After our race around Iceland, Sweden was our second – and decidedly more relaxed – stopover. I was excited to visit Sweden since it gave us an opportunity to visit my dear friends Rachel and Johan at her new home in the lovely city of Norrköping, along with their 2 beautiful daughters, Lillian and Louisa.
Our journey to Norrköping was the Thursday before Midsommar, a key holiday that centers around summer solstice. We learned that in Sweden, Friday Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivaling even Christmas. Since the holiday itself is all about hanging out in the forest, drinking snaps and eating herring, most people clear the cities and make their way to the country the Thursday before Midsummer’s Eve.
So on that day, it’s no surprise that Stockholm Central resembled New York’s Penn Station during rush hour…on 4th of July weekend. And when an electrical problem that caused all southbound trains to be cancelled or rerouted (including ours) it turned into Hunger Games in there. I have to commend the lovely people at SJ (Swedish train operator) and their attempt to appease the hoards of angry Swedish travelers with free refreshments and yummy snacks. When was the last time BART or Caltrain gave out cookies for a delay? Not a bad idea…
With trains stalled, and all buses full, we were stuck with little hope of a timely departure to Norrköping. Fortunately, Johan was a complete saint and battled 2 hours of Stockholm traffic to come and retrieve us. We are forever indebted, and what a fantastic start to the holiday!
The next morning, we woke up and started the festivities early. We were invited to have an al fresco lunch at a beautiful farmhouse owned by Johan’s and Rachel’s friends. Midsommar is serious business, so we sampled no fewer than 17 different types of pickled herring, smoked fish, summer potatoes, and many other delicacies.
Midsommar is really my kind of holiday, because then it came time to start the ceremonial drinking. In addition to snaps, we had mead (honey-wine), home-brewed beer, and yummy pear cider. But lunch would of course not be complete without some boisterous table singing! Many traditional Swedish songs have something to do with drinking, especially the most famous song of all: Helan Går, loosely translated as “Bottoms up.” At the end of each round, the Swedes yell “skål” and everyone takes a sip.
The afternoon of Midsommar Eve involves dancing around a large maypole decorated in branches and flowers. In Norrköping, this celebration was held in a lovely park by a castle. People came out dressed in their Midsommar best (flower crowns and all), with some people even dressed up in traditional Swedish attire. In addition to the singing, dancing and sitting around in a forest, there are games, and a lottery. Rachel and I both won bottles of cider 🙂
The evening of Midsommar was reserved for eating and celebrating with friends. We drove back to Rachel and Johan’s for a quick snooze before getting the evening BBQ started. After many courses, rounds of drinks, and summer strawberries for dessert, we finished off the evening with a dip in the pool and a sauna. A perfect midsummer’s eve.
Norrköping is a quaint city about two hours south of Stockholm. It’s connected to the Baltic Sea and sits on a river that flows through the city (this river historically powered Norrköping’s textile industry). The textile industry is long gone, but what remains is a very cool and industrial downtown, surrounded by water.
We absolutely loved our relaxing time in Norrköping. It was the perfect way to wind down from Iceland. We spent time exploring the hip area, running through the forest trails, visiting an ostrich farm, seeing the Stegeborg Castle, eating a lot of delicious bbq, and playing Settlers of Catan late into the evening.
A huge thanks to our dear friends Rachel and Johan, who ensured we had the best stay. We hope to come back someday. And now, to Stockholm: the capital of Scandinavia!