Nearly a year ago, the grand plan was that Sweden was supposed to be our first trip to a foreign country. We wanted to test the waters somewhere that wasn’t altogether different from the US, before venturing off to much more exotic corners of the globe. Foreign travel training wheels. We got our passports last February, and then several curve balls came along. First, my $DAYJOB sent me to Shanghai, China for a week. That completely obliterated the concept of first going somewhere ‘safe & easy’. Then I went to South Korea last September, because after China, Korea didn’t seem altogether that much of a leap into the unknown. So while I wasn’t this grizzled traveler of the world, I had definitely been to a few places far more exotic than Sweden by the time the Sweden trip came around. Even so, Sweden was nice. It kinda felt like a classier version of the US. We were in country October 26 through November 3. Overall, the weather was about as good as we could possibly hope for it to be in Scandinavia in mid-Autumn. While it did rain a bunch of times, most of it was at night. It was definitely chilly (never got out of the 40F’s), but there are parts of the US that aren’t that warm at this time of year.
We flew British Airways the entire way, having to change planes at London/Heathrow. BA is a rather crappy airline. The planes were packed (which isn’t a reason to hate an airline), with surly, lazy flight attendants. To make matters worse, the food was an abomination. Airline food is rarely something to rave about, but this was disgusting crap. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Heathrow is a wretched airport. If you’re going to force every one to go through security, then at least make it efficient. Its truly sad when the TSA is more efficient, as it took a full hour to get through security, and there weren’t even that many people. Massive lines, where any little old lady would bring all progress to a grinding halt. Then the actual terminals are this abysmally confusing mess where they refuse to post flight gate numbers until an hour before the flight. I’m not sure what the perverse logic is behind this, but it forces people to wander around aimlessly and then rush like mad to a gate. Then to cap off the fun, the flight left nearly 2 hours late because the windshield wiper on the plane needed to be replaced. Once we finally landed in Stockholm, we took Swebus from Arlanda Airport to the center of Stockholm. We then took the Metro the rest of the way to the hotel. Warning, GoogleMap’s of Stockholm’s subway station locations is horribly inaccurate. I made the fatal mistake of assuming that each station had a single entrance/exit, simply because that’s how Google represents them. In reality, nearly every station has at least two exits, which are often several blocks apart. As I wasn’t aware of this, we got horribly lost trying to walk to the hotel. What should/could have been a short 2 block walk, took us nearly an hour of going in huge circles, asking multiple (very polite, patient) Swedes for help.
We spent the entire trip staying at Tre Sma Rum, a small (7 room) hotel. Rather than rehashing our experiences, see my Trip Advisor review for details. In short, the place was fine, but nothing spectacular.
We spent the first day primarily in the Djurgarden district of Stockholm. We spent the morning at the Vasa Museum, which showcases a ship that sunk ~400 years ago, and was brought up from the deep about 50 years ago, in amazingly good condition. The museum was really well done. Every facet of the ship’s history, from the building materials, to sailors, to local politics of the time were covered in excellent detail. After having a really good lunch at Bistro Jarl, we headed over to Aquaria. This was supposed to be a Scandinavian themed aquarium, however in reality, it turned out to be a glorified PetSmart fish department. We went through the entire place in less than an hour.
We spent much of day two wandering around and exploring Gamla Stan, the ‘old town’ part of Stockholm. This was everything that I expected it to be. Quaint, narrow cobblestone lined streets, with several hundred year old 3 & 4 story buildings, in an array of bright colors. While the few blocks closest to the waterfront were packed with tourist trap shops (and many tourists), as soon as we got further away, we mostly had the streets to ourselves. It was beautiful & charming. For lunch, we went to a tiny place which was a bar in the front room, and dining tables in the back (in a room that looked rather like an underground wine cellar with a brick, arched ceiling, and dim lighting). The food was uniformly good, with self-service/unlimited salad, bread & drinks. Afterwords, we spent some time exploring Kultur Huset and Sergels torg for a bit. For dinner that night, we had reservations at Den Gyldene Freden, the old (opened in 1722), classic Swedish restaurant in Gamla Stan. The service, the food & the surroundings were all wonderful.
We spent an afternoon touring & exploring Drottningholm Palace, which is huge. The tour was a bit weak, as the guy doing the English tour was about as engaging as a rock. However, we were allowed to wander the palace grounds, which was really nice. That evening we had dinner at the Grand Hotel’s smorgasbord.
We spent much of the next day at Skansen. Little did we know that daylight savings time ends in Europe a week before the US. So we arrived an hour early, and made fools of ourselves trying to get in too early (or as the gate agent told us “Eeeets Veenter Time!”). Once it did open, we had a nice time. The place is a cross between a zoo and a historical park, with historic buildings from all over Sweden.
The following day we spent the morning wandering around Skogskyrkogården, which is a large beautifully landscaped cemetery about 20 miles south of Stockholm. A great deal of effort was put into the land & buildings to make it more than just an ordinary cemetery. After this, we spent time riding the metro, exploring the different stations. Stockholm has a number of beautifully, quirky or just bizarrely decorated stations.