A Travellerspoint blog

On to Budapest!

I may or may not have joined a cult...

sunny 70 °F

Woke up early this morning and had some nuts and some meat and cheese that I saved from last night to make for a quick start today. I showered (I may or may not have skipped a day) and was out the door in 10 minutes. I was still hungry so I grabbed a salad at the airport.
They had brilliant packaging for the salad dressing. No ripping off the top, just bend!

The Swedes are very fond of these tiny little shrimps. They’re also very fond of having one slice of bread (often pumpernickel or something brown) with some mayo, maybe a tomato slice then topped with little shrimp or salmon. This isn’t a great picture, but I didn’t think to take a picture earlier and this was my last chance!
Unfortunately, I would have loved to eat more in Sweden. Little shrimp and salmon are ALWAYS on the menu! Did I mention they love salmon? But as much as I love salmon, I wouldn't buy an entire salmon to eat AT THE AIRPORT!
Stockholm airport itself was great. The security check time might even have Rochester beat! Unfortunately, the plane was running late which cuts into my time in Budapest a bit. Once we finally got off the ground, the flight was pretty quick. I was actually pretty alert and decided to spend the two hours trying to catch up on my blog. During the times when I couldn’t use electronics, I read the inflight magazine, which informed me that Munich recently legalized nudity. Headed there in a few days...Watch out!
When I arrived in Budapest, it was about 1:30pm.

Immediately after stepping off the plane, I could sense a different vibe in Budapest. Whereas everything in Stockholm was clean, efficient and slick, Budapest is decidedly gritty in comparison. In Stockholm, I had noticed that most Swedes are very well kempt and almost uniform. The guys usually have their blonde hair slicked back and wear sport coats no matter the occasion. They could have just come from a GQ magazine. The women are almost invariable gorgeous (and I don’t even like blondes ;-)), also tend to have their hair pulled back to show their striking features and are in great shape. Everyone has perfect skin. Everyone seems to be well dressed. Combine that with the ultra modern rail system and social safety net that kept me from seeing a single beggar or homeless person the whole time I was there and it’s safe to say that Stockholm (and probably Sweden overall) is in it’s own little bubble. I didn’t fully recognize the extent of the uniformity until I stepped off the plane into Budapest. As I looked around at the people, I easily could have been getting off of a plane in Dallas or D.C. There were people of all shapes, sizes, styles and (hair) colors…still not a ton of ethnic diversity.

I’m always conscious of how I am perceived when I’m overseas. Am I an obvious American? In Sweden it seemed that I fit in pretty well. People spoke to me in Swedish and expected me to understand. I had two different people say “You’re not Swedish?” when their greetings were met with a look of confusion on my face. But now that I’m in Budapest, apparently I’m French. The airline employee directing passengers off the flight spoke a variety of languages as he sent us on our way and I’m almost sure he spoke to me in French.

I found the ticket office to get into center city and had to get a dual ticket with a bus to the train station and then a train into Budapest proper. When she quoted the price, my jaw dropped. It was 550 Forints. I had forgot to check the exchange rates and didn’t know how much that was, but I assumed it had to be at least $30. Oh well, I didn’t have much of a choice. (It turns out it was $2.50). I found my hostel, the Mandala, without too much trouble. On the way, there was this sweet bar with bars to lean against rather than seats...kind of a great idea!

I may or may not have joined a cult. When I got to the hostel, I had to take my shoes off at the door. There were a ton of pictures of the Dalai Lama as well as Indian and Chinese proverbs. Everybody was super nice. Like overly nice. Like that's probably how they get you to join. Scott who checked me in is from Australia and has been in Budapest for 8 months. Another guy, Yonnas?, is from Germany and has been traveling for years. Another guy, who may or may not be running the show, doesn't say much but is always sitting out on the porch with his dog. It seems like all but a few of the inhabitants “work” at the hostel in some capacity, whether checking people in or doing some vacuuming. Sort of seems like they bought an apartment in Budapest and figured they could open a hostel to pay for part of their rent. Here's the courtyard of the apartment building.

Scott was extremely nice and spent about 20 minutes with me drawing all over a map that he gave me showing me all the things to see. I was sort of blown away by his hospitality and/or cult recruitment campaign. He also directed me to the grocery store just down the block where I stopped quickly to grab some eggs, peppers and onions for breakfast in the morning as well as tuna fish and apples for a snack on the road. Other than the long-term occupants, I met Alex, who was a quirky kid from Chicago that seemed to think he knew everything there was to know about traveling. He means well, but boy is he chatty. He was not getting my hints as I kept trying to leave to explore Budapest as it was already close to 4pm!

Here’s my room:
Not a bad view out the window either!
Did I mention that this costs about $7 US per night? Quite a change from the high prices of Sweden!

