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Stockholm on the cheap – have a nice time!

Stockholm is known for being an expensive city, clean and expensive. It is both of these things but not to excess. Prices linger around London rates plus a bit, depending on where you are. It is however possible to have lots of fun without splashing the cash.

I discovered this on my first day off from the car parking data collection job which had brought me here, when I realised that my bank was still holding £800 of my advanced expenses out of my reach on account of an Airbnb booking that never was. Oh the glamour of it all!

So I know that “European City on a Shoestring” blogs are a thing, and have even found them quite useful myself at times. So here is my guide of how to spend a day in Stockholm with literally no cash. I’m sure there will be something for everyone…

FOOD AND DRINK

Stockholm is very clean, and there are lots of bins, so one can only assume that these bins contain many hidden morsels. I have seen so far just one person taking advantage of this bounty. This however is not my top tip….

Basically I cheated because I had a breakfast booked that came with my hotel room and filled my belly to bursting with muesli, yoghurt, slices of processed meat and cucumber, rye bread rolls, cold boiled eggs and bitter treacle coffee. Before leaving I filled my Dutch military flask with Apple juice from the big chilled udder and contemplated pocketing some boiled eggs for the road, but there was a lovely polite sign about not taking food out of the room, and nobody at all policing it, which are the exact conditions under which I can’t take the guilt of subversion. Had there been an uptight reception manager body scanning us all on exit for jammy toast in soggy napkins, I might have had a pop just to spite them.

Despite my morning feast, after 12 hours of walking in 2 days I was inevitably hungry again by 3pm. By this time I had transferred to new digs, just across the water in the hipster heartland of Stockholm, Sodermalm. Quietly confident that funds would be released today, I took a leisurely shower and got dressed (3 hours – see ENTERTAINMENT) then breezed out the front door, along the quiet cobbled streets and out among the coffee shops and vintage stores to find some kind of avocado based afternoon treat. Went to withdraw funds for the much awaited afternoon tea. Nada. No dice. £800 still held hostage for no good reason and an unspecified amount of time by a paranoid automated banking system that apparently no human on earth can control or intervene with (scary huh).

So I turn tail and march back to the apartment, remembering the words of our kind host Lena – “take whatever food you find”. Flinging open the cupboards I scrabble together a pleasingly diverse if carbohydrate heavy three course lunch of ryvita with whisky marmalade and earl grey tea, instant Chinese beef noodles, and spaghetti with oil, black pepper and rosemary. Could be a lot worse.

Dinner will be rejected British Airways sandwiches if I’m lucky. My dear friend is arriving this evening and I’m meeting her at the airport. Washed down with whatever we can get in the 7eleven!

TRANSPORT

So how to get around the city with no money? Basically everywhere is walkable, just get on with it and enjoy the walk. When your job is walking, like mine, this might feel like a bit of a busmans holiday (irony) but being able to go at a leisurely place, stop and take it all in, and sing loudly to headphone music, makes it a treat all the same.

Lucky for me, I had something I prepared earlier once again… A weekly public transport ticket. This means I can go out to the airport to meet my friend, and cruise about for a couple of hours for free (see ENTERTAINMENT). An SL card can be purchased at the airport with a week or month pass on it for 320 SEK or 790 SEK respectively. For currency exchange to pounds, just divide it by ten and you are close enough.

ENTERTAINMENT

Now I do pride myself on the fact that, to my knowledge, I have not been truly bored for over 5 years, maybe longer. This don’t come for free. Well it does, but you know, it’s a turn of phrase. I work hard at being amused by something most of the time, or content with being utterly unamused, or amused by nothing. Nothingness can be very very funny when you really encounter it fully.

So how did I amuse myself today in Stockholm? Fairly transparently, by writing this utterly self indulgent blog, but I have lived a fair amount up til now else there would be very little to tell.

Sleep late – like til the last minute before breakfast closes – my favourite manoeuvre!

Be slow – do everything as slowly as you like, luxuriate in it. Stop and look at nothing for a bit, think about that time when you were seven, wonder about that invitation you turned down, feel the texture of the sofa.

