It sounded like your basic outdoor food and music festival at first. Then I read on, and I began to see that “Smaka pa Stockholm,” or “A Taste of Stockholm” was something a good bit more enticing. Traditional Swedish dishes and exotic food from all over the world served by Stockholm’s top 25 restaurants, with chefs often dueling it out for most popular creation. Musical performances ranging from rock bands to soul to wandering minstrels to opera divas. And the crowds: more than 650,000 from all over Europe! The best news: it will all happen within the short window of time we happen to be in Stockholm in early June.
Okay, that’s one event that gets the big check mark in our family’s planning for our upcoming Semester at Sea Enrichment Voyage. I’m hungry for that Swedish and international food already.
As an author, ghostwriter, and personal historian who helps people write about meaningful and memorable life experiences, I’m fortunate that my wife Krista works for the study abroad program Semester at Sea (www.semesteratsea.org). Sometimes her work pulls her along on voyages to diverse ports of call all over the world, and sometimes my son and I get pulled along with her. Last year we spent four months on a round-the-world voyage that featured extended stops in Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, India, Singapore, China, and Japan. This year’s journey is closer to four weeks than four months, but after embarking in the UK, we still get to squeeze in visits to Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen, Denmark; Riga, Latvia; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Hamburg, Germany, in addition to that eating binge in Stockholm, Sweden.
We won’t have the time or the budget to sample every wondrous place in these European cities and countries. Many of our fellow travelers will head far out from our ports by train or plane to cover lots of ground laid out on on sight-seeing checklists. Our plans will be much more modest, which is totally fine with us. As travelers who have taken field trips to Ghana boating villages, India orphanages, South Africa home-building sites, Mekong River hostels, and a Shanghai public park where tourists seldom venture, we have come to understand that it’s not the names or the fame of the places you visit that matter, it’s the spirit and sensibility you carry with you when you’re there. Sure, we’ll remember walking the Great Wall of China. But we will remember just as vividly the taxi driver who delighted in stopping his beat-up vehicle time and again beside the plentiful fields of his native Dominica so he could slice off samples of the abundant fruits, vegetables, and spices growing there. I can still smell the cinnamon, still taste the sugar cane. And I can even more clearly see the image of pride in our new friend’s face as he showed off his island homeland.
This trip figures to be different; they all are. With only a day or two in most ports, and my wife’s job duties often keeping her on ship, we won’t be taking the same kinds of field trips designed to usher you into the heart and soul of a new land, to glimpse something deeper than what you’ll find in the tourist guidebooks. In fact, we’ve got our guidebooks out for quick reference and short-burst excursions. We’ll no doubt ride our share of city buses and river boats. Still, wherever we go, and whatever we do, I hope to bring that same spirit of discovery, an appreciation for both our differences and our commonality of people, a respect for how people in far-away countries live, and a curiosity for everything around us.
So we won’t be immersing ourselves in these new countries and cultures so much. We will mostly be sampling them…getting a taste. And when I come upon this Taste of Stockholm event, I fully intend to take as big a bite as I possibly can manage!
– Kevin Quirk, author of “Your Life Is a Book and It’s Time to Write It,” assists people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures in writing meaningful life stories in his work as an author and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies.