Traveling to Sweden
Blog Introduction: I’ve received good feedback from many friends about my previous travel blogs. With this encouragement, I will attempt to chronicle the major events of this three week tour in Sweden, along with cultural observations. If anyone is annoyed to receive this unsolicited email, please let me know, and your address will be removed from the list.
March 20, 2008 [Editor’s Note: Sorry for the delay–my computer’s been down–George]
The Flight to Los Angeles
The flight from Reno to Los Angeles was on a small prop-driven plane, which flew lower and slower than the usual jet airplanes. We travelled south over the Sierra Nevada mountains, leaving Reno’s Spring weather behind to fly over the snow-covered mountain range. Sitting on the left side of the plane, I could easily follow our flight progress, having driven south on highway 395 many times. After passing Mono Lake, I looked unsuccessfully for the Tioga Pass highway that enters Yosemite Park from the East entrance from 395. But the area was an uninterrupted mass of snow. It was easy to see why the Tioga Pass highway does not typically open until late May. Until then, it must remain completely covered by many feet of snow. I was reminded again of how much of California (and indeed, much of the USA) is wilderness area, completely devoid of human development.
The Sierra Nevadas eventually passed beneath us to reveal the Central Valley, California’s huge agricultural area, with brown fields at this time of year. There should be plenty of water this year, from the abundant snow in the Sierras. But this will not be the case every year. It is interesting that during wet winters in California and Nevada, building permits are issued freely, as if every year would be so wet. The only thing inhibiting development this year is the national real estate crisis, which has slowed the market for the construction of new homes.
We flew into LA, again, relatively lower than the jets fly. Instead of the flight plan approaching the airport from the West, we flew in from the North, passing almost directly over the collection of tall buildings that constitute the financial heart of this spread-out city. Many of the buildings have helicopter landing pads, though it was too windy on that day. I could see the individual cars on the 101 and the 405 freeways. Traffic seemed to be moving freely, unlike how it often seems when one is driving on those freeways. As we turned to land at LAX, I was reminded again of an observation noted on previous trips into LAX, particularly from Asia: There are no people visible in LA, only cars! There is practically no one visible who is walking…just cars and more cars.
I had purposely chosen to fly via Amsterdam (versus Frankfort, Paris, or London), for several reasons. I like KLM airlines; I like buying cheese in Amsterdam; and I had just transited through Frankfort in January on my way to India. The plane was full, but the ten hour flight went by relatively quickly. My strategy on such travel days is to arise early so that I am tired enough to sleep on the plane. Susan and I had visited the health club as usual at 7:30 that morning. We had one outside appointment, stopped by the office, bringing me to the Reno airport in the afternoon for the evening flight from LA, arriving in Amsterdam around noon the next day.
It was snowing in Amsterdam when we landed. I soon learned that my flight to Stockholm had been cancelled due to weather, and I was rebooked a couple of hours later. KLM was nice enough to give me a ten Euro meal voucher, a five minute free international phone card, and a fifty dollar discount on my next KLM or Northwest ticket.
The Amsterdam airport is a great place for watching people from all parts of the world. Holland has a large number of immigrants from its former colonial colonies of Indonesia and Surinam. The range of feminine demeanors is very broad, from tall husky Dutch blonds to veiled Arabic brunettes (I assume). The confidence level of these different nationalities is very evident not only from how they dress, but especially from how they walk and whether they are willing to return a glance. American women tend to walk relatively relaxed and casually. French and Italian women walk as if they are very conscious of being looked at by men. German and Scandanavian walk like they know where they are going and don’t care if they are looked at or not. Middle Eastern women walk as if they hope that no one will notice or look at them. Far East Asian women seem more inconspicuous, as if they just want to blend into the crowds. Perhaps I just don’t understand their body language. In any case, the preceding observations are just gross generalizations, and individuals will certainly vary from my crude stereotypes.
Arriving in Stockholm
I had planned to end the previous section with an observation about how organized and professional the Dutch seemed to be. However, this intention was subverted by the fact that my luggage did not arrive on the flight with me, despite the fact that I had spent five hours or more in Amsterdam’s Skiphol Airport, which should have been ample time to transfer my luggage. Indeed, it seemed as if all the luggage from the original cancelled flight had stayed in Amsterdam, as there were perhaps fifty or more people in Stockholm who didn’t receive their luggage, forcing a delay of an hour to stand in line and then make a report to the harried airline freight agents. I am happy to report that my bag was delivered to me here at Christian’s apartment around 11:30 pm, more than 24 hours after I arrived here.
I had bought wine and cheese in Amsterdam to bring to Sweden. Drinking a couple of glasses with Christian and his wife, Birgitta, helped me to sleep last night. I was told that my arrival day, officially the first day of Spring, was the coldest day of the winter so far. There had been a little snow the day before, and the daytime temperature today was in the mid-20’s Farenheit, several minus degrees Celsius. I was glad that I had brought a good jacket along with a scarf and gloves. I borrowed a cap, since mine was in my, then as yet undelivered suitcase. The first order of business for me was to arrange a Swedish SIM card for my unlocked cell phone. It’s very cheap and convenient to buy these cards at any 7-11 store. Just make sure when you travel that you have “unlocked” your cell phone, which none of the major American phone companies will do for you. (Reno residents: USA Telephone on Moana near Lakeside will do it for twenty dollars.)
I made a few phone calls to old friends to let them know I had arrived. I received a visit from a relatively new friend, Ingvar, a former professional photographer who decided in his forties to become a psychiatric therapist/counsellor. He is looking for the right job under the right conditions. We discussed how Sweden’s relatively lavish social security system averages the income of all one’s working years. And so when someone decides in the middle of those working years to change careers or undertake a course of study, it works against the annual life wage average and reduces one’s eventual retirement income. The baby-boomer politicians (mostly my age) who passed this law justified it by thinking that anyone crazy enough to quit one career and study to start another would probably earn more money in the new career, thus evening things out. The law had previously set retirement based on the last or highest ten years of income. Thus the new law was a way of indirectly reducing payments.
Finally, Christian and I went to the movie, something that I never seem to carve out time for at home. (Also, the fact that we have a large screen TV reduces the need to go out and spend money for the movie experience.) We saw No Country For Old Men, the “best picture of the year” at the Oscars. Certainly, it was a well made movie. But the subject matter, the brutal murders, and the unresolved mood at the end, did not leave me feeling better about myself, my country, or life in general. And so, the fact that this was named “best picture” indicates to me that there was a lack of any more inspirational or uplifting competition among this year’s movie releases. Or perhaps I’m just showing my own sheltered nature, not wanting brutal reality to intrude on my relatively peaceful and joyful life.