Friday, 1 February 2013

Scandinavia By Train: Denmark / Sweden January 2013 (Part One)

With apologies to all my Swedish friends and family...

Abba, Volvo, Ikea, Smörgåsbord, blonde people, meatballs and chefs. What do all these things have in common? Yes, that's right, they don't feature in this blog. Well, maybe one or two do, accidentally. The point is, though, that most Brits have a very limited understanding of what Sweden is really like beyond a few easily trotted-out cliches. And we certainly have no idea what Swedish sounds like (clue - it's nothing to do with 'blurgen splurgen flurgen'). Crikey, we can't even pronounce the Swedish words we do know properly. Hands up who read 'Schmore-gers-board' instead of 'Smerr-gorse-bord' a minute ago? Bad, bad people.

I first met Karin (that's 'Car-inn', in case you want to stick with the whole 'pronouncing things properly' malarkey) in 2008, and she moved to the UK to live with me in the summer of 2009, becoming one of more than 25,000 Swedes currently resident here. Yet it took until Spring 2010 before I was allowed to set foot in Sweden itself - almost as if, being from our great and wonderful nation, I would find hers a bit laughable and backwards. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth - however much Dansband music they produce.

Since then, I've made the trip to elk-land so many times that's it's almost a second home to me now (sorry, France) and I've stopped noticing all the things that I found so amusing/interesting on my first trip. Luckily for you lot though, we had a fresh pair of eyes on this trip in the shape of my sister Helen, who was eventually worn down by repeated invitations from Karin's family and put aside her mortal fear of death-by-frostbite to come along and experience Scandinavia for herself.

Scandinavia? Ah yes - here's another thing you may not realise about Sweden, it's ridiculously easy to travel between Sweden, Norway, and Denmark on trains and buses, so for this trip we decided to pay Copenhagen a brief visit on the way over and then carry on to our final destination via what felt like most of Southern Sweden. It all seemed like a good plan on paper. Here's what happened...

Friday 25th January: Surbiton - Kingston-Upon-Thames

Today is all about shopping. Helen's been shopping for this trip for over a week, desperately buying thermal undies, fleeces, gloves, waterproofs and those tennis-racquet type things you strap to the bottom of your shoes in case you have to run away from a Yeti. (Okay, maybe not really those but it wouldn't have surprised me.)

I've been scoffing at her over-preparation up to now, having experienced Swedish winter before and escaping without permanent damage. However, on Thursday night this screenshot of the iPhone weather app for where we're going appears on Facebook, and I start to think there might be something in this 'staying warm' lark.

Mind you, it is the iPhone weather app.
I once asked Apple maps how to get to Kings Cross
station and it directed me to Sydney.

Hence I find myself at Millets in Kingston trying to find two things which are missing from my winter arsenal - a warm and comfy pair of shoes for walking about in snow, and some long johns. I wander down to the shoe section and check out some possible contenders, before hanging about and clearing my throat in a very British way, expecting someone to come and help me. When no help is forthcoming within a few minutes I wander over to the guy by the changing rooms who's been studiously ignoring my subtle signals.

"Hello, can you possibly help me with some shoes?"

"Ahh, I'd love to," he says, "but I'll get fired if I move from this spot."

"Oh," I say. "We wouldn't want that."

"Yeah, sorry, we've had a spate of thefts from the changing rooms so I have to stay here and watch."

"Ok, no problem," I say, looking at him like a cat trying to comprehend Lego. "Have you got any long johns?"

"No, we don't sell long johns," he says, pronouncing each word as if it has sarcastic inverted commas round it, but he can't move his arms to act them out in case he gets fired again. "If you look over there with the ski wear though, we have some thermal base layers."

I wander over to the "thermal base layers", pick up a pair of blue and grey stripey long johns that make me look like a Victorian bather, and get the heck out of this crazy place.

Luckily the fine people of the Cotswold Outdoor company don't have any problems with thefts and so their staff are free to move around as they see fit. A very patient young man is therefore able to spend an hour watching as I try on 6 different pairs of shoes, walk around the shop and check myself out in the mirror more than is probably healthy and eventually settle on a pair of nice, comfy and warm walking shoes, suitable for all terrains but especially city, trail and forest.

As I'm on my way out, he asks where I'm going in them. "Oh, Sweden and Denmark, I'm off tomorrow."

"Isn't the snow there going to be deeper than those shoes?"

"Cheers, bye!", I say as I walk off, trying to pretend I haven't heard him.

Thankfully, it's not quite as snowy this year...

Back home, I lovingly stroke my new purchases before finally starting to pack at about 10pm, not the best plan I've ever had considering that we'll have to get up to drive to Heathrow at 3.30, but it gets done, and I don't forget anything. Unlike Helen, who arrives at getting on for midnight.

"I've forgotten my headphones...."

"Don't worry," I say, "I've got plenty of spares."

"Good. I've also forgotten my glasses and all my spare contact lenses."


Next time: We actually leave the country, I impress everyone with my Danish, we eat more cake than I thought humanly possible and Karin's aunt tells me not to dare come anywhere near her...

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