on soft bread with margarine and cheese. It has a very high salt content, which I think is why I crave it. It comes in a tube, and they don't last very long around me! I've never found anything like it in England, though I will be sure to look when I get back.

I made a trip to a big supermarket (PrisExtra) and while there I couldn't help but notice the difference in products. Many things are the same, as you would expect in the EU, but Sweden likes to preserve a lot of food, especially fish, so there's a lot of pickled food. There's also something called Surstromming which I have been told is a fermented fish. It comes in a can, and apparently once opened it can have a very strong effect on people. Not in a good way. I don't think I'll be trying that any time soon!
Sweden also has a big market for mushrooms, and there are lots of different types on sale. Much more choice than Sainsburys or Tescos, and all still reasonably priced. There's nothing special about them, and I'm assured they aren't magical...

Henrik and I went back to Alon, to spend a few more days in the sun, and to have a little romantic break from the city, just the two of us. It was really beautiful on the island, and there is nothing to distract you so it's a great place to just kick back and relax. In fact, Henrik and I barely spoke to eachother, as we sat in silence, deeply absorbed by our books. Total bliss! Talk about quality time alone together! We were joined at the end of the stay by Henrik's uncle and cousin, and Henrik's uncle had brought Crayfish with him. August is Crayfish season in Sweden, and they celebrate with Crayfish parties. This was not a Crayfish party, so-to-speak, more an introduction to Crayfish and Crayfish etiquette for me, incase I found myself at a Crayfish party in the near future. The following is an instruction on how to eat a Crayfish, and my reactions.

Step 1) Pick up your crayfish, turn it upside down, press your lips to its belly and suck. Seriously. Suck out all the juices. Mmmmm. (I thought they were kidding. I insisted that Henrik do it first.)

Step 2) Take your small crayfish knife and stab the crayfish behind the head, making a small hole. Now suck the juices through the hole. Yes that's right. The brain juices. The gut juices. (NB during step 1 and 2 it's compulsory to make as loud a slurping noise as possible. Apparently this isn't rude.)

Step 3) Pull off the head. Rip it off. Keep it as a trophy on the side of your plate so you can keep a tally of how many you have eaten. Take off the remaining top shell, if it didn't come off with the head. Pull the sides apart slightly to access the innards. (Don't eat the gills (the sides). I did. To be honest they looked the most edible so I took my chances. Bad idea. After eating it I checked with Henrik that it was OK to eat and he looked shocked. I thought I was going to die.)

Step 4) You guessed it. Suck out the remaining innards. Noises still compulsory.

Step 5) Pull off the crayfish tail. Use your hands and, if needed, the small crayfish knife, to remove the shell. Congratulations. You've reached the meatiest part. This is the part that makes it to all the pre-packed sandwiches on our UK high street. I've never tasted such good crayfish!

Step 6) Locate the claws. They'll be somewhere in the pile of discarded shell and carcass, and can be a variety of sizes. Pull them off, then one by one bite them to break the shell. It's best now to use the knife and dig out the claw meat. It's really a gamble as to whether there's anything worth eating inside, but if you do get something it's delicious.

Step 7) At this point you have officially eaten your crayfish. Celebrate by singing a song and drinking some Snaps. Congratulations! Now start again.

After my lesson in Crayfish 101, I felt prepared to face a crayfish party. My first was really very tame, as there were children present (Henrik's nephew and niece). We ate lots of crayfish, and I can tell you I had 10. I kept my trophy tally of course. I had to resist the urge to put the heads on my fingers and thumbs and make a crayfish puppet theatre. I didn't want to set a bad example to the children, though personally I think they would have loved it!

Let me tell you about Allsang Pa Skansen. It's a Swedish TV concert that airs every Monday and Tuesday during the Summer. The show is live and features swedish b-list celebrities singing their way through classic swedish songs, with audience participation. I found it...interesting. At first I really tried to like it, as I am trying to embrace swedish culture and, for want of a better phrase, 'fit-in'. But I soon learned that many of my new friends aren't keen on it either, despite its seeming popularity. So I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped trying so hard. However, the series had it's final show this week, rather like a swedish last night of the proms. Imagine my shock when their final song to end the entire season was none other than Land of Hope and Glory. I'm not overly patriotic in any sense, but I felt weird hearing it sung with swedish words, in celebration of their final show. It made me feel home sick. I will definitely be tuning in to the BBC Last Night of the Proms in September.

