Sweden

DestinationsEuropeFoodScandinaviaSweden

Stockholm – redux

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Thus far, the wireless internet has sucked. In both the hotel and in the train, but I probably should be grateful that I can actually blog and stay online while the snow-covered landscape whizzes by.

The first two days in Stockholm – en route to Copenhagen and Greenland – passed in a jet-lagged blur, and revisiting the hotel I last stayed in was a surreal experience, particularly so at the very moment I tried to borrow an electric kettle from the same man who worked at reception (which I did the last time). He nodded, went downstairs and promptly came back with the same kettle that I used over a year ago.

Nothing seems to have changed too much.

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There is an eternal band of construction around Slussen since the first time I visited in 2006, the metros are still holes in the walls dug deep underground, the people are selectively friendly and the weather is just as unforgiving. The uber-cool Scandinavian design has simply gotten cooler in fifty shades of grey, black and white, so much so that they might want to consider changing their national flag to monochromes.

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I have a food-snob as a travelling companion this time – which translates to a heavier investment in meals, funkier (and sometimes more expensive) food. Which is part of the reason why I realised just how hip Stockholm can really get, especially now that we’ve managed to find time to wander the the streets of Sodermalm and Odengatan. In two days, we’ve gone to the Östermalms Saluhall for lunch and to Sodermalm for New Orleans food as well as traditional Swedish meatballs done with different sorts of meat.

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Already, we’ve planned dinner in Cafe Alma in Copenhagen when we’re not even there yet. But truthfully, it’s all because it’s near a laundromat – or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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DestinationsEuropeScandinaviaSweden

A thousand candles bright

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In another life, I’d vote for wanting to be Swedish and all the perks that come with it – shopping at Granit (and sometimes Ikea), Gina Tricot and H+M, camping in a summer house in the countryside in an eco-friendly car, taking fika(s) daily and eating all the seafood, meatballs and the cloudberries that my stomach can possibly take. After all, the first thing I asked about as I checked into the hotel was the name of the Christmas album that they were playing.

Obviously that’s not going to happen, but a girl can always hope.

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I wasn’t too hard up on seeing the big tourist sites this time around; instead, I stayed out of the core city centre and wandered around the parts that I didn’t see on my first visit here. Sadly, that meant getting gobsmacked by the glitzy chic shopping district in Stureplan and Östermalm, making my way to the Moderna Museet, going to coop supermarket and actually eating proper food for dinner. Old towns are always irresistible, so I eventually made my way to Gamla Stan and ended getting lost in the maze of streets in worsening weather.

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Traditional Christmas lights abound, particularly so in Scandinavia because it gets dark so early. Visually, it’s a brilliant sight (all puns intended). These shops get brisk business as locals grab what they can.

Armed with a 3-day transport card, I rode the buses and the subway merrily, squeezing as best as I could into the seat with bulky winter wear that was meant for the Arctic, wondering all the time at the possibility of looking chic yet prepared for cold (and extreme) weather as I envied the easy glamour that seemed inherent in Swedish girls. They’re mutually non-exclusive options, I concluded. Unless people are packing geniuses – which I’m not -, a stylist is probably required (Gok Wan?) for effortless mix-and-matching.

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DestinationsEuropeFoodScandinaviaSweden

Uppsala

From Uppsalaslott

Impulsively, I bought a return ticket on the SJ Regional train to Uppsala, a mere 80km, and a 40 min ride away from Stockholm, passing the glorious countryside once again en route.

Uppsala looked better and better as I walked on, since my first glimpse of it consisted of unsightly chimneys of the industrial areas surrounding the Central Station. The small town feel is genuine, and immensely bewildering for a split second when one realises this is a quintessential town that other pseudo-small towns were built to imitate. It boasts a genteel air almost, with the added honour of holding Sweden’s oldest church.

A short walk uphill in the park made part of Uppsala yield some of its secrets. Its famed university is tucked away from the madding crowd, and can be found nearly a kilometre inwards, squarish, and next to a massive graveyard.

Back in Stockholm in the afternoon, I wandered on without a map and came to this.

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Saluhal Ostermalm

At Östermalmstorg, I discovered Saluhall, a gourmet food place that has the most mouthwatering things in a gorgeous old building. Took to it immediately and found it a bit like the Victoria Market in Melbourne. The funniest thing is, for all that walking I’ve done, have still yet to come across a single Ikea.

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DestinationsEuropeScandinaviaSweden

A City built on Water

Gamla Stan

Or so says the touristy, bright yellow T-shirt that I might just buy for my father who’s afraid of bright colours.

“Gorgeous, golden, green” were the first words that dropped into mind – the colour of the trees and plants that strikes you hard the moment you exit the airport and hop onto the Airport bus that goes to Stockholm city. The pictures don’t do justice to the breathtaking panorama of the place and its sheer scale.

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Swedish suburbia

Stockholm City on the other hand, is like Copenhagen on a larger scale, sprayed across a couple of islands (thus the numerous bridges), and a few more times more expensive.

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The people are cautious, but not unfriendly. Some would call it the “Scandinavian Distance”.

Finally reached this hostel (STF Fridhemsplan) after trying a few times – only to learn that they check people in at 3 pm earliest. It is a beautiful place though, marred only by the fact that the slightest things cost money. Adding insult to the injury is thus – that to store luggage at any one time costs an outrageous 20 SEK. But I did so grumpily, and took a walk all the way down to Gamla Stan.

Nationalday celebration Palace

Conclusion: It’s a gross misconception that westerners walk a lot – the collective whole gaped at me when I asked for directions to the old town Gamla Stan (5-7 km away from where I’m staying), and gaped even more when I replied resolutely that I would indeed be walking there and back.

Tourists love Gamla Stan, not surprisingly, and dig its medieval core filled with cobbled stone ground and neighbourly buildings. The Swedish Parliament resolutely keeps the place, imposing stone and all.

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