Joey and I landed in Paris yesterday. We've spent the last two days eating cheese, foie gras, baguettes, dark cherries and chocolate; wandering the city and drinking way too much wine with our friends Craig (Tex) and Sujata. Sujata and Joey were in the same A-100 class in DC; especially after the past 48 hours here I'd say she definitely got the short end of the stick as far as postings go. But she's been quite gracious to let us crash in her gorgeous apartment with its parquet floors, tall, molded ceilings and huge windows that open to a gorgeous view of the city. I mean, it's no Abuja, but not everybody can live in paradise like Joey and me.
Regardless, our vacation is off to a wonderful start. Yesterday we climbed a million stairs to visit the Sacre Coure and Joey got to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Actually, Sujata lives very near the Eiffel Tower so we've been able to walk past it several times and it's just so cool. We even ran by it this morning. Can you imagine being able to run by the Eiffel Tower every day? Anyway, this afternoon Sujata was kind enough to invite us to the US Embassy and family Fourth of July reception at the US Ambassador's house (a gift from the French to the US after WWII, and oh my God what a gift). Afterward we slowly meandered past the Musee d'Orsay, the Lourve and Notre Dame.
Now it's naptime while we wait for Craig and Sujata to get off work and then we're off to dinner and drinks. More eating and drinking through Paris awaits us tomorrow, then Sunday the four of us head to Provence. We're going to see the lavender and Joey and Tex can hardly contain their excitement!
Almost exactly 24 hours after leaving for the Abuja airport, we landed in Stockholm at 10:30 am Sunday. We headed straight for the hotel. Crazy, I know, but even though we checked in over two hours early, the hotel was able to accommodate us! (Seriously the things you take for granted before you move to Africa.) Joey begged desperately for a nap but I convinced him that he'd feel just as refreshed after a shower. By 1:00 pm we were out on the town. Destination #1: Hard Rock Cafe.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. I've thought it too. Stupid, ridiculous Americans fly half-way across the world to go eat cheeseburgers? Let me tell you about how I've condemned the McDonald's customers in European capitals. But after four full months of Nigerian beef (if you've looked at my pictures you've seen the emaciated cattle) and the very intense, gamey "mincemeat" derived from said beef, Joey and I were both jonesing uncontrollably for a big, thick, juicy, corn-fed, American burger. Go ahead, judge me.
Did you know the Hard Rock Cafe serves brunch on Sundays until 4 o'clock! What kind of ridiculous BS is that?! Who eats brunch after 2, seriously? And who goes to the Hard Rock Cafe for brunch? What is the matter with these people? The Hard Rock Cafe exists for cheeseburgers! At least let people order a cheeseburger from the bar!
Defeated and starving after 24 full hours of airplane meals, we head over to Gamla Stan, the oldest area of Stockholm. Nothing like darling old buildings to perk up your spirit! Unfortunately, our spirits weren't the only thing that perked up. Holy tourist trap the prices at the restaurants were absolutely ridiculous. We wandered for about an hour until settling on a cafe where I could get something local and sort of healthy and the prices wouldn't bankrupt us for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately they no longer had the salmon salad written on the outdoor chalkboard that led me to choose the restaurant in the first place (are we back in Abuja where we put things on the menu that don't really exist?), but my caesar substitute was the perfect thing to hold me over until Hard Rock stopped serving brunch.
It seemed like every place we tried to visit closed right before we walked in, probably because it was Sunday, or maybe because it was Europe, so we spent the majority of the day just wandering. Which turned out to be wonderful. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful: bright blue, cloudless skies complemented by the perfect sixty-five degree temperature. It felt so great to walk around and not sweat!
While we ambled, we noticed an increase in police presence right in front of the Royal Palace. I excitedly thought we might see a royal procession. Turns out a bunch of hippies (including many topless women whose boobs I really could have lived without seeing) were staging a parade or protest (against bras?) or something. Just another day in Europe I suppose! As much as I appreciated the visual stimuli, it was so great to see people voice their beliefs (even if I still don't know what that is) safely and without violence.
Anyway, it was finally time to go back to Hard Rock. The nachos and burger were amazing and we ate like champions. We debated whether to attempt to explain to the waitress that all Americans don't eat cheeseburgers in Europe; that we've lived in Africa for the last four months but we decided she wouldn't care either way. Oh well.
Completely satisfied, we decided to check out the Icebar. The same company who builds the Icehotel in northern Sweden every year maintains a bar in Stockholm too. As you probably discerned from its name, the Icebar is entirely constructed from ice. Ice bar, ice chairs, ice walls; it was so cool, literally, we donned fur-lined hooded capes and thick gloves to sip lingonberry-flavored vodka out of ice glasses. Once our teeth were sufficiently chattering, we hung our capes and headed back outside into the longest dust. It was nine pm and the sky was just beginning to turn dark. What a dramatic difference from Abuja, which is so close to the equator it never stays light past 6:30.
Monday morning we woke up bright and early to explore more of the city. We slowly meandered along the water as we made our way to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a huge, 17th-century warship that sunk before it ever left the harbor; the concentration of salt in the water preserved the boat almost entirely. So in the 1970's the Swedes raised her from the seafloor and put her in a museum. It was pretty neat to see the boat and learn the theories why she sunk. I also learned that ballast = rocks. Who would have thought they put rocks in the bottom of a boat to make it float?! (Maybe I should have paid more attention in science class).
We left the Vasa Museum and headed to the 19th-century Ostermalm Saluhall right by our hotel, an old market that's still in use today. We walked the aisles and drooled over all of the meat and cheese and chocolate and fruit and vegetables and of course, fish! We decided we'd worked up sufficient hunger to tackle the smorgasbord, so on to the Grand Hotel we went. While we smorgased, I got to see that royal procession for which I'd been longing the previous afternoon! All of a sudden probably a hundred guards in blue regalia and shiny gold helmets trotted their horses down the street in front of the hotel. Joey and I noticed that none of the other restaurant guests nor the pedestrians next to the horses missed a beat when the procession began. We asked our waitress, who replied that this was merely the horses' daily exercise routine. Uh, cool! Although if I lived in any sort of monarchy I would flip out about my taxes paying for such crap, but I have to admit I secretly love the pomp and pageantry.
Bellies full, we left the Grand Hotel for the City Hall, where the Nobel banquet is held each year. We toured the gilded and chandeliered building before climbing its million-stair tower (where I believe I burned all of the calories from lunch) for a bird's-eye view of the Stockholm archipelago. The water simply sparkles.
We wandered some more, heading into a different part of town, Sodermalm, to sit in the sunshine and enjoy a beer. We watched all the bicycles whiz past as people left work for the day. Finally, exhausted, still quite full and feeling a little woozy from the sugar and booze, we decided to call it an early night so we could fit as much as possible into our last day in Stockholm.
Tuesday morning I was up at 5:30 am. I showered, packed for Joey and me, then woke him up. He got ready quickly (I'm very hard to ignore), and we'd had breakfast (OMG the homemade jam they served with these crepe-like Swedish pancakes was to die for) and were out the door by 7:30 am. We explored more of the city before catching a riverboat to the royal's summer palace, Drottningholm. The hour-long boat ride was lovely and the palace was even lovelier. We toured the interiors, an original 18th century theatre and its gardens before returning to Stockholm.
We spent our last few hours in the city exploring the royal's regular palace (how can you survive with only one palace?), tasting chocolate in Gamla Stan, enjoying an early dinner at one outdoor cafe and some wine and dessert at another outdoor cafe. Then we walked back to our hotel to grab our bags and made our way to the airport to catch our 7:30 flight back to real life. A whirlwind 60 hours sandwiched between two 24 hour flights may have exhausted our bodies, but it renewed our spirits. And I really, really needed that.