There’s something exciting about being in Liverpool Street Station at 11 pm. You’d think it’d be a ghost town, but it’s actually far from it. People are just hustling and bustling everywhere. Some in business clothes, no doubt done for the night, some in tiny dresses and heels, no doubt ready to begin the night; there’s even a man in a tuxedo walking around. People are pushing their bikes in a casual forward direction as birds flit by uncomfortably close to eye level. WH Smith is still open and you can still buy a green apple from the fruit stand.
Liverpool St. Station is probably my favorite London train station. It’s much more brightly lit than Paddington and there seems to be an easier air. It’s not covered by construction unlike the famous King’s Cross and not depressing like Victoria, which I only use to catch the three-hour long coach to Bath.
But this is not a blog entry about the merits of the Liverpool St. Station. It is a blog about my first trip alone. Liverpool St. is just a part of the journey to Stockholm.
I’ve traveled alone before, but that was always towards the flat of a welcoming friend (thanks Paola and Michelle!). This time I’m traveling to Sweden and although I have friends and family in that (hopefully) wonderful country, I will be staying at a hostel.
It’s 12:36 am. London Stansted airport is, as I had previously read, filled with people tuckered in for the night. This will be my place of rest until 8 am tomorrow when I have to get up and prepare for my flight (Shower in the sink á la Tom Hanks in The Terminal? Yes please!). Thank goodness I got here early and was able to find 3 empty chairs to sleep on. They might have arm rests disconnecting them, but a sleeping surface’s a sleeping surface. It sure beats the dusty floor.
12:48 am. I pride myself in my ability to sleep anywhere (As a testament to that superpower, I used to sleep standing up during choir practice in 6th grade), but this place is seriously testing my skills. I sat up on my middle chair to readjust myself and this strange, possibly homeless girl, just sits on my last chair! I am now down to sleeping on two chairs and one of those chairs serves as my pillow, which consists of a purse and a backpack. I am now too agitated to try to go back to sleep, not to mention too hopeful at the prospect of someone leaving their barrier-free row of chairs. Ok now she’s gone and I can attempt Round 2 of decent night’s rest.
1:19 am. Just had the brilliant idea to check that I wasn’t damaging anything valuable by sleeping on my purse. Found my cell phone soaked with water. Time for Round 3.
4:18 am. Woke up from my slumber because it got noticably colder. As I attempted to drift back to sleep, I noticed two men packing up. One man packs up quickly and I assume the second one will follow suit. I non-creepily watch the second one through half-shut eyelids, waiting for him to leave and give up an elusive set of chairs without armrests. I swear I count till 100 before the man finally gets up and go. I’ve never seen anyone so undetermined in my life. But my patience pays off as he leaves behind the jackpot of chair-beds. On to Round 4.
6:42 am. It is late by sleeping in an airport standard. Everone I remember from the airport is already gone. Although I would like to continue sleeping as my new chairs are very comfy, I should get up. I’ve never seen 6:42 so lively or bright. People look as if it’s 2pm and I am some homeless bum leftover from the night.
I arrive in Stockholm Vaestra at 2:20 pm to the Swedish army. They are all dressed in that dusty brown camoflague that I almost mistake them for the American army. Yes, they are all as tall as you’d expect Scandanavians to be; but suprisingly, not all are blonde. In fact, very few have the white-blonde hair I expected. I am waiting in a bus that will take over an hour to arrive at the City Center. The bus will only run twice today so I am very lucky that my plane arrived within 20 minutes of that or I will have to wait at this tiny airport for six more hours. It is unbearably hot on this bus. That paints an oxymoronic picture- hot weather in Sweden. But it’s true- it’s the warmest weather I’ve had in weeks.
You know how I said Sweden is hot (weather-wise) right now? Well it is HOT. I went on a three-hour bike tour today and I am just so disgustingly sweaty. I can’t believe I bought boots and a cardigan to Stockholm and not my bikini. It’s a good thing Stockholm makes up for it by being so gorgeous.
Bonus: I also found a spider on my new hostel bed.
I’m hitting up Gamla Stan (the old part of town) like a typical tourist. I know I am a tourist myself, but I absolutely cannot stand being near other tourists. It reminds me that I am just one of the masses.
Now I’m meeting my Swedish friends and they’re taking me to the non-touristy parts of Stockholm, where people actually live. I am surprised that there are actually homeless people in Sweden and that the streets and subway system aren’t sparkling clean. I feel like I took the wrong message away from my government class at UT. These people don’t all come from the same cultural background and they don’t all love their government system. The government doesn’t provide everyone with everything and there is great disparity. Now that I’m coming to the important realization that not everything I’ve learnt in class is true, it makes me wonder what else I’m wrong about. This thought scares me and makes me glad I left the U.S. to see the world for myself instead of just blindly believing everything I was taught.
But tonight, I brush off all deep thoughts as I go out to the Stockholm city center with my hostel-mates. One of which, is an Australian, traveling alone of course.
Today is the first day it is raining since I’ve arrived and similar to Venice, the city is a completely different place when it rains. The sky is no longer filled with blazing sunlight at 6 am. It makes it easier to leave Stockholm and I like to think that Stockholm is crying because I left (just like Venice, Florence, and Rome did).
During my hour-and-a-half bus ride back to the airport, I am saddened to see that the highway intersections could easily be mistaken as American. If you look quickly, all you see is concrete and a pair of beckoning Golden Arches. Globalization is both completely natural and theoretically good (Why would there be supply without demand?), yet, I feel like apologizing on behalf of my country.
*Australians are some of the greatest people you’ll meet. I’ve met many during my trips around Europe. What makes them different from most other travelers is that they tend to travel alone. When I meet an outgoing person traveling alone, they are almost invariably Australian. That’s the key word: outgoing. Most lone wolf travelers are independent; but, not all of them are gregarious.
It was through these various experiences with Australians that I became inspired to travel alone as well. We are well into exam time here at the University of Bath and as a result, not many people have matching free-time schedules. I decided that this wouldn’t stop me from traveling to one of the countries I most anticipated to visit: Sweden. I would be an Australian: travel alone and meet friends along the way. Loners don’t have to appear creepy and weird and I would try my best not to be.