Sweden

Inevitably I got hit with a dowsy cold upon arrival in Sweden. It was the penance for the pizza fest I’d had in the arctic over the last few days. When you’re trying to spend as little as possible, and the ‘all you can eat’ pizza is the best value for money meal, it kind of makes sense to down it. I was eating two large pizza’s daily for my one and only meal while up there, because it was about the only thing I could afford. Sure it tastes ok, even if you prefer a roman style pizza like I do, but there is about zero nutrients in the thick, doughy, cheesy business. The old body gave up the ghost on arrival in Stockholm and I was cold, wet and tired. Throw that together with a proper cold and no sleep, I made for a miserable sight. All I wanted was to suck down whiskey into my scrawny little chest.  It was time to go total vegan for two weeks and heal the old bod.

After spending a whole day and a half in bed, writing blogs, blowing much snot out of my nose and generally being weak and tired, I needed to get out of the hostel and make some moves on Stockholm. I’d also been doing some calisthenics over the last few weeks and although I had only missed one day, was itching to get outside and check out the many Utegyms (outdoor gyms) around Stockholm. Heading 5 mins south to the Arsaviken from Sodermalm, part of a water system that surrounds the wealth of islands surrounding stockholm, I strolled down along the waterway to the outdoor gym. Finishing a refreshing workout, continuing down onto a thickly frozen Arstaviken which had frozen the docked boats in time. Ice skaters and skiers chased each other around the makeshift ice rink, checking stops and weaving between buoys used as cones. It was the perfect walk for a boat loving hippie dude. Sailing boats were hiked up on trestles to wait out the winter, tarps held down by 10 litre water kegs. Small cottages coloured in greens, yellows and reds with picket fences decorated the small hills around the waterway, and with the snow carpeting the roofs, you would’ve been forgiven to think it was a swedish version of a hobbit village.

Breaking onto the northern shore of Sodermalm, much larger ships and houseboats greeted me, some rusty and weathered with stories to tell, others looking much fresher with bright paint, were used as restaurants and hostels. Ropes mooring the various water drifters to the docks were covered in frosty ice, and the low hanging ropes themselves had formed an ice comb into the waters below. Bumps and cracks echoed across the water, made by the ferries breaking up the thinning layers of ice across the harbours, smashing smaller clumps of ice out of the way. My hands, which were in poly gloves so I could still use my camera, were being numbed down by the consistent biting cold. Crossing the rail bridge into Gamla Stan (old city) I was buffeted by a nice fresh wind which left me wondering if my nose was still attached and upon reaching upwards, discovered frozen droplets hanging off my beard as if winter was dressing me up as an ornamental christmas tree. Ice dangleberries if you will. Skipping up and down with an invisible rope to stay warm, I endured the weather a little longer to watch the sun set down over the beautiful frozen waters below, with the old buildings silhoutteing themselves agaisnt the setting sun, before making tracks to the nearest sports bar for a pint, a veggie burger and watch my favourite football team Arsenal win yet again.

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Stockholm

Marching along through Gamla Stan to keep my body warmth up, there was plenty to take note of, historic old buildings lumped together all over the joint, church spires piercing through the equilevel roofttops, both police and guards giving me discerning looks while patrolling the surrounding area. I mean who can blame them, a bloke dressed in all black with a scarf wrapped around his face, I might’ve been a boogie Ninja of the night or something. Kicking on past the palace, I roamed the streets, pleased to be breathing in the crisp fresh air in old town. The odd bicycle leant up agaisnt centuries old buildings, and lights curled over the roads taking me back to the twenties. Getting back to the hostel, I made acquaintance with a few tasmanians, who were on their way north to Lapland, to chase the lights as well. That fired me up and we got talking about how amazing the north was going to be! I’d only just left the beauty of the arctic and the lights behind, envy roasted me from the inside.

