Ash, autumn, kantareller

The day after the Höstfest, we got off to a good start with a breakfast that lasted a few hours, which I assume is just how it’s done in the country. Thus strenghened, we patted the cats and played fetch with the dog, and wondered what to do.

The previous day, in addition to the party, we’d visited a local bakery which specialised in traditional knäckebröd, or crispbread, some of which we ate during the morning-after breakfast. The backroom had been open, so we were able to see the line of soot marked ovens, wood stacked underneath in preparation for baking day. In a glasswalled room the round discs of bread hung in endless racks, waiting to be packaged.

Waiting  knäckebröd

Waiting knäckebröd

The whole area smelt wonderfully of baking and ash, and the earthy fragrance of burnt wood.
A series of photos on the wall showed the opening day, the baking hall packed with crowds, with one particular face snapped more than others. It was the face of Benny Andersson, one of the Bs in Sweden’s most famous pop band, who had helped to finance the bakery. Proving perhaps that Sweden does really revolve around this little collection of valleys.

So the following day, after getting the cat out of one of the baskets, we hit the road and soon arrived at a little torp a few kilometres from the BnB.

A helping cat

A helping cat

A torp is a Swedish cottage, usually made of wood, and originally owned by peasants. While they owned the houses they didn’t own the land, and over time many became the virtual slaves of the landowners, unable to survive on the small plot of land they could use and unable to save up for anything more. Many left during the migrations of the 17th and 18th centuries, and now the cottages have become summer homes, or the permanent homes of those who want to return to the land. We had met just such a couple the previous night, and it was them that we visited. The old, red painted wooden cottage was extremely cosy, and they had plenty of space on their land for a decent veggie patch and chicken coop, plus a growing shed up the back.
More important for our purposes was the forest, which stretched invitingly up the hill.

It took some time, but guided by the friend who owned the cottage, we were able to spot the orange coloured kantarell mushrooms amid the fallen birch leaves. Crawling along on our knees, brushing aside drifts, we found collections under fallen trees and tree roots sometimes smaller than our little fingers and sometimes as big as our fists. They were all tossed into our baskets, which gradually filled as we went further and further into the forest.

Birch in the sun

Birch in the sun

The trees changed from birch to pine, the ground thickening with moss that at times reached up to our ankles. Then it gave way to mixed forest, and carpets of blueberry and lingonberry bushes, still full of sour berries that hadn’t seen quite enough sun. Through thickets of raspberry bushes, grasses and fallen tree trunks we went, scanning the ground, until we reached another pine forest. This one again had a mossy floor, but underneath the mounds grown on the tree roots were streams and swampy puddles, invisible until your foot slipped into one. So we clambered from mound to mound, now and then crouching for some of the precious mushrooms, and occasionally flailing our arms when we missed our footing.

In the woods

In the woods

With our baskets filling and my toes numb through my thin, not-quite-winter-ready socks, we turned home. This time we went by a shortcut, bypassing the thicker parts of the forests, and passing an old stone wall which must once have guarded a house that was now long gone.

Back at the BnB we cleaned the mushrooms and prepared for dinner.

Bountiful mushrooms

Bountiful mushrooms

We cooked the mushrooms in butter and garlic, and ate them with fresh bread and leftovers from the party, washed down with homebrewed beer and cider. They tasted well worth the hours spent in the forest, and even better with company and a dog worn out from playing at our feet.

Before we left the next day to start our long drive back to Göteborg, we visited the Dala river. It flowed just over a field behind the BnB, and from a small path we reached a jetty among reeds. Attached by a wobbly plank was a wooden platform kept afloat by airfilled barrels that bobbed on the river. It also had an engine and two chairs, and seemed a very comfortable way to mess about on the river.

Messing about in the river

Messing about in the river

We stayed attached to the shore while the dog splashed about, and I took pictures of the river in the sun, and the church steeple of the nearby village that was just visible further upstream.

Stora Skevdi

Stora Skevdi

The drive home was mostly uneventful, broken up by the counting of sheep, cows, horses, wind turbines and a couple of deer and foxes. Then home.

It took another week before I got around to cleaning the country mud from my boots, and even now the smell of ash and burning wood lingers on the bundle of knäckebröd as I eat it thickly buttered for breakfast.

