I did it! I finally did it! And boy was I nervous about it.
Yesterday, I booked my longest trip ever. Many people perceive me as a well-travelled, cosmopolitan person. Let me tell you, when I have to book a flight costing four figures to the other side of the world, I am like a village girl that has never even entered an airport. The excitement! The anxiety!
The reason for sitting on a plane for 15 hours are my friend Emily and my cousin Kiarmin. Frankly, I am starting to doubt if it was meant for us to go places that take so long to reach and to have friends and family in places that we formerly believed were the end of the world where you’d fall off the earth. But here came study abroad programs and there was no going back – and to be honest, it would be a massive drawback in my personal life not to know these people residing in the Far West.
So I am going to Los Angeles and Vancouver in April. I will be farther away than ever before, currently I feel alternately like a pioneer looking for gold and an astronaut going where no man has gone before. But I am also very excited to return to my third-favorite country, to eat chili with Emily, shop at Dressbarn (the grandma dress store I found last time), learn more about California, and to for the first time see Canada, o Canada, the Sweden of America, just with a better head of government.
In other news: My friend Bianca and I formed a book club last year and had our second meeting last night. We discussed “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was our first book. Well written, but so uncomfortable to read as a woman. Our next book is Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” which I started right away yesterday. So far it’s pretty good!
Work and friends had me go to Berlin from Wednesday to Sunday. I was travelling from the far West of Germany to the fast East, basically from Holland to Poland. What I didn’t realize was that I was also going from 2018 to 1998. Fashion seems to return every 20 years, but really did anyone believe the ugliest items of the Nineties were to reemerge? I didn’t think wearing pants that are way too short, jeans jackets that are way too big and fanny packs would ever make their comeback. But Berlin people want to be avantgarde-cool at all times even if it looks perfectly ridiculous.
My stay included looking at locations from tunnels to tipis, attending a design event at the embassy, visiting a startup lab, and meeting with Ingrid, Michelle, Malin, and my cousin Felix. Malin had come to Berlin for our annual 2MH-weekend and we showed her the German capital for the first time. Even though I hope I will never have to move to Berlin, I will say that their second-hand-shops are really well curated, their hipster streets have the coolest cafés, their markets cater to my needs and they have Dussmann, a stationery and book store (that calls itself a “Culture Shop”) that I would go to every week if I could.
It has become a rule now that if I travel, I will catch a cold. This time was no exception, I returned sick and had less than two days to recuperate before my plane to Stockholm lifted on Tuesday, for work. It was my shortest trip to Sweden ever and one of my sweetest. Short enough to just take in the nice things, to import Västerbottenost (very important), and (more important) to spend some evening hours with my dear friend Bianca. Less than 24 hours after arrival, I returned to Dizzel, feeling like I now had travelled to the Eighties.
I’ve been in Eighties-Düsseldorf for 19 hours when I am leaving again, and again to Berlin. How much do you have to be home in order to make renting an apartment worthwhile? Asking for a friend.
I like abundance. Scarcity is not really my thing. That’s why I keep wondering if I live in the right country or the right part of the country because battles for space, a scarce ressource, seem to regularily occur in my life. On the train. At restaurants. In the streets. Or, like last Friday, at the movies.
I had already attempted to attend the local open air cinema two weeks ago. We arrived 5 minutes after they had opened the doors, just to find there was no way on earth we would get in. 90 seats, 200 people in line. And that was half an hour before the movie even started. So I still have not seen “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. In a way, it feels like back when I lived in a small town and had to wait for films to come out on DVD.
So this time, I was prepared. I told my friend Maike we had to be there early. We walked briskly to the venue, and I was in high spirits. Twenty minutes before the doors opened – surely we’d be among the first 90 ones. We arrived and the line was long, long. But I kept up my courage. Five minutes after admission started, two hipsters walked up to our part of the queue. The hipster girl, wearing a swimsuit and pants with dreadlocks, told us, “We counted and there is 90 people up to here”, pointing to seven people before us. “So I am sorry but you won’t get in. Anyone beyond that point won’t get in”.
