Maybe it was from watching the steady influx of Swedish players on the Vancouver Canucks growing up, or perhaps it was my adolescent fascination of tall blonde women—in any event, I always wanted to go to Sweden. When life wasn’t working out, I was sure that the solutions were in Sweden.
It was my mental escape—yes I thought, one day I would travel to Sweden. It was my utopia. Things would be great there, I reckoned. Suffice to say, anticipation had been steadily building for decades. After I finished grad school in late ’06, I figured it was time to take a break and check out Scandinavia.
So I called up my cousin in the U.K. (Kangy’s brother, a.k.a Papa Bear) and booked an impromptu flight to Manchester. A couple of days later, now at Papa Bear’s house, we poorly planned our trip. While pounding over-sized and very spicy Donair Kebabs that were home-delivered through his window in Derby, we booked a bunch of cheap Ryan Air flights for our journey. It took a long time to rule out ferry travel, mainly because we had drank too much duty free Crown Royal, but our trip was mainly set.
Oh yes, we would be going to Dusseldorf, Copenhagen and Stockholm over an 84-hour period. It had to be done. Apparently, not many people that have traveled to Germany can say that they have only been to Dusseldorf. But I am now among this select club. In what would become a recurring theme – the fucking shuttle ride from the airport took ages to get to the main city centre. I hammered Papa Bear the whole ride there while he reasonably replied that it was the price (or lack thereof) paid for the cheap flight.
We finally arrived, and having booked no accommodations, the plan was to start boozing it up right away. To say that we packed light was an understatement. I went into “triple threat” mode: three pairs each of socks, underwear and black v-necks; as well as deodorant, a mini toothbrush/paste and mouthwash, all in a Zara murse that didn’t close properly.
Our foolish plan was to party all night and then take the 6:00am flight to the next town – Copenhagen. The one thing I noticed right away was that Zee Germans really enjoyed their revelry. There were characters boozing it up with ease, some even on weird five-man bicycle tables. The main streets were closed to traffic, and the atmosphere was quite lively. We walked around a bit, grabbed a bite to eat and bar-hopped around.
People were relatively polite but we didn’t get the best vibes from locals. We broke the situation down with some Turkish kebab guys and they explained the ingrained racism and lack of multicultural integration. We continued our shenanigans at night clubs and perhaps due to the darker lighting and higher levels of inebriation, we were able to make some headway. At this point, various brods started dancing with us and were surprised to learn that I wasn’t black.
Nothing crazy happened though and we were one of the last few people on the streets in the wee hours of the night. It was surprising to me that public drinking was allowed and bottle caps were strewn all over the streets. I was too tired to make any more observations though. But fuck – there were two more hours to kill. And this is where the lengthy ride to airport was a god send. We smoked a bunch of cigarettes out of sheer boredom, had a few Desperados, which proved difficult to open without a bottle opener, and made our way to the next destination.
Copenhagen. Oh yeah baby. My brother, the Beast was long obsessed with Great Dane dogs growing up so I told him that I would remain on the lookout for some good ones. Instead, there were just a lot of people riding bikes with scarves on. It was a little chilly, and my shit wardrobe options caused me to do lots of pushups around the clock just to stay warm. Not being total idiots, this time we actually had a place to stay—the Square Hotel right in the center of the city, also sometimes referred to as the city centre. It was fairly solid and we showered up and went to sleep for a bit.
The first thing I noticed was that the food around town was money. Maybe we were very malnourished but there was something to the European style of less quantity but better quality.
From lunch onward, additional heavy boozing transpired at various establishments across the city. The best spot was some international student pub where the Papa Bear and I schooled all sorts of folks in billiards and I met a hot Korean-Australian woman. We kept it going with various international characters but again, there was something off. The locals were not very inviting. Everything was very orderly but it was all a bit boring and subdued. We weren’t in Sweden yet though I thought. We were saving the best for last.
After another bogus flight that left us nearly 90 minutes away from Stockholm (our destination), we were on the road again. This time we did manage to get some sleep due to the hotel but we were hitting the nation’s capital hard before flying out early the following morning. There were no hotels to check in to; it was going to be the full Stockholm street experience.
When we arrived in the late morning, the place was a bit of a ghost town. Ironically, the first thing we saw was an elderly Sikh guy pulling numerous bags of Golden Temple flour in a wagon. Bizarre. The place was undoubtedly beautiful. A cobble-stoned, classic European look, yet modern. Various streams and bridges everywhere. Anyhow, you get the picture.
Consistent with the trip, the food was fantastic. The pasta that we had for brunch was some of the best shit we ever tasted. Even the Heineken seemed better than normal. And while we were aimlessly boozing it up in the Italian fusion type of restaurant, it finally hit me what had been occurring all trip in Europe. We were victims of polite racism. It was the opposite of what happens in rural Canada.
Instead of people wondering, “Hey what the fuck are these brown guys doing at my Tim Horton’s” as they stared you down and made you feel uncomfortable, the Scandinavian system was the reverse. It was, we’re going to ignore the fuck out of these motherfuckers as nicely and politely as we can. No, unfortunately, I wasn’t the exotic outsider and nobody cared about my North American English accent. We met a bunch of black football players at a casino at the back of an upscale bar and they confirmed as much. Later that night we were denied entry into many establishments. And when making small talk with folks, nobody even knew who Mats Sundin even was.
And yes, I mixed up my Swedish and Danish Kroners. While trying to sort them out on the street and figure out exchange rates, I somehow got involved in a mix up with Russian street hustlers. Pushing and shoving ensued. I’m not even sure how much money they stole because it was hard to divide by thirteen when hungover. Yes, an undetermined number of Kroner were long gone, as was my fascination with Sweden.
We continued to drink copious amount of booze at the Stockholm airport, and we each broke our 24-hour liquor consumption record (37 drinks – we gathered). And for me, I knew that I should probably tackle the deep-rooted psychological issues that were pushing me toward escapism. In the meantime though, it was clear that the real answers to all my problems lied in Argentina. Buenos Aires. Yes. The Argentinians would welcome me there. Maybe I could stay for a while and meet someone. And I would eventually come back home in a nice wool Patagonian sweater, with lots of great stories.