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.

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The end and the beginning

The days after our return from Lillehammer were filled with…nothing much in particular. We unpacked, nested, ate leftover pepparkakor and started planning and gathering supplies for the end.

We had two fellow country folk visiting to celebrate with us, so bits of planning slowly built up until the 31st finally arrived, accompanied by our visitors. After they got off the train there was only a brief window of sunlight in which to show them our hometown, so we gave them a quick tour via a tram and a walk, and then headed home. Then followed a little smörgåsbord, some drinking, music, chatting and relaxing, and a gradual build up to the big moment. It seemed though that others were not as patient, as crashes, bangs and flashes continued around us almost without pause.

Finally, with 15 minutes to spare, we went out to the pre-arranged location. Chinese lanterns floated beneath the clouds and lights filled the horizons, and at 12 our own supplies were lit. Within seconds 36 fireworks went off, filling the sky with colour and our ears with noise. It lasted about 10 seconds in total, and pretty much as soon as it was over I wanted more, and thanked whatever luck had ensured that fireworks were not banned in this country. Across the road another party wished us a happy new year and we returned their cheers, laughing and coughing slightly from the drifting smoke.

For another half an hour the celebrations continued all around us, some crackers in backyards, fireworks shooting horizontally up streets, an occasional fire engine and the horizon lit up on all sides. The previous year we had been in the middle of town, and though it had also been full of barrages of fireworks, the open space of our new neighbourhood gave us a better sense of the number of celebrations and the excitement felt in the community. Whether it was due to excitement at the profusion of fireworks or greeting the new year, the night was filled with happiness and a little bit of danger, which is a good sort of beginning.

Trying to photograph fireworks

Trying to photograph fireworks

The next morning we would have to get up early, so we went to bed as soon as we got home, and seemingly moments later were awakened by our alarms and were then out the door. Our destination was Stockholm, and the journey there featured measuring the speed of the train (quite fast), remarking on the tinyness of the cakes and failing to catch up on sleep. We soon arrived in the big city, and after dumping our stuff at the hotel set out to explore.

Streets of Gamla Stan

Streets of Gamla Stan

I had visited Stockholm twice before, so the size, charming old streets and lovely harbours were no surprise, though it was nice to see it through new eyes. We headed to Gamla Stan first, and spent hours wandering up and down the wide and narrow streets and alleys, checking out the shops and taking a lot of photos.

Lights at night

Lights at night

As it got dark dinner was had and as if carried by the thick, cold winds we made our way back to the hotel to while away the hours with chatting, snacking and laughing.

An old saint, getting into some slaying

An old saint, getting into some slaying

Sadly, our visitors hadn’t come alone. With them they had brought a strain of flu, and so on the second day in Stockholm one of them was struck down and unable to join us for adventures. So instead three of us set out, making our way through the cool morning air to Djurgården.

We took the long walk to the island, winding along the banks of the river past the palace, bridges, elaborately fronted apartments and even a bird feeding station, which was very popular with the locals.

Stockholmers at breakfast

Stockholmers at breakfast

Once on the island we dodged the rain to the Vasa museum, and managed to get there before the long queues. The ship was impressive, as usual, a great dark hulk that seems to take up all available space. I had tried to downplay how impressive it was to our guest so that she would be even more impressed, but I think she saw through my ruse. Possibly my excitement gave it away.

The Vasa

The Vasa

We spent a while admiring the ship, and trying to sort out an issue that had come up, and before we knew it the time had come to head back to town. This time we took the shorter route through the main streets, passing giant elk, shops, squares and a lot of busy city folk. Having already packed we then went over to the train station to eat and wait for the train. Following its arrival and many farewells, we climbed aboard and discovered to my delight that we were in a booth that had a distinct Hogwarts Express feel. The novelty never quite faded, and the pianist at the bar kept the glee going for the remainder of the ride back home, where we were pleased to discover, it had just snowed.

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.

The island city

My mother was born in Sweden (she is a Norwegian citizen however, which is another story) and grew up in Farsta, a suburb of Stockholm. As I grew up way over in Australia, I heard about days spent in the forest, picking berries and how delicious they tasted, playing games and exploring. The forest I imagined was like those in fairy tales, with tall pines, soft undergrowth, moss and streams. Not like the gravel earth, grey and green trees, clusters of bright flowers and spiky undergrowth of the forests I’d grown up in. I grew up with an idea of where my mother had come from, and a curiosity to know more about it. This may be part of the reason for wanting to live in Europe (in addition to my possible Anglophilia; see previous post for further details), and as soon as it was confirmed that I’d be living in the country where she grew up, I knew that I had to visit her home.