Alex told me about how my next-door roommate, David, had been traveling for 2 years and was finally headed home in 2 weeks. Last week, his computer was stolen (before he got to Budapest) and along with it 2 years worth of photos disappeared. I was devastated just thinking about it. Here we had been upset about losing half of our two weeks worth of pictures and this kid lost all of his pictures from two years worth of traveling! I can’t even imagine. Alex also mentioned how much he loved the vibe at the hostel and how the reviews online were all so darn positive that he thought it was a cult. This did nothing to quiet my nagging suspicion…was Alex a plant? :-)

At long last, I escaped to hit the streets of Budapest. Budapest was actually two different cities, Buda on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east side. Don’t worry…I didn’t know that either until I consulted Arthur during my research last night. Interestingly, Buda is super hilly—almost mountainous—and has streets that wander every which way while Pest is entirely flat and has grid-like streets. Pest is the more downtown-type area while Buda has a lot of the castles and palaces from centuries past. Plus, with the giant hills, it provides great views of the city. Since the hostel is in the southeastern part of the city on the Pest side, I decided to cross the southernmost bridge onto the Buda side, wander north through the streets of Buda cross back into Pest on the northernmost bridge and the come back down through Pest. It was an ambitious plan. Probably too ambitious.

As I set out, I quickly noticed another difference from Sweden. While I was in Stockholm, NOBODY crossed the street unless the crosswalk sign said they could. A very compliant people, those Swedes. It didn’t matter if there weren’t cars for miles and some tumbleweed crossed the road while the theme from Gunsmoke played, they were not crossing. Being an apparently rebellious American, I got plenty of strange looks when I crossed as soon as I had an opening. Now in Budapest, people are still hesitant to cross without permission, but as soon as I’m halfway across the street and they realize that nobody from the KGB has come to tackle me and take me away, they follow suit. I’m sure that I’m over-generalizing, but its fun to try to draw larger cultural themes from these minute occurrences.

As I was about to cross the bridge, I accidently passed Central Market, which had been recommended by Arthur, so I decided to stop and take a look. The lower floors were lined with shops selling meat and produce and were filled with mostly locals. The upper floors had all kinds of tchotchkes, a few restaurants and was filled with tourists. The place was enormous.

Some of my favorite souvenirs were hand-painted, hallowed out eggs. How the hell do you get one of those home in one piece?
Every little stand had gulash. Apparently, they’re known for their Gulash in Hungary. I haven’t even heard the word gulash since probably the 4th grade lunch line and I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I hope the Hungarians have something authentic to offer that's a little more exciting.
Also, they are OBSESSED with paprika. It’s everywhere and on everything.
Another highlight were these Russian dolls. They had all kinds, but these were like the dolls of evil, with each successive doll being painted with the face of another world leader, each more evil than the last. Osama, Sadam, Castro and Gaddafi all made the list.
It’s actually very interesting…beginning with the Russian dolls and the endless line of sausage vendors, you can really see how Hungary has been shaped by its Russian neighbors to the east and German neighbors to the west.

After Central Market, I crossed the bridge. In the background you can see the Liberty Monument on top of Gellert Hill.
That was my next destination. The walk wasn’t as bad as I expected. In just 15 minutes or so, I was up to the top.
The view was more than worth the trip!

At the top of the hill, I bore witness to one of the creepiest events of my life. An Asian tourist must have never seen white people before, because after he snapped easily 100 pictures of the view, he started snapping them of people. I’m not talking the quick, discreet shot from far away. This guy literally walked up to two girls who were looking at a smartphone and must have taken 20 shots of them from less than 3 feet away. When I saw him take the first couple shots I thought that for some reason they asked him to take a picture of them on their phone, but by the time the 5th shot clicked and the girls started to anxiously laugh and nervously look at each other to say “is this really happening?” I realized just how awkward this situation was. Later, there was a guy sitting on a bench with his girlfriend and they were being pretty lovey-dovey. After the paparazzi man had his fill of the texting girls, he turned his attention to the couple. By the time he got his first few shots and got close enough that the girl saw what was going on, she jumped up, exasperated and squealed NO! and ran away. The Asian guy laughed and waved his hand as if to say that the girl was ridiculous. I reveled in the awkwardness of the whole situation. I had an urge to take a picture of the paparazzi and the irony of that urge was not lost on me.

Seemingly right next door to Gellert Hill was another hill filled with important looking buildings. Unfortunately, there was no way up that hill without first climbing down Gellert Hill. In between the two hills, I noticed several buildings that seemed to be a metaphor for Hungary’s history. These once great buildings were now in noticeable disrepair. Nevertheless, it gave an authenticity and charm to the place and matched the “grittiness” of its people.

Just a few blocks away from that picture as I began my ascent up Castle hill was what looked like a palace. It too showed signs of wear but was actually in the middle of a renovation.
This is a completely unfair comparison, but I had to laugh when I saw the little hut that this guy was in and mentally compared it to the huts of the soldiers guarding the palace in Stockholm.

Another picture I sort of manufactured to capture the grittiness of Budapest was this unbelievable mural at the base of Castle Hill. There happened to be a completely unrelated pile of paving stones nearby and if I got down low enough, I could get them in the same shot. Kinda neat.

Speaking of rubble, I was passing Budapest’s first and most famous bridge, the “Chain Bridge.”

There was a picture on the journey up the hill that showed the Chain Bridge destroyed at the end of WWII.

The top of Castle Hill is deceptively vast. First, here was the office of the president, with a proper guard’s hut to boot!

