It’s affirming to learn that Kauai and Hawaii are definitely on the map for people who live in the Scandinavian countries. On a recent trip we encountered smiles and immediate recognition whenever we showed our passport identification — and that happened often, since the credit card has taken the place of cash, it seems, in the Nordic countries. (Each transaction must be verified, as small as a cup of coffee or as large as a five-star feast). Once that Hawaii ID is recognized, there’s a smile flashed and a comment made, usually to the effect that the clerk or server has “a dream to go there some day.”
This makes for a pleasant interchange. There are questions and answers, brief or longer depending on the situation. What it boils down to is an aloha red carpet for us as fortunate Hawaii residents (Kauai in particular) traveling far from home.
It’s well known that travel stimulates the senses. Such was the case as we experienced new, very different sceneries and a larger percentage of tall, blonde people. Then there was the sound of vastly different languages peppered with S’s and with a different music in sentence structure and intonation.
Still, the sea was often all about us, as well as ships, ferries, yachts and small boats. This made sense, since we knew the Vikings were early sailors, too, like the Polynesians. Viking runes, or special coded signs, similar to petroglyphs, have been found carved into stone cliffs of various rivers of the American continent predating Columbus by hundreds of years.
The hard cobbles and the marble walks of cities such as Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo and Bergen, Norway; Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, Sweden; and Helsinki Finland, were, again, very different from our resilient earth. And there were few sand beaches.
However, there were islands and more islands to explore, especially in the Stockholm “green lung” archipelago, reminding us of our island home in some sense. There were the dramatic fjords we traveled in a hydrofoil from Frethem, Norway, with waterfalls that connected us with Na Pali cliffs and falls. And there were colorful flowerbeds and boxes, treed parks — formal and informal — and botanical gardens, also keeping us in heart-touch with home, although the botanical specimens were of different varieties.
One of the places we chose in Sweden for the independent portion of our travel was Gotland, an island about two and a half hours southeast of Stockholm. It’s a jewel smack-dab in the middle of the Baltic Ocean.
What acted as a magnet for our travel planning was the UNESCO walled and cobblestoned city of Visby, an old Viking stronghold and important heritage site that has survived its various conquering heroes, from the Danes to the Goths. We wanted to immerse ourselves in its charm and its history.
Following through with this idea, we arranged via the Internet to stay in the old tannery (now a bed-and-breakfast) just outside the city wall in the vicinity of the ancient harbor.
How could we have known that this sunny vacation destination for Swedes is nicknamed “The Hawaii of Sweden?” None of the information we accessed divulged that, although we did learn ahead that Gotland is known for its temperate climate, its beaches and swimming fun; its breed of small, strong horses; its forest, rural nature and a variety of flowers that proliferate, including orchids.
For that matter, how could we have unknowingly timed our arrival to coincide with the annual medieval festival, complete with costumed revelers and song and dance? Luck, pure luck.
The whole scene and our enjoyment of it, along with the balmy weather, reminded me of how Hawaii visitors must feel when they arrive and happen upon our Aloha Festivals, or on Kauai, our beautiful Emalani Festival or the exciting Heiva, harking back to our Hawaiian and Tahitian cultural backgrounds, respectively. There are other “fun” festivals here, too. But those are the ones that bring authentic costuming, music and drumming to mind.
Traveling to Gotland with us were people and kids togged out in 13th century costumes, “leathern” shoes and shoulder bags such as you read about, quaint caps and demure kerchiefs, representing serfs to highborn ladies and gentlemen of bygone eras.
Their tented camps, fluttering pennants, flutes, drums and medieval marketplace set up within the walled city of stone brought history alive for us and deepened our appreciation.
The modern cities and museums, galleries and concert halls, and architecture were wonderful, far-reaching and often avant garde, but it was the cultural richness of the bygone era expressed in music, games, products, and costuming that struck us — by the place, for the place, and of the place.
We talked about how important it is to keep the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture from getting overlaid on our home island, of letting visitors in on more than our physical beauty and “fun” modern vacation pursuits and staged luaus, of supporting cultural festivals and authentic learning opportunities, local products, and of protecting open, green spaces and leaning toward eco-tourism.
Returning home to the beautiful Garden Island, lush from all the summer rains, we were in time to celebrate Admission Day and our USA Statehood with pride.
One of these days we hope the phone will ring or an e-mail will arrive from one of the people we’ve met with whom we shared our contact information. If they really follow that dream to come the long distance to these magical Pacific isles, it will be our turn to roll out the red-white-and-blue carpet of aloha.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai over 30 years ago. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live quietly with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. The writer’s books may be found a local outlets and on Amazon.