Wednesday, December 21, 2011

North of the Arctic Circle - Abisko, pop. 85

I think I may have arrived at the most beautiful place on earth - Abisko, Sweden. It took slightly less than 21 hours to get here by a combination of train and bus and was worth every hour of the ride. The week leading up to this trip I was kind of nervous about it - I mean, what do you do for two days in a place that's all wilderness and a total population that would be feasible to meet every person within the time that I am here? I did find out that there are no polar bears in Scandinavia so I don't have to worry about them. And I made a friend right away when I arrived which means that I have someone to share the experience of the Northern Lights with!

My trip here was for the most part uneventful. I took an overnight train from Stockholm and had two seats to myself. The train is about a million times more comfortable than a bus for sleeping, so I was actually able to get in some good sleep while riding. We stopped for a while at about 3 in the morning due to some snow/ice that was blocking our path on the train tracks. By the time it was cleared off and we were on our way again, we ended up being just under 2 hours behind schedule. Due to this fact and that the train was scheduled to head back to Stockholm, it was turning around in Kiruna. Although the sun doesn't rise this far north, the "twilight" hours provide a surprising amount of light. I had the chance to enjoy some of the Lappland landscape from the train window as we made our way towards Kiruna. There was snow on the ground and I saw two families of wild reindeer from the train window. Once we arrived in Kiruna, a bus was waiting to take us the rest of the way. I can't complain about the bus ride. There is one road from Kiruna to Abisko - the E10 and it is one of the most scenic roads I have ever been on. The road wound through the snow and trees and towards gorgeous snow-covered mountains. As we neared Abisko, a large lake at the base of the mountains came into view - calm, blue, pristine. 

So, upon my arrival to the Abisko Turiststation, I met another solo female traveller from Indiana who has been studying for the past 1.5 years in Stockholm. We checked in, got settled, and met back up in a cozy lounge with large picture windows overlooking the lake and mountains and a small fireplace. While sitting in the lounge, we met another traveller - a man from Stockholm who was spending about a week here visiting a friend. His friend happens to work in tourism and was that night leading a crew from the Japanese version of the Discovery Channel up to the Aurora Sky Station to hopefully see the Northern Lights. His friend was going to call him when there were lights worth seeing outside so he wouldn't have to stand outside in the cold waiting for them to possibly show up. My new friend Carrie and I benefited from this inside knowledge. Although I was staying up later than I have been in Stockholm, the hours passed quickly with my good company. Between warming up by the fire, we would bundle ourselves up and walk back behind the mountain lodge hostel towards the lake to check out the lights. We were not disappointed. The sky was filled with brilliantly lit stars - I have seen a lot of stars in remote areas of northern Minnesota, but have never seen stars this bright. I think the clean air helps. We also were successful in seeing the lights. Although the northern lights were not as spectacular as they are in some of the pictures I have seen, it was still an incredible and impressive sight. Around midnight, the Northern Lights filled most of the night sky. Thankfully Carrie had a nice camera and was able to capture some of it in photos and was kind enough to share them with me. Finally around 2 am, we decided to call it a night. Carrie was heading back to Stockholm on Sunday and I had big plans to do some hiking on the Kungsleden Trail.

I met up with Carrie Sunday morning and copied her pictures from the Northern Lights to my computer. We said our goodbyes, promising to keep in touch and I headed out to the Kungsleden Trail. The trail is 425 km long and it's northernmost point is Abisko. At the start of the trail, there were a few groups of snowshoers and hikers that I quickly passed and soon had the trail to myself. In the summer, it is quite a popular hike, but I guess the crowds are not as prevalent in the longest days of winter. All in all, I hiked about 10 km round trip - I decided to turn around after hiking for about 1.5 hours and when I got to the point that human footprints stopped. There are several small wooden bridges crossing over streams and I really didn't think it was a good idea to form the new path through the snow along those when I was alone. It was so quiet and beautiful with the snow, the trees, the mountains, and the river - half frozen, half running water. I can imagine that it would be stunning in the summer as well, but to be there and have the wilderness to myself was amazing (for lack of a better word). No pictures can really do it justice although I tried (with my very sad toilet-water-logged camera). I guess one good thing about going home so soon is that I can replace it with a new camera that will work a little better.

Sunday afternoon I saw in the lodge by the fire and relaxed and read while I waited for nightfall to possibly see the Northern Lights again. Unfortunately it was a cloudy night and was precipitating a mix of snow and freezing rain so there were no lights visible Sunday night.

Monday I got up and checked out of the hostel. It was a cloudy, dreary, and therefore darker morning. I caught the train from the Abisko Turiststation train "station" (a one-room structure with a few benches) to Kiruna. In Kiruna, I had a few hours before my flight and wandered around the center of town. It was snowing and I enjoyed looking at the lights and shops in center Kiruna. The town isn't very big and so unfortunately I was not able to catch a bus to the airport from town. There are only two flights out to Stockholm per day and only one bus to the airport which left before I even left Abisko. Sadly this meant I ended up paying $50 for a taxi that took me the 10km to the airport. The airport was small but cozy and we had to board the plane walking up a portable staircase outside. Although they didn't provide free beverage service on the plane, they did hand out  a goody bag with travel size bottles of shampoo, lotion, and body wash. I arrived back in Stockholm a little after 7 that night and made my way back to Jägargatan to finish packing up my stuff to head home early Tuesday morning. It was a great trip to end my time in Sweden - seeing snow and the Northern Lights - and although I am a little sad to leave, I am really happy to get home and be with my family and friends for the holidays. So, for the last time from Sweden, one final hej då! I'll be back again once I arrive in India in January.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Finishing up at Södersjukhuset

This was my last week at the hospital and at times I thought it would never come, but looking back it seems like the time flew by - I think that is always how it goes. The interns switched this week and I found myself with one of the interns I had worked with on general surgery. I was very happy about this because she had always done a good job of translating for me and after the disappointment of last week, I was hoping for a little more hospital involvement this week. We also had a new senior physician on the service and since he arrive first that morning, I thought I would see if I could work with him for a change. It was a great decision. I spent the week on the stroke patient side of the ward with a new mentor and a new resident who discussed patients with me in English and did most of the rounds in English (with Swedish for clarification if need be). I was included in the discussion of the patients, challenged with questions on what I think the next steps in the patient management would be, and was given the opportunity to pursue some of these steps - I became an expert at getting arterial blood gas samples on our patients. It was great to end my time on internal medicine and in Sweden with this type of positive experience.

In addition to contributing more within the hospital, I also had a more active social life this week. My friend Sara that I went to the Lucia concert with on Sunday and I had lunch together a couple of times this week - I sucked it up and forked out the money for the "cheap" $10-$15 lunch. It was nice to be in the company of a friend. On Wednesday, we went to the hospital canteen (cafeteria) to have the annual Christmas buffet lunch. My resident on the ward also joined us and kindly paid for my lunch. I got to have (albeit hospital cafeteria) a traditional Swedish Christmas meal. It was very heavy on the meats. I was brave and tried the herring which I really didn't like, but when in Sweden... They also had meatballs, sausages, ribs, and potatoes. I also tried Swedish Julmust - the Christmas soda that Coke has been trying for years to out-compete. I personally think coke is better as the Julmust vaguely reminded me of cough syrup. Again, when in Sweden... For dessert, I had the traditional risengrød (rice pudding) and strawberry marshmallow santas. Delicious! It was all very filling and I think after finishing our meal we were quite ready for a nap.

On our last day, I had to turn in a patient case report and got together with the heads of the course and Helen (the other American medical student on the rotation) to discuss the patient cases then we were taken out for lunch for the conclusion of the course. It was really nice to sit down and reflect on our experiences while here in Sweden and in the hospital and get to learn more about each other and each other's countries. At the end of lunch, I came back to Jägargatan and worked a little more on my packing for home and for my final weekend trip to Abisko - I am excited to go home and see my family but a little sad to leave. I have had my frustrations at times and on occasion have been a little lonely and homesick, but it's been an incredible experience and if I needed to make the choice again, I would do the same thing. I am really looking forward to the next stage in my journey around the world practicing medicine in India! I'll write one final blog about my trip this weekend which will be the final hej då to Sweden.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finally, a tour of my own city: Stockholm!

