A Travellerspoint blog

Strange Stockholm sculpture special!

Who pays for this shit?

all seasons in one day

A few years back when I lived in Leeds I started putting together a self-guided trail of nude public sculpture in the city centre. No, I'm not entirely sure why either. Mercifully it didn't get very far, although I did walk part of the intended route with a friend's girlfriend - who I had something of a crush on at the time - when I bumped into her on her way to work (Christ that sounds premeditated). As potential romantic gambits go it was a stinker, but she seemed mildly amused by my poorly-researched trail all the same, although needless to say we remained just friends thereafter.

Anyway, all of this was pushed to the back of my mind until I started noticing even more brazen nakedness wrought in metal and stone as I wandered around Stockholm. At the same time I was spotting - and in one case tripping over - some seriously weird statues. It may not be a trail, and I sure as hell can't tell you one decent fact about any of the following, but on a personal level I feel as if I'm atoning for my failure to see the project through in Leeds. So in no particular order I give to you...

(1) Guy sat on a rock, Tegnerlunden

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Hanging out, hanging out, checking himself out...

(2) A cheery wave from a stranded hermaphrodite, City Hall gardens

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Man concerns himself with the view over the water. I saw you copping a perv!

(3) All kinds of weird, City Hall gardens

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Where to begin?

(4) Snakes in a cave, City Hall gardens

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There was someone taking a nap in here just before I took this picture, brave guy.

(5) Child playing some kind of harp fish, City Hall

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Note shoddy donkey statue in background; I guess you could say this is killing two turds with one stone...

(6) Little fat guy, Drottninggatan

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Looks like your mum.

(7) Reuterswards Naked Knotted Gun, Drottninggatan

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Straying from the theme perhaps, but this sculpture is quite famous, and not just because it's outside Desigual.

(8) Craptastic Mr Fox, Stromgatan

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They should put up signs warning that around the corner there's a low-level metal lump in the image of a, er, homeless fox.

(9) Fun boy/girl three, Kunliga Slottet

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Word on the street is these kids are going to be as big as Ace of Bass

(10) Man staring at cafe, Djurgarden

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Seriously, I would love to know the story behind this one. Was it a former owner? A favourite customer? Is the hands-in-pockets pose significant?

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 09:38 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Changing the guard at Stockholm Palace

Sweden looks ripe for invasion if this is the best they've got to offer

sunny 22 °C

Travelling broadens your horizons they say. It also broadens the range of things you're willing to do when visiting a city. I've never lived in London, but grew up not far outside it and still make regular-ish trips to the capital. However, in all that time I have never been to, or even so much as considered going to see, the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace. Yet I go Stockholm and, caught up in the delight of an unexpectedly sunny Thursday morning, before I know it my boring-bullshit-tourists-do defences are down and I'm making my way to see how the Swedish army pretend like they're defending their monarch while wearing silly uniforms. Here's how it went down...

I'll say this for the Swedish ceremony; it has the advantage of there being no giant iron fence separating spectators from soldiers as at Buck Pal. This cuts both ways. Being corralled behind a limp rope cordon may offer a better view of the marching and flag-swapping business, but it also allows you to see the troops at close quarters and realise that beneath those Bismarck-like helmets are some right wet-behind-the-ears poindexters. There's one speccy lad in particular who looks all of about 17 yet appears to be in charge of a section of the soldiers marshalling the ever-growing number of tourists into the designated spectator areas. It soon becomes clear I'm not the only one to have noticed his lack of an air of authority, since one of his men has taken it upon himself to intimidate a group of visiting primary school children by marching straight at them every time they start to stray too far across some invisible line that separates civilians and military men. Maybe it made him feel like a big man.

