Stockholm is a truly stunning city; that much has been established by pretty much any traveller to set foot on the cobbled stones of the Old Town. In the short summer months, boats chug across sparkling inlets that separate each of Stockholm’s 14 islands, and even greater swathes of water envelop the thousands of tiny rocky islets in the archipelago. Sweden’s blue and yellow flag, proudly attached to anything that stays still long enough, flutters in the breeze as far as the eye can see. Stockholm in the summer is busy and vibrant, and, more than anything, incredibly beautiful.
However, the sweet summer months are short in Sweden; often eclipsed by long, dark, polar winters that can stretch to seven months. If it is a cold, snowy winter (like many are) then Stockholm masters a regal, icy beauty that few other cities can equal, but if it is a grey, rainy winter like this year then, I’m sorry to say it, Stockholm is drab.
I have struggled this winter, I mean really struggled. With barely any snow to lift the general mood, the city has been filled with a frustrated mix of sad Swedes, unable to enjoy their beloved winter sports, perplexed tourists expecting arctic weather, and new expats wondering what the hell happened to the gorgeous city they knew in the summer. Actually, there are more than a few Swedes around who were pleased that the temperatures stayed above zero and that the snows never came, but I figure they must be crazy to prefer a damp and dismal rainy winter over a proper nordic one.
According to reports, Stockholm only saw 14 hours of sunlight for the entire month of January this year, compared to the average of 40. Of course, the northerly latitude brings longer nights in the winter, but this year we barely saw a day’s sunlight in a whole month. With no snow to reflect the small amount of sun that we had it was dark most of the time. Some days barely got light at all. Instead we got rain. Lots of rain. I discovered that my thick winter coat, which is impenetrable to arctic winds and snow, is not waterproof. I discovered that damp wet winters are much, much colder than freezing snowy winters.
Do you want to know what is it like to live in virtual darkness for an entire season?
Well, for about a month I came close to hibernating; failing to go out at weekends, and sleeping pretty much any time I wasn’t working. My body simply began to shut down. For real. I didn’t make plans with friends, finding even the simplest conversation hard to sustain, and I lacked the energy and motivation even for things that I enjoy. I visited a sun bed to lift me from my melancholy, and was pleased when it gave me the boost that I needed. Now I know why you never meet a pale Swede, they spend all winter at the solarium, the tan is just an added bonus.
My trip to the Arctic Circle afforded me a glimpse of the snow that had bypassed Stockholm, rejuvenating my spirits and reminding me of why I have loved the two snow-swept winters that I have previously spent in Stockholm; freezing nordic winters where going outside was fun, and you didn’t return home soaked through and shivering. Now that, thankfully, the sun has since started to return to these northern climes, I can feel my energy returning.
With spring seeming to make her triumphant arrival early this year, I am hoping that Sweden will give me a summer to remember before I head off to the muggy perpetual summer of Mumbai in July.
Previously, I would have said that winter is one of the things that I would most miss about Sweden when we leave, but after this year’s offering I think I’ll be happy to see the back of it for a while.
How do you feel during the winter? Would you prefer it to be cold and snowy, or can you cope with wet winters? If you could choose, would you live somewhere warm, or cold, all year round?