I took three hours today to have a shower, cut my nails and my fringe and get dressed. No conscious delaying, just that’s how long it took when there was no schedule to attend to. Getting dressed alone took the entire length of Beyonce’s album Lemonade. There was only one outfit, which I already had in mind (hipster AF, just have to share – blue and white striped knee length yachting shorts, salmon pink shirt, Laura Ashley embroidered wool waistcoat, leather jacket, doc martens – imagine!). I faffed a little with a choice of jacket vs cardigan but that took only a moment to resolve. I don’t know why it took so long. I like being naked so that might be part of it. It makes me think of how little children get so upset by our hurrying them to get dressed after a bath or to leave the house in the morning. They find it such an unnecessary affront to put clothes on at such a pace. Perhaps they are right, they usually are. Yeh…. Think deeply about everything – that’s another one, great free entertainment, who needs the Internet when you have the freewheeling free association of your own mind!

Talk to humans. In a city where free wifi costs you a cup of coffee, in the unlikely scenario where you have no internet access at home (this is me now) spending much of the day immersed in the false social whirlwind of Facebook is not an option, so you will need to talk to humans maybe a bit, depending how introverted you are, or perhaps a cat. In Stockholm most people speak English, so it’s possible to get into a conversation with most people.

It’s possible to have a very smiley drunk man lurch up to you on a sunny afternoon, compliment your style “I just have to say…that.. You have such… Such great..clothing right now…” and end up having a lovely exchange about your respective homelands “…yeh England… Right… Yeh I was an au pair once in Blackpool…. Back in the day… Back …(breaks into song)…when we were heroes!!!……… I’m drunk by the way….baby…”

It’s possible to find real, nice humans outside Espresso House, who will spill the secrets of those places where Stockholm is not expensive, and you can get beers for (whisper it) about four quid!! Who tell you where the hipsters at and the re-lax-ation and the vintage stores and which parks to get drunk in. Who explain to you that only “weed people” smoke rolling tobacco here, it’s not a thing. Sweet flinty eyed young women who tell you where you can go to meet other real, nice humans, with no Botox, and no blonde about them. Who tell you about their teenage trip to London for “the usual, you know, shopping in Primark and Madame Tussaud’s” Who give you four cigarettes and tell you that nobody ever goes out here and nothing happens, but have a nice time, it was good to meet you.

Smoking. Wrangling with self about smoking. Trying to find ways and means of smoking/not smoking. Noticing how I feel about smoking/not smoking. All can help the time go by.

If it gets really bad, hang around the steps of the hostel you stayed at previously and rinse the free wifi to post some pictures of yourself having a splendid time in Stockholm, and see what you are missing out on at home.

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Playing trust games with life

You may be familiar with trust games, from school or team building or some other facilitated group experience. A common version is where you stand on a chair and fall backwards and trust the group to catch you, and they do, and each time they do, something inside you melts and opens.

I have been playing this game with life itself for about three years now,and I finally feel I’m getting to the point where we don’t need to keep playing the game any more. I get it, I get that life will catch me and I can stop throwing myself of chairs for no reason!

What do I mean by life? I’m talking about everything that is, inside and out, existence itself. You might call it the universe, you might call it other people, you might call it Gaia,  you might call it the Dao, you might call it God, you might call it my Self. I’m talking about that which is, moment to moment, as I experience it.

Now we’ve cleared that up, what about these games? Have I really been throwing myself off chairs for three years? If ‘life’ is catching me, does that mean the ground? Is that really catching? How’s my head??

It’s a long story, but I will try to make it short. It began, as these kinds of adventures often do, with an experience of being faced with something bigger than I could comprehend, cope with or control. A force like a tornado was moving through me, a force that had somehow been unleashed from my heart and was wreaking havoc on my entire environment and sense of self. Over a period of twelve months, this tornado  (which was me, inasmuch as it was coming from inside me and acting through me) whipped away my relationship, my grandmother, my home, my cat, my business (almost, physically, in the end I let go and it continued in a new form), my sense of self, about half of my body mass, most of my belongings and most of my cash.

