Stockholm & Åland

Sweden is the only Scandinavian country I´ve been to only once, back in 2009, so I was overdue for a second visit. My intentions were wrong – I was going to get access to the Algerian Embassy since the Stockholm mission handles Icelandic visa applications (we don’t have an Algerian embassy in Iceland, but to get a tourist visa you have to apply in your resident country, a perfect catch-22). What I didn’t know was that I´d fall in love with Stockholm in the four nights I had to stay there waiting for the visa processing.

Stockholms stadshus in Kungsholmen

I stayed in Gamla Stan, getting voluntarily lost in the old island-esque city center, and wandered the more modern streets of Norrmalm. I wined and dined with Scandinavia’s second best chef of 2009, eating at the Michelin restaurant Ekstedt. We were on the waiting list to get into the 3-star Frantzén, but no luck this time, which gives me a valid reason to go back a third time.

sunrise ferry time

We arrived on a Wednesday, just in time to apply before the embassy closed at 1pm, but they admitted it wouldn’t be ready by Friday and they´d open next on Monday. This sparked the possibility to squeeze in a weekend trip to Aland, a sort of sovereign country-state that’s outside of the EU, owned by Finland, but Swedish speaking.

picturesque Åland

I bought a ferry ticket for €2, return, with Viking line supposedly making profits off €1 tickets since passengers buy so much cheap booze and cigarettes from the technicality of leaving the EU. I couchsurfed two nights with a friendly Alander in Mariehamn who had a Finnish sauna in his apartment, and could walk anywhere and everywhere along the coast and an incredible network of pink trails. The roads were pink too – the granite used to make paths and streets are called red by the locals, but it was all very pretty in pink to me.

they´re pink, no?

The highest point of the island isn’t very high, at least not high enough to be called more than a hill, but what Aland didn’t have in highland they made up for in islands; countless islands, all shapes and sizes, with or without vegetation, and most, with cabins. My host explained that some were summer houses, vacation homes, and others, lived in all year. People arrived by private boat, and all had a Finnish sauna to warm up in after a dip in the sea, whatever season.

one of the many bustling food halls in Stockholm

I couchsurfed my last couple nights in Stockholm near Solvandan, sleeping in the loft of a top floor apartment where a ladder led me to my room I couldn´t quite stand up in. My host gave me a city bike card, so I had access to free bicycles to explore the city further. We found some live jazz, delicious risotto, and a wine bar whose goal is to cover their walls floor to ceiling with corks. Ill have to go back if/when the gets accomplished – yet another reason to visit Stockholm again.

Advertisements

Shippensburg, Pennsylvania to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I often find myself unexpectedly in Washington DC – my best from from college days Ursula lives there and there’s always an excuse to visit her. There are direct flights from Keflavik daily to Dulles and Baltimore, Maryland, and I had never realised how close Pennsylvania, New York, Virgina and Delaware all are to eachother in that corner of the states. The east coast is a confusing place geographically.

Shippensburg University Main Building

This time around, I was making a pilgrimage to Shippensburg – the university town my father studied for many years and met my mother back in the seventies. I was taking parts of him and his memories back to the few remaining friends I found there, retracing some of his footsteps and rediscovering a history I had never known.

the last of dad’s ashes left in Shippensburg

I stayed with Charles, a retired, 81-year old professor who met Einar through friends. He never taught him, but they became close and Einar lived in his house for a year and spent some time helping fix up the 19th century home in exchange for Charles’ help in buying his first car – a Ford Pinto. Charles still lives in the same street on North Earl Street, and I stayed in the same room my dad lived in nearly forty years ago. He described dad as a womanizer. A glutton that always wanted immediate gratification.

my gentlemen hosts

Charles is a historian plagued with short term memory loss, and I don’t think theres anything more ironic or confusing than being obsessed with history while losing your memory. He walked with a cane made from a ski pole, and always wore a hat outside after recently removing some cancer cells from his nose. He has catalogued every belonging in his home, with binders of inventory that describe the origin, worth and inheritance of each item. I inherited Dads inheritance – a beautiful clay pot from Mexico.

my father in the same house I stayed

We visited the Franklin science Center where my father took all of his biology and chemistry classes on campus. We drove to the address where he first lived in a trailer with my mother. The trailer is gone, but the address still existed on google maps. We went to the pubs he frequented. I visited the home where my parents were married in 1978. We went to dinner with his college buddies who shared stories of my father and mother, and lunch with the best man from their wedding John, whose wife is also suffering from short term memory loss and rediscovered the date of her own mothers death thru a letter I returned to John from 2006 that I found in dads office. They described dad as a charmer, never free of a cigarette or a beer in his hand.

a common sight in Shippensburg

After a whirlwind visit and a roller coaster of emotions, I dried the tears from laughter and sadness with a solo roadtrip thru Amish country. The peaceful scene of passing farms and horse drawn carriages made it feel like time travel, and Rehoboth Beach was worlds away from small town Shippensburg. I spent three days there, a stones throw from the sea, in Ursula’s beachhouse that her grandmother frequented back in the 1940’s.

oysters for happy hour

We were three ladies, the mandatory cute gay guy and two purse-dogs to accessorise the beach by day, and danced every night away back to the beach where skinny dipping was no big deal in the warmth of the darkness. Our diet was mostly a combination of beverages, and a gaggle of men was never far away at one of the bars, nightclubs or drag queen shows we spent the evenings.

old time selfie

It was nearly 30°c every day, I got a beach tan, verging on a burn, and took an old time photo of our group as an inter-racial group of bandits from the 1920´s. I cant imagine a better way to have ended the week, a perfect, mindless holiday to distract me from the realities of yesterday and tomorrow.