Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Stockholm, Sweden – Spring 2012

Our destiny flew us to Sweden and Norway, during the Indian summer of 2012. The Nordic countries were getting ready to welcome the spring. Our journey began from Bangalore, transit at Frankfurt, and ended at the Arlanda airport. We did not opt for package tours, but took help of the Internet to plan our own itinerary. It’s fun to explore a place at our own pace. At Arlanda, the cold freezing weather welcomed us with open arms!

From the airport, we hopped on to the Arlanda Express train and went to the Stockholm Central. From there, we took a taxi to our hotel at Sollentuna. We observed that we were driving towards the airport. Ah, the taxi driver told us that we should have hired a taxi from airport directly to Sollentuna instead of deviating to Central. The distance between Arlanda and Sollentuna is 17.7 kilometers.

We reached our hotel, the Scandic Star Sollentuna, and were pleased with the room allocated to us. This hotel is well connected to the Central and other places by the metro trains. Adjoining to the hotel is the Sollentuna Centrum shopping mall. The hotel itself is pretty with comfortable rooms. However, the rooms do not have an electric kettle, tea or coffee, or an iron board. The breakfast buffet is interesting. Vegetarians, such as I, can feast to a nice spread of breads, cheese, yogurt, milk, fruits, and salad. The dinner is à la carte with very little or no option for vegetarians, unless the chef likes you and prepares a vegetarian dish for you.

See DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3, and DAY 4 at Stockholm.

DAY 1: After we freshened, we took a train back to Stockholm, and went looking for the Tourist Information center (located at Vasagatan 14).  We had purchased the Stockholm Cards online prior to our travel, and had to collect the cards from the information desk. The information center has maps and brochures along with helpful personnel who can guide you. I strongly recommend the Stockholm cards, though expensive. We bought the 72 hours card, and made best use of it. The card gives you free entry to almost all museums and free travel by public transport - buses, trams, trains, metros, and boat cruise (free with 72 hours card).

We exclaimed, “YAY YAY!”, and jumped on to the street to explore the beautiful city. We walked aimlessly to warm up before the adventures lined for us during the next few days. First impression of Stockholm was that the city was gorgeous and extremely neat. People were friendly and helpful. They also seemed to be fitness freaks; saw a lot of people walking, jogging, and cycling. Cafes and restaurants, and florists were plenty. Fast cars and bikes graced the streets. Bridges looked spectacular. Roads were perfect. Drivers actually obeyed traffic rules, and stopped for pedestrians to cross. No policemen! We also observed that the place was filled with parents taking their babies for a stroll in their prams; perhaps, to greet the spring.

We walked to the Stadshuset (Stockholm's City Hall) and Stadshusparken, and strolled in the park facing the waterfront. We walked along the waterfront of Norrmälarstrand and saw houseboats. We also ventured into the Saint Johannes Church and the surrounding areas! The City Hall is gorgeous, and from there, watching the evening sky is a memorable experience. If you visit the Hall before 17:00 hours, you can climb the tower and get a fantastic view of the city. We missed that opportunity because we were late. Our legs ached, stomachs growled, and eyes tired. We headed back to the hotel, ate dinner, and slept peacefully. What an adventurous day 1!

DAY 2: The plan for the day was to visit Djurgården (The Royal Game Park). This island has Nordic museum, Skansen museum, Biological Museum, Vasa museum, and the Gröna Lund amusement park. Keep one whole day to explore this island.
We wanted to hop on to Tram 7, which is a heritage tramway, but couldn't locate its starting point. We took a bus from Central. When we walked on Djurgårdsbron (the bridge), the weather became more pleasant. The bridge has statues of Nordic gods - Thor, Freya, Heimdallr, and queen of Asgard and wife of Odin. As soon as we stepped on this island, towards the right side, we saw a bicycle and boat hire place. We hired two bicycles, took a map, and rode off. Ram was the official bicycle-tour guide. We cycled for more than two hours. Was romantic and definitely memorable! And I strongly recommend that all of you visiting Stockholm do it.

From Djurgården, we walked towards the Oscar Church, and then to the National Historiska Museum (also known as Swedish Museum of National Antiquities). This is when it rained; lucky, we had an umbrella, but was fun to get wet. The museum has thousands of artifacts dating to the Viking era. The Gold room is a must-see; however, photography is prohibited. However, tempted you are to steal a piece of gold, don't do it! Instead have a beautiful golden-crust pastry at the museum's cafe, and gulp that down with a bottle of cider or beer. :-)

At last we got a chance to ride on Tram 7, which stopped at Norrmalmstorg. From there we walked to Stockholm Central, and took the north-bound train to Sollentuna. We had vegetarian pizza for dinner at the food court at the Sollentuna mall. What a delicious way to end a lovely day!

