I left London yesterday and the trees were all in full bloom, the spring flowers were dying off, and the grass was sprouting. Here in Stockholm the spring has just sprung, here they are still bare and the crocuses and daffodils are in full bloom. The air is full of cherry blossom and the Swedes, at every opportunity, are soaking up the bright sun rays that are warming their skin after a dark winter.
They really do love the sun and who can blame them? As the winter slowly disappears it must be true luxury to be able to sit in the park and feel that warmth on your skin. And they do sit in the park at every opportunity. Every bit of green space in the city is packed with business men and woman, mums and dads, and children and tourist.
A city surrounded by water has a Royal Palace that makes Buckingham Palace look like a Hounslow bungalow. It's sheer size denotes strength and power and it's reflection glistens in the Baltic channels that surround Stockholm.
The Venice of the North as it is often called, Stockholm, is not a beauty. It's charming and delightful and quite playful. It has an atmosphere more gentle than other European Cities. A small population, grand buildings, no high rise, and did I say water!
There doesn't seem to be any hustle and bustle, like London or New York. A stress free environment that shows on the faces of the occupants. Everything is quite civilised. Despite it's reputation, the blonde effect, is seen mainly in the beer as the people mostly have dark hair. Maybe this is a genetic change or a Viking myth.
They are, without doubt, extremely pleasing to the eye. All generations seem to exhume health with great skin and slim wastes. None of the obesity that is seen in other northern hemisphere nations.
How they survive, I don't know. The cost of living here seems to me astonishing. The thought of going to a bar and having a couple of glasses of wine or beer, however appealing, is beyond reason. I simply can't afford it. If you are going to visit and like a tipple or two, then bring your own. As I type this, I am sipping a glass of red from two bottles I bought in duty free, and I'm so glad I took the time. Every glass I pour, and don't worry, I'm not knocking it back, would cost £12 here. Yes... £12.00 for a simple glass of Côte du Rhone, which I paid £5.25 for, and that was the whole bottle. A coffee and a muffin this morning was close to £8, and a beer last night.... I asked for a small beer, and it came in a champagne flute, and had a staggering price tag of £8. That's 80 Swedish kronor!
And yet despite this, every cafe and bar that I have passed today, in the brilliant sunshine, either by the waters edge, or in a lovely square, is packed to capacity with locals drinking! They do like a drink.
Sweden has the highest tax in the world, if you earn £40,000 a year you pay 57 percent tax. The average salary is 28,0000 , and goodness me you certainly need that. The long Parisian style boulevards, are lined with shops selling gorgeous things, window displays, so lovely your credit cards twitches in your pocket at the wares, and yet not a price tag in sight! It always worries me when something is not priced.
They can't all be rich, Swedens economy is not good, and they are the closest country in Europe to be near deflation! I read that the other day, and not being an economist at all, even I know that's not good.
But the streets are bustling with people, carrying shopping bags,with obvious money to spend. Buying property here is not easy, and most rent. Some of the more affluent areas, have enormous price tags.
It's such an interesting city, it's hard to compare it with anywhere. Like most of Europes capitals, Stockholm has a magnificent history, one of which the Swedes are quite proud, and so they should be. This is a country of explorers, who created ships, when most of us were still trying to light a fire!
Doing the tour of the royal palace, you realise, that this nation, is practically the father of us all. The Royal family goes back centuries, they have been at war with their neighbours, but now remain neutral.
They are a peaceful nation, and last night I sat next to three ,Americans from the peace core. And listened to some very interesting stories about the current President, which I will not repeat, although I might add, the conversation was not in an intimate surrounding, and I was alone and eavesdropping like crazy.
The food here is , now how can I say this.....magnificent. I like steak, and I'm always sending it back around the world, last night, I had the best I have ever tasted, and I am so tempted to return , just to experience that again. It was truly wonderful . The meal cost was not to bad, I chose carefully, and it came to £30 that was one course with one beer, worth every penny, for it's quality.
I forgot to say, just to go back on the price of alcohol, that there is a bottle of Chilean Merlot in my room, by bottle I mean a small one, like you get on the aircraft , with your meal, when travelling economy,I add that incase your reading this and don't even know that economy class exists, and for you that's really really small!by the way it's priced at £40 on the mini bar price list.
The swedes, seem to embrace good manners, politeness abounds, I have seen no anger, only charm. Perhaps the small population helps, but we could certainly learn a lesson or two out of the way of life, if not the cost.
If you'd like to find out more about my trip to Stockholm contact me on 02074854471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org