Family, home and snow games

Every time we have guests coming to visit us from overseas, I have to quell the urge to turn into a cross between a tour guide and a real estate agent, showing of my home city like some newly renovated town house. This urge was even stronger when we recently entertained my mum, as part of her journey around Scandinavia. Due to, or maybe in spite of, my arm waving I’m fairly sure she accepts that while it isn’t Perth, it will do for now.

Unfortunately Göteborg wasn’t doing itself any favours when we first arrived, if you’re from Australia and are missing the sunlight. We arrived on the second day of a heavy fall of snow, and as we tumbled off the train the flakes were falling in thick, soft clumps, swirling around us and sticking to our beanies. As she grew up in this sort of weather, my mum seemed pretty delighted with it, the heavy suitcases notwithstanding, and once we were waiting for the last leg of our journey home she released possibly years of a repressed need to throw snowballs and make snowmen.
Our home sometimes seems to be in a different climate, so by the time we’d reached our neighbourhood, the snow was even thicker and in order to get our suitcases home we rotated clearing a trail and takingregular rests. We would see soon eough why the suitcases were so heavy.

The first of three snowmen

The first of three snowmen

Once we had settled a bit and warmed up, an activity of great importance was discussed, the very mention of which had made my mum nearly vibrate with enthusiasm. There was just enough sunlight to make it worthwhile, so without further ado we were back out the door, my mum and partner clad in waterproof gear and clutching skis. Even though she hadn’t skied for many years, my mum soon seemed to get the hang of it, though took the chance a few times to ‘sit down’ for a little while. And yes mum, it was more than 3 times. While they sped around and tumbled, I took photos and tried a bit of art, and then as the sun set we went back to the warm apartment.

Skiiers

Skiiers

It was then that the weight of the suitcases was explained, as bottle after bottle of wine was unloaded and finally a six-pack of Little Creatures beer, a special treat for my partner. Dinner was eaten, relaxing was done and then we all collapsed in our respective beds, quite exhausted.

Yet another snowman

Yet another snowman

By some coincidence, our visitor from Australia had arrived two days before Australia Day and had with her piles of flags, bunting, balloons and local food. As Australia Day was to fall on Monday, we had arranged to have a bbq at our place on the Sunday, inviting a few of our friends over to celebrate. And so around midday, as the decorations were being hung up and the food prepared, friends began to arrive and soon the bbq was lit out on the snow covered backyard.

A bit of decoration

A bit of decoration

While we waited and sipped our drinks, there were a few snowball fights, one angel and one very happy chap with his bbq. The food was tasty, there was music and my mum took pride of place at the table, talking about Australia, sustainability and Scandinavia. It was fun and relaxing, and even if the temperature never rose above 0 and there were no fireworks, it was just the sort of party that sums up how I see the Australian attitude to life.
Plus, there was vegemite, a coffee pavlova and Timtams.

Bbq in the snow

Bbq in the snow

For the second full day, I took my mum into town, trying to make the most of the cold, overcast and snowy weather. We went to Universeum first, wandered around the exhibits, through the rainforest, stared up at mammoths and shivered, and played with the interactive science exhibits. It was fun, a bit silly and interesting, and we capped it off with a snack which in my case turned out to be extremely hot mustard with a hint of hotdog.

Mammoths, not as cold as us

Mammoths, not as cold as us

Mouth still burning, we headed out into the weather to grab fika with a friend of mine at my favourite cafe. We of course ordered a semla to share, and enjoyed it with tea, coffee and chatting as our coats dried and the snow fell outside. Soon we were on our way again, through town to investigate Scandinavian homeware brands, and coo over Marimekko and Iittala. As night closed in we met my partner for dinner at our favourite burger restaurant, and toasted to a lovely stay in our home town.

On the third and final full day, I had to work in the afternoon so our guest entertained herself, visiting museums and art galleries, and being amazed at the variety and quality of art that this little town has. That night I was also asked to do a night class, so I got home late, but in time to eat the Thai meal that she had prepared. On the morning of the next day we parted at the train station, her to begin her journey to Stockholm and me to prepare for another class.
Through some sort of strange chance, myself, my mum and my partner would all be descending on Stockholm within the same two days but at different times. The same day my mum left my partner did as well, and so for the first time in over a week I had space and an apartment to myself. I blogged and worked for much of this night, keeping the loneliness and quiet away, and as the lesson on the next day was cancelled I had the following morning to pack and prepare to join them. Which was how I found myself on a train heading to Stockholm, preparing for new sights and familiar ones, friends I had not seen in a while and new people to meet. After four hours I would see it all, but until then I had a book to read and work to do, and so I sat back and waited.

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The days after Jul

The day after Jul has always been associated with resting and recovering, at least in my old home. We’d wake up late, have a brunch of leftovers, reorder our rooms with the new gifts, flick through the inevitable books and consider the age old question of whether it’s sensible to float around in the pool on the new inflatable sofa while holding a full glass and avoiding spillage. And how long it would be before my sister bombied in and overturned both the sofa, myself and the glass.

For various reasons, not limited to the lack of inflatable sofas and my sister, we had a different day after Jul last year. It was on the 25th for a start.

As mentioned previously, I’m used to having Jul on the 24th according to Scandinavian tradition. I am also used to having it again on the 25th, according to Australian tradition, which isn’t followed in Norway. As such rather than two Juls we had two Boxing Days, both of which we spent in Norway. The first was spent recovering from Jul, heading out for wintery exercise and then a family meal and the second getting into a bit more exercise and finally beginning our journey back to Sweden.

The Julenek

The Julenek

After we had woken up and refreshed ourselves, we had a chat with family back in Australia. Thanks to the miracle of Skype, we were able to chat to a whole party of people enjoying a sunny bbq, and try to get our collective heads around the 50+ temperature difference at either end of the call.

We then packed on layers of jackets, beanies and gloves, grabbed some skiis and went out for some much needed exercise. It isn’t the custom in Norway to spend a whole day relaxing when there is snow outside, and it seemed that the rest of the town had the same idea. My own attempts weren’t quite as skillful, but we managed about an hour before we called home for a ride. While we waited I realised that my eye lashes were freezing together for the first time in my life, and my partner was developing long, frosty threads on my beanie and scarf. Around us the sunny weather belied the cold, and almost fooled us into not noticing the cold. Almost.

If only there was an automatic setting

If only there was an automatic setting

Back at home we unlayered ourselves and dressed up nicely for the visitors who would be arriving soon. They were the family we had met to visit the graveyard the day before, and soon after we had smartened ourselves up they arrived and the Jul celebrations continued.

The tradition on this day is to have a long lunch on the leftovers from the Jul dinner and have another go at the schnaps, which is what we all duly did. Chat, food, jokes and laughter rolled around, and soon we found ourselves under the tree enjoying a selection of biscuits, cakes and treats. The eating and chatting continued long into the evening, and then the guests departed with hugs and hopes to see each other again before too long.

Evening falls

Evening falls

In the relative quiet by the fire, my partner and I unwrapped the final gifts that had been sent my his family, that we had kept back until the Australian Jul day. More chatting, sipping wine, playing with the nutcracker, snacking and reading followed, finished off by sleepy goodbyes and curling up for one last night in Norway.

The nutcracker

The nutcracker

On our final day we decided to have one last go on the spark, and see if we could take some photos at Maihaugen, the local open air museum. The temperature had dropped even more by this time, and clouds covered the sun, so despite the beautiful surroundings and our energetic walking and kicking along, we were soon chilly. During the walk back my chin went completely numb and I ceased to have any feeling in my toes. We did have fun sliding down slopes on the spark, though and going ‘weee’ in a way that I hope didn’t disturb the neighbours.

The stave church at Maihaugen

The stave church at Maihaugen

Before too long is was time to pack and get ready to go, and as we did so snow began to fall, the first we had seen during our trip. So it was with the outside world slightly muffled by falling snow that we said goodbye to our hosts, trying to express our enjoyment and gratitude for the wonderful Jul we’d been invited to share. Then we were out, in the car and then at the station, tromping over to the waiting train.

The snow fall

The snow fall

Jul was over for another year, our first white christmas and hopefully not our last. It was one of the loveliest I have had, and I hope that my writing conjures up the memories of it for you as writing it has done for me.

