A week ago we postulated about the joys of bonding with a new car by taking it on vacation with you, and we set out to prove that premise by participating in Volvo's Overseas Delivery Program. Thus we took delivery of our brand spanking new Volvo XC90 V-8 at Volvo's Gothenburg assembly plant and delivery center. We then launched on an idyllic trek across southern Sweden, first taking a quick swing toward the postcard-ready village of Marstrand, favored by herring fishermen and King Oscar alike. Sated by its awe-inspiring vistas, we moved toward the interior of the country, skirting Saab's hometown of Trollhattan to settle for the night in the Bjertorp Slott Manor Hotel. Built by Consul Littorin, a confidante of the Russian czar, it seemed an appropriate site to pretend to be a late-19th Century millionaire.
While draining yet another after-dinner drink -- not the first and, thankfully, not the last -- a hare-brained scheme was conceived. My wife Sandi and I, who had not held golf clubs in our hands since our child-free days oh-so-long ago, resolved to play golf the following morning, bright and early, and our ever-genial host, James Hope, in an absolute fit of over-geniality, vowed that he would play too.
Somehow against all odds and the alcohol gods, at the crack of 9:15 we piloted our XC90 to the adjacent Bjertorp-Vara golf links to attempt to conquer what must be the most difficult sport this side of tossing the caber. Immediately, we ran afoul of the head pro, who was insulted by the temerity of both James and I to play left-handed. Reluctantly, he threw together two mis-matched sets of lefty clubs, not that any small setback like that could disrupt our round. Frankly, if he had put a croquet mallet and a shovel into the bag it would not have made much difference.
Out on the course, we were advised to play holes nine through 12 so as not to disturb the real golfers, and off we went to predictable results. We were still in mid-fairway (well actually mid-rough) on nine when the three of us mutually decided that actually counting strokes was an over-rated and utterly unnecessary aspect of true golf. Freed of these artificial bounds we made our way slowly and sloppily to the 11th tee, where I committed a serious mental blunder. Eyeing a dog-leg around a cattail-strewn pond, I had the absence of judgment to attempt to drive over this hazard. (Get real, Nerad!) Miraculously my shot had the distance to reach the pond where it immediately disappeared with a silent splash. While my golfing compatriots, Sandi and James, strategically skirted the hole with a well-chosen succession of 25- and 50-yard shots, I took a drop, whipped out my five iron (eschewing all the others including shovel and mallet) and took a mighty swing. Unfortuitously, however, the club struck the turf a good six inches in front of the ball, ricocheted into the elusive sphere sending it careening lazily into the pond, while, at the same time, my feet slid out from under me, and I crashed to the wet turf on my left shoulder. Oh, the humanity!
Since I was in a small hollow, lying painfully on my side, I suddenly disappeared from my golfing partners' sight, and Sandi undoubtedly had a glimmer of hope that her fondest wish had come true. But alas, after a minute or two, it seemed that they could hear my anguished screams and were reassured that I wasn't quite dead yet, though neither lifted a finger to help me. Bravely, my shoulder throbbing, I finished the round, posed for the obligatory pictures and congratulated James and Sandi on their fine play.
Back in the XC90, we set our sights on Aspa Herrgard, a 17th-Century manor house that lies on the northwest point of Lake Vattern. Not only did this small hotel and dining establishment offer us a spectacular lunch, highlighted by a delightfully saut‚ed chicken breast and flawless mashed potatoes, but it also introduced us to the legendary Swedish figure Carl Michael Bellman. A short walk from Aspa Herrgard lies the Bellman Museum, which chronicles the life of a man who was part Johnny Carson, part Robert Frost and part John Fogerty. Though he longed to be considered a serious poet, Bellman spent most of his adult life composing drinking songs, dodging debtors' prison and writing Biblical parodies (because what's a bigger hoot than goofin' on the Apostle Paul?) Bellman struck gold when he started kissing up to King Gustav III, who enjoyed the bouquets the poet tossed his way, but all that came to a sad end in 1792 when Gustav was assassinated. His meal ticket punched, Bellman himself checked out three years later, but to most Swedes, who value their drinking songs highly, he is still legend.
