Help yourself to a Slice of Swedish Hospitality

Mia, David and Oskar from a Slice of Swedish Hospitality

The little blond two-year-old boy with an angelic face lifts his little arms up to me, motioning for a hug.

We’ve only met a couple of hours ago, but in the short time I’ve managed to secure more high fives than normal and gotten those adorable little kid giggles to come from him.

A smile lights up my face, and I reach down to Oskar and scoop him into my arms.

“Good night,” I whisper into his ear and wrap my arms around him.

Then, his mom, Mia whisks him and his older brother, David, off to bed.

“I’ll be back in a little and we can sit and have a beer,” she promises before disappearing down the hallway of her apartment in the heart of Malmo, Sweden.

After a long day of paddle boarding, exploring the eco-city in the West Harbour and dinner, I sink into one of Mia’s butter yellow leather couches with a beer in my hand and feel my body unwind.

This … this is perfect.

The balcony is perfect for summer evenings and beer with A Slice of Swedish Hospitality

A cold beer and beautiful balcony? Yes, please!

I know how lucky I am. And realize how amazing the opportunity Mia is providing me.

A Slice of Swedish Hospitality, started by Mia and her mother, Eva, promises to give guests just that — a true taste of what life as a local is like.

“This is about getting to know us Swedes, for real!” says Mia. “We believe the world can become a better place if we meet eye-to-eye and get a more humble feeling towards different cultures, social systems, political and religious views. New perspectives make me grow as a person and hopefully we can learn from each other.”

Having people over for supper is nothing new to this mother of two. In fact, as a child, living with her gardener parents, there were always people coming over for meals. Her mom always had an extra plate at the ready for guests stopping by.

The charming set up with A Slice of Swedish Hospitality

Ready for dinner?

Before the Slice of Swedish Hospitality was started, Eva and her husband (Mia’s father, Anders) would rent their house for tourists, often times inviting those visitors over for meals or games.

Mia recalls it fondly. “We would have a lovely time discussing life in our countries and how we got the everyday life together. We still stay in contact. For these people, it was the best experience during their vacation.”

So, who is this experience good for? My answer: anyone who wants to get a better understanding of life as a Swede. For me, it gave me insight into great places to visit while in the country, as well as a beautiful look at the culture.

The program matches visitors with a network of the company’s hosts and allows them access to a family’s daily life in their own setting — a private home. Whether a family with children who wants to meet a local family with children, to young couples and beyond, there are matches to create that perfect Swedish evening.

“When do you ever get the chance to learn about Sweden if you don’t already have friends here?” Mia asks. “Here, you have conversations for real and get a chance to ask questions about Sweden, try the food we eat, have Swedish coffee …”

As for the future of the Malmo-based program — the sky is the limit.
“We would like an even wider range of ambassador families to open up their private homes, and to be able to do even better matching,” says Mia. “We have a range of hosts from 24-year-old girls who are single and study to families with young children and teenagers, to retired ambassadors, gay, single dads and more.”

Before I leave for the night, I empty my wallet of American money.

A little time later, I get a note from Mia: the boys, even now, still play with it. I like to think for as much of an impression the family left on me, there is a little of me left in Sweden, too.

Editor’s Note: My time in Sweden was courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy. Want more on Sweden? Follow along in Twitter and Instagram, #myswedentrip.

 

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Getting naked in Sweden

What it's like to get naked at a bathhouse in Sweden

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My name is D and I used to be, as one friend put it, “a big, girlie prude.”

Never would I think of even taking off my shirt in a public, or semi-public place. In fact, when I first stopped at the baths in Budapest, it took everything I had to shimmy my swimsuit bottom off while strategically keep my towel from covering up the rest of me. I was not ready to take anything off. Getting naked in Sweden? Not. Even. A. Thought.

In Barcelona, I had to prep myself for going topless while on the beach.

In Morocco, I gathered a bit more courage and actually took off my top and walked around (gasp) topless while at the bath.

But, something happened to me between Morocco and Sweden: I got confident. The idea of stripping down to skin didn’t seem to bother me nearly as much. While my body had not changed, my opinion of myself had.

So, when it comes time for me to head to Kallbadhus Ribersborg, to take part in the traditional Swedish bathhouse experience, I don’t even blink. In fact, when Anna tells me she reserved a towel for me, I ask her for details about what I am going to do.

The entrance to the historic Kallbadhus Ribersborg | What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

“Well, you take off your clothes … if you want … and then have a sauna and then go in the water,” she explains.

My mind skips back to the day before when I plunged into the Baltic Sea in a wet suit during my attempt at paddle boarding.

“What do the other people wear at the bath house?”

“Oh, most of them wear nothing,” she says.

Decided. Then I will wear nothing, too.

I don’t know how to explain it, but en route to the bath house via the long wooden walk over the soft thumping water of the sea, I am actually skipping and smiling at the idea of getting naked.

A view of the Western Harbour from the beach |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

You’d have no clue just to the left of this photo that there are people naked in a bath house!

Like, I’m super stoked beyond belief. I blame it on the new, improved version of D after my shamanic session.

The point is, I am thrilled to put myself to this test, to prove to myself it is OK to shred the clothing and just hang out naked in the open.

Self-portrait of Diana Edelman |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

See … don’t I just look like I want to take my clothes off?!?

I walk up to the counter of the creaky old (and still magnificent) Kallbadhus Ribersborg. The large dining room and reception area immediately conjures up images of grandeur when the bath house was first built. I can imagine groups of men and women flocking here on a warm summer afternoon to gossip and dip their toes into the fresh sea.

“I have a reservation,” I announce to the girl at the counter. She produces a scratchy and small white towel and directs me to the woman’s side of the bathhouse.

The changing rooms of Kallbadhus Ribersborg |  What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

Little changing rooms open to the Baltic Sea at Kallbadhus Ribersborg.

I open the swing door and am greeted to wooden platforms a top the water. Lining one side of the boardwalk are little changing rooms — some with doors, some without.

I feel like I have stepped back in time.

Around me, there are a few women lounging naked, soaking up the morning sun.

I walk quietly around them and pick a changing room without a door and stand in front of the mirror.

Here you go, D. Time to get naked.

This time, I don’t even hesitate. I pull my shirt off, my pants down and stand in my little room stark naked. I care so little about being in the nude that I actually take the time to fold up my clothing and place them in a neat little pile on the bench.

 What it's like to get naked at a Swedish bathhouse

See? I am thrilled to be wrapped in a towel!

Then, with my towel wrapped around me, I head over to the sauna.

So, I’m not quite ready to strut around, but still.

As I walk by a bench filled with naked older women, I feel their eyes on me and remember a conversation I had the previous day with Anna: they may look at you strange if you don’t get naked.

I brush it off and sit in the baking warmth of the sauna for a few minutes, letting a few beads of sweat drip from my brow.

And now for the next part of the tradition — a dip into the sea.

I know it’s cold, but after letting myself bake in the heat of the sauna, I am ready for the cool water to jolt my body back to a more normal temperature.

I walk down the little boardwalk to a ladder, covered with seaweed because it likely has not been used since last summer. I tie my towel on the railing and dip my toes in.

Holyshititscoldwithoutawetsuit.

Shivers shoot through my body and it instantly becomes hard to breathe. But, I persist. I climb down another rung and let the water lap at my thighs.

Still absolutely freezing.

Then, I go for it, dunking my body into the salty water.

I last for about 15 seconds, but what matters to me is that I did it.

Huge smile on my face, I exit the water and pick a post on the wooden planks to lay for an hour. Naked.

At first, I feel weird. It’s just not the norm for an American to lay out without anything covering up anything.

But, as I see more and more people emerge from the changing rooms and splay themselves in the same fashion, I grow more and more comfortable.

I’m laying naked, tanning, in Sweden.

A smile lights up my face and in that moment, I could not be any cooler or happier.

For more information on Sweden, check out these books:

Sweden – Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs & culture
Lonely Planet Sweden (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Sweden

Editor’s Note: My time in Sweden was courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy. Want more on Sweden? Follow along in Twitter and Instagram, #myswedentrip.

 

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Adventures in the Baltic Sea: a paddle boarding story

Michael, my stand-up paddle board instructor from Lomma Beach House, grips the front of my board, chest-deep in water.

“You’re going to stand again,” he promises. “Come on.”

I don’t want to do this.

“Really? I’m fine not …” I assure him.

“No. Stand up,” he suggests. “Put one leg underneath your body.”

I do so.

“Now, the other.”

Crouching on the board, I can already feel my thighs shiver.

“OK, good,” he says, squinting into the sun because I’ve taken his sunglasses. “Slowly, stand.”

Lomma Beach House from the sand dune

A rare moment at Lomma Beach House where there are no lines for the little snack shop.

I’ve already tried this. Twenty minutes earlier. I was successful. For about 30 seconds. As soon as I gripped the paddle and attempted to actually do the task at hand — stand-up paddle boarding — I fell, face first into the oh-so fresh Baltic Sea.

I slowly rise, taking every ounce of strength in my legs to propel me up.

I’m doing it.

“OK, now, stay there, I have to go get my board,” he says, swishing through the sea behind me after his board, which has floated some distance away.

I’m doing it.

Then, my legs quiver more. The board dips to the left. Dips to the right. And, I plunge back into the water.

I brush off the water from my eyes and stand in the soft sand, water at my waist, smiling.

