After our moonlit flit from the wild west of Sweden to Denmark, we had a lazy day wandering forest trails and eating Bev’s van-baked blueberry pie. Then, with a few days to fill before my next gig in Odense, we had time to explore some of the sights of northern Denmark…
Strandby Church – a really striking modern design
The so-called sunken church – only the tower remains, as the rest was demolished after being repeatedly buried under drifting sands
Grenen Beach – at the convergence of two seas. We joined thousands of Danes and tourists to wander to the end of the spit of sand and ‘stand with one foot in the Skagerrak and the other foot in the Kattegat’
Råbjerg Mile – the largest migrating sand dune in Northern Europe. A bizarre and eerie sight, some distance from the coast
Aarhus – with a fantastic botanical garden and distinctive art museum
Middlefart – we stayed by a marina by the Lillebælt bridge and caught a glimpse of harbour porpoises at play
Live ‘On the Roof’, Odense
The last gig of our summer tour was at a cool bar in Odense – PåTaget – which is literally ‘on the roof’ of a multi-story building and car park right in the middle of the city. There was a fantastic jazz, blues and folk festival on – with the likes of Larkin Poe and Jamie Cullum and UK bluesman Lawrence Jones playing. One of the Jam Days festival acts, a Faroe Islander with the awesome stage name ‘Johan Solo’ hosts a regular jam night at PåTaget and I was booked to play an acoustic set before the jam. It went well, great bar, fun bar staff, friendly crowd. Johan jammed with me at the end of my set, adding a cool electric guitar solo to my song ‘Cold Wind’.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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…
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!
a fire pit
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.
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.
“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!