I also found St. Matthias’ Church, which had an absolutely beautiful roof covered in colored tiles.

By far the best of all was Fisherman’s Bastion.

It looked like a Disney castle and really inspired the imagination. Everywhere I looked, I literally couldn’t help but to fabricate backstories of the characters in the castle. This girl was looking for a prince as all Disney princesses seem to do.

The group of guys at the highest point of the castle were well dressed and must have been royalty. (later I found out it was a wedding party)

Fisherman’s bastion was really incredible and my timing to be there couldn’t have been better.

As I descended Castle Hill, I discovered that my camera memory card was full. I last bought a 16GB when I was in Germany so just over 1 year later and it’s full…that’s a lot of pictures! I had to delete a few errant shots so that I could keep snapping away as my journey was still less than half over! It was starting to get dark and I was starting to get hungry. It was probably 9pm by this point. I had had my apple and tuna fish a few hours early to tide me over, but the tide was turning. Things were pretty dead over on the Buda side. I figured that I would need to take out some cash for food so I stopped at an ATM. As a rule, I never exchange cash at the airport or with a person because you get absolutely destroyed on exchange rates. This ATM posted a fair rate (the smaller the difference between what they buy dollars for and what they sell dollars for, the better), so I stopped to grab some cash for the next couple of days. Big numbers hurt my brain. Apparently I’m a little out of practice on my math because I intended to take out 10,000 forints. Everything here is dirt cheap, plus I pay by credit card whenever possible, so 10,000 forints or about $45 would be plenty. Instead I clicked 100,000 forints and by the time I realized my mistake, I had $450 worth of funny money in my hand…ten 10,000 forint bills. I later learned that this is a tourist trap… and I fell hard. Apparently, the ATMs that have decent exchange rates get their money by taking advantage of the crazy exchange rate (and of people who can’t do math) by posting huge numbers as the defaults for taking out cash. The smallest was 50,000 ($225) and the largest was $250,000 (about $1,200)….who takes out that much cash from an ATM ever?

Anyways, I tried to distract myself from being pissed off at being the target of a tourist trap and found a street vendor selling gyros. Those giant hunks of meat on a vertical skewer that spins endlessly that you see at festivals are everywhere here. After filling my stomach, I was almost at the northern bridge when I caught a glimpse of the parliament building lighting up the night sky. Even though it was taking me back in the wrong direction, I couldn’t help but trek back south along the river to take a few shots. It was truly breathtaking.

After I made it back up to the bridge, it was almost 11pm and the US World Cup match was scheduled for 12am local time. Scott had mentioned a giant park about halfway down the Pest side that had several outdoor bars that had put up large screens for the World Cup, so I found it on the map he had given me and set my next destination, and bid the Buda side adieu. (But not before snapping a few more shots)

The bar did not disappoint and neither did the US team! A Clint Dempsey goal in the first minute! There was a great crowd there and I got to try a Hungarian wine. Pretty good contingent of USA supporters too!

At halftime, I saw that I still had a half hour walk back to the hostel and I was completely spent after waking up at 7am in Stockholm. Sure managed to cram a lot into an afternoon in Budapest! On my walk back, I saw this interesting bar with real grass?
Also, it must have been obvious that I had 100,000 Hungarian Forints burning a hole in my pocket because I definitely got solicited by a hooker. She walked past me and casually mumbled a few words that I didn’t understand and one I did (sex). I’m guessing she just said sex in a bunch of different languages. I kept walking.

When I got back to the hostel, there was luckily a few guys watching the game on their computer in the common room. Scott, Ryan (from Canada) and Chris (from Tennessee) were all good guys and we had a hell of a nail biter but somehow the Stars and Stripes managed to pull out the victory!

A few random cultural notes that I noticed before falling asleep…

In Europe, this counts as wheelchair accessible.
It was the same in Sweden too. I guess I understand that all these old buildings with stairways made of stone are kind of impossible to retrofit, but dang those ramps are steep!

Here’s everyone’s shoes that we have to take off at the door.
It seemed silly at first, but I must admit that it adds to the home-like atmosphere.

Finally, the toilets.
They are built with the drain in the front and a depression in the back where everything pools up. I’m sorry if this is gross but you can’t really tell about the pool if there’s nothing in it. This doesn’t make too much sense to me in terms of cleanliness. I haven’t tried it yet, but I can only imagine what happens when you have to poop.

With those visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, I’m off to bed!

Posted by atbrady 13:58 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest bridge hill castle hostel hungary mandala chain gellert Comments (0)

Last day exploring Stockholm

A Bird's Eye View, The Nordiska Museet and Skansen!

sunny 60 °F

After a rough sleep two nights ago, last night was glorious. I went to sleep around 9:30pm last night and 12 hours later I sprang out of bed. The downside of this hostel room is that there is no window to be woken up by the sunlight, but it was probably for the best because for 12 hours I never woke up to go to the bathroom or even just to roll over. Since the 35 year old guy and I were the only ones going to bed at 9pm and I left as soon as I woke up this morning, I never got to meet my hostel-mates that were all still asleep when I left. Anyways, the good night sleep did the trick, because while I still didn’t have an appetite, my achiness and general lethargy had disappeared. I brushed my teeth and hit the trail, but not before taking some time to ponder how badly I REALLY needed a haircut…

I had a pretty good walk ahead of me to the Kaknastornet TV tower, the largest building in Stockholm, for a bird’s eye view of the city. (When it’s shown as an arrow off the edge of the map, that usually counts as a good walk). Pretty much all I could stomach for breakfast were a few handfuls of nuts. Along the way, I passed the Hungarian Embassy (see you soon!) and also the US Embassy, which I had to laugh for using a twitter hashtag. Plus, you knew it was the US Embassy because there was a giant muddy jeep in the parking lot covered in stickers.

