Lunedì again, though it doesn’t feel like it when you’re on holiday. Today is our final day in Stockholm, Sweden, but more about the road trip later.
First though, here’s another of those conversations between Italian native-speakers, accompanied by a transcript so you can figure out what they’re saying.
Today’s topic is ‘Emozioni‘.
Click here to listen to it and read the transcript.
The conversation prompts used in the recording can be found here, in case you want to interview your teacher, someone from your Italian class, or even yourself!
This material and others in the same series can easily be found on the club website via the ‘New’ page.
You’ll have heard of Route 66, where you could get your kicks, back in the days when kicks were in short supply elsewhere.
And if you’re a Brit, you’ll know the M1 and other M’s, which, since the passing of decent, affordable trains, are about the only way to get where you need to go.
It was the M5 and the M6 which took me up to university in Birmingham thirty-three years ago. And the M1 which lead from there to my first job in London three years later, and on to the future.
For the last two decades the M25, M4 and M5 have been the final part of our annual migration back from Italy, five hours or so of (M)otorway from one or the other of London’s airports back down to the south-west and ‘home’.
My local equivalent in Italy is the A1, ‘A’ standing for Autostrada, this one being the famous ‘Autostrada del Sole’, described by Wikipedia as:
the oldest European highway [which] links the biggest Italian cities on the west-Tyrrhenian side: Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples. At 754 km, it is the longest Italian autostrada and is considered the network’s main spinal cord, alongside the parallel Adriatic A14.
You can get to know a lot about a place by driving its autostrade/motorways/interstates.
Though the driving iteself is a bore, the weather and geography mutate, sometimes more slowly, sometimes surprisingly fast, plus at each stop there are people to watch.
If you ask me, an Italian ‘autogrill’ is a microcosm of Italy itself. These ubiquitous ‘autostrade’ rest-and-refreshment areas can be ugly and poorly-maintained but they’re packed with stylish people and flashy cars and offer feasts of Instagram-ready sandwiches and snacks.
To foreign eyes an ‘autogrill’ may seem chaotic, but what looks like confusion and bickering in the parking zone, as drivers compete for the space closest to the building’s entrance, or uncouth pushing and shoving at the bar within, in reality signals not anarchy but a complex set of unwritten rules of behaviour.
I hope so, anyway…
Beh, Sweden’s equivalent of Italy’s A1 is the E4, which runs from Helsingborg on the south-east coast opposite Denmark (up a bit from Malmö where we began our journey) north-east across the country to Stockholm (near the east coast, in the central part of the country) and then on up the Baltic coast.
And on, and on, and on some more, until it gets to the border with Finland and changes number.
Man, THAT would be a road trip, especially if you prefer moose, deer, wolves and bears to people. For even in the sothern part of the country, where all the ‘big’ cities are, Swedish roads are as quiet as its ‘autogrills’ are spacious, uncrowded and even a little lonely…
Having left Granna, the touristy little town on the shores of lake Vättern, after finishing my club article on Friday morning, we headed up the E4, destination Nörrkoping (for lunch) and on to Stockholm in time for dinner with the family in the evening.
There’s a whole bunch of towns ending with ‘koping’ on the southern part of the E4, and I had hoped to see them all!
I wondered if the ‘koping’ suffix had anything to do with the Swedish verb ‘köp’ (to buy), as in ‘shopping’, market town and so on. But no, probably not: one has the double-point thingy on the ‘o’ and the other doesn’t, so different letters and different sounds.
I still have problems with that. My brain thinks ‘ko’ and ‘kö’ are the same thing, even though I keep reminding it that they aren’t. It’s even worse with ‘a’, ‘å’ and ‘ä’.
Stefi Googled ‘koping’ as I was driving and found that the UK equivalent is ‘chipping’ as in Chipping Sodbury, Chipping Norton and other places which have no relation to ‘chips’ (French fries) other than the fact that they are market towns where, once the Conquistadors had conquered Peru, you could eventually buy potatoes to make them with. And talking of potatoes…
Nörrkoping featured in one of the Swedish-government financed propaganda films that I watched when I was actively studying the language, little films featuring ‘new arrivals’ which are clearly designed to promote integration and Swedish values amongst newly-minted Swedes who hail from the middle-east and points south and east of it.
In the film, two Arabic-speaking girls were walking down a tree-lined street on a spring day, chatting about their favourite places in the town they now called home: the library (for learning and building our futures), the youth centre (to get help and advice) and so on.
There were subtitles in Swedish so I could follow what they were saying. The girls took us on a tour of the city, including the river and attractive waterfront.
Thinking it looked worth a visit, Stefi and I went too. The waterfront walk starts at an old mill (the town having grown up around the textile industry and presumably having relied on water power for energy). Then there’s a weir cum waterfall, from which water is siphoned off into a series of water-features in the river-side park.
There are pools for kids to splash in, and stepping-stones so they can cross from one bank of the artificial stream to the other, yet no signs warning of the dangers of slipping, or falling, or drowning or whatever disasters might befall precious Italian children were we to have anything similar back home (my kids would have LOVED this…)
Swedish children are clearly robust. At some points the current in the water features was even quite strong, the stream-bed stony and sharp, but nothing was forbidden, no area was fenced off. A more attractive, natural-looking, cost-effective and fun feature in a public park is difficult to imagine.
Only when we got to the end of the park and the water gushed down a channel back into the river did we figure out that the purpose of the whole thing was to encourage salmon and other fish to spawn by providing a protected area for the mothers to lay their eggs and for the baby fish (and baby humans) to ‘splash and play’.
Lunch was good, too, at a place where the ‘dagens lunch’ (day’s lunch menu) was priced at around 10 euros, for which you could choose from:
- chicken and potatoes
- fish and potatoes
- meatballs and potatoes
… and so on, plus a variety of extra salads in case you could think about squeezing anything more in, once you’d consumed your day’s ration of potatoes.
Stefi suggested I have a beer with lunch, which I did, while realising that because of Sweden’s ‘zero-alcohol for drivers law’, it would mean that she got the key to the Volvo for the rest of the day.
No matter, though. The E4 was still quiet and we decided to skip any more ‘-kopings’ and head straight to Stockholm and our rendezvous with her extended family and the massed ranks of friends from her childhood visits to Sweden.
Unfortunately, as we approached the city a truck overturned at a key junction, which snarled everything up for miles and added at least an hour to our journey.
That said, this was a good chance to look at Stockholm’s geography as we crawled along.
The city is built on a series of rocky islands, joined by bridges, tunnels and ferries. The blue you see from the road could be a lake, or more usually, one of the many inlets from the Baltic sea.
Everywhere there are water-front houses, and people, lots of people, most of them stuck in their cars as we were but also people in boats, people fishing from the sides of lakes, people walking, and innumerable people on bicycles, sweating up the rocky hills in their hi-visibility lycra outfits and safety-helmets.
Once past the overturned truck, we quickly covered the final kilometers to the house of the cousin designated to host us for the weekend.
But I’m out of time.
Lunch with an aunt is calling so I’ll have to tell you about our weekend in Stockholm, and all its marvels, on Wednesday.
By which time we hope to be in Gothenburg.