We are at the end of our first stint in Sweden. We’re not sure where four weeks has gone to be honest but when we thought about it we are in the work/life routine of work days being busy and then trying to make the most of our days off when they come around. Speaking of which, we’re feeling pretty Swedish after our first trip to IKEA last week. I’d never been so it was an experience to say the least. It was huge and the floor plan was a maze. You had to go through every section to make it to the end. In true IKEA style we went in for one thing and came out with four.
Gif. IKEA Kalmar floorplan
This past week or so Kate had a few days off so we headed north to the area around Vastervik (https://www.vastervik.com/). It is located beside an archipelago which you can access from its port. With the campervan we were keen to try out the Swedish right to access and park up somewhere remote. To briefly summarise the right of access, people are encouraged to access nature but to use their common sense when doing so. The ‘leave only footprints, take only pictures’ mantra. Apart from foraging for berries and mushrooms – you can take those if you can tolerate the mosquitos long enough to collect a decent amount. Specifically looking at parking up the campervan, as long as you obey local signage and aren’t in view of a property, on farmland or causing an obstruction you’re good to go. Pretty cool, aye!
Beside Vastervik there is the Gronso nature reserve and that was where we decided to park up for the two nights. Lovely spot on a peninsula. We arrived a little later in the evening on the first day so it was straight into cooking dinner and sorting Saoirse out for bed.
Pic. Our kitchen.
We did have a the chance to have a short walk about the place. While it is a nature reserve there are holiday homes along a lot of the shoreline with private piers. These are mostly modest enough buildings with a rowboat. It is strange to see houses and roads in a nature reserve coming from NZ but they seem more managed in the areas that we’ve been to here. It may be different when we go further north and away from the main population centres. An interesting aside is that 85% of Sweden’s population is in its urban centres so it’s very concentrated from Stockholm down.
Pic. Swedish population density – darker = more.
On our first full day we went to Hasselo (http://hasselo.com/hasseloe/). This is accessed by a one hour ferry from Vastervik. We hired some bikes (retro single speeds were all that were available) and a bike seat for Saoirse and we were off to explore the island.
Pic. Saoirse enjoying the bike ride, but not the helmet. Google pics automatically creates collages and videos which can be a good way of putting pictures together.
Hasselo has a small permanent population and is mainly made up of farms and nature reserve. Plenty of Red wooden buildings with white windows – typical Swedish countryside. The weather was a bit cooler so it was nice biking weather. Halfway we stopped for lunch on the shoreline and for a walk in the nature reserve. Then back to the ferry terminal and ice-cream while Saoirse had a play on the beach (mainly eating sand – it’d be the base of her food pyramid if she had her way).
We drove back to the Granso nature reserve to park up for the night. Saoirse obviously had a big day because she was out for the count when we got there and apart from waking up to get her milk fix, she didn’t surface until the morning. Watching us cycling must be tiring. Maybe that’s the effect of mirror neurons?
The next morning I woke a little early to get a run in. There was a 15km loop (not 12km like the sign says) around Granso that I was keen to check out as the trail had gotten some good reviews. I wasn’t disappointed and managed to spot two elk, a deer and had a standoff with some goats. There were a few peninsulas to run out onto. At 7am I was the only person there. It’s always worth being the early bird. Along the track there are shelters for people to stay the night in. I was keen to check these out and when I cam across the first one I made my way over to it. As I rounded the corner I saw the bike and then the feet sticking out the end of the shelter. I decided a sweaty, hairy Irishman wasn’t the wake up call this cycle tourer was looking for and kept going to check out the next one on the trail. I think the idea of sleeping out in the shelter sounds great but the mosquitoes would take from it for me. I’m the person in a group who gets eaten alive while other people haven’t noticed there are mosquitoes yet. Saoirse has unfortunately inherited it so she had some decent bites as souvenirs from the trip.
