Saturday, September 5, 2015

Scandinavia is different...

Scandinavia is different. Some of that difference is stuff you knew about. There are a lot of tall, blond, blue-eyed people. There is a lot of water. They have social welfare states where no one (more or less) is hungry, or homeless; where there is free public education, and free public health care, and the elderly are provided for in the appropriate setting (home, assisted living, nursing home) for their needs. The people are nice, and they are prosperous. There actually is some social cohesion. It is cold, I am told, in the winter, but we were there in August, and it was nice – warm and sunny but not hot (we were told it was cold and rainy in June and July). When we were there, of course, we learned more – some of it necessarily anecdotal, based upon the people we talked to, some of it related to the individual places we were and the things that we saw.

One thing is that there are difference among the 3 countries we visited, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They all have a lot of water and they all have a lot of tall blond people and their languages all sound (to the American ear) a lot the same and they all, as far as I can tell, speak English, which is good since I understand virtually none of what they say in their languages, except “tak” (or “takk” in Norwegian), which means thank you. Even in the few cases where I can understand a written word, I can't the spoken; on the way from Copenhagen, to Odense, the conductor asked if we were headed to "OON-seh". “No,” I said, “O-dense”. “OON-seh,” he replied. We spent the most time in Denmark, and went to the most different places. The first couple of days, in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, might have been more fun minus the jet lag, but we got to visit (on the first afternoon!) the Jewish Museum (I’ve written earlier about “Denmark and the Jews”, August 23, 2015) and took a canal boat tour around to get our bearings. Tivoli Gardens was a great disappointment; right by the train station it is not the lovely garden I envisioned, but a rather small amusement park. The next day museums were open and we saw the Glyphotekhet art museum (funded by the owner of Carlsberg) and walked the Stroget and saw the university and a few lovely churches. And walked in Christenhavn, and in the neighborhood of Christiana, with hippies and open drug dealing. There are signs indicating no photography, apparently somewhat enforced (a guy came up and asked me if I’d taken a picture of the area, which I denied; “we’re drug dealers here, man”), and also a bit ridiculous since if the police had any interest in identifying or arresting them, they could just go there, not try to find a tourist’s photographs!

We went to Odense (OON-seh!) for a conference for Pat and an incredibly gracious day of presentations for me from the researchers at the Research Unit on General Practice at University of Southern Denmark, coordinated by director Jens Sondergaard. My own private conference; I learned an incredible amount of information about both how practice exists in Denmark and about cutting-edge primary care research applicable most places. Although Hans Christian Andersen wrote most of his stories while living in Copenhagen, and there is an avenue named for him there, he was from Odense, and there are dozens of statues of him, and when we were there it was the week for his festival, with actors all over and lots of performances. Unfortunately, while I loved the Danny Kaye film, especially his singing and his renditions of “Thumbelina”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, and others, Andersen’s actual stories are grim, scary, and depressing (I remember having nightmares from “The Snow Queen”, but even “The Little Mermaid” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” are horrifying.) It is incredible to think of reading these stories to, or having them read by, children. They make the Brothers Grimm seem cheerful and upbeat. Stick with the English A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, J. M. Barrie, or the Swedish Astrid Lindgren, or the Englishman-born-to-Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl. But Odense is quite lovely, and the City Museum great.

We spent much of a day in Svendborg, on the southern end of the island of Funen (located between the island of Zeeland on which Copenhagen is situated and the mainland, Jutland), where Odense is the largest city, hosted by Allan and Elisabeth Pelch, and then took the ferry to the island of Aero. Thanks to Rick Steves for recommending this; it was an incredible place to spend two nights and a day, kind of the best of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard with a whole lot fewer people and a whole lot older houses. Incredible to bike around the island, and to spend time in the main town, Aeroskobing. Then, with trains, planes, and automobiles (OK, no planes or automobiles, but two ferries and two trains and a bus) we went from Aeroskobing through Svendborg and Odense and Copenhagen to Oslo, Norway, the last part on a 16-hour ferry. Since you have to get there somehow, and have to stay in a hotel every night, this was a great deal; super smorgasbord buffets, and wonderful views coming in through the Oslo fjord.

[more later]

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