Europe on the Quick: A Long Weekend in Stockholm
In winter, airfares to Europe, and Scandinavia in particular, drop dramatically. Then again, so does the temperature. Would you want to spend 10 days there, strolling city streets in a parka? Perhaps not. But a long weekend can be absolutely refreshing, as Erik Torkells discovers in Stockholm.
The cardinal rule of a long-weekend getaway: Don't do anything to make it less long--like miss your flight. My partner, Adam, and I took the subway to JFK airport, feeling pretty good about ourselves for getting to the AirTrain transfer earlier than we'd expected on a Wednesday afternoon. I scanned the list of airlines and their terminals. Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines . . . . Where was Scandinavian Airlines, or SAS?
In Newark, it turns out.
I called SAS. "The flight to Stockholm is never delayed," said the agent, drolly. "Except tonight." It took us a total of six trains to get there, but we made it.
Having lived in a sublet while renovating a new apartment, Adam and I didn't travel much last summer, because there were always apartment-related things that needed to be done. And we didn't plan any big trips for after we moved in, because (a) renovating is expensive, and (b) we figured that all we'd want to do is savor finally being in our new place. But we found ourselves living inside a to-do list: Everywhere we looked, there was another task staring back.
We needed to get away. In honor of a certain special someone's birthday--mine--I proposed a quick trip to Stockholm. While we may not have wanted to spend 10 days in the Scandinavian winter, three sounded like a hoot. I've always believed that part of the reason people travel is so they have something fresh to talk about, and right away, it was a relief to focus on something besides, say, the fact that our new oven makes a strange booming noise when it hits 200 degrees.
I saw some appealing hotel/airfare packages, but bagged the package idea when I went to SAS's website. The airline was promoting a "Campaign Fare" on its home page: Newark (ahem) to Stockholm for $399, including all taxes. Our preferred dates were available, but every time I tried to book the flight, I kept getting error 140004. "Please try again later," the message said, so I did, every 15 minutes, convinced that someone was about to snap up the last two Campaign Fares. Eventually, I spoke with someone at the SAS offices in Sweden who knew how to fix the problem: I was entering myself as "passenger #1" and Adam as "passenger #2," but because Adam's last name comes before mine alphabetically, the system couldn't process it. That was a new one.
I bought the Time Out guidebook to Stockholm and checked out a bunch of hotels online. Adam likes a hip hotel, and the Nordic Light fit the bill. It had a weekend deal for $140 a night, but it was only valid Friday and Saturday nights. I e-mailed asking if they'd kindly extend the rate to Thursday. One of the many benefits of traveling off-season is that hotels get much more flexible.
Was it cold? Yes, generally about zero degrees Celsius--the sole Celsius temperature anyone can convert easily. Was it dark? The sun never got high in the sky, and it set around 4 p.m. The city's beauty was often accentuated by the long dusk: Restaurants place a pair of candles outside their doors, the very definition of a warm welcome.
Was it fulfilling? Was it ever.
Stockholm, situated on 14 islands, is geographically blessed: Walk 15 minutes and you'll probably end up with a water view. We didn't have a lot of preconceived notions about the city, and consciously didn't do a lot of advance planning. What was the point of trading one to-do list (our apartment) for another (guidebook essentials)? We mostly wandered, getting a real thrill when we'd happen upon something monumental. On the way to Gamla Stan--the old town, crisscrossed with narrow lanes--we passed a hulking brick building. I insisted we check it out, only to discover it was Stadshuset, the city hall. We entered a majestic courtyard, then passed through another set of arches, to a terrace area that runs right down to the water. It was like Venice for people who can handle the cold.
Considering we'd never actually follow through on it, Adam and I spent a lot of time talking about moving to Stockholm, coming to the optimistic conclusion that we'd be happiest in the upscale neighborhood of Östermalm. Two parts, in particular, struck our fancy: Strandvägen, a waterfront street, and Karlavägen, a broad avenue with a park down the middle, like Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. On Karlavägen, we stopped for lunch at the fussy little Café Foam. Seated next to us were three overly groomed young men and a woman with a Chihuahua dozing in her lap, forcing us to reconsider exactly how well we'd fit in.
Stockholmers, generally, were just lovely. The day we arrived, we went for panini and double espressos at Tintarella di Luna, a café in the city center. A woman overhearing our conversation recommended several places we should see during our stay. At the time, we were surprised, but then it happened again and again: Locals would offer suggestions, or help us if we looked lost.