An Unconventional Thanksgiving

Happy belated Thanksgiving, stateside friends and family! I think last Thursday marks the my first Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but that’s okay. Instead, the occasion was marked by a great trip to Ahmedabad and Udaipur with a friend from Swarthmore, Shashwati. It was nice to see a familiar face – a good change from always meeting new people on the Watson (four months of intros and quick getting-to-know-yous with everyone you interact with does get a little tiring). It was also fun to take a proper weekend trip and be more touristy than I’ve been on the Watson so far.

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The Ahmedabad riverfront.

I spent Friday morning seeing the Sabarmati Ashram, founded and inhabited by Mahatma Gandhi, and the mosque and tomb complex Sarkhej Roza. Later that day, Shash and I ate traditional Gujarati food for lunch (a thali, a round platter with small portions of many different dishes, spicy and sweet), saw some more sights, and wandered through the busy market streets in town.

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Gandhi’s ashram is a beautiful green compound with a small museum about Gandhi’s life and activities in the ashram.
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The mosque at Sarkhej Roza.
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Beautiful carvings inside the tomb complex of Sarkhej Roza.
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“Ladies Not Allowed” in the actual mosque.

I found Ahmedabad a bit challenging, with the same constant and excessive honking as Mumbai, and pushy crowds in town. Also, at the comparatively very calm ashram, a woman asked to take a selfie with me. That had never happened to me before, though I’ve heard of it happening to [white and blond] tourists in China, and certainly I get some stares in Mumbai as a young white woman. But no one has ever wanted a photo with me, which felt annoying and vaguely exploitative, even though I know friends have experienced this before and had fun with it. I feel like it’s one thing to stare at someone who looks different or ask where they’re from – as many strangers and taxi drivers asked me in Ahmedabad and Udaipur, though never in Mumbai – but another thing to want a picture of them without even asking their name. I did take a selfie with that woman, but I felt weird about it, and I refused the following requests from people in the ashram and in Udaipur’s City Palace (also because those were from men, which made me feel less comfortable).

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Shash and I went to a nearby village to see the Adalaj Stepwell, which is what it sounds like: a well that you reach by walking down steps. I had never been to one before, but it was beautiful (though slightly creepy to descend down towards the water!).
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The bottom of the stepwell. I couldn’t help but think of the Indiana Jones snake pit scene here.

At the Ahmedabad mosque, I discovered a group of about 60 students of middle-school age on a field trip. The more outgoing ones ran up to me and asked me all sorts of questions (“I’m from the U.S.” “Wow! Are you from Ohio?” “No, New York City.” “…Do you go to the Statue of Liberty a lot?”). Obviously, they saw my white skin and assumed, correctly, that I was an English-speaking American. Still, talking to them was fun and didn’t bother me at all. A few spoke English quite well, and it was clear that they study English in school but know very little about the U.S., and I’m sure many of them had never met an American before. So that was fun for them, and I enjoyed amusing them with answers to their questions. I’d much rather do that than take selfies with silent strangers. I wish that distinction didn’t bother me, but it does.

On Saturday morning, Shash and I traveled to Udaipur, the “white city” of Rajasthan. We stayed in the central historic district, which was very tourist-friendly. The streets are cooler and more pedestrian friendly than in Mumbai or Ahmedabad, and there are some beautiful man-made lakes in the city. Shash and I filled our time there seeing all the best attractions.

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Rajasthan is known for its “miniature painting” style. These paintings with tiny, elaborate detail are found all over the city as murals on walls, in shops, and adorning the palace walls.
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An interior garden in Udaipur’s City Palace, the city’s main attraction.
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In addition to the miniature paintings, we found a lot of colorful Belgian stained glass.
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The very fancy Taj Lake Palace Hotel, floating in Lake Pichola, as viewed from the Palace.
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The palace had lots of funky and colorful rooms like this, with mirrors and/or stained-glass windows.
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After the palace, we took a rickshaw to Lake Fateh Sagar to watch the sunset. I loved the softly textured nature of the water here.
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Udaipur is so colorful! This is a fountain at the Sahelyion ki bari heritage garden.
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We took a boat trip on Lake Pichola, the main lake. This is a palace on the lake as seen from our boat!
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We also saw the Jagdish Mandir Hindu temple, which had lots of beautiful intricate carvings depicting animals, people, gods, and scenes from tales.
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The top of the temple.
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Our unconventional Thanksgiving meal: a Rajasthani thali plate.
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We took this cable car up a mountain to see Udaipur from above.
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Seen from above, Lake Pichola and Udaipur to the right.

