Sweden’s Baltic Island of Öland

This summer holiday I was on the Baltic island of Öland for the first time. It is a fascinating place linked to the Swedish mainland by a 6 km long bridge. Interestingly, the name Öland translates as ‘Island Land’ – Ö being the Swedish word for island.

Öland lies outside the town of Kalmar in South East Sweden. The island is long, thin and mostly flat. This makes it windy and the landscape in the south of the island is barren. Made of limestone, the island is home to some unique flora and fauna that is found only on Öland. In the centre of the island is a large, open steppe called Alvaret. This vast, protected area is on the UNESCO Word Heritage List.

People have lived on Öland since 8000 BC, and the island has several Stone Age archeological sites as well as Viking settlements. The original settlers migrated across the ice bridge that connected the island with the mainland.

For a long time, the island was a royal hunting ground – which is reflected in the Öland coat of arms depicting a crown and a deer.

Today around 27,000 people live there permanently. During the summer months, the population multiplies drastically, with Swedish and foreign tourists descending on the island. This includes the Swedish Royal Family who have their summer residence on Öland. The island is a summer paradise, with its many long white sandy beaches.

The regional capital is a small town called Borgholm, and here there is a majestic ruin called Borgholm Castle. Dating back to the 16th Century, the castle stands on the site of an older fortress from the 1200’s. It is an impressive building with its panoramic view over the sea and any potential invaders.

Öland offers a unique insight into Swedish history and culture. It took me over 20 years to visit, but I hope to return again soon!

Sweden the pariah

It is well known that Sweden has taken a different approach to the pandemic, one that didn’t involve totally locking down society and enforcing quarantine and curfew. Instead, the Swedish way relied on the responsibility of the population to go about life, with some restrictions and be careful. Time will tell if this was the right choice in the long run.

In the short run, we see that Sweden has a relatively high incidence of death from Covid-19. It is of course hard to compare figures, because it depends on what and how you are counting. Sweden cross checks against the death register and counts every death, in every location. Not just in hospitals, or in intensive care units. Because the virus got into care homes, the vast majority of deaths is unfortunately found in the over 80 age group.

It seems like Sweden is now paying a price for the more relaxed corona strategy. With countries around the world slowly opening up, they have released lists of approved countries from where tourists are allowed. Sweden is not on many of these lists. Swedes are perceived as plague-carrying high risk tourists.

Sweden’s neighbours Finland, Norway and Denmark have opened up for travel after their lockdowns. But the borders to Sweden remain closed. Sweden has become the social pariah of Scandinavia. Norway released an interesting decision this week. No traveling to Sweden, except to the Swedish Baltic island of Gotland. However, domestic travel is allowed in Sweden, so the popular holiday island of Gotland will be packed with Swedes, mostly from Stockholm, crammed in together with Norwegian tourists. Not sure how Norway was thinking on that one.

Of course, as time goes on, Swedish tourists will be welcome again around the world. As Sweden’s death toll reduces, and the virus ebbs out, borders will open again. It’s just an usual situation right now for Swedes to find themselves unpopular.

So, staycation is the melody of summer 2020. My plans include a socially-distanced trip to lake Vättern, and a road trip up north. I’m also going to explore my hometown of Stockholm more.

If you’re staying in Sweden, what do you plan to do?

Today is a Swedish squeeze day

Today is a ‘squeeze day’ in Sweden. What, you may wonder, is a squeeze day?

– It is not a day when everybody goes around hugging each other.

– Nor is it a day when people pinch each other’s cheeks or rear ends.

– It is not either a day of drinking copious amounts of fresh citrus juice.

No, a ‘squeeze day’, or ‘klämdag’ in Swedish, is a day of the week that falls between a public holiday and a weekend.

In Sweden, when a public holiday occurs on a Tuesday or a Thursday, a common custom is to take the day between the holiday and the weekend as a day off. Sometimes this is subsidized by the employer. In English, this is called a ‘bridge day’ but in Swedish it’s cutely referred to as a ‘squeeze day’.

In Sweden, there are 11 public holidays (known as ‘red days’) and there are masses of squeeze days this year. New Year’s Day was a Tuesday this year. Yesterday, Thursday, was Ascension Day (which is always on a Thursday) and so today is often taken as a holiday. This year, there are many floating ‘squeeze days’. Next week, National Day on the 6th of June, falls on a Thursday, so the following Friday is also a day off for many. Coming up, this year Christmas Eve is a Tuesday, Boxing Day is a Thursday, and even New Year’s Eve is a Tuesday.

So, Swedes this year are having a lot of time off work. Add to this, the Swedish concept of the de facto holiday – the day before a bank holiday is taken off, either as a full day or a half day. Most employers recognise and allow for this.

It’s a good job that Swedes are so efficient when they do work – otherwise the country would grind to a halt!

When Stockholm becomes a ghost town 

With the summer holidays in full swing in Sweden, many urbanites leave their cities and head for their country houses, their boats and further abroad. As a result, Stockholm empties out and turns into a ghost town. Fewer cars and fewer people contribute to a calm environment. Many establishments are closed for business and back in August. Most of the people you see are tourists or unfortunates who have to still go to work. 
Although it has changed over the years, Sweden is still affected by the so-called ‘industrisemester‘ when companies used to completely shut down production for the whole month of July. Even though this has changed now thanks to globalism, July and August are the times when most employees take their holidays and it is noticeable how vast numbers of people disappear from the cities and towns. According to Swedish law, employees are entitled to 5 weeks holiday and can take 4 of these in July-August and there is a right for these to be conjoined.