Sisters in Japan, Day 3

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Today was an exciting day because it was the first Shinkansen ride for the entire M-R clan!  We left about 9 o’clock after that lil’ diva LR took for-ever to get ready. Seriously, good thing he was the last to shower because there would have been no hot water for the rest of us.

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Haha. I am so funny. I managed to get a quick workout in while we were getting ready and then we took a multi-train trip from Sagami-otsuka (Atsugi NAF) to Yokohama, Yokohama to Shin-Yokohama, Shin-Yokohama to Shin-Osaka (Shinkansen!), and then Shin-Osaka-Osaka-Nishikujō-Universal City.

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The hotel is nice and right outside the station and amusement park. It is an awesome location! After settling in and feeding the newest little Griffindor, we headed out to the Dotonbori/Nanba area.

We walked around and took in all the neon signs, sounds, and smells of Osaka. Osaka is known as Japan’s kitchen and there is so much good food!

We wandered around until I, at least, was starting to reach mild hangriness, despite a quick takoyaki break.  We went into a small Izakaya off of a side alley and got a great set dinner!

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We headed back to the hotel after briefly discussing moving onto a bar. But we needed a rest. Our mega-Harry Potter day was the next day and we had to be at our peak!

5 Days in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Tulum Beach

So, this Christmas brought a travel first for me.  I went to Mexico!  Yes, it’s almost strange to admit I’ve never been since I was in San Diego for so long but it’s a fact.  Of course, when I went to Otay Mesa during my Kaiser residency days, I was almost in Mexico.  Early in the morning, I would worry about being too tired and missing my exit and ending up in Mexico instead of work.  That would make me late.

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Hotel Room Balcony

We went to Mexico with SMS’s family and had a really great time at an all-inclusive.  We went to Royal Hideaway Playacar, which was really nice.  I did some TripAdvisor reading beforehand and wasn’t too sure about the place but ultimately, it was wonderful.  It is clear that there some people on TripAdvisor who are just never going to be happy.

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On vacation, I read a lot and hung out at the beach.  It was delightful.  Linda and I did water aerobics one day, which featured great music and a slightly less great, but enthusiastic, instructor.  The food was really delicious and the portion sizes were perfect.   I would say most meals came out with a proper serving (aka, enough but not too much food), which was great because wasting food was minimal.  I feel that sometimes, all-inclusives (not that I’ve been to many) can serve large quantities to make people feel that they are getting more when really, it just leads to excess- in the belly and in the trash.

I went for two runs and SMS and I went for a walk on the beach.  It was really beautiful- wide, fine-sand beaches with clear blue water.

One day, the four “kids” went to Tulum, Dos Ojos cenote, and Cosme’s Taqueria for lunch.  Tulum was really beautiful.  The sun-bleached stone ruins were gorgeous and we learned a lot (but not too much:) from our guide.  Hiring a guide was definitely a good idea because the context definitely made the viewing more interesting.  Afterwards, thanks to the magic of our smartphones, we found Cosme’s taqueria which was a small spot that served up delicious tacos.  It was a great find and definitely different than the polished all-inclusive or tourist trap restaurants outside of the Tulum ruins.

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After lunch, we went to the “Dos Ojos” cenote, which was awesome because I had really wanted to go to a cenote after following the hashtag on Instagram for the last several months.  There are some beautiful looking ones closer to Chichen Itza, which we passed on because we didn’t want to drive all day.  But there are some along the coast and Dos Ojos is really pretty.  There are two separate cenotes, a dark and light “eye,” with a connecting tunnel that I think you could get through without SCUBA gear but I wasn’t going to try.

After 5 days, it was time to head back to California.  SMS and I returned our rental car, which was cheaper than a shuttle and gave us flexibility to go to Tulum without booking an overpriced tour.  But it was a little bit of a hassle so there was definitely a trade-off.

Back in California, we moved apartments from Mountain View to Menlo Park.  Goodbye orange tree in the front yard!  Our place in Mountain View was really nice but the commute for Mark’s new job was anything but so…we moved to Menlo Park.  The location of the new apartment is great and it’s fun to be near a new downtown to explore.

We spent New Year’s Eve in downtown San Francisco with friends.  We went to a 1920’s themed party (flappers and Great Gatsby, not suicidal bankers after the crash of 1929).  Our friend had organized a get-together of several people so it was very easy and a lot of fun.

