Stockholm, Sweden….let the adventure begin!

Stockholm. You remind me of an Ok Cupid date that I’m on the fence about. You’re good looking, extremely friendly, but all in all a bit bland for my taste. However, under the right circumstances I might take you up on your offer if you asked me out again. Will you be warmer next time? Are you paying for all my drinks since it’s so ridiculously expensive? Will you show me your lighter side and not go dark on me so quickly? Will you whisk me away to your hideaway islands and show me the sheer beauty of your natural landscapes? If so…I would kindly oblige.

For months I’d prepared for this ridiculous solo adventure that would take me away from my sixty – five degree San Francisco weather into negative temps and blustering snow storms. My friends and family looked at me like I was crazy, but alas Amazon became my new best friend (who am I kidding? We were always BFF’s) me warmas I ordered snow boots, pants, gloves and everything else a San Francisco girl wouldn’t dream of owning. This is mainly because if you’re not skiing in Tahoe you don’t need it and this bulky crap is too cramped in my tiny ass apartment which costumes always take top priority.

On top of it all, I was mad broke and only realized that Scandinavia was basically the most expensive place on earth after I booked my round trip nonrefundable ticket. What ensued was two months of counting every penny, eating a lot of ramen, banning all bars, and having socials over my house to catch up with friends but keep it cheap, cheap, cheap!  While it wasn’t the most exhilarating of times, it did make me learn more about the value of a dollar, what I prioritize in my life, and that travel was something I would sacrifice for again and again. My sister always talks about how you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to. If you have not accomplished it yet, you never wanted it badly enough. I knew that I did not have the money for this trip, but I kept envisioning myself dog sledding and ice fishing, and having a winter wonderland Christmas. Finding a $400 round trip ticket was a sign from the universe and I believed with some sacrifice everything else would fall into place so I said “screw it!” and off I went.

I would have to look at this trip differently then past excursions. It was not about the accommodations, the nightlife, or the lavish dinners. Instead, I booked hostels, bought a commuter pass, and grocery shopped like a local to save money and spend on the important things like museums, food tastings and other experiences that would help shape my perspective, which is the single reason I travel. Public transportation terrifies me in my own city of San Francisco, let alone a foreign country! I do not read maps gloogwell and get very turned around when deciphering directions. However, this time I did not have anyone with me to lean on and assign them this maddening task. Instead, I decided to lean in and just accept that I would get lost, feel frustrated, and reminded myself that this was all part of the journey. Changing my mindset freed up so much negative energy and allowing myself permission to mess up actually made me learn the system so much quicker. By the end of my three days in Stockholm I had ridden bus lines, the train, and taken ferry’s all over the city. In a sense I gave up control and believed in myself. That was my biggest gift that Stockholm gave me. Much love to you T-bana!

On my first day I took a culinary tour with a group of fellow travelers. We bounced from food halls, to restaurants, to candy shops all over the city. It was a wonderful way to acclimate myself to my new surroundings, meet people from all around the world, and explore my palette with delicacies such as reindeer heart, moose, fish soup, smoked herring and other treats that I do not ever have to try again! We all spoke about our different countries, what we value, and ultimately what makes us happy. Stockholm has always been a top contender for the world’s happiest civilization with its free healthcare, parental leave, education, vacation allotment, etc.

However, my tour guide explained that everything did not always appear as it seemed. Under the hood many inhabitants consider the country to be one of the most depressing as well. She explained that “Yes, we do have all of these wonderful offerings but we also live in a country where it’s dark for most of the year. People suffer from seasonal depression and we have one of the lowest marriage rates in the world.” According to my blonde and gorgeous female guide, dating’s very rare in Sweden. She was turning thirty soon and had never even had one boyfriend! The dating scene sounded much like San Francisco, where hookups were to be expected but long term commitment was of no interest. Dating ultimately equates to getting drunk at bars, having one night stands, and then the disappearing act. Pass….no thanks!

