Over Easter, Richard and I spent the long weekend in Stockholm. Having four days to explore the city made the trip was more relaxing than our previous ones. The plane was unusually noisy, filled with excited chatter from groups of young travelers and also families with children – I guess a lot of people had the same idea as us!
Stockholm has an express train, the Arlanda Express, which takes you from the airport to the central station. It is a very nice, comfortable and clean train which raced along at 200km/h. It was quite reminiscent of the airport train in Oslo. As our weekend unfolded, we would find several similarities between Stockholm and Oslo.
Our hotel was conveniently just around the corner from the train station – thanks to Richard’s excellent planning. The modern hotel building had an interesting musical theme. Each lift had an associated music genre so depending on which lift you got on, you might be enjoying some jazz, or rock, or pop. The jazz lift had a saxophone attached to the roof, and the rock lift had an electric guitar inside. We once saw two kids waiting patiently for a lift to arrive so they could play with the mixer and pretend to be DJ’s.
Sweden has its own local fast food chain, Max, which has been around since the late 60’s. On more than one occasion, the popularity of Max in Sweden has forced McDonald’s branches to close down and, customer satisfaction has been significantly higher for Max than any of its American counterparts. We decided to give it a go since we were hungry and there was Max close by. There are remarkably responsive self service touch screens near the entrance that we used to order. The bread and vegetables involved in my burger were fresh but otherwise I found the meat patty and chips to be quite average. (After being in the UK for a little while, it was kind of odd to find the chips arriving pre-salted.) It feels like the success of Max is a combination of a slightly fresher (and therefore healthier-feeling) product and national pride.
We spent the afternoon wandering around a shopping area and admiring some pretty buildings along the way. New clothes were purchased and we were feeling relaxed knowing we were in no rush.
For dinner, we went to a fantastic little restaurant called Bistro Bestick. I had amazing octopus for a starter – the most tender and melting octopus I’ve ever had. The rest of our meal included superbly cured salmon, the most perfect lamb we’ve had since leaving NZ, and iconic Swedish meatballs. We enjoyed our meal so much we decided to go all out and end with flaming creme brulee and an artistic raspberry and yoghurt dessert. The lighting in the restaurant was set at romantic so I don’t have photos to share but I would highly recommend the restaurant.
The pace of this trip was so different, we ended up sleeping until 9:30am on Saturday morning! I don’t usually say much about our hotel breakfasts but this has got to be the most expansive buffet breakfast we have ever seen. There was a wide variety of hot and cold savoury foods, a cereal bar with all the nuts, seeds and health sprinkles you can think of, a waffle maker (!), and an array of hot and cold beverages. It gets very busy and expands over two floors – crazy!
After a hearty breakfast, we went to check out Skansen, Stockholm’s open air museum. On the way we passed a couple of beautiful museum buildings which were great to see, although we didn’t visit them all!
Some of you might recall that we visited an open air museum in Oslo which we thoroughly enjoyed. Skansen was equally fun to wander through with a replica township including several shops where you could buy real things. There is a glass maker in one of the shops and you can watch him at work, skillfully shaping the lava-like lumps of glass into beautifully delicate works of art. Inspired, we purchased a cute little bird from the adjacent store.
There is a fairly decent area specifically designed for kids and we wandered over to see a variety of farm animals and interactive learning areas. I even took an obligatory silly photo.
A very cool feature was the picnic space where a lot of families were cooking meat on these fantastic fire pits set up in the centre of the area. Neatly chopped wood was kept in a large metal container to one side. Parents and children were all carefully turning over sausages and have such a great time, it was really nice to see.
After exploring the majority of Skansen, we sought lunch at a cafe a short walk away. (Is 25 minutes a short walk?) On the way we wandered past fields being prepared for planting which I’m sure would be really wonderful in spring and summer time. The cafe itself was set up in a rectangular glass house. Down the centre runs several long tables covered in a delectable array of sweet treats and a couple of sandwiches. I ended up getting a roll with fennel, cheese and mystery dressing which together made a superb combination. We also tried smörgås with an intensely meaty fish. After two buns and a slice of cake brimming with cardamom, we were again seriously full. Casually, we made our way back, enjoying the peaceful landscape the park (called Djurgården) offered.
