Sweden has a reputation for producing incessantly catchy pop music, modular furniture and the worst symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, but this country defies the stereotypes. The chefs here mostly speak English and, come summer, the country is bathed in light.
Sweden may not be balmy -- summer probably belongs in scare quotes this far north -- but it is relentlessly sunny and scenic. Not only do the stylish folks in Stockholm take to the street in extravagantly summery clothes, apparently making up for the rest of the year, but nature itself seems to relax slightly and pull off its sweater.
This is a country of forests and lakes and, outside of the capital, there is always something to do in nature and always Swedes doing it. During the recent Midsummer festival, it seemed appropriate that the women donned braided flowers because respect for nature is a large part of the national character. Swedish people love Sweden as a physical space not just as country.
In that spirit, switch your iPod to Robyn and get ready to travel to Sweden!
Oh, and the flowers. Who would've guessed that Sweden would have so many beautiful flowers? As if the plentiful pink and purple lupines lining just about every road in western Sweden weren't enough, you can find fields of colorful wildflowers just about everywhere you go.
Swedish flowers are not only beautiful but, at the end of June, quite useful. I was lucky enough to arrive in Sweden just a few days before "Midsommar," a festival which, not surprisingly, celebrates the arrival of summer. The country-wide celebration has slight regional variations, but always includes some combination of herring, boiled potatoes, scnapps and beautiful flower wreaths worn around the head.
As is the case for most of the rest of northern Europe in the winter, Sweden experiences the "midnight sun" phenomenon. The advantage of being in rural western Sweden during this time is...well, I think you can see that for yourself. Can you believe this picture was taken after 11 PM?
I departed Hagfors and my forest friends there with a heavy heart, but I didn't have much opportunity to remain sad when I arrived in bustling Stockholm. Although most locals had abandoned the so-called "capital of Scandinavia" to celebrate Midsommar in more scenic locales, the city's "old town" Gamla Stan was bumping and grinding.
As amazing as the intense summer light is to behold in more remote areas of Sweden, the effect is nonetheless dramatic in old town Stockholm. Even if the temperature wasn't particularly warm by my Texan standards -- it was around 20°C, or 68°F in this picture -- the blazing sun more than made up for it.
Heading south from Gamla Stan takes you first into Slussen, a commercial (and <a href="http://www.thepolisblog.org/2010/10/stockholm-heartbeats-fate-of-slussen.html" target="_hplink">sinking</a>, apparently) plaza that provides awesome views of Gamla Stan, and then into Södermalm, Stockholm's answer Brooklyn.
Even if you don't grab a spot on the shore, it's difficult to avoid water when you travel in Stockholm. That's because the city is situated on a series of islands, the innermost of an archipelago that spirals outward into the Baltic Sea, one that contains a minimum of 20,000 additional islands.
Sweden, as you may or may not know, still has a sitting royal family. The queen's residence, Drottningholm Palace, is located a few kilometers west of Stockholm, near the city's domestic airport. Nicknamed the "Versailles of the North" for its hedge mazes, stately statues and 18th century architecture, it's easy to quite literally get lost here.
Summer, as I mentioned in the intro to this article, is negotiable in Sweden. I would like to tell you that the grey clouds swirling overhead in this picture were the only gloomy thing about the moment this photo was taken, but the fact is that the temperature was chilly as well. That I was hundreds of feet above the ground at the Katarinahissen observation deck, wind blowing wildly, didn't help matters!
I took a train to Sweden from Norway, which provided me with a tantalizing preview of the lakes and forests that dominate the expanse of land between Oslo and Stockholm. After alighting in Karlstad, I traveled two hours north to the "city" of Hagfors, where my friend Anna lives. I put "city" in quotes because evergreens, boulders and mirror-looking lakes are the real architecture of note around these parts.
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