The short 4 hour train from Oslo to Goteborg (pronounced yoo-te-boory) Sweden (down the west coast) was very pleasant. I sat myself beside 3 blond bombshells from the suburbs of Oslo who were traveling to Copenhagen for the big Music Festival. We had some interesting food conversation. Most interesting was the discussion regarding what foods we would risk drinking sober. One of the girls goes to University in Glasgow and said that she loves Chips cheese and curry sauce but could never eat it sober. Interesting how the pallet changes in these circumstances. One of the girls bought me a chocolate bar made by the Norwegian candy company Freia called Melkesjokolade. They raved about how Norwegian chocolate is better than the stuff in Belgium or Switzerland and I didn’t believe them. Once I had cracked one of those little squares into my mouth I had been easily persuaded! I learned some interesting Swedish trivia today on the train from a very wise old man from Stockholm. We tend to say Cheers in North America when celebrating, by clicking our glasses together. In Sweden back in the days of brute Vikings the warriors once returning from a glorious battle of rape, pillaging and the stealing of undergarments and pantyhose would do the following; they would use the skulls of the slain victims and fill them with Vodka screaming SKULL! It is pronounced s-ku-ell and is the Swedish version of cheers! How thrilling, what brutes!
I got right off the train and attempted to find the hostel as it closes from 12 to 2pm for some ridiculous reason. I got so lost and asked about 10 people for directions. The only positive experience was walking down by the park and realizing that Sweden smells of Strawberries. The wonderful smell is everywhere as vendor tables full of these boxes of bright red juicy fruits during this time of year can be found everywhere. I thought I had found the hostel after 45 minutes of running around and walked into the main lobby to discover that it was actually a Retirement Home! I almost fell over at this point and was determined to get to this hostel before it was closed for a two hour period. I finally found it at 12:02 and thankfully they let me check in!
Swedish names are impossible. Here are some of the names of these crazy streets; Ovre Husargatan Sprangkullsg, Djurgarddsn Klareborgsg, Andreegatan Gotatunnein..etc. Needless to stay I spend many hours daily attempting not to get lost. I took the tram to the Korsvagen station right in the center of the Art District. Right in front of the Goteborg Museum of Art is a huge statue and fountain of Poseidon. The gallery was not a public national gallery but actually an impressive collection of donated works focusing mostly on famous Nordic artists.
A list of my favorites:
Peter Severin Kroyer: oil painting of the sun beaming through the clouds as a group of blond haired Swedes gives cheers (or skulls!) atop a steep fjord. Many nude beach scenes by various artists as there are many islands along the coast and in Stockholm for locals to use as nice summer vacation spots. Hilding Linnquist “Der gamla parken” a magical oil of children playing in a dark sunlit park. Wild party scenes with thousands of surreal colours by Ludvig Karsten (Violin Concert). Snow filled Nightscapes of Stockholm. My favorite would have to be the humorous and magical water colour and pastel cartoons by Ivan Arosenius (his paintings are full of trolls, princesses and other interesting creatures). Marcus Laison is the King of Scandinavian Landscapes. He paints amazing, huge murals of waterfalls, rocky ice landscapes and cottage country lake scenes.
I walked straight up the main street after leaving the gallery and as I left the front doors the rain started to fall. Bad omen. About one minute later the rain poured down like it wanted to drown the world in its tears. I easily admitted defeat and decided to have fun with the rain, an embrace for the cool and damp. I made it to the old town and walked into a couple of shops including the largest curry and tea house I have ever seen. Everything was sold in bulk in huge bins. I didn’t know that there actually existed over 50 types of Indian Curry but the gentlemen at the front counter proved me wrong. He thought I was a bit odd when I took pictures inside his store of all his curry boxes and I told him that indeed I am.
I just got back from the most amazing restaurant meal! I haven’t actually eaten in a restaurant since London as Norway was filthy expensive. I had a very traditional Swedish dish called Kjottbullar med Brun sas och Lingan which translates to Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, lingon berries, picked cucumbers and cream sauce. For 95 kro (11 Euro) I had a huge plate of twin peaked potato mash and 7 spicy meatballs the size of my fist! The pickled cucumber and lingon berries (similar in taste to cranberries but smaller and sweeter) and smoky brown cream sauce were all a bit out of the ordinary for me but much appreciated. Thank you Sweden for this wonderful meal and returning me back to a state of reverent gastronomic stamina. The waitress was very nice and actually joked around with me regarding the food purchasing habits of those that live in Scandinavia. In Norway everyone told me that people drive to the border and enter Sweden to purchase groceries as they are considerably cheaper. In Sweden I have now been informed that Swedes drive to Denmark to purchase groceries as food is even cheaper! AND if you haven’t already guessed…the Danish drive to Germany to purchase their groceries. It seems that grocery stores cater to the constant tourist!
