Anyone who read the last installment of my journey, The Northern Way, may have guessed where my hitchhiking thumb was next aimed.
Three days of hitchhiking, being blasted with Led Zeppelin in truck cabins, riding ferries, camping in forests and finally succumbing to the Scandinavian transport network saw me arrive in the Swedish city of Göteborg (Gothenburg), on the longest day of the year.
Anyone who has ever spent any time in one of the Nordic countries will have an inkling as to what this means. When the winters are as long and brutal as the Scandinavians have to deal with every year, the summers are a special time of celebration and no day more so than Swedish midsummer (midsommar).
Rather than trying to explain this pagan tradition, I will leave it to the Swedes, who produced this informative midsummer video.
It’s hilariously accurate (and even the Swedes think so, too).
Now, my arrival in Göteborg did not happen completely by chance. Almost completely, but not quite.
A few months ago, before I left Utrecht, I had a chance meeting with a Swedish girl named Frida through CouchSurfing. We didn’t have much time to hang out before I left, but we kept in touch and somewhere along the line, I hatched a plot to visit Scandinavia. As my luck would have it, she had some friends who were open to adopting a Kiwi for the long weekend and so, on Thursday night I was bundled into a car filled with food and Swedes.
One of the friend’s family owned a holiday house in Lilla Buvik, a secluded little spot in the archipelago north of Göteborg. When we arrived, via roads packed with midsummer traffic, over soaring bridges and along country roads skipping the stone shores and hilly forests, I could utter nothing more than wantonly selected hyperbole.
A little larger than your average Kiwi bach (holiday house), it stood on top of a mossed rock face looking out over a harbour specked with small islands, surrounded by trees and the odd holiday home. As soon as we had ditched our luggage we picked our way down to the water for the first swim of summer. The jellyfish had beaten us to it. A few of us jumped in regardless and I enjoyed the refreshing salt water until my arm entered the tender embrace of a stinging tentacle.
One BBQ later, it felt as if I could have been back home in New Zealand, enjoying a summer evening with friends back home. The scenery was different but the sun, the solitude of the environment after weeks on the road and the laughter of excellent people (who all spoke such fantastic English it was sometimes surprising when they broke out into Swedish), made me feel completely at home.
It would be amiss not to mention the ‘night’. Or lack of it. Even in the south of Sweden, it never gets completely dark during midsummer, just a long and hauntingly beautiful dusk after the sun sets after 10pm and rises shortly after 4am.
Midsummer day was almost exactly how the video predicted (with the exception of caviar from a tube on polar bread for breakfast). After our team (now including one Norwegian) rose, we wandered in the direction of the old school house, picking flowers for midsummer garlands along the way. The community had already started to arrive and we got stuck in helping to decorate that good old ancient fertility symbol, the maypole.
Suddenly streams of people appeared out of the trees from all directions, just in time for the hoisting of the maypole and, the moment we were obviously all waiting for, the dancing. No-one blinked an eye as 10 laughing twenty-something year olds joined the families in the frog-dancing, circle-dancing, washing-dancing and every other strange form of flower-adorned revelry you can imagine.
Once we had been firmly beaten twice in the tug of war, we began the traipse home to begin cooking the midsummer feast. Potatoes, half a dozen types of herring, salads, meats and, of course, snaps.
The rain held off until we were indoors eating, the singing of snaps songs was rigorously adhered to, the strawberry cakes (one is not enough) were dealt to and the games and snaps continued in risky fashion with an ultra-competitive men vs women match of the Swedish throwing stick game, Kubb (A.K.A. Viking Chess). Not until the sun was almost rising did the last of us stray from the edge of the water (with some needing to find their clothes after indulging in skinny-dipping tradition).
The next two days passed in a blur of food, more food, wandering in the nature, relaxing, more snaps, off-road go-karting and archery and now I’ve somehow found myself back in Göteborg, preparing for my next stop. Somehow, I already really miss Lilla Buvik. Maybe it’s just midsummer, maybe it’s the place itself and maybe it’s the feeling of being surrounded by a group of friends (which is all the more remarkable and I am all the more thankful for since I only met them last Thursday), but I’m sad it’s over. For now, a few days exploring in Göteborg and then… Marching on Denmark.