September 11, 2014

A Taste of Stockholm

Last week, we visited Stockholm on our way to Finland and it was awesome!  We packed in as many sights as possible in the time we had, but just covered the tip of the iceberg because there is just so much to see and do in the city! We arrived on a Friday at the Arlanda airport where we quickly picked up our Volvo wagon rental (of course you have to get a Volvo in Sweden!) and drove into Stockholm straight to our apartment we booked on Airbnb.  This was our first time using Airbnb, lots of our friends use the site all the time and after using it for both of our places in Sweden and Finland, I have to say we loved it.  Both houses were awesome and both owners were very nice and helpful.  The owner in Stockholm even drove Frank around on a whirlwind tour of sights to see nearby.  I can't wait to use Airbnb for all our vacations!  Our apartment had three bedrooms and was situated in a wonderful part of the city, overlooking the sea, with several restaurants, an organic grocery and a truly amazing park right nearby.  The apartment was in a building that is owned by the Nobel Foundation and has two Nobel Laureates living in it!  We didn’t run in to them as far as we know but we did meet some interesting people coming and going from the building.  The apartment itself was very well furnished in very Swedish seeming / Ikea style and had tons of toys for the kids (the owner had 2 daughters) and about everything you could want in a furnished apartment.  Cooper especially loved the Wii… 
After we got settled in the apartment, the first thing we want to check out was the park across the street with a beach and a playground and a bocci ball restaurant we had read great reviews about.  It turned out to be an amazing park with about everything you could imagine in it.  A beach, tons of running trails, bouldering, a skate park, an awesome restaurant and seriously, the best playground I have ever been to.  This place was amazing.  It was like a little village of a playground with the most interesting and unique structures and with loads of imaginative play, sandboxes, ziplines, climbing boulders, marble mazes, wading pools and more. We played for an hour to unwind from all the travel and then hiked along the pedestrian only sea front path all the way to the center of old town, Gamla Stan, passing by historical ships on the waterfront along the way.

Zipline fun at the park in Stockholm
Lily loved the pretend play at the gas station and restaurant serving me up mud pies. 

After checking out the center of town and having some ice cream, we headed to the south island in the area known as SOFO to find a few restaurants I'd read about on other blogs as being tasty and kid friendly. One that was recommended to have excellent views and food was Gondolen. However, with two very tired kids and after having seen the prices and menu choices, we opted to go back to our apartment and find something a little easier. Honestly, the prices weren't all that bad for Stockholm, just crazy expensive compared to German and American prices. We'd been warned before coming that Sweden was super expensive, but somehow, I didn't really grasp just how expensive. We're talking 20-50 Euros for a dinner minimum and 7 to 10 euros for a small 33cl beer. Yikes! My plans for shopping and finding unique kids clothing and toys went down the drain quickly after checking out  a few stores. However, it was really fun to look around and see all theneat Swedish stuff.  They definitely have their own style compared to the rest of western Europe where we have visited.  Stockholm is full of awesome design stores. Did you know that IKEA and H&M both originated in Sweden?

A really nice restaurant on the waterfront walk from our apartment to Gamla Stan.
Historical boats and ships on the promenade.
Aren't those cork seats the cutest?
Cooper jumping stones on the promenade.

 For our second day, we started early to beat the incoming rainstorm and walked a very long way, passing a good portion of beautiful Stockholm, to the island Djurgarden. You could spend an entire weekend visiting this island alone!  It is full of museums, amusement parks, an aquarium, a botanical garden, a zoo, and even a Children's Museum! First stop on the island was the famous Vasa Museum that houses the only 17th century ship in the world,  a massive wooden ship with an infamous history. It was commissioned by a Swedish king centuries ago as a way to intimidate other ships at sea. But against the ship builder’s advice, the king demanded the ship be built higher and higher until it was 4 stores high! The day it set sail, it sunk almost immediately, never even making it out of the Stockholm harbor. The king was so embarrassed, he wouldn't let anyone talk about it and tried to erase the incident from history. In the 1950s, the exact location of the ship was discovered, and they spent years restoring the ship and placing it in a museum that gets millions of visitors each year.

After the Vasa Museum, our kids were ready to run, so we went right next door to the Junibacken children's museum. Our kids loved this part of the trip. They played in the imaginary village full of slides and toddler sized houses, and then rode on the train that takes you through a very grim magical fairy tale world of Astrid Lindgren. European kid stories are pretty much the opposite of Disney stories with crazy depressing themes! Frank and I couldn't help but laugh at the morbidity of the story being told on the ride (a young boy dies while jumping out of his house from a fire, another boy gets attacked by a dragon and becomes paralyzed so he and his brother jump off a cliff into the beautiful light)... Lily was terrified of a giant rat that wiggles with a tail about 6 feet long that looked surprisingly real, and Cooper woke up with nightmares the following night dreaming about that very same rat. Despite the morbid story, it was a fun ride and a great place to let the kids play. Plus, they have a nice cafe you can eat at overlooking the water.
Junibacken - the Children's Museum on Djurgarden island.
Kottbullar! Anyone who has eaten at Ikea knows what these are like. Meatballs are served at every restaurant.

Stockholm seemed very international. Much more so than other cities in Europe we have been to. You can find beers from all over the world, including specialty IPAs from the states. Restaurants serve international food and everyone speaks English so well, you can hardly tell if they are actually Swedish or American. I was complimenting a nice mother at the park and she told me they are required to learn English from age 10 on in school.

Another awesome thing we noted, perhaps because we stayed in the upscale end of town and were walking always along the boardwalk, the stereotype of beautiful blue eyed and blond headed people rang very true. I couldn't get over all the fit, good looking people in the city, and my kids stuck out at the park as the two darkest haired around!  But we did love how healthy the city seemed, everyone running and biking at all hours of the day, plus boating, swimming, climbing, and more.  Organic groceries and organic restaurants all over the place as well.

One thing that I cannot forget to mention that we really loved about Sweden and Finland was  "Hej"! their typical greeting.  This greeting really epitomizes the different feeling you get from Stockholm compared to other western European countries.  Instead of a low and somber “Hallo” or “Bonjour” everyone would greet you with boisterous and friendly Hej Hej! Which pretty much sounds like “hey hey!” and invariably invokes a smile on the face of both parties.  Awesome.  No matter who it was; a little girl, an old man, a clerk in a store, "hey hey"!  It was so incredibly friendly and nearly made us laugh each time we walked in a store or were greeted by anyone.

Loved Stockholm!  Can’t wait to go back!  Finland up next.

September 5, 2014

Friday I'm in Love

Hey everyone! What is everyone up to this weekend? We're unfortunately back from our vacation and back into the routine of school and work. I so wish we could be back in Aland right now! I've finally finished uploading our photos and can't wait to share our trip. Truly loved every minute and would repeat the whole thing over and over if I could. This weekend, we have friends visiting from the states, and we're planning on showing them around a bit, as well as climbing outside if the weather permits. Hope everyone has a good weekend, and here are some interesting finds from the web:

September 3, 2014

Garden Veggies

We're back home and what a nice surprise I found yesterday when I went to check on our garden. Veggies! Finally! No broccoli or brussel sprouts yet, but at least our peppers, tomatoes and green beans have been successful. I'll be making some homemade salsa this weekend and can't wait to share the recipe if it's successful.

Recently, I read an article "Why gardening is good for your health", and you wouldn't believe all the benefits gardening can have for your physical and mental health! Number one, gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities, and depression. Additionally, the food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat and healthiest. My kids wouldn't normally eat raw green beans and tomatoes, but when they are outside picking them with me, they can't help but munch on a few and actually love them that way. And oh my, they just taste so much better straight from the garden.

Any of you readers garden for a hobby? Since we're renting, I haven't really done so much with the flowers and shrubs, but I sure would like to get into that one day as well.

August 26, 2014

Vacation Bliss

Hey from Finland! Right now, we're in vacation bliss and soaking up every second of this family time. When we get back home, I'll have to do large posts about Stockholm and Aland. WiFi is too slow and I am enjoying the break from computers and the such. This place we're in right now is just too perfect. LOVE it here. Finland and Sweden are such wonderful countries and I can't wait to tell you more! Until then, a few photos...

August 20, 2014

Sweden and Finland here we come!


I am really giddy right now because tomorrow, we start our summer vacation to Sweden and Finland! Ahh! I just finished wrapping up our itinerary, printing out all our reservations for this and that, and printing out the packing list on an excel sheet.

We decided it was time to hit up a new place for a family vacation, and once we found out about the great bouldering in Aland, we knew this is where we wanted to go. But first, Stockholm for the weekend! Stockholm is just amazing sounding from all the research we've done. We're planning on checking out/packing in as much as we can on Friday and Saturday before we take a ferry to Finland (more specifically, the Aland islands). We've rented an apartment in Stockholm and then a cabin right on a fjord on one of the 6500 islands of Aland through Airbnb. I honestly can't sit still today I'm getting so excited. We're just hoping the weather will improve. Right now, looks like pretty chilly temps and some rain! But we'll see. 

Have any of you been to Stockholm or Aland? Any places you ate or shopped or visited that are a must see? We'd love to hear about them before we go to make sure we check them out. Right now I have a pretty busy itinerary for Stockholm, but we're pretty open ended for our trip to Aland. I'll try to post some about our trip as we travel around and see the sights, so long as we have some wifi available. Until then...