September 14, 2010

Småland




Taking a thereputic train journey with my digital right hand reattached, I arrived in Nässjö and was met by dad's brother, Peter. We drove through the forest lined highways, passing the occasional elk sign. Eventually we came to the vast expanse of water by the name of Vättern, marking our arrival at Jönköping, Peter took me to the waterside of the lake, remarking about my time there as a young child, playing in the sand in the warmer months of the year. This sight was just minutes from the home of Owe and Ann Marie who greeted us at their door. It was a rather strange experience to walk into this place where I saw old photos from over a decade ago where Ann Marie is sitting beside their white upright piano and I am sitting with her, white-haired and small.
We took the same type of picture but in the current day. To me, the two pictures seemed to be almost indistinguishable except for my added age. Owe and Ann Marie looked almost identical as did the piano and the pictures on the wall. That night we all moved to a restaurant by a smaller lake inlet, set with an everlasting sunset over the flat water. As the night moved on, the sky grew dark tones as the sun finally submitted to the tree line. We took a short scenic drive through the city and then up to the city park, perched up on a rocky hill, overlooking the lights of Jököping. It reminded me of Kings park back home with this great elevation sitting over the city. Passing construction works to clear the road of a small rockslide on the way to the Friberg residence, we arrived in Kaxholmen, a comfortable area with a great balance between country surroundings and city locality.

The morning brought good weather and a desire to run out into the small forest that lay nearby. Within a 4 minute run, and with some direction by Peter, I found myself on the local running group's circuit. There were different paths pounded into the earthen floor and even lamps were found over the the more traveled paths. This was possibly the most enjoyable way to run, brushing up against the infinite greenery of the outdoor wilderness with a single winding road to take oneself through the eventual exhaustion of physical exertion. When I got back, Eva had prepared a wonderful breakfast complete with home made sill (pickled herring), muesli and home made bread. A real treat for the start of a new day. The days battle plan was to make the trip to Grenna to checkout their polar museum and learn a little bit of local history including the stories surrounding the town's kitchen candy works origin. Following this exhibit I had to make an obligatory trip to the polkagrisery, indulging in my favorite fresh candy, (insert lemon licorice name!). Following another picture with the Grenna roadside troll, we went to Huskvarna to the Stadshotellet for a buffet lunch.

Some more time was spent in Jönköping later in the day with a walk through the old matchworks and then a coffee break to soak up the wonderful wienerbrod that most Swedish cafes have on offer. With some indoor warmth rekindled and the sweet tooth satisfied, we went around the corner to the dock where an old restored sailing ship would be arriving to take part in a historical annual market visit. At this event, many locals would come in olden day attire and share their wares at the dockside, dance and generally be merry.

Lucky for me, the annual kräftor festival (Kraft sasongen) starts in early August so that evening I was treated to this unique traditional celebration. The general theme of this is to eat kräftor(sort of like yabbies or small crayfish). This is complemented with other traditional foods like more of Eva's sill and also there was the obvious consumption of snaps, accompanied with snaps visor (schnapps songs). I've always heard about the celebtation but never had the opportunity to join in. It's this sort of culture you just can't get if you're just traveling around the country as an uninformed tourist. That's why I consider my self so lucky that Peter and his family were so kind in showing me around and feeding me as another Friberg. The evening was filled with nostalgia as I hooked up the laptop with the TV in the basement, showing some of my travel photos and some from past years too.

The apple industry is a great example of the sort of local surrounding that makes Kaxholmen such a country location. We readied the bikes in the morning, ready for our morning commute to a nearby apple orchard that was holding something like an open day. Within 15 minutes by bike we were at the farm and greeted with a tasty 'Discovery' apple fresh from the field, being handed out with a friendly welcome. This fully functional apple farm was today hosting a range of local companies, demonstrating their products. I tried some salami, a great smoked salmon salad mix and tried some freshly pressed (pressed before my very eyes) apple juice from more of the farms produce. While waiting for the apple safari to begin, I found myself talking to the man who wad guiding a work horse for people to ride on. I found out about his horse, his work and the way he was using only traditional pulling techniques instead of tractors on the farm over the road. He told me that this massive creature was one of his best and that in the winter I could come to his yellow house on the far hill and he would let me ride in the horse drawn sleigh. I thanked him as I left to hop onto the apple safari carriages as they rolled down the hill.