When I got to the base of the tower, I was confused when there was a door code and buzzer to call reception. When the guy was clearly confused, I figured I must be in the wrong place. Sure enough, that was the entrance for people that work in the tower. Around the corner was the tourist entrance and elevators directly to the 35 floor. The tower was built in 1964 and remarkably, the concrete form was cast in a mere 35 days!

It gave a pretty remarkable view of the city.
I even found some hidden treasures of Stockholm. Look, the Hammarbybacken “Ski Resort!” If you don't see too many Swedes winning gold in the downhill, this is probably why...
While I was up there, I was so enjoying the view that I thought I would stay awhile. Since it takes me forever to eat, I might as well enjoy it! I picked up a Caesar Salad at the little bar/restaurant and settled in to a comfy chair. It was still a struggle to eat, but at least this time I didn’t feel like I was struggling not to vomit. Progress!

After an enjoyable and relaxing time on top of the world, it was almost 11:30 and I had a whole day ahead! Again, I was trying to travel about a quarter mile as the crow flies, but had to walk at least a mile and a half just to get to the bridge to the Djurgarden and then walk another mile and a half back in the same direction once I was on the other side. I set off in that direction and along the way, decided that I would go to the Nordiska Museet on my way to Skansen. One of my favorite things to do in a country is to try to better understand their culture and Nordiska promised to do just that with “exhibitions on Swedish trends and traditions.”

It was a long walk, but there was plenty to see, not the least of which was this fast food burger chain, where each menu item lists it’s carbon footprint.
Sweden takes going green to a whole ‘nother level! The river was lined with restaurants with outdoor seating. The Nordiska museum building is beautiful in and of itself.
They also had a sweet audio guide system where you just pointed your wand at any stand and it started explaining the piece to you.

Inside, I was greeted by an enormous statue of Gustav Vassen (2997), the King that United Sweden. Also, they have ample stroller parking in case you were worried.
The first floor had a temporary exhibition. It was on stripes. As in lets take as many striped pieces of clothing from the last 500 years as we can find and put it all in one place, then try to explain how stripes and their meaning have evolved. Wow. I had to check my ticket and make sure I was in the right place. Suddenly I thought I might be getting to Skansen earlier than I had planned. I decided to press on, albeit with a little extra speed. In the permanent exhibition, I learned a whole lot about coffee. Apparently they really like it.

In 18th century it was fashionable for ladies to have each other over for tea. But there was a whole hell of a lot of rules you had to follow for etiquette. Such as that the oldest women should be served first, provided that she was married. Also, if you wanted to have a proper coffee party, you had to serve seven different kinds of biscuits and the guests had to have them all. BUT, when it was time to break out the biscuits, the guests had to decline three times before accepting them (even though it was pretty much assumed they were coming over for coffee and biscuits). They even listed the seven specific kinds of biscuits that were usually served. After listing them, the audio guide narrator asked “Did you notice that there was no cream cake served?” (Ummmm, no? I literally laughed out loud at the seeming absurdity of this question). Apparently, cream cake was not served until the 1920’s, just in case you’re baffled. I’m guessing cream cake is super popular with today’s Swedes?

FINALLY, after those shenanigans, I got to the part of the museum that I had been expecting all along and was glad that I didn’t call it quits. There was a pretty big exhibit on how the Swedes celebrate holidays. For St. Lucia, little boys dressed as biblical characters (especially the 3 wise men) and these “star boys” went to neighbor’s houses for toys and candy, like a christmasy-Halloween. On New Years, 4 shots were fired in each direction to ward off evil and were the precursor to today’s New Years Eve fireworks. On 12th night, Swedes held (hold?) a “tree plundering party,” where kids take the sweets and nuts off the tree to enjoy before the tree is tossed. And if you blame retailers for starting Christmas earlier every year, blame the Swedes instead! Swedes started getting ready at midsummer! They collect the midsummer flowers at their peak to dry to make wreaths, start fattening the pig, dry out the fish and of course brew the Christmas Ale, all before the days even start getting shorter! Fast forward to two days before Christmas, “Thomas Day” aka “Thomas Drunkard Day,” where they “test” the Christmas Ale. Until recently, Swedish children were brought up to believe in a “Christmas Goat” that brings their gifts. Check out this goofy sun of a gun.
Unfortunately, when Christmas got commercialized and mass-produced, they gave way to St. Nick. That must have been a tragic transition for kids of a certain age. On Christmas eve, they slept on the floor because they wanted to let their ancestors sleep in their beds and they ate black pudding and blood bread (both made with pigs blood) because, why not? On to other holidays…

