Writer, traveler, maker


Travel updates and occasional commentary

GSP 7: Finding the limits of faith in Scandinavia

As I recently wrote for Christianity Today, this trip frequently tests my faith in God’s provision. When it came to my intended visit to Sweden, I had to decide if God would provide more dramatically than ever … or had closed a door to redirect my travels.

By the time I reached Helsinki, I was struggling to stay awake. Fortunately, though, I'd used the bus system on a prior visit, and stayed with the same friends ... in the same apartment. After more than a month on the road, it provided a welcome taste of the familiar.

New art (P) for the week, same apartment and tablecloth.

New art (P) for the week, same apartment and tablecloth.

So welcome, that I overslept the next morning, leaving me scant time to repack and catch my flight. Worse, when I checked my email, I still didn't have a confirmation on housing in Sweden that night, or any answer from the churches I'd contacted. I started to pack, then stopped to reconsider my plan.

What was I going to, if I caught my flight? By now, I was getting used to lots of last-minute arrangements and provision, but boarding a plane without anything confirmed seemed risky. After some hasty discussion and prayer with my friends, I decided to stay put and see what I could do for interviews through their church, instead of one in Göteborg. 

The week that followed wasn't my most productive for research, but provided a blessed taste of domesticity. I helped hold my friends' three-week-old daughter, pitched in with dishes and laundry where I could and received the increasingly exuberant hugs of their two young sons.

In the evenings, I visited with the boys' parents or took advantage of the wife's sewing machine to work on the not-quite finished raincoat I'd added sleeves, a collar and facings to at my brother's. Her newer model had a buttonhole foot, which let me finally "Finnish" my coat in a final late-night stretch that took advantage of northern summers' 1 a.m. sunsets (!).

Almost a week after my train pulled into Helsinki, I took a local tram to the harbor to catch a ferry bound for Sweden. A slow tram and missed connection made me probably the last person on the boat -- this time with quite a lot of stairs to drag my bags up and down -- but thankfully the ferry staff were gracious about my last-minute arrival. 

As my friends had predicted, this car ferry looked nothing like those of my childhood rides in the Puget Sound. The boat ran more to cruise ship size, and included multiple decks of passenger cabins, plus one for a small mall's worth of restaurants and shops.

2018 Scandinavian ferry deck.jpg

The 16-hour overnight trip cost far less than a plane ride, though, while offering far more excitement. A pre-dinner stroll around the windy deck in my newly finished raincoat left me feeling like a giddy child.

The next morning, we pulled into a Stockholm harbor in bright sunlight. After one of my longest walks yet with all my luggage, I finally reached a train station and started the process of figuring out how to use my Eurail pass to reach Göteborg. A lot more walking and several hours later (the first few trains had no seats), I finally arrived to a warm welcome from my hosts.

After a simple dinner of barbecued chicken on their back porch, we settled in to watch a World Cup quarter final. 

Because of my short stay, I didn't have much time to explore Göteborg, so I settled on an early morning ferry ride Sunday to see a bit more of the local waterways. My hosts had strongly encouraged me to see Göteborg's archipelago, so I picked a ferry route that hit some of the major islands. I didn't have time to disembark, but the ride afforded me many charming views of the small islands. 

With a trip like this, it's easy to tot up all the additional things I'd like to see next time -- but in reality, never again am I likely to take a trip on this scale. As we learned in my earliest economics classes, everything has an opportunity cost -- the thing you miss out on in order to do something else. By choosing breadth in my travel plans, I sometimes lose depth.