Category Archives: Adventures

Sweden Vacation Travel Log

[Editor's Note]  Our good friend George Tau recently visited Sweden and shares his thoughts with us.  Great article, George!  -Brian

When I told my friends I decided travel to Sweden for my vacation this year they could hardly believe their ears. After all, part of the reason I moved to Florida was to get away from the cold, snowy north.

I chose Sweden for several reasons. The history of the land intrigues me. I love a good Viking story and I knew I would be able to learn about the subject firsthand at the historic Vasa Museum.  I wanted to get out of the States to just experience a whole new culture; to see the world from another angle, and for the excitement of going to a new place to see if I am up to the challenge of being totally displaced from everything I know. I was blessed to have made some friends in Sweden many years ago so when I told them I would be visiting they said they would be ready for me to arrive and show me a good time. With all plans finalized I packed my rucksack, grabbed my brand new passport, threw on my warmest pair of long underwear and headed for the airport.

I only budgeted myself about $600 for the trip after the price of the ticket so I had to be a bit frugal with my funds. While the exchange rate at the time of my travel was 1 SEK for every 14 cents (US Dollars) the relative price of things in Sweden were much higher than  back home.

Stockholm streetart

Stockholm street art

The reason for the high cost of goods in Sweden?  Nearly everything must be imported. A nice dinner here in the States for $25 would cost upwards of $40. (About 290 SEK.) I was happy to find that airplane food is not as bad as everyone says it is. They kept me fed quite well. Upon my landing in Arlanda I was pleasantly surprised to find Taco Bell and Pizza Hut were there. At any point in the trip I was able to get some inexpensive and familiar food. Ordering was not problem because I soon found out nearly everyone there can speak English fairly well. I also felt it appropriate and respectful to learn a little Swedish before I left in kind. I did my best to speak Swedish at first when interacting with people. I found most locals to be very understanding and allowed me my attempt to speak their language, but it always ended in a chuckle and both of us switching to English to better understand one other.

After spending some time in the airport I got a ticket for the Arlanda Express train. A short 20 min ride later I found myself in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. Stepping out onto the streets of the largest city in Sweden for the first time it reminded me of every big city I’ve ever been to in the States. That was soon to change. After a few hours of wandering around my friend showed up and we hopped a bus to a place called Old Town or Gamla Stan. This was the original city of Sweden set up during the 13th century.

The architecture of old town proudly displayed buildings as early as the 17th century. It is also home to a great number of restaurants, tourist shops, art studios and museums.  I booked my first night’s stay at a hostel called “The 2Kroner” using  Hostelworld, a website that allowed me to compare room prices for all of the hostels in Sweden, consult an interactive map for locations, and receive a very informative tourist guide to the city and book my room on the spot. Normally, when staying at a hostel you pay only for one bed  and most often you share the room with several other people. It’s a great way to get to know other people traveling through the city and make new friends.

The streets of old town

The streets of old town

I requested the two-bed room and booked both beds so my friends and I could have the room to ourselves. While hostels are a good place to meet people it’s also a lousy place to stash your gear while you go out on the streets looking for adventure. Renting both beds in the room let us leave our stuff safely locked up all for much less that the price of any hotel room you could find. We stopped at several cafés for pastries and coffee during our walk. As you can imagine, it’s very cold in winter so stopping in for coffee offered us a nice break from the freezing cold. We stopped at a few antique shops, visited a sci-fi book store, wandered by the Royal Palace for an official visit to the monarchy and then we turned in for the night.

The next day we checked out of the hostel and headed straight for the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum is home to the largest Viking war ship ever made called the Vasa. The museum is filled mostly with relics from the war ship giving free with guided tours every few hours in both Swedish and English.

A scale model of the Vasa

A scale model of the Vasa

Once we had our fill of the past we hopped a bus to my friend’s home where we sat and visited with her family for a bit. With generous hospitality they laid out a feast of Swedish food in from of me that included traditional Swedish meatballs, many different varieties of bread, followed up with a healthy helping of pickled herring. I was surprised to learn that there were many different ways to make pickled herring and that, in small portions, it wasn’t that bad. I also had something that resembled breakfast potatoes mixed with sardines. The different breads resembled pita bread or crackers. While sampling I took some jelly and spread a good portion of it on a cracker. I guess  that’s not something the locals do because everyone started to laugh loudly. It took some convincing but I managed to get them to try it. When the initial shock wore off they nodded their head in approval of my strange American custom.

