Isn’t it funny how time can feel so relative? Sometimes we feel like time is just flying by, and sometimes, it just tick, tick, ticks at a s-l-o-w-w-w-w pace. Well, these days in Sweden were just tick tick ticking away so very fast. It was now day 8 of ten. We had arrived back from Copenhagen on Monday night, and Tuesday, we got to visit the Vasa, a museum that houses a nordic version of the Titanic…a boat which sunk …on its maiden voyage.
Why did it sink, you ask? Well, it turns out that it was built for the King of Sweden and took years to build. The detail and craftmanship were amazing. Ornate carvings, gilded structures on a massive ship were so impressive. Until it set sail that is. Turns out that the ship wasn’t balanced and the top heavy structure sank about 1400 yards off shore. Oops. Another oops was that those building it actually knew it wasn’t quite balanced, but were all afraid to tell the king. Not good. But in the 1950’s, the boat was salvaged, its contents recovered and chronicled, and a museum was actually built around this amazing ship. The Swedes have now turned one of their greatest known failures into the greatest tourist attraction in Stockholm. It’s definitely worth the visit.
We met Austin’s friend and parents at the Vasa. She is a historian who goes to Penn State and has been in Sweden with Aus in Fulbright Scholarship program. She absolutely loves the Vasa and is a wealth of information regarding this failure-turned-fortune ship. She is funny, highly intelligent, and brought to life the history of this amazing ship. I could share lots of facts from the VASA, but here are two take-aways: Balance is key, and hiding a problem instead of sharing it to solve it often leads to way bigger problems and embarrassment and heartache. (When that small breeze took down the VASA, 30 lives were lost.)
After exploring the Vasa Museum, we went to lunch at a sweet place with Austin’s friend’s family right on the water. We had the gazebo to ourselves when we arrived…
After a nice lunch with amazing pizza and lots of conversation and laughter in this riverboat gazebo of a restaurant, we said good bye to our companions and got another cup of coffee to enjoy a bit more time. We sat outside the gazebo and took photos.
There was a mother swan and her babies (cygnets) gliding along under the bridge. I took the next photo and then asked Austin, “I wonder which one you were?” We laughed out loud on that one.
Then, we began our walk back. But as we liked to do, we took a diversion to go for a walk around the city.
We ate pasta lunch on the other side of this bridge on my first full day in Sweden. We rode bikes over this bridge that day as well. I already had a lot of sweet little connections with this beautiful city. Austin’s friend is a great tour guide, but so is Austin. They just have different styles for sure.
We ended up finding an area where Aus hadn’t yet been. It was a walkway on the river’s edge. There were beautiful flowers, quiet spots to sit, and lots of people, young and old, coming and going.
Off shore, there were some young children learning to sail…learning to balance their little boats before they were given big boats. That made a lot of sense for sure.
And this Dad? Well, we saw him throughout our walk, stopping at different points with his young son and letting him explore. He taught him to throw rocks in the water and they cheered at every splash. Did you know that not only moms get maternity leave in Sweden? Dads get it as well (paternity leave of course). They get 6 months and take turns. The Swedish government has recognized that children need both parents. That that time is important. Love that.
I found in choosing these photos for the blog, I had the distant theme from the Vasa running through my mind…”Balance…”
We walked through the area, and then went to meet Austin’s new business associates at a beautiful cafe.
Loved meeting this diverse group. The 40-something accomplished business woman brought her 4 year old daughter and her family dog, and the 20 something man came late (he’s not from Sweden…) with a new hair cut and a grin that made you feel like you had known him a long time. We had a mid-afternoon coffee and cherries, nice conversation, and then went back to eat dinner with the professors with whom Austin lives.
That was a hoot and I wish I had taken photos of these precious hosts. They are from the 60’s era…self-proclaimed hippies from the East Coast (U.S.) turned professors who have lived in Sweden for 30 years. They are gracious, hilarious, and endearing. I loved my time with them. I ate reindeer for the first time and the meal was delicious. The conversation was intriguing and enlightening with everyone having their time to share their thoughts, experiences, and take on things. Shared. Balanced. Good.
The next day, day 9, was sunny, bright, and beautiful. It was perfect. And it was the perfect day to have a perfect day because we were taking a two hour boat ride to the Archipelagos of Stockholm. “Archipelagos” is a term for a ‘sea or stretch of water containing many islands.’ I had no idea what a treat I was in for. We got to the boat early and were a little disappointed to see that the top deck was already full. (Ok, I’ll be honest, we were really disappointed.) So, we sat onboard at an inside table and watched the water through the little windows. But after a few minutes, we both agreed that we’d rather stand for 2 hours and feel the wind and wide open spaces than to sit and watch through the window. So that’s what we did. No regrets there…
On the deck, we breathed in the fresh air, felt the mist from the waves on the ferry and felt warmth of the sunlight which balanced the cool breeze. It was quite chilly at first, but the view and the vibe was worth it. Yes, better to forego comfort and enjoy the full experience. Good decision. Better to stand with the view and freedom than sit in quiet comfort and miss out. We watched as buildings got smaller and fewer between. Huge ships and steam liners were gradually replaced with smaller sailboats and small powerboats. Tall buildings were soon replaced with quaint little homes and docks.
And then pretty soon, there weren’t many houses or buildings or boats. There were islands and birds and waves. Every once in a while, we’d see a lighthouse or dock or tiny little house.
Was a refreshing two hours. Even though we were standing and constantly having to gain our footing because of the winds and waves, it was so worth standing to be able to have a view from above. Perspective was much better than from the 6 x 12 inch windows in the inside lower deck. Perspective is everything. We arrived at Sandhamn, an island that Austin had visited before. He walked with purpose to take us to a place before all the other tourists found it…a huge rock area that overlooks part of the town and the Baltic Sea. To get there, we walked though little back yard paths in between quaint cottages. Yes, quaint seemed to be the word that kept coming to mind. (As well as the word “trespassing”! Aus assured me that these were public areas…Swedes have a different mindset of what is shared property than we do in the States.)
We arrived at the first destination. And the view was so unique. The quaint little town was busy below. Ships shared the coves with sailboats, and it was so relaxing. We sat on that rock for awhile and enjoyed the views.
We did beat the crowd of tourists, but after about 15 minutes, they were climbing the hill and settling in to enjoy the incredible view. We moved on to meander more through the paths to different parts of the island. Simple beauty / beautiful simplicity was everywhere.
Our next stop was at this little shop. We bought our lunch here and then ate in the outside little courtyard garden area. I had a panini. Austin did the right thing and had the fish that this area was known for. Both were awesome.
We continued walking on, and I tell you, the place that we found on the other end of the island was I think, my favorite spot. Not just on Sandhamn Island. But in all of the amazing places we had been, I just totally loved this one. Not sure whether it was the incredible view, the wide open spaces, the wind and sun or the combination of it all. I think I really loved it so much because after a week of exploring so many places and being around so many new things, ….and before a day of travel and saying goodbyes, here was a place of solitude and beauty to just kind of sit for a bit.
Austin seemed to like it, too. We stayed there for hours. The steep hill of stones led down to the water. To the left were sailboats, and the main area of the island, to the right was wide open spaces. Right in the middle was water and rocks and sun. My toes dipped into the Baltic Sea for the first time. (Actually, that’s not true. I did make sure to dip them in when we were in Copenhagen. Previous to this, these toes had only seen the Atlantic and Pacific…)
I sat as Austin searched through rocks. This one has rocks and sand from all over. And I mean ALL over. I remember him coming home from spending his semester abroad and wondering why the heck his suit case was so heavy. Turns out, there were jars of pebbles from Greece, sand from Dubai, and rocks from who knows where else that were loading it down. I don’t doubt that if he ever goes to the Black Sand beaches of Hawaii that he will come back with ample amounts of sand in his shoes as his great grandfather did 20 years before Austin was ever born. Why sand in his shoes? Well, taking the black sand was not allowed, but Austin’s great grandfather that he never knew had a granddaughter in Rockville, Maryland who had a rock collection and he did his best to help out when he could. Can you guess who that granddaughter was?! I think my ‘Papa Les’ and Austin would’ve gotten along just fine!) P.S. I had a few beautiful pink pebbles from this place in my purse before Aus began the search. Once a rock collector, always a rock collector…
We took lots of photos, laughed, talked, and had a lot of silence. Day 9 of ten. It hit me that I was so thankful to have this time, and this amazing little spot on the Baltic Sea was the perfect little place to just sit and be thankful for a bit before saying goodbye to Sweden, and see ya later to the son that might be staying on in Sweden for quite a while longer. Lots of mixed emotions for sure. The water in the landscape wasn’t the only salt water around for sure.
