“Let the Chips Fall Where They May” Tour – Part IV

Norway, Finland & Sweden – Part IV – Return to Oslo

I would like to take this moment to prepare some of you, because I know that I am going to upset a few people with the next comment, but please continue reading, and I hope you will understand why I am going to say what I am:

Sweden is dull.

Now, I don’t mean that “Sweden is dull and a red hot poker in the eye would be more preferable than a visit there”, and Jonathan may have a different opinion of this than I do; I just mean that after all the majestic fjords, rugged landscape and wooded lakes of Norway and Finland, Sweden just wasn’t up there in the running. Maybe the road I took was not the most scenic, maybe my senses were numb after seeing so many beautiful sights already or maybe I was just going blind from too much masturbation (well, I was single at the time), but something wasn’t striking that harmonic chord within my hearts.

There was, though, something striking within my loins, and this made our excursion into Abba country imperative: the thought of meeting up with an amazingly beautiful Swedish girl named Malin that I had danced with, flirted with and sampled the saliva of previously at the Royal Mile Backpackers hostel in Scotland a few months prior to our trip. Malin and I had kept in touch, and upon hearing of our visit to Scandinavia, she offered Jonathan and I a place to stay in Östersund with her and her parents for a few days. Not only would this be a chance to see the inside workings of a Swedish family and view first hand a different culture, but the idea of saving some money on accommodation was a bonus as well!

Malin was a lovely girl! Blonde hair, lovely sarcastic smirk, sparkling eyes, and when she spoke Swedish, it was all I could do to not excuse myself to some private corner so that I might frantically work more towards my ensuing blindness. I would have driven thousands of miles through any amount of brain-melting dullness (e.g. the yawn-worthy M8 from Glasgow to Edinburgh) to see her again. Yes, it was about lust … but lust with the hope of things on a grander scale! I wanted to fall in love with Malin and her with me; this would have been great! But Jonathan and I only had a day or two here, so quick, lusty encounters in the back seat of a Volvo would have to suffice for the present. I could accept that. Lust now, lay down the foundations, then return another day to romantically snuggle beside a file in our moose fur jumpers (or whatever they wear up there) and speak of the future we could have together raising blonde, transparent-skinned children and herding reindeer under the Aurora Borealis (though in Norway or Finland, not in bland Sweden). These were my secret thoughts as we navigated into the university city of Östersund. I say ‘secret thoughts’ because I didn’t really want to break it to Jonathan that if Malin were to profess her heartfelt longing for me to remain by her side and never part again, I would have handed Jonathan the keys and said, “So long, pal. It’s been fun. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!” But as you can surmise, since I am writing this from Poland and have been married to a Polish girl names Alicja for a number of years now, this passing dream never bore fruit, and, consequently, my friendship with Jonathan was saved.

But something was wrong. I can’t really put my finger on what happened, because nothing really happened. Malin and I smiled when we saw each other, we pecked at each others lips like chickens in a feed barn, and we snuggled beside one another in bed at night … but that was it. There was no real magic, no steaming of windows, no promises made to share woollen socks on a sunless winter’s night. Everything was nice enough, but that was it … just nice enough.

Maybe this lack of spark was due to the fact that after over one week in a car with Jonathan making animal noises to ourselves to break up the lengthy drive, my mental capabilities where on par with that of a wet sock (actually, the smell of our unwashed clothes was on par with a wet sock as well). Or maybe it was the fact that Malin, instead of smoking, was constantly shoving a pinch of snus (a moist, powdered tobacco) between her lips and gums every hour or so. She would even load up before going to sleep at night! Now, unlike American snuff, with snus and the way it is processed, you don’t have to spit out a huge brown blob of tobacco juice every so often. That, at least, prevented Malin from falling into the same class as the red-neck, trailer park ‘ladies’ that I had the pleasure of growing up around in southern Georgia, but it did mean that when you went in for a kiss from time to time, you cleared you sinuses with the strong pepperminty aroma from the flavoured snus and indirectly developed a nicotine habit. I did try this Swedish habit forming substance a few times myself and didn’t find the experience all that repulsive, especially with the mild buzz you got, but I just couldn’t get used to the idea of having to dig a saliva soaked mass of tobacco the consistency of mud out of my mouth when it became stale and tasteless after an hour. Also, no matter how carefully you tried to cleanse your mouth out afterwards, there always seemed to remain a few granules between your teeth that made it appear as though you had just eaten the grounds out of an old coffee filter.

