Swedish Christmas Travels

On the 23rd morning, Þorbjörn and I, and the rest of Sweden began our journey for Christmas break. This year, we traveled to Sälen, a ski town in central Sweden, close to the Norwegian border.

To get there, we had to take a bus. Luckily a direct bus. Because coming back to Stockholm we would be blessed by taking the car, bus, train, another train, and the tunnelbanan.

At 8.20 in the morning we arrived, bright, happy and stressed at Stockholms CityTerminaln, the city bus station. Being Swedish, and therefore being super organized, there is a lovely Arrivals and Departures board with gate information and times. Just like the airport. We head to the second floor where were leaving out of Gate 19.

Alas, a huge crowd overwhelmed the area between gates 16-19. In fact, we couldn’t even reach gate 19 because someone put up a barrier and people were standing in a moshed queue. Now, normally a queue in Sweden is a highly organized and semi high tech process. You go to the queue machine, take a number, and wait until the number is called on the bulletin board.

Today, being Christmas, was different. There was no organized queue. There was no information. It was 300 people standing in a mosh with two idiot ticket checkers. To be efficient, these two ticket agents were clearing four buses departing within 15 minutes of each other. Excellent, just what I need at 8.30 in the morning for a bus that leaves at 8.45.

Massive. Queue. FAIL.

We eventually pushed our way, with bags in tow, to the front of the crowd. The one of two brilliant ticket agents asked seven times (maybe I exaggerate, ten times), “Who’s going to Salen?” “We are!” screamed a dozen of us. Then two people get through. The other 300 people are still waiting to get through the line too. Then our idiot savant screams again, “Who’s going to Salen?” This time just ten of us say it. And it continues until the last three.

Now tickets checked, time to get on the bus. Nope, we had to push our way through another line where two buses were departing from gate 19. Morons at Flybussarna.

Eventually we fight our way to the right bus, get our luggage on, and get on the bus. Being of course almost full and every single ticket holder taking their own seat, it split couples and families. Þorbjörn asked one guy if he would mind switching seats so that we could sit together.

“No,” he said.

Ahhh, the friendly asshat during the Christmas season travels. And that Swedish organization is just a myth during busy times.

Iceland: A Trip around the Ring Road

In spring 2005 I visited Iceland for the first time. I won an auction for two tickets and two nights at the IcelandAir flagship hotel for $1000 from the Cal Alumni Assoc. Being naturally crazy, I dragged a friend to Iceland for a week at the end of April.

Then, in August 2007, I returned back to Iceland, this time to study Icelandic in the small city of Isafjordur. Icelandic? Yes, traveled to the tiny town to learn a bit more about the Nordic peoples.

Iceland is an adorable Nordic nation where the Norse gods and their Eddas originated. I love reading about the history of the country because the Norse language formed here as well as the pagan Norse religion. A must read for those interested in Icelandic history are the Poetic and Prose Eddas.

This post is for traveling in Iceland. I drove around the Ring Road, Route 1, and had the opportunity to see most of the major landmarks in the country. This article is a work in progress and I will keep adding more information to it. If you have photos or favorites places to share, please write a comment below.

Iceland is my favorite country and everyone has to visit the country. Join the Facebook group called Iceland and give the little place up north some love.

Reykjavik
The capital of Iceland, population 119,000. The photo below is the view from the largest church, Hallgrímskirkja.
Reykjavik city

Sólfar – The Sun Voyager
Located on the river front near downtown Reykjavik.
Sólfar - The Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

Þingvellir
Home of the world’s first parliament founded in 930AD.
Þingvellir -Alþing

Gullfoss and Geysir
Foss means waterfall in Icelandic. Gullfoss and Geysir are near Þingvellir (about 30-45 minutes away) and are beautiful places. While not the largest waterfall, Gullfoss is spectacular. Geysir is the name for several geysers located together. One of them erupts every 10 minutes or so.
geysir

Gullfoss - Iceland

Ísafjörður
This little city of 4000 is the capital of the West Fjords. Isafjordur is a cute, little city and taking photos in Isafjordur was amazing.
Isafjordur Iceland

Bolungarvik
Located about 10km away from Ísafjörður. There is a great Viking tour (it was organized through our class) in Bolungarvik. Best way is by car or bike, buses seldom pass by.
Bolungarvik, Iceland

Flateyri
Another small city in the West Fjords, about 20km away.
Near Flateyri

Vigur Island
An island less than an hour’s boat ride away from Isafjordur. A beautiful island with many species of birds, including the eider ducks who produce gorgeous down feathers.
Vigur Island

Akureyri
Largest northern city of Iceland at 17,000.
akureyri

Húsavík
husavik

Myvatn
Near Lake Myvatn, Iceland

Hverfjall
myvatn

Dettifoss
Europe’s largest waterfall located east of Mývatn. The waterfall is normally closed in the winter season.
Dettifoss
Courtesy of Dbrim

Jökulsarlon
One of my favorites places in Iceland, this glacier lake is a must see after visiting Skaftafell National Park.
jokulsarlon

A more panoramic photo of the glacier lake
Jokulsarlon

Skaftafell National Park
Another view of a glacier and a mountain

Vík
Church overlooking Vik

Skogafoss
Skogafoss


Vestmannaeyjar

Three Small Islands
From LittleFrank

Selfoss
A small city outside of Reykjavik. There’s a wonderful fish restaurant on the water called Fjöruborðið (translation from Icelandic: At the Seashore). The restaurant is 20-30min away from Selfoss and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
A set of crosses from people who died from car accidents.
Field of Crosses, Iceland

Bláa Lónið – Blue Lagoon
One of the world’s most famous spa and lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is close to the Reykjavik Airport so many people stop there at the beginning or the end of their trip. There are also buses that pass through the Lagoon and into Reykjavik or the Keflavik Airport.
Blue Lagoon

Keflavik
The Reykjavik International Airport is located in this tiny city.

Iceland: Visiting the Island Up North

My two year anniversary visit to Iceland is coming up so there’s going to be a few articles about my travels and plenty of reminiscing.  What can I say, I love Iceland. =)

If you are off the loop and looking for something fun to read, take a look at these old posts about Iceland. Actually, they are the FIRST posts in this blog.  Pretty awesome stuff.  Wait wait.  I lie, there is one first post, nothing special to you but always important to this blog.

Tjoruhusid: Isafjordur’s Fish Restaurant

The Viking Alcohol: Icelandic Brennivin

Visiting Isafjordur, West Fjords

The First days living in Isafjordur

Say hello in Icelandic

Hope you guys enjoy and inspires you to travel and visit Iceland.

Stockholm City in the Summer

Visiting Stockholm during the summertime?  Here’s a quick guide to walking around the main city areas:  Innerstan, Gamla Stan, and Södermalm. This is not a detailed list of things to do because really it’s up to you where you want to go. But walking the city is the best.

Plan for lots of walking the city but the good news is that Stockholm is a pretty small city.
Innerstan:
serenity
Begin with a walk around central city starting at Sergels Torg, the water fountain across from Kulturhuset.  Walk along the main street, Hamnagatan, where the major shopping area is.  There is Gallerian Mall, NK (Nordiska Kompaniet) the fasionable department store – like Nordstroms, and the Stockholm Tourist Office.  As you walk along Hamnagatan you will pass Kungstragården a fountain and sitting area.  Many concerts and outdoor events take place here.  Continue walking to Strandvägen (the street changes name) which is the docking area for the ferry boats.  On the left, the Stockholm theater house sits.

Östermalm:
Crossing Strandvägen is a larger street called Birger Jarlsgatan.  It runs through Östermalm, the finest district of Stockholm.  You can see the fine shops and dining as well as experience stekare swedes.   There are lot of fun small streets off of Birger Jarlsgatan ( Nybrogatan and Grev Turegatan) and a wonderful park, Humlegården.

After walking through Östermalm, head back to Sergels Torg.  Check out the shopping area near Hötorget (the hay market) and the big deparment store Ahleans.  From there you can walk down Drottningatan towards Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan:
Gamla Stan, Stockholm, HDR
In Gamla Stan, take a walking tour of the island. Visit the Rikshuset, Nobel Museum, and the small streets. Some of these streets are so narrow only two people fit in.  In the 1700s, Gamla Stan had around 700 bars and restaurants.  I don’t know how they fit all those little bars, but evidently it work.   Your can also take a ghost tour on Saturdays around sunset time.

Södermalm:

After Gamla Stan, walk to the next island called Södermalm. At Slussen, which is right on the water facing Gamla Stan take the elevator up to Gondelen, for an overlooking view of the city. Then walk along the water on the northern side of the island so you can view the rest of the city.

After seeing the water side of Södermalm, head to Götgatan, a North-South running street crossing the whole island. Plenty of shops, stores, bars and cafes to see. Check out Medborgaplatsen, aka Medis, a cute little square. Eat some tasty kebab food at Jerusalem Kebab. You can digress a bit and walk down Folkungagatan, a funky street full of music and instrument stores and some randomness.

If you are not tired yet, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Head yourself back to the hotel or where-ever you are staying, take a hot shower and then head out for a yummy dinner.

All Work During the Swedish Summer Makes me a Dull Girl

This is it. The swedes just have to stop going on vacation all summer long. Our office is becoming more and empty as the people empty out to the countryside, or wherever it is they have their vacation. Out of 150 people, there are 50 people in the office right now. That’s only 1/3rd full or a very small glass of milk. Honestly, how does Sweden function during this period of frivolity? And how are people in necessary industries, e.g. grocery stores, taxi, bus, postal, even able to handle work? When do they go on vacation? They have five weeks too, it must be somewhere.

Yep, five weeks. Hear that corporate America? The bane of my existence was the lack of vacation. In the US, you get 12 days of vacation; in Sweden, the law is a minimum of 25 days. That’s more than double in Sweden. Who wouldn’t want to work here then? Well, for one, if you work in the summer; it royally blows.

I am lonely here at the office, people are here and not here at the same time. One room is entirely empty; like 15 desks. And it will be empty until mid August, then the Swedes come back to reality. And right now, we have great weather in Stockholm. When Sweden has beautiful weather, you go out and run around a pole, or swim in a lake, or eat strawberries. And in this beautiful Swedish weather, I am stuck inside in the office staring at a computer screen.

But you know what. I exact revenge on the Swedes. At the beginning of September I head to California, where it will still be sunny and warm. While here in Sweden, they will all sulk over the changing weather. That’s the best way: take vacation during the Swedish winter. Maybe the all work and no play will make me a very happy person in five weeks time.

Take that Swedish summer!

Swedish Summer Houses and Jellyfishes

I went to Göteborg (Gothenburg for those of you lacking the ö) for a weekend visiting Þorbjörn’s parents. This is my fifth visit to see them and it’s pretty the same deal everytime. Mom is excited we are there, dad drinks a Norrlands Guld 3.5% (the worst beer in the world, in my honest opinion), the dog plays with rocks, and we eat a lot of food. All in all, a great way to spend the weekend. If we are lucky, we can take the boat out onto the waters and see some pretty islands. I’m not lucky, the past month of sunshine disappeared and turned itself into rain and clouds. The weather gods are bastards.

But here are a few photos from where they live. It’s okay, be jealous now.
Gothenburg Boats
The view to the water from the boyfriend’s house.

Kärna summer house in Sweden
Kärna summer house in Sweden

The house on the right, under construction, is Þorbjörn’s family house. It should be 100sq meters once expansion completes.

We went to Marstrand, some pretty island that is very famous in Sweden. It required getting bundled up in waterproof materials and taking a 25 minute boat ride; which was awesome to say the least. When we arrived, there were some huge boats, sailboats that could probably compete. Those damn Norwegians, lots of money and nothing to do. On Marstrand, you can see the castle (we didn’t) and take a lovely walk around the island, we only spent an hour and half and had a beer. I saw little but still took a few photos.

Small street in Marstrand
Small street in Marstrand

Sweden on the water is amazingly beautiful. I love that Þorbjörn’s parents live on the water; it’s just amazing. Forget the city, living on the water to the ocean is way better.

The boat ride back from Marstrand was rainy, windy, and rocky. Our boat bounced quite a bit and at one point, I flew off my seat onto the floor. Next time I get a seatbelt. When we got back home, the rain vanished, of course it would, and I got to play with a jellyfish. No danger, no abuse. I just picked the little jellie and put him back in the water. He was very soft and squishy, and jelly-like (what a surprise). Must say, holding a Swedish sea jellie was the best thing of the weekend.

Holding a Jellyfish
Holding a Jellyfish

KLM Lost, Delayed Baggage Information

After receiving many visitors about KLM’s customer service problems regarding baggage, here is a run down of what to do if your bags are stolen or delayed as well as baggage travel restrictions.

The basics: Baggage Allowance
Baggage allowance for any airline is a nightmare. Each region, country, airline has restrictions so who the hell knows what to do. Go with your airline you begin travel with. First thing to know with KLM, they don’t give a rat’s ass if your a Delta Platinum Elite, Elite Plus or any other high ranking frequent flyer status. Truly KLM sucks on service, especially service to their loyal members.

KLM Hand baggage:
1 piece of L55 x W25 x H35 cm MAX WEIGHT total (bag plus accessory) 12KGs
PLUS one Accessory allowance of: Briefcase, Camera, Walking stick, Umbrella, Small laptop
Business class travelers get a slightly larger allowance.

KLM Checked Baggage Allowance:

It’s a mess with this one so check out this nasty chart.
KLM-baggage-chart

Delayed Baggage:
You must file the appropriate paperwork at the arrival destination and it’s called the Property Irregularity Report (PIR) and a photo is below. This must be done within 21 days of your arrival, otherwise your claim is null and void. Give KLM service all the information, passport copies, contact information, and contents of the bags in case customs clearance is required.

Retain all copies of information you give to KLM.

For each day your bag is delayed, you are entitled to a shopping allowance. In the US it is $50/day and in Europe it is 100EUR. Check the information paperwork KLM gave you. You will send those receipts to KLM, so email them!

If your bags are delayed for more than three days:
You should have already file a PIR and have a reference number. Now of course your bags are totally gone so there’s more paperwork.
Go here: http://www.klm.com/travel/nl_en/forms/bif.htm

To file Receipts with KLM
Email: customer.care.nordic@klm.com
Case number: You need to get a number assigned, do this as soon as possible that baggage is stolen
Claim Information required:
Specification and/or receipts of the missing cards and the first needs items purchased.

local bank account details which need to include the 4 digit clearing number and your account number. Please note that our system does not currently permit payments to international bank accounts or the use of IBAN and/or SWIFT numbers.

Send information via an attachment to your e-mail, but the system does not accept e-mails & attachments greater than 3MB.

OR mail the receipts and information to:
P.O. Box 69370
1060CK Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 08 587 99 747
Fax: +31 20 588 8250

I have to add a couple photos of my claims so you can see a sample. If I should any information here, let me know.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT KLM airlines. I am not affiliated with KLM or Skyteam in any way (except for being a private traveler on Delta and Air France). I do not work with or know anyone at KLM. If you have problems with KLM, you must contact them yourself.

How to pick-up a drunk Swedish boy on Midsommar in 3 steps

Okay we’re teasing the Swedes here but my French friend and I just couldn’t help but tease the strangest holiday of the year. In case you didn’t know, Midsummer occurs on Summer solstice, the longest day of the year as well as the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere.

Midsommarafton, celebrated the day before the holiday itself (just like Julafton instead of Juldagen) consists of: drinking, eating, drinking, singing about small frogs, drinking schnapps, dancing around a pole, eating, drinking öl, and wearing flower wreaths. Swedes take their summer seriously and no one’s going to burst their first day of the summer party.

Midsummer is THE holiday for celebrating the light and the sunshine and the summer and the strawberries.

Forget the food and the aquavit, here’s how to flirt with a silly drunk Swedish Boy on Midsommarafton (midsummer day) in Sweden:
1. Say hello
2. Ask for his name
3. Ask for a french kiss

After getting that kiss, well it’s up to you to what happens next. But in an extreme situation, you can refer to the German IKEA television commercial of Swedish midsummer parties.


Germany’s IKEA TV ad that was banned.

Why KLM is [maybe] the Worst Airline

Update: 06/27/2009 I told my whole story to our friend Marcus at KLM and he escalated the letter to someone else. Let’s see what happens. Nothing happened. What a surprise, no one from KLM bothered to reply back.
Update again: While I think KLM is stupid beyond belief, I still need to fly them. They’re my gateway airline into continental Europe and into the US and Asia. I just hope they are not always this stupid. And as I am a loyal fool to Delta… I have to stick with KLM. Well maybe I can do Air France too.

I have to rant because at this point there is no where else to go. I hope that some idiot from KLM public relations or customer service sees this post and understands how upset I am.

A lot of readers here also travel so post your stories about KLM, NWA (Northwest Airlines), SAS, or anyone else that gave you terrible service.

I flew from Stockholm to India this past month with KLM and NWA. Unfortunately for Stockholm, there are not very appealing airline options to fly into continental europe and continue to Asia. There’s SAS (THE worst airline since you have to pay for water), KLM, and Air France. My post is about the dismal service, communicate, and receive any recourse for stupid service.

So, the list of complaints:
1) Arlanda Stockholm Airport; check in with KLM. I check in with KLM, only to find out my hand luggage bag is 1/4 inch (about 1/2 centimeter) TOO big to take on board. I’m sorry the wheel was sticking out of that straight-jacket baggage checker! Now, the agent at the KLM counter is on my case to lighten out my bag. I pull out as much as possible, laptop, blanket, snacks, etc. and throw the bag on the belt.

The suitcase and this “hand bag” now weigh 23kg; of course she has to lecture me and tell me I have to pay for the overweight. After a few minutes of begging she lets me go with those 3kgs for free. OMG!
Then, the KLM counter lady gives me a lecture that I have no right to stand in the First Class/Business Class/ Elite Plus line. Wait! I am in Delta Elite Plus member and your overheard counter image has the Skyteam logo. You don’t specify that is for KLM only. But I am wrong, Delta Platinum is in fact not part of the Skyteam like that. Great, so the Skyteam alliance is useless then.

2) Get on the plane to go from ARN-AMS. Flight is delayed. 20 minutes. 30 minutes. 40 minutes. 1 hour. Yay! We take off over an hour late. Arrive in AMS a little bit before 9AM.

3) Make it onto the NWA airlines bound to BOM. Door closes. Wait, we’re not moving; no pushback. We sit. Sit some more. 20 minutes pass. Captain gets on the intercom that we have auxiliary power switch problems so we have to hang tight. Yep, another hour goes by before we leave the gate.

4) Arrive at the Mumbai Airport. My name, along with a dozen others are called on the loudspeaker. Not a good sign. There’s no sign of our baggage. I file PIR (Property Irregularity Report) with KLM. KLM gives me a crappy 25 Euro discount on the flight I purchase. Yippee! After filing lots of paperwork, dealing with Indian customs to have my bags cleared by the airline, I head home.

5) Two days later and some shopping to run around for underwear and tops and bottoms, I get my bags. But, but, the front pouch of my handbag is empty. Did someone steal stuff? Where are my personal business cards? Where is my ipod? Where is my headphone? And the little junk in the front pouch? Gone. All gone.

I file a complaint with the KLM office in Mumbai. They give me a case number that I can use to file the stolen items when I return back to my country of residency, Sweden. Fine. I wait.

6)
Get back to Sweden. The useless counter in baggage claim that supports KLM and all those airlines with baggage issues, is well, useless. I get a phone number to call in Sweden, but as usual in a socialist country, no one works on the weekend.

7) Sunday, I email KLM directly (only took a couple weeks since their website is the most horribly built thing since msn.com) with all the details of the baggage situation, case number, etc.

Monday, a response. At least someone is fast to read and respond. Thank god.
Here is the letter from KLM Customer Service:

Thank you for your e-mail dated 3 May 2009 regarding your recent journey with KLM and Northwest Airlines. KLM takes precautions to make sure that passenger baggage is loaded and off-loaded with the greatest care. We regret that even with these precautions some items were missing from your luggage. Please accept our most sincere apologies for any inconvenience or distress this irregularity in our service may have caused you.

In instances such as these, we would recommend passengers to submit a claim to their travel insurance for consideration since the liability of airlines is limited. This letter may be used as proof for your insurance company that you reported the loss at our company.

Should you not have claimed on your own insurance and wish instead to claim directly on KLM, then you are more than entitled to do so, although KLM’s liability, like that of all other signatory
airlines, is limited to terms set out in the Montreal Convention. Unfortunately we cannot offer you any compensation for the missing i-pod as according to our Conditions of Contract, we do not accept liability for pilferage of money, jewellery, electronic and photographic equipment, precious metals or other valuables. For the latter we refer you to the General Conditions of Carriage article 8.6.d, based upon the Montreal Conventions.

To enable us to handle the remainder of your claim promptly and efficiently, we kindly request you to provide us with the following:

*Specification and/or receipts of the missing cards and the first needs items purchsed.

*Bank information [more details he writes]

Once again, we would like to offer our apologies for any inconvenience or distress the missing items from your luggage may have caused you.

Yours sincerely,

Marcus Johnstone-McKinney
KLM/NWA Customer Care North Europe
P.O. Box 69370
1060CK Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 08 587 99 747
Fax: +31 20 588 8250

Ohh, why thank you but I highly doubt you give a rat’s ass.

Please accept our most sincere apologies for any inconvenience or distress this irregularity in our service may have caused you.

There’s the legal bullshit we are all waiting for:

Unfortunately we cannot offer you any compensation for the missing i-pod as according to our Conditions of Contract

So why the hell do I have case number for stolen items I cannot claim? I don’t know. And why didn’t anyone at the Mumbai KLM Customer Service office tell me that electronic goods will not be covered? Lack of communication.

Where do I go from here? Not sure. Having lost more than 2500SEK due to stolen items, spent over 1000SEK having to buy new clothes, and had the lack of service from KLM, I don’t know. Why should I care about poor little airlines’ problems with fuel issues if they have no responsibility to give customer service and to not rip people off? Why do you airlines think customers hate you because you charge us for ever extra pound on board, or make us buy water, snacks and pillows on flights? Are we just cattle?

Thank you KLM for making me have the worst trip ever. And it is nice to know that Delta Platinum Elite Plus fliers can be treated like shit by the airlines in their own Skyteam network.

I have created a post just for KLM Baggage Information. Please also check it out if you have questions about filing baggage complaints or the paperwork required to file a complaint. Note though, I cannot help you as I don’t work for KLM; don’t me to call you!

40 things I learned in Stockholm one year later

It’s been one year since i first visited Sweden. Some of my opinions changed, some are still the same. Check out 2007’s 40 things in Stockholm to get an idea.

Let’s see, what did we learn in one year:

  • Stockholm people cannot drive, obey traffic signals, or stop for pedestrians
  • Males who are from Stockholm have the slick backed, douchy, hair
  • Men love wearing pointy-toed leather shoes
  • Stekare is term used to describe snobby, stuck up, douchy haired males (usually from Stockholm)
  • The T-bana is a chaotic mess on Friday and Saturday nights
  • Crayfish is pretty darn tasty…pour down that aquavit
  • Systembolaget has a line to enter the store on Fridays…buy your beer earlier!
  • Swedes are lying (okay deluded) when they tell you Sytembolaget has a great selection of alcohol. And you can place an order for things not in the catalog too!
  • Females still wear the stupid looking leggings from the 80s
  • Swedish pizza is the best food that the country can offer
  • Men won’t flirt with women unless they are on the verge of blacking out
  • Everything is fucking expensive in Stockholm; if you are not broke in one week you really weren’t in Stockholm
  • Swedish men in general have issues showing emotions
  • Females still wear the baggy t-shirts from the 80s
  • Some men carry “purses”
  • Friday and Saturday are reserved for getting completely wasted. Drunk isn’t good enough
  • Swedes freak out when things are late
  • Some Swedes are passive aggressive. Other Swedes love to get pissed off
  • No one holds the door for you; watch your nose
  • With one of highest life expectancy rates in the world, they sure drink, smoke, and drink coffee like there’s no tomorrow
  • Drivers still don’t understand the meaning of “pedestrians first”
  • Sill is a delicacy according to the Swedes
  • One only eats candy on Saturdays
  • Mexican restaurants are no where to be found
  • Swedish men have issues talking; sometimes you have to kick them in the balls to hear them speak
  • There’s no such thing as a discount
  • Forget flirting with everyone, you will just look stupid
  • Walk fast and look at the sky and hope others don’t talk to you
  • Meeting the boyfriend’s family is no big deal