It's Nice to Finally Understand

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July 18th 2011
Published: July 26th 2011
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My first view of Sweden - trees everywhere!
Hej allihopa!

Greetings from my future country of residence. 😉
Aka Sweden.

I arrived in Sweden 3 & 1/2 weeks ago and I have to say, my love for this country remains as strong as ever!

I know this blog entry is a little bit long but believe me, it's full of enthusiasm, happiness and wonderful occassions so it shouldn't be at all difficult to read. 😊

People often ask me what it is I like so much about Sweden. It's a hard question - there's a lot to like (besides the expensive prices). The country is physically very beautiful, both the countryside and the cities. I love Stockholm for its beauty, large range of things to do, cultural diversity, familiarity and most of all, for being my second home. The Swedish people are wonderful and friendly, not at all cold and distant like they're sometimes described.

And most important is my love affair with the Swedish language. I love this language so much! After not having anyone to speak Swedish with for 1 & 1/2 years, I really took the opportunity to speak Swedish as often as possible. My first couple of days were a
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Raising the flag on midsummer eve.
little difficult, as my tongue took time getting used to speaking Swedish again. But after that, it hasn't been a problem at all. Speaking Swedish really makes me happy and apparently it comes through when I'm speaking, which is nice.

Another thing that makes me happy is spending time with my Swedish family and friends, who I haven't seen for a really long time. That's what my trip here was all about really, visiting people. Every time I come back to Sweden, I'm always happy that everyone's always so glad to meet me, even if we haven't had any contact since the last time I saw them.

My time in Sweden began at midsummer, which is the nicest time to be in Sweden. It's the best celebration of the year and everyone's always so happy that it's finally summer. I spent midsummer eve and midsummer day with my friend from school, Jenny, and her family at their house on Älgö, which is a little island just outside Stockholm, at the start of the archipelago. It was great to be with a big family at midsummer and to be out on an island. Midsummer should be celebrated in the
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Midsummer lunch.
countryside, not in the cities.

After midsummer I spent a couple of days by myself in a hostel in Gamla Stan (Old Town) and reacquainted myself with Stockholm. It took a little while to feel comfortable and familiar with Stockholm again but it really is such a fantastic, beautiful city that it wasn't long until I felt at home there.

I felt even more at home when I went to stay with the Flintulls (my support family from when I was living in Stockholm) for a few days. Living with them in their big apartment near the city centre was great - I could pretend I was a real Stockholmer for a few days and to become a Stockholmer (or Swede) is one of my biggest dreams, so I was pretty happy.

I had a great few days being a Stockholmer - I went for a big bike ride to Haga Park, where the Crown Princess and her husband now live; went sunbaking and swimming on a rock by the lake and went to Allsång at Skansen. For those of you who don't know, Allsång is a huge outdoor concert/sing-a-long that's held each week at an open-air
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Midsummer lunch with Jenny's family.
museum in Stockholm and broadcast live on tv. Anyway, one of my Swedish classmates, Danny, was performing at Allsång so I thought I'd go along and see what he's like as a performer these days. It was pretty different to what I remember him performing at school, which was a lot of opera, but he's a fantastic performer! My hopes of going to say hi to him once the concert was over were quickly shot down though when I saw the hoardes of screaming teenage girls that were waiting for him...

I'd decided that I wanted to check out somewhere in Sweden that I'd never been before and for no particular reason, it ended up being Örebro, a city about 200km west of Stockholm. It was very quiet compared to Stockholm but there was an Open Art exhibition on all around the city which livened things up a bit.

Liz came to meet me in Örebro, after a 30 hour trip from Amsterdam, and we've been travelling together since then. On one of our days in Örebro, we spent 7 hours at Gustavsviksbadet, an adventure water park. I felt like such a little kid there! Especially when we
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went down one of the waterslides about 30 times in a row because it was so much fun.

After Örebro, it was back to Stockholm for a very important occasion - dinner at my host family's house. It's always so wonderful to see them again and to be back in the place that was my home for a year. There's always a lot of talking and laughing going on in that house!

From one wonderful family in Stockholm, we went to another wonderful family in Leksand. My support family has a summer house there and we got to stay 3 days in the cutest little guesthouse. Leksand's a wonderful place; it's like going to a theme park for all things stereotypically Swedish. There are red wooden houses everywhere, a huge lake, heaps of forest, cute little villages, Dala horses and Sweden's biggest midsummer celebrations. We went out picking blueberries and wild strawberries, played Kubb, ate dinner outside in the evening sunshine and generally just relaxed and enjoyed how light and green it was there.

Although, my time there became quite challenging because I was really allergic to something there (I have no idea what) and spent a
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Dinner at Jenny's friend's place on Lidingö.
lot of the time with a fuzzy head, lethargy, sneezing and feeling like I couldn't breathe. It took me a really long time to feel better again after being there, but I'm still mystified about what exactly I was allergic to. Quite possibly the grass or trees, which is perfect for someone who's trained as a botanist...

I was hoping that getting away from all the trees, grass and other green stuff would make things better and what better place to go to get away from plants than the middle of the sea? Liz and I took the boat from Stockholm to Helsinki after being in Leksand and it was such a funny experience. I've never been on such a big ship before and a lot of the time, it felt just like being on a tacky cruise ship. There was a karaoke bar full of Finns, a club with a band full of people who were just going through the motions and looked like they'd rather be anywhere else and a tax-free shop full of absolutely everyone! A lot of people left that tax-free shop wheeling huge trolleys full of cases of beer/vodka/any other cheap alcohol they could
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The sun was shining high in the sky when we got home at 4:30am.
get their hands on.

We'd bought the cheapest tickets possible so our cabin (which we shared with 2 others) was deep down in the middle of the ship, under the cars, next to the motor and below the water. I didn't sleep too well because I was a little claustrophobic thinking of where I was sleeping. The journey was beautiful though, out through the Stockholm archipelago in the evening sunshine.

And waiting for us after our 16 hour journey was my friend Omppu! I met her when i was on exchange in Prague so it was great to see her again. She took us to a lake in the middle of a forest to go swimming - it was such a nice place to go swimming.

We were in Finland for just 3 days, just enough time to see Omppu, as well as Tiina and Tiina, 2 other friends who I also met while on exchange in Prague. They arrived back in Helsinki on Sunday after a holiday in the US and we had a really nice picnic lunch together.

And ice cream! Finland has the best vegan sorbet and ice cream! I was amazed at
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The book my essay's published in is at the top right.
all the different types I could choose from - they even had vegan versions of Magnums and Cornettos. I ate a lot of ice cream in my few days in Finland...

I don't think neither my skin nor my tummy have appreciated all the junk food I've been feeding them lately. I've developed a bit of a junk food belly... The problem with being vegan while travelling is that I really want to try the local food of the place I'm in but generally can't because the typical meals are hardly ever vegan-friendly. But the typical sweet foods often are, which is a bit of a recipe for disaster. In Belgium it was dark chocolate, in The Netherlands it was spice cake, in Sweden it was lollies and in Finland it was ice cream.

After Finland it was back to Stockholm again, which had become home base for all our little side trips to various other places. It was always so nice to arrive back in Stockholm because it's so familiar to me. Also because I know a lot of people there and I was hoping that my last block of time in Stockholm would be full of
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The view from my bed in my first hostel in Stockholm.
catching up with these people. It didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped though because a lot of people I'd wanted to meet were sick or away travelling and so I didn't get to meet a lot of people I'd really been looking forward to meeting. I did however get to meet up with Nadja, a friend from school who I hadn't seen since our last day of school in 2003. It was great to see her after 8 years! It was so nice to just sit at a cafe and catch up on the past 8 years and feel like a Swede, sitting drinking chai and speaking Swedish.

The rest of my week in Stockholm wasn't full of any amazing events or anything very newsworthy actually... Because I feel more like a local than a tourist in Stockholm, I didn't have the urge to visit any museums, galleries or souvenir shops - I left all of that up to Liz. While she was off visiting galleries, museums etc, I was generally just wandering around Stockholm and enjoying being there and being among Swedish people. I actually spent a lot of my time that week going shopping. I spent
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Buildings in Gamla Stan.
way too much time on Södermalm, the hip and trendy part of Stockholm, visiting second hand shops, where I made some pretty good finds, such as a brand new pair of Converse for under $50 and a blue antique Dala horse.

