I’m back in Europe! Yeay! I can’t believe it’s already been three weeks. Certainly makes a difference to slow down and go to one place at a time for a little while. Currently, that place is a farm in Sweden, near a tiny village called Sjuntorp. Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else in Sweden.
Let’s back up a second. The story begins with my flight from the USA. I already wrote a post about how I got the ticket for $200 from Oakland to Stockholm, which you can read here. I also mentioned something about falling off a horse in my last post about my Pacific Coast Road Trip. So without further ado, here’s the scoop.
I touched down in Stockholm at 3 PM local time. It was 0° outside and snowing softly. I purchased a local bus ticket to Helenelund Station for 72 Swedish krona (still by far the cheapest way to get out of the airport) and then transferred to Morby Station on the same ticket. I arrived a couple hours before my couchsurfing host finished at work, so I bought a carton of yoghurt for 17.20 krona (cheap and healthy) at the local market and then sat down to read a novel until my host arrived. By the way, you can convert all monetary units using the widget in the sidebar!
I was honored to be Erika’s first couchsurfing guest. She lives a little ways outside Gamla Stan (Old Town), but in a beautiful part of Stockholm. Well, technically there’s hardy a part of Stockholm that isn’t beautiful, which is why it was voted the first European Green Capital. You can read all about that in my original post on Stockholm here. To get back to Erika, she lives at the top of her apartment building with a great view of the snow-covered landscape. She’s vegan and made me some fantastic meals. And she also introduced me to EuroVision, the European music contest which has launched stars like ABBA and Celine Dion. We watched an episode and then talked for awhile before I passed out from exhaustion. I’d only slept a couple hours on the flight, so it was something like 6 AM for me.
The next day she said she needed to go do some work at the family farm, and allowed me to come with! Her family has several horses and they needed some exercise. Her mom allowed me to ride one of the horses (an Arabian purebred trained for endurance racing) and everything was going great until the horse got spooked and bolted down an ice-covered hill. I stayed on, but at the bottom of the slope the horse slipped on the ice and crashed down with me still on. Don’t worry, both the horse and I are fine. Just a few bruises. My tablet on the other hand didn’t fare so well. Don’t know what possessed me to take it along, but it doesn’t seem to like the weight of a horse bending it. Luckily only the screen that was damaged, and after a week I was able to get it repaired. Unexpected expenses will always be the bane of travelers!
After the farm, we went to her parent’s lakeside house, where I had my first Swedish fika. That’s like an English tea, but with coffee. They have them all the time, and usually serve semla or cinnamon rolls. I don’t know why I didn’t have a fika the last time I was in Sweden – it’s about the most Swedish thing you can do. Boy are the pastries good, but the coffee can be a bit strong – they like their coffee black. After that I took a nap – still combating the jet lag, while the family watched an eagle eat its lunch on the frozen lake. Damn, I wish I had seen that!
The next day, I took the underground down to Stockholm (36 krona) and walked around for several hours. I explored Gamla Stan, Sergel Square, City Hall and the surrounding market streets. I had a muffin (29 krona) at the Espresso House for lunch, and a salmon wrap (72 krona) at Le Café next to the train station for dinner.
I was still battling with my jet lag, but I wasn’t about to repeat my fiasco in Florence by sleeping on the platform while I missed my train. I just kept walking around, which wasn’t easy since I had all my bags with me. Oh, I forgot to mention. When I was back in the US, I got rid of as much as I could out of my backpack to see if I could reduce the 40 kg I was carrying around the world with me. The only thing I picked up while I was there was a hammock, and I left my blanket in exchange. However, my mini laptop was threatening to die any day, so I choose to bring my bigger laptop, which is heavy, and put the weight right back up to nearly 40 kg! When I was checking in for my flight, the family in front of me were having difficulty because their bags were overweight, and they were being charged $25/kg over the allowed 20. When my bag was weighed, it came to 23 kg! The man said nothing and just put it on the conveyor belt. Then he had me weigh my carry-on, which was only supposed to be 10 kg. Mine was 13. He tagged the bag, but again didn’t say anything about the weight. And that wasn’t including the 4 kg in the two small bags I had on me. So that was a relief, except to my back! When will I learn. Oh, the answer to that is: in Edinburgh. I’ll be there soon to set up a home-base, and then I’ll leave the stuff behind that I don’t need for each trip. Like I don’t need my winter clothes for SE Asia, or a tent in London!
But I digress, as usual. Back to the story. The train from Stockholm to Gothenburg was the new MTR Express, operating for the past year and unlike anything I’ve been on previously. It’s like a high-class jet, but also the cheapest way to get between these two cities (only 199 krona). Maybe it’s just because I usually try to get the cheapest train, but I can assure you there’s nothing in SE Asia this nice! Nor in Romania. The fancy ones in Italy come close, but I only landed on one of those by accident (check out the story on Florence mentioned above). Oh, and the MTR Express is fast too.
Jan, the man from the farm, was at the train station at 11 PM to pick me up and we made it to house before midnight. It was snowing that night, which was the last snow of the season. I’d arrived just in time. By that I mean I got to see the snow. Sweden is beautiful when it’s green, but snow will always have a special place in my heart.
It turns out I’m the first volunteer the farm has had via Workaway. Other volunteers they’ve had have been friends or friends of friends. There is certainly a lot to do, much more than the usual maximum of 25 hours a week agreed to on Workaway. But boy is it worth it. Anne, Jan’s wife, is a Parelli horsemanship trainer, and has given me a couple lessons while I’ve been working here. Besides, just getting to work with the horses is good enough for me.
Chores on the farm include feeding the horses three times a day, filling up the five hay bags for the evening, mucking the stalls and yard, preparing the horse supplements (horses get vitamins too) and cleaning the area. Other horse chores are mending the fences, upgrading the bridges over the numerous streams, grooming and preparing them for the fair that’s going on this weekend in Gothenburg. There isn’t any riding involved, but that’s because Anne says the horses are still too wild to ride. I think a small part might be because of my recent fall, despite her comment that any good rider has fallen at least 100 times. But I’m not complaining; I had a great ride with Erika!
Other jobs I’ve done on the farm are renovating the room I’m staying in (installing the closet and ceiling trim, and painting the whole room), de-rusting and repainting the barbecue, painting the new bed frame, making purchase runs to the nearest town (Trollhättan), picking up and dropping off the other volunteer from the train station, cooking, dishes, general cleaning and anything else that’s asked of me. Like I said, there’s no shortage of work to do.
Aside from the room and board, the family has been incredibly accommodating. In addition to picking me up from the train station late at night, Jan had a friend who repaired my tablet for free (except for the price of the screen, which wasn’t cheap), we ordered takeaway pizza one night, we watched a movie another night on the home entertainment system, Jan made Swedish meatballs when Anne was away one day (she’s vegetarian), and the list goes on. Now that the barbecue is nearly ready to go, we should have some more meat roasts soon too. Speaking of that pizza, it turns out part of the reason they chose this farm is because of the pizza parlor in Sjuntorp. It doesn’t really compare to Italian pizza, or American pizza for that matter, but it’s unique and quite nice. After all, who ever heard of adding cucumbers, kebab meat, french fries, onions, mushrooms, pepperoncini…basically everything you find at a kebab thrown on the pizza.
Currently there is another volunteer on the farm with her own horse which she has been training. We share in the horse chores, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to when working out in the fields mending fences. The property is quite large – 12 hectares, which is about 30 acres. Honestly, there’s nothing better than being out in nature everyday, working with the animals. But the best part of Sweden has got to be the sunsets. My first day arriving to Stockholm last year, I saw the most impressive sunset ever! Yet it wasn’t isolated. Everyday on the farm, I end up running outside right after dinner to get a photo of the day’s epic sunset.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned Sjuntorp (pronounced hyoon-torp). It’s the village we are nearby. The other day I ran into town to get some exercise. It’s just about 4 km to the far side of town where the coop is. I went through the fields and across ravines only because I couldn’t find the trail I had been told about. In town, I picked up some snacks from the market, including a bag of vacuum cleaners. They’re actually called dammsugare, but that’s just Swedish for vacuum cleaner. Damn are they good. These pastries go back to the practice of bakers collecting up crumbs from the bakery to use as fillers in pastries the next day. The current formula is cookie crumbs, butter, cacao and punsch liquor, covered in marzipan with the ends dipped in chocolate. Doesn’t that sound divine?!
So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m here for another two weeks, and then I’m back to my favorite city in the world – Edinburgh! Just booked my tickets for a whopping $59, straight from Gothenburg to Edinburgh. Technically the ticket was only $17, but a checked-in bag with RyanAir costs another $38. Instead, I paid $42 to upgrade to a “first-class” ticket, which included the first seat on the plane and priority booking, as well as the bag. Not that I really needed that for a flight which is only 30 minutes. I fly out on April 9th, and already have a hostel booked for a month that I’ll be working at. But that’s only 20 hours a week, and my top priority in Edinburgh is to get my British citizenship and find a job to make some money. It’s time to replenish the funds and belong to the country I love the most. It’s been nearly one year since I first landed in Edinburgh, and I’m long overdue to return. Oh, and I’m finally going to finish my book. The story about an immortal stuck on a prison planet isn’t going to write itself.
Expenses on a farm
Total travel expenses in Sweden for March (so far): $185.06
- Meals in Stockholm: $16.01
- Snacks and breakfast food at coop in Sjuntorp: $91.25
- Bus tickets in Stockholm: $17.85
- Flight to Edinburgh: $58.95
- Train to Gothenburg (purchased in February): $23.99
Lodging: $0, thanks to Couchsurfing and Workaway
See, you can afford to travel too!