28 July 2014

Three Day Hike in Jämtlandstriangeln

Jämtlandstriangeln is a set of hiking trails in the mountainous tundras of northern Sweden. Most of the area is above the tree line, and in the summer the area is filled with mountains, fresh water streams, valleys, and swamps.

Last week, I spent three days and two nights hiking and camping in the wilderness of Jämtlandstriangeln. My trip began from Stockholm, where I boarded an overnight train headed for Jämtland, the historical region of Sweden where I would be hiking. I had two roommates in my three-bed cabin, and we spent the first few hours trading stories while drinking a little cognac in our coffees borrowed from my roommates friend. The train ride was generally comfortable, but Sweden has been having a heat wave recently, making the train especially hot inside, forcing me to leave the window open in my cabin and causing the noise and light of the train to spill in throughout the night journey.

My cabin on the train.
The next morning, I took advantage of the shower on the train to get one last shower in before my wilderness adventure. Unfortunately, the guy who had given us some of his cognac had all of his stuff stolen during the night. The thieves left one change of clothes for him and his medicine, but everything else, including his mobile phone, was taken.

Departing the train in Duved.
After 11 hours on the train, I got off at Duved, where I boarded a bus to Storulvan, the mountain station where my hike began. The trail started off fairly easy, though all the hiking of the next three days was made more difficult by the unexpectedly high temperatures, which reached around 27 C (80 F) each day. During my trip, I felt like I encountered every environment on Earth: the trail led up the sides of mountains, down into valleys, through mosquito-infested swamps, and across dry barren plains, and past mountain glaciers.

Near the start of the trail. Boards cross over some swampy terrain.
One of the greatest things about mountains of Sweden is the abundance of fresh water streams and rivers which are safe to drink from. Whenever I found myself overheating, I was usually never far from the next stream, where I could jump in and cool off and then get a cool drink.

On the first night, after covering 16 km, I set up my tent a few kilometers from one of the points on the triangle shape formed by the trails of Jämtlandstriangeln. The temperature was high and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I laid in my tent for a few hours, trying to recuperate from the day's hike, when suddenly a powerful thunderstorm arrived. Heavy winds and rain pelted my tent, forcing the metal supports to bend down and nearly collapsing the tent. I laid on the tent floor and held my hands up to keep the tent from completely collapsing on top of me. After 30 minutes of wind and rain, the lightning started, with some strikes sounding like they hit less than 100 meters away. Scared that I might be hit, things got worse when the hail started. My hands, still trying to keep the tent from collapsing, felt each hailstone as it struck the thin later of tent separating the storm outside from my shivering body. After an hour, the storm passed, and the weather quickly returned to hot and sunny. In the wake of the storm, the mosquitos came out in force. The fog of mosquitos was so dense that I was forced to eat a protein bar inside my tent instead of cooking my meal on the stove.

On the trail to Sylarna.
Getting closer to Sylarna.
My camping spot near Sylarna.
Glaciers cover the mountains.
With Jämtland being in the far north of Sweden, the sun is only below the horizon for a few hours, and it never gets completely dark, even in the middle of the night.

Cooking breakfast on the second morning using water gathered from the river in the background.
On the second day, I hiked 18 km in what was definitely the most difficult leg of my hike. The sun was never blocked by clouds, and the constant temperatures above 25 C kept me hot. The landscape on this part of the trip was especially hilly, with long stretches going up hill. Towards the end of the day, I ran out of sunblock, forcing me to keep my pant and shirt sleeves rolled down and my hat on to avoid sunburns. I encountered three reindeer during the day, two of which nearly ran me over. I finally arrived at Blåhammaren's mountain station at around 16:00, where I decided to treat myself to their famous fruit soup, which deserved all its praise. I set up my tent on the side of a mountain, and cooked myself some tofu-chicken and cous-cous for dinner.

Climbing the mountain on the second day.
So much cool, refreshing water to drink!
View from Blåhammaren. 
For my final day, I decided to start my hike at dawn, to get my hiking in while the sun was low, keeping my skin safe and body cool. I packed my tent at 4:30 and started off on the final 12 km of my journey. When I arrived back at Storulvån's mountain station at 9:15, I cooled myself off one last time with a dip in the cool river. I'd never felt more refreshed during the whole trip.

My tent on the second day.
After another bus trip and 12 more hours on a train, I was back home in Stockholm for some much needed recovery and relaxation.

