I recently came across Lonely Planet’s Experimental Travel website which has got me thinking quite a bit about this kind of travel. I’ve just returned from a three-week vacation in Stockholm, Sweden, a city laden with opportunities for experimentation. So instead of recommending some of the more regular tourist attractions in Stockholm, I’ve been inspired to come up with this list of quirky exercises that may reveal a side of the city and its people you might otherwise miss.
1. Take several guided tours of the same tourist attraction
If you have time to spare and the inclination, a surprisingly fun way to get to know Stockholm is to pick a top tourist destination and sign yourself up for all the guided tours available in one day. Most of the tours at Stockholm attractions are free with a ticket purchase (for the day), so you can join any number of them without any additional charge.
Swedish guides can be extremely charming and witty, but you may occasionally come across a robot. No matter. I found all the tours high in entertainment value, and packed with information – not necessarily all useful. But it’s the variation between the tours that you will find most fascinating. Guides interpret and deliver the same facts (and sometimes fiction) differently, bringing their own biases and personality to the presentation. You will be amazed at what you can glean from certain tours that were absent in the others. A couple of hot spots in Stockholm especially suited to this experiment are Drottningholm Slott and the Vasa Museum, which offer more than one tour in English each day.
2. Go on a mission to track down all things uniquely Swedish
This venture is, of course, easier in some countries than in others, for instance Japan. But you will not find it difficult to come up with a sizeable list in Stockholm. The Swedes have a distinct culture. If culture is an “adaptive mechanism … a cushion between man and his environment”,1 then the extreme geography and climate of Sweden must have encouraged many of the idiosyncracies found here. Some, though, can be quite inexplicable. I mean, why on earth coat licorice with ammonium chloride? This is a favorite “sweet” of Swedish children and can be found everywhere in the country.
Another only-in-Sweden item on my list is their practice of waving away buses instead of hailing them. Being the socialist nation that it is, Sweden requires its bus drivers to slow down when approaching every bus stop, so that the old and the infirmed are not left behind. If you’re the only one at a stop and you don’t intend to board an approaching bus, it is your duty to wave it away. Exaggerated gestures are best, to make your intention clear. Swedes have no idea how unique this practice is and there is many a funny story of travelling Swedes being left behind at foreign bus stops.
The best source for these nuggets would be foreigners who have spent some time in Sweden. Interviewing a well-travelled Swede or two may not be such a bad idea either.
You have some inkling now of how insightful this Experimental Travel exercise can be. It will also give you a great excuse to start conversations with the locals. And think of all the cool anecdotes it will yield for the folks back home!
3. Find as many hippies as you can and listen to their stories
I was struck by how many alternative folk and hippie types I came across during my short visit in Stockholm. It seems as though one in every three Swedes (or at least Stockholmers) is an activist, a greenie or involved some cause or other. Over the past few decades, Sweden has opened its doors to many refugees, political or otherwise. In the late 60s and early 70s, it provided an ideal getaway for many who opposed the Vietnam War. Some of those who sought asylum here are still around and have amazing experiences to share. Socialist and liberal Sweden has also nurtured and attracted many a modern day hippie. Locate some of these characters, invite them for a beer and delve deep into the Swedish psyche through their tales. You can start your search at these events: Stockholm Pride, Stockholm Culture Festival, Uppsala International Short Film Festival.
These three exercises should get you started down the experimental path to discovering Stockholm in depth. If you’ve already visited Stockholm and have ideas to add to this list, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
1. Personal experience
2. Conversations with Stockholmers
3. The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel