My travels started out in a rather disastrous manner. I don’t think anyone was surprised, since this kind of thing seems to happen to me all the time. My flight from Chicago to Stockholm kept getting delayed while I was at the airport, so I ended up being stuck in O’Hare for ten hours. Then, instead of flying direct like I was originally supposed to, I had a seven hour layover in Amsterdam. I got to Stockholm thirteen hours behind schedule, and the icing on the cake was that the airline lost my luggage. The whole ordeal was so ridiculous that I could not stop laughing when I finally arrived in Stockholm. It was really annoying that I had basically lost an entire day in Sweden, but I made an adventure out of the whole thing – I had a seven hour conversation with the two guys sitting next to me on the transatlantic flight, and I explored Amsterdam with one of them during our layover, where we had lunch at an Indonesian restaurant and ate stroopwaffles in the rain.
I flew all the way to Stockholm to meet my pen pal Louise in person for the very first time. We had known each other through the internet and handwritten letters for years, so I figured it was high time we meet in real life. We had a wonderful time together in her city – she took me to Södermalm, the “hipster island”, Gamla Stan, the old city, and around the archipelago on a boat cruise. We went to the Biologiska museet (biology museum), which was lovely, especially if you’re into vintage dioramas, and we also spent an afternoon at Stockholm’s big open-air museum, Skansen, where you can see all kinds of Scandinavian animals and a replica of a 19th century town.
In some ways, Stockholm was what I expected – everything is clean, organized, and expensive, the architecture is simple but lovely, and nearly everyone speaks flawless English. But there were other that things surprised me. For instance, Kalles Kaviar – caviar that comes out of a bright blue tube. It’s disgusting, and Swedish people know that everyone thinks it’s disgusting, so they take great pleasure in watching foreign people react to trying it for the first time. Also, the Swedish language sounds so weird to me, and it’s impossible to pronounce correctly. Louise tried to teach me, but I failed horribly. Possibly my favorite thing about the whole language is that the word for “end station” in Swedish is “slutstation”, so I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it being broadcasted all across the metro.
My three days in Stockholm went by way too quickly. I would have loved to be there longer, but I already had plans to stay with Brit, my step-grandma, in Norway. So I hopped on the train from Stockholm to Oslo and just went for it.
I had been to Norway before, but I was six years old at the time, so I barely remembered anything about it. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty similar to Sweden. Brit even made me try the caviar from a tube again – and it was just as gross as it was in Sweden. I spent one afternoon sightseeing around Oslo, and I came to the conclusion that Oslo is way too expensive for any traveler on a modest budget to do much of anything. Some of the prices were incomprehensible – a pint of Ben & Jerry’s was nearly thirteen dollars, and a single avocado was seven dollars. I ended up buying a disappointing ham sandwich from the 7-11 for lunch, and it was still about twice as much as it would have been in the US.
To my (and my bank account’s) relief, I didn’t stay in Oslo for long – Brit took me to her other house in Sponvika, a tiny fishing village just across the fjord from Sweden. It was so beautiful in the summer. The days were long, the temperature was just right, and I loved the warm sunshine and the jellyfish in the water. Brit had me mow the lawn and throw rotten apples into the fjord, and then we drank way too much boxed wine and talked about my family history for hours.
Brit’s house in Sponvika was built in the 17th century, so walking through the front door felt like stepping into another time period. There were all sorts of hidden doorways and secret rooms, and some of the decorations looked so old that it felt like the original occupants had never really left. Brit told me the people who lived in the house used to sell bread to their neighbors, and they all died of tuberculosis. She showed me some very old shoes that someone found underneath the floorboards, and my inner history nerd freaked out.
Brit also took me to her good friend Bjorn’s house, in the next village over. The place was massive and very old. It looked like an actual museum on the inside, with the original stove and everything. Bjorn also collected beautiful vintage cars, and he made a delicious plate of shrimp for dinner. We had a lovely evening together, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had was able to experience such divine hospitality in a little Norwegian fishing village.
Scandinavia was a nice place to begin my travels, but I didn’t have the funds nor a particular interest to stay much longer than I did. The Nordic countries are quiet, clean, organized, very expensive, and a bit austere – people were very friendly, but hard to get to know. I also didn’t like the traditional cuisine very much, but seafood has never been my thing. Someday, when I’m married to a billionaire, I’d like to see more of Scandinavia – the west coast of Norway, the northern lights, Lapland in the far north – but for now, I feel lucky that I even got to go there at all.