All she wanted to do, actually, was to leave her homeland Sweden for a short time. To travel to Hawaii first, and then to the mountains. In fact, sports-loving Sara from Sweden has been living in Tirol for the last nine years, at Lake Achensee Region. Happily. Above all because she likes the Tirolean way of living, which is quite different to the Swedish lifestyle. Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Tirol for her.
Sara welcomes me with homemade “Kanelbullar“, Swedish cinnamon rolls. Her new home at Lake Achensee Region makes me feel as if I was somewhere in Scandinavia. Obviously, the 28-year old Swede opted for an interior design theme that conjures images of her home country. Even the shed in the garden is decorated with a Swedish flag. “Thinking of home, Sweden comes to my mind,” she tells me. “Thinking of where I feel truly at home, it’s Tirol that comes to my mind. Home is where the heart is and this is where I live right now.” Since the end of 2015, Sara has been living at Lake Achensee Region together with her Austrian companion for life. Until then they lived together in Innsbruck, where they met each other a few years ago.
Actually, Sara came to Innsbruck with a group of 15 Swedes to study German here for a year—and that one year became nine years. “I loved everything here in the beginning and thought everything was simply great,” she says with a laugh. When all the others went back to Sweden, Sara decided to stay in Tirol and began to study political science. At first, the German language was the biggest challenge. And ocassionally, the introvert Swede had her problems with the brash manner the Tiroleans use to act, for example at public authorities and councils. The strict hierarchy at Innsbruck University was all new to Sara, too, along with the fact that people here address each other by their academic titles. In the meantime, she has her degree in political science and is working with the Tirol Integration Center.
In their leisure time, however, Tiroleans are much more outgoing and open-minded, explains Sara: “Walking in the mountains, for example, people talk to you very quickly. Before long, you’ll be bumping into friendly faces. It doesn’t take long to feel like an integral part of the Tirol community. That’s quite different to Sweden; my fellow-countrymen are definitely more reserved.” During her study, she found it almost embarrassing that Sweden was constantly quoted as a role model for a variety of topics, from the education system over the equality of the genders to childcare.
During her study, Sara worked in an Innsbruck store of a Swedish sports clothing company. One day a man wearing a “Sweden Ski Team” headband entered the store and Sara thought he was Swedish in the beginning. Talking to him she found out that he was Austrian indeed, with a passion for cross country skiing and all things Swedish. They fell in love and live together now. “He makes living here in Tirol much easier for me. I can talk Swedish to him and he understands the differences between Sweden and Austria.”
It is hard to live in Tirol and not have a pastime that involves being active in the great outdoors. Fortunately, Sara and her boyfriend share their love for sports activities and travel. They like to explore new places. They once walked through the Norwegian wilderness in pouring rain for a week. The paddled and walked a river in the north of Sweden a few days. It’s this love for nature that makes living in Tirol so special for Sara. She shows me her kayak, which is stored away in her garage. She loves kayaking in Lake Achensee in the evenings or on the weekend. Her boyfriend has made a special hitch so she can transport the kayak while riding her bike.
What’s the difference between living in Austria and living in Sweden, I ask Sara. “In Sweden you’re constantly under pressure to follow the latest trends. You have to have that special wallpaper, these new curtains, the latest fashion – much in life revolves around being trendy.” Each time Sara visits her family in Sweden she recognizes this strong aim to be ahead of the curve on trends. „At one time, they are all brewing their own craft beer. Next time, they are all pickling vegetables. All I want to do is to live a good life without thinking of things like that all the time.” Sara considers Stockholm as the most frenzied city in Europe. In Tirol, she doesn’t feel that pressure of following trends. “I live the life that I want right now, without giving too much on what’s the latest in fashion and style.”
Skilfully, Sara fixes the kayak to her bicycle. I take her boyfriend’s mountain bike and follow her. Sara tells me of the time she lived in Hawaii, working as a voluntary kitchen help on a campus for a year. “I simply wanted to get to know new cultures and places. Hawaii was beautiful but one year was enough. It’s not a place where I would want to live forever. I guess the sea is not my cup of tea, after all.”
In Tirol, outdoor adventure is just behind the front door: “We don’t travel that much anymore. We stay here most of the time. For Alpine and Nordic skiing in the winter and for paddling and kayaking in the summer.” Sara also started hiking and mountain biking in Tirol. “The more I’m active in the outdoors, the more I need it.” Sports and nature is her way of getting away from it all. Each day she takes the train to get to Innsbruck to work. The fastest train takes 17 minutes to get to Innsbruck from Jenbach.
We ride down the mountain on our bikes and emerald green Lake Achensee spreads out in front of us. Viewing this sheer beauty, I can understand why Sara wanted to live here. “Since I’ve been living here in the Lake Achensee area, I feel truly at home. After all, it’s called “Fjord of the Alps”, isn’t it?” Living here means getting the best of both worlds for Sara – living in a place with a small town feel with many of the amenities of the city like schools, grocery stores, banks, restaurants. The beauty of Tirol is that while it feels “away from it all”, it is always close to all the amenities. That’s a very different story in Sweden and that’s why Sara would never want to live in the country there.
Sara and her kayak take to the water. Kayaking is exactly her thing. “I love the way the mountains reflect on the calm still lake. It makes me smile from ear to ear. Kayaking has such a calming and soothing quality.” Generally, Sara is a water sports enthusiast. A Swedish niche sport Sara is missing in Tirol is ice swimming. She loves to plunge into icy water: “You simply cut a hole out of the ice and swim”. For its high elevation, the waters of Lake Achensee tend to be chilly year-round—but ice swimming? Why on earth would anyone take the plunge if they didn’t have to?
Sara brought a new way of this extreme sport to Tirol: She went swimming in the lake on April the second, following a ski tour in Achenkirch. “After all, there’s a little bit of Viking in me,” Sara says with a smile. “Quite simply, the secret of plunging into icy water lies in the feeling that surges through your body once you get out of the water. The air outside is warmer than the water. As soon as you’re back on dry land your circulation kicks in and your body starts to warm up.” Sara takes her paddle and glides along the lake’s clear, blue waters in her red kayak. It’s only natural that Sara likes living by the waterside. She grew up in the town of Kristinehamn, located on the shores of Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden and the largest lake in the European Union. If this lake was situated in Tirol, half of the country would be beneath the water.
The red kayak nears the shore again and I can see Sara beaming with joy. “When I was younger I always thought that there were better places to live, wherever I was. Now I don’t have that feeling anymore.”
However, there are times when Sara is missing her home country: “In the beginning, it was the small things like sweets and cheese. The longer I live here the more I miss my family, the Swedish mentality, this special light on long summer days. When I’ve been missing Sweden a lot, I went to the IKEA store in Innsbruck and had some Kötbullar.” She even sang there to celebrate the Swedish festival of lights. And she has attended a two-day course in yodelling: “I once said that I have to stay in Tirol as long as I am able to yodel.” Before leaving, I ask Sara whether she has mastered the art of yodelling by now. “I tried hard, but I just can’t do it,” she answers with a laugh.