This being my last weekend in Stockholm, it was my only chance to do the real touristy tour of Stockholm. During the week is difficult since I have to be at the hospital and the sun rises and sets while I am there. Like many of the weekends so far this fall, it was not predicted to be the nicest - it has started to get colder and has been cloudy most weekends. Regardless, I was determined to see the sights of Stockholm and had made a fairly ambitious itinerary for myself.

I got up around 8:30 on Saturday morning (no need to be too ambitious as most things don't open until 10 or later on the weekends) and after getting ready and taking a quick fica from Pressbryån (fica = Swedish tradition of taking a coffee with a pastry), I took the busy from Södersjukhuset to Slussen and hopped on the Djurgårdsfårjan to the island of Djurgården. The morning was nice enough and we had a beautiful ferry ride to the island. Once there, I made my way to Skansen. Skansen is an open air historical museum of Sweden that was started in 1891. It is quite touristy but offers a unique view of life in Sweden throughout its history. The buildings of the museum were moved from around Sweden and Finland (which was once part of Sweden) to their new home in Skansen. Within the buildings, people are dressed up in traditional clothing of the time period of that particular building and tell you about life and the people that would have lived and worked there. Since it is the Christmas season, many of the homes were decorated for Christmas in the traditions of the times and the type of people that lived in them. Tables were set with typical Christmas dinners and I was able to learn about Christmas celebrations throughout the history of Sweden from the poorest farm laborers to the rich owners of the manor homes. There was a small zoo of Scandinavian animals including reindeer, elk, European buffalo, and seals among others. They also had set up a Christmas market in the center of which was a stage where a musical group played and sang traditional Christmas celebration songs and children and families danced around a Christmas tree. I decided to splurge and bought myself a traditional Swedish meal of a flat bread cone with potatoes, fried elk meat, and cloudberry sauce. I was surprised at how much I liked it! Despite warming myself up by one of the many fire pits and my wool socks and boots, I had lost feeling in my toes and decided it was time to leave Skansen and go visit the Vasa Museum also on Djurgården.

the Vasa
The Vasa Museum is an incredible museum that houses the Swedish Navy ship Vasa which was set to sail in 1628 as the pride of King Gustav Adolf's fleet. Unfortunately for Gustav, more time and money was spent into the ship's decorations and adornments then on the physics of making her stay afloat and 20 minutes after setting sail from Stockholm, she sank. Efforts were made to recover her, but she was too heavy for the technology of the time and remained under water in the Baltic Sea near Stockholm for 333 years until she was finally salvaged. With incredible search and reconstructive efforts, the ship on display is about 95% original from when she was built in 1628. Her paint colors have worn off but models and displays show what she probably looked like on the day she set sail and for the 20 minutes she was afloat before sinking, never to be seen again for 333 years. The museum is incredibly well done with the ship as the centerpiece and displays around it giving information about that time period in history and what life was like for people living in Sweden then. Sweden was at war with Poland. The kings of the two countries were cousins. The king of Poland, Sigismund, was trying to rule both Sweden and Poland from Kraków. While he was away, there was a coup in Stockholm and Gustav Adolf took over the throne of Sweden. The sculptures decorating the ship are all symbols of power and wealth and of Sweden's domination. There were also displays about what life was like for a seaman. One in ten men were conscripted to serve in the military which was mostly the Navy. This was a hard life and most men who served on the ships died. Richer men were able to pay to have someone else serve for them so that left the peasants and immigrants as the ones who ended up serving on the ships. Very well done museum and seeing a large gaudy warship from the early 1600s is quite impressive.

