13th to 14th October 2011

On my last day in Sweden, after breakfast I go again to the chapel. Today there are only 3 of us. I try to follow from the book given to me (!) and we sing hymn 769 from Den Svenska Psalmboken: Gud i dina händer (God is in your hands). It is a beautiful song, with the sad lilt that comes from a D minor key. Words are by Per Harling, 1996 and music by P. Simojoki, 1982. You can listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3-XfJU6w7o&feature=related.

I write some postcards for home, finish packing and stripping the bed. I say my goodbyes to the kind staff in reception and the very generous headteacher who so generously offered me hospitality. And a beautiful place at that.

I catch the mid morning bus into Växjö, dropping off my backpack at the parish office and then doing shopping for gifts to take home. I meet Leif for lunch at the city library, which is a gorgeous building, with its own restaurant. I think that Leif is glad of a break, as he has been part of a stressful and quite stormy-sounding meeting of cathedral staff. Maybe this is a breakthrough that will lead to better working together? I hope so, for all their sakes. It seems that I am being talked about for doing this single person trek by train, for having the courage to come on my own. (My translation: mad woman travels to Sweden for first time, on her own, by train… and goes moose hunting!!) While I have met a good few church people who have visited Oxford, not as many have made the opposite trip, here is maybe some work on developing the mutuality of our link relationship. It is a different experience, travelling on your own from being in a group. As I reflect, I have really enjoyed it – the way I can make my own decisions, and have the satisfaction of making plans, then seeing them work out – or take the risk of letting something new happen. There has been the joy of making new connections, and of following through friendships begun. I hope to be able to continue with friendships I have made here.

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Leif offers me some helpful questions to reflect on my journey:

What have I learnt?

What would I like to transfer to the UK?

What am I glad to have at home?

I am also conscious very much that words matter. It is always a big challenge to find a common language, and this is highlighted in travel in a ‘foreign’ land. How do we find the way to explain differences and similarities? It is work in progress, and well worth the effort to find ways to bridge the gap.

The first leg of my train journey home takes me to Copenhagen, and I have a few hours before the overnight train to Cologne. Time to wander around the streets, seeing the juxtaposition of familiar shop names including the ubiquitous McDonald’s alongside grand, gothic, gilded architecture. Opposite the rail station is a gigantic fairground, the Tivoli, which is decorated with giant pumpkins for Halloween and huge queues are snaking along the streets, waiting to get inside.

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On the sleeper train (which is called Hans Christian Andersen!) I feel more relaxed, like a seasoned traveller. I know what happens here. I treat myself to half a bottle of wine, hoping it will help me sleep a bit better – I have to be up early, about 5am.

It doesn’t really help much with sleep, which is still fitful. One night time stop includes the sound of a fierce argument at one station. Looking out of the dark window in the early morning, I see glimpses of working days already begun.. lights from shops, garages, offices, computer screens. In Cologne I have about 5 hours before the next train to Brussels.

Just before 8am on Friday morning I enter Cologne Cathedral, an enormous, rather overwhelming building. In the darkness inside, red-robed stewards glide silently around, looking to me a bit like religious security guards. There are statues and stained glass everywhere. In one side chapel a chorus of women say their rosaries. At one prayer station, in front of a rather garish depiction of Christ taken down from the cross, I witness a memorable scene. A woman arrives and squeezes her way round past the candle stand so that she stands directly in front of the life-size figures. She closes her eyes and takes hold of Christ’s hand. it is so moving, as if she if taking the time to comfort him, even in death. Apart from seeing this, I find the atmosphere in the cathedral rather oppressive and decide not to stay for one of the masses, but to step outside into the morning sunshine.

I wander again down the modern shopping street that looks like so many others, before finding older, more characteristically ‘German’ architecture. Then, in front of me is the river Rhine. Wow! it is so beautiful in the sun. A fleet of luxury cruise ships are waiting to take passengers along the river. Along the river bank bicycle rickshaws offer a different tourist experience. It is these kind of ‘wow’ moments when it would be good to have someone there to say – ‘oh, would you look at that!’

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The train to Brusssls is five minutes late and at the last minute there is a platform change and an incredible scramble of passengers and luggage to get onto the train. It is very busy and a horrendous process to board the train, find seats and find room for luggage. A large, kind German offers to squeeze my rucksack in the overhead rack, and I fear he might have a heart attack. The sense of a mildly panicky scrum continues as we leave the train at Brussels and find the next connection, the Eurostar to London. I don’t understand why the online Deutsche Bahn tickets have to be checked by hand, typed into the computer and another boarding pass issued… but this is what we have to do. So we queue – though some ignore the protocol to go waltzing to the front. (Nothing like a breaker of queuing rules to raise the temper levels!) Passport check, then security (I set off the alarm again!) then border control, leaving 5 minutes to board the train. The only thing that helps in this whole procedure is the little girl who dances between the lines of tired, cross adults. Feeling tired and grubby I find my seat, get a cup of tea (paid for with sterling!) and eat my lovely German apple cake.

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So back into London to face underground rush hour and a busy Paddington station. The place on the Oxford train is fine and soon I am back on the familiar concourse, being smilingly addressed by a charity representative, and realising how lovely it is that I can easily communicate with this person in my own language. He is very nice and pleased to hear that I already support the cause he is promoting. Onwards to the bus stop through Oxford and it isn’t long before I’m shouting at a bicycle that comes straight for me on the pavement and grumbling at pedestrians who refuse to give me pavement space. Yes, I’m the mad woman with a large rucksack, mumbling to herself about inconsiderate pedestrians!

It’s good to be back home!

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