Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Friday, September 7, 2007

Observations of Norway

I'll try to be quick, as this is our last day before the loooong trip home, and there are things to do. I might have waited until I got home to do this, but frankly, I doubt I'll feel like it. (g)

So, here we go-- a "few" observations of Norway (combined with notes on what we did while there. . .)

First-- We left on Monday and drove back on Wednesday, so this was a whirlwind tour. ;o)

Overall impressions of Norway vs. Sweden, based on my very limited experiences of both-- Norway has the more dramatic landscapes-- the take-your-breath-away "oh, wow!" sort of thing. Sweden has a calmer, gentler beauty. It's snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and fjords vs. more gently rolling farmland and forests, interspersed with lots and lots of gorgeous lakes. In addition to being easier and more convenient to travel through (as opposed to "mountain driving"), Sweden also seems to have more to offer in the way of shopping and eating-- at least, from what I've seen. I should note that Donald said Norway is generally thought to have the spectacular views, while Sweden is thought to be superior for "culture". I don't know enough about it to comment, so I won't. ;o)

On the road--
  • Norway has quite a few traffic cameras-- more than I've seen elsewhere. They're also supposed to be pretty strict on speed limits.
  • Every so often, there are road signs inviting you (in Norwegian) to stop and sleep (by the side of the road, I think), if you're feeling very tired.
  • More tunnels than I'm used to, and longer ones, too, than I've seen in the US mountains-- but more on that later. . . ;o)
  • Some of the roads were incredibly narrow. We're talking single-lane width having to accommodate both lanes of traffic-- and to make matters worse, on one side there's a very steep drop-off. You don't meet many cars on these roads, fortunately-- or at least we didn't-- but when you do. . . My worst fear was that around the next sharp curve would come a crazy local guy going so fast that we'd crash, sending one or both cars plunging dramatically into the abyss. (g)
I took most of my photos from the car. (g) This was partially an effort to save time. (I couldn't ask Donald to pull over every time I saw something wonderful, or else we'd never get to our destination.) It was also because most of the road we traveled wasn't very well supplied with "overlook" parking. Also lacking in the hospitality department-- (on part of the road, at least) decent "facilities" (though they got better in spots), affordable fast food places, warning of "rest spots" along the road (they gave you plenty of advance warning, but neglected to tell you exactly when to turn, and as a result we sailed right by some of them, oblivious until it was too late, etc. They were pretty good about having information in English, but almost all information was in the form of info boards-- not much in the way of maps or brochures.

(Back to the bathroom thing-- It seems that in some places, it is considered a privilege to have access to a restroom. For instance, in the one fast food restaurant we visited, you had to pay to go to the toilet if you were not a customer. I guess I can understand that-- they don't want tons of people coming in just to use their bathrooms. But I've also seen this in what would ordinarily be public restrooms-- in a library, on public streets in a large city, at "natural wonder"-type attractions. It strikes me as very odd. Yes, I guess it does cost something to maintain them, but in some of these places-- the library, for instance-- that seems like something that the government would take care of. I can't help but wonder what you're to do if you're stranded without money. Do they really want you to wet yourself rather than treat you to a few squares of t.p., a bit of soap and water, and a complimentary flush? (g) Ok, enough ranting.)

In the mountains, we saw lots of rock. Rock is everywhere. Huge boulders. The country is very well off, as far as stone goes. ;o) (Sweden is flooded with rock, too, however. They're doing road work in some spots, burying cables and preparing to widen some roads. It's obvious that in many-- most?-- places, you needn't dig down deep-- if at all-- to find stone. I would love to have some of that for my garden back at home. . .(g))

There are also many many many many sheep-- not wild, but allowed to roam freely in most places. The result-- more than once, we came upon sheep in the road. The lambs were sometimes a bit skittish, but the older sheep just stay right where they are (in the middle of the road sometimes) while you maneuver around them. (g) Some of them wear bells around their necks, and the clanking seems to carry very far in the mountainside.

There were so many beautiful streams and waterfalls, but hardly any places to stop and photograph them or get closer to them. I don't know why. . . Possibly Norwegians have become too used to them and don't consider them worthwhile viewing?

We also saw--
  • A few houses with lots of gorgeous gingerbread, including one right by the roadside that was amazingly intricate-- it even had little dragon-head cut-outs!-- but was rather faded and dilapidated so that it looked rather haunted.
  • Homes with grass/sod roofs-- very interesting.
  • Many hairpin curves
  • The Swedish "ö" supplanted by the Norwegian "ø", and almost as soon as we had crossed the border, too! (g)
Of course, we also saw--
  • Mountains-- some green with trees and other vegetation, others rocky and barren, and some even capped in snow
  • Fjords-- Intense landscapes with mountains plunging steeply into sparkling water
  • Green water-- in places, the water was an exotic shade of green. It's supposed to have something to do with the minerals in the water, I think.
  • Snow-- and much more of it than I had expected to see. Donald said there must be about four inches in one place we drove through. I didn't exactly "play" in the snow, but I did get to touch it and make a few snowballs. :o) It was a very pleasant surprise to find real snow. At first, we thought we might not see any-- and then, we expected it to be icy-- not "real" snow. But as it happened, there was an early snowfall, which brings us to the next bullet point. . .
  • Rain/sleet/snow mix falling as we drove-- As it was happening, it was a bit nerve-wracking, actually. (g) We were up pretty high in the mountain tops, on Monday. The wind was fierce, blowing the rain/sleet/snow horizontally. The water below us was whipped into a frenzy by the wind-- whitecaps everywhere. We could feel the temperature falling, and the road was mostly our own-- always gives me a queasy feeling to be the only "fool" out on the road in bad weather! ;o) But then we passed by a few houses (in this inhospitable place) and saw a sturdy Norwegian and his dog out enjoying the weather (the dog was actually smiling-- a husky, we think), so I felt a bit better. (g)
What else should I mention before bringing this to a close?

