Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Viking Bars and Cobblestone Streets In Stockholm, Sweden

Somewhere between Newfoundland and Greenland, sometime between midnight and 3AM, I was awoken by zombie sounds. The wet gurgles and snorts, the asthmatic wheezing of ludicrously long and shallow breathing… it was spot on, sound effect worthy. This person must have been possessed, or infected, or something. Their snoring was so loud, so jarring, so creepy, that I couldn’t possibly go back to sleep, and I was so dumbfounded that anyone else was managing to sleep at all, that I was offended at the concept.  

I am usually pretty good at sleeping on planes. I am that annoying person that falls asleep within an hour of take off and wakes up 9 hours later in another country like nothing ever happened - no jet lag, no sleepiness, no problem; As long as there is no turbulence at least. I am a wimp with turbulence. A few little bumps in the air and I am clutching Ryan’s arm so hard it should probably be categorized as abuse, while my mind races through all of the episodes of LOST like a flipbook. Sleeping deeply on planes has become my avoidance technique to dealing with turbulence… sort of an ignorance is bliss thing.

So, as you can see, I was mad to be woken from my slumber. Full on grumpy-pants. I sat in my ever so mildly reclined seat, staring out at the blurry plane cabin(because putting my contacts in felt like defeat), giving the full stink-eye in the direction of the offender.

And then I slid up my window cover, wondering what stars would look like from the midnight route to Stockholm. And I saw something. Faint. Evanescent. Creeping in from the edge of my view out of the tiny portal window. I smashed my face against the window and squinted to see out into the night sky. Being near sighted, everything was blurry in the distance - compounded by the foggy moisture caught between the double panes of the window and broken up by the snowflake like ice crystals on the outer pane. But I saw something, like a drop of milky absinthe in the sky.

I elbowed Ryan (ever so gently, I assure you) to wake him up, as I stabbed my contacts into my eyes.


Granted, at this point I had only seen what was most likely the light on the end of the plane wing through the blurred vision of a half asleep madwoman. But I was so damn sure. Ryan, being the wonderful sport that he is, began to wipe the crusties from his eyes to give into my lunacy.

I crouched down on what tiny bit of floor I had, facing the back of my seat, and pressed my whole face against the window, looking back toward the hint of light I had seen. I think I might have whispered, very loudly, some expletives that I won’t type here. But sometimes I get excited and can’t control myself. Some words are changed for your innocence.

Me, to Ryan: “HOLY DUCK”

There it was. A fuzzy outline of key-lime pie tinted glow, snaking down in a ribbony pattern toward the horizon. A melting, lime creamsicle. It looked like smoke that had frozen nearly still, but that glowed and bled like watercolors in slow motion against a backdrop of sky so black and stars so bright that they looked like kosher salt spilled on tarmac.

I always imagined it would move fast, like lights dancing in the sky, like some production put on by Disneyland… and maybe sometimes it does… but this didn’t. It moved like molasses. It morphed. I couldn’t see it moving if I kept my eyes on it, but it looked like it was throbbing and stretching in my peripheral vision. It wasn’t doing anything particularly amazing, but I couldn’t stop staring, craning my neck, pressing my cheek even harder against the cold cold window, to get a better view.

I clambered over sleepyRyan, stepping on his toesies, to get to the bathroom, because in my excitement I almost peed my pants, and I needed to let him marvel at the beautiful thing outside. And when I came back, it was gone. And all that was left was the zombie snorer in row 22. Suddenly it didn’t even seem to matter. I slept like cat on a sunny warm day the rest of the way.

We were late for our layover in Amsterdam. Amsterdam airport has these convenient little signs that tell you how long it should take to walk from one part of the airport to another, which quickly brought in a wee bit of panic as soon as we got into the Amsterdam terminal. We had 20 minutes to get to a part of the airport that should take 25 minutes to get to. With customs in the middle. Oh Duck.

So we ran. Past tulip selling stands, and tourists wearing clogs, and miniature, cardboard windmills, and a restaurant where you can eat inside of a giant blue and white Dutch teacup. We laughed - gasping, sweaty, and mildly resentful as we ran past people voluntarily biking on gym bikes to charge their phones and laptops.

Ryan, to Me, breathing loudly and not breaking stride: “That’s… So… Cool!”

And that was all we saw of Amsterdam. The good news being that we made it to our plan on time.

And soon we were in Stockholm. Like, immediately when we got off of the plane. There was no customs, there was no one patting us down or making sure we weren’t evil or trying to smuggle in things or whatnot. No one stamped our passports or interrogated us on what business we had to be in their great land of meatballs and lingonberries. We stood at the exit door and were dumbfounded.

Ryan: “We just… go?”

Me: “I don’t understand. This feels weird. Are we going to get arrested if we just… walk out there?”

Ryan: “Don’t they want to know who we are first?”

Me: "Don't we need to get frisked or questioned?"

Oh man, the lady we talked to at the help desk gave us the sweetest “Aw, how cute, but no no, that’s not necessary” face when we walked up to her and practically shoved our passports in her face for approval.

And then we waltzed out, feeling slightly rebellious, despite being given full permission by the lady at the help desk.

Stockholm, at least by the Arlanda airport, feels like getting out at O’Hare airport in Illinois. It was clench your toes and rub your nose cold, with that delightful feeling that comes with seeing your mouth and nose breath. The landscape around the airport looks a bit like the Midwest too. Flat land, with a decent speckling of trees on the edge of turning orange and yellow. Taking the bus to our Hotel by the airport felt like taking the bus out to the Schaumberg Ikea in Illinois too. It all felt very familiar, despite the signs everywhere in Swedish that said funny things like “UTFART” (which led to several giggles and lots of whispered mutterings throughout the entire trip). Our Hotel continued playing the part of “Ikea” by adorning itself with very modern furniture and color themed hallways and rooms. Each hallway was colorcoded into bold purple, orange, blue, or red. And the walls, carpets, bedding, and furniture matched accordingly. It was like sleeping in a catalogue. Luckily, no assembly was required.

We only had enough time to spend one day in Stockholm, since it was really just a layover for us. We rode a bus 30 minutes into Gamla Stan, the old section of Stockholm that is known for cobblestone streets and general cuteness. Stockholm was such a weird juxtaposition of modern and medieval. I should’ve taken pictures of the modern parts, but I didn’t realize until I was gone that I didn’t seem to take a single picture of the modern side. I’m a little biased to the crumbly and historical bits.

The cobblestones were no joke. It wasn’t just one or two streets that were cobbled. The whole old town of Gamla Stan was covered in bulbous stones (which look fantastic, but are much easier to trip on for a clumsy one like me). Souvenir shops are full of tiny, pinochio nosed trolls and slightly friendlier, cherry nosed gnomes. Keychains plastered with Viking hats and moose heads. Viking shotglasses, moose mugs. All the same kind of stuff.

But the buildings. They were so beautiful. Walls in every shade of terracotta, cream, saffron, cumin, rust, salmon. Sunset colors. It was a cozy color to be surrounded by. And with the streets being so narrow, you really were surrounded by the orange hue. The windows all had some sort of tinting on them that gave them a blue tinge that only contrasted with the oranges even more and made them appear more colorful.

I particularly loved seeing all of the signs filled with compound words so long and ridiculous sounding that they, on more than one or two occasions, took up multiple lines. I loved that in the bathroom of a Viking bar, that someone tagged on the walls… in the Runic alphabet.

Oh my God. This meal was so delicious. Those lingonberries. That sauce. That meat. 

 This store had the strangest window display. I can't even.

 How's that for a street name?

 I hid the horsehead in my luggage and surprised Ryan in this picture. He may look confused here, but he couldn't stop laughing right after the picture.

On our way out of Stockholm that night, we passed by a store, “Americana”, that delightfully portrayed to us American stereotypes. The store was full of racks and racks of overalls (WHAT YEAR IS IT?), football jackets, basketball jerseys, military cammo gear, cowbow boots, and cheerleader outfits. Yet again, I wish I had taken a picture, but I’m sure you can google it. We were so busy laughing it up, and throwing around the “y’all”s, we forgot to snap a photo.

 Yes. That is a Gremlin hanging from a string in the alley.

 This is a panorama, click to make it big

That night we slept in our Ikea catalogue, on our “King” bed. Which, turns out, was two twins pushed together. Let me tell you, that when you have two feather-light, Ikea-quality beds pushed together, on a floor so shiny and slippery and modern, that if you so much as attempt to spoon in the middle, or just simply go in for a hug goodnight, or roll over in the middle of the night, or even cough too hard, your beds will slip apart so quickly, as if parted by Moses himself, into a giant chasm… and your butt will fall so hard onto the hard, modern, floor betwixt the beds that you begin to think maybe sleeping on an airplane isn’t so bad.

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