This time I am absolutely writing out of my comfort zone. In English that is. Dutch, to me, feels a little bit like a safe haven and is much easier for expressing myself. Nevertheless, after such a journey I wanted to be able to share some of our experiences with my non-Dutch follower friends as well. A bit scary and truly sorry if I am making spelling mistakes, consider this your warning. Since this is also sort of a journal/diary, the post is a long one. But those who read my blogs before know I have trouble keeping it short! And I recommend you to play the song : into the unknown, artist Panic! At the disco on Spotify while reading this!
In less than 36 hours my journey as a working mom will continue. After nine (!) months of being at home it is time to go back to my duty as a doctor. Nine months being called mom instead of Isabelle. How many times will I have heard the word Mom? Such a strange feeling, as the corona definitely messed things up for me, for us as a family, as well as for all of us. Like not being able to see my family or friends in the Netherlands. In the beginning I felt super bad for not being able to save the world and almost felt I was wasting my time at home while people were reported to die everywhere. In retrospect, I am extremely grateful for the time I had with my family and that everybody is still safe and (reasonably) health and nobody I know died of this COVID-19.
And now, after looking back on nine months at home I feel grateful and blessed and happy. It has been a hell of a ride and at the same time extremely quiet and peaceful. The hormones and I are not friends, it’s safe to say I will not miss them. One year ago we went to our holiday in Spain, a week in the Netherlands, a lot of late night shifts, an intense end of the pregnancy, the eternal wait on the birth that never came spontaneously, the delivery, a beautiful and wonderful daughter Cleo, our first lonely Christmas in Sweden, the wedding of my sister and brother in law in the Netherlands and then, not long after that, corona. Which turned the world upside down, it had and still has a huge impact on basically everything.
Our planned trip did not happen. No US, of A and I think that is for the better. Many things are happening there now, but instead of a perfectly planned trip in America we discovered the unknown! Within the borders of Sweden that is.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know Anna and Elsa? Being a mom of an almost 4 yo (5 more nights!) and a 5 yo Elsa’s magic turning things (and sometimes people) into Ice on a daily base. She is the Dream. We weren’t sure if Frozen 2 would be very appropriate as they can get scared but when it was finally available to download and we had a very rainy day in Sunne we decided to take our chances and watch it together as a family.
Although the film is mainly based on Norway, there are many similarities with Sweden being the neighbouring country. Wiki tells the story of Frozen 2 is about an enchanted forest in the far North. This forest is home to a indigenous tribe that lived very closely to nature and her magic. The importance of the four spiritual elements Earth, Water, Fire and Air are in focus. In this movie we see many similarities with our trip, which made this movie immediately connected to our trip as we heard the songs many many many times while driving all the way up to the Arctic Circle. Seeing signs of these four important elements everywhere. How people in the far north seem to be a lot more connected to nature and its elements.
While staying in our little bubble for 40 days we experienced many new adventures, many beautiful places, phenomenal houses and views, many laughs, a few cries and so much love. We grew as a family of five. Cleo taking more and more part of our family life! Always, literally, always happy and smiling. She doesn’t want to miss a thing. Stella has started to have memories and loves to relive moments and tell stories. Merle really growing in taking one thing at a time, trying to have as less expectations as possible and trusting that things will turn out fine. Happy and full of laughter. And for Paul and me this time was super special and made us realise that Sweden is such a beautiful country, being in our little bubble did feel extremely carefree and opened a little hatch for new possibilities and adventures in the future. We started dreaming again. Embraced slow living. We stopped reading the news and socials and although this might seem selfish it did feel really good doing this for a little while.
In the USA we planned to tour around and booked many awesome overnight stays carefully curated, including a yurt, a train, a beach lifeguard tower and a tiny house. We figured if we planned to travel like this in the US why not try to travel like this in Sweden. The biggest difference was that we did not dare to plan ahead and there was a recommendation to not travel more than 1-2 hours from your home by car. This was a recommendation based on no research nor articles, made no real sense as distances in the far north are something most people drive on a daily base only for groceries. And not the car ride will raise the risk of spreading or getting infected by the corona-virus but more the things you do while traveling. You can stay a few minutes from your home but visit all the bars and restaurants in Stockholm but you would not be able to drive to a house in the middle of nowhere.
After pondering about the what and how, we decided to go for the trip but to do it wisely and mindfully. Not booking too far in the future, to do grocery shopping just by one adult and without kids, to look for houses without too many neighbours and to not go to places with a lot of people. And so we did. On the 13th of May we fully packed our VW Passat (instead of this big Cadillac Escalade/BMW X7 we booked in the US, tears for Paul here) and drove to our first destination in Kungsbacka, just a little under Göteborg. We packed mainly winter clothes in case we would come north and it would be cold. Ofcourse winter-tires still on the car.
After weeks of working from home Paul felt he just needed to unwind for a bit so we basically chilled a lot, read books, played together and discovered the area by foot. Beautiful sea views, rock climbing and just being together. We learned a lot, for example to always read the house rules BEFORE you book an airbnb. As the second bedroom was A. extremely tiny and B. there were no doors nor (blinding) curtains. None of the girls felt like sleeping much here. When they finally went to bed we were like silent Ninja’s and did not dare to watch tv, or talk for that matter.
