Tourist in my own habitat — aka time to rediscover my city
I’ve seen them all summer: multiculti tourists staring intently from colour-coded hop-on-hop-off buses during designated tours around Stockholm. I know relevant information is being related via speaker voices — including mine if you happen to hop on to a particular route and choose English — because heads with interested eyes are swivelling from side to side. I’ve often thought how handy it would be if we could look left and right simultaneously (come on Disney, how’s that for an unexplored superpower?) — but what do these good folk actually see?
In other words, how do visitors from different parts of the world perceive my city? What are the wow factors?
Surely our medieval Old Town impresses the Americans. But what impresses the history-soaked Italians? Venetians will take all the city water in their stride, but what do good folk from inland countries make of the Stockholm archipelago with its 24,000 islands? And what will, say, Asians make of our food culture?
And watching them watching me, aka a Swede on the street that they happen to pass, I realise that I’m ridiculously keen for them all to fall in love with Stockholm as much as I did back in 1980 when, on my very first night in this beautiful city, I dropped my purse on a fairground ride and a random kind soul handed it in with all contents intact. When I gazed across the harbour towards the Royal Palace, breathed in the warm summer air and wondered whether the water in Stockholm really was clean enough to drink. When my ‘to see’ list was over two-weeks long. At least.
Since then, of course, my romance with Stockholm has deepened into a more realistic kind of love. I curse the traffic hold-ups and lament the length of time it sometimes takes to be served (think Christmas when Swedes seem utterly incapable of gift-wrapping their own purchases) as much as the next guy — and, worse, I’ve grown to take her for granted.
And watching these tourists express facial delight at the sights that they see and the information they hear, it struck me that maybe, just maybe, they will be leaving Stockholm with a much more updated view of the city than I have. Say what? They might learn things about my city that have escaped me completely.
Because with the exception of a brief burst of action when ABBA The Museum opened in 2013, all my visits to museums and other tourist attractions dried up years ago when my children and regular visitors had seen ‘everything’. Quite simply, actually living in Stockholm and knowing that tomorrow would bring another day has hampered making the most of all the goodies on offer. I’ve even managed to miss a few significant temporary museum exhibitions that I would have loved to see — indeed, fully intended to see — through sheer dumb I’ll-go-next-week procrastination.
But no more. I’ve decided to revisit Stockholm by becoming a tourist in my own habitat.
A couple of weeks ago, we took a boat ride through the city centre. I played tourist and tried to view Stockholm with fresh eyes. And there was plenty to discover: new cafés over-hanging the water and new housing projects, involving a good deal of tinted glass, rubbed shoulders with the old and sometimes repainted familiar. Key landmarks, obviously, were right where I’d last seen them, but I tried to pay attention and look for new details. I noticed buildings that had quite clearly been there since well before I stepped off my first SAS flight at Arlanda airport, but they were new to me.
We continued to motor slowly along the canals and under bridges.
Kids were splashing down new(?) waterslides and landing in Mälaren, the lake that meets the Baltic Sea at the Slussen lock in the city centre. Other Stockholmers were stand up paddle boarding just metres away from Stockholm City Hall. And for the first time in a long time I wondered, how common is that in a capital city?
So my plan is to enlist a trusty pal to accompany me on a journey designed to reacquaint myself with Stockholm. To actively embark upon a typically touristy activity every month. To rediscover the wonderful and the historical. And experience the new.
And as my family and I have done in many large cities in Europe and the US, I shall begin my quest by hopping onto a bus and listening to what the voice has to tell me.
Does anyone else want to join me by rediscovering their own hometown? Please add the name of your city in the comments below. It will be interesting to see how we all get on.