Around the end of November, winter weather truly starts to kick in around Uppsala. The nights are long, the days are short, it gets colder, more icy, and more snowy. Sounds like a perfect recipe for the “winter blues” to hit you, right? Not on Sweden’s watch!
As you probably know, the Swedes really enjoy exercising. The gyms are always full, and there are always people running, cycling or Nordic walking, which is something I was introduced to when I moved here. The Swedes are also known for their love of being outdoors: hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, they do it all with a little help from Allemansrätten. But most of these activities require some sort of specific equipment which can be very pricey sometimes. So what do you do if you just moved here, if you didn’t bring your gear or actually never owned it, and if you don’t feel like spending the money to try something out just once? That’s where my favourite Swedish institution so far comes in: Fritidsbanken. Literally “Free Time/Leisure Bank”
Fritidsbanken is a project that started in 2013 in Värmland (the region in Western Sweden, not the Student Nation). Its purpose is to serve as a library for sports and outdoor equipment. You just go there, find whatever gear you are looking for, give them your name and a (Swedish) phone number, and you get to take anything home on a 14-day loan. The best part? It is all completely free! Fritidsbanken is financed and supported by the Swedish Sports Confederation and other Swedish institutions. They also rely on equipment donations, which help them make sure that access to all their goods is free for all.
My friends and I went there searching for ice skates, but I was legitimately impressed with the amount of things they had when I walked in there. From skis to hiking backpacks, badminton rackets to footballs, ski boots, helmets, goggles, they have a variety of sizes and styles. I wear size 44 shoes, which I think is the most common shoe size for men here in Sweden, and they still had at least 6 pairs of skates I could choose from.
After trying out the skates and finding a pair that fit me, I just had to check out. But before that, I had an internal debate about whether I should take anything else. Maybe a helmet, since I had only skated 4 times before in my life and never really learned how to. Maybe some Ice Hockey or Bandy equipment in case I felt like trying out some typically Swedish winter sports. I ended up settling on taking only the skates, but all other options were available and I might try them out in the future.
One important thing to be aware of, though, is their opening hours. There are two units of Fritidsbanken in or close to Uppsala. One of them (the one I went to) is the Industristaden unit, located in the industrial zone south of the city centre, and the other one is a bit further away in Gottsunda. Both of them have the same opening hours: from Monday to Thursday between 2 and 7 pm. So if, like me, you plan on grabbing your gear for a little weekend adventure, you better plan ahead!
After you’ve chosen all you want to take, you just have to check out. It’s a very simple procedure: you just go to the “cashier”, show them what you’re taking, they ask for your name and phone number (has to be Swedish), enter it into their system and you get a text with a link to all the information relating to your loan. I even heard from a friend that if you need the skates you’re taking to be sharpened, for example, they can do it for you there for free as well. You get to keep the equipment for up to 14 days and just have to bring everything back in the same conditions you got it.
On Saturday, I met my friends to go put our skates and skills to the test. It was a really cold and windy afternoon, there was some snow laying on the ground and the sun had shined all morning but was starting to hide behind the clouds. It was a perfect early winter day to go enjoy another facility Uppsala has to offer: a free ice skating rink!
At Studenternas, right next to the football stadium, is the ice rink where Bandy matches are held. Next to it, there is a free skating area that is open to whoever wants to use it to play sports, practice their figure skating, or, as was my case, try to learn how not to fall every other minute. It is a very nice environment, full of families, friend groups, couples, and people enjoying their own company. Everybody respects each other’s space to the best of their abilities and it is a really fun activity to get you out of the house and into the cold winter air for a few hours. Don’t forget to dress warm and do a good layering job, though, because staying outdoors for long when it is cold might be dangerous. Wear a good scarf, a beanie, thick socks, and good gloves as well.
To me, Fritidsbanken is something that sums up a lot of the good things I like in Sweden. It’s a community-based institution whose main goal is to get people to go out, exercise and enjoy themselves and the company of friends. This sense of togetherness and the idea of staying active during the dark and cold winter months are crucial for students that just moved here. Having the chance to do all of this, and especially for free, is another example of why student life in Uppsala is among the best I have ever seen. Not even some snow, ice, and darkness can avoid it. In fact, they only add to the whole experience 😉