Despite the obscene amount of money I’ve dropped in Sweden (and I know you’ve all been glued to our plummeting exchange rate with the Swedish kronor, so I don’t need to tell you I’ve been makin’ it rain here just to buy groceries) – the universe still seems to think I’ve come in under budget. So tonight, following a really lovely farewell dinner with my entire BGA department at my favorite uber-spendy restaurant in Stureplan, I came home feeling on top of the world…to find an email from my dentist saying that I owe an additional $300 for some fillings I had done before the trip. Does anyone else’s dentist email them? Is this weird? Either way, I distinctly remember clutching my chest and gasping oh dear god as I handed them my credit card way back in August, so I can only guess that the fact that they’ve come back for more is just a big cosmic haha. The out-of-pocket amount I will have ultimately forked into my teeth this year just makes the idea of “dental insurance” a mean company joke. You got me, Bonnier!

But no matter. My healthy, reinforced teeth and I are off to Paris on Thursday where we will rip into a French turkey with the kind of reckless dining abandon that only comes with spending $1,100 on dental repairs. For that kind of money you’d better believe I’m going to chew on solid steel just for the hell of it. Anyway I get to leave Stocky at 4:30 am – a decision I almost certainly made because this flight was $4 cheaper than the others – and I’ll be meeting my mom there a few hours later for my first taste of family bonding in three months.

I may or may not have time to blog tomorrow before I get sucked into my important and all-consuming TV routine (and packing, but mostly the TV thing), so just in case, Happy Thanksgiving to all! This year, among your many blessings, remember to count your teeth as well…all 32 of them.


Oh, and guess who’s back on Eastern Standard time a few weeks early? It’s 4 am and I’m watching good old Crockett and Tubbs solve yet another caper in pink loafers and white linen suits. These guys are unbelievable. And I’ve been going to bed too early to know this, but apparently the show is on every day from 3 to 5 am! I haven’t missed an episode since I discovered that on Wednesday.

I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with possible ways to wrap up a short-term, Scandinavia-themed blog since my time is almost up and I have to go back to Florida soon. Returning to life in Orlando kind of renders a Wheeee! I’m in Sweden! blog pointless, no? If there’s a precedent for what to do about this, please let me know.

I’ve considered employing the poignant ending technique for my final blog, whereby I conjure up something even more meaningful and bittersweet than this post and use it to inspire readers with a travel-ish call-to-action, like voluntourism. That would be a really lovely and appropriate way of tying up this whole experience with a pretty bow, and it would also give me a shot at publishing this entire blog as a memoir and making billions of dollars. But wooow, I get bored even thinking about having to write a mushy reach for the stars! finale. No. No way. You can keep your money. (Besides, I work in magazine publishing…I’m filthy rich.)

I also thought about ending with some sort of deliberate literary flair for the fiction readers out there — perhaps channeling the Stieg Larsson series by racing out at the last minute and getting an enormous dragon tattoo on my back (because no one would see that coming), then maybe tazing a very tall blonde man and setting fire to my laptop on a deserted cobblestone street in Södermalm. I think we can all agree that would make an amazing final blog post. But if I did that I wouldn’t have a computer anymore, and I think you get in trouble for tazing people here, so that idea’s out.

I’ve considered ending with an unexpected twist, like revealing that I was never actually in Sweden but I thought it would be a hilarious social experiment à la I’m Still Here to trick you for three months: “Baaahaha! I’m really on a leave of absence in Missouri but I totally had you guys going with my grilled cheese stories!” But see, I just tried it right there and it isn’t that funny.

Out of all of the literary devices in the world, I really cannot think of a way to put an end to this beast. This is the same reason I don’t just write a damn book already. Endings are too hard! So my last official Sweden post on Wednesday is probably going to be super lame and anti-climactic — most likely something about butter or rain boots. But then again, look at this blog. Look at it. In what will surely be remembered as the single lamest account of living abroad, ever, in the history of mankind, I’ve basically spent three months documenting nothing but mundane details. So maybe ending with a random post about shoelaces really is the way to go.

Stay tuned to see what happens. Five days left.

My dog died. How’s that for a reason to neglect a blog all week? Don’t worry, this won’t be a super melancholy post, because this isn’t that sort of blog, and I’m not that kind of writer. But suffering such a huge loss — here, alone — has revealed, in the final days of this trip, a bittersweet layer to traveling. And in the most unexpected way, it has crystallized the total experience for me.

