Perfect moments and deserving them

A couple of weeks ago we were gifted with two splendid weeks of sun and fine weather, which culminated in a perfect day.

It coincided with a visit from a friend from Australia, who I suspect now thinks I exaggerate when I say that Swedish weather is terrible. She was after nature and relaxation, and so we took advantage of the fineness to bask. It was not entirely selfless of us, as we’d thus far missed our annual dip.

It seemed that the entire city of Gothenburg had the same idea, however, as the succession of bus and trams were packed with people with packed lunches, all equally confused about why all these others were spoiling their pleasant day out.

At the harbour we were borne along by the throng to the ferry, ice-cream in hand, and were then off across the sea. If we had wanted to reach the open sea, we would have had to navigate the maze of islands that make up the two archipelagos lying at the mouth of the Göta river. Plus Denmark. The profusion of islands and distance of the truly open ocean is a bit disorienting for someone who grew up on the edge of an ocean that unfolds all the way to Africa.
We disembarked at the first stop, a little island called Asperö. A small village occupies much of the island, hedges not quite concealing cottages, filigreed in wood, traditionally painted or with modern bare planks. Flowers bloomed, branches bent under the weight of wild apples, bees buzzed and cats watched sleepily from under hedges. It felt like walking through a photo of a timeless summer.

Swedish cottage

Swedish cottage

Behind the village a path lead us into a wood, and into what seemed a painting. Birches swayed, wild flowers were spread among the moss and heaths, and ducks floated on a Monet-esque lily pad strewn pond. It was a fairytale wood, which ended when we reached the little beach.

Monet's pond

Monet’s pond

It was sheltered, partly by a rocky outcrop and a jetty that was built out from that. Families were paddling in the dark water and sunbaking on the rocks and grass, the peace broken by the giggling of children and splashing of teens jumping off the diving boards. Into this idyllic setting we settled down, little the bbq and sipped wine as the food cooked. Behind the jetty and the occasional kayakers we could see the mouth of the Göta river and the harbour we had come from. Now and then a huge ferry or other ship would slowly pass through the scattered islands and disappear around the side of our island, to quiet and distant to be anything but a background.

A beach and the Göta

A beach and the Göta

For a few hours we ate, swam, splashed and dozed in the sun. The perfect moments passed by.

Swedish summer days

Swedish summer days

That night we shared dinner with various Swedes and Finns on a row of tables on a balcony, the tables covered in food and drinks. We scoffed Västerbotten pie, vegan sausages, halloumi, salad, bread and grapes, the food and talk going on well into the night, as our eyelids got heavier. At one point a few thousand joggers ran down the street outside and we cheered at they passed, some wearing costumes and most looking very focused indeed. More so than us with our glasses of wine and beer and full stomachs.
Then, as the night drew long and began to get chilly, we set off home and in time slept.

What I wonder now as I write this and read the news is how do we deserve this? Why do we get the beautiful summer days and long summer nights with friends, in peace and scenery worthy of paintings? Maybe no one ever deserves anything. Perhaps there is no scale deciding whose 3 year old boy dies in a dark sea and whose 28 year old daughter gets to doze in soft Swedish sunlight with loved ones around her.
There is no fairness, or luck. But we do have love.

*Photo credits to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jg31/

Advertisements

A cruise around Malta or: Peace, beauty and Enya

What would you during your last day on Malta? Dash about cramming in the sights you’d missed? Sunbathe by a beach and wait out the day? Cruise around the islands on a ship with tasty food and pleasant music as the cliffs and towns pass you by?
I’ll let you guess which option we chose.

The ship (there you go) was one of those sleek vessels with polished wooden decks and every nook and cranny supplied with cushions and sunbathing mats. From our perch on a bench on the prow, we watched the residential towers, party neighbourhoods, industrial sites and finally the Fort of St Elmo pass by, as we gradually gained speed, slicing into the calm blue water as we headed out to sea.