A far cry from the attitude I had earlier in the morning.

“I really, really don’t want to go paddle boarding,” I had confided in Anna, my guide for the last portion of my Sweden trip (through the Malmo region), when she picked me up from the train station.

In fact, when I had looked at the weather the other week from the safe confines of Las Vegas, I was delighted to see cool temperatures, rain and general gloom. Forgetting about the fact wet suits exist, I figured I wouldn’t even have to argue about the activity. It just wasn’t going to happen.

“It’s OK, you will like it,” she assured me as we drove past blooming fields of canola, glowing bright yellow on jade green stems.

I looked out the window, heart racing about the “light adventure” I was about to embark on.

I don’t do adventures. At all. I try. But every time I try to do something adventurous that involves my feet not being firmly planted on the ground, I end up in precarious situations (see Parafalling in Turkey for a prime example of what not to do when going paragliding).

When we parked at Lomma Beach House and walked up the sand to the wooden beach house, I saw two large paddle boards propped against the deck. My first instinct was to run back to the car and skip straight to our organic lunch. Immediately.

I have no desire in the world to do this. None at all. Nada.

“Come on,” she urged me.

Erik Bilder, the owner, and Michael, my instructor for the day, stood outside, waiting for us.

“I figured we would go out there and learn, then we will paddle board through the Lomma harbor, through what I like to call the bayou, and then over to the church,” Michael explained.

Ha. I can’t even imagine myself making it to an upright position on the board, let alone paddling around town.

Somehow, I managed to convince Anna and her friend to take the lesson with me (strength in numbers, right?), and the three of us headed into the changing room to put on wet suits.

“Is this like Spanx, where we have to struggle to put ourselves into the suit?” I asked to no one in particular.

Carefully, I put one leg and then the other into the suit, pulling it up, over my body and have Anna zip it up. When we walk out, it’s obvious we’ve done something wrong when Michael takes one look at us and stifles a laugh.

“You’ve put them on inside out,” he says.

You’ve got to be kidding.

“So we have to go back in and put them on again? We can’t just go like this?” I asked, dreading having to pull the suit off only to flip it right side and pull it back on my body … again.

“Sorry, yeah,” he says.

I hate this already.

Finally, we emerged, suits on correctly, and head to the beach with our boards in tow.

Heading out to paddle board

Board in hand, ready to hit the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea.

“You will need to stretch first,” Michael instructed, beginning to do lunges. “Your legs are going to be shakey and tired if you don’t.”

The four of us, feet sinking into the sand, at the brim of the Baltic, attempt to loosen our legs.

Then, he begins to guide us through the basics of stand-up paddle boarding.

“You will start on your stomach,then, move one leg under your body and to the middle of the board, the sweet spot, and then the other. We’ll practice like this for a bit, then we will stand up.”

I won’t.

After showing us how to stand up, he goes through paddling. It’s an upper torso stroke, not an arm stroke.

“If your arms hurt, you’re doing it wrong,” he says, placing his opposite hand on top of the paddle and moving his upper body towards the oar. “This is the right way to paddle.”

I think back to the time I went kayaking in the Mediterranean. The circles I did in the water. Not being able to make it to the island without being towed.

He lifts his board and steps into the water, through feet of seaweed.

We follow suit, pulling the large boards behind us and stepping into the gooey mass of tangly weeds.

Immediately, the icy cold water sends shocks through my feet.

Thank goodness for wet suits.

We trudge through the seaweed and into the water.

Heading out into the sea to paddle board

Getting ready for the “light” adventure

“So, now we get on the boards,” he says, putting his upper body on the board and then pulling his legs on.

The other women I am with have no problem.

I try to do the same, flinging my body up. It’s not easy, but it isn’t as hard as I imagine either.

“Now, we need to get further out into the water,” he says, dipping his hands into the water and paddling with them, oar under his body.

I do the same, plunging my hands into the water. Like with my feet, the cold water sends shocks through me. But, after a few minutes, under the sun that finally decided to come out, it is refreshing.

Once we’ve gotten far enough out, it’s time to try to stand.

Heading out to paddle board in the Baltic Sea

The beginnings of the stand-up portion.

Slowly, board dipping from side-to-side, I manage to pull myself onto my knees.

I’m kind of doing it.

I stay like this for awhile. Attempting to paddle, but the current and I aren’t friends. While the others stick together, I end up floating away from them.

Michael sees I’m straying and gets off his board and comes to get me.

“You’re pulling me in, eh?” I ask, being taken back to the kayak in Spain.

“You are just getting a little away from us,” he assures.

I prolong the stand-up part of the stand-up paddle boarding experience for a bit longer, trying to convince myself I can do it.

When the others stand and begin to paddle, I realize I have to do the same.

So, wobbly, and pulse thumping in my ears, I slowly try to stand.

“Put one leg under your body,” Michael instructs, keeping an eye on what I’m doing. “Now, move your other leg.”

I do so.

“Now, stand up,” he guides.

I stand.

Holy crap. I am standing. On a paddle board. In the sea.

“Now, paddle,” he says.

My thighs shake. I can’t move. Not yet.

I try to focus on a spot in the sea, like I do in yoga when trying to balance.

But, this is a moving sea. And the focus shifts. And I am distracted by the fear of falling.

I dip the paddle in the water. I feel the board dip to the left. To the right.

Don’t fall. Don’t fall.

I try again. This time, the board wobbles too much and I can’t keep my balance.

Then, I am face-first in the water. In the Baltic Sea.

Rather than being upset I’ve fallen, upset I couldn’t stay on the board, I am invigorated as the water hovers at my neck.

I’ve just fallen into the Baltic Sea. Fallen off of a paddle board I never imagined I’d ever be on. This rocks.

We continue in the water for another hour.

Well, Michael and I do. The others have gone in.

After my last attempt, which resulted in another plunge, I decide my “light” adventure is done for the day. I don’t want to admit it to Michael, so I at least keep the oar in my hands as I ply him with questions about his background. Turns out, like me, he is an avid traveler. He’s working the beach house this summer after a stint in Normandy working at a brewery.

The two of us straddle our boards, letting the water gently bob us and send us back to shore.

Stand-up paddle boarding at Lomma Beach House in Sweden

I liked sitting on the board more than standing!

When Eric comes to the beach and waves his arms at us, letting us know it’s time to come in, I actually don’t want to.

Maybe I will give it one more go before my time here ends …

He waves his arms some more.

Or maybe I won’t …

We head back to solid ground and I peel off my suit. It’s time to go to lunch, a quick bike ride away.

“I haven’t ridden a bike in more than a decade,” I tell Anna. “Maybe this is a bit too much adventure in a day for me?”

This time, she lets me off the hook as we head to Lomma’s new harbor.

“Light” adventure: accomplished. At least a little bit.

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Lomma Beach House. My time in Sweden is courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy. Want more on Sweden? Follow along in Twitter and Instagram, #myswedentrip.

 

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Driving in Sweden

Driving in Sweden

I roll the keys to the Volvo over and over in my hand, laughing nervously as the Hertz customer service agent explains the car to me.

I haven’t drive in Europe since Romania. And that … that was just awful steering wheel death grips and praying for survival.

I’ve been traveling for nearly 24 hours and can feel the exhaustion and the nine hour time difference begin to sink in, even though it is 9 a.m. in Gotenburg.

“Um … driving here … in Sweden … I’ve only driven once in Europe … and it was in Romania … and I didn’t like it at all. I was really scared the entire time … is this, um, is driving in Sweden anything like that?” I ask, trying my best to assemble my thoughts, cringing at how stressed I was during my day trip through the Eastern Europe country.

The blonde haired woman looks at me and smiles.

“No, not at all,” she promises.

I take the keys and head to the parking garage where my four-door Volvo sits, waiting for me.

OK, D. Let’s do this.

After unloading my suitcase into the trunk, I slide into the driver’s seat and sit. Breathe. Put the key in the ignition.

You’ve got this.

I turn on the car, back out.

Not so bad.

Then, I head out of the garage.

A cab whizzes by me. Then, a car. My shoulders shoot to my ears. My grip tightens on the steering wheel.

Shit. Shit. Shit. I can’t drive here. 

I have no choice. I take one hand off the wheel and grab my directions, which don’t say anything about how to get out of the airport and onto the E6 towards Oslo.

Not good.

So, I do what I am best at: winging it.

I pull out, slowly. Very, very slowly. Then, am on the roadway. Trying to keep up with traffic, but when the speedometer shoots up towards 70 km/h I begin to doubt my driving ability.

Guesses on what this says?

Maybe it’s because of the lack of sleep and long travel time. Maybe it’s because of the gloom I have stepped off the plane and in to. Gray clouds hang low in the sky.

Please, please do not rain. I don’t want to drive in the rain in a foreign country in a car that is not mine.

I silently will myself to get out onto the highway and go, go, go.

And then, I’m off. Albeit not fast enough for the red Volvo behind me, who, in my rearview mirror, shakes his head and raises his hands as he pulls around me.

Still not sure where the illusive E6 is (I see no signs), I pull off and stop at a gas station and ask.

“It’s just there,” the clerk says, looking amused at my complete lack of knowledge.

Then, I pull back out onto the highway, off towards Oslo for my first stop of my Sweden trip, the island of Marstrand.

And, you know what? Driving in Sweden? A lot like driving in America. Thank goodness.

Editor’s Note: My time in Sweden is courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy.

 

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