Friday, August 16, 2013

Skelleftea Sweden - Part 2

This is part two of our visit to Skelleftea, Sweden. To read part one, go here.

I know I wrote about it in part one but the 24 hours of daylight was truly awesome. I wasn't sure what to expect when we went up there. Would I be able to sleep? When do you know it's time for bed?

I remember hearing a story when I was a puppy about the kids who live up in Alaska where they have 24 hours of daylight. During the summer the kids would stay outside all day and their parents would let them sleep (outside) where ever they ended up falling asleep. I'm sure that someone somewhere allowed their kids to sleep outside but I'm guessing now that it's not a widespread phenomenon. All I could picture in my mind was random kids laying in random spots throughout suburban neighborhoods in scenes like some post-apocalyptic movie or something.

Well, let's just say that, although the idea of sleeping outside on the grass all night was definitely appealing, I was afraid of being carried off by Wizard-Of-Oz-flying-monkey-sized mosquitoes so inside the summer house it was.

A ~2am shot I took out the bedroom window one night (or was it morning?):

Skelleftea, as I mentioned in Part 1, is a fairly small town but it's been one of the bigger towns in the region for a long time owing to its success in mining and having a port nearby. The town has served as a social hub for the outlying areas for a long time as well.

Toni and Lena took us to Bonnstan, which is a village that developed around one of the community's churches. During the time when everyone was required to go to Sunday mass, farmers would build small living quarters near the town's church (and river) that they could use when they and their families made the trek into town.

The wooden structures, which sometimes are only one room, are fairly simple and have no bathrooms. We got lucky and were able to go inside two different Bonnstan (bonn = farmer and stan = town) residences, which are still mostly privately owned. As with the outside, they're fairly simple but that simplicity and utility is what makes them so nice. If you've ever stayed at a cabin when camping, I think you'd appreciate their design.

Skelleftea is located on the banks of the Skelleftea River and its core radiates out from the central plaza where Lena and Toni have their apartment. In a lot of ways, including the architecture, cold-weather-ready designs, bicycle friendliness, and overall livability, it reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado in the United States. My guess is that, if a resident of Skelleftea found themselves in Boulder, they'd feel particularly at home.

As in the U.S., pretty much every country in the world has televised game shows "where contestants compete for cash and prizes". They're just as popular in those countries too. But, do you ever wonder what happens to the folks who win a whole boat-load of money on one of those shows?

Skelleftea is home to one of those fortunate folks and, if he's not a local celebrity, he's at least very well known. So, what would you do if you suddenly found yourself with enough money to "follow your dream"? Well, this guy built his own museum and toy shop that occupies a couple of store fronts in Skelleftea:

The highlight, at least for me, is its collection of museum-quality LEGO dioramas featuring Star Wars scenes. These dioramas along with a whole bunch of other displays are a nerd's wet dream.

Welcome to Skelleftea's own LEGO Hoth:

One of the first things that I noticed in Skelleftea was that almost all of the parking lots have charging stations. I was really excited when I found out that Sweden was so green that they provide free charging for electric cars. Very cool!

Until I found out that they're not. What I thought were electric-vehicle charging stations are electrical outlets that people plug their cars into while parked SO THAT THE CAR DOESN'T TURN INTO A CARSICLE during the winter!!! Seriously? Does it get that cold? Well, in a word, yes. Actually, I found little things all over of how they're set up for some serious winter weather. Take for example these heaters below every pew in this church:

Lena or Tony, I can't remember which, at some point told me that it sometimes gets down to something like -42c (-44f) during the winter. Having lived in San Diego for almost 20 years, I have no idea what it's like to be somewhere so cold but it just doesn't seem possible. That's cold. In spite of the lovely winter weather, I still want to go back one day to experience the northern lights, the 24 hours of darkness, and, yes, the absurdly-low temperatures. But I may need to install one of those car heaters in my myself so that I can plug in at every opportunity!

One other random note. Yes, Sweden is probably most famous for its confusing-to-assemble-but-comes-in-a-flat-box-furniture-hometown-hero IKEA. Even though I didn't see one IKEA the entire time I was there (again, Skelleftea's a small town), I did see lots of examples of Swedish design and many, many things built from wood. I especially loved this built-from-wood parking structure in the center of Skelleftea. I wonder if it too came in a flat box with confusing instructions? Either way, I'm sure that Ingvar Kamprad would be proud!

Our trip to Skelleftea was pretty amazing. Not only did we get to experience 24 hours of daylight and eat a bunch of antlered animals, we got to hang out with Lena and Toni again. They're awesome. Thanks Toni and Lena for the great time. Hopefully we'll see each other again soon. Maybe in Barcelona? Or the U.A.E.?? Or perhaps even back up in Skelleftea???

What it looks like when you mix raw ingredients from four different countries with the loveliness that's Sweden:

One last note. Even though I still can't quite process how cold it gets up there, when Toni mentioned that the entire bay in the photo above freezes into a block of ice, I started to get the idea. Brrrrrrrr!!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Skelleftea Sweden - Part 1

Just about two years ago, we had the opportunity to make a couple of new friends from Sweden. We met Lena and Toni through couchsurfing while they were living in Barcelona studying Spanish. The four of us very quickly became good friends and we were bummed when they had to return to their regular lives back up north. Before they left, though, they threw out one of those "if-you-ever-get-the-chance, you-should-come-visit-us" invitations that people do sometimes to be nice. Well, this'll serve as a warning to you if you've (or haven't yet) said something similar to me. You just might find me/us darkening your doorstep one day:

But first, the day before Diana and I left for Sweden, I came across the photo below on instagram (whereisdarrennow). It had a Swedish caption so I wasn't positive, but it looked a hell of a lot like a wedding photo. Sure enough, on the day before we went to visit them, and without telling anyone in advance, Toni and Lena GOT MARRIED! Congrats to the newly-improved couple!

