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.
As easy to manage as the city was, we still got that delicious sensation that we were somewhere foreign. For one thing, we saw no other Americans, and people thought we were Swedish. For another, while everyone spoke impeccable English, signs were written in Swedish, and maybe it's because I traffic in words for a living, but I love the Swedish language. They call an elevator a hiss, which had us ridiculously hissing the word--"Hisssssss! Hisssssss!"--every time we rode one. Instead of pull, doors are labeled drag, though not often enough. (Sweden, in my limited experience, has yet to realize that doors that push open shouldn't have handles. It leads folks like me to tug awkwardly, especially after we've had a glass of wine.) And the word chickybits, which we spotted on a street-food stall, makes me giggle just thinking about it.
The shorter your trip, the less you should feel like you have to see everything--because you can't. Whether that's true or not, it gave us a nice excuse to laze about the hotel room. The front desk clerk, bless her, had upgraded us. (She didn't know that I work at Budget Travel, or that I was writing an article.) Our new room was remarkably small, but if the floor plan posted in the room was any indication, we got very lucky. We still found it relaxing, if only because there weren't unpacked moving boxes in the corner.
We also decompressed at Sturebadet, a grand day spa, where we each had 20-minute massages--all they had available--and pondered using the gym. This will make me sound like a prude, and for obvious reasons I probably care less than most men, but I was shocked to see that women work inside the men's locker room. There's nothing like a trip to Sweden to make you realize you're not as progressive as you think you are.
Three days just might be the ideal amount of time to get jolted out of one's routine. Any longer and we'd be in rehab: We don't really drink before dinner anymore, but we did on this trip--at Berns Hotel, a neat old building, and Fräcka Halvpannan, a restaurant in Söder (as locals call Södermalm, the hipster neighborhood) where our waiter was friendly to the point of perky. We don't drink after dinner, either, but that didn't stop us from going for a Carlsberg at Pelikan, an old beer hall in Söder.
We drank, in part, because we couldn't get into a restaurant we wanted to eat at. We had read that you need to call ahead, especially on weekends, but we didn't pull it together to actually make reservations (see the part about decompressing, above). Sometimes we waited until a table was available, like when we went to Tranan, just north of the city center. I had the pork sausage, with potatoes drowning in cream; they were the richest thing I have ever eaten, and I'm no stranger to the dairy aisle. Another night, we planned on trying a restaurant called Matkultur, but the wait was an hour and 20 minutes, so we backtracked to a little Italian joint we'd passed, Zucchero. It reminded me of the kind of place where I'd eat when I was fresh out of college: The pasta was no more than fine, but it was fairly priced, the crowd was fun, and the room was done up in Italian kitsch.
In another way, our trip to Stockholm was serendipitous. Every other shop there seems to be selling exactly the kind of housewares you buy when you've moved into a new place only to realize you hate everything you own. For some reason, we were on a quest for place mats. We bought plastic ones, based on Josef Frank fabrics, for $5.50 apiece at upmarket Svenskt Tenn in Östermalm, and woven ones for $3 at Granit, which is like Crate and Barrel with a cooler, more organic, almost Asian sensibility. The other two stores that made an impression on us were DesignTorget, a showcase for cutting-edge design where we bought pillowcases with electric guitars silk-screened on them, and Asplund, where I couldn't pass up a coffee mug illustrated with hippos. For the first time in awhile, thinking about our apartment became fun.
Before we'd come to town, I had asked the photographer who'd be shooting this story, Martin Adolfsson, for advice on his city. I had never met Martin, but it turned out that he and his girlfriend were having a housewarming party the weekend we were there, so he e-mailed an invitation. I can count on one hand the times I've been invited to see how people in other countries truly live. I can also remember exactly the look on the face of the front-desk clerk at the Nordic Light when I asked her to translate the directions on the invitation. Martin had made it himself, using a photograph of Dave Chappelle as Rick James; IT'S A CELEBRATION BITCHES!!! was blazoned across the top in multicolored type.
The party brought out our insecurities. Martin is 24, and we were sure he'd have hip, creative friends who would make us feel like yuppies at best, fogies at worst. The other guests were indeed hip and creative, and I didn't help matters when I said that we'd found Östermalm to be particularly charming.