Friday, 12 June 2015

I'm on a boat!

I am writing this from the Viking Line ferry to Turku. Despite my doubts, the check-in and payment was straightforward. The boat itself is pretty nice, and my fears that choosing the cheapest cabin option, and therefore having to sleep with some strangers, seem to be unfounded. I still think the amount of hassle required to book this trip was not reasonable, but I'm glad today was trouble-free.
In 7 hours I will be in Turku! Technically we're still in Sweden right now, but I'm exhausted so I'm going to change my clock and go to bed soon. I've heard a lot of Finnish spoken in the last 3.5 hours, and surprisingly, I can recognise a lot of words and semi-understand, which is nice. I'm
I'm so happy I could cry. I can't wait to get there. I've thought about things tonight, and I realise I understood Finland in a way I don't understand Sweden. Finland is still my home from home, and I can't believe I've been away for over two years. I'm so excited to get there and see my friends!
I've regularly thought that I was much more integrated in Finland, purely because there's less immigration, so almost all of my friends were Finnish, compared to the majority of my friends in Stockholm also being from other countries. It was easier to learn the Finnish way than it has been to learn the Swedish way. My friends in Stockholm are awesome, and I wouldn't have them any other way, but when I moved to Sweden I assumed I'd eventually end up with a group of Swedish friends and I'd be the odd one out. I was wrong.
So far the highlight of my trip, 4 hours in, was getting the Finnish singer in the bar to sing "Olen Suomalainen". He did it and he was pretty good. But I'm sure I have better moments to come in the next few days. I've been tired all week, so despite not having the nicest cabin I think I'm quite ready for bed. Goodnight everyone!

More banking and bitching

Seriously, I hate banking in this country. I genuinely hate it. I had to go to the bank during my lunch break to pay my rent, and just the thought of going there filled me with dread.
And of course, it's not like in England or Finland where I'd go to the counter with my account details, my landlord's account details, and they'd just make a transfer. I had to fill out one slip to withdraw the money from my account, and another to put it into his account. Having never done this before it was a bit confusing and the staff in the bank were not particularly helpful.
The best (or worst) part of it, was that one member of staff told me they usually charge a fee to make such a transaction in a branch - I'm starting to wonder why they actually bother to have branches at all, when most are open for 3 or 4 hours a day, and only one SEB branch in all of Stockholm actually handles cash - but they could waive it as it was the first time I'd made the transaction so I obviously didn't know. I told them I don't have a choice seeing as I'm not allowed online banking due to the personnummer issue. At that point the man in the bank said they'd waive it this time, and then told me things would be a lot easier for me if I got a personnummer. My only reaction to that is:

Because obviously I'm being treated as a second class citizen through choice!
This brings me neatly on to the next subject - I'm leaving! I'm going back to the motherland next month, I feel like I'm ready and happy to go now. There are various reasons for this, but feeling that I cannot be treated like everyone else for no good reason is a significant factor. It is sad in some ways, and I definitely like Stockholm and will still visit in the future, but I feel like this experience has run its course for me. I've got a month left, and I'll make the most of it, starting with going to Turku tonight! I'm still slightly paranoid that Viking Line will screw up my booking somehow - I've been obsessively checking the booking on their website to make sure it hasn't mysteriously disappeared. So far so good, but until I'm checked in at the harbour in a few hours I'll still have some worry in my mind. I'm so excited though, despite that fact that one of my friends got his days confused, and called me about 5 times at 7am this morning because he was at the harbour in Turku waiting for me! I'm so happy to be going back for a few days, it doesn't feel quite real.
As well as banking being unfathomable to me, last night I discovered another strange part of living in Sweden. My friend and I went for a couple of drinks at Mosebacke Terrace, which is really lovely with beautiful views of Stockholm, especially now when the sun is going down so late. It turns out that it's not allowed here to drink outside after 10.30pm - we were surprised that the outdoor bars shut down after 10pm, and at around 10.30 they started to take away unfinished drinks, although it was an option to finish them inside. It was getting chilly so we went home anyway, but it was quite a surprise. What a view though.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Happy National Day!

