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Göteborg and Skåne 1

SWEDEN | Wednesday, 27 August 2008 | Views [2720]

Once we were safely back in Rockhammar after the Switzerland trip, we got to have a go at the age old Swedish late summer delight of walking in the forest and picking mushrooms and berries, and we didn't let a bit of damp weather stop us.  Since many of the mushrooms and berries are poisonous (kidney failure anyone?) it's advisable to only go with someone who knows what they're doing.  Luckily Anders has been walking in the forests of the area for most of his life (stopping only to...not walk in the forest) and knows what he's doing and took us to one of his favourite patches on the forest (people seem to treat their berry and mushroom spots like their fishing or surfing spots).  The mushrooms we were looking for are called Kantarel (possibly known as Chantrelle in “English”) and if I were given a range of mushrooms and told to choose which ones were edible I'd probably not pick those since they are very yellow and have a fairly munted cap that sticks upwards rather than forming the traditional mushroom umbrella shape.  But edible (and, moreover, delicious) they are.  Their distinctive appearance also makes it easier to tell them apart from other mushrooms, including the ones the Smurfs live in (red with white dots) that you really don't want to have anything to do with unless you're a Viking preparing to get silly (and even then it's best not to).  Unfortunately they also look a bit like fallen birch leaves which makes for a few false alarms, but once you find a few patches it's fairly productive picking. 

There were also blueberries and lingonberries (a bit like a cranberry) out at the time so we picked lots of blueberries (lingonberries, as I found out later, are only good eating if you bury them in sugar).  It was great to see the forest understorey bear fruit since the ground under the fir trees is covered with berry bushes when it's not a lovely spongy moss floor.  In about 2 hours of walking around we gathered about 3kg of mushrooms and about 2L of blueberries.  The blueberries are everywhere in some places but they're a bit harder to pick since they don't grow in bunches but are spread around the bush, and the wild blueberries are smaller (but tastier) than the ones you buy in Australia.  We feasted well on mushrooms on toast and blueberry crumble and blueberries in milk (the traditional way to eat them) for the next couple of days.  The rest of the mushrooms were frozen for other times of the year (and they are still nice when thawed).

Göteborg

Our next major movement was to take most of our stuff and head to Sweden's second largest city of Göteborg - pronounced "YUR-te-bory" due to various rules of Swedish pronunciation that I won't go into, and known as "Gothenburg" to English speakers (though I’ll probably call it Göteborg in the blog – please don’t think me pretentious).  Emma had 4 weeks of sabbatical work arranged where she would base herself at Göteborg University (and meet others working in her field) while writing up some papers offline for CSIRO back in Australia.  As a result we could finally settle somewhere for a while.  We met Emma's contact Göran at the station and he took us to the unit that we had arranged to rent, which the Uni provided for visiting researchers.  And a very nice unit it was too, in a very central location just off one of the main boulevards, and in one of the rows of lovely 19th Century buildings that we'd kept seeing throughout Swedish cities.  It had 2 rooms (1 bedroom and a lounge room and kitchen - the Swedes count the lounge which helps to distinguish a 1brm from a studio apartment) and lovely high ceilings and a general air of old fashioned civilised city life (as opposed to the less attractive apartment buildings we usually have to endure in Oz).  Less civilised was the pub across the street that offered cheap drinks by Swedish standards - a "stor stark" ("big strong" - a large glass of full strength generic beer - a very useful term for ordering whatever's cheapest on tap ... a bit like ordering the “house beer”) costing 25SEK ($5).  There were lots of bars in the general area, the result of which was a bit of rowdy behaviour outside our windows on weekend nights, especially the first night which was after the Way Out West music festival featuring Sonic Youth and Neil Young headlining.  But I have earplugs and we decided it was worth $30 to buy a desk fan for the 4 weeks, and some blankets over the (all too common) thin curtains made for a comfy nest to sover in.

While Emma worked, I got a library card and used the free internet access in the public libraries to get the blog up to date (the Herräng, Switzerland and much of this blog were written there).  You only get 1hr per day per library, but I discovered that we had 2 libraries about 10min walk away in opposite directions, so I'd head to one in the morning, come back for lunch and head to the other in the afternoon.  Going a different way each time meant I ended up exploring quite a bit of the area, which is also one of the more central areas of the City (outside the CBD). 

Göteborg has lots of great open places.  South of the canal (where most of the city is) there are a few granite outcrops sort of lined up that make for great lookouts.  They are topped with old fortresses and the odd church, or just left wild with shrubs and trees poking around the stone.  The city centre, in contrast, is a little bleak, with too few trees and uninteresting buildings and churches.  One part of the canal in the middle looks more like a drain since it's lined with streets and bare grey walls.  The churches outside the CBD are mostly lovely.  The old sailors’ cathedral on the western end of town is on a hill and can be seen from all around.  Inside it's like an upturned boat with a lovely wooden ceiling.  According to our canal guide, the tower used to be rigged with explosives so it could be demolished if enemies attacked to deny them a useful landmark.  Other churches of note include the one in Linne, with its birthday cake of copper rooflets;  Hagakyrkan, in a nice park just at the end of our street - another with a lovely wooden ceiling;  and the main church near Avenyn, whose huge thick sandstone tower looks more like a castle than a church.

In between walking and blogging, I watched a lot of the Beijing Olympics (for the first week and a half), and I have to say that the Swedish coverage here was excellent (except that my language skills weren't fully up to following the commentary).  2 (of the 4) state channels were devoted to it with nice coordination between them, no ads, both were almost 24hrs a day.  SVT1 had a great wrap up show at prime time (long after the events had finished in China our time), including demonstrations of different topical sports in the studio (handball, wrestling, weight lifting, fencing, ...) and discussions with experts from biomechanics, psychology and philosophy (though that might be better translated as ethics).  They did concentrate on handball a little more than I'd like, but it made up for the complete lack of coverage by Ch7 in 2000.  They also had a comedy-style wrap-up late at night, but I was not really able to follow that - a bit like the Panel maybe, probably (though I can't be sure) not as good as Roy and HG though.  Being forced to watch the Swedish language TV for the Olympic coverage was actually a 2 edged sword since I did need to practice my Swedish and with the Olympics I couldn't just cop out and watch an English language show (Swedish TV has a lot of shows from the US and UK and, unlike the Germans or Italians, they don't dub them but rather they subtitle in Swedish).  And with about 12 free to air channels there's usually some American crap to watch (or McLeods Daughters, Flying Doctors or Border Patrol if I want a familiar accent).  But while it was really good to have it in Swedish from many viewpoints, it did mean I missed a lot of information (like that Swedish wrestler who threw away his bronze medal - my brother in Australia told me about that).  To sidetrack just a little more, the commercial channels treat their ads a little differently – they’ll skip a few ad breaks in a show and then pile all the ads into a few 10min blocks instead.  Makes watching non-Swedish shows funny when they go have their “going to a break” sequence and then come straight back on again.

Göteborg is a lovely city.  It's got a more laid back atmosphere than Stockholm with lots of cafes, bars and restaurants out the front of the many 19th century buildings lining its many wide boulevards.  All of this, plus the trams rumbling around the streets give it a real Melbourne-like feel.  Its city centre is next to the Göta river (though the decaying industrial waterfront of port and shipbuilding facilities is largely ignored with the focus being away from the water) and is enclosed by a canal that probably served as a moat in the old days in the 1600s when the city was founded, its location very strategic as the main ocean facing port and just on the edge of the southern region that had been fought over by Denmark and Sweden for centuries.  This was finally resolved about the time of Göteborgs founding but the city was still conceived as a fortress against the Danes.  The canal now has a park that goes along the south bank (on the other side from the CBD) and we were living in the area south of that, where the real cultural centre of the city seems to be.  One of my libraries is on the other side of Haga, the old working class district that has survived intact and is now a gentrified neighbourhood of buildings made of stone on the bottom floor and wood above that.  The other library is at the end of Avenyn ("The Avenue") which runs out of the CBD and is the city's de facto main street.  Avenyn ends at a big statue of Posiedon that is a bit of a symbol of Göteborg – even though it kind of looks like a giant naked statue of Gerard Joye (one of the previous generations of Brisbane swing dancers).

