Trip Start Mar 05, 2008
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday 7Th May: Sweden

The euroline´s bus journey to Goteborg was long but surprisingly i arrived in good spirits, no worse for wear than any long-haul flight Ive ever been on. I had traveled from Amsterdam to Hamburg where i had a change of bus and then via ferry to Copenhagen where i changed to yet another bus and then traveled over the Oresund bridge, linking Denmark and Sweden, up through Malmo and Helsingborg before eventually reaching Goteborg. The fare was EUR99 which for the distance covered probably wasn't that bad, there's no doubt it would have been much cheaper to fly. The bus left Amsterdam at 11pm and arrived into Goteborg at 16.30pm the next day. Id say the main reason i had such a good journey was due to getting a seat to myself the whole way. When i was getting on the bus i decided to use my dodgy looking swollen eye to my advantage, so as it was on my right eye i decided that i wouldn't sit on the right side of the bus with my eye turned into the window. I wanted people to see it so i sat on the left side window with it facing everybody and sure enough once people got a look at the diseased Irish dude they quickly made their way to sit beside someone else. Up until now i hadn't done much traveling in the daylight hours so by the time i reached Hamburg the sun was already up and i got the chance to have a good look at the countryside from then on. I didn't know what to expect from Sweden, my knowledge didn't stretch much further than Abba, being full of blonde's, being expensive and an ace of base cassette tape i got for Christmas one year (cassette tapes now there is a blast from the past, do people remember trying to make you own tapes from the radio and you would have to deftly have one finger on play and the other on record so you could try and cut out the DJ talking, did Tony Fenton ever shut the hell up!!). Crossing the Oresund bridge, an engineering marvel as it seems to rise out of the sea, i was feeling pretty excited. I have a Swedish friend living in Goteborg, Helena, and i was hopefully of meeting up with her for a drink or two over the coming days, knowing her it would most likely be a four or five drink event if our paths were able to cross. My first impressions driving up from Malmo was how picturesque the countryside was, lots of gently rolling fields dotted with farmsteads, while little red cottages vied with the many wind-farms for the prettiest things on the route. In the May sunshine the setting was truly beautiful.

On arrival into Goteborg i decided that i would get the tram out to my hostel, the STF Vandrahem Slottsskogen, which was just off the grand boulevard of Linnegatan. The cost Skr175 per night. It was the build up to getting the tram and the eventual tram ride that would provide me with my first few nerve wracking experiences in Sweden. The first was trying to take out some money, i tried putting my card in to the ATM but it just wouldn't go into the slot. Not sure why i proceeded to another bank, and another, and another. By the fourth bank i was really starting to panic, i was starting to sweat from the anxiety rather than the carrying of my heavy backpack in the heat. I just couldn't believe that my card was no good, how could it be possible, what would i do for the next few days with no money!! Eventually while watching somebody else at the machine i realized that over here the card goes in with the magnetic strip side facing up. Relieved at being able to take out money i could only smile when i noticed a diagram on every ATM showing you what way the card goes in, i must walk around blind half the time. The next heart racing moment was while on the tram out to the hostel. I knew it would cost Skr20 and prepared myself by buying an ice-cream to break the larger notes i had just received from the ATM. Just as i was leaving the shop the no.6 tram pulled up on the other side of the square so i made a run for it. Trying to run with a big backpack on your back and an ice-cream in one hand is no easy feat and needless to say the doors closed just as i was about to step on. Thankfully some helpful Swedish guy seeing my plight managed to open the doors from the inside of the tram and i got on, ice-cream, backpack and dignity intact. The driver of the tram was completely enclosed in glass and there were no slots for me to ask about the tickets but again the Swedish guy came to my aide by explaining that you buy the tickets from a machine in thcenterer of the tram, sorted i though, but he also advised that it only takes coins and with me carrying a Skr20 note and knowing i had no coins in my pocket i slowly moved my way down to the machine knowing that i couldn't buy a ticket. I had dodged a tram fare while heading to the bus station in Amsterdam the day before because the tram was so packed i couldn't get down to the ticket guy with the size of my backpack. It was a real uncomfortable journey watching to see if an inspector was going to get on and issue me with a big fine, for the sake of Eur2.20 it just isn't worth the tension, but on my very next train ride here i was doing the exact same thing again. I was trying to look cool but i felt like everybody's eyes were on me, the people probably weren't taking any notice but when you are knowingly doing something illegal like that you start thinking all sorts. I pressed a few buttons on the machine and made it look like i was getting a ticket and moved out of view of the driver and most of my fellow passengers. As i was counting down the number of stops to safety the Swedish bloke from earlier sauntered down the train to tell me that tram fares were very expensive in Sweden and i should buy myself a day card that will make it much better value. Excellent advise for an obvious out of towner like myself but unfortunately his jovial and rather loud manner was not helping my cause of laying low and not drawing attention to the fact i hadn't got a ticket. This went on for another 3 stops before he alighted and thankfully a further 2 stops later i was able to exit the tram, breath a sigh of relief knowing i had just had public transport escape number two, i also vowed not to put myself through that ordeal again. By the time i had checked into my room and sorted out the mundane tasks like washing my clothes all i was ready for was the nest.

