Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ice Skating...Day 1.

Today we rented ice skates and started to lean to skate (the only skates available for hire are long distance skates as most people have their own "normal" ice skates). After a slow start we got the hang of it and the following are two videos of our first try at one of Uppsala's public ice rinks:

Footage of Carina on the ice (note the long skates):

Footage of Ronnie on the ice (note that the ending doesn't count as a fall but I had a more serious incident just prior to the filming):

After we got home we walked to the small ice rink at a nearby school (see post on Necessities for the holidays), and practiced some more. It was very nice skating in the moonlight with the whole rink to ourselves:

We decided to buy our own skates tomorrow as it will be much cheaper if we continue with this activity. However, hockey or figure skates have much shorter blades and we may need adjust our day old technique.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas food

As promised I will write a short blog on the special Christmas (Jul) food here in Sweden. Traditions connected to the celebration of specific feasts are very strong here. Similarly are the food connected to these festivals, as they are only available during these periods and can't be found on the shelves the rest of the year. Foods connected with Christmas are Julmust (Christmas Cola), Julöl (Christmas beer), Glögg (warm spiced wine), Julskinka with Senap (Christmas ham with mustard), Lussekatter (Saffron buns), Pepperkakor (Gingerbread), Risgrynsgröt with Lingon (Ricepudding with Lingonberry jam). These special Christmas food are usaully accompanied by other traditional Swedish food to make up the rest of the Julbord (Christmas table). A variety of fish (salmon, herring, whitefish and eel) are served as a first course. Fish are preserved on a variety of ways e.g. smoking, fermenting, pickled, etc. (warning: fermented fish can make you feel very queasy very quickly). The fish course is usually accompanied by snaps (aka akvavit, which is vodka with some kind of flavouring - commonly dill). A selection of cold sliced meats with cheese, pickled cucumbers and crisp breads are next. Warm dishes follow and include the Julskinka, Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), roasted pork ribs (revbenspjäll), and a warm potato casserole called Janssons frestelse (Jansson's Temptation, which is anchovies, potato sticks and onions layered with cream).

All of these are obviously too much for two people to consume, thus our Julbort only included a selection. We have, however, tasted the other dishes while dining with our friends and at restaurants. Below is a picture of our Julbord.

In the middle of the picture is the julskinka which we had with senap... very tasty. Our Julbord also included some red cabbage, prinskorv, baked and fried potato, crispbread with a selection of cheese, salami and pickles. We ended the meal with rice pudding and lingon (in front) and pepparkakor (to the right). Our drinks in the back included Glögg and Julmust.

Some additional interesting bits:
Julmust is the most popular softdrink in Sweden around Christmas and much to the dismay of the CocaCola Company cause the sales of Coke to drop by 50% during this time of the year.
You can get Glögg in various alcoholic "strengths" and various brands. You can buy the alcohol free and 2.5% alcohol (latt Glögg) varieties at the supermarket. The good stuff however is the 'starkvin Glögg' (15%), which really warms you up when coming into the house from a -10 degrees outside adventure. This variety can however only be bought from the state-controlled liquor outlet - Systembolaget. Its worth the effort however.

Wishing everybody 'God Jul och Gott Nytt År'


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Necessities for the holidays.

Being on holiday we went strolling around Uppsala and Stockholm. Here are a few pictures of us with the necessary clothing as the temperatures remain between -15°C and -2°C (baie dankie vir die gebreide musse en serpe Ma).

Around Uppsala:

Local activities: (ice rink created at school 500m from where we live)

Uppsala city:


However, here are some of the other necessities after being outside during the last few days:

God Jul (Merry Christmas), R&C

Friday, December 18, 2009

Life after snow

Finally after 3 months of waiting we had a serious snowfall and temperatures that indicate the real winter is here. It started snowing 3 days ago and we had about 30cm of snow in one night. Since then the temperature stayed between -5°C and -10°C (currently -11.9°C, the lowest we have experienced yet). However, life in Uppsala goes on as usual with one exception, people seem generally happier and there is an increase in outdoor activity. Following is a series of photos taken the last 3 days of the new environment we are experiencing:

On the way to work after the first night of heavy snowfall (yes, I am still walking in):

View from my office window:

This is a very typical picture, people driving on roads that are very slippery when you walk on them (by law all cars must have snow tires on by the 1st of December in Uppsala). Slightly more disturbing are the number of people on bicycles, most of them without snow tires (and some even without helmets):

Pictures from the area surrounding our complex (all taken at approximately 12 noon, temperature outside -9°C, notice the height of the sun):

A typical Swedish home:

Children at school (outside most of the day even in chilling temperatures):

The view from our house. It is very sitting next to the window with snow outside, while we are cozy and warm (always 20°C):

We are anxious to see how cold it can get and are looking forward to going out in even lower temperatures. We leave you with this picture of ice crystals on the grass and will continue to report on the interesting weather in the North:


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

And yes... the snow came down today... and lots of it. The world is white in anticipation of a Christmas we always dreamt off. However, every single person in Sweden is in expectant anticipation for weeks now and judiciously follow every Christmas tradition in the approach to Christmas. It is as if the hope of the start of the white snow days and the coming Christmas keep their spirits alive during the grey dreary days of November and early December. A local Swedish newspaper proudly announced total of 16 ours of sunshine in the whole of November. Something is needed to keep the people going and that is what the Christmas season does. Unlike in South Africa, where Christmas is equal to two or three days of family and feasting, Christmas in Sweden is a serious affair and lasts more than a month. It started with the first advent Sunday in late November. During that weekend the city transformed itself and the streets were lit up with Christmas lights and stars, pine trees everywhere were decorated and in all windows various forms of lights, stars and candles appeared. The first advent weekend also have the Julmarknad (Christmas market) and a kickoff of advent with a display of fireworks in the Botaniska (botanical gardens) in front of the castle. The Julmarknad was quite an experience with chorus groups performing in Stora Torget (the Main square in the middle of the city) and little stalls lining the city streets selling Christmas delicacies and presents. There are very specific Christmas foods, which swamps the shops during Jul (Christmas) that you just wont find the rest of the year. We will devote a whole post later-on to these foods (just to name a few of the most common ones; Julmust (Christmas Cola), Glög (pronounced glug, which is warm spiced wine), Pepparkakor (literally pepper cake, which is gingerbread), Lussebullar (Saffron buns), etc., etc.,... Anyway..., the whole Sunday afternoon we browsed the stalls and then the whole city moved in one big river of people to the castle to witness the fireworks. That was the first advent Sunday. Below is two videos of Stora Torget during Julmarknad, the second video is with a choir singing my favourite Christmas song, Strålande Jul (pronounced Strolande, meaning Shining Christmas). Below I also paste the lyrics in Swedish and English and a link to a YouTube video with the song (which you just have to see).

Julmarknad video 1 (17 meg, 1 min)

Julmarknad video 2 (19 meg, 1 min)

(note the guy on the bicycle in the middle of the video - in the little cart behind the bike would be his baby - this is how babies are transported here in the winter)

Strålande Jul lyrics

*Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar.
Christmas, Christmas, shining Christmas, light above white forests.
*Himmelens kronor, med gnistrande ljus.
The crowns of heaven with gnistering lights.
*Glimmande bågar i alla guds hus.
Glowing bows in the houses of god.
*Psalm som är sjungen från tid till tid.
Hymn that is sung from time to time.
*Eviga längtan till ljus och frid.
Eternal desire of light and peace.
*Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar.
Christmas, Christmas, shining Christmas, light above white forests.
*Kom, kom, signade jul, sänk dina vita vingar.
Come, come, sacred chrismas, lower your white wings.
*Över stridernas blod och larm.
Above the blood and sounds of war.
*Över alla suckan ur människobarm.
Over the sighs from humans.
*Över de släkten som gå till ro.
Over the families who go to peace.
*Över de ungas vars dagar nu gro.
Over the young whos days go past.
*Kom, kom, signade jul, sänk dina vita vingar.
Come, come, sacred chrismas, lower your white wings.

Youtube link: (must see) Strålande Jul

From the first advent onwards people are high on the Christmas spirit but a particular highlight before Christmas is the celebration of Lucia on the 13th of December. Even though St. Lucia was an Italian saint, the celebration of Lucia on the 13th of December is built on a pagan tradition celebrating the winter solstice. This night would be the longest and darkest and evil spirits were believed to wander, other strange things were believed to happen such as people developing the ability to talk to animals. You needed to stay awake the night before the 13th to make sure you could avert the evil spirits. When the morning of the 13th broke processions of people with candles that brought light in the darkness fended off the evil spirits. From there the traditional Lucia procession with the Lucia girl wearing a crown of candles on her head leading a procession of girls with candles singing the Lucia song. We attended the Lucia concert in the Uppsala Domkyrkan (see video below) I also paste two links to Lucia processions on YouTube.

Youtube link 1: Lucia1
Youtube link 2: Lucia2

Lucia concert video (21 meg, 1 min)

So far we enjoyed all the Christmas traditions tremendously and we cannot wait for Christmas, the world is white and more snow is coming... Our next posts will have more on the Christmas foods, and then of course Christmas!


Let it snow, let it snow, let is snow...

A lot of snow.


Sunday, December 13, 2009


After a week in Seattle I am clear on at least on thing about America: there is no typical American. I knew it would be difficult to stereotype a nation of about 308,000,000 people but I took my prejudices nonetheless. On arrival however I was immediately confronted with friendly people who themselves had strong opinions on Americans (of course not the ones living in Seattle). I therefore obtained a clear picture on the habits and customs of all Americans (from the point of the Seattleites). From talking to the locals I could conclude that: "the west coast is the best coast", "Seattleites are the most liberal Americans", "the most educated people in America" (this could be verified on wikipedia), as well as "the city with people that read the most in America". Personally I enjoyed the company of many of the locals (and non-locals living in Seattle). They are friendly and hospitable and talk slightly less than I expected. They are also knowledgeable on many other cultures and countries (but I should probably mention that most of the people I spoke to were academics). Lastly, any nation with individuals that can function in the imperial system can not be totally unintelligent and I am really glad that the Swedes don't use ounces, miles, feet, gallons, fahrenheit, dollars (and quarters = 0.25 dollars), inches, etc.

Seattle is located in between an ocean inlet and lake Washington. In addition the Olympic mountains and the Cascade mountain range (including mount Rainier) are visible on clear days:

Seattle is also known for the space needle:

with stunning views from the top:

Seattle is also famous for Starbucks coffee and a visit would not be complete without a cup from the first Starbucks (1971), located at the famous Pike Place Market.

The coffee is quite nice (slightly better than average) and not very expensive. I suspect that the coffee culture in Seattle also influence the way Seattleites see themselves as asking for a "Skinny Tall Latte with Wings" would the reduce bravdo of any immigrant Texan.

Lastly, a few things about Americans are true, even in Seattle. They have huge cars (even if they claim that the cars in the south are bigger). Food are served in very large portions while soft-drinks are continuously refilled in 50cl glasses to complement meals. I also found that some services are not as smooth and efficient as in Sweden (it is however at some places still much better than in South Africa).

All in all, I would like another visit to the home of the brave and the land of the free, this time with Carina, before I make any decisions on staying in America.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh say can you see...

I am off to the land of the brave and the home of the free for a few days and will try to experience some American "culture" and Starbucks coffee. Meanwhile Carina will experience more Swedish culture with the Julmarknad (christmas market with fireworks), Julmust (Swedish Christmas cola), Glög (sweet warm wine with spices), pepparkakor (traditional Christmas gingerbread), the first Advent Sunday, the official start of Christmas decorating and probably the first major snowfall in Uppsala this season. However, I will try to blend into capitalistic America by spending a lot of money on various items and gifts that is cheap by Swedish standards.