We drove through the longest tunnel in the world-- 24.5 km, just over 15 miles long. The day before, we'd driven through much shorter ones-- the longest were 2 and 3 miles long, I think-- but some of those were pretty narrow-- much more claustrophobic. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if there were an earthquake while we were in those tunnels. . . Not at all likely here, I know, but I'm prone to picturing worst case scenarios.

We went through past of Oslo on our way in and came across a few crazy city drivers. Not enough time to see much else.

"And" in Norwegian is "og". It looks like something from a troll language, doesn't it? (g) No wonder, then, that in Norway we found Trollstigvegen (the Troll's Road, which is very steep and rather scary, with a warning in one place not to stop, for fear of falling rocks!) and Trollveggen (the Troll Wall, also known as the 5000 foot "Vertical Mile", the tallest vertical rock face in Europe). Something I just read online claims that "A stone dropped from the summit touches nothing until it reaches the valley floor a mile below." Believe it or not, there are some crazy people out there who actually climb this thing. While we were taking photos, we heard a crack and Donald spotted a place where snow (and/or rock) had given way, leaving a slow-seeming drift of snow from one level to another. (We got some photos of it-- not sure how they turned out, though.)

Our first night in Norway, we stayed at the Aurland Fjordhotel, in a room with an incredible view from its little balcony. The second night, we opted for a cabin at a place recommended by Jocke (and paid less than we did for the room in the hotel, for a whole cabin).

We took lots and lots of photos, which I'll get around to editing and posting *some*day. ;o)

And that'll do, I think. Now it's time to get some other things done.

Tomorrow's a *very* early morning for us, I think, to be followed by a long day of traveling. I have a feeling that by the time we reach Memphis, the only thing keeping me going will be the thought of collapsing in bed at home. ;o)

I hope you're all well at home! Looking forward to seeing you in just another couple of days!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

More retrospectives. . .

Catching up again! :o)

A couple of random (non-date-specific) notes:
  • I've been admiring the cattails that grow here and there in this area of Sweden. I don't know if they're any different from the cattails that grow at home. . .
  • Last week (or so), this part of Sweden-- and maybe all of it, for all I know-- had colder temperatures than normal for this time of year. It even got down to freezing in spots, a couple of nights. I was glad I'd packed plenty of "chilly weather clothes". Now (today, at least), the weather is a bit milder.
Saturday, Sept. 1st
  • Donald got Ingela to check out a couple of library books on Norway, and he also borrowed a few maps from Jocke (who goes to Norway on a fairly regular basis, for fishing/boating).
  • We stopped at a second-hand shop in Säffle and found a few little knick-knacks, as well as an old suitcase to fill with any extra thing we want to bring home with us. Thanks to a "CHINA" sticker on its side, we will appear to be very well traveled. ;o)
  • Saturday was a festival day for this part of Sweden. "Skördefest på Värmlandnäs"-- a "harvest feast/day/party". Several farms and other sites hosted visitors. I believe some old mills were "demonstrated"and some sheep sheared. There was lots of food and various wares were for sale. There were really too many sites to visit in one day, so we only stopped at a few places.
  • We stopped first at Jonsrönning-- the farm where Donald's father grew up (and where some of Donald's family still live, including his farmor and one of his uncles). The folks there sell raise lots of plants all year, which they sell at this festival, so that was the major attraction at that stop. There were many attractive plants-- lots of succulents. I saw a few I wouldn't have minded taking home, myself, but of course that wasn't possible. Someone was grilling burgers, so we had lunch there.
  • As we were leaving Jonsrönning, Donald returned a missed call and arranged to meet up with his parents and Thorbjörn at another place. I'm not sure what the place was. A dairy farm, maybe? In any case, there were lots of cows. (g) Some of them were looking at us with wild from windows, probably wondering why their usually quiet spot was suddenly overrun with strangers. (If cows are capable of that much thought... ;o)) Let's see. . . what else was there? Lots of locally grown potatoes for sale. . . Tiger the Milko cat was there-- in the flesh, er, fur-- much to the delight of a few kids. A few vintage tractors were on display, including an old John Deere that seemed to be the main attraction. ;o) At one point, it drove round and round in a circle, all by itself. (With no-one driving it, I mean. (g) ) There were also other booths and things I didn't see very well, because we were really just using this spot as a place to meet.
  • Finally, we went to another farm where you could buy handmade jewelry, hand/loom-woven fabrics (tablecloths, maybe rugs...), fresh vegetables, local honey and the like, and more food. It was time for our second lunch. ;o) The meal focused around an unusual turkey recipe. I think the turkey (which was chopped into small bits) was smoked and marinated, but I'm not sure. It tasted kind of like taco seasoning, but not quite the same. . . Not "Mexican", really. Anyway, it was unlike any turkey I'd ever eaten before. The vegetables weren't different from the vegetables we eat at home and so aren't worth describing ;o) but the nacho chips were unusual. They tasted kind of like the white cheddar-flavored chips you can get at home, but I'd never seen that flavor of nachos before. Oh! And I was amused to find that the brand of cola they served was RC Cola! (A nice, homey blast from the past. (g))
  • The weather for the day was supposed to be mild and pleasant. It started out that way, but was steadily deteriorating, growing cloudy, windy, and chilly. While we stood in line for our turkey meal, scattered drops of rain began to fall, and by the time we sat under an open tent to eat, the wind was threatening to tear off the tarp from its frame. Fortunately, we managed to finish eating without being blown away entirely. ;o)
  • We stopped by Sandmon on our way back to Säffle to borrow a few things for the trip to Norway-- an ice chest, warmer coats, gloves, hats.
Sunday, Sept. 2nd
  • The main event of the day was going to a christening for the new baby of one of Donald's cousins. (The cousin is Susanne-- the new baby is Louise.) It was a pretty long drive, so we carpooled with Ingela and Thorbjörn. (Donald's parents and mormor-- because this is her side of the family-- rode in another car.)
  • I don't know the name of the church-- and Donald's not here to ask-- but it was up on a fairly high hill-- windswept and dramatic on that cloudy day.
  • This was my first time (that I can recall) to witness a Lutheran church service. (I'm not sure how much Lutheran churches vary, between those in Sweden and those in the US. . .)
    • I think the "sermon" was shortened to make way for a death announcement and the christening. (If not, then the sermons in Sweden must be very, very short.)
    • As I expected, from what I've heard from Donald on the subject, I found the format much more formal and structured than what I experienced in a Baptist church. There are texts that the minister (or whatever the proper word would be) reads, and there are prescribed answers that the congregation speaks in response. The hymnals dictate at what points the congregation should stand. Sometimes you stand for only portions of a song, though not in any of those selected for this service.
    • There was also much more ornamentation-- painted ceilings, an organ (though it remained silent while a pianist played the hymns), a special pulpit in the corner of the church (raised slightly above the pews), etc.
    • The pews were quite narrow, with slanted slats of wood for foot rests just above the floor-- and with little gates at the aisles.
    • On our side of the church, right in front of us, was a painted wooden sculpture of Mary holding baby Jesus on her lap, with her feet on what looked like a small dragon (representing Satan or evil in general, I imagine). Later, Donald read that it dates back to some very distant time. The 1500s? Or was it even the 1300s? I can't remember. Either way, wow!
  • The christening was much as I expect christenings usually are, though it's the only one I've been to. Louise wore a long gown with many names embroidered on it in blue and pink-- a family gown with the names of the babies who've been christened in it.
  • There was a reception afterwards with "sandwich cakes" ("cakes" made of layers of bread and various fillings, which are cut into slices for serving) and dessert cake with raspberry (?) filling, etc.
  • When we got back to Säffle, we stopped to see Jocke's new boathouse and boat. The boat was still on land, but we were able to climb up and take the tour. It was shipped to Säffle from Lake Michigan. As an older model (though in very good condition), it was a bargain by Swedish standards, even after the expenses of shipping it here.
And that'll have to do for now. Time for lunch!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Back in Sweden!

Just a quick note to let you know that we got back to Säffle about half an hour ago. :o)

I'll probably be writing some sort of post and/or putting up more photos tomorrow. Until then, hope you're all well!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

May be out of contact soon. . .

I may have a chance for another post after this, but just in case. . .

We're planning to go into Norway for a few days (not sure exactly how many) next week-- probably starting Monday (unless something changes). While we're there, I may not be able to update this blog. We'll just have to see. (I'll try to finish updating photos tomorrow, though, so you might want to check there.) I'll post here again once we're back in Säffle, if no sooner.

Family-- if you need to get in touch with us, Donald's family should be able to reach us.

Well, better get some sleep!
I hope everyone's doing well! Give the puppies a hug for me! ;o)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Not much to report ;o)

After the (relative) flurry of activity of our first few days here, we've been taking it easy for the past two or three days. Not much that's interesting to read about, probably, but I'll put down some notes, anyway.

