Stockholm

We spent about 9 days in Stockholm and were craving some “normalcy”, so we dialed back the tourist activities in favour of meeting up with friends, Zumba classes, personal projects on the computer, and some Netflix/Game of Thrones.

Everyone speaks English. Even though restauant menus and all signage is in Swedish, people are friendly and happy to help translate for you. And being a vegetarian wasn’t a problem – there were always a couple options at every restaurant.

Our AirBnB turned out to be huge, but very sparsely furnished (even though our host and his family supposedly live here during the year). It has the basics – bed, couch, etc. but could certainly use a coffee table in the living room and some kind of counter/surface in the bathroom. This left plenty of room for me to do Zumba, though, and the location was great.

That said, the sun rises at 3:45am and our bedroom faces east, apparantly. The first couple nights I woke up at 4am thinking it was midday. (Seriously, it was that bright.) So we improvised some curtains… they aren’t pretty, but they definitely helped us sleep!

We know quite a few app developers from our time at Apple, and it was really nice to meet up with them. I suspect the conversation was a lot more relaxed now that it wasn’t “official business”. (Though I still loved seeing their apps and couldn’t resist giving a bit of UI feedback.)

These were always people I enjoyed meeting, so it was nice to see the feeling was mutual, even though we no longer have ties to Apple.

Our friend Jonas grew up on Sodermälm and took us for an epic, 4 hour walking tour of the island. We saw the places where he grew up, heard us stories about his childhood, and he showed us secret vista points we never would have found otherwise. We ended with dinner at a spot in a park where you BBQ your own food. It was a great meal, a fantastic tour, and excellent conversation.


We spent another evening with some game developer friends who had left larger studios to start their own. We had an amazing vegetarian dinner and talked about all aspects of life in Sweden, game development, US politics, films, boats, travel, etc. It was a really nice, relaxed evening.


We also met up with a couple friends from Cupertino who were here on vacation – Stine and Isabel. Isabel and Stefan and I were on the last Tech Talks tour together, so we know we can trust each other’s taste in bars and restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner with some of Stine’s Swedish friends one night, and we also had some fun at the modern art museum, which I highly recommend:

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Inside one of the Yayoi Kusama pieces.

We did spent one day playing tourist on the island of Djurgården. The majority of the island is covered with parks and walking trails. Everything was lush and green and very pretty. We took a leisurely route to a cafe that grows all its own produce for lunch. Along the way, we passed many different groups of geese with babies. One group decided to take a break in the middle of the path. As a woman walked by with her smallish dog, the dog, in typical fashion, charged at the geese – barking and straining at his leash. Well, the geese were having none of this and charged right back, pretty fiercely. The dog immediately retreated, and the woman basically had to lift up her dog by the leash (aka its neck) to get it away from the goose. I’m sure the dog will think twice before yapping at geese again. I couldn’t stop chuckling all afternoon.

 

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Beware of The Geese

 

Djurgården is also home to the Vasa Museum, which we went reluctantly went to. Neither of us gets fired up about old boats, but every Swedish person we knew (and a couple Danes) said we should go there, so we did. I have to admit, it was very interesting!

The boat was constructed in the 1600s and sank almost immediately on its maiden voyage because the king wanted more cannons than the boat could support. (We made many jokes about how this is a common metaphor for what happens in software design.) It wound up in a somewhat protected area, so the ship didn’t really deteriorate. In the 1960s, they were able to pull it out of the water largely intact. The ship is easily 5 stories tall, and while you can’t go inside, its still amazing to see it up close. It is impressively large – I will no longer think the size of the boats in Pirates of the Caribbean or Game of Thrones are exaggerated.

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The people off on the right should help give a sense of scale

The museum also had a replica of one of the gun decks you could walk through. Despite the boat being huge, the ceilings were very, very low. Everyone must’ve been very short back then or had horrible backaches from hunching over all the time.

A few observations about Stockholm:

  • Swedes love the sun but they don’t get much of it. So when its a nice day, you’ll see every patch of grass or dock on the water covered with people sunbathing, and the cafes overflow into the sidewalks to maximize seats in the sun. (Even 7-11 puts seats outside for their customers.)
  • Swedish is a strange language… sometimes the words look very similar to English and are easy to understand, and sometimes they are completely unrecognizable.  I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce anything, other than the standard greeting of “haaaaay” (which is pronounced kind of like a sassy gay man).
  • They walk on the left, but drive on the right.  The escalators all seem like they are on the wrong side to me.
  • There are a lot more people asking for money here. They are far from aggressive (like the SF beggars) but its very visible – pretty much every ATM and supermarket and train station has someone sitting on the sidewalk with a cup. Our friends hypothesize that its due to the large influx of immigrants… it gives me new perspective on the immigration crisis.

