Get your sweet scream on.

Either we all scream for ice cream [Monday nights] or we all scream for…the sweet freedom of yelling at the top of our lungs out our bedroom windows [Tuesday nights]? Welcome to Lappis, and perhaps the best corridor in in the complex.

Lappkärrsberget (“Lappis” for short) is a non-university housing complex that hosts young people ranging from Bachelor’s degree students all the way to post-Doc candidates who are married, maybe even thinking about kids—-I generally fall on the younger side of the spectrum. The buildings were built into a hill about 8 minutes walk from central campus in the 1960′s. I think the abundance of cow and sheep pasture explains why to this day there is only one singular walking path paved from University to Lappis:

Walking from University to Lappis, I stop and get my Vermont cow-fix if some are roaming close to the fence. Hard to believe that 15 minutes of public transport gets me into a totally different Stockholm than the one pictured here.

The buildings are divided up into corridors. Each corridor has 1 living/dining room, 1 large shared kitchen space, and 10 rooms. Each room is occupied by one person (or occasionally two…amazingly three, in the instance of our Pakistani friends). Without going on too long, I will just say that I am so grateful to have landed amongst such a lovely crew of people. There are mornings when I wake up, look like a road hazard, and simply don’t feel like talking or taking off my baggy night tee-shirt to go to the kitchen. So I don’t. I don’t put on real people clothes. I usually end up doing the talking part, though, but am almost always uplifted by non-obtrusive, pleasant morning hellos, and I start my day off in a better mood because of it.

To prove just how sweet everyone is, I take the example of our weekly ritual, “Monday Night Bake Night.” This tradition sprang up on the first week in September, when Jonatan (a local Stockholmer who lovingly breaks any rules said about Swedes being reserved and shy, to make you feel right at home) made a pie from berries he received from his grandmother before they spoiled. “It’s a Monday night! I make pie!” Somehow the words “bake night” were added to that phrase by receptive taste buds from around the corridor, and voila! Every Monday around 10 pm., we are either starting to congregate in the kitchen, quietly screaming for sweetness and ice cream and a chance to catch up with one another about the weekend, or we are receiving a knock on our door from Jonatan, the master chef, yet to be challenged, alerting us that his latest creation is ready.

Last week’s creation was a sinfully sticky toffee-plum-walnut pie (or cake?). We’re not sure, but it was delicious. Jacques also surprised us by adding a delicious chocolate cake to the table.

As a related tangent to what happens in Lappis on a larger scale, it is worth revealing the well-kept tradition honored every Tuesday night by members of my corridor…and hundreds of our Lappis neighbors. This tradition was apparently started back in the 60′s, probably as a joke at first, and eventually accepted as a genial way to share in the release of stress and anxiety from school and life. It doesn’t have a name…just an eerie, jaw-dropping, terrifyingly magnificent sound I invite you to listen to. I was Skyping with my dear friend Ethan at the time, and rudely stepped away for moment to finally record it on video (Ethan, now you can confirm that even stray black cats are thrown aback by this roar).

It is an exam week—but this is no exception to the typical Tuesday night holler.

It’s shockingly difficult the first time you do it to commend yourself to just…scream. We are so trained to think, and more importantly feel, that such a loud gesture is absurd or unacceptable. But let me tell you…once you get your scream on, it feels pretty damn good.

+D.

Gröna Lund

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spontaneously met a Russian girl at a photography museum this past Friday, where we exchanged numbers and committed to meeting again the next day. So I rolled into Stockholm’s central metro station about 10 minutes later than planned and bustled through an abnormally large crowd of people (there happened to be a Saturday afternoon dance flash mob in Sergels Square) to find Alena.

Inside “Under the Maple Tree.” Christoph, Julieanne, and Alena sit at the middle table.

I feel like I’m introducing a sports team whenever I write about people I meet here: Alena (Russia) greeted me with a giant hug and introduced me to her two friends, Christoph (Austria) and Julieanne (Australia). Come to find out, it was Christoph’s 24th birthday, so we let him take the reins to find a place to relax in each others’ company with coffee and tea. As we started walking, I asked Christoph how he and Julieanne know Alena. “Ah! It’s quite funny, really. We met her randomly on a boat coming from Finland.”

