Sleek design, spotless sidewalks and vast colonies of rats: It can only be Sweden, as Christopher Seymour finds out.

The outdoor subway station provides a charming view of the Old Town, Stockholm 's tourist mecca. But no one at the Gamla Stan station is looking at the iconic 17th century buildings looming across the way; not the locals and not even the tourists.

They are preoccupied with an impromptu appearance of Stockholm wildlife right there on the platform. As three cat-sized rats frolic in a discarded McDonald's bag, a middle-aged Canadian woman groans.

A couple of goth teens from Solna appear mesmerized as the bag undulates and long tails slither frenetically. An American visitor snaps a picture with his digital camera.

"These big guys make Brooklyn rats look underfed," he laughs. "I didn't think they had rats in Sweden!"

The world imagines Sweden as a uniquely clean and healthy place. One need only walk the tidy streets of central Stockholm to confirm the partial truth of this preconception. To see a less-publicized Swedish reality, step into most any subway station, then glance down to the tracks.

Over where the rails fade into the shadows, it's 3 to 1 you'll spot a representative or two of Stockholm 's thriving rat population. The rats of Sweden's metropolis constitute a parallel universe at numbers experts don't even bother to estimate: Ten million? One hundred million?

Stockholm rats live on the margins of this affluent urban society. They survive on its refuse and leavings. They reside beneath the surface of private gardens and public parks, in the city sewers and household plumbing.

They dig their nests out of sight but always in close proximity to the structures 1.3 million Stockholmers call home. While no neighbourhood on the capital's fourteen islands is rodent-free, rats tend to strut publicly at Stockholm 's beloved waterside parks as well as the busiest subway station at the city's centre.

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