I am now back in our virtual kitchen/hangout space after a short but sweet break in Sweden. These are my favourite things I got up to there, in no particular order. I thought I’d share them with you in case you ever visit.
- Go for a run and bring a plastic bag
Swedes are moving people, and you can’t really be there for long without feeling that, really, you ought to be moving too. Hiking, running, swimming, all exercise seems to be achievable in a Swede’s busy schedule, and if it can be done outside in nature, even better. But remember to bring a plastic bag. Yes, even if you haven’t got a dog with you. After your however many kilometres in the running track, you step off into the woods, avoid the occasional deer or elk, and pick whatever is in season (blueberries and chanterelles in August time). Then, sweaty and probably rather mosquito bitten, you head home with the fruit of your exercise and the fruit of the forest.
- Eat lunch
Particularly in the countryside, you come across restaurants that cook a proper hearty meal from around lunchtime to late afternoon. Rock up and find the pile of trays, this is where you start. Grab a tray and load it with as many different kinds of plates, cutlery, glasses and mugs you can find, you will need them all. There will probably be some form of homemade saft to drink, much more exciting and sugary than water. Order your main dish from someone who looks like they want to take your order, then head over to the salad bar – this is where you get your money’s worth. Swedes are good at salads, and won’t frown if you take a particularly large helping. Bread and butter is of course also included. Munch away at it and your main soon arrives. You get enough food to keep you going for the rest of the day. Oh, and there is of course coffee and tea to top it all off. Many places now seem to have joined the local food-hype, and grow much of their food themselves – such as Gunnebo (who also provide amazingly detailed map of their kitchen gardens) or Kosters Trädgårdar.
- Stay in a youth hostel
Say goodbye to huge, sweaty dormitories with beds at peculiar angles, overly bright lights in the ceilings and odd 3am door slamming – Swedes have taken youth hostels to another level. You and your group will most likely get your own room, no doubt in some converted barn/smithy/mill with original wooden beams in the ceiling, a well stocked pentry complete with every cheese slicer and washing up utensil you could wish for, and an information booklet covering all the interesting sights and walks in the area, where you can do your laundry, how you access the internet, and where you should go for your fika. You bring your own sheets and you clean after yourself – it’s as simple as that. I stayed in this one for my sister’s wedding last week.
- Explore the archipelago (but not in July)
The West Coast, Bohuslän in particular, offers a stunning archipelago with an array of uninhabited islands, natural lagoons ideal for swimming, mackerel abundant waters, and plenty of hidden titbits of paradise. Find someone who knows the area and they can take you out to an island, moor off the cliffs there, you swim, sunbathe, read a book and eat your packed lunch, fish for crabs and let them back into the sea, discover trees that grow in the most unexpected places and wonder at how brightly coloured rocks actually are. But beware, in July the waters and islands are absolutely crammed (the cries of humans are infinitely more annoying than the cries of seagulls) as this is when all Swedes are on holiday. Go towards the end of August and you will have all the beauty (and the best weather) to yourself. In case you don’t have access to a boat you can always take one of the small ferries from Gothenburg out to islands such as Styrsö – not as cool but still worth it.
- Go for a fika
Swedes are very good at the in-between-meals-meals. Combine a beverage of your choice (often hot), with a small something or other to munch on, and some good company and you have yourself a fika. Often takes place in the afternoon but can be whenever. Cafés are geared towards this and in the summer you’ll find plenty of cafés with nice outdoor seating (with blankets in case it’s cold) intended for an hour or two’s catching up and gossip. You better stay as long as you can, a cup of tea or coffee often costs a fortune, so make the most of it.
- Go swimming
When you go swimming in the sea or a lake in Sweden, you will most likely do it on the sea’s or the lake’s conditions. Even when visiting swimming areas maintained by the council you won’t find much more in terms of human infrastructure than a jetty and some steps into the water. Often you’ll find yourself climbing/sliding in from the rocks with nothing to help you. This makes the experience so much more enjoyable, you are actually swimming in practically undisturbed nature (just watch out for the stinging jellyfish). And if you observe the locals you will soon learn where the best spots are to get in and out of the water, and which cliffs to lie on to get the most sun and the least wind. People get up early in the morning and run down to the sea, just to hog those spots. No joke.
- Immerse yourself in murder
Swedish summer and murder mysteries seem to go hand in hand. It seems to be the only genre Swedish authors care to write in at the moment, you can by the novels in the tiniest of “livs” (small supermarkets) and not an evening passes without an appropriately sarcastic inspector with his or her equally suitably naïve side-kick gallop around crime scenes and act out overly dramatic or wise-cracking dialogue. Still Swedish summer wouldn’t be the same without that evening stroll, probably to get an ice cream, and then curling up in front of somebody’s old tv in the summer home belonging to someone’s aunt, but seems to be full of kids who are definitely not related to her, and delving into yet another murder mystery.
- Listen to the radio
Sommar i P1 is broadcast every afternoon throughout the summer. Each day a more or less well-known person talks for a couple of hours about whatever they want (often what they care about), and intersperse their musings with music of their choice. Quite often it’s along the lines of “I was very shy at school, I never told my mum how I really felt about her cooking, and now I’m a famous actor” – which has it’s own charm and is suitable as background noise when you’re boiling new potatoes or doing crossword puzzles in the shade. But sometimes you get really good programmes, like this one, held by Johan Rockström, climate scientist, about why and how we can act on climate change. It was so popular that he also recorded it in English.
9. Have a barbeque
It’s social, it’s fun, everything tastes better. No doubt it will start to rain or be way too windy, but that’s part of the experience.
Somewhere between the morning filmjölk topped off with blueberries and wild strawberries and the final cup of tea enjoyed in the setting sun, there is so much empty space. Actually, what I’ve enjoyed most is not filling it but letting it be that way – so forget this list and just enjoy being alive.
Love from a relaxed and regenerated M