HERE’S something I didn’t know: Stockholm is a capital of 14 islands.
This impresses me but I can’t find a Swede who agrees.
When I cross a bridge and ask the barista in Espresso House: What island am I on now?
The response I get is: ‘we don’t see the city that way’.
It’s an awkward moment. I don’t really understand.
Maybe I should ask why?
Ah, she’s moved on to the next customer.
I can’t find a guidebook either that’ll take me through the islands one by one.
Am I alone in thinking this is incredible? This is island hopping heaven. And really they’re all sea, as I’ve read that thousands of Swedes own as many boats as they do cars to cross the city.
So with very little knowledge of this Scandinavian capital, I set myself a challenge to discover all the islands in a day.
I’ll tick them off and along the way locate coffee, hotdogs, cinnamon buns and meatballs to keep me going. If I make it, I might win the Nobel prize. This is how I’d like to be remembered.
I start at Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) because it’s the central hub. I’m going to call this city-centre island. It’s a pedestrianised Oxford Street with a cluster of H&Ms at its heart and most importantly it’s where my walking tour starts, outside Sergels Torg.
The guide tells us that if we follow Queen’s Street one way, we’ll reach Observatorielunden park where the fictional character Karlsson on the Roof lives. I’ve never heard of him so I don’t want to go that way. If we go in the other direction we’ll go towards the Old Town, which is where we’re heading.
Another fact I didn’t know, is that Stockholm’s very hot in July. With the sun beating down, it knocks my socks off, which is just as well as it’s too hot to wear them.
It has that look when you’ve just cleaned the house from top to bottom. It’s very clean and tidy and as the temperatures sizzle, it’s sparkles too. It’s a world away from dusty London which feels more like someone’s blown out all the dirt from under the sofa.
After we cross Riksbron Bridge, I ask the guide what island are we on?
I’m told that we’re heading towards Gamla stan, the medieval heart, and we should slap on the sunscreen.
See, no socks!
But which island is that on?
Oooh, hot dogs. I want one of those. Easily distracted by sausages, I order food and catch up with the group as we’re whisked off down cobbled streets to learn about the 13th century.
As we walk and talk I’m told Stockholm is built around Lake Mälaren making it feel spread out even though some of the islands are very small.
The city is divided into neighbourhoods and Gamla stan turns out to be three islands made up of Stadsholmen, Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen. I rename these tourist islands and despite the hundreds of tour groups we get through without too much fuss.
We pass the Royal Palace, Parliament Building, The Prime Minister’s home Sager House and City Hall where they come to feast after the Nobel Prizes have been handed out. This is where I’ll probably get mine. I’ll be so smug.
We also hit the quieter corners including the Rune stone carving, the narrowest street Mårten Trotzigs gränd and the tiny statue Järnpojke or Iron Boy.
We finish on Plaza Stortorget filled with its mustard-coloured buildings that are the backdrop to many holiday snaps of Stockholm. It’s filled with cafes and people sitting out on the pavement in the 30C heat wave.
As the temperature rises, I realise that getting to other islands is going to be difficult so I reconsider my plans. I decide it’d be easier to get on the water and jump on a small ferry. Well it’s what the Vikings would have done.
We circle Djurgården island, which I call green island. It’s an open space with woods, a cycle path around the perimeter, picnic spots, Gröna Lund theme park and is home to the Abba Museum.
We also pass by Beckholm island, which I rename shipyard island as nothing else goes on there, and in the distance, we sight Nacka island – where the archipelago of more than 30,000 islands begins.
As we dock, my tally for the day is just four islands. Sadly my grand vision of visiting all 14 didn’t come together. The rest will remain a mystery.
The sky is still bright blue at 9pm so I wander up to Södermalm known for its nightlife to find my meatballs. This is now my favourite island because it takes my score to five.
I stop to look at the graffiti masterpieces with big name street artists Os Gemeos – Brazilan brothers – contributing to the open air art gallery.
I buy a frothy raspberry beer that’s cost me £9. It’s not even a pint. I sit myself on the naughty step outside and think what could’ve been had I conquered all the islands. I’d have given talks. They could have named an island after me. I didn’t even find a meatball.
I weep snotty tears. I will never mention this to anyone.
Come to think of it, I don’t even know what island my hotel’s on.
Mamma Mia. Here we go again!