Monday, 10 Oct. 2011
2:53am - Car arrives to take me to Stansted Airport for my 6:05 flight to Sweden. I ask the driver how he's doing this morning. He says, "Fine, fine," then swiftly moves to protect himself from any further conversation with me by turning up the radio.
4:00am - Zipper of borrowed duffel bag breaks just as I enter the security line. The rest of the traveling public gets to admire my orderly packing job.
4:45am - Still no gate number. I mill around the main terminal and decide that Stansted is basically a big warehouse that became an airport by accident. Whilst waiting I chat with an Irishman who's flying back to Cork on holiday. "You must have some Irish blood in ye," he says, "because you're so chipper and chatty." Thank you?
10:35am - I finally have Swedish kronor in my wallet and a cup of Zoegas coffee in my hand, and am on a bus taking me closer to my dear Swedish friends. Bus driver announces that "This bus is equipped with seat belts. And the law in Sweden tells us that we have to use the seatbelts." His tone implies that he doesn't think much of the law.
[This is where I stop keeping track of time] I'm met in Linköping by Karin, and we're soon joined by Caroline, who triumphantly glides up to us on her shiny new blue bike. We follow her to Berget Cafe & Tehus for lunch, coffee, and dessert.
Tuesday, 11 Oct. 2011
Karin, my brother-in-law J, and I enjoy a long breakfast and a lot of coffee. We talk about all sorts of things. And I drink more coffee. I bask in their wisdom. And did I mention the coffee?
I go into town and have lunch with J and the pastor's family. We eat something that I've only ever seen in Sweden: kebab pizza. Shaved meat, onions, spicy sauce on top of pizza dough...It's delicious and I don't know why it hasn't made its way to the States.
That night J and I watch some [European] football. I wonder if the day will ever come that I don't need to have the offside rule explained to me again.
Wednesday, 12 Oct. 2011
I take a bus to Jönköping to visit J's sister Jenny and her husband. As we pass the enormous lake Vättern, I think what a treat it is to see water that's actually blue (no offense, River Thames). Sweet Jenny and I do a little shopping, then head back to her flat for good conversation and good food. I think how rich my life is, rich with relationships and opportunities I didn't earn or expect, but now can't imagine living without. All this, and heaven too? Amazing.
Thursday, 13 Oct. 2011
I embark on my journey back to London (train to Linköping; bus to Skavsta; plane to Stansted; train to Liverpool Street; Tube to Canada Water) thinking that I've got everything under control. I'm used to public transport. I've even managed this whole traveling-alone-in-a-non-English-speaking-land thing without any major disasters, public embarrassments, or reinforcements of the "obnoxious American" stereotype. What could really go wrong? Well. I'll tell you what could go wrong. What could go wrong is that the train station could decide to not provide English instructions for the coin-operated public restrooms. All I can discern is that I must insert 5 kronor into a slot in order to open the door, activate the lights, and use the toilet. But when the lights switch off after 30 seconds and someone else inserts coins and opens the door, it occurs to me that maybe I should start learning Swedish pronto; it would've been nice to know that 5 kronor only buys you 30 seconds of privacy...
So I end up having to play the ignorant American card after all, to escape the angry tirade of the intruder. Happily, no incidents more serious (read: embarassing) than that occur over the rest of my journey. I've enjoyed beautiful Sweden and my beautiful friends, but it's rather nice to be back where they speak my language. Toward the end of the 90-minute flight, at the moment when we finally break through the clouds and see the green fields of England below us, this thought involuntarily floats through my mind: "Oh, good -- I'm home again."