Monday, June 28, 2021

One Year In Sweden!

June 21st, 2021, marks our one year in Sweden. 

It went by in a blink. It went by in a haze. 

I give you our year in pictures....


Despite Covid restrictions, we did manage to discover lots of interesting parts of southern Sweden, particularly in Skåne, the province we live in.

We bought a car in September which made it possible to go more 'off the beaten track'.

You can read my previous posts about what it's like to move to Sweden during a pandemic here, how our move to Sweden actually went here, our first impressions of the country here, our holiday on the Göta canal here, our first 3 months in Sweden here and my impressions and thoughts regarding Covid19 here.

Traversing the Göta canal in a charter boat. Here we are moored along Vadstena castle for the night. Aug 2020.

The dramatic cliffside at Kullaberg Nature Reserve. Aug 2020.

I couldn't resist jumping into the sea at Kullaberg.
Wild swimming: my happy place :) Aug 2020.

One of Ven Island's many beaches. Aug 2020.

Trying out tandem cycling on Ven Island. Aug 2020.

Getting back to his Viking roots at Foteviken's open-air museum. Aug 2020.

Climbing fun at Kungsbygget Äventyrspark.
Guess who's the only one in our family to make it to the top? Sept 2020.

Ziplining at Kungsbygget Äventyrspark! Sept 2020.

Luge ride at Kungsbygget Äventyrspark. Sept 2020.

We made a lot of campfires, this one was at Skrylle Nature Reserve. Oct 2020.

Making lunch at Scouts Camp: dig hole, cut wood, make fire,
build tripod, cook food. Oct 2020

Blindfold activity in Scouts Camp forest. Oct 2020.

Swedish Scout Camp includes a bastu (sauna)! BEST thing ever! Oct 2020.

During höstlov (autumn break), we explored Göteborg and surrounding islands. Oct 2020.

Hönö island. Oct 2020.

Riding one of the many ferries connecting the Gothenburg islands. Oct 2020.

Tour of the18th Century living ship, the Göthenborg. Oct 2020. 

Bjärekusten nature reserve at Hovs Hallar. Nov 2020.

Stenshuvud National Park. Jan 2021.

Lund's outdoor skating rink. You can borrow skates for free
and skate to Christmas music. Dec 2020.

Covid-safe Christmas present to the kids: one hour of uninterrupted skating bliss!
Dec 2020.

God Jul (Merry Christmas) and Gott Nytt År (Happy New Year)

Cozy candles, hanging stars, decorated tree, fireworks and... COVID19! Yup, we all contracted it but have been lucky with no long-lasting side effects. I was by far the worst one affected and did nothing but sleep and sleep for one week. 

The kids showed no symptoms whatsoever and basically ran the household. On Christmas day they heated up some IKEA meatballs and potatoes for themselves while Matt and I lay in bed. Definitely a memorable Christmas!

Our first time chopping our own tree down.

Getting into the holiday spirit.

Monitoring my oxygen levels.

Luckily the kids are old enough to entertain themselves, not to mention cook and clean.

There was a lot of Minecraft too!

New Year's Even fireworks seen from our flat.

Matt was feeling better by then and they went to the highest
point in Lund to watch the fireworks.

To shake off the Covid cobwebs, we walked one section of the Skåneleden, a beautiful 1300 km walking path that passes through Skåne's coastal towns, forests and lakes. Jan 2021.

Outdoor lake skating. SO Swedish (and Canadian too, I guess). Jan 2021.

Skating on the sea! Now that you can't do in Canada! Jan 2021.

During sportlov (sports week break), we went skiing.
Tai declares this as the best thing about our first year in Sweden.
Isaberg Mountain Resort, Feb 2021.

Our AirBnB had an ATV to rent. We hardly saw Matt for the day!

The same AirBnB had a massive hot tub/pool as well. I was in heaven!

For Easter break, we went to Gotland island and stayed on a family-run farm.
The kids got to ride and take care of Gotland ponies. April 2021.

Gotland's famous limestone rauks. April 2021.

Gotland's capital, Visby, is a great place to stroll around the old city wall. April 2021.

The farm had canoes to hire. Happy to report nobody fell in :) April 2021.

If you ask the kids, the best thing about Gotland was being allowed unlimited
access to drive the farm's electric golf cart!! April 2021.

Built 1400 years ago, Ales Stenar consists of 59 massive boulders arranged in a ship outline. Still a mystery today. May 2021.

Sankt Hans Bakar, Lund. May 2021.

Lund University. May 2021.

Botaniska Trädgården (Botanical Garden), Lund. May 2021.

Nimis, seaside artwork by (controversial) Lars Vilks with a mazelike jumble of rickety towers & tunnels made of driftwood. June 2021.

Midsommar smorgasboard: lots of pickled sill (herring), dill, potatoes, 
gräddfil (sour cream) and gräslök (chives), köttbullar (meatballs), 
prinskorv (prince sausage), ägg (eggs) with mayo and prawns.
Finally, snapps and tons of jordgubbar (strawberries) and cream to finish off! June 2021.

Making flower crowns and then dancing around the Midsommar fertility
pole is a typical Midsommar tradition. June 2021.

