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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Stockholm, Sweden

USA | Thursday, 1 April 2010 | Views [549]

At six o'clock in the morning, with the sun high in the sky, the streets bustling with people. we pulled into Stockholm. Another overnight bus ride. As a side note, people in the bathroom in these European countries do the nastiest things. It never fails that we always go in behind someone who left behind a carcass, or there are the rare and shocking circumstances of nasty evidence that is barely distinguishable but just so enough to be haunting. So it was not a surprise when, on the way to Stockholm, someone chose to sit in the bathroom of the bus for over forty-five minutes. We established it was more than likely because they did not want to sit next to a stranger, and would rather inconvenience the entire bus, because anybody who was sick would still not be locking themselves in the only public restroom for almost an hour. Rebecca promised herself and her husband that at two-thirty she would confront the bus driver if the bathroom was still in use, and at 2:25 someone else asked him about it. By the grace of God, at 2:28 we pulled into a designated pit stop at a gas station. Filing out of the door, we mentioned to the bus driver someone had been hogging the facilities, and as we raced to the ones in the gas station we saw him heading into the back of the bus with his keys. The same selfish individual did not resume their post when we started again.

There were no tourist offices at the central station in Stockholm, but signs hung up everywhere offering tourist information. Turned out they were just pointing in the direction of computers that were hard to use. We decided to hole up in the nearby McDonalds, and used their wireless internet and ate a hearty breakfast for a good two hours. Michael did some research on places to stay and copied it to his phone. Of course we wandered around for our usual lengthy amount of time, with rain coming down, and when we had gotten frustrated enough to turn back to the train station we came up with the great idea of buying a map along the way. Which we did, that led us much more true than the GoogleMaps copied to the iPhone.

We arrived just wet enough, and thoroughly exhausted, to find the doors of the place locked. It was almost a terrible time in our lives, when the hostess suddenly appeared from the back door. The first thing she did upon giving us our room key was also give us the code to the door. She was a delightful soul, giving us hot tea and even taking Rebecca's 'trousers' to the wash with her stuff because she saw they were wet up to the knee. We had no intentions of going anywhere that day, and we held true. We got situated enough to throw something on to watch until we passed out for a long and unbroken nap. When we did wake up we went to the tourist office, a decent walk away, short enough to be very convenient and long enough to make us glad when we got there. We would have walked past it, had it not been for Michael noticing the ugly pillows that look like the signs warning for moose crossing. Scandinavia is obsessd with moose, and also with an ugly troll-looking creature. Michael figured that something so pointless as that moose pillow could only be sold at a tourist place. Of course he was right. We looked into hockey games, but no luck in that department. We gathered up handfuls of brochures. When we were satisified with our material, we walked out of the door and looked to the left and the right.

"Shall we eat at that place?" Rebecca pointed. Which turned out to be a TGI Friday's, and we did a jig for joy and thanked the heavens. The rest of the evening was relaxed and uneventful. We slept in our room with no windows, and we awoke to pitch black and a clock that said it was almost 9AM.

That first day after our arrival we went to Skansen, which is Europe's largest folk museum (basically being the equivalent of Hale Farm from Ohio, or Greenfield Village in Michigan- although Greenfield Village takes the cake by far). We began by eating a meal consisting mainly of french fries due to a miscommunication, accompanied by a few genuine Swedish meatballs. Stuffed with 'fritas', and smelling of coffee, we paid our way into the park. While the brochure annotates that the folk museum is open year round, it fails to mention that it means the main gates, and not the cabins and shops, which are supposed to be bursting with life and hosted by people dressed in traditional garb with stories to tell. We were led astray by the first home we passed into, which was actually a duplex shared by two families who were tenant farmers, and the friendliest man was there to tell us all about it. He was the first and last host we saw. But that did not stop us from having fun. The park was virtually empty of people, so there was no inconveniencing by a population that has proved itself, thus far, as extremely rude and selfish. We pet the horses and poked the cows, grunted at the pigs who blinked at us beneath their ears, which hung over their heavily-lashed eyes like palm branches. We plodded through the muddy trails, and took pictures of the red church that is the most married in. At the back of the folk museum are Scandinavian animals, pretty much a zoo. And the seals were actually out, one otter stood at attention, very much wanting a snack, and we saw two wolves curled up for rest. The bears were long gone, so was the wolverine, and the lynx was napping. We learned about the reindeers, who were the most active creatures in all of the park, and how the Swedes would follow their migration, much like the Native Americans following the buffalo, moving from one camp of tents and lean-tos to the next. Our tour ended in the more towny part of the park, with an exciting blast of good old-fashioned glass blowing. The guy was a real hoot, in the total opposite sense of the word, and he wasn't even wearing a costume. We soothed our disappointment with a Swedish pastry from a plump baker with red hair wearing the white hat with flour on his cheeks. We did not get to see the kitchen, and the book binder was closed.

