Archive for July, 2018

Oslo expeditions

July 22nd, 2018

My five days in Oslo were packed and I still left with the impression there was much more to see. When my flight home got delayed I was annoyed because there were still a few hours to go out and see the museums I’d missed — let alone a ferry trip I’d meant to take to the islands — but not quite enough time to do any of those. In a way it was Stockholm all over again: I should have booked a couple more days. Ah well, better to err on the side of taking off before you’ve seen it all and get bored I suppose.

Since I went on fewer tours than I did in Stockholm I’ll go into each tour individually, though I’m saving all the outdoor art segments for the next post.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

Free Tour Oslo City

This free (donation requested) tour hits many tourist friendly destinations. Starting at the tiger statue outside Oslo S, it heads to a view of the Opera House, up to the main square of Christiania/New Oslo, over to the fortress, to the waterfront, City Hall, and finally to parliament. That list isn’t comprehensive but covers the gist of it.

Opening hours permitting the tour goes inside Oslo’s City Hall. While the building doesn’t look like much from the outside the interior has wall to wall murals covering various art deco styles. Sculptures in the courtyard outside built into the walls have typical arts and crafts designs.

The tour doesn’t sugarcoat the dark side of Oslo’s history during its occupation by Nazi Germany. A number of plaques on the ground written in Norwegian have a person’s name and the word “Auschwitz” — you can easily guess what that means. After the tour guide pointed these out I began spotting them all over Oslo.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

After the tour ended I wandered back to check out the Opera House firsthand. Or maybe “firstfoot” would be a more appropriate term as the exterior of the building is an enormous sloping plaza. It’s currently surrounded by neighborhood construction on two sides — and water on two others — but you can still visit via a small bridge. While the outdoor space is always open, the indoor lobby and restaurant have posted hours.

I’m told the Opera House plaza can get very slippery during the winter. During the summer the white exterior is almost blinding to look at. Either way you need to watch your step due to the uneven surface. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, or at least that’s how it would end up in the US.

 
Oslo
 

At my host’s suggestion I visited the botanical garden. No tour here, just a serene and impeccably maintained garden filled with exotic plants. It’s a perfect spot away from the crowds to sit around and sip a cold coffee on a hot summer day — you can bring your own or visit the cafe in the middle of the garden.

It’s free to visit but they have a donation box for those inclined to contribute.

 
Oslo Oslo
 

The Culinary City Walk

This food tour is from the same company that runs the food tour I went on in Stockholm. Oddly, while waiting at the meeting point for the tour guide to show up I was mistaken both for the tour guide and for a participant in a nearby Pokemon Go event.

The first proper stop on the tour was Mathallen, a hip modern food hall built into an old industrial brick building. This stop introduced me to Norwegian brown cheese, a caramelized dairy product (not technically cheese) often eaten at breakfast with waffles or crepes. Personally I though it was fine, though some find it quite divisive.

We took a long winding stroll to reach our next destination on the waterfront. As an aside I spotted a taco truck parked by the streetcar stop on the waterfront, which I went back to later on my own. The tacos were surprisingly good, and I had a lime Jarritos to go with it. Little taste of “home” as it were.

Anyway, back to the tour. We went to a seafood-focused restaurant on the waterfront called Rorbua where we were served a large sampler platter. Mine was all seafood, but the meat eaters in the group were served some rather exotic meats including whale and reindeer (sorry, Rudolph.) Not everyone seemed to have the stomach for eating whale. As far as seafood the trout and shrimp were particularly tasty.

Unlike the Stockholm tour where we ended on coffee, the food tour in Oslo ended at a bar with a beer tasting. Seemed a little early for beer, but most of us went along with it. All of it was brewed in Norway yet in traditional British styles. The only one that stood out to me was an IPA that had a more subtle hoppiness than the in-your-face styles we tend to have at home in California.

As we departed the tour feeling a little tired from all the food and beer, a bunch of protestors marched outside the bar towards city hall as if it jolt us awake on cue. I think they were protesting against the imprisonment of an East Turkestan independence advocate, though the connection to Oslo’s city politics (if any) was entirely lost on me.

 
Oslo
 

Discover the Charming Westside of Oslo

Here we have it: the first tour on this trip that was a total bust. Maybe the online info is just outdated, but the guide never showed up.

