The first leg of the tour covered Norway, Sweden and Finland. Effectively, it was just a means to get to Russia for the start of the Trans-Siberian, but inevitably turned out to be a bit more than that. The memories I'll take away from this that might have some relevance are:
* (yawn) ...it's not a myth, Norway's expensive.
* It's not a myth, Sweden's expensive (even in Kvikkjokk (don't worry, that's what most folk say), it's 5.50 a pint).
* It's not a myth, North Sea Ferries are f*cking extortionate, and make Oslo prices seem deceptively light on the wallet. Roll on China.
* We stayed in a partially converted mental hospital in Dalagarda, a suburb of Gothenburg. It was clear something was going on from the obsessive-compulsive level of cleanliness in the halls (a touch One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), and the elderly werewolf impersonator hanging around the bus stop as we headed into town. They do entertain the troops with proper Euro minigolf though, and obviously it was nice to take this aff the phone and into reality.
* We stayed in a partially converted Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, a suburb of St Petersburg. It was clear something was going on from the obsessive-compulsive level of cleanliness in the halls (a touch One Day In September), and the elderly list of stadium record holders going back to the 1952 games outside the dormitory. They do entertain the troops with proper Euro athletics though, and obviously it was nice to take this aff the TV and into reality. (This is true, by the way, an old block of changing rooms are now a youth hostel).
* Oslo: most expensive accommodation yet, and it connected with the full boona of Esther Rantzen-bother fodder. Broken window? Check. Prozzas outside? Check. Dealers outside? Check. Junkies outside? Spec so. Ensuite? Aye, if a flight of stairs between you and the bog counts. Aircon? Dinny be daft. Just waiting for the carbon monoxide story to hit the papers, or possibly my lungs. The coincidence that the street round the corner was called 'Kirkegaten' was not lost on us. No place like home.
* People from the far north of Sweden, who have grown up rurally and now work as testing contractors for Standard Life, are remarkably (frustratingly?!) able people. Fair play to ye, Mr Iverstrand, for allowing us not to have to lift a finger over the three days up there- I felt the pain of ace fly fishers Chris and Gary (who could now make their own production of Deliverance with the same amount of 'we don't belong here' trauma) when he caught a trout with his first toss of the spinner, fag in mouth, while chucking more wood on the fire with his left foot and whittling a handicraft with his right. At least I didn't catch any fish myself- that would have ruined the analogy.
* All's well in the Scandinavian world of rock- we had a confirmation of a wooden church burned down by "punkers" near Bergen, and watched some kind of Hell's Angels/American Graffiti convention entertain a Glasgow lasses' hen night in Gothenburg. They had to be from Glasgow(see when they started charging for kisses? I felt almost embarrassed for them). All distinctly weird.
* Taxi driver from Boden to Kvikkjokk was called Leila, and she had us oan wir knees. Every time she sat on the shoulder of a logwagon in front, and eventually edged past, I could hear Clapton's unmistakable riff belting through my ears. 400 quid that journey cost, all because the train was a bit late, so Swedish railways footed the bill. Another good reason to get the trains to run on time...
* Turku in the south of Finland is to be European Capital of Culture in 2011; after two days there, I now greet this news with the same "wtf?" we uttered when Glasgow and Liverpool were granted the accolade themselves. I can show the dignitaries where to get a Thai massage though.
* Finally, these are the most sarcastic rivets I've ever seen. Weld-done, whoever was responsible.