Swedish efficiencies were immediately experienced upon our arrival six hours after taking off from JFK: no immigration forms, no lines at customs, a superfast Arlanda Express train to downtown, smooth check-in at the Nordic Light Hotel conveniently located right next to the train station, a much larger shared room than expected, a good breakfast of herring, paté, fresh fruits, cheeses and charcuterie at the lobby.
Francine and I only had two full days to spend in Stockholm, Sweden and we were going to be as efficient as any Swede. We freshened up after breakfast and picked the nearest neighborhood to explore first. Filled up and energized to walk around Gamla Stan, or Old Town, we looked up old buildings, took photos of the water coming in from the Baltic Sea, crossed bridges and checked out several vintage and specialty stores. Francine scored a cute hat from the “antikt” store on Drakens, or Dragon’s Alley, and I poured over different fabrics with loud Swedish prints and contemplated buying a very pricey wooden sculpture of a mackerel. (For US$200, I changed my mind.)
Kronor still intact in our wallets, we decided it was time to eat again after a couple of hours of walking. If you think Americans are gluttons of the world, you better check the Swedes’ all-time world record when it comes to eating candy. Every Friday, or fredagsmys–literally â€œcozy Friday”–the Swedes unwind and reward themselves with something sweet. The pastry shops and bakeries we walked past displayed wares that made my mouth ache. Café & Brödbod looked more chill inside and so we grabbed a table and bought the two prettiest things behind the glass. My pastry was filled with almond paste and sprinkled with cardamom seeds that made it oh-so-savory. Francine opted for the ultra-light choux with the perfectly sweet cream topping.
We walked off the snacks and snuck into some more alleys to window-shop for souvenirs. I checked out a small gallery where people were drinking while hovering around some art. We went inside several gift shops to look for fridge magnets that also doubled as bottle openers to add to my collection. It took us a few more blocks before we decided that it was time for an afternoon drink. We ducked into Pubologi, a bar decorated after my own heart, and sat at one of the long tables for some hefty and not-so-hefty beers. They were closing to prepare for dinner service, but the bartender let us move to the bar by the front window so we could drink our second and third pints.
After a quick nap back at our hotel room, we joined the tourists for more beers at Pelikan before we shared home-style Swedish cooking of meatballs (much better than what you can get at Ikea’s) with cream sauce and lingonberries and a roasted pork knuckle as big as our faces. A salad would have been nice, but naturally, there were no vegetables on the menu except for an artichoke pie. Pelikan’s cathedral-high ceilings reminded me of the old pubs in Prague and the group next to us singing beer songs reminded me of the camaraderie in Ireland. We spent our last few hours of our first day congratulating ourselves at how well we did even with jet lag and a six-hour time difference.
We were falling in love with Sweden. We didn’t need to worry about the language whenever we had to inquire about something. Almost every person we assumed was local was mad beautiful with their height, skin tone and ridiculously blonde hair, and yet there were a lot of people who looked like us. (I later found out that by 1996, approximately 26% of Stockholm’s residents are of an immigrant or non-Swedish background.) Metro attendants were friendly and everything was convenient and easy to get to. The city may not be on an easy-to-understand grid, but it’s divided into smaller neighborhoods that are explorable by foot.
I could create a long list of the things I love about European countries someday, but for now, I was happy to experience that Stockholm had a lot of them in one place.
Pubologi is at Stora Nygatan 20 in the Gamla Stan neighborhood. Pelikan is at Blekingegatan 40 off the Skanstull metro stop.
Stockholm, Sweden photos on Flickr
I highly recommend the Nordic Light Hotel for your weekend getaway
I am so jealous that we don’t have the equivalent of Arlanda Express in New York City