Travel Tips Part 3: Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm syndrome. The possible title you contemplate having for your next photo album on Facebook. Disregard it – too obvious. You arrived in Stockholm completely knackered having had no sleep at all from Bergen to Oslo and during the trip to Stockholm instead of catching up on some z’s (awful expression) you plough your way through season 4 of True Blood. You come to the conclusion that Sookie is really quite annoying, and she doesn’t do sexy well at all. You’re feeling particularly catty this morning as you hop off the train seeing as your pill hasn’t kicked in and your body has decided to have a mind of its own (makes no sense at all I know).

You know the routine by now: whip out the world’s best invention – the iPhone – and try to work out where the eff you are. This time, you don’t get lost. The hostel is a breezy 10 minute walk from the station and you’ve managed to not get disorientated once. You enjoy the walk because Stockholm has a lot to look at. The buildings are wonderfully old and characteristic, and for once you’re not flop-sweating. Pretty good deal so far. You notice something strange about Sweden: people stare. They stare you down with curious looks on their faces as if saying, “What is that blonde British girl doing in our country! She doesn’t belong!” Check your reflection in case you have something in your teeth – you don’t, the people are just slightly rude. You soon learn that the Swede’s have no concept of saying “excuse me” and this can be grating. Once you’ve successfully found your hostel, put your bag down and notice the sign that says reception has gone out for lunch and will be back in a short 1.5 hours. Even though you think this is bollocks you decide to take a look around at your new abode for the next few days: it’s old but clean and has few facilities but is cosy and quite sweet. Your stomach groans loudly. Time for food. Walk to the nearest bakery and buy a cheap-apple-pastry-thing and munch it down with vigour. Note: you’re about to find out that delicious, fattening goods like this are aplenty in Sweden and they’re inexpensive too! This will turn out to be a bad thing when your jeans decide not to fit anymore. For now they’re just squeezing on – who needs to breathe anyway?

Have a wonder, roll a smoke, sit down and get hit by a sudden wave of ice cold. This is unlike any type of cold you’ve ever been in before. Your hands quite literally ache. You were getting very smug in Norway, thinking that you could totally handle the “cold” everyone complains about. This isn’t Norway. It’s not far from it but it’s still extremely cold. It’s nearing 3 and you glumly notice that it’s getting dark. Head back to your hostel, check in, have a crappy shower (hair on the floor – ew) and head out to the local shop to buy dinner. Pasta and pasta sauce. Bon apatite! Meet some cool people, have half-English conversations and realise that conversing with Europeans can start to get annoying after a while: having to talk slowly and repeat things and find other words for what you’re trying to say gets tiring. It’s not their fault after all but it makes conversation all that more difficult. Head to bed relatively early to start watching Community: you decide about 5 episodes in that Jeff is kind of attractive. Fall asleep at 1 then wake up at 9.30 – you’re getting used to this!

Despite the fact that you wake up – what you consider to be – pretty late, the rest of your dorm buddies are sound asleep. You notice that 80% of the people sleeping are male: you’ve shared rooms with boys before obviously but that was with boyfriends and you’d normally wake up to the sleepy pleasures of morning sex, however, these guys you don’t know at all plus they’re not particularly attractive so morning sex is out of the question. You decide to go for a run: you hate the idea of returning home obese so you feel the need to exercise like mad to balance the copious amount of pastries you’re rapidly consuming. You don’t want to wake up these people, so you slowly start to creep down off your bunk bed when you are hit with a gigantic coughing fit. Everyone stirs a little, you roll your eyes at your gracefulness and get changed. Heading outside you’re once again hit in the face with a sheath of ice-cold wind. You’re going to warm up anyway, but you’re soon to discover that the circulating blood still won’t move to your hands and fingers which will remain frozen. Start your run along the river, at about 6 minutes in stop: you haven’t been for a run in over 3 weeks and your body hates you. As you run you pass about 20 arrogant Swedish runners barely sweating as they bolt past you. Shake your fist at them. This is why people stare at you funny.  Head back feeling much better and get ready for the day.

Today you’re meeting an old friend in town who’s doing exchange in Sweden in a town not far from Stockholm. Nevertheless, she heads out to meet you in the city and you both walk along catching up into Gamlastan – Old Town. This part of town is especially quiet with ancient buildings connected by cobblestones form narrow streets and twisting paths that dim the streets beautifully. Every corner there is a new smell or sound as individual bakeries open their doors to salivating tourists, and buskers’ shriek out unmelodic tunes. Head into a newsagents to buy a coffee and (yet another) pastry then start walking through the old streets. The day is still but there is yet a bite of cold so be sure to rug up. As you head into your next gift shop in search of something authentically Swedish, be sure to misplace your Travel Card. It makes things all the more exciting when you lose one of our most important cards. Okay now, don’t panic just yet. Check all your pockets – nothing. Check your bag – nothing. Pockets again – nope. Taking items out of your bag for a real rummage – still nope. You must have left it in the newsagency. You are not panicking. Head back through the cobbled streets while re-tracing your steps in your head: you can’t think of anything else before eating that glorious pastry. Why oh why must food be so delicious and distracting? Into the newsagency – the woman behind the counter has it. Your trip is not ruined.

