It’s eleven p.m. local time and I swallow my first mouthful of svartsoppa (goose blood soup). It’s surprisingly pleasant; cinnamon more than anything hitting my taste buds. Opposite me my girlfriend’s grandparents stare at me with anticipation. To my right, sisters, cousins and parents offer a subtle nod of approval. To my left the other sisters’ boyfriends, experienced campaigners at this, lean slowly back in their chairs and sip knowingly on their wine. There’s no way they are going near that soup.
“This is fine”, I think to myself, “what’s the problem?”, and a minute later I plunge in for a second spoonful, feeling confident I’m fitting in on my first night in Sweden. Then the newly congealed skin catches and hangs delicately from my spoon, gently flapping as I lift it from the bowl and towards my mouth.
Thankfully a skål was hastily offered (a toast), and a far more pleasant Swedish tradition swept round the table diverting the focus away from my catch, and allowing me to move swiftly on to the main course – an actual goose. I was in Lund where I was to spend a few days at Tilda’s house before we set off on our journey to Australia; all the way, we hope, overland.
After many more skåls (pronounced ‘skolls’), I persuaded Tilda that a late night walk in the local park would be wise, as would a quick play on the see-saw. Six hours and an x-ray later she wasn’t so sure…… However, she was given the all clear after the x-ray and, despite nearly crippling their daughter on the very first day, I gained the approval of Pia and Bose and two days later we boarded our first of many, many trains, North to Stockholm.
We stayed with big-sister Lina and I spent three days seeing first-hand what an enchanting capital city Stokholm is. Built on an archipelago of islands clinging to the mainland, there is a boat in every direction you look. The reflections of the vibrant blue and yellow flags bounce around on the clear, icy water while the old, cobbled streets hum with activity.
After a hectic few days meeting Tilda’s friends and her other grandparents at their old peoples’ home (known by the residents as ‘the Raison House’), I realised just how incredibly kind, courteous and fun Swedish people always are. I met Tilda the previous summer working for a Swedish language school in Brighton, so I kind of knew this already. But, the way Swedes always speak, even to each other, in English if an English speaker is around is so endearing. Appreciation of other languages is something that us Brits really have to work on….
Well, we had said our farewells. Everything we could possibly need in the deepest depths of Siberia or in the scorching heat of Cambodia, had been bought. We were ready. We hauled on our backpacks and walked down to the ferry terminal where we checked in for our overnight crossing to Latvia. We did seem to be the only two people on the entire vessel not to be a fifty year old Russian man with a leather jacket and a rather dirty look, but hey, travelling is never meant to be dull.
416 miles gone, 14,284 to go……