A fine day for a stroll

Last Friday Göteborg received a visitor from Australia, who happened also to be a friend of mine and to whom I was quite eager to show off my city.

As I explained to him (repeatedly) he was extremely lucky with the weather. The day started with fog, which then turned to bright sunshine and clear skies and stayed so until evening, which was slightly chilly and still clear. The fact that the next day was mostly cloudy proves my point I think.

The fact that the following few days have been bright and sunny is something that I choose to ignore in this discussion.

We met at noon and began the tour with a stroll to Brunnsparken and then down Östra Hamngatan to Kungsportsplatsen, dodging political cabins, placard-bearers and trams, and mingling with the sun-blissed Swedes filling the pavements.
At Kungsortsplatsen I pointed out the Kopparmärra, chuckling with someone who I suspect was hoping to entice me to vote for some party or other, about the obvious inaccuracy of the ‘mare’ title. Hoping to escape more hopeful pamphlet bearers, we crossed the street and made for the first destination of our tour: Saluhallen.

We stared around at the cheese, meat, baked goods and spice stalls, pausing for a bit at the baked goods, and then found 2 seats at one of the restaurants in the centre. I had been introduced to this place by a friend, with whom I’d shared a delicious lunch of fish burgers and salad, and planned to present my visiting friend with something authentically Swedish. As the days special was no longer fish burger, we instead tucked into also very traditional beef burgers with potato and lingonberry sauce.

Exploring the archipelago

Exploring the archipelago

Well fortified for a day of wandering, we left Saluhallen and strolled along the canals, where people basked on the walls and grassy slopes. A tram ride then took us to Saltholmen, where we caught a ferry to Brännö, an island in the southern archipelago. I’ve been to Brännö before, for a walk and a drink, but I hadn’t explored as much as this time. The sun was out and the trees were overflowing with apples, unfortunately all out of reach of my hands, if not my hungry eyes. It was quiet, apart from the occasional local and chatty sheep, and we even found some lingering blackberries.

Apple trees

Apple trees

We then caught a ferry back to the mainland, and a tram back to town and continued our strolling through Haga, one of the prettiest parts of Göteborg. The cafes were still open and a brass band was playing in the main square. We didn’t climb up to Skansen Kronen, choosing instead to admire it from below, and then continued along Vasagatan. The political posters were still adorning every tree, pole, lamp post and bus stop, and we took our time considering their positions and trying to spot SD. Vasagatan then turned into Avenyn and so we went up to ogle the statue of Poseidon, and example of what art ought not to be.

One of my favourite buildings on Vasagatan

One of my favourite buildings on Vasagatan

Then to a restaurant for drinks, food and meeting my partner, with whom we wandered to another bar for more drinks and finally wandered back to the hotel to bid my friend goodbye. We both assured him, again, that the weather had been pretty miraculous and that he’d be welcome to explore out fine little city the next time he was up north. We then parted ways and headed home.

I hope that we will get more visitors who we can show around town, if only so that I have an excuse for a leisurely walk on a sunny island.

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.

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.

Impending things

So changes are afoot in little old Göteborg. Or to be more precise, in the little part of old Göteborg that my partner and I inhabit. Sadly our lease for our current apartment is coming to an end soon, so we have been questing all over for a new place. The trip to Australia caused a bit of a delay (note to self and anyone reading this: never plan a trip overseas within 2 months of moving) and put and end to some offers that may have turned out well. In any case, last night we signed a contract for another apartment and in a month we’ll have removed the last traces of our stay from our current home.

The search for a home has coincided with another important event for me, which was also slightly embuggeranced by our recent holiday. Yesterday morning I completed the majority of the final Swedish test that will decide whether I can continue to SAS and if so which level. Once SAS is completed I will be qualified to study at a Swedish university and be at a level where I can more easily be found suitable for jobs here. So there’s a lot riding on it. I will have the final part this morning, and the results at the end of the week and then after the summer holidays hopefully I will start the next level. I’ve been stressing about it for a while, so it’ll be a relief to have it done, for better or worse.

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

Meanwhile my partner’s parents arrived from Australia on Friday and our spare time has been taken showing them around and helping them to settle in. Fortunately they are very low maintenance, and seem happy to wander around the city and explore, and they have somehow managed to snaffle the only 3 consecutively sunny days that I can remember in a while. It’ll be Midsummer on Friday, which I have repeatedly been assured is a guarantee of poor weather, so we’ll see how long the Swedish summer can hold out.

Glad sommar!

Glad sommar!

While they’ve been here I’ve quite enjoyed the role of tour guide, showing off the pleasant and interesting aspects of my home town, and enjoying their enjoyment. Thus far we have been on a brief walk around Liseberg, stuffed ourselves at our favourite restaurant and picnicked by a lake. There are many things that they have done that I will have to hear more about, but suffice it to say that they seem to be enjoying their visit and we’ll miss them once they continue on their trip.

Fun at Liseberg

Fun at Liseberg

In two weeks we’ll be joining them for part of the journey, when we all go to Norway to visit some fjords. I haven’t really done much research about the area we’ll be visiting, but I think no amount of imaginary grandeur will be able to match standing by a fjord. We shall see, and those reading this will see pictures.

For now the sun is out and plans are coming into place, and a final test is looming.

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.

The wheel of the seasons

During the past 3 weeks I have been to more bbqs than I would usually go to in a year, and incidentally, have eaten more sausages than I would usually eat in 6 months. This grilling frenzy isn’t limited to our household either; it seems to have infected the whole of Göteborg.
And what is responsible for this strange happenstance? Spring.

One of many

One of many

The last two weekends have been clear and sunny, and every place where grass grows has been covered in Swedes, from parks, the sides of canals, gardens and conveniently placed deckchairs. Many people are chatting with friends, some eating, but for the most part people are just basking in the sun. Though I come from a place that is known for sunny weather, I have never really enjoyed it as much as I have these past few weeks. Now I can bask happily, making up for the months of cloud, rain and fog, and hope to gather in enough heat to last before the wheel turns to winter.

A scampering squirrel

A scampering squirrel

I have also been able to understand the meaning of the seasons since I have been here. In Australia we follow the European seasons; Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. As my homeland lies in the southern hemisphere the seasons are precisely flipped, so that Summer is Winter, and Autumn is Spring, etc… This isn’t the only difference that I have found however. While the march of the seasons is recognisable, in Australia it isn’t anything like the changing seasons in Europe. Not only rain and encroaching chill in Autumn and snow in Winter, but Spring… Well, it’s as though an enormous bucket of colour was spilt over the country. Trees that only a month ago were bare and stragledy are now heavy with light green leaves, and flowers of all colours and sprouting between trees, in pots and all over whatever grassy area they can find.

An Easter daffodil

An Easter daffodil

First came the snow drops, tiny white bell-shaped flowers on the sides of footpaths and under trees. Next were stands of daffodils, then tulips popped up in gardens, mostly red and yellow. Most recent are the cherry trees and apple trees covered in masses of pink and white flowers, whose petals litter the city. I don’t know what will be next, but I’m looking forward to roses, especially in Trädgårdsföreningen.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

In addition to the opportunity for bbqs, the changing seasons also bring festive days. As with Jul, Easter is celebrated in Australia, but as with Jul I know understand Easter much better. When you’ve only experienced the slow cooling of Summer to Autumn, and the only rebirth around is the sudden rise in chocolate sales, I don’t think I ever truly understood Easter. Having lived through the end of Winter and watched green return I now know why there is a festival of rebirth at that time of year. I also better understand the excitement of the 1st of May. One festival that I hadn’t really been aware of was last Wednesday, the 30th of April; Valborg.

Kanelbullar in Haga

Kanelbullar in Haga

I had been confused about the name of the day and then continued to confuse Swedes by asking what it meant. Mostly I got blank faces, and someone realising that it was his fathers birthday and rushing off to call him, until someone brought out their smart phone. It would seem that it has something to do with Saint Valborg, and for some reason students wearing white hats. Valborg seemed to me a strange name, but what do I know about Scandinavian names. I’m still not convinced about Knut for example.
Then the bbq continued and I forgot about strange names, and missed the Chalmers University parade (featuring Putin, North Korea and Ryan Air – they are students after all) and the bonfires that were burning throughout the country.

The next morning I woke up and thought I’d do a bit of blogging, and looked up Valborg. Like every other northern-European festival it can be traced way back to pagan traditions. It used to be called Walpurgis (and probably still is in some places) and was a celebration of the change from Winter to Spring, as well as the time when the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living was at its weakest. It then transformed into a celebration of the saint (coincidentally with a similar name) and her power over witches and representatives of the old religions. Now only the bonfires, traditional songs and parades remain, a link that has been altered but not broken since before written memory.

Dusk in the forest

Dusk in the forest

Another wonderfully Swedish day was yesterday, the 1st of May. Not only was it the first day of Spring but it was the Swedish equivalent of Labour Day. All over the country crowds gathered in squares to protest. Protest against what, you ask? That seemed to depend which party you’re inclined towards. As I was at a bbq (of course) I didn’t see any of them but I did hear that the Social Democrats were supporting the change to a 6 hour work-day and the Feminist Initiative were protesting against racism. It also explained why our bbq spot was so very quiet – on such a fine day only traditional festivities could pull Swedes away from picnics and basking in the sun.

