This may not interest many of you, but I thought I’d jot some notes about the kind of planning we did for our trip.
It’s tricky to strike a balance between adequately planning and over-planning. You don’t want to be so locked down that you can’t take advantage of surprise opportunities, but you don’t want to get to your destination and twiddle your thumbs, either.
Itinerary Development. I was extremely fortunate to follow in the footsteps of earlier genealogy enthusiasts in my family. I have been adding to their work over the last 20+ years and I am self-taught at reading Swedish church records. In the end, I was able to determine the home village of all ten of my Swedish immigrant ancestors – eight were found by others, two by me. Mapping all the villages was the next step, so we could start to think about the most efficient route that would also include other destinations such as Växjö and Stockholm. Google Maps was helpful for that. Dad communicated with a travel agency in Chicago that was recommended by Volvo. They suggested a route but once they found out we were going to be staying in B&B’s, they dropped us like a hot potato. We did use their suggested route as a first draft.
We were so far off the beaten path that the guidebooks were generally no help. So I did as much Googling as I could for each of our destinations. Sweden is divided up into municipalities (kommun), each with its own website, and those websites typically have a turism page. I Googled the name of a large-ish city near each destination and then read the Wikipedia page about it. From there, it was easy to find a link to the kommun website. My Google Chrome browser automatically translates web pages from Swedish to English. I found the neat Heljesgården farm museum this way. The kommun websites are also a good resource for local hotels and B&B’s in the area.
Transportation. A car is a necessity for this type of trip, so the Volvo Overseas Delivery Program was perfect. I don’t know much about the economics of the rental car approach. You could easily get from town to town in Sweden using train and bus service, but you would still need local transportation to get out and see the farms and churches.
Lodging. Luckily, the term for “bed and breakfast” in Swedish is… “bed and breakfast”. I went to Google maps, zoomed in to places we wanted to go and then used the “search nearby” link and looked for “breakfast”. For three of our destinations, the B&B’s were very close and one of them had a family connection. Prices for B&B’s are all over the board but I wouldn’t hesitate to spend a bit extra to get the B&B experience. Usually the price is comparable to a hotel. For the city stays, I relied heavily on tripadvisor.com and looked for free wi-fi and an included breakfast. For Stockholm, I focused on finding a hotel with free parking. That meant riding the train into the city center each day, but train fares were included in the Stockholm Card. We tried to minimize the number of times we’d have to pack up the car. Being able to stay in one place for three nights and use it as a “base camp” was ideal. We booked all our lodging about ten weeks in advance.
Food. This was our biggest challenge. Many of the smaller towns don’t have restaurants that are open past 6:00. Food is very expensive in Sweden. We ended up eating a lot of McDonald’s food, actually. They are pretty popular in Sweden (they are promoted as healthy, heh-heh), the food is familiar and it was relatively cheap. (A typical McDonald’s meal for 2 was about $16, and we’re not big eaters). Every second or third day we tried to fit in a nice meal of traditional Swedish food. We also got stuff at the local ICA supermarket and had picnic lunches and dinners several times.
Church visits. Although I got tired of seeing churches toward the end, it really is fun to step inside the church where your ancestors were baptized and married. Each church has its own personality and it’s fun to compare them. The churches are typically locked. I suppose you could arrange in advance to have the them opened (we did that in one instance actually), but that might detract from the spontaneous quality of your travel. I think we had at least 3 churches opened for us by the maintenance guy out mowing the lawn or raking the gravel. Many times we had to be content to just walk around the exterior and that was okay, too.
Farm visits. I don’t think any of the farms we visited are still owned by our relatives. So without a personal connection, the typical farm visit it just a drive-by. I did go to extra effort to contact the current owners at Eket, but then we were unable to coordinate our schedules. The local tourist bureau gave me their name and contact information. All roads and lands in Sweden are open to the public. It’s similar in England – you can walk on private property as long as you don’t disturb anything. Still, we tried not to invade people’s privacy. The website geodata.se was absolutely invaluable for locating farms by name.
Bring your background material. I prepared travel guides for each of us. For each ancestor, I printed a geodata.se map, a family tree diagram, some text about where they lived and when they came to America, plus a photo if I had one. I assembled them into plastic pages in 3-ring binders. I also had a TON of stuff on my iPad and that worked great. A future post will describe more about all the tech stuff.
Mistakes were made. If we had to do it over again, we should have better planned our time in Stockholm. We should have purchased our Stockholm Cards in advance, and we should have studied up on the mass transit system. We did too much unnecessary walking! Dad really wanted to ride the train to Copenhagen, and if we’d had one more day we could have done it. I guess that’s on our list for a future trip to Europe!