A tractor-towed people trolley took us through the narrow isles of apple trees where the driver hopped out and explained some detail about the apples. Having been shuttled up and down the orchard, we arrived back at the farm house to indulge in a lunch treat of apple cake, svart vinbärssaft (like ribena) and some farm brewed apple cider. All sugared up and ready to go, we dropped by the farm shop, stocked up with things we had seen and took the bikes back home.

More traditional foods were on offer in the evening prior to our excursion to the Jönköping bowling lanes. That night, a team game was in offer for 3 person teams. This implied that instead of everyone bowling their two shots per 10 pin reset, each person bowled once then would leave it to the next person to finish the remaining pins. This allowed for a more even an continuous playing style. Over 6 games, there was a chance for prizes too. There were a set of bright yellow pins in circulation and sometimes one would appear in your set. If one of these pins was the leading centre pin and you scored a strike for that round, you would win a 25kr drinks voucher for the bar. We ended up winning 7 of these by the end of the competition with just under half of them coming from Linn's miracle backwards facing between the legs shot which won us the challenge competition after the regular 6 games. A great finale to a good night.

We headed to Tranås the following day and by Peter's suggestion, I took the wheel of the car for the duration of the trip. Having only passed my manual drivers licence test 2 months prior to the day, the mechanics were still quite fresh in the mind. One major difference was the right hand traffic of Sweden. Contrary to commuter driving in Perth, the route from Kaxholmen to Tranås was a scenic one with the fun element of fast, winding country roads. The time passed quickly and in just over an hour, we had arrived at Fafar's house without a single accident or stall. We headed out of the apartment as soon as we got there, joining Farfar for his daily walk and passing by Dad's favourite Trånas bakery, hearing stories about his recent visit. We came back to cake and coffee before Dad's friend Carl Johan came in for lunch. Farfar had been cooking again and had prepared goulash for us all. He got an upgraded TV a while ago, one with an SD card reader so I added some more recent Friberg photos to the card and had a look at them later on. While the laptop was still out, I thought I'd nerd out just a little more by using my mobile phone as a modem to make a Skype video call to Mum and Dad back home. This was a fun little novelty which let everyone say hello in a video rich way, making a nice conclusion to my time with Peter, Eva and Linn.

In the evening, I joined Carl Johan on a pre-dinner expedition to the yacht club to see his new boat and also to witness the awesome stillness of Sommen. The water sat as a silent mirror while we were, suiting the cooling early evening atmosphere. This glassy surface was broken only as we headed back to the car, being pursued by a mother duck and her young children from the water below the high set pontoons of the jetty. Farfar came for dinner at Carl Johan's in the evening over a Lapin Kulta and meat on the outdoor barbecue. Carl Johan showed me some photos from the house in the winter time, showing the ridiculous amounts of snow that fell in the recent extra potent cold season. Hopefully I'll get a chance to get some good snow this year.

Carl-Johan took me out to his work place in the morning on a full tour of the facility. This factory covered a vast range of mechanical processes right from the pressing and laser cutting of elementary components. There was a lot I could take from this guided walk as I saw the whole cycle of manufacturing. TR specialize in solutions for moving and bathing bed-bound patients using hydrolic assistance. While many companies undertaking this sort of cycle would probably mass produce and compartmentalize labour, the number of units produced per year makes it feasible to do everything in-house. This includes the initial design in the office, the preparation of sheet metal, the use of the computerized and manual bending machines, the powder coating ovens, the assembly workshop and even the testing and quality control platforms. Seeing the new multimillion dollar automated cutting machine that could move a large sheet, cutting, engraving and drilling it based on a pre defined program was quite cool, giving me an idea of the sort of design requirements and cost involved with this type of machine use. I was also shown through the powder coating process, a series of widely adopted steps that I hadn't understood prior to the visit. This gave me a much stronger appreciation of way the process gives a good coverage on all surfaces that could otherwise be vulnerable to corrosion. Immediately follow this interesting industrial sight seeing, we moved to the train station where I left for the next destination on the trip.

I was met in Linköping by Rolf who had somehow managed to position himself right infront of the very carriage door I left from. I met Maj Britt at the car and we set off for the historical area. This place was the centre of the old town where all of the oldest buildings had been transported in to make the place a small village. There were many cottage industries in these small wooden houses including an old style blacksmith, a woodworking and puzzle shop and also the lolly shop, stocking all sorts of small candies (små godis). We left with the obligatory bag of sweets and headed off towards the Linköping university to take a glance at one of the universities of Sweden.

After a short roam through the extensive grounds, we crossed the road to the golf club for lunch where the serving system reminded me so much of some key elements of the Swedish psyche. The main element is based around maximum self service and efficiency. Everyone knows how it works by picking up their tray at the beginning, taking their optional items such as drinks and cakes and then sliding to the checkout. Having seen the main meals on offer on large TV screens while waiting in line for payment, one has a chance to decide on the primary dish. Stating this selection at the register, you will then move to the servery with your receipt and collect your choice. Everyone will then pass by the salad bar and other included extras such as bread and sparkling water before taking any available seating space, leaving no single chair gaps between groups of people at the same set of tables. Swedes have the long term core sense of the commune, the socialist mind that has over time grown comfortable with this relationship between the obligation of self-service, limited choice and a cheaper, better quality meal for everyone.

Göta Canal is a long artificial body of water that stretches a vast distance over Sweden, linking Lake Vättern and the Baltic. Now if your going to have something like this that encompasses some of the many vast inland lakes that are dotted over Sweden, you need to change water level a great number of times. This gives rise the dramatic existence of the locks I was taken to. Having not seen (in my memory) this sort of installation before, the array of 7 lochs in one section (Berg's slussar, bridging a height of 18.8m) and 4 in the other struck me with a sense of engineering awe. The evolution of the pumping and opening mechanisms made more sense to.me when seeing a great series of.these water walls one after another.

We moved back towards the main suburban areas and met their daughter Åsa and her husband Magnus. Having only just arrived home, Åsa took me with her to pick up their children with a slight detour to a stiller part of the same canal we saw earlier. The stillness made the surface a perfect reflector for the greenery that draped the banks of the canal creating this infinite valley of greenery.

I got some good time to talk to Åsa about life for a.new homebuyer/builder in Sweden and the sort of lifestyle that one slots into when the children are just starting to become more self sufficient. It was really fun to get the time with this younger generation of the extended family even if I practically exist between her generation and that of her kids.

Coming into the newly finished household was like coming into the familiarity of home. The colours and ideals behind the interior design match our taste at home too so the home grand tour was much apriciated. There is always a lot of attention given to Scandinavian home interior. Whether it be due to the winter weather or the necessity of staying inside, the home has to be clean, practical, visually appealing and comfortable. In the evening, I had an opportunity to share my travel experience with some images after and then I was shown some pictures from the northern highlands of Sweden. Maj-britt and Rolf had done some really cool walks up there which looked pretty picturesque. I should go up there too.

Late that night we checked on the status of clean up operations after a high speed train had hit a tractor that was too close to the tracks. Luckily there had been no deaths in the accident but there were some serious injuries to some passengers on the train. Unfortunately the accident had taken place on the exact line that I would be taking the following morning so until we checked online, we didn't know whether I'd be able to travel my intended route. I took a substitute bus service that circumvented the accident the following morning. When boarding my train to Stockholm after the bus transfer to Norrköping. I found that the carriage I was supposed to board didn't exist on the train so I ended up squeezing into the second carriage with some other confused individuals. I found a seat after the real occupants had found their booked places, sat back and enjoyed my apparent upgrade to first class on the last leg to the capital.

Passing through the heartland of Sweden on the way to Stockholm has given me a great chance to connect with my relatives in a way I haven't been able to on when in the company of my parents. While I wish I could speak Swedish in the fluency required, it always seems very easy to get by in English. Being one of the strongest countries to speak English as a second language, it seems as though everyone you speak to who is born after world war 2 can speak with quite a wide vocabulary. Even if there was a particular word they might not know, I could often recognize the Swedish version and narrow things down a little. This also made it harder to learn more of the language too since it always just ends up being more comfortable to go with the best second spoken language. I was really lucky to experience some of the cultural events too. With kräftor and midsommar back to back, I got to celebrate familiar festivals but in the right country and the right environment. I am so grateful all of my relatives and family friends were so generous with their time, showing me all of the local attractions and providing their own personal taste to the historical context. After getting this one-on-one time, I feel like I know my Swedish family in a more personal way rather than in a procedural meet and greet context. Having taken in a more country side lifestyle in this part of the trip, I am slightly more rested and ready to take on the sights and scenes of the beautiful archipelago city of Stockholm.

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