Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler

The Journey Home and Back

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

My journey home began on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:27 AM in Gothenburg, Sweden. While we were in Bad Pyrmont, Simon Kolle gave a lot of his time to helping me get a train ticket from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. The plan was that we would explore south Sweden after which the guys would drop me off in Copenhagen, and then head back into Sweden to see Stockholm and catch their ferry to Estonia. Unfortunately, the only bridge from Denmark to Sweden costs € 30 to cross each time, meaning they would pay € 60 to drive from Sweden to Copenhagen and back to Sweden. We found a train that made the crossing for less than half that price.

From Gothenburg to Copenhagen took 3 1/2 hours. The trip from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was a little over 9 hours, leaving me at Frankfurt-Am-Maine a little after 9:00 PM. My flight went out at 12:05 PM the next day. During the next 15 hours I read, ate lots of McDonald’s, slept fitfully for 2 1/2 hours, read some more and had a pleasant conversation with 2 other Americans returning to the U.S.. My Canadian passport gave me no problems abroad until I tried to re-enter my home country. I had several moments where I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in, at least not in time for the wedding. Happily everything was resolved and my flight touched down in Pittsburgh at 9:16 PM. By the time I arrived home it was past midnight, making the entire journey around 48 hours long, once Europe’s 6 hour time difference is taken into account.

It was amazing to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A.. Though reconnecting with loved ones was the best part of coming home, I spent a great deal of time pursuing less noble pleasures that are in-feasable or impossible on a trip bound by a limited budget. I slept on a comfortable couch (My bed being taken by guests visiting for the wedding), took showers as often as I wished, ate piles of food when ever I wanted, and drank gallons of Mt. Dew (Which is not sold in Europe). Yet the time with friends and family was the highlight of my brief stay. I spent most of my time with my wonderful fiance, Emily, though other highlights include watching and playing basketball with my friends. My sister Marina’s wedding, the entire reason for my return, was worth the effort and expense involved in attending. It was also good to see one of my best friends, Andrew, and a close cousin, Darren, just before they left on long journeys of their own.

The week passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, flying to catch the plane before it left at 3:15 PM. The flight to Frankfurt was almost disappointingly non-eventful, landing an hour early at 8:35 AM. A bit after 10:00 I started catching local trains (Instead of the far more expensive ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin where I would rendezvous with Dan, Matt and David. As I sat alone on the trains I found myself missing home quite severely. My train came into Berlin Hbf at 7:46 PM. The return trip lasted a merciful 33 hours. My home sickness faded somewhat when I was reunited with the guys and we explored the streets of Berlin, passing the Reichstag, Brandonburg Gate, and walking along the path where the Berlin Wall once stood guard over Communist east Berlin. I had so much to see and home would be waiting for me at the end.

My brief interlude in the U.S. taught me several important things; even McDonalds is delicious if its the first American food you have had in a month; contrary to what I have staunchly believed my entire life, I actually enjoy Coke; I need more than my driver’s license to re-enter the U.S. with a Canadian passport; no matter how amazing your journey is and how memorable your experiences are abroad, returning, in the end, to the comfort, love and security of home trumps all. But that will come in due time! For the moment, keep us all in your prayers as we continue to see the world!

Daniel Shenk

On a Boat

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Our ferry ride from Stockholm left Thursday (05/28) at 1745 from the main port. We had visited the ferry port twice on the preceding two days, first just after they closed and second while they were opened and we purchased our tickets. We had spent our day downtown and had a bit of a rush to get through the crowded city streets to the port in time for our 1645 boarding time. We did make it, however, and, exactly at 1645 checked in and were ushered onto the boat.

Our room was on the 8th deck and was about as small as a railway cabin. Just enough room for four fold-down beds, a corner toilet/shower room and a tiny desk attached to the wall. We got all our stuff in, including our foul-smelling bag of dirty laundry and Matt began washing his stuff. We had hoped against hope that there wouldn’t be a fourth person in our cabin, for his sake. David and I went out to explore the ship and Matt kept washing.

The boat was huge. It looked like a cruise ship. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen a few in harbor and this looked almost exactly like one of those, except it was a bit smaller and didn’t have a climbing wall. It did have a spa, a casino, an arcade, two restaurants, a fast-food joint, a night club, a disco, and free (but slow) wifi. It also had three decks of rooms and two decks of car and truck parking.

I got back to the room and checked in on Matt who was soaking wet, had his shirt off, music playing in the shower and had the bathroom full of clothes hanging off the the two bed ladders he had wedged above the sink. He said our cabin-mate had showed up and greeted Matt with an expectedly shocked expression, dropped off his stuff and left.

Dan and David showed up a few minutes later just as the captain of the ship was making an announcement in Estonian. Not long after our cabin-mate showed up again and introduced himself as Rauno and, after we had apologized for the smell in the cabin, we all sat down and talked. As we talked, one-by-one each of us would disappear into the shower for a few minutes to wash ourselves and our clothes and, within a few hours the rooms scent had improved drastically and we were all much cleaner. We had learned quite a bit about Rauno, as well in his very good, although not perfect English–he said he has never learned Swedish or Norwegian so gets plenty of practice speaking English.

Rauno is in his mid thirties and works as a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Sweden and Norway for seven or eight months out of the year, with a visit home every few weeks. He has a family in Voru, Estonia, a wife and two little girls who live in a small, two-room apartment and he has been in the process of building a house for the past 5 years and expects to be done with it by the end of the summer. He is a pleasant, peaceful fellow. Soft-spoken with short, thinning hair, a ready smile and a gentle demeanor.

Over our shared peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and his drinking yoghurt–delicious, real yoghurt with live cultures–we learned about his work history. Back when Estonia was under Soviet control, Rauno studied welding in the state university. After graduating, however, he was unable to find a job and so he began working at a logging camp. For several years he drove a 25-ton Soviet, treaded tractor pulling a large rake. His job was to follow after the clear-cutting of the loggers and rake all of the branches into rows to be collected and mulched. He said he hated that job. The cabin of the tractor was open to the air and temperatures could hit -20ºC and he was dropped off in the middle of the forest at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end.

After working as a logger for long enough, Rauno said “I looked around and realised that this is a s**t job. So, I told my boss ‘I quit’ and didn’t come back the next day.” After that, he picked up some jobs as an electrician before finally settling into carpentry around the time Estonia joined the EU. Rauno told us about how work is unavailable is in Estonia and how great it is to be able to travel to other EU countries where there is work–in his case Sweden and Norway. He said that for the past several years he has had to find work outside Estonia and, while that’s not ideal for him and his family, he is willing to do it and is very glad for the work.

From all he told us he is a hard worker, willing to do almost anything to get a job done right. When we explained to him what we were up to and how we were living on the road, he told us about working in Norway right before Christmas when he and two of his friends worked in a house 500 meters away from the outhouse, with no heat and the only source of water next to the outhouse. He said they went weeks without showers, we could sympathize, although it hasn’t gotten quite that bad for us.

During this entire time he seemed completely unfazed by the fact that we were washing our clothes and had then hanging all over the room, even helping us set up the ladders to make a great drying rack. I felt a bit self-conscious for imposing on him so greatly, but he truly did not seem to mind and seemed to enjoy hanging out with us as well. After a few hours we had finished washing our clothes and ourselves and we all dispersed to hang out throughout the ship.

It was nice to get a bit of time to get out of each others hair, and on a ship that big there was plenty of space. David found a quiet corner and read for a while and Matt got on the internet and got some personal correspondence and photo uploading done. After I had been doing a bit of reading in our room (Dune by Frank Herbert), Rauno walked in and we started talking. He asked me about the book I was reading and I described it for him then asked him what type of reading he does. He said he doesn’t have a lot of time to read, but when he gets time, he’s in the middle of a book on Yoga by an Estonian guru.

