Interlibrary Loans 2008

Since my school doesn't do interlibrary loans anymore, I went to the national library this morning to order a book not available in Berlin.

The counter was empty, the lady smiled and handed me the self-same two-part pink form I used to use a few decades ago when I was studying. I grabbed the pen to start writing, but she stopped me.

"You have to use a typewriter."

Typewriter, right. Wrote my thesis during the Summer Olympics 1984. The games were in LA, so I typed all day and watched the events while playing Skat (woo, got sidetracked there and had to rewrite the Wikipedia article on bidding completely) with my roommates all night. I may have slept occasionally. We gave the electric typewriter away at some point. I keep the mechanical one (and an extra ribbon!) at the cabin for writing letters when the electricity is out.

There were two IBM Daisy Wheel typewriters set into a little alcove. They had typed labels all over the place: put paper in here; pull in paper; next line; previous line; rub out. All the cultural information we have lost in 20 years - who knows how to use a typewriter anymore?

I made a complete and utter mess of the first one - mistyping (I correct very fast as I type), the shift key was in the wrong position (for me), bad spacing and running out of room at the bottom. I crept back to the desk, admitted my ignorance, and was granted another form to fill out.

It will be interesting to see if I can actually get a copy of this book in my hands, it is only available, according the the national catalogue, at this one library.


The German Health Card

Today was "Staatsbesuch", an open house extravaganza in the ministries in Berlin. This is becoming a regular favorite in the Berlin calendar, as the ministries set up dog-and-pony shows for the taxpayers to show them what it is that they do all day. They print up entire forests worth of brochures for the purpose, but it is really a good way for them to get close to interested citizens and to hear what they have to say.

They may not like what they have to say. But at least they are listening.

I chose 4 ministries today, the health ministry was a special target because they are introducing a national "health card" (WP-DE, official ministry page) which is a plastic card with a chip on it that is supposed to, well, actually no one knows, but surely will save tons of money and work for someone. Maybe. Sometime in the future. It is a future technology. It is modern. It uses cryptography.

It is also costing the taxpayers, or rather the insured taxpayers, a pretty penny (4.5 billion Euros). The doctors are mad about it, because they have to buy new equipment and spend extra time on it and are not getting paid extra for it.

It was supposed to be introduced on April 1 of this year (no joke). But this didn't happen. The Chaos Computer Club has a good bit of information on this (1, 2, 3). Seems they were running a little test in Flensburg that bombed completely. People could not cope with the system.

I went to their stand to have a good look. I joined in one discussion, but got myself brushed off by asking about the strength of the cryptography. They did get a guy over who could talk computing, but he didn't really know. He wanted to explain how the cryptographic protocol worked, I wanted to know the strength of the system. It is to get tested every year by the BSI, the German governmental organization for security of information technology, so I guess that's all right. He dug out a "white paper" for me, but it is not all that reassuring, either. It just wants me to trust the government.

I had him run me through the entire procedure, they had stations for the insurance company, information kiosks, primary care physician, specialist, and the pharmacy set up.

  • At the insurance company I could change my address. Wow. Saves them having to send me a new card, just because I move. I can't enter in Berlin addresses that have weird stuff like HH 2 li (back house, second floor, links) in them, but there is a field for extra stuff, so I guess it can get itself recorded.
  • At the kiosk I first wanted to know where these are supposed to be. Oh, at insurance offices and chemist's. Who is going to pay for that? Oh, this is just a prototype. Then they had a language choice: German and Simplified German. I kept pushing "Simplified German" and they kept correcting that, until I said I wanted to see what that was. Oh, this is just a prototype. The first screen just said "Eingabe" instead of "PIN-Eingabe". The rest was the same. Duh.
    Then I was demonstrated the function for "checking" your PIN. Seems so many people forgot their PIN (that they had to make up the first time they used the card) in the trials, and the card is invalidated if you enter the PIN 3 times, you can then use one of these kiosks to try out different combinations until you get it right. Double-Duh and extra points for spotting the security implications of this.
  • At the primary care physician there were a gazillion fields that could be filled out. The screen layout has lots of room for improvement. It does not seem to be fitted to the workflow, but as usual, fits the data containers on the chip. The doctor can spend time with you entering your emergency information and your allergies and such. These can be read without a password in an emergency if the emergency response team happens to have a mobile reader with them. It was a cute thing with a screen and a little keyboard, but the chances of the battery on the thing being low is probably pretty high. I asked if the doctors get paid to put this information on the card. No. So why would any doctor do this?
    Then we had some medicine prescribed. I was asked for my favorite medicine. I just said "pick one". The list presented was not the ordering normally used by doctors - they have their "Bible", the Red List, that is ordered systematically. This list was offered alphabetically - a long way to scroll down to Zolim .... I commented on this, the reply was: this is just a prototype.
    Turns out, all of the archaic software systems currently running in doctor's offices will all have to be upgraded to interact with this system. At least they have a connector module that uses and offers web services. So there was at least one architect on the project that understood how to work with legacy systems.
    So we ordered two medicines on this card, and proceeded to the next station.
  • At the specialist's it was just another doctor with just another system for entering in the cards and the PINs. Here I requested to see how the doctor's letter works. My demonstrator was choosing to write to the primary care physician at the previous station. I thought it would be nice to have a letter written to a different physician so that I could see how the cryptography works. There was a list of (silly) doctor's names, so we chose one. I immediately thought this would be a lovely application for a public key infrastructure, with the specialist signing with his private key and encrypting with the addressing doctor's public key. Oh yeah, that's how it works, the guy said. We wrote some gibberish into the letter, and "signed it". After 20 seconds it crashed. Oh, he forgot the PIN. We wrote the letter again, signed it, put in the PIN, waaaaaaaited, and then it was done - the letter should now be out there on the Healthnet, ready for the doctor it was addressed to to download and read it.
    Nasty me wanted him to show me the results. He assuredly went back to the other station, inserted the card for a doctor that the letter was not addressed to, and downloaded the letter.
    It was perfectly readable, i.e. not encrypted. Um, this is just a prototype, the doctor's letter is a new module. Triple-Duh (no, not Triple-DES).
  • So we landed at the Pharmacy. We put the card into the pharmacist's machine, typed in my PIN and the pharmacist's - and there was no medicine prescribed for me on the card. Darn. The doctor forgot to sign the prescription. I remarked that the patients might not like this, as they get to the pharmacy and discover that the doctor got distracted and did not complete the transaction and now they have to go back to the doctor's office. Oh, but that could happen today, too, the guy said. Not hardly likely - if I don't have a prescription in my hot little hand, I notice! And, I can theoretically read the prescription. I can't read the plastic thing.
    So he gets another card that has a prescription on it for me, and fills it, and then sells me aspirin, which will have an adverse reaction with one of the things prescribed. Indeed, an error window opens with a completely unintelligible message on it, that can possibly be interpreted to be a cross reaction warning. Whoopie.
I thanked the guy for putting up with me.

It would seem to me that the government is pouring tons of money into a project just because someone thinks this is somehow futuristic. They let a bunch of programmers determine what to do, instead of studying workflows and studying the users. Even after the system bombed in Flensburg, they have the nerve to demonstrate a half-baked piece of software. They could at least have faked it a bit more convincingly. But I really do not see how they can sell this to all of the stakeholders in the health care system - the only one to profit is the insurance companies, who get nice digitized data already nicely linked to the user number for their data mining applications. I think this is is a big waste of taxpayer money.

Not that anyone listens to me.


A Food Meme

Ok. I'm a sucker too.

What have you eaten?

1. Venison - yes, don't like
2. Nettle tea - no
3. Huevos rancheros - si
4. Steak tartare - every Saturday if I'm home
5. Crocodile (well, alligator) - At the Alligator Farm in Jacksonville, FL. Tastes like chicken
6. Black pudding - no, never will
7. Cheese fondue - yummy, love it
8. Carp - it is edible
9. Borscht - eaten, don't link
10. Baba ghanoush - hwat?
11. Calamari - yes, fattening and good
12. Pho - what?
13. PB&J sandwich - of course, and PB&honey is best
14. Aloo gobi - ??
15. Hot dog from a street cart - yes, in New York
16. Epoisses - say what?
17. Black truffle - yes, but don't know what the fuss about is
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - many, many different kinds
19. Steamed pork buns - don't eat pork
20. Pistachio ice cream - yeah
21. Heirloom tomatoes - Does this mean "old scool"? Yes!
22. Fresh wild berries - Picked myself this summer
23. Foie gras - yes, hat it
24. Rice and beans - often
25. Brawn, or head cheese - no no no no
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - no
27. Dulce de leche - yes, too sweet
28. Oysters - yes, don't like
29. Baklava - yes, too sweet
30. Bagna cauda - what?
31. Wasabi peas - Love 'em! Where is that bag?
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - At the Red Snapper, I guess
33. Salted lassi - yum!
34. Sauerkraut - yes
35. Root beer float - ohhhh, I want one right now, love these, but no root beer in Germany
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - After we made that big sale, yes.
37. Clotted cream tea - yup
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - interesting idea
39. Gumbo - yes
40. Oxtail - oxtail soup
41. Curried goat - no
42. Whole insects - no, and am not planning to
43. Phaal (fire!!) - ??
44. Goat's milk - Goat's milk cheese
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - no
46. Fugu - no
47. Chicken tikka masala -yes
48. Eel - yes, too fatty
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - Oh yes!
50. Sea urchin - no
51. Prickly pear -yes
52. Umeboshi - ??
53. Abalone - no
54. Paneer - no
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal - no!
56. Spaetzle - Yes
57. Dirty gin martini - no
58. Beer above 8% ABV - yes, don't like it
59. Poutine - ??
60. Carob chips - yes
61. S'mores - especially around the campfire
62. Sweetbreads - no
63. Kaolin - isn't that clay?
64. Currywurst - yes
65. Durian - ??
66. Frogs' legs - yes
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - si
68. Haggis - no no no no
69. Fried plantain - no
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - no
71. Gazpacho - yes, make it often
72. Caviar and blini - yes
73. Louche absinthe - yes, tried it
74. Gjetost, or brunost - sure, been to Norway
75. Roadkill - Are you kidding? Never!
76. Baijiu - ??
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Oh, I miss these!
78. Snail - Oui
79. Lapsang souchong - yes
80. Bellini - ??
81. Tom yum - ??
82. Eggs Benedict - No
83. Pocky -??
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant - no
85. Kobe beef - no
86. Hare - yes, Mother-in-law used to make this often
87. Goulash - yes
88. Flowers - yes, in a salad
89. Horse - I think I did once
90. Criollo chocolate - no
91. Spam - yes, don't like it
92. Soft shell crab - yes, lovely
93. Rose harissa - yes, in Tunesia
94. Catfish - got a great recipe
95. Mole poblano - yes
96. Bagel and lox - sure
97. Lobster Thermidor - yes
98. Polenta - of course
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - not that I am aware of
100. Snake - no never, never will


Malmö Festival

Uff. Today was the second day I spent in Malmö walking around through the Malmö Festival. This is a yearly spectacle in which all sorts of stages are set up for different kinds of music, there are carousels trying to get money from families of small children, all sorts of food specialties are offered, and all sorts of small sellers flog their wares. Not to forget the gypsy fortune-teller.

Why two days? Well, the first day, Teeny and Twenny wanted to go. It is boring as hell here in the woods, they wanted some action. Since we had to drive WiseMan to the station anyway (he has jury duty and has to go home), we then took off through town.

I really don't care for this kind of entertainment, and was expecting to have to shell out a lot for stupid amusements. But Twenny, in Sweden for the first time, was enthralled by the shops open on Sundays! They were the same shops as in Germany! And the clothes were cheaper! I tried to explain that it would make more sense to look through the shops that only exist in Malmö, but I could just as well have been talking to the wall.

I did get her to enter one boutique - and then it was a snooty one where a thin rag was marked down to "Only" 1000 SEK, and they only seemed to have size 38 or smaller. I should note that Twenny wears clothes a size or two larger than mine, and I am *not* a 38. This just proved that it was useless to shop in boutiques.

She loved the tourist-trap place with the Swedish-colors-on-all-sorts-of-crap, and she bought some pencil cases and erasers and stuff for the cousins back home. This was useful crap, you see.

For lunch the first day I decided to try the vegetarian sweet-potato wrap at Astrid and the Ape's stand. They also had a completely vegetarian Chorizo-flavored sausage, but I decided to skip the sausage-that-was-not-a-sausage. Then I tried to convince Teeny and Twenny to try something. Teeny was just hungry, made a beeline for his favorite Chinese food, end of story.

Twenny walked around the entire large square with all the food booths. There was Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, Dutch, Danish, Mexican, Yugoslavian, Syrian, African, German, Texan, and vegetarian. They had all sorts of special stuff, including alligator and gawd knows what. Then there were the Swedish specialties: Moose-Kebab (I kid you not!). Fried Herring. Herring in cream sauce. Moose-and-Reindeer-Kebab. I tried to get her to try some, but she would have none of it - what if she bought it and didn't like it? No, after all the considerations, we just got some more Chinese chicken.

Today, Twenny wanted to go back to some of the shops. Unfortunately, the Sunday sales were over. We visited more shops today, and even Teeny got irritated by all this looking at clothes you aren't planning on buying. I tried to interest Teeny for the street basketball or the Hip-Hop music tent, but he was not interested in being interested in anything.

For lunch we went to Subway. Ah well, good American chocolate-chip cookies.

I find the Malmö Festival, now in its 20-something year, more of a Rummel than a fun festival. They used to have dragon boat races and more cultural stuff. But maybe it was just because I didn't find anything to buy for myself.



The weather was so nice today, we thought we would go to the beach. A neighbor said that Ahus was lovely, very few people, so we packed up and headed East.

There was plenty of parking, we first had a famous Ahus ice cream. The beach was indeed quite deserted, lovely white sand and blue water. The paper had said 16 degrees Celsius, so I wasn't planning on swimming. But I wanted to get my feet wet.

We took the first free dune, dumped our stuff, kicked off our shoes, and ran to the shoreline. And there they were - jellyfish, up and down the entire beach.

Hmm, were they the poisonous kind? Did they sting? There were a few kids in the surf, actually playing with some of the jellyfish they found. But they were so glibbery, and the surf was just full of them, not only the shoreline.


WiseKid and Twenny walked down the pier, and reported that even out there there were jellyfish in the water. I sunned myself, and then headed off for the Slut-REA (Final Sale) in the beachware shop. They were selling everything in the shop for 50 SEK a piece (about 5.50 Euros). We went whole hog, getting T-shirts, a vest, a cape, a jacket, sweaters. The guy was doing a rousing business, and things were going fast. Shorts were only available in size 36....

So at least the day wasn't a complete waste. We set up dinner outdoors, then it began to pour. Ah well.


Us old folks challenged WiseKid and Twenny to a round of Kubb (Viking bowling game) this afternoon. We have a nice piece of lawn that is pockmarked with molehills and -valleys which is a perfect playing ground, even if it is slightly sloping.

In this game you set out an 8x5 pitch and put 5 largish blocks along opposing ends. There is a kingpiece in the middle that must stay upright until the end, or the team throwing it over loses. Each team has 6 Swedish rolling pins that they take turns throwing at the blocks on the far side.

The game is quite a lot of fun, and is not necessarily lost even though you are 4 blocks down. Twenny was amazingly good at this game, although she does not do any sports, period. WiseKid made some wisecracks about how good he was going to bowl down all those blocks, but he quickly discovered that it was harder than it looks.

A great game, gets you some exercise, better than sitting in front of the TV, and a lot of laughs.


But people are the same here!

Drove 10 hours down to Germany to pick up WiseKid, fresh from youth camp in Poland, and Twenny (a young woman of almost 21 who for complicated reasons also sort of belongs to our family). Twenny has just recently obtained a living and working permit in Germany, she came with her family to Germany as asylum seekers when she was two.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to leave the town limits if the town they apply for asylum in, even if it takes 18 years for them to process the papers. Sure, she's sneaked out to visit a few places, but never dared do something as drastic as visit another country.

We packed her into the car, and she was soooooo excited! She had never seen the Baltic Sea, never been on a boat before in her life. She didn't really like the boat rocking in the waves, but she was a good trouper. Upon landing in Denmark she was a bit disappointed - except for the road signs it looked just like Germany.