Richard and I began to feel like lazy travelers so on Sunday morning we woke up earlier to embark on further explorations. The added benefit of waking up earlier was that we had the waffle iron mostly to ourselves muahahaha!
Our first stop was the Kungliga slottet (royal palace), museum and treasury. The palace contains around 1430 rooms of which we probably only explored a small portion. A few rooms were filled with detailed explanations of the various medals and honors that exist in Sweden. It wasn’t particularly interesting to me but things got better from there!
We walked through an exhibition showcasing the evolution of timekeeping in the palace. There were some really spectacular time pieces on show.
Most of the rooms were classically opulent but one area had been recently redecorated to reflect modern Swedish design and aesthetics. It was a nice touch to see the contrast between old and new. Especially since Sweden is so renowned for its modern design prowess.
The palace also had a chapel on one side which was really beautiful and still used for services every Sunday.
Near the palace we found lunch which was reasonably affordable and had generous portions. Unfortunately it wasn’t that nice but it was good enough for fueling up for our exploration of the old town area. The buildings in old town are so charming and beautiful.
Out of curiosity, we went to check out the Fotografiska (photography museum). There was a surprisingly long line outside the entrance but it was moving steadily, if a bit slowly. It had actually taken about 30 minutes to walk there so we were determined to get inside. Once we entered the exhibition area we realised that we were not at a level of contemporary artistic appreciation to understand what we were looking at. We enjoyed a couple of the photos in the Erik Johansson exhibition but otherwise were generally weirded out and mystified.
On the way back to our hotel for an afternoon rest (read: nap), we bought fruit and ice cream to snack on. You may have noticed that I have not mentioned public transport yet. This is because we decided to forego buying a public transport pass and we walked everywhere. It took about 40 minutes to reach our hotel. Collectively over the course of the weekend we did feel tired from all the walking but at the same time, it seems to be the fastest way to familiarise yourself with a new city and feel better about eating out all the time!
On our final day the sun was shining and everything was extraordinarily beautiful. We went to the city hall where we saw a lonely leafless oak tree in the square. It turns out this tree marks that Children’s Meeting Place which is where children and decision-makers meet to exchange ideas for a better future. The idea originated from a Swedish NGO called Globetree. It was a nice idea which I hadn’t heard of before and I find myself hoping it is more than just a symbol.
Our last stop in Stockholm was the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a ship from the 17th century which was unveiled with great pomp and proceeded to sink to the bottom of the ocean 20 minutes into its maiden journey. It didn’t even make it out of the harbour. For 333 years the ship sat on the seabed, before being carefully removed and having a museum built in its honour. If it sounds lame, let me reassure you that the museum was in fact more interesting that we thought it would be. As with the Fram Polarship Museum in Oslo (again!), this was an interesting place to wander through. Since the ship wasn’t attacked or really damaged in any way, a lot was able to be salvaged for display in the museum. The museum was reasonably large and uses the Vasa as leverage to share information about life in the 17th Century and the naval history of the area. I think the best museums are those which have interactive elements to entertain younger visitors while also including information interesting for adults. The Vasa museum is definitely a place which does this well.
For a late lunch, we went to a fantastic cafe called Broms. There we indulged in shrimp and avocado salad, roasted poussin and delicious fresh juices. The front portion of the shop is a deli with customers popping in to purchase cured meats, bread and pastries. We were seated near the end of the restaurant and treated to a generous feast. They serve breakfast until 4pm – now that’s what I call ‘all day’!
To end our trip the lazy way that it started, we wandered around Old Town for a bit, and indulged at a Ben & Jerry’s store before collecting our bags from the hotel and heading to the airport. Stockholm was a great choice for a long weekend away. It has plenty to keep you occupied if you wanted to have a packed schedule, but it also has a relaxed vibe which we readily embraced. Like all of the Scandinavian destinations we have been to so far, Richard and I enjoyed Stockholm very much. It is has plenty of romantic buildings, proximity to water and a great number of gardens and parks. As you would expect, the people speak excellent English so nothing is too difficult. It also feels like a happy city where people enjoy their weekends with their families in the great outdoors.
Unfortunately not every weekend is a long weekend so following this trip we went back to our normal ways by spending two days away, this time in Marseille. Stay tuned for details on our first trip to France (it only took 8 months!).