Monday, January 7, 2008

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 1

~Saturday~Day 1~

We arrived safely in Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday afternoon, 1:30 pm (4 am PST), November 10, 2007 on 2 ½ hours of sleep, two meals (dinner and breakfast) and some Swedish movies for fuel. We had the greatest number of suitcases and carry-on baggage allowed so that, when Phil wandered around the ground floor of the airport to get his Swedish cell phone to work, I felt profoundly vulnerable guarding two luggage carts and a very independent child. After a good half hour, Phil finally reached our ride by way of the pay phone and good ol’ Visa.

The gray sky day greeted us with a cutting wind amidst a sprinkling of rain. One tiny sleet fell in front of me. We hadn’t put our coats on, yet, but were quick to do so even as we pushed our carts to follow Hölkam, a co-worker of Phil’s at Securitas Direct. Hölkam directed us to a dark green Volvo station wagon and proceeded to pay for parking while we loaded and reloaded the car. Two pieces of luggage wouldn’t fit, but Hölkam assured us we could put them in the backseat since he would be taking the train home and leaving us with the car.

“But, we don’t know the way to the house,” I tried not to whine.

“That’s okay. You have a GPS! Good luck and have a good rest. I’ve even put a little gas in the car for you.” Then, he was gone.

We felt a rush of gratitude, relief and a slight panic. Fortunately Phil had been here before. He’d not driven around, yet, and the car had a manual transmission—not Phil’s expertise, but experience is experience. It took us awhile to get the house address in the GPS (after fumbling around to get it off of a piece of paper from one of the bags under other bags), then it took Phil awhile to get the car out of the parking place, let alone the parking “house.” I urged him to let me drive stick while he helped me navigate an area I’d never driven.

This worked out great. I took a few exits too early as I learned to understand GPS instructions (“exit ahead” does not mean take the nearest exit—it means “get ready.”). One early exit was a God-send because it was a rest area. I hadn’t been able to do the usual thing one does after a ten-hour flight—use the restroom. The highway was exhilarating. Never mind the fact that we were all a bit shaky with flight and lack of sleep.

By the time we started crossing the now-famous Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden, the clouds were beginning to turn a bit pink with the first signs of sunset. A ship proceeded under the bridge as we crossed. Sailboats and fishing boats dotted the surrounding sea. Needless to say, I was going crazy with delight. “Phil, get my little camera! Get a shot of this suspension part of the bridge . . . and the clouds. . . and the ship. . . and . . . and . . .!

“Look, Juliene, if you don’t just drive, I’m going to make you pull over and let me drive,” Phil said after obliging me with a few snapshots.

After the bridge, we turned off onto the highway along the sound, south of Malmö. We passed freshly plowed fields adjoined by tight groupings of farm houses and outbuildings thus surrounded by leafless trees and a sky wide and wonderful. Everything picturesque, nowhere to turnoff and no strength to linger.

The entrance to our soon-to-be home village, Höllviken, was punctuated by at least three round-abouts and no buildings higher than the church steeple. The houses were large, but so close together that our little white with black trim house seems to be situated in someone’s backyard. And it must be over 2000 square feet!

We parked before a tiny garage on cobblestone paving and unloaded our suitcases in the slight rain over a slippery, moss-covered and uneven slate sidewalk.
The house was a bit cold, but much more wonderful than I had imagined. The first exclamation out of Phil’s mouth was, “The moose is gone!” They had removed the mounted moose-head from the living room which Phil saw when he viewed the house in mid-October. My first exclamation was, “it has a claw-foot tub!”

It also has a cool spiral staircase leading to a perfect room for a combination den and playroom where Phil and Hunter have already made their mark. At both ends of this upstairs room are two bedrooms. One is full of storage and the other is nicely set up with twin beds for the guests we hope to entertain.

There is a king-sized bed (since I first wrote this, I have discovered that they are twin beds simply tied together with plastic hay twine) in the room we sleep in, and a twin bed in an all blue room for Hunter. The main bathroom flaunts the claw foot tub and another ½ bath sits beside the front entrance. A sweet little office with an extra bed sits between the main entrance and the spiral staircase, where I am now typing this document. A big-overstuffed orange couch and twin overstuffed chairs guard the living room and are complimented by a large round glass coffee table and a set of Victorian couch, two chairs and an angular free-standing fireplace.
A tear-shaped chandelier circled by candles hangs over the oval dining table and the kitchen is efficient (more than mine!) with an island, a huge refrigerator and matching freezer and Bosch stovetop, oven, overhead fan and dishwasher.

The laundry room looks like an inviting place to sort, fold and iron clothing and is handy as a little workshop. Off of this room is the new furnace, in its own room. Across from the furnace room, next to the back door is an all tile shower with warming towel rack (a cold place to shower in the winter).

We weren’t able to set everything up at once because we needed food and bedding before we could settle in for the night. We headed to the grocery store and understood things like bananas, oranges, pears and potatoes, but had trouble knowing what the cheeses were (none were orange) or how to decipher the differences in meats and certain other sacks, bags and boxes of things. So we grabbed what we could understand: yogurt, milk, oranges, bananas, peppers, potatoes, milk, a pre-cooked chicken, a loaf of bread, cans of “tun” (tuna), peanut butter, jam, margarine (Lätt), eggs, and some chips.

Phil and Hunter wandered over to the bakery to get a few tasty things there. Hunter is now an avid fan of the place, wishing to go there every day.

By the time we were back at the house, it was four in the afternoon and we were beyond hunger and tiredness. We unceremoniously devoured cold chicken, sliced pepper, buttered bread and chips.

It is Phil’s method of operation to acclimate to a new time zone by keeping busy until the earliest time the locals would turn in. Four o’clock does not count as the earliest time, plus, our beds were still unadorned with sheets and warm blankets. We piled back into the car and punched in the address of IKEA—a 27 minute drive back to Malmö (roughly pronounced Malmeur). It was already pitch dark.

When the GPS says, “You have reached your destination,” it does not mean you have found the correct side of the block or the entrance to the parking lot. It means you’re really close but have to nose your way around, even if that means finding back allies surrounded by barbed wire or strange, wordless, signs which either mean “wrong way” or “no parking” or some other forboding thing. We’ve just GOT to get a driving manual.

We eventually found our way into the large IKEA parking lot and felt a kind of warmth about being surrounded again by human beings and the bright lights and grand promises of such a place. Everything had a Christmas theme—another welcoming feature.

There was a children’s play area outside and a place to check your child in at the entrance. Though Hunter hung like a bag of potatoes over Phil’s shoulder in semi-slumber, he was suddenly awakened by the possibility of playing with toys and other children. Alas, we were turned away because they were closing in the next five minutes. We should have taken that as a sign.

We discovered that a cart cost 5 krona (we didn't have any Swedish Krona, yet), so we opted to drape huge plastic-fiber yellow bags from our arms and search for kitchen towels, bath towels, hand towels, sheets, comforters and pillows. This we expected to do with utmost efficiency and speed because we were tired and wanted to go home. We made our way through the maze of the cement floor warehouse past Christmas lights, bulbs, hardware and other seemingly unnecessary supplies with our shoot-it-and-bag-it mentality.

We found towels, first. Great, grab towels. But wait. There is the matter of knowing how much we are spending. Pull up the calculator on the cell phone. Figure for each item. Expensive. Are there other towels? But those are ugly/the wrong color/too thick/too thin, etc. Where are kitchen wash rags? Next were duvet covers, duvets, pillows and sheets. Phil and Hunter are off looking for something else and my bag is getting too full and too heavy. Everything remotely acceptable (that isn’t designed for the bold design and color enthusiast) is expensive. The brain could pop looking at all the designs and trying to figure the exchange rate for every cost. Phil arrives, hears the quandary and seems very unhelpful except to exhort me to do my best and keep the costs down. Yeah, right. Here. Put these heavy things in your ugly yellow bag and . . .

We are thus preoccupied when the lights are turning off above us. We had not understood the closing announcement overhead and we still hadn’t found kitchen towels. We raced through the maze grabbing things with our new ability to discern the cost of things in a hurry. Phil grabbed power strips and converters and we wound our way back to where we had entered. Lights are going off quickly and it’s getting quite dark in the store. Where we came in is not the place to check out. We can’t read any of the signs and can’t find the check stands we had seen coming in. We find a man with a manual fork lift who brokenly directs us to “follow arrows,” which were things we now understood to be helpful to us, though we couldn’t understand the words. The whole place is dark, now, except for what lights are above the checkout stands and exits. We are not allowed to take the big yellow bags out of the store with our purchased goods so I nab an abandoned cart, throw everything in as a jumble (there are no handy plastic shopping bags provided unless purchased on the spot) and we are nearly the last people to leave. We throw the whole pile of goods in the back of the station wagon. When Phil returns the cart, he learns that you get your money back when you return the cart. I smiled as we pulled out of the parking lot. It seemed appropriate, to me, that my first time in an IKEA should be in Sweden.

Just before we pulled into the now sleeping village, Phil wanted to fill the car with more gas. He plopped down into the passenger seat with one of his signature groans after filling and paying. “That cost nearly a hundred dollars!” he squeaked. What do you say in response? I pulled out and headed home to the instructions of the GPS, “turn right, then cross the rotary; first exit.” We were on our way home and it was close enough to nine o’clock p.m., that we were under those new duvets in no time!

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