By Andy Christian Castillo
Orange tile roofs of coastal houses stand bright and cheery against dreary, overcast clouds as the ferry from Vrångö Island in the archipelagos near Gothenburg, on Sweden’s West Coast, pulls into port at Saltholmen.
My girlfriend, Brianna, who’s sitting next to me in the blue-velvet seats, squeezes my hand and smiles a nostalgic smile.
She looks up at me and suddenly I feel it too: a sense of belonging that pelts against the windows like driving rain off the sea, that threatens to anchor me down to the rocks and join the harbor boats drifting at bay on the tide, their tall mastheads swaying together like hands on a clock against the darkening evening sky.
Raindrops snap against the window more suddenly now, as a gust of wind drives the ferry forward on a sudden swell, slamming the bow against the dock. The captain’s sharp voice crackles over the loudspeaker, announcing the ferry’s final destination: we’ve reached Saltholmen.
Our damp coats are draped over the seats in front of us, filling the cabin with a lingering scent of rain and seawater providing a souvenir memory we’ll carry with us back to America. Around the large space, passengers gather bags together, corral excited children, and file through the seats toward the aft exit.
West Sweden charm
West Sweden has a particular charm to it that, to the unobservant traveler, might be misconstrued as ordinary; however, to those nomads who care to sink into the calm culture of the coast and experience islands such as Vrångö, they’ll notice a distinctly perceptible peace that seems to pervade over everything (similar to other continental coasts such as the eastern coasts of Canada and the United States).
The people who live here are content, and that happiness seeps into travelers like tide foaming up through slats on a peer — despite the perpetually gloomy weather.
Elite Plaza Hotel
Earlier in the day around 11 a.m. we left our lavish room at Elite Plaza Hotel, scampered through raindrops and climbed aboard one of Gothenburg’s iconic blue streetcars at tram-stop Domkyrkan in high spirits, and road all the way to the end of the line to catch a ferry out to the archipelagos.
But when we arrived, the attendant at the ticket counter said she was sorry to say we’d have to wait at least an hour, because the ferry had just left.
On the tram-ride up Brianna had noticed a cute little cafe near the port, and so we passed the time eating cookies and drinking coffee — in honor of the traditionally Swedish coffee-break called fika — while watching a stiff breeze carry more rain in from the ocean.
As an American, I absolutely love the idea of fika: it’s an excuse to drink coffee and eat cinnamon buns, which are readily available at, I’m convinced, just about every coffee shop in Sweden. And, perhaps best of all, I’ve heard that fika is a mandatory event — even during the workday.
In my mind, I picture these huge alarms blaring at businesses and workplaces across the country. I imagine conveyer belts jolting to a stop, computer screens bleeping into blackness, printers shutting down, machines grinding to a halt, and millions of workers tossing off helmets and rolling up their sleeves to go and drink coffee: but that’s probably fantasy.
At half-past one, we collected our dishes and headed back to the port. By the time we got to the ferry, a long line of island-dwellers had formed in front of the Vrångö sign, presumably on their way back home from a day in town.
The rain picked up, and I hugged Brianna against a building to keep her dry — not realizing I was standing directly beneath rainwater runoff from the above roof. It took me about 15 minutes to realize that it wasn’t raining as hard as I thought it was, and by the time I realized my predicament, I was soaked; however, my spirits weren’t dampened.
After about a 30 minute ferry ride, we reached Vrångö, where we were met with even more rain, that swept down in boisterous gusts, ripping through tall grasses bending to the wind in-between sleepy, quaint fishermen’s houses and pitching pinpricks of rain onto the surface of a quiet harbor in the center of the island.
Life is peaceful on the island. Near the dock, bicycles and converted dirt bikes, with two wheels and a storage platform in the front, waited for residents to return from the ferry and putter down the only road leading from the dock, across the island to their homes. Along the road, small, picket fences were covered in vegetation, almost entirely concealing the red-roofed houses they surrounded. Today, swinging couches rocked in gardens, rain soaked overturned kids’ bicycles, and flowers huddled against the stiff wind.
Raining in Sweden
I was soaked; Brianna was a little drier, but not much. She was also freezing. We pulled our hoods up and hurried down the slick path, between the houses, toward the harbor. Aside from two other shivering forms we pass, the island seemed abandoned — adding a certain charm to it.
After about a 10 minute walk, we reached the harbor. Overlooking fishing boats and sailing skiffs, with sails safely rolled and covered, a small lighthouse stood dutifully on a rocky cliff. Lobster and crab traps were stacked neatly on the docks.
Then the rain came on harder, driving with the force of the ocean, which also became rougher.
A sudden gust sent us scurrying to the safety of a row of boathouses that encircled the harbor. Under the shelter of an awning, we decided to run back across the island to the ferry port and get out of the cold.
At the dock a short while later, we found shelter inside Skärgårdens Café, a small coffee shop just off the path, and ordered cinnamon buns and coffee. We watched waves roll against the shore and enjoyed fika one last time before catching the next ferry home.
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