Tuesday, 2 December 2014

I'm coming back!

I am delighted to say that I will be back in Sweden this time next month! My boyfriend and I have our flights booked for 2nd January, and we've arranged a place to stay initially, again through Airbnb. I've definitely learned from past experience, and we've arranged a place to stay for 6 weeks. Hopefully this longer period of time will give us more success in finding somewhere more permanent to live. My time in England has been busy and has gone by quite quickly, and I'm so excited to go back to Sweden. The fact that this time round i won't be leaving my boyfriend behind makes a massive difference.
I'm also feeling a bit more confident, because today out of sheer boredom I looked back at some entries in Frozen In Finland. Some of the early entries I read mentioned feeling lost and confused, feeling scared, and feeling like a child because I struggled to do simple things without help. When I actually think back on my time in Finland I don't remember that - I remember being able to get along speaking Finnish, I remember being able to understand things and having confidence. This has reminded me that things weren't always like that there, and has reassured me that things can and will change for me in terms of my confidence speaking Swedish too. I also had a confidence boost after speaking to some Swedish people, in Swedish, online, and one person told me that at least my written Swedish was excellent. Mr Dictionary helped a bit, but that's ok.
My boyfriend speaks less Swedish than I do, so when we first get there I'll certainly be the more knowledgeable of the two of us, and this makes me more inclined to try, for both of our sakes. We'll learn together, and I've already concluded that I need to just try, be prepared to make a fool of myself, and keep going as much as I can, even if I feel shy or embarrassed. I can understand an awful lot, but there were occasions in September when I probably could have spoken Swedish but felt anxious that I wouldn't be clear enough or I'd make a fool of myself, so didn't even try, which I feel is totally the wrong attitude. For now, I'm more confident, and I hope that doesn't disappear the minute the plane lands. I can't wait to go!

Monday, 29 September 2014

A plea for help

I'm back in London and back to work, it feels a bit strange to think that tomorrow is a month since I initially left. As things have unfolded over the last week, it looks like things will be quite positive when I get back to Stockholm.

I do have a plea - whilst I'm here I'd really like to practice my spoken Swedish a bit more, as I've had less practice and find this much more difficult and intimidating than reading or writing in Swedish. I'd love to be better at speaking, and understanding spoken Swedish, when I'm back. If anyone reading this knows any Swedish people in London, or indeed is a Swedish person in London, who might be able to help me practice I'd be so grateful if you could direct them to this blog. Anyone interested can email me here or just leave a comment. Anyone else based in London who can speak Swedish fluently would also be great, but a native speaker is preferable. I'd really appreciate any help I can get.
I'd also be more than happy to help with English if necessary, but with Swedish people that's probably not needed so much! 

Friday, 19 September 2014

A reflection

Tomorrow I'm going back to London for a bit. I have a plan for coming back to Stockholm, and I'm leaving at least half of my belongings here. It's definitely temporary. My original plan did not include this break, but I think it's the best way forward, as I'll be back with my boyfriend and we can plan everything together. Work is arranged for probably January onwards, and I feel that we'll have a strong start.
I don't regret coming to Stockholm now, because it has assured me that I'd definitely like to live here. It's like a quieter, more peaceful version of London, and it's beautiful here. I've seen new areas here, as well as places I've been to before, and I understand more how it feels to live here, even though everything is still really new.
I've met people and made some progress here, so that hopefully things will be easier when we come back. Things will be slightly more ready for us, and there will be more of a plan. I didn't have a particularly strong plan for coming here this time round. I planned very well what to do whilst I was still in England, and thought less about what to do once I arrived in Sweden. If my boyfriend wasn't still in England I think I would have tried harder to sort things out here, but as it is, I'd really start this again together. This was kind of like research and a trial period for me.
I know I can be happy in Stockholm, but this time I haven't been as happy as I know I could or should be, and that is because I'm here alone. I knew fairly little about Rinkeby, the area I've been staying in - I knew it wasn't a particularly good area - and I'm not particularly keen on it. The house I live in is lovely, but very few Swedish people live in this area, and moving to Sweden should obviously include integrating with Swedish people. Added to that, the house I've been living in is completely international, made up of visitors or people new to Stockholm. I don't want to criticise these people, but the situation means I've had less contact with Swedish people than I hoped for or expected. At times it's been easy to forget where I actually am. I don't intend to move back to Rinkeby next time I'm here.
I've met some new people who actually live in Stockholm, and who will be here for the foreseeable future. I feel a bit more connected in Stockholm, and this has been in only a few weeks, so I hope that they'll be more people to come when I get back here. I feel now that I could happily build a life in Stockholm.
I was surprised by how much of the Swedish language I can read and understand, However, before coming here I had no practice actually speaking Swedish. This has been my first experience of hearing and speaking Swedish since I started learning it. I now feel that I should really work on my spoken Swedish, and on understanding others when they speak to me. I'm hoping to find a Swedish person in London to practice speaking with.
Our return in December or January will be long-term. It's a bit of a shame to leave but I think our chances will be better - we know more of what to expect now. Being here with someone else is surely also more pleasant than coming here alone.
So, unless there is something particularly relevant to write, I'll be leaving this blog for a bit until roughly December or January, and I'm sure there'll be lots of unexpected stuff then.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A home in Stockholm