On the walk back to the hostel I avoided many a puddle and found myself a large candy shop full of bulk treats. I bought a bag full of Swedish berries as well as some interesting candy covered peanuts. I sat in the packed common room this evening watching the Auz vs Croatia match which was intense as the place was packed with Auz tourists. They were on the edge of their seats screaming and freaking out about wallabies and kangaroos. The game was actually really entertaining as the Auz team is not favored at all to do well and actually tied the game 2-2 which means they move onto the next round and Croatia is now out of the game (they needed to win the game to get enough points to move on). The Croatian captain is a brute. They don’t like loosing, especially to crocodile Dundee. After the game I chatted with a nice guy from Sydney. He lived in northern Sweden for the year on exchange and has traveled all over Scandinavia and Russia. At home he actually took 3 years of chef school so he chatted with me about some interesting dishes. His father is Aborigines and he uses those influences in the dishes he creates. The most odd thing he ever made was a pasta with sauteed moths, alo vera (that green stuff for burns), lime juice and grapefruit slices. He told me about a famous Swedish drink called a Flatline which consists of about 1/4cup of Tabasco sauce, goldshlager, absinthe and tequila (talk about intense drinks). He also explained to me the culture of Snus. Snus is the equivalent of cigarettes here. People put little tea bags under their lip and let it rest there. However it is a bit more complicated than that. Within the tea bag you will find tobacco as well as small pieces of GLASS! The glass is put in the bag to help irritate your gums in order to transport the nicotine from the tobacco. Is that not crazy! And this is legal here.
Today is Mid Summers Eve. Scandinavia’s most enjoyed celebration. The majority of Swedes spend the vacation away from the city at summer homes on the islands or farther north into Lapland. The celebration centers around the coming of summer, the warm weather and is enjoyed with family, drinks and a whole lot of fish from what I have been told. Many locals have actually told us some Swedes hate the holiday and rebel by staying in the city and staying up all night at bars and discos (the opposite from the quiet family time the holiday was intended). I spent the entire day with my new friend Mary from Dublin. We left the hostel around 9am and headed towards the huge Slottsskogsparken. The park is an excellent stroll and you can tell the locals love to use it as a bike and jogging area as it is shaded by trees and full of lovely green grass and flower gardens. The best part of the park is the free zoo that runs throughout the northern half. We entered the zoo to see a few seals swimming about and penguins waddling to and fro. Farther into the zoo we came across several lakes with white and black swans and several varieties of ducks (including albino Malerds!) The most enjoyable animals were the wild miniature horses, caribou herds, moose and deer. From the park we walked north towards the river and visited the towering Swedish church Majornas Vuxginjin. The church overlooks the entire city and I will always remember this visit because it was incredibly windy. I fell over several times walking up the rocks to the church as I think my jacket acted somewhat like a kite and I know I am less than 130 pounds so I am easily prone to airborne situations. From the Church we walked east and found the Royal Castle Fortress Skansen Kronan (the hike up to this castle was the worst of my life. I had to put my legs into 5th gear).
The walk back down the church was a thrill and at this point we were starving for a bit of traditional Swedish lunch. I was on the look out for Smorgastarta as I had been told it was a must try when in Sweden yet I had never actually been told what it was. WHAT an amazing surprise it was when I found it in the supermarket. The grocery store usually makes you order the dish a day in advance as a local baker makes them and needs much time to prepare the treat. Imagine a wonderfully decorated cake then switch the idea of sweet in your head to savory. Basically the Smorgastarta is the size of a medium cake you’d find in the bakery section of a grocery store. The cake is round and the bottom is made up of five layers of bread which are filled with different layers of salad. A few layers I recognized were ham salad, egg salad, salmon salad and waldorf salad. The top of the cake is BEAUTIFUL as it is topped with fruit and vegetable carvings as well as neatly placed roast beef rolls. The center of the “sandwich” was an assortment of grapes and around these grapes were creatively organized slices of cheese, cucumbers, tomato, roast beef rolls, pineapple, oranges, tomatoes and caviar. Mary and I sat on the steps beside one of the bridges and ate this huge cake like sandwich as we gazed over the river. For dessert we snacked on Swedish chocolate made by Marabou called Schwizer nocht (milk chocolate hazelnut).
