The final few days in Sweden were an exhausted happy blur. As always, I had to swallow my tears saying goodbye to my mother-in-law Else-Maj, who I quite simply adore. I blamed the cold for my watery eyes and tried to just focus on the road. The trees were still dressed in their snowy coats along the highway and it was a gorgeous distraction. E4, the main highway from Haparanda to Luleå is lined with huge trees and in a few of the small fields we passed, we saw reindeer grazing.
From Luleå we flew back to Stockholm. As we boarded our plane south, Sydney and I agreed to give Robert the window seat, so he could feel his feels about leaving his home. We were feeling very magnanimous and a little sad for him, too. But then when we got to our seats, this was his. We laughed half the way to Stockholm.
As ever, that laughter is the best medicine and was good for our sore hearts after saying goodbye. We didn't have much time to be sad after we arrived in Stockholm; we had to jump into a taxi and ride to Uppsala to meet Sven Erick, Robert's PhD professor. He offered to host us for one night and we were thrilled to see him again. He's visited us in the states and in Iceland and he's another of my friends around the world who hold a tiny piece of my heart. He immediately served us warm glögg, then put on a wonderful Christmas dinner for us--we were profoundly spoiled by Swedish hospitality--and afterwards, we drank most of his beer and Sydney tasted most of his collection of whiskeys.
Sven Erick had the best glögg of the trip!
Sven Erick's Christmas dinner. Sydney and I both ate herring and smoked eel like brave people who eat things.
Instant hangover: just add people.
In the morning we explored a little bit of Uppsala: I wanted Sydney to see the old cathedral, and of course there were pastries to be had. We started with fika at Ofvandahls, a cafe that's been around since 1878.
There was a harried, scruffy old professory-looking guy sitting next to us and I remain 75% sure he was a ghost. After our coffee, we walked up to the cathedral, Uppsala domkyrka. It was built starting in the late 1200s and visiting, to me, is one of the quintessential experiences of being in Europe.
There are many famous people interred in the cathedral, including Gustav Vasa, the king in the 16th century. He's buried with his three wives, though only two are on the sarcophagus.
Next door to the cathedral is the Museum Gustavianum, which used to be the main part of Uppsala University, and has since been turned into a science and history museum. Here is the table of the Animal Kingdom from the Systema Naturae, part of the huge Carl Linnaeus exhibit.
It also houses the second oldest medical theater in the world, from 1663.
After a quick lunch in the town center, we had to go say farewell to Sven Erick and head back to Stockholm. I loved introducing my niece to Sven Erick; he's one of these people that knows so damn much about everything. I love to ask him questions because he always has a fantastic answer that usually leads to even more fantastic conversation. As always I hated saying goodbye.
Tired, but ready for the last leg of the trip.
We met up with Roland, Jimmy, and Robert's niece Petra at a British pub, then we all had drinks, dinner, and a walk through town.
The next day, we got up and headed downtown again. We took the train from Roland's neighborhood, and I absolutely love this train station. It's carved out to look like a cave.
Once downtown, we headed for lunch: Sydney's first kebab pizza. One hundred percent of the people on this trip agree that we need kebab pizza in America.
After lunch we stopped by one of Roland's favorite spots for beer, Omnipollos hatt. This was the Omnipollo Noa Pecan Mud Stout. Good gravy it was dangerously delicious.
From there, we walked a bit to show Sydney the city.
We wound up at Roland's other favorite place, Brewdog. Viking Sister Jessica met us, with her family--including my tour guide Jimmy--for drinks and dinner. We ended up at a very crazy Thai restaurant that was decorated in about a million fairy lights, neon paint and black lights. It's possible that I had too much to drink. I blame the decor. And the amazing company.
The dog in this Brewdog, Alfred.
The craziest Thai place ever, Koh Phangan.
We had initially planned to visit Jessica's house early on New Year's Eve, but we had all come down with the wine flu and instead rested and packed for our morning flights home. (If I'm being honest, I was grateful to have been spared saying goodbye.) We did leave the house very briefly to have one last fika and to pick up something to cook for dinner.
Roland was prepared with a couple fantastic champagnes (and wines and beers). We all cooked a gorgeous dinner together, and relieved Roland of several bottles of wine.
Fresh lemon risotto and lemon chicken for our last meal of 2016 I always forget how, in Europe, it's all fireworks on the 31st. This went on for maybe half an hour. Impossible not to smile and cheer and get caught up in the excitement.
Sydney and I agreed to my standard "see you tomorrow" goodbye at the airport. If I had let the tears start, there would have been no stopping them. Some friends and family around the world do have a little piece of my heart with them, but Sydney is my heart. We haven't spent this much time together since she was a baby and I was her nanny, and I was devastated to leave her (our flight to LA left hours before hers to Chicago).
I am so proud to have been able to introduce Syd to my husband's family, and so proud of the family (and friends) that I married into, who each welcomed her with so much love. We've been home for a day now, but my mind and heart are still back in Sweden with Sydney and Robert, Roland, Else-Maj, Solveig, Christer, Petra, Anton, Jessica, Robin, Sven Erick, and especially Jimmy. I'm grateful most of all to my husband for making this trip possible, for making this life that we live possible. Developments from Robert's week in Finland have led to us looking into moving to Helsinki in the coming year. We never turn down opportunities when they present themselves, and I would love to be closer to his family and to see more of the world. Plus, if there is any chance at all that I can get Sydney back into the Finnish sauna, I'm taking it.
If you've read all this and have been following along on the trip, thank you so much! I wrote it as a way to better record what I knew was going to be a meaningful, once in a lifetime holiday. Now that we're back in LA I think I'm going to keep it up, because I found that the mere act of recording these experiences as they've happened has given them deeper meaning for me. There is certainly no shortage of interesting places to write about here in Los Angeles, and if we do move to Finland, I'll be grateful for the memories here. Hopefully you'll come along for that ride, too.