04.06.2007 - 29.06.2007
Finally, after all these years of hearing about Sweden and Sven and Larsh and Mya and Lotta and August and Neils and Julia and Sanna, it was finally time for Lib to show me around her second home, Sweden. First stop from Bergen was the capital, Stockholm. Originally we had planned to stay longer but in order to get to Gothenburg (Lib's city) in time for August's studenten (more on this later), we only stayed for one night. The short time I spent in Stockholm formed a very nice impression. However, Stockholm will be remembered for the reuniting of Lib with her brother Will after six months apart. Will met us at the station and after the exchange of pleasantries expected we went into the city for a boat tour of Stockholm. It was an all together pleasant experience which was followed by a trip to the famous Vasa Museum. Built around a sunken and excavated Viking ship, the museum's sole focus is the ship. The story goes that some 400 years ago this ship made it about 50 metres off the coast before coming a cropper and sinking. The disaster cost the engineers and ship builders their lives so embarrassed was the King of Sweden. Tough boss. So that was Stockholm. Short and sweet.
Next stop was Gothenburg. Lib's anticipation had hit fever pitch and I have to say I was very excited too. One of the McEniry's closest Swedish friends, Lotta, had kicked her mum and step-father out of her apartment (to go sailing in the Greek Islands) so that the four of us (Will's friend Aisha as well) could have their apartment to ourselves. We settled in for the first night with August's studenten the next day. Lib had described studentens to me like this: well, it's sort of a Swedish graduation parade type thing where the kids who finish school have a great time on trucks. Not quite sure what to make of all this, I went to the studenten with my eyes wide open. What transpired was a kind of Valedictory Dinner on drugs. The kids all finish their last class in the morning and then go to a public spot in the city where their family and friends await their arrival with placards adorning their pictures and names. Without a doubt the best placard was of some poor kid whose parents had chosen a picture of of him wearing nothing but a sombrero and couldn't have been taken any more than 3 years ago. Priceless. Anyway, the kids all run up on to a stage and chant inaudible chants and generally jump up and down. After a little while, the kids come down from the stage and their family and friends put flowers around theirs necks on string until there's too many and they take them off. From there they all hop on an open back truck with a DJ, 10 speakers and a whole lot of champagne. The DJ cranks the music and the kids go mental on the back of the truck as it drives around the centre of Gothenburg. THEN afterall that, the kids have to go back to their own houses where their family and friends await with a civil party and the kids have to try and stand up straight and speak clearly to their grandparents. Sure beats the hell out of Valedictory Dinner.
The next few days were spent meeting Lib's Swedish family friends. The first night I was able to meet Lotta, her mum Burgita and her daughter Julia. Lotta picked us up from the train station and took us out to a really nice Greek restaurant. In what turned out to be a theme for Sweden, we weren't allowed to pay for a thing. The day after we caught up with the Idwall's whom I had had the pleasure of meeting before and the family with which Will had been staying. The father, Larsh, comes to Australia for the Australian Open annually had had dinner at The Strand. Thus, every Swedish person I met queried whether it was my "great restaurant that Larsh raves about". Humbled, I admitted that it was indeed my family's restaurant. The first weekend in Gothenburg was spent at Lotta's mother's summer house in Huveneset. A place by the lake so to speak, it was a beautiful drive in our borrowed BMW (Mya's) and the destination was just as nice. Whilst there the four of us went on a nice walk that culminated in some tricky terrain through some rocks. In an act of unrivaled chivalry, Will and I left the women behind to climb higher and further and left them to come what may. As it turned out Will and I made it back about half an hour before the girls who came back to see Will on a hammock and me kicking a soccer ball. Though expensive, the four of us decided a night on the town was in order once back in Gothenburg. Hampered by the rules of some bars that have age restrictions and only allow those aged over 23, we still found a few watering holes worthy of our money. Will and I in particular took to the local ales and such was our state that we somehow made it to an Australian bar. After getting about 100 Swedish Kroner up on the blackjack table with VB in hand, I lost it plus some and decided that Australian bars are shite.
A couple of days later we finally gave in to Will's pleas and went to the local theme park, Lisgberg. On the first ride of the day, in what was probably the funniest moment of my life, Lib screamed "seriously" in my ear about 50 times as if yelling "Cade, SERIOUSLY!" would make the ride stop. When it finally did stop, I was the proud owner of a mark on my arm that perfectly matched Libby's hand. So with that Lib's day was done when Will's and mine was just beginning. We did every ride with the roller coasters done at least twice.
The next week we borrowed Mya's BMW again and did a day trip to Marstrand, an archipelago. Again it was a lovely drive and the islands are so pretty. The last trip Lib and I did was with Lotta and her husband Andesh to Lotta's aunty's summer house in Halevekstrand, another of the archipelago islands. Since we were leaving a couple of days before Mid-Sommer, Lotta had decided to give us an early Mid-Sommer. Crayfish, prawns and herring washed down with some schnapps was lunch. Absolutely stuffed, we went for a walk around the island and returned back to the house for a nanna nap (tough life). I awoke to the smell of Swedish meatballs and the realisation that the time was finally upon me; time to eat Lotta's famed Swedish meatballs. I greedily ate about 4000 meatballs in which every one lived up to its lofty reputation. The next day Andesh took us out on his boat to the island and restaurant where their wedding reception was four years earlier and had a great lunch.
Aside from meeting and greeting Swedes, we spent a fair bit of time making good use of free accommodation to get ourselves back in order. Long sleeps and a few creature comforts go a long way to refreshing the weary traveler. All in all Sweden was a pretty amazing experience. The weather rarely got below 25 and such kindness from Lib's friends is rarely witnessed.
So after two weeks it was time for Lib to bid a sad farewell to her second home and loved friends. Though tears were spared, I sensed it was like leaving home again and it was definitely tough on her.
Feeling absolutely refreshed after two weeks of being pampered, I was really excited to get to London. Lib's parents were in town as well and so we were lucky enough to have our own hotel room in South Kensington. We met Lib's parents for a drink and then we had a booking at a nice restaurant around the corner for Will's 18th birthday. London, like New York, was a big city crammed into a short time so spare me (well, I'll spare you) if I surmise a little. The next day Lib and I did the touristy thing for a bit and saw the changing of the guards. We caught up with Rob and Pen for lunch at an oyster bar called Conrad's. Rob and I took our places at the table and had a few bottles of mineral water and about an hour later Lib and Pen returned with a couple of bags full of clothes. A nice lunch ensued and Lib and I were tourists again. The next stop was Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens. A delightful spot, it was Princess Di's digs after the separation. The next day I arranged to meet up with my cousin Marcus at Big Ben to go see Westminster Abbey. We forked out a few bob and had a look around the Abbey. A very impressive church indeed. Lib had to go see her mum off to the airport so Marcus and I decided we'd check out the Natural History Museum. After about three exhibits, Marcus asked if I was thirsty. I replied that indeed I was and that perhaps we could find a pub nearby. Shortly after we found a pub and caught up over a few pints of Ireland's finest stout. Marcus was due elsewhere and I had arranged to meet a mate from the World Cup, Jako. For those who have seen the photos from the cricket Jako is the convict. Jako came to our hotel for a beer and as we caught up Rob had made his way down and invited Jako and I out for dinner with he and the remaining McEniry family members. A beautiful French dinner ensued and Jako and I made our way to another pub. So after a few pints with Marcus, a pint with Jako, martini and wine with dinner and another couple of pints with Jako post-dinner, I was pissed again. I made my home to Lib and wondered how I seem to get myself in these predicaments. By the next day Pen and Rob had left so we were booted out of our hotel room and left to fend for ourselves again. Well not quite. With some foresight I had asked Nash to arrange a place for Lib and I to stay and he came through with spades. Not only did Mazland and John take us into their apartment, they picked us up from the hotel, drove us through London traffic and hosted us at their beautiful restaurant (54 Farringdon) twice. After we settled into our new place, Lib and I took off to meet Will at the Tower of London. The Tower of London was probably my favourite thing in London. I'm not quite sure why, perhaps it was the ravens, or more probably it was the crown jewels. Either way it was just a really good place to go to. When you were within its walls you had the feeling you were in a really old place. My simplicity aside, the jewels were a feature of our visit to London. The conveyor belt that culminates in the big daddy is a sight for sore eyes. Literally. Those diamonds and rubies really sparkle and it hurts your eyes. That night Mazland cooked us a beautiful Malaysian dinner at 54 Farringdon and I caught up with Kameel and Wesley and met the staff. We drank until 5am. At some stage I thought it was a good idea to call Nash; not so bad considering it was 1pm his time except that it woke him up.
Saturday was spent at the Portabella market, known around the world as the market from Notting Hill. Hugh Grant jokes aside, it was a very good market and Lib and I picked up a couple of pairs of sunglasses, a lock, some DVD's and some fruit. We got back into Picadilly Circus to buy some cheap tickets to see Les Miserables for that night. The cunning ticket guy stooged us and we ended up spending enough money for front row tickets only to be seated on the top level. The show, despite me feeling absolutely moronic, was fantastic. After that Marcus had arranged through his friend Chrissy for Lib and I to go on the open top Corona bus. Being summer, it was bloody freezing. Despite the cold, it was a great way to see London at night and the free Corona's were a treat. The bus also got us into the Ministry of Sound nightclub for free and Chrissy gave us five free Corona vouchers. Lib, not much of a drinker let alone beer drinker, reluctantly gave me her vouchers (reluctant because she knew I would use them). It was a really good night and I was able to catch up with some people from home who I hadn't seen in a very long time. After a big few days though we were stuffed and called it a night around 2am. Marcus was the sole-benefactor of our remaining Corona vouchers.
