Did I mention that I was going to Sweden and Italy? No? Well carry on reading if details of that trip interest you…
Arrive in Stockholm at Arlanda International Airport. It is a bustling place, I suppose, by Swedish standards, but seemed rather quiet. It was, however, exceptionally clean, and the security staff was quite friendly (if not a little bored). Family was waiting for us there, outside of baggage claim. One of our host, Jan, my mom, and my older sister Karen.
Our first official act in Sweden? We hit a cash machine.
I have to tell you, if you are traveling to a foreign country, think long and hard about your first cash transaction. By no means just walk up and start pushing buttons. It’s a very easy mistake to make. And the machines are quite simple to use, so you’d think there is nothing to fear. But since you are likely to be dealing with an exchange rate, and math RIGHT OFF THE PLANE, it probably behooves you to take a moment, and think about it. You know that familiar range of quick cash options? Like $20, $40, $80, and $100? What does it mean if, instead, it says 100kr, 500kr, 1000kr and 2000kr? I mean is it really the same? How do you make that “how much is too much” decision? Do you know? I sure didn’t. 500kr seemed too high at first, but then I second guessed it. I was sure that there were people watching the stupid tourist getting his first taste of Swedish culture, and were waiting to see how stupid he could be. That’s when I overhear my mother telling my sister that the exchange rate has gone up today. “Oh,” says my sister, “so it’s worse today, almost six!” By “six” she meant six dollars U.S. to each equivalent Swedish Krona amount. Which turns out to be 100kr, and not 1 Krona, like you might assume. I think. Pretty sure. Aww crap.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m traveling with my family? To SEE some family? This gets complicated rather quickly. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Grandad on Mom’s side was a musician. Had a family in the states. Moved to Europe. Started another family with a Swedish wife. Passed and left two daughters with fascinating hints of American relatives. They look over the pond and find their sister – my mom. Wackiness ensues. Leads to an invitation to celebrate a milestone birthday at my new Swedish Aunt’s house outside Söderköping, Sweden. So off I fly to meet my mother, two sisters, a niece and nephew, a cousin and husband, and my uncle who is a spitting image of his father, Caleb Ginyard Jr. who started it all.
Ok. Let’s continue.
So we are met at the airport by Jan, sister Kathleen’s husband, who’s job it is to ferry us all to Stockholm. He packs us in a car, with our luggage, and away we go. So we’re riding in the car with my Swedish uncle (by marriage, natch. One of two who are both incredibly cool, BTW). He tells us a story, as we stop for gas, about how that particular as station has a special memory for him. He was involved as a volunteer in a training exercise there. The exercise involved being sensitized to what it is like to face a real robbery. And he was one of a small number of volunteers who were “in” on the events about to transpire. Everyone there was told to expect something, and something it was. Armed men enter the station store, and proceed to terrorize the group. My uncle himself was forced down onto the ground, and when he lifted his head to look around, was treated to a boot pressing his head down. He related just how shocking and scary the entire process was, despite being very aware that it was an exercise. I have to admit, I’d be pretty wacked out with that as well. He told the story fondly, but you could tell it was a pretty intense moment for him.
The drive to Stockholm proper was pretty quick, and not without charm. First impressions of the city were really very nice. The first thing you get is, of course, the differences in architecture. Not just the old buildings, but the choices made in building styles for the more modern apartment complexes that dot the corridor from the airport to the city. Ultimately, they gave way to more of the city’s traditional buildings, and there, the ability to imagine that you are simply in another part of the U.S. disappeared. Stockholm is a very old and VERY northern European city.
The rest of the family is waiting outside the Chapman, a ship turned into permanent boathouse accommodations. It’s rather cool… with bunks and shared bathrooms. But with a twist: seems like a lot of shared public bathrooms in Sweden are actually built like those crazy stacking Russian dolls: once you enter the bathroom, there are doors to individual rooms (little “mini” bathrooms) where your commode resides. It’s much more private than stalls. We learned that in the airport, but thought perhaps it was a fluke. Nope.
And by “the rest of the family”, I mean Kathleen and Jennie (sisters to my mom), Jennie’s husband Johan, their two kids Scott and Naomi, My sister Lisa, My Sister Karen’s twins Ike and Taylor, and Uncle “Bobbie” Caleb Ginyard. I mention this entire cast, because I’m lazy, and I want to use names from now on. Keep up.
Out we get for a little lunch and some research. Among other things, we wanted to see a bit of the city. My wife and I, having arrived a couple of days later than the rest of the family, hadn’t gotten a chance to see any on Stockholm. So it was decided that we’d do a little sightseeing. Nothing serious, just catch some town square and then pop off to the National Museum.
We left our cars in the Chapman residence parking, and hiked out. Fortunately, the boat is right in the center of town. You couldn’t ask for a better location. We trod off across a small bridge and were right across from the Palace. You can see most of the major Stockholm landmarks from there, including the elevator to the old city, and most of the remarkable waterways that criss cross the city. After a few blocks, we came to a square (I’ll have to find out which one later). It was pretty touristy, but quite nice for a stroll. The square is surrounded by shops and restaurants, and is currently home to a couple of exhibits. The one we liked best was the signspotting exhibit. Check out a couple of the pics.
Then it was off to the National Museum. They have a wonderful collection of Flemish, Danish and traditionally Swedish masters. As well as a few really stunning works from artists like El Grecco. If we had more time, I’m sure we would have enjoyed the modern art and furniture. Alas, only time for the bits we saw and a peek through the gift shop. We barely saw the second floor exhibits. I’d dearly love to go back.
Then back to the square for some dinner. Off to one side is a stage for live music, and we got to hear a little before we left. Mostly, we settled in for some lunch, and to soak up the sunshine. Well, for as long as we could anyway. You see, typical late summer weather in this part of Sweden involves rain sweeping in at a moment’s notice. As we sat outside, having enjoyed a cheap dinner of mostly traditional outdoor food (I think we actually had hamburgers… not the last time we would do that in Sweden tsk tsk…), the rains crept up on us. Like most people, faced with rain, and wearing to little protective clothing (and carrying to few umbrellas), we ran for it. It petered out before we all got back to the Chapman, but that was pretty much enough rain for one day.
It became apparent that there wasn’t enough car for the number of people we need to transport “back home” to Söderköping, so my sisters, my wife, and I volunteer to ride the train. I suppose we thought we’d see more of the countryside, and have a nice little adventure. Turns out, that’s exactly right. The ride was splendid. The trains in Sweden tend towards the really awesome. I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but the trains were clean, well kept, and fast. Arriving at the train station, it was nice to see our hosts with the cars at the station. A quick trip from Nörkopping to their house, and we were finally able to relax. We sorted out the sleeping arrangements, and I believe we retired pretty soon after.
It really was a great day, all in all. More to come.