Swedish Bastu

Bastu or Sauna in English is loved by many in Scandinavia. There really is something about these things, you just feel so fresh when you get out of one. I have been swimming at the local indoor pool here for some exercise of late and the bastu after is the final touch on a great exercise regime. The only thing that is a little disturbing is the fact that no one wears clothes. Hitting the Bastu for the first time was kind of like an initiation, coming from Australia there is not as much emphasis on nakedness in the change room.

People over here love stripping off and sitting down with there naked mates. There is a whole range of people from young to the very very old. Now call me conservative but I find it a little uncomfortable with sitting in a room with 35 naked sweating men, some of which will start performing stretches and in one case yoga in front of you, which leaves nothing to the imagination and stains you with a really shocking picture of the human anatomy.

I still have not jumped into the depths of the naked bastu, I usually just wear a towel around myself and keep my gaze focused at the floor, usually I am the odd one out in the crowd and people probably think that I am the weird one, each to their own I guess. 

This exposé does not stop once you are out of the bastu, usually people are showering naked which is not too uncommon, until you see a really old fat guy sitting in the change room, just outside from the entrance to the room sitting on a chair reading the paper, legs spread and genitals exposed? That is just stepping over the line, especially when he has probably scared most of the women walking into the next change room.

Swedish Ost

If you are someone like myself grocery shopping is never a very fun experience. This gets even more painful when you are trying to navigate your way around a shopping centre in another country. From desperately trying to figure out which type of meat is which and constantly examining food packages for some type of explanation or description about the product, the long list of unpleasant factors does outweigh the positives.

Now most of the time you can find what you are looking for, but there does come a point in time when you do crave a classic food item from back home that is just impossible to get.  As for meat pies, now this is something that I have been craving now for months and months. I never really thought I would crave a pie so much, I would take anything at this point, even your dodgy heat up frozen pies would do the trick. A couple of hundred party pies maybe? Maybe Sweden could replaces their obsession with Ost (cheese) and throw a couple of pies into the picture every now and then.

The Swedes love their Ost (cheese), for breakfast most mornings people will pull out the big block of cheese and slap it down on the table. The cheese will usually be accompanied by some bread, meat of some sort like ham or salami, boiled eggs and the final touch of both tomato and cucumber. I kind of like this type of food for breakfast so I was pretty stoked when I found out that this was the norm. The same applies in hotels here, if you book into any hotel in Sweden breakfast is usually included in the overall price. I have stayed a heap of hotels here and have sampled all of the breakfasts on offer. The standard line up is breads, cheese, eggs (boiled), sausages, bacon, some fish like herring, yogurt, meats like ham and salami, tomato, cucumber and capsicum. Why they have these three vegetables is unknown to me, but without fail they are on offer in every hotel in Sweden.

I am getting off track again! So the Swedes love for ost brings me to another event that happened one day when I was grocery shopping. God help us we ran out of ost, so I went down to the shops to get another block. Now the pricing system here is all by per kilo, once again they have to make it very hard to understand what the hell is going on. So I turn up to the shops and walk into the ost section, which is absolutely massive, there is every type of cheese. I manage to just match up the cheese from the packaging we had back home, but what I can't understand it why some HUGE blocks of ost are so much less expensive that these little blocks? I had not known about this per kilo crap at this point, all I thought was that if they are advertising that price for the piece of cheese, then that is the final price right?

So I manage to take a huge block of cheese, all it said, well all I could make out was 65 SEK which is only around 9 dollars not too bad yeah? This thing could have killed someone if you had dropped it on their head. So I grab some other stuff and then proceed to the counter. I place the cheese and the rest of my items down, forgetting to place that little wooden block behind me so the next person behind could offload their shopping. Well it was as if I had committed the ultimate sin, this old man behind me gave me the worst look of all time and shook his head? Sorry old timer I did not know that it was such a big inconvenience to place your own f*#king block down! This had already gotten me into a twist, but things were going to get worse. I go through the checkout and the girl scans all my items and then just throws them down counter, nothing was bagged and half of my items by this point were probably destroyed. I give her a strange look as she tells me the price which I could not understand. So I just swipe my card and she hands me the receipt with a very blank unimpressed look on her face, nice girl.

I get down to the end of the counter where my food has been thrown and there are no bags to put any of my stuff in. I was like so wtf am I going to do? Just shove all this stuff into my pockets? The cheese alone would have pulled my pants straight off if I had attempted to do that. So I ask her "where are the bags?" Mind you I kind of cut in front of my new friend behind me as he was trying to pay for his food. This was strike two in his book. She tells me that the bags are down underneath the counter. Okay so I grab three bags and proceed to walk off, SLUTA! SLUTA! (stop, stop ) You have to pay for those! Oh yeah that would be right, so I handed over 3 SEK. By this point I had committed strike 3 according to my old friend, and I am sure I looked like a complete criminal in the eyes of the Swedish people watching.

