Monday, May 28, 2007

Travel and Stockholm

WOW! First of all, my apologies for not blogging nearly as much as I had promised. The only time I have found internet access was on a cruise ship between Stockholm and Helsinki and I could only afford 4.5 minutes of dial-up speed internet (enough to check e-mail, but not blog).

Anyway, I have quite a lot to talk about and will separate it out over multiple blogs. First, the travel. We left Chicago at 4:25 on Tuesday, as planned, flying SAS to Stockholm. Being a Sweedish airline, they gave the announcements primarily in Sweedish, though repeated everything in English. The flight attendants and other travelers started speaking English if they didn't know which language you spoke, then changed if they found out you spoke Sweedish. However a trend that began on the plane and has continued throughout my journey is for everyone to speak Sweedish (or more recently Finnish) to me, thinking that I am a native. I sort of got the same treatment in Germany, though I was much younger and generally around family, so maybe I am more European than I realize!

Anyway, the movies on board sucked (I watched Hoodwinked and some unnecessarily long Matt Damon flick about the CIA) so I tried to sleep some, but to no avail. I had forgotten to bring headphone on board, so I bought some very nice (though cheap compared to competitors) noise-cancelling phones in the Charlotte airport--a very VERY good purchase for reducing stress on ears and thus tiredness and headaches that tend to come with plane rides.

After flying over the longest part of Canada's northeast and through the Arctic circle, we arrived in Stockholm early in the morning. We grabbed our bags, changed some money (Sweeden is not EU, so 7 of their currency is about one dollar (and there is no dollar sign on this Finnish keyboard)), and made the 30 minute busride to downtown, past the site of the European Masters golf tournament among other things.

The first thing I noticed about Stockholm (other than the overwhelmingly gorgeous women) is the mixed-use buildings, with lots of retail and many companies sharing the other floors (all adorned with huge logos on the outside of the buildings). We got downtown to the bus/train station, got our 24hr passes (good for both bus and train), grabbed a banana, and hit the train north to our hotel. The train system (and bus system) is incredibly efficient, with many lines running all over town, and you never have to wait more than 8 minutes to catch a particular train. The terminals are generally clean, as far as subways go, and the people are friendly, though not everyone uses their English readily.

Our hotel was very nice, though very very small by US standards. We had 3 small beds and a small TV and not much room for anything else, and a bathroom where you're nearly sitting on the toilet when you shower. The people working there spoke very good English and were helpful whenever we needed them (they even let us keep our bags there before they were ready to check us in and after we had checked out so we wouldn't have to lug them around town).

We spent much of the day in a historic district towards the south side of town--a very touristy area, but beautiful all the same. After taking a self-guided walking tour that I was too tired and jet-lagged to remember much of (I remember the buildings were very pretty), we ate lunch at a Sweedish-Italian retaurant. It was a nice, classy place and I ate some good, homemade ravioli in tomato basil pesto sauce, but I was also struck by the fact that Pearl Jam was the mood music. The thing to do in Sweeden is to go out to lunch (most places have specials for 60-80 kr (their currency)) and get food from the grocery store for dinner, as prices in restaurants increase significantly.

We sat by the river for a bit after lunch before doing a bit more walking around the district. On our way back to the train, we saw some sort of shtick (presumably for a Sweedish Jackass-type show) being performed that involed a man in a gorrilla suit carrying a shouting man in an animal cage. I'm sure it would have been more amusing if I had a clue what they were saying.

We got back to the main station, grabbed a coke and coffee (we were really hurting from jet lag and no sleep) and set off again in hopes of finding our second (or fifth) winds. We grabbed a bus towards the big garden in town and drove past lots of waterfront and museums. Once we got there, we turned around and immediately headed back a few stops to the shopping district. If you're unfamiliar with the stereotypes, Sweedes care a lot about appearances and wear very expensive designer clothes. Yep, that's for sure. As much as I wish I could pull off a European-cut (very tight) suit and tight jeans, there's no way I could afford them. To make matters worse, every pair of underwear in the mens section is either briefs or boxer-briefs. Apparently, they like it tight.

We headed back towards the hotel from the shopping district, picked up some cheese and crackers from the store for dinner (a simple salad for one costs 70 kr, or about 10 dollars--we think Sweedes stay so thin by charging so much for small portions of food), and sat in our room eating and trying like hell to stay up til 10 as we had been told to do to minimize jet lag. I crashed out around 8, I think, and slept clear to 9ish the next morning. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and headed out.

As our 24 hr passes had expired by the time we left the hotel, we decided to walk around near our hotel. Stockholm is about the same size as Milwaukee (though with more tourists), so it's not unfathomable to walk everywhere. We discovered that we were closer than we realized to one end of the shopping district (where the few cars that drive on the roads give the absolute right of way to pedestrians in the street). We stopped in a few stores along our way, but found ourselves near the University.

We climbed the biggest hill to the observatory and looked out over the city (I have some nice pictures, but also managed to forget my camera's transfer cord). It was so unbelievably beautiful and pleasant that we sat there for nearly an hour. We noticed that the young women there took very good care of their babies, and it was definitely very trendy to be seen in public with a stroller--a good thing since the Scandanavian countries are well below zero population growth and need desperately to produce more children.

On our way back to pick up our bags from the hotel, we stopped for lunch at a great local sandwich/coffee shop. Going to a place like that which was not touristy at all meant the people working there didn't speak very good English, so we had to do some stupid-American pointing to order. On a whole, though, I am very impressed at nearly everyone's ability to at least get along fine in English. And while they are very courteous and kind, it makes me feel like a very stupid American not to speak their language. I am now reminded of another huge difference-- you have to pay 5 kr to use the bathroom (or water closet as it is called everywhere here) in all public areas and in any place you are not paying to eat or drink.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, hit the subway to the station, then the bus to the dock where we got to our cruise ship...


Julie said...

From one English major to another...Swedish only has 1 e, Swede has 2, Sweden has 2. :)

Your blog is great--keep it up!

Eija Kujala said...

I wrote a long comment, but then the system insisted me to register myself before sending anything to anywhere. And my earlier comment disappeared to the black hole! So perhaps this repeated comment is better.
A little straightening up: our children from the eldest to the youngest are: Nanna (34), Juuso (32), Sanra (30), Vilma (27), Miina (25) and Rasmus (21) (notice the spelling of their names!). If I put my children in an order by their sizes the order from the smallest to the largest is: Nanna (the smallest but the eldest), Miina (the bride), Sanra, Vilma, Juuso and Rasmus (the biggest but the youngest).
Nanna's husbad is called Saku. He has only one A in his name. He is lot's of fun, like all my son-in-laws.
In Muurame we have the largest Sauna factory in the world. So when you find a suitable, cold lake to have your own Sauna, let us know so we help you to select the best one.
Reading your blog I get an impression that you like our way of living...
It was good to have you here.