Katarinahissen view of Stockholm

Stockholm for a Week or Two

There’s a couple of people I know who are planning to spend between one or two weeks in Stockholm next year, during the months of April and May.

Based on my own experiences of being in Stockholm during that time of the year (and other times of the year), here are a few handy tips I’ve prepared for them, which you might find useful also.

Where to stay in Stockholm: Where you choose to stay depends on a whole range of things: do you like city-life, do you like the countryside, how much you’re prepared to pay etc. My biggest best advice would be to stay near a public transport stop, especially near the subway/metro system, the Tunnelbana. You can buy affordable transport tickets that give you unlimited travel for 7 days, a fortnight or a month. When you don’t have to worry about how you get around, you spend a lot less time worrying about the dailies. And besides, trains and subways go exactly where they’re supposed to. My other piece of advice would be to make sure where you’re staying has a washing machine in your apartment. There are so many awful stories of conflict over “the washing room” in older Swedish apartment blocks, so if you’re using AirBnB, just double check the washing machine is actually in your apartment.

Personally, I really like the southern island, Södermalm. Traditionally a working class suburb, it’s now become quite fashionable. There are two things I really like about Södermalm: first, it’s a cool, funky, and interesting place to walk around; second, it’s close to the city, so you can actually walk to lots of great tourist places. You also look back over the water to the Old Town, Gamla Stan which is fantastic.

What Clothes To Wear: Earlier today when I was chatting with my friend and colleague who’ll be in Stockholm in mid to late April, she asked what clothes she should wear. She doesn’t want to pack too much clothing, and is concerned the warm clothing she has (she bought in New Zealand) might actually be “too warm”. Going back through my blog posts from March/April/May 2003, I noticed I needed to make a similar transition, and so went to a second hand clothing store on Södermalm and picked up (for about $30-40) some clothing which kept me both warm and dry. Stadsmissionen is probably the best known second hand clothing store in Stockholm, though the store I bought these clothes from was called Emmaus Stockholm just off Götgatan.

Getting to and from Stockholm Airport (Arlanda): Of all the options you might consider – regular taxi, fast train (Arlanda Express), public transport (connecting train and bus), airport buses, I’d recommend the airport buses. For around $15-$20 AUD, it will take you roughly 45 minutes from the airport to central. This is slightly longer than catching a taxi, and twice as long as catching the Arlanda Express, but it’s much cheaper, and you get to see a little of the countryside. http://www.flygbussarna.se/EN You can buy your tickets before-hand and just show them on your phone, though noting you shouldn’t buy them too early as they can “expire”.

Getting a Swedish SIM Card:  If you’re going to be in Stockholm for more than a week or so, I really think it’s worth getting yourself a Swedish SIM Card. As well as things like Google Maps, you can access email, social media, and not have to worry about international roaming. WIFI is everywhere, and Swedish homes generally have high-speed broadband, but for the sheer convenience, I think it’s worth spending about $40-50 for a casual plan which is often unlimited but usually has more than enough to do everything you’ll need. The last few times  I’ve visited Stockholm, I picked up a SIM Card from 3 at a fairly reasonable price. Though the website is in Swedish, I found it was pretty simple to go into the 3 shop on Götgatan, and explain my situation. They asked me a few basic questions about usage patterns, and they even set the phone up for me.

https://www.tre.se/privat/handla/bredband/abonnemang/

Some Great Things To Do

Stockholm Rooftop Tour: I’m not sure if actually operates during April, but the rooftop tour is amazing. Stockholm is a low rise city, and you’ll see a whole lot more if you’re just above the city, not far, far away at Kaknastornet, the radio and TV transmission tower.  I’d also really recommend Katarinahissen.

The ABBA Museum

Vasa Museet: A massive Swedish warship inside a museum. Amazing.

The Millenium Tour: A walking tour of Stockholm, as seen through the eyes of the books/films by Stieg Larrson.

The Nordic Experience Food Tour: Swedes eat all kinds of food, reflective of their increasingly multi-cultural society, but this tour takes you on a journey of pickled herring, bear and all kinds of great stuff.

Monday Night at Victoria’s: Swedes love pop music and drinking. If you’re skeptical, read the the story of a guy I met who was VERY skeptical, and ended up having a great time.

Valborg: A pagan festival at the end of April. Bonfires in the centre of Stockholm.

Kulturnatt: The night when galleries and museums are open during mid-April.

Walking On Ice: Hopefully there will still be some snow and ice around during March-April, and so long as you follow in the footsteps of others, you should feel confident about walking on ice.

Booze: Swedish bottle shops operate only 9-5 Monday to Saturday, so if you’re looking for take-away alcohol, you’ll need to plan. Supermarkets which are generally open until 10 or 11 at night, sell low-alcohol beer in case you get a little desperate.http://jamesobrien.id.au/2013/05/05/systembolaget-saturday/

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Vaxholm, Stockholm

Leaving Stockholm

“Did I just hear you make another little sigh…? Sandra asked. With only a few hours left in Stockholm before heading to New York, I’d apparently developed a bit of a “sigh” whenever I saw something really wonderful. I wasn’t consciously doing it, though clearly the thought of leaving Stockholm was weighing on my mind. I really love it here, and though I’m looking forward to travelling to New York, I’m a little sad to be leaving.

Anthony and I started the day with visits to the ABBA Museum (his idea, not mine) and The Vasa Museum. As I’d previously visited the ABBA Museum (hey, I was here for the opening in 2013), I wasn’t all that keen at first. I still really enjoyed the visit, and especially since the museum has expanded the “Swedish Music Hall Of Fame” focussing on other Swedish performers also. This was also my second visit to The Vasa Museum. A couple of years ago Sue and I were also hoping to visit, though it was under renovation at the time. Though the ship remains the centre-piece of the museum, there were also some wonderful artefacts as well as some modern re-creations which made it an extremely worthwhile place to visit.

After lunch, we were joined on a three hour trip to and from Vaxholm. Great conversation. Great views. Yummy food and wine. How could you top that? Well by calling in to a bar on the waterfront. I think it was there that I developed the sigh. The water. The weather. The people.

Robert then joined us for dinner at Urban Deli. A few drinks later, and it was time to come home. “Sometime we’ll both live in the same city”, I said to Sandra towards the end of the night.

Stockholm, as viewed from the rooftop tour,

Experience More

When my old school-friend told me late last year he was planning to visit Stockholm, and was looking for a few “travel tips”, my first question to him was “when are you going to be there?”. Because there is so much climate variation between the summer and winter months, there are some things you can and cannot do, according to the time you visit. When he told me it would be early-mid August, I told him simply, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you around…”

One of the activities, for example, you can’t do during the winter months is the Stockholm Rooftop Tour, Upplev Mer (Experience more). I first did this tour in 2011 and absolutely loved it, and so recommended it highly. “Just book it…”, he said via email. Over the course of about 75 minutes, you get to walk (harnessed) along the rooftop of the old parliament building. It’s quite spectacular.

Since he arrived around lunchtime yesterday, we’ve also paid a visit to Katarinahissen (which has spectacular views of Stockholm); we’ve had a cocktail at Berns (my other school-friend who has visited, Sue has fond memories of this); and we had dinner and drinks last night at Fotografiska (the photograph museum) with friends Sandra and Robert. Despite a lengthy queue for dinner, we managed to secure a really terrific table, and enjoyed a sensational meal. While the others had salmon, I had the pork (which was excellent). Unlike many other restaurants, the philosophy at Fotografiska is that the vegetables are the “main course”. They were beautifully prepared and very tasty.

Over a few hours of great conversation, we enjoyed a bottle or two of wine, and watched last night’s beautiful sunset. The night ended with a walk through the city (the Stockholm Kulturfestival is currently underway)and through Gamla stan. So yeah, we’ve managed to squeeze a fair deal of activity into a few short hours.

Today, we’re heading off on a cruise of the Stockholm Archipelago (to Vaxholm and back); and will also visit the Vasameet and the ABBA Museum (his idea, not mine), and whatever ever else the evening may hold. Peter Hook from New Order is playing a free public gig tonight, as part of the Stockholm Kulturfestival. If the weather clears (currently there’s a little bit of drizzle), this should be a terrific way to spend my last full day in Stockholm before heading off to New York tomorrow.

Monday night at Victoria's in Stockholm

The Last Few Days

“So how have you spent the last few days”, I asked the mother of a family from Houston I met on the food tour the other day. I randomly ran into them on the Djurgården ferry. “We’ve been on a tour of the Old Town, we got some segways, we’ve been on The Archipelago and we’ve done some shopping” she told me. “And what about you?”, she asked. At that moment, I had to think. “Oh just eating, drinking, and dancing”, I told them with a grin. And yes, indeed, that’s how I’ve spent the last few days, and I’ve loved it.

As I mentioned, the food tour on Sunday was good fun. And I actually “made friends” with another guy on the tour, an English guy called Mark. He told me he also loved travel, and as we wandered around we just kinda clicked.

“I’m going to see one of your countrymen tonight”, he told me, referring to the comedian, Pam Ann. I’ve never actually seen her perform live, although she’s a regular at events like Mardi Gras with her hilarious, very honest and biting “take” on the gay scene. Although I’d noticed she was playing Stockholm Pride, I hadn’t bothered to book a ticket, until just randomly I decided I would go to the theatre and try for one. I ended up with an excellent ticket in the fourth row. The show was really funny. She really “nailed” Sweden with some very accurate observations, as well as the more “obvious” quotes like… “What is it with you people? You speak like you’re permanently underwar”. I’d definitely go to see her again. After the show, my friend and I had a wine or three at Torget, my “regular” at Gamla stan.