I had a really enjoyable day today, visiting some areas that we could potentially live in in the future. I already had a couple of ideas of suitable places but I've now seen some more. It's easier now that I know where I'll be working, but at least in Stockholm every train runs through T-Centralen, so it's not really difficult to make any journey on the tunnelbana.

Aside from that I already know I'd be happy to live in Södermalm - it's so central and there's so much going on there, it really would be an ideal location to get pretty much anywhere. I've been to Hjorthagen and Ropsten quite a lot, and this is also a nice area, although it's also very quiet and maybe not my first choice. I'm not necessarily expecting the perfect house immediately, and as I've discovered how difficult housing can be here I want to keep quite an open mind. 

As I'll be working in Östermalm I'm concentrating on the red line. My first stop was Gärdet, and I fell in love! There is a huge, beautiful park in Gärdet, and the area was really peaceful and green. It seemed very safe and quite quiet, but is only a few minutes on the train to T-Centralen, and even walking would be an option. The next train station, Karlaplan, is only at the other end of the park.
The blocks of flats were quite beautiful, and I noticed a couple of restaurants etc in the area. Transport would be really convenient, and also I met some people today in Gärdet, so may already know people in the area, which is a bonus. I've just looked on Blocket, and happily, flats are affordable here. I don't want to limit our options, but Gärdet would really be ideal.

My next stop was Aspudden, but I was less impressed here. The area seemed ok, there was a large flea market/boot sale going on, which was nice but the area was extremely busy, you could barely get down the street. I don't know how regularly this happens, or if the number of people was just because of the market, but I think it could get a bit frustrating if it was regularly that full of people. The market was interesting, there was a busker near the station, and there seemed to be a variety of other shops and restaurants. The location is also very convenient, so if it's not usually this packed with people I could definitely consider Aspudden.

Next I went to Midsommarkransen and walked to Telefonplan station from here, so I managed to get a good view of the area. In Midsommarkransen there are some beautiful winding streets, and this really appealed to me. The buildings are very beautiful too, and there seemed to be more art related stuff around Telefonplan. Konstfack is also located here, and I'd really like to do my masters there in the future. Midsommarkransen is kind of strange, as it has some industrial buildings but at the same time is pretty and peaceful, it's another area I'm quite keen on. It would take longer to travel from than Gärdet, but I don't think it's unreasonable compared to London travel times. Rent here is also really affordable.

 The red train line goes overground between Slussen and Gamla Stan, the view is beautiful and I wouldn't mind seeing that every day!

Finally I went to Hägerstensåsen, but I was less impressed with the area around here. There didn't seem to be much to it apart from trees, I found it pretty but a bit dull and it's quite far to travel to T-Centralen. There wasn't anything really wrong with it, I'd live there if there was no alternative, but it's definitely not my first choice.

If anyone can suggest any other areas I should visit before I go to England on Saturday I'm very open to suggestions!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Good things

First off, the best bit of news - it looks like I now have a job for when I get back to Stockholm in January! I had arranged this meeting through a company I worked for in London; their Swedish office is new and currently consists of one member of staff, but I met him yesterday and I was surprised by how well everything went. Sometimes you have the ideal scenario in your head, and then it actually happened! I wasn't expecting an immediate start, and that suited me just fine as I plan to leave Stockholm temporarily in just over a week, but a January start truly is perfect because my boyfriend and I are planning to get back here in December or January. Language isn't an issue, I have the relevant experience, and the office is centrally located so won't limit me in terms of finding a place to live.
I'm really happy, but trying not to overexcite myself in case of any delays or unexpected problems. I was open about going to England for a few months, and was told to just keep him informed of where I am and what my plans are for coming back to Stockholm as they unfold so that we can make arrangements. So that side of things looks very positive and is a weight off my mind, and will also quickly resolve my need for a personnummer. 
Should there be any problems in the next few months, which I really hope will not be the case, I also have a list of large, international companies with offices in Stockholm, as these are more likely to work in English. I've looked through some already, and have found that the majority do not require Swedish language skills. Whether I need it or not, this is useful for my boyfriend, who speaks less Swedish than I do.

