Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Midsummer mischief!

On Friday we celebrated midsummer here in Sweden. We don't really celebrate this in the UK so, like me, you are probably wondering why this is so celebrated here. I did some research and it turns out it that in the old days midsummer celebrations were held not only to welcome the summertime but also to celebrate the season of fertility!! There was also some reference to commemorating John the Baptist but that didn't sound as interesting! Now it's generally celebrated to signify the beginning of the summer holidays. Most people here take all of their 5 week annual leave in July rather than spreading it over the year so basically everything shuts down for a month! I don't think I could go 11 months without a week off but its a way of life for most people here! To be honest I think the main reason midsummer is celebrated is because summers here are so bloody short and people want to celebrate the little time they have in the sun!! Summer here starts showing its face around May then it gets quite hot by July but by September its cold again!. The good thing about summer here is that you have daylight until about midnight!....................although in the winter is begins to get dark around 2pm!!

A traditional midsummer celebration involves lots of eating, drinking and dancing around a maypole. The nearest maypole to us was in a local park so Aicha and I wandered round to see what was going on. There were lots of people there having picnics but there wasn't much happening in the way of entertainment. There was a guy singing some songs but he was no Lionel Richie! It was definitely a family occasion and we got quite bored so we decided to leave after a while. I did take a few pictures though................



The maypole
Once we got back home it was time for the traditional midsummer feast. A typical midsummer menu features different kinds of pickled herring, boiled potatoes with fresh dil, grilled salmon and vegetables followed by strawberries and cream. Aicha' parents cooked the full works so I was pretty stuffed once we had finished! The traditional accompaniment is a cold beer or schnapps. Unfortunately we had no schnapps so I had to make do with a cold beer................oh well!!

This was my first experience of midsummer. Although we spent most of it basically just eating and
drinking, there is actually a lot more to it than that. Rather than me just telling you in words the traditions of midsummer I thought it best to show you. Therefore, may I present...............'Swedish Midsummer for Dummies'!!!!


On the Saturday we had arranged to meet some of Aicha's old school friends and their partners for a barbeque however the heavens had opened and we had to move our dinner party indoors. Of everyone going I had only previously met Aicha's friend Jessica who was the host. It can sometimes be quite daunting going to a dinner party when everybody knows each other and you don't really know anyone but I was really looking forward to it as it would allow me to get to know a few more people.

Everyone I met there was great and I managed to get on with everybody really well. We had a few beers and a real good laugh although it turned out that I wasn't the only one there who didn't know anyone. Aicha's friend Sanaz bought her boyfriend Alesandro who none of the girls or their partners had met before. They had previous met each other whilst working in Australia and like me he has now made the move to Stockholm. He was a really good guy and once we got talking about football we couldn't shut up! Alesandro as you have probably guessed is Italian so our discussion largely involved the Euro 2012 quarter final game between Italy and England the following day!! Everyone I met that evening was really nice and hope we can all do it again sometime.

At the end of the evening I swapped numbers with Alesandro after pitching the idea of us watching the game together on the big screen in the city centre. Unfortunately the weather let us down again so he and Sanaz invited us over to their place to watch it instead. The journey to their place from ours takes around 45 minutes and as the game kicked off at 8:45pm our time I was hoping that it wouldn't go to extra time.................or worst penalties! I was looking forward to having some banter during the game with Alesandro but once the game started I was a nervous wreck! I definitely have a love/hate relationship with football when it comes to England. I look forward to the big games so much but when I watch them I can never really enjoy it!! I seem to enjoy it more afterwards once I know what the result is!! England struggled through the game as usual, with the occasion tease of a goal scoring opportunity but the game really belonged to Italy. As expected we went out on penalties but I thought we rode our luck to get that far!! If we had won on penalties then it would have been a serious miscarriage of justice!! To be fair to our boys they ran themselves into the ground and I don't think they could have given much more. We are just not technically gifted enough to compete in the major tournaments.........................and seeing as we would have faced one of the best Germany teams in years if we won, I think we bowed out at the right time!!

With the disappointment of Englands early exit behind me, it was time to turn my attention back to work. Tomorrow is Wednesday and I am flying to Copenhagen to meet with Danish sales team. I'm really looking forward to meeting the guys but unfortunately it's only a quick visit. We are flying back the same day so I won't be able to see much of the city. Next time I might plan to visit on a Friday so I can stay the weekend!! Time to start playing those cards right.............!!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Turkey

Last week myself and the Kermoury clan spent the week in Turkey. It feels that I have been totally consumed by work recently so it was really nice to get away and relax.............and considering we haven't been on a beach holiday for about 2 years it was well overdue!! We have been on city breaks in that time but I would hardly call them a holiday!! City breaks are great in their own way but you don't seem to have time to relax as you are too busy taking in the sights. All I wanted to do was lay in the sun, sip a few cold beers and do nothing..............which is pretty much what I did for about 75% of the time!!

