Once off the boat, we took a cab to our apartment, in the nice neighborhood of Norrmalm, in the northern part of Stockholm. Of course, all of Stockholm is nice—that’s kind of its thing, but Harper and I didn’t really enjoy it there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great city, but we had no Lasse or Carl. With no Nordic spirit guide to show us the city from the local side, we were adrift as tourists, traveling through the city but not really connecting to it, and tried as we might, we were unable to crack the shiny veneer and break through to a place that felt more real to us. (It also didn’t help that I accidentally booked us probably the only room in Stockholm without wifi, so we had no way to research activities from the apartment, thus forcing us out when we would’ve wanted to stay in.)
And really, we wanted to be back in Tallinn, and were resentful that our trip kept pushing us forward when really we had just wanted to stay where we were. But where could we even direct that resentment? On our first night, while trying and failing to find a cool place to get dinner and a drink, Harper became furious at Stockholm, and I understood his anger—everything is expensive, there’s no free wifi, the people here are distant, it’s not Estonia. After we ate dinner, we were able to trace the outrage back to hunger and heartbreak, and thought we’d better sleep it off.
The next day was better, though this was the day when I learned what the exchange rate was, and so unfortunately the prices were no longer meaningless numbers and instead became punch lines (the whole “Sweden is expensive” thing is no joke). But we returned to Café Saturnus, a wonderful café nearby that was recommended by both our wonderful AirBNB host Josefin and also by Lasse, where they sell ostentatiously large cinnamon buns and the lattes come in bowls (trés French). We opened our eyes and realized that Swedish men are absurdly good-looking, and that you can reliably get free wifi at 7-11, and so we found ourselves milling outside the chain several times a day, catching up on email and Facebook (pathetic, I know) and researching places to go.
And our AirBNB, though wifi-less, was lovely and calming. The host, Josefin, greeted us when we got there to show us around, then went off to her summer cottage by a lake. She was a deeply sweet woman, her home clean and welcoming. She had put together a binder full of her favorite places in Stockholm—museums, restaurants, parks, with notes on what she liked the best. Tracking my favorite parts of a city is something I do digitally, and I loved having the print analog at our fingertips. Staying in the home of someone that we knew to be so delightful felt like being wrapped in a cocoon of safety and love.
Stockholm does green spaces really well, and by far my favorite place was the Djurgården, one of the islands that makes up the city with an absolutely gorgeous park on most of it. We went there because Josefin had highly recommended it, and we figured that even if we didn’t like Stockholm all that much, we did really like parks. And it was perfect—we walked along the shore and found a lovely tree bowing out over the water, inviting us to sit. The water is so peculiarly dark in Stockholm, and when the sun came out it added real drama against the blue skies.
Soon after, we departed from the water’s edge and took a path over a hill covered in tall grasses and flowers, and happened across a colony of sleepy snails (or maybe they weren’t sleepy, it’s really hard to tell with snails.)
This got me thinking about how slugs and snails are so similar, yet one is infinitely more charming than the other (it’s the snails), and then I wondered if slugs are even aware of this fact—or are they even aware of snails? It also reminded me of a conversation I had back in Mauritius with Rick about the difference between slugs and snails, and his concern and dismay when I pondered if putting a shell on a slug would turn it into a snail, something I didn’t realize how supremely stupid it was until I’d said it aloud.
After spending an inordinate amount of time in snail city, we continued on the path, and it opened up into an area that seemed to be part farm, part garden, and part park. There was a labyrinth with walls made of shrubs that got taller and thicker the closer they were to the center, reminding me of the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter. Nearby, on the edge of a field of crops in a line, there was a circle of tall trees and silvery bark, and we lay in the center and looked up for a good long while.
We continued on through a perennial garden full of peonies that would explode in a flurry of petals at the slightest touch, past a restaurant on top of a hill with an outside terrace that had a gorgeous view, to another restaurant by the water, with a large outdoor seating area where we got cappuccinos and read.
I was feeling better about Stockholm after this park, but I think the problem is that I don’t want to be in cities these days. I’ve had such an intense desire to be in nature, which is strange because I was never a particularly outdoorsy kid, but there you have it. Cities aren’t interesting to me right now, I want to be in smaller communities. So it was perfect that after two nights in Stockholm, I was headed to a small town an hour and a half north of Stockholm, for a week-long swing dance camp at Herrang, considered to be mecca for swing dancers from all over the world.