day 8 down under: the blue mountains, cable cars, koalas, and a harbour cruise

June 24th, 2017

I woke up early on Saturday morning to walk to the nearby Marriott Sydney Harbour to catch my tour bus for the day by 7:45.  I had booked a full day tour of Sydney’s Blue Mountains using Viator on recommendation from my coworker who had been here before.  It was about $140 for the day but it included everything I wanted and more!  There was a packed itinerary but I was so excited to get started!

It was a small group tour so there were only 16 of us in total.  Our tour guide, Andy, was hands down the best guide I’ve ever had!  He was hilarious—reminded me of a slightly calmer Robin Williams in his story telling and cadence.  He pulled up to the hotel and there were heaps of us standing around. “I am looking for one lucky guest… Kara!”  I raised my hand and he welcomed me warmly to the bus where I was the last to be scooped up.  The bus was small but perfect for the day.

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Andy told us our first stop of the day was to be in a little town called Leura at the top of the Blue Mountains.  It would take just over 2 hours to get there so we were stopping for morning tea at a café called Loaves and Dishes in Leura.  There was a big festival going on that weekend, he said, so he phoned in our tea orders and off we went.

During the two hour drive, we were told stories ranging from the history of everything we passed, funny anecdotes about Aussie politics, environmental impacts of their reliance on coal, the reasoning behind the names of all of the places we were seeing (mostly Aboriginal), and we also learned that Andy is a Kiwi from New Zealand but he lives in the Blue Mountains and knows them intimately.  He also went above and beyond and had researched an interesting short documentary on the settlement of Sydney and checked it out from the local library for us to watch “on the boring bits of motorway”.  It was fascinating to hear how it turned from a penal colony first sailed to in 1788, to the building of the Harbour Bridge to keep unemployed men off the streets in the global depression, to today where it is pushing to be a real international capital city.

We passed through some adorable old towns along the way.  Most were named for some of the very first explorers to go over the Blue Mountains to find farming land, like Lawson and Wentworth.

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We entered the Blue Mountains and Andy started to point out the flora and fauna around us.  The gum tree, although not initially the most beautiful tree, makes up 90% of the foliage in the Blue Mountains and is an incredibly important tree in Australia.  Koalas, for example, dine exclusively on various types of gum trees.  He also told us about the leaves of a gum tree: they hang vertically (which was of great surprise to early botanists who had only seen horizontal leaves!).  They also have oils within the leaves that absorb most light but reflect the blue on the ultraviolet scale, thus making the mountains seem blue.  So cool!

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We arrived in Leura around 10:15 and all went in to Loaves and Dishes where our tea was waiting for us.  I had ordered the banana bread, which was lightly toasted with a pat of Aussie butter on top.  I also ordered a flat white to drink which is similar to a latte.  There was an empty chair at my table so Andy sat down and the two of us became fast friends.  We had until 11:45 to eat and wander around the shops and markets in Leura, but Andy and I talked until at least 11:30 like old friends!

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I walked around for the last 15 minutes and visited a few shops that were selling local items.  I picked up some gifts for friends and family and then hopped back on the bus.  Our next stop was Scenic World about 20 minutes away.

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Scenic World is set in the heart of the Blue Mountains and has four activities in total for guests to adventure along.  It is owned by a private family who simply have a license to operate in the mountains but everything is beautiful preserved.  It was originally the site of a working coal mine which Andy told us we would be seeing later.

As an idea of how the entire park looked, here is a map of Scenic World (borrowed from this site).  Just LOOK how steep the railway is…

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When we arrived, Andy told us that we were going to take the Scenic Skyway car across the Jamison Valley and he would drive the coach around and meet us on the other side.  The Scenic Skyway is a fairly large cable car that whisks you over the valley and is really beautiful to experience—if not slightly terrifying!

Check out the cable car (photo from the Scenic World website here)

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The Skyway took about 5 minutes in total and we got our wristbands on the other side.  We had the chance to take some pictures at a breathtaking spot at the tippy top of the mountains.  Just, wow.

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Once we all had pictures, Andy told us the story of an important rock formation behind us called the “Three Sisters”.  If you’d like to read more about it, click here, otherwise here is a retelling of the version of the legend I was told.  The legend of the Three Sisters is an Aboriginal legend involving a medicine man and his three daughters.  Some warriors from another village wanted to marry his daughters, Meehi, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, but it was forbidden.  On the day they came to take the girls, the medicine man turned them in to three rock formations on the edge of a cliff to keep them safe using his magic bone.  The warriors came to find the medicine man but he had turned himself in to a Lyre bird as a disguise.  But in the bustle, the medicine man lost his magic bone.  To this day, the three sisters sit as pillars of rock and the medicine man still a lyre bird.  The legend goes, if you see a lyre bird in the forest, it’s the medicine man still and forever looking for his magic bone.

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To get down in to the deciduous rainforest in the Blue Mountains, we took the Scenic Cableway which dove over the edge of the cliff and down to the forest floor.  It was incredibly steep and I was able to get a spot at the very front to experience the drop!  Check out the video below and listen to the reaction of those in the car with me 😊

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At the bottom, Andy invited us to go on a nature walk through the rainforest.  There were a few paths but I went for the longest of them all and was in awe of the beauty of the forest.  There were trees everywhere, deep and green and lush, and the weather was a tad crisp which added to the fresh air all around.  Most of the trees we saw were gum trees, but there were also some fern trees which looked like palms from a distance, and snarling knots of tangled roots and vines everywhere.

