7-22 July 2015. We returned to Vancouver May 7th after five months in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. During two months in Vancouver we housesat for three different families, and visited friends, family, doctors, dentists, our financial planner, our accountant, some government offices, and a sick cat at the vet’s. We rented a car, went shopping, helped a friend move, and went to a gathering of friends down in Washington for four days. It seems that every time we land in Vancouver our time is sucked up into a whirling vacuum of busyness, good busyness, taking care of business and catching up with friends and family. There were many people we wanted to see, but we simply ran out of time.
On July 7th we scooped up our gorgeous fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Amanda, who lives with her mom near Vancouver, and took her to Sweden to visit her dad, Jason, her step-mom Rebecca, and her four (and almost five) Swedish siblings. It was her fourth, and our sixth, visit to Sweden.
The family home is in a tiny village near the town of Åtvidaberg, near the city of Linköping. About an hour’s drive from there, and about a half hour from the east-coast summer-holiday town of Västervik, way out in farming country is a village that is not even a village, not even a hamlet, called Getterum. In Getterum is a place that the family sardonically calls Southfork. Yes, like Southfork of Dallas fame. It is their summer home. Unlike the magnificent mansion and estate seen in Dallas, this Southfork is an old, charming, rustic, somewhat dilapidated ex-farmhouse and outbuildings on about a half-acre of land, surrounded by farmland and forests and endless fields of green: a place to relax, a place to play, a place where the kids can run loose and nobody has any deadlines.
Getterum is pronounced yettarom, sort of. We never could wrap our non-Swedish tongues around it, but of course our running joke is we know we’ve arrived when we get to ‘get a room’. Speaking of rooms, Southfork is far too small for four adults, one almost-adult, and four rambunctious children, so Don’s son arranged for us to stay in the two-room guest cabin at the back of the house across the road.
The house across the road is the family home of a colleague of Jason’s and is typical of Swedish rural homes.
Swedish country homes are painted either yellow or dark red. Southfork is yellow, but many of the homes are dark red like the guest cabin. Known as Falu Red, it originated from the tailings of the hellish Falun copper mine, which dates back to 850AD. The tailings were hematite, and several hundred years ago it was discovered that hematite helps preserve wood. The hematite tailings of Falun were a reddish brown colour and paint was made by mixing it with linseed oil and other ingredients. The King gave small cottages to the soldiers on the proviso that they were well cared for. In 1684 it was declared that all officers’ houses must be painted red, both to mark it as a gentleman’s house and because it protected the building. The red also imitated the red brick of the wealthy. By the end of the eighteenth century the more successful farmers began painting their cottages red and thus were considered to be “getting above their station”. Eventually the wealthy wanted nothing to do with the red houses of the uppity farmers so they turned to white, and more commonly, yellow. I don’t think it has anything to do with wealth these days, so much as tradition. About ninety percent of rural houses are either red or yellow. The other ten percent are white, and I did see a rather radical pale green one. The Swedes are a conservative lot. Recently an artist painted his house in gradations of orange through yellow from the roof down, and a local councilor complained that it was un-Swedish. Plain yellow, or plain red please.
The owner of the very smart yellow house with the red guest cabin is a teacher. Imagine my surprise when I’m out exploring the land one day, following country trails, and I come across this:
A tidy flock of sheep on the land of a schoolteacher, apparently cared for by a local farmer.
It is permissible in Sweden to walk anywhere in the country. There’s no such thing as “no trespassing”. So we walk all over.
Except we don’t walk into the field where a very large bull takes far too much interest in us. It doesn’t matter that there is an electric fence between us and the bull, Don and I, nine-year-old Markus, and seven-year-old Elisabeth decide we should move along as quickly as we can. On the other side of the road. And no running. Then we come to a laden cherry tree at the side of the road and forget all about the bull. Reaching as high up the tree as we can, we stuff our faces with the sweet fruit, and collect some in our pockets to take home. There are still plenty left when we leave: the ones that are too high to reach.
As we walk I ask the kids how to pronounce the road signs we see. There is a small one I’ve been curious about so I ask for a translation. I’m told that it is advertising a small place close by selling antiques and second-hand goods. All the children are completely bi-lingual, and tease their father about his Canadian Swedish accent.
In the forest there is an abundance of wild raspberries, and we frequently see tiny sweet wild strawberries. Picking wild raspberries in a light rain, the ground is covered in tall grasses, shrubs, baby oak trees, and mixed in amongst it all, raspberry bushes. I clasp a jar firmly between my legs and pick the reddest ones, two or three or four at a time, and drop them into the jar. Everywhere I look I see more and more of them, in all directions. The ground is very uneven, and because of the grasses and shrubs it is impossible to see the surface. Suddenly, as I move, my foot goes down two feet lower. I’m part way down in an unexpected trench. I call it the Mariana Trench because we’ve been talking about that at dinner the night before.
And the blueberries! To say there’s an abundance of them doesn’t even come close. This forest is carpeted in small shrubs:
Look closer. They are blueberry bushes, as far as the eye can see.
Just about every day any ragged collection of the household – me and Don or either one of us, and any number of the kids go berry picking. And eating. The tiny strawberries, the size of my smallest fingernail, are the best find because they are the most rare. I am reminded of picking wild strawberries when I lived in the far northwest of Canada. They taste like nothing else on earth: tart and sweet and heavenly. The raspberries are quite plentiful, and the best I’ve ever tasted. The blueberries are so plentiful that we’re all completely blasé about them.
I am not blasé about the beauty of the butterflies
and the flowers.
Our days are filled with family fun. We play Trivial Pursuit. We cook hot dogs and marshmallows around the campfire. We go go-karting. Jason wins. Eleven-year-old Mattias is second. I come last; even Elisabeth beat me! We cook and eat many meals together. Don plays badminton with Elisabeth, Mattias and Markus. Elisabeth puts all she can into it.
I (briefly) ride a bike for the first time in years,
and Don and Jason and the kids get in a little target practice.
More than once, well more than twice, well probably several times actually, we go to the nearby lake where everyone except Rebecca, Don and me plays in the water until they turn blue. Even little Katie, the youngest, gets into it, despite the cool weather and freezing water.
The opening photo above, of the tranquil scene at the lake looking towards the church at Hjorted, the nearest village, belies the tornado of activity in the water.
I don’t care how cold I am, I’m not getting out of the water.
We go to Stockholm for a day: Don and Jason and Amanda and me. We leave very early and drive north for about three hours to the edge of the city then take the subway into the centre.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is built on fourteen of the 30,000 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago in the Baltic Sea. The city has more than fifty bridges. Ferries and sightseeing boats also connect the islands. Not surprisingly it is known as the Venice of the North.
About a thousand years ago marauding gangs frequently attacked the capital Sigtuna. Legend has it that the burgers of Sigtuna hollowed out a log, filled it with gold and set it adrift. After several days it came ashore on an island. They named the island Stockholm, meaning log island, and decided it would be the place for the new capital. It was easier to defend since it was an island, and it is situated at the inlet to Lake Mälaren, which was important for Baltic trade. The island, now called Stadsholmen, is also known as Gamla Stan, meaning old town, and dates back to the thirteenth century.
From Gamla Stan, the medieval centre of the city,
we take a boat tour around the islands of Kungsholmen, Långholmen and Reimersholme. We travel through narrow canals and past leafy shores, discovering a more urban area. An ever-changing view of Stockholm summer-time daily life is revealed as we cruise by.
Arriving back in Gamla Stan we explore the enchanting old town with its narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways, and archaic architecture of ochre and rust coloured buildings. Once away from the main square it is as if we have gone back in time,
until we come across this
and think we’ve teleported to another planet.
Finally we collapse at one of the many cafes because by now we are exhausted, but as usual food and coffee help.
At last it is time to head back to Southfork. Getterum to Stockholm, Stockholm exploration, and back to Getterum, is a lot in one day we discover.
One place we didn’t visit on this trip, and that I highly recommend, is the Vasa Museum. Don and I went there on an earlier visit to Stockholm. We read about it and thought, Oh yeah, some old boat. Maybe we’ll spend half an hour there. We were there for three hours! It’s an original authentic three-hundred-year-old warship that had sat at the bottom of Stockholm harbour after sinking within minutes of being launched. That’s a whole story in itself, but it boils down to royal hubris. The story of the raising, preservation, and housing of the ship in a specially built museum is fascinating. There are life-sized replicas of the sailors’ cabins, ramps all around the boat so you can see it at all levels, and a video about the story of a warship that sank to the bottom of the harbour on its maiden voyage. It is so much more than some old boat.
Back in Vancouver we resumed our hometown busyness while house sitting for friends. On August 23rd we flew to Istanbul.
Next few posts: travels in Turkey.
In the south the earth turns towards shorter days, in the north towards longer days. May you all have joyous and heart-filled celebrations at this time of the changing of the light. In sunshine or in snow may you be blessed with kindness and love.
Alison and Don
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.