Podcast: Swedish national elections

Swedes will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in their national election. This year could see the election of Sweden’s first female prime minister, Mona Sahlin, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats. Or it could see current Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and his Moderate alliance win another four years in power.

The politics in this Scandinavian powerhouse are complicated and multifaceted. So Urban Pilgrim talked Communists and breast pumps with young Swedish voter Dennis Hedenskog, who works for the Korea Business Center and holds a Master of Science in Business and Economics.

Listen to the podcast here:

Swedish National Elections: Four days away


Spring in Stockholm! False alarm.

It was 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit), the snow piles were finally melting and the sunlight was glinting off the ice chunks floating in the water. But you would have thought it was the height of the summer with the way the Swedes were walking about this Saturday and lazing by the water. You see, Swedes are used to Nordic winters but they don’t like them. So as soon as the sun comes out they’re like college girls on spring break; cold or not, clothes are coming off.

I guess I can’t blame them though. I too am sick and tired of enduring months of snow, slipping on ice and generally being frozen. And it was the first time the mercury went above 6 Celsius (43 Fahrenheit) so were it not for the glaciers, I might have whipped off my jacket too.

The day was brilliant, everyone was out and it seemed as if finally (FINALLY) spring had come.

Then we woke up on Sunday. To snow falling. Horizontally.

F#%& you Sweden.

Vasaloppet: The biggest ski race no one’s ever heard of

What do you get when you line up 16,000 skiers to race 90 kilometers (56 miles)? Tired. No really. Tired just watching it.

Participants in this race in northern Swedish town Sälen, near the border with Norway, range from professional cross-country skiers to anyone who would like to have a heart attack wearing skis. Most take about 10 hours to finish, but Swede Jorgen Brink won the race in just over 4 hours. Varying reports say that because of the sheer amount of participants, the folks in the back have to wait about 45 minutes before even crossing the starting line. It’s at least partially an excuse for not finishing the race before everyone goes home.

This annual marathon is named after Gustav Ericsson Vasa, a Swedish nobleman and the first king of Sweden, who was believed to have jumped on skis to escape from a murderous Danish king. He stopped in the town of Mora for help mounting a revolt, but with no support from the men there, he skied to Sälen. Then men in Mora then changed their minds and brought Gustav back to lead a rebellion. The route they ski in the race today mirrors the route he supposedly took from Sälen to Mora. Most think it’s just a tale, as reports put Gustav somewhere else at the time.

I briefly entertained the idea of traveling up there to see the race firsthand, but sub-zero temperatures and a strong sense of laziness kept me at home. Given my inclinations to pick a wine-fueled dinner over exercise, I can’t imagine laboring across 90 kilometers with frozen limbs. Thank you Swedish public television for letting me stay on the couch.

(SVT, Swedish public television has a fantastic video of the start. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t like its video, so check it out here: http://svtplay.se/v/1917939/starten)

Weird Swedish food…

Just like Thailand and its fruit, Sweden has its own weird, weird food. I have been inundated with these oddities since I arrived, and after four months here I can tell you that some of it is good, some palatable and some downright nauseating.

The first installment of what will become a regular feature on Urban Pilgrim falls into the latter category.

I can’t make this stuff up. It’s caviar in a tube. They spread it on hard bread (knäckebröd). They squirt some on hard-boiled eggs. They drizzle a little on ice cream. Ok, not the last one. But this company makes a variety of caviar in a tube, including banana flavored and egg flavored. Yum.

But Swedes didn’t stop there. They have looked for every opportunity to put some combination of fish and cheese in tubes. There is a wide array of products mixed with soft cheese, including other cheeses, in a tube. You have your basic shrimp cheese, lobster cheese and crayfish cheese. Or if you can’t decide between fish cheese and caviar, have them both with a lovely lobster, crab and dill flavor.

They have tube cheese for different moods too. Feeling a craving for some meat cheese? Try the ham cheese or even the smoked deer meat cheese. Wanting to go veggie? Grab the mushroom cheese or olives, garlic and mozzarella cheese.

Sweden even has cheese in a tube that rivals Baconaise, America’s most revolting condiment. Yeah, you guessed it. Bacon cheese.

However, there is one that is perfect for those days where you need to unwind, but don’t have the energy to pour yourself a stiff drink AND make a sandwich. Just grab a tube of blue cheese and whiskey and feel the stress melt away.