Secondly, the luggage company are now providing me with a partial refund. Frankly I don't think the amount, less than a quarter of what I paid, is really good enough, but I just want this to be over with. I was offered a £25 discount voucher, which is worthless for me as I will never use their services again, so I suggested a refund as an alternative. The whole thing was so frustrating, and wasted so much of my time, that I'll take it if it means that's the end of the matter. I still think the service I received was disgusting, and by the end of it I had the impression that the company hadn't actually understood my reason for complaining, and their customer care manager sent me an email with a somewhat rude tone. As long as it's over with, that's all I care about.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A huge complaint

There is one part of my experience moving to Stockholm that has left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth, and it has nothing to do with Stockholm or Sweden. It is to do with the company I used to send some belongings ahead of me, a company based in the UK called First Luggage. I am writing about this here because I know that this blog is likely to be read, either now or in the future, by people who may be moving to Sweden from the UK, and I feel that this is relevant to anyone considering moving abroad from the UK.
I used First Luggage three years ago when I was moving back from Turku and needed to send some things ahead of me, and I was completely satisfied by their service. I remember that I actually entered the wrong collection date when making my booking, and this was changed without any difficulties at all. The luggage was collected and delivered promptly, and based on this experience I had no hesitation in using them this time. In fact I didn't even consider any other options because I was so confident in using First Luggage. What a mistake that turned out to be!
Heli agreed that my luggage could be delivered to her house in Stockholm, and so I booked the collection, arranging for my case to arrive here the day before I did, and paying over £100 for the privilege. A few days before the collection was due I received a phone call from First Luggage, informing me that the delivery address was incorrect, and that their system was displaying "foreign characters." The person I spoke to did not elaborate on this, and also told me she had googled the address and it didn't exist. I told her that I was quite sure my friend knew her own address, but that I would check with her and get back to them. Heli obviously confirmed that the address she'd given to me was correct, and for the sake of it I decided to google the address myself. It was definitely there.
Heli's address contains some accented letters that don't appear in the English alphabet. First Luggage claim that they can deliver your luggage anywhere in the world, but if their system can't recognise accented characters that surely rules out multiple addresses in Scandinavia, Iceland, Finland, France, Germany, Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, to name a few. I started to wonder if first time round I was just lucky that my address in Finland only contained letters also found in the English alphabet. I also considered that when entering address details on the First Luggage website, you're only able to enter them in a UK format, with the postcode coming last after the city name. This is not how Swedish addresses are laid out, nor Finnish addresses, and I'm sure addresses in some other countries have a different layout too, and I wondered if this might also cause a difficulty.
Anyway, when First Luggage contacted me it was a Friday, and it is unfortunate that the following Monday was a UK bank holiday, meaning it wasn't possible for me to speak to them. I know this is not their fault, and it is just unfortunate timing.
My collection was booked for the morning of the Tuesday, so I called them first thing in the morning to confirm that the address in Sweden was correct. I spoke to the same person as on Friday, who told me she would speak to her operations team and get back to me. I have previously worked in customer service for a well known gift retailer in the UK, and regularly dealt with a number of serious complaints. I really think this has made me more patient and reasonable than the average customer, as I am aware of how much stress and pressure customer service staff are sometimes put under. However, two hours later I still had not heard anything and needed to go to work, so I called First Luggage again. They didn't seem to have made any progress with the issue, and asked me to email the address to them. I did this immediately, and quickly received a reply confirming that the address was ok, they would send me the documents I needed that day, and would collect my suitcase on Wednesday morning instead. I sent two further emails, one asking when the luggage was likely to get to Stockholm in light of the delay, and another asking that the documents were sent to me by 4pm. This was because I did not have a printer at home, as I had mentioned on the phone, and would need to print the documents at work. First Luggage make it very clear that you must print the documents they send and give them to the courier when they arrive. I did not receive a response to either email.
I finished work at 4pm, and still did not have a copy of the documents I needed. I called them yet again, and was promised that I'd receive them by close of business, which was apparently 5.30pm. I was not very impressed, as I would now have to pay to have the documents printed. I informed First Luggage that I was moving abroad, they were delaying me in dealing with multiple other things I needed to do before leaving the country, and that I wanted a partial refund. When I said the whole experience had been ridiculous, the person on the phone actually agreed with me, but she did not apologise, and tried to blame the whole thing on the bank holiday. In regards to a partial refund, she told me "we'll see" once I had received the documents. So that basically meant no.
5.30 came and went, no documents were received, so I sent them a lengthy complaint email explaining what had gone on up to that point. I received a phone call from a different member of staff first thing the next morning, and to be fair to him, he was apologetic and seemed sincere. He had arranged for my luggage to be delivered to their office, so that they could attach the paperwork themselves, and to then be sent on an express service to Sweden so that it would still arrive on time. He told me it would actually arrive the next day, which did not help because Heli had arranged to stay at home on Friday, not Thursday. He told me he'd add a note asking that delivery was made on Friday, and also assured me I'd still be receiving a written response from a manager.
The case was collected and delivered, and I safely arrived in Stockholm. Last week I realised I had not received a response to my email, so I forwarded this to them and chased a response, pointing out that the email had obviously been received and read, otherwise no one would have contacted me the day after I sent it. And then it all gets worse...
Yesterday I found that another week had passed with no response from First Luggage, so I took to social media to air my concerns. Within minutes of posting on their Facebook page, which has over 8,000 likes, they commented that they would look into this as a matter of urgency. A while later I received an email from their Customer Care Manager, who just fobbed me off. He claimed that the initial communication issues were caused by a problem with their phone system. Frankly I find this quite confusing, as I had to call them multiple times and never had a problem getting through on the phone. The problem was that they failed to respond to emails, emails that I know for a fact they received and read. He also provided me with a £25 voucher to use against my next booking. It's an insult to my intelligence that they think I would use their service again after this. I had already told them several times that my previous experience with them was excellent, and that they had completely ruined this.
I replied to this email, informing them that their voucher was worthless as there is never going to be another booking, and that I didn't see what the phone system had to do with the issue. When I worked in customer service we occasionally had issues with the phone system, but this never affected our ability to send emails to customers. Considering that an email I sent on a Tuesday evening was read at about 8.30 the following morning says to me that they weren't struggling to catch up that much. I wanted some honesty, and a partial refund rather than a voucher I would never use, a voucher worth less than a quarter of what I paid for this shambles.
I decided to add a comment to my Facebook post, and discovered that it had mysteriously disappeared from their page! First Luggage clearly are concerned primarily with protecting their image - whether or not the customer is satisfied isn't relevant. I then posted again, specifically pointing out that they had removed my previous negative post from their page, and that I really felt the 8,000 people who liked their page deserved to see a real customer's experience with them.
At around the same time two rather odd things happened that just made the situation worse. First of all, a request to add First Luggage as a contact on Skype appeared. My Skype details are not listed anywhere, meaning that First Luggage had gone searching for my details, and I'm unsure how legal or ethical this is. Secondly, Heli text me and said they'd called her, claiming they thought that was my Swedish phone number. They know it isn't - they called her on that number to check my luggage had arrived, I provided that number at the point of booking, weeks before I even got to Sweden, and have never indicated to them that the number belongs to me. Contacting her when she hasn't even made the complaint is totally unacceptable.
I then received an email from the manager, not addressing anything I'd said, but saying he'd like to discuss the matter on Skype as he doesn't want to send emails back and forth, and also doesn't want to cause me a costly phone bill. I'm very hesitant to do this, as I will then have no evidence of anything that is discussed, and my knowledge of complaints procedure tells me that serious complaints like this should be kept in writing as far as possible. I replied to him telling him exactly this. I'm now waiting to see what happens from there.
If they had just dealt with the complaint at the time I would not be making the fuss I am now, and it's almost like they're intentionally causing more trouble for themselves by acting in a questionable manner. I am so frustrated with these people, and this is honestly the worst experience I've ever had with an organisation of any kind. I'm shocked at how bad their customer service is, and I think my former colleagues would agree that if any of us had acted in this way we may not have had jobs for much longer. I am an intelligent person, and First Luggage will not succeed in fobbing me off.
This morning I looked online for reviews of the company, and it seems I'm far from the only person who has had a negative experience. I'm also not the only one who doesn't get replies to complaints. It looks like I just got lucky first time round, and that using them again was a massive error. I don't want to keep dealing with this, it is no more enjoyable for me than it is for them, but I refuse to let them get away with this. 
The time now in the UK is 10.30am, so they are definitely in their office, and as yet I have heard nothing. I will keep chasing this, perhaps they think they can just make me go away, but what they don't know is that I learned from some very tricky customers and I will not be disappearing without a resolution. I wonder how long this nonsense will get dragged on for...