Since I hadn’t paid in advance there wasn’t much to be mad about, just a little annoyed that I’d brought 200 NOK in payment. The tour was supposed to start near the royal palace (see above photo) so I just wandered around the gardens for a little while. The gardens are open to the public and pretty popular with tourists; palace grounds include a small park, a duck pond, and oddly enough a beehive. There’s probably a joke about a queen bee in there somewhere.

The palace gardens were hosting a small temporary sculpture exhibit I found amusing, which got me thinking — the tour was supposed to end at the Frogner Park sculpture garden, so why not just head over there? After all it’s not like the sun was going to set.

So I hoped on a streetcar and visited Frogner Park. Would have been nice to have a tour guide, but the evening itself wasn’t a total failure. I’ll go into all the sculptures in the next post.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Hipster Oslo (Grünerløkka)

I wanted someone to take me around the neighborhood where I was staying and discovered this tour almost at the last minute. A young family had signed up for the tour even more at the last minute than I did, moments after the guide showed up.

I highly recommend this one — it’s inexpensive, goes into great detail, takes you to many historical spots in the area, and the guide was practically a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If you want an off the beaten path tour of Oslo, this is it.

The tour was so long I’ll just stick to the highlights. It starts off in the labor union square on the edge of the neighborhood, passes by a former bathhouse, then snakes through a few streets lined with boutiques and restaurants, before hitting the campus of a world renowned art university and along the river, highlighting a couple of waterfalls.

Continuing up a hill we passed a hip outdoor area lined with street art (also in the next post, I promise) followed by a steep street lined with some of the oldest surviving wood buildings in Oslo. Going around a corner or two we went through a cemetery where many famous locals were buried, including Edvard Munch.

All the famous individuals buried there had QR codes next to their graves in case you wanted to look up their obituaries. Someone had left a handmade book at Munch’s grave of their own sketches of Munch’s famous paintings, including The Scream. It reminded me of a quote from the show Westworld — “Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin never died; they simply became music.” There’s a certain truth in this idea.

Passing through the cemetery we were supposed to go through a church but it was closed due to construction. Instead we detoured around a communal garden and ended the tour at the Mathallen food hall.

As we parted ways I pulled the 200 NOK note out of my pocket I had leftover from the no-show tour and handed it to the guide as a tip — a 100% tip. She was clearly surprised, but it was my last full day in Norway. I enjoyed the tour and had no interest in bringing Norwegian currency back with me. Hopefully big tips aren’t considered insulting or anything.

 
Oslo
 

Once again back at Mathallen I was hungry and ready to try something new. After washing up at the bathrooms in the basement I sat down at a Spanish food stall serving pintxos. Much like traditional Scandinavian cuisine, pintxos are open face sandwiches with various toppings. Or kind of like avocado toast back home… hmmm, who else would grab lunch at a place like this in Oslo?

The guy next to me kept trying to order in barely passable Spanish. I couldn’t help snickering when the employees replied in English. At some point he turned to me and said “Hey, where you from?”
“San Francisco.”
“Oh? Me too! What neighborhood?”
“The Mission. You?”
“Twin Peaks,” he replied.

We got to chatting a little before we both left separately… and then we both wound up in line at Tim Wendelboe, an espresso shop that seemed remarkably familiar. I ordered an espresso and after a long wait it arrived with a shot glass of sparkling mineral water. I kept looking around for the Blue Bottle logo, yet it was nowhere to be found.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Later on my last night I went to explore the Akershus Fortress, which sits on a hill above the waterfront. Even though its military presence is long gone the area is still patrolled by royal guards with bayonets. Its clearly all for show as the guards seemed happy to take photos with tourists.

From the fortress there’s a good view of the waterfront — a sensible place for a fortress. Cruise ships dock just outside the fortress though, so if there’s one in the way the views may not be so hot.

Oslo

July 17th, 2018

Oslo
 

Following the wedding in Greece I flew to visit another city I’d never been to: Oslo, Norway. Yup, I took a V-shaped trip through Europe — not the most efficient plan, but this is what happens when you base your vacations around cheap airfare.

