Social calendars and the real Swedish fish

As the weeks pass, I seem to get busier and busier. Monika and I joke that we just keep adding events to our “social calendar.” Monika and I hang out almost every day–she is just that cool. She also knows a lot of people around town, and thanks to her I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people. She jokes that I’m like a local now, although I don’t know about that. Jönköping does have a nice small town feel to it; the entire municipality, which includes Jönköping, Huskvarna, and other surrounding areas, has a population of about 130,000. Ulrica and Martin, a wonderful middle-aged couple who live in a suburb of Jönköping, tell me that the city has grown quite a bit since they were children–the city is still quite small and quaint compared to a place like Stockholm, but it is a wonderful place to raise a family, and it also has the positive, invigorating influence of the university.

Speaking of Ulrica and Martin, Monika and I accepted a gracious invitation to eat dinner at their house today. We had a delicious meal of salad, crispy salmon encrusted with sesame seeds, seasoned new potatoes, yogurt sauce, and strawberries with glass (ice cream) for dessert. This is the third time I’ve eaten salmon and new potatoes since I’ve been here–it seems to be quite a popular meal in Sweden. Herring is another popular fish around here. It’s a very traditional food to eat during Swedish Midsommar, so I plan to try it on Friday. Midsommar is equal in importance to Christmas in Sweden, and I am looking forward to celebrating with Matthew in Stockholm. Whenever I go to a restaurant for Dagens Lunch (lunch-of-the-day), there are usually three options to choose from: a meat dish, a fish dish, and a pasta dish. I almost always go for the meat dish because I tend to finicky about fish, but Swedes seem to enjoy it enough to have it as a daily lunch option.

This week was the last week of school for gymnasiet (high school) students. The graduating students displayed the unique Swedish graduation traditions in style: on graduation day they all wear white outfits with caps that resemble sailor hats, and after the ceremony they congregate in big trucks or on trailers being pulled by tractors. They then ride throughout the city with signs and loud music that is accompanied with much yelling and honking. It’s quite a sight to see, and I’m glad my friend warned me or I would have been very confused as the countless trucks and tractors drove by my office on Friday. The students also wake up to champagne breakfasts on their graduation days, which sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Yesterday I accompanied the summer students on an excursion to Gränna and Vadstena, two nearby towns. I planned to meet some of the students at their dorm so we could all get on the charter bus together at 8 a.m. On Friday night I told Monika about my plans to walk to the dorm in the morning, and she said that she thought it would be too far. I knew it was about a thirty-five minute walk, but I didn’t mind and I thought I didn’t have any other option since I had no bus pass. But Monika said I could buy a bus pass on the public bus, for the public bus system here is really great and widely used. I decided to take the bus to the dorm instead of walking, and so at around 7:30 a.m. I walked to the bus stop and got on bus #26 heading toward Bankeryd. I knew this was the correct bus, but when I got on and asked to buy a pass, the driver told me in very broken English that unfortunately he did not have any passes. I told him where I was going, he nodded like he understood, and then he told me I could ride for free to my destination. I thanked him and sat down. We went about two stops and I thought that perhaps I should get off at this stop, but I was pretty sure that we would get closer to my destination at the next stop. However at the same time a huge bicycle race was going on throughout the area, so traffic was very bad. I’m not sure if my bus driver skipped a stop or if something else happened, but I ended up about 15 minutes away from where I wanted to go. I had warned the students that they should be on time to get on the charter bus, and of course here I was 15 minutes away from where I was supposed to be and 10 minutes late. I caught the bus going back the other way and hurriedly messaged Camilla, who was the other employee going on the excursion. She told me they could wait for me and that I should go to the central station. I took the bus back to town and this time I once again offered to pay, but I think the driver felt sorry for me because I didn’t know Swedish, and he waved my payment away with a smile. I then sprinted to the central station and found the charter bus and we were finally on our way.

Once in Gränna, we all watched a peppermint-candy making demonstration and sampled the delicious, soft polkagris for which Gränna is known. Camilla and I walked down by the water, (because it seems one can’t escape from water while in Sweden), and chatted while the students attempted to cure their hangovers with coffee and fresh air. The town was so quiet and quaint that it was easy to be at peace–any sound came from either lapping water or crying seagulls. After spending about an hour and a half in Gränna, we took the bus to eat lunch at Per Brahe House. Per Brahe House is the ruins of a castle-guest house on top of a mountain overlooking Gränna. There happens to be a restaurant across the way from the ruins. We ate salmon, salad, and potatoes and I chatted with the students about their experiences in Jönköping so far, and then we made our ways to the ruins, where much picture-taking and exploration occurred. After a beautiful time there, we returned to the bus and made the hour drive to Vadstena. Vadstena was my favorite place of the day because of the tangible history throughout the town. It is known for its downtown, which is organized as if it were a medieval community. Vadstena also has a 700-year old church of breathtaking beauty–inside the floor is made up of tombs, and on the wall there is list of every pastor that has presided over the church since the 1300s. Next to the church is the primary attraction of Vadstena: one of Gustav Vasa’s castles. Gustav Vasa is one of the best-known kings in Sweden because of his success in breaking free from the Danish king, among other people, in the 1500s. The Swedish National Day that I mentioned in my last post is celebrated on June 6th because Gustav Vasa was elected king on this day. He also made Sweden a Protestant nation and commandeered much wealth from churches throughout Sweden. This particular castle was built in the Renaissance style, with an open, geometric courtyard and tall windows. It was originally built as a fortress, but eventually Gustav Vasa’s son expanded the building to become a castle. I thought it was especially cool that any boat can park in the moat surrounding the castle. I would love to, number one, have a boat, and, number two, be able to sail it over to a castle and just park there.

I will at least get the chance to be on a (sort-of) boat tomorrow. One of my colleagues invited me to go canoeing on Lake Vättern, which is the second largest and first deepest lake in the country. If the weather is nice, Monika and I will go for a short canoe trip along the shore of Vättern. I am really excited about this, as I haven’t had the chance to experience the lake yet. (Hopefully I don’t experience it too intimately though, because I hear the water is freezing!) In other events involving the lake, the largest recreational bike race in the world occurred around Lake Vättern on Saturday. The 300 kilometer (186 mile) Vätternrundan occurs every June.

This week I am accompanying the students to IKEA in order to learn more about the company. And then on Thursday, Matt and I will be on our way to Stockholm! Exciting things are ahead. I’m sending lots of love to my dad for Father’s Day–thanks for everything you do! The same goes to you, Papaw!

1. Tractor with high school graduates in tow
2. Students watching the candy making demonstration
3. Per Brahe ruins
4. Lovely Swedish countryside
5. The cute streets of Vadstena
6. Inside the majestic church
7. The list of all the pastors (the first one is from 1380!)
8. Gustav Vasa’s castle

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