The past month or so, we’ve had out-of-town visitors and gone visiting ourselves — it’s been incredibly fun and distracting (and also tiring!).
One of the high points was a daytrip in April with my friend Lizzie to Finnhamn. The Archipelago island has a hostel and restaurant run by a Skårsgärdet hostel company; it’s a three-hour boat trip to get there, and so beautiful, with glacier-sculpted rocks and pine and grassy fields. We had cool, blustery weather that day, and it was still perfect to sit outside in the sun and play Scrabble and eat and drink on the terraces. And oh man, the pan-fried herring at the restaurant was SO tasty.
But the best was the bastu. We each paid 100 kr to sit in the sauna: the tiny red house, shaped almost like a barrel on its side, perches on a pier at the end of a small inlet on the island. Tiered wooden benches run across the back wall, facing the stove in the corner and a giant picture window with a view to the Baltic Sea — which, after nearly four attempts, I finally managed to jump into!
It was SO COLD. I would say the water was about 4 deg C (that’s about 40 deg F). I had been clinging to the ladder at the end of the pier, submerging more and more each time, and failing to even get past my knees. Finally, Liz gave me a mantra: Step, step, jump! (Plus I got really hot in the bastu.) It felt so good! (She managed to jump in all four times. I think she would have disowned me if I hadn’t managed to finally do it.)
During her week-long Stockholm stay, Lizzie and I hit different bakeries to sample cardamom rolls, and she settled on the Valhallabageriet as best (I think the newspaper DN did too at some point). I think we accomplished her goal of having fish every day. And we walked and biked all over the city, shopped for Swedish trinkets and used clothes, and drank wine and talked and talked.
Around the same time, Matt had an academic colleague arrive in town, who happens to be a friend of mine, and we met up now and again when she had free time — during her several-week stay, M discovered an ice cream shop that I have yet to find, and we found an excellent café or two near my office and visited a few museums (the Moderna on a Friday evening, the Jewish on a Sunday afternoon) and puttered around town together on Stockholm City Bikes.
Somewhere during all that touristing, we decamped to Amsterdam, where Matt had a meeting, and then to Basel for a conference. More eating, more wandering around town, more museums — Matt and I went to the Riksmuseum in Amsterdam, which I have always wanted to visit and never had after multiple trips to the city. We got lost among the Rembrandts and ship models and all sorts of crazy things the Dutch have collected over the years.
I had also never been to Basel, despite living in Zürich for a few years and despite having this weird occasional desire to go to Art Basel. I didn’t see much art, but did manage to wander through the heart of the old city — and we left the day before what looked to be a really interesting show of Gerhard Richter. Thwarted again!
I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to Basel, but it certainly felt nice and nostalgic to be in Switzerland again. Matt and I managed to get to Zürich and wander with friends and colleagues through familiar streets and eat in familiar favorite places. It’s funny to revisit chapters of one’s life — while I’m not sure I would want to live in Switzerland again, it was certainly good to be there, and to have more than a tourist’s view of the city and country.
I suppose the same is true of Sweden for me, even though I’m squarely in the middle of my residency here, with no sign of moving in the near future. I am not native, but I am not a tourist. It’s interesting, wonderful, sometimes scary, always enlightening to see the complexity beneath the touristic façades.
That tension was illustrated by Matt’s and my response to the sitcom “Welcome to Sweden,” of which Lizzie watched a little bit with us while she was visiting. Filmed in English and Swedish, it’s being shown first here in Sweden on Channel 4, with Swedish subtitles, and will be on NBC soon with English subtitles. Liz noted that Matt and I were laughing at parts she totally didn’t understand or did not find humorous. Matt and I thought it was fairly and sometimes uncomfortably spot on in so many ways, say, in the jokes about learning the language, despite the fact that we have had totally different experiences than the one portrayed in the show.
Every country could have a show like this that expats will see in a different light than any casual visitors might. I know the immigration experience has some similarities from culture to culture, even as the jokes might be tailored to each. We migrants have acquired some secret knowledge that tourists never get. That’s something we cannot quite share with our visitors, and can only vaguely comprehend as tourists elsewhere.
It’s good to feel at home, even as a foreigner, tourist, expat, outsider, whatnot. Matt and I have a few small trips planned for the summer, but we’ll be glad to be here in Stockholm, sleeping in our own bed for most of the summer. Tourists at home, for the best time of the year in Sweden.