The Final Countdown

 Final E(uro)-mail message. . .                                         1st September 1997

Ahhh, yes, the end is in sight. The tallies have been made, the numbers added, the tote rolled. No, this isn't Jerry's Labor Day Telethon, it's the BilFish EuroAdventure wrap-up.

Before I get to the meat of the subject, I wanted to return first to Germany – to that great city, Berlin. In my last e-mail missive I failed to include the entire city. Considered hard to miss by some, a small brain failure was the cause and new parts are on order (should be in within the next few weeks). My apologies to my excellent host Mr. Klaus Paul.

Berlin, Deutschland (East and West)
People have occasionally said Germans don't have a sense of humor. They point to World War II; they point to the Great War; they point to the very serious beer and reinheitsgebot laws. This is not true, I've recently discovered. During the 1989 wall-crashing party held in Berlin, someone in the crowds held up a banner stating "Test the West." I assumed this was a kind and generous gesture by the Western brethren to the Eastern, an invitation to join them in glorious democracy. I mentioned this to Klaus, who almost choked. He said that "West" is a cigarette brand and "Test the West" is the brand slogan. Basically, it was a joke. So there. Fahrvergnugen, blood sausage and sauerkraut are only part of the Germanic heritage.

I know everyone is probably sick of me whining about the amazingly drab weather this summer in Central Europe. To balance this out I will now whine about the best summer Scandinavia has seen in 146 years or so. I mean, how can I fully appreciate it when each and every day is just another beautiful, sunny and cool day?

Well, to the tune of sympathetic murmurs I shall continue. By the way, no comments from the peanut gallery as I talk about your various countries, please. That's the problem with having locals reading this, I have to be careful about the lies I tell...

From Copenhagen, Denmark (that funny little peninsula thingee stalagmiting from the top of Germany) I traveled up to a place called Stockholm, Sverige. Predictably, this translates to English as Island City, Sweden. I arrived on the first day of the Swedish Water Festival. They're serious about summer partying, and apparently not all of them got drunk enough on Midsummer's Eve to swear off drinking and carousing, because the Water Festival – a week-long event in August covering much of the old town in Stockholm with hundreds of thousands of visitors, musicians and pickpockets – also includes some significant drinking and partying. And fireworks. I saw some great displays of fireworks while I was there visiting a friend of mine who was kind enough to put me up (maybe I should say 'put up with') for the week.

If there is one thing to say about Sweden, and Stockholm and surrounding environs, it would be this: I saw Rome, Athens (yeacchh), Aosta, Chamonix, Nice, Monte Carlo, Bern, Montreaux, Zurich, St. Anton, Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and London — Stockholm is probably my pick for the most beautiful overall city. Most cities had something that stood out and linger yet in my mind, but Stockholm seemed planned as a fairytale city to me. I'd even consider returning there some day for a visit.

I also nearly grossed myself out near Stockholm. The Swedish have this joke they pull on foreigners. First, they have you try some interesting fried fish called Stromming. Sounds innocent, and they're actually tasty on toast. Then they tell you about this "custom" Scandinavians have of eating something called "sur stromming" (you'll have to imagine the Swedish accent here, but it's in there). This translates to sour Stromming fish. They tell you it smells bad, they tell you it doesn't taste quite as bad, then they mention it's good for the digestion.

Any testosterone-laden male such as myself is immediately forced to declare an urge to avail himself of this "delicacy." I should have started to question my bravery as my companion, Tonica the Swedish girl, said we couldn't open the can of sur stromming in her apartment complex, that's against code. Instead, we drove out to the country. Similarly, the US Govt. does the same thing when preparing for live missile testing.

To make a long story short, I almost puked immediately after she opened the can. I wanted to go stick my head in an outhouse pit so as to get a fresh of breath air. I wanted to rip out my nose and stomp on it with my boot. Instead, I downed some significant quantities of Vodka (hence the quality and popularity of Absolut Vodka, I think) and then actually proceeded to eat what turns out to be nothing more than raw fish allowed to rot for a year in the ground, then canned and allowed to continue to ferment until it turns into a gelatinous mass of quasi-digested fish bits, scales and soft bones. Yummm, yummm, good for my tum. Or so the Swedish claim.

So, if you're up there, don't fall for this joke played on helpless young males!

Having visited only the southern parts of Sweden and it's culinary delights, I can't speak much for the rugged nature aspect. Moving on to that famed northern country of fjords, glaciers, and oil, I can. Norway (which means something like "north country" in the local lingo) had all the classic images you'd consider when you read the phrase "rugged nature aspect."

While in Norway, I visited a friend of mine and also took a 6-day driving trip around the most incredible fjord areas of Norway. Rick Steves' said if you see Norway and miss the fjords, your passport should be revoked. I think he's too kind. You should be shot.

On my summer vacation in Norway I did some fun stuff. For my man Dan, I went skiing in August on the side of a glacier. It was pretty damn neat. For the Chamonix crew, I went glacier hiking with the appropriate safety equipment and 2-inch shoe spikes. I built a small cairn of rocks on top of a mountain overlooking the fabulous and famed Geirangerfjord. I drank some good beer for myself and communed with nature for the environment.

My ski trip was somewhat interesting. While in June the area had about 12 meters of snow, the great summer sun this year had all but melted it to the point the ski rental crew asked if I'd skied before. Sure, I said. It wasn't until I started signing the Liability Release Waiver(s) that I started getting a bit nervous about this... "Use your OTHER real name please, sir." When I purchased my lift ticket, the lady looked me over and promptly issued me a 3-hour lift ticket... "That's all you'll be needing, son." Okay, now I was getting a bit more nervous. Tripping over the broken and cracked pairs of skiis on the way out the door to the lift didn't help.

Turns out I had a great time in slightly icy/slushy snow. In fact, until the last run, when I was carefully making my way down, I didn't fall even once. Luckily, I smacked head first into the wet slush, did the splits and ruined my tattered dignity right near the base where all the people were gathered, before making my dripping way back to the car. Wouldn't be the same otherwise.

Somewhere along the route, between Lillehammer –site of the '94 Winter Olympic Games and probably the coolest opening ceremony on record– and Briksdalbreen (the glacier I climbed), I began seriously conversing with someone back in Colorado in the States interested in offering me a job. Three and a half months into my trip, with the unlikeliness of a better time than I had in Scandinavia looming ahead of me, and maybe a few bills waiting for me back home, I considered the offer. By the time I returned to Oslo I had decided to end my vacation while it was still perfect, on the "you can't get any better than this" theory. So, I headed out for London to spend the day purchasing fine cigars from embargoed nations and to eat my long-awaited Khan's Indian food in the Bayswater neighborhood.

From there, it was but a short hop to trade in my sunny and 75 weather for muggy, cloudy, rainy and 105 monsoon season climate of Arizona. I arrived here a few days ago, and am writing from my home town of Phoenix right now. I spent the day in Denver, Colorado, interviewing with the group, and it looks like they'll be moving me up to Denver as of the week after next.

I'm excited about getting up there, maybe doing some skiing, catching up on my reading, and, uhhh, well, skiing. Oh, and working, of course. If you're interested, I've decided that US West (the local phone company) has given me such a hard time over the past 4 or 5 years I spent in the Internet business, it was time to give it back to them a little bit. And, so, they'll be paying me to develop high-speed Internet stuff for them; kind of a couldn't refuse/cushy job issue for me. We'll be concentrating on the Phoenix and Denver markets first, so I'll still be able to visit the folks in the hotland.

To wrap things up for now, I'd like to say the sincerest Thank You to everyone who allowed me to invade their homes and spread my backpack of goodies and dirty clothes across their floors. You made my trip unique, memorable, and enjoyable beyond what I could ever have imagined when first I started planning to sneak onto the European continent. I want to thank many of the great folks I met in my travels, whom I am honored to consider friends and who make me wonder why Lady Fortune chose to smile so brightly the past few months.

I also wish to thank everyone for listening to my ramblings and for the kind words and interesting e-mails I've traded with many of you. I lost touch with a lot of people when I worked for Internet Direct, and got too wrapped up in my work. I missed out on a lot of good friendships and you've given me the best motivation not to let that happen again.

Cheers from the United States,

AmeriBilFish