A few days in a Swiss valley

The second country on our little European jaunt is a neighbour to Germany, and one that people sometimes have trouble distinguishing from Sweden: Switzerland. Rather than check out the big cities and big name places, we were headed for the little town of Boppelsen, with a population just over 1000.

The vineyard next door

The vineyard next door

We were staying there because we were lucky enough to have a family friend who had very enthusiastically welcomed us to his home, which sits on the upper edge of a valley next to a vineyard. From the verandah you have a view over the town, with the village to the left and fields to the right, with forests sweeping up behind the house. It was extremely picturesque, and I never got sick of staring out of the windows at the rolling hills beyond and the glimpses of the alps in the distance.

Boppelsen

The night of our arrival coincided with an annual village party, which we trooped along to, following the sound of the music all across town. Long tables had been set up and a little bar was serving cheap beers and cocktails, so we mingled and smiled, being introduced to locals and taking in the close-knit party goers and the strange feeling of a foreign language that we couldn’t understand. Exhausted from our hours on the trains that day, we called it a night and left our hosts to have fun into the wee hours.

For the next two days, we caught up with friends who had moved to Switzerland or were passing through, having lunch at their houses and walks around a lake as well as a roadtrip to another country. This other country is not the largest or most impressive, but it does have the distinction of being the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire, which is something.

A bit of Lichtenstein

A bit of Lichtenstein

Upon our arrival in Vaduz, the capital of Lichtenstein, we were a little but underwhelmed but charmed. As it was a sunday there was very little open, and even fewer places with food, but before we got too far into our search we went for a walk up a hill. Along the way we saw the legendary Blue Sheep, gave our legs a workout and in the end were treated to a close view of the residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein. Originally a castle, then a tavern and then renovated for the Prince and his family, it’s very nice, and has a lovely view over the town and the rest of the valley.

The residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein

The residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein

From there we went back down the hill and explored with food in mind, eventually settling on a supermarket for snackfood. After a final glance around and mentally ticking it off our lists, we left for a Swiss brewery.
The brewery sadly had no tastings, but it did have an educational video every half an hour about the history of the place. It featured a sickly queen and two dwarves who set out to find her cure, inevitably finding their way to the brewery, and salvation in the form of one of the beers. There was even a joke about Germans. It was ridiculous and I loved it. Then as rain fell we navigated the steep mountain sides and forest paths to our village and had dinner at a mostly vegan restaurant, which was one of the best meals we had during our holiday. Spinach strudel. Strawberries, Pernod and pepper.

After all the time we’d spent on our own adventures and seeing friends, we spent our last full day in Switzerland with our hosts. The day started with a walk in the forest, our host pushing the off-road pram up 45 degree slopes at times, and demonstrating how it is he’s done so many triathlons. The trail swung back and forth up the hill, among trees of all different kinds and the murmurings of birds.

In the forest

In the forest

Once at the top we had a view across the top of the other side of the valley, away to the alps. Using a diagram, I think I was even able to spot Jungfrau among the other points, a mountain that I’d visited during my first visit to Europe in 2008. In the foreground we could see the grey shapes around a lake that was Zurich and here and there villages and towns among the fields and forests. If not for the thick trees, turning around we could have seen Germany.

Zurich and the alps

Zurich and the alps

On the way down, the 3 year old son of our host, who had been very shy around us, raced along a side path, popping in and out of view and testing how far he could go from his dad. Once he’d pushed far enough, he joined us again, a little bit of energy worn away, and we were lucky enough to get to hold his hand as we walked down tricky paths. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, and that he probably thought we were rather stupid, we were able to speak a language of avoiding roots and slippery patches, and playing chasey.

That night we shared a lovely dinner, and the next morning we had a final walk in the forest before we caught a train away from the vineyards, oaks and summer flowers and towards our next destination.

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The hills and folks

It’s been 3 weeks since we arrived back in Australia, and there’s a lot to take in and share. So I’m going to start small.