Wednesday, Aug. 29th
  • Mostly rested-- read, watched t.v., etc.
  • Walked to the McDonald's in Säffle. (There aren't really that many around here, I think-- not at all like back at home.) The McDonald's was pretty much the same as the ones in the US. They offer an option of baby carrots instead of fries, but that's not so strange, as they're offering similar "healthy options" at some fast food places at home, too. I think the drink sizes are smaller than at home, but other than that, no big differences that I noticed. . .
  • We had too many fries to eat them all, so we carried them with us on the walk back "home", and as we walked along the river, we tossed them to the ducks. It seems that we weren't the first ones to think of feeding the ducks ;o) as they seemed to know just what to do. More and more ducks came to join in on the feast, and before long, there were too many for us to feed, so we had to leave some disappointed. I was a little bit worried that some grumpy old man or woman would come up to us and scold us (in Swedish) for feeding the ducks such an unhealthy meal. (g) Fortunately, no-one caught us, so we went un-scolded. (Seriously, is it really going to kill the ducks to eat one or two french fries every now and then? I doubt it.) . . .Here I am defending myself against nonexistent antagonists. . .
  • I think we had Swedish pizza again, but I can't remember. . . If I recall correctly, there are no less than six different pizza places in Säffle-- and maybe a couple more outside of the city limits! So even though we've had Swedish pizza. . . four?. . . times already, we still have some "work" to do, if we want to say we've tried them all. ;o) (They're actually very similar-- not much difference from place to place, even to the degree of the first three places using the exact same pizza box design.)
Thursday, Aug. 30th
  • Took it easy again. Not much to tell, for the first half of the day.
  • We needed to do a little grocery shopping, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to look for more funny/interesting packaging to photograph. (The person who answered my poll-- Kimberly, was that you?-- wanted more photos of Swedish food & packaging.) Donald says he's taken photos in shops before, so I thought it'd be ok. Still, I chose aisles where there were no other shoppers, partly so I wouldn't be in their way, partly because I didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to myself. (Even though the stereotypical Swede prefers to keep himself to himself and never makes eye contact with strangers, I still feel myself being stared at sometimes. Maybe it's my imagination. . . Maybe I look more bizarre than I realize. Of course, most of the time, these people look like they're foreigners themselves-- Sweden has lots of non-Swedishborn people, these days-- or they're looking after probably hearing me speak English. I guess it's "ok" to stare at someone who's not speaking Swedish. This probably has something to do with Jantelagen, but I don't really "get" that, so I may be mistaken. (g)) I was all by myself in the scary Swedish grocery store (Donald having wandered off somewhere!) when a fairly gruff grocery store worker-woman walked up to me and said something in Swedish. . . .Anyway, to shorten the story, even though she said it was ok for me to take photos, I got the distinct impression that they prefer people (students, usually) to ask first. Well! I wouldn't have known who to ask, even if I'd known to ask at all. . . And asking permission seems to take up more of their time and trouble than not asking. I still don't see why they should care, as long as I'm not pestering the other customers or getting in their way-- but of course I didn't say that. I tried to acknowledge the information politely, all the while wishing to be a couple thousand miles away, back in a country where I feel I know at least some of the rules and am less likely to be rebuked. (Or at least back there, I'd have the guts to let my displeasure be known. ;o)) I felt fairly well mortified and really just wanted to get out of that place and never darken their doors again. To put it mildly. ;o) (Maybe an over-reaction, but oh well.) So I don't plan on going there again, for fear of being recognized as the shameful photo-taking foreigner, and from here on out, you'll only be treated to photos of packages I can get outside of the store. (g)
  • Later, we went to Sandmon.
    • We took Lukas on a walk to the lake. Well, Donald did most of the dog-walking, but I held the leash for long enough to agree that Lukas can be pretty strong when he wants to. ;o)
    • Before and after supper, we looked at old family photos (from the late 70s and. . . sometime in the 80s). It's funny how old photos from that era all have the same age-discoloration and smell. . . and the same strange clothes and hairdo's, too. (g)
    • Supper consisted in part of a tasty baked fish dish with a cream sauce-- very different from our Southern fried fish and probably somewhat healthier. ;o) The fish was pike-perch, which I don't think I've had before. For the most part, in my limited experience, fish tastes like fish. I'm sure that's blasphemy to some. (g) Maybe I've just been lucky and only ever eaten good fish.
