Stockholm in August is a wonderful place to be. At least for us in the middle of the month. The days are still long, the nights are perfectly sleep cool, and the days turn warm enough to qualify as summer but not provoke heat stroke.
And the light is amazing. Certain places in the world have a certain quality about how the light illuminates the room, the trees, the place. Stockholm, in the morning and in our hotel room was one of those places of a relaxed visual grace.
The city of Stockholm was not what I expected it to be, although I am hard pressed to say what I was expecting. Something more lumberjacky perhaps. Something more rural rough but what I experienced was more 18th century refined restraint. I think maybe I was looking for a kinship to Portland, Oregon or Billings, Montana or even Seattle but I didn’t see it. I was limited in my mobility however due to a massive foot boot brace* so I didn’t see a lot away from the urban area close to the train station and the palace.
What I did see looked a lot like cities from the same era in France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland as well as Spain and Hungary.The same can be said of our journey (slow due to massive cobblestones) through the medieval quarter. They all basically look alike. I’ve understood intellectually that the idea of nation-states is a relatively late concept in our history. That cultivating a sense of national identity apart from other national identities was an artificial construct built up by passionate artists, musicians, writers, and politicians in the mid to late 18th century. But now that we’ve seen much the same building styles across national boundaries, much the same decorations of the royal palaces and elite clothing styles, and even how much the peasant class lived in similar ways, that I’ve come to apprehend just how much more Europe has been like itself then it has been different. Beloved points out that the differences come out more in language and in personalties, which is another day’s post.
Even so, there are variations. For one thing, there are 7-11 quick stores everywhere, unlike the rest of Europe. Also, many McDonalds, even outside of tourist zones. English is spoken everywhere, and surprisingly mostly with an American accent. German English tends to be a little more English English. Stockholm loves their cars. Our hotel was on a busy street which also seemed to function as the drag strip.We saw a number of classic American iron-on-wheels cruising up and down the street. We then slept six floors above the street, with the windows open, and listened to all the cars and the motor cycles who seemed to be significantly muffler impaired continue the slow parade till after midnight.
We also saw this – just parked on the street. Quick hops in and out of cities often creates more questions then answers. Like this car. As in, Why?
The best part of this trip was the day we spent taking a ferry out to Grinda, one of the islands in the magical archipelago off the coast of Sweden. At one time, Grinda was a summer camp for the children of Stockholm and it retains that natural feel of a rural retreat. Due to the walking boot, Beloved saw more of the Island then I but I found a quiet place to look down a field toward open water and watch the boats pass by. I’m pretty sure that summer in the islands completely makes up for January.
We took a slower boat back, one that stopped at islands all along the way as would-be passengers signaled for a passage. Which at 3 in the afternoon on a Sunday pretty much every stop. As we meandered our way back into town, we became surrounded by a fleet of motor and sail boats also turning their bows toward home. Monday was coming.
To say “hello” in Swedish, one says “Hey.” Which you’d think would be something that feels normal but it didn’t. “Hey” in American English is a very informal greeting, more of a catch-your-attention sound, “Hey, turn the lights out when you leave the room!” It can also be a very informal greeting, “Hey, nice to see you guys,” which is why its odd to walk up to a hotel desk and be greeted with, “Hey.” As in that’s all they say and when they say it, they say it more formally then we do.
We travel to learn something about another place and we travel to learn something about ourselves. I learned that while I can still wonder around while wearing a boot, I’m still short of proper tourist speed and I get grumpy when that happens. I learned that Stockholm’s story is more complex then I thought it would be, and there’s more for me to learn there.
Our last stop before heading for the airport was at one of the displaced National Museum art locations: the 100 best pieces of art in their collection. Thanks to Beloved’s persistence when I was ready to give it up, we found the original of a poster I’ve owned for years: Day of Celebration by Fanny Brate. It was lovely to see it up close. Much brighter, bluer in real life. It was also wonderful to see the highlights and individual brush strokes. This is one of the reasons I travel. So I could see this and smile. This may have been even at the time of its painting an idealized vision of family life but its still lovely. Do you see what I mean about the light?
*The sofa attacked my foot a few weeks ago by jumping in my way when I was heading for bed.