Have you ever been to a place that felt familiar from the second you set foot there? We had a late start to the day, stopping for pastries and a long walk through the park before taking the tram to the ferry terminal. Vrångö is one of several islands just off the coast of Gothenburg in southwest Sweden. It’s home to approximately 400 people, and from our first steps onto the island, it felt like a special, private place.
The wind came off of the water in strong gusts, making it hard to keep your footing on the moss-covered rocks. There were people taking pictures, walking their dogs, and bravely having picnics on the cold ground. But there was also a calm sort of emptiness. It felt like coming back to a place you knew a long time ago, and recognizing every tree and cliff you passed.
If you walk along the coastline, taking in the view of the endless ocean, you come to a trail. We walked for half an hour through the woods, moving from dense pine forests to rocky outcroppings, until we caught our first glimpse of the people of Vrångö. Clustered close along the shore like they were keeping each other warm was a village of red-roofed houses. And, perched above it all on a cliff overlooking the sea, stood the pilot’s house.
It hadn’t been used for a long time, said the information sheet outside the building when we finally made our way up the rock face, following signs through people’s back gardens and climbing jagged, mismatched steps. But once, years ago, the pilot would sit in this house and make sure boats made it safely to shore.
After dozens of photos and being buffeted by the wind, we climbed back down and walked to the dock. There’s a lovely little cafe right where the boats arrive, though we had to wrap our cakes in napkins and run out the door because the ferry was approaching. Vrångö was exactly what I dreamed of when I first came to Sweden: quiet, secluded, sitting right at the edge of the sea like it’s ready to dive in at any moment. We listened to podcasts and tried to play with the dogs lying next to us on the ferry ride back. The next time you find yourself in Sweden, be sure to visit Vrångö for a perfect afternoon.
As soon as I read this post by Naomi Bulger, I ran to the library and bought a thick stack of postcards to put in the mail. Mrs. Bulger, an avid snail-mail advocate and illustrator, is on a mission to send one thousand postcards to strangers around the world in 2017. You can sign up on her website to receive yours very soon.
Her project made me think about how much I love receiving handwritten notes in the mail, and how I want to give other people the excitement of spotting an unexpected card in their mailbox.
My mail slot is the top one in my corridor. I have to stand on my tippy-toes to look inside every morning, convinced that a tiny envelope or sweet postcard could have slid to the back. Most days it’s empty – but when it’s not, I unlock the little door, grab my mail and twirl down the hall to my room to open it.
So I went out and bought a stack of postcards, and if you’d like, I’ll send one your way. Just fill in your name and mailing address below. I’ll never share it or use it for anything else.
As Naomi writes on her blog, I’d love to send you a line from a poem, a story, a recipe, or something else that I hope will brighten your day. And maybe (fingers crossed) you’ll turn around and send someone a postcard, too.
I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafes as I write this. The walls are covered in blue and white striped wallpaper, and when you order a piece of cake they always ask if you want ice cream on the side. My kind of place.
I didn’t expect this when I moved to Sweden just over two months ago. I didn’t know about the country’s obsession with coffee or how meeting at a cafe (aka going for fika) is a national institution. I had no idea how to order in a restaurant, and to be honest I’m still too afraid to try, but I’m getting there. I didn’t expect to find a cafe right next to the river in my home-away-from-home where I can sit and work for hours, and feel like I belong.
I had never been to Sweden before I moved here for an exchange (although I go to IKEA on a regular basis, so there’s that). Despite all my research and devouring every Swedish detective series on Netflix, there are still so many things I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know before I got here.
“You never know until you try,” has been ringing in my ears since I got here. Or, in my case, “you never know until you pack a suitcase full of woefully weather inappropriate clothes and hop on a plane.” So here are a couple things I’ve learned. Maybe you can tell me some of yours, too.
(Some of) The Things I Didn’t Know:
- Tote bags and purses will hit your wheels while you bike and make steering a nightmare – use a backpack instead
- Swedes say “Hej!” but Norwegians prefer “Hei!” (both conveniently English-sounding so it’s easy to fake)
- Everyone has a black wool coat and everyone looks amazing even when it’s -10 degrees outside
- It will be -10 degrees outside at times. Pack more sweaters
- Every window you pass has plants and flowers in it. It makes the long, dark winter a little more cheerful. Also, people leave their living room curtains open a lot – stop looking in, it’s weird
- There are vegan, soy, and laktosfri options for everything here (including yogurt and feta cheese. I mean everything)
- Sweden has great secondhand shops, even if half the clothes inside are from H&M (it’s still Swedish though, right?)
- Spring in Sweden goes from 20 degrees and sunny one day to grey and snowing the next. Dress in layers and try not to be too disappointed
- Fika is everything. It basically means going for coffee, taking time out from your day, by yourself or with friends, and it will become your new way of life
- Swedish is similar enough to English and German that sometimes you can catch what people are saying. Okay, maybe “sometimes” is too strong a word
- Riding your bike home on the first warm (ish) day of spring is the best feeling in the entire world
It took me a long time before I even knew why I had come to Sweden in the first place. But two months in and I think I finally have something close to an answer: I want to be the type of person who, when presented with crazy, amazing, outlandish opportunities, is brave enough to say yes.
So here’s to three more months and a lot more learning, with love from Uppsala, Sweden.