We had been warned, but we didn't realize how crowded the ticket counter at the train station would be. Sweden is at the height of summer holidays. Swedes get a lot more vacation than we do, approximately 31 days a year. (Compare this to the 20 days I had at BNA, after five years with the company.) When you turn 35, you automatically get 35 days. Incredible.
Anyway, all we wanted to do was get our SwedenRail Pass validated so that we'd be able to get on the train. We arrived 50 minutes before our train was scheduled to leave, took our number (418) and then saw that they were only on number 305, and that there were only two people working behind the counter. There is a cafe conveniently within sight of the digital display to show which number they are taking at the moment, so we figured we'd have a coffee and pastry (you can't really call them a Danish here...) By the time we'd finished twenty-five minutes later, they'd only gotten to 328. We were doomed. About 12 minutes before the train was supposed to leave, we decided to be sneaky and see if the information booth would validate it. They wouldn't, but they said that Customer Service might. We ran over there, the lovely woman called a colleague to find out what was necessary to validate the pass, and we were on the train. Of course, we hadn't paid the 30 Skr ($4.00) to reserve a seat, so we had to move every time someone got on who had reserved the seat we were sitting in. We finally realized that they reserve from the front to the back, though, and from then on, we spent more time sitting than standing. It's about a six hour ride from Stockholm to Malmö on an InterCity train.
When we arrived, Karin was there to meet us, with her ten month old little boy, Alexander! Karin was a foreign exchange student with us when I was in college, so it's really strange to see her as a Mom. But she's a natural. Alexander is the best baby on the planet... when he's not being very bad! Of course I'm kidding; he's a wonderful little person. Karin and Peter told us that they had a discussion when they were pregnant with Alexander and decided that they definitely didn't want a wimpy (gnällig) baby. Alexander must have heard and complied, for he is absolutely not wimpy! Paul and I have been exemplary babysitters and can even talk in Swedish with Alexander now.
That first night in Malmö, we had a wonderful meal (Karin is a great cook), good drink (Peter knows his wine), and great conversation. We were introduced to Karin's Mamma's Lingon Bröd (great bread) that night, and have included the recipe for anyone who is brave enough to cook in deciliters. It's totally worth making all the conversions, and is very healthy (very little fat).
07 June 1998
The next morning, we got up early and had a typical Swedish breakfast: several kinds of bread, more kinds of cheese, red peppers, filmjölk (kind of like sour joghurt, muesli, and strong Swedish coffee. Karin, who has become a superwoman since she became a mother, had had the forethought to slow-roast two chickens the night before so we could take them on a picnic that day. Our plan was to drive around the South of Sweden and see a few sights. Paul and I put on shorts and t-shirts because Karin had told us when we were in Stockholm that she had been drinking coffee outside in her bikini. This turned out to be a very bad idea (I don't know why we hadn't learned yet). It was actually quite windy and very cool.
We drove South and East around the coast from Malmö, through Trelleborg, Smyghuk (Sweden's most Souhtern point, where they put out palm trees in the summer along the beach), and Ystad, a very old medieval town.
We stopped in Kåseberga Hamn, an old fishing village. When you walk up the hill through the cow pastures, you come to Ale Stenar, which is a group of standing stones, similar to Stonehenge. You come to the top of the hill and you can see the ocean on three sides. And there in the middle of a field are the standing stones. They are set in the ground in roughly the form of a ship. There are various theories about what they were used for. In high summer, there are tour guides who take very seriously their own versions of the truth and like to shout each other down and fight for the ears of the tourists. Luckily, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.
As we were coming up, a group of German tourists dressed in full rain gear, hiking boots, long knee socks and woolen scarves was coming down. Before you assume that I'm picking on the poor Germans, which I am a little, let me remind you that Paul and I had on shorts and sandals and we were freezing. Karin had given me the picnic blanket and I was making full use of it. There was only one hardy tour guide at the top of the hill the day we were there. She believes that the stones were used as a solar clock, which I can accept, since you can see the sun rise and set over the water all year long there. She had a nice schematic showing important dates and the corresponding stones. The tour guide was stationed quite a ways away from the stones so when we got there, we were totally alone. I have to admit that it felt strange to be there. It felt ancient, permanent, and a little solemn. It didn't quite feel sacred, and it definitely wasn't overwhelmingly supernatural. On the way down, Peter and I talked about what people are looking for when they visit these kinds of places. I said I thought they were looking for the answer to the "Eternal Why", as E.M. Forster calls it in A Room With A View. Why we're here and what will happen afterwards.
