Four hours of sleep doesn’t cut it. Let me just say that. I was up and out of bed as soon as my alarm went off. My brain totally wasn’t functioning whatsoever, and so I considered snoozing once, but thought better of it. I could sleep on the plane. I am *always* correct when it comes to estimating time for travel and preparations (although ironically enough I’m usually wrong about work estimates) so I forced myself into the shower. I managed to get dressed and ready with plenty of time to spare. In fact, Anj didn’t even get out of bed until I had already finished my cereal.
I realized last minute that I needed to print out a couple of messages from Emanuel so that I knew where to go and to have the number for the travel center so they could help with a hotel reservation. After trying to print directly, then copying an MDI to Anj’s computer, I finally ended up just forwarding the messages to her which she printed out. Internet Sneakernet. I swapped SIMs in the two phones I had, since the Finnish one wasn’t going to work in Sweden. Anj was going to take that one with her so that if the girls happened to contact the phone she could relay the message to me. The Razr was once again returned to an American number, which also meant talking on it was expensive if I needed to do so. I made one last check of my room and located something that was very important – my passport! WHEW. Anj made coffee and poured two Starbucks mugs so we could carry it with us in the car. I double checked my things, and we were out the door only 10 minutes late.
“Ugh,” I said, as I lifted my backpack. With the laptop, presents for Emanuel, camera equipment, tripod, and clothes for tomorrow, it was definitely on the heavy side. I tossed it over my shoulder and we rode the elevator to the basement. The traffic on the way to the airport was very light, but I noticed the traffic going the other way was not. Anj wasn’t worried.
“It looks bad, but it keeps moving,” she said. She had to be at class at 9am, so I just hoped I wouldn’t make her late. She turned on the radio looking for anything decent and passed through a few Finnish stations. One station was in Russian; that was the military station and it swaps languages every so often. As we took one of the final roads to the airport, I wanted to get a picture of the cool lights. I realized when my camera didn’t work that I’d removed the battery last night to charge it. It was in my backpack, but wasn’t accessible at the moment. Oh well. We arrived at the airport and located the FlyMe dropoff point, which was at the extreme far end of the terminal. I thanked her and headed inside.
A huge line greeted me, and I rolled my eyes. However, this line didn’t appear to be for FlyMe; in fact I couldn’t find the FlyMe check in point at all. I looked at the list of departures and their associated check in counters, but my 8:55am flight wasn’t listed for some reason. Fortunately a different screen displayed the information as well as which counter to go to. I located the counter, in front of which there was no line, dug out my passport, showed it, and was handed a handwritten boarding pass. Seating is open on the airline, I assumed, as there was no assigned seat number. I went through security again without any issue whatsoever. Of course, it’s a short domestic (technically international, but within the EU) flight.
I walked down the Helsinki terminal to find my gate, which was on the far side of where I’d arrived. It’s a very small airport, maybe comparable to Robert Mueller in Austin before Bergstrom replaced it. The terminal is lined with shops selling souvenirs and electronics, much like any other airport in the world. I located my gate, but had lots of time to wait, so I went back to an ATM and pulled out 60 Euros, not knowing how much I had in my account. The balance information screen wasn’t working, but the 60 Euros were delivered as requested. They don’t use Euros in Stockholm; even though they’re part of the EU, the chose to continue to use Kronors (crowns). I returned to my gate to wait.
I stood in line behind an older American couple that was likely retired and now traveling Europe. They were examining a guide book and talking about different places they were going to visit. In sharp contrast to me, it appeared that they had every step of their way set in stone, such as flight and hotel reservations. I was going to Stockholm with no real plan as to where I was going, or for that matter where I was even going to *sleep* that night. The gate was still closed, but a robot arm was de-icing a plane outside. One of the two girls from the ticket counter showed up, and took a seat at the gate, prompting the line behind us to lengthen dramatically. However, she basically was sitting twiddling her thumbs, in wait. The board time passed, but she didn’t budge. I craned my neck and noticed that the plane that was in the gate was gone! What the…?
Time continued to tick away, and just when I thought things were going to be really yucchy, a FlyMe Airbus rolled into the gate. The girl made a few preparations, then began taking people’s boarding passes. This only created a second line at the actual door 30 feet behind her, but it was a step in the right direction anyway. Several people took seats around us instead of waiting in line, which didn’t really mean much at first. When the woman opened the second door, it was obvious what their plan was. They got up and darted in front of everyone else! Wow, now that was rude! The rudeness continued – a woman raced past me on the *jetway*. I mean, geez, two or three spots doesn’t mean much on a plane this big.
I found a seat in the front of the plane, which oddly people were skipping for rows in the back. I don’t see why they would do this; on Southwest flights, it always fills front to back unless there aren’t seats together. I thought for a moment that seats were in fact reserved, but this thought vanished pretty quickly. The plane filled, not enough to put someone in the seat next to me, and I noticed I was passing out. The caffeine had already worn off. I closed my eyes and waited for take off. I don’t know how much time passed between that point and when we actually took off. I was pretty much out the whole time. I did wake up for takeoff, however, and was unable to fall back asleep once we were in the air. I was a little on the nervous side I think; this is a very low cost carrier, and this plane was obviously purchased second or third hand from a major airline. It showed signs of its age, with cracks in the plastic around the windows, and somewhat dirty panels. Not horribly bad, and I know these things are built to last. Still, you hear stories of the older Hawaiian Airlines plane that lost its roof, and they stick with you!
The flight was very short, as expected. We broke above the cloud layer, and I saw the unfiltered sun for the first time in a week. What a weird concept. They came around with refreshments, but only, it seemed, coffee and tea. I skipped it, pretending (and actually trying to be) asleep. More caffeine would only hurt my chances. We returned down under the cloud layer as the plane began its decent a little while later, and I saw lots of glittering ice crystals in front of the wings. Snow, and lots of it. The plane touched down, taxied for a short while in the falling white, then parked near the terminal. We got off in short order, walked up a jetway to… a flight of stairs back down. They deposited us onto the tarmac where a waiting bus was standing to take us to the main terminal. After I got on board, I pulled out my phone and sent a text message to Kelly to let them know I was in Stockholm. A man nearby was eyeing my phone curiously, but I guess that’s to be expected.
