I fancy the pants off Sweden

Hello dear friends, readers and stalkers. Welcome back to the most exciting internet blog of the year so far. I’ve been away so long I hear you cry. For that I can only apologise. Fun and travels got in the way and the more time that went past the more reluctant I was to write another post as I felt there would be too much to talk about and so I let another day go past etc etc. So I decided now, on an early morning train from Malmo (I dont know how to do any of the accents on my keyboard so apologies to any Swedish people reading, which I highly doubt but you never know…) to Gothenburg was the right time. Nothing like a caffeine fuelled internet rant to start the day. Anyway, the point. The point of today’s blog is to explain why I am in love with Sweden and want to have its babies. I think it helps that I’ve been lucky enough to have sunny weather and close to 20 degree temperature for the last ten days (although of course its set to change now I have friends flying over for my birthday….) but there are loads of other reasons which I shall try and outline now as well as providing some amusing anecdotes from the three cities I’ve visited so far: Orebro, Stockholm and Malmo. Sound good? Great. Lets go.

Trains- I’ve already banged on about my love for trains on another post so i wont bore you with that again. However what I haven’t discussed is how amazing Swedish trains are. They have free Wifi good enough to stream music and even Netflix. There’s loads of leg room, comfy chairs, proper space for your luggage and a carriage that doubles up as a cafe. PLUS when you buy a 2 pound coffee you can REFILL IT FOR FREE. Which explains the caffeine induced capitals right now. Seriously though its going to be hard to go back to South West trains after this. Slow wifi and sticky seats just aren’t gonna cut it anymore.

Culture- Sweden prides itself on its culture from world-class museums to photography and street art.  This is evidenced by the fact that the royal family do not feature on Swedish bank notes but famous Swedish authors and artists do instead. HOW COOL IS THAT?? Also my feet can testify to the fact that I walked around many of the museums and I have to say I was very impressed. They were often either free or inexpensive (the most was 25 pounds for the ABBA museum in Stockholm but this was totally worth it for all the karaoke and photo opportunities….) Orebro’s city museum had a cool exhibit on the unsustainability of the clothing industry and how energy intensive it is to make just one t shirt of pair of jeans. In Malmo, I paid just two pounds to go into the city’s castle museum. Little did I know that it would contain an art gallery, aquarium, natural history exhibition AND history about the castle. There was also a great exhibit on the Roma people curated by and for the Roma people to confront people’s stereotypes about them. I must admit I was always prejudiced about people we commonly call ‘gypsies’ or ‘travellers’, however walking around and reading about the Roma culture and history and their poor treatment from Napoleon to the Second World War changed my thinking. All this from a two pound museum entry. The purpose of Swedish museums seems not only to educate and celebrate Swedish culture and history but also to confront this history and our own thinking. Its great. They pledge openness and acceptance and this seems to begin from a young age. I saw many school groups during my museum visits including a mother and baby group in the Malmo museum of Modern art. Babies who were only a few months old were looking at the art as their mothers got a tour from one of the curators. Now whether any of the babies would actually be taking any of the surroundings in, let alone remember them is doubtful but the importance of art, self expression and thinking about the world around you being emphasised from a young age is applaudable. Also it shows that mothers are still thought of as fully functioning, thinking adults who want to and should be allowed to go out and appreciate art rather than being chained to their home and children forever (more on Sweden’s amazing approach to gender equality in a minute!!) Also walking through each of these cities you cannot go far without seeing bronze statues, a graffiti mural or a poster advertising a new festival or concert. Art and culture seems to be at the heart of Swedish society. It promotes togetherness and a strong sense of community. Young and old, rich or poor are encouraged to either appreciate or make art themselves and I have never seen as diverse an audience in a museum as I have so far in Sweden. In the UK, this idea that art can be used to comment on society and bring people together seems to be missing and it is seen as something to be enjoyed or appreciated only by the elite thus creating mass divides and preventing the sense of togetherness I have found in Sweden.

Parks- Okay that was a long one. Where are we now? Okay parks. I know a lot of European cities have parks and they’re especially abundant in London however they’re not like this. There are sixteen (!!) in Malmo, each with a different feel. Pildammsparken has a lake and is usually filled with runners relieving some stress from work or childcare, Slottsparken has tulips and a windmill and is based around the castle while Oresundeparken is on the beach (that’s right Malmo also has a beach…) Orebro’s park was voted one of the prettiest in Europe, and boasts an open air museum and a little train for children. Stockholm also has many, the most famous being Djurgarden, on ‘museum island’ (THAT’S RIGHT A WHOLE ISLAND JUST FOR MUSEUMS) and also has a theme park. In the middle of a capital city. Why not? So why all the parks? Because being outside is at the centre of Swedish life, just like it is at the centre of Norwegian life. They are well maintained and kept clean suggesting how much people respect and value them. The parks were full of children, helped by the fact that each one I saw seemed to have a different themed playground. There were also older people enjoying games of boules and couples having picnics. Now I know this happens in parks across the world and I’m not suggesting a lot of people weren’t also just at home watching Netflix but the parks were always full when I visited even on weekdays. Sweden’s natural landscape is breathtaking. That’s just a fact. The Swedes are lucky to have so many lakes and fjords and woods but it was their choice to actively build their country around this and make it the centre of national pride. They want to be outside as much as they can and preserve the environment for future generations. Hence why…

Attitudes to the environment- Sweden has a refreshing attitude to climate change and protecting the natural environment. I’ve lost count of how many green supermarkets I’ve seen, selling a lot of vegan and gluten free (YAS) products as well as meat from sustainable farms. (Don’t worry junk food lovers, there’s also many Burger Kings and kebab shops for you enjoy). It is cool however to see environmental issues taken so seriously. I am rarely offered a plastic bag in a shop, recycling is a norm that’s taken for granted and I’ve almost been run over seven times by people on bikes. Also, back to my unhealthy obsession with museums, the natural history exhibit in Malmo was based around how we need to change our approach to energy, food, water, clothes, housing and travel. This wasn’t something tacked on the end of one of the displays but the core message throughout for both children and adults. Again, the importance of education is appreciated and utilised.

Gender equality- As a feminist Sweden sings to me. It has the lowest wage gap in the world and the most female CEOS but still admits that it has further to go. Parents (men and women) are given 480 days paid leave from work when a child is born or adopted, and they can use this any time up until a child is eight years old. This is amazing. This means that youre as likely to see a man in the park with a child on a Thursday afternoon as a woman. Initially, the sight of a man pushing a buggy surprised me and looked (even to me as a big advocate of gender equality) out of place. However now I am used to and LOVE the sight of the nicknamed ‘Latte-Papas’, men who use their paid leave to care for their child, catch up with other stay at home dads and get some coffee. Gender seems less of an issue elsewhere too. I have seen female builders and tram drivers and female art is highly celebrated. Every museum I visited in Stockholm’s main exhibit was based on the work of a woman with a pair of artists, Cooper & Gorfer, displaying their work ‘ I Know Not These My Hands’ on women’s lives and stories in the famous photography gallery Fotografiska. You can fulfil your potential whatever gender you are in Sweden and the rest of the world needs to take note and catch up.

Lifestyle- Last but not least, I love how the Swedes live. They stop for fika (or coffee and cake) at 10am and 3pm everyday to catch up with friends and take a break from work. The coffee intake is INSANE and I must admit I’ve become addicted in the short time I’ve been here. I will always remember my first fika in the Sofo area of Stockholm with a girl from university I randomly bumped into on a walking tour. Local workers were sat gossiping around us and it seemed miles away from the rushed coffee taken at a desk to beat the mid afternoon slump back home. My hostel in Stockholm also abided by some other Stockholm customs. They served meatballs (sadly with bread in them but they looked amazing, freshly made on site), asked you to not wear shoes indoors (to help you relax better and to protect the home) and had a sauna, which I may or may not have snuck into after a 3am escapade in a fountain. But that story is for another place. And time.

I didn’t even have time (lucky for you as this if flipping long already) to mention the beautiful men, the cute houses and effortlessly cool fashion and homeware. There’s a reason that Sweden is one of the best and happiest places to live in the world. It is open, treasures the outdoors, art and community and is as close to gender equality as any society on earth has ever been. If it wasn’t so cold 99 per cent of the time, I could get to grips with the language and the wine was much much much cheaper, I think I could maybe definitely live here. Until then I will continue to sing its praises and try and shoehorn it into every conversation. Look forward to that friends…..

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DOs and DON’Ts for a backpacking trip to Oslo (by someone who’s been there and done that…)

Today’s blog will take the form of a dos/donts list. Because, well, its fun to mix things up and i really really like a list. Anyway, many amazing things happened while i was in Oslo but a few mistakes were made too. So, just in case theres anyone out there attempting a similar trip, here are my top tips (as well as how i’m going to try and apply them to my everyday life once i leave Oslo….)

DON’T:

  • Skimp on food- Yes Norway is expensive but i learnt the hard way that you wont enjoy any activities you had planned and paid for if youre hungry. One night i went out with a girl from Bergen and was so starving the whole night, after trying to survive only off pasta and rice cakes all afternoon, that the drinks i bought and club entry were a waste. The next morning i vowed to eat properly for the rest of the trip and if anything have been too full each day since! Food makes me happy and cooking and sharing a meal with someone be it family, an old friend or a new friend does too. Two days after this night the same friend invited me round for lunch and we sat and ate and drank coffee and chatted at her kitchen table. Another reminder that food is so linked to socialising, relationships and contentment for me.

 

  • Judge a hostel by its cover- My hostel in Oslo seemed very empty and clinical, and i was worried i would be lonely there but actually it was great. It was very clean, the beds were comfy and my room had an ensuite. There was a great atmosphere in the evenings, people chatting or watching films in the lounge and i met a lovely Canadian whom i ate breakfast each morning with (oh yeah the hostel had a free breakfast but not just white tile like bread and limp cereals, proper cooked eggs and beans and bacon everyday as well as fresh fruit and coffee, amazing!) ALSO don’t judge a city on first glance either. The first day i explored it, Oslo was cloudy and rainy. I thought the city was so ugly compared to the rest of Norway, especially Bergen, as a lot of it was under construction and the buildings were more modern. However, i then stumbled across the Nobel Peace museum (more on that later!!!) and was so inspired. For the other two days the sun was blazing. The city was celebrating a 10k run and getting ready for May Day. Everyone seemed excited that summer was here and the long winter was over. A friend took me to one of the islands off Oslo’s main harbour and it was so peaceful i forgot we were so close to a capital city. We sat and drank cider and watched people bbqing on the beach. I also enjoyed one afternoon lazing amongst the statues in Vigeland park and another exploring the Grunerlokka area with its art and Sunday market. I could go on, but basically yeah, after a few days i realised my preconceptions were false and the city had so much going for it. I think i can apply this more to the rest of my life. I should try to stop pre judging people and situations and assuming that something is always going to go wrong. There are pros and cons to everything, i just needed to be open minded and look for the positives.

 

  • Get public transport- Oslo is very small and can easily be explored by foot. This saves money and also gives you the chance to do things and see things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. I used an old school paper map from the hostel and allowed myself to get a feel of the city by foot and to get lost. Of course i was there for four days so could afford to take it slow and relax but i would recommend this to anyone if they have time to do the same. I got to see the wider city and houses i wouldn’t have done otherwise and felt more local. Its good to do your own thing sometimes.

 

DO-

  • Visit the Nobel Peace Museum- its only 650 kr (6.50 pounds) for students (they didn’t check ID haha) and its so inspiring. Currently they have a very poignant exhibition on the Syrian refugees. It really made me stop and think about how i would feel if everything i knew, my whole country and sense of identity were gone. Many people interviewed for the exhibit seemed positive that one day they would be able to return to their homeland while others were unsure. It focussed on the individual stories and people affected rather than just blindly seeing everyone involved as an immigrant, a problem. Upstairs was an exhibition on the last winner of the Peace Prize, the Colombian President, who has not ceased in his attempts to try and end the civil war of the last 20 or so years. I did not even realise Colombia was in the middle of a civil war which i felt ashamed of, so became engrossed in this exhibit. I then read about all the previous winners of the prizes and the history of the prize. I left the museum even more determined to spend my life helping others and to try and do as much for other people as those honoured by the prize had. Next door to the museum is the City Hall where the prize is given out annually. I was blown away by the size of the main room and the beautiful murals by local artists on the wall. I couldn’t believe i was in the same room that all the amazing people from the museum had been to receive their prize. Definitely a trip highlight and something i wont be forgetting for a long time.

 

  • Accept invitations from friends- My Spanish friend from Bergen invited me out to a club on Friday and then to lunch on Sunday. Although Friday night was a bit iffy due to my lacking of eating that day, the place she took me was super cool and i’m still glad i got to experience the local nightlife. As already mentioned lunch was lovely too and her friend Marcos who ate with us and also works in Oslo offered to take me out to the island once were had finished eating. Again, it was great to see the city from a locals point of view and hear his stories. I have been surprised by people’s generosity to me again and again on this trip. People i have just met have inviting me into their homes or taking me on tours. Its so nice. Maybe this is more of a European thing or perhaps i just got lucky and met the most welcoming people in Norway. Either way i will try to adopt this once I’m back home. New friends mean new stories and new perspectives (and more fun!)

 

  • Call a friend if you’re down- After the ‘hunger night’ as one friend subsequently dubbed it, i spent the next day doubting myself and the whole trip. What was i doing? I was going to run out of money! Why did i choose Scandinavia? Im so lonely…etc. But after i spoke to one friend that afternoon and facetimed another in the evening i felt lots better. I reminded myself that theres always someone to speak to if i need to and that a problem shared is a problem halved. I have such amazing friends i just need to make sure i use them more!! 

     

    Woah okay sorry this has been a long one but theres so much i wanted to say. Norway was a great start to my trip and i already feel like im learning so much about the world and myself. It was sad to leave Oslo but I have a good feeling about Sweden. Orebro is 19 degrees and sunny today. Its the cutest little city and although ive been alone for the past few days i have enjoyed just relaxing in ‘One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Parks’ (can confirm) and admiring the perfectly restored Renaissance castle. Oh and i can see two hot blonde guys with no tops on cooking in the building opposite my hostel. Yep, its going to be a great few weeks…

     

 

I CAN’T STOP TAKING PHOTOS OF SNOW (or thoughts from the Bergen to Oslo train)

 

I am currently writing this on a rare break from taking photos on my longggggg trip (7 hours + the 3 hours for the diversion to cute lil Flam…!!!!!) from Bergen to Oslo. I am genuinely worried I may have got repetitive strain injury from taking so many photos and that people will be at home sighing ‘ANOTHER snowy photo on social media Gaby? REALLY? We get it you’re in Norway…’ But I cant help it. This is the most beautiful journey I have ever been on. Its too much to take in. I’m taking all these photos and sharing some online just so I can process it later and prove I’m not dreaming. Perfect untouched snow, little wooden houses and fjords. Plus I’m getting to travel by my favourite mode of transport. The train. I love trains. They are a source of happiness I have never had to question. Staring out the window, music in or book open, watching the world go by, on the move, never standing still. (ALSO, HOW DID THEY EVEN MANAGE TO PUT A TRAIN TRACKS HERE? They’ve had to make tunnels through the mountains and make them snow proof. God humans are amazing….)

 

However, that said, I was sad to take the train this morning and not just because it was crazy early. I’ve had a lovely few days in beautiful Bergen. I made more friends than I ever hoped and done things I never thought I’d do. For example day two consisted of a 5 hour hike with some volunteers and guests from the hostel up one of Bergen’s seven mountains. I found it difficult as I’m not a natural hiker but I willed myself to keep going and it was so worth it for the 360 degree views of the city and surrounding towns. I got to see the airport I had arrived into less than 24 hours before. Back then I would never have guessed I would be having lunch the next day on top of a mountain chatting, laughing and eating in bitter winds and freezing cold temperatures. This trip is constantly surprising me and I never know what to expect one day to the next.

