I did a thing …

So, after nearly 2 years of (pretty much only) working, I decided I needed a hobby. So, I got this.

2001 VTR. I had a ’98 (I think) and regretted selling it. So, when I found this one in great shape with awesome sounding exhaust, I said “yes” to the bike.

Of course, it is cold, windy, and dark right now, so no riding, but it does give me a reason to add a motorcycle endorsement to my Swedish drivers license process. 😀

And because I can never leave well enough alone, who knows what is next for this machine? (hint?)

Windy Day …

So, we had this crazy wind front come thru this weekend. Sustained winds at 13+ m/s (which is how it is measured in Sweden, which was up to 65 mph in imperial freedom units) – nearly hurricane strength. Howled and shook the house all weekend. On Sunday, we went to Lomma to see what the sea looked like and took some video and pics.

You can lean against the wind!
This is normally VERY calm water, and the fresh sea grass washed up was unexpected!

Roma

Bryant and I coordinated on our posts about the latest family trip and found it challenging to summarize, but here’s what we’ve got so far!

We wanted to go someplace warmer for winter break, and chose Rome. It was an easy 2+ hour flight from CPH, and we had never been there before. We thought it might be less crowded than usual, though we didn’t anticipate the headaches of new covid restrictions. Luckily we managed to get Vaccine Passports and it seemed like the kids would be OK with their US vax cards. We didn’t realize that those would be invalid 6 months from the second dose so it was super lucky that we returned on Jan. 3 because their cards expired on Jan. 6 (by Italian rules) Sweden isn’t even offering boosters to under 18s yet so we might not be able to travel far for Spring break.

Anyway, we booked flights for an 8 day visit, and nabbed an AirBnB in the historic center of Rome in a cool old building in a neighborhood dating mostly from the 1500 and 1600s.  Here are a couple of pics of the place and a map its nice central location near Castel Sant Angelo.

We were so satisfied with our Tours By Locals experience in Athens that we went for it again. We found a guide with a good profile and asked him to help us out with seeing the key things in Rome. We ended up doing 3 half days – Ancient Rome (Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the Colosseum), Villa Borghese, and the Vatican (art galleries and Sistine Chapel) along with Castel Sant’Angelo.  Each outing, Ennio showed us around, told us all about the history and culture of the place, and stories about the art and artists. Seriously great way to immerse in Rome! 

We did a little walking around on our own and saw the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.

We also really liked the food tour we did in Athens, so we looked to repeat it in Rome. We had a great guide (Chiara) who took us around to lots of little places for great samples – aperativos, great cheese and salami sampler, Roman pizza, Michelin-starred Pasta Carbonara, and tiramisu. All really good. It was a little rainy in the evening, but not so bad and we only needed the umbrella a couple of times. 

On one day that we had to ourselves, we did a little self-guided walking tour, from the apartment to the Passeggiata del Gianicolo with pretty amazing overlooks of the city, in to the Trastevere neighborhood for a snack and a view of a church with a really cool mosaic, across the bridge to the island in the Tiber (world’s smallest inhabited island) and then finally to the Jewish neighborhood, where we ate overlooking the Portico di Ottavia, and back to the left bank of the river.

The weather was pretty good and in spite of the clouds, it was significantly lighter. An additional 2.5 hours of daylight made a big difference. Sites were busy but not overly crowded and the nightlife was vibrant but not crazy. Our location was remarkably quiet except for the birds (gulls?) and city sounds like the occasional ambulance or recycling glass sounds, no big parties or crowd noise. The trucks were sooo tiny, even compared to the small vehicles in Sweden.

Kanot (Canoe) Camping

The kids and I went on a canoe camping trip this weekend with the Gouldeks. We went to Lake Immeln in SkÄne. See the red pin here:

We got there on Friday afternoon, but had a mix-up with communications with the outfitter, who thought we would be there at 11:00, when we got there at 15:30. In the end, it was OK, and we had boats, PFDs, paddles, and a fire pan (since lots of areas really discourage ground fires). We also had to get some firewood. That turned out to be a bit interesting as I needed to run to an ICA to get it, and nobody there spoke english. So, I had to figure it out (but I did), and the woman at the check out just took me in, much to the chagrin of all the elder Swedes standing in line already! In any case, we were off!

We found a nice island with good sites for tents and hammock!

On our middle day, we did some exploration of neighboring islands, but it was really windy and we had some hard paddling to get around and back to camp! I did not take any pictures of that – I was too busy!

And, of course, the day we left was calm, sunny, and pleasant. Why is it always like that?

