On Tuesday morning, we took a quick and uneventful flight from Oslo to Stockholm and used their public transport to get to our hotel. As we walked the few blocks from the metro station to our hotel, we passed this guy:
This was not our first, and definitely not our last, Texas-related sighting in Scandinavia. Apparently Texans, despite having a less-than-beloved reputation amongst Americans, are well-liked outside of the US.
We checked into Hotel Stureplan, a really beautiful hotel that was renovated with modern conveniences, but retained a lot of its historic charms, including a fun birdcage elevator. We then headed to Gamla Stan, the island containing Stockholm’s old town, and began our self-guided tour courtesy of the good ole’ Rick book. Amongst other things, we saw what must be the world’s tiniest courtyard statue. He’s about 5 inches tall.
We also toured the Stockholm Cathedral, which has tombs embedded in the floor dating back to the 15th century, and an ornate sculpture of St. George and the dragon. The altar of the church is gorgeous, with silver and ebony, and the rear of the church houses an elaborate pipe organ.
We also checked out the nearby Lutheran church, which was a completely different kind of beautiful. The church was covered in wooden panels with carvings and painted artwork and, oddly enough, smelled exactly like the Lutheran church in Temple that I once visited with my grandfather. Maybe there’s a special Lutheran-scented candle. I opened one of their hymnals to see if I recognized any of the songs, and this was the first page:
Shortly after this, we were walking towards the ferry that would take us to the Djurgården (originally the personal hunting grounds of the King, now housing various outdoorsy attractions) when we noticed the ominous-looking clouds looming overhead and a few random raindrops. We debated whether to hop on the ferry or to duck into a shop to wait it out; then Richie said “Hmm, I think it’s hailing….” This fact was then confirmed when I was bonked on the nose by a dime-sized piece of hail. We ran to the nearest cafe and bought some drinks and dessert, thinking that the storm would pass as quickly as it arrived and that we’d return to sightseeing.
Thirty minutes later, the hail had stopped, but the rain showed no sign of letting up. Richie decided that since neither of us had thought to bring an umbrella, and we weren’t going to do any sightseeing without one, he would trudge back to the hotel and grab our umbrella and the information he needed to pick up our tickets for our cruise to Helsinki the following evening. This left me to sit at the cafe, drinking tea and reading my new novel (Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson – I highly recommend it!) Nearly an hour later, Richie returned, completely drenched and more than a little unhappy. I definitely got the better end of that deal. We headed to our cruise terminal, picked up our tickets, and headed back to the hotel to dry out and to pick our restaurant for the evening.
We decided on Fem Små Hus for seafood and LOVED it. Best restaurant decision ever. Then we headed out to my favorite type of sightseeing – window shopping, which turned into actual shopping when Richie spotted an open store selling antique maps. The owner produced an antique map of Hungary that was from a German mapbook, I think from the 1850s. It was pretty much the perfect find!
The next day, we got up early to try to make up for the lost sightseeing hours from the day before. We walked to the Djurgården to see the Vasa, a Swedish ship from the 1600s that sank 20 minutes into its heralded maiden voyage and remained underwater for the next 300 years. It was incredibly well-preserved due to the type of soil it sank into – 98% of the ship on display is original. Ships aren’t really my thing, but our tour guide managed to make it really interesting and funny. We couldn’t go onto the ship itself, since it probably couldn’t stand up to the number of tourists that would go through it each day, but they built reproductions of various portions of the interior that we could walk in. One of them was the officers’ cabin, and when we started looking at it, I thought “this looks a little like the captain’s cabin in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies”… and then the tour guide mentioned that their museum served as the main consultant on the movie for the ship sets!
The ship is so big that they actually floated the ship into the museum after 3 walls had been built, then drained it and built the fourth wall.
We then went to Skansen, the oldest open air folk museum in Scandinavia (there was a similar museum in Oslo, but we skipped it and decided to go to this one instead). I have to say, I was a little disappointed. The idea behind the museum was to preserve homes and buildings from various times in Sweden’s history, so they had houses and farm buildings that were relocated from throughout the country to the park. They also had a zoo – we got to see them loading up a seal into a transport carrier so that they could clean his habitat, and it was pretty hilarious. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an angry seal being guided into a cage by two zookeepers wielding large wooden shields, but it’s not a sight to be missed. The best parts of Skansen were the views of the city from the peaks, and the section where they had people doing traditional pottery throwing and glassblowing.
We did some more shopping, including this great store called Designtorget that is supposed to showcase works from Sweden’s newest designers. It mostly had home decor, although it also had some jewelry and funny greeting cards (at least, I assume they were funny – they were in Swedish, so I suppose they could’ve been pretty much anything). Richie spent a great deal of time looking in various stores for any evidence of the Swedish chef. After a couple of these stores, I ventured to ask, “Um, who’s the Swedish chef?” Richie looked at me like I was a complete stranger. Apparently my Muppets education was quite limited. The situation has since been rectified (Richie showed me a Youtube video involving flapjacks, I think….)
Finally, it was time to board our overnight cruise to Helsinki. Neither Richie or I had ever been on a cruise before. I have a little bit of an irrational fear of cruise ships – something to do with the isolated at sea no way to get off the boat if something crazy happens aspect of it – although when I first mentioned this to Richie years ago, he said something about airplanes being the same way, except worse because they’re in the air, and being surprised I wasn’t afraid of them. Touché, Mr. Auter. So we thought this might be a nice way to test the cruise ship waters (snort) without committing to several nights at sea. The ship left Stockholm at about 5 pm and arrived in Helsinki at about 10 am the following morning.
The cruise ship itself was a little dated – our room had a realllllly pink bathroom – but it was perfectly comfortable, and it was amusing to see everyone going crazy for the duty-free store (particularly Angry Birds themed items). We had a great time and are now feeling like a longer cruise would be a nice idea – maybe the Greek isles?
The best part about the cruise is that the sun essentially never went down completely – we had a sunset, but then the sun hovered there for the duration of the trip and then rose again early in the morning. It was a great picture-taking opportunity.
Here is a link to most of my Stockholm and cruise photos – I hit a snag with uploading them, so the rest should be there in a few days.
Up next: Helsinki (which always makes me think of Carmen Sandiego, for some reason) and Tallinn!