On Sunday night, we traveled back to Ahmedabad in a sleeper bus, which we hadn’t quite realized we booked. Neither of us had been in one before. We had two “beds” (thin padded sections of floor) side-by-side on the lower level; basically it felt like we were on the bottom bunk at summer camp! We both cracked up for a good five minutes when we saw our “seats.” I flew back to Mumbai the next morning. Overall it was a great trip and I feel rejuvenated now. This week I finally have multiple project meetings (wahoo!) and, since the trip to Udaipur was so much fun, I’m now very much looking forward to traveling around India more when my parents visit for Christmas.

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Our point of view from our bed in the sleeper bus!
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Weekends in Doha

The weekends here in Qatar are on Friday and Saturday, meaning that the work week is Sunday through Thursday. I’ve gotten used to it by now, but this small change really threw me off at first. I’ve learned that Friday-Saturday weekends are common in Muslim countries due to a special prayer on Fridays. It makes sense, but it’s one of those things I never expected to be different.

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This is MIA Park, to the right of the Museum of Islamic Art. Every Saturday throughout “winter,” there is a Bazaar there, an outdoor marketplace reminiscent of the tradition of shopping at souqs. You can see the shops at a distance here.
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MIA Park also has its own little crescent, like a curlicue off the larger Corniche (the waterfront crescent area of Doha). There is a small café there with a view of the glittering West Bay.

I’ve made some friends here in Doha, some through the social travel site Couchsurfing and others from the tech talk I went to. Many have asked me, “So how do you like Doha?” adding, “There’s nothing to do here, huh?”

I can see how after years and even months, going to the same air-conditioned malls and few sights would get boring in this small city. Even Villaggio would lose its novelty eventually. In Sweden, I went to approximately 25 different museums in 3 different cities; here, I’ve been to one, which means I’ve seen half of the museums in the whole country (there are several more planned for the future).

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Another view from the MIA Park crescent, where old-fashioned boats take tourists on the water.
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A street in Souq Waqif, the renovated ancient marketplace with traditional shops and many restaurants (one of Doha’s main attractions).
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A small outdoor tourist shop in the Souq. I wish I could get rid of that flare when photographing at night, but I just love these Arabian lights.
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Me in front of the pretty lights. (Photo credit: Downna).

But my new friends, and the family I’m staying with, have showed me the attractions that Doha does have, and I’m happy to say that I’ve seen a more fun city than I was expecting. While I know that I wouldn’t want to live here long-term, I’ve learned that I could live here, and that in itself is amazing to me.

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With Downna and Sarah at a restaurant in Souq Waqif.
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Pure Lounge, the bar we went to one night at the Hilton. There are very few bars in Doha, and no restaurants serve alcohol. The only bars legally allowed to sell are those attached to international hotels like this one. I was surprised to find nightlife in Qatar, but honestly, it’s not as exciting as it looks!

Finally, I played Ultimate Frisbee with some new friends last week, and I’m going back tomorrow. There is a small group of expats here that get together every week to play ultimate, and I was lucky to befriend the social coordinator of the group. Since there is only one group, they can’t play against other teams, but they still work hard and scrimmage well. I was so impressed to see the same skills here that I saw in college ultimate.

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We went to the beach in Qatar! Luckily there’s a quiet beach here where you don’t have to cover your shoulders and knees. (Photo credit: Downna).
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Post-beach seafood at a casual Filipino/Arabic restaurant. (Photo credit: Downna).

I think playing ultimate here will be my Qatar version of swing dancing in Sweden. It’s now a goal of mine to find something fun like this in each country that I go to – a local, social event that I find all on my own and then participate in.

