Northern Chilling

IMG_2441For the first time in two years I had a relaxing and invigorating holiday for body and mind. Three weeks in a tiny place with about ten houses, ten minutes’ walk from the sea, nestled in the woods near Norrtälje, about 100 km north of Stockholm with our goddaughter’s family.
Although it rained a bit at the outset, the weather was fine for the rest of our stay in what I call “the Wilds”. Every day we feasted on wild raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and chanterelles, the berries turned into marmalade and pies or just “au naturel”.

IMG_2468IMG_2593Long walks each day around 3km and more, some even 10km, laps in the salt-water pool that was wood heated pending solar panels. Wood and woods everywhere. On our walks I would wave at my little dream house. Family came for the traditional Kräftor feast (Swedish style crayfish).


IMG_2611We also caught up with old friends in Mariefred for their annual wild boar BBQ. Wild boar are culled in the region because they ruin the fields. We had laughs clearing up after the 100 plus guests, a fond reminder of our clearing up at Gripsholm Castle for our friends’ wedding 37 years ago.


I also read three novels, two by Anita Heiss (Manhattan Dreaming and Tiddas), and one by Timothy Findley (Famous Last Words): two extremes, but good for the soul, all of them. I had a lot more on my Kindle, but didn’t open it once. Kindle reading just didn’t fit into my environment somehow. So I attacked my opus and whipped the first 40 chapters into shape pending an overall revision. I think I have also find the right voice at last and the right beginning. I still have the last 40 chapters to go, but I know now, after more than 20 years, that I’m on the right track.

Dr Gugu cooked often for the family: Wiener Schnitzel, Krautrouladen, Gefüllte Paprika, Sachertorte, and our host made a wonderful Tafelspitz, did great BBQs, and let me eat fish: pickled herring, salmon, caviar.

We explored the coast in a tiny boat and the kids (12 to 15) spent the night on an island we called Dragonfly Island. Oh, and we also had Surströmming, the most foul-smelling fish which was almost enough to put a fish lover like me off fish forever. But, now we know. We had this in a deserted glade more than 20km from the house, just to give an idea of the stench.

A week of steady sunshine and then we were off towards Oslo, with an overnight stay in delightful Karlstad. Friends in Oslo had warned us of a rainy weekend, but I used my antipodean frog magic for a 180-degree turn of sunshine. Chilling in Oslo with friends, a tour of the city that is very young and laid back, peaceful and thankfully tolerant of smokers. We went up to the magnificent Holmenkollen with its views of the city and then more chilling out on the balcony with good talk, good food and good wine. Our hosts’ 30-month old son helped lay the table and even helped with the cooking, raced up and down stairs and was in his element, playing with us and alone. Norwegian kids aren’t fussed over like they are in say Australia and Austria, and there are few accidents, and little screaming. There may be a lesson in that.

Then a wonderful ferry ride on a cruise ship to Kiel where the atmosphere was friendly and laid back, probably due to the majority of passengers being Norwegians on a back-and-forth outing to also take advantage of duty-free offerings. Then on to Hamburg, where we toured the city, the Venice of the north, with so much rebuilt after heavy RAF bombings in WWII. The Hamburgers are sick and tired of foreigners thinking that Germany is Bavaria, Oktoberfest and Dirndls, and they let this be known with their own brand of humour. A refreshing insight. Oh, and there were a few more political asides like the through street in front of the US Consulate not being open to traffic, something seen as a bit OTT in view of the US’ spying revelations. We spent our last night in a tiny wine bar chatting with locals, and I think we both fell a little bit in love with Hamburg.

Then the night train to Vienna with 3 hours’ delay since the locomotive was defect and had to be replaced. But we were not in a hurry although it felt good to be going back to our own beds and to a Vienna now free of the 35 plus degree heat wave plaguing it during our absence.

A great holiday, and I even lost one whole kilo. Feeling truly invigorated, I’m looking forward to running a flash fiction workshop on 8 September in Vienna, and that’s just the start. I’m hoping to be accepted to do a workshop with Peter Rosei in October and one with Julian Gough in November (scroll down at Write Now). There may even be another I’m looking forward to on an October weekend, but the details aren’t up yet. Vienna rocks!