Cafeteria in the Jumbo Hostel

Cafeteria in the Jumbo Hostel

After spending several days with old friends and making new ones I got a buss back to Arlanda where I would spend my last night in Sweden. My flight out was at 7am so I needed to find a place near the airport that I could get to very easily, very early in the morning. Once again I visited my favorite site and booked a 2 bed room at the “Jumbo Hostel”. It’s actually a jumbo jet converted into a hostel. It was an amazing site to see. The staff was very friendly, the food was great, the cafeteria was fully stocked with treats and the rooms were immaculate. You could not ask for more. The next morning was full of sad goodbyes.  After taking a connecting flight through Vienna I was back in the states in less than 15 hours.

Overall I would say that my trip to Sweden was excellent. The only thing I will do differently next time would be to go during the summer. Being a Florida resident I don’t hold up very well in the cold. Also it would have been nice to know a bit more Swedish than I did. However, if you don’t know much of the Swedish language don’t let it stop you from going!Almost everyone there knows English and all the importing signs you will need to navigate around the city will be printed in English as well. Remember, politeness while traveling will get you a long way. Now to plan my next adventure.

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Muskegon Farmer’s Market, Summer 2009… Beautiful produce, friendly people.

Natalie and I had the fortune to visit Michigan this summer and run around all over Muskegon.  Summer flowers were blooming everywhere.  Beautiful buds sprang forth on every hillside, driveway, and even on the side of the road.  Large, abundant flowers, heavily laden stalks of corn, and produce of all types were visible in fields simply by driving down a country road on the way to the next town or a trip down to the cool shores of Lake Michigan.  This time of year, Michigan was alive and thriving with vegetation of all sorts.

During our stay, Natalie’s mom and sister Sarah took us to the Farmer’s Market in Muskegon.  It was the middle of the week, so only half of the market was occupied, but we were simply floored at the variety and quality of the products available.  Corn was especially good.  I purchased a variety called “Peaches and Cream” which was an almost candy-sweet, juicy bi-color ear of buttery goodness.  We bought and ate plenty of goods during our stay.  The vendors and shoppers alike were friendly, smiling people.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time at the Farmer’s Market.  Not to mention, the best blueberries in the world were in season.

While there, the vendors were kind enough to allow me to snap picture after picture.  I tend to go a little nuts when we have the camera with us.  I took shot after shot of everything from crisp, brightly colored radishes to deeply hued and unusually shaped eggplants.  It was a culinarian’s dream come true.

The Muskegon Farmer’s Market can be found at 700 Yuba St., Muskegon, MI 49442. (Map and Directions)

The market is open May through December Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Make sure to visit the official site for information,  the special events calendar, and even a video about the market.

According to the market’s official site, “The Muskegon Farmer’s Market is a division of the City of Muskegon and is dedicated to showcasing the best in locally-grown foods, flowers, nursery stock, handicrafts and baked goods. The Market also hosts a giant Flea Market where everything imaginable is sold.”

If you ever find yourself anywhere near Muskegon, it is most certainly worth a drive.  A sea of flowers, piles and piles of the best produce Michigan has to offer, and dedicated vendors make this a must-visit for any cook or anyone that just happens to like to eat.

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Adventures in Drumming

A couple months ago, we came across a djembe drumming class at Sacred Grounds lead by Heather DeRigo that inspired me to get into drumming.  The documented health benefits alone were great reasons to pick up this new adventure into the musical arts. 

Each time I sit down to play, I’m reminded of why I love drumming.  It helps me become aware of when I’m tense and gives me a means to release the frantic energy that arises from a stressful day at the office.  It’s also a great way to practice active meditation and become aware of my breathing.    

When it comes to drumming, I find myself practicing alone at home to increase my skill, but the fun part is attending drum circles.  In the Tampa Bay area alone, you can find a local circle almost every night of the week!  The Tampa Community Drum Circle on is just one great resource.  You can also email to subscribe to a free monthly newletter that keeps you up to date on what’s going on in the area.

More Drumming Resources…

Expert Village Videos: A free djembe educational video series for beginners that introduces you to the djembe and how to play it, from instrument selection to polyrhythms and slap techniques.

X8 Drums: Great prices and high-quality drums!  Plus they feature both audio and video of the drums they sell!!

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Late night adventures at the bookstore

Inspiration is always just around the corner if you’re willing to seek it out. Get out of the house. Drive down to the library or the bookstore. Visit the museum. Go listen to live music. Attend a spoken word event. Seek out your inspiration. As Julia Cameron writes in the Sound of Paper:

In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to fuel. We must strive to see the beauty where we are planted, even if we are planted somewhere that feels very foreign to our own nature.

So tonight I went hunting for inspiration and found it at the bookstore. Found a book,  Artists’ Journals & Sketchbooks: Exploring and Creating Personal Pages, by Lynne Perrella. It’s full of page after page of ideas and visual inspiration to get you thinking and exploring different styles of artwork.

