Stockholm, last day

This last weekend in Stockholm has brought us many blessings. One came in the form of Liam, a 60s-ish-old Irishman with a mouth full of blarney and a penchant for taking younger Americans under his wing. Under his care, my sister and I got a tour of the best views in Stockholm and an unexpected visit with Izzy Young, an American expat/folk music legend who’s been living for the last 40 years in Stockholm (apparently, he signed Bob Dylan and a bunch of other guys before they became famous *shrug*). Liam also drove us to our hotel (in the rain; thank the Gods for talkative Irishmen). The blessings also came in the form of Kerstin, a older woman from Stockholm who made us a traditional Swedish smorgasbord dinner in her home, and then took us to an ongoing traditional Swedish folk music and dance session in Gamla Stan (Old Town), walking us home afterwards.

Yesterday was our last day, and it was All Things Sweden, All the Time. In addition to bring transported around town by Liam and Kerstin, my sister and I wandered about Stockholm, getting the homemade Swedish clogs she wanted (her one Must Have from this trip), and enjoying a unexpectedly hipster take on traditional Swedish meatballs (what’s old is new again, in Sweden as in America). Then we were just able to get in to see The Gold Room (Guldrummet) exhibit, a permanent exhibit at the Swedish History Museum (Historiska museet), which is where much of the expensive archaeological artifacts from Birka went. (It also includes a bunch of random gold and silver items–most of it from uncovered hoards and/or old churches–because GOLD. And SILVER. Why not?) And I picked up yet more useless Viking swag because, well….Vikings. 🙂

Sunday night we slept on a boat. A BOAT, which is currently floating on Lake Mälaren. (It has a peephole window looking over the lake, and bunk beds, and everything!!) Between this and our visit to Birka, my inner child was running around in one constant state of SQUEEEE! Even the ugly, rainy, cold weather that we had that day could not put a damper on it. (Of course, our Irishman and Swedish woman helped out, too.) I am coming home from this trip with a stone from my Aunt Hannah’s grave; slate from an even older family-ish graveyard; three more generations’ worth of ancestor details, thanks to a local genealogist; the love and connection with a town we never knew and the inhabitants who knew how special it was for us to visit; pictures of the flowers I planted on my aunt’s grave after we had cleaned it up after 35 years of neglect; an intimate understanding of the word and concept fika; an abiding passion for cardamom sugar rolls (apparently my sweet tooth is genetic); and a better understanding of the land the Vikings lived on and how it must have shaped their actions and choices.

And finally, a deep, deep appreciation of and longing for this world full of people who look like family and act so unpretentiously civilized, understated, and liberal (so unlike much of my actual family!) My sister describes much of the trip as being in a constant state of deja vu. No matter how you parse it, clearly, something was already ready and waiting for us in Sweden. So many of the experiences we’ve had here have sunk in so deeply and so fast, like old gears finally shifting into place; and I have no real way of knowing if I’ll ever be back. It’s a wound I cannot heal, and I’m somewhat afraid that the more I visit, the bigger that wound will get, which would really suck. I have many more experiences to relate, and they will likely come out over the course of the next few months. But as for now–

Sweden, you are like a best friend I didn’t even know I had. And I wish I had less trite of words to speak it with, but I don’t. I see the wave of pain and grief hanging out off of the shore, waiting to hit, and I don’t want to go home. I’ve been in the US for about six hours now, at JFK, still on my way home, and it’s been a huge letdown–the food, the people, the service, the attitude. (Even the weather’s not much better :p But I never did like New York that much, anyway. I’ll be happier once I finally land and can start attacking this jet lag. And have my own car again!)


The Trip, Up to Now

(Well, now I can say I’ve actually been to the place my header image shows. It’s the old Catholic Church on top of the old pagan temple at Gamla (“Old”) Uppsala, north of Stockholm. The red building is, I believe, a reconstruction of how the pagan temple might have looked. It’s built in the wooden stave church style, at any rate. It’s a neat, really old church full of awesomely old artwork, but I think the even older pagan “King’s Mounds” and other burial mounds beside it, which date to the 5th c. CE, are much cooler. YMMV.)

We’re on the back end of the trip now.  We’ve visited Stockholm, Uppsala (both old and new), and Nora; currently, we’re back in Uppsala, and we will be heading back to Stockholm tomorrow. It seemed like a good time to finally catch up on my blogging and start with a bit of processing. Here are some of my experiences, in no particular order.

  • Today, I planted flowers at the grave of my great Aunt Hannah. She had died in 1980 and, having no children of her own, doesn’t seem to have had anyone to tend her grave for her in many years. This aunt only really became known to us recently, while looking through old photos with my parents. She stayed in Sweden when the two brothers closet to her in age (my grandfather and another uncle) moved to the US. My father grew up a dirt-poor Swedish/Norwegian-American, and one of the highlights of his childhood apparently had been receiving the letters and gifts that his aunt Hannah would send them from Sweden. Our first night in Nora, my sister found her grave in the local cemetery; today, as “Ascension Day” [which for some reason the largely agnostic, Humanist, or–if nothing else–Lutheran] Swedes celebrate as a national holiday, we visited her grave, thanked her for her kindnesses to my father and his family, and planted flowers on her grave. (Side note: The Swedes are all about honoring your ancestors; even today, visiting cemeteries are not considered dark or taboo, and most have tools for DIY grave pruning.) I felt a great connection with my great-aunt and felt that we had done our family a great service by honoring her in person.
  • I have eaten nearly my weight in cardamon pastries. I’m so glad I’ve developed a taste for cardamon, even if it was through Indian cooking, not Swedish baking. Luckily, I am averaging 12,000 steps a day, so at least some of that is being worked off.
  • The past four days have turned out to be very grave-and-death centered, first with the mounds at Uppsala, and then in the five or so cementeries my sister and I have canvassed trying to find long-lost relatives. I will be very surprised if I don’t end up gravewalking in my dreams tonight. Speaking of which, I have a public service announcement: For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, if you want anyone to be able to find your grave after, say, 50 years or so have passed, do not have it made out of marble. Contrary to popular belief, marble is a soft, reactive stone which is susceptible to erosion from acid rain (and probably anything else the environment throws at it). If you want your headstone to last, use platinum or something. Even stainless steel will likely last longer, though it may not look as pretty. The jury’s still out on granite, if you ask me, judging by the state of the granite headstones we saw.
  • The Swedes I have met have been friendly and polite but, for the most part, distant. For example, I was lounging in the common room of our hotel one night when a group of four Swedes came in with their dinner. I got a “Hej” from the first one, but otherwise I was completely ignored. I was twitchy for about ten minutes, fighting the American urge to say something–anything–just to prove that I was a friendly, normal person, but that urge eventually passed. I quickly became completely comfortable completely ignoring them and being ignored by them for the entire length of our visit. It wasn’t an “I disapprove of you” kind of ignoring. There was no bad feelings involved; it was just that no small talk was required or expected. It was sheer bliss for an introvert like me who had just spent five or so days stumbling through three new cities using halting Swedish and several confusing public transit systems. Well done. Go Sweden! 🙂
  • Despite the fears of my parents, my sister and I have neither killed each other nor bitten each others’ heads off (though there have been some touchy moments.) I’m a Taurus and my sister is a Sagittarius, and we both fit our signs’ descriptions pretty well, so–again, well done.
  • Tomorrow I will finally (finally!) get a chance to sleep in until at least 10. Then I plan to avoid the likely rain and low-50s temperatures and instead hit the big local chain kaffe shop and shop at the mall (galleria), both of which happen to be directly across the street from my hotel. Judge all you want, but you try spending a week rushing non-stop from museum exhibit to public transport system X to archaeological site to hotel/hostel/Air BnB to graveyard over and over again (in a foreign country, without cell coverage or data service, in windy, 50-degree F temperatures, for a week straight) and see how far you get before you long for a day to chill with hot beverage at the mostly bilingual mall. (I don’t even like malls, yet still I long for this. We’ll see how long it lasts.)
  • Dala horses and Swedish flags are exactly as ubiquitous as you’d expect from watching “Welcome to Sweden.” It’s like half of the country’s aesthetic is based on the Swedish tchotchke stores in my hometown:

swedish-dala-horseswedish flag

Dala Horse                                                                                      Swedish flag

Adorable, but a tad creepy. Also, outside of the big cities, almost every house is painted a specific and uniform color of dark red, with white trim and a black roof:

swedish house

Ye Olde-fashioned Swedish home

Again–cute, but creepy.