The sun was continuing to shine when i woke and having arranged to meet Helena when she finished work that left me the afternoon free to do my favorite thing in a new city, strolling around in no particular direction. I find its a great way to get a feel for a city and by watching its inhabitant's interact and go about their daily business you get get a feel for what the people are like too. Goteborg is Sweden's second largest city and has a hip, cosmopolitan feel and for me its got to be one of the most pleasurably stroll-able cities Ive visited. With the big boulevard of Linnegatan, the wonderful architecture in the buildings, the harbor area, and not forgetting the numerous parks that dot the city, i felt comfortable and completely at home right from the get go. As for the heartbeat of the city, its inhabitants, if they could be any more chilled and lay-ed back they would be horizontal. With Helena looking so relaxed, if i may say radiant to be more specific, when i met her in Kingsport platzen it only confirmed my thinking that Goteborg and probably Sweden in general is an excellent place to live.

It was pretty late when i fell back into the hostel that night, i might have been back a little earlier only i got it into my head that i knew the city like the back of my hand, and after only one day. The 45 minute walk in completely the wrong direction suggested otherwise and that it was probably the effects of the nights boozing that had my confidence sky high. The drinking started within 5 minutes of meeting Helena, good to know that she hasn't lost any of what she learned while living in Dublin, and it turned out to be one of the first major sessions of my trip. There are not too many pubs in the Irish sense of the word but the city is full of cafe style bars and trendy drinking houses. With the sun shining, and despite only being 4pm, they were full of Swedes having a good time. We had a nice meal in one spot but when the shade started to encroach on us we made a hasty exit to another cafe that allowed us to bask in the sunshine, only to return to the first bar to meet up with Helena's brother Jörgen and his friends Calle, Johan (aka jean claude van damme), Crille, Jenny and Janna. It was a great night, i had such a laugh and all the guys were excellent hosts and gave me plenty of tips on what to do and see in Goteborg. When i mentioned that i was hoping to see a moose while in Scandinavia Calle was on hand with an expertly drawn map of the Slottsskogen parken in Goteborg where they have an array of animals including seals, penguins, pelicans, fallow deer and most importantly a moose. I couldn't wait to see it, i was giddy with excitement, or giddy as the result of the flowing pints, either way i was in top form. Actually i was feeling quite sober until the  "ah sure we'll just have one more pint" seemed to send me over the edge. I must have looked some state stumbling from one side of the pavement to the other on what turned out to be the long walk home. It's funny but the more i was trying to walk in a straight line the more zig zag i became and with Johnny Cash playing in my ear i couldn't resist singing aloud to a "boy named sue".

The next morning i awoke fairly late a with a ripping hangover. It would have been tempting to say in bed but with only a few days to spend in Goteborg wasting a day wasnwasn'tally an option, besides i was on a mission to find some moose. Even with only a short walk from my hostel to Slottsskogen i was feeling dog rough and the heat of the afternoon sun wasn't really helping matters, many occasions i had to find a bench with some shade just so i didn't collapse to the ground. On one of these life saving rests i was joined by a Swedish guy, we got chatting and when he pulled out a few cans and offered me one i thought to myself why not it will be just the job to sort out my head, the cure if you will. It took me an age to force the beer down but in the meantime we chatted about all things football. When he said he was a spurs fan i felt that that was reason enough to be drinking beers in a park at 11.30am on a Friday but as it turns out his job like many others in Sweden operates on flexi-timeenablingg him to work up extra hours during the week so he could have the Friday off to enjoy the good weather. When therevitalizingg effects i was looking for didn'tmaterializee i thanked him for his generosity and left him to enjoy the fruits of hislaborr. The morning after Calle's map to the moose didn't look as good as it had in the pub and my sense of direction has been seriously misguided so far, follow a squiggle and take a right at a circle and then another right and x marks the spot, but to my amazement it was spot on and i found the moose no problem. They are hugh and such proud looking animals, i even got to see a few baby moose's or maybe its moose (a sheep/sheep'ssscenarioo?), idintt know anyways they are pretty cool and were well worth the walk through the pain barrier. After, i flaked out on the grass with a can of coke and tried to regain my composure for some more sightseeing. Next on my list was the Skansen Kronan, a small fort perched atop a hill and built to protect the city from the Danes, from where there are excellent views of the city. By the time i was finished with that i was starting to turn a corner health wise and really getting into the swing of things, literally. If there was asoundtrackk that i think best describes the vibe of Goteborg it would have to be Frank Sinatra, and a mixture of listening to him and the vibe of the place had me bopping and swinging down the streets, i even indulged in a little finger clicking. I walked all along the harbor, over the Gotääivbron bridge and to another great lookout point in Keillers park. That night Helena treated me to a home cooked meal and we watched this mental dvd that i cant remember the name of but it was about trying to find a replacement for Bruce Lee for a film after he died. It was pretty out there but a good giggle. When i was getting the tram back to the hostel i was trying to learn from my mistake on my first day by getting change from ahot-dogg vendor but it was disaster as i was asking the guy, who didn't have muchEnglishh, for coins that didn't exist. Thankfully Helena stepped and solved the problem with the minimum of fuss. TheThaii people have a word that i love and i might not spell it correctly but its "falang ding dong" and translates a "crazy",I'I'm sure many races opeoplele have thought similar things about me along my travels.