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Andy told us to look out for the Lyrebird which resembles a female peacock but is half the size.  It has long feathers out the back but is not very colorful.  He said he sees them a little under 50% of the time he is in the mountains on a tour, but knows when they are near because they mimic the sounds of anything around them.  Lyrebirds know upwards of 20 bird calls and do them in succession to see if anyone of interest is around.

About 10 minutes after telling us about the Lyrebird, someone spotted one!  It was small and not easy to see, but it sang and sang its bird songs.  It was amazing to hear how many it knew!  I managed to get a small video of its singing.  We sat and watched it for a solid 5 minutes before it scurried off to find its match.  What a rare and special treat!

We kept on the walk and came across a small pavilion.  We all stopped for a few moments of silence, taking in the sounds of nature around us peacefully.  I had to get a picture with the best tour guide ever!

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We then found a waterfall and started to see remnants from the old coal mining days.  They didn’t have to dig far to find the coal layer!

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The way back to the top of the mountain was by riding the… wait for it… steepest railway in the world.  We boarded a small car with rows of seats that went up at a 62 degree incline.  Holy crap.  I accidentally was at the head of the pack and got put in the first car— thrill seekers be warned!  This was intense!  We were looking straight down as this car pulled us at an incredible angle up the mountains.  “The coal never seemed to mind so you shouldn’t either!”  Andy said, laughing!

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Safe and sound at the top and needing a stiff drink, I boarded the coach again and we were off to the Conservation Hut for lunch, about 15 minutes from Scenic World.  It was a beautiful little cottage nestled in the mountains and I had bolognese and a long black and a much needed rest.

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With a few minutes to spare, I walked out on the veranda to get a good look at the mountains, and I was met face to face with a kookaburra!  It stared at me, I stared at it, and we just looked at each other for a few minutes in awe.  “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” sure is accurate!

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The last official stop on the tour was the one I was looking forward to the most the wildlife park! We were in for an afternoon of interacting (read: HUGGING) koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats… you name it.  It was an hour back towards Sydney so we trucked along making our way.  On the way, Andy introduced us to an Aboriginal/contemporary musician named Xavier Rudd.  He played 6 or 7 songs and they were so good!  We mused that he sounded a little Paul Simon with a didgeridoo.  When he comes to Sydney, he sells out the Opera House!  I loved the music and bought his album when I got home that night.

We arrived at Featherdale Wildlife Park and had an hour and a half to play with the animals with a deadline back on the bus by 4:30.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  I jetted in the park and made a beeline for the koalas.  There was a law passed 4 or 5 years ago banning people from physically HOLDING a koala (dreams of hugging dashed…) but I was able to add on “koala encounter” for a few dollars extra.  This got me up close and personal with my new Aussie boyfriend, Victor the Koala, and a picture commemorating the event!  Victor happily munched on eucalyptus the whole time I patted his little legs.  SO CUTE.

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After the koalas and my excitement had been curbed, I went to see the wombats (big, fat, furry things).  But then it was time for the kangaroos.  AHH.  There was a big enclosure where tons of wallabies (smaller kangaroo looking animals) and real roos were hopping about looking for food.  You could get a cup and feed them from your hands while they looked longingly at you AND IT WAS THE BEST. Their claws look sharp but they are actually very gentle and sweet little guys!

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The Little Penguins were getting fed next and their tiny blue bodies waddled around their paddock while the adorable keeper fed them small baitfish (head first so the scales stay flat!).

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I actually follow Featherdale Wildlife Park on Instagram and knew that they had a fresh round of 8 week old DINGO PUPPIES which were the cutest balls of fluff you could imagine!  They really just looked like domesticated dog puppies but there were 9 males in total.  They rolled and wrestled and fought over a bit of food and were generally in great spirits.

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Finally, we saw a Tasmanian Devil.  These little guys patrol their territories so much that they work a track around the outside of it.  They are incredibly endangered, close to extinction, because most are infected with a terrible eczema that causes a disease and they die within 90 days.  There were two brothers who had been rescued here at the park and it was feeding time!  The devil I saw got a huge egg and worked for a good 10 minutes to get all the good stuff out.  We heard a brief story of how they got their names from the keeper: the Tazzie Devils make a horrid screeching sound when they are threatened and the tips of their ears change color and turn bright red.  The Englishmen long ago encountered a Tazzie and in the dark all the could see was a dark figure with flaming red ears screaming at them— they thought it was the devil incarnate!

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We ran out of time at Featherdale but I could have spent another 10 days there with the animals!  But, as Andy said, “we have a boat to catch”.  Off we went back in to Sydney for the harbor cruise.  We made good time back to the city (Sydney traffic is unpredictable), so Andy took us around the 2000 Sydney Olympic sites.  He had come over to Australia himself in 1999 for the Olympics and never left!

