Most people travel overseas to see museums, art galleries, monuments. I travelled Scandinavia to see changing of the guard ceremonies! Not really, but it sure felt like it as I ended up seeing one at every royal palace I went to. None matched the pomp and circumstance of the Swedish Royal Changing of the Guard ceremony. And I include the English one in that group too. We were told that the ceremony would take about 40 minutes and is a lavish affair with horses and a band. True with the lavish affair and band bit, not so true with the 40 minutes part. I think it actually was closer to an hour and a half in the end. The ceremony itself is a awesome spectacle with horses, mounted guards, guards in training (all complete with Steve Urkell glasses - must have the same dodgy army optician) and canons. Unfortunately it bucketed down half way through the ceremony and the guards must have been extremely uncomfortable in their blue and white woollen uniforms. The horses didn't seem to mind though. I can't believe that the band were playing their instruments on the back on those horses in the pouring rain. Very skillful.
As grand and impressive as the changing of the guard ceremony was, it was actually more entertaining to watch the poor guard stationed in front of us who was in charge of keeping the crowd out of the way so that the horses could come through. He was tall, buff, had a rifle and a bayonet and still, he didn't stand a chance against a bus load of middle age Mediterranean women who were determined to get closer to the action. Even if that meant standing in the no standing zone when a platoon of cavalry were streaming toward them. The guard tried his hardest but he just couldn't fight them all off. They were coming at him from all directions. He had to call for back up 5 times. They were ruthless! When the back up arrived, they all lined up, removed their bayonets and then used their guns to push people back out of the square. They were yelling at people in a manner that, had I not have been standing behind the barrier, would have made me pee my pants. Very scary, but not scary enough to move the Mediterranean "mafia".
My favourite moment was actually a quintessential Aussie moment. Sarah and I were standing with a bunch of the guys off our tour. We had a good position right at the front of the barriers. We were all set to watch the action but a problem soon became apparent when the guard tried to get the Mediterranean masses to move on - they just stepped to the side in front of us. Which was still in the way of the guard, who by this stage has resorted to repeating his "No. You can't stand there. Move on!" speech in all 4 of the languages that he was no doubt fluent in. Still, they did not move. So, in the Australian spirit of lending a hand Dezzie, Mark and Mick lent over us, tapped the offending males in the group on the shoulders and told them to move. When they still didn't budge, a resounding (and loud) "Listen here mate, F*** O**" and a thumb in the desired direction was quickly issued. Now, I didn't see the face that went with the command, but Mick is a pretty big guy (6ft 4 at least - he's the guy in the red shirt kneeling down in the photo at the end of my last post) and not a skinny mini. I tell you, I have not see people move that fast before, ever! And I've seen people running from burning buildings!
We had a Contiki dinner that night which comprised of traditional Swedish food. Can't really recall what each of the pieces of food were that was on my plate, but I can tell you that it all was delicious. I got to talk to Wellsey, our camp cook, and Lee, our driver, which was really good. Last time I didn't get much of a chance to talk to our Contiki driver and tour manager. But maybe that was because I was too shy or I wasn't 18 and blonde! :)
As is the deal with budget Contiki adventures, everyone has to pitch in. At the beginning of the trip you are asked to put your name down next to a job that will be your responsibility for the tour. I had already been a cookie and a dishie (cook helper and dish washer) on my last trip so I put my name down next to the job listed simply as "tent" and thought nothing of it as I passed the clipboard behind me to the next person. Ha! "Tent" was actually putting up and pulling down the marquee style cook tent at each of our stops. It was also the most difficult job to have and as it turns out, the only job that no other female put her hand up for! So, for the entire tour I spent my job time working at 'erecting' and 'making flaccid' (the boys words, obviously not mine) that tent on "Team Tent" with 6 guys. And it was the most laughs I have had in a very long time. Can't tell you how chuffed I was when 10 days into the tour and 10 days into putting up and pulling down that white marquee Mick turns to Mark and says "Hey, there's a chick on Team Tent!". Yep, we had one hell of a switched on team!
Next stop, Oslo and then straight to Hell. No joke, I actually went to Hell which is conveniently masquerading as a town in Norway.