While the trams have a certain charm, they also have all the convenience, noise and mortal danger of having TRAINS running down the middle of the STREETS.  They seem to be exempt from the usual rules of pedestrian crossings and merely ding their bell lazily as they bear down on you (I'm sure the last sound many Göteborgerna and probably many more tourists have heard).  I even saw a tram run a light red light that had been red long enough for the pedestrian light it was going across to have turned green - though on our last day, inexplicably, a tram driver stopped to wave us across a zebra crossing in front of him (we were understandably suspicious but crossed without injury).  They are also fairly unpredictable and hard to understand where they're going at the moment since they've just started some work on the tracks and rerouted the routes, making the network schematics that most maps contain incorrect.  Furthermore they have a weird pricing structure where you press "2" for one person and "2" twice for two people (or "4" according to some people but not others).  This is because the concession ticket is worth "1" but is still confusing.  When you validate our ticket (which you can't buy on the tram) you get 1.5hrs of travel on the tram, bus and ferry system, meaning that we got to travel to the islands off the coast for the same price of a one stop journey.  And that price is surprisingly high for a country with supposedly heavily subsidised public services (15.80SEK or about $3 with the discount card, about $5 without).  Some locals have admitted that they don't bother paying if they only take short trips.  And the final annoyance is that they sell 100SEK discount travel cards, which the arithmeticians among you would have noticed is NOT AN EVEN NUMBER OF TRIPS (it's about 6.3 trips).  What the hell!?  So in summary, we don't like trams.  I know Brisbane is thinking of light rail, I'd say don't.  Did I mention the noise?  We were kept awake in Oslo by trams rumbling along 15 floors below us.  I'm sure that trams are somehow more energy efficient (though only through decreased friction from the rails, deriving their power from Australia's coal fired electricity is no better than diesel powered internal combustion), but surely the cost of building all the infrastructure would offset any gains for many years.  Ding!Splat!

In other, non-tram-related news, we did finally get to meet some new people.  We had dinner with a friend of a work friend of Emma's, Robert, a man of English and Chinese ancestry and Canadian, American, New Zealand and Australian upbringing who eventually settled in Sweden (presumably having exhausted the English speaking countries (-:).  And it was, surprisingly, relaxing to spend an evening talking to a fellow motor-mouth, in contrast to most of the Swedes we have met who don't prattle on quite as much as me (and who does?).  He also had an interesting perspective on Sweden from a very experienced outsider's point of view.  We also had dinner with Emma's colleague Göran and his wife, a fun affair in a very nice apartment with a lovely view of the city.  They were both interesting people and we were able to discuss things from the Swedish point of view.

We did go out dancing once in Göteborg, to the casual Monday night regular do which, once we found it, was a fun evening with some fun dances – and a few invitations to dance (yay Göteborg!). We didn’t get the chance to head back since I was out of town the next week and it was raining the week after and we wussed out.

Skåne

In the middle of our 4 week stint in Göteborg, I took the opportunity to travel down to Skåne ("SKORN-e"), the southernmost region in Sweden.  Skåne is rendered as "Scania" in English and the Scandinavian peninsular (as well as the company that makes most of Brisbane's busses) are named after it (presumably since it is the closest part to the continent).  We have met 3 Swedish swing dancers (Maria, Kerstin and Lovisa) that travelled to Brisbane over the past few years and they all came from this region (and I think Lovisa and Kerstin are planning return trips to Brisbane next year so the swing dancers might get to meet them).  We also met a few more in Herräng, partly introduced by Lovisa and partly because we shared a house with some.  So we wanted to visit them and we also wanted to see some of the region at its prettiest in summer.

Skåne is a bit different from the rest of Sweden.  Rather than an old granite bedrock, it is situated on a limestone base, the remnants of an ancient coral reef off the coast of the Baltica craton. As a result of this, and the warmer climate, the countryside looks very different from much of the rest of Sweden.  Instead of pine forests and lakes, the country is mostly flat or gently rolling farmland with a few broadleaf forests.  As a result it has a much more open, continental European feel with some absolutely gorgeous landscapes.  Skåne grows most of Sweden's food, with the rest of the country only having a small proportion of land in agriculture.

The history of Skåne is also different from the rest of Sweden.  The area was originally occupied by the Danes, in fact the Danish tribe seems to have originated in Skåne and Zealand (the neighbouring island that Copenhagen is on), and only occupied Jutland around the time the Jutes moved to England.  Skåne was part of Denmark (though fought over) right up until the 1600s or so, when the Swedes were at the height of their powers.  The people, therefore, have many links to Denmark.  One aspect of this is the local dialect/accent, which many other Swedes find difficult to understand.  It's probably a bit like talking to someone with a thick regional English accent (Geordie for example).  They tend to swallow their "r"s a bit like the Danes do (rolling them at the back of the throat rather than with the tip of the tongue) - though they claim that the Danes swallow most of their language.  I should point out that, despite their medieval history, the Skåne people seem to think of themselves definitely as Swedes - they speak Swedish and can't understand Danish unless they have learned it.  Another resemblance to the north of England is that, despite some (mostly, but not always completely, good natured sardonic) prejudice from the rest of the country, Skåne is one of the economic powerhouses of the country, with its agriculture and proximity to the continent.