Talking of underwhelming officers, there's one particularly tubs important-looking guy who barely strays from one spot at the top of the courtyard in which the action takes place for the duration, and in fact does little other than wearily wave an arm every now and again in order to intimate to a group of Far Eastern tourists to move back. This photo is pretty slimming (he's the guy on the right), someone should tell him to check it out;

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Public speaking duties are left to the oldest man in uniform who, after ages spent waiting around for the clock to turn 12.15pm, reels off a potted history of the Swedish crown and the gubbins we are about to witness. This is followed by more waiting around, but then a wave of excited multilingual whispers and the opening salvos of camera shutters being released announce the fact that a phalanx of soldiers is making its way out of a door in a colonnaded building at the far side of the parade ground, and before I know it I'm struggling to see above/around/through a forest of arms brandishing more cameras than greet Cheryl Cole every time she does something unremarkable in a public place;

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This batch of soldiers are soon followed by two colleagues from the same platoon (I have no idea if that's the right term or not) who take a more scenic route around the courtyard before lining up in front of the rest. One of this duo carries the flag that is central to this whole caboodle, which at first sight would appear to be a tattered Swedish flag, but turns out to be a special one with a jagged edge (presumably to make it more of an honour to receive - a standard shop-bought rectangular one wouldn't have the same cachet, but then again I'm one of the least military-minded people alive so what would I know). It's surely no coincidence that the guard chosen to for this role is the tallest of the men lined up. After all, this whole thing is steeped in symbolism so, if the flag is the Swedish royal family, the last person you want to fuck with is the really lanky guy who could deploy the tactic of raising his arms up to take it out of your reach.

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The tall guy holds the flag out at 45 degrees as proceedings move into phase two; the arrival of the new guards. Entering through a gateway, apparently straight off the street, they march in lines and turn to face the old guard. Unfortunately they overshoot slightly, prompting some amateur-hour leftward shuffling until they are in line with their counterparts.

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A few of the newbies peel off to march up to the palace and talk to the above-mentioned stationary fatso, perhaps seeking his encouragement to take the flag off of a bigger boy.

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Permission granted, old guard turn and depart from whence they came, as the the new lot march up to join their leaders, leaving a noticeably short member of the platoon to wrest control of the flag from its lofty bearer (I wager this may have been a deliberately conceived little-meets-large pairing to amuse us spectators).

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The rest of his company then line up behind him, and...and... There's some shouting, presenting of weapons and no doubt some more marching, but I've kinda lost interest by this stage, what with no-one looking like they're shaping up to fire a rifle let alone any of the cannons dotted about the courtyard. What is more, in retrospect my photos all look more or less the same, and having been forced back several rows over the course of half an hour as elderly tourists with sharp elbows and no knowledge of the phrase "Excuse me", a lot of them were taken from on high and consequently show more architecture than armed forces. Here's a nice one to end on, of the thin dark blue who stand between the Swedish crown and unknown republican-commie agitators getting their way;

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So what did I learn? That the spectacle of the changing of the guard draws mainly spatially-unaware Continental teens and digital SLR-toting mature Asian tourists all of whom, despite being about a foot shorter than me, somehow manage to obscure my view of much of what is taking place only a matter of metres in front of me. My advice to any prospective attendees would be to get there early, or even better to sack it off altogether and spend your time walking the beautiful streets of Gamla Stan while most tourists are trapped watching half an hour of inaccurate marching and synchronised gun-waving.

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 07:20 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Stockholm

Learning to love paying through the nose for everything

semi-overcast 18 °C

It's been a while hasn't it? Rob's Odyssey has almost reached the infrequency and overblown word counts once associated with J K Rowling and the later Harry Potter books. Much longer and we'd have been heading into 'Chinese Democracy' territory. Talking of China, I've been and gone through there, and am now typing this on a crappy keyboard (but nevertheless a QWERTY one - hurrah!) in a hostel in Tokyo. As Cilla might say, a lorra things have happened in the intervening month of so between Sweden and here, but I'm fairly confident that at the rate I'm going I'll still be able to wrap this up in time for the Olympics. Maybe even the London ones...

Now I admit I said I was going to try and keep this short and snappy, but you know what? Stockholm deserves better. It may have left a hefty dent in my travel budget, but after three-and-a-bit days in the city, I could see why so many people have so many good things to say about it. It seeks to project an image of being the "Capital of Scandinavia", which has rubbed the other Nordic capitals up the wrong way but, in the absence of any real competition, it's probably not far from the truth. Certainly it was no coincidence that I'd made it the longest stop on my brief tour of continental Europe's northerly outposts. The train across from Göteborg was super quiet (there were never more than three other people in my carriage the whole time, but this still didn't stop the ticket inspector insisting that I should have reserved a seat), and passed through pine forests that gave me a foretaste of what awaits me for day after day in Siberia. My hostel was just up the road from the station and it was a corker, really swish from the moment you get in the door and see the iPad behind reception ostensibly being used for no other purpose than to play music. My first night's a low key affair (i.e. spent updating this thing and the rest of my online media empire), and the next day has to be a sensible one: I'm all but out of smalls, and need to purchase some kind of ticket to get from here to Tallinn. The fact it was tipping it down outside meant I chose the domestic option first, commandeering myself a toilet sink in which to scrub, to the probable perplexment of the cleaners who must have assumed I was having a particularly long shit or shave. By the time I'd hung them out to dry the rain had abated, so I went to the ferry office with a plan to revolutionise their ticketing arrangements and thus help me avoid paying full whack (a cool 196 Euros) for a four-person cabin. Good thing is the ferry company were one step ahead of me. "You don't mind sharing with three other guys?", asked the girl at the counter, before I informed her that it would pose no problem given I shared a room with 15 other guys two nights prior. A 52 Euro transaction later and I had my ticket to ride. I walked down the road into the city's main shopping area, clobbered by redevelopment in the 1960s. There was an international food market on, with the usual mix of national dishes represented: French cheeses, Spanish paella, Dutch pancakes. And from Britain? Fudge. A big stall entirely given over to the wonderful sugary stuff. Trade was brisk.

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I'd read that food is expensive in Stockholm, but it wasn't until I'd parted with 7 Euros for a small carrier bag of veg from a market stall that I realised it was no word of a lie. Back at the hostel more roomates had arrived, and we swapped stories of how much we had (almost) paid for food and drink. Annoyingly, my outlay on groceries was still not enough to allow me to put together a simple pasta-and-sauce dish, but showing a Taiwanese girl how to switch on the hobs (fast becoming my party trick among Far Easteners) scored me some Frankfurter to pad out my meal a little. We chatted as we first cooked and then ate (stopping momentarily for her to take a photo of her meal for reasons that remain unclear to me). Her name was Jin, and she was back in Stockholm to see a friend from her time at university here, a period marked by her failure to master the spoken language (or at least the correct pronunciation of the letter r). She tells me that I should have put Taiwan in my itinerary as it's cheap (who knew?), but doesn't seem at all concerned by the ten days I've chosen to spend in China and Hong Kong. Given her previous experience of living in the city, I asked her what the one thing I should go and see once I've finished eating. Her suggestion was to go take a look at City Hall, only not to bother since the cafe will be closed that late in the afternoon and it's still raining. Upon leaving the windowless basement kitchen I found she was well wide of the mark meteorologically, and set off for City Hall to assess whether her judgement of civic sights was any better. It was, although credit for her success has to rest more with the architect and city fathers responsible for the building. Nowadays it's perhaps best known as the venue for the awards of the various Nobel Prizes. A restaurant housed in one corner of the building offers among other things the opportunity to eat the courses served to Barack Obama upon his premature receipt of the Peace Prize last year, but it didn't really float my boat. How about you?

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That night was spent sat around with roomates chatting and drinking weak supermarket-bought beer. We talked mainly about languages, since one of our number, a Canadian girl named Crystal, was an avid linguist (and the only person I've ever known to matter-of-factly drop the phrase "false cognates" into conversation) whose problem was that her head gets turned by the thought of starting to learn a new language without having fully mastered any of those she has on the go already. It was fun, even if by the end of the night I still didn't know the name of the guy from San Francisco sleeping in the bunk opposite mine, and so it was a touch disappointing to have to leave the hostel for another one across town. The flipside to this was that the new hostel was in Gamla Stan, the medieval old town, which despite being a tourist honeypot has all of one cashpoint, forcing me to do a lot of walking around with two heavy bags weighing down on my shoulders (and a disappointing tomato/pepper/Swedish mushroom leftovers breakfast in my belly) trying to find somewhere to withdraw cash to pay for my stay.

