Hill towns and orange blossoms

For the last few weeks I’ve been sitting down to finish the second part of the posts from our Mallorca trip. I’ll look at the dot points and the photos I’ve collated, and a wave of indifference will wash over me. It’s not from a lack of things to say, but the energy to put towards anything that isn’t related to the move. Or The Move, as it’s written in my mind.

So rather than a longer, more usual post about our trip, I’m going to have a shorter set of snapshots, to conjure up the moments that stuck with me.

The train from Palma to Soller, winds over and through small farms and mountains with glimpses of pine-clad mountain sides and groves of ancient olive trees. Rolling along on the old wooden train it felt as though we were travelling through time. Soller itself is a small town sitting in a valley surrounded by mountains. At the end of every street we could see them looming above us, blocking all views except to the sea. It was orange season, so as we walked along the old streets we caught gusts of orange blossom perfume, which almost knocked out all my other senses. In the market, just prior to enjoying a delicious lemon and cinnamon icecream, I bought a pearl necklace hung on a thin string of woven flax, which looked as though it had been strung on a beach.

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Soller

Deia is also in a valley, though sitting on the top and sides of a hill rising from the centre of the valley. Restaurants, tourist offices, craft stores and delis, mostly closed for the Easter holiday, wind around the base of the hill, and then houses line the street that climbs to the top, where a small church and cemetery have pride of place.

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Deia on the hill

A famous resident of the cemetery is Robert Graves, whose grave has a little collection of flowers from visitors. Other graves, locals I guess, are marked by names and dates scratched into cement on the ground. There was no reason given for this that I could see, perhaps there wasn’t enough stone or money.

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Robert Graves' grave

The next day we devoted to Alcudia, which we reached by a bus that crossed the island, passing through one town that we were glad we had decided not to visit. Here’s a recommendation for possible visitors: don’t bother with Inca. Our destination was much more enjoyable, and even included Roman ruins. The ruins were the foundations of houses, the remnants of the forum and a theatre, spread out across fields of grass and flowers. It was hard to imagine the scale, but I could at least see what their view would have been, of the thickly green hills and wide blue sky.

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Polentia

From the ruins we wandered through the old town of Alcudia, which reminded us of Victoria on Malta. There were limestone houses and cobbled streets, with narrow windows and a feeling of the residents shutting themselves in from the world of the streets. Down one street we found a restaurant and there enjoyed the best meal of our holiday, local food and absolutely delicious.

On the bus back to Palma we both fell asleep, and though we had an early wake up for the flight the next morning, we got a chance for one final walk around Palma, to see the cathedral and feel the warm, spring air. Then we left, the sights, tastes and sounds coming with us to cloudy Gothenburg.

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Sunshine in Málaga

A few months ago, staring out of the window at the dark skies and considering the possibility of the sun ever returning to us, my partner and I decided that we had to get away. Just for a few days, long enough to soak in the sun a little and get a taste of Spring. Last year we visited Rome, as a combined birthday present and escape to the sun, and this year for the same reasons we returned to the Mediterranean, and a country that neither of us had never visited.

It was my partner who decided on Málaga, a place that I’d never really thought that much about, and which conjured up images of dusty industrial parks and scrubby bush land (for those not familiar with the exciting industrial suburbs of Western Australia, consider yourself lucky). I have always had an interest in Spain, and so happily agreed.

We left on Friday night, amid a crowd of grey-haired explorers who seemed to be regulars. The man in the seat next to me on the plane over there had been 12 times already, and owned a house in a town just outside of Málaga. Once he realised that I was willing to listen (or at least not willing to tell him to stop talking) he proceeded to describe the surrounding areas, his house, his ‘lady’, good hiking areas, how much it cost to hire a car, the best places to eat and how long it took to get to Granada. He then showed me photos, mostly himself in front of dramatic landscapes and a pile of maps, pointing out nice villages and landmarks. We eventually landed and he disappeared with a bashful smile, as our fellow passengers did their usual headlong bag-grab-and-dash to the doors. On the tarmac the air was vaguely smokey, and thick with scents we didn’t recognise, a change from the clear air of Sweden. As we were the last arrival for the night it was easy to grab a cab and rumble off to the apartment where we would be staying.
As with our trip to Malmö, we were using Airbnb and again it worked like a charm. Our host met us at the door, showed us around and then left us to unwind. A quick trip up to the terrace revealed a breathtaking view of the city, from the dry river behind us to the walls of Gibralfaro on the hill, lit up in the crisp darkness. Having whet our appetite with the view, we then slept.

Morning over Málaga

Morning over Málaga

The next morning we began with a leisurely search for breakfast through sunny morning streets (just a quick warning; the word sunny may pop up a few times in this post. My excuse is winter and the fact that right now, behind me, sun is shining through the windows. It’s a northern Europe thing). Many places were closed, and when we found a tapas restaurant that we liked the look of with glasses of wine for £1 we popped in for a snack. Unfortunately the lady at the bar seemed unimpressed with our lack of Spanish and so, in a round about way, ignored us so we in turn, in a more direct way, took our custom elsewhere. A glass of fresh orange juice, an expresso and thick bread with cheese later we were over our snubbing and raring to explore the sights.

Málaga cathedral

Málaga cathedral

The first stop was the Roman amphitheatre which sits in the shade of Alcazaba. Just in front of that, visible through a triangle of glass, were the remains of stone basins used to make garum, the famous Roman condiment of rotten fish. I wonder if there was ever a whiff of it during a performance?

The amphitheatre, still in business

The amphitheatre, still in business

We sat on the steps for a little while, contemplating this and basking, and then climbed up into the citadel. The path twisted and turned through gates and arches, narrowing into dark passages and then opening into paths lined with orange trees. As we ascended we had views out over the city and the sea and could hear the loud strains of a Christian rock band playing by the harbour. Near the top we reached a garden overlooking the sea, with channels of water running to a bubbling fountain surrounded by shrubbery and climbing roses on pillars.

A fountain

A fountain

The gardens continued for the next few twisting levels, with pots of rosemary, fountains, channels, oranges and bowers heavy with years of growth. At the top we found the palace, a small maze of cool rooms around two open-air courtyards, one lined with orange trees and the other circling a pool. The crowds limited the sorts of photos that would have summed up the peaceful atmosphere it was trying to project, but it was still lovely and graceful and just the sort of place I would like to have if I had a summer palace in the Mediterranean.

Oranges in Spring

Oranges in Spring

After our leisurely stroll about the palace and citadel, were headed for the heights of Gibralfaro. It was reached via a winding, steep path up the hill, past eucalyptus trees and other tourists panting and taking off their winter layers. From a vantage point we had a view of the bull fighting ring, which filled me with a mix of distaste and historically relate interest, resembling as it did the ancient Roman equivalents. The sandy arenas and animal battles of the Empire haven’t quite disappeared yet.

Bull ring

Bull ring

By the time we reached the top we were feeling a little bit puffed and thirsty, so after a look around the walls and over them at the surrounding city and more distant hills, we found a place to rest and refresh ourselves. It was a small cafe, which we suspected of touristy expense and tastelessness, but which turned out to be the perfect place for a midafternoon break. We took wine and tapas, a bit of juice and an icecream and finally olives and more wine, while sitting in the sun and gazing out over the sea. The taste of herbs, warmth of the sun and sharpness of the wine blurred into a sort of bliss as we sat and did nothing much, and felt rather as though we had slipped into some sort of paradise.

View of the harbour

View of the harbour

And here is where I will leave this part of our Spanish journey, sitting in the sun and feeling the relaxation of a holiday seeping into our bones.

The wheel of the seasons

During the past 3 weeks I have been to more bbqs than I would usually go to in a year, and incidentally, have eaten more sausages than I would usually eat in 6 months. This grilling frenzy isn’t limited to our household either; it seems to have infected the whole of Göteborg.
And what is responsible for this strange happenstance? Spring.

One of many

One of many

The last two weekends have been clear and sunny, and every place where grass grows has been covered in Swedes, from parks, the sides of canals, gardens and conveniently placed deckchairs. Many people are chatting with friends, some eating, but for the most part people are just basking in the sun. Though I come from a place that is known for sunny weather, I have never really enjoyed it as much as I have these past few weeks. Now I can bask happily, making up for the months of cloud, rain and fog, and hope to gather in enough heat to last before the wheel turns to winter.

A scampering squirrel

A scampering squirrel

I have also been able to understand the meaning of the seasons since I have been here. In Australia we follow the European seasons; Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. As my homeland lies in the southern hemisphere the seasons are precisely flipped, so that Summer is Winter, and Autumn is Spring, etc… This isn’t the only difference that I have found however. While the march of the seasons is recognisable, in Australia it isn’t anything like the changing seasons in Europe. Not only rain and encroaching chill in Autumn and snow in Winter, but Spring… Well, it’s as though an enormous bucket of colour was spilt over the country. Trees that only a month ago were bare and stragledy are now heavy with light green leaves, and flowers of all colours and sprouting between trees, in pots and all over whatever grassy area they can find.

An Easter daffodil

An Easter daffodil

First came the snow drops, tiny white bell-shaped flowers on the sides of footpaths and under trees. Next were stands of daffodils, then tulips popped up in gardens, mostly red and yellow. Most recent are the cherry trees and apple trees covered in masses of pink and white flowers, whose petals litter the city. I don’t know what will be next, but I’m looking forward to roses, especially in Trädgårdsföreningen.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

In addition to the opportunity for bbqs, the changing seasons also bring festive days. As with Jul, Easter is celebrated in Australia, but as with Jul I know understand Easter much better. When you’ve only experienced the slow cooling of Summer to Autumn, and the only rebirth around is the sudden rise in chocolate sales, I don’t think I ever truly understood Easter. Having lived through the end of Winter and watched green return I now know why there is a festival of rebirth at that time of year. I also better understand the excitement of the 1st of May. One festival that I hadn’t really been aware of was last Wednesday, the 30th of April; Valborg.

