Category Archives: Sweden

First day of School!

Today was my first day of work at Högsklan i Gävle.  I didn’t get much research done, as I needed to get a library card, keys, security passcard, computer id and email, orientation to the building and general rules, and lots of forms to sign (over half of which were in English).

I was pleasantly surprised by my office, private with 3 windows (nicely curtained, Swedish style), lots of warm looking beech furniture and  even a potted crysanthamum.  BUT ALSO! a private washroom and shower!  This is not typical as the room has been repurposed – perhaps it was a lab before?   There is a nice gym in the basement of my building, with Concept2 rower, treadmill, and lots of weights, stability equipemnt, and mirriors.  The university also has bootcamp and core classes, as well as kickboxing and African dance (which I will of course be trying out soon.)

We are working on getting internet at home, so pictures will have to wait until then.

Swedish Kitty Report

I am a cat person, but I don`t own a cat here or in Canada (RIP grey kitty). No matter where I am I like to seek out nighbourhood kitties to make up for not having a cat of my own. I have some regular routes through my neighbourhood so I can pet cats in their favourtie sunning spots.

Natually I am on the lookout for cats in Sweden. I have not had very good petting success for far (2 out of 7), and I think that a regular kitty route will be far less succesful when the snow falls and the temperture drops. Nevertheless, I will try to make some friends in the meantime.

Swedish kitty report: from what I have seen so far and on my last visit, Swedish cats tend to be all-over larger than Canadian cats. They also seem to be much furrier, but I think that is seasonal. Cats seem kind of skittish (2 out of 7!) but don`t run very far – just out of reach and then they turn around and meow at me. As Graham would say, those cats are totally pettable with enough time for them to get used to me.

Graham with a neighbourhood cat.  I call him Applesin, which is the Swedish word for Orange (the fruit, not the colour – I am still vocabulary building).
Graham with a neighbourhood cat. I call him Applesin, which is the Swedish word for Orange (the fruit, not the colour – I am still vocabulary building).

Random Thoughts

Here are a sampling of thoughts I’ve had over my first four days in Sweden.

  • The air is really clean here.  In Czech Republic there was a lot of particulate in the air and coupled with hard racing my lungs took a real beating.  Plus throughout our Europe travels there was smoking everywhere and often inside.  There seems to be very low pollution here and limited smoking (none indoors) which is nice.  I know there is quite a bit of pollution in Vancouver but the air still seems fresh and so here reminds me of home.
  • It’s nice to be able to drink the tap water again.  On the rest of our travels the tap water was not recommended for drinking.  It probably would have been OK, but we weren’t willing to chance it with getting sick for racing or traveling being undesirable.  But the amount of plastic (and glass in Vienna because they are classy like that) waste we created was unpleasant.  Hopefully it all gets recycled, but it’s hard to know because not everywhere had bins to separate the trash.  Here the tap water has no taste at all (better than at home!) and comes cold right out of the tap which I like.
  • Autumn is upon us already.  It’s about 6° in the morning here so I’ve seen my breath for the first time in a long while.  The weather has generally been sunny, but yesterday it struggled to get to 15° and the other days were not much warmer.  The apple trees all over the city are going crazy and there are good apples for the taking.
  • I’ve had “sticker shock” more than just a few times when looking at the prices of everyday items.  The standard of living is very high here and as expected the cost of living is also very high.  In Vancouver our housing costs are sky high, so here in a small town we’ll actually be paying less.  But for everything else we’re going to be paying more.  It’s hard to estimate the price difference percentage because it varies for thing to thing.  Produce is maybe 10-15% more but personal hygiene items can be 50% more.  All food seems to have a 12% tax on it and everything else is a whopping 25%!  But the tax is built into the price so what you see listed is what you pay, so comparing is a bit hard since at home the tax is added after.  However for food there generally is no tax at home so it’s an easier comparison.
  • In such a social welfare state I would have expected public transit to be more heavily subsidized (and thus cheaper).  Compared to the other cities we visited in Europe (and even at home) the price to use transit is very high.  Using $CDN as a comparison, it costs $4.60 just to get on the bus here and that will only get you one ride in the town proper which is small.  To get to the IKEA 20 minutes away costs $6.15.  At home it’s $2.50 within Vancouver which is much bigger than Gavle; in Prague $1.65 would get you 90 minutes on the subway/bus system or for half of that you could take a 6 stop metro ride; in Budapest $1.70 would get you use of the metro system; and even in Vienna which is expensive in general $2.70 would get you full use of the metro and trams for I think 90 minutes.  Obviously these comparisons aren’t exactly apples to apples since the big cities have more people to spread out the costs, but they also have a lot more services as all we have here are buses.  Maybe there are high subsidies and the system is just run less efficiently; probably there doesn’t need to be buses to IKEA every 10 minutes all day on weekdays as the 6 people on our bus demonstrated…
  • I haven’t been to a huge number of public washrooms here but the ones I have been to all have a common theme – everyone gets their own private toilet stall.  No urinal banks or heaven forbid the urination wall with trough catch basin.  It seems like a waste of space and really reduces throughput.  Maybe it’s one of the equal rights initiatives in Sweden that the Swedes are so proud of – everyone has to wait in line to pee, not just women.  Oh, and these private stalls are not like at home with a flimsy divider partially separating you from your neighbour – these are full on bomb-proof, tiled little rooms with a locking door.  Personally I think it makes sense to have some air flow in said situations, but maybe that’s just me.
  • I’ve been doing some investigation into gyms as I’d like to get back to some working out pretty soon (but of course can’t join until I get the all important personummer).  The gyms post their rates right on their website or outside the gym.  Everyone pays the same amount and it’s transparent.  No wondering (or knowing) that others are paying less for the same thing because they talked the high-pressure sales person down the day they came to check the place out.  Very civilized!
  • We went into the movie theater yesterday to see what was playing and noticed that different movies cost different prices.  I’m used to one price for all movies at a given theater (other than matinees or Tuesday).  I’ll have to spend more time figuring out the algorithm used to determine the price.  It wasn’t based strictly on length (i.e. you are taking up more space for more time so you pay more).  Probably it’s partly that plus the popularity of the movie and how long it’s been released.  Once I figure out the formula I’ll post it.
  • I think we’re going to get less precipitation than we’re used to (not hard coming from Vancouver right?).  I went for a run yesterday and at some point ended up following a path through a wooded area.  Based on the size of the trees, the underbrush and the soil I’d compare it to what I remember about hiking through the forests around Banff.  So not as wet as right on the coast, but also not nearly as dry as some place like Kamloops.
  • I didn’t think I’d miss paddling especially after the last hard year of training, but while out checking the city I did find a spot that looks like it would work well for training (well, until it freezes).  Coupled with the nice weather, I kind of wished I had my boat here. Even though September has normally supposed to have been time off I always like to paddle during this time of year because there is still lots of light in the morning, it’s generally sunny but not too hot and the pressure of going fast for racing has died down.  I think once I find my new athletic thing (handball?, skiing?) I’ll have less thoughts of paddling.  Plus it’s going to be cold here soon and paddling in the cold is painful.

