Local Voice: Johnny Friskilä, Travel Guide

In our series Local Voices, we’ll be introducing you to locals and some of their favourite things to do in Stockholm.

Johnny Friskilä

Photographs taken by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

With roughly 100 countries and territories under his belt, Stockholm-based Norwegian Johnny Friskilä is an independent tour leader and translator of Scandinavian languages. Traveling, languages and food are important to Johnny and his travel blog Johnnybajdzjan – written in Swedish, Norwegian, and English – is  full of stories and tales from countries and cultures far away with a focus on local hospitality and local food.

We caught up with Johnny just a day before he was heading off for three weeks to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

How long have you been based here in Stockholm and what drew you to the city?

In November 2002, I packed up my things and took the train from my hometown Narvik in the north of Norway. I crossed the border, then the Polar Circle and 21 hours later, on the 1st of December, I arrived in Stockholm. The reason for coming here was studies. I had finished my bachelor degree in Norway and wanted to continue my studies somewhere else. I had visited Stockholm a couple of times before, I had friends there and I liked the city alot. The months passed, then years, one thing led to another.

In 2016, I am still here.

Tell us a bit about your background

Narvik in the north of Norway is the town where I grew up with the midnight sun in summer and nothern lights in winter. That was not exotic to me, that was the most natural thing in the world. When I was 18, I went one year to Murmansk in Russia as an exchange student. Our neighbour in the east has always had a place in my heart since then and it was in the late 1990s that I got my interest in travel, seeing how other people live, seeing how different we are, but at the same time very much the same.

After my year in Russia, I did a year in the Norwegian navy. Then I finished university in the north of Norway with a bachelor in political science, history and Russian language. By then, I had also done seasonal work as a tour guide in and around my hometown.

In Stockholm, I felt at home from the moment I arrive. I have been here for almost 14 years now and never even considered moving back to Norway. Norway is great in many ways, but Stockholm is my home.Johnny Friskilä

Tell us more about your work as a tour guide. 

I was 16 years old when I first had a job a tour guide. There was a desperate need of German speaking guides for our city tours, and I guess my school German wasn’t that bad. After a four hour intensive course and some papers to read, I was hired.

They must have been satisfied because a couple of years later, I would myself working the summers in the tourist information centre of Narvik while also doing guided tours. When I moved to Sweden, I wasn’t involved in the tourism industry to start with, but in 2007 I applied for a position at a cruise ship, and I got it. I got to see the Norwegian fjords from a different perspective from what you have when you live there.

I got to see Iceland, Faroe Islands and many other places.

Then I did different things media related, but two years ago, a friend of mine told me to get in touch with a tour company that were in search for a tour guide to the Caucasus. I had been traveling twice in the Caucasus before, I knew Russian, and I got the job. Since then, my guiding reportoir has expanded also to other countries.

What I like most about my job as a tour guide is the people that I met. Both the local people on each destination, but actually more the travellers that go on my tours. It is a privilege to get to know so many different people of different ages, with different stories to tell, who all have a common interest in travelling to places far away and off the beaten track.

In a couple of days from now (writing this on April 12, 2016), I will be on my way to Turkmenistan with a group – so for all those who want to go somewhere with not that many tourists and explore the real life in far away destinations – join me!

What are some of your favorite tour-related activities you would recommend for travelers to Stockholm?

Something tour-related in Stockholm would definitely be staying a longer time in the Swedish capital and use it as a base for shorter weekend trips to other Scandinavian and Baltic capitals. From Stockholm, there are ferries every day to Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga, and there are fast trains both to Oslo and Copenhagen.  Five other capitals with everything they have to offer is in other words in easy and cheap reach from Stockholm.

Maybe it sounds strange to invite people to Stockholm so that they can get away from it, but Stockholm is a great place both to be in and to get away from.

Johnny Friskilä

What are three of your personal favorite things to do in Stockholm?

Since I live in a Stockholm suburb called Norsborg, one of my personal favourites is the 200 year old English park that we have here and the nature surrounding it. In summer and early autumn, I don’t have to walk to pick mushrooms, blueberries and raspberries. I love the fact that nature is so close.

Another personal favorite is that although I am not a big shopper, Stockholm has a very nice mix of ethnic stores, second hand stores and design. You can often find flea markets that are better than in many other European capitals.

The lake Mälaren is of course beautiful, and being situated on different small islands, Stockholm is a very photogenic city. The contrasts are always near you and that makes great photography.

Follow Johnny on his website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Do you know any local voices you’d love us to spotlight or would you love to share your voice and your Stockholm with us? Please get in touch.

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Author: Lola A. Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning writer, photographer, and travel blogger, and is also the Founder/Editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative. She tweets at @LolaAkinmade.

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