Okay, back to Stockholm… You’re keeping up with me, right?
I hate winter. I know, I know. You aren’t supposed to hate anything. But I really do hate winter and everything about it. I hate everything about winter; being cold, snow, bitter wind that cuts through the warmest of clothing, short days. None of it is appealing to me. Oh, it’s pretty for a minute, but it inevitably ends up dirty and messy. So color me surprised, when I went against common sense and booked a trip to Stockholm at the end of November. But I was up for the adventure; after all I booked this during the summer. You know… when it was warm and sunny. Far removed from winter where the days were cold and oh so short. But once again, a harried travel schedule put me behind the eight ball and I was spending my Thanksgiving running up and down stairs, trying to fit in family time in-between laundry and packing. To say I was distracted would be nothing new however it turned out to be a costly mistake (see previous Stockholm blog entry).
On the heels of a business trip to Copenhagen, I headed north to Stockholm for a few down days. It is such a long journey to get from the Pacific Northwest to Europe, I cannot fathom going all that way for a few days of work and trying around and making the trek back. Fortunately for me, I’ve always managed to tack on a few personal days to extend my trip just long enough to adjust to European time and give me the kind of jet lag that makes me lethargic for a week.
To be fair, I did my homework before I left. I knew the days would be short and the temperatures on the cold side. I brought layers, a [what I thought was a warm enough] coat, gloves and scarf. The 10 day forecast didn’t look too shabby so I was overly optimistic that I would experience the kind of “winter” I had the previous year in Copenhagen. No such luck. Even as I making my way to Denmark, Murphy was preparing what I’m sure he felt was a suitable welcome for such a fair-weather person. The sunny days in the mid 40’s gave way to rain, no make that snow, in the low 20’s. This. Will. Be. Fun.
I landed in darkness and it took a good hour to get from the airport into the city. Of course, I could have taken the train but I wasn’t about to maneuver my bag, heavy backpack and tired self through a train station in the dark, cold, wind and rain. Call me crazy. So an expensive cab ride was the only viable option. It was during this ride as I sat back listening to the radio station that I wished I could understand Swedish. I tried to imagine what they were saying and after a while, I realized I could [understand Swedish]. Wow, it really isn’t that difficult! Shortly thereafter I realized it was English. So there went that theory. Apparently, I couldn’t understand it after all.
One of the many fun things about traveling to another country is the hotel room. One never quite knows what to expect when you open the door. This one was no different. In fact, just opening the door was unique. It opened to the outside (hallway), rather than in. The door was larger than the frame and the knob was tiny. Inside, the room was tiny with two beds pushed together, a desk the size of a tray table, two funky chairs (one padded, one wooden – neither comfortable) and a wooden floor that was uneven. Surprisingly, there were three channels that had English speaking shows. Typically, you can find BBC and CNN and a 50-50 chance at a UK sports channel. Now the bathroom was an experience. It had your standard equipment but with a curved glass wall that you opened to block the toilet and [hopefully] keep your towel dry. It sort of worked. The bathmat was pretty useless though. And no washcloth. I don’t get why most of Europe don’t seem to use them. The hotel was nice enough. My only complaint comes from the lack of response when I called down to reception to report a party – yes, a party – in the room next to me that spilled into the hallway. I have a low tolerance for noise on any given day but this would have sent the most tolerant person over the edge. I called down three times before it was taken care of (this was after midnight). I’m not sure what finally spurred the appropriate reaction but it might have been my threat to call down every 2 minutes until it stopped. Like I said, I don’t like noise.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, my first day was spent in the rain, replacing my umbrella and finding warmer attire. In hindsight, I could have left all my jeans at home. The long underwear I wore underneath and the wet snow only caused them to fall off me so I ended up wearing leggings. Once it turned to snow, it was easier in most ways (less wet, easy to take pictures, etc.) except for walking. Trudging through the wet snow was like walking on a sandy beach but much more slippery. The cobblestone streets were quickly iced over and provided no traction. Yet, I persevered. Going in and out of extremely warm buildings and back into the cold made it challenging to maintain the ideal body temperature. By the afternoon, I had no choice but to head back to the hotel for a couple of hours to warm up and add additional layers. By dinner time, I would head out again looking for food and an opportunity to see the city in the snow at night. The reflection of the lights made it seem bright for being so dark. (Yes, I know what I did there.)
