musings from sweden – july 2011

Bergkvara

Tue 26 July

What do you travel for?

1) The thrill comes simply from being on the road. Feeling all responsibility of decision-making lift from my shoulders while on a bus or train that is taking me from somewhere to somewhere. Independence: letting my feet and instincts guide me. Physically pushing my own limits – putting up with sleep deprivation and physical discomforts. Just relying on myself and maybe a map and a few kind strangers. And once the weary pack is left in some hostel or CS home, exploring the hidden nooks of a new city.

2) Food, if I can afford it.

3) Meeting locals. Talking to ppl. Some great stories are to be found on the road, and the world is smaller than you think. Everyone has an interesting story…

4) Adding to leaving the comforts of home: being more vulnerable, and therefore taking more risks. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but true.

Wed 27 July

So many thoughts have been going through my head the last two days. Most of these thoughts sound something like this: “This is the perfect vacation.” In fact, this is, I believe, my very first vacation, rather than trip, alone. I’ve simply never needed a vacation before this, and my undeniable sense of adventure and curiosity has meant that in the last few years I would go somewhere to do something or see something. Even Amsterdam had a bit of sightseeing involved, although that perhaps was relaxing enough – with someone taking care of me the entire time – that it was a vacation. BUT it was my first time there, so… This time, now, in southern Sweden, that most beloved of countries, is definitely a “get away from it all” vacation. No internet, no TV, no cell phone. I’m fully independent, relying on nothing but my wits, luck and the unbelievable kindness of Swedes/CSers/human beings.

Like I said, I’ve never been stressed out enough before to justify “going on vacation.” All my previous experiences have been trips and adventures. But man, the last six weeks have been trying. Not rough per se, but tiring.The Experimental Econ presentation that kept getting postponed (and, in the end, never happened); Power Kick (before, during, after); FPA PR; my 20min OASGP presentation in German; Public Choice exam; IPE exam; IPE essay; Experimental paper. Not to mention, planning for this trip was not unstressful itself.

But it all paid off. More than I’d expected, and I’d expected a LOT because it was Sweden.

Karlskrona

At this moment the sun is shining, as it has been the past two days, the water from the Baltic is lapping up against the shore not five metres from this picnic table where I’m sitting and drinking – wait for it – ALE, and crickets are doing their thing in the bushes. I’m wearing the awesome belt I picked up for 20kr at the “Gamla Ting” (2nd hand) shop a few houses down from my “hostel”. I put it in inverted commas because it feels like a poor man’s B&B more than a hostel, which is very typical of STF (Svenska Turisföreningen) accommodations. Family-friendly and cosy. Because, let’s face it, the party animals aren’t gonna come to Bergkvara!

God, I love Sweden so much!! Today I rented a bike and went to Torsås and Gullabo. Aptly named… I was “gullible” enough to think it looked close on the map. It was a 2-lane highway, too. Anyhoo, got there in the end. Not much to see so I headed back. The bike was smoooooth, like the one I rented on Gotland over 2 years ago.

Did I mention how incredibly nice and accommodating and reasonable and flexible Swedes are? I do get the feeling that they’re trying to help make your life easier, rather than rigidly following “company policy”. Also, I’d like to rehash the fact that there is an unparalleled level of trust – and, therefore, trustworthiness – in Sweden. At every other turn I can’t help but wonder, “What’s stopping me from stealing/taking advantage of this?” And the answer is simply reciprocity. For pete’s sake, I think Swedes have broken the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I can name numerous examples.

I was in Karlskrona before this. It’s a cute, hilly town that consists of a main peninsula and several connected islands. It used to be a former naval base.

Malmö: my host Julia

And before that I was in Malmö, after a long and rainy wait for my connection in Copenhagen, but which allowed me to strike up conversation with a young man named Ivan, also from Hamburg, formerly from Kurdish Iraq. I’d arrived on a cold and dark and rainy night, kinda miserable – almost scared – wondering: “What am I doing here? What made me think this would be a good idea?” That changed when I got to Julia and Matthias’ flat, to which they welcomed me warmly and made me feel quite at home. They were friendly and interesting and open – and funny – and their two cats warmed my heart. Theo was particularly social and took a liking to me… Julia spent the next afternoon with me, strolling through the city. Later Matthias joined us and I got to experience fresh pasta for the first time. Unbelievable, and so different from store-bought.