    • Donald and I contributed a " homemade" (from a box that we brought from the US (g)) strawberry cheesecake for dessert.
Friday, August 31st
  • Saw the place in Säffle where Donald's mother works-- a garden market that sells plants, potting soils, pots, fertilizers, etc. They've added on fairly recently. Many familiar plants and a few that I didn't recognize. Not long ago, they had a moose come in and eat some of the fruit trees (I think). (g)
  • Donald went to the bank to attend to a few banking issues. (He had to do this before three, as that's when the bank closes on Friday, not to re-open until Monday.)
  • Donald needed to see a dentist to have something fixed. (Nothing big. Supposedly, it should take only a few minutes to do.) He went to three different dentists (and called a fourth). Three were already closed (apparently dentists close at 1 or so on Fridays!), and the fourth couldn't do what needed to be done. (Though it doesn't seem that he gave any explanation as to why that was-- a time issue, a skill issue, etc.) Fortunately, he was able to get something at the "apotek" (apothecary or drug store, which is where you have to go for most medicines, I think) to fix the problem himself.
  • Did laundry in the apartment's laundry room.
    • They have two nice, new front-loading washers, which seemed to work pretty much like the ones at home. The drying situation, though. . . There's a tumble-dryer, a mangle (which we didn't need), and a "drying closet". I think drying closets are becoming more available in the US, but I have very limited experience with them. This one took two "cycles" (a couple of hours, I think?), but at least most of the clothes were mostly dry after that. The tumble-dryer, on the other hand, could probably have tumbled for another few hours and still left some things damp. We finally had to just take our clothes and drape the slightly damp ones around the apartment to allow them to finish drying on their own. Because the whole building shares the laundry room, you have to put your "marker" in the calendar in advance, to indicate that the laundry room is yours for that three-hour slot. Fortunately, the slot after ours was empty, so we were able to move the marker and let things dry a little longer before we decided to give up on the dryer (mostly because we wanted to leave and do something else for a while). If you were restricted to one time slot and had three or more loads to wash, I don't see how you'd ever get everything dry on time. According to Donald, this was a common problem back when he lived in an apartment.
    • Shortly after putting in one load to wash, Donald noticed that his wallet was missing. It must have been in the one pair of pants that didn't get checked by either one or both of us, because there it was in the washing machine! I'll omit silly jokes about "money laundering" and "dirty money". ;o)
  • We went shopping at Lidl, a fairly recently-opened shop in a chain of German-owned stores. They're supposed to have cheaper prices, and they offer an odd combination of goods in addition to food. We saw everything from underwear to tools, cookware to scuba gear. We bought a few foods, which I'll photograph soon for the Flickr album. (I don't want to spoil the surprise here. (g))
  • Went to Karlstad, about 30 miles from Säffle.
    • Visited an IKEA that opened only three days before. It was very busy (as you might expect). Pretty similar to the IKEA we visited in Atlanta, only this time, it was an event when I heard some people who "sounded American". (I think they're the first Americans I've heard in Sweden, though I heard/saw some in the Amsterdam airport.) Unfortunately, even if we found something we wanted, most of these things were way too big for us to take home with us. Maybe sometime they'll build one nearer to home. . .
    • Across from the IKEA, there was another larger store/shopping complex/mall that we visited for supper and shopping. The main store (a Coop) was closer to a Wal-Mart (in size and the diversity of what it offered) than anything else I've seen in Sweden. One interesting thing-- there was a huge "horse section" in the store. I think we counted at least three aisles of horse- and riding-related goods, everything from horse feed and all the leather bits (harnesses, etc.) to riding helmets and crops. There must be a large horse-owning population in or around Karlstad. (g)
  • Came back to Säffle. We came up on some rather thick fog in spots. The harvested fields of hay (with the rolls of hay still scattered here and there) took on a spooky beauty in the barely twilit fog. Meanwhile, a huge-seeming golden moon hung just over the horizon in the other direction. Probably difficult to capture with the camera-- and as we didn't have the tripod, we didn't even try.
Saturday, Sept. 1st
  • The fog rolled into Säffle overnight and lingered well into the morning. (It's clear now, at 9:36.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time zips by!