Finally, on Monday 16th, Henrik, his Mother and I went to an Opera concert in honour of Jussi Bjorling, the famous Swedish tenor (now deceased), at the Royal Castle in Stockholm. This was the first of a series of Summer concerts (the REAL Swedish Proms) and featured a wonderful line up of talented swedish opera singers and one italian guest (Mario Malagnini) who had a splendid voice. It was a long night, but it was a concert full of classics, with a fantastic orchestra under the baton of Mats Liljefors and the evening was divine. It made me want to practise. Lots. I have a lot of work to do!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sushi, Friends and Steak

One thing I've noticed about Stockholm is how many sushi restaurants/bars there are, and it didn't take me long to try one. I went to a sushi bar in Fridemsplan with Henrik, where I ordered a "small sushi" which turned out to be a tray of sushi (about 9 pieces, so not small at all, but I wasn't about to complain), miso soup and unlimited green tea. Fantastic! I will definitely be going back to that sushi bar.

This week I met two of Henrik's Stockholm friends, and we went for a late lunch followed immediately by fika. Henrik has been friends with these guys since they were at high school together, so it was great to see that they still hang out and to listen to them catch up a bit. They are really friendly, nice men and I hope we all hang out again. Lunch was at a chinese restaurant (I'm spotting a theme here...) where I had dumplings, and then fika was over the road at Wayne's Coffee, where I had a latte and a delicious piece of Daim cake.

Today we have just got home from meeting another of Henrik's friends who will actually be living near us in Malmö from September. We had fika (as I said earlier, I'm a total convert with an unhealthy addiction) and then after that Henrik and I went out for dinner at Jensen's BØfhus, where I had a Whisky Steak, which was delicious. We were hoping to go to a late showing of Inception, but we realised we missed the start of the film as we spent too much time eating! So we ran to a video rental store and got in moments before they were closing, with the plan of picking a film to watch at home. Now we are home and are just about to settle down and watch The Hangover. Good times!

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Job, Swedish Shops and Fika

Sorry for the delay between this post and the last, I've been keeping myself busy and trying not to spend too much time on the internet! I'll try to update more often from now on though. Thanks for checking back and keeping in touch, it's really nice to know people are reading. Feel free to leave a comment and say hello!

So, since my last post I made my way back to Stockholm. For the first 3 days (Monday - Wednesday) Henrik, his mother and I looked after and entertained his niece and nephew, who are at the delightful ages of 7 and 4. The language barrier proved to be no problem at all, as some how the children and I managed to understand each other, despite only speaking our native languages. Henrik's niece (7) actually helped me to learn some swedish, by teaching me to count to 10 and helping me to learn the names of animals. In Sweden it seems to be very fashionable to have children at the moment, and the country provides lots of things for children and families to do, so entertaining them was never going to be a problem.
On Monday we went to a play-area and park in the city centre, which was full of fun climbing frames, trampolines, climbing walls, a place to borrow hockey sticks, footballs, a cricket set, the list was endless! And everything was free. The place was packed and everyone was playing together.
Tuesday involved a trip to the aquarium, which was lots of fun for the kids. I was a little disturbed by the pirranha pool that didn't appear to have any safety nets, but I think that's the British "Health & Safety" routine that's been drilled into my skull. No child was about to climb over the side of the rope bridge and jump in, not without someone spotting them and stopping them from becoming pirranha food! Everything here is just much more relaxed, and I think that will take some getting used to.
Wednesday was lovely and warm, so we decided to prepare a picnic and take the kids to an outdoor swimming pool just outside of the main city, and have an afternoon of swimming and lunch. The pool was lovely, and not busy at all. We shared the whole space with just one or two other families. Swimming was a lot of fun, and eventually we settled down for the picnic. It soon became a disaster zone, however, as we were set upon by a colony of wasps. They were after our sandwiches and they weren't backing down. Henrik made it his mission to kill as many as possible, and succeeded by killing about 7. He set traps with cups of orange squash, hoping to lure the wasps away from the food and towards the drinks, only to fall in and drown. This tehnique worked for a while, and we covered the children with scarves and towels and they sat in this little makeshift den, while we passed in sandwiches for them to eat. But eventually the stress became too much and we gave up, packed up the picnic, ran for the car and finished the food at home.
On Tuesday and Wednesday evening I gave both the children a singing lesson while we waited for their parents to get home. It was so much fun getting them to sing (and not difficult at all, they loved singing and both had beautiful voices that could really hold the tune), and I taught them "One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive". I also learned a few swedish songs from their song book and we had lots of fun together picking songs and singing them at the top of our voices.