Not sure if this is true about churches in the States, but Swedish churches have the baptismal font placed at the entrance to the church because the babies couldn’t go further into the church until they were baptized. Swedes celebrate their flag on the 6th of June. It is essentially their national day since they have no revolution to celebrate. On Easter, kids again do the Halloween routine, but this time dressed as proper witches. They’re called “Easter Crones.” But before we get to Easter, during lent, it is (was?) common practice to sneak into a neighbor’s house while he is still sleeping to smack him with twigs to remind him of Christ’s suffering. Sounds like the beginning of an epic prank war! During Holy Week, witches are said to be out on the prowl and you’re supposed to hide your brooms or anything else a witch might be able to use. Last but not least was midsummer. It turns out they weren’t just messing with us.
They picked wildflowers for their crowns and little girls had to find seven different kinds of wildflowers to put under their pillow which were supposed to help them to dream of their future husband. Plants picked on midsummer’s eve were said to have supernatural powers. And as icing on the cake, when they played a few samples of traditional midsummer songs, I recognized many of them from a few days ago.

There was also an interesting exhibit on the different customs of dress through the ages and even an evolution of the household, where during the era of Folkhemmet, which began in 1930 and guaranteed housing for all Swedish families. In 1920, Swedes had some the worst living conditions for the lower class and this housing was created and rent was set around one-fifth of an industrial worker’s pay. They even carried out studies to discover how a housewife used “her workspace,” creating the Household Research Institute to learn the best way to set up the house and especially the kitchen to maximize efficiency.

The final exhibit in the museum was about the Sami people who were indigenous to Sweden and have faced endless racism and persecution over the centuries much like Native Americans. For example, children were made to feel inferior and were forbidden to speak Sami with each other in Swedish schools. There are 80,000 Samis still around today in the Scandinavian countries, 20,000 of which reside in Sweden. As reindeer herders, they’re mostly found up north.
They have had several legal battles over the years over where their reindeer can pasture and where they can hunt and fish. More recently, all rights to reindeer herding operations have been given to the Sami, although only 10% of the Sami people are still involved in a “Siida,” the local groups assigned to the herding rights in different areas. Despite a slow start, the Nordiska Museet didn’t disappoint, but it was getting late in the afternoon and was time to head to Skansen!

It’s probably been a decade since I was at the Genesee Country Museum and I don’t fully remember what it is, but from what I do remember, Skansen is a giant version of that plus a Swedish Noah’s Ark. Essentially, there are buildings, plants and animals from all of Sweden crammed into a 75 acre, open air museum and zoo. When you first walk in, you can see artisans making and selling their wares using authentic tools and methods of days past.
At the bakery, I learned the deal about the bread disks that I’ve seen around Stockholm. Unleavened bread is a staple because in Northern Sweden, wheat could not be grown and only barley could ripen in the short summers. This thin barley bread could then be dried quickly and kept for a long time.
There are even farmers out chopping wood and tending fields in traditional ways. Beyond the actors, the buildings themselves are fantastic. Most were built elsewhere in Sweden and brought to Skansen to be preserved. Some of the buildings were so large and intricate that it was fascinating to imagine the engineering feat it would take to successfully make a move like that.
For example, this church was built in 1730 and somehow moved to Skansen in 1916. Today, it is one of the most popular churches in Sweden to get married.
(me and tower)
The Hallestad Belfy, at 40 meters high, was built in the 1730s and then donated by Parishoners after the rest of the church had been destroyed in a fire.
As I wandered around the property, I happened upon a folk dancing performance. (they really like this stuff!) It was clearly a family affair as there were older folks but also young children. This little boy was adorable.
Some of the dances were similar to the ones I had seen and others were new and different. It was neat to watch!

Later in my wanderings, I happened upon the Sami village. It was interesting to learn more about these people. In the early 20th century, there was government policy that “legalized” racism and discrimination towards them. In 1995, they created their own parliament to lobby on their behalf with the Swedish government and in 1998, they received a formal apology from the Swedish government. Unfortunately, I was there too late, because apparently there are Sami people here during the day time to show the typical tasks in a day in the life of their ancestors.

Here’s a traditional hut.
I thought this was just a sweet treehouse, but the nomadic Sami had to build these types of structures to keep dry wood and supplies because when they would leave an area and later return, animals were likely to get inside and the building was likely to be buried in snow if it wasn’t put on risers.

Not only was it an interesting museum, but since Skansen is on one of the highest hills in Stockholm, it provided great panoramas of the city to boot! Here’s a view of Gamla Stan!

For the first time in 48 hours, I was feeling “hunger” so I decided I had had enough and started my trek back to the exits. Along the way, I passed by several of the animals that are kept at Skansen because they are native to Scandinavia. My niece, Livia, knows more about animals than your average zoologist, so my goal was to find some animals she hadn't seen before and maybe even some fun facts that she didn’t already know. So here’s my best attempt…

Reindeer have antlers that are shed annually and its not just the boys, but also the girls that have antlers!

Only male Elks have antlers, while growing they are covered in “velvet” and when they stop growing, they scrape off the velvet on trees or on each other’s antlers. The calves in this picture are just a month old.