After about half an hour we reached a small town where real people were walking along the street. Again, disappointment - gee, she said, I thought they would all be dressed, I dunno, kind of all different, in their own style. This could be Berlin!

Okay, Berlin is home to all sorts of weirdos, so it is pretty much a superset of how people dress the world over. But I did find it interesting, the expectation of how the "others" dress. TV often dishes up people in strange costumes that are from "other countries".

Crossing over to Sweden on the bridge she did not understand - this was a boarder? Just a sign? Where are the police that make you get out of the car and show your passport? I explained Schengen to her as we came down the bridge. At the toll booth she kind of froze - there were people in uniform. But they were only bored customs inspectors, and they weren't in our lane. We made it into a second country without having to prove who we were. Darn, now that she has this nice stamp in her passport she wanted to put to use.

The first store we went into in Sweden, she immediately identified a person from the ethnic group she belongs to. The second store there was a black woman shopping - unbelievable to find black people in Sweden, where people are all supposed to be blond. There are, however, quite a number, and they get very tired of people saying: Oh, you speak such good Swedish (and the answer is: Yes, I *am* Swedish.

Pretty much the only difference you see in Sweden is many more handicapped people out in the streets, because in Sweden they have people whose jobs it is to make sure that everything is handicapped accessible.



Just finished up the new police story by Liza Marklund, Livstid (Life Sentence), which is a follow-up story to her Nobel's Testament story. An interesting political discussion on the side about life sentences and wrongful accusations.

It was interesting to be reading this at the same time as the US executed a Mexican who committed his crime at 16 and while the Swedes are trying a German woman on circumstantial evidence alone for the murder of 2 children. Marklund gives some insight into life in prison, and into what it feels like to be accused of a grave crime that you are innocent of.

The book is not out yet in English, but since all of her other works are translated, it won't be long until this one is available in England. No idea if the executioners in the US will to read this.


Internet Everywhere

After fussing with Telia to force them to sell me an Internet flat-rate despite not having an active personnr, I must say that I am quite impressed by the service.

You get a little white dongle (they come in black and pink, too) from Huawei called the E220 that you stick into your USB slot. Under Windows there is an autorun file that first thinks that this is a USB stick, and then installs all the software for you. You enter in your PIN, click on the server you want, and off you go!

For the Mac the software was broken and terminated immediately. But luckily I have the Windows emulation software Parallels, so I installed it there and downloaded the drivers and a little application from the Huawei site. Worked like magic, is very stable and fast enough that I could even have a sort-of video conference with the Princesses in the US over Skype. Awesome.

The family hijacked my laptop this evening in order to watch Sonnenallee, my laptop being the only thing that will play DVDs here. So I fussed with the EeePC - and guess what? It works! There is an idiot-proof description of how to get it running that I found. Works like a charm.

So now I can take a fully charged EeePC outside with me and use the Internet for a couple of hours! Only in Sweden, of course. England and France seem to have this kind of deal sorted out, too: flat-rate for mobile Internet. But Germany, as always, is dawdling. Wonder how long it will take before Vodafone brings this delight to the Teutons? I wish there was some way that we could *make* them give us what we want and need!

Medieval Visby 3

There was a big article in the local rag today about life in the Medieval village. Turns out that on a field north of town the Medieval folk have pitched their tents. They live in their tents all week, making gruel for breakfast, baking flatbread and making nice stews for dinner.

"We take the nice things from the Medieval times," a guy is quoted as saying. "But we don't have Black Death or Cholera." Well, that's a relief, I guess.

The reporter notes that the garbage cans set up on the edge of the field tend to contain a lot of empty potato chip bags and soda cans.... Additional enhancements, demanded by the Swedish state, are sufficient port-a-potties set up on the edge of the field, so they don't have to just dig a hole and squat.

There is even a guy who is responsible for keeping the potties clean - and his other duty is manning the mobile phone recharging station (!). Yes, you often see them walking the streets in their garb, smoking a cigarette and yakking in their phones.

Then there was the Medieval church service that was held (and apparently well attended) in a Lutheran church and presided over by a Lutheran minister in Medieval garb using - the Lutheran liturgy. Anyone see the problem in this logic? There was no Lutheran church at that time, Luther not being born for another few hundred years! Okay, the Lutheran liturgy in Sweden es extremely Catholic, but that is another story.