Picnic by a lake

Picnic by a lake

As I write, the sun is shining, the wind of blowing, and teenage girls are screaming on the ride at the recently re-opened Liseberg. Spring has arrived, and the country has come alive again.

West coast road-trip day 2: Picnics and castles

For the second day of the road trip we headed south. After breakfast we tumbled into the car and set off down the highway to begin the journey.

The landscape as we drifted further out of town was quite different to what we had seen the previous day. Southward lay wide green fields and larger expanses of farming land, with less of the forested outcrops we had seen in the north. We soon reached Falkenberg, an old town with cobbled streets and town gardens just starting to bloom. After a attempted walk to the beach via the river, resulting in factories and industrial complexes, we retraced our steps in search of a place to have lunch.
Our contribution to the trip was a basket full of sandwiches, fruit and ANZAC biscuits, and upon finding a picnic table overlooking the river, we set to and cleaned out the basket. We were lucky to have another day of fine weather, so had a pleasant time soaking up the sun and trying to decide who would eat the last biscuit.

A picnic in Falkenberg

A picnic in Falkenberg

The biscuit eaten and our stomachs full, we went back to the car and continued on our journey, heading slightly west and north.

Varberg is a very pretty town right on the coast, which is partly dominated by a giant castle. The first thing that you notice about it is how massive the walls are, and then the sheer numbers of Swedes arrayed along it’s base, soaking up the precious early Spring sun.

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

We explored around the castle walls, circling until we reached a small beach where there stood a Turkish bath complex. Of course. It was on stilts, and as we approached, admiring the graceful designs along the roof, we saw a naked old woman clamber down a ladder, pop under the water and then dart back up out of sight. She was soon followed by many other nude women, the youngest of whom gave a small scream when she ducked under the chilly water. I suppose it goes to show that 7 months isn’t nearly enough time to be inured to surprises from another culture, and also not long enough to be tempted to try them out myself.

A Swedish Turkish bath

A Swedish Turkish bath

A quick dip of a hand in the cold water made the decision easier. My partner and one of our friends took of their shoes and paddled in the shallows, their faces growing gradually more strained until they ran out of the water, exclaiming about how warm the sand felt, before inexplicably returning to the shallows.
I preferred to borrow gumboots and walked around feeling the weight of the water on my feet without the chill, admiring the castle walls and trying to avoid looking at the splashing underneath the baths.

Paddling

Paddling

Soon we had paddled enough, and crossed to the the cafe in the baths. Sitting out on the balcony, eating an icecream and lying back in the sun, I felt as though the seasons had definitely shifted onwards, and sunburn would replace occasional protestations about frostbite. It was lovely there in the sun, and we stayed for a while, letting the time pass. When we became restless we climbed up through the gates and ramps to the top of the castle. From the top of the walls we had a view out over the town and the sea, and spent some time gazing about.

Looking down from the walls

Looking down from the walls

A loud ringing noise drew my attention to an old fashioned bell hanging from a wall, and I wandered over, realised as I approached that the distance from the ground to the bell seemed to grow as I got closer. By the time I had reached the bell I needed a stick and a leap to just touch it. We all took turns, my partner managing to give it enough of a thwack to set it ringing deafeningly.
After which we descended the ramps, took another stroll around the walls, and headed back to the car.

All too soon we were back in town, being dropped off at our apartment and saying goodbye to our travelling companions. Given how many places there are around Göteborg that we haven’t yet explored, I’m sure we’ll be climbing back into a car and heading out on another road trip soon. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get the same sunny weather as this trip.

Falling snow

I have learnt something very important these last few weeks, which is extremely pertinent to my life in Sweden.
I really like snow.
A lot.
I like the fluffy dust heaping on the street, the crunch as it compacts and the pristine sheets it leaves wherever it falls. I especially like when it drifts down in fat clumps, sticking to my hair and revealing the star shapes I’d thought needed a microscope to be seen. I also enjoy what it isn’t: rain. Only the first rain of summer, back in Australia, compares to the glee and staring about that instantly mark me as a foreigner.

