Travelling is not easy! Chasing after the visa and all the admin aside, the stress/excitement of the night before and the usually tedious journey to the airport, only to face delays, don’t exactly paint a pretty picture. Once you step foot on a new ground however, it’ll be all worth it! The thrill of a being a total stranger in a new world with lots to discover and to marvel at is unlike anything other experience.
Last year I was lucky enough to see many places in Europe. I started with Copenhagen to break my over two years long travel spell. Brussels and Bruges were next and off to Annecy and Geneva afterwards. I relaxed in Split, Hvar and Dubronvik, met a friend in Bergen, figured out how to buy the metro ticket in Prague and watched a football match in Berlin. I ended the year with cheese and in awe with Amsterdam, Delft and Rotterdam. It feels like forever ago.
Having started my travels with Scandinavia last year, and loving the chilled Copenhagen and the beautiful Bergen, I felt compelled to begin this year’s adventures with a nod to the same region: Stockholm; the capital of Scandinavia.
Day 1: Love at first sight!
A sleepless night and the delayed flight took nothing away from my excitement. Arriving just before noon to Arlanda airport, I took the bus to the city. There are a few ways to get to the city from the airport. I found the airport shuttles (flygbussarna) to be the best in terms of the price and duration. 99SEK (or 119SEK if you don’t buy ahead online) takes you to the Cityterminalen in 45 minutes. There are stops outside all terminals but the bus starts from terminal 5 so go there if it’s too busy and save yourself a seat! There’s wifi In the bus and the time flies by.
The weather forecast had anticipated rain so arriving to a grey city wasn’t a surprise. Foggy and rainy , although not
too cold, never makes the best first impression. You obviously can’t blame the Swedes for their weather specially arriving from London. Stockholm is one of most culturally diverse cities in Europe. I was greeted with an Iranian born visa control officer and an airport filled with racially mixed background staffs.
The landscape felt somewhat familiar to other European countries, so I was eager to arrive to the city . Although everything did feel a bit greener. The Sun was coming in and out when I arrived and my umbrella was dancing to the rain intervals.
I headed to the accommodation to drop my luggage. The upside of the delayed flight was I could just check in now. Last time I stayed in a hostel was in Croatia with friends and this was in fact my first time staying in one alone. The expensive hotels in Stockholm and me travelling on a budget left me with little choice so I thought why not! (£25ppn for the hostel as opposed to around £80 for a dodgy hotel). The City Backpackers hostel was located very close to the central station and just under 10 minutes walk. It was clean and spacious. A good communal space, private showers and nice interior decorations. Staffs were all very friendly except one guy who I suppose was in a bad mood that day!
With the check in done, there was no time to waste and after saying hi to a few of my dorm mates I headed out. In the mood to wonder, I started walking aimlessly and found myself in Norrmalm district. The rain had given the air freshness and people were cheerfully walking down the shopping streets. I passed by Stockholm Concert Hall where there’s a daily market with mainly fruits and flowers, and walked all the way to the edge of Östermalm district. It is such a beautiful city and I felt in love with it right away.
For dinner I found a very special place. Since this was going to be the first and last time I treated myself nicely to meal in this trip, it was important to find the right place and luckily I did. Tradition, in Vasatan, was such a pleasant surprise. A very friendly staff and a modern & clean interior. I couldn’t resist but to order the Swedish meatballs and needless to say it was superb and obviously far better than those you get in IKEA. The salmon and cream cheese accompanied by bread and butter was a delightful starter as well. I love Scandinavian breads! They are so tasty and can be a meal on their own.
Lack of sleep started to catch up with me early in the evening and after 8 p.m. I could barely keep my eyes open. Although at the end I went to bed just before the midnight. The hostel was very noisy with drunk youth enjoying their time and I was just uploading some photos and going through my notes.
Day 2: Archipelago & Moderna Museet
I woke up early on the second day to go explore the Gamla stan (Old Town) before hordes of tourists arrive. It was cloudy which is actually good for photography providing a diffused lighting. This has been one of the most interesting part of my every European journey. Most cities have their old towns preserved, and although in most cases it has been turned to tourist trap with a lot of dodgy souvenirs shops, it is still amazing to be able to walk back in history and see these amazing architectures. Stockholm’s old town is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and fairly big as well. It dates from the 13th century but most buildings are from the 17- and 1800s. It’s in a small island with many houses still residential. I even saw a few schools. I managed to take some nice photos of the pretty much empty streets.
Next for the day was a boat trip to Archipelago. I arrived early first to make sure I know where the departure point is before starting the explorer the area near the harbour. I walked around Ostermalm. A Quiet and beautiful area with a lot of pretty apartments . I had some breakfast in a small cafe and headed to the bay.
Stockholm’s archipelago is the second-largest in the Baltic Sea after Finland. There are nearly 30,000 islands, islets and rocks – from Arholma in the north to Landsort in the south. The journey I was taking the route to Vaxholm (capital of archipelago) and back. Admittedly I didn’t do a thorough research for this and just picked something based on tripadvisor rating and It was ok. The majority were the old people who had opted in for the lunch and cruising option. I just sat outside on the back deck and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I would have preferred something a bit further outside in the sticks and to some of the inhabited islands, but it was still interesting to see what’s out there . It took 3 hours costing SEK270.00. If I ever visit again I would look into hiring a boat and going early to catch the sunrise and as the mist is covering the islands.