Medieval Visby 2

They are still walking around Visby, the people dressed up in medieval clothes. I really wonder why they do this - there does not seem to be much to do but eat in pubs (medieval and modern), walk around, sing, dance, admire each others costumes, and buy turist trinkets (medieval and modern).

Is this a result of so many people playing fantasy games? Why do they idealize this period so much? It was deadly - people got themselves killed much more often than today. There was hunger, sicknesses, oppression, horrible living conditions, and it must have smelled like hell.

What exactly is the point in dressing up the family and walking around like this for a week? Okay, the girls are dreaming that they are princesses and the boys that they are knights, wielding their wooden swords. And I am guilty of buying princess necklaces for my three princesses in the US.

But I just don't get it. The Medieval market here was a store selling all sorts of junk, a pottery shed, a smithy stand, a couple of silversmiths, a knife-maker, a bead maker, a wooden bowl maker, and some food stalls. Down the street was a leather maker and on the square the usual hawkers had their wares.

Okay, it was more than Lye and it was more or less of the time. But I don't understand why they have been doing this for the past 25 years. Anyone have any explaination?


I picked up some interesting-looking stones along the beach the other day and stuck them in my pocket. Yesterday we were up north in Lickershamm to see the Jungfru Rauk. There were lots of beachcombers inspecting the stones along the shoreline and picking up stuff here and there. So I looked, too.

I suddenly realized that the place was covered with fossils! Teeny2 and I started looking in earnest and picked up a handfull each of fossilized shells and plant bits.

At the bookstore at the open-air museum I purchased a copy of a very good book on fossils in Gotland, we were able to pretty much decide what each of the things we found were. Today we were in the natural history museum in Visby where they have some cool stuff - a core down through all the years so you can see for yourself what is found at what level; lots of fossils to touch; a really great 3D depth model of the Baltic so that you can see for yourself why Gotland looks like Estonia (they are both ends of a curved bit of land).

And they had beautiful trilobites. Our book says that if you find nice fossils you have to turn them into the natural history museum. I'm sure everyone follows *that* rule....


Medieval Lye

It rained pretty much all day yesterday, half of the bunch ventured out to Kovik and Fröjel between some showers and got some very, very fresh air. Since it was raining *again* today (on the "Island of Sun", hahaha), we decided to ignore it and head for Lye to the advertised Medieval market.

It was a good half hour's drive, and there was a hand-painted sign pointing the way to go. It was at the church, and there was extra, free parking. We thought: great, only a dozen cars, everyone else was afraid of the rain, we will now enjoy ourselves.

We looked for the market. All we saw was one tent, but there were women in long skirts heading from a building there. A sign said "Coffee and cakes", and since there was not much coffee in general during medieval times, we walked around looking for the market. We checked the church - chock full of families getting out of the rain, and some wall paintings including a nice little devil in the back - no market. We found the medieval toilets (outhouses) and then continued on.

There was just the tent. So we went in.

There were 5 stands.

  1. She was selling woven rugs and saffron cakes in baggies. Nothing medieval here.
  2. An old couple was selling wooden trinkets. Lots of modern stuff like a brick-a-brack rack. Or did they use egg cups in Medieval times? At least he looked good in his costume.
  3. A potter selling some okay-looking modern pots.
  4. A lady selling stones she had glued fossils and shells onto with some tiny cloth flowers for decoration. I suppose she used medieval glue. She explained to us what each of the fossils was. Maybe.
  5. A guy selling ice cream - from an electrically powered ice chest.

We dashed through the rain into the building for coffee. Two more women wearing medieval costumes, selling juice and coffee and nice cakes. Did they have almonds on Gotland in medieval times? The walls were lined with the same woven rugs and wooden stuff, and some wollen socks and shawls and pulse warmers, all for sale.

I think the town name is misspelled. It should be Lie. Medieval Lie.

We sent an SMS to the other car, which was planning on taking in 20 churches and then meeting us at the market, that we were heading for the ceramics factory. We got tickets, stood in line there for 40 minutes, and both Teenies and I made ourselves nice little pots on the pottery wheel and got ourselves dirty with clay top to toe.

