Trevlig Midsommar, or Happy Midsummer, to all! Friday, June 21st was Midsummer Eve, which is huge in Sweden. It highlights the Swedes’ unique connection to summer, warmth, and light that we Southerners take for granted. Matthew arrived to Jönköping on Thursday, June 20th, and after grabbing some kebob pizza and walking down by the water, we set off for Stockholm by train. Matt hadn’t really slept in over 24 hours, but he still seemed alert and good to go. We switched trains in Nässjö. Our second train had Hogwarts’ Express-syle compartments decked out in deep red, which made Matt and me feel like we were in a Harry Potter movie. Unfortunately there was some trouble with the train tracks and we sat on the train for an extra 30 minutes waiting for the problem to be repaired. Matthew started to doze and kept dangerously leaning toward the girl’s shoulder next to him, which all the rest of us in the compartment found entertaining. However after a relatively uneventful trip, we finally made it to Stockholm’s Central Station. The hotel I booked for us was a Swedish-style hotel with a long history and free breakfast. It was also apparently a “ten minute walk from downtown Stockholm,” which come to find out was a bit of an exaggeration. We had luggage anyway, so we had planned to take a public bus to our accommodation because Bus #69 had a stop right outside the hotel. However after walking around for about 20 minutes with no sign of a public bus, I called the hotel to ask for advice, only to discover that Stockholm was currently experiencing a bus strike and there would be no public buses. (Matthew observed, “You can always count on the Europeans for a good strike.”) The concierge gave us an alternate route that consisted of taking a tram from Central Station and then walking for about ten minutes, and somehow Matthew and I finally found our (not exactly a ten-minute-walk) hotel. However it was beautifully situated on water and offered free drinks in the fridge, so I went to sleep exhausted but satisfied.
The next morning we went to Skansen to celebrate Misummer. Skansen, the world’s first open air museum, opened in 1891 as a replica of Sweden in miniature. The park is set up as a walking tour of the country, from south to north. In the south of Skansen one can find authentic farmhouses and soldier’s cottages imported to the park, in the middle there are manor houses and summer farms, and in the north we found Sami settlements and Finn-Swede homes. There is also a zoo with reindeer and bears and other Scandinavian animals. The highlight of the zoo experience was when Matthew and I came to an enclosure with European bison that happened to have a sign in front of it that said “wild boar.” We stood in wonder at how amazing it was that wild boars could get so big and look so much like buffalo when we saw a couple of yards down the way was another sign detailing European bison. The people around us probably got a good laugh out of our blonde moment. Also in Skansen we watched the raising of the maypole. Traditionally on Midsummer Eve, Swedes decorate a long maypole with flowers, raise it, and dance around the pole to a song called Små Grodorna (Little Frogs). The purpose of this comes from pagan tradition when people danced around a phallus-shaped pole in the hopes that they would have a fertile harvest. Apparently in Christian tradition, Midsummer can be combined with the celebration of John the Baptist’s birthday, since the Bible says he was born 6 months earlier than Jesus. Women also typically wear dresses and flower wreaths. Of course today most Swedes simply get together with friends and family and eat pickled herring and drink schnapps, but Matt and I were glad we witnessed the traditional festivities at beautiful Skansen.
The next day, we took a boat tour of Stockholm and explored Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and Södermalm, the trendy district. A lot of things were closed because of Midsummer, but I can say without a doubt that Stockholm is the most beautiful city I’ve seen. It is built on a series of 14 islands, and everything just seems to fit. The dusky red and sunny yellow houses line the hills throughout the archipelago and the majestic brick buildings of an official nature call attention not only to the skill of their structures, but also to the quiet beauty of the water and land around them. The city is clean and friendly; it might have been because it was a holiday, but I felt much less crowded in Stockholm than I have in other big cities. Of course Stockholm’s population is four times less than that of New York City, so this difference is understandable. But Stockholm in general seems so laid back, because everything just works. It’s a city that’s been around since the 12th century, so it doesn’t have to try too hard. We also explored the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan and the Town Hall, where the Nobel Prize banquet is held each year. Overall, our trip to Stockholm was laid back but exciting, which is the perfect combination.
Earlier in the week, before Stockholm, I went kayaking on Lake Vättern and Lake Rockjon. My coworker, Susann, invited Monika and me to go kayaking with her son, Anton, a few weeks back, and I wasn’t sure if it would happen. But on Monday, the weather was perfect, so I set out to the kanutklub by the lake at around 5:30 pm. Once in the kayak, I practiced a bit to get the hang of it and then set out pretty close to the shoreline. (Even experienced kayakers don’t mess too much with the middle of Vättern). I saw Jönköping from a new perspective that night; I felt so lucky to get the opportunity to kayak on the deepest lake in Sweden. Once we got back to the club, Monika and I decided to try narrower kayaks to see if we could successfully balance. The first one we tried was wobbly, but we both successfully made it back to shore. Then Anton invited us to try his kayak, which was quite a bit more narrow. Monika tried it first and as soon as he let go of the kayak, she tipped over into the 42 degree water. One would think I would be smart enough not to follow in her footsteps, but I was determined to try. Once again, as soon as Anton released the canoe, I also went right into the water. Surprisingly, the water was more refreshing than freezing–this probably had something to do with the fact that it was warm outside.
Today has been a lazy day for Matthew and me. We ate American burgers and fries at Munchie’s, toured the grandiose Sophia Church, and shopped for Swedish candy. We both agree that life in Sweden reminds us more of American life than, for him, life in Germany, and, for me, life in China.
At work, some people are starting to leave for their summer vacations. The office seems a little slower than usual. This upcoming week is the last week of the summer program I help coordinate, which both saddens and excites me. We have a lot of fun things planned for the last week, but it’s also my last week in Jönköping. Five weeks of my life in Sweden has already happened, and I have one week left to soak in the beauty of Sweden–the beauty in its geography, but most of all the beauty in the personalities of people here. This will be a week of goodbyes and exciting events.
We took tons of photos in Stockholm, but they are all on the big camera, so the few pics I’m sharing from our iPhones don’t do Stockholm justice.
1. Stockholm’s Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) at night (p.s. this is around 11 pm).
2. Maypole at Skansen
3. Royal Palace
4. Grand Hotel–a very fancy place in Stockholm. I believe Princess Madeleine had an appearance or reception here for her wedding
5. A prime example of Ragare, the subculture in Sweden that loves old American cars and rock’n’roll
6. Villa Källlhagen, our lovely hotel
7. Matt drinking at Gildas Rum, an adorable coffee shop in Södermalm
8. American burgers at hole-in-the-wall Munchie’s… they were delicious!
9 and 10. Sophia church