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September 9, 2011

I was in Stockholm last week for Mobile HCI 2011. I have to confess that initially I was less than enthusiastic about visiting Sweden. Montreux in Switzerland for UIST 2006 was awesome. Paris (UIST 2002) is always fun. Salzburg in Austria for Mobile HCI 2005 was a blast: I’m pretty sure I spent more time walking around the city than attending the conference. But what was interesting about Sweden? Plus I was partially put off by my last trip to Sweden: at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona they spent so much time warning you about thieves and pickpockets it was impossible to relax and enjoy yourself. Hey MWC, if thievery is such a problem in Barcelona stop holding the conference there! This is not rocket science, people.

But I’m pleased to admit that I was totally mistaken about Stockholm. It’s now one of my favorite European cities, and I’m looking forward to a chance to visit again.

So what was great about Stockholm? First, public transit is extremely convenient. The Arlanda Express whisks you from the airport terminal straight into downtown in 20 minutes, and the central station is conveniently located (in my case a short walk from my hotel). Plus the train itself is wood-paneled and feels a bit like it was decorated by IKEA. Awesome!

Second, I love cities that make effective use of water. And since Stockholm is situated between a lake and the Baltic Sea across a series of islands, there’s plenty of water (and bridges, and boats) to enjoy.

View of Gamla Stan

Near the Parliament building

Third, the city is both extremely walkable and well-designed for bicycling. There are bike lanes everywhere, and the bike lanes even have their own little traffic lights! Of course, I do have to confess I have to wonder how walkable and bike-able the city is come November…

Fourth, the city has done a great job preserving the historic old city, Gamla Stan. Since the US doesn’t have a lot of really old buildings, one of the things I always enjoy from visiting Europe is seeing some of the historic sections of cities. I spent parts of several days walking down the narrow cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan (the path I walked to the conference center allowed me to walk through Gamla Stan on the way there and back, and I varied my path each day), and I could have happily spent several more.

Gamla Stan town square

A winding street in Gamla Stan

Fifth, almost everyone you encountered spoke English. Which is handy to those of us that are barely fluent in other languages (those years of high school Spanish notwithstanding). I have to confess that I’m not particular fond of floundering in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language at all and the people you encounter don’t speak the language. Kyoto, Japan, for example, was fantastic to visit: I really enjoyed the glimpse into a culture much different than the West. I would have totally been lost, however, without the colleague who spoke fluent Japanese.

Sixth, good coffee everywhere you turn. The Europeans just appreciate a good cup of coffee more than Americans seem to.

In short, this trip more than made up for the visit to Barcelona in February. Stockholm was fantastic, and I look forward to seeing more of it on a future trip.

From → Travel

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