“Stockholm is the greatest city in the world,” I declared on Facebook after a night of drunken revelry in Södermalm with my Norwegian friend, her German friend and her German friend’s Swedish boyfriend. We went bar hopping, drank a lot of beer, I lost my wallet in a drunken haze, and then found it again in aforementioned haze, and danced to trashy 80s Swedish pop at a divey club — so overall it was a great first night in the Nordic capital. We also got to have dinner that night with my brother who had, coincidentally, moved to the city in July.
Thinking back to Stockholm, a bit over a month ago now, how much I enjoy visiting a place is pretty circumstantial. My experience changes depending on whether I’m alone or with a partner; with friends or with strangers; hanging out with other foreigners or mingling with locals; what the weather is like; whether I’m there for a particular reason; being able to communicate easily with people I meet. I know this all sounds obvious but actually I don’t think it is at all and having good travel experiences requires a bit of planning, a bit of luck, probably the right people for the time, as well as patience and tolerance. Sometimes I hear people say, “I hate London/Rome/Bangkok” etc, and I can’t help but think that for such big and diverse places, there are a hundred ways to experience them. (I obviously have a bias towards big cities, and spend most of my time travelling in urban areas.)
I enjoy going back to the same places to see how I find them at a different point in my life. I won’t have the same thrill of experiencing something for the first time but a return visit is rarely disappointing and, if anything, I come away with a clearer impression. Given finite time and money, which places are worth returning to? Sometimes an incredible travel experience actually doesn’t need to be repeated. Aside from the obvious reason of visiting friends, I suppose I go with a vague instinct that I need to come back to a place. I might’ve liked it a lot and there was something about it that left me wanting more, or it could even be that I didn’t enjoy the place as much as I could have and I felt for sure that I could enjoy it better a second time.
All of the above is part of the thinking that brought me back to Stockholm on my long cross-contintental journey to Belgium (which I will finally get to in my next post). In 2011 I stopped over in Stockholm and my trip started off being a little discoloured by the completely unexpected and unwelcome encounter with an ex-boyfriend who was on the same plane as me from Helsinki to Stockholm. The next day I walked around the old city (Gamla Stan) with the slight fear I’d bump into him again. Otherwise I had a good impression of the place, especially as I visited at the height of summer. Two days was clearly not enough time to see much.
Not surprisingly, I experienced the city very differently with my Norwegian friend Ingrid. For one night it was THE GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD and I really felt a travel high. I came down after that and for the rest of the three days I mostly felt that it was a GREAT city that I would like to re-visit again sometime — maybe even next year if my brother is still around. Some of the highlights this time included a huge park in Skanstull I hadn’t noticed last time; a boat tour of Stockholm’s archipelago; the Vasa museum with the reconstructed ship which is awesome in the true sense of the word; the Fotografiska museum; and a fancy lunch on Strandgarten, one of the most exclusive streets in the city. (Thanks Ingrid!)
We also took a full day out of our long weekend to go to Uppsala, which had an annual festival called ‘Kulternatten’ or ‘culture night’. I went to another version of a culture night recently called Nuit Blanche in Brussels, and these events are giving me great ideas for what might be worth bringing back to Sydney in the future.
Uppsala is a town not far from Stockholm and it was refreshing to get out of the big city to see another slice of Swedish life. We went with a friend of my brother I knew from back home, and the three of us spent the day wandering around the university town and checking out the different exhibitions and entertainment on offer. There wasn’t anything in particular worth writing home about, and it had quite a small town feel, but it was sunny and congenial. We spent time on the streets, in gardens, in a cafe and made sure to visit the grand cathedral. We even went to a scrapyard, which had live bands and found art as part of the festival. Of late, cultural festivals seem to be all about finding new spaces to make public.
Our night was capped off by a folk music performance in one of the beautiful university buildings, and that was a bit of a highlight — Sweden is famous for its pop and rock in the English speaking world, but there’s a whole traditional side too which was nice to hear. Ingrid is in the folk music scene so it’s a genre she knows well and I’ve always appreciated learning about European folk music from her.
The one other person I caught up with this time was a new friend from TEDActive earlier this year, and it was great to see him in another time and place. Whenever I have a meet-up like that I can’t help but reflect how incredible it is to be a traveller in the age of the internet/Facebook. And in fact, in the very last hour of my time in Stockholm, I called my parents on Skype from my brother’s apartment — and they were able to speak to us both at the same time which hadn’t happened since we were all under one roof back in Sydney. It’s mindblowing the way the internet reduces distances, making the world smaller and so much more connected.