Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sweden, February 2010.

Back in October Nid and I booked a holiday in Sweden. Who goes to Sweden in February, you may ask? Well, it's not as random as it appears. Nid has two friends, Johan and Anna, who live there. They came and visited Nid here in Leicester several years ago, and figuring this may be our last chance to go, we jumped at the opportunity.

On Saturday, February 13, 2010 Nid and I left bright and early. Our journey took us from Leicester to London Stansted Airport to Gothenburg, Sweden. We had first class tickets on the train, and our seats were in this cute little part of the train with just seven other seats, and only one of them was taken. It was great! Sweden is an hour ahead of us, and we got there just before 4pm their time. I am not a great flier. I just don't enjoy it. At all. Nid loves to fly. Landing in Sweden was an experience. It was a smooth enough landing, I suppose. Aside from the fact that we BOUNCED once before slowing to a stop. In the middle of the runway, where they let us off and we had to walk across ice and snow to get into the terminal.

We did not want to deal with pay for extra luggage, so we each only had our one carry on backpack, so getting through customs was pretty quick for us. Nid got to go right in because this is the European Union and he has a British passport. I had to go up to the window and tell them why I was there. The guy was really nice.

Customs agent: Are you familiar with Richmond?
Me: I lived there for six years before moving to England.
CA: Do you know Lamb Of God?
Me: I know *of* them, but I've not heard them.
CA: They are my favorite band, and they're coming to Gothenburg next month.

Needless to say, I was surprised by the whole conversation. Passport stamped, we continued out the waiting room where Johan was waiting for us. The Gothenburg City Airport is tiny. Tiny. We greeted Johan and set off for his home, about two hours from Gothenburg. The main thing I learned that first day, was that Sweden looked a lot like Virginia! They drive on the right side of the road, they have a million trees, and mountains! Even the building construction is more like Virginia than England. It was like going home again. They even had a couple feet of snow on the ground, which is what it's been like this winter in Virginia as well. I ended up sleeping for most of the journey to their city home. We met his wife Anna there, their 18 year old son Anton, and their two rottweilers Lewis and Tasha. We had a bit of cake there (Anton's birthday was earlier in the week) and then drove about 30 minutes to their country house, where we were going to be staying for the week. It's located on 200 acres of beautiful land. We stopped on the way at a grocery store, and it was weird seeing familiar items with foreign names on them. Johan fixed us dinner of Venison burgers and chips, which was delicious! We drank some local beers and had some wine, and had a nice relaxed evening.

Sunday was our First Wedding Anniversary! We all slept in, and when we'd had some breakfast went for a long walk. A really long walk. The first part was along a road that was cleared for trucks to take out lumber. It was lovely, and easy to walk. When we got to the end of it, they said do you want to go back the way we came, or go the longer route? Nid deferred to me, so I said, lets do the longer route. Through knee deep snow. For miles! Well, it seemed like miles. I know it was at least a couple. I'm too short to walk that far through snow that deep. Once we emerged from the deep snow, Nid and Johan went through more deep snow back to the house while Anna and I walked the long way around on the plowed road. About a mile (or more) from the house Nid and Johan came into sight in the car. They drove us home. I was exhausted. We'd been walking for nearly two hours, and while I can walk all day under normal circumstances, that just killed me. I wouldn't have traded the experience, but I was glad to get home and have a hot shower!
Once we were cleaned up we went into town and got dinner at a Max's. It was fast food, and the menu was all in Swedish, so I picked out a burger that looked good and Johan told me what was on it. It was very nice. After that we went to a hockey game. HC Dalen is the local team. I had never been to a hockey game, and learned a lot about the sport that night. Nid tried a Swedish hotdog, but I was too full from dinner. After the game we went to the a large store called COOP, but pronounced Co-Op. It was like a Super Walmart, a little of everything and a lot of groceries. I got a little bag of chocolate covered banana chips. Yummy!

