Swedish Meatballs



Looking at the map, my dilemma was clear. I had two great options both in opposite directions from one another. To make the decision harder, I didn’t really have a good sense of how quickly I could travel through the countryside. Norway generally has an 80 km/h (50 mph) speed limit. I was expecting an additional seven hours of driving on an already aggressive agenda. If I chose to go to Sweden, there would have to be some compromises on the Norwegian side of the trip.

I was genuinely stuck. I wanted to do it all. Life has taught me though that connecting with people is always better than connecting with an experience. Connecting with an experience is always better than connecting with things.

In math speak:

People > Experiences > Things

Bergen dropped off the map as I headed east into a completely unexpected adventure.

The biggest surprise in Norway was how many tolls there were. Here in the Bay Area, it’s a somewhat significant event to cross the bridge and pay the toll. Our toll at its highest is only six dollars, which isn’t oppressive but enough to optimize when and how you cross the bridge. In Norway, a standard toll is 35 Kroners (about $5 US). The difference is tolls appear a lot more frequently. To put it in perspective, I spent more on tolls than I did on the rental car itself.

The other “innovation” I’m glad we don’t have here in the States are speed cameras. I get that they are efficient at generating revenue. The problem is you don’t know that you’re caught. There’s no sign that says “Got you!” You just get a bill in the mail a month or two later. In the case of this foreigner, it would be a bill on my credit card. Guilty before proven innocent. In a similar vein on my motorcycle trip across Australia I was wondering when I was going to get nailed. Norway was much the same way. Every locale has its tolerance for speed(ing) and I wasn’t sure of the local norms here. Some cars wrote the speed limit other cars would fly by you like you are standing still.

ProTip: Don’t speed in Norway.  Their laws are some of the strictest in Europe per http://www.speedingeurope.com/norway/.

For some reason, Norway reminded me a lot of Minnesota. The topography was gently rolling hills. There was lots of open land used for farming. And you could tell this area experiences hard winters. As I got closer to the Swedish border, the geography changed. Trees were more common. The hills had more roll to them. It seems like I had shifted from Minnesota over to Pennsylvania. I was really hoping for a welcome to Sweden sign but alas, all I got was a tollbooth. My wallet was 110 Kr ($14) lighter and I had one more country on the map!

I met Alex in 2006 when he was a first-year camper in my cabin. It was a humbling experience and a reminder of my investment over the years in DYF. A few years ago he was my co-counselor at camp!  Talk about feeling old!  It was completely surreal to see him in his element on the other side of the world. Life brought him to the town of Uddevalla, a place I can barely pronounce, much less spell.

Uddevalla is a small Swedish town nestled in the rolling hills. Uddevalla sports a population of about 30,000 people and is one of the larger cities between Oslo and Gothenburg. I stayed with Alex on the edge of town in a pretty kick-ass apartment that has a view of the city and the water.


As we were touring the apartment, Alex noted “Low supplies are here.” I’ve traveled extensively as a diabetic, but it was especially comforting to connect with someone on the road who gets it. I’ve had the privilege to work with some pretty amazing people over the past 15 years at camp. I’ve seen many of them grow up. I do wonder if I’ll have kids of my own one day but I can certainly say I’ve connected with so many grow up over the years.

In many ways, this trip is very serendipitous. We are both in a similar position of reinventing our lives. In the past two years I’ve moved thousands of miles between continents and have done a fair amount of bouncing around the Bay Area. Alex has relocated thousands of miles from the Bay Area to Sweden. We are both experiencing the highs and lows of relocation. We both anticipate what’s ahead.

One thing that really surprised me was that Uddevalla has navigable water all the way to the ocean given how far inland the city is. Because of the seawater, the city definitely has a maritime feel. Our first stop was the Bohusläns Museum. The museum had a fair amount of Swedish history, but what caught my eye was the boat exhibit. Inside the museum Alex noted that Swedish culture values craftsmanship. It was cool to see the the ornate detail on each of the vessels. There was one small, sporty boat that looked like it would be fun to take out on the water.

On an unrelated note, I always smile when I see the dingo as it reminds me of my extended stay in Australia. Honestly, I’m not even sure why it took a picture of the boar.

Alex is a native Swedish speaker so I took the opportunity to swing back into the Apotek (pharmacy) to see if I got the right cream as the rash wasn’t abating. Through a bunch of Swedish I didn’t understand I got the word that I’m being an impatient American. I needed to get the medication more time to work. A day and a half wasn’t going to cut it.

Alex and I walked up to the top of the hill overlooking the city as the sun was beginning to set. Neither of us knew exactly where we were going, we figured up was the right direction. It turns out there is a pretty incredible view all the way at the top. Persistence paid off on that one!


Once we got back to the house, Alex prepared a very traditional Swedish meal: Swedish meatballs, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and peas. It turns out genuine Swedish meatballs are quite different than what you get at the IKEA cafeteria. Likewise, the traditional Swedish style cinnamon bun is nothing like the sweetened malaise available at Cinnabon. We both laughed when I asked what the carbohydrate count was for each part of the meal. Cheers to insulin and carbohydrate ratios.

After dinner we headed back into town to share a drink, reminisce some old memories, and look forward to new experiences ahead. Alex noted how hard it can be to meet Swedish people and I laughed having felt the same way about Californians. It’s just hard being new in a new place fundamentally being outside of the organic community. Time and effort are really the only things that alleviate the temporary loneliness of being in a new place.

At this point in the trip I was really beginning to struggle with jet lag. I’ve never traveled so far away from my home time zone. Australia was only five hours difference (but 19 the other direction). The 10 hour time difference was hard for me to adjust to. Alex suggested some melatonin. One pill later and I was out.

I’m glad I headed east today.  It reminded me to continually be open to the  world.



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