Arriving In Stockholm

The general consensus amongst colleagues, friends and family when informed that Fiona and I had booked a trip to Stockholm in mid-December was that it would be freezing, rainy, dark and overall a terrible, terrible idea. Sucks to suck, haters, it was fab.

I have been wanting to visit Sweden (and everywhere else in Scandinavia, plus Finland) for years, and not to chuck a spoiler at you right off the bat but I was not disappointed. In fact, I now have an extensive list of things I want to do the next time I'm in Stockholm, a reinvigorated need to tick off the rest of the region and an idea in my head that at some point Will and I will move to Sweden for at least six months. But I digress.

This little jaunt took place the weekend after our trip to Paris, so one can safely assume that the pre-move exhaustion was on another planet, but if anything is going to motivate me to push through even the direst of slumps it's a trip to Sweden. We flew into Skavsta airport which - despite technically being marked as such - is not at all actually near Stockholm, but luckily I discovered this prior to our arrival, so we were not left trying to catch a midnight train through Sweden. Since we'd flown out of Stansted straight after work we landed quite late on Friday night anyway, so were happy to just crash at a hotel near the airport and catch a coach into the city first thing the next morning. The shuttle was A+ (as is everything in Sweden from my perspective, which will become increasingly evident as this account flows on), there was wifi and we saw a big IKEA, and it arrived at the central station where we easily hopped on their equivalent of the tube to our hotel.

We were staying in Södermalm, which I have come to understand is apparently quite the hipster hub and home to many independent stationery stores (that I did NOT get to visit but it's FINE I guess I just have to go back to Stockholm ugh twist my arm). However, after dropping off our bags at the hotel we decided to head back the way we'd come and spend the remaining daylight hours in Gamla Stan. It looked sick from the train and more importantly I recognised the name of the area from various Scandinavian blogs, so off we went.

Naturally, the first thing we did upon arrival was seek out sustenance. After months of being lulled into a British delusion that the pinnacle of easy and accessible lunches is some sort of sandwich (if you have not yet been subjected to The Sandwich Rant by either myself or Fiona, do get in touch and we would love to amend this), I was so fuckin amped to be in a country where healthy options are actually appetising, and the salads aren't 60% cold pasta. Seeing as it was past midday by this point and I had chosen to forego the hotel breakfast (it was weird and I stand by my prioritisation of sleep) we picked one of the first places we came across, and as we were in Sweden it was obviously baller. As I said, it will become increasingly apparent as we progress that I think Sweden is the highest plane of being, and for that I will not apologise.

The restaurant was called Café Kladdkakan, and not only was it decked out in the most hygge-inducing minimal yet cosy Christmas decor but they also served actual decent coffee. To an Australian condemned to a life of London-quality brews, this was huge, and the whole affair was just absolutely heartwarming. We had a lovely cosy lunch, during which I discovered the Swedish word for pie is 'paj' as in "appelpaj", a revelation I still smile at to this day. I ordered a chicken caesar salad, and was presented with the largest plate of food I have ever seen outside of America, except for the whole thing was salad, and the salad was the best salad of my entire life. I still have photos of it on my phone and I'm looking at them now and I want to weep with longing for this salad. Never have I felt such immediate attachment to a city as when I was sitting in my little booth with my cappucinno and my Life-Changing Monster Salad, surrounded by clean lines, crisp air and festive music. God I want that salad now. Sweden is the salad capital of if not the world, at least my heart. It's the everything capital of my heart. I wish I were Swedish so bad.

After a heart-wrenching goodbye to the remnants of my salad, we went for a wander. We popped into a stationery store (I say popped, but you put me or Fiona near notebooks and that's your next hour gone) and I managed to exercise restraint, but I did get some little Tintin prints and a journal, all for Will. Because I am a selfless angel of a girlfriend. The Old Town, from what I saw, consists primarily of a lot of quite narrow, sloping cobbled streets. After traversing one particular uphill alley, we emerged into Stortorget, which is apparently the oldest town square in Stockholm, and home to the Gamla Stan Julmarknad, or Christmas Market. As I have mentioned previously and will continue to iterate until the day I die, there are few things I hate more in this world than markets. However, a quaint Scandinavian Christmas market, I can just about tolerate.

Did I complete a single lap avoiding contact with any other human being and then hang at the perimeter whilst Fiona explored properly? Yes. Even so, I can not emphasise enough how palpably the Essence of Yuletide Joy was swirling through that frosty Scandinavian air. There is something about the Nordic countries that just feels like the indisputable home of Christmas, and even without a single snow flurry or an appropriate amount of sleep I was feeling the merriment. If you think of that one kid at primary school who was way too into horses to the point that it became borderline cause for concern, that level of innate dedication is what I feel for Christmas. And also Sweden. Killer combo.

In case you hadn't caught on yet, I am now obsessed with Stockholm. It is so clean, it feels very safe, there are a pleasant number of people so it doesn't feel either barren or overcrowded, and no one looks at you weird for taking selfies because half the country is bloggers. I know that isn't a dead accurate statistic, but please don't kill my vibe. I had hoped and suspected that I would experience the city as some sort of spiritual homeland, and I was not disappointed. If this is what it's like during the season everybody says to avoid I can only imagine how comprehensively every last iota of my shit will be well and truly flipped when I finally manage to visit in summer.

Furthermore, if the bloggers, salads and superior styling of home decor were not already enough justification for a Prime Pozish in my heart, Stockholm is a city consisting largely of various islands and waterways, so it fits right in with my aquatic fixation. It's like a more spacious and contemporary northern Venice. Not really. Probably more like Amsterdam, but either way I was #luvinlyf traipsing from bridge to bridge.

After a considerable period of wandering in circles, squares and zigzags and a quick consultation with our google map of starred landmarks, we figured we'd probably seen the sights of Gamla Stan. We covered a lot more ground than I have detailed here - since it's a pretty small island you can easily see the entire thing in an hour or so - but aside from obvious highlights like the Royal Palace it is the sort of area that you just enjoy as a whole, rather than checking specific items off a list. Rather than heading to a new area entirely, we continued with our walk and headed north.

After taking some time to admire the Parliament buildings and take photos on various bridges (easily in my Top Ten Hobbies, just behind Scrapbooking and Watching Ships On The Horizon With A Growing Sense Of Peace In My Heart), we found ourselves on the mainland back near the central station, in Norrmalm. While I will say it was a lot warmer overall than we thought it was going to be, honestly considerably less chilly than the previous weekend in Paris and completely missing the seeps-into-your-bones factor, we had been walking around for a while by this point and it was starting to get dark so we ducked into a cheeky museum to have a look around.

I frickin love museums. I honestly think it's wild that you can just walk into a building and see things that have been around for hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of years, and as a blessed child of academia I am always down for a bit of extracurricular learning. One exception to this rule comes in the form of the approximately one billion tiny statues you see below, with which I was suddenly confronted after rounding a corner, and upon encountering both them and their tactically placed reflections I may have been heard to emit a potent combination of a swear and a yelp. This particular museum was the Medelhavsmuseet, which focused on Mediterranean culture so there was plenty of ancient goodness to peruse, but out of the five museums we sampled over the course of the weekend (it gets dark at 3pm, and also Stockholm has got an exceptionally baller selection) I would put it in equal last place in terms of badassery. That may seem like a poor result, but just you wait. Just you wait.

After wrapping up this impromptu excursion we were pleasantly surprised to see it was still light outside, so we continued our walk a bit further into Norrmalm and popped into some souvenir-y shops. I was characteristically drawn in by the homewares (and am planning a return journey solely to furnish my apartment), but stayed for the books on Norse mythology and absolute abundance of decorative gnomes. Or trolls? Basically they're just pointed felt hats with big beards and a nose. I've just done some googling and it seems like they are called 'nisse' or 'tomten,' and the Santa-themed ones are 'Jultomten'. Also they apparently replaced the 'Yule Goat' (???) which is something else I am going to need to look into in my free time. Either way, if you google 'Swedish Christmas gnome' you will see what I mean, and when I say these things were everywhere I mean it. They were up trees, hidden in bushes, on windowsills, everywhere. And I was not hating it. It felt bloody magical. I will undoubtedly one day acquire myself a Scandinavian Christmas troll or two to protect the children and animals of my household during the festive period.
God I love Christmas.

