April in Sweden: twigs, jigs and pagan rites

The Year in Sweden - April: Journalist Kim Loughran sketches a month by month account of the country he has called home ever since his accidental migration in 1966.

April in Sweden: twigs, jigs and pagan rites
A Walpurgis bonfire in Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Outdoor markets fill with feather dusters … wait, those are dyed feathers wired to bunches of birch twigs. You put the twigs in water to light up your home as you watch tiny green leaves emerge to hasten spring. In small towns and suburbs, little girls dress as freckle-faced witches “just in from Mount Blue”. Often with younger brothers in tow, they knock on doors to shake down their neighbours for candy Easter eggs.

Ice still covers northern lakes, and jigging (fishing through a hole in the ice) can be a pleasure if you’re lucky enough to catch a bit of warming sun. But it can be dangerous recreation; taking a chance on the thickness of April ice has led to many an abrupt dip. Those who stay dry might bring home a perch or, in the north, a char.

April 30th is the last day motorists can drive with studded tyres, barring menacing snowstorms. Studs rip up asphalt, spraying dangerous particles into the air. Winter tyres, studded or just deep-treaded, are obligatory from December 1st to March 31st. Everyone taking a driving licence has to learn to handle a car on ice. Scheduling your test for summer months doesn’t buy any reprieve; the exam can be done on oil slicks. By default, headlights are on when you start your vehicle because there’s no way to legislate for daylight visibility – shifting weather can turn bright sunshine to murkiness in minutes. It’s a big gain in safety at zero cost or inconvenience.

READ MORE: Read our travel section for tips about what to do and where to go in Sweden

March in Sweden: slush, bears and skiing royals. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

Road deaths hover around 260 a year. Postal vehicles drive on the right like everyone else but with the steering wheel on the kerb side so the driver can service mailboxes without having to get out. More than every second person eligible for a driving licence has a car and almost every fourth car on the road is a Volvo.

April could not end more dramatically: bonfires rage across the country in aggressive farewell to winter cold. Walpurgis Night, the 30th of April, is a breathtakingly pagan rite, with choruses gathering round pyres to dispel the cruel winter and conjure up a good harvest year. Romance in the air and empty bottles in the gutter.

Birds are back. White wagtails can be seen in car-parks foraging for insects. Early arrivals include swans, larks, plovers and doves. Tropical birds wait as long as they can – the willow warbler, for example. Among the last to show up will be the honey buzzard, following the coastline to navigate almost up to the far north.

The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

This article was written by Kim Loughran in 2010 and updated by The Local in 2017.


How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules