Frozen lake, bright sky

A brief moment of sun

Even though there was a light dusting of snow last night (enough to fill a teacup), the sun is out today and the blue sky makes it feel as though the true winter is almost over. There will be clouds and rain and cold, for sure, but not the drifts of snow and frozen lakes that are a ‘real’ winter. Today then seems a good time to show you all a little bit of the winter that was just passed, the sort of winter that I love.

Snow had been falling off an on for weeks, bending down the trees under the soft, dense weight and freezing the lakes nearby. While snow is in itself beautiful, the moment it comes alive is when the sun comes out. One day we went for a walk on a weekend morning, and more than once I was quite literally stunned into stillness and silence by the beauty of the trees, light and snow.

Snow in the forest

Snow in the forest

Branches sticking up through the snow were coated in a thin, shining layer like crystals, which drifted lightly off when flicked.

Snowcrusted shrubbery

Snowcrusted shrubbery

The forest, where not so many months ago we had picked berries, was muffled and still, though at any moment I expected a breeze to tumble a branch load of snow onto my head.

Sunlit path

Sunlit path

After my fella returned home, I continued on to the nearest lake, wondering if it might be frozen. It was was, very much so.

Kåsjön alive

Kåsjön alive

Not only was it frozen, which a layer of snow covering the thick (so I hoped) ice, but it had been transformed into a park, or to my romantic mind, a winter wonderland. Children scampered about in their fleuro one-piece outfits, adults walked their dogs and people of all ages skated and skied, leaving long, crisscrossing tracks behind them. Nervous at first, I walked over the tracks, listening for the creaking of ice and then walked more and more confidently across to the island that 2 years ago I had swum to. Under wide, bright blue sky and in the centre of the vast openness of the lake, the claustrophobia of winter fell away, down into the freezing, dark water under the ice.

Walkers on the lake

Walkers on the lake

On the shore nearest to the houses, areas of the ice had been cleared and with shoes or picnic baskets for goal posts, ice hockey games were underway. Often it seemed the dads were ahead, but now and then a son or daughter would sneak past and a parent dramatically fall over, equaling the score. In sheltered bays little children were being taught to skate, knees locked in fear and well padded bottoms covered in snow.

Icehockey

Icehockey

In the distance, old couples walked their dogs, disappearing into the further reaches of the lake.
If there was ever a heaven of ice and snow under a low hanging northern sun, this was it.

Then later that week a storm hit the west coast of Sweden, bringing wind and snow. A lot of snow. By the time it had ended, there was 30cms of it in our neighbourhood, and enough in town to stop trams, buses and cars. It was, in the words of frantic sensationalist newspapers, SNÖKAOS, which I think doesn’t need translation. This resulted in many people not getting in to work, including my fella, and one of my all time favourite news bloopers. My lesson for the day had been cancelled, so after a few productive hours of work we set off for the lake, my eagerness to show off the beauty and novelty of walking across it pushing me through drifts up to my knees that hadn’t yet seen a shovel. Though there was no sign of the sun through the thick clouds and the snow-wading was tiring us out, we reached the lake before too long. It was still frozen, also covered in deep snow, but as yet without any tracks or trails over its surface. Coaxing my fella out into the open, we made it to the island and sat to contemplate the wide openness, and quiet. Still beautiful, it seemed a more severe and solitary beauty than I had seen myself on the sunny day so recently.

A brief moment of sun

A brief moment of sun

Since then the temperature rose, rain fell, the snow melted into slush and then washed away, leaving only patches of black ice to tread carefully around. We might still get snow, but the day of minus temperatures and nights of -18 seem behind us now. The question isn’t how much snow do I need for a snow man, but when will the first flowers start to bloom?

No swimming yet

No swimming yet

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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

Songs of revolution, joy and home

It’s perhaps an inevitable part of the immigrant experience that you spend a lot of your time noticing other immigrants. Sometimes it’s just a flicker on the street, or it could be heading to the local watering hole for an expat get-together. Or you may even find yourself at a concert, watching performers from around the world singing of love, politics, joy, revolution and home in a mix of languages. All the things that make us lift up our feet and head out the door, and someday find a place to take off our shoes and put our feet up.

