Friday, 31 August 2012

Mum's gone to Sweden: Hooray for Trollywood

In the 1980s there was a cute car sticker for SAAB cars which said, "Made in Trollhättan by trolls." The assembly plant closed down in 2011 but Trollhättan remains an industrial town. Which makes it an odd choice for one of our stops on our tour of Sweden. Yet what made Trollhättan the centre for industry is the very same thing which attracted me to the town: the hydro-electric power created by the waterfalls.

Every week (every day in the summer months) the power company releases 300,000 litres of water per second into the old river gorge, making this a spectacular event for visitors who crowd onto Oscar's bridge just before 3pm to witness the breathtaking sight and thunderous sound. Our hotel was situated on the other side of the river to the main part of town, high up over the water. When we arrived, having driven from our last stop, Askersund, we were just in time to scramble along the hill path to one of the viewing platforms and wait for the gates to open.

Trollhattan Falls - empty

Trollhattan Falls - gates opening

Trollhattan falls - full flow

But Trollhättan isn't just famous for its trolls, industry and waterfalls. It has now become the centre for a film production company which is informally called Trollywood. The town even has its own Walk of Fame on Stortgatan. We took a stroll down there, hoping to see some celebs. None to see, but evidently they have been here - take a look:

There were a lot of Swedish names I didn't recognise but after taking shots of Lauren Bacall's star I spotted Nicole Kidman's and again got busy with the camera.

Rory had other ideas!


Monday, 27 August 2012

Mum's gone to Sweden: Lighthouse Family

"It's undisturbable the peace we found
In a bright new space up above the clouds... and I forever, baby, lifted, lifted..."
               Lifted, Lighthouse Family, 1995

I was pregnant with Rory when the Lighthouse Family released their first album, Ocean Drive, in 1995. I remember playing the CD, listening to the opening track, Lifted, and holding my bump. I was brimming with hope and happiness that our longed-for child was soon to join us. 

The song, and the memory, came flooding back quite unexpectedly on a trip to Karlsborg, on the western shores of Lake Vattern. The town is famous for the large fortress which King Karl XIV ordered to be built in 1819 on the Vanas peninsula as a place of safety for the royal family and the government. This was at a time when the country was jumpy about its national security. By the time it was finished, 90 years later, it had become outdated: it wasn't needed as a war fortification so functioned as a training and storage facility instead. 

A major tourist attraction, most visitors head for the main square and sign up to watch a reconstruction of life in the 1860s, complete with stunt men and special effects. We decided not to join the others and, instead, chose to make the most of the hot weather that day by exploring the lake path which stretched beyond the walls. We walked and chatted and played silly games with fallen pine cones, seeing who could hit a specific mark on a tree. No-one else was about.

As we ambled on, we suddenly spotted the most beautiful lighthouse a few feet away from the path with a wooden jetty leading to it. Vanas Lighthouse, built in 1892, constructed of wood and surrounded by rocks and grasses and wild raspberries. It took my breath away.

We spent a long time in our secret place, enjoying the sun, listening to the water slap against the rocks and letting time slip by. It was a moment which captured the essence of Sweden: peace, beauty, water and space. And it was a moment when, as a family, we shared something perfect. I shall never forget it. 

Vanas Lighthouse, Karlsborg. Lake Vattern, Sweden


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Mum's gone to Sweden: Face to Face with The Big Brown Bear

"Have you got the paper counterpart to your driving licence?" I asked Dougie.
"No, I don't have one."
"What do you mean, you don't have one?"
"When I lost my old paper licence a couple of years ago, they sent me a credit-card type licence but nothing else."
"Are you sure? It says here on the Hertz rental agreement that when we pick up the car tomorrow we need both parts."

This conversation began calmly enough on our final night in Stockholm, prior to hopefully picking up our rental car to continue our journey through Sweden. A few hours later, as panic reached fever pitch, we had googled everything under the sun concerning driving licences, the DVLA and how likely it would be that the authorities in Sweden would insist on both parts because, despite my dear husband's protestations, he should indeed have a paper counterpart and it was likely to be in a drawer back in the UK. Everything had been booked in his name so although I had my driving licence, we were hoping to only have to use me as a named driver in an emergency.

We approached the Hertz desk in Bromma airport, after a swift but rather subdued taxi drive, with a list of DVLA telephone numbers, in case it all kicked off and we would need confirmation that the fool I was married to could be trusted with a car. A very relaxed young man came to the counter, we handed over the licence, he said thank you, here's the keys. Not a dicky bird about bloody paper counterparts which had kept us awake and feeling slightly nauseous all night.

With a skip in our step we scarpered quick to the parking area to pick up our Volvo XC70 diesel which we nicknamed The Big Brown Bear. What a difference from the heap of junk we had last year in Portugal. It had only done a few hundred miles, it was clean, spacious and, according to Dougie, a real pleasure to drive.

The journey to our next stop was effortless. The roads were well-maintained, quiet and the Swedes drive carefully so no-one is up your backside, wanting to overtake. After a couple of hours we reached Askersund, a pretty resort on the very northern tip of Lake Vattern. We were staying in the Hotel Norra Vattern, a Best Western hotel I had chosen because of its perfect location next to the harbour. What I didn't realise was that the hotel was situated between the lake on one side and a Shell petrol station on the other. Keeping the costs down (how unlike me!) I hadn't opted for the superior rooms, which doubtless would have been on the lakeside. Those rooms had been decorated in nautical theme. Our rooms, with views of the trucks sitting with their engines running, were perfectly fine and clean, but did have a strange decor.

Take a look at the photographs below and click on the one furthest left. The words on the wall say, "Quiet your mind, open your heart, extend your hand, love with everything you've got". Now I'm all for loving with everything I've got but I'm going to be hard pushed with twin beds and that bloke in goggles staring down at me. And what about the extra blanket fastened to the wall with an over-sized peg? But I did love the chair. In fact the room shouted, "Chocks Away!"

hotel norra vattern, Askersund, Sweden             

Askersund was very different from Stockholm. In the capital we were aware of the beautiful people and Rory kept wanting to go to McDonalds because the staff were all gorgeous blonde girls, pony-tails swishing as they handed over their sweet chilli chicken wraps. Here in Askersund were all the normal folk: the families, the elderly, the beer bellies. All layers of society, in their shorts, sunburnt and on holiday. It felt like home. The weather was gorgeous so we sat by the lake, eating huge ice-creams and watching the Swedish equivalent of our boy racers cruising in and out of town in their clapped out old Volvos, with lowered suspensions scraping across the ground. As there had been a local classic car rally here a few days earlier, there were also some fabulous vintage American cars purring past. It felt like a scene from Back to the Future. I was just waiting for Doc Brown to come into view and fix some wires to the old town clock in the square.

That evening, as the sun was setting on an eventful day, I whipped out the iPad to check the weather for the coming week.

"Ooh it's 26 tomorrow," I announced, to happy smiles from husband with beer in hand.
"Oh and it's 27 the next day, and 28 the day after that."
"Fantastic", replied Dougie, "That'll do nicely"
"It gets better! 29 and then 30 by the end of the week! It's going up every day."
"Does it plummet to 1 next Wednesday?"
"Blimey, yes it does!"
"Then I think you're looking at the dates, love, not the temperatures."

Askersund, Lake Vattern, Sweden
Askersund, Sweden


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Living it up on a luxury yacht

+++++ Warning! This blog post contains lots of bragging ++++++++

As you may remember, I am a finalist in this year's Mad Blog Awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony in London in September. As a special treat the sponsors of the travel category, holiday rental company Home Away UK, invited the finalists of their category to spend a night at one of their properties. It just so happens one of their properties is a 3 million pound yacht moored in St Katharine docks in London.

Not all the travel category finalists could make it which was a shame as I was so looking forward to meeting Emma and it would have been great to see Victoria again. But I did meet Cathy and Jen plus a lovely bunch of bloggers from other categories who were invited to come along and join the party. And what a party! Champagne, huge jugs of Pimms, a large fridge full of beer frfom which we could help ourselves, a delicious barbecue, strawberries and cream and, for three families, the opportunity to stay on board overnight.

Dougie and I had the double room downstairs, with Rory along the corridor in a twin room. Both rooms have fabulous ensuite bathrooms, large TVs and are beautifully appointed. The whole yacht has a stylish, yet unashamedly blingy look to it.

The party started at 4pm and continued long into the evening. Rory sloped off to enjoy a bit of peace, a lie down and some telly by about 9pm and his very happy parents disappeared around 10pm, while the party was still going, to make the most of their night on board. As we lay down on the bed we looked up....and saw our reflections. A mirrored ceiling no less! Time to take my specs off, I think: soft focus very necessary.

Relaxing on deck

Family Burgess very much at home.
Room for more?

Our double room. Mirrored ceiling not in shot...

