My first month in Stockholm (August-September 2016)
My first month in Stockholm was by far, the most exciting moment of my stay here ( until now ). The excitement of discovering a new city, melted with the adrenaline of experiencing life in a completely new environment, and topped up with great weather and sunny day has been the perfect recipe for a thrilling end of summer.
As I now collect the ( still fresh ) memories of my first steps here in Stockholm to share them with you, I realize how much I learned in only a few weeks. If I had to describe my first month in Stockholm in a few words, they would be : « Oh, wow ! ». Not very chic I know, but those words have crossed my mind so many times during my first weeks here that they feel appropriate.
The contrast was quite evident to me when I got out of the plane, that Arlanda Airport was no way comparable to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, from where I had departed a few hours earlier. I had left a very busy, noisy, and chaotic airport in the morning, and arrived in a smaller and quieter airport in the afternoon. The transition was quite pleasant, I have to say.
The international Airport of Paris Charles de Gaulle, ( which can receive up to 63,8 millions passengers a year ), tends to be very overwhelming. Even though I am now used to the whole process of checking-in, and boarding in that airport (from traveling many times from and to France), there is no doubt that the French airport could learn a few tips or more from its Swedish counterpart.
I am well aware that the two airports are way different in sizes. However, Arlanda airport remains the biggest airport in Sweden. I was impressed by the very well-organized setting, as well as the infrastructures connecting the airport to Stockholm. Being located 42 km north of Stockholm, it would be easy to think that connecting to the city would be quite complicated, but the local companies made it very easy. One can easily hop onto a bus, or on the Arlanda Express ( which will take you directly to T-Centralen, the City’s central station ). In a more traditional ( but also more expensive ) way, taxis also make the trip from the airport to the city all day.
Reflecting on it now, I feel like a few hours of flight had already taught me one of the major differences between France and Sweden.
France, and especially Paris tends to be very busy and unorganized. You’ll often find yourself caught in traffic, or in perturbations in the metro. You’ll bump into people in stores to get in line and get cashed out, or often be ran into by men and women in suit running to get to work. Overall, a pretty stressful and chaotic environment ( not really what you would expect in the « city of love » right ? ).
In Stockholm however, since the day I arrived, I have found myself being very peaceful and relaxed in my daily routine. Even though Stockholm just like Paris is a very big city, and a capital first of all, things seem to be very organized. People don’t seem to be in such a rush, and it might sound very cliché, but most of them are very nice and polite. Talking to random people has never seemed so easy to me, and has definitely made my first days here easier.
As the rest of my stay here, the arrival at Arlanda airport was a very smooth one. No rush, no hurry, my luggages arrived on time, and I got in a cab pretty easily and cruised to the City.
On the way to Stockholm, I had my nose collapsed on the car’s window, and my eyes wide open to try and get a first impression of the country. Which was pretty unsuccessful, since you can’t see much from a highway ! However, arriving into Stockholm’s inner city, I was pretty amazed by the cohabitation of tortuous and modern roads, with very ancient buildings. I had read a few articles talking about how bothering it was, for people with some sense of architectural harmony ( and honestly I understand how it could be ). But it didn’t bother me at all. I was simply quite surprised.
As I later walked through the streets of the city, I really got to appreciate the untouched architectural effort that is so characteristic of the Stockholm. It is so easy to cruise from very industrial buildings, to Hausmanian-inspired avenues and more Gustavian buildings. I still find it amazing, to be able to literally walk through such a beautiful city, almost unattained by the wars and massive destructions of our recent tumultuous history.
The transition from the very neutral landscapes we came across on the highway to the city of Stockholm was a very exciting moment. I was looking at everything and anything with a new eye, and was so happy when we arrived to Stockholm’s waterfront. Everything seemed exactly like in the pictures I had seen before, only with more dimensions. I could finally put colors, lights, textures, smells and feelings to those colorful buildings.
Also, if there’s something that I immediately liked about Stockholm, it’s being close and surrounded by water. Of course I knew, before getting here, about the fourteen islands composing the city that had gotten it the nickname of « Venise of the North » ; but it still struck me. Still now, I love going from bridge to bridge on a daily basis, taking a walk near the lake or simply admiring the reflection of a sunset on the water when i’m coming home after a day out. To me, in order to enjoy the beauty of Stockholm, you have to embrace Lake Mälaren , and the way it can often unexpectedly break through the lands and the coasts of the city quarters.
Growing up mainly in coastal cities, I personally always feel a special bond with cities that I’ve visited where I had the chance to be so close to a lake or the sea. And Stockholm isn’t going to be an exception, I can already tell !
Added to the omnipresence of water, being surrounded by a lot of vegetation has also played a major role in my liking of the city. Stockholm is way different from any European Metropolis that i’ve visited before. There is a little something about it, its green areas maybe, that makes it a place where you can still feel at peace no matter what. There is something very picturesque and inspiring about this city.
Stockholm is said to be 1/3 urban, 1/3 water, 1/3 green space. And I’ve learned to appreciate all of it.
If there is one more preconceived idea that I think might be true about Stockholm, it is the one about its inhabitants. People in the Scandinavian countries in general, have the reputation to be very polite and friendly at first, but very difficult to get friends ( close friends ) with ! And Swedes are no exception to the rule.
Before meeting the other international students from my class, I have to say that my first days at the University were quite lonely. It was pretty hard to create an opportunity to talk with people. And even when that first step was done, keeping in touch was very difficult. I found myself having a lot of random talks, and chats with a lot of people ( which was nice ), but only keeping contact with a few !
Fortunately, as the days went by, I met many more people, and started constituting myself a very nice network here in Stockholm. Within a month spent here, i’ve surrounded myself with people from Ivory Coast, Gambia, Bosnia, Brazil, Turkey.… and mostly Sweden ! Which I think is a great achievement.
