A Swedish Saga

Leaving Oslo I found myself on a lovely red upholstered train but with no nice little labels above the seats to say whether they were reserved or not. Being flustered by this discovery, I sat down in the first seat I saw which, I swear I’m brilliant, happened to be right beside the structural pillar on the side of the train. So my “window seat” had no window whatsoever. Joy. Fortunately, I found myself with an Australian backpacker as my seat buddy and as soon as I’d sent my required messages and checked on parcels and transit reservations, I found myself chatting away about Canadian winters, Australian animals, and European travel. Time goes so much faster when you have something other than your own thoughts to keep you company.


Upon arrival in Gothenburg, I bid my Aussie farewell and headed off to find my host. After a bit of waiting and a small miscommunication (darn my phone’s sluggish arrival to new networks), I was on a bus headed to my host’s house just at the outside of the city proper. Some chatting and phone charging later, we headed out to a nearby park with a viewpoint over the city. Turns out Gothenburg is bigger than I thought! I might be in for rather more than planned… Either way, the wind was strong and soon the clouds started to roll in so we headed back home via the ethnic grocery store where I found, for the first time since leaving China, fried tofu like we used to get in our 火锅!The pieces were much larger and it came in a can but it was delightful and savoury and flavourful and it made a most excellent dinner along with some rice and 蒜泥黄瓜. I seem to be going through a bit of a Sinitic phase again, better practice my Mandarin. After dinner we sat around chatting about everything from social and romantic ideals to conceptions of infinity and the tenth dimension. I’ve missed philosophical geeking out quite badly in the last few intensely “practical” years of life.

Day two in Gothenburg began with an epic sleep in. I was awake by 8 but there was no movement from my host so I went back to sleep for a few hours. By 10:30 I was no longer able to stay in bed so my laptop and my food bag accompanied me quietly to the kitchen where I mucked about online for a few hours and ate a prolonged breakfast of bread, fruit, and nuts. By 1 o’clock, I was beginning to grow antsy but as we had agreed to go adventuring together I sort of had to wait. I did however begin to make rather more noise and soon we were up and heading out into the world. We took a bus to town where we wandered through the city centre from the university (and it’s beautiful old library), to a fortress on a hill, a pedestrian shopping area (very touristy), some old wooden houses, and tons of churches. We had intended to stop for a meal at a working-class styled cafeteria but alas it was closed for the summer.

Instead the most interesting stop of the day ended up being an organic food shop where we stopped to find me some coffee when my addiction headache began to threaten. Being an activist type, my host began to chat with the owners while I got my coffee and eventually, admits arguments that organic is more important than locally produced (because ethanol trucks) and that GMOs are the devil, I sort of maybe tossed a small firecracker into the pot by arguing for the potential validity of GMOs. Dear God. Another shopper soon got involved an a nearly hour long discussion ensued ranging from Monsanto, to anti-vax, to the overpopulation myth, and all manner of anarchistic ideas which curiously ended up disagreeing with each other. It was quite intense and eventually switched to Swedish which was probably for the best as I had checked out intellectually when vaccines were couched as the fascistic corporations trying to get control of us. Either way, I got my coffee and was entertained by the various levels of fundamentalism and the various facets to the anti-establishment perspective. As an asthmatic woman, I do not think that I am likely to turn properly anti-establishment anytime soon. I’m rather too fond of my healthcare and legal protections.

We also stopped at a rather elegant old cafe in a high ceilinged building in the older part of the city centre where I had another coffee and a delicious kanelbulle. Rather than our spiral shaped buns, this was just loads and loads of strips of bread soaked in sugar, cinnamon, and butter and then flopped into a muffin tin of sorts and baked to perfection. The ratio of cinnamon to sugar also favours the cinnamon in a way which I found greatly superior to your average American sticky bun and of course the tangled mass of bread pieces was very much to my taste for picking away at my food and I spent a good twenty minutes slowly peeling apart the layers to devour them fragment by fragment. Traditional Canadian cinnamon buns may never quite measure up.

After that it was more busses and trams to return to my host’s house for a quiet evening hiding from the sudden arrival of the rain and plotting the next day’s adventure.

Following a late night up panicking about a delay in my shipment of miscellaneous stuff home to Canada, I was up and headed into the city to catch a tram to the ferry port before steaming across the water to one of the islands of Gothenburg’s archipelago.

Two and a half hours later, I stepped off the ferry onto Vrångö. It’s a carless island and is very nearly the most southerly island in the archipelago. It is also possessed of a quaint little holiday town with accompanying harbour sandwiched between two large tracts of nature reserve which claim the south and north sections of the island. Now being a coffee slave such as I am, I did not jump immediately into the adventuring despite beautiful sunshine and promises of lovely views. No, instead, I stopped immediately in the first coffee shop I found which happened to be located less than 10 metres from the dock. It was all airy and quaint and terribly pretty and they served my chocolate-coconut cake on a beautiful little china saucer. It was so twee I nearly forgave them having only drip coffee poured from a carafe that had probably been out for at least an hour. Caffeine addiction is probably the most reliable way to counteract coffee snobbery.

Having finished my little fika (it’s the Swedish word for stopping in a cafe for a coffee or tea and a sweet) and having listened to an entirely adequate amount of loud meowing from the local attention-demanding feline, I took off along the path to the south. I did not stay on the path for long. Soon I was rock hopping along the coastline in a fearsome wind only partly counteracted by the sun. I came across loads of peach and white quartz, startled a flock of wild geese, found a desiccated seal skin lying beside an envelope with an nuclear waste warning, and finally found myself a perfect notch in a rock where I sat reading and basking in the sunlight and the sea breeze. Unfortunately, my metabolism is not the most efficient when it comes to being warm and so I soon found myself up and clambering once more until I reached a tiny hut atop the highest point on the island overlooking the town and the harbour. The views were nice but the wind was brutal so I jogged down the steps to the village with it’s quaint holiday houses scattered like mushrooms around the tangled twist of ‘streets’ that sliced up the small part of the island that wasn’t nature reserve.

After a small adventure around the town I was still not ready to return to the ferry so I decided to check out the North side. Strolling through rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, rolling sheep fields and snug little forests I found myself caught in an intermittent rainstorm which alternated between brilliant sunlight and angry little spats of showers. Fortunately I was equipped with my super-duper impermeable (and also hideously bright) rain jacket so I stayed mostly dry if not entirely delighted with the weather. After finishing my loop of the northern nature reserve, I stumbled across a quaint little old graveyard with a chapel on stilts. It was a curious little place in the forest but somehow I liked it for it’s smallness and simplicity.

And then it was time to hop back on the ferry and return to the city. Unfortunately the weather only worsened as the day went on and I found myself tired, wet, and struggling to maintain enthusiasm for Gothenburg’s Old Town. It is very quaint and full of prettily ornamented brick and stone buildings but with a monsoon rolling by in waves and a striking degree of sleep deprivation, well I had my battle cut out for me. I strolled up and down the cobbled streets, peeked at churches that were locked up and closed to the public, and finally found the Gothenburg Domkirke open to silly tourists like me wanting a look. It was divine. All bright and airy and white, though lacking the stamp of age, it had that cloudy elevation that I was so fond of in Skagen’s Svensk Kirke. I suppose the Swedes like to worship in open, airy places and I should be inclined to agree with their taste. I was also lucky enough to catch another little organ performance. Though not playing on the main organ of the church, there was an organist playing away on the smaller organ at the front of the church. I did not stay long for fear of falling asleep in the pew, but what I heard was lovely. Church music certainly stirs the soul most effectively.

As the day wore on the rain became more frequent and heavier and after hiding in a home decorating shop for about 15 minutes I finally gave in and found a cafe where I whiled away an hour over a chai latte until the rain slowed enough to allow me to run back across the inlet to my host’s house where I could finally get in and out of the wet.

