Perfect moments and deserving them

A couple of weeks ago we were gifted with two splendid weeks of sun and fine weather, which culminated in a perfect day.

It coincided with a visit from a friend from Australia, who I suspect now thinks I exaggerate when I say that Swedish weather is terrible. She was after nature and relaxation, and so we took advantage of the fineness to bask. It was not entirely selfless of us, as we’d thus far missed our annual dip.

It seemed that the entire city of Gothenburg had the same idea, however, as the succession of bus and trams were packed with people with packed lunches, all equally confused about why all these others were spoiling their pleasant day out.

At the harbour we were borne along by the throng to the ferry, ice-cream in hand, and were then off across the sea. If we had wanted to reach the open sea, we would have had to navigate the maze of islands that make up the two archipelagos lying at the mouth of the Göta river. Plus Denmark. The profusion of islands and distance of the truly open ocean is a bit disorienting for someone who grew up on the edge of an ocean that unfolds all the way to Africa.
We disembarked at the first stop, a little island called Asperö. A small village occupies much of the island, hedges not quite concealing cottages, filigreed in wood, traditionally painted or with modern bare planks. Flowers bloomed, branches bent under the weight of wild apples, bees buzzed and cats watched sleepily from under hedges. It felt like walking through a photo of a timeless summer.

Swedish cottage

Swedish cottage

Behind the village a path lead us into a wood, and into what seemed a painting. Birches swayed, wild flowers were spread among the moss and heaths, and ducks floated on a Monet-esque lily pad strewn pond. It was a fairytale wood, which ended when we reached the little beach.

Monet's pond

Monet’s pond

It was sheltered, partly by a rocky outcrop and a jetty that was built out from that. Families were paddling in the dark water and sunbaking on the rocks and grass, the peace broken by the giggling of children and splashing of teens jumping off the diving boards. Into this idyllic setting we settled down, little the bbq and sipped wine as the food cooked. Behind the jetty and the occasional kayakers we could see the mouth of the Göta river and the harbour we had come from. Now and then a huge ferry or other ship would slowly pass through the scattered islands and disappear around the side of our island, to quiet and distant to be anything but a background.

A beach and the Göta

A beach and the Göta

For a few hours we ate, swam, splashed and dozed in the sun. The perfect moments passed by.

Swedish summer days

Swedish summer days

That night we shared dinner with various Swedes and Finns on a row of tables on a balcony, the tables covered in food and drinks. We scoffed Västerbotten pie, vegan sausages, halloumi, salad, bread and grapes, the food and talk going on well into the night, as our eyelids got heavier. At one point a few thousand joggers ran down the street outside and we cheered at they passed, some wearing costumes and most looking very focused indeed. More so than us with our glasses of wine and beer and full stomachs.
Then, as the night drew long and began to get chilly, we set off home and in time slept.

What I wonder now as I write this and read the news is how do we deserve this? Why do we get the beautiful summer days and long summer nights with friends, in peace and scenery worthy of paintings? Maybe no one ever deserves anything. Perhaps there is no scale deciding whose 3 year old boy dies in a dark sea and whose 28 year old daughter gets to doze in soft Swedish sunlight with loved ones around her.
There is no fairness, or luck. But we do have love.

*Photo credits to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jg31/

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A cruise around Malta or: Peace, beauty and Enya

What would you during your last day on Malta? Dash about cramming in the sights you’d missed? Sunbathe by a beach and wait out the day? Cruise around the islands on a ship with tasty food and pleasant music as the cliffs and towns pass you by?
I’ll let you guess which option we chose.

The ship (there you go) was one of those sleek vessels with polished wooden decks and every nook and cranny supplied with cushions and sunbathing mats. From our perch on a bench on the prow, we watched the residential towers, party neighbourhoods, industrial sites and finally the Fort of St Elmo pass by, as we gradually gained speed, slicing into the calm blue water as we headed out to sea.

Fort St Elmo in the morning

Fort St Elmo in the morning

I am going to say here and now that this post may contain moments in which I wax poetic. There is really no help for this, as my choices with some of the sights that we saw is bland and false disinterest or poetic panegyrics.

Our first sights once we were out of the harbour was a ring of floating fish farms, and the flicker of a dorsal fin gave away the fact that we were not the only visitors. The captain told us that a family of dolphins had been seen nosing around the farm for years, and as far as I could tell from the relaxed ducking and flickering they did seem very casual, a group of locals making their daily visit to the local eatery, without any real rush.

Floating farms

Floating farms

Continuing around the southern point of the main island we spotted a few of the line of towers that ring the east coast. They date from the time of the Knights of St John, though looked so neat and well kept that I guessed they must have been used in WW2 as well. Though from our seats on the ship, munching snacks and humming along to hits of the 90s everything seemed peaceful and calm, this was a reminder of the vulnerability of the islands, at least in the past. I hope they can remain ornamental, but with Tunisia and the recent beach shootings so near, it’s impossible to know what will happen in the future.

Turning north again the landscape changed, beaches and harbours giving way to towering limestone cliffs and occasional rocky shores. Sights from other days could be glimpsed, such as the white tents that shelter Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, sheltered in turn by a small tower. How must they have looked to people sailing or paddling past when they were intact and in use, the huge stones a short distance from the cliffs, nestled in the low hills that rose slowly behind them? Was there a continual line of people going to and fro, and smoke rising from fires within the temples? Were they painted in multiple colours or left the golden white of the cliffs?

Mnajdra above the cliffs

Mnajdra above the cliffs

It wasn’t just human constructions that drew our eyes and stuck in our minds. Sometimes when sights, sounds and feelings all come together, a moment is recorded in my mind and kept for posterity. When I think back to that day I can see waving curtains of cliffs, layers of yellow, pink and white, above sparkling blue water. In the background Enya is crooning about sailing away and any conversation from the other guests has faded, as if we were alone with the cliffs and the sea and the sky. There were a few hours of cliffs, ventures into massive caverns and caves and drifting along but it’s that moment, that perfect moment, that I have been able to keep and try to share.

Cliffs of Malta

Cliffs of Malta

Just after midday we arrived at Comino, the tiny island between Malta and Gozo. There we anchored just around the corner from the famous Blue Lagoon, which is a sheltered bay famed for its crystal clear water and popularity with tourists. It was, of course, packed, the swimmers forming a solid lump on the beach and in the shallows. The water was quieter amongst the boats where we were, but no less clear and blue.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

With an hour and a half to spend before the boat took off, we put on our shoes and went for a hike on the scrubby, rocky island. We had planned to have a look at the castle that had been used in filming the most recent Count of Monte Cristo film, but unfortunately and surprisingly given what we could see of the size of the island, it would take about an hour to reach it. This, we decided, was a tad unrealistic so after a closer look as the very blue and very busy Blue Lagoon we swapped shoes and hats for bathers and snorkels and plunged into the sea. For the next while, we snorkeled around the bay, pointing jellies out to other swimmers and schools of fish to each other and generally feeling as though we had landed in some sort of paradise. Many times we were able to swim just above darting schools of fish and seemed almost able to touch them before they effortlessly shimmered away, and spotted crabs and sea urchins among the coral and sand dunes.

From the sheltered bays of Comino we circled Gozo, passing the Azure Window, the cathedral studded hills and green valleys in between. In a small cove we pulled in and dropped anchor, and descended once more into the clear blue Maltese waters. Below the surface the waves had formed curves and twisting lines in the land which shifted slightly as the tide pulled them and us towards the shore. Occasional fish also swam past, almost impossible to see against the white sand and dimmed light below the surface. Above us the sky continued to glow blue and warm, unchanged from the morning, though a breeze grew as we turned south, towards Malta.

A cove at Gozo

A cove at Gozo

Drifting back down the east coast we saw familiar towns and castles, and even the bay where we were staying for one more night. The heavily populated and less cliff lined east side seemed a different island to the serene and austere west coast, where the only signs of humans were occasional fishing shacks and ancient temples. There the natural defenses of the cliffs precluded any castles or towers, as well as any industry that didn’t also include perilous climbs up and down the rock faces. It’s this serenity and sparseness that was the most beautiful for me, and the timelessness of geology.

Endless cliffs

Endless cliffs

Before we either knew or wanted it, we were back in the Grand Harbour, passing again by the Fort of St Elmo and the tourist sights and apartment buildings. We docked and department, barely able to believe that an entire day had gone by, and so fast.

Returning to the Grand Harbour

Returning to the Grand Harbour

It was the only day we left ourselves entirely to the whim of someone else and not having to plan travel and preparations was pretty wonderful. Even more wonderful was the peace, luxury and beauty of gliding through calm waters in the shade of pastel cliffs and swimming with schools of fish in crystalline bays.

Our ship, MS Hera

Our ship, MS Hera

More than just a highlight of the Maltese holiday and a perfect ending, this cruise was a highlight of my new life in Europe, and I hope that as long as I live I can recall that moment of peace, beauty and Enya.

Across the sea and fields to Aarhus

With all the planning and considering of holidays far away, it’s sometimes easy to forget that an entire other country lies just off the coast. From living in Perth where a long stare out to see only brought distant imaginings of Africa, this is quite something. You can of course take a train south and then west for the capital, but there are other options. For example, from the harbour in Gothenburg you can take a ferry across the Kattegat to the north coast of Denmark, and be there in just under 3 hours. When my fella’s parents visited us a couple of weeks ago, we decided it was a good opportunity to try the cruise and explore beyond Sweden’s borders, and see something new for all of us.

So two weeks ago we lined up for and then boarded a cruise ship that dwarfed the harbour, a ship that I have long since claimed as my own anyway. The Stena (insert name that is one letter from my own) was built for transporting hundreds of people, plus cars and trucks, and so is a sturdy old thing. Apart from the cinema there were no frills on this cruise, and it was a rush to find a place to sit and wait out the voyage. We were unseasoned travellers (no trolley to heft cartons of beer and wine, the shame of it) and missed a table in the sun or comfortable cabins, but found a nice spot on the deck. There we settled, watching the harbour passing by and reveling in the breezy, sunny morning light that still seems rare to me. We saw seals, a medieval fortress and ongoing industry as we passed, and as we got comfortable I noticed that our shipmates were making themselves comfortable in a different way.

A fortress in the harbour

A fortress in the harbour

While our little group was happy with coffee and water, the Swedes and Danes who sat around us got started on the beer and gamaldansk, getting the the cruise well underway. As with the previous cruise I have posted about, a lot of thought is spent on getting as much out of the duty-free shop as possible, some people I think even waiting at the other end just to board again for the return trip, stack of beers and boxes of wine well in hand. For those who don’t know, by the way, alcohol is pretty expensive in Sweden, and I have even heard of people driving down to Germany to stock up for a party.
For those on the ship who were less interested in raiding the duty-free shop, there was a kid’s play room, a cafe and a bar, plus the cinema and a whole lot of pokies shoved into every available space. People who hadn’t found a table of chairs perched on stools or on the floor between the machines, dinging along on the machines or reading books. There were lounges, for overnight travel I’d guess, and special areas for truckies which the rest of us were barred from, so who knows what sort of entertainments they got. In time, after we’d all had a go at exploring the ship, the coast of Denmark came into view and we gathered with everyone else near the doors to been unloaded onto Fredrikshamn.

Canola in the wheatbelt

Canola in the wheatbelt

The view from the trains as we sped through Denmark was of fields lit by sunlight and bright yellow canola. I’d seen canola fields during a long drive through the wheatbelt of WA years ago, and been struck by the almost fluorescent glow of the flowers, as well as the strong smell. The train windows protected us from that second effect, but the colour was still surprising. These and other crops gave the impression of the north of Denmark as a breadbasket, wide flat fields keeping the rest of the country fed so it could concentrate on more esoteric things, like attaining the highest standard of living in the world.
Amid the fields were little towns, the church spires tall among the steep-roofed houses, and occasionally larger towns with the typical grey boxes of apartment buildings so familiar to Europe.

Our first impression of Aarhus was of the latter sort of town, but as we headed up through the town to find our apartment, signs of a different city appeared. At the end of a street of grocers, pizza shops and balconied apartment buildings was a house with wooden Tudor triangles, or a bohemian avenue of artsy clothes shops and cafes. We passed the edge of the Latin Quarter, which I’m guessing takes it’s name from the identically named quarter in Paris, so named because of the Latin speaking students that have studied, tottered and argued there for centuries. I looked forward to exploring it so more soon, but for the time being I most wanted to drop off my luggage and freshen up before we got our exploring shoes on.
The apartment we had rented was on the top floor, with views to the harbour and beyond, a cathedral tower again poking above the roofs clustered around it. My fella and I had chosen the attic room, with tall windows that opened directly above the bed, so we could sit under the blanket and stare out over the roof tops to the sea, and leave the windows open an inch for a cool breeze during the night. Our closest neighbours were the pigeons and seagulls that stared at us as we opened the windows to peer out, as if we were intruding on their personal space. Their voices were the only sounds to reach us, one jazzy pigeon in particular entertaining us with a unique tune in the evenings and mornings.

