Updated on January 22, 2017
12 Countries in 12 Months (Part 2)
From December through July 2016, JoEllen and I visited five more countries to round out our travel total to 12 countries in 12 months. During these trips we began a new tradition of collecting a small flag from each country. Searching for these souvenirs has been a lot of fun. They cause me to look more closely at each nation’s flag, and each one has a fun memory associated with it.
Sweden: Uppsala, Falun, Mora and Ydre
It is crazy to think that neither JoEllen nor I had stepped foot onto Sweden until we moved here, and we are very lucky that we both fell in love with the country right away. Not only do we constantly find new things to love about Stockholm (many weekends are spent checking out a museum with our friend Frida and others), we have also ventured outside of the capital city to discover what else the country has to offer.
For sportlov, which is a week long school break in February designated for enjoying sports and nature, JoEllen and I ventured north. Our first stop was a visit in the college town of Uppsala, which has a very impressive cathedral. Next, we spent a day in the city of Falun, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Falun Gruva, a copper mine that was in operation for over a thousand years and produced over two thirds of Europe’s copper during this time. We were in luck and visited the small and cozy town of Mora while the Vasaloppet (the oldest and longest cross-country ski race in the world) was in full swing. However, the highlight of sportlov was our visit to the original Dala horse factories where we got to see how they are made! For hundreds of years, the Dala horse has been the national symbol of Sweden and these hand carved, hand painted wooden figures just make me happy. It takes over two weeks to transform a boring block of wood into a beautiful cultural icon, and we picked out a customized little fellow to take home.
One of my favorite weekends of the year happened in June, when we were lucky enough to be invited to spend the weekend with our friends Alex and Ale in Ale’s family’s traditional summer cottage. Since we were going to miss Midsummer, our friends wanted to make sure we still got a taste of a quintessential Swedish summer holiday. This relaxing weekend consisted of everything Swedish: delicious meals eaten outside, swimming in a freezing cold lake, walking through the woods in search of 12 different types of flowers to make a krans (flower crown), drinking wine, and playing board games until the sun went down around 2 a.m. JoEllen and I were both very thankful to Alex and Ale for making us feel like bonafide Swedes.
France: Avignon, Nice, Aix en Provence, Orange
For påsklov (Easter break) JoEllen and I spent the week road tripping through the Provence region of southern France with a Canadian (Kelly), a Swede (Frida), and an American (Alex). Experiencing a new part of the world with our close friends made this trip all the more special. We enjoyed seeing the sites at a relaxing and leisurely pace. In particular, we loved our home base and the hours spent in the “House Next Door.” JoEllen did an excellent job finding this AirBNB, which was a huge historic home with plenty of room to cook, enjoy wine in the spacious yard, play card games, while also having more than enough private space for everyone. Alex even surprised everyone by providing us with traditional Swedish Easter treats! We really felt like a little family for the week.
When we weren’t enjoying time in our AirBNB, we enjoyed getting to know the Provence region of France. The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that is one of the civilization’s most impressive engineering feats (you may recognize it from the Volkswagen Bug commercial). Seeing this enormous structure in person exceeded my expectations and reminded me how people can do almost anything they put their minds to. The cliff-side fortress and town of Les Baux was also a worthwhile pit stop, mainly because of its unique underground quarry light show/theater. It is impossible to describe this experience, the best I can do is say go check it out!
One entire day was spent on a wine tour of the region. We had a personal driver pick us up and take us to different vineyards while teaching us how wine is grown in the region and how to taste and experience the wine like professionals. The wine expert at the final vineyard was especially memorable, I felt lucky to learn from his enthusiasm for the wine-making and tasting process. To this day, when any of us have a glass of wine together we sometimes joke around and see if we can “detect the nose” of a particular wine.
The last few days of our trip were spent exploring Orange (with its Roman theater), Avignon (and a tour of the Palace of the Popes), and Aix en Provence (a beautiful city that we were all too tired to enjoy properly). “Three Americans, a Canadian, and a Swede go to France” was a pleasant and memorable trip.
Home sweet home!! There is nothing like coming home for three weeks after being away for an entire year! Unlike the other 11 countries, where we visited with checklist of new things to see and experience, it was nice to settle into the familiar for a few weeks.
Reasons it was good to be home:
- Play time with our nieces Harper and Collins
- Mexican food
- Drinks with friends at The Flying Saucer
- Family time at the Diggs’ lake house and seeing how much the nieces and nephews have grown
- Monday Night Raw with wrestling friends
- Fried chicken
- Relaxing evenings with the Buckleys
- One-on-one time with good friends
- Hosting my Swedish coworker and her daughter (my student) in Nashville
- Seeing EVERYONE at Tony and Liz’s 4th of July party
A few things did catch me off guard after being gone for a while. First of all, slow down Nashville, you are growing way too quickly! I can’t believe how many high rises are being built downtown; I barely recognized the place. Also, things in the US have gotten politically charged. Everyone wants to talk about politics, but no one wants to listen. This was particularly hard for me because my political and social outlook has changed vastly since moving to Stockholm. (More on that in another post someday.) I was sad to leave friends, family, and food, but it was also good to come back home to Sweden.
UK: Cambridge, London and Bath
After spending a few weeks with my family in Nashville, it was their turn to visit us in Stockholm. After a quick stop in Cambridge, we spent a week in my mom’s favorite city, London. London is a city full of some of the world’s most iconic historic landmarks and the Buckleys explored several of them. We took a boat tour (where my mom was nice enough to help clean seagull poop out of JoEllen’s hair) and got a view of Shakespeare’s Globe theater which we later went inside of to enjoy a showing of “Macbeth”. We enjoyed delicious meals and beers with the family, and Natalie and I even beat Chris and JoEllen at a game of wife swap darts!
JoEllen is a huge fan of street art and since London has a renowned street art scene, we couldn’t miss taking a street art tour. We loved seeing the unique artwork and the off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods of London. Camden Market in particular stole the show. We could have wandered the maze of oddball shops and ethnic food stalls all day. Some of London’s neighborhoods gave me an eye-opening glimpse into the process of gentrification – seeing the stark contrast of upper/middle class patrons enjoying their fancy hipster cocktails in the middle of low income areas caused me to think deeply about how gentrification affected these Londoner’s lives.
When our close friends from home, Amy and Aaron, wanted to come visit us in Europe, where to go was a no-brainer. Aaron’s grandparents are from Poland, so we joined as he visited this country for the first time. I am so glad that we did. Krakow is a must see European city and has so much to offer: history, great cuisine, a lively night scene, a stunning old town, and most importantly, everything is affordable! Krakow’s old town square is the largest in Europe and I can’t think of a better place to spend a sunny afternoon with friends.
Since traveling throughout Europe and getting to know other cultures was the main reason we decided to move to Sweden, we are thankful to have had an exciting first year full of new memories and friendships. I look forward to where the next years take us and to adding many new flags to our shelf.