Posts filed under ‘Travel’

Fler Jättedjur (More Giant Animals)

What is it with Sweden and giant animals these days?

Not to be outdone by the goat-builders of Gävle, Swedes in Norsjö in Västerbotten province have decided to build world’s largest moose. (Yes, I know the article headline says “elk.” That’s “moose” to those of us who don’t speak British.)

You can read more about the plans for the moose at the project Web site. (I love the scale drawing that lets you compare a “real moose” and a “BIG moose!”)

Or, even better, check out the virtual video tour of the inside of the moose, which will feature a 350-seat concert hall, a restaurant and a state-of-the-art conference center. The best line from the video has to be, “Inside the mouth, between the teeth and the tonsils, you’ll find the reception and gift-shop.”

[Honestly, I swear I’ll stop posting about Sweden one of these days, but I just can’t help myself when I keep encountering stories like this.]


27 November 2007 at 22:53 1 comment

Book Envy

Every so often I read a book that makes me wish I was the one who wrote it. This usually isn’t because the book is brilliant (although it likely is) and I wish I had written something so perfect. Most often the author has had some interesting adventure that I wish I’d had. Or I imagine that the research must have been just ridiculously fun to do. My most recent case of book envy falls into this latter category.

Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France traces the history of France before it was France: when people outside Paris spoke hundreds of regional dialects and each remote village was a law unto itself. Robb describes how, from the Revolution until World War I, French geographers, ethnographers, scientists, engineers and tourists moved out into the hinterlands to colonize their own country.

In the first chapter, Robb recounts how a young cartographer mapped the area around the village of Les Estables near the Gerbier de Jonc mountain in what I believe is now the Ardèche. Just five pages into the book, I came across this passage:

To isolated villagers, a man in foreign clothes who pointed inexplicable instruments at barren rocks was up to no good. It had been noticed that after the appearance of one of these sorcerers, life became harder. Crops withered; animals went lame or died of disease; sheep were found on hillsides, torn apart by something more savage than a wolf; and, for reasons that remained obscure, taxes increased.

Even a century later, this was still a remote and dangerous part of France….In 1854, Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in France warned tourists and amateur geologists who left the coach at Pradelles and struck out across country in search of ‘wild and singular views’ not to expect a warm welcome….The handbook, perhaps deliberately, said nothing of Les Estables, which lay on the route, nor did it mention the only occasion on which the village earned itself a place in history — a summer’s day in the early 1740s when a young geometer on the Cassini expedition was hacked to death by the natives

How can you not wish you were the person to come across that story in some dusty archive?

10 November 2007 at 23:14 1 comment

Reason # 4124 Why Everything’s Better in Sweden

Coffee Naïvté

In 2003-2004 I spent year studying music in Sweden. One day, at the end of lunch I drank a mug of hot chocolate and leafed through my new copy of The Atlantic that had just come in the mail. My classmate Gustav reached out and grabbed my hand just as I was about to turn the page and conceal a Hewlett-Packard ad. “Ooohh, psychedelic,” he said as he looked over the rainbow-hued artwork.

The type, which looked like it was fading into multicolored smoke, read “Stop and smell the coffee” and touted a business partnership between HP and Starbucks. Gustav is fascinated with all things 1970s, despite being born in 1979 (or maybe because he was born then).

After a second Gustav looked at me and asked “Vad är en Starbucks för nånting?” (What the heck is Starbucks?), and I just laughed and laughed. When I saw the look in his eyes change from indignant to hurt, I tried to explain. “I’m not laughing because you should know what Starbucks is. I’m laughing because I think it’s great that I’ve spent the last eight months in a place where it’s possible for people not to know what Starbucks is. Back home, you can’t escape Starbucks, they’re everywhere with their green logo and their expensive coffee.”

I’m sure Stockholm exists somewhere on Starbucks’ road-map to global domination, but it was comforting to know that young Swedes could live their lives in blissful ignorance of all things tall, grande and vente.

7 November 2007 at 23:32 Leave a comment

I Must Look Non-Threatening

I don’t know what it is about me that makes random strangers want to stop me for information or conversation. Maybe it’s that I look like I know where I’m going — even in foreign countries. I still remember the first time a French person asked me for directions in Paris. “Now I must really belong here,” I thought.

Sometimes I wonder if I give off some secret pheromone that whispers “good listener” or even just “too polite to tell you shut up.” A few days ago, I sat down on the bench in the subway station to read my magazine until the train showed up.

