This month’s column is dedicated to Mike, Kay, Alba, ABBA, and the CIA.
The Obligatory Introduction
(skip this if you only want to read about Sweden)
British Expat’s gardening columnist Mike Clark has followed his own advice and set up a juniper powered whisky still in his shed. The attempt to distil something near the quality of a Glen Ord has failed terribly. Indeed the toxic gases have burned away his modem cable.
For what other explanation can we find for the fact that Mike’s latest article reads “So now it’s September, already”, his phone line is permanently dead, emails are not answered, and Glen Ord has been sold out in the Scottish town of Wick for the whole month of October. [Sod's Law, Hajo. Mike's November column arrived only seconds before yours! The Ed]
So now it’s November, again.
A good month. Month of birth of such past celebrities as Tina Turner, Richard Burton, Whoopi Goldberg and Grace Kelly, such political heavyweights as Winston Churchill and Laura W. Bush (urgh), and wannabe actor Leonardo di Caprio (double urgh). And your humble travel correspondent’s.
And your humble travel correspondent has decided, after a bottle of his beloved Minkoff Premium Vodka, to fill the gap that Mike has left (temporarily, I hope) with his own monthly round of rambling.
It’s a cheap trick. It allows me to evade the pushes of British Expat’s femme fatale, Kay, for ever new travel features, the kind that includes four to five articles, requires years of travel, months of research, weeks to write, and a few seconds to count the reads on.
But I have to warn you. I was born in the wrong place to be a columnist. I am German. Thus by definition I lack humour. I was brought up to the highest standards of Prussian discipline. Which is why I am currently pretending to be sick, so to have spare time for watching TV, playing silly computer games, and writing silly articles.
This new monthly column also allows me to react swiftly to current events and offer my help in cases of emergency. The offer of the month goes to the CIA. I will kindly provide Hajo’s World internet intelligence to trace Al Qaeda terrorists down to their mountain caves in Afghanistan.
Kay has provided me with a powerful tool in the strike against terrorism: Sitemeter. (the little rainbow button at the bottom of my articles which also tells me that none of you British Expats actually read me – does this community really exist?)
Here is my free contribution to the global intelligence war:
On 30 October, at 3:06 pm CET, an internet user (whose IP address and ISP are known to me) accessed one of my Britishexpat articles through Google with the keywords “future warplanes systems magazine”.
The Google search provided the following result: “British Expat online lifestyle magazine – The free online magazine, with loads of wings and avionics systems. Future plans include assembling Russian warplanes.”
Maybe we should think about rebranding British Expat. How about an online shop for MiG spare parts? I might also have to offer my company’s IT security services to British Expat.
Now to my final offer: a brief insight into Sweden’s nature, culture and people – what this month’s column is really about.
It’s actually about a short visit near Stockholm in November 2000 with my sort-of-girlfriend (one of many) Alba from Albania who, I should add for the CIA, is in no way linked to the ethnic Albanian terrorists of the UCK/KLA.
Sweden: Around the capital
I have absolutely no right to write an article about Sweden. Believe me, this time I really don’t have a clue.
All I know about Sweden is based on 21 hours and 20 minutes I spent there between 9.30 a.m. on Saturday, November 18, 2000, arrival of SAS flight 1626 from Düsseldorf, and 6.50 a.m. on Sunday, November 19, departure of SAS flight 401 to Copenhagen.
My friend Alba had invited me to join her for my birthday in a countryside hotel in Bålsta, Uppland county, northwest of Stockholm. Discount the time we spent together in bed and you end up with around ten hours in which I had a chance to actually take a look at this country.
Okay, I do know just a little more about Sweden:
I own a collection of ABBA albums.
I have assembled a dozen IKEA bookshelves.
I have driven a VOLVO. (Do the Swedes only know capital letters?)
I have worked with Swedes.
And I once had a one-night-stand with a Swedish girl, ANNA, in Rome, 1991.
But so have thousands of other blokes, and this would better serve for a link on Adultcheck.com than for an article on Britishexpat. So why would I bother writing a mediocre column about Sweden?
The truth is that in this short period of time I have seen enough to promote Sweden to you and to know that I will come back for a much longer visit. In just one day, Sweden has impressed me with its plentiful nature, sweet little cottages, beautiful lakes and marinas, and its friendly people. And it has provided me with a perfect moment on a wonderful birthday.
But Sweden has also made come true all the clichés I previously had about this country. If I was not the promoter of authentic travel experiences that I am, I would recommend you buy a VOLVO, build your own BJÖRK or SÖREN bookshelf and listen to ABBA, and you have pretty much rounded it up. Little cottages, silent lakes and forests, reindeers, elks and IKEA furniture – this was Sweden in my imagination, and apart from the reindeers and elks, I got to see it all.
