So Long

The ten days we were in Sweden have gone by as fast as a galloping elk, but they’ve left an equally big impression. Looking back, we both liked Göteborg better than Stockholm, despite many warnings beforehand that it would be the other way around. Göteborg is smaller, therefore more accessible; and all the students make it merrier, more youthful, but also less touristy than Stockholm. Of course we may have been under influence of better weather in Göteborg, and we haven’t visited any of its darker parts that travelpedia warns about.

As always, fragments of memories remain:

The way the Swedish tour guide in the Stockholm Stadshus pronounced the word Maelaren (a lake outside Stockholm): a dry and short but emphasized ae sound, a thickish l, a very short but still audible a (not uh), followed by the most beautiful r, rolling, round, guttural… The Swedish language overall was a two-faced experience for us: unable to make out anything anyone said to us other than ‘hej’ and ‘tack’, we did recognize many written words, often more from Dutch or German than from English.
The Stockholm Stadshus (city hall) is another recommendation by the way. You must join the guided tour to visit it–something we don’t usually care for–but it wasn’t dreary at all. You get to see all the highlights with to-the-point commentary in about 45 minutes. Choose the woman guide if you have a choice, for Maelaren pronounciation bonus points.

The smell of fish (mussels even, in the entire Stockholm city museum; good thing we weren’t hungry) and dill (particularly on a small but colorful street market in the Katarina Bangata). Dill seems to be everywhere and on everything in Sweden. Sort of a national herb.

The rabarber och hallon paj (rhubarb and raspberry pie) in the Espresso House, accompanied by a capuccino. Forget Starbucks; when is Espresso House coming to Holland?

The wild, haunted and/or icy look in the steel blue eyes of so many Swedes (not that many did look directly at me–but that may have been me). Many Swedes have beautiful, expressive faces and dress very fashionably. (An observation by M., of course).

The smell of old boats (oil, wood, sea water) on the ships in the Maritiman museum in Göteborg. If you only have time for one museum in Göteborg, go to the Maritiman.

2008-09-15. One response.


More things to see and do when you’re in Göteborg: visit the botanical gardens, the design museum and a collection of 19 ships floating in the harbour.

We really liked the gardens; the fact that, for the first time this vacation, the sun broke through may have had something to do with that. The Botaniska TrädgÃ¥rdens are a combination of a park, a few themed gardens, some perennial borders (always our favorite) and a complex of not so large hothouses (after last year’s visit to the Eden Project most hothouses don’t seem very large anymore). A temporary exhibition that we saw (and smelled) there, displayed dozens of different mushrooms. Autumn is in the air…

The Röhsska Museum for design and fashion was a disappointment. It first opened its doors at the turn of the 20th century, and built up its collection after the example of London’s Victoria and Albert museum. Boasting to have over 50,000 pieces in their collection, only a very small part of it seemed to be on display. The fashion part of the museum was closed altogether, not good for M.’s mood; she was still moping over Paris’ fashion museum being closed when we were there last year. The design exhibitions consisted of large window cases filled with separate pieces out of any context except for the period they were from. Small photos were put on the wall to evoke a feeling of the corresponding zeitgeist. Yes, we know that the first world war happened in the 1900-1920 period. We don’t need a photo of the trenches to remind us. We would however like some more information about the influence of the Jugendstil and Art Deco styles on Swedish design. But other than the designer’s name and a year, nothing is said about the items shown. They just sit there in their window cases. A missed chance. (BTW funny to see two computers on display, both Apple, as well as an iPhone.)

Finally I would really recommend the Maritiman museum, a collection of 19 ships and boats floating in the Göteborg harbour. You get to walk on as well as inside the ships, which is a great experience especially as the collection includes an impressive destroyer from the Swedish navy and a submarine. The destroyer has a very ‘real’ feel about it, as it’s fitted with mannequin dolls in navy costumes playing captain and first officer, and sounds of radio and morse signals echoing along the way. There’s a lot of very steep steps of course, and for the submarine you’ve got to descend on a small ladder, but that was definitely worth it. I shot about 200 photographs, with all those boaty and watery details being easy targets.