Descending back down into the river valley on the third day.

20 July 2014

Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam

We were in Amsterdam recently, and while visiting the sights around town, my thoughts brought me back to a novel I read recently, "The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth Gilbert. In that book, the heroine visits Amsterdam, where a botanical garden called the Hortus Botanicus features prominently. I looked it up, and the Hortus Botanicus was indeed a real place, so we made it a priority to visit. Without any doubt, it was well worth the visit.

The garden is currently celebrating its 375th year, and its ancient charms are all still there. The biological diversity of the garden is unprecedented for any garden I've visited in the past. One of my top sites in the world. I could go on and on, but I think the garden is best described in pictures:

At the gates
Just some nice flowers
In the butterfly green house
Melissa enjoys a butterfly on her arm 
Giant "rhubarb"
The incredible palm house from the 1910s
More of the incredible palm house from the 1910s 
Giant lily pond with lotuses 
Pitcher plants
Not sure what these are, but they are amazing

18 July 2014

Ghent Jazz Festival 2014

I happened to notice that Mehliana, a great collaboration between jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and Mark Giuliana, were scheduled to play at the Ghent Jazz Festival in Ghent, Belgium on the first week of my vacation. The last time I saw them play together in Stockholm had been one of the greatest concerts I've seen, so after a quick purchase, my plan was set!

We attended two days of the festival along with a friend of ours who just happened to live in Ghent, and the experience was everything we hoped. The festival venue had great sound and was busy but not too overcrowded, and the music was top notch. Mehliana was the highlight of the trip, but the rest were just as good, especially Dave Holland's Prism,  the Joshua Redman Quartet, and the Chick Corea/Stanley Clark duet.

Kevin Eubanks, one of my favorite guitarists, was a member of Dave Holland's Prism band, and his tone was particularly interesting. He played with his tone knob rolled pretty far back, then with the attack knob on his compressor pedal (which I think is a Boss CS-3, see photo below) very low. Combined with his thumb/fingerstyle playing, this makes for a very unique sound. This sound is present on the recordings, but it really shined in real life, and the dynamics he achieved in the live setting were breathtaking.

If you want to relive our experience, here's a Spotify playlist of the musicians we saw: Kevin at the Ghent Jazz Festival 2014

The three concertgoers catching a beer in Ghent before the festival
Mehliana preparing to go on
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Kevin Eubanks guitar pedals

24 May 2014

GTD with Asana

I recently adapted David Allen's Getting Things Done method to Asana, which was not obvious at first, since Asana is not built on the GTD philosophy. Thankfully Asana was flexible enough to support it in the end.

29 June 2013

Chinese Language Learning Resources for the Beginner

After a lot of research, this seems to be an good set of resources for the beginning Chinese learner:
See my earlier post on Expert Language Learning Techniques for how to put this together into a plan for actually learning the language.

14 December 2010

After Jakarta, to Stockholm!

Just a few days after getting home from my trip to hot, equatorial Indonesia, I hopped on another transcontinental flight and visited Stockholm, Sweden. To put it mildly, the difference between Jakarta and Stockholm were huge.

During my trip to Jakarta, the daily high temperature was, as always, a balmy 33 degrees C (90 F), with occasional rain. In Stockholm, the temperature in the middle of the day ranged from -3 to -10 degrees C (-15 to -27 F), and there was nearly constant snow.

I spent a good portion of my time in Stockholm walking around the city and enjoying the sights. From the snowfall, to the Christmas trees everywhere, to the open-air Christmas markets, Stockholm at this time of year is  the epitome of a winter wonderland.

The royal palace in Stockholm.

Christmas tree in the Old Town (Gamla Stan)

Stockholm's city hall, where the Nobel Prizes are awarded

Buildings on the waterfront on Gamla Stan

A pretty street in Södermalm, where I had a delicious vegetarian Christmas feast

A particularly snowy day.

On a bridge on my way to visit the East Asian Antiquities Museum
I actually had a lot of fun and enjoyed the weather, which is a good thing, since my wife and I are moving to Stockholm in January, just a little over a month from now! It will be hard to say goodbye to everything we love about San Francisco, but I'm looking forward to all the adventures to come in Sweden.

You can see more photos from my trip at: http://picasaweb.google.com/onlyafly/StockholmNov2010

19 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 10: Port Tour

Not far from Jakarta's old town is a busy port where goods travel back and forth between Jakarta and the hundreds of islands of the coast of Java. We took a walk through the port last weekend, and got a pretty unique experience.

