Archive for May, 2011

Dresden

Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: “I don’t want to burn to death”. I do not know how many people I fell over. I know only one thing: that I must not burn.

– Margaret Freyer; survivor of the bombing of Dresden.

Before its almost total destruction in World War II Dresden was a European city of culture, art and science. In terms of total tonnage the bombings of Hamburg and Berlin were far worse, however, the carpet bombing of Dresden remains such a controversial topic because the city was of little or no strategic value. Modern estimates put the death toll at around 25,000 people, although the exact figure will never be known.

Today Dresden resembles two cities divided by the River Elbe. North of the river is the Neustadt (New Town) and south of the river is Altstadt (Old Town). The hostel in which Chris and I were staying was located in the New Town. It is a fairly hip and happening area of the city, with plenty of bars, restaurants, books shops and record stores selling second hand vinyl. Even though it was a weekday the area was still alive with activity, which just served to further enforce my belief that Europeans don’t have jobs and instead spend their days sat in bars drinking novelty sized beers and smoking large quantities of cigarettes. Walls and the sides of shops are covered in graffiti and yet nobody seems to mind. The graffiti is very much a part of what gives the area its character and charm. If this was in Britain the Council would have wasted large sums of taxpayers money employing a crack squad of cleaners to remove all the graffiti. Having said this the graffiti I saw in Dresden (and Berlin) is far superior to anything I have seen at home. Aside from being far more artistic it also has a political edge to it rather than simply being someone’s “tag” or crude remarks about the size and shape of someone’s genitalia.

The Altstadt (Old Town) is where most of Dresden’s interesting buildings are located and hence where most of the tourists like to hang out. Considering that the city was almost totally flattened in 1945 the Germans have done a fine job restoring the Old Town to something reminiscent of its former glory. The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is particularly impressive. Its reconstruction began in 1993 and took 13 year to complete. Obviously I’ve only seen photographs of the original building but I would say that they have done a fairly accurate job. Where possible, and with the aid of 3D modelling, original materials and plans were used to complete the job. For the doors of the Church the restoration teams where unsure exactly what the carvings looked like and so asked people to send in old wedding photographs that they may have.

The Church of Our Lady


The other main Church in the area is the Katholische Hofkirche (The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony). It too was badly damaged during the bombing and was restored during the 1980s when Dresden was still part of East Germany. Whilst vastly different in style to the Church of Our Lady it is still a very impressive piece of architecture.

Not far from the Church is the Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes), a 102 metre long mural depicting 35 Saxon Kings from the House of Wettin. Fortunately it received relatively little damage during World War II.

The Procession of Princes

The trip to Dresden was a fitting end to our time in Germany. It terms of its overall look it is far from being a beautiful looking city, but it does have some very striking individual buildings. Given what happened in 1945 it’s amazing that the city still exists at all. The citizens of Dresden can take great pride in the painstaking reconstruction work that has taken part in the Old Town.

29/05/2011 at 5:17 pm 1 comment

Berlin

The journey to Berlin would turn out to be somewhat more eventful than Chris and I had hoped. Optimistically (or perhaps stupidly) the two of us had hoped that we could complete the epic voyage from Helsinki to Berlin within 36 hours. How naive we were.

The challenge began on the ferry from Helsinki back to Stockholm. Fortunately this time we did not have to put up with any drunk Finnish room mates which made the nights sleep a lot more pleasant.

Once again we enjoyed the all you can eat buffet, and I was more careful this time not to make any stupid food combinations. In the evening we headed to the bar and watched the World Championship Ice-Hockey Final between Finland and Sweden. Going into the final third of the match the scores were tied at 1-1, but then Sweden seemed to fall apart with Finland romping to a 6-1 victory. Needless to say this caused much celebration amongst Finns on the ferry.

We awoke early and headed to the buffet breakfast, knowing that we had to get off the ferry almost as soon as it arrived in the port if we were to make our connecting train to Copenhagen.

Following an expensive taxi ride to Stockholm Central Station we hopped on the train which we hoped would take us to Copenhagen. Unfortunately the train failed to travel all the way to its advertised final destination, instead stopping at Malmö and unable to travel across the Øresund Bridge due to “technical reasons”. Quite how serious these technical problems were I’m not entirely sure, but the train had so far taken us across the entire width of Sweden without any problems so I’m not convinced we were being told the whole story.

This delay would have a huge knock-on effect, meaning that there was not a chance in Hell of us making it to Berlin on the day we had intended. A delay of just 30 minutes meant that we would now be getting to Berlin a minimum of 14 hours later than originally planned. This was chaos theory in action, with the blame placed entirely on the Swedish rail network.

Fortunately Chris and I were able to make it as far as Hamburg where our good friends Jamie and Chris were able to provide us with somewhere to sleep for the night. In the morning we got back on the train and finished what remained of our epic journey to Berlin. Whilst the journey makes for an interesting anecdote it is not something which I ever wish to repeat.

Having spent most of the last two days stuck either on boats or trains Chris and I were both in need of a serious injection of culture, so having checked into the hostel we set out to see what Berlin had to offer.

We took a train to Alexanderplatz, which as the name suggests is a large city square full of restaurants and bars as well as a huge TV mast which towers over the whole of Berlin. From there we walked through one of Berlin’s parks which featured a statue of two of Germany’s most famous sons, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. A large group of tourists were all having their photographs taken next to the statue whilst doing a raised fist salute. How original.

From there we walked to the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, arguably the Cities two most famous structures. The Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s only surviving City Gate. Originally an entrance to the City were money would be collected from traders. Largely destroyed during the Battle of Berlin, the gate has now been completely restored and stands as a monument to the City. The Reichstag too has been rebuilt a number of times during its history. It was last restored following the reunification of Germany and still maintains a traditional design apart from the glass dome on top which looks completely out of place. Outside the Reichstag is a small but fitting memorial to 96 members of Parliament who were murdered by the Nazis. Outside the Reichstag it was strange to think back to the dramatic and horrific events that happened on the very spot I was standing just 66 years ago.

The Brandenburg Gate. Berlin's last remaining City Gate.

Having wondered around the City for a number of hours Chris and I stopped to sample some traditional German Currywurst. Essentially curried sausage, it is every bit as good as it sounds. A large group of Sparrows had clocked onto the fact that we had some food. Although I suspect they were more interested in the bread than the curried sausage.

Late in the afternoon we headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial. The experience was fascinating and moving in equal measure. There are several sections of the wall which remain intact, and parts of where the wall once stood are now marked out by tall rust coloured metal posts. There is a memorial to those killed trying to cross the wall which features photographs of the victims. There are also two simple wooden crosses which serve as a monument to the citizens killed during the Battle of Berlin. It is a place you really have to visit in order to properly appreciate, as the words I write simply cannot do it justice.

A remaining section of the Berlin Wall.

Having had a very filling meal at a Mexican restaurant Chris and I headed back to the hostel where we met fellow travellers Ben, Nara and Kieran all of whom hailed from Australia. The original plan was to take part in a bar crawl around the City, but we spent too long drinking in the hostel and these plans quickly evaporated. The beer from the hostel bar was only €1 and at prices like that I would be been rude to turn down a drink. The night ended with the five of us heading to a techno/dance rave inside a warehouse at an abandoned train station, and yes, before you ask this was as cool as it sounds (perhaps cooler). It was light again by the time we left the rave. Evidently we’d all been having a great time.

For me the next day was something of a write off. Apparently too much alcohol had been consumed the previous night, meaning that I endured a very boring second day in Berlin.

Regardless of this the two of us had had an great time in Berlin. We’d met some great people in Nara, Ben and Kieran, as well as experiencing a vibrant City rich in culture and history. It is definitely a place I will visit again as there are still a great number of things which I would like to see. Perhaps I would be wise to drink a little less next time.

23/05/2011 at 5:36 pm 2 comments

Helsinki

The journey to Helsinki would involve what Chris and I had codenamed “Boat Challenge”. Essentially this involved taking a 15 hour overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. The voyage took us across Sweden’s highly impressive looking archipelago.

