the first stop on our ten-day tour of scandinavia was a two nights’ stay in stockholm, sweden. landing in sweden was a big moment for me as i’ve never been to europe before. over the summer, i found that each time i had the opportunity to tell someone what i was doing with my life increased my excitement yet another notch. even more than describing my pending move to london, i looked forward to telling them about this trip to scandinavia – two nights in stockholm, three nights in tallinn, estonia, and a final four nights in helsinki, finland. not only was i traveling to europe for the first time, i was about to see a corner of the world not often visited by the average american in europe. i experienced this feeling yet again as kim, emily, and i explained our reason for visiting to the customs officer in the stockholm-arlanda airport. my heart leaped at the sound of the stamp in my passport!
touching down on the runway, the first thing i saw out the window was trees – row after row of gorgeous pines. exactly what i’d always pictured in my mind of the country. as we walked down the terminal to the baggage claim, the three of us immediately noticed the incredible quiet that pervaded the building. not just i
n the voices of the people around us, who spoke in low, hushed tones, but also in the decor of the terminal. no neon. no flashy signs. nothing screaming at us. it was all so subdued. the intense quiet continued on the streets of stockholm and into the city. everything seemed so ordered, so in place. we had to catch ourselves so many times from being too loud. sitting around in the dining area of our hostel one night, we had to laugh at another group of americans who clearly hadn’t caught on. all of the other travelers sat to themselves, quietly continuing on conversations, but a group of three american guys boisterously discussed whether or not to label their food in the hostel refrigerator. thankfully, we picked up on the subdued tone of the europeans around us, but we’re still intrigued as to the source of their silence.
back to the stockholm airport, it’s hard to express the huge sigh of relief we all let out as each one of our bags came down the luggage ramp. we did it! i am amazed at how much i have to be grateful for here. each time we get on the right bus, go down the right street, connect to the right flight, or arrive at our hostel is such a small yet wonderful accomplishment. when we reached our stockholm hostel, it wasn’t yet check-in time, so we left our bags in the luggage room, freshened up a bit, and set out for gamla stan, the old town of stockholm.
(somehow in the rush of packing, i forgot to pick up my usb cord connecting my camera to my laptop. thankfully, it’s being shipped to london, but until then, i’m afraid i’ll be using google images to supplement my writing…)
gamla stan was gorgeous. i cannot repeat that enough. it was everything i had always envisioned about europe – cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, town squares, brownstones, window boxes overflowing with geraniums. our first afternoon, we wandered through gamla stan for hours, even passing the same italian cafe close to ten times as we learned to navigate that part of town! when we were close to passing out from hunger, we stopped at a little cafe where emily and i feasted on crepes with jam and whipped cream – pannkakor m sylt o gradde. delightful!
as we walked around in a place steeped in beauty and history, we all kept saying, “i can’t believe we’re here, this is so surreal!” and as surreal as walking the cobblestone streets of an almost 900-year old european town is, it also felt so oddly natural. it was the strangest juxtaposition of emotions. it has always been the biggest dream of mine to see europe and it was a dream that i knew would eventually be realized. it had always been a matter of timing or finances, and i kept waiting for my first opportunity to visit europe. after months of planning and working and saving, i had finally arrived. all i could say was, it’s about time! i felt so at home in stockholm. maybe it was my blond hair and blue eyes that helped me not stand out as a tourist, but it felt so comfortable. i was talking to a good friend of mine the other night on skype, and we discussed the fact that there is a basic set of city navigational skills – reading a map, learning to take the subway, etc. – that once you have learned and somewhat mastered, it’s not hard to get around in a city, minding the language barrier, of course! when you feel comfortable navigating a city, you don’t feel that out of place – even in a city where you don’t speak the language.
speaking of knowing the language, kim, emily, and i taught ourselves a few swedish phrases so we wouldn’t feel so american in stockholm. hello is “hey”- easily enough – and they often repeat it, greeting you with a cheerful, “hey hey.” not far from that is “hey do,” which means good-bye, and thank you is “tack.” even learning those few phrases helped me feel more at home in sweden. i found myself really wishing i knew the language, feeling ignorant and so american that i could only speak english. when i was in high school, i loved foreign languages and even thought about going on to work as a translator. when i got to college, though, the difficulty of upper-level language classes was intimidating and i didn’t continue on with any language. being in stockholm revived my love for languages. it’s frustrating to me that so many americans only know english. i was astounded by the number of swedes who spoke english, and even our tour guide today in tallinn was able to converse in several different languages. but there were moments when i stood in line at a grocery store or at the stockholm airport and said, “hey hey,” and the employee would begin speaking to me in swedish. i was so excited they thought i was swedish. of course, i quickly followed my “hey” with “i’m sorry, can you repeat that?” but at least i had a temporary connection with them!
i’ll leave you with one more shot from Gamla Stan…