In the garden

While living in Sweden, all I had to offer plants was a balcony and windowsills, not the best environment for growing. Something that I was looking forward to when we returned to Australia was the ground that would be free for me to use for whatever greenery I wanted. Images of cascading nasturtiums, tomato plants weighed down by fruit, natives adding colour and food for bees. 

Now, about 2 months after being back, these plans are underway. An aspect of gardening that I hadn’t considered properly was patience. A watched seed doesn’t sprout. 
I expected the sun and earthy vibrancy of Austalia to launch the little seedlings into life, growing obediently up trellises and across rocks. 

Plants need time, and at least in the case of snap peas, someone willing to encourage them daily to grow up the trellises I carefully made for them. 


The little reaching trendrils twist in the air, around themselves into tiny fists, and sometimes around the poles and other tendrils, going sideways and upwards. Every day a branch extends out into midair, and is poked back, tendrils twisted around the trellises with the hope that this time it’ll cling on. 

In the shade of the peas the thyme seedlings slowly grow. Getting less and less light as the peas grow, I’ll have to move them soon, before they’re completely covered.
Behind the pea trellises dwarf beans are shooting out of the soil, encouraged by the sun and rain this week, growing at about a cm a day. At this rate they’ll be climbing the back fence in a couple of weeks, and maybe even giving me some return for dinner and snacks.

Rocket plants taken from my mum’s garden have also been heading upwards fast, and are now collapsing under their own weight, hopefully ready to seed and start again. A salad for the warmer week ahead is waiting in their thick leaves.

Elsewhere zinnias and lavender grow, providing for the bees and birds that hover around. Nasturtium shrubs, planted many weeks ago, are clinging on in the rocky, sandy soil, new leaves showing that they haven’t given up yet, though it’ll be sometime before they spread uncontrolled over the rockery, bright flowers blooming.

By the protection of the house, geraldton wax and red leschenaultia slowly thrive, their hardy and vibrant flowers very typical of the dry, harsh but giving conditions of the south west. A boronia bush waits to spread, strawberry seedlings hold in their fruit and a native berry bush grows up towards the light.

There is greenery, colour and in the future fruit, but like settling in to your old home and life, it takes time.

Provence, part 1

It’s hard to play favourites with places that you visit on holiday; each one stands out in its own way, bringing you find memories and tastes that keep calling you back. One such place is Provence, a region in the south east of France. It was once the first area taken over by the Romans outside of Italy, their first province, thus its name. They no doubt had to bash through hordes of Celts and Gauls to establish their neat little towns, and on our journey we were faced with similarly obstreperous natives; the French rail network.

A quick search to confirm the name shows that there is another strike underway, though I imagine that the many people who are staring at timetables in stations and angrily calling helplines won’t be as lucky as we turned out to be. We found out our pre-booked tickets had been refunded on the morning of our departure, and as she had to rush off for work and say her goodbyes, our host advised us to just turn up at the station and see if another train turns up, or in the worst case hire a car and drive down. So off we went, and lo and behold there was a train leaving in 5 minutes, so a sprint and a scramble around later and we were in first class, on seats left open by friends of travellers who had not turned up. We left a few hours earlier than intended on a faster train, for free, so in all, the strike worked out pretty well for us.

Avignon in the evening

Avignon in the evening

Upon our arrival in Avignon, the temperature rose from the foggy, jumper-needing 15 in Paris to shorts and t-shirt weather. Driving through the twisting streets, past the warm coloured walls and wide river, it felt almost like another country. Our accommodation itself was also very different. For a bit of a difference, we’d rented a gypsy caravan for our stay, which sat in someone’s chicken-ful yard and was bright yellow and purple. It had everything we needed, though in a reduced size and was definitely the most unique Airbnb place we’ve stayed in so far.

That afternoon we wandered around Avignon, admiring the Papal palace and views of the hills and valleys in the distance, as the sun set. For dinner we went to a restaurant that had been recommended online, which should serve as an example to not always believe what you read. After being told they were booked out, we were grudgingly taken to one of the empty tables almost on the street, left for ages, given different menus to the rest of the guests who gradually arrived, not offered anything to drink other than water and generally ignored. I’d have been less annoyed if the food had been decent, but I wasn’t, and on top of that felt disappointed that the stereotype for rudeness was true in at least one occasion.