Despite the weather and the short days, I did enjoy a boat cruise around the harbor and walking around Gamla Stan (Old Town). The Vasa Museum had the coolest Viking ship, made entirely out of Oak that sunk in the harbor in 1628, less than a nautical mile from its origin. I was ready to head home by Saturday, dreaming of warmer weather and sleeping in my own bed.
Because it was a long ride from the airport and there was significant snow and ice on the roads, I asked the guy working reception for some advice on when to head to the airport for a 9 AM flight, assuming I would need to arrange for a taxi for an early departure. He said it would normally take 45 minutes and I should allow twice that amount of time due to the road conditions. Wow, really? So that put me around 5:30 AM for a departure. I hemmed and hawed and opted to go with his advice. After all, he lives there and better safe than sorry (I always allow at least 2 hours for international departures). In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he was getting even with me for my calls the previous evening. First of all, the taxi wasn’t there on time so I waited an additional 15 minutes in the lobby. Then it took all of about 30 minutes door to door, so I was at the airport by 6:15. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to check in for my flight to Newark and sped through security like a pro. Immigration would wait until I actually went to the gate. I headed to Starbucks which was in another terminal (as always). It really didn’t matter as I had plenty of time and a nice, long walk sounded good (I loathe sitting for extended periods of time and lord knows, I was going to get plenty of opportunity to sit with three flights). Another pleasant surprise awaited me once I got there. There was no line (the airport was a ghost town) and the barista was from the UK and familiar with affogato style so I knew my drink would be made correctly the first time. Both girls were chatty and I enjoyed visiting with them about my travels, the many Starbucks I have visited and drinking cold coffee on a wintery day. I then proceeded to get into a rather lengthy chat via text with my sister and before I knew it, I had an hour until my departure. Where did the time go? I didn’t even get to visit the lounge. I decided I’d better make my way to the other terminal (it was about a 10 minute walk) and I still had a lot of Swedish currency to dispose of. I passed several shops but thought it would be better to shop closer to my gate just in case. Bad choice as I discovered there were no where near as many options. That’s what happens when you make assumptions. Not one to buy tacky souvenirs, the choices were poor and I was running out of time because I still had to go through immigration. Guess my souvenirs would be a whole lot of change and I would be visiting a currency kiosk sometime in the near future. Immigration was no fuss, no muss and with priority boarding I was soon settling in my seat. Once again, I didn’t think through the implications of seat selection and as it turns out, 1A kind of sucked (757-200 for those in the know). If the curtain to the galley was closed I had no issues but unfortunately, they rarely keep it closed so I enjoyed the bright light through most of the flight. Not that I wanted to sleep, but it did seem to be shining in my eyes which was annoying.
We arrived 20 minutes early in Newark. I don’t know how to explain it but there is something about landing in the US after being overseas. I don’t care if it’s been a week or months. There is this feeling of being “home” where you don’t have to worry about currency, adapters or anything remotely foreign. It never fails, no matter where I’ve been or how much fun I’ve had, I love that feeling of touching down in my own country.
Crazy as this may sound, I chose the long way home just so I could hitch a ride aboard the Dreamliner, Boeing’s latest. United is the first US carrier to get the 787 and they are flying them domestically to break them in before they become international planes, on routes such as Denver to Tokyo or Houston to Laos. This was going to add several hours but at the time, it sounded like a great opportunity. Now several other routes that had scheduled the Dreamliner had an equipment swap so I held my breath I was actually going to get to ride. It was great to get to my gate and see it ready and waiting. Did I mention I was first class, too boot? Other than the obnoxious complainer next to me, it was a fun ride, made extra special by the crew. We land in Houston and I said goodbye to comfort, knowing the last leg would be the hardest (even in First since the seats are no where near as good as BusinessFirst). Spoiled, yes. Travel diva, maybe. Okay, yes. I think I’m just about there. Don’t judge, however. I was perfectly content in economy (okay, that’s not exactly true) but until you experience Business/First class travel you live in a state of ignorance and don’t understand what you are missing. Once you go up front, it’s awfully hard to go back. I’m fortunate that my business travel allows for comfort and I’m able to collect enough miles to upgrade myself for personal travel. Trust me, if I had to shell out big bucks, I ‘d be sucking it up in the back with everyone else. I may be a diva, but I’m a cheap one at that.
Already have some new destinations lined up next year as well as some old favorites. Until then, peace and joy to you and yours.