My next CS hosts Elisabet and Quinn were also awesome. Unforch didn’t spend so much time with them, but they were super easygoing, generous and had an open hospitality that was very “American” (or North American). Well, Quinn WAS American, so.

Did I mention that the Karlskrona tourism office had free toilets and showers? I MEAN.

There’s absolutely nothing to do tonight except have dinner, read and relax. I. Love. Sweden.

Tomorrow I head to Kalmar, where I’d originally wanted to spend 2 days. I’m so glad and grateful things worked out this way intead. Then Stockohlm, and Em’s already made me grin with her text saying “Surprise! We’re gonna drive you and Sandra to Uppsala on Friday!” For which I’m super excited, like beyond words. I haven’t been back in 2 years and am glad my first time back will be with Uppsala Friends.

Honestly, this is the best trip – I mean, vacation – ever!

//Sweden, revisited // Swedish fairytale // The Garden of (Sw)Eden, where all is provided for you – the comforts of life – by a greater authority, who in return demands obedience/taxes. (I mean, there’s already a book on the rise and fall of the Scandinavian WS called “Paradise Lost”)

Thu 28 July

Of Gustav Vasa, 1527: “The king and his court travel between castles, collecting taxes; often in the form of food, which are consumed on the spot.”

Another thing I love about Sweden: Youth prices go till 25 years old, usually. Makes so much sense. The whole point of reduced prices by age is affordability for that age range; before 25 most ppl don’t have a well-paying job.

Sun 31 July

Copenhagen’s no Stockholm, but it’s nice in its own way. The good weather followed me from Stockholm and I’m now sitting at Nyhavn, savouring the sun on my back, wind in my hair, and music playing a ways down the boardwalk. Can life get much more relaxed than this? I don’t want to go back to Hamburg just yet…it’s nice to go somewhere for the second time; I feel no obligation to see the sights an can just chill by the harbour.

Uppsala!

Right, so back to the story… we drove up to Uppsala on Friday. Was it weird? Hmm. HMM. I – H&M, har har. (sorry, just had to) I’m not sure what to think – in fact, I didn’t react much. It was another gorgeous day, and Uppsala IS very pretty, what with Fyriså and Domkyrkan… but listening to Em regale her Snerikes memories made me realise how little time I actually spent “living” in the city. My half-year there was one of the best of my life, but it was such a bubble we/I lived in. I’m not sure I could do it again. That said, it was awesome to have lunch at Cafe Linne (left) and walk around…

The next day I said goodbye to the Dutch delegation – packed up to the ceiling of the car! – and spent the morning breaking fast, reading and napping in the blazing sun on the beach in Vaxholm. Then I hitchhiked with a very decent and friendly man – super nice, almost (!!) took me to Sundbyberg. After 1.5hrs of taking the wrong bus, getting off at the wrong stations and running out of phone credit, I finally got to Sandra’s at 2pm. Sweet flat, great view, delicious lunch. I really enjoy that she talks freely of her experiences, thoughts, what’s troubling her, her hopes… I try to do the same thing but have difficulty with my thick self-filter and an unreconcilable conflict between wanting to avoid appearing young, inexperienced and insecure on the one hand, and wanting to avoid appearing arrogant, overconfident and smug on the other. In reality I am happy with my life and situation, but also hope for and desire something more. Sandra, 3 years my senior, with a wealth of experience, but who treats me like an equal (bless her) is a great exaample of someone who makes things happen and creates opportunities for herself. She encouraged me to outbureaucraticise (if there’s such a word) the DAAD for a scholarship. We headed to Djurgården for the open-air, free Park Teater that evening. V. entertaining, if only that we pretended we understood all the jokes!

The sun is beating at my back still; I could nap. I’m so content and imbued with a sense of hope, if not motivation (hah!).

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