Thursday, July 26, 2012

Road Trip to Jönköping

The Swedish countryside is amazingly beautiful and surprisingly vibrant.  It is almost as if all of the plants and animals put on their best game faces to absorb as much sunlight as possible during the summer.  The grass and trees are this super rich green color and the sky is brilliant blue.  The clouds seem to be that fluffy cotton type that hangs so low you would think you could reach out and grab one. Summer in Sweden is truly remarkable and it makes bearing the long, cold, dark winter worth every minute.

Many Swedes have summer homes in the countryside so they can enjoy all the beautiful nature that surrounds them.  They pick mushrooms, blueberries and wild strawberries before breakfast and after dinner.  It is not uncommon to go for a walk in the woods after dinner and come across some deer grazing.

A woman I knew from my former life in Atlanta is originally from Sweden and invited us to stay a night at their summer house in late June.  We had just arrived from Budapest earlier that week and were looking forward to the cool Swedish weather.  When my friend sent over the directions to her house, I was somewhat worried.  Instead of sending me an address, she sent me these cryptic directions based on landmarks (if you could even call them that) that seemed (to me) nearly impossible to figure out.  I don't hesitate to share her directions because there is no way you could possibly figure out where she lives based on this information alone. If you happen to be one person out of 10 million who knows the types of trees in this particular Swedish forest, more power to ya!

Here is a snippet of her directions (verbatim):

Drive 3 km until a curve with some red buildings on the left (the first building/s you see). Take a left into the parking lot (it is a dance barn). Continue straight through the parking lot between the barn and the house, continue on the grabble road crossing a small ditch onto a field. Continue straight into the woods. Drive about 800 meters. You will pass two white poles on each side of the road after 600-700 m that marks the transition between the old wood and the new wood. You then transition into an area with young forest (and a fair amount of birch). 

I've never had to decipher birch tree-based directions before and was trying to grasp how I was going to relay these directions to Jon, who was driving.  All I knew was that I was going to have to figure out the difference between "new forest" and "old forest."  Oh why didn't I pay closer attention in Botany class 8 years ago??  I was hoping that the birch trees or white poles would be noticeable.  It turns out they weren't but it didn't matter much because the dirt path we were on wasn't the smoothest ride so we were driving about 5km/hr.  We found their house without getting lost with the vaguest directions I've ever seen.  Great success!

The Blackmore family was very welcoming and fun.  Carl, the youngest, not surprisingly, became best buddies with Calvin.  The two were inseparable pretty much as soon as we walked through the door.  Calvin and Carl share a love of soccer and spent a lot of time kicking/throwing the ball around the yard.

We arrived early on Saturday morning, so we piled into the car and did some exploring of the area.  We had never been to any other Swedish towns other than those around Stockholm so we were really excited to get to see some Swedish farm houses.  Having grown up in the area, Carina was our resident expert and gave us the interesting history of the various towns, dialects and trade.  We went up to the top of a ski mountain and Calvin jumped around enjoying the view.
Jumping around

After heading back down the mountain, we drove around the surrounding villages.  Carina was in the passenger seat of our rental car with a detailed map on her lap and her finger tracing our location.  None of the roads had names!  I knew that was why her original directions were vague -- they HAD to be.  No other option really.  And I'm not even sure some of the routes we were on could be considered "roads."  I mean, they were definitely paths in a field, but I wasn't sure we were even on public land.  I asked Carina a few times if we were on someone's private driveway but she assured me that it was public.  With only room on the road for one car at a time, I asked her what I should do if another car approached from the other direction.  "Pull over off the road and wait."  That sounded like a good plan to me.  We didn't see any other cars.  I felt like I was a European rally car driver -- bumping up and down on the uneven dirt roads, narrowly avoiding ditches and turnovers.  Plus, I was driving a rental car so you know I was stretching her legs a little.

Absolutely beautiful!

don't step on the monster slugs on the trail!

Carl and Linnea feeding the ponies

A natural picnic table

The family out for a hike

Best buddies!

Tumbling in the grass

We took a nice hike around the lake and ran into some slugs and horses.  The kids were having a great time rolling around in the grass while we shopped for nearby handicrafts.  I wound up with some ridiculously luxurious lamb's wool slippers which will be lifesavers in the wintertime and a really nice cheese grater.

We had a wonderful night back at the house, eating BBQ and listening to stories about their experiences in Uppsala.  They are definitely an adventurous family with solid roots in the US and a Swedish history, so it was really interesting to hear about their lives.  We got to share a little of our lives with them and learn a whole lot about the expansive Swedish countryside in a short weekend.  It was nice to rent a car and head out for the open road without a care in the world.  Unfortunately, due to Calvin's napping schedule, we missed stopping at a castle on the lake just north of Jönköping.  On the way back, it was a total downpour, so we couldn't stop.  We'll have to make a special trip next time we are exploring that area.  I'm pretty sure the lake boasts a Loch Ness type monster, so maybe Calvin will see that next time.

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