A view over Aarhus

A view over Aarhus

That first night we headed out to the centre of town to find something to eat, ending up on the riverside promenade where both tourists and local were gathering. The river seemed to me more of a canal, with steep sides and slowly flowing water, like those I’ve seen in every European town. Now that I think about it, the only river I know of whose banks are mostly unmolested by concrete is the Swan River, that flows through my home town in Australia. I suppose we haven’t had hundreds of years to contain it yet, and I hope it can stay that way.
Though we passed the simply named ‘The Australian Pub’, we ended up at a Danish/Carnivale themed restaurant and settled down to toast and enjoy our first dinner in Aarhus.

When we had eaten enough and were satisfied with the town, we headed slowly back up the hill to our apartment to rest in preparation for a day of exploring student-centred, artsy, historical and quirky Aarhus.

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.

Berries and caves of my ancestors

It was the second full day of our road trip, and finally the sun had arrived. The country was transformed, and for a little while we imagined we were in another land, but more on that later.

We had all been avidly checking our various, and variously unreliable, weather apps in the hopes that there would be a gap in the clouds, and though predictions had ranged from rain to cloudly to partly cloudy, we awoke to clear skies. So with enthusiasm, and a tiny bit of trepidation, we set off for a day of adventure on the coast.

Our destination was Mölle, a little seaside town that was apparently very popular with German tourists around the beginning of the last century. There was even a direct train from Berlin, and the Kaiser visited once. I assume the lack of explanation on the posters about the heady days of sunbathing Germans was a combination of Swedish humbleness and self-effacement. Or perhaps they were just as baffled as us.
Whatever the actual reason, in the sunlight, the whitewashing houses and jetties seemed more Mediterranean than Scandinavian. Lovely as the curving streets and seaside villas were, we had another goal in Mölle, and it involved even more activity than climbing the steps of Viking watchtowers (see the previous post if that comment seemed at all peculiar, it’s got Vikings in it).

Mölle by the sea

Mölle by the sea

Our friend had been told that the area had some beautiful scenery that was best seen on a hike, and even included a few bathing places. So we had come with bathers, walking shoes, packed lunches and I at least had a burning need to do my first swim of the year.
The hike started off relatively easily then suddenly became steep and rocky, reminding me of the hike I had done around Cinque Terre in 2008. Rather than gnarled old olive trees, here were bent over birches and beeches, and I imagined the sea that swooshed against the rocks below would be colder.

Rocky coast

Rocky coast

After a time the trees opened up and we found ourselves on a grassy field, bounded on one side by a cliff and on the other wind blown birch trees. On the edge of the cliff stood a pine, that looked strangely that those I had seen at Gallipoli last November. The yellow grass and sunlit sea almost convinced us we were on the edge of the Mediterranean, rather than within sight of Denmark.

Birches and sunburnt grass

Birches and sunburnt grass

Then we heard a familiar thunk, and agreed that Swedes were undeterred by any terrain when it came to golf.
It wasn’t the last time we saw signs of golf courses on our hike; we’d think that we were in a dense forest, the quiet only broken by the crashing of waves, when a loud donk interrupted the idyll.
Another surprise was the raspberries. Oh the berries. They started appearing after the Mediterranean cliff, first in tiny patches by the sides of the path and then in larger swathes, tiny snatches of red among the thick green leaves that were quickly plucked and stuffed in our mouths. Some were bitter or sour, but more often than not there would be a perfectly sweet one, and we got adept at recognising the most ripe ones. Unfortunately we had nothing to put them in and so had to eat them all straight away, which was terrible, of course.

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

I got especially good at spotting them along the paths so we would often be walking along quietly, watching our footing and the scenery, when I’d cry out ‘berries!’ and point, like some sweet-toothed bloodhound. Often the cry would come before the thought, which we decided must be some latent skill that has been passed down from my early Scandinavian berry picking ancestors.

Over cow fields mysteriously empty of cows, past other hikers and through forests we walked, until finally we reached our first destination. Right on the point of the peninsula stands an old lighthouse, a small building surrounded by sudden tourists. There were two cafes, a bar, a tour bus and lots of people milling about, which was quite a change from the peaceful if slightly minefield-like cow fields we’d just left.
We found an empty picnic bench overlooking the sea (and sunbathing tourists) and enjoyed our lunch, as clouds began to make their way back across the sky. While there was no rain, it seemed that the clear blue skies and sun were over for the time being, and so after having eaten and rested, we put our cardigans back on and continued our walk.

Old beaches

Old beaches

The walk back around the other side of the peninsula was easier, and the first stop along the path was a cave. The way to the cave was a rope hanging down a steep, sandy cliff, so we left that one and continued on, exclaiming about berries and eating them. We next found a porpoise look out, where we saw no porpoises, but rather a small rocky beach. I felt like an ant scrabbling across jumbles sandgrains, which made more a cleaner but more treacherous beach walk. The water was warmer than I thought and after all the walking, it was pleasant to cool my feet on the shore, balancing on the pink and blue rocks.

Pebbled shores

Pebbled shores

Our final stop on the hike was the beach we’d packed our bathers for. It turned out to be similar to the porpoiseless porpoise beach (and before you ask, yes, I did make a few puns), though with more people and with two other sights of interest. On either side of the beach, among the cliffs, were two caves that had been inhabited since the stone age. We went into one, a tiny places only a few metres deep and a few more high. There was soot and ashes from a recent fire, and two benches just outside. It was very moving standing inside, wondering who had lived there and how different the world had been for them. And how similar.

An ancient cave

An ancient cave

I can imagine that they, at least, would have been more likely to wade into the sea than I was when I realised that most of the rocks had a green, slippery covering that almost sent me under the shallow water as I considered swimming. Other people on the beach swam instead, though hearteningly for me none of them managed it without at least a little bit of wobbly balancing.

From the beach it was a short walk across the peninsula to Mölle, via raspberries and at least one golf course. Back in town we enjoyed the feeling of earning a bit of tiredness, and drove back to Malmö for our last night.

On the final day we packed up and cleaned out, and as the weather still seemed pleasant we drove further along the coast to a little town that had been recommended to us. Ystad was indeed small, a harbour town with a cathedral, cobbled stones, a sandy beach and a Viking ship.

Ystad street

Ystad street

The Viking ship was admittedly not from the town, but from Denmark, and was making a quick stop. Most of the space was taken up by supplies, sleeping bags and the sort of equipment that I imagine Vikings would have liked to have had on their voyages. It was also graceful and impressive, and I wondered how I hadn’t picked it out of the crowds of other boats in the harbour before.

A Viking ship

A Viking ship

Back in town we had lunch in the courtyard of an old brewery, an excellent and tasty end to our roadtrip. After that it was only a matter of a final stop at a bakery and then driving back up to Göteborg, saying goodbye to Skåne and the girl on the goose as we went.

Goodbye to the goose girl

Goodbye to the goose girl

Sunny days and nights

These past two weeks we have been able to see our city from a slightly different perspective; that of tourists. My partner’s parents have been visiting from Australia, and when we were able we took them for walks, visited sites or recommended places to visit. For the most part they seemed happy to wander around and explore themselves, and then on most evenings we’d go over to their apartment. Through some sort of incredible luck, their visit has coincided with over a week of sunny days, which ended the day they left. So we’d head over of an evening, and before long it would be 10pm and the sun would still be shining through the windows.

Out on the islands

Out on the islands

After a few days my partner’s sister and her boyfriend arrived, and we continued to show off our home city and share late dinners at the rented apartment. On one day we took a ferry to Brännö, one of the islands in the southern archipelago. Aside from some brief cloud cover it was clear and warm, roses were out along trellises and over fences and some grassy fields even had sheep and lambs wandering around in them. It was all extremely bucolic. We had lunch in the sun, under the supervision of the restaurant cat, and fika at a cafe hidden among the dockyards as we waited for the next ferry.

A ferry alternative

A ferry alternative

When we got back to town we spent some time on the balcony of the apartment, soaking in the evening sun and musing over summer, travel and luck. After we had all rested enough and some of us had got their nerves in order, we headed over to Liseberg.

It had been decided a few days previously that a few of us would attempt the Helix, a new ride that we had seen being constructed and whose passengers we regularly heard as they swooped and screamed around the tracks. Sadly it was temporarily closed when we got there so instead a brave few tried out Atmos-fear, the 116m free-fall tower that is the source of most of the screaming that you can hear from the park.

Atmosfear

Atmosfear

A couple of us decided to watch, and managed to see the others as they slowly ascended and then very quickly dropped back down. They seemed quite shaken afterwards, but were still game enough to try out Balder, the big wooden rollercoaster that I had tried last year. Remembering what it was like, I went and had a glass of wine with my partner’s mum and waited for the more adventurous people to join us.

They eventually did, looking a bit more exhilarated and still eager to try Helix, which had just started up again. As we sat and drank, the band stage was filling with dancers of all ages and styles, all of whom had definite moves. I don’t seem to notice notices for dancing classes any more than I saw in Australia, but judging by what I’ve seen at Liseberg, dancing does seem to be pretty popular here in Sweden. Perhaps it’s those long dark winter nights.

Finally the time had come. The now slightly reduced group went over to the line for the Helix, and those not taking part found a table at the Austrian themed restaurant to wait and eat. Soon they returned, and the food arrived, and in all the talk of the rides I felt very little regret at not going. Perhaps I’ll try in future, when the need to prove myself outweighs the memory of those vertiginous drops.

Liseberg in the evening

Liseberg in the evening

As darkness finally began to set in, the parents decided to call it a night, while the rest of us headed into town. We’d decided that we needed to show them the side of Göteborg where the locals spent their time and were soon in a noisy, crowded pub, chatting and trying not to listen to the loud Australian behind us, telling his new friends about goon-bags.

They have all since left for other travels, though we plan to meet them again in Oslo next week, possibly for the last time until we next visit Australia.

In other news, the first part of my Swedish course finished last week. The class, including many people I’ve studied with for 6 months, had a last fika with the teacher who has been with us from the start. The new classes next term will be with some of the same people, and a few new teachers, and the work will only continue to get harder. And then it too will end, and all sorts of other options will be available. Not too long now.

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.

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.

To the sea

This update was started as I sat on a rock overlooking the sea in Saltholmen, alternately scribbling in my writing pad and staring around at the perfectly serene surroundings. I didn’t lug my laptop to the coast and up that hill, and so I’m now typing it up at home, while a rainy mist persists outside.

Göteborg is a city that is tied to the sea. Since it’s founding it has lived by the ships that still meander up the Göte älv to disgorge their contents on the docks that, unlike other harbour cities I’ve seen haven’t yet been reclaimed as fashionable apartments. The Gulf Stream which passes nearby keeps it relatively warm, so far warm enough for a sheltered Australian who can only imagine snowy winters as Yule cards. (As I retype these notes, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the most oceanic music I know, has started playing, and as well as seeing the still surface of the bays at Saltholmen, I can see the dark beneath the waves.) I’ve always been drawn to bodies of water, whether rivers, lakes or the ocean, fancifully I imagine it could be because about 80% of me is water, but to be honest I don’t know for sure.

An old man sharing the sun

It is a surprise, then, that it’s taken me 6 weeks to visit the coast, and now that I am perched on a rock overlooking Saltholmen harbour, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair, I am glad. There couldn’t be a better day to be here.

View from the rock

My plan initially had been to take a tram to the end of it’s route, in order to see more than the central city that I’ve been wandering around so far. I chose the 11, which ends at Saltholmen, an island relatively recently connected to the mainland. According to Wikipedia, this town is very popular in summer, when locals flock to swim in the protected bays. This would explain why, in October, the kiosks and icecream stalls are closed. Nevertheless, I wandered along the jetty, admiring the scrubby rocks, and found a cove. A rickety bridge spanned between worn rocks and I climbed over, seeing a rock with a 2 metre sharp drop into a warm pool below, whether drifted jellyfish, seaweed and small fish. There I sat, dangling my legs. I wrote a bit, inspired by the quiet and beauty, then sat and watched. Soon I climbed further and found a perch on the highest rock, with a view over the sheltered harbour and bays. There are others basking up here, a few couples wrapped in themselves and others reading and soaking in the light and sea. Just being. It is a fine place to be. I wish this being, right now, could be forever.

A sheltered bay

Obviously it couldn’t be forever, but I sat there for long enough to feel steeped in the sea air, then climbed down the rock and made my way to the tram. On my way I found a patch of forest, with groves of birches, young oaks and startled birds. It seemed almost absurd to find two of the places I enjoy the most, the sea and the forest, in the same place.
Then I went home. This was last week, and I can picture the scene where I sat as it is now. Windy, overcast, damp and quiet. I look forward to being there again.

Surprise forest