Smartly dressed women biking to work, fathers in a pre-meeting rush strolling their squealing toddlers to dagis (day care): Stockholm is alive and buzzing with activity after another briskly lackadaisical summer is nearing its finale. Urbanites walk with purpose and a post-summer glow after some rest in their respective country homes and family farms. I love the early fall with its promise of new beginnings and exciting opportunities.
Our summer in Sweden has been one of the most magical and memorable family experiences. We had the good fortune to spend the past 8 days road-tripping along the west coast and Skåne region, combining a few fun official activities with some downtime as a family.
We began our adventure in Vadstena at the gracious invitation of Minister Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation. Vadstena is a bucolic village in the county of Östergotland nestled on Lake Vättern. Vadstena’s lore is rooted in the legacy of St. Bridget, Sweden’s first female saint, who hailed from the town and whose namesake remains on the ancient monastery near the center of the town. Vadstena also boasts a strong connection to King Gustav Vasa, oft-called the father of modern Sweden and the one to free the Swedes from the Danes and break the Kalmar Union between the Nordic states. The King built Vadstenaslott in 1545, one of the oldest and arguably most preserved castles in Sweden.
It was this very castle where Minister Carlsson invited us for a night at the opera. Walking across the cobbled stones and stiff bridge surrounded by a moat, I truly felt the weight of history and the rebellious voices of Vadstena past dancing around us. The opera was put on by the Vadstena Academy, a progressive musical institution which focuses on cultivating young talents. The evening was magnetic, with the magnificent soprano piercing through the thick, old walls and deeply impressing the entranced audience. It was so refreshing to see so many young faces flawlessly playing their instruments and singing in a way that matched any voice I had ever heard in the toniest of opera houses or on television.
We woke up early in the morning the next day, packing our daughter, my 15-year-old brother and my father, into the joyously cramped SUV and headed to Ystad. In this old fishing and port town, we experienced a clash of centuries-old with sleek modernity. We were invited by the Mayor of Lund, Ms. Annika Annerby Jansson, to the annual Ystad Sweden Jazz festival. This year the festival was commemorating the American icon Quincy Jones, a man who has had an enormous impact on the cultural façade and history of America. Not only did we have a chance to meet Mr. Jones, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself seated next to him at a fantastic fresh fish meal where I learned of his philanthropic involvements and youth mentorship.
In the evening, our senses were again sated by the mellifluous harmony of both American and Swedish jazz singers. Music brings people together like few things can, and the performances and conversations that evening were truly unifying.
We spent the next 5 days in Ystad trolling the sandy beaches, biking, reading, jogging and swimming with our little girl. Mark and my brother even jumped into the frigid Baltic after a long walk which brought peals of laughter to me and my daughter. It was a fantastic get-away and wonderful opportunity to further explore the stunning Swedish countryside. Now we are back, slightly wistful for the end of warm weather but ready and excited to get to work!