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With that all sorted, I spent the afternoon wandering the beautiful streets and alleyways of Gamla Stan, although all too frequently the idyll was shattered by the sudden appearance of a guided tour party. Nowhere was safe from them, except the nearby island of Riddarholmen, which boasts the city's best medieval church, Riddarholmskyrkan. Virtually all members of the Swedish royal family (and a hefty chunk of the aristocracy) from the past few centuries are buried inside, and are commemorated by an extraordinary range of monuments:

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The sun was out, Riddarholmen was quiet, and the view across to City Hall was wonderful. Belatedly, I was really starting to warm to Stockholm. I even found that the City Museum was free to enter, which seemed nothing short of a miracle hereabouts. There were temporary exhibitions about two successful Stockholm men: one great (the life and work of Bjorn Berg - yes, Berg - a post-war illustrator whose style was equal parts L S Lowry and Quentin Blake) and one inevitable (Stieg Larsson, with a dubious reconstruction of his study dominated by MILLENNIUM spelled in big black letters atop his bookcase). Plus, as is compulsory for all city museums, there was a matchstick reconstruction of the city in its first flush of mercantile growth in the seventeenth century.

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From here it was a quick walk into "trendy" (the guidebook's word, not mine) Södermalm, teeming with cool kids and cool parents, but also with some decent views back over the city. Having worked up quite a thirst from a day on my feet, I found in my guidebook a listing for a real ale pub. With the prospect of not being able to get a decent drink for several weeks, I decided to treat myself. And that was when Stockholm decided to remind me I was on its manor and had to play by its rules. One pint (slightly less in fact with the continental measures) = 76 Kronor, or somewhere over seven quid on current exchange rates. Ouch. I savoured every sip of it in order to get my money's worth, and it was a top tipple, but it was only brewed in Goteborg. Sweden, you do confuse me.

As if to remind me that this travelling lark ain't so hard to arrange and that I really should have done this before, back at the hostel a group of three English lads, all between their first and second years at uni, had arrived. They had completed the King's Trail in just under three weeks (with constant heavy rain a feature of all but four of the days), which they reckoned was a feat accomplished by only about 50 people per year. Even so, seemed astonishingly blasé about the whole trip (two of them understandably being more interested in the three weeks they would be in Morocco for, starting with a flight at the crack of dawn the next day), and were already contemplating which mammoth mountain hike to do next. The night turned into another Anglophone round-table chat, as we were joined first by a Kiwi couple who will be doing the Trans-Siberian at around the same time as me, and then a girl named Amanda who had spent an absolute eternity flying from Melbourne and needed to re-establish her ability to speak. We sat around and shared travel tales and a disappointing (or maybe cheap) Swedish equivalent of Revels before some elected to go out for beers and the rest, me included, hit the hay.

Breakfast the next morning was spent chatting with a guy in a salmon (I'm being kind here) polo shirt who at first sight bore more than a passing resemblance to Buster from Arrested Development. He turned out to be a perfectly normal Dutch civil engineer on a Scandinavian driving holiday (although he did admit to getting so excited the first time he saw a moose that he slammed on the brakes and got out to take a photo), one that was supposed to have been in the company of his girlfriend, only they had split up a few weeks before following a short break in the Lake District. Maybe she didn't like Kendal Mint Cake... With the day before having turned out to be so cheap I decided to go a bit crazy and splurge on a Stockholm Card, giving me free entry to dozens of museums and other attractions plus free travel around the city. Only problem was I'd left myself a little over four hours in which to recoup my 420 Kronor outlay, so what followed was a mad dash around key - and proximate - cultural institutions. First stop was the infamously once-mouldy Moderna Museet (Modern Art Museum) and Architecture Museum, the latter host to yet another exhibition of sustainable development (boy the Scandinavians trowel it on thick), admittedly the most strikingly displayed of the ones I'd seen:

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The latter had a number of shows on, of which I only had time to see one which drew from its photography archive. Initially it felt a bit so far, so Louisiana: another Andreas Gursky, a couple of Hiroshi Sugimoto seascapes, even a boring-as-hell Thomas Ruff print (probably my least favourite photographer), but then BAM! Catharina Gotby's 'People in mental hospitals' and Larry Clark's young junkie-centric 'Tulsa' series had my jaw on the floor, where it stayed as I took in rooms rooms given over to the work of Irving Penn and Diane Arbus, and war reportage pictures (with Robert Capa's works naturally the stand-outs). All in all it was probably the best photography show I had seen in years, and to top it all off in the corridor outside were a wall of pictures from Carl Johan de Geer's inspired project in which he hid a camera inside a crate on the street with a sign on it inviting people to "push the button". Taking pictures of much more accomplished - if not outright iconic - photographs is a hiding to nothing, but I did succumb to my childish tendencies to like a montage of images of red trucks (unfortunately I can't remember the name of the photographer):

