Posts Tagged ‘sweden’

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.
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      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.

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      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.

Stockholm

June 29th, 2018

Stockholm
Stockholm Stockholm
 

I visisted Stockholm on a whim to be totally honest — I knew I’d be in Greece for a wedding, and wanted to fly nonstop to a city in Europe I’d never been to before and spend a few days there. Flights to Stockholm were cheap, so why not give it a shot?

Little did I know I’d be visiting Stockholm during “midsummer,” a time in which there’s no escape from the sun because it never sets. If you’re like me you’d heard about this phenomenon, but if you’ve never experienced it firsthand it’s incredibly jarring.

For midsummer many stores and restaurants adjust their hours to a later, more Mediterranean schedule. From around 8 PM to sometime early in the morning, the city takes on an eerie glow. I knew I’d have some jet lag flying in but it’s much worse when the sun doesn’t have the decency to disappear at night.

Stockholm
 

First things first: the language barrier. This wasn’t an issue; almost everyone spoke English, though some were more reluctant to practice than others. Not all written information is available in English but this never seemed to matter much.

Second, make sure you bring a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. Cash isn’t accepted in many places in Stockholm, and you can pay for almost anything with credit cards — even things like pay toilets and vending machines take plastic. Some stores require you to present an ID with your credit card if it doesn’t have a PIN associated with it.

Stockholm
 

From the Stockholm Arlanda airport I picked up an SL Access public transit card and loaded a seven day pass on it. This card lets you on the local buses, the T-bana (subway), the commuter rail, and the ferries. Getting around is pretty straightforward with Google Maps but unfortunately Google hasn’t yet added ferry routes to its transit directions. FYI: It takes a little “travel hacking” but you can get out of paying airport surcharges on the commuter rail if you ask how at the airport information desk.

I found Swedes tend to be friendly but usually pretty quiet. This has its advantages, mainly that you can ride the subway without being forced to overhear loud conversations. Come to think of it I guess their demeanor is kind of like their furniture — pleasant but not trying to stand out.

Stockholm
 

Stockholm itself is a city of contradictions. Food is everywhere, but there’s not much Swedish food to be found (with the exception of cinnamon rolls.) There’s an enormous royal palace, but it’s barely used and the royal family isn’t well liked. Most businesses don’t take cash, yet the country declined to switch to the Euro. Alcohol is only sold at government stores, but drunks roam the streets at all hours. Swedes might seem reserved, but I’m told going to nude saunas with your friends and family is a big part of their lives.

Every culture has its quirks of course, but I didn’t expect to find so many in just a week. What makes these cultural elements stand out like a sore thumb is I’m writing this blog post from a hotel overlooking Monastiraki Square in Athens. People are eating junk food and drinking beer while loud music plays from every direction in almost unbearably hot weather; I’m trying to write about Sweden from a place that had might as well be the anti-Sweden.

In the next post I’ll go into detail on some of the places I went, tours I attended, etc. in Stockholm.