Sweden: My Home Away From Home

Sometimes I wish I could just “blog in the moment”. It’s so hard to do because I hardly ever have the time in between travelling, doing assignments and living independently (example: buying my own groceries, cooking my own meals and doing my own laundry). It’s also hard because I don’t really want to lug around my 3kg laptop everywhere with me when I travel; so all my thoughts, experiences and nostalgic contemplations are left swirling in my brain with no literal outlet.

So when the time comes for me to sit down and write a blog post, I have so much to say but it all comes out from the tip of my fingers like a big blunder of incoherent mess. So, please do excuse me for that but there’s so much in my brain and also in my heart that I want to express but I have no diligence or patience to make my words make sense. Actually, that’s probably one of my biggest flaws: my impatience…

Anyway, enough of the sentimental self-loathing fluff. I went to Sweden last week for six days (well, really more like four days because two of them were spent wandering around airports and being amongst the clouds). It was legitimately the first time in my life that I travelled alone and I remember waking up at 5 in the morning to get ready and leave the comfort of my little rectangle room and walk into the cold, dark air of Lausanne to catch the metro to the train station, and the train to the airport for a 9:50am flight to Stockholm.

I remember that I was incredibly nervous and I had butterflies in the pit of my stomach because what if I got kidnapped and thrown off a cliff? But no, I made it to the airport just fine and it was kind of nice to travel alone and be left with my own thoughts. I flew with Swiss Airlines to Stockholm and the flight was really nice and the flight attendants gave me some pain au chocolat avec de l’eau et après, un peu de chocolat. I’m really impressed with Swiss Airlines! Good service.

After being lost at Stockholm Arlanda Airport for a while, I asked a man at the information desk how to get to the terminal I was supposed to be at for my flight to Umeå. This was my first interaction with a Swedish person in Sweden! He was super nice and told me I had to walk straight for five minutes. He made a little joke saying that for me it would only be four minutes and for him it would be six minutes and he pointed and poked at his belly (he wasn’t the skinniest guy around so to speak). I giggled a little and thanked him. When I went through the airport security in Stockholm, there was a lady working there that totally reminded me of Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because she was not only Swedish, but she also had cool hair and some awesome piercings.

When I reached the terminal, I sat in the lobby by the gate and noticed that everyone around me was white. Now, I’ve always been aware of my ethnicity and for the longest time when I was younger, I really detested the fact that I was Asian. But I mean, in Sydney it’s not a big deal because there’s so many Asians so I kind of fit in (excluding university because in my Communications degree, you mostly get all the rich white girls who live in the North Shore and want to be editors of fashion magazines or news anchors on Network Ten and so on). So I was sitting by the gate, fully self-aware and conscious of my Asian-ness because I was surrounded by Swedes left right and centre. Well, yeah, I probably should have expected that, after all, I am in Sweden after all… but I don’t know. It just came as a big self-conscious stab into my esteem because I felt so foreign. Anyway, my foreign-ness and Asian-ness aside, I got on my Norwegian Airline flight to Umeå (no chocolat au pain this time).

When I arrived at Umeå airport, Mattias was waiting for me like the wonderful boyfriend that he is! We took a bus back to his apartment where I met his roommate Jonas. Mattias cooked me dinner (what a sweetheart) and then we went to the grocery store to buy some essentials that I hadn’t packed (toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner etc.). I literally froze because Sweden is cold, but the houses are very pretty. After, Mattias said he had a surprise for me in the kitchen.

AND THERE IT WAS. IN ALL IT’S CREAMY GLORIOUSNESS.

SEMLA.

Mattias said it wasn’t the best he has tasted, but I really liked it, so if this wasn’t the best semla, I’m really excited to experience what a “good” one tastes like!

The next day, we walked around Umeå and looked around the shops.

I was really cold because, as I said before, Sweden is cold. We went to Bildmuseet which is by the river and according to Mattias, a new museum.

Because it was so cold, we decided to just head back to his apartment and he cooked me dinner again and after, watched a movie (50 First Dates). The next day we took a bus to Skellefteå which is Mattias’ hometown. We had to sit separately on the bus because there were so many people going to Skellefteå and I sat next to a lady who took up her entire seat plus half of mine. Despite rubbing thighs with a random Swedish woman, I enjoyed the bus ride because I saw a lot of snow and trees and red houses.