At first I worried Oslo would be a smaller version of Stockholm. After all it’s another old Scandinavian waterfront city, and to make matters potentially worse somehow I’d inadvertently booked an Airbnb in the hip part of Oslo just as I’d done in Stockholm.

Fortunately this worry was unfounded; both cities have their own character. Compared to Stockholm, Oslo has significantly more public spaces, outdoor artwork (I’ll get to that in another post), and an embrace of modern architecture.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Getting from the airport to central Oslo is simple enough. There’s an express train but it’s kind of pricey and not much faster than the NSB commuter train. To take NSB from the airport I purchased a Ruter transit card and loaded a multi-day pass on the card, plus an NSB ticket. The NSB ticket machines ask you where you’re going, load the ticket onto the Ruter card, and tell you which platform to wait on.

A quick train ride later and I was at Oslo S. My host had suggested taking a Ruter bus to the Airbnb, but after sitting on an airplane for several hours I decided to walk — it was only a 12 minute walk anyway, and Oslo is a fairly flat, walkable city for the most part.

What I didn’t anticipate is the apartment I’d be staying at was at the top of a four story building. After climbing all those stairs I needed to sit down for a while and cool off. Due to the heat wave at the time, and the fact that it was an attic apartment with windows on the ceiling, the “cooling off” part of the equation was not meant to be. Who knew Oslo could get so warm in the summer?

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo

I stayed in the Grünerløkka neighborhood, and no I’m still not sure how that’s pronounced. It’s home to many cafes, boutiques, bars, and restaurants serving everything from Neapolitan pizza to falafel to veggie burgers. There’s a small river running through the neighborhood and a lot of outdoor spaces including a large (and free!) botanical garden. Many of the buildings have backyards, often used as outdoor seating for restaurants.

Since Norway is notoriously expensive and I was staying in an apartment with a full kitchen, I opted to buy groceries and eat in about half the time. Just on the block I stayed on were a couple of chain grocery stores, a butcher shop, and two produce markets. As I later found on a walking tour the area also has an upscale food hall — point is, the neighborhood’s a foodie heaven. My preconceptions about Norwegian cuisine being bland and boring were wildly wrong.

 
Oslo
 

This is a side tangent but that botanical garden has something I’d never seen before: a robot lawn mower. It wandered around sort of like a Roomba, cutting the grass before returning to its docking station. Sounds like a way to accidentally lose a toe, but their website claims it’s perfectly safe.

 
Oslo
 

As for getting around I took the Ruter streetcars on a daily basis. They’ll take you pretty much anywhere, assuming you’re able to climb a few stairs to board them. The stops all feature maps with real time arrival information. They’re also well integrated with Google Maps directions. Sometimes Google Maps suggested I take a bus instead but I always opted for the streetcars as I found them more charming, if a little cramped at times.

In Oslo the streetcars always have right of way so you have to be careful when you’re walking — they will not stop for you!

 
Oslo
 

Just as in Sweden the government of Norway controls all alcohol sales. To purchase anything harder than light beer you have to visit a chain store called “Vinmonopolet,” which translates to the amusingly honest phrase “Wine Monopoly.”

I noticed a few parks had small congregations of what I assumed were homeless people living there. However a tour guide later corrected this assumption — Norway has a problem with heroin, and the folks squatting in the parks were most likely addicts. So maybe their government is solving the wrong problem with their semi-prohibition on liquor. That said I never saw a single needle on the streets.

In the following posts I’ll go into tours I went on Oslo and the outdoor sculptures and art. During my brief visit to Oslo the weather didn’t lend itself to spending time indoors, so no — I didn’t visit the most famous painting there. Nevertheless, the legacy of Edvard Munch is all over Oslo.

Two weddings on Hydra

July 14th, 2018

Hydra, Greece
 

As I stepped off the ferry on Hydra I met up with a friend. We’d already arranged to split an Airbnb together on the island while attending our mutual friend’s wedding. Our apartment promised spectacular views, but as our host led us to the place from the port what proved far more spectacular was how quickly we became exhausted. We walked up one cobblestone street lined with stairs after another — my friend later said she counted 387 steps — all in the unrelenting Mediterranean summer heat.

I’d briefly visited Hydra during my trip to Greece last year as part of a one day cruise. I had a feel for the main port area of the island; you can easily walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. But on that brief visit I didn’t have time to explore the hillside so I had no idea how steep the streets could get.

The view from the roof of the apartment really did look amazing as you can see in the panorama photo above. Still, the thought of admiring the view in direct sunlight after walking up that hill had as much appeal as entering a sauna after running a marathon.

Another twist to all of this was Google Maps doesn’t have great directions on Hydra. Some pathways are on the map, some are not. While trying to find the place again and getting lost, I went back and labeled a bunch of pins on the map so we’d know how to get from the port to the Airbnb and back. This worked well and I’m glad Google Maps lets you do this… otherwise I might still be lost on that little island.

 
Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece
 

Housing issues aside I’m still enamored with the island itself. The port town is a charming old place seemingly frozen in time with dusty old stone buildings, restaurants with fresh seafood, beautiful beaches, and a night sky glowing with lights.

The only modes of transportation on Hydra aside from walking are boats and donkeys. It’s nothing like the more touristy Greek islands; nobody’s going to try to sell you pirates movies at the beach, and none of the restaurants have barkers trying to drive you in. It’s easily the most laid back place I’ve traveled to. Just don’t step in the donkey droppings.

 
Hydra, Greece
 

In Greece you’re always going to have some cats. This scrawny little one kept appearing on our patio. I felt guilty because I kept forgetting to bring back some fish for her (at least I think it was a her.)

Those allergic to cats should remember to pack allergy medications when visiting the smaller islands of Greece as there may not be any pharmacies, and the cats tend to be very friendly.

 
Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece
 

On to the double wedding. Both grooms were brothers marrying their long time girlfriends among a large audience of friends and family from around the world. Just to get this out of the way, no, there was no plate smashing, and I don’t think anyone drank any ouzo.

The first ceremony was very traditional in a Greek Orthodox church. Here my Greek friend and his girlfriend (the same couple mentioned in my post on Rome last year) were married in a ceremony I didn’t fully understand — because it was all in Greek. It began with a dramatic, almost operatic mass, proceeded by a number of marriage rituals. Seeing which guests knew when to stand, sit, etc. made it clear who was from Greece and who was not. Rice was thrown, hundreds of photos were taken, wedding favors were handed out, and many candied almonds were consumed.

Soon we all made our way to the port to board boats headed to the next wedding.

The second wedding was held at a large outdoor venue on the seaside with the sun setting in the background. This was a more contemporary wedding in English. Both ceremonies featured the traditional stefana crowns, or ring-shaped crowns tied together with a long ribbon. One is placed on the bride’s head and one on the groom’s, and then the best man swaps them back and forth three times to represent the holy trinity.

This was followed by dinner, drinks, and dancing at the same venue well into the night.

 
Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece Hydra, Greece
 

Many meals were shared on the island, from a very late lunch after I’d arrived to a very late dinner the night following the weddings. Aside from catching up with a few familiar faces, I also met a group of American volleyball players I’d heard about but somehow had never seen face to face.

My final morning on Hydra I had to quickly pack up and make my way down those 387 cobblestone stairs to the port to catch an early ferry. Once I’d taken a taxi back to the airport, I hopped on a plane to my last stop on the trip.

A layover in Athens

July 11th, 2018

Athens, Greece
 

Upon landing in Athens I had a brief layover planned since I needed to take a ferry to my next destination, and the ferry terminal at Piraeus was closed for the evening.

My initial plan was to take the Athens Metro from the airport to my hotel at Monastiraki. I asked at the airport information desk how to take the Metro from the airport but was immediately shot down — “There’s a strike,” the woman at the desk informed me. She told me to go outside and take the express bus to Syntagma Square — a short walk away from Monastiraki.

After an hour on a very crowded bus I finally wound up at Syntagma. I’d never seen this part of Athens in at midnight before. As you can see in the above photo the streets were hardly deserted.

 
Athens, Greece
 

I picked up some late night snacks as I wandered over toward the hotel. But first I checked out Monastiraki, taking in the late night Athens style touristy madness, with young tourists partying, street vendors selling all kinds of silly stuff, and the moon bursting through the clouds over the Acropolis.

It’s hard to explain but after a week in Stockholm during the summer, being in a place where the sun went down at night felt like a relief. People partying and playing loud music outside didn’t bother me — they were just doing their thing — my only focus was on the comfort of a dark sky.

