Friday, August 30, 2013

Stamp of the day: Compass

Sometimes you get a feeling of being lost, in a country, in the woods, in society.... when you do it is good to have a compass, whether it is a real one or an inner one. Compasses stands for direction, continuity and safety, at least for me. In these days, when GPS has taken over the world´s all traffic direction, lighthouses are endangered and people don´t look at maps anymore.

I would not part from my compass (or map), and keep it with me when traveling. Sure, I use my GPS, but electronic devices can malfunction. My compass does not, even though a magnet could affect it and set you on a wrong course (NEVER put your radio under the deck of the kayak, and the compass on top.....).
This is a new stamp from the Swedish Post Office.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Emigrants from Sweden

The summer has turned over and autumn is closing in on us again here in the Northern hemisphere. Daylight is still 14 hours and 30 minutes, when the winter is here we´ll have the shortest days with 6 hours and 7 minutes. The migrating birds have started to group together already.

But, no need to ponder on that now. On the other topic now, Emigrants from Sweden to America, as it was in the 19th century. The book series about a Swedish group of people who were leaving a poor life in the rural Småland, written by the Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, has been reprinted. What´s interesting are the book covers, embroidered by a Swedish needleworker, Karin Holmberg.

I think they are beautiful, and maybe very Swedish. LS, what do you think?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When the birds are done...

...then the morning glories take over.

From my garden which is full of weedy morning glories in all kinds of colors. Lovely.

Moon over Hopewell

moon over Hopewell, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

Just a photo from New Jersey, taken last week. A moon and a globe and a spire...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two lovely hotels... on either side of the Atlantic pond

I have two hotels that are my absolute favorites, and they are both alike and so dissimilar that you wonder what do these really have in common.  Neither is cheap, so save up first for a fantastic experience. So, on to the reviews and reminiscences:

The first is Sigtuna Stads Hotell in Sweden,just northwest of Stockholm, where I stayed maybe 10 years ago with PP.  It is a hotel from 1909 that has been immaculately renovated, cared for, and preserved while being updated to modern standards.  It mixes old white and unpainted wood with modern chrome and clean lines.  It is a blessing for tired eyes, and tired bodies.
      It also helps that they have the best Swedish breakfast buffet I have had in a long time.  It really impressed my husband-to-be at the time, he still talks about it. Take a visitor here from another country and they will really 'get' what Swedish breakfast is about.  Hardboiled eggs, many kinds of cold cuts, cheeses, Kalles kaviar, musli, yoghurt (several kinds), homebaked bread, real butter, jams, and on and on.  It might be changed now but I doubt it.
     Their dinners are also amazing, and all based on local, sustainable food. I have no memory of what we ate for dinner only that it was exuberant, memorable, and plainly amazing.  You sit in the old dining room and look out over Lake Mälaren, not far from the island Björkö that was one of the first Viking cities and trading places (named Birka by the vikings). In these areas history goes deep, as does the sense of nature and responsibility.
     The early 1900s components melds here effortlessly with 1950s,. 1960s, and 2010s both in design and food traditions. (Note how I left out 1970s and 1980s?  That was totally on purpose.)  I love this place and want to go back. (More photos via Google of this hotel here.  Worth googling and oogling and longing for. )
(Images borrowed from Sigtuna Stads Hotell website)

The second place is a recent discovery - Hotel Vermont, in the city of Burlington in the state of Vermont in the United States of America. Burlington sits on the eastern shore on Lake Champlain, and on the other side of the large lake is the Adirondack Mountains, blue shades in the distance on a clear day.
(Images borrowed from Hotel Vermont's website)
 Hotel Vermont is only a year or two old, so brand-new really and they have incorporated sustainable, beautiful and functional design throughout.  As much as possible they try to promote local food, local artists, and local artisans.  The soap is made locally, the mugs are from a local pottery, the artwork is local, and even if the glasses with cows on them are Italian, they are imported and sold locally in Bennington.  We know because we bought the same glasses in Vermont a few years ago, and I think they are gorgeous.
 Winters Weight Img 0501
(Images borrowed from Hotel Vermont's website)

