In 1971, my parents went on a trip to Stockholm where they raved, for years, at how advanced Stockholm was, how everything was recyclable, and how the city separated its bus, bicycle and car traffic into separate lanes that never blocked each other. With it they took home a bunch of Stockholm practices and implemented them in our house: separating our garbage into recycling and trash and taking the recycling to the plant; getting us to turn off the lights upon leaving the room, and using the fun products they purchased from this store in Stockholm called Ikea.
In 2009, the rest of the world is finally catching up. And Stockholm keeps getting more awesome – leading the world in practical and affordable home design (Ikea), fashion (H&M), environmentalism, white blondness, and now its socialist ideals. There is so much history, and architecture, and all the amenities of a modern, hip city surrounded by some amazing waterways and scenery that I need to return again, and again. Here is how we crammed this great city into two and a half days – and wanted more.
Hostel. Did I mention that Stockholm is ridiculously expensive? A cab starts at $9.00 when you get into it. A hostel in a great location starts at $53 a person for a private room. After extensive research, we decided on Best Hostel Old Town in Gamla Stan (Old Town, photo right). We were in a tiny double room with our own bathroom, decorated with typical Swedish flair: a chandelier, exposed brick, French windows, a plant on the sill and two twins pushed together with separate down comforters. There are multiple kitchens in the hostel and free Internet. The private rooms are also situated on different floors than the dorms, which makes a nice quiet separation.
If you cannot deal with a hostel, the Sheraton Stockholm Hotel and Towers near the train station and across the water from Gamla Stan is a great hotel with an excellent location.
See. Stockholm, like every other city, is best on foot. It’s really several islands that make up the city, surrounded by water churned in from the Baltic Sea. They’re not rivers, or lakes, really, but the city is really planned and influenced around this water, which I thought was the coolest part about Stockholm. Walk across the several bridges and watch people fish in the rushing waters below. We walked around the cobblestoned streets of Gamla Stan filled with old architecture, colorful buildings, old churches and bridges and touristy shops, into the northern district, and then over to neighboring islands. We spent a morning at the Royal Palace checking out the residence, which is interesting if you’re into the Swedish royalty. Seeing that I didn’t know anything about them, it was less fascinating, in honesty. What I did really enjoy was the armory, which had some fascinating collections and also an entire floor of stage coaches that are displayed in a way that is very eerie and perfect on Halloween.
Over on the island of Djurgarden, there’s a whole bunch of activity. Definitely, head to Vasamuseet to see the old wood warship that sank on its maiden voyage right in the harbor in 1628, to the embarassment of Sweden. 330 years later, the navy embarked on a huge mission to raise the Vasa out of the water. Today, it is a ghostly version of its past, complete with displays of skeletons of those who drowned with the boat and artifacts. It may not last forever, because it cannot be exposed to any humidity. However, with all the traffic of visitors, the boat is starting to deteriorate, so hurry over.
If you don’t have a chance to visit the rest of Sweden, you can do so by popping over to Skansen, an outdoor museum of traditional houses, buildings and churches that were either reconstructed at Skansen or brought over and re-assembled. You can enter all the furnished buildings and talk to the people dressed to the time. The good thing is the people don’t actually act like they live in that time period. The place is fascinating and bizarre all at once, and excellent if you have children. There is also a small zoo featuring Swedish animals, like reindeer and elk.
Shopping. I’m a huge sucker for Swedish minimalistic and functional design and would have spent days shopping if Stockholm wasn’t so expensive and I had a bigger suitcase. There’s DesignTorget, which has fun gadgets and home decor with a modern flair. It’s located in the Kulturhuset (Swedish Culture House, photo left). Here, Jon bought himself a Spork, which has a spoon on one side, a fork on the other with one serrated edge to cut food. The most popular department store is NK which features a huge home and kitchen section in the lower level, an impressive food hall, and floors of Swedish and European fashions. We didn’t get to check out the clothes because Jon was already bored watching me hunt for Orieto bowls from Finland on the lower level.
As for food, we didn’t really venture out to the great restaurants. We tried to go to one because Jon was fascinated by the idea of eating reindeer, but then the kitchen ran out of food. We basically just stopped into places that sounded interesting enough; another night we dined at my friend Jenny’s apartment where she cooked delicious salmon, the national dish. There were also lingonberries and cloudberries, which we ate around Sweden, and some tasty Swedish meatballs. Aside about Jenny’s place: they are very Swedish, with light, modern furniture, large windows, few belongings, and very minimalist. I’m so inspired to throw out half of my belongings to be that minimalistic. (She also had the Orieto series of dishes that I was eyeing at NK; we had even registered the cereal bowls from the Conran Shop but nobody bought them for us).
We missed Sweden as soon as we came home that we even considered stopping at Ikea to buy some food. Who knew it would grow on us so much?