Other highlights of London were: Churchill's war bunker museum (amazing), the various Monopoly board places (Picadilly, Trafalgur etc), seeing Jasmine completely out of the blue on the underground through a window in which she was coincidentally standing in (and later catching up with her and her Brazilian boyfriend Bruno), St Paul's, tent shopping (50 pounds for a tent, two sleeping mats and two sleeping bags; only catch is the sleeping bags are leopard print and camouflage), Tate Modern Museum (really, really interesting), Harrod's, Harvey Nicholas, watching a guard be admonished by his superior, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Jubilee Bridge and the list goes on and on.
So from London the next stop was Paris. As we checked our bags we had a minor scare when the lady couldn't find my booking but it was sorted out. As we boarded though, I just knew Paris was going to be great. Handing over my ticket after Lib, a smile came across the lady's face as she said "welcome Mr Elg, you've been upgraded for today's flight." Having never flown anything other than cattle, this was a seriously big thing for me. Trying to hide my glee, I reluctantly offered my seat to Lib who politely declined (I was over-joyed). Thereafter I couldn't shut up to her all the way along the gangway about how I was in row A. Unfortunately the flight is only about 40 minutes but I must say the food was a delight, the staff personable and the hot towel before take off was a nice touch. After we touched down I walked on air all the way to our hostel; that was until we made the discovery. We lost our tent! Our beautiful, beautiful tent had been lost between London and our hostel in Paris and we had no idea where. Absolutely inconsolable, we made our way into the city to check out Paris.
Fortunately for us, the sight as you step out from the Champs Elysee metro station is truly one to behold. The tent was quickly forgotten as we got our bearings in the city of love. With absolutely no purpose we wandered aimlessly for some time on the Left and Right Banks of the Seine before our legs and stomachs got the better of us. Without doubt though, one could easily spend a week in Paris without spending a moment in a museum. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to us though, the first day was to be the best weather wise and we chose not to climb the Eiffel Tower.
Although there is much to see on the outside, Paris is just as famous for its vast and diverse range of museums. The Louvre was high on the list of things to do. Typically, Lib and I failed to check opening days/times so we went on the one day of the week it is closed (who'd have thought it closed?) Disappointed but not despaired, we went to go see the Musee de Orsay. A quick look at the 100m long line discouraged us enough to give it a miss and so we went wandering again. Jexy, a Paris regular, had given me his own home-made guide to Paris and so we decided to check out some of his recommendations. We went to a store called Collette. Not specifying in anything, the store has an eclectic mix of CD's, clothes, ornaments, gadgets, books and other oddities. A very cool but expensive store indeed. From there we made our way to another of Jexy's recommendations and went to the Luxembourg Gardens. Jexy said he spent some time there when he was studying in Paris and I can see why. A very serene place. The Latin quarter was close by and this was as good a place as any for an espresso and a quick bite.
The next day we pencilled in the Louvre and wanted to get there early to beat the masses. Early we got there, the masses we did not beat. After waiting in line to buy the tickets, we waited in line to go through security. The line is seriously about 30 metres long and there are three of them going through the one point. It is not all so bad though, whilst you wait you can ogle the upside-down pyramid. Also, I formed my own vigilante against people pushing in. Typically, the pusher-innerer has three redeeming features: they are older, arrogant and look confused (1 and 3 are connected). The most common method is the 'look confused as I pretend to walk through the line and suddenly stop to read my map and then what's this? Oh, I've found my way to the middle of the line.' Being early and without a drop of caffeine in my veins, I was in no state to accept this behavior. Time and again I had to tell people where the back of the line was. Ask them why they think they don't have to line up? And why their time is more important than mine? It infuriated me. The most common response was to act more confused and then to slip in behind me somewhere in front of people who were too gutless to speak up. Anyway, once inside I found a coffee and calmed my nerves. Determined to see Mona Lisa early and get it out of the way, we (and everyone else) made our along the hallowed halls of the Louvre to see Da Vinci's most famed piece. Suitably impressed but not overwhelmed, we got out of there and checked out some of the other pieces. All in all it was a pretty good experience, but without furthering my credentials as a simplistic fool, it really is just a museum and you have to have a better education in the finer things in life to truly enjoy and appreciate it. Nonetheless, we did have a nice day and Napolean's apartment, despite smelling old, would've made great digs.
Other highlights of Paris were the Arch de Triumph (very good), the Eiffel Tower (even better than I had expected), Notre Dame (a beautiful church, watch out for the gypsies though), Sacre Coure (from a distance), Palais de Tokyo (another of Jexy's great recommendations), Concord and the many palaces spotted around (Petit, Grand) and the Ecole Militaire.
Currently we are in Barcelona after spending the last two weeks driving around Spain and Portugal. The time before that we drove down the west coast of France after visiting the D-Day beaches in the north. But that is a story for another time.
And since it took me a few days to upload I can now see we have left Barcelona and are currently staying in St. Remy, having seen the Tour de France two days ago. You may also know St. Remy as the place Vincent (Vinny to his friends) Van Gough spent a year in a mental hospital and where he painted such masterpieces as Starry Night.
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