Sweden Once More

I recently returned from my fourth trip to Sweden this year. I had planned to go over the summer but the best plans are sometimes overtaken by events, and so it wasn’t until October that I was able to return.

We have been doing a big project there since around March, and I went over to do some training. It was a lot of fun, and probably one of my favorite trips so far. The weather was much warmer than in trips past, and it wasn’t much different than where I live in North Carolina at this time of year.

The work is being done in a little town called Åsensbruk, pop 522. I was staying in a hotel about 10km away in Dals Rostock called the Kroppefjäll, and the nearest “big” town is Mellerud, which is 11 people smaller than the small town in which I live.

To get there, I fly from North Carolina to London, and then from London to Gothenburg (the second largest city in Sweden after Stockholm). From there it is a two hour or so drive up the E45.

This time I was rented a diesel VW Golf, which I quite liked. It came with BlueMotion technology, which is a high efficiency, low emissions system that produces amazing fuel economy (I went over 1000km on half a tank of fuel). It did freak me out the first time when it turned itself off automatically. I had stopped to check directions, so I put it in neutral and let go of the clutch and the engine turned off. When I depressed the clutch to go again, it started back up. I really wish they were available in the US.

Note: if you plan to drive overseas, make sure you can use a standard transmission. While automatic transmission cars are available, you usually have to specify one when renting.

It was a real pretty time of the year, and while I spent most of it at the office, I did play a little Ingress while I was there. I really like to play when I travel because portals tend to be interesting places and it can be cool to go find them. On this trip I went to the Sörknatten Nature Reserve, and I should have known it would be an adventurous trip when the GPS first announced that it would involve unpaved roads and then errored out with “No route found”.

I went out anyway. The area is populated with some amazing lakes and the fall foliage was beautiful.

Once I got to the end of the directions provided by the GPS, I was able to detect the location of the portal in my scanner. It involved driving over this:

But I did manage to find it and gather some keys, which resulted in a pretty nice green triangle over the area:

Because of the remoteness of the area, there aren’t many dining choices, especially in Åsensbruk. The company has a local restaurant called Café Gruzzolos bring food in, so my usual lunch consisted of a salad or a sandwich. I was a little disappointed to find no actual skink in my skinkbaguette.

There is a little co-op grocery nearby where we’d go to get drinks. Craig bought a bottle of this, which I thought had an unfortunate name in English, especially considering the color, but he said it tasted fine.

In the evenings there weren’t many options for food. There is a pretty good Thai restaurant in Mellerud, but this being my fourth trip I’ve tried most of the places and just decided I would eat every night at Restaurant Vågen. It’s really good, and I especially like the fish:

and of course it is nice to finish off the evening with a beer:

Swedish beer is good, at least to my palate. It’s light and finishes clean.

But the thing that keeps me going back (well, besides getting paid of course) are the people. The Swedish people are pretty amazing to me. They have a socialist government (what some would call in the US a “Nanny State”) but the people themselves seem very independent.

And they know how to have fun.

For example, one night I decided to eat at the Kroppefjäll. The hotel is also a resort and spa (although it started life as a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients 100 years ago) and so it tends to host large parties for meetings, weddings, etc. The restaurant isn’t always open (there were days when I was the sole guest) but on this one Saturday they were. When I walked in there was a large party, about 50 or more people, in the main dining room eating from a buffet, but they were able to seat me off in the corner. While I was drinking a glass of wine and waiting for my meal, everyone just broke out into song.

Since I am nothing if not a child of technology, I pulled out my phone and took a little video. Sorry about the quality but I was trying to be discreet.

It was cool.

Toward the end of my visit we returned to the Kroppefjäll. One of my coworkers named Mats joined us, and I wanted to share a story he told.

The man who runs the company in Åsensbruk is named Lars-Olov. Lars is one of the more interesting people I’ve ever met, and I like the fact that he is also a little unconventional. He wanted to get his management team closer together, so he told them all to get ready for a weekend teambuilding exercise and that they would need to pack light. Most figured it would be held at some sort of remote Swedish luxury hotel. Well, as Mats shared with me, this is what passes for a luxury hotel for Lars:

The managers were driven to a rendezvous point and then placed into a military helicopter. The pilot flew in Korea, and he used his skills to glide them over the treetops (Mats later asked him about it and he said the highest they got was fifty meters above the trees and the lowest was within five meters). He flew them out to a remote part of the forest and they ended up having to survive on their own for two days. The “hotel” picture above was of the shelter they built. They had to do a lot of stuff on their own, including finding their own food. The exercise ended on the evening of the second night when cars arrived to drive everyone home. Mats said he made it back to his bed around two on Monday morning.

I had heard this story from Lars as well, but it must have made an impression since Mats was able to talk about it in detail.

On my final day in Sweden, on the way to the airport in fact, I was able to meet up with my friend Lena. She and her friend Emelie had come to the US back in early 2012 to get trained on OpenNMS.

Emelie is in the middle and Lena is on the right.

You might recognize Emelie as I tend to use this picture of her admiring my license plate to advertise our conferences.

Lena and I met at the Vågen and while we were eating lunch, Emelie called. Since she was close by she stopped in to say “hi”.

All in all it was a pretty nice trip. The weather was sunny and for the most part warm (it is much warmer there today than it is here) and I had a lot of fun. My next trip back will probably be in February, and while I can’t wait to see everyone again it will be cold.

But maybe there will be moose to eat.