Just when I thought I was fairly familiar with Stockholm, a simple question reminded me that this city may be full of beautiful places that I have overlooked.
I have visited Stockholm many times for family reasons. Especially when I was a child, I would spend my summer, winter break, and Eid holidays here. One day, a friend of mine who was traveling to Stockholm asked if I could suggest a tour route of metro stations. This is when I realized that although I was well equipped concerning the latest information on local matters like where to have the car washed, where to go to pick mushrooms in September, and so on, I was totally out-of-date in terms of touristic Stockholm. This was not something to be ignored, especially for a travel journalist who thought she knew Stockholm well. This time, I am setting out with even more curiosity and my eyes open even wider!
I called Patrick, who I consider to be like a father to me, and said, “If it is convenient for you, this time I am coming to use your house like a hotel.” Although he seemed a bit upset that we would not be able to spend time together, he was immediately persuaded probably because of the packets of pistachios I take him every time I visit. He loves pistachios. Actually, the best of many things from design to food can be found in Stockholm -that is, apart from pistachios!
I set out early with my husband Bilgehan. Although our intention is to tour touristic Stockholm, first I want to take him around Stadsbibliotek that, for me, is full of memories. This library, with more than 1 million books in 100 languages including Turkish, was once an oasis for me because I did not know Swedish. It certainly doesn’t have a design that can compete with Hogwarts like some libraries in Europe. On the contrary, like all Swedish designs it earns its popularity because it is simple, functional, and accessible.
After touring around the library with memories of the past, we begin to follow our program for the day. Our plan is to visit the historical center of Stockholm and Sodermalm, the hipster neighborhood.
As a tour of Stockholm without a fika is unimaginable, we head for a café. Fika is roughly translated as a “coffee break” but it is actually a deep-rooted ritual that contains plenty of caffeine. It means to slow down, to set aside a moment for quality time. A take-away coffee or coffee drunk in a hurry in front of the computer is not really classified as fika. We order a coffee and begin to “recharge.” Accompanied by the famous Swedish cinnamon buns kanelboller, we are in an environment of total peace and pleasure.
Fika, in a sense, is the Swedes’ pursuit of a balance in their lives in the embodiment of coffee. This harmony is possibly the thing that characterizes Stockholm the most. In this city that was established with the merging of 14 islands, there is as much water as there is land, buildings as there is greenery, tradition as there is innovation, and productivity as there is enjoyment.
However, all this “slowing down” will certainly set us back: we have to tour Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace) in a hurry to get to the Gamla Stan tour that will begin in an hour. Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Although the royal family prefers to live in Drottningholm Palace, this is the official royal residence. The Parliament Building is adjacent to the palace. The quest for balance is felt here once again.
Out of breath, we finally reach the starting point of the free walking tour we found on the Internet. Gamla Stan is the place where Stockholm was established in 1252. This is one of the best preserved medieval settlement areas in the world. It is the first time I am on a tour of the narrow cobblestone streets that I have walked down many times, listening to the experiences of the past from a guide. Details such as that the garbage that was thrown from the windows in old Gamla Stan accumulated in the streets and was covered with soil, and, in certain places, Gamla Stan was built on this, appear to shock the audience. Since then, Sweden has recycled 99% of its own garbage -in fact, they even buy garbage from abroad for recycling. This deserves great credit!
Bidding our farewells to the old city after the tour, we head over to Sodermalm. The Fotografiska Museum is the most innovative museum I have ever visited. On the top floor, in the café, after touring around the four equally excellent exhibitions, we come across the magnificent view of Stockholm. We are hungry and the menu is tempting, but we are determined to save ourselves for Swedish meatballs.
As soon as we leave, we head towards the district’s famous meatball restaurant Meatballs for the People. The origin of the meatballs in Sweden may trace back to the Turks, but with the local ingredients and interpretation, a totally new flavor has emerged. There are meatballs on the menu made from a variety of different meats ranging from moose to beef. After satisfying our appetites, we restart our tour.
Sodermalm is the place that has the most artistic spirit in the entire city. I keep thinking to myself, “If I decided to live in Stockholm, this is where I would live.” It is a wonderful place to browse the vintage shops, record shops, and design stores; to see different people with their individual, unique styles; and to visit art galleries. Choosing one of the equally delightful cafés, we sit down for our second fika. We are in Sweden, one of the countries that consumes the most coffee per capita, so drinking three or four cups of coffee here is quite normal!
Although we haven’t had enough of Sodermalm, we leave because there are a few metro stations we want to visit. In the 1950s, metro stations began to be decorated with artwork so it would be accessible to people of all social classes. There are surprises welcoming visitors in almost 90 of the 100 metro stations here. Our favorites were Solna Centrum, T- Centralen, Stadion, Mörby Centrum, and Kungstradgarden. Of course, I don’t forget to send some photographs to my friend who was the reason for us going on this tour.
The next day, we visit Djurgarden, which was once the king’s hunting grounds, and today, plays host to several museums. The Vasa warship that was the treasure of the Swedish fleet sank just several minutes after it was lowered into the water in 1628. Before I see the Vasa Museum, I thought that it is just a sunken ship but it leaves a great impression on me both with the splendor of the ship and its modern approach to museology. I will definitely recommend coming here to anyone who asks!
I walk around Skansen, where I came many times during my childhood, this time with Bilgehan. The 150 traditional houses brought from all over Sweden that are on display here offer a unique picture of traditional life in Sweden of yesteryear. For example, when you enter the saddlemaker shop, you see somebody wearing traditional clothing making saddles using the old methods. I get just as much pleasure from this visit as I did in my childhood.
As the day comes to an end, we meet up with Patrick at the famous Nordic bistro Oaxen Slip. He asks me, “Duygu, you came here as a tourist this time, did you find the answers you were looking for?” When I reply positively, he says, “In that case, can we go back to collecting mushrooms together?” We all start to laugh.