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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When is Summer not really Summer

There has been a lot said on my blog lately about our holiday in Malta. There is much left to be said, adventures to be relived and ponderings to be considered. For now, for this week, however I’m going to take a break from the holiday and let the blog settle back into daily life.

Freshly baked daily bread

Freshly baked daily bread

Despite us just having recently passed the peak of Summer, the two things that usually sum up that time of year in Sweden do not apply at the moment.
Most of the locals, our workmates and friends have disappeared to sunnier climes, or popped up on sunny beaches on Facebook or sporting a tan from weeks in Spain. Even businesses are taking a break, many stores sporting ‘semester stängt!’ signs on the doors and promising to be back in August. Our own tans fading, we have returned to work and the usual comings and goings of the non-holiday year.

No doubt it was like this last year, during our first full Summer, but the long sun-filled days and fine weather distracted us from the absences. We have not been so lucky this year. Rather than open itself up to endless blue and those tiny, puffy clouds that are so nice to stare at while lying on your back after a picnic, the sky has opened to release rain, and a lot of it. When we returned from Malta we arrived in time to enjoy the third of three properly Summer days, and since then we’ve all had to suffice with mornings and afternoons here and there, scattered and fine enough that we feel grateful whenever we feel the warmth of the sun. It does teach you to enjoy it when it comes, and staring out the window at the blank white sky and drizzle, I don’t think I could ever take fine weather for granted again.

A semi-sunny day at the lake

A semi-sunny day at the lake

So we sit inside, and when we’re not working my partner gets on with his beer and cider brewing while I design labels and help with the bottling.

A few of the bottled brews

A few of the bottled brews

My projects in the meantime have included making elderberry cordial and raspberry syrup from scratch, and tinkering with the idea of prettying up some old clothes. In short we’ve adopted Swedish winter habits, keeping our hands and minds busy while the world outside gets on with its unpleasant business, whatever that may be.

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

So, while our tans fade and the days shift inexorably to Autumn, we are occupied with creating and experimenting, taking a morning or afternoon to enjoy moments of sun, and looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labours when the dark seasons properly set in. And vicariously enjoying the sun through those whose holidays still continue.

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

A view in the sun

I bet those are not words you thought would be featured on this blog for a while! While most days are cloudy and it’s recently started to get really cold (the thermals, winter boots and new woolly jumper under my jacket have been required), there has been sunlight, and it is glorious.

Domkyrkan in Autumn

Domkyrkan in Autumn

The morning of a day last week dawned clear and bright, and so the planned tea and chat inside with a friend was changed to a scamper around town to enjoy the brief sunlight. As I waited at a tram stop I snapped photos of warm coloured brick buildings lining the road, lit in the sun and then blissed out for a few minutes by standing still in a beam of light and photosynthesizing. Also yes, I do know something about biology, but until someone can come up with a better word for the sensation I’m sticking with my version.

Warm walls of Vasagatan

Warm walls of Vasagatan

Our wander took us along Vasagatan, scattered with students and cyclists, all slightly dazed by the sun, and then into Haga. Perhaps inspired by the Jul decorations that went up some weeks ago, I made a stop at a spice shop and picked up a couple of pinches of Iranian saffron. You may expect this to be featured in baking adventures in future posts.

As mentioned before, no doubt a number of times, an old fortress sits in the centre of Haga, one of a pair in the city. Being round and sitting on a hill, it resembles a crown and in fact has a gold (plated I assume) crown on it’s pinnacle. It can be reached by a series of steep steps, which I always climb with my usual vertigo induced rush and babble, this time assisted by a cheerful chat about Mayan pyramids and how lucky those sacrifices were to not have to climb down all those steps afterwards.

Göteborg from above

Göteborg from above

At the top we were able to catch our breath and enjoy Göteborg spread out beneath us, lit up and quietly bustling. In comparison with the last time I’d been up there, I was able to pick most of the landmarks, and orient myself with places I knew. Around us wandered walkers, parents with prams or students resting on convenient benches and arches, treating the hill as a spectacle or just part of their daily routine. From there we were also able to spot the old observatory in Slottskogen, easier to see now that the trees were almost bare. That, then, would be our next stop.

The observatory from afar

The observatory from afar

A short walk later found us at the foot of the observatory, a strange, short and round building with a second off-kilter roof which was presumably necessarily for some sort of stargazing.

The observatory from nearby

The observatory from nearby

The stargazing has long been moved to a newer building, but there was still a fine view of the surrounding park and city. From certain points it was even possible to imagine that we were in the middle of the wilderness, with forested hills stretching to the horizon. Other angles revealed a busy European city, trams and people rumbling and rushing along the streets.

City or wilderness?

City or wilderness?

Climbing down the hill we found a sofa embedded in a stone wall. Before you get too confused about Swedish design and surrealist modern art, I can confirm that it was stone and that it was also quite comfortable, if you don’t mind a chilly rear. If I had had blankets and pillows and a book, it could have been a nice place to while away a few hours.