Then it was New Year’s Day!  SMS and I started out the new year with avocado toast and good coffee so that was a delicious start.  We went to a Australian coffee shop, Bluestone Lane, in SF.  I would definitely like to go back and someday, we will get to Australia proper!

Scandinavian Summer, Day 12: Gällnö

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While planning the vacation part of the Sweden trip, multiple blogs and articles spoke of how a visit to an archipelago island was almost a non-negotiable part of a trip to Sweden.  This is true of both the East and West Coast archipelagos near Gothenburg and Stockholm, respectively but there seemed to be a greater focus on Stockholm.  I suspect this is mainly due to Stockholm being a more popular tourist destination, especially for those on shorter trips just trying to get a taste (or smaka!) of Sweden.

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I hadn’t made any plans so after returning to Stockholm, I had an inner debate on what to do on my only full day left before my return flight.  I really did want to explore an island within the Stockholm archipelago but I also thought wandering Gamla Stan more, seeing City Hall and going to the Nobel Museum also sounded really cool.  And it’s true, staying in Stockholm another day would have been awesome.  But, ultimately, I decided that there are always more museums to see and things that stay off the list so rather than do more of the same by staying in the city, I decided to venture out for a day trip to experience the Swedish Island lifestyle.

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Once I made that decision, I had to figure out which island I wanted to go to.  I was in Stockholm one week before the tourist season starts, aka Midsummer.  Once Summer arrives, there are many more ferries and seasonal routes open.  I really wanted to go to Utö but in the off-season, there was no direct ferry from Stockholm.  My second choice was Gällnö, reachable by direct ferry even in the off season. The ferry that was running was the Cinderella line (no Disney affiliation). It also went to Voxholm, Grinda, and Sandhamn.  Voxholm has the fortress and is nearby, but looks like a small town rather than a nature-focused island.  Grinda sounded a little too family-friendly but would have likely been fun.  Sandhamn was a two-hour ferry ride one-way and that just seemed like a little too much for a day trip.  Also, it has a reputation as a nice harbor for luxury yachts so I think it is a little posh.

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So, Gällnö.  I picked it because it sounded very undeveloped and a great place for biking, hiking and swimming.  There is a hostel there that is very popular in the Summer and, when passing it, I can see why.  It looks delightful and is in the most idyllic spot.

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Breakfast is served!

I had made up my mind the night before, so I timed my hotel breakfast so that I could enjoy the delicious food and then head to the pier without stressing about the time.  The breakfast was awesome.  I started in the drawing room but after I saw another guest outside, I wanted to eat outside too.  It was an amazing morning and the guy was very nice.  He was a bariatric surgeon from Chicago, traveling with his lawyer wife for what sounded like their annual big trip.  He was well-traveled and she joined us after awhile and they were fun and interesting to talk to over coffee.

I biked to the pier and boarded the ferry.  It left about 10 minutes later.  I paid onboard, a one-way passage with a small bike supplement since I took the bike from the hotel.  After 90 minutes, I was dropped off at Gällnö.  All by myself.  It was disconcerting to be the only one let off with only a few farmhouses visible as the ferry steamed merrily away.  Uh oh.

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But don’t worry!  Everything was fine.  I hopped on my bike and went towards the hostel and store.  The store was very small and had limited food, mostly geared towards group campers.  I wasn’t very hungry and only bought a snack, but a picnic would have been a good idea.

I kept biking and I’m pretty sure I biked on a hiking trail for a bit.  I found a beautiful beach and laid out in the sun for a bit.  I also scrambled around on some nearby rocks.  It was really beautiful.

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Then I hopped on my bike and went a few miles in the opposite direction and found another beautiful spot by the coast. I sat for a bit and really, didn’t think much about anything.  I just kind of sat and enjoyed how beautiful it was.  I tried to hone in on all the sensory inputs so I could have a vivid mental snapshot to go back to as a memory.

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Then, although it had only been a few hours, it was time to bike back towards the dock.  There was another timetable listed for another ship, maybe a commuter type ferry?  I flipped the dockside indicator to show that I was waiting for the boat.  I wanted to stick with what I knew so I waited for the Cinderella boat, which was the first one scheduled to arrive anyway.  They put the gangplank across and I boarded.  I bought a hearty late lunch (risotto!) that was impressively good for being cooked in a ship’s galley!

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I bought my ticket on-board again and word to the wise, if you think you can avoid the ticket lady, they do check your ticket stub as you disembark so no cheating!