The doors opened, and I was the first one off the bus. I hate being in front, since I didn’t know where to go, so I slowed down and let someone in front of me. He took a flight of stairs, which I was surprised to see where nicely polished wood, and went out into the main terminal of Stockholm’s Aranda Airport. I continued to follow him left, but soon realized everyone else was going right towards “arrivals”. He must have had a connecting flight. I turned around and exited the passenger area through a deserted customs section, just as in Helsinki. Since the creation of the EU, it must be way easier to move between countries. Way, WAY easier, apparently.
I was now out in the primary terminal area, and wasn’t sure what to do from here. I knew I needed to take the Aranda Express train, per Emanuel’s suggestion, but wasn’t sure where it was. I saw a money exchange counter, and decided I needed Kronors anyway. I approached the counter and handed over 60 Euros. The woman looked at me for a moment, and I told her that I wanted Swedish money.
“Ah, Kronors, okay.” I guess I was thinking she assumed when I gave her Euros I wanted Kronors, but I suppose I could have been asking for yen or something. She translated the funds and passed me back a bunch of multi-colored bills and big, silver coins. “The exchange rate is about 9 Kronors to one Euro,” she said, “so you could just think of 10 Kronors per Euro, some people find that easier.” Easier. I was having enough trouble trying to translate dollars to Euros, so I didn’t see how that was going to help. I needed the dollar-to-Kronor value, but they didn’t have it listed. I thanked her and dumped my new bills in my wallet. I also asked where the express train was, and she pointed me down the hallway to a yellow machine and elevator.
The big yellow machine was really easy to use; it had an English button and prompted me through inserting my credit card, then spit out a little ticket. It was 1990 Kronors, and again this didn’t help. My brain chugged on the Kronor->Euro->Dollar conversion and gave up. I’d have to work on that. I rode the elevator down, thinking a restroom would be down on the platform.
Actually *nothing* was on the platform. No trains, no people, no noise whatsoever. It was really eerie. I expected something to come eat me at any moment, but it didn’t occur. I went around an area with escalators, and was pleased to see human beings waiting on the train. Big electronic signs showed the short wait for the shuttle, which were much like Japan. One cool thing down here was big projection TVs on the walls that displayed ads every 40 feet or so. The train arrived a little while later, and English announcements after Swedish ones prompted everyone to get on board. I found a random seat and pulled out my laptop to work on the Tampere log. I didn’t want to get too far behind with those!
We left the tunnel where we boarded, and I was not at all surprised to see so much snow falling. The train was accelerating really quickly, and soon I realized we were going at a very high rate of speed. The sign on the wall confirmed it; it was displaying 204km/h! A bullet train from the airport. Pretty cool! This velocity of course explained why it the ride was so short. A mere 20 minutes later we pulled into Stockholm’s main train station, and I had to quickly put the laptop away. I stepped off the Aranda Express with absolutely no idea whatsoever what I was doing.
As I walked out, I put on my hat and gloves – it was COLD! The snow was really coming down like gangbusters, and cooler still was that they were real snowflakes. BIG ones. I’d never seen a real flake until this past Christmas when it strangely snowed in Houston on Christmas Eve. There were actual flakes, small ones, and I took lots of pictures. I really thought that they were microscopic or something! There monsters were at least a centimeter across, and the detail was very visible by the naked eye. Too cool.
I walked out some, looking for both a bathroom as well as somewhere to sit and get my plans in order. I located a Wayne’s Coffee around the corner and stopped inside. A very cute girl with raven black hair was serving a man in front of me, and I hopped in and out of the restroom in the meantime. A pair of guys was now getting served, but they just got plain coffee. I asked for a latte, and realized I had no idea how to say thank you in Swedish! She spoke excellent English (big surprise there) however, and without any of the “Swedish chef” accent I had been told to expect. She just sounded generically European.
I took a seat and pulled out both Emanuel’s email and the map Anjanette had given me. He said I should start at the Sergels Torg, whatever that was, and follow this street, then another street… But where the heck was Sergels Torg? The map only had street names, no landmarks. I scanned the map as best I could, but could not locate the site at all. I did find some other places he mentioned, but the starting point eluded me. The girl was going around and picking up cups, so I asked if she could help me out. She found it on the map (boy was I blind!) and told me how best to get there, which was very, very easy to do. I thanked her, and figured out the locations of the various places I planned on going. It all seemed simple at that point.
I walked back out into the chilly air and crossed the street. I pulled out my GPS on the corner and got a decent lock on my location, then put on my hat, and strode down the road headed for Sergels Torg. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew *where* it was at least. I was expecting more modern architecture, I think – the area had some nice looking buildings, but it wasn’t avant garde as I expected. A few blocks later, I noticed a big tower-looking thing in the distance, but had no idea what it was. I hung a left down a long pedestrian-only street, which appeared to have shops along it. Based on the map, this was not the correct direction to get to the Slussel, something Emanuel said I could get a good view of the city from, nor to get to Old Town, so I reversed course and walked back past a big department store. I suddenly realized, when I arrived back where I could see the tower thing, that it must be the Sergels Torg, a big fountain surrounded by a roundabout. It was of course off during winter, but seemed like it would be cool looking in summer. I crossed the street and entered a large shopping plaza with stairs down to an underground.
I was still somehow hoping I would randomly run into the girls, so I walked down the stairs to what said “Touriste Center” on the windows. As I approached the door, a girl tried to go in as well, and couldn’t find which of the many glass panels were in fact the sliding automatic door. She tried a couple and finally found it, with an expression of “I can’t believe I did that in front of someone.” It was rather endearing, really, and since I was feeling very much out of place here, it made me feel a little better. I stopped inside only for a moment, just to warm up a second, and of course didn’t see anyone I knew. I walked back out of the exit and back up the stairs.
Instead of retracing my steps, I turned left and followed a long ramp up to the street level. This was directly across from the Sergels Torg, and was really where I figured out that it was a fountain. Lots of stands were selling hats and jewelry, which you might find pretty much anywhere in the world. Now that I had gotten my bearings in Emanuel’s directions, I went across the street again and headed north along a different pedestrian street, lined with shops. It was all very clean and very new looking. Along the way, a sculpture of a twisted gun was placed, which looked somehow familiar. (I found out later that a duplicate of this statue stands in front of the UN building in New York). Up ahead was most certainly the Concert House, per the email’s directions. When I arrived at it, to my left was a plaza filled with various fruit stands, and people calling out in Swedish. My camera was clicking away, any time I saw anything remotely interesting!
I turned left here and went down the original street I’d attempted to follow, in the opposite direction. This was nearly identical to the original street, and had similar, but different shops. A few minutes later I arrived back at the big department store. It was rather odd. Despite the cold weather, an entire *wall* of the store was open to the plaza, no doors or glass to keep in the warmth. Instead, a blast of hot air was creating a virtual wall and creating a sort of local atmosphere. On one side of this hot air wall, it was cold, but on the other, it was actually near-indoor temperatures! Across the street from this was a sign that caught my eye, and I laughed. Sushi Coffee. Now that would make an interesting negiri.
I crossed the same street towards the plaza, headed south, but continued towards Old Town this time. I had left off one of my gloves to be able to work the EOS a little better, but at this point it was way, way too cold. I put on my second glove. The pedestrian street continued, and there were dozens of shops along the way. I noticed somewhere selling a “French hot dog”, which appeared to be a sausage surrounded by a large bun, like a pig in a blanket. However, some sort of cream was in there as well. Wasn’t sure what that was. I did noticed a bunch of restaurants I figured I could come back to for lunch, if necessary.
As I came to a large moat-like river, the scenery suddenly changed. All the new buildings were abruptly replaced with older, more 18th century architecture. I crossed a bridge, and was presented up close to these beautifully ornate buildings, but at the time, wasn’t willing to pull my map out to see what they were due to my hands being nearly numb. (The building on my right was Parliament, and to the left was the Opera House) I followed the walkway between the two structures, and noticed several tourists gathering ahead. I continued onward and discovered why. A bunch of nicely dressed soldiers were standing in formation, being led by a drill commander. I wasn’t sure what exactly what they were doing, but I equated it to the changing of the guard in London. Seemed to be similar, and their uniforms were certainly ceremonial.
I followed the road around to the right, and was surprised when it narrowed suddenly. This was Old Town, a small island in Stockholm that retains the architecture entirely from what I think appeared to be the 1600s or 1700s. I’ll have to look that up. It had a very quaint appeal, and strolling along really reminded me that I was in Europe. It wasn’t exactly like going back in time, what with all the modern-day tourists, and the 7-11 placed strategically in the middle. Still, it was rather nice. Snow was still falling here, and I was trying hard to keep it off the camera lens. As everything does, however, the majesty of the area began to get monotonous; all the buildings started to look the same. Plus, I was very, very cold at this point, and was feeling rather isolated without any company. I started to worry about where I was going to stay tonight. I was waiting to hear from the girls about what area of town they were staying in so that I could get reservations at a place nearby. They still hadn’t responded, however, so I was sure that their phones weren’t working. My only hope at this point was to randomly run into them. I had gone this way with that expectation, but realized something. “They got here *yesterday*,” said to myself. “They’ve *done* this already.” While we likely were visiting the same places, they were a day ahead of me, and so had probably already been through here. The outlook on meeting up with them seemed more and more bleak.
I took a picture of a sci-fi bookstore that was on the ground floor of one building and wondered if it was really doing enough business to survive here. The restaurants all seemed to be serving 170+ Kronor meals, which I estimated to be about 18 Euros, or 23 bucks. Pricey for a lunch entrée. The rents must be sky-high. I walked to the right to get my bearings, and saw a big hill across from me, with bridges that headed over to it. Building lined the hill all the way up, and the view reminded me somewhat of the view of the city in Kiki’s Delivery Service. The wind was painful here, so I returned into the relative comfort of the Old Town streets. This led around to the left, and I trudged my way along, my toes becoming increasingly more numb. The street finally ran out, however, and a big, fancy-looking building was across from me. I turned right down this road and ended up at the water. I didn’t really have a choice, though. Without any buildings to protect me any longer, I was cursing myself for not putting on the thermal underwear I’d brought with me just in case.
A small Viking looking ship was floating on the water, and I guessed that during summer, it was a tourist attraction. Now, it was just closed. The big building to my left had several of those uniformed guards around it, and I decided it was somehow related to royalty, but I didn’t know how. A mint, perhaps? No way was the map coming out here, though. I crossed a bridge, and was looking for this “iron elevator” that Emanuel was talking about. Nothing looked like it, and nothing had a good view, from what I could tell. Across the water from me to the right was a big museum, and I decided to head there, thinking perhaps I’d run into the girls. If not, it was at least somewhere warm. I was really feeling crappy, lonely, and cold, and I was ready to go home. To make matters worse, it was only 10:30am, and a long time before I’d be able to meet Emanuel.
As I walked along, there was a funny contrast – two portable signs on the backs of pickups were advertising strip clubs, which really didn’t fit in to all the nice buildings which surrounded me. I managed to push on through and into the museum. This was the National Museum, which looks much how you’d expect a fancy museum to look, with marble floors and columns everywhere. I was not really noticing that at the time, however. I was noticing that it was in fact warm. I pulled off my gloves, and my hands were a bright red. Nothing moved very quickly in my body, and I pulled an English brochure off a rack.
Free. It was free to visit most of the museum. Oh good. Two of my three qualifications were met, and the third, somewhere to get rid of the weight I was carrying was met shortly thereafter by a large set of lockers. I placed my jacket and backpack inside, keeping out only my EOS. Trying to get it closed confused me, though, until I read the Swedish instructions more carefully. I put in a one Kroner coin, and closed the door. This time the key came out; I’d get my coin back when I retrieved my things. More freeness is always a happy thing. Simply removing the weight from my back was a gigantic leap forward in my mood. I took just a moment to sit down on the benches in the lobby, then took the stairs up to the second floor.
The exhibit on the right side of the museum had to do with Swedish design. It contained various glasswares, furniture, accessories, and even such things as telephones and scissors, which I recognized as Fiskars, the scissors I have at home. The phone that was displayed I remember my parents having when I was a kid; it looked a little like a duck, and the keypad was on the bottom. I pulled out my camera and took a shot of the room, unsure if this was an okay thing to do. Afterwards, I looked around for any “no cameras” signs, but didn’t see any, and the map/brochure didn’t mention it either. Maybe it was just common knowledge? I refrained from taking more, just in case. Dozens of middle school kids were racing around the area, filling out various forms and papers. Field trip! It was a little disturbing to realize how long it had been since I’d taken a field trip with school.
I walked out of one exhibit hall and into another which had a different display. This one was all about glasswork, the majority of it kiln cast. These pieces interested me quite a bit, actually, and I was hard-pressed not to take pictures all over. In retrospect, I probably should have just asked if it was okay, but I didn’t see a single other person with a camera, much less actually taking pictures, so I just assumed it wasn’t okay. I exited the glass hall, by a beautiful five-foot feather made of glass, and turned right to enter the far area.
This side wasn’t as interesting to me; it contained various tapestries, furniture, and a random scattering of armor from Sweden’s historical periods. These were influenced heavily by outside cultures, so it was somewhat of a novelty that they contained some Asian themes from time to time. I lost what little interest I had, however, and took the middle entry stairs up to the third floor. Straight out of these stairs was a newer exhibit, which contrasted modern art and pop culture images with historical works. A man was lecturing a Swedish high school class here, which of course I couldn’t understand one bit. This display was actually very small, and although I found it interesting, it let out into a large display of realistic paintings, which although pretty, were not my cup of tea. I exited and examined the plaster casts of Roman statues that lined the 3rd floor foyer. At this point, I was starving, and thought that museum food was better than no food, so I returned to the first floor then went out into the restaurant. My feet were unhappy from all the walking and I was definitely ready to sit down.
The restaurant was brightly lit, as it had a gigantic three story glass ceiling. It really felt and looked like outdoors, but was actually enclosed. A cafeteria line was up ahead, and dozens of people were sitting around me, eating away. I approached the line, but couldn’t read any of the Swedish on the menu. There was a big table with buffet vegetables, as well as one with pastries. I got a little frustrated trying to figure out where to start, and I actually started to walk out of the restaurant. As I did so, I noticed a lot of people had a really beautiful looking salmon plate with potatoes and roast vegetables. I figured that it must have been available in the line, so I returned to where I noticed some trays and picked one up. As I waited for the line in front of me, I saw a bread table off to the left that said “bread included with all meals”. Ah soo….
My turn arrived, and I asked for the salmon plate, which the man served up to me and sprinkled with fresh dill just before it reached my hands. I picked up a sparking water and glass as well, and paid at the register at the end of the line. As most places do in Scandinavia, they took credit cards, so I didn’t have to use any cash. Yay!
I stopped by the bread area, which was stocked with several different types of bread, a cutting board, and knives for hacking off as much as you desired. I sliced off three bits of ciabatta, then put different colors and flavors of cream cheese spread and butter on a plate. I was only able to find a four-top, which seemed excessive for just me. I sat down and admired my meal. This was unlike any other food I’ve ever encountered from a museum! It was actually extremely delicious, with a cream dill sauce for the large chunk of salmon, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and of course the bread with tangy cheese spreads. The food warmed my stomach, and I felt *so* much better. I raced from my table to get a little more bread; since it was included, I was going to get my fill of the soft and chewy stuff. As I ate, someone dropped a glass by the tray return, and little bits of glass went everywhere. They had it cleaned up only a minute or so later, and I finally decided it was time to get off my duff and go do something else. If there was any jelly on the table, I think it would have been one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe so far! My only concern was the cost; I had no idea what the translation was, and although I’d seen a sign that said it was 6 Kronors to the dollar, this still meant completely nothing to me. I calculated in my head and decided that it was about 20 bucks for what I’d just eaten. Yikes! But not outrageous for salmon I guess.
I returned upstairs and figured it couldn’t hurt to do a sweep of the museum for Kelly, Maria, and Amanda, even though the likelihood of me running into them was diminishing every minute that passed. I hurried through each exhibit, and of course did not find anyone I knew. In the furniture gallery, a guide noticed my hurry and asked if I needed assistance finding anything. I told her I was looking for a friend, smiled, and trotted out. It was such a long shot at this point that I ignored the third floor and returned to the locker. I retrieved my 5 Kroner coin, hefted on my backpack over my anti-cold gear, and stopped into the foyer to check out the map. I realized what I had done. That bridge I’d seen leaving up to the hill was in fact the most southern point of Old Town, and I had made a 90 degree turn up a curving road to the left. The bridge I ended up at was all the way back around Old Town; in fact, I’d seen it from the point where I looked over the moat. I was 180 degrees in the wrong spot. Not to worry, I was somewhere close to the Vasa Museum, another of Emanuel’s “must see” points, and it appeared that from the island south of me, it was possible to take a ferry over. The Modern Art Museum was also on this island, so I decided that it was the way to go. I also learned that the big, guarded building was in fact the Kronor, the castle where the King of Sweden lives!
After folding the map back to where I could easily see where I was without unfolding, I set back out into the already slowly diminishing daylight. The snow had stopped, thankfully, and this simple change made it all the more warmer. That, and I had food in my belly and a much better attitude. I headed over the small bridge that starts next to the National Museum to reach the next island down. The walk was brisk, and I came upon a set of outdoor sculptures; the museum must have been right there. After stopping to take some pictures, I went further down the hill to a neat looking building with a big stone lion and boar. This turned out to be an art university of some sort, so I didn’t bother to try and go in. I crossed around with the intent on finding the ferry, but made the complete loop up the hill and trudged forward into the Modern Art Museum.
As with most contemporary art places, it had a very sleek appearance, with lots of black metal, straight lines, and ninety degree angles. A large black round couch sat nearby, and I headed to it to take a load off. I made one final, futile attempt to message both Maria and Kelly (they had mentioned Maria’s number was one off from Kelly’s) but that was pretty much it. It was a lost cause. I noticed a coat check, but nobody seemed to be using it. I walked around past it, and a large set of lockers were there, just as in the National Museum. Good deal. This time, however, big signs were posted everywhere – no pictures. I left even my SLR in the locker and went to check out the Architecture Museum, the entrance of which was right next to the lockers.
It wasn’t what I expected – they were all models of various Swedish designs dating back to long, long ago. Most of them were not very exciting. When I got to more recent stuff, like Canon’s headquarters in Stockholm, that was a little more interesting. Along the far wall were different models of places and a stock of building materials so one could see what they were. One section even had samples for you to pick up and handle, which was kind of neat. One of the models took my by surprise – it was the opera house in Dresden! I found it interesting that it was displayed here, and thought, ‘hey, I’ve been there!’
The room next to the big one had various blueprints of 1700’s Stockholm, but it was pretty uninteresting overall. I saw a girl who looked an awful lot like Maria and raced out, but it wasn’t her. I kept having to remind myself that it was pretty much a done deal. I just don’t have a lot of fun traveling alone, so my brain wouldn’t give up on the possibility. I returned to the lobby, trying to decide where to go next. I followed a couple of people down a staircase to another set of exhibit rooms, and walked into one which was sealed behind a few glass doors. It was a bizarre fashion art installation, and strange techno music was being blasted inside. Several mannequins were wearing odd clothing, and a video showed the performance piece when the installation was opened to the public. It was too bizarre for me, so I walked out. Down another hallway, next to a library, I found another staircase and took it one floor below. A guy was sitting at a desk, surfing the Net. I briefly considered asking if I could check my mail, but decided against it. To the left was a video presentation for several art films, but I wasn’t sure if these were in Swedish or English. I wandered behind the desk, and discovered it was a dead end, so I returned up the stairs. There was a large exhibit for a specific artist, so I followed the signs through the automatic doors into the room. The first section had a piece on the left which appeared to be a recessed bookcase in a wall packed to the gills with psychology books. A TV to the left of it was displaying various disturbing images. Across from this, several 35mm negatives that had been scribbled on in pencil had been blown up to gigantic size. I wasn’t sure about the point of this one either.
The next room took the cake, however. The large, empty white room was only lit by light from the prior one. A metal cage has been constructed in slightly smaller dimensions than the room itself out of metal electric piping. The only other things in the room were a heating pad and an electric blanket, which were lying on the floor. An air conditioner wall unit was sitting on the floor, blowing cool air over them. Something about futility, maybe? I didn’t get it. A few people walked in, and a woman stifled a laugh. It was just too bizarre.
Around the corner was a new installation, this one with glass doors on each end of the low ceiling, brightly lit, white room. The walls, from top to bottom, were covered in 1960’s-1970’s era doctors’ magazine ads for Ritalin, valium, thorazine, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and what have you. The title of this installation was “Would A Dose of [some drug, I forgot the name] Have Saved Van Gogh’s Ear?” The ads were all pretty idealistic, and didn’t make it sound like there were any real problems with putting people on the drugs they were peddling. Each one also claimed to make life infinitely better for those involved. This was much more interesting a statement, at least.
I could hear music and noise from next door, so I went through the exit of the room. This door led me to a much larger area with several sections. A large screening room with carpeted benches showed that the next viewing of a movie was fifteen minutes away. Beyond this, a group of people was sitting around a big projected video display, which was shown on the back of the screening room. A man was lecturing in Swedish, presumably about the video behind him, which was displaying scrolling text about different experiments someone was performing. Across from this man were three smaller screening rooms, each one showing different strange pieces of film, one of which had a woman covered entirely in mud. This was a theme, apparently; a video monitor was showing something with English subtitles, so I took a seat. It was actually in English as well, but I guess the subs were because the audio was difficult to make out. The same woman, covered entirely (and only) in mud was at some art opening, and was walking around with a briefcase full of the wet dirt. She was saying something about belonging to everyone, and a man commented that she belonged to “us”. He stuck a business card on her chest, and eventually helped put some mud on her back. Very odd. This video ended, and a second one appeared, which was of some presentation on a stage. A woman was announcing that the “Queen of Mud” was about to make a trip to a far off planet covered only in a “thin layer of mud”. She came walking in, obviously naked outside of the mud, and began to mix a new batch of the stuff, made out of different soils from different parts of the globe. She applied this to her body, then they asked if any volunteers from the audience would like to come up and touch her. A guy did, and he shook her hand. The presentation ended. Bowr?
I wandered into the big screening room, as the Swedish man had finished his presentation, and the large group of people had all left. I still had about 10 minutes until the film started, and it suddenly came to my attention that I was plumb tired. The room was dark and quiet, and I decided to lie down and take a nap until the movie began. A second after I’d spread myself out in the empty room, my cell phone rang. The number was European, and it turned out to be Emanuel.
He asked how my day was going, and if I still wanted to meet him. Absolutely! We made plans to meet at the Slussel, the elevator, which I now knew where it was. We set a meeting point at 3:30, which was an hour and fifteen minutes from then. I estimated it would take me 45 minutes to walk, since I had to go back past the National Museum and then back across Old Town. No problem.
The movie started a short while later, and I found myself both sleepy and eventually interested. It was named, “I Think I’ll Call Her Q.M.”, and certainly referred to the Queen of Mud from the other film. It was obtusely bizarre; an older woman scientist in New York doesn’t flinch at all when a strange mud-covered woman appears under her bed. In fact, she somehow was expecting it, and places her in an observation room, then proceeds to spend days studying her, as if she were a lizard. She even puts a male iguana in there as a mate! This doesn’t work (obviously) and she hires a male gigolo to come visit her. The movie was only about 28 minutes long, the description said, but I had hit my limit. It was 2:45, and I needed to leave. I really wonder how it ended.
