Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tobogganing fun

Not far from our apartment is a small hill that children go tobogganing on. Below is a sample of our second year of tobogganing.


p.s. for more videos on our adventures in Sweden click this link:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Food Filled Fridays: Christmas (Jul) essential snacks and drinks

Glögg, Julmust and Pepparkakor. Without these three things a Swedish Christmas would just not be  Swedish enough. They are absolutely essential, central requirements. Pepparkakor are the crispy brown ginger cookies that are enjoyed plain or decorated and are often hung on the Christmas tree. They are usually eaten with an accompanying drink of either Glögg or Julmust. Julmust taste akin to Coca-Cola just more malty and not as sweet. It is only available at Christmas time and for one month of the year Coca-Cola is not the top selling soft-drink in Sweden. Glögg is made from red wine and spices and is drunk throughout Christmas time. Nothing warms you up, when you come in from the cold, like a warm cup of glögg. You get different brands, the most popular is probably Blossa, and different varieties: Non-alcoholic, Lättglögg (Light Glögg, 2.2% alcohol), Vinglögg (10% alcohol) and Stärkvinglögg (15%). The non-alcoholic and light glögg can be bought at regular supermarkets but the higher alcohol varieties must be bought at the state-controlled alcohol retailer, Systembolaget. A special visit to the local Systembolaget is advisable because the higher the alcohol content, the better the heating potential of the glögg. Glögg is served warm with raisins and almonds. A mini crisis hit Sweden this Christmas since the glögg supply ran out in certain places. This mini-drama was published in the paper today, click the link to read the story (Glögg shortage threatens Swedish Christmas). The paper also generously supply a recipe as a backup if somebody - horrors of horrors - cannot find glögg for their Christmas.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A freezing solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice. The "sun" rose at 8:51 yesterday morning and set at 14:45, making it the shortest day of the year. Last night was also the coldest night for the winter thus far with the temperature outside dropping to -21. The whole day today was quite nippy with temperatures staying around -20. Guess this will prepare us for our visit to the Ice hotel in northern Sweden in a few weeks time...


Sunday, December 19, 2010

High probability for a white Christmas.

The average temperatures in Uppsala (and most of Europe) are below normal. This means we have loads of snow and all the standing water has been frozen for a while. Below are a few pictures of where we walked today (first time out after feeling a bit sick the past two weeks).

 Even if there is no more snowfall we will probably have a white Christmas. We will also go skating on lake Mälaren in the next few days. The one thing we will miss during Christmas (apart from our families of course), is the chance to have nice braai.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Interesting (weather) times...

We had quite eventful November weather. While, last year, the first snow (that stayed) was just before Christmas, this year it started early. We started to experience some very cold weather about two weeks ago. One day was especially beautiful with ice crystals forming on everything outside. This happens on cold nights when the mist / haze crystallize on objects outside. Below are a few of these beautiful sightings.


We also had a couple of days of heavy snow last week, which transformed our world to a black-and-white world again.

Therefore, the Christmas market, that marks the beginning of advent, was a beautiful white night. There were many interesting people selling all kinds of gifts for Christmas. A wonderful firework display ended the night. 


Food Filled Fridays: Anniversary edition

For our fifth wedding anniversary we went to Stockholm to eat at the Gondolen restaurant. We left Uppsala in the early afternoon and arrived in Stockholm just before the sunset (at 15h00). It was a bit chilly and we spent most of the afternoon warming ourselves in curious and other shops between our excursions in the snow filled Gamla Stan. The snow however lends an extra charm to the city.

The restaurant itself has a beautiful view of the city. It is located in a skywalk overlooking the Stockholm harbour (see below). This was also one of the best meals we had while in Sweden. The highlight of the meal was probably the lobster soup starter that Carina had.

We enjoyed this Friday very much. We will end with the important saying for anyone who wants to go out during winter in Sweden:
"There are no bad weather, only bad clothing"
In other words - nice formal jackets bought in South Africa does not work in Swedish winters - even though you have many other layers of clothes underneath.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ljus i Uppsala (Light in Uppsala)

To light up the November darkness, Uppsala municipality (Uppsala kommun) arranged a light festival in Uppsala. It consists of a 3 km walk with 16 sites (sights) to visit. These sites are creative showcases of new energy efficient lighting technologies. The light show is on the whole of November from 4 pm (yes it is pitch dark already at 4) until late night. We did the route this past weekend and it was especially beautiful with the snow that we got the previous week. Below are some of the pictures we took (Click on the images for a bigger picture).


