Ylva and Gabriella are Rick Steves' Europe's first-ever mother-daughter travel guides, so we thought it was only appropriate to do our first-ever double interview. As guides for the Best of Scandinavia in 14 Days tour, Ylva and Gabriella (both Stockholm natives) get to show travelers the pristine, prosperous, and progressive region that they call home. From Game of Thrones knowledge to their love of Swedish history, let's get to know this dynamic duo.
How did each of you get into guiding?
Ylva: I actually never had a choice. My mother is a teacher, and during the school holidays she organised bus tours for people from Västerås (or "Westeros") to the European continent. (Yes, Westeros exists. It is my hometown, located west of Stockholm. When Arya asked what’s west of Westeros in the last Game of Thrones episode, I could have told her: it’s Hallstahammar). One summer when I was 17, my mother told me that she had over-sold a tour. “You have to guide one,” she told me, and since then I have been guiding.
Gabriella: Guiding has always been around me, too. I remember sitting in the car with my parents (my father is also a guide) and listening to them pointing out buildings and telling stories about things having happened there. I also remember my mother telling me and my siblings bedtime stories that were actually true historical events about old king and queens. So the storytelling and interest in history came with my upbringing. Then, when I was 12, the outbreak of mad cow disease stopped visits to Swedish farms, my parents started to take American farmers to our home in the suburbs of Stockholm. My siblings and I got to tell the visitors about school and life as a kid here in Sweden, and I think this is what started my interest in guiding.
What do you like best about traveling with Rick Steves tour members?
Ylva: Rick Steves is amazing (as an employer, so much better than my mother) and his tour members are, if possible, even more amazing. Always curious and eager to learn.
Gabriella: It is wonderful to have people who are interested and ask all sorts of questions. I also love how social and positive the groups are and how that usually creates a great atmosphere on the first day of the tour.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a guide?
Ylva: When I get questions that make me see my little corner of the world with new eyes.
Gabriella: I love it when someone comes up to me and tells me I have made them understand something tricky because of the way I explained it. That makes me very happy! Because that is one of the most important things in my job.
Is there one place that Americans probably know little about, but should try and include on their next trip to Sweden?
Gabriella: I think many Americans would enjoy vacationing the way Swedes do. Either going up north to hike our not so high, but beautiful, mountains and experiencing the midnight sun. Or sailing in the Stockholm archipelago and eat marinated herring and new potatoes and see the quaint wooden homes of the people that live there all year around, surrounded by the sea and nature.
What surprises Americans most about traveling through Scandinavia?
Ylva: It has changed a lot lately. A decade ago, Americans commented on how clean and neat the countries are and how slender and healthy the people look. We still hear that, but now it seems as if it is the political system and its functions that surprises them most.
What's life like when you're not leading tour groups?
Ylva: I enjoy the tour season immensely, but I still work at the Swedish Parliament, since politics is one of my biggest interests together with literature, art and film; I’m always looking forward to be able to spend more time there. I also lead rooftop tours on the roof of the former parliament building in Stockholm's Old Town. It’s fun. To spend time with my five children, four grandchildren (soon five), and my partner is another highlight of life. To cook and eat together, all of us, is great fun.
Gabriella: Life is very calm and full of physical activity. I spend my winters in Brazil with my partner and half of my family. We all enjoy a leisurely beach life, but we combine that with hiking, swimming, running, surfing, and doing CrossFit. It is great being able to share all of that with your family!
I heard the two of you do CrossFit together, that must be one fit family!
Ylva: CrossFit is, at least according to my CrossFit children, a good complement to what I do enjoy, which is long distance running and yoga.
Gabriella: You never get bored. You are always varying the way you are training and you are always learning something new. And you get strong and feel healthy. It enrichens life. You get strong and rich like Pippi Longstocking. And it is not only me and my mother that do CrossFit but our whole family. We are probably the strongest family in the world.
Have you ever led a tour together?
Ylva: No, I would love to though. Gabriella is so smart, well informed, and educated and I would learn a lot from her. We have travelled a lot together, and it has been true joy.
Gabriella: I would love to. Everything I am is because of my parents. Every time I am with them, I learn something new; there isn’t a question they can’t answer. They will forever be my biggest inspiration.
What's something about you that no one would ever guess?
Ylva: Last autumn I surprised myself (and I suppose everyone that knows me) by knitting a sweater.
Gabriella: I am a huge foodie that is mentally planning lunch while still having breakfast. But I don’t think that would surprise many people! At least not the ones who know me. One family story is about once when I was little and my mother put food on my plate and said, "Let me know if it is too much," and I answered, "I like too much."
Here’s what Ylva and Gabriella won’t tell you…but their tour members will:
"Ylva was wonderful!! She was engaging and always had a smile. She has that secret ingredient that ties together all the elements of an excellent tour guide: leadership, a wide range of knowledge, good storyteller, sense of humor, and loves her job and the people on the tour."
– Linda in Mission Viejo, CA
"Gabriella was outstanding in all ways. She was perpetually upbeat, positive, and professional. She took time to engage with each member of the group, and she demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the history, geography, and unique characteristics of each of the three countries we visited. I always enjoy the 'bus talks' on a Rick Steves tour and I was not disappointed: Gabriella covered interesting topics with authority and humor. She is terrific."
– Steven in Anacortes, WA