Postcards from Europe - 1: Touchdown
The first of a series of posts on my trip to Europe.
The sunlight streams through the airplane’s window as I peer out at the landscape below. The wrinkled silver surface of the sea glimmers in the slating sun rays, with dark irregular islands protruding through the water. Small islands of different shapes, most seemingly virgin. We are approaching Stockholm, an archipelago of around 24,000 islands, most of which are too small for inhabitation. Think of the islands as bread crumbs that have broken off the surface and are floating away into the sea.
We are soon above the mainland and as I scan the Scandinavian landscape I am struck by how absolutely green it is. The terrain is covered with dense ‘Christmas’ trees for the most part, with cleared stretches of crops that are just a different shade of green. Soon I can see bright colored cottages, red or yellow or green, with large prominent windows. Remember the little houses we drew as kids? The ones with an angular roof and bright colors and disproportionately large windows, set on a lush green expanse? Apparently they do actually exist.
The hour-long bus ride from Arlanda airport to Stockholm city gave me my first glimpse of Swedish countryside, and then of a modern European city. It is like stepping onto a large elaborate movie set, with narrow cobbled streets, lined with elegantly designed buildings, a wide footpath having several bistros along the way. The orderly way people move around, crossing only at zebra crossings, cars stopping for pedestrians, cyclists sticking to tracks made exclusively for them all seem carefully choreographed. The sight of a fully suited elderly gentleman, the kind you would expect to step out of a Mercedes, wearing a helmet and riding a bicycle is interesting. On the highway, I see the occasional motorcyclist riding a racing bike as fast as the cars. One whizzes past me with the rider in a black helmet, black leather jacket, black leather trousers, and black boots. Her long flowing blonde hair completing the picture.
At the Stockholm bus & train station, a Swede asked me directions in Swedish. Halfway through his sentence he realized I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I wonder what tipped him off. My black hair, or brown skin, or black eyes? Color is something that I am constantly reminded of here. If I were to paint the Swedes, I would quickly run out of the color yellow. The golden yellow hair, the yellowish pink skin, and the (slightly freakish) green eyes make you see real-life Barbies and Kens everywhere.
The fact that all Swedes speak English is a major blessing. And that they have an easy to understand American accent is even better. They, however, struggle to understand English spoken with any other accent. I have come to the disturbing conclusion that to be understood, I must speak with an American accent, nasal twang and all. Trouble is I feel all fake and uncomfortable doing that.
A pleasantly disconcerting observation is the over-abundance of beauty in this place. On any street, in any cafetaria, in any class, I can’t help but wonder what sets apart fashion models from those that are walking past me. Is beauty really that abundant? Is it so common place? Or have my eyes not yet adjusted to the sight of Europeans with their fair skin and blue eyes that make them seem more beautiful to me than they will once the novelty wears off? Time will tell.
I'll talk about Jonkoping, the university, my accomodation, expenses and the rest in further posts.
Pics: Streets of Stockholm from my camera