Wine and Karri trees

The last time I travelled almost 300kms by road* I ended up in the capital city of another country, exchanging one language, monetary system and culture for another. This time I swapped the dramatic cliffs, pine forests, snowy fields and deep fjords for endless sweeping fields, flame coloured native christmas trees and towering forests. Rather than north we went south, stopping in at places known by the locals as ‘Bunners’, ‘Busso’, ‘Cow Town’ and ‘Margs’, proving that even within the same country, a language can change.

Margaret River, or Margs, is WA’s best known wine region, full of vines, big wineries, boutiques, chocolate stores and restaurants. Within minutes of sampling a local Cab Sav** you can be swimming on white sandy beaches or surfing in legendary beaches, or descending into ancient caves to see towering forms and fossils. If this sounds like I’m writing copy for a tourist magazine, keep in mind that when describing this area, it’s hard not to wax lyrical. Plus for a WA woman who has been to other, more famous regions, I maintain the right to be proud of the work of my fellow WA folk, from a state where we are not usually known for creating fine wine, art and culture. As we tasted Shiraz and Petit Verdot, chatted with the owners of the little, boutique wineries and drove along the tree lined, rural roads, it felt like another land where the days of indulgence and sun would meld into each other, and where we forgot about the days to come after the holiday. It was not this way for the whole of the holiday however.

We arrived in Busso with rain clouds dragging behind us, fat and sleepy from the food and relaxation of christmas, ready to drop our stuff and get started on the holiday mood. On our first and only stroll to the beach, just behind our accommodation, the clouds opened up and wind howled, sending us back to our rooms questioning our plan for an afternoon swim. Heading into town for groceries and dinner we went to have a walk on the jetty, which at almost 2kms long is the longest wooden jetty in the world.

Clouds approaching the jetty

Clouds approaching the jetty

Despite the intention to trek the whole length, the weather again conspired against us and with sheets of rain drove us back to our car, laughing and dripping. We dried out over dinner at a pub, and fell asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows, barely noticing the raucous chatter of our new neighbours.

The first full day had been planned sometime before, and so we headed off fairly early to our appointment at a jeweller, where we got a reality check and a day to think things over. After which we scoured the Margaret River breweries for a free table and eventually fed ourselves, lining our bellies for the wine to come. A chocolatier and a few boutique wineries followed in a haze of deliciousness and an edge of tipsiness, ending at a brewery that had just the right mix of casual and quality, and brought about a heart to heart and a happy glow to the end of the day. The glow extended as we happily contemplated our haul of wines that evening, and enjoyed a few glasses over our picnic dinner.

How do you know that a decision you make while on holiday, when your tastes run a certain way, and when you know that they could change, is the right one? Especially when it’s something that you will, quite literally, carry with you for the rest of your life? This is what we did on the next morning, confirming the order and walking out feeling simultaneously buoyed and flummoxed. It was done and there was no going back. From the forests of Yallingup, which translates as ‘The place of love’ in the Indigenous language, we followed winding roads to the Wardan Cultural Centre, where we were able to meet someone wonderful. We took a tour with her and her daughter, where we were shown the trees, flowers and fruits that her people have survived off for tens of thousands of years. We tasted the balga and the snakebush berries, and chewed peppermint tree leaves, and learnt of the sheoak and how to make a moi moi. Most of all we got to spend time with an elder who knew herself and her land, and was as much a natural leader as anyone else I have ever met. It was a privilege to hear her speak about survival, joke about people she’d met and watch her daughter learn, the girl’s eyes following everything and completely comfortable in her place.
I hope to be able to go on one of the survival camps she runs one day, so I can learn how to survive on the land that I call home. Even after most of my life lived in it, I couldn’t live on it.

From the life and tranquility of the bush we continued to sample wines, lunch in Margaret River and make our way further down south. The landscape changed from Marri and Jarrah forest, to Jarrah with absurdly tall, Dr Seuss-like balgas, paperbark swamps and recently burnt scrublands. In time we began to spot the trees that I love most of all, tall, white trunks sticking out among the old marri trees. They are the tallest trees I have ever seen, and when they fill the forest in looks like a haphazard temple, the columns and green canopy unmoving as we pass underneath.

Panorama from our cabin

Panorama from our cabin

We stayed at a well known resort just before Pemberton, where we had also enjoyed our first ever getaway holiday years before. In a cabin overlooking the artificial lake, with the rushing of the waterfall and the stately karri forest reflected in the water, it was another world.

Beedelup falls

Beedelup falls

It was a world that we shared with the wildlife, including ring necked parrots that didn’t take any encouragement to gobble the seeds that I put out for them. The resort provided them as an alternative to the bread and snacks and would otherwise make the birds sick, and they clearly knew the drill, warbling to bring in the whole gang as soon as the seeds appeared.

