Featured Writer: Meg Ebbesson
Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to go to Italy, Ireland, Germany, and France to find the history of my heritage but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream, something other people do. That’s when the best things in life come along and sweep you off your feet; when you aren’t waiting, expecting, or anticipating. “It” is different for everyone – some form of love, luck, success, opportunity, or happiness that people often don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both.
Four years ago I met my “someone.” It was the first time he stepped foot in an airplane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden. And so our two way journey began. Little did I know I was about to finally see my own city.
I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city really opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has a little (or a lot) of everything for everyone. Growing up in New York you sometimes fail to appreciate the sites, attractions, culture, and history. You don’t recognize why millions of tourists flock to Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can just take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan, how to see the most of it all in a weeks time. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.
It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. I’ve only been to The American Museum of Natural History which is a staple for N.Y.C. schools to educate kids on science, history, animals, geology, astronomy, and more through impressively gigantic exhibits, the most memorable being the 94-foot blue model whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex. Thankfully it is not only for kids and I was delighted that he enjoyed my childhood classic.
On the East side of Central Park we found “Museum Mile,” a strip of 5th avenue filled with art and culture. Being as we had a limited amount of time we only visited the two big names. I wondered how I have lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the white curves of The Guggenheim? Just the building alone is a work of art, especially once you step inside and look up. The impressive selection and wide variety of contemporary artwork is only rivaled by its unique spacious architecture, whose spiral ramps I had to resist the urge to slide down. “The Met” greeted us with cultural works from different times and places. It was enlightening and refreshing to see a wider variety of objects to look at and learn about instead of being limited to paintings. An extension of the museum is not on Museum Mile, but on the Upper West side. After a long train ride, we rushed into the arms of The Cloisters. Breathtaking. This European Medieval museum known for its chapels, gardens, and unicorn tapestries, was more my speed. The collection of sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries was simply outstanding and unbelievable.
A tourist in my own backyard, I was surprised to have enjoyed so many museums, however we were no where near done with our exploration of New York City. We took a tour boat around the island, passing by the Statue of Liberty, taking photo’s from afar, but never getting too close. My Swedish love interest was surprised and disappointed by how small she looked from that distance, but was happy to finally see the iconic figure in person.
Of course we couldn’t resist the lights of Times Square, one of the only areas I was familiar with. At that point I could only assume that this was very different than Sweden. The flashing lights, the huge stores, the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting. We instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night done with an all female cast and enjoyed it thoroughly, leaving us thirsty for more.
We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the Empire State building and the “Top of the Rock,” the Rockefeller center building where the famous Christmas tree lighting ceremony and ice skating rink is. Even though it is more exciting to tell people that you went to the top of the famous Empire State building, we both enjoyed the Top of the Rock much more. A horse and carriage ride through central park was the perfect end of the evening.
Seeing Manhattan with my special someone made me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. I took him downtown, away from the bright lights into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town. I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.
We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, escaping the grasp of Manhattan and ending up in another borough. When people talk about New York City, everyone automatically thinks of Manhattan. Tourists only want to see the big lights, not caring about the other boroughs, as if they don’t exist and have nothing to offer. He taught me how to see N.Y.C. and I taught him that there was more to New York than only Manhattan. For starters the best photos of the city are taken from outside the city, the skyline is beautiful from Brooklyn and Queens.
I took my Swede off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of New York City. Most notably we went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks, boardwalk, food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. I was proud to show him two famous landmarks: The Cyclone, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the U.S., and the Wonder Wheel. We ate sausage and peppers, hot dogs, and Italian ices followed up by enjoying his first baseball game. We went to Flushing Meadow Park, home of two World Fairs, the famous Unisphere, and the Queens Botanical Garden. My Swedish tourist was excited to experience the culture and history outside of Manhattan and I was excited to show him some of it.
Then it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. I took the same 10 hour flight he did months before and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. There was more culture shock with me being there than him being in New York. I did not know much about any other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from movies and television. I did not know what to expect or how to act. He also knew the language of my land, and I did not know his. To my relief most of Sweden speaks English extremely well.
My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the streets I knew I wasn’t in New York. Everything was picturesque, the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the cobblestone streets, the intense amount of fountains and statues. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.
I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in other countries. It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I enjoyed it without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. Just being there was enough. We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and I think they were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me, and I don’t blame them. The thing is, I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden because I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goers, but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.
Since that visit I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I have endured through the harsh winters when there is only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.
Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that ever Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.
I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as five years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning Swedish words and making Swedish friends. We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century.
I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden in place of “Cheers.”
I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot here even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed and not the museums or castles. It’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, learn about socializing, and learn the language. People say that our love proves that the world is a small place, but I disagree. In a world so large we were able to find each other and together overcome the vastness of the world. It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith. Take my advice and JUMP, you don’t know where you will land but you’ll know when it’s the right place for you to be.
Read more from this author at: SomethingSwedish.wordpress.com