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Sweden – who knew?!

Guided by our amazing friends in Sweden, we discovered so many wonderful and strange things during our 4 week exploration of the south of this fantastic country – a real highlight of our tour so far.

Swedish hospitality

First at Västervik and then in Vimmerby, we were welcomed, entertained and generally spoilt rotten – by 4 generations of the Ask family and Tony and so many other lovely people! We’ve been immersed in Swedish culture, traditions and family histories and shared in the current excitement around Andy and Ucci’s new house and Robin’s plans to build an off-grid summerhouse in Durjsala.

I mentioned the breakfasts last time. Other culinary delights include Ostkake (cheesecake), korv (hot dog style sausages), raggmonk (potato pancakes, served with bacon and lingonberry jam) and last but not least – kebab meat pizza with chips (served on the pizza) and ‘pizza salad’ (a pickled cabbagey thing). And of course we had Swedish meatballs!

We did so many fantastic things but highlights would have to include:

  • Chilling/ messing about on ‘the rock’, swimming, paddleboarding, playing guitar and banjo with beers at sunset and so on.
  • Watching the Queen/Freddie Mercury movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, at the film festival in an outdoor cinema in the ruins at Slottsholmen.
  • The Stadsvandring – an evening stroll around Vimmerby with actors in period dress telling stories, often based on real people and events in local history. It was all in Swedish but we really enjoyed it!
  • Seeing the Elk. We would have loved to see them in the wild (but not at night on the road!) but this was the next best thing. Huge beasts, very soft mouths – ‘like a peach’ says Tony. Bev was the only one in our party to go for a kiss…

I only hope we can repay such wonderful hospitality someday!

Name Days

One of the traditions in Sweden is to celebrate ‘name days’ and there were two while we there with our friends – Margareta on 20th July as it’s one of Ucci’s many middle names; and Christina on 24th July, which we celebrated with Chrisa and Mickaela (it’s her middle name) with a big family breakfast and cake…

I felt a bit sorry for young Winston, because as it’s not a traditional Swedish name, he doesn’t have a name day!

Buying booze in Sweden

Systembolaget is the government-owned chain of off-licences in Sweden. Since 1955, this is the only place (apart from bars, restaurants and night-clubs) where you can buy strong alcoholic beverages. The one we went to was nice – plenty of range and reasonably priced (compared to bars). Felt a bit like a duty free shop in an airport. Apparently, the staff are usually quite knowledgeable and you can order anything in if its not in stock. 

Turns out they have names for the different categories of öl (ale), based on the strength:

  • Lättöl 0.0% – 2.25% – Light
  • Lätt Folköl 2.8% – introduced more recently to align with EU
  • Folköl 2.9% – 3.5% – ‘the people’s beer’
  • Mellanöl 3.6% – 4.5% – in-between beer
  • Starköl 4.6% and above – Strong beer

You can buy cans of beer in the supermarkets, but only up to 3.5%.These are 3.5% versions of beers we normally see at 5.0% here in the UK, so were heartily dismissed as ‘piss ale’ by some of our party.

And one more thing on beer – each can has a deposit or ‘pant’ of 1 Krona which is an incentive to drive positive recycling behaviour. You feed the empties into a machine in the supermarket and it gives you a receipt for money off inside. We saw the same in Denmark and Germany.

Fika

This is the habit of regular breaks for coffee, chat and little cakes or nibbles. Someone pops by – fika time! Job done – time for a fika! We got into it. Lots of cinnamon whirls, little biscuits, etc. One of our faves was an orange and coconut biscuit/flarn – which was so good Bev asked Ucci’s dad for the recipe.

Loppis

You see this on handwritten signs everywhere – it means ‘flea’ and points towards a flea market. Some are temporary car boot style, some more established. Some have fika! I half wanted to visit one – I’m on the lookout for some specific bits and bobs for a secret musical project – but had to remind myself that we don’t have room in the van for any ‘tat’. 

Raggere

This is the word for the Swedish craze for all things American and vintage – Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles, 1950s music and dress, and so on. Some estimates say there are now more restored vintage classic cars in Sweden than in the USA. One day we passed car after car after car – heading to a massive meet-up at Falköping . Our last night in Sweden was a Wild West spectacular at a bison farm – we thought we might see a few there and weren’t disappointed. Chevrolets, Dodges and this immaculate Oldsmobile…

Allemansrätt

In Sweden, this is an ancient law that provides the legal right of access to private, uncultivated land. You can:

  • Wander freely in forest and fields.
  • Pick berries, mushrooms, and wild flowers if they are not endangered.
  • Camp one night, without permission of the landowners, if it is not too close to a populated area.
  • Bathe, row, sail, paddle and drive motor boats on lakes, rivers and archipelagos.
  • Make fires (proceeding with extreme caution).

