Swedish Midsummer

Midsummer is the time of year when the sun never sets and the Swedish spend their time in the country, playing games, eating, drinking, and singing. Since True and I love all of those things we headed to Sweden to see how the Swedes escape the fast pace life of the city.  So at 11PM on a Monday, we hopped on a Norwegian Airlines flight out of JFK and headed straight to Stockholm, Sweden.

We landed the next morning tired and jet lagged. Our fellow American friend, Brandon, and our Swedish friend/host Moa picked us up and whisked us away to her home village, Gävle. When we arrived, we were given an amazingly delicious, not so classic, Swedish dish of Taco pie (the Swedes love tacos). Next we were off to explore the charming cobblestone roads and modest beautiful homes that sit along the Gävle River. We rode bikes, drank, played the classic Swedish game of Kubb, which involves throwing blocks of wood at other blocks of wood, and had a home run derby, which is a game I actually understood. Sweden looks as if you are in a storybook, with every turn of a page, an even better story awaits. To understand the countryside of Sweden we first needed to understand it's largest, most metropolitan city, so the next day we headed South to Stockholm.

"Imagine Sweden as a sweet old librarian and New York as a disgruntled Crossfit Trainer."

Stockholm couldn’t be more opposite from New York. Imagine Sweden as a sweet old librarian and New York as a disgruntled Crossfit Trainer. (Although this is a blog about escaping the hectic life that is urban living, Stockholm is a part of our adventure that can’t go completely unnoticed.) First of all, it is an amazingly clean city. It is so clean that in 2010 it was given the European Green Capital award by the EU Commission. They were judged on climate change, local transportation, public green areas, air quality, noise, waste, water consumption, waste water treatment, sustainable utilization of land, biodiversity and environmental management. All of which makes the city a big deal for environmental lovers such as ourselves. If you find yourself in this amazing city, you should grab a Swedish hot dog from a cart, walk through the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, and take a ferry ride. Also make sure you check out one of the many parks. We went to Djurgården, which is full of walking paths and gorgeous views of the city. Finally be sure to grab some seafood. We chowed down on some salmon alongside the water at a place called Strandbryggan. Stockholm is a gem of a city that everyone should spend at least a day in.

After Stockholm it was back to the cozy and peaceful village of Gävle where we would spend the night drinking beer and watching some soccer (football). The next morning we arose for our next adventure to Boda Kyrkby where we would enjoy the festivities of Midsummer. The drive was full of towns more beautiful than the next, landscapes more picturesque than the last. We stopped and hung out with some cows, ate local cuisine, and eventually made it to the town of Rättvik. In Rättvik, lives the Pier Långbryggan, which in translation literally means long pier. Långbryggan is over six and half (American) football fields long, and sits in crystal clear water surrounded by locals fishing, boating, and swimming. As we walked along the pier, we saw countless tiny houses nestled into the hills that surrounded the lake of Siljan. After taking it all in, we jumped back in the car and drove to the cottage where we would be greeted by Moa’s marvelous parents.

The cottage we arrived at was far from the rustic Swedish roughing-it in the countryside homestead that we were expecting. It was originally built by Moa’s great grandfather in 1948, yet in 2007, her parents remodeled and gave it all the modern Swedish furnishings. The Swedes have an amazing talent for utilizing every square inch that is both tasteful and aesthetically pleasing. We dropped our bags downstairs, eager to have a quick hike before dinner. 

Brandon and I grabbed bicycles and the girls rode on the back. On our way to the forrest, we rode mostly downhill on a windy, newly paved rode. It was the perfect ride to get the adrenaline up and hop on the trail. We treaded on the main trail at Styggforsen which led us to a waterfall. The trail consisted of cliffside steps and some tree log crossing. The air was crisp but fresh while the woods were thick and lush. We completed the loop and rode back to the cottage for dinner. We settled with a few night caps and it was bed time, for we had a long day of games ahead of us. 

"The girls weaved beautiful garlands from birch tree branches and assorted wild flowers while the guys scrubbed potatoes like poor souls."

The next day was the “longest” day of the summer. The sun shone strong and the clouds passed by slowly (which was unusual weather, we were told it always rains this time of year). We indulged upon the infamous tomato, cheese, and toast combo we had grown to love. Everyone dressed up in festive clothing. The guys sported collared shirts and the girls wore sundresses. It’s only tradition to scavenge for materials to make your own flower crown. The girls weaved beautiful garlands from birch tree branches and assorted wild flowers while the guys scrubbed potatoes like poor souls. Soon after Moa (who took on the role of game master) split us into teams. There was copious amounts of drinking and games more ridiculous and fun than we’d ever played. Some games included shooting a BB gun at a can, hammering a nail into a 2x4, and throwing a rain boot between your legs and over your head. 

After about three games, there was food to be had. Plates filled with Pickled Herring, Swedish meatballs, Potatoes, Cheeses, and Deviled Eggs hit the table. All of which was topped off with Snaps and beer. Snaps are 40% alcohol and are always toasted after singing a short humorous song in Swedish. 

It was back to more games and even more drinking as the sun was barely setting with each hour. Around 6PM was the town’s Midsummer parade and the raising of the May Pole. We walked among the locals who were dressed up in classic Swedish attire throughout the tiny windy roads. After two miles or so, we gathered in a grassy historical village. After 45 minutes of ten grown men shifting wooden stilts, the May Pole stood tall. There was no shame to be had by the Swedes (just us Americans) as we all jumped like frogs, washed invisible clothes, and held hands as we sang songs. 

Back at the house, we inhaled more food and drinks as if we hadn’t already had enough. On the grill, Moa’s brother, Love, turned steaks from the local butcher that were so graciously bought by their parents. 

It only got as dark as dusk that night. Why not jump in the Jacuzzi we thought? And there we were, all nine bodies soaking up the jet streams singing 90's rap. True and I were the first to retire; the Swedes could tolerate far more alcohol than we could. 

"The water, though, was deceiving. By eye it was inciting, but it felt as if it spewed straight from a glacier."

Up at no particular time the next morning, we arose to yet another sunshiny day. Sinksjön, a small lake, was not too far away, so we drove there to absorb the beautiful warmth of the sun. The water, though, was deceiving. By eye it was inciting, but it felt as if it spewed straight from a glacier. My heart felt as if it stopped as my body grew painfully numb. Only Brandon, Emma, and I were brave enough to venture into the lake (aside from the locals that seemed unfazed by the glacier water). One dip was all I could take, but I dried off quickly in the plush grass. 

When everyone finally blew zero in their personal breathalyzers, we packed up and drove back to Gävle. (It is a law in Sweden that you can't drive with a .02 blood-alcohol content, so no one drives unless they blow a .00) To end the trip, we swallowed a few more beers at the local bar and reached our limits. Our beds were calling our names. 

We flew out the next evening after being couch potatoes trying to recuperate from our long and eventful journey. On that last day, it rained just as when we arrived. It was back to the big city for us. Sweden and the people we encountered left an unforgettable impression on us. We can’t wait to go back and further explore a culture so advanced yet true to their customs and so clearly loving to their family, friends, and even complete strangers like us. 


Photos + Video: True O'Neill, Anthony Garito

Words + Illustration:  Anthony Garito (edited by Megan Corletto)

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