We boarded the boat at around 4:30pm and headed for our cabin where we could dump our luggage. In their infinite wisdom the Ferry company had decided that we would be sharing a room with a drunk 60 year old Finnish man. Perhaps this was someones idea of a hilarious practical joke. The man in question was already knocking back his second or third can of Gin & Tonic when we got to the room. We tried to converse with him for a short time but his English was not great and he kept reverting back to Finnish, although this may in part have had something to do with the levels of alcohol already in his system.

In the evening Chris and I headed for the all you can eat buffet. It also appeared to be an all you can drink buffet which initially sounded like a great idea. However it soon transpired that the white wine tasted largely of vinegar. This was literally the scrapings from the bottom of a not very good barrel. The beer was pretty bad as well, although it didn’t set off the gag reflex in the same way that the wine did. It was just tasteless carbonated brown water (much like the Lager we get in the UK).

Fortunately the buffet was somewhat better, and it was cheap as well so we couldn’t complain too much. Although it was all you can eat and you could go back for multiple servings I decided that it would be much more fun to see how much food I could fit on my plate in one go. This would prove to be a mistake, although I was able to come to the conclusion that salmon does not go particularly well with beef casserole. Especially if the beef casserole tastes like it came out of a tin (of dog food).

Having eaten far too much the two of us headed back to the room to try and get some sleep. All was going well until our drunk Finnish friend stumbled back into the room and 3am. He immediately crashed out on his bed fully clothed and preceded to talk loudly to himself for most of the night. Needless to say it wasn’t the best nights sleep, but it does make for a pretty good anecdote.

We arrived at Helsinki the next morning and began an unnecessarily long walk to the hostel. Instead of taking the most direct route to the hostel Google Maps decided that it would be more fun to walk around what appeared to be a large building site, (as I have mentioned before, much like the rest of Europe Helsinki is still under construction).

Eventually we got to the hostel which much to our surprise was located inside the Olympic Stadium. Apparently Finland hosted the summer Olympics in 1952 although I’ve never before heard anyone mention this so I’m not entirely convinced that it’s true.

We got to the hostel only to find that we could not check it until 4pm. Both of us where tired from the walk and the lack of sleep the night before and didn’t much fancy making the walk back into town. We therefore decided to just hang out in the reception area. Perhaps not the most fun thing you can do in Helsinki. To try and pass the time I decided to try I learn a few key Finnish phrases, although this proved to be largely a waste of time. I had wrongly assumed that Finnish would be largely the same as Swedish and Danish. How wrong I was. Finnish is full of double letters, which isn’t so bad with the vowels but they also do it with the consonants. The only word I managed to learn was “Kiitos” which means thank you.

On day two we took a stroll along the lake and headed into the City centre. Compared to Stockholm Helsinki is a fairly small City with a population of around 550,000 so we easily managed to walk around the whole thing in a day. On the way we took in the Cities two main Cathedrals, Uspenski and the imaginatively named Helsinki Cathedral.

Helsinki Cathedral

We also headed to one of the parks where we hoped we could find something to drink and have a sit down. The park however is on a hill and is situated next to the harbour meaning that the wind was extremely strong. Had we attempted to sit down I’m sure that we would have been blown into the see or frozen to death. Having had enough of the hurricane force winds we headed back into the City centre in search of coffee. In the afternoon we had to make a stop at H&M so I could buy some new socks. My current supply were smelling offensively bad and I suspected that I would soon be charged under the Geneva Convention with crimes against humanity.

In the evening we went to a traditional Finnish restaurant called Savotta which was in the style of an old loggers cabin. It was by no means the cheapest meal I have ever eaten, but Chris and I were in agreement that it was the best food so far. The starter was a platter of different meats, salad, cheese and pastries including a Wild Boar jelly, smoked Salmon and Bear Salami. For the main course the two of us settled on Reindeer Steak with smoked mashed potatoe and a cranberry sauce.

The following day we took a boat trip out to Suomenlinna, an inhabited former island fortress situated a couple of kilometres off the Finish coast. It was the Swedes who originally started to build on the island in 1748 under the command of Augustin Ehrensvärd. His grave can still be seen on Suomenlinna.

Grave of Augustin Ehrensvärd, complete with Greek Hoplite helmet (for some reason).

In 1808 the Island surrendered to Russia and was occupied until Finland gained its independence in 1917. It was not until 1973 that the garrison left the island, and in the 1990s it officially became a World Heritage Site. The island now plays host to several large Russian naval guns dating back to the Crimean War. We were pretty much free to walk wherever we wished on the island. This included walking through the barracks and former underground Munitions Depots, many of which were poorly lit and consequently far too scary to explore properly.

Russian Naval Gun, used primarily for blowing shit up.


Upon arriving back on the mainland Chris and I headed back to the City centre and found a sports bar where we hoped that the FA Cup Final would be shown. We got to the bar in time to see the last 30 minutes of Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United. Although United got the result that they needed they did spend the last ten minutes of the match passing the ball between the back four which seemed like a pretty negative way to win your 19th league title. In the bar was a strong contingent of Finnish Manchester United fans all of whom seemed fairly pissed and were more content with singing and jumping around than they were watching the actual football match. Afterwards Chris and I sat down to watch a disappointing FA Cup Final. Manchester City’s success left me feeling somewhat bitter as we left the bar in search of something to eat.

20/05/2011 at 7:00 pm 2 comments

Stockholm

So far using the trains in Europe has not proved to be the success story that I was expecting. Although the trains themselves are excellent and we did manage to get seats on the journey from Gothenburg to Stockholm, they are subjected to the same delays as in the UK. Our train was delayed for around one hour in the middle of Sweden seemingly to let all the other trains go past. No official reason was ever given.

Fortunately the Swedish country side is extremely beautiful, so we did at least have something to look at. It’s a mix of lakes, vast pine forests and large open fields.

After around six hours the train finally pulled into Stockholm Central Station and we headed to the hostel which was only a short walk away. Having dumped our things in the room Chris and I met a fellow traveller called Ben (from California) and the three of us headed out in search of some food. After yet another fine steak and chips we headed to a bar for several expensive Swedish beers. After an excellent cultural exchange of views and ideas we headed back to the hostel for the night.

The next morning feeling slightly worse for wear we settled down to a somewhat disappointing breakfast comprised of some depressing ham and stale bread.

We headed to Gamla stan (The Old Town), situated on the island of Stadsholmen. The area dates back to the 13th Century which combined with its narrow and cobbled streets has a medieval look about it. It’s a very pleasant area of the town to walk around. From the old town we headed to some cliffs which overlook Stockholm and provide some stunning views.

A view over Stockholm

Afterwards we headed to a place called Max’s for a burger. It’s essentially Sweden’s own version of McDonalds only a lot better. The food doesn’t leave you with the feeling that some small animal has crawled into your digestive system and died there.

In the afternoon we took a trip to the Vasamuseet. The museum displays a 17th Century warship called the Vasa which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. You’d think this would be of great embarrassment to the Swedish people, but instead they have turned it into one of Stockholm’s most visited attractions. In many ways the Vasa is like the Mary Rose, although not nearly as lame and crappy. The hull of the ships is amazingly well preserved and it seems that the masts and sails were the only major parts of the vessel that did not survive being underwater for over 300 years.

The Vasa... it aint no Mary Rose.

The ship was built during the reign of King Gustavus Adolphus, who from the sounds of things was a pretty arrogant guy. He had great expansionist aspirations and wanted Sweden to be seen as a world power. The Vasa was to head his fleet but unfortunately for him the vessel sank after travelling less than one mile.

On the beakhead of the ship are twenty figures depicting Roman Emperors. Notably Emperor Augustus has been exempt from this list and replaced by Gustavus Adolphus himself. What an absolute lad!

After leaving the museum we headed to the Systembolaget to pick up some drinks for the evening. These stores are government regulated and are the only place in Sweden where you can buy drinks that contains more than 3.5% alcohol. The beers/ciders were fairly reasonably priced and you can buy single cans rather than being forced to get a six pack. Spirits on the other hand are extortionate. On average prices were around £10 more than what you would pay for the same drink in the UK. Chris and I picked up several cans each of some Swedish beer as well as some extra strong Kopparberg cider. Unfortunately you don’t seem to be able to get it in the UK (yet).

In the evening Chris and I headed out for food. Having wondered around for some time we settled on an American steakhouse. It’s the kind of thing you just have to do when in Stockholm. Having completely forgotten about the burger I had consumed earlier I ordered an El Dorado burger, which was essentially a massive beef burger with jalapeño chillies piled on top. Any meal can be instantly improved with the addition of spicy fruit.

Upon returning to the hostel we again me with Ben. He had got talking to some fellow travellers, Mike and Ivan who both came from Vancouver and Kevin, who like Ben was from California. All six of us soon found ourselves wandering around Stockholm is search of somewhere to drink. Ivan led the way to a club which he assured us would definitely be open on a Monday night. However, we eventually arrived at the club in question to find that it was very much closed. In fact there didn’t seem to be that many places open at all. On an average weekday student night in Britain you would have found people everywhere, passed out on the floor, throwing up into gutters or falling into the path of oncoming taxis.

Eventually we found a bar that was open and settled down for some well earned drinks. After a few rounds it was suggested that we once again go in search of a club. Again though our search was in vein and we eventually had to stop at a 7-Eleven convenience store for some further refreshments. Eventually we decided that it would be best to head back to the hostel, partly because we were all bored of walking around but also because there was more beer in the fridge there.

Needless to say Chris and I both missed breakfast the next morning. Although based on the food we had had the previous day neither of us were hugely concerned.

Being hungover Chris, Ivan, Mike, Ben and I decided that a trip to the National Museum would be a great idea. Much of the exhibition was very similar to what Chris and I had seen at the national museum in Copenhagen. There was plenty of stuff from prehistory right up to the Viking period. We did however notice the strange way in which a lot of the information was worded. More often than not it would ask the reader questions rather than just providing the answers. When I go to a museum it’s because I want to be lectured to and informed, not the other way around. There was also a rather trippy video/slideshow which seemed to outline the whole of human history in the space of five minutes. It was displayed across three screens which made me feel somewhat sick, although this may have been down to the hangover. These slightly eccentric nature of the museum made it all the more entertaining. One of the exhibits even showed a can of spray paint, with a caption that read something along the lines of, “spray can for wall art, C.2000 AD”. I assume this was meant as a light hearted way of comparing ancient cave paintings to modern day graffiti.

There was also the hugely impressive “Gold Room” which was full of things like coins, necklaces and sceptres. There is no way we would have anything like it in the UK. All the gold would have been traded in at “cash 4 gold” as a way of helping to clear the budget deficit.

At this point Ben had to leave and go and catch a flight to Germany. The rest of us headed to the Systembolaget where we could pick up some liquid dinner. Upon returning to the hostel we cracked out the beers and a pack of cards and settled down to play some drinking games. We were joined by Danny, an American soldier who had just recently returned from Iraq where he had been training the local security forces. Chris and I were introduced to the games “pyramid”, “Kings cup” (essentially the North American version of “Ring of Fire”) and “asshole”. It quickly became apparent that I am terrible at all card games, although the quantities of beer involved may not have helped the situation.

On out final day in Stockholm Chris and I once again missed the below par breakfast buffet and instead went out in search of a kebab. The Swedes seem to think nothing of eating a kebab during the day, whereas in England it is the kind of food that you only eat when completely wasted.

Afterwards a group of us headed down to one of Stockholm’s parks located alongside the water. Ever since we had met Ivan he had been making grand plans about how he wanted to go for a swim in the sea. When it came down to it he managed to last about five minutes in the water before the freezing conditions forced him back onto dry land. At this point Chris and I said our goodbyes to the group and began the long walk to the Stockholm Ferry Port where we would board the ship to Helsinki.

Stockholm is a truly beautiful city. The fantastic weather which we had probably helped matters as well. The Swedes are all extremely stylish which made me feel comparatively tramp like. The guys all have solid haircuts and the woman are effortlessly good looking. Quite frankly they have put the English to shame.

My only regret about Stockholm is that we did not stay there for longer. You could spend days just walking around taking in the architecture and stunning views across the water. It is certainly a place that I will visit again.

