några tankar ifrån Stockholm

Även om jag emellanåt kan tycka mig ha sett så mycket av både det lilla och det stora ute i världen, så är det konstigt nog alltid här som flest känslor rörs upp. Eller är det kanske inte alls konstigt? Jag minns det som igår hur redo jag kände mig att lämna detta mellanmjölksland bakom mig. Hur jag där och då upplevde det som att tiden stod stilla här. Som att människor gick i cirklar, sade förutsägbara saker och levde sina liv utefter andras åsikter snarare än sina egna. Och ja, någon sanning ligger det väl förvisso fortfarande i det där; för vissa, på vissa platser. Men det är väl kanske egentligen så enkelt, att utan en möjlighet att jämföra, är det svårt att se storheten i det man har. I människor, och i upplevelser. Guld glimmar, men hur vet en det ifall en aldrig ställt det jämte bly?

Att människor säger tack. Att människor ställer sig i kö. Att människor är oformella. Att människor Du:ar (även om jag alltid varit och förblir en ni:are). Att människor står till höger i rulltrappor och går till vänster. Att människor följer trafikregler. Att människor respekterar personliga sfärer. Att människor håller handen. Att det hängs prideflaggor på offentliga byggnader. Att det som säljs på Ica oftast är producerat i Sverige. Att kollektivtrafik finns, fungerar, och används (gäller ej Skånetrafiken). Att det hålls rent på gatorna. Att det finns en vår, en sommar (som regel), en höst och en vinter. Att systembolaget finns. Att småprat faktiskt kan vara genuint. Att det inte ger fördelar att skrika högt och vara otrevlig när ens vilja inte infrias. Att människor sällan höjer rösten. Att… ja oj vad många fler anledningar det finns.

Så många anledningar som jag inte skänkte en endaste tanke när planet lyfte mot Dubai den där Majdagen 2014. Men jag ser det annorlunda nu. Så många anledningar att stanna upp en liten stund och tillåta sig själv att känna sig en liten smula sentimental. Och stolt. Jag kände det igår när jag gick längs raden av porträtterade kända svenskar i ankomsthallen på Arlanda. Och jag kände det idag när en främling höll upp dörren för mig på Pressbyrån. Så självklart kan man tycka, men så sällsynt. Stora och små saker, men lika värdefulla. Och kanske just så värdefulla eftersom jag inte ser och upplever dem varje dag.

Just precis så enkelt, och just precis så svårt.

A paradise for people who don’t like people

Legend has it that when God was finished creating the world he was left with a piece of land he didn´t know what to do with, so he created Sicily. The rest of the world envied this island paradise, so to offset the splendor of his most recent creation, God created the Sicilians… and I’ve now realized that this is a true story.

The Sicilians are a bit peculiar, and that´s me being unduly sympathetic. Italians, in general, are in some measures and in my opinion, the Australians of Europe, whom with the exemption of their intermittent very vehement temper, generally couldn´t care less for tiny matters. Sometimes utterly refreshing and sometimes merely blood boiling for a slightly neurotic Swede on tour. The Sicilians however, seem to have taken this relaxed approach to life to a level verging on indifference, which I became associated to on my first night while checking in to my overpriced rented Airbnb apartment in Catania. My landlady who didn`t speak a word of English, let alone wouldn`t let that stop her, took me for a tour around the modest premises while gesticulating wildly about all the need-to-knows and whereabouts. Upon showcasing the bathroom she somehow managed to explain that the toilet didn’t flush, and was not to be used at all. The solution? “Make sure to take care of your needs whenever you’re out and about” she snapped curtly. (And implicitly also not to overhydrate.) I didn`t remember this being highlighted in the online advertisement, but what’s a mere 100 USD a night for a Harry Potter scrub anyway? Sigh.

But apart from its not so snuggly people, Sicily is a true island haven. A place where time seems to pace slower, and where the outside world in a way seems as distant as payday a week after payday. The main city on the east coast, Catania, has a low-key tone free of intensity, and an air of old age with charmingly swarthy facades, balcony gardens and patchworked sidewalks. The seemingly aged city-dwellers are unbothered and unimpressed, in an actually refreshing sense. The vibe is slow, and if you know how to mind yourself, it´s not a bad place to rewind with a pizza in a piazza, and a generously sized beer or three. The tiny city of Taormina however, is in many ways the exact opposite; a bit pretentious, Instagram-friendly picturesque and impossible to drive in. All roads are one way, but that doesn’t stop people from driving in both. The price levels are, much like the city itself, well above sea level. Lots of tourists happy to be away from home, and lots of Sicilians wishing that they would have gone away somewhere else.

