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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Escape to the Baltic

When we were invited to join an overnight cruise I was skeptical. It was billed as a party ship, and we would be joining a group of Swedes as yet unknown to me who planned to get smashed. None of this particularly appealed to me. Nevertheless in the spirit of adventure we decided to go along; if nothing else, I thought, it would make an interesting blog post.
In many ways it was as I had expected. As the weekend crept closer I pictured drunk Swedes vomiting in swaying ship corridors, a tiny cabin a metre wide and windowless, people pinging between the ship’s only two bars and a rain drenched deck. One of these at least was partly true.

Swedish people, if I may generalise, like to be organised and prepared. Which is why those waiting to board the ship availed themselves of every opportunity to get sloshed. The corridors and halls leading to the as yet closed doors to the ship were lined with 2 bars and a restaurant, all doing a roaring trade. Beer, precarious glasses of wine and cruisers bobbed about and were knocked back or knocked over as the queue eventually began to move forward. Some people pulled empty trolleys along with their luggage, ready for the slabs of beer from duty free. If only they had known that you can buy pre-packed trolleys in the shop. A hen’s night group in matching t-shirts bustled about bottles in hand, already warmed up. We followed the crowd, in the wake of the Swedish friend of a friend who had invited us along.

‘Have you been on the cruise before?’

‘Yes, a few years ago. The other guys go every year, pretty much everyone in my home town know each other and so they all go together.’

‘What can you do on the boat? Other than drink I mean?’

‘Well,’ she thought, ‘there’s a shop and spas. And lots of different bars.’

Somewhat comforted that there were more than 2 places to spend our time, I continued to edge slowly forward, through security and finally onto the ship. My first impression was Titanic, only smaller, and my second was a sigh as I read that our rooms wouldn’t be open for at least an hour. We were all confined to the lower deck for the time being, and as we made our way around, one bar making way for another, and then a dance floor and a corridor of pokies, an inkling of the cunning plan concocted by the ship’s owners began to form in my mind.

A tipple on the topdeck

A tipple on the topdeck

By the time the rooms were open and we’d located ours, Stockholm was passing us by, and from the round window of our room I could see the roller-coasters and rides of Gröna Lund chugging along merrily. Our roommates seemed nice, and once they’d gone on their way and we’d gotten changed for the evening (con sneakers to black heels, pony-tail brushed out) we hit the decks. Along with our fellow Australian friend, we wandered about and eventually settled at the bar on the top deck, where we had a lovely view of the Stockholm archipelago slowly sliding past us. After a few more glasses we followed our whims, having dinner at one of the two restaurants after night had fallen outside (it never fell inside) and missing the opening hours for the duty free shop.

The archipelago at dusk

The archipelago at dusk

As time went on it seemed as though we were slipping behind everyone else on the ship drinks-wise, as a visit to the sundeck including a surprisingly good duet of Bohemian Rhapsody and stumblingly cheerful Swedes demonstrated. Back at the rooms we found where the real parties were taking place. The plan on these ships is to raid the duty free shops, get tanked in your rooms (where alcohol is technically not allowed) and then head out for the clubs. One of the most memorable moments on the ship was walking past an open door and glancing in to see about 10 young Swedish men perched on bunks and the floor, peering back at me like hens nesting in a coop.
We ended up on bunks between someone who overdid ‘Hellooooo!’ just a little, a Brian Viglione lookalike and a Canadian expat. Once our British roommate joined us we switched to English and made progress on a slab of sweet vodkaish things. Then it was time for karaoke, but by the time we had rounded everyone up from the party that was rolling from room to room, the sun deck was a night club and dancing was underway.

Onboard nightclub

Onboard nightclub

We passed the hours, watching, dancing, arguing about whether the flappy things above the ship were bats or birds, getting out of the way of medics helping a guy who had lost the fight with gravity and drink. Sometime later it was 5 in the morning and we were back in the cabin, almost-Brian passed out and Helloooo-man making no sense and falling asleep just before we got the message about an impatient girl who was waiting for him. Then, before the sun could start to peak too far over the horizon, we padded as quietly as possible into our own cabin and went to bed, not knowing that we were nearly in Finland.

