Sweden was the longest leg of my journey and the main reason that I decided to visit Europe in the first place. My father’s family is Swedish and I always wanted to visit my Swedish relatives. All in all, I met around eight relatives in Gothenburg, Stockholm, Lund and Gunnarp.
The first cousins I met were Sofia and Henrik Holmén. We spent most of our time outside near Gothenburg. The scenery around Gothenburg belongs in a book of fairy tales. We went swimming nearly everyday, be that in a lake or in the sea off the western coast of Sweden.
One day, the three of us went on a day trip to Marstrand and went sea kayaking. The islands off of the west coast of Sweden are rocky with brush and trees.
After enjoying a traditional Swedish sandwich of pickled herring, potatoes, cheese, red onions and other greens on an island, we paddled back to shore and went swimming in the shadow of Marstrand Castle, the fortress of Carlstens.
The traditional sourdough sandwich that I enjoyed multiple times during my trip is the sandwich that Swedes eat on Midsommer’s Eve. Sofia explained to me that Midsommer is the most widely celebrated holiday in Sweden. During Midsommer it is customary to gather with friends and family to share food, drink, and often have a bonfire and dancing. Midsommer is also celebrated in Norway and Denmark.
In Sweden it is polite to remove shoes before entering someone's home. One food that is commonly had for breakfast or lunch is called Kalles Kaviar, which is creamy kaviar that comes in a tube. It is normally put on a type of hardy bread called Knäckebröd.
Both of my cousins Sofia and Louise fondly recall the tradition of Saturday candy. As children they did not eat any candy during the week, instead the candy that they received during the week was saved until Saturday when they would eat the entire stash of candy resulting in bloated bellies and chocolate faces. This practice is common in Sweden and something that families with young children do together.
Stockholm is a city unlike any I have seen. Stockholm is distributed across islands with bridges, ferries and underground lines connecting them. Stockholm is famous for its Archipelagos. Archipelago means a stretch of water containing many islands, which describes the cityscape of Stockholm perfectly.
Stockholm’s archipelago islands are beautiful, each with unique characteristics. The island of Djurgården is the greenest of the islands and is well known for its collection of museums including my personal favorite, the Vasamuseet, or Vasa Museum in English.
Vasamuseet is a museum containing a ship that originally sank over 333 years ago. The ship remained at the bottom of the Baltic Sea just outside of Stockholm before being removed. Now the Vasa ship stands in the Vasamuseet, with 96 percent of the original ship still intact.
Louise and I spent the day swapping family stories and were surprised to find similarities between our relatives despite being separated by more than 5,000 miles. My uncle Glen does a certain hand gesture when he is explaining something, and when he visited Louise and her father last year, Louise noted that this was the same gesture that her father uses.
After discussing quirky similarities that we had assumed were unique to our part of the family, I began to notice how much we felt like family even though I did not grow up around Louise. This was a feeling I noted repeatedly during my trip, that family was family even when they were complete strangers.
When visiting my cousins Lillemore and Rick I had the opportunity to attend a Swedish Holmen birthday party. My little cousin Meme was turning two and the family had gathered to celebrate about a half-hour north of Lund, Sweden.
The birthday party consisted of games for the older cousins, coffee served in the kind of fine china used at tea parties and the most delicious birthday cake I have ever tasted. The cake was made of a heavy sponge cake with a layer of clotted cream, homemade blackberry jam (just picked the day before) and covered with fresh strawberries.
Visiting my Swedish relatives was a dream come true. Swedes — family or not — were welcoming, warm and considerate people who were always eager to show me their beautiful city and home. The food, dancing, art galleries and rich history that surrounded me in Sweden has made me eager to visit again someday.
Megan Holmen is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_holmen.