My bulky suitcase, which I in a momentarily weak moment bought for the equivalent of two months rent for an apartment in uptown Copenhagen, might very possibly be both bulletproof and fireproof judging from the price I paid for it, but it was definitely not designed to be forced up and down the steep streets of a city built on mountain slopes. And neither was I. I panted as a reached the frugal hotel I’d chosen as a strive to return to moral high grounds after very expensive suitcase purchase. The showerhead was mounted over the toilet, the paint chipping off the walls and the teeny tiny balcony inhabited by a ravening and ferocious-looking lizard family. And there was no hot water either. But the immense rooftop of the hotel somehow managed to make up for it all, giving a splendid outlook over the Mediterranean Sea, which at 6 am laid almost completely still as the first rays of sun glittered on its surface. Sounds and noises charged the atmosphere as the tiny city slowly awakened. Over near deafening birdsong, the hammering of a roof being fixed hundreds of yards away and the waves lapping the shore miles down the slopes intermingled peacefully. People interacting on the street 5 floors down, and cars thrusting up and down the meandering roads along the mountain. A social event worthy of activities, yet at that moment it felt like there wasn’t a more serene place to be. Pause for exhalation.

The Sicilian hinterland offers another form of quietude, with ample fields of chunky lemon trees stretching over a hilly and scorched landscape, dotted by dilapidated country houses and grazing cows. A scenery distant from the weathered cities, under clear skies and framed by rampant and cloud-swathed mountains as far as the eye reaches. Stillness in a way freed from pervasive sounds, all the way from the tourist-infested east coast to the haughty city of Palermo. A city which turns out to have the capital vibe, with aging city-dwellers but a breath and a tone that tries its hardest to keep a young heart. Artisinal and hipster eateries stand out amongst the touristy greasy traps, and old stone buildings seemingly on the brink of collapsing house all the high-end stores of the world. A charming contrast, a bit off-key, yet a world away from polished commercial malls and well-swept shopping arcades in similarly sized cities. No one speaks a word of English, and as inclined as one might be to think how that subsides the risk of anyone bothering you, that’s just not the case. One night I sat down in a bar with my book and my beer, untroubled by the soaring atmosphere around me, minding no one’s but my own business. The chatty and extroverted waiter, like my first landlady, wouldn’t let his limited linguistic skills stop him from sharing his life stories to everyone who cared to listen, and when it was my inevitable turn to be harangued he started by asking where I was from. “Sweden,” I said as if my reluctance to interaction with strangers hadn’t already stated my obvious nationality. “OH,” said the waiter completely ecstatic, and turned around 180 degrees to the next overcrowded table. “They are Swedish too!” making sure to say it so loud they all could hear and turned their heads toward me simultaneously, whilst obviously proud of having grabbed this opportunity to demonstrate his matchmaking skills. I threw a betrayed gaze at the waiter, and a second at my fellow countrymen on the table. “Let’s shut this down before it starts,” said both our looks, and we continued with what our lives had been like 45 seconds earlier. Perhaps I’m sometimes too hard on my countrymen because at times we seem to understand one another just fine. And perhaps there is a tiny Sicilian living inside of me after all, utterly happy to just mind himself.

a little bit of Sweden, from an observer’s seat

Stockholm. It always feels so ambiguous for me to go home. This wasn’t where I grew up, so to a certain extent even I find it exciting since it’s unknown for me too. I don’t know my way around here like I would. I don’t know where to cross over to make a short cut. I don’t know the hilly and narrow streets in Old town like my own back pocket. I don’t know where the best place to go for unnecessarily large and greasy pizza on a rainy day would be. I don’t know where the best coffee is, so I go to Espresso House, the Swedish Starbucks. And I bump into people constantly, because what I do when I walk is that I look up at all the new, foreign and unfamiliar instead of looking straight ahead. I walk at the pace of a stranger, because this isn’t my home, and I don’t know where to go. I need to think here.

But, these are the people I grew up with. They speak the language in which I was taught what is right and what is wrong, and what is important and what is not, and how to transfer every feeling I have about all of this from thoughts into words. This is the language in which I can discern dialects and appreciate them, pick up on irony and sarcasm, and on tenderness and earnestness like only a native speaker could ever do. This is where the codes I know applies. Where people hug frequently and look each other in the eye while speaking. Where good service is characterized by humanity and presence rather than perfection and servility. Where people, at least rather than rarely, think twice.

When I was 14 years old I had an assignment on foreign affairs in school. I asked my teacher ”what do I need to do to obtain an A?”. She said, and I remember this entire conversation word by word to this very day. ”To obtain an E, all you need to do is to cover the facts. To obtain a C, you need to demonstrate that you can see the connections between certain events. And to obtain an A, you need to analyze.”. ”What does that mean?” I asked unknowingly. ”To analyze Adam, it means that you show that you possess the skill of seeing things from another perspective than your own”. ”That doesn’t sound too difficult” I replied. And she said ”In life, you’ll come to realize that a lot fewer people than you think, knows how to do this. To write down facts every ordinary person in the world can do, but to put your own point of view aside and to realize that the world sometimes is wider than how you see it, that’s extraordinary”.

