We travelled to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, by train from Oslo. As we approached the Swedish border, the forest began to close in and the farms became more sporadic than they had been across the Norwegian countryside.
We crossed the border into Sweden just after 4:00pm. Little appeared to change except that perhaps the firs and spruces started to predominate the forest. Whilst Cath was busy with the website, Ian considered this might be a good time to take a nap. That of course presumed that the whingeing children might subside. Only time would tell…., it did, they didn’t.
The train arrived at Stockholm in the early evening and thanks to the clear instructions from our AirBnB hosts, it was a simple matter to switch to the local metro, the T-Bana, which delivered us within a few hundred metres of our accommodation. We love it when you get a little bit of extra information from a host, a simple thing like the train line number can relieve so much stress when arriving in a new city. This time our apartment was on the 4th floor of an eight storey building, thankfully with a lift, one of a group in the suburb of Gärdet. We would recommend staying in this area of the city, it is a relaxing mostly residential area, easily accessible with lovely green spaces and gardens between mostly apartment style buildings. There were a few bars and restaurants within walking distance of our apartment. It is also very well serviced by public transport, buses and the T-Bana.
We collected our groceries from an ICA supermarket nearby and then decided to relax for the evening. As we have mentioned in our Traveller’s Tales about other Swedish cities, the best way to save some money in the relatively expensive country is to eat at home, making a supermarket located nearby a must. Luckily, we (Cath) enjoys the challenge of supermarket shopping in a language other than English and Ian enjoys eating Cath’s home cooked meals.
The long Nordic summer days and short nights had our body clocks a bit out of whack, as it was daylight until almost midnight. We were feeling pretty tired by this stage of our northern adventure, as we had a tendency to stay up until well after dark and a night, sacked out on the couch was oh, so welcome. We were lucky enough to have access to HBO and Netflix, which led us to some binge watching. It felt like forever since we had watched T.V. (in English) and you have to make the most of T.V. while you have it when on a long term journey, so we didn’t get to bed until late but never mind we are on holiday and allowed to spend some time relaxing, surely!
On our first full day in Stockholm, Gamla Stan, the “old city” of Stockholm was our first order of business. A short T-Bana ride took us right up to the island and what a beautiful place it turned out to be. We have to admit that our knowledge base about the city was limited and almost entirely consisted of a recommendation not to miss it, from well travelled friends and the Stieg Larsson trilogy. We were therefore surprised to learn that Stockholm is a city of 12 islands and 42 bridges, giving it the title of the Venice of the North and more intriguing, was the fact that the Stockholm archipelago is made up of some 30, 000 islands, making it an enchanting city to explore, as we both love boats and who doesn’t love an island or two?
Gamla Stan, which sits on it’s own island in the archipelago, has been wonderfully preserved. There are a surprising number of buildings dating back to the 17th century and we felt transported back in time as we wandered the cobbled streets, admiring the architecture, the pretty coloured buildings and generally enjoying meandering. There is nothing quite like a good meander in an old city, every corner seems to bring with it a new delightful little experience. Walking up the hill through hordes of tourists, we eventually arrived at the town square, the Stortorget, which is surrounded by buildings from the middle ages, predominantly painted in shades of brown, ochre and green.
At one end, somewhat overshadowing the rest of the quadrangle, stands the Stock Exchange Building, which houses the Swedish Academy, which in turn houses the Nobel Museum. It is an imposing structure and apparently the members of the Nobel committee meet there to decide who gets the prize for literature. Quite the spot to visit for a book obsessed little Aussie.
There were people everywhere in the square, some making use of the park benches to catch a few rays of the elusive summer sun and others strolling around the ornately gothic style fountain in the centre of the square, before tucking into the Fika at one of the many cafes and restaurants. As always, we applied the “smart traveller rule” and bypassed these as being “too touristy” and continued on our journey.
We tried to avoid the bulk of the tourists as we meandered at a leisurely pace around Gamla Stan, but it is difficult and in particular the tour groups who virtually block whole streets while their guides pontificate are a positive nuisance. Why is it that they can not stand to one side and let other people, locals and tourists alike pass by? Still one must accept that there are many people who need to be spoon fed their history and appear to have left both manners and common sense in their home countries. HINT if you are planning to take a tour, use your manners!
The worst of the streets in Gamla Stan for tourist groups is Vasterglattan, which is filled with souvenir shops, cafes and quaint craft shops, selling TomTar and Trolls, gorgeous little guys with quite an amusing myth but we would recommend heading to a cheaper part of town if you need a souvenir.
Before long we found ourselves near the top of the hill and the ubiquitous church, the clergy most certainly knew the location, location, location catch phrase during the middle ages. The Cathedral, St Gertrudes Church, is free and the roof paintings alone are worth a visit, it also hosts organ recitals but we were not there at the right time. The spire, which makes up part of the famous skyline of spires in Stockholm, is quite amazing and makes the church look as though she is wearing a helmet. Coincidently, St Gertrude is the patron saint of travellers and even if you don’t believe, it’s always a good idea to have a little help on your journey, don’t you think?