Comfy sofa

Comfy sofa

As the light began to fade slightly, we headed to a cafe overlooking a lake for a snack and something to warm us up, and along the way found a monument that I had never noticed before, despite picnicking near it a number of times. It was a stone pillar of some sort, and I still don’t know it’s purpose, though I’d imagine it relates in some way to memorialising someone or something. Right in front of it sat a small park bench, the two making a fine tableau in the bright late autumn sunlight, while also confirming something that I know is a fact true of all places in Sweden. Where there is a view, whether it be of a stone, a city or a forest, a place will be maintained and people will stroll, chat or simply soak in the rare sunlight, and there is almost always a bench.

A place with a view

A place with a view

City reflections and the Semla saga

Church reflection

Late last week I was asked if I could come to an interview at the okristlig (‘ungodly’) time of 8 ‘o’ clock, in a school across the city and the river. Obviously I refused and slept in.

Ha.

After the interview it was still early, the more so as autumn has officially Set In, and was gradually becoming bright and chill, with blue skies and a slight breeze sweeping through the streets. As there was no point going home only to head out again soon after for Swedish class, I decided to take a stroll around my adopted city and watch it waking up.

Brunsparken in the morning

Brunsparken in the morning

My plan was to find a cosy cafe and ensconce myself with a warm drink and some sort of pastry. Considering my general indecisiveness and habit of being easily distracted, I was quite fortunate that morning in having a destination in mind.

Earlier that week a friend of mine from Swedish class convinced me that what we really needed more than anything else was a semla. This is a traditional Swedish pastry, usually a soft, sweet bun filled with almond paste and cream and served in a bowl of milk. We asked our teacher for any tips about how to find them in the city and he suggested an old cafe that he was fond of. They would have semlas if anyone does, he said. Hurrah, we replied, and thus armed with a goal and an appetite we hit the streets.

A short time later we were victoriously marching into the cafe in question, and asking the ladies at the counter for their best semlas. Alas, they had none. They seemed surprised that we would ask for them, as they usually only come out after Jul. Oh, obviously, we said and went outside to consider our next move. We could both recall recently seeing semlas but couldn’t recall where they had been seen, so we decided to do some general looking around in the hopes that they would turn up.

An hour and a half later found us semlaless but a bit heavier by two pancakes a piece, complete with jam and cream, seated outside one of my favourite cafes in Haga. It was Thursday, you see, and Thursday is pancake day in Sweden. I do not question this wisdom.

Pancakes!

Pancakes!

I mention this saga because it was during the morning stroll around the city that I decided to give that first cafe another chance. It was nearly empty when I stepped in, aside from a few pensioners and regulars darting in to get their takeaway breakfast snacks. I chose a warm, sweet drink and a similarly warm, sweet pastry (with fruit!) and seated myself by a window to enjoy them. More customers came and went, reading the paper or sipping coffee and watching the world slowly move past outside.

Soon my dishes were empty and I joined the people walking past the window, the air chilling my face just enough to wake me up. From there I walked around, not aimlessly but rather making up my route along the way. I passed closed and opening shops, chattering students and people on their way to work. I caught Göteborg at a time I hadn’t before.

In Kungsportsplatsen King Charles’ head was just beginning to catch the sunlight.

King Charles IX

King Charles IX

Old churches and new construction was reflected in canals, as well as autumnal trees in the city park.

Church reflection

Church reflection

Pigeons stared back at me as I watched them and tried to look unruffled as they settled their feathers.

Suspicious pigeons

Suspicious pigeons

Trams and buses jangled past carrying a city’s worth of inhabitants, dinging to warn pedestrians whose were darting in front of them.

A young woman dared the morning chill with a short skirt, striding along with her thick jacketed friends.

Ducks foraged among the flowers in the cemetery and squawked around a mother and her daughter feeding them seeds.

As I wandered I was reminded of a chapter in The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, in which a man wakes up in the dream of a city. Whether or not cities dream, and whether or not it is possible to escape from them once that happens, or what should happen if they ever wake, I enjoy playing with the idea of a living city. It has a personality, a sense that sets it apart from all other cities and which it’s inhabitants recognise without being able to articulate.

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

Kungsportsbron on a clear morning

As part of getting to know someone you need to see them in all seasons, times and weathers. The morning face of Göteborg in Autumn is cold, bright and calm as the surface of the canals, lightly riffled by the sea breeze that also spreads multi-coloured leaves across footpaths to be crunched under foot or tossed into piles.

Even if I can’t articulate the Göteborgness of Göteborg, I hope I can now at least describe one of her many faces.

On to svenska

I’m sitting here staring out the window, and then at the calendar on my phone trying to recall what I’ve been doing these past two weeks. It would seem quite a lot, there are many events and excursions listed, but nothing that I’ve felt would justify an update on it’s own. 

I suppose the main theme lately has been the gradual slide into Autumn. Each day dawns slightly later and ends slightly earlier. Each excursion out into the world required an extra beanie or thicker scarf. When I tell people that I’ve never experienced a European winter (a ‘real’ winter in  other words) their faces cloud over with pity, as if I just said I was allergic to cake. I don’t dare ask how bad can it be, in case they tell me. 
The slow run up has at least given me beautiful scenes of autumn leaves and bare trees, and more joy at seeing blue skies than I’ve ever had before.

Autumn in the forest

So today (the day after I started this post) I went to my first Swedish class. It is a big class (40ish), many people are from Syria (not a coincidence?) and the current grade should take 12 weeks. The following one another 12 weeks, and then 18 weeks on top of that to bring me up to University level. That’s almost a year, and while my mind boggles with that I recall that this is the intensive class. So from now on I will be a-charging through svenska, taking in as much as I can and no longer living the life of sort-of leisure. It’s what I’ve wanted, so here goes.
The next post will probably be after the upcoming trip to Istanbul, so will be full of travelling, photos and colour. Oh, and history, obviously.

A writerly, womanly week

Today is the first of October, and it certainly seems as though Autumn is creeping up on us. The leaves have started to change colours and fall, and each day is crisper with chill. The sunny weather still makes winter seem a long way off, though knowing that we’ve probably got a month left at most makes each day seem brighter and more necessary to be outside.

A scattering of Autumn leaves

Last week was another home week, in which I sorted through things that needed sorting, did cleaning and in the evenings made delicious dinners with my partner. Then on Friday my personnummer finally arrived and I shot out the door to get my own new Göteborg library card. Plus a bank account, but let’s be frank here about priorities. The ride to the library, though involving a bit of getting lost, was lovely and sunny and after a rummage among the shelves I happily stuffed my bike basket with an assortment of books for my ride home.

This capped off a very pleasant day, in which I also took part in an English Conversation/fika with some lovely ladies I’d met the day before. Perhaps I should introduce them?
The ladies are members of the IWC (International Women’s Club), which has been running for 8 years here in Göteborg and consists of enthusiastic and welcoming women who love fika and chatting, and have created a busy community for those women who have arrived from overseas, or who want to meet those who have. At the first meeting on Thursday I felt like something of a novelty, as it would seem that there hasn’t been an Australian member for some time, and then got pulled into multiple conversations and found out that the worries I’ve had, and the excitements and strange experiences have been shared by others, and these others are there to help. I also met a lovely, friendly American lady who gave me a tonne of advice and has since sent me links to groups and useful information, in addition to putting me into contact with another writerly person who I hope to catch up with soon. From talking with these ladies, and the expats I’ve met via Facebook, there seem to be stages that immigrants go through, that are replicated with small differences from person to person.

Firstly a person arrives, jetlagged from their flight and desperate for somewhere to dump their stuff and settle. Once refreshed they turn and face their surroundings and exclaim at the glistening canals, ordered streets, fairytale forests and genteel people. This then eventually fades into the day by day routine, which is more structured if there’s work or study, though if at first there’s neither there’s a risk of isolation and inertia. Then, if you go looking you find something or make something to keep you busy and find people who nod and tell you they’ve been there, through those stages and that there are more to come and here’s what I wish I knew then, for you now. In a few months perhaps I’ll be one of those ladies, smiling and nodding, advising on glove insulators and expat women’s groups to someone else who’s just arrived, and making them feel a little less lost.

Then on Saturday came an event that I’ve been looking forward to since I found out I was moving to Australia, and which incidentally gave the end of last week a womanly theme. It was the Göteborg Bok Mässan, or Book Fair, in which a very large hall close to our apartment was filled with book sellers, authors doing talks, markets, craft stalls, chefs offering tasting and what seemed like everyone in Sweden. It was also in Swedish, which was probably why I didn’t end up buying any books (shock horror!), and we spent some time wandering around staring wide eyed at the crowds and stalls and holding hands just in case one of us got swept away by a sudden rip in the crowd.

Bok Mässan hordes

So, what, you ask, made this book fair woman themed? You said it was a womanly weekend, and it just sounds literary so far. Well, one of the guests at the fair was an author whose 2011 book I read with great enjoyment and internal fist-pumping and who I’ve followed online and on social media ever since. One of the speakers was Caitlin Moran. As in this Caitlin Moran. And here’s a photo of me with Caitlin Moran. The excitement! Though I sadly missed her main speech due to circumstances I don’t want to rant about, I did get a book signed and the above photo plus watched a shorter speech later. It seems that she is exactly the same person in the flesh as she is on paper; that is funny, passionate, honest and kind. She was completely approachable and friendly and yes this is turning into a bit of a fannish paean. Anyway, she’s awesome and if you mention her name to me any time soon I will likely squee and clap my hands excitedly.

Caitlin Moran being fabulous

The rest of the weekend was a bit more relaxed, as I continued to fight with my cold and we met up with some lovely expats we’d met previously, for lunch at an Iranian restaurant. The company and food were excellent, and after a bit of wandering around the city we headed home and finished off the weekend with some more relaxation.

A most delicious dinner

Since then I’ve been fighting the on-going flu battle and have finally managed to sign up for Swedish classes, which may start in November. It’s a huge relief to have that at least partly sorted, so I know that things are moving. I’ve also been busily looking for work and sending out my CV so fingers crossed something may happen in that area as well. In the meantime my nose is set on the grindstone to prepare for the lessons and new opportunities seem to be looming welcomingly. Hurrah 🙂