So I pack all my stuff up and start to walk out to the car. I put all my bags down and realise I am still holding the receipt in my hand. I unfold the piece of paper and see that for a few measly grocery's I had been charged over 300 SEK! (60 AUD). I look at the price of the bloody cheese and see that they have charged me yep, per kilo!

200 SEK for a block of cheese! 40 dollars for cheese, I was not going to give her the satisfaction and take it back, looking like a total fool. My old mate friend was probably still there bagging me out to the rest of the line. So I had to suck it up and keep on driving, but from that moment on ost was on the menu every meal of the day. My cholesterol from consuming that block of cheese has probably cut some years off my life! 

Swedens Ticket System

Those of you who have been to Sweden have probably come across The Ticket System. In Sweden people love to have order, things have to run smoothly and efficiently, but this sometimes create more chaos and trouble. In every shop you enter in Sweden, it does not matter if it is an electrical store to a jewelry store you have to take a ticket before you are going to be served. Just like in the local RTA you have to press a button and get a ticket that prints out. Kind of ironic that Sweden is crazy about the environment and the amount of paper that these things waste? But never mind, knowing Sweden it is probably some organic type of paper that has been specially designed to be instantly recycled and reused. So anyway this ticket system is something that can catch you off guard when you first arrive into the country.

My first experience with this was when I was in a bussen (bus) terminal in Stockholm. I was trying to organize to catch a bus from Stockholm to Göteborg that day, I was kind of in a rush because I was not sure how long it would take to get there or when the last bus was actually going to leave. The first counter that I walked up to no one was being served there were only people standing towards the outside some distance away from the person that was dealing with the tickets. I walk up to the man at the counter thinking that everything is okay, but this was not the case. Now the Swedish people are not ones to get hostile and they usually try and avoid any type of confrontation but man if you fuck with there ticket system its WWIII! One dude starting yelling something in Swedish while the rest joined in on this barrage of abuse! I had know idea wtf was going on so finally the man at the counter told me that I had to take a ticket from the machine that was over the other side of the room and wait until my number came up on the screen. So finally I managed to find out what was going on, the number that was called was 413 and i was 430, so I just sat down and waited. After waiting for 15mins my number was finally called and it was now okay for me to approach the counter. "I would like to book one ticket to Göteborg please", I said. The man replied "sorry this is not the right counter, you will have to go over to the other counter and book it through them". Fuck sake, this could have been solved if I was allowed to approach the counter and ask a question before the 10 crazy Swedes unleashed there abuse upon me. So I picked up my bag and walk over to the other counter, same deal here although there was no one waiting at this counter, I looked over, around, up and down, no one was there no need to take a ticket right? I walk up to the counter and ask the same question again, the man replies "Sorry you have to take a ticket!". I was like what the hell is this no one is even here, but again I went with the flow pressed the stupid button for the ticket, stood there, the guy pressed his little button, "bing!" and then he called my number and I was allowed to approach the counter? Talk about control, no rules or regulations can be broken, especially when it comes down to the ticket system!

I should probably give you a little information about getting around in Sweden. Coaches are usually the cheapest way to travel all throughout Sweden, and even Scandinavia. Swebus is a coach line that travels all over Sweden and also to Denmark and Norway. You will be paying half as much for these bus rides than say the train. But be warned if you do not like having to sit on a bus for 8-10 hours in some cases, then I would not recommend this way of travel. In my experience most of the time Swebus has been really good, they even have free wifi on the coaches so you can just hook into the Internet. They also come with your own power plug, saves you trying to conserve battery. Just a little piece of advice, sit near the front or the middle of the bus, don't make the mistake of sitting around the back, because on a 8 hour trip to Copenhagen from Stockholm they last thing you want to smell is the wafting stench of someone's urine for the whole journey.

If you are wanting to get around quicker then SJ is the train system you should take. Takes half the time compared to the bus but you will be paying around double for the train, to avoid high fees try and book ahead of time, you will get quite a discount in price. Click the links provided to fine out more about the prices and destinations. 

What is interesting though is this whole idea about conditioning, when you live in a place for a while you start to just go with what other people are doing and conform to the rules and regulations of the country. Now Sweden is very controlled there is policy and system for everything. But there was one instance when I really shocked myself and I knew that I had been in this country for far too long! Same deal applies as before, I was waiting in a tourist information center a few weeks ago to find out where I could find a travel agent in the shopping center. I had done the right thing and taken a ticket and was just casually waiting around for my number to be called. Just before my number was going to be called some dude comes out of nowhere are starts to walk over to the counter, I was like WHAT! HE DOES NOT HAVE A FU*$ING TICKET! HE CAN'T TAKE MY POSITION! HE CAN'T CUT IN LINE! I starting walking over to give him a piece of my mind when the lady at the counter just called out my number and ignored the man, I bumped him aside and proceeded with my question. Afterward it hit me that I had turned into one of those crazy swedes, I was getting abusive over the ticket system...? I knew from that moment on I had been in Sweden for far too long!