  • Finally, Sweden is really big. Reaaaally big. Too big to see by any form of transit within a ten-day period, so we had to re-prioritize our goals. We decided this trip was about researching our ancestors and, for me, visiting some of the major Viking archaeological sites–in this case, Birka (and the associated exhibit at the Swedish History Museum) and Gamla Uppsala, site of the old pagan temple and the huge burial mounds. Because of this; our finances; the fact that I’ve done almost all of my power-shopping for family and friends; and our trip to Nora being so successful, I now have a mostly-unplanned day to spend in modern-day Uppsala (a big, yet charming, university town) and two and a half mostly-free days in Stockholm. It’s a great luxury, even though I am sad I won’t make it to Mälmo, Gothenberg, or Norway this trip. Next time. (There will be a next time.)

For now, I leave you with a picture that encapsulates some of the experiences I have had in Sweden–a country of sharp beauty and peaceful death. Enjoy 🙂


Digging up and putting to rest family history

I was talking with my sister the other day about our trip to Sweden (t-minus 6 days and counting!), and had a revelation. Though my sister has been into genealogical research, she has never been as interested in Vikings or the Viking culture as I’ve always been. I’ve always considered it to be, among other things, a great bonus. You know: “Oooh! We’re descended from bold, courageous Vikings!” So it was really weird that she was the one to come up with the idea of us visiting our ancestral homelands in Sweden and Norway together. Talking with her last week, she said something else that threw me for a loop. “You know, things have fallen into place too smoothly for this trip to be about us. We need to do some ancestor work while we’re there.”

*gape* From the mouths of babes sometimes, I swear. OF COURSE this is ancestor work; what have I been thinking? I had been trying to make this all about mythology and Viking religion (Freyr is the progenitor of the line of Swedish kings, the Ynglings, after all), and have felt like I’m banging my head against a wall with it a lot of the time. But, maybe this trip is not about the Gods; maybe it’s about the family as a whole! (Wow, a shift in perspective really makes a big difference sometimes.)

The ancestor who ties us closest to any of the Old Countries is our grandfather (my father’s father) from Sweden, who was the second youngest of fourteen children (and the third child in his family named “Erik”, the other two having died before they reached three years of age–third time’s a charm, I guess). He was also an active alcoholic his entire life, and he left behind six kids, thirteen grandchildren, and a whole lot of family dysfunction by the time he passed away. I’ve grown up hearing about what a horrible father this man was from my father (who was also the youngest kid of a large passel of kids). Dad likes pickled herring, and absolutely nothing else about his Swedish heritage. Half of the time when my sister and I bring up our Swedish heritage, we get an earful about what a horrible man my grandfather was and why aren’t focusing on Dad’s mother (a Norwegian-American, from several generations back), though as she herself was not that great of a parent, either, we then get a lecture on how crazy she was. (There’s not a lot of ways to win in this scenario.)

So to say that this trip we’ve got planned, which is primarily to Sweden, with hopefully a trip to Oslo wedged in, is full of sinkholes and traps is to put it mildly. And we’re diving right into the heart of it. We’ll even be spending two days in his dad’s hometown out in the middle of nowheresville, digging into any local records and scouting out cemeteries and possible living relatives.

It turns out that the trip we’re planning is essentially the same trip that Dad’s two sisters went on thirty years ago, though certainly they didn’t have any more of a reason to love my grandfather than my dad did. So, here’s one way in which the trip is about the family, not us–it’s just our generation’s turn to do this, it seems. My dad being the youngest in his family, my sister and I are the youngest grandkids on that side, and none of the others have shown any interest in researching the Scandinavian heritage. Also, though neither of my aunts are alcoholics, the daughter of one of them, my cousin, was; and a few days ago she died from complications of having that disease. She’s the first of our generation to go, and though I didn’t know her well, it still shook us. One of the family’s diseases, alcoholism, had plagued her throughout her life, and eventually it took her down.

We’ve come up with some other interesting finds in the course of our research. The other aunt sent us a letter in Swedish that turned out to be, after much careful use of Google Translate, an inheritance letter from my great-aunt Hannah, my grandfather’s sister, who was my dad’s favorite aunt, and whom everyone says was a wonderful, caring person. Everyone in my dad’s generation had received this same letter thirty-five years ago, and attached to it was a detailed list of all of the arvtagarna (heirs), all 84 of them. (The letter, from a Mr. Sven Thorstensson, polisinspektor, encouraged the heirs to give their allotment to another widowed aunt, Rosa, if they could.) I had a grand time translating this unexpected inheritance letter, even though it was 35 years old, and, considering that he had two small children at that point, I was pretty sure my dad had already cashed in his part. (Dad, who can’t read or speak Swedish, concurs. He says that he he sent it back with “SEND ME THE MONEY” written at the top of his letter. They used the money to buy my mom’s white Kitchenaid mixer, which she still uses to make Christmas cookies to this day.)

My sister and I gave booked an AirBnB place in the grandfather’s hometown, which currently has around 5000 people living it it. If the people we’re staying with–a retired couple of schoolteachers–don’t know anything about our family (which is highly unlikely, given the size of the town and the size of the family), my aunt suggests just wandering around town and talking to people. We know that at least several of my grandfather’s older siblings settled down nearby and raised families. It will be fascinating to see what the town’s take on our family will be. Alcoholism runs in families, and it sure as hell runs in Scandinavian families…

Anyway, maybe we’ll be able to bring some peace to some long-standing family ghosts. She and I are certainly doing our part to do so on the living end of the family tree.

Hotel rooms, the acquisition thereof

So, as my sister and I no longer live in the same state, we’ve been getting on 2-hour-long planning calls pretty much every week for the last month and a half. Mostly, these devolve into us researching various places for us to crash while in Sweden: me on (where you earn a free night for every ten nights spent somewhere!) and my sister, the good SF native that she is, using Air BnB and whatever other kind of alternative housing site she can find.

We’ve had luck with both, actually. The biggest thing is that our preferences are pretty different. She wants to stay at strangers’ homes (Air BnB) whereas I like the impersonalness and quality control of a chain of some kind, especially as this is my first trip abroad in a number of years. The goodness is that there are some pretty unique hotels that are part of the conglomerate. For example, on night of the trip, we will be staying on board a docked boat-turned-hotel in Stockholm, the Mälardrottningen Hotel. (This one totally makes me do the happy dance, as I’ve wanted to have a sleepover on an old-fashioned boat since I was a little kid. This wish brought to you courtesy of Irene Haas.)

Originally, we had thought we could hit Sweden, Norway, Findland, and possibly Copenhagen within our ten-day vacation. Over the course of our many hours of discussions, we’ve since admitted that this is not feasible, and we’ve had to give up that plan. (Which is fine; one of the main things I’ve always wanted to do go as far north as I can and see the Northern Lights, but May in Southern Sweden or Norway is just *not* the ideal time to do so. So, an official Noway Fjords trip will have to happen later on anyway.) But back when we were still trying to have it all, we all-but-booked a four-day-trip on the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which, though it sounds cheesy, is apparently one of the best ways to see Norway, and I was happily surprised to find out that had several hotels available along that route. So you really never know.

My sister has been able to find us a couple of cute-looking Air BnB set-ups as well. She argues that, in addition to having a greater likelihood of being unique and off the beaten path, Air Bnb rooms also some with a built-in tour guide, or at least someone who knows the area well and can point out the closest grocery store and give us the low-down on the local tourist sites (like, “What’s the best way to get to the old pagan temple at Gamla Uppsala from the modern town of Uppsala?” and “Where can I get some decent lutefisk around here?”) And I think once I get over myself, staying at a couple of Air BnB places will be a lot of fun, actually. And, we can cook and do laundry at most of these places, which is always a bonus on a 10-day trip in a country with one of the highest cost of living in Europe.

