I spent the majority of my day on Friday, August 29th traveling from Stavanger, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden.
I took the night train into Oslo and had about five hours to kill that morning. Luckily for me it was a pretty nice day out and they were having a sand volleyball tournament in the square right outside of the train station. It was a great way to pass the time and be outside in between my trains.
The train to Stockholm was quick and easy. I was able to relax, write some of these posts, and look forward to seeing a close friend from my semester abroad in Melbourne, Australia, Olle!
The timing worked great for Olle to meet me at the station and pick me up to spend the night with him. Words cant describe how relieved I was for this, as I was definitely tired from my nights in tents and trains and strangers homes. I was actually in shock when we arrived at his house, to be honest. Olle’s parent’s home is absolutely gorgeous and compared to the places I had been staying it was just stunning. Plus, I got a shower. Hot, running water coming out of a pipe 7 feet up a wall has never felt so good. Olle made me a traditional Swedish sausage for dinner and then we both crashed for the night.
On Saturday, we ventured out into the city early. Olle showed me around town and for a second time in just as many cities I had a personal tour guide showing me around. We talked about how much we miss Australia, what our lives are like now, and everything else under the sun as we walked through Stockholm. It was very good to see a familiar face.
We saw the City Hall, Old Town, the German Church, the Palace, and a beautiful park along the shores of the city. At the Palace we were treated to a full ceremonial changing of the guard complete with band and everything. It was pretty cool! Kind of had to laugh a little bit at the super formality of the thing but I could tell that it meant a lot to the people who were in it so that was very neat.
I must say though, the events in the park were definitely the most exciting of the day. In route to the park our way was blocked by police barricades for blocks and blocks. Olle asked what they were for and he learned that it was for the demonstration that the neo-Nazi/Fascist party had planned for later that afternoon.
Oh, ya don’t say? *hackles raise*
Eventually we got to the park and we were greeted by a massive crowd whi were there to demonstrate against the Nazi/Fascist march. Olle explained that many of the people in this crowd would be aligned with the Communist party and that it was them, not the Nazi/Fascists, that had a tendency for violence. Either way, it was very strange to see two groups of people who identify with political party’s many people in the States assume died off decades ago. It was a blatant reminder of how different the political realities of the States and the rest of the world are. Sure, the States has their free speech and anyone can run on the ballot etc., etc., but we write those smaller, radical parties off as a bunch of nutjobs and our realistically they will never see success in our system. But I was watching two very real parties, one (the Communists) who already had an official presence in the government, and the other (the Nazi/Fascists) who stood a real chance of getting into the government squaring off in a country that I didnt even know had the police force it was displaying. Pretty crazy.
Olle and I walked to the other side of the park to grab a few beers. I had to laugh because on this end of the park there was an Indian cultural day happening complete with Hindu education, traditional Indian music, and dancing. It was a complete 180° from the police barricades, chanting, and riot gear that was on the other side of the park.
It turns out that it was a good thing Olle and I didn’t hang out in that crowd for any longer than we did. Before long, we began to hear explosions of smoke and tear gas canisters. On our way to the subway, we got a peak at a full blown riot happening in the streers of Stockholm. Metal barricades were being thrown at the police who were in turn advancing into the crowd with batons swinging and pepper spray going. With all the police brutality issues we are dealing with in the States at the moment, I couldn’t help but let my mind initially go that way. While I don’t know what lit the tension in the park into physical violence, it did appear that the police were responding to the actions of the anti-fascist demonstrators. At least I hope that is what was happening. It’d be a terrible damper on the human spirit I have gained so much faith in on this trip if I knew I had witnessed blatant abuse of authority and power.
We got back to Olle’s house and I threw my pack on my shoulder and said it was time for me to head out. I was sad to leave Olle so soon, but I knew he was busy that evening and I wanted to get to the train station to get my transport to Ostersund finalized.
Turns out it was a good thing I left when I did because the simple, two train trip I thought I was goinf to have turned out not to exist anymore. Instead I was left with a three exchange trip that would bounce me from a bus and three different trains throughout the night. This was the first time that my Eurail schedule had let me down and it was significant enough that I will no longer rely on that but rather the national rail websites of the countries I travel through.
Instead of having a few hours to kill in Stockholm, I had to immediately head to the bus terminal to start this new itinerary. Thankfully I met a lovely Fin named Sabina on my bus who loved Game of Thrones and wanted to practice her English so that trip passed quickly. The next three trains were not so enjoyable. For the first time this trip I was witnessing the presence of a drunk/homeless/disabled population. While I was never in any danger, it was very upsetting and alarming to see these people struggle. I constantly fought the urge to reach out to them and help them but I knew between their state and the language barrier I would be unlikely to break through and be of any help. It was heartbreaking.
My bit of excitement for the evening was when I had to make an exchange at 3:30am in Gavle. The ticket office in Stockholm said I would be on the same train just a different seat. But when I went to find my new seat it didnt exisr! The car I was supposed to be in wasnt on the train and oh my God Ben started to lose his cool again. I ran into the station, double checked that my train was supposed to be leaving from track 3, and sprinted back onto the train despite nkt knowing where I would sit. The officials on the train adamantly told me to disembark saying that, “I’d be fine,” and nothing more. Bitch, I wont be fine if you tell me to get off the train I was supposed to take out of this place. I remembered Iceland at this point in time and I relaxed, stepped off the train, and stayed close with the rail official who had told me to get off. I then witnessed it all come together as the train in the station pulled away and left half the cars behind while a second engine pulled forward and then backed up to attach to the cars that had been left behind. Guess whose car was the only car attached to the new engine? I laughed at myself again but I maintain that one or two extra sentences from the rail officials would have saved me a lot of anxiety and them a lot of energy having to deal with my excited self.
By the time I got onto that last train at 345am, I was exhausted and not even the excitement of seeing a new city and an old high school friend could keep me awake. Next stop, Ostersund.
All my love.