Sweden: Old World Beauty and Telling the Truth


The shift is dramatic from the natural beauty of Iceland to the charm and magnificence of human engineering.  It has been a good number of years since I last laid eyes on a European city.  The staggering amount of stonework moved into one location over the centuries never fails to amaze the senses.  Add onto the facade the delicate artistry and decoration throughout the ages and this leaves me spellbound with a twinge of unexplained nostalgia to curl up under the black topped roofs with a steaming cup of tea and wonder at the magic of winter.  

Stockholm, where I find myself thankfully at the end of summer, is a compilation of 14 islands dating back to 1250 with roots in Viking history.  Known for its beauty, clean water and 3 hours of sun in the winter, I am surrounded by picturesque views of grand buildings and boats on every waterfront; no wonder it is sometimes called the Venice of the north.  
20130919-193306.jpgI have taken a turn to Sweden to visit a few couchsurfing friends and my Stockholm connection is Milla.  She lives in Sodermalm, what used to be the working class part of town.   It is now know for a bohemian, alternative culture and slightly privileged young, but as Stockholm is one of the fastest growing cities, every living quarter is gentrifying and as the prices continue to rise young people are finding it harder and harder to locate affordable accommodation in the city.  Locals engage enthusiastically in the direction of their city and various construction projects are on hold and even entering legal proceedings as citizens challenge the government on actually improving the city and not just aiming at bringing in more tourist dollars and luxury apartments, further forcing the young out of the city.  Milla kindly puts me on their “drunk mattress” in their second bedroom: the kitchen.   I’ve never slept in a kitchen anywhere; I’ve slept on decks, hammocks, couches and bathtubs, but I’m sad to say I never slept in my own kitchen just to say I had. I think when I sleep in a hallway that will about complete the set. 

20130919-193236.jpgSweden is expensive to put it simply. The citizens put money into the system and reap the benefits, but travelers get hit with the costs up front.  Public transportation is about 3$ a hit, museums are 15$ each and while you can find some less expensive drinks, expect around 9$.  The pastries are a delightful surprise when I find out many of them contain cardamom and the rye bread sweetened with lingonberries is a new favorite of mine.  

20130919-193215.jpgGamla Stan, Old town, is a fantastic place to stroll around and feel connected to the old world beauty of Stockholm, just close your eyes to all the tourist additions and dont bother eating with the inflated prices.  Climb the tower of city hall, the view is worth the price and happens to be the least expensive.  City hall is also where the Nobel ceremony is held if you wish to pay the standard museum  fare to see it first hand.  You can see the Palace Chapel for free which is quite magnificent.  Most museums have a day on which they are free so take advantage of that starting your first day.  I managed to see the Nordiska museum for free and was amazed at their collection of jewelry, some was even made of hair that looked just like metal to me. There was also a nice display on place settings over the centuries which really explained the table settings at my best friends home who have Swedish roots.  


20130919-193316.jpgI happened upon stockholm city center just as I foolishly thought I had covered most of downtown on foot.  Here were the amounts of people I had expected to find, laying around fountains and sipping coffee.  Coincidently I also discovered that the police were out in force blocking off streets and causing much transportation havoc due to a visit by president Obama.  Strange I thought, he had just vacationed a stones throw from me in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and now followed in my footsteps to Stockholm.  Of course my path to Djurgarden was impeeded by his motorcade route, but I undertook my patriotic duty and waved back as he passed on his way.  

20130919-193325.jpgDjurgarden is another of Stockholms islands and home to skansen, the zoo and theme park, as well as many museums, including ABBA and a giant park.  In my stroll through the park, I wandered into a small dreamland for me.  A huge hedge labarynth sprung out of my forest path and I cleared my head as I walked its maze.  The maze happened to be of a different layout than I am used to which was a plesant surprise.  

20130919-193254.jpgThen I found myself in a sprawling sustainable garden.  Complete with a cafe and large beautiful grounds for eating and having a picnic.  There were apple and pear trees everywhere with ripe fruit, green houses, and a flower and vegitable garden.  Obviously I took my lunch here and soaked in the nature and beauty of the grounds.  Here was an integrated example of organic farming with public support and it looked great.  Great pangs of longing to halt my travels and live an integrated lifestyle sprang up.  The dream is alive and well, but I have more traveling and learning to accomplish first.

