The end and the beginning

The days after our return from Lillehammer were filled with…nothing much in particular. We unpacked, nested, ate leftover pepparkakor and started planning and gathering supplies for the end.

We had two fellow country folk visiting to celebrate with us, so bits of planning slowly built up until the 31st finally arrived, accompanied by our visitors. After they got off the train there was only a brief window of sunlight in which to show them our hometown, so we gave them a quick tour via a tram and a walk, and then headed home. Then followed a little smörgåsbord, some drinking, music, chatting and relaxing, and a gradual build up to the big moment. It seemed though that others were not as patient, as crashes, bangs and flashes continued around us almost without pause.

Finally, with 15 minutes to spare, we went out to the pre-arranged location. Chinese lanterns floated beneath the clouds and lights filled the horizons, and at 12 our own supplies were lit. Within seconds 36 fireworks went off, filling the sky with colour and our ears with noise. It lasted about 10 seconds in total, and pretty much as soon as it was over I wanted more, and thanked whatever luck had ensured that fireworks were not banned in this country. Across the road another party wished us a happy new year and we returned their cheers, laughing and coughing slightly from the drifting smoke.

For another half an hour the celebrations continued all around us, some crackers in backyards, fireworks shooting horizontally up streets, an occasional fire engine and the horizon lit up on all sides. The previous year we had been in the middle of town, and though it had also been full of barrages of fireworks, the open space of our new neighbourhood gave us a better sense of the number of celebrations and the excitement felt in the community. Whether it was due to excitement at the profusion of fireworks or greeting the new year, the night was filled with happiness and a little bit of danger, which is a good sort of beginning.

Trying to photograph fireworks

Trying to photograph fireworks

The next morning we would have to get up early, so we went to bed as soon as we got home, and seemingly moments later were awakened by our alarms and were then out the door. Our destination was Stockholm, and the journey there featured measuring the speed of the train (quite fast), remarking on the tinyness of the cakes and failing to catch up on sleep. We soon arrived in the big city, and after dumping our stuff at the hotel set out to explore.

Streets of Gamla Stan

Streets of Gamla Stan

I had visited Stockholm twice before, so the size, charming old streets and lovely harbours were no surprise, though it was nice to see it through new eyes. We headed to Gamla Stan first, and spent hours wandering up and down the wide and narrow streets and alleys, checking out the shops and taking a lot of photos.

Lights at night

Lights at night

As it got dark dinner was had and as if carried by the thick, cold winds we made our way back to the hotel to while away the hours with chatting, snacking and laughing.

An old saint, getting into some slaying

An old saint, getting into some slaying

Sadly, our visitors hadn’t come alone. With them they had brought a strain of flu, and so on the second day in Stockholm one of them was struck down and unable to join us for adventures. So instead three of us set out, making our way through the cool morning air to Djurgården.

We took the long walk to the island, winding along the banks of the river past the palace, bridges, elaborately fronted apartments and even a bird feeding station, which was very popular with the locals.

Stockholmers at breakfast

Stockholmers at breakfast

Once on the island we dodged the rain to the Vasa museum, and managed to get there before the long queues. The ship was impressive, as usual, a great dark hulk that seems to take up all available space. I had tried to downplay how impressive it was to our guest so that she would be even more impressed, but I think she saw through my ruse. Possibly my excitement gave it away.

The Vasa

The Vasa

We spent a while admiring the ship, and trying to sort out an issue that had come up, and before we knew it the time had come to head back to town. This time we took the shorter route through the main streets, passing giant elk, shops, squares and a lot of busy city folk. Having already packed we then went over to the train station to eat and wait for the train. Following its arrival and many farewells, we climbed aboard and discovered to my delight that we were in a booth that had a distinct Hogwarts Express feel. The novelty never quite faded, and the pianist at the bar kept the glee going for the remainder of the ride back home, where we were pleased to discover, it had just snowed.

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From the 1960s to the 1060s

As of this week my partner and I both properly return to work/study, ending what feels now to have been a very long and languorous Summer. To mark the ending we went on one final trip together, this time to the capital city of our still-newish home.

We decided to travel across the land this time, on a refurbished 1960s train. Second class was slightly squeezy, as we unfortunately weren’t lucky enough to get one of the Harry Potter style booths (next time!), though I suspect if we had I may have been forced to at least hum the final theme song and pretend I was heading for Scotland. This was more than made up for by the bar carriage, which included a pianist serenely playing Cyndi Lauper and U2 covers amidst chatting travellers and the occasional bump of the train.

The pianist

The pianist

When we were able to pull ourselves away from her performance we had lunch in the dining carriage, which was done up in what I think of as an Agatha Christie style. As we waited for the food, I imagined Poirot strolling down the aisle, or cries of surprise as the annoying lady who had been seated next to me in the second class carriage passed out and died mysteriously, sparking a panic and only solved after a chase down the roof of the train. However, the only surprise we got was that the house, or in this case train, wine was very nice and that the sunny weather stretched all the way across the country.

The dining carriage

The dining carriage

The tranquility of old fashioned travel was soon replaced by more modern bustle, as we stepped off the train and into the crowds at the central station. I hadn’t really thought how small and quiet Göteborg is until I was confronted by the noise and endless amount of people that charged by as we made our slightly dazed way to the hotel.

Once we had settled in, we went back out again, taking a roundabout way to an afterwork with my partners Stockholm workmates. Our route took us through Gamla Stan and past more crowds of tourists, staring about at the old buildings, cobbled streets, trinket stores and the occasional runestone in a wall. We eventually found the venue for the drinks, a terrace bar overlooking the city and the river. We chatted, laughed and I was introduced to ‘the drink of the summer’, something called Madde or Maddeline, a mix of rose and schweppes which turned out to be delicious, and is in my opinion, if not the drink of the summer then a definite contender.

We continued the evening at a restaurant in Gamla Stan, which may have been terribly touristy but was so worth it that I honestly don’t care.
Aifur is a Viking themed resturant, and as we descended the stairs into the darkness and warmth, and were introduced to the crowded tables by a very loud fellow in costume, I felt more part of an authentic experience of history than I have since chatting with Vikings at Foteviken or standing on a topfloor apartment at Ostia. The atmosphere was all loud talking and laughter, candlelit darkness, heavy wooden designs and furniture and through it all the playing of two musicians.

Viking musicians

Viking musicians

My guess for their instruments was a type of hurdy-gurdy, partly because I really love that word and also because I don’t know any other word for wind-up violin banjo things. Before food arrived we whet our thirst on mead, continuously poured into our clay cups and were soon swept away by the drink and our surroundings. The food was thick, spiced, heavy and delicious, though I have to say that eating a chicken with a large two-prong fork isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Old fashioned table ware

Old fashioned table ware

In time, too short a time, we shambled out into the colder night air and cheerfully embarked on a raid of an Irish pub. One drink later, we were back out on the street, making a sleepy and slightly wobbly way back to the hotel, where we slept well and dreamed of feasts and rousing music.