Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rafting the South Fork of American River

I always like rafting down white water and decided to try it out with the Adventure Connection company near Placerville, CA. There was good deal published on Travelzoo - $79 per ticket, so I decided to give it a shot.

The trip scheduled to start at 10:00am and end at 16:00 with lunch in between, covering 13 miles of class 1-3 rapids in the South Fork of the American River.

The drive from San Jose to Coloma was surprisingly short - I though it would take 3 or more hours, but I managed to arrive in 2.5 hours. Adventure Connection is near the Hwy 49 intersection with Lotus Road - but I had to carefully look for their sign, as to not miss it.

After signing all the waivers, we picked up our life preservers and helmets and walked onto the bus which drove us to the launch site.

The trip was divided into two sections. During the morning phase, we rafted down 1-2 class rapids, followed by lunch. During this time, we learned to follow our leader "Sam", as she gave us commands to paddle forward or backward. There were many sections of the river that were very calm and we went for a nice, cold swim in the calm river waters. Alex initially did not was to go for a swim, but eventually succumbed to peer pressure. The water was definitely chilly, but it was a nice relief from the 100F heat.

We had a total of 7 people in our 14 foot boat plus our guide "Sam". Grandpa, Alex, and I sat on the port side, while the other 4 paddlers sat on the starboard side. Our guide "Sam" sat mostly on the starboard side, steering the boat with her wooden paddle an shouting commands.

Here is a short video clip of of us just starting out:

During our ride, we had an opportunity to go swimming down the river. It was very refreshing.

For lunch, the guides cooked hamburgers. As I was very hungry after paddling, I ate two burgers, while Grandpa and Alex ate one each.

After lunch, we continued our white water rafting to the more intense sections of the American river. I was happy to have Sam as our guide, as she has guided the American river for many years and was experienced in class 5 rapids in Colorado and West Virginia.

Here is another video clip of rafting through rapids:

During one part of our trip, Grandpa decided to try sitting the "bull" position of the boat - right at the front, while holding a rope (like bull riding). As he climbed the front, he kept falling back. He tried again and on the 4th time succeeded. However, a minute later, he fell off the boat. I was able to pull him in and the fun continued.

I recorded a lot of the rafting using my GoPro 3 Black. However, the best photos came from the professional photographers located at two major rapids: Satan's Cesspool and Hospital Bar.

Here are the professional photos for the Hospital Bar rapids:

For Satan's Cesspool, the photos are below:

We had a fantastic time rafting the South Fork of the American River and hope to do it again.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Trolling for bottom dwellers (Marine Science Ecotour)

Steve, a good friend of mine, suggested that Alex, Inna, and I would enjoy participating in a Marine Science Ecotour in Redwood City. It would give a chance for Alex to explore some of the native marine life in the San Francisco Bay and to see first hand the work that marine biologists do.

With Steve's help, we purchased tickets and headed for the voyage.
Thanks for signing up for our 2 Hour Discovery Eco-Voyage!
We are looking forward to seeing you on board Saturday, July 26 at 1pm, and hope you enjoy your adventure with us.
Our 90' Research Vessel, the Robert G. Brownlee, will depart from the Marine Science Institute. Weather at this time of year can be pleasant or chilly, so please dress in layers! Please also plan to arrive and be ready to board 30 minutes before your trip starts. This means leaving lots of extra time for driving to MSI, finding parking and walking to the dock. If your party is not signed in at the dock 15 minutes before the trip departure, we will open up those spaces to anyone waiting who is present.

Some additional tips to prepare for the voyage:
• Closed-toed shoes are required
• Always keep your children in sight. Our instructors cannot watch everyone at once.
• Minimum age is 5
• Dress for the weather; conditions at the coast can be vary drastically.
• And be sure to have fun!
While waiting for Robert G. Brownlee to depart, we saw a few people row on Hawaiian outrigger canoes.