My last day in Gothenburg was another late start as a result of my attempts to not wake my delightful nocturnal host. I guess when you have rejected wage slavery you can reject normal circadian rhythms too? Either way, at about 11 I got tired of waiting and started packing my backpack noisy or no. By 12 we had parted ways and I was off into town to check out the art and design museum. I wandered through a History of Swedish Design, an exhibit about Kraftwerk which made me want to explore more of their music, and a small collection of student designs from this year.

After I had exhausted the possibilities of the design museum, I wandered back out into the city to stare at churches, amble along the broad city centre avenues, and inevitably stumble into a park. Well not exactly a park, but the Gothenburg Garden Society which is basically a botanical garden from another era. It is also absolutely stunning.

After a wander along the river, through trees and fields, I found myself at the Palmhus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a glasshouse open to the public and not gone in, so of course I bounded through the door. It may have been the best glasshouse I’ve ever visited. Not only were there multitudes of flowering tropical plants (including a Victoria Water Lily), there were also benches tucked into every corner and in the central room which housed the actual palm trees, there was a balcony level with tables and chairs welcoming visitors to sit up amongst the higher fronds and look down upon the little nugget of tropics below. I suppose in cold places glasshouses are even more important than elsewhere, but I think if I lived in Gothenburg, you’d have a hard time ever getting me out of that warm, beautiful, arch of white painted cast iron and glass for the duration of the winter.

The garden also hosted a stunning rose garden full of all colours and varieties of roses, which I unashamedly spent a good half hour strolling through and ‘stopping to smell the roses’ as it were. It is such a shame that so many of the newer rose breeds have lost their scent through selective colour based mixing—the smell of an old rose is one of the most soothing and elevating scent in the world.

Drifting on my cloud of perfumed peace, I soon found myself in a cafe with a blueberry tart and a latte. I have perhaps adapted to the Swedish fika a little too easily. And that’s how I ended up people watching with a bold little songbird who hopped happily onto the chair next to me for most of an hour. By the time the jackdaws arrived, I was done my latte so I left the cafe and resumed my wander.

Some architecture and photography later, I was back in the station waiting for my train. By some wonderful freak, my train car was gifted with a screaming baby which precluded any peaceful musing or possible napping which made the 3.5 hour train ride (yes, the train was late) rather more trying than expected. Fortunately, I was soon in Stockholm in the pouring rain.


After a bit of drama surrounding key acquisition after hours and a fantastically faulty dorm room door, I was checked in, changed into dance clothes and ready to head back out into the downpour to find salsa. I might have gotten a tiny bit lost in the dark and the wet but I got there eventually and stripping out of my sodden jacket found a club full of Cubano. Honestly, there was only one person there dancing LA and as far as I could see everyone else was dancing Cuban. I guess it’s good for me to tackle the whole circular business of it? I did also manage to fit in some pretty fun Dominican Bachata and was reminded of how effective wearing a team t-shirt is for getting dances.

Friday morning I checked out of the hostel and headed out into the endless rain to explore. I will spare you a detailed description of every church I visited, but let’s just say there were a lot! And each of them had a different style and a different feel. I’m not entirely sure that any would have been a favourite, but they were very impressive all up on their little hills. I also visited Stockholm’s excellent public library which has a round tower filled with books! It’s heaven, incomprehensible heaven, but heaven nonetheless. [For all the library nerds: Sweden has its very own classification system called SAB, it’s a bit mental and I don’t get it but the poor librarians were not enthusiastic about trying to explain it all to me in English]

Having exhausted my list of possible entertainments in the North part of the city centre, I wandered my way down to Gamle Stockholm via the Parliament and the Royal Palace. I didn’t pay to enter the palace proper but if the outside (and the chapel) are anything to go by it’s absolutely stunning. The chapel was open to the public and in perfect honesty, I have never seen a church look so very expensive without looking crass. Words fail me, hopefully pictures will not. Which brings me to the next turn of events. As I left the palace looking for more architecture and history, my camera began to threaten low battery. Hoping that allowing it to rest would be sufficient, I sat people watching for a while in the main square in the old town before taking off in search of more churches. Alas, though the rest allowed it to last a bit longer, the camera was soon dead and I was left with only my eyes and my faulty memory to record the rest of the day. I visited Stockholm’s Cathedral, got caught in a downpour, waited out the downpour in a narrow sheltered alleyway, dropped by the oldest building in Stockholm, the Riddarholmen church, walked all around the island ofRiddarholmen, and then decided it was time to drag myself back up towards the hostel to collect my luggage before waiting for the train.

By complete accident, I stumbled across a dance museum…with free entry! Fortunately, I was not on a tight timeline so I was able to stop and explore gorgeous costumes from the Ballet Russe as well as miscellaneous dance, music, and theatre artefacts from all over the world. I also ended up spending the better part of an hour watching a recording of some modern ballet which might have been a reworking of Carmen? Unfortunately, however, I never did find an information plaque to tell me what I’d been watching and before it was over it was time for me to scuttle back up to the hostel. In the wonderful way that Scandinavian hostels provide staffing (i.e. not 24 hours) I had to get back by 5 to collect my luggage even though my train didn’t leave until 6:40. At least there’s interesting people watching to be had in train stations.


A short sunny train ride later I was at the train station in Uppsala to meet a dance friend from Victoria, Tess. We headed out to her father’s house in the countryside where we had a lovely walk past shy cows, beautiful green fields, and lots and lots of bright red Swedish barns. It was a beautiful bright evening and the skies stretched wider than Ireland’s ever did. It was remarkably like home—Fort St John home—and it was very very nice. By the time we got back to the house there was dinner waiting (yummy thai curry) followed by a rhubarb cake, coffee, and conversation.

The following day, Tess and I decided to play tourist in Uppsala and soak up all the wonderful history that lives in a town that has had a university since 1477. We started with a stroll past some of the old university buildings before detouring to the Domkyrka, an impressive edifice which holds the bones of a good many Swedish kings and dignitaries, as well, I am sure as some more paltry local types. The church is also evidently the location where Swedish royalty are coronated, so it’s beautiful and rightly so!

After the domkyrka, we headed to the Carolina Rediviva Library. Have I mentioned the fact that Scandinavia knows how to do libraries? Because oh my god do they ever! It was a beautiful airy space with three levels of books and reading rooms dedicated to research where entire desks were packed with ancient books currently being used in all manner of research from human rights to ancient history and maths. We probably spent too long wandering the shelves thumbing open books from several centuries past but it was divine! I could have spent all day there just pacing around peering as history. And if the library wasn’t enough on it’s own, as we were leaving, we spotted an entrance to the library’s small museum area which housed the Silver Bible, a gorgeous 6th rendering of the bible translated into gothic and inscribed on faintly purple tinted paper with runes and illuminations in silver and gold ink, as well as old pop up anatomy books, the oldest extant Swedish document (a legal contract of some sort) and a copy of a map of Europe from the Roman Empire. I was in an absolute ecstasy of history and bibliophilia.

After finally peeling myself out of the Carolina Rediviva, we headed over to the Gustavianum which houses one of Europe’s oldest dissection theatres. Our tour guide was a rather shy soul possessed of shaky English but the exhibits on Celsius, Carl Linnaeus, and Art Cabinets were all interesting and the dissection theatre itself all steeply set with viewing stalls and painted in that particular shade of greenish grey most conducive to hiding blood stains. Altogether a charming place.

Having had our fill of science and history, we then headed out in search of lunch. We had planned to go to a hipstery little coffee shop in the centre of town but when we arrived it looked more cheap diner than delicious coffee, and the crepe shop next door had a 50 minute wait for food, so we toddled over to Café Linne where I had a delicious smoked salmon melt and what I thought would be a frozen blended coffee. It wasn’t. It was a ridiculously overindulgent dessert halfway between and milkshake and a granita with chocolate syrup and more whipped cream than I had any need to eat. Of course, I ate it all. No regrets.

