July 8, 2015
Sweden and Family
Finally, the months of planning are coming together. On the morning of the 8th, we met Vicki and Dave in the Paris airport. They have been traveling with the Viking Cruise line from Prague to Paris for the last couple weeks. Both of us have covered some of the same ground in Germany over the last month. It was great to see them in good spirits and health as we are entering the second phase of our trip. Time to meet the family.
We breezed through the Stockholm airport and found our second cousin, Christina holding a small Swedish flag as we emerged from customs. We were home. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect as our communications have been somewhat spotty. It didn’t matter. She started to immediately charm us.
We needed to drive to her home in Vasteras which is inland from Stockholm. The city is one of Sweden’s largest although tiny compared to Stockholm. We drove to her home where she raised her three children and keeps track of her husband Gunnar. Both Christina and Gunnar are physicians. Gunnar is a fully retired General Practitioner while Christina, the Internal Medicine specialist works one day a week for the next few months before hanging up her lab coat. Their home of some three decades is located in a green and relaxing suburb of the city. Christina takes pride in her beautiful garden while Gunnar focuses on home IT issues and working out at the “Sweating and Healthy” club. Their mutual hobby is Argentian Tango dancing. They manage to squeeze in dancing two days a week. They also seem to travel the world doing the Tango as they go. They are both great fun.
We are spending two days at their home before heading into Stockholm to meet more of the family and see the wonderful city. In the short breaks between eating we have been catching up on family history and learning more about our ancestral homeland. In brief, Christina, Vicki and I share the same great grandfather and great grandmother. My 18 year old grandfather Carl Benson left for the U.S. in 1907 to start a new life. He was on his own. I have recounted elsewhere his life story so I won’t repeat what I have written elsewhere. But visiting the places of his childhood and understanding his life experiences in Sweden will help immensely to improve the narrative.
Their vivacious daughter Elisabet joined us shortly after arrival. She is the mother of Christina and Gunnar’s two grandchildren. She and her husband live mainly on a small island in the archepalago offshore from Stockholm. Visiting the island this time is not possible because of time. We will have to return. After coffee and tea we headed out to a local outdoor museum that contained a collection of historic buildings. These included farms, stores and schools from the last couple centuries. It was wonderful to see the types of buildings that my great grandparents lived in. Log cabins were everywhere. After all, Swedish pioneers in the U.S. Did their best to teach other Americans the utility of logs.
We returned to their home and enjoyed a dinner of moose and venison and other Swedish foods. Gunnar made sure that we had an opportunity to learn some of his schnapps drinking songs. It made for an enjoyable but long day.
July 9, 2015
Life in Sweden
After sleeping in a bit, we were ready for the day. Christina and Gunnar wanted us to get a better feel for life in modern Sweden. We spent the morning touring the downtown of Vasteras. What continued to strike us was the relative calm and peacefulness of this city of some 120,000 people. There was almost no traffic noise. This is such a contrast to other European cities that we have visited. While people ride bikes, they do not present a clear and present danger to pedestrians like in Germany.
Our first visit was to the Vasteras Cathedral. As in most Lutheran countries, the monarch is the titular head of the church. And while there is a legal separation of church and state, the legacy of state involvement is easy to see. Symbols of nobility are everywhere. What was striking was the Baroque legacy that was maintained in the decorative elements. It was certainly no Bavarian Baroque like Weis Kirche but the altarpiece was still stunning. We walked around over the graves of the prominent parishioners including a king who had to be surgically shortened to fit his sarcophagus. The cathedral is where in 1527 that it was announced that Sweden would cut its ties with the Pope. The Swedish King beat Henry VIII to the punch. People can still voluntarily pay a tax to support the state church. Around two thirds of the Swedes chose to do this in this high tax country. While church attendance is low, the church still provides an organizing part of their lives.
We wandered around some of the historic building that are maintained downtown. You tell by their distinction red paint. I be,I eve many of these are occupied by members of the artistic community who agre to maintain the buildings in their traditional appearance. We were also shown one of the several Tango venues that Gunna and Christina use. The Swedes love their gardens that grown profusely in the long daylight and ample rain during the summer.
We managed to obtain some quality souvenirs at the Tourist Information office. They all were gift wrapped by the smiling staff who all spoke perfect English. We returned home for lunch of reindeer and potatoes. We have missed no meals in Sweden. in fact, we are even prepared for the afternoon cake and coffee at 4. We needed to be ready for Smorgasboard that Christina was preparing for us.
We went to a local remnant of the Vikimgs in the afternoon with Christina. Gunnar stayed home to bake another cake. There is a burial mound that remains unexcavated along with smaller mounds that have been plundered. There were also stones arranged in the shape of ships. They are believed to have places where the Viking Thing met. The Thing was a meeting of free men who discussed politics and tried their peers. Many medievalists believe the Thing was the actual beginning of English Common Law. Anyway, we tried out the maze and tried to decipher the rune stone.
The Smorgasboard was amazing. It seemed that there were at least 20 dishes. Kind of a Swedish tapas display. I enjoyed the pickled herring both in the mustard sauce and without. We begged off the stinky fish. Even the Swedes say that you need to eat it outdoors. It comes in a sealed,can that expands in the heat. kind of scary. We passed and we’re not pressed. The schnapps were under control tonight.
The abalone shell was sent by my grandfather from Laguna to his sister, Christina’s mom sometime long ago. It is a family treasure.