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My stay in Stockholm – 1 September 17, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Life experience, music, travel.
Tags: , , , , ,
Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

Boat moored at Skeppsholmen.

I had thought I would cover my Stockholm visit in one blog post. But as I went along in my long-winded way, I realized I needed to split it up. There will be one or two more pieces.

I spent a day and a half in Stockholm before my trip to Lapland and one more day when I came back. Here is Stockholm in a nutshell, for purposes of tourism: beautiful, walkable, sophisticated, cultured, expensive.

Everything seemed 1.5 to 2.0 times more costly than what I would have expected at home. But then again, everything seemed so clean, nicely presented, picturesque. On such a short visit, of course, I stayed within the major tourist areas. But as I walked around, one thing seemed odd: I would have expected to see a least a few beggars, a few homeless people. I saw only a handful of gypsies, and they were not begging. The usual line is that they don’t beg, they steal, working in pairs and using diversionary tactics. This is a controversial subject, and I am not in a position to judge.

In conversations with people on the Lapland trip, I learned that Sweden has a big income gap between rich and poor. Stockholm’s poor include many immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, and they live in the outlying neighborhoods—not where the tourists go, of course.

A high percentage of Stockholm residents work in service industries. There is no heavy industry there—which is why it is rated as one of the cleanest European cities. I felt relieved in some strange way when we passed through the steel mill town of Lulea in northern Sweden, on the way to Lapland. Actually, I already knew about Svenskt Stal AB, from days when I was working for the Financial Times and used to talk with SSAB’s coal buyer about the prices, sources, and tonnages of his supply. As we neared the Arctic Circle, our passenger train passed a freight train with car after car of iron ore pellets, to me an impressive sight.

And you just wanted to hear about nice places in Stockholm! Don’t worry, we’ll soon come to that. I am not promoting any political message here. I’m only expressing something about myself as a contrarian: that when everything looks so pretty and nice—and all the people look so healthy and smartly dressed—I can’t help wondering about the other parts of the picture.

So I got into Arlanda Airport around 7 :30 in the morning. As on many other international journeys, I found the airport completely lacking any local identity until I used the ladies room. Ah, European plumbing! Now things looked different—the door handles, the toilets.

I easily figured out the airport bus and soon arrived downtown at the central bus terminal, near the train station and also near the hotel I’d selected on Vasagatan, the appropriately named Central Hotel. They were kind enough to let me check in five or six hours ahead of time. The place was small and stylish. My room featured a large photographic mural over the bed.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

I think the mural must be of the train station in earlier years. I liked it.

There was also, interestingly enough, a set of free weights to keep my arm muscles in trim during my stay.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Also notice the fashionable telephone.

Soon I set out and somewhat randomly headed east. Along the way I passed a large map store. Perfect! I had planned to look for a map of Sarek National Park better than the one I’d printed out from a website. I got a lovely detailed topographic map which I featured in my recent series on Sarek. The reverse side had all sorts of helpful information—all in Swedish. However, I could somewhat catch the drift. One photo featured a very determined person using a pole to help him cross a swift-moving stream; another showed a woman happily aligning a compass with a map; and a third showed a party of glacier climbers peering anxiously into a crevasse. Now I was ready for Lapland.

I continued east and eventually found myself in Kungstradgarden, the King’s Garden. It was full of fountains, statues, and flowers.

A rectangular pool in the King's Garden.

A rectangular pool in the King’s Garden.

Fountain with statues of swans.

Fountain with statues of swans dribbling water from their beaks.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Beautiful gardens with beds in a geometric pattern.

Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

St. Jacobs Kyrka beyond the garden.

I walked past the church and noticed a sign board that told of free concerts in the church on Thursdays at 12 noon. Well, it was 10:30 on a Thursday. I would go! To fill the time until the concert, I found an outdoor cafe and had juice and a pastry. I was a bit jet-lagged, and it was good to sit in the shade.

The Lunchkonsert turned out just lovely. A pianist-composer named Joakim Andersson played three pieces. One was a lively work of his own composition called “Feux de follets.” Next came “Valse triste opus 44” by Sibelius, and the concluding work was by Selim Palmgren, sometimes called the “Finnish Chopin.” The work was his “Piano Sonata in D Minor.” It didn’t sound anything like Chopin, so I think that label for him is just one of those simple-minded epithets—he wrote compositions for the piano, as Chopin did, and he was Finnish. This piece was full of interesting textures, and I think he deserves to be better known.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

Selim Palmgren, 1878-1951.

