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Around Sweden in 56 and a half days

Christine Demsteader · 29 Jun 2009, 14:43

Published: 29 Jun 2009 14:43 GMT+02:00

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See also: Christine's blog

First things first; I am not doing this for a bet. I am voluntarily spending the summer exploring Sweden’s pretty and pretty vast 450,000 square kilometres. Why? Well, I’ll come to that a little later.

Now there’s a recurring phrase, echoed by Swedes in their droves, which has frustrated me since I first set foot here. “We are just a small country,” they say. The grammar I can excuse but I’m less forgiving about the geographical error. Wikipedia tells me Sweden is the 55th biggest country in the world so I think it’s fair to say...quite big. Not massive. But lagom-sized to suit. So my only wager is how much of it I can honestly cover in a matter of eight weeks.

Cultural awareness tells us what they really mean is: “we-pretend-to-be-rather-modest-about-our-fabulous-and-brilliant-country-cos-we’re-not-allowed-to-think-of-it-as-too-important-in-the-whole-scheme-of-like-the-whole-world.” This could explain why no travel writer, to my knowledge, has really bothered to grab Sweden by its Viking horns, explore the places and people and then put pen to paper.

Probably the most classic travel tale of our time would have us believe it took a certain Mr Fogg only a few weeks more than my two-month voyage to circumnavigate the globe. And, unlike me, he wasn’t able to rely on the second class comfort of SJ to get him to places on time – I wait to see whether the punctuality statistics of the state-run railway are also pure fiction.

Indeed, shorter train rides of late have seen me commuting on the capital’s blue line armed with travel literature in search of inspiration. To stand out from the bookshelves of journeyed memoirs, it seems, you really need some kind of eccentric trait, characteristic or ‘thing’. Take author Alan Booth who sadistically blistered his way through Japan, trekking 2000 miles on foot in The Roads to Sata. Or comedian Tony Hawks who took a novel companion along in his debut manuscript Round Ireland with a Fridge.

Aside from some tacky tourist regalia in the form of a plastic Viking hat which I have become rather partial to (see photos) I am not resorting to a gimmick in the form of a silly mode of strenuous transport nor a random kitchen appliance.

Maybe in Sweden alone I already have my gimmick. Bill Bryson would probably agree, having not been overly enthused with the place whilst on a European tour for his book Neither Here Nor There.

”I don't begin to understand a lot of things about Sweden,” he says “...The highest income-tax rates…the harshest drinking laws, the dreariest bars, the dullest restaurants…the most fun thing to do is walk around semi-darkened shopping centres after they have closed…”

But when I leave the capital for Kiruna on July 1st, I hope to scratch more than the surface of the stereotypes. It will be one day short of my seventh anniversary of moving to Stockholm and it’s some sort of itch to venture further than a ten-mile radius to the city suburbs or IKEA. It’s something I’ve unfortunately failed to do much of in my time here so far, apart from a few weekend benders to Gothenburg and ski expeditions which only serve to exacerbate my outdoors sports inability even further.

Hailing from Britain, I sometimes mourn the fact I haven’t seen the best of my own backyard. The port of Dover is the closest I’ve come to the English Riviera. And I’ve never been to Wales either. Suddenly Borlänge seems more appealing.

Starting in the north, I’ll be kept awake by the glorious midnight sun before descending in a downward spiral to meet and greet the people and places that make Sweden what it is today.

Story continues below…

In moments of weakness, I may revert to becoming a typical ex-pat observer. But I remain determined to learn and share some deeper insights into the history and culture of this varied terrain and pose some hard-hitting questions such as: “what do people in Jokkmokk really do on a Friday night?”

I do hope you will follow the blog and I encourage you all to be my virtual Passepartout en route – I’ll be more than happy to hear your top ten tips of things to do in Linköping and beyond. A list of five would probably do nicely. Three, even? Or if I’m nearby your local you could equally just offer to buy me a pint. Cheers to that and a very glad sommar to you all.

Christine prepares for the trip. PHOTO GALLERY

See also: Christine's blog

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Christine Demsteader (christine.demsteader@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

17:02 June 29, 2009 by kerostarfx
Linköping: Gamla Linköping, Domkyrkan, Stora Torget (shopping, pretty buildings around), walk by Stångån, maybe spend an evening at Platå bar/club get to meet a few Swedes there

The Airforce museum is closed :(

If you have time, then hop by the twin city, Norrköping!
18:31 June 29, 2009 by slickscott
Must be nice to take off for 56 days to tour sweden. Whos picking up the tab????
21:03 June 29, 2009 by DAVID T
22:31 June 29, 2009 by MN loves Sweden
To answer what people do in Jokkmokk on a Friday, the answer is drink at Opera's. It is a great little town and the paople there are so nice. Make sure to check out Ájtte Museum and learn about the Saami!
09:45 June 30, 2009 by 007
awesome adventure. i will so be following this blog. i think i know what jokkmokk does on a friday night...but it will be great to find out that i'm wrong.
10:16 June 30, 2009 by irishmark
Well I think that, much as I love his work, Bill Bryson missed the point here. Having just spent a few glorious days last week camping on the banks of Vänern, swimming in the lake and watching the sun set over it at 11pm - yes, I wouldn't recommend moving to Sweden if your aim in life is to sit in the pub or walk around the city... but as I sit here typing, with the balcony door beside me opening to a view of unbroken blue sky, vibrantly blooming garden and distant forests; I think it's quite a nice place to be! I flew back from London last night and do not miss the incessant traffic, fumes and elbow to elbow crowds. Look forward to hearing more about your exploration. Hope you enjoy it!
00:41 July 1, 2009 by 007
i hope she's bringing bug spray up north
08:07 July 1, 2009 by Mzungu
Sounds great. Hopefully she will include a balance sheet at the end of the journey to enable others who wish to do something similar an idea of expenditure.
09:26 July 1, 2009 by Tärnaby Lapland
Hope you have time to visit Tärnaby and Hemavan ( The southern part of the Kungsleden / Kings Trail )

Welcome to our B&B and Pub-Café .

Safe travels.

09:57 July 1, 2009 by 7
she's apparently trying to get readers involved in her travels. make her an offer and let's see if she takes you up on it.

i was just looking at the live stream (nice site by the way) and think it would be hysterical for her to post an entry from your place and we could all see her on your live stream.

what's the temperature in the water?

blog challenge. let's get christine demsteader to jump into that lake from the dock live on TL!
12:26 July 1, 2009 by Aneud
Anyone who reads and mentions Tony Hawks has good comedic taste in my book. This should prove interesting.
19:53 July 1, 2009 by 7
i just read the blog entry for today and it seems the b&b people have taken up the challenge.

apparently she's looking for a cozy floor in pajala this weekend for the fair. any offers?
22:08 July 1, 2009 by mkvgtired
For any of you guys who want to stay free when you go somewhere check out


I have signed up, but have not used it yet, but some of my friends have. Good way to save $$ when you go on a trip.
11:58 July 2, 2009 by jones2
I'll second that! Jump, jump, jump!
10:35 July 4, 2009 by Tärnaby Lapland
Alrighty then, ' 7 & Jones2 ', It's sounds like a devious plan ... We'll promise her a boat trip to an idyllic island for a sumptuous picnic of renstek, salmon , strawberries and bubbly ... but once strategically positioned in the middle of the lake ... we'll push her out ! Hush now, it's our nasty little secret . let's hope she wont be reading these comments ;)

The water temperature by the way is a refreshing 16 degrees. Last week it was only 9 . A couple of Km's away in Solberg the water is much shallower and much warmer with sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains in the background !
21:41 July 4, 2009 by 7
oh i like the pushing thing. but we need a live feed. or video...that'll do too. film it and then post a link to youtube!
21:03 July 12, 2009 by 7
seems she's now in tärnaby...so where's the video of the jump in the lake? http://www.thelocal.se/blogs/desperatelyseekingsweden/
18:33 July 13, 2009 by Tärnaby Lapland
Sorry. Mission failed. Her 8-fingered cork-twisting bodyguard from Pajala turned up to whisk her away in his burly arms ;)

We'll just have to wait for her winter return ... Then we'll cut a hole in the frozen lake and drop her in ... losing her for good !

It was great having the cheeky-monkey stay with us. Christine lit up our bar, our faces, our weekend and almost drank us dry ! A true Yorkshire Lass ;) ( Lock up your grog and your men ... when Christine-comes-to-town! )
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