Friday, June 10, 2011

SE - Stockholm

June 10                 Friday                   Sweden                                                Stockholm                                         

Ug… despite the sun having not set, it still didn’t manage to feel like morning.  It felt like 4 am.  Then again, that’s probably because that’s exactly what time it was.  Up at 4, finish packing, 15-minute walk to bus station, 40-minute ride to airport, check-in, claim VAT refund, sit around until it’s time to board the plane.  That’s the plan.

Despite my morning incoherence and lack of dexterity, I found success in that I packed most of my stuff the night before… which was only 4 hours prior.  Just getting the few remaining gizmos away, I was loaded and on the move.  Somehow my stuff has multiplied significantly; despite only purchasing one small gift & a new camera… it seems the camera box, in particularly, makes a pretty huge impact on the bulk of my backpack.

It was cold.  Not as cold as it’s been in the past, but it was very early & I was in no mood for the cold.  Actually, just over the last day or two I’ve really kind of gotten fed up with the cold… I was elated when I learned that Stockholm was hitting about 25°C.  But until then: it was also snowing.  Well, flurrying… but still: I was glad to leave winter behind.

Check-in and the VAT refund went smoothly enough.  Then the wait began.  My flight – in addition to a slew of others – was hit with a 2.5 hour delay due to labor disputes at the airport.  Lovely.  So instead of arriving at lunchtime, a perfect time to, you know, eat… I ended up missing lunch entirely and arriving at dinnertime.  During my wait I came to notice that Keflavik Airport has a noted lack of chairs… only a couple bench seats & otherwise most people were just sitting on the hard tile floors.  Also: everyone was using carts to pull around their carry-ons!  Are people so lazy??  Are your carry-ons really that heavy?  It isn’t enough that your luggage already has its own wheels; you have to stick it onto an additional wheeled cart?

It was also 30°C upon landing, which when loaded with two heavy backpacks and trying to make your way across town to your hostel: that extra warmth was a bit much.  At least it wasn’t cold, anymore.  I got what I asked for.  I did kind of smile at the thought that friends back in the USA are experiencing temperatures upwards of 40°C.  So it could be worse.  Also, I’m kind of in a more exotic location than they are… so that’s good, too.

I had an aisle seat on the flight, seated beside two American guys who seemed fanatically nerdy (not geeky; I mean this with more negative connotations) and I’m also pretty they were gay (that’s only negative if you want it to be).  The dude at the window had a unibrow and immediately put the shade down… firstly, unibrows weird me out; secondly: I’m stuck in the aisle & he’s got my dream seat and he’s NOT EVEN GOING TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.  DON’T YOU SEE THE CAMERA I AM HOLDING??  Then the other dude is reading a book on quantum physics – one of those NY Times Bestsellers that dumbs it down for the layperson – and seems to be totally misrepresenting a number of things.  I’m not sure if he was doing that or the book was… but even from my email subscriptions to NASA, Scientific American, and Discover I’m knowledgeable enough to know that whatever he was saying wasn’t even in the right ballpark.  Then again, maybe that’s right… I kind of think a lot of our explanations for quantum shenanigans are a bit misplaced.  But I digress… the short of it is that I seemed to be slightly cranky.

But the stewardesses cheered me up.  With over a week in Iceland under my belt, with its general lack of attractive women, two of our five stewardesses were like supermodels in uniform.  The brunette looked like a thinner & taller version of my friend Rachel and the only adjective I can think of to properly describe the blonde is “swan”: she was tall, thin, and graceful.  Also both used makeup perfectly – particularly the mascara.  In general, I’m not a fan of makeup… but these two definitely did it well.  I’d find that contrasted with most other women in Stockholm who seemed to have made out with an artist’s palette.  Of course, being in a crappy mood I didn’t have any of my wits about me to try and start up a conversation… so that’s that.  Also it seems that every single daily post contains a reference to attractive women.  Yay hormones.

The ride between the airport & city could be made by train or bus… but I had to choose train, despite being more expensive.  Half the travel time was also a perk (20 min by train; 40 by bus), especially with my arrival totally 3 hours delayed.  However, something I wasn’t aware of is that the bus’ headways are 10 minutes… I assumed the train would be comparable.  Except there were apparently traffic problems on the rail line, leaving us at the station for 20 minutes.  So I could’ve taken the bus and at worst been 10 minutes later.  But I also love trains, so it’s OK.  I was a bit confused as to how the airport express rail line could have traffic, especially considering it appeared to operate on dedicated rail from station to station… my best guess is that perhaps a train had broken down at one of the segments which appeared to be single-tracked; or a train broke down somewhere and caused it to be single-tracked.  Perhaps some railfan friends can clear this up.

