September 3, 2013

Hej från Sverige II: Traveling to Vindeln

In my last post, I left you all breathless as I embarked to the north ensam (alone). I managed to stumble around Stockholm Central again with my cumbersome bags and find the night train that was taking me up to Umeå, close to where I am going to school in Vindeln. Because regular tickets were sold out, I had a seat in a six-person sleeper car. I was a bit nervous to be in a sleeper car with total strangers, but relieved at the chance to maybe get some real rest before arriving in Vindeln. (I have come to find that there are few things more infuriating than wanting desperately to stretch out and sleep while you are forced to sit up in a plane, a car, or a train. Can I get an amen?) As we pulled away from the station, I marveled that no one else had joined me in my little car. Maybe I had the whole thing to myself! I set my luggage on a seat that wasn't mine, moved myself to a better seat that wasn't mine (with a window view!), stretched out, and began watching the scenery go by while sipping on Fanta Exotic, a beverage sold in northern and eastern Europe for which there are simply no words.

My inaugural Fanta Exotic of Sweden twenty-thirteen for the win.

Of course, that was just too good to be true. At the first stop, I was joined by a young German couple who actually had tickets for the window seats. They were armored with those giant backpacks that scream "We're hikers!" And seriously, there is no shortage of those young bohemian couples traveling around Europe to hike. Somehow, they are always from two different countries (in this case, Austria and Germany) and they have always been together for like, seven years, even if they are only twenty-one years old. I'm not sure how that works, but I promise it's a thing. (And I'm always wondering, How did you meet? or Why have you been together for a decade but you're not engaged, WHAT?) I was a little disgruntled that the Germs had robbed me of my freedom to roam about the car as I wished (in this case, ensam was the way to go!), but I was a bit placated by the fact that they thought I was Swedish at first.

Later, an old Swedish man joined us in the car. It goes without saying that he definitely didn't think I was Swedish from the start; the Swedes can generally smell the USA all over me before I even say a word. Once I open my mouth, the game is definitely over. No, I take that back. I have found that I can say three things and still convince Swedes I might be native: "Hej" (their basic greeting), "Förlåt" (which means "sorry," and obviously I have to say it all the time when I'm bumping into everyone in public transit), and "Ursäkta mig" ("Excuse me"; again, one that comes up a lot for me). The real trick is that I've learned the prosodi of these words, the sort of native rise-and-fall of the language, and I can pronounce them with the weird nasal intonation that many Stockholm women use. The minute I say anything else, though, my true identity is known by all. 

In spite of my initial reservations, the company in our sleeper car ended up being nice. I bought a small dinner: another woefully inadequate ham sandwich (remember the “breakfast” on my flight to Copenhagen?) with a Marabou chocolate bar (my first of the trip!). We arranged our beds and I was able to sleep for a few hours before arriving in Umeå. As I was waiting to get off the train, I met a sweet couple who invited me to visit them in their hometown before they even knew who I was. They ended up being quite parent-like to me. They switched between talking to me in Swedish and English and were keen to learn about my travels and education. I found out they're first-grade teachers from a small town in northern Sweden and so, so sweet. We met another guy standing there who turned out to be a student on his way to the same school in Vindeln. We all had long waits before our connecting trains/buses (four hours of waiting! at 2 a.m.!), so we hunkered down in the old Umeå train station with free WiFi and lazy conversation that came in and out.

I almost wrote a blog from Umeå station just because it was such an odd and vivid experience. It was the middle of the night, I was bantering with complete strangers, and an old man with the scraggliest beard and dirtiest toenails this side of the Baltic was sleeping on a dirty yoga mat behind us. Later, he tried to engage me in a conversation about drinking, karaoke, and the problem with school bullying. He said he was an elementary school teacher. (What? Can just like, anyone do that around here?) 

Umeå train station

It wasn't the worst middle-of-the-night wait, really, but I was glad to finally head out to my spår (platform) and catch the connecting train to Vindeln. By that point, I had made myself better acquainted with the other student on his way to Vindelns folkögskola. His name is Christian and he told me he is studying "export." I still have no idea exactly what that means. He seems to be already midway through a career of some kind. He spent the past four months traveling to different places in Europe for... some... company? Doing... some... thing? That's the kind of understanding you get of people when neither of you share a language you're both good at speaking. That's not to say his English wasn't pretty good; it was. But there's still a barrier of sorts when it comes to certain topics.

The train ride to Vindeln was short, maybe twenty minutes, and rather pleasant. The sun was rising over green forests. The day looked to be somewhat overcast, though, and I could already tell it was cooler than it had been in Stockholm. To put things into perspective for you: Stockholm is already about as far north as Anchorage, Alaska. Vindeln is nearly 450 miles north of Stockholm and is just a couple latitudinal degrees shy of being part of the Arctic Circle as it was defined in 2012. In other words: Cold. Middle of nowhere. Probably terrifying. In fact, if you're anything like me, looking up just how far north and how desolate this area is on Google Maps, you might have a panic attack on my behalf. But don't worry, turns out it's beautiful and pleasant and not a snowy tundra. At least not yet.

I made a rather pathetic attempt at taking a picture of the pretty scenery we passed on the train, but that is too embarrassing to even post. Here, however, is the view I had walking up to my school in Vindeln. In fact, this is the school! Can you believe it? A cluster of charming little houses almost, nestled in the forest. (I think I said "nestled in the forest" to describe the Jonssons' house as well. Running theme.)

Vindelns folkögskola

Speaking of themes, my luggage was so heavy. Still. Good thing Christian is apparently a personal trainer and just like, carried my huge suitcase up the stairs for me like a total boss. I'm afraid this trip has utterly made a damsel in distress of me. We managed to run into the groundskeeper and a couple of the administrators with whom I have had e-mail contact over the summer. I am not sure what they were doing up and about at 6:30 a.m., but at least it meant we got the keys to our on-campus dorm rooms. Christian and I ended up having rooms just down the hall from each other and we share a bathroom. (Something about that seems so strange and intimate, but I guess I'm just used to the strict housing policies at BYU.) I spent the entire morning napping until it was time for our big meeting with all the other students. 

My next post will be about my first couple days on campus, but for now I'll leave you with some photographic evidence of the view from my charming dorm room.

I think I could get used to this.


  1. Rachelle,
    What a wonderful adventure. Please keep the running comentary. I enjoy every word. Looking forward to the next edition. I wish I could save them. Maybe Bill will show me how.
    Love, Aunt Betty

  2. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us! Look forward to your updates :)