I’m glad that I’ve been able to find social activities here in between project meetings. My progress has felt slow; I’ve had about five meetings here so far, most of them with doctors. I wish there were medtech companies here the way there were in Sweden, though I knew that wouldn’t be the case. While doctors provide an important perspective for my project, my engineering background makes me more interested in medical gadgets and user-focused devices than big hospital machines. Still, it’s good to know, and it certainly teaches me something about the attitude towards medical technology here if there aren’t any medical technology start-ups.

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The Pearl, a fancy artificial island in north Doha (well, I suppose most of this city is artificial). There are shops, apartments, hotels, and restaurants here – and lots of yachts!
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The Pearl is essentially a curved strip encircling this small body of water.

Malmö Festival

This past Friday marked the end of the Malmö Festival (Malmöfestivalen), an annual, weeklong party with free concerts, food stands, and all sorts of pop-up events. All over the city, streets were closed off, huge concert stages were put up, and amusement park rides were running all day and all night. Crowds appeared from who-knows-where, filling up the streets and restaurants throughout the festival.

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The kick-off event was a crayfish-eating party in Stortorget, the “big square.” This is also where the biggest music concert stage was. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, it rained the first day!

The usually quiet town of Malmö totally transformed during the festival. I saw people drinking from vodka bottles in public spaces (which is illegal here, I think); trash accumulating in the squares; and cops putting drunk Swedes in their cars at the end of the night. It was a bit alarming to see everyone go so crazy all of a sudden!

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One of the music venues had a dance floor.
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The amusement park rides reminded me of the boardwalks on the South Jersey shore.
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Many popular Swedish artists performed at the festival. There were 3-4 outdoor concert areas like this set up, each one with multiple acts every evening of the week.

One city square was completely dedicated to food, with over 50 pop-up food stands and some tables for eating. I tried all sorts of crazy foods there at the most popular and recommended stands. Here is everything I ate at the festival:

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A “langos,” popular street food during the festival. It’s a fried, doughy flatbread that can come with different toppings. I got the basic set: garlic, sour cream, and cheese.
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A tasting portion of the mushroom wrap (kantarellklämma) from the Nordic Street Food truck.
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A chicken arepa sandwich from the Latin Truck. This was more substantial than the arepas I’ve had in NYC – I wasn’t expecting a full sandwich – but it was delicious!
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The “lomito burger” from Victor Jara. A simple but delicious pork-and-beef burger at a food stand that always had a long line.
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A whole deep-fried banana with vanilla ice cream and honey. Not my favorite, but worth trying!
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I realize this looks awful, but this is very popular street food here in Sweden: deer kabab with “orientdressing” (mild mayonnaise-esque sauce) and, of course, lingonberry jelly.
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I waited 20 minutes in line for this at one of the most popular food stands. This sandwich is crispy roast pork on an organic brioche bun with red cabbage, thin pickles, and crispy fried onion. It came with a skewer of apple slices covered in cinnamon-sugar and “mysvarma fläskevålar,” which apparently means fried bacon rind!

Finally, I also went to Bastard Restaurant, one of Malmö’s most famous (and fanciest) restaurants. It has nothing to do with the festival except that I ate there during that week, which was the first (and so far only) time that I have eaten a meal by myself in a full-service, sit-down restaurant. It was one of those things, like going to the movies alone, that I knew I would need a certain amount of self-confidence to do. I think it’s valuable to learn how to feel comfortable in those situations, especially as a solo traveler. I don’t want to miss out on anything this year simply because it feels “weird” to do it alone. As I’ve said before, the Watson is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and learning how to do the things you want to do by yourself.

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I got their signature dish, the “Bastardplanka,” filled with way too many random meats to name. I had it with the house bread and a wonderful cocktail named “Zeus,” and I finished with a lemon-elderflower sorbet.

As far as budget goes, yes, this meal might seem too expensive. But as a previous Watson fellow once said, it’s better to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 3 days and then eat at the best restaurant in the city than to have four mediocre meals in a row. The budget is all about prioritizing; no matter how small it is, you can fit in anything you want if you prioritize. I decided that this might be my only time in Malmö and so it would be worth it to eat at Bastard Restaurant, even if that meant only eating pasta and cheap street food for multiple days before and after (which is exactly what I did). And it was worth it. The food was great, but more than that I was happy to conquer the weirdness of eating alone, sitting at a lovely table in a beautiful restaurant.