"Skål!" (cheers)

Quintessential Swedish summer, where the sun shines until it's way past your bedtime. June 2021.

What have we been up to?

Aila started learning the ukulele (and even had a handmade uke made just for her from Uncle Martyn in Shaftesbury, UK!!) 

She participated in weekly gymnastics classes and during the spring term, joined a local girls football team.

Practicing "I'm Yours" for her ukulele concert. May 2021.

Quick and fierce on the pitch, Aila has since worn a sports headband after this match was played. Now she can actually see the ball!

Tai continues to teach himself the piano, usually songs from the most recently-watched/played movie or video game. I have so far resisted correcting him too much! Proper lessons will start in a few months with the LIMUS music academy in Lund.

He has joined a local innebandy (Swedish floor hockey) team where they practice twice per week. 

He has also been bitten by the cricket bug. Multiple weekly practices and weekend matches has taken over his life (read: our life).

Surprise (secondhand) cricket gear for Tai's birthday!

Tai graduated from the Primary Years Program this year at school.
A Big Deal in the International Baccalaureate world. June 2021.

We have decided to move the kids to a local Swedish school next year. It was not an easy decision to make, however we feel strongly that in order to integrate and be part of the community here, being able to communicate in Swedish is essential. 

The international school is taught all in English and although we love the IB curriculum, there is only Swedish language class a couple of times per week. We have hired a tutor for the last several months and the kids have been attending Swedish activities but it is still not enough to be fluent.

After a lot of research, we have enrolled them in the local Waldorfskola just a few miles from where we live. We feel the creative, outdoorsy nature of the school will provide the best environment to learn Swedish in. We have already met their teachers and some of their soon-to-be classmates. 

Matt has slipped back into the work groove with Qlik and has pretty much worked from home the entire year. 

He plays badminton regularly and will be one of the volunteer coaches for Aila's football team next season! I don't know who's more excited, Matt or Aila! 

Home office

Supporting England during the EURO 2020. June 2021.

I (Bonnie) volunteered with EOS Cares helping to organize and facilitate their social integration programs for newcomers and refugees. It meant a lot to me to do similar work as I did back in Ottawa but I also got to benefit as a newcomer myself!

I found work teaching part-time at Lund International School as a Primary Years Program teacher. It was great to be part of a team, teaching kids from diverse backgrounds and implementing the IB curriculum. We were lucky and school has always been in-person in Sweden. Besides some modifications and restrictions, school pretty much carried on as normal.

Yoga is my saving grace and I've moved my practice to online classes.

How's our Swedish?

Learning svenska is a slow process. With both of us working in English and everyone speaking perfect English (and wanting to practice with you!) we have to deliberately make time to learn and practice every day.

Matt and I attended SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) for several months before we put a pause on it for various reasons (online classes not so great for language learning, increasing work and extra-curricular commitments, catching COVID). 

We plan to enroll again, likely in the fall. For now, we listen to Radio Sweden, watch SVT television with subtitles and do our best to converse with neighbours and the parents we meet at our kids' sport matches.

The Business of Setting Up In A New Country

Ask any newbie in a foreign country and they'll tell you there is a lot of admin to do that first year. Besides the obvious language barrier (thank you Google Translate!) things in Sweden are actually extremely efficient. 

Once you have been granted the magic personnummer (personal identity number), setting up a bank account, buying home insurance, filing taxes, seeing a doctor, buying a car and just signing up for a library card or getting a points card at the local supermarket is super easy.

Sweden doesn't recognize non-EU driving licenses so both Matt and I had to do our driving tests from the very beginning (even though we both had British licenses before!) We are only allowed to drive for one year on our Canadian license so there was added pressure of a deadline. Besides the astronomical cost, we had to take 2 mandatory classes, pass a written test and then pass the practical test (and the average pass rate is 47%) - eeek! Everyone told us to concentrate on the most important parts of Swedish driving and we'd be fine: roundabouts, eco-driving and the right-hand rule. Result: we both passed everything first time round. RELIEF.

I was dreading tax season this year but we managed to complete both our Canadian and Swedish taxes without going totally insane. Keep in mind we were on our boat last year so this makes things a bit more complicated. 

I do have to say that filing your income taxes in Sweden is super easy. Everything can be done by mobile phone through an app. After going through a very thorough security log-in process, the Skatteverket (Swedish Tax Agency) will tell YOU what you owe in terms of taxes, or how much you will get back. Basically, it is all tracked through your employer and all you have to do is review the form and press 'confirm.'  I was absolutely blown away with how simple it all was. 

Next year will be exponentially easier because we'll only have Swedish taxes to do, except for declaring the sale of our Canadian property. But that should be simple, she says with utmost optimism...

Homeowners Again!

Yup, we sold our Ottawa home in January and bought a 3-bedroom apartment in Lund. I'll spare you the details of how challenging finding secure housing in Sweden is. At the end of the day, we decided that buying something of our own offered the security that renting long-term could not. 

Selling a home whilst living abroad is not simple, especially with a 6-hour time difference and everyone working from home. Thanks to a good local realtor, my dad and sister who helped sort and pack away our items, we managed to help our tenants find a new home, get all our possessions out and into a long-term storage facility, and sell the house in one week for over asking price. 

