Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poem for the Coming of Spring




the farmer plucks a flower shoot

among hundreds in the grass

beneath an aging beech

cradles the thin, tiny

leaves in his palm pulling one leaf

down revealing the infant blossom

barely purple, lavender, white

naked between the greens







Österlen, February 16, 2008








2 photos by Phil Munts



Österlen, February 16, 2008

Curiosity woke me up in the morning. I couldn’t sleep past 6:00 am and I don’t usually awake before 8 am any morning. There was only one small window in the room at Elisetorp B&B, but I must have checked the state of the sunrise over the 50-year apple orchard 10 times in an hour (each time going back to bed with the hopes of falling back asleep again). It was a relief when Phil and Hunter finally woke up, too.

One thing I like about staying somewhere other than home is taking luxuriously long, warm showers. However, Phil quickly discovered that the shower refused to warm past freezing cold. He grumpily dressed as Hunter and I happily scampered around in our pajamas getting breakfast on the table. I suggested that Phil call and tell the hosts that the water was cold, but he just mumbled something under his breath.

Phil did finally call, just after we had the yoghurt, muesli, bread, meat, butter and jam on the table. They said they would be bringing cheese in case we were sorely missing it, which was the reason they thought Phil called. They brought the cheese and explained that power outages sometimes trip the water heater fuse. We decided that a delicious, leisurely breakfast in our room without having to meet in a breakfast room by a certain time, was especially nice. Afterward, Phil and Hunter showered iand made a two inch lake of the bathroom (as there was no curb or slope). Fed and bathed, Phil was a much more pleasant person. I had already French-braided my hair, so opted out of the luxurious shower-in-a-flooded-bathroom idea. Despite these things, I want to stay there again!

As soon as I could get out, I gaily questioned Saga and her husband, Hasse, about their businesses. Hunter chased around with their two-year old boy, Hampus. Phil wandered around taking photos, checking on Hunter and loading the car.

Saga showed me what she sells in her shop, which was presently in a state of chaos as she and her husband build a large studio between each set of boarding rooms. There, also, were her greenware, drying slowly in the cold, unheated area. She sells saltware dishes, white stoneware, little magnets, knobs of humorous sculptured grotesques, and is currently working on a garden face fountain. If the fountain is successful, she hopes to sell those, too. She even let me see inside the barn where her electric kiln and other finished, boxed ceramics were. Out back of the B&B was her wood-fired kiln house where she does most of her salt glaze pieces. For more on her work, see her excellent website: www.sagakeramik.se.

I learned that Hasse and Saga Johnsson had purchased the farm from Hasse’s grandparents. His grandparents were among those who planted the apple orchards during World War II when there was a great need for fruit and vegetables in the country. Currently, the Johnssons sell their apples within a cooperation that sells older apples as well as homemade jams, etc. “It’s not [paying for much], yet,” Hasse told me. He installs security systems during the week and remodels the farm on the weekends, as well as running the Bed & Breakfast.

Saga also handed me a hand-drawn map of places to see between the park and Kivik. It was so useful that for the rest of the day we disregarded our guidebooks.

It did not take long for us to reach the parking area for Stenshuvud National Park (when Phil could finally remove me from talking with Saga). We realized, for the first time, that our Bed and Breakfast really was on the very outskirts of the Park.

Hunter quickly began moaning about having to go for a hike. We practically had to drag him to the mouth of the trail, and secretly worried we would have to endure his squealing the whole time in the park. It was truly cold, at freezing, and the wind was picking up off of the sea. Some of Hunter’s noise was understandable. Cold or not, the parking lot was beginning to fill at 10:30 am. Hunter would forget about his complaints when we crossed an interesting bridge or found a big rock to climb. I started urging him on in his explorations, pointing out interesting hopping rocks or fun hiding places between trees and rocks so that Hunter was soon singing and exploring ahead of us. A potty stop also seemed to make a difference in his attitude.

We found the three “peaks” of Stenshuvud, the ruins of a castle fence and foundation, and enjoyed looking out over the sea. The Stenshuvud Lighthouse was immediately below us at one point, but we could not see it for the overgrown trees. We never did go back to find the lighthouse because our explorations went a little beyond the endurable hunger for lunch, and the walk would have been another 800 meters each way. We had already walked/climbed that much. Hunter found what he called his “skating rink” at the top of the highest peak. We took a family photo, there, and shared an apple, nuts and soda water. We were, indeed, “lucky enough,” as one guidebook stated it, to see the tiny island of Bornholm from where we stood.

This hike took place in what seemed like a fairy land of trees, heather, heath and ancient rocks. Sometimes it seemed Tolkein’s listening trees or C.S. Lewis’s breathing tree forests surrounded us. We leapt, ran and grunted up and down over the tree roots and rocks, enjoying the healthy air.

By the time we reached the car, our sunny weather had turned gray and dreary, but we were feeling spunky, if desperately hungry. We drove to a lesser known apple farm called Bagar'n Pa Österlen, Bageri and Café in Tomelilla. We ate meat and vegetable pie and varied green salad with fresh applemust and enjoyed a chat with the chef, who once lived in Florida and Texas. He urged us to return to Österlen during the Easter art festivals (everyone in Sweden recommends their own kommun, it seems). We did not make it to the better known Kiviks Musteri (apple farm) as it was closed until April.

