Updated: Nov 28, 2021
It was still a rather cold February that year and it was snowing when we arrived at Arlanda. It had been a hectic two months getting ready to move to Sweden, but there was no time to waste once we landed. The dogs wouldn't be arriving until two days later (our lovely friends Martin and Susie were so helpful in helping to watch our boys to give us time to coordinate and set-up their new home) so we flew to the island and rented a car and stayed our first night in a hotel in Visby. We were so excited to be arriving to our new home and looked forward anxiously to having a nice dinner and celebratory drinks. Having visited just before Christmas there were still several restaurants in Stora Torget (the main square) open, however the middle of February was a whole different scene. Stark, dark and empty...we had to settle for a picnic style dinner in our hotel room, picked up from the only grocery store open. Our celebratory drinks were low alcohol beers, which is the only thing you can get outside the state run alcohol store (which closes at 6PM); the harsh reality of the differences from America were on full display now.
The next morning we checked out of the motel and met in Visby with the previous owner and realtor to sign the purchase paperwork and get the keys. In the Swedish system the same realtor represents the buyer and the seller and there was literally only one page of paper to sign so we were done within an hour. We were finally on our way to Gothem!
The thirty-five minute drive out to Gothem we were giddy, this was really happening. We were looking forward to starting on the renovations so as we arrived and went inside we began to take stock. We needed to get quite of few things in order for us to be able to stay in the room that first night so we began moving items around to set up our room and a shopping list. We then headed out as we had also set-up to buy a used car (which we originally thought would also double as our food truck) but was large enough to haul a lot of things during the start-up. The first night was special and incredibly cold. As we were to quickly find out, the heating in the cantina wasn't on during our November visit, not because it was just open on the weekends, but because it was actually broken. We ended up using several smaller space heaters throughout the kitchen area to keep warm. The next day we went to start up the new/used car and shockingly the battery had gone dead (yup, totally rookie move to not have thought of getting a trickle charger). Since we knew no one yet, not even what company to call for a tow, we ended up calling the previous owner (who lived in Gothem). Erik from the first had made a special connection with her, maybe it's because her first name was the same as his grandma; in any case her husband helped to get Erik to the nearest city, Slite, fifteen minutes away, to purchase a new battery. Since things seemed to be really starting off so well all I could think of was OMG we're in Funny Farm (1988 Chevy Chase movie) or The Money Pit (1986 Tom Hanks movie).
The next morning we took the ferry to Stockholm to pick up our boys. It was going to be a quick trip (same day) so we could get started back home as soon as possible. Thankfully, due to the fantastic efforts (and expense) of our pet transport services everything at customs went flawlessly and we were able to get our boys quickly. Maybe it was wishful thinking or maybe it was the crispness of the cold weather, or maybe they were just so happy to see us, but they seemed like puppies when we let them off the leash in Gothem; they were so happy to have so much land and freedom to run around and not be so overheated in the Florida humidity all the time. Since it was still quite cold outside we set them up in their own cabin so they would be able acclimate more easily, it also would be quite dangerous in the restaurant with the renovations going on.
With our little family finally all together it was time for the real work to begin. Erik and I began clearing out all the items in the cantina which were determined unusable for us; we rented a large dumpster to begin throwing out a lot of the items (what a shame we didn't have Facebook Market back then we could have capitalized on a lot of the stuff). Once cleared we started inside the cantina with removing the wall paper. Oh boy, the wall paper. As I previously mentioned in Part 2 it is a special relationship I have noticed these past 6 years with Swedes and wallpaper. For most Americans wallpaper is much to fussy to deal with (slapping on the paste, aligning the edges, measuring and cutting). We much prefer customizing our paint color and making a fancy pattern with a brush or a top coat or stencil. However, Swedes somehow seem to prefer wallpaper over paint, although I'm still not sure why. Erik and I had originally considered just painting over the wallpaper, but it was in such bad condition in some areas that it would have likely begun peeling off right away, especially in this case where it was over three layers worth of wallpaper. Since chemical removers would have been too expensive for such a large space we opted for purchasing a wall paper steamer, which softened only a small patch at a time (this would take some time, about four days to be exact). With the wall paper removed we could now fully see some of the areas that would need extra work. And with so much work to do we would need some extra help! We enlisted as much local help (carpenters, electricians and equipment providers) as we could, which considerably helped us to begin learning about our new home. This was invaluable as it helped us to understand a lot more about the seasonality of the area, but also helped provide some input on some changes (i.e. patio) that would provide a better dining experience for our future guests.
About a week after our arrival our boxes finally arrived. A relief since one of our most critical items (the tortilla machine) was there. The dinning room renovations were moving along quite quickly, within a month of our arrival we had nearly completed the cantina and began starting on the cabins. However, I now had just two months to start working on the food side of things and already we were facing some glaring issues. First, the EU standards didn't support the use of hydrogenated palm oil (a critical component in vegetable shortening which is used in our flour tortillas, it was a real challenge to find items that could be used as a replacement for vegetable shortening that did not contain coconut fat; for some reason this is a common fat in baking margarine in Sweden). Second, the nixtamal corn tortilla flour which is readily purchasable in the US was NOT easily found in Sweden and with no resources other than the internet to go to find a supplier, not to mention that once we found a supplier the cost was nearly 10x what it cost in the US; and we would still have to make them! With the two key components of our concept (home-made Mexican tortillas) in jeopardy we were getting really nervous. What other unexpected food issues would we have?
We celebrated Erik's birthday on March 6th at the Gothem Bygdegård (the community center) in conjunction with a Music PubQuiz night and everyone sang happy birthday to him in traditional Swedish fashion. And with the cold weather not seemingly wanting to end we celebrated my birthday on March 21st with snow! Our neighbors, Astrid and Sten and another friend, Tina sneakily conspired with Erik to get me flowers and a cake and flew the Swedish flag for me. On the wedding front we were still doing the planning for whatever guests would be coming, we weren't expecting many but you never now so we wanted the cabins ready. I had also promised my best friend Erinn, who had already planned my bachelorette party before we had left the US, that I was going to be able to come back for the party so I still had to make travel arrangements for that, five days after my birthday. The countdown to the grand opening was on! To be continued...