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Första snö !

The fist snow came! In the form of a huge snow storm. Quite exiting, with wind blowing and snow drifts everywhere. Stay tuned....


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pakkie van Suid Afrika.

There is nothing to instill a sense of patriotism like moving abroad. This means that anything related to your home country is appreciated more than before leaving. We were therefore very excited this week when we received a parcel from South Africa. We were expecting it and knew it contained hand made scarfs and hats from my mother. However, once we got the package with hundreds of South African stamps we could not wait to get home and open it.

Wearing this specific brand of winter gear often requires an explanation of where we got it and many times leads to disappointment that it is not for sale. Included in the package were also biltong. This of course is a real treat for any South African, especially if he/she is now living in Sweden and even more so when you were raised on a farm in the Freestate.

Thank you very much for all the goodies.

Alla helgons dag (All saints day)

Yesterday was "Alla helgons dag" in Sweden. This holiday is celebrated on the first Saturday in November. In Sweden the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of relatives. Thus, Friday was a half work-day and as dusk fell on Saturday, many people visited graveyards with candles, wreaths and flowers for the graves of their loved ones. We went to the graveyard in the centre of Uppsala and were not disappointed. Everywhere candles adorned the graves and at the wall of remembrance a whole pathway was filled with lighted candles. Families walked through the hundreds of lighted graves to go and light their special candle. The shadows of sadness on the older faces were lightened by the laughter of the youngest generation enjoying the wonder of the rows of burning candles. It was indeed a special night.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Officially Winter.

Today we moved to winter time. We are now one hour different from South Africa. To avoid the awkwardness associated with discussing how we differ, which is very difficult (e.g. are we ahead or behind or on top), we will give the time. It is currently 16:30 in Sweden and 17:30 in South Africa. The best part about moving the time is that we had one extra hour to sleep.  

Since it is 31 October it is also Halloween. We may therefore have more sugar in our system than recommended...

Happy Halloween.

p.s. for monsters, normal time means one more hour of sleep to invade:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Food Filled Fridays... on Saturday, the Carina edition (Knäckebröd)

This is another edition of food filled Fridays. This post is of course a day late. When we started food filled Fridays, we chose the name because it sounded nice. We did not really think logically about it. If we did we would not have chosen Friday. After a week of hard work, writing articles and reading literature, a blog at the start of the weekend is not funnest thing to do. Thus we will continue with food filled Fridays and try to write a post every now and then about Swedish food, although it will not necesarily be posted on a Friday.

Today’s edition is about a very typical and traditional Swedish staple food - Knäckebröd. It is flat and dry and made mainly from rye flower. Usually its sold as a large, round, flat bread with a hole in the middle. Its history in Nordic countries goes back ages and the Vikings most probably also ate Knäkebröd. It is still very popular among Swedes and is eaten with various toppings like pickled herring or caviar (which by the way is sold in a tube!). It keeps for ages if kept dry and is indeed a very practical type of food. In olden days people baked their whole stash of Knäkerbröd in the summer after the harvest and stored it in a high, dry place hanging on a broomstick (therefore the hole in the middle). Today most varieties still look like the original Knäkerbröd, (large, round with a hole in the middle), although you also get the modern, more practical, smaller, rectangular version. We also like knäkebröd, and call it "krakerbrood" the Afrikaansenized version, but eat it as a snack rather than a meal.

Hope you enjoyed the special edition of food filled Fridays – (by Carina -Ronnie insisted on this addition because of all the funny words I use). Look out for more soon.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Food filled Friday: Episode 3: South African Wine.

Just a quick update on the continuation of the food "Food filled Friday" segment. On average we had 28.5 page views per post on this segment. We had 13 positive votes which means that 55% of the viewers did not indicate a preference or dislike for this segment.

