Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Magical Journey to Stockholm.....and Into my Childhood

The night before we left for Stockholm, all the kids got cozy in Bitsy's nursery to read from Pippi Longstocking. John was nestled in her crib, Madeline sat in her tiny rocking chair, Charlie spread out on the pink rug, Bitsy in the crook of my arm in her rocker. They were slightly grudging participants.....but soon, they were howling with laughter and begging me to bring the book on our trip the next morning.
I'd been looking forward to our visit to Sweden like no other, which perfectly coincided with Midsummer Celebrations....a huge deal in Sweden. Not only would I be exploring my family history -- my grandma Madeline is 100% Swedish (and Rob's grandfather too) -- but I was also revisiting my own life story. I lived in Sweden during second and third grade, Madeline's exact age when we moved to Luxembourg. About three years ago when we were still in Wisconsin, I reconnected through Facebook with one of my closest Swedish childhood friends, Linda Murray -- who, by the way, passed along my mother's painting to us (read more about that here) -- and we started hatching a far-fetched plan for a visit. Fast forward a few years and throw in our international transfer, and it wasn't so far-fetched anymore...

We arrived at our rooftop apartment in the pedestrian area of Normalm in the afternoon; the kids were delighted to play in the communal sandbox while I unpacked and Rob grocery shopped.
The next morning, we went to Skansen, an open air, living "museum" that demonstrates Swedish life through the last few centuries. The kids woke up at 4am with the summer Scandinavian sun (which only sets for a couple of hours in the south where we were, and not at all up north). We couldn't wait to celebrate Midsummer, making our own birch leaf head wreaths and watching dancers in traditional Swedish dress raise the maypole. For lunch, we ate reindeer, elk and deer sandwiches.
Taking the metro to Skansen
Reindeer and elk for lunch!
The following day was extraordinary. I reunited with Linda for the first time in 30 years; she brought fuzzy memories into focus and gave me a chapter of my story...after all, I was learning long division the last time I saw her. Linda and her fabulous husband, Karl, treated us like family. After picking us up in downtown Stockholm (in an extra borrowed car so our caravan could accommodate our large family), they took us all to my childhood home in Täby, and showed me the British Primary School, where we met and I attended 2nd and 3rd grade. They served us herring, venison, Swedish flatbread and homemade cinnamon rolls in their gorgeous home with their beautiful daughters, Carna and Franca. Linda's parents came over (her father, Frank, kept saying, "You've grown!"). We marveled at how natural, easy and fun it felt to reconnect after all these years. 
My Swedish childhood home!
I couldn't resist peeking through the gate where I used to build igloos and had a snail collection!
Linda and Karl's gorgeous home.
As you can see, John made himself right at home.
Visiting the neighbors giant Swedish hares.
Linda lent me her clogs. So of course I had to buy a pair the next day!
The following day, we were Swedish tourists. Since it was raining, we went to the Vasa Museum to see a 400-year old Swedish military ship that sank 20-minutes into its maiden voyage and was perfectly preserved in the freezing cold water. Then a stroll through Old Town, a Royal Palace fly-by and........ the moment I completely embarrassed my daughter by buying wooden clogs in old town and asking the shopkeeper to take our picture. 
Vasa Museum! Charlie's all time favorite.
Traditional Swedish meatballs.
Buying my red clogs!
On our final day, we had glorious sunshine and warm temperatures. We hopped on a boat and took a gorgeous ride out to spend the day on the island of Grinda, one of Stockholm's 30,000 islands in the archipelago. It was like time stopped. We swam, climbed rocks, napped, ate ice cream, and enjoyed a beautiful boat ride through the smooth outcroppings. What a relaxing and beautiful finish to a FABULOUS vacation!
Our boat for the breathtaking hour-long ride into the archipelago.
Landing on our wild island of Grinda.
It was pre-season, so the water was cold, but the kids didn't care!
We brought a picnic.
I remember all these smooth rocks from my childhood.
Bitsy watched the kids in the water.
When everyone changed back into clothes, she wouldn't let me take her bikini off!

This one took the cake. It was magical to be able to share this place and my memories with my family. 

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