A trio of gorgeous fashion bloggers: Jo (Fashion Detective), Helen (Coco Mama Style)
 and Lizzie (The Baby Wears Prada) 

Images 2,3 and 4 courtesy of Home Away UK


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Book review: Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Very occasionally you pick up a book, start to read it and instantly know you're discovering something very special, something you have a feeling will be big...huge even. You know people will start to talk about it, word will get round, the issues will be debated.

Goodbye for Now is such a novel. A contemporary love story for our technological age but, at its heart, the timeless issues of love, death and grief.

Sam Elling is a computer programmer who is sacked from his job at an online dating company for creating such a successful programme that users find their perfect match too quickly. A happy result of the programme is he finds love himself in the form of Meredith Maxwell. When Meredith's grandmother dies, Sam tries to aid the grieving process by inventing a computer algorithm, using previous emails and video chats, to replicate their conversations. He has found a way to help people through their grief and, once Meredith gains comfort from being able to 'talk' to her grandmother again, they decide to share this technology with others, creating a business, RePose. But does RePose offer help in the grieving process or does it just delay and interfere with the normal emotions of the bereaved?

It all sounds too far-fetched, doesn't it, but the author, Laurie Frankel, explains the technology in such a straightforward way that it all seems very plausible. And why not? We have phones which can speak to us and answer our questions and, only recently, the world watched Freddie Mercury, on huge video screens,  interact with thousands of people at the Olympic closing ceremony. What if the technology was there to interpret texts, chats, emails and synch them in such a way that it would appear 'real' after death? Would we use it?

I lost my own father last year and, although I have been sad, I have coped with his death quite well, I think. However I know my mother, after 50 years of marriage, desperately misses him and would just love to have a normal conversation with him again. People cope with their grief by looking at old photos, listening to shared music, reading old letters. In this book, Laurie Frankel, who writes with humour and great tenderness, with an amazing talent for dialogue, gives us much food for thought on what are the consequences of taking social networking to another level.

The film rights for this book have already been snapped up and I can see why as it is as gripping and emotionally-charged as One Day by David Nicholls. It is published today, 16 August, in the UK and I predict it will be climbing the best-seller charts very quickly.

'Goodbye for Now' is published by Headline Review, who sent me this copy to review. 


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Book review: Held Up by Christopher Radmann

As Paul van Niekirk drives his new car away from the BMW dealership in Johannesburg, he has no idea his successful, pretty much perfect world is about to be shattered. Held up at gunpoint and dragged out of the car before his abductor drives off, it is only then he remembers in a flash that his nine-month old daughter was in the back of the car and has now disappeared.

A gut-wrenching premise for a story which I had expected to be followed by an action/ thriller type narrative, all guns blazing, car chases and at lightning pace. How wrong could I be. This book is quite a revelation as the battle which ensues is more about the mental torment Paul suffers and the effect such a traumatic event has on his marriage.  We follow him into the murky world of people trafficking and we see how he discovers his own propensity to violence. All this set against the changing face of South Africa.

A slow burner, there were times at the beginning I wanted to shout at the couple to stop making bacon and eggs and do something constructive to find their baby. But then I have no idea how I would cope in such a situation: what aspects of life would continue as normal, how proactive would I be searching for my child, would I just dissolve as despair enveloped me? As the pace quickens we see how husband and wife deal with their grief and, in particular, we witness the lengths a man will go to in the search for his missing daughter. It isn't pretty: it is raw, bleak and violent. But there is always hope and with that hope, the possibility of redemption.

This is a debut novel by Christopher Radmann who writes with an authentic, strong voice and an exceptional command of the English language. It's not surprising to learn he was born in South Africa, studied English and taught at a range of South African schools. After too many near misses in a country where violent crime touches everyone, he moved to the UK with his family twelve years ago and is currently Head of English at an independent boys' school in Hampshire. I do hope those young boys appreciate what a skilled writer they have in their midst because here is a man who has a real gift and a passion for writing which shines through this powerful novel.

Headline Review sent me 'Held Up' to review. It is published as a trade paberback priced £12.99 and an eBook priced £13. 


Monday, 13 August 2012

Mum's gone to Sweden: The 'Absolut' spirit of Stockholm

It's all very well me telling you about family squabbles and people dressing up as Scooby Doo but I'm sure you are keen to know a little more about Stockholm and what it has to offer visitors? I had been given  loads of great advice via Facebook, Twitter and my blog with regard to what I ought to see yet during our three full days in the city we only managed to see a smidgen of all the fantastic attractions. Other tourists will be horrified that we didn't have time to visit any art galleries, national museums or royal palaces. We even missed out on one of the capital's famous sights, Skansen, the world's first open air museum. To be honest, we stayed clear of this, although I'm sure most families will adore the zoo and the recreation of a bygone Sweden. Rory, at 16, has had his fill of living history museums and, knowing my predilection for chatting to strangers, I think he would have had something to say if I'd started to make small talk with some beardy bloke sharpening his rusty tool on a whetstone.

So, where did we go, apart from the generalised strolling, air-breathing and bench-sitting?

Many of Stockholm's attractions can be found on the island of Djurgarden (pronounced "Yoor-gorden"). The hop on-hop off boat we used stops here and so do a number of buses and trams. There is also the delightful old-fashioned tram, which stopped in the square outside our hotel. I loved this, though was disappointed that on the way there and back we weren't lucky enough to catch the tram which had a cafe carriage attached: I'd rather fancied the idea of tootling along with some coffee and cake to boot.

Once on Djurgarden there is a huge choice of ways to happily spend a day. The things we didn't do, but other families might enjoy, were Junibacken (a children's storybook attraction, based mainly on the stories of Astrid Lindgren who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books), Grona Lund amusement park (it was raining and it wasn't our thing anyway) and an aquarium. We didn't have time for the Nordiska Museet (a museum about Sweden's cultural history) or Liljevalchs (an art and design venue).

But we did visit the Vasa Museet, a museum incorporating the 17th century warship which sank in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628. Preserved for 300 years, it was raised again in 1961 and now forms the impressive centrepiece of this museum. Well worth seeing as it is far bigger than you'd expect and the museum gets the balance just right with regard to information for visitors.

We spent a bit of time at the Fotografiska (photography museum) where, once we had worked out how to get in and stay in, proved to be a popular place for locals owing to the fabulous top floor restaurant which had great views over the waterfront. While we were visiting they had a stunning collection of Olympic photographs, which whetted our appetite for the Games which were about to start in a few days' time.

But the unexpected highlight of the day was the very new Spritmuseum ( Spirit Museum) which, according to its literature, is "a unique meeting point focused on the Swedish people's bitter-sweet relationship to will be taken on an unforgettable journey from pain to pleasure, park bench to cocktail party, based on art, scenery, experience, smells and tastes". Rory pronounced this his favourite museum ever. Whilst we all had the chance to sniff numerous vodka variations (no tastings unfortunately when we were there), the museum is the temporary home for 'Face It!', 70 pieces from the Absolut Art Collection: works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst all based on the Absolut Vodka bottle. Just brilliant. We also loved the 'Finally Friday' exhibition, consisting of three rooms - Home, the Pub and the World of Dreams and the 'Sweden, Spirits of a Nation' section where we lay down to experience levels of drunkenness - stone cold sober, tipsy, loaded, hammered, wrecked and gone. Truly the most bonkers and creative museum I think I've ever visited. And to think, we only went in because we had half-price entry with  the hop on, hop off boat ticket. Sometimes it pays to be married to a Scotsman.

Slideshow of photos from Spritmuseum below, but it doesn't seem to appear on mobile screens so apologies for that!


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Mum's gone to Sweden: How to embarrass your teenage son on holiday

Half way through our second full day in Stockholm, Rory wrestled my trusty notebook out of my hands and wrote the following:

"Awkward and slightly embarrassing moments

  • Mum unable to say 'hop on, hop off'
  • Dad unable to use credit card properly
  • Indecisive when buying hot-dogs
  • Getting in the boat
  • Getting out of the boat
  • Looking at maps too often
  • Leaving the Photographic museum by accident, having just entered"