We drove on and stopped for lunch at Backökra, Dag Hammarskjold's retreat. (For those of you who are too young to remember, Dag Hammarskjold was the leader of the UN who was assassinated in the 1970s.) He had a beautiful place to come to when he needed to relax. He probably didn't get there often enough. The retreat is now a nature reserve, about 41 hectares (101 acres) of land set aside to be left as it is. The wind was still gale force, and now we needed the picnic blanket to sit on, but Karin found a sheltered place and Paul and I fared pretty well. Especially once Karin brought out the spread! There was the roasted chicken, carrot pie, cheese, bread, and the Nation's favorite drink, coffee. We began lunch with all the adults sitting comfortably on the edge of the blanket with the feast in the middle, but Alexander The Individual, aka Whirlwind, got into dangerous things (like sharp knives and hot coffee) so quickly that we ended up with all the food and utensils outside the blanket for safekeeping.
On the way back home, we visited a 15th century castle. It has been renovated several times and very little of the original structure from the 1400s is left, but it is a beautiful place. In the summer, they have plays and music there, and everyone brings picnics and sits on the grass. The castle itself is a square brick building, with two onion-domed copper towers, and is surrounded by a moat that really is more of a decorative pond. The railing and bridge couldn't stop the wimpiest soldier. There are also incredibly cute outbuildings that are now a bit crooked because they are slowly sinking into the pond. The whole place is fortified (I use that word in its most generous sense) by brick walls. It's really hard to take a castle seriously when someone has put the date the building was erected in wrought iron on the side of the building, followed by A.L. + J.P. Presumably, since the Southern Coast was once dotted with castles, the owner of this one felt safe making it beautiful instead of practical.
07 June 1998
It was Sunday, and Peter left to go referee a game. Soccer, of course. In addition to his "real" job, he's a referee for the 3rd League in Sweden. The World Cup was going on while we were in Malmö, so Peter was constantly watching or taping the games. Paul has indulged in a bit of gamewatching as well.
Peter works for the government, assisting unemployed people in getting jobs or the training they need to get one. Karin teaches English, Swedish, French, Media, and Speech. She's been on maternity leave for ten months, but will go back to work in the Fall.
But that morning, all we had in mind was a walk along the sea to the Öresund Bridge Exhibition. This is an exhibit done by NCC, the company that is building the bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen. It will be 16 km long, and will support both regular traffic and the high speed trains. It's a very impressive endeavor and should really open up relations with the rest of Europe. We started out with Karin and Alexander, but they ditched us at the campground. Actually, Karin was afraid that Alexander had a fever, and since he'd been very sick a couple of weeks ago, she didn't want to take any chances. So Paul and I continued on alone. The exhibit was, in my opinion, a piece of shameless shameless promotion. There were videos that show all the things NCC is or has built. You could go up on NCC's website to see how well they are doing financially, how big their contracts are, etc., etc. There was an interesting section that showed you how they constuct and put in place the tunnel sections underwater (they build them in Copenhagen, then seal the two ends, transport them by barge, then submerge them, connect them to the parts already in place, and then unseal the end connected to the rest of the tunnel), but the rest was really a blatant marketing campaign. How it would make a profit after only a few years, how the safety record would be exemplary, no seaweed would be harmed, etc., etc. I think Paul liked the exhibit better than I did, so if you're interested, ask him about it. I just wasn't wowed. It had started raining while we were in the Exhibit, and by the time we were ready to go, it hadn't stopped. We attempted to leave but were turned back when the little sprinkle turned into a raging downpour. So we hung out in the entryway with the rest of the people and dogs who didn't want to get wet.
There were brochures about Malmö in the entry way, and there we learned that the name Malmö derives from a word meaning "sand heaps." The first mention of the city in written records was in 1275. By 1500, Malmö was an important and prosperous city of Denmark. It collected more taxes for the King than Copenhagen. At the time, 5000 people lived there. Around the year 1658, King Carl X Gustav of Sweden fought a war with the Danes (and won) and then marched his troups back over the North Sea, which had frozen solid that year. The North Sea freezes only rarely, and a couple of people mentioned this important feat to me. Denmark gave Sweden Malmö as part of the spoils. Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden, after Stockholm and Göteborg. It has 251,000 people living here now.
Malmö has beautiful beaches and gorgeous parks, and a series of canals that circles the whole city. Malmö is situated in the province of Skåne, which is famous because it is the place where a little boy named Nils began his amazing adventure flying on a goose across Sweden. (Selma Lagerlöf won a Nobel Prize for Literature for her book about Nils.) There is a goose here with a grey head and white body that's sacred in Skåne. Apparently, every fall there is a huge feast in its honor, during which the guest of honor is also eaten. Some honor...