 

Stockholm has really been a nice, relaxed time. I feel like I’m finally settling into the fact that I’m not working, and we were here long enough that I had time to do other things besides travel planning. While “normal life stuff” like laundry, grocery shopping, etc., all takes longer when its in a forgeign language, I also managed to do some of the things I never had time for when I was working… for instance, I might actually finish the book I started over a year ago! (Ha!)

I still sometimes feel guilty for not being more productive with my time – sitting at a coffeshop on a Tuesday afternoon somehow feels over-indulgent – but I’m trying to remind myself that it’s ok to just take it easy and enjoy myself for a bit.

Next up, we are headed to Finland for midsummer, including an overnight train ride to lapland where the sun never sets!

Zumba in Stockholm

Well, I’m pleased to report Zumba in Stockholm has been a much better experience – I’m completely blown away by how friendly and welcoming everyone is!

I researched some classes in advance but couldn’t tell if I could just drop-in so I emailed a few of the instructors. Several of them responded with invitations to their classes for free (even at the gyms, where they could leave me a guest pass at the front desk). One instructor was on holiday in Utah but even so, offered to leave me a pass for the gym where she teaches so I could take a class from someone else – so nice!

First class was Amina’s and it was so much fun! Many of her routines have middle eastern influences, which I always enjoy. (And she clearly has a lot of trainging in middle eastern dance.) She was very easy to follow, her class was a great mix of music, and her students were friendly. She was incredibly welcoming and gave me a lot of info about the class location in advance. (The studio was under construction and I never would have found the door if it wasn’t for her detailed instructions.)

Next up was Sergio, who was kind enough to list me as a guest at a very fancy gym & spa. He teaches 13 classes a week, and it shows. He’s very high energy, sassy, and was incredibly easy to follow. And he’s in phenominal shape – I was in awe! So many of his routines had so much attitude – it was a lot of fun.

And then finally, I went to Emelie’s class, which was also great! She teaches 4 classes a week while going to school full-time, which is super-impressive. Her cueing was by-the-book perfect and she was soo easy to follow. She invited me to lead a couple songs – I’m not sure the freestyle posing in Shaki Riddim was a hit, but no one can resist Booty Booty. She also had choreography to “Zumba Let’s Go”, which was different than mine and the class in France, so I was careful to follow along and not pre-emptively slap my ass while everyone did something else.

So if you’re in Stockholm and craving some Zumba, I highly recommend all of these instructors! There seems to be plenty of great classes, and everyone was so friendly…

The Swedish Post

Periodically we wind up with some small chore that would be easy to accomplish in the US, but seems to take ages to sort out from abroad. For example, I got picked for jury duty in SF. All I needed to do was fill out some form on the Superior Court website letting them know I moved, but the website would never resolve… I checked it several times per day on multiple devices, even using a VPN service, but no luck. Ultimately, my Dad was able to access the site and fill out the form for me. For some reason, I couldn’t access the site from Sweden.

So when The German was notified that the IRS couldn’t process his tax return, we braced ourselves for the worse. (Funny that the IRS was able to cash his check just fine, yet not process the paperwork.) After some back and forth with Deloitte over email, it turned out he could just print and sign a single page, and then mail it back to Deloitte, who would sort out the rest. Sounds simple, right?

Step 1 was to find a printer. After locating a Kinkos-esque type of place, we spent 30 minutes trying to transfer the file to them. The file was on his phone, and they said they have a new spam filter and the email he sent wasn’t coming through. They only had PCs so we couldn’t AirDrop the file to them. And they didn’t seem interested in actually helping us, so we left. They claimed they would email us when they received his document. Unsurprisngly, we haven’t heard from them.

We were meeting a friend at their office before going out to dinner, so we thought we’d try there. At first, it looked like the printer wasn’t working. However, the magical “try turning it off and turning it on again” did the trick and we got it printed… on A4 paper. (Hopefully this doesn’t come back to haunt him but there’s really no way to get 8.5 x 11 sized paper here.)

The next day, we spent about 30 minutes in a 4 block radius trying to locate a post office. Google and Apple maps were failing us. We eventually asked someone in a convenience store, who told us a bunch of Swedish street names we didn’t really understand so we just wandered in the direction he was gesturing. Ultimately, through a combination of Google Translate, aimless wandering and sheer luck, we managed to find an official postal counter inside a grocery store.

But from there, I think the whole transaction took less than 5 minutes! We stood in a short line and then were greeted by friendly clerks, who helpfully explained all the mailing options, sold us a single envelope, and efficiently sorted out the postage. They loaned us a pen to address the envelope, double-checked it all looked good, and wished us a nice day! And when the clerks weren’t busy helping postal customers, they acted as cashiers for the grocery store!

This is pretty much the opposite of every experience I’ve had at the Castro post office, where there’s only one grumpy employee, moving as slowly as possible, unable to find your package, and absolutely not caring about any aspect of their job. Maybe the USPS could get some tips from the Swedish Post…