During an average day, I spend at least an hour contemplating what I’d like to call the ‘big questions.’ Sometimes I’m fascinated by culture in general, sometimes why I’m “forced” to visit family. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between travel and tourism, interspersed with reflections on Umberto Eco’s thoughts of wax museums, Disneyworlds and dioramas. Fortunately, I’m taking a class this term that discusses both. Unfortunately, I generally tend to think about them during other classes or as I’m about to fall asleep.
I’m inclined to say that it’s easier to truly travel when you travel alone, but then I go to Skansen and giddly skip through recreated traditional gardens and I begin wondering whether or not I have to throw all those claims out the window. Travel is about being open to another culture, while tourism is about racking up sights. But no one exists in a vacuum. Every traveler has their moments of being a tourist and every tourist has their moments of being a traveler.
During my time in Stockholm, I enjoyed my fair share of both touring and traveling. The highlight of my sightseeing trip — actually, I’d go as far as to say my sightseeing year — was Skansen. Skansen proudly claims to be the world’s first open air museum and, compared to all the other ones I’ve visited (mostly as a clueless kid and petulant teenager), is the best. Skansen’s aims to present a miniature version of Sweden as it once was. The park collects old buildings from different places in the country and at different points in the country’s history and shoves them all together to create a little town. There’s the center, with a working bakery, book shop, printer’s and pottery house. If you’re with kids, they can enjoy a zoo that features northern Swedish animals. Love animals but don’t have littles? There are lambs, pigs and chickens roaming around the farms. You can walk through a garden, learn about Swedish schools in a school house and figure out how the people in Lapland survived.
It was nearly empty when I went, but I can barely imagine a better time of year to go. The trees were brilliantly colored and you could walk around, easily letting yourself believe that you were lost in a Sweden of bygone eras. If you’re going to Stockholm, put Skansen at the top of your list.
After the delight of Skansen, and hitting the sightseeing jackpot, I wasn’t concerned with paying the steep entrance fees to other museums. The Nationalmuseet was closed (and will continue to be until roughly 2016 ), which was a bummer. I had a total tourist time walking through Stockholm Slottet, the royal palace that is still in use today. Had I not gotten a student discount, I would have said walking through the opulent rooms wasn’t worth the money. Even then, it was only barely worth the 75 SEK. I took a few obligatory tourist photos in front of the palace and in nearby Gamla Stan, but I quickly left the island to explore the side streets of trendy Soldermalm.
I once read on Orangette (and I believe even then that she was quoting somebody) that she uses travel as an excuse to eat more than usual. If you add walk more than usual into the mix as well, then you have my idea of a perfect trip. While I was worried about the weather when sitting in my basement bedroom, freezing my fingers off, it turned out to be a non-issue. With gloves, a hat and a scarf, I was pleasantly warm walking through the streets. And walk through the streets I did. Collapsing into bed on Saturday evening, I realized that since I left my hotel room at 9:30 until I returned around 7, I had sat down for a total of less than 2 hours. There was so much to see, so much to take in that I could barely believe it. I felt like I could keep going.
And I did the next day, though with the help of a subway trip. Sunday can often alienate the traveler with closed stores and the home-bound routine of the city’s residents. Walking around the empty streets feels lonely, as if everyone else is sleeping in or doing what it is that you truly want to do. Stockholm was sleepy on Sunday morning, but in a way that felt more peaceful than desolate. There were other people out, calmly going for a stroll or hopping on the subway to get coffee, which is exactly what I did.
I realize that comparing the Stockholm subway to Berlin’s U-Bahn is slightly unfair, but it’s the most direct comparison I can draw. The two looked uncannily similar and functioned equally as well. I was soon back in Sodermalm, ready to try Drop Coffee and a cardamom bun. It was exactly the kind of purposefully-lazy Sunday atmosphere that makes me enjoy the day.
Soon after, a case of the Sundays attacked me. Should I go to a museum? Should I walk around? Should I go shopping? Each decision brought with it a variety of meanings about which type of traveler I was. Ultimately, I wandered into walking and shopping, which was exactly what everyone else in Stockholm was doing as well. I bought a scarf, chose a portable mug and I may or may not have bought a few gifts.
The rest of my time in Stockholm was spent walking more than usual, not quite getting lost in the streets, but allowing my mind to wander away from England and university and into the life of Stockholm. While the city isn’t enchanting in the sense that its cuteness envelops you in a fantasy world, Stockholm is full of real life that’s more fascinating than any picturesquely windy alley could be. Seeing the lights lit up in windows at dusk, the swedes jogging through the chilly air and the large streets calm down was the best way to end a Sunday.
Then, all too quickly, it was time to leave. I spent the last morning surprised, confused and walking. I needed to fit in one last coffee, one last cardamom bun, one last street. There’s a disappointment in the ending of a trip that goes beyond leaving or returning. When a trip ends, I’m sad because I realize that it’s the trip and the movement itself that I want moreso than the place. I loved Stockholm and I loved Sweden. While I certainly hope to visit again, I know that it is the return ticket, the finiteness of my time there and the unfamiliarity that makes the country so intoxicating. If I was to stay, if I was to learn Swedish and live in one of those apartments lit-up so cozily at twilight, then I wouldn’t feel the same excitement and joy.
At the airport I left from the SAS terminal with Scandinavians going everywhere, but mostly staying in Scandinavia. When I heard that there was a flight leaving from Helsinki, my heart longed to be on that strange and unfamiliar flight. Instead, I was flying from Stockholm to London on the middle of a Monday. It was a dream come true.
What is your favorite part of a trip?