Thursday, 28 August 2008

Hej Stockholm and Helsinki!

I basically never thought I would get to Scandinavia until I was diving in a pile of money Scrooge McDuck-style. So what I know about the place can be summed up in this list: Ikea, Volvo, Absolut, Nokia, and from my design degree; an ability to speak briefly and shallowly about Arne Jacobsen's egg chair. Also, the most famous Scandinavian of all: the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.

Armed with this scarily in-depth knowledge, I boarded a Finn Air flight with the 20+ other uncles and aunties on the tour + mum + 'real' uncle + aunty. Joining me in the under-40 crowd was my 7 year-old cousin. The planes were old-school, with only the screens in the aisle viewing PG movies involving pigs/dogs. This caused me to immediately curse myself for being too cheap to buy an iPod.

I turned to assessing my fellow travelers for entertainment. There were a lot of older people on board, but they were distinctly stylish old people. They sported interesting hairstyles and the heavy-framed glasses that I associate with creative types. It was more akin to being at an architect's convention.

We finally got to Helsinki, where we were thoroughly checked before being allowed to wait for our shuttle to Stockholm. Only this time I saw something unbelievable: hot airport security staff.

From the waifish girl who pokes a gloved hand into your bag, to the windswept guy monitoring the scanner and the well-coiffed people ready to pat you down; one and all looked as if they were just earning some cash until their gig as a model/lead singer/TV host took off. I wasn't allowed to take pictures, or run back through the scanner and put some metal on so I could be patted down. Boo.

When we finally got in to Stockholm, it was about 8pm and we got our first glaring taste of the long sunlight hours. Next morning, we were whisked around on a city tour. Our tour guide happened to be the one person in Stockholm who doesn't have great English, but no matter. Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe I've been to, so it speaks for itself.

Having been the centre of an empire in the 17th century and more or less stayed out of war since then, there's been a lot of peace time and money to get things right. Everywhere you turn, there is an impressive building or structure decorating the skyline. Gamla Stan, or Old Town, has the main concentration, but the rest of the city isn't short either.

Then there's the water. Stockholm is set on a few islands at the heart of an archipelago of 30,000 islands. The directions to anything involve "...then you cross a bridge..". This is a good thing for those totally hopeless at directions (like me) but also because it's pretty everywhere you look. It's not just glittering in appearance either; you can swim and fish in the heart of town.

In fact the only thing as ubiquitous as the water, is the H&Ms. They are EVERYWHERE! Initially, it was like a dream come true. But after your first 10 or so mega H&Ms, it starts to get old. I know, I didn't think it was possible either.

Just as I was figuring out how to pronounce the A with the little o on top, we were off on a ferry to...


The overnight ferry was our first of many boats on this trip. This was the Viking line, which is Swedish for duty free alcohol/cigarettes and poker machine bonanza. Just like the original Vikings. We got our own tiny cabins but other people preferred to sit on the freezing deck and drink through the night. Awesome. Clearly the famous Scandinavian prudishness on alcohol doesn't extend to the open seas.

The harrowing effects of alcohol abuse

It also doesn't extend to Helsinki. Finland, I would find out, is culturally closer to Russia, whereas Sweden-Norway-Denmark are more Germanic. Hence the open tolerance, if not encouragement to enjoy a tipple, or twenty, outside. It's all done very safely though; I was walking around at 2am and the only threat I felt was from the cold.

Helsinki was an outpost of the Russian empire, so it doesn't have the grandeur and importance of Stockholm, but it's charming nonetheless. And the prices are less heart-breaking more reasonable. This was the largest and most well-equipped hotel room that we got. Ironing boards! Hairdryers! Is enough to make a girl dizzy with happiness.

The only downside is they seemed to have a lot less people who look like part-time models and a lot more who look like guitarists in a death metal band. You can't move for all the people with blond roots and stringy black hair trying to look disturbed and haunted.

This girl struck it lucky with great hair, and great everything else; if your sunnies don't match your bag and bike, I wouldn't know why you bother leaving the house. I vote her most stylish cyclist in Scandinavia, which is a pretty tough competition. She wins my approval, and isn't that pretty much all anyone needs?

Next: Brrr Norway


Elin said...

Dude, this makes no sense:

"We finally got to Helsinki, where we were thoroughly checked before being allowed to wait for our shuttle to Stockholm."

You took a shuttle from Helsinki to Stockholm? And then you went back to Helsinki again? Maybe you meant... you took a shuttle from Arlanda to Stockholm?

Ming said...

Nah, it's right. Our flight to Stockholm was routed thru Helsinki, because Finn Air is the cheapest! Why didn't we just start in Helsinki? No idea. The itinerary was set tt way.

Elin said...

shit man! you asian people. hairless.

Miss T said...

What I'd like to know is how Miss Cutest Cyclist in Scandinavia is riding in those minis. I can hardly do it in a big flappy swing skirt!

Yes I also noticed the (blonde) hot Finnish (blonde) airport (blonde) staff.

Cool postie. :)

Ming said...

Thanks T :)

I can't figure it either. I just marvel from the sidewalk :p