I had long dreamed of visiting Sweden. The seeds were sown when I was a teenager and I learned about their social democratic system which resulted in relatively low rates of child poverty, green energy initiatives, great transportation infrastructure and a general high quality of life.
Later, I also became a big fan of Ingmar Bergman films and a lot of Swedish indie pop, including Komeda, Radio Dept. and The Concretes.
Even though I had long dreamed of going to Sweden, I didn’t visit during my two Europe backpacking trips while I was in university because I wanted to ensure that I had the budget to do it right. I opted to do other trips over the years, wanting to do something a bit more adventurous than Scandinavia. I decided this year was the time to go since my friend who lives there was completing her pHD.
I only had about a week of vacation so I opted to go to Stockholm and Copenhagen. Going up north was out of my timeline and it was too cold to visit Faro Island, home of Ingmar Bergman, one of my favourite directors.
It’s strange going somewhere you always dreamed of visiting. A place is never what you expect it to be, so it will usually either exceed expectations – in my case, Germany and France – or disappoint – Italy. Sweden though didn’t exceed or disappoint; it was pretty much what I thought it would be and I think it was indicative of how efficiently the country is run.
Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. The city has a unified look and consists of buildings of hues of yellow, orange and pink lining the canals that run through the city. It is also very well-preserved due to Sweden’s long stance of neutrality.
As expected, the city is exceptionally well-run. I saw nary a pothole my entire time there which is incredibly impressive considering that they get as much snow as we do in Toronto which have terrible roads throughout the city. As an avid cyclist, I was so impressed by Stockholm’s numerous bike lanes. Back home, our bike lanes consists of paint drawn on the road demarcating the area where bikes are designated but cars can also park.
I was also impressed by how zen the drivers were. They yielded to cyclists and pedestrians and the city had few stop signs. I only heard one car honk during my time there and I noticed it because it was so rare.
The city has numerous sites to see but I mostly wandered around, observing the city planning and soaking up the atmosphere. The city is fairly compact and it’s very efficient to bike from one end of the city to another. I did visit the Vasa museum which contains a fully preserved, sunken boat from the 17th century. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
I wandered around all corners of the city. Sodermalm, the hipster and “working-class” area of the city had a lot of nice cafes, bars and vintage shops.
Norrmalm and Ostermalm had more upscale stores and felt more commercial. And Kungsholmen, where my friend lives, was quieter and more residential.
I noticed that there was a certain liveliness that was lacking which I’m used to from a city. There were few people out late at night on a weeknight and few people in the restaurants and bars I went to. Apparently, the city dies down after the long days of summer. Also, eating out is so expensive in Stockholm – I don’t think I spent less than $25 Canadian on a meal – so it’s usually only special occasions when Stockholmares dine out. I ate a few good restaurants and enjoyed going to some joints at night, including the hipster bar Snotty being all cool playing a Tribe Called Quest, and playing ping pong in other bars.
The Swedes are very polite and appeared big on social protocol. I realized this once I noticed that every time I went into a washroom, the toilet cover was down. It made me feel that Sweden is similar to Japan in their observance of social etiquette, being fairly reserved and in addition, in their attention to design and form.
I was warned that unlike my last trip to Scotland, I probably wouldn’t have that much social interaction with locals given how reserved the Swedes are. However, I was sitting in a cafe and an older gent sat with me and gave me the history of Sweden, including why the vikings are symbolized to have horns, the origins of the word Russia and why Swedish cottages are red. He was very nice and informative and added a nice touch to my trip. It is always neat to talk to new people and people who, due to being from a different culture, have a different perspective of the world than I have. It’s one of my favourite things about travelling.
Overall, Stockholm is an extremely beautiful and pleasant city. While the city isn’t the most lively, I think that can be attributed to something positive: it’s very well-run so there is little chaos and the city is very orderly. After all the transportation headaches experienced in my city, I can see why this might be a preferable way to live.
More photos from Sweden