Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Skansen - All of Sweden, Then & Now, Just Around the Corner

One of the most impressive and often perplexing nuances about Swedish society is the seamless marriage of the old and the modern. At the same time that the Swedes lead the world on progressive social policies, they are also attributed with the world’s first outdoor museum, one dedicated to history and tradition.

In 1891, in an effort to preserve their heritage as older times started to become new, Swedish officials created Skansen, an outdoor cultural heritage museum (an idea that would eventually catch on throughout Europe) that no trip to Stockholm is complete without. Skansen is made up of a 1700s/1800s collection of actual shops, schools, churches, farmhouses and cafes which were laboriously transported, piece by piece, from their original locations throughout Sweden to their current location at Stockholm’s Skansen.

Perched on a hill overlooking the rest of the city, Skansen’s geographical layout reflects that of Sweden’s: Northern Sweden cultural sites in the upper part of Skansen, Central Sweden artifacts in the middle of Skansen, etc. Helpful guides, shopkeepers, farmers and homemakers, all dressed in period-attire, answer questions, make presentations and welcome visitors in three and sometimes four or five different languages. Add to this the animals from various parts of Sweden (moose, reindeer, seals, bears, wolverines) as well as wood-carving, glass-blowing, pottery-making, baking and other traditional Swedish handcrafting examples, and the essence of Sweden is suddenly at your fingertips.

For the wide-eyed, romanticizing American, Skansen is a jewel of Europe.

In typical Swedish fashion, Skansen, with all of its historical merriment and traditional feel, is also a popular destination for current culture and excitement. Arguably the most popular place of attendance in Sweden during all of the festivals and holidays, Skansen also hosts the summertime weekly musical show, broadcasted live and always the most-watched program of the week throughout Sweden, Allsang På Skansen (or "All Sing at Skansen"), of which there is a picture above.

Skansen is a part of the natural island of Djurgården on the east side of Stockholm’s inner city. With my slew of visitors over the past year, it’s been my privilege to roam about Skansen seven times, in all four seasons of the year – you just can’t host travelers to Stockholm and overlook Skansen in good conscience. Nothing beats the summertime at Skansen, but a delicate winter’s snow and low crowds gives the winter at Skansen an appeal all its own.

When you come to Sweden, if you can’t quite make it throughout this entire country, a visit to Skansen can give you a pretty good impression of the Swedes and their history. A successful mix of old and modern - Sweden in a thimble - Skansen is well worth the trip. Yes, even seven times in one year (my first year in Seattle I went up the Space Needle 11 times while hosting visitors...).

And save your “Sean, you should work for the Skansen marketing team” comments!

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Swedish "Sommar" (and a few summer visitors)

"Sweden’s summer is the best day of the year.” –Anonymous Swede

Though this quote is not meteorologically accurate, it may seem so to a Swede, especially after this year’s summer in Sweden, but we’ll get to that.

As we delve into our fourth and final Swedish season of the year on Linköpinglivin', summer has already been referenced multiple times, usually in the form of wild anticipation, because the summer in Sweden is everything summer is dreamed about in legend and myth: Warm, but not hot. Cooler at night, but not cold. Waterfront festivities. A countryside in bloom. Rest for the weary. Fun for the family. Setting aside worries and cares (which for a Swede says a lot about the power of summer!). There is so much light, and at all times of day, some inexperienced foreigners may actually tend to forget the always-looming dark days just around the corner. Average temperature ranges from 18 – 26 degrees Celsius (68 – 78 Fareinheit) with usually a nice and soft water-driven breeze coming from any number of lakes, rivers, seas or canals running throughout this beautiful country.

Pick any one of your overused-but-always-appropriate adjectives for this country: charming, delightful, playful, enchanting, captivating, magical. Summer is Sweden at its very best. A Swede knows better than to take for granted any days of summer. This summer, especially.

Upon my return from what was, admittedly, a perfect three weeks of weather on the west coast of the United States, my conversations with various Swedes around here always included some allusion to the fact that - while summer vacation is always good - this year’s weather has been really bad. Rain has a tendency to dampen, but never totally ruin, a Swedish summer and storms have been ever-present throughout the country the past few months. Only in the last week has the wet weather let up enough, and the warm air returned enough, for Swedes to begin to feel that their summer didn’t turn out too bad after all.

