Tour of "Scandinavia" January 2005

So having come back to Sweden and pottered around for a couple of days after New Year, I went to meet my friend Callie at Copenhagen airport and began a little trip around Scandinavia. As we were there, we took the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the city, which I still hadn't seen much of, even though I almost live there. Saw a museum and a couple of nice buildings (stock exchange, etc.) and then walked down to the old port, where we noticed it was getting quite windy. I mean, it had been windy all day but suddenly there was a sandwich board flying at us and we noticed how strong it had got. The sandwich board missed us (or we avoided it- one of them) but we took the hint and decided it was time to get some food. We found a nice pizzeria, ducked inside to get out of the wind for a bit and watched the TV while we waited for our order to be prepared. My Danish isn't great, but it was one of those moments where you don't need to really understand the language- we watched the news and all the images were of Denmark lying on its side- it became apparent that this was quite a big, scary storm coming in. "Bah," we said, scoffing our pizza, and headed off to the park to see the Queen's Palace anyway. "If any trees start creaking, run the other way," I said jokingly, just as a tree with a sense of humour next to us began to creak. Leaning somewhat rakishly into the wind, we noticed a load of scaffolding being blown effortlessly off the roof of a nearby building and we decided that it was time to make a swift retreat to the station and try to get back to somewhere warm where we could stand upright.

Shortly after we finally got back to the station- wind has a decelerating effect- it became apparent that the Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden was shut and we were stuck in Denmark for the night. Feeling financially confident, we found a nice Comfort Inn doing a reasonable, nay, darn good rate for the night because of the storm, and stayed a little longer than I had expected, which was altogether quite pleasant. The following morning the storm had passed and we got a train back to Sweden, dropped by my room in Lund for lunch (a superb homemade curry) and then headed for the station to get the train to Stockholm. Except the train was cancelled because the storm had brought down powercables, stopping anything leaving Skåne by rail. We optimistically rebooked our tickets for an absurd time the following morning, reasoning we could get there around lunchtime and not lose too much time from the original plan, came home, cooked dinner, watched Donnie Darko and got a little sleep before our ridiculously early start.

Around 3 minutes before the train was due to arrive the next morning, a simple announcement informed us that this train to Stockholm was also cancelled. I forget what time it actually was, but suffice to say, the ticket office in Lund opens at 10am and it was longer than we cared to wait for it to open... at least 3 hours away, I think. Which would make it about 7am, I suppose. Seeing a train heading for Gothenburg, I decided this would be a good opportunity to at least get out of Lund (which I had no intention of spending a day showing Callie around), so we hopped on, hoping to buy a ticket onboard, and realised that we were going to stand in a scrum for a very long time (the journey to Gothenburg is about 3 hours at the best of times and this definitely wasn't the best of times). About 20 minutes up the West coast, an announcement informed us that this train was not leaving Skåne either, and if we wanted to get to Gothenburg, we would have to change trains, get a bus and then another train. At least this was an opportunity, so we took it and finally arrived in Gothenburg at 2pm, after about 7 hours' travelling. Partly due to the unusual load of passengers and the fact that no one checked our tickets, we ended up getting to Gothenburg for about £5 each- the cost of the last train leg, which we bought just in case a ticket inspector came along and tried to make us pay for the whole journey. As it happened, no one came and we could've travelled the whole way for free, but £10 is good for a 7-hour journey, isn't it?

Now in Gothenburg 2 days ahead of plan, we basically had to ditch my carefully crafted plan for the week and start again from scratch; we went to the station ticket office, got a refund on all the tickets I'd bought in advance for the week, booked new ones from Gothenburg to Stockholm for the next day and rang the hostel in Stockholm and told them we'd be coming later than expected. We then checked into the hostel we were planning on seeing later in the week in Gothenburg and spent the early evening walking around town. We weren't really planning on walking for that long- just a little look around before dinner- but when we decided it was time to eat, all the wonderful places we'd earmarked as potential eateries disappeared in a flash and we must have walked for 2 hours trying to find one place we liked. Eventually we found one and dined well. I misjudged the Swedish generosity and the 2 "snacks" I ordered (a soup and a baked potato) turned out to be ample meals and I made little inroads into either! Of course, once we left the cafe and headed home, we passed a whole row of places that we'd noticed earlier and felt a little silly for having walked so far looking in the wrong places, but the food made the walk worthwhile. Completely worn out, we got back to the hostel around 9pm and pretty much went straight to sleep. Well, Callie did; I woke up around midnight with a very sore stomach and spent quite a rough night wishing I could be sick. Bleh.

Shortly after breakfast the next morning, I felt a lot better and we checked out the maritime museum (which was closed), opera house (from the outside) and city museum (which was being partially renovated). We than grabbed some lunch and walked along Avenyn, the supposedly arty bit of Gothenburg, which culminates in a nice statue of Poseidon outside a gallery. Back to the station and onto the train, which took us effortlessly across to Stockholm and we checked into a nice hostel near the station. Feeling hungry, we head out and repeated the previous night's game of spotting lots of nice places and then not remembering where any of them were when we tried to get into one. Having accidentally walked something like 10km(!) we settled for a nice Italian place called Michelangelo's, complete with suit of armour on the staircase(?!) and dined pleasantly before heading back to the hostel, planning the following day, checking our emails and then calling it a night.

The next day was probably the simplest and best of the whole trip- breakfast at a coffee shop and then on to the Vasa museum. The Vasa was a warship that sank on its maiden voyage (much like the Mary Rose, for those who know their British naval history), which the Swedes dredged and painstakingly restored over a number of years. The museum shows a combination of how they restored it, what they learnt from it, and what they can say about the boat and its crew from information and technology at their disposal. The whole experience is both enlightening and fascinating and we really enjoyed it. Moving on, we checked out "Skansen" which is a collection of Hobbit-size buildings from all over Sweden, making up something a step above a model village. Quite a bizarre place, and not entirely inviting when it's empty on a cold January afternoon, but still intriguing in a strange little way. Back in the city centre, we grabbed the.most.beeeautiful.carrot and potato soup with bagels from a cafe and feeling full, warm and loved, we took a tour of the Old Town, including Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a number of interesting little nooks and alleys, the significance of most of which I can't remember. After stopping by a novel little American food store and buying myself some Mountain Dew (which I'm quite obsessed buy, I confess- I have a T-shirt to prove it) we got more coffee and cake and then decided to catch Ocean's Twelve at the cinema. Despite the fact that it had had time to be subtitled, this film had still come out _before_ it did in England, which I can only attribute to some kind of promotional scheduling shenanigans... confusing.

The next day we booked train tickets back to Lund, dropped our luggage at the station, grabbed breakfast and then headed to the Ice Museum. I have to say that even though I managed to "charm" the girl at the front desk into letting us in for £2.50 each, I was quite disappointed that the "museum" was one room with a half dozen bits of natty ice work and a promotional video for the Ice Hotel in the north of Sweden (which I confess does look pretty cool). Having expected to take about an hour or more and only taking about 15 minutes, we were then trying to find ways to kill time for the rest of the day. We retraced some of the night before's tour in order to get some (rainy) daylight photos of some of the finer attractions and then took a look around the Nobel Museum. Interesting, but it felt like what it was- killing time. Getting lunch and then buying a few postcards, we headed back to the station and got the train back to Lund. Except a second hurricane had blown across Sweden the day before, bringing down more powerlines and meaning another long coach journey, made longer by managing to pick the one coach of 3 waiting at the station that went halfway around the country before depositing us at the right station. At least that sorted out our plans for the evening- sit on a coach for hours. Getting back to Lund late, we bought junk food and watched Happy Gilmore, catching some shuteye and then heading off to Copenhagen airport the next morning for Callie to fly home.

So that was our jaunt around "Scandinavia", or rather Gothenburg, Stockholm and Copenhagen, which are 3 quite similar cities. Coming from London, which has a population similar to that of Sweden, all the cities felt like large towns, which was a little disappointing, but eye-opening in an unexpected way and a new experience of sorts. Hopefully I'll head up north in the summer and check out a different part of Scandinavian culture- the midnight sun and country life- which will be incomparable to British life and exciting in its own way too. The strange perk of the weather's destruction of our plans made things a little more exciting, forcing us to improvise a bit and making the trip feel like more of an adventure than a week of meticulously planned visits, and hopefully making this trip memorable in a way entirely fitting of the quirky country/ies we visited. 1