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DAY 3: This day we exclaimed, "Hey, Gamla Stan, here we come!" As usual, we took the train to Central, and from there, we walked to Gamla Stan. We were lucky to view the royal couple as they drove past us at the Kungliga slottet (Royal Palace), and we got to watch the changing of royal guards. Because the Royal Palace opens at noon for visitors, we decided to visit the Kungliga Myntkabinettet (or National Museum of Economy or the Royal Mint). Was fun to see the collection of hundreds of coins under one roof. Next visit was the Royal Apartments, which is a set of state rooms - The State Apartments, the Bernadotte Apartments, the Guest Apartments, the Hall of State, and the Apartments of the Orders of Chivalry. The Royal Armoury is supposed to be the oldest museum (established at 1628). It's amazing how these museums can transport your imagination to a bygone era!

All the walking had made us hungry, we walked the narrow lanes of Gamla Stan to find a decent place to eat. Though hungry, we spent a lot of happy time walking in those lanes and seeing all the wonderful stores and cafes. Then we stopped at Café Cronan, and had Pasta Vegetarisk and Kyckling spett, and a pear cider. After lunch, we continued to explore Gamla Stan; ended up eating delicious ice cream. Next, we visited the Nobel Museum. We also went to the Stockholm Cathedral. This cathedral is gorgeous, especially the stain-glass work.

Were we tired? Nah. We walked to the waterfront to begin our Under the Bridges Boat cruise. While we waited patiently for our boat to arrive, we treated ourselves to a big cup of black coffee. That was refreshing! Another must-do things at Stockholm is the boat cruise. Try to opt for the last boat trip for the day; it's lovely on a clear day. If you thought we stopped our sightseeing for the day, you are mistaken. I guess that the coffee gave us enough energy to walk to the National Museum, only to find it closed. Well, we just walked on the Skeppsholmsbron and clicked a few photos with the crown on the bridge. We stood for a long time, and watched the sky flaunt the evening hues. We had to call it a day; hopped on to a bus to Central, and took a train back to the hotel.

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Gamla Stan

DAY 4: The best things are always reserved to the last day, isn't it? Was an early day for us, though cold. We commuted by trains, and headed straight to the Stockholm or Ericsson Globe. This is a glass gondola that takes people on the surface of the Globe to the top of it. From there, the view is spectacular. The Globe Arenas host games and concerts. Next time around, we plan to attend one of the concerts here. Keeping fingers crossed!

Our next stop was the Stockholm City Museum. While we waited for the museum to open, I walked around to the florists, and had a chit-chat and also clicked photos of gorgeous flowers. The museum exhibits the culture of Stockholm and its people. The museum flaunts several paintings, explains water-processing, and other interesting aspects of Stockholm. We then hopped on to a bus taking us to the Opera House.

At the Kungliga Operan (Opera House), we got tickets for the guided tour, which began at 13:00 hours. When Ram was getting our tickets, I saw a few tourists on segways. That reminded me of our segway rides at Singapore. For information about segway tours, see Segway Tour of Stockholm - Heights and Shoreline. We had sufficient time to loiter around, and so, we visited the Dansmuseet  (Dance Museum) that was close by. Costumes from all over the world are on display; was nice. We walked to the Gustav Adolfs torg (Gustav Adolf's Square), and admired the statue of Gustavus Adolphus.

We had seen the square one day, from the bus. Oh, I wanted to go there, and be amidst the pretty Cherry Blossoms! No, I ain't talking about Japan, but about Stockholm. The Kungsträdgården (King's Garden) has trees lined up with the Cherry Blossom flowers. Centuries ago, the King's Garden was a royal vegetable garden. Today, the garden is open for public, and has the two beautiful statues of  King Charles XIII and XII, and also the fountain of Molin. They say that King Charles XII is pointing towards Russia - to capture them. You can also see the Sankt Jacobs Kyrka and the Opera House.

During winter, the area around the statue of King Charles XIII is converted to skating rink. During spring and summer, the garden is filled with people enjoying the Sun. People were out to welcome the spring. They were clicking photos of the flowers. Children were playing. Adults flocked the cafes. There was a lot of life and activity at the square.

Tick tick; was time for our guided tour at the Opera House. We almost ran to the House. Oh, what an awesome guide we had! He was full of stories, and his subtle humor cracked us. The Opera House is the most wonderful place I have ever seen. The architecture, the golden stucco, the paintings, and every little element were all amazing. I was awe-stuck at the variety of crystal chandeliers. I strongly recommend that you visit this House when at Stockholm.

We shopped for gifts and had lunch at a Thai restaurant. Stockholm offered us more than we expected or rather we didn't expect. Of course, everything in this city is expensive. Purchasing the Stockholm Cards saved us money, and eased our commute across different places. Transport system is wonderful, and one cannot get lost. The monuments, bridges, gardens, and lake fronts were all very romantic. The Cherry Blossom flowers resembled little angels made of cotton candy, resting on the branches, every inch.

Well, we had to head back to the hotel. We had to pack our bags, thank the city and its people for a wonderful experience, and then get a good night's sleep before flying to our next destination - Oslo, Norway (one of the most expensive cities).

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I loved documenting our visit to Stockholm. I hope that you enjoying reading it and looking at the photos.

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