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Icy waters in Stockholm

Repeating the beginning of the previous days walk but this time heading east instead of west after having a nice warm up session at the Utegym. Walking along the more industrialized side of Sodermalm, again I was chasing boats, bobbing up and down in the warming weather, which had dropped a few degrees considerably overnight. Cracks had begin to appear and break into slabs of ice around the houseboats and ships. Swedish flags fluttered from masts and sterns, waving to the ferries wafting across the waterways. Under another bridge, on past a main passenger terminal for cruiseliners, I crossed again in Gamla Stan and headed east towards Djurgarden and the Nordiska museet. Making sure to follow the curves of the docks as much as possible, boats were moored all around Nybroviken all the way up to the start of Djurgarden. Swedish flags hung off every second boat, ice clinging to many of the smaller boats and forming stalactites off the underside of ropes. Outdoor tables and chairs sheeted in snow sat on the decks of the comfortable looking houseboats, while out the deck chimneys smoke floated away.

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Houseboat Matilda

Making ways into Djurgarden, I wobbled about all over the southern half of the island, straying off the well beaten paths to walk amongst the trees instead. It felt good to be amongst the trees again, even though I was still ejecting snot like a boss and wasn’t feeling well enough to get out of the city into better hiking territory. Up and down small hills, weaving through trees, catching my jacket on branches and peeing into corners hidden from the average human eye, I was having a great old time wandering about. Majestic houses with grand character loomed inside their fenced off grounds, the wardens of the waterways and parks. Running out of land, the water is never too far away in Stockholm and sure enough was on the waterfront quickly enough. Ice was clinging to shores all the way around the eastern edges of the islands, it was a blue and white scene for the eye. Old wharves with beaten lamps waded out into the ocean and swayed with the current, the mossy, green faded timber, barely hanging onto wizened, beaten old nails. Branches hung out over the salt water, trying to shake off the icicles attached to their limbs.

Further along the way I crossed north into Djurgardsbrunn, catching sight of deer running through the woods and crossing the snowy, narrow trails snaking every which way through the woods. I caught sight of what I thought was a headstone but thinking it was a trick of my eyes in the fading light, kept walking before stumbling into an animal cemetary in the middle of the woodland. I had no idea what I’d walked into until I glimpsed a look at a headstone with the picture of a horse. Another of a dog. Knee high lamps glowing yellow and orange were lit up throughout the grounds with rickety wooden chairs set about the silent resting place, perhaps from past owners visiting their pets. I’m not huge on graveyards and such, but this had a calming, relaxed aura surrounding it. It was my coolest find in Stockholm for sure. I walked about looking at the tribute stones set up in the animals honour. I finished my walk through a lit up snow path through the park woods, the darkening light giving the snow a purple tinge. Dinnertime.

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Djurgarden

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Pet Cemetery

That night I met a guy in my hostel from Latvia. For the purpose of this short story in a story the bloke will remain nameless, and I’ll just refer to him as bloke. He wandered into the kitchen in worn and torn jeans and a thin jumper, quite skinny, with a short beard and mentioned he had lost 40 crowns and was somewhat hungry. I gave the bloke all my eggs, because I had turned off meat and poultry a day after arriving in Stockholm. He wasn’t quite sure how to cook them properly, which I found a little curious, I mean everyone knows how to fry eggs right? So we got started on the egg frying education. I offered him some of the vegetable stew I had bubbling on the stove, after all, I had made too much and it was going to be wasted otherwise. I didn’t think too much of the curiousness of the situation at the time until we got chatting.

We shared a table and chatted about life and oppurtunities and how we ended up in Sweden in this hostel. Turns out, a generous fella had paid five nights for him to sleep in the hostel because he was living on the street. The torn and ragged jeans, thin dirty jumper, the beaten up boots, the rough, well weathered hands all came together now. Bloke chose to come to Sweden because he wanted the oppurtunity to make money to pay for a liver operation so he could continue living. He hoped to get into the swedish healthcare system and continue his treatments because they were so expensive back home. He’d had a previous drug problem which he said caught him in spiral for some time, but had managed to beat. Bloke told me stories about his friends on the street, and the areas they liked to walk around in and visit. Bloke went to bed while I sat and stared at my stew for a while. I think the brutal honesty, the way he opened up was very touching, kind of raw in a way, but a reality of what happens outside my little bubble.

