The Swedish experience
When I was asked to travel to Malmo on business, I did not even know such a place existed on the globe. Is it in Denmark or Sweden ….. that was the question before me. I had never travelled to the Nordics before and hence my ignorance could be excused. I later found out that Malmo is a seaside town located at South West Sweden, just 20 miles from Copenhagen as the crow flies, but about 400 miles from Stockholm. Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden after Stockholm and Gothenburg with a population of just under 0.3million.
I entered Sweden through Copenhagen airport since it was the nearest International airport to Malmo. The train ride from Copenhagen airport to Malmo was really breathtaking. The 20 minutes ride consists of 15 minutes on the Öresund Bridge which links the 2 Nordic Nations. The Öresund Bridge was opened in the year 2000 and offers a new road and rail connection between Denmark and Sweden. It is considered to be one of the greatest structural achievements in Europe, across the Baltic Sea.
After checking in at the Hotel, I ventured out for a long bicycle ride which was offered free of charge by the Hotel. I was glad to see people use bicycles extensively on the roads. This way I could cover all the major landmarks at Malmo, pedalling across the city. The Turning Torso building caught my attention immediately. It is the tallest skyscraper in Sweden and the Nordic countries. Upon completion in 2005, it was the tallest residential building in the European Union. Its unique structure cannot be missed since it resembles twisted cubes. The strong chilly windy conditions aborted my journey after seeing this structure.
Next day I was told that I need to move out of Malmo and set up base at Helsingborg since the client I was visiting scheduled meetings there. Helsingborg is considered to be the fastest growing town in Sweden with a population of just under 0.2 million. This beautiful seaside town has a history dating more than 1,00 years and is today the eighth largest city in Sweden. I loved the open boulevards and vast greenery of this small town. The Hotel where I stayed offered spacious rooms with kitchen facility overlooking the Gardens. Since the timing of the visit was just right (mid August in 2011), I could keep the windows open for fresh and unpolluted oxygen. I the mornings, I often ventured out for brisk walk in the gardens and once I bumped into an old structure, which looked like an historic monument The building was a medieval fortress named Kärnan located right in the city centre. It seems this tower like building stood guard for over 600 years and witnessed the change from being a Danish controlled city to a modern city in Sweden. This beautiful town has history written all over the place, what with majestic statues and castle like structures dotting the landscape.
The Copenhagen experience
One can easily sight the nearest sea side town located at Denmark from Helsingborg on a clear and sunny day. On a lazy Saturday afternoon I decided to make a day trip to Copenhagen, which is the nearest capital city from Helsingborg. One has to take a ferry from Helsingborg to Helsingor which is just 20 minutes ride and then a train journey to Copenhagen for another 45 minutes. The ferry ride by large passenger cum cargo ships is not ordinary. It has duty free shopping facility, casino, entertainment zones and large open decks to enjoy the ride.
Copenhagen is a big change for those who come from the smaller Swedish towns due to more traffic, a crowded environment and more buzz. I had no time to visit the Palace and Tivoli, a world famous family amusement park in the heart of the city. I rather chose to take a canal boat ride to enjoy the great city. Copenhagen is in fact a city of canals, which links every nook and corner of the city. I was overawed to see old and modern buildings rubbing shoulders with each other and must say, this city is an Architect’s delight. The Black Diamond building, which houses the Royal Library is a beautiful structure that should not be missed. The older buildings dating back to 17th or 18th century still look grand and majestic.
Copenhagen is the birthplace of Calsberg and one can visit the museum dedicated to this product. The City Hall square attracts lot of people, young and old, which plays host to freelancing musicians, dancers an. After a quick tour of Copenhagen I headed back to Helsingborg. The warm sunny weather which welcomed me to this city suddenly turned cold and gray. It was time for me to return to Helsingborg. Weather is very unpredictable in this part of the world. So make hay while the sun shines.
As an Indian used to living in cities that are overcrowded and overpopulated, the cities of Sweden and Denmark are a stark contrast. You can see fewer people, very less traffic and hence less pollution. You may think you have landed in a curfew hit area, when you see the traffic situation here. Importantly the cities are spic and span and so clean. People are very warm and friendly and speak good English. There are few Indian restaurants run by Sri Lankans or Bangladeshis, but worth giving them a miss since you can hardly connect them to the cuisine we are used to back home. However the locals seem crazy about Indian cuisine and they seem to love our spicy food. Herring (fish) preparation is their National Food but Sweden by itself does not have a cuisine of its own. The public transport system is just extraordinary, be it the buses or trains. They are almost always on time and ofcourse less crowded. Since the traffic is less, I hardly encountered any jams or honking on the streets. Cycles are used extensively for commuting which is also encouraged. Sweden perhaps has the highest Income tax rate structure in the world but the Government makes generous allocation of the funds towards social welfare especially on housing and medical care.
Fortunately I was visiting this country in August-September, which is the best period to visit Nordic countries. At the same time, people in India were rallying behind anti corruption crusader, Anna Hazare…while I was visiting a country that is at the bottom of the corruption index. In fact I was surprised that people never bribed to get things done in this country and “corruption” is a word that must not be existing in their lexicon.
Sweden, a unique country with warm and friendly people may not offer much to foreign tourists but certainly a great place to visit if you are looking at “off the beaten track” locations.
The Copenhagen photos can be viewed by clicking on this Link
The Sweden (Malmo and Helsingborg) photos can be viewed by clicking on this Link
Date Visited: 29th August 2011 to 10th September 2011