Nordicaa: Travels in the Nordic Lands – Malmö

I have never deliberately been to Malmö, and I don’t know anyone who has. It’s not that Malmö is a bad place, a boring place or a place I wouldn’t recommend a visit to. It’s a lovely place, but it’s hardly a holiday destination. All of the people I know who have been there have done so because of one other place: Copenhagen. The Danish capital is a short train ride away, over a superb, famous bridge.

The border between Sweden and Denmark has no need to be difficult; they are countries which get along famously. They share a very similar language, lots of very similar customs, and a lot of history. Usually involving lengthy wars with each other. The most important thing they share now, however, is a workforce: commuting between Copenhagen and Malmö is so commonplace that Malmö could almost be considered a commuter town for Copenhagen, albeit a quintessentially Swedish one.

If you know of Malmö, it’s more than likely from one of two things: Nordic Noir TV series, The Bridge was set there – and in Copenhagen; and Sweden hosted the Eurovision Song Contest there in 1992 and 2013. You should know it for the Turning Torso, or its beautiful squares or for a 20 foot tall table lamp, but you probably don’t. Which is sad, because these are all wonderful things to behold, truly.

My partner was pregnant when we were last in Malmö; heavily pregnant. Every step was a crippling agony. We had been assured in our outdated guidebook that there was a food hall on the corner of the city’s small square, Lilla Torg. What that we found in its place, after searching surrounding streets, was a TGI Fridays. Delicious, I would imagine, but not quite what we were looking for.

Sitting in a nearby café, drinking coffee (decaf) and eating gingerbread muffins, we accessed their wi-fi: Saluhallen had closed the previous year. My assumption, ungrounded, is that rent on a prime piece of real estate such as that was too high. A new Saluhall opened a few years later, out of the city centre, and seems to be flourishing once more. I must pay them a visit one of these days.

And that, I think, is part of my problem. I have never been out of the bubble of the heart of the city and tried to find what else it had to offer. The new Saluhall, I find, is a world of wonder, which I never knew existed. The palace, Malmöhus Slott, sits in a park I walked through when I was there on my own, but that did not fully explore. I regret missing so much of this great city on both visits. I have my reasons for not exploring, but it does not assuage my pangs of guilt. I’ll get over it, I’m sure.

First of all, I panicked. I was alone this time. I wanted a burger and a souvenir: I wanted about £30. That would be 300 SEK or so. I knew that that was what I needed; I knew that that was what I should be looking for. When the first cash machine didn’t allow me in to my own account, I really panicked.

I tried one of the cashpoints on the main shopping street out of the square, Södergatan. No dice. It just spat out my card, as if I’d tried to stick a bus ticket in there. I tried another, further up the street. No dice. Spat right out at me. I tried one last cashpoint, this time from a different bank, and I got in.

So let’s just say that I was already on edge. I was worried that my bank were stopping me from the UK, preventing me from withdrawing money. Let’s follow that with a side note: When I am stressed, extraneous noises, like a cashpoint beeping at me, or a child shouting, ramp my stress levels up high.

I’m going to assume you’re a bright reader, so I’ll jump to the payoff. In my hand was £200, which I didn’t really have, unless paying rent suddenly became optional. Moreover, the money I didn’t have was in Swedish Krona, a country I was not staying in: I only had another couple of hours in Sweden, before heading back to Denmark after lunch. Panic: Wandering the streets, talking to myself, panic.

If you ever find yourself in a position such as mine, do not panic. The quirk of such a porous border is that the flow of currency is free and frothy in both directions. I found myself in a souvenir shop next to the central station, when I noticed that they did conversions. One of the kindest men I have ever met happily swapped 1,700 Swedish Kronur for the appropriate number of Danish. My heartrate back to its natural ambient, I skipped out of the shop in search of a burger. And very tasty it was too.

I ate in Gustaf Adolfs Torg, at the far end of Södergatan. Years later I would see the square come to life as a Christmas market, but today I was taken by a different sight: “The English Shop”. I couldn’t resist. Does Malmö really have a large enough an English population to sustain this kind of shop? Who knows? I went inside, not knowing what to expect, but feeling slightly queasy at the thought of a mirror being held up to my homeland. A shop like this tells us what the world thinks of us; what we mean to them. I found jam, potato waffles and cake decorations. I cannot say I was disappointed. Secretly, I wanted the staff to recognise my Englishness; but that would require my talking to people. I Englishly paid for my Tizer with my abundance of Swedish currency and returned to the streets.

I meandered through shopping streets and looked in to windows. I looked at the famous golden lion of the Apoteket Lejonet, in the imaginatively named Stortorget (Main or Great Square; Lilla Torg means Small Square). I silently walked through a tranquil graveyard, and collected conkers.

I like collecting things. As a child I used to collect coins. I then moved on to CDs, then to DVDs. I tried collecting Michelin starred restaurants, but I lack the bank balance for that. Plus they’re a tad samey.

Instead I collect places: Nordic places. I love Sweden, but I want to see more of it. It is insufficient to only see a country through its capital. As much as I enjoyed the time I spent in Stockholm, I knew I needed to get out and about. My favourite form of exploration is urban; countryside comes later for me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the countryside; it’s just hard to experience a nation’s culture in a field.

My trips to Malmö satiated that desire, but I found that they had also nourished it. I had tentatively moved slightly away from the beaten track of the tourist and in doing so I had found great things: where could I collect next? Uppsala, actually, but I’ll tell you about that some other time. Göteborg is next on my Swedish list, but a return to Malmö cannot be ruled out. And this time I’ll take cash.

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