I knew I’d be excited when I arrived at Stockholm Airport this morning, but I didn’t realise how excited I would be. There was obviously an ear to ear grin on my face, and it seemed to be noticed by a couple of people I passed coming in through customs, as they smiled back at me.
Getting through customs wasn’t without a drama. I have a stupid little momento of a holiday from the past – a rock – which I carry with me everytime I go on holiday. Well, it showed up on the scanner as a liquid based object, causing much alarm for a few minutes, and meaning I was the absolute last person to get through customs, The escalator had actually stopped by the time I got through. It wasn’t enough to take away the excitement I felt on arriving in Stockholm in such a different environment to the last time I was here, nearly two years ago.
It’s cold. It’s really bloody cold. Though I’ve just read in an email from Gustav that I’ve “brought the warm weather with” me. And there’s a completely different vibe about the place. There are virtually no tourists here, which compared markedly with the last time, in the midst of summer, and at that time, with Europride also underway.
The hotel I’m staying in – The Clarion at Skanstull – is reasonably empty. When I arrived early this morning – I took the bus, by the way, not the express train, so I could see more of the countryside – I came straight here, hoping to drop off my bag until today’s later planned 3pm check-in. “The room’s available now, if you like” the woman behind the counter told me.
Having dealt with the formalities of the day, including checking in, buying a beanie and some extra gloves, and buying a 30-dagarsbilljet (a thirty day public transport card, costing about $115 AUD at the moment), I headed off for the Stockholm Winter Tour.
In summer, when you go on the tour most of those on the tour spend most of their time on the top deck. In winter, it’s the complete opposite with everyone huddled up downstairs, although an American woman, two Brazilians and a German couple and I braved the conditions spending most of the tour on the top deck, though occasionally popping downstairs to avoid frostbite. As wonderful as the tour of the archipelago is in summer, it’s equally stunning in winter, especially when we started getting into the ice. The tour guide, who was excellent with a lovely warm sense of humour in her commentary, conceded at one point she would just forgot the commentary for a while, as we all made our way quickly to the top of the boat as we began breaking through the ice.
There were some great sights to see, including the boat refuelling stations which obviously have an important role to play in summer, but which were completely frozen in today. After a while being on top of the boat I started to get quite cold. For just a moment I wondered if I had pushed myself a little too far. My hands and feet weren’t numb, but they were getting close to it, despite all of the cold weather preparations I’d made. So I spent the final 20 minutes or so of the tour downstairs looking out the windows and enjoying a coffee.
Of course, it might have been that it just suddenly became deeply cold. When I popped into an Italian restaurant for lunch – lasagne and a glass of red wine to warm me up – I was really starting to feel the cold. But then I realised, I just needed to eat, and to come home and have a little afternoon nap. The impact of a 24-hour flight, a major weather change, and a major time-zone change cannot be underestimated.
After a little nap and some daytime Swedish television – it’s just as bad as ours – I headed back into the city for a look around Gamla Stan, and then finally around Sergels Torg.
As you walk around you need to watch your feet a bit more, which is a bit of a challenge for me. You know how some people walk around always looking down? Well, I’m one of those people who always walks around looking up, always looking at the sky, or the buildings or whatever. Today, I’ve learned I need to look down occasionally too, keeping an eye out for those well trodden paths in the midst of the snow that can help you avoid falling over.
The people are all dressed remarkably similarly: big black puffer jackets, jeans, beanies and boots. Thus, I look completely at home here.
I obviously still stand out a little in conversation. I’ve been really happy with my ability to shop, order lunch, and go about my daily business in Swedish. I’ve surprised myself, actually. But I obviously speak Swedish with a weird accent. As I’ve made these purchases, the people I’ve dealt with have looked at me to say… “you’re speaking Swedish, but it’s a weird kind of Swedish”. Unlike the last time I was here – in the midst of the tourist season – I’ve heard virtually no English, except for the bloke at the shop a little while ago when I bought the power convertor who responded in English to everything I said. I guess he wants to practice also?
After a bit of a mid-afternoon shock with the cold, now that I’ve slept a bit and eaten properly, I’m feeling quite okay with the chill.