After we finished lunch it started to rain, we headed to the central station to catch the 32 tram stops to the ferry port. Along the streets we noticed that nothing was open for the day as the national holiday creates a quiet atmosphere in the shopping districts. It appeared that the ferry port was the place to be this afternoon! The port was packed with blond haired Swedish families lugging their suitcases, boxes of beer and carts of fresh strawberries onto the ferry. It was evident that most everyone gets together with family and hops on the ferry to get to the summer homes on the islands for a big party! Once the ferry left port and headed down the archipelago I have to say that I had a moment of longing. I truly wished I was Swedish as the whole idea of taking a ferry to a beautiful island and drinking all night with family and friends and eating a huge amount of food under the nightlong sun, just priceless! Fortunate for us, as soon as we got on the ferry the sun pushed all of the clouds out of the sky and for the first time in Scandinavia all I could see was blue. It was a perfect day for island hopping and I took many pictures at each island (we stopped at 8). We got off at Verga island the farthest south and walked to the other side. All you can see in the sky are Swedish flags flying in the wind and the cottages are adorable little summer homes looking over the archipelago. The ocean was almost white as the sun was blazing down creating a shimmering mirror like effect. The wind was strong and we walked onto the huge flat rocks that look over the open ocean. I put on Ace of Base, The Sign and tried to relax to the Swedish Pop sensation as I stared into the shimmering everything in front of me. I realized I had now made a connection with the Island and an excellent Ingmar Bergman film called Strawberries. The film tells the story of a Swedish family who travels from the city to their summer home on the islands and conflict arises as always. On the walk back to the ferry I was stupid enough to ask a family of blond bombshells “which direction is the town?” They literally laughed in my face and Mary couldn’t help but fall over when they left. Evidently these islands are entirely residential. No cars can be found so the streets are very small only allowing mopeds and bicycles to get by. Girls on the island wore crowns made of summer flowers and everyone seemed to be eating soft serve ice cream (even though none of them offered me any). The ferry back to the main port was 40 minutes and I just sat quietly with my sunglasses on staring out into the vast dotted ocean of islands. This would be an amazing place to spend the summer so everyone take note!
As we arrived at the port I saw a family of 20 white swans puttering by the beach front and we ran to grab the tram back to the main shopping street. Unfortunately no one had told us that every single restaurant, cafe and grocery store closed at 4pm! Now I had become somewhat vengeful towards this blasted holiday as I was tired (my feet were killing me as I think I honestly walked 40 km today). I had my heart set on buying a rotisserie chicken, rice, brie cheese and cracking open my bottle of Rose from Portugal (yes I have been lugging it around for over 3 weeks waiting for the perfect chance to enjoy it!). Instead we were lucky to find the cafe right across our hostel to be open for one more hour. We sat down and had about 2 choices on the menu so we really couldn’t afford to be picky. I had penne with curry kyling (chicken) and a water caraf the size of a fire hydrant. In the evening I joined Mary from Dublin with two gents from Stuttgart Germany (who had been studying in Norway for a year) to watch the French vs Togo match. I almost drank an entire bottle of cheap Portuguese Rose which almost had me passed out on the floor. Non the less I managed to muster the strength to get off the couch and join the group for a city square pub crawl (only after I heard Whip It by Devo on the tv). The pub crawl lasted 20 minutes as the entire city is completely dead. The entire population has left the city and moved into the countryside and islands for the national holiday so I came back to the hostel and headed for a wonderful sleep.