As  I listened to the music, I basked in the atmosphere of the church. Like many of the best churches in Europe, it was built over a very long period of time, thus featuring a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, all blended harmoniously.

Next: Gamla Stan, happy folk dancers, more boats, and the Modern Art Museum.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.

Joakim Andersson, composer and pianist.


1. Kent Hackendy - September 17, 2014

Beyond all the beauty of the tourist centers is another city that wouldn’t be so pleasing to our senses. It’s appropriate that you took a moment to give reverence to the social inequities that still exist in our society.

The free concert sounds amazing. I love the mural of the old train station, being a bit of a train buff, myself.

Jenny - September 17, 2014

Thanks for the comment. It’s always interesting to see places in a broader perspective than a tourist’s.

2. Barbara Johnstone - September 22, 2014

I spent a week in Stockholm a few years ago. I rented an apartment that belonged to a woman who used to live there before moving upstairs in the building; she had left artwork on the walls and shelves full of books. It was a lovely place. Since I was cooking for myself, I discovered one food-and-drink thing about Sweden that reminded me of Pennsylvania: you can only buy wine at state-run stores, which are few and far between. Liquor laws are strict throughout Scandinavia, and I saw one reason for that in Stockholm: people passed out drunk in the middle of the day. I wonder why. Different genes? A brand of puritanism that makes people unable to do things in moderation?

Jenny - September 22, 2014

That’s an interesting question. Yes, I heard about the strict controls on alcohol in Sweden. Here in North Carolina we also have state-run liquor stores for hard liquor, but one can buy beer and wine at groceries and convenience stores. I can’t think of anything other than alcohol that is regulated so variously—differing from state to state in the US (and even from county to county in the Bible Belt) and from country to country. There does seem to be a strong tendency toward government regulation in Sweden, not just regarding alcohol, all out of the intention of fostering a healthy, clean environment. In my opinion, government regulation has less influence over people’s behavior than social ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable. Certain places in the world seem to look on heavy drinking as the norm. One tragic example of this is on Indian reservations in the US. I believe Russia has a high alcoholism rate as well—something that’s been part of the culture for a long time. It’s always a challenge to understand other cultures. Is Sweden especially puritannical? Not when it comes to sexual behavior, I don’t think.

Barbara Johnstone - September 30, 2014

I agree: local culture generally trumps the law. I can think of tons of cases in point; one particularly striking and disturbing one is described in Alice Goffman’s new book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City.

Brian Reed - September 30, 2014

I have been reading about 19th century reform movements lately so I had to look that one up. Apparently temperance movements were strong enough to pass laws only in Scandinavia and English speaking countries. An explanation that sounds convincing to me is that only these countries had two necessary ingredients. The first is a tradition of heavy consumption of spirits. What we would consider heavy drinking was once pretty much universal. But the effects of the advent of cheap, high proof distilling in the 18th century shocked many people. It was a lot like Russia still is where there is a severe impact on male lifespan and employability. The second ingredient is Protestantism and its concern with self-control. German Protestant are more beer drinkers. Russians and Poles drink lots of vodka but are not Protestants. Interestingly I believe women’s suffrage, closely related to the temperance movement, arrived first in Nordic\English speaking countries.

A supposedly effective Swedish campaign against prostitution and an Icelandic ban on internet porn have been in the news. Maybe there is still a bit of Scandinavian puritanism, if more from a feminist angle.

3. Brian Reed - September 30, 2014

Interesting observations Jenny. I think contrarians make better travel writers.

4. Jenny - September 30, 2014

Interesting about the necessary conditions for a temperance movement, Brian. I realize now that prohibitions on use of alcohol by certain religions—for instance varieties of Islam or, for that matter, Southern Baptists—are different in kind than the temperance prohibition, which comes more from social concerns than religious concerns. Or maybe it’s more complicated than that…

5. MIKE DESIMONE - October 6, 2014

Good to see one can keep up with their arm curls while brushing teeth!

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