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A short ferry ride across the water and I was at the Vasa Museum, housing the salvaged wreck of the seventeenth-century Swedish navy's flagship. To call it a wreck is to do it a great disservice, as it's 95% intact, which kicks the Mary Rose into a cocked hat somewhat. My first impression was something along the lines of "Bloody hell, that's AMAZING", soon followed by the thought that it looks a lot like the galleon in the massive cave at the end of The Goonies.

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I'd been trying to keep a tab of how much I would have spent on individual tickets versus the cost of a Stockholm Card, and by my calculations was a little short of breaking even with half an hour to go. Handily the Nordiska Museet (that's the Museum of Nordic Life to you and me) was a stone's throw - and a very tame squirrel - away. It was a pretty huge, like the Natural History Museum in London, but apparently still only a quarter of the size envisaged by its founder (who made sure pride of place was given to a massive seated statue of him in a transept off the main hall). Exhibit wise it was okay I guess, if you like historic Swedish furniture and furnishings.

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By now I was really pushed for time and, seeing a tram, made a dash for the nearest stop. My luck was in, as I'd managed to catch a vintage tram still with all its original signage and adverts. A quick walk across town to pick up an oh-so classy I <3 Swedish Girls t-shirt on my way back to the hostel, where sleight of hand allowed me to cook yet another rubbish pasta meal before taking a ridiculously indirect route to the Metro and thence the ferry terminal. But that's another (shorter) story.

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 07:42 Archived in Sweden Comments (1)

Readers' corner

Bringing you up to date with falling behind

sunny 11 °C

Right, I've made an observation, and have received a constructive criticism, about this blog. In regard to the former, I write too much, which is why I've fallen behind in my entries. On here I'm not yet in Stockholm, but in reality I've left Tallinn and presently am on board my coach heading towards the Russian border (free wifi, oh the joys of modern life). I'm halfway through writing up Stockholm and it'll be leaner and meaner compared to previous entries, but with all the meaty goodness left in. The latter comes in the form of my reported misspelling of too many words. This I can defend myself against, since I've been using computers with funny Scandinavian keyboards and Swedish spellcheckers that make my text look like a bloodbath. I will endeavour to eliminate the tpyos (I'm giving you that one as a parting gift), but God only knows what the Russian hostel keyboards will look like. I promised myself I would learn the Cyrillic alphabet before I got to Russia, but that doesn't look bloody likely to happen now. This odyssey is just about to get a touch odder (see?).

(PS I'm sat behind two women watching an amazing looking Soviet-era sci-fi comedy (it looks way too kitsch to be a drama), like a live action Jetsons, only with ballet interludes. I need to find out what it's called!)

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 23:17 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Malmö and Göteborg

A tale of two cities

semi-overcast

So Copenhagen was great, but it caused me to run late to get to Malmö, and the instructions for my hostel stated in no uncertain terms to be there by 7pm. At 7.20pm I'm on the platform at Copenhagen Central, trying to call the hostel, but as usual I've forgotten how to work international dialling codes. The train journey was fine, although my trip over the famous Oresund tunnel-and-bridge combo crossing proved a little underwhelming since the train tracks go on the lower of its two decks, thus obscuring the view of water and pretty but unspectacular coastline. Arriving in Malmö I go all out and stuck as many zeros in the number I have for the hostel - and it worked. I apologise for contravening what would seem to be the golden rule of Swedish youth hostelling, but the girl on the other end of the line couldn't have been any less bothered. "It's fine, we are open all night, so come whenever", she explained chirpily. I was in no mood to loiter so made straight for the bus stops, Swedish Kronor in hand. Boarding the bus I asked the driver how much it is for a ticket. "No money", came the slightly distracted reply, with his attention focused more on a couple of lads who looked like they were trying to sneak on board. Great, I thought, he's seen a weary traveller and taken pity upon me! "No. No money, no travel - you must buy a ticket from the machines". "And where are they?" I asked. "Inside the station". I get off, walk back into the station building and find said machines, not merely positioned nowhere near the bus stops, but not even in sight of them. It brought back memories of the frustrations of buying bus tickets in Nottingham, one of the main reasons why I don't care much for that city. Would Malmö turn out to be Sweden's Nottingham, I thought to myself? Luckily, the answer would prove to be no.