I’ve repeated that conversation to myself many times since that day ten years ago. And for every time, it’s managed to make a little more sense, making me realize that perhaps it’s not the cities or countries that are fucked up, it’s the people in them.

Sweden isn’t a progressed a country as most people would give it credit for, but it’s not half bad. I didn’t need to move abroad or travel the world to see this, but I needed it understand that what we have, should be appreciated. It’s easy to think that small simple and extremely commonplace daily things like the relaxed tone in which sales assistant addresses you in or the private space given to you standing in line or on the subway by fellow people are universal things, but they’re not. And the only things that aggravate me to come here and surround myself by all of these cultural characteristics that actually do mean the world to me, is that most people don’t seem to understand the value of them. Would you cook and share a homemade meal for someone, who wouldn’t appreciate it more, than if the two of you went to Mc Donalds? Too few know that it’s the small things the greatest riches lay, and sadly that depletes the value of them.

The world is made difficult by simple people.

extremes in the faroe islands

Surrounded by strong currents and tempestuous waves the 18 Faroe Islands rise in the middle of the Atlantic sea. Barren and bold the islands are a scenically extreme and captivating array, so full of life at the same time as it may be the most solitary place I’ve ever sat foot. And I live in the Arabian desert. A place I’ve always felt inclined to visit.

Anyone’s who’s a frequent reader of this blog knows about my inability to plan ahead. This trip hasn’t been an exception either, which me and my reliable travel partner Linn realized when the car rental office in the airport told us their availability was as sparse as the Faroese landscape. Sigh. An expensive and ridiculously overpriced taxi ride later we found ourselves in front of one of the Capital City Torshavn’s two car rentals. Like a bliss in our misfortune, there was a velocity left for us even if it admittedly was one of the more expensive ones. But nevertheless, sitting down behind the wheel after reluctantly swiping my credit card felt just like regaining sound to a movie with a flapping TV cable.

We quickly learned that the Faroese roads are few and far in between, so it takes a very negligent map driver like myself to get lost since most of the time your only option is left or right. Most roads are extremely narrow, and at times so tight we need to stop to give priority to oncoming traffic before proceeding. Seemingly endless tunnels without lighting occur often, and rather than rarely there’s only a modest rail of wooden barriers to protect the car as the roads stretch across steep and pointy slopes around the islands. But other than that, it’s a beautiful place to drive with tiny traffic. An ideal location to drive down an empty road with blasting music, something that never gets old.

Even if the islands is a place where you want to keep your eyes on the road, it’s very often hard not to let them gaze at the mesmerizing environs. The landscape is enthralling despite being stripped of vegetation in its barren state. There’s something so extreme about the nothingness, the devoid of life that makes you feel so small. A whole area, where man hasn’t made an impact except for the meandering roads quietly and endlessly running through the silent land. It’s a fantastically quiet place, with only the subtle sound of the wind breaking the silence. In the countryside or the small fisherman villages consisting of exclusively identical houses with tin roofs and wooden facades. There’s barely a soul in sight anywhere we go, and people keep to themselves out here. A solitary place and a solitary way of living it seems. Fascinating to me who’s living in one of world’s fastest developing cities. But I could never live here which I realize every time I have an experience too far off my reality. As appealing as the quietude is and can be, I can’t help but feel how it sometimes consumes me eventually. And maybe it’s because I grew up in the remote countryside that noise doesn’t bother me. I love falling asleep to the sound of cars passing by, of people roaming the streets, of music from a distant club. A different kind of wealth to me, to be surrounded by life.

In the Faroe Islands sheep outnumber people, and perhaps that’s actually one of the nicer aspects. The sheep are fearless and oblivious, crossing the roads as if they were some of their beaten paths while death-staring you. But their presence is appreciated and brings movement to the picturesque and windswept landscape. The real Islanders are another story. Scandinavian polite, but with a something recluse aura around them hard to actually interpret. They speak a concoction of Danish and Norwegian sprinkled with Icelandic, entirely comprehensible to anyone Scandinavian but impossible to mitigate. And we’ve quickly learned that clarification is crucial when making any inquiry. Upon being given directions to a “newly opened and intriguing restaurant,” we later found ourselves in a modest café with a menu consisting of two different sandwiches and self-serving of coffee made hours earlier. And to anything but modest prices. Sigh again. Perceptions are rarely similar, and life only ever reminds of this once the lesson is already learned.

