Walking On Air: A Trip to Sweden

Today PG Roxette released their latest (second) single, ‘Walking on Air’, and this seemed a good opportunity for me to reflect further on my recent trip to Sweden. For those who don’t know, PG Roxette is an evolution of Roxette, with Helena Josefsson taking on the primary role of the female vocals, replacing Marie Fredriksson who tragically died in 2019 as a result of her brain tumour. So far, I’m really enjoying the new tracks and like the way it feels like Roxette without trying to replicate what Marie did as Helena is bringing her own vocal strengths to the tracks (I’m yet to hear PG Roxette do one of Roxette’s original songs).

The timing of the single release and its title is particularly relevant to this post. First, throughout the whole trip to Sweden, which was largely a road trip (or, a joyride, if you will), the only music that was played in the car was by Swedish acts – Roxette (inc. PG Roxette), Per Gessle, Marie Fredriksson, Helena Josefsson, Gyllene Tider, and ABBA. This will help explain (although it does get mentioned in one of the last images), the music that accompanies the Instagram reals below. Second, although the trip involved a lot of driving and walking on the ground, one view in particular left me feeling like I was walking on air.

There were two main purposes for the trip to Sweden. First, I went with my mother as part of the celebrations for her 80th birthday. Her mother was Swedish and so we have links with Sweden and this trip was an opportunity to visit an additional place (she had been to Stockholm and Gothenburg before) where our ancestors came from. Second, it was a chance for me to visit places connected to Roxette, Per Gessle, and Marie Fredriksson. While Frankie Goes To Hollywood were my band of the 80s, and Berlin, Pet Shop Boys, and others (including Japanese music) have been with me as well, Roxette has been a band that I have followed for a long time. It wasn’t until after Marie’s death that I went on a musical adventure to find out more about her solo work, and then, in turn, Per’s, Gyllene Tider (the band Per was in before Roxette) and then Helena Josefsson (who appeared on some of Per’s work and, as noted above, has gone on to be the lead female voice in PG Roxette).

I have to say that the main feeling I had at the end of my trip was ‘why haven’t I been to Sweden more before?’ (I’d been for short (less than one day) trips before (to Malmo & Helsingborg)… both on Sundays, so everything was closed. Sweden is absolutely amazing and the people are great too.

Rather than post lots pictures here, I will provide links to the relevant Instagram reels (video). The first of these covers some of the highlights of the first two days in Stockholm – where one of the main things was going to the ABBA museum (my mum was an ABBA fan and we also went to the ABBA concert as part of her birthday celebrations in August). Another thing that I was a highlight of the visit to Stockholm is included in the final real for reasons that will become clear.

The main thing that struck me about Stockholm was how clean and easy to get around it was. So many people cycle (at least when it’s sunny, like it was when we were there). There are so many beautiful buildings (the advantage of being a country that hasn’t been involved in World Wars is the lack of impact of bombings on old buildings). We arrived on the day of the general election, so there were a lot political posters around and, due to how the result went, led to some interesting discussions with people I talked to.

One thing that I did in Stockholm was buy Marie Fredriksson’s autobiography. I’d been learning Swedish on Duolingo for about 3 years so that I’d be able to read this book (and understand more of the lyrics in the Swedish songs that I listen to) as it’s always been said that although it had been translated into some other languages, there would not be an English version (more on this later).

After Stockholm, we went on to Värmland – the area where one of my great-grandfathers was from. Apparently in the early 20th century he walked along the railway line from there to Stockholm. This was probably post 1905 – when Sweden & Norway separated – for, had it been before, I suspect he would have gone to Oslo, which is much closer to the village he was from. And when I say village, I should point out that it was really a collection (at least now) of less than 10 houses and a church, so even smaller than the village that I grew up in (which I could not imagine as a child as that seemed tiny enough).

Both my mother and I really liked Karlstad and the surrounding area. This was also the second place (after Stockholm) where we heard from locals (including a very chatty and great waitress on the first night) about how much climate change is really obvious due to the lack of snow in recent years and how lakes don’t freeze up as they used to.