My fella and I had spent the afternoon walking around slightly dazed in the sun, savouring ice-creams and the warmth that I still can’t take for granted. When we had finished a snack at a Greek restaurant I got a message about a free ticket to a concert. Without really knowing what the concert would be, other than that it would feature Syrian and Iranian music, I said yes. Which is how I found myself in the Stora Teatern in the centre of town on a Saturday evening, as the compere introduced us to a night of music that would show us how many world class musicians there are driving taxis or living anonymously in Sweden, and the music they have to share with us. And how much joy we can return to them.

The concert was billed as a showcase of artists who have found a home, even a temporary one, in Sweden. It seemed that often they found their way here after running away from something – as with all expats and immigrants there is a reason we leave. Two had been tortured and another had grown up in a country where love songs had been forbidden for generations, and where he secretly sang forbidden songs. There was sadness in the songs, and joy but the strongest emotion that ran through all of the songs, and through the audience as the night went on, was defiance.

Naser Razzazi dancing with the violinist

Naser Razzazi dancing with the violinist

The first performer was a tall, elegant man from Kurdistan, who sang folk songs in a deeply resonant voice. Of all of the artists Naser Razzazi was the most charismatic. He had the audience in the palm of his hand each time he stepped on stage, and what sticks in my mind now, almost a week later, was his neat white mustache, tall frame and complete confidence.

Habib Mousa was another man with a presence, who sang about love and dreams, and spoke about his old homeland of Assyria. He was quietly spoken, with a powerful voice.

The next man is known as the Elvis Presley of Eritrea, who brought rock and swing to his country and then to us. Osman Abdulrahim grooved, grinned, sang and spoke briefly about the war and dictatorship he had escaped, and told the daughter of Dawit Isaak that he hoped her father could be returned to his family soon.

Elvis of Eritrea

Elvis of Eritrea

Throughout all these performances, people coming on stage to cheers and then departing for the next guest only to return a bit later, a band had played behind and around them. Drummers, a bassist and guitarist, keyboard player and a very enthusiastic violinist accompanied all of the performers. The next performer brought his own instrument, perhaps the one he’d brought to Tahrir Square 4 years ago. Ramy Essam is one of the most well known faces of the Arab Spring, who played rock music among the crowds as the revolution swept through Egypt. He’s currently living in Malmö, having been granted safe city residence, and while there he continues to write songs about the revolution. When asked how he is enjoying Sweden, he said he liked it very much, but would always want to return to his homeland and continue the fight.

Ramy Essam, face of a revolution

Ramy Essam, face of a revolution

Finally there was a young woman originally from Iran, who grew up in Sweden and seems to me to combine the two cultures. Safoura Safavi sings in a mix of Farsi, Swedish and English, her music a mix of punk, reggae and soul and very infectious. She bounced around the stage and the audience bounced along with her, even more so when her sister joined her for a duet. She sang about pretension, life in Iran and in Sweden and was joined by the rest of the performers for a final song in Farsi that brought the audience to our feet. After they had left and the calls for an encore were answered she stepped back on stage and sang a song about Sweden, as blue and yellow lights shone on the stage.

Safoura from Sweden

Safoura from Sweden

The music had taken us all around the world, through war, revolution, oppression and hope, and then in the end it brought us home.

Easter – a time of witches, feathers and eggs

The first hints I had of Easter were random people carrying sticks. There seemed nothing special about the sticks, other than the fact that people had evidently spent some time gathering them or buying them from florists. I was even tempted to break all social conventions and ask someone, but shyness held me back. What was so important about sticks, I wondered, and should I be getting them myself? I asked other expats who suggested it had something to do with regrowth, and pointed out that if they had buds perhaps they would bloom. I was a little bit skeptical about the enjoyment you could get from watching buds slowly expand, and felt sure there must be another reason, no doubt related to traditions that are mostly forgotten.
When I did some research and found out a possible theory, I wasn’t especially surprised that it had been swept under the carpet. Back in the 1800s people used to collect sticks for their children who would then whip themselves in memory of Jesus’ suffering.
I would much rather watch buds grow.

The next sign was with a flock of witches on a main street in the city. They ranged from adults to children, happily showing off their painted red cheeks and freckles, and adorned in coloured shawls and striped stockings. There were even a few brooms swinging around in the air, though no one seemed to be airborne yet. No one seemed to bat an eye at this open display of witchery and indeed it increased over the next few days. A group of older women were seen drinking in a pub, unmolested by mobs, but a majority of the witches were children skipping about town, asking for lollies. You may well ask why, in this day and age and in a country that though technically secular is nominally Christian, there are so many witches running about before Easter?
You would not be alone in wondering. Other expats shrugged and said it was a ‘Sweden thing’. Even Swedes answered me with a blank look and a variation of ‘Uh, we’ve always done that, I don’t know. It is odd isn’t it?’

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

So naturally I took to the internet to solve the mystery. Easter hags, or ‘påskkärringar’ have their origins in the 1600s, when it was believed witches flew on their brooms to Blåkulla to make merry and cavort and do all of the things people would expect witches to do. Somehow this has translated over the centuries to a tradition of children dressing up as witches and wandering the neighbourhood asking for treats. It is all a little bit Halloween, except for the old style costumes that seem more like village women of the past crossed with Pippi Longstocking than costume shop items.
There were also witches in shop windows, statues and figurines this time, grinning on their brooms, apparently daring people to take advantage of the Easter sales.

A shoe selling witch

A shoe selling witch

The witches weren’t the only decorations enticing people to enter and spend however. Trees, bushes and sticks across the country that were just minding their own business were festooned with brightly coloured feathers. They were hung outside of shops fluttering in the wind, sitting in front yards and in vases in apartments. All those sticks that had been budding away were now decorated, sometimes also with painted eggs and animal figurines. These eggs were often painted by children, as I remember doing years ago. Though a globe is a hard surface for a young artist, I think I created a few nice examples with water colours, crayons and dyes. We then ate them on Easter day, the pretty bits of shell flaking away to be swept up later.

Feathers in the sun

Feathers in the sun

Finally, did you think that in all this traditional symbolism that the Swedes have forgotten the most memorable part of Easter (for children at least)?
While in Australia we’re nearly submerged in avalanches of Easter eggs, rabbits and bilbies when we enter a supermarket, the people of Sweden have found another use for eggs. The tradition here is to buy an empty egg, in card board or tin, and fill it with candy. This is what my partner and I have done for the last two Easters, reusing the eggs and filling them with piles of candy for the help-yourself shelves at the shops. It’s amazing how much you can fit inside them, and conversely how quickly my partner can empty his.

Our quickly depleting stash

Our quickly depleting stash

So that’s Easter here in Sweden. Of course I missed out the parts about staying at country houses and feasts with families and eating epic amounts of fish (every day ending in g is fish day in Sweden), as that part has passed me by, but this should serve at least as an expats experience of the Easter season. Or rather, Påsk. Interestingly rather than reference the ancient of Spring, this word derives from the ancient name for the Jewish Passover. Which seems to me, with all the pagan traditions, witches, feathers and symbols of rebirth to demonstrate quite neatly how much traditions have intertwined over time, and perhaps how impossible it is to untangle them, even if we wanted to.

Island fortress

A long time ago, before even IKEA was created, the boundaries between countries in this area were quite different. Norway and Denmark vied for ownership of the region, and as the lines shifted castles and fortresses were built and attacked and built again. There are the two smallish fortresses now within the city of Göteborg, one up at Marstrand, another along the river and one further inland. I’d heard a bit about this last one and was curious to compare it to the others I’d seen. The chance presented itself a few weeks ago, which was how I found myself attempting to climb Medieval walls and completely failing.

Bohus Fortress

Bohus Fortress

Bohus Fortress lies about 20 minutes out of town by bus, and the first sight I had of it was the tall, round tower that rises above the thick walls. Even at a distance it’s impressive, and as we approached the walls loomed above us. The fortress is set on an island that is reached by two bridges on either end, and though the island had once been covered by the town that surrounded the fortress, the hills and small valley now consist of trees, grass, a bit of wilderness and a visitor’s centre. The fortress is now a museum and would usually have been open for visitors if we had visited in summer. Unfortunately it’s now closed, so our visit was restricted to peering up the walls, attempting a bit of climbing and exploring the island. A small locked door on one side showed an echoing, dripping passageway, still lit by lights from some sort of event.

View over the river

View over the river

Climbing over a fence brought us to scatterings of mushrooms and views over the swampy river and what had once been the town. At all times the walls peered down at us impenetrably, and we decided that once summer returned we’d make another attempt at the defenses.

An elderly lady lays a brief siege

An elderly lady lays a brief siege

I should perhaps mention at this time, for the sake of my mother, that Bohus Fortress was built by Norwegians and was never captured. There are still Norwegian flags at the site in case anyone was at risk of forgetting this.

...though not technically Norwegian now

…though not technically Norwegian now

As clouds began to cover up the brief blue skies, we headed over the bridge that lead to the town of Kungälv which we had never visited before. It turned out to be very lovely, our first few impressions being of narrow cobblestone streets, old-fashioned two storey houses and small, young families walking their dogs/children.

Old street in Kungälv

Old street in Kungälv

A look at a map promised some sort of historical landmark in the centre of town so we followed the old street, beneath the shadow of the hill on the right, past houses, shops and then suddenly a shopping area. By this time, however, we were both feeling quite hungry and so decided to leave the mysterious landmark for now and instead focus on dinner. Although it was only around 16:30 the dark comes quickly way up here and the urge to settle down with a plate of something tasty was growing strong. We decided on an Italian place back where we’d started and so a short bus trip later found us settling down to pasta and pizza, while I hoped that my bright pink gumboots weren’t too conspicuous for a restaurant.
Dinner finished, and gumboots unremarked upon, we arrived at the stop just in time for the next bus to Göteborg, looking forward to the next time we could visit this very nice little town sitting in the shadow of a fortress.

The waiting walls

The waiting walls

A journey up the river

Recently I had an entire day to myself, during a week free of classes and work, and so I escaped the city for a little while. I had an urging to visit a museum, and spend the cloudy coldness absorbed in artifacts and old stories.
Which is how I found myself at a train station, surrounded by fields and chirping birds, in a valley that had once been the centre of Västra Götaland.

Those who have peeped at the history of Göteborg may know that it was officially founded in 1621. Ok, but what about before that time, you may ask, at such a significant point between Denmark and Norway there must have been some sort of settlement, you may point out? There were, seemingly shifted down the river Älv with time as boundaries shifted and kings had great new ideas. The first of these towns on record was Lödöse, located about 40kms up the river from Göteborg. It was here that I went on that day, or to be specific, it was to the museum of Lödöse.

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse as it was

Lödöse has faded somewhat over the years, now boasting a population of around 1300 according to Wikipedia, but in the museum at least you can get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a thriving trading city.

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

Ancient Lödösians thriving Medievally

The museum is full of pot and glass shards from all over Europe, the fragments of a Venetian glass hinting at the wealth that must have been here, as well as signs from everyday life. There were replicas of houses, clothes and a case with rune carvings, and mysterious fragments left from churches and the various inhabitants. I spent a while wandering among these, before climbing up to the second story, where the theme seemed to cover history in a much more general sense.

The head of a saint

The head of a saint

There were artifacts again, but rather than a plaque stating the archaeological equivalent of ‘I donno’, there were cartoons depicting suggestions in a style that didn’t ask to be taken too seriously.

Necklace or tankard ring?

Necklace or tankard ring?

There was a section about evolution, religion and race biology, which certainly didn’t pull any punches in terms of Sweden’s own history of eugenics and the clash between science and religion. Facing it was a slowly rotating globe on which stood figures from the evolution of humans, caught with a fish, a spear or empty handed, leaping from the lands they’d been discovered in.

Humanity

Humanity

There was a cartoon showing previous generations, a queue of women in gradually modernising clothes, at the end of which was a woman with a phone. It made me very much want my own history sketched out, so I can see the faces of the ladies who preceded me.

A generational queue

A generational queue

After a final poke around the rest of the museum, the library and a snack, I headed out to wait for a bus, taking in the suburban modernity that has mostly buried the old town.

Modern Lödöse

Modern Lödöse

Soon the bus arrived and took me on the next leg of the journey: Åmål.

I kid, I got of the bus before it got there. Because Åmål.