I had to leave really early the next morning so I decided to take care of as much as I could the night before.  I took the tram to the rail station with my roll aboard, which I locked in an overnight locker.  The reason for this is that I was leaving so early the next morning that the tram to the station wouldn’t be open and I didn’t want to drag my suitcase for 1.5 miles.  I bought my Arlanda Express ticket as well.  On the way back to the hotel, I did some last minute sight-seeing along the way.

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Guard outside Stockholm Palace
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The stuff of nightmares.
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Kungliga Djurgarden Gate
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It’s a bird’s life, sitting on the head of a Swedish Aristocrat/Composer’s statue.

That night, I treated myself to a dinner at Oaxen Slip.  It was so good.  I had the herring dish again.  To me, it encapsulated new Swedish cuisine in one dish.  I had the rhubarb lemonade again and an awesome strawberry and merengue dessert.

 

 

Scandinavian Summer, Days 11: Stockholm Part 2

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View from the Terrace- I strongly recommend a visit!

After the conference, I headed into Stockholm.  Once I got to the city, I headed to the hotel which was on a boat!  Yes, after a less-than-stellar AirBnB earlier in the trip and seeing the boat from an amazing lunch at Oaxen, I had booked a two night stay at the Prince van Orangiën.  It is a former private yacht now turned into a unique boutique hotel.  I booked a room with a shared bath but had it to myself the two nights.

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The hotel.  There have been better pictures, I’m sure.

The boat was beautiful.  It was very luxurious with gleaming wood, marble fixtures, and gorgeous furnishings.  There were several deck areas to relax in and the central room was relaxing and opulent at the same time.  Breakfast was served in the mornings, although I could only partake the first morning since I had to leave super early on the second.  I highly recommend it, although I think when I go back in the future with SMS, I would book a room with a private bath just to ensure privacy and access (I sound like I’m talking about a private beach).

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Katrina-Sofia

So after check-in, I decided to find the cool part of Soderhalm which according to this guide, are south of Folkungagatan. So, really, it seems to be the area of Katrina-Sofia, at least on Google maps.  The hotel lent out complimentary bikes so I biked across several bridges to explore.

I went to Grandpa and tried on some clothes, leaving with two dresses that will hopefully evoke Swedish cool whenever I wear them.  Then I headed over to Urban Deli to peruse their grocery items (does anyone else like wandering through high-end grocery stores, especially on vacation?).  The store was awesome, although very Dean & Deluca and slightly impractical for a day-to-day shopping list but for a special treat?  An excellent choice.

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Park Nytorget
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Mural outside Urban Deli
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Going up the hill towards Sofia Church

After eating my snacks across the street in the Park Nytorget, I wandered up the hill towards Sofia Church.  The area’s historic name is Bergsprängargränd.  Based on the occasional information signs (SE/EN), it used to be the Stockholm slums where shipyard workers, rock-blasters and other day laborers lived.  The small red homes are still there but based on appearances, it looks like the real estate prices have climbed quite a bit since then.

Next, I wandered down the hill to Såzargatan.  This was also a poor shipbuilder neighborhood now almost completely rebuilt apart from a few protected houses.  There are three that are high above the street due to rock blasting that occurred after they were built.  #11 has a door that will open to a fairly significant drop so I wouldn’t recommend taking that exit.  There was also a box with an angled mirror called a “gossip mirror” so you could see who was on the street without having to actually stick your head out to look.  This sounds slightly creeper and antisocial but also kind of awesome.

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On the terrace, Fotografsika in the immediate background

THEN.  I found the highlight of my wanderings and a place that is very high on my list of recommended things to do in Stockholm.  Reg Anders Fogelströms Terrass has a fantastic view of the city.  Really, you have to go here…and it is not like me to tell any traveller that they have to do anything.  The views are exceptional and it just feels like it completely captures a quintessential Stockholm experience.

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Terrace View towards Gamla Stan
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Terrace View towards Tivoli Gorma Land
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The staircase from the cruise dock entrance/transportation hub.  For reference, the fotogarfiska is at the bottom.