This proximity has been made even greater in the past decade with the opening of the Öresund bridge in 2000.  This 16km long bridge and tunnel route provides a road and rail link between Copenhagen and Malmö, the largest city in Skåne and Sweden's third largest.  This means that Copenhagen is now only a 40min commute from Malmö.  The bridge is a very impressive engineering feat, though with nowhere close to stand and admire it from (and with the train going on the lower deck) it's hard to realise its truly awesome size except seeing it loom in the far distance.

I went down from Tuesday to Tuesday, with Emma joining us for the weekend since she was still working in Göteborg.  First stop was with Maria in the university town of Lund, 15min north of Malmö by train.  Lund, along with Uppsala near Stockholm, form the Oxford and Cambridge of Sweden.  They were centres of pagan worship that were taken over by the Christian church in the usual "incorporate the sites and customs of the old religion to make it more palatable and to overwrite the old meaning" kind of way.  Cathedrals were built there and a lot of church admin was set up.  The presence of so many clergy eventually led to the founding of universities.  Lund has a great student vibe since the uni is the main industry in town, as well as lovely cobble stoned streets, university buildings scattered around the town and the huge cathedral.  Lund Cathedral is a huge Romanesque affair - thick walls, small windows and lots of arches that are just on the facade (ie there's no gaps under lots of them, just more wall - a bit like the tower of Pisa).  It's therefore not as graceful as the later Gothic cathedrals (once the architects had learned how to support the roof without relying only directly on the walls) with slender walls, graceful spires and big windows, but it is impressive nonetheless.  Its colour scheme is strangely monochrome on the outside, with light sandstone covered in black stains and they've managed to put little rooves on the twin towers out the front - something the Notre Dame and Nidaros (Trondheim) people might have considered.  Inside is huge also and includes quite a large and interesting crypt.  And it's a bit more monumental for its lack of frills like flying buttresses and the like, more like a fortress of god (which it was also in the early days).  One more downside, though, is that (like the Öresund Bridge) it has nowhere nearby to stand to fully appreciate it.  Most sides have buildings too near and the one good angle in the park next door has trees in the way.  Not the end of the world, but a pity nonetheless.

After catching up with Maria (who stayed with us in Brisbane in early 2006) I headed down to Copenhagen for the day (storing my big backpack in the train station lockers) before heading back to Malmö to catch up with Lovisa (who was in Brisbane for a while late last year) and check out some of the Malmö festival which was on at the time.  Next day we both went to Copenhagen for the day before heading out dancing in Malmö that night.  Next day was spent resting and heading back to Lund to meet Emma.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a nice enough city.  I have a friend who rated Copenhagen and Stockholm neck and neck for their favourite European city (before giving it to Copenhagen for the cheaper beer), but I don't really see Copenhagen as rivalling Stockholm on the beauty stakes - Stockholm's harbour (like Sydney's and, probably, New York's) is just too gorgeous.  But it is a nice city nonetheless, and the vibe is a bit more laid back - I've heard people talk of the stuffiness of Stockholm and the friendliness of Copenhagen.  The main shopping street goes through the old town with a string of squares along it, which is nice (though with a surprisingly large number of "3 card monty" scams being run - I don't know why people still get sucked into them but they were doing a better trade than a shearing shed).  There's also a few nice churches.  The harbour is quite ugly and the island where the castle and government buildings are on is imposing but didn't make me want to investigate further.  The area of Nyhavn was a standout - a street of lovely different coloured houses with an Amsterdamesque canal running down the middle (apart from that, Copenhagen could do with a bit more paint like Stockholm has).  First day I had a looksy around and then headed out to Christiania.

Christiania is a self declared, semi independent anarchic microstate occupying the site of the old military barracks on the other side of the harbour from the city centre.  In 1971, shortly after the base was closed, squatters moved into the empty buildings.  Autonomy was declared and government interference resisted until the present day with an anarchy system of government in place (decisions made collectively by consensus).  Ordinary people in Copenhagen seem to have had a mixed view of Chistiania throughout its history.  The Danes seem to be fairly tolerant and uninhibited people, and this sort of thing would appeal to a large number of them on principle of standing up to "The Man".  The residents have also had some notable successes with some innovative responses to social problems (look up their methods for getting heroin out of their community in 1979) and have housed the homeless over Xmas when the city council refused to.  But then again, it's easy to be charitable when you don't pay for land or taxes (ask Pat Rafter) - so there is a certain similarity to the Republican Party in the US (the RNC was on TV at the time I wrote this with lots of “we shouldn’t be unfairly forced to pay taxes, we have charities that do great work” rhetoric).  The current right wing Danish government is open in its opposition to Christiania and is taking steps to "normalise" the community there including introducing "mixed ownership models" (ie trying to get yuppies to be able to move in and own property in there to try to dilute the whole enterprise (and with interesting echoes of the Howard Government's Indigenous Affairs policies).  They also moved in to crack down on the open hash market that is a permanent fixture of the main street of Christiania ("Pusher Street").  It was a bit of a failure, though, as it meant that the pot market that had been contained in Christiania spread into Copenhagen proper and allowed more suppliers access to the market with an associated increase in gang issues.  They have also put a cap on new building work.  OK, well that's the official history that you could have got from Wikipedia (and pretty much did, via me), so what were my experiences? 

The place has an interesting mix of run-down buildings, grafitti/murals and usable junk lying around on one hand, with some really interesting "private" houses built with in interesting styles (the "building without architecture" thing is big there) on the other.  The best area for me was walking along the tops of the ramparts (the earth walls of the military base, near the canal) and enjoying the peace and seeing some of the cool houses (the crescent shaped one was my favourite).  The area around Pusher St is just sad with skinhead pot dealers standing around looking fairly unfriendly (best not to loiter too long "they don't like people just looking around" - and the "No Photo" signs back that up).  I'd say I counted upwards of 30 stands selling pot with probably 50-100 dudes standing around.  Clearly the government crackdown hasn't really worked, except to further reduce the merchants' customer relations skills.  There are a few nice cafes and bars around.  I saw one with a runestone out the front carved in the traditional language of these things ("The Moon erected this stone and Eric the Red Carved it in the year 1996...").  At one end of Pusher St, is an open area (surrounded by a few bars) full of tables where the tourists smoke their souvenirs and, frankly, you can avoid the pushers themselves and soak up the atmosphere here for free over a few relatively cheap beers.  It's fun enough, but probably a place that's better with a few friends.  The people that weren't in the pot industry seemed friendly enough, on the way out I bought a shirt from a very friendly and helpful girl. 

In all I have mixed thoughts about the place.  As much as it tried to pretend to be this high and mighty community showing the world a better way, it's still just another tourist destination, relying on visitors for their economy (and they do have an economy, as much as they like to pretend they don't, everyone does - economics is just the study of how people distribute limited resources).  The consensus style of government is OK, but isn't really shining light for the world, it probably only works in a small community.  And that's one of the things I noticed, the whole place's attitude is like a small backwoods town (I guess the conflict with the current government doesn't help - a sense of persecution probably produces the same effect), and a bunch of redneck hippies is not really a great model to follow.  But they are at least doing a few things differently and, above all, it's just an interesting place and idea.  I spent most of the afternoon there and I'm not sorry I did.   Every city has its churches and palaces and cobblestoned streets, but not all have their own semi-autonomous self-declared anarchic microstate.

Next day I went back to Copenhagen, this time with Lovisa for company.  It was nice just hanging out with a friend and looking at a few sights.  We went north to the Little Mermaid statue (notable only for the crowd of tourists crowded around it, probably all wondering why there's a crowd of people hanging around such a non-descript statue).  There was a better statue on the way back that we saw of a Valkyrie charging on a tired looking horse: all the statue was focused on the point of the charge - cloak, spear, horse's head, even its mane.  On the way up there we passed a bunch of fairly dull palaces (probably where Princess Mary hangs out now) with a nice church up the road.  Frederick's Church is a nice marble affair that takes its cue from the Parthenon in Rome.  No long naves or transepts, just a whopping great dome and lots of space under it.  We also went up the Round Tower, an old observatory with a spiral cobbled ramp going up inside it.  Nice view from the top too (could see Sweden and the Öresund Bridge in the distance).  Apart from that it was just a day to wander with a friend.  Lovisa is like a female version of one of my best and oldest friends, Kai, and so we could just crap on about all sorts of eclectic topics.  My best memory from that day was just walking along the main drag, eating a big slice of watermelon I'd bought and shooting the breeze.

Skåne (continued)

In between days in Copenhagen, I went out with Lovisa and some of her friends to see a band play as part of the Malmö Festival.  The Göteborg Festival had been in town the previous week, but with not much interest except from a bit of random nighttime rave dancing in a park near us.  The Malmö festival had a bit more of interest (and someone to take me to the good things).  The band we saw was called Kaizers’ Orchestra, an industrial gypsy band with stadium rock potential.  They had a great Kurt Weil style organist (who was wearing a gas mask for some reason) fronting a rhythm section of drums and standup bass.  There were two 44 gallon oil barrels on the stage that the two guitarists would often attack with pick handles for a great percussion effect (at one point the organist as playing along with a car wheel and tyre iron for a terrific multipart percussion).  The singer had a great stage presence, with the crowd eating out of his hand - getting them to sing whole sections of the "daa daa dee" style choruses.  All under a Big Day Out style tent.  I followed Lovisa into the 4th row by walking around the side (it was surprisingly easy).  Really great event.  Afterwards we went out for some drinks to a cool place called Debaser, with some great Pixies references in the cocktail list.

The next night we went out swing dancing to an event with a live band.  I had some great dances with a few different girls.  The Skåne people are very friendly and sociable, I was hardly able to rest and cool down for people asking me to dance.  Unfortunately the band were of the fast rock variety with too many fast songs all together, which I often found myself dancing with a beginnerish girl to.  Afterwards, Lovisa and I and another dancer went out to a salsa club and then on to a reggae dance club, where I was about the only white guy in the room.  I must say that dance reggae sure beats hiphop for those wanting to compensate for a perceived lack of melanin - and the clientele sure suggested it was popular with the more melanin assured.  It was full of Gambians "disco dancing and cheating on their wives" as a Cameroonian had told Lovisa once, indicating a certain lack of solidarity in the Malmö African contingent (though according to a book I just finished, there's more genetic diversity in a small region of Africa than the rest of the world put together, so maybe they're entitled).  It did all start to sound the same after a while, but then so does techno or hiphop or any style of music you dance to.

So after a sleep in the next morning, it was back to Lund to welcome Emma.  We had dinner at Maria's and Kerstin came over to catch up as well.  After a great night we went to bed to get ready to go for a drive in the Skåne countryside the next day.  Maria had borrowed a car from a dance friend Håkan.  Next day dawned cold and rainy, and after waiting for Lovisa to show up, the four of us (Maria, Lovisa, Emma and me) went for a drive.  The countryside was amazing as we drove to the east coast of Skåne.  We stopped at the seaside town of Kivik for some lunch before heading on to see a Viking burial mound consisting of a shallow pile of stones about 50m in diameter.  Moving on we went for a walk in the rainy forest near Stenhuvud, admiring the broadleaf forest of the area.  We ended with a visit to Ales Stenar ("Ale's Stones"), a stone circle on the southern Skåne coast.  By this time it was pissing down rain, but we soldiered on (though we might have navied on if the rain had been much harder) up the steep hillside from the sea to the wind(and rain)swept, rolling, cow-filled meadow that the stones are on.  The stones are about 1m tall each and arranged in a 30m (or so) boat shape with taller stones at each end.  The whole arrangement overlooks the ocean.  Apart from the fully clothed shower we were taking (umbrellas were useless against the wind) it was quite a spectacular setting.  We got back to the car, borrowed some binbags from a shop to sit on, stripped off non-essential clothing and drove home like 4 drowned rats (that had been resuscitated, anthropomorphised and provided with transport).

That night we went to our first Kräftskiva ("Crayfish Plate"), a party held every August where Swedes get together and eat crayfish and drink lots of snaps.  I'm not sure how this became a tradition, probably something to do with this being crayfish season or something.  It's a slightly regional thing too, in the north, apparently they prefer to eat this ferment herring that is so foul smelling you have to open the can underwater.  The crayfish are nowadays mostly not from Sweden (the ones we brought were from China) because I think I recall that the Swedish population was almost wiped out by an introduced disease a few decades ago.  And since they weren’t really Swedish, I can report that you don't really get a lot of meat off a crayfish (at least not the way I was opening them).  After ripping off the thorax (and essentially throwing it away), and then peeling the tail, you're left with about as much meat as you'd get from a large Aussie prawn, with about the same taste.  But crayfish eating is not really the point, in the words of Håkan, "it's another excuse to get shitfaced."  And get shitfaced we did, with lots of drinking songs and snaps toasts.  The Swedes really get into their drinking songs too, when asked to provide an Australian one all I could meekly come up with was the old "Here's to _______, she's true blue..." one, followed by a few verses of Khe Sahn.  I'm not sure it really rated with the Swedish ones though (as homework, any Aussies out there are welcome to provide some other Australian drinking songs that I may have missed).  The people there were lovely (except for the guy "hosting" the thing who was a bit of a princess – if you were there you’ll know).  We were engaged in friendly conversation all night by different people and no-one seemed to be stuck talking to us.  Håkan (the guy who lent us his car and, it turned out, was one of the founders of the Swing scene in Lund) was plying us with his delicious lemon snaps all night in the vain attempt to get the Aussies rolling drunk and it was great to meet some more dancers and non-dancers.

Håkan was a really interesting guy and we got to talking about how the Swing scene in Lund started about 10 years ago (partly) with a regular nightclub event of neo-swing music and dressing up.  Apparently some of the punk crowd (possibly rebelling further) really got into it, no doubt through the similarity between ska and neo-swing.  One ballroom school taught Lindyhop at the time but a swing devoted school was started by popular demand of the social dancers.  As a result, the Skåne scene is very much a social scene, with a really friendly, inclusive, partying vibe - not unlike the Brisbane scene I joined (interestingly, introduced by a punk-loving friend), which might be another reason the more performance oriented scene in Stockholm was so hard click with (though of course knowing people always helps).

Next day, after a long sleep-in and a walk around Lund, Emma hopped back on the train to Göteborg.  The day after that, I headed back to Malmö to spend the day looking around that city (in the daytime this time) with Lovisa.  Malmö is a great town - the third biggest city in Sweden, but also in a way an outer suburb of Copenhagen.  The centre of town (once again enclosed by a canal/moat) has 3 main squares connected by pedestrian cobbled streets with lovely (painted) buildings around them and trees in them.  It's nice contrast to Göteborg's fairly drab, unfoliated CBD (though they make up for it outside of the CBD).  The castle, Malmöhus, is set in a wonderfully large park which we walked through towards the new Östhamn development out near the harbour.  This is in complete contrast to the main town, with very modern buildings, though still with a small community feel, clustered around the Turning Torso Tower.  The TTT is a residential skyscraper that does a really cool 90 degree twist from bottom to top, and is now a landmark of Malmö.  And the whole development really works, partly because it is naturally separated from the old town, so that it forms two contrasting centres, rather than looking like one city that doesn't know who it is anymore.

That night it was back to Lund for the social dancing, and it was another great night of dancing (probably the best since I left Australia) with lots of fun girls in a hot theatre with very little ventilation, but that didn't matter.  I also saw Pernilla and Peter, who we met from the cottage near Herräng, and who are really fun to dance with (or watch).  There are a few of people in the Skåne scene who don't even take regular classes - another testament to their social dancing roots (and as one girl in Brisbane once told me "the girls in the 1930s didn't go to dance lessons" - though lessons are still great and keep going those that do (-:).  One guy, Robert (another who made us very welcome at the Kräftskiva), had that great not-afraid-to-be-a-bit-silly style that our own Joel does so well.  After the dancing, it was off to the pub for a few beers (luckily I was finally able to buy Håkan and Lovisa a few drinks for all that they'd done for me) at the Lund chapter of The Bishop's Arms, a chain of English style pubs I'd seen all over Sweden, that are very nice too.

On my final day in Skåne, I decided to make use of the Öresundrunt ticket, which allowed me to go across the bridge, along the Danish coast to Helsingor, across onto the ferry to Helsingborg in Sweden and back to Lund.  This was in part to make up for not following my original plan to head into Denmark, up Jutland and get the ferry straight back to Göteborg which I didn't organise in time and Emma wasn't helping with.  Shows what a great team we make I guess - I provide slightly more enthusiasm and willingness to get out of our comfort zone, she provides the organisational ability to make it happen.  Although this was outside of the Skånetraffiken public transport system, I'd just like to say how well organised and integrated the transport is in the area - all my other travels between Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen was made on the system with one discount card that I could load money on as needed.

