We arrived in Stockholm to find that it is officially summer. This means that everyone is off work, on vacation, and out of office. Each year, starting at the end of June, there is a big celebration, called Midsommar, where everyone celebrates the summer season and then their months-long vacation begins.
At first, I was a little disappointed. I hoped to make some friends. I was planning on attending meetups and joining running groups that would allow me to get to know some people. But, those are all on hold until August, when the city gets back to real life.
I quickly got over my disappointment, sliding into my own version of summer mode. While I still have to work—unfortunately my clients in the states don’t operate on the Swedish holiday calendar—I’ve relaxed a bit. We spend our mornings lazily—reading, exercising, and working on creative projects at our neighborhood coffee shop before we head to our office in the center of town to begin our workday.
Usually, July and August fly by just like the rest of the year, but slowing down has helped the summer really feel like summer. People in Sweden love this time of year. It's their reward for cold, dark winters. They spend every possible minute outside. Nearly every restaurant and cafe is empty inside, but the patio and tables outside are full, even if it’s raining. It helps that the sun rises between 4 and 5 am and doesn’t set until between 10 and 11 pm. The trails that trace and connect the islands are full of people walking or riding bikes and reading, writing, or napping on the beaches or grassy patches in the parks.
One of the most interesting characteristics of Stockholm is that it’s made up of a dozen, connected islands. You can get to them by train, bus, foot, scoot, or my favorite method—the ferry. I read somewhere that Stockholm is considered the Venice of the north. Water is everywhere and there are canals, large and small, that connect to the archipelago, just beyond Stockholm where a collection of 30,000 islands begin.
The islands range in size. Some can only host a single house and some are big enough for a large village. We took a trip to one of these islands on a recent Sunday. On recommendation from multiple people, we decided to visit an island called Grinda. There are no cars on the island, it’s mostly forest, and you can walk across the entire island in 25 minutes. It’s idyllic.
Jonathan and I went full summer mode and lazed about all day. We laid on the beach, learned and played a garden game called Kubb, sat at a cafe for a couple of hours people watching. We walked around the island and then we sat some more. It was lovely, but the hour-long ride on the ferry over to Grinda was probably my favorite part of the whole day. Brackish water. Islands covered in lush green trees. The wind. There's no wide open sea. Instead, the ferry winds its way between the islands so you get to see dozens of different worlds along the way.
Nature is abundant in Sweden. Even in the bustling metropolis of Stockholm there's plenty of parks, plants, and earth. All the streets are lined with trees and you can’t go far before you find yourself on a patch of grass. There are lime trees with flowers in bloom. The smell is rich and citrusy and fills the squares and corners that the trees take up space in. Each time I sense a lime tree, I stop and take big, deep, breaths.
As in most other cities we’ve lived in, running has offered me a chance to explore and discover the city. Here in Stockholm, I have a favorite run that covers four islands in one run. It’s an 8 to 10 mile route and it takes me from Sodermalm (where we live), through Gamla Stan (the Old Town), across Östermalm (the center of the city), and onto and around Djurgården (a nature preserve on an island). It’s entertaining to watch the sights change.
The streets of Sodermalm are filled with stores and restaurants. Locals sit at small tables outside cafes reading their paper or making their way out of the train station, moving too slowly through the surrounding construction, where irreverent signs say things like “Want to sound like a local? Complain about the Slussen construction.”
The Slussen construction has been going on for years. We had to navigate the same construction on our way to a ferry the last time we were here in December 2016. There are windows cut into the walls that line the bridge over the construction, where passersby can peak through and see the progress. It doesn’t look much like progress. It just looks like construction.
Once I cross over the congested bridge, I run the perimeter of Gamla Stan. Gamla Stan translated is "Old Town" and it’s where most of the tourist attractions live, which makes for some exciting dodging and weaving on a run if I don’t get out early. But if I get out late, there’s a chance that I’ll see the changing of the guard at the palace.
Past Gamla Stan, I enter the “fanciest street” in Stockholm in the neighborhood of Östermalm. The section on this part of the route runs between beautiful historic buildings and a harbor. It’s a long stretch dotted with cafes along the water where people drink their coffee in the morning and sip their cocktails in the evening.
At the end of the fancy street, I take a right turn and enter Djurgården. A huge green landscape, six miles around, where Skansen, the local Zoo is located, and museums line the shores. I head away from the museums and make my way along the quieter side of the island. I can see across the canal, the nearby island is close and it’s fun to spot fellow runners and walkers on the opposite side of the water. Boats travel through the canal and the trail is full of other other runners and walkers on weekends but on weekdays it’s quiet and I mostly have the trail to myself.
When I reach the tip of the island and head back toward Östermalm on the other side of the island, there are much larger boats. Ferries and Viking cruise ships take passengers out to islands in the archipelago or further to Finland or Estonia.
The other day, on this run, I came across sheep being herded by dogs. The 30 or so sheep were blocking the road, so I had to come to a stop while the dogs did their jobs and hustled the sheep onto the green space along the road, interrupting their constant grazing. After taking a dozen pictures of the adorable sheep, I started up again, heading back towards home, and on the edge of the island was stopped by a British family, lost, on their way to the ABBA museum. I obviously know where the ABBA museum is. When we visited in 2016 we took a trip and it was highly entertaining and worthwhile. So I sent this group off to sing dancing queen, while I made my way back through the many worlds on my route and to our home in Stockholm.