Ever since World DipCon VII, in Goteborg, Sweden this March, I have wanted to set down my thoughts and detail my experiences at the convention for The Pouch readership. Sadly, two Pouch issues came and went before I finally found time to sit down and at least try to do it justice. In that time, the venerable Larry Peery gave us a full rendition of his own trip in the Spring Retreat issue.
I guess I should start at the beginning, which is probably back at World DipCon VI in Columbus, Ohio, last July. It was there (as I've earlier detailed in these pages) that I got my first exposure to international, serious Diplomacy competition. I guess you can say that I liked it, since I ended up ten months later travelling to another hemisphere to play the game.
The thing is, I initially had no thoughts – not even pipe dreams – of making the trip to Sweden. Even after, as we all know, Pitt Crandlemire won the championship and was therefore bound to cross the waters to defend it, I had no hope to go with him. Oh, not that he didn't bug me about it every so often, asking if there was any chance I could make it, but I never looked into it, thinking it was prohibitive.
Then the American Airlines pilots went on strike. To lure passengers, American Airlines dropped their prices drastically. Only about a month before the tournament, I was urged to at least look at the prices, and when I pointed Netscape at the AmericanAir site, I was shocked. I could get to Sweden and back for less money than I spent travelling to Columbus! I just couldn't resist, at that point. Next thing you know, I'm updating my passport and making plane reservations.
Another thing that pushed me into making the trip was a little something that germinated in my mind at Columbus and that, with Pitt and Simon Szykman, turned into a new game geared to lure the non-Dip game players into our fold. The game had been worked on in great detail in continuous e-mail ever since Columbus, and I had playtested the game with Simon a few times on trips I made back east, and among friends here in town. It was ready for some big time playtests, and you can't get much bigger than World DipCon.
So it was that I embarked on American Airlines out of Denver, bound for Chicago and Stockholm. A good long time (and a couple bad movies) later, I was in Sweden's capital city. I had decided, when planning my trip, to spend the first day exploring Stockholm, before hopping a flight across the nation the next day to Goteborg. So explore I did.
From Arlanda airport, I took a bus into the central station downtown, and then grabbed a subway to what is called Gamla Stan (Old Town), where my hotel was located. I found it soon enough, and checked myself in.
The weather wasn't exactly the best. It was near feezing, with a driving snow, but I determined to see the sights regardless, and I set out on foot from the hotel soon after dropping my luggage on the bed. I had asked the front desk what I should see, and was told that the palace and the Vasa museum should be my agenda.
The palace, as it turned out (and, I suppose, not surprisingly) is right in the old town, and was only six or so blocks away, up at the top of the hill. On my way, I passed a game store that sold Diplomacy. I thought about stopping in to see if there were any Diplomacy players there; maybe even see if any recognized my name from The Pouch. I also thought maybe I would be able to strike up a conversation about the new game Pitt, Simon, and I have created. I decided to just keep walking, though; I would see the sights and maybe stop back by the game store later.
One thing I didn't know, but learned quickly, was that the pedestrians own the road. People don't bother to walk to a corner and look for cars. They step boldly into the street whenever the mood strikes, and the cars, in their slow crawl, must watch out for them. I took this up immediately, because it seemed like something I could do that would make me not stand out as a tourist quite so much.
When I got to the top of the hill, the palace was very apparent. I took a few pictures of what I thought was the front of the palace, and then walked around the corner and saw I was sorely mistaken. There, I took the photo you see here, with the guard on duty. I promised him I would publish his picture, so here it is. (Not that he was a very talkative guy; didn't get a single word out of him. When I told him he'd better smile, he turned up the corners of his mouth imperceptibly.)
As it turns out, I should have tested his ability to answer questions. When I got back to the hotel room later, I learned that he was actually guarding the rear entrance to the palace, not the front. And that if I had walked around to the other side, I would have been there at the one time every week – noon on Wednesday – when the guard changes in a much-attended ceremony, and when tours through the treasure room are given! Alas! I learned that those little tour books you get in hotel rooms really should be read before you go out and explore.
