Getting up early is a habit. Even with nothing in particular to do I woke up as usual and used the available time to take back ups and fill out the log sheets. We had targeted to leave by 8 am so that we could be in Gothenburg by lunch time. Breakfast consisted of Upma and banana. After loading the luggage Fr and Liya signed the campaign poster wishing us well for the rest of the journey. The goodbyes had to be made fast, lest we break down. It had been an emotional stopover, filled with affection and care. Two more friends we had acquired on the journey, two more good souls who were helping us fulfil what we had set out to do.
The Navigator had been primed to set me on the route to Helsingor, from where we were to take ferry to Helsingborg. I was also sure that I would not have a problem since I had done the route the previous evening. Manoj had mentioned in Warsaw that Preetha could lose her way on a straight road. I had not accepted it then, but the same applied to me too. It happened this day. The road to Helsingor was signposted well and I was set for that when suddenly the Navigator played truant and I took the road to Copenhagen Centrum. I realised the mistake in a split second. But the damage had been done. I had to toe the line to the Centrum and the traffic was heavy. Mercifully the Navigator regained consciousness and after a delay of more than 30 minutes I was firmly set on the road to Helsingor.
It was only a 40 minute drive to the ferry terminal from Copenhagen. The ferry was about to load as I reached the ticket counter and paid for it. The ticket for the car with two passengers cost SEK 395, about Euro 54; very steep indeed for a 20 minute crossing. Between Helsingor and Helsingborg there are 70 crossings a day, with a departure every 20 minutes! The loading of the ferry operated by Scandlines – there are four ferries in the link - was done in an orderly manner and was completed quickly. By the time I had parked the car and bought us a cup of coffee each the ferry had sailed. I soon clambered up the sun deck to see the shore of Denmark receding fast. The Kronburg Castle stood out magnificently on the Danish coast. I was given to understand that ferries have been in operation between the two coasts across the Oresund since the days of the Vikings. Proper ferries, however, were introduced only in 1888 by DSB, the Danish rail company. I had to hurry with the coffee because the Swedish coast was fast approaching and I wanted a ringside view of the docking from the deck where the car was parked. I dumped the cup and ran down the deck stairway and was in time to view the vessel getting docked.
Once again the orderly disembarking was a joy to experience. We were driving into the 21st country and there were absolutely no checks or papers asked for. The boundaries are indeed seamless. Just before we hit the highway there was a board indicating that the maximum speed is 110 kmph. Such boards are displayed at all the Schengen country borders. It is a great help since the restrictions are varied across countries. I set the car on the road to Gothenburg without too much of trouble. It started pouring heavily but driving was not too bothersome. However, I wished my wiper blades were more efficient.
The hotel booking in Gothenburg, as in many other cities, had been done by Mirus, the Travel Agent in Delhi. They have been a tremendous support right through the journey and their constant assistance has helped us out of what could have been tricky situations. The Navigator, now an indispensible part of our journey thanks to Manoj in Warsaw, recognised the street where the Hotel Kusten was located. I did take the wrong turn once, but not with any severe consequence and reached the hotel with slight delay en route. I parked the car at the side of the hotel and walked in for the check in. A buffet was on and a kind lady directed me to the first floor of the hotel to complete the check in, which was done quickly enough. We had a twin share room on the 1st floor, for a steep price of SEK 820; SEK 7.2 to a Euro, I was told at the reception. I was waiting with bated breath to know the garage arrangement and what the charges would be. Fortunately, the hotel had garage arrangements in the basement and was free for hotel guests. Thank God for small mercies. The young man at the reception gave me a room key card with a small ring attached to it. He said that the ring would help open the garage door, which it did. The narrow and steeply winding passage led to a rather commodious parking lot. There was enough space to choose from.
Once the luggage was safely deposited in the room we went down for the buffet. The salads were already arranged in the buffet. The choice of main course was chicken, fish and vegetarian. Lal and I chose the fish dish. In the meanwhile we helped ourselves to the fish soup and a huge helping from the salad bar. The soup was delightful – it resembled the Fish Moilee of Kerala in taste and look. In fact the soup and salad had filled us up by the time the main course arrived. The huge chunk of Cod with a bland sauce was tasty too, once it was peppered up a bit – the buffet counter had Tellicherry Pepper. It had to be siesta after the heavy repast.
Venunath Vikraman, or Venu in short, had been in touch with Lal during our journey from Copenhagen. He was based about 180 kms east of Gothenburg and had wanted to meet up with us in the afternoon. Venu, in his 20s, was venturing into a commercial deal with the release of Lal’s latest hit film, Vikramadityan, in Sweden. The young man was doing his Master’s programme as well as supporting his mother who is on dialysis in Kerala. He had lost his father a few years back and had inherited a few financial liabilities too. When I hear such experiences I wonder why we complain when we go through much less. HE has given Venu the strength of character and fortitude to survive the cards that life has dealt him. He has been doing consistently well in the programme, the result of which has been tuition waiver initiated by his Professor. Besides, he works part-time to send money home for his mother’s treatment. During vacation time, as it is now, he works at a store from 8 pm to 5 am and then spends a few more hours in the morning distributing newspapers. It is people like him that are the right role models for youngsters. I am sure that his hard work and dedication will stand him in good stead in the years to come. We have met a few such individuals on the journey. May their journeys be fulfilling and successful, is all we can wish.
The receptionist suggested that we take a canal cruise to appreciate Gothenburg. Venu drove to a parking lot near the departure of Paddan Tours. The rain had played spoil sport during the previous tour, we understood, and therefore, we expected the worst too. Fortunately, the skies held up and we had a wonderful tour. Ellen, the vivacious guide, was the highlight of the tour. She was so expressive, especially when introducing the ‘handsomest captain’ on board! She kept up the commentary in Swedish and English narrating the development of the area since the 1600s, wars between Sweden and Denmark, sailors and their capers, fisherfolk and their women, architecture and culture, restaurants and bars, etc. at two places we had to bend real low in the boat to get through the low bridges. In fact, one of the bridges is aptly called “The Hairdresser”! The shipyard of Gothenburg is out of business and is likely to shut down leading to loss of jobs. Swedes have been migrating in large numbers to neighbouring countries like Norway in search of jobs.
After the canal cruise Venu took leave of us as he had to get to his town before the start of his work at 8 pm. Lal and I walked around the main street of Gotheburg, the Kungsportsavenyen, the happening place in the City. We were charmed by the street performers who gave a carnival touch to the City. Thus, the comedian who collected a large audience around him, musicians from Ecuador, hip hop dancing competition, food courts from across Europe, etc consumed much of our left over time in Gothenburg. Every city has its own charms, as does Gothenburg. We decided to have dinner at an American boutique restaurant. The place was busy and the draught beer and steaks were good too. Then we hired a taxi to the hotel. The driver was Ali Raza from Iran, who gave us interesting insights to the life in Gothenburg. He aspires to take a sabbatical from work and study for a couple years so that he can land a better job thereafter. It drizzled a bit as we got off the taxi at the hotel. I was grateful that the weather had held up for us to have a decent round of the city.