Stockholm, Venice of the North

We arrived in Stockholm bright and early, eager to get the most out of our stay. We had planned on a two-night-extravaganza-adventure in Stockholm before taking a ferry to Helsinki. We lucked out and found a great deal on a hostel right in Gamla Stan, the historic old town!

We couldn’t believe how affordable it was considering how ideal the location was. Everywhere we could possibly want to go was within walking distance or a short train ride. Added bonus? We had booked two beds in a four bed mixed dorm, rather than a private room, to save a bit of money, and no one ended up booking the other beds so we had a room to ourselves anyway! Perfect!

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Right outside the front door of the hostel was a cute (and lively) Christmas market in Stortorget public square, surrounded by old mechants’ houses and the Nobel Prize Museum. The smell of freshly made waffles and mulled wine wafted through the air as we wandered through the stalls checking out candy, ceramics, ornaments, cheese, smoked meats, and fresh bread. With so many kids running around trying to win the gigantic chocolate bars at the spin-the-wheel betting games (get the gambling started young!), we decided to take a break and check out the rest of the area.

Most of the buildings in the area are from the 17th and 18th centuries, giving the whole area this amazing medieval air. One of the larger landmarks near our hostel was Storkyrkan, the Stockholm Cathedral, and the Royal Palace of Stockholm. By chance, we managed to catch the 12:15 changing of the guard in front of the Palace. It wasn’t too busy, so we could easily see everything, and fortunately the announcer narrated everything in Swedish and English.

We spent the rest of the limited daylight we had left exploring the cobblestone alleys and checking out the cute boutiques. We found a really cool statue of Sankt Goran and the Dragon (Saint George and the Dragon), based on the myth about St. George battling a ferocious dragon.

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We also wandered onto Riddarholmen, the Knights’ Islet, and found Riddarholmskyrkan (Riddarholmen Church) and Birger Jarls square. That night we saw The Hobbit 2! It was in English and 3D, LOVED IT!

The next day we continued exploring the rest of the downtown on foot. It was a lovely blur of beautiful architecture, canals, and gigantic Christmas trees.

We briefly stopped by the Royal Palace again, before continuing on to our main destination for the day: Djurgården. One of the fourteen islands that Stockholm is spread over, