Stockholm in August

Picture of Nordens Ljus in Stockholm

We had our vacation near the end of August this year and decided to go to Stockholm for a few days. We moved from Sweden back to Estonia close to a year ago and it seemed like a good time to head back to see our friends and eat our favorite morotsmuffins.

Eva sitting on a staircase
Ivo checking his phone

The trip was incredible fun. The weather was very good (especially our first day in Stockholm) and we managed to go through most of the places we wanted to see. We’d seen most of the sights in Stockholm during the four years we’d lived in Västerås so we were more interested in the many lovely shops that we had started to miss. My favorite is the always fun Sci-Fi Bokhandeln, which is a bookstore dedicated to everything geeky.

We had arranged to meet a bunch of our friends in the evening at Mälarpaviljongen which is a lovely garden/bar/cafe/shop on the shore of Lake Mäleren. Part of the place was actually ON Lake Mälaren floating on barges connected by bridges. It was very lovely and everyone seemed to have fun.

View towards Lake Mälaren
The green queen flyer

After a few drinks we headed to a burger restaurant called Gnarly. The burgers were very tasty and we chatted until late in the evening when most had to take the bus to Västerås. We had a nice walk through Stockholm at night and stayed with our friend Mehmet, who had helped organize the evening.

All in all it was a great trip. Both me and Eva took many pictures with our phones and the Sony NEX 5n and enjoyed every minute.

It was quite sad to leave again as Sweden still has a special place in our hearts but the trip was definitely what we needed this summer. Thank you to all the friends who met us in Stockholm and we hope to see you all again soon.

Ivo looking at Hulk

Mr. Krustok goes to USA (Part 3)

I’m sorry this took so long –  I mean I started writing this while still in the US but then I stopped. No particular reason. I was busy and then went to Estonia for my vacation etc. I just plain forgot about it. So here is the third and final part of my trip. Just so there is closure. 

I think it is about time I write about the actual reason I came here – the conference. As most of you probably know (at least somewhat) – I am studying microalgae. This conference was concentrated specifically on my are of study – The 4th International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts. As you can imagine, I was very excited.

I’m not going to go through all I heard and saw during the 3 days I was at the conference. Let’s be honest, you don’t care. I will however, say a few general things about the conference.

Let’s get the main thing out of the way first – I am absolutely pleased I came. The conference was very much what I needed at this point of my studies and specifically in the field I am interested in. I have been to more general energy and microbiology conferences before but this time I was with my people. It was refreshing to be able to speak to everyone about their research, explain my own and have a constant understanding between all parties involved. I got many good ideas, many good connections and had a lot of fun.

The conference was international but as you can imagine there were a lot of locals from New Mexico and from the US in particular. This was actually pretty cool as Americans are really easy people to talk to. You just walk up to them, strike up a conversation and they look like they are actually enjoying the conversation with you. And in a similar manner they will just come up to you and have a few good words. That made networking a whole lot easier.

My own presentation went well – at least that’s what I thought. I was calm, stayed in my time limit and at least from my perspective, gave an insightful and smart talk… Right… Anyway, the session chair seemed happy and the friends I had made seemed also satisfied with it. My talk was pretty much at the end of the conference and after it was over I had to leave to go check into a new hotel.

I had to stay in three different hotels while in the US. After the conference had ended the official hotel stopped giving the special discount and I decided it was better to get something a bit cheaper. It was a good idea as I got to experience more of Santa Fe that way.

I had made two new friends who had flown in from Sweden as well and we had quite a nice dinner after the conference was over. The portions were huge but I finally ended up trying a real American burger – although a gourmet one – with some sweet potato fries. My Swedish ID however was not proof enough for my age and I couldn’t get that alcohol free beer I had ordered.. Oh well…

The last day in Santa Fe was nice as well. I didn’t have to worry about a time schedule. I had a train to catch in the evening but for most of the day I was free. After getting up, I checked out of the hotel and took a bus (the routes were not on Google maps by the way) to the shopping area on the outskirts of the town. It is always fascinating for me to go to local malls and shops in other countries. It was especially exciting in America, as I was able to visit places like Target, Best Buy etc. that I have heard about but never experienced. To be honest, the trip to the shops turned out to be quite boring so I headed back to the center to have some lunch.

As a first treat during my day off I went to the Andrew Smith Gallery, which featured some of the most rare and important works by the famous photographer Ansel Adams. Some of the pictures really blew my mind. The contrast, the dynamics and the gradient of different shades of gray – some exceptional works indeed. Some negatives had been printed in different ways during different decades and it was interesting to look at the evolution. In addition to Ansel Adams there was also an exhibition from Joel-Peter Witkin titled “Love and other Reasons…To Love”. It was quite an interesting look into the grotesque. Some of the photos there I really loved. like this one for example. 

After the gallery I went to the New Mexico art and history museums that were also very interesting. The history museum in particular had a very nice display and started from before the Spanish settlers. It also had an interesting exhibition on pinhole cameras and there was actually a huge pinhole camera built in one of the rooms that you could step into. There was a hole in the wall and you could see the picture from the outside projected on the wall of the camera.

As a really nice end to my trip I also met the street musician I had seen a few days before again. We had another talk, I took a picture of him and he ended up giving me an Indian blessing, I didn’t know any blessings so I just gave him a Swedish handshake.

I think that’s about it really. I boarded the train. Got to Albuquerque in the evening. Had a real diner burger with some diet coke, slept for a few hours and boarded my first plane on my way back to Sweden. All in all, it was a really great trip.

Mr. Krustok goes to USA (Part 2)

I am writing this on a comfortable armchair in a wonderful hotel room with the warm red light of the sunset shining through the window. The room is nice and cool, Mùm is playing in the background and I am tired. Santa Fe is heaven on earth.

After sleeping for around 6-7 hours after being awake for more than 24, I woke up in Albuquerque and went for my breakfast. It was nothing special – hashbrowns, sausage, biscuits. Tasted good enough and the availability of decaf coffee was a nice surprise.

I had a brilliant idea of heading to the train station a few hours before my train would go, store my luggage and look around the town a while. The plan started well enough, a woman from the hotel took me to the train station and we had a very pleasant conversation while driving. She had apparently grown up in Albuquerque and said it was a nice small town. She wanted out though – apparently it’s hard to leave a small town and head to California. All the while I was thinking to myself – Albuquerque, small town?

The weaknesses in my plan started to surface as we were nearing the train station and she said she doubts that there is a place to store my luggage. The train stop was without a building and she wasn’t sure the bus stop would have lockers. Well there was little to do but to go see so I thanked her, gave her a tip and went to look around.

As she had thought – there really wasn’t any place to leave luggage. Better yet, as it was Sunday the center of Albuquerque was as empty as Västerås on a very lazy Saturday morning – and that’s saying a lot.

There I was – two hours until my train, luggage slowing me down and nowhere to go. Luckily I stepped into a restaurant opposite of the railway station. It was a Brazilian grill restaurant and because it was father’s day, the place was packed. Since I was alone, it didn’t take long to get a table. Since it seemed like a nice enough place, I decided to stay and have a father’s day lunch to celebrate my father. Unfortunately he wasn’t there although, I am quite sure he would have enjoyed it.

The system was quite simple. You sit down, get a drink and head for the salad bar, which was packed with incredible vegetables and fruits with some additional cheeses, sauces and cold cuts. When back at the table, you notify the serving staff that you are ready for the meat service by turning a wooden block green side up. Then people will come to your table with skillets of meat and vegetables giving you a piece of everything until you just can’t continue. At that point you turn the wooden block red side up. It was very tasty… I ate too much, Luckily I declined the dessert.

Since I took my time with the lunch, enjoying the always friendly service and good food, I didn’t have to wait long for the Rail Runner – a New Mexico train with a road runner as a logo and a “meep-meep!” sound as the doors close. It takes you from Albuquerque to Santa Fe through some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable and through American Indian reserves.

I looked out the window most of the time but kept wondering if there are many on this train, like me, heading for the conference. As I started to feel a bit weird from the climbing elevation, I did notice a few people carrying posters and asking around for the way to the convention center. This gave me a good chance to get some new acquaintances and offered my help to guide a South-Korean professor, currently on sabbatical in Miami and his former PhD student to the conference.