08 June 1998
Karin, Paul, Alexander and I went into town the next morning to have a look around. Malmö has many incredibly old, interesting buildings. It boasts the first every Apothecary, from the 1500s, Guild buildings, rich merchants' houses, and big market squares where trading was done. Everything seems to have been set up for commerce. The buildings are often made of brick and timber, and the brick is laid in unusual patterns. They tend to get smaller the higher up you go, like Northern German, Danish and Polish houses. Actually, I was surprised by the similarities between Poland and Sweden. Their landscapes are similar, both have beautiful white birches, and the architecture is similar. After I found out that Sweden fought wars with Poland, though, I was less surprised.
Alexander was not in the mood for looking around, so Karin took him home and we were on our own again. We went to the train station to try to get information about the Inlandsbana, which is a steam train that goes all the way up North through beautiful countryside. We thought that would be a good way to travel to the Arctic Circle for the midnight sun. However, the Information booth had moved, but we had no idea where, because our Swedish wasn't good enough to understand the signs telling us. After some searching, I got fed up, and decreed we should give up for the moment, and take a boat trip through the canals. We walked over, got some Pommes frittes (french fries) and cokes, and boarded the boat. The trip is lovely, and you get a feel for the layout of the city. They play a tape in both English and Swedish (too loudly) about what you are seeing, but you can easily block that out. By the time we got back 45 minutes later, I was ready to face the train station again.
We decided to just get in line at the ticket counters. While we were waiting, Paul found a brochure about the Inlandsbana and we realized it would take to long to get up North that way, even if our SwedenRail passes did cover it. Ah well. But we also wanted to ask if we got a discount on the ferry to Copenhagen with our passes, so we stayed in line. Finally our number was called, and we asked our questions. The woman behind the counter, who turned out to be Karin's neighbor, very apologetically told us that we should go to the Information Counter for that, which was now located in the same room we were in. They had just moved it that day, and there were no signs up yet. She told us that she could find out the information for us, but the Information people could get an answer faster, and she could be more useful selling tickets, since the lines were so long. Contrast this to the German ground crew -- what a difference in attitude.
We got our information and headed to the Malmöhuset, which is an old fortress built by Eric of Pomerania in 1434, who also gave Malmö its coat of arms, a red eagle wearing a silver helmet with a feather in it. It now houses a series of museums. But as happened all over Sweden so far, we arrived at the museum 10 minutes before it was supposed to close. It seems that all museums open at 10:00 or 11:00, and close by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. We decided to check out the parks instead, which are filled with water, huge, ancient beech trees and many ducks and geese. There is a stange and famous statue there, called Pegasus, by Carl Milles. It is a statue of a boy flying with the winged horse; they are tilted strangely on their sides. I don't know why. But it's placed on a 10 meter high pedestal and is quite impressive.
We also walked over to the last windmill left in Malmö. It's called Slottsmölle and presumably was the source of flour for the fortress. It was built in 1851 in the Dutch design, which features white plaster on the first floor and a roof made in the shape of a mushroom cap, and covered in wooden shingles. Unfortunately, we couldn't go inside and see how the mill worked. We continued through the parks to St. Paul's Church, which was constructed in a circular style. We sat on the steps and there, we witnessed love in all its glory. Time slowed down, and romantic music began to play, as a little white poodle saw her heart's desire, a golden retriever lying on the grass with his person by the Church. The poodle stood stock still and her ears fluttered gracefully in the breeze. One paw was held up daintily, as if to keep herself from fainting. The retriever, for his part, seemed interested. But he stayed where he was and played hard to get. Finally, the poodle's person started pulling her away, but she was extremely unwilling. The poodle sat down and refused to leave her beloved's side. But the person was also resolute and the poor poodle slid away on her butt out of sight. These are the kinds of things you miss if you spend your time running from one museum to the next!
We had dinner in Lilla Torget (little square), which is a trendy place to seek sustenance and and be seen. We found a nice little pizza place on the corner of the square and disdaining the heaters nearer the building, sat on the outside edge of the tables where we would be better able to watch people go by. As we sat and ate our pizza, it got windier and windier, and colder and colder. Pretty soon, Paul's napkin had flown away. Then we noticed we were the only ones still brave or stupid enough to sit outside. But we toughed it out. A group of German womand leaned over the railing to inspect our food and when they left, they laughed and said, "Guten Appetit!" to us. I answered "Vielen Dank," before I even realized they were speaking German. I think it was at that moment that I started to realize that we are attempting to feel at home in the whole world, and that we really are going to accomplish it. It was a very nice feeling.
After dinner, we caught the number 10 bus back to Limhamn. The busses are very nice here; they have a digital display to tell you the next stop, so even if you don't know where you're going, it's not difficult. They play music as well, which is pleasant. It's a very impressive country.