The subject of Yoga got us talking about religion and the bad parts and false parts and real parts. He believes in God but dislikes the word God so he calls Him The Absolute. He also doesn’t really appreciate most organized religions, but believes that all of them have some good in them, particularly when it comes to moral law. I discussed the origins of morality and the origins of sin, the origins of the world and the end of our lives. He seemed to have an almost Christian view of the afterlife, but the method for getting there is through conquering our will through our own means. In a way his faith was Christianity without Christ. Doing good, loving your brother, living a good life, trying to not sin so you can get to heaven, but without Christ or the Holy Spirit. He seemed to be very thoughtful and seeking and I enjoyed our conversation and hope I left him with a bit of understanding of the religion I’ve embraced.

Rauno and I talked until after 2300 and he went off to find a friend of his to try to get a ride to his hometown the next day and I went to find Matt and David to see what they were up to. That evening at 2330 was a cabaret show in the nightclub involving lots of glitter, crazy costumes and top hats. David, Matt and Rauno went and watched at least part of that. According to David and Matt, “The show was laughably ridiculous, especially since it seemed like it would have been better suited to Las Vegas than Estonia.”

In the meantime, I started working on the website. When I got up after a bit to borrow Matt’s room key to go get a snack of some jørdnotters–delicious and relatively cheap salted, roasted peanuts we had found in Stockholm–I found Matt taking pictures at the ship’s dance floor and soon joining in with the dancing. The music was live and performed in about 15 different styles by a group of 4 guys and a synthesizer. The event was quite a spectacle.

Anyway, I returned to the computer and spent the evening working on pictures, maps, etc. for the website and doing a bit of chatting with my homies and Rachel. Since we had the free internet readily available, we decided to make the best of it so I ended up staying up quite late getting quite a bit done (you may have noticed around that time a number of improvements to the site, if anyone was keeping track). That evening I felt like a fly on the wall of the ship’s nightlife.

I was sitting in the little fast-food area–which was open 24 hours a day–so I could see people coming and going through that area. At about 0100 there was a group of about 5 drunk truck-drivers sitting around eating burgers, hotdogs, and fries and talking in Swedish. After about half an hour they left and for the next hour or so I was alone with my headphones in listening to Flight of the Conchords and enjoying the quiet. Then, a shriek of anger, three people yelling and a man, sobbing loudly threw open the door to the sundeck and stormed into the drizzly night. A few minutes later three people–two who appeared to be a couple and another girl, apparently his friends–followed him rather timidly on deck. Some quiet murmuring outside and they returned with the angry fellow meekly holding the hand of the previously unattached girl. They disappeared down the hall and all was quiet again.

At 0130 the last glimmer of the sun finally disappeared from the horizon and, except for the distant thudding of a drum, the thrumming of the engine and the slight whistle of the wind, the night was quiet. At 0240 my peaceful evening was once again shattered by three of the same truck drivers from before, but this time they were more drunk and, therefore, louder. They ordered another round of fast food and beers and laughed and spoke slurred Swedish to each other for another half hour, then disappeared again. At about that time, the two couples with the anger issues from earlier came back, although they had apparently solved their issues and seemed rather drugged on a combination of beer and hormones, they left shortly after arriving. The sun began to glimmer again at about 0245.

I kept working and listening, now to several NPR podcasts from before we left. 0300 came around and the disco drums grew a bit quieter and fewer people passed up and down the stairs and the sun grew stronger just over the horizon. By 0330 I was nearing the end of my work on the slow internet and appreciating the quiet of the evening, then the largest and hairiest of the truck drivers stumbled into the cafeteria, placed his order loudly, and stumbled over to a table with a burger and another beer and apparently enjoyed them. After him, a man and his two Estonian women in way too-short skirts came in, ordered drunkenly, and, with an excessive amount of making out and feeling up, joined the truck driver to eat their meals and drink their beers.