After the museum, I made my way back to Jägargatan to change and get ready to go to the Royal Opera House to see the Nutcracker Ballet. I was running a bit late and thought I would just make it in time when an announcement was made on the bus. Of course, I didn't understand Swedish so I asked the woman sitting in front of me and found out that because of the Nobel Banquet, no busses were allowed to cross Gamla Stan - the island between Södermalm where I live and Norrmalm where the Opera is. The last stop before the bus took a giant detour was Slussen on Södermalm. I got off at that stop and had about 15 minutes to run across Gamla Stan to the Opera about a mile away. I was wearing dress and new pair of heeled boots that I had just purchased for the occasion. But what is a girl to do? So, I ran. Red in the face and drenched in sweat, I made it to the Opera House and in the vicinity of my seat when the ballet started. I sat in the back and cooled off then moved to my seat during the intermission. The music was beautiful and the dancers were quite talented. The only problem I had was that the nutcracker, instead of being the soldier doll-like nutcracker of the story, was a modern Ikea-looking metal nutcracker with a ram's head stuck on top. Totally wrong, but I tried to let it go and just enjoyed the music and the dancing. I only paid 50 SEK (less than $10 for my student obstructed seat) and it was probably worth that since I didn't have a great view, but I enjoyed what I could hear and see nonetheless. At the end of the show (around 8 pm) I made my way back home and crashed.

Sunday morning started very similarly to Saturday - got up, got dressed, had a fica from Pressbryån, and made my way to the city center to do a little Christmas shopping and see the Christmas market and outdoor skating rink at Kunstragården before heading to Gamla Stan for a tour of the Royal Palace. While shopping, I was most impressed with the window displays of the department store NK. They were so creative and well done that I found myself crowding up to the window with the children to look at Santa and his elves. Speaking of the children, there is not much cuter than Scandinavian children bundled up in their one piece snowsuits, hats, boots, and mittens waddling around with their parents are snuggled up in their strollers wrapped up in a down miniature sleeping bag. Watching the kids skate at the outdoor skating rink while I ate my lunch of muffins and hot chocolate from the Christmas Market was completely endearing. Most of the kids wear helmets on top of their hats and it was so cute watching them try to skate and fall done - obviously not hurt because of their vast amount of padding from their snowsuits. I could have sat and watched for hours. 

A little after 12 I wandered over to the Royal Palace at Gamla Stan. We were not allowed to take pictures within any of the museums. This Royal Palace is the third that has stood in that spot since Sweden has had a monarchy (over 1000 years). There are several palaces and the main one is not where the royal family lives, but it is the working palace where the offices are and the business of the state is conducted (in addition to City Hall). The Royal Palace consists of several museums and I started with a tour of the Royal Treasury. Apparently the Swedish regalia has never been stolen so all of the original pieces are on display. My tour guide was excellent and for an hour, I learned a ton about Swedish royal history while touring the small museum. At the conclusion of that tour, I made my way to the Royal Apartments for another tour and discovered that my same tour guide was leading this one as well. For an hour and a half, I learned even more about the monarchy of Sweden and Swedish royal history and saw a tour of only a small number of the 680+ rooms of the palace. (680 actual rooms not counting halls and stairways which are also very impressive - a total of nearly 1200 total room-like spaces within the palace). The palace was not nearly as gaudy as Versailles and the grounds not as expansive or beautiful, but the rooms on the inside I like much more - they were simpler and elegant in their simplicity. I also learned that the royal Swedish Silver Throne has been featured in two Hollywood movies - one a 1933 film about Queen Christina and the second, the 1989 version of Batman where Warner Bros rediscovered the remade Swedish throne and not realizing that it was a replica of the actual throne of Sweden, used it as the fancy chair for Jack Nicholson to sit in when playing the Joker. After this tour, I made a quick pass through the Tre Kronor museum which is a tour through the remnants of the previous medieval castle that survived the fire of 1697.

After my tour of through Swedish royal history, I made my way back to Jägargatan to get ready for the largest Lucia Concert in the world at the Ericsson Globe Arena. I met my Swedish friend Sara whom I had met on my first two weeks of internal medicine. We took a glögg in the Swedish tradition with ginger snaps before the show then enjoyed the concert of over 1200 Swedish children dressed in white and singing the music of Lucia and Christmas. It was very impressive and quite magical especially when all the lights were turned out and the floor of the arena was lit with the candles held by the 1200 children and Lucia walked toward center stage with a crown of real lighted candles on her head. Simply amazing.

