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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Restaurant Review: Starbucks in Stockholm Sweden's Central Station

I know a lot of people have strong negative feelings about Starbucks, so if you are one of those people...just move along...this is not for you.

When visiting Sweden, after a long day of walking around Old Town Stockholm, when we returned to Central Station (train station) for our return trip to Linkoping, at the food court, I was never so happy to see a place in my life...well, maybe not that extreme, but I was pretty happy.

I rarely have, but dearly love the flavor of Starbucks coffee drinks.  It was also surprising how nice it was just to see something familiar...and a sign I could read.  It very nearly made me weep.

Nearly everyone in Sweden speaks some English...especially in transit areas.  Which isn't an expectation, but it sure was nice!  The gal in Starbucks was interested in knowing where I was from when I asked if she spoke English.  I must say, there are times when standardization is a welcome thing.  To know I can order my favorite Starbucks anywhere and it will taste pretty much the same is a comfort.  I ordered a Vente, Iced, Vanilla Latte, and I should have ordered two because I sucked it down like I would never get another in this lifetime. I also ordered a bagel with cream cheese and lox which I was not nearly as enamored with.  It was hard, and stiff and cold and DRY.  I mean like...if I would have exhaled with my mouth open, dust particles would have sprayed.  It was NOT good.

So next time, I'll get TWO Venti Iced Vanilla Lattes (or Caramel Machiatos) and THEN go get a Whopper and Fries from the Burger King that is also in Central Station. Ahh, little slices of home.  That might set me back about $30 but sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Little known factoid.  The girl that waited on me in Starbucks told me I was lucky as this was only one of three Starbucks in all of Sweden.  What luck!  After coming home I did a little checking and I think I've located THREE of them in the Stockholm airport, one in the Stockholm train station and one in the Malmo train look out Sweden, the Starbucks invasion is ON!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Napoli in Norkoping Sweden

Yes, well, sadly, this is the only photograph I managed to remember to take...It was a long day at the zoo...what can I say?

After going to the zoo in Kolmarden, we realized that by the time we drove back to Linkoping nobody would feel like preparing a meal (read that...our hosts...because I didn't prepare anything, except TO EAT).  So we all went to Pizzeria Napoli in Norkoping Sweden.

I remember our hostess (who is, like us, from Oregon) saying not to bother eating pizza in Sweden because it just wouldn't be anything like you were expecting or wanting.  So at Napoli, I ordered a burger. I think hubby ordered lasagna, and a couple of others ordered kebab an gyros.  It was sort of an odd combination to be in Sweden, eating at a mixed Italian and Greek style restaurant run by Armenians.  What?? seems to work.

The interior of the restaurant is very small but very tastefully decorated and was clean.  The service was prompt.  It is more of an order at the counter type of place but they do bring your food to you when it's ready.  So very casual.  There were only a couple of other people there.

Near where one would gather napkins, there was a large bowl of sweet kraut or cabbage...I don't actually know if it is meant to be a condiment or a side dish, but I tried some and it was tasty.

Hopefully not ignorantly assuming it appeared to be run by Armenian Swedes (more on that in a later's a 'thing', like African Americans, or Mexican Americans...).  Everyone seemed to enjoy their food just fine.  I would say it was average, to above average with, as everything in Sweden, a bit of sticker shock on pricing.  I wish I could tell you I remember the cost, but we were all tired, and confused about reading the menu, and hungry, and apparently one of us forgot to step up to the plate and pay and our hosts ended up paying...which was oh-so-rude of us.

Their website, is a bit of a bore...very text based and way to simple.  Some of their dishes looked nice...they need to add photos of their items and jazz up that website.  Because after today, they will be officially listed on TripAdvisor!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Attraction Review: Kolmarden Wildlife Park in Kolmarden Sweden

Kolmarden Wildlife Park (Zoo) in Kolmarden, Sweden was not far from our home base in Linkoping Sweden.

 We spent the day at the Kolmarden Djurpark (which I think means Zoo or animal park).  If you visit the website, hit the icon for the British flag so the page will translate into English.

It's not a cheap day out at over $57 per adult and about $43 per child over 3.  They DO, however, allow you to bring in a cooler of food if you want and make a day of it.  Other than food and souvenirs, everything else is included...which means the rides, the gondola, the dolphin show...I think I heard there was also a seal show...and Bamse's World (which is a famous and popular cartoon bear...and Bamse is the Norwegian word for teddy bear).