20130919-193244.jpgI hopped a plane to Gothenburg and was met by my good friend Johanna.  We met under unusual circumstances in Kansas City; obviously guided by the universal intervention of one crazy neighbor banging on my door luring me down to the park with the “there is someone you just have to meet” line.  It was slightly strange to realize we were both in Sweden and at the same time felt completly normal, like a year and a half hadent passed since our last contact and we weren’t in the states anymore.  Johanna lives in Falkenberg on the western coast.  A popular vacation spot for Europeans.  


I arrived just past the vacation season, but it was still unseasonably warm and the water was still pleasant.  I would say it was a nice mix between Seaside Florida, the planned community with quaint pastel beach homes, and a summer on cape cod.  White sandy beaches, about 80F and slightly cooler ocean temperatures, anyone from the northeast wouldnt have even noticed the difference.  I was surprised to put “summer ocean retreat” and Sweden together, but alas Sweden doesnt really come onto the radar much for Americans with our own summer destinations much closer to home.

 20130919-193343.jpgJohanna works at the spa hotel on the beach and was kind enough to take a vacation for my visit.  We ate some local food, went mushroom hunting in the pristine local woods (they also have loads of moss as well!), gathered various fruits from the multitude of fruit trees all over the city, rested our feet and caught up over long conversations.

20130919-193402.jpgWe took a day in Gothenburg to ride roller coasters, a Sunday in fact because apparently the world turns upside down on Sundays.  First the busses and trains are all off schedule.  They arrive on opposite side of the tracks, to many a persons confusion, and yet things very much went our way. On the train we met our new friend Will, a travel writer from Colorado, exploring Sweden’s coast.  We would later be on the same flight to Copenhagen and spend a few hours conversing about many topics.  Once arrived at the theme park, we were often ushered to the front of lines so that other larger groups could ride together.  We got soaked, we conqured fears of heights and we laughed so hard it hurt.  Peoples faces and screams provide such good humor I quite forgot how much laughter is involved in rollar coasters.  And laughter if you didn’t know makes you happy and creates the same state as meditation. This pretty much sucsessfully concluded my activities and tour of Sweden.  A wonderfully enjoyable feast for the eyes with much more to explore. 

20130919-193410.jpgWhile speaking with Will on the topic of writing, as I am just getting used to these blog posts and my writing skills, I didnt really know how to address Sweden other than my talking points above.  I wasn’t moved tremendously by any event special to Sweden. The city was magically beautiful and I enjoyed all that sprang into existence, but my writings are to be about revelations and walking the path.  Will advised me that if you dont know what to write, write the truth.  Thus the truth is something else happened to me while in Falkenberg which consumed a full day and was personal to me.  However the topic is a global and practical one which I now see much benefit in trying to address.

Managing your health and energy, with awareness.  Coming in part 2


Iceland: Manifesting sunshine in the middle of a storm


Its the first day of international travel, you’re tired, you’re excited, its raining and you have no plans. Welcome to Iceland. Newspaper headlines warning travelers of an untimely winter storm coming in from the north; Do not travel under penalty of death. Between a 4 hour wait in the lobby or exploration; I strap on that much needed rain jacket and warm clothes because i never thought to check the summer weather in Iceland. Its 10C (50F) and vibrantly green. It reminds me of the urban jungle of Seattle, I swear some of the newer buildings on the waterfront are recent immagrants. In winter the sun barely rises, which is probably why the buildings are painted bright colors and Iceland ranks 4th in coffee consumption per capita. I wander the streets between the bursts of rain, visit a few attractions and soak in the public pool, fed by volcanic warm waters. I am pretty happy with myself for getting out and soaking the place in when normally i would just curl up with a good book and drink tea.