When the time was 1:00pm, Inna, Alex, and I put on our lifejackets and got ready to board.

During our brief journey, we trolled for some fishes and bottom dwellers. Alex learned first hand how bottom dwellers could be scooped up.

After trolling a bit, we picked up a bunch of marine specimens. We did not see much, just a few small fish.

After picking up the bottom dwellers, we sifted them through strainers.

We also saw an old shipwreck that's right in the bay.

A few boats were out sailing and enjoying be beautiful, warm weather and clear skies.

After the trip, we decided to go to Redwood City and get lunch there. We rarely visit this area, and though it would be interesting to explore it.

Looking at Yelp reviews, we decided to try Vesta.  We sat down in a nice shady spot outside, on a beautiful summer day. We were surprised by the number of quality restaurants in Redwood City. We will need to go back again.

We ordered "Mushroom Toast" for appetizer and were delighted by delicious and tasty concoction seen below.

Alex ordered a "Margherita Pizza" and enjoyed eating it.

Inna and I were adventurous and ordered a "Sausage and Honey Pizza". It was unique and very filling.

We really liked our pizzas in Vesta and would be happy to come back at another time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kiteboarding Lessons with SG Kiteboarding

For Father's Day, my wife purchased for me a Livingsocial Voucher for a 3-hour Kiteboarding lesson with SG Kiteboarding.

The beginner lessons cover flying the kite for the first couple of hours and self-rescue techniques.

The lesson took place at Caesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, CA with two other participants. We learned to properly launch a kite and control it by shifting the pressure on the control bar. The lesson took about three hours and everyone took turns flying the kite for a few minutes at a time.

We learned proper self-rescue techniques, emergency techniques, and how to set it up.

Flying the kite seems fun, but I wondered where the learning time i.e. at least another 12 hours on the water is worth it - given that I can already windsurf fairly well. Kitesurfing brings its own new challenges, but requires always looking at the kite when moving forward - I like the fact that when I windsurf, I am always looking forward and never at my sail.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stockholm, Sweden

We sailed from Tallinn, Estonia into Stockholm, Sweden around 10:00am on the Tallink Baltic Queen ferry. We had a very small cabin on the ferry, but it was sufficient for the one day sail. Alex and I had separate top bunks and Inna slept on the bottom bunk. There was not much room for anything else. Luggage ended up blocking the way out (but what can you do?)

For breakfast, we went to the ferry's buffet and it was mediocre, as expected. I enjoyed watching all of the Swedish islands passing by. I went outside and immediately smelled tobacco smoke. Why do so many Europeans smoke so much? I hate the smell of tobacco, so it always bothers when people are smoking nearby.

After breakfast, we walked off the boat with all of our luggage and took a taxi to our Hotel Rival. .

The line to get off the boat and out of the terminal was really long (and with the hot weather in Stockholm), it was quite stifling. I was surprised that no one fainted (since there were no windows open). It was like being  trapped in a Swedish sauna.

Inna researched taxi companies in Stockholm and Rick Steves specifically recommend only certain taxi companies (Stockholm Taxi comes to mind). Apparently, other taxi companies are not trust worthy. I negotiated a price of 400 SEK (about $70 USD) up front for a ride to our hotel (it was still too expensive). With so much luggage (and really hot day), I did not think it wise to risk using public transport that required a lot of additional walking.

We arrived into Hotel Rival around 11:00am. I paid the driver 400 SEK and went inside the Hotel Rival (owned by one of ABBA's musicians, Benny Andersson). The hotel has a very modern look and was very nice inside. We were offered our room right away and free bottled water to cool us off. After resting a bit and taking a shower, we decided to head out. Note, the large ABBA painting over the bed! If it's good enough for Benny, it's good enough for me!

It was immediately apparent to us (from the taxi ride) that Stockholm is a very large city, a collection of islands connected together by bridges and ferries. It seemed much bigger than Copenhagen, Helsinki, or any other European capitals except cities like Paris or Rome. Because Sweden was neutral during World War 2, the medieval old town is well preserved, with narrow cobblestone streets throughout Gamla Stan (Old City).

We first decided to see the famous Vasa Museum. We took the ferry from Gamla Stan to Djurgarden (where the Vasa Museum is located). We were told by our hotel personnel not avoid buses and trams due to the hot weather (as most public transport in Sweden is not air conditioned). This turned out to be great advice (something Google maps did not even suggest).

On the way to the museum, we got hungry and stopped at a nearby cafe - Djurgardsbrons Sjocafe - recommended by Rick Steves (it turned out to be a mistake - another tourist trap).

We ordered two pizzas and drinks and they came out to be around $329 SEK ($47 USD) - very expensive for average quality pizzas. In addition, lots of people were smoking, so it was not the most pleasant experience for me. Sweden was not much cheaper than Norway (as we were expecting).

From Sjocafe, we walked to the nearby Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum houses a restored Vasa three masted warship that sank in Stockholm's harbor on August 10, 1628 (on her maiden voyage).

The warship is almost 99% original (not reconstructed) with only a few parts replaced. The ship was enormous, and very fancy (with lots of delicate woodwork all around). I enjoyed looking at the ship, going on an English speaking tour to learn more about it, and then seeing the movie about raising the Vasa from the seafloor.

According to Wikipedia:
The Vasa Museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.

The carvings everywhere were very elaborate and have been preserved well. Apparently, Swedish waters are too cold for worms or bacteria (that normally eat wood).

The wooden carvings of warriors on the Gallery (aft section) we very elaborate. The Gallery is where the captain has his stateroom in the aft most portion of the ship.

The museum was very cold inside and both Inna and Alex were freezing. After finishing the tour, we decided to get some hot tea in the museum's cafe. Vasa Museum's cafe was much better than the Sjocafe nearby. I can't believe Rick Steves would recommend Sjocafe over Vasa's cafe. It was a night a day difference in quality (and Vasa's cafe was cheaper!)

We ordered a couple of pancakes for kids; then we topped them off with lingonberries and whipped cream. It was very delicious! The pancakes were freshly made and lingonberries are first rate in Sweden. Inna and Alex ordered some cakes which were also very delicious.

From there, we walked by the Junibackens - but this fairy tale house is really for kids between 4-9 years old and Alex did not want to go in. The Nordic Museum was nearby - in a large and imposing building - but we decided to pass it for now (as Rick Steves rated it as a one star attraction).

There was also an ABBA Museum nearby and we went in for a quick look. It looked interesting and we decided to go back there.

In addition, there was the Tivoli Grona Lund amusement park nearby. We saw a lot of rides, including roller coasters, but we did not have time to do any rides. Besides, after riding in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, we did not think this amusement park was worth the high cost of admission.

We took the ferry back to our Hotel Rival and rested a bit in our hotel. We were tired from the long walks, and exhausted from the heat and humidity. I am thankful that I brought shorts to wear. I did not expect Sweden to be so hot.

Our hotelier recommended Bistro Sud for dinner and we decided to stop there. It turned out to be an excellent, but expensive Swedish restaurant. 

I ordered a "Rack of Lamb", which was beautifully served and tasted delicious!

Inna ordered an "Asian Salad with Scallops", and Alex ordered a cheeseburger.

We also ordered hibiscus iced tea - which we all enjoyed a lot. For dessert, we ordered a "Cloudberry Moose" and it was out of this world!

We really enjoyed our dinner at Bistro Sud and hoped to be back again.

After dinner, we went back to our Hotel Rival, for some needed sleep and rest. There was free tea and cookies on 2nd floor, and we stopped by for a quick snack.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

After getting up around 8:30am, we got ready and went get breakfast at our Hotel Rival. The breakfast buffet was excellent as usual.

The selection of pastries and especially macaroons was unprecedented.