Three days have felt like a week, for good and for bad. In a place that moves at such a slow pace time somehow loses its relevancy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Waking up each morning to subtle drizzle hitting the window along with the whistling sound of an oyster catcher passing by outside is probably the purest form of serenity in this world, but I don’t believe either one of us felt the need of an extra day here as the experience junkies that we are. The gloomy weather probably plays a part as well. Not so much the rain, but the fact that even on a sunny day it’s never really clear. In the summer it’s never really hot, in the winter, it’s never either too chilly. A bit too ambiguous to me, a fan of sharp contrasts. So it’s time to leave; new adventures await.

Choosing to live is scary, but the alternative is terrifying

A few days ago I was on the phone with a friend of mine. As we were discussing something trivial, she suddenly said: “I want to live forever.” A short silence followed, and then I asked: “Why?”. “Because I love life” she replied like it was the most natural thing in the world, and with a tone that modestly implied that I should have figured this out on my own. I thought, and then I replied: “I don’t want to live forever.”

After our conversation had ended I gave this exchange of feelings some consideration. Maybe we didn’t disagree; maybe we just had different ways of somehow trying to communicate the same feeling. Because the way I see it, being alive forever would devalue as good as everything actually worth being alive for. Think about it. What actual value would any of your dreams have, if you had an endless amount of time to pursue them? What incite to read a book, watch a movie, travel a country, undergo an education, tell someone that you like them or give up literally any mean of security and safety for the littlest hope that maybe, somewhere well-hidden in the unknown, your dreams awaits, if you could just as well do it tomorrow? Because there would always be another tomorrow?

We don’t have unlimited time, and that’s the thing. And that’s why at least I become impressed by other people’s experiences, achievements, and wisdom, because people have taken our of their limited allocated time, to obtain these souvenirs of life. They’ve invested. Meaning, to me, that they’ve been brave and bravery is always admired. To some people being alive means tempting fate on a daily basis. Being a war correspondent for instance, or simply being in a war, fighting for king and country. Or, just being a flight attendant, as my scared-of-flying best friend would add. But being alive can also mean to wake up in the morning and simply breathe, and that’s okay. Not all of us are in charge of our own time even if that should be a constitutional right, but that means that us who actually are, have to guard it well. We can’t always know what purpose other’s have with theirs, but we can be assured that it’s as different to ours as our DNA. And remind ourselves that what one person does to find rest, might have left another person restless. And how that’s alright.

So saying that you would like to live forever, is for me a sign that you’re probably not living at all. At least not the way you’d prefer to. I don’t believe that anyone who’s ever experienced the real pleasure of obtaining something that did not come easy; without an investment in time, money or other sacrifices, would ever say those words. The life-celebrating people I chose to have in my life would not. They’ve all lived to find out that it’s perfectly fine to love life even if it comes to an end at some point. Despite how good a movie is or how relaxing a massage might be, you’ll be bored or soar eventually, so it’s sometimes wise to quit while it’s still fun. It’s sound to make an end to something that doesn’t serve you anymore. But it’s brave to make an end to something that still serves you because you want more; because you want to invest more. In whatever it may be, that matters to you.

I walked alongside the narrow canals of the hip and trendy 9 straatjes quarters in Amsterdam a few days ago and it felt like it was the first day of spring in the air. You know a day when it isn’t exactly warm outside but not either chilly, and you notice how suddenly people slow down as they walk and how much mo they talk to one another. They open doors slowly and stop to look in display windows. I realized then and there how much of all that means to me, the change of seasons that is. Because in Dubai it’s never too cold. And that may sound fabulous to anyone from the northern hemisphere, but it’s actually taught me that I disdain what’s constant. Not necessarily routines, but things that are stagnant. A few days later I was in Rome, and I sat down in a wobbly chair on cobblestone outside a small eatery with square patterned linens and menus translated to very simple English. People lined up for tables in the street and next to the side walks stood 4 cars in areas designated for 3. I thought again that this is a good investment according to me, even though my pizza had unnecessarily much cheese and unnecessarily little ham, and even though the wine was so thin, it was an insult to all other Italian wines. In Rome it wasn’t the first day of spring, it was the first day of summer. And the day I don’t travel as much as today, I will think of that day and this time as very well invested one. That was a great feeling.

I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe that the only thing anyone of us can do to ensure that our time here is spent well, is to do what you want with yours. Because even if you reach 110 years there will still be more things you’ll wish you’d done, and that doesn’t mean you’re discontent. If you sit down in a restaurant while you’re starving you might find it hard to choose between 10 appealing options, but once you’ve finished the one meal you ended up taking you’ll still feel full afterwards. You went for something out of everything you wanted, and it left you happy. No one needs to have it all, and no one can have it all. And that makes what you end up choosing so damn special and worth waking up in the early morning for and worth going to sleep in the late night for. A couple of years ago I met a girl who had “live forever” tattooed on her neck. I asked her if she meant it? She said, “no Adam, to me it’s about creating something that actually does live forever”. I never forget that, because I agree. We don’t know how many tomorrows we have, and life is everything but fair, so we must choose. And dare to realize that were we fit in, might not be were we belong, and where we belong, might only be a single decision away from right now. Or several, because we’re all so different. We’re all armored differently.

