New Beijing

4 July 2017: Today was entirely different from the rest of our touristy gallivanting. After another delicious and lengthy breakfast at the hotel buffet, we met up with a new group of friends from the university promptly at 9:00am and took a van over to the 798 Art Zone. The weather was delightful compared to the previous day — it was on the cooler side (mid- to upper-80s) and there was an occasional gentle rain. Plus the alleyways in 798 were somewhat shaded, so we felt the best that we’d felt since our arrival.

Since most of the art galleries didn’t open until 10:00am, we wandered around outside, took in the setting of the place, and looked at street art for awhile. Then we stumbled upon a small gallery that was already open, so we went inside and had a look. The gallery was attached to a coffee shop, so after we perused the art we stopped in for some refreshments.

798 Art Zone used to be a group of military factories, a backdrop which lends itself well to a modern art district

At the first gallery, a small one that happened to be open before 10:00am.

Waiting for coffees, teas, and smoothies as well as a few snacks.  We accidentally drank the water, but it must have been fine since no one got ill (at least not that day).

If you’d like to learn more about the history of 798 Art Zone, Wikipedia has quite a nice summary. Once ten o’clock rolled around, we gathered our umbrellas and headed down the street to queue up for a traveling exhibit called the Living Digital Forest and Future Park, by teamLab.

According to the group’s website, teamLab “is a collective, interdisciplinary creative group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the digital society: artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, web and print graphic designers and editors. Referring to themselves as ultratechnologists, the group aims to go beyond the boundaries between art, science, technology and creativity, through co-creative activities.” The group has offices in Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai. Their Living Digital Forest exhibit is quite popular — we were lucky to get there early and on a rainy week day, so it wasn’t terribly crowded yet when we arrived. Tickets were required to enter the exhibit and our tickets were checked and marked as we entered each of the four exhibit spaces. No one was allowed to visit the same room twice.

The first space we entered was filled with images projected onto all of the surfaces. Patrons became part of the scenery. There were also a couple of pieces that involved screens on which images of dragons and tigers and other creatrues morphed out of pixel-like shapes.

Experiencing the digital forest

Watching the phoenix arise from the ashes

The second room was geared more towards kids or at least the young at heart. There were outlines of trucks, houses, sea animals and other things that could be colored and then uploaded into the scenes that were projected onto the walls.

Isaac looking for the truck that he created.

Thoma’s creature, to which my photo doesn’t do justice–it looked absolutely amazing and mesmerizing in person.

Experiencing the third room of the exhibit

After we left the Digital Forest, we walked down the street for lunch at a large restaurant where our university friends had booked us a private dining room. We sat at another enormous round table with a Lazy Susan. It was a lovely room and a fine restaurant — the food was some of the best we had all week. Again we were not able to finish all of the delicious dishes that our hosts ordered for us all to share.

During the meal, we kept hearing what sounded like an alarm system or crickets. It turned out that the restaurant kept some huge crickets, retired fighting crickets, in cages right outside the dining rooms. Our hosts showed us the one that was outside our room. In spite of the fact that it was by far the biggest cricket we’d ever seen, we were amazed that all of that racket was being made by a single creature.

The other adventure we had while we were at the restaurant is using the traditional Asian squat toilets for the first time. Our private dining room was on the second floor and the bathrooms upstairs had no western toilets. In general, places have at least one western toilet in order to accommodate the handicapped. I guess that upstairs they didn’t have a need for one since it would be tough to get up there without an elevator. In any case, Lucy was quite reluctant to try out the squat toilet, but after a little encouragement she mastered it handily. After that, she wasn’t afraid of any bathrooms we encountered along our travels and she considered herself quite the expert!

Fun at lunch

Once lunch was over, we all walked back into the Art Zone and saw a second ticketed exhibit, Heart of the Tin Man in the M Woods gallery. It was another fine exhibit and the gallery itself was interesting with its industrial defunct factory feel. The kids’ favorite part of the exhibit was the virtual reality piece. They stood in line for quite awhile, patiently waiting to participate.

The exhibit we visited after lunch

Street art

More street art

After seeing the Heart of the Tin Man, we piled back into the van and drove back to our hotel. We rested in our rooms for a short bit and then ventured out on our own for dinner. We ended up in a fast food noodle shop, which turned out to be just fine. We managed to order okay in spite of the fact that the employees spoke absolutely no English. We managed to make our selections using the pictures on the menu — thank goodness that every menu in Beijing seems to include photos of the food.

One particularly humorous episode during our noodle dinner was a table of men sitting way in the back. Large signs posted everywhere said no smoking, but they were smoking and drinking beers (which the restaurant did not serve).

After getting the kids settled into bed, David and I went downstairs to the hotel bar. It turned out that the bar had only a couple of things to drink, much fewer than listed on the menu. The chairs were nice to look at, but incredibly uncomfortable for sitting. Service was next to nonexistent, but that was probably because the bar was quite empty. Perhaps the most unpleasant part was the dank, sewer smell. This smell permeates many parts of the city, from what we experienced. We’d often get a huge whiff of it just as we were rounding the corner in the lobby and heading to the breakfast buffet. It was quite predictable, but still every time it would catch us by surprise. You’d think we would’ve learned to hold our breath!

 

The Great Wall

3 July 2017: Our first jaunt on our first full day in the country was scheduled to be a visit to the Great Wall. We woke up pretty early due to a bit of jet lag, so it was easy for us to have a relaxed breakfast downstairs in the buffet restaurant before meeting our friends from the university. The breakfast buffet in our hotel was enormous and filled with foods with which we are completely unfamiliar. The English translations sometimes helped us figure out the dishes, but more often than not they were simply poetic.

My plate — fried rice, green veggies, peas and corn, lotus root (which was very spicy!), cantaloupe, and a sweet red bean bun.

One of the more humorous translations — I think David actually tried this one.

We had no idea what this was except that we knew it was some type of meat.

This translation gave everyone a good laugh and still does.

There were many more examples of oddly translated foods — it truly was a huge buffet. There were at least 100 different dishes and sauces to choose from and the line up was a little different each morning. The buffet also included some more standard items, like small croissants, a couple types of breakfast cereal, and slices of bread that could be made into toast.

After breakfast, we met a group of young people from the university promptly at 9:00am in order to make the long drive to the Great Wall. We’d read online that one of the best spots for families to visit the wall is Mùtiányu. There it is possible to take a cable car up the steep hill to the wall where there are some excellent lookout spots from the towers. An hour long hike along the wall from the cable car area takes visitors to a spot from which people can toboggan back down. The drive to Mùtiányu was roughly an hour and a half. The trip was pretty easy, once we got out of Beijing’s gridlock traffic.

Riding in the van to Mùtiányu

Some brief facts about Mùtiányu can be found on the China Highlights company website:

Who Built It and When? — Mutianyu’s History

This section of wall was first built over 1,400 years ago. The Mutianyu Great Wall was first built by the Northern Qi Dynasty in (550–577) over 1,400 years ago.

It was rebuilt and strengthened under the supervision of famous General Xu Da during the Ming Dynasty on the foundation of the Northern Qi wall around 700 years ago. Mutianyu Pass was fortified in 1404 (the 2nd year of Emperor Yongle’s reign) with a rare triangular formation of three interlinked watchtowers.

A 2½-kilometer section was fully restored in 1986. Today’s wall is a replica of the fortifications of 1568 in the Ming Dynasty.

Features of the Mutianyu Great Wall Section

  • Dimensions: 2½ km (1½ miles) long, 7 or 8 meters high and 4 or 5 meters wide
  • Densely spaced watchtowers: 23 watchtowers, about one every hundred meters on an ascending mountain ridge.
  • Rebuilt according to the Ming design with slabs of granite
  • Both sides of the wall have a crenellated parapet so that soldiers could fire arrows at enemy at both sides. This is very rare on other sections of wall.
  • Under the westernmost towers, on the side of a grassy ridge, is the 200-meter-long phrase 忠于毛主席 ‘loyalty to Chairman Mao’ (zhōng yú Máo Zhǔxí /jong yoo maoww joo-sshee/). Chairman Mao once wrote: ‘If you don’t get to the Great Wall you’re not a good man.’ (不到长城非好汉) So touring the Great Wall could be said to be showing loyalty to Chairman Mao.

Mutianyu Great Wall structure

At the entrance

Walking towards the cable car station

It was quite hot that day, brutally hot. However, we realized that it could’ve been even worse — it was actually a little better weather than we thought it would be. I’m not sure what the air quality was, probably unhealthy but not dire. No one was wearing a smog mask, so the air was less bad than it could’ve been. Still, the poor air quality adds to the heat and humidity and makes any physical exertion tougher than it normally would be.

We bought hats, numerous bottles of water, and sunglasses for those who didn’t have them. We all rode the cable cars up — the guys purchased return tickets via toboggan while the girls chose to return via cable car. That turned out to be an extremely wise decision for me since early on I got overheated and dehydrated to the point of not being able to function much. We three girls still managed to enjoy occasional breezes in the shade and watching people coming and going along the pathway while we waited for the guys to finish their hike and toboggan ride.

Staying hydrated on the cable car

Isaac walking down the steep stairs

After our visit to the wall, we drove a short distance to a traditional restaurant and most of us enjoyed a multi-course meal on the Lazy Susan with our university friends. I, however, could only manage to sip on a Sprite. That was just what I needed to get me through lunch and back to the hotel.

Once we returned to the hotel, we were all so tired, hot, and jet lagged that we went to bed incredibly early (5:00pm!) and without eating any dinner. By the next morning, we’d all recovered enough to venture out once again. We weren’t in Beijing for very long, so we wanted to make the most of every day.

On a side note, our hotel was located in the Olympic Park area, which was convenient to the school where David gave his talk. It was not terribly close to anything else, however, including grocery stores. Or perhaps we simply weren’t able to find the type of shops we were hoping to find. As a result, we had no food or snacks in our hotel rooms. Every afternoon when we got back to the hotel to rest for a bit, the kids would complain that they were hungry. Our response was always the same — we have no food. They learned to wait until our next scheduled meal since they had no choice. Next time, I will load up on snacks in the airport!

Beijing!

1 & 2 July 2017: We began our first family trip of the summer a bit tired, both from having stayed up later than normal having fun with cousins (and their energetic pup, Cali) and from the early hour of our departure. We woke up around 5:30am that morning trying to be extra quiet while our visitors were still snoozing downstairs. We left our driveway at 6:04am and we were through security at the airport by 6:42am — record time!

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Getting a quick breakfast before our 7:30am flight to Newark

Our flight to Newark was quick and easy. We had a short layover there and then boarded our direct flight to Beijing. Flying time was estimated to be 13 hours and 13 minutes, so a long one but not as long as traveling to Australia.

The kids sat a few rows back from us, in economy plus. They watched movies and played games for several hours. They finally turned everything off and shut their eyes (at our insistence) about four hours before we landed. Needless to say, they were quite tired upon landing. The adults wisely got more sleep than that.

Navigating the Beijing Capital International Airport was surprisingly easy and clearing customs was a breeze. Once we made it through passport control, we were greeted by an enormous crowd waiting for deplaning passengers. We scanned the multitude of signs being held up until we saw the one for “Professor Robinson.” A small group of students was waiting for us and they welcomed us to Beijing. After we retrieved some cash from the ATM (we had read that our credit cards wouldn’t be of much use in the city), we all walked to the parking garage. It was a stifling trek and the elevator was jam packed, but the air conditioning in the van was adequate and a welcome relief to the oppressive heat.

Checking in to our hotel, the Changbaishan International Hotel, took longer than a hotel check in usually takes. There seemed to be a lot of negotiation between our student crew and the hotel desk. In the end, we were given electronic keys to two rooms across the hallway from each other. This particular hotel has no connecting rooms — perhaps it is uncommon in Beijing to have connecting rooms? The hotel touts itself as a business hotel, so it’s probably unusual for families to stay there, especially families who don’t speak Mandarin. The hotel staff spoke very little to no English.

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A tired boy plopped down on the coach and promptly closed his eyes. He was too tired to consider unpacking or even removing his backpack.

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The view from one of our hotel rooms. The entire week was gray.

Some of us managed to unpack a few things before we all crawled into beds and napped for 1-2 hours. We had to will ourselves awake in order to meet up with a friend of ours who just happened to be in Beijing with his son. They were leaving for Mongolia the next morning, so that night was the only chance we had to see them. They had generously arranged for us to have a Peking Duck dinner in their hotel across town.

Two cabs and 30 minutes later, we were seated in a lovely private dining room for dinner. Later we discovered that the large, round table with its enormous Lazy Susan is the norm for sit down restaurants in the city. Private dining rooms are quite common as well, as large groups of friends or families fill them up and enjoy sharing dishes.

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Learning to put together a Peking Duck pancake using all the traditional garnishes.

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Isaac slept through dinner, so he ate absolutely nothing. At one point, a waitress came in and covered him with a blanket.

Our meal was delicious and perhaps one of the best we had all week. We also had loads of fun comparing travel stories with our friends. It was an absolutely lovely evening. The food was plentiful and we didn’t get close to finishing it all. This too became a common theme for our trip — bountiful, delicious food and bellies not big enough to consume it all.

After dinner, our friends took us on a short tour of the connected mall, with is high-end shops and its filtered air (something to boast about in Beijing). They also showed us an area that resembles Times Square. It was an amazing start to our trip!

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Outside the fancy mall, an area reminiscent of Times Square.

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In a cab, on the way back across town to our hotel.

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Our hotel at night.

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Directly in front of our hotel entrance — the fact that these adult deer statues had spots like fawns drove the kids crazy.

 

Exploring our Neighborhood

30 March 2017: We didn’t plan much for today since we needed to spend some time cleaning up and packing. The kids requested that we visit a toy store, so I got online to see if there was one closer to the apartment than the main/big toy store downtown. Sure enough it turns out that there is a branch of that same store nearby — just a few stops away on the #4 bus. This particular toy store is located inside a small mall, so I thought perhaps we might browse a bit and get some lunch as well.

The bus was quick and easy and it dropped us off just across the street from the entrance to the mall. This particular mall is definitely not a big place, but it has many of the popular stores that you find elsewhere. Although not that big, the toy store had enough of a selection that the kids found a few things that they wanted — a couple of small Lego sets and a package of 6 bouncy balls. After we paid for our purchases, we found a pizza place in the food court. We all split a margarita pizza, which was incredibly tasty and one of the best pizzas we’ve had in the city.

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The perfect size for the three of us for lunch — everyone got 2 slices

The kids purchased their own smoothies from a separate stall. Then they picked out a table, way up high. Some of the seating is stadium-style and every table has a little lamp on it. Truly it is the most deluxe food court I’ve ever been to.

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The view from our table

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The window at our table, looking down into the shopping area

Later I found out that this food court is quite highly regarded, as many of the restaurants are operated by famous chefs. It’s open for lunch and dinner, so I’m sure that we’ll return again soon.

After lunch, we dropped off our bags in the apartment and then went out to a playground nearby. It was fairly crowded with families, a preschool class, dogs, and some people grilling out, but it was still quite easy for the kids to run around and have a great time.

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Leaving the slide for another section of the playground

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One happy moose

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Swinging as high as possible on the basket swing

After we left the playground, the kids stayed outside playing with their bouncy balls for more than an hour. I gave them the apartment key so that they could let themselves in. We will definitely have to run them through the shower tonight — they played hard today and they ended up rolling around on the ground in the gravel and dirt from time to time. I just hope that I can get their coats in decent enough shape to be able to travel home in them tomorrow.

We hate to have to leave in the morning, but we needed to book our return to be home in time to pick up Thomas from his Italy trip. Hopefully we’ll be back again soon — our stay in Sweden is always too short!

So we ended up eating dinner at the same place that that Lucy, Isaac, and I had lunch. By the time we were heading to our evening meal, it was snowing quite a lot. Happily, it was easy to take the #4 bus to the fancy food court.

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Walking to recycle our plastics on our way to the bus stop

Three of us ordered ramen soups for dinner while Lucy had fish and potatoes. That’s the great thing about a food court — everyone can get what he or she wants. We will definitely return with Thomas since he can choose anything he’d like. He’ll love this place.

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Reading and waiting for our food at one of the best tables

On our way home, it was snowing even harder. Hopefully it will be the last snow here, since all the Swedes we know really want spring to arrive soon.

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Snow accumulating on the windshield of a car

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It’s tough to see, but the snow was really coming down

We’re home now, trying to get up the courage and energy to pack up tonight. Tomorrow morning we won’t have much time, so everything really needs to be done now. Wish us luck, as we prepare to leave and long for the next time we all get to visit. Until next time!

Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

29 March 2017: Today it SNOWED. Sometimes there were very light flurries and sometimes huge wet clumps of snow came down fast. The ground was far too warm for anything to stick, so it was simply a beautiful (but damp) event that didn’t cause any trouble.