Our next post will therefore deal with American vs. Swedish culture... For now we leave you with a link to a YouTube video that deals with their language differences (Warning: Swedish people are very comfortable with swearwords that might offend some South Africans):


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Unappreciated Glove (a South African Perspective)

The last week was very exciting as for the first time the snow formed a thin layer on the ground. It started snowing at around 22:00 and we went out to investigate and take some pictures.

The temperature stayed around 0°C the whole of the next day which meant that the snow did not melt. These pictures were taken at sunset the following day (around 15:30):

Unfortunately the temperatures are rising (all the snow melted) and next week will be "hot" (6°C maximum). It is strange to think of 6°C as warm, considering in South Africa most people take out their warmest clothes when the temperature drops below 15°C. This bring us to the point of appropriate clothing. We discovered that the numerous additional items of clothing (that take up to 10 minutes to apply) actually makes a big difference keeping you comfortable outside. This fact is well known by the Swedes who told us on arrival:

"Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder"
(there is no bad weather, only bad clothing)

In South Africa, scarves, gloves and woolen hats are mainly worn as fashion accessories. Alternatively South African children sometimes wear some of these items for up to 15 minutes each day during the first period of school for one week every second winter. A French colleague however suggested that Swedish children are born with gloves. We saw them performing task requiring extreme dexterity, such as texting on their mobile phones without ever removing their gloves. It is thus mysterious that every now and again you come across a forlorn glove laying in the street. Could it be that as the grow they "shed" their gloves...

Our perspective on gloves and other accessories have therefore changed dramatically. We now appreciate the value of these items, including gloves although we still struggle to perform menial tasks such as operating a zipper...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Second Month and the Coming Winter.

After two months in Sweden the long autumn is slowly turning into winter. This means that the days get quite a lot shorter and last weekend we switched to winter time, which is also the "normal" time although for fewer months (in effect we are now GMT +1).

Currently it is not too cold and we had no snow since the short cold spell at the start of the month (usually the first snow comes later). The average temperature is 5°C and unlike in South Africa the night and day temperatures does not vary that much. However, we rarely see the sun anymore...
Although the official sunrise and sunset is 7:11 am and 3:53 pm at the moment, the constant clouds and occasional mist lets little light through. This reminds me of a few lines from an excellent movie "Eric the Viking" (1989):

FREYA  Have you ever seen the sun, Erik? 
ERIK The sun is up beyond the clouds
- where it always is.

FREYA But have you ever seen it? Think back...

ERIK Of course not... but... when I was a child....
I remember a
it was as if the whole sky was blue...

FREYA The sky WAS blue, Erik... once.

Do not despair however as the autumn colors are really beautiful. Following is a few pictures taken in the surrounding areas and on the way to work.

When walking outside it is noticeable that there are much fewer people about (except foreigners, children and people walking their dogs). We suspect that there are a lot of indoor activities going on and have joined by enjoying the cozy warmth of our home with a lot of strong coffee while watching movies. As mentioned, children here are unaffected by snow, rain or ice and came out to "trick or treat" on Halloween (in the black of night, i.e. about 5 pm). We were prepared and here are a few pictures.

We are enjoing the different seasons and are eagerly awaiting more snow that has been foretasted for the coming week.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sport in Sweden...

Which sport in Sweden would South Africans be most likely to watch?


We went to the Swedish women's final between Uppsala and Gothenburg. Unfortunately the home advantage didn't help Uppsala to a win, but the match was exciting none-the-less. Here the rugby season is during summer with the finals in fall. This is very fortunate, especially for the two South African spectators, as the fall weather conditions is much colder than normal rugby weather in South Africa. (Conditions during match: 4.6°C, overcast with light drizzle, wind 14km/h North, windchill 0°C).


p.s. stay tuned for the more "classical" Swedish sports in future blogs.