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A Year in Sweden

I have now lived in Sweden for just over a year. I arrived in Uppsala last January to finish the last six months of my masters, then moving to Stockholm in August.


Quite a bit has changed since I first arrived – I am now volunteering at a fantastic organisation that helps the partners of people that have come to Stockholm to work with learning Swedish, finding work, understanding Swedish society, and very importantly, providing an instant social network and plenty of wonderful classes.

I am getting to work in my area of integration studies and immigration policy, and I am hoping this leads to some interesting opportunities this year. I have even been asked to give some speeches by a few organisations in the upcoming months, which is both scary and exciting.

Other things have changed as well – my Swedish has improved, but I am still reminded of how far I have to go when I listen to announcements on the train and can hardly understand a word of what is being said. My 30 hour a week Swedish course starting in March should help with this though.

The weather has been one of the most noticeable differences – Before we moved to Sweden I had been here about 7 or 8 times before to visit friends in both summer and winter, but nothing could prepare me for actually living here.

Red house Uppsala Sweden

Despite working in London and barely seeing sunlight there for months on end, Sweden is in a totally different league. In January for example there is about 6 hours of sunlight a day (Compared to around 19 in June). Living in Uppsala, I rode my bike everywhere – to class, to do the shopping, to meet friends. Even when it was -20 degrees Celsius. I experienced the peculiar feeling of having my eyelashes freeze as I rode along and developed impressive multitasking skills of bike riding one handed in snow storms while shielding my eyes and attempting not to run over pedestrians while also not loosing my bag. Winter in Uppsala was beautiful and with so much exercise and socialising every day, I barely noticed the almost continual darkness. This year in Stockholm was a bit different. I take the tunnelbana everywhere and as I don’t live in the above cute red house filled with friendly students, I am not as social this year, which has led to me feeling quite a bit more tired. The gym seems to be helping, as does meeting friends a bit more regularly, but I still have a bit to learn above surviving the Swedish winter.

I have never seen such an amazing spring before living here. Our seasons in Australia are not as prominent, one melting softly into the other, and summer lasting seemingly forever. I remember cycling from our house in Uppsala along the river and through a park into town each day, and it seemed as though in the space of only a week, the landscape went from grey and white to the most amazing kaleidoscope of colour – the thick green grass shot up almost overnight, flowers started to appear and I couldn’t help smiling at the beauty of it all, and being amazed at how quickly it happened. I am also impressed with how much care the gardeners in Uppsala take, constantly planting new flowers after old ones have died, and even including flower boxes along bridges as you can see below.

Uppsala in summer river

Summer in Sweden is a wonderful time, suddenly the parks are filled to the brim with people lying around reading, having picnics and grilling sausages, playing music and chatting. Little wooden stands start to appear though out town selling delicious punnets of fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Oh, and the sun almost never sets – I went for walks through the forest at 10 pm at night. The sun was up again at 2 or 3 am. In Australia I tended to avoid being outside in summer due to the ridiculious temperatures, not to mention the giant hole in the ozone layer and that fact that I have red hair and my people are not meant to live in tropical climates, but summer in Sweden is quite nice – not crazily hot.

If you do visit in summer, I can highly recommend visiting the Stockholm archipelago, with some islands only 30 minutes away. One friend of ours spent a week drifting from one island to the other, catching fish, camping and picking wild berries.


We have also moved 3 times in the last year, which seems to be below the average number of moves of people I know in Sweden. I’ll be posting some tips about renting an apartment in Stockholm shortly.

I have also learnt quite a bit of random information about life in Sweden in the last year – the medical system, how to get a person number, a bank account, an ID, how to renew your visa, study at a Swedish university and quite a bit more, but all of these things will be covered in their own posts.

I am not actually sure how long we will be living here, but as Geoff has just started a new job in December, it looks like we will be here for the foreseeable future. I am looking forward to seeing how life in Sweden is this time next year.

Darkness and Christmas Adventures

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hard. I have been going to Swedish class each morning, and doing my Swedish homework in the afternoons, but apart from that, my motivation levels have been quite low and I have felt completely exhausted.  This might have something to do with the fact that we currently have about 2.5 hours of sunlight per day, and even this has been thwarted by heavy cloud cover and rain. When I moved to Sweden in January I was not bothered at all by the darkness, and I enjoy winter normally, so I have no idea what the problem has been lately.

I bought a cute Swedish Christmas light to brighten up the apartment. If you are in Sweden at Christmas time, you will see little arrows of light in almost every window from one of these.