Snow crystals

Snow crystals

This last week is had continued to fall, though the tramping of feet, strewing of salt and fineness of the snow means that it isn’t anywhere near knee height yet.
Watching the snow build up is a part of a life far away that I hadn’t considered before I left, namely the seasons. Australia, at least in the south-west, has two seasons. Hot and dry and wet and cold. Whereas Sweden has a whole host of them, 3 of which I have experienced so far. Since our arrival in late August green turned brown, the long days shortened and clouds descended. It was dark, and cold for a while, almost claustrophobic, though lit by stars in windows and candles. Then snow came in a burst and returned later in earnest, coating the world outside almost to monochrome. Next I suppose the rain will come, the snow will turn to ice and slush (bleagh) and slowly brown will turn green again and I can stop wearing thermals, a thick jacket and my small army of beanies, gloves and scarves. Then the whole cycle will continue, and no doubt I’ll eagerly anticipate the first drifts of snow.

My neighbourhood this week

My neighbourhood this week

So other than gazing about at the weather, what else have I be doing since the last update? Well, not very much really. I’ve been going to classes and studying, occasionally going out and wondering how on earth I’m going to find a job. The only event that really deserves a mention is Sunday, which as many of my readers will remember, was Australia Day. This far from home I felt disconnected from the usual umming and aahing about Invasion Day and Survivor Day and post-colonial guilt, instead revelling a bit in stereotypes that I would have shuddered at previously. We had been invited to a bbq arranged by an Australian friend, and tromped over bearing sausages, beer, wine, a koala shaped hat, an apron emplasoned with images of Perth and subtly green and yellow clothes. At the party were more Australians than we’d so far met in Göteborg, and after chatting and snacking on traditional food (sausage rolls, shapes), we realised that our time here has been quietly changing us, so that in a strange way be felt a bit like outsiders. Possibly we need more exposure to Australians, or maybe it was because they were all from the eastern states. None of which took away from our enjoyment of the day, which also involved the very slow cooking of our sausages on a bbq that had been recently cleared of snow.

A brief glimpse of sun

A brief glimpse of sun

Before I sign off for another week I feel I ought to mention that last Monday made it 5 months since we arrived in Sweden, and I will have to report back in a few weeks as to whether I have managed to wrap my head around the idea of being here for 6 months. Time is a funny thing.

Fine food and deep snow

While I’ve been attempting to stuff my brain with a new language, writing, looking for a job and working out titles for my blog posts, my partner has been working very hard at his job. Even over the Jul break he put in hours, returning to the office for a day just after Jul and monitoring processes from our hotel room in Oslo, and so his boss decided he needed some kind of thanks.
Which was how we ended up walking a bit hesitantly into one of the 4 Michelin star restaurants in Göteborg, being offered a glass of spiced apple juice, escorted to a neat little table and subjected to 4 hours of amazing food, service and drinks. It was indeed a difficult cross to bear.

The restaurant in question was Thörnströms Kök, and at this stage I have to come clear about something. I have never been to a restaurant classified as ‘fancy’, so was prepared to be impressed. It didn’t take long for this to happen.
I’m no gastronome (gastrognome?) so I can’t list the food we had, but suffice to say we chose a set menu and matching wine list, and everything was perfect. The wine matched the food, each (somewhat, and expectedly small) meal was a feast of flavours and they kept foisting appetisers and sweets on us. We made a bit of a miscalculation when we ate all of the bread that was intended to last the entire sitting before the second course arrived, but they were happy to bring out another. More impressive even than the tastes and expertise was the uncanny ability of the staff to have the next course and wine on our table just when it was needed, and to my personal amusement, their habit of refolding the napkins while we were taking toilet breaks. I left mine intentionally folded but was foiled by the waiter’s superior skills.
By the time we had been there for 4 hours and I had finished a pot of a newly invented herbal tea combination, we were satisfied and ready to venture out into the cold for the slow plod home. If you get a chance to go there, go.

In addition to me now having an unrealistic benchmark for future meals, winter has finally actually arrived. About a week ago the snow came, which I mentioned in my last post, and has remained. The first day I stepped out into the now consistently -C temperatures, my breath caught in my throat, and I have resigned myself to wearing thermals whenever I venture outside and a minimum of two beanies. It has stayed cold enough that there has been hardly any slush or ice, so I make my way around town with enjoyable crunching sounds from beneath my boots. Last weekend we were lucky enough to get two days on sunlight and it was glorious. Though still cold the white snow and sharply contrasting shadows were beautiful and worth any amount of numb fingers.

