Despite the 3.30am start I felt surprisingly perky, although neither of us could face breakfast until we were through airport security, and firmly ensconed on seats in Heathrow Terminal 5’s ‘Giraffe’ restaurant. Fortunately they offer alternatives to a fry-up, and I thoroughly enjoyed my fruit and yoghurt with gluten free granola.
The flight became a little turbulent as we drew closer to Sweden, but having sat through flights to and from Isafjordur in Iceland, and Barra in the Outer Hebrides, this journey didn’t bring on that slightly panicky feeling, although Rich did start softly singing “Ship’s going down!” to try and freak me out.
At Arlanda airport we caught the ‘Beta’ bus to the Avis car hire office, and were very kindly given a free upgrade from a Toyota Yaris style car, to a big estate car. Fortunately I’ve driven big cars in the past, although I did get in the drivers seat and think “oh sh*t” when it dawned on me that it had been a while since I’d changed gears using my right hand, and that I would keep having to scrabble around for the hand break. By the end of that first trip though – 80 miles to Gavle, I’d started to get used to the car’s quirks – by now nicknamed Scarlett in honour of Scarlett Johanssen. It helps that most Swedes are very considerate drivers, and don’t try and push you aside like they do in the UK, or make rude gestures because you refuse to go over the speed limit on roads where children live and play.
This was our first stay at a Scandic hotel, and certainly won’t be our last. Scandic Gavle West is located just off the E4 motorway a few miles out of Gavle, and felt, not surprisingly, typically scandi with it’s friendly staff and quirky design features. Unlike most UK motorway hotels you can even open the window more than an inch, and there’s a swimming pool in the basement, so after Rich had had a nap we made our way down to the pool and quickly discovered that the Swedish way seems to be to shower, sauna, shower again, and then swim. In the UK the pool temperature would be considered cool, but here it means that you can quickly cool down after a sauna, and probably that fewer germs congregate.
After a few sauna-shower-pool sessions we then headed up to the restaurant, and were very impressed that the set meal starter came with caviar – a first for both of us! Steak, salad and fried potatoes were followed by chocolate trifle for Rich, and strawberry panacotta for me, before we called it a night. Less than twelve hours in Sweden and we already felt right at home.