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Miraculously, over the last couple of days I have began to get my enthusiasm back. I have done more things this week, than I have in the last two weeks combined, and it feels really good. I am starting to work out what I need to focus on next year to be able to get where I want to get – career wise and so on. Now that I have a personnummer I am able to apply to take the Swedish for academics course next year, which is an intensive course broken down by study specialisations, run by the Swedish government – with the added bonus of being free. I need to submit more proof of my past studies than I do for any of the PhD applications I am working on, but I think it will be worth it if I am accepted.

I also had a great day today catching up with an old friend from Melbourne who stopped by Sweden on his way to moving to Seattle. We walked for hours all over Stockholm, visited Skansen and relaxed in cafes. The sun even came out – Jerome must have brought it with him from Australia.

My main excitement this week is that Geoff and I are off to Nuremberg in Germany tomorrow, and I can’t wait. This will combine many of my favourite things, Christmas markets, world war two history, and of course, spending time with Geoff. We will also be visiting Prague for a few days as well, and I am sure it will be amazing.

So god jul, and have a wonderful Christmas time, be it in sunny Australia or in (hopefully) snowy Europe – and everywhere in between!

Map of Stockholm showing local versus tourist photo locations

Here is a really interesting map of Stockholm comparing where locals (blue), versus tourists (red) take photos throughout the city. Yellow could be either tourist or local.

Stockholm photo tourist local


The results are pretty much what you would expect: high tourist concentration of photos around the main sightseeing locations in Stockholm, and locals in both the city centre, probably at bars and so on, and out in the suburbs.

I also liked Vienna:

Vienna photo tourist local

You can see Schönbrunn out on the lower left hand side, with a huge concentration of photographic activity.

There are plenty more cities to check out – such as London, Moscow, LA and so on.

The Best Christmas Markets in Sweden

You can read my (very long) guide to the best Christmas markets in Sweden here.

Now I am off to Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden, to visit the markets there and have some glögg with friends. There is even a chance of snow tonight, so I am very excited. Have a great Sunday!

Vienna Christmas market


Taxinge Slott Christmas Market

On Saturday, Geoff and I joined the Stockholm International Researchers Association on their annual trip to the Taxinge Slott Christmas Market, about an hour away from Stockholm.

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We began with coffee, biscuits and a delicious smoked ham sandwich inside the castle, during which the local farmer who renovated Taxinge from its very dishevelled state many years ago, told us about the history of the castle, and about how his wife and daughter began the cafe and still bake all of the cakes for which Taxinge is now very famous.

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The Christmas Market was lovely – sadly you can’t take pictures inside, but they sold many local handicrafts such as Swedish advent candle holders, Christmas decorations, plenty of warm woollen hats, socks, gloves, and jumpers to keep you warm in the freezing Swedish winters, tiny little red and white spotted mushrooms made of pottery, mugs, biscuit cutters, turned wooden objects, candles, items made of straw, and plenty more.

Here is a store selling wreaths – one is now hanging on my wall.

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The area selling delicious food: Fried herring sandwiches, warm glögg, smoked sausages, cheese, freshly roasted almonds, preserves and much more.

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A Julbock or Christmas goat: In Sweden at Christmas time Gävle famously builds a huge straw version of the goat, and inevitably people attempt (and normally succeed) in burning the poor thing down. It’s a bit of a national sport really, and English bookmakers even take bets on the likelihood of it surviving. The official line of the inhabitants of Gävle is that burning the goat is a very bad thing, however I am sure they are just as entertained as everyone else as to whether or not the goat will survive, as at the end of the day, a straw goat happily sitting in a square for the winter is not very exciting really. Last year it was reported that the guards protecting the Julbock were offered a bribe to leave it unprotected so that it could be stolen by helicopter and taken to Stockholm… but their love for the goat proved too strong and it survived intact. Let’s see what happens in 2011…

Luckily this one also survived (at least) the first day of the Christmas Market without falling prey to a firebug.

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Then it was off to see the park and land surrounding Taxinge. Some local horses:

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It was a very misty day, which made the view of the lake quite magical. In summer a steam ship operates from the city hall in Stockholm and takes you to Taxinge to enjoy all of the delicious homemade cakes. I am looking forward to going back again then.

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And of course, some traditional red Swedish houses located in the grounds. I would like to have one of these in a forest one day.
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The Christmas Markets are open at Taxinge again on the 17th to the 20th of November, and entry is 70 SEK.