I like going on regular runs, preferably first thing in the morning when the air is clear and I can avoid having two showers. Wherever we lived in Göteborg I was able to find a path through a forest, or through town to a creek or around a beautiful lake. I relied on the surroundings to do part of the work of getting me running everyday, to see the seasons pass, the geese return from their winter migration and the berries ripen. I loved the lake most of all, regardless of the season or weather.

A brief moment of sun

Kåsjön

Now I’ve found myself in the hills where I grew up, among forests that would be best described as green and rough, and still familiar as family. Up here (for a relative value of up) the soil is rusty red and gravelly and the trees gnarled. In winter the dust isn’t able to settle so the leaves are glossy green and fragrant, and grasses and weeds are flourishing in the forests and gardens. It’s the best time of year to go on morning runs, before the heat starts to set in and there’s enough chill in the easterly winds to cool the sweat. I’ve started a routine, heading up the hill before turning so I can run partly downhill home, each day going slightly further. The gravel can be tricky and the path is never really flat or straight, swinging around corners and up and down slopes all the way, but I’m starting to learn it.

Morning run

Morning run

I’ve passed many people during my runs, walking dogs or cycling, and all have smiled and said good morning, as it has always been done up here. No longer do I make brief eye-contact and then glance away, concerned at breaking the unspoken Scandinavian code of personal space. That bubble of personal space is much reduced here, and the edges blurred. Strangers strike up conversations on train platforms, locals stare more openly at those who are different, acquaintances make comments that would be rude elsewhere and the young move easily forward to help the elderly. I have also discovered a liking for banter in public, something I’d always felt awkward about. Short questions and greetings have become chats, easy and comfortable, the slang and accent coming back to me bit by bit.

Hovea Falls

Hovea Falls

It feels new and old at the same time, the mundane now a little bit exotic and what was familiar a month ago now foreign.

Old pub in Fremantle

Old pub in Fremantle

Frozen lake, bright sky

A brief moment of sun

Even though there was a light dusting of snow last night (enough to fill a teacup), the sun is out today and the blue sky makes it feel as though the true winter is almost over. There will be clouds and rain and cold, for sure, but not the drifts of snow and frozen lakes that are a ‘real’ winter. Today then seems a good time to show you all a little bit of the winter that was just passed, the sort of winter that I love.

Snow had been falling off an on for weeks, bending down the trees under the soft, dense weight and freezing the lakes nearby. While snow is in itself beautiful, the moment it comes alive is when the sun comes out. One day we went for a walk on a weekend morning, and more than once I was quite literally stunned into stillness and silence by the beauty of the trees, light and snow.

Snow in the forest

Snow in the forest

Branches sticking up through the snow were coated in a thin, shining layer like crystals, which drifted lightly off when flicked.

Snowcrusted shrubbery

Snowcrusted shrubbery

The forest, where not so many months ago we had picked berries, was muffled and still, though at any moment I expected a breeze to tumble a branch load of snow onto my head.

Sunlit path

Sunlit path

After my fella returned home, I continued on to the nearest lake, wondering if it might be frozen. It was was, very much so.

Kåsjön alive

Kåsjön alive

Not only was it frozen, which a layer of snow covering the thick (so I hoped) ice, but it had been transformed into a park, or to my romantic mind, a winter wonderland. Children scampered about in their fleuro one-piece outfits, adults walked their dogs and people of all ages skated and skied, leaving long, crisscrossing tracks behind them. Nervous at first, I walked over the tracks, listening for the creaking of ice and then walked more and more confidently across to the island that 2 years ago I had swum to. Under wide, bright blue sky and in the centre of the vast openness of the lake, the claustrophobia of winter fell away, down into the freezing, dark water under the ice.

Walkers on the lake

Walkers on the lake

On the shore nearest to the houses, areas of the ice had been cleared and with shoes or picnic baskets for goal posts, ice hockey games were underway. Often it seemed the dads were ahead, but now and then a son or daughter would sneak past and a parent dramatically fall over, equaling the score. In sheltered bays little children were being taught to skate, knees locked in fear and well padded bottoms covered in snow.

Icehockey

Icehockey

In the distance, old couples walked their dogs, disappearing into the further reaches of the lake.
If there was ever a heaven of ice and snow under a low hanging northern sun, this was it.