I returned to the lobby where I retrieved my stuff from the locker. I had to turn it on and check my already downloaded email; I realized Kati had sent me pictures, and it’s been fifteen years since I’d seen Emanuel. He was Kati’s high school boyfriend her senior year, and was an exchange student who lived across the street from us. All I really remembered about him was that he was very tall. The email she’d sent had lots of pictures of his kids, but I didn’t see any that were of him! Uh oh. Fortunately, there was one, and outside of his hair being shorter, I recognized him. Phew.
I threw all my things back on for the cold and raced out the door. Across the bridge, past the museum, and back around to Old Town I walked at full pace. It was quite a distance to where the map showed the elevator, although I still didn’t know what it was. I walked at a steady pace past the Kronor moving towards the meeting point, which was McDonald’s underneath the elevator. As I rounded the bend, I realized that something I’d already seen was in fact the Slussel. A multicolored sign and clock sat atop a small black iron structure. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was, but it *had* to be the Slussel. As I approached, I checked my watch. I was a good fifteen minutes early! I’d made really good time, and could have easily stayed for the end of the film. Oh well. I started to walk over the bridge from Old Town to the area underneath the Slussel. As I snapped a picture of the structure, I caught the sight of a tall man out of the corner of my eye. I took one more picture and realized he was looking right at me.
“Marc?” he said. It was Emanuel, and he smiled. We both took off our right gloves and shook hands. “I saw you coming up, but I wasn’t sure if it was you or not, so I called your cell phone. I figured you would answer it, but instead you picked up your camera.” I pulled my cell phone out. Indeed, he’d just called me. We’d both overestimated the time required to reach this point, but apparently that worked out in the long run. Nobody had to wait. He pointed out the Slussel above us, and suggested we go up to the restaurant at the top and get a drink. This was perfectly fine with me, so we walked across from the McDonald’s to a door that didn’t appear to me to be anything like an elevator. The door opened, and a man was sitting on a stool inside the microscopic elevator. A window in the rear made it only slightly bigger.
“This is the only elevator in the city that people have season tickets to,” Emanuel told me. Apparently it’s a rough trip up to the top, plus the view is good. Emanuel paid for me, as it was only a few Kronors. The door let out onto a platform that was fenced in, but open to the chilly wind that was blowing. It did allow, however, a good view of the city, and he pointed out several buildings and their function. Below us was a large cloverleaf road structure that was built years ago to alleviate the strange driving problem created by the two linked islands. It was not only ugly, but is apparently sinking, and the is great controversy over what they’re going to do with it. The drinks were waiting, so we walked across the platform and into the building. One flight down, Emanuel said that this was the most expensive restaurant in the city, but we weren’t going to eat here, just get drinks. We entered and walked to the back, where a bar existed under the platform above. This was inside the long iron bridge from the elevator to the plateau, which I only realized after we were inside. Emanuel and I each took a seat at the bar, and he bought me a beer. The bartender served up the brews in tall glasses, and provided us with a bowl of mixed nuts, rice crackers, and wasabi peas. This reminded me an awful lot of the stuff they serve in the New York Bar and Grille in Tokyo. The mix in Tokyo was slightly better. He said he had to practice thinking and speaking English as he had walked to the tower to get in the right frame of mind, but his English was impeccable. He didn’t even have a very strong accent!
We spent the time catching up, talking about work, where he lived, why I was in Europe, and how my family was doing. He still had stayed in touch with my sister, but we hadn’t spoken in fifteen years, we determined, so we had a lot to discuss! It came to my attention as we talked about my job that it was the 25th and therefore my ten year anniversary of working for Eureka. We clinked glasses on this fact and said a cheer. Wow, that’s a long time! I showed him the pictures in my camera, and he informed me what each of the places I’d visited today were. When we came to the soldiers, he said, “Oh, the changing of the guard. I’ve done that.” I had forgotten that military service is mandatory in Sweden. I’d worked longer than he had, since he’d gone to high school, then the military, then college, then grad school. Schooling is paid for here, so everyone pretty much stays in through their Masters degree. He said that guarding the Kronor is kind of fun; it’s a change of pace and everyone does it for two days or so.
Another thing to discuss was where I was going to stay. We’d mentioned it briefly down on the street, but it was still an issue. After some short consideration, Emanuel invited me to stay at his house. I politely resisted some, but knew that it was probably my best option at this point anyway. “Okay, it’s decided. You will stay with us,” he said, smiling. I was beyond appreciative. We had another beer, my treat this time, and he pointed out some of the buildings in the distance.
“That’s where the Nobel Prize is awarded,” he explained, pointing out a fancy-looking place in the distance, now lit brightly by electric lights, as the sun had gone down. He and his wife every year had a dinner party on this occasion, and surprised guests with the menu, while watching the proceedings on TV. Even he and Maria didn’t share what they were creating to one another. It sounded like fun. We talked and laughed a great deal more.
At this point, he suggested we go to get dinner at a restaurant he’d picked that served garlic in everything it had on the menu. “They even have garlic shots,” he said, while describing each of the items that were likely loaded with garlic. I like garlic, so it sounded like a good place to go. We walked out of the restaurant, Emanuel stopping to use the restroom. When he came out, he said he was surprised. “This is the fanciest restaurant in the city, but the restrooms…” They apparently left a lot to be desired. The fenced in bridge led to the plateau, and this surprised me, as I expected to have to take more stairs. Instead we walked right out onto the street and headed into the city. To the left of us was a dance hall that he said played jazz during the summer. It was a good place to hang out. He said the weather was rather mild right now; normally there would be a foot of snow on the ground. I told him that I brought all the good Texas weather with me, and so it was warm now.
“Not really helping much in Helsinki,” I told him. We walked a few blocks, then Emanuel had to get his bearings a little. He figured out where he was, we turned left, and eventually saw the restaurant on the far side of the road. We crossed over, but as we walked up, he made an ‘uh-oh’ noise.
“Oh, I think that they are closed…” he said, noticing the neon sign that was turned off. This could be a problem. There was movement inside, however, and an employee walked up and started to walk inside. Emanuel bugged the man, and he told him the restaurant would be open in half an hour. What to do for half an hour, we wondered. I was fine with walking around and talking, since we were really having a great time anyway. He relayed to me the story of his cell phone being stolen two days ago, and I responded with one of my own from a few years ago. As we walked, he said we could find a different café to go into, but I thought the garlic place was fine. The actual reason he was looking for somewhere else was the he was cold!
“Come on, Swedish boy,” I said, “you’re the one that lives here! I’m from Texas, I’m the one who’s supposed to be cold.” We had turned left down another street, and passed by a big sign advertising a production of Grease, which apparently was all in Swedish. I couldn’t even imagine what this would be like. We arrived at a corner across from a movie theater, and I was surprised to see that Zach Braff’s indie film, Garden State, was playing. I’d wanted to see it in the theater at home, but had missed it.
“There are lots of films that don’t come here,” he said, “the ones that go to the dollar cinema quickly barely make it to video.” He pointed out that catty corner was a building that used to the Swedish version of the IRS. It was now a dormitory for students, however. “Well, left down a random street,” he said, as we were still killing time. He realized he needed to call Maria and let her know I was coming to stay. They had a long conversation on his phone, which turned out to be whether it would be better for me to sleep on the couch or on a mattress on the floor. “I’m sorry if the kids come and wake you up,” he said, but I told him I had three little nieces and nephew, and it wouldn’t be an issue. We passed by the garlic place again, but it was still a few minutes early. We continued on, trying to use up that time. A comic book shop was a few windows down, and again, there was manga plainly displayed in the window. He said it was very popular here, particularly with teenagers.
We turned left at the next light and followed yet another random road for a few blocks. He said that effectively a hurricane had just hit Sweden, knocking out power for many areas on Sunday. In fact, a few places were still without power now two days later. They lost power at their house at 5:30, and realized they couldn’t cook, watch TV, or anything. Maria thought she could run to the store to get a newspaper or something, but came in from the outside a moment later. The car had a flat! Talk about unfortunate events!
I noticed a bunch of ice on some stone walls just before we crossed the street to an overlook. The big cruise ships from Helsinki were docked just beyond this, and we could see the Slussel above us. Across was an amusement park, next to which was the Vasa museum. I looked at my watch. It was after 5:30, and we returned to the restaurant.
The place was very American in appearance, with images of American celebrities and many English signs. As we walked in, a friendly waiter approached and Emanuel and he talked briefly before he led us into the main dining area. This exchange confused me; everything about it was just as if they had been speaking in English, but to me, it was gibberish. If I hadn’t known they were speaking in Swedish, I would have been really, really confused. I didn’t realize until later why this was so odd to me.
After a perusal of the shot menu, we both ended up ordering another draft beer. Emanuel took the liberty of getting a garlic bread appetizer, which I was happy to scarf as it arrived. I finally decided on the garlic steak with potatoes, and Emanuel picked the seafood casserole. The food came shortly after we ordered, and by golly it was fill of garlic! My entire sliced steak was crusted in garlic, a spicy garlic sauce was on the potatoes, and pickled garlic cloves were served with it in a small dish. Emanuel’s casserole looked more like a pasta dish than what it was.
As we dined, we discussed his job; he works for a small Java consulting agency. They have an interesting business model – everyone makes the same salary. This made everyone work harder for the company and everyone felt like a team. It also, however, made it difficult to find good people to hire. They get a ton of vacation here, much more than in the US, but that’s pretty much on par with Europe. What very much is *not* on par with the US is the taxation, which is somewhere about 60 percent. When a company pays an employee a sum, they also have to pay a percentage of that to the government (on top of what they’re paying the employee). The employee also has to pay about 60 percent of that directly to the government, so they’re getting paid *twice* for one employee! Other weirdnesses – they also are taxed on charitable contributions; they don’t get a discount. I thought this was insane, since it made people not want to do it! When asked if this tax model really worked, he thought some things were good, like schooling and health care. However, despite the government’s disbeliefs, there were people abusing the system and who were getting unemployment without really working. The government was getting in debt rapidly. There were some odd benefits as well – subsidized opera for instance. The government wanted the average Joe to be able to enjoy it, and if Emanuel, for instance, wanted to get the most out of his tax Kronor, then he should go see it. However, it was still basically only attended by the upper crust.
What seemed like fifty cloves of garlic later, we finished up our meals. He said there was a bus leaving in just a few minutes, but we’d have to run to catch it. The other option was to find somewhere to get a beer or a coffee, and then we’d be able to leisurely wait for another one. I didn’t really want any more beer, so coffee was best for me, I told him. He said he wanted another beer; since he has kids now, he doesn’t ever get to have any. He was getting as much as he could since he had the opportunity.
“In that case,” I said, “let’s find somewhere to get the beer, and I can get anything.” We walked out and headed left down the street. I pointed at a sign, that had “welcome” listed in Swedish, and asked him if Swedish was pronounced like German. He said it was, and I pronounced the word. “Välkommen.” He said the vowel was right, but Swedish was more sing-songy. He demonstrated for me, and I repeated, going up on the end.
“That was… perfect! Wow! Really perfect!” He couldn’t believe I could mimic him so well. “Most people have a problem with it, but when I talked to you earlier, you pronounced ‘Slussel’ correctly.” I explained I have a knack for accents, and we then discussed variances in different languages. As we crossed the street, a girl coming the other way appeared to be having a spat with her boyfriend, and she was mad. As she passed me, she literally pushed me out of the way with both hands. This surprised me enough that a moment later, a man walked dead into me, and forced his way past. I thought for a moment he might have been a pickpocket, but regardless, I didn’t have anything accessible for him to steal.