As I’m reading the first paragraph, I realize that the man sitting next to me is talking to me. And we’re not talking friendly chit-chat, he’s off and running with a full-blown rant about the subway conductor who closed the doors in his face and how rude all the public transit personnel are, and don’t I think they’re rude too. I nod and make agreeable noises, wishing he’d let me go back to my article. After a minute or two (which feel like twenty or thirty), the train pulls in and I melt into the crowded car.

I get to my destination and board the bus for home and the guy in the seat behind me starts talking to me about the latest headlines from Iraq. At first I can’t tell if he’s seriously agreeing with Bush and the neo-Cons or if he’s being sarcastic. I say something vague, hoping that he won’t go off on me, and he tones down the irony. Thank goodness, he’s just an eccentric with no boundaries, not a right-wing wing-nut with no boundaries.

Nothing tops the experience I had on an overnight bus trip I took from New York City to Columbus, Ohio to see Earl Scruggs play banjo at a bluegrass festival. I was digging through some old computer files recently and found this journal entry I wrote after the trip:

I settle myself into the line for the 7:05 p.m. Greyhound to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati (continuing on to all points through Dallas). I’ve arrived far enough in advance to score a good position in the queue and hold out hope that I may yet scramble into one of the coveted front seats where my view won’t be blocked by another seat.

While I’m silently debating whether or not to take my homeopathic sleeping pills now or once I’m on the bus, a strapping woman in her 30s blusters her way into the line. I’d seen her earlier when I was buying my ticket and noticed that she seemed astonishingly dressed-up for a long-distance bus trip. Her long auburn hair is twisted up into a knot. She’s dressed entirely in white — from the short blazer and camisole to the matching mini-skirt and strappy spike-heeled sandals. She carries two matching pieces of hard-shell, sky-blue American Tourister luggage — the old-fashioned kind from the days before suitcases came with pop-up handles and wheels.

When she plops her luggage and herself into the file of waiting ticket holders, I can see that she’s not as put-together as I thought. Her fingernails are talons. I can tell they’re real, not press-ons, since two are noticeably shorter than the others. The front of her blazer is tinted with faint pink blotches as if she spilled grape juice or wine down her front, but couldn’t entirely scrub out the stains. When she parts her lipsticked lips to smile, I can see that half of her front teeth are missing. The ones that remain are gray, angular stubs.

She rummages through her purse and asks the air, “Does anyone have the time?” This is the moment of truth. If I volunteer, I may have a companion for the trip.

I imagine my mother warning, “Don’t talk to strangers!” and blurt out “6:30.”

We exchange pleasantries — “Where are you going?” “Where do you change buses?” I tell her I’m going to Ohio. She used to live in Ohio. She hates Ohio.

She is going to Kentucky. The dispatcher at the trucking company where she works is sending her on a twenty-hour bus ride to a town in Kentucky that I’ve never heard of. He could have given her a rig to drive there, but instead, he’s making her take the bus. She vows revenge. “When I come back that truck’ll be broken. I’ve had one day off in the past five years — when my truck broke. This way, I’ll get him and a day off. He’ll never send me on another bus trip.”

When we board the bus, Penny — somehow I’ve found out her name — chooses the free seat next to me. She tells me about the house she’s building. Actually, she doesn’t know where she’s building it yet — maybe Alaska, maybe upstate in Sullivan County — but she has architects working on the design. She’s disgusted with their inability to translate even her most basic ideas into blueprints. The bedroom is the biggest point of contention. The architects are stymied by the waterfall and the stream she wants flowing past her bed.

Although she’s mentioned a fiancé (a fellow trucker), he doesn’t seem to be involved in the creation of The House. In fact, it sounds like she hardly ever sees him. His driving schedule and hers rarely overlap. She spends more time with her dog — a ferocious-looking wolf hybrid — that she bought for protection on long runs. “My company,” she confides, “carries expensive cargo.” She gives me no more detail than that.

By the time we pass through the Delaware Water Gap, sunset has given way to twilight. There’s not much to see out the windows, so both of us nod off, snoozing through the long-dark stretch of central Pennsylvania.

6 November 2007 at 21:07 2 comments

Tapeworm Tourism

I may have to move Tokyo up on my list of future travel destinations after reading this Inkling magazine travel piece on the Meguro Parasitological Museum. (Gotta love the headline: “Putting the ‘Ew!’ in Museum.”)

The exhibits include a wide assortment of pickled parasites in jars including one standout specimen, a twenty-nine-foot-long tapeworm (8.8 meters). And the gift shop sells parasite-themed jewelry and t-shirts.

11 March 2007 at 22:33 Leave a comment

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