Friends fellowship and fun.
After a couple of weeks travelling alone, it was great to know I would be spending two weeks in Sweden with friends.
I entered Sweden from the north, on a bus from Finland. This was just part of a 27 hour train, bus, bus, train marathon that would get me from Actic Circle Rovanemi in Lappland, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden over 1000 km to the south.
Before leaving Lulea, I had a red duck curry, my favourite dinner at a Thai restaurant before getting to the station and my bag for my 9pm overnight train south.
The cold that had been brewing as a tickle in my throat attacked with a vengeance and my ideas of seeing the Swedish countryside disappeared into thinking that I should have got a sleeper bed on the train. Otherwise all good. The landscape between northern Finland and Sweden is not much different - birch forests, grain fields, lakes and red barns. So little difference in fact that whilst I like long distance train travel, this is one trip I needn't do again.
Arriving in Stockholm, on Tuesday 13th June, I was met by Quenten and Christina. It is their wedding on Saturday that started this whole Scandinavian Sojourn. I committed to being here for their wedding and then built the rest of the holiday around it. Quenten and I have been friends for over 15 years since we worked together as apprentice chefs. He's cheffing on international yachts so I haven't seen him in awhile.
We spent the arvo in the city. Having visited Stockholm in 2004, it was a case of reaquainting myself with this most beautful of cities. Later in the arvo, some of us went to Skansen, an open air museum. I found the old buildings, moved there from other parts of Sweden, lacked a sense of place. As for the exotic animals? Kittens, guinea pigs, ducklings and chickens don't count. I was underwhelmed. They did have koalas, but they cost more. Exotic for Swedes perhaps, but not for this Aussie wanderer in a kangaroo skin hat!
The wedding was to take place near Arboga, about 2 hours west of Stockholm. All the visitors who'd travelled to be there stayed in Sorby. This was a rural resort sporting spa, sauna, pool, gym, and just for the girls before the wedding, a solarium. The views out over the surrounding fields of wheat, scattered with red barns, gave a beautiful sense of space and despite the close confines of our living, it was a good place for all.
We had a relaxing few days prior to the wedding as new people arrived daily.
Lazy mornings reading in the sun might be followed by an afternoon in the town of Arboga itself, or BBQs and beers on the balcony at Sorby followed by a spa.
Quenten had a wedding cake to make on Thursday, and spending several hours peeling hazelnuts was part of my contribution to what was the most delicious wedding cake ever. Each of three layers consisted of a chocolate brownie base, hazelnut praline layer and Mississippi mudcake top, all smothered with ganache. MMmm! Nice change from fruitcake with plastic icing.
We were going to have a quiet night before the wedding, but heading into town 'for a few drinks' always risks more. It was the Arboga Featival and who were we to miss out?
We ended up at a bar on the riverside, and the Swedes, who put up with a winter of complete darkness, make up for it in their summer of 24 hour light. They do like to party! As the table of Aussies in a non-tourist town, they made us very welcome and we were quite the minor celebrities. There was a band and we danced, drank and had fun until late.
Sat the 17th of June - Wedding Day!
The wedding was not until the middle of the afternoon, which gave everyone a sleep-in and then plenty of time to get ready. Being asked many months ago, "Can you take a few photos at our wedding?" morphed into me being their offical wedding photographer, so I slipped into 'work' mode for the the day.
I had so much fun, photographically and creatively. The weather was fine and bright and the light was gorgeous - the bride even more so. They wanted 'natural' photos and when you have a couple who are 'soul mates' getting married, their joy and love for each other just shine through. These are the weddings I love as a photographer as it makes my job easy. All I have to do is capture the moment, not create it. As a travelling backpacker, I didn't have my big flash, but I needn't have worried. With the 24 hour daylight and a digital SLR that can go to 1600 ISO if necessary I shot the whole wedding without flash.
The reception and party that followed went until late. Our bus back to Sorby was at 2am. Just for the record, we did drink Absolute vodka while dancikng to hits from Abba. I would expect no less at a Swedish wedding!
The morning after, we viewed the photos on the big TV and the bride and groom were extremely happy. I took many can say that I too am pleased.
We spent an enjoyable afternoon at a nearby lake we nick-named 'Snake Lake' because the banks were crawling with snakes. I have never seen one place with so many wild snakes. Cricket games and cold lake swims rounded off a nice afternoon under a mild Swedish sun.
Monday = travel day. Today we go to Gottland, a large island SE of Stockholm. It's the largest island in the Baltic with a VERY long history. Two hours by car, then a 4 hour ferry ride, with cars. This is a HUGE ferry. There are 12 of us in 2 cars, one of which is a van. This is Quenten and Christina's honeymoon and they are taking us with them! On the ferry across, knowing Quenten, none of us were surprised when he came back to us from the toilet to say his new wedding ring had falled down the drain of the washbasin!! Fortunately the maintenance man fished it out!
The old walls towers and battlements of the old town greet you on arrival at the dock at Visby and it reminded me of Tallin.