We take this time to tell you the sad tale of one of the first buildings we stopped at upon our arrival, filled with those howler monkeys (or maybe some kind of lemur? The black and white ones with long hair on the tails). The environment was intended to be natural, so the monkeys were caged up with black-cheeked lovebirds, and we delighted in seeing the close relations to our own friend we left behind (Chuck, we will return to you!). The monkeys were particularly playful, and our eyes followed one who jumped to the ground, sitting on a flat rock. To our horror, we saw a pitiful specimen of a lovebird, the saddest, scrawniest, sickliest little Chuck that ever was, no feathers but those on his head. He sat on the flat rock, next to the panting monkey, until the monkey looked down and saw him, and then patted him roughly on the head. What happend next is not for the weak of heart, and Michael eventually had to drag Rebecca from the room. The monkeys collectively ganged up on the inferior creature, chasing it around the cage, allowing it only barely to land before leaping after it, knocking it off its perch, chasing it around and around. There was no intent to harm it other than the slow torture they were performing. It would have been easier to watch the feathered head ripped from the featherless body. Later that afternoon, when it came time for us to leave, we passed the same building and Rebecca asked Michael, "Should we do it?" "Not a chance!" he insisted, knowing that she was suggesting they check on the wellfare of the bird. But Rebecca was beside herself, wringing her hands, crying out about the injustice, pleading with God for mercy on His poor defenseless creation. Michael suffered himself to return to the wretched environment, and found the bird sitting on the flat rack once again, undisturbed [for the time]. Had there not been the chance of a language barrier we would have acted on behalf of Chuck, even though mostly everyone in Scandinavia spoke fluent English (minus the cashier who rang up our lunch as mainly french fries, and then gave us more when we tried to set it right). Instead we left it in the hands of the care-takers, who would have to know that one of their charges was suffering so. It was as if the bird was sitting on that flat rock, in wide open view of the window, completely exposed, as his last, desperate attempt at salvation. Surely, he must be thinking, one of those faces will see me. But, then again, if he was already so ill-looking, would he ever be noticed?

On our way home from Skansen we picked up some cheap pad thai and liked it so much that we chose it for the other two nights we were in town as well.

