Sunday, October 2, 2022

Sweden



Nikville

I have a bit of a social head start when it comes to Sweden. Back in the USA of the 90’s I met the enigma named Niklas Gunnarsson at the rock-climbing gym. He’s literally good at everything, smart, patient, and a hell of an athlete. In my faulty memory I recall that once we met, we immediately became fast friends and spent every weekend together camping and climbing. But that’s hero worship clouding reality. The truth is less rapid and dramatic but it is factual that he introduced me to his circle of Swedish students and nannies and I would thereafter become fixated on the Nordic cultures. We eventually became house mates and even when he ultimately moved back to Sweden, I would hunt him down and force my company on him. From Stockholm to Sundsvall with Mora and Uppsala thrown in for good coverage he showed me his country 25+ years ago and I’ve been showing up on his doorstep ever since. In fact, you may have heard me refer to Sweden as “Nikville”. 



“Welcome To Sweden!”

We took a huge ferry with Encore riding in the bowels of the freighter and AB and I warm in the upper decks watching the German seaside give way to open ocean and then closing on the Swedish port of Trelleborg. Our first night was in a serene little village with free wifi, a giant grocery store with a huge selection of delicacies, and roving hoards of cute polite blonde kids who said hello to strangers. There was a rustling in a nearby bush and Aleja said, “wait, look – there is a rat in there and it’s coming out. Shh…” 30 seconds later it appeared and it was the worlds cutest hedgehog. I think that’s a fitting “Welcome to Sweden story”. Everything is cuter, safer and friendlier.



From The Balkans To The Baltics

This leg of the trip started in Zagreb Croatia. Aleja’s mama flew in and we spent 8 days driving from there to Hamburg, Germany. We traveled through Slovenia, Austria and of course Germany. She marveled at the heights of human civilization. She noticed things that our eyes had missed. There are no billboards as you travel through Germany. We didn’t catch that. I repaid the favor when we were in Goslar: “Aura, listen – do you hear that? Total silence…” Maybe civilization is neighbors respecting your peace and quiet. (And if you order now, we’ll throw in well-behaved children for free.) 



Malmo

Ullet was 20 when she moved to Tempe AZ. She met Greg and Annelie. She married Greg, and Annelie married her brother. I’d say that American trip had a lasting impact. Greg and Ullet gave us a very soft fun landing in Malmo and the friendship trail began. 



Greg, Ullet and Petter - The Malmo Mafia
Vaxjo

Stefan is another friend from Tempe in the 90s. A gentle soul who grew up to be a business executive. It’s so rewarding to see these Swedes all grown up in their comfortable homes when the last time I knew them they were living in beat down college apartments and riding bicycles. Stefan and his wife Annelie (different Annelie) cooked us a great meal and we bore witness to her green thumb gardens that surround their home. 




Stockholm

I told you this was the friendship joyride around Sweden. I just went from smiling face to smiling face. Anders Eldh is the man who christened me an honorary Swede decades ago and I’ve tried to live up to the integrity ever since. Occasionally I fall short. We were quickly joined by Martina and Annelie (yes – that Annelie) as the long afternoon refused to dim into night. Drinks were had, stories were remembered and long-standing friendships were reinvigorated. 

Anders, Annelie and Martina - Some of the best

Midsommar In Falun!

These are the gentle Vikings that the world has inherited from their hardscrabble ancestors. They pay homage to their pagan rituals of old and we lucky tourists delight in being welcomed into this brass ring experience. 



Decorating the May Pole



Raising the May Pole

May Pole festivities. It’s all fun and games until the human sacrifices begin

Perfect Swedes in training
Swedish Midsommar Delicacies

I’ve never been to a 48-hour party before. Here are the secrets to success: Drink pacing, highly structured, regularly planned feedings, a theme planted in the middle, a gorgeous setting, generous hosts and Swedes – lots of Swedes. Annika and Thomas were our gracious hosts who opened their lake house to us all. Contests, paddle boarding, high quality food, sauna, rinse and repeat. The sun never sets so we pulled the blinds in the camper, got our 7 hours and woke up to do it all again. The cast didn’t change. We welcomed the day with the same smiling people who wished us goodnight the well-lit evening before. The bubbling of the Swedish language melds with the water lapping the lakes shore and paradise is realized with a rhubarb gin & tonic in hand. Was it the best party ever? – it might have been. It just might have been.