We arrived in Skellefteå and we walked up a hill to get to the Holmbom house and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything more painful in my life. Like, it felt as though my lungs were frozen and I was about to collapse onto the cold, wet road and turn into an icicle stick.

But alas, I made it to the house alive and I was greeted by Mattias’ dad and his step-mum who were both very welcoming and super cool! I think for like, the first three hours, I just smiled like an idiot because I was so happy that I was in a Swedish house with pot plants and lamps in the window.

Did you know that Swedish people like to put pot plants and lamps in their window? Coz yea, apparently that’s a thing in Sweden. When I get back to Sydney, I’m going to buy some pot plants and put a lamp in my window (but first I need a bigger window sill).

Anyway, Mattias showed me around his childhood home and I was amazed because from the outside, the house looked so tiny and small, but on the inside there’s like a billion rooms and a basement with a SAUNA. YEAH, COZ APPARENTLY THAT’S ALSO A THING IN SWEDEN- BASEMENTS WITH SAUNAS. So after exploring the endless rooms, we sat on the couch and flipped through some old photo albums and I saw a lot of naked little Mattias back in his toddler years and also his stud-muffin of a daddy.

We then went to an ice-hockey game at Skellefteå Kraft Arena that Daddy Holmbom had gotten tickets for. Apparently it was a really important and hyped up game (like quarter finals or something, I don’t know I’m not much of a sports person) against Skellefteå and Jönköping and he bought me a Skellefteå AIK scarf so I could be a true Skellefteån.

Even though I’m not much of a sports person, I really enjoyed the hockey game and the atmosphere and I would totally go to another. It’s much more entertaining than the AFL or NRL in my opinion (no offence to Australia). It was an intense game because Skellefteå kept messing up and they were down 1-0 in the first half and at one point it was three players against five, but they certainly picked up their game in the second half and won 3-1! Yay, go Skellefteå! There were lots of bashing into the windows and I think someone got a puck to the teeth so yeah, it was very intense!

ANYWAY, afterwards we went back to the Holmbom residence and there I met Mattias’ sister, Emilia and her husband Eric and also their little bubbly bundle of joy, Oliver.

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Emilia is really pretty and she has such a pretty voice. We had some fika and I tried Caviar for the first time! I LOVE IT. It was kind of weird because everyone was like: *Sharp intake of breath* “Mattias! You can’t put that much on her bread! What if she doesn’t like it?!” but really, if you’ve ever tried and like Vegemite in Australia, you’ll pretty much like anything.

The next morning we went to church where Daddy Holmbom translated the sermon to English for me in his little booth.

After the service, the guy that was sitting next to me started talking to me and asked me where I’m from. I said I was from Australia and then he pointed to his shirt and I saw that he was wearing an AUSTRALIAN T-SHIRT.

“Australia?” He asked, prodding his yellow and green shirt. I then asked him where he was from, and he said that he was from France! A FRENCH PERSON IN A SWEDISH CHURCH WEARING AN AUSTRALIAN T-SHIRT. Daddy Holmbom (who speaks impeccable French, surprise, surprise!) told the guy that il peut parler en français avec moi parce que j’étudie français en Suisse. All of a sudden I found myself trying to speak French with a French guy wearing an Australian T-shirt in a Swedish church and it was literally a big fat culture explosion in my face and I was so confused I didn’t even understand anything he said in French and I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry. Aside from that it was a nice holy experience!

After, Mattias and I went back to the Holmbom household and ate some pancakes which are supposedly very Swedish pancakes.

We ate them with some Hjortonsylt (Cloudberry Jam) and Hallonsylt (Raspberry Jam) which again, is very Swedish.

We then went ice-skating (I borrowed some very fashionable skates and an equally fashionable helmet…) and Mattias was surprised how good I was at skating (I mean, I did do it for sports in high school, it’s not like I’m a n00b or anything).

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I did, however fall over once because there was a layer of snow above the ice and there was a section of gravel that I couldn’t see… so yeah, unlucky me!

