Gävle och Sandviken

I was almost late for the ABBA tribute concert tonight in Sandviken, near Gavle, north of Uppsala in Sweden. As much as I love ABBA, this wasn’t, however, the attraction to move out of Stockholm for a couple of days.

Rather, I was keen to see one of the participants, Magnus Carlsson. I discovered Magnus when he became a member of Alcazar a few years ago. Aside from “Crying At The Discotheque”, my favourite period in the band’s history was when he was a member. They had great songs and video clips during that time.

After leaving the band, he has released a few singles and a couple of CDs including far too many Christmas CDs, but they’re always quite popular here. I like both of his proper solo CDs very much, though possibly preferring the Swedish language album, as it’s one which has been quite helpful for me in my Swedish language studies: he sings with good diction, making it easier to follow.

I was also interested in seeing a little more of Charlotte Perreli, Sweden’s Eurovision winner in 1999 and contender in 2009, however she called in sick and was replaced by two other singers, including Anna Sahlene (who I really like).

The train from Stockholm to Gavle only takes ninety minutes and, if you choose the right time, can be reasonably cheap.

Trying to book online though is frustrating. Before leaving the hotel this morning I tried unsuccessfully to book a ticket. The system asks you for both a credit card and a phone number. My conclusion at the end of several attempts was the system either doesn’t like one or both if you’re from Australia.

I tweeted about this while waiting for the train and received a few similar frustrated responses. One bloke I know mentioned on one system you could get A and A…. but not Australia. A friend mentioned he was having similar problems trying to book tickets in Italy.

And then I remembered trying a few months back trying to do the same, having the same problem, and finally using the telephone operator system. It’s much easier to go to Central Station and use one of the kiosks I’ve found. You select your route, you put in your credit card, and out pops your ticket.

The train today was quite full. In second class, at least. Lots of American backpackers choosing the cheap option which gets you a ticket, but not necessarily a seat, so there were a few of them sitting in the stairwell.

In stark contrast to central Stockholm where much of the snow and ice has been removed from the roads and footpaths, the countryside between Stockholm and Gavle remains blanketed in snow. As I looked out the window, I felt very Anna Karenina.

Along the way you pass through Arlanda (where the airport is) and Uppsala (not terribly impressive from the railway at least) before finally arriving in Gavle, a town of about 100,000.

Before arriving, I tried to find some useful tourist information about the town, but there wasn’t much to be found. There was mention of a Railway Museum. But mostly the recommendation was to use the town as a point for exploration of the nearby area.

Hotel Gavle isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as the accommodation I’ve been enjoying the last few days. But it’s clean, has a bathroom (no shared facilities), and since I paid for it a few months ago, it’s kinda like having a couple of nights of free accommodation.

I haven’t seen all that much of Gavle. As soon as I arrived mid-afternoon, my main priority was to get to nearby Sandviken for the ABBA tribute concert by the local symphony orchestra.

As you catch the bus between Gavle and Sandviken you get a real sense of the countryside. Even though it’s only 20km by road, you get the sense you are really in a rural part of Sweden. “We’re not in Stockholm anymore, Toto”, I thought to myself at one point.

Unfortunately it’s been a day for losing my sense of direction and any ability to speak Swedish, it seems. Even a simple phrase like “I would like a white wine” (which I used a couple of times) tonight drew blank faces on the locals. Do they speak a different type of Swedish here? Or is my accent too thick to make sense?

So although I made it to Sandviken, I went to the wrong venue. I misread the ticket. Although it was promoted by the Folkhuset, it wasn’t actually there. Feeling a sense of frustration at being totally lost, I went into a local shop. Yes, I think it might have been a video shop. They apparently still exist in these parts. Thankfully, the woman behind the counter was very helpful, and even dialed the right number for a cab into my phone.

I made the show with just seconds to spare, and boy was I excited since it was ABBA songs sung by one of my favourite singers.

Unfortunately, the bloke next to me, who STANK of alcohol. He also insisted in singing along with just about every song. The passive aggressive soul in me stopped me from saying, “I’ve come all the way from Sydney in Australia, via Stockholm. I’ve paid a lot of money to hear this show. And you think you sing better than Magnus?”.

I refrained from saying this because there was a creepy quality about the guy next to me. He had a SIGNIFICANTLY younger girlfriend (which in most cases is quite okay), but in this case had a kind of “dueling banjos” quality about it. At interval, thankfully, he moved to the row below, leading to a sigh of belief for all of us closeby.

The show was pretty good, though not great. Magnus, of course, was tops. I was particularly impressed with his versions of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “When All Is Said And Done”. He also did an excellent version of “On & On & On” and kept the references to picking up men in bars, not changing the gender. Good onya Magnus.

There were times though when you though they may have contracted Frida as their lyrical consultant for the show. Non-ABBA fans may be surprised to learn Frida was notoriously bad for remembering the lyrics and often fluffed them. There were times tonight when the show resembled karaoke, unfortunately.

But hey, they had a couple of last minute stand ins for Charlotte, which Magnus mentioned on at least two occasions. I also think I saw him sigh, somewhat, when one of his co-stars got the words wrong.

It was fascinating, however, to go to a country town and to see a show in an arena like this. Once in a lifetime, eh?

As I walked back to the bus stop in Sandviken I felt an incredible urge to have a wee. If I was in Australia, I would have walked off the road-side, hidden in a bush, and done my business. But in Sandviken there was still a lot of snow, and the trees had no leaves. Thus, I had a wee, for the first time in my life, on a roadside in full-view of traffic. The people of Sandviken will probably never sleep comfortably again.

On arriving back in Gavle, I got lost again. I couldn’t find my hotel, so I wandered aimlessly. Along the way I saw a group of young people in two old American 50s/60s cars, barely roadworthy, driving around town. That was a highlight.

Finally, walking into the Clarion Hotel and asking them for directions, I was soon sent in the right direction.

But not before I had a drink. I mean, it was that kind of day. So I settled down for a glass of white wine in the Absynthe Bar of The Clarion. It was fascinating to watch the locals, and especially to see some Swedes get totally smashed. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen that on this trip. It was also fascinating to watch some small-town goings on. Who’s sleeping with who and all that kind of thing. My lips are sealed.

After so many mixed experiences, it was great to have a couple of glasses of wine after a long, long day.

2 comments

  1. Hi James. It really is fascinating how ‘rural’ anything outside of the big cities can be when in Sweden. Local dialects seem to vary between one county and another – the difference between pronunciation in Stockholm and say Växjö can be quite extreme. It is also in the smaller towns, where there is less to do in the long winters that the drinking becomes a pastime. The not so glamorous side of Swedish life. If you do get the chance to visit, Uppsala is a lovely city – the railway station does not do it justice – with a very old and beautiful centre rising up the hill to the university. Nice to hear Magnus put on a good show. Enjoy the rest of your stay.

  2. Funny that you mention weeing in the snow!
    Joakim was out on a country visit a few weeks ago staying with his good friend Colin Moon…….he sent me many pics of the snow covered country side and one of course was a chaaaaaaaarming shot of the snow where he had a pee!

    It must’ve been an experience for you….’hanging out in the snow’…hehe!

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