Wrote to following yesterday:
So I'm waiting in the Stockholm airport for my flights back to the us and I figure I ought to jot down the travelogue that I'd meant to have been writing this whole time. Of course, there's no internet here, so I'll have to post this later.
Left the Twin Cities last Saturday night after spending the day out with Andrea and Liv.The flight out of MSP ran late because of some technical problems with the plane. Was glad I was travelling business class, for the extra room amd the meals if nothing else, but even with the extra room I still didn't sleep well on the overnight flights. Had a nice chat with the
woman next to me though--she was an Icelander who had come down to the Twin Cities with her fiance to do their Christmas shopping. Apparently, it's pretty expense to shop in Iceland; I was very amused at her description of finding big bargains at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving Day; imagine coming all the way from Iceland to Minnesota to go shopping at Wal-Mart.
Can't say much about the Reykjavik airport; since the flight from MSP was running behind, I basically had to rush through it. After eight years of owning one (and three international trips to Canada), I finally got my passport stamped in Iceland. :)
Arrived midday Sunday (local time) at Arlanda Airport, low on sleep but otherwise ok. Caught the train to Uppsala okay and met up with Julia and Daniel. They took me on a short tour of the sights in Uppsala: the downtown area, the ugly concert hall that they kept calling the Borg Cube, the Cathedral where the past kings of Sweden are buried, some of the main University buildings and the castle. It was a dreary, foggy, rainy day.
They then took me back to their apartment and they treated me to a swedish dinner (potatoes, several varieties of pickled herring, beets, crackers) and then we hung out for the rest of the evening before knocking off.
Took the train down to Stockholm on Monday morning and checked into the hotel. Set off across Gamla Stan (the island in the center of the city where the Old Town is) to catch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace (which was cold, even with the sun out). The numerous national museums at the palace are sadly closed on Mondays, so I set off to take the self-directed walking tour of the Old Town out of the Rick Steaves guide. Took a wrong turn or two and didn't see everything in the order that Rick suggested, but otherall did do the entire tour and it was good. I particularly enjoyed finding the little Iron Boy statue, which was something I wouldn't have found on my own.
After that, grabbed lunch a great hole in the wall restaurant on Gamla Stan and then set out across the main shopping areas in downtown Stockholm. After walking the stores for an hour or so, I set off for the Vasa Museum which is supposed to be a mustsee if you're in Stockholm. Basically, the Vasa is a huge 17th century warship that sunk in the harbor on it's maiden voyage and then 330-some years later they raised it, towed it to shore and built
a museum around it. Worth the trip, though sadly none of my pictures of it turned out. The atmosphere in the museum is controlled to keep the ship from deteriorating and because of either the ship itself or the methods they used to preserve it, the museum has sort of an odd smell. But as I said, still worth the trip.
Taxied back from the Vasa (as the walk out to it wore me out) and did a little shopping before heading back to the hotel for dinner and unwinding. Sadly it was at this point, after I'd done most of my shopping for this trip, that I decided to sit down and doublecheck the exchange rates. My jaw hit the floor when I realized how much I'd spent (nay, overspent) getting a few items for Andrea, Liv and myself. Now, I know some of it was the exchange rates and that I was spending a lot of time in touristy areas, hotels and airports, but even then, it doesn't account for how expensive stuff generally is out here.
The Hilton Slussen, where I stayed in Stockholm, was very nice (and expensive)--probably one of the more elegant hotels that I've stayed at and it had a very nice view of the Old Town. The room itself, though, was tiny, just enough room for a bed, desk, minibar and bathroom. Prides itself on being very environmentally conscious; the key card for my room was made out of birch wood instead of plastic.
Got up early tuesday to get to the airport and take a short flight out to the main island of Aland. For reference to any Techies, Mariehamn airport is pretty much the same exact size as the Houghton Airport. In fact, overall, Aland reminded me a lot of the Keweenaw--similar weather and foliage, relatively remote from civilization, dotted by tiny town/hamlets, dependant on tourism dollars to some degree--it's a bit flatter and therefore has a bit more agriculture. Met up with Kevin, the lead auditor for the audit that we were going to be conducting, and we used the few remaining hours of sunlight to drive around the island a bit. We saw a castle and the remains of the fort that the Russians built here back when Aland was part of their empire. Walked around Mariehamn a bit in the late afternoon before catching dinner.
The hotel was not great--lousy shower, no in-room internet--but the staff was very friendly and the restaurant was great.
Not going to get into too much details about Wednesday or Thursday as mostly it was boring (to you the reader) work-related stuff.
Now it's Friday. Was up a bit too late last night and got up very early this morning to catch the single AM flight back from Aland. Got an extra hour or so of sleep here in the business class lounge--comfy chairs plus free munchies, fruit, drinks and alcohol. Going to be a long day as I deal with the jet lag. Hoping I can sleep in tomorrow.
Some random thoughts/observances:
-Europe is expensive: As I mentioned before, I found it very expensive out here, even when I got outside of the beaten path. Example, I went into a used CD store in Mariehamn and the base price for any CD was 20 Euros (~$26 American). I was amused to see the Violent Femmes for sale though. :) Also, trying to be smart, I figured that since I was going to EU countries, I'd just get Euros at the currency exchange, but Sweden still uses the Swedish Crown (Krona in swedish) as currency. Luckily, Stockholm is so touristy, that I could use my Euros when I had to and just suffer some odd looks from merchants and cab drivers.
-Harry Potter: The swedish translation of Deathly Hallows came out relatively recently, and I have to say that I like the covers on the Swedish-versions of the books (Not just Hallows) much more that I like the american covers. They have a sort of anime look to them.
-Language: I bought a Swedish phrasebook; I never used it. So many people speak english over here and speak it well, so I never felt particularly bad about speaking to them in English. Most signs are in both languages, as well. In contrast, I've been to rural Quebec twice when I worked for Big Blue, and had a completely different sort of experience--outside of the hotel and the plant, I ran into difficulties talking to French-speakers who had poor command of English, the signs were only in French, etc. It was funny, though, watching the people parse out the Irish accents of my audit team members (it was me and three Irish guys), though I had a pretty difficult time myself of understand Padraig's thick accent on occassion.
-American culture: Seems to be everywhere here in Sweden--on tv, in bookstores, on the radio. I swear, 90% of the music I heard on the radio or in public spaces was in English. Same thing with the television and the movie theaters where at least 2/3 of the stuff was american/english.
-Bathrooms: This is probably going to sound odd, but I really liked the prominent toilet design over here--it's sleeker, makes more efficient use of space, and often incorporates a water-saving half-flush feature. Also, more often than not, in the public restrooms, the stalls are seperate little rooms with brick-and-mortar walls and a real locking door, not the cheap metal partitions that you generally see in America.
-Bedding: Took me a bit to figure out the nordic-style bedding at both hotels I stayed at. In each case, there was a regular size bed spring with a thin mattress pad on top. Over that was a thick single-person blanket in a cover and pillows. No seperate bedsheets. At first I couldn't tell if the blanket was a blanket or some sort of additional mattress padding. Half the time I slept on top of the blanket with the blanket from the other half of the bed over me. The blankets, regardless of how I slept with them or what I wore to bed, were very warm, and I usually woke up in a sweat the next morning.
-Food: Cooked whitefish, very good; smoked salmon, roe and pickled herring, not so good.
Overall, had a good time, wish I'd slept better, miss my girls. Looks like we'll be boarding shortly. I'll post this with pics as soon as I can.
Update: PhotoBucket is being pissy tonight, so I'll get the pics up a little later.