Head into a cheerful looking café and become a pedantic customer who rightfully complains when a vegetarian is forced to pay the same price for a variation of a meal without meat. You get 10SEK off. Victory! Feed yourself to a sick stage then waddle out the café to do more sightseeing. Despite having full belly, you decide to purchase some warm sugar-coated almonds from a side stall, thus beginning a new obsession of munch-able goodness. You spend the rest of the day searching for a perfect view of the perfect sunset; you even try going up the lift of a very posh hotel but this proves futile as you don’t have a key card. You start walking up about 3 flights of stairs when you and your friend look at each other in defeat: you’ve missed the sunset. No worries – it’s still quite early after all. You walk to the town hall and sit outside looking at the magnificent view over the river. Stockholm has one of the most impressive skylines you’ve seen, especially in the evening when the houses on the hill are lit up.

After a while your butt starts getting numb on the cold ground, so you head over to the local supermarket to buy whatever cheese is on special and some crackers; head back to your hostel to share some tea, pasta and delicious cheese. Yum!

The next day you wake up late and notice that you accidently left your Body Shop shower gel in the shared bathroom last night, and some culprit has taken it! You don’t blame them…you would have done the same thing. Walk around doing some errands while listening to the recently downloaded Fleet Foxes. Being a lone traveller is all the more romantic when you’re listening to folk music. Get ready and head to the station to take the train to Uppsalla. Wait in the ticket shop for about 20 minutes for the woman behind the counter to tell you that with your Eurail pass you can travel for free to Uppsalla. The next train leaves in 5 minutes which gives you a great excuse to run across the station like you’re a really important person who has to make some sort of life changing deadline. In reality you look like an overstuffed backpacker who is yet to get their shit together. Relax into Uppsalla with the sounds of La Dispute in your ears. When you get into town you meet up with your friend who takes you on an historical tour of this beautiful town, absolutely soaking in history. There are buildings and sites from as far back as the 1500’s along with delicate architecture in every direction. You have lunch at one of the university halls – the university has halls and rooms scattered all across the town – where you meet more international students from the UK and the States and even from back home. It’s good to hear the Aussie accent again, and you feel relaxed not having to talk loudly or slow down your sentences: you can mumble as freely as you like!

Take a walk around town and when it starts getting dark (at around 3.30) start walking up to a higher point to watch the sunset. This time you capture the sunset beautifully as the sky turns pastel pink and purple and orange over the low clouds. Get some geeky pictures to document this day and start a walk back to the university housing. Do some much, much needed washing and be thankful to your friend: you were just going to chuck out your dirty underwear and buy new ones, this way is much less wasteful and cheaper. Make a pizza from a funky DIY kit – they don’t have these at home and they need to introduce them!! – and enjoy a university dinner. Head over to the local pub and have a glass of wine over brownies (weren’t you putting on weight?) then walk back to the train station. After a long day spent walking miles, you’re exhausted. Fall asleep watching Community.

The next day wake up early to purchase your night train tickets to Umea for that evening. Buy a bag of candy for breakfast and start walking around a different part of town. Throw away your bag of sugary rubbish when you start feeling nauseas and tired: candy is not healthy – make an effort to eat some fruit or vegetables at some point during the day. Walk along the river until you get to Djurgarden: a national park holding deer, horses and an array of historic houses lived in by what you assume to be the very rich. When you start walking through the park, make sure you underestimate the sheer scale of the park and walk in any one direction along the river assuming it will be a breezy walk. An hour in pull out your map to realise you’ve barely made a dent: the park is massive. Sit down and roll a smoke – something you’re getting a lot better at. Ask yourself: do you still enjoy smoking? Or are you only smoking this bag of tobacco because it cost you a lot? Walk along the river taking photos while listening to Phil Collins Greatest Hits – turn this off when you get to the 10th soppy love song and switch to La Dispute. You still have a long walk, so you listen to Wildlife about 3 times before it makes you feel horribly depressed and angsty. Take off your headphones and walk along the river until you get to…could it be? An amusement park! That’s closed for winter but STILL! Very cool. The day is beautiful so you buy a coffee and a plate of chips (it was the ONLY vegetarian option) and sit down to flick through your Lonely Planet.

Hear a definitive craw gurgle from the throat of a nasty looking crow eyeing up your chips. Ignore it and head back to your book. Feel uneasy. Look up and notice the bird has boldly flown to a table very close to yours while staring into the depths of your soul.  Go back to your book. Relax for a second before the crow screeches loud in your ear and you jump back about half a mile while almost knocking your coffee off the table and soaking your new mittens. Grab your heavy book and swipe it at the bird who jumps back just barely. You didn’t even want your chips to begin with you just felt you should eat. Once again attempt to read your book while a large plop of bird shit lands squarely in the centre of your book, just missing your head by an inch. The birds are out to get you. As you stand up to make a big show of throwing your chips away, (if you can’t eat them then, dammit, NOBODY can!) be sure to spill your coffee again. You don’t know if it’s the uneasy sleep or the unbearable sugar high but you’ve been acting like a real bumbling tool today.

Start walking back along the river as it starts to get dark and the sun sets behind the clouds, causing dancing reflections upon the river. Sit down and roll another smoke with your headphones on and hear another small thud: you’ve dropped your coffee again. Leave it. It’s gone. While you’re sitting there taking in the spectacular view and doing some people watching, a Swedish girl asks you for the time – in Swedish. Feel awfully complimented that she thought you could speak Swedish/were Scandinavian and give her a hearty blank stare before saying, “Sorry…I don’t speak Swedish.” Give her the time in English and send her on her way. Start the long walk back to your hostel and have a sneaky shower before heading out to the train station for the night train to Umea. Part 4 begins…


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