Sunday, February 11, 2007

Last day in Stockholm

Didn't do much today except wander over to the island of Kungsholmen, where Stockholm's City Hall is situated (shown below). Chris was more intent on finding something warm, but I doubted that we could walk that far south prior to our plane's departure late afternoon. In the end, we doubled back to the main shopping area and into a labyrinthine shopping mall for lunch and warmth.

As usual I had jitters prior to re-entering the UK. There's almost nothing one can do to adequately prepare for the passport-control interview, which seems designed to make you feel bad rather than to assess whether you're a risk. Before leaving London I printed off the usual selection of bank statements, itineraries, insurance documents - all the things that border officers never want to see ... they just keep flicking through the passport looking for the UK exit stamps that they have not been issued in a decade.

I chatted with a Finnish guy in the queue for non UK/EU residents, who said that London is the *only* place in Europe where he gets a hard time. Within the rest of Europe, no one cares. I don't have a single stamp in my passport for (sometimes multi-month) visits to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain.

I spent what seemed like 15-20 minutes at the desk, serving up various documents (again, they're not interested in those, only what I haven't brought) and ended up booting up my laptop to show the thread of an email about a job interview process in Australia. They can't even conceive that someone might have earned enough to not work for a couple of years.

The fact that I still had my thermal underwear on from Sweden didn't help me as I sweated through the procedure. I got the usual round of comments that contradicted what every other UK border officer (at Heathrow, Gatwick, Calais or Portsmouth) has said, but finally got through. In the end, despite the fact that you're only giving them true and detailed information, you still feel dirty, and in my case, like throwing up. Welcome to travel in 21st century Britain.

I'll be off to the continent on my trip in less than 3 weeks, but even as I got onto the Piccadilly line train from Heathrow, my mind was chewing on the expected entry interview for June... I'll have gone through 20 countries in the meantime, and it won't mean a thing...

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