I know, another winner of a post title. I finally visited Sweden: my fatherland, the origin of my surname, and home to many a blonde, pale person!
Accompanying me on this July visit was Emily, BFF extraordinaire and fellow Swedish-ancestry claimant, all the way from the States. We only had three precious days in which to explore Stockholm before I had to head back to London and she “had to” continue on to Copenhagen and then the fjords of Norway. We hadn’t seen each other in 9 months – a fully-baked baby could’ve gestated in that time! – and were really looking forward to getting some one-on-one catch-up time while also touring a new city.
Upon arrival, Emily was understandably jet-lagged after her trip across a whole ocean; I was completely exhausted for reasons I cannot explain except that flying out of anywhere that is not Heathrow saps one entirely of energy and of desire to interact with people ever again. Gatwick is particularly hard work, and poorly laid out, to say the least. But enough complaining, because I was finally in the same place as one of my dearest friends, in a country I’d dreamed of seeing my whole life, and we were going to rally, so help us, Thor!
Upon landing at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, everything was seamless. Signage was mercifully in English, or else so festooned with icons that it would’ve been hard to misunderstand. As I snuggled into the clean, quiet, gleaming train car of the Arlanda Express, I closed my eyes in the ambient lighting and smiled as I was lulled to sleep. No one chatted on their cell phone, glared at each other, ate food, or clipped their toenails. This was not one of New York or London’s outer-borough trains.
Our first half-day consisted of meandering our way down to the old town, Gamla Stan, from our centrally located hotel in ritzy Östermalm (all of Stockholm is expensive and prices were comparable across central neighborhoods, so why not have gorgeous old buildings around you?) to see the scene and have a drink and food. In Gamla Stan and beyond, the buildings are painted serene but upbeat colors, and everything is incredibly clean and well-maintained. It’s like a newer-looking Prague, but that’s not even a fair comparison.
Then dinner at The Flying Elk , which was delish, and then bed because we’re old and had stuff to do the next day. Which brings me to The Vasa Museum!
This is the Vasa, a less-than-seaworthy vessel that was built in Stockholm (ordered by the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, a fact I had to include because that name is everything) and launched into the harbor in 1628, only to sink after going a whole 1,300 meters out to “sea” aka still in Stockholm. Awkward. They salvaged it, in a complex and multi-step process, 333 years later. It now sits in its own custom-built museum, where curators cross their fingers that the wooden ship won’t immediately deteriorate.
Jokes aside, even though it sank because it was not properly weighted in its design, the Vasa is still a marvel to behold. The detail is remarkable; a lot of work went into this warship, which is the only surviving example of a 17th-century ship. Because she sank when she was newly built, and lay enveloped in Stockholm’s polluted waters, the bacteria that would normally eat away at wood weren’t able to survive.
The museum goes into even greater detail, of course, about everything from the crew’s diet to the souls lost when the Vasa sank, to the inquest and more recent salvage efforts as well as conservation efforts. The Vasa Museum is a fascinating and niche window into 17th-century life and the world of ships, so a must-do for a visit to Stockholm (I know anyone going knows this, as it’s in every guidebook ever, but in case you needed anecdotal evidence… that’s what I’m here for).
After so much learning, Em and I steered ourselves to Djurgården, a green, leafy, suburban-esque part of the city for some rosé and a hearty but Stockholm-priced (read: extortionate) salad at the cafe at Flickorna.
Then we did a Royal Canal Tour of the city. Embarrassing admission: I did not know Stockholm was a canal city before I went. I vaguely understood that it was on the water, but I didn’t realise quite how much it relies on its waterways and how integral they are to the lifeblood of the city. Apparently (thanks Wikipedia), Stockholm is approximately 30% waterways and 30% green spaces, which means that the other 40% is stunning buildings, gilded park entrances (see below), and really really ridiculously good-looking people.
After the gorgeous canal tour, we decamped to the hotel to prepare for dinner and a night out. The sun was still out at 9:30pm and came back up at 3:30am as we were heading home, seriously confusing my Circadian rhythms.
On our final day, we went to the Fotografiska Museet to see photographic exhibits, which is right on the water in a place called Stadsgården. Bryan Adams (yes, the “Cuts Like a Knife”/”Summer of ’69” Bryan Adams) is apparently now a photographer, and a pretty good one at that.
We walked over to Gamla Stan again to wander around and get some food, then ended our trip with a glass of champagne in the Grand Hotel Stockholm overlooking the harbor and dinner at Nybrogatan 38, which was conveniently located right across from our hotel so that when we were so full of food we could’ve rolled home, we could actually…just roll home.
Emily’s flight to Copenhagen was early the next morning, so we said our goodbyes before falling asleep, avoiding our usual goodbye routine of silent crying in an elevator with strangers after we leave each other. En route to the airport on the metro the next morning, I helped an elderly lady bring her luggage on board before the doors closed, and she began talking to me in Swedish at a clip. I didn’t want to interrupt her, but I was desperately trying to find my moment to tell her I didn’t speak a word of Swedish. When I finally did tell her, she smiled and seamlessly switched into near-perfect English and we chatted about New York, London, Stockholm — all cities she loved and in which had spent considerable time. She was going to visit her son in the country, and couldn’t find a cab in time, so was on the metro, or T-bana, and had forgotten how involved it was when one had luggage.
We exited at the same stop, and I helped her get her bag up to the regional train area. We parted ways, and though my trip was at its end, I was greatly cheered by this wonderful interaction with a stranger in a country that my ancestors called home. This was my first foray into Scandinavia, but I’m already anticipating the next one.