scandi winters and baltic adventures, part 1.

things do not change; we change!

— henry david thoreau —

should i be this nervous to go to sweden?  my friends in norway would undoubtedly say yes (the norwegian-swedish relationship reminds me so much of the US-canadian banter that i know and love) but this nervousness was based more on the complete lack of doing anything out in public alone than that of friendly norwegian suggestions.  i’ve never travelled alone, i’ve never had to eat dinner at a restaurant alone, and i’ve never even been to sweden, despite my love for IKEA.  will i end up sitting alone in my hotel room crying my eyes out and feeling like a giant loser for traveling alone?  probably, but i had 8 hours of flying ahead of me to come up with about 100 possible scenarios and plan for each one accordingly.

as i landed and the idea of being alone in a foreign country for the first time started to set in, i began obsessively googling places to go to for dinner that evening.  if i was going to be this amazing, awesome solo traveller i actually had to be a solo traveller.  no room for hotel crying, it was time to suck it up, go get lost and commence drinking as soon as humanly possible to subdue my complete lack of comfortability.  it was getting dark when i arrived at my hotel (super, SUPER cute, by the way – hotel kungsträdgården – picture from my window below) but there’s no time like the present, and i had a restaurant to scout out (the flying elk).  and by ‘scout out’ i obviously mean, walk past no less than 25 times to decide whether i could actually go in and eat there alone.  luckily there was a small wine bar (gaston) next door that i decided i would go to first (after walking past it 10 times wondering where i would sit, what cool people i would meet, and assuming henrik, astrid and ludvig would give me a few tips on scandinavian decor – full discloser: no one spoke to me other than the bartender so i was left planning my scandinavian redecoration alone).  i walked in and the first words out of my mouth when everyone turned around when the door slammed shut were “hello, can i drink here?”. i am an idiot.

the wine was good, selections from california even (you can take the american out of america….), the service was amazing and the decor was even better and after i survived that initial embarassing experience, dinner was going to be a piece of cake….and it was.  and it was DELICIOUS.  an amazing meal, amazing ambiance, and again, amazing service.  funny thing too, it was actually nice to be on my own, proving to myself that i could do this. i mean, i was on my phone the entire time looking out of the corner of my eye in a skeptical way to see if anyone was giving me weird looks, but in reality, i didn’t care.  i was in stockholm, by myself, on a trip of a lifetime. i’m finally doing it, and not just talking about doing it.

hei helsinki!! (said from under my heavy, fur trimmed, waterproof winter coat).  i wandered around the city for about 4 hours, in the rain, because lets be honest here, i had nothing else to do.  i was able to get completely lost, visit a super cute paper store, slip and fall on a rock while i was trying to take a picture of a lighthouse that turned out to look like complete shit, and went into one of my first ever foreign grocery stores (this becomes a MAJOR theme in my travels.  have you ever been to a foreign grocery store?!?! they. are. AMAZING.)  helsinki had this ‘i don’t give a fuck’ vibe to it that i really found endearing.  most people go to the perfect cobblestone streets of stockholm or the gorgeous fjords of norway, but helsinki and finland seem to be overlooked, despite constantly being touted as one of the happiest, most livable countries in the world.  the weather sucked, but helsinki didn’t.  i’d love to go back, but maybe in the summer…

latvia was a bit of a mystery for me.  i didn’t know much about it other than george costanza was converting to latvian orthodox for a woman, and the hats, of course.  my first look at riga was head-shakingly beautiful. why have i not been here before?  why isn’t this city crawling with tourists? (clearly no one travels to the baltics in november, which means it is an excellent time to go).  i stayed in the old town, which is usually one of my top priorities when booking a hotel, so walking everywhere was incredibly easy and the way to go.  until i got completely lost, that is.

i had been walking around for about 5 hours when i realized i had no idea where i was.  i usually like to save the data on my phone for such occasions, so a quick google map search later, i found out i was only blocks away from my hotel.  in my defense, all the little side roads and alleyways look the same.  with the exception of one.  the one with the star lights hanging above the narrow path.  i was in love. it was magical.  i went back at least 5 times.  i wanted to move there and become one of the ladies sweeping the streets with old, homemade brooms.

after an entire day walking around riga, yet another dinner alone (this place was in a stone basement and i ordered 10 different local dishes, had some local beer (always something i try every place i visit), and almost went into a food coma) i decided i’d walk around a bit more at night (to visit star alley, naturally) and ended up seeing the city inhabitants out in full force.  parents and children running around watching beautiful scenes being displayed on all the old buildings around old town.  on one particular church the projection that was displayed made it look as though the church windows had water pouring out of them.  it was bizarre but incredibly mesmerizing.

wandering back to my hotel thinking about what an amazing day i had, i decided to have one more beer before i went up to my room, which turned out to be a huge mistake.  10 minutes later a pack of americans working in riga walked in and insisted i try the local black balsam.  my ‘up for anything’ attitude kicked into gear and lets just say i was within minutes of missing my flight to estonia the next afternoon.  i later found out that several of my new drinking buddies missed their flight back to the US the next morning.  from what i remember, it was a good night…..but if anyone ever offers you black balsam, only drink one.  lesson learned.

keep reading, keep checking in… i promise it gets better.

NEXT POST: scandi winters and baltic adventures, part 2

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