By choosing we can accumulate as many perspectives as possible in the time that we have, in order to change ours. Because we only understand the magnitude and the littleness of our ideas and thoughts, by comparing them to others. And other’s we get, by listening, interacting, and making choices. Even if it sometimes are the wrong choices.

Right now I’m sitting down in picturesque Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, looking up at the magnificent building on the picture below. I read that In French you say “J’ai peur,” meaning “I have fear” when you want to say that you are afraid. Which is exactly how you’d say it in both Swedish and English. “I am afraid,” rather than “I have fear.” It’s easier to get rid of something that you have than something that you are, I reckon. And that is just the perfect example how seeing how other’s do things differently can change how we do things today. If we dare. So yes, live life every day like it would be your last in case it is, but bear in mind that there might very possibly be a tomorrow. And a tomorrow after that. Even at the point of life where there are more yesterdays than tomorrows left. And they should be worth waking up to.

The only things that are wasted in life are what was never utilized. So choose to live. Live according to you.

A loveaffair with Nicosia

It’s the third night of my short stay in Nicosia, and I’m getting enamored with this quite peculiar place. Because it is indeed a particular city, and we did indeed not get off on the right foot when I arrived two days ago. Let me start at the very beginning.

So the first day’s misfortune started already when I’d just disembarked the plane and was standing in line to immigrations, and I realized that my phone charger was still left onboard the aircraft. I just sighed a tired sigh and met the jovial immigrations officer with a lifeless glare as he asked for my passport. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and this unorganized feature of mine has led me to an impressive collection of both chargers and adapters since I know they won’t be with me for long.

The shuttle bus into Nicosia was very much reminiscent of a public school bus in an unprivileged country. The ride was quick through the mountainous landscape, sparse in both vegetation and construction but somehow still vibrant under the scorching sun. Before I knew it we reached Nicosia bus terminal; an installation other countries would’ve referred to as a bus stop in the countryside. At some point during the short taxi ride into the center, I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my phone, and I ended up in the review section of my chosen hotel. “Worst experience that ruined my whole trip.” said the first headline and the ones that followed were of similar character. Reluctantly I read review after review which touched upon everything from moldy furniture to inoperable air conditioning and loud neighbors as well as inadequate service. My gut feeling hit rock bottom, but it wasn’t until the cab driver charged me 10 euros for a 5 euros trip and gave me a handwritten receipt in my euphemistic attempt of asking for my change back, that I realized that there are some lessons I will probably never learn. Regardless of how seasoned as a traveler, I am. It is tiring to be me at times.

It took me approximately three seconds of looking at the exterior of the hotel to understand that every review I’d just read was true. Dirty windows and balcony rails cover in bird feces smiled towards me. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the reason why the bible is normally one colored could be a hint that it’s not hilarious reading. Finally, inside, the building seemed derelict, and with no elevator, I had to drag my overpacked suitcase up to the top floor while cursing myself for always doing this to myself. Always. To my despair, no one came to open as I pressed the loose hanging door bell, and in that exact moment, I got an email saying that my booking had been annulled. Apparently, arrangements for pick up of keys has to be done a day in advance, and I missed the curfew. Amid all misfortune, I saw this as a blessing. A second chance was given to me. Long story short, I did find a new hotel a stone’s throw away from the first one. A typical three-star hotel, with tacky font choice, plastic palm trees and Nescafé of poor quality. But even if the man at the front desk suggested that I’d use the glass desk in my room as an ironing board, and even if the plug to bathtub was missing and even if the wall to wall carpet had seen more in life than I have, it was alright.

Apart from precursory events, though, Nicosia has turned out to be a pearl. It’s by no means a big city, less than 300 000 people reside here. There’s not a sign of the typical boasting architecture you’d otherwise come across in capitals; instead, most buildings are old and only a few stories tall. Walking down the many meandering streets of Old Nicosia is like a therapy session. There’s a quietude in between the stone houses with adobe roofs, hued doors with rigorous knockers and flaking facades in canary and offwhite nuances, and occasional Wisteria in full bloom spreading its scent as you walk by. Not even the Cypriots quite boisterous way of talking to each other disturbs the peace. Everything moves slowly in this city. It’s like there’s not a worry in the world. No one’s in a rush to do anything. And it’s extremely contagious. It’s almost like I could feel my pulse slowing down.

