The loudest and most obnoxious people at the gate of the Norwegian Air flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm were a group of Americans studying abroad in Amsterdam. In passing, I made some small-talk remark, identifying myself as a fellow blue passport holder. I’ve generally tried to keep a lower profile than these guys. Traveling alone, I generally find it easy and logical to just blend in to the masses–something that won’t be possible during my second half of the year in India and Southeast Asia. At that moment, I thought it would be nice to mess around with some college kids and joined them. It turned out that one of the girls was from Lebanon, NH (the town next to me) and was Brady Casper’s (one of my homies’)ski teammates at Brown.
I got plopped in Stockholm at half past midnight. Three months ago, I think I would have been quite petrified arriving so late to a cold, dark city having to shun off preying taxi drivers and deflecting the piercing stares of the central station ‘thugs.’ I was constantly looking over my shoulder for Viking attackers.
I had booked a room in a hostel using an application on my iPhone in the airport so I got a notification email with the address and night time access code when I arrived in Sweden. Arrived in Sweden. Cool. I also had an inadequately small paper map that I ripped out of a magazine on the airport shuttle. It wasn’t detailed, but it worked well to get me oriented once I got outside of the station. The map led me in the right direction. It was so small that I would have to stop in the spotlight of street lamps and squint to be able to read the road signs. At one corner, a couple of fellow travelers returning from a pub emerged out of the darkness and asked, “you looking for a hostel.” Getting intimately nose to nose with my little map and my double back-front backpacks absolutely gave me away as a tourist. As it turned out, we were all headed to the same place and I was guided to my weekend home.
I went right to bed. Lights out.
Stockholm looks like an Edward Hopper painting. Even in early October, the sun never gets higher than 45 degrees above the horizon. It just creeps along the southern sky all day and casts off beautiful long cast shadows. All the buildings are painting warm pastel colors. The contrast between the colors in light and the colors in shadow is just great. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the warm colors perhaps trigger a psychological response making people feel warmer in the depths of their cold northern winter. The average building is 5 or 6 stories tall, so most of the streets are in hidden in shadow, but every once in a while there is pockets of light that creeps through. I walked around for hours soaking it up.
I stumbled upon the Alfred Nobel Foundation Museum about the Nobel Prize.
I had no idea that Nobel invented dynamite–quite ironic for a man who willed the world the Nobel Peace Prize. I learned that Nobel believed that investing in weapons and developing more and more powerful means of annihilation was a means of achieving world peace. That’s a mindblowingly radical idea. However, according to John von Nuemann’s work in Game theory it kind of checks out. The doomsday model, highlighted in the movie Dr. Strangelove, incentivizes world peace, which would be better than the alternative which is global destruction. We talked about it in Prof. Stone’s Strategic Behavior class last fall.
Lets say, for a hypothetical example, that the U.S. buries a gigantic payload of explosives someplace in the Rockies. If the U.S. gets bombed, the store in the rockies would trigger and blow up and destroy life on the planet. Knowing this, it is not a rational strategy for any country to bomb the U.S. Life on earth as we know it is a more pleasant scenario than a planet of ashes and rubble. So if a U.S. enemy thinks ahead and works backwards, they won’t attack. Yes, it’s a Lofty example, but I was just trying to understand Nobel’s rationale. That’s what I came up with. What an irony! This, from the guy behind the Nobel Peace Prize.
On Friday night, I went out on the town with a couple of Australians I met and a Belgian girl who lives in Stockholm and works at the hostel. She knew some cool spots so we went bar hopping around town. My favorite place was a club that was in the back of a fancy restaurant. You would have to walk through all these different parts of the building, through the kitchen, dining area, bathroom hallway, then up there stairs where you got to a packed club. It came out of nowhere but very cool. I was reminded of this commercial.
Saturday was an adventure to say the least. The day stretched my boundaries of loneliness and fear. After this experience I will tell you about, I absolutely strengthened my ability to dream of horror stories. I’ve had nightmares for 2 straight nights. I played a lot of what’s the worst possible thing that could happen? game. Never. Ever. Play that game. Ever.
After a nice sleep in on Saturday morning, I got a realization that I was in Sweden and should not be wasting time snoozing that could be spent exploring. I hopped out of bed and rushed to the ferry dock, missing a boat that was going on a tour of the Stockholm Archipelago by a couple minutes. I came up with a backup plan after consulting a street coffee vendor. I told her that I wanted to get out and go on a hike someplace nice. She recommended going to Grinda– there was a ferry out there at 3 and on that came back at 730.
The ferry ride was excellent. Seeing the country from the water was exactly what I wanted to do. It felt great getting the chills from the ocean air and seeing the stunning Swedish landscape. The coastal area looked a lot like Maine but had fall foliage to add some haberño hot sauce. On the ferry I met a British rugby player who was in Sweden staying with his girlfriend. He’s clearly doing something right chasing an attactive blue eyed blonde around awesome island chains. We got to talking. It just so happens that last year he did a world-wide trip that was surprisingly similar to mine. He spent 3 months in Argentina, 2 in India, and 2 around SE Asia, where he met the Swede.