Vandrings i SöderÄsen

(Hiking in SöderÄsen national park)

Finding myself with a (mostly) free day, I decided to go back to SöderÄsen. Jen and I had hiked there last fall, and I wanted to see it in the summer. It was REALLY nice.  For those that want the geographic placement, we live in Lund (blue dot) and the park is the green tree marker in the middle. It is about a 45 min drive from the house.

Last time, Jen and I hiked an easy trail of about 4km, with only a bit of grade. We were rewarded with nice views from Kopparhatten. It was the yellow trail marked below. Today, I took the blue trail up the other side of the valley – about twice the distance at 7,7km.

Full map here.

The trail in the bottom of the valley was very nice – super shady and the sound of water rushing all the time, with a nice boardwalk for most of it.

When the blue trail split off from the yellow, however, I got 500m of this. It was kind of brutal!

I finally got to the top of the valley and stopped to make some lunch at the LiagĂ„rden camp area (def coming back here for backpacking!). I just had some ramen and crisp bread, but it was nice to get out the kit and boil some water. I am including a selfie in these pics so that Jen does have to look only at landscapes! 😀

That bottom-right pic is a thin finger of land with a steep drop on both sides. It feels a bit like a ships prow, but it does have awesome views at the end!

Arctic Spring – Night Snowmobiling

There was an outing that was on the itinerary that escaped Jen’s attention to detail – a snowmobiling outing after dark with dinner (link). Snowmobiles? Driving them? Not for some of us. Lily and Bryant, however, thought the idea was pretty cool. So, Jen and Hil skipped it, while Bry and Lily revved it.

We started out getting picked up from the hotel, then a stop at the guide’s office for winter clothes, then a stop at the Ice Hotel for the other 2 customers (a doctor couple from Stockholm – she was a psychiatrist and he was an ER doc), and then finally to the garage to get the machines. Here is a pic of the garage, and Lily getting all suited up for the adventure!

After the obligatory safety demonstration, we were off. Bryant and Lily on one, the Stockhomers on another, and the guide out front on their own machine leading the way. These were pretty simple machines to operate, save the weird thumb-throttle that was a lot more like an ATV throttle than a motorcycle (which I am more used to).

The route was a mix of trails thru forest and across the frozen Torne River and SautusjÀrvi lake. The ride out was still light, and it was pretty easy to follow the track of the guide in front. The main thing was to stay on the track. The show was very deep and soft on either side of the track, and the risk of the big touring machines nose-diving and being stuck was a big one. So, stay on the track!

We arrived at a low, octagonal wooden hut with benches around the inside walls and a fire pit in the middle. The guide made a fire and set to cooking dinner, which was a delicious reindeer stew made from smoked, salted and sliced meat called suovas in Saami. Here is the outside and inside of the hut.

After dinner, we rode back. It was a lot harder to follow the guide’s track in the dark, but we managed. Along the way, we stopped to look for auroras and to hear the Saami constellations story. Basically, the Big Dipper is the bow of a hunter, and the “w” of Cassiopeia is the horns of a great moose (and other stars make up the body). As long as the hunter shoots over the North Star, then all is well. If the hunter hit the North Star, then the heavens would fall down and things would be bad. Luckily, the North Star has not fallen down … Another stop along the way was for the guide to explain the giant crack in the river ice and the differences in the levels of the ice due to the levels of water under it.

Of course, all the pick-up logistics had to be reversed, and Lily and Bry were finally back at the room by about 12:30.

Kiruna, Background Info

We decided to spend our Easter holiday doing something. In Sweden, Easter (or PĂ„sk, pronounced “poask”) is a very secular holiday, and Holy Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays (so, no work!), and the schools are out for Easter week. So, we took a trip to Kiruna, Sweden.

Kiruna is a city of 30k people in Swedish Lapland, and lies north of the arctic circle. The arctic circle is the latitude (66.3 deg north) at which there are days of 24 hour sun in the summer, and 24 hour dark in the winter. Kiruna is far enough north that there is almost 100 days of full sun in the summer. Here is a little map of where we were (in context of the rest of Sweden)

Kiruna is at 67.8 deg north. Fairbanks AK is 64.8 deg north. The Twin Cities are about 45 deg north, and International Falls MN is 48.6 deg north. So, Kiruna is NORTH, and sits in the heart of the Swedish part of Fennoscandia – that horseshoe-shaped region that wraps around from Finland over to Norway. Kiruna is also the centre of what the Saami people call Sapmi – their lands. The word Kiruna comes from the Saami giron, which is the ptarmigan.

