The only city I got to spend any real amount of time in was Stockholm. It was fantastic. They commission artists to paint their subways like this:
I'd always wanted to see Stockholm, and it did not disappoint. My grandmother was a Soderberg, which is a very Swedish name. I certainly saw aspects of myself in the Nordic character.
So much happened it would take a dozen posts to write it all. So instead of a series of random impressions, I'm going to give you some generalizations. I know that all generalizations are terrible blahblahblah, but these are the thoughts that kept striking me as I walked through Stockholm.
1. Not everyone is Sweden is blonde, but those who are blonde are extremely so. At first I thought that a lot of people had bleached their hair, but then I realized that the white-gold colour was natural. Shocking. Here's a picture of a girl with Swedishly blonde hair. She's also sporting a fashion trend I saw on young Swedish kids all over: very tight black jeans with brightly coloured, or white, Chuck Taylors.
2. Swedes love sandwiches, or smorgas, as they are called. Kaffe & smorgas is a typical way to start the day in Stockholm. I suspect that every Swede has a big, healthy smorgas on their person at all times. Smorgas are filled with sprouts, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, meat, cheese, onions, but are for the most part tasteless and bland. Coffee is everywhere, and generally good, but very expensive, as is everything else. A so-so latte will cost you 30 Swedish crowns, or about five Canadian dollars.
3. Swedish girls smile a lot, as though they've just won a prize. Perhaps their prize was to be born Swedish. They all look very healthy and athletic, but also demure. It's easy to fall in love several times a day.
4. Swedes like to breed. Babies and pregnant women are everywhere. There's a nursery on the 20 minute express train from the airport. There are two daycares in the Museet Moderna (Modern Museum), and more in the Kulturhuset (Culture House). They even have special places for parents to park and lock up their strollers. The happy communal atmosphere makes you think this is how socialism was supposed to work.
5. Swedes love the colour yellow. It's in the flag after all. No colour scheme is complete without yellow highlights. In the countryside, houses are surrounded by daffodils, and many canoes and dinghies are painted bright yellow. I imagine this is partly an expression of nationalistic pride, and partly a way of adding some sunshine to the long dark winter months. Stockholm is on the same latitude as Yellowknife. In December, they average one hour of sunlight a day.
6. Swedes are quite German. They like order, practicality and efficiency. Flying in from Frankfurt, this made sense. Germany is not very far away.
7. Swedes have very long legs. Some appear to be walking on stilts. This can give them an oddly avian appearance.
8. Swedish words are impossible to pronounce. Don't even try. Vowels sounds are elongated at some times and come to abrupt halts. The syllabic emphasis is never what you would expect. For instance, the area of town, Gamla Stan, is pronounced 'gaa-MLA-stawn'.
9. Nearly all Swedes are short-sighted and wear sleek, design-y glasses.
10. Swedes are like Vulcans. They are exceedingly logical, belong to a superior civilization of peace and prosperity, and know it. They got it right. The Nobel prizes are their way of acknowledging the most daring individuals in the outside world for their remarkable Swedishness.