The Capital of Scandinavia
03/20/2014 - 03/22/2014 45 °F
So it is official - my journey has begun! After a 2 hour delay out of JFK, I landed in Stockholm-Arlanda a little after noon and found my way to the bus into the city. My (obviously well thought out) plan of 2 consecutive red eye flights worked out great. I was so dead tired by the time I boarded my flight after a sleepless cross country red eye, I barely made it to take off before I passed out. With the ear plugs and eye mask I grabbed in the airport, I didn't wake up until the flight attendant was tapping me to have me return my seat to its upright position. GREAT SUCCESS!
I quickly became very thankful that I got a new credit card with a chip in it, as that seems to be the only way that EVERYWHERE accepts credit cards. Bought my train ticket, made my way into Stockholm, and quickly found my hostel for the first 2 nights: City BackPackers.
I just decided that 2 things will happen if I try to recount to you all each and every thing that I do each day ("then I had lunch at a Kebab stand down the street... then I met a couple of Irish girls... etc") - (1) I will get sick of writing so much when I could be out there enjoying these awesome cities and (2) you all will probably get sick of reading it. Instead, I'm going to try and sum up days or a few days with some interesting stories and calling out what I think needs calling out. The posts will probably still be freaking long.
Without further ado, my first 3 days abroad were each unique and themed. Day 1 is titled "Drinking and Making Friends". Day 2 will be "Tourism til you Drop". And Day 3 is "All About CouchSurfing"
Day 1 - Drinking and Making Friends
By the time I made it in to Stockholm, found my hostel, and got settled, it was almost 5 pm. This left very little time for wandering before more activities, but I managed to get out for like 45 minutes. I grabbed a bottle of wine while I was out because I figured, what better way to make friends that with some wine? And it being Day 1 traveling alone, I was very concerned about making friends. After wandering, I took advantage of the "unique Scandinavian experience" offered by the hostel and headed to their in house sauna. While physically enjoyable, this ended up being an awkward time in a small wooden room with 2 old naked French guys. I didn't stay long, took a shower, and headed to dinner.
The hostel advertised FREE PASTA as a benefit, but I didn't really think much past that in terms of food. So I started boiling water without thinking that picking up some pasta sauce, meat, veggies, or at least butter and cheese would really improve it. Luckily, 2 nice Australian girls, Jenn and Amy, came in just when I was starting and we decided to make dinner together. They at least had some packets of butter that they had swiped from Disneyland in France (you take what free stuff you can get), so we had buttered pasta and enjoyed the bottle of wine I had bought. A friendly Austrian named Emil sat down with us and shared his beer and proudly told us how great Stockholm bars were, despite only remembering 2 out of the past 5 nights, haha.
After dinner, we headed to the cafe for the start of a very mediocre bar crawl. The crawl itself was not overly exciting, but I got to know Amy, Jenn, Emil, and a few other travelers while out. The last stop on the crawl was a posh looking dance club with $12 drinks and TERRIBLE dance music that didn't change the beat for the 40 minutes we were there. We finally all admitted this to each other and took off, stopping in a bar on the way back for a beer that only costs about $6. The night won't make my top 10 most epic nights (yes, I can use that word again), but it was a good time.
Day 2 - Tourism til you Drop
With Emil taking off the next day and Amy and Jenn heading to the ABBA museum in the morning (which didn't interest me), I thought I'd be heading out solo. Instead, I ran into Julia (pronounced yoo-lia), who I met on the bar crawl, at breakfast the next morning and discovered that we had the same exact plan for most of the day: Free Walking Tour + Vasa Museum. Julia is the biggest example thus far of Europeans that make me feel like such a rookie traveler, but more on that in a later post. Excited to have a traveling companion, we set off.
This was the meeting place of the tour as well as a great central square and shopping center
More and more European cities seem to have free walking tours of some kind, in which the guide is only paid in tips, and I would suggest them to everyone. They honestly don't begrudge you if you can't tip them (but you should leave a good review on TripAdvisor if you don’t) and it is all the more motivation for them to make the tour interesting. Julia also saw a traveler she had befriended the day before, so Miranda from Canada joined our group! We wandered around Norrmalm and Ostermalm, and heard stories about how a gym trainer became the crown prince, how King Gustav built the Royal Opera House (pictured below) and was later murdered in it, and why Stockholm calls itself “The Capital of Scandinavia”, even though such a thing doesn’t exist. Pictures from the tour:
The Grand Hotel - used to host the Nobel Prize Banquet; recently hosted Obama
I love how they add color to buildings with these window covers. I've seen it a lot around Stockholm.
One of the many beautiful panoramic water views
See! I really was here! Last time I was in Europe I was terrible about not having any pictures with me in them. Hoping to correct that
After the tour, we headed to Djurgarden, another island, to the Vasa Museum. I included the link because anyone who visits Stockholm should absolutely check out this place. It is a whole museum dedicated to a warship completed in 1628, sunk in 1628, and recovered in 1961. I thought it sounded a little boring, but it was one of the most popular museums in the city and had fantastic reviews, both online and from people I talked to. And they were right! Of the things I’ve gone to thus far in Stockholm, this is what I would most recommend.
To read the full history, check out this link, but here are the highlights. Commissioned by the great King Gustav Adolphus (who was a BADASS), the ship was going to be a majestic and fearsome pride of the Swedish navy. The citizens lined the streets to see it set sail, and after going a little more than a km, it was capsized and sank by “a slight gust of wind”. The wreckage sat at the bottom of the harbor, was covered by sand and forgotten, and then rediscovered and raised 333 years later. The harbor silt had preserved it in amazing condition and the ship displayed in the museum is 98% original.
The majestic vessel, still fearsome looking
A model of how it may have once looked
The back was adorned with incredibly intricate carvings, a testament to the glory of their king
How it may have originally looked. The detail was incredible
The museum described everything going thru the building of the ship, the downfall and sinking of the ship, the inquiries made afterward, and everything recovered from it. It also had a great FREE audio tour that told the tale in a great format. Again, HIGHLY recommended.
After that was the free Old Town Tour. Same format as before, but it took you around Galma Stan (Old Town), and told many more interesting stories. My pictures didn't turn out very well because we lost light early on into the tour. Here are the only good looking ones.
The Nobel Museum
Martin Trotzigs Grand - The narrowest street in Stockholm. After some dude who gave a lot of money to the city died, his son demanded that they name a street after him. Due to some beef, this was chosen
This was taken in Old Town well after the tour ended. Maybe on another day. Don't remember
After so much walking around and tourism, I was wiped by the time I got back to the hostel. Finding Jenn and Amy in the same state (and possessing a new can of pasta sauce), we decided to make some more free pasta, stay in, and watch whatever the Swedish movie they put on nightly was. It turned out to be the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which was great, but not as good as the American version, haha. After that, it was bedtime.
Day 3 - “All About CouchSurfing”
For those of you that don’t know about CouchSurfing, you should check it out. I always talk non-stop about all the benefits of it (free place to sleep, meet cool people, get the local opinions on what to see and do), but in addition to free accommodation, people also organize and post events on there for all to join.
One such event was hiking in a town outside of Stockholm. Perfect! With 6 days in a city, I’ve got to find some of these excursions to surrounding areas! Plus, as a CS event, there will also be a number of other interesting travelers and Stockholm locals to meet! I headed to the train station after picking up lunch materials at the local market and met a great CS’er while waiting to board the train. She was a Moroccan named Hasna who was currently working up in Oslo, and just in Stockholm for the weekend. We talked on our way, and stuck together thru most of the hike. She was a very funny girl, filled with American stereotypes, a lover of bad puns, and a frequent loser of glass/sunglasses, which happened on the hike, hahaha.
The hike was incredibly well organized by a guy named Nils, who even had a list of people who had signed up and he took attendance, had a trivia question with a prize, and knew the area very well. Below are some pictures from the hike.
We debated for a little while what huge hulking beast these belonged to. Nils concluded that it was "just a big hound"
It ended by this lake (Hasna warned me not to fall in while jumping) and then we all grabbed a bus back to a train station to return to Stockholm.
After that it was time for me to retrieve my things from the hostel and make my way to my CS host for the night - Jonas. After some trouble meeting up (this gets very hard when you’re not paying for service on your phone and you have to find free WiFi to even send messages thru Whats App. How did people survive before cell phones?), I finally made it to Jonas’ place, a very nicely setup place in Aspudden, a town just outside of Stockholm. I briefly met him and a couple of his friends, but regrettably headed out quickly to head back into the city to a part called Sodermalm.
It was there that I attended my 2nd CS event of the day - drinks at Carmen’s Bar. Same deal with meeting cool people who enjoy travel and talking about different culture. Hasna was there with a Moroccan friend of hers, Medhi, and I met 2 other great Swedish guys, Jacob and Axel. Following my example in the hostel, I quickly bought friends by buying a round for whoever had an empty glass. The example was set, and the rest took turns buying rounds for everyone. The night went on talking about Stockholm, the US, different cultures, music, movies, drugs, etc, until about 1 in the morning. On the walk back to the train station, Medhi took us to a beautiful vantage point where you could see over almost all of Stockholm. Not sure why this isn’t mentioned in more guide books, and I made a note to return during the day to get some good pictures.
Anyways, it has been a great start to the trip and I can tell it will be hard for me to update this often enough. So much to cover and not enough time to write it down (I’d rather be out there living it!)