Tuesday, September 30, 2008



When I returned to the UK from Stockholm and unpacked my luggage last week, I discovered that there is an item missing. On the Thursday evening of our stay in Sweden I had attended the Beer Festival at Nacka Strand and brought back to the hotel a special commemorative glass. The cleaning staff must have removed it the following morning, thinking it was just a dirty glass from the hotel bar and not my property.

After pinging off a (polite) email, they searched for the glass and posted it to me here in the UK, arriving today!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008


Stockholm - day 7

Today we only really had time for breakfast, packing and getting to the airport.

On the way to the T-bana we picked up some cheap Swedish chocolate from the local supermarket instead of at the ridiculously-priced airport. Unfortunately local supermarkets do not also stock reindeer and elk meat.

In central Stockholm, there is a fast, regular train service to Arlanda Airport (although today it was running at half a timetable because of some problem) which we bought tickets for and managed to get some seats. The train has some flat-screen TVs for displaying safety messages, news and adverts. One of the safety messages must be the scariest I have seen for a loooong time and it was merely warning of how to stand with luggage on an escalator. If you have a large suitcase, it should be above you so that it can't fall down the moving staircase like a understoppable juggernaut, destroying all in its path as it slides unhindered onto the platform below. Next time we'll take the lift...

As we approached the airport, the display informed us that the next stop was for terminals 2-4 and not 5. We had taken a taxi last week from the airport (and I hadn't been to Stockholm for many months) so neither of us knew which terminal we wanted. As the train came to a stop, we finally found a document that informed we needed to get off NOW with lots of apologising to boarding passengers and blocking the automatic doors from closing. I don't know why we were panicking - it wasn't as if the train would take too long to bring us back from terminal 5 if we hadn't got off but there you go.

And to make more mockery of our hasty departure from the train, we soon found out our plane was delayed 90 minutes - enough time to return to Stockholm for a coffee and back again ... twice.

Even better, it was only after we had paid for lunch and gone through security that we were given food vouchers to compensate being delayed.

The shops in terminal 2 - as befits the relatively low passenger volume - are small and with limited range. Most of the time they have nothing that you can't get at any other airport or European high street supermarket. One concession did stock traditional Swedish fare so we splashed out on some jars of pickled Herring (Sue having now worked out she likes the stuff). As we already had a reindeer pelt from our Finland holiday, we could safely avoid the massive mark-up there and I was not at all interested in paying £4 for a crisp-packet-sized amount of dried meat (deer/reindeer/elk - of which I am sure 90% would be just deer).

Time passed - the plane was now 2 hours behind and it wasn't until we were on the flight that we found out this was due to a fault in the transfer system that moves fuel between tanks on the plane.

Once finally boarded and seated, we were unsettled to see (but more importantly hear) an inebriated Irishman coming down the aisle towards the empty seat right behind us, in the "Naughty Row" as we were informed it was to be known. He promised all and sundry that all he needed was a beer and he'd be off to sleep in no time. We did fear the worst, especially after he complimented Antonio (a Richard Madeley-lookalike steward in the cabin crew) on how fragrant he smelled. And after he wanted to know if anyone would like to hug the reindeer pelt he'd bought as a present for his partner. And if they wanted to admire the bread he'd picked up for her too.

Once sat down, he latched on to the two Swedes sitting next to him and advised them on all the places they needed to visit on their forthcoming trip to Hong Kong. At length. And so it went on for the whole flight back to Heathrow although I did have to tune him out eventually by watching "March of the Penguins".

It turns out that we were in the company of Irish stand-up comedian Andrew Maxwell. To be honest, he was a lovely guy and all the time he was positive and up-beat, without a care in the world. I'd love to know which of his several plans to surprise his girlfriend he actually chose. Later, when we got home, we watched his stand-up on YouTube for ages and bought a 2nd-hand DVD off eBay.

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I wish people would pay more attention

A classic "Your system is low on virtual memory"

and the old favourite "The system has recovered from a serious error"

These errors are for a reason - to let you know something needs attention. Deal with them.

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Breitling - sweet!

I'd love one of these watches-as-clocks hanging from my wall at home.
Although, of course, not as big as this huge one I saw in Stockholm airport.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008


Fun stuff to see in the streets of Stockholm

In Berzelii Park there is a statue of Hans Alfredson, a famous Swedish director/actor/comedian/writer:

On the way to Jarntorget we found some toilets underneath some arches. The gents on the lift was a tiny room with a 2-man urinal facing the door as you stepped in; the bigger loo needed 5 SEK (£0.40):

Now this transport does not look like something owned by your average White-Van-Man:

Cyclists have their own cycle lanes and definitely enforce their right to use them - keep out of the way! This was one of the posher cycle lanes:

While we were in a shop looking for tourist tat, I saw a blur as two blokes ran past. After a while they staggered back down the road past us. No idea what they were up to.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008


Stockholm - day 4 - Beer!

Eventually, after much negotiation and herding of cats, I managed to arrange to go to the beer festival with two other Microsofties. The trip there also included a ferry to add some scenic interest and a chance for Niklas to demonstrate his extensive local knowledge. First József and I had to go back to the hotel, dump our stuff, and jump on to the metro into Stockholm - not too bad as we managed to get to the train just as it arrived. Second we had to get to the boat from the station. Luckily we had a map. Unluckily we couldn't read the road signs properly which meant we actually started to doubt the mass-produced printed tourist map - like that was going to be wrong. Kungsträdgården ("King's Garden") has - unknown to us - three exits which are nearly 400m apart. Because, they are so far apart, you don't always spot the other exits when you look at the map. So on the map we thought we should be on the junction of Kungsträdgårdsgaten and Arsenalsgaten but next to us was the junction of Regeringsgaten and Jakobsgaten. Unfortunately about 800m away is the junction of Regeringsgaten and Jakobsbergsgaten so if you don't take time to read the signs, you get really confused. Luckily some polite locals helped out and pointed us in the right direction. With lost time through confusion and having taken the further exit from the station, we had to move it to be in time for the last boat of the day. Shortly we were at Nybroplan and ... wondering which of the many boats was ours. Luckily, Niklas was there waiting for us and the boat hadn't arrived yet so the panic was over.
The ferry ride on the M/S Ballerina was cheap at 40 SEK and the 4 mile, 3-stop trip showed a surprising amount of Stockholm. Well, surprising if you haven't yet grasped how much waterfront there is in the city and that everything is one island or another.

Soon we were at Nacka Strand where there is a bergbanor (funicular). You immediately dismiss this as a tourist gimmick until you start climbing the 30 degree, 90m slope staircase. My leg muscles certainly thanked me after that - the only consolation was that the young whipper-snapper József found it tough-going to. As none of us knew exactly where the festival was, we assumed the wisest policy was to follow the groups of men in front of us and soon we arrived at the Factory.

The entrance fee to the festival was 170 SEK which got you a special glass with 150ml and 300ml levels.

Beer glass

That's my authentic Finnish reindeer leather wallet on the left.


First drink of the night was Hell... from Jämtlands bryggeri AB (Östersund, in mid-Sweden)

The price was 15 SEK for a 150ml "taster", so a proper pint would have cost 57 SEK, or nearly £5.00. At the time I didn't quite remember how many millilitres there were to a pint - it's 568 and not 453 (which is the number of grams in a pound) - so I was calculating 3 tasters to the pint rather than nearly 4 and not getting the proper price in my head.

Next was a bottled beer that I didn't get a snap of - it's still tricky to go around photographing everything with a phone without getting embarrassed. I did get a shot of the brewery badge on the stand but this turned out hard to read and didn't match any company on the list.

Until I noticed the lighthouse on the left showing it to be the Grebbestad Bryggeri from the Swedish west coast.

Across the aisle was a more reasonably priced (although this is relative) beer at 10 SEK for a taster - the Wisby Vinterbock from the Gotlands Briggeri.
After browsing the whisky area we stumbled upon the Braunstein stand (from Køge, Denmark) and the Aston Vila supporting Dane working there. Large glasses of Næsgaarden Æble cider (4.5%) was an obvious choice.

Fondberg stocked
the bottle of Warsteiner, a
German beer.

Tomp stocked the bottle of
Bombardier Burning Gold. Gorgeous stuff.
Brewery International provided the draught San Miguel.

Berntson (check out the web site!) stock this Innis and Gunn beer
from Scotland.

Maybe there were more beers - it gets a bit hazy. I remember a long conversation with some stand runner who was unhappy with the high taxes in Sweden. I thought it funny a non-resident lecturing someone on the social benefits of the Swedish taxation system.

But 11pm came round too soon and we retreated off into the night and a nearby pavement to wait for our taxi.

Overall, I enjoyed the evening. The layout was different to what I'm used to in England (lots of stands run by the different companies rather then racks of barrels of beer from different breweries all together, poured out for you by volunteers) although the Portsmouth Beerex does have one stall in the main hall these days.

The food was good although I went for the wild boar before spotting the elk vendor nearby.

I think I complained about the music too much - a lone acoustic guitarist playing UK/US covers.

If I'd known there wasn't a program, I would have printed off the beer list from the website (although I only noticed the list AFTER the event) - hindsight, eh? But then if I had had a list, I might have tracked down the Ridgeway Brewing Company and tried their Bad Elf brews - I don't think that would have been good for my 'elf (Bad Elf - 6,0%, Very Bad Elf - 7,5%, Seriously Bad Elf - 9,0%, Criminally Bad Elf - 10,5%, Insanely Bad Elf - 11,2%).

And the quality of photos would have been better if I'd brought my normal camera. As mentioned earlier, I'd rushed back to the hotel to dump my stuff and also to pick up the camera. I couldn't find it anywhere. On my return from the beer festival, I noticed the camera had been in the rucksack I'd taken with me to work and dumped back at the hotel...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Stockholm - day 3 - the Ice Bar

The reception area of the Nordic Sea Hotel is quite interesting with its long aquarium down the middle. Now there is also an Absolut Ice Bar attached where you can sip spirits at -5°C.