On the Greek side, the residents seem to have understood there’s little point in worrying, for whatever the reason. And since all the pressure’s off, Nicosia is indeed the perfect place for solitude. Sitting down in one of the countless cafés with mismatching furniture and fresh cut flowers on every table has quickly turned into a habit. The coffee is strong, but not as strong as Cypriot coffee which I only tried once. A muddy broth strong enough to resuscitate the dead. The waiters serve the table with no haste, and to see one of them puffing on a resting smoke in between clearing tables is actually quite refreshing. It’s so easy just to be; enjoying the slight scents of cigarette smoke, freshly mowed lawns and fresh air; as pleasurable in the rising morning sun as in the setting evening sun. Spring has come early to Cyprus.

Abundance in Moscow

Taking the air down one of central Moscow’s many beaten and snow-capped pedestrian streets has me thinking that there’s something about the Russian Capital that makes every single building feel like a monument. All the buildings flanking the streets are old and ostentatious; most of them built in a time when the Soviet Union was still flourishing, and the aspiration to be the World’s leading nation still permeated this country. The roads and the sidewalks of where so many millions have walked before me are often wider in a way you don’t come across anywhere else, and perhaps it’s the amount of space that makes you feel so little. As I pass by the Red Square, it’s impossible to not stop for just a short moment. Even if I’ve been here a few times before, this is one the places in the world that just embraces you and watching the gaudy domes of St Basil’s cathedral as the snow falls thick, and the wind whistles is a moment you want to have in your life. Even if it’s a very short one because the sharp wind makes the cold unbearable to handle.

Outside of Moscow’s Red Square humungous institutions of gray concrete blocks flank the largest thoroughfares, all looking like impregnable fortresses with occasional marble decor and inexplicable big Russian letters in gleaming gold. The Metro deserve’s its own chapter, because surrounding the turmoil that constitutes the public transport of Moscow is marble walls and crystal chandeliers. An unbelievable contrast. But despite the cultural wealth, the atmosphere in the Russian Capital is cold, and it has very little do with the weather. I’ve been here in Summer, and it’s not much different. People rush to get by in the streets like slow wandering would be frowned upon. And there’s something so interesting about how inherently impolite this country is. Saying please, thank you or even just being soft-spoken is yet to have it’s breakthrough here, but for some reason, that’s alright in its way. The thing is, back home if someone doesn’t hold the door for you or say thank you when you do something for them, you immediately think that’s rude behavior. Here, however, it’s so unexpected that you don’t even waste any energy contemplating why people act the way they do. Perhaps it’s the language barrier; Most of the old generation of Russian population don’t speak a word English, and even the ones who do are rarely even an inch inclined into compromising their language for your benefit.

I’ve never been much of museum enthusiast, but I can walk around for hours on end in old, derelict neighborhoods where history once took place and just marvel. Soviet architecture is strikingly captivating. Something is fascinating about beholding those great pieces of abundant architecture which all saw the light in a time when the Communist era had influenced Russia when instead of feeding its people the regime spent money on buildings to showcase their greatness. Contrasts hard to grasp, but so vivid when you’re standing right in front of them. And as horrid and dyed in blood the story behind these remnants of history are, it’s impossible not to marvel at the opulence. From the high society buildings with magnificent bay windows and protruding corner towers to the subclass million complexes on the outskirts of town whose purpose were to accommodate as many as possible in a time where the population grew at a pace out of control. It’s hard not to feel that this is more a historical museum than an actual living place, and it seems that in the concrete jungle of Moscow there’s never been any room for modesty. But then again, that’s never what they’ve been renowned for.


Afternoon in Warsaw

The rain patter against the floor to ceiling window and I sit reclined in an armchair with my feet on the table. Outside the leafy poplars are tinted in fiery colors, commingling and gently swaying in the mild October breeze. People haste slowly in the windswept streets, holding their collars and looking down the pavement to shut out the cold. A gloomy shadow has been thrown over the everyday life of Warsaw and fall has arrived without notice, once again.

I prefer these transitional seasons. When whistling gusts and smacking downpours are the sounds of the weather and the temperature falls below freezing. When warmth has to be looked for, and people dress up in layers to find it. Knee-length coats and frayed scarves; knitted sweaters and leather gloves. When the streets deplete, and the cities lit up by street lights and neon signs. The quiet times of the year bespoke for the most perseverant of people.

Warsaw is a considerably small capital by Eastern European measures. The streets may be Soviet-wide, but the architecture is low-key, only sporadically ornamented with curved ends and florals around the eaves and window frames. Art Nouveau at it’s finest. I love art nouveau. Elderly houses in ocher, and dull colors flank the wide roads and narrow pathways of the city center, and it’s hard not to get carried away looking up at them while sauntering the sidewalks downtown. A city so graspable and humble simultaneously. From the top of the Palace of Culture and Science, you can see this for yourself. Views who are like vivid postcards are always the best ones.