Christoph let his memory guide us through the old town to a cafe he had once been to and loved. Under Kastanjen. I had a brief moment of nostalgia tracing the dark earthy orange color of the building to that of wooded trees in Vermont at this time. In English, the name of the cafe is Under the Maple Tree. The only way this place could have been made better is if actual maple lattes were served. But that wouldn’t be Swedish, would it?

Alena in front of “the shaker.”

After our lovely time in the old town, Alena and I parted ways from Christoph and Julieanne to seek redemption of our free tickets to the amusement park Gröna Lund. We linked arms and walked under my umbrella like sisters synchronizing jumps over puddles to avoid getting wet.

You’re looking at, I don’t know…three different roller coasters right there?

Gröna Lund is very tiny park. You can walk around the perimeter of it in ten minutes (maybe less). That being said, it’s dense. Roller coasters literally weave in between one another as a creative response towards tight zoning rules that prevent Gröna Lund from expanding outwards into the royally historical island of Djurgarden. They added a Ben & Jerry’s to the scene, though, so I believe they have nothing to worry about in terms of keeping visitors content.

I had never been on a roller coaster that goes upside-down, mostly because the last real park I went to was probably Sea World when I was 9 years old. Also—I’ll admit—they’re intimidating. But not anymore! Alena pointed to the high, twisting, dropping, rotating coaster that is clearly the king of attractions in the park: “We go there next.” I start rambling to her, What?! You’re a crazy Russian girl, of course you want to go, and now you’re going to drag me? That’s INSANE! Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but we stopped in front of the entrance to the coaster and looked up, and the title of coaster read “Insane.” God, my intuition is accurate. I might not have even considered going on the ride had I been on my own, and am so thankful Alena was there to make sure I did. It was…well, insane, in the best way possible.

We ended our time at Gröna Lund by hosting our own private dance party in a two-seated capsule of the “shaker” (a ride that whirls you around to the latest pop music), and sharing a stack of cotton candy. Alena at first ordered one for each of us, and as you can see from the picture to the right, I’m glad I stopped her.

It’s hard to describe how much Alena and I got along despite our serious language barrier. She’s a brilliant, open character that loves to engage in people’s lives, and I am so impressed at the level she is able to do this despite not speaking very much English. What is more, we discovered that we actually share a lot of core interests: she’s an environmental engineering major at her university in Russia, loves art, and often contemplates switching her field of study. Sound familiar, folks? One thing we don’t share in common is an extreme love for vodka, but hey—we’re not all Russian.

We met up one more time for dinner on Sunday night before she left on Monday. We found a cafe in Södermalm with a theme dedicated to photographs of film stars and dancers. Through broken English, Russian, French (an uncanny point of understanding), and a notebook for drawing, we managed to talk about everything from IUD’s to what it would take to start up an art studio in St. Petersburg. We said goodbye at the metro, promised to write, and for a very round moment, missed the strange, fleeting connection we had just built. I recall our last words being very French and fitting: “A bientot!”,

meaning,

see you soon.

+D.

P.S. St. Petersburg isn’t too far away, is it?

 

The typical atypical day.

Consistent communication has never been my forte. After a message from my father and a “Where the hell are you, girl?!” thrown at me once or twice, I received a clear statement that I have to live up to this blog entity I created (despite lots of writing in my own notebooks). The major reason I disappeared for two weeks is because I felt like I couldn’t share any new stories until I recapped Lapland. It became an overwhelming obstacle in the way of sharing all the other profoundly ordinary things going on here (think Royal Ballet, the real Opera house, more island visits, Stockholm trails, sauna rules, etc.).

So I’ve come up with a solution: skip it. You’ve seen many of the pictures on the Facebook album. I’ll come back to bits and parts of Lapland on this blog when it feels right. Now in the spirit of this new-found blog liberation (!), I suppose the best place to start is with yesterday’s happenings, the freshest material on my mind. A typical atypical day. In the event you’re already wondering how to go about making a typical day atypical, I’ll be upfront and give you the simple recipe right now: one part luck to one equal part openness (though if you’re short on luck, feel free to be generous with the openness).

