Sunday, April 15, 2007

In Desperate Need of REM Sleep

In my quest to evade stupid yuppie depression by filling up my time with important events, I have succeeded in transcending normal tiredness and passing into that elusive area of sleep deprivation that is sometimes described (by people with authority to speak of such things) as a marginally safer way to experience a drug trip. I spent Monday night in Akureyri, catching a bit of sleep in the relative comfort of a 737 over Scandinavia; that was followed by a two-odd hour drive to Tartu and the remains of a working day. Tuesday and Wednesday nights somehow turned out to be fairly late, and by Thursday I was back on the road, or rather on a ferry. Friday night was, of course, spent in Club Patricia. I'm on my way back now; and whereas on the way here I shared the four-bunk room with one other guy who had been drinking for 30 hours previously and passed out at first opportunity, this time I have been relegated to the least favourable bed. The room is hot, smells of dirty socks and is full of snorring people who haven't showered recently. And that is the reason why it is 3.45 am Estonian time, and I am posting this over the M/S Romantika's free WiFi connection, from the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Stockholm was, in a word, glorious. Two days of sunshine and cloudless skies were just what I needed to round off a week in easter-time Iceland. The contrast is staggering. I know that Reykjavik's nightlife doesn't come into its own until after midnight, but Stockholm's center evokes a special feeling even in the early afternoon; a feeling of a proper big city. It feels like things are happening there, like it's a significant hub of global activity; and it is. Swedes are, in my experience at least, uncharacteristically outgoing for this region, and when you combine that with the inevitable sheen of Scandinavian lawfulness and a quiet confidence that everything is right in this part of the world, you get a marvellously friendly night scene. Where else would the bouncer politely ask me to button up my jacket over my Independent MC Support T-shirt, explaining apologetically that they have a policy of no obvious affiliation in the dresscode; even Hell's Angels are required to check their colors. Could you see this happening in NYC, really?

Iceland has a peculiar attitude to its significant tourist industry. Where Tallinn is slightly pissed off at cross-gulf vodka tourists and Easyjet stag parties, and Stockholm embraces its visitors, the Icelanders seem to pay them the minimal possible attention. In a crowded tourist location like the Gullfoss waterfall, the only safety measure on a treacherous, slippery hillside path in early April is a rope at ankle height. It demarkates where you're not supposed to go; if a tourist ignores it and falls off, well, it's the tourist's own fault for being an idiot. In the same way, only a few years ago Easter time apparently meant that the whole of Reykjavik completely shut down; these days some restaurants and shops do stya open for the tourists' sake, but it still feels deserted. I asked our guide whether there were any tourist traps related to Brunhilde's castle, out of the Songs of the Niebelungs; she didn't know what I was talking about. It feels like the Icelanders know that their nature attracts plenty of tourists anyway, so they don't feel obligated to make too much of an effort: there's enough bodyflow to keep the industry healthy, and they're not hoping for too much return business, as you can see all of Iceland you'll need in one visit. Iceland's tourist trade came out of the first cheap transatlantic flights, which stopped in Reykjavik along the way, often with a significant hole in the schedule. Indeed, Iceland is good as a tourist's stopover, like Hong Kong and/or Singapore are supposed to be for Australia, but it's not really up to scratch as a destination.

Stockholm, on the other hand, is wonderful. I was last here roughly a year ago, and on that occasion it was cold and wet; but in good weather it is a visceral pleasure to be in. The city comprises all you'd want, from the medieval core to the authentic bohemia of Södermalm, the inevitable 60s-functional and now somewhat derelict blocks in the shopping area (if you bother to actually look up at the Ahlens City building, you won't be impressed, and whoever planned the escalators in PUB needs to be slapped in the face with a wet trout), the lovely homes of Norrmalm and the noble town houses of Kungsholmen... And it has an extremely cool subway, too.

You couldn't imagine Laugarvegur organically cordonned off by a crowd assembled to watch a breakdance crew performing on a Saturday afternoon, far more for their own pleasure than for any money passersby throw into the hat (it wouldn't even pay for sneakers); but on Drottninggatan, it feels proper. I mean, you really would, wouldn't you? Makes perfect sense.
I'm not alone - I'm on my way home
I am here, I'm standing on my own
Just a little bit tired...
I'm on my way - home

3 comments:

Giustino said...

Stockholm is the capital of northern Europe. It's got its tentacles in every city in the region, hence Hansapank (Swedbank). And it is deserving of all its accolades.

Flasher T said...

Indeed.

Of course, SEB owned Ühispank long before Swedbank bought Hansapank. ;)

Jens-Olaf said...

Flasher_T, do not underestimate the people of Iceland: They have a lot of musicians in the top of the international music scene, not only Bjork. They have noble prized literature, they are reading like hell. They are feared in many sports: Handball, athletics. Let's compare them with my hometown Osnabrück in Germany. It has the same size like Reykjavik. Do you know anybody from my city? It has history, and the region has as many people as Iceland. But who knows? And this is a place somewhere in the middle of Europe near the most populated areas at all on that continent.

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