Now that's a goat!
The zoo is built on a very steep hill...I mean steep.  Like, if you let go of a stroller...gone baby gone, steep.  Like cough up a lung steep.  Like not handicapped accessible steep.  Well, you feel me, right?  So there was much stopping to catch breath and resting.  OK, maybe that was just me.

I didn't understand the signs of course, but you can figure out how to wind your way around the park and see everything.  It was fun and the kids we were with (ages 2 and 4) enjoyed it a lot.  Food isn't cheap but you could bring your own if that was a concern.  There is also a gift shop.

The dolphin show lines are long so you'll want to pay attention to when the show times are and get in line early.  I love dolphins so I liked it.  I hear tell there is a seal show, but we didn't see that, or know about it until later. 

There is a nice gondola ride that takes you over many animals to view from high up in your safari gondola.  There are a few languages to choose from by pushing a button on the ceiling of the individual car you are in.  After being in the noise and chaos, and long lines, it suddenly gets very quiet and peaceful on that ride.  There are some breathtaking scenic views as well.  A nice change of pace and some cool animals to see too.

There are a few rides for the kids and a good day was had by all.

If you are at the entrance gate, and turn your back on it, you will see a large aquarium building.  That is apparently owned and operated separately and would be an additional charge and we didn't go there.  If you check out their web page, there are season pass prices, and package deals for motel rooms and such.

It's a zoo much like any other zoo, but the included rides, gondola feature, dolphin and seal shows make it a bit more special...and those views!  You'll get your exercise!  I would not recommend it for those with health issues.  I'm not certain if there are any options for those with health issues, or handicaps.  While the trail is smooth enough for a wheelchair, it wouldn't be safe to push one around the steep portions...because...did I mention it is steep?

Enjoy the pictorial:

A mother bear nursing 4 very big cubs

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Product Review: Target Knit Palazzo Pants

If I could marry these pants, I would.  They give me two things:  absolute comfort, and a hint of fashion (which I am often desperately lacking).

I found them at Target in Eugene, Oregon and bought two pair.  They are called Palazzo pants and are making the scene in many stores.  But at Target they are $17.99 which I can handle.  I wash them and hang to dry and they are good to ironing needed.

These particular pants are in the Jr's section and the sizing in Jr's can be iffy if you...well...aren't a Jr.

I'm 5 ft 8 and "Rubenesque" and fall BETWEEN the ideal sizes.  So I just went with the larger of the two.  Which means the waist really doesn't even touch my skin, but they stay on because of my hips.  I could TRY going down a size.  For my height, they are super!  Many pants are coming in super long these days because so many women wear heels with their pants (silly, silly girls!).  These very nearly touch the floor when I wear flats.  And I love that.  The material is soft and slinky and 'butta'.  I don't like clothes that touch me much, much less squeeze or bind me in any way.

The only SAD thing is, they're popular, and mostly out of stock.  I went online to buy up one in every color they had...and alas...came up empty handed in my size.  Many box stores like Wal-Mart and Target don't restock the same styles.  Once they are gone, they are gone.  I hope upon hope this isn't true, but I've been checking back since late August and no more have come in.

Because the styles I chose were bold prints, they hide any bulges you might have, or panty lines, etc.  I'm not certain what the flat grey or black would be like but would be interested in knowing from people who have purchased them if they seem too clingy or revealing.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: Restaurang Stortorgskallaren in Stockholm Sweden

Restaurang Stortorgskallaren (say that three times fast!) is situated in a cozy town square in Old Town Stockholm.  It is not far from the palace and just across the square from the Alfred Nobel Museum.

We were hungry and in need of sustenance after standing in the rain to watch the changing of the guard at the palace, and then walking around Old Town (not to mention having walked from the train station to old town).

The Restaurang Stortorgskallarn looked as good as anyplace so we got a table outside the restaurant.  We never actually went inside, so I won't be able to comment on that.

Meal at Restaurang Stortorgskallaren in Stockholm Sweden
The outdoor seating is so close together that if there are others seated at the table ahead of or behind you, you really can't move your chair and have to have it sucked tight to the table.  The service was courteous and reasonably prompt.  The food and drink were tasty.  That's about where the positives end.

I left the fork on the plate for scale of the size of a Swedish meatball, of which it appears there are 7 on the plate and about 1/2 cup or less of mashed potatoes.  It was good but we were still a bit hungry...and a bit broke.

Swedish Meatballs at IKEA in Linkoping Sweden
The portions were skimpy, and the prices where high.  Perhaps it isn't customary in Sweden, but I had about a quarter of a cup of coffee in my cup which was never refilled.  It was more like a tease.  We all had the special of Swedish Meatballs.  Those cost 189 SEK per person or $26.21 U.S.  The coffee and two sodas were 35 SEK each or $4.85 U.S. and a beer cost 59 SEK or $8.18 U.S.  for a grand total for four people of 920 SEK or 127.57 for lunch.

I'm going to give you a comparison.  At the IKEA cafeteria in Linkoping Sweden, we had a plate of around 16 meatballs, mashed potatoes and veg for 49 SEK or $6.79. As you can see from the photo, sure, it isn't presented as tidily, but you sure got more food.  And I can honestly say I could not tell any difference in quality or taste between the two.  So at IKEA, we fed a family of 8, main dishes, drinks, desserts and any little side item somebody grabbed, for a total of 463 SEK or $64.20 U.S.  That's twice the people for less than the price at Restaurang Stortorgskallaren.

My husband had a soda called Zingo which is similar to Orange Crush in the U.S.  And we rather liked the name.

Our meatball lunches were served with two tiny jars containing probably 1/4 cup each (to share) of a thinly sliced pickled cucumber and Lingonberry sauce (similar to cranberry sauce and traditionally served with Swedish meatballs.  These were the condiments to accompany the meatball dishes.  No veg, bread or rolls or anything else was served with the meal.  This may also be just the way it is in Sweden.

While the food was good in taste, I say we got hosed in price. Perhaps that is the norm in Old Town Stockholm since it is such a high tourist location.  We would not return here if we came again.  It just seemed like The Emperor's New Clothes or Much Ado about Nothing.

When the waitress returned to collect our plates, she said "Oh, looks like you enjoyed your meals."  It was hard to not inform her that we very nearly decided to lick our plates to keep from starving to death.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Squat Toilets, Bidiets, Douchettes, Oh My!

I want to be a world traveler, I do...but I'm ignorant and I need information, so I'm asking all "foreigners" to help a U.S. girl out.

In the U.S. we don't use bidets, douchettes, or squat toilets and I'm a bit confused as to how to use them.  Even YouTube and Wikipedia have failed me.  As long as you're nice and not being deliberately gross, spell it out for me in as much detail as you would like so that I can truly understand the processes for using these.  Because if I keep traveling, I'm going to encounter them.  And it's good to experience new things and try them, but also good to not just blunder around and make it harder on yourself than you have to.

First the squat toilet.  This is a new concept to me.  It can, as I understand it, be anything from a hole in the ground to a flush toilet, to a toilet that you pour water into after use.  Some are in open stalls so what you do is visible to everyone.  Some you just squat over and some have little foot pads to stand on.  But I'm still confused.  Especially in a public restroom where things may not be very clean, how to you approach the thing?  Forward or backward or does it depend on if you are going number one or number 2?  And what if you don't have strong legs for a long squat?  And what do you do with your clothing that is likely between your legs or feet?  Explain it to me.

In countries where they have these, I also hear there may not be toilet paper.  What do the locals do?

Then there is the bidet which is all the norm in Europe.  And I have only a fleeting idea of how they are used.  Some have a faucet that your "parts" situation beneath for cleaning after toileting, and some have a little "drinking fountain" sort of affair that sprays upwards at you from the base of the bowl.

I totally get how this saves paper, and I totally get that you can get cleaner with soap and water.  But how exactly do you go about the process of using one?

bidet in Sweden
So after visiting Sweden, and seeing on in the guest house where we stayed (an old bidet), it peaked my curiosity.  In this guest house in, we had a bedroom, a small room with toilet and sink, and another room with a tub/shower and bidet.  Which left me wondering...when these were being used, did you duck-walk naked to the next room to use the bidet and shower after pooping?  I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it.  I was afraid to turn it on lest I spray the entire bathroom and then have some "splainin'" to do.

When you use a bidet...does the water flow actually remove all the poo from your bum or do you have to use your bare hand to get it off?  I see where some people say to straddle it backwards facing the faucet, and some say to sit on it like a toilet.  Do you have to be naked or is it possible to use them with your pants down like when toileting?  How and with what does one dry off?  What does one do with the item they used to dry off with?  How much variation is there on technique and process country to country?

Let's say you're in one of those countries that doesn't use TP and only uses a bidet or a douchette...and you're at a private home, or a public do you do it?  Walk me through it.

Then the a dish sprayer...does it really get everything off without the direct contact of some washing it your hand, paper or what not?  And does your drying towel have poo on it...and where does that go?  Is it reused?  Do you, in places where these are, poo with all your clothes off? 

For the novice, if your legs happen to be spread and you are spraying your behind, does it often happen that the water shoots up between your legs and out into the room or your face or something?  How do you keep the entire bathroom from being sprayed?

I'm sure in areas where these are commonplace, one grows up being instructed on their use from childhood.  But for those new to the idea, who want to travel with ease...what's the scoop?

I would love to hear from various people from as many countries as possible.  So forward this post to your friends far and wide and ask them to respond.  Send me links if you think they explain the process in enough detail.  Send me diagrams. Send me videos (within tasteful reason).  And if you are a seasoned world traveler, give me a break down of the types of devices and receptacles I am likely to find in various countries and how they are used.  It could honestly make a book! "Crapping all over the Globe" or some such.

In the spirit of education, and to help me be a more prepared and savvy world traveler...spill the beans!

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Screen, You Screen, But Do We ALL Screen?

I'm often ignorant and ethnocentric.  There are just some things I assume everyone does or has.  Like window screens, for instance.  I never really gave it much thought.  Some older buildings I've seen don't have screens, but even then, you can buy adjustable screens to fit almost any window.  And why wouldn't you?  Because...I hate bugs.  Right or wrong, they freak me out just a bit.

I knew that in third world countries, they often don't even have windows, so if they had glass in a window cut-out, that would be amazing.  Screens?  I think I understood this.  But after visiting Sweden in August, and being told that they don't use screens, and in fact, you couldn't really even buy screen material if you wanted to, my world was rocked.  What??? No screens???

In the guest house where we stayed out in the country, our hosts had fashioned some screens by making a wooden frame that fit the window and attaching mesh fabric to it (sort of like the fabric that makes the skirt in a tutu).  Then the window could not be opened and had to stay open.  Because the windows opened outward with a long arm hook and eye hardware that held the window from smacking around in the wind.  But was I ever grateful!  I just had no idea.  Out in the country, where there are livestock and bodies of water, there were certainly a plethora of flies and mosquitoes.  I'm not fond of either of those two things.  Or hostess remarked that she didn't know why nobody had them, but they just didn't there.

So after returning home, I was thinking about this.  Sure it's a small thing but it was a big assumption on my part that most of the "civilized" world used them.  Just wait till I have my first experience with a squat toilet and no toilet paper!!

So I did some searching and found that only the United States, Canada and Austrailia routinely have and use window screens, even though screens in one form or another date back to ancient China and even Egypt.  Back then they were primarily used for security, privacy and maybe keeping out larger birds and animals.  They were often made of wood, or bone, or grasses.  The first actual bug screens made of metal as we know them today came onto the markets in 1861.  More commonly, cheesecloth and other mesh cloth was used.

They have been primarily a U.S. phenomenon.  Who knew?

Since they are widely produced in the U.S., why don't other countries make and use them?  Well, apparently Canada and Australia do, and maybe a smattering of other countries, but you might be hard-pressed to find them routinely in Europe.  Why is that?  It's a bit of a mystery and answers were often vague and hard to come by.  Some responses were:  Because they are ugly.  Because they are unwelcoming.  Because in many countries, insects are not a problem.  Because they obstruct light and airflow.  Because many people are not bothered by insects and grew accustomed to swatting them instead of preventing them from entering.  It still remains a bit of a mystery why this "habit" hasn't really caught on in many industrialized nations.

It makes sense in poverty stricken areas because it is an unaffordable extra, or perhaps never even seen or heard of.  But I'm just a bit confused by this.

If you live in a country where screens are not used, weigh in on what you think about screens, and why they are not routinely used in your country.  I'm not judging, I'm just curious.  For me, since it is a really important feature for my comfort, I think it might behove me to make room in my suitcase for a roll of mesh fabric and some tape (and toilet paper...because you just never know do you)?

...and while we're at it...we could talk about bidets and douchettes and squat toilets and places that don't use toilet paper.

I'll give you a few links here for information on this topic.

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS; With Europe's Screenless Windows, Bugs Come and Go 

Why Do Europeans Oppose Window Screens?

Wikipedia on Window Screens  

eHow; The History of Window Screens