Sunday, May 11, 2008

A (Nearly) Successful Journey to Stockholm

JoeIt's been unseasonably warm and sunny all week, culminating in a weekend with temperatures around 25°C in the Stockholm area, so we decided it was a good weekend to get out and about a bit. What with getting settled in and adjusted, we haven't really been to Stockholm since we got here 4 months ago(!), despite it being just down the road. So yesterday we headed down to the train station and hopped an Intercity to Stockholm. Our destination: a football match at Kanalplan, the home of the Hammarby Women's Football program.

We didn't actually get off to a terribly early start, but by 1 PM we were on a bus to Uppsala Centralstation. Our train was a few minutes late, but we were still underway by 2, plenty of time to make a 4 PM match (or so it seemed). The trains are, of course, fast, clean, relatively inexpensive (Uppsala–Stockholm, 64 SEK per person one way), and possessed of conveniently located stations (all of which have bus service, unlike the train station of a certain mid-western university town I shan't name). We were on an SJ train, which only makes one stop between Uppsala and Stockholm (namely the airport, Arlanda), so it's a quick trip, just 40 minutes or so to Stockholm Central. From there a short walk through the station led to T-banen. It took us a few minutes to figure out tickets, a non-trivial problem. Like Uppsala, the Stockholm transit authority, SL, punishes you if you try to use cash to ride the system by raising the prices. We wound up going to a newsstand to purchase ride coupons, which saves about 25% of the cost. The difference is that the Stockholm system is divided into three zones, A, B, and C, and the price of your ride depends on how many zones you go through. We were all in zone A, so it only cost us two coupons each (two zones costs 3 coupons, 3 zones costs 4 coupons), so that's 30 SEK each. Once the coupons are stamped, they're good for an hour, which should have been more than enough time for us to head south and catch a bus to the stadium.

We were heading to Södermalm, the island just south of central Stockholm, so the train ride only took ten minutes. Södermalm has become something of a hip area in the past ten years or so, a fact not belied by the many cafes, bars, and sushi joints we were confronted with upon emerging from the train station. After getting our bearings, we hurried over to the nearest bus stop and just managed to catch a #55 bus, which should have taken us straight to the stadium.

Just as I was congratulating myself on getting us to the game just in time, I began to realize that something was wrong. Sure, we'd turned right when it seemed like we should have, but the stop we needed didn't seem to be materializing, and then we were turning in what had to be quite the wrong direction. A quick look at the map confirmed it—right bus, wrong direction. No problem, still 30 minutes to kickoff. We got off the bus and crossed the street, saw that the next #55 going to right way should be along in ten minutes, and sat back to wait. And wait. And wait. A Swedish woman escorting two cheerful Asian girls on scooters waited for a while too, before giving up in disgust and walking away, scooters in tow. Finally, after 45 minutes, a #55 driven by a cheerful if harried looking bus driver pulled up, let us on, and then screeched around the corner. Apparently there was some sort of festival somewhere in the area, and all bets were off on the bus schedule.

Back on track now, I was resigned to us being a few minutes late, but figured we should get there no later than halfway to halftime. When the bus let us off, though, we were confronted with our next problem: we could hear the game, and there was the fence, but it was at the top of a shear rock face! Grrr. I dashed ahead to find the steps, but at the top I was confronted only with more steps, a couple of sheep, and a hole in the fence. Declining to sneak into the game through the back (because, make no mistake, that's where we were, exactly 180° around the stadium from the entrance) we instead set off up the rest of the steps, from whence we wandered through a nice looking rocky park full of sheep, and a petting zoo, and a large playground. By the time we finally made it to the gate, it was about 2 minutes to the half. On the plus side, though, entrance was free (whether because we were so late, or because it was a special game, or because they never charge, I cannot say).

Perhaps, upon reflection, they don't charge because there's nowhere to sit: advertised as a stadium seating 3500, it was in reality a field with a few rudimentary wooden bleachers and a bunch of people sitting in the grass in behind one goal (sitting behind the other goal would have been a one-way trip down the cliffside), with no real space visible despite the announced attendance figure of around 1000. Jennifer managed to find us seats while I went off to get us a couple of hotdogs (first one was free, no doubt another attempt to distract us from the lack of a stadium), however when I came back I couldn't actually sit, because the spiteful relic sitting next to us refused to move out of the way to let me by, instead sitting sprawled out over what was easily enough space for two. We had been warned going in to expect foul tempered old men at any Stockholm football match, so I guess it wasn't really that surprising, but still it is always a bit of a shock when someone you've never met is so pointlessly rude. In any case, by then the second half was starting and the stands were filling up again, so I just stood for the second half.

If you're curious about the game itself, I'll point you to Jennifer's soccer blog. Afterwards we went out (the short way, also known as the front door, which didn't involve any rock climbing) and headed back to the station. It had cooled off a bit by then, and turned into a nice evening, so we stopped at a bar on the way back and had a pint of Murphy's Stout (I tried to like the local beer, but a man has his limits) and sat for a bit to do some people watching. Then it was back to the station for an uneventful trip home.

Lessons learned and whatnot, I suppose.

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