The food of this week is wine. In particular wine from South Africa. From the beginning we noticed that South African wine is well represented in the state owned liquor stores. These stores, called "Systembolaget" are the only places in Sweden where you can buy alcohol (except for the very very light beer). If you are not a regular visitor to Systembolaget you may also see a number of advertisements on television and printed media for popular South African wines. South African wines are almost always found on restaurant menus and at parties.

The picture below is from a Swedish magazine we found on a train.

A good wine selection from our home country is both good and bad. The problem is that we know which wines to select and often buy them because we know what we will get. We therefore rarely try wines from other countries. The advantage, of course, is that we know what we are getting is nice. We also expose other people to South African produce.

Finally we should mention that alcohol is extremely expensive here. A glass of wine at a restaurant can easily set you back from R60 upwards (stronger liquor are also as expensive and are sold per centiliter for approximately R15, which means you would pay R1.5 for a milliliter of whisky). Since the restaurant meals, especially something red and meatish, is very expensive in any case, you will rather frequent it less often but include the wine. However, a respectable bottle of wine can be bought for R80.



ps. Drinking songs are extremely popular during parties and celebrations. Here is a interesting one about the desire for more wine, even if the grapes are stomped by the fungus infested feet of a fat sweaty French woman (no offense meant to our French readers, it was the Swedes...):

Feta Fransyskor som svettas om fötterna
de trampar druvor som sedan ska jäsas till vin
Transpirationen viktig e´
ty den ger fin boquet
Vårtor och svampar följer me´,
men vad gör väl de´?

Vi vill ha vin, vill ha vin, vill ha mera vin
även om följderna bli att vi må lida pin
Flickor: Flaskan och glasset gått sin
Pojkar: Hit med vin, mera vin
Flickor: Tror ni att bi är fyllesvin?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How I spend my days...

I often get the question what do I do. My usual response is that I work at the Swedish University of Agriculture, where I am involved in developing methods to find some genes that explain complex traits in animals. But this does not say very much and definitely does not give an impression of the daily struggle with DNA, statistics and some or other feature from an animal that is inherently difficult to measure. Since I love cooking I thought an analogy with food may be a nice way of describing what our group is doing.

Imagine that DNA like is a recipe book (this is an old analogy that I am just borrowing and customizing). Different pieces of DNA are like the different instructions of what to do and which ingredients are required for different dishes. For example a chocolate cake is an analogy of one feature of an individual.

Now imagine I want to know how a chocolate cake is baked. The procedure I would follow is: I would go to many different people (at least a 100) and ask each of them to bake a chocolate cake. I would measure, taste and rate, many different features of each cake. Then the 100 bakers would supply me with own unique recipe for their cake BUT it will be in a language I don't know. They also will cut the recipe into pieces each containing one word. For fun, each of them also cut a whole recipe book into word size pieces, and mix it with the chocolate cake recipe words. This bring me to what we do in the group where I work. We only get the mixed words and the ratings (we never do the tasting ourselves). We look at differences in the ratings comparing them to differences words and try to find the words that may be important in chocolate cake baking. Of course this is not done manually and we mostly spend the whole day in front of a computer telling it what to look for and evaluating what it finds.

This is how I spend my days at work. Except for fika and lunch.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Set for winter

Inspired by the first taste of snow we went to Gränby mall to shop for winter clothes. A second motivation is our looming trip to Lapland early next year. Since we think our current jackets may be sufficient we only bought mittens, hats with ear coverings, boots and thermal underwear.

Hope the rampant rumours of the 'winter of the millennium' prove to be true... we are READY for it.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Food filled Friday: Episode 2: Tunnbrödsrulle.

This is the second episode of our three part pilot series on food. Please cast your vote in the sidebar to the right if you want us to continue with this series (note we will still write about other events and activities that may be interesting).

The food of this week is the Swedish fast food: Tunnbrödsrulle. Directly translated it means "flat-bread-roll". You mostly find these Tunnbrödsrulle at hot-dog stands and it sells for between R35 to R60.

This meal is rather filling and consists of a flat bread wrap, usually filled with mashed potatoes, hot-dog sausages, crispy onions and shrimp salad. There are of course variation by exclusion of onions or shrimp salad and the type and number of sausages. Optional mustard and/or ketchup are added prior to rolling.

This combination of ingredients does seem a bit odd and biased towards the carbohydrate side. A large proportion of the bites are mashed potato with its predictable taste. Often you have some mash and either shrimp salad or sausage and this taste combination is really nice. If you are very lucky you may even experience a bite with all three main ingredients, a bit of onions and a some of the optional sauces, and you will have proof that odd food combination are sometimes much better that one can imagine.

The main problem with a Tunnbrödsrulle is in its physical design. Although it looks pleasing enough it is filled with challenges when you try to eat it. The first problem is that it is issued with a small plastic fork. Immediately you see that you may end up with a empty mash stained shell containing a lonely sausages to one side in its enormous cavity. Most forks are therefore discarded prior to consumption. A common second mistake is to go for the sausage since it is easily accessible. Soon you are in a situation where the sausage is flush with the mash and shrimp and a quick search for the forks are made in order to dig yourself out of the mess. The actual wrap can only be eaten if the filling is at least one bite lower than the wrap rim. Everything should be done with utmost care since pressure will result in mash glooping from the bottom, sides and over the rim. Remember also that it is usually bought and consumed in public lending an extra dimension to the whole experience...

It is naturally a "must try" for anyone visiting Sweden.


First Snow of the Season!

Just before sunset we had the first snow of the season. It lasted less than 10 minutes and immediately melted once it touched the ground but it was still wonderful. It came this year two days later than it did last year (see

We have been looking forward to this all summer and hope there will be more snow soon.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Food filled Friday: Episode 1: Kräftor.

Recently we discovered that we spent way too little time on sharing our interesting and sometimes wonderful culinary experiences. We thought that we should try to regularly post something about something that gets many people out of bed: FOOD. Since we are currently in Sweden we will focus a lot on the local cuisine but we may stray from Swedish dishes. If you think this is interesting, please let us know and we will try to make this a regular feature on the blog.

This week's food is Kräftor.

In English, Kräftor translates to crayfish and refer to the freshwater crustaceans that resemble small lobsters (note that in South Africa the term crayfish usually refers to saltwater spiny lobster). These little creatures are usually consumed in August but imported varieties are available all year round (although we haven't had the chance to judge ourselves we are told by our Swedish colleagues that Swedish crayfish are the best).

Crayfish parties are common in August. During these parties there are festive costumes, colorful lanterns and of course beer, snaps, Swedes and crayfish. You eat the crayfish cold, with your fingers and are allowed to suck nosily and with vigor.

Crayfish are prepared by boiling them in brine with ample dill and some other "secret" ingredient. They are left soaking in this mixture for a while prior to consumption. We bought frozen precooked crayfish. We defrosted them for two days in the refrigerator before eating with bread and snaps. The taste is slightly fishy with overtones of dill. It is not bad at all and we can recommend it to anyone coming to Sweden during August.

The following pictures are taken during our own crayfish party. This party was a slight adaptation to the normal Swedish ones by having only South Africans and it being held in September.

Here Carina is providing some basic instructions in extracting the meat from the crayfish.

My parents quickly learn how to remove the best bits from these creatures.

Note the absence of Cindy in these photos. The reason for this is that she was unable to handle them since their hard and spiny bodies freaked her out a bit. This was not due to a lack of trying as she repeatedly pick one up just to drop it if some hard edge touched her hand (note that crayfish have exoskeletons with many many edges and handling them only on the smooth areas are impossible). This was accompanied by a shrill exclamation: "ooo, nee….ek kan nie, hulle pootjies grill my te veel, nee, nee, nee" (roughly translated it means "I am freaked out by their small legs" but I think the spiny claw and eyes did not make things easier). She was however able to enjoy the meat if someone else removed it from the shell.

Let us know if there is anything specific that you want us to eat and write about (preferably something we can find in Sweden).


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spot the difference...

The beautiful colors of fall is here. I continuously hear that this is extremely lovely and people often become quite euphoric about how the whole world is changing. I have to agree that I think the change of the leaves are nice, especially the yellow ones. But I have the feeling that much of the change is lost on me. With the help of Photoshop and Carina we removed some of the red hue from two photos that we took in autumn. For me the two photos looks very much the same (save for the first photo having a slightly darker sky in the one image).

Since I don't really know how "extra red" would look like I don't feel that I miss anything. As a matter of fact I think I must be quite disturbing to have more vivid red in the world. It would probably look like a circus redecorated the place if I could suddenly see more red. I am therefore content without it. I must however protest about a recent suggestion by a student who said: " may be good to know if a child has some disabilities like colorblindness as it may be better not to allow it to live...". This is slightly "overkill" I think, and I am very happy to live with slightly less cone cells, thank you very much (in some circumstances it is even an advantage, see:

Enjoy the rest of the season. Looking forward to the black and white of winter.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Swedish classes and frozen ears...

Carina's ears are currently telling her that winter is on its way. This is worsen by cycling home from Swedish classes at nine in the evening (we will post more on our progress soon and may even provide a free lesson). To help you follow our journey through fall and into winter we added a gadget to the blog that shows the current temperature in Uppsala.

This, together with all the other thermometers in our home, will become more important in the next few weeks as we need to dress appropriately during these uncertain times. Not dressing according to the weather may lead to serious bodily harm, unlike in South Africa where in the worst case you will experience slight discomfort and sweaty armpits. 


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Full report on the visit from the family Nelson.

Prior to the visit by my parents and sibling a lot of planning went into the holiday. We spoke to Swedes and non-Swedes to obtain information on the best things to do and places to visit. Two other, very important factors were also taken into account during the planning stages which were, the weather and food. Probably a week before they arrived we had the provisions and sleeping arrangements in order while the activities were planned as if we were in charge of a small military campaign.

On the day of their arrival we were therefore ready with a reasonably busy schedule, allowing for alternate days of less strenuous activities (of course always taking the weather into account). Since our company existed of people with similar thoughts about time management  (i.e. enjoying proper and timely execution of events almost as much as the events themselves) everyone seem to derive pleasure from this structured holiday. We present in the following section a very brief description of each day with the main event and some highlights of the day:

Day 1: Arrival and Orienteering (Fredag).
A few minutes after 13:00 the family Nelson emerged with all their luggage from the arrival terminal in Arlanda Airport. We took bus 801 homewards and after 45 minutes we arrived at Uppsala central station where a small crisis ensued since one bag was left on the said bus. Coincidentally, it was the bag with all the passports but quick thinking and quicker footwork averted a potentially major disaster. Safely at home after 15 more minutes commute we took the weary travelers for a short stroll in the immediate surroundings of our burrow, Gottsunda.

Day 2: Exploring Uppsala City (Lördag).
We thought that a good strategy would be to familiarize our visitors with the city center and spent a few hours exploring Uppsala and enjoying the local cuisine.

In the afternoon we went for a slightly longer stroll near our home.
(Note: the picture was actually taken an area called Hågadalen bordering Gottsunda).

Day 3: Skansen (Söndag).
Before 9 on Sunday morning we were on the train to Stockholm to visit the open air museum, Skansen. Due to administrative difficulties we could not locate the correct bus stop at central station and were forced to walk along the most expensive and very beautiful Strandvägen to Skansen.

The rest of the day were spent at Skansen where native animals are kept and historical buildings are located with people in time period costumes.

Day 4: Gamla Uppsala (Måndag).

We were slightly slower out of the beds on Monday. This was partly due to the main event being located just outside Uppsala (and in part recovering from all the walking the previous day). We were however in time for a morning fika* on the old viking mounds.

The mounds at Gamla Uppsala are actually graves of old viking kings and other important chieftans (500 to 700 AD). Also located at Gamla Uppsala is the oldest church in Uppsala build during the 1200's. We spent some time in the church and the museum that contain a number of excavated artifacts from the mounds and surrounding areas.

We concluded the trip with a late lunch at the Odinsborg restaurant.

In the afternoon we went for a stroll in the Gottsunda Gipen.

Day 5: Uppsala Church and Museums (Tisdag).
The whole of Tuesday was spend by perusing the historic buildings and museums in Uppsala. These include the largest cathedral in Scandinavia, the oldest university in Scandinavia, Uppsala castle and the botanical gardens.

We of course also obtained some food in a very nice cafe next to the river.

Day 6: Stockholm Boat trip and Vasa Museum (Onsdag)
Wednesday was one of the most active days during the whole holiday. We left Uppsala station on an early train. 

We boarded the "Stockholm under the bridges tour" boat and for 2 hours we were entertained with the sights of the islands forming the city Stockholm.

After the boat trip we invaded old Stockholm (Gamla Stan) for some serious memorabilia shopping (we were also lucky to happen upon the change of guard at the Royal Palace).

Laden with our purchases we boarded an extremely hot bus where we were in traffic for a number of minutes. Finally we reached the Vasa museum and spent the rest of the afternoon there.

(The Vasa was the flagship of King Gustav Adolph that sank in 1628 after sailing less than 2 km during its maiden voyage. It was salvaged 300 years later and are showcased in the Vasa museum. Anyone visiting Stockholm should consider a stop at this museum. For more information on the Vasa click here).

We left Stockholm in the early evening after an eventful and educational day.

Day 7: IKEA (Torsdag).
After the previous day's adventures we went to the famous furniture company IKEA for browsing and a bit more shopping (we also went to some of the other stores in the vicinity).

Day 8: Picnic in Gottsunda Gipen (Fredag).
Carina and I thought that our guests by this time would be a bit exhausted and planned a quiet picnic in Gottsunda Gipen.

BUT after a successful picnic and braai they surprised us with a suggestion to take a long walk home through the forrest. Even when we were close to home they insisted that we make another long detour to experience some more of the forest.

That night we made a short movie of the photos of the bears that we saw fighting in the Gipen. Link here.

Day 9: Culture Night (Lördag).
Coinciding with the holiday was Uppsala's annual culture night. During this night various artists showcase their talents, most of the museums are free and open and a multitude of other sights, performances, shows and much more are to be seen. From the wide selection of entertainment we decided to listen to various choir performances in the cathedral followed by an organ performance which concluded at midnight.

Day 10: Lake Malären, Brunch at Skarholmen (Söndag).

To ensure that our guests experience the maximum amount of Swedish cuisine we went for a brunch bufe on Sunday. For some reason, brunch at the Skarholmen restaurant starts at 12 pm which was not a bad thing considering our previous night's activities. It is important to mention that the Skarholmen restaurant is located at lake Malären (about 4 km from where we live) and we had a beautiful view while eating favorites such as Kjöttbullar, gravadlax, rökta räkor, rödbetor och fetta salad and much more.

After lunch we went for a short stroll along the shoreline, took the bus home and took a much needed nap.

Day 11: Uppsala, last shopping (Måndag).
The mood of the whole company on Monday was a bit sombre. We spent half the day  in Uppsala viewing the buildings for a last time and strolling along the river. A final bit of shopping was also done to ensure a bit of Sweden would be taken to South Africa.

After a last lunch we headed back home where packing commenced.

Day 12:  Last Day. Packing and flight back (Tisdag).
We started the last day with the usual cup of freshly brewed coffee. After breakfast most of the company got into action and serious packing by the parents was completed before tea time. Cindy and Ronnie, however cycled to his work where she met real Swedes, Chinese, and a Pole.

Very long before the flight we were back and everyone was rearing to leave. We left 2 busses too early to Uppsala central station and got on an early bus to the Arlanda airport. At the airport our guests checked in without a problem and we said our goodbyes. They promised to return in the future to experience a winter in Sweden. We also got a final gift from the airport security (confiscated lingon jam: NOT allowed in hand luggage). We waved them goodbye and returned home.**


We enjoyed the 12 days very much and hope to have more visits from South African family and friends. Therefore please apply for a Shengen Visa at the Swedish embassy and come for a visit. We will extend the same hospitality and tailor the vacation to your needs…


*Fika means something like having a coffee break but encompass much more. We will have a blog on the whole concept of "fika" in the future.
**They arrived home the next day before lunch. Their check-in luggage spent an extra night in Paris but were reunited with them the following day.

Lastly: For more photos become friends with "Ron En Sarie Nelson" and browse through their photo-album on Facebook.