14/05/2011 at 8:05 pm 2 comments

Gothenburg

The journey to Gothenburg began with a 3km treck to Malmö Central Station. It shouldn’t really take all that long to cover the distance but with a large rucksack on your back it is extremely tiring. I suppose this is in part due to my extreme lack of fitness but also due to the large amount of unnecessary clothing I have with me. I seem to end up wearing the same t-shirt/jeans/hoodie combo most of the time, so I could probably throw away a large portion of my clothes.

Fortunately we managed to get seats on the train to Gothenburg where I listened to the mellow tones of the latest Bring Me The Horizon album and read pages from Mark Custis’ Web of Deceit.

Arriving in Gothenburg we faced another long treck to the hostel. The walk along the waterfront was somewhat more pleasant than the treck we had undertaken in Malmö, but the weight of my rucksack still crushed my knees into the ground.

We arrived at the hostel to find that we had been given the top bunks. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to you when sharing a room with strangers. Having the top bunk is great fun when you are a child, but when you are 22 years old there is no dignified way of making the climb into bed. It is also impossible to avoid making large amounts of noise and waking everyone up in the middle of the night. It also seemed that the hostel staff had decided to play a game of “how many beds can you fit in one room”. Apparently the answer is five, although I would argue that the room was only big enough for two (three at a push).

Bed Challenge...

In the evening we walked down Avenyn in search of something to eat. It quickly became apparent that this was where all the very expensive restaurants were located. I use the word expensive very loosely because the Scandinavians seem to consider these prices “normal”. Maybe I’m just being a cheap skate but I would consider £25 to be rather a lot for a single course. The price of alcohol is also becoming a point of great amusement. I’m assuming that alcohol related violence in Sweden is extremely low because there is no way anyone can afford to get drunk. In a bar or restaurant £4 is the absolute minimum for a drink, and £6 or £7 is common place. If they started charging prices like that in the UK there would be riots in the street.

We decided that we probably weren’t going to find anywhere within our price range along Avenyn and so went in search of cheaper cuisine. We ended the evening sat on a bench by the waterside eating Kebab Pizza and drinking Coca-Cola. I’d never even heard of Kebab Pizza before this trip but it is pretty much as you imagine. Pizza base with a load of Kebab meat on top. It tasted surprisingly good as was very filling, although by this stage we were so hungry that we could have got by on an assortment of different road kill.

The next morning we walked to the Masthuggs Kyrkan, a large church which was very close to our hostel. From the top of the hill on which it is located you can get a reasonable view of Gothenburg.

Much of the afternoon was spent in one of the parks discussing how it was that all the Swedish people managed to get so good looking. Before coming here I assumed it was just a stereotype that all Swedes were good looking, but it isn’t, they really are outrageously attractive. This posed a couple of questions. Firstly, where did they put all the ugly people? Secondly, how do they stop the “ugly” gene from infecting the population? And finally, why don’t people in England look this good?

What remained of the afternoon was spent looking for a supermarket in the City Centre. We didn’t find one and so decided to head back to the hostel only to discover that there was a supermarket just five minutes from where we were staying.

Gothenburg, much like Malmö is a fairly average town. Unless you are interested in shopping there is very little else to see or do. I don’t mean this in the same sense as I did about Rotterdam. In Rotterdam there is literally nothing to do, but in Gothenburg there are plenty of bars and restaurants as well as the large shopping mall. Even just sitting in the park is very pleasant. Whilst it isn’t a place I intend to go back to it isn’t somewhere that I actively dislike either.

08/05/2011 at 6:08 pm 1 comment

Malmö

The impressive Øresund Bridge and the Drogden Tunnel connect Denmark and Sweden. The overall structure combines a twin track railway and a dual carriageway. The first part of the journey (if you are coming from Copenhagen) involves travelling though the 4km long tunnel to the artificially created Peberholm island which sits in the middle of the strait. From there the nearly 8km long bridge completes the connection to the Swedish mainland.

During the construction of the bridge 16 unexploded World War II bombs were found, but in spite of this the build was completed ahead of schedule.

