Side trip to Åre

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. ~John Steinbeck

During our recent vacation in Sweden, while staying with my cousin Fredrik and his wife, Anna, we innocently asked if there were any good places we could go for a hike. They are both very fit and love the outdoors, so I figured they would be a good resource. They enthusiastically suggested that we take a night train up north to Åre, a popular skiing town with a good-sized mountain, Åreskutan. We impulsively jumped on the idea, and booked the trip for the next week, leaving late Monday night and returning Thursday morning.

We spent that Monday sightseeing in Stockholm, and then after dinner and a few drinks, we made our way to Central Station. Our train was over an hour late, and when we arrived at our cabin, it was locked. We had to wait nearly another hour to get in. The beds (we each had a top bunk, with two people below us) were more like hammocks, and getting in and out of them without kicking someone in the head was pretty tricky. In addition, the 400+ mile ride up north to Åre was punctuated with multiple interruptions as people came and left the tiny 6-person cabin, and conductors came numerous times to check our tickets. Sleep, we did not. Upon arrival in Åre, we immediately checked into the hostel. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could go right to our room, despite it being only 9:30 in the morning. We did not hesitate, and proceeded to nap until 1 in the afternoon. It was probably the best sleep we had the entire trip.

Once we were sufficiently rested, we wandered down the steps and found a nice spot to eat a late lunch, then had coffee at a place down the street. Around 4:30 or so, we figured we should probably get started on our hike. We had neglected to bring our Camelbaks, not knowing we’d have the opportunity to use them, but we packed some water and a couple snacks in Curt’s backpack and started up the mountain, having only a vague idea what route we would take to the top. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that they were installing new cable car routes, which made finding the hiking paths rather difficult as much of the landscape had been pretty much leveled. After walking up some steep dirt roads and then trudging through a nearly vertical field of knee-high thorny shrubs, we made our way to the saddle and were finally above the treeline, where the posts marking the trail were clearly visible.

The hike was challenging, and we traversed a few spots that were still covered by an impressive amount of snow. As we neared the top, it became incredibly windy and cold, despite the sun beating down on us from overhead. I was grateful for the knee-high socks I’d purchased, and for my hoodie that I’d nearly left behind. We didn’t spend much time at the summit, as it was cold and we were eager to get back to town for a celebratory beverage, but the view from the top was breathtaking…we could probably see Norway from where we were, and the mountain range and all the little villages below were stunning to take in. Apart from a helicopter performing some interesting maneuvers quite a distance below us, we did not encounter a single soul on our descent. The mountain was completely deserted.

It was almost 9pm when we finished our descent, but since it was midsummer and we were so far north, we still had the benefit of daylight. We cleaned up, went out for a nice dinner and a couple drinks, and then headed back to the hostel, where we were relieved to find we had the room to ourselves. At least we’d get a decent night’s sleep before having to endure the joys of another night train. The next morning, we enjoyed a tasty (and free!) breakfast, and then checked out. The manager told us we could leave all of our bags there for the day, and come and go as we please. This was excellent news, and we took full advantage. After wandering around town for a bit, we decided to rent a couple cruiser bikes and venture into the next town, Duved, which was about 5 miles away. I had some false starts on the bike (it’s been a while!), but we finally got going and had a nice ride along the lake.

When we got to Duved, we stopped in for some pretty amazing stir fry at Surjämten, a Czechoslovakian place where the owner suggested we have some Budějovický Budvar – the “original Budweiser”. I thought he was just pulling our leg, but I later Googled it and found out that it’s true. Learn something new every day! It definitely hit the spot, and the ride back to Åre was much more relaxed. We dropped the bikes off, then meandered around town before grabbing dinner and then heading down to the train station.

The train ride home to Stockholm was awful, but once we got back to my aunt and uncle’s house and were able to get some rest and a hot shower, we knew that we’d made the right decision. It was great getting to hike a mountain in Sweden, and to see a part of the country that even my mom had never been to. Looking back, it’s also pretty much the only real exercise we had while we were away. I’ll touch on the ramifications of that later…

For now, some pictures! 🙂

Downtown Åre.

Downtown Åre.

Where's the trail?

Where’s the trail?

Teeny tiny town below.

Teeny tiny town below.

Summit of Åreskutan! Hooray!

Summit of Åreskutan! Hooray!

Biking around Duved.

Biking around Duved.

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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.

Presidential Range, round 1.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. ~Lao Tzu

Well, it’s been a while since we hiked Pierce and Eisenhower back on June 1st, so it’s about time I wrote a little about it. The Presidential Range is a section of the Appalachian Trail that hubby and I would like to hike, and includes the highest peaks in the White Mountains. Pierce and Eisenhower are two peaks that sit next to one another in the middle of the range. We decided to head up to my folks place in Maine on a Friday night, so we’d be in the area and be able to get an early start Saturday morning. An evening drive to my parents’ cabin means a mandatory stop at Pat’s Pizza in Windham, ME – they have great food, beer, and Buck Hunter…the trifecta of awesomeness. We splurged on a couple gluten-free pizzas (Hawaiian and buffalo chicken), which were delicious, then claimed a few top scores on the Buck Hunter machine while we finished our beer. After we had carb-loaded sufficiently, we continued on to Bridgton.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast prepared by mom, we drove to Carroll, NH. Since it was going to be a very hot day – about 95 degrees – we stopped at a gas station and bought a gallon of water to fill up both Camelbaks to capacity. When we got to Carroll, we parked off Mt. Clinton Road, just past the Crawford Notch station and the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center. We took the Crawford Trail and began our ascent of Mt. Pierce. It was slow-going and wet – very different terrain than our last hike up Monadnock. The path was frequently interrupted by streams of water coming down the mountain, which really slowed us down. I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the extra pounds from carrying a full Camelbak with a few essentials in the pockets, but I felt pretty sluggish and was more out-of-breath than I remember being when we hiked Monadnock, despite the ascent being much more gradual.

Once we got to the Alpine Zone, things were much better. It was a bit cooler, and the trail was mostly dry. I loved the contrast in flora, and the lovely scent of the short pine trees all around. It was like walking through a wormhole into a totally different place. The summit of Pierce came upon us abruptly – we actually weren’t sure we had reached the top until we looked over and saw Mt. Eisenhower. We continued on the path, which seemed like a very short walk, though it took almost an hour between peaks, thanks to some spongy, muddy areas that slowed us down. Along the way, we found a large patch of snow near the summit of Eisenhower, which was a welcome surprise on such a hot day. We couldn’t resist throwing a couple snowballs around. Now that we were well above the treeline, the view from 4,780 feet was incredible. Eisenhower’s summit affords a spectacular view of Mt. Washington, which is just a short distance away (or so it seemed from our vantage point).

So we’d completed Pierce (4,310′), and Eisenhower (4,780′), and can now officially call ourselves “peak-baggers”, which simply means that one hikes two or more mountains in one day. We had originally intended to include Mt. Jackson, but the heat got the better of us and fatigue was setting in, so we thought it best to head back down the way we came and save Jackson for another day. The descent was quite long, and a bit dodgy with all of the slippery rocks, so we were fairly “done” by the time we reached the car…we’d been at it for over four hours, which is significantly longer than our last hike.  We enjoyed a delicious meal at Horsefeathers in North Conway (got the Harvey sandwich, as usual…yum!), and had a celebratory beer while we waited for our knees to stop shaking. Definitely looking forward to our next Presidential Range expedition!

Top of Pierce.

Top of Pierce.

And now, on to Eisenhower!

And now, on to Eisenhower!

Snow! Sweet!

Snowball fight at 4,700 feet, on a 95 degree day? Sure!

Snowball fight at 4,700 feet, on a 95 degree day? Sure!

Looking back at how far we've come...and how far we'll be going, again.

Looking back at how far we’ve come…and how far we’ll be going, again.

On top of the world. Mt Washington in the background, just to the right of Curt.

On top of the world. Mt Washington in the background, just to the right of Curt.

Where does the time go?

 Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. ~Confucius

I haven’t had much to write about the past month or so…so I didn’t. I guess that’s sort of what this is all about, right? I suppose I could have thrown together a post about one thing or another, but I just didn’t feel compelled to force it. Besides, I don’t exactly have a huge readership, so nobody’s been pestering me to post an update. The main reason I started this blog was just to have an outlet, where I could put all of my thoughts and ramblings out there…and if someone stumbled across it and found it to be of any value, all the better.

Since early April, I’ve donated quite a few things, and purchased some new items…spring, for me, has always been a time of renewing and reinventing. I am inspired by the shift in weather and foliage and often find myself changing up my style to match the person I’ve grown into over the long winter. No major shopping sprees, though…I am trying to show some restraint. I’m finding that since I began doing CrossFit last summer, the majority of my purchases are of the yoga pants/hoodie/sneaker variety. At least these items are getting lots of use!

Curtis and I have been taking advantage of the warmer weather to get outside more often, playing disc golf on the weekends and doing some hiking. Last Saturday, we hiked Mt Monadnock, which is the first of many mountains we intend to climb this year. We’d definitely like to do the entire Presidential Range, and perhaps complete some other notable peaks in New England. This weekend, due to multiple engagements, we might just do some local trail hiking, but we intend to tackle Mt Eisenhower and Mt Pierce (and possibly Mt Jackson) one day very soon.

Disc golfing fun

Successfully avoided the water hazard and made the putt.

Summit of Mt Monadnock

At the summit of Mt Monadnock, feeling like I’m on top of the world.

As far as our apartment goes, we’ve been in the new place for over two months now, and I’ve yet to hang any artwork or pictures on the wall. Perhaps I could make time for that this weekend. It’s funny how time just slips away…I went to grab a pair of socks this morning and noticed all of the decor sitting in the corner against the wall. As much as I’ve embraced this whole minimalist thing, our walls look rather spartan without anything on them. The place still feels a bit incomplete. Next time it rains, looks like I’ll be doing some decorating!

Till next time, folks…whenever that may be! 🙂

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!