Last week we flew to Gothenburg, Sweden on a budget European airline called Ryan Air. They have crazy cheap prices. The only catch is that you can only bring one small carry on and I do mean one. No purse, no camera bag. ONE carry on. If you want to check a bag it's more than your ticket. Most people bring a back pack the size that children take to school so that is what we did also. In this smallish back pack we could only fit 4 shirts, 4 changes of underclothes and socks, and 2 pairs of pants and a few small toiletries. Packing was simple for a change. I am hoping that as we travel more that we become like a well oiled travelling machine. My kids will easily be able to grab the things they need and pack their bag and sling it on their back and off we will go. A girl can hope, can't she? Well, anyway, you can't bring too much on this airline so you end up looking the same in almost all of your pictures. People ask us if we did all this stuff in one day. No, we answer. We just didn't have a lot of clothing options. What is fashion though if you are in Sweden?
When we arrived in Gothenburg, the car company Volvo picked us up from the airport and took us to our hotel. That brings me to the reason for our trip to Sweden. My husband ordered a new Volvo XC90 for me! It is fabulous. I love it so. Although, since it has been 7 weeks since I sold my old car, my beloved GMC Yukon back in the States, I would have been happy with a tin can on wheels. I have felt so trapped here on this Army base without a way to get around.
We arrived on Friday and our car wasn't going to be ready until Monday so we took the weekend to do some sight seeing. First thing that we noticed is that everybody speaks perfect English in Sweden. Everybody. People would greet us with a 'hej' which is Swedish for 'hello' and sounds exactly like 'hey' in English. We would answer back 'hello' and they would slip seamlessly into English. A little side note on this - It felt very strange to walk into a store and be greeted by 'hey' and then to answer back 'hey'. I felt like I should follow it with a 'wuz up'. Seeing as how everyone (and their dog) spoke English we didn't feel too impressed to kill ourselves learning Swedish phrases. The only one we learned and really used was 'tack så mycket' which is pronounced 'talk sa mewkia' and means 'thank you very much'. Most Americans don't even bother with learning that so we got big smiles from all people that we thanked using their native language.
The first day we walked around downtown Gothenburg, which in Swedish is spelled Göteborg and pronounced 'Yuh-te-borya'. Gothenburg is a small metropolitan area and is very, very clean and well maintained. Everyone is fair and thin and dressed well. It was a yuppy heaven.
After walking around a bit we decided we wanted to see more of the Swedish countryside so we rented a car. Alexander and I walked over to the rental car store where I proceeded to pull on a door for a good 30 seconds while the Swedish car rental person sat inside watching me. Why did I pull for 30 seconds? Because it was a push open door. Since moving to Europe and travelling often I have tried really hard not to appear like a stupid American. I don't want eye rolling or muttering under breath about how ignorant Americans are. I want to impress people with knowledge and sophistication. Well, in this case, knowledge and sophistication were completely blown so I just owned my stupidity. I finally figured out the door and walked in and said loudly to the guy at the counter, "Am I an idiot or what?" and then pointed at my head and made a face with my tongue sticking out which made him laugh so hard coffee came out of his nose. We are now good friends. Another side note here- When we returned to the car rental place my husband and I walked to the front and Alexander and I were quiet seeing if my husband made the same mistake we did. He pushed open the door quickly and we shockingly asked how did he know to push and not pull? "See that word right there?" he said. "It means push." And he then gave me a face that pretty much said Really? As in, 'You really had that hard of a time opening this little tiny door? So I stuck my tongue out at him and said "Okay Mr. Albert Einstein of languages and door opening ability. I don't speak Swedish." To which he answered "Neither do I." With quite a smirk on his face.
We took a free ferry to the island of Hono which is off the coast of Gothenburg. It was full of little neighborhoods and tiny mom and pop grocery stores. We loved it. Except for the wind. The wind was blowing about 30-35 miles an hour off the ocean. Brrrrrr...
We ran over the rocks and hiked around the coast. We watched wind surfers with a death wish brave the waves that were crashing on the beach. We watched an old man sit on a small pier and try to fish. We looked out at the vast expanse of ocean thinking about how far away from home we were.
After we felt we had obtained a sufficient wind burn for the day, we returned on the ferry.