I'm not sure how much of a honeymoon it was being with us, but we had a great time!

After they picked us up at the airport, we drove directly to their "summer house", which is located about 15 minutes outside of town. Apparently, lots of Swedish folks have summer houses where they go during the summer (duh!) to enjoy the outdoors and get eaten by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. Lena and Toni's place is a simple but exceptionally lovely and cosy with a bunch of out buildings on a couple of acres surrounded by lakes, farms, and other summer houses.

In fact, the whole area looks a lot like this random scene from one of our day trips. Amazingly beautiful, isn't it?

Random photo from near the summer of house with a typical, but unusual (for me) fence:

We had a fun-filled first day with one of the best parts being a traditional Swedish dinner served up by Lena's mom. We ate reindeer and other local delicacies (including handpicked lingonberries, of course!). Karen, thanks for the fine, fine food and to Lena for sharing your mom with us! Karen, when your travels bring you south, you're always welcome at our place!

Skelleftea, if you're like me and never heard of it before, is a smallish town (population just over 30,000) located way up in northeastern Sweden just inland from the Baltic sea and almost up near the border with Finland. It's just about an hour south (via car) of the arctic circle and the farthest north that I had ever been! To give you an idea of how far north that is, get on a plane in Barcelona or Boston, and fly straight north for FOUR hours! If you look at a map of where Alaska and Russia almost touch, it's just about there!!!

One of the things that I was most looking forward was experiencing 24-hour daylight. We were a few weeks late for 24 hours of sun but it didn't get dark during our entire one-week trip. This is a photo of the summer house (to the right of the flagpole) that I took at right around midnight:

It's strange because the sun rose at about 2am, completely circled the sky, and then set at about 11pm almost where it came up. To better grasp how cool it was, imagine that you're facing north and standing on a large clock with the 12 out in front of you and the 6 behind you on the ground. The sun would rise at about the 1:30 position, circle around you to the right, be at the 6 position in the middle of the day, continue to circle around you to the left, and set at around the 10:30 position. Awesome, no? The only problem with this, of course, is the opposite darkness, which happens during the middle of the winter. I definitely want to go back to experience it and the northern lights one day!

The next morning, we woke up leisurely and ate a breakfast of local breads, jams, sausages, and cheeses. After breakfast, I got to watch Toni at work. There was a wasp nest in one of the house's eves, which Toni was about to do battle with. Before he started, he put on a beekeeper hat that had a net to cover his entire head, a pair of heavy gloves, and a jacket. Lena, on the other hand, like some battlefield war reporter, ran over to snap photos to later post on instafacetwitgrambook completely unprotected. Fortunately, there were no casualties and the wasps were dispatched like Sant Jordi's dragon!

After the battle was won, we headed into town to check it, and their apartment, out. Their apartment is super cool and located above the town's main plaza. We walked around town for about an hour or so before heading off on our next adventure.

Part of the view of Skelleftea from Lena and Toni's apartment:

This is just the first part of our Swedish adventure. For part 2, click here (story coming soon).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Flat Stanley

Last year my niece had a Girl Scout project where she had to send a small paper "doll" out into the world. The idea behind Flat Stanley and Flat Savannah is that kids have a way to have a whole bunch of experiences including visiting friends and family and traveling the world (without the parents having to send their bundle of joy out into the world).

It seems that the original idea was that kids could improve their writing skills during the project by sending letters to each person that Stanley visited. I'm not sure how much a part the letter-writing thing is now. But anyway, I love the idea and I was super happy to participate by taking Flat Savannah with me on a whole bunch of adventures.

This year, my cousin contacted me about my nephew needing to do the same with his Boy Scout group and his Flat Stanley. Woohoo! I couldn't wait to help out again!

Flat Stanley hanging out on the balcony in Barcelona after his arrival from Philadelphia:

Flat Stanley is a based on a book in which a kid gets flattened by a bulletin board. Making the best of his situation, he goes on to have a bunch of adventures.

Flat Stanley waiting for the metro in Barcelona:

I love carrying the Flat kids around with me because it forces me see the things in life that may have become routine from a different perspective. What would Stanley and Savannah find interesting about my life and environment on a daily basis?

Flat Stanley at castellers practice on a Tuesday evening:

I ended up having Stanley for about four weeks but, unlike when I had Savannah, I didn't go on too many trips. Instead, the photos tended to be more "daily life" types of things. It was still fun but would have been even more fun (for me) if I had been able to take him more places.

Flat Stanley trying on Barça uniforms:

Flat Stanley posing in front of the European Union, Catalunya, Spain, Barcelona, and a bank's flags:

Probably the biggest day that Flat Stanley was with me was Diada de Sant Jordi, which is Catalunya's Valentine's day. It's a day that recognizes Saint George, who is the patron saint of both Barcelona and Catalunya.

Flat Stanley checking out some flat relatives during Diada de Sant Jordi on Las Ramblas in Barcelona:

Flat Stanley checking out the Castellers del Poble Sec "performing" in front of the Sagrada Familia. This photo's like a World Heritage advertisement for Barcelona.

I had a great time with Stanley and can't wait until my nieces and nephews are old enough to come visit on their own. Until then, hangin' out with the Flat version will have to do.

Thanks to my cousin and nephew for sharing Stanley with me. I hope that he had a great time! I know that I did!