We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Tuesday, September 6. 2022
Stockholm is one of the best hiking cities I've yet visited. Part of this easy walking was the centrality of my hotel (on Benny Fredrikssons Torg next to the Riksbank). That said, even the Grand Hotel, over by the ferries, is within walking distance of most things.
It's important to know Stockholm is an archipelago made up of 14 islands, so ferries and bridges are common. Size-wise, just shy of 10% of the Swedish population lives in Stockholm. California and Sweden are roughly the same size, but Sweden has 1/10th of the population.
Stockholm has a lake which provides its fresh water. Lake Malaren used to be part of the Baltic Sea, and it separated about 1000 years ago. Prior to that event, Vikings could use it to sail deeper into Sweden. Today, Malaren is a fine lake to walk along. There are boats lining the north (Norr Malarstrand) and south (Soder Malarstrand) sides and many have become nightclubs, bars or restaurants. Mrs. Bulldog and I walked along the lake the night we arrived, and stopped for a drink on one boat. Beautiful place to stop at sundown, and the view we had was of a hill on the south side where people flock to watch sundown over Stockholm. We wanted to do that, but time was short and we missed it. Apparently, it's the place to be at sundown. After our drink, we crossed over to the south side for some tapas, then continued along the southern shore and crossed back into Gamla Stan (the old city) and then back up to our hotel. As we arrived later than we'd planned (airlines are a mess), we thought a long walk would be a good way to get a feel for the city.
Day Two was a day with big plans, and lived up to our expectations. We got an early breakfast (one of the great things about the buffet at our hotel was the availability of bread and cold cuts at breakfast, which enabled us to make sandwiches to take each day), and headed over to the ferries in front of the Grand Hotel. Along the way, we passed the location of the bank where "Stockholm Syndrome" first gained notoriety. I recommend the mini-series Clark if you're interested in a somewhat fictionalized version of these events. The location is not a bank now, it's a retail outlet (remember, cashless society, so banks aren't as common).
The Grand Hotel is where the Nobel Prize used to be presented. Today the entire event occurs over at Stockholm City Hall. Ferries line the docks by the hotel. They can take you a variety of places, but we were heading to Vaxholm (Waxholm, if you're Swedish). It was about an hour and a half on the ferry to get to the island where there is literally nothing of major interest. It's just a great location on the Baltic Sea to wander, quite beautiful. I'd compare it to Block Island - a place where urban folk go in the summer to slow down, be relaxed and enjoy the water. We chose to walk, but bikes were readily available. We tried our first Swedish cinnamon bun here, at a small bakery. Swedish cinnamon buns are a bit different from ours, no cream cheese topping, just some sugar. Very delicious, but I'm partial to Cinnabon. At noon, we planned to go kayaking, and arrived at the "Kayakomat" - basically a vending machine for kayaks booked online. We had them for two hours, and at the appointed time we received a locker number and a code to release our kayaks. Off we went into the Baltic Sea. Admittedly, a safer harbor within the sea, but we did try to get around an island offshore and determined the actual sea was too rough for our rudimentary kayaking skills, and reversed back to the harbor. After two hours, we returned to shore. The Kayakomat was located next door to Hembygdsgårds Café, so we went there for some 'Fika'. The cafe is wonderful, with a massive array of sweets, and outdoor seating on the Baltic which made the ambience top-notch.
I noticed a lot of the old architecture bears a vague resemblance to Russian architecture, in particular the 'onion domes'. Russians are descended from a variety of different cultural groups, but the original Kyivan Rus were Vikings who had settled on the Dnipro in the mid 9th Century and began to spread out over the Don/Volga steppes. As a result, the architectural similarities were not entirely surprising.
We took the ferry back and disembarked, walked around the harbor to the Royal Castle, then back to the hotel where we spent 2 hours on the rooftop spa before heading out to Gamla Stan (old city) and wandering until we found a great restaurant for dinner. Next door was an Irish pub with live music. As much as Stockholm is Swedish, it's one of the more diverse cities I've visited. There's something for everyone, and people from all over the world live there. In fact, their Queen is not even Swedish. She's French. They won't have anyone of Swedish descent on the throne again until the Queen's future grandchild takes the throne.
I learned all this on Day Two - when we did a free walking tour of Gamla Stan. We have learned to enjoy free tours when we travel, the payment of a tip means the guide needs to be prepared and do a good job, or they don't get a tip. Our guide was Zenit - a Croatian who moved to Sweden and is a naturalized citizen. He did a wonderful job, and I saw parts of Stockholm I doubt I'd have found on my own. A runestone as the cornerstone of a building, for example. He did a great job explaining the history of Sweden and why their biggest rival is Denmark, and how their king came to be French (and why that may have been a good thing). We visited the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath, an event I had previously been unaware of. Naturally, I had to drink from the fountain, I guess I'm a tad vampiric in that regard.
After the tour we took a ferry across the harbor to the Vasa Museum. I can only say that this was probably the main mistake we made - we did not allot enough time there. Only an hour, and we probably could have spent several hours to see and learn more. It's amazing and beautiful. We followed that up with a visit to the ABBA Museum, because, well...Sweden. It was interesting, but unless you're totally invested in the band, give it a miss. I found it interesting, but not at the price. That said, I did see many people my age weeping with enjoyment, so clearly they have a devoted following. For what it's worth, lots of young people there, too.
The one thing I should mention - we walked everywhere. We rode a tram only from the ABBA Museum back to the plaza behind our hotel because we were on our way to see The Rolling Stones and needed to get changed and catch a train. I'll write separately about this experience, which was amazing. We couldn't walk up to Solna Friends Arena, but we took a train to Solna and walked about a mile. Then stood for about 5 hours to see the greatest rock and roll band in history. We then had to walk a mile back at midnight - and felt perfectly safe with the large crowds and catch a train back to the city center.
Day Three was designed for decompression and relaxation. We woke early, took a tour of Stockholm City Hall, got some great views of the city and learned more about its history and how it functions. Also, details of the Nobel presentation were shared, as that seems to be its primary role now. Then we took a train north and visited the town of Sigtuna. It is an old Viking village and Sweden's 'first town', with numerous runestones, one of which potentially references Leif Erikson's sister. It's a cute town with a colorful history on Lake Malaren (it's a very big lake). We ate lunch on a pier overlooking the lake, wandered the town and soaked in the culture. We then took the train back to Stockholm, and once more wandered the city just soaking in the architecture and ambience. After all, it's one of the few cities in Europe relatively untouched by WWII, so almost everything is intact and original. We ate dinner on Lake Malaren, watched the sunset viewers on top of the hill across the lake, and then walked the darkened streets of Gamla Stan one last time.
Our final day, the flight left at 1pm, and we got up early to see the city in its early morning glory. There is nothing like wandering a new city in the morning as it slowly wakes up. We've done this in every city we visited and have always felt the dawn walk was a wonderful means of soaking in the best sites. By 10am we were on the train to the airport and heading home via a stop in Zurich.
I will always view London as my favorite city, but I believe Stockholm (at least in summer) may be right there with Prague in terms of sheer enjoyment. We only had three full days - but we made the most of them and as I like to say "leave something to come back to." I'm sure we will.
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Thanks for the tour, Sounds like a good time was had by all. Just curious, how much Islamic influence was around?
I saw more in Vienna. But I know they have issues. In Austria, they deliberately broke up the immigrants and sent them to places where they didn't have many immigrant friends. This meant they had to work to reconnect (easier to track if there is trouble) or integrate with the population more.
Sweden did not take this approach. It is increasingly apparent the right may win the next round of elections due to this.
Quick correction to your otherwise wonderful piece: Sweden has just over 10 million people, which gives it about a quarter of California's population, not a 10th. Neighboring Norway, with about 5.5 million people, is closer to your metric. But your point is absolutely correct: Walking in Scandinavia, especially in a city as beautiful as Stockholm, is one of the most beautiful and culturally enriching travel experiences a person can have.
Thanks. I know how I made the error. Stockholm's population is 1/10th of the Swedish population - not California's. I was going to do a little more comparison and I guess I fell asleep at the wheel.
How many days should we budget to see and do the best of Stockholm, in a relaxed manner, with many stops for drinks, snacks and just enjoying life?
We had 3 full days and we were very relaxed. We did, however, discuss this very topic because we left much to see.
I'd say for a really relaxed time, with lots of stops for drinks, at least 5 days. Now, I'll be clear - I'd suggest taking a ferry to Vaxholm, so that's going to take up a good part of one day.
Other suggestions, depending on your hotel needs/desires, we stayed at Downtown Camper. It was reasonably priced, clean, and well located. It's not the Ritz, but we didn't need the Ritz. It's fun, it's got an eclectic mix of people staying there. They make bikes available. And electric scooters. And they have a rooftop spa/bar - which is VERY hard to find (at least I didn't find many).
So if you want to see more than we did, and be more relaxed, 5 days. If you can squeeze a little more out, 3 full days is enough. Remember, we traveled out for portions of 2 days and squished a lot into the other portions. And spent 5 hours at a concert. So we could've fit a lot more in.
I do recommend the free city tours. They are good.