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Published: July 31st 2015
The cheapest way to fly to Skellefteå was from London with Ryan Air. There are very few airlines travelling to the north of Sweden and amazingly, we found a budget airline that did. This was a main reason why most of our travels were based from London. The last time I had visited Skellefteå it had involved a flight to Stockholm and then a 10 hour bus ride north overnight, so this was still much more convenient and economical.
On arrival at Stansted, in London, we were greeted by 2 very young police officers standing together holding machine guns. They were surrounded by excited children wanting to look at their guns and the officers were proudly obliging.
Stupid me, took a photo because I wanted an example of how sick this society has become and carelessly my flash went off. Tomas was horrified with what I had done and, of course, I had to live down the consequence of being told off by a young kid in uniform holding a machine gun.
My first impression of Sweden from the plane was how much water was covering the country. Lakes and rivers cutting through the land mass for
miles. Then the little red cottages scattered randomly and vibrant green everywhere.
Most of the plane load was speaking Swedish and I was getting nervous at hearing the language. I remember how it felt 15 years ago when I was last here and I was the odd one out. I was the one who spoke Swedish with the accent and couldn't really express myself properly. I acted differently, looked differently and thought differently and I couldn't help but stick out back then. Immigrants were fairly new to Sweden 15 years ago and I didn't feel so comfortable.
Once out of the plane the queue ran out of the tiny airport terminal. Lining up outdoors until we were through customs. I could feel that it would be time to unpack the thermals and warmer clothing which hadn't been out of my bag since leaving Melbourne.
Tomas' sister picked us up and took us to her place for a cuppa. I decided I would stick to English so that I could express myself best and if I was misunderstood it would not be my mistake. It worked well. They could all relax and keep speaking Swedish,
which I understood and I could just join the conversation in English. Later they confessed that they had been nervous about the possibility of having to speak English. We were loaned bicycles for our use while we were there. This made me happy as I always feel free and happy when I am on a bicycle. It wasn't compulsory to wear a helmet and there were good bike tracks everywhere.
After a few hours in town my observation was at noticing just how many immigrants now live in Sweden and have integrated. It was obvious in their accents and faces. Much had changed here with the population in 15 years. I appreciated how difficult it would have been for them to integrate into such a small town.
We had 16 days in Skellefteå. Tomas relatives and friends filled many of the days and we also had some renovation to do on the cabin in which we were staying.
Our cabin was in the beautiful 200 year old village of Bonnstan. It was a simple room which had no electricity nor water but it was our own space, cosy and quite social.
The cabins were
built 300 years ago to house people who travelled from the farms to attend church services. The entire village burned down and then was relocated and rebuilt a little further from the church 200 years ago. They are totally built of wood and have a unique character. Some have a little lean in one direction or another and look like they are alive and morally supporting each other for survival after years of standing up against the harsh elements. There is a central toilet block and a well to which people drive to specially to fill containers with the best drinking eater in town. A bike and walking path traveled directly in front of our cabin. A bonus which I couldn't understand why more people didn't appreciate other than myself was the free offering of abundant, unsprayed stinging nettles. I picked it wearing my old ski gloves and cooked up a serving almost every evening with my meal. A fantastic and tasty source of nutrition. Even Tomas appreciated it!
None of the cabins are lived in full-time but many are visited regularly and used for escape or summer parties. All are owned by locals and usually passed on over
generations. I thought that we were very lucky to have such exclusive accommodation. Our downstairs neighbours hosted a weekly dinner party with friends in their cabin
Adding to the atmosphere of where we were staying was a twice weekly free exercise class on the lawns. In Swedish it was called "Friskis and Svettis", so I, jokingly, just called it Frisky and Sweaty. Each class was different with a different instructor. Some days it was dance and others were more traditional work outs. When the whether was sunny about 100 people were in attendance and it was only a few metres from our cabin.
Summer harshly and abruptly disappeared upon our arrival. There were some attempts of a return visit but it never really managed to turn the dial up very high. After a month of heat in Greece and then in Prague the thermals were unpacked and got good use. Weather went to grey and wet lows on occasional days.Relatives and friends kept us busy with parties and get togethers. Our stay here involved many more obligations than our previous two locations during which time was free for ourselves.
We had a surströming party
Anna Karin and Me
Cycling along the Skellefteå River
(smelly fish party) at Tomas sisters' to celebrate Tomas 50 the which was in June. Also Individual invitations from all of the 4 aunts and families who lived locally. This included a visit to the remote, old but renovated property where Tomas' grandparents raised their 7 children and where the youngest of the aunts now lives. This property has now been equipped with the most advanced, environmentally friendly heating I have ever heard of. They used to bore for heating below ground but now use a 500 metre heating coil that runs through their field and absorbs heat from under the soil. Both methods are apparantly extremely low in electricity usage and I didn't understand why they weren't more common in the rest of the world..
Tomas' sister, Helene and her partner Håkan were very supportive during our stay. They provided a little luxury outside of living in the cabin. There we had the occasional shower, cuppa and meal. Their household was a constant flow of activity and drama with grown up kids coming and going.
Friends, Janne and Mia, made a special trip from
Luleå to visit us. I first met them back in the
90s when living in Luleå with Tomas. It had been at least 15 years since we last caught up. It was very special to see them again. I felt that we had a special connection and conversation was relaxed and comfortable. We also got to meet the new addition to their family, Ronda, a Spanish water hound.
Anna Karin made us feel very special by traveling all the way from Stockholm and staying 3 days in Skellefteå where she had never visited before. Anna Karin is an inspiring, free-spirited person who lives simply and has travelled and worked in many different places. We met in 1997 when I worked in Björkliden in the north of Sweden and she has always made a special effort to stay in touch.
On one of the few sunny days that she visited we were whisked off to Piteå with Tomas' family see a niece perform in the Piteå Music Festival. Her passion for finding the most perfect and historic cafe rewarded us with discovering cafe Lille Marie, which became my favorite.
Tomas' mother and father lived in a nursing home a short cycle on the opposite side of the river
from where we stayed. Our first visit to them on the day we arrived was very emotional. There was an initial shock of how their health had deteriorated since last seeing them and the terrible effects of the Alzheimers on his mother. I had never really experienced the effects of this disease. She was pretty much unresponsive to everything and it was not evident that she recognised him as as her son. This has also taken its toll on Tomas father as well.
The initial mood was brightened by the free Trädstock's (Woodstock) music festival, only a 10 minute walk from where we were living on our first weekend.
The festival brought crowds of people back to Skelleftea from every direction making it loud, lively and colourful. It was one of the most unexpected, enjoyable surprise of being there. We made a point to try to see as many events as our old bodies could cope with, dancing along to everything from silent discos, heavy metal bands, hip hop, rock, cello, sound carpets, boy bands, teeny boppers and fossil bands. Everything was unique, very local and most of it was fun.
renovation to the cabin took up a few solid days. Flaky paint had been raining over us until we spent a full day scraping and getting covered in fine dust. More hours to clean ourselves and the cabin and then another 2 days painting. Disappointingly the result was not fantastic but Tomas felt that it was important to protect the wood from moisture which could possibly rot it over the years.
The final coat was done on our very last day, which was quite stressful. There were so many jobs needed to be done and still another aunt wanting us to visit.
Apparently, Sweden was due to change their notes again in the next year so I wanted to rid myself of any unspent notes. Only 2 years ago Sweden printed new bank notes and the ones I had brought with me from my last visit were out of circulation and needed to be posted to the Swedish Bank in Stockholm. They took a fee of 100 kronor for this service. It was annoyingly frustrating as I had arrived with this money to avoid difficulties and this had backfired and become costly.
We finished to
A Surstömming Makka
A fermented herring that smells like an open sewer that many Northern Swedes love to eat.
paint job and cleaned the cabin to spotless perfection, showed it off to our downstairs neighbours. Visited the bank numerous times during the day before we got things right, thanks to Swedish bureaucracy. Had 3 hours at the aunts for afternoon tea and then cycled to say goodbye to Tomas parents.
It was another emotional visit. Tomas showed his mother a photo of himself as a child and she burst into happy laughter for a second as she seemed to remember who he was. The same happened again as he hugged her goodbye. I knew Tomas was very sad at the thought that it may be the last time she recognised him or that he may see her, or his father for that matter.
Helen and Håkan and Josephine were sitting at the dinner table when we arrived for our farewell dinner after 7 pm. They were practicing willpower in waiting for us as they stared at their gourmet salad platters, that looked irresistible.
It was a pleasant dinner and conversation where for the first time I felt more relaxed and open with them.
After packing I was treated to a 45 minute programmed massage
on a massage chair, so in all it was a great night for our last night.
Tomas sister flew to Stockholm an hour before our flight to London departed so we all travelled to the airport together.
I left Skelleftea excited to resume the adventure of exploring new places again.
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