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Catching snowflakes on their tongues

We got another late start today. The kids are sleeping so long each day that their breakfast is really more like lunch. Normally we’d try to get them onto a better schedule, but staying up late and sleeping in will make it easier for them to adjust back to the time zone at home. Another added benefit is that by the time we get to the museums, many people with younger kids have already come and gone and the school groups on field trips are on their way back to their campuses. We’ve practically had some of the museums to ourselves.

Today we visited the natural history museum, Naturahistoriska Riksmuseet, located near Stockholm University. We hadn’t been there in six or seven years and we were quite impressed with all the upgrades and new exhibits. It was a very good choice for the wet, snowy day since everything was indoors.

Before we set out on the red line train to the museum, we walked over to the playground where Isaac had lost his bouncy ball the night before. We looked around as best we could, but we didn’t see it anywhere. Then, just as we were about to give up, Isaac announced that he was going to check in a clump of bushes one last time and he found the ball! We were all pretty amazed.

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He found the lost bouncy ball!

Once we got to the museum, we discovered that admission is free (something I’d forgotten). The first thing we did was shove our coats into a locker and pick up some maps. Then we made a plan to start at the top floor and work our way down. The kids wanted to see every single exhibit and I’m happy to say that we did.

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Outside the main entrance to the Natural History Museum

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Picking up a guide to the exhibits

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Reading each and every plaque

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Some of the older displays

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We all remembered seeing this giant squid in 2009

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Lucy the explorer

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Posing with a penguin

As I mentioned, the exhibits in this museum have undergone comprehensive renovations and expansions. The curators have managed to interweave some of the oldest parts of the museum’s collection into logical thematic sections with modern interfaces. The pace is just about perfect for kids of all ages (and adults, too). Some of the oldest specimens in the collection date back to the 1800s. This trip we made it into the mineralogy section, which influenced the kids’ choices in the gift shop — both of them wanted a small gem on a cord to take home with them.

We stayed until the museum was closing at 18:00. Then we took the red line train back to our neighborhood, stopped off at the COOP grocery store to get some dinner supplies, and carried our bags back to the apartment. David had a work dinner that evening, so the kids and I cooked up some leftovers and other dishes and ate at home. It was another great day full of adventure. Sadly we have just one more day left before we have to head home.

Something Entirely New and An Old Favorite

28 March 2017: The weather forecast is a very handy tool. Yes, Stockholm weather can be incredibly hard to predict and it can easily change on a dime (or crown, as the case may be). Yet we still rely on the good folks at Weather Underground to help guide our daily activities. I’m happy to report that the forecasters were right on the money today — it was as much as 20 degrees cooler than yesterday, but it was bright and sunny. Thus, the kids and I decided to venture to an entirely new part of town (new to us) to ride in a glass gondola up the side of Eriksson Globe (Globen).

First, we took a #4 bus (an express) a couple of stops, and then we took the green line (subway) just one stop. Even that was an adventure for us, having never traveled those exact routes before.

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On our way to Globen

Normally in the high season Globen is absolutely packed — it’s a very popular tourist attraction. Today, however, there was no one else waiting for a gondola when we got there. By the time our turn came, only six others had bought tickets. Each gondola holds 14 people, so we had plenty of space and we got to see the views from all angles.

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Waiting for the 13:30 departure, playing with a new bouncy ball

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Looking up the side of Globen as we begin to ascend

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All the way at the top now — we can see incredibly far in all directions

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Looking for familiar sites (we saw several!)

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Recording the tracks and the pulley system in her journal

We saw all the major sites, including our old apartment building where we lived in 2009. It was quite a distance away, off in the horizon (as Isaac observed). The ride was pretty nice and just about the right length of time. Lucy managed to stave off her motion sickness and vertigo until the last couple of minutes. We descended in time for her to feel normal again pretty quickly (hooray!).

For lunch we wanted something very, very fast. It was late for lunch (14:00). Plus we wanted to visit a museum that afternoon as well. We chose to eat quickly at the McDonald’s right next to Globen. Lucy and I split a McVeggie wrap (not available in the U.S.) and Isaac chose a Happy Meal (something he hasn’t done in a long time). They both got strawberry banana smoothies as well. It was speedy and relatively inexpensive (win-win!).

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We managed to eat most of the meal, but saved the apples for later

We then took the green line to the downtown area and switched over to bus #69, headed towards Tekniska Museet. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve been to that museum — the kids love it. They always seem to have an interesting traveling exhibit and their permanent exhibits are fun as well.

