This weekend Rhoda—my very good friend from college—came to visit me in Sweden. It is always great to see a familiar face from home when you are living in a foreign country; over the 4 ½ years that I have spent living away from the UK I have had a number of visits from both friends and family and every visit has been super special. Jo, Lizzie, Caroline, Rhoda and Matt in Japan; Rob & Over, Lynsey, Mum, Dad, Angela, Ian, Claire, Zoe & Rob (as well as a number of Nicklas’ friends) in Vietnam and now the visits for Sweden have begun.
Rhoda’s Ryanair flight arrived at Västerås airport at 4.20 on Friday afternoon and I was there to collect her. This is a significant improvement from when she turned up in Tokyo to face a 3 hour trek from Narita airport to Atsugi in which she had to negotiate 4 different trains—changing at some of the world’s busiest train stations and ensuring that she got a ‘local’ rather than ‘express’ train to her final destination—follow a hand drawn map through streets which had no name, locate a key in a post box which may or may not have been locked after the postman’s visit, and let herself into a strange apartment. Luckily she was not alone; she had Matt there to help her although how much help he really was is still a source of some debate. This time was a different story as she was warmly greeted at the airport but sadly without the help of a large placard bearing her name (I MUST remember to do that to embarrass my next visitor!) and escorted to a waiting taxi. The taxi ride home was not as cheap as I was able to offer my visitors to Vietnam but surprisingly reasonable for Sweden.
Rhoda has been very excited about visiting Sweden for the last few weeks as she wanted to see some snow so it has been with some concern that I have watched the previously thick luscious snow deplete to brown powdery mulch over the last few days. This added to the fact that Britain is currently basking in bounteous snowfall and record low temperatures made me wonder if she may not actually choose to stay at home instead but thankfully we managed some 11th hour snowfall and once again Sweden looked as picturesque as a Christmas card. Whilst Sweden does get a large amount of snow it seems to be cleared away before you even get to step foot in it—the snow ploughs work as if on speed. Added to this the remarkable fact that some public walkways and cycle paths are actually heated underground—yes, really!—then it is possible to forget quite how much snow there has been until you see the huge snow mountains on the corners where it has all been pushed aside. So, on Saturday morning we headed out into -10C temperatures for a Stockholm adventure.
As it is now the festive season visiting a Christmas market was pretty high on our agenda. I have not had a real Christmas in almost 4 years – carrying a fully decorated, fake Christmas tree down the road whilst wearing shorts and flip-flops doesn’t count – so I am going all out this year to cram in as much Yuletide as possible. I started earlier this week by attending the IESE Christmas dinner at Waxholm, a gorgeous fortress on an island in the Stockholm Archipelago and intended to continue the festivities this weekend. We went for a nice walk from Central Station down to the old town, Gamla Stan and around the Slussen area, stopping for the obligatory Hot Chocolate along the way. As the temperature had plummeted well below zero by this point with a wind chill doubling the freeze factor we thought it would be best to take in some indoor culture and decided to head for the Vasa Warship Museum but by the time we reached it the sky had brightened, the sun had come out and it was a beautiful winter’s day – far too good to waste by being indoors!
With the Swedish winter continuing to draw in we are now down to barely 7 hours of sunlight a day and by 3pm the sun has set for the night. This means that during the week I don’t get any natural daylight, I am aware that this is fairly usual for European wintertime but it’s a bit of a shock from the perma-summer sun of the Far East. So we decided to forego the Vasa Museum in favour of kicking around snow in the local park before heading to Skansen, Sweden’s popular outdoor museum and zoo which has the added bonus of a Christmas market every weekend of December.
Skansen is a replica of a typical 19th Century Swedish town, complete with craftsmen in traditional dress and in the snow it looks truly stunning. The open-air museum homes a plethora of Scandinavian animals such as elk, reindeer, lynx, wolves, moose and brown bear and so with some excitement we headed round to see the animals – although shortly after looking at the beautiful reindeer Rhoda then ate one in a wrap at one of the many food stalls. The market buzzed with festive cheer as consumers bustled to buy breads, cheeses, peparkarkor and Glögg (Swedish mulled wine) and we consumed steaming bowls of goulash whilst huddled around a hot fire.
Our festive day out in Stockholm ended in Gamla Stan where we watched live advent calendar performance from the window of a church in the old town. This is a quirky little find in which actors, poets, choirs and musicians perform a 10 minute festive sketch from the windows of a different building in Stockholm every night of advent. It’s a lovely idea and the choirs are pretty cool, unfortunately ours was mainly a story and poetry which we couldn’t understand as there were no Swedish speakers amongst us! Just one of the downsides of living in another country I guess. After this we headed home totally exhausted to find Nicklas had dinner ready on the table when we got home. A perfect end to a perfect day.
So, thanks Rhoda for a great day out and for taking the time to come out and help me celebrate Christmas!