The shift is dramatic from the natural beauty of Iceland to the charm and magnificence of human engineering. It has been a good number of years since I last laid eyes on a European city. The staggering amount of stonework moved into one location over the centuries never fails to amaze the senses. Add onto the facade the delicate artistry and decoration throughout the ages and this leaves me spellbound with a twinge of unexplained nostalgia to curl up under the black topped roofs with a steaming cup of tea and wonder at the magic of winter.
Stockholm, where I find myself thankfully at the end of summer, is a compilation of 14 islands dating back to 1250 with roots in Viking history. Known for its beauty, clean water and 3 hours of sun in the winter, I am surrounded by picturesque views of grand buildings and boats on every waterfront; no wonder it is sometimes called the Venice of the north.
I have taken a turn to Sweden to visit a few couchsurfing friends and my Stockholm connection is Milla. She lives in Sodermalm, what used to be the working class part of town. It is now know for a bohemian, alternative culture and slightly privileged young, but as Stockholm is one of the fastest growing cities, every living quarter is gentrifying and as the prices continue to rise young people are finding it harder and harder to locate affordable accommodation in the city. Locals engage enthusiastically in the direction of their city and various construction projects are on hold and even entering legal proceedings as citizens challenge the government on actually improving the city and not just aiming at bringing in more tourist dollars and luxury apartments, further forcing the young out of the city. Milla kindly puts me on their “drunk mattress” in their second bedroom: the kitchen. I’ve never slept in a kitchen anywhere; I’ve slept on decks, hammocks, couches and bathtubs, but I’m sad to say I never slept in my own kitchen just to say I had. I think when I sleep in a hallway that will about complete the set.
Sweden is expensive to put it simply. The citizens put money into the system and reap the benefits, but travelers get hit with the costs up front. Public transportation is about 3$ a hit, museums are 15$ each and while you can find some less expensive drinks, expect around 9$. The pastries are a delightful surprise when I find out many of them contain cardamom and the rye bread sweetened with lingonberries is a new favorite of mine.
Gamla Stan, Old town, is a fantastic place to stroll around and feel connected to the old world beauty of Stockholm, just close your eyes to all the tourist additions and dont bother eating with the inflated prices. Climb the tower of city hall, the view is worth the price and happens to be the least expensive. City hall is also where the Nobel ceremony is held if you wish to pay the standard museum fare to see it first hand. You can see the Palace Chapel for free which is quite magnificent. Most museums have a day on which they are free so take advantage of that starting your first day. I managed to see the Nordiska museum for free and was amazed at their collection of jewelry, some was even made of hair that looked just like metal to me. There was also a nice display on place settings over the centuries which really explained the table settings at my best friends home who have Swedish roots.
I happened upon stockholm city center just as I foolishly thought I had covered most of downtown on foot. Here were the amounts of people I had expected to find, laying around fountains and sipping coffee. Coincidently I also discovered that the police were out in force blocking off streets and causing much transportation havoc due to a visit by president Obama. Strange I thought, he had just vacationed a stones throw from me in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and now followed in my footsteps to Stockholm. Of course my path to Djurgarden was impeeded by his motorcade route, but I undertook my patriotic duty and waved back as he passed on his way.
Djurgarden is another of Stockholms islands and home to skansen, the zoo and theme park, as well as many museums, including ABBA and a giant park. In my stroll through the park, I wandered into a small dreamland for me. A huge hedge labarynth sprung out of my forest path and I cleared my head as I walked its maze. The maze happened to be of a different layout than I am used to which was a plesant surprise.
Then I found myself in a sprawling sustainable garden. Complete with a cafe and large beautiful grounds for eating and having a picnic. There were apple and pear trees everywhere with ripe fruit, green houses, and a flower and vegitable garden. Obviously I took my lunch here and soaked in the nature and beauty of the grounds. Here was an integrated example of organic farming with public support and it looked great. Great pangs of longing to halt my travels and live an integrated lifestyle sprang up. The dream is alive and well, but I have more traveling and learning to accomplish first.
I hopped a plane to Gothenburg and was met by my good friend Johanna. We met under unusual circumstances in Kansas City; obviously guided by the universal intervention of one crazy neighbor banging on my door luring me down to the park with the “there is someone you just have to meet” line. It was slightly strange to realize we were both in Sweden and at the same time felt completly normal, like a year and a half hadent passed since our last contact and we weren’t in the states anymore. Johanna lives in Falkenberg on the western coast. A popular vacation spot for Europeans.
I arrived just past the vacation season, but it was still unseasonably warm and the water was still pleasant. I would say it was a nice mix between Seaside Florida, the planned community with quaint pastel beach homes, and a summer on cape cod. White sandy beaches, about 80F and slightly cooler ocean temperatures, anyone from the northeast wouldnt have even noticed the difference. I was surprised to put “summer ocean retreat” and Sweden together, but alas Sweden doesnt really come onto the radar much for Americans with our own summer destinations much closer to home.
Johanna works at the spa hotel on the beach and was kind enough to take a vacation for my visit. We ate some local food, went mushroom hunting in the pristine local woods (they also have loads of moss as well!), gathered various fruits from the multitude of fruit trees all over the city, rested our feet and caught up over long conversations.
We took a day in Gothenburg to ride roller coasters, a Sunday in fact because apparently the world turns upside down on Sundays. First the busses and trains are all off schedule. They arrive on opposite side of the tracks, to many a persons confusion, and yet things very much went our way. On the train we met our new friend Will, a travel writer from Colorado, exploring Sweden’s coast. We would later be on the same flight to Copenhagen and spend a few hours conversing about many topics. Once arrived at the theme park, we were often ushered to the front of lines so that other larger groups could ride together. We got soaked, we conqured fears of heights and we laughed so hard it hurt. Peoples faces and screams provide such good humor I quite forgot how much laughter is involved in rollar coasters. And laughter if you didn’t know makes you happy and creates the same state as meditation. This pretty much sucsessfully concluded my activities and tour of Sweden. A wonderfully enjoyable feast for the eyes with much more to explore.
While speaking with Will on the topic of writing, as I am just getting used to these blog posts and my writing skills, I didnt really know how to address Sweden other than my talking points above. I wasn’t moved tremendously by any event special to Sweden. The city was magically beautiful and I enjoyed all that sprang into existence, but my writings are to be about revelations and walking the path. Will advised me that if you dont know what to write, write the truth. Thus the truth is something else happened to me while in Falkenberg which consumed a full day and was personal to me. However the topic is a global and practical one which I now see much benefit in trying to address.
Managing your health and energy, with awareness. Coming in part 2