The rest of the day was spent checking out the Troll’s forest and a small town called Stensjo By on our way back to Kalmar. The Trolls forest is a track up a hill in a small town called Gambleby. An enthusiastic local has made about 80 sculptures in the forest including a huge wooden sculpture of a Troll welcoming you in.
Pic. The Troll’s forest
Stensjo By is an old village that has been preserved and is kept like it was in the 1950’s when it was abandoned by the last farming family who worked the land there. Initially a historical society maintained the buildings but then a family took it over and are working the land and living in the village buildings. It was like a trip back in time.
Pic. Stensjo By
The rest of the week was spent packing up the van in preparation for our trip back to UK/ Ireland. The highlight for Saoirse and I was paddling at a local beach and being joined in the water by a snake who was taking a shortcut across the bay. Saoirse didn’t know what was going on but there was a group of kids from a local playschool that were screaming and running around. The only snakes here are adders. They’re venomous but not usually deadly. Kate has seen a couple of dogs that have been bitten.
Kate had a loan of a bike from our hosts and had some nice bike rides to/ from work across the Swedish countryside. Having gotten a wee bit lost and traveling twice the distance on her first bike ride, she had a some great rides and great weather.
Pic. Kate cycling to work
Useful sites/ apps
Duolingo – using it to learn Swedish. Daily lessons and daily reminders. We feel ours is coming along a bit. Long way to go too!
Inspirock.com – enter where you’re going, how long and it provides you with a possible itinerary.
Tripadvisor – an oldie but a goodie.
Stellplatz – Another motorhome website showing camping and service sites.
Group one – We’ve left Sweden after four weeks. This past week we’ve had one trip away for a few nights and have been wild camping in the van. We’re back in the UK/ Ireland to catch up with family for a couple of weeks and then back to Sweden for another four weeks.
Pic. Outside the AirBnB on Oland
This week Kate’s parents, Ian and Barbara, came to visit us in Kalmar. Having visitors is always a good chance to get on the road and have an explore of the local area.First stop, Kalmar Slott (castle). It’s the main attraction in town.
Pic. Kalmar Castle
We were lucky to go when the Leonardo Da Vinci inventions exhibit was on. If you ever get the chance I would recommend seeing it. It is incredible the number of ideas he had that were the precursor to everyday technology that we have today such as cars, helicopters, scuba equipment, parachutes… the list goes on. I had seen it nearly 10 years ago in Perth but it was well worth repeating.
Pic. The Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition
Midsummer is one of the main celebrations in Sweden and it is a time for the Swedes to let their hair down a bit. It’s always great to see local traditions so we headed to an area called Skalby Farm that had some celebrations on during the day, including traditional dancing. Skalby Farm is basically a petting zoo, cafe and massive playground which is free for people the enter. Its located within the city which makes it a great destination for local families to go with their kids. The midsommar celebrations traditionally involve decorating and erecting the maypole and then performing traditional dances around it. It was great to watch and Saoirse and I joined in for a couple of songs – mainly by jumping into the middle of it and copying whatever all the people around us were doing. While we were at the petting zoo we said we might as well let Saoirse have a look around. The highlight was a goat stealing this ladies midsommar flower wreath from her head and eating it. It was the highlight of the goat’s midsommar too I suspect.
Pic. Midsommar celebrations in Kalmar – sorry but I can’t upload the video from the midsommar moshpit…
We had the opportunity to go away for a couple of nights, so to max out our sightseeing we chose to visit the island of Oland (https://www.oland.se/en) which we reached by crossing a 6km long bridge from the mainland. Oland is an interesting place and if I was to draw a comparison I would say it’s like the Burren in Co. Clare. The farmland on the southern part of the island is designated as a UNESCO area. I think there’s a debate around farmland being seen as a world heritage area (http://www.monbiot.com/2017/07/13/the-lie-of-the-land/). It’s worth a little read if you’ve the time. Anyway, we weren’t here to debate the wider issues, it was time to be a tourist. We were lucky enough to find an AirBnB host that was happy for us to park up the motor home beside his home so that Kate, Saoirse and I could sleep in the van while Ian and Barbara had beds inside. He was a very friendly German Photographer who had visited Oland a number of times and then made the move years ago. He’s led a very interesting life and has taken some great pictures along the way (http://detleflampe.com/index.html). Hanging in his lounge is his picture of Jimmy Hendrix from the last concert he ever played.
Our time on Oland mainly consisted of walking through some wonderful nature and seeing traditional Swedish villages. Just driving down the narrow country lanes through the villages was an experience. There was a marked contrast between the barren looking South Oland and the more lush pasture of the North.
Pic. Oland Nature
Pic. 0land Culture (and Saoirse animal bothering).
With a little more time up our sleeve before Kate had to be back in work we went to a glass blowing studio that is close to where we are staying. The main glassblower person was there with his apprentice and he put on a demonstration for the people who were there. I think the sign of someone who’s truly mastered something is when they can do something that is very difficult but are just chatting their way through it as if they aren’t paying it any attention.
Pic. Glass blowing – Making a swan and the a vase
So thank you for reading this far if you have. I’m aware who the real star of the blog is so here’s a Saoirse section 🙂 This week has seen more progress and she is cruising about on furniture a bit or wanting to hold our hands so that she can walk. She’ll cover as much ground as your back can take! Also, she’s started leaning in and giving us kisses. Very recently, she was leaning in to bite so this is a welcome change. Just hoping that she isn’t lulling us into a false sense of security… CHOMP!!
Pic. Our very own Pippi Longstocking- strongest girl in the world!
Now for group 1. We had Kate’s parents visiting this week so we visited some local sights in Kalmar and made the journey over to a nearby Island for a few nights. Beautiful scenery and we experienced the Swedish midsummer celebrations. Saoirse is getting bigger and bolder by the day.
Group one’s summary will be at the end again 🙂
We’ve been in Sweden over a week now and have mainly been settling in to life here. Kate has done several work shifts while I’m at home with Saoirse. We haven’t ventured too far as Kate only had single days off and learning a new system through google translate is bloody tiring. Also, to be fair to Saoirse, she needs to get an opportunity to get moving after the time spent driving.
So, what have we seen/learned of Sweden so far? Well, we’re based in a small town called Smedby that is 8km outside a city of 60,000 called Kalmar. Kalmar was voted summer town of the year recently so seems like we’ve hit the jackpot with regard to location. To be honest, we didn’t think there would be a lot here as the main attractions that are talked about in guidebooks, etc aren’t here but there is loads to see and we’re looking forward to getting out there when we’ve a run of days off together – starting this weekend with a trip to the island of Oland with Kate’s parents! More on that next week.
But even if we’re not driving blankety-blank miles in a van across multiple borders, there’s been some cool things about settling in to ‘live’ in a new country and culture for a bit. I think I speak for the three of us when I say that we’ve been impressed by Sweden and the Swedes so far. Top of the list is that the Swedes are, generally, a friendly bunch. It has made getting around the place and settling in super easy. From Kate’s work colleagues to the people working in shops/ on the bus that have to decipher my terrible Swedish, they couldn’t be more welcoming. There is a government-run Swedish course online setup for immigrants and I hope to get into that in my spare time. It seems like it’d be a better base than google translate, which by the way is a great app to get nonetheless. The difficulty will be getting a chance to practice. Generally, people can switch between Swedish and perfect English in a split second and many have done this in response to me butchering their language. I’ve been appreciative of it though.
There’s some quirky things about the local’s tastes. I guess they wouldn’t be quirky if I grew up with it but they go mad for knackerbrod (think of ryvita but not soul-destroyingingly tasteless), shaving cheese off a massive block and fish in a jar.
Pic. Swedish survival kit – Knackerbrod (Knackerbread, kid!), pickled fish in a jar, a massive round of cheese (this 1kg block was the smallest available in the shop, you can get ones that weigh several kgs) and a cheese slicer.
Pic. Fika (Swedish word for coffee and cake). Kanelbulle (cinnamon buns) – Yum!
Another thing that’s stood out is that the liquor stores/off-licenses are government-run. The main supermarkets won’t sell much/any alcohol and if they do it will be low alcohol drinks – apart from Lidl, Lidl does whatever the hell it wants. The government run stores are called system bolaget (https://www.omsystembolaget.se/english/). The main aim of this system is to reduce alcohol-related problems by selling alcohol in a responsible way, without profit motive. There aren’t many about so this means that alcohol isn’t that accessible. We’ve been to our closest one here and it feels like you’re in a pharmacy rather than a shop. Supposedly, years ago you had to go up to the counter and ask for the alcohol as it was all kept behind the counter rather than being able to browse along the shelves. I wouldn’t have gotten far with my fake ID when I was 16! The system bolaget, also, has taken some serious steps to ensure their trade is fair for workers and environmentally friendly. All in all, pretty impressive stuff.
Pic. Motorhead whiskey at the system bolaget. Price 666.
Anyway, back to Kalmar (https://www.kalmar.com/en). Kalmar is a coastal city in SE Sweden. Historically, it was a very important town and still has a castle, some of the old fortified walls, an impressive cathedral and cobblestone streets in the older part of town. It’s all nicely preserved and maintained and a good place for a stroll around.
Pic. Out and about in Kalmar
Apart from a rich history the town benefits from being close to the sea and has many swimming beaches and a marina. It’s really popular to get outdoors, especially, with the consistent good weather recently. There’s a steady stream of people out walking, running and cycling on the extensive shared use pathways.
Pic. Kate and Saoirse ready for road on a cycling day trip.
So what does the life of a latte dad (Swedish nickname for a stay-at-home Dad) entail? Non-stop lattes of course!
Pic. Enjoying a latte
At 4EURO or 6NZD, maybe not. Apart from the household chore stuff which I won’t bore you with there’s the hanging out with Saoirse. It’s pretty amazing seeing her picking up new skills. This past week she’s figured out how to climb steps, is making some big efforts towards communicating and exerting her independence. It is great to watch and I’m lucky to have the opportunity. I’ve purposefully kept things low-key on the days when Kate’s working so that Saoirse can have the time to move about and explore. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that when you’re at home with a kid, it’s good to make sure that you still fit something into the day for yourself. So Saoirse and I go for a buggy run together most days. I’ve been working on it for number of months to find when is the best time to take her out and generally if she’s had a sleep and has a full belly, we’re ready to go. There’s a wooded area nearby which we run to and then do a nice loop through the forest before going the same way home. There’s always a stop at the playground on the way back so we both feel like we’ve gotten something out of it. The reaction of people when I’m out running with the buggy can be pretty funny at times but as said the Swedes are a nice bunch so it’s generally greeted with smiles and some thumbs up. It’s about 6km, which is short but keeps her interest and its better than getting no running in.
Pic. Buggy and backpack adventures and Saoirse enjoying her reward at the playground.
OK group one. We’ve been a week in Sweden and are all impressed by the place so far. The locals are friendly and our nearest city has a lot of interesting stuff going on. Kate’s found working here is good although the new system and language is fairly draining too. From this weekend the travel blog will involve some travel as Kate is off and her parents are over but it’s been good for us to settle into our new place this week and give Saoirse some time to practice her new skills.
“Teamwork makes the dream work”
Timothy, Paul (2012). Paul’s stag night.
Group one’s summary will be at the bottom again.
