Travel-writer/humorist Doug Lansky, 39, is a Minnesota native who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. He recently launched www.titanicawards.com, a site that compiles the worst and weirdest facts, opinions and tales about travel. Items from it will be published as a "Titanic Awards" book this spring by Penguin.
Q Summer in Sweden -- is it as pastoral as something from an Ingmar Bergman flick?
A Today it was cold and raining, but the last two weeks were gorgeous. It doesn't get deathly hot here -- the low 80s and really nice and comfortable.
We have three little kids, so no big adventures are planned. We live a 10-minute bike ride from Stockholm's city center, and our back yard comes up to a park. A soccer field is just through the hedges. There's also a little splash pool that's only knee-deep. All this is within 20 yards of the house. So we just put up a makeshift tent in the back yard. My wife and I lounge out there while the kids run around.
Q There are lakes all around Stockholm. How bad are the mosquitoes?
A We don't have mosquitoes in our suburb, but they're around in other suburbs and islands, some worse than others. There's a city in northern Sweden that's famous for them.
We can take day trips to the islands off the coast; you get there in no time at all. We drove 15 minutes to where our friends picked us up. The boat ride to the island took five minutes. We hung out and ate salmon. There's no problem with bugs. The problem is periods of rain.
Q What do Swedes do in summer?
A Kind of what we did -- escape to the archipelago. Also, you know how people in New York go to the Hamptons or Fire Island? Here, they go to a region to the south called Skane ["SKOO-nah"] that's a popular spot. People have beach houses or oceanfront houses. Most of our friends are gone from Stockholm right now; they've gone to one of those places. But it seems like none of our friends own the places. You've got to have parents that do. It's all gotten too expensive to buy into that racket.
Q What's the best deal in Stockholm these days?
A Lunches. You can buy the same thing for dinner at the same restaurant, but that would cost you two or three times as much. Every place has a daily lunch special with usually a couple things on the menu. You can get something -- almost all you can eat -- for eight bucks: pasta and salmon or whatever, with salad bar, coffee and maybe a cookie. Sometimes you can get free refills on the food, not that you'll need it.
My favorite place is Herman's. It serves vegetarian food, but you don't have to be vegetarian to go there. If you walked into the place, you wouldn't notice anything except for the incredible buffet. It has lasagna with no meat, great curry dishes and other things from India and fresh-baked bread. It has a fantastic view of the city. And after you eat, you go out back of the restaurant and lie down awhile in one of their hammocks.
Q Seeing many American tourists in Stockholm this year, given the recession?
A There always are Americans here in the summer.
The recession in Sweden is different from the States. To generalize: When you lose your job here, you don't have to worry about being able to go out and buy medical insurance. That's taken care of with tax money. If you lose your job, you get decent unemployment money for many months. So it's not the kind of crisis it would be in the States.
But it's not like the economy is going gangbusters here. Things are down everywhere in Europe. But people aren't as worried because of the health care thing.
If you want to see what people here are concerned about, go to www.thelocal.se and you can see Swedish news stories translated into English. Like about the big Michael Jackson dance in middle of Stockholm.
There are a bunch of new, swanky hotels. They're building an enormous one in the middle of Stockholm, and traffic is an enormous mess. They always have these summer traffic projects.
I try to drive as little as possible -- 2 km [1.24 miles] a week, maybe. I have a rickshaw bike.
Q What's gas going for?
A Something like $6 a gallon.
My bike is from Thailand. It's a pain to ride it uphill, but flat land is fine. I don't take it into the city much. I take the kids to school and preschool with it, and pick up groceries. I'm the wacky American driving the rickshaw around.