In my hotel room I finished up my blog post on Stockholm before going to bed. It was still a party outside but fortunately the hotel had provided earplugs (I’d brought my own anyway.)

When morning came I had to take the lift elevator downstairs, then take the express elevator up to the bar and restaurant for breakfast.

 
Athens, Greece
 

The hotel breakfast would have been unremarkable — if not for the view. That’s the Acropolis in the center, with Monastiraki down below. Upon checking out of the hotel I walked to the Metro station to take a ride to Piraeus. I already had my ferry ticket from Piraeus to the island of Hydra and there was a pre-wedding lunch scheduled, so there was some time pressure.

And that’s where a comedy of errors began. First I tried taking money out of the ATM at the Monastiraki Metro station. It only dispensed twenty euro notes, but as I quickly learned the ticket machines wouldn’t take anything more than a five euro note. Next I tried buying a ticket with a debit card. Since I was in Athens the previous year they’d upgraded the ticket machines to accept plastic… almost. Of the eight ticket machines at the station I waited in line at six of them before I found one that had a working card reader.

 
Hydra, Greece
 

Fortunately I’d left enough time for all the Metro ticketing madness to get to Piraeus ahead of schedule. I even had time to stop at a nearby cafe for a much needed cappuccino freddo on the way to the Hellenic Seaways dock to catch the ferry.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned traveling in Greece over the years, it’s this: schedules are more like suggestions, things just happen when they happen. I think of this as “Greek time.” There’s no need to rush when you’re on Greek time — if you’re late you may still be the first one there.

My first time flying business class

July 8th, 2018

Business class flight to Athens
 

When flying economy these days it’s fairly common to get an email offer to bid on an upgrade. Typically I place the lowest bid possible and figure there’s no chance I’ll get the upgrade, because what have I got to lose?

So imagine my surprise when Aegean actually accepted my lowball bid on a flight from Stockholm to Athens. For 100 euros I could experience the glamorous lifestyle we’ve all dreamed up, shoeing away the plebes as I lived it up like the king of the skies.

After checking in on the Aegean app, I noticed my boarding pass said “Fast Track” on it. Sure enough at the security gate I bypassed the line (to the extent there even was a line) and got cleared to enter the secure area within a minute.

Next stop: the airport lounge. The first problem was finding the right one as the Stockholm airport has three lounges. After some poking around I found my pass gave me access to the Star Alliance lounge. To enter I had to scan the boarding pass on my phone before the gate would let me in. This went off without a hitch.

The lounge was surprisingly large — and busy. Turns out many other folks have access to this exclusive world of luxury, including random looking people wearing t-shirts and families with far too many upset babies. Yet it wasn’t all bad. There were a plethora of outlets to recharge my laptop and phone, reasonably fast wifi, and a buffet not unlike a continental breakfast at a hotel — but with the addition of beer and wine.

The last part about the buffet is probably the secret sauce to it all. Between the janitorial staff accidentally ramming my chair no matter where I sat and the babies who couldn’t stop screaming, give me a little cheese and wine and I’ll let everything else slide.

Meanwhile, my flight was delayed three times. “No worries,” I thought to myself as I stuffed another buttered roll filled with cheese into my mouth. “It’s a Greek airline. Of course they’re not on time.”

When the screen in the lounge eventually said my flight was boarding, I bolted to the bathroom to pee out all the coffee and wine in my bladder before heading to the gate. As it turned out the flight was still a good half hour away from boarding. When boarding did begin, business class was first, and I was in the front row! So I got to watch all the economy class ruffians scuttle past me on the way to their inferior seats.

On this particular flight the business class seating arrangement wasn’t the luxury I’d imagined. The first row of six seats had been converted into four seats, with the middle seats serving as small trays. That one row — for a total of four seats — was the entirety of the business class section. We did have a special bathroom, and of course the curtain to shield us from the unwashed masses behind us.

The four of us had our own flight attendant who began the flight by offering us water, juice, or wine in a glass — an actual glass! — before collecting them and handing us warm cotton cloths to clean our hands with. Only the best for a posh lot like us.

I was just getting into a movie on my laptop when the flight attendant returned with my appetizer.