The reactions to this verdict would have made great movie material themselves. The ladies behind us were certain that this was a joke and kept questioning the two hipsters in charge. “Are you saying this to make us leave so you two get a seat?” they even wondered, challenging their status as official admission staff. “No, we work here and the regulartory authorities are strict on this”, the male admission hipsters assured them. But to no avail – the 100 people still in line had formed a community of fate. We were not giving up our spots in the line.
As soon as people emerged from the building, voices asked “Are they leaving, are they?” The admission hipsters answered, sighing, “No, they are going to – the – bathroom! The space really is full already”. A man poked his head out from the theatre. “There is a free seat next to me!” he announced. “Someone can sit next to me!” This is pretty much like the lifeboats on the Titanic, I thought. Better get that last seat. Children and women first! The admission hipsters were not having any of it though. “If the seat is still free when the movie starts, we can talk about it. Maybe someone just went to – the – bathroom!” The lady who had already gotten her hopes up for the seat called after the man, “Put your hat on the seat!” Titanic. Lifeboats.
The situation was hopeless, we could have left. It was less our belief to obtain a seat than the highly entertaining scenes in the queue that kept us waiting. In lieu of popcorn, we began eating our melon snack. “Are you a press represenative?” we heard the admission hipster ask a woman. I stole a glance at my friend and said conspiratorial to Maike, “You’re a journalist! Maybe if you get out your press card…” But then the unexpected happened. The swimsuit girl appeared, informing the waiting crowd that it seemed there were four seats left. There was a couple before us and a Japanese girl. But we were two. The suspense was unbearable – how would this play out? Would the girl give up her seat? (After all this waiting, unlikely.) Would Maike sit on my lap? (For the entire 2 hours and 5 minutes? Not feasible.) It felt like a dream, like a very unlikely fantasy when the male hipster reappeared and announced the happy ending of this scarcity ordeal: “There are exactly five seats left now. Get in”.
Oh, and by the way, the movie was great, too.
“I love boats!” A informed me this morning. Or actually, you would probably call it mid-day, when we scurried through the severly disrupted Stockholm public transport system. Apparently this spring, the city decided that everything needs to go under construction. I mean everything. I can hardly find my way anymore in some places. And it is not enough with that: One of the major construction sites for the past years, the new commuter stations, have been running for only one year to be closed off to traffic now just when we are here. The reason? They found, after only a year, that the escalators are faulty.
We still made it to the public transport ferry eventually. A loves boats, so Helen 1 A Tours took him on a boat to a boat. (Catering to the client’s interests is crucial for the success of Helen 1 A Tours!) The Vasa Ship, legendary and unique, awaited us. I had not been to the Vasa Museum in 5 or 6 years and I always find it impressive to see this historical ship.
I hope I don’t have to explain the significance of fika to my blog readers at this point. Naturally, our next to do was getting a fika at my favorite café, Flickorna Helin, where aggressive birds steal your food and slow waitresses smile and tell you most things are sold out for the day. But the view! The view is stunning.
Also, they had the paper which I studied carefully. The front page had a German fire engine on it. Germany has now joined the team to battle the fires in the woods of Sweden. Several other EU-members have already sent help. Almost a billion Swedish crowns have already burnt down and it does not look like rain is coming any time soon.
From my time as a tourist officer in Stockholm, I still remember well what the top three sights are and it was only the last one, the first and largest open air museum in the world (and zoo), Skansen, that was missing on A’s list. That’s pretty good for 24 hours! Also, my favorite TV-show took place there tonight, so coincidentally we went there just today.
I have been attending Allsång på Skansen for five or more years in a row now and gradually assumed my role of Allsång ambassador which entails convincing friends to go there with me and educate them about this one-of-a-kind show. This year, it was Marita’s turn. We stood among all the Swedes and enthusiatically sang along to their summer songs (“The sand is wet, the girl is young, take me to the sea”) and I believe we actually ended up on TV! See below my five milliseconds of fame with my dearest Stockholm friend.