It was a great weekend in Stockholm and I was able to see and do all the things on my itinerary except see the lights in City Center at night - although since it is now night most of the day, I shouldn't have a problem hopping over there before I leave on the 20th. Now for my last week at the hospital before my final excursion across the Arctic Circle to hopefully see some Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden. Tack så mycket! Hej då!


Schoolhouse - Skansen

traditional Swedish food

window display at NK

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Penultimate Week in Stockholm

This week I started on a new ward - a mix of general internal medicine and stroke patients. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be participating as much as part of the care team or have as much fun as I did the past two weeks. My mentor is very nice, but when today he said that he didn't stop to have a coffee on Mondays because Mondays were too busy, I had a sinking feeling. I mean, I could see cutting back from 3, but none at all? Oh boy. The day continued along this same trajectory. My mentor briefly lamented the fact that I did not have access to the computer records, so I wouldn't be able to read about the patients. I responded that it wouldn't make much difference if I had access because I can't read Swedish anyway. Even still, during rounds he had me sit next to the junior doctors so that I could "read." Also, he told me it would be impossible to conduct our rounds (just with the team, not with the patient) in English. For some reason he seemed to believe that if all I heard and read was Swedish, I would magically learn the language. I am not hopeful of this. Even though I have picked up a number of Swedish words and phrases and I think my pronunciation is better, I highly doubt that I will be at all competent in the language over the next two weeks. Instead, I will probably be more clueless than ever about the management of our patients since it will only be at the end of the morning or the afternoon when I get the "summary" of what was said in English. <sigh>

As we approach the shortest day of the year, our daylight hours are dwindling more and more. The constant darkness is a little depressing, but more than anything, I have found that it makes me unbelievably tired. As soon as it gets dark, I feel like it is nearing time for me to go to bed even if it is only 330 or 4 in the afternoon. I feel tired even though I am getting more sleep per night than I have in a long time. It also seems to be affecting my motivation and to really do anything productive seems to take more and more effort. If I get one piece of actual work done in a day, I feel like it has been a very successful day. I am really excited about my upcoming trip to Abisko in a couple of weeks although I am questioning whether or not choosing to visit a place where the sun will not rise while I am there was a smart decision - I leave on a Friday afternoon when it is dark and will not see sunlight again until Tuesday morning when I head to the airport to fly back to Minneapolis. I just hope by the time I come back, I won't be too looney :)

It finally started to snow here this week! We only have a dusting covering the ground, but it adds some brightness to the long nights. 

on my sightseeing tour
There are several things that I have finally figured out and it's a shame that I only get to enjoy having this knowledge for two more weeks. I have finally figured out which end of the T-bana to board in order to be closest to the exit at my stop to and from Huddinge where I work out. I finally had a perfect load of laundry where the machines were set on the appropriate settings so that it didn't take 3+ hours to do one load and at the end, my clothes actually ended up dry. I am getting better at meals and have learned that all you really need to add some flavor to a meal is olive oil and garlic powder - with those, the possibilities of a really poor cook are expanded exponentially. I just hope that my learning curve in India and Uganda are a bit shorter...

view from City Hall
I finally got around to doing some official sightseeing in Stockholm this week. Saturday (December 10) is the Nobel Banquet where the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm at the City Hall. The other American medical student on my rotation and I went on the last day to tour it before it closed down for Nobel Banquet preparations and took a tour. Architecturally it is a beautiful building and the design is quite unique. It was fun to go on the tour as it seems that the head architect was an interesting man to say the least. He had an idea of perfection that he wanted executed in the building and because of this, things were changed and moved around during the building process and remnants of that can be seen still including an entire wall that was moved in about 7 meters but the original foundation is still visible. There is also the "Blue Room" where the Nobel Banquet is held that isn't actually blue but the name stuck even though the design of the room didn't. The golden hall designed completely in gold mosaic is completely not Swedish in design but depicts beautifully Swedish history. There is also a mosaic with the symbol of Sweden reigning over all the world - including the US (depicted by the Statue of Liberty and the American Flag) and France (depicted by the Eiffel Tower). Because the Swedes are modest, for formal gatherings in the past, this wall used to be covered up because of the symbolism of Sweden as the center of the world. 

