Sweden is where lakes were invented, and they are not at all modest about them; they put them everywhere. If you enjoyed eating wood and drinking water, this is the perfect place for you. Forests, lakes, lakes, forests, trees, water, forests, a red house and another lake with a small boat in the forest...
My first impression on arrival was that it felt a lot like home in New Zealand. The vegetation and landscape both look a little different, but there is a lot of space and it's very green. Stockholm, in size and distribution as well as proximity to water, feels very similar to Auckland, and has a rather charming old town at it's centre. The city is a rather confusing network of canals, islands and bridges that will have most people disorientated for a while. Old ships a plenty, and with the sun shining warm and long, it is a beautiful city to explore in summer. With my friend Kristina as guide, I had a day on a bike in Stockholm; enough to see a lot of the central islands, swim, get lost and get a feel for the place.
Rättvik, 4 hours north on the train
through forests with lakes frequently seen through pine foliage, is Kristina's home in the Dalarna region, which is a great place to get a glimpse of a very traditional swedish scene. Here one finds a large lake (Siljan), much forest, with more lakes scattered around and small clusters of little red woodhouses with white trim on the windows. To me the landscape feels a little surreal; like a toy town in a miniature set.
The sun shines until midnight here before dipping and giving the impression that evening has arrived. With twilight light, I am anticipating night and thinking about maybe going to bed, when I start to notice that it is getting lighter again and the sun is starting to peak above the horizon (it's 2am!). So , tired and confused I go to bed.
When I wake, the day is blazing sunlight and feeling nice and warm. I am still tired, but not wanting to miss a beautiful day, I get up, dress and go out to the backyard. Its a beautiful warm day and I'm feeling a little hungry; it must be almost lunchtime by now and I wonder where the others are. I look
for a clock and blink a few times to take it in: it's 3:30am. Still confused I creep back to bed and try to sleep through the bright day outside. I repeat the exerscise at 5:20am. At 10am, awake at last, I am still tired and it feels like mid-afternoon. And so it goes on as I descend into a world of environmentally enduced insomnia. Each day my rhythm moves further from 'normal' and life feels more surreal.
At the holiday house in Born, a 20km cycle through small villages and forest trails, the family has a floating Sauna on the lake. From the forest at the lake edge, it is a cold swim or a short row to the small floating red woodenhouse with white trim windows and a sauna inside. We sauna until 21:00, then we have time for dinner before we take the rowboat out at 23:00 and paddle across the lake to check out an old Viking house on the far shore. The lowlight conditions on the calm lake waters creates a truly unworldly atmosphere, surrounded by a forested lakefront, studded with small red woodhouses with white trim windows.
"A viking house has no
windows to save light"
"No, I mean energy, making it easssier to stay warm."
Knacki brod - a dry bread often accompanied with cheese or pickled fish, the wood-game Kubb - like a combination of tenpin bowling and chess, and "Smacka Bra" - the way to say enjoy your meal - essentials in the Swedish experience.
I set out alone with thumb and guitar hoping to get to Göteberg. Hitching is Sweden is not ideal. There is a ton of traffic on the road due to summer holiday season, but it seems everyone is in such a hurry to drive somewhere very slowly, that they have no time to stop for me. I keep myself occupied, amused and sane by playing guitar. To drive straight to Göteberg requires something around 5 hours. When I arrive at midnight, it has taken me over 13 hours to get there. I have spent around 7 hours strumming a plucking my strings on the side of the road, seen some 20,000 people drive past and had lifts in 7 vehicles, including the ice-cream guy from Rättvik - he told me I would be better off on the train, and he was
Göteberg has Sweden's number one tourist attraction, an amusement park.
"I heard there is a secret island somewhere with some cool boulders on it that you have to swim to! We could do that tomorrow..."
And so it was that we ended up swimming across a channel to arrive at 'the secret island of great potential'. A beautiful place with many granite boulders, but I think that 'great potential' refers to the potential to make up a story to get others to brave the mud and thorns too.
It was a very special experience though and the area was truly beautiful. We managed to hail a small boat to get our gear across dry. The coast was adorned with small, domed granite boulders and across the channel a small harbour village of red houses with white-trimmed windows shone in the soft sunshine
The highlight of my day was my swim with Erik. He decided we could jump off the jetty into the shallow water below. I dived in, nice and flat, followed by Erik, who buried his head briefly in the soft, smelly mud on the bottom!
Again, with thumb as transport,
but this time as two of us (Viking and I), we managed a couple of great rides, including a large and luxurious brand-new tourist bus, to Jonkoping.
Eventually we arrive in Viking's house near Gräna. The house is a red woodhouse with white-trim windows in the forest overlooking a lake. In the forest we march through the berries to a small ravine where Viking has cleaned several granite boulders to satisfy the needs of a frustrated climber. We combined this with a visit to the local candy factory (Sweden's number 2 tourist attraction) and several retired mills on a small stream that fed the impressively beautiful Jonkoping lake.
On my final day, taking every precaution I could, I barely made it to the airport for my flight - and only because on two occasions I leapt onto the highway in front of cars in an effort to get them to stop for me. From the air one gets a good overview of the country. I saw forest, lakes, trees, water...
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