Kanelbullar in Haga

Kanelbullar in Haga

I had been confused about the name of the day and then continued to confuse Swedes by asking what it meant. Mostly I got blank faces, and someone realising that it was his fathers birthday and rushing off to call him, until someone brought out their smart phone. It would seem that it has something to do with Saint Valborg, and for some reason students wearing white hats. Valborg seemed to me a strange name, but what do I know about Scandinavian names. I’m still not convinced about Knut for example.
Then the bbq continued and I forgot about strange names, and missed the Chalmers University parade (featuring Putin, North Korea and Ryan Air – they are students after all) and the bonfires that were burning throughout the country.

The next morning I woke up and thought I’d do a bit of blogging, and looked up Valborg. Like every other northern-European festival it can be traced way back to pagan traditions. It used to be called Walpurgis (and probably still is in some places) and was a celebration of the change from Winter to Spring, as well as the time when the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living was at its weakest. It then transformed into a celebration of the saint (coincidentally with a similar name) and her power over witches and representatives of the old religions. Now only the bonfires, traditional songs and parades remain, a link that has been altered but not broken since before written memory.

Dusk in the forest

Dusk in the forest

Another wonderfully Swedish day was yesterday, the 1st of May. Not only was it the first day of Spring but it was the Swedish equivalent of Labour Day. All over the country crowds gathered in squares to protest. Protest against what, you ask? That seemed to depend which party you’re inclined towards. As I was at a bbq (of course) I didn’t see any of them but I did hear that the Social Democrats were supporting the change to a 6 hour work-day and the Feminist Initiative were protesting against racism. It also explained why our bbq spot was so very quiet – on such a fine day only traditional festivities could pull Swedes away from picnics and basking in the sun.

Picnic by a lake

Picnic by a lake

As I write, the sun is shining, the wind of blowing, and teenage girls are screaming on the ride at the recently re-opened Liseberg. Spring has arrived, and the country has come alive again.

West coast road-trip day 2: Picnics and castles

For the second day of the road trip we headed south. After breakfast we tumbled into the car and set off down the highway to begin the journey.

The landscape as we drifted further out of town was quite different to what we had seen the previous day. Southward lay wide green fields and larger expanses of farming land, with less of the forested outcrops we had seen in the north. We soon reached Falkenberg, an old town with cobbled streets and town gardens just starting to bloom. After a attempted walk to the beach via the river, resulting in factories and industrial complexes, we retraced our steps in search of a place to have lunch.
Our contribution to the trip was a basket full of sandwiches, fruit and ANZAC biscuits, and upon finding a picnic table overlooking the river, we set to and cleaned out the basket. We were lucky to have another day of fine weather, so had a pleasant time soaking up the sun and trying to decide who would eat the last biscuit.

A picnic in Falkenberg

A picnic in Falkenberg

The biscuit eaten and our stomachs full, we went back to the car and continued on our journey, heading slightly west and north.

Varberg is a very pretty town right on the coast, which is partly dominated by a giant castle. The first thing that you notice about it is how massive the walls are, and then the sheer numbers of Swedes arrayed along it’s base, soaking up the precious early Spring sun.

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

We explored around the castle walls, circling until we reached a small beach where there stood a Turkish bath complex. Of course. It was on stilts, and as we approached, admiring the graceful designs along the roof, we saw a naked old woman clamber down a ladder, pop under the water and then dart back up out of sight. She was soon followed by many other nude women, the youngest of whom gave a small scream when she ducked under the chilly water. I suppose it goes to show that 7 months isn’t nearly enough time to be inured to surprises from another culture, and also not long enough to be tempted to try them out myself.

A Swedish Turkish bath

A Swedish Turkish bath

A quick dip of a hand in the cold water made the decision easier. My partner and one of our friends took of their shoes and paddled in the shallows, their faces growing gradually more strained until they ran out of the water, exclaiming about how warm the sand felt, before inexplicably returning to the shallows.
I preferred to borrow gumboots and walked around feeling the weight of the water on my feet without the chill, admiring the castle walls and trying to avoid looking at the splashing underneath the baths.

Paddling

Paddling

Soon we had paddled enough, and crossed to the the cafe in the baths. Sitting out on the balcony, eating an icecream and lying back in the sun, I felt as though the seasons had definitely shifted onwards, and sunburn would replace occasional protestations about frostbite. It was lovely there in the sun, and we stayed for a while, letting the time pass. When we became restless we climbed up through the gates and ramps to the top of the castle. From the top of the walls we had a view out over the town and the sea, and spent some time gazing about.

Looking down from the walls

Looking down from the walls

A loud ringing noise drew my attention to an old fashioned bell hanging from a wall, and I wandered over, realised as I approached that the distance from the ground to the bell seemed to grow as I got closer. By the time I had reached the bell I needed a stick and a leap to just touch it. We all took turns, my partner managing to give it enough of a thwack to set it ringing deafeningly.
After which we descended the ramps, took another stroll around the walls, and headed back to the car.

All too soon we were back in town, being dropped off at our apartment and saying goodbye to our travelling companions. Given how many places there are around Göteborg that we haven’t yet explored, I’m sure we’ll be climbing back into a car and heading out on another road trip soon. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get the same sunny weather as this trip.

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.