Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Stockholm (Syndrome)

So I've now been in Inari for 3 weeks!! Which seems like a crazy amount of time- I'm starting to feel like this is my home and that I have been here for a very long time, and it feels like I have done so much for such a short time. Most of the time when I'm not with the horses and huskies we're making dinners for everybody, or aurora hunting, or hiking and cycling and exploring the area, so there's not an awful amount of time for messing around on the internet, especially when the weather is so beautiful (we've had some wonderful sunny cold days the last few weeks- a welcome break from rain!) I'm currently looking after the handicraft shop for my host, and so can play around on the laptop here. This is still the quiet season so not many tourists come in, but there have been a few, and so some very awkward moments when people start talking Finnish to me, and I have to explain I'm from England. Then then look extremely surprised and ask "but why are you here?!?" and seem unconvinced when I tell them how beautiful it is here, and how much nicer it is than England. I can also see them thinking what the fuck is someone who doesn't speak Finnish doing in a shop in Finland. Keeping my fingers crossed for non Finnish tourists to walk in next.....

Very much wanting to catch myself up on the blog front so going to try and speed through the rest of my Scandinavian adventures, picking back up from feeling grumpy about leaving Bergen and flying to Stockholm.

Chris and our yummy vodka
Having Australian Chris for a travel buddy proved useful straight away as our flight was delayed by 2 hours, but free internet both at the airport and on the plane (as well as free tea, coffee and biscuits- gotta love Finnair) made me happier, as did the weather forecast for sunshine sunshine sunshine for Stockholm. Chris also proved himself a worthy travel buddy by cooking an incredible dinner for me at the hostel, where we met some other really nice people, and we started (and finished) some duty free vodka and rum- duty free so very much appreciated in expensive Scandinavia!

The hostel was amazing, as well as a free sauna to use, free pasta for guests, there were free mac computers everywhere, the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in at a hostel, and a really cool crowd of travellers. Whilst checking in I noticed an advert on the desk asking for tourists to take part in filming for a Swedish TV show- 'Färjan'- 'The Boat'. It would include an all expenses paid cruise to and from Finland, and they'd film us as we wandered around the boat 'experiencing swedish culture'. Anyway, after a few emails, I struck lucky and they replied saying yes, we want you! But we need you later today, you'll come back tomorrow afternoon, and you need to have some friends. So I turned to my travel buddy and my new Stockholm friends from the hostel and everybody was up to it, so 4 of us ended up rocking up to a random port in Stockholm with an overnight bag waiting for a camera crew to turn up...

Luckily they did, and we boarded this HUGE fancy cruise boat, found our cabins, and signed our lives away agreeing to be hooked up to microphones and filmed for tv!

The TV show is basically a reality show following this boat that sails several nights a week from Stockholm; the crew that are on it, and the people that go on it..... A little bit like Airport or something, although they try alot harder to be funny and outrageous. Apparently the show is beyond terrible. Every Swedish person I asked about it grimaced, laughed, and said 'oh god, not that show'. It's the kind of thing you don't admit to people that you watch. Anyway, there is what I found of it on youtube to give you a taste of the show...... (watch from 40 seconds to 1.20 for the hilarious opening sequence)


Sailing through the Stockholm archipelago!
Anyhoo. As far as were concerned, we got unlimited wine, unlimited beer, free accommodation and free food. And it was a beautiful day and we were sailing through the stockholm archipelago so life was good! :D The film crew were also alot of fun, they took as straight to a bar and got us some pints, and then we started filming. It wasn't scripted but very very staged, so they'd tell us where to stand and mike us up and then pretend they'd just causally come across us and decided to chat to us, and ask us why we decided to come on the ship. At that point we unfortunately couldn't tell the truth "because you offered to pay for everything" but had to come up with some bullshit like "oh we wanted to get the real Swedish experience, blah blah". They then took us to dinner where they filmed us trying all these weird types of Swedish food, like pickled herring, and then taught us a Swedish drinking song as we all downed some kind of schnapps. (I think they wanted us to get very drunk so they could film us doing stupid things.) Anyway,  they told  us to go the club, and instructed one of us to pull someone as that 'made good tv', and Chris volunteered to use some aussie chat up lines on some Swedish girls..... except unfortunately about 80% of the ship were over 60 years old. A few beers and an ABBA tribute band later, Claudio wins a dancing competition with a very scary looking swedish woman who kept grabbing his ass, and we had a free bottle of champagne to share! At this point we apparently STILL weren't being interesting or social enough, and were told to go talk to some more Swedish people. I decide to go and talk to some Swedish guys sitting nearby (the only ones who were actually in their 20s) and that goes okay for a while until the camera comes over to us and the two guys suddenly lean over and make out with each other. Awkward. So there is a wonderful sequence somewhere in the world where it looks like a young english girl is trying to chat up some cute swedish guys, who turn out to be gay- making the English girl look a little bit more than ridiculous........
(Turned out the guys were both straight, and they'd promised a gay friend that they'd kiss each other on TV for him..... I was a little confused but they were cool guys to hang out with and the film crew were very happy with themselves, and me....)

The next day we got to go the spa, which was wonderful for me as I got a facial, a massage and got to nurse my hangover in the jacuzzi and sauna. Meanwhile, the guys were having a rather awkward filming session in the sauna, where they got a little bit interrogated.... They didn't really tell me everything that got asked or spoken about but all seemed rather traumatised when they came out, so I left it at that. Our next 'swedish experience' was to have a 'Fika'. A fika is a swedish word that doesn't translate directly to English, but is a very important part of a Swedish day. It is, loosely, a coffee break in which you stop and sit down, usually with other people, and have coffee and some pastries or sweet bread. It doesn't necessarily have to be coffee though- it more symbolises a sacred break of sorts, which is coveted by the naturally very busy Swedish folk. Swedish law dictates that in every workplace there must be a fika in the morning, usually around 10am, and in the afternoon, usually around 3pm. Sounds good.
So we sat and had a fika, with a selection of beautiful Swedish pastries. They then supplied us with various 'Swedish' things they had bought from the duty free shop, and filmed us exploring them. In the classically staged way they began by saying "oh hi, so what are you guys doing?" and we had to reply with the usual bullshit of "oh well we were just wandering through the duty free and thought we'd pick up some things we didn't recognise and try them out together, to get the real swedish experience!" So they filmed us trying caviar fish paste, spicy sausages and mustard, and salty liquorice (which is apparently the most wonderful thing in the world to Swedes, but is absolutely disgusting. The tradition of salty sweets unfortunately continues into Finland, where they also hide it inside fruity sweets. So you're sucking along thinking oh this is nice and then you crunch into the candy and get a salt explosion in your mouth..... If there is going to be lots of small white granuales on a candy it should be sugar, not salt!!). We also had to try Snus, which is a kind of swedish tobacco- snuff. Rather than smoke cigarettes, alot of Swedes have snus which is stuck between your gum and upper lip, and you let the tobacco enter your bloodstream that way. This would have been fine- I have a couple of friends who use snus and I've tried it before, except that was in neat little mesh packages. This snus they supplied us and wanted to film us trying was thick and black and loose in the tin. You had to pick it up, squeeze it together with your fingers and stick it under your lip, where naturally for me it all fell apart and smeared all over my teeth. Add to that the fact that it smelt and tasted absolutely disgusting, and it was not good times.

Anyway, the filming was good. My original plan was to now post a link to a copy of the programme with us in it, and I wish I could. The other day though I unfortunately got an email saying they weren't going to use the footage of us afterall, as apparently there was a problem with us speaking english and the show being in Swedish. :( I suspect they are probably too cheap to get someone to do the substitles, but c'est la vie. Photos and memories will have to do... :/ :(

Dancing our way through Stockholm
The rest of Stockholm was wonderful. I went on a guided bike ride, met up with a girl I'd met in Bergen and we couchsufed together on Friday night, went out clubbing, and then the next day stumbled across an incredible dancing protest march through the centre of Stockholm. I wasn't entirely sure what it was about/ in aid of, something about proving that dancing in raves was for the sake of dancing rather than just because of drugs, but it was really fun. In the evening I met up with a swedish guy I'd met on the booze cruise who lived just outside Stockholm and was having a house party, so that was incredibly random but really fun. And the following day we boarded a ferry to Helsinki, and the final country in the adventure begun!