And I find I don't have time to post either pictures or entries as often as I'd expected. But I guess that means I've been busy doing other things, which is probably a good sign when on vacation. :o)

I'll try to cover at least the bare bones of the trip, though, starting now:

Thursday, Aug. 23rd
  • The ride from Gothenburg to Säffle was interesting. It's the same route we drove from the airport on our last trip. Lots of stone "walls"-- roads carved into the sides of small mountains/foothills, really, I guess. This time, I noticed a heatherlike plant growing in the crevices of these stones. When I asked Donald what the plants that looked like heather were, he replied that they were heater. ;o) (There are photos of these plants and other things I'll mention here, over at my flickr photos.) Despite being interested in taking in the views, I eventually started dozing off. That trip takes a lot out of you!
  • When we reached Sandmon, we had supper outdoors with Donald's family (plus Jocke), saw Lukas (the family dog), ate Swedish meatballs, korv (sausage), mashed potatoes, Värmlandskorv (a special, "local" sausage), etc., drank flädersaft (elderberry lemonade, which is purported to have a sedative effect, which would have come in handy several hours earlier ), and so on.
  • After we settled in (about 9:30 or so) at Ingela's apartment in Säffle (where we're staying nights), I started making a list of things we wanted to do while here. One of the items-- "eat Swedish pizza"-- was of such urgent importance that Donald decided we ought to start right away, and seeing as we hadn't yet adjusted to the new time zone, we were able to split a Swedish "Vesuvia" pizza (tomato sauce, cheese, and ham) at around 10 p.m. at night.
Friday, Aug. 24th
  • We slept in a bit-- understandable, under the circumstances, even though it does seem rather wasteful, when we're here for such a short space of time.
  • Did a little shopping. Found a few necessary food items (and a few less necessary), and went in search of a couple of washcloths for me. I had intended to pack a few, but had forgotten. (Incidentally, I am very curious as to why washcloths are so notably absent in Europe. Did they get phased out? Were they never here to begin with? If so, are they an American invention? ) I felt silly to go looking for something similar here-- like a baby who can't get along without her stuffed animal or "blanky" for a few weeks. But the fact is that these little things go a long way towards making you feel "at home". In any case, the closest thing we could find were hand towels, which are really too big, and I preferred to have at least two-- one the face and one for "the rest", because I'm a bit picky about spreading germs and dirt around unnecessarily ;o) Fortunately, Donald spotted some handy reusable/disposable sponge sheets that suit the purpose very well. I've never seen anything like them before, in the US. There were about fifty of them in the package for the same price as one hand towel would've been, too. Of course, it is a bit embarrassing to use something from a package decorated with photos of babies. . . and the name, "skum" doesn't sound like something related to hygiene. . . but they work!
  • Ate a "bun-less burger" for lunch. (See flickr for photo. Because it's very exciting. )
  • Went out into the forests around Sandmon looking for mushrooms. We hear that this has been a very good year for chanterelles, and in fact, we were able to find and pick some. For future reference-- the mosquito repellent is a necessity. Even with it, there are some insects that persist in pestering.
  • Had supper with Donald's family, with venison on the menu.
  • Donald visited with his maternal grandmother (mormor), and I had a walk down to Lake Vänern, which was looking very dramatic in the falling dusk.
Saturday, Aug. 25th
  • Went with Ingela and Jocke to "market day" in Nysäter, which I understand to be a community within the "district" (or whatever you'd call it) of Säffle Kommun. The "market" is basically rows of stalls with vendors selling anything from handcrafted items and food to regular goods such as you'd find at retail stores (only at what I assume are special prices). There was also a small area of children's carnival rides and games, a Salvation Army band playing hymns, a Clydesdale-esque horse pulling a wagon, and more.
    • Very busy and crowded!
    • Quite a few people walking their dogs. Saw a Sheltie and a few unfamiliar breeds.
    • Had a reindeer variety of "summer sausage" as part of lunch on board a boat belonging to Jocke and Ingela's acquaintances. (The market was very near Byälven, the river that also runs through the city of Säffle.)
    • Saw a Viking ship replica (built in the 1990s, based on a real one found in the 1960s) named "Glad av Gillberga". It was missing its "dragon head", but you can see it with the head here (and without, on our flickr page, whenever I get around to uploading the photos we took of it...)
    • Driving to Nysäter, we saw more mountainous land than is directly around Säffle. Apparently, the land north of Säffle is hillier.
  • Back at Sandmon, we walked to the lake again and found it quite windy.
  • Supper party at Sandmon with Donald's cousins from his father's side of the family (and various wives, girlfriends, and kids, including the two youngest on that side, Liam and Ludvig). Supper was outside, and a shift in the weather was obvious, with the wind making things chilly enough that I wasn't the only one reaching for a jacket by the end of the evening. ;o) (The weather's been rather chilly ever since. It started out warmer than usual, at the beginning of our visit, but now it's a bit cooler than normal. I'm glad I packed plenty of long pants and a few different jackets!)
Sunday, Aug. 26th
  • The two of us drove to a nature reserve in the northern reaches of Säffle Kommun-- Glaskogen. We spent the afternoon driving around the area, hiking, and taking in the sights. We made three notable stops.
    • We hiked to Råtakahöjden-- the highest point in the nature reserve with a height of 307 meters (just over 1000 feet).
    • Another hike to Sitjärn, a small lake with a windbreak and fire pit nearby. Just after we arrived, a light mist of rain began to fall, but we were able to get a fire going and roast some hot dogs for a late lunch/early supper. (It was a lovely spot. I'll try to upload some photos soon, though I don't think they turned out quite as well as I'd hoped.)
    • Yet another hike to Halvardsnäs, which affords some of the best views of the reserve, according to the information desk. The view was much more impressive than that at the "high point", partly because of its situation, partly because the trees at the other place had grown up so that they blocked much of the view.
  • Back in Säffle, we ate another Swedish pizza and viewed a movie on the laptop-- MST3K: The Sword and the Dragon, which turned out to be the perfect choice, what with its pseudo-Scandinavian elements.
Monday, Aug. 27th
  • Picked lingonberries in the forests around Sandmon. Before heading out, we ran into Donald's mormor, who told him that one of his aunts had been our picking lingonberries (elsewhere) when she came upon a moose with her calves. The angry animal had chased the aunt and her companion, who'd had to run and use a building as a barrier. (I might add that Donald didn't tell me this until we were out in the forest. ) We didn't come across any moose, though we did see some old moose droppings. We also saw a person (a neighbor?), in the distance, something that Donald says is rare enough that it's never happened to him before.
  • I'd never picked any berries but blackberries, so this was a new experience. To pick lingonberries, which are pretty small and grow very close to the ground on short bushes, you generally use a berry-picking tool I'd never seen before. I'll have to see if I can take a photo of them next time we're at Sandmon. For now, here's a link to one type of berry-picker. (This is the type Donald used. The one I had was a newer design and hadn't been used for picking lingonberries before-- by Donald's family, that is.) You hold onto the handle and scoop the tool through the bushes where you see the berries. The berries are pulled off the bushes and end up in the bottom of the scoop, but (most of) the leaves and twigs are left behind, unharmed and unmixed-in with your berries. Clever design.
  • Later on, we rowed on Lake Vänern. The lake was calm at first, with little wind, but rain on the distant horizon. We rowed out to the peninsula on the right (looking out from land). It's a rocky, wild place. No wilder than the rest of the surrounding forests, I suppose, but seeming so, be merit of relative seclusion. We noticed several small stacks of stones at regular intervals. Probably markers of property lines, Donald thought. We left them alone, in any case, and I was glad to leave them behind. Who knows what sort of weird pagan ritual they may be part of! ;o) Meanwhile, the wind had suddenly whipped up quite a bit, the clouds had thickened, and we decided to head back to the boat. Just as we reached it, the rain began, and by the time we pulled back in at Sandmon, we were pretty wet and chilled from the cold rain and stiff wind. The thermometer at Donald's parents' place read 54 when we had walked back to the house. Brr! Of course, after that, we had to go back into town for a change of clothes.
  • The rain was very short-lived, but it was windy much of the afternoon. (That's when I took the photos of the strange-looking windy-day clouds from the apartment window.) Later on, the weather had improved enough that we took a long walk around Säffle, by the river that runs through town (Byälven).