What a location! We are staying right on the beachfront just a couple of kilometers north of the town. 3 chalets, each with a full ocean view through the bay window. There are even swans aswimming in the water out front. MMmm! Photogenic sunsets coming up methinks.
We went into town for dinner and Quenten was keen to share his favourite Swedish dish - plank steak. Steak cooked on a piece of wood that's been bordered with piped mashed potato. As twilight set in, sitting there with friends, at a restaurant in the cobbled main square of Visby, in the shadow of a 13th century church was memorable.
I'm sharing the chalet with Lisa, Beverly and Jennifer, 40 something friends of C&Q. This morning we took a pleasant walk along the beachfront. The water is freezing and this is the only time I have ever stayed on a beach, in summer and not swum. There were many flowers to photograph, so I was happy.
We spent the afternoon exploring the town of Visby. This is like Tallin in many ways: UNESCO heritage listing, ancient walls and battlements, medieval examples aplenty.
The big difference and the one I loved the most - NO TOURISTS!
How they keep somewhere so cool a secret I'll never know. Put it in your plans - Visby, Gottland, Sweden. (The Swedes fill it up for July, but right now it's June, and quiet.)
With a rendezvous planned, I took the chance for some time alone, for the first time in over a week. As I do, I wandered the narrow cobbled streets and ancient alleyways of Visby.
I discovered the solution to the skateboard 'problem' - cobblestones. Guaranteed to piss off any skateboarder. There were none.
I explored 800 year old churches and again had them to myself. One church had gargoyles galore, which I dutifully photographed for my gargoyle-collecting friend Natia. What's a gargoyle? Here is her link if you are interested in gargoyles http://www.aboutnatia.com/art/gargoyles.htm
Late afternoon saw our chalet indulging in all sorts of gourmet nibblies, including: salmon gravadlax, pickled herrings, cornichons, pates and terrines, and a selection of Swedish crispy breads. We have picked up the name Charcuterie Chalet and I think it fits. All 4 of us are 'foodies' and we're loving the variety of different things available. Herrings in mustard sauce? MMmm!
That night we had a communal barbecue followed by the Sweden WC soccer game on TV. Tonights sunset was an amazing shade of magenta unlike any I have seen.
Quenten's brother and wife left today and after seeing them onto the ferry, we wandered through the old town as a group of now 10. The highlight was a glassblower's studio and gallery.
Our chalet offered to cook dinner for all tonight and the actual job fell to me and I was happy to oblige. More than just the enjoyment of cooking, I cook because I get pleasure from other people enjoying the food I've cooked. A charcuterie platter (see above) was followed by Dill-baked Salmon fillet served with sauteed vegetables and fresh fettuccini in 3 colours. I know I'm in the right job, when not only do I enjoy doing it, others enjoy the fruits of my efforts. We had a really fun night and shared some drinks and good times together in what turned out to be a noisy night in our chalet.
Exploring Gottland Day
Gottland is actually quite a large island and over 100 km north to south. We took the cars and headed north from Visby to the island of Faro off the north tip.
On the way we stopped at Bunge, an open air museum featuring runestones and buildings from all over Gottland. There are many Viking ruins on Gottland as it was a major trading centre for them and other conquerers since. I loved Bunge and not only was it very interesting, it was very photogenic and I took one or two pix.
There's no bridge to Faro, so after crossing on the regular car barge, we continued exploring. Attractive churches surrounded by mortarless stone walls caught our attention, as did a cluster of old fisherman's shacks on the waterfront. One of the things we did aim for were some limestone pinnacles on the beach of the NE corner. Interesting and a much-photographed part of Gottland, bound to appear in any promotional pictures. There were photogenic, but the overcast light did me no favours.
We all had a quiet night tonight, as tomorrow is..........
Midsummers! Friday the 23rd of June.
This is the BIG one for Swedes and we weren't going to miss out.
The four of us in our chalet had a lovely champagne brunch to kick-start our festivities.
Early in the afternoon, we all headed into Visby to the botanical gardens for the traditional May-pole dance. Glorious weather, and as we sat in the sunshine with our picnic, one of the things I really appreciated was that this was the 'real' Swedish culture, not some dress up acting show for bus loads of tourists, as there were none.
Our evening was spent 'at home' in the traditional Swedish manner of a 'family' meal of pickled herrings and other nibbly goodies. Oh! and Absolute vodka of course!
We had a great evening as a group and as enjoyed another beachfront sunset as we sat together outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather while having a few drinks, as you do on Midsummers. Later we headed into town to continue the party. The rest weren't as energetic as me, so I left them and went nightclubbing. I haven't danced this much in ages. There was one entrance fee to two clubs and each and different music and vibes in different areas. I said hello to Red Bull and enjoyed the up-tempo area most. On closing at 2am, everyone got thrown onto the streets together, making a wait for a cab needlessly long.
Saturday and back to Stockholm.
i would have liked to sleep off my hangover, but with bags to pack and a chalet to clean, it was not an option.
