Strawberry Fields Forever........Hum that tune!

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
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Flag of Sweden  , Södermanland,
Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long long days, water everywhere, lush green fields, red houses, Volvos, beautiful blonde women, and quite a few overtanned women, crime writers, piercings, a few days of hot summer weather, everyone making the most of the sunshine, I think they do summer better than we do, we take it for granted, lots of people with no shirt on, kids swimming in the lake, boats at all the marinas, people on bikes, strawberries, potatoes, pickled herring and of course, schnapps. These are all the things that come to mind when we think of our time in Sweden.....but for us it has really been about celebrating midsummer, the neverending days, and the beautiful, amazing and delicious strawberries.

But before we get onto the strawberries (so very yummy), a cautionary tale about travelling with bicycles.

We arrived in Sweden a little ruffled, transporting our new bikes proved to be a bit harder than we had envisaged......just getting on the train proved to be either crazy expensive or not allowed. We thought we'd be able to catch the train from Berlin to Stockholm, but we are learning a very important rule........don't do things last minute!! A train trip with Deutsche Bahn was going to cost us 500 euros......ouch, so not really an option. Overnight bus....perhaps a bit uncomfortable but within our budget so a good idea.....but the bus complanies wouldn't take bikes across international borders....they would only take them as far as Copenhagen (yes across an international border, we know, we did point this out)....damn. How about train / ferry / train....this could work except you cannot take bikes on regional trains in Sweden. By this point we were really questioning our sanity....what have we done, why did we buy these bikes, have we made a big mistake. One more option.....surely not, yes it's true the best and cheapest way to get to Sweden with two bikes is on a plane?? We really did not want to fly in Europe but it was the only method of transport that would take bicycles.....crazy! So with our bikes carefully packed in boxes from the bike shop we took a maxi-taxi to the airport and set off for Sweden. Once there we discovered that you couldn't take bikes on local trains either....and we had arranged to be at our help exchange that day. In the end we had to have our bikes sent to the town by a freight company. Needless to say we were hanging our heads with shame and embarrassment at our extreme disorganisation. A costly mistake. And an important reminder that bicycles are supposed to be ridden....so next time we'll give ourselves enough time to actually ride them.

Now back to the strawberries......have you ever picked a strawberry straight from the vine and put it in your mouth? If you haven't....then I suggest you do, slightly warmed from the sun, a rich dark red and bursting with sweet strawberry juice, there is really nothing like it.....two weeks of one for the bucket and one for me and we are still not sick of them. Strawberries on our cereal for breakfast, strawberries all day for snacks, strawberry daquiris for the midsummer party, strawberries and cream, strawberries and chocolate cake, or just strawberries for dessert.......YUM!!

If you haven't already guessed we have been working on a strawberry farm for the last two weeks. We arranged it through a website called help exchange - we work for 5 hours a day, they feed us and give us a bed for night, and we get the afternoons and weekends off to explore the local area....a pretty fair deal, and a good way to spend some time in an expensive country like Sweden. With about 20 hours of daylight, after a few hours of work there's plenty of time for other things. At this time of year the sun sets about 11pm, then we have dusk for abour 4 hours before the next sunrise.....pretty special and a little hard to get used to. It's difficult to imagine the opposite.....only 4 hours of light......a metre or so of snow and minus 30, for 5 or 6 months. Not one Swede told us they liked the winter.

Well, I guess it's a lucky thing the strawberries tasted so good, they became a very important reward for all the work that had to be done. Strawberries aren't the only thing growing in the strawberry fields.....that's right weeds grow there too, a lot of weeds and it was our job in the mornings to remove them and make space for the strawberry vines, as well as make the fields more accessible for the self pickers who came to the farm. Row after row, field after field, we pulled weeds from the ground - sometimes not progressing more than one row per hour. It's not an easy job on the body as it involves bending down for hours on end, stretching our hamstrings further than I thought possible. It certainly felt good to be upright again at the end of the day. And if stretched muscles wern't enough, our limbs were sunburnt and mosquito bitten......Australian mosquitoes ain't nothing compared to the Swedish variety.....they are absolutely huge, with enormous itchy bites appearing a couple of days later - yuk! Luckily for us we were not alone in the fields, two other helpers joined us. Warren, a rockclimbing Kiwi hairdresser, who arrived on the farm a year ago and is still there, and a young German by the name of Markus. It made the time pass to have a chat and when it all became to much we would all sing out......STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER!!

After a few days of weeding and the peak of the strawberry picking done it was time to celebrate the longest day of the year.......Midsummer. It reminded us a little of Christmas in Australia. A long hot summer day, all the family and friends around, and an abundance of food and alcohol. However there were a few key differences, namely the pickled herring, the schnapps and the karaoke.....! We tried the herring in all its many forms but I don't think it's going to become a favourite of ours, unlike the schnapps which was rather tasty but also rather dangerous....which leads us to the karaoke. Luckily we avoided the microphone ourselves but it was very amusing to watch a group of very tipsy Swedes singing along first to Abba and then to Iron Maiden. The Abba medley just confirmed some of the Swedish stereotypes but the Iron Maiden was a bit of a surprise. It turned out that Roger, our host, was a massive Iron Maiden fan and once we got him started he could talk (and shout and headbang) about them for hours....so Mammia Mia, here we go again, 666 is the number of the beast....we definitely won't be forgetting our Midsummer in Sweden!

On our days off, we decided to hit the road.....yes on bikes, and we decided to pedal them this time, and not try to put them onto some other mode of transport. It would be a test ride, to see if we liked travelling this way (yes, a bit late now) and check that we had everything we needed. We decided to explore a few of the nearby towns and headed to a very beautiful little town called Mariefred, about 45km away. Sweden was kind to us, we had cycle paths, pretty green countryside, mostly flat roads and very courteous Volvo drivers giving us plenty of room when they passed.

As well as testing our legs, we tested out a very curious Swedish law, "allemansrätten", which is the right of everyone to public access. Apparently you can camp anywhere for one night without permission as long as you don't disturb and don't destroy. After triple-checking the rules we decided to camp at the site of a ruined church on a hill just near the town. It felt rather strange to just set up our tent wherever we pleased and because it never gets dark we didn't have the cover of night to hide us. However we had a good nights sleep and we used the money we saved on accommodation to treat ourselves to a rather nice dinner.

After our first successful cycling adventure we returned to our farm (Murraro), for a little more weeding, a lot more strawberies, a few swims in the lake, some more good times with our hosts and fellow help-xers before saying a sad goodbye and heading towards Stockholm. Surprisingly we didn't get sick of strawberries at all. In fact our two weeks on a strawberry farm made us even more passionate about them....seriously yummy!
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