stockholm // day 1

I take the 160 bus, this time to Gullmarsplan. From the latter, I board the 17 metro to T-Centralen (which, by the way, is pronounced T-Centrollin, with a rolled ‘r’). At 11am, I meet my group for a tour of central Stockholm. Our guide, Lee, explains that Stockholm’s many islands were built on trash over time. Lovely. He leads us through Queen Street, named after Queen Christina, infamous for her sexually-ambiguous appearance. We pass by no less than three different H&M stores, all within fifty meters of each other, and Lee also points out H&M’s headquarter offices located above one of the shops.  He then briefly mentions IKEA, the other famous Swedish brand, which allows him to bring up the topic of Swedish-Danish rivalry. Indeed, it appears IKEA names its rugs after Danish cities so that people can walk all over them... Queen Street is also the home of Pub, the department store where Greta Garbo used to work as a young adult, before she moved to Hollywood and changed her name (I had no idea she was Swedish!). Next, we walk over to Hotorget (literally: ‘hay market’), the square that hosts Stockholm’s Concert Hall, in which Nobel are prizes given out.

After the tour, I take the tunnelbana to Södermalm, the city’s hippest place to be. On my way to lunch (I know exactly where I’m going for that), I pass by Bonne mécanique, a super cool bike café, repair shop and hangout spot. I venture inside, but not for too long, since it’s slightly awkward to be in the place when I have neither bicycle to fix nor coffee to buy.

I settle down at Blä Lotus, a delightfully bohemian and vegetarian café-restaurant. Everything looks appetizing, so it’s really difficult to choose, but I end up getting the feta and vegetable quiche, served with salad and pesto-covered bread. The delicious 85 SEK meal includes a cup of tea of your choice (jasmine for me!) and unlimited homemade lemonade. With its friendly, relaxed atmosphere, I highly recommend Blä Lotus and would return any day.

Also in Södermalm, I pay a visit to Pet Sounds and Record Mania, two fantastic record stores, as well as to Konst Ig, an art bookstore with typography and packaging compendiums to feast your eyes on. In the area, I also find Colors of Africa, with its lovely collection of home accessories produced by African artisans.

It’s now time for my second tour of the day, also with Lee, but this time of the Södermalm area. Lee first takes us up some stairs for a gorgeous view of Stockholm, with the Baltic Sea in the foreground. We learn Söder is truly a creative hub, and in addition to attracting many designers and artists, it is also the home of video game developers (does Candy Crush ring a bell?). On the tour we see Katarina’s Church and Maria Madgalena Church. At the end of the tour, Lee points out house number 1 on Bellmansgatan 1, which is where Mikael Blomkvist lives in Steig Larson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!
Random fun facts about Sweden to remember for the next pub quiz:
  • Latte Papas are what Swedes call dads on paternity leave. They’re easy to spot, with their strollers and, you guessed it, lattes.
  • Speaking of coffee - or fika as they call it here - Swedes are the second largest consumers of coffee in the world (after Finland), drinking an average of 3.5 cups a day. And according to Lee, coffee isn’t actually as bad as some factions make it out to be. Considering how healthy Swedes are, I’m ready to believe that, despite its addictive quality, coffee indeed is beneficial to one’s physical wellbeing. Still, I’ll stick to decaf tea and caffeine-free frappuccinos (aka milkshakes).

Other shops I go to in Södermalm:
  • Afro Art - Colorful, ethnic objects of good taste!
  • A local supermarket - Visiting a local chain grocery store is, I believe, one of the best ways to imbibe yourself with the culture of the place you’re visiting. Seriously - they should have tours of supermarkets in different cities (business idea right there!). In addition to having a beautiful selection of breads, this grocery store also sells many appetizing frozen meals and exotic cookies.
  • Papercut - a bookstore filled with lustworthy coffeetable books (including the one on Wes Anderson I’m dreaming about) and independent magazines such as Kinfolk, Milk, Cereal and Gather.
  • Nitty Gritty - Ultra-stylish men’s clothing store. Perfect for your hipster significant other. Or non-hipster significant other to whom you’re trying to give a makeover.
  • Widdergalswag - Retro furniture! Prepare to be immersed in the world of Mad Men and all things formica.


My third - and last - tour of the day (again, with the wonderfully charismatic Lee) is one of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. Here are some highlights of this picturesque - and unavoidably touristy - neighborhood:
  • Brantingtorget - a circular, peaceful square in the heart of Gamla Stan. A well-kept secret I’m willing to share with you all!
  • Stockholm Cathedral
  • Royal Palace - with its 600 rooms, it’s said to be the largest in the world in front of Buckingham Palace. Looks a lot like Versailles, actually.
  • St. George and the Dragon - impressive statue built to commemorate a battle between Swedish and Danish. There’s another version inside the Stockholm Cathedral, but you’ll have to wait until my post about my visit of the cathedral itself to see it!
  • Street where ABBA used to live before they made it big - I don’t remember the name of the street, but the house number is 21!
  • Järnpojke (Little Boy Looking at the Moon) - Also known as the Iron Boy, this is the smallest public statue in Stockholm. It was created by the Swedish artist Liss Eriksson in 1954, and can be found on Bollhustäppan, behind the Finnish Church. During the wintertime, people will dress him with a miniature knitted hat and scarf. There’s also the tradition of leaving coins by his feet for good luck! But no worries: if you’ve no change to spare, it’s also acceptable to rub his little head.
  • Stortorget (literally: “The Big Square”) - Postcard-worthy square surrounded by cafés and colorful buildings.
  • German Church - Beautiful church.
  • Marten Trotzigs Gränd - The narrowest street in Gamla Stan. It’s only 35.4 inches wide at its narrowest point!
  • Jarntorget (Iron Square) - Another cute square.

It’s 5:30pm, which means most museums are either closed or about to do so. However, I manage to find exhibits at Kulturhuset that are open until 7pm. The first one, ‘Asylum’, I immediately love. The space is filled with pieces by designers who have followed in the footsteps of Elsa Schiaparelli and her innovative vision. Highlights include intricate knitwear by Sandra Backlund, works by Martin Margiela and Ann-Sofie Back. The second, ‘Robin Rhode Island: The Sudden Walk’ features works by South African street performance artist Robin Rhode.

For dinner I get a tuna salad mackor (70 SEK) at String, a recommendation of both my guidebook and a few travel bloggers. With its warm, eclectic decor and relaxed atmosphere, it’s definitely up to par with Blä Lotus. And though my sandwich is slightly less refined, it’s very good and I’m impressed by the fact the tuna salad is homemade (you can tell it was just made that day).

My night ends at Big Ben, a local meetup place for Anglophone expats in Stockholm. They have free comedy on Thursday nights, which is precisely why I’m there. In addition to experiencing a night out with locals, I also get to hear some really great performers. Many of the jokes revolve around the cultural differences and subsequent misunderstandings between Swedes and Americans/Brits, which makes them all the more hilarious because I’ve lived through some of them myself. The last two comedians perform in Swedish, which is slightly awkward for me, but I manage to make the best of it by laughing along with everyone else!

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