Alex piled on a stack of macaroons, eating all 15 of them (he was really happy!) The quality of the pastries was first rate (as good as in France). We really enjoyed our breakfast and looked forward to our breakfast the next day.

We had freshly made scrambled eggs, salmon, freshly squeezed juices, croissants, cold meats, and even macaroons.

We took the nearby subway station from Mariatorget to Slussen, and then walked to Gamla Stan (Old City) to take the ferry to Djurgarden. From there, we walked toward the Skansen museum, where we spent most our day.

The Skansen museum shows varies aspects of Swedish country life from 18th - 20th century. We visited a number of farms and farm houses, glass manufacturing shops, and a school house, to see how life was like.

The first workshop we watched was glass making. We saw a couple of people making glassware using very hot furnaces. We did not stick around to watch, as it was very hot and the furnaces did not help the situation.

We stopped by at a couple of farm houses, to see how village life was like in Sweden in 18-19th centuries. Swedish farmers lived very modestly. Sweden was one of the poorest counties in Europe during this time period.

Many kids shared beds and there were frequently only 1-2 rooms in a house. The kitchen, living room, and bedroom was the same room. We saw lots of looms in farm houses, so we know that many women made linen.  

Farmer's children were also expected to work - as soon as they could walk. They were expected to carry wood, fetch water, grind wheat into flour, and do all the chores requested. 

During summers, children were expected to work long days to pick crops.

One of the school houses had a lady working in there explaining how school worked in Sweden. 

The school master lived in the same house that was also used as the town's school. It was considered a very prestigious honor - to be the town's school teacher.

The school master taught 3rd and 4th grade three days a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He also taught 5th and 6th grade on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (for five hours each day). 

Students came mostly from nearby farms and were expected to work on the farm all other days. The bedroom and kitchen were very close to the stove - which also served as the main heater during winter time.

Boys and girl sat together next to each other. The most important subject they learned is Christianity (prayers) and math - as it relates to farming equipment and tools, so that farmer's children would know how to plant crops and maintain farming machinery. 

Here are some toys that children played with:

Cursive writing was considered very important. Unfortunately, it is no longer emphasized in modern Swedish schools.

We found a nice Children's playground and Alex decided to try out the rides.

Skansen museum also has a large zoo on the premises and we saw a variety of Scandinavian animals, including parrots, bears, buffalo, seals, lynxes, Eagle Owls, and various live stock (chickens, cows, goats). 

Actually, chickens were not really raised on northern Swedish farms because they cannot survive the cold, harsh, Swedish winters.

For lunch, we ate at the "Tre Byttor Taverne". We sat outside in the shade (it was a very hot day) and ordered "Swedish Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes" for Alex and Inna, and "Pancakes with Strawberries and Cream" for me.

The food was very good but quite expensive. I did not realize that adult prices for the same dish were 50% higher than Children's prices (this was not clear on the chalk menu).

We also toured one of the Manor Houses. This is where wealthy nobility lived.

Here is a letter that was written in 1778, using quill and ink.

After exiting the Manor House, we explored the nearby park. There were some nice water fountains and water lilies.

After Skansen museum, we decided to visit the Abba Museum, since it was nearby (and we though that the Nordic Museum would be open until 8:00pm). 

The Abba Museum pays tribute to the Swedish rock group Abba and showcases their records, life stories, recordings, memorabilia, and prizes.

It was an expensive museum to attend. The first part of the museum explained how each of the group's members started out by himself. Each of them achieved some fan on his/her own prior to joining Abba. There were some pretty amazing costumes.

There were fun exhibits, like Karaoke with Abba, dancing with Abba on stage. and lots of fun videos to watch. There was also a music studio where one could play the drums, keyboards, and guitars.

Here is a video of Inna trying to do one of Abba's numbers:

I did not realize how much work went into creating simple songs like "Mamma Mia". Benny and Bjorn spent countless hours playing and re-playing the same song until it was perfect. They spent hundreds of hours in the studio, to perfect each track, in addition to doing multiple tours in Europe. Bjorn mentioned that touring took a lot of time away from song writing and that they wanted to minimize touring for this reason. Abba only toured the US once in 1979 (releasing their last single in 1983). There were may fun outfits on display and some details on how and why they were made.

We liked the music studio, where Alex tried to play the drums, and Inna played the keyboards. Alex really likes percussion. We also liked all the displays of top Swedish acts through they years, from 1920s to 2010. There were a lot of artists who we have never heard of - that sounded quite good.

After leaving the Abba museum, we decided to see the Nordic Museum nearby. However, when we got there around 5:30pm, we realized that it was closed. Rick Steves book showed that it should be open on Wednesday's until 8:00pm - but this was incorrect.

We decided to return home, to get dinner, and then go for a evening walk in Stockholm's old town. However, when I got home, I got a horrible migraine and decided to stay home (to get rest).

We purchased a pizza at the local 7-11 for Alex and he really liked it a lot. Across from our Hotel Rival, is a small park where people were constantly playing Bocce Ball. There were some interesting water fountains.

Any time of day or night, people were playing Bocce Ball!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

After another delicious breakfast at Hotel Rival, we decided to head for Stockholm City Hall (followed by Nobel Museum).

Getting to the City Hall required two metro stops, followed by some walking from the Gamla Stan station.

To visit the City Hall, one must purchase tours (self access is not allowed), so we purchased tour tickets for the 11:30am English-speaking tour.

 The tour went very well and we learned a lot about the design and building of the City Hall (and the events hosted there).

The City Hall hosts the Nobel Awards dinner and dance where 10,000 pieces of china are used (and require 3 months of cleaning by hand).

The main staircase in the city hall was designed for easy walking and many elements of the city hall are borrowed from the Italian Palazzo.

There were many cases filled with coins and city keys.

 To me, it seemed a unique combination of Scandinavian love of simplicity and Italian charm. I prefer pure Italian designs more. I just don't like the look of bricks.

We walked through many rooms, including the main chamber where the City Hall assembly takes place. There are 101 members in the one chamber assembly (52 women, 49 men). The assembly meets a few times a month.

From there, we walked to the Golden Room, where Golden mosaics covered the walls. it was very beautifully decorated with scenes from Swedish history, to leading Swedish scientists/artists, to Swedish Kings.

The largest mosaic decorated one of the walls and had a picture of a woman (representing Stockholm) in the center with all other countries (represented by Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty) below it.

When the tour ended, we got a look at the fancy dinnerware used by Nobel, during the awards dinner.
We also wanted to go up to the tower, but next available slot was 30 minutes later (and I did not want to wait). We took the nearby bus and headed straight to the Nobel Museum.

The Nobel Museum is located inside the old Stock Exchange building with the Academy of Swedish Sciences on the 2nd floor.

The museum had lots of interactive, iPad-like exhibits showcasing Nobel winners and breakthroughs they achieved.

There were also multiple cinemas running different movies simultaneously. We took the English guided tour at 1:00pm. The tour guide explained about the founding of Nobel prizes and the fact that the peace prize - a very controversial prize - is handled by the Norwegian parliament (not by the Nobel committee in Stockholm). In addition, the prize for Economics has been recently added by the Swedish Central bank. The prize categories include physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economics.

There was a nice children's play area in the Nobel Museum, where Alex could look at interactive presentations on physics, chemistry, and medicine. There were also books to read, and a children's puppet theater, where one could act out plays. Alex tried his hand a puppeting once.

We liked all of the interactive presentations, but I think that most of the info can be looked up on the web (for free).  The museum is quite small and most Nobel winning breakthroughs were not easily understood by Alex.

We had lunch at the museum, but it was a very hot day and air conditioning was not working. We sat the Bistro Nobel.

All of the dishes were fine, but the best dish was the ice cream dessert ($85 SEK). The dessert was really delicious and beautiful to look at.

Alex got to eat his own Nobel medal.

After lunch, we decided to drop off Alex at our hotel, why we came back for more exploration of the old town - Gamla Stan. (Alex was rather tired from all the walking). On the way there, Inna discovered an English book store that sold books from Astrid Lindgren about Karlsson-on-the-Roof (in English). These books are impossible to find in the United States. We purchased these books and went back to our Hotel Rival, to get some rest.

In looking at the travel guides, we learned that the Royal Armory was open until 6:00pm, so we rushed to see it. We found the palace, but could not immediately locate the armory. We asked a few people and eventually found it - but it was 5:30pm by then. We went in anyway and were let in for free (on the account of it being closing time!)

The Royal Armory houses the swords, jewels, armor, and clothing of Swedish Royalty.

It also had an interesting exhibit on the Game of Thrones with various objects from the actual show.

We went through it rather quickly (being pressed for time), but I did take lots of photos and enjoyed the collection. It was similar to the one in Copenhagen's Armory - in the Rosenborg Castle.

Inna got to try out a few dresses before the Royal Armory closed.

We liked especially the outfits that kids could try on - there was armor and swords to try and outfits from the Game of Thrones to try out.

There were also outfits from other famous movies, including Elizabeth.

When the museum closed, we took turns taking photos of the Iron Throne chair (it was actually quite comfortable) and then went back to do Rick Steves' suggested Old Town walk.

We first walked around the Royal Palace and observed changing of the guard.

The we continued our walk (noticing a few people doing the same walk holding Rick Steves' guide books).

On the walk, we were supposed to find the Finnish church but we could not find it (Rick did not provide good directions), However, we found many other interestings fountains and statues and ran into a Ghost Tour of Stockholm (it was in Swedish unfortunately, but looked fun).

After finishing the walk, we went back to the Stortorget Square, overlooking the Nobel Museum, where a street performer was playing saxophone. There, we relaxed thinking about where to go eat. We found a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves - Kryp In (17 Prastgatan Street) - but it was fully booked (we would have needed reservations to get in).

We decided to try another restaurant that looked decent - Under Kastanjen (rated highly on Yelp) - but the restaurant only had seats deep below and we wanted to sit outside.

We went back to Stortorget Square and found seats in Pharmarium - restaurant that specialized in meals and cocktail combos.

Inna ordered a "Roses of Gold" cocktail with a "Dill & Stromming" entree. She really enjoyed both the cocktail and the entree. They were a good combination.

I ordered a "Elixir Vitae" cocktail with "Grisnacke".

Inna's cocktail contained vodka and other flavors, while mine had gin. Both meal combinations (drink and entree) were good, but expensive (and light on calories).

Afterwards, we purchased some ice cream, Swedish, and the Swiss Movenpick (Cream & Black Currant and Macademia Nut flavors).

Friday, July 11, 2014

We had another delicious breakfast at Hotel Rival. This time, we decided to special order pancakes and an omelet. Both dishes were fantastic. Of course, I had the pancakes and Inna had the omelet.

After breakfast, we went to explore the Royal Palace Apartments, the Treasury, the Chapel, and the Armory.

We first explored the Royal Apartments were photo opportunities were limited.

Royalty definitely lived in style.

We stopped briefly at the Royal Chapel.

Afterwards, we reviewed the treasure in the Royal Treasury. There were many crowns, swords, and jewels. it was dark inside with all the jewels encased in glass cubes, so photography was difficult.

We had a delicious lunch in Cafe Malinori, in the courtyard of the Royal Palace.

The restaurant had very delicious sandwiches and cakes. We really enjoyed eating like royalty here. If it's good enough for the king, it's good enough for me!

The delicious choices among desserts were so numerous. We wanted to try everything but didn't have space.

Decisions... decisions.. decisions...

With so many choices, we finally picked two desserts.

The strawberry pie was so delicious!

When we finished lunch, we walked around the Royal Palace.

We decided stop by for the second time at the Royal Armory, to show all of the cool swords and armor to Alex (he did not see it the day before).

Alex had fun trying out costumes, swords, shields, and other knightly items.

Alex and Inna even had short sword fight.

Alex tied some different helmets.

We go to try on King's crowns.

Afterwards, we took the ferry to the Djurgarden Island, where we spent 90 minutes in the Nordic Museum. The Nordic Museum is very large and we barely had enough time to go through all the exhibits before it closed at 5:00pm.

The Nordic Museum has a lot of exhibits on Swedish housewares, fashions, jewelry, and furniture through the ages (from 17th century to the present). Inna really found it fascinating, but it was only moderately interesting to me.

There were many living rooms on display from 17th to 20th centuries.

Nordic Museum had a large exhibit on jewelry and accessories.

Nordic Museum had large exhibitions on fashion from 17th to 20th centuries.

There was also a section dedicated to serving guests.

When the museum closed, we took the ferry back to our Hotel Rival. Alex was very tired from all the museums and he decided to stay in the hotel, playing his iPod touch, while we decided to explore the modern side of Stockholm.

We took the metro the more modern West side, where all of the buildings are modern.

There were many restaurants and loud music playing everywhere. We went inside one shopping mall to compare prices. Prices for high end clothing - like Burberry - was actually cheaper in Sweden than in the U.S. There were also lots of sales - almost every store had 50% off signs.

As the mall closed at 6:00pm, we came back to our hotel and decided to try dinner at our nearby Spanish Tapas restaurant - Ramblas Tapas. This was a local hip joint where many couples hang out.

We liked the atmosphere and the tapas were not too bad either.

After dinner, we came back to our hotel and fed Alex some pizza for the nearby 7-Eleven, while Inna rested.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

After our last delicious breakfast in Hotel Rival, we packed and decided to spend our last hours in Stockholm's Gamla Stan (Old City).

We took the metro there, and walked around. Inna's foot hurt a bit so we did not walk a whole lot. We looked at some interesting souvenirs and purchased a small Swedish "gnome".

Before going back to our hotel, we decided to get one last bite to eat at the Under Kastanjen cafe.

We sat inside as all outside tables were taken. We really liked the atmosphere here, as mostly locals were drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.

We got back to our Hotel Rival around 1:20pm, picked up our luggage, and took the taxi to the Stockholm Arlanda airport.

There was an accident on the freeway, and it took us a good 45 minutes to get to Arlanda. We stood in line to check in - flights to the USA require special screening, so we waited another 30 minutes in line.

Surprisingly, two more screenings were needed to fly to the U.S. The last screening was at the gate and Inna was thoroughly searched. This was the most screening we have ever seen on our journey.

We boarded another Boeing Dreamliner - our favorite new aircraft - and enjoyed our flight back to Oakland, California.

I got to watch two movies on the Android tablet built in to the headrest. The first movie -  "A Good Year" with Russell Crowe - was a nice romantic comedy about an investment broker who inherits his uncle's vineyard in Provence, France, and eventually decides to stay there permanently (giving up his high life in London).

The second movie was also quite good - "The Bucket List" - with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It was about two cancer patients who share a room and decided to live the high life before dying. They share a bucket list of all things they always wanted to do - and end up doing most of them.

We landed in Oakland right on time, around 6:00pm. However, we had to wait 90 minutes to clear U.S. customs. There was only one person working for U.S. Citizens vs two for non-residents. Compared to Oslo airport, where we were in and out in 5 minutes, it made me feel like I was coming back to a 3rd world country. I don't understand why U.S. airports are so poorly staffed and managed.

My dad picked us up right on time, and we got back to our house, all tired and jet-lagged.