A cluster o’ Eurotrippins

Posted by jswt | Posted in Denmark - Copenhagen, Finland - Helsinki, Norway - Oslo, Sweden - Stockholm | Posted on 22-03-2013

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So I’m currently in Finland on a train from Helsinki to Turku, and I’m realizing that I’ve been horrendously neglectful in keeping my posts up to date, so this is going to be a quick run-through of the cities we’ve been visiting in the past 5 weeks: Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki.

I flew to Copenhagen at the end of January after wrapping up some things at home, and remembered almost immediately why it’s one of my favourite cities on the planet. Even in the middle of winter, this cozy little city is bustling with people on bikes – beautiful women and guys who all look like a hybrid philosopher/architect/designer/fisherman. Fact: Over 38% of people in Copenhagen ride their bike to work every day. We had just over a week in town, so I used that to kick jet lag and meet some of the faces on this new/temporary tour group we’re with. Chris had a couple days off and we did some nice wandering (green-light district in Christiana is always surreal), some time in the nice spa attached to the hotel, and had a couple nice dinners with friends. There was a fantastic market near the hotel, so my days were mostly spent working in the room, and popping out for fresh tasty eats. I’m not sure what’s happened, but Denmark seems much, much more expensive than I remember it – but, the quality of life if you live there warrants the additional cost. One night I dropped in on a Meetup based on the Lean Startup model, which was pretty cool – lots of people pitching their ideas and getting feedback on where to take it next. Met some interesting folk, learned a lot about how to pitch an idea (and how not to) and remembered that as much as I might go heavy on myself, I’m much more capable than most.

The next week we were in Oslo, which as you might remember from my previous Oslo posts when I was here 4 years ago, is prohibitively expensive if you are visiting – global exchange rate example: a beer will cost you $22cdn and a big mac combo works out to about $20. Luckily for us, friends from Vancouver (T&C) had recently moved there with their family, and other friends from Vancouver (C&S) popped up from a wedding in London to hang out for the week, which made this one of the best weeks we’ve ever had on tour. C is working for the Canadian embassy in Oslo and they’re staying in an amazingly beautiful old house, so pretty much every day we ended up hanging out there, cooking dinner, playing with the kids (teaching them about Catellites [that’s where the cat videos on the internet come from] and Kangapigs [You know, those pigs that hop and oink and can be emulated all over the house – heheh]), and enjoying the abundantly flowing tax-free wine. Having been on the road for 4 years now, actually spending some time in a home was a real luxury for us, and one made all that much better by the quality of people we were hanging out with. We took in the show one evening, and then went back to our hotel for much duty-free room drinking and excessive merriment (where we learned that T could do the splits and had all sorts of tricks that’d land her a career as an acrobat – hehehe). Our hotel was in a cool neighbourhood right across from a great market (Matthallan in Grünerløkka) and just a few blocks from a great neighbourhood and club (Bla) but when C and I tried to keep the party going, we learned that things close early in Oslo. Overall, I love Oslo – it’s clean, efficient, and the people enjoy such a high quality of life due to their government’s responsible natural resource use and planning. There’s also something special about the way they integrate family life there – everywhere you go you see parents out with their young kids and pushing strollers, more so than almost anywhere else we’ve ever been (note: This bump in babies could be due to the tragedy that happened just under 2 years prior perhaps?)… Of course, it’s prohibitively expensive for outsiders who don’t live and work in that economy, so we likely won’t get a chance to go back and enjoy it, but I’d love to explore more of the north and fjords in the summertime… The takeaway lesson was though, that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, but what matters most is to be surrounded by a community of friends and family.

After Oslo, we were off to Stockholm, which was the first and only city of this leg that I’ve never visited – and it’s really, really gorgeous. It’s a city made up of islands, so everywhere you look there’s ocean and river and bays and blues and greens. The week we were there was cold, but crystal clear blue skies all week so the snow was a brilliant white contrast to the city that was just starting to wake up with the first humming of spring. The waterways were covered in solid ice that was beginning to break up, and I spent some time just sitting at the edge of water listening to the craggy icebergs grind and chime in an echo of the waves underneath. The internet at the hotel was blindingly fast, so I took the opportunity to get some work done through the week, except for one afternoon when I went over to the Vasa museum – a giant museum where they house the Vasa ship, which was the largest ship built by Sweden in the 1700s and sank before it made it’s way out of the harbour. I’m not usually a museum guy, but this was fascinating and really worth the visit. Breakfast, work, gym cycle continued all week, but on the weekend things got a little silly: On Friday night, we ended up guest listed at a rather nice club for a couple djs (Jeff Mills + Boddika – mmm) and took a couple guys (B&G) along with us who were up for a good party. Chris cut out about 2:30, but we closed things down with a bang when the lights came up about 5. The next morning I was feeling a little… sluggish, but we had a commitment – during a presentation at the embassy this week, Chris had met C who was working at the embassy and had moved to Stockholm with his husband 4 months prior. They offered to take us out and show us around, and my initial grogginess aside, I’m glad we did because C&J were really great guys and super easy to get along with. It all started off very civilly, touring the embassy and churches and the old town, but everything went sideways when we started drinking mead in an old medieval grotto bar. Whether it was the good conversation or the warm company, we just kept drinking the 6.5% honey sweet ale, and by the time the 4 of us had polished off over 10 litres of the stuff, we were rosy cheeked merrymakers battling the evil forces of gravity, and I don’t remember the last time I laughed that hard (nor much of the latter part of the evening except that it was a riot). It was with the knowledge that we’d made new friends that we parted that evening, and it was dreadfully early the next morning when the time came to go catch my flight to Helsinki.

Finland is interesting to me, because as I observed last time I was here, it’s like being inside a digital clock: everything is efficient and where it should be, but it’s kind of cold and stoic. Think Germany, mixed with Nokia. Our hotel was kind of out of town in an industrial/tech park area, so there wasn’t much to do nearby, but that left time to focus on work. Chris did have one day off, and we took that opportunity to wander around with M in the old town, finding a nice cafe, watching kids on the ice, and wincing in pain as a random viking dude in a speedo emerged from a free beachfront sauna and threw himself into the icy bay. As night fell, he was our inspiration to seek out the Yrjönkatu swimming hall, which we’d visited last time we were here – it’s a gorgeous old 1920s swimming hall that’s a very civilized affair: it’s families and groups of friends all hanging out swimming and saunaing while waitresses deliver beers to tables on balconies overlooking the pool. Aside from that, both had some stressful stuff going on with work and we were out of town so weren’t really in party mode, so we didn’t really do much this week but grind in work mode…

And now, I’ve just left Helsinki, I’m on a nearly silent electric train zipping across the countryside of pure white snow and endless blue skies, on my way to Turku…

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