Mamma Mia! Here I go again. My my, how can I resist you? Mamma Mia! Does it show again? My my, just how much I missed you.
Not Toronto, not British Columbia - my other home (though I've only spent five days there in total). Anyone who is remotely familiar with me, or with this blog, knows of my love affair with Sweden. And Stockholm is the heart of it. My City of Light. I never thought I'd return - or at least not within a year and a half. It's always a thrill when "someday" becomes "now".
It didn't start off very well. Things were smooth until I reached Helsinki, where I got on the wrong shuttle and was taken very far from my hostel. I eventually found my way to what I thought was the correct stop, thanks to a kind Finnish shuttle driver who showed me the way, but wound up at the wrong place again. The roads leading out of Helsinki-Vantaa are a mess - no sidewalks or crossings to speak of, and deep edges filled with snow in January. Google Maps claims you can walk from the airport to the hostel. Google Maps LIES. So there I was, struggling along the side of the road in knee-deep snow with my pack on my back, when a cab driver noticed I was in trouble and pulled over. He even claimed to have made the same mistake once, which really cheered me up, though now that I think of it, that mistake was so specific that he was probably just trying to make me feel better. Oh well.
Things got worse upon reaching the hostel. It was already way later than I planned thanks to the delays, I had to get up at 4:30 to make the flight, and the guy in the next room was the loudest snorer who ever lived. Seriously, I don't know how he breathes. So that meant NO sleep whatsoever until my alarm went off absurdly early. Lesson learned? Double check for earplugs while packing.
It wasn't a great way to start my one day in my favourite city on Earth.
After what we might call a minor breakdown, I decided to be Zen about the whole thing. I was going back to Stockholm. I could make it through one tired day - it certainly wouldn't be the first time. So I headed up to Helsinki-Vantaa, put on my Triumphant ABBA Playlist, and gulped down enough coffee to kill an elephant. And the moment we took off - yep, there's the adrenaline rush. My spirit had come back.
(Fun fact - though I had previously visited Stockholm and Helsinki before, I had never been to any of their airports before this trip. Last time, I arrived and left entirely by train or boat. As of today I've experienced Helsinki-Vantaa, Stockholm Bromma and Stockholm Arlanda, so I'm basically Scandinavian now. I always have been rather fond of airports.)
I took the Flygbus down to the central station, which is only a few minutes' walk from Gamla Stan. (Flygbus is hella convenient and reasonably priced guys, use Flygbus, especially as opposed to obscenely expensive cabs.) And there were all my old haunts - the Royal Palace, the Riksdag, the Nobel Museum, my old hostel... all looking exactly as they had before, only maybe a bit chillier, and wet. (Stockholm's winter climate could be compared to Vancouver's, at least from what I saw.) Five degrees Celsius! Light drizzle! No snow! It was practically a warm weather holiday. As I have sworn off winter clothes for as long as humanly possible following my Arctic adventure, I wore my thin, completely traction-less fall boots, forgetting that there was still some ice and cobblestones are slippery when wet to begin with. One of the side streets I took had essentially become a downhill ice rink. BOOM, over goes Rachael.
Naturally, after a quick coffee to regroup in Gamla Stan, I headed down to Sodermalm for the pilgrimage. That's right, folks, I did it again - I went to Fiskargatan 9 and Bellmansgatan 1, the homes of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in the Stieg Larsson novels (we do not speak of the fourth, the fourth is dead to us). I even played that bit of score from the end of the American movie, while standing where Rooney stood in that scene at Bellmansgatan, because why not? That's where this Sweden adoration started, after all.
It hasn't really sunk in that I'm in STOCKHOLM yet, probably because I've built it up so much in my head. What astonishes me is how familiar it feels. One of my great talents is getting lost, even with the directions right in front of me, and I haven't done that once. I'm even able, in Gamla Stan and Sodermalm at least, to find places by my own preferred routes, as opposed to my usual crutch of Google maps - even with a ton of construction going on in the area. It seems like home, a safe and normal place, like somewhere I could spend ordinary time as well as my holidays. That's special. At least to me.
After the Stieg Larsson Appreciation Party, I basically wandered through Gamla Stan, trying to go through every street and see what I could find. With my great big pack on my back, I can't really go to stores and museums for fear of destroying the displays, but that's okay. I'm not here to do things, I'm just here to be. So I walk down the streets, marvel at this gem of a city, and periodically stop for coffee to give myself a break and recharge both myself and my electronics. One cool thing I did see was the changing of the guard at the royal palace.
I want to move to this city, I really do. I'm happy here, I'm totally relaxed and indeed overjoyed - I've even forgotten that I didn't get any sleep last night. It bums me out that I have to get on a plane tomorrow. I could stay forever. I know I will come back to visit, as often as I can. Maybe this can still be my home in my heart, if not physically. Whatever it takes, though, this will not be our last meeting. I promise.