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Escape to the Baltic

When we were invited to join an overnight cruise I was skeptical. It was billed as a party ship, and we would be joining a group of Swedes as yet unknown to me who planned to get smashed. None of this particularly appealed to me. Nevertheless in the spirit of adventure we decided to go along; if nothing else, I thought, it would make an interesting blog post.
In many ways it was as I had expected. As the weekend crept closer I pictured drunk Swedes vomiting in swaying ship corridors, a tiny cabin a metre wide and windowless, people pinging between the ship’s only two bars and a rain drenched deck. One of these at least was partly true.

Swedish people, if I may generalise, like to be organised and prepared. Which is why those waiting to board the ship availed themselves of every opportunity to get sloshed. The corridors and halls leading to the as yet closed doors to the ship were lined with 2 bars and a restaurant, all doing a roaring trade. Beer, precarious glasses of wine and cruisers bobbed about and were knocked back or knocked over as the queue eventually began to move forward. Some people pulled empty trolleys along with their luggage, ready for the slabs of beer from duty free. If only they had known that you can buy pre-packed trolleys in the shop. A hen’s night group in matching t-shirts bustled about bottles in hand, already warmed up. We followed the crowd, in the wake of the Swedish friend of a friend who had invited us along.

‘Have you been on the cruise before?’

‘Yes, a few years ago. The other guys go every year, pretty much everyone in my home town know each other and so they all go together.’

‘What can you do on the boat? Other than drink I mean?’

‘Well,’ she thought, ‘there’s a shop and spas. And lots of different bars.’

Somewhat comforted that there were more than 2 places to spend our time, I continued to edge slowly forward, through security and finally onto the ship. My first impression was Titanic, only smaller, and my second was a sigh as I read that our rooms wouldn’t be open for at least an hour. We were all confined to the lower deck for the time being, and as we made our way around, one bar making way for another, and then a dance floor and a corridor of pokies, an inkling of the cunning plan concocted by the ship’s owners began to form in my mind.

A tipple on the topdeck

A tipple on the topdeck

By the time the rooms were open and we’d located ours, Stockholm was passing us by, and from the round window of our room I could see the roller-coasters and rides of Gröna Lund chugging along merrily. Our roommates seemed nice, and once they’d gone on their way and we’d gotten changed for the evening (con sneakers to black heels, pony-tail brushed out) we hit the decks. Along with our fellow Australian friend, we wandered about and eventually settled at the bar on the top deck, where we had a lovely view of the Stockholm archipelago slowly sliding past us. After a few more glasses we followed our whims, having dinner at one of the two restaurants after night had fallen outside (it never fell inside) and missing the opening hours for the duty free shop.

The archipelago at dusk

The archipelago at dusk

As time went on it seemed as though we were slipping behind everyone else on the ship drinks-wise, as a visit to the sundeck including a surprisingly good duet of Bohemian Rhapsody and stumblingly cheerful Swedes demonstrated. Back at the rooms we found where the real parties were taking place. The plan on these ships is to raid the duty free shops, get tanked in your rooms (where alcohol is technically not allowed) and then head out for the clubs. One of the most memorable moments on the ship was walking past an open door and glancing in to see about 10 young Swedish men perched on bunks and the floor, peering back at me like hens nesting in a coop.
We ended up on bunks between someone who overdid ‘Hellooooo!’ just a little, a Brian Viglione lookalike and a Canadian expat. Once our British roommate joined us we switched to English and made progress on a slab of sweet vodkaish things. Then it was time for karaoke, but by the time we had rounded everyone up from the party that was rolling from room to room, the sun deck was a night club and dancing was underway.

Onboard nightclub

Onboard nightclub

We passed the hours, watching, dancing, arguing about whether the flappy things above the ship were bats or birds, getting out of the way of medics helping a guy who had lost the fight with gravity and drink. Sometime later it was 5 in the morning and we were back in the cabin, almost-Brian passed out and Helloooo-man making no sense and falling asleep just before we got the message about an impatient girl who was waiting for him. Then, before the sun could start to peak too far over the horizon, we padded as quietly as possible into our own cabin and went to bed, not knowing that we were nearly in Finland.

The Baltic in the morning

The Baltic in the morning

The next morning, 3 hours later, I was awakened by a foghorn and despite struggles and the comfy bed I didn’t manage to get back to sleep. By the time I was up and dressed, the chance to visit Åland had passed. An island that is owned by Finland, where the official language is Swedish and they use the Euro, Åland would be an interesting place to visit, but not this time.
We missed breakfast and instead visited the shop, getting some cheap bottles and snacks, and then having a quick breakfast of chips and pastry on the top deck bar. The sun was out and the Stockholm archipelago was moving past us again under a blue sky. For the rest of the cruise we had lunch, sat outside in the windy sunlight, explored the decks and played air hockey (2-1).

Back in the archipelago

Back in the archipelago

By the time the boat was pulling back into harbour we were packed and watching gulls and terns dive for fish from the lower deck. The view of Gamla Stan and Djurgården over the water was lovely, and made me almost want to be part of the bustling big-brother city to my home town.
We disembarked, said goodbye to our shipmates, and then headed through town for the train home.

Gamla Stan across the sea

Gamla Stan across the sea

As I think about it, many things about the cruise seem to be a contradiction. The cabins are very cheap, but there is no opportunity to save money on the ship. You’re basically trapped with hundreds of other people who want to escape for the weekend, and the only escape is the seemingly endless supply of alcohol. All ages boarded the ship and no doubt all sorts of mischief was gotten up to, but by the next morning we all stepped off looking relatively chipper and friendly, merging back into our everyday selves. What happens on the cruise stays on the cruise, between the vague shore and international waters, and new friends you’ll never meet again.

A family forest and frozen archipelago

For us folks from little old Göteborg, it’s always a bit of a jolt arriving in Stockholm as you climb off the train and are soon enveloped in masses of bustling folk, tourists, locals going to and from work, locals between pubs, beggars and others whose intentions I could not guess. So it was this latest time, as I met my partner at the station. As I mentioned in the previous post, my mum had already arrived and my fella had just finished a day of work, so all that remained was for both of us to make our way to the house where we would be staying.
We joined commuters on the pendeltåg to Uppsala (one day I’ll follow it the whole way), and after a wander and a bus ride we arrived at our stop. My mum found us there and before long we were unloading our baggage at the guest rooms and I at least was starting to relax a bit.
After a little refreshment, we went to the home of one of my mum’s childhood friends, the lady who had arranged for us to have the guest rooms. We were welcomed into warmth with wine and conversation, and soon felt at home. We would end up spending the beginning and end of the next few days at her home, and I think we took the ‘make yourself at home’ line to heart.
We had a delicious, cosy dinner followed by lots of chatting and finally, as my eyelids began to droop, we went back to the guest room and rested.

The next morning my partner went off to work early, but my mum and I took our time getting ready, breakfasting at the apartment and planning the day ahead. Around mid-morning we were on a train bound for the city and were soon after wandering the streets of Gamla Stan. After investigating the Palace and taking photos, our first stop was a cafe that had been recommended by the daughter of our host.

A history of visitors

A history of visitors

As she said, there was a sign out the front promising mint tea, which turned out to be everything she had said and more. It was basically a large mug filled with handfuls of mint leaves, chunks of ginger and slices of lemon (and after an incident with mum’s drink, a little bit of melted chocolate), and was wonderful.

Mint tea

Mint tea

The minty, gingery warmth more than made up for the slight envy I may have had for my mum’s bowl – mug doesn’t cut it here – of hot chocolate. Thus warmed and sweetened, we continued our explorations. We had no plan and so took what streets we found, admiring old buildings, posing in front of the Nobel museum and exclaiming at the rune stone lodged in a wall.

Stockholm in the sun

Stockholm in the sun

As we finally left Gamla Stan, we had a look around the Medieval Museum, hidden under Norrbro. I’d been there once before, and it was just as interesting this time. We followed a tour guide around and poked around ourselves, admiring the reconstructed houses, monastery, markets and recreations. As before, I was struck by the poignant model of a woman realising she had the plague, and a monk eternally checking his herb garden.

A monk tending his garden

A monk tending his garden

Back outside we continued our journey through the busy shopping and business areas of the city, catching a short tram ride to Nybroplan and then finding Östermalms Saluhall.

A calm elk

A calm elk

We had a snack and took part in people watching, noting the grandparents with grandkids, old friends, couples and those who ate alone who surrounded our little table. A walk around the hall revealed amazing fish, a remarkably calm elk head, feathered chickens and countless other treats and sights.

An unimpressed fish

An unimpressed fish

Back out in the cold we took refuge in design stores and a cafe as we made our way back to the station bit by bit, finally arriving in time to relax before being served another delicious dinner.

The first time I visited Stockholm, I also trekked out of the city to visit the suburb where my mum grew up and found her old home. I’d been in a rush, as I got lost on the way, and so only made a note of the concrete pool in the front yard that she’d told me her father had made and thought that it seemed very quiet and un-lived-in. As we approached the house this time, comments about remembered landmarks and friends filled the front of the car – ‘that’s where so-and-so lived’ ‘I saw him three years ago’ ‘what happened to her?’ ‘do you remember the quiet boy at the end of the street?’ My partner and I sat in the back and stared out at the normal looking suburb, rows of similar looking houses blanketed in snow and hills covered in thick forests. We pulled up at my mum’s old house, and after showing off the letter box made by her father she lead us up into the forest. I’d heard a lot about this forest as I was growing up – days of picking berries, building huts, making bows and arrows, playing tricks on neighbours and all of the other pastimes that 4 children can invent away from the interference of adults. As we picked our way over drifts of snow and around trees she pointed out familiar rocks, a place where they built a hut, the multitude of blueberry bushes, the tracks in the distance where they skied and the path from school.

Childhood forest

Childhood forest

I imagine that as a child the forest would have been as big as a whole world, with endless possibilities and even with adult eyes more suited to measuring and creating meaning I could see the trees that would make perfect hideaways and the borders of the forest seemed to fall away.

From the forest we went for lunch at the local shopping centre, which had grown a bit over the years. At the supermarket my mum excitedly grabbed a brochure with the name of the suburb, as alas we had been unable to find t-shirts of the ‘I ♥ ____’ variety.

That night was to be a reunion for my mum and a few friends, so my partner and I had the evening to ourselves. Following a recommendation, we went to Medborgarplatsen or ‘Medis’, the most real feeling area I had yet seen in Stockholm. Rather than packs of tourists, it seemed mostly inhabited with locals and though the restaurant where we ate had English menus it didn’t have tourist prices.

On Sunday morning my partner returned to Göteborg, so us three ladies went on a boat tour of the archipelago. I had last seen it in August on an old steamer, sitting out on the deck admiring the green islands and watching families have parties on their terraces across the water. This time there were no outdoor parties, and much of the greenery was covered in a blanket of white.

Winter islands

Winter islands

It was still lovely, however, crisp and clean contrasts of dark green, grey blue and white across the land- and water-scape. The tour included a guide, who punctuated the trip with history and anecdotes, and seemed very excited to find people who could speak Swedish. He’d break off now and then and give us a tid-bit that he didn’t share with the others, and despite getting the age of a famous skiier and the Germanic ally who had betrayed the Romans in the Teutoberg forest wrong, he was an excellent guide.

Living in the archipelago

Living in the archipelago

Some final wandering through the city followed the tour, and we then headed back to the apartment for our last dinner together. We finished with a dessert that had amazed me so much the other time I ate it that I was given seconds. Who would have thought that fried pepparkaka dough, icecream, blue cheese and fig jam would be the perfect combination? If you take nothing else away from this blog, I hope it is a nagging curiosity about how this recipe could exist and a yearning to try it.

On the following day my mum and I both departed, though at different times and to different places. She caught an early train to Oslo, and then on to Lillehammer. I went later in the morning on a train back to Göteborg to return to what would become normal life. Thus ended the part of my mum’s trip that was spent with us, about two weeks of conferencing, touristing, eating, talking, walking and celebrating. She is now back in Australia, I imagine having long adjusted to normal life and a pretty dramatic temperature difference. Who knows how long it’ll be until she’s here next, exclaiming about snow, showing us how to make Thai food and sharing explorations. I hope it isn’t too long.

A glimpse of wildness

A watching tiger

As promised, I have finally written a post about our visit to Nordens Ark last year. It is a tale of a surprisingly sunny day, playful red pandas, hungry snow leopards and extremely unimpressed cats. Plus a little ponderance about the ethics of zoos and the power of caged animals.

