|Travel Report: Stockholm||27 August 2019|
for a friend’s german photography website einhunderstel.eu, I wrote a guest article about my trip to Stockholm. Here, I decided to release an English version of that text.
In June, a couple of weeks ago, I was in Stockholm, the beautiful capital of Sweden, for a few days. Why there? Everyone who knows me might know that I am a Madeira fan and that I was on the Portuguese island a couple of times already. Here and there I faced confusion when I said I wanted to go to Stockholm.
The reason for my trip - which, by the way, was my first trip alone without friends or family - was a Sweden-hype that as captured me over a year ago. Actually, everything just started as an experiment. In April 2018, I found the language portal Duolingo on the Internet and, since languages have always fascinated me, I wanted to see how good the site is for learning. When I was 13-14 years old, I tried to teach myself Portuguese. It showed good results at first and I understood grammar rather quickly. However, it failed due to a lack of regular use and confrontation with new vocabulary. Could Duolingo solve that problem? They only had Portuguese in the Brasilian version, so I wanted it to be a Scandinavian language. Since I already counted a couple of Swedish bands among my favorites and was most likely to know Swedes on the Internet, I decided to learn Swedish.
What shall I say, now that I write these lines, I have a streak of 458 days of Swedish on Duolingo. I practiced every day and with all lessons done, I’m just repeating practice mode, by now. I read the news, listen to the radio, and watch movies and series, all in Swedish. Speaking verbally myself is still a bit rough but I dare to consider my experiment a success. It’s a lot of fun and I never would have expected to stay at it for so long.
Naturally, with the language came the Sweden-hype mentioned above and I realized, man, you have to go there! So where to start if not in the capital city? June 2019, here I go!
There were some things I already knew beforehand. For example that Swedes are very digitized. I had statements from several Swedes that they haven’t used cash in years. So in order not to sit on cash in a foreign currency, I decided not to change anything. Instead, I wanted to pay everything with my phone, if necessary with my debit card, during my six days.
My outward journey was already mostly digital. Train ticket on my phone, flight was checked in online with easyjet. To my surprise, nobody even wanted to see my passport at the Berlin Tegel airport. Unfortunately, the summer holidays had just begun in my home area and the airport was overrun with people. At the security check, I spent over an hour in the queue (that I could only hope would actually end where I expected it to). Everything went fine and on schedule though. With Stockholm not being too far away, in a bit over an hour it feels like you land barely after liftoff.
The weather was perfect. After the heat of 35C in Berlin, about 23C with sun and a few clouds during my time in Stockholm were very comfortable, and also very photogenic.
At the airport already, Sweden captured me as a magical digital country. At first, I stumbled around looking for a place to get bus tickets from the Arlanda Airport into the Stockholm City center, but then I decided to just pull out my phone and, within two minutes, I had a valid ticket as a QR code on my display. Got to the bus, scanned my ticket, and off we went. On the bus, there was free WiFi… Of course… And a display showing infos about the route, current position, and estimated time of arrival. Maybe nothing too special, but at that point, I already never wanted to return to Germany.
My time of arrival was roughly around the rush hour, so congested roads and for some reason they were also constructions everywhere, making even the highway only use one track for some time. The last few hundred meters took fifteen minutes with all the traffic. I looked out of the window and noticed cyclists and e-scooters shoot through the small gap between the bus and a construction fence. Only in the following days did I realize that this high traffic was only noticeable at the time I arrived. Other than that, my impression of Stockholm was actually very unmotorized. Even on what I determined to be main streets cars came only every now and then and not rarely did I wonder why they had traffic lights at all. The most impressive part of the traffic were the bicycles and e-scooters mentioned before. Stockholm and Göteborg (ehem, I mean Gothenburg) both have the London system of a toll when you drive into the city. Everywhere you look, there are cycleways. For e-scooters I saw four different providers - all with the concept: check an app for the closest one, register with your phone, and then it charges an up-front price followed by a minutely rate.
From the bus terminal - yes, it’s actually like a train station with gates to the busses - it took around a quarter of an hour walk along the main street to my hotel. The location was a great selection because I was almost in the center of the city and I could get anywhere by walking. I also got myself the Stockholm Pass before I left home - in my case another QR code that gives me 72 hours of access (starting with the first time I use it) to a lot of museums, sightseeing tours, as well as Hop-On-Hop-Off lines. Subway tickets were not necessary for me.
After my check-in at the hotel, I did not have any big plans for the evening of my arrival day. I just walked around the area and along the nearby riverside quays.
On the next day, I headed for the island of Djurgården. Stockholm consists of many central districts on islands. This is one of them and not far from my hotel. You can find a lot of green areas, parks, and museums. At first, I decided to visit the Vasa museum. It was surprisingly fascinating and I spent more time than I had expected there. The Vasa vessel shows how close success and failure can lie together. Back in its time in the sixteenth century, it was the biggest and most impressive warship, but, due to a construction error, it sank after just a couple hundred meters on its maiden voyage. After more than 300 years on the ground underwater, it was recovered, exhibited, and is now maintained, all with great effort.
After that I went into the nearby Viking museum, onward to get a snack - that I naturally paid for with my phone too -, and for the rest of the day into the “open air museum” Skansen. You can definitely spend a lot of time there. Skansen offers everything that is typical for Sweden in the form of a park: many traditional houses from different areas, several compounds for Nordic animals, gardens, and old craftsmanship buildings. Everything can be visited to learn more. For children, there are playgrounds, small amusement park attractions, and a petting zoo. The “aquarium” is another little zoo within Skansen that also has non-nordic animals. Furthermore, there is a big stage for events like Allsång (a big music sing-a-long event in the summer). Skansen is absolutely worth a visit and a great place to spend some time at.
The next day was Midsommarafton. Midsummer is an important holiday in Sweden. The national holiday, Midsommardagen, is always a Saturday around the summer solstice and the Friday before is Midsommarafton, on which many people already have a day off and most of the celebrations seem to take place. Skansen had a special midsummer program on those days. Some museums were closed. My personal plan for the day was to visit the old town - Gamla Stan.
The central districts of Stockholm are all somewhat unique. In the North, there is Norrmalm with the city center and big shopping malls making for a busy impression. To the East, one can find Östermalm, which has higher-class accomodations with buildings that are partially from an era of military officer quarters. The prominent riverside quay and bridge to Djurgården can be found here as well. In the West, you can get to the island of Kungsholmen, on which the famous Stadshus is located. South of the city center, there is the small island of Gamla Stan. It has a very medieval charm, small and tight alleyways, the royal palace, and a whole lot of tourists. Finally, in the South there is Södermalm, which offers a wonderful mix of old and new. Towards the north river, a lot of it is located on heights with beautiful views.
So, on the third day, I went to Gamla Stan first and explored the nice alleyways. The Nobel museum was closed because of midsummer but the different churches were open. I also visited the royal apartments in the palace and missed the changing of the guard, which I could only hear while still inside.
In the afternoon, I went further south onto the island of Södermalm, where I could observe midsummer celebration crowds. “Mosebacketerassen” was full with people including children celebrating a special entertainment show with music and dance. I did not dare to explore the terrace myself because of the big amount of people streaming into the area that day.
Later in the evening, I participated in a sightseeing trip with a bus around the city until I arrived at the royal park. Exploring randomly, I arrived at the St. Jacob’s church and noticed that an organ concert started two minutes earlier. So, I quietly sneaked into the church, got a seat, and listened to the sounds of the organ for about 45 minutes. I even recognized one of the pieces from another version. (By the way, even donations in the church appear to work digitally in Sweden.)
The fourth day was the last one on which I could still use my 72-hour Stockholm Pass, so I started the day with a boat trip and looked at the different city districts from the water.
After the interesting boat trip, I landed on Djurgården once again and went to the Nordic Museum. There are several different exhibitions around nordic topics: fashion, furniture, the Sami people, holidays, jewelry, and toys (even dollhouses). A certainly interesting and diverse visit and less “dull historical” than I expected.
Then, I walked through the great park areas around Skansen, which are all accessible for free and easy to get lost in. You can quickly notice the closeness to nature in Sweden that the Stockholm people are also very proud of. It felt hardly like a big city anymore out there.
Going to the west of the city with yet another bus tour, I visited the famous Stadshus around the evening and then started walking back through the city center towards my hotel.
Even without a valid Pass it turns out one can see a lot in Stockholm. On the fifth day, I went into the Historic Museum, which is completely free to visit. It was one of the most interesting museums and also something to recommend. There are exhibitions about the history of Sweden, baroque art (with a focus on altars - might have been a special seasonal exhibition but I never saw so many altars in one place before), prehistory, a treasury, as well as a “meta exhibition” about the influence of museums and our own perceptions on historical research and interpretation.
On foot, I strolled onward to the - after the holidays very busy - city center and its malls. Later, arriving in Gamla Stan again, I saw a Norwegian girls’ choir perform a little surprise concert on a plaza.
I spent the afternoon on Södermalm again. There, I visited Mosebacketerassen, this time without crowds, and explored the beauty of the district. It quickly became my favorite one.
As quickly as my trip had begun it also ended and my departure day was there. I had to deal with a bit of a plane delay but nothing bad and, all in all, everything went fine. I found it a bit difficult to depart this lovely city and the heatwave and crowds in Berlin were also not the greatest welcome back highlight.
Summary? My trip to Stockholm was a lot of fun. My goals like only paying with my phone worked perfectly and my impression of Sweden was at least as awesome as expected. The language was something I only had to speak sporadically but it allowed me to read and hear additional information everywhere. Furthermore, I was regularly messaging with a Swede from Gothenburg, who could answer many cultural questions, explain observations or provide more inside information. From him, I also learned a bit about the Midsummer festival.
I can absolutely imagine going there again. Maybe a trip to Gothenburg will also appear on my agenda at some point in the future…
And here you can see my full photo collection: