Along the Water in Stockholm

I hiked along the waterfront near Gamla Stan in Stockholm this morning, headed for the island of Skeppsholmen. It was cold, in the 20s with a light snow, but the sun was out and the wind was calm. As long as you prepare and layer properly, you stay relatively warm.

Sweden’s king has not invited me over to the palace for Fika

I had to keep pulling a glove off to handle my phone because there were so many photo opportunities. The view of the old town mirrored in the water reminded me faintly of Venice. Stockholm is a big city but it doesn’t boast skyscrapers or act like a metropolis. It feels cozy and manageable.

The reason I trekked to the island of Skeppsholmen was for its art and design museums. It’s always interesting to me how you can track the history of a country through the development of art. Just look at the progression in these three works I admired today:

ArkDes, the Swedish Center for Architecture and Design, provided an entire room filled with models of Swedish buildings which I found fascinating.

You learned why the buildings along the waterfronts of so many northern European cities looked the same. They’re narrow to share access to the water, tall to house families above the businesses and gabled so hoists could be mounted high in the front for moving goods to and from boats and storage. Old barns back in America were designed with similar functionality.

They even had a model of Stockholm’s city hall complete with tower:

With my background in Industrial Design, I was especially intrigued by the displays of Nordic product design. I well remembered the chunky Nokia cell phones everyone seemed to have back in the day. Nokia had a full 51% of global market share at their peak in 2007. Guess what also came in 2007? The iPhone. Nokia neared bankruptcy just five years later.

It always seems the Swedes have considered every comfort for visitors. Electronic storage lockers safeguard your coats, scarves and gloves. Audio guides are apps you can download to your phone. And every display and sign is in Swedish AND English.

I read that some 86% of Swedes could carry on a conversation in English, one of the highest percentages of any EU country. Only the Dutch had a higher percentage (90%) among non-native English speakers. The Irish, by the way, were at 94% (ha).

Next up was the Moderna Museet. I’ll admit I don’t completely “get” modern art (are we supposed to?) but it never fails to entertain. After going through the exhibits, I did realize that among all the modern art movements, I connected most with Abstract.

After the camera made realistic paintings redundant, Impressionism emerged to make you feel rather than just see. Abstract Art seems like the industrialization of that movement. It just fits neatly with my enthusiasm for Industrial Design.

After all that hiking and art appreciation, I found a small restaurant featuring traditional Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. This is as close to a national dish as the Swedes have (unless you count coffee and Kanelbulle, but that’s for Fika).

Lingonberries are small, tart red berries popular in Scandinavia for use in jams and syrups. They’re full of powerful antioxidants which are said to neutralize the sun’s radiation. I know they don’t get a ton of sun up here but when it bounces off the snow, then yes, you need your lingonberries and sunglasses.

The hard bread is called Knäckebröd and I’m not sure it really went with my meal. The restaurant had it out so I took a sample. It was dry and hard, as advertised, but livened up with a little butter and lingonberry.

If I hit the Oregon Trail when I get back to America, I’ll know what to pack.


Thanks for coming along on the trip. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.




I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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Jason R. Matheson

Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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