Pic. Our 60s style home in Sweden
So we’ve arrived in Sweden after what feels like whirlwind few days in Ireland and the UK. Kate started work yesterday and Saoirse and I are staying fairly local as I don’t think she wants more driving in the van just yet. We started at Kate’s parent’s house near Leicester and have driven to a town called Kalmar in the East of Sweden (1383km with two ferries). The first day was getting to the ferry which was an overnight sailing. We’d great plans of getting onto the ferry when they started boarding so that we could get Saoirse ready for bed in the cabin early but we didn’t board until nearly 10pm when they’d said 7pm so that went out the window. The ferry was great though and it was the perfect way to do the crossing.
Pic. Saoirse enjoying the view on the Harwich to Hoek Van Holland ferry.
So when we landed in Holland we had a quick rock, paper, scissors to see who was driving first – Kate won/lost depending on how you view the prospect of driving a 3mx6m brick on the wrong side of the road after a poor night’s sleep. First stop Gouda. Home of cheese and… that was enough for us anyway. It was good to start the journey off but not commit to too long a distance before swapping driver’s and letting Saoirse stretch out. One of the most striking things in Holland (and Germany, Denmark and Sweden) are the number of people biking or walking to places in cities – and the lack of traffic on the roads even at what would be considered rush hour times. The infrastructure and attitude of motorists was great to see and shows what could be achieved with some investment and change of attitude/ policy. There was a video on the guardian site recently that spoke about not making helmets compulsory in the UK and using the continent as an example. It’s comparing apples and oranges. If there were protected bike lanes like on the continent more people would be out biking and I (an advocate for wearing helmets) would not feel strange without wearing one. Anyway, rant over 🙂 Gouda was awesome with a beautiful town square and of course we bought some cheese.
Pic. Gouda cheese. Yum!
Pic. More cheese – the blue one is lavender. Tasted better than I’d expected.
So back in the van with the plan to get all the way to Bremen by the end of the day but our camper is not going to be traveling in the outside lane of an autobahn anytime soon so we decided to cut the drive short and camp in Osnabruck. Unfortunately, we hadn’t checked our gas bottles before leaving as the company installing the system was to fill them. So, instead of a cooked pasta dinner we had cheese and crackers. Even though I’d made dinner I offered to do the wash up this time. After Saoirse stayed up the night before for the ferry, she decided that there was too much going on when she was asleep so reckoned that shifting her bed time from 7pm to 10pm would be awesome. Awesome isn’t the word Kate and I used. We even uttered the R word, “Routine”, but quickly back-pedaled and decided our ‘take it as it comes’ approach was worth sticking with.
Pic. Saoirse enjoying her new bed time and hanging out with Mom and Dad.
Off to Bremen the following day and a stop at a motorhome parking ground. Bremen is a great city to spend some time in so while we had thought that we’d drive further, we decided to stay the night and have an explore. There’s a lovely square with some very impressive buildings dating back hundreds of years and the old part of town with its little laneways, cafes and shops was perfect for a walk around. We ate some schnitzel, drank a hefe and swam in the river to cool off before heading back to our motorhome. I thought ducking under the water and popping up to surprise Saoirse would be funny but a swamp monster popping out of the murky river water was terrifying. Poor girl, we won’t be repeating that anytime soon!
Pic. Impressive building in the centre of Bremen
Pic. Cooling off with a hefe… and water for the bubs
Pic. Shops in the old part of town
As our first day had taken us two days we decided we needed to make up some ground and made our way to a small coastal town in Denmark called Praesto via a short ferry from Germany. We were able to park the motorhome up on the marina and get water and electricity. Really peaceful and we brought the average age of the camp area down by a decade or so. Saoirse loved the attention.
Pic. Praesto – our stop for the night
After a run, dip in the sea, playground stop and touristy walk we were back in the van and Sweden bound. We were looking forward to getting the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo over the sea. A very impressive feat of engineering. We then spent a few hours walking around Malmo before hoping into the van and finding another motorhome stop for the night. We kept the fishing village theme going as we were keen on a fish dinner. This day was our 6 year wedding anniversary and we had a delicious fish meal out with Saoirse.
