Written by Casey Hofland
First weeks in Visby
Visby is an easy place to thrive. It’s as chill as the sea it’s grounded in, and as calm as the sky above it. In fact, one of my stories reflects the Zen atmosphere of this island, a story that I like to call “sweaters fly and tears dry”. Then again, there’s some things that couldn’t hurt knowing about.
But first, another story, titled: “Adam who-is-wrong-about-pizza”. Enjoy.
Many people live on this planet. Between them the only thing they share is that they have many different opinions. Some are of the opinion that our Earth is flat and the moon landing faked. Others believe peanut butter pickle sandwich makes a delicacy, and strangest of all are individuals that feel packing your bags at 1:02 AM before your day of departure comes off as rather irresponsible. These people are friendly reminded that their opinions, although endearing, are wrong.
It is 8:15 AM as we load my luggage from the car onto the airport trolley. My mother has already started the waterworks without me. Even my father, otherwise so restrained, couldn’t stop a coating of dew forming around his eyes when we said our goodbyes back home. There at the airport, I wanted nothing more than to burst out into tears and show my mother some affection and a little appreciation for all she did for me. But apart from being a 23-year-old who’s had enough, leaving behind the prehistoric dirt-heap that is my home town together with the accumulated stress of answering 200 emails on the subject of my studies, apartment and flight bookings, I wasn’t embarrassed about leaving with but a kiss and a wave.
Here’s some tips to get you through a boring flight:
- Learn the lyrics to your favorite song.
- If you’re waiting in the airport, sing along to your favorite song.
- Imagine what your life would have been like if you ran away with that girl to Germany and started a snail farm with your best friend Abby the octopus.
- Write comedy and fantasize about the fame and sex appeal you’ll be getting from your travel blog.
- Think about some of the horrible things that you’ve done.
You can’t pay for the bus with cash or card on Visby apparently. Luckily, we convinced the driver to take us on by looking very foreign and dumbfounded. Oh, btw, I was doing this trip with my buddy Julius, who also went to exchange to here. We were eager to get to our apartments so we could finally drop our baggage.
After we’d done mine, we walked to Julius’ apartment as well and dropped off his gear there. It was really nice of him to not constantly mention over and over how annoying it was that his quarters were a 20-minute walk away from the city center as opposed to my 5-minute walk, which I want to clarify is something he definitely didn’t constantly mention.
Meanwhile it was 7:30 PM and we needed food. We aimed for a pizzeria in the city center because I had heard about Swedes constructing the boldest pies, and as we passed through the gates of yore, the word ‘pittoresque’ would forever find new meaning in our hearts.
It’s time for pizza
When we arrived at our pizzeria though, it looked very fancy and even we could see this was expensive by Swedish standards. If not for Julius’ Visby-an acquaintance we may just have given them our money, but luckily, he could get us an address for a normal pizzeria. When I mentioned the concept of “Swedish pizza”, he reckoned there was no such thing.
Either ho, these fresh friendos went for ANOTHER walk. On the way we rummaged through trash and ate a dead bird so we wouldn’t starve but after another 30-minutes we stumbled upon our pizzeria: an Italian one. I wish words could carry across the sensation of taste so I could describe how delicious this pizza was, which was no doubt partly due to us waiting for 9:20 PM to finally eat.
Plus… this was my first meat dish in a loooong time. I am a vegetarian, but all the vegetarian options on the menu seemed bland. Not bad, just not something I would pay 12 euros for. The easiest way to spot if a restaurant doesn’t know how to make good vegetarian dishes is if they have one item with the word “vegetarian” in its name, and the pizza is just a cacophony of vegetables. I don’t know where we went wrong, but being vegetarian doesn’t mean I like bad food.
Also, they had a pizza with chicken, banana and curry. I want you to think about that Adam.
You know how to best end such an adventure?
By sleeping in a bed without a pillow or blanket. We thought we would have these things, but we were lied to. Though had we needed to sleep on the hardest part of the wall, I could have probably done it.
Conclusion is A: find out where you’re going to eat plenty of time in advance and B: get a bus pass before you arrive in Sweden. We were lucky but if that bus driver hadn’t taken us on, we were screwed! We’d be like dumbo and dumber dragging our 20 pounds of luggage 5-kilometers looking like fools!
Anyway, the continuation:
I have lost my favorite sweater. Not only does it look cool and artsy, it has also grown really important to me. This was the sweater I bought with Nathalie, a dear friend of mine, when I saw it hanging in a “left-over” pile that they were gonna throw out. It was the sweater I was wearing on my first JNM camp, when I kissed a guy at 4 AM completely drunk. Sleeves of utter comfortness and a hoody of warmth that helped me through some of the colder nights on my second and third camps.
Doubling as a pillow in times of relaxation and as a stuffed animal when I needed an embrace. The one night where I loaned it to Polina because she was cold and it was way too big for her. We shared a lot of memories in a short amount of time; memories of friendship, of joy, of sadness and sorrow… when I put it on, I would feel more confident and loving because of them.
Luckily I found it the next day.
Julius and I met up at my apartment so we could buy, well… everything. We needed pots, pans, cleaning products, cables, but most of all: food. We had empty fridges and if we didn’t solve it, soon we would have empty stomachs. 5 minutes away from my house was a supermarket though… in which we spent 1 and a half hours.
Let’s go over what’s ‘different’ from Dutch supermarkets.
In Holland it is very normal to eat bread for breakfast and lunch, every single day. And we do have the best supermarket bread. It has more slices, tastes better, and it sells for 10 crowns! I swear if we start pricing our bread like the Swedes do we’d enter a second golden age by the end of the week. Coming from such a bread-laden culture, Juul and I had trouble thinking on our feet and bought a giant what can only be described as a “cracker wheel”. Seriously: it is a wheel of a cracker… look!
To my reassurance they do have a nice assortment of meat substitutions. It’s hard to beat Holland here as well, but it’s no competition: I’m just happy the have veggie bacon I can take with my eggs.
With all that shopping behind us… we went to shop some more.
Full disclosure, just expect your first day to be a whole lot of shopping if you want to live like a normal person on day 2. We got our shower curtains, our gel douches, pots and pans, and even our useless decoration!
When we were done shopping it was past 5. Now since it was a Saturday, the shops close at 5. And the one thing we forgot to buy… were bedsheets. Again. So that was another day sleeping in the cold.
It was at this point I noticed I was missing my sweater. All I wanted to do then was cry. I had to make peace with weeping though. The day had been a tangle of stores, visits, walks and rides; I was too tired for crying. The most frustrating thing was not knowing what had happened to it.
But, lo and behold, the next day I traced my steps and after some fruitless store visits, I found it on a park bench not 1 minute away from my house! God bless the good Samaritan that placed it there.
First days are tough
Your first days in a new environment are gonna be tough; you’re gonna have to do massive amounts of shopping and be confident. Don’t give a damn when you’re taking 4 hours in the same store looking through labels for the cheapest grub. If anyone gives you any funny looks ignore them, if they give you lip tell them you’re new, they’ll be appreciative of that. And don’t lose your favorite sweater, ever, but if you do then pray you’re in a place where people are nice enough to leave it on park benches for you to find.
I can really recommend getting yourself enough food for the rest of the week though. You’ll be stressed enough from learning to work your new kitchen; hell it will literally take you 2 hours to cook spaghetti the first time ’round. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a few instant meals so you can chill a bit, but if this is your first time from home, preparing food is gonna take way much out of you and your schedule. The last thing you’ll want is to not have anything in your fridge and worry about freestyling it. Aight, peace!
About the Author
I have been compared to Steve Jobs in the past. Regrettably, only during a student bash by a girl who was absolutely hammered. My origins lie in Utrecht, Netherlands, where I am studying game programming, and I’m carrying the tradition forth on my exchange in Visby. Should I have some alone time, you’ll find me playing chess or video games, though more often I’ll either be hanging out with friends, studying or cooking.