Now, the festival is over. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much meat as I did last week and I doubt I ever will again! The streets of Malmö have quieted and things are back to normal. It was fascinating to see the city get so wild, and I’m glad I was able to see so many music performances for free.

Lund

Yesterday I traveled to Lund, the university town just ten miles from Malmö. As a hub of research and biotech companies, it’s one of the main reasons I decided to come to this area of Sweden. I had an interview set up for the afternoon (more about that in a health post later), so I arrived early to spend the morning sight-seeing.

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Nearly every street in Lund looks like this.

Having done my research about budget-friendly touristy options, I decided to start my day at the free Drottens Arkeologiska Museum, containing the ruins of a Middle Ages church. However, I should have paid more attention to the “underground museum” descriptor. It’s less of a museum and more of an unattended rocky foundation with creepy lighting and a café built on top. I suppose you get what you pay for!

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The Drottens archaeological site. I’m sure the rocks are authentic. I’m not so sure about that cross.

There was also a skeleton in the room, so that spiced it up a bit. I decided to move on fairly quickly.

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Another old-fashioned Lund street.

Walking around, I realized that Lund is like a smaller Malmö without the mix-ins of modern architecture. It’s all old, classic Swedish style. So what about the research and the biotech? As it turns out, there is a very modern life science research park called “Medicon Village” a bit outside the city. The Medicon Village starts at the end of Lund University’s campus, where innovative research happens behind old stone walls.

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One of the university buildings.

The feel and culture of Lund is dominated by Lund University, which was founded in 1666. There weren’t many students around this week, but when school is in session, the 41,000 students comprise half of Lund’s total population. Especially when close to the campus, I kept feeling like I was at Oxford or Brown or Harvard.

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This building completely took my breath away. It’s the Lund University library.

I also visited the Botanical Gardens in Lund, which are free to visit and have a lovely greenhouse with multiple rooms, all separated with heavy doors to allow for multiple different climates. I was happy to be in a place with labeled trees, thinking of Swarthmore’s arboretum.

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You can see one end of the greenhouse here.
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Beautiful, colorful flowers in the gardens.

Just before noon I went to the Lunds domkyrka, the cathedral in town. It’s known for its fifteenth-century astronomical clock and calendar, which has a certain display at 12 noon. According to Wikipedia, the church was founded in 1080.

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Outside the cathedral.
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The inside of the cathedral was beautiful and simple.
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The top square panel is the astronomical clock, and the bottom panel is the calendar.

Many people were gathered to see the clock strike 12. To me, it looked like the clock hadn’t moved in centuries, and there was no ticking second hand, no evidence of timekeeping. 12:00pm passed, uneventful. Then 12:01pm. Then at 12:02pm, to my great surprise, the little knights on top of the clock raised their swords and brought them down, clang, 12 times as the bell tolled. It was really amazing.

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There were so many Swedish buildings like this on every street.
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More sight-seeing led me to this building. I wish I could tell you what its purpose is.
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Finally, before leaving for Medicon Village, I stopped for a kanelbulle and cappuccino at St. Jakobs Stenugnsbageri, a famous bakery in Lund.

IKEA, or “ee-kay-a”

Yesterday, I did something that I have wanted to do as long as I’ve known that I would be traveling to Sweden: visit IKEA in its home country! I’ve always pronounced it “eye-key-a,” but many Swedes pronounce it “ee-kay-a.” Either way, IKEA here in Sweden is exactly the same as it is in the US – consistent as always.

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I took the train out to Svågertorp, south of Malmö, to get to IKEA.

