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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

sweden










Dubai,s high rises below slowly faded and with the sun still in its morning mellow the searing summer heat was a few hours away.

Though the Luftansa business class seat was quite comfortable an ill placed wing hid the high rise landscape as we climbed up through the fluffy clouds .

I lost myself to fine champagne, discovery Earth and a relaxing nap . The stewardess was disappointed with what she thought was a probable wine connoiuseur what with my swishing the sparkle in the wine glass and smelling the bouqet ( I read this in a magazine and I wanted to show off ) ,but turning down her next vintage choice for a poorly sprite in a green can

( alcohols are just not my thing,don't know if one can demean wine with that label ! )

We glided into Munich Airport and its Teutonic efficiency in six hours .

I could make to the distant transit gate just in time for my connecting SAS flight to Stockholm

A quick hop and I was in Sweden chauffeured into a waiting car and driven through the neat and pristine roads to the Radisson SAS royal Viking in central Stockholm.

The Arlanda airport was just forty kilometers away from the heart of the city and well connected by the Arlanda Express a sleek fast train owned by a private company which offered non stop shuttle services for a fee of 220 Swedish Kroners ( roughly 1200 INR ) ,one could also go by the famed Stockholm taxis paying around 440 Kroners or hop into a leisurely red city bus to nearby Marsta station and get into the metro at quarter this cost .



I did think of Mr Kurien the IAS officer behind Nedumbassery airport in Kochi who achieved the unbelievable feat of creating an ethnically designed airport of international standards in the midst of cynicism, he wanted an efficient customer friendly shuttle boat, and train service to the city ,but sadly he was transferred before achieving that .

Maybe our taxi unions would have effectively blocked any such grandiose ideas ,hurrah to socialism



My Estonian driver was as all taxi drivers are meant to be quite talkative and in the span of my reaching the hotel he filled me with the whole politicoeconomicalreligous state of the country .

He reaffirmed that Sweden was a country with a very high cost of living but that the state also took care of its citizens in their old age and education and health was free.

Having deposited the baggage in the room I marveled at the scene through my window and rushed down for a walk into the neighboring cavernous central station ,the hub of Stockholm's transportation with metro lines crisscrossing ,the Arlanda express steaming in and the central bus station with trillions of fast food joints and shopping malls thrown in for the pleasure of the gaping tourist



Prosperity was abound everywhere and people were smartly dressed in the latest designer wear leather and long limbed Nordic beauties sprained my neck and filled my exopthalmic eyes with delight .

Strangely amidst all this glitter and glamour I did manage to find a beggar sitting with a sign proclaiming

"IAM HUNGRY "but his Santa Claus like rotund shape drew no sympathiesfrom the busy passerbys .

I walked gazing at the windows stocked with some of the finest ware in the world, high heeled boots, sleek skating rinks, wooden rifles, fishing gear, elegant furniture ,and so on .

It was cold and I buried my neck into the hood of my woolens as an icy wind blew, a line of makeshift shops festooned by colorful lights beckoned me into digging into a not so bad Spanish pasta which I washed down with a freezing ice cream .



Straight ahead was the waterfront reflecting the gleaming lights of neighboring buildings ,the city itself is made of fourteen islands connected by bridges with plenty of parks and sit outs facing the water ,the metro roared above while the orderly road traffic glided around ,I sat on a seat in the now empty riverside watching the old city or Gamla Stan across .

This heritage part of the city has been well maintained with their old frescoes intact neatly painted, most of the elegant buildings like the royal palace the parliament, the city hall and the famed Nobel hall where the Nobel prizes are given were in Gamla Stan .





Morning saw me streaming into the central station to board the metro to the Alvsjo station beyond Gamla Stan where the conference I came to attend was to be held .

Thoughtfully all nine thousand delegates of the European society of medical oncology from all corners of the globe were provided with free unlimited transport passes and Stockholm was infested with ESMO delegates for the week .

The International fairs was a permanent convention venue, it was designed expertly with many auditoriums and halls and a fitting pop gun fountain.

The weather was cool and pleasant and everyone was in their holiday mood.

Evening heralded the opening ceremony with the queen of Sweden doing the honors with typical blue blooded charm and elegance .

The formal ceremony metamorphosed into a rocking ABBA show by an imitation group of the legendary singers and the crowd toasted the queen clinking their glasses to the rhythm of ABBA .

There are many ways one could see the city and its nearby tourist spots ,all one has to do is to spell Stockholm in Google and you get the umpteen boat tours ,walk tours ,island and forest tours ,with the conference taking most of the time all I could manage was dumb window shopping and walking for miles in the evenings .

A sense of orderliness prevails in the country as all Scandinavian countries are sparsely populated the distribution of resources to the people is abundant and people are prosperous and happy but costs are prohibitively high .

The demographics ,politics and social values are relaxed and rules are lighter and less taxing ,of late this is slowly changing with erotic night spots closing down under pressure from womnes groups but one could still find a lot of hugging and kissing in the open .

Sweden has a history of neutrality ,though in the early seventeenth centuries it was a great power and had most of the present Scandinavian countries under it suzerainty it slowly lost the other nations and during world war II it remained neutral and benifitted by the post war global need for industrial products which it could supply and flourish .

One remembers Olaf Palme the charismatic Swedish prime minister who was shot dead as he walked back home from a movie with his wife ,with that Sweden lost its innocence.

One also thinks of the famed Nobel prize and many Indians think of Bofors guns when we remember Sweden .

These booming guns blast their shells into distant Kargil slopes and also into the Indian political battlefields .

The country side as one traveled in the local train to the airport was dreamy and picture postcard like with huge industrial warehouses flitting past as one sped from the city .

The stations were quaint and well kept with small cottages bright with flowerpots lining the way out .the buses were red and bright and drivers friendly .I asked mine at amrsta to tell me when we reach termina two of Arlanda and he nodded ,he got down in the next stop to give his baton to the next on duty and handed over the responsibilty of making me alight in the roght spot dutifully to him ,the bus dropped me a step ahead of the entrance door !

And I stepped into Arlanda to fly to Norway and that is for another day .

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