Landed in Stockholm. First impression of Sweden is that the cool, brisk air is refreshing and that a sky full of clouds looks weird. Coming from the sunny Balkans, I have not seen clouds like this in over a month. Lush greenery everywhere, orderly public transit. In just about every way, this place is the opposite of Greece.
The Arlanda Express train whisked Conrad and I to the city center. Stockholm’s suburbs are dotted with squarish, plainly colored office buildings, surely filled with IKEA’s finest. Stockholm Central Station treated us to the fastest wifi we’ve had in over a month. I caught up on my blogging while Conrad sat across from me and wolfed down some Burger King. Then Conrad took us to the sweet apartment he booked on Airbnb, and it’s there that we met up with Doug. Good to have him around for this leg of the journey.
The three of us spent the next couple of days taking brisk afternoon walks around the city. “Gamla stan”, as Stockholm’s old town is known, is filled with matching, uniformly sized buildings lining streets and alleys of cobblestone. Various shades of pink and orange and gray give the town some character, but the whole area was surprisingly quiet and lifeless, even on the weekend. Most stores and restaurants were closed, and the few that were open were nearly empty. The few tourists walking around seem to be German, French, and Asian.
Swedes seem to be predominantly blond with fair skin, which comes as no surprise. They’re mostly tall and thin, with small, chiseled features that sometimes arrange themselves beautifully on a face. When it’s right, it’s right. Sweden has a reputation for beauty, but for me, it doesn’t have the best. I’d rank Sweden under Croatia, Czech Republic, and Argentina for that. Conrad astutely noticed that the darker the hair on guys, the more facial hair they seem to have. Most young Swedes and everyone who works in the touristy areas speak English, but they all seem reserved, stiff, joyless. Some neighborhoods are quaint and parks are beautiful, but the people who walk around in them have no life.
From the outside, City Hall is a monstrous block of a building made up of 8 million bricks. On the inside, it’s a confusing but interesting mix of different architectural styles. Worth a visit.
Fotografiska, a big photography museum exhibit near the city center, had a few different exhibits. Nick Brandt’s animal images were unique and interesting, and Bryan Adams’ celebrity portrait photography was OK. But Moustafa Jano’s heavily composited images were lame and Helene Schmitz’s landscapes were nothing special.
The Vasa Museum features an enormous, almost intact 17th century ship that was pulled up from the mud in Stockholm’s harbor. It has been beautifully preserved, and they’ve done a great job building up a huge museum around it. The massive engineering effort it took to bring it all up in one piece and preserve it is impressively documented. An exhibit on the ground floor of the people who died on the ship when it sank, along with some of their remains, makes it real.
For lunch one day, we met up with Clara, a girl I met way back in 2000 while traveling through New Zealand. She is, of course, all grown up now with a husband and two kids. Over some meatballs, we discussed the Swedish way of life and the effectiveness of Sweden’s socialism. Gender equality is a big thing here, with an entire political party made up of feminists. People are very precise and punctual, like Germans. Clara admitted that Swedes are stiff, and interestingly, aware of their own stiffness. When I asked where that come from, she said that Swedes are very critical of themselves and that it probably comes from a low self-esteem. She said that part of it might come from an inferiority complex with neighboring Norway, which is interesting given that a few Swedes I talked to claimed that Norway was better than Sweden. As we finished our meal, Clara asked us to explain Donald Trump and the current state of politics in the US. I had no answers.
After lunch, I was munching on a cinnamon bun when we passed a playground filled with young students. One of the girls spotted me and rushed over, begging for a piece as if she hadn’t eaten in years. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes nearly popped out of her head as I tore off a piece and gave it to her. The other kids crowded around her jealously. It’s the little things that make my day.
On Friday and Saturday night, we found Stockholm nightlife to be sorely lacking. Unable to find any excitement on our own, we booked a pub crawl with about 20 other tourists. I befriended an English stripper named Rosie who I thought was very attractive, but I may have been drunk and wearing some Rosie-colored glasses because Doug says she was only a 6.5.
On our last evening, we took a walk up a hill to Monteliusvägen to catch the sunset over the Riddarfjärden. A small crowd of people had the same idea that we did, cramming the overlook to hug and take selfies and converse loudly. It should be rule to be silent during a sunset.
It was a busy few days of walking up and down Stockholm. Doug’s app told us that we consistently walked 7-8 miles each day. Stockholm’s a nice city, but for me it was nothing special. It’s lacking in sights and activities, and there’s a certain sterility to the city and the people that is a little off-putting. There are no Swedish flags, no sign of IKEA or Volvo or Ericsson or any of Sweden’s famous brands, no discernible local fare aside from meatballs. If I didn’t know I was in Sweden, there would be nothing to indicate that I was. Things are also very expensive. Drinks are $15, mediocre dinners are easily $50+. A 30-minute taxi ride from the city center to our place ended up costing $100.
Looking forward to see what Norway has to offer. We’re now on the Arlanda Express back to Stockholm’s airport, zipping along at 109 mph. In Norway, we’ll be meeting up with Jerry, another friend from home. For a few days, our little crew affectionately known as the A-Team will be reunited.