As Austin went and took photos , I sat and just cried. I admit it. I felt so much gratitude for being able to be in this place at this time with this kid who was out doing his thing and wanting others to have an opportunity to see some of the world that he’s seen. I felt grateful for the ones who had encouraged me to come and were holding down the fort at home. I felt gratitude for the amazing world that God created…for how it works, it’s beautiful and balanced and good. It’s a gift to catch glimpses of different views of this amazing world. The people, the land, the cultures. All different, but when balanced, when shared, it’s a beautiful beautiful portrait for sure. Yes, I sat there in it all and was just deeply grateful.
We left this spot and made our way to catch the ferry that would take us again on a 2 hour tour back to Stockholm. We walked back through lush forests. The groundcover was so different from what we have in NC. I loved seeing this little tree sprout up amongst the tall Pines. We all start somewhere. This little tree was just starting out as the older ones had been there for ages. All cohabitants of a beautiful forest, all growing at their own pace in their own time. We continued walking towards town to wait for the ferry. First though, we got some gelato and sat on the dock waiting for the boat.
Lots of people were there before us, but we still made sure to go to the top deck. We even had a seat this time.
The sun started to go down and shimmered off the water in a new way. This was always my favorite time of day at home…when there’s still time left in the day, but most of day is done…..when there’s still light and a warm glow about things, but things are winding down and slowing down.
The activity on the water increased as we neared Stockholm. Gone were the shorelines without buildings, for these were lined with building after building, all creating a beautiful horizon. When I saw the view below, my ‘home base’ throughout the week, I knew exactly where we were. There was quiet on the boat as we neared the dock to land in Stockholm. It had been a great day. We got off the boat, and Austin pointed out a restaurant where we’d probably have breakfast in the morning on that same square that had been home base. We walked by the restaurant, knowing that in a few short hours, we’d be back.
We walked past other familiar places, the square with the statues, birds, and purple flowers. The 7 eleven housed in an historic beautiful building.
Our last stop was for a cup of coffee, and after a little while were politely told by the barista that the shop was closing.We walked back to the train station and arrived safely back before 10. Tomorrow was day ten, and we had to be at the airport by 10:30, so I packed most of my things, and tried to get some sleep. It had been a good, good day.
And these nine days? They had been an amazing gift. So many things were new, and some of the things I observed from the Swedes were so simple, but beautiful. I think they learned long ago, from the lesson of the Vasa, that life needs to be balanced, or else, like that amazing top-heavy structure did so many years ago, you sink. I would leave this beautiful country feeling refreshed, inspired, and thankful.
Here are a few of my little ‘lessons from Sweden’:
- Be on time. The train WILL leave if you’re not.
- Safety is important. Fluorescent vests and hats for children are a must at school, and life saver floatation devices are EVERY where that there are a few inches of water. Rules keep us safe and are to be followed. Best not step one teeny tiny toe into the Bike lane. Could be catastrophic.
- Breaks are necessary. Fika is a pastry coffee break that people take at work EVERY day! (Whereas we in the US often feel guilty for a 2.2 minute run to the snack machine. I bet the Swedes have some good laughter and collaboration/team building during that break every day. Having something to look forward to is a good, good thing.)
- Exercise is just part of life. Bikes, bikes, and more bikes with people from every walk of life were all over Sweden. (Barbara, a 70 year old professor, still rides her bike to the university…not a leisurely ride, but a trek up a steep hill…) Stairs are everywhere as well…mountains and mountains of stairs.
- Little things matter. Blankets on restaurant patio chairs on cold days were everywhere. Little necessities were quietly provided. Loved that.
- Simple things are beautiful… Bottles with wildflowers were everywhere. Simple decor that was so tastefully yet effortless was everywhere. Loved that.
- Being resourceful is important. Windmills, solar panels, and water conservation was seen all over Sweden. Even the toilets have 2 choices to flush – half bowl or whole. Simple solutions to growing problems.
- Wait your turn. I had heard that Swedes form lines quickly and saw it first hand at the NY airport and wondered why everyone was lining up before the seating groups were called. Taking turns is important and one must wait for theirs.
- Humility is a good thing. People were absolutely beautiful, but there wasn’t a divisive air about. My observation was that so many of the people I encountered were kind, direct, and yet had a sweet humility about them.
- Last but not least…Balance. Balance is key…with boats…and with people.
Thanks again so much for reading and seeing and entering into my little voyage to Sweden. So fun to share it with you all. I’ve got one more post of that last day. Wrote it already. (Shortest one yet, believe it or not!) I’ll share in a few days so as not to overload !
“He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”