Given how late I set out from Maria's place, I decided to give intermediate stops a miss and head straight to Helsingor.  The trip was OK, but the train line in Denmark was mostly behind fences and such, so no great views of the countryside.  Helsingor, better known to English speakers as the Elsinor that Hamlet moped about in, is on the Danish side of the narrowest part of the strait between Denmark and Sweden (and between the North Sea and the Baltic).  As a result, it has long been the site of a castle used to regulate trade and collect the Sound Toll that Denmark levied on all shipping from the 1400s to the 1800s (when they were finally convinced to give it up in return for a whopping great lump sum in the billions).  The toll was originally a flat rate per ship, but later modified to be relative to the value of the cargo - the ships captain had to report the value BUT the Danes reserved the right to buy the cargo off him for that price (great way to prevent underestimates).  The town is another nice little cobblestreeted number, but the Kronborg castle is the main highlight - out on a spit of land away from town, surrounded by walls and moats and ramparts and more moats and more walls and more ramparts.  It's also within east sight of Sweden - about the distance across the wider parts of Pumicestone Passage near Brisbane.  After that it was on the ferry for the 20min ride over to Helsinborg (the similarity in name can't be coincidence and both probably mean something like "Greeting fortress").  Helsingborg is a slightly bigger town, but with only 30min or so to look around before I had to head back I only saw the birthday cake of a town hall and the old castle keep on the hill overlooking the town.  Both very nice.  Then it was back to Lund, grab my stuff, say "hej då och tack för allt" to Maria and take the train back to Göteborg.

Göteborg (continued)

Back in Göteborg it was time to sleep a bit and recharge after a full week.  On Friday (after watching the Democratic National Convention during the day whilst washing) we went out for a few drinks with Tim, our neighbour.  Tim is an American physicist from the US working between Brisbane and Göteborg (small world) and another fun motormouth (in the best possible way).  We went out to a bar down the street called Skål where VB stubbies were for sale and then headed off to another bar where an old bandmate of his was playing with his new band.  And they were a great act too - "The Cat Killers": sort of upbeat indie punk not unlike the Grates (though with less PG lyrics).  Fronted by a Swedish chick with attitude and a minor talent playing the saw, and a Scottish guitarist with great energy, stage presence and facial expressions and backed by a drummer and a British bass player that reclined on the floor the whole set (great counterpoint to the guitarist), they rocked the house pretty convincingly.  Tim explained that the musos in Göteborg include a high proportion of expats who have Swedish girlfriends and no work permits.  Anyway, Tim is back in Brissie now, so if an American with lots of curly hair turns up at swing dancing (and being a physicist he's genetically predisposed to have a go), be nice to him he seems like a top bloke.

Apart from a boat tour of the canals and river around the city, it was back to work after that planning our great UK and Ireland trip.  Back to walking to the different libraries and exploring the town.  I did have to go into Nordstan more than I'd have liked.  It's the main shopping centre in town that looks like someone just threw a roof over some narrow shopping streets (and appropriately refurbished the interior).  It's full title should be "Nordstan - Where shopping is a baffling ordeal" (to borrow a line from the Simpsons).  It has like 2 maps of the place, but it doesn't tell you where the shops are, it just gives you the block they're in (and no indication of level).  There are 8 blocks.  It'd be like dividing Indooroopilly shopping Centre into 3 blocks (each end and the middle) and letting you work out the precise location for yourself - not much fun when you don't even know what shop you're looking for.  That's one bit of culture shock we've noticed lately - in Australia you kind of know the main chains of bookshops, CD shops etc and can roughly guess where to find things.  Here it's like learning that again from scratch (that's not anyone's fault or even a big problem, just something we noticed that we hadn't considered before).

So, after meeting up with Robert again for a final drink on our last Friday and buying a new pair of sunnies (long story – I lost my sunnies and bought a new pair ... hmmm, not as long as I thought), it was with heavy luggage that we left for the train station to get the train back to Örebro with 2 days to finish prepare for our 3 week trip to the UK and Ireland.

It was great to settle in one place for a few weeks and really get to explore it.  We didn’t interact with as many locals as we’d have liked (blame that on shyness and our natural insularity I guess), but we did meet a few really nice people.  Hopefully our next couple of work stints will be just as great.

 

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