Hope you all had a Happy Easter! Here’s what we did over Christmas! 😛
We arrived in Johan’s previous hometown of Skänninge, where his Dad’s family live, in the very late afternoon. It was dark and raining (not snowing) when we got off our train and Johan showed us the way with our suitcases to the family-run Bed & Breakfast we had booked in town, just about a 10min walk from the station. We knocked at reception. After a moment, the owner answered the door, looking confused at the three of us with our suitcases, and asked if he could help us. Um yes, we’ve booked and paid 4 nights here. Turns out, because I had been so well prepared with my organising and booked way back in August, he had forgotten to write our booking in the book! After some frantic worrying and discussing on both sides, we showed him the confirmation email and he finally remembered us, constantly apologising and saying he just had to quickly clean up the cottage we’d be staying in and to come in out of the rain. So we stood there while he hurried off, glad for the luck we had had – can you imagine if he wasn’t home (he was going away over Christmas!) or if he’d double booked the room? He returned to us quickly saying the room was ready and asking what we’d want for breakfast, that he’d go and get it, still all the while apologising! The cottages were very simple, clean and nice, with two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom, just what we needed for our short stay.
Johan and I were hungry, and we said we’d go to his Dad’s after dinner, so we left Mum and went to grab a pizza at a place we’d been to on my first trip to Sweden. It bought back memories, and this time I was better able to read the Swedish menu! We had a kebab pizza with kebab sauce (also the one we had on our first trip) and let me tell you that sauce is amazing!
Afterwards, because of the rain and it was already getting a little late, Johan’s Dad offered to pick us up and that was that – we were being welcomed into their home, and everyone was introducing themselves to my Mum, and it was all a bit crazy to begin with, seeing everyone again and I think Johan’s half sisters were a little shy at first, but we hugged and they soon warmed up to me again, almost instantly wanting to plait my hair – something which Johan struggles with! We sat down on the couch and talked about the holiday we had had so far, and Mum asked questions about everyone’s jobs and the Swedish life, whilst enjoying glögg and gingerbread, yum yum! It was really nice to see them all again, and pretty weird to see Johan’s old room empty and bare considering I’d lived in that room for 4 weeks last time.
The next day we were greeted with blue skies and… still no snow. Keeping in mind this is the day before Christmas Eve, which is the day they celebrate Christmas. Not liking our chances.
We went for a walk through the town I had come to know so well on my first trip – passed the beautiful, big old church, passed the grocery store, crossed the river and passed the ducks, all the way back to his Dad’s (which is just another 10min walk again, but a little longer when you’re stopping to take photos and explain things!)
His Dad and step-mother had offered to take us to Mt Omberg, which was a place Johan had been wanting to show me on our first trip but we never had the chance. So, we packed up two cars and set off, with me singing songs in Swedish with Johan’s little sisters in the backseat (okay, so I had the lyric-captioned videos on my phone). It was a bit of a drive, passed plenty of green landscapes and red country cottages which I love! It’s all pretty flat landscape, until you get to the mountain, which is a slow incline. You park at the bottom then make your way on foot to the top to capture the views of the surrounding Lake Vattern.
They also have a little lookout tower we climbed to the top of and Johan pulled out his tripod and we got some lovely photos of the sun shining through the clouds, and family shots. It was such a great day to be out, a little cloudy and windy, yes, but the rain was holding off. We climbed back down and had a picnic, complete with coffee and Julmust (a kind of Christmas soft drink), saffron buns (which they eat primarily on St Lucia Day), marshmallow Santas (very soft and chewy!), and Caramello Koalas and TimTams bought from Australia!
We followed this with a trip to Vadstena Castle, by which point it had started to rain and the wind was picking up, so while my mother and Johan were busy taking photos, I rushed inside with the rest of his family to be under the shelter – the wuss I am – and yet still, I want to move here!
The castle is amazing, but you can’t actually go inside without a prebooked tour. Construction started in 1545 and it was originally used as a fortress to protect Stockholm from its enemies, before becoming home to King Gustav I. When the royal family lost interest in it, it became a storage barn! For grain! Can you imagine? Today it’s a culturally protected listed building though, as well as a tourist attraction.
From here, the rain having cleared off a bit, we went for a walk through Vadstena’s tiny litte shops filled with knicks and knacks, like this old pair of wooden skis.
We checked out the inside of Vadstena Church and the ruins of the Monastery, and by the time we got ourselves back to the car we were soaked and shivering from the rain! But still we stayed out, as we hadn’t yet had a proper feed. We went to an all-you-can-eat place in a neighbouring town, Mjölby, where we met up with Johan’s other sister, Hanna. They had everything there from pizza and pasta, to pancakes, sausages, deep fried chicken and delicious peanut sauce! And ice cream and syrup and your drink was included with your meal! Very good value. Then it was back to his Dad’s for more conversation, and back to our cottage to sleep! It’s still weird to say it was the “night before Christmas” when really, it was only the 23rd!