Upon arriving at Malmö Central Station we realised that we would have to make a 3km walk to the hostel. Taking the bus was simply not an option partly because we only had Danish Krone, Euros and a £10 note, but also because we had no idea which bus to take. Neither of us wanted to risk “winging it” and instead find ourselves at the local branch of Ikea.

The walk to the hostel was pretty much in a straight line, which made everything seem much further away than it probably was. There also seemed to be very little in the way of stand out features.

What with the heavy weight of our rucksacks it took us a good hour to find the hostel which looked to be located next to the main carriageway leading into Malmö.

For the first time on the tour Chris and I were given a room to ourselves. This allowed us to get some serious clothes washing done in the sink and then hang our things up all around the room without getting any disapproving looks from fellow travellers.

Later in the evening we made the long walk back into town in search of something good to eat. We settled on a place called Mello Yellow located in Lilla Torg (Little Square). The restaurant had been recommended by the Lonely Planet travel guide so we were expecting the food to be pretty good. Although it was a cold evening we were still able to sit outside because of the excessive number of outdoor heaters that had been deployed. You could sense that they were probably melting a rather large hole in the ozone layer. Being close to the ocean we decided that fish would be an excellent option. Chris settled for a Tuna steak whilst I went for a Salmon fillet. Both turned out to be excellent choices and were washed down nicely with a couple of “pints” of Falcon Export.

After the meal we headed inside where we were able to watch the Manchester United vs Shalke match and drink some more depressingly expensive beer. It’s amazing how long you can make a drink last when it costs £6.

The next morning, following a hearty breakfast, we headed into town to see what (if anything) Malmö had to offer. Out first stop was to take in the Turning Torso skyscraper located on the City coastline. The building is a 190m tall residential tower block and is so called because of the upwards spiral design it adopts.

The Turning Torso residential tower block.


From there we took a stroll along the beach. Apart from the occasional dog walker or jogger the place was largely deserted and all of the ice cream huts were closed. I’ve no idea what tourism is like in Malmö but I can’t imagine the beach gets busy even in the height of summer.

We took a walk out along one of the piers. The water was surprisingly clean and very shallow. In England you expect to find tyres, plastic bottles and tesco’s carrier bags bobbing about in the water. Stood out on the pier you can look out across the bay and get a reasonable view of the Øresund Bridge. We took the opportunity to put our limited photographic skills to the test by taking some “edgy” low angle shots of the pier and the beach. If only I had photoshop installed on my netbook I could have turned the pictures black and white, or sepia and added a touch of lens flare here and there to make them look even more “cool”.

It's hip to take photographs

From looking at the map we estimated that the Øresund Bridge was probably another 5 or 6km away and wisely decided against making the journey. Instead we headed back towards the town centre in search of something to drink. On the way we passed through one of Malmö’s rather attractive parks. Chris and I decided that all parks can instantly be improved with the introduction of a lake or large pond.

We arrived in the centre and headed for a corporate chain coffee shops as we assumed it would be cheaper than going to an independent retailer. I’m all for using independent retailers but not when they insist on charging comedy prices. Anyway, our assumptions about the “lower” prices were correct and we spent the next 4 hours drinking lattes and putting the world to rights.

Malmö is a fairly average place. There is nothing to dislike about it but there also isn’t anything which particularly stands out about it. It just exists.

The hostel we stayed in was great, the food was excellent and the Swedish people are friendly and welcoming. These things said I can have very little to complain about.

08/05/2011 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Copenhagen

Before the trip to Denmark I never imagined that I would pay £5 for a coffee. In England such a large sum would be the stuff on nightmares but in Denmark it is the norm. Everything is hideously expensive which can take some getting used to. In the end though it’s best to just laugh it off and pay up because it isn’t something you can get away from. Save the crying for later when you’re alone and nobody else has to hear you.

Following a long journey from Hamburg we arrived at the ominously named Sleep in Heaven hostel on Sunday evening. Tired from a strenuous five hours of sitting down on the train/ferry we headed out in search of food. We settled on one of the first bars we came across but it turned out to be an excellent choice. The interior reminded me somewhat of the Scream bars in the UK only my feet didn’t stick to the floor and everyone was much better dressed. The bar itself was part bookshelf with the books organised in colour order giving the place a well educated and pretentious feel. Naturally Chris and I thought this was excellent.