We moved into our new place in early June and have settled in nicely. Visitors welcome!

Aila has her own desk now and spends most of her time crafting.

TV-dinner in our new lounge watching EURO 2020.

Our kitchen, a quiet peaceful oasis, with views out to the farm fields and surrounding trees. Sometimes we see horses trotting by!

Balcony overlooking the other villas and apartments, all dotted with playgrounds, gardens and benches. It's all pedestrian/bike-friendly with no roads. Indoor/outdoor parking is a short walk away. This a very common setup for community buildings in Sweden where the emphasis is for a safe, inclusive and accessible neighbourhood.

We bought a second-hand dining set and it was only a short walk away!

We made 4 trips to IKEA in one week.
I think we can safely say we're IKEA'd-out.

Things We Have Learned to Appreciate

Cycling Culture

I've said it many times over the course of this year but for me, the best part about living here is the cycling culture. Travelling by bike on scenic bike paths to go shopping, to work, to activities, or just because it's so darn enjoyable is simply THE BEST. 

We should've kept track of how many kms we covered this year. The kids have cycled every single day to school (3.2 km each way) and if you had seen them one year ago with their wobbly sea legs you wouldn't have believed it was possible - they certainly didn't! 

Our balcony-turned-cycle-workshop.

FREEDOM! Aug 2020.

No need to traverse major roads when there are cycle underpasses everywhere. Sept 2020.

Setting off in the dark 8am winter morning. Jan 2021.

Even though there's only really an inch or two of snow during winter,
studded tires are a must. Feb 2021.

Ready to ride winter-style. Feb 2021.

Smartly dressed for his graduation, Tai did have to stop and change into shorts
halfway to school because his suit trousers were "too tight to cycle in." 
June 2021.


It takes a bit of organization but once you start doing it, sorting all your plastics, cardboard, metals, etc. is really easy and just part of your everyday.

Thou Shall Know How To Recycle!

The Tube Packaging

Cheese, mustard, dill sauce, even caviar... it all comes in a handy tube.

The Cheese Slicer

A mandatory kitchen tool in every Swedish household. You'd be hard-pressed to find a can-opener but a cheese slicer? There will be one or more in every Swedish kitchen drawer.

It took us a while to perfect the exact angle and pressure to cut The Perfect Cheese Slice.

Cheese is sold in humongous blocks here. The variety is mind-boggling. 

Fika Treats

Cakes, tarts, cookies, kanelbullar... Too many to name and describe. Suffice to say my palate AND waistline have lovingly expanded thanks to these ridiculously rich and tasty delicacies. It's not like you can have fika and NOT indulge in a sweet treat. Well you could but I don't (or can't, or won't; haven't decided which one it is yet).

Swedes take their sweet treats seriously. There are certain pastries that are for certain celebrations and then there are certain pastries that have a day named after it. For example, March 25th (Matt's birthday) falls on National Waffle Day!! 

Luckily we bike so much, it certainly lessons the guilt!

Semla Day, always on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. It is absolutely sinful.

National Delicacies

Say the word "surströmming" to any Swede and you will most likely be met with a face of disgust and repulsion.

"But WHY would you try surströmming?" was the reaction I got multiple times.

I had heard about this fermented fish delicacy before arriving to Sweden and curiosity got the better of me. Could it really be THAT bad? Was it so disgusting that even dogs wouldn't eat it?

I had seen enough YouTube videos to see that the majority of people who did try surströmming didn't enjoy the experience. However, upon doing a bit of research, I also realized that most of those people on YouTube videos did not eat surströmming the way it was meant to be eaten.

You are meant to eat it as a sandwich or wrap with chopped onions, crème fraiche, potatoes and dill, all washed down with snapps. 

So in the autumn we held a little surströmming party with some friends, locals and internationals. It was an experience to say the least, and I think I speak on everyone's behalf that we won't be repeating a similar party again. But hey, at least we gave it a go!

And Finally.... The Lagom Mindset and Lifestyle

Not too little, not too much, just the right amount.

That describes lagom. It permeates Swedish mindset, work culture and just everyday life. 

Being adverse to confrontation or disharmony, the aim is to have as little stress or pressure as possible whilst taking pleasure in the simple daily on-goings. Like lighting a candle for a meal and having healthy potted plants to create a peaceful and happy home.

I have remarked to friends back home that life is easy here, predictable and (for the most part), efficient systems are put in place so that you can live Your Best Life. 

Whether that's taking time off for yourself and trying a new business idea with the guarantee of being able to return to your old job if things don't work out, using up your very generous parental (16 months!) or holiday leave (starts at 5 weeks!), making use of a government stipend to start a new club or hobby in your neigbourhood, attending post-secondary education for free and so much more. 

But possibly my favourite by far is the free, hot, healthy lunches provided in every single school and daycare. Enough said.

On that note, I'll end here. I think that's enough for a one year recap! 

Tack så mycket Sverige for embracing us and making our first year a real joy. We have made new friends, learned a lot and feel ready to dive into our second year with renewed energy, curiosity and excitement.