Thursday, February 24, 2011


Fika (according to wikipedia) - a social institution in Sweden; most often a coffee break with one's colleagues, friend, date or family. The practice of taking, typically with a cinnamon roll, is central to Swedish life. Traditionally fika requires sweet baked goods.

I don't know about you, but I think that the Swedes know whats up! This is not just an old tradition that people don't really follow anymore, this is real life! When we asked the lady at the visitor center what it was she got very serious and told us that her usual fika time is in between breakfast and lunch and right after dinner. Outside of a lot of cafes they had special prices or suggestions for fika, and trust me, we took advantage of this and enjoyed our fika time daily! My trivial swedish roots have been officially unlashed, as I plan on incorporating fika into my daily life. This has been working out pretty well so far and I am excited to bring this back to good old Gordon College. I have also been informed that it has already spread to the Taber household!

So, pretty much I'm in love with Sweden. They've got it goin on. Not only because of fika, but it is a beautiful country, full of very friendly people and yummy food. But let's be real here, who wouldn't love to live in a place where taking a break to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and a sweet treat to have some lovely conversation with a friend or two is absolutely essential and completely acceptable to everyday life?

Now I have a small task for you. In order to be enlightened with a new cultural experience today, you must take at least 30 minutes out of your busy and stressful day to sit down with a friend or family member, a cup of coffee and a yummy baked good and engage in a pleasant, light-hearted, non-stress evoking conversation. If you would like to make this event even more Swedish try doing this twice a day or pick up some cinnamon rolls from IKEA(now that would be legit)!

Have you had your fika time today?

(authentic swedish fika)

swedish fish

Sweden was awesome! Even though it was freeeeeezing cold (-10 C) and they actually didn't have any swedish fish. We landed about 80 minutes outside of the city in what appeared to be the middle of a forest where they randomly decided to put an airport. After trading our euros for Swedish krona (1 SEK = $0.16 USD) we took a bus through the breathtaking country side into Stockholm. Sweden was just hit with a huge snowstorm two days before we got there so everything was white and clean and riding through the forest with the sun setting made me feel like I was on the Polar Express or something. It was very magical. We also passed by the first and biggest IKEA in the world. Once we entered the city we hopped off one bus and jumped on another one that took us to the island that our ship/hostel (af Chapman) was on, got our sheets and towels, met our roommates, grabbed some dinner and went to bed.

The next morning we ate breakfast on the ship. It consisted of a variety of bread, cold cuts, cheese slices, tomatoes, and red peppers - not your typical continental breakfast from the Holiday Inn but very Swedish. We then went on a tour of the city. We also took an 'ice-breaking' ferry out around the archipelagos, which are the group of islands that make up the city. If you didn't know, which I had no clue, Stockholm is actually made up of several islands, many of which we explored, and people live on them and there are daily ferries that go in between all of the islands and the mainland. While we were on the ferry trudging through the frozen water I kind of felt like we were in Alaska. Then we went to the visitor center to get some advice on where to go while in Sweden because we had no idea.

We then ventured to the Vete-Katten, home of the first cinnamon bun. Although it didn't quite look like the cinnamon bun that we had in mind is was veryyyy good and the coffee was the best coffee that I have had in my entire life! Well, so far. Next we went to the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum). The Vasa is a ship that was built in the 1600s and sunk after 20 minutes during its maiden voyage. It was supposed to be the king's biggest and most powerful ship in his entire fleet, but it was made too tall and top-heavy so it didn't last very long. The ship sunk to the bottom of the harbor in the Baltic Sea but over 300 years later she was brought back out of the water, preserved and fixed up and now rests in her own museum. It was amazing! The ship was huge (5 stories high) and was in great condition. They even had the skeletons of the crew members that went down with her on display, which was a little freaky, but still really cool. In order to best preserve the ship the museum has to be kept dark, cold, and damp which added to the whole experience.

The next day we spent walking around Gamla Stan, aka the Old Town, where the Royal Palace is located. The island is made up of lots of tall buildings that are all very colorful and lots of fun little shops and cute cafes. At around noon we headed the Royal Palace to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. The palace was so cool! It looked like something you would see in a movie or storybook - it actually reminded me a lot of the movie Anastasia, I don't know why, but it did. It was very difficult to take the guards serious because they were wearing silly looking uniforms and even though they had huge guns they didn't look real. And if someone got to close to something they would stomp towards them and then do this little twirly thing and then walk back. They weren't very intimidating but if you starting walking towards a restricted area they would yell 'halt!' and then continue with they stomp and twirl routine. The ceremony was also entertaining, they shouted weird stuff and did like a stomp routine. I'm sure it was supposed to be a very serious ceremony, but I thought that it was funny... Then we went on a tour of the apartments in the palace. And ah! The rooms were amazing! They were full of really beautiful old stuff - everything from ravishing rugs, paintings and statues. But the coolest part was that the rooms we explored are actually still used today when really important people come to the palace. So they just take down all the signs, roll the carpet back, and put fresh linens on the beds! One of the rooms was even closed due to the 'King's orders.' How exciting!

Next we wandered to another island in search of a cafe called Hermans, which we found due to Fran's excellent navigating skills. Not only did we find the cozy cafe, but we had a spectacular view of Stockholm! Oh it was just so great! Not to mention the cuisine was superb! We took our time eating and just relaxing before heading out into the bitter cold to do some more exploring. We stumbled upon Stockholm's tiniest house and I bought a little swedish souvenir for my dad before heading back to our ship to hangout. We were exhausted and in bed before nine. Before leaving Sweden the next morning we went back to Gamla Stan to enjoy one last cup of the greatest coffee in the world at this awesome cafe! Apparently it was used in the 1200s as a stable; it was very cool. And then we trudged through the fresh snow with our backpacks to the train station to take off on our next adventure.

Monday, February 21, 2011

af Chapman

In 1888 a mighty ship called the af Chapman was built in England. She journeyed all over the world carrying trade under a Scottish captain. Years later she was taken over by the Swedish Navy and in the 1930s she stopped sailing.

On February 13, 2011, Jessica and Francesca checked in at their hostel on the island Skeppsholem and were given a key card to the room B21 aboard the af Chapman. Yes, that big huge white ship in the picture was our hostel that we stayed while in Stockholm! It was so awesome! The whole time we were in Sweden we referred to our hostel as 'the ship.' When it was getting late we would say 'How bout we head back to the ship for a while?' We thought we were pretty cool. The first night we walked around I felt like a little kid exploring and playing on the boat, but it was just so cool! We also ate breakfast on the deck. The little portholes in our room gave a great view of the city, more specifically Gamla Stan (Old Town), and the Royal Palace. At night we could hear big chunks of ice banging up against the sides of our ship. The boat was also surrounded by tons of mallard ducks and swans. It was very peculiar, but very entertaining. At night the swans would bend their long necks and stick their little heads into the feathers on their back and just float around and even bump into each other while they were sleeping. We asked one of the staff members at the front desk why they didn't fly south for the winter and he just looked at us like we were speaking a different language, which to him we were, and then he just looked at us like we were stupid and said that they lived here all year long. I guess the swedish birds are a little tougher than our Michigan birds.

On our ship we stayed in a 6 bed mixed dorm and we weren't really sure what to expect. But our roommates were very cool and included two Swiss girls and a German couple. The man and woman from Germany were a little older and had been out of school for 'a while' as they said but were very friendly. It was very interesting when all six of us were in the room together because even though we were all talking nobody could understand each other because we were all speaking different languages. Of course they could all speak pretty good English so they could understand us if they wanted to but we couldn't understand them. For all we knew they could have been talking about us and we just sat there and smiled at them when they laughed.

I knew that the Europeans are very open, but I got to experience this first hand while staying aboard the ship. One night I was just sitting on my bed and I looked up and realized that the German man wasn't wearing anything except for his tiny little pair of underwear and socks. I immediately just pretended to read something until I was interrupted by the German woman who asked me what we did that day while she too was in her underwear and we continued to have a full on conversation. I was very taken back, but this was completely normal to them. Maybe they would have been more comfortable if I was in my underwear too, but I then continued to grab my pajamas and go and change in the bathroom, not quite accustomed to these European practices.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

i'll take ya to the candy...err...coffeeshop

If you are planning on going to Europe, this post might be helpful.

If you desire a warm cup of coffee or a latte or a cute place to sit and chat, the coffeeshops are not for you. Instead you might want to stop in a cafe. Cafes are for coffee and coffeeshops are for weed. Makes sense, right? Although there are cafes everywhere, there are also coffeeshops everywhere, especially in Amsterdam. There would sometimes be mulitple coffeeshops on the same street and a few times we saw men leaving one and crossing the street to enter another. You can still get coffee in coffeeshops, although it might be special coffee, but coffee nonetheless. I think I'll stick to getting my coffee from cute little cafes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

the shelter jordan

I wanted dedicate an entire post to the hostel we stayed at in Amsterdam because it was so great. We had no idea that it was a Christian hostel when we made our reservations but it was a great surprise! We ended up having dinner at the hostel both nights we were there. Not only was it inexpensive, but it was also very good. The first night we met some pretty cool people who worked at the Shelter. We were the only guests at dinner that night, so it was us and all of the staff. The staff are all volunteers who are either done with school or taking some time off from school, just like us. They were from all over Europe, the UK, and the United States and extremely friendly. Some of them even knew people from Gordon that I know! It was so crazy! During dinner we got lots of helpful opinions and advice about what to see and do in city. Then they invited us to go to this jazz night thing at a bar in the city with them and we were so excited! We left around 9 and it took us about a half hour to walk there. But the walk was so much fun! We got to see the city at night, which was beautiful, and we had some awesome conversations with our new friends! It was so nice to talk to a fellow American about football and The Office.

The jazz was great and we had a really good time! We got a lot of advice and even made some notes on our map of where we go from the front desk and were off bright and early the next morning. After we ate dinner at the hostel again we went and walked around and then spent some time in the common room reading and journaling. After Fran went to bed I hung around to finish up my journal entry but ended up having a very cool conversation with another one of the staff members who is from the Netherlands. We had a deep talk about school and education and a deep spiritual talk. It was very cool and so exciting to hear about how God is working everywhere in the world!

Anyways, to wrap up these random thoughts about our hostel, it was a great experience. Although I am not the biggest fan of the city of Amsterdam, staying at the Shelter Jordan will probably be a highlight of the trip!

Friday, February 11, 2011

welkom to amsterdam

Well, I wasn't really sure what to expect from Amsterdam and my first impressions were not very good. As we exited the beautiful central station we walked into a mass of very diverse people. Past the people, on what appeared to be sidewalks, were the trams. I was pretty sure that I would be run over by a tram before even getting to see the city. But don't worry, I made it out alive. Before heading to the hostel to drop our bags we walked around the city for a while. Between avoiding the Red Light District (a street designated for legalized prostitution),  trying to breathe while being engulfed with the smell of marijuana (which is very legal and very popular), and being overwhelmed with all of the people, deciding where to walk seemed like a daunting task. So we made our way to the hostel - the Shelter Jordan. It ended up being a Christian hostel, which I was very excited about. I also learned that a group of students from Wheaton College work at this hostel as a part of a youth ministry program and that my mom has actually worked here when she attended Wheaton. I thought it was pretty cool. Anyways, after we got situated at our hostel we headed to the Anne Frank house.

I was looking forward to visiting the Anne Frank house since we arrived in Europe. Although I didn't fully appreciate the book when I was forced to read it in middle school I have grown to understand how big of a deal her diary was and have learned a lot more about WWII. The house, although there was construction going on, looked just like all the other houses along the street. You would never pick it out to be such a point of significance or that it would contain a secret annex where at one time Jews hid from the Nazis. We all learned about the war and Hitler and the concentration camps, but when walking through a trap door disguised as a bookcase and standing in a room covered with black curtains to prevent being seen it all becomes a lot more real. Otto Frank didn't want the house to be displayed with furniture so all of the rooms were empty with the exception of little notes or books with significance to Anne Frank and her story on display. It was very surreal walking through Anne Frank's little room with the original wallpaper full of pictures of movie stars pasted on and trying to fathom that this is was where she spent her dark and lonely days writing in her diary about Peter while she was in hiding. The entire experience was very moving and a highlight of our trip to Amsterdam. It was also very cool to be surrounded by people from all over the world. All of the displays were described in multiple languages and the short film segments had subtitles in five different languages! It is amazing to me how the diary of one little girl became so universal and it started in this tiny little house in Amsterdam. At the end of the tour there is big section that deals with racial and religious discrimination practices still going on today. Otto Frank's whole idea of the diary being published was not only so people could understand what they went through but also to learn more about the past so that it doesn't happen again. It was very interesting and all this to say that if you are ever in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank house is definitely worth a stop.

After the Anne Frank house we headed back to the hostel for a yummy and only 5 euro dinner. It was great and we met the staff and ended up going out with them later that night! But i'll save that for the next post so that you don't get overwhelmed. We got back to the hostel at about 12:30 and were exhausted. But I had a little trouble falling asleep because some of our roommates were a little loud. We stayed in the 18 bed female dorm because it was the least expensive and I thought that it would be an interesting experience, and it was. We were up and at em' the next morning and enjoyed free breakfast with the hostel and were back on the streets of Amsterdam by 10:30 am. We first went to the big I AMSTERDAM sign to take some pics and then just walked around some nice neighborhoods. This part of the city was a lot nicer than what we saw the day before - it was clean, not crowded with people, and didn't smell like weed. Then we went to the Blue Cafe for lunch. It was at the very top of a shopping center and we could see the entire city from our table! It was very cool. Then we headed to one of the many canals to catch a canal boat ride! The boat was very long and had tables set up. It took us all through Amsterdam and got to see the city from a canal view. We did some more walking and then decided that we wanted some coffee before dinner so went looking for a little cafe close to the hostel. We usually walk by two or three every street but when we finally wanted to go into one we couldn't find any. The first one we saw looked very old and not necessarily cute but the sign outside said 'cappuccinos' so we were sold. Francesca noted that there were a lot of old people inside and I responded with 'well old people can be fun' and we ventured in. Well, it was not only full of old people, but old men. The only other female in the little building was the waitress and she gave us a really confused look when we walked in. The cafe was dark and creaky and I felt like a lot of 'business deals' went on inside. There was also a black cat just hanging out. We were only in there for about ten minutes and then evacuated quickly, we obviously didn't fit in. It was quite the experience. But we headed back to the hostel for dinner and then walked around a bit to see the city some more at night. We were exhausted once 10 o clock rolled around and did some reading and journaling before heading off to bed. We also had a new roommate...who yelled in her sleep. That was very nice.

In our last few hours in the city the next day we walked around some more and visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum. We were advised that it was not the greatest thing you could do in Amsterdam but we really wanted to go anyways. It was pretty cool, and a little freaky, but we did see Obama and I got my picture taken with Robert Pattinson. I mean, it doesn't get much better than that. Before we caught our train back to the apartment we did some more walking.

Overall we enjoyed our time in Amsterdam, but I would not be excited for a return trip. It is a very interesting city and a good experience but will probably not make it to my list of top ten favorite places in the world. As one of our friends from the hostel said, "It is the most beautiful city, and it is the ugliest city." It has so much history, the buildings are magnificent and there are so many happy tourist but then the city contradicts itself with a whole section for prostitution and 5 weed shops on every street. I am very glad we experienced it but did not leave the city with a burning desire to return anytime soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

too exciting to not share :)

Ok, so I thought that i'd let you in on some of our travel plans for this month! These are the places we are planning on going to in February :

Stockholm, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark
Paris, France



(and maybe Greece)

This is how I feel - ahhlajeoijadkfjkdjfajij;eeljadklejkas!!! Yep.

quattro mori

For dinner two nights ago we ventured all the way across the street to the Italian restaurant called Quattro Mori. We see this restaurant everyday as we look out our windows or walk past it on our way to the other side of the bridge. Not only can we see straight into the restaurant and watch the many people come in and out and even see what they are eating for dinner, but they can also see us. The men that work there can stand in the middle of the restaurant so that we can see everything except for their heads and even though we can't see their heads they can still see straight into our apartment. It's a little freaky. Fran's uncle left us a gift certificate to eat there and while we were waiting to leave and get a little hungrier I looked up what quattro mori meant in Italian. I plugged it into a translator and out came "four died." Kinda freaky. Well, when we were finally hungry enough we walked down our stairs and crossed the street to enter this mysterious Italian restaurant. They probably knew we were coming because we just kept looking over and they most likely saw us put our coats on and turn the lights off. We sat at a table right by the window so we could see our apartment perfectly. After our waiter, who we recognized from our occasional stalking, took our order we asked him what quattro mori meant. He did his best to explain it and even brought us a book about it...but he was very difficult to understand and the book was in Italian. But he told us that we could just look it up on wikipedia. We did figure out though that it is a story about four men from a small italian island that died... As our food was being made the cooks and waiters were hanging out in the kitchen, which we could very easily see, and singing in Italian. I felt like we were in a movie or that one scene in Lady and the Tramp where they eat spaghetti. Our dinner was very good and very Italian and I'm sure that after we exchanged our "ciao's" they watched as we made it back to our apartment. It was an interesting evening and made us even more excited for our trip to Italy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

yes, i did just speak english.

We went grocery shopping the other day and the checkout experience was very interesting. The lady working swiped all of our items like she was racing or something! She would swipe three things a time and just push them to the end of the small counter where we were tossing everything in the our cart because we didn't have time to put them into bags as she was already moving on to the next customer. It took only about one minute for her to scan all of our stuff and take my money but it took like 5 minutes for us to put it in the bags that we brought. When she handed me my change I said 'thank you' and everyone around immediately looked at me like they had never heard English before. I thought I did something wrong with the way they were all looking at me. Another time I was ordering food and did an awful job pronouncing something in Dutch. The man taking my order politely corrected me while the guy behind me let out a little giggle. Oh well, guess i'll just have to work on my Dutch.

it's all dutch to me

Here are some random observations from The Netherlands and Europe so far:

1. The Dutch men are really tall. It sounds silly, but this is one of the first things that I noticed! They have extremely long skinny legs, big feet and usually wear fitted pants and dress shoes. I'm pretty sure that some of their legs could come up as high as my waist. Next time we are out and about I plan on taking a picture with the tallest Dutch man that we come across (and we already looked up how to say 'can i take your picture' in Dutch...although our pronunciation might be a little off).

2. In general, everyone is just a little taller and everyone is thin. Maybe we just have a lot of short people in the states, but the only short people that I have seen here have all been under the age of 12.

3. Don't have a car? That's fine. Don't have a bike? Now, that could be a problem. Bikes are a huge part of people's daily transportation. They are not only used for just a bike ride around the city, they are used to get places and to hold stuff. Most of the bikes have some type of compartment on the back and it is not unusual to see another person hop onto someone else's bike while in motion. They are parked everywhere and if not on the street then they can be found behind a building, where there might be a group of 10 big bike racks.

4. The cars, with the exception of delivery trucks and vans, are all very little. They are all about the size of a Ford Focus or even smaller. I have not seen one SUV. There are a lot of Mini Coopers and VWs. I also haven't seen any speed limit signs...or stop signs.

5. Everybody is extremely fashionable. Nobody goes out side in a sweatshirt or sweatpants, instead they wear nice jeans with fancy boots and very high end looking coats. There are some Uggs, but definitely not with only leggings and a t-shirt, like we wear in the States.

6. Target and Walmart are unheard-of, instead there are small shops for everything - one for glasses, one for the newspaper, one for shoes, one for medicine, one for lamps, one for dishes, one for carnival costumes.

7. Staring is not rude and does not give off any ideas. It is normal for someone to just stare at you as they walk by or sit across from you at a restaurant. Fran informed me of this as she and a random man just stared at each other for like a whole minute! Although I am used to the staring...I kind of stick out because I speak very American English and have red hair.

8. I haven't seen one other person with red hair. But, maybe that will change when we go to Ireland.

9. Dogs are allowed everywhere...on the train, in the mall and at restaurants.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

i thought this was the ladies' room?

As soon I got through customs and while we were waiting to claim our luggage I went to the restroom. I had a hard time differentiating between the girl and boy looked very different from the men and women signs in the states. I walked into what I was pretty sure was the women's restroom and before I could enter a little man jumped in front of me and excused himself as he cut me off going into the bathroom. I was very confused because I saw multiple girls in front of the mirror and they had no problem with the little man wandering into the ladies' room. And the confusion must have been very evident on my face because the little man smiled at me and said it was okay. I was not only confused because he was in there, but the bathroom was also very dark except for blue light coming out of three little doors, which looked liked separate rooms, and on the toilets there were big button looking things. These were the stalls and button things are used to flush, I eventually figured out. I was about to walk in to an empty one when, once again, the little man beat me in and told me that I couldn't come in. I then realized that he was cleaning the bathroom. Now this all happened within one minute and right after I escaped the traumatizing customs man and it was 3 am U.S. time, 9 am their time and I just really needed to use the bathroom. I hope that I don't run into any more little men in the bathrooms although now I might be a little more understanding and less confused.