My main mission on my virgin visit to Sweden was to investigate whether the Swedish were as blonde and beautiful as I had been led to believe. Whilst travelling on my round the world trip it seemed that I was constantly meeting stunning, tanned Swedes – particularly on the beaches in Oz. I was also keen to know, although would never admit it to my hosts from Skåne Tourism, whether they were all as unapproachable as the cliquey groups of youngsters I had attempted to befriend on the East Coast.
The verdict: it’s partially true – I saw many beautiful people in Sweden, although not all were naturally blonde! The surprise discovery, however, was that the people I met were not at all cold or unfriendly but rather warm, sometimes quirky, and in a lot of cases incredibly funny. I learnt a lot about Sweden on this trip through the passionate people we encountered. Here are my impressions of a first timer in Sweden:
The Beautiful People
So on close inspection it transpired that not all Swedish people are naturally blonde. They are fit though, and I mean physically fit. On the Skåne coast I encountered numerous tanned, lithe figures swimming (sometimes naked) in the Baltic Sea. Both at the Ribersborgs Bathhouse in Malmö and on the beach at Helsingborg I witnessed brave bodies bathing in what I imagined to be Arctic conditions. In Helsingborg locals were donning their baths robes and slippers to walk down to the ocean for a bracing morning dip. I suppose that is one way to wake up.
Far from the unfriendly, stoic personalities I had wrongly expected to encounter I was greeted with nothing but warmth and passion from the people we were introduced to. From Mia, the personal shopper, who showed me her favourite fashion stores in Malmö, to the proud shop owners who told me all about their products.
I bet you didn’t know Sweden had vineyards? Well it turns out they do and when we met Carl-Otto the owner of Köpingsberg Vineyard he told us all about it whilst performing a few tricks. You have to be pretty passionate to grow wine in Sweden because the laws regarding the sale of wine require it is done via the government only. Carl-Otto explained that should he wish sell his wine to us today he would first need to sell it to the government, then buy it back before he could sell it on. We did get to try some though and it was rather tasty.
The Royal Family/More beautiful people
It was in the Royal Family’s ex summer residence, the magical Sofiera just north of Helsinborg, that I first saw a photo of the beautiful Prince Carl Philip. A cross between Orlando Bloom and Johhny Depp he must be every young girls dream! From the exhibition on Princess Ingrid in the palace building and the gardens which had been lovingly created by Princess Margareta, including the large Rhododendron garden for which the palace is known today, I learnt what an inspiring family the Royals are. A story which stuck with me was the legend that when one of the princesses was seperated from her father, through a political marriage to the King of Denmark, she would flash a light from her castle across the water in Denmark to her father who had a clear view to it from Sofiera. Whether true or not its a touching tale, worthy of a fairytale princess.
Some scary people
Perhaps it’s the long dark winters that inspire such gripping crime thrillers to come out of Sweden. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larssan put Stockholm on the map but Henning Mankel put the chocolate box pretty town of Ystad into the international limelight via his crime novels too. Touring Ystad, admiring the pastel-coloured, flower-draped buildings it was hard to imagine this town as a setting for sinister crime films, but it’s the town Henning chose to set his books in and the residents seem very proud of the fact. Our tour guide would point out peaceful streets that were home to particular fictional murders in a cheery disposition. Many locals, she explained, had starred as extras in the BBC films with Kenneth Branagh, and had gathered to watch when a car was blown up in the town square. Meeting the locals and touring the pretty streets it was clear the scary people were confined to fiction only.
Salt & brygga on the waters edge in Malmö is one of Europes first and best organic restaurants – even though the owner was told at the time of it’s making (2001) that such a thing was impossible. Before smoking was banned in restaurants, before organic food was a range in supermarkets, Björn Stenbeck decided to open a fully organic restaurant – from the furnishings to the supply of food – and people told him he was mad. Eating in this resturant and meeting Björn I can confirm that he is most certainly not insane, but a brilliant businessman and a talented restauranteur. The food is amazing too!
Ecological clothing is also a focus for many Malmö boutiques. A shop named Uma Bazaar is planning to introduce a jean recycling sheme for it’s customers whereby if you hand in your old jeans you get money off your new pair. Jeanius!!
For more on the Malmö boutiques see my post on Shopping in Malmö.
I couldn’t write a post about my first impressions of Sweden without including a mention of Fika. I completely fell in love with the tradition of Fika, the Swedish equivalent of High Tea, whilst in Skåne. To find out why exactly see the post ‘I heart Fika!‘
Although the temperature in Sweden was a little colder than I anticipated (and I was therefore too much of a wimp to embrace the Swedish bathing habit!) I found the personalities of the people far warmer than I imagined.