Monday, 8 September 2014

A peaceful walk in the forest

I'm lucky enough to live only a few minutes walk from a large forest. I noticed it on Saturday evening on the way to a party in Kista, and yesterday I was feeling a bit fed up and decided to go for a long walk there. It was really beautiful, and other people were few and far between, which was definitely a positive at the time. Even though it's not far from main roads and traffic it was dense and so peaceful and quiet, and it was easy to forget that I was in the city at all.

I saw so many different types of mushrooms, and that is quite a big difference between the Nordic countries and England. Mushrooms are actually my favourite food, and I would have loved to have picked some, but unfortunately I have no clue what is and is not poisonous, so I just left everything alone. They were everywhere though, and they were beautiful to look at. I saw a deer, and as far as I remember that's the first time I've seen a deer in a natural setting like that. I also saw some information about a viking cemetery situated in the forest, and it was quite interesting to read about that.

The forest was so peaceful, and it was really nice to sit there and relax. I expect that later I will live in a different area of Stockholm, but I would happily travel to walk in this forest again. It was so green, and the sun was so bright. It wasn't even very cold, so I happily passed a couple of hours just wandering through. I really thought it was a shame that people who had been there having bonfires etc had left quite a lot of litter in places.

It's lovely to have such a beautiful area so close to where I live, and I hope to visit the forest again. It's definitely a good place to get some privacy and clear the head. The past couple of weeks have been quite stressful and emotional for me, and I think I probably really needed this time and space.

I'm even more keen to explore now, as I've decided to go back to England temporarily on 20th September. This situation is very difficult for both my boyfriend and myself, and more and more we feel that it makes more sense for me to go back for a short time until we can come back to Sweden together. I'm glad to be here, but I'm not completely happy being here on my own, and this will resolve the problem. It's not the original plan, but seems like the best way forward right now. We expect to be back here around December or January, and I think we'll both be much happier at that point. Coming to Sweden now was definitely worthwhile, else I never would have known how things would go, and I feel much more prepared for the future.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Eating my way through Stockholm

