A year/ett år

A year ago today I was somewhere over the earth on the last leg of the trip to my new home. Today I am firmly in Europe, sharing a suburban valley with a 700 year old church and forests that overflowed with berries not long ago. 2 years ago today I would have been pinching myself. I still find it odd that I ended up here, even after all the years of planning and hoping to live in Europe. A year ago I stepped out of the airport and breathed in fresh Swedish air for the first time, bags and partner beside me and a taxi-ride to a new home ahead. Tired and jet-lagged? Oh yes, but it’s also fair to say, pretty damn excited.

Reading my first blog entry from a week after we’d landed I can almost hear the shuffling as I tried to find my feet, drifting as I was between gazing at the new world around me and trying to find out where I fit in. At some point a routine set in and life returned to normal and the new city began to feel like home. I’m not sure when it started, but perhaps it was on our first return from an overseas trip, as I stared out the window at the swathes of green below us, and felt that we were going home.

A rainfall in the forest

A rainfall in the forest

Our new home wasn’t exactly as I had thought it would be either. I knew about the language barrier, colder weather, berries in summer and a fondness for interior design. I didn’t know about the increased personal space, widespread use of English or stylishness that made me feel like a bush-pig. I didn’t know about ‘En svensk tiger’, lagom or how much the entire country changes when summer arrives. Or that I would finally understand why summer is actually a good thing. No doubt in a year I’ll know even more, och jag hoppas att jag kommer att vara bara om att flytande i svensk. Kanske.

A Swedish-ish pie

A Swedish-ish pie

So what has happened in the past year?

We’ve flown to 3 different countries, caught buses and trains to 3 others and made many little journeys around Sweden.

We’ve punted down the Cam, stared up at the dome of the Hagia Sofia and sipped hot cocktails late at night in Copenhagen.

We’ve eaten strawberries by Nemi, stood on a 1700 year old top floor apartment and itched to run our hands along the bows of Viking ships.

We’ve walked on a frozen lake, ridden a steamship past an island called Boo and crowded into an Ice Age cave.

We celebrated the new year with city-wide fireworks and champagne, watched flights of black cockatoos and had dinner with family both here and in Australia.

We’ve experienced a full cycle of seasons, from late summer to early autumn, and I have both played in snow and basked in summer days that seemed as though they would never end.

Cycle of the seasons

Cycle of the seasons

I have learnt that when you leave your home country it doesn’t lie dormant while you’re off exploring the world. People move on as they should, their own stories continuing, and while you can put in a guest appearance once a year or so you gave up your starring role when you chose to leave.

Now I’m making guest appearances and perhaps starring roles in other stories, and meeting an amazing cast of people who not long ago I couldn’t have imagined. Before coming here I had hardly ever met anyone from Iran, Turkey, Syria, Bosnia, Serbia, Jordan, Bulgaria, Poland, Spain, Brazil, France, the Czech Republic, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Portugal, Ukraine, Greece or even (of all places) New Zealand, yet now I can count people from all of these countries as friends. Plus of course a few Swedes.

A rainbow in the valley

A rainbow in the valley

What will my story look like by this time next year? Who knows, but no doubt I will blog about it.

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Cannons, crepes and a copper mare

Last week Göteborg was transformed from a little town bracing itself for Autumn to cosmopolitan city full of art, food, folks and culture, carrying an umbrella just in case.

The festivities had begun on Sunday, the day that we returned from our Stockholm weekend. My partner slid back into the normal working week and I began the next level of Swedish classes, so plans to visit the Kultur Kalas faded into the background. Whenever I passed through town I’d be aware of some commotion, and a gathering of tents just around a corner. The local papers that I grabbed as I caught my bus to class featured pages of schedules, descriptions of events and reviews, all trying to pull me in.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was finally dropped into the middle of the party, in an authentically Göteborgare way.
We had just finished our evening at a Swedish language cafe, when we tagged along on an exploratory mission to the city centre. Via tram and feet we approached the hub and after turning a corner were suddenly in the middle of a crowd of people, circling, gathering and rushing past food stalls. I completely lost track of where I was in town, and had to rely on the ‘Älg kebab’ and ‘British Fish and Chips’ signs to navigate.
Once we reached the other side of the crowds, we wandered to the main square of Kungsportsplatsen where an audience was gathering in the shadow of Kopparmärra. An American was jokingly threatening the oncoming clouds as his Swiss compatriot tried to sort out wiring and keep the audience distracted. They started their show, acrobatics and music and silliness that had the audience clapping along, but even the most skilled performance couldn’t keep us tied to the stands as the rain began to pour down. After sheltering in a cafe, we used a break to run to a floating restaurant to dry and drink. As the evening wore on we tailed off, facing the rain and still milling crowds for the trip to our warm, dry homes.

A drum band in a canal

A drum band in a canal

In the meantime I read in the paper that a singer I had heard of was going to be performing on Thursday. I had read about Sofia Jannok in Swedish class, an interview in which she discussed the feelings of distance and difference that she felt as a Swede raised within Sami culture. She sings in Swedish, Samisk and English, and is a very strong supporter of native rights and Sami culture, and so my interest piqued, I looked forward to seeing her in person.

On the day of the concert I had fika planned in the city, and as I had not had time before, I decided to get lunch from one of the stalls in Brunnsparken. Drawn by nostalgia and curiosity, I got in the line at the Australian tent, and ordered a crocodile burger. The best way I can describe it is a mix of chicken and fish, and not necessarily in a tasty way.
After fika, during which I was happy to remove the flavour of the crocodile, I wandered around the many displays and activities. Most were for children, who ran around under the supervision of their parents, playing in giant see-through balls or trying out crafts of various kinds. Unlike the crafts that I usually see at such festivals, these were actually engaging and useful, ranging from weaving and carpentry to making porcelain cups. I saw many children and their parents tackling the construction of small wooden carts and twisting strings through looms, with an intensity that I don’t often see for crafts.

As I exited the park, leaving the cries of the children behind me, I saw a crowd gathered along the side of a main road that was fenced off. A closer look showed two sand tracks on the road, and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a pair of horses with trailing buggies flew past. Horse racing along a main road is also something I haven’t seen before at a festival, but I have to assume that people just do things differently here in Sweden.

The winning horse

The winning horse

The crowds, food and festivities continued as I made my way to the concert area, where I settled down to wait for my partner and friends so join me. The atmosphere of festivity was contagious, and the afternoon quickly passed, bringing friends and then Sofia Jannok. She was wonderful, and though I couldn’t understand much of what she said, she had great passion and an ability to yoik. Our evening ended after another journey around the food stalls at Brunnsparken, losing ourselves among the fudge, crepes, goulash and sausages.

A bridge from a canal

A bridge from a canal

Our final visit was on Saturday, which started with an activity that I had been hoping to try for some time.
Göteborg is criss-crossed with canals, some of which were originally the moat of the old city, and for much of the year a small boat makes it’s way under the bridges and through the canals, showing people the city from a different perspective. I had not yet done this, so decided that a day with so much on display in the city and lively crowds wandering around, would be an ideal time. The tour started well, the guide giving us facts I hadn’t known in both Swedish and English, as we ducked under low bridges and waved at those on the land. Soon we were in the harbour, seeing the old heart of the city whose fate now hangs in the balance.

The old harbour

The old harbour

As we rolled over the waves, we were also confronted with a makeshift boat, planks of wood stuck onto two inflated tubes and covered with comfortable sofas and a table. We were also treated to the sight of mooning from some of those enjoying their day out. Aside from their questionable greetings, I would have quite liked to float along on their boat, nibbling snacks and seeing where the boat drifted.

The tour finished and we spent a while walking around, listening to a trio of sisters from Ireland, then an underground rock band from Iran. Smells and sights surrounded as, and as the night approached we had a bite to eat and then walked down the street to the harbour for the final event of the night.

On a stage and mingling around stalls were people in 17th century outfits, some carrying guns and all trying to look authentic. Crowds were gathered on the steps of the Opera House and along the waterside, peering downriver constantly and impatiently. Finally a ship slid out of the distance, tall and graceful even without it’s sails out. Soon after another ship floated towards us, this one with a Danish flag.

Cannon smoke

Cannon smoke

A sudden boom rang out, accompanied by a flash of light, and then the costumed soldiers on the river side erupted into a barrage of shots across the water, backed up by blank, but still deafening, shots from the cannons on the Swedish ship. The Danish ship soon ‘sank’ and was replaced by another, which was also seen off. This repeated a few times to cheers, booms, crashes and flashes as the sun slowly set and cold began to set in. Finally the Swedes won a decisive victory, and the two Danish ships disappeared down the river, to yet more cheers.

The Danes depart

The Danes depart

The excitement passed, we made out way through the crowds to the centre of town, the boom of cannons and taste of exotic food following us home, ending the first but not last Kultur Kalas that we will enjoy here in our not as new home-city.

The city of islands

Having woken somewhat groggily from a post-Viking feast slumber, we eventually set out on our second day in Stockholm in the late morning. The city by this time was alive with people, gaggles of tourists, locals crossing town for work or play or just wandering about and enjoying the summer. We joined the crowds on Gamla Stan, planning to cross to the mainland to catch a ferry.

Our route took us past the royal palace, where it seemed that something was afoot. The largest crowds we had seen so far were packed and still packing behind rope barricades, apparently watching the palace guards, who in turn seemed to be blankly watching nothing. No one seemed inclined to explain what was going on, so we hung about curiously until an announcement that the changing of the guards was imminent. As neither of us was very interested and it seemed unlikely to involve horses or the royal family we hurried out, passing a marching band and a group of very serious looking guards on their way to take over guarding duty.

Stockholm from a ferry

Stockholm from a ferry

Now that we had escaped the fanfare, we skirted around the palace and found the ferry dock, where we caught one across to Djurgården, an island which seems to house most of the interesting and fun places in Stockholm. As we looked for somewhere to have lunch, we could hear screams from the theme park and see people darting about the tree lined streets, bound for the ABBA Museum (I’m not kidding), the Vasa Museum or Skansen, which was our destination.

So Skansen; how to describe it… Basically it’s a combination zoo, craft village, music venue, playground and outside museum in the middle of an island, in the middle of Stockholm. To understand you really have to visit it.
As we following the paths around for our first visit, we found the wolf enclosure, where we spotted one fellow trying to sleep in the sun and ignore the pointing crowds. I got a thrill spotting him, or her, as I did when I caught a glimpse of a single wolf at Nordens Ark last year. Speaking of which, I do intend to post about that day at some point.

Spot the wolf!

Spot the wolf!

From wolves, we saw a family of lynxes, the kittens pattering about with huge paws and the mother patiently carrying them across streams while the father lazed in the shade of a tree.
Then bears, sleeping in furry, comfortable piles in the sun, also ignoring the excited people leaning over the fences and taking photos.

Sleeping bears

Sleeping bears

One of the animals I found the most interesting was one that I hadn’t seen before, at least not in the flesh. European bison were almost extinct at one point, with a small amount remaining in zoos and none left in the wild. Thanks to breeding programs, there are now a few herds out there and also a number in zoos such as Skansen. They were one of the most represented animals in cave paintings, and seeing them in life I could imagine why they had such an influence on the people who shared the world with them thousands of years ago.

Bisons being shy

Bisons being shy

Finally we found deer, lying next to fences and tolerating the children (and older people) touching their furry summer antlers.

A tolerant reindeer

A tolerant reindeer

Elsewhere in the park we came across a tall and imposing building, that I have just discovered is the Hällestad belfry. At first glance I had no idea of it’s purpose, though it seemed most of all to be somehow foreign and strange, possibly pre-Christian and part of some culture that doesn’t exist any more. It looks as though it’s covered in thousands of wooden scales and smells deeply of resin and pine, as with the smaller belfry near where we live, and also the cabin we stayed at in Norway months ago. Once we were off the island, it is one of the few thing that can be made out between the trees and the towers of the theme park.

Hällestad belfry

Hällestad belfry

Other ancient buildings were scattered around the paths, old farm houses, churches and even a manor house. A fearless squirrel ran out and pestered some children for a little while then disappeared, and ponies and horses appeared intermittently, carrying children or pulling a cart. As we got more hot and tired, we found an icecream van and enjoyed the treats by the old theatre with a lovely view of the city below.

Stockholm from Djurgården

Stockholm from Djurgården

As we tried to find the exit we passed through the craft village, and got dragged by curiosity into the glass making workshop, where someone was in the middle of making a series of stylised reindeer with apparent ease. Outside great loads of glass fragments were strewn across the rocks, like piles of colourful and clear ice.

Once we had made our way outside we caught a tram to the mainland and then walked to the ferry harbour, to wait for another journey. After staring up into the seamlessly blue sky for a short while, our boat arrived and we settled in for a ride through the archipelago.
If you have a look at Stockholm on a map, you will see that between the city and the sea there is a maze of islands of all sizes. On our voyage to Vaxholm, one of the nearest publicly open islands, the scenery changed from built up apartments, cliffs covered in houses, then scattered housing, an oil refinery and finally leafy green shores with expensive houses and tiny harbours poking out between the trees.

Island houses

Island houses

We’d pass uninterrupted stretches of trees, then a 4 story manor would appear, deck chairs set out on the front lawn or a party in full swing on a terrace. Though we didn’t know it at the time, we even passed an island called Boo. If you don’t believe me look it up. It was also right across the water from a place called Bo, apparently.

Sunset on the archipelago

Sunset on the archipelago

Vaxholm is small and neat and lovely, and we didn’t really have enough time to take it all in, or visit the old fortress. We did have time though for dinner on a rooftop terrace with a very nice view of the fortress and the harbour.

Vaxholm fortress

Vaxholm fortress

For our return trip we caught a steamer, much more old fashioned than the modern ferry we’d arrived on. We found benches on the lacquered wooden deck to watch the islands passing by and the sun slowly set, and listened to the steady chugging of the engine as we sipped cider and beer.

Nighttime on a steamer

Nighttime on a steamer

Back in the city, we discovered a festival that was ending, in loud music and bright flickering lights, and walked down the main street guarded by hippy-looking lions. When we returned to Gamla Stan for one last loo before we went back to the hotel, we bumped into an old friend who we hadn’t seen since last year. He was visiting the city with some friends from his hometown, and after exclaiming about coincidences, introductions and chatting, they invited us to follow them along to a bar for a final drink. The bar was in the nice part of town, and inhabited by well dressed folk dancing and drinking well dressedly. We chatted and laughed some more, and I enjoyed another Madde, before eventually their post-kayaking exhaustion and our post-exploring tiredness overtook us.
As we stood and swayed on the tram headed for the hotel, we found out that one of the fellows was the project manager of a planned museum to honour Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. This is the sort of thing we just take for granted in Sweden.

Stockholm at night

Stockholm at night

The next day, after leaving our luggage at the train station, we headed to the History Museum. Limited slightly by time, we went through the exhibitions quicker than I would have liked, but we managed to take in the huge numbers of Viking artifacts, get drawn into stories of ancient people, marvel at the hoard of gold and silver and even practice archery. Sadly I wasn’t able to find the original Freya pendant that I have a replica of, but I’m sure that wasn’t my last visit to Stockholm.

From there we went to the train station, then the train and then to our seats. On the ride back we were entertained by another pianist, who played some Håkan Hellström to the delight of a chef and his audience, preparing us for our return to Göteborg and home.

From the 1960s to the 1060s

As of this week my partner and I both properly return to work/study, ending what feels now to have been a very long and languorous Summer. To mark the ending we went on one final trip together, this time to the capital city of our still-newish home.

We decided to travel across the land this time, on a refurbished 1960s train. Second class was slightly squeezy, as we unfortunately weren’t lucky enough to get one of the Harry Potter style booths (next time!), though I suspect if we had I may have been forced to at least hum the final theme song and pretend I was heading for Scotland. This was more than made up for by the bar carriage, which included a pianist serenely playing Cyndi Lauper and U2 covers amidst chatting travellers and the occasional bump of the train.

The pianist

The pianist

When we were able to pull ourselves away from her performance we had lunch in the dining carriage, which was done up in what I think of as an Agatha Christie style. As we waited for the food, I imagined Poirot strolling down the aisle, or cries of surprise as the annoying lady who had been seated next to me in the second class carriage passed out and died mysteriously, sparking a panic and only solved after a chase down the roof of the train. However, the only surprise we got was that the house, or in this case train, wine was very nice and that the sunny weather stretched all the way across the country.

The dining carriage

The dining carriage

The tranquility of old fashioned travel was soon replaced by more modern bustle, as we stepped off the train and into the crowds at the central station. I hadn’t really thought how small and quiet Göteborg is until I was confronted by the noise and endless amount of people that charged by as we made our slightly dazed way to the hotel.

Once we had settled in, we went back out again, taking a roundabout way to an afterwork with my partners Stockholm workmates. Our route took us through Gamla Stan and past more crowds of tourists, staring about at the old buildings, cobbled streets, trinket stores and the occasional runestone in a wall. We eventually found the venue for the drinks, a terrace bar overlooking the city and the river. We chatted, laughed and I was introduced to ‘the drink of the summer’, something called Madde or Maddeline, a mix of rose and schweppes which turned out to be delicious, and is in my opinion, if not the drink of the summer then a definite contender.

We continued the evening at a restaurant in Gamla Stan, which may have been terribly touristy but was so worth it that I honestly don’t care.
Aifur is a Viking themed resturant, and as we descended the stairs into the darkness and warmth, and were introduced to the crowded tables by a very loud fellow in costume, I felt more part of an authentic experience of history than I have since chatting with Vikings at Foteviken or standing on a topfloor apartment at Ostia. The atmosphere was all loud talking and laughter, candlelit darkness, heavy wooden designs and furniture and through it all the playing of two musicians.

Viking musicians

Viking musicians

My guess for their instruments was a type of hurdy-gurdy, partly because I really love that word and also because I don’t know any other word for wind-up violin banjo things. Before food arrived we whet our thirst on mead, continuously poured into our clay cups and were soon swept away by the drink and our surroundings. The food was thick, spiced, heavy and delicious, though I have to say that eating a chicken with a large two-prong fork isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Old fashioned table ware

Old fashioned table ware

In time, too short a time, we shambled out into the colder night air and cheerfully embarked on a raid of an Irish pub. One drink later, we were back out on the street, making a sleepy and slightly wobbly way back to the hotel, where we slept well and dreamed of feasts and rousing music.

A sunny day by a lake

I feel as though every time I post something on Facebook or this blog it’s just the latest verse in a rhapsody about Summer. It’s so all encompassing here, from half the country taking the season off for the yearly holidays, lakes and the sea crowding with swimmers and the long, light nights. In comparison my memories of Australia make it seem like one long Summer, punctuated by a brief rainy period with the occasional minus degree night to blisteringly hot days at the other end, and with endless, cloudless blue skies in between. With nothing to really compare it to, I got bored of Summer and longed for a change, and a change is what I got. Having lived through an Autumn and a Winter here I feel like I’m experiencing Spring and Summer for the first time, and trying to make the most of it.

Ducks in a sunlit dam

Ducks in a sunlit dam

Since we returned from our roadtrip, the holidays have continued for a little while. My partner returned to work and I returned to looking for work and trying to fill my days with usefulness. Before we properly returned to the old swing of things, we did something that I had been hankering for since Summer started; we went to a lake.

The lake in question was packed the day we visited, every patch of grass taken and the sandy shores covered in wobbling toddlers and sunbathing teens. There were even cement diving boards, the highest around 6 metres, and as full of people jumping and splashing as the rest of the lake we had seen. We continued around the shores, hoping to find a free area where we could spread out our picnic blanket and hopefully bbq without covering our neighbours in smoke.

The trusty bbq

The trusty bbq

After walking some way we came to a non-grassy section, the lakes shore lapping on rocks rather than sand, and trees and bushes divided by small paths. Among them was a tiny clearing next to a large rock, the perfect height for a bbq, and just above a sheltered bay. We quickly grabbed it and settled in, spreading out the blanket and getting the bbq going. While my partner happy fiddled away with the bbq, I stripped down to my bathers and went to test the waters. They were cold and muddy, but on a hot Summer day, with a cold cider and a tasty meal on the way, it was perfect and I was soon making my way in, trying not to embarrass myself in front of any of the natives who seemed happy to jump straight in without even a gasp.

A  little island

A little island

My partner soon joined me, as well as a few curious fish who flickered around our feet. Though the mud and reeds were a bit strange at first, it was nice to remember that inland Swedish lakes have a significantly lower risk of sharks, stonefish or jellyfish than WA beaches.

Friendly lake dwellers

Friendly lake dwellers

Food was soon cooking, spreading delicious smells around the area, and we ate and drank under the shade of the birch trees, treating ourselves to the raspberries we had picked the day before.

Berries! Plus unsatisfactory rosehips

Berries! Plus unsatisfactory rosehips

After food we decided to swim to a little island about 100 metres out, my speed assisted by the return of my fear of seaweed and unknown depths. On the island we joined a host of others basking in the sun, and at some point we fell into a doze, and were woken up by clouds drifting across the sun. Now that we were dry and warm, we slipped back into the lake and paddled back to our little bay and then decided that we needed icecreams.
I think there are few more pleasant ways to spend an afternoon than sitting on a rock in the sun, by a lake, eating icecream and listening to music with your favourite person.

The clouds roll in

The clouds roll in

After a time we packed up and walked further around the lake, finding abandoned boats, more swimming places and berries, and then went back to the bus stop and home.

As mentioned earlier in this post, we had collected quite a few raspberries prior to the lake visit. The largest haul was from a stretch of bushes near a small lake. We had gone for a walk to explore our new neighbourhood and come across a trove by accident. Since then we’d grabbed handfuls here and there, some of them making it home though mostly not, though as quickly as they appeared the raspberries seem now to be disappearing. They are being replaced by blackberries, though we have yet to find a hoard as large as those of the raspberries, and even the occasional smultron (tiny wild strawberries). Soon there should be blueberries, though we have yet to see any sign of them.

Our first hoard

Our first hoard

Next year I hope that we can get out of town, go somewhere with untouched and dense berry bushes and just go crazy eating them. Some may even survive and end up as jam, who knows.

Time since then has blurred slightly into busy days and quiet days, as we prepare for work and study and shake off the lazy Summer days. I hope that even if the berries don’t last, these long, warm days will stay with us for a while yet, at least until I can get one more dip in a lake.