Pieces of Stockholm

(Video source: Victor Ehnbom)

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Pieces of Sweden

  

neighborhoods draped in traditional Christmas lights • strawberry cheesecake at Ikea • a stunning view of lake Vättern • well-dressed men • tacos on New Year’s Eve • so much snow upon landing at Stockholm Skavsta • my friend’s homemade apple cake with apricot jam • gravel on icy roads • free wi-fi on Swebus buses • total dark at 3pm • chicken tikka masala at a friend’s new Indian restaurant • skiing at night • a guy from Uzbekistan who spent sixteen years of his life studying German • orange chocolate ice cream • small sailboats near the pier at dusk • discussing Russian movies from the 70s • fika, fike, fika • two former flatmates now doing their PhDs • carrot cake at Wayne’s Coffee • Hej! • familiar streets filled with memories of a semester abroad and many visits since

My trip to Sweden was absolutely wonderful, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to ring in 2013. I hope your start into the new year was just as lovely!

I am in Sweden and nothing hurts


I’m in Sweden! WHAT. Hello love, I have missed you so! The moment I saw the endless forests and countless lakes and all the snow as the plane dipped through the clouds, I got teary-eyed. Stepping off the plane into the cold, clean air did the rest. This feels like home. It has for a while, and it most certainly does right now. I’m sitting at the airport as I type this, waiting for the long-distance bus that will take me to my final destination… There’s sports news on one of the TVs, and naturally it’s all skiing and ice hockey. And the weather map is, well, first of all, of Sweden – I mean, OF COURSE it is, but it makes me so happy – and the forecast’s all cold and snowy, too.

This country, you guys. I don’t know. I don’t know how I wasn’t born here. I love how reserved but kind and helpful the people are, I love the language, I love the typical Swedish pastries you can get on every corner.

Right now, I don’t know yet what it’s going to be like to see my friends again, whether we’ll just be bored, whether I’ll have to sleep on the floor and won’t be able to. But it’s already been worth it: all the money, all the organizational pitfalls, the distance traveled – everything for this moment of recognition, of feeling like I belong here.

PS – Update now that I’m at my friend’s: Her place is so perfect for New Year’s fireworks with a view over the lake, and the entire neighborhood is still decorated in tasteful Christmas lights, and I have a comfy place to sleep, and we have already made some lovely plans. THIS YEAR COULD NOT POSSIBLY END ON A BETTER NOTE.

I’m going to Sweden, again


So guess what. I’m going to Sweden for New Year’s, after all! My friend actually very happily changed her plans so we could make this happen, and the tickets are already booked, and I just can’t with how sweet she is. Then Facebook messages of two other friends still in Jönköping came in, saying how much they look forward to seeing me. And so it looks like the kind of New Year’s I had in mind – quiet and relaxed, in Sweden, in the freezing cold, among loved ones – is indeed happening.

I took the cell phone shot above on my first return visit to Sweden. It was the first time I flew into Stockholm Skavsta airport, a small airport outside Stockholm. Upon landing you see nothing but snow and lakes and trees and the frayed coastline, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was beautiful every single time I’ve come back since.

This will be me fifth trip to Sweden. There’s a sign at the side of the road as you drive away from Skavsta airport into the empty Swedish countryside, it says: Välkommen tillbaka. Welcome back.

And every time I pass it, I feel like I’ve come back home.

Being an introvert

My stomach is in knots over New Year’s plans right now, and I hate that. I just want to enjoy Christmas and then deal with the inevitable depression I (and many others, it seems) go through every January but not have to deal with worrying about what to do on New Year’s Eve on top of that. As things stand, I’ll be at my parents’ who will be celebrating with my aunt and uncle at home. I will tag along awkwardly, 24 years old, a party scrooge who’d rather just read or watch a movie or walk the never-ending online world every single night than socialize and get drunk. It’s just who I am. I understand the benefits of getting together with a bunch of people to ring in the new year and that it can be fun; I’m just not comfortable at typical New Year’s parties. More to the point: I don’t know any people in my hometown (not anymore) or in Cologne that I would enjoy socializing with. People who like what I like, who understand where I’m coming from when I say “I don’t like parties” without judging or patronizing me or finding it weird or different or boring. And of course that’s a huge part of why I’m upset right now. The realization that you don’t really have people around you that you want to spend time with, who get you, is sad. Painful even.