The cultural car caught up with us and dragged us through two more rainy natural highlights before everyone gave up in disgust and went home for cakes and coffee. Non-medieval.


Medieval Visby

We came over to Gotland this morning, another Baltic island, and drove down to our digs at Tofta Strand.

Seems the family creeps into their own summer place and the shed during the summer and rents out their place to tourists. She is a motorcycle queen, and loves mirrors and cloth flowers. Ugh. The place is roomy enough, but the kitchen utensils suck. Either plastic crap or scratched Teflon pans or welled up ones. Whatever. We will survive. There's a trampoline outside, Teeny2 is happy about that. Every 10th house seems to have one, someone made a million selling these to the Swedes a few years back.

After unpacking and looking for food - the only thing to be found was the grocery store at the local mobile home place, and the food they had was not exactly what we wanted - we went to a concert in Roma. An organist, Ragnhild Pettersson, was playing a number of different works. It was very nice, and it was nice to see the church, although the old altar picture above the very 70s altar cloth was a bit jarring.

Since the night was still young we headed off for Visby. Arriving there we realized that the maidens on the boat over who were dressed in Medieval costumes had multiplied. We seemed to be in the minority.

Visby is as amazing place - they still have most of the city walls intact and pretty much keep cars out. The place has lots of interesting ruins - the former Hansesatic League city was too poor to tear them down so they just let them rot. In the 18th century someone had the bright idea that this might be interesting for tourists, and one of the major sources of income for the island was born.

The town was popping - it was 10pm and the streets were filled with people, mostly dressed medievally, but of course still wearing their backpacks and jogging shoes and using their mobile phones. This was not just young kids - it was older couples, people walking dogs, families pushing prams, kids dressed up (the little girls loved being princesses, it seems). Some of the restaurants would only accept people in Medieval dress. There will be a week-long festival, it seems. Teeny2 was thrilled with everyone she saw and would looooove to have one of the green dresses with flared sleeves.

Looks like I will have to sacrifice a day at the beach for another tour of town - the place is far too interesting, and there is so much good tourist stuff to buy :)



We just spent 2 days on the Swedish island of Öland with friends (a couple and their two teenage girls), bevor heading on to Gotland. We had a charming bed and breakfast on a farm near the middle of this looooong and thin island.

The place is just popping with little square, wooden windmills. Seems every little farmer had his own little mill. We made it to a beach (went in for a few minutes to cool my feet, but it is still a bit cold for swimming), did some sightseeing, bought some fish at a little harbor. This guy had two boxes of smoked fish in his garage right on the water, one box was of smoked flounder. Never tried that before, so we bought one. Greasy skin, tons of bone, but very, very tasty.

We took a trip through the Stora Alvaret, an immense uninhabited expanse on the south half of the island. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site, and what a sight it is to see: nothingness. A bit of shrubbery, some stone walls, some teeny-tiny flowers, and this goes on forever or so. Except for the line of cars pilgrimaging through.

We stopped at the Möckelmosse and walked down to the lake. This is created every winter when it rains, and it dries up over the summer. There were all sorts of birds there, even a heron standing near the water waiting for a fish - but how would a fish get there? Anyway, there were a bunch of Danish biology students there taking a gazillion pictures. Teeny2 was enthralled, as she wants to study biology.

The second day we chugged down the island to Eketorp, a reconstructed middle-ages castle that was also used as a garrison for some time. They do the full regimen of middle-age stuff: making stuff out of tin, baking flatbread, petting sheep and pigs. Teeny1 enjoyed the bow and arrows, Teeny2 stayed home because she didn't want to go to a booooooooring museum.

In the museum they had a game of Hnefatafl, also known as Icelandic chess. Wow! We enjoyed the game and played a few rounds at the B&B over the Internet - outside, using my swanky new modem. I suppose we will now have to make a game, it really is overkill using the Internet for this, as Teeny2 pointed out before heading off to play with the cat.

We drove all around the south of the island, playing tag with the other Germans going the same way. We kept meeting them at every interesting stop along the way - and then we all seemed to convene at the ATM in one of the little towns, the only one on the south of the island. As the Swedes say: Öland is just plain expensive, Gotland is nice. But I did rather like Öland. Anyway. Gotland in the next episode.