We crossed The Bridge with heightened anticipation. A few weeks before I had watched a politician’s body, cut in half, lying on that bridge. Now don’t go swooning on me. I am merely referring to a Scandinavian crime drama, The Broen (The Bridge), that was my introduction (and a rather dramatic one at that) to the Øresund Bridge – the longest road-and-rail bridge in Europe linking up Denmark and Sweden.
The cities of Copenhagen (in Denmark) and Malmö (in Sweden) lie on either side of the Øresund strait, after which the bridge is named. On a cold winter’s day, we took a bus from Copenhagen for Malmö and in just a matter of 186 Swedish Krona (20 Euros) and 40 minutes, we were in another country. I could not help but be caught up in the infectious glee of my husband. Plus it was my birthday.
The journey was punctuated by a stop at the Swedish toll booth where a couple of cops, with a young German Shepherd in tow, carried out on-the-spot checks. They scoured every possible nook and corner of the bus, and then some more as they prodded their canine friend to inhale every passenger as much as he could. Once he gave us all a clean chit – not a single law breaker on the bus is equal to no drama – we continued to Malmö. The idea was to ferret out drugs. After all we were coming in from Copenhagen, home to the druggie-hippie haven of Christiania.
Ahead of us lay the skyline of Sweden’s third largest city, a twisty silver building emerging out of it. The Turning Torso, named aptly for a tall, modern structure that seems to have wrung been out at 90 degrees, all along its length, looms above Malmö’s low-rise skyline. It happens to be Sweden’s tallest building at 620 ft.
I fell in love with Malmö because of its coffee shops. They are, and I do not exaggerate, straight out of a coffee lover’s dream and the pages of a glossy décor magazine. Warm wooden interiors, contrasting white walls, books stacked by the dozen into tall shelves and incandescent yellow lighting. The Swedish take their coffee quite seriously and they even have a name for their coffee culture. It is referred to as ‘fika’ or a break which necessarily means a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. For what is life without such small pleasures, right?
Having experienced the vibe in the world’s most avid java-swigging countries such as America (where I was introduced to the concept of wet and dry cappuccinos) and Italy (where all kinds of coffee are divine), my self-respecting, coffee-loving genes were swept off their feet in Sweden.
Historical customs records state that the first batch of coffee was shipped into the country in 1685 but King Karl XII kicked off the trend of drinking coffee in the 18th century when he returned to Sweden from Turkey with a Turkish coffee kettle in tow. Coffee, in those days, was an expensive drink but who can stop the bon ton when there is a statement to be made.
Now, it is important that you picture an extremely windy, bone-juddering cold day when we walked across the three squares in the city. You would then be able to appropriately make soothing noises of empathy when I say that an indescribable pleasure surged through me as I laid my eyes upon the various coffee shops. I had to gave into those warm interiors that beckoned to me in dulcet tones, “Come, child come”.
Stepping out of the coffee haven, we came across the equestrian bronze statue of King Karl X Gustav in the middle of Stortorget (Malmö’s Big Square). The worthy king was Karl XII’s grandfather and an illustrious figure who had wrested the city’s freedom from Denmark.
Apart from being a coffee haven, Malmö is a formerly fortified Hanseatic port that traces its roots to the year 1272. It was for years under Danish dominion till Denmark ceded it to Sweden.
Yet our discoveries in the old town square of Malmö that had me thrilled to bits had nothing to do with its considerable history. The first was a shoe shop that had Crockett and Jones emblazoned across it. It is a shoe brand that was started by two heavily moustachioed men from Northampton, the town where we live in England and which is known for its tradition of shoe making. A Charles Jones had got together with his brother-in-law James Crockett “to encourage young men of good character in the towns of Northampton and Coventry to set up business on their own”. In all these days of living in Northampton, we had never laid eyes on shoes that actually hail from there.
The tall Swede inside the shop held up a pair of one of the finest shoes we had seen (with prices to match) and said: “They come from Northampton, an English town that is renowned for its shoes.” Fancy that. That is travelling in a nutshell for you. You really never know what lies around the corner.
The second installment of my discovery took place in a small kiosk where I bought a box of Summerbird chocolates. Tasting a piece from this Scandinavian brand is akin to stepping into chocoholic heaven. They are pompously priced but when a piece of chocolate is nobly made with Trinitario cocoa beans (that is one of the three grand varieties of cocoa), you know you can be utterly forgiving.
Leaving the urban arty sophistication of the city behind, we caught the train to a small town called Lund from Malmö. The station was chock full of refugees camping in it. A strange sight but one overtaken by the beauty of the Skåne (southern Sweden) region that both Malmö and Lund are a part of.
The Skåne was once known to be a romping ground for the Vikings and is patch-worked by an open, flat countryside of lush farms, forests, lakes and manors.
At the end of our brief journey lay the town of Lund, the wonderful quaintness of which reminded us of Bruges.
Lund is a university town with the second oldest university after Uppsala in Sweden. Therefore, it is a town packed with students bicycling through its charming cobbled lanes and pathways. Medieval timber-framed houses flank its cobbled paths, colourful facades crop up around every corner while leafy parks abound.
We spent our time traipsing down those lanes, past its old libraries and university buildings which are all dwarfed by the Lund Domkyrka (Lund Cathedral) – a paean to its historical status as the religious capital of Scandinavia during the 12th century. With its impressive grey stone magnificence, the cathedral was typical of medieval Europe.
Once though the town had more to boast of – its 27 churches and eight monasteries were razed down by King Christian III of Denmark for the construction of the Malmöhus Castle. Yet Lund is one of the oldest European towns tracing its roots back to the year 990.
And too soon another beautiful day trip had come to an end.But not before it added shivery-happy memories to our travel diary. As a wise man had observed: “…I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”