I went to bed at at 0400 having accomplished a significant amount and rested comfortably the rest of the night. At 0930 we all woke up, packed up, said goodbye to Rauno and made our way to the car. We were separated at the packed elevator and Matt, who took the next one ended up on the wrong floor. David went to move the car while I went to hunt Matt down. Before I could find him, however, I found a lost looking Estonian man who begged me in German for help opening a locked door to the car area. I couldn’t help him open it, but I did show him where another door was. I went out, talked to David, got my passport (Matt had his on him) and told David to go ahead and drive out because the trucks were waiting for him to get out of their way.

While David did that I went hunting for Matt and found him just a few minutes later. We walked off the pedestrian ramp, at every point looking for a way to get back to the car before customs, then walked through customs without stopping (Thank you EU!), made our way to to the ground where we found ourselves separated from David by a high fence. We motioned to him and after a bit he drove out to us. Matt and I hopped in and off we went.

This was the longest boat ride of my life and, although there were several portions of it that made me slightly uncomfortable–mainly the entertainment and several of the other passengers–I enjoyed the ride.

Daniel Z

Badgers and Babies

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I (David) got up Tuesday morning, May 26, and saw only one Dan sleeping in the car so I assumed the delivery had been a success. Matt made some porridge while I took down the tent; we let Dan (Ziegler) sleep due to his early morning chauffer service. After a late breakfast I tried to do some sleeping bag repair because my stuff sack and actual sleeping bag’s stitching wasn’t holding up very well. I don’t pretend to moonlight as a tailor and it showed. I had quite a battle with the needle and thread, but I eventually conquered them. I also lined the stitching on the bottom of my stuff sack inside and out with duct tape to curtail any other potential tears.

We then headed east across Sweden toward Stockholm but stopped by Lake Vattern when we saw a ruined fortress on top of a steep embankment that we wanted to climb. On te way up we saw a spot where scrambling up a vertical rock face would be necessary; Matt and Dan decided to try it, but I didn’t think my ankle could handle it so I stayed on the path. (In February I broke my leg several inches above the ankle and also tore almost all the ligaments that connect my foot to my ankle and leg. I needed surgery to repair the damage.) This was really the first time this trip that my bum ankle has kept me from doing something that I really wanted to do. I made it to the fortress quite a while before Matt and Dan, so I looked out over the lake and the local farms and waited out the rain under a large window frame.

After our hike hiatus, we went to Stockholm to try to secure ferry tickets to Tallinn, Estonia, but the terminal closed 15 minutes before we arrived. We got some groceries as we headed out of Stockholm, and when we stopped at a rest stop to make supper, I realized my money clip containing 300 kroner (about €30) and, much more importantly, the group debit card wasn’t in my pocket. I re-checked my pockets twice and then we searched the car without success. I had it at the grocery store, but ended up using a bunch of change to finish paying our bill. I assumed that I left my money clip on the counter but wasn’t sure (you never are if you lose something). The store was already closed so we decided that our only real option was to wait until the morning and check the store for the card. We made supper north of Uppsala and while we were eating supper on a picnic table (under natural light at 11:00), we heard a rustling behind us. We turned around and saw a badger running in the opposite direction. Dan and I ran after him to try to get a better view of it and we saw it run along a path. We were both quite excited! We had both always wanted to see a wild badger, but had never been able to fulfill our desire…until now. Cross that one off our bucket list.

After supper we enjoyed a delicious pineapple for desert and found a camping spot. The next morning we headed to the ferry terminal first and procured tickets for the following afternoon. We then went to the grocery store and described the card to the manager. He disappeared into a small room and came back with the card and the 300 kroner. Seeing the card lifted a huge weight off my chest and I suddenly felt light and carefree. We thanked God for answering our prayers.

