29 December – 30 December, 2015
We finally arrived in Stockholm after a 10 hour sleep-less flight from Norwegian Air. I highly recommend Norwegian Air for the budget traveler. It gets really cheap if, like us, you don’t get the overpriced plane food and bring lots of snacks, but Norwegian more than made up for our hunger and sleep deprivation with entertainment touch-screens at every seat. We passed the time playing solitare and backgammon, watching nature shows, and checking out our plane’s progress on the real-time map.
By the time we touched down in Stockholm, already dark in the mid-afternoon, we felt like we were on another planet entirely. Sweden is fairly expensive, but bustling Stockholm is even more so. Our first meal in Sweden was at the 7-11 at the airport. It was probably the nicest 7-11 in existence. The whole Stockholm Arlanda Airport is very clean, with modern Swedish design, and the 7-11 was no exception. We had some delicious European coffee and pesto calzones. It may not have been the most nutritious dinner but after not eating or sleeping much it seemed the perfect combination.
There are a few different ways to get into Stockholm, all of them pricey. We opted for the Air Shuttle, which costs 198 SEK ($23.40) round trip and takes 35 minutes, but is comfortable with sketchy wifi and electrical outlets at the seats. It was hard to make out the world outside the dark, foggy window, but what I saw was a Nordic winter wonderland. I had never been to Scandanavia before but had always wanted to, and as a Los Angeles native have spent little time in the snow. I was captivated.
The Air Shuttle let us off at the Central Station in downtown Stockholm into the brisk night air. We easily found our hostel, City Lodge, only two blocks away. The close proximity to the station was our main reason for choosing City Lodge, and at $30 (including sheet rental) for the 18-bed dorm it was a good value for Stockholm, although more expensive than other hostels I’ve been to. We checked in, dumped our stuff, and went for an evening walk.
It was a quiet night in downtown Stockholm, with a blanket of snow on the ground and chill in the air. We got off the main road and walked on some smaller streets with buildings that had small businesses on the ground floors and apartments above. Almost all of the windows had a 5 or 7-pronged candelabra burning in the window. I was struck by this tradition but had no idea what it was about. I have since found out that this tradition is simply to bring light to the intense darkness of the Swedish winter. It’s very beautiful and comforting to walk around and see these lights burning in almost every window.
Once back at the hostel, we’d planned on having a quiet evening, but I threw a wrench in that plan when I discovered my wallet was missing! At first I thought someone had stolen it from me, which was a distressing thought, but the more I thought about it I was convinced I’d dropped it when getting off the Air Shuttle. The kind bearded Arab man at the hostel desk lent me his cell phone, and I called the Air Shuttle company. They picked up although it was late, took my information and told me to call back the following day.
The rest of that night was emotional. I called my credit card companies and placed a temporary hold on my account, but I was furious with myself and embarrased for pulling such a dumb rookie move on day 1 of being abroad. Here I was, making the adult decision of choosing to live abroad with my partner, but I was demonstrating a clear lack of responsibility. We went to bed later than we’d planned, and had our second night of no sleep due to the incredible snoring prowress of an Asian man keeping up almost every member of our shared 18-bed dorm. It was stunning. The sonic patterns of his snores alternated from a soft fluttering breeze to the vocalizations of an angry seagull to the bellowings of an elephant seal with seamless transitions. I was delirous with sleepiness, and pissed off, but I had to laugh.
Despite the night’s performance, or perhaps helped by it since we weren’t sleeping anyway, we rose early the next day to enjoy what little time we had in Stockholm. We walked around, crossing the bridge into Old Town Stockholm at sunrise (which was 8 am; Sweden gets a very brief amount of daylight during winter). The streets were empty, and most of the stores were closed, but we had a magical time wandering the tiny cobblestoned allies and admiring the quaint old buildings.
We made it back to the hostel around 9 and stuffed our faces with the European Continental breakfast. I’m never a big fan of American breakfasts, they are too heavy and sweet for me, but I love European breakfasts. Grazing on bread with jam, cheese, cold cuts, cereal, juice, eggs, fruit, and coffee is a great way to start the day before flying later.
We checked out and went to the station to catch the Air Shuttle back to the airport. We asked the kind Swedes working for Air Shuttle about my wallet, without much hope of actually getting it back. They were super sweet though, and took down my information so they could contact me if they found it. Not 20 minutes later, we were about to get on the shuttle when one of them came running up to me and told me that they’d found it! It was waiting for me with his friend who worked for Air Shuttle at the airport and he’d meet us at the drop-off point for Terminal 5. Holy shit! I couldn’t believe my luck. Grinning ear to ear, I felt like a celebrity as I boarded the bus and waved goodbye to the 3 smiling Swedes who’d worked so hard on my behalf. 35 minutes later, my precious wallet and I were reunited. I don’t know what I did to deserve that, but I took that stroke of luck as good tidings for the voyage ahead, as well as a sharp kick in the ass for me to realize that I am living my adult life and I need to be more responsible and aware of my surroundings.
More good luck happened at the airport. We were flying with Pegasus, another budget airline, to Turkey, and the kind woman at the counter let us take a larger bag as a carry-on rather than pay the exhorbinant fee for a second checked bag. When we got to security however, to my horror I remebered that I had several things in that bag that cannot be carried onto a plane. Things like scissors, aresol bottles of hair products, and computer speakers! Once again though, the Swedes were kind to us, and the mustachioed security guy let us keep all of our contraband possesions.
Clearly, Sweden was very good to us in our brief stay. I would love to be able to return one day and really spend some time there. But more strange adventures were to await us. Next time: snow in Istanbul!