||This past week, with the Russian celebration of Christmas
to get me outta work
I wandered around Russia’s northern neighbors and one time enemies. Now,
I’ve been to Finland,
so I had an idea of what to expect from Denmark and Sweden, but neither
of the countries were much like the Scandinavia I expected.
Denmark, with the oldest serving monarchs, currently a Queen, was a
lot more moist and quiet than my expectations. It rained every day I was
there and I never did see the sun! Although I was trying to keep dry the
whole time, the Danes were so used to the wet, that they didn’t even
bother with umbrellas! Luckily, I was staying with two cool sisters I
met three years earlier outside a St Petersburg mosque, so I had a
refuge in the deluge. (Thanks you Susanna & Malene!)
I did manage to make it to four world-class museums to witness the
beauty of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia, Roman penchant for busts, and
an odd video parody of Chris Isaac’s ‘All I ever wanted to do was
to fall in love with you.’ I must say that the parody was
hilarious, but a bit too cool for MTV.
I saw a lot of parallels in the Bronze Age exhibit. I saw where the
makers of flint arrowheads started to model their wares after the
technologically superior bronze arrowheads, before becoming extinct.
Kind of like the typewriter manufacturers of today. Also, with the
emergence of such amazing tools, the bronze items became religious
relics in themselves, becoming impractical in their oversized
ornamentive status. Kind of like the monster trucks and super lowriders
of today’s vehicles.
I only made it to two museums in Sweden, the Vasa
Museum, where an entire ship that sank intact, and fully loaded in
1628, was raised from the Stockholm harbor and is now on display in an
entire museum devoted to it, and the Wine
and Spirits Historical Museum, where I learned about the method to
the madness of the Swedish drinking laws.
The Swedes, like the Russians were into making and drinking vodka,
after the process of distillation was improved and the introduction of
the potato in the 1600’s. At one point, in the early 1800’s, the Swedes
outdrank the rest of the world, including Russia, by consuming over 40
liters of vodka per person, per year. That’s around four bottles a week!
Instead of allowing this drunkenness to ruin their country, like it
seems the Russians have, the Swedes started legislating the problem
away. First, home brewing, which was rampant in the early 1800’s was
totally outlawed in 1860. Then the cities started to form companies that
controlled all the alcohol sales in each area, giving the jurisdictions
tax revenue to fund social programs needed due the drinking. Finally the
government took over the domestic production of alcohol, and
nationalized the independent local retailers.
This has left Sweden with an interesting alcohol situation. It is the
only country that I know of in Europe, where there is an enforced
drinking age (20! almost as high as the States!), there is no alcohol
for sale on the weekends (the sates retail stores close early on
Fridays), and the national government receives a large portion of its
budget from alcohol production (Absolute Vodka is made by the Swedish
It also gives the Stockholm nightlife a weird twist. Unlike Moscow
the Stockholm party scenes divided into age groups, with the under 20
year old kids in cafes, sipping lattes, while the 20ish people are stuck
in bars where a beer is $8. Kinda makes the night either very boring or
very expensive. Luckily, yours truly is quite adaptive. I made friends
fast, and had three very enjoyable and very long evenings on the town
for $100 total. Less than an average weekend in Moscow! (Thanks Carl and
the City Backpackers Crew!) Now you know why I only made it to two
museums in four days too!
Actually, I was ready to come back to Moscow. After the USA and
Scandinavia, I’m ready for a bit of the tedium to get my balance again.
Too bad its not going to last for long.