I've wanted to visit Sweden for quite some time now. Maybe it goes back to my childhood, loving the Muppets and of course the Swedish Chef. It could also be that I grew up in Toronto, with one of the first Ikeas outside of Sweden, and my childhood bedroom was filled with furniture that had names such as Malm and Ektorp, which seemed to come from a world away. Okay, so everyone is really, really good looking, including the fast food attendants at Max (much better than McDonald's), but the main reason I wanted to visit, is that I've met so many nice Swedes while traveling, that I figured a country full of friendly people had to be a great place to check out.
While I was getting my dive master certification in Thailand, I met Andreas and Nicole, a very cool couple from Stockholm. They were getting certified to dive, and I was assisting the instructor on the course. We shared a crazy twenty four hours of diving and partying on the island of Ko Phi Phi, and I figured it would be fun to go visit them in their native city. I was already in Europe, and although Stockholm is quite far from Rome, a flight on Ryan Air cost me approximately Sixty Euros, so I couldn't really pass up the opportunity. Ryan Air really is one big flying bus, no perks, and tons of hidden fees. But if you can master the art of booking on the cheap days, fly with only a carry-on bag, and print your boarding pass ahead of time, it's worth it for the price.
I ended up staying at the Best Hostel Old Town (great name, right?) in Gamla Stan, meaning the old town in Swedish. The location could not have been better, as it was right on the water with amazing views. Gamla Stan is situated on a tiny island, in the middle of the river which separates the shopping area of Norrmalm to the north from the cool area of Sodermalm to the south, with its trendy neighborhood of SoFo (South of Folkungagatan). The old town has beautiful cobblestone lane ways, shops, restaurants, cafes, and the Royal Palace. You can pretty much walk the whole area in less than an hour, it's that small.
The Best Hostel Old Town is in a very old, but recently renovated building. The place was so big, with tons of rooms, several kitchens, and multiple floors. The layout was strange with many stairways, that you really did need directions on finding your room. I was happy once I checked in. I booked myself into a seven person dorm, and I was the only one staying in the room for several nights. The place was clean, modern, had fantastic beds, a good kitchen, free Internet, and for $30 USD a night, it was a big upgrade from the horrible hostels in Rome.
My plan of four days in Stockholm quickly turned into a week. The weather was unbelievable and everyone was in such a good mood, I just couldn't leave. The days were sunny, and I mean sunny. About twenty hours worth of sunshine in the summer months. It was really strange to be out drinking on a terrace at 11 pm and have the sun just starting to set. It's even stranger to get out of a bar at 3 am and have the sun starting to rise. I could only imagine what it must be like in winter when it's reversed and you have twenty hours of darkness, plus cold temperatures. Apparently people can get pretty grumpy, and I don't blame them. The city reminded me a little of Montreal, since it's so cold in the winter, that when the springtime comes, everyone is out enjoying the fresh air. In Stockholm, everyone rides bikes. The lanes are great, and it's such the norm that commuting is easy. One thing I highly recommend is getting yourself a three day rental from the tourist information office or kiosks around the city for $10 USD. You can pick up and drop off bikes at various points around Stockholm, not a bad deal at all.
Nicole and Andreas were amazing hosts and it was so great to see them after about six months. Nicole is a fashion designer and Andreas is an actor, and they made sure my week was filled with a mix of sightseeing and partying with the who's who of Stockholm. It was fun to meet all these great people and I now have lots of new Swedish friends. Alex, who is also another actor, was gracious enough to let me stay with him after I was tired of my hostel. Nizar, who has the site Cool Stockholm, put on a massive 35 hour party at Bern's, one of the hottest clubs in the city. That made sure my Friday and Saturday nights were set. We also spent an evening enjoying the large terrace at Mosebacke, a really cool beer garden. It's a great setting, but expensive burgers at $22 a pop really put a dent in my wallet. I just want to put prices in perspective for any traveler to Sweden. This country isn't cheap, and since they tax the hell out of liquor, a night out on the town could potentially kill your backpacking budget. Another good outdoor area for food and drinks is Medborgarplatsen, which has a huge square and is located by the subway stop with the same name.
A unique spot which is also worth mentioning, is the ThaiBoat beach bar and restaurant. Since we were all reminiscing about Thailand, Nicole and Andreas thought it would be fun to take me to a large boat floating on the river, which had a little man made beach on board, and served food and drinks. We ended up going twice during my week since it's a really great restaurant, decked out in Thai fashion.
Besides touring around the old town and visiting the Royal Palace, I walked the shopping streets of Drottning, Biblioteksgatan, and Gotgatan, and also checked out the bohemian boutiques and cafes in SoFo. In addition to recommending the fashion boutique Acne, where Nicole is a designer, I would also check out Solo which is a fantastic store with the trendiest labels in Sweden.
Just outside of Stockholm, there is one of the World's most breathtaking archipelagos of tiny islands. I was highly encouraged to take a day trip, and I'm glad I did. Since you could literally spend days touring around the islands, I chose to travel an hour by ferry to the quaint town of Vaxholm, which is a popular summer destination for Swedish tourists. It is a tiny town, with little shops, and a several public beaches for swimming. The scenery along the way was breathtaking, particularly all the small islands with private homes, and this would be the place to live if I was working in Stockholm. I would be married to a supermodel, own Ikea, and just commute to the city center by Jet Ski. Hey, can't one dream?
My last night in the city was spent Bar-be-cuing in a tiny park in Sodermalm. I was lucky to cross paths with my friend Hannah who I had met rock climbing in New York. She had just moved back to Sweden and introduced me to yet another friendly group of Swedes, who invited me to try out their Swedish grill. My friend Scott, also put me in touch with his friends Lars and Jennie, who took me out on the town and got me to try Herring (Strommings Rule in Swedish) from a street vendor. It was amazing, and I highly recommend it. They served it in a pita with mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. Strange, but so tasty. I swear, everyone in that country is awesome. I would consider moving there, shacking up with a Swedish girl, and living the Scandinavian dream...if only the winters weren't so cold and dark. It's okay, I still love you Stockholm.
Here are photos from my week in Stockholm, to better understand why I love this city.
To get a little idea of the crazy partying that went on during the 35 hour event at Bern's, check out this video clip.