As Stockholm doesn't have too much open in the evening (all the tourist attractions such as museums are normally long closed) we decided to try this place out before having our meal.

You pay up 180-195 SEK (£15+) for the privilege of sitting on blocks of ice for 40 minutes, drinking a cocktail from a glass made out of a smaller block of ice. Refills are 95 SEK (about £8 - well, it is Stockholm).

It's a novelty and I expect some will find the experience entertaining but I soon felt "is that it?". I would definitely have wanted it colder - you can get -5°C in the UK if the winter is in your favour. Being hardened explorers, we'd been to the Artic Circle in December so this temperature was positively balmy. And maybe some Northern Lights projected on ceiling would have helped. More ice sculptures too - there was only one of interest of a spray-can-weilding hoody.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Stockholm - day 2 - Chopsticks

I learnt the lesson of not expecting people to know what landmark you are talking about when you are arranging to meet them.

First you need to understand that T-Centralen (Tunnelbana Centralen, the main station) is a big place. In fact, it's two stations - one for the green and red lines, one for the blue line - and the various exits can be several hundred yards apart.

On my first trip into Stockholm from Kista, I didn't know this. Sue asked me to text her what road junction I would meet her on so, as I had come out of the Vasaplan/Vasagatan metro exit, I replied "Meet me by the huge orange crane". I was right next to the central station and it seemed a nicely visible target to aim for. Needless to say, there are a LOT of huge orange cranes in Stockholm city centre. At 35p a text, I was hoping to cut down on the need for communication and I'd already started off badly. Luckily, I finally caught up with my wife before she had walked past too many huge orange cranes so we could look for somewhere to eat.

I had a well-presented meal at the Hong Kong 'Chopsticks' restaurant - Orange Coral Beef. As I hope you can see, a portion of beef is sliced in a grid fashion (but not all the way through) and then cooked so that the end result looks like a lump of coral from the sea bed.

Why they initially gave me chopsticks and not a knife/fork to eat this with I don't know.

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'Foi'led again!

While planning routes and working out where places are, I noticed that one of the buildings near our hotel (which is the L-shape in the top right corner) was pixelated out, as can be seen from this satellite view from http://maps.live.com. Obviously this is intriguing - what is the building for?

On Google Earth you can see the building properly. Strange - no missile silos. In fact it looks just like any other office building.

Not surprisingly the buildings are the head office of FOI, the Swedish
Defence Research Agency



So what was the benefit of asking Microsoft to hide the satellite view of the
FOI HQ? None that I can see.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008


Stockholm - day 0 - up, up and away...

Off to LHR Terminal 5 today - thankfully they seem to have cleared up all the teething problems by now. The building is impressively big with long drops and massive columns.

The engineering looks grand and clean. Be interesting to see how it looks in a few years - it's one thing to build an architecturally sound air terminal and it's another to design one that's easy to clean and maintain.

On the flight I gave the window seat to Sue so she could see what was going on. Maybe it helps her be less nervous; I'm not sure. She was happy to take photos anyway.

Here's Twickenham Stadium in the distance and then the Blenheim Centre. The latter is tricky to find in the satellite photos of Google Earth as the building hadn't been completed at the time they were collected. According to the Centre's web site "The Blenheim Centre is a major new £220 million, mixed-use development in the centre of Hounslow. The complex will comprise retail, leisure, offices, both private and affordable keyworker housing and additional community facilities."

Soon the photos become fuzzier as our simple digital camera fails to cope with the intervening atmosphere. After a while sky was too dark for anything apart from moon shots. Good way of finding dead pixels on the camera's sensor, moon shots...

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Thursday, December 15, 2005


My tribute to Sweden (Thanks to the Stranglers, of course).

Låt mig berätta om Sverige / Enda landet där molnen intresserar / Storebror säger det är stället för dej

För mycket tid att tänka / För lite att göra
För mycket tid / För lite att göra
Jag är insnöad pa östfronten

Förändringen är på minimum / Hypokondrisk gravsten / Känslan för humor är förlorad nånstans

Cumulus numbus för dej

Förändringen är på minimum / Hypokondrisk gravsten / Storebror säger det är stället för dej

Jag är insnöad på östfronten


Monday, December 12, 2005

Swedes, are they sex-crazed blondes as the porno film industry would have us believe (apparently) or instead teetotal assassins skilled in the art of poisoning their prey?

Take this innocent hotel room in Stockholm...

Notice the primitive models in the cases?

And it gets worse.

Hanging on the wall in a cosy Visby hotel was:

But nothing prepared me for this scene of wanton debauchery:


And the evidence for the opposing view (teetotal killers)? Check this scene
of horror:

Where's the bloody beer? Are they mad? A hard day at the customer site and I come back to some mineral water? It's enough to drive a man to drink. Maybe a snack until it's tea time... No luck there either:

Don't the staff check the rooms at all?

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