The Baltic in the morning

The Baltic in the morning

The next morning, 3 hours later, I was awakened by a foghorn and despite struggles and the comfy bed I didn’t manage to get back to sleep. By the time I was up and dressed, the chance to visit Åland had passed. An island that is owned by Finland, where the official language is Swedish and they use the Euro, Åland would be an interesting place to visit, but not this time.
We missed breakfast and instead visited the shop, getting some cheap bottles and snacks, and then having a quick breakfast of chips and pastry on the top deck bar. The sun was out and the Stockholm archipelago was moving past us again under a blue sky. For the rest of the cruise we had lunch, sat outside in the windy sunlight, explored the decks and played air hockey (2-1).

Back in the archipelago

Back in the archipelago

By the time the boat was pulling back into harbour we were packed and watching gulls and terns dive for fish from the lower deck. The view of Gamla Stan and Djurgården over the water was lovely, and made me almost want to be part of the bustling big-brother city to my home town.
We disembarked, said goodbye to our shipmates, and then headed through town for the train home.

Gamla Stan across the sea

Gamla Stan across the sea

As I think about it, many things about the cruise seem to be a contradiction. The cabins are very cheap, but there is no opportunity to save money on the ship. You’re basically trapped with hundreds of other people who want to escape for the weekend, and the only escape is the seemingly endless supply of alcohol. All ages boarded the ship and no doubt all sorts of mischief was gotten up to, but by the next morning we all stepped off looking relatively chipper and friendly, merging back into our everyday selves. What happens on the cruise stays on the cruise, between the vague shore and international waters, and new friends you’ll never meet again.

A mid-Autumn weekend dream

Quiet recovery

Every now and then you get a weekend that seems to meld into one long day in which you barely get a chance to come up for air before you are off again.
Case in point: last weekend.

Sometimes you go to a party that combines great company, a lovely setting, delicious food and getting just tipsy enough to wobble but not enough to fall over.
Case in point: last weekend.

Every so often you plan an event on the spur of the moment, rush the prep while hungover and it still turns out wonderfully.
Case in point: last weekend.

The old belfry

The old belfry

My weekend started with a morning run, trying to time my steps to Don’t Stop Me Now and the Buffy musical soundtrack and not get thrown off by tolling from the old belfry as I crossed the river. It passed into breakfast and preparations for the day at weekend speed (approximately .25 of weekday speed) and then picked up tempo when the actual reality of time passing began to set in. Baking ensued, biscuits and bread, and they were still hot and steaming when our lift arrived.

As the bbq wasn’t mine, and I don’t know the people well enough to presume, I’ll just say that everything was wonderful. As with another party at the home of a Swede on New Years, the organisation was seamless and we as guests happily slipped along through the courses and after an impromptu piano performance worked out how to open the whiskey cabinet.
And the night would not have been complete without learning a new word – skamkudde (literally shame-pillow) which is how you feel when trying to avoid watching someone being humiliated – and being treated to impressions of Minecraft-gubbar by 5 year old boys.

By the time we got home and collapsed it was about 4 and before too long, or so it seemed, we were up again and making preparations for our own party. I had thrown out the suggestion on Friday that we ought to use the final days of sun and have a picnic somewhere scenic. Murphy’s Law being what it is, we awoke to news that Sunday was forecast to be rainy and cold and so quickly changed the plan to an indoor picnic.
A dash to the shops and shuffling of furniture later, and very importantly a playlist on Spotify chosen, our first guests arrived and the party was on.
A few hours later the last guest left and silence fell, unbroken by the need to bake, cook or do anything preparational.
Of course the next day I had an exam, and then there were lessons to prepare for classes, and work to get ready for and the weekend to basically get its act together and pull us under again.

Quiet recovery

Quiet recovery

But for a little while I was in a car on the highway heading home, my head resting tipsily on my partners shoulder and Håkan singing something nostalgic from the stereo. Unlike my Swedish friends, I may not have grown up with him, but now I can say that I have my own Håkan memory. And it is one to treasure.

Happy tipsiness as I lean on my partners arm and listen to En Midsommarnattsdröm.

Rollercoasters and relaxation

Since the last update I have not left Göteborg. This may surprise those who have read my other posts, as it sometimes seems as though I am forever getting on and off planes or buses, but worry not, there will be travels and adventures in exciting lands in future. For the next few weeks (or the next 2 at least) we’re taking a break from the jetsetting and settling in a bit, and finding amusements closer to home.

Thursday was the first foray into the nearer sort of excursions, in which we went along to a comedy night advertised through an expat group I’d found. The first sign that it would be a great night was when a dapper looking fellow casually smoking a cigarette rolled past on a penny-farthing bicycle, on which was mounted a stereo blasting out electronica. Our joy at this absurdity was increased when he was soon followed down the street by a fleet of 10 or so people on segways. What could possibly top this? Well, a series of very funny comedians and a ‘mentalist’, plus very nice company. My partner also earned the nickname ‘The One’ and was briefly a mentalist’s assistant, while I sang a few bars of Happy Birthday while wishing I could sink into the floor. It was the only song I could think of at the time. Stage-fright keeps wit at bay it seems. The highlight for me was the first comedian, Kate Smurthwaite, who was not only funny, but a feminist atheist with a knowledge of history. Yay!
Unfortunately the walk home involved no penny-farthings or segways.

The One being magical

The next night we decided to explore Liseberg, which we see and hear everyday from our apartment. It was fantastic, with neat streets, uncluttered sideshows, gardens, good food and plenty of rides for any level of daring. My own level is more along the comfort with the minimum of up and down level, though my partner insisted that we try Balder, the large wooden rollercoaster that we can see from our balcony and that is the source of at least a third of the screaming we hear daily. I reluctantly agreed and so we lined up, my stomach churning all the while, then got on and set off, rolling along innocuously. Then… Screaming. Lots of screaming. We’ve got photographic testimony of my terror, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked like that before, and hopefully never will again. It was hilarious though, and no, I’m not going to post a copy, just use your imagination and times it by 100. This is a video if you’d like a taste.

Liseberg canal

At a more sedate pace we continued exploring and found a tiny shop that did old style photos in costume, which I couldn’t say no to. So after food we went in and now have a charming photo of a gent in a Union uniform and his lady, though with broader smiles than is usually seen in photos from the 1800s. As the evening progressed we also saw dancing, a ship, bridges, an Austrian band in lederhosen playing Disney’s ‘I wanna be like you’ and I very much wanted to visit again someday.

Dancing at Liseberg

On the next day the weekend started, and we celebrated by sleeping in for the first time in weeks. It was wonderful. We did manage to get out of the house on Saturday morning for a free concert at the Göteborg Opera Foyer, which we had been told about on Thursday night. As we got there slightly late (it had been a nice and scenic cycle though) we grabbed a drinks platform and settled in for some free music. The first half was a violinist and pianist playing themes from Schindler’s List. I was enraptured. I can still hear the final song, which I think is the signature theme. The second half was performed by a shy harpist and a horn player (hornist?), and was much more jolly. Then to finish off, the violinist, pianist and hornist did a toe-tapping Hebrew song, apparently spur of the moment, and yes my feet were tapping. What I think will stick in my memory was the expressiveness and skill of the violinist, Max Wulfsson, and the sweet sadness of the final Schindler’s List theme.

The rest of the weekend was spent with cooking, and being pleasantly housebound.
I did have one excursion of my own though which took an unexpected turn. When I was in Australia I’d been going to yoga classes, for fitness and meditation, and have been hoping to continue this in Sweden. Lo and behold there was a free class on sunday, so I set off with stretching and relaxing on my mind. Instead, I should have been preparing my chakras for some thorough scrubbing, because they were the only parts of me exercised. It seems that yoga has many meanings, and they include internal statements about mindlessness and inner purity while tying invisible knots over one’s head. Which is fine for some, but I’d rather stick to the stretchy kind. At least my chakras are clean.

Pancakey joy

In the month since I arrived in Sweden, other than travelling and a few daily routines, I feel as though I haven’t properly been working on the hobbies that I’d planned to get into once here. Mostly writing and violin, though at least this blog has helped keep the writing fingers going. So I decided on the weekend to throw off whatever else I’ve been occupying my days with and get into the creative stuff. It’s been productive so far, with the short story coming along nicely and some enjoyable fiddling through Dvorak on sunday. Today I am sick so being housebound I may as well get into something.

It’s a beautiful day outside, perhaps I’ll find a bench in the sun and write for a while.