Waiting For Spring In Sweden

Mulling over the arrival of spring in Sweden in the still frigid air of the city
A hint of spring
A hint of springIllustration by author

The trees are still leafless, the air arid and cold, the skies grey. Sweden is still waiting for spring to arrive. I have often been asked what my favourite season is. Invariably, I have answered it to be autumn. They look at me surprised. Who in their right mind likes the impending dullness that autumn hints towards? Well, I do. Apart from the rusty colours of fallen leaves, I prefer the softness that autumn leads to. Streets start becoming empty; the summer cheeriness begins to melt into a gentle quietude, and senses fold inward from the outward summer onslaught.

This time, though, having enjoyed the autumn, I had enough of the dark winter that followed. There was little snow on the streets, even less of the sun. Though expected of a Nordic winter, I felt something shifting inside me. I am looking forward not only to the sun but also to a hint of colour to appear. So far, it has failed to manifest, even on the streets of Malmö, where I live, and one of the southernmost cities in Sweden. People wear greys and blacks, blending into the immediate surroundings. The trees remain leafless, standing like cardboard cutouts. The streets remain largely unoccupied, with everyone keeping indoors.

“Why not travel to a warmer, more colourful place to escape this depressing hole?” asked a friend when I shared my exasperation. Yes, travel is a means to escape. Why do we travel? Some would say to learn something new, experience a different context and grow. Or, to escape the reality, the everyday tedium. I had always looked at travel as a time machine that would take you to worlds different from your own. The cultural transformation that a plane journey could bring in a matter of hours is perhaps the biggest of the inventions of the modern world. Within hours, one can travel from the luxuries of Europe to the harshness of sub-Saharan Africa, from the tropical summer to the harsh winter, from the seaside to the snow-clad mountains. And with this context change comes a learning experience. We grow by experiencing the world differently, and each journey becomes a learning expedition.

Spring in Sweden
Spring in SwedenShutterstock

This time, though, I considered travel as a means to escape. I searched online endlessly for warmer places where spring had arrived. I aimed to travel southwards to Italy, where temperatures were hovering in the mid-twenties, and the bushes have started gathering colour. I am not one to run away. Or so I had thought. But here I am, meticulously planning an escape. Before exploring its gardens, I booked a flight to Naples and dreamed of searching the streets for outdoor cafes. The thought alone brought me happiness. This time, my travel is driven not by any learning—I wasn’t looking forward to studying Italian culture, visiting museums as usual, or talking to the locals to understand what makes them love their city.

I plan to be outside and forget about the winter back home, even if for a few days.

The thought is unsettling, though. Have I become less of a learner? Or was I always a travel snob, and this Swedish winter has cracked that reassuring persona I had cultivated in my mind? Have I changed from being a discoverer to an escapist? I wondered. Condescension is less spoken of as a characteristic of those of us who claim to be travellers. The reality is that we are all no different; we are all searching for experiences. Sometimes, we grab these travels and accompanying experiences as learning journeys and at other times, these are but ways to run away.

Isn’t it time that I drop the pride I carry?

As I write these words, I look outside the window. The skies are still grey, and the wind still screams outside. There is no hint of spring. And I await it. While it’s still a distant reality here, I will hop onto a plane and find it elsewhere. That thought comforts me.

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