Day 101

Making my bowl of oatmeal without waking up the family was difficult. It was one of the few cases in which making it on the stovetop was easier and less risky than in the microwave, because it was quieter. I’m so grateful to this family for letting me make breakfast from their pantry. I inhaled the breakfast even though it was piping hot, and got myself together as fast as I could. Just as I was heading out was about the time that Lydia and Jon woke up and warmly bade me goodbye. I had to run back up to get the leftover sandwich cake in the fridge though, and I was lucky that I made it to the tram with a minute to spare.

I made it to my train in time and even though was riding second-class, the conditions were still quite comfy. Like, the toilets in both classes are made of porcelain. But once we reached our first stop, that’s when the real misadventure begins.

We were stopped for a very long time, and some announcements were made in Swedish and one in English saying that there were technical issues with the train and they weren’t sure what they’d do next; they may send another train. People in my car began gradually disembarking and I wondered if I should do the same. There wasn’t a mass exodus or anything, but it seemed like it was beginning to empty out. So I decided I should do the same.

They were crossing over to the opposite track, so naturally I followed. A commuter train arrived and I asked a random assembly of strangers (who I then realized were speaking English) if this was the train we should take if we were on the other train. One of them said yes and told me he would show me. Once we were in the car he showed me the train schedule on his phone, saying that it would take us to Alingsås in half an hour. I said I was trying to go to Stockholm, and he responded “Oh, so you shouldn’t have gotten on the commuter train. But the other train stops in Alingsås, so if they’re more than thirty minutes late you can catch them again.” I was surprised at how I chill I was about this situation. I said that I was just trying to get to Stockholm as fast as possible, so I may even take another train from Alingsås if needed.

But it proved to show that I wouldn’t need to take another train, and wouldn’t even get to. When I arrived in Alingsås I panicked a bit because the train was supposed to arrive in three minutes and I didn’t know where the platform was, but that was because there wasn’t a train at the platform. It wasn’t on time. The arrival time was pushed back fifteen minutes, and then another fifteen minutes. The train was effectively two hours late. Well, at least by riding commuter rail I got to see some beautiful views of the Swedish small towns that I almost certainly would have still been able to see had I stayed on the train.

I got to Stockholm Central basically at the time I was supposed to board, and the twenty-minute express train to the airport wasn’t going to leave for another fifteen minutes. I attempted to stay calm, bought a smoothie (in a glass bottle– they like their glass bottles here) and a Swedish chocolate bar that Sarah had recommended to me, Marabou. I then made the mistake of getting off at the north station instead of the south; my terminal was at the latter. Hey, how was I supposed to know which terminal to go to? Look it up ahead of time? Ridiculous.

I made my sweaty way to the Lufthansa check-in but the ever-unreliable self-service machines refused to let me check in because there wasn’t enough time before departure. Bloody oath, there wasn’t enough time. I dragged myself to the check-in support desk and the agent instructed me to go to the Tickets counter to buy a new ticket. I was too rushed and fighting back tears too hard to argue. I called my mom on Duo while waiting in line, both for advice and to maintain calm. The tickets agent made a few calls, checked me in, and sent me off to the gate. Security didn’t take long but something was confusing about getting to my gate– like I had to walk out and then turn around. The PA asked “Ilona Vittenberg to please contact gate B4.” I love how my legal name makes half of Europeans think that I’m from their country. Once I got on board, the flight crew seemed actually pretty amused. Like, “Ah, Ilona Vittenberg, welcome aboard.” “Don’t forget to breathe. Would you like some water?” Maybe I wasn’t popular amond my flightmates for delaying their departure by an hour, but the attention-loving side of me was pretty pleased.

Once I got to Frankfurt, the rest of the trip was pretty standard. Long layover which I spent drinking green tea and studying, trying my best to stay hydrated with a complete lack of water fountains (do not drink the automatically-warmed sink water from the automatic sinks, it does not make you feel hydrated), having yaki udon for a surprisingly good value, and trying to get some of this blog done. In the restaurant, there were two young German women conversing with a young South African man. They had just met and were having quite a nice bonding experience. To my left, I heard a young man talk in Dutch on the phone, then hang up and talk in French to his dining partner. Were they Belgian? I wanted to talk to them as well, but they seemed busy enough and a little stressed.

My flight to Dublin was a little turbulent but I had an empty seat next to me again, and did some cartooning and listening to a playlist that Brian made for me that always seems to lift my mood. I had been listening to it on and off for the whole day, because in these conditions Lord knows I needed some calming.

My bus back to Cork was crowded. Like I had to actually sit next to a person, which hasn’t happened many times. But I got there, and went to sleep around five a.m. feeling like a damn mess but happy to be in bed.

I had a great time in Sweden, all illness and transit issues considered. I really want to go back, and next time spend more time in Stockholm. I want to explore more in Gothenburg too. It wasn’t a very hip or happening city, like Sarah said, but there’s still more to explore.

Here are some notions and observations I had/have about Sweden:

  • It was not as cold as I thought it’d be. My first day in Gotheburg and the day I left the country felt rather warm and I didn’t even feel like wearing gloves. The middle two were a bit chillier.
  • The proportion of people who are blonde, blue-eyed, and pale is not that high. Maybe higher than, say, Manhattan, but it’s quite diverse. There are people of many ethnicities and races (speaking Swedish too!), and even the ostensibly “native Swedes” certainly don’t all look like clones.
  • Long hair isn’t just for women. Man buns abound. For warmth perhaps? A remnant from the Vikings?
  • Swedes don’t love buying things from small artisans as much as from big brands, according to Sarah. I suppose I noticed that from how many stores whose names I recognized.
  • Swedish waffles are light and eggy, with a slightly crispy crust and chewy interior. Sort of like a Brussels waffle, but with shallower indents and a round shape that’s composed of hearts (cardioids) whose points all touch.
  • People seem to dress and style themselves pretty much how I imagined they would, though.
  • People were very nice to me and seem super-chill about speaking English. There are plenty of people living here speaking English primarily.
  • They love their dairy but readily offer dairy alternatives. Veganism isn’t uncommon.
  • Fish is so fresh and affordable.
  • They love candles and other forms of “light art,” like artistic lamps. They also love coffee. I guess because of how short the daylight hours are, they need good stuff to wake them up.
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