Travel Light

London 2    Sweden waterfront 2

I envy the Filipino youth of today. With online information readily available plus budget airlines’ low cost deals, foreign travel nowadays is  so convenient and affordable for them.

I was already in my mid 20s when I first traveled out of the country for a two  week marketing training. I was excited, a bit afraid and super naive. During those times if you want to know something about a country you have to read up. This meant read up on books for it was still the pre- Google days. I did that and also asked my colleagues who went there before me what Sweden was like.

I committed a faux pax of any first time traveler. I packed so much stuff in my no wheels luggage. In today’s standards, that was a clunky way to prepare for a trip to Europe.

The trip was uneventful until I landed in  Heathrow Airport, London to catch a  plane to Denmark. The travel agency booked my flight alright but I had to take it at England’s secondary airport, Gatwick.  I had to immediately board an airport shuttle or else I might missed my flight. I dragged my heavy luggage and almost ran to the bus depot.

So this is England in October, I whispered in awe. As we drove on  ( I was the only passenger in the bus) , I saw  a wide swath of green grass with sheep nibbling  on it at both sides of the road. I remember blinking my eyes several times. The grass was so green that it seemed to hurt my eyes. The bucolic scene reminded me of  Mills and Boon novels which I used to devour in high school. I told myself that someday I will be back in England  but not as a transit passenger.

I arrived in Denmark just minutes before a small local plane was to take me to Lund, Sweden. There was no time for me to get my luggage. The airport staff assured me that it will be brought to my hotel soon. And true enough my luggage was in my room after dinner. That was my first introduction to Scandinavian efficiency.

Sweden was cold, cold, cold. My European colleagues, of course, loved the fall weather while I was freezing in my  thick sweater. Lund was such a clean city, a bit of a shock  for someone who came  from grimy Manila. The Swedish also smelled of milk which they consumed by the gallons. And they speak English impeccably.

They were fascinated with me, the little brown girl from the Philippines. Cory Aquino just rose to power and Lea Salonga was wowing theater audiences in  ” Miss Saigon” so the country was prominently in the news.  Sing us  a song, they asked me. They thought all Filipinos knew how to sing!  Some heard me conversing in Tagalog with a Filipino engineer at the canteen. Your language sounded so musical, a colleague commented.

I bonded with the female participants from Malaysia and Argentina while  learning about the global philosophy and marketing success of the multinational company called Tetra Pak. We flew to Stockholm , the capital,  where we visited the Old Town, gawked at the museums, and bought Swedish chocolates. My Malaysian colleague invited me to cross over to Copenhagen for the weekend. I was hesitant because  that was beyond my comfort zone and I was on a tight budget. “Come on, she urged me. The good hotels in Copenhagen offer  50% off  in  their rates during weekends.” That was enough to convince me.

We hopped on a ferry and checked in at a five-star hotel. We toured the city by bus, visited more museums, ate open face sandwiches and one kroner hotdogs to save money. At night, I could not sleep for I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of my Nordic experience.

I came home a changed woman. Travelling to other countries, to use an oft repeated phrase, widens your horizon. It naturally feeds on your curiosity and erases the negative spirit of  intolerance.  Oh yes,  I went back to England  for a PR conference and stayed for almost a week.I had fun, bravely exploring the city of London on my own and, this time, I learned to travel light.

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