The actual purpose for all my time spent shopping was that I had to buy a wedding present! Not something I would normally expect to be doing as a tourist and it was a little hard to manage carrying a very fragile, breakable object along with the rest of my huge amount of baggage. Plus over a kilo of lollies, which may seem like an odd wedding present, but I know how much the bride loves them and I can really appreciate her love for them - they're so good! Although I'm not so convinced about her love for salt licorice...

The reason I had to go shopping for a wedding present was that I had been invited to the wedding of one of my Swedish teachers from Melbourne University. Liz and I headed off to Vadstena, which is a small town south west of Stockholm on the banks of Lake Vättern, the day before the wedding. I'd never been to Vadstena before and it was such a lovely place! The town is quite famous for religious and historic reasons, as it was there that Saint Birgitta founded the first monastery of her Birgittine Order in the 1300s and Vadstena became Sweden's largest pilgrimage site. The Vadstena Castle is also quite well-known and was built under the king Gustav Vasa during the 1500 and 1600s.

As important and impressive as these sites, and the whole town were, the main attraction for me in Vadstena was Maria, my Swedish teacher. I hadn't seen her since she left Melbourne for China at the end of 2009, so it was wonderful to see her again, as well as her daughter Eowyn, who was only a tiny baby the last time I saw her and is now ridiculously cute. Her husband's from Australia/New Zealand so his family had travelled over for the wedding and we ended up spending a lot of time with them, as we were sharing accommodation with them.

The wedding was on Saturday afternoon in the Vadstena abbey church and it was really beautiful. It was a little strange in a way because the church was still open to tourists so there were some who were hanging around at the back of the church watching the wedding. As we walked out and passed by them, it felt a little bit like we'd just been in a theatre performance and they were our audience. Maria's Dad was the priest for the ceremony, which was really special.

After the wedding ceremony, we spent a little time in a garden by the church, then headed to the reception. The reception was so much fun! All of the other guests were great and really easy to get along with - even Liz had a great time and she'd never met anyone involved with the wedding before. It was a bilingual event, to allow for the guest from Aus and NZ and very multicultural. There were guests from all over the place and it was so interesting to meet them all and find out what they do. There were a lot of things organised for the reception, including sing-a-longs, music performances, quizzes, etc. And speeches of course, which were so lovely that I couldn't stop the tears filling my eyes. And the food! Mmmm. I got the most wonderful vegan food, the best I've had for a long time - I even got fruit salad with chocolate mousse and whipped cream!

The wedding was such a wonderful occassion, full of laughter, love and happiness and I'm so glad I got to be there. Maria - congratulations and thanks for a wonderful weekend! It was definitely worth transporting a formal dress halfway around the world in my backpack for!

The day after the wedding we had a tour around Vadstena with Maria's Dad and then it was time to say goodbye and head back to Stockholm. We had one last day in Stockholm, which was spent organising, saying goodbye to the city and meeting Kjell, my Swedish, English and mentor teacher from Södra Latin, my school in Stockholm. I love meeting up with Kjell, he's always so enthusiastic and happy to see me and it's great to have him to blabber to in Swedish. Last time I visited Stockholm I surprised him by turning up at the school unannounced and got the most wonderful reaction I've ever had from visiting someone! This time it wasn't a surprise but it was still just as nice.

And it was a
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Sunrise 3:33 Sunset 22:08 Notice their temperature scale: -25 to +30.
lovely way to spend my last afternoon in Stockholm. I always get sad when I have to leave Stockholm, I feel like I just want to grab onto the city and never leave. On the bus trip to the airport, all I wanted to do was jump out and get in a car going the other way. But I know I'm going to be back in Stockholm again, many, many times and now it was time for me to move on to other destinations that were new and exciting and completely different to Sweden.

Additional photos below
Photos: 107, Displayed: 32


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My weakness...
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The view from my swimming spot.
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Allsång at Skansen, with a rabbit hot air balloon overhead.
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Danny performing at Allsång.
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Danny at Allsång.
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Örebro - Sweden

This photo sums up my trip from Stockholm to Örebro.
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Örebro - Sweden

Part of the Open Art exhibition.

29th July 2011

Loved your blog
Loved your blog and photos of your travels. I agree Sweden looks magic, especially in the Summer! I felt your heart strings pull when it was time to move on! Lots of love. Sue. xxxxxxxxx

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