Wednesday, 13 April 2016

More than meatballs - Stockholm (Apr 2016)

Beautiful Stockholm Archipel
Last month I drove to the airport for my 7am flight to Jersey as the valet parking fee was preferable to £110 round trip taxi. This time - a taxi for the 6.30am flight and boy was I glad! It was my first time flying Norwegian Air. Nice new plane, comfy seats, free on board wifi and 50kg of luggage (2 checked bags at 20kg each and hand luggage at 10kg). My return flight was with BA, less generous, so I opted for just the one bag. Besides, how much shopping could a girl do in four days?
Arlanda Express
Arlanda express ticket prices
I had secured a window seat to ensure a great view of the archipelago as we came in for landing. I didn’t account for the severe cloud coverage though so saw nothing until we were much closer to land. What I saw looked like a miniature forest of Christmas trees and I later came to learn that more than 54% of Sweden is covered by pine trees. The Arlanda Express gets you from the airport to the centre of Stockholm in 20 mins. Here’s the interesting thing about the ticket prices. A ticket for a single traveller costs 280SEK but if there are two of your travelling it’s 300SEK. 400SEK for 3 and 500SEK for 4. So my advice; if you’re travelling alone, hang around the ticket desk and wait for someone else looking to purchase a ticket :)
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is spread across 14 islands. 30% of the picturesque city is made up of waterways and 30% is made up of parks and green spaces.  On the day I arrived the breaking news was that Sweden was the first country to be allocated its own telephone number. Anyone can dial the number and be connected to a random Swede to talk about, well, anything Swedish really. The phone number, which I haven’t dialled, is +46 711 SWEDEN (+46 711 793336). 

One of the first things I attempt to do when visiting a new city is a walking tour as they’re great for orientation. And I appreciate them even more when I’m exploring solo as it means I have a bunch of people to hang with for a few hours. I do, however, prefer when the guides are local so I was a little put off my Lee’s Arkansas twang. Still his local knowledge was good. He married a Swedish woman and moved here four years ago. The tour consisted of a gentle walk around Galma Stan taking in the Old Town history. We wondered down cobbled alleyways, some extremely narrow, taking in the medevail architecture. I saw sites such as St George and the Dragon, Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace.  I’m sometimes a bit dubious with stories tour guides tell so did a little research into the story of the White Woman at the palace whose appearance meant someone was about to die. The tale apparently rings true - whether you believe in ghosts or not is another story.
I had been told that NK was the equivalent to Harrods and must be checked out so I spent some time wondering around the designer shops after my visit of the old town.

I had read over and over that no trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to the Vasa Museum and it was clear to see why. Second to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima this was my favourite of all museums visited. The museum tells the story of the Vasa warship which sunk 1,300 metres into its maiden voyage in 1628 and lay underwater for 333 years, preserved in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. The  story is told in a focused and engaging way. My plan had been to spend 2 and a half to 3 hours there. By the time I left I had been there for over 5 hours! 

meatballs and lingonberries
The other thing that makes a great holiday for me is the food and I dined at some lovely restaurants while in Stockholm. Apparently some people wait months for a table at Farang so we were lucky to just turn up and grab a table on a busy Thursday night. The food was phenomenal. Pricey but phenomenal. Tradition, which was just next door to the hotel, served up a good Swedish menu and I tried my first meal of Swedish meatballs served the traditional way. Cooked in a creamy sauce with a side serving of mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumber. I didn’t like the black, liquorice tasting bread but for some reason I couldn’t stop picking at it. I can’t remember the exact name of the starter but it amounted to bleak roe (caviar) and a fancy prawn cocktail on toast. My next Swedish traditional meal was from Prinsen. The price of the menu made my eyes water a little but once they cleared I braved it to try the Prince herring platter, a very popular Swedish dish, for my starter. It came with 5 different types of herring samples served with a side of sour cream, tiny baby potatoes, cheese and crispbread. Swedish crisp bread is interesting because it can last for decades without spoiling. I asked how I could tell if my bread was fresh or had been lying around for years and was simple told ‘there’s no way of telling.’  It was a really good platter, followed by a less impressive salmon, clam and prawn stew and I was just about able to cram in dessert. I struggled to get a non alcoholic cocktail - I had it on good authority that they’re a rarity in Sweden - but the bar tender obliged as best he could with a virgin mojito. I also had a less traditional lunch one day at Burger and Lobster - basically the same as London but a higher price tag. (This seemed to be the norm in Stockholm, still, not as bad as Reykjavik). Oh, and not to the mention the odd hotdog snack which are plentiful from the various stands around the city. 
Other than authentic Swedish meatballs high on my agenda of foods to try was the green Princess Cake which I had at Sturekatten, a traditional looking tearoom, on my last day. Fika in Sweden means 'to have a coffee’ with cake. My fika was a hot chocolate alongside my slice of princess cake. The Swedish princess cake consists of alternating layers of sponge cake, cream, and jam topped by green coloured marzipan and decorated with a pink marzipan rose. Calorific but lovely. A traditional bun also caught my eye and as if was my last day I thought - why not!
Princess cake
There had been a mixture of wet and dry, cold weather during my stay but on day 4 the sun came out in all her glory and blazed through the virtually cloudless, blue sky. After morning worship at the Immanuel International Fellowship adjacent to my hotel (had been intending to visit Hillsong but why trek all that way when there was a perfectly good church 20 seconds away). I made my way to the harbour and boarded the lunchtime Archipelago Cruise. The narrated 2 and a half hour cruise sailed along the Stockholm archipelago as far as Vaxholm and left me thinking, ‘wow, this city is even more captivating by water'.
Swedish bun
I thought four days was ample to do Stockholm justice but there were a couple of things I didn’t have time for. One was the Abba Museum. I am by no means a fan but felt as though I should have at least checked out this popular tribute attraction to the most famous band Sweden has produced to date. The other thing I learned on my last day was that Stockholm houses the oldest fully functional theatre in the world, Slottsteater. So if I do make it back to Stockholm those are 2 things I’ll do. However, my next visit to Sweden has to be to the ice hotel in Jukkasjarvi. It takes 14 hours to get there by road and one and a half hours flying so it wasn’t practical on this trip. Still reeling from my disappointment of missing the northern lights in Iceland last year I was also tempted to venture out of the city but had been advised that as it was so late in the season, the chances were incredibly slim. Still, not to worry…there’s still winter 2016…..

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