Winter now and then

It is an unusually warm winter in Lithuania, and of course when holidays come people are discussing the absence of snow.

In the meantime I’m slowly arranging some old photos, so I guess it’s a good excuse to share one from Sweden. In 2005 I went to Haparanda in the North of Sweden, where a Swedish family adopted me and my friend for Christmas. There was certainly no lack of snow back then.

Towards the Polar Circle

Towards the Arctic Circle [click on the image to enlarge it]

We were poor Erasmus students, so of course we bought the cheapest train tickets, which nonetheless cost us ~100 Eur return (20% of our monthly scholarship). We had to sit 18 hours straight, but it wasn’t as bad as we expected. We were chatting and enjoying leftover food from a Filipino pre-Christmas party. We arrived at Umeå, where my friend picked us up. We spent Christmas Eve with the famil. Santa arrived to distribute presents to the children around 6 pm. During dinner we tasted a Swedish gratin, a huge ham and some traditional liqueurs – all of this is as distant from Lithuanian Christmas Eve traditions as can be.

On Christmas day we spent some time traveling between Sweden and Finland, as the town is at the border and most people (and newspapers) are bilingual. People used euros and Swedish krona interchangeably. There was Haparanda’s annual Christmas party, taking place at a hotel where drug dealers in the past used to meet in order to smuggle their merchandise from Russia through Finland into Sweden and on to the ‘capitalist’ markets. My friend said he refused to attend that party, as it was just an even where people look for gossip. We went to a bar instead, where very interesting characters were sitting down one after another to talk to us. We met a Finnish weed dealer who looked overly happy. He told us about various problems he faced in his teenage years, and said that if he had been looking for someone “for this night or for all life”, he would have liked that person to be me, but fortunately he wasn’t looking for anyone, he was just happy with whatever he had consumed, and we enjoyed the conversation. We also talked to a motorbike-lover type (this subculture is called “raggare” or something like that in Swedish), who explained that he never drinks on Christmas Eve, because Christmas Eve is for the children. We also met two eccentric tourists, one from Jamaica and another from Nigeria, who said they found Haparanda in a guidebook of the craziest places to visit. They were very surprised that the bar’s staff wanted to kick them out for [“Lord have mercy!”] trying to smoke inside. I have some more memories and impressions from that night, but I’m saving those for a book that I’ll write one day.

The next day we set off to cross the Arctic Circle by car. That’s where we saw the herd of reindeer. It was about -14 Celsius – not as cold as it was in Lithuania when we returned after our Erasmus semester. We also went to see the famous Haparanda Church, which is said to be “the ugliest church in Sweden”. The following day we already had to leave back to Gothenburg, which meant another train ride for 18 hours, but it was really worth it.

I often think about my time in Sweden. I don’t have such vivid memories even from much more recent travels. I had a primitive ‘soapbox’ digital camera, no Facebook and no blog. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many memories are saved in my long-term memory. But not just that. Sweden taught me how happy I can be while being broke and, objectively looking, not quite belonging where I was. My expectations were much lower, and my values were just starting to take shape.

Next year I’ll probably blog more about my time in Sweden.

Happy New Year, dear readers!

click on the image to enlarge it

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