This was the day we expected drizzle so we decided to cram in a few things, using the Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing boat, which also gave us discounts on a number of attractions. Let me answer my critic and explain how we became embarrassing parents:
  • I cannot say, 'hop on, hop off'. It comes out as 'hop on, hoff off'. The boys thought I was completely mad but please do try saying this out loud and tell me I'm not the only one. 
  • Dougie shouldn't be let loose near a parking meter, credit card machine or vending machine. He puts cards in upside down, presses the wrong button, loses coins. His brain freezes and the machine follows suit. 
  • It was raining, Rory was hungry, we were near an amusement park and the only instant fuel was a hot dog stand. Too many varieties, no idea what they were called. I annoyed my son even more my making inane chit-chat with the woman serving. I did this a lot on holiday, accompanied by over-enthusiastic laughter regarding translation and inability to speak the lingo. In restaurants I am worse because I sing or hum along to background music. I have turned into my mother. Rory prefers us all to be anonymous and not bring attention to ourselves.
  • We tried to hop on the boat at one stop but, because it was raining, the door was shut. We couldn't work out how to open it so waved at the people inside. 
  • We nearly forgot to hop off at one point and were forced to do an embarrassing scramble up the aisle.
  • I love maps and guide books but can't seem to retain the information contained within. Five seconds after I have used the map to locate a street, I need to look at it again because I have forgotten where I should be going. 
  • Having paid our entrance fee to the Fotografiska, we had to use the ticket to go though the turnstile. This, for Dougie, was tricky in itself. We then decided we were hungry, the restaurant was on the top floor and I spotted an elevator back in the gift shop. It was only having gone through another turnstile to reach the shop, we realised we had exited the museum and couldn't get back in. This required queuing for a replacement ticket. We will, no doubt, go down in history as the fastest ever visit to this museum: about 30 seconds. 

The most embarrassing parents in the world?


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mum's Gone to Sweden: Sitting on the dock of the bay

Strombron bridge, Stockholm
Rory on Strombron. The smaller boat on the left is a
very popular youth hostel. 
There's an awful lot of water in Stockholm which makes for a breathtakingly beautiful city. Spread over many islands, with the Baltic Sea to the east and Lake Malaren to the west, the city stretches out into the open air, giving the visitor an invigorating sense of space.

Two minutes from our hotel and we could walk over Strombron bridge into the old town or choose Skeppsholmenbron to visit the island of Skeppsholmen. Nothing was very far away: a bustling vibrant city only metres away from parks, woodlands and fishing spots. I felt instantly at ease in the city: buildings are grand but not ostentatious, the streets are wide, pavements are clean, it looks prosperous. It is a capital city which doesn't have to try hard to impress but it certainly looked its best in the warm sunshine which accompanied our stay.

The main square in Gamla Stan: Stortorget.
On our first morning in the capital we sauntered over to Gamla Stan, the Old Town, where, south of the Royal Palace, streets were narrower, cobbled and the whole feel was more akin to a city scene in Southern Europe. The main square, Stortorget, was an execution site in 1520 during the 'Stockholm Bloodbath'. Now it is a place for relaxing, eating and drinking. The streets leading off Stortorget are packed full of craft and souvenir shops, together with a good selection of restaurants. Forgetting we were in Sweden and not Italy, we had a great lunch in Restaurant Michelangelo. The walls are decorated with scenes from the Sistine Chapel which is all very well but a little off-putting when you are happily chomping on a capricciosa and can see Adam's salami dangling in your line of vision.

Stenbock Palace, Riddarholmen
Tagged onto the west side of Gamla Stan, over another bridge and you are in Riddarholmen. On a sunny July day, when many Swedes have left Stockholm to go on their own holidays, there are pockets of the city which are empty and it was a real joy to have these spots to ourselves. In fact, throughout the whole holiday it became a daily event to find a good bench to sit on. Having a family of three is, I have discovered, the optimal number for bench-sitting: plenty of room for all cheeks and the option  for one member of the party to shuffle along to one end if he or she is having a sulk. Mood swings linked to blood sugar levels were a common occurrence on our trip: a sit on a bench to slurp drinks and eat apples stolen from the breakfast buffet soon restored the equilibrium.

Returning back to the main city, via Riksgatan, we came across this sight:

Sculpture, Rag and Bone with blanket, Stockholm

"Ooh it's one of those living statues" I said, pointing at the unmoving animal dressed in rags.
"Must be bloody clever if they can get a fox to stay still for that long", replied husband, slowly shaking his head in disbelief.

This little bronze sculpture was called 'Rag and Bone with Blanket' and was created in 2009 by Welsh artist Laura Ford; part of a series where she used characters from Beatrix Potter to show how people can become disenfranchised from society. Mr Tod, the fox, represents homelessness.

It was a different animal altogether which caught our eye when, later that evening, we walked through the central park, Kungstradgardsgatan, and saw people outside TGI Friday's restaurant.

"Why are all those people dressed as Scooby Doo?" asked Rory. "Is it a stag night or something?"

On closer inspection, it would seem the Scooby Doo impersonators were normal diners, wrapped up in orange/brown fleeces to keep warm. We were happy walking about without coats but the Swedes do like to eat outside if possible and like to stay toasty when doing so.

Well I guess that wraps up this mystery!