But you must not:

  • Damage growing trees or bushes.
  • Walk over fields in crop or through newly planted forest areas.
  • Take bird’s eggs or bird’s nests.
  • Leave garbage (paper, plastic, glass, etc…) in countryside.

This is amazing for wild campers! We found that nature reserve car parks were an ideal place to spend the nights – most of them had:

  • a toilet, often a compost toilet but most were really nice!
  • picnic tables
  • a fire pit
  • waste bins
  • spectacular views, walks or paddleboarding

Bev got into exercising her Allemansrätt, picking bilberries/blueberries for some amazing pies…

As a result of staying at friend’s houses and free nights at nature reserves, our camping costs for Sweden were far lower than we expected and we loved it so much, we stayed a whole month.

Where we ‘live’ !?!

All through July I took a few pics of where we parked/camped/slept each night: Nature reserves, marinas, a bison farm, town and city centre car parks, fjords, lakes and being spoilt rotten at our Swedish friend’s houses. Our Benimar Mileo van ‘Stargazer’ is the star of this one 🙂 The ditty is a sketch of a new song, with words by Bev.

Västervik Live!

“Can anyone remember what they were doing 100 days ago?” I started into my story at the Västervik Live Songs and Stories event, to a friendly crowd of Swedes in the historic and picturesque Båtmansgränd (the old boatmen’s houses).

April 9th was ‘day 1’, when we left Newcastle and started our new life in the van. After Copenhagen, we’d traveled up the Swedish coast and made it to our first planned destination – Västervik, and our Newcastle friends Andy and Ucci’s new house. I got to celebrate ‘day 100’ by playing at one of the city’s summer concerts. Easily the biggest show of our journey so far, I opened for Robin Bengtsson, who sang for Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2017!

There was a catch though – I had to tell a story! I was more nervous about that than the music. What would I say? Would they understand my northern accent? Would they laugh at my jokes? The promoter Jim and compere Catrin were really nice and encouraging, and Bev helped with ideas for a story. I talked about our adventure, about making positive changes in your life, taking a risk maybe, but following a dream. 

Sometimes if you listen to the news, especially in the UK right now, you’d think the world is a terrible place. You’d be better off staying in your homes, keeping your head down. But everywhere we’ve been, we’ve met wonderful, warm, friendly people doing amazing things to celebrate life and make the world a brighter, better place.

A good example: Sebbe at Strandkompaniet in Sandhammaren. He moved there from Stockholm to set up a smokehouse – with the ambition that all the ingredients they use for hams and sausage is so local, it can be delivered by bicycle. In just 3 years, he has almost achieved that. This year, he opened a beach bar/cafe, putting on live music on Thursdays through the summer. We were camping nearby so I emailed to ask about a gig. He replied straight away and put on an extra night on the Friday. I played 3 sets and had a great night.

And, I can confirm the sausages are spectacular!

100 days on the road…

Our 100th day was fantastic from start to finish. Ucci’s sister Chrisa and Tony treated us to a huge breakfast of Swedish favourites including Västervik Korv (sausage), liver pate with pickled cucumbers, boiled eggs with dill caviar, and cheese with jam on toast! We walked with the dogs into Västervik – past Slottsholmen, the fancy hotel built by Björn from Abba – to see the Hasselörodden, an annual parade of rowing boats with locals dressed in traditional fisherman’s outfits. I was too stuffed from breakfast to try a herring burger, but by the size of the queue, they must be good. Back for lunch, then we helped move some furniture into the gorgeous new house.

Songs and Stories

Tony gave me a lift into town with my gear to soundcheck – it all sounded great with Alvin on the desk. Then, Bev shouting at the end of the row of historic houses, “Come and see this!” They’d got a lift into town in a convoy of army jeeps, including one used by the British army in WW2! Bonkers. We bumped into another set of relatives, Pea and Freddan, who happened to be stuck in Västervik by virtue of a broken steering cable on their boat. The gig went really well – I played 6 of my own songs and the crowd’s reaction was really positive. Lots of nice comments and great feedback from the organisers. Might be back next year!

We enjoyed the other acts, Stefan and Sarah and then Robin, playing acoustic guitar along with a fantastic percussionist. What a voice! Good mix of songs, mostly in English. Great version of John Fogerty’s “Blue moon nights” and his Eurovision song, “I can’t go on”, had everyone up at the end. We moved on to watch the sunset from the boat, drinking gin and singing songs!

