Glad Midsommer! (pronounced ‘glod’) means ‘Happy Midsummer’ and what a happy and memorable experience it was! I timed my arrival to Sweden to experience midsummer here with my dear old friend Susan and her family. The sun was out the evening I arrived and when that happens here, it’s time to bask in it as much as possible and bring out the grill from winter storage. The nights scarcely get dark and we were up till quite late.
The morning of midsummer, Susan and I took a walk to the hill behind her home to admire the view of Stockholm. The walk there and back was through pretty lanes lined with wild flowers, and through the trees you could make out typical Swedish homes painted in ‘falun-red’ dappled in sunlight.
On our way back, we picked seven different types of flowers to make a midsummer crown for her 6 year old daughter, Amy. It is one of Sweden’s most important holidays, if not the most important. Everyone heads out to the country and the city empties out. Stefan, Susan, the children and I piled into the car and drove out to Ekerö one of the many islands around the Stockholm archipelago. We met up with friends Anna, Rikard and their children and carried our picnic baskets and had a lovely traditional Swedish lunch while waiting for the festivities to begin.
Our lunch was different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with fresh dill, sour cream and raw red onions and fresh strawberries and cream with the perfect accompaniment of spiced schnapps! A drinking song accompanies each downing of the schnapps. Sköl! Dessert was a delicious strawberry cake made by Rikard.
Midsummer celebration is a family affair and generations of families were out – many with midsummer crowns on their heads. (Our floral crown for Amy didn’t last!). When the maypole is put up, the singing and dancing begins. For my benefit, we did a round of dancing!
In the evening we had yet another wonderful barbeque at Anna’s and Rikard’s who live close to a beautiful lake and by the woods. We went for a walk through this amazing place which was so picturesque with the sun shining through the woods, it was like walking into a postcard!
My introduction to Sweden was simply exhilarating! More to explore and see in the next week …
In and Around the Stockholm Archipelago
The picture of Sweden that I had always had in my mind was that of a photo, in a long ago issue of the National Geographic, of a Swede in a leather jacket, eyes closed, face turned up to the sun. At age 10, living a couple of degrees above the Equator, I couldn’t comprehend this ‘soaking in the sun’ business – I do now! There’s nothing quite like the warmth of the sun when it’s cold 8 months of the year!
Stockholm is beautiful. There is always something magical about a city surrounded by water. There were so many little islands to visit.
We walked, we drove , took ferries … taking the ferry around the archipelago was a great way to get around and to get a feel of the place. We took the ferry out to a little island called Fjäderholmarna. Lots of artisans – painters, potters, glass makers. Walking around Gamla Stan (Old Town) was a particular highlight. It is the original city centre and dates from the 13th century with cobbled stones and beautiful medieval buildings.
We spent hours in the Vasa museum. The Vasa was a magnificent ship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 barely 1300 metres out of port! She was found, resurrected and reconstructed 333 years later. The history and engineering feat of keeping her preserved was quite captivating.
The grounds of the beautiful Drottningholm (Queen’s ‘home’ is the private residence of the royal family) beckoned us for a picnic and picnic we did! It was so relaxing and we sat chatting and eating under the shade of a tree, relishing our skagen röra and pickled herring.
We were really lucky with the weather and with the days being long, we did quite a lot in a day. We would almost always end the day with one of Susan’s amazing dinners! (She definitely did not possess such culinary talent when we were in college!)
We even took a midnight walk to the hill behind Susan’s house (Johanneslunde Tippen), it was still bright and we imagined that the pretty colours in the sky was the aurora borealis …except it was coming from the wrong direction! It was an amazing night that night, the sky was light and Stockholm looked beautiful from that hill.
There’s so much to see and do in Sweden, that Siân (who joined me a couple of days after I arrived) and I decided that we would stay here a few more days and cancel our original plan of going to Estonia, as lovely and interesting as that would have been too.
So we decided to go as far north as possible in the short time we had left and chase the midnight sun!
Chasing the Midnight Sun!
Hudiksvall, Midnight Sun Coast, Sweden
I did not expect Sweden to be this green! As we drove north, the spruces, firs, birches, waved us along and the road was fringed with beautiful wild lupins! We tried to take as little of the highway as possible, preferring the smaller roads along the coast which allowed us to see so much more.
Our first stop was a short visit to the Uppsala cathedral and castle and on we went to Gävle, which is supposed to be a pretty town and one that is recommended on the top ten day trips to make from Stockholm.
Here we faced our first navigational challenge. It started pouring, we couldn’t see much of the place and signage was abysmal. We had no map of this town, so after much circling around as if in a dreadful ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, I whip out my iPhone for the compass! … But no matter which way we turned the compass showed that we were going west! As the rain let up, we really went back to basics and navigated by the sun – and it worked! (This was the first of several instances where we had to rely on the position of the sun and good sense and judgment to navigate, since our compass failed us and we didn’t have detailed maps of the roads we were on)
We stopped at this little place called Engesberg for lunch.
Before I continue, I have to digress to explain how astonished we were at discovering that we have always been mispronouncing Swedish names! The ‘berg’ and ‘borg’ in Swedish names are not pronounced as they are spelt!! They are pronounced ‘berre’… This came as a complete shock as we’ve all been mispronouncing the names of famous Swedes such as Stringberg, Bergman, Edberg, Borg …!
And now back to Engesberg (Enges-berre)… a lovely idyllic place by the water. The road north was so pretty with forests on one side and intermittently fjords, sounds, bays (I’m not entirely sure of the difference!) on the other.
What struck us about the landscape was that it is uncannily similar to the American mid-west and reminded us of the Amish farms and buildings. This is where the influence came from! The mid-western Amish barns are just like the barns here and in the same falun red.
The journey north took us through Bönan where we stopped to see the lighthouse; Ljusne where we stopped for photos and the beautiful church in Norrala bathed in sunlight. In Njutånger we just had to stop to inspect the unusual bell tower which was built in the 15th century, which stood separate from the church and it had a look about it that reminded us of a stupa!
We forged ahead and got as far north as Hudiksvall – Latitude 61degrees, in the bay of Hudiksvallsfjärden. Hudiksvall is also known as Glada Hudik (Happy Hudik), “a term that originated in the 19th century as word spread of its friendly hospitality and its lively social life.” (I wouldn’t know about the latter though, it seemed like a rather sleepy town).
It was brighter than Stockholm when we walked around the town at midnight, the sky still had a bluish-pinkish hue.
Our ‘chase’ ended and we drove back to Stockholm the next morning, taking yet another scenic route, once again stopping along the way to look at marvelous medieval churches.
We had a fabulous dinner with Susan, Stefan, the kids, Stefan’s sister and niece … and of course promises were made to visit each other and many a happy ‘Sköls’ were had.
Tomorrow Siân and I fly to Warsaw, meet up with the third member of our triumvirate, Shyam, who will fly down from Singapore to join us for the next exciting destination – Poland! A country that was wiped off the world map for more than a century!