Jetlag kicked my ASS in the Netherlands (I barely felt it on the trip to Sweden) so the whole trip seems something like a dream. But I remember taking these three pictures and thinking, these might be the very best things about living in Northern Europe (aside from the subsidized health care and education, and all that):
1. The Town Square. There are these areas where the buildings form a square, and in the middle of the square are giant, old-growth trees, and hundreds of tables and chairs with massive umbrellas and heat lamps. All day long, people gather and congregate and have coffee, or a snack, or a beer or wine if it's the afternoon. There are places for children to play and people chatter and relax and seem to enjoy life. I don't think there's anything quite like it in the U.S., and it gives one a sense of community and the social that is totally pleasing.
And yes, I know I'm not noticing anything new here, flaneur, flaneuse, blah blah blah. But it's still striking after living in isolating American suburbia the past six years.
2. Bikes! Everyone, and I mean everyone, rides bikes. When I was a foreign exchange student in France twenty years ago (!) everyone could tell I was American because of how I dressed, even before I opened my mouth and they heard my accent. Now, everyone can tell I'm American because I'm walking. Sure, there are cars here, and some pedestrians, but mostly people are on bikes. In heels. In skirts. As old ladies and men. As toddlers (they have little scooters). Dragging grocery carts behind them. On crappy-shit bikes (most are). On bikes with kiddy trailers. With friends balanced on the steering wheel or the back wheel. No matter how you cut it: Two wheels are the thing.
I like this a lot. I think there is a tyranny of the fancy bike in Colorado. If you're not wearing spandex and a race jersey and on a $5000 bike, you look like a deranged bumpkin. I much prefer the attitude in Northern Europe, which is that bikes are cheap, easy, and fun to use, and you don't need any special equipment to ride them. They just get you from A to B, keep you healthy, and make sense.
It also helps that the entire culture is built around accommodating bikes. There are massive bike parking lots at most public locations, and people rarely lock them. Because most bikes are crappy, and everyone has one, so why steal one?
3. Coffee. The coffee is rich and thick and you stop every two hours to have one, and it's always served with a little shortbread cookie, which totally satisfies the urge for something sweet.