Finally we arrived at the ferry and Andy bid us goodbye.  What a difference he made.  The tour felt like the best family and friends together enjoying the day!  The harbor cruise was meant to take us back to Sydney by boat.  It was large and fit a 5 large tour groups plus our small group onboard.  Andy told us to make our ways to the left side of the boat for the best views (he has all the tips!) so I did just that.

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It was sunset when we launched so we enjoyed the sunset over the quadrillion dollar houses lining the shore all the way to Sydney Harbour. Everything was lit up and just gorgeous in the sunset.

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I snapped some shots of the bridge and the Opera House on the way in.  It was like I had front row seats!  What a way to cap of the day!

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It was 7PM when we docked and the tour was over.  I grabbed a chicken katsu burger at The Burger Project at Circular Quay on recommendation from one of my students that I taught in Canberra.  It was really good!

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I finally made my way back to my hotel and crashed on the bed.  It had been an incredibly long and busy day, but every single thing about it was spectacular.  I couldn’t have planned a better day in Sydney!

days 5, 6 & 7 down under: fine dining in Canberra and an unexpected bus ride through the countryside

June 21st, 2017

On Wednesday I had new students come in to my course and they were a super lively crew!  There were more of them this time and they had big personalities which made the day fun.  As usual, we ate through the day: scones in the morning, hot lunch in the middle of the day, and afternoon tea.

After work Wednesday was the first time since I arrived in Oz that I didn’t have plans after work, and I wasn’t bothered by it at all!  I had some work to catch up on, blog posts overdue to write, and a restaurant downstairs that came recommended by locals.

It was called Lilo Tang, a contemporary Japanese restaurant at the base of my hotel. Unfortunately their tasting menu, which looked delicious, was for a minimum of two people so I had to order from the a la carte menu.  I was a little disappointed in the selection but was able to find some interesting options.  Everything was done by small plate so I ordered three for my meal.

I started with the chicken and pork belly yakitori skewers.  These were delicious but such a tiny portion.  There was no hope for sharing that dish and it seemed like a tease for even one person.

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I then ordered Japanese sauteed vegetables which were small broccoli and greens topped with bonito flakes that almost danced as they melted with the steam of the vegetables.  Very tasty.

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The best (and special) appetizer of the evening: waygu beef with burrata cheese.  The burrata just melted on the plate without needing any heat at all.  The waygu was fall apart tender.  That was a delicious plate.

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I went back up to my room at the end of the meal still slightly hungry but satisfied for certain.

June 22nd, 2017

I woke up Thursday morning and decided to get breakfast at the hotel.  It was quite pricey but worth it– it was a proper Aussie breakfast, complete with a little vegemite!  The breakfast is served on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the city of Canberra as it wakes up and the fog rolls over the treetops.

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My last day of the course was the best one of all.  We even ended the day with hugs, exchanging of information so we could get together again, and a very happy instructor!

As a last hurrah in Canberra, my coworker had planned a nice meal out at Akiba, a posh yet hipster small-plate Japanese restaurant in the city center.  Darcy had talked about this for the entire time I’d been in Oz, and most of my other coworkers who had made the trip were also treated to the delight that was Akiba.

We arrived Thursday night and Darcy and his wife, plus Nick, Ale and Rafaela joined as well.  We sat outside under heaters at a nice long table.  I was beyond excited for all of the food I was about to enjoy and almost laughed out loud when I read the first option on the menu: “Just Feed Me”.  This was the chefs choice of their 8 most popular dishes so we didn’t have to go about choosing one by one.  I was SO down for that!

I also saw that they had SOMERSBY!  I hadn’t had any since Sweden and I missed it, so of course I had to order myself a bottle.  Tastes like home.

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There are way too many dishes to name and show, but I will point out the ones in the Just Feed Me from the menu above:

  • Kingfish sashimi (very tasty)
  • Pork belly bun (**OMGOMG THIS**)
  • Prawn and chicken dumplings (very tasty)
  • Kimchi pancake (the only of 8 that I didn’t care for)
  • King prawn fried rice (this was really delicious)
  • Beef short rib (totally fall off the bone tender, mmm)
  • Chinese broccoli (a little strongly seasoned but good)
  • Lemon tofu cheesecake (super good!)

Pardon the quality of some of the following pictures– I was hungry!!

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The meal was insanity.  So good, so creative, so filling.  Its a MUST VISIT on your next trip to Canberra! :)

June 23rd, 2017

I got up at the crack of dawn to check out of my hotel and make it to the airport by 6AM.  My flight was scheduled for 8AM but I got there early enough that they got me on an earlier flight.  Sweet!  Except… there was a lot of fog.  A LOT.  It had been foggy most mornings that week, but it usually burned off by 8 and there wasn’t an issue.  Not Friday morning.

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I got a flat white and a muffin and settled in, not knowing what the weather would do to flights out of Canberra.

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There were 5 flights leaving from Canberra to Sydney before noon, and only the very first one got out.  The rest of us were delayed over and over for three hours and then cancelled completely, but no one told us the flights were cancelled.  One woman happened to check online and it had been cancelled for over 45 minutes, but no one at the airport knew.  I desperately wanted to lay down and take a nap on these big, soft pillows….