Tuesday, Aug. 28th
  • We spent most of the day driving around the Säffle area and seeing some of the local sights. We saw several old churches. (It seems that most of the churches around here are old. ) There were rock carvings from the Bronze Age-- carvings of ships and "dots" (called "cup marks", I think)-- all barely visible. Hard to believe they're that old (from a period of 1800 to 500BC). There were also Iron Age burial mounds on a hill within easy walking of a very old Swedish church (which has been the location of a church since medieval times, if I remember correctly). . . sheep (actual sheep ) in fields (something we don't have much of at home, probably because the weather's too hot?). . . a collection of all-white cows. . . picturesque homesteads, farms, and countryside, and the southernmost tip of Värmlandsnäs, the peninsula on which Donald's family lives (and quite a few other people, too, as it's not a teensy peninsula). We also drove on the Dollarvägen ("the Dollar Road"), thus named because the money to build it was donated by a Swede from that area who had moved to the US, become wealthy, and wanted to give something back to the place where he grew up.
  • Went back to Sandmon, where we had another tasty supper, looked at photos old and new (including some from Ingela's recent trip to Chicago and Thorbjörn's to London), heard about Thorbjörn's accident the evening before (while he was watching some trees being harvested at Sandmon, a small piece of metal somehow was launched into his leg and had to be removed at the hospital), talked about the expected lows that night -- down to freezing?!--, etc.
Wednesday, Aug. 29th
  • Presently spending the day taking it easy. Reading, t.v., etc. :o) And maybe I'll have a chance to upload some more of the photos we've been taking, later on. (It's turned out to be a bit messier than I expected, but should still be do-able.)
Hope everyone at home is doing well. (Belated "happy birthday" to Grandpa L.!) Wish I could send you all some cooler weather, but at least it looks like the really hot spell has broken.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Checking in

Checking in for the first time from Sweden. (So if there were any doubts, you can see that we made it safely.)

The first day was a long one, of course, with all that flying. To people with more experience flying, it's probably mostly a dull necessity, but it's still a rare enough occurrence for me to be worth describing (though I'll try to keep it brief. . . maybe ).

First leg of the trip: from Mobile's airport to Memphis.
  • Donald and I were sitting apart, but at least this way we both had window seats. I wasn't sure I wanted a window, at first, but it didn't take long to make up my mind. If you must be up in the air that way, you might as well take advantage of it! ;o)
  • As usual with life's events, the anticipation was much more potent than the real thing. That seems to prove true for the good as well as the bad, but in this case, it was a relief.
  • I noticed (and Donald also later commented on) some interesting swirls of green on the ground below us, as we approached Memphis. It was a bit startling to remember/realize that the carpet of green was trees-- not crops or grass. The trees were surrounded by what looked like fields of crops. I'm not sure why the trees were left in that unusual swirling pattern. . .
  • Also saw: winding rivers, lakes and ponds, fields, roads, the familiar patchwork effect that cultivated land has when viewed from above, clouds, etc.
  • The lazy drifting of the clouds is misleading. Not even drifting, really. The clouds seem to be suspended in midair, quite still, while we are merely drifting sleepily among them.
  • Flying through the clouds, on the other hand, seemed to usually result in some bumps. All in my imagination? A coincidence? Or true? I don't know.
  • The steep banking makes me a bit uncomfortable. Somehow it feels safer when you aren't tilting around like that.
  • Take-off and landing are still the most exciting parts of the flight. Is it true that they're more dangerous than the rest? Even if so, they're the best part. Everything else is pretty dull, and I think I feel safer then than when we hit turbulence in the middle of the flight.
  • 98F in Memphis. Probably even hotter than it was at home. Certainly no cooler.
Second leg of the trip: from Memphis to Amsterdam.
  • Such a long, long flight. And impossible to really sleep sitting up like that, too. (For both of us, at least, and many others seemed unable to sleep, either.)
  • Not much turbulence, at least. Just a few bumpy moments.
  • It's fairly torturous, being so tired, yet unable to sleep. The dimmed lights only make matters worse, I think, as they tantalize you into thinking that maybe you can sleep. ;o)
  • This was our first flight with the new personal screen system (a screen on the back of each seat, and you can select from a group of movies, music, games, etc.) Donald watched three movies, and I none. ;o) I didn't feel like watching anything, so I just listened to music and tried to let my eyes get some rest, even if my brain couldn't have much.
  • There was a lady sitting a couple of seats away from Donald who sounded so much like Aunt Charlotte that I might have thought that's who it was, if I hadn't seen her. ;o) Behind us was a couple with a baby. It was crying at first, and I thought things I probably shouldn't have thought ;o), but fortunately, it was quiet most of the time. (Well, I actually thought the bad things when its mother was coughing so hard that I felt it on the back of my head. Argh! Cover your mouth when you cough, woman!) I heard the mother saying this was the baby's fifth time across the Atlantic (poor thing!) and that this time they were bound for Saudi Arabia!! No thanks. I've no desire to take a baby on that long of a trip. . . Nor to go myself, for that matter!
  • After arriving in Amsterdam, we had to walk through the airport and go through a checkpoint (get out passports, have luggage scanned, etc.) to get to our final flight. Amsterdam's airport is interesting to walk through. It's so busy with so many people, and everywhere you turn, you see a different type of person, hear a different language being spoken.
  • As we had to be bussed out to our plane, we got to feel the Dutch air for a few moments. It was decidedly cooler than at home. With overcast skies, it was-- dare I say it?-- even cool. But after we boarded our flight, Donald told me that the two Swedish men sitting near us on the bus had been discussing how hot it was.
Final leg of the trip: Amsterdam to Gothenburg.
  • Our flight (or was it the plane itself?) was called a "KLM Cityhopper". (KLM is the airline, Dutch.) "Cityhopper" just sounds funny to me. . . Imagine the body of a plane attached to the back of a large grasshopper, hopping us across puddles. . .
  • We saw a wind farm out in the waters off the coast of Denmark. It was a strange sight-- a square-shaped grid of wind turbines cropping up out of the ocean. If it was that odd to see it from so far above, I can only imagine what it'd be like to see from nearby. Those things are pretty big, I think.
  • We saw some of Denmark, too, as we flew over it. Near the coast, there was a small town with a spiderweb effect of land partitions branching off in all directions. Very pretty. I wished I had the camera out to photograph it, but it wasn't very convenient timing. Most of the time it was too cloudy to see much, anyway.
  • Based on the unusual shape of the shoreline (and the map we had with us, with the flight marked out), we were able to spot our exact location. Blåvand was the "pointy" coast we passed over.
  • The engines on this plane kept making weird changes in sounds-- revving up, going quiet. I prefer the plane I'm on to choose one sound and keep to it. They should be as unobtrusive as possible. I like to think as little as possible about the fact that my life depends on those things!
  • Coming in to land at Gothenburg, we were treated to beautiful scenery. Lots of boats along the waterways-- lots of orange-tiled roofs-- lots and lots of pristine lakes surrounded by forests and charming homesteads. Some of the lakes even had tiny islands. There was fairly thick cloud cover, and the gradual unveiling of the landscape, framed by wispy white shreds, made it appear even more fresh and hidden from the rest of the world. Of course, soon there were less orderly houses and busy roads to bring one back to reality!
When we finally arrived in Gothenburg, we soon found Thorbjörn and Jocke (hope I spelled that right), who'd come to pick us up, and were on our way to Säffle. It wasn't as cool as we'd expected, but perhaps it's a bad idea to say anything about heat to those of you still enduring the sweltering 90s and three-digit heat indexes of the South. ;o)