My story of Iceland is a culmination of events, syncronised over 40 hours that lines up just right. With the right people, at the right time, with the right attitude and viola: Sunshine in a storm. Before i relate the tale i want to talk about creating synchronicity. I hope everyone has experienced this phenomenon before In little and big ways. Synchronicity is a blend of perspective, attitude and staying in the moment. If i had been lacking any of those elements i could have had the same journey and certainly not felt esctatic every moment i lived it. Being aware is half the battle and choosing to be happy with whatever is, is the other half. I had no plans, no goals, and nothing to accomplish or get upset over. Before heading to Iceland i only knew 3 things, i would like to see some natural beauty, i would love to soak in a natural hot spring, and there was a free concert on Saturday night (Of Monsters and Men, natives of Iceland) and one other thing which i forgot till it slapped me in the face, but ill get to that. If i got to do those things, great; if not, who cares, whatever else i would do would be perfect enough. It is too often that we have an expectation for how our life or day should be. To let go of the how and let the universe fill in the details is to be in the moment. This obviously requires chilling out, taking it down a notch and killing off part of your ego. Take more time to notice life around you, that you are alive and presumably well. Be thankful for the moment of awareness. This is the start of the journey of transformation. Practice well and stay alert. Then you will be grateful for the little moments when things always go your way, and aware enough when you think they aren’t going your way to see the bigger picture and know you are being shifted and your expectation should be dropped. I am on a journey to discover myself, meditate and learn about sustainable living: this is going to take a lot of letting go so that I may be directed to the best outcome and help many people along the way. May you also enjoy every moment going your way and spread the joy. Thus without further ado the story:

The instigating factor may be an impromptu couchsurfing meetup in the city. Im not into drinking, but I love to meet people so I resolve myself to check off my couchsurfing (CS) requirements in Iceland in this manner. I meet some locals, some foreginers and a guy off the street freshly intoduced to the world of CS and loving it. The forcast for tomorrow is a hot debate. My phone alerts me in no certain terms that cloud cover is in order, but rain in short supply. The locals really think the worst is coming and in Icelandic style prefer to stay inside and wait out the storm because people die when the weather turns bad. The first good sign arrives because at some point when I run down 4 flights of stairs and track down a girl who left her phone on the way to the airport. Miraculously i find her and notice the sun for the first time as seen here:


Kana my new Japanese friend and I are hot to rent a car and see some sights since we both just know the weather is going to be perfect, because hey, it has to be. Over trying to accept the weather cautions of the locals and taking in their recommendations for things to see we meet Julien, our new French friend who already has a car! After slight convincing to drive tomorrow if the weather is indeed nice we have our plans straight.

Kana and I walk home sharing our good mood about how a car just manifested and that tomorrow is going to be amazing when I grab her arm in the middle of the street. She screems and flails her arms wildly trying to fend off the invisible car she thinks she has just stepped in front of. I finally direct her attention skyward where my jaw is dropped and the vivid swirling greens of the northern lights are smack overhead right between the cloud cover. I had quite forgotten that people come to Iceland to see the Aurora, completely forgetting it was something I truly wanted to see in this life and here it was visable in the city raining its light on me. This was truly going to be a wonderful trip. I stated then and there no matter what happens, Iceland was a success. I could sit inside for 2 days and would be happy because I got to see something I thought I would have had to sit in the snow for hours waiting for with no certain outcome and here it was a free gift for looking up at the right time.


I awoke the next morning to sun breaking through clouds and knew our adventure was on. I am about to travel around Iceland with two new friends who just happen to speak collectively the 3 languages I speak. I don’t think this can get any more synchronistic or fun for me. We can see the rain clouds moving on as we move inland revealing to us the alien landscape formed by volcanoes. Starkly sharp rocks butting up against vividly green and surprisingly quite spongy moss. The most moss ive ever seen in my life in fact. It seems such a rare thing, moss, and yet Iceland is overflowing with it. The local stories of Trolls taking naps in this landscape sound quite understandable. We arrive at the double waterfall gullfoss as the clouds break and sun bestows its grace upon this national landmark. With the roaring waters and mist rising in the morning sun a rainbow graces our lone presence at this majestic site.

