Monday, November 23, 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles 1

Last week I was at a conference in Lund, Sweden -the final conference/travel of the year for me. Which is just as good, 'cause while I'm all about spreading the word about my research and doing my David Lee Roth-thing from a podium, I'm not all that gung-ho about the travel. My distaste for the travel aspect increases proportionally with the number of connecting flights I need to get to my destination, and increases exponentially with the number of nights I have to spend away from my wife and kid.

Wednesday morning (to the extent 4 AM qualifies as "morning") I had to giddyup and have some old salt in a taxi haul me to the airport. Just before 8 AM I was in Copenhagen and found myself purchasing train tickets. 40 minutes later I was in Malmö, trying to convince the stupid vending machine to sell me tickets the final stretch to Lund. Clever as I am, I brought with me a stash of Euros, Sweden being a part of the EU and all. That turned out to be more useless than a "Rock the vote" campaign/membership drive for Venstre launched two days AFTER the general election. But not, as it turned out, more useless than a station clerk in Malmö.

After massively failing to purchase a ticket using Euros (what kind of lame attempt is it to cling to what used to be your national currency after you've joined the EU?) or credit card, I tried to solicit the help of a station clerk, who told me that she didn't know how to use the machine. This short conversation happened first in what passes for Swedish in Malmö, and when it became abundantly clear that she might as well have spoken some African language with clicking noises and all. Or Danish. Switching to English improved the communication greatly, but didn't help me much by way of getting tickets.

One semi-meltdown and one visit to the ticket office later, I had missed the express train and was stuck with a local route that stopped at every station at least once. Unlike the swank and roomy express train, the local train was packed, and I got the last available seat.

Lucky me.

On the twin seats facing me was a lesbian couple who made out like it was their livelihood and Spring Break was held during Mardi Gras. This lasted the entire 25 or so minutes the trip took. I'm not exactly shy or prude, but I definitely felt like I was invading something private - which in and of itself is bullshit considering that the couple obviously didn't opt to work blue in a crowded train due to a lack of exhibitionism. On the other hand, leaving my seat would send another kind of signal that didn't appeal to me either, so I was stuck.

Once in Lund, I started walking towards the campus and hotel. I'd asked someone in the organizing committee about the distance from the train station to the hotel, and upon being told that it was only one kilometer, there was no way I'd take a cab. After having walked for about an hour in increasingly crappy weather with my bags, I started second-guessing my decision, not to mention the accuracy of the one-kilometer estimate. I was equipped with what can only be described as a roughdraft of a map, where most of the roads were omitted, which didn't help my navigation one bit.

What also didn't help matters was that I was looking for a hotel on campus that shared a name with every other building within several blocks, in a region with absolutely no signs. Still; I made it to the hotel with about one hour to go before the conference started.


Anders said...

Sounds like a great trip, no?

Weird that the vending machine in Malmö didn't work. Maybe they've replaced within the last 5 years or so, I seem to remember Malmö as a pretty decent railway station.

Wilhelm said...

The trip wasn't bad at all - whenever I can get away with only one flight I'm relatively happy.

Malmö railway station was ok, but they were doing all kinds of construction.

Why in the blue hell doesn't Sweden use Euro, being in the EU and all?