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August 25, 2006

Diary of Sweden

Last Thursday, whilst it was dark and the air still had a damp metropolitan smell to it, I departed the subdued and semi-awake London, I headed up towards Stansted at 5.00am. Check in was long (no suprise) even at 6.30am, flight was boring (no surprise). As soon as we landed the sun was beaming on the beautiful Scandinavian plains. Stockholm Skavsta, like all its airports are no where near Stockholm. So a coach ride put me right in the centre of town. I rendezvous’d with Hanna at the bus station. It had probably been almost a year and a half since I had last seen her, so it was very nice to see her again. Despite living on 4hrs sleep and the time was 14.00, we wasted no time in going back to her sister’s flat to dump luggage and set off for sight seeing.

StockholmOld Stockholm

Stockholm is based on large islands seperated by the seas, so any walk outside will normally be quite picturesque (eat your heart out Lakeside). We headed towards the ‘must-see’ old Stockholm, passing a few landmarks on the way. Old Stockholm is full of colour and character. The streets are narrow and the buildings are tall. After more walking around most of Stockholm by 7pm (its small enough for walking everywhere), we took a paddling boat up and down the sea by Djurgården seeing the alternative view of the city from the water before we met up with Victor for a nice dinner on a restaurant that sat by the side of the sea. He explained why he liked it in Stockholm and the cultural differences between the British and Scandinavians. I think he summed it up very well:

In Britain, people are more polite but in Scandinavia people care about each other.

Longshot: For those of you who know Victor who graduated in 2005, he’s now busy doing a masters in Stocky, and loving it. Walking back towards the flat, we managed to find ourselves in a Kulturefest. The night was young but we went home to bed ready for the next day.

View from the waterBy Night

So the next day I awoke to the sounds of busy capital. The weather was once again 26 degrees and fine. Hanna prepared the typical Scandinavian brekfast, which was pretty much the same style as I normally eat at my sister Nadia’s, except for the selection of 3 butters, 4 cheeses, 5 veg, 4 cereals, 4 milks/yoghurts and so on… Hanna and I got stuck straight into the City Hall straight away. A nice guided tour of the building which was very abstract for its time and contained many elements from other European styles and cultures. From the picture of the ceiling below, you can see it has been designed to look like a viking ship upside down, as the vikings used to hold meetings under their ships. After City Hall we headed towards the Vasa Museum, which is a huge war ship from the 17th Century that had sunk on its maiden voyage (eat your heart out Titanic) and salvaged in the 1960s and put on display. Interesting fun for everyone including enginerds like me and historians. The sunny afternoon was spent in Skansen park, incorporating a zoo, historical buildings and homes, and workshops all showing the culture in the 19th Century. So I was now quite knowledgeable in Swedish culture and history. The park is vast in size and you can spend pretty much a whole day there – a very nice place to walk around. The guy who created it bought many houses across the whole country and literally moved them to the park. Along with people dressed 19th Century style with pottery, glass making and a variety of animals from elks to bisons to seals. We ended the day with our little barbecue in a park closer to home. As the temperature dropped we headed in to the appartment to watch trashy movies on TV3 which almost became a daily ritual over the following days.

Stockholm City HallCity Hall CeilingThe VasaReindeer

Saturday we headed back to Hanna’s hometown of Motala in the South East. 47th largest town in the country. And she lives in a farm estate just outside of it. After meeting her family at the beach house at the edge of that big lake, Hanna and I headed to the town for a cycling tour with her coach. However, me being the non-athelete kept falling behind, and I didn’t see any of the scenery or local areas – primarily because I was too busy staying alive… and respiring. It had started to rain by now. We headed back to her beach house a swim in the lake – I’ve never voluntarily gone for a swim when it rained – hey! first for everything – needless to say it was er… refreshing! The evening was finished with a tasty dinner with the family – her mum cooked a fantastic lamb roast. The family were all fantastically welcoming and hospitable, with jokes and anecdotes shared over the table. I pretty much blended into their family life over the next few days.

MotalaCrayfish

The rest of the time was spent in a more quiet manner: chilling out, walking around the countryside, forests, the town of Motala, its Motormuseum, doing my part for the Swedish Conservative Party by helping paint their campaign hut, fishing for crayfish in the lake, learning Swedish drinking songs and having a ball of a time. The tranquility of living next to a lake helped me wind down. Hanna’s best friend from uni, Helena, joined us on Wednesday. It was her birthday so we made her a birthday cake, and we had a great “crayfish party” which allowed me to put my drinking/folk songs into practice! And before I knew it, it had been 8 days and I was on the way back towards the horrible airport called Stansted, whilst Kings of Convenience songs echoed in the back of my mind. On the plane I managed to sit next to two students Tony and John from Exeter who had also been on their first trip to Sweden, we exchanged notes and tales. And as the plane landed back in England, we moaned at the boring normality that we had to return to. It was a great trip, a great country and I am extremely grateful for Hanna and her family’s hospitality and I’d love to visit again. Missing it already!

