Photos from the trip are here
A long holiday dryspell of 6 months was finally broken when I went to Stockholm over Easter weekend. Aside from one night in Copenhagen when I was still in college, this was my first time to Scandinavia. I usually opt for warmer places to go on holiday, so going up north kept getting bypassed, even though I would love to see fjords and the Northern Lights someday (and I had planned to go to Iceland once, back when it was just up there in the Atlantic minding its own business). I don't remember much about the tiny bit of Copenhagen I did see, and I can't say anything about the rest of the region, but I definitely found Stockholm to my liking. It was similar to Holland, but less crowded, more colorful, and with more nature and nicer people. If it weren't so cold there, I'd probably consider moving there.
I spent my first day in Stockholm walking and walking and walking a bit more, first going to the north side of the city to the Östermalms Saluhall, an upscale indoor market selling everything from meat and fish to pastries and coffee. I enjoyed checking out the different stalls, though I didn't really end up purchasing anything. After a bit of a wander through the narrow streets of Gamla Stan (Old Town), which is the area I was staying in, I headed over to the south side to go to a chocolate shop I knew of. They make their chocolates by hand and include typically Swedish flavors like lingonberries, punsch, and cardamom. I rested my legs and had a spiced chocolate tea, enjoying the Simon and Garfunkel songs they were playing. That evening I had dinner at a restaurant not far from my hostel where I had a delicious moose burger with cheese and bacon.
The next day was Easter and I decided to spend it at Skansen, a large open-air museum where they have a collection of old buildings from around the country and the people who work there dress in traditional clothes. I knew it'd be mad because of the holiday, but I prepared myself as best I could. I took a ferry to get there (Stockholm is spread around many islands, so bridges and ferries abound) and then tried to get away from children as quickly as possible. It didn't feel too crowded since the park is so large. It's part market and village, part amusement park, and part zoo. I wandered through the village where I bought some buns from the bakery and watched someone sculpting glass.
I went into an old house where a couple was playing traditional Swedish music
. I went through a market and bought some candy to take to my co-workers. I took a lunch break and this time tried reindeer, served on a potato pancake (it was also mighty tasty). I checked out the Scandinavian animals they had in the zoo area, such as bears, seals, moose, reindeer (felt a bit guilty for just having eaten one of their kind. Well... not really), and owls. By now, the day had become wonderfully sunny, though not incredibly warm, though it's all a bit relative. It was a little colder than it had been in the Netherlands, but it was some of the warmest weather they'd had yet, as evidenced by the ice that was floating down the water in the center of the city. There were many times during the day that I saw people resting with their faces angled up to the sun like a sunflower, eyes closed and a faint smile on their lips.
I took my leave of Skansen and went to join the sun worshippers. Someone had recommended a nearby cafe that would be good for a "fika", a Swedish word describing having a coffee and cake break. It was a word I liked very much. The cafe was housed in a greenhouse, but with an area with tables outside. I sat with some tea and a slice of carrot cake and marveled at the blueness of the sky and the fact that I was warm enough to take off my jacket.
Fika in the late afternoon
The following morning I cracked the curtain to see if it was a particularly sunny day and was shocked to see it was snowing
. I shouldn't have been that surprised because I had seen the possibility in the weather forecast, but still, I thought the white stuff was behind me. I didn't really mind though, it didn't snow much and it gave the city a different feel. Since it was Easter Monday, most shops were closed and I wasn't sure if it would be worth sticking to my plans to take a ferry out to Vaxholm, an island in the vast archipelago east of Stockholm. I decided to go though because I really wanted to see what the archipelago was like. I didn't regret the trip, despite things being a bit quiet on the island, but that was part of the charm.
Beautiful islands on way to Vaxholm
It's hard to describe what I did on Vaxholm, because it wasn't much, but it was very memorable, being in a little town, tromping through the snow, admiring one quaint, colorful house after another. I was only there a few hours before having to head back to Stockholm on the ferry.
I spent that evening seeing some of the southern part of the city, which I hadn't had a chance to really wander around yet. It's the cool, hip area of Stockholm and I wish I had been able to make it there when the shops were open and in the daylight, but at least I got a feel for the area. It reminded me of the trendy areas of Portland. I even came upon an upscale grocery (that called itself an "urban deli") and when I saw it, I thought "oh my god, I've found the Pearl District of Stockholm." I ended up having dinner at a little, unassuming sushi place where the only other customers were a group of students who spoke a mix of English, Spanish, and Dutch. Oy.
So, next, in less than 3 weeks, I head to the Lake District of England for a friend's wedding and hopefully some walking in the countryside. Weather permitting. And now volcano permitting. Perhaps I'm safer because the trip isn't so near, but then we just don't know. I am crossing my fingers and knocking wood and hoping and perhaps even praying that this does not fuck up these trips I've been looking forward to for so long.