Book your Stockholm Flights on AirBerlin and discover the trendiest city in Europe this summer.
By Max Milano *
I am at the outdoor terrace of the Café Opera nightclub in Stockholm. It’s 2 am and nightfall never came. All we got was a kind of twilight after midnight. I look outside and can still see a blue dusk. At 3 am the sun begins to rise. Pretty soon it’s as bright as noon back home, but my watch tells me it’s still not quite 3.30 in the morning. Welcome to Stockholm’s white nights. I had promised myself to go back to my hotel as soon as it got dark, but it never did. That explains why I am still at the VIP terrace of the Café Opera at 3.30 in the morning among the beautiful people of Stockholm. I order another drink. The bartender looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model (and the punters too). All the girls inside are impossibly blond and tall. Miniskirts and cut off leather jackets seem to be de rigueur in Stockholm this season. I’m slightly embarrassed at my total lack of Swedish, so I just speak in English to everyone. The locals don’t seem to mind. Behind the velvet ropes of Stockholm’s Cafe Opera, I’m in a kind of parallel universe; a Scandi-America where everyone speaks perfect English while tripping the 3am light fantastic and moonlighting for modeling agencies. It’s like a Lars von Trier movie on prozac. If Berlin is “poor and sexy”, Stockholm is “sexy and it knows it”.
Moose Burgers and Stockholm Syndrome
My evening had started rather interestingly with an excellent plate of Moose Burger. The Swedes call it elk, but it’s a bit like calling deer meat venison. We were at the restaurant of the Hotel Hellsten. The moose burger was wonderfully moist and not gamy at all. We then enjoyed a few drinks at the hotel bar, which is decorated with African masks and gorgeous black and white Leica photographs of African tribesmen and 1970’s London Punks. It was a gorgeous Nordic summer night so we decided to head down towards the waterfront. As we passed Stockholm’s trendiest bars and cafes, our minder pointed out an elegant hotel from which emanated cool lounge chill out music. “Welcome to the location of the Stockholm Syndrome” she said as we walk trough the lobby bar as the DJ spun “The Best of Hotel Costes”. “It’s called the Nobis hotel now”, continued our minder, “It used to be a bank back in the day, this is where the infamous 1973 bank robbery and hostage crisis occurred. It’s a big favorite among our American visitors, they all want to stay at the ‘Stockholm Syndrome hotel’. We call it ‘kidnapping chic’.” Of course, this is Sweden, even their bank robbers are nice.
Even though Stockholm is compact enough to explore by foot, we decided to use the services of Visit Stockholm. This is a great way of getting the best out of the city as their guides have inside information and very interesting stories about historical events (yes, Abba owns a bar in Stockholm, yes there is an IKEA store just outside of town, no, Ace of Base is not a national treasure in Sweden). Visit Stockholm offers a range of tours, from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to a boat ride to the lakeside Royal Palace. What we didn’t know then was that they are also quite fond of white knuckle rides.
The first stop of our Stockholm tour was a courthouse in the old town, but we were not there to walk its gilded corridors, we were there to walk on its roof. The guide was very enthusiastic and friendly as she distributed helmets and strapped on our harnesses. My head was still sore from just one hour of sleep and hours of midnight sun at the Café Opera (perhaps not the best conditions for rooftop walking), but I soldiered on. The roof has a catwalk with a railing onto which we were to clasp our safety lines. The view was spectacular. The spires of the old town gleamed in the midday sun as we attempted to walk atop the roof without falling. “Don’t worry”, said the guide, “we haven’t lost anyone yet”. My legs were shaking a bit towards the end due to the catwalk having a sheer eight stories drop onto an interior courtyard. We all made it in one piece and even though I would not do it again, I was quite glad that I actualy managed to do it.
Vassa Museum & Gamla Stan
Our next stop was the Vassa museum. Stockholm’s world famous shipwreck that was raised from the muddy bottom of the Baltic sea into permanent exhibition. The ship is absolutely massive, all varnished wood and two rows of cannons. It looks a bit like a 17th century version of Noah’s Ark, you half expect to see elephants and lions stepping off its massive hull. It’s easy to imagine it as a huge ghost ship. Its eerie beauty offers a warning to the ages. The mighty battleship only floated for 20 minutes in 1628 before rolling over and sinking for centuries. It lay lost under the Baltic mud for over 300 years until a local fisherman and the Swedish Navy pulled it up. Now its a beautiful symbol of the city and to human endurance.
That evening our Visit Stockholm guide took us for a walk of the old town (Gamla Stan). Stockholm has one of the best preserved old towns in Europe: Beautiful cobblestoned streets, centuries old buildings, narrow alleyways. Every corner of the old town has a story; be it the beheading of several noblemen in the main square, or the street where the town’s executioner lived. We dined in a Viking themed restaurant. It was a bit gimmicky, but the food and the décor were as historically accurate as possible and the waiters all looked and acted like real Vikings (whatever it is real Vikings act like).
Stockholm Archipelago & Grinda Island
We met our guide by the docks early the next morning. She promised us a boat ride to Grinda Island in the Stockholm archipelago. What she didn’t mention was that the boat was an oversized dingy with a powerful outdoor motor. I started to get a bit worried when I saw six pairs of survival suits laid on the planks of the dock. “The Baltic is a bit cold” the guide explained (right after confirming that she wouldn’t join us on the boat ride). We struggled into our suits and then the ‘Captain’ (also dressed in survival suit) distributed goggles. We sat in saddle seats and held on to the railings for dear life. The boat ride started smoothly enough; Stockholm’s waterfront passed by as we skirted massive cruise ships. We were soon racing along beautiful weekend homes on small islands as the boat started to catch speed. The captain stepped on it and we rushed over the gray waters of the Baltic like a bat out of hell. The boat jumped several feet in the air with every wave and landed with a splash. I was really glad we were given goggles. The Baltic splashed coldly onto our faces as we held on for dear life. The water felt like hitting concrete after every jump. After a 45 minute white knuckle ride we slowed down into an inlet. We could see couples sipping beers and conversing on a beachfront bar. We had finally reached Grinda Island.
As close as Grinda is to Stockholm, it’s worlds apart from the city’s modernity. There are no cars on Grinda; the only way to get around is on foot. The island has miles of trails, scented pine trees and secluded coves that offer breathtaking views of the Stockholm archipelago. The place evokes the coast of Maine or the rugged shores of Northern California. Vacation cabins dot the island, where you can stay with friends and relax. We walked into the main hotel. It’s an old manor house from the late 19th century with a wonderful terrace restaurant with great views of the Baltic. There is a cozy bar inside and a roaring fireplace for the evening chill. We sat in the terrace to enjoy the view as sailboats bobbed in the marina below. The 26 year old chef gave us the specials of the day as the day trippers came in from the marina for dinner. As we ordered drinks, we could not help but be captivated by the beauty of the moment and we were all glad to suffer from Stockholm syndrome.
How to get there: AirBerlin offers smooth same day connection to Stockholm via Berlin from six US gateways: Miami, Fort Myers, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
When to go: Summers are magnificent. The sun practically doesn’t set and everyone is in a great mood. Fall and spring are great too. Winters can be bitter cold and the Baltic Sea freezes over.
* Max Milano is a travel writer and the author of “The Mechanicals of Recoleta”Available at Amazon