Jonathan and I stayed a few days, and the hospitality of Malin and her family could not be beat. The city was quaint, but nothing outstanding, and we all enjoyed ourselves with a film at the cinema one night (Dancer in the Dark, if I remember correctly) and a trip to one of the islands at the lake (where we took a bottle of wine only to discover that we had not thought of taking a corkscrew, so Jonathan and I proceeded to push the cork into the bottle instead and ended up squirting the ever precious, overly priced alcohol all over ourselves). But when the time came to leave … well, we just left. Goodbye, speak to you soon on email, see you again some day. Anti-climactic (in more ways than one), but that is the way fate deals you your cards from time to time. Oh well, I probably could never have persuaded Malin to leave the humdrum countryside of Sweden for the rest of her life anyway.

The Rent-A-Wreck made the short hop back over into the land of its registration not long after we departed Östersund, and we began the final leg back to Oslo … through the much more delightful scenery of Norway. There were no more pertinent stops along the way, but we did have to break up the journey with one more evening stopover at a camp site. Again, this was one of those Norwegian camp sites with the small wooden huts that put many of the places I had resided in during my late teen years to shame (I spent an entire summer once in a house in Tallahassee with no hot water and having to share a pull-out sofa with what seemed like the entire roach population of northern Florida). This place had a TV, kitchenette, two bedrooms, hot running water and a cosiness that relaxes you to the bone. Hell, after sleeping in hostel dorm rooms for so long and having to smell the stench of a thousand sweat-filled hiking boots that had traversed the Scottish Highlands and trudged through cow and sheep shit all day long, this place was pure bliss!

I remember sitting outside that night and staring at the clear evening sky, seeing all those stars and even a satellite or two criss-crossing the expanse as they made their way around the globe delivering television signals to homes or spying on whoever needed spying upon at that time. I felt so moved that I went up to the phone booth at the entrance to the camp ground and called my father back in the States. Just as I was dialling, a ghostly green flare streaked its way across the sky, and as my father picked up the phone, I immediately blurted out that the Aurora Borealis had just started playing up and I wished he could see this marvellous spectacle of spectral light. Unfortunately, this would be one of the last few times I spoke to my. The next time we spoke was face to face in the few days before he passed away from cancer a month and a half later. I still really wish we could have seen the Northern Lights together. He would have enjoyed that to no end.

After two weeks on the road and around 4,000 km, our ragged vehicle plastered with decals displaying our cheapness in car rental agencies coasted back within the confines of Oslo city limits. We had seen quite a lot in that short amount of time and had met some interesting people, but my time was nearing an end, and I needed to get to Poland to start a teaching job in Kraków. My credit card had also reached the point of nearly crumbling to bits because of overuse, and I feared that repayment of the petrol and petrol station hot dogs was going to put a serious bite on any of the measly earnings I was going to accumulate from my future employment. But there was only a few ways for the budget traveller to get from Scandinavia to Poland, since flying out of Oslo at this time meant that you had to have the financial backing of one of the princes of Saudi Arabia, and that was by ferry, bus or hitch-hiking. I was sick of being cooped up in a car, so hitching was out, and a bus seemed a worse choice, so a ferry seemed the most enjoyable. And where was the closest ferry terminal with a direct link to Poland? After studying a map for a few moments, I looked at Jonathan, and he looked back at me, and we both nodded approval. Two nights after returning to Oslo, we jumped on the night bus to Stockholm. We would just have to give Sweden a second chance.