Saturday, December 11, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Road to Sweden & The Wedding

Hello from snowy and chilly Dublin (but not as snowy and chilly as everywhere else). I'm sitting here in an internet cafe and updating the blog. I know that as soon as I get home tomorrow, it will be the start of an exhausting two weeks. Might as well update y'all now!

Last Wednesday/Thursday:
So, last Wednesday I got up at 4:45am and made it to the 5:21am train to Gatwick. It was snowing and a tad foreboding, as the closer I got to Gatwick, the higher the snow on the train platforms. In Gatwick, the scene was a fair amount of chaos. People had spent the night in the airport so lines were already long. I waited in line for three hours with thousands of other people as we waited the fate of our flights. At 9am we were told that Gatwick would be closed and all flights cancelled until the following morning.

I called Martina and told her the bad news, and called my hostel, booking in for another night. I tried to make my way to London with everyone else, but the trains were not leaving due to a train malfunction. So, stuck in Gatwick. Finally, around 10:30am, trains were up and running again and I was on my way. At least we all got a free train ride as a result.

Back in London, I hightailed it to my hostel, checked in, and called the airline. They had no staff present at the airport, so unless you had a cell phone, phone card, or laptop, you were shit out of luck. So, I called and got a new flight for Friday morning. As much as I love London (and I love it A LOT), at this point, I was thinking: two days in London? That's not what I want! I also thought, If my flight is cancelled, I'll miss the whole wedding and baptism. Then, out of sheer good luck, I looked online to see if there were any buses going to Copenhagen. I used to take these buses back in my study abroad days, and there was one in an hour and a half. I somewhat checked out of the hostel, saying I might be back, and the receptionist was super helpful.

I hightailed it back across London to the place where I just got off the train, Victoria station, and speedwalked with my suitcase in tow, to the Victoria Coach Station. I bought a ticket, bought food for the trip, and found myself on board a 25 hour coach ride from London that would take me through France (Lille), Belgium (Brussels), Germany (Hamburg), and finally into Denmark (Copenhagen).

I was apprehensive that I'd get there in time, but I sat back and in typical Moe fashion, began to catch flies. I woke up somewhere in southern England in a traffic jam, falling asleep again to find us getting loaded on to the train in the Chunnel. It was a weird experience to be loaded in a big steel train and taken across the Channel, all while sitting in my bus seat.

On the other side, snow kept falling and it fell all night and all the next day. At midnight we changed buses in Brussels, and got immediately back on the road. I had no idea where we were, expept when border control came on and checked our passports. I only arrived in Copenhagen an hour late at 2:30pm Thursday afternoon.

I crossed the street to the train station, called Martina, and told her what train I would be on to Simrishamn. The train easily made it to Malmo/Sweden, where I changed to the local train to Simrishamn. However, this is where it got sticky again. Snow kept falling, wind kept blowing, and the train was packed. At least I'm in Sweden, I thought.

About ten minutes into the hour and a half journey, I noticed that an older man across the aisle (his wife was sitting next to me) was looking at me and talking on his cell phone. He said, Chicago? Jouni Pirila? I smiled and said, Yes! He said, We are Jouni's parents! He passed to the phone to me, and it turned out that out of all the seats on the crowded train, they had sat next to me. They called Jouni on the phone and said they were on the train, and he said to them, Do you see a woman with red hair and glasses who looks foreign? Jouni's dad said, There's a woman like that sitting next to your mother!

So, the rest is traveling history. We tried to speak in basic English (due to my total unexistant knowledge of Swedish or Finnish), and he enlisted the generous help of a stranger next to him to help us for the remainder of the journey, which ended up being delayed and taking three hours. Jouni's father proceeded to tell my travel journey to people on the train (having heard about it from Jouni), and I began to be called the 'travel hero' throughout the wedding weekend. Everyone else had bumpy trips/cancelled flights/delayed and rerouted flights, but I suppose my epic bus journey had some extra pizzazz.

So, arriving Simrishamn in one piece and all together, we hugged each other and shouted in happiness when we saw Jouni drive up!

The Wedding/Baptism Weekend
I hate to say it friends and family whose wedding's I've attended, but while yours were all sooooo lovely, I don't think I've been to a wedding weekend as nice as this one. It was just plain personal, simple, lovely, unique, etc. Over the course of Thursday and Friday, people began to trickle in, having survived whatever travel ordeal they experienced.

As one of the out of town guests staying with the bride and groom, I had a front line view of all the work and joy and stress that went into such a great small affair (though 60 people is hardly 'small').

Of course, the earliest highlight was seeing Martina, Jouni, and their three kids, especially my soon to be goddaughter, Baby X. As she was unnamed until the ceremony, we'll just call her that for now... I don't know if you remember from my 2008 photos, but Martina and Jouni live in this cute and idyllic little village in the south of Sweden. They have a small 100 year old house that just exudes character, charm, and love. There are always candles lit, a wood fire burning, and lots of good food and glogg at the ready. I just wished I hadn't missed over a day of this positive energy.

Martina and Jouni's friends and family mostly speak English, Swedish and Finnish. Thankfully and kindly, most of their friends spoke English when I and the other English speakers were a part of the conversation. I felt so grateful for this. I had heard about so many of them, and only met a few in the past. Friday was spent meeting new people, taking stuff to the reception hall (the old school house in Brantevik), and preparing for the next day. How fun to be a part of all the details, to hold Baby X as much as she would let me, to pretend to Vida and Abbe (their four year old twins) that I knew what they were talking about. You can see my facebook photos to see the glorious photos of all this.

So, Saturday came and it was THE DAY. Martina and Jouni like having multiple godparents it seems (I think they like backups...), and I really enjoyed spending time with Anni and Antti, the Finnish couple who were the other godmother and godfather (the other godfather being Martina's brother Nikodemus). Anni and I helped Martina get logistical things ready in the house, and Jouni and Antti were handling logistics outside and around.

The wedding was held in the small church in Simris with a fun and eccentric priest. The ceremony was simple and short with lovely music sung by Nikodemus, his friend, and Martina's father. Real candles burned in the candelabras and I tried not to get all choked up (and failed). Abbe and Vida kept coming up to say hi to mom and dad on the altar, and Baby X was quiet and subdued.

Then, the baptism. I kept hearing the words of my uncle, Whatever you do, just keep saying 'I renounce the devil.' I couldn't understand anything the priest said, but I wasn't asked to repeat anything, so I couldn't mess up. I also didn't drop the baby. The best thing about the baptism was when the priest asked Jouni and Martina for the name, and all of us chuckled as Jouni whispered it in his ear. We all had been waiting to find out her name. Nobody knew until that moment. The priest had to hear it twice before he could remember it due to its length. When I heard it, I thought I heard 'Frida' and 'Herst', but it is: Juni (June) Ivalo Host (which sounds like Herst, kind of). I definitely cried through this whole ceremony. How could I stay sober faced with a beautiful little face like that smiling up at me. What a lucky girl. Her grandparents include a poet, a psychologist, a documentary filmmaker, and a musician.

Then, off to the reception, which went from 4pm until 3am. Martina and Jouni had a Swedish Toastmaster and a Finnish one, so they organized the variety of speeches and skits that people did for the happy couple and baby. It was so much fun. The speeches included funny slide shows, skits, songs, dances, a 'kidnapping' of the bride which is a Finnish tradition that involves Jouni having to embarrass himself slightly to get her back. I say slightly because he seemed to be enjoying it... Then, dancing to the most eclectic music I've ever heard at a wedding. From 'Twist and Shout' to Techno to sappy 80s stuff to Swedish/Finnish pop songs. So fun. When the few of us who closed down the floor left at 3am, there was another small dusting of snow.

Sunday was a lovely day that started with breakfast in the hostel and then transferred over to Martina and Jouni's house for a lovely afternoon and evening of more quiet reverie with family and friends. Finally, it was just Richard (Martina's friend from England), Anni and Antti, myself, and Martina and Jouni. Unwrapping of presents, glogg, dinner, wine. Time for Sauna. The girls followed by the boys. What a perfect way to end the visit, with a quiet relaxation and conversation with such wonderful people.

When I woke up at 6:20am this morning, I couldn't believe it was time to go already. Martina drove me to the train, and with much sadness I waved until I couldn't see her anymore.

How does such a wonderful trip go by so quickly? I suppose that's why they are precious. They start and end too soon, and we wonder how we ever did without this trip/face time with these soul friends for so long.

So, until next time and the next passport stamp...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A brief synopsis of Sweden, more details from Dublin

Well, I've been in Sweden for four days and am long overdue to post here. I will post a more thorough travelogue when I am in Dublin tomorrow night, but for now, here is the brief synopsis.

Flight cancelled due to snow. Spur of the moment decision to take the bus to Copenhagen in case my flight Friday is cancelled. Board the bus two hours later and go through France and Belgium. At midnight, change buses in Brussels.

Continue on bus through Belgium, Germany, and Demark. A 25 hour bus journey. Take train to Sweden, but am delayed. Meet Jouni's parents on the train. Arrive in Simrishamn with Martina and Jouni.

Wedding preparations, meeting with friends and family. Large gathering of mostly Finnish friends in the evening.

Gorgeous wedding and baptism. Party til 3am

Recovery, lots of good meals and conversations. Sauna... Holding June...