Seals have whiskers that can detect vibrations from the movement of fish from 180 meters. Unfortunately, seals almost became extinct in Sweden because they were seen as competition for fishermen and were readily killed.

Also, I couldn’t find the rabbit in its large pen, but rabbits don’t have voices, so their only way to warn each other of danger is to stomp their feet loudly.

By this point, I was just about the last person at Skansen and began the long trek home to the Anedin Hostel (on a boat!) in Gamla Stan. Though it was a long walk, I wasn’t complaining!

By the time I got to the hostel, I was starving! The plan was to throw my stuff down and head off to grab some grub. However, I noticed that it was around 10pm, which meant that it was 4pm back home and I could just imagine Tommy Boy firing up the grill at fathers day so I gave him a call on FaceTime and got to wish him a happy birthday as well as to say hello to the whole family, which was great. By the time I was done, it had started to rain. I looked up a couple restaurants and ventured out into lovely Gamla Stan. The upside of rain is that it makes for wonderful night pictures. I was a little bummed that my camera was dead and I only had my cellphone to use, but I got some good shots nonetheless.

I was (miraculously) able to find the restaurant very quickly. It was packed, which was a good sign, but they had stopped serving food. The bartender told me that virtually every restaurant stops serving food at 10pm, so I started to get desperate. I knew I had seen a few grocery stores on Gamla Stan in my previous wanderings with Tommy, but I doubted they would be open. Luckily, on my way to check I found a seven-11. I’ve never been so happy to find one in my life. I grabbed a sorry looking salad as well as some cold cuts (don’t ask me what the animal was because I spent 10 minutes trying to decipher the labels to no avail) and cheese. I headed back to the hostel and set up shop in the common area to eat, blog, plan for Budapest and watch some soccer matches. I would be astounded if I didn’t walk a marathon today. From 9am until 10pm, I never stopped moving. Even at an extremely slow 2mph, I’m at marathon distance. Needless to say, I’ll be happy to crash tonight and sit down for a few hours on the plane tomorrow.
According to Arthur, “Budapest is divided into 23 district, called kerulets…many street names are often used repeatedly in different kerulets, but are not all continuations of the same street. This makes it very important to know which kerulet a certain address is in. You will also need to pay attention to the type of street. Is it utca, ut, ter or tere?” Oh boy…this will be fun!

I was up really late. It is extremely hard to adjust to such a late sunset. I climbed into my bed and set two alarms…One for 7am to catch a 10am flight, and the other for 3am because I really want to see what a 3am sunrise looks like. All I had to do was look out my porthole to get this view!

Posted by atbrady 11:47 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm sweden skansen nordiska museet Comments (0)

Back to Flying Solo...

sunny 60 °F

I tossed and turned all night, waking up alternating between dripping sweat and shivering cold. I had hoped that the sleep would improve my symptoms and didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. We headed downstairs for what looked like a great breakfast buffet, but as soon as I smelled the food I knew that eating would be a struggle. I could have had salmon, eggs and bacon for breakfast, but could only manage about a bite of salmon and the equivalent of maybe one egg. I even missed out on this vinyl album-shaped dry bread disk that seems popular in Sweden. No bueno.
I was achier than an old man and moving quite slowly. After being awake for a half hour or so it became clear that today would be much worse than yesterday. Tommy had to head to the train station to get to the airport and get home in time for Dad’s Day. We found out that checkout wasn’t until noon, so I decided that I would walk with him to the train station, then come back and nap for an hour and a half before trying to start my day. I slipped a Father’s Day card in his suitcase before we left and then was able to send him off with my carry on bag…just me and my backpack for the next 10 days! It was sad to see him go and to know that I would miss a Father’s Day pool party with the family tomorrow. I went back to the hotel, set an alarm for 11:45am and immediately crashed. When I woke up, I quickly scanned through Frommer’s to see what there was to do in Sweden. There was a changing of the guard at the palace at noon and I knew it wasn’t far of a walk, so I figured that would be a good way to start the day.

The ceremony was actually quite impressive. There was the typical marching and pomp and circumstance, but the best part was the marching? band that came in on horseback. They all have to learn to play their instruments with one hand and also how to ride a horse with one hand, the exception being the drummer, who must learn to control the horse with just his feet!
Guards have been on watch at this palace since 1523, which is just mind-boggling.

After the changing of the guard, on Arthur’s recommendation, I decided to head for Stockholm’s top museum, the Vasa Museum. While joining the mass exodus from the palace, I saw a little steel drum-type band
AND this sweet stroller, cobblestone-edition with little baby shocks!

The Vasa museum was quite a hike from Gamla Stan. It was a bit chilly but a great day for a walk in the sunshine. Unfortunately, I was feeling lethargic and every muscle in my body ached as if I had run a marathon yesterday. I wasn’t moving too fast and had to stop to sit down several times. I felt like I was 85. The scenery was beautiful though. I was almost exclusively walking down the promenades on the edge of the water until finally getting to the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa was built in Stockholm, but never made it too far, sinking in 32 meters of water in the Stockholm shipping channel on August 10th, 1628. It is believed that it was built too tall and narrow and didn’t have enough stability. For centuries, Stockholm’s waste was dumped directly into the water. Ironically, this created a low oxygen environment that killed the fishies, but preserved Vasa because the fungi and bacteria that decompose the wood couldn’t survive either. Additionally, the many shipwrecks of the Baltic Sea tend to be well preserved due to the uniquely low salinity of the water, which will not support “shipworms,” the mollusks that eat wood when it is submerged in saltwater.