So inclusive!! - They made us feel like old friends from the minute we walked in




Bingjostamman!

Is music really just math? Let’s do the numbers: Take 2 brothers, 1 jovial married guy with a hall pass and 1 Clark Olafsson sound alike - pitch their tents next to Square Bob Encore in a field of 1,000 musical geniuses and let’s see what happens… Roving packs of minstrels! I’ve never seen anything like this and I doubt many have. Highly accomplished musicians roam around the enormous campsite/temporary village and create impromptu music with total strangers who soon become good friends. 




The Long Drive North

Sundsvall, Umea, Lulea, Kiruna. We spent one night in each spot. That’s rare for us. As a standing order we usually spend at least 2 nights at each stop so we can poke around and look under the skirts of the city, but not on this leg. Our marching orders were clear – “Wake up and drive! Norway or bust!”



Sweden loves to put a speed camera at the bottom of a hill with the smallest of road signs to announce the max legal speed. We squint and brake. It’s a dirty trick but that and the mosquitos are about the only thing I can complain about. The roads are good and the rest stops come complete with everything a motorhomer needs

Do you see a resemblance? Maybe something in the eyes?


In the north they don’t say “yes” with a “ja” (pronounced “ya”) they just suck in air through pursed lips. It’s the oddest thing when you first encounter it. You’re telling a story and as confirmation that they are listening they start practicing birthing labor techniques. One thinks: “Are they in distress?” No, they are just being good listeners. I think only the Swedes are smiling now. That’s ok. Only my Mom, Audrey, Brina and 5 Swedes ever read these dispatches anyway.



Return to Sweden (Norway will be the next dispatch)

We drove back to Nik’s house for one more party and then made our way south to Malmo and entered Denmark. We had a few more fikas, admitted to ourselves that this place is a utopian summer playground and toyed with the idea of spending every summer in Scandinavia. That’s how good it is. 

Ahh - the Swedish Crayfish Party - An absolute must! The singing binds together the schnapps with the crayfish. Smooth transitions make for a buzzy feast



Fika & Lagom

In order to truly understand Swedish culture, you must at least stand a little closer to the customs of Fika and Lagom. Fika (pronounced Fee-kuh) is the Swedish love affair of coffee breaks with friends, usually with something sweet. “Let’s Fika!” Will always generate a smile and is seldom declined. It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s a tradition of bringing people together and promoting wellbeing. And it’s not a Fika if it’s done alone. Companionship is the real goal. 



Lagom (pronounced Law-gum) is a little deeper and transcends their entire life’s approach. It’s origin story dates to the Viking times of 1000 years ago when the communal cup of beer or wine was passed and the drinker would take only their share – not too much, not too little, just the right amount. Today’s Swedes still practice this moderation in their daily lives. One could find average to be boring but that was not my take away. I saw it as an emphasis on consensus and fairness. Their demure demeanor allows for everyone, and I find that refreshing. 

And they are completely addicted to bearnaise sauce. 

Harvesting lingonberry (another keystone of Swedish culture)

My Salad Days

I'm pretty sure I peaked in college. I had long curly hair, the ability to garner free drinks and I only got beat up once. It was the 80s. Lately I've focused my observational skills on spotting excellence. I meet lots of people, from lots of different places. It comes with the lifestyle. I'm tuned up to watch quietly when today’s youth outperform expectations. I see it now and then when a young man behaves with chivalry, generosity, or silent inward reflection. Or when a young woman betters my history dissertations and exhibits restraint when she could call me on my nonsense. Their manners and panache give the future hope. It’s even all the more rewarding to witness when they are the children of my friends. The former were Ullet and Greg’s sons, the latter were Niklas’ daughters. 

The other sparkle that I get from youth is the glow from igniting that nuclear reactor within this tabula rasa individual standing before me. Usually, kids are too self-absorbed to listen, but occasionally I can witness them realize the scope of my travel stories as their parents introduce me with a synopsis. It's rare, but it's happened that it causes a dilation of the pupils and a visible pulse in the carotid, and though they contain it from those closest to them (we are all experts at that) … I caught it. It was a flash, but I saw it. It’s a gratifying feeling to know I can still have an impact on the same generation that used to buy me drinks and only beat me up once. That's time travel for me. Maybe these are my salad days. And what a rich dessert they are.

Your Honorary Swede,

Bobelibob


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