For many years now I have extolled the virtues of the Scandinavian dream – burgeoning economies, mountains of fish and meatballs, well funded welfare states, low income inequality, cool brooding TV shows, their understated Lutheran approach to life, to name but a few things that make Scandinavians the happiest people in the world (apparently). So why hadn’t I actually been there? Maybe it was the famed expense, or that I’ve favoured further afield destinations knowing Scandinavia will always be near by, whatever the reason I realised I didn’t actually know much about the place I put on such a pedestal.
Spurred on by a slightly better than previously bank balance and the knowledge that being on the wagon meant not spending all my cash on booze, I booked a long weekend in Stockholm to celebrate our five year anniversary with my other half.
Firstly I was impressed with the quality of the budget Norwegian airlines, seemingly much better than their English counterpart Easyjet, I mean they even had wifi aboard the flight. For free! Arriving in Arlanda the excellent transport was to continue via the express train in to Stockholm; it also had free wifi, comfy spacious seats, plug sockets, TV screens and a very friendly ticket inspector. All for the princely sum of £50 return. This may seem a lot but when you compare it with the sub par Cattle…sorry, Gatwick express you can appreciate the value for money.
Our hotel HTL Kungsgatan was every bit as Scandi as you would expect, from the ipad check in process to the staff dressed in denim, smiling pretty young things with hipster beards and flowing locks. At £105 a night this was no more expensive than most London hotels and had the best herring I tried the whole weekend. The bedroom was ergonomically designed with a USB interactive TV and an adjustable bed that only slightly made me feel I was in a nursing home.
Next to our hotel was Vete-Katten one the many coffee shops to be found in the city stocking obesity-inducing pastries and cakes, unbeknownst to me there is a huge coffee and cake culture in Sweden captured under the term Fika. This one point alone has made me consider migrating to Stockholm, in general everything just seemed so much more civilised. That might be a cliche but that’s how it felt during my long weekend, there was more space to breathe and roam, it was clean and orderly, the people we met were straight forward and helpful, everything seemed to just work.
Wandering aimlessly around Gamla Stan I didn’t feel overrun with tourists despite it being a sunny summer weekend, as the tourist guides had warned me to expect. It was pretty and I could see the war time neutrality had paid off as most of their old buildings were still standing.
Delving further in to Sweden’s past we visited the Vasa museum to learn about the comically tragic result of a badly designed warship. Built in 1628 after two years of work by hundreds of men, it sank on its maiden voyage after making it only 1300 metres out of the Strommen quay taking 30 lives. Pretty embarrassing to say the least. The museum was very comprehensive – the boat in all its glory at over 50 metres high had been fully rebuilt. There was a short film explaining the history and the salvage of the ship in 1956, and 5 floors of exhibitions ranging from life in Stockholm in the 1600s to an archaeological exhibit of the bodies found. I could have spent hours in there looking at the impressive naval artifacts had it not been for the great weather outside!
To conclude our touristy excursions we decided to go on a boat trip to the Archipelago, having been told this was a “must do” by my half Swedish friend (yes I’m jealous of her). Given the small amount of time we had and the fact there are over 1,000 islands we plumped for a half day trip to Vaxholm the archipelago’s “capital”. Do not expect anything urban or cosmopolitan in that respect, it is however an island where around 5,000 people live, go to school and work. It’s hard to articulate how picturesque and relaxing the trip was floating past the islands dotted with wooden summer houses and green pines. I thought what it would be like to actually live on Vaxholm, a few days away from the city on the Enid Blyton-esque island would be idyllic but permanently residing on Vaxholm in the bleak mid winter….probably not. I’m a city girl at heart.
We like to get to know a city not just by its tourist activities but by the areas people actually live, the interesting ones of course not just row after row of houses in suburbia. Sodermalm seemed to fit this criteria, I suppose you could describe it as the Hackney of Stockholm with the fixie bikes but far fewer stupid haircuts. We hung out in the park people watching, wandered in and out of vintage and boutique shops (think Acne and Grandpa), noting all the street art along the way, and of course had more coffee. It has a laid back creative vibe without the wankyness of Shoreditch. I would stay in this area if I come again
Stockholm was everything I wanted it to be and left me feeling like I had only just opened the door to all the country has to offer, whether going back would mean discovering parts that are less appealing (as happened with Paris when I realised the whole place smelt of piss, but that’s a whole other blog post) I don’t know. I do know this last picture pretty much sums up my experience; we sat in the Ivar Los park looking out on to Gamla Stan whilst the sun went down among the Swedes drinking wine and winding down on a Friday eve, eating £6 pizza from a place recommended to us by a friendly local. Utterly relaxed.