The bridge of Avignon

The bridge of Avignon

So how do you follow such a day of ups and downs? You have a Roman holiday.

Our first stop was the well deservedly famous Pont du Gard. Since my partner’s last visit years ago, tourism around it had taken off, so it was only after crossing a huge carpark, paying a fee, getting through the shops and a walk through paths and gardens that we got our first glimpse of the aqueduct. It was awe inspiring, both in the size and craftsmanship, and purpose.

In the shadow of Pont du Gard

In the shadow of Pont du Gard

The Romans built menuments such as this to work, for a functional purpose, but also to impose themselves on the landscape so that wherever you were in the Empire, you knew that Rome was there. It was impressive from every angle, and dwarfed all of the tourists and staff and little shops built nearby, as it had no doubt dwarfed the slaves who built it, the legions who marched past it and the people centuries later who wondered if it had been built by giants.

Pont du Gard, imposing itself

Pont du Gard, imposing itself

Next we visited Nîmes, which is a gorgeous town that I think puts Avignon in the shade in regards to elegance. Walking along its tree lined boulevards and past fountains, we saw the arena, which seemed almost entirely intact. Inside we saw that it was being set up to host a concert, the original seating, walkways and arena floor still serving the purpose they had been built for.

The arena of Nîmes, ready to go

The arena of Nîmes, ready to go

From a vantage point in the top tier, there was a wonderful view over the city, with pigeons soaring and cathedrals and ancient towers rising up and beyond them the hills.

Rooftops of Nîmes, from the arena

Rooftops of Nîmes, from the arena

Not imagining this could be topped, we next found the Maison Carrée. Though long since stripped of the bright paint and gold, it looked almost intact, a beautiful temple that glowed in the afternoon light. It has been a house, a church, a stable and a granary, and still stands as if it had never been touched. Exquisite is a good word for it. If you think I’m waxing a bit too lyrical, I urge you to visit it, and then say I’m wrong.

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

It also made me wonder what else had been lost to history, what other beauty had been torn down and the sorts of people and situations that bring that about.

The ceiling of the outer collonade

The ceiling of the outer collonade

Out next stop was Arles, but as we drove I noticed something on the map that had inexplicably escaped my notice before. With a slight change of direction we went off the main road, and arrived at our destination as thunder began to roll on the horizon. Our destination was a replica Roman winery, built on and around an ancient winery, and which was still in production. We were left to explore the centre ourselves, taking in the info about amphorae, wine production and the history of the site. We then found the pressing room, which has a massive tree beam hung above a press, with winches and pulleys, basins for the wine and grape mush and huge amphorae buried in the ground. Every year there is a harvest on the site, with workers and volunteers in costume, who then press the grapes by foot, operate the equipment and create wine following ancient recipes.

The press at Mas des Tourelles

The press at Mas des Tourelles

It was all fascinating and I was giddy with the reality of it, even more so when we were offered tasting, which were included in all visits. Obviously tastes have changed over the millenia, but the herbs, spices, sweetness and saltiness were marvelous to experience, and we left with smiles and bottles of our own, glad we had the opportunity to try this completely unique experience.

Then to finish off our day, we had dinner in Arles, which for my was a plate full of crustacea. Though my partner’s face went white as I offered him meaty lumps of sea snail, I got through the whole thing – and the whole experience far exceeded our first night in Provence.

Seafood extravaganza

Seafood extravaganza

Walking through the town we saw another arena, a bit smaller but still imposing and many cobbled streets and a busker. What overlaid everything was the scent of jasmine, which hung heavily in the evening air, the flowers themselves growing around and into houses and walls.

Jasmine in Arles

Jasmine in Arles

Paris

I have lost track of the weeks we’ve been back in Australia, at some point I stopped counting. It was probably the point at which our life here hit its rhythm, and we started to feel as though this was normal, as though we hadn’t lived anywhere else. Hearing a Swedish accent, seeing birch trees, even the nonsensical names at IKEA, all bring the last few years back with a jolt. I remember that routine, those people I saw everyday, the changes faces of the lake and when that life was the normal one.

It’s sinking in. Until it does completely, here’s the next part of our trip across Europe.