Satisfied (but, as I said, sorely mistaken) that I had seen what was to be seen of the palace, I set out for the museum I was told about. I didn't know what the Vasa museum was; I was told only that it was an old ship and that it was over on another island. The lady at the hotel said I would need to take a ferry to get to this island, but I could see an old ship anchored across the water on another island, and, though it was a bit of a walk, I could make it there by using a bridge right in front of me
I decided, therefore, to walk to the museum, and one other reason I had for doing so was that I could see that my route would take me right past the Grand Hotel and the National Museum. When I had crossed the bridge and arrived at the National Museum, I learned it was the National Museum of Art. I stopped there, without going in, to warm myself, then kept walking towards the ship I saw anchored.
I got to that ship (after taking some good pictures of what looked to me to be Rapunzel's castle from the fairy tales – stuff like that you just don't see in the States!) and learned that the ship was not a museum at all, but a hostel! I must admit that this put the fear of God into me. I was to stay in a hostel in Goteborg (provided by the WDC committee free of charge) and, well, this particular hostel – the first I had ever seen – was an old junked ship anchored in the water, obviously with no heat. And it was, as I've mentioned, cold. I pictured myself crammed into a space the size of a cruise ship cabin with ten other men trying to sleep in paper-thin sheets, while many (certainly I) were also busy with seasickness from the rocking of the ship. I shuddered at the thought!
I pressed forward on my walk, knowing that although I had initially walked to the wrong ship, the right one had to be just down the road a bit. Down by where the constantly-crossing ferry was landing. The ferry that I would use, after visiting the museum, to return my by-now freezing self to the island where my hotel was. So I walked. And I walked. I passed a fort with some abandoned gun emplacements that had obviously been used in the defense of the city. Something else you don't see Stateside.
About then, I realized my mistake. I turned a corner and saw that I was not on the island to which the ferry I had been watching travelled! No, I was on a completely different island altogether. Stockholm is built on something like a dozen islands, and the Vasa museum was, well, not on this one. So I turned myself around and started the long walk back to the bridge I had used in making this mistake.
One lucky thing is that although I speak no Swedish, all the Swedes speak excellent English. Well, most of them. I helped a lady who slipped and fell on an icy little walkway, and she couldn't understand a word I said as I tried to make light of the situation once she had adjudged herself uninjured. She looked at me like I was from another planet, then smiled, waved, and set off. This taught me that it wasn't going to be as easy as it had been at the airport, bus terminal, and hotel.
On my unexpected trek back to the palace crossing, I knew I needed some long-term warmth, so I stopped in the National Museum of Art along the way, and paid the admission price for I knew not what.
Wow. I was familiar with fine art from books only. I'd never actually seen any. And there it was. A lot of it. A whole lot of it. On exhibit was a collection of masterpieces owned by a museum in Belgium. Famous names and famous paintings. I saw works by Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Gougin, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Manet, and Picasso (among many others), as well as a collection of Russian icons. I got the complete tour of the Diplomacy map right there. Of all the artists on exhibit, though, I found myself most impressed by one who featured prominently in the permanent collection. Anders Zorn was a Swedish artist, of whom I had never heard. His works are truly exquisite.
Once I was warm and convinced I could gawk no more at art without fainting dead away from amazement, I got back on the
lift in the museum, and returned to the ground floor. That's another thing about Europe. The ground floor is not the first floor (as it is here in America). The first floor is up one flight (in America, we call that the second floor). I much prefer the European system on this point, and wish that we Americans had adopted it. To my computer science fed mind, the ground floor should be zero, not one. But, as you know, I digress.
As I was saying, I set out from the museum, back across the bridge, back in front of what turned out to be the back of the palace, and down to the ferry launch. I bought a ticket and was soon riding on the Baltic for the first time (unless you count the many times I've done so vicariously with a little block of wood and a Diplomacy board).
