The Nordics

64537413_10216591960205848_404012429480034304_n

courtesy manonseat61.com

IMG_5552The Pig-Duck, Helsinki

Join me journey across the Nordics by land, air & sea*.

Five countries in twenty five days. Not as rushed as it would appear to be. Pace, budget, time, mine & mine alone.

Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway/ (Estonia) – have a natural, cultural & historical homogeneity. What makes it easy cakewalk is the widespread knowledge & use of the English language. These are a practical people. The world neither speaks nor understands Norwegian, Danish, Finnish or Swede. They, must therefore learn the world’s language – English. And boy do they speak !

Of handsome lineage, the average Norse is tall, bony, light eyed & blonde. Not dumb. Never (jokes apart). If he does not willingly smile or look you in the eye, the problem is not yours but partially his, for he is naturally shy. Shy, reserved & taciturn. One rarely comes across public displays of affection & emotion or even two strangers engaged in conversation. Which is not to suggest that the Scandinavian is aloof or rude. Far from it. He is a congenial fellow who will step out to help & engage. His native speech is riddled with tongue twister words & unpronounceable place names, not polite ones like ‘please’ or ’thank you.’ Terse perhaps, not rude. Remember, he was a Viking not very long ago. A warrior, hunter, seafarer. Out of the woods only now. The sauna’s the only place where he may perhaps let down his hair. Then it is back to basics.

Denmark, Norway & Sweden boast the world’s highest per capita income. A cashless economy, Kroner is king with neither dollar nor euro commanding much respect. Scandinavia tops the world happiness index. Bhutan literally a poor second, which in itself is telling. Minimalism is the key to this happiness. Tipping a strict no – no. Not even to the cabbie.

65199648_10216657800171806_7744501422590263296_n

The Swedes have ‘Fika’ & Norwegians/Danes their ‘hugge.’ Pronounced as in sugar. While fika may be described as the simple pleasure of eating a sweet along with coffee, ( fika breaks are common) ‘hugge’ is impossible to accurately translate. Lets just say that it is a sense of perfect well-being. Happiness derived out of little. Less is therefore More. Imagine food & drink, friends & tales & a small group snuggled around a fire while a cold wintry wind blows outdoors. That’s where ‘hugge’ comes from. Its a national obsession & the raison d’etre of existence.

Like the rest of Europe Scandinavia too has beautiful churches. Devoid of churchgoers too. Whether there be a God or not is nobody’s concern. One does not even hear the clanging of church bells. With the odd exception, weddings take place in the town hall. A funeral service perhaps but that is few & far between.

For a person who cannot otherwise walk 2 steps without gasping I was averaging 10 -15 kms a day & feeling completely energized. Pure clean air: everyone’s right. It was pristine because people wanted it that way & took care to see that it was. People were pleasant & nice ‘cos that’s how they wished to be. ‘They work towards it,’ was my thought. Without any kind of supervision or enforcement. No signs of squeamishness either. It’s a free society in the truest sense & completely trust based. One buys a ticket & gets onto the tram, ferry, train or bus. Without checks or controls. Not even automated ones like stiles. Random checking happens but it is perfunctory.

The Nordics in many ways are a mark & cut above western Europe. With 20 – 24 hours of  daylight in summer, much can & does get done. Besides, travel is easy, hassle free and stress free, with no fear of mugging or pick pocketing. Above all everything just works & falls into place.

That said, mishaps do occur. And no trip of mine is known to be complete without one. Of my own making mostly, I am so organized that I tend to become disorganized. Departing Oslo early one morning I readied (so I thought) the ‘travel – card’ to make it easily available in case of need but began fumbling soon after when the airport shuttle arrived. Euro 7 had to be paid but the card was not to be seen. Paid by cash eventually the card with Euro 2000 had to be found. I thought of having it blocked but called up the hotel just in case I had lost or forgotten it there. Five minutes later I am informed that it was found lying on the floor of the lobby where I was waiting & that it would be delivered to me in 10 minutes at most. I was to wait at the very spot where I had disembarked. The incident is remarkable at several levels. Not only had I once again emerged unscathed but it was wholly as expected. In perfect sync with Nordic character that places a premium on honesty & probity & displays it in abundance.

Note that I have not called it budget friendly. For it is not. Scandinavia is expensive. But if you have the money go & spend it. Just go!

66276979_10216749371821040_3999323625906765824_n

Talinn Estonia

IMG_5830Opera House, Oslo

 

IMG_5725IMG_5701Twisted Torso, Malmo Sweden

(For the record, this trip could not have been the smooth sailing it was without the aid of the following Apps:

 

GPS My City

VY

HSL

DSB

SJ

VR Mobile

FlixBus

XE

ToGo

Iceland & Scandinavia Travel Tips ( Facebook group)

And most importantly www.seat61.com. Thank you Man on Seat 61. The inputs provided were, as always, invaluable.)

 

* Route/Via

Delhi-Helsinki-Delhi (Air)

Helsinki-Rovaniemi-Helsinki (Air)

Helsinki-Oslo-Helsinki(Air)

 

Oslo-Copenhagen (Ferry)

Helsingør – Helsingborg (Ferry)

Flam – Balestrand – Bergen (Ferry)

Helsinki – Tallinn – Helsinki (Ferry)

 

Copenhagen – Malmo (Train)

Copenhagen – Helsingor (Train)

Helsingborg – Gothenburg (Train)

Gothenburg – Oslo (Bus)

Oslo – Myrdal (Train)

Bergen – Oslo (Train)

 

65387357_10216659181246332_5775396223183749120_nElsinore, Denmark: Fish out the rubble

 

 

Sweden

IMG_5816

 

In retrospect, the hours spent in Sweden seem like a flash in the pan. Wish I’d had time to linger & pause.