The vasa was sunk under mud and clay that came up to the lower gun deck. In 1957, to raise her, Navy divers had to go down to drill underneath her in half-hour shifts because the water was so cold at that depth. After they had dug 3 tunnels and passed two 6 inch steel cables through each tunnel, they we able to begin to raise what was (underestimated to be) 700 ton behemoth. It was finally brought out of the water to dry in 1961. For those doing the math, that means 333 years under water. It took 9 years for Vasa to dry. During that time, it lost 500 tons of water weight. They also pioneered several new methods for preserving this kind of wood.
In addition to the facts about the boat itself, the museum catalogued some interesting stories of what some of the 133 people who died when Vasa sunk may have looked like (using reconstructions of their skeletons) and what the life of a sailor was like in the 16th century.

According to Arthur’s “What to do in one day in Stockholm,” I had already checked out the Vasa museum as well and evening wandering Gamla Stan with Tommy last night. The only thing left was to visit the Skansen, Sweden’s open air museum. By now it was 5pm, but Arthur said Skansen was open until 10pm, so I thought that I had somehow managed to fit it all in despite a late start and a slow pace. I laughed comparing how much I usually cram into a day of traveling compared to the level of activity recommended in the book. Skansen was on the same island as Vasa and it wasn’t too bad of a walk. When I got there, however, I saw that although the park itself was open until 10pm, many of the attractions closed down around 5pm and since the price was steep, I decided I would rather get the full experience tomorrow. As I embarked on the long trek back to Gamla Stan, I realized that since lunch around noon yesterday it had been 30 hours and the only food I had consumed was probably 100 calories worth of scrambled egg and salmon at breakfast. That didn’t seem too sustainable so I stopped at this quaint little restaurant to attempt to eat. I tried to find something that would be as bland as possible for my stomach and settled on salad with ham and cheese. With the laid back, family atmosphere of the place, I was astounded when the salad came back looking this pretty.

As pretty as it was, I had to force myself to eat it. In a normal sitting, it would probably take me 3 of these salads to get filled up and I would have all three plates cleaned in 20 minutes flat. But instead, I sat at this restaurant for 45 minutes willing myself through every bite. As I left the restaurant, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to find out where I was sleeping tonight. I had planned to go back to the lobby of the Victory Hotel to use their wifi, but Gamla stan was a good 2-3 mile walk from Djurgarden (the island that Vasa and Skansen are on), despite being barely a quarter mile as the crow flies. I saw on my map a mall that advertised free wifi, so I walked there instead. It turns out that this must be a popular time to visit Stockholm. According to booking.com, 98% of the available rooms in all of Stockholm were filled (in comparison, it’s about 50% in the other cities I’m visiting). Since there was slim pickings and hotels are already expensive here, I decided to expand my search to hostels. I can sleep through anything, so hostel sleeping doesn’t phase me, plus I enjoy the vibe at most hostels, with lots of fellow travelers that are mostly friendly and welcoming. You can even pick up some advice on what things are must sees in that city or even some stories of other great places they have been (this can be dangerous, because as soon as you think you’ve seen enough of a country or region, you’ll hear a story that you can’t help but mentally add to your list of future destinations). Anyways, I found a cheap hostel, the “City Hostel” and it was pretty close not only to the mall, but closer to tomorrow’s activities than Gamla Stan. So for about $50, my problem was solved and I headed over there. The hostel had some neat security features. Not only was there a door code, but the door handle to each individual dorm room had its own keypad built in.
As I walked in, as soon as I wondered whether I was getting too old for this, I was shown to my room and opened the door to see the only other roommate currently in our room who had to be 35 easy. Top bunk! Luckily, there is a pretty good sized rail to keep me from making the 5 foot plunge to the floor. I sat in bed and booked a place for tomorrow night. Nothing wrong with this hostel, but it wasn’t anything special and I really wanted to get a chance to sleep on a boat (since that didn’t work out last time around), so I booked a room at the Anedin Hostel, which is a Hostel-boat on the shores of Gamla Stan, which will give me an excuse to explore it’s streets one last time tomorrow night. I plugged in my phone and computer for charging, put them under my pillow, took a few minutes to plan my day tomorrow and zonked out.

Posted by atbrady 11:32 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm the of sweden hostel guard changing vasa Comments (0)

Finally in Stockholm!

A mini adventure with Tommy

sunny 55 °F

After the conference was over at 5, Tommy and I grabbed a taxi to head into central Stockholm. The highlight of the ride was driving past the summer palace of the Swedish Royal Family, where they can apparently be seen strolling along the lake (surrounded by several police officers of course!)