Later in the evening, instead of doing as I'd intended and get the password for the hostel's wifi I get talking to an Australian guy who'd just spent ten days walking The King's Trail through the northern Swedish mountains, pretty much the toughest long distance hiking route in Europe. It rained most of the time, so I feel more than a little guilty for earlier complaining that I was tired from all the walking I'd done that day (cue flashback to my trip in the cycle taxi). We leave our conversation with him musing on whether his girlfriend is still his girlfriend after his weeks in the Swedish highlands (something he was soon to find out when he drops by her daughter in Germany to stay for a night or two), and I forced myself to leave the hostel for a late night walk. Pretty much everywhere was closed; it wasn't clear if this was because it's Sunday night or because it's Malmö.

Morning brought an amazing breakfast, moreover one sat near a German roller derby team, a feat I'm unlikely to repeat in this lifetime. I saw the Aussie guy again, just before he made his way to the station to commence his journey of relationship status discovery. Not much later and, in the pouring rain, I'm following in his footsteps (as far as the station, that is). There was one thing on my Malmö to-do list; see it's new Twisting Torso skyscraper in its regenerated docklands (two if you count fulfilling my friend Chris' request to send him a postcard from the city to complete his collection - sorry Chris if this sounds like I'm outing you as a postcard-hoarding obsessive). In many ways the area is reminiscent of Salford Quays, the only difference being that instead of a bunch of nondescript BBC office buildings it's got as its centrepiece an extraordinary 52-storey white tower. It's so tall - and the weather so shit - that the top of it is obscured by cloud. You can't get in to the building, let alone to the top of it, but when the only view you're going to get is a close up of a raincloud maybe it's not such a kick in the teeth.

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The vicinity of the tower is a work in progress, so much so that there's a small public garden plonked in the middle of an abandoned carpark.

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I had thought of finding another route back into town from the tower, but a quick glimpse of the Øresund persuaded me to head in the opposite direction. I ended up in a weird park where, in addition to the usual benches and bins, there were permanent horse jumps and a dog agility training area.

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On the way back to the station the lure of a row of museums, including the Malmöhus or city castle, proved too hard to resist. The Technological Museum turned out to be one long joyous geek-out. As if getting to sit in a 1960s air traffic control tower was not enough, the museum's only got its own original U Boat out back. Boy are they the polar opposite of spacious. (Note to self - put the dvd box set of Das Boot on my Amazon wish list.) I also learned that Popeye was a Nazi...

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Upstairs was an exhibition on nanotechnology that revealed so many unexpected everyday application I knew nothing about that it makes my head a little hurty (did you know that to the naked eye some LEDs look like they aren't working but when viewed through a cameraphone screen you can see them emitting light?). Next door is a separate museum whose name I couldn't translate but may very well be the Museum of Anything and Everything, given the randomness of its exhibits (and there were spare cases for more crap to be added in the future). The one exhibit with an English label also happened to be the best; the Robot Jazz Band, a mildly terrifying mechanical band made in the 1920s or 1930s for a department store. Unfortunately it wasn't working when I was there, though a video of the band in action just about sufficed.

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A stone's throw away was a gallery space in a converted something-or-other housing a display on how Malmo is pretty much wiping the floor with all other cities when it comes to the sustainability of its new developments (but with the underlying message that they could still do better), and opposite that was the Malmöhus. It's a hodge-podge of a museum, art gallery, historic building and concert hall all rolled into one, which made for some interesting juxtapositions, in particular how the displays on the prehistory of the area led into a show on 1920s female fashion. So here's some high fashion for Soph...

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...and some hyperinflation for the rest of us...

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The castle-y portions were interesting too, albeit largely because of the portraits of various seventeenth-century members of the Swedish royal family, a spectacularly unfortunate looking bunch.