I've now been here for a week, and I realise that I've pretty much devoted myself to eating my way through Stockholm. I've been spending a lot of time with Heli, my friend from Finland, this week, and thankfully we're both pretty into food.
This week we made two visits to Vapiano, which is extremely popular in Stockholm, but with only one restaurant in London. I first visited Vapiano when I was last visiting Heli in June, and was very happy to visit again. The concept is kind of unusual, as you order your food directly from the chef, which means you can have some control over seasoning etc. The downside is that this means your food might be ready at separate times. We found this when we went to the restaurant in Gamla Stan - Heli had to queue for about 40 minutes for risotto, I ordered a pizza and had completely finished it by the time she sat down with her food. Kind of defeats the object of going out for a meal together. This wasn't a problem when we've visited the restaurant in Östermalm previously. I also found that the pizza in Gamla Stan wasn't cooked as well as in Östermalm, so I'm not sure if I'd go back to that particular restaurant. Generally I really like Vapiano, the food is good and the prices are very reasonable too.
There is another Italian restaurant in Gamla Stan that we went to both times I visited Stockholm in the past, called Michelangelo, which I really do recommend. I've never actually had pasta there, but the pizzas I've eaten have always been really good. Again, the prices are really reasonable, and the atmosphere there is very nice.
Yesterday we had a lovely lunch at Sushi Hjorthagen, very close to where Heli lives and across the street from Ropsten station. This also marked the first occasion that I ordered something completely in Swedish and the other person spoke back to me only in Swedish. I assume I have a very foreign accent, as Swedish people tend to start speaking to me in English even when I am speaking Swedish. Yesterday an Irish man I met advised me to just persevere and speak Swedish even when they speak English, so I think I'm not the only person who has experienced this. The sushi was delicious and beautifully presented - they also had a number of vegetarian options, which is a big positive for me. As it was a small, local restaurant in a residential area I wondered whether the quality would be that good, but I was really impressed and would definitely visit again. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon, so sitting out on the terrace of the restaurant was great, and the area was really peaceful.
Last night we intended to go to the nacho buffet at Hellströms. Everyone I meet seems to have heard of this, even if they haven't been there. We visited when I was last in Stockholm, and it's amazing that you can get all you can eat food for only 20kr. That's unimaginable in London, 20kr is approximately £1.72! It would cost you more to buy the ingredients and make the food at home! Even better is that beer is only 29kr, and this is the weekend price, throughout the rest of the week it's only 24kr! Definitely the cheapest drinks I've seen in Stockholm. The buffet is from 4-7pm, unfortunately this time we turned up a bit too late and there was no food left. In terms of value for money I can't think of anything better. There's always next Friday...
As an alternative we went to Opal in Söderhallarna, which we've visited before just for drinks. I like that they have shiny silver sofas and some tables that look like a glitterball cut in half. Opal mainly offers burgers, I had the vegetarian halloumi burger and it was pretty good, very filling. It was almost 200kr, quite expensive for what it actually was, and definitely more than you'd pay for something similar in London. Although people often say Stockholm is very expensive I find that the cost of living is roughly the same as London, with some differences. Alcohol generally costs slightly more, cigarettes are much less, and rent is much less. Shame that it's so difficult to find somewhere to live in the first place!
When I was last here I ordered a falafel wrap at the end of a night out, and was very confused to find that this wrap included mashed potato as a filling! I like mashed potato, and it was very tasty mashed potato, I just really didn't understand why it was there. Sweden is apparently really big on mashed potato, and this is quite normal. I mentioned this earlier today to a German person who I'm currently sharing a house with, and she didn't seem to be phased by this at all, so I'm wondering if this is actually normal outside of Sweden too. Definitely not in England though.
In other news, I've decided in a couple of weeks to go back to England temporarily, as my boyfriend and I are both quite unhappy about being separated. It also seems the more sensible option, as when we get back here in December or January we'll have more money and more options for housing, which is the biggest concern I have here. I can go back to my old job on a temporary basis, and save even more money too. It's sad to leave Stockholm again so quickly, but something is really missing being here alone, and I'd much rather change the plan and come back in a couple of months. I'm still going to go to job interviews and look into jobs in the next couple of weeks, and also use this time to improve my spoken Swedish, and generally integrate more with Swedish people. I'm planning to leave a lot of my belongings in Stockholm, so I can say with absolute certainty that I'll be back before long. I have a meeting about a job on Monday that's quite important, but this is the plan regardless of the outcome of that. I don't think that company will want an immediate start, and I'm told that a notice period of three months is quite normal here, which takes us up to December anyway. Coming here now was still completely worthwhile, but I do feel that I could be much happier than I am. So that means two more weeks to keep munching my way through Stockholm, and then a little while to plan what to eat when I'm back!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Remembering why I'm here

The weather is beautiful in Stockholm at the moment, and also the difficulties earlier this week I thought that I should spend some time actually enjoying being here. Yesterday morning someone else contacted me about a job opportunity, so I now have two meetings arranged for the next few days. After that I decided to let myself relax a little bit and remember why I decided to come here.
The website for Time Out Stockholm very helpful advised that a lot of art related stuff is in the area around Sankt Eriksplan, so off I went. It's really important to me to find art galleries and art related activity here, as this is such a significant part of my life. I had planned to visit a specific gallery, somehow failed to find it, but managed to find a large number of contemporary, commercial galleries instead. I visited a few of them, and was really pleased.
When I lived in Finland I particularly liked that I became exposed to work by Finnish artists who I may never have encountered otherwise, and it's the same case here - most of the work was by Swedish artists who I probably would not have seen in England. I saw some excellent paintings, and also some very beautiful and tactile work made using pressed leaves and flowers. The area actually reminded me quite a lot of Vyner Street or Cork Street in London. In London I regularly visit the commercial art galleries in Mayfair, so it's great for me to have found a similar area in Stockholm. Sankt Eriksplan is definitely an area I'm keen to return to regularly.
After visiting the galleries I also found some really interesting shops in the area. Stockholm Retro was really cool, with lots of crockery, ornaments, and textiles from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The prices were also pretty cheap, so I can see myself visiting that shop again when I need to buy homeware items. I also found a chocolate and liquorice shop. I'm not that into liquorice but I definitely like chocolate, so that's another shop I'm keen to return to. I'm looking forward to exploring this area more in the future.
Doing this really improved my mood, and reminded me of why I came here. Trying to find work and housing, and being separated from my boyfriend, means I've been a bit bogged down and feeling a bit negative. The job side of things is looking fairly positive for now, and although the housing situation here is tremendously difficult, like nothing I've ever experienced before, there are a couple of options with that too. I have a plan B, which is starting to look more and more appealing, and like a more sensible option. Plan B should become clearer later today, and then I can consider my options much more seriously.
I expected finding a job to be the bigger challenge, as I'm still learning to speak Swedish, but this is really not the case. I knew before I came here that there were bound to be difficulties with housing, but coming here has made me realise how bad the situation is.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Smells like red tape

Foolishly, I assumed getting a personnummer would be a straightforward process. I am an EU citizen, I am looking for a job, and in the meantime I have the funds to support myself, which I have proof of. So off I go to Skatteverket, feeling quite confident that I can sort this out early on in my time here with minimal fuss. Wrong!
I got to the office, and the lady who I spoke to was pleasant and helpful. She told me that whilst I was living on my own funds I needed proof of medical insurance. I have an EHIC card, which I used whilst I was living in Finland without any problems, and I thought this would also be sufficient here. She told me this wasn't enough to get a personnummer, and that I needed an S1 form from the health service in England. She recommended I arrange this and then come back. This was a slightly frustrating turn of events, but didn't seem so difficult to resolve.
Finding out how to acquire this form was a struggle in itself. It is not available online, and when I googled the form I found countless forums and discussions from English people living in various European countries who couldn't work out how to acquire the form or were having problems with it. I also found a discussion between English people in Sweden that did not fill me with optimism, as it outlined many people's problems with either getting the form or being accepted by the Swedish authorities whilst they were in the same financial position as I am. The NHS website was useless quite frankly, and I eventually found a UK contact number on a forum.
I called and explained my situation, and was promptly informed that I'm not entitled to the S1 form! Since June the form is only issued to pensioners or people working for UK companies overseas. Prior to June they would have taken my National Insurance number to find out how much I had contributed, and then worked out how long my form should be valid for based on that. As Sweden requires coverage for at least one year that might not even have been successful. I actually said to the woman on the phone "So they're telling me I can't register without this form and there's no alternative, and you're telling me I'm not entitled to it and there's no alternative, so basically I'm stuck." Her response was "Yes."
The only other option if I really want to register at this point is to pay for private medical insurance, and I'm not going to do that. Before looking into the process I assumed I'd need a job before anything else, the same as in Finland, and this seemed like a faster way to get things done. Clearly not, so I just need to concentrate on finding work, which is obviously one of the main priorities right now. 
This has dragged me down a bit and I'm not brimming with confidence right now. I know I can't fall at the first hurdle, and I know I can only make so much progress in a couple of days, but I'm not used to being in such an unstable position. This was my choice so maybe I shouldn't feel sorry for myself about it. I know that living in Finland was far from straightforward at times, and it seems I'd conveniently forgotten about the problems I had. At least I can rest assured that I'm far from the only one who has experienced this problem, even before the policy with the S1 form changed. As the personnummer isn't even necessary unless I'm definitely staying at least a year I think I should stop worrying so much, stop expecting so much of myself, and just get back to working on a house and job. In a couple of weeks if I'm still struggling I'll have to think about what to do. I hope it works out.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Off to a good start

Sunday was more about trying to move my stuff to my new house and get settled in, so today was the day to start being organised and seriously looking for houses and jobs. My plan to sort out a personnumer today did not work out - just as I was ready to leave the house I realised that some paperwork I needed for that was in a suitcase at my friend's house on the other side of Stockholm. Thankfully I retrieved said suitcase this evening and will be able to do that tomorrow instead.
I made a big effort to be efficient today, and I think it paid off. I've now finalised a meeting about a job for next Monday, and I think this will be a really good prospect, although I obviously don't want to get my hopes up. I found a few other job opportunities that would be suitable for me today, and applied for them. I'm pleased to find that there are quite a few options available in English, as my Swedish isn't yet good enough to work in. I also applied for a couple of babysitting/nanny jobs, as I did this type of work in Finland for a while, and I feel that balancing one or two of these jobs would give me an income, but also allow me plenty of time for art. At this point I'm not wanting or expecting to necessarily get the best job, I just need a stable starting point and I can build from there. One of the people advertising a nanny job got back to me straight away, we spoke on the phone and he was very positive, all going well I might be meeting him tomorrow.
I also replied to a couple of adverts for rooms to rent. However, this evening that side of things became much more positive. Unbeknownst to me, one of my boyfriend's friends lives here, and he has very kindly offered to help me, generally with getting settled here, but also with finding somewhere more permanent to live. He has given me some great suggestions of areas that might be suitable that I hadn't known about, and has offered to help me with looking for places and making contact. This is a big help, as his language abilities are obviously a lot better than mine. I feel much less alone now that someone has volunteered to help me a bit with this stuff, and after today I'm feeling much more optimistic about my future in Sweden. This person is also helping my boyfriend a lot with finding job opportunities here, and if we're lucky this might mean we are separated for a shorter period of time. But again, everything is still very new and uncertain so I don't want to make assumptions or get my hopes up.
I had a bit of a wobble this evening, I think mainly because I miss my boyfriend, and maybe I'm becoming a bit frustrated with my language abilities. I know I've only been here for 2 full days, and I've only been learning Swedish for less than three months, and perhaps I set some unrealistic expectations for myself. I can understand a lot but I'm not used to hearing people speaking in Swedish, because I was learning in England. At this point I need to consciously think about what most words mean, and that makes it quite difficult to have a proper conversation with someone. I know I have to keep trying, and I know there were times in Finland when I wished I could give up and go home. Obviously you forget those times once you've become settled and have built a happy life for yourself. It's still so early on, and now that I'm gaining more of a support network here I hope that things will keep on improving. Maybe I need to be a bit easier on myself when it comes to speaking Swedish. Apart from this wobble I've had a really good, productive day, and I hope that this continues tomorrow.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It begins...