We spent the entire following day in IKEA. Yes, IKEA. For those from the midWest, who do not know IKEA, it is the very epitomy of home decor. The store was actually founded by a Swede when he was only seventeen years old, and what resulted was a chain spreading across the world. Only the midWest is unfortunate enough to not have them. The buildings are large and spacious, signature for their bright blue exterior, emblazened with the block capital letters of IKEA in yellow. We supplied our entire kitchen for only sixty dollars from the IKEA in California. Half of our furniture is from IKEA, costing little over a couple hundred bucks, including our first table with four chairs (which is what IKEA is famous for, being the ready-to-assemble kind, mostly consisting of veneered particle board, but the more expensive stuff being good solid wood). Now, the thing about IKEA is that it is cheap. Hence, the cheap prices. But not everything is the fall-apart, oh-my-gosh-why-did-I-spend-the-money-on-this-piece-of-crap. Sometimes you get what you paid for, but the design isn't to collapse so you have to go out and buy another one. As a matter of fact, we have never needed to replace an IKEA product of ours thusfar. Both of our bookshelves cost forty dollars, and are still going strong. They couldn't support a small child, or stand up straight without the brackets screwed into the wall, but they do a darn good job at being bookshelves. Our set of silverware was somewhere around ten bucks, and while they will rust if left in a puddle too long they have lasted us years so far. We got a twin, down comforter for thirty dollars, and all of the rugs in our home combined cost less than that. Needless to say, they put Wal*Mart to shame as far as prices go, and even offer their own line of bathing products and luggage. The best thing about IKEA is the set-up, consisting of display rooms where you go through and read the tags and write down what you want. The last part is a huge warehouse where you pull the stuff off the shelves, instead of trying to maneuver large carts throughout your shopping experience. This leaves you free to imagine yourself the proud owner of one of those neatly decorated and perefectly harmonious rooms (the smaller stuff can be carried in supplied bags). It took us about three hours to go through the entire building, as it was the largest in the entire world. All we had to do was wait at a bus stop for the free IKEA bus, which came every hour on the hour, taking everyone the thirty minute drive in a big blue bus with the yellow letters IKEA on the side. On every half hour the bus made the return trip from the store. We started the early afternoon with a one hour lunch at the famous cafeteria. Despite its renown for afforable prices on quircky decor (a lot of it leaning towards retro), IKEA is just as famous for its food. Certainly not the best, but in plentiful supply and cheaper than McDonalds. The cafeteria at the largest IKEA in the world, in Sweden, was nothing short of a bustling metropolis of food stations manned by pleasantly efficient chefs in the double-breasted jackets with nametags. We ordered more Swedish meatballs, that came with boiled potatoes instead of a mountain of french fries, like the last time. We got the salad bar which included a roll and butter for the equivalent of fifty American cents. The entire meal came with a fountain beverage and coffee. We were riding on the wings of fat happiness, endorphines flowing freely, by the time it came to hit the displays.

Our last day in town was a bit of a failure, but we were fast learning that while Stockholm was an amazing-looking city, sitting on fourteen separate islands, chock full of glorious architecture, it was not the most exciting. We had originally pretended that we were going to get up at six in the morning to catch a ferry going out to one of the famous fishing villages (called the archepilago, of which Sweden has the largest portion in the world). But after Skansen we were worried about the 'open all year' advertisement, when it was primarily a summer attraction for bathers and and sailors. So we insisted on getting a solid sleep before our upcoming overnight bus ride into Norway, and spent the few hours upon waking trying to find something to do. We settled for a one hour boat tour that served us a hearty dose of bile and electric sparks as full-grown adults shamelessly cut in line to get a good spot, despite those of us who had been waiting for twenty minutes. We did get to sit on reindeer pelts up top, and they were surprisingly warm, and shed all over us. It was cold and windy, and we could not hear the tour guide, so we have no fun facts to tell you. Only, perhaps, that Stockholm is in sore need of apartments, and old mills and industrial buildings are currently being converted for that purpose. Also, the princess is marrying a common man, the first in their line of royalty to do so. The best part of the trip was the 'grog', wam wine, nutty and sweet and piping hot, with almonds and raisins at the bottom. Careful, though, you won't realize you're almost sick on the sweetness until too late, despite the miniscule servings.

The tour was only an hour long, and we still had about four until our bus left, so we decided to throw everything out of our minds and go see the movie Alice in Wonderland (in its original language, with subtitles). We are noticing that all of the foreign countries seem to have much better systems (minus their failure to designate lines for the waiting), and at the movie theater we were given assigned seats. The movie was great, crazy and humorous, and we definitely enjoyed the respite (although, we're sure, the pocketbook did not).

We wondered about our time in Scandinavia. The currency had been frustrating and bewildering, and so far the land had not been what we hoped. Would Norway make it up to us?

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