Having translated the menu we ordered our food along with some “pints” of Carlsberg. The Carlsberg is Denmark is very drinkable and lacks the metallic taste of the stuff exported to the UK.

Upon leaving the bar we realised that there were a lot of drunk people staggering about the place which did seem very odd for a Sunday night. It is also impressive that people can afford to get drunk given the price of alcohol.

The next day we headed into the City centre. Copenhagen really is a beautiful place, the pictures which I have posted here do not do it justice. Upon walking through the City we realised that most shops do not open until 10am although some bars were open and people were already drinking. This is clearly an excellent idea and there is no justifiable reason why shops in the UK have to open at 9am.

We headed for the waterfront area at Nyhavn. Along here are plenty of bars and restaurants situated in pretty little pastel coloured houses. It was exactly how I had imagined Copenhagen to look.

The waterfront at Nyhavn.


Here we stopped for the traditional Danish delicacy, British style Belgian waffles with ice-cream, along with some not very good coffee. It was however very expensive so I forced myself to enjoy it.

We continued our walk along the harbour and had to compete with a freezing wind which cut straight to the bone. If Copenhagen can be this cold in May I dread to think what it is like during the Winter months. The sky however was free of cloud which made for some excellent views across the harbour to the Opera House. Our stroll took us to the Kastellet, which according to Wikipedia is one of the best preserved fortifications in Northern Europe. Here there is also a church and an excellent fountain of which Chris and I were able to take some excellent low angle “edgy” photographs.

Low angle photo. It's bare cool man!

Much of the afternoon was spend generally ambling about the City taking in it’s delights. A trip to King’s Gardens was followed by a visit to the very hip Latin Quarter. The area is mostly made up of bookshops, cafes and very trendy (and expensive) independent clothes shops. Apart from the main high street there seems to be little in the way of chain stores meaning that everyone is dressed differently and are therefore extremely cool.

Partly due to our lack of imagination, but also because we really liked the place Chris and I had our evening meal in the same restaurant we had visited the previous night. We tucked into a traditional Danish lasagne and chilli con carne along with some bottles of Jacobson beer.

Our second full day began with a trip to the Nationalmuseet. Here we took in the excellent exhibition on European Pre-History, which involved looking at lots of spears, axes, swords and well preserved human skeletons. After we viewed a collection of coins many of which were either far too large or far too small to be of any practical use. There was also meant be be a collection of medals although this had mysteriously disappeared.

Later as we wondered down Strøget we came across a Lego store. I had never realised before but apparently Lego is Danish. When you’re a child though the country in which your favourite plastic bricks are produced is not a primary concern. The place was pretty much a Cathedral for fans of Lego and brought back plenty of great childhood memories. Since I last experimented with Lego things have changed a lot. The range and complexity of the models is vast. You can get anything from a space shuttle or a pirate ship to a racing car or piece of contemporary architecture, although quite which child wants to build the kind of houses you would see on an episode of Grand Designs I’m not sure. Chris and I toyed with the idea of purchasing a model of the Imperial Death Star but it cost around 4,000 DKK (£482) and we didn’t much fancy the idea of carting it around the rest of Europe.

Upon leaving the Lego store the weather decided to take a turn for the worst so we darted into the nearest Café for some refreshments. After finishing our drinks the weather was showing little sign of improvement so we headed back to the hostel for the evening.

Somehow Denmark seems to have created an almost ideal society. My knowledge of the Danish political and economic system is extremely limited so I am not totally sure how they have achieved this. It may have something to do with the extremely high taxation. The highest earners pay 57% income tax, and VAT is charged as a massive 25% which explains why everything is so damn expensive.

Based on what little of the country I have seen everyone seems to be well off. People are well dressed, polite, excessively attractive and would seem to be happy with their lives. I hate to use the term, but the “underclass” and delinquents which we have in Britain don’t seem to exist. Either that or they’ve been hidden away somewhere so the tourists don’t see them.

Whatever Denmark has done Britain should take note. We should certainly copy the Danish economic model and immediately implement it at home.

03/05/2011 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Archives