Rollercoasters and relaxation

Since the last update I have not left Göteborg. This may surprise those who have read my other posts, as it sometimes seems as though I am forever getting on and off planes or buses, but worry not, there will be travels and adventures in exciting lands in future. For the next few weeks (or the next 2 at least) we’re taking a break from the jetsetting and settling in a bit, and finding amusements closer to home.

Thursday was the first foray into the nearer sort of excursions, in which we went along to a comedy night advertised through an expat group I’d found. The first sign that it would be a great night was when a dapper looking fellow casually smoking a cigarette rolled past on a penny-farthing bicycle, on which was mounted a stereo blasting out electronica. Our joy at this absurdity was increased when he was soon followed down the street by a fleet of 10 or so people on segways. What could possibly top this? Well, a series of very funny comedians and a ‘mentalist’, plus very nice company. My partner also earned the nickname ‘The One’ and was briefly a mentalist’s assistant, while I sang a few bars of Happy Birthday while wishing I could sink into the floor. It was the only song I could think of at the time. Stage-fright keeps wit at bay it seems. The highlight for me was the first comedian, Kate Smurthwaite, who was not only funny, but a feminist atheist with a knowledge of history. Yay!
Unfortunately the walk home involved no penny-farthings or segways.

The One being magical

The next night we decided to explore Liseberg, which we see and hear everyday from our apartment. It was fantastic, with neat streets, uncluttered sideshows, gardens, good food and plenty of rides for any level of daring. My own level is more along the comfort with the minimum of up and down level, though my partner insisted that we try Balder, the large wooden rollercoaster that we can see from our balcony and that is the source of at least a third of the screaming we hear daily. I reluctantly agreed and so we lined up, my stomach churning all the while, then got on and set off, rolling along innocuously. Then… Screaming. Lots of screaming. We’ve got photographic testimony of my terror, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked like that before, and hopefully never will again. It was hilarious though, and no, I’m not going to post a copy, just use your imagination and times it by 100. This is a video if you’d like a taste.

Liseberg canal

At a more sedate pace we continued exploring and found a tiny shop that did old style photos in costume, which I couldn’t say no to. So after food we went in and now have a charming photo of a gent in a Union uniform and his lady, though with broader smiles than is usually seen in photos from the 1800s. As the evening progressed we also saw dancing, a ship, bridges, an Austrian band in lederhosen playing Disney’s ‘I wanna be like you’ and I very much wanted to visit again someday.

Dancing at Liseberg

On the next day the weekend started, and we celebrated by sleeping in for the first time in weeks. It was wonderful. We did manage to get out of the house on Saturday morning for a free concert at the Göteborg Opera Foyer, which we had been told about on Thursday night. As we got there slightly late (it had been a nice and scenic cycle though) we grabbed a drinks platform and settled in for some free music. The first half was a violinist and pianist playing themes from Schindler’s List. I was enraptured. I can still hear the final song, which I think is the signature theme. The second half was performed by a shy harpist and a horn player (hornist?), and was much more jolly. Then to finish off, the violinist, pianist and hornist did a toe-tapping Hebrew song, apparently spur of the moment, and yes my feet were tapping. What I think will stick in my memory was the expressiveness and skill of the violinist, Max Wulfsson, and the sweet sadness of the final Schindler’s List theme.

The rest of the weekend was spent with cooking, and being pleasantly housebound.
I did have one excursion of my own though which took an unexpected turn. When I was in Australia I’d been going to yoga classes, for fitness and meditation, and have been hoping to continue this in Sweden. Lo and behold there was a free class on sunday, so I set off with stretching and relaxing on my mind. Instead, I should have been preparing my chakras for some thorough scrubbing, because they were the only parts of me exercised. It seems that yoga has many meanings, and they include internal statements about mindlessness and inner purity while tying invisible knots over one’s head. Which is fine for some, but I’d rather stick to the stretchy kind. At least my chakras are clean.

Pancakey joy

In the month since I arrived in Sweden, other than travelling and a few daily routines, I feel as though I haven’t properly been working on the hobbies that I’d planned to get into once here. Mostly writing and violin, though at least this blog has helped keep the writing fingers going. So I decided on the weekend to throw off whatever else I’ve been occupying my days with and get into the creative stuff. It’s been productive so far, with the short story coming along nicely and some enjoyable fiddling through Dvorak on sunday. Today I am sick so being housebound I may as well get into something.

It’s a beautiful day outside, perhaps I’ll find a bench in the sun and write for a while.