Then later that week a storm hit the west coast of Sweden, bringing wind and snow. A lot of snow. By the time it had ended, there was 30cms of it in our neighbourhood, and enough in town to stop trams, buses and cars. It was, in the words of frantic sensationalist newspapers, SNÖKAOS, which I think doesn’t need translation. This resulted in many people not getting in to work, including my fella, and one of my all time favourite news bloopers. My lesson for the day had been cancelled, so after a few productive hours of work we set off for the lake, my eagerness to show off the beauty and novelty of walking across it pushing me through drifts up to my knees that hadn’t yet seen a shovel. Though there was no sign of the sun through the thick clouds and the snow-wading was tiring us out, we reached the lake before too long. It was still frozen, also covered in deep snow, but as yet without any tracks or trails over its surface. Coaxing my fella out into the open, we made it to the island and sat to contemplate the wide openness, and quiet. Still beautiful, it seemed a more severe and solitary beauty than I had seen myself on the sunny day so recently.

A brief moment of sun

A brief moment of sun

Since then the temperature rose, rain fell, the snow melted into slush and then washed away, leaving only patches of black ice to tread carefully around. We might still get snow, but the day of minus temperatures and nights of -18 seem behind us now. The question isn’t how much snow do I need for a snow man, but when will the first flowers start to bloom?

No swimming yet

No swimming yet

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.

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.

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.

Magpies and old places

I would be interested to know if there exists in any language a word for the feeling that something is both familiar and strange at the same time. It is a feeling that I have discovered since arriving in Australia on Sunday night. Driving up into the hills, seeing the old and newly greened bushland, and my parents’ house, it seems as though I never left. Perhaps the whole thing was some Eurovision induced fantasy.

Whether or not the months in Sweden have been a dream, the long flight over here couldn’t have been faked. As anyone who’s made long-haul flights will know, the only thing worse than 10 hours tightly packed into a cabin is the queues, waiting, security checks and sudden rush before and after the flights. The reward of course is arriving, and for us being able to see our families for the first time in months. Thanks to skype we never feel too far away from them but the internet is no substitute for a hug.

The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean

That first night we slept like the dead, waking up mid-morning to a strange feeling of warmth. While it’s been mostly cloudy with occasional showers since we arrived, it is much warmer than what we left behind and I am right now indulging in a pair of shorts, which I have not worn since we left last year. Though my mind is slowly adjusting to being on holiday and being in Australia, my body is still finding the warmth and humidity strange, and noticing more than ever the scent of eucalyptus, the soil after rain and the din of all the birds calling in the bush.

The sun behind a grasstree

The sun behind a grasstree

I went for a walk on Wednesday afternoon and felt a bit like a tourist, amazed by the cries of the various parrots, cockatoos, magpies, finches, mudlarks and other unknown birds, and the strange shapes and colours of the plants lining the gravel path. I was reminded again of the contrast between soft and hard shown in the Australian bush. The parrot bush, with its sharp edged leaves and downy yellow flowers, the prickly moses with buds not yet in bloom and an unknown grass the blades of which twist like calligraphy.

Calligraphy

Calligraphy

Another new experience was the other people cycling, walking or running on the path. Without exception, they smiled, nodded or said good morning and we passed each other. One fellow shooting past on a bike even said thank you when I moved to the side of the path in response to his bell ringing. I suppose people in Australia, or at least those who live out beyond suburbia, will probably shrug and wonder what I’m talking about. You see, in Sweden, if you meet someone on a path, or on a road, be they walking, cycling or running, the most acknowledgement you can expect is a nod. Mostly I get the briefest of eye-contact, if that. There are a few ladies who are an exception, as I pass them every day and one of their dogs generally chases me, so I get a semi-apologetic smile and ‘hej’ as I outrun the little ball of fluff. I am now experiencing the reverse of what I got used to months ago, as I blink in surprise at friendly greetings from strangers.

Prickly Australian natives

Prickly Australian natives

Further proof that I am in Australia came on Wednesday night, as I pulled aside the curtain in my bedroom to close the window. Perched on the sill, looking just as surprised as me, was a little gecko. It turned out that the top of the window screen was slightly open, so I climbed up and pulled it out so I could set the gecko free (no double glazed windows in Australia) and as I did so a big black spider scuttled across the screen. Thinking it was a redback, I may have sworn a bit, waking my dad up and startling both the spider and the gecko. It was just a plain black spider, and with a bit of shaking I got it off the screen and then tried to coax the gecko out of the window. It decided instead to scamper into a gap under the sill and as far as I know is still there. I have made sure that the screen is closed, so hopefully I won’t have any more surprise guests. On the fluffy side, I have also seen a bandicoot and two rabbits. I’m sure a kangaroo will be along at some point too.

The reason for the trip, or at least the reason for the timing, was a wedding. One of my partner’s closest friends set the date for his wedding shortly after we’d left for Sweden, so the plan to pop over had been in place for a while. The wedding was on Thursday, at a very nice venue right next to a river. It was relatively small, around 60 guests, and beautifully planned. The ceremony was short and sweet, the bride looked lovely and the groom slightly nervous but pleased. There were garden games while photos were taken, and I first beat my partner at giant-connect 4, and then we drew at chess. Well we reached an impasse so I distracted him, stole the king and made him forfeit. After which we had a reception in a very elegantly decorated pavilion, with tasty food, slightly embarrassing and sincere speeches and then dancing. The night ended as the bride and groom were driven to the airport and the guests who had lasted stumbled off to cars or taxis. I’ve only been to a few weddings, but in terms of planning, calmness and sincerity, it was the nicest.

This week has otherwise been spent recovering from jetlag, resting, spending time with family, talking, watching my brother and his girlfriend play netball (their team won), seeing friends and planning for the coming weeks. Already my days are filling up, and the first week is nearly over. Soon there will be more people to see and plans to make, but until then I’ll sit in my old room, listening to magpies and the rain.

A gravel trail

A gravel trail

The holiday ends

With rain and a number of mishaps, the weekend has ended and with it the break as we settle in. Now it’s work, study, the reasons we came here and all we’d told ourselves we’d get into.

Yesterday it began, with my partner going off to work, meeting new people and those he’d met before and finding out just what he’d travelled across the world to do. 

For myself it was investigating language classes, IDs and all the other things I’d decided would fill my days. The ideal of getting into study, writing, violin and regular runs in the forest still needs some foundations laid, though it’s very tempting to wander around the forest for hours. 

Yesterday I went for a short visit, to scope out paths for future runs, and encountered a squirrel and an old wall. Perhaps not old, it was difficult to tell without archaeology skills, of which I have none besides those picked up from Elizabeth Peters novels. Moss covered, tumbling apart and running along the side of a shallow valley.

Wall in the forest

 

Further exploring revealed no answers, though it was a very lovely place, and I did find out that I am exactly as stealthy as those characters in films that run off into the forest and are eaten by the resident monster/bear/wolf pack/T Rex/serial killer. More practice is required. The squirrel could tell I was one of those types, I think, as it was very insistent that I go away, lest I draw the monsters to it’s tree. At least I assume that was what the foot-stamping, glaring and chattering carry on was about. 

An indignant squirrel

I mentioned in my previous post that this is a cycling city, designed with paths and prioritising cyclists. Yesterday I was able to ascend the pecking order, and it makes sense now. Of course everyone should give way to cyclists! With my partner on his new, beloved bike and myself on one of the hop-on-hop-off bikes that litter the city, we trundled through the streets, past crowds outside a stadium, trams and many other cyclists. Either due to the small size of Göteborg or the quality of the paths, we crossed the city in no time, and were able to sit in a restaurant by the harbour to watch the sun set. Later today I will hopefully have my own cykel. More on that in the next update.

Göteborg harbour in the evening

Today I have given myself a number of tasks to complete, but as with yesterday, the temptation to continue the holidaying and procrastinate is very strong. Will power! 

For the moment at least I have tea, silence from the amusement park, I Giorni by Einaudi playing in the background and washing to put in the drying room in 5 minutes.