On the last evening we were in Karlstad, my mother mentioned about visiting some places that come up in novels that she’s read. I’m usually the one doing ‘contents tourism’ (see for example, Contents Tourism in Plane Sight) and even this trip, due to the Roxette elements, had a contents tourism aspect to it, I suppose (though I didn’t particularly go to places that appear in Roxette videos that would have given it more of a contents tourism feel). Having looked at the map, I realised that it wouldn’t be a big detour to go to Fjällbacka, and timing would not be an issue as there was no particular rush to get to the final stop that day. And so, after driving through some spectacular landscapes (this part of Sweden is lacking in mountains, which I usually like to be able to see, but it makes up for it with incredible forests and lakes), we got to Fjällbacka.

Fjällbacka is amazing. While it’s just a quiet (at least at this time of year) little town, it’s so beautiful. As you will see in my Instagram post below, the bit around the harbour reminded me of a visit to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Edgartown was the setting for Amity in ‘Jaws’ – my favourite film (and which I saw in 3D this week – which was brilliant) and I visited a few years ago for what was pure contents tourism (see Contents Tourism – Jaws/Martha’s Vineyard) and it struck me how much was recognisable from the film, over 40 years on. I can imagine that Fjällbacka has also not changed much over the same period. The highlight at Fjällbacka, however, came when we moved to the top of the rock/hill (or mountain by local standards) that the town backs on to (Fjällbacka literally means ‘mountain back’). The view was unbelievable – one of the best I have seen anywhere in the world. I really did feel as though I was walking on air as I looked over across the islands, inlets, and out to the sea in the distance. To think this wasn’t part of the original trip plan! Now, it’s a place I want to go back to again.

After Fjällbacka, we made our way first to Gothenburg (just to stop off for lunch) and then on to Tylösand- where the main hotel is part owned by Per Gessle himself. Thanks to this, there are a lot of Roxette-related things in the hotel, as comes up in the next Instagram post, which also covers the visit into nearby Halmstad, where not only Per comes from, but where Roxette spent much time (as did Gyllene Tider, who were also from Halmstad).

I really liked Halmstad (which I spent some time walking around), and of course, loved being able to see all the Roxette-related things at the hotel. While at a local restaurant, we got chatting to some people on the table next to us – they joined us for the rest of the evening and they invited us round to their place for breakfast the next day. We had some wonderful conversations that further helped me understand about aspects of Sweden and Swedish people.

The final full day was primarily a driving day to get us closer to Stockholm and the airport for returning to the UK the next day. However, there was time to make a detour to Östra Ljungby, the village where Marie Fredriksson grew up. It was ironic that it was also on this day that I found out that there will now be an English version of her autobiography – coming out in 2023. I am still reading the Swedish version (at the time of writing, I am about half way through and understanding at least half of it, which I’m quite pleased and surprised about given my knowledge is drawn solely from Duolingo… I’m resisting turning to a dictionary for most words I don’t know). The day finished off staying at a rather quirky hotel as you can see in the Instagram real.

There are a few additional things to mention about the trip. First, in each of the four cities we stayed in, I came across a branch of the company that my wife works for. This was not expected given the size of some of the cities. Second, the number 57 kept coming up for some reason – such as a table number at a restaurant, a house (we did one stay that was more Airbnb-like rather than a hotel), and even in Marie’s autobiography. However, and despite thinking that Duolingo had done me well in teaching me Swedish, we came across no live moose or reindeer (the Swedish for these words are taught early on)… nor turtles (which for some reason Duolingo also teaches early on), and nobody I spoke to understood why Duolingo needed me to learn the phrase ‘it’s a story about two hedgehogs and a bar of soap’!

Japan is the country that I deal with most (ignoring living in the UK) and is one where I have generally had no issues with ‘clicking’ with the culture and people. I feel the same now with Sweden. And perhaps this is no coincidence. Through listening to Swedish music, talking to Swedish people, and reading a Swedish book, I realise that there are some commonalities (which a Japanese colleague who’s lived in Sweden also confirmed). Sweden and its cities look very different, of course, to Japan (well, there are bits which look similar, but generally not), and, of course, Swedish people generally look different to Japanese people, but the desire to avoid conflict and a sense of melancholy seems to underpin both and is something that I can tune into easily.

While yesterday’s announcement that Japan will finally be lifting border restrictions from 11 October means that I can start planning my next trip to Japan, I also hope that I will be able to get back to Sweden before too long.

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