Åby fjord, where Nordens Ark is based

Åby fjord, where Nordens Ark is based

As you may have guessed from the name, Nordens Ark is a zoo, and it specialises in endangered and threatened animals, running breeding programs and educating about the issues that endanger these creatures. For obvious reasons it specialises in European animals, though some of the critters that are exceptions to this rule greeted us as we walked in. They were furry, red and continually pounced on each other, tumbling about in a manner that made all 4 of the women in our little group coo and melt slightly. I dare anyone to resist the charms of red pandas, even from a distance.

Red pandas - awwww

Red pandas – awwww

The two guys stood at a slight distance, trying to translate the cooing sounds (there is a specific Swedish word that refers to cute things, it seems), but not protesting about staying at the enclosure for a bit longer.

Continuing along the designated trail, we found very sure-footed mountain goats, lynxs hiding on cliffs and owls, inlcuding Hedwig who looked rather miffed to be in captivity, though given that she was killed I’d have thought she’d be relieved (I’m not going to apologise for spoilers, because if you’re worried about them you really should have read the books by now, honestly).

Hedwig is not happy

Hedwig is not happy

We also came across some animals that I had been looking forward to seeing since I’d first heard about Nordens Ark, and started badgering my partner into visiting. A herd of the slightly hard to pronounce, and spell, Przewalski’s wild horse. These horses are the only remaining species of wild horse left in the world, a breed that has never been domesticated and until recently was extinct in the wild. As a historically minded horsey-girl from way back, I have long wanted to see one, and practically ran down the path when we neared the enclosure. They looked like fuzzy ponies, as they had already grown their winter coats, and I was enraptured.

Przewalski's wild horses

Przewalski’s wild horses

Further along, we encountered a breed of cat that was even less impressed with us than Hedwig had been. Despite it’s name, the Pallas cat, implying to me some sense of wisdom (see: Pallas Athena), the impression I got was a sense of extreme grumpiness and just cannot-be-botheredness. For most of the time that we stood and watched (and giggled) at the cat, it sat with it’s back to us, apparently staring at a rock. The picture below was taken in the brief moment it deigned to glance at us, grumpily, and then turned back to it’s vital rock-staring.

Pallas cat being grumpy

Pallas cat being grumpy

Very soon, however, we came across other felines who were not of the grumpy persuasion. They were some of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen, and whose near extinction seems one of the most tragic. Fortunately for them, and us, the breeding program seems to be going well, and so we were able to see a total of 5 snow leopards. The father was in his own enclosure, lazing about and considering the hunk of meat that had been hung from a tree for his lunch, while the mother and 3 cups were variously relaxing and attempting to reach their own lunch. From what we could tell, the cubs have a lot to learn about such things as climbing trees, reaching out for food and critically, not falling down all the time.

Lunch time for the cubs

Lunch time for the cubs

While the cubs tumbled, swiped and climbed the mother watched and walked around. She reminded me of one of the negative aspects of a zoo; it is more or less a prison. Yes, it protects animals that may otherwise starve or be hunted in the wild and it helps educate people, but at the same time it deprives those it protects of their ability to be wild. Maybe someday we’ll find a compromise, and I hope that the descendants of the snow leopards we saw that day will still be around to benefit from it.

Mother snow leopard

Mother snow leopard

By this point it was reaching our own lunchtime, and so we headed for the wolf building, a large hut with glass sides that looked out over the wolf enclosure. As we sat and enjoyed our picnic and sipped hot chocolate mixed with Baileys (oh yes), we saw no sign of the wolves. It seems that there had been some health scare or breeding issue, so all but one of the wolves in Nordens Ark had been removed. After lunch we had another look, but could see nothing. As the others went on to the next enclosure I saw a small movement among the trees and watched carefully for a while until it coalesced into the shape of a wolf. It stood there for a short time and then disappeared. It was the first wolf I had ever seen.

The first wolf

The first wolf

We then passed reindeer, frogs, raptors and almost missed seeing the most threatened cat in the world. There was only one Amur leopard in the park, sitting on a rock in what seemed a smaller enclosure than the snow leopards. It too seemed bored, and beautiful, which I suppose the reason for it’s status (the beauty, not the boredom).

