On Monday afternoon, I popped up out of Medborgarplatsen Station in the district of Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden, and was a bit surprised by my surroundings.
I'd fancifully imagined the Swedish capital to be a wall-to-wall mix of grand old palaces and ultra-modern buildings, in a spotless contemporary setting; a kind of "Disneyland meets IKEA" arrangement.
What I found instead in Södermalm was this:
Now I don't want to be rude, but my first impression of this scene was that it looked the way a street would've looked if one of Europe's ex-communist countries had somehow soldiered on and found money for building maintenance.
It turns out, however, that's what Söder is like. It was once a gritty working-class area with a mix of architecture including modernist housing blocks built in the 1960s. However, in recent years it's become an uber-hip district of cool bars, shops and cafes, and a bit of urban starkness does this image no harm at all.
As an example, here are a couple of shots of my new favourite "local" cafe-bar (ie it's walking distance from the hotel), Gilda at Skånegatan 79:
Södermalm's not entirely composed of stark 1960s modernist facades, as it turns out. Down near the waterfront facing Gamla Stan (the Old Town), there are some hilly streets full of beautiful residences.
This street is Bellmansgatan - in fact, that reddish building on the right was the address given in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for the home of novelist Stieg Larsson's detective hero, Mikael Blomkvist:
There's a beautiful view toward the Old Town from a lookout near this building. It gives you a sense of the watery nature of Stockholm, sited as it is across an archipelago:
And further east of this point, in a small square in front of Slussen Station, is the final Södermalm gem I'd like to share with you. This stall came recommended by a local - all it sells is herring, in various guises:
... and here's the particular item my benefactor suggested. It's a “strömmingssburgare” - a herring burger. To the flattened fried herring fillets are added iceberg lettuce, creme fraiche, red onion and parsley, and the whole mess is jammed into a bun:
Sitting at a rickety table next to the stall in the warm 8pm June sunshine, I chewed my way through my herring burger. It was tasty. Fishy. And tasty.
Disclosure time: On this trip I was assisted by the Stockholm Visitors Board.