The next house is and stays our absolute dream house with a dream view on Orust in Bohuslän. Newly build and owned by a Norwegian guy that was well off.. Including a pool. We learned that a heated pool is still very cold if the outside temperature is 13 degrees. Geggemoja (Mud) is fun but you can get stuck and that gives a lot of stress for a 3 and 5 yo. Falling in the geggemoja is fun but if you have to walk home in wet dirty clothes is not, as 15 degrees is still quite cold with wet clothes, even when the sun shines.
After leaving the west coast we ended up in Sunne. A beautiful renovated old house full of big art pieces and colors. Extremely inspirational. Because of corona most of the musea and other touristic attractions during our trip were closed and weren’t opening befor the 1st of July. So was the Alma Löv Museum, an exciting art museum in the middle of nature. But lucky enough for us, the AIRBNB owner, a very nice Dutch guy, happened to be married to the Artistic Director. Because of that he fixed that we could take a look around in the Museum the next day! We were amazed by this very special place. So much to see, to experience, to get inspired by so many buildings and art. We loved it! And the best part we got to enjoy it completely for our selves. It was amazing. The next day was a very wet and rainy day so we unfolded the bedsofa and watched the movie Frost 2 like I wrote before. The big girls absolutely adored the movie and basically all day long Stella sings: into the unknown!!
After this we didn’t have to drive so far for our luxury stay in Lekvattnet. Including a sauna/bastu, hottub, playstation including VRtoys and a grilhytta/grilhut. This was definitely someones mancave (also owned by a Norwegian rich guy). All the ingredients for a lovely stay. We got visited by a fox and mommy moose with her twins. Made a lovely walk in the forest surrounding our house, a new encounter with geggemoja plus getting stuck in it again and the arrival of the first mosquitos that where all attacking Paul. A lot of mys (coziness) in the grillhut including korv (sausages), burgers and marshmallows.
After seeing Frozen 2, the aim of the journey became reaching the North, the arctic circle and walking on Kungsleden, the renown hiking path of 400 km. And so our journey to the north begun by going to “Fulufjället”. The beginning of Lapland and the Sami people, the land of the reindeer. Fulufjället is the largest waterfall in Sweden. Fjällen in Swedish means mountains. The Mountains are mainly located on the west side of the country and covered by snow. It is very different from the Alpes for example. We met our first reindeer on the road to Idre! Such a special moment. We learned that reindeer are not wild animals as all reindeer in Sweden are actually domesticated and owned by (mostly) Sami people. The indigenous nomads living in the North of Sweden, Norway, Finland and a part of Russia for thousands of years without leaving traces of their existences in Nature. All Sami people live in regular houses now but some still live a partially nomadic life while herding their reindeer, especially in fall and spring. We lived in a very simple stuga in Idre. The three girls slept in one room without any problems and we had a beautiful view on the Norwegian Mountains. Because of travel restrictions we did not have to opportunity to cross the border unfortunately!
After this, the journey up north really began and while heading towards Östersunds archipelago we drove through Jämtland which is also known as Bear-country. So when we drove on a very small road in the middle of nowhere we were extremely lucky to encouter a bear! So freaking awesome. It was quite far away and we were safely in our car, but damn so cool! Sitting on an open field so we could see him very well! Swedish bears are usually very shy and dislike people. Encoutners with a bear a very uncommon unless you wear a gun and want to shoot it. Which still happens once a year, as bears are not endangered animals. After seeing all Dutch and Australian kids going on a bear hunt in these corona-times we can also say we joined!
Our stay in Hackås was amazing. Beautiful blue skies, striking view on the lake and the mountains, very nice temperatures and a beautiful spacious house. The one downside was the one bedroom for five people. As sleeping was overrated this holiday anyway and the sun was shining at least 22 hours a day we did not really bothered the lack of sleep. The fact that in an average Airbnb in Sweden you have to bring your own sheets and clean the whole house when leaving did start to get quite annoying. We did became real pro’s when it comes to packing, but mopping the floor 3 times a week and doing your bed was not something I was looking forward to do that often during a holiday. Other than that we had a lot of luck and despite or thanks to corona were able to book the most beautiful houses for reasonable prices.
But not in Storuman. Not a single nice airbnb on the road in this part of Sweden and so we were forced to stay in a hotel. Not really by choice but we felt we should drive to many hours otherwise. Storuman does not have a lot of storu, man. Boring little town, signs of poverty and boredom, not much to do. The hotel had a sign: we have the intention to be service minded! We stayed in a very simple family room with a very disappointing rain shower and a 3 days in advanced prepared breakfast.
On our way to Kåbdalis we paid a visit to a very special turquoise lake, grodkällan. My colleague whose family apparently owned the ski-facility in Kåbdalis said to me, this place is nothing special during summer and he was right. The view on a closed trailerpark was a bit disappointing. But we did cross the border of the Artic Circle and spent an afternoon in Storforsen. The biggest rapid in Scandinavia. The grillhut from the house was crap but the sauna was good and hot! The list of cleaning not so much fun as the owner expected that we would even dust the windowsill.
Although we had reached “polcirkeln” our journey into the unknown continued. After a short walk in the UNESCO Heritage Muddus Nationalpark we drove further north. We stayed a few days in Kiruna. A mining town which will be completely relocated a few miles further as the town is not safe anymore because of the mining of iron for many years. Other than that the air felt filthy and the city not very nice. But from Kiruna we were able to visit Abisko Nationalpark. The start of Kungsleden. A beautiful arctic scenery with melting ice and snow. Although we only walked 0,05% of this amazing hike we felt like real vikings and it was a huge victory to be able to do this with three small kids during very difficult circumstances with ice, snow, meltwater, more geggemoja, cold weather and slippery cliffs. The girls did amazing and we are so so proud.
A visit to the closed and melted ice hotel and a closed Sami-museum was a still a nice day out. The ice bar normally runs 365days per year, but was also closed. The trip to Nikkaluokta, to see the Kebnekaise, Swedish biggest mountain was beautiful. As the first viewing point would be at 5,6 km and the mountain was covered in fog we realised after 3 km we would make it. The girls were already tired and almost 12 km is just too much. But without disappointment we returned to the car and we enjoyed every second in this amazing scenery.
And NO we did not see the northern lights as the sun was shining 23 hours a day. Which absolutely is a very strange sensation. Your body doesn’t get a single sign to go to bed. We usually started a game at 23.00h in bright daylight. A tip I got after our trip was to bring aluminium foil and tape to cover windows when you go on a holiday with kids. Wish we had gotten that tip before our trip! Believe me, it is not easy to sleep when it is this bright. Paul and I brought sleeping masks but the girls didn’t like them. They are true troopers as they slept in every house in every bed and with 0-4 other people in the room including a baby who loved to make noise while running her fingers past the side of her bed in the middle of the night.
After Kiruna the trip southwards began and we stayed in the beautifully renovated lodge in Nillivara. A dream house on a huge plot with a fantastic authentic wooden smell pared with all the luxury you need. Wonderful days including a trip to a small mountain with views up till Norway and Finland, only surrounded by amazingly beautiful nature and silence. I don’t think I have ever experienced such a silent place before (or maybe that one time in the desert of Australia).
We made a pitstop in Kalix but we went wrong here. The airbnb felt very off. The smell, the atmosphere, the lack of a couch or furniture to sit outside, the 2 fridges meant for beer. We decided to not unpack and contacted the owner of our next Airbnb. We were in real luck and drove the same evening to Ånäset. When we parked the car next to our stuga there and saw the enchanting view of the sunset at 22.30h. We felt relieved and knew we were ment to stay her a few days longer. The beaches here were white and sandy and privat. The sky blue and the birds were singing. A nice visit to Lövånger Kyrkstad was fun and this was the first place where could actually eat nice FIKA! Waffles it was, everybody happy.
Next stop, while slowly coming closer to home was the High Coast. If you ever visit Sweden and have the chance: go visit this place. Wherever you drive your mouth will fall open. Wow-moments all over. A beautiful red house including a hottub with a again a stunning view. A full double rainbow ending in the sea. A visit to Rotsidan a beach of rocks and Mannaminne, a funny outdoor museum, were a big succes!
Final destination before driving home was Dalarna. Rättvik. A very charming little place at the lake Siljan. Our house was on the hill and we didn’t knew it was possible, but the view was even nicer than the ones we had seen before. The weather amazing. We were ready to experience the real Swedish midsommar celebrations but of course everything was canceled because of Corona. Nonetheless we had a wonderful day, made our own flower headbands, played a game of Kubb and did some grilling. We skipped the 90 SEK (about 9 euro) a box strawberries, even though this and sill (herring) is traditional midsommarfood and a must. The next day we drove around in the area, bought a wooden horse in Nusnäs and the girls bathed in the Lake. The perfect end of the perfect holiday. The next day (after of course cleaning the house, never buy a metallic kitchen, its the worst) we left our holiday home and drove home.
If ever planning to come to Sweden come in June. It is the most gorgeous month, the best temperatures and everything in bloom. It was the best!
We still had some weeks to land again and coming home is usually super nice and comfortable but after having such a wonderful and amazing time in the most luxurious houses with exceptional, spectacular views it did felt a bit mwah to be home in our house in a normal neighbourhood. The thought of painting (or replacing for a lot of money) all the windows did not help. But the job is almost done and mentally I am ready to go back to work. Paul will take care of the kids fulltime by himself whilst I’ll make some money after nine months.
Our time together has been so valuable and rich. Cleo is such a joy and asset to our family and we all truly adore her. I will miss her while working but it feels completely okay knowing Paul and her sisters will take good care of her. And although Swedes might think I am a degenerate mother for leaving my child already after 7,5 months of being with her almost 24/7, for me it feels nice to be able to use my brain, to have soms topics of conversation when coming home and maybe, probably only slightly, be helpful to more people than my own family.
Wish me luck!