Holy cheese balls. Sweden is wicked! We spent four days sitting on the deck of our converted sawmill in Nykoping (knee-shopping), an hour out of Stockholm, watching the sun melt into the lake. The light is different here – a soft, hazy Monet-drenched glow. We were surrounded by elegant trees, and geese flying in formation. Fish punctuated the silence with wet ka-plonks in the sunset. Massive cranes swooshed by the peer as Monica teased tomorrow’s bait with breadcrumbs sprinkled past the dragonflies.
This place is paradise. We woke up in the morning, collected fresh berries, and exhaled. We were here by accident really. The plan was to go to Stockholm but Ryan Air flies into Nykoping. In need of some respite from the city vibe we decided to find a spot in this small town to unwind for a couple of days – except that there is very little in this town – just one main street, a church, a supermarket, and an ever-present McDonalds. Nykoping shuts down at 9pm – every night. Tumble weed might as well roll down the side streets because no one is here. And so it was that we booked a “hostel” 10 minutes out of town. Welcome to Kristineholm, population 5. The bus driver had no idea where to drop us, because the stop was in the middle of a motorway dissecting a cow-dotted field. Someone on the bus Googled Kristineholm and we were delivered, rather unceremoniously, into the middle of nowhere. There we were, roll-aboard in tow, traipsing up gravel paths from one lonely farmhouse to another. When we finally found our hosts they apologized, “The website doesn’t give many details or directions. We will fix this…next year”.
Our abode was just gorgeous. A few years ago the farmers converted the old sawmill into a guesthouse. This is no “hostel” – not a bunk bed or 2-for-1 Budweiser special in sight. The sawmill has reindeer and moose antlers on the wall, a self-catering kitchen, IKEA living room, and rolling lawns down to the lake. And so we spent our entire Swedish time here (but for a day trip to Stockholm). Why would we ever leave?
The highlight was Allemansratten (“everyman’s right”). Sweden’s Constitution guarantees the right to roam in nature. With very few exceptions, forests, beaches and lakefronts are available for all to explore, including those on private property. However, with this right comes the responsibility to respect homes, gardens and to protect biodiversity – “do not disturb, do not destroy”. Living in the United States where individual rights reign supreme, there was something deeply beautiful about Allemansratten. We paddled our canoe up the lake all afternoon, knowing that we could enjoy our picnic on any of the green islets we drifted past. Here is an understanding that the "Commons", in truth, "belong" to us all. Sweden is pristine and restorative, and we couldn’t help wondering whether part of the reason for this is the Swedes’ deep appreciation for the natural world with which they interact so closely.
Four observations from Sweden:
1. Alcohol-free wine abounds. There is a zero tolerance attitude to drinking and driving so they sell this terrible red juice and call it Merlot. We ran (I repeat, ran) 10km to get some dinner and a bottle of wine and we got red juice. Not happy.
2. Nykoping has a weekend fair where vendors sell the same kitsch plastic that we saw in Marrakech, Marseille and Memphis displayed next to foot long Swedish liquorice, while baby boomers sing La Bamba.
3. When sharing a sawmill with Estonian construction workers they generally keep to themselves, until you ask them about their country, at which point the iPad comes out and you find yourself watching videos of mock Viking battles in Estonia.
4. The Swedes are lovely while being reserved. We interviewed Jonathan, a Royal Guard, in front of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. His great love is Sweden. He quietly explained that he would die for his country. Inasmuch as his voice was gentle, his eyes were fierce. His patriotism was tangible but classy.
And finally, Monica can catch a fish with a bare hook. I tell you, I saw it myself. After two hours of casting breaded bait into the water with no luck, she simply dipped the hook into the lake off the side of the jetty, sprinkled some cheeky breadcrumbs, and then watched two little silver guys literally jump onto the hook. If Positive Psychology doesn’t work out we are making a nature documentary, “The Fish Whisperer”.