August 27, 2015

Why I’d Move to Stockholm in a Heartbeat

And a few reasons why I'd think twice

By Scott In Personal, Sweden, Travel

Mid-way through my second day in Stockholm it hit me: I fucking love this place. I was with my friends and gracious hosts Jake and Sarah—honestly guys, they’ve like, poisoned the rest of this trip for me—and we’re lounging on the grass in this tiny hidden park called Östra Primusparken behind an industrial building. The park is located on Lilla Essingen, a very small island that’s part of the extensive network of islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago. There are trees all around, cliffs across the water where people are sunbathing and cliff diving, a small dock where you can go swimming, and a few guys who are setting up turntables and speakers under the willow trees. Does it get more idyllic than this?

As more and more people start showing up—with kids and dogs in tow—I’m reminded of the early days of Piknic Électronik, where entrance was $5, it was BYOB, and most of all, pet and family friendly. While those days are long gone, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of appreciation for the fact that I got to experience those first days. This event was organized by the people who run the DJ collective Clubminimal in the wake of the cancellation of Docklands, and I couldn’t be more thankful to them. Everything was just perfect, the music was amazing, the people were gorgeous, and the weather was outstanding.

And in that rush of excitement and thankfulness, I had a sudden urge to cancel the rest of my trip and just stay in Stockholm forever. Now, I’ve been here for all of 6 days, so obviously I know everything there is to know about the city and Sweden as a whole. And so let me impart my infinite wisdom on you in the form of a Listicle (an article made out of lists…you can thank Buzzfeed for their existence, and me for being lazy). So without further ado, my top reasons I would move to Stockholm in a heartbeat, and a few why I maybe wouldn’t.

the-stockholm-archipelago

It’s the perfect combination of cottage country and urban sprawl

I’ve always told people that in a perfect world, I would have a little cottage house in the country, and a small pied-à-terre in the city. In Stockholm, you have both. Only minutes away from where I’m staying in Hägersten-Liljeholmen, there is the beautiful Vinterviken freshwater bay, where cute little boats are docked, a wonderful boardwalk brings you all around, and where you can sunbathe on the boulders after a quick jump in the swimming area. But after a short T-bana (metro) ride, you’re right in the thick of things. The houses and condo buildings are surrounded by large and old trees. There is a permanent crisp breeze. There’s never any stifling humidity caused by an urban heat island. It’s easy to feel like you’re both in the city and in the country simultaneously.

Stockholm_subway_fruängen

It has an amazing public transit system

Don’t get me wrong, with all of its shortcomings, the Montreal transit system is really not as bad as most Montrealers make it out to be. But the Storstockholms Lokaltrafik—or SL as its commonly called—puts the STM to shame. It’s a sprawling network of metros, buses, light rails, trains, tramways, and ferries, all accessible with the same travel card. A weeklong travelcard cost me 30€ and I literally went everywhere with it, yes, I even took a ferry—twice! And most bus stops have a GPS-enabled screen informing you of the time for the next three buses—so so convenient! Not only is the network massive and easy to navigate, but all the buses, trains, and metros are beautiful and extremely comfortable. It’ll be hard to go without it.

 Stockholm_StyleThe people are beautiful and nice

And I mean beautiful, like, intimidatingly so. But it all feels so casual. They just throw on a simple pair of slacks, a lightweight long sleeve knit, a nice pair of shoes, and BOOM, gorgeous. Most of the girls wear little if any makeup, instead just assaulting you with their natural beauty. All the men are tall, blond, and probably work out like, 22 hours a day judging by their trim physique. Their style is far from flashy, with Swedes seemingly favouring monochromatic pieces, maybe a colourful pair of chucks and funky socks. And everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to have tattoos. But not just your run-of-the-mill tattoos, super cool and elegant tattoos that they carry with understated hipness. Urgh.

And while their tough exterior might seem impenetrable—Swedes don’t necessarily have a reputation for being the warmest of people—it really isn’t. OK, I was lucky enough to be invited to a party for a local’s birthday/house warming (hi Natalie!), and most of the Swedes there worked in International Schools, so they were friendly off the bat. I managed to make new friends and already had a coffee date with a lovely Swede (hi Melissa!) the next day. But even the strangers I approached were always willing to help, and while at first slightly disconcerted by my forwardness, they’d chit chat easily afterwards.