One of the original promises made to all of my visitors, ones who have usually gone way out of their way to make it to Scandinavia, is to be forever acknowledged and remembered in the blogosphere, or “blog lore” as I like to call it. My Dad (John) and cousin (Ashley) made the trip to Sweden in late July for about 10 days. Stockholm during the Tall Ships Celebration, Linköping for some Valla Minigolf and Öland/Kalmar were their highlights. In addition, this past weekend, Mike, Tom and Jenne (three former students, now friends) from Seattle were in town to enjoy the elegance and grandeur of a Stockholm summer weekend, then Jenne even made it down to Linköping where the party always is! The pictures above capture not only the brilliance of a Swedish summer (on a good day), but the enjoyment of friends and family re-united in a truly unexpected part of the world.

As Sweden’s summer comes to a slow, but inevitable close, as school begins again (Welcome to all 175 new Coloniaborna!), as vacations cease and responsibilities return, another academic and agricultural year in Sweden commences.

And keep those comments on the new look blog coming. See you next week.
Pictures above:
1. Linköpings Trädgårdsföreningen (a.k.a., "The Park") welcomes summertime revelry.
2. Ashley and Dad join me on a cannon at Skansen overlooking Stockholm's old city.
3. Tom, Mike, Jenne and I across from Stadshuset on Riddarholmen.
4. A late-July sun sets over Kungsträdgården in Stockholm.
5. The heart of Stockholm's inner-city, taken from the top of Fritt-Fall at Gröna Lund (this is a "free fall" tower at an amusement park in Stockholm) just before a 10-story plummet back to earth. Taking this picture was a thrill, to say the least.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Tillbaka till Sverige" - A Second Year in Sweden

Generally, though Linköpinglivin' is about my experiences in Sweden and abroad, I try to focus on the people, places, cultures and events more than myself. However, some time in early June, I was really longing to not be a foreigner. I just needed a break.

My first year in Sweden was outstanding and I can hardly wait to see what the second year will bring. When it came time to return (late June), I was more-than-ready for familiar places and language, but most of all the refreshing reconnections with people. So, the pictures above are a tribute to a few of these people. Thanks to everyone from Seattle to Santa Barbara to La Canada who welcomed me back with open arms and lots of questions about life in Sweden. My summer at home will not soon be forgotten.


I have returned to Sweden with renewed excitement and energy, ready for a second year in this delightful land. The normal twinge of homesickness felt at all previous returns was replaced by a longing to see people here, experience again the Swedish summer and continue with everything that I had merely established during the first year. "Tillbaka till Sverige!"

Linköpinglivin' started as a means by which to keep people at home informed, perhaps even educated, about Sweden and my experiences. Soon it also became a forum for Swedes to take another look at their own country (or at least be entertained by the musings of one naïve foreigner). Eventually, for me, it became a cherished outlet for reflection and writing, a place to keep inventory and all-important awareness of the many experiences of living away from home.

After some thought and pondering, my goal for the second year of Linköpinglivin' (in addition to my overall life) is to take things a step deeper. Deeper into the history of Sweden and how it is relevant for today, deeper into the culture of the Swedes and how this impacts foreigners and immigrants both in and out of Sweden and deeper into the experience of life abroad for an American. What was breadth will hopefully become depth. What was only observations will become considerations. What was looking in from the outside can hopefully become the view from the inside. What was scratching the surface can hopefully become a greater understanding and appreciation for a unique culture and opportunity to be a part of that culture for a little while. With this, all three previously-mentioned Linköpinglivin' goals can continue to be achieved, but with a fresh start and new perspectives.

At least this is the hope....

A good start to this is the fresh design, color and layout of Linköpinglivin' - please tell me what you think. Welcome or welcome back to Linköpinglivin'. Let's do this again.

Pictures above:
1. No more than two hours after landing in Seattle, I was in the front row at a good old-fashioned American baseball game (with college buddy, Dave Hess). What a way to beat jet-lag!
2. Left-to-right: Todd (you know him as THAT brother), Dad - John, Uncle - Pete and me with beautiful summertime Seattle in the background.
3. A reunion with some former students from the University of Washington.
4. Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen during a seven-hour layover on the way back to Sweden.
5. More of Tivoli, Europe's most enchanting and famous amusement park.