Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stockholm Apartment

Our apartment is finally looking like our home. I hadn't really posted any pictures of it. I was waiting until it had our stuff in it and didn't look like we were still moving in. Our daughter's bedroom may never be finished because we're not doing it, but we finally finished the rest of it. First, here's a picture near work of the lovely day outside. There wasn't any rain and it was a nice warm 64F. It's been more rainy and overcast so it was a nice break. I'm having some fun with the panorama feature on my phone (click to enlarge).

Here's the most important room for friends and family. The little spare bedroom is ready for guests! Apparently many of the local hotels are similarly sized. The price is definitely much better for this room. :-) Yes, the full size bed did fit. We also brought our airbeds so those can be put down elsewhere in the apartment if needed.

Below is the full service guest bathroom where you can sit on the toilet (watch your knees), use the sink, and take a shower all at once. It's all right there! There's even a towel warmer on the wall. That rod in the middle is for the shower curtain to wall off half of this tiny space to keep the shower from getting everything else wet. Don't worry, there's another full size bathroom and half bath so this isn't the only option.

We may as well take a look at the other bathroom. Our main bathroom is really big by Stockholm city standards because it used to be a kitchen. Our one apartment was 3 apartments back in 1902. The floor in the bathroom and the kitchen are heated but we haven't turned them on yet. The panoramic shot makes it look even bigger.

There's only one power plug in that entire room and it's at the end of the lights above the mirror. I had to plug a few things out in the hall next to bathroom. Behind the washer/dryer is the shower booth below in addition to the tub you see above. It's definitely a luxury bathroom in the city.

There's a typical small washer/dryer in the bathroom. The dryer stops occasionally because it's waiting on us to empty out the water reservoir. It doesn't vent outside so the water goes into a plastic reservoir in the bottom.

The drains in here weren't made for a toilet since the bathroom used to be a kitchen. So there's a waste grinder installed behind the toilet. It usually kicks on when we flush but sometimes it turns on when you're just sitting there taking care of business. It's a bit odd having this grinding machine kick into action behind you on the toilet!

Below is the additional half bath.

This next room was supposed to be the dining room but we ended up needing a storage/computer room. My shelves came in handy to give us some more storage space for junk we'll never use and probably shouldn't have brought.

Our storage room has the balcony and the nicest view in the apartment. This isn't the best pic of that view but we did fit some small chairs and a little table out there.

Next is our dining area and living room as seen from the storage/computer room and then the reverse view. Christina covered the inside of the glass cabinets so we can store junk without displaying junk. :-)

Here's a closer view of the living room with the neat looking fireplace even though I cut off the castle tower top of it in the photo.

That flat square under the window is an electric heater. There's several of them under the windows and is what will heat the apartment. No central air in here!

I didn't end up taking any pictures of the kitchen because there were dirty dishes and a little clutter. Here's some pictures taken when we first moved in since it's not much different now other than having a bunch of appliances on the counters.

Our bedroom here is actually really big. It's much bigger than the bedroom we had in Virginia. There's probably so much more room because there isn't a closet other than one in the hallway. We resorted to putting up portable wardrobe racks for our clothes. It works well and doesn't look too bad to me. Our daughter has closets that were added to her room but she's filling those up. Here's a panoramic shot that makes the bedroom look huge. Actually, it is pretty huge to us.

We have a fireplace in our bedroom too but I doubt we'll use that one. We'll probably barely use the one in the living room unless the power goes out and we're freezing.

There's a quick little tour of our place. Who's coming to visit? :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Household Effects Delivered!

Our Household Effects (HHE) were delivered today! Christina did most of the directing in the rooms and I mostly marked off the items on the list as they came up the elevator over and over and... I saw the scene below at least 50 times. I sat a good bit but still ended up hobbling around on a crutch to help keep an eye on the action around the apartment.

There's a spiral staircase winding around the elevator to each landing below us. Fortunately we have a somewhat large elevator claiming it can fit 5 people (snugly packed slender people) so only the mattresses for 3 beds had to be carried up the stairs.

They had 5 guys (not the hamburger joint we miss) with a few staying at street level pulling stuff out of the crates and sending a few items up at a time in the elevator. Our floor is labeled 4 but it's actually the 5th floor since ground levels are labeled B or 0 depending on the building. The guys working upstairs with us unloaded the elevator and occasionally sent it down with packing material trash or an empty dolly.

Our oversized reclining loveseat (we don't have a sofa), big dressers, and 6 person dining tabletop individually fit in the elevator. Surprisingly our already dinged up from many moves furniture didn't really get very many new dings on them. The wrapped monster below is a computer desk that had much more damage on it from our kids between the moves and survived the ocean voyage just fine wrapped up in lots of sturdy paper.

Our furniture is generally apartment friendly with nothing too big. We definitely filled the space here but I don't think we went overboard filling our unfurnished apartment. There's plenty of stuff left in boxes that we didn't let them unpack so it wouldn't overly clutter the place. So there's lots of work to do to get organized but we usually only let the movers unpack about a third of our stuff with any move. The really important thing we have them complete is all of the furniture placement.