We spent the rest of the day in Uppsala, north of Stockholm. We first visited Old Uppsala, the portion of town that dated back to the 12th century. We found a model of a farm from that time period and had fun arranging the toy animals in odd places around the farm—like cows on the roof and in the tree. (It was good to reconnect with our inner child: we would have amused ourselves in the exact same way 15 years ago.) We then found some croquet equipment, Matt set up an irregular course, and we played a quick game. After our fun, we decided we were done with Old Uppsala and headed into the real city to see the largest church in Scandanavia. Quite a few of the Swedish Kings are buried there and it is still used for some official state functions. It is a Lutheran Church, as 87% of Swedes are nominally Lutheran, but it is a largely symbolic relationship for a large majority of the population.

We spent the night north of Uppsala again and went down to Stockholm on Thursday morning. We found a parking spot that also gave us a WiFi connection so we could use the internet. Dan and I went and saw the Stockholm City Museum (it had nice bathrooms) and made it down to the “Old Town” before we had to turn around to meet Matt for lunch. When we got to the car we saw Matt watching school children playing soccer across the road. Soon he asked to play with them and was running around with a bunch of ten-year-olds.

For lunch we wanted to experience Swedish meatballs and fish. We found a restaurant that had both of these dishes as daily specials and ordered a dish of both. We also got some salads and delicious bread with our meal. The dishes came out and I discovered that none of us enjoy fish (we got it for the cultural experience) and the dish also contained prawn and a small lobster. At least the meatball dish looked (and was) delicious. The fish itself was actually pretty good, but we all took a prawn and examined them as we tried to determine the best way to eat them. Suddenly Dan looked up with a quizzical and slightly squeemish face and declared, “It has babies.” Sure enough, his prawn had a buch of little prawnletts on it underside. Eventually Dan worked up the courage to eat not only the prawn, but also the babies (thus ignoring his personal moral code to abstain from eating babies).

After lunch we had to get to the ferry terminal, which proved to be quite difficult and included driving through a pedestrian only zone (we did follow a taxi, so I don’t know if it was illegal), and anticipated seeing the Balkan nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that were only a boat ride away.

david miller

Norway and Early Mornings

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

We left Sunday evening (05/24) just around midnight and headed north along the coast. The sunlight glimmered in the sky until almost 0030 and by 0230 it was starting to get light. By the time we stopped at about 0330, it was almost full light. We slept at a nice little rest stop alongside the road and woke up the next morning sorted through all our stuff getting Dan S’s things packed and all the stuff the rest of us were sending back to our families and friends via his mail service.

We set off north again a few hours later and made it to Norway soon, passing the border with no problem and then began looking for the nearest train station so that we could get the schedule worked out for Dan’s train trip to Frankfurt connecting through Copenhagen. Pulling off the highway, Matt talked to the first group of people we saw. About 7 or 8 older men sitting around a round table enjoying a lunch and it just so happened that one of the men lived right near the train station and was leaving just then, so he offered to lead us there. We followed him into Halden and and found the station. Chalk up another friendly European.

After we worked out the details, we happened to notice a pretty neat castle/fort nearby called Fredriksten and went and explored it for free. It was huge, and pretty neat. Apparently the castle had been there for centuries protecting the town and port of Halden. We had lunch outside the fort and then kept pressing north. Just before we entered Oslo, we found a large sign with lots of writing on it that described a toll to be paid, but there were no toll booths! Apparently, after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out the sign we decided that there were 3 ways to pay: You could have a special transmitter with your billing information (which we didn’t have) or you could go to a special place and pay (which we didn’t want to do) or you could wait and they would mail the bill to you. So, we went for the last one. I expect to receive a bill from Oslo, but to tell you the truth I’m not sure what to do with it.

Anyway, we drove into the city without much traffic our trouble and parked near a gigantic stone wall. We had no idea what it was but after walking for several kilometers we eventually came to a small gate and walked inside. Apparently it was the fort built to protect the harbor of Oslo and is now a museum and park. After exploring it for a bit we went into the city center itself passing the harbor (well-protected by the fort) on the way along with significant amounts of electric car parking–complete with electric cars parked.

Oslo did not impress us much with its architecture or its sculptures–we decided that there must have been a period in Oslo’s history where no one wore clothes and that was when all the statues had been made–but it did impress us with its weather. Everyone was outside sunbathing and it was the warmest day we had experienced on our trip, despite being the farthest north we had been on our trip so far. Dan, David, and Matt went and saw the city cathedral and the palace which were nice, but we’ve become a bit jaded by palaces and cathedrals. Really kind of a disappointing thing, but in in Europe it seems that every city has a cathedral and every other city has a palace so it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen them all once you’ve seen the first 100.

I saw the city hall which was nice and wandered the streets a bit enjoying the nice weather and checking out the cool Nordic sweaters, the cheapest of which cost the equivalent of $300. A short time later we met back at the car and, after snacking on some apples, headed back south. We got into Gothenburg–where we had enjoyed the internet and a wharf the day before–that evening and Dan and I went to purchase his train tickets.

The information center closed 5 minutes early and we were there 3 minutes before the time it was supposed to close, so we were sorely disappointed and on our own to try to buy his ticket from a little Swedish kiosk. We did succeed, however, the entire time being offered advice by Johan, a Swedish welder who had apparently enjoyed a few powerful beverages earlier in the evening. He offered us advice on everything from where to stay–”You can stay in my garage! It’s free!”–where we should be visiting–”You gotta stay down south, man. It’s ******* **** up here. You gotta go to Amsterdam. That place is ******* awesome”–and how we should be entertaining ourselves–Ladies and Drink. We turned him down on all of his information, but he didn’t really pose a threat and was quite a nice fellow. He smiled and waved rather tipsily as Dan and I (tickets in hand) left the station entreating him to be careful on his way home.

Meanwhile, Matt had gone to check out the local U21 football game where the locals beat the opponents soundly. After the game, the crowds flowed raucously out of the stadium carrying Matt with them in their joy. Dan, David, and I waited for Matt and eventually he arrived having enjoyed the experience greatly.

We went out of town that evening and slept in a forest near the airport; Dan and I in the car and David and Matt in the tent. The next morning at about 0430 Dan and I left for the train station and I successfully dropped him off about an hour later. He cut quite the striking figure in his lumberjack jacket, shaggy head, and with a large Viking sword slung across his back in a duct-tape scabbard. I returned to the campsite and a few hours later was woken to some delicious Scott’s porridge Matt and David had prepared.

Daniel Z

The Fall of Denmark to Popcorn

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

May 22, I (Matt) self-consciously sang for the Kolles and the youth group on speakerphone and we made our exit with many heartfelt thanks, our sights set on Denmark. Our stomachs were full of delicious ice cream and dinner. Our car was roadworthy with new brake rotors, new oil, and new(er) tires. Our roofbox was securely locked to the top of the car. Our new friends were waving goodbye. As we left Bad Pyrmont, Ziegler summarized my thoughts in mentioning how refreshing it had been to enjoy the company of new friends, especially female friends. The four of us are good friends and all, but honestly, the testosterone levels are quite unbalanced.

Ziegler, the intrepid driver that he is, manned the helm into the night while we entertained ourselves until falling asleep. I woke briefly around 2 am as we pulled into a rest stop. We rose the next morning almost 30 km from the Denmark border. Eat a breakfast bar and we’re off. Denmark excited some of us more than others; for Ziegler it would be only his second country he would enter for the first time. It would be my seventh. My excitement is fairly constant here in Europe. Imagine our horror, then, when we missed the sign that signified the border. Undaunted, we chose to drive north and take bridges to Denmark’s Zealand island and Copenhagen, rather than ferry across the Baltic Sea. Still on the mainland, I was struck with the view from one bridge we crossed. While the guys in the car rolled their eyes, I blazed a trail through the woods down to the bridge. I got a few photos of the bridge, the river district and a carnival below, and some much needed exercise. Apparently walking along Danish roads is illegal because multiple cars honked at me. I gave the thumbs up back.

On the road again, we arrived in Copenhagen after crossing much more impressive bridges across the Baltic Sea. Shenk expressed disappointment in missing them, but he was subconscious in the backseat. We parked by a canal through downtown and David and I located an ATM machine. With cash we bought a pay-and-display parking ticket for an hour. We spent a little over an hour in the National Museum, a celebration of Danish history (and how far they have fallen). Whereas they once controlled Norway, Iceland, a fourth of Germany, and half of Sweden, they now kind of own Greenland. The fascinating museum traced the peoples of Denmark through prehistoric, stone, bronze, iron, and the modern (Christian) ages. Danes from the Stone Age (apparently 2.9 million years ago to 2,000-3,000 BC) were documented through the optimal conditions of the area’s bogs and burial mounds. People and animal remains have been pretty extensively preserved for thousands of years, down to clothing, hair, and the tools that define the age. With developments in tool production and trade, the Bronze Age and Iron Age lasted until around 800 AD. Then the cool guys showed up. Viking is the the Norse term for raiding, pillaging, vandalizing, plundering, and ravaging; as it became the Danish foreign policy, the amount of wealth in gems, gold, and silver skyrocketed. Going a viking meant placidly navigating the open seas, friendly bartering with the townspeople, capturing women’s hearts with passionate love ballads, and drinking large amounts of Diet Coke. Olaf the Viking was on a boat. And, as the youngster say these days, he was making bank. Then he got Jesus and both his people’s love for the ornate and their empire only grew. The museum regrettably closed at five, before I could uncover how they had lost all that land. Presumably, it was their forfeiture of the viking foreign policy. We all heartily agreed the exhibits to have been worth the money we paid (nothing) and more.

We returned to our car for an apple snack. The door had been left unlocked. Thankfully, the vikings hadn’t raided or even vandalized. Next we checked out the main walking thoroughfare, a broad pedestrian path down the center of the city, lined with shops. We were most surprised by the frequency of American stores. We would walk past a Burger King and another two blocks later and then another. Déjà vu or something. I kid you not, we passed four 7-11 convenience stores in a kilometer. How low the Vikings have fallen. Along the route, we passed a street performance of Native American music. Three men, two of seeming South American decent, were dressed in full fringed regalia, stomping and playing panflutes and drums to decidedly non-Danish music. It was just our luck to travel halfway around the world for some Native American music.

We made our exit into Sweden to camp for the night, less like Native Americans and more like backpacking bums. The Swedes have loose (read: awesome) rules on camping; it’s legal on public land as long as it’s done some ambiguous distance from private land. We stopped at a grocery store in Landskrona; David and Ziegler sought provisions. We had decided that we would need a bigger pot to cook soups for the four of us, and we hoped to find one there. They did, and it was cheap. Out of the pots, they uncovered one missing a handle on its lid and asked about discounts for inperfections. Originally 140 Swedish Krona (14 Euro), they paid 100 (10 Euro) for a gleaming new pot (sans handle). Besides a loaf of bread and vegetable oil, they also made another wonderful find: popcorn. I had joined them in the checkout line (after befuddling a clerk by entering the wrong way) and the three of us walk triumphantly from the store. On the way out we passed a bar and a dance floor. There a dozen Swedes were line-dancing to country music with 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots. America won’t stop following us. (As I type this, we’re driving through Dresden a day after Obama’s visit. Weird.) Following a long lane outside Landskrona, we found an ideal camping spot surrounded by trees and fields. To celebrate the new member of our group, we used the pot to cook pasta and our first toast per David’s suggestion. We retired after the satisfying meal, Shenk and David in a tent while Ziegler and I shared the car.

