My First Impression of Stockholm, Sweden

I arrived in Stockholm around 7:30 AM today. My flight from Chicago to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport was on SAS. It was my first time on SAS and that had to be one of the least comfortable business class flights I have ever been on. The seats reclined into a more-or-less flat bed but the bed was hard and short considering I am just over 6 feet tall. The service was so-so with attentive flight attendants and decent food. Lufthansa and Singapore Air still top my list of favorite airlines. Lufthansa’s First Class had pajamas, y’all. It’s going to be hard to top that.

Stockholm2007_0001Clearing customs was pretty easy. Not Barcelona customs easy, but quick and painless nonetheless. There were no forms to complete, I had nothing to declare and I carried on my bags. Being the 5th person off the plane, I waited in line less than 10 minutes for my turn with the customs agent. It would have been even shorter if another flight had not landed just before ours. I had already exchanged some greenbacks for Swedish kronor (SKR) while in O’Hare so I headed straight for the taxi line. The current exchange rate is about 6:1 SKR to USD. Sweden is a member of the European Union but, like Denmark and the United Kingdom, it has not replaced its currency with the euro.

By 8AM I was in a taxi heading south toward Stockholm. By 8:25 we had hit rush hour traffic. I expected the expressway to be chock full of Saabs and Volvos. I guess there isn’t too much national loyalty to the domestic brands as there were probably equivalent numbers of Peugeots, Benzes and BMWs. I even saw several Porsche Cayennes and Range Rovers. We eventually made it to the hotel and the 540kr ($90) taxi fare put me in a panic as I only had 600kr. I asked the taxi driver if he accepted Amex and, somewhat offended, he replied, “But, of course!” Cool. Out came the plastico fantastico and a moment later I was entering the wiggity wackest European hotel I have ever seen.

Stockholm2007_0005

The Quality Hotel Nacka (pronounced nah-KAH with a really hard K) is one of those Comfort Inn caliber establishments located in Nacka which is just south of Stockholm. The problem is the “Quality” moniker which is the biggest oxymoron and load of crock. Immediately after entering the lobby, I wanted to run back outside to flag down the taxi driver and have him take me somewhere else. Unfortunately, there were no other rooms available within 130 miles of Stockholm. I knew this before I boarded my flight in Seattle as I had American Express Travel Services, the event coordinators, TB and even some colleagues help me find a room. There are several major conferences & events in Stockholm Mon-Wed. Availability trumps quality every time although I’m sure TB would have chosen to sleep in the train station over this hotel had she accompanied me on this trip. The do have complimentary Wi-Fi though. Sweet.

I was tired and hungry having traveled 15+ hours so I got settled in my room and headed out to tour the immediate vicinity. The hotel receptionist told me there were shops within 5 minutes of the hotel. She pointed me in the general direction and it was sunny and in the mid-70s so off I went. After walking around about 20 minutes I decided to try the Tutto Italia Pastabar. The name says it all. Choices were either jumbo plates of pasta or jumbo panini. One thing I should mention is everyone speaks English but none of the signs are translated. Imagine rolling up into a Scandinavian Italian eatery, being greeted by a Swedish hostess in her native tongue and not being able to understand anything you have read or heard since seeing the Italia Pastabar sign.

Swedish/Svenska is supposedly a Germanic language but it seems very few root words were preserved. I asked the hostess, “Do you  speak English?” and, somewhat offended, she replied, “But, of course I speak English!” (Next time I will go with, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”) I requested her assistance choosing a suitable pasta dish for someone who doesn’t eat beef or pork. She sprung into action.

The next thing I knew I had ordered a dish with five types of pasta stuffed with cheese and spinach in tomato sauce with slices of smoked turkey on the top. My eyes lit up when she mentioned the turkey option. In my experience it is very rare to find restaurants outside (and sometimes within) North America that even pretend to know what a turkey is. Ask TB about me trying to order a turkey burger in South Africa.

I ate, walked around a bit more, went back to my room and succumbed to exhaustion.

After a few hours in Stockholm, I give it a B-. It is clean but the taxis are too expensive, the food is so-so and the people are accommodating but not in the “our survival is dependent on tourism” manner present in other cities and countries. One thing I love so far about Scandinavians is they seem genuinely colorblind when it comes to race. This is blonde hair, blue eye central in the truest sense and I am sure the melanin meters experienced a significant bump when I arrived. With that said, not once did me being a bald, tallish Black man walking around the land of the Vikings seem to be on anyone’s mind except mine. Contrast that with my last trip to Mexico when a White woman there asked if I was an athlete and wanted my autograph for her kids. Or, then there was my recent trip to Las Vegas when the receptionist at The Venetian was adamant there were no rooms with king beds until a White colleague came over (having just checked-in himself) and requested a room on my behalf.

In case you are wondering, Farg & Byggnadsvard means “Color & Building.” The sign in that picture is for a home improvement shop specializing in paint and wall treatments.

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