Monday morning we (the four of us) went into Jönköping for some sightseeing. We drove through the town of Huskvarna, and saw their factory. We tried to go to the Match Museum, but it was closed. We went to a coffee shop and had a Semla and I tried a Chocolate Ball. We went to Polkapojkarna and got handmade peppermint sticks for the kids. At another shop I got some chocolate chip biscuits. We went to a pier on the lake in Jönköping and walked to the end of it. The lake is mostly frozen, and it was so beautiful how the ice had frozen in ripples. Later in the day we saw on the news that a body was found frozen in the ice right next to that very pier. I searched my photos, but did not see any signs of a body. I am so morbid. At home again we watched an episode of East Enders and Withnail And I. Not really my taste, but it was good exposure to British TV, since we don't watch any at home.

Tuesday Anna had to go back to work, so Johan took Nid and I to Gothenburg. We walked around the city, and I continued to be amazed by how well they deal with snow there. It was piled high, but the roads were cleared (or at least the snow was packed). We went to the City Museum, and Nid and Johan entertained themselves making up history and stories to make the less interesting parts more interesting. The Viking section was quite good. Unfortunately, the 18th Century was closed. That led to quite a few jokes during the day. We went into a tourist shop, where I got a cool platter/serving tray with moose on it. Sweden is famous for it's painted wooden horses, but the Germans apparently like the moose. In fact, they like them so much that they use to steal moose crossing signs, so now they sell them in the shops to reduce the number of street signs that were being stolen. It was hard picking a souvenir because we are downsizing for the move, but I figured a tray would be usable for serving coffee, or decorating the mantle in the winter. It was a bargain, as well.

Speaking of bargain, I should explain the money. In Sweden they have Krona. The exchange rate while we were there was about 13 Krona to a British Pound (£), which is about $1.60 US Dollars. At first everything looked so expensive, but then I got in the hang of dividing it by 13. Of course, it would've been easier if it was an easier number to divide by, but I did pretty good. Post cards were nearly 50p each, which I thought was outrageous, so I only bought a few.

Wednesday we went to Jönköping again. The Match Museum was open, and a lot more interesting than we had thought it might be. We bought a collection of safety matches that are 'Made In Sweden.' We went to a shopping mall, and I enjoyed looking in some of the housewares stores. At one place I saw some place mats and hand towels that I really liked, but did not get. We left the mall but ended up going back. I was still hesitant, so Nid bought them for himself. Love you baby! We went to coffee shop and had another Semla. This time, we had the one that was voted Best In Gothenburg. Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday. In England, it is also known as Pancake Day. In Sweden, Semla Day. The newspaper rates the best Semlas in the city, using match sticks instead of stars. The more match sticks, the better the Semla. Apparently people wait in lines down the street to get them. On Wednesday, however, there were no lines.

Thursday we took a drive around to the local ski slope. It was cold and windy, and I just don't know why people would want to slide down a mountain, but they seemed to be enjoying it. The view was beautiful. We saw 5 moose on the way there, and that was pretty cool. When we got back we took a nap, and all of us overslept. We almost didn't get up in time to pick Anna up from work. After we did, we went to Ikea. I'd seen an Ikea every day that we'd been there, but this was the first time we went in one. It was so very similar, yet so very different. Some of the styles were a bit crazy, and of course I couldn't read any of the details, but I did get some ideas for things when we move into the new house. For dinner, we went to a little pizza joint.

Friday was our last day in Sweden. We thought. We got four inches of snow overnight. Anna was off, and we took a tour of the buildings on the farm, through knee/thigh high snow. We watched the Olympics (we'd done this most days, but it was all in Swedish, so not always easy to follow) and napped. We had dinner in Jönköping, and Nid got his favorite food. Steak. It was a very nice restaurant, and I had a lovely desert of Belgian waffle with ice cream and raspberry sauce on the side. We were seated right next to a fire place, and it was a great ending to a great day. We went home and went to bed early, because we had to be up at four am and out of the house by five.

