The D&O Diary’s European mission continued last week with a stop for meetings in Stockholm, Sweden’s beautiful capital city and the largest city in Scandinavia. I know from experience that the weather in Europe in March can either be great or it can be awful. Just the same, I couldn’t have predicted the weather in Stockholm last week. The word that comes to mind is – magical. For three straight sunny days, the temperatures were in the 60s, with crystal clear blue skies and only the gentlest of breezes.
Let’s put this weather into perspective. At 59 degrees north latitude, Stockholm is really far north. By way of comparison, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is only at 50 degrees north latitude. While I was actually getting a little sunburned in Stockholm, it snowed – twice – back home in Cleveland (located at 41 degrees north latitude). The funny thing is, I had several different conversations with locals who were upset because the winter in Stockholm was so awful – no snow! It hardly even got cold this winter! And Spring, in March? What’s up with that? (Stockholm is also further east than you might think. Stockholm is at 18 degrees east longitude; Berlin, by comparison, is at 13 degrees east longitude. Stockholm is both the furthest north and – excepting only Asia – it is the furthest east I have ever traveled.)
Stockholm has the essential charm, character and history you would expect of a venerable European capital city. But there is also something about its location on the Baltic Sea that in my mind makes Stockholm distinct, almost exotic. Stockholm is wreathed in water. With the brilliant blue skies and the waterfront buildings reflecting off the water’s surface, there were times during my visit when the city itself seemed to be floating on the water (as reflected in the picture at the top of this post). And as a by-product of Sweden’s now centuries-old pacifist history, its architectural legacy is unusually well preserved.
Stockholm has a population of about 1.3 million, roughly the size of San Diego –but comparisons to the American city (or really to any city) are difficult because of the way Stockholm is arranged. Its physical area is one-third water and one third-parks. As a result, the city’s texture is surprisingly varied. Gamla Stan, the city’s extraordinarily intact old town, is laced with narrow, cobble-stone alleyways and full of shops and restaurants. The Baltic Sea connects to Lake Mälaren through a series of locks where Gamla Stan links to Södermalm, the city’s densely populated southern island. During my visit, I made my way to Tantolunden, one of the city’s many huge parks, on Sodemalm’s southern side. A collection of small holiday houses sits along a south-facing hillside in the park, each with its own garden (pictured below). The warm sunshine had drawn out each garden’s early spring flowers in a colorful profusion of crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils.
As enjoyable as it is to walk around the city, the necessity for using public transportation quickly became apparent. I am a big fan of using public transportation when I travel, but I have to admit that had to work up my nerve to use the Stockholm subway (Tunnelbana). The city transit map looked like a colorful bowl of spaghetti. And then there are the station names – well, they are all in Swedish. None of the station names are pronounced the way they look. One of the stations with a relatively simple name near my hotel was “Hötorget,” which is pronounced “Heur-tor-jeh(t)” (sort of). But I managed to overcome my trepidation. It turns out the system is relatively easy to use and quite efficient. The subway system has also been called the world’s largest underground art gallery; many of the stations are dazzlingly colorful.
On Saturday, I was confident enough in my mastery of the transit system to take the Tunnelbana to Drottningholm Palace, the Swedish royal palace and residence of the current monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Regrettably, I did not see the King while there, nor any other member of the royal family. The palace is beautifully situated on the water and within immense parklands, but during my visit the trees and formal gardens were still in their winter dormancy. Further away from the actual palace itself, the park walkways were quite deserted. The woods and gardens had a quiet, austere beauty. I can only imagine how spectacular the grounds are in the summer months.
There is another palace in the city center, known simply as the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet), within Gamla Stan, across from the Parliament Building. This palace apparently is no longer used as a residence; I was told that this one is where the King works. Which made me wonder, what kind of “work” does a king do? I picture King Carl answering his email, putting together a spreadsheet listing his various palaces, and sending text messages to the other European royalty (say, to Prince Charles: “Sup dog? When u gonna b king???”)
There are a lot of great reasons to visit Stockholm, but one of the best is the food. I had several great meals there. For example, I had a terrific Asian fusion meal one night in an unusual food court near my hotel, called K25. (The name is a reference to the food court’s street address, Kungsgatan 25.) The basic idea of the place seems to be casual dining as theater. There are eleven food vendors in the center of the hall, and along the back wall is stadium style seating, affording an agreeable view of the food court scene. This perspective allowed me to observe that I was easily double the age of just about everyone in the place.
I did also enjoy some traditional Swedish food, as well. On my first night in Stockholm, I traveled by ferry with several industry colleagues to Restaurant J, a beautifully situated waterfront restaurant, where I enjoyed a plate of reindeer carpaccio, served with cloudberries and beets. And on Friday night, I had a traditional Swedish meal at Gunnels Krog, a small restaurant in Gamla Stan. For my main course, I had – wait for it – Swedish meatballs (pictured), made from moose meat and served with ligonberries, pickles, and cauliflower, with a bowl of potatoes on the side. I am not sure what kind of wine Hugh Johnson would recommend with moose meat, but I had a nice Côtes du Rhône. I also enjoyed the opportunity to chat with the restaurant’s charming proprietress, Gunnels Angberg, who is one of those special people who manages to show that she absolutely loves what she does and that she wants to share it with everyone. It was a truly memorable meal.
I want to thank Sverker Edstrom and Carl Bach of Navigators for inviting me to Stockholm to participate in their very successful broker event. Stockholm is a terrific place and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit.
I know I got lucky with the weather. I took advantage of it. I think I walked a couple of dozen miles in Stockholm and I took hundreds of pictures. I have set out a small sample of them below.
I know that it is very immature of me, and perhaps even ignorant, but I found some of the Swedish words and phrases to be funny.