To say that I was giddy-school-girl excited about traveling to Sweden for the first time would be a gross understatement. I had been in touch with relatives of mine that live all over Sweden and decided to fly to Stockholm this last weekend to finally meet them. The woman I had been in touch with – Carina – is my dad’s second cousin and has met him multiple times as a child. She was so gracious to offer to pick me up, entertain me all weekend, and offer me room and board at their home in Stockholm.
Traveling alone in a foreign land with the goal of meeting up with someone you have never seen a picture of nor met is somewhat terrifying. I’ll admit, in the first few hours leading up to the trip, I was pretty nervous. My Danish cell doesn’t work anywhere but Denmark because of the Dane’s desire to be completely separate from the rest of the EU. So on top of all of this, I had no way to contact her. I had detailed instructions on what bus to take from the airport to the city center and we picked a time. I have never had such loose travel plans. I am a planner. An EXTREME planner. And I very rarely do anything without an extreme amount of preparation (note: this excludes the final that I will be taking in four weeks…). But doing something so…well…out of my comfort zone proved to be exhilarating and far from scary.
On arrival at Arlanda, I purchased a bus ticket from a kiosk and was even approached by an Italian couple asking for help on which bus to take. Clearly I had returned to the mother land. I am as Swedish looking as Swedes come. This did much to boost my self-confidence.
The bus took off later than expected, and I was going to be arriving much later than the time Carina and I had agreed upon. So I asked a teen-ish looking boy sitting across the aisle from me if I could borrow his cell phone to call a family member I had never met. He probably didn’t need the explanation but I was elated at the whole thought and really couldn’t contain myself. Then I tripped on the step in the middle of the aisle and fell all over him, let out a scream, and now have a massive bruise/scrape across my right bicep.
Good feelings of Swedish self-confidence? Gone.
When I arrived at the city center, I thought it would be easy to spot a blonde woman looking like she was waiting for someone. Except everyone is blonde. And everyone is waiting for someone. (Similar to yellow poncho situation in Disneyland…see Faulkner Family inside jokes vault…). After approaching three women to ask if they were Carina, I decided to look elsewhere. I walked back inside the main station and we made eye contact immediately. She walked up to me to shake my hand and introduce herself but instead, I dropped my bags and gave her a massive hug and screamed “Family!!!!”
I’ve had better first introductions. But I’ve also had worse…way to go Melissa…way to go.
I think once she got over the shock of my extreme extroverts-ism, we really hit it off. We walked around the old city part of Stockholm, past the City Hall, Royal Church, Royal Castle, and the old narrow streets that were just buzzing with people. We picked an Italian restaurant that Carina was a big fan of where I enjoyed scallops and shrimp risotto. She even paid for me.
Carina has two daughters – Annika (19) and Christina (16). Her husband Anders had taken the girls up north for the weekend to their “forestry land,” where he plants and cultivates the land as a form of investment. Trees are like gold in Sweden and Anders has done very well for himself as a full time forestry investor, after he quit his job in Switzerland in investment banking. He hopes to pass his passion on to his daughters but Carina said they had two priorities in life: shopping and tanning. Yup, definitely my family.
We then had a good laugh about the similarities between her situation and mine. Her husband goes “up north” where she loses all contact with him and he does man things. I have a boyfriend that goes “up north” to do man things. We were both “up north widows.”
After dinner we headed back to her home in the outskirts of Stockholm, where they have lived for the past 20 years. The house they live in was newly remodeled and is laid out like and an Ikea dream home. Surprise surprise.
I had my own guest quarters, and after settling my stuff, we shared a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, and planned our weekend.
The next day I woke up early and found Carina upstairs preparing a traditional Swedish breakfast of yogurt, granola, a hard boiled egg, Brie cheese, and salami. We ate in their sun room and read the Swedish newspaper together, which had a seven page spread about the upcoming elections in America. Why is it that we never read about Swedish elections in the US? It seemed so ironic and typical that I couldn’t help but laugh.
First stop on our day in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum. Inside the Vasa Museum is a 400 year old ship that was built as battle ship while Sweden was at war with Poland. The Swedish king and the Polish king were brothers. The Polish king had also previously been the Swedish king. So there was a lot at stake in the war. The Swedish king wanted to build the best war ship the world had ever seen, choosing to buy wood from…Poland. The ship took over two years to complete, and the ship designer actually passed away during building, making things rather complicated for the 400 + workmen that spoke different languages. The right side is almost a foot longer than the left side of the ship…
When the day came for the beautiful and extravagant Vasa to take her maiden voyage to defeat Poland…she sunk 45 minutes after she left the bay. The Swedish king decided to bury his shame along with the ship, and never made attempts to recover it. And so the Vasser sat for 300 years at the bottom of the ocean. Until some cute old Swedish man decided to go fetch it. 95% of the ship that sits in the museum today is built out of the original parts. Freaking. Awesome.
After the Vasa Museum, we set off for a type of outdoor museum called Skansen, which is divided into multiple sections meant to recreate Sweden in the 1700’s, 1800’s, and 1900’s. There are replicas of the various farms that occupied the different terrains in Sweden – animals included. This experience was so educational – I learned more about my ancestors and their way of life than I ever had before. I even ate homemade cheese, crafted right before my eyes in a log cabin, prepared by a woman wearing traditional Swedish garb. Naturally for lunch I had a traditional Swedish meal of meatballs, boiled potatoes, and lingenberries.
After being on our feet all day, Carina and I decided it was time to head home. Just as we were walking back to the car, she got a call from Anders saying that the weather up north was unbearable, and him and the girls would be returning. I was so thrilled about this because originally I was not going to meet them. They arrived just in time for dinner, and Anders immediately popped a bottle of red wine and filled everyone’s glasses. The girls were just as I imagined: tall, white blonde hair, good Swedish tan skin, blue eyes. Just stunning. The girls had made social plans and took off shortly after dinner, but I stayed behind with Carina and Anders. The night progressed so naturally, and the European/Swedish experience I have always longed for unfolded beautifully. After dinner we sat around on the sun porch, lit candles, drank numerous bottles of red wine, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Carina said that she knew right away when she saw me that I was her family and that we had a special connection. Let me tell you, it is hard to hold back tears after hearing something like that from a stranger, especially after multiple glasses of wine.
I went to bed just beaming. So grateful for the opportunity I had to learn and feel so much. This trip has taught me so much about my history, my family, and the numerous blessings that I have in my life. It was hard to be away from my immediate family this last week. Much harder than I anticipated. But I am so grateful that even millions of miles away from home, I was still loved. Sweden will forever be in my heart, and I cannot wait to return.
At the end of the month, I have plans to travel to southern Sweden to meet the rest of my family. My grandma’s cousin Gudrun has offered to host me and I am already counting down the days. To all my family – near, far, young, and old – I love you.