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Smoothie-induced brain freezes while waiting for the subway

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On our way to Tekniska Museet

We arrived at 15:00 and the museum was only open until 17:00, but that was plenty of time for the kids to enjoy their two (current) favorite spots — MegaMind and Brain Games.

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Trying out the screaming booth

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Lucy experimented with everything in MegaMind

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The last time they can do this — the scooters are for kids under 12 years old only

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Making up their own obstacle courses in Brain Games

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The augmented climbing wall — one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen

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Running around outside before boarding the bus

We left the museum a little early so that we’d have time for the kids to run around outside before heading back to the apartment. They certainly had fun, although Isaac managed to skid in the gravel and hit the ground hard on his shoulder. Luckily he recovered quickly, which gave him time to play a bit more. Then we headed across the street to catch the bus.

I could see on the SL (transit) app on my phone that something was up with our bus. There were delays, but we couldn’t figure out why. We boarded a really crowded bus (not necessarily odd for 17:00 on a week day) and made our way into town. Once downtown, we got off the #69 and walked over to the stop for the #55. By that time we realized that something was not working correctly. There were loads of people waiting for buses, including our bus. Yet our bus schedule wasn’t showing up on the electronic sign. Finally a #55 showed up and many people packed it full (very full!). It crept along towards Slussen. At one point the driver spoke for several minutes on the loudspeaker, but we couldn’t make out most of what he said.

When we got to Slussen, everyone was told to exit the bus. We waited until another driver showed up (normally they change drivers at that point). Something was also happening with the biogas (fuel), but that seemed to be solved pretty quickly. Finally I broke down and asked a mom with a young child what was going on. It turns out that a couple of train lines were not running. Later we found out that there was a technical problem on the red and green lines, during the busiest time of the day (rush hour). Thus, the buses were packed even more full than usual.

Eventually the relief driver showed up, the bus got packed full again, and we were on our way. We got home with just enough time to wash our hands and faces before it was time to meet up with a friend for dinner. We all had a lovely time and the kids got to be excused from the table early in order to play at a nearby playground. It would’ve been a perfect evening had Isaac not lost his new bouncy ball in the dark while playing after dinner. We told him that we’d try to return the next day to look for it in daylight.

Skansen in the Off-Season

27 March 2017: It’s a Monday and that means that it’s a work day for David. He’s planning to work full days at the office all week, while Lucy, Isaac, and I enjoy our spring break time here in Stockholm. The kids slept late again–I finally woke them up at 10am so that we could get a start on our day. Many places keep shorter hours this time of the year and Skansen (our plan for the day) is no exception. Opening times there are only from 10:00 to 15:00 this week.

Once the kids got up and ate a little breakfast, we walked down the street to catch the #55 bus to the ferry. It was an easy trip and the ferry wasn’t crowded at all — there are some definite benefits from it being off-season.

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A gorgeous day to be out on the water

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Stunning views from every angle

Lucy decided that it might be fun to enter Skansen via the funicular, so when we exited the ferry we hiked over to that particular entrance to the museum. Unfortunately the funicular entrance only operates on the weekends in the off-season, so we had a bit of a walk back to the main entrance. Our next bit of bad luck was when we lost two 10 kr coins trying to operate the lockers (to store our coats–it was warm enough in the sun that we didn’t need them). The particular locker we chose simply wasn’t functioning, so we ended up carrying our coats around all day. When you’re next at Skansen, beware of locker #12 to the left of the main entrance!

When we finally got ourselves all sorted out, we headed to the children’s zoo first. Usually that area is far too crowded and the kids don’t get to do some of the things that they like. Today, however, it was practically empty. That meant that even the snake slide could be enjoyed.

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Shedding shoes and sliding down the snake slide hill

But the off-season also meant that the goat enclosure — our main reason for visiting Skansen — wasn’t open for visitors. Poor Isaac had to view his beloved goats from afar.

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Sadly it wasn’t possible to pet and be with the goats

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Watching the goats, geese, and ducks from afar

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The goats were busy eating the whole time we were there

There were definitely some pros and cons to it being the off-season. Another pro was that the kids could play hide and seek to their hearts content inside as well as climb around underground in the bunny section.

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Hiding from Lucy

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Climbing around inside the children’s zoo

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Rats are one of the indoor exhibits

Eventually we got hungry for some lunch. Again, being the off-season, the nearby cafe where we typically go in the summertime was completely closed. I studied the map and quickly realized that we needed to walk all the way back towards the entrance in order to find a restaurant that was open. We ended up dining at the same spot where we go for New Year’s Eve. I say dining, but the kids chose ice cream treats on sticks and smoothies as their meal. I figured why not? They spend so much of their time at home and at school with people telling them what to do that they ought to be able to make a crazy lunch choice during spring break.

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A liquid and frozen lunch

After lunch, they had a plan. Return to the underground bunny climbing area, seek out the wolverines, and finish up the day at the squirrel playground. We managed to do all of that before closing time, plus we had time to watch the seals swim around.

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Watching the wolverines

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Having fun in the squirrel playground

Along the route to the exit we managed to get separated for a few minutes.  The kids wanted to run ahead and that was fine, but they accidentally ran past the doors to the extremely long escalator that runs to the main entrance. It wasn’t entirely their fault since that area is under construction and part of it was covered up by heavy material. Smartly, they spoke with a staff member who recommended that they go to the main entrance. I waited by the escalator and eventually they came around the corner, looking quite relieved. After a final stop in the restrooms, we walked back to the ferry.

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Watching the video for this coming season’s new ride at Gröna Lund, on our way back to the ferry

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On the #55 bus back to the apartment

After we got back, Isaac and Lucy wanted to keep playing outside, so they filled up some water bottles and packed a bag to take outdoors with them. I gave them the key with instructions to return at 18:00. I could see them through the back window occasionally, running around in the park area. They had a great time and they enjoyed their freedom.

For dinner we made pasta and veggies in the apartment. It was quite nice to relax at home. We were extra lucky in that Thomas finally contacted us that evening. We made a group text so that we could all read what he had to say, see his photos, and reply. We were all very happy to hear from him and jealous of the amazing places that he’s already visited during his trip to Italy. We can’t wait to see him on Saturday and hear more about his experiences.

Sunday with Friends

26 March 2017: We slept late, embarrassingly late. Adults got up around 11am and the kids had to be woken up at noon. Still, that was in plenty of time to take the train to meet some friends of ours for a 13:00 lunch in Central Station.

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Waiting for our friends at Luzette

The kids were incredibly patient throughout the two-hour lunch. It helped that they had brought along some Archie comics. Once they’d finished their books, they switched books and read some more. That gave the adults plenty of time to catch up and chat.

After we saw our friends off to their train, we walked around downtown and popped into a couple of department stores (Åhlens and NK). We didn’t linger too terribly long, though, since we wanted a bit of time back in the apartment before we needed to turn around and go out again to meet some more friends for an early dinner. We picked up a few odds and ends at the stores as well as a couple of pastries for later, then we window shopped at the Volvo dealer and headed towards the #55 bus.

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Climbing on the really nasty snow/ice downtown

It was such a nice day again that we actually got little too warm while riding the bus. We had to shed our coats several times throughout the day, in the stores, in the bus, and even walking along when the sun was shining.

Once we got back to the apartment, we rested for a bit, got ourselves organized, and packed up a bag of things for the kids to do with their friend after dinner. The kids also snacked a bit, since they hadn’t eaten much at lunch.

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Snacking on giant meringues from the NK on the balcony

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Buying travel cards for the kids (they’re free on the weekends)

Once again, we had a fine meal with good friends, including their dog! He lay nicely under the table most of the time and he was quite good at cleaning up any french fries that were accidentally dropped by the kids. After the kids ate, we released them to the park across the street. All three of them (L&I and their friend, Dennis) ran around and played until it got dark. We then said our goodbyes and headed back home on the train. The next day was a school day for Dennis, so he needed to get back home. With any luck, we’ll have another chance to seem them all this week.

Spring Break 2017

24 & 25 March 2017: Four of us traveled to Stockholm for the week of spring break this year. Thomas isn’t with us this time around–he’s traveling in Italy with about 40 other Latin students. We haven’t heard from him at all, but we’re sure he’s having an excellent trip. Thomas and his group left on Friday afternoon, around the same time that we boarded a plane for Newark and then took another jet bound for Stockholm. Our travel was pretty easy and straightforward except that we didn’t sleep quite enough on the overnight plane.