Stockholm_Apt
Stockholm_Apt2

The cute Swedish apartments and their washrooms

There’s this Swedish expression that I learned my first day here that I love. “Lagom” means just enough. It applies perfectly to Swedish apartments, they’re not too big, not too small. And before you ask, yes, Swedes totally shop at IKEA: it’s huge and it’s super cheap. But they have a way or arranging their IKEA wares in such a cute way, I’m totally smitten. And OK now this might just be me, but I’m obsessed with the showers in Stockholm. No awkward bathtubs to get into here, oh no, their showers are just a continuation of their “lagom” washrooms. I met some other Canadians along the way and they seemed to hate this arrangement, but I thought it just made sense. Half the time in Montreal the bathtub is so dirty you wouldn’t even dream of using it for its intended purpose. If you’re lucky, you’ll have heated tiles, and even a heated towel rack. And you can easily adjust the water pressure, from a soft and soothing trickle to a powerful jet when necessary. Even the sinks had amazing water pressure, making shaving a breeze. It’s the little things guys.

Their social services are outstanding

Granted, they get taxed out of the wazoo. Depending on your income, your tax rate might be around 50%. But most people earn more than respectable wages, and don’t seem to mind the high taxation, as long as the country keeps up their end of the bargain. Which means: free education pre and post-secondary, almost free healthcare, 5 weeks paid vacation minimum, amazing sick leave that extends to if your children are sick, maternity and paternity leave, and the list goes on. The city is also heaven for parents pushing a stroller around, as there are rails at almost every staircase—in parks, in the metro, literally everywhere—allowing you to go up and down easily without having to carry it alone or ask for someone’s help. As Nina—my informative and sassy tour guide—informed us during a walking tour of Gamla stan (the old town), people don’t come to Sweden to become filthy rich—they come here to live a comfortable life.

The weather

Not too hot, not too cold: “lagom” once again. There’s always this nice chill breeze on nice summer days. It doesn’t get deathly cold in the winters as it does in Montreal. It also doesn’t get as stiflingly hot as it does in the summers. It’s just tempered, and I relished every moment. I never had to wear pants, would sometimes throw on a jumper in the evenings, and was on my merry way.

But nothing in life is perfect, which is very true of Stockholm, and therefore there are a few reasons I’d think twice:

It’s expensive…like, stupid expensive

I quickly stopped trying to convert how much I was paying in order not to cry every time I punched in my PIN. You divide the price by 10 to get the rough equivalent in Euros, and I’d leave it at that and pretended like it wasn’t that bad. But you’ll pay more for everything than you’ve ever paid in your life. Booze is especially expensive—expensive enough for Vikings Cruises organizes regularly trips to international waters where Swedes buy their booze on the cheap. That bottle of wine? 470SEK. Brunch? 295SEK. You just have to suck it up and take it.

The people are beautiful

I know I mentioned that in my reasons why I’d move here, but it’s also soul-crushing. You feel like an ugly troll like, 95% of the time. It just doesn’t make any sense. Even the babies are prettier than you. And again, so casual about it, like it hadn’t even crossed their mind how beautiful they are (yes I’m still talking about the babies, prancing around with not a care in the world). OK while this may not apply to 100% of the population, the ratio is high enough for you to notice it constantly. But at least it makes for good eye candy…oh the eye candy.

The weather

Another I’d put in the pluses, but after being repeatedly told how horrible it usually is, I have to mention it. Now I never got to experience this firsthand, as for some odd reason the weather was exceptionally beautiful the whole time I was here—trust me, every Swede I met told me how lucky I was. But apparently the short summers rarely experience beautiful weather, instead having a series of cloudy and rainy days throughout the whole season. But even though I kept hearing this, I’ve yet to see it. Maybe I’ll just have to come back and see for myself. Or maybe I’m just some sort of weather good luck charm and the weather will always be perfect regardless of when I visit. I choose to believe the latter.

The booze

Coming from Montreal, I was extremely spoiled when it came to buying alcohol and like most Québécois, I cherish my corner dépanneurs. In Sweden, buying booze is not as cavalier an experience. In order to promote responsible drinking, not only is alcohol very expensive—as is everything else—but not nearly as accessible as it is elsewhere in Europe. Think the opening hours of the SAQ/LCBO are frustrating? Try going to the Systembolaget after 3pm on a Saturday (you can’t) or any time on a Sunday (again, you can’t). And if you know me, you know that that simply won’t do. Which is why, like previously mentioned, people board the Vikings Cruise to stock up in international waters to get it on the cheap, or simply make large purchases when they visit the Systembolaget to make sure they’re ready for any occasion.

Alas, I had to say farewell

Even though it’s only been a day since I left, I already miss it. But now I’m in Berlin—which is a whole other beast—and I’m full-heartedly looking forward to delving deep into its mysterious charms, cheap alcohol (yay!), and seemingly never-ending energy.

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