The main reason I went to IKEA was for lunch. I haven’t had Swedish meatballs since arriving in Sweden – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had them, at IKEA or otherwise. What better place to try them than at a Swedish IKEA? I thought it might be odd, getting lunch at IKEA at 2pm on a Friday, but I was so wrong. IKEA was packed, and people were sitting at almost every table in the huge restaurant area. I got in line for the cafeteria-style lunch service, which is very well-organized but took some time with the crowds there. I briefly commiserated with the woman in front of me as we waited. At least, I think we commiserated – she didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Swedish, but she was able to tell me that her son speaks English and studied abroad at University of Virginia.

Finally, I got to the food and ordered “liten köttbullar,” a small order of meatballs. For just 29kr – $3.40 – you get meatballs, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, and of course, lingonberry jam.

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Finally, a classic Swedish meal! It was delicious.

I also walked around for a while exploring the planned-out bedrooms, offices, and kitchens – everyone’s favorite part of IKEA. The rooms were arranged by size in square meters. In one block of only 25 square meters (270 square feet), they set up an entire apartment complete with a kitchen, front hall, bathroom, living room, and bed.

I was picked up at IKEA by my Airbnb host and her friend John, who were there to pick up a mattress. We drove back to the city and hung out for a while, discussing technology and how everyone is addicted to their cellphones; how the housing markets compare in Sweden and England; and the Watson grant. John thinks the Watson grant could be made into a documentary – both the application process and the year itself. If anyone wants to do a Watson about film, I think that’s a great idea!

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A funky fountain we drove past when leaving IKEA. I also love the water tower in the back.

I still haven’t heard back from potential project contacts here in Malmö. Now that it’s the weekend, no one will respond to email or phone calls before Monday. In the meantime, I’m still working on finding phone numbers, as well as learning what people do in Malmö over the weekend.

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I also went to Kafé Agnez with Henrik yesterday. It’s a beautiful coffeeshop on a quiet road that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
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Though small in the front, the café has a large outdoor courtyard in the back. This cappuccino is the best coffee I’ve had in Sweden so far!

Peaches and coconuts

Today I met up with Lisa’s brother, Henrik, who lives here in Malmö. He pointed out some parts of the city that I had missed on my walk the other day, so I saw new areas of the city such as the Triangeln Square, Möllan, and the old part of the city.

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The “Emigrants” statue.

On our way to lunch, we talked about social attitudes in Sweden, a topic that has come up in a few of my conversations now with various locals. I again heard the sentiment that Swedish people are uncomfortable with strangers and not very outgoing (never mind that I was hearing this from a friendly Swede I had just met, though perhaps it was different because we were introduced by a good friend in the US). It seems like something that Swedes in general are self-conscious about, especially when they mention the willingness of Americans to talk to strangers.

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Henrik told me that Swedes illustrate the difference with a metaphor. Americans are like peaches: sweet and soft on the outside, with a hard pit on the inside. They are friendly and easy to talk to, but it’s tough to get past that niceness and talk about deeper feelings. Swedish people, however, are like coconuts. They have a hard outer shell that is initially difficult to break through, but once you do, they’re all mushy on the inside and spill their secrets. I found this hilarious and probably quite true.

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A building in Lilla Torg, one of the oldest squares in town.

We went to the Slottsträdgårdens Kafé for lunch, a small café in the garden of the city’s main park. I’ll have to go back soon and take pictures because the flowers (and the food!) were beautiful. I had a dish that I’ve found to be all over Sweden, a salad with a ton of mini shrimp heaped on top (“salad med räka”).

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Wheelbarrow benches! I love this design.
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More of the historic Swedish architecture in Lilla Torg.

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These bike racks continued all along the street! Malmö cyclists might just outnumber the pedestrians.
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Berry bushes for sale at a flower shop? Never seen that before.

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At one point I asked Henrik if he thought that Swedes were generally healthy (probably the vaguest question I can ask that relates to my project). He said yes, maybe, but health has been declining in Sweden lately. He thinks the main cause of the decline is increased economic inequality. Even though a lot of healthcare is free in Sweden, there are still some small fees to pay, and not every aspect of health is included. For example, dentistry is not covered for adults above 18 years old. Thus past the age of 18, if someone is only making about $300 per month and a single dentist visit costs $250, they won’t go. With increasing economic inequality, then, fewer people are going to the dentist.

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This is Möllevångstorget, the main square in the Möllan neighborhood. Apparently it’s the “worker’s neighborhood,” as depicted by this statue of workers building the city.

Even Swedes who could easily afford going to the dentist and other doctors do not necessarily do so. Henrik estimates that about 5% of Swedish citizens make an effort to get annual check-ups with a general practitioner even though this would cost no more than $40 per visit.

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This is no mosque, as I thought from a distance, but rather a nightclub in Möllan!
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In back of this rose fountain, you can see the nightclub. This is all in the Folkets Park of Möllan.

Henrik gave his recommendation for solving the problem in Sweden: create a law that requires companies to make sure that each employee has a check-up at least once a year. This sort of law would move Sweden’s health care policy to be more in line with that of the US, where your health care package depends on your employer’s generosity. Interesting.

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A beautiful day in Malmö. Many people had rented this little blue paddle boats and were paddling along in the water.

Frolfing around

The other day I played frisbee golf, or “frolf,” with Lisa in Slottskogsparken, a huge park here in Göteborg. This must be the city’s version of Central Park; at one point, I got a glimpse of seals basking on a rock in the park’s zoo. There’s also a natural history museum nearby. I’ll have to check out both at some point.

When I played frolf at Swarthmore, it was very casual. We would walk around campus at midnight tossing discs at lampposts, bushes, and other random campus landmarks. At Slottskogsparken, there is a real frisbee golf course set up with 18 “holes,” baskets designed to catch small discs (smaller than the regulation discs we used on the Ultimate team), and marked teeing grounds. We walked through a decent amount of the park doing this course, running down boulders to catch wayward discs and hitting the occasional tree. It was a blast!

I’ve also done a bit more exploring of Göteborg along the main boulevard Avenyn, which ends with Götaplatsen, the “cultural square” of the city.

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There is a “Green World” project happening this summer along the Avenyn, in which various companies and student groups have designed pop-up parks to exhibit green living in the city.
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One of the pop-up parks focused on the benefits of honeybees.
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From inside a pop-up park, I saw a walking protest group clamoring in favor of an open border policy. They had a shouting match with a bunch of guys at a pub on the street who were clearly against such a policy. The two groups kept flipping each other off. I don’t know where I would stand on the issue as a Swede, but it was tough to see such aggression from both sides of the debate.

In the Götaplatsen you will find Konstmuseet, the main art museum of the city. I was wrong about Stadsmuseum earlier; this is the city’s Met.

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The Konstmuseet (literally “Art Museum”) is straight ahead.
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Naked Poseidon statue outside the Konstmuseet. At the time of his unveiling in the 1930s, scandalized Swedes demanded penile-reduction statue surgery – unfortunately, it’s quite obvious up close!
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I was happily surprised to see a Calder mobile in the Konstmuseet sculpture hall. It reminded me of the one we have on Swarthmore’s campus.
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Not the type of Picasso work I’m used to seeing, but beautiful nonetheless.

The annexed Hasselblad Center also had an interesting exhibit on surveillance photography.

I also visited Röhsska, Göteborg’s design museum. It was a quick, fun museum, with the main exhibit chronicling design trends from 1850 to the present. I learned that I apparently like postmodernist design (or, funky stuff from the ’90s).

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Cute ceramics in honor of Swedish designer Stig Lindberg’s would-be 100th birthday.
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This is the exact same kettle we have at home! I love it. You can see me taking the picture in the reflection.
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I was saddened to see that the original iPhone (2007) is now considered old enough to be in a museum.
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Exterior of the Röhsska museum. To the left, you can see the trunk of a pink Mini Cooper parked out front. I suppose when you work at a design museum, you have to drive a distinctive car!

Finally, I had been seeing “kanelbulles” all over Sweden and finally had to try one as a mid-adventuring snack. As it turns out, they are cinnamon rolls – though according to Wikipedia, Swedish kanelbulles have a distinct flavor due to cardamom in the dough. Also, the complete lack of icing distinguishes it from an American cinnamon roll!

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I had this kanelbulle at a 7-Eleven. Next I think I should go to a real bakery to have one, served warm!