A bored Amur leopard

A bored Amur leopard

One of the next animals was one that certainly isn’t endangered due to it’s luxurious pelt, and in fact isn’t as threatened as the other animals that we had seen. The description of the wolverine, and what we saw of it, indicated that it’s reputation for viciousness and strength aren’t exaggerated. A solitary wolverine can apparently take down an elk, which is quite a feat for an animal that ranges from between 60-100cms long. While we were there, the first sign we had of it was a pine tree shaking as it climbed down the branches, thereby ruining my possible idea about escaping from them up a tree if I even spotted one in the wild. I really hope I never do, as I am smaller and quite a bit less fearsome than an elk. Usually.

A curious wolverine

A curious wolverine

After passing a few more unimpressed cats, we reached the enclosure of a cat that definitely fit into the impressive category.

Still not amused

Still not amused

I have seen tigers before, and remember then being struck by how trapped they seemed and how threatened by human stupidity they were. The Amur tigers at Nordens Ark were bored, walking around the tracks that had been made by their repeated loops, but I was also able to get a glimpse of how wonderfully stunning and powerful they are. I didn’t know until I just looked it up right now that Amur tiger is another name for Siberian tiger, an animal that I have been fascinated about for a very long time, as it is the largest of the big cats. There were 2 enclosures, one with a high platform that the tigers were sitting on, only able to be spotted by their tails and paws over the sides, but in the other enclosure a single tiger was in full sight, prowling around and ignoring us for the most part. I don’t think I need to go on about how amazing it is to see a tiger, and how sad it is as well, knowing how few are left, as anyone who has ever seen one will know what I’m talking about.

Amur tiger

Amur tiger

Even more impressive than the sight of the tiger prowling however, was when it lay down in a secluded part of the enclosure. Some of us walked around to find it and once there agreed that we were lucky that there was a fence. The tiger lay on the other side and watched us intently, barely moving as we took photos. Staring back into those eyes I wondered what it would be like without the fence and the cage, to be at its mercy. Perhaps, like that day, I would be too transfixed to run.

A watching tiger

A watching tiger

That visit was about 2 months shy of a year ago now, and I still think about the animals I saw there, and my conflicted feelings about zoos and how to protect endangered creatures. As I look at the photos I took there though, there are two things that stand out, more so even than the grumpy cats and cute pandas. One is a brief glimpse of a wolf, an animal that has played such an important part in human culture for most, if not all, of our history.
The other is the stare of an immense and powerful cat, trapped behind a fence as a result of human greed, but capable of making me feel like prey, while at the same time wanting to worship it.

The city of islands

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

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

Stockholm from a ferry

Stockholm from a ferry

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

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

Spot the wolf!

Spot the wolf!

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

Sleeping bears

Sleeping bears

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

Bisons being shy

Bisons being shy

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

A tolerant reindeer

A tolerant reindeer

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

Hällestad belfry

Hällestad belfry

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

Stockholm from Djurgården

Stockholm from Djurgården

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

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

Island houses

Island houses

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

Sunset on the archipelago

Sunset on the archipelago

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

Vaxholm fortress

Vaxholm fortress

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

Nighttime on a steamer

Nighttime on a steamer

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

Stockholm at night

Stockholm at night

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

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

From the 1960s to the 1060s

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

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

The pianist

The pianist

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

The dining carriage

The dining carriage

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

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

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

Viking musicians

Viking musicians

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

Old fashioned table ware

Old fashioned table ware

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

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

2 Vikings, 2 towers and summer rain

I write this post from our new apartment, which we have officially and formally moved into. Following yet another visit to IKEA (let it be the last) it’s now looking and feeling even more homely.
The whole of this week hasn’t been spent moving our things and settling in though. We did most of the work last week, as on Sunday we had to be up and hitting the road, bound for more travels. This time we were heading south, for parts of Sweden that we had heard much of but had never seen. We were going with a friend, and so in true road trip style we piled into a hired car and set off with snacks and Spotify playlists, hoping that the weather would clear.

Snacks for the journey

Snacks for the journey

Our first stop was to have been Mölle, a coastal town where we were hoping to hike and possibly swim, but as the skies remained grey and the rain continued to fall we headed on to Malmö.
Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden, and has a reputation for innovation, lots of cyclists and general hippness. There seemed fewer cyclists than I had imagined, but it did have a modern feeling, and the Twisting Torso isn’t something you see every day. We first glimpsed it as we drove towards the city, a pale blue and white construction that seemed to change colour as we got closer.

Twisting Torso from the beach

Twisting Torso from the beach

As we were too early to get the keys to the apartment we were staying at (airbnb – it works!) we found some parking and went for a wander around town in the hopes of finding food and something to occupy us. We found both at the Malmö Konst Hall, including possibly the worst temptation to tamper with an artwork that I’ve ever seen. 10 metres of carefully laid sand with an artfully shaped wheel rolled over it. And nothing but an exasperated chap telling us to please step back. I resisted of course, but I dread to imagine a mob of school children on an excursion.

From there we went to the Modern Art Museum, via the canal that runs through the centre of town and the central shopping areas. At the museum I discovered that I still do not understand Picasso, but that there have been many more modern female artists in Scandinavia than I had thought. It also sparked a discussion about why self-portraits are less glamorous than the other paintings done by artists. Possibly you can choose a model but not your own face? Artists are as self-critical as the rest of us? Any other theories out there?

Our final stop was a closer look at the Twisting Torso, which looked less graceful but more impressive up close.
Then we found the apartment and got settled in, preparing for our first full day of exploring, in which the weather would hopefully improve.

Beneath the Twisting Torso

Beneath the Twisting Torso

It didn’t.

We did however have a plan and so after breakfast we set off in the car for a small town to the south, where there exists an even smaller town very different from any I had ever seen.
Foteviken village is a place where a very particular lifestyle is permitted and celebrated, where people can visit or stay if they wish, as long as they abide by the rules. For those who stay there are no mobile phones, watches, zips or clothing that would have been seen since the late Viking era.

The town is a reconstruction of a village from that era, complete with various types of buildings, workshops, chickens wandering around and a ship sitting out at sea.

A ship and two boats at sea

A ship and two boats at sea

Inside the buildings were authentic bowls, food, fireplaces, weapons, tapestries and furniture, and inside one there were even two Vikings. They were busy trying to light a fire in a large mud and manure oven, but fortunately were not too busy to have a chat with us. They spend a few months a year living here, often sleeping outside the town but spending as much time as possible working as smiths, carpenters of weavers, contributing to the town and acting as guides for visitors.

As it was raining the town was pretty quiet so we got about an hour and a half with one of the fellows, who eventually resorted to using the blacksmiths bellows to light the fire (authentic of course – when I joked that using new technology surely helped he looked as though I had spoken a terrible blasphemy). He showed us the house of the King, which was decorated with tapestries, helmets, weapons and a very nicely carved chair.

The house of the King

The house of the King

The King is the man who established the town, and who decides whether or not people are allowed to stay. He also scrutinises the goods at the regular markets to ensure that there is nothing that would have been made after around 1200 CE. From what we were told woe betides anyone who has plastic.

Apples for the King

Apples for the King

After our tour we found the guard tower, which housed some more helmets and weapons, and steep stairs that lead up to the viewing platform from which we had a wonderful view over the town and the sea.

The stone circle

The stone circle

From there we found the stone circle, the execution area and the sacrificial grove. Thankfully the guidelines for the town state that no live animal is allowed to be sacrificed, so all that stood there were a collection of wooden figures, that like the rest of the town looked more authentic than glamorous.

The sacrificial grove

The sacrificial grove

It’s fair to say that I thought the place was brilliant, and from the stories we were told there are many other places around Scandinavia and Europe where you can experience Viking life. Whether your interests are in markets, battles or just the authentic way of life, you can find something. The stories about the wounds that some of the fighters got gave us the impression that this is more than a hobby for some people.

Do not be surprised if there is another post about a Viking village sometime in the future.

The guard tower

The guard tower

When we got back to Malmö and had lunch, the weather still hadn’t improved, so we decided to explore another place out of town that we had heard interesting things about.
Lund is a university town, and as such seemed remarkably like Cambridge, which we had visited last year. The reason for this, we suspect, is that the reliance on the university means that other industries that tend to transform towns through the years don’t have as much of an effect. The result is cobbled streets, Tudor-style buildings and a sense of timelessness.

A street in Lund

A street in Lund

We first explored the cathedral in the centre of town, which included an interesting crypt, and then wandered outside, taking streets that seemed interesting and allowing ourselves to get lost.

In the crypt

In the crypt

As the rain returned so did we to Malmö, to rest for another day of sightseeing, hoping again that the weather would clear and allow us to explore without the tiring drizzle.

It did, and that is a post for next week.

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.

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.