Trollhättan canal

That weekend we also went on a short trip up to Trollhättan, a town about 40 minutes north of Göteborg, and where one of my partner’s workmates lives. We were greeted at the train station by piles of snow and said workmate and his daughter, who was gleefully being dragged along on a small sled. She’s about 3 and with her father’s encouragement exclaimed now and then in English, and the rest of the time squealed with excitement when he whipped the sled around in a circle or through deep snow. I very much wanted one, which was not helped when he mentioned that he sometimes attaches the sled to his bike to take her to day care. I tried sending significant looks and less subtle hints to my partner but thus far he has refused to bite.
We were then taken on a tour of the town, including a cafe stop and a visit to the locks and canals that connect the west and east of Sweden and provide the area with power. A large patch of deep snow in which the little girl demonstrated how to make a snow angel required me to do the same, and was only part of the capering about that my partner and I go into. We had a long of time to make up for from our childhood. After looking into the fast flowing canals that rushed towards the hydropower plants and exploring more of the area I discovered my phone was no longer in my pocket. We backtracked, my partner repeatedly calling my phone and the rest of us peering into tiny holes in the snow. It seemed likeliest that it had slipped out while I was capering, and as we wandered through a deep patch I heard the ringtone. After checking that I hadn’t somehow missed it in one of my pockets I dug into the snow and found it, wet, cold and loudly playing the theme to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Relieved and starting to get cold, we then headed to our tour guide’s home, where we were supplied with whiskey and wine until it was time to head home. As the workmate is a self taught connoisseur of whiskey we were quite merry by the time we left.

Sun on the canal

The next day we followed up the traditional playing in the snow with a visit to Ikea, carrying a list that I hoped and inevitably failed to follow. We did get what we needed, in addition to a number of things I hadn’t realised we needed, and it confirmed my suspicion that Ikea in Sweden is a clone of Sweden in Australia, or wherever else they have sprouted.

Since then we have worked and studied, waiting for the weekend and the rare days like today when the sun shines on Göteborg.

Fireworks and snowflakes

We are now three weeks into the new year, and life is starting to settle into the pre-Jul routine of work, study, housework, looking for work and freetime. Last week classes started again, during which I believe my brain got whiplash after the merry complacency of the holidays. It has also started to snow this week, which I celebrated by slipping over on ice.
First I’ll continue with the holiday celebrations, and the last night of 2013.

After we returned from Norway, we spent a couple of days relaxing, taking in the city during long walks and not doing an awful lot. It was a pleasant in-between time as we counted down the last days of 2013. On the evening of the final day we headed out to a party at the apartment of a Swedish friend we’d met once, where we discovered it was in fact A Party. Music, mingling, drinks and dishes of food being piled up on every available surface. Jumping from conversation to conversation, finding friends, sitting for food, discovering water in a teapot, drinking vegan vodka cocktails and finding it harder to concentrate on the correct verb forms for Swedish words.
All of a sudden midnight was almost upon us and we were shepherded out onto the street, to see the horizon light up. It was one of the most memorable sights for me this year, watching the uncoordinated and bright firework display, bangs and flashes going off all around us. There was no countdown, just everyone gleefully lighting whatever fireworks can be found, singing, hugging, kissing and joy. We went back inside before the display finished, and I suspect it would have continued until every last firework in Göteborg had been sent up into the sky.
When we reached the apartment it had been magically (despite explanations I still maintain something outside our ken must have been used) transformed into a dance floor, and we took is upon ourselves to use it as required. Somehow 5 hours passed in dancing, talking and laughing and we began to feel a little tired. As we walked home we encountered what seemed like most of Göteborg wandering in a post NYE daze, and empty fireworks packets littering the pavement.
Then we slept.

A rare sunny day in Göteborg

Since then we spent more time around the city, and on one slightly ill-fated day decided to visit Hönö, one of the islands in the northern archipelago. A bit of advice for any travellers out there; don’t plan a visit to an island off the coast of Sweden in winter when wind and rain is forecast and the only way to the main part of town on the island is by foot. Just don’t. The highlight was catching the ferry to the island, a yellow, industrial cat transporter with small cabins for passengers. Also noticing that of the 5 locals I saw on the island, two were boss-eyed. Not that I’m making any kind of comment about people who live on small islands.

Snow returns to the forest

The last week or so has seen the return of snow, with much more determination and thoroughness than last time, the flakes getting larger by the day, so that I can now make out the classic snowflake shapes. It is still comfortable enough to walk without a beanie and catch flakes in my hair, and it has only reached about an inch deep at most but I have hopes that it will continue for some time. I also hope that the excitement I feel walking around in it, watching it float down and create a pristine white world until we wander through it, will continue as well.

Göteborg in snow

The post-Jul blues still continue, though they fade, and soon I will have to dispose of the Jul tree (smuggled out to a local park at midnight?). I think the decorations will stay somewhere around the apartment, though, to keep the spirit going till next year.