Saturday morning it was a bit sad getting ready to leave. We had had the most amazing week. Good food and good friends, what more can you ask for? After saying goodbye to Anna, we were out the door right at five. Because it had been snowing since Friday, we were not sure how the roads would be. We were the first car out to the main road, but once there the roads were okay. I napped. I tend to do that when I am riding in cars. We got to the airport at 7:30, and were pretty much the only people there. We said goodbye to Johan, and he headed back home. It was still snowing. Our flight was at 10:15, with check-in starting at 8:15. There was nothing open in the airport at this time of day. When the check in window opened, I got my papers stamped. Then we went through security. We waited there for about 20 minutes until Passport Control opened. When we got to the next room, we should have known we were in trouble. Through the glass wall, we could see the runway. Or rather, if there wasn't several inches of snow, we could have seen the runway. There were trucks and plows, but they were not winning the battle. It was still snowing, and the wind was whipping. But I figured, it's Sweden, they know what to do with snow. But it turns out that this is the worst winter they've had in decades. Excellent, right?

Our flight was to depart at 10:15. At about that time, with us all standing in queue to board, they canceled the flight. Not delayed, canceled. I was stunned. What do we do?! We had been talking to a really nice guy from London, Khuram, who traveled regularly to Sweden. He explained what normally happens in these cases. We started filing out, but since we were the first in line, we were at the back of the new line. Or we would have been if we'd have had to collect bags. We stood in a little hallway for ages, then finally pushed our way out. The lobby was packed. There were over 200 passengers all lined (10-15 wide) up to talk to the people at Information. Information was two desks. We went and sat in another waiting room to let the room clear. I kept checking it. When I saw Khuram about 10 people back from the desk I asked him about what he was hearing - they were offering full refunds or to book on another flight. The only problem was, the airport was so small, only two flights to and from London came and went each day. I went and got Nid and we stood in line with Khurum. It took us nearly 30 minutes to get to the window. Khurum got the last Sunday night flight, his friend got the last Sunday morning flight, and Nid and I got put on Sunday night. There were only six left at that point. I was so frustrated at that point, because we'd had first class train tickets to get from London to Leicester, and we were losing our money on that. We were in communication with Johan via text, and he offered to book us a hotel if we could get to town. The bus from the airport to town wasn't running regular with the weather, so no one could tell us when it would be coming. I waited in line again at Information, and while I was there, a nice young Swedish girl offered me her bus ticket to town because her parents were coming back to pick her up. While in line (this was the end of the original line from our flight) I heard them booking people for Tuesday flights to London. I was so glad that we didn't have to wait that long to leave, but realized that if our flight didn't go out Sunday night, we'd be looking at Wednesday or later. Information finally confirmed that the bus would be coming (I didn't want to buy tickets if it was not going to show) and I went and told Nid and went to the shop to buy them. A lady we had talked to before heard me and offered me her tickets from town to the airport that the bus driver had not collected that morning. I was so grateful! Instead of having to pay 120 Krona round trip for each of us, I only had to pay 60. We had to go out to the front of the airport where there were no seats to watch for the bus. After several trips back to the Information booth, they finally said it was on it's way. Thank goodness!

It was 3:15pm when we got on the bus. It was suppose to be a 25 minute ride. At 3:30 the bus ran off the road into a ditch. I was tossed from my seat, but managed to hold onto the railing, preventing myself from falling to the other side of the bus. It hurt my elbow that was injured in my bike accident pretty bad, and I had to dig out ibuprofen to ease the pain. The bus driver, in halting English, tried to be jovial. He said that if anyone was in a hurry, he could call a taxi and they could go through the roof hatch. Right. I was crying and cold (he had to turn the bus off) and tired. We should have been home in Leicester already. Thankfully, the tow truck didn't take too long, and it got us out pretty quickly. It was actually pretty interesting. There was a photographer with the tow truck, and he was taking photos. So I took some of him. We wondered if we would make it into the paper. We set off again, and got to Gothenburg around 4:40-5pm. We caught a taxi to the hotel, and got swindled. We had been warned to only take Gothenburg Taxi taxis, and this one said it. But when he offered us a flat rate and did not use the meter, we should have known. But it had been a long day.

