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Northward Ho! Vote for Helsinki!

20th July 2015 4 comments5728 views

At the end of May 2015 I went with Cristina to Copenhagen so that I could be a Guest of Honour at Denmark‘s delightful Fantasticon, and three weeks later we paid for ourselves to travel by way of Stockholm to excellent Archipelacon in Mariehamn, capital of the Finnish island (and archipelago) of Åland where the locals prefer to speak Swedish. Two journeys to the North, where the summer proved to be the coolest for many years—drat this global warming!

Fantasticon took place in the suburb of Valby, pronounced Valboo, a shortish walk from Copenhagen Zoo. But first the hospitable Danes put us for a couple of days in a buzzing, fun hostel-hotel just near the main railway station in the heart of town so that we could do tourist things, never having been in Denmark before.  Almost immediately next morning we headed for the Medical Museum, as we tend to do in cities…


…to be rewarded by a special exhibition of abnormalities:


This set us up for lunch in what used to be a Russian consulate much visited by hungry sailors, to satisfy my appetite for herrings in curry sauce. Too many tourists were posing around the Little Mermaid, but Cristina found two other mermaids:



Other highlights of Copenhagen included a surprise Tesla car showroom:


…and the Amber Museum which was rather good. Usually such places and chocolate museums are basically shops, but this was full of interesting things such as an amber galleon to prepare us for the Vasa when we got to Stockholm:


…and the Glyptoteket museum where I balanced a good Van Gogh:


Not forgeting the fun-park plus gardens of Tivoli, which are rather delightful:


I mean, how magic is this?


Yes, we did stroll through the weed-smoking, self-governing hippy enclave of Christiania, but we found it less utopian than we might once have done.

Being flat, Copenhagen is a bombardment by bicycles (including in the subway):


Before the con started, while I was looking at a camel in Copenhagen Zoo


…I was phoned from England by the genius agency in charge of selling my house to tell me that the solicitors for the buyer had a document from the Land Registry listing me as bankrupt 30 years ago, so that I might not have a right to sell my house. “Eh?” said I. “But I never went bankrupt!” “Well,” said the phone, “can you courier us a document proving that you weren’t bankrupt?” “Um,” I said, “I’m in Copenhagen Zoo looking at a camel—and how could there possibly be any document proving that something never happened?”

During the con, increasingly surreal mobile phone calls dogged me, distorting my personality:


Only when I got back to Spain and saw a scan of the piece of paper from the Land Registry was I able to do what two teams of imbecile solicitors and agents had failed to do—namely phone the Enquiries number printed prominently on the single piece of paper, to be told immediately by a helpful woman that the category listed on the paper had nothing to with bankruptcy. But by then the house sale had fallen through. And this is merely one example of the many blundering stupidities that several expert bunches of clowns have littered the path to a final sale with, like banana skins. Estoy hasta los cojones de esos cabrones gilipollas; pardon my Spanish.

Unlike my house sale, Fantasticon was very well organised and user-friendly, including publishing a story collection by me in Danish, selected and translated with quite a long Efterord by Niels Dalgaard, splendid cover by Manfred Christiansen.

Slow Birds Danish

Many new friends! And it was good to see Pat Cadigan feisty on her first big solo outing after chemotherapy.

The cost of beer in Copenhagen only left me semi-bankrupt, so—by way of Spain—we headed presently to Stockholm to complete the process.

Our boat-hotel beside the Old Town was the biggest steam-yacht ever built when Barbara Hutton‘s multi-millionaire dad gave it to his daughter as a 17th birthday present, following up with a cheque for one million dollars on her 21st birthday—though this was mere pocket money compared with her trust fund. Who could say which princelings and playboys had stayed in our cabin, or whether Scott Fitzgerald had peeped through the porthole? In 1939 Barbara gave the yacht to the Royal Navy to help the war effort, about the same time as she married Cary Grant, husband number 3 out of 7. Later, the yacht became a ferry to Finland before ending up moored in Stockholm:


The decorative Old Town hosts a giant SF bookshop, SF-Bokhandeln:



Did this have as many kilometres of shelves as Gigamesh in Barcelona? In the end we never found out.