Fort St Elmo in the morning

Fort St Elmo in the morning

I am going to say here and now that this post may contain moments in which I wax poetic. There is really no help for this, as my choices with some of the sights that we saw is bland and false disinterest or poetic panegyrics.

Our first sights once we were out of the harbour was a ring of floating fish farms, and the flicker of a dorsal fin gave away the fact that we were not the only visitors. The captain told us that a family of dolphins had been seen nosing around the farm for years, and as far as I could tell from the relaxed ducking and flickering they did seem very casual, a group of locals making their daily visit to the local eatery, without any real rush.

Floating farms

Floating farms

Continuing around the southern point of the main island we spotted a few of the line of towers that ring the east coast. They date from the time of the Knights of St John, though looked so neat and well kept that I guessed they must have been used in WW2 as well. Though from our seats on the ship, munching snacks and humming along to hits of the 90s everything seemed peaceful and calm, this was a reminder of the vulnerability of the islands, at least in the past. I hope they can remain ornamental, but with Tunisia and the recent beach shootings so near, it’s impossible to know what will happen in the future.

Turning north again the landscape changed, beaches and harbours giving way to towering limestone cliffs and occasional rocky shores. Sights from other days could be glimpsed, such as the white tents that shelter Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, sheltered in turn by a small tower. How must they have looked to people sailing or paddling past when they were intact and in use, the huge stones a short distance from the cliffs, nestled in the low hills that rose slowly behind them? Was there a continual line of people going to and fro, and smoke rising from fires within the temples? Were they painted in multiple colours or left the golden white of the cliffs?

Mnajdra above the cliffs

Mnajdra above the cliffs

It wasn’t just human constructions that drew our eyes and stuck in our minds. Sometimes when sights, sounds and feelings all come together, a moment is recorded in my mind and kept for posterity. When I think back to that day I can see waving curtains of cliffs, layers of yellow, pink and white, above sparkling blue water. In the background Enya is crooning about sailing away and any conversation from the other guests has faded, as if we were alone with the cliffs and the sea and the sky. There were a few hours of cliffs, ventures into massive caverns and caves and drifting along but it’s that moment, that perfect moment, that I have been able to keep and try to share.

Cliffs of Malta

Cliffs of Malta

Just after midday we arrived at Comino, the tiny island between Malta and Gozo. There we anchored just around the corner from the famous Blue Lagoon, which is a sheltered bay famed for its crystal clear water and popularity with tourists. It was, of course, packed, the swimmers forming a solid lump on the beach and in the shallows. The water was quieter amongst the boats where we were, but no less clear and blue.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

With an hour and a half to spend before the boat took off, we put on our shoes and went for a hike on the scrubby, rocky island. We had planned to have a look at the castle that had been used in filming the most recent Count of Monte Cristo film, but unfortunately and surprisingly given what we could see of the size of the island, it would take about an hour to reach it. This, we decided, was a tad unrealistic so after a closer look as the very blue and very busy Blue Lagoon we swapped shoes and hats for bathers and snorkels and plunged into the sea. For the next while, we snorkeled around the bay, pointing jellies out to other swimmers and schools of fish to each other and generally feeling as though we had landed in some sort of paradise. Many times we were able to swim just above darting schools of fish and seemed almost able to touch them before they effortlessly shimmered away, and spotted crabs and sea urchins among the coral and sand dunes.

From the sheltered bays of Comino we circled Gozo, passing the Azure Window, the cathedral studded hills and green valleys in between. In a small cove we pulled in and dropped anchor, and descended once more into the clear blue Maltese waters. Below the surface the waves had formed curves and twisting lines in the land which shifted slightly as the tide pulled them and us towards the shore. Occasional fish also swam past, almost impossible to see against the white sand and dimmed light below the surface. Above us the sky continued to glow blue and warm, unchanged from the morning, though a breeze grew as we turned south, towards Malta.

A cove at Gozo

A cove at Gozo

Drifting back down the east coast we saw familiar towns and castles, and even the bay where we were staying for one more night. The heavily populated and less cliff lined east side seemed a different island to the serene and austere west coast, where the only signs of humans were occasional fishing shacks and ancient temples. There the natural defenses of the cliffs precluded any castles or towers, as well as any industry that didn’t also include perilous climbs up and down the rock faces. It’s this serenity and sparseness that was the most beautiful for me, and the timelessness of geology.

Endless cliffs

Endless cliffs

Before we either knew or wanted it, we were back in the Grand Harbour, passing again by the Fort of St Elmo and the tourist sights and apartment buildings. We docked and department, barely able to believe that an entire day had gone by, and so fast.

Returning to the Grand Harbour

Returning to the Grand Harbour

It was the only day we left ourselves entirely to the whim of someone else and not having to plan travel and preparations was pretty wonderful. Even more wonderful was the peace, luxury and beauty of gliding through calm waters in the shade of pastel cliffs and swimming with schools of fish in crystalline bays.

Our ship, MS Hera

Our ship, MS Hera

More than just a highlight of the Maltese holiday and a perfect ending, this cruise was a highlight of my new life in Europe, and I hope that as long as I live I can recall that moment of peace, beauty and Enya.

To the sea

This update was started as I sat on a rock overlooking the sea in Saltholmen, alternately scribbling in my writing pad and staring around at the perfectly serene surroundings. I didn’t lug my laptop to the coast and up that hill, and so I’m now typing it up at home, while a rainy mist persists outside.

Göteborg is a city that is tied to the sea. Since it’s founding it has lived by the ships that still meander up the Göte älv to disgorge their contents on the docks that, unlike other harbour cities I’ve seen haven’t yet been reclaimed as fashionable apartments. The Gulf Stream which passes nearby keeps it relatively warm, so far warm enough for a sheltered Australian who can only imagine snowy winters as Yule cards. (As I retype these notes, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the most oceanic music I know, has started playing, and as well as seeing the still surface of the bays at Saltholmen, I can see the dark beneath the waves.) I’ve always been drawn to bodies of water, whether rivers, lakes or the ocean, fancifully I imagine it could be because about 80% of me is water, but to be honest I don’t know for sure.

An old man sharing the sun

It is a surprise, then, that it’s taken me 6 weeks to visit the coast, and now that I am perched on a rock overlooking Saltholmen harbour, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair, I am glad. There couldn’t be a better day to be here.

View from the rock

My plan initially had been to take a tram to the end of it’s route, in order to see more than the central city that I’ve been wandering around so far. I chose the 11, which ends at Saltholmen, an island relatively recently connected to the mainland. According to Wikipedia, this town is very popular in summer, when locals flock to swim in the protected bays. This would explain why, in October, the kiosks and icecream stalls are closed. Nevertheless, I wandered along the jetty, admiring the scrubby rocks, and found a cove. A rickety bridge spanned between worn rocks and I climbed over, seeing a rock with a 2 metre sharp drop into a warm pool below, whether drifted jellyfish, seaweed and small fish. There I sat, dangling my legs. I wrote a bit, inspired by the quiet and beauty, then sat and watched. Soon I climbed further and found a perch on the highest rock, with a view over the sheltered harbour and bays. There are others basking up here, a few couples wrapped in themselves and others reading and soaking in the light and sea. Just being. It is a fine place to be. I wish this being, right now, could be forever.

A sheltered bay

Obviously it couldn’t be forever, but I sat there for long enough to feel steeped in the sea air, then climbed down the rock and made my way to the tram. On my way I found a patch of forest, with groves of birches, young oaks and startled birds. It seemed almost absurd to find two of the places I enjoy the most, the sea and the forest, in the same place.
Then I went home. This was last week, and I can picture the scene where I sat as it is now. Windy, overcast, damp and quiet. I look forward to being there again.

Surprise forest

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 🙂