Sweden on a small scale
06/13/2008 - 06/15/2008
I rode the train from Copenhagen on Friday the 13th, a date which will live in infamy. The trains were all screwed up, and a simple direct 45 minute trip turned into a 2 1/2 hour nightmare, with late trains, changed schedules, shuffled platforms, and unannounced train changes. One of the biggest keys to independent travel is always to remain flexible, so I just grinned and did my best. The beautiful farms and giant white power-generating windmills made the view worth the aggravation. I finally got on the right trains due to a fellow traveller named Peter, on his way home to Helsingborg Sweden returning from a business trip in Norway. Peter was a regular on the route and his experience really got us where we needed to go. Everyone at the train station was so used to the trains running on time every day that the system being 15 minutes behind was freaking them out!
Anyway, I made it Landskrona - finally, after 11 years!
I took a taxi to the Hotel Chaplin, which is themed after the legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin. The Hotel Chaplin is fairly well-appointed and relatively inexpensive for Sweden. I asked the always smiling owner Ina Zachhau why it is named Hotel Chaplin, and she said that she is a big fan of Charlie Chaplin, and that he is very big in Sweden to this day! The hotel building itself was built as a factory and was later turned into a boy's home until the 1970's. The Zachhau family bought it in 1981. When I got to my room I found a giant picture of Charlie Chaplin from one of his movies sitting with a dog and staring right at me from the foot of the bed!
I then walked out to explore the town. Landskrona is a beautiful small Swedish town with very friendly people, and the feel of the place was a great break from the bustle of Copenhagen.
I expected a quiet, sleepy little town, but instead was greeted downtown by hordes of young people all dressed in identical white sailor hats marching around town blowing whistles and shouting through bullhorns! I was completely mystified, wondering if bands of well-dressed militant youth rebels had somehow overthrown the Swedish government during my delayed train ride. I asked and found out that I had arrived on Graduation Day for the equivalent of the local high school, and the tradition was for the graduates to sing on the steps of the town hall and then party through streets the rest of the day making as much noise as possible. Many also were carrying posters their families made for them with various pictures and slogans on them.
I then called up Per, my friend for 11 years who lived here. We have been in touch by telephone and email for all that time chatting about our shared interest in model trains, but had never actually met. Per was a terrific host, showing me his exquisite work on his train layout, diaramas, and on O and HO scale plants and flowers, which he had hand made from paper and had even added veining and weathering. They were amazing - I had never seen anyone hand make them individually like that.
And more amazing is the fact that he has done them while suffering a degenerative muscle disease which causes his hands to shake and gives him severe arthritis.
We then took a walking tour of the town, and I really enjoyed the many beautiful houses, parks and gardens. It made me wonder why we don't have more of these in the U.S. Walking in the mall just does not compare!
This is a schoolyard fence that has a soccer goal built right in - or out...
This is the town's old water tower, now converted to apartments. Apparently the residents have some difficulty fitting regular furniture in with the round walls, and have complained about moisture being a problem - imagine that!
After eating terribly for most of my trip, I was looking forward to a good meal. Per did not disappoint, taking me to Danny's Corner Restaurant, where I had an amazing "plank steak," cooked on a wooden plank, and the best French Onion soup I have ever put in my mouth.
The next day Per wasn't feeling well with his condition, so I set off to explore the city alone. Here is a cool playground swing I have only seen in Europe...
These cute little straberry carts are all over the city, selling fresh locally grown strawberries...
Every self-respecting 16th century Danish astronomer should have his own little neighborhood place...
I stumbled onto the Saturday market in the town square and enjoyed the not-so-warm sun while doing a little shopping.
There are lots of dogs around, as people seem to take them everywhere with them, including on the trains with their leashes. I met this cute pekingese while wandering through a park...
This is a carving of a tennis shoe created from a stump by a local jogging club.
Many Swedes have small "summer houses," second homes where they live during the summer and work in their incredible gardens. They move out of the summer houses around October because the pipes freeze during the winter. Here are two nice ones I found...
Replacing the town's old water tower was this creation, which looks like something off the front of an old E.L.O. album.
This is Landskrona Citadel. While taking this picture a group of baby ducks walked up and started pecking at my shoes! (See the ducks at the bottom right).
There was also a very nice outdoor sculpture garden. Notice the graduation sign placed at the foot of one of the statues.
In the funky Landskrona Museum, they were having an exhibit on hairdressing, of all things.
I can't figure out if this terrifying thing is an old electric hair curling machine or something from the dark bowels of one of the CIA's secret prisons...
I looked up and saw a bowl of hair on the wall. That's right, a bowl of hair, with a small sign in Swedish and a pair of scissors dangling fom a string. I asked a group of older ladies if any of them spoke English, and then asked them what the exhibit could possibly be. They told me the sign said that if you cut a lock of your hair and put it in the bowl, you could make a wish. Brigitte, one of the visiting ladies, then grabbed the scissors and proceeded to take a whack at my head! When I put the lock in the bowl, I made the wish that I had more hair!
Here is the Davy Crockett restaurant. Independent franchises are now available throughout Scandinavia and the greater Baltic region (just kidding).
I then went to the grocery store, something I love to do in foreign countries. It is always fun to find out what they have available there. I saw these really cool see-through chest freezers lining the frozen food aisles.
My shopping cart was a design I have never seen before. It looks like a regular hand-held grocery basket, but has a telescoping handle and wheels so that you can cart your frozen Bagel Bites around like a piece of carry-on luggage.
Before the trip I set up a webcam at home and set up my laptop with one as well. I tried it out for the first time that afternoon, calling home with Per and videoconferencing with my wife Emily, daughter Anna Kate, and our friends the Brickmans - Joey, Amy, Will, Zach, Aaron and Ethan. It was absolutely terrific seeing everyone's faces live, even for a short time, and it raised spirits immensely. I was walking on air as Per and I headed afterwards to a great Greek restaurant on the town square called the Akropolis. We ate outside, and both had Gyros, which were served with everything laid out separately on the plate, with no wrappers. Per had never heard of Gyros with wrappers before. They were very good anyway. By the time we finished a big Saturday night crowd had gathered, talking, listening to loud rock music, and dancing. Who knew that the Akropolis was such a hot night spot! Per and I ended up spending the evening chatting with two guys who were members of two local bands, if you can believe it! Christopher was a drummer in a local covers band and his dream is to move to New York City and become a policeman there. David, with dyed red spiky hair, plays lead guitar in the cover band and in another band that does original metal music. When they found out that I am from Athens, Georgia they went nuts because Athens is the home of R.E.M. and the B-52's. I began to wonder if they thought I was some kind of talent scout or something! "No, I don't know Michael Stipe, but my wife Emily once ran into his grocery cart in Kroger's."
As we sat back and chatted about everything from music to the American elections to conspiracy theories on the moon landing, I took a look around and wondered, where else could two self-professed model train geeks be hanging out on a Saturday night with a bunch of mohawked metal head musicians? As Per and I walked back late that night, the nearly full moon emerged from the clouds and helped light our way down the empty street as the strains of "Sweet Home Alabama" echoed up the alleyway behind us. The music was wildly out of place, yet felt hauntingly familiar to this traveler so far from home.