Monday, December 01, 2008
It's been a great journey - for which I am so grateful to all the faithful and occasional readers and commenters - and I can't wait to get back to Sweden someday soon.
Until then, please come join the fun in Thailand:
Vi ses en dag snart, Sverige!
Monday, November 24, 2008
For someone so compelled by Europe’s history, culture, food, people and grandeur, and for someone who proudly declares how much he prefers cool weather to hot weather, and for someone who still had not explored so many areas of Europe that simply cannot be missed (Ireland, Spain, ITALY!), an excursion to Thailand might have seemed like a curious choice.
Sure, plenty of Swedes take that flight from Stockholm to Bangkok, and then they head straight to Thailand’s famous beaches and islands, but Sean never went anywhere in Europe for beaches or warm weather (Russia in November?).
“Okay, I’ll come down, hang out in Thailand for a couple weeks, then I gotta get back to Europe and continue my escapade until I go home for Christmas.” This was my plan.
There was an empty seat on my plane from Bangkok to Rome that left last Thursday morning.
Amazing how travel and life priorities can be altered when someone captures your heart….
I’ll be staying in Thailand for a little while, but despite my ever-changing plans, you can always rely on a weekly blog entry to cover the story of some travel adventures, some cultural discoveries and, apparently, some unexpected (though welcomed) turns on the journey of life.
However, a blog entitled Linköpinglivin’ simply won’t suffice in Thailand.
Next week will mark the last official blog entry to Linköpinglivin’ in the form of a link to a new blog about my “time out” in Thailand. Blog title suggestions are currently being accepted.
See you next week, one last time before we “all” make the jump to Linköpinglivin’, the sequel.
1. Just another day guiding a bamboo raft in the mountains of Thailand.
2. Paige and Sean river rafting, Thailand-style.
3. A Thai barbecue helps celebrate a birthday of some of Paige's students.
4. In the back of a "Tuk-tuk" motorbike taxi, the best form of road transportation in Thailand.
5. Baby elephants are large, but cute.
Monday, November 17, 2008
As my post-Sweden/Thailand experience continues, and Bangkok just becomes bigger and bigger with endless opportunities for new sights, exploration and ways to enjoy the warmth of climate and people, I remember that any trek to Thailand must include getting away from Bangkok and its metropolitan city-life in order to be exposed to a truer Thailand, a more revealing perspective of what distinguishes Thailand and this regional culture from other countries in the world.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and a 12-hour overnight train ride will get you to this northern, mountain enclave for a completely different experience of Thailand. Chiang Mai is almost like an overgrown village. Not too many large buildings, just a few scattered highways and very little of it screams “commercialism.” All you need to know is, despite Chiang Mai’s population of nearly 1 million people, you have to search far and wide to find a McDonalds, which I just had to look up on the internet in order to know if there even was one.
Though a popular tourist destination for backpackers and other “farang” (foreigners) for the many markets, festivals, elephant riding, cooking and massage classes, Chiang Mai has a much more personal and comfortable atmosphere than Bangkok, still maintaining pieces of culture which include Thai, Lao, Burmese and Chinese influences due to its location on a historically significant trade route.
And if you travel enough, every-once-in-awhile, your scheduling benefits from your complete lack of planning and awareness – unbeknown to me, Thailand’s famous Loi Kratong festival was taking place three of the four nights I was there, so the night sky was lit up with flame-powered air lanterns and the river was speckled with candles resting on banana leafs celebrating the 12th month’s full moon.
Yes, I’m a long way from Sweden.
And the United States.
Perhaps one of the best parts for the visiting “farang” from the north is that Chiang Mai’s mountain climate decreases the temperature dramatically, which was welcomed by this converted Swede still getting used to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
More from Thailand next week, including some clarity to my ever-changing personal plans for post-Sweden.
2. The elephant is the animal symbol of Thailand. Asian elephants are smaller and have smaller ears than their more famous African counterparts.
3. Night festivals for Loi Kratong include endless colors, décor and lights. Thailand is very good at color, décor and light.