So here’s my list of top ten ideas sparked from this evening’s adventures:

  1. A dark and moody portrait
    with suns and moons
    in the background.
  2. Experiment with
    image transfers.
  3. Build a collage
    inspired by a
    famous art quote.
  4. Explore different fonts.
  5. Backgrounds with text.
  6. Music Notes
  7. A series of bird
    inspired pieces.
  8. Butterflies.
  9. Tarot card.
  10. Architecture.

So what does your list look like?

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Perfect in our imperfection

I think that I am married to probably the most wonderful woman on Earth. I’ve had friends ask what makes us work. How do we get along so well? How do we do it, without all the seeming frustration that others go through? Well, there’s a secret.

She’s not perfect. But she’s perfect for me.

Something that we’ve come to realize and hold dear, as a couple, is the idea that everyday challenges, frustrations and troubles from the outside world help us develop not only as a couple, but as individuals.

I think what happens is that most of us in the Western world have been indoctrinated with this notion that when you meet your “soul mate,” everything with the relationship and the outside world is suddenly okay, blue birds start singing, music plays, and then the credits roll, and then a big message splashes on the silver screen: “And they lived happily ever after.”

I think what makes our marriage work is that we expect challenges, and have come to accept that we’re not married to some idealized archetype, but a real, living person, each with the own challenges, fears, hopes, and dreams. We didn’t choose to marry perfect beings that will fulfill our every need right off the bat. Instead, we both know that we each chose to marry an imperfect person, but that we chose to marry people intelligent enough to grow and learn.

candle magickWithout getting mushy or overly melodramatic, ours was a whirlwind romance. We met, and I literally moved in with her on the third day of knowing her. We discussed marriage on the fourth day. Not that anyone’s counting.We both were a little dazed by this idea, and a little stunned at our own admissions of love so soon, but were willing to go forth with our wild wishes. But immediately after discussing getting married, we had a deep, insightful, and intelligent conversation.

“But what if we find that we’re not really compatible? What if we don’t like the same things? What if, what if what if?!?!?!”

We both agreed, after some introspection, that we could handle it. After all, we were both in our mid twenties, and although its still a young age, we had experienced enough relationships to know a few fundamentals.

First and foremost, we both agreed that no one is perfect. We both agreed that we would help each other to become better people. We agreed that if a problem popped up, we would put effort into solving the problem and really have adult conversation about any issue that came up. I think the key to us is that we don’t expect perfection from one another. We’ve learned to know that we’re individuals, sometimes with very different thoughts on how to act out there in the universe. But that’s okay.

For us, the key remains to be able to accept each other for our faults, keep the conversation alive, and have extremely good senses of humor. Some of the most trying times from our past are now the most significant inside jokes that we share. Today’s pain is the lesson that prepares us for tomorrow.

I write all this down as a way of saying “Thank You” to my wife for being able to understand my drives, motivations, and actions with no need for apology. When I make a blunder, I still haven’t figured out how she’s able to have such a good sense of humor about nearly everything I do.

In the end, what makes us work is we forget the small stuff, and really, truly *talk* about the big stuff. What you have is two people who share this incredibly beautiful entity called a relationship. We both work hard to help is grow, nurture it, and continue to expand in its scope.

So yeah, we’re like any couple. She screws up from time to time. And so do I. (But not that much, really. ;-) She forgets engagements, is constantly late, puts her foot in her mouth, etc. You know, normal things. Small things. Things that, in the big picture, just don’t matter.

Yeah, she might not be perfect, but she’s perfect for me.

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A Weekend to Remember…

I love Three Day Weekends. I even love the Only-Four-Work-Days-This-Week that follows it. We had a few adventures and crammed as many as we could into this brief little vacation from the everyday.

Friday night we went out to a club that’s local to The northern end of Tampa. I’ve been to quite a few clubs. I’ve seen a ton of clubs that have come and gone, lingered on the The Castle, wandered around the Amphitheater, been to ALL the prerequisite clubs that one goes to when in Ybor. They range from hard rock to rap, to hip hop to fetish clubs. Its what you do in Ybor.

But this club was different. It was a nostalgia club. You know…The kind where they play a particular type of music, all night, every night, aimed at a particular generation. The drinks available, the music, the decor, all designed to draw a target demographic. So yeah, it was a nostalgia club. And it was aimed at me.

Ah, am I 30 already? I suppose I am. When you start hearing music from your youth on the “Classics” and “Oldies” station, you know that you have entered the thirty-something bracket.

The club was, in a word, “non-threatening.” To use other words, I would say harmless, or just plain Disney-esque. I saw people of my age, a bunch of 30 something suburb kids from Carrollwood… And it was “okay.” It seemed that everyone was having fun, but the popular music of the 90′s kinda grated on me.