The local gang

The local gang

They also knew where the seed was coming from, and had a go at opening the plastic container with the seeds before I hid it, then watching me with eyes that were a bit too knowing. When no more seeds appeared, they moved on to the next sucker with a final squawk and beady stare.

Can I have another?

Can I have another?

Our own dinner was a more civilized affair with less mess, and without wifi or internet connection we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery and peace of the lake. All too soon we had to leave, with a hot, filling breakfast in our bellies and a few hundred kms of road ahead of us.

Morning view

Morning view

Before turning north, however, we couldn’t leave without properly seeing the karri trees and so I had my first go at proper off-road driving, albeit in an old Volvo.

Old growth by the river

Old growth by the river

A karri valley

A karri valley

Going off-road among the karri

Going off-road among the karri

The track wound down to a river, and through magnificent old growth forest, ending at the 75 metre tall Bicentennial Tree. It can be climbed with metal spikes covered by a net, which I didn’t attempt, despite what must have been an amazing view.

The Bicentennial Tree

The Bicentennial Tree

Leaving the beautiful trees and ancient forest behind, we went north, stopping for lunch, and an ice-cream at a lavender farm. We of course visited one final winery, an old favourite that didn’t disappoint, and so it was that we arrived home satisfied, laden with wine and chocolate and dreaming of the forest that awaits the next holiday.

* By strange coincidence, the distance between Göteborg and Oslo, and my home and Margaret River is exactly 293 kms.
** Cabernet Sauvignon, for non-Australians

Places visited:
House of Cards Wines
Gabriel’s Chocolate
John Miller Design
Ashbrook Wines
Cape Grace Wines
The Beer Farm
The Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Thompson Brook Wines
Balingup Lavender farm

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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/

When is Summer not really Summer

There has been a lot said on my blog lately about our holiday in Malta. There is much left to be said, adventures to be relived and ponderings to be considered. For now, for this week, however I’m going to take a break from the holiday and let the blog settle back into daily life.

Freshly baked daily bread

Freshly baked daily bread

Despite us just having recently passed the peak of Summer, the two things that usually sum up that time of year in Sweden do not apply at the moment.
Most of the locals, our workmates and friends have disappeared to sunnier climes, or popped up on sunny beaches on Facebook or sporting a tan from weeks in Spain. Even businesses are taking a break, many stores sporting ‘semester stängt!’ signs on the doors and promising to be back in August. Our own tans fading, we have returned to work and the usual comings and goings of the non-holiday year.

No doubt it was like this last year, during our first full Summer, but the long sun-filled days and fine weather distracted us from the absences. We have not been so lucky this year. Rather than open itself up to endless blue and those tiny, puffy clouds that are so nice to stare at while lying on your back after a picnic, the sky has opened to release rain, and a lot of it. When we returned from Malta we arrived in time to enjoy the third of three properly Summer days, and since then we’ve all had to suffice with mornings and afternoons here and there, scattered and fine enough that we feel grateful whenever we feel the warmth of the sun. It does teach you to enjoy it when it comes, and staring out the window at the blank white sky and drizzle, I don’t think I could ever take fine weather for granted again.

A semi-sunny day at the lake

A semi-sunny day at the lake

So we sit inside, and when we’re not working my partner gets on with his beer and cider brewing while I design labels and help with the bottling.

A few of the bottled brews

A few of the bottled brews

My projects in the meantime have included making elderberry cordial and raspberry syrup from scratch, and tinkering with the idea of prettying up some old clothes. In short we’ve adopted Swedish winter habits, keeping our hands and minds busy while the world outside gets on with its unpleasant business, whatever that may be.

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

So, while our tans fade and the days shift inexorably to Autumn, we are occupied with creating and experimenting, taking a morning or afternoon to enjoy moments of sun, and looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labours when the dark seasons properly set in. And vicariously enjoying the sun through those whose holidays still continue.

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

First taste of Malta

The landscape of Malta is similar to Spain from the air; yellow and brown, with golden-cream coloured towns and patches of dark green that looked shrubby even from the air. As we descended the buildings became a mix of balconied Italian houses with Qatar-esque arches in the same shade of warm gold limestone. Cacti and eucalyptus trees filled in gaps, making the mix of familiar and foreign even stronger. As we bussed to the apartment where we would be staying, we caught glimpses of a calm blue sea and heavily populated bays awash with yachts. After missing our stop we caught another bus back and then found ourselves navigating around a dusty construction site to the apartment, where our hosts were cheerfully waving in welcome. After that we were very enthused about relaxing and washing off the muck of air travel and construction site, and so devoted some time to that.