My favorite part of Warsaw is it’s Old Town. Somewhere amongst the cobblestoned streets, the church spires and the plethora of cozy taverns rubbing shoulders with each other, there’s a respectful vibe. It’s like a free library, where loud voices and running are strongly discouraged. It tends to be like this in places which are intrinsically cultural. Couples walk closely entwined, and students sit with their books open in the many coffee shops, and there are more laughter and jovial tones ion the street than in the rest of the city. The restaurants have lanterns on the wall and rustic wooden furniture around the tables. The assortments of both drink and game are overwhelming, and ridiculously cheap by international measures. The Polish cuisine is a new horizon and a pleasant acquaintance I soon realize. Chilled coleslaw made from apples, steamy dumplings with god-knows-what fillings and sausages the size of cucumbers. Simple, but delicious.

People you ask for directions in the streets, as well as the staff in stores and eateries, speak perfect English, and it soon becomes apparent that this is the international corner of Warsaw. And it has to be said, even if the outlandish scenes of foreign cities are the most appealing, there comes a time when you just want to shirk from constant misunderstandings och miscommunications, and when someone who understands you feels just like that first cup of coffee in the morning. Never an exception, never.

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NATURSKÖNA ISLAND

Aldrig förr har en plats känts så oändlig. Milsvitt sträcker sig det grästäckta lavalandskapet i alla riktningar. Motorvägen är tvåfilig och snäv, skyltarna få och människorna inga. Ett ingenmansland som sprudlar av liv. Utmed vägkanten betar de viltgående fåren, små vattendrag letar sig fram genom den grönt kala heden och på en murken staketstolpe står en spanande Spov. Vi bestämde oss i sista stund för att strunta i vår ursprungliga plan om att likt ett par på ålders höst åka buss, och istället hyra bil. Vi enas direkt överens om att vi valt rätt beslut, för den frihetskänsla som breder ut sig på Island vill man vara en del utav.

Reykjavíks förort doftar av nyklippt gräs. Det är europeisk sommar, men brisen är kall och frisk så fort vi kommer ut på det isländska höglandet. Timme efter timme färdas vi genom detta trollbindande vackra landskap, men det känns som att tiden flyger förbi oss. Sådan tystnad, fridfullhet och stillhet kan jag inte minnas att jag upplevt någon annanstans där liv ännu existerar i en sådan mångfald. Jag drar mig till minnes mina resor genom Omans ödsliga öknar och tänker att inte ens där, gick sådan ro att finna.

Den första natten spenderar vi i Akureyri. Det är Islands andra största stad, och fjärde största kommun, men betydligt mindre än vad som i svenska mått skulle kallas för en småstad. Min barndomsort Skurup känns plötsligt som en världsmetropol. Det finns en mindre gågata, en handfull livsmedelsbutiker och två bensinstationer. Vandrarhemmen står däremot på rad, och trots att vi befinner oss så pass långt ifrån allt som kan benämnas som civilisation, är språken på gatorna många och turisterna ännu fler. Det tycks vara fler än vi som lockas av friden på ensliga orter, långt bortom vykortsprydda platser.

När vi drar för gardinerna framåt midnatt har solen gått precis gått ned, men det är ännu lika ljust ute som om klockan pekade på lunchtid. Så här års blir det aldrig mörkt på Island, och det är en upplevelse att bevittna även för en Skandinav.

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Vi lämnar motvilligt tidigt, men midnattssolen har en uppiggande effekt på oss båda. Destinationen är Mývatn. En av Islands största insjöar, och den med rikast fågelliv. Hit vallfärdar ornitologer och turister för inblick och en närhet till naturens gång, och för att beskåda den otroligt vackra omgivningen. Sjön flankeras av mäktiga pseudokratrar, det vill säga rotlösa kratrar som inte skapats genom lavautbrott utan genom explosioner som uppstått när förbipasserande lava kommit i kontakt med vatten. En häftig syn, och trots att mängden turister är anmärkningsvärd känns det som att vi har hela platsen för oss själva. Så intagande är det. Det blir så självklart här, att det vackraste i världen, det har inte människan skapat.