After about an hour on the rather comfortable bus, I got off at Vänersborg, and miraculously the weather began to clear. As the name suggests Vänersborg lies next to lake Vänern, near to the starting point of the river Älv. Lake Vänern is the largest lake in Sweden, and the third largest in Europe, so it is no exaggeration to say that it is really very big. I’d seen it once before and marveled at the complete lack of anything within vision on the other side.

The lake in autumn

The lake in autumn

The lake was the main reason I wanted to visit Vänersborg, so after hopping off the bus I headed along the canal to the edge of the lake. As I went past an apparently normal block of flats and cafes I was hit full in the face by a very familiar smell. People who haven’t been to Australia may have been reminded of a brewery or a yeast factory. If you have been to Australia you would have instantly recognised the heady smell of vegemite. As there was no Kraft factory or back-packers in sight, I have to assume that it was from something beer or yeast related. At least until I next get to investigate.

The lake edge was reached through a park, complete with statues, bowing willows, shimmering birches and a fountain. The lake at this point was narrow, but in between the distant hills was empty water. It’s a strange feeling to be inland and feel as though you’re staring out at the sea, imagining continents in the distance.

The endless lake

The endless lake

After turning away from the lake, I headed into town and found freshly cooked pancakes swimming in jam and cream, which I gave a thorough eating. It was then time for the train home, so with a last look around the the town I climbed onto the train and began the journey back into town. It followed the path of the river Älv, including the wide valley where an old trading town had once ruled the region, before the town was pulled as I was to the coast and the future.

The masks we wear

Having lived in Sweden for just over a year now, I have begun to recognise and feel the routines and patterns of life here. Every country has it’s own pattern, woven by people going about their daily lives and more and more often I’ve been finding the threads and following them, trying to fit myself into the pattern with varied success. I have found myself questioning the process though. Do immigrants need to do this? I’ve spoken to friends about the imposition they feel from Sweden to fit in, to Learn the language, get a job, make Swedish friends, be more Swedish. And what of your own identity? The ideal should be that of lagom, not too much and not too little. Finding the middle ground or a meeting point between who you were when you stepped off the plane and who you need to be to fit into a society.

An early autumn evening

An early autumn evening

An aspect of life here that has nudged me to the outskirts, though not necessarily unwillingly, is the upcoming election. Somehow I have avoided being approached by the hordes of paper-bearing placard-wearing folk that huddle around the different political party huts. And they have actual huts by the way, some of them probably big enough for a holiday cottage, which for some reason I find very endearing.

They really like their voting

They really like their voting

I have not, however, been able to avoid sight of the posters that adorn anything that stands still for longer than 5 minutes. I walked 10 metres down a main street in town last week and passed 6 advertisements, all for different parties, hanging off lampposts, bustops and trees.
In comparison to election time in Australia, however, there have been no ads on tv that I have seen and no hint of smearing. Can you imagine an election without one party calling the other a bunch of irresponsible fanatics? I couldn’t until now, and I have to say it is quite refreshing.
The only negative responses have been a comment on an add from the Nya Modereterna (New Moderates, the leader of whom is the current PM) promising more jobs, that ‘you are not only your job’, and an add for the Svensk Demokraterna (the ‘we’re not racist but…’ party) with a swastika drawn on someones head.
Part of me does wish I could vote, if only so that I could be part of this discussion that will, after all, effect me too. The most I can do is give a thumbs up to the Feminist Initiativ folk and enjoy the lack of vitriol.

Swedifying a pie

Swedifying a pie

It often feels as though the moments when I am sitting silently and not engaging with society, that I appear the most Swedish. As I sit on the bus in the morning on the way to class, I feel a strange sense of accomplishment when I imagine that someone across the aisle could look at me and assume I am Swedish. I read my Swedish novel, wear a jacket bought in a Swedish secondhand store and the cons on my feet seem almost to be a uniform here. Of course as soon as I open my mouth the act is finished, but for a while I feel as though I fit in. Sometime in the past year this has become something to aim for, if only subconsciously. Something I would have scoffed at a year ago. The balm of anonymity. Perhaps being an immigrant is about the masks you wear, and how deep they go.

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.

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.