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Malmö had won me over but it was high time to get the hell out of town: the clock was ticking, the clouds were getting greyer, and Göteborg no closer. Unfortunately, Swedish railways were not up to the task of laying on a service to Göteborg until around 90 minutes after it was scheduled to depart. This dented my impression of Sweden as a land of flawless public services, although I can't really extend any complaints to the journey when it did begin (and then stop and start again). It was my first look at the Swedish countryside. Bits of it reminded me of the view out of the window on trains to Leeds, Cambridge and Scarborough, although on none of them can I remember seeing even a single example of the tapering, serpentine Swedish national flags which fly from poles outside an extraordinary number of houses. Oh, and there was a short but sweet sunset.

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It was dark by the time I got to Göteborg. The city has trams (the ground being unsuitable for construction of a metro, fact fans), so I avoided having to fight the good fight with bus ticketing arrangements for a second night in a row. That said, the on board, Visa-accepting card machine wouldn't accept my Visa card, so I got to ride for free (probably to the chagrin of my fare-paying fellow passengers). My hostel couldn't have been much more different to the one from the night before: young, loud and, with 15 other people in my room, tiny amounts of space to yourself. I chose a top bunk with a ventilation pipe at ideal head-bumping height. Later on I helped a Japanese guy work the hobs in the shared kitchen as he'd spent the past 10 minutes unable to heat up some ham and onions to add to his pasta. Satisfied, I got into bed, only to smell a smell distinctly like fried ham and onions. The pipe above my head was connected to the extractor fan above the stove. Oh well, I reasoned, there were a lot worse things he could have been cooking.

I was excited about visiting Göteborg as I'd heard many good things. The city's main park was just up the road from the hostel, so I had a quick walk around that before paying my way on the tram back to the station. It was idyllic in a very Swedish way.

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The train fares to Stockholm seemed pretty reasonable (which is still hard to comprehend from a British perspective) but I'd read getting the coach can be a lot cheaper. Not only did the guy in the booking office tell me this was not the case, but he was also the one and only Swede to insult me during my time in the country (unless you count the guy who shouted "MOTHERFUCKER!" out of his car window in my direction in Stockholm a couple of days later, but I'm not sure if that was intended for me). "You know who you remind me of? Karl Pilkington" he says out of the blue, "Only taller and with more hair". I'm not sure how to take my equation with a Gervais-tainted British comedy export, particularly when he follows it up with the observation that "You even speak a bit like him". I handed back the timetable, left, and bought a train ticket.

From what I could glean from the guidebook, daytime things to do in Göteborg are a bit thin on the ground. I headed for the Maritime Museum, past its rather unattractive new opera house and some drunk Somali guys having a universally-recognisable rant of the "And another thing I hate about..." type. The museum bills itself as the largest floating collection of historic ships in the world, which may well be true, but the claim has to be seen in the context of most of those ships being small and uninteresting. There was a destroyer (or frigate - how to tell them apart?) and a submarine, but I'd been in one of them the day before, and when it clicked that ships are probably more interesting when seen from the outside I chose to walk on and find some food.

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I passed through the oldest bit of town and into the main shopping area, stopping for some food at a Persian place. By now I was really struggling for things to do. The Saluhallen, or food market, looked delicious, but I'd already eaten, and the line of the old town defences were just that, a line (one where someone appears to have erected a monument in stone to the XX's album):

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Whereas I'd rushed to see all I wanted in Malmö (and benefitted in this regard from the delays to my train), here I couldn't find enough things to do to fill the time until my train left at 3.12pm. Later Dr Briggs diagnoses its problem; Göteborg suffers from "Second City Syndrome" (copyright me). It's like Birmingham: a big city with lots of people and lots going on, but who's ever chosen to go there for a couple of nights to see what it's about? In my mind Birmingham is Gladiators at the NIA, a place to change trains on the (marginally) cheaper services from Manchester to home, and Future Systems' shiny Selfridges store. I'm sure there's so many more sides to Göteborg that I missed in my 18 or so hours in the city, but I would say this to any would be visitors; if you go make sure you know someone in the city to act as your guide, or make some new friends fast.

And hey, if you get bored Malmö is (delays permitting) only three hours away on the train.

Posted by RobertJSBriggs 00:49 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

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