Wearable Art

Saturday was altogether different. We hit up a few art galleries. Mirta’s Gallery, as usual, had a stunning array of art on its walls. It was the closing show of the most recent exhibit. They have an extremely quick turn around time and will be hosting another event, Crossroads: A Benefit Show for Cancer Research & Treatment September 8th. We had *just* missed a fashion show in which artist and designer Marina Williams put on what appeared to be, just from the aftershocks, a rocking good fashion show. Her designs have a definite retro/mod vibe to them. Think English retro/mod from the 1970′s with a 21st century sensibility. And the cool part? Every single one of her designs were fabricated from the use of *ties.* Yup, that’s right. Ties. Very cool. We talked to Duane, which is always a good time. He knows B movies better than anyone I’ve met.

What followed was a trip to RedLetter1, our first trip to the gallery. It was strange entering this gallery, one of those Ybor type places that is only on the second floor, in which you have to traversea very narrow staircase to get to. Everything was red brick, and the space was an open, comfortable single room with plenty of wall space. One artist was featured, Timothy Hoyer, and the art ranged. The placards next to the pieces indicated that they were all done the same year, but it seemed as if the artist started with a few small pieces, developed a theme, and exponentially got better and closer to the message of the ensemble as the works progressed. There was a cohesive, unified feel to all the artwork. My favorite was an enourmous piece called “Angel Dust,” which was agurably the most technically advanced piece displayed by the artist.


Sunday, we just hung out with some friends, ordered pizza, listened to music and talked of taking over the world. You know, the usual stuff.Until next time!

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Adventures in visual delights and tantalizing conversations

Last night, we went to Mirta’s Gallery for their latest opening, “Summertime Fun”, a collection displaying over 20 local artists that explore mediums ranging from sculpture to painting. The overall theme seemed to express a resurgence of passion with bold use of color and shadow. And many of the pieces were of a particularly excellent price range, with the average piece being somewhere in the very affordable $300 to $500 category.

Mirta's Gallery

As I browsed the collection, Brian stuck up conversations about good bad movies with one of the owners. A few that came up in discussion were Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Toxic Avenger, and Barbarella. As the conversation got animated, I decided to go get a glass of wine that was served by the ever charming and entertaining, Mathieu, who introduced me around and gave me the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite painters of the evening, Jason Fondren, who mentioned that the gallery just started holding meetings for the recently founded, Tampa Painter’s Guild, that is schedule to hold their next meeting on August 20th at 6pm.

Mirta's Gallery

But that was just the beginning of the evening…

Mirta's Gallery

After leaving the gallery, we decided to hook up with some friends at The Hub, a local watering hole that is like walking into an old fashioned Polaroid photo album for locals that grew up in Tampa. Over the course of the evening, we ran into probably a dozen old friends. Brian even ran into a couple ex-girlfriends. It was quite a comical evening.

The Hub

As I started to make new friends, Brian and the boys decided that it was time for our next adventure so we headed over to Tom’s place, where he dazled us with his guitar as I sketched away in my pastel journal while Micheal and Brian discussed their plan to take over the world.

Tom playing guitar

As the evening progressed into morning, we eventually made it back to our place…

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Drumming Ritual

Back in the spring 1996, my aunt and I drove to Key West, Florida for some fun and adventure.

We walked through Ernest Hemingway’s house. We saw nine generations of his cats with six toe paws. We saw the room where he wrote and ultimately killed himself with a rifle. Not a pretty thought, but it’s one of those facts of life. We heard of the story of where one of his wives went to the expense of making a pool. Now getting a pool in most of the states is not a big deal, but in key west, you have to dig through coral rock, which is expensive. So when he found out about it, he threw down a penny and shouted, “Well, why don’t you take my last god damn penny!” Dramatical, I know, but most artists are. Look at Salvador Dali.

Another interesting place in Key West is located at the western end of the island, Mallory Square. It is the setting for one of Key West’s most famous festivities, Sunset Celebration. Each night hundreds of people gather to take part in this solar ritual with musicians, jugglers, and street performers serving as the background ambiance for nature’s breathtaking finale.

I saw the guy who would walk on broken glass. Then there was the parrot guy who wouldn’t let me take his picture unless I gave him money. Back then I was a college student so giving money to parrot men just wasn’t in my budget.

Now for the powerful moment, the drummers.

It started with three drummers. Beating away on buckets. Nothing fancy. Just buckets . . .

To me, drumming music has always been powerful. It’s sensual. The beat connect deep to your core of being in rhythm to your heart beat.

Non-stop through all the festivities, they drummed away. You could walk away to check out the sites and hear their drumming in the background. Slowly, the sun set in the west. The drumming continued . . .

And finally, the sun set and the drumming stopped in mid beat. The ritual was complete. The day ended and night life was about to begin.

After visiting Key West, that’s when the seed was planted in my mind to move to Florida.

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