(Also, apologies for the drop in writing standards and lack of jokes. It's been a long day and I'm getting a little bit sick of blogging...... Hopefully just a stage....)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Rain, hiking, rain, clubbing, rain, fjords and rain (Bergen)

Hello :) So it seems my attempts to be all realistic, and to try and talk about the bad lonely times just as much as the good amazing times has meant people think I'm lonely and sad all the time and are worried..... which is unbelievably lovely and I love you all so much! But I think I might have gone too far in my attempts for equality of experience. So it's been like 95% amazing and 5% lonely, maybe a little more than 5% for the first few days and then definitely alot less after that! In fact, there were alot of times a few cities further on that I had so many people around and friends and things to do with people that I started to crave my own company and to be alone..... Sod's law I guess. Anyway, the essence of this little paragraph is that I'M FINE and happy so don't worry!! :D Although, of course, that is no excuse not to send me messages and love. In fact, I have a permanent address now!! So send me a letter pretty please :)

Clare McEnally c/o Satu Natunen
99870 Inari

(Tiny address as this is a tiny tiny village, so the post goes to the post office and you either pick it up from there, or the postman (who is your friend, because you know EVERYBODY here) simply drops it round for you....or just gives it to you at the pub.....) But it's beautiful- here is the view from my window...... :)

Anyway! Early early train to Bergen from Oslo. Felt very sad about slipping away and leaving such wonderful lovely people behind, and my accommodation in Bergen was a little uncertain. Basically a guy on couchsurfing had offered to let me use his apartment for the weekend whilst he was out of town. AMAZING, thought I. What a wonderful, generous person!! And perhaps he is. But then again, maybe not. I looked at a few of his references on couchsurfing and got a little freaked by some of them, which were basically from girls who had said he'd just tried to sleep with them the whole time they were there. Hmmm. But then again, he had some nice references as well. Tricky. But regardless, apartment sitting by myself sounded a little lonely- so I thought I'd see if anybody were able to come to Bergen for the weekend to hang out and also, then, if the guy was creepy it wouldn't matter as I wasn't by myself. Esp if I was with a guy- and I had a guy friend really eager and a ready to come out. Woohoo! So I asked him if it were okay if a friend came as well (his CS profile said he had room for 3 surfers). And then he replied that he'd prefer if I not stay there with a friend, and that he'd prefer if it were just me. Then we could "have a nice dinner together" when he got back on Sunday evening as "just the two of us." And oh yes, I was "free to just sleep in his bed whilst he was away. Wink." Right.

So, not overally keen to stay at this guy's place, but all other requests for couches had been declined as the people were unable to host. The hostels were about 35€ a night which was not money I really wanted to spend, and I was running out of options. And then- everything just worked out. Before I set out travelling I contacted the woman I was going to work for in Inari (Satu) and chatted to her about my travelling plans, and she said if I needed any help along the way just to let her know, and that she had some friends in Bergen, a sister in Stockholm...... And so, on the train, I contacted her and explained my situation, and asked if by any chance her friends in Bergen might possibly have a couch for me to sleep on for a few nights. She said she'd ask straight away, and within an hour she emailed again to say yes! I was very welcome! He would pick me up from the train station!
I am still slightly in awe that despite everything we hear about what a terrible world we live in, it is also a place where a woman I have never met before in my life can ask her friend to let a stranger stay with him, and he says yes, sure, she is welcome! I absolutely love it.

The man, Hans Olaf, was incredible. He's about 60 or 70, and lives by himself in a small apartment about a 10 minute walk outside of Bergen. Despite the short notice he'd made up a bed for me in my own little room, and was there waiting for me when I got off the train (which, incidentally, is one of the most beautiful train rides ever. Mountains mountains lakes trees FUCKING GLACIER...!!!! fjords, mountains... amazing). Anyway, Bergen is a place where it rains 280 days a year. And it was raining when I arrived. But it was lovely, it's a beautiful place, and after a brief unpacking sesh I was off to have a dinner. A girl who I had sent a couch request to was really really sad that she had to say no (there was simply no room), and really wanted to meet me so invited me to her place for dinner and drinks. She was studying at the university and I had an incredible evening with her and her friends, making an awesome stir fry, drinking norwegian cider, chatting about the language the culture and her travelling experience. It was so so lovely hanging out with students again, and they were amazing people. One was travelling to England in a few weeks time and passing through Durham!! so I gave her lots of recommendations of stuff to do there :D They then walked me all the way back to where I was staying which turned into an EPIC trek in which we all got totally lost, but they refused to leave me until I was through the door, and was quite a warm evening (and not raining!! shock shock) so was all lovely.

Me at the top of Fløyen!
The next day I met up with another CSer who had contacted me as she was also going to stay at the creepy guy's apartment, but had found another host. Anyway we all agreed to meet up, and I found our that her host was a guy who had offered me a place to sleep in Bergen, but who I had immediatly branded as a weirdo and had ignored. Anyway this girl was a bit freaked as the guy had been acting really weird and creepy the night before, forcing her to let him give her a massage, trying to kiss her..... Yeah. So we all hung out which was pretty awkward, and I kept asking her why she was bothering staying with him and she said it was better than a hostel.... Nevetheless we had a pretty pleasant day exploring the centre of Bergen, laughing at the lazy tourists who paid a stupid amount of money to get the vernacular up the mountain Fløyen (we hiked up) and seeing some beautiful views over Bergen. Later, I got a panicked fb message from the girl saying that she´s left her host´s house as he started being creepy again, and she was desperately looking for places to stay. Moral to the tale, if someone looks creepy, acts creepy, has bad references, don´t stay in their house by yourself.... Gut instincts ftw. (Also, the guy has now been deleted from CS which is good!)

The sign outside the nightclub.....brilliant.
In the I met up with another girl who had wanted to host me but couldn´t as she was now living with her parents. We met for some drinks and met up with some other CSers, including the girl from earlier, two scottish guys and an australian guy called Chris who was soon to become my stockholm travelling buddy (we discovered we had both randomly booked onto the same flight), Pretty good night although the price of beer made me want to cry and loads of places were 22 or above which made me feel really young..!

The next day dawned rainy and misty and I went off to go hiking with (yet another) guy who had wanted to offer me a couch but already had too many surfers, but asked if I wanted to go hiking. We climbed the highest peak in Bergen which was a ridiculous climb up, I say it was a path but it was actually a stream, we climbed the biggest mountain via a stream strewen with giant boulders and rocks- for most of it we had to use our hands. And oh yes, it was so misty and windy that they´d closed the railway going up to it (not that we would have used it, but as an example of the conditions....). Nevertheless it was really really nice to do something active and we had some really good chats (in between gasps!) The plan was to climb to the top and then start a long hike round to another peak, however it was so misty it would have been too dangerous as we wouldn´t be able to see the path. So, we started climbing down and near to the bottom Luco looks back up and says, ah! I think the clouds are clearing, we could climb back up?! In hindsight he was probably joking.... but I was pretty sad to finish hiking so said yeah, ok, let's do it! So we climbed this big ass mountain twice. And as soon as we got to the top it had clouded over again and was too misty..... Ah well. Good hike :P

Swimming in cloud at the top of the peak!
The next day I paid a stupid amount of money to go on a trip to see the fjords, but I figured I couldn´t come to Norway without seeing them, and I´d saved alot of money on accomodation so what the hell! It was beautiful! Pictures speak louder here. There was also a lovely English couple who kind of adopted me throughout the tip, making sure that I was on the right bus and buying me cups of tea.... :)

And that was my Bergen adventure, more or less!! Felt ridiculously grumpy the next day to be leaving to go on to Stockholm as the sun was starting to shine for the first time in a while, and my hiking friend was going again that day, and I was leaving.... :( But I met the Astralian chris on the airport bus and the next adventure begun!

Stay tuned for stories of a hostel that has a sauna and gives you free pasta, a street dancing demonstration through Stockholm, and Clare on a Swedish TV reality show.........