I hopped on the Arlanda Express train leaving Arlanda Airport just outside Stockholm to get to the main metro station in Stockholm. The quiet 20 minute wi-fi enabled journey took me past the expansive Swedish forest before hitting the first buildings of Stockholm, and then deep into the heart of this beautiful and charismatic city.
I knew the name of the metro station I needed to get me within walking distance of my hostel, and despite needing to change at Stockholm-Central Station, where there are more platforms than Charlie Sheen has had prostitutes (possibly a slight exaggeration), I found the platform I required (after having a look around the station and stopping to chat with some university students who were fundraising for WWF’s Rhino charities. Even when I’m not in Africa, it somehow ventures back to Africa. True story.
After reaching my metro stop, I knew I had to head for the water as I was staying on a boat moored off the island of Sodermalm. Stockholm is a series of 14 islands, all connected by roadways and train links now, and Sodermalm was near the area of Stockholm I most wanted to visit – Gamla Stan, or Old Town. I got directions to point me towards the water, and was told the easiest way was to follow the main road, or if I wanted a little bit of a scenic route, I could cut through the park. I opted for the park. While the weather wasn’t too cold, the autumn crispness was great and seeing all the yellows, oranges, and reds on the trees had me missing countries that actually experience different seasons.
Heading into the park
The view from the park out across Lake Malaren.
I found the water without worry, and headed in the right direction at the first time of asking. Soon I could see my hostel in the distance, the famous Red Boat. I was a little early for my 3 pm check-in, but was soon fixing my bunk in the 4-person room. One other bed had been accounted for, and after securing my bags, I grabbed my camera and jacket and headed out to titillate my senses in Gamla Stan.
The view across the water from the Red Boat
The Red Boat
Water is everywhere in Stockholm: from canals and lakes to slivers of the Baltic Sea. Because of this, you see people fishing everywhere. You do not need a license to fish in Stockholm, the archipelago, or the 5 biggest lakes in Sweden. Most people practice catch and release, but I saw a few people keep their catch. And the water is surprisingly clean. You can drink it, if you wanted, and water from the tap is a cheaper alternative to bottled water in these parts.
The view of Gamla Stan as I crossed the bridge
Within 10 minutes I found myself in Gamla Stan. The cobblestone streets narrowed immediately, and every step brought a new boutique, restaurant, café, or souvenir shop. Even on a Friday afternoon during school, the streets were crowded. Café goers used the last of the warmish weather to sit outside and enjoy coffees and pastries, beer and tapas, or a glass of wine with a late lunch. I walked the streets towards the Royal Palace (photos to follow in another entry). From there, I could have continued to the newer districts of downtown Stockholm, where charming boutiques were replaced with big brand name stores and cars replaced bicycles and pedestrians. But back in Old Town, the streets were beginning to bubble over with the first of the weekend revelers.
The traffic intensifies
On the precipice of New Town
The main thoroughfares were connected to each other by tiny pathways, some more well-lit than others. Each one seemed to offer its own surprise or two.
Where does this one lead?
I was a little tired, although it was Friday night, so I used this time as a recon mission to find where I wanted to go the next few nights. I stopped in at a little Italian restaurant and had mussels with tomato and red wine sauce, accompanied by a Falcon, a brand of Swedish beer that goes down real smooth. I had previously decided that I would, on one occasion on this trip, have the type of feast that perhaps a Swedish pioneer might have had. I was going to forego the modern foods and go Swedish, knowing that game meats were popular in some restaurants.
Looking out at dusk
After a quick nap at the hostel, two new roommates joined me – an American and a Brazilian girl. I was hungry again, and both of them had just arrived, so we headed back into Gamla Stan – I headed back, they went for the first time – in search of a restaurant still serving at midnight! There were not a lot of options. Many bars were open, of course, but the kitchens had closed. We finally found a little tapas bar and talked about where we had travelled. I think if you added up their combined ages I was probably just a year or two younger than they were, but for this meal, we were all just travelers. Their names escape me as I write this. There’s that memory for you! Our third roommate, the one who was there when I got there, didn’t say a word to any of us at any time during the stay. We didn’t press her to either.
We walked back across the bridge to our hostel where I took two girls into my cabin. Or did two girls take me into their cabin? Or did we all just go into the cabin of the other girl? I climbed into my bunk and actually slept very well.
Tomorrow, or Saturday to you and me, I would hike around Sodermalm and look for the fishing store I had heard rented equipment and did day tours. For some reason, I really wanted to fish. After trudging along the main street for what seemed like days (and since this part of Stockholm is more modern it wasn’t quite as charming as Gamla Stan), I finally found the fishing store. The young kid inside, despite what people at the Information Centres and the Internet said, told me they don’t rent equipment or do day tours. I was in no mood to argue so I did the next best thing – I headed back to Gamla Stan to park my butt in a pub and watch English Premier League football and the opening night games of the Swedish Hockey League. I will say that O’Leary’s Irish Pub, with more memorabilia from Boston sports teams than humanly possible, makes a great order of chicken wings!