I ******* hate Sweden!

And so began our Swedish odyssey... The following is set between the 25th and 28th of February 2006, events occur in real time. Beep...beep...beep.. DAY 1 The country didn't instantly warm to us and it wasn't the sub-zero temperatures. We flew into Skavsta airport deftly avoiding the flying sharks on the way over. Jess was instantly in dreamland, with so much powdery white stuff around we thought we'd flown to to colombia by mistake! Scabhole isn't exactly local to the capital so we embarked on a short (long) bus trip to Stockholm and were greeted by the incredibly exciting and rare sight of an Ikea store - in Sweden!! Whats next, we all thought, a Volvo?? We checked into our five-star hotel (***** count 'em) and immediately decided to pay several visits to the seventh and eight floors all the while accompanied by a strange voice intoning LO-BAY. As soon as the novelty of being human yoyos wore off we dumped the luggage and formulated a plan of action. Since it had quickly become clear to us that the primary purpose of our trip would be to eat as much cake as we possibly could, we wrapped up warm and set out for the old town on the island of Gamla Stan (just one of over 9 zillion islands that comprise the city). Using the excellent linguistic skills we English are renowned for to converse with the friendly natives (both of them) "I WOULD LIKE THE GREEN CAKE, TAKK" we ordered all manner of fancy confectionaries. While the Swedish have a highly advanced and progressive sweet, sponge-based food industry their licensing laws could be politely described as 'quirky'. It is not a country for the hardened drinker (why did we go again?). Alcohol is strictly regulated and Sweden lags behind this country in the offy-on-every-corner stakes. German's, on the other hand, are famed for their domestic beer industry and abandoning any pretensions of finding a traditional Swedish bar (heres a tip - there aren't any) we paid a visit to a Krautpub on the waterfront. Aside from the 'interesting' aroma, overpriced beer and oddly subtitled english tv programmes it was a lovely experience and we stayed for one drink. Our hotel charged money to even look at the mini bar and since none of us had a house to re-mortgage, a 35ml bottle of vodka (a mere £10 to you) was surely beyond our means. However as evening drew in we resolved to find some entertainment on our first night. Lets not get ahead of ourselves though as the time had come to sample the local cuisine. Selecting what appeared to be a typical Swedish restaurant we eagerly opened our menus in anticipation of all manner of Scandinavian culinary delights. To 50's dismay vegetarianism hasn't reached Sweden yet, to our dismay veal mush delight has. Stockholm is renowned as a trendy, cultured city of beautiful people and the girls stuck out like sore thumbs. Nevertheless we bravely ventured out into the fashionable bars district of Stureplan. I say bravely but perhaps hanging around on the corner outside Zara feeling like 16 year olds with no i.d wasn't exactly courageous of us. After firmly establishing that that was not the place to be we resolved to discover what was. The first bar we went to was certainly fashionable in a soft-porn on the walls sort of way. I can only speak for myself when I say I was disgusted by this abhorrent display of filth and was, sadly, transfixed by the grotesque sight...ahem. We had a few drinks and headed home to our 5 Star hotel, night night Stockholm! DAY 2 We awoke full of the joys of spring in sub-zero temperatures and set out for the famed Skansen Open Air Museum. Being the seasoned traveller and avid watcher of Ray Mears' Bushcraft tv show that I am, I had packed a pair of leather loafers for day-to-day wearing. This, in hindsight, turned out to be something of a mistake. Y'see snow is one thing but in Sweden it is never without it's best friend ice and as it turns out smooth soled shoes and ice do not get on and try to avoid close contact! This made traversing large parts of the city, in a word, tricky.....in two words, bloody treacherous. But I digress......right, back to the famed Open Museum. The Skansen Open Museum is full of reconstructed Swedish buildings from the past and hyperactive wolverines on speed from the present. They also had seals, otters, a wolf (boring git), bison, boar, baby boar, ponys, lynx, brün bjorn (asleep) and probably other animals too banal to mention. After perusing all the furry critters, and concluding that the bear was definitely not going wake up even if we ate his porridge, we went cake-hunting. If Swedish coffee shop proprietors from the past were a bunch of stroppy sods then the Open Museum curators have recreated their cafés to an impressive degree of accuracy. We entered the shop in search of hot drinks and were greeted by a friendly "Shut that door!" with the implied addendum "with yourselves on the outside..." Now clowns have always (well, since I watched I.T anyhow) inspired a particular type of terror in me, so it was with a little trepidation that I entered an otherwise innocuous-looking circus tent in the museum. The subsequent show was a touch amateur, certainly bizarre and more than a little surreal. None of this was helped by the chucky-esque child performer with a huge rear, running around like...well...a wolverine on speed actually. All this weirdness left us with an appetite so we fixed our course for the restaurant. You think Swedish food, you think meatballs so it was inevitable at some point on the trip that we would try the national dish. It seems the Swedes like their meatballs with Lingonberries and a nauseous feeling for afters but we weren't convinced. Clutching our stomachs and groaning slightly we made our way home to the hotel. The genuinely friendly hotal staff had booked us a trip to the Ice Bar which is a bar made entirely of ice! (I think that where they got the name from) They dressed us up in silver space ponchos on arrival and we entered the frozen alcohol palace and pictures of us looking cool (cool! cool! he he I slay myself!) are available on request. One chilly drink later and we were on our way to dinner. We had worked out by now that Swedish food wasn't world famous for a reason but Italian food was always a safe bet we thought. After 30 minutes walking, the Italian had not appeared and the Chinese restaurant's menu had proved indecipherable but there was a small light on the horizon. As we got closer, like a shining beacon, like manna from heaven, a TGI Fridays stood before us. We cast nervous glances at each other as if we were about to sell our souls and charged for the doors. What followed was, perhaps sadly, the best meal we had all holiday! A few