All summer long, I wondered what was wrong with our summer house. It is less than two hours from northern Stockholm by train. It is near a beautiful river in the middle of an enchanting forest. It is as vintage as vintage gets, with two wood stoves and furniture and paintings from every era of the house’s 113 years. And yet we got it for under the asking price, the only bidders in its three months on the market.
The answer? There is nothing wrong with the house. Sweden is simply big. Sweden is simply lovely. Sweden is simply empty.
Sweden is about the size of California, with about one-third the population, all clustered in the southern third of the country. Think about that, as if most of California were largely uninhabited north of, say, Santa Barbara.
And that southern third is not exactly teeming with folks. Stockholm – the great cosmopolitan capital – has the population of greater Kansas City. And I am sure there is empty country two hours from Kansas City.
There are other reasons of course, such as Stockholm has a gorgeous archipelago with thousands of islands and summer homes.
But it really comes down to prettiness and emptiness. The country is just so lovely, with another lake, another stretch of blueberries, another idyllic farm house around the corner. Yet very few places transcend that, reaching “must see” status. It is as if the entire countryside was as nice as the most pleasant parts of upstate New York, or Germany, or Michigan.
So spending your summer northwest of Stockholm is really no different from a summer southwest of Stockholm or even out in the archipelago, to be honest.
And so a small population gets even more diffuse, spreading out into the forest, an entire country getting something not many people get anywhere in the world these days.