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The island city

My mother was born in Sweden (she is a Norwegian citizen however, which is another story) and grew up in Farsta, a suburb of Stockholm. As I grew up way over in Australia, I heard about days spent in the forest, picking berries and how delicious they tasted, playing games and exploring. The forest I imagined was like those in fairy tales, with tall pines, soft undergrowth, moss and streams. Not like the gravel earth, grey and green trees, clusters of bright flowers and spiky undergrowth of the forests I’d grown up in. I grew up with an idea of where my mother had come from, and a curiosity to know more about it. This may be part of the reason for wanting to live in Europe (in addition to my possible Anglophilia; see previous post for further details), and as soon as it was confirmed that I’d be living in the country where she grew up, I knew that I had to visit her home.

This is the long way of saying that since I moved to Göteborg I’ve been hoping to visit Stockholm, and last Tuesday I did. My partner had arranged a flight for me last week, an early one that would allow a full day of wandering and a not too late return, so before dawn I was up and out of the apartment, walking through empty streets to the nearby tram station. Through pre-planned jumping from one transport to another, I arrived in Stockholm nice and early, with my breath steaming in the chilly air and decided that breakfast must be the first stop. I’d read a review of a cafe in Stortorget that sounded perfect so I headed there by foot to soak in the city better. My walk took me through the Swedish Parliament building, past the Palace and into Gamla Stan. As it was early, the stores were all closed, but I made a mental note of the less-touristy places to try later, as my secondary mission was finding a birthday gift for my brother. I eventually found Stortorget and the cafe, and was then told that it opened in an hour, so went somewhere else instead.

Parliament building

That done, I looked at the next item I’d starred on Google maps, the city museum. I could unwind and relax there, looking at the old things in cabinets before setting off for something more strenuous. It was closed till 11. The trip to Farsta then climbed to the top of my list.

Public transport in Sweden, that I have experienced thus far, has been really good. As such I was able to get to Farsta easily, and after getting a bit lost I found the cul de sac where my mother’s old house was, and then the house itself. It was small and as she’d described it to me. There was a cement fishpond out of the front, that her father had built, and I could see the forest right behind it. Having found it I took photos and looked at it a bit more, and then headed back to Stockholm. I imagine that had my mother been there I could have seen it through her eyes, though visiting it brought a bit of her with me.

By the time I’d returned to Stockholm the city museum was open so I made my way there for some exploring. After a look around I agreed with the ticket fellow – it was ok but the Medieval Museum may be better. He was right as it turns out, but more on that later. Hunger pangs making themselves known, I headed to Gamla Stan for something to eat and then the gift mission. As I wandered through Gamla Stan, peering at shop fronts and dodging crowds, I realised that I wasn’t the only tourist in Stockholm. I would have been surprised if anywhere else on earth had any tourists remaining to be honest.

A rune stone and cannon in Gamla Stan

The next mission was that of immersing myself in history and interesting trivia, so on the recommendation of the ticket fellow I headed for the Medieval Museum. I was however waylaid, as the royal family decided to make a trip to the Parliament building, requiring a police blockade, mounted police, guards with big feathers in their hats and mounted guards. Plus two carriages, one gilt and containing the royals themselves. I stayed for a few photos and to watch the pageantry along with the rest of the crowd, and though I didn’t know it then, turned and strode away from the entrance to the Medieval Museum. I did work this out though and came back and had a great time. It’s a wonderfully set up and fascinating museum, despite being a bit small, and I would happily have stayed there much longer. The next item was the Vasa museum, as I had time for one more museum and it had been recommended by everyone who’d seen it. They were right, it was amazing. Massive and incredibly well preserved, it loomed over me as I entered the huge room, all dark timbers and intricately carved faces. I again immersed myself in the history and before long it was closing time. All that remained was the wander the streets and take in the city, till it was time to head to the airport.

Royal carriage, sans royals

Now I’m back in Göteborg I think the best explanation for the comparison between the two cities required knowing something about Australia. Stockholm I can see as a Sydney sort of town, with suits and bustle and the Important Government and Business Institutions. Göteborg is more like a combination of Fremantle, Melbourne and Hobart, a charming and neat port town with culture and a relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed visiting Stockholm, but I much prefer to live here.

The Vasa

As the time ticks on the the first month anniversary of our arrival, I suspect the rush to travel may abate a bit in the weeks to come. Once winter arrives there will be plans for the North, where the snow will be thicker and there’s a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, but until then we’ll see. Tonight at least will hopefully involve a visit to Liseberg, though whether I will dare the roller-coasters and other rides that send the daily screaming to our apartment, I can’t say yet.

The statue at Strömparterre, calling up a storm

Weekend trip to the land of Angles

I write this latest update inside the apartment, as the weather outside fretfully decides whether to continue with the wind and rain of this morning, or return to the sunny skies that I’ve become used to. I fear that in returning from across the seas last night we may have brought with us the wind and rain of England. Sorry Göteborg.
It was not all rain and bluster fortunately, though I think the fact that the weather lived up to my expectations of the typical, cliqued sort of conditions I’ve heard so much of was a bit satisfying in an odd way.