drinks at an Irish bar and cocktails in the hotel rounded off the evening nicely. DAY 3 As you may have deduced by now I'm not the biggest fan of water in it's frozen state, ice hates me. It breaks when I drunkenly stumble across ponds in winter and hurts my teeth when I eat lollies, frankly I can do without the stuff. I did have a Great-Aunt who was on the Titanic so maybe its hereditary; she survived in case you were wondering (although whether going on to live out your days in America can be classed as 'surviving' is another matter) The upshot of all this is that when someone suggested ice skating it was difficult to describe the sheer lack of joy that filled me. Sweden is pretty cold so if you want an ice rink you just get out the hose and start handing around boots, the fools will flock to you. Clarke and 50 cast aside any thought of danger and boldly strapped on the required footwear, me and Jess pretended to investigate some snow. They both elegantly zipped around the rink deftly avoiding stumbling Swedes, gliding over the translucent surface with a breathtaking grace. At least that is how I guess they were imagining it before they stepped onto the ice. Substitute 'gingerly' for 'elegantly' and 'shuffled' for 'zipped' then swap 'falling on' for 'gliding over' and 'thump' for 'grace' and you may have a clearer picture of the experience. But perhaps I am too cruel as pales in comparison to Miss Woods' brief trip to the icy circle! While I had gone sledge hunting she had taken leave of her senses and resolved to get a bit of bone-breaking fun for herself. Always quick on the uptake, Jess had taken mere seconds to decide that the ice skating wasn't as enjoyable as it looked and in a calm, controlled voice informed the girls "I don't like it!". Perhaps feeling a little rash she then politely requested "take me back!" adding "I don't like it!, take me back!, take me back!, take me back!" for good measure. Meanwhile in H&M............ My sledge hunt was not going well, I had methodically traipsed up and down every street in sight and had found more off-licenses than sledge shops. Finally I happened upon a toy shop in a shopping precinct and said a small prayer to the god of tobogganing. A man, desperately charging around a toy shop looking flustered, seems to attract attention in this day and age but I managed to find the sledges before security removed me. I excitedly eyed up the super-dopper, turbo-charged toboggans but at a price that would buy you a small car in Britain I decided against them in favour of what amounted to flattened packing material with holes in it for handles. I proudly lugged my purchases back to the rink, where I found that no-one had fractured anything and Jess had been put off skating for life. Myself and Ella gave the sledges a test run down an adjacent hill and found that, as expected, the manufacturers had eschewed airbags, ABS and seatbelts in favor of outright speed, this was good news indeed! Spying a large park on our Stockholm map we set off in search of hills.. After the 'helpful' bus drivers had 'helped' us find out which bus to catch to get to the park we eventually arrived at the snowy slopes (I have a PhD. in alliteration btw) Ooh baby! now we're talking! we've got some hills going on here! We loaded each sledge up with two passengers so no-one would be left behind or, in about 1 minute, alive. The sledges, despite their apparent simplicity, tried their best to shield us from our oncoming doom by turning around and giving us a pleasant view of the spot that, mere seconds ago, we were standing on in complete safety. Some kind soul had ensured that, should you get halfway down the slope still on your sledge you wouldn't be for much longer, by building a ramp out of snow. We got some serious air and some even more serious ar*e bruises off that thing. Several more runs down the hill and, like heroin addicts seeking their next fix, the tea and cake craving began to kick in. Luckily at the top of the hill there was a cluster of buildings, surely hot beverages could be found in there! From the outside the structure looked like a circus tent, from the inside it looked like a coffee shop although judging from the reaction of the lady behind the counter (COFFEE?????!!?) maybe it wasn't. Blood-from-a-stone operation completed successfully we went to sit outside to enjoy the beer garden weather. Much fun and hilarity had, we departed the park and began the trek home. The Swedish must have seen the mazes we have at our stately homes in Britain and decided to build their own. Except rather than using hedges they chose to use busy roads, I think I prefer our version. I can picture a group of Swedes sat around in a pub (ok maybe not that bit) laughing uproariously as one told the old favourite "Why did the tourists cross the road? because they wanted to die! hahaha!" But cross it we did and die we didn't though many were probably not so lucky.Sometime later back at the hotel..... We were showered, shaved and.....er......seated and ready to rock and/or roll. Sodermalm was the destination, to paaaaarty was the mission. The woman behind the desk at the hotel had recommended the Sodermalm district as the one she and her friends went out in which, it turned out, was more of a reflection on her (and her friends) than on the area. The general mood seemed to be jovial due to some sort of victory in ice hockey and had caused a number of Stockholmers to celebrate in the traditional way by dressing as foxes. I even thought I saw a couple of alcoholic-like drunk people but dismissed the idea as frankly ridiculous and literally impossible. After much marching, tons of trooping and stacks of stomping (PhD. baby!) we at last found sustenance in a restaurant. We ordered some nice-sounding Swedish food which *gasp* tasted nice! The waitress scoffed at our assertions that the weather was cold "Cold?, this isn't cold! Up north where I come from its cold!" I countered with "Table knife?, thats not a table knife!..etc...." but I think the joke was lost on her. We finished our dinner, had a few drinks in the bar opposite and went home. A pleasant night was had by all. Day 4 In summary - Packed our stuff up & left the hotel. Bought postcards & tat along the way. Went back to Gamla Stan to watch the changing of the guard! Cold, cold, cold. Found somewhere for lunch, but then went to the nice café for cake afterwards – and Ella and I just ended up having 2 lunches! Sauntered back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage, and start the journey home. Stopped off at the 7 Eleven – everyone’s favourite shop! Caught the bus…. Got to the Cow Shed…. Flew home!

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