Biathlon: The only time Swedes love their guns…

Every time it comes on, I giggle. I can’t help it. To me, it is a bit absurd. Skiing cross-country and shooting a gun? Jerry Seinfeld’s words ring in my ears…

“In the Winter Olympics they have that biathlon that combines cross-country skiing and shooting a gun. How many alpine snipers are into this? To me, it’s like combining swimming and… strangle a guy, why don’t we have that? That makes absolutely as much sense to me. Just put people in the pool at the end of each lane for the swimmers.”

The sport, which is actually incredibly difficult, began in 1767 and was a form of military training for the Norwegian military. And despite not being in the Olympics until 1960, it is immensely popular in Europe and in Nordic countries in particular.

I had never really seen the sport before, but after watching it several times on Swedish television this winter, I can say it’s actually pretty impressive. Though the distance they ski varies, when they cross the finish line it’s like hitting the power button; they all collapse to the ground, breathing heavily with their faces covered in slobber (no time to wipe I guess).

Swedes, in particular, love this sport. I received constant scolding from my boyfriend when I laughed, a habit I still cannot help despite understanding it a bit more now. But the only thing funnier than the sport itself, is the song that Swedes sing to root on their countrymen:

Heja Sverige friskt humör, skjortan hänger utanför!

Which translates to: Go Sweden healthy mood, his shirt is … hanging outside?

Ummm… ok.

I’m still alive… just cold and lazy

It’s been nearly two months since my last post. I know. I feel the guilt.

This is the second big move overseas and now, without a doubt, am aquainted with the various stages and adjustment one goes through. Months 1-3… exciting and new. Months 6 and on… comfortable and established. Months 3-6… tough.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy living in Stockholm, which I do, or that I am unhappy, which I’m not. It’s just the hardest part of moving away, especially overseas. It’s the time after you see your new home through virgin eyes and revel in the excitement of your new life. You settle into an apartment, a job and a routine. You have to start making a life. And that’s where it gets tough. Having to start over is never easy, but creating the friendships that define your life in that new place is the challenging part that tests your patience and your resolve to stay away from the friends and family you have left at home.

Another thing that tests my patience… the lack of sunlight. Having a large lunch as most Swedes do and seeing the sun set at 3 pm everyday is a recipe for only one thing… a nap.  Those living in any country that experiences winter can identify with this to some degree, but most also have the benefit of a few extra hours of sunlight. And despite the sun staying up longer and longer it is still dark. And cold. If that’s not a recipe for a sullen face and copious red wine consumption I don’t know what is.

So there it is, my excuse for not writing. But to make it up to you, here is a cliff notes version of my last month and a half. 

– Moved into our new apartment in Vasastan and subsequently discovered the charms and pitfalls of buying a 1920s apartment. Lovely architectural features, not enough hot water for a shower.

– Bought my first real Christmas tree and carted it down the street impaling pedestrians with its long top branch. Got it into the stand and put a star on the subsequently crooked long top branch. Convinced myself it gave the tree character and wanted to have a Christmas tree in that corner always. Boyfriend vetoed that idea.

– Spent Christmas Eve in Sweden with my boyfriend and his family. Had a white Christmas for the first time in perhaps a decade or more. Learned how to sing festive Swedish drinking songs while taking shots of snaps with his 80-something year old grandparents, who are better sports than me at swallowing a liquor that could clean a car engine. Successfully avoided eating all of the following: raw herring (smelly), raw fermented herring (smellier), pig feet in gelatin and eel. Couldn’t avoid eating: smoked moose.

– Finally got on board with Swedes love of a walk. Walked to boyfriend’s parents house on Christmas night in snow/rain and below freezing temperatures because he said ‘the beer will taste much better then.’ He was right.

– Spent New Year’s Eve drinking champagne by the water at Norr Malarstrand and watching an incredible fireworks display. Later spilled beer on my boyfriend’s shoes at a bar. I blame the champagne.

– Spent a weekend painting our entire apartment from ceiling to floor and have subsequently aged 10 years. Can you have arthritis at 27?

– Went home to suburban Philly to visit my family and spent quality time with the people I love and miss. Ate childhood meals like chicken and dumplings, that I haven’t had in years. Also went up to see friends in NYC and discovered there is a colder place than Stockholm. During the visit, had a realization that no matter how tough it has been to move here, it was the best decision I ever made.

– Came back to Stockholm, looked in my boyfriends eyes and realized I was really home. Also gave him Swedish Fish. He laughed. They’re just fish here.