As we walked through the town everything was very different from Albuquerque. So much so that I couldn’t even connect the two if I didn’t know how close they were. Everything is so mellow in Santa Fe. I cant find a better word for it. It’s just… very nice to be here. Since it is located at an elevation of around 2200 m from sea level, it does however take some getting used to. The kilometer long walk to the hotel got me a bit out of breath – something that has never happened before.

The hotel I am staying in – Eldorado Hotel & Spa – is amazing by the way. The view from my room is amazing and the room itself is not much worse either. An iPhone dock next to the bed with reasonable speakers is also a good bonus. It feels nice to take off ones shoes and put on some good tunes. I listened to Estonian/Swedish jazz band Maigroup while unpacking.

Since it had been a long day, I didn’t really feel like walking around too much. I went to a nearby pharmacy to get some sunblock (SPF 85+ seems to be the standard here), bought some food from a local farmers market, registered for the conference and went to bed. After all, tomorrow was a day full of algae and I needed my brain to be active.

Mr. Krustok goes to USA (Part 1)

Albuquerque from a plane window
Landing in Albuquerque – and end to a journey that took around 24 hours

I woke up a few minutes after 3 AM. My wife couldn’t sleep so she had been up for most of the night and luckily noticed that my alarm didn’t go of when it was supposed to. Apparently Saturday is not a weekday and I am an idiot.

Some final packing, hugs and kisses and a taxi ride later, I was in the central station of Västerås. I was too early, as always. Waiting there in the cold morning wind. It looked pretty though. I remember thinking about the times I had to catch this bus or a early train during the winter and became happier. There was a sunrise and it was warm enough just to wear a sweater.

The bus ride was quite uneventful. I was very tired but couldn’t sleep. I didn’t even feel like listening to anything. I was just sitting there staring. I was heading towards a continent I had never been to and a bit scared. Due to the early hour my stomach felt quite unpleasant and a woman who had motion sickness throughout the trip didn’t make it feel better. I ate the sandwich my wife packed for me and soon enough I was at the airport.

Arlanda was full of people, mostly families heading for vacation so it took some time to get through all the security. It was actually quite nice to see the happy families heading for summer vacation together. I quite like the families in Sweden. There was one sitting in front of me in the plane – mother, father and two daughters. One was very much a Swede, blond with long hair and a copy of “Jane Eyre” in her hand. The other seemed to be adopted. She had dark short hair and a more Asian look. She had a fantasy novel in her hand. I don’t know why I noticed. It just seemed like such a nice family, heading for a vacation, enjoying themselves. I thought about my trip and wished for something similar – would have been amazing to be with my wife and chat on the plane. I was however alone and heading for a conference, not a vacation.

Heathrow was a short stop and before I knew it, I was on a Trans-Atlantic flight and had more than 10 hours of waiting in front of me. I find it quite funny how travelling with a plane seems to be mostly about waiting. Waiting in ques, waiting in gates, waiting to take off, waiting to land, Many say that the pleasure is in the journey but I can understand that more while travelling by car, train, boat or hiking. With a plane, you are in a mostly closed box, waiting.

Talking about waiting, I watched two long movies and several shorter TV-shows on the flight, The movies – “Her” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – were both really cool and made me analyze my journey much more. I thought about my life and how I should take more pleasure in the little things. I also thought about the fact that I cant remember when I sat on my ass for more than 10 hours straight, taking only a few short toilet brakes.

The flight took longer than it should have and there was a danger that in Houston, I would miss my flight. When I landed I had about 45 minutes to pick up my baggage, get through customs, TSA, change the terminal via train and get to my gate. I don’t know how – the queues were very long and they had already booked my another flight for the next morning – but I made it.

I was wearing my Iron Maiden shirt and have never gotten so much attention than in USA. I was asked what my favorite songs are by an older gentleman who seemed to be from Texas. I was also complimented by a worker at Albuquerque airport.

The Americans just seem very friendly and open – so enjoyable. On my flight from Houston to Albuquerque I talked to many of the people around me and everyone seemed to talk to the people sitting next to them – a nice change from Sweden where people put a bag next to them on the bus just to keep people from sitting next to them.

Long story short, I am currently in a nice hotel in Albuquerque, it’s 5:57 and since i couldn’t really sleep, I am sitting here and writing this mess. I arrived quite late and was very tired so I went through a convenient store, ate some chicken and salad and went to sleep. Today I will be heading to Santa Fe, but that’s another post.