This is my seventh entry for the A to Z Challenge.
I am quite fortunate (and here’s where you can all stop reading and find a voodoo doll that looks like me) in that I work for an airline and can avail of cheap travel. With this in my travel arsenal, I looked to make use of an extended 5 day break and booked a standby flight to Stockholm, crossed my fingers, and before I knew it I was walking from the metro station towards the Red Boat, the lovely floating hostel that I would spend four nights in. having never been to Scandinavia before, this would offer me a glimpse into a part of the world I was sure was more than just long-legged blonde women.
Stockholm is made up of 14 islands, each interlinked by bridges. As you can imagine, water abounds. The Baltic Sea is there, there are many lakes, and if you go in the summer months you can hop on a ferry and travel to the many little islands that make up the archipelago. I went in early October, so those tours weren’t available, but I did manage to catch the tail end of autumn, which for me meant I got to see the last remnants of yellows, reds, and oranges on the trees. Autumn is by far the season I miss most out here in Dubai. I miss all the colour.
I was sharing my 4 person dorm room with 3 women – so the trip had started quite well I suppose you could say – but I didn’t want to hang around the hostel for too long on that first day. I had the afternoon and evening to explore, and even with my pathetic memory, I remembered that I would only have to walk down to the nearest bridge, turn left, and I would be in Gamla Stan, the historic Old Town. The streets are still very much the same as they’ve always been; although most of the buildings have changed over the years. I followed one of the wider cobbled streets heading towards the Royal Palace, and over another bridge that would lead me into Norrmalm, one of the trendier and newer sections of the city. On a later day, I would walk this area, resisting the urge to shop at all the larger boutique shops. This is also where I would start my city sightseeing bus and ferry tour in a couple of days, so I wanted to know the general direction before getting completely lost.
During the course of my days, I would eat pastries for lunch at any of the cafes that lined the streets in Gamla Stan. I’m more of a wildlife photographer, if I was to label myself as any kind of photographer, but Gamla Stan – Stockholm actually – lends itself to some wonderful photographic opportunities. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t bring any other photographic equipment besides my camera with me, but when the Old Town is lit up at night, you would get some seriously wonderful photos with a tripod handy. Next time, I might just plan ahead.
One afternoon I hopped on a ferry to the island of Djurgarden to visit Skansen, the open-air museum and zoo. Skansen gives you a look into what Sweden was like through the ages, with many buildings gathered from around the country to show just how different life was. The zoo contains animals that are native to this part of the world – moose, bear, reindeer, wolverine, etc. Not the largest display of animals you will ever see, but a great distraction for me from the raining and cooler weather. I somehow managed to avoid the Abba Museum on the island, and before heading back to Gamla Stan, I stopped in at a pub, O’Leary’s, by the ferry dock for some ribs and a few beers while I watched the football. Before heading home I wandered around Gamla Stan and found a bar featuring live music. Once inside the place, obviously packed way beyond capacity, I listened to what appeared to be a reunion concert of a bunch of local blues players. The singing was all in English, all covers of famous blues songs, and it may have been the “Whitest” audience I’ve ever seen in a Blues club, but the band could play and the place was jumping. Definitely worth the 50 Kroner it cost me to get in.
The next day, and my last full day in Stockholm, was even cooler and rainier, so I’m glad I had previously booked a bus and boat tour around Stockholm. The windows on the bus were quite clean, which helped for photos, and while on the boat on the canals that swept me around Djurgarden, it cleared up enough to stand outside and snap off a few photos. Earlier on my visit I had spied a restaurant called Ilfar that I was determined to try. They served a selection of venison and mead, and a Viking met you at the door to escort you in. A little on the tourist trap side, yes, but still something I felt I needed to do.
I climbed down the concrete steps once I stepped through the doorway with the neon sign telling me I was in the right place. I was met at the door by the Viking, his long braided beard would definitely cause problems while having soup. He asked if I had a reservation, I said ‘no’. He asked if it was just me for dinner, and I nodded, and he said he’d check if they had space. He came back and smiled, and asked me my name and where I was from. With that information tucked under his helmet, he turned to the restaurant and gathered their attention by trumpeting into a horn made from a dead cow’s antler (possibly) before introducing me to them, telling them I had come from Dubai where I had been raping and pillaging as all good Vikings apparently do. I was sat at the end of a massive table where a group of 18 people from Electronic Arts were finishing up their meals. None of them minded me turning up there, and the ones closest to me actually decided to speak to me as well. In their group of 18, they had people from 11 different countries with them. This multicultural aspect is my favourite part of travel, and one of the things I love most about Dubai. After I had ordered, I was told by one of the EA group that I had ordered the sweetest of the meads on offer, and in retrospect, it was a tough drink for me to enjoy. I have a sweet tooth, but this was beyond sweet. It still didn’t stop me from having two glasses though.
I started with a plattern of cold cuts and cheeses – a delectable array of moose, reindeer, lamb, and pork. My main course was a hearty helping of venison (most likely moose) accompanied with pureed vegetables, mash, and cranberries. I wanted the mixed berry tart for dessert, but they informed me they were out, so I had apple crumble instead. Just I had started my crumble, the serving wench (I mean waitress) brought me a mixed berry tart with her apologies and said it was on the house. And yes, I ate both desserts. Luckily I had a nice walk back to my hostel on the water so I could burn off a few calories.
I left the next day, but Stockholm remains one of my favourite places I’ve been. I keep saying I will go back in the summer when the weather is better and I can explore the archipelago and forests around Stockholm. Nearly three years, I haven’t returned. I will, if only to see how much Gamla Stan hasn’t changed at all.