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.
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.
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!
And just like that, it’s November. I know. I can’t believe it either, but just to prove it, my landlords back home deducted rent from my checking account this morning, so it’s for real, folks. It’s the final countdown.
I have a few topical and amusing things from this weekend that I should definitely blog about before I forget them, but I’m going to be totally honest – I’m not really feeling it tonight. So I’ll jot down some of those stories tomorrow-ish, and in the mean time I will leave you with another installment of the ugly photo collage. That’s right, they’re back! You thought I had done away with these because they’re lame and you have to squint really hard just to see what’s in each one, but the truth is I just forgot all about them. And, in the process, I lost three full weeks of my-life-in-pictures. I’ll never get those memories back, and the world will always have to wonder, but wait, what did week seven look like?? – but there’s nothing I can do about that now. We all have to just move forward from here.
Take it away, Stockholm: Week Nine-ish!
I’m morally bankrupt enough to admit that among the things I miss here in Stockholm are bad reality shows. I especially miss you, Bravo, with your Millionaire Matchmaker and your 437 cities chock full of nut job Real Housewives. When so many of the bright shooting stars of reality TV have flickered and sputtered out too soon (yes, you, Shot at Love with Tila Tequila), your network has always been there to lobotomize me whenever I need a good drool.
Tomorrow marks eight weeks of reality detox, and as if explicitly to torture me, the Swedish television execs have scrambled to cast and shoot a new season of their own TV trash: Paradise Hotel. Why torture? Equal parts Bachelor Pad, MTV Spring Break and Dating in the Dark (confession: I’ve never actually seen that one but I have enough to go on from the title), Paradise Hotel is just about the stupidest and most wonderful possible programming that you could hope to find on one of your two functioning channels. And according to the promos that have been running every 11 seconds since I got here in August, it was scheduled to start this week! Yay, right? No! Not yay! Despite the English title, the whole show is in Swedish! I can’t understand a word they’re saying, and it turns out that reality TV is actually intolerable without the ridiculous sound bites. Go ahead, watch the clip. Behold how they’ve stolen all of the joy.
Annnnd, without further ado…the ugly photo collage: Prague edition is here! And well worth the wait, eh? Yep. These just get better and better.
I know, I know…two days ago I promised another installment of the ugly photo collage, and then I totally let you guys down by catching the death flu, staying home from work and filling my Friday with a marathon of Swedish Idol and the Simpsons, and now you’re mad. I know. I failed. But here’s a pretty picture of Prague for now, and you’ll get your collage in a minute.
First though, I wanted to write about my latest project. This one has nothing to do with foreign rights, or translating Swedish manuscripts, or really anything to do with Sweden at all. This project is the result of unexpected inspiration – the kind that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, while surfing the web, eating a free banana from the break room, minding your own business.
Yesterday, through a series of random clicks (and really, who knows how we find half the stuff we do online), I stumbled on a Facebook photo album of some of the cutest little puppies and kittens you’ve ever seen…
Wait, come back. Your eyes have glossed over and you stopped reading this because I said cute puppies and kittens – I get it. But let me just interject here that, despite that last sentence, this is not a sparkling rainbows and magical unicorn glitter post. It’s a little bit gritty, ok?
So, back to it. The album actually contained photos of 53 animals currently living in an animal control center in North Carolina, all of whom were scheduled to be put down today unless people came forward to adopt them. And yes, earlier I did say “puppies and kittens”…they were pretty much all little babies. This particular shelter is so overcrowded that it euthanizes every Friday, and this was the latest group of lives on the line – on a Thursday afternoon. Break my heart.
For the last seven weeks, a handful of volunteers has been putting together these albums in their spare time, all in an attempt to put real faces to the problem of overcrowded shelters like the one in North Carolina. And let me just say that OMG, it works. Who hasn’t heard the whole “spay and neuter! control the pet population! blah blah blah!” thing? – but seeing the real faces of the little ones who ultimately pay the price is an entirely different (bad pun) beast.
Now if you know me at all, then you already know of my proclivity to adopt animals without thinking twice. It’s why, even on a bit of a budget now, I have three kick-ass dogs and a wonderfully flamboyant cat, Sparklemonkey, and why at one point my old roommate and I (looking at you, Ashley) were fostering two ducks and 10 cats until we systematically badgered our friends and coworkers into adopting them. We also had a foster goat in middle school, but who doesn’t?
But despite what you’re thinking, I didn’t adopt another pet yesterday. This post is about inspiration, not madness. Instead, for the first time I actually recognized the ongoing problem…that this album of adorable little babies-in-need was from just ONE kill-shelter, in one county of one state, for that one week of the year. And so I asked myself: What can I, sitting thousands of miles away, actually do to help?
This is not a save-the-world blog, because the problem is way bigger than the slight efforts of a travel editor working abroad. But I realized that these volunteers were on to something: Posting real photos of the animals, with a real (and urgent) deadline, and sharing it worldwide via the powerful, free and potentially viral social media at everyone’s fingertips – well, you can see some pretty incredible results that way. But at the same time, these volunteers aren’t really social media mavens – just people with enormous hearts. And so, rather naturally, I found my place in the big picture, my small way of helping.
I contacted one of the volunteers and offered some ideas and suggestions – ways to enhance their social media pages, streamline their photo albums and improve their contact system – and now I’m already at work (and happy to be) on planning a new blog and some content for them. Adopting made a difference to my four pets at home, but I realized I could make a bigger impact just by doing what I do for a living, and offering my multi-media skills to something I believe in.
And btw, this story has a happy ending: All 53 little schmoopie woopies were pulled from the shelter this week, and they’re on their way to new homes and rescues as I write this. Score another one for social media!
(Send me a note if you’d like more info on this particular shelter or any of the rescues that help. And when I inevitably find myself with a dozen new foster pets and need to find them homes, dear coworkers and friends, just be warned.)