I was also very surprised to see such a diversity, and people from different origins going around the city ! I spotted mainly people from West Africa, which is interesting to me, since in France, people from East Africa tend to be more present. According to Statistics Sweden, the government agency responsible for producing official statistics here, the largest groups of African-born Swedish residents are currently from : Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and lastly Morocco. I’m very interested in getting to know more about the journeys and stories of these particular groups, and what specifically through different times have led them to Sweden. But that is maybe for another post here on my blog !
Nevertheless, it is always very soothing for me ( I have to admit ) to come across a pretty brown face, or a fro fearlessly floating in the air, and being able to share my experience as a student here with other African students living in Stockholm.
Daily life and favorite places:
My first month in Stockholm was also filled with a lot of lively experiences overall. My appreciation for coffee has grown a little more, I’ve been to concerts, parties, tried nice ( or less nice ) bars and clubs, walked around the city, went thrift shopping, got back to the gym, visited museums, got ecstatic in Gröna Lund, ate tons of Kanellbulle, studied a little bit… and so much more !
Before ending this article, here is a non-exhaustive list of my favorite places so far in Stockholm just in case you end up spending some time here and you need recommendations on where to go and what to do :
- Café 60 :
Located very close to Radmansgatan T-Bana, in the area of Norrmalm, it is a very nice Café in which you will easily find a spot to hang out and relax with friends. You can also bring your computer and work there when you’re tired of studying in the school’s library ! The Café remains in dim light most of the time, and when the night comes, the waiters go around the place to light candles in the stairs and on every table. Added to the large comfy sofas, and heavy wooden tables, it creates a very home-like, warm and cozy atmosphere.
My favorite things to get there are warmed-up Kanellbulle and a hot chocolate. It’s perfect after a day out shopping and running errands. However, I have to admit that my guilty pleasure is to go there and get a piece of Quiche ! It’s deliciously made, and takes me back to France for a little bit !
- Cozy Café :
Cozy Café is located in Gamla Stan, a much more touristic area of Stockholm. The surroundings are very charming, since it is the old town , and the Café itself is located in a very cute paved street. This Café is much smaller, but if you manage to get a spot, and go there outside of a rush hour you’ll have a great time !
What I like the most about this Café, is probably the ambiance and the music. It is very cozy as well, and the radio plays piano or guitar covers of hit songs such as : Someone like you and Rolling in the deep by Adele, or other songs by Alicia Keys, The Weeknd , etc.. They also have amazing chocolate cakes and apple pie.
- Lion’s Bar :
They have a few locations around the city, and as for nightlife, it is often mentioned in students conversations. The place is also usually filled with young people like myself. It is not the most glamorous place, but the music is good and the drinks are quite cheap compared to other places in Stockholm where drinks can get very expensive.
- Bara Enkelt :
Bara Enkelt is located close to Medborgarplatsen T-Bana. However, it’s a pretty nice walk from Slussen to the Bar, if you have time to walk around and enjoy the city’s ambiance. It is a very fun place to go with friends ! The decor is very fun and colorful, made of neon lights and vibrant colors. The prices are not too high as well, and you can get good food there. I love to get some nachos and quesadillas, with a glass of wine or some beer when I go there.
- Burgers and Beer :
As for food, I haven’t been eating out much since my arrival in Stockholm. Mainly because it is quite expensive, and I couldn’t seem to find a place that I really liked. However, I came across this very cool restaurant near St. Eriksplan T-Bana, called « Burgers and Beer ». The food is delicious, and the decor is awesome. They also played R&B tunes the whole time, which to me completed the whole experience.
Their home made dip sauce, and sweet-potatoe fries got a 10 out of 10 from me ! I will definitely go and eat there again. To top it all off, the food was quite inexpensive.
- Globen :
When it comes to activities, and places to go to or visit, I also have a few favorites.
First of all, if you are a fan of Afrobeat or dancehall music, you need to check out the guest list of Stockholm Globe Arenas ! I got to go there a few times, to see artists such as Gyptian or Charly Black during showcases. The vibe was really nice. Before and after the show, DJ’s come to play some good Afrobeat music or dancehall songs, the dance floor is open and everyone is up to a good time. I definitely recommend it !
- Historiska Museet :
The Swedish History Museum is one of the good surprises that I had being here. I went in, not expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The museum is huge, and you really get an interesting insight in to Swedish history. You will definitely come out of it knowing a little more about Sweden ! The expositions about the Vikings, Medieval Art, and the History of Sweden were very interesting and for the most part entertaining ! There is no entrance fee as well, and audio-guides are very cheap. It is worth it !
- Gröna Lund :
If you have the chance to be in Stockholm during the summer, I would suggest to stop by Gröna Lund. Located on the Island of Djurgarden, it is just a few minutes away from Slussen by boat, and it is worth the trip ! The attractions are very fun, and if you are fond of extreme sensations you will not be disappointed. You will also be able to get a stunning and panoramic view of the city from the gigantic « swing » that sits on top of the amusement park.
- Skansen :
Finally (and I think it is a lot of people’s favorite here) Skansen is a must. The open-air museum, also located on Djurgarden, is such a fun place to go and visit with friends. I particularly enjoyed the zoo, and being able to see nordic animals ( including brown bears and reindeers ). It is also very representative of the Swedish traditions, with traditional houses, and a small reconstituted village.
These are all the places that really enlightened my stay here in Stockholm so far, but I will certainly come up with an updated list of favorites in the upcoming months. I can’t wait to share more of what I’ve learned and keep on learning with you guys.
Until then, take care !