Sunday morning we returned to the town and a Catholic church. We could somewhat follow along with the same liturgical service though we couldn’t understand the Swedish sermon. As far as the Catholic services I’ve attended, it was a pretty welcoming of the four disheveled foreigners that morning. As we left, the priest thanked us in poor English for “worshiping together.” The small church also housed the largest amount of modern art we had ever seen in a Catholic church. Most was obviously symbolic if quite abstract. The art made me wonder if they were the products of a local artist or member of the congregation and reminded me of worship services at home. We drove on and spent the next ten or so hours in Gothenburg, taking turns borrowing local Internet access and maintaining personal correspondences. When not using the computer, we busied ourselves by reading, writing, exploring the city center, and cooking food. As our first major meal with the new pot, we prepared a feast. Near the car’s parking spot near a city canal, Ziegler set up the stove and cooked soup and our last bag of Ramen noodles. (Never fear, however, we restocked the other day, thanks to Shenk.) We also popped our first batch of popcorn. Delicious. Speaking of which, I think we should eat popcorn tonight . . . more on that later.


Mountains and Soccer

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I suppose it’s because I’m the youngest and most harmless looking of the group, but I (Matt) am often the one sent to ask locals for directions. The claim of harmlessness may be questioned but let’s be perfectly honest, I stand 5′6″ and weighed only 139 pounds before the trip. Also, I can grow nothing more than peach fuzz. I even struggle with pronunciations. Needless-to-say, these limited interactions make interesting stories. On the British Isles, at least I could be understood. Admittedly, I asked one Irish man to repeat his directions three times before I understood his thick accent. I have spoken with several people on the mainland who understood only limited English and it’s always a strange dance. My first experience of this was with the young illustrator in Pontoise, France (see my Paris blog). We both experienced the awkward pauses as we tried to remember the right English words to express ourselves. Several times we understood each other before we found those words. I have no excuse; English is my first language but I still struggle to guess which words foreigners will understand. The same phenomenon occurred with the youth group in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. I’m learning how much I can pick up through inflection and body language. It’s such a wonderful experience to share the train of thought with someone so that you know what they mean to say before the say it.

When asking for directions, I generally encounter people with even less knowledge of English. We followed one man in his car about 7 km in Norway after I he had spoken only one word of English to me. I had asked for directions at a roadside restaurant and one man had understood my question for the nearest train station. “Friend going to Halden.” The men exchanged some words and then the latter pointed to his car then to me. “Follow.” Just yesterday we followed another man while looking for the highest point in Estonia. When I couldn’t make myself understood to a local, he pointed one direction and said, “Latvia.” I shook my head. “Rouge [Estonia],” pointing the opposite direction. I nodded emphatically. “Son. English,” he said and motioned us to follow him. We drove into Rouge but never did find this “Son.” I found a grocery store manager who only knew Estonian and one English word, mountain. I am still not sure how she knew what I meant when, in searching for a way to convey our intentions of seeing the highest point in Estonia, I tried the word. There are positively no mountains in Estonia. The highest point we found was 296 meters above sea level. In any case, she ended up outside the grocery store , kneeling beside me and tracing the roads we should follow in the dirt. Apparently, finding the “mountain” meant a few turns and the rightmost road when one branched into three.

Friday afternoon in Stockholm, I tired of waiting for the guys to return for exploring the town so I walked over to a nearby school and approached one of the adults monitoring the recess yard. “American, can I join?” pointing to the dozen or so boys playing soccer. He hadn’t heard me correctly and somehow asked thought I was from Barcelona. I almost played along since their soccer team had won the Champions League final the night before. I expressed regret that I couldn’t speak Swedish and the man laughed. “That’s okay, football is international.” I had a blast madly running around with the boys and met Gabriel and Carlos, two boys on the Cubs, the team that drafted my services. We made an impressive combo; we held the other team scoreless and I served up an assist to Carlos who placed the ball in the net with a smart flick of his Crocs. High-fives all around. We hit it off and they ran inside after the end of recess yelling behind them, “You awesome!” “No, no,” I grinned, “You!” Some things need very little shared language to be communicated.