The sight of the hotel was glorious. It had a beautiful entrance, and the guy at the desk was just great. We were in our room in less than a minute or two. We dropped our things and set off to find dinner. We ended up at the same Burger King we ate at on Tuesday, when we were in Gothenburg. When Nid asked the cashier (Carl) if he spoke English, we were delighted when he said that he actually preferred to speak English over Swedish. We had a nice chat with him while we were waiting for our food. This had been one of the most stressful days of my life. We'd been texting John and Ann, and they were going to bring the kids to our house and stay the night Sunday. When we were walking up the street, a lady spat at us and I assumed cussed us. We turned as she passed and she was turned back to us muttering. We've no idea what she was saying, but based on her expression it can't have been good. Back in the hotel, we watched some TV and crashed.

Sunday morning. The hotel had a very nice breakfast, which I was grateful for. The same guy was at the front desk, and we chatted while I checked my email and the Ryanair website on the lobby computer. There were some conflicting reports on the Gothenburg City Airport website and the Ryanair website, which had me worried. Right before we checked out, Nid got a text from Khurum saying he was on his flight and planes had been landing and taking off all morning. We were happy about that, but we don't know why he didn't go out Saturday night. The desk clerk told us he saw the photo of our bus in the paper. He showed us, and then gave us the paper to keep. We made the front page! The taxi came and it cost half what we'd paid the night before to get to the bus station. Thankfully this bus did not crash, and we got to the airport at 1:30pm. Our flight wasn't until 9:15, but we did not want to risk not being able to get to the airport. It was a long afternoon, just sitting and sitting and more sitting.

I know I said before that the airport is tiny. It's really tiny. Outside of security there is a cafeteria, a small gift shop, and only five sofas. The rest are plastic chairs, all but about ten of them are in the cafeteria. Before you get through security there is a lady who checks your passport and tickets (again), checks that you only have one bag and weighs it. I am amazed that ours were under 10kg! Once you go through security, there is a small bar and another gift shop. You wait there until Passport Control opens. You get your passport checked and stamped to exit the country. Then you go into one of the two boarding areas. There is nothing in these rooms but one bathroom and a lot of plastic chairs. But not enough, it turns out for the entire flight of people.

They started checking in our flight at 7:15pm. We were the first in every line. On Ryanair, you don't get assigned seating, so it really is first come first serve, and people sometimes do not end up sitting next to the person they are traveling with. The room we waited in after Passport Control was a disgrace. There were wine glasses and beer bottles sitting around the room. Nothing stopped someone from putting it in their luggage and boarding the plane with it. A broken off beer bottle makes a hell of a weapon! Nid went and told the lady at Passport Control. Ages later a security guard came in. If Nid hadn't pointed them out to him, he'd have never found them (laying out in easy view). He gathered them all together in a pile next to a chair and left. What?! Ages after that, a cleaning lady came in. The security guard must have told her to. Nope, she cleaned the bathrooms, swept up some trash, and left it. I guess nobody in Gothenburg is worried about security, terrorism, or their passengers lives. Great.

We boarded the plane about the time it was suppose to take off. We were waiting for Engineers that were working on another plane to finish so we could take them back to London. We sat on the plane for an hour and a half. It finally took off. I was so uncomfortable for the whole flight. I just couldn't bear sitting anymore!

We got to London at 11:45pm. We had a seemingly miles long walk to Passport Control. Where I had a bit of a meltdown. They didn't tell me I had to fill out a form, and they didn't have any pens with which to fill the form out with. What kind of shoddy business was this? A security/customs guy came over and asked what was wrong, and after I told him, he was completely on my side. He's coming to visit the US this summer. I may have said something to the effect of I was moving back in the summer and couldn't wait to get out of England. But it was all a blur, so I don't remember the exact words. Customs stamped me in, and if they were confused about why I had one entry stamp into Sweden and two exit stamps, I think all they had to do was look at my face at that point.