So far the trip really is in flux. We’ve booked a few nights at a generic (and exceedingly inexpensive) hostel in Stockholm; the boat hotel (also in Stockholm); a few nights in our grandfather’s hometown; and a few nights in Mälmo so I can hit the amber and living history museums and my sister can skip over to Copenhagen for the day. Trips to Gotenburg and Gotland are also possibilities, hopefully we can swing up to Oslo for a day or two as well! *fingers crossed* Unfortunately, Sweden is really big. Norway is three times as long as California (!) and Sweden is not that much shorter. Having lived in California for many years, I can easily picture how long it will take us to get anywhere. Luckily, this was one of the first things I learned when researching our trip, though–it was #1 on many of the “What you need to know before you visit Sweden” lists. (Personally, I always thought Sweden and Norway were maybe as long as Illinois. I had no idea how big it actually is.) Still, I feel like we’ve got enough of the bookings settled to get us started, anyway. We may want to change some (or all) of our itinerary once we get there, anyway.

The fruits of my shopping labor (detailed)

(In which you learn more about my shopping habits that you ever cared to know.)

My sister and I have few things in common, but one of them definitely is shopping. We are meticulous and thorough, and we do our research. I do this with most of my purchases, honestly, but this time it just feels really important to get everything right. This my first international trip in over a decade, and I don’t want to screw it up. Plus the fact that Norway is the most expensive country in Europe (with Sweden in third or fourth place, depending on the list), so little things like flip-flops will be inordinately expensive if I pick them up over there.

Add to this the fact that I don’t want to have to go through this whole process again anytime soon because, dude–buying all of this stuff takes forever, and is expensive to boot. I just hadn’t realized how unprepared I was to do any kind of extended, multi-city travel. Of course, I probably could have gotten by with the stuff I already have, but I’d have been very uncomfortable all trip, and when I’d visiting my spiritual and ancestral mecca, I don’t want to have to worry about my shoes fitting correctly or not being able to lock my suitcase. Call me superficial, but I say that if I can minimize these inconveniences, why not make life easier by doing so? #firstworldproblems

Still, it has its drawbacks.  For example, I literally have spent 10 hours or so just finding the perfect bag. Having done some hosteling and backpacking back in college, I know that the right bag can make or break a trip, so I spend a lot of time finding the bag that will work best for me. (This is after I thoroughly researched the “backpack or rolling bag?” question for hours. The answer is, surprisingly, a  rolling bag; even if you get a convertible backpack/rolling bag, you’ll never end up using your straps.) Same goes for a lot of other equipment: I need to have a *really good* layerable wind and rain resistant-jacket, comfy shoes, convertible hiking pants, just o name a few, because I’ll essentially be living in these items for ten days straight. (Yay Amazon and their free reviews and their free return policy!)

Also–did you know that if you go hosteling now, you need to bring or rent sheets? I don’t remember having to do that when I was hosteling in Ireland or Israel 15 years ago.  Now, they expect you to provide your own “linens”. Even some cheaper hotels require this, and some Air BnB places as well. So I had to spend a couple of hours finding the best travel “sleep sack”–one that was big enough, soft, strong, inexpensive, and able to be folded down to a package the size of my laptop (which I’m also bringing, so I can get some work done while en route to places). Often they don’t provide towels or washcloths, either. As I hate having to rely on anyone (and, likely, the rented towels will be crappy), I spent another few hours spent researching and testing out a travel towel. And shoes–gods, I hate tennis shoe shopping. But probably one of the most important items you can have while traveling is a pair of  quality shoes, so… I actually ended up returning a pair of ankle hiking boots for  a cute pair of raspberry Keen’s (cheaper and fits much better, but no ankle support; you can’t have everything. Trust me, I’ve tried.)

Anyway, here’s my final haul:

Continue reading

30 days and counting

In exactly one month my sister and I will be on the plane to take us to Stockholm. Which, given the direction we are flying, will have us landing in Stockholm on the 8th. So, a day lost, but over half of that will be spent on the plane. Here’s hoping it has really good reclining seats. And that my sister and I don’t kill each other during the flight. 🙂

The land I’m coming from

So the trip to Sweden and Norway is coming up soon. I’m glad PantheaCon is out of the way so I can finally put some laser focus on this trip. (Unfortunately, work also has me learning a bunch of new programs at the moment as well, but hey–this job is also allowing me, a contractor, go to Sweden for ten days on full salary; I can’t really complain.) Though I honestly think that if I didn’t have both a family connection to Sweden and a spiritual connection to the old Scandinavian gods, I would probably not be going to Sweden at all (Norway, maybe–fjords and coastlines!). But I do. And I am. Uppsala, here I come.

