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|Volume 11 |Issue 27| July 07, 2012 ||
To Stockholm, Express
To the north, to the north! There could be no delay if we wanted to catch the Stockholm-bound train. It was simple: from Horsens in Denmark we'd have to transverse Jutland and navigate the Kattegat to arrive in Göteborg in Sweden and hey presto! We had a whole day. It was timetabled. It was 346 kilometres.
Details: the first train would take us to Ǻrhus for a little sightseeing; by a second we'd reach Frederikshavn to change for a bus to Skagen, see that, take the bus back to Frederikshavn in time for the ship to Sweden and once in Göteborg there'd only be the small matter of making our way from port to station for the night service to the Swedish capital. Got that? Simple!
My school friend Lachlan and I were eighteen so a little effort was nothing. It could hardly have been unusual to have ambition in our travel plans. Besides, the point of counting on the night train was that it doubled as accommodation which suited our budget of almost zero. Clear?
To the north, to the north! Perhaps the focus was on the train at the end. Perhaps there was a bit of imagining sleeping cars with polished brass handles, cheery blue-capped conductors to welcome us in Swedish, fluffy pillows and starched creaseless white sheets on the berth, all just waiting for our arrival. With a mere six changes of transport, what could possibly prevent us from waking up, well-rested, to the beauty of Stockholm the following morning?
To the north, to the north! The first train stopped a little too often but it did take us the first forty kilometres to Denmark's second largest city, Ǻrhus. The city features the world's oldest open air museum, called the Old Town, which is a collection of more than seventy buildings built between 1550 and the late nineteenth century and moved there from various locations across Denmark. We walked in haste, took photographs and visited each of the exhibits, from clocks to silverware; and solely because it was Denmark, we thought of Hans Christian Anderson, quickly.
Success! The second train, 143 kilometres to Frederikshavn became the second and third trains as we had to change in Aalborg, unanticipated but allowable. We checked the ferry times for Sweden and raced to get the bus for the thirty-two kilometres to Skagen. There was yet time, but not much.
To the north, to the north! In Denmark, there's no further north one can go than Skagen. The very tip of the Jutland Peninsula, Skagen is where the two seas, the Skagerrak and the Kattegat or the Cat's Hole, meet. Both parts of the entrance to the Baltic Sea from the North Sea, over the former is Norway while across the latter is Sweden; and where they actually meet is a long sand spit called Grenen, meaning 'the branch'. It's the very end of Denmark. There, waves from the one sea crash against the waves of the other, as if Norway and Sweden were having a perpetual water fight with Denmark as the international observer. The problem was the sand spit was a further 4.5 kilometres from the Skagen bus stop. It hadn't been calculated. But we had energy so we half-jogged there and back, sweating, sweating, nine kilometres sweating, with just a few minutes to take photographs and catch our breath at the junction of the seas. The clock! We'll miss the boat, we'll miss the boat!
To the east this time, for the north! Success! The day's last ferry to Göteborg was just leaving. The vessel was large and modern, and wasn't it fun to be leaving one country to arrive in another just ninety kilometres away?
We'd done well, I remarked, having made the first five planned transport connections, with just the train remaining. I tell you, these were words spoken in haste.
It wasn't only Denmark we'd left behind but also the sun which had fallen unceremoniously into one or other of the seas. Sweden was dark. Still, all was not lost. The train left at a late hour and there was yet time to find the station. And, elation! The train was snuggled up to its platform as we arrived.
Unfortunately it didn't matter. Failure: the train was sold out.
Suddenly stranded, we asked at a few hotels but the rates seemed astronomical, so we wondered if we couldn't just wait at the station until morning. The night was more than half done by then. What's more there seemed to be other stranded passengers reclining on the benches, preparing for sleep, inside the glass-enclosed terminal area. The problem: by the time we returned from the hotels the glass enclosed area was locked. It would've been ideal had we been inside.
What to do? What to do? As it happened, Göteborg railway station was undergoing some renovations and just around the corner from the glassed-in area were a few other benches in what was really part of the construction site. It hadn't looked appealing initially. It was a bit dark that side; but as our eyelids grew heavier we first sat, then lay, and finally dozed off, a bit away from the rest of Sweden.
I first awoke to the sound of a dog barking and footsteps and a torch being shone about. It was scary. Fortunately the security guard didn't seem bothered that we were borrowing the benches for a bit. Fortunately his German shepherd was on a leash.
But the worst was yet to come.
It can't have been much beyond dawn when I woke again, stretched and looked about. Everything seemed a bit shivery, a bit achy, but otherwise fine; until my gaze fell upon the adjacent bench where Lachlan had been sleeping. The bench was empty! I told myself not to panic. It didn't work. My mind was racing. I wandered the street outside the station. He wasn't there. I checked again the benches. He wasn't there. I paced up and down. He wasn't there, he wasn't there, and how exactly was I going to phone his parents to inform them their son had last been seen sleeping on a bench in a kind of construction site in Göteborg train station? How to use a Swedish pay phone? It was probably only several minutes but clocks are useless and uncooperative in such circumstances. It felt as hours! What to do, what to do?
There he was! Sound asleep on another bench inside the enclosed glass area. I hadn't looked there because it'd been locked. I tried the door and found it open: I think it was actually open the whole time, just quietly. Breathing heavily, after wanting at first to throttle him I thought not to wake him, found another bench inside and dozed off myself.
Unawares, I took my revenge. When he woke a little later he went to the bench where I'd been sleeping. Ha! Empty! His turn to picture an awkward little conversation with my parents! I wasn't there, I wasn't there… I'd somehow vanished in Sweden!
Some time later… I'd thought not to wake you, Lachlan explained, as we sat consumed by the countryside, exhausted, on the day train bound for Stockholm. The train engine sounded: to the north, to the north, to the north. And we fell asleep….
Travel tip: when in Scandinavia take the time to enjoy it. Travel tip: a train station is not suitable accommodation. I promised myself I'd never sleep at one again. And I never did, not counting Bucharest. Travel tip: don't lose your travelling companion.