I arrived on on Grinda. The ferry ride ended up taking an hour and 40 minutes, about twice as along as I was told. That got me thinking. When I was one of only 3 people getting off at that stop, I my nervous thoughts turned into real nerves. As soon as I got off, the ferry took over to its next destination in the archipelago. I never got a chance to think twice. The other people who got off on my stop seemed to evaporate into the woods immediately. I went to read a sign, then turned around and they were all gone. Okay, that was odd.
I found a hiking trail and walked around the western fringe of the island. Besides the rustle of the trees in the wind and the soft crashes of the ocean in the background it was quiet. But almost eerily so. Fog started rolling in off the ocean and eventually I felt very very alone and lost walking along the trail. I came to one corner where up on a hill there was a chair with nobody in it. Just a chair in the middle of the woods. Huh?.
Walked a little further, through some trees to find the ocean and sit on the rocks for a bit. Next to me there was a lost winter hat. Why was this hat there? Was somebody running away at an instant? Were they captured by a yeti? Looking back on it, it was very clearly just a lost hat, but when you play the what’s the worst possible thing that can happen game, your imagination takes control.
Nevertheless, I got my zen on in a beautiful place. No doubt about it.
I stumbled upon a sign warning about snakes. Big ones. Oh boy.
I walked around for a couple hours fighting to just let myself enjoy the isolation and stop letting my imagination dictate the experience. I was just very glad that I wasn’t poisoned by any sort of hallucinogenic mushroom.
The whole island is a nature reserve so when I stumbled upon a very nice house that’s now a hotel I thought, Okay that’s scary stuff. I built up the courage to open the door and found a really nice hotel reception with a fireplace burning and one employee preparing a bar for the five guest’s dinner. The guy at the bar was super friendly and prodded at what I could possibly be doing as a young American tourist stranded on a remote Swedish island. I agreed. I had no idea either.
I enjoyed a cup of coffee by the fire and just rested and relaxed for an hour. I can’t tell you how nice that felt.
The island is a summertime community. There is always an eeriness to being in a summer place in the winter. I was wearing a fleece, a sweater, a vest, a scarf, and gloves. So seeing summer campsites in that setting is off-putting. The whole time I had the feeling that something is not quite right.
The sun fell below the horizon and the already ominous island was cloaked in darkness. Then it started raining. I threw on my layers and started the hike in the darkness back to the ferry dock where I was dropped off. I tiptoed the whole way listening carefully through the sounds of wind and rain for hissing or slithering. I tried to think happy thoughts about golden retriever puppies but the characters from every single horror movies I’ve ever seen kept on appearing behind trees in front of me.
I really didn’t want to miss my 7:30 ferry home, so I got to the dock about 20 minutes early and just stood there in the rain. every minutes felt like 5. At 7:25, each minute felt like an hour until 7:30 came around the bend. The darkness I got used to looking out over the past 20 minutes remained unchanged. 7:31, 7:35, 7:42. I started pacing. My heart was pumping in my throat. Anxiety made my whole body shake. My phone was inoperable. I’d have to stay stranded on that island. There was clearly a nice hotel to stay at though. But I’d have to spend the money and everyone in the hostel will think the Swedish Yeti got ahold of me and was holding me captive. Perhaps the hotel called the ferry and said there was nobody to pick up in order to make some extra cash? Oh no. I’m doomed. I imagined the rest of the travelers in the hostel picking through my bags the way vultures argue over the meat of a carcass in the African jungle.
I got very used to this sight during the longest hour of my trip.
At 7:52, the concrete slab of darkness was pierced by a light that emerged around the corner of the island. I recognized the blue and yellow paint of the ferry and my heartbeat started making its way back to its proper location.
As soon as I hopped aboard, it was so easy to laugh about all my worries. But just a minute before, they were so overwhelmingly real. I can’t tell you how good it felt to arrive back in Stockholm. But as someone very astutely pointed out later on that night. Most likely I was much safer on that island than I was in Stockholm.
Phew! Felt damn good to be back!
Yesterday I went to the Vasamuseum, an exhibit of a 17th century warship that keeled over and sank 20 minutes into it’s maiden voyage towards Poland. The Vasa was hauled out of the bottom of the Stockholm harbor, where it rotted under the sea for almost 300 years. Since the 60s, archaeologists and ship builders reconstructed the ship like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. From over 40,000 pieces, the boat was completely reconstructed. 95% of it is original. You can’t walk on board, but you can walk all around it and inspect it from four different floors. It is the most impressive restoration project in the world.
Right now I’m in Malmö, Sweden. I’m staying with Malena, my nanny in London was I was 5 and 6 years old. To me, she’s the exact same, but it must be weird for her to seeing me traveling around the world. She cooked me tacos! So great to have a motherly figure after 3 months of wandering! I’m heading out later today to go and explore the town (Sweden’s 4th largest city). One stop that is absolutely on my agenda is the Nordic sauna. You can jump into the sea then warm back up in a sauna.
“Once a nanny, always a nanny.”
Here’s a drawing of a construction site on the Stockholm waterfront:
I haven’t found Pipi Longstocking yet. But I’m looking! Off to jump in the sea.