We don’t know where we’ll be in a 100 days time, but I hope it is as good as this!

48 hour Travel Van: Copenhagen

We often find ourselves quoting Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man when we get parked and start exploring somewhere new:

“Well, we’re here – but should we have come?”

We remembered he’d been to Copenhagen and thought we’d compare our 48 hour stint with his. Bearing in mind that Denmark has the 7th highest cost of living and this is the capital city, we knew it might be a challenge to do it justice on a budget…

Getting there

The Storebælt bridge links west and east Denmark – it is impressive, but quite expensive – £44.58 for a one-way crossing in the motorhome. Nearly as much as Travel Man’s £56 flight from the UK!

Accommodation

Richard ‘spaffed’ (his words) £75 a night at the Alexandra hotel. On the park4night app, I found an alternative option close to the Little Mermaid and a short walk from the city centre attractions. Free parking for the weekend – from 5pm Saturdays to 8am Mondays – and big, wide spaces for motorhomes. We got there a little before 5pm (in case it was busy) so had to stump up for a couple of hours parking – the princely sum of £6.34 for 2 nights in the city centre!

Day 1

As we were so close, we started with the Kastellet. This is a perfectly preserved 17th century pentagon-shaped fortress, which still houses various military activities today. Lovely walks, a beautiful windmill and some impressive cannons.

From there, the famous Edvard Eriksen statue of the Little Mermaid was a short walk away. She was completely surrounded by tourists, but still a lovely sight to behold.

On past the Gefion (Norse goddess) Fountain and back home to spruce up for an evening out on the town. We’d heard that as beer is so expensive, Scandinavians have a drink at home before they go out – so we tried that, with some pretzels and beer sausages.

I had a craving for fish – something we’d just not fancied in landlocked countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic. An ‘all you can eat’ sushi restaurant called Nozomi caught my eye, nearby, good reviews. I didn’t know what to expect and How wasn’t entirely convinced but we wandered along to check it out. Very nice inside, very modern, very Scandinavian. All the sushi made fresh to order. You pay extra for what you order and don’t eat, so you’re encouraged to order a few bits at a time. We were lucky to get a table, as most were reserved. The price was pretty reasonable for Copenhagen and of course we stuffed ourselves, washing it down with a couple of not so cheap Sapporo. We noticed almost every other table just had water to drink!

Copenhagen Jazz festival was on so, our bellies full, we wandered to the Nyhavn area and caught the end of a lively set by piano player and singer Christian Brundgaard. After that, we wandered down Nyhavn and found some music – singer songwriter Thannos entertaining a crowd in the Fisken pub. We set a new record for the cost of 2 beers – £15.67!! How sang a few songs in the intervals, earning himself an IPA off Thannos.

Day 2

Up late (too much Sapporo??), we decided to visit the Christiania area and see some sights. We set Marra up in his rover and wandered via the Frederiks Kirke and the Amalienborg Palace. We just missed the changing of the guard ceremony, but took in the surroundings anyway. 

Christiania was originally a hippy commune, created in a former barracks in the 1970s, with the intention to create a self-governing society. Now it’s an alternative community with eco-restaurants, art galleries and music venues. Sounds great, but the bits we saw just didn’t have a nice vibe. The dope sellers on Pusher Street seemed more like tough street gangs than laid back dudes in tie-dyed clothes and Jesus sandals! We didn’t see all of it, so maybe there is another side. We enjoyed chips and a (relatively cheap) beer at Nemoland. They were starting to set up for one of their free Sunday concerts, but we had more sights to see so wandered on. 

We wandered back past the parliament buildings – which we’d seen on TV in ‘Borgen’ – and the Bibliotekshaven, the garden of the Royal Library. 

As we’d covered a fair distance on our walking tour, we called it a day for sightseeing. I baked a loaf, made some cookies and cooked a 2 course meal at home in the van!

Conclusions:

It’s a nice city, very stylish, very green – cyclists and scooterists everywhere. Friendly people, speaking excellent English. But, as we were warned, booze is expensive!

Cost breakdown:

  • Bridge toll: £44.58
  • Accomodation: £6.34
  • Food & drink: £100.97
  • Entertainment: £0
  • Attractions: £0

Travel Van costs: £75.95 per person

Travel Man costs (2016): £456 per person

Of course, they did various organised tours (Carlsberg brewery and cycling) that we can’t easily do with the dogs. We didn’t try to do everything, for example, tasting Smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches), or seeing the botanic gardens and palm house. Something for the ‘maybe next time’ list.