Örebro + Stockholm: Day 2 & 3
On Wednesday, we traveled to Örebro to get out of Stockholm and take in some fresh country air. It may seem strange because we’d only been in Stockholm for a day, but the itch to travel was more indicative of my dad’s want to see the more rustic parts of Sweden than the nature of Stockholm itself. After picking up my sister in her dorm in Farsta, we were soon on our way to see what Örebro had to offer. (Note: according to some of my Swedish friends, no one ever goes to Örebro. No. One. Yet I beg to challenge the status quo. It’s an incredible worthwhile place to be, and I’ll try to explain why.)
But first — we had to stock up on goods whilst on the run. To my absolute delight, there was no shortage of massive Swedish supermarkets selling vast quantities of all my favourite things. I went berserk shuffling through all the different kinds of Swedish bread, granola, fruit, non-dairy milk… suffice to say, we walked out of ICA with more things than we needed. Not that I was complaining, of course.
We spent the first part of our time in Örebro walking through Wadköping, the open air museum, which was beautiful and very, very quiet. What I found most wonderful was seeing the autumn-hued trees reflected in the lake; they seemed to create an oil painting of sorts in the sheen of the waves, with the added refinement of movement. The sky, which had been cloudy and grey for most of our journey, had begun to clear up by then, which meant that the contrast between the sapphire of the sky and the oranges of the trees was simply breathtaking. After a little stroll (which was all there was to do, really), we then got back onto the car and drove to our much anticipated Airbnb home…
…which literally appeared out of thin air. Turning into a dirt road, we had no idea what to expect. Even the GPS had no idea where we were going. Yet when we turned a corner in the woods to a house with a spray-painted sign shouting ‘B.n.B’, we knew we had arrived. Our host, Cecilia, was there to welcome us to a little hut next to her house, where we were to sleep for the night. For what it was, our home had a fair bit of history: built in 1869, it served as the room where the widows of shipbuilders would bake bread. Albeit dysfunctional, the oven still exists today, surrounded by a coterie of candles, crochet and quietude in what I truly felt was a real picture-book home.
Our host was kind enough to lend us her kitchen for the evening, where my mother promptly whipped up a Korean-style BBQ. Whilst the foodstuff was simmering away, I had the chance to chat with Cecilia about all things ranging from cats (she had two of the friendliest, most loveable felines I’ve had the pleasure of meeting) to the education system in our respective countries. I even got a taste of caviar, which, surprisingly, I enjoyed a lot. As a sign of gratitude, we gave Cecilia a pot-pourri-esque serving of what we were having for dinner, along with some salted seaweed and Korean instant noodles. Although it wasn’t much, I’m assuming Swedes who live in the countryside don’t get the chance to eat Korean instant noodles that often.
The rest of the evening was then swallowed by eating, drinking, lots of writing and yawning.
At 3AM, my sister and I woke up to see if the Northern Lights was visible from where we were staying. Shivering, we stood on the frost-covered ground outside Cecilia’s house and perused the sky. There was a faint greenish tinge that hinted at the majestic, sweeping hues of the Aurora Borealis, although we couldn’t see it in all its glory. The stars, however, were a different story: like seeds they were littered across the vast acreage of sky, shining and blinking and doing all the beautiful things stars do.
For all that beauty, we were quite sad to be leaving Örebro so soon. The next morning, we got ready, waved Cecilia goodbye, then drove back towards Stockholm. Along the way, we stopped by a lake which spectacularly exuded the melancholy of fleeting beauty. One couldn’t tell where the lake ended and the sky began; the clouds merged into the waves — which were so still and so quiet — so effortlessly, the whole sight was like an optical illusion. There was mist snaking through the distant forests, birds perched atop lonely posts, bridges rickety and brown… a moment that inspired poetry.
Later that day, I met up with two friends I met at a debate tournament in January. Although nine months have passed since we last said goodbye, our reunion was very easy and very comfortable. Needless to say, both of them were amazing guides and I ended up seeing a lot more of Stockholm than I had bargained for.
We began our ‘Swedish adventure’ in Södermalm, a hip, bohemian-esque neighborhood with great food. Alma (my friend) and I ate at an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet at a restaurant named Hermans, which offered a wonderful view of the lake. Afterwards, we attempted to trek our way to Odenplan, where we were to meet our other friend, William, until we realized that the walk would be more toe-killing than expected. We took the metro, which offered a history lesson in itself; cavernous and colorful, the station was an interesting place to be. Apparently Hong Kong’s MTR owns the Swedish T-bana, so I’m wondering when the naked viking statues will make their way to Hong Kong.
After our meeting, we then walked around a little more, looking around the Public Library, enjoying an aerial view of Stockholm, and finally, boarding a bus to Skansen, which is apparently the place to go. Upon arriving in Skansen, however, we realized that Google had tricked us into believing it was still open when it wasn’t… and thus, after I learnt how to say ‘Skansen is closed’ in Swedish (it was a great learning opportunity, complete with lots of theatrical emotion), we boarded a ferry and made our way back to Gamla Stan. Stockholm is a lot smaller than I expected it to be; it reminds me a lot of Hong Kong, actually, in terms of accessibility and the general closeness of everything.
Upon arrival in Gamla Stan, we then ended up walking back to Södermalm for a fika, which is a little tea break all Swedes take with friends, family and even lovers. Simply put, it’s a universal cultural activity here in Sweden, where people put everything down and sip a coffee, sometimes pairing it with some sweet goods (like my absolute favourite kanelbulle). We went to the ubiquitous Espresso House (which seems to be the Swedish variant of Starbucks in terms of availability) where we sat for a while with lattes and chocolate cake. In that one conversation, I learnt a great deal about Sweden, its society, its culture, and particularly the dynamics of the Swedish school system. Specific takeaways I found especially intriguing included: a) the notion that community service isn’t a big thing in Sweden (which isn’t all that surprising given the level of social equality here), b) the fact that education is completely free, yet some schools are ‘wealthier’ than others, c) that in Sweden, a student is ‘not expected to study too much, but expected to get good grades’. And I thought Hong Kong was pretty harsh.
What I find pretty interesting is the fact that although Hong Kong and Sweden are socially on opposite ends of the spectrum (the former being ragingly capitalist, whilst the latter is maddeningly welfare state-y), many of their nuances are the same. The way people aren’t likely to talk to each other. The expectations that exist at school. So and so forth. It’s a mix-and-match world we live in.
After our little fika session, it was time to say goodbye. I took a nice walk through the central area with William back to my hotel. Tomorrow we are boarding an early train to Copenhagen (!), where we’ll begin our 4 day voyage through the brilliant, neighbouring world of Denmark. I can’t wait to find out what new things I learn there.