It was a pleasure to have no plan, and we were delighted to emerge from the narrow alleyways, to find the Royal Palace of Stockholm, which, although grand, doesn’t really live up to the stature of many others we have seen during our European adventures. It is one of the hazards of long term European travel, you become a bit blasé and judgmental about how grand a castle is.
Getting around Stockholm was easy and we found our way out of the narrow cobbled streets onto the waterfront just in time to catch a ferry from Slussen to visit Djurgarden. The ferries that are included in the daily metro transport tickets make a good budget alternative to paying for a cruise around the inner city islands and gave us an opportunity to appreciate the skyline and it’s famous spires.
Djurgården, is a leafy island which houses many monuments, museums and Stockholm’s version of the Tivoli Gardens, Grona Lund. As we were keeping a pretty tight budget in Scandinavia, we decided not to visit the museums but did enjoy the view from the island and took the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by at the yacht club. They are pretty brave sailors up in this neck of the woods, it would be pretty chilly if you ended up in the water, we imagine.
The Swedes have a long and proud maritime tradition and the National Maritime Museum has museum ships located near the Vasa Museum. It is free admission and well worth a visit even if you only see the light house boat, yes a working light house on a boat, amazing! For those of us (read Australians) who are not used to sea ice and arctic conditions the tour of the ice breaker was quite incredible, the lifestyle of the sailors is anything but glamorous. The information contained on the ships is mostly in Swedish but there are English language tours throughout the day and it is a nice spot to have a cuppa and cake whilst you await the tour. There is something about wasting time sitting by water which is wonderfully relaxing, don’t you think?
We were headed for the Vasa Museum, as Ian was quite interested in the Swedish version of the Titanic. The Vasa, a 17th century warship sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, only minutes and 1300 metres, after being launched. A somewhat embarrassing situation for the captain and boat builder one imagines. We were disappointed on arriving at the door to the wonderful boat shaped building to find a long line and many tourist buses arriving. So figuring that the experience would be marred by so many people, we wandered off through the gardens and eventually found our way back to the ferry terminal, just as the little boat arrived.
Whilst we were in Stockholm during the summer the wind was still quite cold and we thought it best to head for home as it was wine o’clock. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Google Maps, we located the Systembolaget closest to our apartment, jumped on the train and found ourselves the new owners of a couple of bottles of French Vin Rouge. Luckily the Systembolaget was not too far from the train station, as we had already walked 20km for the day.
Our second day in Stockholm was a lazy day, filled with food, tea and resting our feet from the previous day’s exertions. We were also a little unorganised for the next steps on our foray into Scandinavia and the Baltic States, so we spent a good portion of the day on the internet. We had to buy tickets for the ferry to Tallinn via Helsinki and find somewhere to stay wherever we ended up. It’s not very glamorous but a necessity and a good friend’s suggestion of an online travel PA was sounding like a perfect idea. Maybe that could be Cath’s new job?
After spending the day booking tickets, accomodation and planning, we had decided it was time enjoy a quiet beer and maybe get to know some of the local customs (read bars). Cath, ever the researcher, had located what promised to be beer at a reasonable price. We spent a very pleasant evening at Söderkällaren, Medborgarplatsen. Obviously word is out about the beer price at this bar because it appeared to be filled with students or those young enough to be students (and us). Having said that, it has a relaxed, homely atmosphere and everyone was very friendly. We consumed a few of the local ales at a reasonable price 35SEK ($5 AUD) for a pint, a bit cheaper than the touristy bars in Gamla Stan and Djurgarden. If you do go, be sure to order the frites with sauces, it is a huge plate and the sauces are very tasty.
We had really enjoyed our short but relaxing time in Stockholm and were feeling refreshed and ready for the next part of our northern journey. Cath was pretty excited about the ferry trip from Stockholm to Helsinki, as she had never been on a “big boat” before and we arrived at the Viking Line terminal in plenty of time to check in and eat our pre purchased lunch. BUDGET HINT the cafes in the T-Bana train stations have good quality Pannini, at a reasonable price and they make a perfect travel day lunch.
As we had left booking the ferry until the day before sailing, we were cabinless and it promised to be quite a long night ahead of us. There is another HINT for you, playing fast and loose and having no plan, sounds like a dreamy way to travel but in the days of internet bookings and cheap advanced tickets, it often ends up costing more and you get less for it! Plan and book your travel early, is the message.
Once aboard the M/S Mariella, which by the way is no dinky little ferry but a huge ship, we stashed our luggage in the free luggage room and headed up to the sixth floor to check out seating. In a short time we found ourselves on the deck, enjoying a beer in the sun with a few hundred other excited passengers. It appears that this trip is a bit like a booze and shopping trip, there is duty free shopping on board and the Swedes make the most of it, even buying meat and food products. Before long the horn had sounded and we were cruising our way out of the picturesque archipelago, past grand waterside houses, pretty rocky islands, yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes and tiny little beach shacks, toward the Baltic Sea.
We settled into the bar, ordered a beer and wine and observed the crazy Swedes taking part in cruise ship activities like trivia competitions, magic shows and dancing and it was only the middle of the day, what would the night hold?
You will have to read our next post, Cruising from Stockholm to Tallinn to find out more.
Next stop, Helsinki.
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