Tag: Sweden

Sweden Exhibits Youthfulness, Despite Old Age

Until recently Freja (not her real name), whom I met when I first came to London 17 years ago, was all I knew about Sweden, her straw blonde hair, friendly smile,  ruddy cheeks; her eagerness to speak English; her proudness to be Swedish alongside her desire to be a part of the wider world.

Even after her boyfriend’s ex-wife of Afro-Caribbean descent referred to her as a ‘thing’, she responded with minimal upset as if she understood on some level the limitations of such thinking. It could have been just as easy to cry reverse discrimination and own the experience. Yet, she rejected it and got on with being Swedish in an evolving English country.

All those years ago Freja taught me all I needed to know about her country to enjoy a visit there—that Swedish pride, anchored in tradition, not only soars far beyond Nordic shores in its big brands–Ericsson, H&M, Electrolux, Volvo, SAAB, the Stieg Larsson books, and so on—but lives largely in its people, its very atmosphere.

From the warm welcome we received at Arlanda airport by our middle-aged lady taxi driver, who was pre-arranged by our tour agency, to the heartfelt farewell from the young man at our hotel, we felt a spirit of kindness, of willingness, and quite frankly of youthfulness.

Of course there were the anomalies—the calculating taxi driver, who doubled the fare while putting on a friendly face, and the surly waiter, who pretended to be deaf mute while serving us and chatted openly to others—but aren’t there always? Call them big city swindlers, as both incidents happened in Stockholm.

Never mind them and their limitations, we found Stockholm, in particular, youthful, very much a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes feel quite old and stale and is often trapped in racial and/or ethnic quagmires.

Surely, there are such predicaments in Sweden as in all cities, but with a largely indigenous population of just over nine and a half million people (more than two million of them in Stockholm); the attitude of acceptance for other ethnicities doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Also, most folks speak English. How superficial and selfish of me to report this happily, you might say. It’s not the only language in the world. Of course not, but the Swedes cracked the code years ago that their lovely Germanic language would keep them limited, thus from about aged seven learning English becomes mandatory, according to the hop on hop off bus tour we took in Stockholm. Really! Yes, we got with the tourist programme and weren’t disappointed!

Anyhow, English brings the Swedes together with visitors from as far away as Asia to as near as Finland, all of us greeted with a smiling ‘hey’ and it doesn’t stop there. Without a flinch, unless English is undeveloped or rusty such as in the countryside, people regaled us fluently with tales of history and explained menus and so on.

For example, our lady taxi driver prepared us for what was ahead Including the consistent pretty red houses, which date back to the 16th century. Then a special paint called Falu red was created and used in Falun in the copper mines in Dalarna. Nowadays, the red paint is used out of tradition up and down the country. Also, she mentioned the undulating manicured land, bubbling springs and placid lakes. In short, she described Sweden as a well-preserved country, yet a progressive one.

What she didn’t mention, however, was the fetish for old American cars, a theme we noticed around Sweden, town and country. Perhaps it is something to do with roots, as thick American accents were all over the place, namely the big cities.

America? Perhaps that’s why I took to Sweden so instantly. The hospitality there felt almost American. And like the good old USA, Sweden has much to offer and a few things not to be desired too, more than I can write about in one blog, hence the highlights and low lights, too.


STOCKHOLM – A world-class city with an old town heaving with cafes, shops and narrow cobblestone streets,  fabulous high-end shopping and varied museums–one of them, the Nobel Museum, which we visited.  

SALA SILVER MINE – A well-preserved mining village with guided tours of a mining shaft. Though it was cold and dark 40 meters below ground, it was a fascinating experience. But don’t forget walking shoes or boots.

GOTHENBURG – This is Sweden’s second city with petty canals and fun restaurants and home of the Avenyn, their street often referred to as the Champs Elysees of the South. Non mais belle!

OLD LINKOPING – An open-air museum, which shows what small town Sweden looked like one hundred years ago. A must see.

Low Lights:

Borlange – Not sure why we stopped in this town, except as a stopover. No hotels or restaurants of noteworthy calibre.

