Right before my plane landed in Stockholm, I looked over the list of museums, neighborhoods, and cafés I wanted to visit while I was in the city for the weekend. The list took up an entire page, but I was confident I could put my long legs to use and squeeze everything in.
Twenty minutes later, on the ground and connected to WiFi, my phone flooded with text messages from concerned family and friends, asking me if I was safe. I didn’t understand at first — Stockholm is frequently listed as one of the safest cities in Europe and the world. It wasn’t until the pilot came over the loudspeaker that I understood the concern. While we had been in the air, a truck had driven into a crowded mall in Stockholm. It had yet to be confirmed, but it was thought to be a terrorist attack.
I had written down directions to get myself from the airport to Solna, the neighborhood just north of the city center where I was staying, but I quickly discovered my plans to take public transportation would not be possible. Just about everything was shut down, and the rapidly growing line of travelers waiting for a taxis made it clear that a cab was my only option. It wasn’t ideal (or particularly budget friendly), but it got me to my friend’s apartment.
Our Friday night plans had to be canceled, and dinner and drinks in Södermalm — Stockholm’s trendiest neighborhood — were replaced with a trek through the quiet streets of Solna to the grocery store for dinner supplies and a bar of Sweden’s best Marabou dark chocolate. I had been hoping to see some of the city that night, but a shift in mindset allowed me to embrace the quiet night in.
On Saturday morning, I got up early, ready to make the most of my only full day in Stockholm. I descended into the metro station and was greeted by red cave-like walls covered in art. Over 90 of Stockholm’s 100 metro stations feel like art installations, each different, constituting what some call “the world’s longest art gallery.” I had been worried that the weekend’s events would make it impossible for me to have a worthwhile visit but, little did I know, even commuting throughout the city would be one of the most memorable parts of my trip.
I was grateful that the public transportation was back up and running so quickly, making it possible for me to travel between the islands that make up Stockholm. I started my morning eating kanelbulle (Swedish cinnamon buns) in Vasastan, a residential neighborhood and wandered through posh Östermalm before taking the subway to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. By the time I stopped for lunch, I had grown accustomed to the city’s pastel-colored buildings and populated waterfront.
Narrowing down the list of places I wanted to see before leaving helped me feel like I accomplished more. I chose only two museums, giving me ample time to enjoy the beautiful photography at the Fotografiska and the naval history of the Vasamuseet, while still carving out some time to poke into boutiques in Södermalm and rest my feet for fika (coffee or tea and a pastry) before the day was done.
Despite the sheer peacefulness of my weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the attack that had taken place on Friday afternoon. The streets that were now so peaceful had been filled with panic less than 24 hours earlier. From my cab driver to the barista at one of the many cafés I visited, a similar sentiment was shared — this shouldn’t happen in Stockholm. Imagining the violence of the attacks in contrast to the quiet nature of the city shook my sense of safety. How am I to keep myself safe while traveling if similar, terrible events can take place in any city?
Walking back to the subway on Saturday night, I found myself outside the mall where the attack had taken place only 24 hours before. Fences blocking off the area had flowers weaved through nearly every crevice, and the ground was spotted with candles. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I considered how quickly the city seemed to have bounced back. By midday on Saturday, Stockholm was filled with people enjoying cups of coffee and walking through the streets, and I was welcomed into cafés and museums with kindness.
I didn’t have the “perfect” weekend in Stockholm. There were museums I didn’t get to see, streets I didn’t get to wander, and restaurants I didn’t get to dine in. But though I cannot sufficiently underscore the tragedy of the events that unfolded, the coincidence of visiting Stockholm on the weekend I did afforded me a greater appreciation of the city’s gentle, peaceful nature.