Our cab driver dropped us off on the edge of Gamla Stan (Old Town), and island at the heart of Stockholm. When I say the edge, I really mean THE EDGE because our hotel was a boat that was docked permanently and turned into a hotel. I had not been able to reach them by phone before we left the conference center, although it showed online that they had rooms available. Plus, as I searched online, there were several boat hotels in Stockholm so it seemed like the thing to do. When we got there however, the gentleman at the reception desk informed us that they did not in fact have any rooms available. Luckily he was quite kind and helpful and called around to a few hotels that were reputable and in a similar price range (~$150/night). The second one he tried was the Lord Byron, who didn’t have any available rooms but transferred him over to their sister hotel, the Victory, where there were rooms available. We were fortunate to get this hotel right in the heart of Gamla Stan, plus it was just a 5 minute walk from the boat hotel. When we walked into the hotel, there was a ton of old boating and sailing memorabilia and I was pretty quick to figure out that this “sister” hotel was the fancy, jewelry-adorned, much more expensive sister. Oh boy. At this point, we didn’t have many options and bit the bullet.

Ever since lunch, I was feeling a bit queasy and it eventually became clear that I was coming down with whatever Tommy had during most of the conference that made him achy, tired and unable to eat. My stomach felt pretty awful and I couldn’t think about eating, which I can’t remember ever happening before. Regardless, we put down our things and ventured out into Gamla Stan, zig-zagging through the many picturesque cobblestone streets and passing cute little restaurants (the smell of which made my stomach feel even worse).
We climbed the ramp toward the Palace?? and even got Tommy a picture with the Guard, who had an almost imperceptible cobblestone circle around him, but made it very clear when Tommy stepped too close to the line.

After a walk over the bridge to get a view of the palace and beautiful Gamla Stan, we headed back towards our hotel. Since I wasn’t up for eating, Tommy grabbed a pizza and we headed back to our room to “watch” the World Cup matches. I went to sleep almost immediately.

Posted by atbrady 10:25 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm sweden Comments (0)

Barret Values Conference 2014!

sunny 70 °F

The conference itself was enjoyable and well worth the trip. The three days were each organized around themes of transformation, beginning with personal transformation, followed by organizational transformation and then societal transformation on the final day. A few takeaways:

First, I was absolutely fascinated by this graph. It plots values in different countries based on where they fall in the spectrum of survival vs. self-expression values and traditional vs. secular-rational values. It is very interesting to see how a common history or common language keeps countries grouped together. I definitely want to look deeper into this.

In the afternoon, there was a breakout that seemed to have been tailor made for yours truly. It was at the intersection of brain science and positive psychology, about how some of the ways our brain is wired can influence our ability to flourish. Needless to say I couldn’t get enough. I definitely need to follow up with that guy.

That night, we had a midsummer celebration (one week early). The Swedish students attending the conference got a deeply discounted ticket by agreeing to host a traditional Swedish midsummer celebration. We made our own (crowns?) from (birch?) and adorned them with flowers.


They even brought in an authentic folk dancing troupe (complete with accordion accompaniment) to show us some traditional Swedish dances. Each member wore a costume that comes from their place of origin within Sweden. The men’s knickers were even made of elk hide!

Inevitably, they got us all to join in on some much simpler dances that mostly consisted of dancing around in circles holding hands.
Lest I think this was simply a re-creation of a bygone era, once we started the dances that we all participated in, the Swedes knew all the words to the songs. Apparently these dances (though not the ones the troupe entertained us with) are still popular at midsummer celebrations, especially among children. The wreaths and Maypole are a real thing too!

For day 2 on organizational transformation, it felt like we were at a Conscious Capitalism conference. There was a story of how the coach of the Swedish National Women’s Golf Team took a values-based approach to transforming the culture as well as a presentation that—save for a few different acronyms—was remarkably similar if not identical to Firms of Endearment. After a break, there was an inspiring talk from (Alan?) who runs the non-profit (??) based on the principle of “Buy One Give One,” where he helps businesses to partner with non-profits to provide life-changing resources for each unit sold of their products. For example, imagine how you would feel leaving the doctors office with a thank you note that says your visit helped to pay for a child to go to a clinic in Nigeria or a thank you for attending a training because it helped to pay for a month’s worth of school for a child in Haiti? Tim Kelley also gave a presentation on how organizations need to stop putting a band-aid on hierarchy and instead need a complete overhaul on the way that they are organized if they truly want to achieve their higher purpose. It was an especially compelling keynote, so I continued on for his breakout later in the afternoon. I also attended a fascinating breakout detailing case-studies of municipalities in Sweden using the Cultural Transformation Tools on their entire city government and community. It was truly exhilarating and made me wonder how such an initiative could be implemented in the States.

Day 3 on societal transformation was perhaps the most mind-expanding of all, probably because it was the area that I have the least exposure to. There was an interesting talk on “Positive Policing” which, like it sounds, is related to Positive Psychology such as giving positive tickets to encourage an increase in good behavior rather than punishing the bad behavior. He also discussed the ways they have been trying to get people to see the police as “on their side” to promote people not wanting to break the law rather than just trying to avoid getting caught.

Posted by atbrady 10:15 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm sweden values barrett Comments (0)

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