But first…even though I promised I would only talk about Sweden, I have to tell you: (as this is his holiday) Columbus did not discover North America. And I’m not talking about the fact that the Vikings (or any other marauders/explorers) may have been here 500 years prior to 1492. You simply can’t discover some place when people are already living there. To suggest otherwise is insulting to Native Americans and I (apologies to my Italian friends) consider this ‘holiday’ morally reprehensible.
Now that I got that out of my system, more about our trip: The first few days after our arrival, August and I spent a fair amount of time just figuring out the basics. As I mentioned before, we began our stay with two nights in a very nice hostel, the STF Fridhemsplan. The commode and showers were communal, but we had a private room with two twin beds and a little flat screen TV, as well as free WIFI. When you check in, unless you’ve packed your own, you pay extra for sheets and towels. Everything is very spare and clean, and it is necessary to make up your own bed (as well as strip it upon departure).
This is where we made out first cultural misinterpretation. Swedish (perhaps European in general; when traveling in my youth I only had a sleeping bag) beds and bedding are just a wee bit different from ours. The beds consist of a large box frame with a very thin mattress on top (no springs as far as I could tell). They look as if they might be quite uncomfortable, but in reality, we found them vastly superior to the box springs and thick mattresses we were familiar with.
On top of each bed was a neatly folded comforter. The sheets consisted of one flat sheet and two sewn together in a sort of sack that we referred to as the swedish taco. We ended up placing the flat sheet down first, and then crawling into the taco before placing the comforter on top. It wasn’t until we arrived at our next hotel, where the beds were already made up, that we realized we were supposed to tuck the comforter in the taco (or duvet, its proper name). Ha!
Quite ingenious really, as you never come in contact with anything but freshly washed linens: in an American hotel the first thing I alway do is to remove the bedspread, as they don’t actually wash them each time. Nasty!
So this is as fine a time as any to say that one of the things I really loved about Sweden was how clean it was. For better or worse, (and despite some of my dirty habits, like foraging in dumps, flea markets and thrift stores), I have always had a thing about being clean; to the point of suffering a fair amount of derision in my time at the hands of those in my inner circle. Wouldn’t have happened in Stockholm, where I fit right in. Even the streets were kept very clean and rubbish free and it reminded me a bit of Disneyland (in a good way), where there is always someone walking around with a dustbin, picking up litter.
And then there is breakfast in Sweden. Truly a smorgasbord, (and included in the price of the room most of the time) with a wide selection of meats, cheeses, breads, museli, yogurt, fruit, cucumbers and tomatoes, juice and good, strong coffee. The quality of these offerings varied somewhat from place to place, but never the quantity. As I always wake up hungry, and breakfast is my favorite meal, I was enamored.
As August was still feeling lousy, our first day we spent walking around Stockholm center. By day two, we had some specific goals. One of our primary tasks was to find an adaptor for our laptops. August would be communicating with his girlfriend, Laura, via facebook and Skype, and he was already suffering some serious withdrawal. We went to several shops before we found what we needed, and then we walked over to the Stockholm Tourist Center, now conveniently located across from Central Station. It is a must stop for anyone unfamiliar with the city. Not only does it have a plethora of brochures, catalogs and maps, you can also speak to the lovely people behind the counter for more specific information (be sure to pick up a number for the queue as soon as you enter). A Stockholm Card can also be purchased here; a good option if you will be visiting several museums and riding public transport over a period of 1-3 days.
But back to day one. By the afternoon, August was needing a nap, so so we retired to the hostel. I was working on my blog in the lobby when I got an email from my friend Anja saying she would zip over on the bus for a quick rendezvous.
Anja and I became acquainted through an online support group for lung cancer. I ‘friended’ her, and we began an email correspondence. It was almost a year ago when I told her of our plans to come to Sweden. She impulsively invited me to her upcoming birthday party. I requested a rain check, and when I told her that August and I would be coming in September, she asked us not only to join them (her husband Ingo and their son Otto, who turns three today!) for dinner at their apartment, but to also accompany them to a summer house on the archipelago that they are renting from a friend.
Anja has also been reading the blog, so she felt in a way as if she already knew me. When she walked into the lobby we embraced for the first time and began what quickly evolved into a truly magical connection.
Funny; it was as if we were set up on a blind date based solely on the fact that we both had advanced lung cancer and I wanted to visit Sweden and she lived there. As it turned out, we would have become fast friends under any circumstances. After I arrived back in New Hampshire David asked me what was the most exciting aspect of my trip. Everything was exciting, but in addition to sharing this experience with August, meeting Anja and her family was the most special.