Fall. Just hearing the word touches off childhood memories of apple picking, jumping in piles of leaves, and hay rides. Never have I experienced Autumn – my favorite season – outside of the continental United States. Now, here in Scandinavia, the air is becoming crisper and the days shorter. And I couldn’t be happier to be in this part of the world.
What better way to indulge in the pleasures of fall than to take a visit to the annual Autumn Fair in Skansen? Located on the scenic island of Djurgården, Skansen is the world’s first open air museum. On the last weekend of September, the traditional country fair held at Skansen offers glimpses into the spirit of Sweden pre-industrialization. This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend this fair and witness Swedish history in action.
My fellow DIS students and I arrived at Djurgården by ferry. Walking through the entrance gates of Skansen, we were greeted by a flurry of enchanting smells – roasting nuts, cinnamon, coffee – as well as quaint red houses with people dressed in traditional clothes sitting on porches. The ferry didn’t just transport us to another island but perhaps to another era. Or so it felt.
Strolling along streets devoid of cars and traffic lights, we passed an occasional peacock and townspeople in horse drawn carriages heading in the same direction we were – towards the Autumn Market. We knew we were close when we heard the sound of plates smashing (apparently it’s a game – I’ll keep that in mind next time I accidentally drop a plate). Set up in a row of wooden stands were vendors selling everything from meat and vegetables to dyes and ironworks.
The inner child in me was drawn to the pile of hay and my fellow students and I soon found ourselves in a hay fight with one relentless young Swedish boy. While, days later, I’m still picking hay out of my hair and jacket pockets, I would say this detour successfully fulfilled my fall fantasies. However, the day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the zoo – I couldn’t return without seeing some reindeer, moose, and seals.
Although the Skansen zoo was certainly a spectacle, it was hard to ignore the breathtaking vistas of Stockholm on the outskirts. Taking in these views with new friends as the Autumn wind blew through my hair, my visit to Djurgården assures me that fall is still my favorite season no matter where I am. As the leaves fall to the ground and the days get darker, I vow not to forget that moment – but also not to fear the darkness. Fall teaches us that everything in life is impermanent and fleeting. I hope to spend as much time as possible outside in the next month taking in those last rays of sunshine.
Here in Sweden, I find myself noticing the simple, and encountering the new. Fall is a season of change, with the restless reassurance the cycle will renew. For the traveler, does the place visited change the visitor, or does it simply bring out what was already there? Perhaps experience is the first layer of truth. Over time, perhaps memories and new awareness add layers, and change perspective on what we first experienced. As the season begins its change, I find myself going where the wind takes me.