Even as I was blissfully enveloped in a pretty Swedish bubble, I learned that life will keep charging forward — whether I’m paying attention or not. That’s just part of the fine print when you sign up to try a new life for a while. You don’t get to press pause, and you have to know that when you return, things may be different than the way you left them. We gamble that experiences like this will change us — change things for us — and we hope that they will. We hope for change. But we only dare to imagine change for the better, never really factoring a change that might hurt.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it — losing my girl sucks. I’m heart broken. But if I can say anything positive about this at all, it’s that I know that both kinds of change come with the territory of travel, and with growing as a person in general. The truth is, meaningful and life-changing things are always going to include the good, the bad and the ugly. Because only with the latter two can you appreciate all that you’ve gained.

When all is said and done — the last Swedish translation written, and the last meatball inhaled — how do you adequately measure three months in Stockholm? Well in terms of butter, the answer is 600 grams. This occurred to me a minute ago as I scraped the last little bit of salty lard from the tub, and realized that this is the second 300 gram brick of butter I’ve purchased for the apartment. Luckily, I have no concept of the metric system so that number means nothing to my waistline. (This is the same principle as the unintelligible nutrition info on my sour cream and onion chips. If you can’t read it, the calories don’t count.)

At this point it should be pretty obvious why I’ve been stalling on posting the Helsinki ugly photo collage. As I mentioned last week, we spent that entire weekend trapped on a floating mall food court just traveling to and from Finland, so we were only actually there long enough for me to take 11 pictures — and they’re all terrible. But I’m a girl of my word, and I promised you this, so here. Take it. (Yes, it’s a mini version.) Just please promise me you’ll form your opinion of Helsinki from a way better source than this hot mess.

It took me 10 weeks to realize that my apartment is not equipped with a can opener. But you know what? I can now say from experience that hunger is the true mother of invention, and when the only thing standing between you and dinner is a flimsy tin can, things can get a little savage. And to think mom said I’d never survive in the wild!

Sooo, I have a big meeting with my department tomorrow. Really big. It’s somehow mid-November already, which means it’s all of a sudden, out of nowhere, time for the very official GROW recap — a chance for me to present (for four action-packed hours) all of the translations and projects I’ve worked on since August.

I’ve come to realize that all of my most successful and critically acclaimed blog posts are the ones that focus on either something stupid I said, something stupid I did, or something involving a funny elevator sign, so don’t worry — I won’t dwell on boring work things and this post will be really short. But I do want to point out that today I had a pre-meeting to discuss the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. And if you thought that corporate America held the patent on scheduling meetings to recap a pre-meeting in preparation for the next week’s follow-up meeting to the usual weekly meeting in anticipation of a one-off meeting, you’re wrong. They’re into that sort of excess here, too.

But more importantly, this post is really about one thing: disbelief. After months of planning and daydreaming and cold-weather-shopping and strategic packing, is this whole thing really almost over?

Will you relax? The Helsinki ugly photo collage is coming soon. These kinds of intricate works of art don’t just appear from the ether. And for now, since I’m on my 1987 HP desktop personal computation device at the office, and this thing has never even heard of Adobe, I can’t do anything to speed along the Photoshop process. So I’ll tell you a story instead.

It was Friday, November 6, the eve of All Saints Day. Swedish children traditionally have this holiday off from school, but we, the Bonnier faithful, did not have the day off this year, and so there were kids hanging out and coloring in the office break room all day. Now, I’m officially on cappuccino detox this month, so I went to make my afternoon earl gray tea — a lousy taste substitute, but I find that these caffeine shakes are more manageable than the espresso-induced seizures have been. Entering the break room, I exchanged a quick “hej hej” with the little five year old sitting at the table. She looked at me shyly, and I was grateful, because you don’t have to attempt conversation with the quiet ones. But I must have really nailed the accent on my greeting, because this little lady suddenly launched into the longest story ever told, in Swedish. I looked around and, yep, I was the only person there, so she was definitely talking to me.

Tens of seconds went by — what felt like a solid minute of this Swedish story (long enough, in fact, for my tea to steep) and I didn’t want to interrupt her, but I had no idea what to retort. Normally I would just pick a word from her story and repeat it back as a question (vänner? eh?), which usually buys some time, but I truly didn’t catch a single familiar word in the whole diatribe. So when she finished, I just smiled and said in my cutest, sing-songy, kid-friendly voice, “oh sorry, I don’t speak Swedish!”

Blank stare. Crickets.

“Do you speak English?” I continued, remembering that they’re taught the language in school here. Smart little cookies! I’ll invite her to speak it with me, and that will work. We can get by with a quick broken-English interaction and then I can go. But, as it turns out, they do not know any English by the tender age of 5, and this poor kid thought I was insane. You know how when you hear a language you don’t speak, you can usually at least tell roughly which language you’re hearing? It’s familiar. You don’t have to speak German, but you can recognize the sounds because you’ve heard it before, right? Based on that assumption, I can safely say that this particular child had never heard the sweet twang of English in her entire life. She cocked her head to the side, staring with eyes and mouth wide open, and I truly might as well have been saying “blargitty blarg! bloopity? blip blop? blorp!”


Even worse, I couldn’t make it right. All of the basic Swedish I’d practiced and stored in my brain for just such an interaction — ursäkta, jag pratar inte svenska — was just totally gone, and the kid and I both had to resort to five or six seconds of awkward charades instead. Later, I heard her telling her mom about the weird blarpity lady and I was ashamed. At least I think that’s what she was talking about, and I think that was her mom.

But never mind. I returned to my desk to find a mass email from one of my Swedish coworkers — a forward filled with funny signs in muddled Engrish (they have their own special brand of it here, too, called Swenglish). This really has nothing to do with the break room story, except that everyone shared a group chuckle about language barriers, and of course I ate it up. Because after my run-in Little Miss Judgypants, I felt entitled to a good old superior haha! at someone else’s expense. Take that, five year old! Now let’s all look at funny foreign signs and laugh at small children who don’t speak our language yet.

Unless you’re an exceptional swimmer, there are only two real ways to cross the Baltic from Stockholm to Helsinki: hop a short 45-minute flight, or take a 17-hour boat ride. Assuming you want to make the trip over a weekend without taking extra vacation days, this is a no-brainer, right? You would obviously choose to fly because then you’d have that much more time to actually sightsee and enjoy the city. But you would be boring! Seriously where is your sense of adventure? We took the boat.

(It’s worth mentioning that there was a bit of a price difference that factored here: Flights were around $250 not including an extra $30 for the airport bus, while the round trip boat ride was only $45 each and accessible via the tunnelbana. We’re not completely retarded, we’re just cheap.)

So just how was the boat? In college, I developed a sudden and crippling fear of flying, and was too scared to book a ticket home for spring break. By relying on my powers of passive-aggressive persuasion – such as by reciting aviation disaster statistics and leaving subliminal terrorists are going to be on our plane and we’re totally going to crash hints all over the apartment – I actually managed to convince my roommate that we should take the Greyhound bus to Miami instead. From our school. In Boston. It took 27 hours each way, including a 3 AM mandatory refueling stop in Deliverance, North Carolina both directions – and suffice it to say, this boat ride wasn’t as bad as that.

But it was something. The Silja Serenade bills itself as a cruise, so I think that’s where we went wrong. Had we gone into this expecting a blinged out ferry, well then I would be singing the praises of this method of Scandinavian travel.

Hey speaking of singing, there was a show!

What you’re seeing here is some sort of motionless, bungee-trapeze rendition of Con Te Partiro that took place, unannounced, on deck 6 to the cheers of screaming drunk Norrlanders. I think Katie’s face really tells the complete story.

Among the other fun surprises on board were spacious cabins…

A bizarre “Italian” themed scarf-as-ball-gown fashion show (good thing we booked months in advance to get seats for this)…

And all the inebriated, old Norwegian men that three girls could ever hope would badger them into dancing in front of a crowd…

There was also, of course, a selection of buffet-style restaurants that ran upwards of €30 for a plate of pasta (better not to do the conversion and just eat), and a smokey casino full of whiskey-soaked karaoke and seasickness delights. Seventeen hours x 2 = 34 hours, and guess how much of that was spent sleeping? 0.2.

You’ll notice this blog was not about Helsinki at all, and that’s because we were only there for about 14 seconds when all was said and done. But stay tuned because I just might have enough photos to scrape together an ugly photo collage Helsinki edition after all!