Friday, August 12, 2016

Stockholm Syndrome

It's been a long time since I last posted and I'm not actually in Europe anymore. But I hate leaving things unfinished so I'll attempt to recount what I did nearly a month ago.

The first interesting part was travelling to Stockholm. I took a bus from Helsinki to Turku (on the west of Finland) and there spent one night with a friend.

Let's go back to that idea of night. There really aren't 'nights' as such in Finland - if a night is something you'd consider dark. I woke up at 3am and freaked out because I thought I'd overslept, only because the sun was shining and it resembled vaguely an early-mid morning sunshine. Thank goodness it was only 3am. I slept for a few more hours, woke, caught the bus, caught another bus, and ended up on the ferry.

Now the childhood ferries I am used to are the type where about 20 cars squash on, you might get out of the car to take a picture 'on the ferry' because Mum wants a photo then 20 minutes later you get back into the car and drive off. The other kind of ferry I am used to is an interislander/bluebridge type thing, and Cook Straight is normally choppy and I'm normally up on the deck chewing ice to stop myself from being seasick.

Turns out, Finns treat these ferry rides as cruises. High school students will take an overnight cruise and pay for a cabin. Me, during the day, will pay only 25 euros for a seat. But the 'seat' was actually anywhere in the ferry's seven decks, several cafes, three bars, or two movie theatres. This thing was huge. We set off into the grey skies of Turku's archipelago, which eventually turned into blue skies and the Swedish coast. As we sailed into Stockholm, the on-board band played Abba and eventually I clicked that this was because Abba is a Swedish band.

Without any real concrete plans as to what I was going to do in my one full day in Stockholm, I decided to join a walking tour in the Gamla Stan, the most touristy part of Stockholm. I stayed in the tour four about 10 minutes before deciding that it wasn't for me and went off on my own. Stop number one was the Museum of Modern Art, which included a pleasant stroll along the waterfront (Stockholm is made up of many islands) amongst basically all of Stockholm's young model type people wearing stylish clothes and riding bicycles.

The mission at the Modern Art Museum was to see Yayoi Kusama's exhibition, an eccentric Japanese artist. But not only did the museum have her artwork, it also had several other famous artists including Matisse.

Post Yayoi's exhibition it was time to do some more wandering around Stockholm - in search of good coffee - then meet with my second couchsurfing host who was going to show another courchsurfer and me around Stockholm. The good coffee I also achieved, at a very cool cafe which now I cannot remember the name of, but it was probably one of my favourite cafes in Europe that far. Although the flat white was about $7 NZD.

Back to the couchsurfing tour. It was great - we all met at 4.30 in the afternoon and spend about four or five hours walking around. I can't explain how cool it was to be in Stockholm, a city built on hundreds of islands. After being in landlocked Madrid for so long, seeing the sea everywhere was so refreshing. There were also so many cool bridges and tonnes of boats and you could look out from one island to another - whether it was also flat, or steep and cliffed with colourful tall houses nearly falling into the water. Amazing.

Although everyone on the Stockholm streets seemed to be dressed to perfection, and there were hundreds of cool looking stores and quirky additions to traffic lights and stuff like that, I didn't spend a lot of time exploring the shops.

Instead we went to a high vantage point to get a good view of the city, which included seeing many different forms of transport at once (something strangely satisfying) - cars, boats, planes and bicycles.

One of the best (and most surprising views) was from the council building in Stockholm. It was a vast, expansive brick building. We walked through an archway and BAM. Views across the sea, to the colourful buildings at the fringes of the islands with the occasional kayaker paddling past.

I have to give a shout out to my amazing couchsurfing host that day. Not only did he give us a walking tour of Stockholm in summer, after work, but he was also fasting for Ramadan, and in Stockholm that means only eating and drinking when it's dark, which is from about 10.30pm - 6am. So while I was tempted to eat and drink, I just couldn't bring myself to do it until 10.30pm as well (although he reassured me that it was perfectly fine to eat/drink). When it was time to eat, he also cooked for me and went to the supermarket and bought breakfast food as well while I was getting ready in the morning - even though he couldn't eat it himself. Now I know there are risks involved in couchsurfing and staying with complete strangers, but if you don't do it, you are missing out on meeting some genuinely lovely, kind people who go to great lengths to make you, another stranger, enjoy your stay in their home.

I departed from Stockholm by bus the next morning and travelled to Linkoping to meet my sister's host family. She returned nearly a year ago after living with them for a year. It was awesome to go to the place that was so special to her and bike around the city, get to know her host parents and siblings and also just to see a smaller part of Sweden.

And the next morning I was off on a train down south, through Malmo and on to Copenhagen - definitely sunnier and warmer than up in Finland and Sweden.

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