Sweden on my mind

I should be meditating, taking advantage of the silent and sleeping house to follow through with my resolution to attempt meditation (again), something that seems to be the next ‘it’ thing in health, both mentally and physically (and, really, it sounds like a good thing, this concept of being still for a few minutes…how many minutes in the day do you find yourself being still and quiet, excluding sleep?…if you are like me, not many).

Truth be told, though, I find it difficult to sit still and let my thoughts drift through my mind without wanting to act upon them.

Which is why I probably need meditation.

But it’s such a gorgeous morning and, as gorgeous as it is for meditating, it’s even more gorgeous for sitting on the deck and enjoying a cup of coffee while I blog the virtues of Sweden.

The scene:
The sun has risen and is reflected on the water that is just starting to wake from its glass-like state and ripple with life. Birds are chirping enthusiastically to my left, punctuated by an occasion deep whoop of a bird in the distance. The only sounds I hear are birds and the soft rustling of birch leaves being tickled by the wind. Despite being early August, nature is lush, the grass and trees a deep green, the wildflowers sporting a spectrum of bright hues.

In a word? Spectacular.

On my morning run, I snapped the following pictures and I include with them some observations about Sweden if you are thinking of visiting…

Sweden is very progressive, contemporary but, somehow, I always feel like I am stepping back in time 50 years to a slower-paced world, where people sit on their front porch just to relax and watch the world in front of them.

Everyone speaks English (and even if you try to speak Swedish, the person you’re trying to converse with will, 99% of the time, switch to English…something that makes life difficult for anyone wanting to learn Swedish but quite comfortable for visitors).

People are very helpful and you can stop and ask anyone for directions / help…I have never had a bad experience here due to my nationality (not the case in all countries) or my ignorance of Swedish (in fact, the contrary, they like to practice English…not that they need practice because they speak English fluently…in 20 years of visits to Sweden, I have only come across one person who didn’t speak English).

Although there is much to see from a tourist’s perspective, I find that the best way to enjoy Sweden, to know it, is to just enjoy its nature and varied regions. You can visit the sea, lakes, rivers, mountains, forests. We took a canoe / camping trip with the boys years ago, and they still talk about it today.

I have literally eaten my way from coast to coast. Divine. The journey across the country was a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Not to mention soothing for the soul as only nature can be.

Driving around in Sweden is very easy. Despite their being barely any police to be seen on the roads, the people are law-abiding and only drive in the left lane when they want to overtake someone (American drivers, take note!). The lack of police also makes correcting any driving mistakes much less challenging than it could be…like making U turns when you missed a turn. Not that I have ever done an illegal U turn.

And speeding? Again, most Swedes are speed-limit-abiding folk, but for those who may get a bit heavy of foot, there are hidden cameras to catch speeders.

Except that the cameras aren’t hidden at all, and the government of Sweden is kind enough to post signs warning when there is a speed camera coming up. Now, if that isn’t hospitable, I don’t know what is.

Water is the thing in Sweden. Swedes love it, whether saltwater from the seas that flank the country or fresh water from the many lakes and rivers throughout the interior.

The archipelago – on either coast – is a celebration of this, the many islands offering their own special charm. If you can visit during Midsummer’s to take advantage of the special festivities – song, food, drink, dancing and high sun (in the north during summer, the sun never sets…even further south, you will feel invigorated by the extra light and barely setting sun) – even better. You will understand why water pulls so strongly at these Vikings’ heart strings.

(Speaking of water…carbonated water is as popular as “still” water, so check labels! I just bought 18 huge bottles of carbonated water that I thought were “still”…we will be making coffee with bubbly water for some time to come.)

And food? Sweden’s culinary skills seems lost on most of the world (from lack of exposure, not lack of good food). Their kitchen with its use of fresh ingredients – fish, game, mushrooms, berries, etc. etc. – is delectable. I could wax on about the great food but that is a whole other blog. I will dare, however, to go on record that despite Italy’s fame for pizza and gelato, I think both are much better in Sweden. Blasphemy, I know, but true.

In any case, there is more to Swedish cuisine than pickled herring (which sounds terrible but which is excellent, especially when accompanied by perfectly cooked potatoes – a Swede’s forte – a shot of tasty schnapps (not like German schnapps…Swedish schnapps are not sweet), and a song. Schnapps are never consumed without a lively song accompanying the act.

In short, Sweden is not a country that will make you gasp with spectacular sights or monuments, not that they don’t have them. Instead its beauty – its clean air, blue skies, sparkling water, green forests, delectable cuisine, nice folk – will slowly woo and charm you. And make you want to come back for more.

It is a country to be savored.

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