Meatballs. IKEA. Volvo. Names synonymous with Swedish culture. They capture the very essence of safety, efficiency and functionality.
So it is with transportation in the capital. Arriving at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, one of the best ways to get into the city centre is by train – the Arlanda Express. In just 20 minutes, passengers can be whizzed comfortably and quietly into the very heart of one of Scandinavia’s finest cities.
There is one catch. Catching the Arlanda Express involves descending from Terminal 5 to the station platforms. Somewhere, I’m told, there are elevators. But located right next to the ticket machines, passengers are irresistibly tempted to take advantage of one of a bank of gleaming, stainless steel escalators.
These are, quite possibly, the longest escalators in the world. In one, long, unbroken descent, they extend from Terminal 5 down to the railway platforms. Not only are they unbelievably long, they are remarkably steep.They are definitely not for the vertiginous or faint-hearted.
And so it was that, one dark evening in November 2014, I arrived in Sweden on an early evening flight from London Heathrow. The occasion necessitating my trip was the Fall meeting of the ECU General Council and I was accompanied by my faithful and very tolerant travelling companion, Claire Wilmot. We were both laden with paper-filled folders and files, not to mention all of the other paraphernaila related to this important meeting.
All had been quite uneventful. We had taken off and landed on time. We had been reunited with our luggage and we were set to make our way to Stockholm’s very impressive Radisson Blu hotel. Following advice from a number of sources that the fast rail link was undoubtedly the best way to travel the 37km into the centre of Stockholm, we purchased our tickets. Glancing to our left, bold yellow signs steered us towards those amazing escalators.
Having since looked at the Arlanda Express website, there is an instruction that advises passengers to use the lift instead if you have baggage.
Alas, I had not visited the site. With my Samsonite in one hand, carefully packed to the very maximum allowable weight, I carefully manoeuvred it onto the escalator, pulling my cabin bag behind me. My cabin bag wasn’t quite on the step of the escalator, so confident in the knowledge that my trusty Samsonite was stable and secure I momentarily let go of it to reposition the second bag.
Big mistake. To my horror, 23kg of pink (well, cerise) suitcase took on a mind of its own and toppled. Helpless, I looked on in horror as my oversized case picked up speed and swept down 300 metres of escalator. 40, 50, 60 kph – my laden Samsonite became a deranged missile as it hurtled towards the bottom of the escalator.
Within seconds, the case, now to us just a far-distant pink dot, hit the end of the steel staircase and took off at the same angle as it had descended, and at the same speed. Through the doorway it flew and disappeared from sight. It was followed by a deafening bang from somewhere beyond the aperture. There was an eerie silence, broken only by the steady whirring of the escalator’s unperturbed machinery.
Clutching my remaining piece of luggage as though my life depended on it, Claire and I helplessly descended, transfixed to our respective steps and hardly bearing to imagine what carnage lay beyond the doorway. Claire’s face was white and she had fallen strangely silent.
Finally, I too reached the bottom of the escalator and, with a terrifying sense of foreboding, crept through the doorway. There, wedged into a corner and lying slightly askew, was my case, being examined with some bemusement by an elderly Swedish couple who had witnessed the arrival of the flying projectile. The husband, a white-haired, bespectacled, smartly-dressed man, was holding half of what remained of the case’s handle. Almost apologetically, he passed it to me, nodded his head and made his way silently to the platform.
Despite my certain knowledge that everyone on the platform could hear my heart thumping at 250 beats per minute and now knew that England’s number one village idiot was clearly in Sweden for the weekend, I casually picked up the case and strolled to my designated platform in the same way that someone who has just toppled over on the dance floor jumps up and carries on as if nothing has happened.
I’ve never heard of ‘hit by flying suitcase’ on an autopsy report as a cause of death, but this could have easily been a first. I had been in Sweden (my first ever visit there) for less than an hour. The serenity of this respectable and peace-loving nation had almost instantly been smashed to smithereens by my arrival.
On our return to Arlanda two days later, the site of where the suitcase came to rest was bedecked with yellow cones and protective tape. Clearly marked as the scene of an untoward incident, it was like a grisly scene from CSI.
There are no doubt many morals to this true story. With the exception of one, I shall not list them here. However, I can hear you all asking, what happened to the contents of the suitcase? Answer – absolutely nothing. Every single item remained intact.
The moral: buy a Samsonite – they’re bloody marvellous!