We arrived in Sweden on Friday and it's been a non-stop whirlwind of a weekend getting settled in and acclimated to the new time and country. Above is one of the many graffiti marks I found during our walks even though crime isn't a big issue here. I'll start this post with the flights.
We arrived at Heathrow Airport in London with just about an hour to transfer to our flight to Stockholm. We were on a big 777 aircraft but they decided to unload us with a staircase and buses to the terminal. We then had to go through international transfers security and they had all sorts of fun with our bags even though they let us keep our shoes on.
My bag was full of electronics with a fold out for the laptop to ease scanning. I folded it out at Dulles and it went through without extra scrutiny. Heathrow decided I needed to remove the laptop and any other "large" electronics which they asked if I had an iPad. I have a 7 inch Google tablet so I said no and left it in there since it wasn't "large" in my opinion. I also have a Bose SoundLink speaker I left in there too. They scanned it and rejected it for extra screening. I had to unpack all of my
Apparently they also asked my wife and daughter if they had iPads or they didn't think of large electronics either so they left in their 10 inch Google tablets even though they also removed their laptops. Their bags were also rechecked. The security personnel were in no hurry either. We ended up getting down to our gate just in time for boarding so I guess their lack of concern for our departure time was justified. He kept saying we'd make the flight when we told him we had 15 minutes left.
We arrived at Stockholm and collected our 6 big bags for 3 people and met my wonderful sponsor and 2 helpful drivers. She brought 2 vans to transport us, our luggage, and our pets. We had to ship our pets since we traveled on British Airways (codeshare with American Airlines). This required driving out to the cargo terminal through their vehicle and personnel security to get the paperwork on the pets. Second, we had to drive over to customs to fill out a form and get an approval. Lastly, we went back to the cargo terminal through security again to show the approval and finally get our very confused pets. The chihuahua was happy to see our daughter but the cat seemed to be kind of dazed. She finally started making some noise halfway through the drive to the city and seemed to be fine once we let her lose in the apartment.
It cost us about $1,200 to ship them when we left and then there was a processing fee at the receiving end we didn't know about. I thought our costs just doubled when she said it was 1,200. However, she handed us our first bill in Swedish Krona so I had a sigh of relief when 1,200 SEK ended up being about $178. Mentally it's still hard looking at the numbers and translating it into the dollars I get paid.
The Apartment and Phones
Our apartment is unfurnished so they provided us some temporary Ikea furniture until our stuff arrives. We have beds, a couch, a chair, coffee table, end tables, a few lamps, and a dining table with 4 chairs. They also provided a loaner TV with a DVD player and some kind of antenna box giving us 5 channels, one of which is CNN International. It's all very basic but it works just fine for us.
Phones and getting some sort of Internet access were top priorities for my family after getting some dinner. I won't be able to order internet service for the apartment until I get a Swedish personnummer and identification which is like a U.S. social security number. I was able to buy 2 prepaid SIM cards and successfully got mine and my daughter's phones setup with data and Swedish phone service. We can only use prepaid and can't have a phone contract without a personnummer. My wife's phone took longer because I had to call AT&T over Google Voice and cancel our service to get an unlock code for her contract phone.
I'm WiFi tethered to my phone with my laptop right now but I couldn't turn on the tethering on my wife's or daughter's phones because AT&T is really annoying with their software mods. Those phones won't allow it because they're looking for permission from AT&T even though tethering is free with our Comviq prepaid service. The phones have been unlocked by AT&T to supposedly free us but they will forever have their claws in two of our phones. I hate contract phone equipment. I found convoluted instructions to root the phones and mod them to allow it, but I just added data to the Internet dongle the embassy loaned us and got their laptops working quick and easy.
Sorry, my geek side got distracted and lost focus on the apartment. I should probably make a whole other post on it and some of the oddities of an old European apartment with European appliances. The apartment is nice with a lot of character we love so far. Here's the only appliance we need to pull out a translator for:
the dryer - skön is shoe according to Google Translate or beautiful or comfortable according to other sources
We're in a great neighborhood with lots around us easily accessible by bus and a nearby metro station. We thought the metro in Washington D.C. was good, but this is even nicer based on our Sunday ride around.
Above is a typical street in our neighborhood. We had pizza here at Pizza Hörnet by George. Hörnet means corner so I was disappointed there weren't hornets available as a topping. We were a little surprised when we got whole unsliced pizzas. We saw people cutting the things up with forks and knives. Can you still call it pizza if it lacks slices? Apparently our simple American way of picking up pizza slices with our hands isn't how things are done here.
Another thing not done here is tipping. This is going to take some getting used to since several times they've given me an option to add to the charge amount. Typically nobody tips or they just add a SEK or two to round out the amount. Don't feel bad for their waitstaff because I'm told they make a living wage. It's apparently a lot better than the crap wages we pay in America and force our poor waitstaff to beg their customers for more money. Also, the food is already very pricey so I'm glad I don't have to throw a big tip on top of an already large number! Maybe it won't take long to get used to it...
My wonderful sponsor helped us settle in to our apartment Friday and then came back Saturday to take us to a bigger grocery store for a first stock up and answer our million questions. She also showed us how to buy the metro cards and how the system worked here. It's very similar to Washington Metro. The one nice thing is being able to buy a 30 day pass with unlimited rides on everything. Those passes are our new cars with our very own fleet of drivers.
My sponsor was an awesome help with many tips about groceries and other useful info such as carrying coin around in case you need to go to the WC. The water closets (toilets) here are usually pay toilets. I saw a fancy standalone one on the side of a street. Yes, you have to pay even in the stores and restaurants where you're already a paying customer. There are so many little things about everyday living we take for granted that are just... different... when you go to another country. A tourist passing through doesn't have the same experience as living here. My wife went into the grocery store and was shown an odd shaped blue bottle with foreign words on it when she asked someone if one those things on the shelves was bleach (blekmedel). Fortunately for us, finding bleach or any other normal things we try to do in a foreign country that ends up being... different... is fun for us!
Sunday we rode around the metro and buses and checked out some shopping areas near the central station. Below is Drottninggatan (Queen Street), which is a pedestrian road of shops we walked down. It's the end of June and the high this weekend was upper 60s and lows in the lower 50s. It's basically twilight all night. The sun is up during the day but it's been mostly cloudy this weekend so we didn't see a lot of sunshine. You do see shorts but they're usually wearing a light jacket too like in the picture below. This is definitely not the heat we were feeling in Virginia before we left.
Our daughter just had to go to the only Starbucks in all of Stockholm. I don't think we'll have to run down there much because it tasted a little off to her and the price was a bit steep. A venti Frappuccino was 65 SEK. That's $9.65!!! I definitely need to get the cost of living allowance started on my paycheck ASAP!
We have a lot of exploring to do and I could probably write much more in this post but it's already getting late. I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work for the first time after finally finishing all of my training. Yay!