Among many dangers of a trip around Scandinavia, one thing we weren’t quite prepared for was… melting in a 30 degree heat. Luckily, Stockholm turned out to be just the city to be when it’s hot.
A public beach in Stockholm in the middle of the summer represents the pinnacle of human society’s progress towards equality. There are people of all possible skin colours and ethnicities here; young and old; tattooed goths and spandex-clad jocks; fit and disabled; gay and straight; post-chemo kids, teens in wheelchairs and muscle-bound bodybuilders; expecting mothers and pram-daddies; all sharing the water without anyone batting an eyelid, without getting in each other’s way, without the least problem. All gorgeous and free in the sun. A liberal’s dream, a conservative’s nightmare.
After this summer, Stockholm is definitely our second favourite city in Europe. It has most of what makes London great, without many of its drawbacks: the longest commute by T-Ban is half an hour, the crowds are manageable, the traffic leisurely, the canals clean enough to swim, and there are no giant phalluses of glass and steel looming over the city centre, reminding everyone who’s the real master. Unlike other Scandinavian capitals, it is big and old enough so that you don’t feel you’re really in a swollen, overgrown town; and unlike Copenhagen, a close second favourite, it’s not as sterile and perfectly organized. There’s a bit of an edge here, just enough chaos to make a city work. Of course, all this comes at a price: Stockholm is horrendously expensive for a non-native, and it’s not that easy to settle down here unless you’ve already got a job or a place at a school.
Everything is young, vibrant – in the real sense, not estate agent sense -, full of life, and beautiful here in the summer: the streets, the parks, the sea, the people. We had visited Stockholm a few years ago, and saw most of the sights and attractions, so this time we could just wander about Sodermalm – the city’s hippiest, most happening district – and the Old Town, and soak in the atmosphere.
We’ve discovered a few things about the city we didn’t yet know. Swimming on city beaches was one thing; that Stockholm has some of the best urban furniture in Europe: everywhere you go there are benches, trees, fountains, playgrounds, street sculpture; that in the summer it gets as hot here as in the Mediterranean. But the most surprising discovery is that Stockholm is a multi-level city. Its islands are hilly and full of massive rocky outcrops, crags and canyons, and the urban planners took great advantage of it. There are viaducts, bridges, low streets, high streets, stairs and ramps; usually, the pedestrians occupy the bottom, with the cars zooming above – sometimes there’s even a third separate layer in between for cyclists! As the result, there is a LOT more of Stockholm to walk about – and the city is not only perfect to walk or cycle around, but many people also kayak between the islands – than could be guessed just from looking at the map.
The whole northern side of Sodermalm, perched on the edge of a tall rock beyond the massive red-brick facade of the Munchen Brewery, is a stunning, perfectly preserved 18th century garden town – for my money, much more attractive than the tourist-filled Gamla Stan; in the summer it is drowning in flowers, plus it’s within walking distance of some of the finest cafes, bakeries and cheap eateries of Northern Europe, and bounded by a fine park to the west. If we could afford it, this is where we’d want to live for at least a few years…
Filled up on coffee, cinnamon buns, fried herring and positive vibe, we are now almost finished with Sweden – only one more day left – and make ready for the last stage of the journey: Finland!