One of the many curious things you notice about Stockholm is the absence of lots of things that I have seen a lot of recently in other cities. People look healthy and generally contented. They talk more quietly and are more polite and respectful of personal space. There is little evidence of many people furtively smoking, and little evidence in the central part of the city of graffiti art.Not many homeless people are to be seen either, although as dusk was falling a few were trundling their trolleys with their worldly posessions into what will be their home for the night. So Stockholm contrasts very strongly with Madrid, Amsterdam and Gothenburg. There also was not the sometimes slightly threatening and certainly disconcerting sights of beggars ( often immigrants to that country) aggressively trying to obtain money or sell unwanted goods to passers by. A huge contrast to Madrid where it seemed every 50 yards or less someone was thrusting, often literally, cups or containers into your face in an attempt to get donations of money.
Stockholm Railway Bridge
It is very difficult to base a realistic appraisal of a city on a mere few hours walking around but it has a calm aura. I saw signs for places that I recognise from Stieg Larssons books such as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In fact a thin girl, very thin, walked past me, short blonde hair, looked like she had cut it herself, and I glanced at her and she at me, and I thought, blonde Elisabeth Salander. She had many of the real features of the character, unlike the incorrectly cast Rooney Mara. Signs pointed to Gamla Stan, Aftonbladet, Sodermalm and Kungsholmen, all names that sounded so familiar from the books. A man scurried past who also might have been Mikael Blomquist.
An air of affluence pervades the city, with few walkers by looking poor. Clothes are generally smart and people walk with their heads held high. In the whole 2 hours of walking the only exception to this rule was a group of three dubious characters drinking beer and other poisons on one of the walkways by the river. There was little evidence of the prominence of the graffiti art that so adorned Amsterdam and Madrid. In the city centre one had to look hard to find any and the little there was decorated bridges over the railway less favoured with pedestrians.
Stockholm Graffiti Art
Central Station is a hub for the city with many trains going in all directions, over bridges and people walking in a thousand different directions at once. Everywhere you look there are important looking monuments and statues. The station somehow comes to life even more when it snows.
Snowing in Central Station
Trains escape Stockholm Station
In the world famous Karolinska Hospital and Institute a huge painted mural is the focus of the entrance and outside buses advertise the ABBA museum where we can all become instant dancing queens.
Who wants to be a Dancing Queen?
Karolinska Hospital Mural
A walk along the river provides a back drop to the city with steeples and important looking buildings rising out of the dusk. The daffodil bulbs have been slow to wake up and grow.
Slow Waking Daffodils
At dusk many of the buildings look formal and a little grand and loom up out of what is left of the little fading light. There was an air of grandeur emanating from many of them without even knowing their purpose with an imposing look.
The air was cold, two degrees Celsius in fact, with snow forecast for two days time and one could almost smell that in the air. The coffee shops do a brisk trade. They serve you quickly and are many hierarchies above Starbucks and Costa Coffee in both their friendliness and ability to serve customers quickly. Not cheap though, with a coffee poured from an urn, some Colombian special coffee 39 SK, so to me 5 euros. The shops were warm and inviting and many of those inside were similar to me, single people in there for a reason, using their computer or talking on the phone to escape transiently the cold.
Generically though there is a massive difference to the UK in that anyone serving be it coffee, food or hotel workers, are unfailingly polite and respectful and provide a clear service, instead of the sometimes angry and often indifferent service that one gets in UK. And I think I am right. Contrasting similar workers in similar shops in both countries.
Sweden is not a cheap country though. A salami pizza, maybe 50% larger than needed or usual, cost 180 SK, so around 20 euros. A return ticket on the Arlanda Express, which takes you directly from Arlanda airport to central Stockholm is 520 SK.
The highlight of the short walk around was smelling then finding a small stall on the edge of the water selling crepes and waffles decorated with the most gorgeous and calorific toppings. I can recommend paying 60 SK for a waffle covered with Nutella and white chocolate, that was less rich then it sounded but a perfect antidote and therapy to the cold that was making hunger come to life.