It took us nine hours to fly from Chicago to Stockholm, and the first thing we did when we got to Sweden was get in a car and drive another four hours to the other side of the country.
Well, that’s not quite true. We hung out at the airport for a while after we discovered that our cell phones did not actually work in Europe, leaving Mats with no way of contacting us other than just walking around until he stumbled into us. Fortunately this didn’t take too long, after which he drove us home. We power-napped for a couple of hours and had a nice lunch (which Tabitha helped Mats to prepare, because she didn’t crash out until we started driving again). And then we drove west. Because you can’t get enough traveling in during a day, I say, not even one that is, when you add in the time zones, 31 hours long.
Pay no mind to that last bit. That was just the jet lag talking. But it was worth it.
For one thing, Sweden is a beautiful country. This photo was actually taken on the way back to Stockholm a couple of days later, but still – you get the idea.
For another, once we stopped moving we had a marvelous time. Our destination for the drive was Hasselbacka, the cottage in the country that Mats’ family has owned for decades now.
It was built in 1891 and the floor plan is fairly traditional from what I understand – you enter into a small foyer, and there is a room to either side of you. In front of you is a very steep staircase – almost a ladder, really – that leads to an upstairs that has had two bedrooms recently carved out of it while the remainder is still unfinished. Downstairs, you have to go through the front rooms to get to the back rooms – the whole floor is set up to go in a circle all the way around that way. The two front rooms are bedrooms, the back right room is a living room, and the back left is a kitchen. Sometime in the 20th century a bathroom was added off the kitchen. It’s way out there in the middle of the forest, by a lake, and the whole place is just stunningly gorgeous.
We spent our first four days in Sweden there, hanging out and enjoying ourselves. There was a zipline that the kids could ride down toward the lake, and a swing that hung from a branch that was taller than the cottage itself, which meant you could get some good air underneath you if the grown-ups would push you hard enough.
And when you got tired of playing around on the land, you could go into the water.
The lake was clean but very cold, in part because it had been raining for a long time before we came and the water had not had a chance to warm up. So swimming tended to be a fairly short-term activity, but a popular one.
Hasselbacka also has a sauna, which I have decided is just a wonderful idea. It’s down by the lake, and the idea is that you steam yourself for a while until you feel good and toasty, and then run down to the lake and jump in.
I never did manage the whole “jump in the lake” part of that – the water was far too cold for me, and I’m not much on swimming in the first place. I did wander down and slowly ease myself into the water once, and that was plenty. It was more comfortable just to cool down in the breeze, which was nicely chilly while we were there. Of course you had to do that quickly, because we were visiting at the height of the black fly and mosquito season – at dusk you could actually look out of the window of the cottage and see the swarms fly by – and if you stood out there too long all that would be left of you would be a desiccated leathery husk. But for a short while, it was a grand thing.
There were a lot of us there, over the four days we were at Hasselbacka. The four of us. Mats and Sara and their three children (Maria, David and Helena). Mat’s mother, Moa. Mats’ brother Tomas, his wife Edelia, and their girls (Alexis and Sandra). And Mats’ other brother Bengt and his girls, Johanna and Caroline, who are adults in their own right. Not everyone slept at Hasselbacka – Moa had made arrangements with one of the neighbors down the road to handle the overflow – but it was a constant rotating cast of people to hang out with, which made it fun.
One of the joys of being that far out in the hinterland is that it abounds with critters, and not just us. The kids had a field day with the local frogs and salamanders, hunting them down, stuffing them into jars, and then letting them go. Of course they let them go. You can’t keep them. Can you imagine trying to get a jar full of frogs through Customs? They’re not even happy when you bring your own shampoo, let alone the idea of foreign amphibians, taking away jobs from domestic amphibians. So the frogs and salamanders stayed in Sweden, but they got a good workout anyway.
When it was rainy, we stayed inside and played games. We learned how to play Carcassonne, a game where we got to use the term “minions” with free abandon (shouldn’t everyone be able to do that now and then?). Maria kicked our collective butts at Monopoly. Lauren and Tabitha played Mastermind. Sara, Kim and I completed a maliciously difficult jigsaw puzzle and felt suitably triumphant about it. And the electronics got a good workout as well.
We also held a contest to name the stuffed beaver that sits in one of the upstairs bedrooms. David’s entry – “Namm-Namm” was the consensus winner, with Lauren’s candidate, “Mr. Frederickson,” coming in a close second. For some reason, my suggestion (“Justin”) didn’t do so well.
When the sun was out, so were we. For example, we went for a walk down to a different lake.
No, not that lake, another one. There are an awful lot of lakes in that part of the world.
And sometimes we went out for a walk even when it was rainy, because eventually we would dry off but the odds of us being back in Sweden anytime soon are regrettably low. The cottage was lovely, but you have to get out now and then.
It was on this walk that Sara taught us how to strip off the needles from new-growth twigs on evergreens and nibble on the stems underneath. They taste like lemon.
Americans: we’re in your forest, eating your trees.