We spent about 9 days in Stockholm and were craving some “normalcy”, so we dialed back the tourist activities in favour of meeting up with friends, Zumba classes, personal projects on the computer, and some Netflix/Game of Thrones.
Everyone speaks English. Even though restauant menus and all signage is in Swedish, people are friendly and happy to help translate for you. And being a vegetarian wasn’t a problem – there were always a couple options at every restaurant.
Our AirBnB turned out to be huge, but very sparsely furnished (even though our host and his family supposedly live here during the year). It has the basics – bed, couch, etc. but could certainly use a coffee table in the living room and some kind of counter/surface in the bathroom. This left plenty of room for me to do Zumba, though, and the location was great.
That said, the sun rises at 3:45am and our bedroom faces east, apparantly. The first couple nights I woke up at 4am thinking it was midday. (Seriously, it was that bright.) So we improvised some curtains… they aren’t pretty, but they definitely helped us sleep!
We know quite a few app developers from our time at Apple, and it was really nice to meet up with them. I suspect the conversation was a lot more relaxed now that it wasn’t “official business”. (Though I still loved seeing their apps and couldn’t resist giving a bit of UI feedback.)
These were always people I enjoyed meeting, so it was nice to see the feeling was mutual, even though we no longer have ties to Apple.
Our friend Jonas grew up on Sodermälm and took us for an epic, 4 hour walking tour of the island. We saw the places where he grew up, heard us stories about his childhood, and he showed us secret vista points we never would have found otherwise. We ended with dinner at a spot in a park where you BBQ your own food. It was a great meal, a fantastic tour, and excellent conversation.
We spent another evening with some game developer friends who had left larger studios to start their own. We had an amazing vegetarian dinner and talked about all aspects of life in Sweden, game development, US politics, films, boats, travel, etc. It was a really nice, relaxed evening.
We also met up with a couple friends from Cupertino who were here on vacation – Stine and Isabel. Isabel and Stefan and I were on the last Tech Talks tour together, so we know we can trust each other’s taste in bars and restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner with some of Stine’s Swedish friends one night, and we also had some fun at the modern art museum, which I highly recommend:
We did spent one day playing tourist on the island of Djurgården. The majority of the island is covered with parks and walking trails. Everything was lush and green and very pretty. We took a leisurely route to a cafe that grows all its own produce for lunch. Along the way, we passed many different groups of geese with babies. One group decided to take a break in the middle of the path. As a woman walked by with her smallish dog, the dog, in typical fashion, charged at the geese – barking and straining at his leash. Well, the geese were having none of this and charged right back, pretty fiercely. The dog immediately retreated, and the woman basically had to lift up her dog by the leash (aka its neck) to get it away from the goose. I’m sure the dog will think twice before yapping at geese again. I couldn’t stop chuckling all afternoon.
Djurgården is also home to the Vasa Museum, which we went reluctantly went to. Neither of us gets fired up about old boats, but every Swedish person we knew (and a couple Danes) said we should go there, so we did. I have to admit, it was very interesting!
The boat was constructed in the 1600s and sank almost immediately on its maiden voyage because the king wanted more cannons than the boat could support. (We made many jokes about how this is a common metaphor for what happens in software design.) It wound up in a somewhat protected area, so the ship didn’t really deteriorate. In the 1960s, they were able to pull it out of the water largely intact. The ship is easily 5 stories tall, and while you can’t go inside, its still amazing to see it up close. It is impressively large – I will no longer think the size of the boats in Pirates of the Caribbean or Game of Thrones are exaggerated.
The museum also had a replica of one of the gun decks you could walk through. Despite the boat being huge, the ceilings were very, very low. Everyone must’ve been very short back then or had horrible backaches from hunching over all the time.
A few observations about Stockholm:
- Swedes love the sun but they don’t get much of it. So when its a nice day, you’ll see every patch of grass or dock on the water covered with people sunbathing, and the cafes overflow into the sidewalks to maximize seats in the sun. (Even 7-11 puts seats outside for their customers.)
- Swedish is a strange language… sometimes the words look very similar to English and are easy to understand, and sometimes they are completely unrecognizable. I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce anything, other than the standard greeting of “haaaaay” (which is pronounced kind of like a sassy gay man).
- They walk on the left, but drive on the right. The escalators all seem like they are on the wrong side to me.
- There are a lot more people asking for money here. They are far from aggressive (like the SF beggars) but its very visible – pretty much every ATM and supermarket and train station has someone sitting on the sidewalk with a cup. Our friends hypothesize that its due to the large influx of immigrants… it gives me new perspective on the immigration crisis.
Stockholm has really been a nice, relaxed time. I feel like I’m finally settling into the fact that I’m not working, and we were here long enough that I had time to do other things besides travel planning. While “normal life stuff” like laundry, grocery shopping, etc., all takes longer when its in a forgeign language, I also managed to do some of the things I never had time for when I was working… for instance, I might actually finish the book I started over a year ago! (Ha!)
I still sometimes feel guilty for not being more productive with my time – sitting at a coffeshop on a Tuesday afternoon somehow feels over-indulgent – but I’m trying to remind myself that it’s ok to just take it easy and enjoy myself for a bit.
Next up, we are headed to Finland for midsummer, including an overnight train ride to lapland where the sun never sets!