On Saturday Helena and Jörgen had arranged a picnic down at the beach, only a short drive from the city centre. When i say beach well there wasnt much sand that i could see but there were plenty of rocks that you could spread out atowell and catch some rays. We were later joined by Calle, Johan, Douglas and his girlfriend Nina, and Anna, and over a few beers we chatted the hours away. Anyone that has been on holidays with me will know how much i love the sea and that i will spend most of the beach time in the water so when Helena had said that we were going to the beach for the day i had equipped myself with my swimming trunks inreadinesss for a dip. There was never a thought in my mind that i would not get into the water and when Helena and Jörgen explained that it would be freezing at this time of the year i was laughing off the prospect. After all im from Ireland and used to swimming in the Atlantic, couldn't be colder than that surly. The choking feeling in my throat, as i struggled to swallow my balls that had risen in complete shock at the cold, was telling me that yes indeed Helena was correct about the water temperature and heeding the advise of people in the know was probably a good idea. I wonder what Thai word would apply to me getting in for a second dip just before we left, I'm sure i can think of a few English ones!! After a quick shower back at the hostel i met the guys again for a BBQ in the Slottsskogen. As we sat there enjoying some burgers and beers i was looking around at the merry bunch thinking how lucky i was to have met such great people. Being entertained by Johan is something that i think everyone should experience at least once, its certainly an experience i hope to have again. i find it amazing how someone can have such a sharp wit in a language that isn't their own, his joke of spending lots of money buying salad for the burgers when there was miles of grass all around us and his impressions of a Scottish accent will live long in my memory. The guys had been on a weekend away to Scotland earlier in the year and as we conversed we realized we had a mutual love for whiskey and as the sun set we headed for "bitter bar" where we could get some top quality whiskey's and brandy's. Calle i think its fair to say would be more of a brandy man, its a tipple Ive not had very often, but while at the bar he bought the two of us a glass of some vintage "Hennessey" and sure it would have been rude to refuse. We clinked glasses and i then quickly realized that i haven't got a classy bone in my body when i downed mine in one go while Calle sipped and savored every drop. Actually i was pretty embarrassed, so much so that i tried to pretend that i still had a little mouth full left in the glass. Calle to his credit would want you feeling uncomfortable about it and replied that "whatever way you like to drink is the way you drink", i guess I'm the its over in a matter of seconds kind of guy...hahaha!! At one point Johan bought me a Kilkenny beer so i could get a taste of home, and when i thanked him he said that i could buy him a Swedish beer when he come to Dublin sometime. I didn't have the heart to disappoint him by saying that we dint have Swedish beers in Ireland in the pubs so i deftly changed the topic slightly by telling him that id buy him a pint of Guinness straight from the factory instead. Satisfied, i believe that he is already looking forward to coming over. As i said my goodbyes and thanks, for the second time in Goteborg i walked back to the hostel with a slight wobble.
As i sat on the Säfflebussen, Skr140, in the parking lot of the Nils Ericsson terminal i was engulfed with this overwhelming sad feeling to be leaving. Goteborg had been such a wonderful experience and had stolen a piece of my heart, so much so that i was even trying to find excuses to stay. Its a city that i could easily live. I might change my mind in the depths of winter, but i think that to have proper seasons would be a healthier environment to live. We always seem to be sick in Ireland, suffering from colds and flu's at all times of the year that in my opinion is down to our mild climate incubating all these viruses. After Galway you could count on one finger the amount of other European cities Ive said that i could easily live in. Of course Helena and the guys played a massive part in me having such a good time in Goteborg, and would be some of the main reasons that my short time here will be one of the highlights of this trip, but more than that i also believe that the Swedes are the handsome race of this planet and that their outward beauty is matched with a warm and friendly inner beauty, a beauty that i experienced from the first person i met to the very last ,and why its was with such a heavy heart that i was traveling onwards to Oslo.
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mardai24 on

Great pick me up
Hi Mark, great, great blog. Loving it. Thanks for cheering me up. By the by, I've read bits of it out to one of the guys here in the office with me.... and I really think it was the wrong thing to do. He's been travelling for years. He and his wife decided to come home, settle down, apply for a mortgage, but when I was reading your blog to him, especially the funny bits (the guy on the bench offering you a beer, particularly good, I could even see it), he got this wistful, far away look in his eyes.... oh! what have I started. Keep up the blogs and tell Monica that she's doing the right thing. I knew a girl once who started dating an English guy, much like she is, and they are together now about 10 years, happy as larry and living in a gorgeous part of England. Life IS for living and every adventure and path brings its own excitment and new direction.

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