I have friends like that. But they are nowhere near me, geographically. It normally doesn’t bother me as much but right now it would be damn nice to have a couple people here at home, or even anywhere in the same country as me, that would think it’s a great idea to get together on New Year’s and cook and watch a movie and chat and have champagne and count down to 2013 and be in bed before 6am. I considered escaping to Sweden, where I have several friends who would enjoy an evening like this and where I already saw myself greeting the new year with a long early morning walk through the fresh snow, but since the idea was so last-minute, said friends already had plans. I would just hang out in my Cologne apartment but I had agreed last month that my roommate could “rent it out” to her dad and his girlfriend because I didn’t expect to be in Cologne for New Year’s.

And so mostly, I think, I’m just upset that I didn’t make plans earlier – plans I would look forward to because they’re not just What People Do On New Year’s but what I like doing. I’m upset that I actually care what my parents and aunt and uncle think when I end up spending New Year’s with them, that I already feel embarrassed about not knowing what to say when they will ask the inevitable question: “How come you’re not partying with your friends tonight?” I so badly need to work on these ridiculous insecurities, and work towards creating a life that makes me happy, rather than trying to fit whatever only acceptable mold I think exists.

Daydreams at 3am


I am looking at this photo taken in Bankeryd, just outside Jönköping, and I am listening to Portishead and The Civil Wars and Mando Diao’s new Swedish album, and I so badly want to just say fuck it and book a flight to Sweden; escape the dumb, forced who-can-party-hardest bullshit of New Year’s and hide away in sleepy Jönköping until it’s 2013.

(Photo source: /jkpg on Instagram)

In a town far, far away

The top image is one of my favorite photos. It was taken near my Swedish “hometown”, Jönköping. It shows the E4 motorway, running past the city and north along Lake Vättern, all the way to Stockholm. This part of it, as you can see, is all: beautiful rocks on one side, beautiful lake on the other. The road just snakes through the gorgeous Swedish landscape, past red wooden houses and endless forests and too many lakes to count, and every once in a while it hits a city. Every time I went back to Sweden, I flew into Stockholm-Skavsta airport and took a long-distance bus south to Jönköping and I teared up every time I recognized the familiar rocks and the lake, and the lights of Jönköping in the distance, reflected on the water. (One day I will tell you about the magic of those bus rides. I’m not saying “magic” sarcastically, either.)

The reason I’m talking about Jönköping again is that it’s been snowing there, and my friends have very loyally provided me with photos and recounts of how wonderful it is and how much they wish I could be there with them.

And then I died of heartbreak.

And found that Jönköping’s tourism office runs an Instagram account just for the city which is where all the above images are from. So I’ll be checking that obsessively, and so should you maybe.

(All images: /jkpg on Instagram)

If I could live anywhere…


I want to move to Sweden before I turn 27. I am 24 right now. I don’t have a job, neither here in Germany, nor, of course, in Sweden. I have not yet looked into the details of what emigration to Sweden might mean (I’m talking work and residence permits, insurance issues, tax and social security stuff both there and in Germany) and I have not saved up any money. I am also still far from being fluent in Swedish. In other words, I am not ready to move there right now – not at all. This is why I’m giving myself three years to plan and prepare.

Today, this is all I have: my love for Sweden and the irrepressible urge to live there. (Reasons should be fairly obvious by now. Feel free to browse this blog and read future posts, and you’ll know what I love most about Sweden.) When I think of what I want my life to look like 5 or 10 years from now, the only thing I’m certain about is that I want to live in Sweden. There will be setbacks and complications and everyday life in Sweden won’t be as magical as spending half a year there as a student. I know these things. I still think life in Sweden would be a better base for me to become happy than life in Germany (or anywhere else), and I’ve thought so for two years now. So I’m going to take that step.

My plans may change again between now and 2015, of course. I couldn’t possibly say whether or not I will still feel that strong urge to be in Sweden three years from now. But I always do things on a whim; I wait until I feel like it and take action only then; I hesitate and don’t see the point of planning ahead; I’m scared of setting goals because it means risking failure. This time, I want things to be different.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite Swedish words: glansdagar, meaning glory days. Let’s just say that’s very fitting for my plans and ignore the risk of failure, alright?

If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?

(Graphic source: Marcus Eriksson)