Sweden

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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

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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 !

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Crossing over, Helsingor – Helsingborg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Denmark

IMG_5783Kronborg Castle

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IMG_5707This colourful street was once a stinking sewer

Goodbye Oslo                               Hello Copenhagen

Nothing like a twist for that extra zing to travel. What better than a voyage by sea? There were flights to Copenhagen, train & bus connections too but this looked to be an interesting option – zara hatke.

 

‘The Pearl’ would sail at 4.30 pm & arrive 17 hours later. I joined the motley crowd around the Skybar on Sun deck. Solo travelers, who clinked glasses as Oslo receded from view, Opera House & traditional wood cabins still clearly discernible on the shore. A soft drizzle accompanied the ship’s passage through the fjord.

‘The Pearl’ was on 11 floors, a floating city with a pulsating life of its own. Sailing the narrow Oresund at 16 knots it had a capacity of 2000 passengers. The cabin small & comfortable, I settled for the night. Next morning was bright & sunny with everyone on deck for a first glimpse of Denmark.

 

Copenhagen again is not a budget destination. It is a compact city, easy to walk or cycle, map in hand. The challenge is to manage time effectively. The Copenhagen card helps, vis a vis transport & access to sites – Euro 77/48 hours. Cycle, DKK 30 rental.

 

The first day was entirely devoted toMalmo(Sweden). An awesome passage via the Oresund link that connects both countries. An experience in itself.

 

I had a booking with Sandeman’s at 10 the next morning. A free – tip based walking tour, 2 hours & half through 6000 years of history. We collected near Dragon fountain, City Hall, Soner the guide bursting with enthusiasm. One of the best in the trade.

 

He walked us through Stroget the oldest & longest pedestrian street in the world. Chok-a-block with designer brands & upscale stores, Stroget connects the City Hall to Kings Square the largest in the city.

Onwards to the area around the new Harbour via a bright, colourful street that was once a sewer. Nyhavn, with gabled houses has history, atmosphere & gastronomical delights. The oldest house # 9 built in 1681 remains unchanged as does #67 purported to belong to Hans C Anderson. Copenhagen started as a fishing village remember. From fishing village to national capital – modern harbour, all thanks to Bishop Absalom.

 

We were lucky to witness the changing of the guard outside Amalienborg palace. The tour perfectly timed to end at Queens Square.

 

On everyone’s wish list, the Little Mermaid can be approached strolling by the Marble church – Queens garden or along the water front. Beautiful options both, on an equally beautiful day. Which is why I have wondered at tourists coming in bus loads for a quick photo – op with Denmark’s beloved maiden. Forgetting she is indeed ‘Little’ many return disappointed while some others have tried to deface & harm her.

With empty churches converted to museums, yoga & play centres 82% non believers now have a new religion; Cycling. Consider this: There are over 400 kms of cycle tracks. There are cycle repair shops. People take pride in the brand they own, the fancy gear & accessories as well as the level of upkeep in much the same way most others do with cars. It is almost a sub culture with young & old alike. Consider yourself lucky if a bicycle never knocked you down. 63% parliamentarians are said to cycle to work. Can another country hope to match this? Denmark has flat terrain but that is not the only reason.

So, how does a nation make a quick & complete turn around & progress? “With laws shalt thou a country rule & make,” says Soner, taking pride in his nation’s history, culture & achievement. It is Europe’s oldest monarchy, has an 800 year old flag & a Crown Prince who is a legit Green beret. If taxes are high these are willingly paid. An investment for the future when health, education & social security continue to be taken care of.

A slow train meanders by little homes & hamlets to stop at Helsingor (45 minutes). One steps off the platform to the ferry & train stations adjacent to one another. Rather a neat arrangement – both terminals on either side of a single platform.

 

A sleepy old town Helsingor is charming none the less, with cafes, boutique hotels & 18th century lanes to aimlessly wander. There is a Carmelite Priory, several medieval monasteries & a harbour that makes for a nice seaside walk. Stretching out on a rock is the male version of the Little Mermaid – Han Estatua – minus the thronging hordes. Strangely enough the Elsinore walk, a self guided city tour does not mention him. Sadly alone & unheard of Han sits gazing out to sea.

Taking centre stage is 16 century Kronborg castle – scene of Shakespeares ‘Hamlet’ – A renaissance castle & Unesco heritage site, Shakespeare can take credit for putting it on the world map. The story goes that a troupe performing ‘Julius Caesar’ at the castle heard the story of the Prince of Denmark. It was narrated to Shakespeare with the plea that he adapt it into a play. And he did, using both Kronborg & Elsinore as backdrop to the tragedy of ‘Hamlet’.

The play is performed everyday from June through August. A live, inter active theatrical experience, it is a must for Shakespeare buffs as is the theatre festival hosted at the castle –  in August once again.. The bard comes alive like never before, attracting theatre aficionados. Rekindling emotions.