West coast road-trip day 1 – The Archipelago

Since the events of the previous post over a month has passed, in which we settled back into post-holiday real life. It was not exactly as it had been prior to the holiday, though. I have been fortunate enough to be offered relief teaching work at an independent adult college in the area (a feminist one!), as well as private tuition work. This has meant I’ve been somewhat busier, and a little bit of the unease about employment and dependence has faded. Meanwhile, study is ramping up as we head towards the final test before SAS (Svenska som andraspråk), which unfortunately for me is planned for the first week of June. Which is the week I come back from Australia.

Yes, I am going to Australia for a few weeks, yay!

I’m not sure how this blog will work, it being based on sharing experiences from new countries and adventures, but I’m sure there will at least be photos of blue skies, forests, beautiful sunsets and little old Perth. Awww, nostalgia.

ANZAC biscuits for the trip

ANZAC biscuits for the trip

During the last month and a bit we have also gone on a little road-trip, exploring the coast around Göteborg. A fellow expat had a friend from home visiting for a week and decided to book a car and plan a two day road-trip to the archipelago and to the south coast, which we were delighted to go along with.

It often seems to be the case that when you live somewhere, one of the last places you explore is the area just beyond the range of daily journeys, though you will regularly travel well past it. I don’t know why this is, but I’d welcome any theories!
In any case, we started our adventure with a breakfast of pancakes at our apartment, and then trooped down to the car to hit the road.
The first stop was the island of Öckerö, which is just off the coast of Göteborg, and which we reached by car-ferry. We had been there before on a windy and wet day, but as luck would have it the entire weekend of the road-trip was sunny with barely a hint of wind, better than we could have hoped.

Once on the island we parked and stretched our legs around the perimeter of the island, walking through boatyards, which included plastic-wrapped boats, and through quiet suburbs. Starting to feel a bit hungry we then headed over to the island of Höno, and into town to a cafe that was recommended by the organiser of the trip. The cafe is cunningly located at the back of a florist, and after ordering ‘the shopping lunch’ (what a brilliant idea!) we settled in the sheltered, cushioned section at the back and ate, drank and chatted. Once we were full and I had topped the pizza off with a home-made passion-fruit meringue cake, which was even better than it sounds, we headed out into the sun and down to the rocky beach.

A beach on Hönö

A beach on Hönö

I have yet to work out why, but coastal areas in Sweden always seem to be silent. It’s as though there’s a forcefield keeping the bustle of people and industry away from the quietly lapping water and sun warmed rocks. We spent a good hour alternatively basking on rocks, exploring the coves, taking in the views and paddling barefoot in the chilly water. We were joined by a few families, including one who seemed to think that massive rock piles posed no barrier for a pram. Feeling well basked we wandered back to the car and continued on our journey.

The land side of Marstrand

The land side of Marstrand

Back on the mainland we drove north through farmlands and villages and around to the last destination of the day, Marstrand. To get there we crossed bridges and roads over ever smaller islands until we got to the town of Marstrand, from where we could drive no further. We caught another ferry over to the island and started the climb up through the lovely old town to the fortress above. The cobbled streets, elegant old houses and quiet made it feel as though it was from a different century; perhaps in summer when tourism is booming is feels more contemporary, but on this late afternoon in March we almost had the town to ourselves.

Houses reflected

Houses reflected

Once at the fortress we swung around to the right and circled the walls till we found a bench overlooking the rocks, forests and sea below. Swedes, we decided, have an instinct about benches, so if there is ever a place with a view, there will either be a bench waiting or someone along very soon with planks and nails.

Carlstens Fästning

Carlstens Fästning

After a bit of exploring and taking photos, the four of us sat on the bench and stared out to sea. We probably sat there, in silence, for at least 15 minutes, watching the sun descend and the light change.

A village out to sea

A village out to sea

Then we headed back up to the fortress, along the cobbled streets and through echoing archways to a grassy embankment from where we could see the sun almost touching the horizon. As with toasters, as you watch the sun setting it doesn’t seem to be moving until you look away, though as we watched and did a countdown it slipped into the sea, leaving a pink and gold sky behind it.

The old town at dusk

The old town at dusk

In the gradual darkness we went back to the ferry, then to the car, and then back to town. In town we had dinner at our favourite burger restaurant and then, tired and full, we went home and slept, to be ready for the next day’s adventures.

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Fireworks and snowflakes

We are now three weeks into the new year, and life is starting to settle into the pre-Jul routine of work, study, housework, looking for work and freetime. Last week classes started again, during which I believe my brain got whiplash after the merry complacency of the holidays. It has also started to snow this week, which I celebrated by slipping over on ice.
First I’ll continue with the holiday celebrations, and the last night of 2013.

After we returned from Norway, we spent a couple of days relaxing, taking in the city during long walks and not doing an awful lot. It was a pleasant in-between time as we counted down the last days of 2013. On the evening of the final day we headed out to a party at the apartment of a Swedish friend we’d met once, where we discovered it was in fact A Party. Music, mingling, drinks and dishes of food being piled up on every available surface. Jumping from conversation to conversation, finding friends, sitting for food, discovering water in a teapot, drinking vegan vodka cocktails and finding it harder to concentrate on the correct verb forms for Swedish words.
All of a sudden midnight was almost upon us and we were shepherded out onto the street, to see the horizon light up. It was one of the most memorable sights for me this year, watching the uncoordinated and bright firework display, bangs and flashes going off all around us. There was no countdown, just everyone gleefully lighting whatever fireworks can be found, singing, hugging, kissing and joy. We went back inside before the display finished, and I suspect it would have continued until every last firework in Göteborg had been sent up into the sky.
When we reached the apartment it had been magically (despite explanations I still maintain something outside our ken must have been used) transformed into a dance floor, and we took is upon ourselves to use it as required. Somehow 5 hours passed in dancing, talking and laughing and we began to feel a little tired. As we walked home we encountered what seemed like most of Göteborg wandering in a post NYE daze, and empty fireworks packets littering the pavement.
Then we slept.

A rare sunny day in Göteborg

Since then we spent more time around the city, and on one slightly ill-fated day decided to visit Hönö, one of the islands in the northern archipelago. A bit of advice for any travellers out there; don’t plan a visit to an island off the coast of Sweden in winter when wind and rain is forecast and the only way to the main part of town on the island is by foot. Just don’t. The highlight was catching the ferry to the island, a yellow, industrial cat transporter with small cabins for passengers. Also noticing that of the 5 locals I saw on the island, two were boss-eyed. Not that I’m making any kind of comment about people who live on small islands.

Snow returns to the forest

The last week or so has seen the return of snow, with much more determination and thoroughness than last time, the flakes getting larger by the day, so that I can now make out the classic snowflake shapes. It is still comfortable enough to walk without a beanie and catch flakes in my hair, and it has only reached about an inch deep at most but I have hopes that it will continue for some time. I also hope that the excitement I feel walking around in it, watching it float down and create a pristine white world until we wander through it, will continue as well.

Göteborg in snow

The post-Jul blues still continue, though they fade, and soon I will have to dispose of the Jul tree (smuggled out to a local park at midnight?). I think the decorations will stay somewhere around the apartment, though, to keep the spirit going till next year.