Visiting this twice-over homeland has become a deeply personal and private thing. Logically, I knew it probably would, but I normally don’t have much issue sharing my feelings about personal things on the internet, so it’s kind of thrown me for a loop. It just hits that close too home, apparently. I moved back in with my parents recently–long story–and now I’m finally going to visit the land of my ancestors. Out of all of the times in my life when either of those things could have happened, they both happen now. And, a year ago I had absolutely no clue that I’d end up doing either of them. Talk about some serious othala influence at the moment.


Let me set the stage a bit on where I’m coming from (literally). My Dad is my Scandinavian connection. He’s Swedish and Norwegian (50/50) (my Mom’s about 80% German and 20% almost-Irish). The town I grew up in –the same town my Dad and his family grew up in–used to be predominantly Swedish. Even today, the town is around 20% Swedish (plus 20% Norwegian). We got strong Scandinavian roots here. In this town, when I mention to strangers that my sister and I are going to visit Sweden, I get a bunch of nostalgic beaming faces.”Oh, you’ll have a great time!”  (As opposed to everyone else, who say things like “But won’t  it be cold?”–Yes, thank you. It will, in fact, be cold, even in May. Bless your little heart.) The people in my hometown get it. Here, saying that you’re going to Sweden is like saying that you’re finally going to visit Mecca. They wish me good weather and good travels and want to see my pictures when I get back.

Despite this town-wide Scandinavian presence, my Dad was just not interested in having anything to do with his heritage. He explains this to me with what are, admittedly, two solid points: 1) He grew up dirt-poor, mainly due to the fact that his father–the guy who was actually born in Sweden, and the closest connection we have to any of the “old countries”–was an life-long alcoholic, and 2) Dad himself actually grew up eating lutefisk and pickled herring. Also, 3) Poor Swedes were really looked down upon in the town when he was growing up, and his family was the stereotype of Scandinavia poor, bone-skinny, dirty-knees-and-faces, passed-down-clothes and all the rest. (As side note, I’m amused that spellcheck doesn’t know what “lutefisk” is. It’s like the Swedes’ gastronomic equivalent of haggis; i.e., most people find it disgusting.) So now that he is no longer forced to deal with a drunken Swedish father or lye-soaked food, he avoids all of it. But my sis and I, in typical third-generation style, are far enough removed from the cultural identity to feel its lack. The generic “Midwest middle-class white Protestant” identity that we grew up with has not been a very satisfying replacement.

So, Dad doesn’t really get our obsession with Scandinavia, particularly the Swedish contingent, but he’s trying. He contacted his two sisters who, it turns out, did a similar trip in ’86. Today that hard work came through in a big way as his oldest sister sent us what appeared to be a family tree. (As it was all in Swedish, it was hard to tell.) The “family tree” came with a note clipped to the front of it. After squeeing at my Dad and sister about it–we’d been hoping to score something like this for months–I decided to go and translate as much of it as I could.

I got in about as far as “In order to undertake the usual probate and parcel of the estate of Fru Hanna Ekvall……” before it dawned on me that this might not actually be the family tree, per se. I have to tell you–there’s no greater motivator for learning a new language than to find out that you’re reading a non-English inheritance letter, even if it’s 35 years old. I( tell you, my eyes were glued to the Google translate box. Now I know some Swedish words: “avliden/a” (deceased person); the oft-repeated “dödsbodelägare” (person who has a stake in a given estate); or, my new favorite, “förrättningstillfället ” (current ordinance, which effective doubles my knowledge of the Swedish language.)

Unfortunately, though, the inheritance had long since been divvied up–apparently my Dad’s portion got put toward the white Kitchenaid mixer that my Mom still uses. Even more unfortunately, it turns out that the woman who had left the inheritance had been my Dad’s favorite aunt–his father’s youngest sister. Since she lived in Sweden, my Dad had never met her, but apparently she had sent the family many long letters, and gifts a Christmas and birthdays. Everyone had fond memories of her. (Good to know at least one member of the family wasn’t an alcoholic.)