Pine, wind and snow

While spring has most definitely sprung in the west coast of Sweden, winter is still clinging to the valleys and mountains in the heart of Norway. On our train ride north from Oslo two weeks ago, winding through valleys as it followed a river for most of the way, it felt as though we were travelling back in time. Tiny pockets of snow gradually grew into piles and drifts, and ice spread its sheets over the river.
At our stop we were met by a cousin of my mother who for the sake of brevity I’ll call my aunt. We’d met her and her family in January when we visited Lillehammer, and it was as a result of that meeting that we were being driven up to a cabin on a mountain to spend a weekend Norwegian-style.

The road up to the mountain had been the site of an avalanche the year before, and it was still scarred, with many sections of road having been relaid and the riverbeds still full of the stones and earth that had been torn from the hills. It had happened at the end of winter, when the melted snow had come rushing down the valley, and had also taken a few houses with it. Luckily no one had died, but it did serve as a reminder of the massive forces at work in the mountains. Seeing the land up there, I can understand the old stories of trolls and giants, because what else could explain the tumbled boulders and steep valleys that seemed hewn by an indiscriminate hand?

The sun through clouds

The sun through clouds

We soon reached the cabin, nestled among a few pines and birches and at least half a metre of snow. Behind it loomed a snowy hill, and behind that a row of mountains peeping out of the clouds. My partner and I managed the feat of simultaneously losing one leg up to the knee in the snow as we walked from the car. From then on we were careful to stick to the path of hardened snow, and only went out with only shoes one other time, which was when we left.

The cabin, or ‘hytta’ became exactly my ideal image of a winter cabin. Made of pine in the traditional style, it was cosy, warm and spacious, and I instantly felt comfortable and at home. My aunt’s husband, who we had met before, greeted us at the door and we were then introduced to my aunt’s mother, who was very tolerant of our attempts at speaking Swedish and our inability to speak Norwegian, and who also partook of the beer and wine that was shared around as we settled in (and also when we got ready to eat, when we ate, after we ate, when we came back from an excursion outside, when we prepared for another…).

Cabin decor

Cabin decor

As we had arrived in the evening we then had dinner, and out of the windows we could see ‘the blue hour’ settled on the snowy hills behind the cabin. In April it usually happens around 9, when the sky is clear and the sun has just sunk below the horizon. The whole world seems to glow with a deep blue, and then slowly fades to darkness.

Sunset on a frozen lake

Sunset on a frozen lake

The next day we got up not particularly early (it being a holiday) and after a thorough Norwegian breakfast we bundled ourselves in warm jackets and ski boots and headed out to enjoy the sport that Norwegians are raised with. The snow was a bit sticky, but we were soon on our way along a track, my partner falling a few times and then getting the hang of it and myself falling a few times but never quite finding the glide. I could manage to shuffle along but I think I’ll need further practice to be able to fly over the snow. Particularly up in mountain cabins, oh yes.

After a few hours we headed back and needing a bit of food after our exercise we had a bbq. Unfortunately the snow was a bit heavy to use the outside bbq, but we made do with sausages roasted in the fireplace, wrapped in potato bread and followed down by beer. We then did the traditional nap, curling up to read or snooze as the afternoon passed.

Tracks in the snow

Tracks in the snow

I had noticed when we’d been preparing the skis that there were a pair of what looked like snowshoes on the verandah, so I asked my aunt about them and soon after we were trudging across the snow, mostly managing not to step on the soft snow and lose our footing. We did the obligatory snow angels and explored the covered woodlands. By the time we came back the water for the shower had been heated and my partner had enjoyed a shower, so I took my turn. Knowing that the water had been pumped by hand outside and headed in the laundry kept the shower shorter than normal, and as a result I felt even more refreshed. I was also a bit tempted by the sauna but I wasn’t sure if that would require a dip in the snow to balance out the heat, so kept that to myself.

My angel

My angel

Cleaned and refreshed, I then encouraged my partner to join me for a walk on the snow, heading for the frozen lake I had seen earlier. The sun was starting to go now by this point, so the light and shadows were stunning, the trees almost seeming to glow amid the smooth white drifts.

Pine trees in the sunset

Pine trees in the sunset

I took the pristine smoothness of the lake as an invitation to leave a message, in Norwegian of course, and realising that the appointed hour for dinner was approaching we headed back to the cabin, slowed down by gazing at the scenery and occasionally losing a foot or two.

A greeting on the ice

A greeting on the ice

Dinner and dessert went long into the night, in Swedish, Norwegian and a bit of English, and before we knew it our eyes were growing heavy and we headed of to bed for the last night. We awoke the next morning, and as we got ready for breakfast I was already starting to miss the view of snow skirted trees and distant mountains. After a hearty traditional breakfast, including expertly wrapped sandwiches for the journey, we gathered by the door with our luggage and sadly said goodbye.

A pristine lake

A pristine lake

Two weeks later I can remember the crispness of the air and the sparse beauty of the snow covered hills, and at least for now the scent of pine still lingers on my woollen jumper and scarf. I hope that we’ll be able to see the cabin in summer, to cycle along the ski tracks and paddle in the lake where I wrote a message on the ice, but if not at least I know that winter lingers for a long time in the mountains.

When in Sweden…

Last weekend I tried skiing for the first time, however unless there is an event for slowly sliding backwards down a snowy slope while saying ‘Oh dear’, I fear I won’t be participating in the winter Olympics this year.

I’ve long entertained romantic images of myself gliding easy across snowdrifts, looking around at trees and stunning vistas and have been looking forward to trying it out while we’re here in Scandinavia. My partner was even more enthused, having been snowboarding before and eager to try again, so when he found a ski park not far from Göteborg, the plan was set.
We headed off with two friends, bright and early, though were discouraged by the recent rain and the iciness of the snow that remained. On our arrival we found that the snow had been iced over and was very slippery, and as we waited for the park to open we weighed our options. There were no lessons available and these weren’t the ideal conditions, but nothing it seemed could prevent my partner from unleashing himself upon the slopes. His first attempt on the little slope was, well, his first attempt, but eventually he set off up the bigger slopes and was soon gliding happily down, hardly ever on his back.

Ready to hit the slopes

Ready to hit the slopes

Meanwhile I decided to have a go and got myself decked out skiing gear and had my first try and skiing. Not quite graceful gliding, but after much concentration and effort I did manage to move forward. One of the friends who had come with us joined me and we set to, slowly climbing the little slope and then trying to work out how to stop or turn as we sped down again. By observing others (mostly around the age of 5 in our area) I worked out the basics, but each attempt at stopping or slowing down resulting in shooting off to the left. An attempt from the pinnacle of the little slope resulted in sliding into a pole and gradually making my way down while trying not to go tearing off into the lifts.
At the end of the day, though, much progress had been made from knowing nothing, though a descent from the taller slope was still out of the question. Next time I would like to try cross-country skiing, which I imagine would involve fewer slopes. Also lessons.

Study can be fun

Study can be fun

Other than adventures in the snow, this last week has been primarily focussed on preparing for a Swedish test on Wednesday, and another next Wednesday. This week’s was in preparation for the other which is much more important, and to show us and the teacher what we need to be focussing on. For me it was mostly writing. It seems sort of odd to me now as I happily type away that stringing words together is such a struggle, but someone the rules don’t seem to penetrate. What I need to do, I think, is divorce the forming sentences from all English grammar and think only in term of Swedish.
Subjekt – Verb – Objekt.
Q-ord – Verb – Subject – V2 – Objekt.
Adverbial – Verb – Subjekt – V2 – Objekt.
Infinitiv efter hjalpverb.
Still they are rules, floating above the forming ideas, not implanted yet. More practice is needed. Perhaps I should write an update in svenska någon tid? För en publik av en.

Getting there!

Getting there!

On the subject of writing I have also managed recently to finish a short story, the first one I’ve finished in over a year. Yay! It is currently being read out at the finest writing centre in the world (who me, biased?) by an obliging friend and getting good reviews and critiques. Which makes the distance between Göteborg and Greenmount Hill seem not so vast.

A circle completed

On the second full day of our Norway holiday, things didn’t go according to plan. In the most wonderful way.

Lillehammer

We caught an early train to Lillehammer, hoping for snow and the chance to ski, or in my case probably fall over repeatedly and hilariously. As the train wound out of Oslo we could see patches of snow and ice crusted lakes, the white growing as we went further north. On our arrival however the chances of skiing were limited, so we set out to explore the town while we thought about what to do. The first stop was the Maihaugen Museum, an collection of buildings from various times in Norwegian history, and a short, if icy, walk from the train station.

I should mention at this point that visiting Lillehammer was not only motivated by the prospect of skiing. Since I was small my mum told me about her father and his family growing up in the town and her own visits to the family farm, then the Winter Olympics in 1994 and her last visit to tie up affairs after her father died there. If I was going to have the opportunity to visit a town with family ties, I had to go.