After lunch, we followed Saga’s map to another set of standing stones and the 3000 B.C. Kungagraven, or Kiviksgraven, which Phil thought bordered on the time of Noah’s flood. On these last two excursions we saw an adult girl and a young boy walking. They finally asked us if we knew about any busses passing this way as they had been walking for five hours, that day. After they had walked on (because we didn’t know anything about the area) and we were finished looking at the huge gravesite and nearby stream, we caught up with the brother and sister team (you can barely see them near the tree in the photo) and offered to take them as far as we could toward where they needed to go. They led us to their hostel, not far from where we picked them up, but we probably saved them 45 minutes of walking. The girl offered to lead us around Göteborg (you might know it as Gothenburg), where she is a pharmaceutical student, should we make it there. She entered her number into my cell phone so we can call when we are there.

I asked myself on the way home if it was the landscape, the food, the art (we also saw a metal sculpture gallery in Ystad) or the people I enjoyed most about Sweden. Of course, it’s not easy to separate these aspects and I am glad for each one. The chance to see, taste, smell, feel and hear a place is important. But the final touch, that effects our perceptions the most, is getting a sense of the people, learning what they love and in how many ways we can try to relate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Österlen, February 15th, 2008

By noon I had almost completely packed the car (it’s getting easier to simplify this process as we do it more often). Just after noon, I had picked Hunter up from preschool, paid a Swedish artist for making a leather hairpiece for me at a local bank, and picked Phil up from the bus stop on the way home. We ate lunch and were on our way to the area of Sweden known as Österlen.

We drove along the southern coast of Sweden past Viking village/towns such as Trelleborg and Ystad (pronounced “eestad”), towns close to home that we hope to visit more thoroughly another day. Between Trelleborg and Ystad, we stopped for the second time at the Smygehuk lighthouse—just west of the southernmost point of Sweden. The sky was blue; better for photos than the last time we were there. We watched a man fishing up to his wader waste in the calm sea, though he had once-in-awhile to jump a wave or two. A man staying in the nearby hostel greeted us. He was from Germany. Otherwise, we have yet to find the woman who allows people to climb the old lighthouse.

We had in mind to see Ales Stenar, the “Nordic Stonehenge” before sunset and to find a place to eat further on. It was not quite 60 km from Smygehuk. The distances were much more friendly and easy on the body of aging 40-somethings and wiggly four-year olds than the week before.

I had first learned of Ales Stenar through a man I met on an airport shuttle in Seattle just two weeks before we left from the U.S. to Sweden. He had promised to e-mail me his favorite trips from Malmö so that we could enjoy them while we were in Sweden. We are still ticking each of his recommendations off of the list and enjoying every one!

Sure enough, we arrived in Kåseberga a tiny fishing village, about an hour and a half before sunset. Hunter refused to climb the hill to the site, which bothered me a great deal, because I was not going to miss out on this major Swedish site, and I knew Phil would be too absorbed, time- wise, in photographing such an amazing place to trade off with me. So, Phil and I donned our ski suits to endure the mighty wind by the sea when the temperatures were 34 degrees Fahrenheit (feels much colder in the sea wind than at home in Idaho). Phil went on ahead of me while I struggled to get all my clothing right and fussed over Hunter. And Hunter stayed locked in the car with his toys, watching the local fishermen change their boots, get out and put away their fishing gear and big trucks load and unload cargo from rather small fishing boats.

The climb and walk to Ales Stenar was a 1 km walk from the parking lot, mostly uphill. It warmed me up, that’s for sure. The trail was a very dusty, dry dirt with dirty grass on either side, obviously a popular climb. When I reached the top, however, I was stunned by the sight! In every direction I could see a generally flat hilltop of green meadow, overlooking the sea, the tiny village, these ship-shaped standing stones all draped by the wide blue sky. Hunter would have loved running and twirling around in the spaciousness of it, I was sure. I was tempted to do so, myself!

I found Phil happily snapping photos from his camera, using the tripod. Long shadows fell across the grass between and from the stones. Our own shadows were just as long. A few couples and three college-aged girls wandered around a little, but we pretty much had the stones to ourselves. Most people walked around the stones, then to the bluff over the sea for a wonderful lookout. I simply shot a few photos, enjoyed seeing Phil so happy (a better set of standing stones than those others of his lifetime, by the way), and breathed the cool, clean air. I felt compelled to hurry back down the hill to Hunter.

Hurry, I did. I mostly ran down. It was good I did, too, because just as I arrived, our car was surrounded by a growing group of college students playing loud music, smoking, drinking and generally behaving in ways I didn’t wish for Hunter to be gawking at. As it was, he had plenty of questions. He was not crying, though, so I was glad he seemed well adjusted.

I took Hunter down to the short shoreline for a little run on the sand, which he enjoyed. It was a quaint little place and I was glad to see him smiling and enjoying himself; a definite change from parts of the weekend before (though he had been a real trooper).