Pic. Our 6th year wedding anniversary dinner
Onward to Kalmar and our home for the next four weeks. I’ll fill you in on here once we’re settled in and have a look around the place.
At least one person was a fan of getting a few tips from us camper-vanning novices so here some of the things we picked up on the way over.
1. The campercontact app. It shows you places to park for the night and service points. These overnight stops are a fraction of the price of campgrounds. https://www.campercontact.com/en
Also worth looking at are the motorhome stops books that some countries such as France, the UK and Sweden have. http://www.go-motorhoming-and-campervanning.com/touring-europe-with-a-campervan-or-motorhome.shtml
2. While I’m on the subject of apps, a quick shout out to Patrick Davey for suggesting OSMAnd – offline maps are priceless when your phone has decided it won’t roam anymore. We would’ve been lost (literally) without it. Also, having a nav person in the passenger seat meant the driver could concentrate on the road in front of them – great teamwork. https://osmand.net/
3. When you’re traveling with a kid a playground is a playground wherever you go and Saoirse certainly appreciated the swings, slides and crawling around the place. Also, breaking up the journey was good for her and us.
Pic. Saoirse (and Kate) enjoyed the playgrounds along the road.
4. With the travel, Saoirse’s sleep pattern went out of whack. I don’t know if this is a tip as every kid is different – hence why I haven’t read any parenting books, but I suppose just working as a team as parents helped as Saoirse was sleeping while we were driving so there was plenty of sleep deprivation to add to our jet lag.
Pic. Go the F**K to sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_the_Fuck_to_Sleep
OK, group one. We are now in Sweden having driven 1,300+km and taken two ferries. The motorhome is great and we’ve stopped off in some interesting places such as Gouda, Bremen and Malmo. Saoirse managed the driving well with regular playground stops. Kate has started work and I’ll give an update on Sweden once we’re here for a while.
As promised we’ll try to keep a blog going for our trip.
I’m aware that people fall into different groups with blogs but I’ll try to cater for both main groups (as I see them).
Group 1: I’m busy, show me pictures and I’ll read a paragraph so don’t waffle on (I’m usually in this group so I thought it’d be nice to cater for like-minded people). I’ll have pictures throughout the blog and a summary paragraph at the end for you to scroll down to.
Group 2: Show me everything! You’ll get what group 1 gets and more.
So as you know, we’ve decided to take a family gap year to spend time with family and travel. Handing in our resignations meant we were committed to the plan. I reckon that if you’re thinking of doing something similar, don’t think too much about the decision (you’ll talk yourself out of it), but once you make the decision, start thinking (there’s a lot to organise!). It was stressful at times but with help from some great friends we got there. It’s sad to leave our Kiwi Whanau behind but we’ll be back.
Pic 1. Saoirse helping with the packing
Pic 2. Finding inventive ways to entertain Saoirse so we could get on with packing
Pic 3. Our home packed away in a storage container
After a bit of back and forth, we decided that having a campervan would suit us best. With help from Kate’s parents we were able to pick up a great campervan from the UK that was here when we touched down. It’s four berth but a manageable size. Getting insurance for a motorhome without a UK licence (I’ve just got my NZ one now) was tricky but after days of ringing around we finally got a reasonable quote. TOP TIP: Once a van goes over 6m long and 3m high the ferries cost double so get one under this.
Pic 4. Our Fiat Chausson Welcome 9 motorhome
So we’re one day away from leaving for Sweden. It’s been a bit of a rushed visit UK and Ireland before we go but Kate’s job in Sweden starts on June 11th. It’s been great to see family and for them to see Saoirse. We lucked out and caught the few days of Irish summer that there will be this year.
Pic 5. Saoirse being sun smart in Ireland
Hey group 1. We’ve packed up everything in NZ. Pretty flat out with some long days but felt great to get onto the plane. Nice couple of days in a very hot Dubai before some great family times in Ireland and England. We’ve packed the campervan and are driving to Sweden tomorrow (Tuesday 5th June)! Woohooo