Tag archives for Skåne

5 Lessons Expats Can Learn from Modern-Day Vikings

A little while ago, my stalwart companion in all potentially corny Swedish adventures (Steve) and I went to the Viking Reserve in Southern Sweden, and I keep thinking about the Vikings we met there.

When they spoke about living as the Vikings did, the passion they have for their lifestyle was clear in every word, and I found myself thinking about the lessons that expats could learn from the way they embrace the constant newness and discovery that comes with their lives as Vikings. Read more » >>

Mean Mr. Mushroom

I have a confession to make. Even though last year’s mushroom picking adventure (my first time!) was awesome, just unbelievably fun and relaxing, it could have been better in one small way. We could have found more mushrooms.

Last year, we hunted in three different forests over a span of two and a half days, and while I had a great time learning about the different mushrooms and trying to find them, we really didn’t have that much to show for ourselves at the end of the day—just a little half-full bag of chanterelle and “brown soup” mushrooms, plus one giant Porcini (which is called a “Karl Johan” mushroom here).

Not that I’m complaining or anything, obviously, because we had such a great time. It was one of the highlights of my year, I swear. This time around, however, I really wanted a big haul, a huge sack of mushrooms so big it’s worth posting on Facebook and calling your mother six time zones away.

Now that's what I'm talking about. This year's haul of "forest gold," or chanterelle mushrooms. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I had already seen some status updates on Facebook bragging about mushroom hunting expeditions that had resulted in several kilos of freshly-picked chanterelles. It’s with some shame that I have to admit that I was not happy for them. I was jealous, jealous to the point of being resentful, jealous to the point of making several threats against them in my head. If there aren’t any mushrooms left by the time we get around to making our trip out to the woods, I’m going to…

It wasn’t pretty. I’m shocked and appalled by my own vileness when faced with a limited supply of some natural resource. That’s how important the mushroom picking is, though. (Or maybe it’s just me.) In any case, it was making me seriously worried that the evil Kate Wiseman would rear her ugly head and behave inappropriately in front of unsuspecting friends.

God bless Sweden, though, and the ridiculously rainy summer we had, because as it turns out, there’s no rain without a mushroom rainbow. Apparently Skåne had one of the rainiest summers of the last 50 years, with the corollary effect of a multitude of mushrooms in the forests. Phew.  (I am getting a little sick of the extreme weather, though. I would take a regular winter and a regular summer with great pleasure at this point. Stop testing my love, Sweden.)

So this past weekend, finally, my boyfriend and I and four other friends went mushroom picking in Österlen, the southeastern part of Skåne known for its rolling green hills, its apples, and its artists. The second we stepped out of the car, I knew we were in for a good time: the air smelled of forest and mushrooms. That night, the men made dinner for us and we all went to bed early, eager to get an early start on the mushroom picking the next day.

Of course that sounds really romantic, and it was a nice idea, but what really happened is that we woke up fairly early for a Saturday and then proceeded to have a two hour breakfast, followed by brewing a little extra coffee for a mid-mushroom hunting fika and packing up supplies for the dogs and then finally getting on our way around noon. Typical.

Lots of nature... not so many edible mushrooms. Photos: Kate Wiseman

The first half of the day was fairly unsuccessful. We saw a lot of mushrooms (and blackberries… yum!), but not many of the chanterelles we were looking for. Adam suggested that we take a strategic fika break and start again in a new section of the forest, which turned out to be a great idea.

Seriously, I love Swedish people. There's no such thing as a bad time for coffee. That's all I'm going to say. Coffee and cinnamon buns in the forest. Life is good. Photos: Kate Wiseman

An hour or so later, our designated mushroom bag was legitimately heavy. Score! Major happiness. At that point, we were all ready to head back to the cabin and relax from our extremely taxing day in nature.

Mushroom hunters! Photos: Kate Wiseman

This is the other really great part of mushroom hunting. Once you’re done, you’re in a cabin in the woods with your friends. It’s a lot like the atmosphere after a day of skiing. Everyone’s a little tired and smells funny, but everyone’s happy about the day and ready to hang out.

The smartphone addicts in the house played Wordfeud, a few tired souls took naps, and I continued with the book I’m reading, Broderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart) by Astrid Lindgren, and took advantage of the assembled Swedes by asking for translations every paragraph or so.

Then it was time for dinner, for chanterelles cooked in butter, for a giant bowl of chili, for wine and a long night of Trivial Pursuit from 1984. The outdated Trivial Pursuit made answering certain geography questions much easier… the USSR and Yugoslavia are so much easier to guess than the parts they’re broken into today! And yet, as always, it was generally impossible to answer the majority of the questions.

In the end, though, the best part of the weekend turned out to be something other than the mushrooms—it was the feelings of familiarity, of comfort, of “this is easy.” Those are the first things to go when you move to another country and everything is a little bit different, and those feelings have always been the first things I’ve noticed when I go home to my family in the States. Little by little, however, I’m feeling that way here.

Last year was new and fun and exciting, but this year is better in a different way. We’re building traditions, and I’m feeling more and more confident speaking Swedish. I’m even slowly but surely starting to understand jokes and cultural references. I don’t feel like I’m worrying about first impressions anymore or struggling to take part in conversations or just be myself. It’s taken a while to find that sense of comfort, and it feels good.

Adventures in Skåne: A Trip to the Viking Reserve

Steve, my co-conspirator in many Swedish-themed adventures, has been talking about going to the Viking village outside of Malmö for months. Months, I tell you. We had never quite found the right time, though. Either our schedules didn’t work, or the park wasn’t open, or it was suddenly pouring rain… you get my drift.

Steve's affinity for the Vikings is long-standing. Photo: Steve Marr

On Tuesday, however, the stars finally aligned for our trip to Foteviken to visit the Viking Reserve. A train, a bus, and a walk through a construction site later, we were on location and ready for some outsized old timey experiences.

Here’s the first thing I didn’t realize about the Viking Reserve: When they say “Reserve,” they mean it in the “an area of land set aside for people to live in” way, which is to say that there are real Vikings that work and live their lives there. They build their own houses out of wood and clay, weave and sew their own clothes, and cobble their own shoes.

It said as much in my Lonely Planet guidebook, but I didn’t really believe it. I can barely stand the cold of winter, and I do my best to swaddle myself in wool clothes and modern conveniences. As Steve and I wandered around, we were on the hunt for evidence of people living among the chickens, intricately constructed fences, and ominous spider webs.

Viking carvings, Viking fences, Viking weather vanes, Viking ship-sized spiderwebs. Photos: Kate Wiseman

We walked through the village for awhile, speculating about the functions of the different things we saw lying around: plants that had been carefully arranged to dry, cooking instruments, different structures throughout the property. There were runes and carved figures everywhere, and we wondered if people knew the meanings behind them or if they were just reproductions of things that had been found in history books. And in the meantime, we found some props to play with.

Steve is the philosopher Viking. I am clearly just out of my mind. Photos: Kate Wiseman and Steve Marr

After wandering around the village for about an hour, we found our proof of people living in the village in the form of two Vikings, Jessica and Peter. They were both beyond awesome.

Real life Vikings. Photos: Kate Wiseman

Talking with them was by far the best part of our trip. They told us about the work they do at the Viking reserve—they’re part of a small group of paid employees—as well as what goes on at the reserve after hours.

People who live in the community are members of a Viking Association in Sweden, and while there is no entrance exam, joining a Viking community is tantamount to enrolling in an immersive program in Viking history, culture, and traditions. The members work together on projects to improve the community, and they have even built all their own houses. Everyone has their own specialty—Jessica’s is carpentry, and Peter’s is as a blacksmith—­but they end up exchanging their knowledge with each other.

At night, the Vikings come together to make food according to recipes from the time and spend time together. Some people do crafts, while others sing. Storytelling is a common source of entertainment. People come and people go, and the community is especially small during the winter months.

As the two kept talking, I couldn’t help but feel that we were having a discussion with people from another age. Even though some of the members of the Viking community at Fotoviken have day jobs and commitments in “the real world,” the world that more dedicated Vikings like Jessica and Peter live in is real: overlapping with our lives, and yet somehow separate. It’s hard to believe that people willingly choose to live on a windy bluff by the sea in Sweden, but they do, and you can hear the pleasure they take in having chosen a simple, deliberate, and yet undeniably labor-intensive lifestyle.

Although the buildings and exhibition at Foteviken were interesting, I left more impressed by the people and the spirit of the Viking Reserve than anything else. Before we went, I thought there was a strong chance that the experience would be totally kitschy, and I was both glad and surprised to be met with people who were more earnest than anything else. A little crazy, granted, but earnest in their craziness.

Viking beer! Photos: Kate Wiseman and Steve Marr

Imagine our happiness when we realized we could wrap up our successful day with a Foteviken Viking beer and a salmon pie! (Extreme happiness.) For future visitors, the beer was really sour (authentically so? who knows!) and probably not worth the money, but it had runes on the label, so it was still a satisfying purchase. Skål to the Vikings!


Brief Update from Southern Sweden

My proper blog post is going up tomorrow, but I just had to share this story and video with you.

I know that North America is currently besieged by a nasty heat wave, but here in Skåne (the southernmost state of Sweden), we’ve been enduring a prolonged cold snap. Plummeting temperatures, wind, miserable amounts of rain, even a little hail here and there—all of a sudden, I realized that July is almost over, and then it will be August, and then it’s the fall, which means IT’S ALMOST WINTER AGAIN. Ahhhhh!!!

(Don’t mind me, I’m just a little traumatized from last year.)

Well, we FINALLY got some sunshine yesterday, and it was warm enough to wear sandals again, so life is good. I worked until about 7:30 last night in Malmö, and just as I was closing up the office around 8:00, I heard what sounded like an accordion being played in close proximity. Is there a radio in here? I wondered, and took another look through the office. I couldn’t find anything, so I locked up, and then it started again.

I crossed the street, looked over the edge into the canal, and there it was! An evening canal boat full of guests, drinking beer and wine, just cruising through Malmö to the sweet music of an old man and his accordion- and guitar-playing friends.

Check it out!

How awesome is that? When I saw this, I thought: Now this is Sweden. What a great way to spend a summer evening in Malmö.

If you can’t watch the video right now (not that you would be reading blogs at work or anything… right??), here’s a photo.

A lovely evening in Malmö. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I hope you are enjoying summer wherever you are—stay cool, keep warm, whatever it takes!


Some of my best expat memories have been made when I got to switch roles from visitor to host and show friends and family my new home. Of course, it always feels good to be the local expert for once instead of the newbie. Navigating the city without a map! Identifying the best coffee shop in town! Knowing which bus will take you to your destination! All important and satisfying skills.

Another thing I like leading up to the visit itself is that having guests gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you truly love about the place you’re living. Just think: you may have anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks to squeeze in all the things you want your visitor to experience and know about the place you live. You have to distill all the highlights of the time you’ve spent abroad to make a tour of what is now your home. What would you show a visitor that has never been to your country before? What strikes you as unique about your city?  You’ll get to see what you really value, and it may end up surprising you.

Furthermore, it’s always interesting to see how the list of “must do” activities evolves depending on the visitor. It’s one thing when you have visitors from another city or another state—in most cases, there’s probably just as many familiar aspects of your city as there are new or exotic aspects. When you live in a foreign country, the stakes are a little higher. You have to put some serious effort into balancing the “here is where I work” and “these are my friends” parts of the visit with some serious tourist action. When I lived in Vienna, I did everything from the typical “Top Ten” tour of the city to a historical exploration of imperial residences to the underground foodie tour of open air markets and ethnic buffets. I even had one memorable weekend in which I shuttled all around the city with a friend to see the homes and workplaces of different classical musicians. My visitors’ different approaches to the city informed the approach we took to seeing it together as a team, and in the process I always ended up seeing a new side of my own home.

I haven’t had any visitors to Sweden yet, but I will soon, and I can’t wait. My best friend from high school is arriving on Saturday, and I have just under two weeks to show her as much as I can about Sweden and my life here. I’m also really looking forward to hearing her impressions of Sweden and my life here. She is just coming off 1.5 years of working in South Korea as an English teacher, and from what I’ve heard so far, I think that Sweden—and the sometimes sleepy Skåne region in particular—will have a dramatically different feel from where she has been living recently.

Katie Harger with goat cheese, circa 2005. I imagine that the wide range of dairy products available in Sweden will be among the most appreciated differences between Sweden and South Korea.

I started making a list of all the things I want to do with her, and then I had to divide it into different sections for Lund, Malmö, and beyond! (read: other places in Skåne, Copenhagen, and Stockholm) to make it more manageable.  As you might guess, the sections for Lund and Malmö alone—the area where I live—have already exceeded the realm of what’s possible to do in the time we have together, let alone leaving any time to see other parts of Sweden or the surrounding area—you know, silly tourist attractions, just little places like Copenhagen and Stockholm. I don’t know how we’ll be able to pick and choose, but somehow we’ll make it all work. Maybe I can convince her to stay longer…  (wink wink?!)

Obligatory Tourist Destination: Lund's Domkyrka. Photo by elsamu (CC BY NC ND)

More than anything, though, I’m really looking forward to being able to share my experiences as an expat with her instead of trying to describe it all in words. There are so many small details that create the sense of a place—the way people move through the streets, traffic sounds, street vendor food smells, the volume and tone people use when talking to each other, the colors people paint their houses and in which they dress themselves, and more, and more, and more. All these details can be perceived at the same time and often unconsciously as you move through the streets: my friend might appreciate my explanations from time to time, but I think that for the most part it will be enough for her to soak it all in without relying on me as an intermediary. I can’t wait until she arrives at the airport on Saturday, to share the place I live with my friend, and for us to experience this country in a new way together.

Bicycling: it's a way of life in Lund. Photo by Nicoze (CC BY NC ND)

Stay tuned to read about the still-evolving list of things to see and do in Lund and Malmö!