We move to the next stop, a gyser, as the clouds cover the waterfall again only to part at our next destination. Boiling water regularly rising 75-100 feet in the air is certainly a sight to see. The next stop that completes the golden circle tour, touted as the number one tourist excursion with good reason, is the national park. Driving through the breathtaking landscape surrounding a lake we thought we had taken in the location. We decided to stop on a side road to see if we could get a better look over the lake and wind up at a crack in the earth widening every year by 2 centimeters. You can still see the curves of the lava flow in the rock and the straight edges of the plate where it splits the world. Thank you geology class on volcanoes for all the tidbits I still retain. We really took our time exploring the area, the view and the rock formations were something to really take in. This is the location the tourists are brought too and we found it by mistake. The beauty of these locations, with the sun shining high on blue and fluffy clouds couldn’t be more spectacular. We head to our next location, off the beaten track. At the end of a nearby fjord is an hour hike to glymer foss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall at 198meters. Situated in a lush valley shaped like the hull of a ship extending from the fjord to mountains holding back a lake, we climbed across moss, through a small cave, over a river and up rocks to reach my favorite experience. Striking green, flowing water, birds circling this high crevice, and once again graced by a rainbow I breathed in the awe and wonder that this adventure had brought me. What divine beauty lined up all the pieces to accomplish this sensation? I started with no knowledge and reaching this pinnacle of experience am floored at not only the immediate beauty, but the expanding feeling of cooperating with the universe at each step. A universe which cares for me deeply, always helping me be ever present and living in a state of gratitude has reached this magical place inside and out. Sitting unnervingly close to the edge for my friend Julien’s slight fear of heights I poured myself into the earth and pulled out the deep calm knowing that this whole trip would be filled with experiences such as this, inner changing landscapes and simple grace offered always and freely.



After 11 hours so far there is more icing on this cake. Just outside the fjord is a local hotpot, another recommendation from the CS locals.

The only thing I really asked for was a natural hotspring experience and we were about to have it. I wanted to jump in the ocean, then the hotpot and roar with accomplishment of having braved the elements in Iceland. However, sitting there for 20 minutes, in a swimming suit, trying to submerge ourselves into probably 46C (114F) water was not going to our plan. Despite Julien and my attempts to submerge ourselves for 3-5 seconds at a time the water was just too scalding and we had to settle for the short dips and hilarious attempts at entry into the pool.


We head straight to the concert and find parking as utterly close as possible to reach on foot, another perfect circumstance. Kana is wavering between sleep and standing, but I am enjoying myself immensely. I think now had we soaked, we all would have been exhausted and thus our struggle was truly for the best. Julien even recognized a song and everyone had a laugh over the name of the band. They thought “Of Monsters and Men” would have been a much more rock show than the mellow easy tunes that they really are. Dancing to a light mist and a wonderful day, we all couldn’t be happier for a hot shower and some much deserved sleep.

Awaking to another day of no plans, utterly content to read and write inside since the rain returned, I was surprised to find in the kitchen a nice lady who just started telling me about a little known hotpot in Reykjavik city. Out of the way of tourists and with a clear view of the mountains, it sounded like pure joy on a day like this. I message Kana and we arrange to check it out before she leaves with another CS friend to tour the rest of the island for a week. As we are walking, because buses don’t run regularly on Sundays, we decide we need a taxi to make it on time. Within 1 minute one shows up out of nowhere and viola we are on our way. We are dropped off relatively close since I am going to have to discover this place on our own. It takes some peeking, but soon discover a hole cut into a large rock, enough to cover 2 people just enough and watch the weather enter the city.


Pure bliss, perfect temperature, and a view, what else could one ask for? Well we get called heroes by a few local hikers for stripping down in the current weather, but it feels blissfully warm to me. Again we have trouble with the bus going home and after 5 minutes successfully accomplish another task for my life, to hitchhike. A nice lady who normally has her car full with her 3 kids picks us up, glad to finally help some travelers. I am reminded of a line from Murakami’s 1Q84 “Everything is not as it may seem. You are about to do something out of the ordinary.” The rest of your day will look and be different. Our day was changed with the kindness of strangers and worked out to reach our destination on time and her day will be changed by doing something out of the ordinary and with the gratitude of helping us. I say my goodbye’s and promises to keep in touch with kana. I fill the rest of my day with Julien; eating delicious noodles and soaking for 3 hours at the blue lagoon. An expensive spa experience with milky blue waters and various types of water experiences.


I waltz through airport security simply because there was none. Being the 8th person into the airport I never got my ID checked, but still managed a x-ray on my bag. I felt I was in a scene from “The Langoliers” with the whole airport empty. Leaving was as easy as arriving. No fuss and a lot of smiles. I actually laughed myself to sleep when recounting the whole episode and thinking I’ve got another 1000 days to enjoy mastering this new way of being.