Sweet Family Time – South Sweden
We arrived in Sweden on a beautiful sunny morning.
It’s a short drive from Denmark, across the impressive Øresund Bridge that runs for ~8km across the strait that separates the two countries. It’s a small jaunt yet it catapults you into a surprisingly different culture with a pleasantly lyrical language, new foods and customs. I understand bits and pieces of Swedish, but am admittedly lazy about learning it so I end up switching to Danish or English more often than not. The Swedes thankfully indulge me.
It’s also a rather big country (by Scandinavian standards), with masses of open space.
Only ~10 million people live in Sweden, and most of them live in Urban areas that account for just 1.5% of the land mass. Much of the rest of the country is covered in huge forests that stretch into a long mountain chain along the border with Norway (the Scandes, or the Scandinavian mountains). Interspersed within it all lie a mind-boggling ~100,000 lakes, meaning you’re never far from water wherever you go. All of this is accessible, the Swedish right of allemansrätten (every mans right, or the right of public access) ensuring that everyone has free access to nature as long as they are respectful of it. So, you can hike, bike, and tent camp almost anywhere you want. It’s no wonder that Swedes are such avid outdoors people!
We were looking forward to all of this, but specifically we were here for family; for my sister and brother-in-law and their lovely young son. We spent several weeks with them, most of which was just hanging out, although we did manage a few adventures in-between. Good weather, plenty of gin tonics and lots of Lego time. Plus a little motorhome camping to top it off.
A teeny bite of South Sweden, leaving us a taste for much, much more….
First, We Register Polly With Swedish Customs
The day before we enter Sweden we do our due diligence and register Polly with Swedish customs.
Technically this is something that must be done for all cats and dogs entering Sweden, whether they travel by air, sea or land. Otherwise you risk committing a crime on Sweden’s Act on Penalties for Smuggling. Yikes! Of course you’re unlikely to cross any border officials if driving in by land, but given how easy this is to do there’s absolutely no reason to skip it.
Polly has an French (EU) pet passport*, so we just went to THIS website = tullverket.se and uploaded her info. Minutes later we had our registration number and were good to go. If we’d been coming in by plane, this would have allowed us to go through the “nothing to declare” line. As we just drove across the bridge there were zero controls, so I guess the registration just did its thing in the ether. Either way, she was now fully legal to enter the country.
*Note/ If traveling from a non-EU country (say, USA or UK for example) with a pet health certificate you cannot pre-register online and are technically either supposed to present yourself at Swedish customs at the border, or if there are no border agents present ring Swedish Customs’ on-duty officers via +46 40 661 32 25. Now you know! What you do with that knowledge is up to you 🙂
Family Time Is So Sweet
What can I say about visiting family**? It’s tumultuous and crazy, wonderful and sweet. You get nothing done and yet you get everything done. You think you have loads of time, and then suddenly you have to say goodbye.
Whaat? How did time pass so fast??
Sister lives in South Sweden with her husband and young son in a lovely part of the country known as Skåne. It’s a land of abundant coastal beaches and rolling countryside, a popular summer spot with a vibrant University town (Lund), a renaissance castle (Malmöhus Slot), lots of lakes and forests, and an impressive megalithic monument (Ales Stenar) dating back no less than 1400 years ago.
Amongst other things…
I honestly don’t really have any stories about the few weeks we spent with my family, more just impressions and memories of time with those I love. They have a young boy whose energy levels are about the same as Polly’s (at least in the morning), and they both love the local lake, so we go almost everyday for a swim. For fun we sometimes drive the motorhome down there, which generates no end of excitement for all. And then when we’re done we all go home for a nap followed by an afternoon outing to the park or playground.
Sometimes we feed the ducks at the pond by the house, sometimes we just hang and play Lego. Other days we see the local sights. By the evening we’re all exhausted, worn out by boundless young energy. We go to bed early so we can recharge and start again the next day. Ah, to be young again!
The breezy, summer days zoom by, melded with activities and play. Its so precious and sweet.
**Sorry, no detailed pics of the fam as they’re off social media these days, a decision I fully respect.
It Takes Us Some Time To Adapt
Admittedly it takes us some time to adapt to the different habits in Sweden.
With COVID, it’s like entering an alternate Universe. Sweden has had a very “hands off” approach throughout the pandemic, with no formal lockdowns or closures, and no general mask mandates. It seems crazy coming from the rest of Europe, so even though we’re fully vaxxed and we hit the country at its lowest infection rate (it was fully “green” on the reopen EU map at the time) it made me rather jittery. Admittedly I don’t fully relax in public spaces, even the whole time I’m there. The pandemic really has changed me…
Recycling is another, albeit much more fascinating topic. I discover that my sister has 6 recycling bins in her kitchen where everything is meticulously separated, from food waste to plastic, metal to general waste. At first it seems overwhelmingly complicated, but then I learn that only 1% of Sweden trash is sent to landfills. Only 1%! 46% of the trash is transformed into energy that helps to supply heat and electricity to homes, 16% is composted, while the remaining 37% gets recycled. It’s an impressive feat that’s led to massive reductions in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. We should all learn this from the Swedes on this one!
We Learn About Motorhome Parking (And Allemansrätten)
The other thing that fascinates me about Sweden is allemansrätten (a concept that’s also shared with Norway, by the way)
The idea that nature should accessible for all is an incredibly positive and logical thing. Of course it helps that Sweden has so much uninhabited land (unlike much more densely populated Denmark, for example), but it’s also an inherent part of the culture which means everyone really loves to get outside. What a great thing for mental health and wellbeing!
For motorhome travelers it’s also rather attractive, albeit in a more limited way.
Despite what you might read elsewhere allemansrätten does not apply to campers the same way it does to people & foot/bicycle traffic. In 1975 a law was passed called terrängkörninslagen which prohibits the circulation of motor vehicles over all natural terrain such as beaches, forests, meadows and parks. It applies to both privately-held and public lands, and also covers national parks and nature reserves. What this means in practice is that you can’t just see a trail and take it in your motorhome, nor can you just park up in any forest, beach or meadow.
In other words, legally you can’t wild camp just anywhere in Sweden.
This may seem rather depressing at first glance, but it’s not quite as bad as you might initially think. Thanks to allemansrätten you’ll find lots of parking lots and rest areas right next to large natural areas, most of which you can use overnight.
So for example, many lakes in Sweden (yeah, those ~100,000 I mentioned above) have an attached parking lot where it’s perfectly fine for you to overnight. Same with lots of forest and beach areas. As long as cars can park there, and it’s not prohibited (if the sign says “Ej Husbiler” that means no motorhomes allowed) then you can overnight. Useful info to know!
We Decide To Go Camping Together
For our last few days in Sweden we all decide to go camping together.
We choose a teeny campground Nybostrands Camping right by the beach on the Southern Coast. We get a nice, firm grassy parking spot while sister and fam get a small cabin (stugor). It’s a gorgeous little spot with only a few people on the beach and icy cold water, only fit for the most hardy of Vikings. Polly is excited to be on the road again, and jumps around like a puppy when she smells the ocean. My nephew joins in delight, and we all enjoy hours by the cool beach just hanging out.
Our very last day we take a trip to see the Southernmost point in the country, Smygehuk. It’s a cute little fishing village turned prime tourist attraction, but despite all that it manages to keep its charm. There’s a neat little hike along the beach, several limestone kilns from the mid 19th century, a lighthouse from 1883, lots of handicraft stores and (perhaps most famously) a nude female sculpture by Axel Ebbe that was apparently modeled by Uma Thurman’s grandmother. She was a hottie, is all I can say about that!
That night there’s a spectacular sunset on the beach, a fitting end to our sojourn in Sweden. We had grand plans before we came here, of traveling further north and maybe even doing a big tour of Norway (on my bucket list), but neither of us are feeling it. We decide a slower pace is better for old-Polly-girl and us. So we head back over the bridge to Denmark, for another mini-tour of places I’ve not been to before.
We wave goodbye to sister and fam with a twist in our hearts. There’s never enough time with family, and we’re going to miss them all terribly. Hopefully the next reunion will not be so far away.