***

What can you say about Paris? Glamour, selfies at the Eiffel Tower, fashion, monuments, cafes chairs on the sunny pavements, rarefied sense of culture. All true, and you’d think enough to make it cringey, but Paris can really pull being Paris off. With aplomb.

Paris in clouds

Paris in clouds

We had both been to Paris before, though not together, so there was no rush from either of us to head to the main sites. I had spent 9 hours in the Louvre, which was enough for this decade, so instead we caught the subway to the Opera stop and let our feet lead us from there. At Gallery Lafayette I bought a beautiful jar of salt, mixed with rose petals and herbs, and soaked in the luxurious smells of chocolate, pastry, tea and other delicacies.

Salt in Gallery Lafayette

Salt in Gallery Lafayette

Then the Madeleine, the gold tip of the obelisk on Place de la Concorde, a glimpse of the Tower over the river and a traipse up Champs-Élysées. There were still tourists overloaded with shopping bags from Louis Vuitton, and Parisians buying everyday clothes from H&M, and the mad chaos of the Arc du Triomphe roundabout.

The high level of the streams and multitude of puddles we’d seen on the train through France came back to us as we crossed the Seine. The river had overflowed the lower embankments, straining the ropes tying boats to shore and climbing steadily up the shins of the bridges. The next day it would pass the knees, and after we left our host was evacuated from her workplace as the water continued to rise. For us it was a novelty of a sort, something to remark on and worry about on behalf of our friend, but for those who didn’t know if tomorrow would wash away their livelihoods, it was a very different reality. On the news were families whose houses were flooded, but here in Paris the shops were selling little Eiffel Towers and the outward face of the city was unchanged, if dampened.

The Seine rising

The Seine rising

Leaving the rising river behind us, we made our way to the tower, where we found that the queues were much too long. In particular, the queue for the lift. Well then, we thought, we’re in decent condition and have all four of our legs working, so what’s stopping us from joining the much shorter queue for the stairs? We found out about halfway up, as my vertigo peaked and our knees liquefied. We did make it though, and were rewarded with the spectacle of Paris spread out around us. Somehow we made it back to our host’s apartment after that, knees a’knockin’, and enjoyed a wonderful Parisian picnic and at least one glass of wine each.

On the second day I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Cafe des Deux Moulins, which will be instantly recognisable to those who have seen the 2001 film Amélie. It was pretty much like in the film, and the owners weren’t shy about capitalising on that, so among the locals were tourists taking subtle or not so subtle selfies with the film poster or the familiar bar. I restrained myself out of shyness, and instead took a parting shot as we left, trying to avoid the crowds.

Sacré-Cœur from the Eiffel Tower

Sacré-Cœur from the Eiffel Tower

While in Montmartre we climbed up to Sacré-Cœur, and were accosted by intimidating groups of men trying to scam tourists. We had to be pushy to avoid them, and even then were frightened. Hakuna matata: not so much. I worry about those who weren’t able to get away. It put a stain on the morning, which was added to by a meeting with an eccentric man in the Marais. He was no doubt trying to help, but his directions and help were so insistent that when we did finally escape, we backtracked down a side street so he didn’t see we’d gone the opposite way, and so run after us.

After the extreme tourism of Montmartre, with the endless knick-knack stores, fake luxury handbags, overpriced cafes and packs of tour groups, the relative quiet and polish of the Marais was a relief. We had a meal at a New York style diner (truffled mac and cheese, mmmm) and very pleasant looking French waiters. Then the rain started to set in, and with dashes from cover to cover, a peek at Notre Dame and ducking around puddles, we got to the stonily serene building that houses the Musée national du Moyen Âge, that used to be known as Musée de Cluny.

A medieval saint, being wistful

A medieval saint, being wistful

I’m not a big fan of medieval history, but the collection here was lovely, from the Roman bath house, ancient stain glass windows with saints and exquisitely carved ornaments.

Stained glass

Stained glass

The highlight was the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Despite their age, they are alight with colour and movement, each detail so beautifully done that you could get lost in each tapestry for hours. Each one represents a sense, from touch to sight, and one that is still a mystery. Who made them, why and what were they trying to tell us?

The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste

The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste

After a brief visit to Shakespeare and Co we went home, and then out again for dinner at a huge hall, which had formerly been a diner for workers wanting something quick and filling. It still served simple food well done, but now fed crowds of locals and tourists who lined up for hours for a seat. We only just made it in, and after the hearty food, company and warmth and vibrancy of the setting, we raised our glasses to our Parisian holiday. Until next time.

Paris rooftops

Paris rooftops

Hill towns and orange blossoms

For the last few weeks I’ve been sitting down to finish the second part of the posts from our Mallorca trip. I’ll look at the dot points and the photos I’ve collated, and a wave of indifference will wash over me. It’s not from a lack of things to say, but the energy to put towards anything that isn’t related to the move. Or The Move, as it’s written in my mind.

So rather than a longer, more usual post about our trip, I’m going to have a shorter set of snapshots, to conjure up the moments that stuck with me.

The train from Palma to Soller, winds over and through small farms and mountains with glimpses of pine-clad mountain sides and groves of ancient olive trees. Rolling along on the old wooden train it felt as though we were travelling through time. Soller itself is a small town sitting in a valley surrounded by mountains. At the end of every street we could see them looming above us, blocking all views except to the sea. It was orange season, so as we walked along the old streets we caught gusts of orange blossom perfume, which almost knocked out all my other senses. In the market, just prior to enjoying a delicious lemon and cinnamon icecream, I bought a pearl necklace hung on a thin string of woven flax, which looked as though it had been strung on a beach.

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Soller

Deia is also in a valley, though sitting on the top and sides of a hill rising from the centre of the valley. Restaurants, tourist offices, craft stores and delis, mostly closed for the Easter holiday, wind around the base of the hill, and then houses line the street that climbs to the top, where a small church and cemetery have pride of place.

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Deia on the hill

A famous resident of the cemetery is Robert Graves, whose grave has a little collection of flowers from visitors. Other graves, locals I guess, are marked by names and dates scratched into cement on the ground. There was no reason given for this that I could see, perhaps there wasn’t enough stone or money.

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Robert Graves' grave

The next day we devoted to Alcudia, which we reached by a bus that crossed the island, passing through one town that we were glad we had decided not to visit. Here’s a recommendation for possible visitors: don’t bother with Inca. Our destination was much more enjoyable, and even included Roman ruins. The ruins were the foundations of houses, the remnants of the forum and a theatre, spread out across fields of grass and flowers. It was hard to imagine the scale, but I could at least see what their view would have been, of the thickly green hills and wide blue sky.

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Polentia

From the ruins we wandered through the old town of Alcudia, which reminded us of Victoria on Malta. There were limestone houses and cobbled streets, with narrow windows and a feeling of the residents shutting themselves in from the world of the streets. Down one street we found a restaurant and there enjoyed the best meal of our holiday, local food and absolutely delicious.

On the bus back to Palma we both fell asleep, and though we had an early wake up for the flight the next morning, we got a chance for one final walk around Palma, to see the cathedral and feel the warm, spring air. Then we left, the sights, tastes and sounds coming with us to cloudy Gothenburg.

Carpe diem in Palma

Months ago, it seems now to have been very many months ago, my partner and I noticed that there was a long weekend coming up. This raised exciting possibilities and as any sensible travel-fancying folk is wont to do, we hopped onto the net for cheap flights. After winnowing away Rome (been there), Berlin (too expensive) and Edinburgh (we could get the same weather here) we settled on Mallorca. I was a bit hesitant, images of Magaluf and incessant club music lurking in my mind, but the more we investigated, the larger we found the island was, and the larger the distance between us and them.

Mallorca, for those who have not been or have only been to the hotels, bars and beaches around Palma, is an island full of stunning scenery. Mountain ranges split the island, their steep sides covered in pines and ancient olive terraces and wildernesses crowding on cliffs overlooking the sea. Considering the thousands of years that humans have been living on the island, it’s surprising how tracts of wilderness still exist, whether because it’s too beautiful to inhabit or too difficult to reach.

An ancient olive tree

An ancient olive tree

Our journey began in Palma, and a little Airbnb apartment that we rented for our stay. To have a home in the old town, with the tourist carriage horses clopping past in the afternoons and twisting cobbled streets almost leaving us lost more than once, was exactly how we like to experience a new place. The bottle of wonderful home-made wine was a nice bonus.

