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Friday, August 6, 2010

Göteborg by night

No matter how many times you've heard that Scandinavia is an expensive place, there is no dampening the shock that comes while ordering lunch at Copenhagen airport, when a smiling Bjorn Borg-lookalike asks you for 27 euros and 45 cents in return for white wine in a plastic glass and a very small cardboard box of Thai red curry.

Then you fly on to Göteborg, gather your luggage, take a bus to the city, then a tram to your hostel. The cool evening air would be a warm and soft caress on your skin if it wasn't eclipsed by punishingly cold rain. By the time you reach your hostel you're drenched to the bone and seriously questioning your lifestyle. The door is locked, so you need to call the owner, but the only thing on your mind is shelter from the rain. Beyond the window you see a warm corridor, a dark and empty front desk, and a lobby with two guests sitting in front of shiny computers. You rap quietly on the window. Nothing happens. You rap a little louder. Nothing continues to happen. The rain continues pouring. You knock as hard as you can. One of the guests, a fat guy in a sports jersey, shuffles in his chair, seems to consider turning away from facebook for a second, then obviously decides against it. You knock again, hard enough to bruise your knuckles. He shuffles once more. The girl next to him is obviously deaf. You're now shaking the entire door, mildly hoping that the hinges will snap free even if it gets you in jail. It doesn't rain in jail. The guy finally turns around and looks at you with a vague "What?" on his face. You gesture for him to get off his fat ass and walk three meters and open the fucking door. He holds your gaze for two seconds, his face a picture of immense stupidity. Then he swivels his chair back to his facebook profile. You question his morals, values and membership in the human species, curse him to the seventh generation and call on god to strike him with a severe coronary leading to slow and painful death, then whip out your cell phone to call the owner under the pouring rain. He'll be there in twenty minutes. You select a nice puddle to sit in while you wait.

At no point during any of this does it escape you that the amount of money you're spending on this memorable experience would, almost anywhere else in the world, buy you a night in a full-service hotel with a 24h reception that promises to move you from rain-drenched street to sweet linen and fluffy pillows in as little as four minutes, five tops on a busy day. But as much as you'd wish to be, you're not anywhere else: you're in Göteborg, watching continuous strings of water falling from the heavens and onto your head, meters from a warm room that is technically yours if only you can get to it.

When he eventually arrives, the owner isn't sure you really are the same two Belgian guys who booked a room at his hostel tonight. You manage to convince him. When you reach your room, the door is closed. This makes him surprisingly angry. He needs to fetch the key at his girlfriend's place or something, which should take him about thirty minutes, so he shows you to "the pool room", a combination kitchen and basement construction site with a slanted scratched broken-down excuse for a pool table. Scattered around the room lie twelve balls and two halves of a broken cue. An hour later the owner comes back and finally opens the door. He's not a bad guy really, but slow enough to be startled by continental drift. When he leaves with your travel companion to settle the bill, you take the luggage inside, unpack, remove your contacts, do a bit of reading, then, vaguely worried, go out to join them. Payment has just been delivered and he's just beginning to suggest places where you could enjoy a beer if only he'd stop talking. You've been thirsty since landing at Landvetter airport in the early evening, so you go there and get a drink. It's one in the morning.

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