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Out in Sweden: Five Things We Learned on the West Coast

1. Pop Goes the Music in Gothenburg

While Team Black Volvo got by on showtunes and Christmas songs (!!) during their drive, Strawberry Squad got a master lesson in Swedish pop thanks to the iPod of our senior editor and music maestro Jason. With an all-Swedish-all-the-time playlist, it was a string of hummers one after the other, amazingly most of our faves coming from Gothenburg: The Knife "Heartbeats" and the creepy "Pass this On" (fun fact: we met and shot Rickard Engfors later in Stockholm, the subtely camp/creepy drag dancer from the video); The Tough Alliance "A New Chance"; the Morrissey-meets-lounge-crooner Jens Lekman "A Postcard to Nina"; Little Dragon "Nightlight". And of course, for good measure, although they're from other parts of Sweden, we made sure to blast some Lykke Li, Robyn, classic Abba, and the supremely catchy Nikki & The Dove "DJ Ease My Mind".

2. Boulders Make Great Beaches

When you've got crystal-clear and absurdly-clean water, a wooden high dive and over 18-hours of daylight, who needs sand? Definitely not the Swedes who splayed themselves all along the Bad (beach) in Kladesholmen, on the windswept tip of Tjorn island. My only regret was not joining them. While the official excuse was forgetting to pack towels, unofficially I was worried all the herring I ate at lunch at the waterside restaurant Salt & Sill would somehow exact their revenge if I got in the ocean. Yes, more herring. It may have become a running joke at this point but the ramshackle town is home to 40% of Sweden's haul and the restaurant rightly famous for its preparations. So as they say, "When in Tjorn..."

3. "Our Parents Would Love It Here"

Not one person, not two people, but 5 out of 6 of us independently ahh'd that our mothers would get giddy spending a night in Fiskebackskil (say that five times fast), a former fishing village turned summer escape for tony Stockholmers. According to one of our waiters at the delicious harborside restaurant Brygghuset -- seriously, can you get a bad meal in Sweden? -- the village's 1,500 year-round residents swells to over 7,500 in the summer, not counting the almost 68,000 tourists. And with every turn of a corner unveiling a new definition of storybook-perfect photo op, it's easy to see why. The tumble of gingerbread-fringed houses, in pale yellow, bluebell and barn red (converted boat houses, we also learned) stacked on sharp hills to the sea felt almost like a more schmancy Provincetown; the few stylish gay couples (or were they just European?) taking evening strolls certainly cemented that impression. From our cliffside perch at the designy Gullmarstrand resort we watched the sun rise over the bay before getting an up-close-and-personal tour of the archipelago, some 18,000 more rocky islands where seals sunned themselves and each cute harbor after each cute town inspired serious summer home envy.

4. Sheep and Sculpture Make Good Bedfellows

"All these sheep remind me of my boyhood!" yipped our editor Aaron (we didn't ask) as he giddily skipped to go pet the grazing ovine at Pilane, an open-air sculpture park and ancient cultural site on Tjorn Island, brainchild of a documentary TV producer turned art curator and sheep farmer (they actually do serve a function, har har, acting as natural lawn mowers at the hilly, rock-strewn complex). The museum is open every June-September and brings together a new roster of sculptures with nature and stone circle burial sites dating from the Iron Age. Pieces lean towards the absurd, (a giant white rabbit by Kent Karlsson, crocodiles made out of tires by Eric Langert) and the iconic (Tony Cragg's silkly, almost liquid yet monumental bronzes "Discussion" and "Point of View), while Keith Edimer's symbolically vaginal Viking Age boat burial "You Gotta Go Out, You Don't Have to Come Back" and Erin Wurm's vaginal vaginal "Big Gulp" brought the sheep jokes home. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon: a bit of a hike, a bit of culture, and plenty of photo ops.

5. Don't Take Candy from Strange Cashiers

Salty liquorice we can understand in an abstract way, but, Sweden, what's your excuse for Lakrisal? Seriously. You lured us in with the flash red-and-black design, bold font, and close proximity to the suckers and gummy bears. The tow-headed, rosy cheeked cashier even said it was her favorite candy. But surely she was the devil in disguise. Oh the taste: worse than dashed dreams of finding gas station gold was expecting sweet tarts and getting something akin to a Tums mixed with herring-flavored cat food. Sorry, it may be a national treasure but it's downright nasty. Which is to say we bought a small case of it in Duty Free on our way home to give as souvenirs. (Yes, our friends love us.)


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