The view from my window in Sodermalm.

Many people know Sweden for its famous exports, most notably IKEA and Saab. Perhaps you’ve also heard of Sweden’s penchant for hanging pennants and its simple modern style, if you know a little more about Scandinavian design. Maybe you’ve even tasted elderflower in a cocktail or sampled lingonberry jam (perhaps in an IKEA cafeteria…). Combined with socialist ideals, that about sums up what I knew of Sweden prior to my visit.

Gamla stan – Old Town, Stockholm

What I discovered was a multi-colored city bravely lit against the impending darkness of a Scandinavian winter. I saw no blue sky during my time in Stockholm, but this liberal and intellectual gem of Scandinavia shone brightly nonetheless.

So many bikes! Doesn’t matter the weather, people young and old make use of Stockholm’s copious bike lanes. 

Physically, Stockholm is perhaps the smallest capital city I’ve encountered to date. An excellent transit system connects this grouping of islands across a waterway running from Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea.

Sunset… 3:30pm.

I stayed on Södermalm, today a trendy island in the south of the city which is chock-full of bike lanes, antique shops, and lamps.

Blekingegatan – Artist’s Row in Stockholm.


I quickly learned that an individual’s lighting choices can say a lot about one’s personality. In the land of the midnight sun to the near constant darkness of a Swedish winter, lighting demands serious attention in this land of extremes. Every cafe I entered featured candles under open flame, casting a cozy warmth over their interiors and bracing against the dry cold outside.

Perennials flood the outdoor markets, begging passersby to bring nature into their homes.

Friendly shopkeepers greeted me with a casual “hej, hej”, which sounds more like “hey, hey” to the American ear. Such a friendly way to be greeted, and with a smile no less! This treatment after Russia and Paris definitely made the American in me feel welcome.

Two antique shop finds. The orange is a local Swedish glass blower and the blue is a traditional Finnish jar.

Sweden is extremely liberal, both politically and personally. A number of shops touted S&M in my hipster neighborhood and locals tell me that all sexual preferences are welcome here.

Part of the artist community at the top of Sodermalm – galleries line the streets below.

My friend Jenna, who has lived in Sweden for nearly 10 years and is married to a Swed, tells me she couldn’t imagine starting a family anywhere else. She and her husband Tomas have two 20 month old girls (the beautiful blondies seen below). They were both given 6 months off per child with full pay. And even now they are still able to take unlimited sick days whenever the girls are ill. Incredible. I asked her how they make it work, knowing that so much of a Swed’s salary is devoted to the high taxes to pay for healthcare, pension, etc. She said simply that there aren’t many additional expenses beyond housing. Daycare is free and only a block from their house. Stockholm’s wonderful transportation system is subsidized. Sweden clearly goes to great lengths to take care of its people. If you’re curious to read more about the Swedish system, here’s more on the Nordic Model.

So great to see Jenna and meet the girls. 20 years of friendship – wild!

There is a decidedly intellectual air about Stockholm. Art and design are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Wandering the city, I spotted many design firms, each with a unique style of decor and presentation.

Sculpture installation at the Modern Museet.

On a slushy day, I spent an afternoon at the Moderna Museet. Located on a harbor island, the museum houses a great collection of modern art as well as a wing devoted to Swedish architecture and design, known as the ArkDes.

The Russians seem to be following me! A work by Vladimir Tatlin in an exhibit dedicated to Socialist Realism.
Found a cool architectural card game about design families to share with my Industrious Design classes.

Also while out wandering, I ran across the Nobel Museum in Gamla stan, the Old Town portion of the city.

Exhibits highlighting the work of Nobel winners, past and present.

I spent a few hours geeking out over exhibits on the Higgs Boson (I have a fascination with CERN from my time in Switzerland) and Alfred Nobel‘s original experiments during his childhood time in St. Petersburg.

Salmon (lax) is always on the menu along with creme fraiche. I had lunch at Ostermalms Saluhall on the recommendation of my friends Devi and Derek – definitely an awesome spot for enjoying Stockholm’s tastiest treats.

On my final night in Stockholm, I had the chance to visit Skogskyrkogarden with the whole family. A special cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweds from all over flock to Skogskyrkogarden to honor their loved ones on All Saints’ Day. I was really lucky that my trip overlapped with this year’s celebration.

A wide open expanse of land, the cemetary is designed to bring peace to the mourners through unity with nature.

As the website states, “All Saints’ Day is a day of dignity and reflection. The custom of lighting candles on family graves is still widely practiced, and anyone passing a cemetery in Sweden this weekend is met by some beautiful scenes.”

Modest graves dot the forest floor. Loved ones come to spend time remembering their loved ones.

This visit seemed to only scratch the surface of what Stockholm had to offer. I certainly learned a thing or two about how to make the best of living in a dark, Northern land. On the whole, I came to appreciate Sweden’s love of the light and their strength of spirit. I would love to return in the summer at the Solstice – an incredible time of year, I’m told, full of outdoor parties and celebration. For now, hej då, Stockholm! Thank you for your warm hospitality.



Time for a little R&R

After a few busy weeks away, I’m happy to be back with you all. Life in Moscow has picked up, both at school and at home and I’m thankful for the change. As I mentioned last time, I did get to see the Bolshoi dancers perform at school and they were wonderful. They danced numbers both classical and contemporary (which I must say I enjoyed most). I look forward to seeing them in the actual Bolshoi Theatre sometime this spring. An extravagant must-do in Moscow, but definitely worth the expense.

I can hardly believe it but I’ve completed the first quarter of my school year! It has both flown and dragged, as all years do, but I still have my wits still intact and I’ve learned a lot. Thank you to all of you who supported me through it. Couldn’t have done it without you! And now, as icing on the cake, fall break has arrived!

