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Cashless society

One notable feature about Sweden, and a big change since my last visit there in 2016 is that money is disappearing, literally. Many shops, restaurants and service providers only took card payment, and the pile of Kroner notes that I bought at Arlanda was slow to diminish. This in no way reflects the prices of everything, Sweden is a more expensive place to live than the UK. We bought some items that are hard to get in Saudi, and this included some curling accoutrements for the new curlers in the desert. That was fine by card. But by being forced to pay by card for many small items, this had the potential to incur us charges that were out of scale to the value of the purchase, bus fares for example. So our team operated a kitty that was different to the norm (usually we all put in a fixed amount and spend it as required, topping up if needed); in this instance we paid for any communal purchases (after match drinks, meals, petrol etc) with one person’s card and ran a spreadsheet which was balanced at the end of the event and settlements made at home in pounds.  

We learned our cashless lesson early in the week when in the restaurant pictured below, we ordered a range of meals and drinks then found ourselves unable to pay for the same in cash. Interesting name for a restaurant by the way. Some Swedish words are easily translatable into English, some are not: you be the judge!


Restaurant in Östersund

Being eliminated from the competition by Canada gave me a day free for some exploring, so I took the train west to Trondheim, a city I last visited in 1984, and one that I liked then. I still like it, it’s a university/port/cathedral/industrial/cultural/shopping city at the end of its own fjord and I spent a few hours wandering about.  Something not to be missed was the largest mediaeval building in Scandanavia – Nidaros Cathedral, containing a shrine to Norway’s patron saint St. Olav. See this interesting potted guide which is an excellent overview of the building and its history:  


Trondheim Cathedral. Regrettably not my picture, mine don't do it justice!

Another item on my visit list was the city’s tram system which is now the most northerly one in the world (now that Russia’s Arkhangel system is closed). Called the Grakall Banan, the one remaining line winds its way 9km into the hills above Trondheim, providing some fine views on the journey.


Trondheim tram nearing the top of the line

Fortunately, I was able to pay the tram fare and cathedral entrance donation with cash, but card machines are making huge inroads in Norway too. I didn’t take a picture of it, but the public toilets in the city are now card-operated. No spending a penny there, its swipe’n’shite instead. A late lunch in a nice but expensive café rounded off my day before it was time to catch the train back to Östersund, changing at this interestingly named village north of Trondheim en route.


So in the last 12 months I have been to the Edge of the World, and to Hell and back! 

I flew back from Östersund to Riyadh via Stockholm Arlanda and Istanbul, going from single-figure temperatures (it snowed one day) to 41 degrees in Riyadh. Another new experience for me was watching our plane being de-iced once we had boarded at Östersund airport.

Saudi Arabia is anything but cashless. Yes, there are modern payment methods in better-class shops and restaurants, but nearly everything else involves a cash transaction. With the introduction of VAT in January, 5% tax was added to all purchases and suddenly people stopped rounding everything up/down to the nearest riyal, and as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, small denomination coins were introduced. The powers that be have clearly agreed with my recommendation that 1 riyal coins be introduced, and lo! they have now started appearing. Can we have some 5s too, please?

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