Sweden was the second country I visited and is the country I have been to the most times. I first went there when I was 4 years old, and most of my childhood holidays were based around Sweden, occasionally combined with Norway, Denmark or Finland. But mainly Sweden. So the majority of the images and holiday memories in my mind from those years are of Sweden.
We would drive to Harwich or Felixstowe to the ferry port, board the ferry in our camper van, and travel on it for 24 hours to Göteborg (Gothenburg). And for two weeks we’d drive around Sweden, stopping at a different campsite each night, looking at the sights during the day. Sometimes getting rained on, sometimes enjoying glorious sunshine for days on end.
Wandering around small Swedish towns, looking for rock carvings in forests, being devoured by hungry midges next to lakes, or going up water towers to look at views (Örebrö). Endless driving on long roads with nothing but trees in sight (disappointingly never a moose). Canals and iron works, rune stones in fields, and campsite after campsite. Red roofed houses, farms and fields everywhere. Lakes surrounded by pine trees and birches, wooden jetties and lakeside cabins.
At the time I was jealous of all my school friends, with their holidays in Mallorca and the holiday penpals they acquired. But actually, two weeks of reading, playing on swings and slides, writing a holiday diary, looking at lakes and eating simple food in a camper van sounds lovely and peaceful to me now. And I suspect those camping holidays with their daily changing scenery were in part responsible for my urge to go backpacking in my twenties!
I have of course been back to Sweden as an adult. A couple of times for work, including a nice trip to Stockholm with its endearing little islands. (And sampling some of the traditional local beverages!) And now my parents own a cottage there, so I get to visit a part of the country that I’d not been to before – most recently as part of our long weekend across the water in Copenhagen.
Sweden is a quiet place, or at least it is the way I have always experienced it. And as I’ve got older I’ve realised that this is a good thing, not something boring. It’s a place where I can go and switch off from everyday life, appreciate the scenery around me, and recharge and go back home refreshed. And because it reminds me of my childhood, it’s somewhere that will always be important to me.