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First plane ride of the day, short and sweet

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Getting kooky while waiting for Plane #2

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Finally in Stockholm, waiting for the Arlanda Express

By the time that we exited the express train and walked into Central Station, we realized that we desperately needed two things: food and sleep. So we stopped at a cafe in the station, had a quick bite to eat, and then boarded a local train that took us just a short walk from our apartment. We didn’t even bother to unpack–we quickly made up the beds and then had a mandatory napping session.

Several hours later, we felt revived and ready to go out exploring. We took a long, beautiful walk to our favorite shoreline cafe. At first we sat outside on the dock in the sun. It was cold when the wind blew, but not too bad. However, once the sun went behind the huge bridge, we moved inside where we were much more comfortable. It was a very nice day–in the mid-60’s Fahrenheit and sunny. It was perfectly lovely when the wind wasn’t blowing.

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Our first table at Loopen, outside and in the breeze

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Warming her hands over the candle at our second table

We had a very tasty snack and some warm drinks, then we headed back to our apartment via the giant playground that the kids love. Along the way we happened upon a new, very rustic cafe that was operating out of a shed. It turned out to be their very first day in operation. We tried their coffee as well as some incredible falafel and a bit of some cauliflower spread on fresh baked bread. They were very nice folks–we talked to them for quite awhile. It was truly an idyllic scene, like some sort of 1960s commune/Eden-esque time warp. No one was in a hurry, the ingredients were freshly gardened, the food was made with great care, the sun was shining bright, the air was crisp and clean, and children were playing happily in the background. Truly paradise.

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Swinging and holding hands (if only they’d stay this age!)

After the kids enjoyed the playground, we stopped for more lemonade and hot tea at a quaint hotel. We’d walked past it many times, but had never gone inside. We’ll definitely stop in there again–it’s quite a nice little place.

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Making wacky movies and having a lemonade

Once we got back to the apartment, we unpacked, tidied up, and got ourselves cleaned up. We had made a late dinner reservation (8:30pm) at a very fine Italian place a few blocks away, so we had plenty of time. Our evening meal was incredible, as the food there is truly outstanding. It was a truly fantastic first day. During dinner we all agreed that if we had to return home the next day, we would feel perfectly content.

Our Journey Home

1 & 2 January 2017: Since we were on the afternoon flight from Stockholm to Chicago, we didn’t have to rush around too terribly much in the morning on New Year’s Day. That’s a positive thing no matter what, but it was especially important this time around since I was feeling very, very unwell. I started feeling a bit ill two days prior and when I woke up on January 1st, I was a real mess. It felt like some sort of flu-like illness. It was a real struggle for me to finish packing and get out the door.

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Choosing snacks from the vending machine while waiting for the train

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A gorgeous day in Stockholm – we were sad to be leaving!

We got to Arlanda airport extra early, in the hope that we could use some of our airline mileage points to upgrade our seats. After several attempts with various airline desks, we’d all but given up when we finally found an employee who had the authority to do the upgrade. He was also incredibly knowledgable and helpful. In the end, due to a silly policy about pre-ordering special meals, three of us were allowed to upgrade and two stayed in our original seats.

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At the gate, waiting to board

Both Lucy and Isaac were willing to sit in their original seats, which was an absolute blessing for me. I slept most of the 9-hour flight back, while they entertained themselves. They played some video games, I think, but mostly they thought up clever sayings, which they recorded in a notebook, and had fun playing with hand goats.

Another stroke of luck for me given how rotten I was feeling was that we had planned to stay over the night in the Chicago airport hotel instead of flying on to RDU and arriving home after midnight. Once we deplaned in Chicago, got through customs, and checked into our hotel, I simply went to bed while the others went downstairs to a restaurant in the hotel and had a nice dinner. More sleep always helps with viruses, it seems.

The next morning, we all woke up on the early side, checked out of the hotel, and had our breakfast in the airport club. Our flight was delayed, but not for too long and it didn’t matter much to us since we weren’t in a rush to get anywhere. By then, Lucy was starting to feel unwell herself. Hers was headache and a sore throat, though, with a slightly elevated temperature. By Tuesday morning, she had a high temp so she missed school and went to the doctor instead. It turned out to be strep, so after a couple of doses of antibiotics she was back on her feet.

All in all, it was an excellent trip. It would’ve been magical and wintry to have had some snow in Stockholm and of course it would have been better had none of us been sick, but we truly had a wonderful time and it was the perfect start to 2017.