After a late-ish start (I needed to do some washing), I headed out for lunch on Monday at Urban Deli, one of the places we had visited on the food tour. Some meat, some olives, a glass of wine, and a Bundaberg Ginger Beer. It seems to be the “hip drink” at Urban Deli, as all three tables near mine were enjoying it.

It was a perfect drink for a warm summer’s day. There’s a Swedish saying, even a pop song called, “Sommaren är kort” (Summer is short) which is definitely true. “It’s been a late start to summer” my friend Sandra told me. But by Monday, summer had definitely arrived. The weather was spectacular.

Mark and I caught up again on Monday night, having booked dinner at the nearby Flying Elk which is a kind of a gourmet pub with Michelin status. I really liked the space. I really liked the service. But to be honest, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the food. It was good. But not great.

As we’re in the midst of “The Season Of The Gays” (last week was Stockholm Pride, this week is the Euro Gay Games), once again we visited the overly crowded Torget for a couple of drinks and a bit of people watching.

Earlier, I’d already flagged with Mark the idea of going to Victoria’s, the famous schlager night which I’ve been to in Stockholm on several occasions. At first, I knew he wasn’t convinced. I realise I hadn’t really done a convincing job, explaining why he should experience a bar where a bunch of Swedes of all ages since along to classic Swedish language pop songs. But after an hour or so at Torget, I convinced him on the basis it “was near his hotel anyway”.

Within minutes of arriving he was convinced it’s probably the most fun you can have in Stockholm on a Monday night. “What I really like is the mixture of young and old, straight and gay, and they’re all totally into it”, he told me. We spent an hour or two on the dance floor before finally calling it quits. (Graeme – as you’ll see from the photograph, there’s a new band playing there, replacing “Hallå hela pressen”.)

On Tuesday I visited The Spiritmuseet, where they have two excellent exhibitions at the moment, which I’ll write about later.

And then on Tuesday night, I caught up with Sandra and Robert. They’ve been in the United States for the last few weeks, visiting family. Despite a bit of jet lag for them, we had a wonderful catching up, and we’ll see each other more after my trip to Rome, which starts tomorrow.

So yeah, how have I spent the last few days? Eating, drinking, and dancing. “And loving it….”

Urban Deli, Stockholm

Culinary Södermalm Food Tour, Stockholm

I’ll be honest. I was a little disappointed with the first part of the Culinary Södermalm Food Tour. Not because the food wasn’t good. Not because the tour guide wasn’t good (he was excellent). But because I’m probably a little spoiled for food choice in Sydney, and the offerings of Chinese, Indian and Greek didn’t exactly set my heart on fire. “Where I live in Sydney, I’m surrounded by Indian restaurants”, I told our guide, Erik. But I guess that’s just me, as the tour group was made up by a number of people who had never really eaten some of these foods before, and for whom it was a whole new experience. But when we hit Urban Deli, and then Nytorget 6, my eyes really lit up.

Urban Deli was apparently based on New York’s “Dean & Deluca”, and isn’t dissimilar to “Fratelli Fresh” back in Sydney: it’s somewhere you can eat and do your grocery shopping. Looking over the shelves, there was food from all around the world, including some Bundaberg Ginger Beer. “Everything you see with a yellow sticker is something we make ourselves”, we were told by a Swedish bloke whose name I don’t recall now. There we tasted some great meats and cheese, and I was really impressed with the quality and flavours. I’ll definitely be returning back there.

Nytorget 6 was also excellent. There we had a beer, a cocktail, and dined on some really terrific meats, including some really fantastic Swedish blood pudding. “It tastes just like Christmas Pudding”, was a memorable quote from one of the tour participants, a woman from England. I’d tasted some blood pudding on the Nordic Food Tour I undertook on Friday, and this was completely different. First, it was warm. Second, it really did taste like a warmed Christmas Pudding, with all of those terrific flavours you associate with pudding, topped off with some lingonberry.

Along the way, we also visited a shop which serves Danish style sandwiches, and ended up with coffee and cake at Stockholm’s Fotografiska Museet. As well as having some of the best views in town, we also learned a little about their attitude towards food. In particular, the emphasis they put on using good quality vegetables, and making vegetables the centre-piece of their meals, not an after-thought.

In contrast to the Nordic Food Tour, I undertook Friday, “this tour was all about the contemporary ways in which Swedish people eat”, Erik told us. Over almost four hours, we had an awful lot to eat, had lots of great conversations, and were entertained and informed by an excellent guide. From chatting with him, our guide clearly loved food and travel, and spoke about them both with absolute passion. Highly recommended.