I must say that never in my life have I awaited so anxiously for a vacation as I have awaited this summer’s Stockholm. The reason is simple. I hate extreme heat and the idea of escaping the 35 degrees temperatures that were announced transformed the nordic capital in a potential heaven on earth. I kept checking the forecasts almost in awe with the maximums of 25 degrees and the minimums of 10.
The hard part was the packing. As I was sitting in my sauna of an apartment and melting away, i simply could not envision outfits that involved sandals and sheer breezy dresses. I tried to channel coolness and I sceptically threw a lot of spring-autumn things in a big suitcase. An I took off towards the north.
The weather. We got of the plane under a cloudy sky and hoped on the bus to town. On the way an absolutely crazy storm unleashed and lasted for, lets say, 10 minutes, while in Stockholm we arrived maybe half hour later to a clear blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. That was the start of the weather roller-coaster. We soon discovered that forecasts are totally useless, and the weather changes so fast it makes your head spin. Basically, if you plan to leave the house in the morning and return in the evening, you have to pack all sorts of stuff and be prepared to put on and take off clothes continuously. It might be so sunny that you get sunburns, it might be so windy that you get a headache, it might rain lightly or you just might face optimum circumstances. Either way, instability is high. But hey, what do I care?! As long as the thermometer doesn’t go above 22-23 degrees, I’m as happy as can be.
Getting around. Everything is well organized and works perfectly, so you can roam the city or the area at will, by bus, subway, ferry, train and even a vintage tram. For a cost of course. And the cost is pretty high. We got a Stockholm Card that gives you free access everywhere in the county and entrances to most museums. We paid 1150 SEK, that is around 125 euros, and it covered 5 days. (Otherwise, a travel card for 7 days costs 320 SEK.) Without it we probably couldn’t have survived, considering the amount of things to be seen and all the running around we did. Things are, generally, well connected and synchronized, so if you got a map of the lines of transport and a decent sense of orientation you should manage. A good thing is the lack of crowds. I kept looking around and wondering how do the people there travel. There aren’t that many cars, bicycles fewer than in other places, and there is almost always a place to sit on the subway or on the bus.
The food. I cannot tell if it was because of the sudden change in temperatures or the impeccable aspect of the food, but we were faced with a terrible appetite in Stockholm. Starting with the hearty breakfast, that introduced me to the miracle of salty butter and to the local breads, continuing with the attractive bakeries that served all sorts of savoury cinnamon and cardamom buns and finishing with the elegant restaurants that opened their windows to the city streets and gave you a chance to indulge in all sorts of extravagant delights. Even the supermarkets were full of all sorts of wonders that charmed the eyes. It was very hard, i must confess. If it hadn’t been for the big and almost prohibitive prices and the nevertheless limited capacities of my stomach, I would have probably eaten continuously.
The people. Well, the people are beautiful. They are mostly blue eyed blonds, just the way i like them. I for one have not seen as many handsome men per square foot as I have seen in Stockholm anywhere else. That sums up the looks. The problems come up where behaviour is concerned. I don’t know how to put it so that it doesn’t sound bad. First of all, the people are not very friendly. We got all sorts of comment, like “Don’t sit there, it’s for the people with special needs” (in a semi-empty bus) or “Don’t eat your sandwiches at his table, its only for the clients of the cafe” (in a park with some tables set outside). Leaving the variable friendliness aside, i was completely shocked to discover and I sorry to say, that many of the swedes that I related with were not exactly well informed. That is to say, they are totally unreliable. Not once, but several times we asked for some sort of advice and were stared at with completely clueless faces and given answers like “Hmmm, I don’t know” or “Maybe it’s like this, but I’m not sure, uhhh, try there, or here or somewhere else.” We got burnt a couple of times, before realizing that you cannot rely on almost anything these people say and you are better off alone.
The city. The city is pretty big. Bigger than i expected anyway. Bigger than Copenhagen, the other nortic capital I tend to compare it with. It’s made up of 14 islands, but of course I didn’t visit them all. Gamla Stan and Riddarholmen make up the old city centre, with narrow streets and colourful houses, souvenir shops, restaurants and most of the tourists. Södermalm is the southern island, bigger and more airy, offering a gorgeous view to the old city and, somewhere around Slussen subway station, hosting lots of clubs, cafes and other such places where you can go out and socialize. Djurgården is the large green island in the east, representing basically a huge park, scattered with important museums. Norrmalm is the central part, the transportation hub, with a rather modernist and office look, lots of stores and shopping streets. Östermalm is the rich neighbourhood of the city, with luxurious buildings, elitist boutiques and a general vibe that oozes extravaganza. That’s pretty much what we managed to see, but it was enough to realize Stockholm offers a great variety from all points of view.
Accommodation. We stayed at Hotel Hellstens Malmgard. For 100 euros a night, breakfast included, I’d say we got a pretty good deal given the excellent conditions and relative closeness to the centre (30 minutes on foot or 5 to the subway station and another 10 on the subway). The hotel itself looked more like a bed&breakfast, since it was set in an old mansion, beautifully renovated, extremely clean, cosy and quiet, and representing a perfect point to of departure and return.