Palma Cathedral close up

Palma Cathedral close up

Our first stop was the cathedral, which we would return to again and again, drawn to it’s towers and changeable, squatting silhuette. You can’t view the cathedral only from it’s feet; it has to been seen from afar. Only then do the pillars and buttresses that look so blockish and clumsy up close soar upwards, and the curves and arches can be seen. It’s fair to say that we both fell a little in love with the cathedral, or at least developed a crush.

Palma Cathedral at night

Palma Cathedral at night

It would take till the 3rd day before we made our way inside, but it was certainly worth the wait and the ticket. Much seems at first to be a typical European cathedral, with pillars, buttresses, windows etc… On a closer look the colours and cacophony of shapes in the windows gave a hint that they had been designed by Gaudi, as was the gigantic canopy that loomed above the altar. Plate sized iron leaves held candles, sheaves of wheat seemed to sway above them, and above that was a dove in a splash of colour. This and the wall behind, palms on a gold background, could have been a chaotic frenzy but instead spoke of, or rather shouted about, life and nature. Live! Wander in the fields! Sleep between the roots of an old olive tree! Don’t wait for tomorrow!

Gaudi's canopy

Gaudi’s canopy

An even more urgent display spread up the walls of a chapel to the right, intended to celebrate aspects of Jesus with a marine theme. In impression of Jesus was there, pressing through the clay on the wall, surrounded by symbols of his life, all in painted clay hung on the walls. Loaves of bread overflowed on amphorae of wine, and on either side wall racing down from froth topped waves were hundreds of fish. There were sharks, jellies, salmon, at least one ray and other un-namables seeming to skim just under the surface of the clay, with a fin or a fisherman’s hook occasionally poking through. Again, chaos and life.

A wall of fish

A wall of fish

Other days spent in the capital revealed shopping districts and a restaurant area full of tourists, and beyond that the sprawl of everyday life. Though apparently prettified within the last few decades, the new sheen on the elegant boulevards being a bit of a giveaway, Palma gave the impression of being once a centre of commerce and movement, but having in more recent centuries faded a little. One of the finest signs of this, and vying with the cathedral as my favourite building, was the 15th century hall of the merchant guilds or Llotja de la Seda.

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

Very rarely are there secular buildings that seem built with the same care and thought for a long future as this hall was, even now bare of the banners, paintings and colours that must once have filled its bare walls and floor. It does still have the 6 pillars holding up the vaulted ceiling, and large lattice worked windows letting in the afternoon sun. It felt, somehow, comfortable and peaceful, though I can imagine that hundreds of years ago it would have been full of shouts, chatter and the crash and shuffle of goods for all hours of the day and probably the night as well.

Hall of pillars

Hall of pillars

This then is my memories of the city, snatched from the few days we were there. The next post will tell about our journeys further away, to hill towns and Roman ruins beside Medieval walls, plus wonderful the scenery in between.

A window in the merchant's hall

A window in the merchant’s hall

Leaving and landscapes

So we’re going, and as with any big decision it seems that the most overwhelming aspect is not the looming of the event itself but the minutiae of preparing.

What do we take, what do we leave, when do we leave, who do I leave my fledgling lemon trees to – these questions keep overwhelming the importance of the move itself. We’ve started sorting what we’ll take and have gone so far as to arrange for the transport of what we’re taking by shipping freight and started to throw out or donate what we don’t need. Casual glances around the house while sipping tea or picking a book to read become considerations of weight and packaging, mentally packing my teapots with the handmade pottery, or browsing through friends to find someone who could adopt one of them.

It’s a strange thought that in 2 months and a day there will be no trace of us having been here, aside from memories and those things of ours that we leave with friends. This more or less sums up my feelings about this at the moment.

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I have also started to get teary at landscapes. While on the bus home yesterday I looked out of the window at the sudden, sheer granite faces that loom over the road, moss covered and only just shedding the frozen curtains of water and melting snow. On their peaks stood pines and leafless birches, around their feet the bushes and shrubs that in a few months will be carrying berries. Then we pass a lake, a coral pink sunset and a severe line of pines reflected on its surface, rippling from the lines being cast out by a group of old folk getting in some fishing before the sun disappears.

Growing up in the bush I used to love visits to a nearby pine plantation, where I’d pretend I was in the forests from the fairy tales, where wolves, hobbits, dragons, elves and adventurers lived. I do love the Australian bush, wild, rough and with its own beauty, but some part of my heart lives in the secret corners and high reaches of northern forests. And I suppose that’s one thing at least that I’ll leave behind when we go.

2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

Easter – a time of witches, feathers and eggs

The first hints I had of Easter were random people carrying sticks. There seemed nothing special about the sticks, other than the fact that people had evidently spent some time gathering them or buying them from florists. I was even tempted to break all social conventions and ask someone, but shyness held me back. What was so important about sticks, I wondered, and should I be getting them myself? I asked other expats who suggested it had something to do with regrowth, and pointed out that if they had buds perhaps they would bloom. I was a little bit skeptical about the enjoyment you could get from watching buds slowly expand, and felt sure there must be another reason, no doubt related to traditions that are mostly forgotten.
When I did some research and found out a possible theory, I wasn’t especially surprised that it had been swept under the carpet. Back in the 1800s people used to collect sticks for their children who would then whip themselves in memory of Jesus’ suffering.
I would much rather watch buds grow.

The next sign was with a flock of witches on a main street in the city. They ranged from adults to children, happily showing off their painted red cheeks and freckles, and adorned in coloured shawls and striped stockings. There were even a few brooms swinging around in the air, though no one seemed to be airborne yet. No one seemed to bat an eye at this open display of witchery and indeed it increased over the next few days. A group of older women were seen drinking in a pub, unmolested by mobs, but a majority of the witches were children skipping about town, asking for lollies. You may well ask why, in this day and age and in a country that though technically secular is nominally Christian, there are so many witches running about before Easter?
You would not be alone in wondering. Other expats shrugged and said it was a ‘Sweden thing’. Even Swedes answered me with a blank look and a variation of ‘Uh, we’ve always done that, I don’t know. It is odd isn’t it?’

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

So naturally I took to the internet to solve the mystery. Easter hags, or ‘påskkärringar’ have their origins in the 1600s, when it was believed witches flew on their brooms to Blåkulla to make merry and cavort and do all of the things people would expect witches to do. Somehow this has translated over the centuries to a tradition of children dressing up as witches and wandering the neighbourhood asking for treats. It is all a little bit Halloween, except for the old style costumes that seem more like village women of the past crossed with Pippi Longstocking than costume shop items.
There were also witches in shop windows, statues and figurines this time, grinning on their brooms, apparently daring people to take advantage of the Easter sales.

A shoe selling witch

A shoe selling witch

The witches weren’t the only decorations enticing people to enter and spend however. Trees, bushes and sticks across the country that were just minding their own business were festooned with brightly coloured feathers. They were hung outside of shops fluttering in the wind, sitting in front yards and in vases in apartments. All those sticks that had been budding away were now decorated, sometimes also with painted eggs and animal figurines. These eggs were often painted by children, as I remember doing years ago. Though a globe is a hard surface for a young artist, I think I created a few nice examples with water colours, crayons and dyes. We then ate them on Easter day, the pretty bits of shell flaking away to be swept up later.

Feathers in the sun

Feathers in the sun

Finally, did you think that in all this traditional symbolism that the Swedes have forgotten the most memorable part of Easter (for children at least)?
While in Australia we’re nearly submerged in avalanches of Easter eggs, rabbits and bilbies when we enter a supermarket, the people of Sweden have found another use for eggs. The tradition here is to buy an empty egg, in card board or tin, and fill it with candy. This is what my partner and I have done for the last two Easters, reusing the eggs and filling them with piles of candy for the help-yourself shelves at the shops. It’s amazing how much you can fit inside them, and conversely how quickly my partner can empty his.