Allsång på Skansen always starts and ends with a Stockholm anthem in which the crowd declares its love to the city, singing, Of all the towns I’ve seen in the world, you are the one who got it all. I am not sure if A entirely agrees but his verdict about today’s Helen 1 A Tour was very positive: “I love being on the ferry, I love looking at sailing vessels, I love meeting nordic animals, I love köttbullar. I love all of this.”
“I’ve booked my trip to Stockholm with Helen 1 A Tours. So I don’t worry about anything”, A said contendly as we boarded the plane to Sweden. Because today, he set foot on Swedish soil for the first time ever. I don’t take people to Sweden usually. I don’t give Helen 1 A Tours to anyone (even though several people have requested it). But I am on a mission to #showhimthenorth, as faithful instagram followers know, and it was now time to show him the real North.
So now we’re here and we’ve strolled through Kungsträdgården, took the boat sightseeing tour, sat at the Stadshuset terrace and shopped at Åhléns. Tomorrow Skansen and the Vasa Museum awaits. I am taking this tourist thing seriously. At the same time, it feels funny to me because it was so long ago I first did these things, 18 years to be precise. When we were at the Tourist Center and I asked if he wanted to take brochures, A said, “That’s fine. I have a walking brochure with me”.
You know something is wrong with your blogging routines when your mother says, “You were in Stockholm? I didn’t even know you went to Sweden!”
So, yes – I was in Stockholm for work and our event started at 8 a.m. which meant I had to leave the house before 7. Marita was legitimately impressed with me managing to be up and running at what is a super early time for me otherwise. But – if you start early you can do so much! By mid-afternoon, I had checked off the event and four meetings off my list!
Social media had informed the world that I was in the Capital of Scandinavia which prompted a former co-worker to write to me. “I assume you are already completely overbooked?”, she asked and when I replied I actually was free for several hours on more than one day, I think she secretly thought some alien had taken possession of what used to be Helen. Keeping a somewhat freer schedule (compared to other people it might still have been cramped) was nice though because it gave space to this kind of spontaneity.
Dance like a mother
What also enabled spontaneity was the fact that my host parents, eeh, friends Marita and Fredrik are the most hospitable people on earth. Not only do I always get to live there and feel very much at home (actually, I kind of want to move to their house so I can always have that life), I also get to have spontaneous parties in their apartment. Saturday saw the finals of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish pre-selection for Eurovision which is a huge deal in the country. I asked if we could watch it. Sure! And maybe could William join? Certainly! Now Paul is free, too, and would like to come. That’s not a problem! Evelina can only meet during the evening, how about we invite her too? Go ahead, the more, the merrier! Umm, she’d have to bring her dog. We love dogs!
You get the idea.
I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea that I want to test winter sports. Maybe it was something I read about how when you live in Sweden, you have to embrace the winter instead of hating the cold. Or maybe I was worried I wouldn’t get to tag along the next time my friends would plan a ski holiday. In any case, I suggested to go to a friluftsgård and rent equipment to do cross country skiing. Only that when we got there, they didn’t have that kind of skis and instead offered us långfärdskridskor. Living up to my new-found adventuresomeness, I was all like, “Let’s try it!” Långfärdskridskor are a kind of ice skates, just that their blades are longer than normal. Let’s just say this: Marita and Julia were not only much better than me, they were also very supportive. (“Well done, Helen! Look at you, going two metres all by yourself! Hooray!”)
I was very surprised to find that there was close to nothing worth buying this time in the Swedish stores. Some patterns and cuts were made for people either much more or much less boheme than me (depending on the store and item).
I think my doctor jinxed it. Last Monday when I came to see her for some lab result, she said, “You look splendid!” Less than 48 hours later, I was in bed with a terrible cold, not looking splendid at all anymore.
If you wondered how I spent my 30th birthday, you now know: I sneezed, I coughed, I endured a headache, and yes, I felt a bit sorry for myself. Thankfully, there were factors that alleviated the misery. Like the unexpected flower delivery from Sweden, the fact that A had taken the day off and spent it with me, or the enormous rose bouquet my choir gave me.