After lunch we wandered over to the Royal Palace (large and pink) and then tripped our way down the hillside to the botanical gardens where we soon plopped our food-coma stricken selves down on the lawn to lounge and chat. There was some sort of boules competition going on but the hedges around the rose garden made it quiet and peaceful. Until the rain began to pour down that is. We hid under a tree for a bit and then fled to the car to drive back to the farm. After a bit of a downpour during the drive, the sun came back out so we picked strawberries before heading back into town in search of dance. There was meant to be tango at an open air dance floor, but when we got there there weren’t many dancers and most of them had at least a couple decades on us in age. Fortunately, the sun was still out so we took a walk along the river instead. Uppsala is a very pretty city and it’s at its best on a sunny evening by the river.

Having strolled to our hearts’ content, we headed back home for dinner and an evening of cards. We played a Russian game called durak which Tess had learned from Canadian friends who had learned it through trial and error and loud Russian “NO!” while riding the Trans-Siberian Railway. You need at least three people to play but it’s great fun and it reminded me just how enjoyable an evening of cards can be.

My last day in Uppsala we had a slow morning chatting and playing whist (yes, I learned two card games in two days! Huge props to Tess for having the patience to teach me!). Around 3pm we headed to town so that I could get my train and Tess could start her drive back to Eskilstuna. Having said my goodbyes, I headed to the platform only to find that my darling dear Swedish train was 30 minutes behind schedule. 20 minutes later, that changed to an hour behind schedule. Another 10 minutes after the rescheduled time, we finally caught our train (a short—though double decker—train) from a different platform. Thus far, the Norwegian trains are winning for Germanic efficiency. In defence of the Swedish system, it did give me plenty of time for another fika, this time a latte, and a sweet pastry glazed with sugar and sprinkled with cracked black pepper. It sounds strange but it was amazing.


Stepping off my delightfully late train, I was met by a Westie from Oslo, Kim Tomas, who’d come across to spend a few days dancing and exploring Stockholm with me. We found our way to our Air BnB, a converted recording studio in a very grand semi-circular building, and did our best to convert two tired travellers into perky happy West Coast Swing dancers. Given our popularity at the dance party we attended, I’d say we both succeeded. The swing in Stockholm was the best I’d had in a long while which might have meant that I spent a lot of time hiding my failure to land on the right foot with cheeky styling and big stupid smiles. I suspect partial success?

After all night dancing, the following morning was a slow lazy start with delicious coffee courtesy of the Norwegian (who puts most of my coffee loving Canadians to shame with Norwegian Coffee culture). We spent the day wandering around Stockholm’s hipster neighbourhood, SoFo, stopping in at a range of hipster shops to laugh at 80s fashion and adore the less sequinned, more sophisticated options from the 50s and before. We also found more amazing coffee at Drop Coffee where we stopped for sandwich-fika sometime around the mid afternoon.

Having walked all afternoon, we refuelled at the grocery store and then headed out for drinks at Pharmarium—a very cool cocktail bar in the old city. One of the drinks had gold leaf and champagne, the other had smoke and more sophisticated and complicated flavours than I have ever before encountered in a cocktail. It was spectacular. It was also frighteningly expensive, but I shall forgive the indulgence for it was entirely worth it.

My last day in Sweden was another lazy day with more wandering and a stop at another fantastic coffee shop, this time at Johan & Nyström. We got their two featured brewed coffees, one of which was an El Salvadorean (blended richly with memory for me) and the other which was called Geisha and had an impressively diverse and floral profile for a coffee. I suspect that Scandinavia has opened up a whole new level of coffee snobbery for me, and I would not be surprised if I become the proud owner of an Aeropress sometime in the not so distant future.

And then suddenly it was over. I was in the airport bidding farewell to a friend and a city which had provided me two lovely relaxed days in Sweden.

Content and full of coffee,
The Canadian


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