(Video source: Victor Ehnbom)
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’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’ve been home for a while now, and it’s been (mostly) perfect. No matter how little I miss home when I’m not here and how few traditions or memories I connect with this place, Christmas always feels more like Christmas when I’m with my family at my parents’ house.
This & that
We had a single day of snow over the past couple of weeks so Christmas here most certainly was not white. It was rainy and warm. We spent Christmas Eve as we always do, though: setting up the tree and decorating it in classic red and white, doing a long walk at the widlife sanctuary in the (relative) cold at dusk, and then coming back to a warm and cozy home to exchange gifts and eat good food. Instead of lamb, which we usually eat on Christmas Eve, my dad made duck and deer this year (photos to come) which was delicious!
Over the holidays we also read in our old children’s Christmas books that our parents used to read to us throughout December when we were little. We had Glühwein and fresh mint tea. We met the extended family at restaurants to eat more and promise to see each other more regularly next year (which we never do). I tried the Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks and decided it must be their best pretentious Christmas novelty drink yet. I spent many evenings playing cards with my mom.
I got some lovely Christmas presents, some of which I had mentioned to “Santa”, some of which were a wonderful surprise. I got Stephen Fry’s book “Moab is My Washpot”. It’s his autobiography and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I got obsessed with his television show “QI”. I also got a gift card to a bookstore, and a couple other gift cards. My mom gave me my favorite perfume (“Glow” by J.Lo) (don’t judge, it smells really fresh and light and soapy). And my brother, sweet guy that he is, somehow remembered that I mentioned this particular H&M sweater a couple months ago and got it for me. Oh, and San sent me a lovely handmade Christmas card that made me so happy! I love getting regular mail – thank you, San!
Meeting old friends
On Thursday I went to a breakfast meet-up at a small local café with a bunch of old girlfriends from high school. We don’t usually see each other during the year because we’re never in the same country, much less the same town. But we always meet on the day after the holidays (December 25 and 26 are Christmas holidays in Germany), when everyone is here to visit their families back in this little town that we came from. By now, our group has grown to include two husbands and a little baby girl who tag along, and it’s just- lovely. We don’t talk about the negative stuff; we skip right over all the everyday complexities of growing up and creating a life because we don’t see each other often enough to fill everyone in on the details. And so it’s nothing but old memories and jokes and banalities. Just the right thing after a Christmas spent with extended families who excel at asking exactly the wrong questions about How Your Year Has Been and Your Plans For The Future.
We did a short trip to Holland yesterday (is it odd that I mainly miss the Dutch supermarkets? I loved them most when I lived there, their selection and quality of food somehow is so much better) and hit the Christmas market again. I just made a last batch of Christmas cookies and will pack for my trip to Sweden later. Am trying really hard to enjoy all of this as much as possible!
If you celebrated, I hope your Christmas was wonderful!
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.
I’m on a train speeding through a snow storm, the first I’m witnessing this season, and everything is white and the train, for once, is warm and quiet and cozy and comfortable, and I’m reading some beautiful writing by a dear friend, and I’m on my way home, to my mom who will be picking me up from the station. What more could a person ever really ask for?
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)
I’ve been at my parents’ in Northern Germany for a few days which appears to be the only place in the entire country where it hasn’t snowed. (Cologne, meanwhile, was covered in a blanket of white as soon as I left it. Figures.) So that bit’s been rather disappointing but I’ve been to two of our local Christmas markets on most of my nights here and that has almost made up for the lack of snow. It has been crazy cold and that, too, put me in a good mood.
I met up with my aunt and my grandma for some Glühwein. I bought a new book; I’m almost finished with “Gone Girl”. I hung out with my brother and helped him buy Christmas presents. I got obsessed with “QI” because of Stephen Fry and have been watching too many episodes a day on YouTube. I baked cookies that are already gone.
I like December so far. I have to get back to Cologne tomorrow for a meeting about the potential freelance opportunity I mentioned a couple weeks back but right now it looks like I might get to spend the rest of the month with my family – which is nice after having spent the past four Decembers out of the country or working.