Happy National Day! I'm not doing anything more exciting today than going to the pub, so please enjoy this photo from national day last year, taken at the royal palace, where there were free tours, and the option to dress up and have your photo taken. I think that was aimed more at the children but that didn't stop me and Heli!
Today is actually the day last year, whilst I was on holiday, that I realised I wanted to move here. It was the start of a big adventure, and here I am, I've made it. I'm happy to have had this experience.
This week of anniversaries has had a couple of coincidences, because last night I went to Trädgården, which was also where I spent the night before National Day last year. Lessons were learned from the two hours we spent queuing to get in last year, and we went early. If you haven't been to Trädgården I highly recommend it - I wish there was somewhere similar in London. It's under a bridge, with music, various bars, artwork and graffiti, a restaurant, and a small grill selling burgers. It's only open in the summer because hanging out outside in winter would be ridiculous, but it's a cool venue and the people there are pretty diverse, including plenty of typical Södermalm people. Perhaps next summer I'll have to visit Stockholm at the same time to ensure I'm there on 5th June, as apparently that's my tradition now. It's a really unique venue, and definitely a fun place to go out.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

One year ago today...

One year ago today, and I can't believe that already it's so long ago, I came to Sweden to visit Heli, as part of a two week European tour visiting Stockholm, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and a failed trip to Andorra. A year ago if you'd told me that now I'd have been working full time in Stockholm for several months, that I'd live in a part of southern Stockholm I'd never even heard of at that point, I'd have a Swedish phone number and bank account, and would be semi-fluent in Swedish I'd think it was ridiculous! A year ago I went alone to a supermarket here to buy something to eat, and had to look at products with Finnish text on the packaging to be sure of what it was! A year ago I asked Heli to write down for me the Swedish for asking someone if they spoke English, and it took a couple of days of encouraging myself before I even managed to say those three words!
A year ago I was a bit fed up and frustrated with London, and decided a holiday would do me some good and get it out of my system. I didn't expect the opposite effect. I'd thought of how one day moving to Stockholm might be nice, but was not taking the idea seriously at all. I just expected to have a nice few days with my friend here before moving on. But over a few days, starting with National Day, which is this Saturday, I decided that actually I really wanted to come here. And why wait? I felt there was no reason that I had to live in London or England. And by the time I left Stockholm for Amsterdam I was heartbroken to be leaving, and was determined to be back soon. Here I am still.
Things have certainly not gone quite to plan. I rushed, thinking I knew it all about emigrating because I managed in Finland, didn't give myself enough time, and left in September after a few weeks because I really wasn't happy without my boyfriend. I didn't expect to go back to England for a few months, and it was frustrating at the time, but actually it was also a really happy time that I'm glad I experienced.
This time round has not been without problems, but has definitely been more successful. As my boyfriend pointed out yesterday, I have managed. I have made a life. I have a house, a job, and many more friends in Stockholm than I had a year ago. I know more than I did a year ago. It's not been easy all the time, but I've learned a lot.
I'm starting to feel quite ready to leave Stockholm now. It's a beautiful place, and I think an experience like this is always valuable, but Stockholm isn't the one for me. I would certainly still visit in the future, there are many people and places here that I want to see again. I have no definite plans for when I will leave, but I know I don't want to stay here long term. Just like in September, I'm not as happy as I could or should be.
It's strange to think that a year has passed since this all really began. And actually I think that the last year has been one of the most exciting and special years in my life, despite the ups and downs, for both reasons relating to Stockholm and reasons relating to other things. It's not been perfect, I'm not happy all the time, but it could certainly be worse. I'm not sure how much more time I have here, but I'll be sure to appreciate the time I do have until it's over.

Friday, 29 May 2015

The light burns!

Spring has certainly sprung in Stockholm! The photo was taken a couple of days ago at 10pm, and earlier this week I was woken up by daylight at 3am. I'm now making use of both blinds and curtains to block the light out.
Of course I remember similar things happening during the summer in Turku, but I don't remember it being quite so dramatic. Someone mentioned to me that Turku is on the edge of another time zone, I'm not sure if that makes any difference. I remember last summer when I visited Stockholm seeing the sun rise at 3am, and next week will be a year since that trip, so maybe I shouldn't be quite so astounded by it. But when I was here in September the daylight hours were shorter, and now I've seen the transition from winter when it was very dark for most of the day.
Unfortunately the change in light levels has disturbed my sleeping patterns a bit, and other people have also mentioned having trouble sleeping this week. Thankfully I now seem to be getting back to normal.
Due to the arrival of spring I've noticed more and more how the wildlife in Stockholm seems completely unfazed by the presence of humans. It's so normal to walk straight past small birds, getting very close to them, and they don't even seem to notice. In the winter I saw the occasional wild rabbit running around, but recently I've been seeing a lot, and although they are slightly more nervous than birds they also seem quite undisturbed by the presence of humans. In fact, I went to the park last Sunday with some friends for a drawing session, and there were quite a few rabbits running around. It was a beautiful warm day so the park was quite busy, but they were running around past groups of people with no care at all. I also saw a very sweet little boy chasing after a rabbit for quite some time - the rabbit could run much faster than he could.
This is quite alien to me as I'm used to being in London - I've seen a much bigger variety of birds here, and the rabbits are certainly new for me. In London you get the odd fox, and sometimes the soul destroying sound of foxes having sex, but that's pretty much it. I think the rabbits are nicer than the foxes anyway.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Super amazing news!

I have some wonderful, joyful news! After an absence of almost 3 years, which I can't quite believe, I am going to Turku! In just over two weeks I'll be getting the ferry to Finland for a few days, and I really am so happy. I had had it in the back of my mind since I got to Stockholm that I should travel there, but hadn't got to it. Then I had a message on Friday from one of my Finnish friends asking when I would come back, and now it's happening! I really hope it hasn't changed too much, my friend Emmi who I met in Turku but now lives in England goes back to see her family now and then, and has mentioned some things about it to me, but I really cannot wait to be back there myself.
However, I must say that my first experience booking with Viking Line has been fairly ridiculous - much more hassle than it needs to be, and both Finnish and Swedish friends who I've asked have told me that they also think the website is terrible.
It's not user friendly - the Swedish site is only available in Swedish, which is ok, but if I'm spending money I often prefer to use a website in English so I have no doubt over what I'm doing. I certainly don't think that services in this country should have to be available in English, and I've been critical of others I've met who expect this. Anyway, I spent all of yesterday attempting to buy tickets, using two different computers, my phone, two different cards - both of which had sufficient funds to make payment, and only ever received error messages. I thought it might be my error as I'd been providing my Swedish address, but my cards are registered to my parents' address in England. I tried their address, that didn't work either! Something that should be so easy was causing me so much stress.
This morning I called their customer service team to try to make the purchase over the phone. The lady I spoke to was helpful, but once she'd made a booking for me she instructed me to go to their website to make payment, which was the problem in the first place! She then tried to make a payment over the phone, the card still didn't work! Maybe their system dislikes cards from outside of Sweden, but I told her it was a UK card and she didn't mention that they didn't accept this. They make reference on their website to ID requirements for non-Nordic citizens, and I would think that for people who are travelling using the ferry would be quite a good option, so I really don't see why a card from another country should cause such problems. 
After payment failed yet again she advised me that I could pay when I check in, and just needed to take my booking number. This is fine for me, but as this has been such a hassle so far I'm anxious that something else will go wrong and my booking will mysteriously go missing or something like that. In fact, I will need to call them again anyway, as when I entered my booking number and name into the website to check that everything was correct the message advised that the name did not match the booking number. I appreciate that my name is unusual for English people, let alone a Swedish person, and the lady I spoke to probably just misheard me or made a typo, but the whole thing is not filling me with confidence.
So in conclusion I'm very happy to be going back to Turku after quite some time, I really cannot wait to see my friends there again, but I'm not impressed at all with Viking Line, to the point that last night I wrote my first complaint in Swedish. Hopefully it sounded as effective in Swedish as in English, and hopefully my trip will actually be straightforward once I've solved the issue of what name they put on my booking. However, if there's a next time I think I'll use a different service, especially as no one seems to have good things to say about booking with Viking Line.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Buying cigarettes

So just now I bought cigarettes in a supermarket for the first time, and I have to say it is a very strange process, the strangest I have come across. Up until now I have bought cigarettes and tobacco over the counter, as I am used to, in Pressbyrån or Svensk Tobak och Spel. I just came home to find that Pressbyrån was already shut, so I went to ICA to buy some cigarettes.
I had noticed before that over the tills there is a shelf of cards that look like the front of cigarette packets. I assumed that you chose the right card and the person on the till then gave you the correct cigarettes. That's not too complicated. Wrong!
So you choose your card, which is scanned and paid for. You then go over to another machine, scan the card, and are given your cigarettes. However, I thought you just needed the receipt so I was furiously trying to shove my receipt into the machine and getting nowhere. Just as the truth dawned on me and I was about to go back to the till, the member of staff who served me came over with the card and helped me.
I really do think that this country has a tendency to over-complicate things. In England you would go to the kiosk in the supermarket to get cigarettes. In Finland there is a machine by the conveyor belt of the till where you select the correct brand, it spits it onto the conveyor belt, and you pay for it with the rest of your shopping. When I lived in Finland the brands were shown on the machine, but a few months afterwards they banned this, considering it a form of advertisement, and just showing numbers instead. So unless you really knew the machine you had to ask for the correct number, or play cigarette roulette. Now I know that in Sweden I need to take the card with me, and once you've scanned it you can recycle it at the machine. But still, I find this very strange.