I awoke at seven in the morning feeling like I either slept too little or drank too much. The beers we bought were only 2.5% (the highest alcohol content available in a Swedish grocery store) so I attributed my morning fog to genuine fatigue. It had taken us 3 days to arrive in Sweden; our route found us on planes, trains, and automobiles from Seattle —> Reykjavik —> London —> Copenhagen —> Båstad —> Mellbystrand.
We stayed in an apartment built into an antique Swedish man’s garage. (He had to be pushing 100 years old.) The place fit our budget, but the upstairs loft, where I awoke, was built only for hobbits to stand upright in.
I made my way down the hobbit-sized wooden staircase/ladder to the kitchen. It was a minimal kitchen stocked with the essentials: an electric percolator, a refrigerator, and a single basin sink. This was our only full day in Sweden. To make the most of it, I required coffee.
Snabbkaffee, or “instant coffee” in English, was the only thing on the menu. But the Swedes make a damn fine instant coffee. I poured the liquid joy into my mug with a dash of milk (apparently they don’t know about cream) and let nature take it’s awakening course.
I went over our schedule in my mind. First, we would explore the beach of Mellbystrand before our guide, Jensen, would arrive to take us on a hike — for an undisclosed distance in an undisclosed location — followed by dinner somewhere and making our way home to re-pack, sleep, and depart for Germany the next morning. It was exhausting just to think about. I poured a second cup of Snabbkaffee.
We bundled up for our beach visit. A spitting rain fell down and the temperature hovered above 1°C. The town was boarded up. The only suggestion of human life was the smell of wood-stoves burning and the occasional robe wearing pipe smoker on their patio. They observed us with intense scrutiny while we wandered the unoccupied streets. Three hooligans murdering the morning gag-order with our English banter. We attempted to read the polite signs in the door explaining when business would resume but it turned into a game of ‘what English word does it sound like’ and we churned up the most ridiculous translations.
The wind whipped wildly over the Kattegat [sea] and flung small white-capped waves crashing through the sands. A few brave Swedes jogged along the beach, but the passing nature of their company made us believe we had the beach to ourselves.
“The Swedes go mad in the summer!” our guide, Jensen, later proclaimed. Winter’s pent up anger and angst are released in a slow-burning holiday high through the summer months in Båstad and Mellbystrand. “I think there was even a famous American actor photographed receiving a blow-job on the beach here. Sometime in the 70’s or 80’s.” Jensen later confessed. (Someone, tell me this is true!)
Jensen drove us to the peninsula town of Mölle about one hour south of Mellbystrand. The town was silent. On one corner, mannequins were dressed and hidden behind poles like urban scarecrows staring privately upon your homesick soul in the hope that you would turn heel and leave the town in peace, or face mortal consequence.
We laughed in the face of mortal consequence and began our hike along the bouldery coastline of Mölle. The main road deposits you at the trailhead. It begins along the small marina and heads north. Roughly 1km later the road veers right, uphill, and the trail continues straight—into the bush. The hike was longer and the terrain tougher than we imagined. I was grateful I packed my waterproof boots.
Originally from Flemish Belgium, Jensen was unable to help us much with the Swedish language. “Everybody here speaks such good English. They just switch automatically and so I haven’t bothered to learn much Swedish, I’m afraid.”
Jensen, our guide, moved to Sweden after spending 10 years in Hong-Kong. His wife is from Sweden and they wanted to be closer to her elderly parents. Their young kids would benefit from the Swedish way of life and knowing their grandparents. After we clambered up the bouldery half of the trail, Jensen and I spoke about the Swedish way of life.
First, there is mandatory time off when you have a child. As a couple, you decide who will spend the first year at home or how you will divide the time off. This has lead to packs of wild fathers roaming the daytime streets of Stockholm pushing strollers and toting coffees and diaper bags.
More importantly, it comes from the belief that it is a parent’s responsibility to raise a child. Not the state’s. Parents require time with their child to raise them. Once the state assumes it’s responsibility to educate the children, there exists an emphasis on play and an encouragement to be outside. Later this transforms into entrepreneurial notions; not because there is nothing else but because it is the best way to learn your values. Fail early, fail fast.
By now, our hike is nearly over. We walk through a campsite in the wooded part of the trail. “This is a perfect example of Sweden.” Jensen says. There is a shelter, built of logs joined dovetail, that could comfortably sleep 4. Often one will find dry firewood stored under the shelter and a cement fireplace nearby for warmth. Directly across from the shelter is a picnic table and small BBQ. A box filled with dry coals is affixed to a post some 10 meters away. “Of course, this site is glamourous. But it encourages people to visit the outdoors. What is the point of having these parks if we don’t encourage people to come use them?” Jensen asks.
Images shot on Canon 5dii + Fuji X-Pro 1
All images © Jake Warren, 2019