June 02, 2004

Onward to the Conference

Early in the morning we hit the road, going to Stockholm Central to catch a train to Ronneby and the Telecities conference. The train was very relaxing, traveling through many forests and lakes. The intercity train from Stockholm was rather warm inside, but the local train to Ronneby turned out to be much more comfortable.

Arriving at the Ronneby station, we immediately saw a sign from the organizers of the Telecities conference pointing the way to the Ronneby Brunn Hotel. We’d planned to take a taxi, but as long as it was walkable, we might as well enjoy the splendid weather. As we followed the signs to the hotel, we realized we’d made a terrible mistake. We found ourselves walking a long canal, with several large warehouses to our left. We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and the signs gave no sense whatsoever of how long this walk actually was. Both of us were lugging heavy backpacks, and I had my laptop case as well, so after 20 minutes without any sign of the hotel or a passing taxi, we started to get rather aggravated. But there wasn’t much we could do – heading back to the train station seemed crazy, so we did our best to press on.

We followed the signs into the Ronneby Park, a beautiful place that seemed to stretch for miles. It was hard to appreciate the tranquility of it, though, as we dragged our belongings further down the road, occasionally passing yet another conference sign pointing the way, almost tauntingly. Eventually, after nearly 30 minutes of walking we reached the hotel grounds. The signage pointing the way to the reception area was quite confusing; we soon joined a British couple going to the conference in the same predicament. Feeling better that we weren’t the only ones thoroughly lost, we joined them and eventually managed to get to the reception area.

Checking into our room, we dropped our belongings and felt an enormous weight lifted from our shoulders. We stopped briefly at the hotel bar to kick our feet up and have a soda; by then the conference registration and orientation was getting under way, so I ventured over for a while to get situated and learn more about who else would be attending the event.

Later that evening, Susanne and I decided to go for a walk before getting some dinner in town. Ronneby’s park has been attracting visitors for over 300 years, particularly for the local baths. While I didn’t think I’d have any time to take advantage of the spa, I did want to get a look around the grounds and utilize the extra hours of daylight, since the sun wouldn’t set until 10pm. The two of us followed a path into the park, passing by a small putt-putt golf course and several ornate Victorian villas. The park was extremely busy with children playing stick ball, teenagers having picnics and sunbathing, adults taking their toddlers for a stroll. It was a beautiful location, with a waterfall streaming down the side of a cliff into a duck pond.

Towards the center of the park, we reached a pavilion that appeared to have been built in the late 1800s, reminiscent of the architecture at the entrance to Disneyworld. There was an enormous crowd gathered here, perhaps somewhere around 1,000 people. Teenagers and parents with cameras seemed to be everywhere, but it was hard to tell what was going on. Susanne and I managed to pick the one Swede in the entire country who didn’t speak English when we wanted to find out what was going on, so we had to figure it out ourselves. As we worked our way through the crowd, we saw a procession of kids in their late teens; the boys were in tuxedos and the girls in ornate gowns. From what we could tell, they were heading off to their prom, apparently stopping for a formal photo somewhere in the garden, and their families had gathered to watch the procession. Further along, we could see some of them getting onto large buses, undoubtedly being taken to the location of their dance.

We returned to one of the garden paths and followed it in the general direction of town, soon reaching a quiet road along a canal. On the canal itself were small pleasure craft and private docks. To the left of the canal, quaint 19th century cottages lined the street, each with manicured gardens bursting with lilacs and tulips. Many of the houses had names on them, such as Annas Gaarden or Victoria Hus. Several of the houses had their front doors left wide open, with not a care in the world about strangers or ne’er-do-wells venturing in, save the neighborhood tuxedo cat playing in the garden.

At the end of the canal path we crossed a bridge leading to the center of town. Ronneby is a small community, and the entire old town stretched no more than six or seven blocks. The vast majority of businesses were already closed for the night, leaving us with a handful of kebab joints and cafes to consider for dinner. After making a loop around the area, we settled on a place called Valentino Pizza, which served kebabs as well as pizzas. The restaurant was run by a group of Middle Eastern men, most of whom didn’t speak much English, but we managed to place an order for a small cheese pizza for Susanne and a chicken pita for myself. The pita turned out to be one of the tastiest things I’d eaten on the entire trip, and four five or six bucks, its price couldn’t be beat in all of Scandinavia.

We sat at an outside table enjoying our dinner, watching the sun set over the edge of town. Next door to the restaurant was another eatery called the Garlic Café, which appeared to have a decent dessert menu. I wasn’t sure how hungry I was at this point, but I had a distinct kebab taste in my mouth, and there were no shops open where I could get a pack of gum or something, so dessert began to sound better and better.

I went back inside Valentino’s to pay the bill. One of the men behind the counter asked where I was from.

“The US,” I replied.

“Ah,” he said. “We are from Iraq; what do you think of that?”

For a moment I wasn’t sure what to say back to him. He had a smile on his face so I got the sense he was just messing with me to see how I’d react, so I decided to reply with a question of my own.

“Iraq, wow… Are you Arab or Kurdish?”

“We’re Kurds,” he replied, before pointing to one of the other guys behind the counter. “But he is an Arab bastard.” Both of them broke out laughing.

“Kurdish? I’ve been to the Kurdish parts of Turkey,” I replied. “One of our closest friends lives in Van, and we’ve visited him there, and he’s visited us in America.”

“Van?” he said back to me, surprised. “Very good. America is a good place… We love George Bush.”

“Great,” I replied politely.

By now it was approaching 10pm, and the setting sun was causing the temperature to drop rapidly. As it had been 70 degrees just a few hours earlier, I was wearing only a t-shirt and khakis, so I started to get a chill. We followed the canal path back to the hotel, thinking warm thoughts to tie us over until we could reach our room.

Posted by acarvin at June 2, 2004 09:16 AM | TrackBack
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