 

The next morning however I was worried as many of the friends I had made were leaving, but the amazing hostel volunteers offered to walk me around Bergen. I have never experienced a hostel with such amazing staff or views or free breakfast! The city was so pretty and the girls I was with so fun, that I was shocked when one of them told me it was almost 5pm. In their rush to show me all their favourite spots we had forgotten all about lunch and were surviving on (to be fair amazing) hot chocolate and waffles. My last day in Bergen ended by the girls taking me to a bar and trying my first ever (gluten free!) beer. Sharing stories from our four cultures (Spanish, Croatian, Swiss and British) I couldn’t believe how easily we were getting along and how much we had in common. I never thought this blog would get political, but that seems like a pretty strong advert for the EU right there. Four strangers all crossing paths in Norway, coming together to swap stories, experiences and life lessons over local beers. We said goodbye, after some Facebook adds and long hugs, with one girl who ordinarily lives in Oslo, promising to try and take me out this weekend.

 

So how am I feeling now? Well honestly, a little anxious for the new city ahead. Bergen was in a way too good. It has set the bar high for the rest of the trip and being the person I am and thinking the stupid way I do, I can now only see everything going down and not up. However today’s amazing journey has showed me that there’s still so much more to come and lots more to learn. Norwegians are so active and in touch with nature. The children start to hike from a young age in their adorable little snowsuits and are encouraged to play and spend a lot of time outside. I’m not sure I could live here as the towns are very small and remote (and that’s me from the tiny hamlet in Devon saying that), but I would like to try and adopt a more Norwegian way of life. Taking time on simple (and free!) pleasures such as hiking and running or just sitting back and enjoying the view. Speaking of which my camera is getting lonely. Till next time….

 

NB Since this was written I am safely in Oslo and have had a lovely day walking around although its not as pretty as Bergen…..

should i stay or should i go?

My first blog post. Exciting stuff. My first post is about my last minute doubts surrounding this trip. The week leading up to my flight i busied myself with seemingly important tasks like researching things to do in each city i visited and buying boring stuff like pants and shampoo. When it came to the day to leave Devon however, i felt very anxious. I changed my bag from a rucksack to a suitcase last minute (was that a good idea reader? lets wait and see….) and then had to rush back home on the way to the station for a camera charger. All this lead to a rather stressful and rushed goodbye to my mum and my hometown. By the time i had realised what had happened, i was on my way to London, leading to a very panicked and teary phone call home. I no longer wanted to go. I was convinced i was going to be so lonely and feel lost. What was i doing?? It was decided that i would sleep on the decision, and I went to stay with a friend at her new flat in London. She didn’t think i was a wimp for crying, she and anyone else i sought advice from said i was very brave for going solo but that ultimately the decision to go was mine and mine alone. As i enjoyed a sunny weekend in London, i looked around and saw what my friend had: a lovely flat by the Shard, a full time job and independence. Sure her life wasn’t perfect but she was a grown up or at least on her way to being one. I realised i had got used to the safe comforts of home and fallen back into my usual teenage routines. But i didn’t want that anymore. I wanted what she had, i wanted to be able to look after myself and start becoming the person i was supposed to be. So i knew what i had to do. I had to go on my trip. It was all planned and a lot of it paid for. Everyone knew about it and some friends were even coming to meet me on my birthday in Sweden. And more importantly, deep down i did want to go. Just take it a day at a time, I thought. Come Monday morning the knot in my stomach had gone and was replaced by nervy but excited butterflies. I got on that plane and am now writing this from my amazing hostel in Bergen.

As another wise friend told me during another panic on Saturday: ‘I know it’s a bit scary, but most of the really good things are at first….’ Lets hope she’s right.