In addition to my goal to move closer to family and friends, one of the main reasons I chose to live in a chilly land with a *dubious* reputation was to be able to travel more and with ease, especially in Europe. Given a week off to enjoy a change of scenery, I didn’t hesitate in hatching a plan.

First stop on the agenda – Paris! There simply something about the buzz of the city that I can’t get enough of – the culture, the architecture, the food… Though I’ve been to the City of Light a few times, it always keeps me coming back for more.

I hopped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle primed and ready to explore. When I left Moscow it was 3 degrees and snowing. No coat needed in Paris, I’m happy to report! 

As I was on my own for this leg of the journey, I opted for a cheaper Airbnb homestay. My hosts, Anne and Pablo, were incredible. We bonded over tea and mutual stories of ex-pat life in Asia (they in Singapore, myself in Korea) and our mutual appreciation for their neighborhood in Paris, Republique.

(This building is where I stayed in a charming little room on the 6th floor)

I had never been to Republique on any of my prior trips and I’m so happy that my Airbnb choice led me there. A cozy neighborhood, full of patisseries, card shops, and markets, I took to the area immediately. Highlights included the local tapas bar and the taco shop on the corner. 

(For the record I took nearly 3/4 of this meal home to share!)

Come to think of it, I have to throw in the Lebanese take-out spot which was so delicious and whose owners were so friendly to me. 

In fact, nearly everyone was friendly. Despite Paris’ reputation, I had people offer me directions on the street many times, waiters doting on me with a smile, and passersby step to make way.  I’m truly happy to say that Paris doesn’t intimidate me anymore. Trying a little French goes a long way, I found. Always lead with “s’il vous plait”.

While in Paris, I was blessed with three days of blue sky and sun. Never have I appreciated the sun so much before in my life! No need for my S.A.D. light here (a daily practice in Moscow)!

Clearly in need of a vacation, on my first night I managed to sleep through the daylight savings change in France, only to realize it 12 hours later. Luckily I was staying down the street from one of the best bakeries in all of Paris (Le Pain et les Idees) and I stopped in for a chocolate croissant on my way to the metro. 

One special opportunity that I had pre-booked was a ticket to see Versailles. A bucket list item for me, Versailles did not disappoint. 

The coolest part for me was the Mesdames’ Apartments. I had downloaded the app prior to my visit and the audio commentary was an awesome supplement to all the velvet and gold overwhelming the rooms.

I had arrived early to beat the crowds. As I walked back towards the metro. the trees still had a late morning fog threading through them.

To totally juxtapose my Versailles experience, I took the metro back to town (RER C line, 40 minutes to city center) and headed for the Left Bank. Having never explored the left bank beyond Shakespeare & Co., I followed my directions as far as I could to the Place d’Italie. It was there that no less than three people helped guide me through the 13th Arrondissement to the tiny corner where I was to meet my street art tour group. I suspect they really enjoyed seeing a tourist off the beaten path and I was so thankful!

A new Airbnb offering is to connect travelers with local tours of the homegrown variety. When a tour of street art of the Left Bank street popped up, organized by a group of photographers, art historians, and street artists, I jumped at the chance. 

My guide was in her late 30s, a true aficionado of the Parisian urban art scene who had guided at the Louvre for over a decade in a previous life. I really enjoyed my fellow group members, one from Glasgow and two from Italy on Erasmus exchange. 

We jumped right in as the 13th is the center of the diverse street art scene in Paris. Before long, I’d been introduced to the pioneers of the scene and was familiar enough with their M.O. to identify their work on sight. 

The tour also greatly expanded my understanding of street art – graffiti being popular but also paste-ups, stencils, chalking, 3D installation, etc. I’ve always appreciated this form of expression but I looked at it through new eyes as my guide spoke of her belief that street art will come to be recognized as a major period in Art History. I can understand why she thinks so.

My favorite artist was Seth, who works to depict children for various social causes but never shows their face.

The tour wound through the neighborhoods of the 13th, whose mayor is a HUGE supporter of the arts, until it concluded in one of the coolest works for me – my first Shepard Fairey mural (and my 2nd and my 3rd!). Some of you may recognize Fairey as the artist behind the iconic Obama “HOPE” poster.

Also a social activist, part of the mayor’s mission is to allow the tenants choose their mural from three designs, giving them ownership and pride in their otherwise everyday housing project. It’s an incredibly inspiring mission and I really applaud the local mayor for making this happen.

After that incredible first day in Paris, I took it easy the next. Paris is so wonderful in that you don’t even need a map to wander – between metro stops and bus stops, you’re bound to find your way and see some pretty cool neighborhoods along the way.

In setting out, my only goal was to make it to the Pompidou, a revered modern and contemporary art museum known as much for its impressive collection as its outer facade, designed by Renzo Piano of Isabella Stewart Gardner expansion fame.

Having missed the Pompidou on two previous visits, the lines did nothing to deter me (it was a bank holiday in Paris). The galleries were full of my favorites from Matisse to Jasper Johns to Joan Mitchell.

I spent a great afternoon wandering around the museum, inside and out, and took in an incredible view over Paris.

On my final morning in Paris, I struck out for the Ile de St. Louis in the middle of the Seine. A tip from a coworker led me to a bench in a quiet park on the far end of the island. 

Bound and determined to soak up as much sun as possible, I let it rain down. I had such a great few days in Paris and now feel recharged to take on the next 6 weeks until the holiday break.

However, it’s not time to head back to Moscow just yet… God morgan, Stockholm!