Gondolen – This is apparently one of the top restaurants in Stockholm but likely a tourist trap with good views of the city. Here is where we encountered the rude waiter and okay (at best) food.

In Stockholm, taxi drivers can legally rip you off because of zoning. Don’t ask me?

Hotels don’t necessarily provide a safe in the room, so on with the backpack, whatever your age and ability.

Next stop, Norway…stay tuned.



A Nordic Road Trip: What Were We Thinking?

For years now Paul has teased about taking a Winnebago across North America after retirement. Fat chance, I always retort, that is, if you expect me to come along. I can think of few things worse. Seriously!

Born and bred in the Southern USA, I’ve had enough of extenuating road trips, endless highways stretching from east to west and from north to south, and standard and some substandard roadside parks and rest areas. I’ve long taken to the skies.

Still recently, however, Paul and I drove about 3,500 kilometers (approximately 2,200 miles) around Sweden, Norway and Denmark, after flying to Stockholm, where we hired a trusted Volkswagen Golf for the tour.

What were we thinking? Paul, likely, in true British style had high hopes for more sunshine and less rain, a big desire for wild adventure and an eagerness for plenty of surprise. Not to mention his laid back attitude about our accommodation.

I, on the other hand, longed for above average accommodation, haute cuisine–even if I am darn near intolerant of all things yummy–haute couture and a destination  relatively close to Georgia, USA, preferably with a spot of sunshine.

I know. I know. Distance is all relative, but at least we didn’t head off to India, Africa or on Paul’s much talked about round the world trip. Make no mistake about it, I am game, well at least for the first two, but not now with my mother being seriously ill.

Anyhow in compromise we ventured into lessor known parts of Sweden, unknown and well-known parts of Norway, and hotspots of Denmark.

Having done little or no research for the holiday, unlike us to be honest, we faced plenty of surprises, pleasant ones for the most part. At the last minute, however, I picked up a copy of Lonely Planet, after a necessary trip to my orthodontist in Marylebone. After nearly 10 years, my permanent retainer had broken. With a new one fastened securely, I found myself leafing through the travel guide on my Uber ride home and briefly glanced up to respond to the driver’s curiosity about what I was reading.

Just before then my eyes had feasted on Copenhagen’s Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant for the last three years in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants guide. Thus, I told him Scandinavia in a rather irritated voice, knowing there was no chance we would get into Noma at such late notice. People reserve for months in advance to get a table there.

‘Don’t go there,’ he said. I closed the book and looked ahead in dismay. His dark eyes searched my face through his rear view mirror. ‘It’s not a good destination for brown people,’ he said, explaining that though he was originally from Iraq, he grew up in Denmark.

Having read earlier on the Internet what the street committee had to say about racism in Scandinavia, long after the tickets were booked albeit, my heart sank to its lowest degree again. What were we thinking?

But then I remembered all the racial matters going on in the world, particularly  in my home country. So I tossed the cynicism out the window and got thinking again about the pending holiday, all the opportunities ahead.

The excitement of exploration opened my mind and pretty much kept it accessible throughout the entire two weeks. Thus, I found the Swedish people youthful and accommodating, with the odd exception here and there, the Norwegian scenery breathtakingly beautiful, save for the few rough spots, and the Danish cuisine, delectable, even if it is over the top expensive, not to mention my refusal to admit to allergies and intolerances. Never mind, it was worth it. And I did a bit of my kind of shopping, too, in both Stockholm and Copenhagen.

In short I am pleased to say we have been there and done that, even though we didn’t get much sunshine or less rain for that matter. Not to mention the less than average accommodation in some spots. Would I do it again? Not a chance in full. It was too much to cram into the short period of time, only affording us one night in most places, albeit this was more than enough in a few cases. The point it is, however, the trip was exhausting, though exhilarating.

Besides, road travel is not my thing, remember. A different option would be to take the trip off the road and do it my way–fly!  Still we not only racked up miles but also awesome memories, too, memories to savour for years to come.

What were we thinking? And what did we discover? Find out more here on sonjalewis.com. Stay tuned.