We visited a local candy shop in Gothenburg looking for some local fare. And what could be more Swedish than Swedish fish! We asked the cashier (who spoke perfect English) where the Swedish fish were. She answered back were we looking for a fish restaurant? No! We want the candy Swedish fish! All she had was a bin of sub-par candy fish. Not called Swedish fish, but called pastel fish. Oh Sweden, you almost had the chance to be perfect. And yes, we bought the Non-Swedish pastel fish and they were okay. But nothing like we were hoping.
After the whole Swedish/pastel fish fiasco we took our children to a park in Gothenburg. Half the kids running around in this park had white blonde hair. I missed my lighter blonde hair. Swedish parks seemed much more fun than any park I grew up with. Check out this slide!
And check out these giant bowls that you can spin around in!
My husband and I felt short changed that we didn't get these things at playgrounds that we grew up with. So we tried them out too.
There are no words...
The next day we traveled up the coast to the village of Fjällbacka. A tiny town built into a little strip of land between a rocky coast and cliffs. It was gorgeous.
There is a short climb up some steps built into the cliff side and then through this crack in the rock. It was like something out of Indiana Jones or that scene in the movie Goonies where the large rocks are suspended above your head. We all said silent little prayers as we walked under them.
After winding our way through this crack and up more stairs, we came to the top of the rock out cropping and we were rewarded with sweeping views of the whole village. Of islands out at sea. Of boats sheltered in the harbor. Of clouds coming in. And with wind. Again. Lots of wind.
Sweden was amazing. It touched a part of my soul that answers to oceans and wind swept beaches and cottages sheltered against rock. I could see myself here. I could imagine living here. Forever. But enough of that because it was Monday. It was Volvo day. I was getting a car.
Volvo picked us up at our hotel and took us to the factory. Upon arriving at the factory we found out there were five other groups of Americans who had come from the States to pick up their own Volvo in Sweden, drive it around Europe, and then ship it back to the States. Who wouldn't want to do that? You get a Volvo and a trip to Europe! It's this whole thing that Volvo has been doing for years! Why didn't I know about this? Future trips for Volvo's and Sweden are in the works.
We stood around with the other Americans comparing notes on which model and color we had all picked out. In the waiting room there is a glass garage where they drive your car out and present it to you. They then show you all the features of your car and then you get a chance to drive it on the test track out front where you can drive as fast as you want.
When they brought my car out, I seriously almost cried.
Yes. That is me hugging my new car. I wasn't ashamed at all. We got our car first so all the other Americans watched and laughed and applauded as I hugged my new Volvo.
After Volvo gave us a tour of the factory floor where we got to see a Volvo made from a painted shell to a fully functioning automobile (which if it takes about 55 hours like they said, why did my car take so freakin' long) and then a lunch of Swedish meatballs. Not too shabby. Thanks Volvo!
After three long days I loaded my family up and we drove our new Swedish car into the Swedish sunset with long sighs of contentment. The whole time in my head I am thinking about what Volvo means. It means 'I Roll' in Latin. Hmmm, I thought. Not only in my new Volvo do I roll, I rock.
One difficult thing about Sweden is although they are part of the European Union, they are not part of the Euro Zone. The two entities are not synonymous. Sweden operates under their own currency of the Swedish Kronor. At the time of our trip the exchange rate was $1.00 to 6.6 SKR (Swedish Kronor). It made figuring out prices much more difficult than when we went to France and could carry the Euro we use in Germany straight over and use it there.
We had wanted to spend the night in Copenhagen, Denmark. But after further examination of the map, we realized that left us with far too many kilometers to drive the next day. We had to get further into Denmark. We pushed on to Odense, Denmark where we stayed at a yucky Best Western. Here another difficult item presented itself. Denmark isn't on the Euro either. It operates on it's own currency, the Danish Krone. After paying for the hotel I did some research. All the Scandinavian countries like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are part of the European Union but operate on their own individual currency called krona, kroner or krone. Come on Scandinavia. I know you want to maintain a sense of individuality and buck the trend. But if you can't go with the Euro, at least make a common currency among yourselves. Just something to think about.
We returned home late on Tuesday. Put 950 miles or 1,528 kilometers on the new Volvo. It performed quite well on the auto-bahn. Vroom vroom!
We have resumed normal life here in Heidelberg once more. But a little piece of Sweden stayed with me. I can't wait to go back.