I also had a job interview on Tuesday, for the post of Singing Teacher in a new school in Malmö, where I will be living from September. The school is an International school so all teaching is in English, and it focuses on Musical Theatre for children aged 6-16. I was really excited about this job and meeting the principal (also english). We got on really well and she offered me the job, which was a cause for great celebration! I start on Saturday 4th September and I'm thrilled to have secured some level of employment already. I am now applying for various other teaching jobs and keeping my eye out for auditions too, that are close to Malmö or Copenhagen (a short commute from Malmö!). I've made friends with my new boss and we met up again in the last week and discussed the show we are going to put on this term with the school in Malmö. She also took me to an english butchers owned and run by an englishman and a welshman (Taylor and Jones). I bought some lincolnshire sausages to put in the freezer, and also bought some of their sausage rolls which are seriously the best I've ever tasted. I actually really enjoy swedish cuisine and the food here is so fresh and delicious, but it's great to know that if I ever feel homesick I can pop round to Taylor and Jones and buy a nice healthy sausage roll. They also sell branston pickle, Duchy Originals and cans of mushy peas, amongst other british things. I hope there is something like this in Malmö, though it's not the end of the world if there isn't, I'll just stock up on the sausage rolls and lincolnshire sausages before I go and stick them in the freezer!

Being in Stockholm still feels like a holiday for me, and I am anxious not to feel too settled as in September I have to move to another city again, and settle down there. But I am finding myself settling in to the swedish lifestyle and psyche. Things here are much more relaxed, it seems. Equality is very important between the sexes, and everyone is very laid-back. Looking round the shops, I've started to understand where everything is found, where you can buy certain things and the swedish equivalents to Tesco (ICA), Boots (Apoteket) and Wetherspoons (well...there doesn't seem to be anything like it, which is great!).
Take ICA, or any other supermarket in Sweden, for example. In Sweden it is illegal to sell alcohol in a supermarket, if the alcohol content exceeds 3.5%. This covers anything worth drinking. At first I thought this would be a HUGE inconvenience, and that I would probably just give up alcohol as a result. But then I discovered the Systembolaget, a shop dedicated entirely to alcohol. The choice is fantastic and the prices are low (still not as low as England, but I'm assured they are low for Sweden). This is a much better place to buy your alcohol, as you can dedicate an entire shopping trip to it, rather than just adding the wine in your trolley as an afterthought in Tesco.
The Apoteket (Boots equiv) is much like Boots, there is a prescriptions counter, you can ask for advice and you can purchase many of the same things. You won't see a make-up counter, however, or any home-dye hair kits, and you have to develop your photos somewhere else. The shelves are reserved for drugs, shampoo/hair-care, nail-care, baby-care, womens essentials, etc. The biggest culture shock for me came in the latter section. Women are able to purchase the morning-after pill by simply picking it up off the shelf. Hell, you can buy-in-bulk if you want to! This is a far cry from Britain's demand that women be interviewed first, have to share with a stranger the details of when their sexual encounter happened (e.g. how many hours ago), and why they need to use the morning-after pill. Cue red faces as women explain that they either a, were too drunk to remember to use a condom, b, the condom split as the result of some rather more active love-making, or c, well any other reason, I'm all out of ideas, but just use your imagination. The point is, in Britain a woman has to be 'spoken to' in some way, even if only by the friendliest health-care worker or pharmacist, before she can purchase the morning-after pill. In Sweden you just pick it up off the shelf and pay at the counter. No embarrassing questions, or frowning by the pharmacist, or feeling a need to explain why you had so many drinks last night.
I feel a need now to point out that I've never needed to get the morning after pill in the UK or in Sweden, and that my account is based only on what other people have told me, and what I understand from the NHS. But I am relieved to know that if I ever did need it I can just walk into the Apoteket and pick it up off the shelf, bury it with a bottle of shampoo and discreetly walk to the counter and pay, as opposed to walking into Boots, leaning over the pharmacy counter where other people are standing just a little bit too close, trying to whisper "I need the morning after pill", having to repeat myself a little louder, drawing more attention and stares, and being faced with the questions either over the counter, or, if I'm lucky, being led into a little side-room or cubicle (people still staring) to face the questions there in a more "private" setting, before being led back out, handed the box and then finally paying for the service. For me, it's a no-brainer!

