Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lund, Sweden: Giving it a Second Chance

(more photos and a movie will be posted later)

Rainy Day Blues

Nevermind the rain. It’s become a cliché to mention how hard the wind blows. Adhere to the Swedish ideal that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Layer and persevere.

Such were the conversations Phil and I had together before heading only an hour away to Lund, our second attempt at seeing this town.

Nearly every encounter with a Swede, curious about where we are from and how long we will visit Sweden, we are informed that our stay is during the most miserable weather, “But don’t write about that!” they tell me. No, they want me to write about the lure of the sea, of the good days and places, that is, if they don’t already know that I love Sweden! We are no longer put off by the weather.

That said, we climbed in the car last Friday afternoon, after thunder, lightening and rain the night before. The weather news mentioned more rain with a bit of sun so we packed for rain and hoped for sun.

We made reservations for three in an old STF train, though only a hostel, called STF Tårget
(see and made sure to help Hunter anticipate the fun of the train rather than his now quick response that he doesn’t want to go anywhere.

It was great fun to check in, find the sleeping car (past the office car, the game room car, the WC car) and our stacked bunks 1 – 3 in a lineup of similar sleeper rooms. We bumped each other and our heads getting our own bedding on each of the bunks and found the many hooks and high-up shallow shelves useful for keeping the clutter out from under and around our feet. (I was secretly pleased to get the highest bunk, providing the excuse to climb up and down the wall-mounted ladder.

Hunter, completely enamored, ran the length of the train to discover every room and available activity. He found the ping pong table, the hockey game that is more involved than foozeball, the dining car with the board games and reclining train seats. He could tell me which doors led to the showers and the toilets and what genders. He didn’t mind that people were coming down the narrow hallways when he went barreling through, nearly plastering other guests to the walls to avoid him. But this is Sweden, after all, and people just smile at rambunctious children. Some older elementary-aged boys were especially helpful with Hunter, sometimes including him in their games.

Supper in the Dining Car

We were finally able to corral Hunter when we took our sack-dinner to the dining car. Hunter had requested that we bring hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, apples and chips. That’s what we ate while the woman at the next table ate buttered tortillas and cheese, another family made a full-fledged spaghetti dinner, the smell wafting through the diner, and two college-aged kids ate yogurt and cornflakes while watching their portable DVD players and doing grotesques in yarn and cross-stitch.

The dining car was divided into a third kitchen, a third tables and chairs, and a third were the old train seats facing the front of the train toward a corner bookshelf of books and games and a small color television on a low stand. Eventually, many of the guests who dined at the tables wandered into the television area. After Hunter was finished snarfing his food, however, he wanted to play board games with us. This meant that he had to walk in front of those watching television to get a game, play it with me or his dad (it never takes long for a game of Chinese Checkers for two), then need to get another game, higher up and impossible to reach, etc., etc. After several such runs to the game area, one of the helpful boys started bringing games to us so Hunter might not disturb the television watching so often. This worked for a few minutes.

We finally decided to relieve people of our son and wander back to our room. Hunter was a fly in a tiny box there, too, so I offered to play ping pong with him. He couldn’t hit the ball, but rather kept making his paddle hit the table flatly (and loudly) on the table. I told him to go get his dad. Phil joined us for some good vollies while Hunter was the side-guard (go-fer). This was enough to keep us all occupied until just before bed-time.

Sleep. Yes, nice idea. Hunter fell into wonderland first, then Phil, just before two drunk, giggly, loud and screaming girls entered the sleeping car. Since our room was at the entrance to this car, they often stood immediately outside of our room to make their noises, have urgent discussions, drop their shoes, squeal off in one direction or another only to return to do it all over again. They often ran up and down the hall, making it feel like this parked train was actually clacking down the tracks (until two AM). By the sound of Phil and Hunter’s even breathing, I knew they got some great sleep before I was ever able to nod off.

It rained on the metal roof above me all night.

Saturday Morning

On my way to the WC car, a young gentleman wrapped in a large towel, wearing also a t-shirt and flip-flops, held the entrance door open for me. Though I was bleary-eyed, I realized we hadn’t come prepared for footwear in the shower—a must at youth hostels. We skipped showering.

At least we caught breakfast just a few minutes before closing. It was the usual fare, yogurt, cereal, milk, cheese, vegetables, and tiny bowls of fruit and seeds (I mean tiny, and these were part of the buffet). We managed just fine. The dining car bustled even more than it had the night before.

Hunter and I played that hockey game on the way back to the room. It took us awhile to get the hang of where the levers were for each player and what each player could reach. I’m sure we were noisy. Before we were done, Miss Giggles and Miss Squealer appeared. Since they had missed breakfast, they sucked on more beer and used the wrong restrooms, so that upon realization, they were back to more screaming, laughing and running down the halls back to their room.

Not Such a Good Idea

I packed up the room so Phil and Hunter could take everything out to the car. While they were gone, I decided to lean out our room window (first climb the fold-up stationary chair, then kneel on the sturdy little shelf-table, then pull the spring-loaded window down to half-way (as far as it would go) and try to lean out for a long-shot of the train. There are signs throughout the train urging people to shake their sheets (we had brought our own) out the window and a great black and white photo of a man doing so, his sheet waving neatly in the wind. There is no way I could have done such a feat and it was becoming obvious that a photo from such a precarious position was not working well, either. So, I decided it was time to quit this non-sense and get down. Only, my right foot missed the chair and my left shin took the brunt of what became an ugly fall from the edge of the table. My body swerved and caught, at rib-level, the middle bunk. Bruises appeared immediately and I was suddenly not in the mood for a walking tour around Lund. No one saw me, so I got out my handy arnica cream and it helped, though the place was still tender and purple. I hadn’t realized (besides feeling it) I had a nasty bruise at my side until Phil came in the room to make sure we hadn’t left anything, and he saw it. At least he was sympathetic.

That settled it, there was nothing more for me to do in the train and we had a town to see. I handed in the front door key after getting permission to leave our car parked in the lot all day (free parking is difficult to find in Lund). But, because we handed in our key, we couldn’t get to the nice platform leading to the path that went alongside the hostel and over the train station next door. We decided to scale a small, but well-worn, mud-slide in a berm. Phil was up first, but Hunter slid down, catching himself in the crotch of a tree, but barely. I leapt up the hill to push Hunter up and felt like a cartoon character in fast-foot mode. My camera kept swinging and trying to hit the dirt in front of me.

Hunter’s little friend, David, lives in Lund. We had made arrangements for David’s dad to meet us at the train station so we could simply walk from there. I had read about a great big children’s play area and hoped to end up where the boys could play. Before we had cleared the length of the hostel, however, and we only had a few minutes before David and his dad would be waiting, it started to rain. And I mean rain.

Meeting at the Train Station

Phil decided to go back to the car for our umbrellas. I was grateful for his willingness and steered Hunter toward the covered overpass, bicycles whirring past us on all sides. We waited for what seemed an awfully long time. When Phil appeared at the end of the overpass, he handed me the umbrella and we rushed to the other side and down the escalator to meet David, whose dad was already calling us to see where we were. Phil had an awful lot of trouble getting to his cell phone.

At one point, I was mortified to discover that my hand was completely covered in mud. I couldn’t figure out what I had touched. What was worse was that every time I moved the umbrella to the other hand to get cleaned up, the other hand and my coat sleeves would get muddy. It wasn’t until David’s dad reached out to shake my hand that I saw the end of my umbrella was simply caked with mud. I looked at Phil as if to question just why he would hand me a muddy umbrella without telling me, and there he stood, befuddled, one whole side of his body completely covered in mud.

“Did you fall?” I asked.

“Yes!” he declared, agitated that it had taken me so long to sympathize.

“Why didn’t you tell me? I had no idea!”

“Well,” he huffed, sweeping his long arm along the side of his body, “I thought you would notice!” Leave it to a man to require so much mind-reading.

I hadn’t noticed, and I was miffed that he wouldn’t announce that my umbrella handle was caked with mud before putting the stuff right into my unsuspecting hand. Don’t laugh! It’s not funny. Furthermore, we were in Lund where there were hardly any restrooms for the public except what required 5 kronor, of which we had not even one because Phil needed to find an ATM. Kleenex merely balled up and shredded when I tried to wipe off with it.

The boys chased around in circles, after David’s dad left us in this state, and we poured over my rain-wet map and the one on a kiosk by the bus stop. We were still exchanging pithy remarks when the boys asked where we were going and complained that they were getting wet. Wet, indeed, and we can’t even use the umbrella for getting completely filthy.

The Cathedral Museum

I decided I could get us to the first point of interest and took off in a huff. What an irritating day. Even the boys’ happy banter made me crazy. But we eventually found the ruins of an old cathedral under an Espresso café. There, I was able to rid myself of my now muddy coat and walk around in out of the rain to try to get some composure. There was no one else down there, so I didn’t even bother with telling the boys to be quiet or stop running. They were especially taken by the “oldest set of bones” skeleton lying in the casket at the end of the display.

Someone needed a bathroom and I didn’t have the foggiest idea where we would find one without someone having an accident when Phil suddenly emerged from a side door, smiling. He had found the unmarked room and had been able to wash a good portion of the mud off of his pants. Boy, was I in there in a flash, washing my hands and grateful there was a good pile of paper towels. I scrubbed the end of my umbrella and tried to scrub the muddy places off of my coat. After everyone had used the restroom to ease their comfort, we ascended the stairs and filed out into the rain as new people.

The Botanical Garden

Yummy smells wafted through the streets as we walked toward our next place, the acclaimed Botanical Garden. It was there I hoped we would find the playground and a cozy café for lunch. The boys and I walked past all the yummy smells, ahead of Phil while he got money. Again, it took Phil so long that we stopped on the outer edge of the farmer’s market to wait. Hunter chased a flock of pigeons and David watched in envy (but he did not feel it worthy of his good behavior to do. The rain stopped often enough to give us a little reprieve. When Phil finally caught up with us, he admitted that he’d had his glasses tightened (oh, did I neglect to tell you that his lens had fallen out that morning, too?)

It was not much of a walk to the park, but we soon discovered that there wasn’t much to see, either. It was gloomy with rain (read: mud) and the lack of very many blooming things or even greenery at all. The rain was soaking us, again, and we had passed a schoolyard so that the boys didn’t care how wonderful another playground was supposed to be, they wanted to play on that one, then get some lunch.

They played half-heartedly in the rain, got cold and wanted to eat. Not at a café, either. They had in mind hot-dogs and NOW. We wandered the streets back toward the Cathedral in the hopes that we might catch the hymn-playing clock that sounded at exactly noon and three. By the time we found it again, it was five-after-noon. The boys were practically crying with hunger. It took us no time to fall in line at a hot-dog cart and stand in the downtown square eating hotdogs and slurping apple juice. Phil was smug that he’d fed so many with so little. But David started shivering, and I mean shivering! So we finished our dogs and David talked us into ducking into the cathedral long enough to warm up a little, even if the clock wouldn’t chime.

While we were in there, we looked again in the crypt to find the place the Giant Finn was buried. Still couldn’t find him and the clerk was absent from the reception desk for finding out (all the guidebooks talk about this Giant’s bones). I was able to scan a whole brochure on the crypt and the Giant and never found anything more out, but didn’t have to spend the 10 kronor, either, because I returned the brochure unscathed.

Conditori Lundagård

Phil had promised he would take us to the Conditori Lundagård for a nice treat where we could sit down. David jumped up and down as we waited for our number to be called (take a number anywhere you go in Sweden). He ordered the biggest pastry in the pastry window. Then, as we were finding two little tables and four chairs, David and Hunter discovered the toys in the coat closet. That was it for Hunter. He needed no such thing as a treat, he just wanted to play. Finally, there was something in a building to redeem the miserable day! Hearing Hunter and David speak in English (David speaks English and Swedish), attracted a tiny little girl who was astounded to hear her own language among children. Come to find out, her mother had been a professor in Virginia in The States, though they now lived in Lund. Phil and I enjoyed our pastries in peace while the boys played with cars, tripping the people coming and going with their pastries and coats.

By the time we had finished our pastries, it was time to walk back over the train station and to our car to take David home in time to attend a birthday party. I begged Phil to find a better way to the car than the mudslide and he expertly led us into an empty schoolyard to the car with no mishaps. Except, according to David, for one: Hunter whizzed in the bushes at the school yard. David came running to tell me, as if a major sin had been committed. When I realized school was out for the day and the windows were not apartment windows, I let it slide. Afterall, where would we find another bathroom?