This is the long way of saying that since I moved to Göteborg I’ve been hoping to visit Stockholm, and last Tuesday I did. My partner had arranged a flight for me last week, an early one that would allow a full day of wandering and a not too late return, so before dawn I was up and out of the apartment, walking through empty streets to the nearby tram station. Through pre-planned jumping from one transport to another, I arrived in Stockholm nice and early, with my breath steaming in the chilly air and decided that breakfast must be the first stop. I’d read a review of a cafe in Stortorget that sounded perfect so I headed there by foot to soak in the city better. My walk took me through the Swedish Parliament building, past the Palace and into Gamla Stan. As it was early, the stores were all closed, but I made a mental note of the less-touristy places to try later, as my secondary mission was finding a birthday gift for my brother. I eventually found Stortorget and the cafe, and was then told that it opened in an hour, so went somewhere else instead.

Parliament building

That done, I looked at the next item I’d starred on Google maps, the city museum. I could unwind and relax there, looking at the old things in cabinets before setting off for something more strenuous. It was closed till 11. The trip to Farsta then climbed to the top of my list.

Public transport in Sweden, that I have experienced thus far, has been really good. As such I was able to get to Farsta easily, and after getting a bit lost I found the cul de sac where my mother’s old house was, and then the house itself. It was small and as she’d described it to me. There was a cement fishpond out of the front, that her father had built, and I could see the forest right behind it. Having found it I took photos and looked at it a bit more, and then headed back to Stockholm. I imagine that had my mother been there I could have seen it through her eyes, though visiting it brought a bit of her with me.

By the time I’d returned to Stockholm the city museum was open so I made my way there for some exploring. After a look around I agreed with the ticket fellow – it was ok but the Medieval Museum may be better. He was right as it turns out, but more on that later. Hunger pangs making themselves known, I headed to Gamla Stan for something to eat and then the gift mission. As I wandered through Gamla Stan, peering at shop fronts and dodging crowds, I realised that I wasn’t the only tourist in Stockholm. I would have been surprised if anywhere else on earth had any tourists remaining to be honest.

A rune stone and cannon in Gamla Stan

The next mission was that of immersing myself in history and interesting trivia, so on the recommendation of the ticket fellow I headed for the Medieval Museum. I was however waylaid, as the royal family decided to make a trip to the Parliament building, requiring a police blockade, mounted police, guards with big feathers in their hats and mounted guards. Plus two carriages, one gilt and containing the royals themselves. I stayed for a few photos and to watch the pageantry along with the rest of the crowd, and though I didn’t know it then, turned and strode away from the entrance to the Medieval Museum. I did work this out though and came back and had a great time. It’s a wonderfully set up and fascinating museum, despite being a bit small, and I would happily have stayed there much longer. The next item was the Vasa museum, as I had time for one more museum and it had been recommended by everyone who’d seen it. They were right, it was amazing. Massive and incredibly well preserved, it loomed over me as I entered the huge room, all dark timbers and intricately carved faces. I again immersed myself in the history and before long it was closing time. All that remained was the wander the streets and take in the city, till it was time to head to the airport.

Royal carriage, sans royals

Now I’m back in Göteborg I think the best explanation for the comparison between the two cities required knowing something about Australia. Stockholm I can see as a Sydney sort of town, with suits and bustle and the Important Government and Business Institutions. Göteborg is more like a combination of Fremantle, Melbourne and Hobart, a charming and neat port town with culture and a relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed visiting Stockholm, but I much prefer to live here.

The Vasa

As the time ticks on the the first month anniversary of our arrival, I suspect the rush to travel may abate a bit in the weeks to come. Once winter arrives there will be plans for the North, where the snow will be thicker and there’s a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, but until then we’ll see. Tonight at least will hopefully involve a visit to Liseberg, though whether I will dare the roller-coasters and other rides that send the daily screaming to our apartment, I can’t say yet.

The statue at Strömparterre, calling up a storm