I am in Sweden and nothing hurts

I’m in Sweden! WHAT. Hello love, I have missed you so! The moment I saw the endless forests and countless lakes and all the snow as the plane dipped through the clouds, I got teary-eyed. Stepping off the plane into the cold, clean air did the rest. This feels like home. It has for a while, and it most certainly does right now. I’m sitting at the airport as I type this, waiting for the long-distance bus that will take me to my final destination… There’s sports news on one of the TVs, and naturally it’s all skiing and ice hockey. And the weather map is, well, first of all, of Sweden – I mean, OF COURSE it is, but it makes me so happy – and the forecast’s all cold and snowy, too.

This country, you guys. I don’t know. I don’t know how I wasn’t born here. I love how reserved but kind and helpful the people are, I love the language, I love the typical Swedish pastries you can get on every corner.

Right now, I don’t know yet what it’s going to be like to see my friends again, whether we’ll just be bored, whether I’ll have to sleep on the floor and won’t be able to. But it’s already been worth it: all the money, all the organizational pitfalls, the distance traveled – everything for this moment of recognition, of feeling like I belong here.

PS – Update now that I’m at my friend’s: Her place is so perfect for New Year’s fireworks with a view over the lake, and the entire neighborhood is still decorated in tasteful Christmas lights, and I have a comfy place to sleep, and we have already made some lovely plans. THIS YEAR COULD NOT POSSIBLY END ON A BETTER NOTE.


I’m going to Sweden, again

So guess what. I’m going to Sweden for New Year’s, after all! My friend actually very happily changed her plans so we could make this happen, and the tickets are already booked, and I just can’t with how sweet she is. Then Facebook messages of two other friends still in Jönköping came in, saying how much they look forward to seeing me. And so it looks like the kind of New Year’s I had in mind – quiet and relaxed, in Sweden, in the freezing cold, among loved ones – is indeed happening.

I took the cell phone shot above on my first return visit to Sweden. It was the first time I flew into Stockholm Skavsta airport, a small airport outside Stockholm. Upon landing you see nothing but snow and lakes and trees and the frayed coastline, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was beautiful every single time I’ve come back since.

This will be me fifth trip to Sweden. There’s a sign at the side of the road as you drive away from Skavsta airport into the empty Swedish countryside, it says: Välkommen tillbaka. Welcome back.

And every time I pass it, I feel like I’ve come back home.

I’m typing this on my balcony. It’s almost dark out. I can’t see the sunset from here but I can tell by the dark blue of the cloudless sky that it’s just slipped past the horizon. I had to wrap myself in a cozy cardigan because even though it is August, this summer just hasn’t been kind: it was 8°C (46F) last night. It is chilly and dark out here but I can’t seem to move.

I put my book aside only moments ago; I read until my eyes couldn’t find the letters on the darkened pages anymore. There are no bugs or mosquitoes here, even by the light of my laptop screen; an unexpected convenience of city life.

I hear crickets and wind rustling in the trees, but mostly traffic noises – from the two big national highways and the railroad line that, together, form an almost perfect triangle around where I live. And yet, it’s a peaceful Saturday night. To me, now, right here, it is a quiet night. The traffic noises are so much part of this place, I forget what real quiet is; how deadly silent a night out in the country can be.

I hear the planes. I can see them, too. The airport is but 12 minutes away by car. When they cross the sky above my home, they are already flying low, approaching for landing, zeroing in on the runway lights. They’re mostly commercial planes – Germanwings, easyJet, AirBerlin – transporting people around Germany, Europe and Northern Africa. Sometimes I spot cargo planes; their body and wings look different, FedEx is printed on the side in giant letters. After sunset I follow their blinking lights across the infinite indigo; bright white in front and back, a red one on each side. I can see the planes long before I hear them but it’s the sound of the engines, so distinct and powerful, that gets me every time. I love living so close to an airport more than I can say. Each plane sparks my imagination and my passion for travel.

The book about Afghanistan is really good, by the way. It has, among other things, made me want to write again, and write better.