4. A Loi Kratong hot-air lantern takes to the sky (picture courtesy of the internet).
5. This is Paige – the reason I am in Thailand. More about Paige on Linköpinglivin’ next week.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
This week, my post-Sweden life began by stepping off a plane in a part of the world I had never before experienced, South East Asia. While I had been to Shanghai as a teenager (back when going to China wasn’t cool), I had never been this far south on our globe - quite the shock after having never been that far north in Sweden.
My vision of Bangkok before arriving was a huge, chaotic, congestion-filled, dirty, hot and unruly city that would be, well, quite a change from Scandinavia.
This perception is accurate, but I’ve already learned to get past the initial traumatic welcome to one of the world’s biggest cities (10 million live in Bangkok) and discover what lies behind the big city organized chaos.
Two things strike the unsuspecting visitor to Thailand: Warmth of climate and warmth of people. For those of you in Sweden, brace yourselves. Thailand has been hovring at about 30 degrees this week (88 Farenheit). Yeah, it's tropical. Yeah, it's nice. Yeah, even for someone who generally prefers the cooler weather, it's not so bad.
My advice when travelling to any part of the world: Get past the initial impressions of the place, be they positive or negative, and get to know the people. After just five full days in Bangkok, the warmth of hospitality and welcome that Thai people have developed a reputation for is clear.
Check back next week for more from Thailand and what my post-Sweden life is bringing…
1. Thailand’s flag.
2. Temples abound throughout Thailand, but the most illustrious and ornate are found in the heart of touristy Bangkok.
3. More mesmerizing temples.
4. Three examples of transportation in Bangkok: Taxi, bus and “tuk-tuk,” the tourist’s favorite way to get from point A to point B in Bangkok.
5. Welcome to Thailand, Sean.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
It was a somewhat remarkable and wholly unexpected set of circumstances that brought me to Sweden and now it is a remarkable and wholly unexpected set of circumstances that will take me to Thailand, my first stop in my post-Sweden life. I fly to Bangkok tomorrow.
I can just hear all you Swedes saying “one last vintage Swedish experience for Sean, because flying to Thailand has indeed become a very Swedish experience.” It’s estimated that 4% of all Swedes went to Thailand last year (360,000!), but I assure you that my plans don’t include sitting on a beach all day every day, okay maybe just a few days…
As this is the final blog entry about this country that I have come to appreciate and enjoy so much, I want to extend a word of “tack så mycket” to the many Swedish, American and other readers for their contributions and faithful reading of Linköpinglivin’ over the past two-plus years. This blog, and the enjoyment I have found through it, has been one of the most unexpected highlights of my Swedish experience. You helped make this a rich and rewarding Sunday/Monday evening exercise.
And to emphasize the point once again, though the Swedish influence on this blog will be concluding with this entry, the blog itself will continue, so if you’d like to stick around and see what the next adventure has in store, you would be most welcome.
Svenskar, jag har kommit att älska dina land och människor. Jag kommer sakna er, Linköping, Stockholm, fika, sommar ljus, vinter snö, köttbullar, prinsesstårta, Santa Lucia, Domkyrkan, Kanevad, Åbacka, Mjellerums Gård, Norins Ost, Äntligen bröd, Bilar, Stora Torget, Bosses Glassbar, LHC, röda sommar stugor, Ryttargårdskyrka, kanelbullar, Svenskaspråket och så mycket om Sverige. Tack så jätte mycket för allt. Ska komma tillbaka snart!
Hej då Linköping, hej då Sverige. Vi ses.
To Thailand. Please come along.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Budget Travel, one of the most popular monthly travel magazines in the United States, seeks to help the common traveler find unique and affordable experiences of travel both inside the U.S. and worldwide. The November issue of Budget Travel has a feature about how to start a travel blog and includes some advice from (and a link to) Linköpinglivin’.
For over two years, Linköpinglivin’ has taken a sometimes playful and sometimes meaningful look at Sweden through the eyes of a foreigner. Linköping (pronounced "Lin-shipping") is found two hours south of Stockholm and is Sweden's fifth largest city. This blog can be intriguing for Americans of Swedish or Scandinavian descent, helpful for foreigners who have responsibilities or relationships with Swedes and entertaining, maybe even enlightening, for Swedish readers who until now have made up more than half of the weekly readers.
