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Sweden, January 11, 1999

You Have a Drinking Age?!

What to do in Danmark and Sweden if your lucky enough to be over 21.

Check out the asia in the lineup.  You know that caused a stir!
The Royal Danish Family
My joe-cool host in Danmark

Susanna trying to dry out

mmmm!  gotta love those toes!
How to drink vodka in Sweden

There will be order!  These little checks say who's next in line at the pochta!

I was #490 that day!
This past week, with the Russian celebration of Christmas to get me outta work I wandered around Russia's northern neighbors and one time enemies. Now, I've been to Finland, so I had an idea of what to expect from Denmark and Sweden, but neither of the countries were much like the Scandinavia I expected.

Denmark, with the oldest serving monarchs, currently a Queen, was a lot more moist and quiet than my expectations. It rained every day I was there and I never did see the sun! Although I was trying to keep dry the whole time, the Danes were so used to the wet, that they didn't even bother with umbrellas! Luckily, I was staying with two cool sisters I met three years earlier outside a St Petersburg mosque, so I had a refuge in the deluge. (Thanks you Susanna & Malene!)

I did manage to make it to four world-class museums to witness the beauty of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia, Roman penchant for busts, and an odd video parody of Chris Isaac's 'All I ever wanted to do was to fall in love with you.' I must say that the parody was hilarious, but a bit too cool for MTV.

I saw a lot of parallels in the Bronze Age exhibit. I saw where the makers of flint arrowheads started to model their wares after the technologically superior bronze arrowheads, before becoming extinct. Kind of like the typewriter manufacturers of today. Also, with the emergence of such amazing tools, the bronze items became religious relics in themselves, becoming impractical in their oversized ornamentive status. Kind of like the monster trucks and super lowriders of today's vehicles.

I only made it to two museums in Sweden, the Vasa Museum, where an entire ship that sank intact, and fully loaded in 1628, was raised from the Stockholm harbor and is now on display in an entire museum devoted to it, and the Wine and Spirits Historical Museum, where I learned about the method to the madness of the Swedish drinking laws.

The Swedes, like the Russians were into making and drinking vodka, after the process of distillation was improved and the introduction of the potato in the 1600's. At one point, in the early 1800's, the Swedes outdrank the rest of the world, including Russia, by consuming over 40 liters of vodka per person, per year. That's around four bottles a week!

Instead of allowing this drunkenness to ruin their country, like it seems the Russians have, the Swedes started legislating the problem away. First, home brewing, which was rampant in the early 1800's was totally outlawed in 1860. Then the cities started to form companies that controlled all the alcohol sales in each area, giving the jurisdictions tax revenue to fund social programs needed due the drinking. Finally the government took over the domestic production of alcohol, and nationalized the independent local retailers.

This has left Sweden with an interesting alcohol situation. It is the only country that I know of in Europe, where there is an enforced drinking age (20! almost as high as the States!), there is no alcohol for sale on the weekends (the sates retail stores close early on Fridays), and the national government receives a large portion of its budget from alcohol production (Absolute Vodka is made by the Swedish government!).

It also gives the Stockholm nightlife a weird twist. Unlike Moscow the Stockholm party scenes divided into age groups, with the under 20 year old kids in cafes, sipping lattes, while the 20ish people are stuck in bars where a beer is $8. Kinda makes the night either very boring or very expensive. Luckily, yours truly is quite adaptive. I made friends fast, and had three very enjoyable and very long evenings on the town for $100 total. Less than an average weekend in Moscow! (Thanks Carl and the City Backpackers Crew!) Now you know why I only made it to two museums in four days too!

Actually, I was ready to come back to Moscow. After the USA and Scandinavia, I'm ready for a bit of the tedium to get my balance again. Too bad its not going to last for long.