The artwork behind the check-in desk in the lobby, a large wooden collage of reclaimed wood, has a very special story.  It was designed and constructed by Duncan Johnson by wooden pieces from destroyed houses after hurricane Irene which destroyed large parts of Vermont villages in 2011 through massive, and I mean MASSIVE, flooding.  Hundred-year-old covered bridges were washed away, people were disconnected from the world by non-existent roads for weeks, and houses filled with mud and water and fell apart. Hurricanes don't always have the worst effect along the coast, which Irene showed.
 (Images borrowed from Hotel Vermont's website)

But back to the hotel - our room had understated art, a very smart bathroom solution where one person can have privacy on the toilet and the other can take a shower - all arranged through frosted sliding glass doors.  There is free sparkling and mineral water in the hallways (which are very quiet!), as well as many kinds of coffee and tea.  The bed, oh the bed.  It is alike a dream sleeping in that bed.  Just perfectly soft.  Amazing pillows too.  A hotel with bad mattresses kills a good visit.  (OK, worst mattresses ever?  OTS research station in Palo Verde, Costa Rica, takes the price.  Then there is a big gap, and unfortunately Hotel Latchis in Brattleboro comes in second.  If they changed their mattresses their hotel would suddenly get 4 stars in my book - I love that art deco hotel but the hard old mattresses are killing me...).  Someone at Hotel Vermont really cares about sleep quality. Thank you!
  Dsc 0432
(Images borrowed from Hotel Vermont's website)

The breakfast is served at Juniper, a small restaurant near the well-designed bar, which in itself is a great treat.  Many local beers and other liquids there too (at the bar).  Back to breakfast, which was amazing and not too expensive.  Mushroom ragout on homebaked bread with a soft-poached egg on top, and I was in heaven.  PP had grits with a sunny-side up egg and young pea shoots, and he was in heaven too.
    A few days earlier we had paid $11 for breakfast at an inn in southern Vermont, for food that was about 5% of the value and experience of this food (moldy, uncooked, tasteless), and this food was not much more expensive.  How can that be?  "Could it be a whistlepig?" [That latter quote is a somewhat internal Vermont story, which involve groundhogs, a bike, and Whistlepig whisky, and now is a family quote here at home. Sorry, couldn't help myself. ]
Juniper 1 V2
(Images borrowed from Hotel Vermont's website)

So, we stayed at this hotel and I failed to take any photos.  How is that possible?  I don't know. Whistlepig, maybe? :)  Actually, I didn't have any whisky, but I did have an amazing elderflower drink.  Vermont knows their elderflowers, it goes in their lemonade, beer, and even rum.

(For the record, all reviews on this blog are voluntary, and do not include ANY kind of marketing or money from any commercial companies.  It is just my own personal opinions of places where I have paid to eat, sleep, walk, think, shower, and be for a little while. Just so we are clear on that. If I win a million dollars on a lottery someday, you'll find me at either of these hotels for a little while :)   )

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy Birthday, PP!

Instead of oysters, there will be other amazing stuff.  Remember these oysters from the Oyster Bar at Grand Central?  I think that was another birthday :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stamp of the Day: Lighthouse (Svenska Högarna, Sweden)

Anybody that has read Tove Jansson's books about the Moomin Trolls knows that she has a special relationship to the sea.  The book Moominpappa at Sea ('Pappan och havet' in Swedish) takes place during a summer at a lighthouse far out in the archipelago on a little island, remote, scary, and beautiful.  Lighthouses are amazing buildings, sturdy by design, but isolated and lonely.  To get up to the action, the light, you have to step and step and step upwards through dark stairs, like a tunnel through a mountain.
These days lighthouses are endangered.  Most have no living people in them, and many have stopped shining.  Some are for sale. Some are taken by the oceans.  And most ships has GPS monitors that take you through the night.  Just 100 years ago, a blip in the time on Earth, there was just the sea, a boat, and a light at the distance, and nothing else to rely on.  Well compasses too, of course.  And sunrise and stars.  

Now it is all electronic, and abysmally insecure, unfortunately. A few irate or unresponsive electrons (=no juice!) and you are met by a black screen.  Few people in the past had a non-functioning compass (unless you put an iron rod next to it), but I think we all have swore over bad GPS directions or digital maps that suddenly show you driving in a river when in fact you are on a street in a city.  GPS is so convenient and insecure at the same time, it is scary.  It is like a teddy bear that can be lost at any time, and then what do you do.

Today's stamp is from Sweden, and shows the lighthouse at Svenska Högarna (which means 'The Swedish Mounds', which is here on Google Maps. It is out in nowhere, in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland.  Tove Jansson could have used this as her lighthouse for her book, that is for sure. It is one of the few lighthouses in Sweden that still has staff year-round.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

There is also food in New Orleans... is not only alligators, swamps, giant enormous black grasshoppers, and tangly Spanish moss... Louisiana is also the home to absolutely fantastic food from the Cajun and Creole traditions.  Seafood abounds, of course, with New Orleans being situated near the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Eating in New Orleans is kind of like bird-watching at Cape May - you just can't miss good food (or the migrating birds).  It is just everywhere as long as you stay away from the very few chain restaurants and hotels downtown.  We were mostly in the French Quarter and the Arts and Warehouse district and ate really well.  What we ate?  This!

seafood platter at Mulata's

Mmm, this was fantastic.  Here you have all the goodness of New Orleans food nearly on one plate from Mulate's, a Cajun restaurant.  (= Go there! Eat!) Crawfish tails, stuffed crab, blackened fish, shrimp on a skewer, potato salad, deep-fried octopus, deep-fried oysters, baked potato with cheese, oh and some vegetables in a corner as an afterthought.  This is not veggie heaven, this is seafood heaven, as you can see.  In New Orleans, even the botanists don't care about food plants. I probably ate more oysters in 4 days than I have eaten in the last 4 years during this trip...

sign outside Grand Isle restaurant and oyster bar in New Orleans

This is the sign outside Grand Isle Restaurant and oyster bar.  What is Hog's Head Cheese?  Wikipedia will tell you, and I think I will pass on it after reading about it.  But the oysters were fresh like cauhgt an hour ago at this place! :
"Head cheese is not a cheese but a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow), and often set in aspic. The parts of the head used varies, but the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed." (link)
oysters at Grand Isle oyster bar

 The late snack oysters we had at Grand Isle. Moist and fresh! So raw that you nearly could feel them wiggle in your mouth. People that don't eat oysters are wimps (I think) and don't realize what amazing thing they are missing. 

Ernst Cafe in New Orleans

At Ernst Cafe we sat outside in 30-degree (Celsius) / 90-degree humid heat and drank cold beer until after midnight.  The whole place was just run by one bartender...

Louisiana has a million hot sauces.  Well, maybe not, but at least a million bottles.  Tabasco is made here. As is Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce, Hog's Breath Hot Sauce, and many other hot sauces with names that can't be written on a family blog. If you ever wondered about the original Tabasco hot sauce - yes, it is kosher and an unopened bottle lasts at least 5 years. More hot sauce information here.

fried alligator

Fried alligator - we just had to order this.  It was good, very moist and tender, white like chicken, doesn't taste like fish, and less stringy than chicken.  But I don't think I would like to live on it for years. On the other hand, I rather eat than be eaten. Each year over 75 000 alligators are captured in Louisiana (90% of them being male) from a population of over 2 million alligator.  Some alligators are called 'Elvis' when they are small, at least if they are kept on boats as pets for tourists. So, we had an Elvis sighting in the form of an alligator - maybe a reincarnation of the real Elvis?

Garden & Gun magazine

You realize you are in the South (of USA) when you see this magazine at the airport, Garden & Guns.  I have never seen it in the northern parts of the US, but sure, gardening is truly a kind of micro-warfare against deer (8 feet of plastic deerfence and no deer in the garden), Japanese beetles (feromone traps), diseases (water and nutrients, and then whatever dies off is just life), blister beetles (handpick and drown), hawkmoth caterpillars (which I let live, so they can get parasitized and release more larvae-killers), slugs (sigh - get to handpick and drown them), rabbits and groundhogs (keep them out with fencing)... ok, turns out I don't need a gun for my gardening.  The magazine has a strange (for me) mix of shotgun reviews, pie recipes, and anecdotal stories from southern gardens. I understand hunting magazines, but not gardening with guns.

Swamps, wetland, bayou, canal, river, sea, and lake - all in Louisiana

tug boat and barge on the canal
Southern Louisiana is a land on water - thousand miles of waterways through the fresh and brackish delta of the Mississippi, with vast lakes,slow-moving rivers, handmade canals and floating vegetation that creates wetland vegetation over open water.  It is all called the bayou.

pecan swamp forest with saw palmetto
In the higher areas there are pecan forests with saw palmetto understory.

palmetto palm swamp
Sometimes the forest is just water at the bottom.

tree frog on bald cypress
Golden orb spiders, snakes, and frogs are everywhere. Here is a small tree frog that I found along the boardwalk.

 prehistoric midden of shells in the swamp
You can find midden heaps with their thousands and thousands of seas shells collected by prehistoric Native Americans for food.

bald cypress swamps with spanish moss (Tillandsia)
In even more wet areas you get the bald cypress swamps with their long hanging Spanish moss, fluted stems, and roots that come up like knees.  The alligators like to hang out here.  We saw an alligator that was maybe 8 feet, who laid still for 10 min and then suddenly exploded in diving action in a microsecond.

on the canal
Along the canals there are traditional part-time settlements with docks and small cottages that have been in families in generations.  In Jean LaFitte National Park these settlements, often used as vacation houses, are grandfathered in and allowed, but they cannot be sold, only inherited and kept within the same family forever.

 flag house on Rivet Blvd
The only way to reach them are on the water, and everything has to be brought in, including drinking water (unless you have rain tanks).

stoplight deck
During hurricane Katrina these were hit hard with wind, but there was no big flooding - not like in New Orleans where the areas below sea-level flooded catastrophically.

roofless dock
People personalize their docks and houses and live here for months on end.  But some houses have seen better days...

 big storm is coming on over Lake Salvador
During our swamp boat tour we got hit by an amazing rainstorm - 15 minutes of horizontal rain that drenched everything, and then it was over.  The captain of our boat, run by Louisiana Swamp Tours (appropriate name, don't you think), was great, funny, and smiled a little at the poor scientists (not me) that got first muddy up to their knees in the swamp and then drenched to the bone in the rain storm.

Dragonflies everywhere!  I have no idea of how many species, just many.

 giant grasshopper: devil's horse (Romalea guttata)
And these beasts, called 'devil's horses' in Louisiana are giant black grasshoppers that eat vegetation voraciously.  They come out in swarms in the spring - and you do not want them in your yard or there won't be much left for you. 

blue heron over the canal
This is the land of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild.  See it if you haven't!  It is an amazing place, not like any other place I have been in the world.  Hot, flat, mosquito-rich, magical, mystical, and rick with life of all sizes.

(More photos from Jean LaFitte National Park here.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

In Louisiana, the fern weeds climb the walls

Oh New Orleans, what a city of contrasts and mixtures! Weedy invasive ferns climb high up on buildings, and tall palms line the streets shading the street cars (spårvagn in Swedish).

One building is a fancy marble floor oyster bar and next door is an cutting fluid-smelling machine shop making iron railings and turned metal posts.

The smell of fried oysters and cooking gumbo is mixed with urine in the gutter from the night before, and spilled beer and smelly shrimp shells in the garbage bags that not yet hasn't been picked up that morning. Still, it is a fascinating and wonderful place to visit.

I want to go back and eat more seafood, drink more chicory coffee and see more alligators and crazy large insects. And the MUSIC! Nothing to dislike there.

OK, it is hot like a wet sauna, and people are friendly on a very pleasant but a little unusual way - being called darling, mam, princess and other things by waiters is not what I am used too. :).