We stayed in resort called Side which is about an hour coach drive from Antalya airport. There was a slight delay before boarding the coach though due to the fact that I had to apply for visa before I could through passport control. The strange thing was that Aicha and her family didn't need one! When I questioned it they just kept saying "No visa, no visa!!" and pointed to the visa application desk. I wasn't aware that I needed a visa to visit Turkey and even now I still don't know why the Swedes don't need one! I wasn't going to argue so I headed to the visa desk....................and after a 20 minute wait and stamp in my passport which cost 15 euros, they finally let me in!!

We had 2 apartments at the hotel complex. Aicha and I shared one with her brother Tariq and her parents, sister and our nephew Younes stayed in the other. The apartment was quite decent. There was a large lounge, with a TV and dining area, a nice kitchen with a fridge/freezer and 3 balconies. I was pleased that we had a TV in the apartment as it allowed me to keep up with Euro 2012!! There were 2 games on everyday during our week in Turkey.................so the remaining 25% of my time was spent watching the footy!! Most of the days were spent around the hotel pool, which when writing about in retrospect is not very interesting so its best illustrated with a few pictures...............







When we did venture out to the beach I tried my best to avoid getting sunburn. Usually when I hit the beach I end up looking like a lobster rather than gaining a decent tan so I made sure I was fully lotioned up before getting some sun. All was going well until I took a dip in the sea. The lotion I used said on the bottle that it was water resistant..................but that means fuck all really as we all know!! The problem was that when I was out of the water I never re-applied the sun lotion.................which is why after the first day at the beack I ended up looking this this.............


I'm not sure why I'm looking so happy as hurt like hell!!  The next few days were spent in the shade as you can imagine!! The temperature in Side was well over 30 degrees during the day and with the sun so strong it was difficult to remain cool. Even in the evenings the temperature was still around 25 degrees!

Side was previously the site of an ancient Greek city and there are many ruins still standing today. One of the main attractions is the Temple of Apollo and the Greek amphitheatre which are located on the Side pennisula. The main town centre is right by the harbour and has all your usual shops, bars and restaurants. There were a few times we headed into the town centre to eat but generally we went to places close by or cooked at the apartment, mainly because the town centre was a 30 minute walk! Most of the restaurants served things like kebabs but there were some which we found that served more local food. We did go to a really nice fish restaurant right on the harbour called Liman's where we able to pick our own fish to be cooked on the grill! We had the huge king prawns, grilled squid and freshly caught seabass. The food there awesome so if you are ever in Side I recomend you check it out!!! On the odd occasion when we did walk into town, we did manage to grab a few photos.............










The resort is mainly visited by Scandinavians so there were alot of Swedes out there. I watched the England game against France with Tariq in the hotel bar and I was the only English guy in there!! That didn't stop me from running around the bar shouting when we scored though! Sweden played Ukraine after the England game then the bar really filled up. The Swedes were out in force for that one! I got talking to a few of them about the next game against us and was consistantly reminded about how England had never beaten them in a competitve match. My answer to them was that record cannot last forever..................and I was proven right when we beat them 3-2 on Friday night!! It was nice to get one over on them plus it meant I had the bragging rights when I got back to Sweden!!

I am back in Sweden now but it was depressing coming back. Not only was it raining when we landed but it all seemed to go by so quickly. The thought of going back to work was playing on my mind but I've been back 2 days now and its not been to bad. I think the fact that I was able to relax for a while has certainly made a difference...................although I'm not relaxed at the moment because I'm watching England play Ukraine!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The search is over!!!!!

It was only a few days ago that Aicha and I were wondering if we would ever find the right apartment to buy. Of all the ones we had looked at there was always something that wasn't quite right for us. Either the rooms were too small, the location wasn't suitable or in my case I just didn't like it! But our search for a place to buy is finally over because on Monday we saw an apartment in Kista which we both really liked and we have decided to go for it!!!

The property has only just been put up for sale and in Sweden once a property goes on the market the estate agent will arrange a public viewing so all the people interested can view it at the same time. The public viewing for this property was due to happen on the weekend we were away in Turkey so Aicha called the agent to see if we could get a private viewing before we go. We saw the property after work on Monday and were very excited about it. It is a 2 bedroom apartment with a recently refurbished bathroom and kitchen. There is plenty of space and lots of storage plus it is only a 5 minute walk to Kista subway station. There was nothing in the apartment that needed work other than possibly repainting some of the doors and papering the walls. Here are the pictures taken from agency page..........













We met with the seller this morning having offered 1.7m Swedish kronor for the apartment, which is the equivalent to £170k. The property was on the market for 1.6m however given the size and location of the property it was obvious that there would be many people interested. A lot of people in Sweden put their properties on the market between £10k and £20k less than they are prepared to sell for to drum up the interest. After the public viewings the bidding wars begin and we have seen some properties sell for over £20k more than what they were put on the market for. Because there would be a lot of people interested in this apartment, the bids after the public viewing were likely to go up to between 1.7m and 1.8m. Once the bidding war starts it becomes very difficult to land the property so it was very important that we got in there first. Smaller properties in the same area have sold for more and having spoken to some people about the price we have paid it really feels that we got a bargain!!!

We signed the contract this morning so we are officially now homeowners!! The seller hasn't yet found a property so it will be some time before we actually move in. The seller has a young family and they are looking to move into a house but as yet they haven't found one that suits them. We have agreed in the contract that whether they have found a place or not we will move in on 1st November 2012 but hopefully they will find somewhere soon. If they find somewhere earlier then our move in date will be brought forward.

Having now found somewhere it feels like a huge weight has been lifted. We are both really happy with the purchase and we can now look forward to the fun stuff like choosing furniture and a flat screen TV!! We are travelling to Turkey this weekend and it feels really good that we can now relax and not have to worry about finding a place to live. Happy days!!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Just be patient..........

Since my last blog my time has mostly been spent working, looking at apartments and at the movies. There was no football for me last weekend as we had Aicha's brother visiting with his girlfriend plus we had some viewings booked in which clashed with the game. The boys didn't need me anyway as they ran out comfortable winners and besides it was nice for me to have a weekend away from football!!

We saw two properties on Sunday. One was a three bedroom house in a place called Vinsta and the other was a newly built apartment in a nearby town called Racksta. Aicha was quite excited about seeing the house as the pictures looked good and it was well within our budget...................but when we got there that excitement quickly evaporated. This was a prime example of where the reality did not live up to the image in the brochure! Everything needed to be refurbished. Most of the doors had cracks/holes in them and the bathroom contained mould. The kitchen was tiny as well. It had looked a decent size when we saw the pictures online but it had obviously be taken with a wide angled lens from the corner of the room.....................I didn't know whether to complain or clap!! Suffice to say we left there pretty sharpish!

The second place we saw was much better. This was a two bedroom apartment in a recently built block. It was a little far out of the way (it was around a 10-15 mins walk to the tube) but the surroundings were great plus it was nice and quiet. The inside of the apartment was lovely. The bathroom and kitchen were a good size, there was plenty of storage and the balcony was huge. The only problem was the second bedroom. It was tiny!! The people living there were using it as a child's room and no lie it was too small for that! They just managed to fit a child's bed in there, which was about two thirds the size of a single bed. It was really disappointing as the apartment ticked all the right boxes except that one! We need to have a good sized second bedroom for when friends/family come to visit plus we are planning to have children in the not too distant future so we need to have the room. I was quite disheartened afterwards as you start to feel that you will never find somewhere..................especially when you found something so close to what you are looking for!!

On Tuesday we had another apartment viewing this time in a place called Kista. Aicha was again excited but I was staying reserved after our visit to Vinsta! Kista is one of the places which always comes up when we are discussing where to live. It is on a tube line and has a huge shopping mall complete with a cinema, bars and a bowling alley so there is plenty to do right on your doorstep. The apartment viewing was a 5 minute walk from the tube station and the area was pleasant so it was good in that respect but the apartment itself never captured me. Aicha loved it straight away but I couldn't bring myself to like it. I felt that a lot of things needed to be redone plus I also thought the bathroom was a bit on the small side. The size and the layout were fine but there was something I didn't like about it........................which even now I still can't put my finger on!! So far we have both had the same opinion on the apartments we have looked but this one we simply could not agree on.....................cue lengthy discussion bordering on argument!!

I just couldn't explain why I didn't like. For me it was just asking someone why they don't like a certain colour. There is no explanation, they just don't!! When Aicha doesn't like something she generally gives a valid reason why. I, on the other hand, do not...............I just don't like it! Now it was her turn to feel how I felt after the viewing on Sunday. It's very easy to start thinking that you will never find somewhere, particular when you have been on as many viewings as we have. But I explained that we have only really been able to seriously consider buying somewhere since I got my job which was only four weeks ago. All the ones that we had looked at in the past was just window shopping. Theoretically we are just at the beginning of our search so we just need to be patient.................that is the positive spin I'm going for anyway!!

After our lengthy discussion we headed to the cinema to see Men in Black 3. Now I'm a fan of the first two films so I had quite high expectations for this one....................and it just about lived up to them! The film starts slowly but once Josh Brolin, who plays the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' character K, comes on screen then the movie goes up a notch. His performance is so good that you forget it's him and actually completely believe it's just a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones that you're seeing! The film goes backs to its roots and gives you the chance to relive much of what you enjoyed in the first movie. A cool sci-fi/buddy comedy that embraces everything weird and wonderful about the unknown universe!!

Last night we went to see 'What To Expect When You're Expecting'..................but less said about that the better!! It had some funny moments but my expectation had not been that high so I can't say I was disappointed!

Things have been picking up the pace with work over the last week. I am really starting to feel at home there now..................which is good as I feel much less anxious and less and less like 'the new guy'!! Next week is going to be really busy as we have a bank holiday on Wednesday for Sweden's national day plus I'm going to Turkey next weekend with the family so I need to make sure all my work is covered off. It's a little bit daunting on paper as it looks like so much work but I enjoy being busy so hopefully it will be more fun than stressful.......................famous last words!!!