Tales from an American girl living in Denmark
Earlier this year I met a group of Swedish guys in Denver who confidently claimed that Stockholm is even better than Copenhagen (some friendly Scandinavian rivalry going on here) and that I would love it. I told them I’d have to see for myself.
I’m not sure they believed I’d actually come visit until I messaged one of them, my friend Håkan, from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport asking which metro line to take to his apartment. I have a habit of showing up on people’s doorsteps with nothing but a backpack and a (very) vague travel plan.
Stockholm certainly met the high standards I’ve come to expect in Scandinavia. Public transport is well-designed and well-used, bike lanes are respected – even given priority in some areas – and the wide sidewalks are made for people to actually use and enjoy. Stockholm is a very large small city, if that makes sense. Overall, it felt somewhat expansive in comparison to the coziness of Copenhagen.
As for the people, the Swedes I encountered upheld their reputation for quiet curiosity and reserved politeness. Until they count you as a friend for the night after a few beers, that is. Then, as most people do, my Swedish companions became absolutely dynamic, quite sure of their opinions, and eager to hear mine. Like the Danes, the Swedes also love to share their most difficult to pronounce words and then laugh as you mangle them.
Although not especially difficult to pronounce, my favorite vocabulary learned in Stockholm this trip is “tåbiran,” which translates to “beer toes” in English. As Håkan explained, if you suffer from tåbiran, you are suffering from especially pungent foot odor. After some long rainy walks in leather boots my socks and feet were tåbiran heavy-weight champions.
Of all my long walks, I think I enjoyed the ones through Stockholm’s Södermalm neighborhood and going across the bridge toward Marieberg most. I even ran into a free-of-charge theatre performance by this group, Park Teatern.
I highly recommend exploring on the paths to the east and west of the bridge (accessed from the bridge) through the park areas on the island of Langholmen. If you don’t have time for that, even just the walk across the bridge is majestic.
Also on the island of Langholmen there is also an old prison with some interesting history. Notice the high ceilings and big windows characteristic of Scandinavian architecture. Even Swedish prisoners were provided with more light than many American 9-5 cubicle workers.
Another place I enjoyed pausing at was this little lookout point a few minutes west of the big bridge into Gamla Stan with a gorgeous view of the city. It seems to be a favorite place for both locals and travelers. I overheard at least 5 different languages being spoken in addition to Swedish by people resting on the surrounding benches.
Here is a link to it via Google Maps – check out the street view if you can’t go in person. It’s located at the east end of the very picturesque walking street, Monteliusvägen.
I went from that beautiful hilltop down to the docks where people getting off work cycled to Friday night destinations and stylish couples sat along the wooden planks. Girls with breeze-blown hair and sleepy eyes chatted to people on the other end of mobile phones, and big seagulls swooped in lopsided figure-eights overhead. If it sounds like a scene from a postcard it’s because it easily could have been.
It was tough to abandon my exploring that day, but I had to be moving on to meet up with my friend Gustav. He lives in the Östermalm neighborhood that is characterized by streets of sharply dressed people and new or elegantly preserved housing. There was a noticeable Brooklyn vs. Manhattan type shift in style between here and “the island” as I heard my local friends refer to Södermalm as.
A quirky little pen store I delightfully stumbled upon in the design district of Södermalm.
If you’re interested in the dynamics of the different neighborhoods of Stockholm, check out this link. I found the descriptions of each area to be quite accurate.
Gustav lives in a flat on the top floor of a beautiful, classic building with a gorgeous winding, marble staircase and an ironwork elevator. The view over the red rooftops of the neighboring buildings was wonderful as the sun began to dip.
He cooked dinner for me and a few of his friends before we headed out to a nearby club called Collage. It had a nice outdoor yard for dancing, but beyond that it struck me as your typical nightlife hangout in any city. It was a really enjoyable night in any case. I’m so lucky to have had such fun hosts.
After a week of quality exploring, I decided to spend my last evening in Stockholm winding through the Old Town neighborhood of Gamla Stan. There was just a tinge of twilight left in the sky when I got there, and cloud cover got rid of that pretty quickly. The consistent drizzle and moody sky didn’t bother me at all, though. In fact, I think it added to the beauty and natural drama of the architecture in Gamla Stan. Warm, yellow porch-style lights on the sides of buildings reflected the ancient stonework in the gathering puddles. Most of the streets are very narrow and quite hilly. I had to be careful not to slip on the cobblestone.
The hum of conversing voices and laughter coming out of the restaurants and bars worked their magic on me, and so I set out to find a cozy place I could sink into. I overheard a group speaking English and asked them for a recommendation. They recommended I join them, which sounded like a good enough idea to me. My new friends turned out to be a Swedish rugby team made up of several different nationalities (English, Italian, Albanian, Swedish, etc.) and boy were those guys a fun bunch!
After the pub we stopped into (which I’ve forgotten the name of), we stepped outside into POURING rain and collectively decided to take a cab to Södermalm.
There we made our way onto a docked boat called Patricia that turns into a nightclub inside of which you will find people of all ages and styles. On one of the upper levels of the party boat I met a nice guy named David who told me he liked listening to me speak. By that he meant my accent, but I took full advantage of this opportunity to chatter on for the duration of the sunrise. The top deck of Patricia is a lovely place to watch the very early summer sunrise, by the way.
Around 5 AM they started kicking people off the boat so David and I took our conversation to a nearby McDonalds (where I ate my own squished protein bar – I’ve been free of fast food since April 2012). We shared and compared opinions on everything from food industry politics to cultural variances until our need to go to sleep overcame our curiosity. Off I went on the train “home” to Håkan’s apartment.
I found Håkan looking as tired as me – he’d gone to the Pearl Jam show with his friends the night before. He helped me pack up, and after big hugs goodbye, I boarded the train once again – Copenhagen bound this time. You can read about that in my next post, which I promise is coming soon.