Thursday, December 07, 2006
Day 1: Sweden
Happily uneventful trip over landed us in Gothenburg around 10:30. We were met by a very friendly driver and taken directly to the Saab factory in Trollhattan, a little more than an hour away, just in time for a factory tour....100% in Swedish!
Luckily, you don't need to know much Swedish to tour a car factory. I was surprised at how calm, clean, and quiet the plant was, even with production running. Most impressive were the stamping lines (ha, ha.) I was also surprised to see all Saab makes from the same assembly line (example: 9-3 sedan followed by 9-5 wagon), where I would have guessed that one line per product would facilitate specialized production.
Unfortunately, no cameras were permitted on the tour. I didn't see anything that could remotely be considered a secret, but rules are rules.
After the factory tour and checking in at the Ronnum's Manor hotel in Vargon, we had about an hour of daylight to grab some lunch and tour Trollhattan (Sun goes down just after 3pm.) We managed to find a grocery store nearby and grab lunch (1 donut and a bottle of Pucko brand chocolate milk (not good), and hopped a bus in the rain for Trollhattan.
Trollhattan was plain, perhaps because the rain discouraged us from seeing much of it. A mild bus misadventure later (we learned you really should, at a minimum, know the name of your hotel's town), and we returned to the hotel. Or, as locals like to say "Nicole Kidman's hotel."
(Kidman stayed at this hotel for 2 months while filming here a few years ago. At least 4 different people pointed that fact out to us today - even our bus driver. Trollhattan, capital of the Scandinavian film industry, is nicknamed "Trollywood.")
The hotel is VERY nice, though I'm spooked that I have yet to show any ID or sign anything to check in, or eat dinner, or anything else.
Saab treated us to dinner, and since it was Christmas season, we were given a choice of a 3 course meal (salmon appetizer, ox entree, parfait dessert) or the Christmas buffet. While the thought of trying ox was appealing, so was the opportunity to sample many Swedish dishes, which we definitely did.
The buffet (funny that the word smorgasbord wasn't used) was huge, covering at least 3 rooms (there might have been more.) The first room was filled with dishes, almost all very Swedish, and almost all unknown to anyone who didn't know Swedish. That didn't stop either Kevin or I. As is always the case, there were more times when I was happy that I tried something, than disappointed in a new dish.
I could even figure out what some of the ingredients were in a few dishes. In general, the dishes in this room were cold, meat heavy and vegetable light, and predominantly fish. I sampled at least 2 different forms of pickled herring (never had before), 2 different salmons, and more. I also tried sillsade which I thought was a dessert because it looked like cranberry jelly, but involved herring somehow. I also learned that the first rule of Swedish cooking is "if you can eat it, you should pickle it."
After a well-filled plate and a glass of wine, compliments of Saab, I wondered whether it was even acceptable to return to the buffet. That's when found the two other buffet rooms - one hot, and one dessert.
Only because I was on an international exploration mission did I force myself to try these buffets. (And perhaps too because I'm curious and a glutton, which is a very dangerous combination.)
I was slightly less experimental at this point, but enjoyed the Swedish meatballs (or, as they call them here, meatballs), as well as a number of other dishes.
I didn't have room for dessert, but that didn't stop me. Apple cake/pie, chocolate parfait/pudding (or something like that), and a little bit of local custard with some berry sauce poured over (not good) finished the night. Somehow, I managed to resist the table full of candies, which at least looked outrageous.
I waddled back to the room where I joined a BioCatalyst teleconference, then wrote this blog before going to bed. (The bed part comes next.)
Tomorrow we'll be picked up at the hotel at 10am (following a breakfast courtesy of Saab) to pick up the car, and I can't wait. (If you want to see what the car should look like, check the bottom of this page.)
After pick up, we'll tour Gothenburg, second city of Sweden and home of Ace of Base, then board the overnight ferry to Kiel.
More details later. In the meantime, let me know if you like these posts....
Uncommon Man's Creed
"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous