I haven’t lived somewhere with a properly dramatic winter since my last semester in college in Boston, which was… oh, December 2003. Been a while. Seattle got somewhat winterlike now and then, with the occasional snow that went past fleeting and decorative into dramatic and sometimes hilarious. Even there, I missed the pragmatic and sometimes really fun ways people dealt with Really Serious Winter. Since moving to California, that longing has only grown and probably is my current most tedious recurring topic of conversation.* So while a trip to Sweden and Denmark in February justifiably raised some eyebrows, it ended up being so wonderfully well timed.
You can’t stay inside for five-odd months at a time, so the people of Scandinavia just… take it in stride. Sometimes literally – one of my favorite sights was seeing people walking their big, hardy dogs or pushing children in very well-insulated strollers down sidewalks covered in stomped-down snow. I didn’t grow up with sidewalks, so I don’t know if people of my area of the Midwest would’ve done it if they could have. Either way, I was just charmed to see people going, “Well, we need sunshine, the dog needs to pee, and the sprog has to get used to it sometime,” and thus they don their many cold-weather layers and take a wander through the neighborhood.
I saw skaters on neighborhood ice rinks. People playing hockey. Sledders and so, so many joggers. And then, only on one day, skiers in almost the center of the city.
My first morning in Stockholm, I had a long wander, as is my tendency. I pick a destination, usually a museum some moderate distance away (an hour’s walk is a good bet). Then I meander my way there in the most interesting way I can manage. That day, I started from my AirBnB in upper Norrmalm and walked past Vasapark, through more central downtown and the Central Station, and then stopped at destination number one, an art exhibit at Konstakademien (Konstnären, the natural feminist slant of which kinda blew my mind, to a point that I’m not sure if I must write about it here or if I couldn’t possibly properly represent it in words). After that, I crossed the bridge to Gamla Stan and paused to take pictures and choose my own adventure.
It was then that I heard screaming.
It’s a strange thing, hearing screaming and seeing that no one around you is alarmed.
So, curious but not afraid, I began to follow the sound. I walked along the water, up some snowy stairs**, and found myself behind the Royal Palace, which was my primary destination for the afternoon. I’d arrived a little prematurely and just in time to see something that was, to my eyes, amazing and strange and wonderful.
Screaming in joy. Because… skiing behind the Royal Palace. Huh.
In Seattle, people once sledded down Denny Hill on a mattress.
This was a little better.
Were I a skier***, I too could have had my chance, and for free at that. Well, if I cobbled together meaning from this tent correctly. Never guaranteed.
But I am me, even when I’m in Sweden. I was not dressed for it, and I also hate skiing, something that remains true even in some unlikely, extraordinary place. Instead, I watched and had one of so many moments on this trip where I felt full and glowing with the joy of having made good decisions and being in a place so right in that moment.
I think I need to make a point of getting to snow and cold next winter. “Tahoe,” people here have said to me, confidently, when I’ve told them of this longing. So Tahoe perhaps. Or maybe another wonderfully timed deal, from Norwegian Air or some other airline willing to take strange people to unseasonal places. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’ll keep this admiration for people who embrace winter and do it right, whether that means putting your baby in 14 layers of clothes and blankets and taking a walk to grab fika, or just keeping your winter sports gear at the ready in case the snow is just right in the park or, you know, behind the Swedish royal family’s official administrative offices. As you do.
*I’m trying to stop, friends, I truly am. The approach of spring should help. I hope?
**You can probably preface any outdoor surface I describe in this post as “snowy,” so I’ll let it be implied from here.
***Reader, how I am not. How much I am not.