Safely on our 11am ferry back to the mainland, I was not the only one of our group who slept at least part of the 4 hour journey. We then had an hours drive north to Stockholm.
Tonight we watched Sweden drop out of World Cup contention. Quenten Christina and I stayed with a good friend of hers, Anna. (I stayed with Anna and Michael in 2004 when I came to Sweden the first time.)Match over, we had a quiet evening catching up in the kitchen of their small 1 bedroom apartment. I slept on the couch and Q & C had a mattress on the floor.
They were up and gone by 5am to fly to the USA to begin their 2-year round-the-world adventure working on a billionaire's luxury boat. Quenten is their chef and Christina is the stewardess.
SUNDAY IN STOCKHOLM HAD ME BOBBING IN THE WATER OF THE HARBOUR! What the?
Mikael Anna and I had brekkie together before they went off to play golf and I headed off to find the activity I had in mind today. Not only would I end up bobbing in the middle of Stockholm harbour it really did turn out to be bigger mission than I'd planned.
I went kayaking in Stockholm. Sounds simple enough.... The kayak rental place had a small advert on the free tourist map and I thought "Perfect!" I'd paddled regularly in Perth in preparation for my Svalbard North Pole adventure later in this trip, but I hadn't paddled since leaving home. Now was my chance.
I intended to do a 10km 2 hour paddle, but it became a 4 hour 20km lesson in why they should have supplied maps. Stockholm is a city on several islands that form part of an archipelago. Kayaking is the perfect way to see the city as canals and waterways abound. It began okay as I paddled along a narrow tree lined canal with ducks and ducklings passing by. It took me to the large body of water in front of the main part of Stockholm. I bobbed my way across because the waves from passing boats crossed waves being bounced from the concrete sides, making the water very choppy. It tested my balance skills in the kayak, but half-way across, I paused, looked around and had a real "WOW" moment as I admired the buildings that make Stockholm so pretty and got a real sense of place - in the middle of Stockholm harbour! I continued in the circular direction as planned, but on exiting this canal, I couldn't find the rental place. I circled islands and went up and down canals finding new and larger open bodies of water, each with offshoots.
Sometimes when I wander, I do get lost! Bugger!
My water bottle was long empty and I still had a boat to return, if only I could find them. Their closing time was fast approching, but I was not. Eventually I saw the Stockholm city centre town hall clock spire in the distance and knew I could find my way back from there. It was way longer than I'd hoped, but I had a fantastic day.
Dinner tonight was at a Thai restaurant called 'Pong'. It didn't and the food was tasty.
I returned to Anna and Mikael's walking along the waterfront as the city was bathed in the golden glow of a Scandinavian summer sunset.
Monday 26th June I fly from Stockholm to Vienna.
Some thoughts and observations from Sweden.
Most cultures, including Swedes, smoke cigarettes, however the Swedes have something else, called snus. Tobacco in a tiny teabag that they place in their mouth and absorb the nicotine and taste that way. Not a Rome moment for me.
Alcohol - Finland had government run 'Alko' bottleshops. Here in Sweden they are also few and far between but they are called 'System Bolaget'. On trying to buy a couple of drinks one afternoon, I found out they don't sell cold beer, "Because you might drink it straight away." That was what I had in mind!
Sweden has a real problem with a binge drinking on Friday/Saturday culture and the government is trying to get them to adopt a more Continental, regular but moderate, approach. Unfortunately at the moment they have embraced both!
I love checking out supermarkets to see what different people consider normal and to get an idea of what is available where. I love finding interesting things that are either expensive for me at home or unavaliable. I have noticed that every country, no matter how expensive, has its 'bargain' foods. In Sweden that was pickled herrings and caviar, both in many flavours. MMmm!
Having wondered how people in Scandinavia deal with the 24 hour light in summer, I started this trip glad to have my eye mask, but now I am used to the all night light, it no longer wakes me and I haven't used the mask in awhile.
Maybe I will need it at the North Pole? I'll let you know.
Swedish souvenir? If I thought my bag was heavy as a rock, perhaps my Swedish souvenir of a piece of fossilised coral has something to do with it. I found this amongst a piece of gneiss while exploring Gottland. The coral has crystalised into quartz. It will join my bowl of random rocks collected while wandering this amazing planet.
YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN SWEDEN WHEN-
- Paying $10 for a beer seems normal.
Every sign has 'fart' in it. (There's upfart, utfart and genomefart. Fart means exit, apparently.)
In the supermarket there are 57 flavours of meatballs, but not one type of baked beans.
Every barn is painted red.
Pert is not just a brand of shampoo.
Everything you buy has dill in it.
Before you throw anything out, you have to decide which of 7 bins to place it in.
The deposit on your Coke bottle is almost as much as the Coke.
Just because summer is only 6 weeks long, doesn't mean everday is sunny.
Chocolate bars have names like Chocolate Plopp. Hungry for a Plopp?
They dance around the Maypole in June.