Finally, I want to mention fika. Fika is a swedish necessity. It happens about twice a day, whether you are at work or at home. People stop for about 20 minutes and have coffee and a cinammon bun. Of course you can have what you want, but that's the traditional fika. It's very rude to continue working through fika, as it is important to socialise and relax together. I am very quickly becoming a firm believer in fika, and I think this is something I may continue to do for the rest of my life, whether I am in Sweden or somewhere else!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ålön, Boats and a Birthday

I arrived safely in Sweden late on Wednesday night. Due to the fact that this trip was somewhat more permanent than a holiday, I had paid a little extra money to have another bag in the hold, which meant my baggage allowance was 50kg. This was fantastic from my point of view! I also had a few of Henrik's (my boyfriend's) things to bring with me as he was already in Sweden, so the extra bag was a godsend. The only issue however was how on earth to carry them! At Gatwick there was no problem, they came straight out of the car and onto a trolley, and then were wheeled round to check-in where the kind airport staff took them off my hands. But in Stockholm it would be another story. I would have to lift the bags off of the conveyor belt and transport them through the airport to the express trains in to Stockholm. Lastly I would actually have to get both bags on to the train with my bare hands. I'm not a tiny lady by any means (I'm actually 1.8m) but my upper body strength is pretty poor and to be honest I was worried! I knew there was only one thing I'd be able to rely on: chivalry. I had to hope that there would be someone else who would recognise my need for help and swoop right in. As it happens, there were TWO very kind Swedish men who assisted me with my bags, and carried them all the way on to the train, and off the train in Stockholm, so that I barely even touched my luggage! Whoever says chivalry is dead... They were great ambassadors for the Swedish and made me feel very welcome and relaxed about being in a new country.

I spent a day in Stockholm before we (myself, Henrik and his mother) took the ferry out to Ålön, one of the many small islands in the Archipelago. We are staying with Henrik's Uncle, who has a beautiful cottage near to the sea. Friday was spent enjoying the sunshine and relaxing with a good book. We also went out on the boat to a nearby island to get some shopping. It's a bit surreal here in the Archipelago, as people don't travel by car, but by boat. Before going to the shops, we first pulled in to a little petrol station on the water (literally, a Shell Garage) and a man came out and filled up the boat with fuel before we carried on our way. The island with the shops was very quaint, with a small grocery store, a coffee shop and a few other amenities. On our way back we did a little sight-seeing, taking in the beautiful surroundings and looking at the various houses people have built and restored out here.

Yesterday was my 22nd Birthday, and the morning was beautiful and sunny so I had my breakfast outside. Everyone sang to me and I opened my present and card that my parents had instructed me to pack and open on my birthday. The day continued to be lovely as the sun remained shining, so we decided to take a walk to the rocks and do some swimming. During the walk, however, the clouds gathered and blocked out the sun. We decided it was too cold to swim, but spent some time at the rocks anyway to enjoy the view and do some reading (see picture). After a while we decided to walk back to the house and on the way it began to rain. Then it didn't stop. The rain continued through the afternoon and into the night. It was still very beautiful though, and the house was very cosy. Henrik's mother had made a fantastic summer cake for my birthday, covered in strawberries and cream. We had it after a dinner of Salmon and a potato salad (which I had 2 portions of as it was so delicious!). One of the neighbours joined us for the dinner and we had a lovely, social evening. I also managed to Skype my parents and sister at home and fill them in on what I've been up to!

The rain continued through the night and eased off this morning. It's lovely and cool, but certainly not weather for swimming. So today has so far been one of those wonderful days where you stay inside and read, do crosswords, play cards and enjoy the fact that if you wanted to you could do nothing at all. This afternoon we might go for a walk around the island, and take another trip to the shops in the boat. Tomorrow we will head back to Stockholm as I have to meet a potential future employer on Tuesday (!) and Henrik and I also promised to help his mother with the Grandchildren, so that should be interesting!

I'll update again soon, when I am back on the mainland.

KJ xx

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas

It's my last day in the UK. Yesterday I was able to tick a few more things off my To Do list. I went and had dinner with my old music teacher, saw a few of my friends and did a lot of catching up with them. Today I have to pack. Seriously pack. And that's the number one priority. I've also got a hair appointment at 1pm, which is lovely as I've not had my hair done since January and believe me it needs it!

Tonight I'm going out for dinner with my sister and parents. They said I could choose where we go. It felt a little bit like choosing what to have for your last meal, not that I feel like I'm on death row - I'm very excited to go to Sweden tomorrow! But just because I knew this choice would really matter. So I choose the local Fish&Chips restaurant, and I am going to have Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas. Since coming home I've had a need to eat them. I think it's the Britishness of it. I must confess, since coming home, I've lost count of the number of times I've had Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas. Everytime it's been available on the menu, I've had to have it. I think tonight might bring the total to 8, since the beginning of July. Which wouldn't be too bad, but I'm sure most people don't have it more than once a week!

I'll be sure to let you all know if the Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas are everything I hoped they would be.

KJ x

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Welcome to my blog

I leave for Sweden on Wednesday 21st July. My journey involves a trip to London, including lunch with one of my Aunts, a trip to Gatwick Airport, then flying to Stockholm. Oh...and I still have a lot left to do...

To Do:

1) Go through every bag or box of things I brought back from my flat at music college and decide what I want to take with me.

2) Go through the pile of things I really want to take with me and decide what I do really want to take with me, as everything won't fit.

3) Go through my clothes. Will I wear it again? Did I ever wear it? Am I just being sentimental about the Tshirt that I love to look at but that doesn't fit? Do I already have enough cardigans? Is 9 white vest tops too many?

4) Pack final items into suitcases.

5) With remaining items, decide what can be stored in my parents home, and what can be sent to charity shops.

6) Pack storage items in remaining suitcases.

7) Go through pile of charity shop items. Would any one actually pay for this junk? Should it not just be binned? Is there a law these days on the level of quality when donating items to charity shops? I don't think any of my things would harm someone...

8) Call the Tax Man. Tell him I'm leaving the country. I can't do this until I've packed all my bags or my voice might not sound convincing enough on the phone.

9) Call the Student Finance Company. Tell them I'm leaving the country. This means I don't have to pay back my loan until I'm earning the right amount of money that's relative to where I'm now living. Tell them I'm living in Sweden. Praise God for the high cost of living, high salaries and high taxes in Sweden that mean I have to be earning considerably more to pay back my loan (unlike the UK where it is only 15.000 p.a.).

10) Stop wearing the clothes that I have already put aside to go to Sweden. Otherwise I'll be taking dirty clothes with me!

11) Wrap up all my errands and loose ends in the UK. Send all my post, hug all my friends, pay all my bills, visit my old music teacher, collect addresses, set up skype for my parents.

12) Buy a bikini. Damn.

And I've successfully procrastinated by beginning my blog instead!

KJ x