I'll Take Sweden: Stockholm In Midsummer
“Skål!,” says our new friend Niclas, as he explains the origins of the Swedish toast — something to do with the Vikings’ using the skull of their vanquished enemy as a newly fashioned goblet — something not commonly found at IKEA. It was a drinking expression that also comes with intense eye contact, he says. “So your enemy won’t pull a knife on you,” he says laughing.
We took notes.
We were meeting with the Swedish native — now living in Manhattan — in preparation for our upcoming trip to Stockholm and receiving in-the-know tips for our first visit to the city of polysyllabic, consonant-rich names. My husband and I had never felt a compulsion to visit Stockholm in quite the same way that Paris, London, Barcelona and Rome beckoned us.
But in the last few years, spurred by gorgeous summertime photographs of the city, which is made up of a loose necklace of waterways and isles, we felt strangely drawn to the land of Garbo, ABBA, Absolut and Bergmans (both Ingmar and Ingrid).
As we’re no fan of wintry climes, our idea was to visit Stockholm in June, where it’s light 20 hours a day —and doesn’t really get dark, even for the remaining four. It’s not exactly a city that never sleeps, but it does take sensible naps.
“Sensible” is a useful word to describe things there. So is “useful” and “sustainable.” “Citizen-friendly,” works too, especially when it comes to its comprehensive health-care system. (Don’t get me started.) Taking in the clean streets, the great expanses of middle-class life, the ubiquitous pick-up-and-go electric scooters, countless parks and fountains, immaculate public bathroom cubes, the spotless subway stations — some of which are works of art unto themselves — and yes, all those meatballs smothered in rich, brown gravy (sorry, Grandma), I found myself falling for what seemed to be an especially civilized, cultured and socially sensitive life there. Was I being swept up in the Stockholm Syndrome — and did I care?
Lending to this spirit of a great society was the fact that we arrived on the eve of its summer solstice when folks there celebrate the longest day of light of the year the way we ring in the new year. Well, not quite the same. Swedes celebrate it by embracing the outdoor life with picnics, midnight swimming off of a grassy knoll at Långholmen isle and even wearing Puckish laurels in their hair — before heading out to the countryside to savor this stretch of endless days outside the city, among the vast archipelago and beyond. It was something we did, too, during our stay with a day’s boating excursion to Sandhamn, on the eastern edge just kissing the Baltic Sea.