I’m really enjoying my time in Sweden. Here are a few random photos that capture what I’m experiencing — as well as some practical advice.
Sweden may not have staggering fjords like Norway, but all along its coast, you’ll find some impressive abs. The city of Kalmar has opened a wonderful new beach, called Sundsbadet, just beyond its castle. On a hot summer day, this is a festive and happy slice of Swedish life — well worth a stroll even if you’re not actually “going to the beach.” This new facility put Kalmar (quite popular with RVers and the yachting crowd) on the fun-in-the-sun map. With showers, snack stands, sandcastles, beach access for wheelchair users (a ramp goes right into the water), and views of the castle, it’s a delight. And if you enjoy people-watching, it’s a combination Swedish beauty pageant/tattoo show.
This dinner I enjoyed on a train ride through Sweden was a $5 feast. Sure, I can afford a good restaurant meal even in expensive Sweden. But a cheap, healthy, and fast picnic helps the train ride go by quicker. Even in the most expensive corner of Europe, you can eat well and affordably. Convenience stores are big throughout Scandinavia (with a 7-Eleven on seemingly every corner). While convenient and cheaper than any restaurant, these places charge about double what you’ll pay for basic food in a grocery store. With a trip to the grocery store, I can get a big, cheap bag of almonds to munch on for days. A kilogram bag of carrots reminds me of the days when I didn’t know how to communicate a smaller amount and ended up with a kilo of whatever I was buying. A big bag of carrots may be cheap…but it lasted for days’ worth of snacks. Yogurt is drinkable, cheap, and tasty anywhere in Europe. A box of juice cost about two dollars (always look for “100%” — easy to spot in any language — or else you’ll get a sugary “juice drink”). And the main course: the ham-and-cheese sandwich I pocketed from my breakfast buffet. (I wouldn’t advocate this petty theft publicly. But somehow I don’t feel bad stealing a sandwich from my hotel breakfast buffet in Scandinavia, considering how much of the room cost is taxes — about $50 a night — that support a lavish social system I’ll never benefit from).
I used to dread having to get a haircut in Europe. It was one time that the language barrier had real and enduring consequences — and besides, finding a barber took precious time out of my sightseeing day. But for the last few years, I’ve relished the opportunity to get a haircut wherever I am in Europe because it gets me in a chair talking with a real person who’s not in the tourist trade. Here in Växjö, in the middle of Sweden, I enjoyed getting to know Maria — an immigrant to Sweden from Bosnia — who gave me unique insight into Swedish culture today.
When I’m researching my guidebooks in Europe, I have to be disciplined about staying on top of my “inputting.” Each day I have, on average, six hours with a local guide. That’s a lot of notes. And each hotel room becomes my office: I arrange my desk for the best light, and sort through my marked-up maps, business cards, and scribbles in my chapters. If notes are not dealt with in a shipshape way, all that hard work in the streets can be ultimately wasted.