All it took was a dash across the Oresund from Copenhagen to Malmo, getting there in less than 45 minutes without any need of booking or reservation. There is a train every half hour. The Oresund link connecting Denmark & Sweden is a massive bridge – tunnel – bridge structure. An exceptional piece of engineering, it is an awesome travel experience that feels like skimming over the surface of the waters. (Return fare DKK 182)

 

Why Malmo is ‘fallafel’ city is anyone’s guess. Because of its cosmopolitan & multi cultural character perhaps. With Griffins head the logo, it is small in terms of area & size.

It was on a late June afternoon that I made my way from Malmo Central to Lilla Torg (450 m) & Stortorg, the Small & Large city Squares. Lilla Torg is cobble stoned & picturesque & bursting with antique shops selling local handicraft. It is full of cafes & beautiful old, half – timber houses. Prominent, overlooking the Squares is St Peter’s, a brick red Gothic church dating back to 1300. Gamla Vaster/ Old Malmo is full of interesting old architecture as is Malmo proper with its blend of the old & the new.

 

It was a very hot June afternoon & I was thirsty. Lunch turned out to be Vegan Burger, fries & beer followed by a post lunch stroll through lush green city gardens. I could have laid down right there, under the trees. I almost did.

At the corner where the gardens ended was an old prison converted to a pre – school & opposite it the castle. Malmo Castle is a 16th century fortress surrounded by a moat. It has nature exhibits & houses a history museum. Standing tall, in the distance is the Twisted Torso. One look & I was compelled to walk in its direction – not a short walk by any reckoning. At 190 metres, this sculptured tower stands out against the horizon. It was built on the promenade near the western harbour in 2005 & has upscale home & office space.

It is evening & time to return. The ride back to Copenhagen something to look forward to once again. Via the Oresund link. Do try it sometime. Difficult to accurately describe but it is as if one were flying low, above the surface of the sea.

IMG_5701The Twisted Torso

IMG_5685Old half timber houses

IMG_5700Malmo:modern architecture

IMG_5699

65243147_10216659212287108_7945465914487472128_n

Small towns across Denmark & Sweden not only have easy connectivity but can be accessed in a myriad ways. This makes for an unusual & interesting travel experience. The train chugging into Helsingor (Denmark) halted on the platform adjacent to which was the ferry station. Absolutely whacko & least expected. Not to mention the convenience of it all. One disembarks from the train, takes the elevator up, buys a ticket & comes down to board the ferry. It is a 20 minute/37 DKK crossing to Helsingborg (Sweden). Probably the shortest between any two countries as the Strait is narrowest here (4 kms).

 

It may be the briefest of passages but ‘Forseas’ ensures every entertainment & facility. With calm seas & stunning views it is a super hit, especially with the Swedes who come aboard for duty free liquor shopping.

 

However, my destination is not Helsingborg but Gothenburg & I must figure a way of commuting from ferry to train station. GPS estimates a 20 minute walk, a full 360 degree circle if I were to follow it blindly. But I believe in taking risks & talking to strangers is one of them. Just as well, for it turned out to be a 2 second ride down the elevator. LOL! Helsingborg ferry station on the top floor & train terminal at the bottom. Got to hand it to these guys. Who could have imagined it. Look at the convenience once again.

 

There was nothing remarkable about the 4 hour trip to Gothenburg except that the onboard Wifi & superfast train had speeds to match.

With only a day & half in Sweden’s second largest city it is obvious that time & activity are both at a premium & both need management. The first evening was spent in Haga, a Bohemian suburb with shops, charming cafes & a respectable night life.

Goteborg (as the Swedes call it) has a cluster of islands on its periphery. The Northern & Southern archipelago that are car free but can be accessed by ferry & traversed on foot. I decided on Donso, Vrango & Styrso, the islands of the south. Fishing villages with granite cliffs, sandy beaches, beautiful old houses & unique flora fauna. The weather was balmy & Sunday crowds added to the fun of getting a peep into big & small neighbourhoods from the comfort of a tram. A lovely city.

The ferry from Saltholmen to Stryso Bratten takes 20 minutes. There is a café at the pier & a gradual walk through the woods that leads to Stora Ros the summit. Grand views here, also strong winds to knock one off. There is the Great Cairn at the pinnacle, a mound of stones with objects of flint & bronze dating back to the pre historic.

And there is Stryso Tangen, the equally beautiful smaller island preferred by many. I do a beach walk then hop on to the ferry for Donso & Vrango (380 inhabitants). Time for lunch too. Beer – Sandwich will do.

Incidentally, Sweden – the little I saw of it – came across as different & apart in an unexciting sort of way. The use of ‘English’ was limited & English language road signs practically absent. It was also as expensive as its neighbours. Toilet use always had a fee. Never less than Euro 3, unless one coughed up SEK coins. Then it was 10 only.

Yet, to judge any country on the basis of a 3 day/2 city stopover would be grossly unfair. I would not presume to do so. Another time……….Until then – No comments !

IMG_5790

Crossing over, Helsingor – Helsingborg