Where did my Scandinavian fascination start? As a young nipper, charging round the bull rush filled school playgrounds of the Deep South, I completed a project on Sweden. Too young to really appreciate much more than some basic geographical facts and at the tender age where girls were infested with cooties, I had merely opened the book. It would be some years later while living in the tourist mecca of Queenstown and taking my first steps out into the big wide world abroad that I would begin to flick through the glamorous pages of what would develop into somewhat of an obsession in later years .
While travelling I began to notice several trends relating to blonde hair and blues eyes which all invariably led back to Sweden. However like any good Kiwi male, I’m not one for directly confronting issues, so I skirted around the fringes with trips to Denmark and Estonia. These trips, like a gold miner finding the first few specs of gold on a new claim, only served to drive me deeper in search for the large nuggets which rested on the bedrock.
As winter clawed at New Zealand’s south, it was time to tackle the issue head on by embarking on a voyage upstream following the river of Scandinavian finery to its source. I would see if the streets of Stockholm were truly paved with blonde hair and blue eyes if the whole thing was a carefully orchestrated rouse by the Swedish Visitor Bureau to propagate the legend of Norse beauty. Perhaps Sweden is simply sending out the pick of the litter to bathe scantily clad on the beaches of the world as an elaborate public relations exercise or was there truth to the commonly held belief that Sweden is home to the world’s most beautiful women
When you first spot Sweden through the rectangular confines of an airline window what strikes you is not blonde but a vivid green. It stretches out endlessly into the distance, trees and fields all green, interspersed with a myriad of peculiarly shaped lakes. Surely such an ornate untarnished wilderness would be a prime breeding ground for beautiful people?
En route my over-active imagination had been racing like Scott Dixon around the Indianapolis oval and as I touched down at Arlanda Airport - set in lush farmland skirted by forests surrounding Stockholm - I had expected to see super models on the tarmac in bikinis tackling the obligatory tasks of refueling and baggage handling. Unfortunately my dreams were crushed when I was greeted by a black haired male. Thankfully he was not bikini clad! A mere speed bump I hoped?
The city with its impressively restored historical precinct of Gamla Stan (Old Town), clean and modern looking central business district, stylish bohemian suburbs such as Slussen and abundance of waterfront marinas looked like a playground for the beautiful, successful and influential peoples of Sweden. The ideal environment to find the epicenter of this near endless stream of blonde hair and blue eyed glamour’s, who grace the world’s tourist hot spots and have earned Stockholm numerous podium spots in the race for being home to the attractive women on earth.
During daylight Stockholm is abound with tourists clambering for photos of its endless waterways, historical architecture, the megalith that is the royal palace and its quirky royal guard who march to modern pop music played through their drums, tubas and trumpets. It was Sweden’s national holiday (June 6) which added to the crowds fighting for spots bask in the sun at the few inner city parks of Gamla Stan. The city took on a unique family feel with fairs and an agglomeration of open air acts celebrating the election of King Gustav Vasa in 1523, which is recognised as the official founding date of modern Sweden.
You quickly realise beauty isn’t free, so be prepared for a day’s sightseeing in Stockholm by extending the mortgage on the house, begging the banker for a bigger credit limit on your plastic or even by selling a couple of the kids on your way through Hong Kong. Surprisingly for all its expense, Stockholm doesn’t fare too badly in the value for money stakes. Food is hearty and of a high calibre, attractions are well run and presented, public transport even on the busiest weekend of the year ran close to time and the people, as well as being easy on the eye, are friendly and informative. It truly is a clean, safe and remarkably attractive city that was a pleasure to explore. I did consider hiring a bike and joining the numerous flocks of young beauties gliding around the cycle friendly streets but laziness got the better of me.
With Stockholm being built on an archipelago, the best way to see the city, apart from a stroll through Gamla Stan and Slussen, is from the water. There are numerous options run by Stockholm Sightseeing which depart centrally at regular intervals. Lads get the binoculars or the 210mm camera lens out as you head past Langholmen Islands beaches. With an abundance of fantastic scenery splayed out on the decks of the numerous launches sharing the waterways it makes you wonder how there are not more boating accidents due to driver distraction.
By night you get an appreciation of how expensive beauty really is. Like a trophy wife the maintenance bill on a night out in Stockholm compares to that of a late 90’s WINZ management conference. Stureplan is the playground of the rich, famous and ornamentally presented segment of the population. Glitzy nightclubs, some of which resemble 60’s living rooms and others a beach party on Ibiza, charge like a wounded bull and that’s just for entry (100-200 SEK Standard, $25 to $50 NZD). Once inside, WOW is all I can say, that’s if you’re lucky enough to be on the guest list or wearing the right threads. Scuffs won’t pass muster unless you plead small hick-town New Zealand ignorance and say your country doesn’t have shoes.
Spy bar, which once upon a time used to be a grand apartment, is part of a stable of unique and extremely popular hospitality options managed by Stureplansgruppen (an entertainment group) and is joined by Sturecompagniet, The Lab and the extremely exclusive mystery shrouded invite-only V Club located above Strurecompgniet as the places to be seen when venturing to the inner city.
I had got a little carried away at a TGI Fridays which somewhat kneecapped my evenings efforts in uncovering any real defining proof of Sweden’s homogenous population of blonde hair blue eyed beauties but I made the observation that, for a country with the most even income distribution on the planet, status is still abound in Stockholm’s nightlife.
If you want to take a step back from the pomp and pressure of the Stureplan district, head to Slussen, where there are numerous quirky and seemingly popular little bars, some larger bars with ample acreage in the outdoor seating department which, if you’re lucky overlooks Gamla Stan one of the world’s best night time city-scapes. Things are still trendy but a little less in your face, you may actually be able to strike up a conversation with a local and be able to afford to buy them a drink.
Stockholm does sleep with most bars shutting around 1 or 2am and nightclubs rolling along into the endless summer twilight, shutting at 3 or 4am. If you want the last place standing head to Koket, the final destination for beautiful people and what the Swedes apparently consider good music? Restaurants are usually done and dusted serving your stomach fuel before midnight but if you’re a late grazer check out Sturehof, also in the Stureplan district , which hosts Obaren nightclub upstairs and is still happy to cook you a feed until 1am I’m told.
By day and by night I scoured the streets, beaches, restaurants and bars quizzing the locals, searching for these envisaged hoards of blonde Norse goddesses. Did I find the epicenter of beauty or did I bust the myth wide open like JK did to the Italian defence in '87?
Not really, I found a surprising diversity to Stockholm. It was Swedish yes but like any major global city it had taken on a multicultural feel. With dining options that rivaled down town Auckland for ethnic diversity, hair colours that ranged from ginger to black and everything in-between, (yes I did find a ginger Swedish girl but only one and she assures me she is the only one she knows), Stockholm has something for everyone. There was a pretty handy ratio of desirability among the population but it wasn't restricted to simply the stereotypical blonde hair blue eyed super model. There was an eclectic mix of beauty sourced from all shades of the spectrum. Stockholm has earned the status as the world’s most beautiful city and this may be deserved but as for being the source of the fabled Swedish blondes, for that I think another trip further inland and to the north may be required.
It’s a hard road but someone needs to crack this mystery.
Important Stockholm Information.
Travel to Stockholm Between June and August if you want to avoid wearing a puffer jacket.
Get your Stockholm Card , Available Online - http://shop.visitstockholm.com/en-GB/stockholmskortet-c-105-7.aspx , essential purchasing for any tourist with free access to nearly 200 attractions and free public transport. Be sure to read the fine print and make sure your travel dates don’t fall on any of the excluded days.
Stay – High Range: Hilton Slussen $400-$650 NZD, best views in the city from the executive rooms, great staff, meals, a fully equipped gym and a trendy bar. Mid Range: Scandic Continental Hotel , $280 for a standard room - $450 for a family room. Most centrally located hotel, bang above central station, close to the local Systembolaget (government run liquor monopoly), Backpackers: City Backpackers, $35-$50 depending on how many in your dorm. Cleanest hostel I’ve ever seen, central, safe and great common area with birdsong on the speakers.
Eat – La Cucaracha http://www.lacucaracha.se/ Spanish tapas restaurant and bar. Trendy and interesting decor, feels like you’re in a medieval dungeon except bathed in a red strip club glow. Great for Hakas and hearing stirring renditions of the Swedish National Anthem.
Drink – At Home or on the beach: All off license purchases need to be made through the Government stores known as Systembolaget’s . Beware it’s not cheap, you can’t buy anything in boxes or bulk so forget a 24 pack of stubbies at the beach lads and nothing is refrigerated. They are really set up to make drinking as inconvenient as possible. Early or weeknights: Eken, Slussen, the Hiltons hotel bar, a hot spot with the locals. Garden Bar: Snaps also in Slussen, great outdoor area with blankets for when the night draws in, plenty of young interesting and atheistically pleasing individuals. Great place to enjoy Stockholms long summer twilight also has a night club if you feel like amping things up later. Clubbing/Inner city: Start at TGI Fridays (no joke!). Then mortgage the house and head to Spy bar and Sturecompagniet, or try the unique outdoor experience that is Utecompagniet. Beware 90% of late night venues have cover charges, drinks will sting you $12-$25 kiwi a pop and some places have age restrictions of 22 and 23. Avoid the Ice Bar it’s an expensive waste of money and the local options in New Zealand are far better and cheaper and that’s saying a lot.
Author: Mark Wilson
Photos: Mark Wilson/Stockholm Visitors Board
© Mark Wilson 2011, no part of the material may be reproduced for commercial purposes without the express consent of the Author. Any non commercial reproductions must come with a full creative credit to Mark Wilson and a link to www.markwilson.co.nz
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