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Vi lyssnar till Sommar i P1 och njuter av tystnad. Stannar till där det är exceptionellt vackert; vid forsar, sjöar, stup och vattenfall. Åtta timmar tar det oss att nå till Olafsvík på Snæfellsnes, en av Islands västligaste halvöar, men det är inte långtråkigt även om benen värker av stillasittande. Om Akureyri fick Skurup att likna en metropol, får Olafsvík istället liknas vid en vägkorsning. Två minuter tar det att köra igenom det pittoreska samhället, och man kan ana redan genast att det här är en plats där alla inte bara känner varandra, de är antagligen också släkt! Vi stannar till vid byns ”Grand Hotel”, det vill säga byns enda hotell, och förhör oss om rumspriserna. 3000 kronor kostar en natt på den spartanska inrättningen med flagnande färg på fasaden och halvt slocknad neonskylt. Vi förhör oss om alternativen och får berättat för oss om ett vandrarhem ett par gator bort. Under minuten det tar att köra undersöker jag sätesfällningen i bilen och tar reda på långt ner temperaturen sjunker om natten, risken finns ju att vi får sova i bilen! Men vi har tur, det hemtrevliga boendet har ett rum över till mycket överenskomligt pris informerar det fryntliga paret som arrenderar stället. Utifrån ser det ut som en själlös plåtlåda inte värd ett öre mer än dem få hundralappar vi betalar, men väl inomhus breder en toppmodern bostad ut sig med mjuka sängar och behaglig golvvärme. Utsikten över Atlanten går inte heller av för hackor.

Morgonen därpå lämnar vi lika tidigt som dagen innan. Vi konstaterar att landskapet skiljer sig från samtliga platser vi åkt förbi. Från rått lavalandskap till ljungklädd hed, från grön betesmark till snötäckta bergskamrar. Från att i ena stunden färdas genom öppna landskap, till att plötsligt befinna sig mellan en brant bergsvägg och ett kungsblått hav. Helt intill väggrenen häckar tärnor, och i små tjärn leker sångsvanar. Naturen är så nära att den går att ta på, och jag sitter klistrad mot fönsterrutan. Linn som läser Väg- och vattenbyggnad berättar ingående om observationerna hon gör, om tänket bakom hur vägarna byggts, hur sedimentära berg bildas, och annat som faller inom samma kategori. Det är alltid intressant att lyssna till någon som vet vad den talar om, även om det inte alltid tillhör ens eget bord.

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Vi kommer fram till Reykjavík framåt lunchtid. Den isländska huvudstaden är inte lik någon annan huvudstad, utan är faktiskt precis vad som vi i Sverige kallar för en småstad. Här finns varken skyskrapor eller skrytbyggen. Husen är istället lågmält gråa och omålade. Som ett enormt villakvarter, där varje bostad kommer med en liten trädgårdsplätt. Det är förvånansvärt tyst för en ”storstad”. Det råder en form utav stiltje som är svår att beskriva, för i centrum bedrivs full kommers och gatorna är proppfulla av båda stadsbor och besökare. Isländarna vi stött på hittills tycks till synes vara lite trötta på turister, och det är ju förståeligt. Men de är som regel motvilligt hjälpsamma, och det talas så gott som perfekt engelska överallt. Kommunikation är inget som helst problem.

Det är fredagkväll, och vi ger oss ut i Reykjavíks nattliv. Helt plötsligt känns den romantiska midnattsolen lite mer tveksam, och man kan inte undgå känslan av man nog borde gå hem trots att man precis kommit ut. Det är ju ljust utomhus, ett tecken på att kvällen lider mot sitt slut i vanliga fall. Hur som havet är stämningen uppsluppen, och vi hamnar i en diskussion med en grupp amerikaner. Dessa konstaterar att ”Europe is so beautiful”, och vi nickar instämmande men konstaterar i nästa andetag att Island trots allt nog får stå för sig självt, och att det riktiga Europa bara går att uppleva på kontinenten. Amerikanerna svar på detta blir ”Oh, but there’s still so many places in the United States that we haven’t seen yet!”. Linn och jag utbyter en menande blick och lommar sedan vidare. Det är ju inte alltid som fördomar visar sig vara osanna. Blink blink.

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Golden Circle kallas den rundtur av naturfenomen som är beläget bara ett par mil öster om Reykjavík, som är mycket populär. En eftermiddag tar hela varvet under vilket vi ser kraftfulla gejsrar spruta upp ur marken, vattenfallet i Gullfoss och vi stannar även till vid platser där två av jordens kontinentalplattor möts, på den mittatlantiska ryggen i Thingvellir nationalpark. Här och var på den kala slätten ligger små gårdar och hus, och trots att livet nog skulle blivit en aning för solitärt för min smak, är det inte svårt att förstå att den här typen av miljö lockar folk att slå sig ned. Hela utflykten känns som en rundresa i en akvarellmålning man inte vill ska ta slut.

Under hela resan livnär vi oss på skaldjur och isländsk öl. Nyfångad fisk, musslor och hummer. Billigt för var det är, men att äta ute är som regel en prisklass högre på Island. Varje matupplevelse smakar som en kulinarisk dröm, så det är svårt att motstå dem många frestelserna. Hamnen i Reykjavík är som ett litet fiskeläge, och i så gott som varje magasin hittas en toppmodern restaurang med intressant menyval och välsorterat vinsortiment. Det är så lätt att göra sig bekväm på Island.

Tack Island, men det finns så mycket mer kvar så vi ses igen. Det vet jag.

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