August 23, 2014 – September 4, 2014
After spending nearly five months traveling through South America and relaxing in the sunny heat of Rio, it was finally time to leave the continent to continue our adventure around the world, and that meant a flight to Stockholm, Sweden!
Our journey started with a 14 hour flight to Dubai, flying on Emirates Airlines. An airline Krista had always wanted to fly, we boarded their new Boeing 777 which I must say it quite fantastic inside. Both the technical capabilities of the plane and the service were amazing. The buses in South America could take a few notes from their seats and leg room…
We found out after we purchased our tickets that layovers over 8 hours may qualify for a free hotel room in Dubai. Our layover was scheduled to be 8 hours and 10 minutes, so we received a free hotel room for the stay, courtesy of Emirates!
After our relaxing layover we hopped on another Emirates flight for the final 7 hour trip over Iran and western Russia (just skirting east of the Ukrainian conflict) to Stockholm, Sweden. We will return to Dubai for a proper visit later. (In fact I am writing this from Dubai right now)
Why Sweden after South America? Well that is because we happened to have a place to stay, with a friend of Krista’s family who was a foreign exchange student, staying with Krista’s family when she was a kid. We are glad that we had this hook up because Sweden is both fantastic to visit and expensive.
After the chaos of South America, Stockholm was a welcome relief. It is a civilized paradise in comparison, where the number of horn honks in a city of over a million can be counted on one hand in a day, rather than by the dozens every minute. The people are polite and courteous, and the streets are clean and free of graffiti. And of course my definition of ‘civilized’ as always is that they have great coffee!
Gamla Stan or ‘Old Town’ in Swedish is the central island and you guessed it, the old town of Stockholm. If you have only a limited time in Stockholm this is where you should start. The second most important place, in my opinion, being the Vasa Museum which we will cover later.
Stockholm is also known as the city of islands as it is spread out over 14 islands, and Gamla Stan is the original island. The first mention of a city named Stockholm was in 1252 AD, though the Vikings had long inhabited the island and surrounding area for hundreds of years.
On Gamla Stan you can find the Royal Palace, the Royal Armory, the ancient Stockholm Cathedral, the Nobel Museum and dozens of pedestrian only streets winding through buildings which are hundreds of years old and filled with small shops, cafes and restaurants.
Though the city is known as the city of islands, it could also easily be known as the city of museums as there are dozens and dozens of them to choose from. There are several on this small island, you can tour the Royal Palace and Armory, the Stockholm Cathedral, and the Nobel Museum.
We toured the Cathedral and the Nobel Museum and walked around the outside of the Royal Palace.
Norrmalm is the northern section of town, north of Gamla Stan or ‘old town’. It has become the new modern center of town, with streets lined with designer shopping, expensive restaurants along with the central hub of the metro, train station and bus station. If you enjoy shopping, or just need to pick up a few things after being on the road for 5 months Stockholm offers hundreds of shops and lots of sprawling malls to wander through.
It was also here in Norrmalm, where we had our first encounter with the ‘latte dads’. We saw a stereotypical large viking-like Swedish man pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a latte in the other. In Sweden parents get 18 months of paid leave when they have a child. As a result there are many happy parents pushing around strollers. And the ‘lumberjack’ look as they call it, or ‘viking’ look as I would call it, dad pushing a stroller and drinking coffee is very common, and latte moms as well of course.
Drottninggatan – Or ‘Queens Street’ is a long pedestrian only street, lined with malls, shops and cafes.
The clothing store H&M is a Swedish company and one of Krista’s favorites. There were H&M’s all over, so we had to stop at a few and pick up some new clothes.
The History Museum – A museum dedicated to the history of Sweden has quite an impressive collection of Viking artifacts and large rune stones, anyone interested in Vikings should definitely check it out.
City Hall – City hall on Kungsholmen island offers tours, the Nobel Prize banquet is held here each year. We toured this impressive building including the tower which offered great views of the city below.
Views from the City Hall Tower
Djurgarden is one of the must see places after Gamla Stan, it serves as the entertainment island of Stockholm. It is largely covered with amusement parks, city parks, many museums, and a zoo. Skansen Park and the Vasa Museum are must sees.
The Vasa Museum
The Vasa Museum is perhaps the most impressive museum I have ever been to, and you can’t visit Stockholm without seeing it. It is dedicated to the seventeenth century Swedish naval ship, the Vasa. The Vasa was commisioned by King Gustav Vasa during a time of war with the Danes. Finished in 1628, the Vasa, was not like any other ship built, the King wanted the largest and most impressive and of course most powerful ship to set sail in the Baltic Sea. The Vasa was built with two decks of cannon, something Sweden had never done before. This made the ship very powerful, but also very tall and top heavy.
On her maiden voyage 10 August 1628, after sailing only 1,400 yards she caught a slight breeze and tipped over and promptly sank, within sight of all of Stockholm which had come to the shore to see her off.
As luck would have it the cold, brackish water of the Baltic Sea is great at preserving ships and when she was rediscovered in 1961 after 333 years underwater she was in surprisingly good shape. So much so in fact that the divers plugged some holes and re-floated her. They made a museum to house and reconstruct the ship and the public can now see the ancient ship in its entirety.
The museum has been so successful and popular, that it has turned the nations biggest failure into its most profitable success.
The Vasa on display is 98% original, with the rigging (the rope and lines, which rotted away) comprising most of the ‘new’ 2%, along with the forward railing, seen in the right side of the above picture.
Skansen is a large park, museum and zoo all in one. It is a recreation of old Swedish buildings (with many originals – moved to this location) and acts as a large open air museum of old Sweden. There is also a zoo of animals found in Sweden, and other activities such as glass blowing.
We stayed with Krista’s friends our entire stay in Stockholm, and they invited us out to their island vacation home in the Stockholm Archipelago. The archipelago is a maze of tens of thousands of islands of various sizes, most are small and unoccupied, and are a nature reserve but some have homes on them.
We spent two nights on the island and even spent time jumping in the cold ocean water and then running into their hot dry sauna they have on the dock and warming up again, the process is then repeated several times. There are so many islands in the archipelago, it is easy to find one that is uninhabited and pull up in the boat for a BBQ, so we did.
Sodermalm is the large southern island of Stockholm. It is also considered the bohemian or hip island. It offers more shopping and restaurants along with designer clothes shops and even more museums.
In Sodermalm, at the recommendation of our free walking tour guide, we went to the Bla Dorren restaurant for some amazing Swedish meatballs. They were so good that we came back a second time before leaving the city.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, book series and movie sites.
The book and movie series by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, was set largely in Stockholm and many of the locations around Stockholm are on Sodermalm island. Since Krista is a big fan of the series and reread it before we arrived in Sweden, we decided to do a walking tour to see some of the sites.
Stockholm was a pleasure to visit, and offers so much to do. We were there eleven days, and could have easily filled another week with more attractions to see in and around the city. A special thanks to our hosts Ylva and her husband Tobias, as well as their three young children for their hospitality during our visit!