Also nearby in the Old Town, within the Royal Palace, is Gustav III‘s collection of Roman statuary bought on a trip to Rome in 1783-84 from the Catholic Church which had a monopoly on ancient statues. At first, this room appeared to be totally black and white; only after ten minutes did some muted colour start to register on the eye.


Perceiving our interest and that my shoes matched his own, one of the Observers from Fringe contributed his knowledge about was the world’s first ever public art museum:

FRinge statues

Here’s one of the chaps who let the Royal Palace burn down in 1697 running the gauntlet rather than being executed immediately. Since he had to do this seven times, and the double line of soldiers was seven or eight times as long as viewed here, probably not much of him survived intact.


We also came across a charming square in the Old Town with this statue of St George and the Dragon, where I cannot understand how an arm of the trampled dragon appears to be holding a weapon; but I was footsore, in need of a beer.


A fountain, warning of over-population, captured our attention:


Here’s the Vasa, which sank almost immediately after being launched in 1628 for the benefit of posterity:


Naturally Cristina and I went to the Fotografiska museum to see giant photos.

And then we took the early morning booze cruise through the umpteen islands of the Stockholm archipelago—slowly, so that the wake of our gigantic ferry didn’t wash any islands away—onward to the next archipelago where we were in Finland (just).


Archipelacon was graced by George Martin as a GoH, along with Parris as fan GoH, a prime reason why 800 people attended. No more could, because we filled all the beds in Mariehamn on its Åland island, thus George was able to stroll around without being besieged. The other Guests of Honour were Sweden’s elegant Karin Tidbeck, Finland’s Johanna Sinisalo (stress on the first syllable) of Iron Sky and Troll Story—one of the Barcelona Eurocon 2016‘s excellent guests of honour ADVERTISEMENT!—with genial Gary K. Wolfe as Academic GoH. Almost all of the programme, and the Souvenir Book, were in English which Scandinavians speak fluently at the drop of a hat, including while talking to each other.

The organisers did a brilliant job—and these will be the same people (along with more people) who will bring the Worldcon to Helsinki in 2017 if they win the vote at the Sasquan Worldcon in Spokane this year (August 19 to 23). So convinced were we that they run a wonderful Worldcon in Finland that Cristina and I both bought supporting memberships of Sasquan so as to vote for Helsinki, and we urge everyone to do likewise—that’s what a credit card is for!

The only thing that Archipelacon couldn’t organise was the outdoor temperature, so that the nightly parties around the main hotel’s swimming pool, with many partiers drawing blankets up to their chins in the everlasting sunshine, looked a bit like an 1930s sanatorium for TB patients, though everybody was happy. Here’s the swimming pool before we put on our blankets (thanks, Hanna Svensson, for the photo):


Did I say night? What night? Between about 11.00 pm and 1.00 am there were just some shades of grey (as it were). Here’s the view from our hotel balcony at 23.06:


Back in Stockholm again, staying in a different hotel, we came across what looked like the Indiana Jones‘s Ball of Doom waiting to roll:


…but in fact it was a homage to the Holocaust and to Raoul Wallenburg who saved many Jewish lives—in many languages except for Spanish which is the second most spoken.


Nearby was a fountain which transforms visiting swans to bronze, a bit like the petrified birds of Lake Natron:


…as well as a café so closely surrounded by a ring of trees that they must have been planted as soon as the kiosk, or its ancestor, opened:


In the Norsk Museum we confronted a redoubtable king:


…and outside was a jolly offer we forced ourselves to refuse:


Mind you, we also saw this:


…though I should perhaps add that, according to several online dictionaries, pong is Swedish for—eh?—pong.

Our new hotel was conveniently near by coincidence to the Monk’s Café artesan beer pub, our access made even easier by an old movie poster tunnel through an intervening hill:


and there in Monk´s Café we happily completed my bankruptcy by beer along with friendly fans, such as Bellis:

Bellis pub



  1. Um, um, visionary Cristina took all of the pictures. (Except for the swimming pool; credit: Hanna Svensson.) I cannot claim any credit, hmm, except maybe as an occasional model.

  2. Hrm. Was I the only one who wasn’t cold outside around the pool at Archipelacon? I didn’t think it was that bad! (Although most of the Finns and Swedes seemed to agree with you — I didn’t even put my jacket on most of the time)

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