On the opposite shore, I walked some more, but this time I did arrive at the Vasa museum. It was, to understate it, well worth the trouble to which I had put myself getting there. The Vasa was a ship commissioned (and, fatally, designed) by the King of Sweden back in the 16th century. Sweden was at war, and the king thought the rules were that the guy with the biggest ship won. So he made this mountain of a ship. Truly. Gargantuan. And intricate as all get out. The ship was carved up with literally hundreds of wooden men representing everything from the caesars of ancient Rome to the recently-discovered American Indians. All the symbolism said that the King of Sweden was the man. Don't mess with him.
His shipbuilders told him it would be too top-heavy after he piled more and more height and weight on top of their initially decent design, but of course, he didn't listen. He was the king, after all. In fact, while it was in port, they even had a dozen or so men run back and forth on the deck to show him the ship tilt to and fro dangerously. He remained unconvinced, and it set off on its maiden voyage full of men and sailing before a huge crowd assembled on the shores.
It didn't make it far out of dock. It keeled over and sank right in front of the palace. It was so huge that its mast stuck up from the water, even after the ship had settled to the bottom. The king couldn't have that symbol of his failure sitting out there for everyone to see, so he ordered the mast cut off underwater, and the matter was quietly forgotten (after a trial, of course, at which a number of non-kings took the blame). Forgotten, indeed, for centuries. In the 1960's, however, acting on a theory that the cold and virtually salt-free Baltic would have kept it from rotting away, the ship was located and raised, and now there it sits in this huge museum built to house it. I saw a brief film on the raising and restoration of the ship. Amazing stuff.
Once I had taken the guided tour of the museum, during which I spent all my time with my mouth hanging open gawking at the ship, I hiked back to the ferry. On the way, I stopped and dipped my hand into the waters of the Baltic to test what I had heard about their not being salty. Also, I couldn't see coming to the Baltic Sea and not touching it. So into my mouth went a bit of the Baltic and I can report that sure enough, it's not salty at all. I can also advise you not to try to find out for yourself. Maybe it wasn't this drink I took, but it has taken the blame in my mind for the bout of incontinence that struck me hard for the rest of the trip!
Back at the ferry launch, I took this picture – if you look real close, you can see the ferry itself headed over to pick me up and take me on my second ever Swe-BAL-Swe convoy. On the right-hand side, you can see on the hill the old fort I talked about (where I realized that I was on the
Walking back to my hotel, I stopped for postcards and stamps. It was fun actually using a stamp with a royal personage on it. To my parents, I pointed out that I was on a first-name basis with the lady on the stamp, and to my children, I made sure to point out that this was a picture of
a real queen!
Something I knew about the Swedes is that they live in the future. Something like eight hours in the future. I thought I could live there with them, no problem, but found out to the contrary when I returned to my hotel room and determined to rest
for only a little while before perhaps making an evening visit to a local Irish pub I had noticed. Next thing I knew, I was waking up at 2:30 AM, fully rested and with a city asleep all around me. I tried unsuccessfully to get back to sleep, but ended up reading to pass the time, waiting for these strange people from a different time to come back to life.
When they did, I went to breakfast in the hotel. I was unprepared for how to take a continental breakfast when actually on the continent. The layout was impressive. Not just the baguette and coffee I suppose I expected. Rather, I chose from a selection of meats, cold fish, fruits, cheese, and breads. And a great number of (to my eyes) very strange colored spreads made up of God knows what. I didn't know which spread was meant for which item, so I didn't dare try any of them. Everything was good, but let me tell you: there is a reason Swedish meatballs are so famous. Who would have guessed you could rave about meatballs? Or that there could be a perceivable difference between what American homemakers call Swedish meatballs and what they truly are. They don't look different, but boy, what a difference. If you want to taste the best Swedish meatballs in the world, you have got to go to Sweden.
After breakfast, I made my way to the subway, through the bus station, onto a bus and out to the airport. It was time for me to leave Stockholm and travel to Goteborg.
Now that you've suffered through the travelogue of my tourist day, you're ready for the Diplomacy....