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I know weather is not anyone’s fault, and for two solid hours no flights were departing OR landing in Canberra, but it was still a huge bummer.  I was just feeling so lucky that this flight was the short one to get me started on holiday in Sydney, not the one taking me to a connecting flight.  Most people missed connections and one woman missed her cruise which left from Sydney Harbour that afternoon at 2PM.

Only those who threw an absolute temper tantrum got rebooked on flights, but not everyone could because those afternoon flights were still on as scheduled.  Instead, the answer from Qantas was: you shall take the bus.  I’m thankful that there WAS a bus option because Sydney is just over a 3 hour drive from Canberra.  But by the time we finally got buses arranged, retrieve our checked bags which were on planes that weren’t going anywhere, and physically load up, it was already 1:30 in the afternoon.  I had wasted 6.5 hours already.  Qantas gave us some water and provided “catering” for the drive.

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On the bright side, I made a few more Aussie friends and we made it safely to Sydney by 5PM.  The drive through the bush was really pretty so it certainly could have been worse.  I lost an entire day (of 3) that I had to explore Sydney but I was better off than some other travelers for sure.

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When I finally arrived in Sydney, I took the Link train to the center of the city and found my hotel. It was a quick train and saved me quite a bit of time (and money!) than taking a taxi or an Uber from the airport.  Looks a little like DC traffic here!

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I stayed at the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel which was nice but too expensive for a low maintenance traveler like me.  Unfortunately I was put on the first floor with the “view” of a nasty parking lot.  But I didn’t spend much time in the room anyway so it wasn’t a huge deal.

I decided to drop my stuff and go walk around Circular Quay, one of their downtown areas on the water with several wharfs and tons of things to see.  I had lost all light at that point as sun had set about 5 but I was able to get some beautiful shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House all lit up at night.

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I found dinner at a small Thai resto inside of the Gateway which is an indoors restaurant area.  It was called Chat Thai, and it had some decent food for reasonable prices.  I got my classic, Pad See Ew, and a Napoleone pear cider. The cider was delicious!  But absolutely nothing beats Somersby so… 😊

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I had a huge full day planned for Saturday, so even though I got to Sydney one week later in my vacation than I had anticipated, I was still confident I could see everything I wanted to see.

Stay tuned for a monster post about the Blue Mountains!

en dag i Mariefred: en charmig stad på Mälaren

June 18th, 2014: We woke up fairly early on Wednesday with a a few things to do before heading out to Mariefred.  I showered while waiting for Sara and David to head to the flat and came out to find David making one of my favorite things in the world: Scandinavian breakfast. We buttered crisp bread, layered on thin slices of cheese, “guest quality” ham (haha we don’t know why it was called that!), cucumber sliced with a cheese slicer, and hard-boiled eggs.  It was deeeeelicious. IMG_4545 Next on our list was to stop by Vuxenskolan and UISS, our language school from last summer, and say hi to all of our old teachers and assistants.  I had emailed the director, Nelleke, a few weeks ago hoping we could snag a spot on the bus out to Hammarskog for Midsommar on Friday and she said for us to stop by Wednesday to double check.  We walked up during fika, actually the perfect time to come visit, and saw all of my favorite people!  My old teachers, Jenny and David, were there and I gave them big hugs.  Emma and Christian, two of the assistants from last summer, were running the fika and Christian picked me up off the ground with a big smile.  Its great to be back in Uppsala and to see these guys :) Vuxenskolan is right next to Uppsala C, so we walked over to catch our train to Mariefred.  Its a small, beautiful town situated on the Mälaren lake a little ways south of Uppsala.  We took a train to Stockholm, a train to Läggesta to meet David’s boyfriend Andreas, and then a bus to Mariefred.  On the train, David taught Sara how to play Spit so we had many rousing games on our journey. IMG_4549 Train/bus travel is expensive in Sweden but the trip was very easy!  The weather could not have been more beautiful: it was sunny, warm, a little breezy, and the sky was crystal blue. IMG_4558 Mariefred is quinessentually Swedish in all of my faovrite ways!  Painted houses, coffee shops and ice cream stands, flowers everywhere, strawberries in the streets.  We walked around for a little while before settling on a restaurant for dagens lunch: the daily special.  It was an incredible spread of locally grown vegetables simply prepared with herbs or raw and sprinkled with olive oil.  David, Andreas, and I chose the fish and Sara had the pork. IMG_4560 There was an outdoor area to sit and eat (my faaaavorite!!!) so we took our lunch across the street in the fresh air.  There were tons of super creepy and aggressive crows around, but they couldn’t spoil the fantastic lunch we were eating.  Look at this! IMG_4564 The crows got even more aggressive by the time we were finishing and one of them kept looking at David, opening its mouth, and turning its head sideways.  Super creepy… IMG_4566 After lunch, we walked down to the water to take some photos.  I hadn’t gotten a jumping picture in a while so my lovely friends indulged me and we got some good shots! DSC04916 Andreas wanted to show us the big castle, Gripsholms Slott, so we walked over and got tickets for a self-guided exploration.  It actually has the most portraits in all of Europe and was super interesting to walk around.  Portraits of kings and queens from everywhere in Europe hung on the walls with incredibly ornate frames– all of the pictures of old kings of Sweden from the history books are copies of these actual originals!  The castle grounds were also stunning: IMG_4581   IMG_4582   IMG_4606 The one especially notable thing that we saw inside was in the attic of the castle. I believe some king got a stuffed lion as a present, but the taxidermist had never seen a real lion before.  So he used his best judgement and tried to recreate this animal… We all agreed that its face, the biggest abomination of them all, looked like a mixture between a children’s toy, the Cheetos lion and the Pink Panther: IMG_4599 The castle was closing just when we finished our tour, so we found our way out  and relaxed by the water while we waited for one of Andreas’ friends to meet us at the castle.  Sara and I weren’t quite done taking photos so we had a little photoshoot on the lake.  Jumping pictures and nice pictures alike :) SONY DSC DSC04935 DSC04939 Sara had seen a sign for handmade Italian ice cream back in town, so we all headed over for a little fika. I got a scoop of stracciatella and Sara got melon gelato.  It was the perfect thing to cool us off after a lot of walking! We finally took the train and bus back to Uppsala and had a light dinner and a calm night.  Everyone was tired, but very happy, after our big adventure in Mariefred.  Another Swedish city to stick a pin in for me! :)