National Museum
After the City Hall tour, I went to the National Museum - Sweden's largest art gallery. It is also in a beautiful building on one of the many islands of Stockholm and housed a beautiful collection. The special exhibitions on display were my favorite. One exhibition was a collection called "Four Seasons" that displayed art of the Swedish landscape and culture in each of the seasons. The other exhibition I really enjoyed was "Peredvizjniki" that featured the art of a Russian art society during the late 1800s and early 1900s. That was probably my favorite collection as the art really gave some insight into that period of time in Russian history making me even more want to go and visit the country at some point.

This weekend I will be staying in Stockholm and doing more touring of the city. I plan to go to Skansen - an outdoor museum with a Christmas market that depicts historic Swedish lifestyle, the Vasa Museum - a museum about the Vikings and of one of the Viking ships, the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, the lights of the city center in Norrmalm, and the Christmas market at Kungsgården. I am also going to see The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera Saturday night and go to the largest Santa Lucia concert in the world on Sunday night. It will be a busy, but very fun weekend. Next week, I have a lot of work to do before I head out for my final adventure for this trip - Abisko and the Northern Lights! Hej då!

Blue Room - Nobel Banquet Set Up

View from City Hall

City Hall

City Hall

Sweden ruling over all mosaic - City Hall

Mosaic of USA ruled by Sweden

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Helsinki - A Hybrid of Scandinavia and Russia

Senate Square and Cathedral
Helsinki was my final Scandinavian capital tour as well as my final destination on my personal heritage tour. I took a cruise line to Helsinki and back which afforded me with one day (10-5) in Helsinki to tour. Good thing Helsinki is one of the smaller capital cities and is not too spread out as far as seeing the tourist sights goes. I would loved to have stayed longer, but as flights are much more expensive then the boat and would have had the added cost of finding a place to stay for a night or two plus transportation to and from the airports...the cruise line was easier. I had never been on a cruise boat before this and was quite excited to take a boat trip. My excitement was mixed with nervousness after this past week at the hospital though when I was informed that there is a reason my cruise line was so cheap - it was a total booze cruise and the Wal-Mart version of cruise stereotypes. Oh well. Chalk it up to a new experience!

I boarded the boat on Friday afternoon and was impressed by it's size. My cabin (the cheapest of the cheap) was on the anchor deck and was slightly reminiscent of James Cameron's Titanic. I comforted myself with the thought that there were several life boats on board and I knew where I could find the life jackets. Not that I was too concerned especially since the Titanic sank in 1912 in April and it is now 2011 in December and we haven't even had any snow yet, but the thought crossed my mind that if the boat went down and I was in the bottom of the boat when it started to sink, I may go down with it. During our departure, I stood on the boat deck and watched the Stockholm night skyline fade into the distance. As we traveled farther out, I could see the shadows of the islands of the archipelago that we were passing on our way to Helsinki. I was excited to be able to see them in the daylight on our return trip. I ate dinner on the boat at a tapas and wine place - I was impressed. After I went down to my room and planned out my tour of Helsinki for Saturday, read a little more in my book, and went to bed. I had no desire to see the "booze cruise" part of the cruise and fell asleep around 10 pm.

The following morning, I ate breakfast on the boat. The view was beautiful as the sun rose over the water. My breakfast was unfortunately disturbed by a group of guys sitting at a nearby table who would not stop staring at me. One thing I have discovered while in Europe is that European men seem to not think that blatant staring is a problem. I avoided their stares by staring out the window, feeling that my personal space was being invaded. I was glad that I chose to go to bed early instead of staying up to witness the party scene on the boat. If guys are going to stare at 730 in the morning, I would maybe have to actually deal with them flirting later on in the day. Ugh. 

I went up on the deck to watch our approach into Helsinki. I was standing next to a man from Finland who had a home in Helsinki and he was telling me about the sights we could see from the boat and a little about their history. Finland at one time was part of the Russian empire and there is a military base that was used during this time that we passed on our way into the port of Helsinki. It was a beautiful blue-sky day and I was looking forward to disembarking and spending time in the city.

Uspenski Cathedral
National Museum of Finland
I had made a walking route for myself and as soon as I got off the boat, I started my tour. Finland's national language is Finnish and it's second language is Swedish. All of the signs are listed in both Finnish and Swedish (neither of which helped me!) I first walked past the harbor where there was a large market. I went to the Uspenski Cathedral which was a beautiful on the outside as inside. I then walked down what seemed to be one of the main shopping streets and then to the Senate Square and Cathedral. The square was filled with the construction of small red shacks for the upcoming Christmas Market. A large Christmas tree was in the center of the square. The cathedral was stunning - it seemed to have some Russian flavor to it (although I have never been to Russia, the domed roof seemed to be rather Russian to me). I continued on past the railway station and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art before making my way to Temppeliaukio Church - a church built into it's rocky surroundings. The inside maintained the rocky surface which made it one of the most unique churches I have ever seen. After, I walked past the National Museum of Finland, Finlandia Hall, and the Opera on my way to the Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. I passed by one of the two lakes in the center of Helsinki - Töölönlahti - which had very pretty walking/biking paths throughout the surrounding park. The Olympic Stadium was impressive in the fact that it was an Olympic Stadium - the site where the best world athletes gathered and competed. The stadium itself was not as beautiful as some of the modern ones I have seen when watching the Olympic games, but it was still an impressive site. Unfortunately the Olympic rings were covered due to construction. Also, unfortunately, I realized after I got back to the boat that I had missed one of the sites on my list - the Sibelius Monument. It looks lovely from the pictures and I am disappointed that I forgot to head there from the Olympic Stadium . Instead, I wound my way back through the city and went to the Ateneum Art Museum - the National Gallery of Finland. The museum was in a gorgeous building that faced an outdoor skating rink. They did not allow photography within the museum, but I was impressed by the collection of Finnish art. Most of the art in the museum was Finnish and I felt like I got a good feel for the city and the country by seeing the history of its art. Thankfully, the museum listed it's information in 4 languages: Finnish, Swedish, English, and Russian. Finally, I made my way back to the boat and took pictures of several of the sites I had seen during the day again now that it was dark. The trees were filled with lights and the Christmas tree in the Senate Square was also aglow. I was sad that my time in Helsinki had been so short - I would love to return to see more of it and maybe also include a tour of Eastern Europe and Russia as well to see if my impressions of Helsinki are correct. 

1952 Olympic Stadium
The cruise back was fairly uneventful except for getting interrupted at dinner by a guy looking to pick up a girl. I am not sure what about jeans and a sweatshirt screams "Hit on me!" but apparently it does. I declined his invitation for a walk including a tour of his cabin by saying I was rather tired (at 8pm) and had some work to do and that I was sure he could find better company elsewhere. I quickly retreated to my room, did some reading and went to sleep. The boat was rocking most of the night and although I never felt sea sick, I still, after several hours of being on dry land, feel like I am on a rocking boat. This morning I had another sea breakfast which was quite good then stood on the boat deck in the wind watching our path through the archipelago. It was quite stunning and massive - we started passing islands at least 4 hours prior to getting back into Stockholm. I could imagine how lovely it would be in the summer to escape out to the islands and get away from it all. 

Temppeliaukio Cathedral
So now I am back in Stockholm and will be here this upcoming weekend. I hope to get a good feel of the Swedish Christmas over the next few weeks. Only two more weekends until I head home! One in Stockholm and one in Abisko, Sweden in the way north, far north of the Arctic Circle. 

Lake Töölönlahti
Christmas in Helsinki
Ateneum Art Museum