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The Nordic countries have always interested me, combining beautiful natural landscapes and active, learned populations with rich histories containing Vikings and conquests. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland: these are lands that resisted the urges of the European Union based off of their own sustainability. They are proud peoples who maintain a monarchy and their own currency and treasure their many beauties, including dense forests, ample lakes and waterways, wildlife ranging from the Arctic Circle down to continental Europe, and the Aurora Borealis. Prior to a trip to Stockholm the extent of my knowledge regarding all things Swedish included a love for hockey and Nordic skiing, Volvos and Saabs galore, Bjorn Borg and men's underwear, a cuisine featuring fish, meatballs, potatoes, and lingenberries, copious consumption of vodka, and lots of tall, blonde, attractive people. While all of these preconceptions certainly proved to be true following a weekend in Stockholm, this is a country featuring much more than Henrik Stenson, Peter Forsberg, Smorgasbord, and hipsters.
Stockholm is an absolutely beautiful capital city, charming and low key, and I certainly enjoyed my stay. The first of three destinations this semester that have been dubbed 'Venice of the North', the metropolis is spread out across an archipelago of 14 different islands within a small cove. The resulting bridges and canals that connect the islands of the city are fairly large, and I do not picture Venice having such a large scale of waterways. However, this is not to diminish the intimacy of Stockholm, because winding around the complex city, with gorgeous buildings and façades, spacious boulevards and parks, and a mix of old and new yielded an amazing experience.
After surviving a Thursday night in the London Stansted airport for the second week in a row, this time with my now established travel buddy Kristen Seidel, we had a great time in the land of the Swedes.
My time in Stockholm was spent exploring the city as much as possible. We saw some museums, including a Nordic culture museum, complete with folk art and customs.
Saturday we saw the Museum of Contemporary Art and Architecture and the Museum of the Nobel Foundation, which awards the annual prizes in Norway and Sweden.
Our hostel was on the Gamla Stan island, the old town, and while a fairly touristy spot it was along the waterfront and definitely did the job. We went to two food markets: the more traditional, upscale Ostermalms Saluhall, and the commoner's Hotorgset.
Mostly, however, we just walked around as much as possible, soaking in the lack of crowds, the gorgeous fall scenery and cool weather, and the calm vibe that reverberated throughout the city.
While backpacking I was told that Europe becomes more expensive as one moves further north, and so far this has certainly proved to be true. Whether a reflection of higher, socialized tax rates on the consumer or simply the isolated geographic location of the country, Sweden was outrageously pricey. The hostel and our food cost over twice as much as anywhere else I've traveled so far, including London, and if not for some crucial student discounts the museum prices were quite expensive as well. A six-inch sandwich at Subway was the equivalent of $9, and a meal at an average restaurant was well over $20 a plate. As a result we did not eat in a restaurant or buy many souvenirs, let alone hit the town at night. This, however, is not to say that we did not have some great experiences. Food wise, we sampled elk, reindeer, Swedish cheese, berries, nuts, and sausages, and had meals of fish burgers and pickled herring on rye bread.
We tried glogg (spiced mulled wine) with gingerbread cookies and I incorporated as many Swedish ingredients as possible into the hostel special du jour, a chili with local veggies including butternut squash and horseradish (surprisingly really good).
Thanks to an extremely generous worker at a market bakery we had some Swedish cinnamon rolls, one of which had cardamom and vanilla and was delicious, and were able to have a homemade Fika experience, basically a coffeshop drink and a pastry. Finally, like the true Spaniards we are, we watched the Barcelona - Real Madrid Clásico in an Irish pub, a win for the good guys that was fun to take in. I am certainly happy with my Swedish experience, a very relaxing and pleasant weekend overall. Serenity aside, after a midterm Monday afternoon, (yes I really am in school here), I can now set my sights east on a certain hygienic friend of mine and a land caught between two peoples, not to mention two continents.
Until next time,