Hanna & IHelena & Hanna

Selection of the pics I took


June 21, 2006

A Break in Barmouth

Barmouth

Well, that was another good idea!
Are we in Wales yet?
You’ll know as soon as you can’t read the signs! Bilingual signs are dangerous, because by the time your brain has read and discarded the welsh and begin to read the second line of english, you will have driven into a ditch!

hahahaha

The drive into North Wales was long but interesting. Very twisty and fast, we were following in a long train of cars travelling 55mph avg. which allowed me to see what was coming up next. Then came my worst nightmare, we were approaching a horrific 20% incline uphill behind 2 caravans! And the fact that we were so high up, the engine was powerless due to the starvation of oxygen. This led to some very funny action behind the wheel from yours truly, as I tried to squeeze every ounce of momentum around corners to climb that mountain. But I forgot that what goes up, must come down and eventually we were coming downhill on the other side with too much momentum!

Matt chillin in the late evening sun First evening

Lotte, John and I had never been to Wales before, and we didn’t know what to expect, so we were knocking it throughout most of the drive through England. But when we crossed the boarder into Central Wales, its pretty valleys surprised us. Eventually with the front tyres and brakes at pretty toasty temperatures we rolled into the seaside town of Barmouth. It has its picturesque high street, and its corny fairground rides and shops. We parked the car by the church, and thus began the mammoth task of getting to Will’s house.
Now the Joneses don’t do things by half, so they have obviously got the house that sits on a mountain higher than anyone else’s! But that makes for great unobstructed view of the sea. (When John woke me up the first morning, didn’t feel like getting up whatsoever, but then he drew the curtains to show the phenomenal view. WHOA!)

View from the guest bedroom

The first evening when we arrived, the barbecue was already smoking’ with Mark Irwin at the controls (always someone from the Southern Hemisphere to be in charge of a barbecue). The outdoor pool was unfortunately looking very green. And probably had a pH of 14.0 after Will laced it with excessive amounts of chlorine.

Mark and Fran Kate and Tom Matt

The next morning, Mark, Fran, Matt, Kate and Tom had to leave. So we dropped from 10 to 5. To start the day, John, Lotte and I hopped down to the town to have brekfast in a cute little café called Goodies. (It eventually transpired that we would eat there almost every day!). The day was spent having ice creams on the beach under the bridge, and walking along the promenade, the weather was scorching but the sea breeze provided sufficient relief. By this time we were so relaxed and far away, we had no idea what day of the week it was (Saturday). So the beach front was packed with people.

Rach comes out from a retail therapy sessionThe local drum band

Sunday was the first day we woke up to a dull sky. Will took us down to the port to hop on a small ferry across the bay to Fairbourne. When we got to the other side, we had missed the Sunday train to the mini golf club. And boy was that fun way for Will to celebrate the end of the US open. By playing with the 3 most talent–challenged newbies.

Handicaps:
John = 40
Nathaniel = 36
Will = something decent

The World No.1

Nevertheless we had a lot of fun. Pushed for time, we stopped for ice cream whilst Will discovered a golf magazine that can only be described as quite “sensual” and will soon be a regular subscriber of it very soon. We got to the train station below whose name has more letters than there are in the alphabet:

Try saying that full stop!

And the mini locomotive was scorching at full walking pace to get to the port in time to catch our last ferry back! Choo choo! During the train ride John managed to take this amazing photo when we were overtaken by a horse.

What a shot by John

Monday was Will’s “Birthday” which we brought forward by 23 days. Rach made him a Breakfast of Champions (without the champions bit). The weather was dull so, Matt, Rach and I spent the day indoors watching cheesy music videos and dancing 80’s style to them. The arrival of more guests later on made sure the party would be good ‘un. Alistair, Ben, Rich, Jane and Ollie.

Breakfast of Champions

And how would we feed the troops? Barbecue. Which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. The charcoal and firelighters had be left out in the garden and got rained on. So I and my fellow barbecue “experts”, Rich and John started to get the fire going… and boy was that difficult. We chose to move it to the porch for proximity reasons but the sea gusts were not kind to seven generations of the Match family. Eventually we had a fire, but it was small, the charcoal wasn’t enough so we threw another bag on. And then we had a mammoth task controlling the fatty flames from engulfing our dinner.

Fighting fire with chilli vodka

2 years 7 weeks and 4 days later, dinner was served. Rach cooked up a feast and collectively about 7 of us made the sheep birthday cake. Will enjoyed his presents as they involve the risk of severe injury! The rest of the evening was spent digesting whilst watching Team America: World Police, and it turns out that Will knows all the lines as he must have auditioned for the leading parts.

Dinner

And the next day we returned to England, for the football match, selecting 3rd year projects, packing up and going home. But John, Lotte and I almost didn’t make it, because we made one fateful wrong turning and drove further up into North Wales wasting over an hour… oops. As Lotte said, it was a very nice way to end the academic year (a line we stole twice to write into the guestbook comments), certainly refreshing to live without a computer for a few days. Thanks to Will for giving us a holiday :D

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