I felt a little short on luck in the morning. I had grand plans to wake up early and get in a run and strength workout in the rare sunny weather predicted, but I awoke to wet and gloomy skies, and missed my alarm for early dawn. My full day of class began with a technology mishap (a.k.a. sitting in a lecture hall waiting for the lecture to happen for 30 minutes) and overall contagiousness of head-nodding fatigue.

Yet come 14:30 (yes, I’m on European time…get used to it)—when our class let out early—I was re-enegergized by the brisk air outside. I had two options: 1) go home, run and workout as planned, relax, be on time to meet friends for an Of Monsters and Men concert, or 2) go straight into town, buy a rain jacket, find Konserthus to buy tickets for the upcoming Stockholm Jazz Festival, make a visit to Fotografiska, and otherwise wander around and possibly [realistically] miss meeting friends for the concert

I chose the second choice.

I went straight to Stadium (think Swedish Dick’s Sporting Goods) and bought a red soft shell Haglöfs jacket on sale. Cold rain is no stranger to Stockholm, and not having some sort of water repellant layer when I run just isn’t cutting it anymore. Funny note about the Haglöfs brand: it’s everywhere. And I can’t tell if it’s because Swedes truly understand a quality product and value its technicality for Scandinavian winters, or if it has been popularized by trendy city folk to reach “Gucci” status similar to the way Patagonia has in the States (“Pata-g-uuci”).

McDonald’s bathrooms in Stockholm. Classier than any apartment I’ve ever lived in.

Next mission: to find Konserthuset to buy jazz fest tickets. En route, I stopped at a McDonald’s to use the WC (see right). I witnessed the single-most uplifting use of a cobble-stone bike path EVER in the form of a paralyzed young man using his power wheelchair to bomb through bike lanes at high speed, all smiles. There was a wild ambition in his eyes as he blazed past cyclist, showing no mercy for complacency. I also stumbled into a church next to the Opera house and melted into a pew: a surprise male tenor was practicing a melody. Genre preferences aside, it’s impossible (or just plain stupid) to walk away from the live sound of billowing and refined vocal chords. You can catch a glimpse of the sound if you promise to pay no attention to my distracted filming (skip to 0:18).

When I arrived at what I thought was Konserthuset (Stockholm Concert Hall), it quickly became apparent that I had confused it with the Royal DramaticTheatre. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and also farther from the next stop on my list. Rather than circle back downtown on a handful of metro lines, I decided it would be quicker and more pleasant to catch a ferry directly to Södermalm (location of Fotografiska) by walking to the next nearest island. As a bonus, I could catch an afternoon fika at a cafe I had eyed out during a run.

This chosen cafe was Lilla Hasselbacken; it’s a moment’s walk from the ferry dock on the island of Djurgården. I peered in at rather empty looking tables with picnic-style tablecloths and considered moving on, but know from past experience that “family-style” modest eateries can prove to be the real gems in a town. That said, it’s a tough gamble—especially in a city littered with sharp coffee shops keen on design that are utterly enjoyable to be in. I proceeded inside, ordered a latte, and listened to the sole patrons of the cafe: a large, friendly-eyed older gentleman pouring over papers, perhaps the owner himself, speaking to a a young Japanese man sitting at an adjacent table.

“That’s the office, right there in that basket…the whoooooole office!” the big-bellied man said as he pointed to papers on the table and a red shopping basket at his feet that looked as if it had been stolen from Grand Union. “When I bring it home, it becomes my home office. When I bring it abroad, it becomes my international office! I have quite large business, ay!” The young Japanese man laughed a bit and stood up with his camera. “Picture?”

Suddenly, I was roped into a photograph under the burly arm of the large man. “A picture for the Hokkaido-Shimbun Press!” he bellows. “Join me!”

It’s unclear whether or not I actually had a choice to join in, but I like to think I did so willingly.

The man making my drink sat down a large drinking glass on the counter containing a semi-depressing latte…at which point I was also forced into buying a piece of over-refrigerated chocolate cake to meet the shocking card minimum that literally doesn’t exist anywhere else in all of Stockholm. It wasn’t the smooth perfection in a colorful ceramic mug I had envisioned for my Friday fika treat, but I made it a point to not let myself care. I sat down amongst over a hundred pictures and paintings of Royal gardens and late 60′s Coca-Cola advertisements to eat my fika in all its diner-esque glory.

My “winnings” from Lilla Hasselbacken.

I will summarize the following happenings in Lilla Hasselbacken from that point:

  • The Japanese man wrote the name of the newspaper he works for on the back of a receipt for me. Turns out that Hokkaido-Shimbun Press is actually real.
  • The big man with the “portable office” set his business card on the table in front of me and introduced himself as Tommy—the owner. A very friendly guy who wants to make you feel at home.
  • I began writing all this down in my notebook.
  • Tommy commented on how lovely it is that I write. As a “reward for remembering” he gave me not one, but two free passes to Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s tiny but punch-packing amusement park. WOWZA.
  • Tommy more or less offered me a job. But Tommy…I don’t speak any Swedish… “Ah, it’s fine. It’s just the old folks, and you’ll win them over with confidence and kindness.” Right…

Rainy night-view of Grona Lund from the ferry from Djurgarden to Sodermalm.

Two and a half hours later, I thanked Tommy, promised to return, and left Lilla Hasselbacken to head to the ferry. I walked past the entrance to Grona Lund, snapped some photos from the ferry dock, and got psyched about the opportunity to visit the park (which I wouldn’t have spent money to do otherwise). I began scheming a good approach to selecting a lucky guest amongst a solid crew of international friends.

By nature of the day, this problem was solved quickly. I hopped off the ferry in Södermalm and rushed along a boardwalk in harsh, cold rain to get to Fotografiska, the photography museum. As predicted, I had abandoned the idea of the free concert in lieu of getting to view the Sally Mann exhibition before it closes at the end of the month. On Friday nights, the museum and its bistro are open until 23:00, with acoustic singer-songwriters or trendy Stockholm DJs rounding out a commendably vibrant scene.There is much to be said about my love (and obsession?) for this place, but that will come later.

I arrived completely soaked. On my way downstairs to hang my coat  to dry, I saw a young woman my age struggling to scan her ticket to enter the museum. I stepped aside to help. She mentioned she was from Russia. I used the one solid phrase of Russian I know from audio tapes this late-summer: “YA ne ponimayu russkiy,” or, I don’t understand Russian. She says, “Oh, you speak?!”

Thirty minutes later, we crossed paths again in the exhibition hall. Usually, conversation initiation sparks from one person or the other, but in this case—I mean, come on, we were in a silent, dark museum hall—I would say it took both our energies for spontaneous combustion to occur. We started talking about our respective stays in Stockholm, and within minutes were exchanging numbers to meet up the following day.This is Alena.

“You know where I want go? Much want to go…errr…tomorrow?” Alena says. I asked her where in a hushed voice; we were still in the exhibition. She draws loops in the air with finger, up and down, up and down. “Gröna Lund.”

I dug through my bag and opened up my notebook to display my new tickets. I put one in her hand. “You…me…we go?” I asked. It took a few minutes to explain the situation, but when she finally understood that the tickets were free…and that I was inviting her to go…and that she would still have a ticket even if we failed to meet up…her eyes lit up like a child receiving a balloon-animal made after his or her favorite pet dog.

Unsolicited alignment of lives. It’s a fabulous feeling to be a part of.

Episode Two? Danika and Alena go to Gröna Lund. Coming soon.

+D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returned.

Before leaving for Swedish Lappland (northern, northern Sweden), my excitement level looked like this:

On the left, the worst serious “selfie” shot known to mankind…rectified by the best timing of a ‘jump for joy’ ever taken solo (right).

