Scandinavia Mania: Best for Last

Last stop: Dalarna. Okay, this actually came in the middle of the trip, but I wanted to save my favorite part for last.

One of the things we'd been really looking forward to on this trip was celebrating Midsommarafton (Midsummer's Eve), one of the biggest holidays of the year in Sweden. We'd heard that the best place to go for traditional midsummer celebrations was Dalarna, a province in central Sweden. (You may be familiar with the Dala horse, a symbol of the region.) 

Stockholm cleared out for the holiday weekend on Friday morning, and we left in our rental car, a great big silver gas-guzzler that we got as a free "upgrade" because all of the small cars were already booked. Yikes.

The first festival we visited was in Tällberg in the late afternoon. When we arrived, there were lots of people in traditional costumes dancing in a cleared field. All of the women were wearing crowns of wildflowers, so I braided one for myself, too. According to our guidebook, these wreaths are sometimes saved and added to the New Year's bath for good luck.

We watched them raise the maypole, then went to a nearby cafe for a dinner of waffles with whipped cream and cloudberry jam.

Then we drove to Leksand, where there was a much bigger festival--more like an outdoor concert. Hundreds of people (maybe even thousands; it was hard to get a good look at the crowd) sat on picnic blankets watching a band play as the maypole was prepared. Then pairs of men lined up and hoisted the pole as the spectators cheered them on.

Once the pole was up, everyone rushed in (including us!) and danced in a circle. Stephen and I couldn't understand the words to the songs, but we tried to follow the crowd and figure out the moves as we went. The only song I can remember now was Små grodorna ("The Little Frogs"), but I think there was another about elephants, and maybe one about playing various musical instruments. There were a lot of drunk teenagers and the ground was littered with discarded bottles, which added an element of precariousness to the fast-paced dancing. There were so many people dancing that you couldn't stop moving even if you were able to see the hazards in front of you. Luckily we made it through unscathed.

Since it was right around the summer solstice, dusk arrived very late. After the festivities had ended, we drove to Lake Siljan to watch the sunset. The water was calm and the colors were deep and saturated.

And then we got engaged! Here we are right after I asked Stephen if he wanted to get married, just as the last light was fading. Misummer's Eve is supposed to be an auspicious day for new beginnings. What better time to get engaged?

Well, that's a tough act to follow, but we still had a couple of days in the region before we went back to Stockholm. The next morning, we visited the house of Carl Larsson, an artist who painted scenes of rural Swedish life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carl and Karin Larsson had eight children and a very warm and loving home life which Carl depicted in many of his paintings. Apparently the Larsson family still owns it and occupies it for part of the year. It seemed like a great place to grow up.

Our last stop on this leg of the trip was this little church in the town of Ovanåker where my great-great-great-grandparents, Olof and Ella, were married before emigrating from Sweden to the United States. Luckily, it was easy to find and looked almost exactly the same as in the decades-old photograph my dad had given me. (I think my paternal grandfather had a local genealogist take the picture when he was doing research about our ancestors in the 1980s.) We took some pictures and walked through the graveyard, looking at the names on the tombstones.

Finally, we had to pack up and say good-bye to Dalarna and to our tiny cabin with the lilac hedge, but I think this will always be one of my favorite places in the world.

The end!