Today we took it easy, walking around the Slottsskogen park, seeing more elk, and doing some relaxed Saturday afternoon shopping. Luckily there’s enough Swedish design to be admired in the shops, if not in the museum.

(Photo below taken during our design field trip in Göteborg’s shopping streets; photos of the Maritiman museum will follow.)

2008-09-12. No responses.

Who Can Live Without It

Wifi on our trip to to Sweden is proving to be a mixed pleasure. In Stockholm, free wifi was abundant: in our shabby guest room (don’t know whose router that was, switched over to ssl to be on the safe side), at the Espresso Houses, in random shops; just not at Skansen and the Royal Palace (can the Swedish royal family live without Internet?). In Göteborg, it’s a different matter. Our hotel (not shabby at all, hotel Vasa) has free wifi in the rooms; anywhere else there’s wifi allright, but there’s nothing free about it. So no Internet while I’m typing this (thank you WordPress iPhone app) at the Göteborg NK Espresso House, enjoying a large cappuccino and a rhubarb/raspberry pie. A small one.

Yesterday I saw some stunning photography from the Farm Security Administration collection at the Göteborg city museum. Apparently in the 1930s the government sent photographers out in the field to document how people lived at the time; which was around the time when my own parents were born. Beautiful shots of people from around 1935-1940 staring you in the face. I can never get enough of staring back. It may be the closest thing we have to a time machine.

Photo by Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration, 1935/6

2008-09-10. One response.


I’m in ABBA country. So many Agnetha and Björn look-alikes have passed me by these last couple of days, I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if someone had started singing in the street.
The first half of the trip took us to Stockholm. A wet city, as it’s built on islands, but also because of all the rain we had. We had fun at Skansen, a combined park, outdoors museum and mini zoo. It’s located on one of Stockholm’s greener islands, DjurgÃ¥rd, which is also home to the Vasa museum. This museum is built around a complete and original 17th century warship, the Vasa, named after a Swedish king. The ship sank on its first trip, only hours after it had left the wharf. We heard a tour guide explain how this might have had something to do with ever-changing requirements during the design and building of the ship. Sounds just like a regular IT project, only with boats.

There was a lot of shopping to be done of course, interspersed with cappuccinos at the Espresso House and strangely sweet yoghurt ice creams at the Gallerian. Stockholm’s city center looked a bit dreary in all that rain. The large amounts of concrete used to renovate the city in the 50s and 60s didn’t help either. It could easily be used as the décor for a cold war spy movie, with a Russian spy defecting to the West.

Yesterday morning we visited the City Museum. Not a big museum, but with several creatively designed expositions, it’s a perfect museum if you have one or two hours left. In the afternoon we took a train to Göteborg which, on first impression, looks a bit more laid back. To be continued…

The 17th century Vasa warship

View on Stockholm from Södermalm, the southern island

2008-09-10. No responses.

A Golden Cage

Twenty years ago, my first job was to assist visitors of the Computerette — something of an Internet café without the Internet. This small company had been started by someone who did freelance jobs coding some very obscure Cobol dialect. While he kept doing his well-paid job, he hired me to take care of the shop. Besides this rather dull work, he let me do small programming jobs on the side. For this, he introduced me to Clipper, the compiled variant of the then-popular dBASE III language. Himself, he would not dream of quitting his Cobol job for this; even though he loved Clipper and Clipper jobs were abundant at the time. “It’s not about the language,” he told me, “it’s about the problems you’re asked to solve.” While I was coding my first address book application for a start-up law firm, his software was controlling the oil refineries of Pernis (the Rotterdam harbour). I did not understand him back then. Who ever would want to keep coding in Cobol, the language of the past?

At yesterday’s RubyEnRails 2008 conference, a friend told me that I’m in a golden cage: getting paid more in my current job for coding Java, than I could get in another job for doing Ruby/Rails — preventing me from switching to Ruby/Rails. His remark reminded me of my old boss who did not want to switch to Clipper. Am I turning into him? Am I coding in the language of the past? Will I still be doing so 10 or 20 years from now?

Whatever. It’s not about the language.

2008-06-11. 2 responses.

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