My last day in Sweden was excellent! The sky was perfectly blue and the sun was brightly lighting up the sky. My first stop was to the Brunnsparken rail station right on the main canal. I took a few pictures of the famous cathedral and then walked down the Kungsportsplatsen (the Bloor street of the city). Every single shop was closed and I felt for a moment as though I was in a ghost town. I could hear my feet clip clopping along the street as I was the only one making a sound. I arrived at Lisberg Park at around 10:30 am and ended up spending the entire day there until 7pm. Lisberg is Scandinavia’s largest amusement park. I am so used to the rides at Canada’s Wonderland so it was a thrill to experience the new. The Euro atmosphere was also really fun as Swedish pop music and Norwegian rap play throughout the que lines for all of the roller coasters. The streets were packed with families and local couples who were spending their Midsummers Day in the thrill zone. In the center of the park was a huge poll covered in summer flowers. One of the employees of the park (who was dressed in a Swedish folk costume) explained to me that this was the Midsummers pole in which people dance around and sing. The funny part about the poll is that it is simply a pole with two wreaths and apparently it is intended to represent a phallus. The pole dance then represents a folk cheer for vitality and good weather, along with excellent phallic references. I noticed some stark differences from North American theme parks and the ones of Europe. All of the carnival games lack huge stuffed toys as prizes! Even BETTER…the prizes in Europe are HUGE chocolate bars! If you win the first round you get a small version of the bar, the second round you get a large basket and if you win three times you get a HUGE 5kg pack of chocolate bars! I saw people all over the park lugging these huge packs of chocolate and I was thrilled to see that you can actually win a useful, purposeful and tasty prize at an amusement park (who actually ever used the 6 foot stuffed bunny they won at Wonderland?).
The park is much smaller than North American parks as it is situated right in the city and has no room for expansion. The park had some real treats. The Balder wooden coaster was crazy and ranked as one of the top 10 coasters in the world. I literally felt like I was falling off a building and spent about 80 percent of the ride out of my seat. The Kanonen is the other famous ride here which takes you from 0 to 75 km/h in 1.5 seconds! I bought a Swedish men’s fashion magazine and sat in the center of the park beside a symphony of fountains and enjoyed an hour or so of people watching. Again I must repeat that I truly enjoy the style of Scandinavian younglings. The blond hair is excellent and the clean cut, tight cloths and Euro wild haircuts are thrilling. Apparently right now the new cool thing is to tuck your jeans into your socks. I kid you not. I asked several of my new Swedish teen buddies and they told me its all the rage. I became addicted to bumper cars for some reason and spent 5 consecutive sessions pummeling my car into little blond children. I took a stroll down the gardens and circled the Hall of Fame (famous Swedes who have their hand prints in cement). I snuck my hand into the cement imprint of the famed Ace of Base group as well as ABBA.
At 3pm I made my way into the huge arena to find myself a seat for the intense Germany vs Sweden match that would be playing at 5pm. Wow was I in for a surprise…these Swedes go crazy! I met a new best friend, a short chubby Swedish girl with an incredible stutter. She insisted that she paint my nails bright yellow and blue, an ode to the Swedish flag. We chatted about Pippy Longstocking and the silly chef from the Muppet’s. There were many clowns on stilts around the park and she told me that the clowns that follow them are actually body guards as many drunk Swedes like to push clowns on stilts over as a joke. A dangerous joke but I think Id still laugh out of concern. Once the game started the entire arena of 5000 or so spectators became incredibly intense. I was actually in the 3rd row from the front, dead center! Lucky me I was there so early. When the Swedish National Anthem came on I was struck by the intense pride the entire arena oozed of patriotism. The last part of the anthem had everyone screaming and the girl next to me explained that the lyrics for that part are very passionate and translate to “Yes I want to live, I want to die in Sweden.” Every time Fredrik Ljungberg (number 9 and born in 1977) appeared on the screen every man and woman in the audience let out a deep sigh and some even screamed. He is like God here, no wonder, he is the new CK underwear model! The match was a bit dreadful. The Swedes were biting their fingers off with angst as the Germans scored two goals in the first 10 minutes. I couldn’t stop laughing at the intensity some of these male football fans exude when watching the game. This one guy completely decked out in blue and yellow was screaming at the screen as if he wanted to kill someone. I never made eye contact as a precaution. My lovely new Swedish friend (I can’t actually spell her name its way to long and complicated) took me with a group of her friends to a Chinese restaurant after the game. The restaurant is actually famous as Goteborg was the first city in Sweden to allow Chinese immigrants and the spot I was at was the first Chinese restaurant in Swedish history! I had a nice meal full of rice, bamboo shoots and chicken fried in cashews with a nice jug of Swedish beer (Pripps bla). I marched back to my hostel and prepared myself for my 4 hour train trip to Copenhagen in the morning. Sweden is excellent; everyone speaks funny, everyone is beautiful and the air smells of Strawberries…what more could you want!