Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bahamas Blue

I've visited the Bahamas many, many, times but I don't recall being so struck by the startling blue water and sky. Every where I stepped on the small island of Bimini, I felt enveloped by the dreamy blue landscape. I was so taken that I coined the phrase Bimini blue whenever I became awestruck by the island's beauty, which was every time I strolled along the shore. When I arrived on the larger island of Nassau and realized that the scenery was still the same serene blue, I decided to change it to Bahamas blue. There are 700 Bahamanian islands so I don't know if all of them share the same beauty but there was enough on these two to soothe any winter-worn soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Next Stop: Bimini

I'm extremely excited to visit the Bahamian out island of Bimini this week. Located 50 miles off the coast of Florida, this little island is the closest Bahamian island to the U.S. but its old school culture and history is a world away. I'll be tracing the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote part of his Nobel Peace Prize speech while relaxing and sailing in Bimini and Adam Clayton Powell, the first African American  to represent New York in the House of Representatives and also an activist and minister who introduced MLK to his island retreat. Bimini is also noted as the place Ernest Hemingway loved to game fish and where the Lost City of Atlantis possibly originated.  So I'll have lots to post about! Look out for pix and updates from this fascinating trip soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sampling Semla in Stockholm

The quickest way to understand a place is to dive into the culture. In Stockholm, I was extremely lucky to be invited to experience the Swedish ritual of fika. An important part of Swedish life that involves enjoying coffee and pastries with friends, family or co-workers, fika reveals the Swedish love of home life and sweets. Strolling the narrow streets of Stockholm, I noticed that every cafe was crammed with people lingering over coffee and big, puffy, rolls. Turns out those rolls, called Semla, are a hugely popular part of the Lenten ritual of fattening up before the fast. Only people seem to gobble more Semlor (plural) than they practice Lenten fasting these days.

I was fortunate to arrive in February, just when the Semla craze stirs up and even more fortunate to have two Stockholm based friends, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom and Germaine Thomas to invite me to fika and guide me through the tradition.  Fika (pronounced fee-cah) is like a coffee break except it's not tied to work or any pre-determined structure, you can have fika several times a day at any time you like. The semla is made from wheat flour, sprinkled with cardamon and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It sounds rich and impossibly decadent because it is. I have to admit, I was intimidated by the size and heft of the Semla. How do you eat them without making a mess? As we settled into a bustling cafe in the Central station of Stockholm's metro, Lola and Germaine showed me. You take the lid off the bun and you're supplied with tiny spoons the scoop out the cream. As Semla experts, they informed me that these were good Semlor, fresh and made with high quality ingredients. Apparently, all Semla is not created equal and it's possible to get stuck with bad Semlor that tastes terrible. That definitely wasn't the case here. I dug into the creamy sweetness and sipped chai tea, savoring the sweetness. My favorite part was the almond paste but I especially loved trying fika with my Swedish friends.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Glimpse of Stockholm's Gamla Stan

When I landed in Stockholm for the first time, I was surprised at how familiar it seemed. Perhaps it was because of the daily snowfall and the people rushing through streets and train stations bundled against freezing blasts. This is my Chicago reality and Stockholm really was not that different at all. Gamla Stan, the city's old town and city center, was where everyone suggested I start my exploration. So I hopped on the metro and arrived in the winding labyrinth of Gamla Stan streets.

This sculpture is the first thing I spotted as I climbed out of the metro. Stockholm is a city filled with art and aesthetics but this was my first up close look at an art piece. I was charmed by the whimsical lines and the parents sheltering a smiling child. I thought it was a good representation of Stockholm's overall welcoming vibe.

Gamla Stan was built in the '1300s but most of the buildings date from the 18th and 19th century.
The cobblestone streets were narrow and slippery with snow and I was worried about sliding down one of them so I didn't stop and take as many photos as I would have liked. It seemed like the streets all melted into each other and opened up into tiny alleyways like this one.

When I arrived at this imposing structure, I was sure it was the palace but it turned out to be the parliament building. All of the streets started to look alike and I got lost strolling through Gamla Stan. I didn't worry though, the Swedes I met were very friendly. A nice man guided me to a metro station that was two stops away from the stop I started from. By this time, I was soaked from all of the soggy snow and ready to visit a cafe for tea.

This was my last glimpse of Gamla Stan and it's my favorite image. The faded gold buildings and narrow passages served as my first Stockholm greeting and I was eager for more.