Half-joking that I came for the cold didn’t make many people laugh over there. I could understand so I stopped saying it, but after 5 years without being in a proper winter, it felt really good to me anyway. This post comes in reverse chronological order, as I stopped over in Sweden before going to Norway. On the 9th of Feb I flew from Cape Town to Copenhagen via Johannesburg and Munich, then took a train to Malmo (Sweden). On the flight somewhere over Africa there was a huge lightning storm in the distance, something I’d never seen from the air before, which made the pilot take a decent detour! My intended destination was Stockholm and I wanted to take a train from Copenhagen just to experience that again; watching the landscape and let the feeling of being there sink in. You know when you fly somewhere radically different and you feel stunned when you arrive? As if you teleported? I like to take a bit more time and appreciate the transition. Anyhow, it turned out that the Swedish SJ trains don’t go to Denmark any longer due to a new immigration policy. Knowing that in advance I had bought a ticket from Malmo (across the bridge from Copenhagen) to Stockholm and figured it wouldn’t be too hard to cross the bridge. Indeed it wasn’t, just having to show my passport I took a smaller train and off I was in the dimmed winter light (not the photo below!).
One thing I was reminded of and appreciated so much again on this trip, is how people trust others not to steal their luggage! You can be sitting on a long bus ride or a train that stops regularly and be confident that your bags will still be in the luggage compartment when you arrive, even though anyone could take them at any of the stops! Obviously I still kept my camera bag and travel documents with me. Most people surely keep their essential valuables with them and this must be a reason why no bags are stolen. Speaking of bags, I had a 15kg backpack, a 5 or 6kg camera backpack and the handy “man bag” for travel documents: a good training carrying those around. I disembarked in Stockholm late evening and it already felt much colder than Malmo. Following the indications of my friend Daniel to his place, I got there after a metro ride and walk. I was greeted with a stunning view of the city from his apartment on Thursday evening and was so thrilled to be in this place again. Daniel is a great skier, windsurfer, paddler and more, he’s a PR professional and has published articles in various sport magazines, so it was really great to catch up and hear more of his experience, in a field that is increasingly relevant to my work right now. He also told me about what has changed in Sweden since I lived there in 2010/11, mostly regarding right wing parties getting more seats in parliament, the overload that immigration has placed on the country’s public services and hence the closed border with Denmark, the increased number of homeless people, etc. From hearing him I had the feeling that Sweden and her culture felt somewhat stressed and uncertain, but I guess it must be the case in a few countries in Europe. At his level, a Swedish citizen, he is dedicating more free time to help immigrant children with their schoolwork and learning Swedish, on a voluntary basis. I found this really inspiring; an act of going towards foreigners, helping them understand and hopefully appreciate the Swedish culture and all its beautiful facets.
Back to the trip update – thinking that I had till Sunday afternoon in Stockholm, I didn’t do much on Friday (also due to bad weather) except for a few drinks at “Stampen”, a fantastic jazz pub in the old town. We were right at the front to see three amazing bands. The second one struck me the most, with such complicity and smiling between the guitarist/singer and what appeared to be her mentor, the older man singing and playing the harmonica. An all-women rock band also played in Swedish so I couldn’t understand, but they were fun to watch. There we also joined some of Daniel’s friends, one of whom works at Sea Rescue and who gave us a precious tip on where to go ice skating the next day.
After an incredible smoothie for breakfast Saturday morning, we ended up at Vallentunasjön, a lake that had a 30cm thick ice surface, topped off by almost 10cm of fresh snow. The snow cover meant that we couldn’t see the ice and bubbles or cracks it might contain, but probing it with poles and moving cautiously onto the lake revealed how solid it was. Despite some clumsiness in the start with Daniel’s long distance skates, it felt easier as we went on marking the soft snow with our blades. Most of what we were hearing was a light breeze that was slowly covering our tracks, and with the sunshine, it felt like we were much further into the wild than barely out of town.
In the evening we went to catch up with Seb, an old classmate, and to my surprise when checking my flight info for Sunday, I saw that I had to leave early in the morning! I’ll know to stay longer next time. Thanks Daniel for being a great host. Stockholm in winter is worth the detour…