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Sunday, August 19, 2007, in Gothenburg, Sweden

Hi everyone. We’re in Gothenburg, Sweden, not very far at all from the Hallberg-Rassy boatyard.

Last week, we had arrived in Malmö, a port city that faces Copenhagen, and is one end of the new Öresund bridge that connects Denmark and Sweden. Our tour through town began with a walk to the big square, Störtorget. The old city of Malmö is surrounded by a canal (or more accurately, a moat.) The square was designed by Jörgen Kock, Malmö's powerful mayor and master of the mint. In the center of the square is an imposing equestrian statue of King Karl X Gustav, who took the region Skåne back for Sweden from the Danes in 1658. King Karl was an imposing figure himself, appearing almost as broad as his horse. The square is grand and surrounded by impressive buildings, including the Town Hall, from 1546, an old apothecary that’s still in use, and the home of Mayor Kock, which now houses one of the finest restaurants in town in its cellar.

The pedestrian shopping street was quiet, it being Sunday. American retailers would be amazed that the shops aren’t open on Sunday, while would-be customers walk up and down the streets without the chance to shop. We found a restaurant for lunch and discovered an English-language tour at the old castle that was perfectly timed for that afternoon.

The castle was begun as a fortification in 1436 by Eric of Pomerania, and later expanded, particularly from 1537-1542 by the Danish king Christian III. Life in the castle wasn’t the aristocratic haven one might think. Among other tidbits of contemporary life, we learned that toilet facilities of wood were built out of the exterior walls of upstairs floors like bird cages, and that waste simply dropped from them into the moat below. Knives and spoons were the only utensils they used. In a single state banquet, perhaps two thousand glasses might be broken. We also found that many a dinner guest, required to partake of large portions of many courses, discovered that he could tickle his throat with a feather and, well, make room for the next course. And I always thought that Kate Moss invented bulimia.

The castle later served as a prison, its most famous detainee Lord Bothwell, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. He apparently stayed in the quarters previously occupied by the king, but was later moved to a different facility because he insisted that an evil black cat was taunting him every night. Rumor is that they later found scratch marks and paw marks around his chambers.

There’s often humor in Scandinavian museums. In this one, there was a stuffed black cat that’s on display in one of the gun rooms (with painted paw marks leading to the alcove). Then there was the guard. I walked by a small guard station in the stairwell when we went to the second floor. I thought that it was strange that the guard’s monitor only showed us walking alongside his guard station, and no other perspectives around the castle. I didn’t take a good look at the guard himself until the tour was over and we retraced our steps. Then I noticed that the guard was one of those dressed-up mannequins that you see in museum dioramas.

Several other museums resided in this building, and we had a quick look at the aquarium, the natural history collection, and the state museum before we walked back through the town and returned to the boat.

We joined a dinner on the dock hosted by several of the nearby restaurants. It was a shrimp festival, a plate of boiled shrimp, served with their roe, accompanied by aioli and sourdough bread. A singer entertained us, and led a sing-along. We’d been served songbooks with our meal. The songs were in Swedish, or all in English, such as Sinatras “My Way, or Waterloo”, an Abba song that’s sung in English, or songs whose verses were in Swedish though their choruses were in English, such as “Itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini.

We ambled away our second day in Malmö, first at the Saluhall, the central food hall, where we had lunch with the locals. Art was unceremoniously called away to meet a Volvo mechanic at the engine, but that session didn’t last very long, and he met us while we continued our walking tour. In the meantime, Dave, Patti, and I visited the St. Peter’s Church, a fourteenth-century Gothic church. Protestant zealots whitewashed over many of the frescoes, but one chapel’s art has been restored, and the 1599 pulpit and the 1611 Baroque altarpiece are in fine condition. It’s the oldest building in Malmö. It was so appealing that we took Art back to it when he met us in Störtorget after his maintenance was over, or at least, over until the next time.

After a visit to an enormous supermarket just next door to the Twisting Torso apartments near the boat, we deposited ourselves aboard, tired, and ready to move to the next port.

A very early departure allowed us to sail for several hours, until the winds got too frustrating even for the captain. This time, the engine didn’t fail. That wasn’t an indication that all was well; the problem had always been intermittent. And there wouldn’t be dozens of new opportunities to test it out. We were on the western side of Sweden.

The weather forecast was going to be bad for a few days, so we decided to go to a place we’d liked on our way eastward, Helsingør in Denmark, the town where Hamlet’s life unraveled. Our first stop was at the fuel dock, and we found a secure side-to spot to tie up in the main marina. We could see the magnificent Elsinore castle from anywhere on the port side of the boat. The last time we’d visited, off-season, we’d only found space by the fuel dock, at a place that wasn’t an official berth.

It was still about 10:30 in the morning, and we’d bought sandwiches for the journey at the large supermarket in Malmö, so we stayed aboard for lunch. In the hot, sunny afternoon, we only ventured as far away as the marine shop and Volvo dealership in the harbor.

Our Volvo contact had suggested some more maintenance work, but the mechanic in Malmö didn’t have the parts, and we didn’t want to wait there for the parts to be delivered. Art knew which parts were needed, and the dealer was able to order them for next-day delivery minutes before the 2:00 PM deadline.

We walked to town for dinner, stopping at a square that we somehow hadn’t seen on our previous visit. The square was surrounded by eateries of different sorts, all with wide summer footprints of tables and chairs expanding onto the square. We chose an Indian restaurant on one corner and ate a leisurely, non-Scandinavian meal. Then we walked back to the boat in crisp, clear weather.

Art and I awoke to high winds and the beginning of a rainstorm. We put up the canvas house that surrounds the cockpit just in time. The weather was as promised: windy, rainy, and generally unpleasant. I wondered if this was the summer that Sweden had experienced. Everywhere we’d traveled in the past three weeks, Swedes were apologizing profusely for the terrible, rainy summer. We felt a bit guilty to assure them that our weather in Finland and Russia had been better than we’d hoped. Now that it was the middle of August, and we were only a few day sails from the Hallberg-Rassy yard, weather wouldn’t be a particular impediment to us, not for sailing, or for touring. For now, though, our decision was only what to do on a rainy day in Elsinore.

It poured for most of the morning, but conveniently, the rain slowed in time for us to walk to town for lunch. Then it poured again. We dove into shops on the pedestrian street to escape the downpours, and eventually I found a place for a much-overdue haircut. The hoped-for Volvo visit was delayed because parts weren’t available yet. This wasn’t a big problem; we’d be there for two more full days, with very little else we needed to accomplish.

And that’s what we did, very little. The Volvo mechanic visited the boat and replaced yet another suspected part. Our guests visited the castle that we’d seen when we came through in the spring. We had lunches out, shopped on the pedestrian street, and watched life unfold in Denmark.

The day we left, we could sail the instant we left the harbor, and we sailed the entire way across to Varberg, Sweden. The wind was stronger than we’d like, but it would be even stronger the next day for the crossing. The sail was rousing, to say the least. I stayed below, partly to avoid seasickness and partly to nurse my sore throat and other cold symptoms that had been nagging me all week. Dave wasn’t as lucky at avoiding seasickness. The boat was heeled over all day. Sawdust oozed out of the crevices between wood carpentry. Drawers opened and spilled their contents in the cabin. Leaving a post to go to the head required Spider-Man capabilities.

We managed to maintain upwards of nine knots of speed for the entire day, and took down the sails just inside Varberg’s harbor. The harbor is guarded by an old fortress, much of which is covered in mossy grass. Inside the fortress are displays of its history, including the appropriately-clothed 14th century man whose perfectly-preserved body was dug out of a peat bog nearby in 1936. It wasn’t open by the time we got there.

We had the rest of Saturday to explore, and took walks around the harbor, never quite making it into town, whose shops would be closed for the weekend anyway. The town had a summer feel to it, and weather to match. A wedding was being photographed in the park, and there was a free concert to begin in the evening. Patti and I, on separate occasions, were locked inside the ladies room, which would let you in but was reluctant to let you out.

Another morning departure and we were continuing north to Gothenburg. This day also offered us strong winds, but they were behind us and less troublesome. We sailed the entire distance again, pleasing the captain, who often grimaces as he starts the engine and says, “It’s a SAILboat!”

The land onshore had the familiar look of the Swedish coast where our journey began, rocky and dotted with islands. As we neared Gothenburg, the coast took on an industrial look, with containers piled carefully on docks and freighters, and a long line of cranes to serve Sweden’s largest cargo harbor. We turned into the river, passed under a bridge, and found our way to Gothenburg’s Opera House, and tied up alongside. After we cleared in with the harbormaster, we moved the boat to an empty place inside the small harbor that offered more protection and access to power and water.

Above us was “The Lipstick”, a building that’s only barely a skyscraper, but is broken into thirds by a white stripe between two red stripes top and bottom. We wandered ashore and stumbled onto a park where there were sound checks for a concert that evening. This concert had been advertised to take place in various cities in Sweden. Every time I saw the ad, I wondered if we’d ever be anywhere that the concert would take place. And here we were in Gothenburg, just in time.

Television commercial breaks in Sweden assume that viewers have a higher attention span than in the US. There’s only one break in a half-hour show. All of the ads that might have been sprinkled about in a US show happen during that break. There are more commercials in the center of the show than between shows. And while we were there, we saw only about ten or twenty different commercials. That’s all they showed. So we were able to memorize a few, including the music in the RIX FM ad for the concert. By mid-August, we were pretty sure that we knew the entire score.

The concert began at precisely 6 PM and ran continually until 9:30. From where we were docked, it was a perfect position, loud enough to hear well, but we could sit comfortably. We have become such adults. The music was pop, rather than hard rock or the techno-European sound we often hear. The popularity of a nostalgic sound shouldn’t have surprised us; all summer we’d been listening to music in cafés from 1950s and 1960s America.

I’ll tell you more about Gothenburg next week. The weather has still been good, though it’s getting a little cooler in the mornings and evenings. In Sweden, this weekend marked the official end of summer. Soon it will be time for long underwear again.

Love, Art and Karen