We were able to get a couple useful pieces of information out of the note, though–names and locations of around 84 the family members in Sweden. As it turns out, a lot of his family stayed around the old homeplace, a tiny town in central Sweden. And it is this city that my sister and I are heading to after our obligatory visits to Stockholm and Uppsala.

My aunt’s final note in her letter was, “You should just wander around the town and talk to people. You’re probably related to most of them.” Wow. How surreal. Considering that the town has a full total of 6500 residents, though–she’s probably right.

How this trip came about

So, I was in the middle of moving back to my hometown when my sister texted me.

Her: “You want to go to Sweden and Norway, don’t you?”

Me: “Well, yeah. Who doesn’t?”

Her: “Great. Norwegian Air just set up a hub in SFO and we can get really cheap flights to Stockholm or Oslo, or anyplace, really.”

Me: “Hmm….exactly how cheap are we talking…?”

And after one month and many hours of online searching, discussing, planning, and generally freaking out, “really cheap” turned out to be just over $700 round trip to Stockholm, with meals and baggage included.

Round trip. To Stockholm. My ticket. Words I’d never thought’d end up in a sentence together.

I had always wanted to go to Scandinavia. Pretty much as soon as I learned that we were Swedish and Norwegian (-American, anyway), I’ve dreamed about going. I have done some international travel, but most of that was while I was in college, and each time I was on a student’s budget. I’d always planned to travel more–one trip a year had been my goal–but then the whole post-college reality kicked in: Loans. Rent. Utilities. Finding a job. Finding health insurance. Buying a car. Moving. Marrying. And, and, and… you know how it goes. And now it’s been 16 years since my last international trip. It boggles my mind to think about it now, but time really does fly while you’re busy doing other things. (shakes fist at time)

Whenever I whined about this, I’d usually end up on the receiving end of a well-intentioned rant about how I could do international travel if I really wanted to. *sigh* I suppose I could have done some traveling if I really wanted to–maybe drove to Mexico, slept in my car, and lived off of tropical fruit and bad carnitas, but I don’t speak Spanish or have any real desire to go to Mexico (except to the archaeological sites). Or I could have backpacked and hosteled my way across Eastern Europe, living mostly on tea and air, as a girl I’d once met at a hotel in Ireland ended up doing. (She’d been trying to backpack back to her family–in Scotland, I think–but ran out of money, and couldn’t work in Ireland, and didn’t have a skill to use to do busking. She paid for her room and board by cleaning the hostel and was stuck there, indefinitely.) But I digress.

(I wonder how often that will happen now that I’m finally blogging about travel again?)

So this trip, anyway–this trip was completely unexpected. Always hoped for, but I never thought it would actually happen, not really. So, I see it as a gift, and, as such, I am very grateful for it:

–Thank you Norwegian Air, for spreading the cheap airplane ticket love across the pond to us, finally.

–Thank you, my darling sister, for bringing this opportunity to my attention–and then wanting to travel, with me, to a place we’ve both longed to go.

–Thank you to my family for supporting the both of us, however grudgingly.

–Thank you to my Gods, who support me through this as well as everything elser–Freya, Freyr, Odin. Gods I love and hope to feel even more strongly in the place of Their origin.

–Thank you to my place of employment for 1) helping me earn enough money to consider taking this trip, and 2) giving me the time off to do so.

–Thank you to those of you who have walked this particular road before, for giving me plenty of advice and tips for the journey.

–Thank you to my aunts, who took a similar journey 30 years ago, for providing us with their roadmap and contacts.

–And a big dose of preemptive thanks to those people who we’ll meet and will help us on our way.


Välkommen to my blog

Upon this blog I will write, process, angst, delight, puzzle, and cry my way through my first trip to Scandinavia. I have two main reasons to go visit: my family and, not unrelatedly, my spirituality. On my Dad’s side, my grandfather’s family is from Sweden and my grandmother’s family is from Norway. (Mom’s all German or Irish; I’ve already been to Ireland and Germany.) As for my spirituality, I am a modern practicing Heathen, aka a pagan who worships the old Norse Gods (as seen in the Eddas and the sagas, not in the Avengers’ movies). Scandinavia is, for me, both a spiritual and an ancestral home. And in one month, I will be setting feet on it at last.

I’m a tad overwhelmed, to put it mildly. Here’s hoping it won’t be a letdown. Heilsa!