Thursday, 11 September 2008

On a maze in amazing Scandinavia

I'm currently enjoying a relaxing week on holiday in Stockholm. This place is amazing - a truly beautiful city full of beautiful people. It's basically a bunch of islands connected by a series of bridges. Wherever you look your eyes are treated to vast expanses of water, deliciously green areas, and immacualte architecture.

It's an easy place for a newcomer to lose their way. One island in particular, Gamla Stan, managed to draw me back there no matter how far away from it I thought I'd wandered. I'd traverse it's entire breadth, leave via one of the bridges, walk for miles in what I thought was the complete opposite direction, and yet somehow end up back on Gamla Stan.

But it was the labyrinthine motorways, which seemed to mark the entrances to most of the islands, that proved to be my most taxing opponent.

I'd decided to stroll along the river at the Northern edge of the biggest island, and take some photographs across the water whilst basking in its refreshing cool breeze. I had my map unfurled and ready to climb into if needed. It all seemed simple enough - leave the underground station, turn right, cross the street and I'd be on my desired path. What I didn't bank on was the 'street' I need to cross being a vast and ludicrous mess of roundabouts and roads, climbing over and through each other, with no obvious way across, since the traffic was thick and constant. I could see steps leading both upwards (but in the wrong direction) and downwards (apparently towards a subway) but no visible means of reaching either set. After much head-scratching, I decided to head back to the underground station and maybe take another exit, hoping it would lead me across the 'street'. En route I passed another set of stairs leading downwards, and decided to give them a try. I descended, and sure enough found myself in a subway, which I walked through, and up the other side.

Stepping back into daylight disorientated me more than it should. Rather than being on the opposite side of the road of death I was now further back from it on the side I'd started from. A subway that served no purpose at all - how continental. So, on to the underground station, where I found another exit, which led to another staircase, which I excitedly occupied. Now here's a headfuck - I emerged somewhere in the midst of the fucking road system. I was now standing on a small piece of completely pointless pavement, surrounded by busy road. I pinched myself. Maybe I'd fallen asleep somewhere along the way. And if that was the case... hmmm, nope, can't fly, so I guess I was still awake.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I spent around twenty minutes walking around that stretch of Stygian motorway searching for a way across. At one point I could see across to my intended destination where a man stood, silently taunting me, taking photographs of boats. Twenty minutes may not seem like so long, but when you're stuck in an Escher painting of traffic and mystery it seems to go on forever. Eventually (and with an audible whoop of victory) I found myself on the path I'd been aiming for. I breathed a sigh of relief and... BEEEEEEEP! OK, so it wasn't a path at all and I was standing directly in the way of oncoming traffic. Panicking, I ran first to one side, then to the other, then back, scrambling over a fence to escape death, and landing, short of breath on what was definitely a path. Yep, no question about it. I could see the individual paving stones and everything. In your face, Sweden, I have conquered your labyrinth.

Then I glimpsed the bike painted on the paving stones and a cyclist ran me over.

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