However, this is an interesting time to potentially increase the Linköpinglivin' readership level since my memorable experience of living and working in Sweden will be coming to an end next week. While the blog itself will continue as my travel and new cultural exposures are only just beginning, the Swedish focus will be shifting, and shifting quite dramatically, too.
After one more journey to Prague to visit my Dad this coming week, my adventure abroad will continue, but far from the European escapade that I have come to enjoy so much.
Linköpinglivin’ welcomes first-time readers and promises all readers that if you’ve come to look forward to this weekly perspective on culture and travel, rest assured that your best procrastination excuse will indeed be continuing.
See you next week as we wrap-up Sweden and look to the next great experience of people and travel a long way from where we started.
Monday, October 20, 2008
It’s been over two years, but new things keep popping up in Sweden (or old things that I realize I never mentioned on Linköpinglivin’), so settle in for one last go 'round of Swedish Fun Facts:
*Swedes refer to the weeks of the year not as “the last week in February” or “the middle weekend in October,” but, predictably in Sweden, the weeks of the year all have numbers. The first week in January is Week 1, the fourth week in January is Week 4, etc. Christmas is always Week 52 and as for the other week numbers, who in the world could ever keep track? Well, not even the Swedes. That’s why they have a handy website: http://www.vecka.nu/ Just click here and all your woes about the weeks will be solved! The numbers of the week starts to work as soon as you get a calendar which includes them…
*Many of you have started to notice the wide array of “köping” towns located in southern Sweden. In addition to Linköping and the previously mentioned Norrköping and Söderköping, there is also Nyköping, Enköping, Jonköping, and just Köping. Köpa means “to buy” in Swedish and these were commercial towns on the way from Stockholm to Malmö and the rest of Europe in days gone by.
*Sweden is a country, similar to what is well known about Japan, where guests are generally expected to remove their shoes upon entering a home. Those shoes are usually full of snow, mud, rainwater and such that mess up what is usually a nice Swedish hardwood floor.
*Worldwide opinion considers Swedes to be very open about sex and there is a strong perception of strong promiscuity among Swedish women. This mis-perception came from a Swedish film in the early 70s that pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable and became internationally acclaimed. The fact is that Swedes are very modest in public and are extra sensitive when a woman is publicly degraded for the sake of advertising or tabloids.
*However, Swedes are also known for letting go a little bit when they leave the boundaries of their own country! Apparently, lagom (“not too much, not too little, just right”) often only applies to a Swede only while in Sweden…
*In Sweden, if you don't want to receive advertisements in your mailbox, you merely need to post a sign or attach a sticker "Ingen reklam, tack," which means "No advertisements, thanks." How un-American of them!
*I heard recently that as high as 4% of the Swedish population traveled to Thailand last year alone (approximately 360,000). That’s the same percentage of Americans that OWN a passport… (other recent popular travel spots for Swedes escaping the darkness of winter have been the Canary Islands and the Costa Del Sol in Spain).
*Swedes usually consider November the longest month of winter (even though it’s not officially winter yet) because it’s too early for snow, but it’s getting darker and darker every day and the next festive occasion is still a month away… Glad I’m skipping town before November’s darkness arrives!
This has been fun. There’s plenty more interesting, curious and unexplained fun facts about Sweden and her people, but you’ll just have to come here and find out for yourself from now on. I will leave Sweden in two weeks.
After lamenting recently about my overlooking of Stockholm’s bar made entirely of ice, I decided to try it out during my last trip to Sweden’s capital. Tons of fun, as I knew it would be. It was really "cool."
Unexpectedly, I had one more visitor to Sweden, the last of my 26. Kelly Ronan, a former student with whom I worked at the University of Washington made the trek up from Romania where she is working for the fall. From Stockholm to Linköping, IKEA to the Ice Bar, frukost to fika, Kelly was a more than memorable final guest. Thanks for the impressive pilgrimage, Robo, and for our continuing friendship long after Seattle.
1. One recently-captured crayfish looks much bigger than it actually is in the hands of a student with whom I work.
2. That is one American-sized kanelbulle found in a storefront window in Linköping.
3 - 5. Friend and final visitor, Kelly, enjoys a boat ride and a cold bar in Stockholm.
Monday, October 13, 2008
If you’re not hungry when you start reading this blog entry, you will be by the end of it. Ost means “cheese” in Swedish and the mere sound of that word causes fika-loving Swedish hearts to soar.
In Linköping, we have a little cheese shop. Actually, there are two of these little cheese shops in Linköping and then one more up the road in Norrköping. These are the kinds of shops Americans walk into and think, “I love being in Europe!”
Most people might think of these kinds of shops being in France, Switzerland, Italy and other places where cows (and sheep and goats) roam, but we have one up in Sweden, too. We have one in Linköping. And, in this humble bloggers opinion, it’s the best little cheese shop in the entire country.
To conclude our five-part Linköpinglivin' series on why living in Linköping is so cool, we take a look at Norins Ost.
Lena and Mats Norin are the third generation of cheese shop owners in their family. Since 1931, making Norin’s Ost the oldest cheese shop in Sweden, the Norin family has provided Linköping with Swedish-made, and more recently France- and Italian-imported, fresh cheese of all kinds: Hard, soft, cow, sheep, goat, blue, white, sharp, mild, expensive, inexpensive, cheese that smells bad, cheese that smells good, cheese that you will hate and cheese that you will love.
It’s an acquired taste, but if you know what I’m talking about, the smell of a good cheese shop can’t be beat. (And if you have never been in one, you will want to leave at first waft, but stick with it - it gets better.)
As if merely importing and “maturing” (as opposed to the actual making) wasn’t enough, the Norin family spends time distributing their cheeses throughout Sweden, educating groups, business and individuals about the art of cheese, wine and virtually everything that makes for a good picnic as well as working hard to find the next great discovery in the wide world of cheese. Speaking of good picnics, you can also pick up marmalade, crackers, vinegars, olive oils, cookies, chocolate truffles, pesto, olives, mustard and dried fruits of all kinds at Norin’s Ost shops.
Fresh, local, variety, high quality, personal touch, Linköping knows where to get the best cheese for breakfast, lunch, dinner or fika. Just check out the website and observe what one American travel writer affectionately refers to as “a festival of mold,” the European cheese shop.
1. Norins Ost is found on Storgatan above Stora Torget and also down on Nygatan below Trädgårdstorget in Linköping and on Knäppingsborg in Norrköping.
2 - 4: Cheese, glorious cheese.
5. Lena Norin and an American treasuring the time behind the glass at a European cheese shop.
Monday, October 06, 2008
After over two years, 100 weekly blog postings, hundreds of fikas, a few trips here and there and a lifetime of adventures and experiences as a privileged temporary local in Sweden, my days of watching and living everything Swedish are coming to an abrupt end.
On November 3rd (less than a month), I will step on a plane that will take me away from Sweden, only to return someday as a visitor. Where that plane will take me is something for a later blog entry, but for now I want to consider, in the midst of all the things I have experienced and enjoyed in this great land, a few of the things I wish I had been able to fit into my all-too-short Swedish escapade, but sadly did not.
In good ol’ American optimism, the following list can also be considered a list of goals for me to accomplish as a visitor to Sweden in the future, because I hope to always have a trip to Sweden planned in my future. Like most Americans I have talked to who have at one time lived here in Sweden, I shall miss it terribly when I am gone.
10 regrets, also known as goals for the future, from Sweden:
10. I never made it north for the midnight sun experience. In fact, even more than the midnight sun, I would have liked to get to the north of Sweden to compare and contrast the Sweden I have come to know with what life is like up there. Most people around here with whom I share this regret gently reassure me with the following words, “That’s okay, Sean. We’ve lived here our whole lives and we’ve never been up there….”
9. Not only did I never make it to the famed (at least outside of Sweden) Ice Hotel, but I didn’t even do the Ice Bar, which is located in Stockholm and Copenhagen. I take solace in the fact that this is a touristy experience that I never did, but then again, I loved all the other touristy things I did in Sweden (Skansen and the Vasa Museum over 10 times each – c’mon, I had visitors, of course!).
8. I never learned to like, or really even try, the Swedes’ beloved caviar-in-a-tube or liver paste that spreads like butter , both popular with the over 1,000 fikas in which I participated. Okay, I’ll admit, this one is NOT a goal for the future.
7. Unless something strange happens in the next few weeks, I will never have had to experience anything remotely having to do with Sweden’s health care system, which makes my personal defense of this “socialist” system a little weaker to my American friends and family…
6. In addition to the north, I missed Dalarna, the Glass Kingdom and the island off the east coast of Sweden, Götland, which apparently has an outstanding medieval city in Visby. And if that’s not enough, with all the travel I did, I never made it up to Norway…..ouch.
5. Though it vastly improved over the course of time, my “sj” and “sk” Swedish pronunciations always revealed me to be the English speaking soul that I am. I hate those letters….
4. Bilar and Äntligen bread, two of my favorite everyday foods in Sweden, are two of the many things I will regretfully need to be weaned off of.
3. The Royal Palace at Drottningholm. Yeah, missed that, too. But I saw the Vasa 11 times….
2. I never walked onto someone else’s property, threw down my tent and sleeping bag and stayed overnight. Nope, won’t be doing much allmänsrätt in the U.S., that’s for sure.
1. You know those high taxes I’ve been paying from my salary and every last cinnamon bun or train ticket purchase? Yeah, those high taxes. Well, I won’t ever see one krona of that in paternity leave, retirement, health benefits or education. Of all my Top 10 lists, this is the strongest #1 ever. This is one big regret that will take a long time to get over…
Monday, September 29, 2008
I admit this timing is bad.
It’s almost cruel to write a blog for a readership that is partially Swedish that talks about the wonder of water and the sweetness of sailing when the days are darkening and any remembrance of summertime smiles are overcome by the coming winter….and oh, it is coming. Trust me, winter is on the way….or so the Swedish mentality is always convinced.
Yet to write a blog about Sweden and, even though there have been officially 100 (!!!) posts as soon as I click “Publish Post” on this one, to not have anything about the Archipelago (Swedish: Skärgård) and the Swedish love for anything water is to miss an important element of life in this part of the world. And since this blog about Sweden is coming to an all-too-quick conclusion (more about that in the coming couple weeks), I have to get it in.
Bear with me, everyone. Perhaps you can just save this entry until next May…
The perception about Sweden in the rest of the world is the typical “cold, dark, polar bears in the streets” belief, so how could anyone enjoy the water or sailing in that kind of climate….? Well, no one does during the 10 months of winter.
However, when the sun comes out and shares it’s magnificence on an expectant Swedish populace, the only place to be is the lake, canal, river or sea nearest you. Swedes love the water, love to be by the water, love to swim, bathe, wade, float and sail in the water. It seems that nearly everyone has some sort of access to a boat or canoe or something water-oriented. Sailing and maritime culture dominate a Swedish summer. Swedes are known as some of the best travelers in the world, but no one in their right mind leaves Sweden during summer – just head to the röd sommar stuga and be by the water. A Swede couldn’t ask for a better “world’s longest vacation” than that….
There's a reason so many emigrant Swedes made Minnesota, "land of 10,000 lakes," home.
Those frequent Swedish trips to Thailand and the Canary Islands are saved for winter, of course, so one of the many popular places Swedes love to spend their summer is in the Stockholm Archipelago. This collection of 24,000 islands – I’ll say that again: Twenty-four thousand islands – is found about a 3 – hour boat ride outside of Stockholm, welcomes you to the Baltic Sea and looks like broken glass on a good map. One can just imagine the maritime paradise of these islands made of rock and left over from the Ice Age. Some islands are just big enough to step on and others have hotels on them. Swedish delight is not some fancy pastry, but a Swede in the summer finding his own private part of the Archipelago.
One might say that everyone worldwide appreciates water, so why is the Swedish enjoyment any different. To that I will simply say that while most people in the world do indeed enjoy the interplay of sun and water, most people in the world have also never seen snow. Actually, I recently read that 3/4ths of people in the world have never seen snow.
Long live the anticipation for, enjoyment during and memory of the Swedish summer and the Swedes’ beloved world of water.
See you in the Archipelago.
Monday, September 22, 2008
In what will probably turn out to be the last of many memorable trips I have taken during my 2-plus years in Sweden, this past weekend I ventured across the Baltic Sea on a cruise ship to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and one of the best preserved medieval era cities in all of Europe.