We're really glad to get our big American furniture back. The movers have moved foreigners from the U.S. before but a few of them didn't seem to be too familiar with our comfy recliners and oversized double reclining loveseat. They said the chairs were too big and comfortable like a cloud and they don't sell anything like them in Sweden. Ah, we really missed our recliners! I'd have to figure out how to fix it or get one shipped from the U.S. if one broke down here. Two recliners may have to be added to list of stuff we'll ship to furnished posts in the future along with our mattress.

Yes, for those of you that know and are wondering, my TV did fit in the elevator and did make it in one piece. I hooked it up to a transformer and setup the Roku for some much needed big screen streaming to end the day. I don't have the surround sound or anything else hooked up yet so the theater isn't fully open. The walls and floors seem really solid in this old building (built 1902) so I actually think cranking up the sound with the subwoofer won't cause too much trouble. Well, except maybe right now when the windows are open since that's our A/C. I think fall hits in a few weeks so maybe the windows will be closed soon and I can rattle them with a good action movie or pump up the jams! Here I am at the end of a long day...

We have all of our stuff after 6 weeks and it all came in fine. Well, except for this odd smell hovering over everything. I can smell it a little but Christina says it's really bothering her to the point that she ran to the grocery store to grab some scented spray. It didn't get rid of it but it masked it a little better until it airs out. I'm not sure what kind of a smell our stuff picked up in the shipping containers as it slow boated across the Atlantic. It's some kind of musty smell. A few articles I read suggests it could be an insecticide or fumigate used in the shipping containers. Our stuff was packed in wooden crates inside the containers but I'm sure something could have permeated through it as it sat for weeks.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

First FS Post - 5 Weeks Later

Blogging and many other things were sidelined by knee problems, so I'm finally writing an update about how we're settling in at our first post and Foreign Service assignment after 5 weeks.

Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB)

UAB came towards the end of the 3rd week because most of it was inadvertently sent to Singapore instead of Stockholm. Yes, very unusual things happen with international shipments. Otherwise it probably would have been available at the beginning of our 2nd week.

I was most grateful for my pillow and additional towels. We took the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy advice of travelling with a towel in our suitcases, but more towels are useful when dealing with a small European washer and dryer. The welcome kit towels were adequate but we love our big fluffy towels.

The way we go through cups made me wish we packed some of our bigger plastic mugs. The welcome kit has a few small plastic tumblers that just never seem right. There were probably some other kitchen things that would have been nice so hopefully we pack UAB better next time better taking into account the welcome kits.

My biggest mistake was not setting aside specific clothes to add to UAB and just asking my wife to throw "some" in there if we were below our weight limit. She turned "some" into "none" since she didn't know what I wanted and would rather not throw just anything in instead of guessing. I'll have to do better with that next time and will plan to be more involved now that mandatory training won't keep me away during pack out. We're still living out of our 2 suitcases each after 5 weeks, but that will finally be over at the end of our 6th week.

Internet - The Most Important Utility

It took almost 4 weeks from arrival to get Internet installed from the cable company. The first delay was waiting almost 3 weeks for a Swedish personnummer before we could get any services in this country. I ordered the cable modem (self-install is their default) and they sent it to a nearby package pickup store taking 3 days.

I had fun trying to track it with the Swedish cable and shipping company websites. The final arrival status of "Mottagaren aviserad via brev" translates to "The receiver announced via letter." I emailed the shipping company and they kindly responded in English that it was available for pickup with a text messaged code that never arrived on my phone. I would have phoned them about this but it was yet another phone system I couldn't find a human with because all of the prompts were in Swedish.

After I got the cable modem home I discovered the TV connection on the wall was very old and looked like some kind of antenna connection. I had to get the cable company to come out the following week to fix the connection and that added almost another week because of the slow summer service. I found another coax cable that was cut which was just a dead cable when they tested it so he fixed the old cable connection box on the wall and we were working.

We have unlimited Internet after almost 4 weeks instead of tethering through a cell phone or using the Internet dongle (also cell service) on loan from the Embassy. Electricity and water were a given here so getting Internet was our most important utility. I'm not sure I'm ready for an assignment where electricity and water are the utilities we notice most after "suffering" through limited Internet access.

One of the first things I had to do was find a VPN or other service to spoof our location back to the U.S. to get to NetFlix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, etc.  I don't know why these services don't acknowledge that we're U.S. based customers with U.S. banking and just let us access our content wherever we travel. I'd go through whatever verification process they'd want to prove I'm an American consumer trying to get to our digital content locked away back home. I own movies in the Vudu service but they won't let me access what is supposed to be my content outside the U.S. I don't understand the geo restrictions when my account is the verification I'm entitled to access my previously purchased content.

Right now I'm trying They use some kind of DNS magic to get us access to most everything without tunneling through a VPN. We'd have to use a full VPN service in some countries because they block or filter their Internet. Swedish Internet is open so I just need to appear as a U.S. computer to get around stupid geographic restrictions. Unblock-Us is working great for everything except Vudu. I can download my content with VuduToGo but can't stream anything.

I tried VyprVPN as one of the leading VPN services and it did allow streaming access to Vudu. I ended up canceling the trial because Hulu Plus would occasionally error saying they detected I'm using an anonymous proxy service. I haven't seen this yet with Unblock-Us. Also, the OpenVPN client on my laptop wasn't as lightweight as using Unblock-US so I'll stick with this for now. I have a better router coming in the HHE so I'll try the OpenVPN options again once I can set it up on a router instead of our laptops or tablets.

Household Effects (HHE)

I was told at the end of the 5th week that our HHE is in country and passed customs. The earliest they can deliver is the end of the following week. 6 weeks of waiting for our stuff to arrive isn't too bad compared to other stories I hear of it taking up to 3 or 4 months. I'm very ready to get my own bed. I'm recovering from knee surgery so the basic Ikea bed they loaned us doesn't seem to be helping my recovery. I was much more comfortable at the hospital. We'll definitely be one of those families that brings our own mattress to the furnished posts. I won't care about the bed itself as long as our mattress is a good one we've bought. I'll write more about HHE and fitting it all in our apartment after we get it.

Swedish Medical Care

I'm really glad I got my Swedish personnummer before my knee started hurting because I don't know how the Swedish medical system would have dealt with me without it. Apparently the billing after all I've been through will be a fun thing to untangle since they're not used to billing people from their socialized medical system. Overall, I think the system here is fine but they were a bit slow and cautious through the diagnosis and figuring out what to do about it. I have no idea how much the clinic, ER, hospitalization, and surgery will end up costing because all I've paid so far is the little copays along the way. One odd thing was not filling out or signing any forms for any of it including the surgery itself. I verbally authorized the surgery and they did it.

My knee started hurting really bad and swelling. I started with the regional doctor who happened to be visiting the Embassy and he gave me an ice pack, ace bandage, ibuprofen, and advice to go to a clinic if it doesn't get better. I went to the recommended clinic and managed a same day appointment on Monday after a painful weekend. They wanted an X-ray so I had to bus over to a private hospital for that since we don't have a car. The clinic called me back after a few hours to say nothing showed up on the X-ray and they wanted me in at the end of the day to drain my knee. They ordered a CT scan because of a lump he found after draining my knee. I had to wait up to a week to get the CT scan since it wasn't a life-threatening emergency, but before I got to that point I ended up not being able to walk at all. It may have been at this point that it would have ended up as a medical evacuation from many of our overseas posts lacking in medical services.

I went to an ER on Wednesday and they drained my knee again and ordered an ultrasound but couldn't fit me in that day. They sent me home with better pain medicine and crutches. I came back to the ER Thursday for the ultrasound which confirmed the lump wasn't a liquid cyst. It was a solid tumor so I needed an MRI which couldn't be scheduled until Friday. I was supposed to follow up with their speciality clinic after that test. They blamed some of these delays on being short staffed during the summer but I get the sense they're not in a big hurry unless you're literally dying.

I went back in Friday but they couldn't stretch my knee out to fit in the MRI machine because of the pain and swelling so they gave up and did a CT scan instead. They found 3 lumps or nodules in my knee and sent me back to the ER department because of the severe pain. They tried 5 shots of morphine that didn't help and a cortisone shot in the knee that helped some. They confirmed analysis of my knee fluid from Wednesday showed gout but the nodules weren't related to that so they wanted to hospitalize me at this point to manage the pain, lack of mobility, and figure out those nodules.

I spent the weekend seeing a different doctor each day that wanted me to do an MRI there or at another hospital with a bigger machine for my swollen bended knee but that these weren't available on the weekend. They also speculated about doing arthroscopic surgery but seemed unsure of what to do other than keep me in a hospital bed and pump me with pain killers. They also put me on antibiotics because of some elevated infection marker in my blood test they noted the U.S. doesn't use, but they do use it so that's why I was getting antibiotics. I was in pain and didn't much care what they pumped in me.

My hospital and the other hospital they wanted to consult with had everyone at work on Monday so they finally settled on not sending me to the other hospital for an MRI. They decided they had enough information to proceed with arthroscopic surgery to remove the benign nodules since they believed they were developed out of synovial fluid. Based on their long description of what it was I think it was Synovial Chondromatosis which was causing pain and loss of movement on top of a gout attack I've never had before. It was just a perfect storm of a screwed up knee. The pain was a lot better after the surgery on Tuesday so I was sent home on Wednesday.

I haven't been back at work yet but my knee is feeling a lot better overall compared to how it was. I hope to start working again tomorrow since I've missed the better part of 2 weeks at work now. It's a heck of way to start at my first post. :-(