Sunrise Over Sweden

by Eli Hodapp

Today’s travels to Finland really couldn’t have gone better. I had an aisle seat on the flight to Stockholm, allowing me to get up at my leisure and a window seat for the hop over the Baltic Sea to Helinski. I’m not sure it would be possible for the sunrise over the eastern coast of Sweden to be more beautiful. I had intended on picking up where I left off in Super Mario 3D Land1 but I ended up spending the entirety of the 45 minute flight looking out the window like a little kid.

It didn’t take long after landing in Stockholm to remember just how much I love Europe. Everything here is so much nicer, so much cleaner, and infinitely more sensible. After stepping off the plane we got shuffled through customs, which makes the ridiculousness of the entire Homeland Security facade feel so much more apparent. The customs agents for entry into the EU are friendly, and with a smile stamp your passport and welcome you to, in this case, Sweden. There’s no forms, no interrogations, just “Hi! Welcome to Sweden.”

Comparatively, even as an American citizen you’re questioned as you return to the country and depending on where you’re returning from, you might even need multiple filled out forms to get back in. Not a citizen? Forget about it. You not only get the third degree, but part of the process involves both a mug shot and a full set of fingerprints. Watching the whole process is fairly incredible, and I know I certainly don’t feel any more or less safe for it.

After customs, since I was getting on another flight, I had to run my bag through security before entering the terminals. Again, the whole process in European airports seems to be designed with practicality and logic in mind instead of fear and paranoia. You don’t have to take your shoes off, those horrid back scatter X-ray machines are nowhere to be found, and they even let me bring my bottle of water through without issue.

Once you reach the terminal, the shops and restaurants available put even “high end” American shopping malls to shame. Top-tier jewelry shops are open for business next to duty free perfume stands and even places where you could dump thousands of dollars on a suit if you felt like it. Everyone there is dressed like they actually care about their appearance, and children are incredibly well behaved.

The whole experience is in such stark contrast to airports in the USA that it makes even the nicer airports I’ve been in feel like third world police state slums in comparison. Brands of available designer suits are exchanged for a wide selection of Chex Mix flavors. Sweatpants are everywhere. Children couldn’t be worse, and people couldn’t be fatter. It’s crazy how different it all is.

It just doesn’t seem like the culture of fear and excess exist here. It’s refreshing to think that an airport restaurant can actually be decorated incredibly well, with stylish furniture, and it’ll stay like that without being absolutely ravaged by inconsiderate den mothers with their pack of feral children in tow. Come to think of it, that’s the way a lot of Europe seems, in a broader sense. People actually care about taking care of themselves and the things that surround them, even if they’re not their own. I wish we had more of that back home.

Anyway, arriving in Helsinki was fairly intimidating. Signage here generally seems to consist of Finnish on the top line and Swedish on the bottom line. English is hard to come by. I have absolutely no experience with Uralic languages, so I can’t make any sense out of either line. I’m interested to see if that changes at all by the time I leave on Sunday.

After hopping on the bus to get to the city center, we got on a highway that looked eerily familiar. The type of pavement, the arrangement of the signs, along with the border of snow and houses along the highway almost made it feel Chicago-like. If you showed me a photo of that stretch of road, and it didn’t include any signage, I’d totally have guessed it was taken on I-88. The bus itself was shockingly run down, and I think if the windshield had one more crack in it, it’d likely have caved in. But, whatever, €6,20 to get to the hotel isn’t that bad.

Architecture here is strange. Some blocks feel like you could be in Paris with all sorts of fancy accents on a very similar looking grouping of buildings. Others consist of ultra-industrial looking brick structures, that could easily serve as the backdrop for any World War II-era movie. …And then you have ultra-modern looking complexes with tons of glass and metal. It feels sort of disjointed, but I’m sure there’s probably some highly historical reason for all that.

Most streets and sidewalks seem awesomely old, with all sorts of irregular cobblestones that probably were laid hundreds of years ago.

The hotel I’m staying in is really nice, although I haven’t really explored the area much yet to see what’s within walking distance that is worth checking out. I passed a ton of shops between getting dropped off by the bus and locating the hotel, but was more than a little disappointed that everything seemed so Americanized with highly recognizable chains and brands that you can basically get anywhere.

Now I’m just fighting really hard to stay awake. It’s 1:00 in the afternoon here, but 5:00 AM back at home. I think I might have slept a few hours on the plane, but it’s always so hard to tell. I just bundled up in the horrible blanket they give you, blew up my neck pillow, and closed my eyes. I felt like I spent a lot of time awake, but I’m not really sure it’s possible for me to attain anything more than that uncomfortable half asleep and half awake while on a plane. If I can make it another nine hours or so, then head to bed, I’m hoping I’m going to be OK with jet lag tomorrow.

That might be a tall order. It’s already getting dark out, and I can feel my body being like, “Dude, come on, we need to sleep.”

Maybe I’ll go buy a scarf. It’s colder than I was expecting.

  1. I still can’t quite believe how good this game is. []