Exiting Lake Vattern we continued our journey eastward to our evening's destination, the charming manor of Sundbyholm. The hostelry is actually a complex of buildings, one dating back to the 17th-Century, built at the direction of Admiral Carl Carlsson Gyllenhielm, while another dating to the 1700s has been converted into an upscale honeymoon haven. Our accommodations consisted of a suite in a cottage of more recent vintage, but it captured more than a little of the antique aura issued by the place despite its sizable whirlpool tub.
A walk through one of the property's formal gardens took us to a marina on Lake Malaren, where we boarded an electric-powered raft to view the Sigurd engraving -- an 11th-Century folktale etched in rock. That mission completed, we returned to the oldest of the Sundbyholm structures where the most raucous of our dinners took place, fueled not only by a succession of alcoholic beverages, but also by the fact all the members of our party wore 18th-Century dress. What this meant, in practice, was that the women on the tour all looked fabulous in their elaborate gowns while the menfolk resembled preening geeks. After parading around all night in velvet and brocade I can only say thank heaven for Brooks Brothers.
The following morning we tumbled back into our stalwart XC90 for our last drive on the tour, and it was a bittersweet moment. After a relatively quick stop in the nearby town of Eskiltuna for a gander at glass-blowing, we got onto the beautifully engineered Swedish superhighway system for an hour's drive into Stockholm.
After spending the bulk of the week in the agrarian Swedish hinterlands, pulling into the Stockholm metro area was a revelation. This is a city that is big, cosmopolitan and crowded, yet it oozes charm. It is both physically attractive (since it occupies a series of islands) and architecturally attractive (since it has only a handful of buildings that might be termed skyscrapers). Evocative of both San Francisco and Seattle in its physical environs, it has a far richer history.
Saying goodbye to our XC90 for the last time -- regrettably it would not be rejoining us in America because our venture was a simulation of the OSD experience -- we checked into the centrally located Grand Hotel and immediately partook of its justly famous smorgasbord. Rejuvenated, we struck out to the nearby Gamla Stan ("Old Town") that was the original Stockholm, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon poking up and down the narrow streets, peering into art galleries and gift shops of all descriptions and generally lapping up local color as if it were cream. After a spectacular tour of the harbor by steamship, we gathered at Gondolen, one of the very few restaurants that offer a view of the city, for a sunset dinner. After warming up on a variety of wines in the restaurant, we retired to the crowded Grand Hotel bar where we toasted the success of our trip, the health of the Swedish royal family and anything else we could think of to toast until the wait staff actually turned the lights up and began sweeping under our feet.
The following morning we arose groggy but eager to explore and got onto a water taxi for the short journey to the Vasa Museum, which holds a good lesson for us all. The Vasa's story has parallels to the Titanic. Built as the King's Ship, the proudest fighting vessel in the Swedish Navy, it sailed into Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage and promptly rolled over and sank, trapping a number of its crew in the bowels of its hull. Raised from the harbor depths decades ago, it now resides in a beautifully executed museum that chronicles every aspect of its short history.
Exiting the Vasa Museum it was a short walk to Skansen, a sort of Swedish Greenfield Village. There we walked through working recreations of historic businesses like an 1800's bakery and a 1930's hardware store. After getting a close look at a moose in the wildlife area, we took a leisurely walk back through the park-like setting to our hotel. Then we set out on a final shopping spree before sitting down to a farewell dinner with the last few members of our company.
The following morning, as our cab ferried us to the sparkling modern Arlanda airport for our SAS flight back to the United States, we could only reflect on what a wonderful experience the week had brought us -- new sights, new sounds, and, most of all, new friends. We only hope that your Overseas Delivery Experience is as special as ours was.
Next week's feature: Okay, this sounds great, but what are the dollars-and-cents of the Volvo Overseas Delivery Program, and how do you go about participating? We'll give you those answers in our upcoming feature.