We walked the miles down to the bus station and bought overpriced tickets home. The bus arrived 30 minutes later and a LONG three hour, motion sick journey home we stopped in Leicester. I have never felt the need to vomit for such an extended period of time. My head was swimming and I was tired and in pain. We got a taxi and got home just before four am.

I unpacked what I could, started a load of laundry, and went on line, because I was too tired to sleep and had to be up in three hours anyway. Nid slept on the living room floor for a couple of hours because the grandparents were asleep upstairs in our room. I thought I would take a hot bath at about five, but the water didn't run hot. It was a very short, chilly bath, which only further frustrated me. It turns out someone had accidentally adjusted the water temperature instead of the radiator temperature. Good to know it wasn't just broken, but still sad that I had a cold bath after all that.

Monday morning the kids got up at seven, and left for school just before eight. John and Ann left around nine. Nid and I headed to the hospital for my doctor's appointment just before ten

What is the break-down of our journey?

We had 7 glorious days in Sweden.
It took us 36 hours to leave Sweden.
We were "coming home" for 44 hours.
We spent 19 hours in the airport.
We spent 1 hour stuck in a bus in a ditch.
We got spat at on the street.
Swedish people are very nice in general.
We had been awake for 40 hours when we went to bed on Monday night.
We slept for 12 hours Monday night.   My new pillowcase:

At my doctor's appointment Monday morning, a very nice Dr. Wheeler had my elbow x-rayed. Turns out I did break it in November when I wrecked my bike. It's still healing, which is why it still bothers me. Go figure, I broke my arm! And didn't even get it treated.

All of my photos are in the process of being uploaded here. There's nearly 700, so it is not a quick process.


Nid said...

Great blog Jenny! It was an amazing week and I loved every minute of it, even the extra one's we weren't counting on having. I think that old lady who spat at us was a few sandwiches short of a full picnic. Definitely not representative of the countless Swede's that made us feel so welcome there. I can't wait to go back! :)

Mykal-Ann said...

Wow Jenny (and Nid ;) ), what a vacation! I'm exhausted just reading about your journey home! That's definitely something you won't ever forget! I'm glad that you both had a great time with your friends. I'm sure you both had a wonderful first wedding anniversary together. :)

Thanks for typing that all out Jenny.

P.S. - Steak is my favorite food too, steak and a baked potato. Mmmm... :p

Keely said...

Wow, what an adventure! I'm jealous. I think my travelling days are behind me (or really far in the future).

Jenny said...

Nid - Thanks. I can't say I loved the final minutes, but up until arriving at the airport to leave, it was phenomenal. I know I wrote a lot more about the last 40 hours than the whole week before, but it was so great just being there, that I don't really have words to explain it in more detail.

Mykal-Ann - It was exhausting, but so much fun as well. And it was definitely an anniversary we won't soon forget! How do we top it next year?!

Keely - This will be our last adventure for a while, I'm afraid. When we move to the US in the summer, reality will descend upon us. But really, if you got to travel all the time, wouldn't it lose it's appeal? Cheers!

Michelloui said...

Wow, you always seem so BUSY! I have only been to Stockholm and only for a day, I would love to go back and see more.

And Happy Anniversary!!!

Jenny said...

Michelle - I do always appear busy, but I don't always accomplish much ;) Sweden was beautiful. Everyone there said we had to go back in the summer, and I would love to, but I didn't mind the weather much. It was a dry cold, so even though I felt it, it didn't chill me as much as I usually am here in England. I hope you get back there some day.

Thanks so much! And today (well, last night at 11:50pm) is my one year anniversary in England. Wow. Where has the time gone?

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