It seems that my pattern upon arriving into a new country is to be as sleep deprived and delirious as possible so Sweden would be no different. The flight from Reykjavik to Vestras, which is one of the small, regional airports was quick and painless at just under three hours. I am becoming a fan of WOW Air, not only because of the exceptionally attractive flight team, but if y0u’re going to be that tired, it’s somehow comforting to be surrounded by that much purple. Also great was that we were the only flight to land at Vestras at 5am and so there were no crowds or lines, in fact, we entered the country without passport or customs checks. And the bus from Vestras to Stockholm was also an easy hour ride, clean and had wifi. So far, so good Sweden.
I came to Sweden knowing very little about the country other than a few random bits about Swedish pop culture (i.e. ABBA, the Swedish Chef and some DJs that my former boss and the rest of the world are obsessed with). I’ve expanded my knowledge about the country and people significantly thanks to some time in a few of the many museums and cultural centers in Stockholm. Stockholm is a beautiful city with about 900k beautiful Swedes living here and is comprised of a bunch of small islands that are connected and that you can drive, walk, bike or ferry across. The public transportation system here is incredibly efficient, inexpensive (I had an SJ Pass that gave me unlimited metro, bus and ferry access for 72 hours for about $3!) and easy to navigate. The many transportation options were key during my few days here as it rained almost every day.
The first couple of days I stayed at The Story Hotel, a small boutique hotel in the Sundbybergs neighborhood, which was quiet and not touristy, which were two qualities I appreciated. When I first got out of the metro, I was lost and ended up at what seemed to be a deserted business park. There were no people. Just empty buildings. Thankfully, a kind and lovely woman named Sylvia (same as baby sis) helped me out of there and walked back toward the metro in the direction of my hotel. Sylvia is Serbian and came to Stockholm about 3 years ago and works cleaning office buildings. She’s saving money and waiting for her resident card, which takes about 4 years so she has just 6 months left. She seemed almost as excited as I was to have someone to talk to, I have a feeling she doesn’t get too much of an opportunity to do that cleaning offices. When I asked Sylvia if she liked Stockholm, she looked at me, smiled and said, “Not really. It’s a big city, expensive and too many people. All I can do is work all the time. I make money to send to my family and I miss nature.” I hear you, Sylvia. I know exactly what you mean.
My first night I was too tired to do much exploring, so I stumbled around Sundbybergs, which was mostly residential with large apartment complexes. I noticed quite a few Indian restaurants and when I was hungry and saw a Chinese place, I decided my first night in Sweden, I would be eating Chinese. My transition to becoming my mom is near complete and I cannot go a week without rice and some form of Asian food. Thankfully, the place was good and most importantly they had spicy pepper sauce. It turns out there is a pretty significant Asian presence in the city.
The next morning, I woke up earlier than I hoped and set off for Gamla Stan, the “Old City” which was just a short metro ride from me. While the city is absolutely beautiful with its cobblestone streets and stunning architecture, there were way too many people. Perhaps it was coming from Iceland where I always felt there was plenty of room to breathe and stretch my arms, this felt by comparison, a bit too claustrophobic. That said, there were some great things to see:
- The Royal Palace – the official residence and workplace of the King and Queen. I didn’t go in but you can wander the public spaces including the courtyard.
- Deutschland Kirsche – the German Church a 17th C church and as with so many countries, some of the most beautiful buildings, art and stained glass can be found in these old churches.
- Nobel Museum – my favorite place in Gamla Stan. The museum is a manageable size and does nice job of balancing the educational and interactive aspects all with impeccable Swedish design. I learned about Alfred Nobel who was a fascinating man who loved travel as much as science and human advancement. I also observed that women are far underrepresented in the Nobel Prize area, but like with everything else in the world, let’s keep hoping that changes.
Next is Skeppsholmen, a small island where the Moderna Museet (Modern Museum) is located. It was pouring so I and several others were disappointed to find that the museum and all of this island’s museums are closed on Mondays. I didn’t let the rain stop me from enjoying some of the fun outdoor sculptures outside of the museum.
I moved from The Story to an Airbnb in Hornstull in a different part of the city. I stayed with a nice and quirky woman named Jeanette who gave me really helpful tips and made me feel very welcome in her home. I wanted to see another part of town and save a little $$ as Stockholm is a pretty expensive city. A modest meal is going to run about $25-30 so I did a lot of grabbing snacks from the grocery and saved
the dining out for dinner. I know the city is well known for its fine dining, but I was pretty happy with my local and more modest joints. The Swedish meatballs are pretty damn good.
I went back to Skeppsholmen because I really wanted to see the Moderna and I’m so happy I did because it was my favorite site in the city. I LOVED the Yayoi Kusama exhibit which was very much like the Japanese pop artist herself, colorful and unique. There was also a “New Human Exhibit” which wascomprised of
mixed media art from various artists from different countries presenting political, social and cultural statements about the current state of humanity. I know that sounds serious and there were certainly aspects that were super heavy, but there were also some pretty hilarious and irreverent parts too.
I spent my last tour day on the island of Djurgarden, home of the famous Vasa Museet, ABBA Museet, Nordic Museet, Skansen and Grona Lund a family theme park. It was the first day that it wasn’t raining so I wanted to take advantage and be outside as much as possible so I opted to walk around the beautiful gardens and go to Skansen the “open air folk museum”. The Vasa is the most popular museum in Stockholm and although it looked super cool, the line was longer than anything I’d seen and unless the tour ended with me being captured by an actual Viking, I felt like I could skip it. The Skansen was interesting, a mix of colonial Swedish life complete with young people in costume (shout out to Colonial Williamsburg!) and Swedish wild life.
Overall, I thought Stockholm was an amazing city that offers so many things to do and places to see. For me, it was almost too many places and things. Not to complain too much since I’m so grateful to be on a trip of a lifetime, but all of this country and city hopping (especially on a lame ankle) is pretty exhausting. And for those who’ve asked what it’s like to travel alone, I LOVE it, but it can sometimes feel a little lonely and I think that’s more evident when you’re in a larger city. The Swedish people are attractive, active and seemingly really busy, but I don’t get the friendliest vibe from this place. I don’t think it’s the people, I think it’s like any big city where everyone has somewhere to be and quickly. So my new Serbian friend Sylvia is right, I miss nature and a slower pace, so I foresee a small beach town in my near future. But not until I see my last Scandanavian city, Copenhagen.