Sweden!

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. ~Susan Heller

We returned from our two-week vacation on Sunday night. Sweden was absolutely amazing. It was so wonderful to catch up with my family, and finally meet my cousins’ spouses and children. They were all amazing hosts, and made us feel so completely at home. Quality time with extended family is so rare for me, since both of my parents are immigrants, so it’s very special when I get to spend any amount of time with my overseas kin.

Despite having months to plan, in typical fashion, I packed at the last minute and brought much more clothing than necessary. I brought jeans that no longer fit me after a few days of indulgent eating, packed far too many t-shirts, and inexplicably brought two bulky hooded sweatshirts, when clearly one would have been sufficient.  Miraculously, I was able to fit everything in a carry-on sized suitcase and a shoulder bag, so we did not have to check any luggage.

My cousin Fredrik picked us up at the airport on Saturday, and we stayed with him, his wife Anna, and their two adorable kids for the first 4 days. The second day we were there, everyone came over and we enjoyed a delicious meal in the backyard. Not even a brief sun shower could spoil the experience for me – I was just so excited to be surrounded by my family. We had a great Monday night out in Stockholm with Fredrik, which included an amazing dinner of game meat at Ardbeg Embassy in Old Town. We had some mead at the place where he and Anna had their wedding reception (which I’d missed), and then rounded out the night at a couple Irish pubs before taking the train back home.

For the rest of the vacation, my aunt Lena and uncle Anders’ house in Ekerö was our home base. They brought us to a traditional Midsummer celebration, and then we went home to feast on an amazing dinner that Lena had prepared. On Saturday, we had an overnight with my cousin Jessica, her husband Johan, and their two hilarious children, and they took us on a ferry to Utö. We had a lovely picnic on the beach, went for a swim in the Baltic, then meandered around the island for a bit until the ferry returned to bring us back to the mainland. We had a relaxing Sunday evening with Lena and Anders, then headed into Stockholm on Monday to do some sightseeing.

We decided to hoof it to the Vasa Museum, since we needed the exercise. The museum did not disappoint…the ship was so massive, I couldn’t get a picture of the whole thing. We spent a good couple hours there, before hunger got the best of us and we moved on. After walking all over creation, we ended up back in Old Town at a “Mexican” joint where we had a couple Coronas and some rather interesting tacos. We walked all over the city, then made our way to the Ice Bar (can’t visit Stockholm without going to the Ice Bar!). They provided capes and gloves, which kept us mostly warm, but we were satisfied after one drink and called it a night.

The next few days we had a mini-getaway on our own in Åre, a few hundred miles north, but that adventure probably deserves its own blog post, so I’ll write about that later. The day we returned, we met up with Fredrik and Anna, and my aunt Elisabet and uncle Leif, and had a fabulous lunch in downtown Stockholm. We felt badly that we didn’t get to see as much of Elisabet and Leif as we’d hoped, but we promised to spend some time at their place in Katrineholm on our next visit. Hopefully it won’t be another 18 years!

The last few days of the trip flew by. We had a fabulous dinner with the neighbors, Leif and Pia. Leif is from Estonia and has an impressive stash of high test liquor and game meat. This guy definitely knows how to entertain. We ate and drank far too much, but enjoyed every minute of it. The hunting dogs (Aya and Ellie, and Leif’s dog Trigger) provided much entertainment and gladly assisted with leftovers. We discussed taking a cruise to Tallinn from Stockholm the next time we come, which sounded like a lot of fun.

The next day was my cousin Katarina’s 25th birthday, so we met up with her and her boyfriend Aleks for a tasty lunch overlooking the lake. The rest of the day was spent packing to go back home, a rather depressing task. Lena and Anders drove us to the airport on Sunday, where we bid them adieu. We had a brief layover in Iceland, which we wished had been longer after looking out the window before we landed. The landscape was incredible…breathtaking mountains and a craggy landscape that looked like another planet, and the huge thermal pools which probably would have been amazing for our aching muscles. I’m not sure where we will fit in all of these European trips (hoping to head to Ireland next year, too), but it looks like our dance card is filling up!

A few pics from our travels…my phone’s camera is having an awful problem with focusing, so my apologies for any blurryness! I’m hoping Curtis will share some pictures from his fancy camera.

Kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). The ubiquitous, unavoidable Swedish pastry that I ate far too many of.

Kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). The ubiquitous, unavoidable Swedish pastry that I ate far too many of.

Sign in downtown Mariefred.

Sign in downtown Mariefred.

Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred.

Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred.

Stockholm!

Stockholm! Or, “The Venice of Scandinavia”, as my cousin Fredrik proclaimed with a wink.

Good times at the Ice Bar.

Good times at the Ice Bar.

Utö.

Utö.

Drottningholm Castle.

Drottningholm Castle.

One of many, many Irish coffees consumed during our stay.

One of many, many Irish coffees consumed during our stay.

Traveling light

He who would travel happily must travel light. ~Antoine de St. Exupery

A few days ago, I switched to a much smaller handbag. It has been working out incredibly well. It’s so light, yet I’ve got everything I need in there. It got me to thinking about how I might apply some of the things I’ve learned when packing my bags for our trip to Sweden in a couple of months. My husband and I have done well the past few times we’ve taken plane trips, and have avoided checking baggage altogether. This has saved us not only money, but also precious vacation time that we would have spent waiting for our bags to appear (and worrying that they might not appear at all).

I would love to continue this practice when we head to Europe, especially since we will be stopping over in Zurich and that will only increase the odds of our belongings not making it to our destination safely. I realize, however, that a two-week trip to Sweden is a bit tougher to pack for than a 5-day stint in Aruba, or so one would likely believe. For Aruba, I packed mainly swimsuits and sundresses, some shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and one pair of jeans. What more could you possibly need for a beautiful Caribbean getaway?

Fortunately, we have a few things going for us that may help us to pack less than we normally would. For one, we will be going during midsummer, when the days are longest and the weather will be pretty nice. We don’t have to worry about bundling up for an icy cold Scandinavian winter. Also, we will be staying with family, so we will likely have some access to washing machines when the need is dire. Staying with family also means I might be able to borrow an item or two of clothing should an occasion arise that I didn’t adequately plan for, though I’m hoping I can make do with what I have.

I figure the earlier I start planning, the less likely I am to over-pack at the last minute, when I’m prone to panicking about leaving something vital at home. I’ve never been one to write up packing lists or really think too hard about what items truly deserve a spot in my suitcase, but perhaps it’s time I started.

Right off the top of my head, I know I’m going to bring the following:

  • White sundresses (one short, one full-length)
  • A couple of my favorite super-thin, soft T-shirts
  • A couple tank tops
  • One pair of jeans
  • One or two pairs of shorts
  • Yoga pants
  • A long linen skirt
  • A cardigan or thin sweater
  • One pair of sandals
  • One pair of walking shoes

We are planning on trying to visit a Crossfit box in Stockholm while we’re there, so I’ll need to bring at least one workout-appropriate outfit. If I bring my Chucks, those will do fine for that, and for wearing when we’re out and about. All of that should fit comfortably in a carry-on sized suitcase. I will probably bring some very basic toiletries, toothbrush, hairbrush, and makeup (thank goodness for my travel-friendly Bare Minerals!), but will be leaving out stuff like shampoo, body wash, and moisturizers…these are things I can pick up easily and cheaply once we arrive. I won’t be bringing a blow drier, especially since I’d need a special adapter to use it overseas. Besides, I can’t even imagine spending an hour blowing hot air at my head when I could be enjoying my vacation!

I’m really looking forward to visiting my family, and meeting some of them for the first time. It’s been 18 years since my last trip to Sweden, and I have been trying to get back there for a very long time. I can’t wait to enjoy all of the simple pleasures my mother’s home country has to offer…Swedes really have the minimalist thing down, and I intend to absorb as much as I can while I’m there. Perhaps, instead of souvenirs, I will return home with a better understanding of what I really need in order to live a happy life.

With mom in Dalarna.

Mom and me in Dalarna. Simpler times, for sure!