But Christmas Eve greeted us with celebrations and festivities, spent with the same extended family and cousins I had already met, but this time at Johan’s step-mother’s sister’s house. Still surprised all of the presents fit in the back of the car – it was a tight squeeze! There were at least 20 of us, including at least half a dozen kids, and it’s all crazy and loud and full of fun and spirit. It was a really nice family atmosphere. We will simply not mention the fact that the ground wasn’t white.
After the traditional Swedish Christmas feast of salmon and fish and salami and meatballs and ham and cheese and sausages and Julmust and glögg, all of which was very yummy, we helped carry empty dishes before sitting down to watch Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) at 3pm, which is also a well-loved Swedish tradition for almost 60 years. Correction: all the kids and young adults, with a few others joining in towards the end. My Mum was in her element, helping in the kitchen as usual. But still, roughly 40% of the population sit down to watch it – and it always ends up in one of the top rankings for the most watched show of the year.
It is only after Donald Duck that Santa (Tomte… or in this case, a family member dressed up… I can say that the costume this year was an improvement from the one I had seen last time, haha!) arrives and delivers presents to the kids – between 1-3 for each child, I think. It was my turn to stuff up the video this time – it seemed Mum wasn’t the only one to mistakenly think she had pressed the record button – it wasn’t until after Santa had left that I realised!
Then the rest of the presents from family were handed out to everyone – yes, plenty more for the kids, but some for all the adults as well! It took 3 people and forever to hand them all out, and Mum and I got some little gifts we weren’t expecting because we had insisted we didn’t want anything, that having us over was enough! But they’re nice like that 🙂 Johan and I both got landed with chocolates, bath bombs and gift packs of shower gels, etc. I also got an art book and charcoal, a light up Christmas tree and… snow! That works in any temperature! Thanks to Johan’s brother, Pontus.
It was a wonderful day, so warm and friendly. I only hope that Johan and I can host it someday in return! We ended the night back at the cottage, in front of a burning fireplace.
The actual Christmas day in Sweden, is pretty much like any other day. Like Boxing Day, but without the stores being open. A day for the kids to play with their presents. Today was the only day we could fit in our schedule to meet with our fellow Harry Potter fan and friend, Björn, and it was great to see him again. We travelled to Old Linköping (yes, in the same way there is an Old Stockholm). It is like a museum of old buildings that’s open every day of the year… of course, being Christmas day, you could only look around outside. We were almost the only ones there, having missed the Christmas markets the week before. But it was still lovely to walk around the cobblestone paths. It was cold, so we liked to keep moving, but it was nothing compared to the cold we were soon to experience.
We got lost finding our way to Linköping Cathedral afterwards, by which point I think it had rained again. I just remember the wind being so strong and we were battling to get to the doors! The Cathedral was just as amazing as Vadstena Church, probably more so, and we spent some time here listening to the choir that was practising. Hunger getting the better of us, we grabbed some more pizza (mostly because half the eating places were closed) then proceeded to fill bags of Swedish candy, 1.2kg worth between all 3 of us. It was here Mum found a love for Sweden’s liquor chocolates, so much so, by the end of the trip I was carrying home at least 2kg of liquor chocolate in my bag so she could share it with everyone!
I’ve also got to add that it was a full moon, and it looked amazing, so big, beautiful, shiny blue and silver. The photos didn’t do it justice at all.
We said goodbye to Björn that night at the station, then continued to make our way to Norrköping as we were already halfway there and it was thee only day we’d have a chance to do it – that is, visit the industrial landscape and waterways of Norrköping. It was worth waiting the extra 40 mins for a train, despite getting lost on our way there yet again! They had random balls that floated on the water and changed colour, and a floating, curtained, four-poster bed, which looked a bit bizarre!
It was a late night and we got back exhausted. Yet still, our journeys and travels were only just beginning. We ate a final homemade breakfast in our cottage the next day (yes, that’s an Aussie Vegemite jar, and some of Johan’s fresh fried eggs and the round bread I love!) and tried to fit Christmas presents in our bags.
We walked through Skänninge one last time, taking a different route to Johan’s Dad’s, to say goodbye to his brother and his girlfriend, who were taking the train back to Stockholm. We stayed and had lunch with them a final time – salmon and potatoes – which I surprisingly ate and didn’t think it was too bad, coming from someone who is not a fan of fish at all, so that’s got to be a compliment! We spent all afternoon playing with Johan’s little sisters, playing doctor and hairdresser, Mum braiding their hair and I braved picking up a children’s book in Swedish and struggled reading it aloud to them, and am sure that his youngest 7-year old sister could’ve read it faster than me, but am proud to say I made it to the end… then they wanted me to read another!
It was heart-wrenching to say goodbye to the family, especially after so little days spent with them, jam-packed days though they were. But we had an early evening train to catch, back to Stockholm, but just to switch trains, for we were travelling onward and upward, to Luleå, Haparanda, and across the border to Rovaniemi, Finland!