To be clear, I take total ownership for and feel utter gratitude for this tornado – and- it was a seriously disorienting and rocky ride as much as a magic carpet. I could not understand or explain it to anyone at the time, and so I did my best to rationalise and normalise my choices which were in reality driven by this molten fire inside me that was just burning away all the structures I had created to limit and  control my existence. Anything that I would grasp onto for safety was torn from me, and if I clung on to it my angel would transform into some kind of a demon and start to wreak havoc internally and externally until I let it go.

This tornado required my utter compliance, my utter surrender. All I could do was to stay in the still centre of it, where the air was clear and sweet and the colours were eye wateringly vivid. If I tried to walk back out of the centre to what had been, or off the path the tornado was taking, I began to be shredded and fragmented by its whirling force and was ultimately spat back out into the centre, more or less ragged depending on how hard I had fought.

So in the end, I stopped fighting, and I started to sense that perhaps I could trust this. I realised, that the still calm centre was expanding, and wonderful experiences were entering into that space and emerging from the ground beneath me, the longer I stayed present there. I realised that fear was what drove me into the storms and caused the clinging, and that trust – trusting life, myself and other people – allowed me to move with the tornado in safety and ease.

As these feelings and experiences came with a heightened visceral and physical experience – of energy, of emotion and of my senses – my body and felt sense became my compass. I would navigate by sensation, which would let me know where I was rooting myself, in the stillness or the storm. I could feel contraction in my chest and solar plexus, and closing down and narrowing of my sensory field and a dulling of the beauty I could perceive, when I was plugged into fear. In trust, in love, everything expanded, lightened, warmed and brightened internally and externally.

Why not follow that, I thought, why not try just following that. I had read so much about folowing my bliss and living from the heart, now this tornado had me by the heart and gave me little option, and much encouragement, to try it. Live it. See for myself.

So I did. I chose to make decisions only from trust and love, not to choose or act from fear. I would walk up to edges and throw myself off them, trusting. Trusting most of all myself, and this felt sense of what was right for me in the moment. The more I trusted, the more that apparent fears would melt away like mist as I approached them. The more I trusted, the stronger and clearer the internal signals became. The more I trusted the more I was met, by people and situations. With generosity of heart and warm welcome.

Each time I came to a big edge, I still felt the butterflies. I still thought: “what if this is the time where I fall on my face, where I realise they were all flukes before, and I had it all wrong…” I knew in those moments, that if I stepped down off the chair, the tornado would have me. I would be lost in the vortex of dark clouds and debris. I could only keep going, keep following the stillness in the centre as it moved. So I would stop, and reconnect with that stillness, and then move with it. Time and again.

An example of  such a moment that I often share, is when I found myself in the passport office in London, with a flight out of the country in 8 hours, no passport and no money.

I was following the still centre from Gran Canaria to Istanbul, via London. What had seemed an impossible feat had somehow lined itself up and I had been able to source funds, book ludicrously cheap flights with short notice and a tiny window AND get an appointment for a same day passport renewal to allow me to enter Turkey with more than 6 months validity. When I arrived to London I found that the funds coming in for my new passport had not yet cleared and would take  two days more. No problem, a generous friend would sub me for a few days.

So there I am in the passport office with my ticket number waiting for it to pop up on the screen and signal for me to approach the counter, three minutes from my allotted 5 minute appointment. I’m musing on the strange sensation I had felt travelling there by tube in rush hour, crushed against strangers in the humidity and noise. I had felt a distinct sensation of entering a tight squeezy tunnel, like today was some kind of birth canal. Peculiar and visceral.

A text message pops up on my screen and catches my eye. My dear friend who has subbed me to get my passport. Oh. Deals off. Something came up. Right. Of course I write back saying “No problem, have a great day”. White noise fills my head and my forehead prickles.

