It’s an inexplicable yearning, a quest for one continent. It doesn’t matter where— Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Copenhagen or Stockholm. And I have so many more cities to explore, but I absolutely love Europe.
Looking at my travels, it’s roughly every six months that I get an urge to hop the pond and breathe in the sights and sounds of languages not my own. I revel in the struggle to pick through signs and navigate metro systems. Because I have almost no extended periods of time off work, I usually have to cram an entire city into three days or less; it’s always funny to see the shock on locals’ faces when they ask how long I’m visiting. “Just a short stay?!”
Europe is a romantic continent, and I certainly have an attraction to it for that reason— it seems that every time my heart flutters, I escape to the old world to figure things out. It just so happened that this time, I was returning to the homeland of Scandinavia, specifically Sweden, after a particularly interesting wedding weekend.
If you haven’t caught on, I’m part Swedish. An 1/8th, maybe 1/16th, I’m not quite certain yet. Out of all of my ancestry, that’s the most interesting nationality (sorry England and Germany or whatever countries make me a mutt). Therefore, I have an affinity for the language and culture, however cold and biting they may be.
This was my first visit to Copenhagen and third visit to Stockholm. The quick day I spent in Copenhagen, I did what I always do when I travel solo: walk. I take a look at the map, see where I might want to go, and I let my feet do the rest. That allows my brain to relax and recharge, all the while doing something productive. My first stop was The Marble Church, or Frederiks Kirke. I’m not religious, but I do like taking a few moments to step inside and feel a moment of quiet. I left and walked along the water to find the Little Mermaid, perhaps the most hyped monument in the town. It was neat, but it was just a statue. I walked through an old, yet still active, military installation shaped like a star; the leaves had just started to change in mid-October, a coolness permeated through the glow of a sun that wouldn’t quite make it high enough in the sky— my perpetual mood.
The rest of the day, I took a nap once my room became available. Then I ventured out into the night to find a kebab, the pinnacle of European junk food. I went to a prison themed gay bar— which isn’t as raunchy as it seems— and met a cute and friendly Italian couple. Copenhagen is the standard of a Scandinavian city: clean, straightforward, and expensive. But my heart is in Stockholm.
The next morning, after a short hour flight with SAS, I landed in “hemlandet,” or The Homeland. At this point, I’m an expert at finding Flygbussarna, buying my $12 ticket to the city center, and relaxing for a 45 minute journey from the airport to T Centralen.
Aside from my familial ancestry to Sweden, my other connection to Stockholm is my cousin Sarah and her husband, Fredrik, and their two bambinos. Fredrik runs FlightRadar24, a flight tracking website and app that has found much popularity around the world. I got the tour of their posh headquarters, studded with aviation relics and modern workplace gizmos— even a treadmill and drink station á la Google. The coders were friendly but short, giving me smirks as they continued to hack the world via aviation.
Later that evening, in a quaint Swedish restaurant named Eriks Bakficka, Sarah gave me tough love. As I recounted my recent romantic endeavor, she called bullshit on fronts I was attempting to smooth over— lovingly, of course. In so many words, her advice about any relationship was this: it should be clear, it should be relatively simple, and it should not be complicated. “Making sense” and checking boxes on shared interests is settling. Love should be explosive and dramatic as the best pan-seared duck breast I was eating.
I let this advice sit with me over the next day as I strolled through my favorite part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan. The bright colors on a cloudy fall day gave me the hideout I needed as I wound through the windy streets. I stopped in for a fika at a coffeeshop, blessedly without WiFi. I ended up at Vasamuseet, a museum showcasing an ancient warship that had sunk in Stockholm. In the dark recesses of the exhibits, I did my best thinking and drafted up what I would convey. The Vasa could be a metaphor for my love life: deep-seated feelings that sailed for a brief moment, sinking to the sea floor but preserved by cold, pure waters— only to be resurrected hundreds of years later and admired from afar. I should start charging admission.
Sarah and I had thrown around the idea of going to another museum for the evening— but I was museum’d out and just wanted some family time. She cooked me a fabulous but simple traditional Swedish meal with dill and crayfish. We sat around the kitchen with her kiddos until it was time for them to do regular life stuff— I made my way to my room across town and got ready for the long flight home in the morning.
I thought this retreat to Europe would reveal clarity through the cobblestone, as if my ancestors would whisper wisdom through the channels and fjords. But actually it was a real life family member, staring me down, pursing her lips, and giving me the truth I absolutely needed with so much love.