Coffee and Kayaking: Sweden Part II

There is a very long list of cities in which I’d someday love to live. San Francisco is high on that list. So are Seattle, Portland, and Chicago. There are plenty of international locations, too. I could grow used to drinking sweet mint tea in Marrakech, pints of Guinness in Dublin, or café au lait in Paris (or any city in France really). I would also adore living in Istanbul. A year and a half ago, after visiting, I vowed to move there one day, in order to fully absorb the intense cultural crossroads of Europe and Asia that makes that city so incredibly diverse.

Recently, I’ve found a new location to add to my list: Stockholm.

After my quick trip to Sweden in April/May I am thoroughly smitten. Stockholm is a city of contrasts: Modern and ancient, metropolitan and nature-filled, sunny and snowy (even in May), coffee-drinking and alcohol-infused. What isn’t to love? Modernity makes the city efficient and practical. Historic buildings make it romantic. Store-lined walking streets make it entertaining. And forested islands make it calming.

One Stockholm activity I absolutely adore is the coffee culture. What quickly became my favorite Swedish word (Although, admittedly, it doesn’t have much competition: my Swedish vocabulary is limited to say the least.) is “fika”. It’s a verb, which essentially means “to have coffee and something sweet while chatting with a friend or colleague” (all that in four little letters!). However, the definition of this word is broad. Sweets don’t have to be involved. Neither does coffee actually. E (my Swedish friend, host, interpreter, tour guide, chauffeur, and you know, lifesaver and superhero) told me that you can even fika with just water. You can fika at home or in a café; in the morning, or well after dinnertime. To fika is really more about the conversation than the coffee. Yet, whatever fika involves, I love the practice. Whether having a more traditional cup of coffee and cinnamon bun after work, in a café and with a colleague; or sitting around at home with your best friend, pondering the meaning of life and sipping hot tea from your favorite mug: fika is definitely an aspect of Sweden I appreciate.

Another love is the city of Stockholm itself. I love metropolitan life in general: the beauty and diversity of architecture, the million-and-one things to do, the dashing from here to there, the lights at night, and the great people watching you can do while sitting at a café. Stockholm has all of these things.

Yet, what make Stockholm unique among metropolises are the beautiful forests, woods, and wilderness that exist even in the heart of the city. I feel like I didn’t know what a green city really was until I visited Stockholm. I spent an entire afternoon on Kungliga Djurgården Island (Stockholm is a city of islands; some tiny, some so large you can’t tell they’re islands) just walking through the trees, clearings, and meadows. I felt as far away from modernity and humanity as one can feel. Yet, I was in the center of Stockholm. It is the best of both worlds.

So, I’ve talked about the tastes and sights of Sweden. Not let’s talk about sounds: the Swedish language, which amuses me so thoroughly. Swedish vowels, to an English speaker, seem to draw themselves out, becoming impossibly long and twisting your mouth in odd shapes. Interspersed among these elongated vowels, are hard, crisp consonants: popping up in clusters with rolled r’s, hard k’s, and variations on “ch” sounds. The language skips and jumps. It makes slow-motion pirouettes before dashing off and jumping a line of hurdles. Swedish seems to slow down and speed up without warning, to endlessly rise and fall. I never got bored listening to Swedish. I only wish I could make the fun sounds myself.

I could go on, listing the Swedish foods I loved, or the sights I recommend you see. But like any adventure, description pales in comparison to experience. I love Stockholm, and Uppsala, and the archipelago, and everything I saw and did while in Sweden. I’d love to go back someday: fika some more, expand my Swedish vocabulary, visit Lapland, see the northern lights.

Maybe next time, you can travel with me, and we can share the adventure together.

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4 thoughts on “Coffee and Kayaking: Sweden Part II

  1. I would HATE living in Marrakech – I absolutely did not enjoy my trip there. I think Stockholm is an eminently livable city, and if you love the coffee culture there, you should visit Melbourne too. I would love to live in Dublin and Paris for a few months, though my next big move (hopefully!) will be to Buenos Aires. One day, some day. :)

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