Sunday, 28 June 2015

Scandinavian Quick Hits

Here are some quick hits gleaned from our first few days in the Nordic countries.

* They may seem like peace-loving and tolerant people today, but their history belies their current status. These countries were constantly at war with one another and there still exists a fierce rivalry. Our guide today in Gothenburg was quick to point out all of the times that the Danes invaded Sweden and destroyed their city over the past four centuries, making special note of their use of fire. I am now firmly convinced that the Danes have a pyromaniacal gene that seems to follow them from palace burnings to maraudings.

* Nobody seems to want Norway. It was first owned by the Danes, but as a condition of surrender during one of their many battles, it was handed over to the Swedes. The poor Norwegians seemed to ping pong back and forth throughout he centuries until finally declaring their own independence. They did get the last laugh, though. Norway is the only Scandanavian country with off-shore oil, making them independently wealthy. The Swedes, stupidly forgoing the Norwegian offer to share, had to settle for Volvo. (Headquartered in Gothenburg.)

* The Swedes take tremendous pride in their heritage, so much so that even the inside of their churches are designed in a style known here as Romantic Nationalism. We saw one today in Gothenburg called Masthuggs that was designed around a Viking ship on the ceiling.

* These are self-deprecating and funny people. The weather here today was cruddy, but we were told by our guide that Sweden always tries to be accommodating to her visitors by giving them an authentic Swedish experience. It is also amazing that the skies cleared for the one hour we were on a Paddan canal tour and the sun shone brightly. (Paddan is a Swedish word meaning toad. These open air boats travel leisurely through the canals and gave us so marvellous views of the old-world European charm of the city.) That's because, according to our guide Ingela, we were only allotted a single hour of sunshine and that was the hour chosen. Her comedy was very much in tune with our Canadian sense of humour.

* The people of Gothenburg worship fish. I'm not kidding. They actually say that. Worship. The fishing industry here dates back centuries and is still quite prominent today. They have even named their central fish market the Fish Church and have designed the building to resemble a cathedral. In my next life, I think that I might like to worship bees. They are communal creatures who all work together for the good of the collective. The bee is essential to the entire food chain. It seems a much more impressive creature to worship rather than a fish, but this is Sweden.

* Everything here is based on stories or legends. It's difficult to know where the truth ends and the fiction begins. An example: Looking out over the harbour in Gothenburg, stands a sculpture known as the Sailor's Wife. She was erected as a memorial to the seven-hundred sailors who perished during the First World War. It is said that she is looking out toward the ocean waiting for her beloved to return. But...she isn't really facing the ocean, but rather the island on the other side of the canal. Gossips insist that she is actually pining for her lover who lived on the island, rather than for her husband. See? Legends.

* We watched the sunset last evening at 10:45. That was magical.

A leisurely afternoon aboard ship while we prepare for a huge day ahead tomorrow in Berlin.

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