Malta from above

Malta from above

Have you noticed that you never feel clean after a journey on a plane? Conspiracy nonsense aside, there’s something strange about passing through vast and then cramped sterile areas and feeling as though you’re carrying an inch of gunk on your skin. Rarely is a shower more welcome, and so it was for me on that first evening.

Outside the apartment, across the construction site, lay a very shallow bay, walled and bisected into large square pools. These, we learnt later, were 16th century salt pans which have fallen into disuse, though a small chapel still stands in the centre, blessing the quiet, salty water.
As there was no way over the salt pans we went around, again venturing into a construction site, which wasn’t very secure. Not enough to keep out two cautious tourists and various locals at least. I would like to point out that if there had been footpaths we would have happily used them, but there weren’t, so we didn’t. We passed through a ‘no trespassing’ into a park, past an incongruous memorial to JFK and bit by bit got closer to the living part of the area.
Terraced roads overlooked the bay, which deepened and filled with boats, and as we strode along families enjoyed their dinner in the sun, or cleaned out the motors of boats. We soon enjoyed our own dinner, pizza and local wine in a boathouse restaurant as the sun set on the other side of the island.

The further around the peninsula of Qawra that we went, the thicker the crowds of tourists became. Many were middle aged and Italian, strolling along with grandkids or in groups enjoying their holidays. It would be later before we started to see more of the younger crowds, and began to hear more snippets of English. At the tip of the penninsula, below street level and facing the sea, is Cafe Del Mar. We never got around to visiting, but even at 8pm it seemed to me to embody the sort of place that people imagine when thinking of Mediterranean islands in summer. A perfectly clear and calm pool, umbrellas and white deck lounges, with bars scattered among them prepping for the night ahead, and electronic music pumping away.

Cafe Del Mar in the evening

Cafe Del Mar in the evening

The hours passed and we walked further, stopping to listen to a charity gig opposing human-trafficking and stare at the horse drawn carriages trotting past. We ended up in St Paul’s Bay with a bottle of red and a sense of really being on holiday in a place that seemed stranger and more surprising with each passing moment.

The capital of Malta is Valletta, formerly the base for the Knights of St John, and was where we headed for our first full day. A bus took us through labyrinthine streets and stone walled garden plots and deposited us at the gates of the city. And they were certainly city gates, tall and imposing and flanked by deep moats. Inside my first impression was of modernity, the sharp edged building to the right and the touristy mall to the left not fitting with the image of ancient fortress. As we soon discovered, this was because the original buildings that had stood there had been destroyed during WWII. In fact a majority of the buildings on the islands had been bombed to dust by the German airforce, leaving the way open for new styles and architecture. As well as a lot of rubble, which seems to have been converted into the precarious stone walls that divide the islands. Despite this, most of the houses were built in what I think of as the old, Italian style, with tall narrow town-houses fronted by elaborate balconies.

Matching balconies

Matching balconies

Much of Valletta was made of these, the straight and hilly streets shadowed by brightly painted or scuffed, wooden or metal balconies in many styles. It being Sunday many shops were closed, but we managed to find the tourist office, which was mysteriously empty. When there were so many tourists around, why were none of them in here booking tours and asking the same questions over and over? The answer would become clear to us in time, but at this point we just grabbed some pamphlets, were vaguely helped by the receptionist when she glanced up from her phone, and then headed back out into the sunlight.

Inside St John's Co-Cathedral

Inside St John’s Co-Cathedral

Our first attraction in this ancient city was almost on a whim, as we passed craft stalls and then turned to peer into St John’s Co-Cathedral. Why not go in, we thought. As I was wearing shorts (actual shortish shorts, for the first time in over a year. Truly summer had come!) I had to wrap a cloth around my legs, which turned out to be handy for clipping things on as we explored. As the tourist book said, it was elaborate, the walls decorated richly in gold and silver and bright colours, the floor covered with the tombstones of knights done in multi-coloured marble, each one individual.

Tombstones of long-dead knights

Tombstones of long-dead knights

I admired the chapels, each unique and elaborate, and soaked in the two paintings by Caravaggio that hang in the Cathedral. On one wall is a painting of an aged St Jerome writing in a dark room, and facing it across a large room is The Beheading of St John the Baptist. This second one of the most arresting, with the play of colour and drama and use of chiaroscuro clear enough even for untrained me to appreciate.

Out in the sunlight we sought and found a bar which offered tapas and the local beer for €6, and settled in. It is one of the first types of beer that I have ever liked, and so I was in no rush to move on with our day, snacking on local delicacies and watching the tourists and locals pass us by.

Tapas and beer

Tapas and beer

A celebration of the longest day

There are two very important times of year in Sweden. One is the time of longest dark, and the other is the time of longest light. Both are celebrated with eating, drinking (and drinking), good company and the playing out of traditions that have long outlasted explanations. And, generally, joy.
We’ve been marking the lengthening of days for some time now, noticing that when we’re walking home late/early at night that the sun never properly sets, leaving the sky a hazy blue even down here out of sight of the Arctic circle. As of last week the balance tipped, and from now on the darkness with get darker and longer until we won’t be able to imagine relaxing in the sun on our balcony at 10:30pm.
A sad thought indeed. However before we and the rest of Sweden let ourselves dwell on that we all have a celebration. The day of longest light*, in which we eat, drink, enjoy good company, dance and admire a large somewhat phallic pole.

The garlanded Midsummer Pole

The garlanded Midsummer Pole

Midsummer! Or to be more precise, Midsummer’s Eve. Being the good little Swedish residents that we are, we had a picnic planned at Slottskogen, where we had celebrated the day last year. Loaded up with food, drink and a bbq we met our friends at the park and were soon settling in for an afternoon of merriment. There was cider, the lighting and subsequent going out of the bbq, napping in the sun and eating, which are fairly typical of any picnic. Slightly atypically for us, more or less the whole picnic was also in Swedish, which was the lingua franca between us and our Czech friends.
As we chatted and ate, the sun played hide and seek above us and we joked that the Summer had finally arrived during the warm patches of sunlight, and was replaced by Autumn as the clouds covered the sky. By looking to the north we could even see if we might get another moment of Summer and once past watch as it eventually drifted over the horizon. Though it had been nicer last year, we reminded ourselves in true Göteborsk fashion that it could always be worse.

After a few hours had passed, people began to gather around the garlanded pole set in the middle of the grass. Closer up we could see the two loops hanging from the cross piece, yellow and blue flowers tucked among the green foliage. Our attention was soon taken by the movements of the crowd, who began to spin in circles, some with three people and some with as many as 40. On a stage fiddlers, flutists and singers called out instructions and belted out the traditional songs. Among the crowds people in traditional costumes lead the dances, demonstrating the claps and kicks and leading their circles in twisting snake like lines, all while singing along. Many of those not in costume also seemed to know the words, and I can only assume that part of every Swedish child’s education involves learning the song about the drunk shoemaker, the one about the various pigs that you and I are, how to clean the house before going to church and of course the frog song.

Dancing crowds

Dancing crowds

I asked my mum about this, and her response would have been matched by everyone else on the field, which was that of course we sing songs about animals and drunk shoemakers. It’s Midsummer’s Eve, when we forget about the staidness of everyday life and give ourselves over to dancing, laughing and making fish noises. That is tradition after all; something we do as a group, that defines us and keeps us together, despite whatever silliness anyone else may think about it.

The young folk dancers leading the way

The young folk dancers leading the way

After at least an hour the dancing was over and the professionals took to the field. Most looked to be over 60 but were as spry as anything, and definitely knew what they were doing. They twirled, skipped and clapped to the applause of the crowd, with steps that I hope they’ll pass on to the other, younger costumed folk. There were no songs about animals, but rather folk jigs and reels that got your foot tapping and conjured images of an idyllic and possibly imaginary rural past, all green fields, mooing cows, clean kirtles and neatly ordered hedges.
As we had watched, we found a couple of friends in the crowd and spent the rest of the long patch of sunlight chatting and enjoying icecream as the light began to fade.

Before too long it was time to pack up, but before we went home we paid a visit to the animals on the hill. The first that we saw was an elk, lying down by a fence and not looking all that well. We were amazed as usual by its size and strange combination of elegance and ungainliness. We also saw the deer, ducks, swans, geese, goats and ponies, most of whom seemed to be trying to get some sleep despite the light and visitors.
As 9:30 passed and a sunset bloomed overhead we headed to the tram stop, hugging and waving our friends goodbye before stepping on our own tram and making our way home.

Another Midsummer’s Eve done, half the year has past and the lengthening of days has begun, at least until the next tipping of the balance in the dark of winter.

*Technically the celebrations don’t always take place on the solstice, and the dates are adapted each year to make a long weekend. It’s usually within a week of the solstice though.

A sunny day by a lake

I feel as though every time I post something on Facebook or this blog it’s just the latest verse in a rhapsody about Summer. It’s so all encompassing here, from half the country taking the season off for the yearly holidays, lakes and the sea crowding with swimmers and the long, light nights. In comparison my memories of Australia make it seem like one long Summer, punctuated by a brief rainy period with the occasional minus degree night to blisteringly hot days at the other end, and with endless, cloudless blue skies in between. With nothing to really compare it to, I got bored of Summer and longed for a change, and a change is what I got. Having lived through an Autumn and a Winter here I feel like I’m experiencing Spring and Summer for the first time, and trying to make the most of it.

Ducks in a sunlit dam

Ducks in a sunlit dam

Since we returned from our roadtrip, the holidays have continued for a little while. My partner returned to work and I returned to looking for work and trying to fill my days with usefulness. Before we properly returned to the old swing of things, we did something that I had been hankering for since Summer started; we went to a lake.

The lake in question was packed the day we visited, every patch of grass taken and the sandy shores covered in wobbling toddlers and sunbathing teens. There were even cement diving boards, the highest around 6 metres, and as full of people jumping and splashing as the rest of the lake we had seen. We continued around the shores, hoping to find a free area where we could spread out our picnic blanket and hopefully bbq without covering our neighbours in smoke.

The trusty bbq

The trusty bbq

After walking some way we came to a non-grassy section, the lakes shore lapping on rocks rather than sand, and trees and bushes divided by small paths. Among them was a tiny clearing next to a large rock, the perfect height for a bbq, and just above a sheltered bay. We quickly grabbed it and settled in, spreading out the blanket and getting the bbq going. While my partner happy fiddled away with the bbq, I stripped down to my bathers and went to test the waters. They were cold and muddy, but on a hot Summer day, with a cold cider and a tasty meal on the way, it was perfect and I was soon making my way in, trying not to embarrass myself in front of any of the natives who seemed happy to jump straight in without even a gasp.

A  little island

A little island

My partner soon joined me, as well as a few curious fish who flickered around our feet. Though the mud and reeds were a bit strange at first, it was nice to remember that inland Swedish lakes have a significantly lower risk of sharks, stonefish or jellyfish than WA beaches.

Friendly lake dwellers

Friendly lake dwellers

Food was soon cooking, spreading delicious smells around the area, and we ate and drank under the shade of the birch trees, treating ourselves to the raspberries we had picked the day before.

Berries! Plus unsatisfactory rosehips

Berries! Plus unsatisfactory rosehips

After food we decided to swim to a little island about 100 metres out, my speed assisted by the return of my fear of seaweed and unknown depths. On the island we joined a host of others basking in the sun, and at some point we fell into a doze, and were woken up by clouds drifting across the sun. Now that we were dry and warm, we slipped back into the lake and paddled back to our little bay and then decided that we needed icecreams.
I think there are few more pleasant ways to spend an afternoon than sitting on a rock in the sun, by a lake, eating icecream and listening to music with your favourite person.

The clouds roll in

The clouds roll in

After a time we packed up and walked further around the lake, finding abandoned boats, more swimming places and berries, and then went back to the bus stop and home.

As mentioned earlier in this post, we had collected quite a few raspberries prior to the lake visit. The largest haul was from a stretch of bushes near a small lake. We had gone for a walk to explore our new neighbourhood and come across a trove by accident. Since then we’d grabbed handfuls here and there, some of them making it home though mostly not, though as quickly as they appeared the raspberries seem now to be disappearing. They are being replaced by blackberries, though we have yet to find a hoard as large as those of the raspberries, and even the occasional smultron (tiny wild strawberries). Soon there should be blueberries, though we have yet to see any sign of them.

Our first hoard

Our first hoard

Next year I hope that we can get out of town, go somewhere with untouched and dense berry bushes and just go crazy eating them. Some may even survive and end up as jam, who knows.

Time since then has blurred slightly into busy days and quiet days, as we prepare for work and study and shake off the lazy Summer days. I hope that even if the berries don’t last, these long, warm days will stay with us for a while yet, at least until I can get one more dip in a lake.

Berries and caves of my ancestors

It was the second full day of our road trip, and finally the sun had arrived. The country was transformed, and for a little while we imagined we were in another land, but more on that later.

We had all been avidly checking our various, and variously unreliable, weather apps in the hopes that there would be a gap in the clouds, and though predictions had ranged from rain to cloudly to partly cloudy, we awoke to clear skies. So with enthusiasm, and a tiny bit of trepidation, we set off for a day of adventure on the coast.

Our destination was Mölle, a little seaside town that was apparently very popular with German tourists around the beginning of the last century. There was even a direct train from Berlin, and the Kaiser visited once. I assume the lack of explanation on the posters about the heady days of sunbathing Germans was a combination of Swedish humbleness and self-effacement. Or perhaps they were just as baffled as us.
Whatever the actual reason, in the sunlight, the whitewashing houses and jetties seemed more Mediterranean than Scandinavian. Lovely as the curving streets and seaside villas were, we had another goal in Mölle, and it involved even more activity than climbing the steps of Viking watchtowers (see the previous post if that comment seemed at all peculiar, it’s got Vikings in it).

