Monday, July 12, 2010

Vasteras Sweden - Biggest American Classic Car Festival in the World

Hello Everyone.  Nate here. I know what you are thinking. "Why is Nathan writing on this blog?...and where is Mandy?"   Mandy is back in the states for a couple of weeks shopping for her store.  She left me strict instructions to write of my travels when she is off providing for our family. :) 

This past week, I journeyed to Vasteras, Sweden for some business and pleasure.

Before we get to the pleasure part of the trip, I would like to share with you a little about Vasteras. Vasteras is located about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Stockholm.  Vasteras is one of the oldest cities in Sweden and Northern Europe. The name originates from Västra Aros, which refers to the estuary of the river Svartån. The area has been populated since the Nordic Viking Age (before 1000 AD). Västerås is predominantly known as an industrial city. The town is currently the sixth largest city in Sweden with approximately 136,000 inhabitants.

During my visit I had the opportunity to capture a very creative hotel.  Approximately 5 minute walk from my office, in the main city center park, exists Hotel Hackspett (or in English Hotel Woodpecker). This hotel is a little different then most as it is situated 40 feet up in an old oak tree. It was built in 1998 and renovated in 2006. No damage to the tree was done when they built this cottage, no nails - it is suspended by very powerful steel wires. Yes, it does has both a kitchen and a toilet up there too, so you don’t have to worry about getting down the rope ladder in a hurry!   Personally, I think the hotel has a rather reasonable room rate if you consider the experience of a lifetime: 1000 SEK (150 Dollar / 100 Euro), 1250 SEK with breakfast and 1500 SEK with breakfast and dinner. It can only be booked between 1 April - 31 October since it does not have any electricity or heat (other from yourself!). I am planning to head back to Vasteras at the end of August and will see if I can wrap up my trip with a 1 night experience in the WoodPecker. Stay Tuned....

Hotel Woodpecker

The Swedes definately have a passion for American classic cars. Vasteras is home to the annual "Power Big Meet" festival.  This year it happened to take place during my visit (imagine that!).  Power Big Meet has to be the biggest American car show in the world.  The event started in 1978 with 400 visitors and 80 cars. This year (32 years later), there were over 15,000 classic cars that participated in the event.

Wow...That is alot of cars.  I wonder how this compares to Woodstock back in the late 60s.

I have never seen such an amazing event in all my life.   I think this video does a very good job of summarizing the event.

Below are a couple of additional pictures that I liked.

Check out the American & Rebel flags.  Made me feel that I was back in my home land.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Midsummer in Sweden

Last weekend was Midsummer, a National Holiday in both Finland and Sweden, and we were asked by one of Nathan's colleague's, Per Ivars, to join him and his family for a traditional Swedish Midsummer celebration.  And how can you turn that down?!?!  You can't!

So Nathan booked us a room on the Silja Serenade, a cruise ship that goes from Helsinki to Stockholm for Thursday night arriving Friday morning (leave at 5 pm arrive at 9 am).  We hadn't been on a cruise since my 30th birthday, so I was really excited we were going this way instead of flying!

Nathan loved watching the Semis drive onto the boat!

It actually all started when we were in Turku... and saw the ABB Azipod.  Nathan said "The Azipod is used on a lot of cruise ships  - we should take a cruise to Sweden to see Per - it could be like an ABB sponsored trip." (um and yes - we really do have converstaions like this.)  I told Nathan that ALL my trips were sponsored by ABB (thanks ABB!), but that I would love to see the Azipod in action anyway.:)  Turns out the Azipod isn't used on the Silja Line... so I guess we are just going to have to go on one of these Royal Caribbean ships where it actually is used.:)  Anyone want to join us?  I'm thinking New Year's - yes?!
Enjoying our departing Lonkero ("long drink" made of gin)!

Leaving Helsinki

Do you guy's remember my post on Suomenlinna? This is a view of King's Gate from the cruise ship - pretty cool.  I love that you can see all the little islands behind this island!

The Good Life!

Right after that picture was taken we headed down to the Tax Free shop and bought some alcohol for "later"... as in later that night.  After our lonkeros, we bought beer, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of wine, and then ended up going to the Irish Pub on board for more beer and to watch the "football" game.  Needless to say it didn't take long before I looked like this...

Good Times!

And Nathan was up to trouble...

I don't think you are supposed to be there honey.

Needless to say we had a great time - well that night - the next morning was a little rough for Nathan - I guess 35 isn't treating him that well:)!

I love being in the middle of the ocean (okay the Baltic Sea), but no land just water - I love it! 
 Oh and this picture was taken at 11:30 at night - crazy!

After arriving in Stockholm, we took a bus and then a train to Ransta (a small town of about 800 people) to meet the Ivars Family!  Camilla, Per's better half:), was the Hostess with the Mostess and prepared TWO amazing Midsummer Feasts for us.  The Ivars - and their family and friends - sure know how to show an American a good time!

We started out with the traditional sil (herring), potato, and snaps (schnaps) lunch - drinking songs included - of course!  Camilla served three different types of herring, and I surprisingly liked the onion and the mustard
kinds - not sure what the third kind was but it wasn't my fave - good thing we had the snaps to wash it down...

All the Snaps bought just for us (and a little vodka thrown in too) - thanks guys:)  I guess a little of hair of the dog is always good.
Håkan gave Nathan a list of snaps we HAD to try (the list in front of the bottles) - and they had gotten all of them - thank goodness!?!?

Beautiful table - and I loved that they got an American Flag for us:)

Here's a video (here's the link of you can't click on it below) of us trying to sing some Swedish Drinking songs.  They translated them to english phonetically (so we could sing a long) - but I have no idea what they actually meant!  This is the one I call "Hell & Gore" because that is what it was translated to:)


After lunch we went to the next town over, Scala, to see the local festivities including a dance around the Maypole!

When we got back Per organized a brannboll game - they told me it was kind of like baseball - but I'm going to have to call BS on that.  Well - I guess it was played with a ball and bat, but honestly I'm still not sure the rules - all I know is that nobody actually gets "out" and even if you strike out you still get to go to 1st base.  Is this an "everyone's a winner" kind of crap game?  Us Americans like to have "outs" so we know who is winning:)  Well at least they do keep score - and our team WON!  We were naturals - what can I say.:)
Per trying to explain how his team LOST - sorry Per we can't all be winners:)

Now on to feast number TWO!  The Swedens sure do know how to celebrate!  While helping Camilla prepare dinner, she let me taste a bunch of Swedish foods that I had never had before - reindeer cream chesse (good), caviar in a tube (like toothpaste) mixed with mayonaise(?) possibly (I thought it was good but then when I was sober the next morning decided otherwise), and messmör (made from whey - what's "leftover" when make cheese - I think this is what they make the Swiss drink Rivella from - anyway it was AWESOME - loved it - even the next morning:)!)

The Girls!  Victoria, Camilla, Caroline and Me

Dinner - so good!  With more Snaps and drinking songs - of course!

After dinner we got in Per's homemade hot tub.  Nathan wants to make one of these for our house in Raleigh - I think I'm a little scared.  But this one was awesome!
The hot tub

And the heating unit!

The next morning Per and Camilla drove us to the train station for our weekend in Stockholm - thank you both so much!  We had an AMAZING time!

Our gracious hosts - Per and Camilla! I'm pretty sure Per was still drunk in this photo...:)

On to Stockholm!  Which I believe to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.  We LOVED Stockholm!  Unfortunately our pictures don't do it justice at all:(  I think it was just that it was so majestic being there - the energy of the city, the great old buildings, the harbors, the little islands - but something that you can't catch on film.  It was small enough to feel "cozy" and be able to walk everywhere, kind of like Zurich, but still big enough that there was lots of stuff to do and explore!

First we checked into our hotel, the Birger Jarl, which was kind of a long walk to the city center but was still nice (and we discovered where the bus was the next day - duh!).  Then we headed over to Djurgarden to see the Vasa Museum.  Very cool museum centered around a ship that sank in 1628 - 20 minutes after her maiden voyage began.  The wreck was salvaged more than 300 years later in 1961 and was in amazingly great condition!  It was really cool to see a ship that was designed so many years ago - and to see how ornate this war vessel was made.  Highly recommend it if you go to Stockholm.  Our pictures are especially crap here though because it was dark inside the museum.  But here are a few anyway so you can kind of get the jist...
Starting at top Left - Nathan with a model of the ship from what they think it looked like fully painted in 1628, remains of one of the few people who died on the ship, me with the actual ship, and the back of the ship - it was very ornate and the carvings describe kind of an "FU" to the King of Poland at the time:)

Then we conducted our own 4 hour walking tour of the city (we think it was about 5 miles) that I got out of our Let's Go Europe book.  It basically took us to every nook and cranny of Stockholm and was a great way to see the city!  We especially loved Gamla Stan (the old city) - I could have just hung out there for hours.

Our tour first took us by the NK department store - please notice the huge picture of the crowned Princess of Sweden.  She got married the weekend before Midsummer (it was a big deal here - not sure about in the States) and I think this must be her engagement shot (it was also on tons of magnets, postcards, plates, etc).  Why can't I be a real Princess *sigh*?

Here I am on the bridge to Gamla Stan - this was a really beautiful spot - too bad you can't tell from the pic:(

I'll put a link at the bottom of the post to the rest of the photos from this day if you want to see them - they really aren't that interesting to share here:(  The only other thing of noteworthy was this guy driving his "house boat" in his bathrobe near Gamla Stan.  Hilarious!  Everyone stopped, looked, and then took a photo - ha!

That night we just ate a little Irish Pub in Gamla Stan, because they had the USA/Argentina soccer game on.  Funny thing was, a couple from Zurich sat down at our table with us and I swear it was the longest conversation I ever had with a Swiss person and I lived their for a year - ha!  I guess they are more friendly outside their country:)  ALSO, this wasn't to offend any Swiss - all the Swiss that we went out with from ABB (and their spouses) were lovely - just all the other random Swiss people were standoffish - but honestly I think the Swiss like that about themselves - it is just part of their culture - "don't bother with the pesky foreigners - they'll eventually leave anyway":)! 

Sunday morning we woke up and headed to Skansen - an open air "old time" Swiss Museum with old farmsteads, Nordic animals, traditional crafters and the like.  Buildings have been brought in from all over the country and Skansen gives you a glimpse of what it was like to live in Sweden from as early as the 1300s to the early 1900s.   It was such a beautiful day to be outside and we enjoyed learning more about Swedish History.  If you go, I recommend bringing a picnic - so many great places to have one! Again with the crappy pics though, so I'm only posting two...

Nathan with on of the huge Elk!

In the early 1900s people had moved into the city but still needed plots of land for vegetable gardening, so they would buy small plots of land and then build "houses" on them that the whole family would live in for the weekend.  My Dad built my sisters and I a playhouse that was bigger than this when we were little - crazy that a family of more than 5 would stay there!

  The cruise home was a little more relaxed than the way there (we both had to wake up and work Monday morning), but we still had to have our departing lonkero!

I'm pretty sure Nathan is saying "Dude, get your feet off me":), but I stayed in this position for hours and even got burnt!

We loved our Swedish Midsummer Weekend and would be happy to be invited back next year:)! Skål!

Link to the rest of our pics!
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