We then went back home and got ready for a little party/get together for Emilia’s birthday where I would meet the rest of the Holmbom family (eek, the pressure!). Everyone was super, duper nice even though I was feeling self-conscious again and wanted to become a hermit and hide. I think Alfred (Mattias’ nephew) felt the same way because he started crying when he saw me. Oops. We had taco’s for dinner and then prinsesstårta (princess cake) for fika! 😀

It was nice to meet everyone and I told them about the time that Mattias surprised me in Switzerland when I was expecting cupcakes from Kay (you can read about that in a previous blog post by clicking here). They all laughed when I said I was disappointed I didn’t get any cupcakes.

When the rest of the Holmboms left for the night, Markus (Mattias’ older brother) said to me, “Welcome to the family”. I never thought of myself as being part of the Holmbom family (because I felt so self-conscious and foreign) but that little remark really put a smile on my face along with a feeling of belonging 🙂

Later that night, we went to Edvin’s house- a longtime friend of Mattias. I met Edvin and he gave me a super awesome bear hug and I also met Tim, another friend of Mattias. He’s super tall. Like, I thought Mattias was tall, but Mattias is like a mouse in comparison to his other friends (but that’s okay because I still love him).

We went to the candy store (SWEDES LOVE THEIR CANDY) and bought some candy in preparation for a night of movie watching, but for some reason, Swedish internet failed us and so we pretty much spent the entire night talking about random things like nigger balls (a Swedish delicacy) and the adventures of Edvin and Mattias when they were wee little kids (there were a lot of balls-to-the-head and lighting-things-on-fire stories to be told). When it was time to go home (like, 2-3am in the morning?) we were all delirious with fatigue but we managed to take a mirror selfie and here you can see how tall everyone is in comparison to short little me.

The next day, Mattias and I went to explore the town so I could be a lame Asian tourist (oh, the stereotype!) and take photos of me standing next to statues of reindeers.

We then met up with some of his other friends, Angelica and Lukas in an Asian restaurant place and I sat there like a quiet little turtle while they reminisced about their past. It’s really weird because I’ve learnt a lot about Mattias’ friends since we started talking over Skype and it was a strange feeling to be sitting there in Sweden with people who I kind of knew but didn’t really. For some reason, sitting there in that restaurant brought back all my insecurities and made me feel super self-conscious. But it was nice to meet his friends nonetheless.

When we went back home, Mattias’ brother, Markus left a surprise for us! CUPCAKES!

He said that he was sad to learn that I was disappointed that I didn’t get cupcakes when Mattias surprised me for Valentine’s Day in Switzerland. So incredibly sweet! Tack så mycket, Markus!

Anyway, we went back to Umeå later that night and the bus ride back was so awesome because the sky looked kind of greenish and I was all like, “HEY! NORTHERN LiGHTS!” even though it wasn’t really northern lights but I like to imagine it was. When we got back to Umeå, we watched a few episodes of New Girl and called it a night because the next morning, we had to get up early so I could catch my flight back to Switzerland 🙁

The flight back to Switzerland was super sad. Because I was once again, travelling alone. I had time to sit in contemplation and I started feeling a little homesick. It’s really weird because I say I was “homesick” but there wasn’t really a particular place that I was “homesick” for. I think it was just the comfort of being with Mattias and his family that made me feel homesick.

The morning after, I woke up with a little bit of anxiety in my heart that I couldn’t get rid of- the first time in a long, long while. It got better throughout the day though because I was distracted by university and my inability to speak French.

I guess that’s all. My trip to Sweden really made me think about my definition of “home” and I think I’m starting to realize now that a “home” doesn’t necessarily have to be a place in the world. A “home” is just a feeling of comfort and you can find “home” within people.

It’s like that Owl City song that I love so much, If my heart was a house, you’d be home. I actually wrote a personal essay on that for my Text & Context class last year… it’s actually probably worth uploading but maybe another time.

So that’s all for now. Long blog post is long and incoherent but I hope you enjoyed it nevertheless. Next weekend I’m going to Italy (Milan and Venice) and then I’m going back to Sweden for the Easter break. This time I’m going to be in Stockholm for a few days and then heading up North again.

Until next time!