Somehow, I was able to transition those nearly uncontrollable nerves of anticipation to a liberated calm that allowed me to balance on this rock…and fully absorb the magnificence of the best life-decision I have ever made: to go to Kebnekaise Fjällstation (mountain station) and explore for two days.

I am officially back in Stockholm now. It’s been a real daze. I’m trying to regain an understanding of where I am now that I have been to Sweden’s wildest parts and have connected with a different kind of Swedish spirit found in new friends, Tobias and Karl.

I know I won’t be able to explain even half of what I encountered and experienced, but there is value in sharing at least the highlights . I think what I’m going to do is break it up into three different posts. It will be more digestible, more fun, and will keep me from blabbing. So look out for those.

Unfortunately, I have a nice, sizeable exam tomorrow (literally on the 6th day of class) so I’ll be studying and not writing until tomorrow afternoon after I’m done. I also need some time to readjust from the 18 hour train ride that just happened. Great things happen to our state-of-mind on trains, but often at the cost of fatigue, cramped muscles, and hysterically dazed appearances throughout it all. It’s pretty fascinating to see what we look like in and out of contemplation, dreams, and blankness—-it’s almost painful. I’ll give you that for now. NOTE: My favorite part is at 1:22. Just moves the book and…guards it?

 

On the most inappropriate use of the word “café” in a venue name…ever.

It’s very clear that Swedes love their coffee, but seriously damer och herrar (“ladies and gentlemen”)…are you entranced enough by your obsession to start naming everything “café”? Tell me if this looks like a café to you:

That’s what I thought.

This is Café Opera, the most prestigious club in Stockholm. Though very Swedish indeed, I can say first hand that it has absolutely nothing to do with coffee. It has a lot to do with real-life Swedish barbie dolls, top-notch DJ’s, bouncers that were probably fitted by Georgio Armani himself, men in skinny pants and super-fine blazers, and an overall vibe of ritzy-ness gently soaked in booze. Nothing like making my first glimpse at the Stockholm nightlife the most sought after venue in the city.

The bar…and absolutely elegant ceiling.

Several striking notes from the evening:

  1. You have to have an ego that’s at least 1.5x the size of your soul to work the door at Cafe Opera. The uniform is a full suit with cuffs, a gold Opera badge, secret FBI-style microphone, and an iPhone with the evening’s guest list loaded onto it. And don’t forget the “I’m-observing-you-but-am-also-hip-enough-to-help-you-land-a-chick-if-you-need-help” look. Because you’re that good.

    Can you pass go?

  2. In case you didn’t notice from the picture above, the interior of this venue is absolutely stunning. Mostly, this is because it is located in the  posterior of the very same Gothic building that houses the Royal Swedish Opera. I am determined to figure out what the elegant chandeliers, columns, and arches were once a part of, if not a dining hall where once rich Opera-goers finely dined. All Cafe Opera has to say about it is that, “History permeates the atmosphere in this heritage property.” No kidding. Overall, I had a mixed feelings about dancing my pants off in this place. While an extraordinarily unique vibe is created by the contrast of chandelier silhouettes through dance-clouds, pink and blue rave lights reflecting off the glossy sheen of painted angels—-I couldn’t help but think of the poor guy who painted the ceiling 200 years ago, and what he must be thinking now as we shake our asses to Swedish techno-pop remixes in the romantic cave of his mastery.

This is what Cafe Opera turns into. Actually quite amazing. Photo courtesy of my friend Lars Jansen’s iPhone.

3. HOLY FASHION. Remember those shoes you saw online and while you were looking for pair of boots that a) won’t look out of place on Church Street in Burlington and b) will actually hold up in Vermont winters…the ones that made you think, “Who would EVER…why do these exist…?”

Those shoes are here in Stockholm—-particularly in nightclubs. Women go all out, all the time. It’s like what going beast mode would look like in the urban fashion sense. Fierce. Men often follow up with casual distinction.

Most times, it’s enviable; these ladies and gents look slick and sexy, especially on the streets in the day. Yet come club time, I still find many of the styles laughably Euro. For Facebook users, I’ll leave you with this: Facebook album of super-Euro portraits (particularly the men…) from a student night @ Cafe Opera. For those of you without Facebook, this is what you’re missing out on:

+D.

Afternoon newsflash:::

Recounts of my visit to the island Grinda and last night’s outing to Stockholm’s most prestigious club are still in the works, but I have an important, very abrupt piece of news to share first:

I am going to Lapland. Tomorrow.

Near Kebnekaise mountain station outside of Kiruna, Lapland’s most northern city. Time is running out before the mountain stations along Kungsladen (the King’s Trail) close for the season… and before school becomes too committal.

NOTE: I told my professor, Jonas, about my dream to go hike part of Kungsladen. I asked him which day of school would be most appropriate to miss to make the haul worth it, thinking that he’d recommend a date later in September. I was shocked when he said, “Next Monday. Go. Do it. I encourage you.”

It’s hard not to love a Swedish professor who makes you take coffee breaks, and who not only works with you, but beckons you to go north. Thanks, Jonas.

FIRSTS: sun, class, & academic fika

Since I arrived in Sweden last week, the skies have been rather blank and grey and promising wetness–and delivering it, too. Cold rain tampered with my morning runs and overall motivation to strap on a backpack and wander the city. Today I awoke to the first real sweet blue Swedish sky I’ve seen yet, and with perfect 60F temperature. Of course, this inviting day couldn’t coincide any less appropriately than with an afternoon commitment to being stuffed in a classroom.

Though classrooms generally don’t look or feel better than they do on the campus of Stockholm University. Significant art installations adorn wall interiors, and give form to many campus buildings. Needless to say, walking across campus on a beautiful day to a new class makes one more appreciative than envious of those who’s job isn’t to simply learn everyday. That attitude could change when my Stockholm honeymoon is over, but for now, I’ll relish every lick of it.

Photo courtesy of my Italian friend Melania Cimatti

I’m taking an Ecotoxicology course for the first half of the semester. That’s right–one class and one class only, everyday, for 14 weeks. That’s how the Swedes do it. I was rather daunted by the syllabus when I first arrived here, thinking that I might have to fish for more organic chemistry than populates my brain at the moment, but today’s first class quelled any fears. For one, I’m at a HUGE advantage being a native English speaker here. Everyone in the class is trying to sift through scientific material in a second language, and I get to sit back and enjoy a seemingly relaxed pace. I admire each and every international student for their multilingualism, and often feel guilty about being here and not having to try (though Swedish starts tomorrow!).

Secondly, the professor ordered us to take a fika halfway through the 2.5 hour class. If you haven’t heard me rave about it already, “fika” is the Swedish practice of taking a mid-afternoon break for a cup of coffee (“kaffe”) and a pastry. Today the professor had the TA brew nice Italian coffee and set out some cookies. I could get used to this.

A typical fika (except for the monstrous size of this “kalenbulle”). Photo courtesy of Stockholm University.

Class ended early, and I had time to get a longer-than-expected 1hr45 minute run in to cap off the sunshine. Though I stopped twice mid-run–totaling about 25 minutes of non-running time–I still managed to be very productive in exploratory and practical ways during those times:

STOP/DISTRACTION #1:

  • SIGHT: I happened upon the Kungl Tennishallen, a.k.a. the Royal Lawn Tennis Club of Stockholm. Why is this cool? The club was founded in 1893 and hosts the ATP World Tour ever year in October for the If Stockholm Open. I also sat and watched some young women my age absolutely hammer on the tennis court. So much power; it’s really something to be so close to good tennis swing.
  • PRACTICAL: I got to pee. In a really nice bathroom. Avoided having to do a semi-shady urban piss stop.

STOP/DISTRACTION #2:

  • SIGHT: Running back towards campus along Lilla Vartan, the wide straight that envelopes the heart of the city, I had to stop off at a sandy beach to take in the pink, purple, oranges sun setting over the water.
  • PRACTICAL: I pulled a tick out of my leg. Wouldn’t of seen that one if I hadn’t sat down. Critical revelation that yes, ticks do exist in Sweden.

Saving my tales of my adventure to the island of Grinda for another time. Soon.

+D.