At this point I’d seen the menu, and realized something was amiss; the passenger next to me had requested the meal of her choice, but I was never presented with the option to take a specific meal plan. Perhaps something got lost in translation with this upgrade auction.

For the appetizer this was fine; grilled squid over a fava bean puree met my pescetarian diet restrictions, and although I’m not a fan of squid in general it was grilled to perfection and presented as though it were a fine dining restaurant quality dish. I enjoyed it. When the option of a beef or chicken entree came around, I was jealous of my neighbor whose vegetarian order scored her vegetable pasta. I opted to skip this meal and hoped the staff enjoyed it instead.

In the interest of honesty I’d gorged myself at the lounge so much that food wasn’t high on my list of priorities anyway. By the time the deserts came around and a large baklava was sitting in front of me I could barely finish half of it.

Is it possible to get bored of luxury, I wondered? If only they’d let me have another glass of wine or two, would I have realized the folly of this class divide and run down the aisle of economy class yelling “let them eat baklava?”

In all seriousness what I got most out of my business class travel was not on board the flight, but waiting for the delayed flight in a nice airport lounge. In hindsight perhaps the smart move would have been to pay the lounge’s entry fee when I realized my flight was running late. After exiting the airport my status dissipated anyway, and I had to shove my way onto an overcrowded bus just like everyone else.

Stockholm’s subway art

July 5th, 2018

Stockholm’s subways are considered a type of art gallery by many. It’s hard to explain without photos, so here’s some I captured during my time riding around in Stockholm.

 
Stockholm
 

When I came and left Stockholm from the airport I took the commuter rail to and from Central Station on SL’s commuter rail. This station is enormous — it’s technically two separate stations connected together — and is at least eight levels deep. The commuter rail platform I took features tiles painted to look like trees with birds here and there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The Metro (or T-bana) part of the station I found myself in features blue-on-white floral patterns and silhouettes of workers. This was a challenging part of the station to take photos as passengers were rushing through and I tried my best to remain out of their way.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

If you’re familiar with Stockholm’s subway art, the station that probably jumps to mind is Solna Centrum with its red and green color scheme. This station’s unlikely to be visited by most tourists due to its location. Still it’s worth a detour for those interested.

Now that said most photos make this station look dark and dramatic, but it’s actually well lit and contains funny murals and dioramas. So it may not be exactly what you expect.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The design of the Stadion station invokes a sky motif with a sky blue color and a big rainbow in the middle. It’s a a strange choice for an underground room.

You’ll also find a poster for the 1912 Olympic games here as the station is near the Olympic stadium (hence the name of the station.)

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The art at Tekniska Högskolan station reflects it’s proximity to Stockholm’s technical university. There’s a map of the solar system (not to scale) built into the wall. A giant apple precariously dangling from the ceiling represents Newton’s theories, which are also written on the wall in Swedish.

The strangest art is a sculpture in the middle of the station: a dodecahedron with clear sides, with a black rod in the middle and some curly pasta looking things surrounding the rod. What’s going on here? According to the subway art tour I attended, this is a representation of a Stephen Hawking quote about what you’d see if you were sucked into a black hole just before you died. You can view this as it’s intended by standing directly under it and looking straight up. Apparently Hawking himself visited this station and approved of the sculpture. I’d imagine not many subway stations can make such a claim.

 
Stockholm
 

Kungsträdgården station is just below the King’s Garden, as the name suggests. If you listen carefully you can hear water trickling in the station, which isn’t really ideal — a mildly toxic fungus has to be cleaned out of the station regularly. The art includes strangely shaped light displays, ivy growing over broken white sculptures, a petrified tree stump, etc. It has a sort of otherworldly sensibility down there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

Bonus: This one’s not a subway station though it is on the Stockholm Metro. Thorildsplan station is in fact above ground, but the art is fun and I couldn’t leave it out. Tiles are used as form of pixel art to make the station an homage to early video games, in particular Pac Man and Super Mario Bros.

You may have no practical reason to visit Thorildsplan — I certainly didn’t — but it’s worth checking out if you want to see the only metro station in the world designed to look like old video games.

Stockholm expeditions

July 4th, 2018

During my six sunny days in Stockholm I tried to squeeze in as many expeditions around town as possible without exhausting myself too much. It’s a big city with a lot going on — you could probably spend a couple weeks in Stockholm and still leave with that nagging feeling you missed something.