tillbaka till uppsala: den vackraste staden i Skandinavien

June 16th, 2014

I traveled back from Lysekil to meet up with Sara for our last night in Göteborg.  I got in town around 5 and we were both craving pizza, so we set out on a mission to find some.  On our way, we passed Systembolaget, the state-run liquor store.  Sara and I thought it would be nice to have dinner and then go back to my b&b to watch some Netflix and have a few ciders, so I stopped in to get my first Somersby of the summer. Our pizza adventure took us all over Göteborg.  We passed by two places that looked pretty sketchy and finally stumbled upon one in the area of town next to Göteborg Universitet.  I was bummed that we didn’t have much time to see that part of the city because it was really calm and beautiful.  I’d thought about studying there before but seeing the buildings and the area definitely puts this university on my list! IMG_4486 IMG_4490IMG_4483

We were so full from our pizza that we didn’t end up drinking our Somersby but we brought it with us to Uppsala the next day.  All in all, Göteborg was a great city and one that I would come back to visit!

June 17th, 2014

Sara and I headed to the airport in the morning to catch our flight to Stockholm and train to Uppsala.  We arrived just after 12 and David, a great friend from the Swedish program last summer, met us at the train station to take us to his flat. Its amazing how wonderful I feel when I’m in Sweden… I relax completely, breathe more deeply, enjoy just taking in the sights and sounds around me, and have no stress whatsoever.  Its such a total 180º from life in DC. IMG_4640 IMG_4631 IMG_4637 To be allowed in the Nations, or student run pubs and restaurants, Sara and I needed guest cards. We went to the office with a “lightly altered” UVA student ID that “happened” to say that I was graduating in 2015, and for 75 kronor I got my pass.  We went to Värmlands Nation for a light lunch of warm mackor, or sandwiches, to tide us over until dinner time.  It has one of the coolest bars of all the nations– underground in a cellar! IMG_4511We hung out at David’s adorable apartment for a little while until dinner.  He lives in a 5 bedroom flat right off of the main walking street in Uppsala– about a 10 minute walk to Vuxenskolan where we studied last year. Its probably my dream apartment: small but a super efficient and clever use of space, modern and clean with old Swedish country touches, and full of windows. Anyone want to buy a place with me? :)

We had decided to go to my absolute FAVORITE nation for dinner: GH.  GH, or Gästrike-Hälsinge (an area in Sweden), has the most beautiful garden restaurant where we hung out all summer last year.  They have a delicious summer menu for dinner and both food and drink are much more reasonably priced here for students. It was pretty chilly, maybe 55-60º out, so we chose to sit outside under the heaters and under blankets.  Even with the cooler weather, it was still spectacular to be back at GH!

IMG_4520 David ordered a slow roasted lamb on a really nice potato gratäng that had super thin slices of potatoes stacked up and baked in the oven with cream.  Even a nice meal like that was only about 80 kr, under the standard 100 – 200 kronor or above ($15 – $30USD) that almost anything costs in real restaurants. IMG_4524 Sara and I both had the caesar chicken sandwich which was TO DIE FOR.  It was a piece of roasted chicken on a ciabatta roll with a parmesan and garlic cream sauce, pancetta, lettuce and tomato.  It might have been because we were starving, but both of us agreed that it was the best meal we’d had in quite a long time. IMG_4525 Since it was a Tuesday, Snerikes (or Södermanlands‑Nerikes nation) was having its club night. We weren’t in the mood to party amongst the Swedes (which were few and far between anyway since it was the summer), but we decided to head over there for a drink before going home.

There’s no going anywhere in Uppsala without passing by the beautiful domkyrka (church), so we took the opportunity to snap a picture of the beauty and take a selfie too :) IMG_4510 10373806_10152566634582474_5886563161369511184_n copy Snerikes has a beautiful outside deck in the back so we had some Briska (the inferior version of Somersby) and snuggled under blankets.  We planned the next day while we relaxed: a trip to Mariefred, a small town right on the Mälaren lake about two hours away from Uppsala. IMG_4535 On the way home from Snerikes, we popped in to the ICA near David’s apartment for some godis (candy).  I hadn’t gotten any yet on the trip but I had been hunting for my favorite kind: kantareller (mushrooms).  These are little marshmallow mushrooms that taste like bubblegum and no one in all of Göteborg carried them!  Luckily I found some at ICA and got my second favorite candy, chocolate covered gummy bears, as well. IMG_4540 Stay tuned for my next day’s adventure in Mariefred! :)

en resa till Lysekil, fisksoppa, och min favorit prinsesstårta!

Sunday, June 15th:

I woke up rested Sunday morning with plans to head to Lysekil to see Fredrik, a Swedish teacher of mine from Svenska Skolan in DC. Lysekil, a small but beautiful town about an hour and a half north of Göteborg, is right on the coast and reminds me a lot of Risør, Norway which I visited last year.  The bus ride was quick, easy, and very scenic!  We even got to ride a ferry across the lake instead of taking the long way around in to town.

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I got in to town around 2 and Fredrik was waiting for me at the stop by the harbor.  We took a short walk to my hostel by the water so that I could check in and drop off my small bag. The hostel was called Strandflickorna, or The Beach Girls.  It looked like an old and cozy B&B with a beautiful view of the sea.  I got a corner room with lots of windows. Check out this view!

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We headed farther around the water until we got to the beautiful red granite coast.  There were huge rocks, mostly very smooth and super slippery when wet.  Some years ago there was a big market for the red granite and people started carving and destroying the rocks, so there was an effort to preserve the rest.  You can still see big slices out of the cliffs.

The sky was beautiful, the water was a deep blue, and there was a spectacular sea breeze!

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We walked around for about an hour or so and Fredrik was a wonderful tour guide!  I learned a lot about the different kinds of industries in Lysekil– it was the original homeplace of the Abba brand of sill!  There are only 15,000 people who live in the town year round but it blossoms to 50,000 in the summer during the tourist season.

Fredrik knew of a spectacular fish restaurant on the harbor and we went for a late lunch/early dinner.  We are both foodies so we talked about our most memorable meals and the best things we’d ever eaten.  For our meal, Fredrik ordered a beautiful piece of fish and I asked for the fish soup.  While we were waiting on our meal, we started with the included sill and salad buffet.  Since Lysekil is a harbor town, we knew everything was going to be fresh and delicious, so I tried it all!

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On my plate I have three different kinds of sill (pickled herring), a fresh corn salad, smoked salmon with a honey, mustard, and dill sauce, fresh potato salad, and a hard boiled egg (of course!).  It was all delicious but my favorite was the sill marinated in carrot and onion.

Our main courses came and I was blown away with how fresh the seafood was and what a significant difference it made in the flavor.  I can’t recall which fish Fredrik ended up ordering but it was a thick piece grilled to perfection on a bed of herbed risotto, fresh summer vegetables, a tomato and red pepper puree, and shrimps. So good!

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My fish soup was creamy and fresh with a parsley oil drizzle on the top.  It was filled with pieces of torsk, or cod, mussels, shrimp, and crayfish. There were also thin shavings of fennel and carrots along with some peppery microgreens.  The best part was dipping the bread in the slightly saffron-infused cream broth!

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After lunch we walked around some more (I think I got close to 28,000 steps in that day!) and went through the old part of town, Gamle Lysekil.  I had a great time exploring and learning new things about the town’s history and people.  Fredrik and I walked by an adorable konditori, or bakery, that he had been planning to take me to the next morning for fika. They have the best prinsesstårta in town– I guess my love for that cake is well known around the world! ;)

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We were pretty tired from all the walking and the delicious meal so we parted ways at my hostel and agreed to meet in the morning. It was a great day!

Monday, June 16th:

I woke up and checked out of my hotel around 9am and waited for Fredrik to meet me at the harbor.  It was overcast but still stunning:

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We went to the konditori and got our prinsesstårta for a delicious start to the day.  We each got one for ourselves… in hindsight we should have shared.  But I managed to make a big dent in mine!!

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All in all, it was a fantastic trip and a beautiful place to photograph.  I would recommend that everyone take a trip up to see it for themselves!  I certainly will be back :)

första dagen i Göteborg: vetenskap, båtar, och lite glass

Saturday, June 14th:

I didn’t sleep the entire night. I got home to my hostel after dinner with Sara and napped for about an hour, maybe, and was then wide awake from 10pm to 8am when I finally got frustrated and got up for breakfast. Normally jet lag doesn’t bother me, especially if I stay awake until local night time. No luck this time.

Since I was staying at more of a bed and breakfast than a hostel, they had a cute little setup for everyone to gather and have frukost. Bread, ham, cheese, eggs, and cereal were on the table and you just found a free spot and started chatting with the people around you. I have a Swedish Apple sticker on my iPad and an older Swedish lady started asking me tons of questions about my “mini dator”, or little computer. I held my own pretty well, especially since she didn’t speak almost any English so I knew I didn’t have that to fall back on!

