Scandinavia – Part 1 (Stockholm, Upsala & Visby)

Yes I am making generalizations having never been to Denmark. But let’s zoom in to Sweden to start with. When I was studying/working in Philadelphia, I used to fly the now non-existent Malaysian Airlines route: Newark-Arlanda-Kuala Lumpur. So I’d been to Stockholm many times but that was a lie. I never ventured outside the airport during my one hour layovers.
In 2009, the company transferred me across the Atlantic Ocean to London. Before we kicked things off in London, our team spent a week working in Stockholm. For the very reasons I’m writing this blog, I have forgotten many of the specific places we hung out at. All I remember are names of places Stureplan, Ostermalm and that we worked hard, and played hard.

December 2009, my lovely Swedish friend, otherwise known as Sara Davar, invited my brother (who was pursuing his masters at Upsala) and I to join her family for Christmas. Oh my, we were at her place for 3 whole days not leaving the flat once. From the time we arrived until we left, we maintained a consistent recurring schedule: Eat, drink Glögg, sit on couch, watch TV, converse. Mrs. Davar cooked the most amazing Christmas spread I’ve had in a looong time (See image on right), and Tina baked a ton of cookie houses. I don’t think they realized how much I was gawking at the cookie houses that decorated their apartment! Christmas at theirs was a great experience, simply because they were good fun to be around and I was introduced me to many delightful traditions.
Observation 1 – Swedes open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. Boxing Day? PFFfttt.
Observation 2 – They watch the same episode of DONALD DUCK every year on Christmas Eve! There is a tradition where the entire population (okay okay maybe 40% of the population, but it might as well be the entire nation) sits down in front of the TV and watches the show! This episode is otherwise known as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (“Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas”). If you’re interested in reading up on this, check out this blog post I came across 6 months ago >> http://www.slate.com/id/2239252/. This guy describes the whole experience so well.

Observation 3 – Glögg. It is a type of Swedish mulled wine. I watched in fascination as Mr. Davar heated a pot of red wine, stirring it with care. He then added raisins and almonds to it. I know I sound like an idiot since mulled wine is what a lot of European countries drink over Christmas, but back then, it was my first time experiencing Christmas in Europe.

Observation 4 – Pepparkakor. It is a traditional Swedish Christmas cookie but sold all year round. They are like thin gingerbread cookies. I think they come in all shapes, but is most commonly sold as heart shaped ginger snaps.

Thanks to the Davars for a great time!

Following Christmas at theirs, my brother and I went back to Upsala for a few days. One great memory I have of Upsala is biking in the snow! It took me awhile to get the hang of it, and trust me, I fell many times, once at the crossroads, in front of all these motorists. We then proceeded to Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic Sea! The funny thing is whenever I tell Swedes that I went to Gotland over winter, they give me funny looks. When we got there, we were the only foreigners brave enough to visit the island in the winter. Gotland is really more of the type of island that people escape to over the summer.
Nevertheless, we made our way around the island, and covered it quite well. Gotland is known for its 94 medievel church (image on left), many of which have been restored and in active use.
Now for the most part, we were in Visby, a municipality in Gotland and a very famous destination in the summer. One of the reasons my brother and I decided to visit Visby, was because it is a UNESCO site, and known as one of the best preserved medievel city in Scandinavia.

The 3.4 km city wall which encircles the city still remains and is quite a marvel to walk around.
So if you’re planning to visit Gotland, do try to go in the summer. It sure is beautiful in the winter, but it’s the sort of place where you’d want to bask in the sun and lay on the ground while soaking in the medievel scene around you…

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