Mölle by the sea

Mölle by the sea

Our friend had been told that the area had some beautiful scenery that was best seen on a hike, and even included a few bathing places. So we had come with bathers, walking shoes, packed lunches and I at least had a burning need to do my first swim of the year.
The hike started off relatively easily then suddenly became steep and rocky, reminding me of the hike I had done around Cinque Terre in 2008. Rather than gnarled old olive trees, here were bent over birches and beeches, and I imagined the sea that swooshed against the rocks below would be colder.

Rocky coast

Rocky coast

After a time the trees opened up and we found ourselves on a grassy field, bounded on one side by a cliff and on the other wind blown birch trees. On the edge of the cliff stood a pine, that looked strangely that those I had seen at Gallipoli last November. The yellow grass and sunlit sea almost convinced us we were on the edge of the Mediterranean, rather than within sight of Denmark.

Birches and sunburnt grass

Birches and sunburnt grass

Then we heard a familiar thunk, and agreed that Swedes were undeterred by any terrain when it came to golf.
It wasn’t the last time we saw signs of golf courses on our hike; we’d think that we were in a dense forest, the quiet only broken by the crashing of waves, when a loud donk interrupted the idyll.
Another surprise was the raspberries. Oh the berries. They started appearing after the Mediterranean cliff, first in tiny patches by the sides of the path and then in larger swathes, tiny snatches of red among the thick green leaves that were quickly plucked and stuffed in our mouths. Some were bitter or sour, but more often than not there would be a perfectly sweet one, and we got adept at recognising the most ripe ones. Unfortunately we had nothing to put them in and so had to eat them all straight away, which was terrible, of course.

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

Technically unripe blackberries, but still, berries!

I got especially good at spotting them along the paths so we would often be walking along quietly, watching our footing and the scenery, when I’d cry out ‘berries!’ and point, like some sweet-toothed bloodhound. Often the cry would come before the thought, which we decided must be some latent skill that has been passed down from my early Scandinavian berry picking ancestors.

Over cow fields mysteriously empty of cows, past other hikers and through forests we walked, until finally we reached our first destination. Right on the point of the peninsula stands an old lighthouse, a small building surrounded by sudden tourists. There were two cafes, a bar, a tour bus and lots of people milling about, which was quite a change from the peaceful if slightly minefield-like cow fields we’d just left.
We found an empty picnic bench overlooking the sea (and sunbathing tourists) and enjoyed our lunch, as clouds began to make their way back across the sky. While there was no rain, it seemed that the clear blue skies and sun were over for the time being, and so after having eaten and rested, we put our cardigans back on and continued our walk.

Old beaches

Old beaches

The walk back around the other side of the peninsula was easier, and the first stop along the path was a cave. The way to the cave was a rope hanging down a steep, sandy cliff, so we left that one and continued on, exclaiming about berries and eating them. We next found a porpoise look out, where we saw no porpoises, but rather a small rocky beach. I felt like an ant scrabbling across jumbles sandgrains, which made more a cleaner but more treacherous beach walk. The water was warmer than I thought and after all the walking, it was pleasant to cool my feet on the shore, balancing on the pink and blue rocks.

Pebbled shores

Pebbled shores

Our final stop on the hike was the beach we’d packed our bathers for. It turned out to be similar to the porpoiseless porpoise beach (and before you ask, yes, I did make a few puns), though with more people and with two other sights of interest. On either side of the beach, among the cliffs, were two caves that had been inhabited since the stone age. We went into one, a tiny places only a few metres deep and a few more high. There was soot and ashes from a recent fire, and two benches just outside. It was very moving standing inside, wondering who had lived there and how different the world had been for them. And how similar.

An ancient cave

An ancient cave

I can imagine that they, at least, would have been more likely to wade into the sea than I was when I realised that most of the rocks had a green, slippery covering that almost sent me under the shallow water as I considered swimming. Other people on the beach swam instead, though hearteningly for me none of them managed it without at least a little bit of wobbly balancing.

From the beach it was a short walk across the peninsula to Mölle, via raspberries and at least one golf course. Back in town we enjoyed the feeling of earning a bit of tiredness, and drove back to Malmö for our last night.

On the final day we packed up and cleaned out, and as the weather still seemed pleasant we drove further along the coast to a little town that had been recommended to us. Ystad was indeed small, a harbour town with a cathedral, cobbled stones, a sandy beach and a Viking ship.