Farm houses in Maihaugen

Walking up the icy paths I wondered whether my own family had walked in the same places, and seen the same buildings and gazed around at the snow covered hills. Maihaugen was open and free to enter in winter so we explored the old rural section, a collection of buildings from the 1700s, including a quite grand stave church and farmsteads. The lake in the centre was frozen over and in the quiet I could almost imagine it was a living town waiting for the cold to end. When we headed back to the main building to plan our next stop I managed to get a bit of wifi and found a message from my mum asking if I’d contacted her cousin who lived in the town. So I sent off an email with my phone number in case I was out of range, thinking it was a longshot but it couldn’t hurt to try. My mum had also asked if I was able to visit the church where her father is buried, which turned out to be half an hours walk from the town centre. Still pondering what to do, we headed to the Olympic centre to hopefully get a bite to eat and perhaps try some tobogganing.

Stave church dragon

On our arrival we discovered a Christian Youth group have commandeered the centre, and that the lack of snow made tobogganing and any other outside winter sport impossible. I then got a phone call from my mum’s cousin. Yes, she was in town and yes she would like to meet us. In fact, once we were finished exploring the centre and having a snack she could come and pick us up. Which was how I ended up standing in a small town in Norway being hugged by family I’d never met, after not having seen any family for about 4 months.

She took us to the huge ski jump, and location of the opening and closing ceremonies, where the torch still stands unlit and a few mad people try running up the stairs on either side. The thought of standing at the top and letting gravity take over were pretty terrifying, even from the safety of flat ground below.

The ski jump, with mysterious red lines

We then went to the church, where the yard was covered in snow. My grandfather’s grave and that of his brother and my great-grandparents had been cleared on the 24th, as part of a Norwegian tradition, so to make out the names we only needed to brush aside some snow and leaves. Lichen covers quite a lot of the stone which had been brought from the family farm, but his name is legible. I’d only met him once that I could remember, but he was my grandfather and more importantly my mother’s dad, and it felt as thought somehow a circle was being closed, stretching from Norway, to Australia and back again.
We then climbed back into her car to visit more family.

My grandfather

At this point I should mention that the terms for family relationships in Australia have left me unprepared to find a word for my mum’s cousin, not to mention her children and their children. In Swedish I’d guess she’d be my morfarbrordotter, but somehow aunt feels more accurate and less of a mouthful. We settled on third cousins for her children, and fourth for her grandchild, who was the most adorable tractor-loving wispily-blonde haired toddler I’ve met. I met him at my aunt’s house in the arms of my uncle-in-law, who warmly welcomed us in. Their house smelt of pine and spices, and was extremely cosy. We were shown their christmas tree and seated in the kitchen, where we were given cups of tea and settled in to get to know each other. As Jul was so recent, they were still burning a festive mix of herbs, including frankincense, and a dish full of traditional Jul cakes, biscuits and wafers was brought out for us. We also got to taste Norwegian brown cheese, which I heartily recommend, and which I happened to buy this evening. In time my third cousins joined us, with one of their girlfriends, and we chatted and ate and drank and watched the littlest family member, which was a show in itself. After a few hours of this, we looked up train times and were offered a tour of Lillehammer before the train arrived. Amid more hugs, and promises of skiing lessons from their family cabin in the forest, we left.

The tour was the best kind, from someone who knew and loved the town and knew the alleys that lead to old bridges and schools were generations of my family went. I also found out more about my family, and what life is like in Norway. Most of all though, I learnt how welcoming family can be and found a place where I can almost feel the footsteps of my ancestors.

Back in Oslo we spent our last half day walking along the water front in the surprising sunlight, visiting Akershus in daylight and in the fortress the Norwegian Resistance museum. In there I learnt that I knew very little about Norway’s fate in WWII, and stories I have been told about my grandfather and other family became clearer, though no less tragic.

With time running out on our Norwegian holiday we headed to the bus station, and boarded for the not-too-long drive. Back in Göteborg I felt some of the usual feeling of homecoming, but a part of me also wished it could have stayed in a little Norwegian town north of Oslo.

Ice melting in Maihaugen

I am aware that in my last update I mentioned that there would be fireworks, but as is my wont the word count on this post went over so Nytt År will have to be saved for next week. Oops.