A half hour later he came back into the dining room with a small tub of Ice cream, mentioning he had found his 40 crowns in his bag and had bought some ice cream for us to share. What?! The bloke had nothing to his name except some thin, worn clothes, a small bag and a few crowns, and he wanted to share what little he had with me. Here I was whinging to myself about the misfortunes of having a cold and this dude wanted to sit and talk and eat ice cream together. It was a very surreal experience. It was really touching, that he wanted to give so much of what he had to a stranger. It was a massive jolt back to the reality of how lucky I was to be able to choose to travel the world, have oppurtunities opening up every which way for me, not having to worry about life threatening sicknesses and having a good warm bed to snooze in every night. It was like a choo-choo train hit from Terry Tate (reebok office linebacker, check it out on youtube). I left Stockholm more enlightened then when I had arrived, all due to a great gentleman off the street who wanted to share some ice cream with me.

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Love those boats

Feeling very charged after mashing down plants and vegetables the last few days had me all hyped up and ready to strech my legs around a small part of the archipelagos south of Goteborg, and the forestland to the north-east. Winter wasn’t coming. It was here. Arriving in a heavily snowed southern sweden, I was reminded of the time my brother in law and I hopped off a train in southern france after a snowstorm, jumping a fence smack bang into waist deep snow. Snow was layered a foot deep everywhere in Gotebörg, and the common footpaths were layered in a thin layer of ice underneath the muddy treadmarks. Mysterious fog hung over the city for days, even when looking over the harbour, parks or just down the main streets it was fog city. Snow was piled meters high around the city, snow ploughs unplugged the roads with a few small cars trailing in their wake. I’d come to hike for a couple of days and the poor vision and thick heavy snow wasn’t going to put stubborn old me off.

Next morning it was straight on the tram no.11 down to the Saltholmens Brygga (ferry wharf south of goteborg) to cross the foggy water to Styrso, an island that only permits golf carts, bicycles and minibikes to squirt around the narrow roads and alleys. Hopes of catching some kind of sun were dashed, and after a week of little to no sun, was waking up everday wishing for sun. Giving the locals a friendly wave as I passed (just letting them know I’m a friend), I wandered around the small jetties and the tiny, metre wide alleys between picket fenced houses. Again, first it was straight to the miniature docks and jettys, frozen in time by the icy -12 degree weather. It was almost game of thrones. Snow falling onto the thickly laden snowy timber wharves, which forked out along beach heads, the shore shallows were hard enough to walk out over water for quite a way. Listing buoys half buried in salty ice and covered in frost showed how far out the winter was chasing the coastal waters out into the southern archipelagos. An extreme difference to the warm, sunny porto docks 2 months ago. What I would’ve done for an hour of sun to warm my face…

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Frozen Ocean, Styrsö

Finding the trail winding through the small area of woodland on the southern part of the island, I also found a Utegym marking the beginning of the trail! After cashing in some one arm pushups and one leg pistols, I wandered into the woody, white trail. The silence was deafeningly good. Aside from a few birds that were scrambling about in the lower limbs of the trees, it was me and a swedish winter on piste, silently thankful I wasn’t enduring the extreme cold of northern Lapland, where my tasmanian friends were wondering about in freezing temperatures. It was a fairly easy ‘hike’ around the south of the Island, coming across another game of thrones beachhead, before heading into the centre of the forest and stopping to rest at a timber camp hut. Peeking inside, past campers had left a nice stack of wood inside the hut. I lingered on the ledge of the hut, looking out into the surrounding nature enjoying my banana and chocolate bar. Skirting over fallen trees and through small creeks layered in a thin film of ice, my trusty Salomons got me back on the main trail within a good fifteen minutes. After hiking up a few hills to reach the top views of the archipelagos, I was greeting with a blasting, icy wind trying to eat my extremities, and after seeing nothing much but fog, fog, and fog I quickly made my descent back into the considerably warmer lowerlands. Time for a ferry home.

