I’m nearly at the end of my first full week of traveling, and it’s been pretty full of… traveling. The obvious never fails to astonish me.
It was always going to be about the moving around parts as much as the seeing places parts, but this first week was mostly a means of getting to Russia without flying. I’m really happy I didn’t opt for solid travel straight through, but even with the break days, it’s been a somewhat unexpected challenge adapting to a constantly changing schedule and environment.
I’m currently on the ferry from Stockholm to Turku (where I’ll catch a train to Helsinki and get in late tonight). I’d booked a space in a shared 4-berth inner cabin – the cheapest you can get – and I imagine it’s because of the time of year or something, but: AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT ME.
When I boarded and no one else showed up in the cabin, I went to the info desk to check if I had it to myself and nearly did a (tired) little dance when they confirmed I’d have sweet, sweet personal space at my disposal for the next 12 hours. It’s a small space for 4 people to share, but not as small as a train cabin, and quite big for one person. And what it lacks in windows, it makes up for in a surprisingly good shower and a TV that I’ve tuned to the mast camera channel so I can see when it’s worth going to look out a window (and listen to the cheesy music they’ve got playing over the view).
I got zero sleep last night in the hostel in Stockholm – which was actually a great hostel, I’m just horrible at sleep, more on which later. But I’ve already taken the cabin-to-myself opportunity to have a nap, and I may even have another later. Luxury! I’ve also had a long hot shower and a reorganisation of my packing.
I’ve brought a bunch of food with me, which is good because everything is stupid expensive. I had a very tiny coffee in the cafeteria when I boarded and I may treat myself to a beer in a bit, but I’m trying pretty hard to keep the food spending down. This is one of the things that comes to the fore when constantly traveling on a a groceries-not-restaurants budget and not a lot of space. I am ALWAYS thinking about food.
I mean, ok, that’s not actually much different from the normal state of Kate affairs, but now I’m just thinking about what I can buy that’s cheap and portable and perhaps most importantly, healthy. It’s pretty easy to eat a lot of crap, and I know myself enough to know that if I eat that kind of crap for even a few days I’ll feel horrendous.
I’ve done pretty well so far, but doing pretty well has nonetheless consisted of a lot of cheese and rye sandwiches. And fruit. And chocolate. My stomach is going, ‘WHERE IS ALL THAT HEALTHY SHIT YOU USUALLY GIVE ME?’ I’ve put in as many vegetables as possible, but they’re not always as easily portable. I was feeling a bit greens-starved yesterday so when I found someone had left a whole bag of kale in the free/leftover food fridge in the hostel kitchen, I flash-fried it all in garlic and butter for dinner. A dude from California who insisted I have one of his beers (nice!) gave me some stick for this, but I’m ok being the kind of food nerd who gets excited about someone’s leftover kale.
On the sleep front, I’ve found the hostel thing pretty tiring in general. I’m really looking forward to the couchsurfing parts of my trip because of that. I even think I might find it easier to sleep on the trains than in hostels. We’ll see. I’m so rubbish at getting to sleep in unfamiliar places in general, and it’s nice that I never really have anything like work to worry about the next day, but being tired when you can’t go home and take a nap really does bring a day down, no matter where you are. And if I’m tired enough, I actually just start feeling sick. Hopefully by the end of this trip I’ll have trained myself to be able to sleep absolutely anywhere at the drop of a hat, but right now I’m still the same as ever.
All of this falls under the self-care umbrella, and one of my main goals for this whole trip is to be better at that in general. If I can achieve it while moving around strange places, surely I’ll be able to keep it up in a home setting. But one of the biggest lessons I’m constantly learning is that I really don’t HAVE to do anything. I can do or not do whatever I want and whatever makes me feel ok. And I realise that sounds stupidly obvious, but when you’re going to all these cool places, even ones you’ve already been to before, I find there’s this weird pressure to Go See And Do All The Things You Can. And that is mostly self-pressure, but it’s there, and it takes a while to be like, actually, while I love the hell out of Stockholm and I’m excited to be back, all I feel like doing is finding a suitable pastry provider, wandering around for a few hours fairly aimlessly, then sitting in the hostel in my pajamas, drinking a few local craft beers, reading, and doing some life admin. This may be a holiday, but it’s a long one, and holiday mode now just means taking care of myself in whatever way I decide to that day.
So the break days between full-on transportation days were a totally good call. I’ve already had my share of delays and rushing around. I love sitting on the trains (for the most part) but the business of getting yourself on and off them and between transport and accommodation is pretty draining. I had a 2.5 hour layover in Brussels on Sunday and I didn’t get my act together enough to go find a place to have a nice Belgian beer. And I was slightly hungover from all the prosecco I drank the night before at Seema’s anyway, so I gave the booze a miss completely and bought some fancy chocolate instead. And it was good I treated myself when I had the chance because my third train of the day had been cancelled so I ended up on a not-as-nice train that was like sitting in a strip-lit office for 4.5 hours (WHY DO THEY MAKE IT SO BRIGHT). I distracted myself by watching Dear Mr Watterson on my computer, but I was ready to be off of trains altogether.
Monday was the first day I was really excited about specifically, because it was the TRAIN ON A BOAT day. Ever since I read about it on Seat 61 I couldn’t wait to see the business of getting an ICE train on a ferry. It’s one of two places in Europe that this happens, and it’s just freakin’ cool. In fact, it’s probably the thing that sealed the deal on me choosing the Scandinavian route to Russia. So that was awesome and we had brilliant weather for the journey too.
On that train I also had my first Meet Interesting People From All Of The Places conversation with the guy sitting next to me. He was a political scientist from Afghanistan who I think was some kind of diplomat. He’d traveled quite a lot and even lived in India for 12 years, but this was his first time in the West. He’d been in Copenhagen for a panel on something and then went down to Hamburg to visit a friend at the university and was on his way back to the airport to fly home. I didn’t get his name, which I feel a bit ridiculous about, but I guess when you’ve been talking to someone for a few hours and neither of you ever bothered to ask, it just never happens.
Anyway, he had all sorts of things to talk about. He was completely thrown off by the sun coming up so late and going down so early so I told him about how that’s all even more drastic in Scotland. He showed me loads of gorgeous pictures of Afghanistan and his family on his phone, which made me realise I really need to load a few more of Scotland onto mine to show, because there aren’t enough.
He had a picture of Kabul in the 60s. Everyone was wearing bellbottoms and it seriously could have been like a US college campus the way everyone was dressed so casually. He talked about how everything is completely different now with women wearing headscarfs and people being more formal and closed off in public. He seemed pretty bummed out about it, and I wish I’d asked him more about that but I’ve not quite hit my asking-strangers-deep-questions-about-their-cultures stride yet.
We talked a lot about languages too, and he told me how hard it had been to learn English because it was outlawed during the Taliban regime, so he’d go to this woman’s house with a bunch of other kids and they’d learn it in secret. Imagine learning a language you’re not allowed to speak. How freaking hard that would be!
If everyone I end up chatting to is even half as interesting as that guy, this trip is going to be pretty amazing.
That train was late getting into Copenhagen. My seatmate was worried he’d miss his flight out and I was convinced I wasn’t going to make the connection to the Stockholm train because it was originally 15 minutes in between and we got in as it should have been leaving. I wasn’t too fussed about getting rebooked on a later train if it meant I’d get myself a proper Danish cinnamon roll, but as we pulled in to the station, they announced that the Stockholm train would be waiting for us, so hurry to track 6 where it was. Except it WASN’T, it was at 7, so I went up and down a lot of stairs very quickly and jumped on the Swedish train just as the doors were closing. I don’t think anyone’s ever spent less time in Copenhagen. But I made it. And that train was then half an hour late into Stockholm so I really never would have made the University Lindy Hop Monday social I’d wanted to go to. Instead, I went grocery shopping and chilled out in the lovely City Backpackers hostel common room, planning my first day without the need for setting an alarm.
Today will be my last full day of transportation for a while, which is nice. I have a day in Helsinki tomorrow and then a high speed train to St Petersburg on Friday, where I’ll be seeing the ballet that night. I’ve never seen any ballet and now I get to see it in Russia. Hooray!