Stockholm, Sweden

Or as my friend David describes it: The Venice of the North

Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I rented a car and drove from Oslo to Copenhagen. Having spent just one night in Stockholm, it seemed like the right time for a longer visit. The country has had relaxed COVID-19 restrictions from the beginning of the pandemic and since I am vaccinated and an expert at social distancing, I booked the trip hoping it would not be one of the ones to be cancelled (I’ve had 10 or more cancelled holidays since March 2020).

The principle reason for this trip: I was invited to a gin tasting party in Vilamoura, Portugal shortly after moving to Faro. It was one of my first events as a retiree and I felt like a kid on his first day of school. If I am to be honest, it was a big trip to make just to taste some gin. But . . . there is a reason they say, “You never know what the day will bring.” At the end of the tasting I met a Swedish couple who had only moved to Portugal two weeks after me. Unlike the others at the tasting they were warm and welcoming; we became fast friends. They are the reason I visited Stockholm and Kälholmen island. I was invited over two years ago. The pandemic kept me away for awhile, but not forever.

I scheduled a few days in Stockholm prior to taking the trip to their island paradise.

During the first few days of my trip I was blessed with magnificent clear skies and temperate sunshine. One of the nice things about going to Sweden in the summer, is the almost springlike weather.

Three Very Different Overnight Accomodations

  1. An airbnb in Östermalm — My small studio was in a beautiful neighborhood filled will parks, eateries, and waterways. It was about a 30 minute walk to the Old Town and other sights. It was billed as a writer’s studio because it was on the top floor and had a skylight and writing desk. It was everything I love about Airbnbs; quiet, away from tourists, and affordable. I did not meet the host — it was perfect.
Listing image 7
Writer’s Studio

2. Källholmen Island — 2.5 hours from Stockholm by ferry. My friend’s cozy cottage; surrounded by water and nature, no running water and bathing in the Baltic Sea. The Swedes prefer and enjoy island living in the summer and Sweden has thousands of beautiful islands, small and large.

My bathtub

3. Blique by Nobis

A bit fancier and a nice way to end my stay in Stockholm. Strange name perhaps, but this boutique hotel was far from strange. Beautifully designed, new, and a bit trendy. The bed was fantastic and that makes me very happy. Odd to have down comforters in August, but heck, it’s Sweden so I just opened the window. An excellent gym helped with some of the guilt from this trip. Breakfast was included and it was one of the best buffets I have experienced.

Eating in Stockholm

I was impressed with the restaurant options in Stockholm; every type of cuisine I love was available. The Algarve does not have a Korean restaurant, making Korean a must. There were many Korean restaurants in Stockholm, some right near my hotel. Even my hotel’s rooftop restaurant had Korean food on the menu. I thought about going out for Italian food, but Asian won out again. I also indulged in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Ulla Winbladh

My new friends took me out for dinner at this beautiful, authentic Swedish restaurant, located in a beautiful park minutes from Stockholm’s center.

“At Ulla Winbladh you can enjoy authentic Swedish food crafts in a historic environment. Here we serve home-cooked food as it should always be, that is: a purely mind-expanding experience.
The inn Ulla Winbladh, whose name takes its inspiration from the national poet Bellman’s muse, is well known for its high-class Swedish food tradition. The inn in 1897 is something as unusual as a popular concept restaurant.

The building in which Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh is housed was originally built for the Stockholm Art and Industry Exhibition in 1897 by the architect Gustav Wickman. From the beginning, the facilities housed an ultra-modern steam bakery at the time and was then called Reinholds Ångbageri. Later, the business became a patisserie where, among other things, waffles with whipped cream and jam were served. When the patisserie was transformed into a restaurant in the mid-50s, the name was changed to Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh. The name comes from Bellman’s most famous mistress and muse who in reality was named Maria Kristina Källström. In the 18th century, it was common to go out and have fun at Djurgården, something that Bellman and his girlfriends often indulged in. 

In 1992, the restaurateur, cookbook author and food columnist Nils Emil Ahlin took over the inn and created the Ulla Winbladh we know today. Since 2004, Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh has been owned by Stockholms Restauranger & Wärdshus, which works to manage the Swedish food heritage. The ambition is to nurture and develop the atmosphere and history that the inn in 1897 holds and of course – the Swedish taste traditions.

Guide Michelin has now presented which restaurants in the Nordic region will receive the world’s most prestigious restaurant award this year. At the press conference, the 2020 Michelin stars and recipients of the Bib Gourmand award were announced. The latter award – Bib Gourmand – indicates a restaurant that serves “well-cooked food at a reasonable price”. We humbly thank you for keeping our Bib for the thirteenth year in a row! Last year, Ulla WI nbladh broke a record as the restaurant in Sweden that kept its Bib Gourmand for the longest period.” Restaurant website

This dining experience was a real treat. The outdoor eating area made for a very pleasant evening. The crayfish, cheese pie, and creamy chanterelle mushrooms were highlights.

Museum

Millesgarden Sculpture Park is located outside the city. Milles’ home and studios are on the grounds and you get to tour the house and gardens. The restaurant on site was terrific. You get a spectacular view of Stockholm from the gardens.

“Personally Milles loved and wished to evoke at Millesgarden the gardens of Italy’s Mediterranean coast. In the newly-built loggia, the Little Studio designed by Evert Milles, Carl commissioned a fresco painting of the bay of Naples with acan­thus and cactus in the foreground and olive and wheat being farmed in the distance.”

There were many fantastic parks in and around Stockholm, making walking for hours a pleasure.

Transportation in and Around the City

I took a taxi into the city after landing; it was about 65 Euros and at midnight, worth every penny. Travel weary and punchy, there were no Ubers available. A train goes into and out of the center for about 12 Euros; that’s how I returned to the airport — it’s about a 40 minute ride.

Stockholm has a very clean and efficient subway and light rail system. I used my ATM to buy tickets and frankly, didn’t even look at the cost of a ride. I believe it’s under four euros; not cheap, but it gets you there quickly. I did not use the bus or tram system, but I noticed the buses were all new. I was told that there is only one tram line left in the city. I did use Uber a few times and found it to be pretty quick and reasonable.

One Unexpected Memory

My friend David lived and studied in Stockholm many years ago. He met a gay couple while he was there and they have stayed in touch. David suggested that I meet them and doing so was one of the highlights of my trip. Claes and Nils have been together for over 30 years (I think that’s correct). We enjoyed a couple of excellent meals together and I got see their lovely home. They were warm, gracious and gave me hope for finding lasting love.

Overall Impressions

First and foremost, Sweden is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been — in or outside of the city. Almost everyone speaks English. The Swedes are warm and welcoming. I hope no one minds that I add that they are also very attractive. The closer you get to the city centre, the more diversity you see. There is no shortage of culture and attractions. The architecture is breathtaking and unique. The Swedes have a talent for design; you see that everywhere, in everything. Whether it’s old and stately or modern and sleek, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of it all. I was struck by how much green there is everywhere; nature takes a front seat and has not been overlooked or forgotten. Sweden has embraced technology; therefore, using cash is impossible in most places. This is not the case in Portugal and took some getting used to. I’m sure the world is headed in this direction. I understand that germs and bacteria are abundant on cash.

You’re not really supposed to like ABBA in Sweden. It’s nerdy.
Izabella Scorupco

Marriage is not common in Sweden.
— Eva Gabrielsson

COVID-19 and Travel

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time writing about the pandemic in Sweden and traveling there from Portugal. I will say two things: First, I did not see a lot of mask wearing and there was no mandate to do so, and second, because it is an EU country, the only restriction for travel was that you had to be either vaccinated or tested. I was pleasantly surprised with both.

Future Travel

Lyon, France in mid-September

London for theatre in October

The Eastern Algarve in November

Christmas in Faro with friends

Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore in January ’22 (includes a cruise) — my flight has already been cancelled making this trip a big maybe (my second attempt)

Cuba February ’22

Toulouse, France April ’22

Basel, Switzerland June ’22

Colorado, USA September ’22

Northern Europe Norwegian Line Cruise October ’22

If Paco’s caretaker allows me to go, there will be additional travel in between.

Travel Quotes Those who wander are lost J.R.R. Tolkien Quote
#travelquotes #inspiration

All Kinds of Friendship

Reblog from 2019 post with some new content (always learning) — [new content in brackets]

“The best mirror is an old friend.”

George Herbert

adult affection beads blur

Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:

  • Friendship with a life partner
  • A close friend
  • A sibling who is also a friend
  • Your parent as friend (being childless, I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
  • A co-worker who is a friend

My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.

[The pandemic shed a new light on close friends; I’m fairly certain a couple of my friends saved me from myself during lockdown. What did we do before Facetime, whatsapp, and Zoom? I shared a few meals with single friends from the U.S. during lockdown and it made eating so much more fun.]

To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances:

acquaintance əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/ noun            

2. a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend. “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances” synonyms: contact, associate, connection, ally, colleague

I am certain you all acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be extremely disappointed.

[I’ve spent a lot of time differentiating close friends from acquaintances this past year. It’s been so much better for my emotional well-being. My expectations are always off-the-charts; therefore, sorting out who my true friends are was a good exercise for me.]

Friendship with a Life Partner

This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t necessarily mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.

Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful thoughts about your partner.

Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.

Also, if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.

[I feel fortunate to have an ex who has become a good friend; someone I can talk to, travel with, and rely on. He knows me better than just about anyone else. He can call me on my shit and do it without offending me and I can do the same (I think). Knowing there is someone you can call and they will show-up for you, means everything. It wasn’t easy getting here, but it certainly was worth it.]

A Close Friend

Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.

We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). [Paco is not a replacement for Giorgio, but he’s loving and sweet and I’m better off for having adopted him.] A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.

I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.

Caution:  Be careful to make sure that  sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.

Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.

[Due to the pandemic, I have not seen several of my closest friends, but that’s about to change. In a few weeks, I will once again be able to hug, laugh, and cry with friends — the emotional roller coaster of the last year has been challenging.]

A Sibling

Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were. [It is strange to say this, but even though my brother has been gone for quite a while, that relationship/memory has only gotten stronger. It has taught me that death can be the continuation of a beautiful friendship, however, on a different level.]

A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing. [As I stated earlier, life, in its purest meaning, doesn’t end when someone special in your life passes.]

Your Parent as Friend

It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.

Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile, “Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”

She was a smart lady, my mom.

Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They usually want your friendship and they usually earn it.

“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”

Rebecca Hall

[I had a deeper friendship with my father; I’m not sure why that was, but what I do know is that it came naturally. There was no judgment, only support, compassion, and sweet memories. The loss of that friendship is felt almost every day. Still, I feel fortunate to have had that friendship for the first 41 years of my life.]

A Co-Worker who is a Friend

This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.

Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.

There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.

[I count several former co-workers as lifelong friends.]

Separation from a Friend

As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you. [I recently attempted to be truthful with a friend about a conversation that disturbed me. Her reaction was unfortunate, defensive and untruthful; she took no responsibility. I have broken my own rule and ended the relationship without stating my intentions. As I get older I am realizing the value of self-preservation and the avoidance of drama.]

Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.

For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.

Politics

I could do an entire blog on friendship and today’s political climate, but if I were to dwell on the topic for more than a few minutes, I’d have to make myself a double.

When Trump was elected president, I was angry, upset, terrified, and disappointed, and I still am [much less so as I update this blog — today I am hopeful.] I let family members know how I felt and some of them said a version of this:

“Family always comes first and you should never let politics come between you and family.”

And that’s where we disagree.  If I know for a fact that you hated Obama as president because he is African-American, and that you consequently voted for a conservative man because he was going to undo everything the last administration did or that you don’t believe a woman can hold our highest office, then I do not want to be your friend and it is has undoubtedly come between us. Does that mean that I love immigrants and medicare recipients more than I love my family and friends? It does not; however, what it does mean is that I love my fellow human being and when I think about the one percent wealthiest Americans, the biased, the racist, and the greed of some politicians, I am always going to be sympathetic to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the unemployed, the drug addict, and the LGBT community (not an exhaustive list).

Acknowledging the doors that were opened for you or the opportunities you have had that others have not had, will help you to be a more empathetic and giving person.

If family know how I feel and still want me in their lives, well then they’re stuck with me. [This situation has played out on two occasions and I am grateful for the patience and understanding of these two individuals. As a result of the work we’ve done, our relationship is stronger and more meaningful. Of course, I’m only speaking for myself.]

Reconnecting

Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course:  1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?

People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways. [Forgiving myself especially.]

[My friend Isa recently sent me this photo. It was the day I met her mother Arnet (pictured). We posed for this picture on the Brooklyn Bridge after a delightful walk and lunch. Isa said that she framed it because it was a special day for her; our friendships often introduce us to others who may become significant in our lives as well.]

I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.

“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”      

Ben Franklin 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”     

Thomas Aquinas

I think this Stephen Schwartz song from Wicked sums up the power of friendship.

Travel

I made it to São Miguel and I’ll be writing about my trip for next week’s blog. So far, I like what I see.

Question of the week:

Do you have a story to tell about a friend or would you like to share some friendly advice?