One thing that I really valued about Sweden is their noticeable effort around gender equality. In fact, they just changed all of their currency to reflect both men and women equally. For my job last year we interviewed Rosie Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the United States. She once asked why there were no women figures on any dollar bills. White male’s answer….”because no one had ever asked or brought it up before.” I find that both really disheartening that no one had noticed/cared and infuriating that this has not been rectified yet. It seems everywhere you look women’s history has been erased, but I’m happy to see there’s movement happening with women’s marches around the world, #metoo campaigns, women running for office, and the word feminism being chosen as the word of the year. Women’s voices are rising.

I was again thoroughly impressed when I visited the Vasa Museum, which houses the largest Viking war ship in the world. They refer to it as the biggest jigsaw puzzle ever undertaken, after finding it under sea 300 years later and reassembling the wreckage. Fifteen skeletons were left in tact due to the freezing cold water, two of them being female. The Vasa museum dedicated an entire wing of the exhibit to tell these woman’s stories and to explain that they would be remodeling the museum to include women’s history and influence of that time period. In fact, they apologized for recklessly portraying only the history of men. Hats off to you Vasa Museum! I only hope that other historical museums around the globe follow your lead and give younger generations role models to look up to, including all genders.

You could not help but feel so incredibly small standing next to this massive vessel. It was such a humbling experience to realize the history that comes before you, thevasa civilizations that have molded you, and the sheer magnificence of humans creating something so large and spectacular. I loved the sculptures that adorned the ship with so much attention to detail. The sculptures were a tribute to the king but at the same time admonished the Swedish people to live up to the virtues of courage, wisdom, and piety. Inspiration came from the bible, mythology, and the world of sagas and fables. Incredible to see the history of morality and ethics depicted through sculptures from centuries past, sunken to the bottom of the sea and resurrected once more.

Along with these statues, the 15 skeleton’s remains were housed in individual see through coffins for spectators to investigate. It was fascinating, but completely eerie to see which bones they had salvaged from the wreck and in what condition they were in. The lyrics from the famous grade school song kept ringing in my head: “The leg bone connected to the knee bone, The knee bone connected to the thigh bone, The thigh bone connected to the back bone.” This part of the exhibit reminded me of the mummy museum I visited in Guanajuato, Mexico or the Mayan remains left in the caves of Guatemala where people had been sacrificed to the Gods. Their skeletons lying in the mud with cracked skulls, some from the rocks that had initially killed them and others from tourists who mistakenly dropped their iPhones while taking pictures of the deceased. It makes me wonder where we draw the line between historical significance and respect for the dead.  If these remains could talk would they be at peace with their final resting place?

Perhaps one of my favorite stops of my trip was visiting the photography museum called Fotografisksnaila. There were three exhibits there that could not be more unique than the next. The first artist explored x-rays of people, machines, fashion, nature, animals, etc. It was beautiful to see each individual “mechanical part” developed into the overall structure of what made it whole. Being able to see through something allows you to appreciate the complexity of it.

The second artist, Chen Man, absolutely blew me away! Aesthetically speaking her photography, painting, and graphic design completely captivated me. When I read her bio I found it to be poetic, prolific, and frighteningly familiar. She wrote “Who am I? I am a girl raised in Beijichen 2ng’s hutongs when we still rode bikes and ate non – genetically modified foods. Our grandparents and parents revolted against foreign powers, fought against social injustice and pursued the dream of communism, They entrusted their hopes to us. We embrace everything that sparkles, like diamonds, gold, and renminbi. Money is the new religion. To be a hero is to be rich. In front of our eyes, we are witnessing the dreams of material happiness turn into reality. We are the red offspring. Long live the Motherland.” I look forward to following her career more closely and am thrilled to have found a new artist to explore.

mondova picThe third artist’s work did not speak to me visually, but I loved the sentiment behind it. He followed a family in Moldova for years and captured what their life was like….full of misery, social problems, war, violence, but also love, integrity, and humility. He wrote that “I see myself in those I photograph and I often wonder what it would be like if their lives had been mine. The connection feels personal, as if we share a story, but one that is not my own.” My favorite photograph of his was this picture of two young children climbing a ladder into a brightly lit room. I feel the artist’s sentiment here, where the picture brings me back to my own childhood full of wonder. It does feel personal, though worlds far apart.

The first leg of my journey has ended here and I am taking off this evening to visit the tip of Finland where I will be dog sledding, meeting Santa, and ice fishing! Stay tuned and enjoy the warmth for me!  🙂