The first time I heard the Swedish band Kent´s song ”Colombus”, I knew I wanted to go to Stockholm. This was probably very irrational, as I couldn´t understand anything they sang and the tune was really quite melancholy; desperately sad, even. A song like this shouldn´t awaken any sort of wanderlust, but for me it was like a tourism advertisement shot directly to the heart of my creative senses. And Stockholm, it turned out, was more or less on my way home.
Rendered poor by the merciless Norwegian economy, youth hostels were out of the question, and I found a wonderful host on my favorite travel website, CouchSurfing.com. Milla was a friendly, talkative woman from Finland, who welcomed me warmly into her small apartment in the suburb of Fruängen. After guiding me by SMS through a chaos of buses, trains, and subway stops, she greeted me with a huge hug and we walked through a beautiful park to find a CouchSurfing picnic in the balmy evening weather. Balmy? Sweden? Oh yes. The temperature constantly hovered around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. At around 21.00, children were still plunging into the surrounding lakes.
I had gotten up at 03.00 and was exhausted, so we said goodbye to the friendly CouchSurfers with promises to meet up again, and headed to Fruängen. The walls of Milla´s apartment were covered in pictures, posters, everything imagineable. We made some tea and spent hours talking about everything under the sun. She entertained me with stories revealing the horrors of Internet dating. Who would want to date a man who, due to a medical condition, is unable to laugh? A man with a head the size of an enormous pumpkin, who laughs hysterically at the suffering of others? A man who introduces you to his individual bookshelves, before revealing a tower in his living room constructed entirely out of empty raisin cartons? Milla was a great storyteller. I hadn´t laughed so hard in a long time.
It was even hotter the next day. I wanted to see Gamla Stan, the old city, and Milla was up for showing me around. We took various public transportation to a shopping district with beautiful, Swedish design shops. It must be said – Sweden absolutely owns interior design. A few hours in Stockholm make every other building you´ve ever seen look almost trashy in comparison. Someday, when I´m wealthy, I´ll buy all my furniture, wallpaper, and bathroom tiles in Sweden. (I wish.)
Gamla Stan was a beautiful collection of narrow cobblestone streets, ancient buildings filled with tiny shops, magnificent churches, palaces, and ice cream parlors. We wandered around for a few hours until suddenly, a thunderstorm descended on the city and we fled indoors to a cafe, where I tasted the best ice cream I have ever had. Really, all the food I ate in Stockholm was astoundingly delicious, especially in comparison to my previous experiences with Scandinavian food, both in Copenhagen and everywhere in Norway. Milla is a vegetarian, and knew all of the best organic, vegetarian restaurants. We ate incredible things.
Shortly after the thunderstorm, I noticed some men with heavy-duty video cameras and microphones, and flashed a huge smile in case it was being broadcasted publicly. They flagged me down. “What is your interpretation of the phrase “Swedish Table”?” they asked. Milla and I made up something random to the great amusement of the men. “What is this for?” we asked hesitantly. “Serbian television!” they exclaimed happily. Wow!
That night, we hesitantly made our way to a CouchSurfing BBQ hosted by someone we didn´t know– who ended up being one of the coolest women I´ve ever met! Betty was a combination textile designer/swim instructor, and lived in a small, incredibly artistic apartment complete with the complete collection of Finn Family Moomintroll coffee cups. A group of around 30 people of varying ages from all over the world gathered in her tiny yard to grill all imaginable kinds of food, from ribs to corn on the cob, and real American cornbread! Baskets of locally grown strawberries topped off the meal, which took upward of three hours to be prepared and eaten. In the meantime I got to test out my Turkish skills yet again (those are really coming in handy!) and get to know people from all corners of the globe. The people from the Middle East were so incredibly interesting and kind that I´m now inspired to travel there, although where and when, I have no idea.
A large group of middle-aged Canadians were desperate to go swimming around midnight, and we strolled down to the lakeside to see them off. We sat dangling our feet in the water, listening to the shrieks of elderly swimmers accenting the Stockholm skyline of countless towers and spires amid the dusky sky. It was beautiful. We ended up staying almost all night at Betty´s apartment, listening to her hilarious stories and eating slices of cucumber. Around 03.00, Milla and I set off towards Fruängen with Karolina, her friend from Kiruna, my host mom´s hometown. (Small world). We missed our bus and wandered through the sleeping city on foot towards the train station, taking in the sights of wasted Swedish teenagers attempting the trip home from Stockholm´s legendary nightclubs. It was quite a day.
The next day was spent drinking tea and laughing with Milla and Karolina, and the afternoon, wandering a scenic island and upscale part of Stockholm. I left the next morning, but with the best possible impression.