Where do I start? A few years ago I spent a year living in Finland, and wrote a blog called Frozen in Finland. This was intended to keep my friends in England up to date with what I was doing, but to my surprise my little blog actually became very popular! People all over the world started to read it and contact me, and I made friends in a new country after some readers who lived in the same city contacted me. One of these people in particular is still one of my best friends, and someone who I cannot imagine my life without. It's also really good for me now to have a record of one of the most special times of my life, and to be able to look back on the whole thing.
Now, a few years on since I returned to London I decided to move to Stockholm. This is quite unlikely to have ever happened if I hadn't lived in Finland, as the reason I first went to Stockholm was to visit one of the people I lived with in Finland, who moved here shortly after I left. When I first came two years ago I thought it was really beautiful, and being a larger capital city it reminded me a little bit of London. I came back in June, started to love it even more, and as I have some savings available and felt a bit stuck in a rut at home I decided to stop wasting time and just get on with it. So here I am, and the obvious thing to do given my previous experience was to start a new blog!
At the moment being here is tinged with sadness as my boyfriend has to stay in England for a little bit longer, and this is very difficult to get used to. I arrived yesterday, and other than that problem things are going quite well. I have a temporary room in a house for the next few weeks, living with people from a variety of countries, including England and Finland. Hopefully this situation will help me to make some friends here, as I've come here alone and only know a couple of people here already. It's very strange to go from a place that you're very familiar with, where you have a nice home, a boyfriend, and plenty of friends, to a place that for the most part is unknown, where you have no permanent home, no job, and not much in the way of a social life. I think it's a positive to take a leap like this and try something new, but I have questioned why I'm actually doing this at times.
I spent my first night here at my friend's house, and I think it was a good thing to come here and meet a familiar person initially. Last night was quite quiet as I'd had a pretty massive last night in London with my friends on Friday, and today has mainly been spent going back and forth across Stockholm with a suitcase transporting my belongings to the room I've rented. It's in a lovely shared house with lots of art everywhere, and I'm very pleased to have my own space. It feels much more real now, as staying with my friend yesterday felt more like being on holiday than living here. 
It's a new month and week tomorrow, and it's time to start getting my life in order here. I have a meeting about a job arranged for a week's time, and I really hope that that will work out, it would solve one problem for me quite quickly, and is something I'm very keen to do. Tomorrow I'll be going to Skatteverket to see about getting a personnummer, and will start looking for a more long-term place to live. 
This is my biggest worry at the moment, as I only hear negative comments about the rental market here, and I am concerned about how quickly I can find something, as I only have three weeks in this house. Originally I thought finding work would be my biggest problem, as this was an issue in Finland, and I have been concerned about language barriers. I'm less worried now, as there seem to be a lot of opportunities here for people speaking foreign languages. I also spent a lot of time between my holiday in June and now learning Swedish quite intensely, and since yesterday I've realised how well I've done, as I understand a lot of what I hear people saying, and have been reading advertisements and signs without much difficulty. I haven't had many opportunities to actually speak much Swedish yet, and I am a bit nervous about that, but I know from past experience that I just need to get over it and practice.
Hopefully tomorrow will get me off to a good start, and my time here, however long is may be, will be as happy and enjoyable as my time in Finland was.