Wander Mum


Monday, 6 August 2012

Mum's Gone to Sweden: Stockholm Syndrome

In 1973 a robbery took place at the Kreditbanken in Stockholm and four bank employees were held hostage over six days. 'The Norrmalmstorg Drama', as it was known, has since been associated with the term 'Stockholm Syndrome', a psychological term relating to the complex relationship that builds between a hostage and captor. 

This bank and the adjoining building, both magnificent examples of late 19th century Swedish bourgeois stone architecture, have recently been turned into a fabulous contemporary hotel, the Nobis Hotel. Where better to start our tour of Sweden than choosing to stay somewhere which has a rich history. When the General Manager informed me that the cast and crew of the US film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, including Daniel Craig, stayed here during filming, I was sold on it.  

"You do realise that Norrmalmstorg is the most expensive spot in the Swedish version of Monopoly?" Dougie happened to mention after I'd made the booking.
"Don't worry, there's a special Summer offer on: we've got one night free", I replied.
"Which one is that, so I can make the most of it?" he countered, wondering why on earth he had let me loose with his credit card and in charge of all the arrangements.

However, the general consensus of the Burgess family was that this was an excellent choice. We had arrived in Stockholm in no time at all: a 1 hour 40 minute flight from Stansted to Vasteras Airport with Ryanair, an effortless transfer onto the special Flightbus into the city centre (about 90 minutes but a great way to see some of Sweden's countryside including the beautiful Lake Malaren) and a quick taxi ride to the door of this imposing hotel. 

The photos below will give you an idea of how swanky the place was: we had adjoining rooms, with our room far bigger than anticipated, with its chic sitting area and unusual lighting (yes, that is a table lamp enclosed within a cotton sack). The bathroom basin was quirky, it had a cover, rather like a large porcelain doily, which looked rather pretty but was liable to cause splashing if you turned the water on too fast. Tooth brushing became a game of chance: could you spit directly through the middle of one of the holes without hitting the sides? I like to think my aim improved as the days progressed.

Nobis Hotel, Stockholm

Our rooms had windows looking out onto the lounge directly below us. A huge chandelier dominated the vast space, 28 metres above the ground. In the lounge itself, Dougie and I chilled out after dinner with a cocktail, watching the beautiful people of Stockholm congregate. Attentive staff, warm smiles, mood-enhancing music drifting up through the atrium: this was the place to be.

This was our first taste of Stockholm and already we were captivated.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Book Review: Inter Rail by Alessandro Gallenzi

Inter Rail is a novel about Francesco, a young, educated Italian who leaves home for the first time to taste freedom across Europe. Inspired by the author's own experiences as a young traveller, the novel races across borders as Francesco's next destination is influenced by the events of the previous one.

Alma Books sent me this book to review on the day before I was jetting off to Sweden. It went straight into my hand luggage; perfect holiday reading material, particularly when I read on the back cover "a chance encounter in Munich takes him off course, on an incredible journey that will see him fall in love in Sweden, lose all his money in Amsterdam, sleep rough in the streets of London, win big in Monte Carlo and get caught up in an international imbroglio" 

Not that I was intending to fall in love in Sweden (I think my husband might have had something to say about that) but I was intrigued by the idea of a travel experience where nothing is planned and little luggage is packed: so unlike my own holidays where everything is booked months in advance, nothing is left to chance, and clothes for all kinds of weather are packed in enormous cases. So this book, for me, would be pure escapism, a fantasy I would never actually experience.

Thank heavens for that, then, as Francesco's canter through Berlin, Paris, Oxford and Stockholm is fraught with danger and some unsavoury sleeping arrangements. I thought there might be some steamy moments in keeping with the front cover image of unzipped flies imitating rail tracks but our Italian traveller is more a gentleman than a Lothario and it is true love he finds, rather than passing thrills.

Inter Rail offers a snapshot of a number of European cities but I wish the book had been longer so I could have immersed myself in the culture of each destination. The storyline is less about the countries and more about the people Francesco meets, in particular con-man, Pierre, who Francesco hooks up with and can't seem to shake off. But I suppose that's the whole concept of inter-railing: to keep moving and just snatch a brief glimpse of each country whilst meeting like-minded travellers. It's only when Francesco returns home to Genzano that the pace slows and the reader gains a real sense of place in the description.

Inter Rail is published by Alma Books


PS: Have returned home from our two-week tour of Sweden. Unlike Francesco and his one change of clothes, I have a mountain of laundry to contend with but, be assured, Mum's Gone to Sweden posts will start very soon. Watch this space!