Walking through the port.

The merchant fleet based at the port is made up of dozens of wooden ships that look like they come out of a different era, and manned by what seemed to be hundreds of rough-looking--but friendly--men and their families. While the men are loading goods onto the fleet of ships, kids are running around laughing and swimming in the water.

Kids swimming in the bay. As they jumped off the ships we passed, they all waved and asked us to take their pictures.

A ship.

After some lively bargaining with a fisherman by our host, we chartered his dinghy for a fifteen-minute ride around the port for about 8000 rupiah, or about 90 cents. He took us past all the docked ships and past the adjacent shanty village, which was filled with people mending their clothes, repairing roofs and boats, and just doing normal Sunday chores. The water here, like most everywhere in Jakarta, is highly polluted, and trash and human waste fill the port's bay, but the children swimming in it don't seem to care, which leaves me wondering if they have grown immune to the effects of the water, or are just used to symptoms.

Homes of the fishermen and workers.

The boat trip left me amazed at human ingenuity and resourcefulness. The people in the village manage to make what seems to be a thriving village out of such meager resources. At the same time, I could not help but be saddened at the effects of water pollution on the area and its people by the huge population of Jakarta.

The homes even have TV antennae.

The villagers repair the seawall below their homes.

18 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 9: Jakarta's Weather

In a lot of ways, staying here in Jakarta reminds me of my time living in Florida. In both places, the days are hot and humid. Rain storms are frequent and torrential. And just like Florida, most buildings here are over air-conditioned, forcing me and most other people to wear a jacket while indoors, while sweating when out.

A typical midday scene in Jakarta.

When I lived in Florida, I actually bought a space heater to use in my office so that I could be comfortable, and I wasn't the only one at my company to do so! Alas, I have no space heater here. But generally, the temperature and humidity are actually one of my favorite things about Jakarta, if only because it reminds me of Florida.

Mornings are particularly hazy.

But there are so many ways that make the environment here nothing like Florida. It is almost never sunny here. The combination of clouds and smog make nearly every day the same white haze. I'm not sure I've seen a patch of blue sky yet during my time in Jakarta. The smell of burning trash is a constant here, but I was surprised to find that some of the American expats here actually enjoy the smell.

One of the strangest things here is the complete lack of seasons. Because the island of Java is so close to the equator, the days are the same length year round, and the temperature doesn't fluctuate much. Basically, everyday of the year, the high is 90 degrees F and the low is 75 degrees F.

Jakarta has a strange blue tint to it. (Just kidding, I took this out of a tinted window!)

17 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 8: Economic Classes of Jakarta

One of the strangest things about Jakarta is the contrast between the wealthy and the average person. From what I can tell, there are really four classes of people here: the ultra-poor, the average, the upper-middle class, and the upper class. The ultra-poor live in the slums, barely eeking by by collecting rain water to drink and selling recycled trash.

Collecting rainwater in the slums.

The next group, the average, is the vast majority of the population. They live in the millions and millions of ramshackle houses that line the streets and alleyways of the city. They travel mostly by bus and motorcycle to get around the city. They fill every imaginable job here, as anywhere else. They are also the backbone of the service industry, acting as drivers, maids, cooks, restaurant personnel, etc. Perhaps because there is such are large workforce of low-wage workers, prices for food and services here are incredibly cheap. You can eat a good meal complete with multiple courses for less than three dollars or take a 30-minute taxi ride for two dollars. Even if you pull out all the stops at a really nice restaurant, you can eat for under $10.

The upper class are a small, but visible, part of the population, living in mansions on the same roads as the poor.

A mansion in Jakarta.

For a long time while in Jakarta, I thought those three groups were the entire population. Then we went to the mall and discovered the invisible middle class. The huge malls are packed with tons of well-dressed, affluent people shopping in stores that would not seem out of place in a high-end mall in an American city. Our hosts explained that the middle class seems invisible here because they are shuttled between their homes, their jobs, and the malls, and don't venture out much beyond that. The malls are hubs of social activity here, filled with bands playing live music, dozens and dozens of nice restaurants, TV shows being filmed, and trendy boutiques selling designer fashions.

A television show being filmed in a mall.

One wing of many in a four story mall in Jakarta.

A four-piece jazz band playing in the atrium of a mall.

The DC Comics store in the mall.

The cosmopolitan scene outside the mall.