We hadn't even gotten out of our Volvo station wagon rental when my sister declared: "This is a Dream World!" With a giddy laugh, I completely agreed.
Driving to Fiskebäckskil, a small island community in West Sweden, we had hints of the perfection that was to come. We drove past rolling pastures of hay bales covered in white plastic that looked exactly like giant marshmallows. And unwrapped ones that looked just like cinnamon buns fit for a giant.
After checking out our new digs at Gullmarsstrand Hotel, we ventured onto the ferry to visit Lyseskil. That's when we had our first encounter with a local (because everyone is friendly in Dream World, of course). "Hey, hey!" he said in true Swede style. "Hi," we said in true American style. After finding out he grew up in the southern archipelago of Gothenburg called Styrsö, we were even more intrigued. Surely, he must have a dream life, we decided. "When you grow up here, you are very…protected," he said. "Sheltered?" I questioned. "Yes, exactly," he enthusiastically confirmed. "I've come to understand that it has been a very sheltered childhood and growing up out there was very special. There are no cars on the southern islands; instead everyone gets around on mopeds, and lately, with golf cars. Everything gets here eventually, but 20 years later." "So what do you do for fun?" "Well every April we have Christmas tree wars," he said. "What?" we giggled. Basically, he explained, after Christmas, gangs of teens (mostly boys) go around and snatch the discarded trees on the curbs. And then, come Easter, they see who can build the biggest bonfire.
"Crews generally consist of your friends and preferably people who you are related because you need people you can trust," he says. "Even with friends you never know if they are supporting their local bonfire secretly or if they will support yours." "During our finest year, our crew (consisting of me and my sister, my best friend and his sister) collected and hid more than 120 Christmas trees," he says. "We were very proud to have managed this being only 9 and 11 years old." I love the surrounding nature here with the bare cliffs and closeness to the sea. The houses in the older parts are very typical for the west coast, built in wood with paned windows of simple design. After hopping off the ferry and walking around town, I knew sheltered was the right word. With the Christmas tree wars and an adorable community, it just made me adore Dream World even more. After saying our goodbyes, we picked up two shiny, red bicycles from the Tourist Center. We rode along the narrow streets, past summer brightly colored beach houses and toe-headed families eating ice cream. The dreamy day continued with a free music performance and delicious food at a waterside restaurant, but this was just part of our trip. Here are more must-dos when you visit West Sweden:
For a heavy dose of culture, head to Gothenburg, Sweden's second-largest city, where you'll discover a buzzing arts scene, indie bands, new fashion labels and friendly folks. If you visit in January, be sure to take part in Scandinavia's best film festival, the Gothenburg International Film Festival. Plus, outdoorsy types will love the terrain. With an archipelago of 1,000 islands scattered around its shores, Gothenburg offers a wonderful, rocky playground. The Bohuslän coast is known as one of Europe's best kayaking destinations. At the end of the day, foodies adore the five Michelin-starred restaurants. Sweden's west coast produces some of the best fish and shellfish in the world and has helped Gothenburg build a burgeoning reputation as an award-winning, gourmet destination.
Skåne, a city of about 1.2 million, has a lot to offer. It's a walkable city full of life. The first thing you'll notice is the architecture. Since it was originally part of Denmark, there are pre-17th century Danish influences throughout the adorable villages, towns and cities. The brightly colored buildings will have you snapping way too many photos.
Known as the commercial center of southern Sweden, Malmö also has plenty of green space. It's not called the City of Parks for nothing. Not only that, it's a great place to see Nordic contemporary art exhibitions at the Moderna Museet, an old electricity plant converted into a modern art museum. Come evening, the prime people-watching spot is Lilla Torg, a picturesque square packed with restaurants, bars, outdoor seating areas and a buzzing crowd.
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