We attempted to go into a small sports bar, but we walked back out a moment later. They had a mandatory coat check, and Emanuel didn’t like places that did that. I don’t either. “Okay, coffee then,” he said as we crossed the street to a trendy-looking coffee place. I noticed that it looked like they served beer, from a sign outside. “They do!” he said, after scanning the sign. We walked inside and around to the bar in the back. We found a small space we could stand in, and he went to order for us, offering to buy me coffee. I realized about then what had confused me I the other restaurant. Everything looked like it could have been in the U.S. And not just décor. The clothes, the glasses, even the *body language*, and this was the key, of the people sitting and talking looked like Americans. Nobody looked very foreign, either, and Sweden seemed to have a good mix of different skin colors to boot. This is why when they spoke Swedish it was so odd to me. If you didn’t know they were doing the same here, and assumed they were selling 35 dollar coffees, you’d be hard-pressed to say this wasn’t in New York, Seattle, or even Austin. I pointed this out to Emanuel as he came back, and as I was explaining my theory, I swung my arm. This knocked my latte over onto his gloves and we quickly cleaned it up.
“Aw man, not only did you just buy that for me, but I dumped it all over your gloves to boot,” I said, apologetically.
“It’s okay, that’s what washers are for,” he said. There was still half a latte left in my cup, so I sipped it slowly. A very gorgeous Swedish girl took a spot next to us, and I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut. He said that last year, Japanese food was trendy here, and now sushi restaurants are everywhere. This year, the trend seems to be Lebanese food. The time arrived to leave, and we walked out and down the street to the bus station across from the Slussel. I followed him inside, and we bought a transport ticket that was good for buses, trains, and the like. At first he considered we should get one that would allow me to take it to the Vasa museum tomorrow from here, but it was easier just to buy what we needed now. At the gate, a man stamped up to number 5 when Emanuel told him where we were going. We walked through the gate, down some stairs, and across a train platform. This led to another set of stairs down to an underground bus terminal where we still had a few minutes.
I showed him my phone, and he compared to his new one, which he’d just gotten to replace the stolen one. Apparently he hated his last Sony Ericsson, and despite walking into the store and telling the salesperson he didn’t want one, somehow ended up with one anyway. His friends were surprised, and said the model he had was terrible, so he was considering returning it. The bus arrived, and the driver stamped my ticket to 6, one half of the total, as we got on board and found seats. It was about a 30 minute ride to his house. After driving along normal highways, the area soon turned hilly, and much snowier. We had to change buses in a small terminal, which required me to flash my stamped ticket once more. I saw a word on a sign and mentioned it to Emanuel.
The word was Apoteket, and I said it was easy to determine that it was a pharmacy (apothecary). He said actually there’s a monopoly here for pharmacies, and the word actually means “*the* pharmacy”! We were now riding into what looked like a forest, and it was really dark. A moment later we got off, and were out in the middle of the wilderness, from my eyes. Some people wandered off into the forest, but he said there were houses just beyond. We crossed the street and walked up a hill, which was covered in very dry and very glittery snow. It appeared that someone had dumped diamonds all over the place! I’d never seen that before. This neighborhood was in the suburbs, and was pretty new, circa 1995. The houses were modeled after traditional Swedish architecture; his parents’ house was more sixties modern, and nobody wanted one of those anymore.
I asked about prices, and he said that they ran about 2.2 million Kronors, about $300,000, for an average sized house! They don’t really do mortgages in the same way here – most people can only pay the *interest* on the house, and short of getting an inheritance or winning the lottery, they’d never pay it off. Scary…. We took a left into a playground, Emanuel saying it was a longer route, but was “more interesting”. It was all nice forest here, and he said they wouldn’t likely ever build on it. A few houses down, and we were at his, which was much bigger than I’d been led to believe. :) It was very cute, about the same size as my house, and had a white picket fence around the side to the garden in back.
We headed inside, and it appeared that Maria was already asleep, as she didn’t answer when he called. “We redid the counters in here after we bought it, well… I did,” Emanuel noted, humorously. After he’d showed me the downstairs, a moment later Maria came down. She’d fallen asleep with the kids! His wife is very cute, and was extremely nice, just as he was. I ran to my backpack to get the gifts I’d been carrying from Austin, and delivered them as promised. She offered me some tea, but she ended up making some raspberry lemonade, which was tasty! We all took a seat at their table, and I broke out my laptop to show them pictures of my family.
I talked about how my niece, Emily, had been born prematurely through emergency C-section, and how Kati had allowed all of us into the delivery room for the birth of her first child, Celia. “ALL of you,” she inquired, “even you?” Yep. She was completely taken aback with this and was laughing in sheer disbelief. “Is that *normal*??” she asked, and I said it really wasn’t, but I was glad to have experienced it. She had a hard time getting over that one! My pictures ended earlier than I expected, as I’d apparently duplicated some of the same images across multiple backups. Emanuel went to his computer and showed me several pictures of his kids since I was leaving with him at 6:30am, and wouldn’t likely get to see them tomorrow. They’re very cute, and currently very blonde.
“She’s going to be a brunette,” he said, “Maria was blonde as a baby as well, but it became brown.” I remembered in a conversation later that my mom, too, had this happen to her, and it was becoming more and more evident that the Swedish blood in her was quite prevalent. After the pictures were finished, everyone was headed to bed. We retrieved the small mattress pads from upstairs and Maria nicely set up my sleeping area. I got Emanuel to hook me up with an Internet connection for my laptop and began to check mail.
I checked my email, and Monty, my boss had made the announcement of my ten year anniversary to the company. I was proud. I also got an email message from Kelly in Stockholm saying that their phones indeed hadn’t been working, and they were very sorry to have missed me today. They were on a 6:30am flight to Copenhagen, and were currently (at 6pm) trying to figure out how to get to the airport, so they wouldn’t have been able to meet me anyway. Everything worked out. A few minutes later, Emanuel appeared downstairs again, letting me know that Maria was going to take the kids to kindergarten tomorrow morning (actually daycare), and since she was out, she said she could drive me back to Stockholm. That way, I wouldn’t have to get up quite so early. That was so nice! He dashed off to bed.
I completed my necessary emails, and by then it was 12:30. Exhausted from my day of running around in the cold, I skipped any attempt to work on the logs, and simply got ready for bed. I tried to take an image of the glittering snow outside my window, but it didn’t really come out. I laid down on the floor mattress and tried to sleep. Despite my fatigue, I somehow had a hard time getting there.
This is the last log I’m going to post from Europe. I’m on a 11:15am flight out of Frankfurt, and promise I’ll get the rest done for you guys on the plane!