Soon Phil returned. We got back to our normal jeans and t-shirts, the winter gear in the back of the car. Driving away from the increasing mob that had just started moving up the hill toward the stones, Phil said, “I’m glad to be done just before that group takes over the place.” We would miss the stones in the sunset, but, you see, the view would have been a bit spoiled by the partying youths (or maybe those would have been the photos that sold).

My favorite pale pink and blue sky began to appear on the horizon over an expanse of beautiful patches of plowed and greening farmland dotted with farmhouse squares as we drove over road 9 toward Smrishamn. But before we were anywhere near town, I stopped at a field full of treasure—white and gray swan feeding on the rapeseed field! There was not a car in sight on this narrow road, so I simply stopped, rolled down my window and shot two photos before Phil announced he would be getting out of the car.

A larger gray swan cautiously meandered closer to the flock and stretched its wings. When Phil closed the back door, the swans took wing. If only I could tell you how amazing that was! Phil got back in the car after we noticed someone stopped behind us and apologized, “That was not what I meant to happen, I promise.” No big deal, I drove off, happy to have seen what I saw. Just then, a few feet down the road, the whole flock of swans flew low over our heads, the pink sky at their backs. I was in wonderous heaven watching the seeming slow motion of their flight over our car. It didn’t matter that someone was behind me, I drove slowly, too. The car behind seemed not to mind the obstacle I was creating, creeping along quietly along with me. I hope the image of that flock of flying swan stays with me a very long time.

We only had a few km to go before we were in Simrishamn, a larger fishing village with traditionally European flavored buildings lining the cobblestone streets. When we parked and got out of our car, the street wafted deliciously of cooking food. Our stomachs appreciated this all the more. Sunset had ripened to the point of painting the buildings a deep pink.

We ate at Måns Byckere AB, instead of one of the guidebook recommendations, because it was open, first of all, and secondly, because the special was a Friday grille with a dessert bar. It was all delicious, but I wish you could have tasted some of Sweden’s best desserts. The berry torte was good, as well as the crème brulee with chocolate sauce (there were three sauces to choose from), but the strawberry crème filled pancake (layered pancakes and cream frosted completely over with the cream) was by far the best of everything there. Except for some more dense chocolate desserts, Swedish deserts are quite light. They served sweet watermelon and pineapple, too, for those being more careful with their diets.

By the time we were finished with dinner, the restaurang (as they call it) was filling up considerably. We headed back out into the charming street where red and black kerosene lanterns burned their welcomes to hungry passersby. There was a perfect half moon over the Simrishamn Harbour as we bumped over the cobbled streets out of town.

We were headed into the deepening darkness, the landscape changing from a horizon of fields to trees lighted only by the moon a million pinpoint stars. We made a few wrong turns toward finding the Elisetorp Bed and Breakfast, on the edge of Stenshuvud National Park, where we spent the night, but we eventually found it. The problem was that it was so wonderfully dark in the seeming middle of nowhere (and cold!) that we couldn’t even find which door we were to knock on to announce our arrival.

We stood in the opening of a bondgård, which is a grouping of buildings including a farmhouse, a barn and any number of other buildings for other purposes. The purposes of an “L” of the buildings was cozy bed and breakfast rooms, two functioning rooms and two under contruction and a soon-to-be new ceramic studio for Saga Keramik. We didn’t know any of this as we stood in the 20 something degree wind with a serious wind factor under the moon and stars. Our first greeting was the mewing of a yellow tabby cat, which eventually showed itself and begged to be allowed in the back door of the farm house.

Finally, after knocking at several doors and trying to call the number to the B&B, the young, dark-haired Saga found us cold and waiting at the door of her sales shop. To her credit, we arrived more than an hour before we said we’d be there, so we had not been expected. We were allowed into a very warm, tiny room and guided to where the extra bedding for Hunter’s cot was and where the utensils for the morning’s breakfast were. She said her husband would be along later with the breakfast goods to be placed in the refrigerator. The furniture in the room and the bathroom fixtures were of practical IKEA stock.

The place was a little small for the time we needed to waste before bed. We found a deck of cards in the cupboard and I explained the faces to Hunter then Phil played an easy comparing game, called “War,” with him. We did remember to bring some Legos and Knex with us, so Phil and Hunter proceded to build helicopter cars and other interesting inventions. I busied myself getting Hunter’s bed and clothing ready, studying travel guides and brochures and looking through the log book of guests who had stayed in the room.

The temperature of the room was a bit too warm for me, so I decided to get something out of the car, which was a little walk from our room, and walked up the street a ways just to enjoy being where no lamps interfered with the deep darkness of the countryside. The air was fresh and cool. There were patches of trees and patches of open field. I could see the constellations I recognized from Idaho and the Big Dipper was standing on its handle. If it had been only Phil and myself, we would have walked together out there for an hour or more in Holy Silence.

Soon after I came back to the ultra-warm room, Saga knocked on the door and produced a long basket of goodies for breakfast. In it were freshly purchased sliced meat, pineapple yoghurt, bread, a ceramic pitcher of milk, a small ceramic bowl of home-made plum jam and a tiny ceramic bowl of butter. This was before I realized that Saga was a potter. I asked, “Did you make these, holding up the pitcher,” to which she said she did. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to talk to you more about that in the morning!” I said, and she agreed before leaving us for the night.

Phil let me call my oldest daughter for her birthday from his cell phone. He dozed while I chatted. During such times, it is especially difficult to be overseas.

We were soon off to slumber in the slightly too-firm beds and slept like logs until morning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Öland





Saturday, Feb. 9th, 2008

We lounged for a short while, Hunter joining us in the sleigh bed for a wiggly snuggle. We could see a bright fog from the Frimurarehotellet windows and hoped it would burn off before too long. We had to be out of our parking space by nine am, so we scrambled to shower, pack and get to the breakfast room.

In the breakfast room, I was especially taken by a painting of the sea—the focus was close, as if one were studying it from some deep point, eyes nearly at the surface. It was very well done, but closeup, it was done very simply. A study I’d like to try. As I tried to gather things to eat for Hunter and myself, Hunter was especially demanding, whiny and loud. It was difficult to contain him and we knew why. Knowing he still had a fever made it no easier on us or him, however. We were all too glad to eat quickly, grab our things and get out of Kalmar.

The crazy night scene in downtown Kalmar was conspicuously missing in this not so early Saturday morning, except for the excess litter in the courtyard and street. Now and then someone with a rolling suitcase walked toward the train station and a train shooshed to a stop on the tracks.

When we drove around the car-blocked downtown, we noticed a fishing wharf where boat masts prodded the fog to the rhythm of light waves. The narrow, gold and red townhouse-lined streets looked especially novel in the fog.

In no time, we were crossing Sweden’s longest bridge (4 miles) over Kalmarsund (only a mile shorter than the Danish/Swedish Oresund Bridge), me praying the fog would lift and Hunter trying to find one of the lighthouses noted on the map. By the middle of the bridge we emerged into blue sky and sun and our attitude about exploring Sweden’s second largest island was much improved!

The guidebook advised that we drive clockwise around the island from the bridge (which enters south of center on its west coast.) However, as Phil told me what village signs he saw and I mentioned those we should be entering, we realized he had chosen to go counterclockwise. Turning the guidebook like a map upside down did not help, but starting at the end of the list of things to see did.

Our first stop was Karlvestenen, a well-preserved tomb standing in the middle of a plowed field of dark earth. A grassy walkway led from the parking lot, along the edge of the field and out into the center where the tomb stood. Phil was quite pleased with this stone and the red writings on it. He was soon wishing he had his cousin, Dennis, along for the ride.

From there, I took (we keep switching drivers) a narrow side road between two fields to get photos of the scarecrows. I love how many scarecrows there are in the fields around Sweden-- Usually two to three per plowed or growing field. These are sticks in the ground stuck through a pant leg, the other leg running in the wind, and through the neck of the shirt where just below, a cross stick goes partially through the arms so that the arms wave in the wind. No head, no straw.

We continued along that tiny road and through the tiniest village you’ve ever seen—bedecked with low stone walls and stone and sod storehouses—toward a large windmill. According to the guidebooks and tourist brochures, Öland once had more windmills than Holland. Sure enough, after taking shots of this well-preserved wind mill, we could hardly keep count of the mills we saw.

We joined a road Phil thought sure was the “main road,” and it was. It was just as narrow as the other “main road.” 30, 50, 70, 90 and back down again, repeatedly.

Our next stop was a field of rocks Phil thought were supposed to be Viking standing rocks. He wandered all around but found nothing convincing. It was good that Hunter chose to stay in the car during that time because it was cold and windy at the top of the mound of rocks.

We did finally come upon the standing rocks he was looking for. They were the Mysinge grave fields including “burial sites and standing stones from the Stone Age to the late Iron Age,” (Sweden, Lonely Planet, 2006, p. 141). These were stones standing in the shape of a ship. Hunter and I busied ourselves in the car, posed for some of Phil’s many photos and busied ourselves again. We gave Phil quite awhile, probably 20 to 30 minutes, but he was unhappy when we finally begged him to come back. “That may well have been the best set of standing stones I will see in my lifetime,” he said, mournfully. He liked that he had the whole area to himself and didn’t have to fight the crowds for photo time. We had set out to accomplish a nearly impossible tour of an island we were told would take only half of an hour to span from end to end and we had already been here a few hours. We felt we should be further down and back up the island by now.

We were also told that all the natural fields among the green and plowed fields are covered in snowdrop wildflowers in the spring. Even without the flowers, the stretch of fields rushing past us were beautiful. We enjoyed fresh air and very little traffic.

Lunch time loomed, especially in the stomach of our four-year old, so we thought it appropriate to arrive at Långe Jan, Scandinavia’s tallest lighthouse, where the guidebook mentioned we would find a café. Indeed, we found the climbable lighthouse. It was locked and so was the café. At least the restrooms were open. We decided to wander around the place, anyway. Maybe there would be a place to eat down the road.

Långe Jan is set in a nature reserve complete with bird-spotting stands where 500 to 600 mm lenses jut out of photographer’s tri-pod-legged cameras. The tiny point surrounded by the Baltic Sea is peaceful and idyllic in February. We saw a few families with small children, five or six bird-spotters and a few college-aged and elderly folks. Otherwise, the place seemed more quiet than it probably is in the spring and summer. We collected stones, took photos of swan and were delighted to be shown a few seals sunning on the larger rocks near the shore.

A man with a VERY LONG camera lens warned us not to get too close to the seals or they would dive off of the rocks. Phil went back to the car to get his biggest lens. I stayed behind the photographer quite a ways and snapped a few photos. This view was closer than my trip to Måkläppen, near where we live.

I don’t really know what has come over me, but I’m completely enamored with the seals. It is one thing to see them perform at the San Diego zoo, or on television, it is completely another to see them in the wild—without having to pay admission to see them. They have adorable faces, are amazingly fat, seem playful as they splash in the water, but also seem enormously dangerous when they fight.

I had moved away from the seals to another part of the waterline to see if there would be any glittering pieces of amber in the seaweed. During this time, Hunter frantically announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. While I picked my way back up the beach from the shoreline over soggy, spongy, deep seaweed to get to him, he dropped his pants and whizzed on the rocks, in full view of bird-spotter binoculars, the photographer, the seals and tourists making their way closer to the sea. “I’m all done, Mom! I did it myself,” Hunter told me proudly when I got to him. Of course, I had seen him. The beach was relatively unpopulated. I swallowed my embarrassment.

Phil returned, creeping as close as he could for some great photos of seal. I got a shot of him waving at the seals. The two seals, lying sideways on the rocks, facing the shore, nervously flapped their small side-fins and adjusted their sunning positions. Phil kept waving. The seals seemed to consider Phil’s actions a form of questionable communication between earthlings and sea-wildlife. They dove into the water.

The man with the powerful camera lens was visibly upset by this, but we were leaving with our photos, I guess. He moved his camera five feet closer and crouched down to the ground to wait. Phil had a smirk on his mouth as he headed back to the car, but I felt badly for the photographer. The seals would eventually climb the rocks again, sunning themselves when they no longer felt threatened.

As we were leaving, Phil traded lenses with me so I could try the 500 mm. Wow! I could get no more than the top of the lighthouse or a seal head in the water with it. I had to choose how many swans to fit in the frame. But it was not a stabilized lens and I didn’t have a tri-pod, so my massively zoomed photos were generally terrible. It was a fun experiment, though. One of the bird-spotters told me he was trying out his new stabilized 400 mm Nikon lens with 600 mm capability. I didn’t understand how all that worked, but I was impressed when he said he could hand-hold the camera and get decent shots of the exotic birds flying over and stopping for a rest on the sand bars. Phil has warned me that if I insist on getting good bird photos, I will spend the rest of my life trying to afford the perfect lens. Hmmm. I don’t even make any money, yet!

We left the seals, the birds, Långe Jan, the remains of a Viking-age church, gave Hunter a cookie and drove in search of a place to eat. We ended up at Ektorp, the ruins of a ring fortress from the 5th century. The walls have been rebuilt and there are reed-roofed huts which have been constructed to house museums and demonstrations from medieval times. We drove into a completely empty parkinglot which is obviously used for a great number of tourists and tour busses in the summer.

The reception area was closed, but still displayed the charge to see the place during the summer: 50 kroner per person. There were picnic tables in the reception courtyard, so I set up my emergency food rations into a picnic while the wind tried to take our hats and crackers and to freeze our hands as we ate. We should have done like the two young couples who arrived after us and cozied up inside the fortress, away from the wind, to have our picnic. It was a fair walk from the parking lot and courtyard to the actual ruins, though, so it was nice to be free of the food stuff when we wandered around or ran, as Hunter did inside the recreated fortressed village.

The guidebook says that this place is set up to demonstrate a living village, complete with pigs on the loose and many other delightful things. For us, it was just peaceful walking around, watching some little black birds swooping around, imagining what it was like to try to rebuild the massive walls, finding a pond and a garden out back, etc. We saw what we needed to see.

We had quite a ways to drive, then, to find the northern lighthouse and another castle ruin. Hunter, still feverish, finally fell asleep and we felt sleepy, too. I told Phil I would need a cup of tea or coffee soon or I wouldn’t be able to endure the rest of the day. We decided that our goal would be to be off the island and heading back home by 4:30 pm and it was already 2:30 or 3 pm. We noticed that half an hour of driving was not getting us quickly (30, 50, 70, 90, and back down, remember?) to the north end of the island.

We passed ancient rock-built villages and homesteads with signs pointing down narrow driveways between closely built homes and outbuildings, which read, “rum & frukost” (bed and breakfast), “galleri,” and “glaseri” (glass blowing). Me and my artistic curiosity suffered each passing. But Hunter was finally getting some much needed rest and we had very little time left. There were no open cafés or kaffe shops.

At Gårdby, we finally found Gårdby Kaffe and Lenthandel. Because Hunter was still sleeping, Phil went in first to use the restroom and said he would come back so I could go in and get some caffeine. However, it seemed Phil would never return. When he finally did, he insisted that we both go in together and watch Hunter through the big windows. I understood why. The place was a beautifully renovated old country store with the most delightfully decorated dining area off to the side for tea and goodies. I hope to write about this place and sell the piece, it was such a wonderful place. If only I could take you all there. You would love it better than Starbucks, I promise!