Jumping off the boat, remembering my journey through the Fjord in Bergen last year, I was pondering about planning a trip into nature somewhere away from the cities.
Looking at my list of places to visit I decided to pay a visit to the Moderna Museet (museum for modern and contemporary art) located on the island of Skeppsholmen.
It’s really fun to go to these small islands linked to each other with bridges. This is a free museum (except for special exhibitions) with an interesting collection that includes key works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Dorothea Tanning, Andy Warhol and Niki de Saint Phalle.
The Enigma of William Tell – Dali
After a couple of hours there and satisfying my curiosity at their shop, I headed towards the City hall. It was too late to go inside but I had only one full day left and no time to ponder! It’s such a beautiful building standing tall by the bay. I walked around the nearby area for pretty much the rest of the day. I always enjoy seeing more of the residential side of the cities I’m visiting and not just the touristy bits. I explored Kungsholmen district to see many more beautiful buildings.
Stockholm City Hall
Day 3: Vasa and DesignTorget
Another noisy night at the hostel. Around 4 am there seemed to have been a crowd outside! They must have been pretty loud as their voices were penetrating my ear plugs! But I was tired so fell back asleep every time. On today’s agenda was Vasa museum to see the great (or not so great!) ship and then looking around some design shops. With most shops closing around 5pm, there is not much time to window shop unless the whole day is dedicated to shopping!
I left the hostel to find an amazing weather with the sun shining beautifully. Everything looked much more vibrant and saturated making this already colourful city even more so. I walked from the hostel with a stop at the central station to plan the final day’s departure. I was leaving from a different airport to catch a cheaper Ryan Air flight at Vasteras. The train tickets are cheaper if you buy in advanced. ( e.g. 99SEK instead of 140SEK). Also cheaper to buy from the ticket machine than the counter (e.g. 140SEK instead of 160SEK). Interesting too, if you choose not to add your name to the ticket and go nameless you will need to pay more. All the payments to the machines or buying bus tickets are done via cards and no cash is accepted. After a quick research I headed to Vasa. I like the scale of this city. It’s like a mixture of Copenhagen and Bergen but much bigger and denser!
Vasa museum, located on the island of Djurgården, is the house to a giant ship of the same name that sank almost instantly as it was let in water in 1628. What is amazing about it is the fact that they were able to salvage it, almost fully intact, about 300 years later. There was a really well made short film about its’ history at the museum’s cinemas. It’s a magnificent sight to behold.
Outside Vasa there was a lot was going on. Apparently some kind of a Sunday market and other activities for the locals. I had a look around, found some old trams, second hand book sales, and had lunch at the market: fried herring with mashed potatoes and salad; delicious!. While I was eating I chatted with some other travelers. It’s quite amazing to see how many people are traveling the world, what a privilege is to be able to step in a new land and live amongst its’ people incognito! I love Scandinavia, people feel genuinely friendly and they all speak perfect English and one or more languages on top that, quite impressive and overwhelming.
I headed towards Sodermalm to look for some design shops. There are plenty around and what a feast for your eyes! Mostly however, they are very expensive. The only budget (relatively) friendly options are the DesignTorget chain design stores, which is similar to Target, but with proper design items.
The DesignTorget I ended up going to was in a very beautiful and chilled street called Högbergsgatan with a lot of shops and boutiques. I saw so many nice little things there that eventually had to surrender and buy a few. Carrying my shopping I headed back to the hostage to offload.
The summer days are very long and the sun sets around 9:45 p.m. giving me enough time to head back out and find a good spot to watch the sunset. I walked towards Monteliusvagen, which required a little hike to get up and find a view, and what a breathtaking view of this beautiful city I found.
I took the train on my way back to the central station to see what the transport system is like here. It was just ok, nothing really characteristically distinguishing it from the other cities I have visited. Although many stations have some pretty interesting art installations, the central is pretty simple. The station itself above the ground in beautiful however.
Last night at the hostel was quieter. Many had vanished replaced by new faces. More recently graduated Americans doing their Eurotrips, an interesting bunch, very enthusiastic and positive. I packed my things ready for departure the next day.
Day 4: Thank you Stockholm
I checked out and was on my way to central station to drop my luggage around 8:30. A little later than I had planned but I was running out of steam after three days of walking an average of 15k per day. I decided to take it easy on the last day and just walk around, yes more walking! Stockholm is the first city where I felt I can just walk all day and look around and be satisfied.
I went to the Concert hall and watched people setting up their stalls for the day’s market. I went to another DesignTorget store and looked at some new things they had there, and eventually I found myself at Adolf Fredrik Church.
I took a leisurely walk back to the station and collected my luggage (Lockers are on the ground floor, 60SEK 4hrs and 70SEK for 24hrs) and bought a small pack of rye bread on my way to board the train.
It was a quick journey to Vasteras, this tiny airport, just under an hour followed by a 20 minutes bus journey. The train was identical to the one I took in Brussels with wifi on board. Double decker trains make me feel I’m boarding a spaceship!
There is not much to see in Vasteras Airport. There are two cafes, one outside and the other one after the security check in. The airport has just enough space for the passengers of one flight to await their destiny! A new Murakami book I had purchased at Gatwick airport came to my rescue when it was announced the flight will be delayed for two hours.
As the plane took off, I closed the chapter on my first European adventure this year and what a pleasant experience it was. Thank you Stockholm.