Six hours in a tax office is a lot, six hours of sleep is not enough, and how about six hours in a city like Stockholm?
Even though low-cost airlines now offer direct flights to Stockholm from Croatia, I came there form across the Baltic sea, beautiful (and at this time of the year, really dark) Helsinki.
Infamous Baltic sea cruises between Tallin, Helsinki and Stockholm are well known for the activities offered on the boat (gambling and alcohol on tax-free zone), which is what often puts the destination in shadow. Thanks to my willpower and years of training, I didn’t let that happen to me.
The trip from Helsinki to Stockholm lasts for about 16 hours, and the price of a night on the boat can go as low as 9 euros for two nights in four bed cabin. That way night per person can cost just a bit over an euro – the real price is the one paid on in the boat bars and tax-free stores, which is the reason why many Finns decide to cruise just to get less expensive alcohol.
During the summer cruising the dreamy archipelagos of this Nordic states can be beautiful, but since during the winter there is just a few hours of daylight – what happens on the boat is much more interesting.
„It is a human zoo”, my Finnish friends warned me. What you need to know is that Nordic nations are usually very quiet and well-behaved. In international waters… not so much.
In two nights on the boat witnessed wild dancers getting escorted by the boat police, wives cheating on their husbands, businessman falling under the bar and grandmas spending their monthly pension on slot machines. All of that while a bend in the tacky bar plays the same ballade for the third time that night.
A lot of exhibits of this human comedy don’t even leave
the boat the other day, but they don’t matter in this story anymore. From the port where Viking Line ships find anchor it takes about twenty minutes of walking (or 1.3 kilometres – what is the answer that the lady from the info desk insisted on after I asked her what is the time distance) to the Gamla stan, the old town.
Known for its narrow streets and colourful facades originated from Middle Age, it is situated on the island in the city centre. Gamla stan in Swedish means old town, and in its heart lays Stortorget, a big square which name means… big square.
At this time of the year the square is home to the Christmas market, and when it started snowing we took shelter in the nearest building – what happened to be the former Stock Exchange Building, transformed into the Nobel museum few years ago. Nobel prizes are awarded every year on December 10th, on anniversary of death of Alfred Nobel.
He dedicated a fund to fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace, and yearly interests of the fond make the awards. Award for economy is memorial and awarded by the Swedish national bank. Regardless the field, in 2016 and 2017 there were no female winners – which is a problem the Nobel foundation recognizes and even considers changing the nomination process.
Besides the historical side, the modern part of the city is what makes Stochkolm the self-pronounced capital of Scandinavia. Since we had limited time, we went to SoFo, the hipster part of the city which name is abbreviation of “South of Folkungagatan“. Swedish creativity when it comes to naming places never ceases to amaze me.
This former industrial part of the city is now a media center, full of bars and restaurants. One of Swedish traditions is fika, and it represents a cup of coffee in good company, often followed by cinnamon rolls. Fika, just like Danish hygge or even Croatian fjaka are cultural phenomena that often serve as philosophies for happy living.
After paying our respects to the sweet custom of fika and finding someplace to eat (we got lucky in a very affordable vegan restaurant), it was time to return to Finland. That night the ship stopped at the island of Åland, halfway between Sweden and Finland. Even though the island belongs to Finland, it is autonomous and uses Swedish as official language. It is home to almost 30 thousand inhabitants, who mostly work in fields of shipping, trade and tourism – I wonder what it would offer if we spent more time there.
Six hours in Stockholm is not a lot – but it is enough to feel what puts Sweden on the top of the lists by the quality of life. On the other hand, sixteen hours on the ship back shows that regardless the quality of life on the coast, other rules apply in the international waters.
By Aleksandra Ignatoski
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