Grace Notes: Christmas in Sweden

Most years I manage to get home for Christmas by about the 15th of December. Usually at least a week before the day itself. I then help with the decorations in Cardiff and get all excited and ‘Christmassy’ at home. This year however is a little different. My flight isn’t until December 22nd, so I won’t actually get home to Cardiff until that evening. Therefore, I had to get into the mood here, in Sweden.

This was actually a pretty easy thing to do because, as with most things, Sweden is great at Christmas. Firstly there are the lights. It was starting to get dark by about 3pm most days and this would normally get me down, but there were so many lights and sparkles around, a part of me looked forward to the dark just so I could see everything lit up!

On my walk to school I pass the theme park ‘Liseberg’ and they have huge decorations at Christmas and a market and shops to get you in the mood. The centre of town is also festooned and looks stunning, as the lights are all so tasteful. One of my favourite things I saw this year were trees with their branches individually wound with fairy lights, illuminating them completely. It looks beautiful!

Another thing to make you smile is the singing Christmas tree. This is situated near the tram stop Kungsportsplatsen and is a Christmas tree shaped choir stall where local choirs go up and sing a set of Christmas tunes. It’s so cheesy, but I love it!

In the UK at Christmas we have a lot of lights, but it was a little different here. In almost every window there were some candles or a hanging star light, bringing this magic to the darkness.

Aside from the decorations I also enjoyed the food at christmas, particularly the pepparkakor and glögg.
So although it’s been different, I have definitely got the Christmas spirit in Sweden, but I’m looking forward to heading back to Cardiff for the actual day!

 

Grace Notes: How music helped me to settle in

I have been living in Sweden for just over two months and I’m now feeling pretty settled and normal, almost like I belong here. Even the language is becoming less of a mystery, and I’m starting to pick up bits and bobs of conversations in Swedish, although I have little to no chance of being able to form a reply yet…

However, I found the first few weeks here hard. Some days would be fine, but others I’d feel very far away from everything and a little lost. This was often because I’d seen a post on Facebook or Instagram from a friend back home doing something that had I not moved, I would be doing too.

Lodging in a flat means that I spend a fair amount of time on my own, and while most of the time I find it refreshing (and it’s nice to be able to put on pjs at 6pm and not be judged), sometimes I wasn’t able to shut off my brain completely and I’d get myself worrying over nothing and then stress out and not be able to get anything done.

The one thing that I found really made it easier though was listening to music. Every day I have a half an hour walk into faculty and I listen to my iPod the whole way. I don’t listen to things I am studying or pieces we are about to play in a concert, but tunes that I know really well and associate happy memories with. It also gave me a chance to really appreciate the beautiful scenery around me and watch the seasons change, without my mind being clouded with things I need to do, or was missing out on.

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Walking home in the summer evening

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Watching the colours change into autumn

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One of the first frosts (it got down to -4, but I’m told it’ll get much colder….)

For me these included tracks like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie, ‘Can You Forgive Her’ by the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ by Sting, or ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd. These songs change on a daily basis, but if I was to choose a few things to listen to now, it would be the above tracks.

By giving myself that half an hour or so to and from college to shut off, let my mind wander and just get lost in the music, really helped to keep me from going crazy.

Even though I now feel pretty much at home here, I still have my walk and my music every morning and most evenings, and I really enjoy just being able to escape and let my mind wander wherever it chooses.

Grace Notes: Initial reactions to living in a new country

On 23rd August I was up at 2am and dropped off (very kindly by my dad) at the National Express stop in Cardiff. From here I was taken to Gatwick where I got on my plane to Gothenburg. I arrived just after midday and was already exhausted.

I was really lucky and my landlord offered to pick me up from the airport and give me a lift to where I would be living. It’s really strange choosing somewhere to live without never having seeing it, but I had nothing to worry about as the flat I’m now living in is lovely, as are the couple I live with.

From talking to to friends who have done similar things and moved far away they have all said that there will be a big ‘wobble’ moment.

Mine came when everything was unpacked and I sat down on my bed thinking ‘what now?’…. I knew no-one, I didn’t know the area, it was already too late to go exploring and I couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to my family or friends. There was this overwhelming feeling of loneliness and my brain was screaming at me saying what a huge mistake this was coming out here. I might have shed a tear or two, but after I got that out of my system and Skyped to vent my uncertainty, I felt so much better and the rest of the settling in process was relatively easy.

I then started exploring. A few things that initially stumped me a bit was trying to work out the currency (roughly 10 SEK is £1), the tram network (sometimes the tram stop is not where you expect it to be….), driving on the right side of the road, finding porridge oats (they are called havre gryn if you too can’t find them….), and realising that most cheese comes in kg blocks….

My first week in Sweden was mostly made up of meetings and getting to know my way round. Finding your way through a city without google maps is something I haven’t had to do in a long while!

However after a few days of fending for myself my parents arrived for a visit and then I could enjoy Gothenburg like a tourist for a few days before term started.

Grace Notes: An update

So far this year has been a very exciting one. My brother I put together our own concert, I performed my final recital, I got my degree, moved out of my flat I was in for 3 years and I’ve recently moved to Sweden!

Although I didn’t blog about it, I was really proud of what I did with my recital and whileI was immensely glad when it was over, I did manage to enjoy performing which, for me, is a big achievement.

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My family after my recital

Moving back to Cardiff was strange. It was weird not being in London 24/7 and not being close to work and college. It was also odd to leave the flat that myself and two of my best friends had made into a home for three years. It was a bittersweet moment because although we were going on to do really exciting things with our lives, it also meant that we wouldn’t be seeing each other every day to share our mundane news and watch Disney in our pyjamas. However thanks to the wonders of the internet (and Facebook chat) we still share all our news with each other, which will just about do until we’re next all together.

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On the day of moving out…

Over the summer, I went away on a walking holiday in Scotland with my dad for two weeks which was incredible. All the discomfort, slightly odd food, horrendous sunburn (yes, even in Scotland) and almost constant wet feet was totally worth the incredible calm and beauty the highlands have to offer. I’m hoping to go back next summer! When I got back to Cardiff I had a very exciting letter saying I’d been given by undergraduate degree from Trinity Laban. I was really happy as this marked the beginning of my next adventure.

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Crossing a river on the way up Cranstackie

Now I don’t think I ever mentioned this, but last March I took a very quick trip to Gothenburg in Sweden to do an audition for a Masters in Symphonic Orchestral Performance at their university. In April I found out I’d got a place and last week I packed up my things, hopped on a plane and moved to Gothenburg.

It’s a really weird feeling arriving in a country, knowing nobody and not speaking the language (although almost everyone here speaks near perfect English!). I’m sure I’ll settle in, but in the meantime I guess I’d better start learning Swedish!!