I'll write more and post more photos another time. For now, I need to go get ready for our next adventure. ;o) I hope you're all doing well, back at home! :o)

Monday, August 20, 2007

What to pack?!

As I do laundry, I'm trying to decide what to pack. Based on what I've found online (and the current forecasts), it seems that the daytime temperatures will probably be around the upper 60s to mid 70s. Lows are usually in the upper 50s.

The problem is, that just doesn't mean much to me. I mean, I don't hear "There's going to be a high of 74" and automatically know how that's going to feel-- whether or not I'll be comfortable in long pants. According to a couple of websites, our local weather is similar to that in March and November-- though it's a bit cooler here during those months, particularly at night.

So. . . what does that mean? I can't believe that it's really Alabama-Novemberish already, even in Sweden. Oh, I'll just cram as much in the suitcase as possible and hope for the best. ;o) But I do plan on bringing a few different lightweight jackets/hoodies. Last time, I think I only brought one, and I ended up wearing it pretty much everywhere I went. (g)

. . . I keep going back to look at that forecast. What a nice row of 70s and 60s, with not a 90 in sight!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Not much longer to wait. . .

We're getting nearer the date of our departure. I've had a "to do" list for weeks, and now it's time to start "doing", rather than just listing.

I guess it's good that I have lots of things to do between now and then. If I'm busy, maybe I won't have time to worry aimlessly over random, vague travel-associated things. On the other hand, I'm already wishing I'd done some of this stuff earlier. Oh well! That's always the way things go. I could have completed everything on my list, and still there'd be something else to be done.

Donald spoke with his mother today, confirming the time we'll be arriving in Gothenburg. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what time we'll be arriving. Sometime in the afternoon. Then there's a three hour (or so) ride up to Säffle.

For those less familiar with the lay of the land, here are a couple of maps borrowed from Google. Säffle is indicated by the green arrow. Oh, and "Gothenburg" is an Anglified version of Göteborg (which explains why you don't see "Gothenburg" on these maps).

This map shows where those cities are in relation to Sweden as a whole:

Well. . . There's nothing more to say, and lots more to do, so it's probably time to get up and "do".

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


As I'm going to mention (to the few who may be interested) the existence of the this blog prior to our trip, I thought I'd post a few lines just to confirm that, yes, this is the right place.

. . .Having done so, there's nothing left to say. ;o)

Ok, I thought of something else!

There are a few pertinent links to the right, including one to my Flickr account, where you can find some of the photos we take during our vacation. There are also links to just two of the groups on Flickr devoted to Sweden and/or Scandinavia-- lots of beautiful photographs there.

You can also sneak a peek at what the weather's like in Säffle (where we'll be, most of the time), via the webcam link. And the weather widget informs you of the weather in Göteborg (aka "Gothenburg"). On the map I'm looking at, Göteborg appears to be about 106 miles from Säffle (as the crow flies). Karlstad, which has its own widget, is closer-- only about 27 miles away-- but I couldn't find a fancy widget for it-- one with forecasts and maps and temperatures in my precious, beloved Fahrenheit (Celsius stinks! :oP), so I included both cities. (g)

(Thank you, Google Earth, for allowing me to take those measurements.)

Check back here later (family will know exactly when) to read about our trip.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment whenever the mood strikes you. :o)

P.S. I also just added a slideshow that (if I added it correctly (g)) should show the Flickr photos we take in Sweden. (Right now, there's just a place-holder photo of Molly and Daisy, but that should change soon.) You can still go to this page to see the photos, too.

P.P.S. Maybe I should remove that jab at Celsius' system, seeing as he was Swedish. Do you think they'll still let me in the country. . . ? ;o)