Stockholm’s green grove
Excerpt reprinted from Stockholm article in Thai Airways’ Sawasdee in-flight magazine.
We push out of Nybrokajen bay at exactly 12 noon. I’m aboard the S/S Stockholm, a refurbished 1931 steamboat. We start out sailing parallel to the city’s most expensive boulevard – Strandvägen – lined with elegant classic brick and Art Noveau-façade buildings.
At first glance, you probably won’t know a spot on Strandvägen is the most coveted piece of real estate in the priciest part of the city, Östermalm. Along Strandvägen, public buses and trams running on biogas converted from waste compete for space with biking and walking paths which take higher priority. This boulevard is pretty modest compared to high streets in London and Paris, and one begins to realize just how understated Stockholm’s beauty is as we take in the boulevard’s length from the steamboat.
The city itself spans 14 core islands, each with unique personality and flair, all separated by waterways and canals which make each island feel like a floating puzzle piece.“You can walk down streets you’ve walked down a thousand times and one day, the light will be different or there will be a certain atmosphere in the air,” says Evelina Roos, a native performer and producer who has lived in Stockholm for decades as she describes the city’s photogenic qualities. And cruising Stockholm’s waterways is usually touted as the best way of taking in the city’s stunning landscape.
“The water makes a big difference whether it’s covered with ice, or just seeing the sun glistening on its surface during early mornings,” adds Roos.
Lush green Djurgården, another puzzle piece, comes into clear view as we back away from shore. Thick vegetation surround centuries-old buildings which house prominent museums like the imposing Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet) and Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet), both of which shoot high above the tree line. I catch glimpses of Skansen, the world’s oldest open air museum which was founded in 1891 to preserve and spotlight Swedish culture – from traditional artisans at work to barns with farm animals and a zoo with Nordic wildlife. Think reindeer, lynx, wolves, and moose.
We hear loud zipping noises and gut-wrenching screams coming from Gröna Lund, a vibrant amusement park also located on Djurgården along with thick forests, open parks, and flower gardens all interlaced by biking routes and walking paths. Footpaths I often use to get to Rosendals Trädgård Kafé & Bageri, one of the most sustainable restaurants in the city and a favorite of mine.
Serving up organic meals made from local seasonal ingredients and boasting a bakery which uses only biodynamic flour, it’s only fitting that this world-class eco-friendly café is located on the greenest island of them all.
Directly opposite Djurgården, we slowly sail past Södermalm, the city’s heartbeat. This bohemian district locally known as “Söder” was once a 17th century working class slum and is now home to a variety of vintage stores selling secondhand wares, organic restaurants and cafes serving fair trade products, and self-sustaining hotels using bio-fuels. Stockholm’s residents have found a way to seamlessly integrate eco-friendly living with the modernist style and minimalist designs Sweden is known for without sacrificing their taste or comfort.
Facets of this can be seen in the most mundane of daily tasks – from reusing and paying for plastics bags for groceries to sorting and recycling anything that can be reused – in a collective effort to lower the city’s environmental footprint.
This lifestyle netted Stockholm the first ever European Green Capital award back in 2010 which meant it remains a shining example of sustainability at work. With 90 hotels bearing the Nordic Swan Ecolabel (“Svanen”) denoting their compliance with strict environmental and health regulations, Stockholm has the highest number of eco-friendly lodging in the world hands down. Moving away from the 14 core islands, we cruise past Fjäderholmarna – gateway to Stockholm’s archipelago.
Life moves outdoors at the first ray of sunshine, and the government’s institution of “Allemansrätten” (“Every man’s right”) allows you to freely and responsibly camp, hike, and pick berries and mushrooms anywhere within the archipelago, making it easier for residents to enjoy nature.
This wasn’t my first time aboard the S/S Stockholm. I’d done this route many times before partly because of its extensive brunch smörgåsbord featuring traditional Swedish favorites like pickled herring (sill), cured salmon (gravad lax), and meatballs (köttbullar).
But above all, like Roos mentioned, when light hits the city a certain way, I feel like I’m seeing Stockholm for the very first time as we push past island after island.
We finally reach Vaxholm – our destination and yet another puzzle piece within Stockholm’s greater archipelago where 28,000 more pieces float …Lola Akinmade Åkerström