What do two adults decide to do on an enlightened Saturday in November? Book tickets for the next weekend to Stockholm. Yes, a weekend trip. The Lilliputian nature of this trip was justified by the abject lack of interest in the general travel media about Stockholm as a tourist destination. Coupled with several work trips the husband had made in the last few years to Gothenburg, Sweden definitely didn’t feature on our bucket list. On the other hand, what definitely featured in my list is snow, lots of it. Living in a miserably rainy city like London, devoid of any white winter beauty, where people jump for joy at even the tiniest flicker of the white stuff, I can be forgiven for my absolute crazy love affair with snow. Hence this trip into Stockholm was just one of the many journeys up north of the continent to take in the sheer beauty of a winter wonderland.
So began our weekend trip, flying out on a late Friday evening. I was on one of the rare flights, where the pilot decided to remind us of the bright lights of London which we would be giving up for the dreary snow of Stockholm, something which possibly the Swedish SAS pilot himself wanted to escape. Little did he know, I was of the contrary opinion to him; rather looking forward to the white stuff, I nevertheless took every opportunity take in this wonderful cityscape of London!
Having seen the eerie view of the white stuff whilst landing, taking the train from Stockholm-Arlanda airport, we arrived at the Stockholm Centraal and walked the last few minutes through a thick layer of snow to our hotel. Being the quintessential European capital city, the train station was strategically located in the centre of the city and surrounded by the myriad hotels. When arriving in these cities on a cold winter’s night, opting for a centrally located hotel always saves on one’s commute into strange, not so central location.
With less than 48 hours to experience the white stuff, I didn’t need an alarm to get me out of bed. A rushed morning routine and out I walked out from our hotel to these glorious glorious views below!
A relatively small city (especially compared to the behemoth of the city that is London), we were surprised that the Royal Palace at Gamla Stan was in fact quite close to our hotel, and hence not too far from the Centraal Station. For reasons unknown then, the direct access to the Palace grounds was closed off and there was a sizeable police presence there. Much later we came across a demonstration by Syrian migrants not far from the Palace grounds which led us to believe that could have been a possible reason for the shutdown.
Being an archipelago (Stockholm is a city of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges), the best way to understand the geography of the city is to take a river cruise. Several cruise companies also take you way out into the outer islands of the city the river. Some stunning topography was captured through my lenses whilst out on this cruise.
Before noon, back in the city, we wandered into the old town to observe the changing of the guards, walk through the narrow alleys of Gamla Stan, stopping for coffee at an extremely tiny and crowded coffee shop, where I had to pay 1€ to use the toilet! Coffee or for that matter any other drink was immediately off the menu for the rest of the day! Apparently, the Swedes can get by without having to answer nature’s call forever. Oh, how the British would sympathise with me and my bodily woes! Rarely would you find a cafe in London which charges you to use their loo! A cherry on top of our afternoon walks was a surprise sighting of the Nobel Museum! Didn’t make it in this lifetime. Wonder when they will institute a Nobel Prize for Social Media Presence!
Evening heralded us walking down the main shopping district of Stockholm, meticulously finding my way, despite severe protests from the husband, to Nordiska Kompaniet, better known as NK, the eternally elegant department store that remains one of Stockholm’s most treasured institutions. A gigantic Christmas Tree suspended from above greeted us and the four storey retail behemoth reminded me our enduring grand old lady of Oxford Street, Selfridges, albeit with a much smaller footprint!
Too soon it was Sunday and with a scheduled flight later in the evening, we set out for the piece de resistance for visiting Stockholm – the ABBA Museum. You cannot visit this city and not venture into this dreamland place where you’d be transported to the lives of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid. I wasn’t surprised at the huge crowds which had gathered on a bitterly cold winter’s morning, a Sunday morning as well, to indulge in their ABBA fascination. What I was surprised of where a large number of American tourists, some even with the atypical Texan drawl, who had weathered the snow to come down for ABBA. Even after four decades, ABBA has held their own against the likes of Beyonce and Adele. I for one, born after the ABBA wave, know more of their songs than I do of Beyonce! It was only the looming threat of missing our flight which finally managed to get us to that building.
Taking a train back from the Centraal Station, realisation sunk in that I’d possibly spent my last 48 hours rushing through a land which is commonly dismissed as cold and emotionless. Yes, there were instances where I missed the extremely polite Brits uttering a sorry at the drop of a hat when we were stuck on the crowded metro train, or when I went hunting for a decent curry house and couldn’t find any in the vicinity of our hotel which stayed open late on a Saturday night; in spite of those minor glitches, the beauty of this land is unmissable. It lies in its cold weather, its diligent and industrious people, it’s breathtaking architecture, and surprisingly it fresh and unblemished food! Whilst much of their food is imported, the Swedes possibly have most of the most efficient supply chain for its food as the freshest ingredients made for some of the most amazing meals I’d had in this winter wonderland!
Definitely one of the downsides of Sweden is its high cost of living. Yes, the country is definitely a pocket pincher, Stockholm more so than other parts of the country, but the city is small enough to warrant a quick whirlwind trip, so keeping within your budget shouldn’t be difficult. What we didn’t explore was the countryside, which locals would definitely say is best seen by hiring a car. But we need to leave something for later, something which will bring me back to this land!
There is something in the air in the Nordics which keeps pulling us back. After Tromso, this was our second official holiday into the Nordic zone, discounting the work trip. With climate change a reality, I have the unsurpassable urge to see more of this white wonderland before it all disappears some day. Unless we come together to preserve it, it may disappear someday.