Before visiting Stockholm, my only real interaction with the city was through Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I had no idea the city was an archipelago, a series of islands connected by ferries. It’s sort of like Venice (and I had like five people tell me Stockholm is the Venice of the North), but the Venetian vaporettos are tourist attractions — anything but cheap — while the ferries in Stockholm are basically buses. They’re not romantic; they’re practical. And there’s something charming about the humdrummery of rapid mass transportation on the water. We took quite a few ferries while we were there because they were so convenient.
Despite the ease of jumping on a ferry, we also felt compelled to do an actual boat tour. After doing quite a bit of research, I decided to do the Under the Bridges boat tour. In hindsight, I can’t believe I selected that one. The reviews were super sketchy. I just didn’t see any others that were of an agreeable length. I didn’t want to spend an entire day on a boat. What if Josephine got restless? What if I got bored? I knew from the get-go that I wasn’t going to like a group tour boat. It’s absolutely not my jam. But I also didn’t want the pressure of having to look entertained when I thought I might not be. And so we did the Under the Bridges tour, which departed from the dock in front of our hotel.
As we took our seats at a little booth in the boat, I knew it was bound to be an iffy experience. We had little headphones at our seats to listen to a pre-recorded lecture about the city, which we could tune to pretty much any language on Earth. I wasn’t keen on putting community headphones in my ears under any circumstances, and when I gave it a shot, the static nearly blew my eardrums. I decided just to watch the scenery and guess what I was seeing. Besides, I wasn’t just there for myself. I was there because I knew Josephine would love the polished wooden boat, and she’d love gliding under the 12 bridges through the various locks.
In the end, while it wasn’t the boat tour of my dreams, it introduced me to my favorite part of Stockholm: the allotment gardens. All over the city are what appear to be little versions of Tolkien’s Shire. The hillsides are dotted with picturesque cottages, surrounded by tiny fruit and vegetable gardens. The allotment gardens are over 100 years old, and they were created to give city dwellers a piece of the countryside. Apparently, today, there’s an extremely long waitlist to even be considered to purchase one, and from the ones we passed on boat and on foot, we could tell they were beautifully cared for. People had set out little tables and chairs for dining al fresco; they had little places to cook and wash dishes. I’m sure some people even sleep out there in good weather. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy for those bucolic getaways.
When we later hiked through some of the allotment gardens on the hipster island of Sodermalm, Josephine pretended we were in a world of Hansel and Gretel. That’s how far away from civilization it seems. And I wouldn’t have known to look for them if it hadn’t been for that boat tour. So, if you go to Stockholm, do a boat tour. But do a private one!
Author: Jessica Givens