November 12, 2008


Who knew that my first European adventure would take me to Sweden, but Emily had already booked it so I decided to tag along. That was my first experience with Ryan Air. They provide cheap flights from Edinburgh to the rest of Europe, but the planes are small, the rides are bumpy, and there’s what I like to call “festival seating” (aka get in line first and be prepared to dual to the death for a seat). But luckily the flights are on average only about two hours, so you aren’t uncomfortable and praying for your life for too long. I do still want to know what catchy tune was playing over the in-flight radio when we first boarded!
When Emily and I arrived in Sweden, we took a bus from the airport to the center of Stockholm and then we took the underground (Tunnelbana) to Gamla Stan (Old Town) where our hostel was. We stayed in the Castanea Old Town Hostel – I definitely recommend it. We were tired from our travels and it was late, so we just grabbed food around the corner from our hostel at a place called Sally’s, which we were later told is famous for its fish.
The next morning we woke up early and explored Gamla Stan. It was so quaint with its quiet cobblestone streets and beautiful pink, orange, and cream colored buildings. What I liked most was that Old Town wasn’t over-run with tourists and it wasn’t developed into shopping malls and movie theatres; it retained the classic feeling of old Stockholm.

The street our hostel was on

Emily and I went inside Storkyrkan, a 700-year-old cathedral in old town and Stockholm’s oldest parish church, where there was a magnificent statue of St. George and the Dragon. That’s a very popular statue because I’ve seen at least two other identical statues in Stockholm and later, in Munich.


We walked past Riddarhuset, used by the Swedish Parliament between 1641 and 1674, and still hosts the triennial Assembly of Nobels. We didn’t have time to go in, but my guidebook says that the great hall with 2,345 coats of arms belonging to Swedish Nobility is quite a sight! We wanted to go in Riddarholmskyrkan across the bridge, but the whole church was closed in the winter months. Riddarholmskyrkan was built by Franciscan monks in the late 13th Cen, and was the final resting place of Swedish monarchs since the burial of Gustav II Adolf in 1632. Apparently his marble sarcophagus lay inside the Gustavian Chapel.
The two of us were able to go inside Tyska Kyrkan, a German church from the 1570’s. There are 119 unique oil paintings on display inside! When they ran out of room on the walls, they hung them on the ceiling!

Tyska Kyrkan

We did do other things apart from visiting churches. Emily and I happened upon the narrowest laneway in all of Stockholm, Mårten Trozings gränd (see, it pays to read the guidebook ahead of time!). Moby is famous for running down it in his music video clip for the James Bond theme.

Smallest alley in all of Stockholm
We also hit up Tomtar & Troll, a famous Swedish troll shop, and took pictures with the life-sized trolls outside on display.

Me, playing with the trolls
Because Emily and I typed up an itinerary, we were right on schedule to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Royal Palace at 12noon. It was a 45-minute ceremony where the band played and soldiers marched all the way around the palace, just to change one guard. Then we went inside the Kongliga Slottet (royal palace) and got to see the Treasury with all of the crown jewels, the royal chambers, and we even got to go below ground and see the excavation of the original palace that burned down. It’s a shame it was destroyed because the original palace looked much more like a palace – now it just looks like a cement block.

Royal Palace
The whole city was getting ready for Christmas – garlands and lights were hanging from the buildings above the streets and there was already a skating rink set up in New Town. By the way, did you know that H&M is Swedish? (Hennes & Mauritz). I mean, we knew about Ikea, and Volvos, but our favorite inexpensive clothing store… thank you Sweden! After such a jam-packed day of tourism, Emily and I were exhausted, so we collapsed inside Kulturhuset (Culture House) across the bridge from our hostel in Norrmalm (New Town). Kulturhuset was basically the city's communal lounge - packed with theatres, free art galleries, libraries, cafes, shops, etc. It’s basically a glorified coffee shop/hang out and if I were studying Creative Writing in Stockholm, I would pretty much live at Kulturhuset!

Kulturhuset: a giant coffee house
Since it gets dark at like 5 in the winter, we had a whole evening ahead of us and all of the museums and touristy places were closed. So Emily and I got tickets to see a Swedish Opera and Ballet at Kungliga Operan (The Royal Opera House). It was quite a strange performance; a series of three ballets called “Moving Glass.” Instead of in Rent where Mimi dances to the sounds of ice-tea being stirred, these guys danced to glass breaking, and then they danced to no music accompaniment, then they danced with carrots dangling from the ceiling, then they head banged like Wayne's World and Bohemian Rhapsody...
It was an interesting experience. The inside of the Opera House was exquisite!

Seeing a Swedish ballet at the Opera House
Then it was time for the notorious Absolut Icebar! Absolut Vodka is Swedish, and the Swedes are the inventors of the Absolut Icebar, a bar made entirely out of ice: the walls, the chairs, the chandelier, the bar top, the glasses, everything! It’s pretty expensive, but totally worth it. They give you a hooded parka and gloves to keep you warm inside. The coldness preserves your drunken state, so it doesn’t actually hit you of how drunk you are until about 20 minutes after you have left the bar. I ordered a few “Absolut Icebar” drinks, which were full of fruity goodness: Blue Curacao, pineapple, some fruity Abolut Vodka, and more alcohol that I cannot recall, all mixed together. It looked so cool in my ice glass – half green and half blue!

Emily and I at the Absolut Icebar
Needless to say, Emily and I got back to our hostel really late, and not sober. We snuck back to our corner of the room trying not to wake any of the other 12 people in the room. I sat down on my bed and turned on the lamp on our bedside table, looked over my shoulder and saw some person under my covers! I jumped up and almost screamed. I turned to Emily and whispered frantically, asking her what I should do. Emily gave the fantastic advice: wake the person up. And I was just bright enough to do it. The girl in my bed explained to me that there were no sheets on my bed when she got there (which is weird because I left my sweatpants and tee under my pillow, and they were both moved to the nightstand). So I just grabbed the sheets left out for someone else who was arriving later that night and took a different empty bed. Anyway, it's a good thing I turned on the light, otherwise I might have got into bed with that random girl in the dark! This was also not the first time this has happened to me. Spring Break 2006, Cork, Ireland, I had to share a bed with Kara, because some random girl stole mine.

There are plenty of beds... why steal mine?
The next morning we took a Royal Canal boat tour around Stockholm, which is an archipelago made up of 14 main islands with many canals running through them. I like to call it the Nordic Venice. It was nice to get out on the water, and to see things without having to tire ourselves out walking (that was the general idea, but then we walked like eight miles later that day). My favorite part of the tour was when a beautiful building was pointed out to us, and we were told that some important person once saluted that building, mistaking it for the Royal Palace… the building was a retirement home. Remind me to retire to Stockholm and live out the rest of my days in a gorgeous home that looks like a palace!

Out on the water
We walked all the way from Gamla Stan, across Norrmalm, to Kaknästornet (155m-high communications tower) on Östermalm. It was Stockholm's tallest building, until very recently, and has spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see those views, because it was incredibly overcast that day. At one point we were in the middle of a giant cloud, it was actually pretty cool.


Engulfed in a cloud at the top of the communications tower
Emily is pointing to what we should be seeing
Then, we walked accross the bridge from Östermalm into Djurgården where the trees had changed to a beautiful autumn, orange color and the fallen leaves covered the ground. It felt like Thanksgiving. I loved it. Emily was brave enough to touch the water. She said it was freezing. Then we walked around the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde (Prince Eugene Waterside Villa) and saw lots of windmills.


Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde

Next, we walked up to the Skansen open-air museum and zoo: it's like a Busch Gardens, specifically of Sweden. They collected buildings from all over the country that represent different regions at different time periods – like one big Swedish history lesson. There was a manor house, a school house, windmills, a zoo, and domestic reindeer! That put me in the Christmas mood. James, your reindeer antler bottle opener that I brought you back for Christmas probably came off of one of these guys!

Open-air museum 

And zoo
There was also a large Dala Horse, that took a lot of effort to climb up onto. The Dala Horse was originally a toy for children; a handcrafted wooden toy horse carved and painted in the province of Dalarna, Sweden, but it soon grew to be a national symbol.

Me posing with the Dala horse
As if we hadn’t walked enough already that day, Emily and I then trekked over to the Vasamuseet. The mighty Vasa, 69m long and 160ft tall and pride of the Swedish crown, set off on her maiden voyage on Aug 10, 1628. After about 20 minutes, Vasa capsized and sank to the bottom of Saltsjön (it never even made it out of the harbor in Sotckholm). Many many years later, they realized that the water is so cold in that harbor, that the ship wouldn’t have deteriorated, so they raised the ship from the depths and reassembled it in a warehouse. The coolest part is that the ship’s masts stick out of the roof of the building.

Vasamuseet from the outside

inside the Vasamuseet    
We’re not finished yet. Emily and I head across the way to the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) for a quick overview of Nordic history. The building’s achitecture was much more interesting than the objects it housed: we saw some Swedish folkart, Swedish interior design, and Swedish dollhouses.

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