The next days I spent actively working on improving my health. I know that a cold takes seven to ten days regardless of what you do (I mean, I’ve had like 4 colds in three months now so I am an experienced sufferer). But I still made ginger shots (without alcohol, obviously), drank hot lemon tea and took a hot bath with eukalyptus. “Until Saturday, I will stick to home remedies”, I informed A. “Because for the weekend, I need to be able to have another level of escalation, a chemical weapon”. He looked at me as if my cold was Kim Jong Un.
But I had to be on my feet on Saturday. Because on Saturday, the party that I had been planning for 18 months would finally happen. The celebration that I had hashtagged #statthochzeit, which means instead of a wedding. The festivity that would bring together nearly 100 guests from all over Europe. The birthday bash that should mark my entering my glorious 30s.
It was quite a happening, and I could be part of it thanks to Aspirin Complex. My friends Malin, Michelle, Ingrid and Axel who arrived a day before helped me with all the preparations, blowing up 80 balloons, ordering me to rest and save my energy for the night, transporting rum in a shopping cart and (this was a surprise to me) installing a photo booth.
And then it all happened. You would think as a professional event manager I would be able to visualize 100 people but I kept being amazed when more and more and more guests poured into the party location I had rented. So many friends from all walks of life, my parents, my stepsister, a bunch of “my” juniors, my former intern and my entire maternal family. People I had not seen for years, friends I just made a year ago, and companions that have known me since I was small.
The brain is, I learned, designed to be able to take in groups of 20 people. Maybe that is why I remember what people said to me but not who said it. Perhaps it’s why I kept feeling I was falling short of actually socializing with everyone who had come all the way to Dizzel for me. But that’s okay because the guests told me afterwards that they had great conversations with each other and how great the music was (thanks to always-amazing DJ Ingrid who never let the dance floor get empty even for just a minute). Upon leaving, more than one requested that I’d have another party like this when I turn 35. (Spoiler alert: I will need to recover from this until I am 50.)
The morning after, we had brunch with those who had travelled from outside of Dizzel. Despite two hours of sleep and a cold, I made it through brunch and through cleaning up the party place (thanks to the help of A, Ingrid and my cousin Felix), but at 6 p.m. I fell asleep.
“I’ll have to get the blog post done on the train home or I’ll never get around to it”, I told my friend Joraine with whom I spent last weekend in Luxembourg. Well, I did not post anything because already on the trip, my health deterioated (again! still?) and by the time I got home (spoiler alert: you have to take regional trains almost all the way, four hours, to Luxembourg, that, with their commuter train interior, are not beneficial to anyone’s health), I was so sick. The next day the doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to go to work all week in order to spare the co-workers my virus. So my days have been a blur of sleep and going to the pharmacy, starting to clear up somewhat by now – I actually know what day of the week it is today, but I am still coughing like a crazy person.
What can I tell you about Luxembourg?
It’s small. Like, really small. I somehow thought the country’s 600 000 inhabitants mostly lived in the capital, but no. We actually were looking for people all the time and only in the main square we found some while the other streets were deserted at almost all times. Looking for Luxembourgers is generally a difficult game because there are almost none – the population is made up of three thirds foreigners.
It’s high and low. I have never seen a city like this, there’s a upper town and a lower town and I don’t mean this in a socioeconomic way. The difference in altitude is impressive when looking at the whole city and navigating is tricky because Google can’t tell if you are upstairs or downstairs, showing your little blue circle on the same spot even if you just walked 15 minutes uphill. A better way to get up and down is the mountain railway which brings us to:
It has amazing public transportation. I would say I have had a mild interest in public transit even before I met Emily but it is surely due to her enthusiasm that I also got rather excited about getting around in Luxembourg. We used all public transport accessible including the brand new tram with its futuristic light design and a different melody played to announce each stop (however, no written information about the stops was to be found), the elevator, and the mountain railway which we got to use all alone late at night.
It likes to strictly forbid things. It seems that the dominant language in the country is French. However, when we got to the hotel, I noticed that the prohibition sign was in German. I guess they pick their languages best suited to the desired effect. In Luxembourg, many things are forbidden, judging by the many signs I saw, and it’s not only prohibited, it’s always strictly forbidden. It’s strictly forbidden to play soccer in the yard or not to sort the trash. Lux and Order!