A few weeks ago I went to Sweden. I’d planned to spend the week doing research elsewhere, but when I sat down to actually review the visa requirements for said place it became clear that I simply didn’t have time to pull everything off without more lead time. So, with a few “spare” days ahead of me, I decided to go to Stockholm to see some old friends instead.
I flew out from London on a Tuesday night, exiting Arlanda just before midnight into foggy autumnal air. (Yes, I know that it’s spring, but “spring air” is usually a projection of warm things to come. When I arrived it was cold but not frigid. It felt like autumn.)
M was waiting for me at the airport bus stop near her apartment in the hazy cold. We walked back to her flat and talked about her dance class and its bewildering social networks. Then I fell asleep until 10:30. I woke up, made myself coffee and helped myself to breakfast and realized, again, that her flat is one of my favorite places in the world. Don’t we sometimes fall in love with the ways our friends live? M’s flat is of a perfect scale. Everything has a purpose, and there are many whimsical things – a postcard collection, an obscene refrigerator magnet, a to-do list for an upcoming trip.
I walked to Willys, the discount market in the enormous public housing project next to her flat and replaced the breakfast I had just eaten. I returned, cleaned the kitchen, and walked down to the nearby train station to ride into Stockholm proper. It had been a few hours of perfect idleness in a place familiar yet novel. It was going on 1 p.m. and I’d done nothing of note. I was content.
This became my pattern. My two-and-a-half days were days of idleness. I didn’t go to a single museum or tourist site. I tried, half-heartedly, to reserve a table at a buzzy restaurant or two. I failed, but this seemed to be of little consequence. I was having too much fun doing nothing.Here are some examples of nothing. I drank beer with T and we discussed next year’s elections and his upcoming date with a handsome Greek fellow. On another evening, A made me dinner, a slightly Asian variation on the fiskbullar (fish balls) that are a drab staple of school menus across Sweden. His were anything but boring, cod with flavorful basil in a cream-coconut milk sauce. His wife N arrived late from work and read a short story to her daughter in their mother-tongue after we ate. We talked until late.
I walked through some of my favorite parts of Stockholm, deciding that Vasastaden is my new fantasy relocation neighborhood. I ate salmon sandwiches. I drank lots of coffee, the best of which was pulled at Mean Coffee (Vasagatan 38).
I bought two beautiful ceramic cups by the exquisite craftsman Jonas Lindholm, on sale at Konsthantverkarna, a crafts guild. And, smitten again by the everydayness of Scandinavian objects, I bought broad plastic butter knives, salty liquorice, liquid soap and magazines to take home.
These were inconsequential days, yet my short break felt like the most meaningful holiday I’d had in quite some time. Most importantly, I suppose, none of what I experienced was fungible. I couldn’t have had this short, idle break anywhere but Sweden. Even the most mundane components of the trip were fully Swedish.
Now I’m going to ruin everything with an imprecise, half-baked aphorism. Some of the best travel is unplanned and idle and eventless, especially perhaps in places you love, places inhabited by people you treasure.
[Image: Alex Robertson Textor]