Ystad street

Ystad street

The Viking ship was admittedly not from the town, but from Denmark, and was making a quick stop. Most of the space was taken up by supplies, sleeping bags and the sort of equipment that I imagine Vikings would have liked to have had on their voyages. It was also graceful and impressive, and I wondered how I hadn’t picked it out of the crowds of other boats in the harbour before.

A Viking ship

A Viking ship

Back in town we had lunch in the courtyard of an old brewery, an excellent and tasty end to our roadtrip. After that it was only a matter of a final stop at a bakery and then driving back up to Göteborg, saying goodbye to Skåne and the girl on the goose as we went.

Goodbye to the goose girl

Goodbye to the goose girl

Sunny days and nights

These past two weeks we have been able to see our city from a slightly different perspective; that of tourists. My partner’s parents have been visiting from Australia, and when we were able we took them for walks, visited sites or recommended places to visit. For the most part they seemed happy to wander around and explore themselves, and then on most evenings we’d go over to their apartment. Through some sort of incredible luck, their visit has coincided with over a week of sunny days, which ended the day they left. So we’d head over of an evening, and before long it would be 10pm and the sun would still be shining through the windows.

Out on the islands

Out on the islands

After a few days my partner’s sister and her boyfriend arrived, and we continued to show off our home city and share late dinners at the rented apartment. On one day we took a ferry to Brännö, one of the islands in the southern archipelago. Aside from some brief cloud cover it was clear and warm, roses were out along trellises and over fences and some grassy fields even had sheep and lambs wandering around in them. It was all extremely bucolic. We had lunch in the sun, under the supervision of the restaurant cat, and fika at a cafe hidden among the dockyards as we waited for the next ferry.

A ferry alternative

A ferry alternative

When we got back to town we spent some time on the balcony of the apartment, soaking in the evening sun and musing over summer, travel and luck. After we had all rested enough and some of us had got their nerves in order, we headed over to Liseberg.

It had been decided a few days previously that a few of us would attempt the Helix, a new ride that we had seen being constructed and whose passengers we regularly heard as they swooped and screamed around the tracks. Sadly it was temporarily closed when we got there so instead a brave few tried out Atmos-fear, the 116m free-fall tower that is the source of most of the screaming that you can hear from the park.

Atmosfear

Atmosfear

A couple of us decided to watch, and managed to see the others as they slowly ascended and then very quickly dropped back down. They seemed quite shaken afterwards, but were still game enough to try out Balder, the big wooden rollercoaster that I had tried last year. Remembering what it was like, I went and had a glass of wine with my partner’s mum and waited for the more adventurous people to join us.

They eventually did, looking a bit more exhilarated and still eager to try Helix, which had just started up again. As we sat and drank, the band stage was filling with dancers of all ages and styles, all of whom had definite moves. I don’t seem to notice notices for dancing classes any more than I saw in Australia, but judging by what I’ve seen at Liseberg, dancing does seem to be pretty popular here in Sweden. Perhaps it’s those long dark winter nights.

Finally the time had come. The now slightly reduced group went over to the line for the Helix, and those not taking part found a table at the Austrian themed restaurant to wait and eat. Soon they returned, and the food arrived, and in all the talk of the rides I felt very little regret at not going. Perhaps I’ll try in future, when the need to prove myself outweighs the memory of those vertiginous drops.

Liseberg in the evening

Liseberg in the evening

As darkness finally began to set in, the parents decided to call it a night, while the rest of us headed into town. We’d decided that we needed to show them the side of Göteborg where the locals spent their time and were soon in a noisy, crowded pub, chatting and trying not to listen to the loud Australian behind us, telling his new friends about goon-bags.

They have all since left for other travels, though we plan to meet them again in Oslo next week, possibly for the last time until we next visit Australia.

In other news, the first part of my Swedish course finished last week. The class, including many people I’ve studied with for 6 months, had a last fika with the teacher who has been with us from the start. The new classes next term will be with some of the same people, and a few new teachers, and the work will only continue to get harder. And then it too will end, and all sorts of other options will be available. Not too long now.

A Midsummer Eve’s picnic

I believe I often mention here how much I have grown to appreciate the passing of the seasons and the depth and endurance of the festivities that mark them. Last Friday I got yet another example, as I ate, talked and briefly danced my way through the longest day of the year.

As with Jul, most people in Sweden visit their families for Midsummer, heading off to remote towns or across the country for a few days of eating and catching up. Friends of mine with Swedish partners began disappearing days before, while those of us left in Göteborg cast around for a way to join in the celebrations. Somewhere my partner and I had heard about traditional festivities in a large park in the centre of town, and while I had heard it was mostly for the benefit of non-Swedes, it seemed like a nice way to get into the spirit.

A maypole

A maypole

My partners’ parents were still in the country so we arranged to have a picnic with them. The feast included sill (pickled herring), baby potatoes, mushroom and cheese pie, fruit, salad, chicken kebabs and lingon sauce. Plus cider and beer of course. Combined with the sun and company it went down extremely well, so much so that we somehow forgot the strawberries, which are an essential part of midsummers eve.

Midsommarafton feast

Midsommarafton feast

As the day drew on people began to gather around the maypole and a stage, joined by folk in traditional costumes. We wandered over to have a look, and through the crowd managed to see heads bobbing up and down in time to the folk music being played on the stage. Soon the folk dancers stopped and the crowd began to change shape, opening up into circles and pushing spectators into clumps. Without much warning the circles began to bounce and twist around, holding hands and singing along to the band on the stage.

Flower crowned dancers

Flower crowned dancers

It was extremely infectious and only my shyness held me back from joining in. The various dances, including the infamous frog dance and something about washing clothes before going to church on Sunday took about an hour, in which I wandered around dodging dancers and enjoying the atmosphere. Right at the end I was spotted by a friend, who called me over and then pulled me into their circle of cheering and kicking strangers.

Dancing around the maypole

Dancing around the maypole

After the crowds had dispersed we decided to move our picnic to that of our friends, including a few Swedish people who were able to explain a bit more about the traditions and even tried to teach us traditional songs. We ate strawberries and cake and time passed. In time it began to get a bit chilly, but no less bright, and my partners parents left.

Soon after one of our friends marked out a rare empty space on the grass and began setting up small wooden blocks. The blocks were part of an old game called kubb, that we were told dates from the Viking era. The aim is to knock over your opponents blocks with wooden batons, and then knock over the king, which stands in between the two rows of blocks. Easy said than done! Despite looking simple it took a lot of strategy, not to mention good aim, though in the end the ladies team prevailed. Twice. Not that we made a big deal about it, of course.

The game goes on

The game goes on

After this we continued to relax as the sky gradually became darker, till at around 11.30 we decided to warm up in a nearby bar. When we eventually left the bar the sky was thick with clouds, and just dark enough to make out one star in a small gap, the first we’ve seen in a long time.

The rest of the weekend felt like Boxing day, with most of the shops and cafes closed and the streets deserted. Today the country returned to normal, though somewhere, in sheds or storerooms, maypoles of all sizes wait for next year, when the weather will hopefully be as clear and sunny as that on our first Midsummers eve.

Impending things

So changes are afoot in little old Göteborg. Or to be more precise, in the little part of old Göteborg that my partner and I inhabit. Sadly our lease for our current apartment is coming to an end soon, so we have been questing all over for a new place. The trip to Australia caused a bit of a delay (note to self and anyone reading this: never plan a trip overseas within 2 months of moving) and put and end to some offers that may have turned out well. In any case, last night we signed a contract for another apartment and in a month we’ll have removed the last traces of our stay from our current home.

The search for a home has coincided with another important event for me, which was also slightly embuggeranced by our recent holiday. Yesterday morning I completed the majority of the final Swedish test that will decide whether I can continue to SAS and if so which level. Once SAS is completed I will be qualified to study at a Swedish university and be at a level where I can more easily be found suitable for jobs here. So there’s a lot riding on it. I will have the final part this morning, and the results at the end of the week and then after the summer holidays hopefully I will start the next level. I’ve been stressing about it for a while, so it’ll be a relief to have it done, for better or worse.

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

A sunny perspective at 9.46PM

Meanwhile my partner’s parents arrived from Australia on Friday and our spare time has been taken showing them around and helping them to settle in. Fortunately they are very low maintenance, and seem happy to wander around the city and explore, and they have somehow managed to snaffle the only 3 consecutively sunny days that I can remember in a while. It’ll be Midsummer on Friday, which I have repeatedly been assured is a guarantee of poor weather, so we’ll see how long the Swedish summer can hold out.

Glad sommar!

Glad sommar!

While they’ve been here I’ve quite enjoyed the role of tour guide, showing off the pleasant and interesting aspects of my home town, and enjoying their enjoyment. Thus far we have been on a brief walk around Liseberg, stuffed ourselves at our favourite restaurant and picnicked by a lake. There are many things that they have done that I will have to hear more about, but suffice it to say that they seem to be enjoying their visit and we’ll miss them once they continue on their trip.

Fun at Liseberg

Fun at Liseberg

In two weeks we’ll be joining them for part of the journey, when we all go to Norway to visit some fjords. I haven’t really done much research about the area we’ll be visiting, but I think no amount of imaginary grandeur will be able to match standing by a fjord. We shall see, and those reading this will see pictures.

For now the sun is out and plans are coming into place, and a final test is looming.