No problem.Right…. My number appears on the screen above my head. The quiet centre moves me forward to the counter, unprecedented high winds whipping behind me. “Here’s my application for a new passport. Thanks” She takes it. My freedom to roam the planet tucked away in an envelope and popped into a trolley. “Ok now go to the next window to pay.”

“What if I can’t pay?”

She looks at me, impatient and flat eyed.” You are going to pay now.”

“Yes but what if I can’t?”

“Madam I don’t understand, you are going to go and make payment at the next counter.”

Well, she seems pretty confident, so on I go.  “Hi I’m here to pay for my passport”. I pop my card in the machine and enter my pin, in a surreal kind of surrendered state, dropping backwards from the chair into emptiness…

Card declined. Oh god. Oh god oh god. This is the time when I just hit the floor isn’t it. This is the edge of my foolish delusion. This is it. Game over. Shit.

I must be spacing out because she speaks firmly and clearly and leans close to my face. “Madam, take this pen and paper, go ask someone to help you to pay. Write down the details and bring them to me.”

“…Thaaanks…” I wander away, utterly in the fog of evaporating belief…

“Madam!” I turn around. “Don’t forget this pen and paper, you need it to write down the details of the person who is going to help you.”

She is looking me dead in the eye and holding out the pen and paper, she looks so confident and so kind. I take it from her and walk away.

Crash. Crash. Crash. Stark waves of “reality” batter my self belief. In a way I feel a kind of safety in this momentary helplessness. There’s nothing else I can do, I have to surrender to the situation, and see what comes of it. I can’t do anything else right now. I begin weeping and getting ready to call my parents and tell them I’m sorry, all my talk of self belief and following my heart and something more in life… Crazy talk all of it, I was wrong, you were right to worry about me, I have lost the plot big time. I was ready to be at their mercy to either help me to carry on, or call me home, or get my head examined or whatever. I was ready to surrender all agency.

As I sat  in the corridor waiting for the tears to subside so I could speak on the phone. A man passing by stopped and looked at me with kind concern. “Are you ok miss?”

“yesfinethanks” I squeaked, tears streaming.

He kept looking at me, kind and slightly amused. “Are you sure you are ok??”

Then I realised what was happening and what I was pushing away. Life was coming towards me to help. I needed to let it in.

“No I’m not ok!” I blurted out the whole scenario and he listened, calmly, til I had finished.

“My name’s J. I’m the manager of this office. If you can get the funds you need any time up to 5:30pm when I finish work, I will get your passport to you today, no question.”

My heart cracked open another notch and I poured with gratitude, he smiled and walked away. Then my phone pinged, it was my friend in Istanbul. “Hey I found you a place to stay with a beautiful friend of mine and her family of dogs and cats, she is really excited to be hosting you and we are all looking forward to your visit.”

Angels. Everywhere.

Ping! Again. A message from a dear friend at the project I had been working on in the Canaries. “How’s it going lovely, got your passport and on your way?”

I wrote back and told her what had happened.

“Oh easy, here’s my card details, get your passport and get your flight and pay me back when your funds clear ok?”

I took the pen and paper, I wrote down the details of the person who would help me to pay. I got my passport as J had promised. I had brunch in the sunshine. I got my flight, I didn’t hit the floor. Life held me and kissed my forehead.

There are many such stories, but this post is already a “long read” so I’ll save them for the book (!).

I realise now, After three years of teetering on chairs, that I no longer need to keep taking myself to edges to see if I will be caught. If I find myself at an edge, and I still do often, I know I can keep going and walk through the swirling fear with my still centre, but now – life and I – we have a decent and mature team dynamic going on, and we can cocreate together a smoother ride which is a little less hair-raising  while still expansive and enriching. No more games now, time to get on with the work.

I can direct the tornado a little more now, it’s path is not so veering and unpredictable. I recognise that I AM the storm, that I am not just in it. It is in me, and so my still centre and I move through life, and my swirling edges clear any debris and fear blocks that they encounter, and all of it is me.

If you have read this far, and you think that I am in fact crazy. Please console yourself with this: