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First stop: Sweden

On Sunday, August 18, Elena and I start this trip by arriving at the Minneapolis airport 2.5 hours early (just in case there was a long line or a problem) and proceeding through security quickly and without incident, leaving us with several hours to wait for our flight.  In order to pass the time, Elena re-packs my backpack while I read Macbeth aloud.  This adds layers of dark humor and confusion to the first leg of our travels—dark humor, because you can’t read a Shakespearean tragedy aloud in a crowded space, even quietly, without getting the giggles; and confusion, because now I can’t find anything in my backpack.

I feel that this is somehow representative of our trip, and possibly our entire relationship, but I can’t quite put my finger on how.

Anyway, on Monday afternoon we fly into Gothenburg, Sweden.  My uncle lives on Brännö, an island along the coast of Sweden that can only be reached by boat or ferry.  We stay in his stuga, or small guest cabin.

The islands here are simultaneously prehistoric and ordinary.  My uncle’s home looks across a channel to a smaller, uninhabited island used as grazing land for sheep.  Moss and gray rock climb steeply from the ocean, crisscrossed by patches of grass and dotted with bushes.  The crest of the island proudly sports an unassuming weathervane.  Old, stately, and also homey, welcoming.  I can see why my Swedish ancestors chose to settle in Minnesota.

Furthermore, Sweden has one significant advantage that outweighs all others: the mosquitoes visit for about an hour every night.  Before, and after, there are no mosquitoes.  Seriously, none of the windows have screens.  Minnesotans…we have found heaven, and it is on earth.  Elena and I sleep with the windows of the small house open, just for the joy of it.

For the next few days, Elena and I see family and friends and explore Brännö and Gothenburg.  We bicycle to Gothenburg’s tourist district, stopping for tea and sweet rolls; I drag Elena into a milliner’s shop, where she discovers she is, after all, a hat person; we explore an old kyrka (church) with stained glass windows, where Elena translates the plaques on the walls.  We cope with jet lag.  (Well, I cope with jet lag.  Elena is perky.)  We go grocery shopping twice, confident in the produce section (carrots are carrots anywhere) but guessing our way through anything in a box.  Our uncle takes us on Paddan, flat boats for tourists that glide through the city’s canal into the harbor.  The tour guide tells the history of Gothenburg; our uncle translates her Swedish puns for us.  We jump into the cold ocean with our cousins and their dog.  We eat a delicious fish soup and tour Brännö with Karin.  We stay up late talking about Minnesota/Swedish Nice, playing with the adorable baby Vincent, and trading stories.

This has been fun, relaxing, refreshing.  We don’t see this side of the family much; an ocean gets in the way.  But they have welcomed us into their home, cooked us delicious food, and spent a lot of time with us.  We’ve truly enjoyed the last few days.

By tonight–Friday, August 23–Elena and I will be in London.