Here’s how I spent my time:

Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

 
Free walking tours
Note: These are all free, but you’re expected to tip the guide if you enjoyed the tour.

  • City Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. This tour’s kind of a grab bag, but wanders around mostly in the new-ish parts of Stockholm to the east of the old town. Much of it focuses on the era around the beginnings of the era of the constitutional monarchy.
  • Old Town (Gamla Stan) Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. When I first set foot in Gamla Stan I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes — yet another beautiful relic of a medieval European city turned into a tourist trap. Sigh. But this tour helped breathe some life, or in some cases death, into the stories from the old days. Can’t say Gamla Stan is my favorite place, but by the end of the tour I appreciated it the history enough to not hate its current incarnation.
  • Subway Art Tour by Free Walking Tour Stockholm. If you’ve seen the amazing photos of the subway stations in Stockholm this tour needs no introduction, and if you haven’t go Google it right now! My only complaint about this tour is it didn’t take me to enough stations. I’ll follow up with another blog post about Stockholm’s subway art in the near future, there’s too much to say here.
  • Söder Tour from Free Tour Stockholm. I was staying in the Söder neighborhood/island so most of the ground we covered was already familiar, but the history of the neighborhood was new to me. Somehow this part of town went from a battlefield to the poor part of town and eventually became a the hip part of town.
    •  

      Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm

       
      Other tours

      • Stockholm Ghost Walk. This somewhat theatrical tour covers both the historical stories from the old town (Gamla Stan) as well as the more… shall we say, legendary tales. A crypt is included, though the bodies were moved long ago.
      • Guided tour of the Riksdag (Parliament). This tour shows you around the building where Sweden’s government operates. The building’s a mishmash of old and new, modified over time to fit the needs of the day. It’s completely free, just show up at the designated time and prepare to go through an airport-style security check.
      • The Nordic Food Walk. This one’s pricey but worth it since it includes samples of many different Swedish cuisines you won’t find elsewhere. They’ll try to cater to your dietary needs, and as a pescetarian there was only one dish I didn’t get to try — a meatball. The tour ended in the basement of a restaurant for a “fika,” or Swedish coffee break.

       

      Odds and ends

      Aside from the tours here are some other places I stumbled on during my time in Stockholm.

      Stockholm
       

      During my first day in Stockholm my Airbnb host suggested visiting Monteliusvägen, a lookout point near where I was staying. There’s a panoramic view of the city from there and it’s not much of a climb. The place was pretty crowded, but there’s a long trail along the cliff with a few lookout points where you can take in the view and snap some photos.

      Stockholm
       

      A few rooms of the Royal Palace were open to visitors for free. The photo above is the chapel built into the palace but there are several other rooms you can visit without taking the tour. The courtyard is also open to the public.

      Stockholm
       

      The Stockholm Public Library is like a temple for reading. The circular main room has three levels of narrow hallways with books on one side. There’s a small section of English books, though like many visitors I was just there to admire the architecture of the building. According to a sign outside the building this was the first open stack public library in Sweden.

      Stockholm
       

      The idea of an espresso tonic never appealed to me until I was in Stockholm during a heat wave and happened to walk into Johan & Nystrom. Normally at a fancy espresso bar I’d order an espresso, but it was such a hot day I almost gagged at the though of drinking a hot beverage.

      Noticing an espresso tonic featured on their summer menu I went ahead and ordered it. The barista made an espresso, which he poured over iced tonic water. I liked it so much I came back for two more during the trip.

      Stockholm
       

      Everyone who visits Stockholm seems to agree there’s one museum you have to visit: the Vasa Museum. They’re right. This is one impressive museum.

      Back in the 1620′s, the king of Sweden wanted a modern warship with two gun decks in order to intimidate his neighbors. This proved to be a little too cutting edge for the time as the ship sank on its maiden voyage. The wreckage was mostly forgotten until the 1950s when it was discovered again.

      The museum tells both the story of the ship and its historical context as well as the monumental effort that went into getting the ship to where it is today. But the initial “wow” factor for me was walking in past the ticket counter right up to a massive wooden ship that nearly fills a five story building. You don’t see that every day.