Jun 26 2010

Next trip, we are SO renting a car

I'm writing this entry from a holiday cabin near Norrköping, where we have join my brother-in-law's family for Midsummer, the biggest holiday in Sweden after Christmas.

We got here by train, bus and sheer will. You would think, after eight years in this country, I would know better than to rely on public transportation for holiday travel. But Dr. Darling loves a bargain, and because this trip was planned weeks in advance, she was able to score a couple of the super cheap tickets that Swedish Rail (SJ) releases on a limited basis around major holidays.

This is how I ended up spending four hours on the InterCity train which runs from Malmö to Stockholm. It's known as the "slow" train because it makes numerous stops between those two cities, and because it's not the faster, more modern X2000. We took the 8 am departure, thinking that was early enough to avoid the annoying drunks who seem to live on the trains during holidays. Yeah, right.

The Swede had booked the window seats in a section of four that faced each other, with a small table in between so that I could surf on Eliza. There was a young woman in one of the aisle seats when we boarded, but as she was alone and reading a book, we figured she would be an ideal seat mate. And she was, until her friend boarded in Lund (about 17 minutes into the trip) and I swear to god she DID NOT STOP TALKING for the next 3 hours and 45 minutes. Worse yet, her voice was of a high enough pitch that neither of us could effectively block it with headphones, though we tried mightily. I didn't think it could get any worse, but it did when she broke out a box of wine AT 9:45 IN THE MORNING.

And because the InterCity is an older train, it's not exactly equipped with the mod-cons most people take for granted these days…like electrical outlets, for example. The "table" between our seats turned out to be more of a shelf that wasn't very laptop friendly, so I didn't even bother getting the netbook out of my backpack. This meant I had to rely entirely on my iPhone to block the sound of the wino Chatty Kathies next to us, which drained the battery far more than I intended so early in the day.

Needless to say, we were both relieved when we finally arrived in Norrköping where we had an hour's wait for the bus to take us out to the Kolmården Wildlife Park to rendezvous with the rest of the family. Normally I would be peeved by this kind of inefficiency, but as it was lunchtime and we were both just flat-out thrilled to be off the train, I was able to shrug it off. The bus depot was conveniently located right next door to the train station, so we went in to inquire about tickets before setting off to find some food.

In a rather ironic twist in bad transportation karma, Norrköping's public transport system had recently gone cash-less, but they made the switch without having all the necessary hardware in place to allow users to pay with a credit or bankcard on board the buses. This meant we had to get a "smartcard" (valid only for Norrköping public transport) and load it with enough credit to pay our fare. Better yet…there were no machines with which you could refill the card at the wildlife park, possibly the MOST popular destination in the metropolitan area. (Now that's "smart"!)

The problem was we weren't sure if we needed a round-trip fare because there was the possibility of hitching a ride back into the city with my brother- and sister-in-law. Fortunately, we were able to reach Dr. Darling's brother during lunch and confirm that we did indeed have transportation to Norrköping on Sunday, so we bought a one-way fare to Kolmården and I parked myself near an electrical outlet to give my iPhone some stealth juice while we waited for the bus. Given the status of my battery, I was kind of hoping it would be late. No such luck.

The good news was that there weren't too many people waiting for it, and since we were each carrying pretty good-sized hiking backpacks (our luggage of choice for shorter trips) we decided to hang back and let pretty much everyone else board before we did. Now keep in mind that everyone is paying by "smartcard", so fare collection should be a snap for the driver, right? WRONG!

We waited, and we waited, and then we waited some more. And when it finally was our turn to board, we learned why. Instead of the time-consuming task of handling actual cash transactions, he had to punch a mountain of data into a touch screen for every fare. For our destination, I promise you I'm not exaggerating, he must have touched the screen 20 times. Which leads me to suspect that the company that sold the ridiculously complicated Jojo machines to Skånetrafiken must have bamboozled Norrköping, too.

Next time we plan a road-trip anywhere that involves more than a one-stop, direct route via public transportation to our final destination, we are totally renting a car.

Feed my ego!

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