I fell in love with Stockholm as soon as I arrived. I’m not sure if I could tell you what it was – probably a combination of the old, cobbled, narrow streets in Gamla Stan, and that joie de vivre that certain cities have. Plus, I ate some really good food.
But it was in Stockholm where I learned how truly small the world was. Staying at my hostel were two brothers from Manhattan (which in itself was somewhat special, as I spent my childhood not far from the city) who grew up dancing for an organization I worked with. We knew all the same people, and I started throwing around names and quirks of various people and I got knowing smirks and laughs in return.
This whole random alignment of stars became even better when I realized that I was in Stockholm during the finals of the World Cup, Spain vs. the Netherlands. And I had someone to go see the game with!
So I went out on a limb with these brothers who shared history and we made our way across Gamla Stan and climbed God knows how many stairs. We got there a few hours early…at this point, I’m not sure if I could tell you the name of the bar that we went to, or even how we got there, but it was good.
There was a projector showing the pre-game warm-ups and everything. More than the TV, we cared about securing benches, a place to sit while we stared at the TV for an hour drinking beer and waiting for the game to start. When we sat, we were in a sea of orange.
This was very much a Spanish-heavy bar, which in the end, turned out great for us, as Spain won. But after we sat down on our back-row benches and got acquainted with our beers, we were handed Go Espana! pins – which to this day I still have. We didn’t have the polite conversation of strangers with our neighbors, but rather, the anticipatory conversation of those joined in a great event. Everyone was genuine and interested and very, very excited. The game hadn’t even started yet.
As we were sitting at the back row of benches, we got a little close with our standing neighbors – there were quite a few sweaty, painted men chanting and more than a little drunk. I was personally surprised the situation didn’t get messier than it did. But everyone was fairly civil about their space and yours, though the definition of ‘your space’ was about an inch around the entirety of your body.
With the game there were great roaring cheers and group groans of lost adrenaline, and mass shaking of fists and standing shouts (for those who were not already on their feet)…and finally, Spain was victorious. I got celebratory kisses from quite a few men surrounding me, some of whose wives were present. Hey – they were Spanish and their teams just won. I didn’t hold the gesture against them.
After that, we decided not to stick around the bar as it would probably devolve into debauched celebration pretty quickly, and could possibly get violent. We made our exit, down the same God knows how many stairs.
As we were making our way to one of the main squares in Stockholm, there was quite a racket. Cars were backed up in traffic because there was a massive crowd blocking the way. There were even people stripping…in celebration, I guess. (Or maybe because they were just really drunk).
As typical New Yorkers, we glanced at the scene for a second, shrugged and continued on our way to find some cheap food and a relatively quiet place to sit down. It was McDonald’s. (In our defense, it fits those criteria, and there wasn’t much open that late at night).
Stockholm is a place I will never forget. A big part of me loves travel for those kinds of experiences that are typified by what happened in Stockholm. That ability to walk out of your skin and do something you may not normally – or even if it is something within your purview – going to a bar, for example – a bar in Stockholm is not going to be the same as a bar in the United States, I can guarantee you that.
As a solo traveler, I was pushing myself in two different ways which were both extremely rewarding. I was making myself be more extroverted and strike up conversation with anyone, anywhere – shake a little bit of that Manhattan glare and suspicion (that I never really had too much of anyway) and I was also making myself more comfortable doing things alone. Two different ends of the spectrum, but both allowing me to grow a tremendous amount as a person.
Long story short – go to Stockholm, talk to people (you never know who you may meet), and don’t be afraid to get lost, go out and be a ‘local.’
ChinaGal Amanda King has an awful case of wanderlust. Currently happily ensconced in Saratoga Springs, she has traveled to over 30 countries (including Iceland, Mongolia, India and Vietnam) and lived in China for a year teaching English at a university after just graduating from college. She likes challenges.