    Looks like a nice place to train with limited boat traffic.  It's pretty narrow though so when there is an on-shore wind the waves get a little unpleasant looking (for K-1 anyway).  An OC-1 would probably be perfect as you could head from here out into the open ocean.
    Looks like a nice place to train with limited boat traffic. It's pretty narrow though so when there is an on-shore wind the waves get a little unpleasant looking (for K-1 anyway). An OC-1 would probably be perfect as you could head from here out into the open ocean about 1km away.

IKEA blues

How could a trip to IKEA ever be a disappointment?  I am a long time IKEA fan, so buying furniture for our Swedish apartment was pretty much a pilgrimage for me.

To understand why it was a disappointment, you need to understand how the Swedish Personnummer system works.  A Personnummer is a 9-didgit number issued to every Swede at birth.  It’s like a social insurance number, but far more intense.  Without it, you cannot open a bank account, get a credit card, rent an apartment, get a gym membership, go to the library, or rent a DVD.  Without a personnummer, you are not really a person in Sweden.

My personnummer application is in the mail, for real.

Also, our Canadian credit cards do not come with pin codes, so it is tricky to buy things via credit card.  Usually we get around this by showing our passports, promising we are who we say we are, and saying thank you.  We don’t yet have Swedish credit or debit cards, see personnummer above.  We can take money out of ATMs (surcharge city!), but as it turns out, only 2000 Swedish crowns at a time.

Catherine organizing purchases at the Gavle IKEA

So back to IKEA: we had a great trip to IKEA.  We took the bus, and I did a substantial amount of planning, budgeting, and strategizing to get the most stuff for the least $$.  We then went to IKEA, found our way around via Swedish signs (just kidding, I know the layout of every IKEA store ever built!)  We got our marketplace house wares, and navigated the self-serve section, and then ordered out special items (couch, bed, etc.) and also ordered delivery service.  Delivery is 495 SEK no matter how much stuff you have, so we were happy to be getting our money’s worth – we bought EVERYTHING! Bookshelves, desk, table, couch, pots, kitchen stuff, sheets, mattress, hat rack, storage, towels, rug, etc. fricken’ etc.  So imagine us going up to the till, ringing it all through (anticipating a celebratory lunch in the IKEA restaurant) and then Graham hands over his credit card…

Ej godkänd  (which the clerk told us means ‘NOT APPROVED”).

Maybe mine will work?  NO

Maybe my debit card will work? NO

So we tried to trick the local ATMs into giving us each 2000SEK twice – Nej God (no good.)  Graham was understandably a bit cranky at this point (remember, we were waiting to eat lunch.)  I tried to be charming and explain to the customer service people our issue.  After some back and forth, they kindly offered to store our things until tomorrow, so we can come back and buy them then (our ATMs will hopefully provide us each with 2000 more SEK).

We did eat and IKEA lunch (I totally recommend the princess cake, even though it looks weird), only slightly less delicious without the thrill of victory.  Tomorrow I am going back to IKEA (with another 4000 SEK) to buy the stuff and give them the delivery info.

We’ll post on the before/after transformation of our apartment (with some interim assembly shots) soon.