Our quickly depleting stash

Our quickly depleting stash

So that’s Easter here in Sweden. Of course I missed out the parts about staying at country houses and feasts with families and eating epic amounts of fish (every day ending in g is fish day in Sweden), as that part has passed me by, but this should serve at least as an expats experience of the Easter season. Or rather, Påsk. Interestingly rather than reference the ancient of Spring, this word derives from the ancient name for the Jewish Passover. Which seems to me, with all the pagan traditions, witches, feathers and symbols of rebirth to demonstrate quite neatly how much traditions have intertwined over time, and perhaps how impossible it is to untangle them, even if we wanted to.

Sunshine in Málaga

A few months ago, staring out of the window at the dark skies and considering the possibility of the sun ever returning to us, my partner and I decided that we had to get away. Just for a few days, long enough to soak in the sun a little and get a taste of Spring. Last year we visited Rome, as a combined birthday present and escape to the sun, and this year for the same reasons we returned to the Mediterranean, and a country that neither of us had never visited.

It was my partner who decided on Málaga, a place that I’d never really thought that much about, and which conjured up images of dusty industrial parks and scrubby bush land (for those not familiar with the exciting industrial suburbs of Western Australia, consider yourself lucky). I have always had an interest in Spain, and so happily agreed.

We left on Friday night, amid a crowd of grey-haired explorers who seemed to be regulars. The man in the seat next to me on the plane over there had been 12 times already, and owned a house in a town just outside of Málaga. Once he realised that I was willing to listen (or at least not willing to tell him to stop talking) he proceeded to describe the surrounding areas, his house, his ‘lady’, good hiking areas, how much it cost to hire a car, the best places to eat and how long it took to get to Granada. He then showed me photos, mostly himself in front of dramatic landscapes and a pile of maps, pointing out nice villages and landmarks. We eventually landed and he disappeared with a bashful smile, as our fellow passengers did their usual headlong bag-grab-and-dash to the doors. On the tarmac the air was vaguely smokey, and thick with scents we didn’t recognise, a change from the clear air of Sweden. As we were the last arrival for the night it was easy to grab a cab and rumble off to the apartment where we would be staying.
As with our trip to Malmö, we were using Airbnb and again it worked like a charm. Our host met us at the door, showed us around and then left us to unwind. A quick trip up to the terrace revealed a breathtaking view of the city, from the dry river behind us to the walls of Gibralfaro on the hill, lit up in the crisp darkness. Having whet our appetite with the view, we then slept.

Morning over Málaga

Morning over Málaga

The next morning we began with a leisurely search for breakfast through sunny morning streets (just a quick warning; the word sunny may pop up a few times in this post. My excuse is winter and the fact that right now, behind me, sun is shining through the windows. It’s a northern Europe thing). Many places were closed, and when we found a tapas restaurant that we liked the look of with glasses of wine for £1 we popped in for a snack. Unfortunately the lady at the bar seemed unimpressed with our lack of Spanish and so, in a round about way, ignored us so we in turn, in a more direct way, took our custom elsewhere. A glass of fresh orange juice, an expresso and thick bread with cheese later we were over our snubbing and raring to explore the sights.

Málaga cathedral

Málaga cathedral

The first stop was the Roman amphitheatre which sits in the shade of Alcazaba. Just in front of that, visible through a triangle of glass, were the remains of stone basins used to make garum, the famous Roman condiment of rotten fish. I wonder if there was ever a whiff of it during a performance?

The amphitheatre, still in business

The amphitheatre, still in business

We sat on the steps for a little while, contemplating this and basking, and then climbed up into the citadel. The path twisted and turned through gates and arches, narrowing into dark passages and then opening into paths lined with orange trees. As we ascended we had views out over the city and the sea and could hear the loud strains of a Christian rock band playing by the harbour. Near the top we reached a garden overlooking the sea, with channels of water running to a bubbling fountain surrounded by shrubbery and climbing roses on pillars.

A fountain

A fountain

The gardens continued for the next few twisting levels, with pots of rosemary, fountains, channels, oranges and bowers heavy with years of growth. At the top we found the palace, a small maze of cool rooms around two open-air courtyards, one lined with orange trees and the other circling a pool. The crowds limited the sorts of photos that would have summed up the peaceful atmosphere it was trying to project, but it was still lovely and graceful and just the sort of place I would like to have if I had a summer palace in the Mediterranean.

Oranges in Spring

Oranges in Spring

After our leisurely stroll about the palace and citadel, were headed for the heights of Gibralfaro. It was reached via a winding, steep path up the hill, past eucalyptus trees and other tourists panting and taking off their winter layers. From a vantage point we had a view of the bull fighting ring, which filled me with a mix of distaste and historically relate interest, resembling as it did the ancient Roman equivalents. The sandy arenas and animal battles of the Empire haven’t quite disappeared yet.

Bull ring

Bull ring

By the time we reached the top we were feeling a little bit puffed and thirsty, so after a look around the walls and over them at the surrounding city and more distant hills, we found a place to rest and refresh ourselves. It was a small cafe, which we suspected of touristy expense and tastelessness, but which turned out to be the perfect place for a midafternoon break. We took wine and tapas, a bit of juice and an icecream and finally olives and more wine, while sitting in the sun and gazing out over the sea. The taste of herbs, warmth of the sun and sharpness of the wine blurred into a sort of bliss as we sat and did nothing much, and felt rather as though we had slipped into some sort of paradise.

View of the harbour

View of the harbour

And here is where I will leave this part of our Spanish journey, sitting in the sun and feeling the relaxation of a holiday seeping into our bones.

A tourist at home

I am writing this from my apartment in Göteborg, as outside the sun shines the the flowers continue to bloom in every possible hue. It’s a contrast to the overcast chill of my last day in Perth, an irony that is definitely not been lost on me.

The morning choir

The morning choir

Though it has resulted in this post being a few days later than usual, I thought I’d wait till I returned to Sweden to write the final post about the trip to Australia. Now that I’m back I have a different perspective than what I had when I was sitting in my old bedroom, listening to the magpies in the trees outside the window. Sitting here in the apartment, listening to the cars roar past on the highway outside the window, the whole trip seems almost unreal. It’s the feeling I was somewhat expecting when we arrived in Perth 3 weeks ago, as though the months in Sweden had been a passing fancy, and we were now back home at last. Instead I felt off balance for about two weeks, a mix of jetlag and an unsettling feeling that the familiar was foreign. I tried to explain this to family and friends, and I’m not sure now whether it made sense, or whether I inadvertently sounded as though I was gladly clear of our home town. Although, the only way to really sound like a native is to knock it, right?

A black swan

A black swan

One part of the trip that I very much enjoyed was getting to spend time in by myself among trees. I do that here as well, but it’s different when it’s the types of trees and shrubs I grew up with and can name. There were walks around the home, including finding half of a smashed bee hive in the empty trunk of a fallen branch that still smelt of honey and visiting one of my favourite parks.

A pearly eucalypt

A pearly eucalypt

The pine plantation that surrounds the park was my childhood image of a fairy tale forest, and I spent hours there acting out adventures with friends or just wandering by myself and staring up at the towering pines and pretending I was in a forest in a far off land.
My family had bbqs in the curve of a creek, under a tree whose leaves turned gold in Autumn, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken there, as he supervised the wood-fire bbq.
Also in the park is an old oak, planted in 1870 which from a distance looks dense and no taller than the eucalypts surrounding it. When you walk along the raised platform and step underneath, it’s as though you’re inside a dome of leaves, sheltered by branches that reach almost to the ground that are in turn held up by an immense trunk. I’ve seen karri trees over 70 metres tall in the south of WA, and old olive trees in Italy, but for me they don’t compare to that old oak.

A 144 year old oak

A 144 year old oak

In addition to walks in the forest, I spent most of the final week driving around to last-minute catch ups, and eating a lot. I just looked at my calendar and Sunday through to Thursday are back-to-back lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. I also managed to see my grandma, who I haven’t seen in many years. It’s impossible to replace nine months of casual meet ups with a few hours over tea or a meal and surprisingly surprising to remember that time passes at the same speed across the world. People move on to new jobs, try new things, change plans and go about their lives, irrespective of any imaginary pause buttons. Hearing of new plans and ideas, I’m looking forward to seeing how much change another year will bring.

Dinner at Little Creatures

Dinner at Little Creatures

So what have I learnt from the trip?

That a holiday and visiting an old home are not the same thing.

Nothing beats good food and good company.

It takes a few days for my native accent to cease being hilarious.

Something can be both familiar and foreign at the same time.

Home doesn’t have to be one place.