By the time we were back on the road, it was nearly 4:30 pm, and we could see a major intersection for continuing north or going back across the island to Kalmar, the town we needed to go through to go home. We decided to abandon seeing the rest of the island (since it was impossible in the time we had and Hunter was so miserable) at that point. We had seen most of what we had looked most forward to seeing on that trip, so felt no disappointment leaving—except for one: We had thoroughly enjoyed the place.

Crossing the bridge into the sunset, we decided we would definitely have to return to see the central and northern parts of the island another time. Besides, we need to see the miles and miles of wildflowers in the spring!

Phil consented to going into the original IKEA, which was just off of the bridge, and was pleased to find out there were only 20 minutes left (why are we always doing this in such a big store?). The place was set up like so many homes with bedrooms, livingrooms, kitchens, bathrooms in complete house settings. It was like snooping through people’s homes while they were absent! Especially cozy were whole bookcases full of books and cd’s which were for sale, too, but looked like private collections. I told Phil I missed looking at things like this to fix up the house. “Are you kidding?” he asked, “That is something I don’t miss—having to fix up the house!” Sigh.

We caught an early dinner at the Burger King next door and headed into the lingering mild sunset and the eventual darkness, to surge our way home for four and a half torturous hours of 30, 50, 70, 90, 110/km/hr. Phil drove, exclaiming, “I just don’t remember so many little towns!”

I rode in the back with Hunter, blowing his nose every five minutes. Hunter passed the time by finding ways of annoying me just like my little brother did back in the days of three week family vacations. I was still annoyed by space-encroaching, being poked, pinched, punched and licked. When we did find something to laugh about, I thought Phil was going to say, like my dad used to say, “stop cackling in the back seat!”


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

E-22, Karlshamn and Kalmar





Friday

We have decided that if I will be travel writing and we only have two and a half months left in Sweden, we will try to see a new place or event every Saturday. Sometimes, Saturday alone is not enough. We have to be back on Sundays because of the commitments we have made at our International church. So, we have decided to go soon after noon on Fridays when the travel time is longer than, say, an hour. That way, Phil gets in a half day of work, Hunter goes to preschool and I get some writing/reading/research done or I pack the car.

The first such adventure happened February 8 and 9. We headed off in the direction of Sweden’s Öland.

Though it did not seem far to travel, the GPS read that it would take 4 ½ hours to Kalmar, the larger town before crossing the bridge. Sure enough, it did. The main highway, called the E-22, ran through many tiny villages and small towns. I decided that if I had a cruise control feature that could easily take me from 30 km/h to 50 km/h to 70 km/h to 90 km/h and back down, repeatedly, on demand of the signs on the road, it would be much more pleasant driving.

We hadn’t made contact with any of the little country Bed and Breakfasts with reasonable prices by the time we had to hit the road. This bothered Phil a great deal, so that he used his time sitting by Hunter in the back seat calling places to stay from the three guidebooks we had on hand. Truly, it was a relief to have a place to land by night, even if it wasn’t yet on the island, and even if (sigh) it had to be a hotel.

My friends down the street went over the driving directions from their Atlas of Sweden and gave me a terrific tip: “If you get tired and need a place to rest, take Hunter to the Kreativum in Karlshamn. It is nearly half-way.” This ended up being a life-saver on the way over because Hunter did not want to travel in the least, so we redeemed ourselves by pulling up to this place in the backwoods of a town among industrial buildings (why are they always among industrial buildings?)

When we checked in, we found out there were only 40 minutes before closing. I felt doomed. Hunter was already enamored before we even reached the reception desk (he was mesmerized by a moving projection inside the front door). The receptionist told us the cost of admission but felt we really didn’t have time to make it worth our while. I wondered if they would turn us away just because there was so little time, but asked,

“Is there a discount if we only have 40 minutes left?” smiling a hopeful smile.

“No, I’m sorry,” the woman said.

“Oh.” I was willing to pay the amount just because my son was already wandering into the larger rooms to have a look at the experiments and activities and we really did need this break.

“You can go in at no cost,” she said suddenly, “because there is so little time left.”

My face brightened suddenly and Phil looked like a load of financial struggle just fell off of his back. We asked where the best place to spend 40 minutes (by now fewer) with a four-year old would be and headed in the direction given.

Clearly, we needed more time, but we enjoyed ourselves (all of us!) trying to do as many things as possible. I liked the little gravity scooters, Phil liked the huge bird robot that responded positively and negatively to his guidance (by nodding or shaking its head) and Hunter especially liked running the boats in the huge water feature, like a relief map, in the center of the room. By the time we were kicked out of there (and there were hardly families in there, maybe three, so we had free reign), we’d had a lot of fun and would need to go back another day.

We had a moment of Fika in the car—cinnamon buns from the Kreativum café, and water as we got back on the monotonous E-22. It was growing dusk.

We didn’t see one moose where moose crossing signs were (repeatedly for miles), which was a disappointment. But we did see a creative road feature. This highway was mostly very narrow, barely a two-way road. At times it would broaden and we could actually drive 110 km/h, but rarely. Then, there would be these strange stretches where they had broadened the road just enough for it to have what looked like a wide shoulder on each side, divided by a rutted broken line. In the center of the road were various broad unbroken lines or long dashes. If a car wanted to pass (apparent by its insistence on nearly kissing a bumper), it was the responsibility of the school bus (like a fancy van), mail carriers, and stupid tourists like us to move across the teeth- chattering rut into the narrow shoulder to let the impatient driver past. Of course, when I discovered the usefulness of this, I had to try being the impatient driver a few times, too. But often the moving over car would only straddle the rutted line between the shoulder and the main lane so that it was nearly impossible to pass without losing a left-hand mirror to on-coming traffic. Our mirrors are fine, I just prefer the spaciousness of U.S. roads, that’s all.

We found our hotel in Kalmar in enough time to check in before dinner. The hotel’s claim in the guidebook was that it was only two blocks from the castle, which was a selling point for Phil. The hotel was called Frimurarehotellet, and turned out to be a luxurious place at an economical price. We had a king-sized sleigh bed with fluffy down comforters and pillows, a nice couch, flat-screened television, interesting art posters on the wall, gorgeous antique desk and side tables, and a wonderful view of the park behind the hotel.

For dinner, we found your basic Swedish pizzeria-type place where the menu consists of pizza, hotdogs, schnitzel, meatballs, or plank steak in the form of beef, pork or chicken, the meat portions with boiled, fried or mashed potatoes. After we ate, I asked Phil if we always needed to eat that kind of food (the price is usually within our budget). “What?” he asked, “Are you tired of chicken, fish or beef?” ( It’s a bit of an inside joke, but it has to do with every time we stopped to eat somewhere in Guatemala, we were told we had three choices…)

In the evening’s darkness, we enjoyed the lights surrounding the area, especially the lit trees and the lit brick water tower. We decided to explore the park behind the hotel and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. That is until we saw an interesting group of sculptures that I wanted Phil and Hunter to pose among and Hunter fell over the metal sign and, just then, we heard a frantic yell coming from the train and bus station across the street. A man ran past me, catching my eye as I waited for Hunter to cry out his fall and find a place among the sculptures. He had stolen the yelling man’s wallet and was leafing through it at a tree very near where we were standing. Phil cluelessly smied among the art while Hunter sniveled over his mishap. I suddenly wanted to go back to our room, since no amount of telling Phil what was going on seemed to help.

Kalmar, home of the original IKEA and the castle we never saw, felt like a typical big city. It wasn’t really that large, but the intersection of ferries, trains, airport and buses from around and outside Sweden made it a sinister place—especially at night. It felt unsafe to park a car or have a nice camera around the neck or to wander the streets with a little one. When I asked Phil why he didn’t want to do anything about the thief, he said, “money is not worth losing a life.”

One small clue that worried us quite a bit was the provision of ear-plugs with our towels. What would we need them for? We needed them because the hotel is comprised of wood floors and there was a late night conference going on in the conference room over our heads. We heard every smart-stepping high heel and scraping chair. We needed them because, as we were about to nod off to sleep, idle and probably drunk mens voices rose from the street chanting loudly toward our room and the conference for some 15 minutes or more. Then, a chorus of the most harmonious men’s voices sang for an hour (starting at 11:00 pm) within the conference. I enjoyed the men’s voices, but not the loud, sometimes purposely rhythmic, clapping between songs, and the loud scraping of a hundred chairs for the encores. Somehow we slept well, anyway.

Before we went to bed, I discovered the reason Hunter had not wanted to travel. He had a fever. No wonder he had a runny nose all day. I was especially glad he fell asleep well and wondered how it would hinder our Saturday of exploring the outdoors on Sweden’s Öland.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Swedish Superstition

Anyone who knows me will know I don't pay much attention to superstition. Generally, I ignore all those "silly" notions. Maybe that's why you are so unlucky some of you might think. Maybe. Or some of you might think my deep commitment to following Christ is riddled with superstitions. I certainly hope not, but can see why some might think it possible.

Well, one evening after fika at my friend Jenny's house, I decided to stay a little longer after Annika had to leave. This because Phil was in Israel, so I wasn't bound to having dinner on the table on time and Hunter had well filled his stomach with cheese and bread. During that time, I got to meet Jenny's sister, a chef who enjoys cooking the old Swedish way (whom I'm hoping I can bribe into making some traditional food for us) and Jenny's mother.

In this family, there is a beautiful piano that has been handed down for the last two generations and seems not to suffer the marks of age. I have so admired this piano that, of course, I have begged to get my fingers on the keys and play. Jenny unlocked the lid for me once so I could play a few things (we both sat down in turns to try Pink Panther), including some Swedish folk songs in some music books of hers.

The story behind the piano is wonderful, so I'll have to get permission to tell it.

Anyway, while Jenny's mother was there (her husband was at work as a ferry captain, the journeys of which are usually a 24 hour event), I noticed her hands were about the size of mine with similarly short fingers. Jenny's fingers are longer, looking perfect for piano playing. Since she sat by me around the table I said, "Your hands look about the same size as mine! Let me see." And I held my hand up for her to place against it and compare.

Immediately, she jerked her hand into her waist away from me. This is a very shy woman, so I wasn't sure what was going on.

Being quick to talk and slow to think, I said, "Oh. I have cooties, I guess."

But Jenny spoke up. "It is bad luck."

"I didn't know," I said feeling a little shocked and embarrassed.

"Now you know," her mother said bluntly, having said very little else and saying not much else afterward.

When, later, I asked Jenny about this, especially when it is difficult to hold hands, dance, clap another's hand, etc., she said the bad luck is only in comparing the size of each other's hands. Some believe it can cause bad luck, others believe you will certainly die.

Die!

Whew! Who knows how many other superstitions I have broken along the way.

Fika--Swedish tea time

Not many days into our stay in Höllviken, Sweden, we learned that it was important to observe fika, tea time. We were told that it is generally practiced around 930 and 1500. When I told Phil about this, he had already been working in Malmö a few days.

"Well, I'm glad to know it has nothing to do with me, then. About 930 every morning, I look up from what I'm doing and those around me have disappeared!"

I urged him to be more aware of the time and go with them wherever they break, as it can be an offense not to participate. He set his phone to alarm him and has been following suit (sometimes they don't have tea), since.

We also found out about a parent/child social hour at the Swedish Lutheran Church in Höllviken. Hunter and I attend on Monday afternoons most regularly, then infrequent the Thursday morning time. During that time, the children play with every imaginable toy for an hour, sing in a circle for half an hour, then everyone goes into the dining area for cheese, crackers, juice, coffee or tea with a suggested donation per family. Of course, they call it "fika."

During one of the Monday afternoon fikas, I met two intelligent mothers and their small children and we hit it off. They like to practice their English with me (one reason I am still slow at learning Swedish) and we enjoy discussing any number of topics together though we each come from very different perspectives.

Shortly after Christmas, Jenny (pronounced "yenny") and Annika got the brilliant idea that we should meet together in each other's homes once weekly. We have been doing so for all of January and February, now, and are quite addicted to our time together. We have met in each home, but since Jenny and Annika's children are so much younger than Hunter, their houses are much more suited for all the children than my rented, furnished and non child-proofed house is. They have plenty more toys, too, as we had to be careful how much we brought over from the U.S. and how much we buy, here.

Jenny loves to cook, so she often provides a homemade Swedish bread or treat when we are at her house. This always amazes me because she has a 6 month old and a 2 year old. Her excuse is that she loves to cook and her oldest is at preschool when she prepares the fika. She is on maternity leave from teaching math and music. She helps me with my Swedish and tells me about upcoming important dates in Sweden.

Annika works part-time at a church in Malmö. She is the one who can usually tell me why a tradition is thus and so or where the origins of something come from. She has figured out what a scrounge I am and has introduced me to the local Lyons sale every other week. She also provided me with a few more sheets, towels and duvet covers from her own supply so we didn't have to simply wash and put everything back on the beds and racks. She has a British friend from whom she has borrowed, for Hunter, books and movies in English as well as a box of Duplo.
You can understand why it is so much fun to get together with these two. The conversation is nearly always lively and frequently punctuated by child squabbles, noise-making toys, and afternoon tiredness tantrums. Our husbands think it is all just fun and games, but we have more than once endured long crying spells from ear infections or serious child tireness. We frequently pass the baby around so that we can all smell like like baby puke when we return home to make dinner.

Both Jenny and Annika's husbands have been able to join us awhile for tea a few times. It is interesting for me to meet them and hear what extra information they can give me about real life in Sweden. Jenny's husband is an ambulance driver and Annika's husband is in construction. Phil doesn't get home in time to enjoy tea with us.

The local bakery, the place I've already mentioned is Hunter's favorite place, is busy every day with people coming to get goodies for fika and bread for every day meals.

Though there are many varieties of tea on the shelves at the grocery stores, whenever I serve some fruity version, people seem to wonder where the real tea is. Jenny and Annika both love an Indian Chai Spice tea.

Together we have eaten the regular digestive crackers that everyone keeps on hand, St. Lucia buns (they are formed in a figure 8 with raisins in each "hole"), cinnamon muffins, chocolate muffins, Swedish cheese cake (the texture of which is more like cottage or ricotta cheese) with whipped cream and berry sauce, wafer crackers with butter and cheese or butter and jam, February "bulla" buns (the name of which I cannot keep in my head) which is a slightly sweet hamburger bun looking thing filled with a square of marzipan and whipped cream. When they were at my house I made a struesel coffee cake. We also had a lingonberry bread with butter and cheese. Lingonberries are the staple berry of Sweden and Finland (I don't know about the other Scandinavian countries).

After church on Sundays our little International church enjoys a good hour of chatting over fika, too. When Phil, Hunter and I travel, now, we feel a definite need to take a break around 3 pm for a little snack and something to drink. This last weekend I told Phil, "Boy, I could sure use some fika about now." Hunter agreed. Here we thought tea time was a British tradition! But this is Europe, baby.

No doubt, there will be many more fika encounters--or I hope so, at least!

Part 3: Israel, Days 3 through 5--Jerusalem


A photo from the rampart wall of Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives and a street leading to the Wailing Wall.

More on Jerusalem will be written later. Look here every so often to see if I've returned to write about it. The experience of walking around and through Jerusalem still leaves me tongue-tied.