The T-Bana Metro system was a bit confusing in that I had no idea how to use the Stockholm Card to get on… I ended up going through the long line (which ended up moving remarkably fast) with an information window and the dude just wrote something on the card… then I walked through the turnstile.  I still don’t know how to use the card.  Then I tried to figure out which way to go… I only had to go one station, and seeing as I’m a transportation engineer – you know, I kind of do this stuff for a living – I figured this would be a breeze.  There were a bunch of lines heading south; I just had to hop on any of those.  But no… on the same track were northbound trains on one line and southbound trains on another line.  So I just guessed and it worked out.  But then my walk was another guess…. I ended up going around in a bit of a wide loop instead of the direct path, but it was only a 15-20 minute walk or so.

Another one for railfans to explain: Sweden doesn’t seem to follow the right-hand drive rule when it comes to trains… trains seem to come and go from any direction, with the Metro seeming to operate more frequently as left-hand drive than anything else.

By the way, my hostel is a boat.  Den Röda Båten Målaren (the Red Boat), along with the adjacent boat Ran (a white ship), and together they have a mixture of hotel rooms as well as bunk beds in cabins.  I have a 4-person mixed cabin, of which at the moment I have two roommates whom I have not yet met.  I dropped my gear and sorted things out a bit as I knew I’d be here a few nights, and then I made the mistake of laying down on the bed.  It was so difficult to get back up.  I was hot, sleepy, and my legs were whimpering… but a new city lay ahead.

So Stockholm… if Ford Prefect had done his research here; he’d have instead gone by the initials SVD.  There are bikes everywhere, of which SvD is one of the bike rental/sharing agencies.  The city has some pretty impressive bike infrastructure, making this certainly a bike-friendly city but less so a pedestrian-friendly city.  I say that mostly because there is water everywhere.  Not on the land, of course, but Stockholm generally occupies an archipelago.  If you’re walking around and aren’t paying attention, you can end up with a very very long trek back; whereas bikes can at least reverse course at a faster pace.  Ferries can sometimes help out, though, but I haven’t yet tested those out yet.  Stockholm also seems like one big interchange, albeit with a couple compact ancient neighborhoods within the loops.  I think that’s also a bit why it doesn’t feel too ped-friendly… while it really is pretty easy to walk from point A to point B, the immensity of the roadways makes it seem like you’re walking in the middle of a superhighway.

But apart from that… the old-timey downtown bids are quite lovely, with a myriad of views of the water making it a truly pretty city.  I certainly have other cities I prefer, but it absolutely fits the bill of a “European-class city”.  Alas, with the funky short opening hours of most things in Stockholm: museum touring will have to wait until tomorrow… and there is an immensity of museums.

So instead I sauntered about slowly and watched the people.  This is a city of mismatched couples… now I say this in the most hetero way, but up until today every single Swedish guy I have ever met had been a total hunk and awesome to chat with.  Granted, they were also all backpackers.  So I was a bit surprised to find that guys in Stockholm really aren’t too attractive… which is really fine by me.  Now contrast this with the ladies: I’m going to have a strained neck by the time I leave this country.  But by and large I’d say they stop at eye candy: to my surprise: the majority are clearly bottle blondes.  Here, in the world of blonde hair and blue eyes and it’s full of brunettes pining to uphold the stereotype.  They also smoke… and that’s what really does it for me.  And back to the dudes: it seems that a huge chunk of guys are gay… even in Dupont Circle I’m hard-pressed to spot so many instances.

The sun set for the first time in almost two weeks.  Not only did it get dark enough for lights to come on, but it actually got legitimately dark.  None of that twilight glow skirting around the northern horizon.  It’s nighttime; it’s really really nighttime.  And yet I’m still sitting here staying up late.  Of course it’s also a Friday night in the country’s capital: I have little desire to mingle with those crowds at this time; that’s just not my world.

1 comment:

  1. Which T-Bana station was it? If a line splits immediately next to the station (which trains headed simultaneously north and south could indicate), they would cross trains over to avoid conflicts. Or a track could merge for the station, then head off somewhere else. Usually we don't do that in America because the ridership usually isn't sophisticated enough to keep up with it.

    As for "congestion" on a rail line - it could happen, depending on where it was headed. Think of it like one of SEPTA's Chestnut Hill Lines. Most of the run is on its own tracks, but the final few miles in to 30th Street is shared with EVERY ONE ELSE. A slight delay or mechanical problem in another line can throw off their track slots, cascading in to delays.