I visisted Stockholm on a whim to be totally honest — I knew I’d be in Greece for a wedding, and wanted to fly nonstop to a city in Europe I’d never been to before and spend a few days there. Flights to Stockholm were cheap, so why not give it a shot?
Little did I know I’d be visiting Stockholm during “midsummer,” a time in which there’s no escape from the sun because it never sets. If you’re like me you’d heard about this phenomenon, but if you’ve never experienced it firsthand it’s incredibly jarring.
For midsummer many stores and restaurants adjust their hours to a later, more Mediterranean schedule. From around 8 PM to sometime early in the morning, the city takes on an eerie glow. I knew I’d have some jet lag flying in but it’s much worse when the sun doesn’t have the decency to disappear at night.
First things first: the language barrier. This wasn’t an issue; almost everyone spoke English, though some were more reluctant to practice than others. Not all written information is available in English but this never seemed to matter much.
Second, make sure you bring a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. Cash isn’t accepted in many places in Stockholm, and you can pay for almost anything with credit cards — even things like pay toilets and vending machines take plastic. Some stores require you to present an ID with your credit card if it doesn’t have a PIN associated with it.
From the Stockholm Arlanda airport I picked up an SL Access public transit card and loaded a seven day pass on it. This card lets you on the local buses, the T-bana (subway), the commuter rail, and the ferries. Getting around is pretty straightforward with Google Maps but unfortunately Google hasn’t yet added ferry routes to its transit directions. FYI: It takes a little “travel hacking” but you can get out of paying airport surcharges on the commuter rail if you ask how at the airport information desk.
I found Swedes tend to be friendly but usually pretty quiet. This has its advantages, mainly that you can ride the subway without being forced to overhear loud conversations. Come to think of it I guess their demeanor is kind of like their furniture — pleasant but not trying to stand out.
Stockholm itself is a city of contradictions. Food is everywhere, but there’s not much Swedish food to be found (with the exception of cinnamon rolls.) There’s an enormous royal palace, but it’s barely used and the royal family isn’t well liked. Most businesses don’t take cash, yet the country declined to switch to the Euro. Alcohol is only sold at government stores, but drunks roam the streets at all hours. Swedes might seem reserved, but I’m told going to nude saunas with your friends and family is a big part of their lives.
Every culture has its quirks of course, but I didn’t expect to find so many in just a week. What makes these cultural elements stand out like a sore thumb is I’m writing this blog post from a hotel overlooking Monastiraki Square in Athens. People are eating junk food and drinking beer while loud music plays from every direction in almost unbearably hot weather; I’m trying to write about Sweden from a place that had might as well be the anti-Sweden.
In the next post I’ll go into detail on some of the places I went, tours I attended, etc. in Stockholm.