A death march with a heavy box

Although Lund is an idyllic and charming Scandinavian city, until a few days ago I was totally unable to appreciate the niceness of the place due to the lack of a bicycle. Without a bike here you are a third-class citizen, having to use your sluggish human legs to slowly plod around the pavements whilst all the locals whizz past you on bikes. It’s a bit like the Tour de France, but without all the performance-enhancing drugs.

Getting a bike, therefore, was a top priority. However, the prices of second-hand bikes are extortionate during the arrival period of international students. The naivety of newly arrived international students in regards to the fair cost of a second-hand bicycle is mercilessly exploited by greedy bell-ends in a festival of price gouging.

I therefore decided to bite the bullet and purchase a shiny new bike. This turned out to be a very painful decision indeed. Firstly, I had to walk 40 minutes with my slowly plodding legs to an industrial park in the south of the city. The shop I went to was at the end of what I think is the most boring street I’ve ever walked down, it was so boring that I took a picture of it. I’m considering sending this photo to psychologists who deal with hyper-active kids; I’m sure that just a few minutes of looking at this scene is enough to bore even the most noisy and energetic children into a comatose like state. In fact just looking at the picture now is bringing back vivid memories of standing on that terribly ugly street thinking something along the lines of “The horror, the horror!”.

The most boring picture in the world

After slowly trudging down this dreadful road the Biltema store came into view in the gloomy distance. Once inside I enquired where I could buy a an assembled bike. The shop-assistant gave me an incredibly scornful look and pointed to a very large box; “They come like that, or it’s 250 SEK to get them assembled here”. I went over and picked it up- it was incredibly heavy and awkwardly large. “Oh it’s not too heavy” I said to the shop-assistant, smiling meekly. Although I was lying, at least I can now sleep with the comforting knowledge that a middle aged Biltema employee thinks I can carry heavy boxes with relative ease.

Even by the time I had reached the tills in the shop, I was sweating profusely and my arms were beginning to protest at this incipient arduous task by sending out strong feelings of pain to my brain. When I reached the edge of the Biltema car park they felt like they were about to fall off. I then had to walk back down the world’s most boring street, this time with rain. The street looked even more dour than before. It took me 50 minutes to carry the box around 400 metres. After every 50 metres of waddling along with the monstrous piece of cardboard, I would pause for around 5 minutes to despair at my life choices and wait until my arms stopped feeling numb. As the rainfall increased and the pain in my arms became chronic, I realised what Jesus must have felt like when he was nailed to the cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

Miserable me
The box from hell

Apparently, the man sitting in the clouds recognised my plight and sent one of Sweden’s exorbitantly expensive taxis to the petrol station that I was crucified next to. Apparently the Lord doth expect payment if he has to help a lowly agnostic out. Begrudgingly I wondered over and asked if he could transport me, my arms (which had fallen off by now) and a gigantic soaking wet box. He agreed and drove me the rest of the way back (<3 minutes), which came to 100SEK (~£8). I thanked him (although I really do think taxi drivers here should thank their passengers and the vast sums of money they pay), dragged the box to my house and then set about assembling the foul beast. This took me around 3 hours complete. However, upon completion I realised that the bike wasn’t really finished, as I had made some major errors during the bikes assembly. I fetched my German housemate to help. It took him about 30 minutes to undo what I had done and then do what was actually required. Finally, the bike was finished (apart from the fact that the tyres were flat; I then spent two hours wandering around town (in the rain) looking for a pump which would  fit a schrader valve)). Fun times.


The big yellow doors

My journey to Sweden started off in a very similar fashion to almost all other journeys I’ve undertaken by myself ever; with a huge amount of stress and exhaustion. I’m not quite sure why but I always leave far too little time to get to a station no matter how disruptive missing a particular train/coach/plane/ferry/chartered donkey/minibus would be. Some might suggest that the adrenaline rush of nearly missing some form of transport is exciting enough to turn one into a perpetual ‘near-misser’. While this does have a logical basis to it, I think the theory can be discounted in my case as I’m normally late for lectures and meetings too- as well as social events. Being late for those is just mildly embarrassing with very little adrenaline at all. Someday I hope to unravel the mystery as to why I’m always late.

Unfortunately I was travelling from Luton airport, it’s such a bad airport that I felt compelled to write a scathing review on Google maps for it the last time I was there. Luckily the coach was late to departure lounge and so I had to rush through the airport meaning I spent very little time there at all. The flight was quite clichéd; there were screaming babies, angry people wanting to change seats, overpriced food (just the £9.30 for a sandwich, drink, crisps and some crackers with dip- what a bargain) and of course an incredibly bumpy landing. (Perhaps Luton Airport was trying to punish me for not suffering long enough within its walls and so it cast a curse on my flight?)

To my absolute amazement the man sitting at the passport control desk at Copenhagen airport made a joke; he saw that I was carrying my cello and then said something about me playing a musical scale and smiled. To be honest I didn’t actually hear what he said but what’s important is that he definitely made some sort of joke. Whether it was funny or not will be left to the sands of time-unless he writes a blog about the joke he made to a dumb-founded Englishman. During my year abroad in Denmark I learnt that random Danish people will only ever be friendly and joke with you if they are A. Drunk or B. Really really drunk. It struck me as odd that a passport control official would be drinking on the job in a heavily policed airport so I concluded that he must have been drinking in the morning before he started work.

Copenhagen airport would probably do quite well in a “World’s most generic International Airport” competition. It’s clean, shiny, efficient and yet utterly soul-less. Apparently modern architects believe that all you need to make a nice building is having lots of glass mixed with lots of steel, airports are certainly no exception to this incredibly boring combination. Those sorts of buildings may look great in a Mission Impossible film but apart from being good locations in particular action movie franchises I just don’t see what they add to the world. If I could I would order the destruction of most glass/steel abominations and build in their place nice little rural English churches (OK not very feasible but you get the sentiment).

The train from Copenhagen to Sweden is really quite cool. It travels across the Øresund bridge which is nearly 5 miles long and has a motorway on top of the train tracks. I’m used to being crammed into a tiny London Underground train racing through bland suburbs or through deafening tunnels, so having a view of a vast ocean passing you by from a train window wThe big yellow doorsas quite a pleasant change. Almost everyone spent most of the time on the bridge crossing staring wistfully out of the window- which is impressive when you consider the fact that normally 95% of passengers on a train spend the entire time on their smartphones. It was after we had crossed into Sweden in which I noticed the big yellow doors. Up until this point I had remained remarkably calm throughout the entire journey (well apart from the running to a coach station in central London, carrying a cello and pulling an extremely heavy suitcase while wearing a heavy rucksack). But for some reason these yellow doors shook the calmness out of me. Perhaps what stirred me was the idea that pretty soon I’d be walking through these sliding doors onto the platform of a new chapter of my life. It was either that or I’ve suddenly become scared of the colour yellow.

Indeed, soon after that photo was taken I did walk onto the platform of Lund Central where I followed the rest of the passengers, hoping there was only one main exit. Luckily my technique of being a Lemming worked wonders and I found myself at the station entrance. I wondered up to the taxi rank, all of whom were conversing in Arabic. I was about to ask if they were Syrian refugees (I’ve read that Sweden has taken in loads of them) but then I realised that that might be a unsuitable question to ask.

Although the taxi driver was really friendly the fare was a bit of a shock to the system; it worked out to be around £20 for a 5 minute journey. Welcome to Sweden!