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Frozen lake, Styrsö

I got turned off a trail in the Vildmarksleden the following day by a few misguided steps off piste and missing a few markers, which to be quite honest after days of heavy snow, I was being overly ambitious to get through in good time. Underestimating the depth of snow that had been bombed on the trail, along with markers covered in snow, or non existent at all was the biggest error of judgement I’d made. However I did have a backup plan if I was going to get lost, I had GPS and a hike marker system set up on my android in case I did fuck it up, so I could retrace my steps on a non reliant gps map. I also have a bag of tricks I take every time I go hiking as well.

I think it was the first time getting properly lost off piste, so at first I was little annoyed that and then a little worried, but remembering I had backups to get me out, within minutes had found a safe turnaround after retracing my steps and reaching a loop section at the lake, which I followed for the next hour. I would’ve liked to continue forward on the trail, but with sunset looming, I wasn’t game enough to gamble on getting out before darkness landed, which wasn’t so far away. I had my bag of tricks, but I wasn’t going to relish spending a night in the woods without a tent and a sleeping bag. Reaching the road in good time, with the sunlight just fading, I caught the toastinglingly warm ride back into Goteborg, nuzzling my head in the corner of the coach seat and snoring like a babe in no time.

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Slottskogen

A city generally always warrants a visit unless it’s giving you the runs, Gotebörg however was treating me well. Gracing me with some great hikes and really cool people, it was time for a evening wander through the streets. Kicking off in Slottskogen, a large park on the back on my hostel, I wandered through the mist and fog, boots covered in snow, lamps laying a fairytale foundation, glowing like miniature moons along the sweeping trails through the park. Trees groaned and overshadowed the lit up paths, streching their crooked limbs as if playing handsies over the pathways. Yet another Utegym made itself known to me and I cranked out some calisthenics to get the blood flowing. Exiting on the north west, I was confronted with four beer sipping snowboarders, who had packed snow into a stairwell and turned it into a ramp from which they would board down and hit two jumps, gaining air and landing off into the adjacent football field. Urban life at it’s finest. I stopped by for a quick chat and found out they were all locals, that lived in the apartments opposite the football field. On return to my little four bed room, I caught up with Ferdinand, a german journalist working out of Straßbourg, France. It always blows me away how easy it is to meet people on the road, and how friendly and happy they are to trade stories.

A two hour train ride away, I hopped off the train in Malmö, the falafel and shawarma capital of the north, the last swedish city before the Danish capital of Copenhagen. If you ever walk up Bergsgatan or Möllevangstorget, you’ll know what I mean. Streets that are lathered in delicious, falafel and haloumi sangers. I grew up munching on my Nonno’s falafel, sometimes in lebanese bread, sometimes in the good old wonder white. Chuck on some lettuce, a few slices of tomato and freshly cooked falafels, crispy on the outside and gut grumblingly soft on the inside, you can understand my attachment to falafel right? Then Hanna, my little hippie host in Malmö introduced me to the falafel and haloumi cheese. Jesus, I went on to eat five of the glorious rolls in a day. Haloumi was the final piece to the puzzle of the best falafel roll. Glorious, salty, fatty delicious haloumi cheese. I went to four different shops for a falafel buzz, and everytime I’d end up weeing in my pants a little, it was so damn good.

I spent the following two days hanging out with Hanna and Phillippe (a swiss pianist and translator), and met a whole bunch of really cool people along the way there. Nothing was too much, and life around the city was made easy just by the social company I was in. Swedes, swiss, serbs, germans, french, russians, czechs and an aussie gathered together on my last night, sitting around a large wooden table, sharing a large homecooked curry from the revolutions kitchen with a pants blowing hommos to complement. A delicious meal shared over great banter and lots of laughter. Hanna and the revolution welcomed me in with open arms, to be a part of their happy little world for a few days. What a blast, and if you ever happen to stop by the area, seek them out.  Coolest bunch you’ll meet this side of europe, a guarenteed better time then a monkey with a banana split. Mmmmm banana split…