Two days after Clough Fest ended, we boarded a plane bound for Stockholm for my third visit to this beautiful city and Jon's first. I have been fortunate enough to meet the most wonderful international students at Baylor, due to my job in the International Office, and have kept in touch best with the Swedish exchange students from 2005. Especially with Maria. I knew we would have a special friendship the minute I met her. We shared so much in common; a competitive running spirit, a passion for food, a goofy/silly personality and a desire to live life large. During her four months at Baylor we were inseparable and I knew that although our friendship would someday span the ocean, we would keep in touch and I would visit her in Sweden someday. That finally came to fruition two years later when I moved to Germany and we had the first Texas Reunion in Sweden with all the other Swedish former exchange students. Since then she's visited our home twice, and I've returned a second time to Stockholm. This current visit, though, was special as it was to attend her wedding (or bröllop) to Jakob, another Swedish exchange student (although at TAMU) who I also met in 2005.
|Me and Maria|
Before the Svenskt Bröllop was to occur on Saturday, we planned to arrive a few days early to do some sight-seeing in Europe's most beautiful capital city between time hanging with our Swedish friends. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect with plenty of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Stockholm spans 14 islands by the Stockholm archipelago, which means there's water everywhere. No matter what neighborhood you're in, there are bridges, canals and beautiful nature paths for walking and cycling along the water. At times, it's hard to believe you're in a city of almost 1.5 million. One of the most beautiful look-out points of the city is from the Skansen Open Air Museum, the oldest in Europe. This museum provides a look at Swedish life from the 1700s, with traditional farm houses, churches and other buildings moved here from throughout Sweden.
|View of Stockholm from Skansen Open Air Museum|
No trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to its most famous building... the City Hall. This is where the Nobel Prize Banquet takes place and houses the government offices. The building was built in 1923 and appears to be almost situated in the water, with outstanding views of the old town, Gamla Stan.
|Stockholm City Hall|
|Stockholm City Hall - posing with the Dala Horse|
|View of Gamla Stan from Stockholm City Hall|
After touring the City Hall, we walked over to Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, situated on its own island. Here we saw the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace and enjoyed a delicious lunch of Swedish meatballs on the main square. We also visited the Vasa Museum, which houses the Vasa ship that sunk shortly after embarking in 1628. It was salvaged largely intact in 1961. Although it is nicknamed as "the great failure" it provides insight into life on a ship during that time period and the largeness of it and techniques used to built it are awe-inspiring.
|Stockholm Royal Palace|
|Lunch on Gamla Stan|
The day before the wedding, we spent our final evening in Stockholm visiting the island of Fjäderholmarna in the archipelago. Only a mere 30 minute boat ride from the center of Stockholm, and we were completely immersed in nature with the most beautiful vistas. We enjoyed walking around the small island and enjoying a delicious dinner of smoked salmon with the Swedish sun setting as our backdrop.
|Fjäderholmarna boat dock|
|Dinner at Fjäderholmarna|
|Dinner at Fjäderholmarna|
|Sunset at Fjäderholmarna|
The day of the wedding, we enjoyed a morning run around the former royal island of Djurgarden. It was the perfect day for a wedding!
|View of Strandvagan from Djurgarden bridge|
The wedding took place in a suburb of Stockholm, about 30 minutes away. The ceremony was in an adorable and traditional chapel in the woods. The reception took place at the magnificent Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden. Both having studied in Texas, they share a love of the Lone Star State and especially its music. They incorporated several country music songs in the ceremony, to include "Forever and Ever, Amen" and "My Maria." It was absolutely beautiful and I felt so honored to be included in this special occasion.
|Maria and Jakob's Ceremony (notice the singer wearing a cowboy hat)|
|Maria and Jakob exiting wedding chapel|
The best part about the wedding, was that it became another Texas Reunion of Swedish friends. We were able to spend time with other BU friends, Richard and Peter, earlier in the week, but had more quality time at the wedding to catch up. I am so grateful for the opportunities to see my Swedish friends more regularly than if I was in the States, and am looking forward to many more reunions during the next two years.
|Richard, Sofie and their adorable baby, Linea|
|My first Swedish friend, Peter|
|New friends, Stephanie and Anna (Maria's cousin)|
|Jon, Richard and Peter lookin' studly|
|Mr. and Mrs. Clough|
|The arrival of Maria and Jakob - what a beautiful couple!|
Maria and Jakob arrived to the reception by boat. After champagne and hors d'oeuvre, we entered the banquet hall for dinner, where 3 hours of toasts commenced. Although it was all in Swedish, Jon and I were sitting by fabulous translators who shared the gist of all the speeches. I felt honored to be asked to give a speech as well. The dinner was superb and consisted of Swedish delicacies, to include a main course of reindeer. After dinner, it was time for brandy, coffee, and dessert in the library before a night of dancing began.
|Reindeer.... it's what's for dinner|
|Me and my fabulous translator and dinner buddy, Richard|
After the dancing ended at 2:00 a.m., a few of us felt the logical thing to do was go swimming. I will never forget the feeling of floating on my back in the water, looking at the dimly lit hotel with stars overhead and thinking, "I'm in Sweden, I experienced the wedding of one of my best friends, and I am happy beyond belief."
|Me and Maria at brunch the following morning|
Thank you, Maria, for including Jon and me in one of the most beautiful weddings I've ever experienced. We were so honored to attend and as I said in my speech, I will forever treasure our friendship that spans continents and endures the test of time. Din vän, alltid.