Judy and I met what we detected was a faintly antsy Tiff in the check-in line at the Norwegian Air counter at Oakland International Airport, all of us with our backpacks on and varying degrees of dorky tourist accessories - me at the lowest end of the spectrum, Tiff at the highest with a separate iPhone case hanging around her neck awarding her super-tourist/old person status.
Thanks to the obliging-ness of other Stockholm-bound passengers, we all got to sit together on the plane. Tiff and Judy promptly conked out for the next ten and a half hours while I had my own movie marathon of Anastasia (oh, John Cusack), Juno, and Brooklyn, before catching a few hours of sleep myself. When I woke up, we were in Sweden.
We had what I am assuming to be the first of many travel adventures - or mishaps - on our way to our Airbnb. Per the Google Maps directions Judy had pulled up at the airport, we got off the airport shuttle bus in central Stockholm and started walking through the streets to our building. We found the address easily enough, after perhaps five minutes of walking. A minor problem presented itself when we tried to punch in the access code, however, as there was no # key on the box, but no matter - a lady who was walking out of the building just then let us in.
We hiked up to the third floor, where our apartment was located, and where a not-so-minor problem presented itself: there were no key pads in sight, on any of the doors. This was bizarre. Also not the kind of situation you want to be confronted with when you have just stepped off a ten hour flight and are carrying 20 lbs around on your back.
Judy pulled up the Airbnb listing again on her phone. Tiff peered at it over her shoulder, and then groaned.
"Judy, this is the Airbnb we cancelled because it was too expensive..."
The Airbnb we had replaced this one with was about half an hour away, apparently, news which sort of made me want to sink to the floor and cry quietly. But being the reasonable people we are, we decided simply to adjust our itinerary for the evening and head to dinner first, a decision which was reached without any sinking to the floor or quiet crying on our any of our parts.
We walked over to Tranan, which Samie had recommended as a great spot for Swedish meatballs, and which, it turned out, was on the fancier end of the scale, as restaurants go. Undeterred, we went inside, backpacks and all, and were greeted by a blonde lady with pursed lips and her nose in the air.
She looked at our giant backpacks and sneakers and untidy hair and general unkempt and painfully touristy appearance and scrunched up her nose ever so slightly, sending it even higher into the air than it already was.
"Do you have a reservation?" she asked.
Does it look like we have a reservation, I wondered.
"Er... no," said Judy.
"Okay. You can be ready by 7? We have a lot of people with reservations coming in tonight. Full house."
"You mean we should come back here at 7?"
"No, you'll need to leave by 7 before our reservations start coming in."
I looked at my watch. It was only 5:30. I got the impression she was offended by our apparent lack of appreciation or awareness of the decently posh nature of the restaurant and the fact that we had just showed up with three backpacks and zero reservations. Offense or no offense, however, we were seated and tried to hide our backpacks under the table as best we could and attempt to look respectable. Grubbiness aside, we enjoyed our Swedish meatballs, potato puree, lingonberries and fried Baltic herring with a relish, and managed to leave before the appointed 7pm kick-out time. I was tempted to steal the cute postcard which they delivered our check in, but didn't want to leave a worse impression than we already were leaving, so I just took a picture of it instead.
Given that it had started raining fairly hard by the time we were done eating, and that we were bordering on exhausted from our flight, we decided to call it a night and called an Uber. It arrived in a few minutes and we loaded up our packs into the trunk happily, and then climbed into the backseat of what would turn out to be a fantastically grotesque Uber ride.
As Judy and I entered the car (Tiff was still loading up), our driver asked us with what I am sure he imagined to be a charming smile, "So, are you girls from Hong Kong or Japan?"
I glanced at Judy, whose face had clouded over with a dark scowl, and who clearly was not planning to deign to respond.
"California," I responded resignedly, once I realized it would be up to me to carry on the conversation. I tried to sound as polite as I could in the face of such aggravating idiocy. The effort to do so became increasingly more difficult as I found myself obliged to respond to a seemingly neverending torrent of astonishing stupidity and vulgarity that poured forth from our driver's mouth for the rest of the ride home. At one point this fascinating man remarked that he liked LA because "there are lots of girls, lots of blonde girls, like Barbies" and then immediately contradicted this by declaring that these girls wore too much makeup, so fake, and that he preferred "natural, strong, intelligent girls, like you girls."
The real crowning moment came about halfway into our drive, just as I was beginning to wonder how much more of his chatter we would have to put up with. He'd been quiet for a few whole seconds, and it seemed he was still thinking about the question of where we came from, as he presently asked, "So, California?"
"So you are all adopted?"
I almost lost it then, and I thought Judy might demand to be let out of the car then and there. Tiff seemed, blissfully, not to have heard.
"No," Judy responded tersely. And through gritted teeth, I imagined.
"Ah, immigrants! From China?"
"Korea! They have the best education system there. Very good. And you?" he asked, turning toward Tiff.
"Taiwa- er, China." Evidently Tiff had no hope that the guy knew where Taiwan was and chose to make it easy for him to understand.
"China! Very hardworking people, Chinese people."
I resisted the impulse to kick the back of his seat and pretend it was an accident. Heroic of me, really, considering.
Finally, after an eternity, we reached our (actual) Airbnb, leaving the car significantly grumpier than when we entered. We wandered around in the cold and rain in a confusing apartment complex before finally being directed by a kind old man to our building. Our apartment is tiny - actually, "tiny" might be generous; the kitchen is literally inside a closet and the table folds into the wall - but it was paradise to us after a long day.
A comfy fold out couch and a camp bed made it exquisitely cosy and homey, and we spent the rest of the evening happily listening to Judy's playlist of pop songs from our middle school years and finalizing tomorrow's agenda. I'm stoked. From the little we saw today, Stockholm is very, very pretty. Totally delightful. The buildings here all have a pleasingly uniform colour palette of tasteful pastels, and the streets are clean and open and quiet. (At least, they were in the area of town we were in today.) I can't really fathom that I'm here. Still seems very unreal.
And two whole weeks of freedom and fun and food and adventures ahead! I wouldn't switch places with the Queen of England today for anything.