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Sara and I planned to meet by the bridge by the park where we had dinner the night before and start our day from there. Her mom had gotten her a 72 hour tourist pass for the entire city of Göteborg, which included trains, trams, buses, and entrance to almost every cool thing you could see in town. I bought one too after realizing that it could also double as my bus fare to Lysekil the next day!

With our passes in hand, we decided to take a tram to Universeum, a science museum, down by the amusement park. It was amazing. The museum had eight floors, a mixture of nature, Swedish animals, dinosaurs, brain teasers, and neuroscience. Sara and I are both science nerds so we had a really nice time :)

The underwater section of the museum was awesome!  I can’t get enough of aquariums and fish and sharks.  So fascinating.

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Besides fish, there were also cool birds and butterflies that you could almost reach out and touch. We even went in to an area of the museum where there were monkeys loose in the trees.  There were two men feeding them and they had no cages or anything– there was even a sign on the door asking us to close it behind us so the monkeys don’t escape :)  I couldn’t catch a good enough photo myself so here’s one from their website:

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We headed up to the roof for the dino exhibit and took advantage of the beautiful city view to take a jumping picture (of course)!

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After Universeum, we were both ready for some lunch and I was thinking hard about taking a nap. We went back to Avenyn where the shops and restaurants are and poked around a few stores. There are these awesome small item stores that sell a lot of home-goods (almost like a tiny ikea) and I always love going there. Tiger and Clas Ohlson are two of my favorites so we went in and I bought some little Swedish flag toothpicks for my next Swedish Christmas party!

Sara wanted to go to McDonald’s for lunch and I was hoping for some little cafe where we could get a quick bite, local style. But she convinced me and I (semi begrudgingly) went with her for lunch. I forget how expensive McDonald’s is here, but damn is there a difference in quality! Fast-food aside, I was pretty impressed with the things they’ve done her to better the food at that particular chain. I took a photo if lunch, as usual, but it would be against my ‘religion’ to document that meal on my blog ;)

After lunch I managed to go home and take an hour and a half nap. Going on close to 35 straight hours of being awake, I was relieved to get a quick nap in.  After my rest, Sara and I wanted to take advantage of another activity to do with our city passes and took a tour around the moat and bay in Göteborg on a river boat. We got tickets and had to wait about half an hour for the next boat, so we decided to get ice cream and soak in some sun on the bank of the river!

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Our tour guide on the boat was amazing! She do funny, natural, informative, and a joy to listen to.  Since Göteborg is built on a river, or a moat as she called it, there were tons of little bridges we had to squeeze the flat padda boat underneath. Most were no problem but there was one called the “cheese slicer” and another named “the hairdresser” which were so short that we had to get out of our seats and sit on the deck of the boat in order to make it under without hitting our heads!

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The “Cheese Slicer”!

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Sara and I agreed that we understood about 80% or more of what the guide was saying in Swedish. I was thrilled that I didn’t need to rely on the guide’s English translation at all, AND I even understood all of her jokes as she was making them :) Such a beautiful day in the sun and a beautiful ride.

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After the boat, we went to an enormous shopping mall on the banks of the river. Unfortunately everything closes at 6 on Saturday in Sweden so the shops had just closed. We did find a Hemköp (my second favorite grocery store besides ICA) and decided to get a picnic for dinner since the weather was so perfect. Sara got some fruit and a Festis (her favorite drink!) and I got a delicious pasta salad with prawns. We took our dinner to the river and ate outside- the perfect way to eat.

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We walked around a little after dinner and headed back to my hotel room to watch some Netflix and relax with godis (candy!). I showed Sara an episode of my favorite Swedish crime drama, “Oskyldig Dömd”, and we got lost in YouTube by the end of the night. We turned in around 10 and, miraculously, after close to 42 hours without sleep, I slept like a rock.

en tuff resa men en vacker stad!

Thursday, June 12th:

After a rare bout of incredible procrastination where I managed to put off packing for my trip until just barely 4 hours before I was to leave for the airport, I had my bags packed and was off to catch my Icelandair flight at 8:30PM.  My lovely mother drove me to Dulles, we had a quick bite to eat, and I went off through security with my e-ticket on my phone. Not five minutes later did I hit my first of many snags in the long trip to Göteborg.

I get to security and my e-ticket doesn’t work in the ticket scanner.  I’ve used Passbook for my boarding passes for the last year or so and it has always worked flawlessly, so I was pretty annoyed.  Not to mention I had about 40 minutes until my flight was going to leave and the passport control guy made me go all the way back upstairs to the Icelandair desk to get a paper ticket. “I’d run if I were you…” he said.  Thanks, bud.

I grabbed the attention of a severely bored desk-attendant who snottily printed me a ticket.  She also looked at my carryon, which was totally fine in weight and size, and made me check the bag.  I was annoyed but I thought, hey, at least I didn’t have to drag the bag through the airport for the next two stops.  She assured me that it would be checked all the way through to Göteborg with no problems.

I went flying down to security again and made it through and on the airport train in about 15 minutes.  I sprinted to my gate with just enough time to buy a bottle of water and wait in the queue for boarding.  Phew.  I was lucky to have nice a window seat and niceseat-mates, so the 5 and a half hour flight to Reykjavík went pretty smoothly.

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As soon as we got to Iceland, things got much worse.