Having factored in the approximate sunset time of 3pm, we'd specifically planned ahead to visit some other museums in the area for the remainder of the afternoon, but since those last glimpses of daylight seemed to be holding on we took our time getting to the next one. We walked past the Opera House, which you can see two photos down and will hear some sick goss about shortly, and made our way back across the strait on a parallel but separate bridge to the one we'd come over originally. I know. What a day. As the last of the sun was disappearing we took some photos on the waterfront next to the Medieval Museum, and then delved inside.

Weird one, the Medieval Museum. I find every European city has at least one unexpected obsession - for example, Basel in Switzerland is absolutely on one when it comes to buffets - and Stockholm's (aside from the gnomes, which as previous discussed are a valid cultural staple and bringer of yuletide joy) is 150% Fake People. Like mannequins and sculptures and (varyingly) realistic looking dummies in every single museum, at every possible opportunity. The Medieval Museum was home to the creepiest collection we encountered, as these dummies were not only possessing of the apparently compulsory EXTREMELY emotive facial expressions present in all we saw, but were also largely acting out quite unpleasant circumstances. Think peasants, peddlers and plague victims. Fake enough that they become progressively more disturbing the longer you look at them, but real enough that you would involuntarily emit a startled gasp any time one snuck its way into your periphs.

Now under cover of darkness (although it was all still very pretty and nautical with that kind of unique maritime sparkle you only get at twilight when you're near a considerable number of yachts) we found our way to the final museum of the day, and by a large margin my favourite - The Royal Armoury. It was here that we learnt about possibly the most iconic royal assassination of all time. #nooffense #toosoon. Cutting a long story short (although you really should look up the long story) and ignoring all historical context/background info re: why people wanted him dead, Gustav III went out - both literally and figuratively - with a bang. Picture this: It's 1792 and the King is attending a masked ball at the Royal Opera House, which you see above. Everything is already pretty hektik because Europe is in turmoil and also masked balls, from Gossip Girl to A Cinderella Story, are a well-known breeding ground for Drama. Everybody's having an 18th century aristocratic whale of a time amidst a sea of black cloaks, hats and masks, but unbeknownst to most, several of these cloaks conceal knives and pistols. King Gustav dances what would be his final dance, and as the clock strikes midnight, a shot rings out. The King has been shot in the back at midnight at a masked ball at the opera.
Is that not the single most lit assassination story you have ever heard.

Technically he died thirteen days later of blood poisoning from the infected wound but still. If you visit the Armoury you can see his entire masquerade outfit, as well as masks, weapons and notes used in the plot against him. Also a lot of horse armour. In addition to that magical learning experience, there was also an exhibition in the lower section of the building about the relationship between a Swedish count named Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette. Like full on, 19 years of secret coded letters and invisible ink and pining, right up until her death in the Revolution. Nuts. Given that I studied the French Revolution both in high school and at university, and do a lot of personal research for fun because I'm just that kind of freewheeling gal, the fact that I had literally no idea any of this had taken place was bloody astounding. It didn't even sink in who they were talking about until I was half way through the room and I had to go back and read everything again. Apparently the private letters the exhibit is built around were only uncovered in the last few years, so that would explain it a bit, but I still feel like we're really missing a trick here. I, for one, would like to see an overly dramatic feature film depiction of the whole affair.

Having done a google I now see he is mentioned in the Kirsten Dunst movie but you can't blame me for not having taken that particularly seriously as a credible historical source.

There were quite a few pieces missing when we visited because they were being prepared for a separate exhibition, but this is one museum I 100% recommend visiting if you're ever in Stockholm. The number of historical pieces they have on display is insane, and it's home to thousands of key artefacts from dozens of generations of the royal family. It comes in third on my list of Swedish museums, but that's only because of what's coming in the next post. And even then it was a close call. After one final moonlit walk through Gamla Stan, we bought dinner at a supermarket, got the train back to our hotel and then ate Swedish food til we passed out.

Next time, in STOCKHOLM: My eyes look even MORE tired, we go to MORE museums and the universe gives us what we want.