The Fire Safety Inspector

Just before the school yard, a man stopped us saying, “I hear you speaking English. Where are you from?” He also complemented Hunter on his beautiful singing though he "couldn't quite make it out." (Neither can we, most of the time)

We exchanged friendly conversation and he asked me to include him in this story. His name was Håkan. Though he was originally from Stockholm where he liked it better, his work as a fire safety inspector had taken him to Lund and he had never left, even after retirement, because it was “a great effort” to move back to Stockholm. He was a friendly chap and I wish we could have spoken longer, but we had all that whizzing and tattling going on, so we needed to get going.

You might not want to read this part

On the way to David’s house, I was hit by a monstrous stomach ache that would soon explode. Fortunately, we attend church with David’s folks, so they let me use the bathroom. David rushed off to the birthday party and I said my goodbye-see-you-tomorrows and was off so we could finally “do”the rest of Lund without an extra boy who didn’t really want to be with Hunter, anyway. Truth be told, none of us were in the mood to continue walking aimlessly around this rainy town, but we were determined not to come a third time until it was at least late spring!

The stomach that wanted to explode did not quiet. No sooner had we found parking, I was in need of another WC. St. Peter’s Cathedral, by which we parked, was locked (the guidebook said it held regular tours, but not this day, obviously). We walked to the other Cathedral. No restrooms there, either. The 5 kronor WC was nearby, but it required a 5 and I only had the 20 Phil gave me.

The Medieval Clock in the Cathedral

The wind whipped up and it started to pour. Umbrellas turned inside-out and it was nearly three o’clock. We went in to join nearly a hundred people sitting in pews facing backward from the front of the church but placed in front of the Medieval Clock, waiting eight more minutes to hear the wondrous sound and see the wondrous sights. Several nationalities and languages were represented in those pews. We weren’t the only ones touring Lund on a bad-weather day. It was obvious we had all read our guidebooks, too, and were dutifully awaiting the one great event in the city (ask the locals about it, and they don’t know anything about it). I know this to be true because after the little wooden doors opened and the wise men, the shepherd and a few other key people circled Mary and the Baby to the tune of “Christ is Born Today,” the little doors closed with a slight bang and it was all over. Two seconds of silence and the whole group of us laughed because it was such a silly, small thing for what it is written up to be.

Business is Business

No one at the bus stop next to the 5 kronor WC had change for a twenty, but they looked worried that I might snatch their wallets, anyway. I didn’t believe a one of them, and said so under my breath (even a trip to the Cathedral did not make me repentant for breathing such things). I shoved my 20 kronor in my pocket and marched up the street to where we’d had our pastries. In I walked, straight back to the empty WC, no charge for kund (customers) and saved myself a twenty (not quite four dollars) on the premise that I’d been a customer just an hour before.

Feeling much better, I was able to meet Phil and Hunter where they searched for the next museum we wanted to see. Many places were closed or soon closing. We were glad to discover that the Museum of Sketches would still be open awhile and was very near our car. This was truly the ONE PLACE I wanted to see, more than all the fool stuff in the second oldest town in Sweden. And boy, was it worth it!

The Museum of Sketches

This, we decided, would be the last attempt at trying to see anything. We were tired and rain-weary.

Inside the museum, our eyes nearly popped out of our back-extended heads. Paintings and sculptures, mounted from floor to very high ceiling, demanded attention, each one with the original corresponding sketches--“inventions” of the art. The sketches were on napkins, ads, newsprint paper, old letterhead, paper bags, etc and the art was fantastic. Many of the sculpture mock-ups and moulds were there, too. Believe it or not, even Hunter was smitten by this place. He enjoyed finding the art to go with the sketch and how often the first sketches looked like his own doodlings. We recognized the first sketches, paintings and mock-ups of the dome mosaic in the Lund Cathedral. I recognized a first sculpture of one I'd seen in Helsinki, Finland, five years earlier, of a mother holding her baby up. Forgive me if I can’t drop names. I’m terrible with names. All in all we were pleased and gawking.

If we go back to Lund, I’m going to the Museum of Sketches again when I’m less frustrated and more awake.

There were other cultural and art museums we missed because they closed by four pm or seemed to be closed that day. We really will have to drive back to Lund a third time just to finally see what is important—the art!

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