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Published: July 29th 2018
At the point that Bill and I were about to leave this Cosmos tour of Scandinavia, I thought it was only fair that we should talk with our program director to let her know about our dissatisfaction with the lack of information and the non-centrally located hotels offered on this trip. This was not a comfortable thing for me to do. She obviously knew about the hotel locations (and may have picked them herself), but seemed surprised when I mentioned that we had expected frequent commentaries during the bus rides; she said she thought no one was interested since no one was asking questions. We were sitting in the back of the bus, so it wasn't possible for her to hear us at all, but I felt it was up to her as the program director to offer information, whether or not any questions were asked by the group. She is a very nice young woman, and listened carefully to us; at least we felt that we had specifically expressed our displeasure rather than just complaining about the tour. The next morning (Bill said he expected this) she began telling all of us bus captives about societies, educational systems, religion, culture, life, all the topics we should have been learning since the beginning of the trip. At times it was almost too much, and I worried for her voice to hold out. But it was wonderful educational commentary on the places we were travelling through. At last! At the first coffee break when we alighted from the bus I thanked her and told her how much her information was appreciated, not just by us, but by many others on the tour as well. The evening before we spoke with her we had told several people about our thinking of leaving, so they were aware that we had said something, and many were thanking us. I just wish we - or someone - had spoken up earlier, and not lost so many days just sitting there, waiting for her to speak. Her belated information was excellent.
So we stayed with the tour. On our journey towards Sweden we made a morning's stop at Lillehammer, where the 1994 winter Olympics were held. The ski jumps are still there, being very well used even in summer. This was a surprise, as warm weather/green grass ski jumping was happening right before our eyes. Most of the ski jumpers we saw that day climbed up the very steep hill instead of taking the lift up; after waiting for a signal at the top, we could hear one starting down, then lifting off, flying into the air, staying aloft as long as he could, landing on the wet grass beyond the fence where we were watching, stopping not too far away on a small upslope. The grass is watered down to mimic snow, I guess, but who would have thought to be able to continue ski jumping when there isn't any snow? Wouldn't the possibility of serious accidents be vastly magnified? It was very exciting to watch these flyers, especially the ones jumping from the bigger, higher jump. We could feel the adrenalin as they were so close to us. Not surprisingly, all of the jumpers we saw were males, young, but one of the best jumpers we witnessed that morning was a 13 year old boy; even though he was small and light, his flights were among the longest; a few of us kept count of the measuring stripes scored on the grass to see who flew farthest. I predict we'll see this young boy in an upcoming winter Olympic games as soon as he is old enough.
Back in the bus after this amazing and wonderful break, we drove alongside gorgeous Lake Mjosa, and then into Sweden, through the Varmland's forest and lakes wilderness area. Norway is absolutely one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but this part of Sweden is also stunning. But only a day's travel later as we got closer and closer to Stockholm, suddenly it seemed that Sweden was just a series of ugly malls, block buildings, highway traffic, the worst run amok architecture that can be seen in unplanned big cities anywhere in the world. After days and days of beauty it was truly horrible, driving this route into the outskirts of Stockholm. For our coffee break we stopped (of course) at a mall. I hate malls and avoid them no matter where I am, but here there was no choice. Either spend this "free" time standing in the sun in a hot parking lot, eating at McDonald's, or walking through this ugly mall. We went in, basically to use the bathrooms, plus looking for a grocery store to perhaps find some fresh produce, and what did we find instead? In this mall there is a large store devoted totally to selling bulk colored candies! Bins and bins and bins of cheap colored candies beckon children (and many adults) to come take a scoop and fill up a plastic bag or two. Imagine a store only selling bins of candy! Swedes apparently eat more candy than most other countries; the average amount per person for 2017 is listed as 17 kg or almost 37.5 pounds in a year! This was an amazingly disturbing fact to learn, especially since I had thought most Scandinavians focussed on health. I was wrong.
Swedes also enjoy what they call a fika (pronounced feekah), a short social break with coffee and a sweet cinnamon or cardamom bun or other pastry, several times throughout their day. This is a communal part of Swedish culture, not just a coffee break. But, showing remarkable restraint, they save the majority of their candy consumption mostly for after their work week is done, for Saturdays. This (without the umlaut since my keyboard doesn't have one) is called lordagsgodis. Not only do children look forward to lordagsgodis but, given the average amount of candy consumed annually by each person in Sweden, it seems adults do as well. I haven't checked on how dentists fare in Sweden, but I'd guess they are quite busy.
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