We flew from the Malmö airport to Stockholm, and thence to Kiruna. Malmö’s airport has one terminal, and about 10 gates (we usually fly out of Copenhagen for international stuff). Kiruna’s airport has one “gate” and you get to the plane via mobile stairs. And it has one runway, so when you land, the plane overshoots the gate, goes to the end of the runway, and then turns around and taxis back to the gate. No worry of traffic, however, as there is only one flight in and out per day. There is a lot of tourism, however, so the plane was an A320 a mid-sized regional jet. Flights from Malmö to Stockholm were a little under an hour, and the flight from Stockholm to Kiruna was about 90 min.

The weather in Kiruna was a lot more like northern Minnesota than the Pacific Northwest-iness of SkÄne. At the beginning of April, daytime highs were around freezing and overnight lows were around 18-20 deg F (-7 or -8C). We had some cloudy days and nights, and also some brilliantly clear days.

Along with tourism, Kiruna’s big industry is iron mining. Most of it is freighted out as pellets on rail to Narvik Norway, where it is shipped off. A bunch is also freighted around the Nordics and Baltics. A fun fact about Kiruna is that the mine is so productive that they are following veins under the town. So, they are moving the town to make way for the mine. There is a nice new city centre that is being built right now, and people are figuring out if they want to move their houses, or take a buy-out. The mine is footing most of the bill, so it is clearly making a LOT of money!

Jen and I will cover a bunch more on the trip itself in different posts on the particular events, but this will set the stage for a wintery, colder, arctic setting for the adventures.

Shame in the Grocery Store

Lily and I went to the Stora Coop (Big Co-op) last weekend for a stock-up. Saw this in the store. I have many conflicted feels about it.

This is the American section. Next to the Asian and Eastern European food sections. This might have been the store’s entire stock of partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Risk 2 Driving Training

As Jen mentioned, I am working towards getting a Swedish drivers license. I might go into a weird amount of detail on this post because Jen’s dad is a drivers ed instructor and will enjoy reading this …

The process basically consists of 4 parts. Part 1 is called Risk 1, and it is a classroom training on all the terrible things that happen on the road with a car. I was scheduled for a Risk 1 class, but work got in the way. Part 2 is a classroom plus in-the-car training on a closed course. I completed this earlier in the week and will talk about it here. Part 3 is a written exam. Part 4 is a driving exam.

So, Risk 2. I was scheduled into a timeslot at the driving site, and it turns out I was in a group of 4. Me and 3 Swedish teens who were getting their licenses for the first time. Before I get into the experience, I have to share this bit. The instructor realised that I do not speak Swedish, and said “ok, today is in swenglish!” (the sort of hybrid of the two that is often spoken). The whole session, the teens all spoke Swedish to the instructor and each other. The instructor spoke English to me.

Here’s how it worked. A short classroom session where the plan for the day was explained. Then, we went to a large room that had a bunch of simulators in it. One was a sled with car seats on it. You buckled in and then slid down a ramp to an abrupt stop at the bottom. It was pretty uncomfortable, but only hit at about 7kph. Then there was a whole car on a rotation contraption. All 4 of us got in, buckled up, and then the car was rotated 90deg to the side. So, one side of the car is lying on the doors, and the other 2 are sagging in the seatbelts. Then the car goes 180deg upside down, and it is NOT fun to hang upside down in a seatbelt! Then you keep going to the other side, and then finally back upright. Made me very sure that I did not want to roll a car! There were a number of other physical demonstrations to make you really feel the impact of an accident.

After the simulation room, we went out on the course. All the cars were Nissan Leafs. We had a number of experiences in the car driving around in low grip situations. The low grip was made by the concrete being painted with a smooth epoxy, and then basically constantly wetted with water to make it really slippery. Here are some pics of the course. These are all I got as the instructor chastised me every time my phone was out.

There were some interesting features of the course. There were yellow rubber posts that the instructor could pop up out of the ground that you had to avoid (to simulate an accident). Another trick they did (and did not tell you about until afterwards) is that they had 2 cars with winter tires in the front and summer tires in the back, and 2 cars with the set up reversed. And you went fast around the slippery corner in both. One you spun out like crazy (I did a full 180) – the winter tires in the front. The other you just understeered like crazy. There were braking distance drills at different speeds. Interesting stuff.

It took a long time to safely get thru all the drills for all 4 of us, including car swaps. And then we headed back into the classroom for debrief and the last thing was to pair up and do a little thought exercise. I looked at my teen partner, and started to stammer about speaking Swedish and she just started speaking perfectly good English. Turns out, all the teens spoke English just fine. Jerks. 😉

I have been driving for over 35 years, but I learned some new things on this outing. I cannot believe that the US does not have this level of training. Esp. in places like Minnesota where it is frequently bad driving conditions. This was a super good session, and gives new drivers practical, controlled experience on what to do and how to handle a car. And super-concrete experiences of why it matters to slow down and not take too much risk.