I had only an hour layover so I walked around the grocery-store-sized airport to my gate.  There were a few shops open so I browsed a little, but it was 2:30AM body-time, so I wanted to get on the flight and try to get some sleep since I hadn’t been able to sleep at all on the first leg. It took us a looooong time to check in at the gate and all the passengers were herded down some stairs and out in to the 10ºC Iceland cold and wind to a bus that would take us to the plane.

First, the driver let us off at the wrong plane.  THE WRONG PLANE.  We were halfway up the stairs to the plane and the flight attendant frantically turned us around and shooed us back on to the bus.

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As we were sitting there, packed in like sardines in the bus with the doors closed to keep out the cold, suddenly a woman starts screaming “OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD LET ME OUT!” and banging on the bus doors.  I thought something was going to explode or she saw something imminent and dangerous about to happen to us, trapped inside this bus.  People started screaming and freaking out, and the bus driver only noticed after about 30 seconds and ended up opening the doors.

It wasn’t until the woman started shrieking, “THATS MY DOG!” that I began to stop thinking I was in serious danger.  Apparently she was traveling with her two small children and a big dog who was checked in a dog kennel being loaded in to the plane.  The crate had fallen off the conveyor belt and the door popped open, leaving her dog to push out and take off like a rocket across the tarmac and far, far away in to the fields of Iceland.  The woman tore out of the bus and went chasing after it but it was long gone by the time the bus driver had opened the door.

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The poor woman got her kids and went out running in the fields trying to find the dog.  They took their bags off the plane and were going to stay in Iceland until the poor thing was found.  This whole ordeal delayed our flight by 1.5 hours but I had a 2 hour layover in Stockholm so I was hopeful that I would still make my connection.

Friday, June 13th:

The flight to Arlanda was easy but we arrived at 2:00PM and my next flight left at 2:25.  I knew my bag was checked through to Göteborg so I was preparing to sprint to the next gate but I wasn’t too worried.  Until the flight attendants informed us that every single checked bag had to be picked up at baggage claim and re-checked for their next flights.

I was about to lose my mind.

I ran off the plane, went 5 minutes in a full sprint to baggage claim, waited for my stupid carry-on-turned-checked-bag, and found out that my flight to Göteborg was leaving out of Terminal 4. Where is Terminal 4, you ask?  Of course, it is at the absolute farthest edge of the airport.  I barely made it to security and to my gate before the doors slammed behind me.  I didn’t even bother checking my bag and I would have LOVED to have seen someone deny me taking it on the plane in the state I was in at that moment.

Awake for 20 hours, sprinted a good mile and a half with two bags, hadn’t been able to even stop to use the restroom in 13 hours, so incredibly thirsty that it hurt to swallow.

The flight to Göteborg from Stockholm was only 45 minutes and allowed me to cool off, de-sweaty, and relax momentarily.  It was all worth it when I looked outside at the view from my window at the most beautiful place on the planet: Sweden.

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I got off the plane with my bags and just pulled off to the side of traffic to take a mental break and reflect on what had happened over the last 20 hours. I was in Göteborg, I was safe, I had access to a bathroom and food, and I had all of my belongings.  It was going to be okay.

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I got a text message from Sara asking me which terminal I had come in to in Göteborg because her plane had landed about an hour before mine. I was so happy to have a travel buddy finally!  At least she didn’t have to deal with the jet lag that I was now feeling big time– Helsinki is only an hour different for her :)  We came together for a big hug, bought out Flygbuss tickets, and left the airport en route to our hotels, with sleep on my mind.

(PS: thank GOODNESS for T Mobile’s free international data and texting– I could stay completely connected as if I were at home!  Super, super useful in a country where absolutely everything is ticketed/paid for/done via SMS and smartphones.)

Sara was staying at a vandrarhem closer to the bus station and I was in a B&B right off of Avenyn, the main street in Göteborg.  We both navigated our separate ways with plans to take naps, showers, and meet up for dinner in a few hours.

I found the B&B, called Le Mat, and did the entire check-in, tour, and chatted with the woman for about 10 minutes– completely in Swedish!  I am thrilled at how much I’ve improved over the last two years :)

Here’s my adorable room, complete with fluffy robes and slippers– what a sweet hostel!

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I took an hour nap, showered (can I just say that after-travel showers are one of the greatest things on planet Earth), and got ready to head out to dinner.  Sara and I met up at a park about halfway between our hostels and there happened to be a beautiful cafe and bar playing live music right at the entrance to the park.  The prospect of food, which I hadn’t had since 7PM the day before at the airport in DC, was almost too much to handle.  Add to that the most spectacular setting, a cold Briska, and perfect Swedish weather?

Heaven.

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I had the dagen’s tips, or the daily special: roasted salmon, pasta salad, fresh summer vegetables, and a cool garlic and yogurt dressing.  It was the perfect Swedish meal!

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We listened to the band play for a while and just enjoyed the beautiful weather beneath the trees.  I was getting so groggy and it was only about 7PM, but Sara and I agreed to go back to our hostels for the night and meet up in the morning.

Other than the very rough travel over, I am thrilled to be back here in Sweden, exploring Göteborg for the first time, and going on many other adventures in the next two weeks. What a beautiful country!

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