Along with the other former Soviet Baltic states of Latvia (Riga) and Lithuania (Vilnius), Estonia is also trying to establish its own identity and break free of their recent Soviet past. While Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have made the quickest strides West, the Baltic countries are smaller and not as geographically-advantaged as their former Eastern Bloc comrades and have therefore, had a harder time gaining their independent identity.
Additionally, with a population make-up of many different types of ethnicities and ancestry, Estonians will probably always look multiple directions for their heritage. Consider Estonia part Russian, part Northern Europe, part Central Europe and add a small sprinkling of Western Europe. There you have a country full of intrigue for the traveler coming over from Sweden, down from Finland or up from Central Europe.
As an American, I’m a sucker for a good medieval city. Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic) and Brugges (Belgium) come to mind and Tallinn is right up there with them, except that Tallinn's old town is still part of the capital city of its respective country. The old city towers with their burnt red, cone-shaped tops as well as four different, high-steepled churches make up old city Tallinn’s charm from afar and good food, drink, handicrafts and creative capitalism attempts (along with all the normal historic and quintessential charm of an old European city) represent Estonia well from up close.
If traveling through Scandinavia, consider making the two-night and one day journey via the Tallink ferry from Stockholm (or from Helsinki for a four-hour ride). The cruise ship atmosphere and the reward of a still-undiscovered European old town are well worth the reasonable fare.
Here’s to Estonia and the other Baltic countries and their journey to continued identity independence and Western recognition.
1. Estonia iconic images are of the cone-shaped tower tops in the old city.
2. A pleasant and affordable ferry ride with cruise ship amenities provides a fun alternative mode of travel to Tallinn from Stockholm.
3. Tallinn’s Old Town Square with Old Town Hall, the center of attention all seasons of the year.
4. Just another cobbled European lane for this American who continues to romanticize these types of cities….
5. A fun way to get around Old Town Estonia.
Monday, September 15, 2008
The "Battle of the Sexes," Swedish style.
When the world thinks about Sweden, one of the first things that comes to mind is the socially and politically progressive policies, laws and general attitudes. Wrapped within this is the perception, and perhaps the reality, that Sweden is a world leader when it comes to equalizing the genders.
Let’s take a closer look, based on one foreigner’s observations and a bit of informal research….
*One of the first things foreigners notice when walking around Sweden is the number of men pushing strollers.
*Married or not, your tax form is exactly the same and you will file individually (Swedes would be interested to know that a couple filing their tax forms together in the U.S. receive certain benefits).
*The term (and, I assume, the position) “Ombudsman” was first coined in Sweden…..
*All foreign men learn early and often not to open that door, pay for that meal or make any assumption on a date or in any social circumstance that she cannot take care of herself…
*When a couple has maternity/paternity leave, he almost always goes back to work sooner, because he almost always has the higher paying job (among other reasons).
*Inevitably, CEOs, Board members, high ranking officials and other positions of power are heavily male-dominated in Sweden.
*There is no expectation or assumption that, when a Swedish couple gets married, they will take his last name. Sometimes it is her last name that is taken or even an entirely new last name is made up.
Sweden has a cultural head-start in gender equality because of the high social value placed on self-sufficiency. A woman is expected to provide for herself and if a man so chooses to help out in the typical family model, well then, great, but….
While you are hard pressed to find any laws or social policies that are not gender equal or neutral, it doesn’t take too long to find social attitudes, usually unconscious or unspoken, that betray a certain bias toward the one in the majority or with the power, in this case, the men. "Old Boys Clubs" are still alive and well in Sweden, perhaps even more than other countries (even though those Old Boys are arguably more conscious of and educated about their own natural prejudices than their peers in other countries and societies).
My conclusion upon observation from the outside is that Sweden’s population is indeed very sensitive to gender equality and expects a general attitude of self-sufficiency and equality among the sexes. Yet as with most societies, certain unconscious and subtle forms of discrimination are easy to find.
Not surprisingly, Sweden, while ahead of most if not all other countries in the quest for gender equality, still has a ways to go, something most Swedish women would probably tend to agree with, but you might have to really probe her in your questioning to get past the initial national pride of being a "world leader" in this area...