There are a few ways to get there.  In addition to wandering through Katrina-Sofia, there is also a staircase near the Fotografiska which is great for my family taking cruises there later this year because the staircase is right across from the cruise ship docks.  Caution, there is a lot of construction there currently (Summer 2018) so it may be hard to cross the busy street.  There is also a way through the Slussen subway station and Katarina Elevator but again with the construction, it is still confusing and a longer walk than the staircase.  But no matter how you get there (take an Uber if you hate to walk!), I promise you, it will be worth it.  Well, at least on a day that you can enjoy the views, aka, maybe not during a storm.

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Screenshot of the Terrass.  I put an open circle around the ferry dock icon.  The filled in circle (blob) indicates the approximate location of the staircase.  I know it’s all smushed at the bottom but I wanted to show the islands you can see from the terrace.
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One of the protected old houses, covered in flowering vines.

Nearby, there is a small cafe with ice cream in the Summer and warm drinks in the Winter.  I wasn’t hungry but it looks like Fjällgatans Kaffestuga would be a great place for a fika!

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I am a sucker for peonies, like almost every other person.

Then I walked through a small neighborhood garden and another formerly poor neighborhood called Stigbergsgatan.  Then I went back to my bike and cycled to the hotel.  The evening was beautiful and I took several pictures of the boat.  Then, it was time to go to sleep.  The bed was very comfortable and I drifted off immediately.

Scandinavian Summer, Days 8-11: Uppsala

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Uppsala Cathedral

Uppsala is a beautiful university town about an hour north of Stockholm.  The whole reason that the Scandinavian Summer trip occurred is that I had a poster accepted to an international medical conference.  Since I was traveling, I thought I’d add some vacation time.  I didn’t think SMS would come because of his lack of vacation time but when he heard Sweden, he was in!

Since Uppsala is relatively close to Stockholm, I thought it would be a somewhat non-descript Stockholm suburb.  I was very wrong!  It is a super cute, historic university town. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and checked into my AirBnB.  Then I went to a case report presentation at the hospital.  As I walked to the hospital after missing the bus due to a detour, I realized that there was a triathlon in full swing (and the reason for the bus diversion).

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The hospital.  Amazing.

The hospital was amazingly beautiful, the case reports mostly lackluster.  I was worried that the conference would be a dud but never fear, the main sessions were (mostly) excellent.

That evening, I felt sorry for myself and, therefore, treated myself to a nice dinner at Akanten.  I had a delicious trout dish and a sorbet dessert.   I had a beautiful riverside seat on a perfect, almost-midSummer evening.

The next day marked the start of the official program.   On my way to the conference, I found my breakfast spot for the next three days.  Forsa Hembageri featured the most delicious kardemummabullar with excellent coffee to accompany it.  I had one every day and, ok, two on the last day I was there.  The cardamon taste was amazing and the doughy texture with slightly toasted outside bun was excellent!  Yum, yum, yum!

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Along the river in Uppsala.  It is a gorgeous place.

The conference opened with a lot of Swedish pride!  A physician-pianist played four jazz pieces from a famous Swedish jazz composer.  We heard a lot about Professor Barany and then listened to a few invited lecturers.

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Sculpture near the entrance of the botanical garden

That evening, I went to a welcome reception in the botanical garden.  It was on the smaller side, but very beautiful.  I also made a note to check out the other garden in Uppsala, which was more directly linked to Carl Linnaeus, the famous botanist who is the father of plant taxonomy.  I spoke with a few people and had a very nice time.

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The conference center
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We are excited to display our poster!

The next day, lectures were in full swing.  It was also time for our poster session.  Our poster seemed to be well-received. Displaying it definitely means we need to get our rears in gear regarding publishing our pilot study data and finishing up the larger trial!

I walked through Dr. Linnaeus’ garden that afternoon.  It was small but interesting to see a little bit of Uppsala history.  The museum was closed but that did save me the admission fee!

That evening, there was a reception in the castle where Queen Christina abdicated in 1654.  The entertainment program featured a Grand-Prix winning Swedish acappella group followed by…an ABBA cover band.  People were initially sitting but, led by our corner with Brazilians (mostly responsible), Dutch, and American attendees, everyone was dancing by the end!  It was so much fun and so, so ridiculous.  I’m sure there are many patients who would be shocked at the dance moves of their ear surgeons!   It wasn’t pretty but it was a lot of fun.

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One more for the road

The next day,  the conference wound down and I headed back to Stockholm for a final day and a half of vacation in Sweden.

The conference was excellent.  There’s a different level of energy at an international conference and I plan on going again.  My goal is to have my larger study complete and published by the next meeting in Madrid, 2020!