Yet one day in Sweden hasn’t made me a armchair traveller. So I will let you into my short, but authentic and wonderful encounter with Sweden. I have done just a little bit of extra research to back up my article, and hope that the editor will let me get away with it. [Research? Here? Shurely shome mistake? The Ed]
Landing in the Middle of Nowhere
STOCKHOLM ARLANDA AIRPORT
Upon landing at Arlanda on a foggy November morning, I thought I had crossed the Arctic circle and landed somewhere in Lapland, as there was absolutely nothing to be seen around. Only trees and fields covered in two inches of snow, no city in sight, not even a few houses. I couldn’t see Stockholm from the air, and in fact I didn’t get to see it throughout my entire visit.
As usual Alba slept long into the day and didn’t show up at the airport as promised. She had told me that she was staying at the Aronsborg Hotel, “in a suburb of Stockholm”. Just to be on the safe side (and knowing the limited geographical capabilities of most women), I called the hotel to ask for a route description. Indeed the “suburb” turned out to be the small town of Bålsta, 35 miles northwest of Stockholm, and 30 miles west of Arlanda Airport. It took the taxi driver five minutes to find Bålsta on a road map before we could finally set off.
The Beauty that Meets the Eye
A ride through UPPLAND county
The taxi ride lasted almost an hour and took me on small roads through endless forests of birch trees and conifers, only occasionally separated by fields, lakes and small villages. And here Sweden immediately caught my imagination: I had to think of dinner at a small countryside cottage, with a beautiful lady near the fireplace, to finish a long day spent fly-fishing at the lake.
The most beautiful sight on my ride to Bålsta were the colourful cottages all along the way. The traditional colour for Swedish country houses is dark red. This colour is made from the copper in which Sweden is rich, and was used to protect the wooden façades from the rough climate. Nowadays a majority of these houses are still in dark red, but you can also find blue and yellow ones. Altogether they help to create a wonderful scenery: sprinkled red, blue and yellow spots in front of green forests and deep blue lakes.
Sorry, I forgot to mention the black VOLVO parked in front of each house.
The End of all Roads
City of BÅLSTA
Our destination, Bålsta, is a town of an estimated 10,000 inhabitants in Uppland county. This part of Sweden is generally not too well known to foreigners, but the county’s capital, Uppsala, may ring a bell. Bålsta lies on the shores of Lake Mälaren, Sweden’s second largest. The town has its own shipyard, harbour, marina and lighthouse. The city centre is a modern but dull collection of apartment houses. There is only one shopping centre and two restaurants.
We did go to one of the restaurants and had a decent fish plate with salmon. The locals at the restaurant’s bar were extremely friendly, almost too friendly indeed. We had hoped for a romantic candle light dinner, but were soon surrounded by half the Bålsta population who invited us to a couple of Swedish lagers, which is almost as good as German beer, I must admit. They don’t get to see many foreigners there, and it took them a while to comprehend that Alba’s home, Albania, is not in Africa.
There was another observation to be made: apparently all the male Bålsta population somewhat resemble BJÖRN and BENNY from ABBA by looks. The voices of FRIDA and AGNETHA were however greatly missed.
To the Lighthouse
Bålsta itself wouldn’t really be worth a visit, if it wasn’t for its beautiful lakeside. Aronsborg marina lies in a small picturesque bay of Lake Mälaren. The yachts and boats are guarded by an old white lighthouse from the top of a hill. The lighthouse has had its best years long ago and now stands deserted between a few old trees, unable to fight the ivy which slowly eats into the old walls. This was the scene for my perfect moment, my very personal birthday present.
A long walk on cold evening in late autumn, with a beautiful girl at my side. A strong wind, painfully blowing into our ears. The setting sun, sending arrows of red light to our eyes. Small Swedish family houses, exuding the scent of a hot dinner prepared with love. Tiny fishing boats dancing on the soft tide of the lake. And overlooking the scene, the old lighthouse, mightily withstanding the cold winds and giving shelter to the tiny bay below, maybe for the last time before it gives in to decay.
Had this scene taken place one hundred years earlier, it would have had to be captured on canvas by French impressionists Edouard Manet or Claude Monet. And had Sweden not already gained my love on the way to Bålsta, then this would have done it for me. This is the ultimate place to relax, reflect, imagine, and create.
An IKEA Showroom by the Lake
ARONSBORG Hotel & Conference Centre
A five-minute walk uphill from the marina lies Aronsborg Hotel & Conference Centre. The Aronsborg is an extensive convention centre with facilities for over four hundred guests. These include two large conference halls and around fifty meeting rooms.
The hotel is separated from the rest of the centre by a small park. There are around two hundred rooms which are rather small, but nicely furnished in light conifer woods, with full ensuite facilities. The interior of the hotel and conference centre resembles the exhibition rooms of IKEA catalogues. There we are again.
There are extensive sport facilities, too, including a soccer field, miniature golf course, indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym, billiards, darts and a jogging trail passing through little oak forests and apple orchards. For meals and drinks, there are two restaurants, three cafes and a bar. For around £60 per person per day it is not cheap, but just fitted our budget.
What’s left to say (with ABBA)?
Mamma Mia, what a super trouper weekend.
Take a chance on me, Alba, honey honey. Voulez vous?
Thank you for the music.