Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sweden at last

We're up at five am and off to the airport. There is minimal company on the road, and we notice again the warehouse-like design of ALL the buildings we see. We return the rental car and observe some differences right away. In the States, there would be a shuttle bus to haul our oversize booties and our luggage to the terminal. Here in Iceland, the hardy Viking descendants have no trouble hoofing it a quarter mile or so while dragging baggage in the rain. That's probably why they all look fit, and blond. It's not just the horses that haven't changed much in 1000 years.

After breakfast in the airport lounge and another pampered ride in the front of the 757, we arrive in Stockholm. We aren't staying though; our plan is for this city to be the last one we visit. Unsurprisingly, for the woman with a bladder the size of a kumquat, the first thing I have to do after the flight is find the bathroom - usually labelled WC around here. The Scandinavians must be a bit more worried about their privacy than the Americans. I've noticed that restrooms do not have stalls as we do, but individual little rooms just big enough for one person, usually very neat and clean. This one (near the baggage claim) is an exception. The little WC room that is my lot as we wait in line is wet and smells like urine. The toilet also refuses to flush. This would be all right (it's only a moment in time, after all) but then the door refuses to open. I push and pull, and twist the lock any number of ways. The room is getting hotter and smellier. I've been trapped in an elevator before, but then I had my cell phone to call for help. There were also other people present, more room, and it didn't stink. Although I've never considered myself claustrophobic before, I feel the stirrings of incipient panic. The room is nearly sound-proof, I can hear nothing on the other side, but finally, my kicks and shoves against the door attract attention and I hear a voice call some sort of question. "Help!" I bleat, my frenzy beginning to outweigh my embarrassment. After about five more long minutes, rescue arrives. A uniformed woman unlocks the door. "Do not use this one again!" she says sternly to the line of women standing with their legs crossed. I barely hear her; when that door opens I bolt out of that deathtrap and halfway down the hall like Secretariat out of the starting gate. It finally occurs to me that I haven't washed my hands and I have to make my way back, shamefaced, hoping I'd been such a blur no one had had time to get a close look at the stupid American locked in the restroom. Craig was patiently waiting with our luggage when I returned, having noticed nothing.

After numerous false starts and defective directional information, we finally drag our luggage underground to the train for Uppsala. I am so glad we packed light! Everyone speaks lovely English, but Craig is enjoying stumbling along in his broken Swedish so I mostly let him. (Well, until about the fourth time we go to the wrong train platform, then I double check the directions in English.) Craig can't rely on his memory for this part of the trip; he's never been here. Both Stockholm and Uppsala were outside his mission.

The ride to Uppsala is short, smooth, and nearly soundless, and It's 30 degrees C which is a toast 86 degrees F! Craig is melting, but I think it's great to finally be out of the rain. Uppsala is a university town (it has the country's only veterinary college), and everyone, young and old is on a bicycle. Like Japan, there are bikes everywhere - utilitarian models with baskets and big tires - none of the stupid little trick bikes you see the kids ride or the fancy racing bikes ridden by adults in spandex. Here, the bicycle is clearly a form of transportation rather than vanity. We check into the hotel, then walk around to see the sights. Craig is miffed when I say parts of the architecture remind me of Maine and is at pains to point out all the specific Scandinavian details until I take it back. (I see this becoming a long term point of conversation.) There's a large river where mallard ducks frolic, the males and females nearly indistinguishable now that males are molting out of their mating plumage for another season.

Craig is frustrated that, after all his careful planning, the ticket machines for the buses and trains will not recognize his "international" Visa card. A college student informs us that he has the same problem and that Craig will have to buy his ticket at the desk Monday, using his passport to authenticate the card. Craig is frustrated that we will be unable to make reservations and will have to take pot luck for seating but all the other things he tries also fail. I guess our vacation may be more spur of the moment than we had hoped!


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