Above: A 12-hour layover in Paris is a delicious way to manage jet lag. If you’re going to be sleepy, do it in a city where you can eat and drink as you stumble across town. Loosely create your route based on where there are trees to nap under.

On June 16, 2015, I arrived back on Swedish soil.  My plane didn’t arrive until almost midnight, but fortunately it’s a short ride from Copenhagen to the train station in Malmö.  The sky was fully dark but the air was clear and the salt air was crisp when we emerged from the escalator, and the very first thing I saw through the glass station entrance was a church lit up brightly against the dark sky.  S:t Johannes Kyrka, the very place where I was scheduled for my first international concert two days later, was my first “welcome back” I received in Sweden! I didn’t take a picture but it’s seared into my memory…

It looked a little something like this.
(Photo credit Hcarlberg)

My relative Anne had told me to call her when we got to the station and she would come to get us. But my phone had no roaming capability and there was no place open where I could by a Swedish SIM card.  Needing a phone, I looked around the deserted square and saw only one person… a woman using her phone to take a picture of the church. I gathered my courage and proceeded to have my first real-life Swedish conversation with her!  I think I said something like, “Ursäkta, kan du hjälpa mig?  Jag behöver att ringa min släkting. Har du en mobil?” She was an Armenian living in Denmark and didn’t speak much English, but between my Swedish and her Danish we managed to communicate.  She let me borrow her phone and I used it to call my cousin, who arrived moments later.  As much as I have to sing in other languages it may come as a surprise that I have never been very good at actually speaking them, so to actually talk to someone in Swedish and have them understand me was a hugely rewarding feeling. Pat on the back!

Our first day in Malmö was mostly getting the lay of the land and settling in to our temporary home.  My cousin was a wonderful hostess, she had her apartment all ready for us with all the comforts of home. (Including a bag of Tutti Frutti candy… which she already knew was a weakness of mine.)

My cousin is the hostess with the mostest! Hello Malmö! #kännersomhemma #alltförsverige

A photo posted by Katie Malik (@katie.malik) on

Although it was my third time in Malmö, and it was the place many of my relatives call home, I’d actually never had the opportunity to really see the city and I didn’t know my way around at all.  I had been there for our first day filming AFS, but the only three places I visited were Kungsparken where I first met my relative Anne, Zlatan’s school where we had our swedish lesson with Anders Lundin, and the beach where we found the Amerikakoffert.  So the first thing I wanted to do was what I always do when I arrive in a foreign place – just walk around the city and explore.

After we completed the first order of business (finding a SIM card so I could use my phone) we headed to the centrum and had a traditional Swedish lunch in Lilla Torg. It was my husband’s first time eating Swedish food (entrecote with gravy, sylt, and new potatoes) and he loved it.  I had to step away and take a call from Yvonne at Skanska Dagbladet, she welcomed me back to Sweden and we chatted for a few minutes about the diary articles they would be publishing in coming days. It was pretty fun actually… she would interview me for a few minutes and the next day I would get to see what I “wrote” in my diary. 😉

Our bellies full, we wandered over to Kungsparken, and lo and behold we found ourselves at the very same spot where we had first met!  We enthusiastically re-enacted our first meeting while our husbands looked on in amusement, shaking their heads and saying, “Yep, they’re related.”  The weather was gray and drizzly, so it looked different than it had under the clear sunny skies. But if anything, that made it look even more like home.

Gray and green and wet all over.

Gray and green and wet all over.

It was funny, as we walked around the city I kept doing double-takes as I recognized certain features that I’d seen before. A fountain in Kungsparken, a path behind the casino where we were trying to find a bathroom, the Bishops Arms, the Turning Torso.  It’s hard to explain just how disorienting it really is filming Allt for Sverige – you’re constantly being driven around and walking back and forth every which way while they film the shots they need, so it really leaves you with no sense of direction.  People laugh in the final episodes when contestants can’t remember where they’ve been, but it really is a mind-trip and the only way to know where you are is to constantly be observing and asking questions (and even then you can’t always get an answer).

One of the craziest moments I had was walking down the sidewalk on the way to the beach. One impression of Malmo that stuck with me on my first visit was that the bicyclists seemed a little crazy  – there were a couple instances of very nearly getting run over and then hearing a polite little “ding ding” once they’ve passed. As though one would say… “Move your ass! Oh, I mean I’d rather not kill you today, thank you.”

So I’m walking toward the beach, minding my own business, and I find myself suddenly in the middle of a bike lane.  And I suddenly jump and leap out of the way, laughing and saying, “Ha ha, that reminds me of when we almost got run over by a bike when we were walking into Zlatan’s school!”  I looked around, and it was the EXACT SAME place.  The same school doors, the same brick, I even recognized the spot where Troy and I had taken pictures in front of the lilac bushes.  Who knows, maybe it was the exact same guy on a bike… I think he must just circle the block all day attempting to run over disoriented tourists.

I am convinced that the little bend in the bike lane there is some sort of cruel Darwinian device.

In the evening we met up with more family at an Indian restaurant for dinner… including a couple of Swedish relatives that I had met during the Julspecial, and my parents!  They had arrived a couple of days earlier and already had a little tour of their own to our family’s historical sites. My parents became fast friends with Rolf and Margaretha, who greeted them when they arrived and showed them around. Rolf was also the gentleman in the Julspecial who gave me the book of photos and information about our Swedish ancestors and relatives. He is the genealogist in the family, and he Anne were central to organizing the family reunion that would happen the next day.