Forests and lakes

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I’m getting a lot of fresh air at the moment. It’s helping a lot. Every now and then, you need a bit of scenery and oxygen. As you may have picked up, I’m in Sweden. Actually, I’m further north than most people think of when they think of Sweden. I’m just outside of Umeå, in the Västerbotten region.

But I’m not in Sweden for my health. I’m working here. I’ve been meeting with some fantastic people at the University of Umeå to bring Music Tech Fest to Scandinavia.

If you haven’t heard of it, Umeå is currently Europe’s ‘Capital of Culture‘. That means there’s a lot of investment, a lot of optimism and a lot of fascinating interdisciplinary projects – many of which take place at the intersection of design, music, technology and art.

In other words – my kind of thing.

There’s also a rather cool Guitars museum – with the largest collection of electric guitars on the planet. They have rare Fender and Gibson guitars from the 50s that Fender and Gibson themselves don’t have.

The university has a new facility opening up soon called Sliperiet. It houses a range of innovative projects and businesses making art installations, feature films, new types of interactions and products, and – interestingly – projects that bring together music and technology.

The facilities here are incredible. Make anything you want from digital video to large structures of wood and steel. They can 3D print a car, for goodness sake.

Sliperiet will be the home of Music Tech Fest Scandinavia 2015.

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I don’t seem to have taken a lot of photos of the city centre here. Or any, actually. It’s very nice – and there are cafés, record stores, cinemas, supermarkets and all the other things you need to run a city. Traffic is no problem whatsoever. There are even cycle lanes.

But there’s also an awful lot of nature here in Sweden. Bears, moose, reindeer, frogs, squirrels, and birds of many shapes and sizes. And it tends to be those things that I’ve been pointing my camera at. After all, this is not the sort of thing you see every day in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

More noticeably, from a nature perspective, Sweden appears to be basically a series of lakes and fjords loosely held together by pine forests. A trip on the Wilderness Way is strongly recommended if you get over this way. In fact, make a point of it.

Hiking’s a big thing here. So is fishing. Cycling, golf and hunting also seem to feature heavily on the ‘going outside’ agenda.

Swedes appear to like being outside rather a lot. I thought it might have been something to do with the fact that up here near the Arctic Circle, any bit of sunshine would be welcomed as an opportunity to leave the house, but apparently the whole going out into nature thing is a year-round experience. Even when it’s minus 30 outside. Those activities that require the surrounding area to be entirely frozen are also very popular.

I heard that the year-round average temperature here is 3 degrees. That’s not very warm. And yet, my experience here has been sunshine and temperatures in the mid to high 20s. One day, it reached over 30. I’m okay with that.

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And of course – from a sightseeing perspective, what you can see when the sun does come out is worth seeing.

Imagine, for instance, visiting Niagra falls, and being the only person there. That’s a bit what going to Hällsingsåfallet is like.

Imagine going swimming where the beach is in one country and the water in another. Did that a couple of days ago.

Imagine taking a stroll through a mature pine forest from the banks of a fjord to the edge of a lake just to get from your own house to have a cup of coffee at your friend’s house. That’s where I’m at right now. And I’m less than 15 minutes from the city centre.

Imagine sitting and writing a blog post at 10:30pm as the sun slowly starts to set outside. That’s what I’m doing.

I like it because it’s not what I’m used to. I like it because despite all of the work and the stress going on right now for all sorts of reasons – it feels like a holiday. I like the people and I like the place. I like the innovation, I like the optimism and I like the ambition here. I like the food, the attitude and just how damned civilised it all is here.

I love the forests and I love the lakes. Those are really special. I’m out of here after the weekend – but I’m definitely coming back. This is a magical place. Can’t wait to see it buried in snow.

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