So what were we doing in England you ask? Well, before we’d even left Australia my partner had heard of an annual airshow in Southport, which includes some of his favourite airplanes, and which he was pretty eager to go along to. Göteborg being a mere hop, skip and jump from England, we duly made plans and bought tickets and so last weekend popped over to see the show. I’ve wanted to visit England for as long as I can remember, seeing it as the home of many of my ancestors and a large part of the culture of Australia. Plus Monty Python, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Dorothy L Sayers etc etc etc… The idea that Australia technically has a Queen also makes me geek out a bit, in a historical way. How Medieval eh?

So, we caught the plane to Stansted and landed, all running more or less to plan and found the hotel. Morning arrived and so did we, though possibly not as quickly as we should have. By the time we were in our hired car and pootling up the M1 it was a bit later than planned, but after all, Google Maps had told us it would only take a couple of hours to get to Southport. No problem right? Guess.

Green sunlit fields

For all that it was longer than planned, it was a lovely drive. Traffic issues meant that we went on a small diversion, passing through small villages that were so very English that I almost didn’t believe it. Twisting streets, hedgerows, old churches, quaint double-storey houses and the most fabulous names, it almost seemed a parody of itself. As we drove, the sky cleared and for much of the afternoon the fields and houses were bright and sunny. I also enjoyed reading out the names of pubs that we passed, such as The Bears Head, The Green Wheelbarrow and The Wrestler. I’d guess there would be a story behind each name, that would be as old as the buildings, or at least an invented tale.

Though late, we did arrive in Southport in time for the displays that were most eagerly anticipated. Eventually making our way to the beach, we stood and watched and photographed the planes as they wooshed overhead. From the Typhoon, a modern jet that sounded as though it was tearing the sky apart, to a Lancaster bomber flanked by Spitfires in honour of the Battle of Britain, it was a very interesting show. The planes and helicopters eventually headed off into the distance, and so did we, venturing into town for something to eat and somewhere to sit. During our wandering I realised that without being really aware of it, Id become accustomed to the reserved, almost genteel manner of Swedes and being confronted by people who shouted questions at us and loud groups of swaggering sorts of men trailing young children and tired women was a bit of a shock. It felt like family night in Northbridge and I felt like a cosseted stranger. We did find a very nice hotel though, with friendly and gracious staff who also employed a very good cook. More relaxed and full of food we headed to Chorley, the closest place I could find accommodation an prepared ourselves for another early morning.

Southport beach

I mentioned that the weather was typically English didn’t I? Well on the Sunday this trend continued, and as such the second day of the airshow was cancelled with the expectation of storms, so we hopped into the car earlier than the previous day, with plans still up in the air. If we returned the car in good time, I hoped, there might be time for a quick trip to London, but as we drove on and I checked times, this seemed less and less likely. Fortunately, as it turned out, our route back took us closer to Cambridge than the previous day’s drive, so we decided to stop there for lunch. After some traffic issues, we parked in the city and looked around. Where is the University? I thought, peering around for old towers and gates and finding only winding roads and old buildings. Then it occurred to me why I couldn’t find the University; the city was the University. I was right in the centre of it. The old buildings were colleges and campus buildings, and those young people trotting and cycling around us were students, tolerant of the peering tourists who must be often getting in the way.

Cambridge street

I decided pretty quickly that I very much liked Cambridge, with it’s mix of the old and the new, and rather than just stay for lunch we made an afternoon of it, wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. A particularly touristy activity we did was a punt up the Cam, guided by a student who had a lot to say about the history of the town and University, and in particular the colleges that we passed as we floated upstream. It was the perfect way to get to the heart of the town, passing the old houses of Trinity, Trinity Hall, King’s and Queen’s, and under the bridges. Some ducks and swans also joined us, as tolerant of us tourists as the students had been.

Cam swans

After the tour we hurried back to the car to head to the airport, and managed through a little bit of speeding to get there only 30 mins later than planned, and after more running made it to the gate with time to spare. Then all that was left was to wait for the plane to take us back over the sea, and home.

Punts waiting on the Cam

Tomorrow I am off again, this time to Stockholm, to hopefully find the house where my mum grew up, find something suitable for my brother’s impending birthday and general exploration. Adventures and another blog post are on the way!

Giant lakes and coming home

This last weekend we finally left Göteborg for further Swedish adventures. A long but comfortable bus ride took us to Linköping, an old town with more of a feel of the market towns I’d seen in France, than I’ve seen so far in Göteborg. Winding cobbled streets led to a market square, or Stora Torget, full of stalls selling lingonberries, open air bars and herds of parked bicycles.
Market place in Vadstena

Some research (Google translate and my partner) revealed that the köping part has something to do with markets, and when you see the area around Vättern (a really, really big lake), scattered with köpings a pattern develops, a sort of line from east to west around the lake. Further research (my mum) revealed that Linköping had been around since Viking times, on the route from the east coast to the west. Just outside of town is Göta Kanal, about 200 years old and stretching from Stockholm to Göteborg. Which means you can now cross Sweden on the water, though it being a canal full of locks, it would take some time. Quicker than sailing around the long way though, those poor Vikings, a few centuries too late…

Vättern

The main reason for the trek inland was to visit a friend of my partner, who kindly showed us around his new town. Vadstena is even smaller than Linköping but I much preferred it. It had the same cobbled streets, happy crowds and old buildings as the other town, but had more charm. It also had a castle. A proper one, with a moat, towers, turrets and a basement. Exploring it was a lot of fun, experiencing the cold and dankness of the lower floors, where the soldiers were billeted and canons were kept versus the relatively light and airy upper floors, with tapestries, high windows and painted walls. As was pointed out by our host, it was no Versailles, but it was proud and simple, and not as dour as it could have been.

Vadstena Castle

After leaving the castle (via a bridge over the moat, did I mention there was a moat?) we had lunch, delicious and Swedish, and wandered some more. The wandering took in Sankt Birgit Kyrka, an ancient church, quite large and grand and containing possibly the remains of Sankt Birgit as well as unknown others, though one assumes they also are holy in some way. As with the cathedral in Linköping, the building seemed timeless and not overbearing. They towered, and I imagined generations living in their shadows, staring up at their towers thinking in awe of the deity for whom it was built.

Sankt Birgit Kyrka

Our wanderings lead us back to our friend’s house, then his car and after some slightly too fast driving watching the clock, the bus station, where we jumped onto the packed bus to take us home. And it did feel like coming home. When the landscape became familiar and I recognised the Liseberg Wheel I was surprised by the feeling of homecoming, it’s only been two weeks today but I suppose people do like to put down roots when they can. Part of me feels a bit disloyal to Australia, but when I think of the highway going up to the hills, the beach and the calling of magpies and black cockatoos, the same feeling creeps in.

Other than adventures to giant lakes, the last week or so has been mostly taken up by the everyday stuff involved in setting up a new home, and waiting for the gears of bureaucracy to get moving. I’ve settled into a schedule of sorts, from running in the forest, shopping if needed, looking after the house and sorting out travel and work. The only very interesting things have been purchasing my new bike (excitement!) and last night when the extra luggage we’d arranged to be shipped over (finally) arrived. The apartment is now looking considerably more cosy and I can feel myself settling in further.

The weather has now cleared and I imagining how green and quiet the forest must be, I think it’s time for a run.

The holiday ends

With rain and a number of mishaps, the weekend has ended and with it the break as we settle in. Now it’s work, study, the reasons we came here and all we’d told ourselves we’d get into.

Yesterday it began, with my partner going off to work, meeting new people and those he’d met before and finding out just what he’d travelled across the world to do. 

For myself it was investigating language classes, IDs and all the other things I’d decided would fill my days. The ideal of getting into study, writing, violin and regular runs in the forest still needs some foundations laid, though it’s very tempting to wander around the forest for hours. 

Yesterday I went for a short visit, to scope out paths for future runs, and encountered a squirrel and an old wall. Perhaps not old, it was difficult to tell without archaeology skills, of which I have none besides those picked up from Elizabeth Peters novels. Moss covered, tumbling apart and running along the side of a shallow valley.

Wall in the forest

 

Further exploring revealed no answers, though it was a very lovely place, and I did find out that I am exactly as stealthy as those characters in films that run off into the forest and are eaten by the resident monster/bear/wolf pack/T Rex/serial killer. More practice is required. The squirrel could tell I was one of those types, I think, as it was very insistent that I go away, lest I draw the monsters to it’s tree. At least I assume that was what the foot-stamping, glaring and chattering carry on was about. 

An indignant squirrel

I mentioned in my previous post that this is a cycling city, designed with paths and prioritising cyclists. Yesterday I was able to ascend the pecking order, and it makes sense now. Of course everyone should give way to cyclists! With my partner on his new, beloved bike and myself on one of the hop-on-hop-off bikes that litter the city, we trundled through the streets, past crowds outside a stadium, trams and many other cyclists. Either due to the small size of Göteborg or the quality of the paths, we crossed the city in no time, and were able to sit in a restaurant by the harbour to watch the sun set. Later today I will hopefully have my own cykel. More on that in the next update.

Göteborg harbour in the evening

Today I have given myself a number of tasks to complete, but as with yesterday, the temptation to continue the holidaying and procrastinate is very strong. Will power! 

For the moment at least I have tea, silence from the amusement park, I Giorni by Einaudi playing in the background and washing to put in the drying room in 5 minutes.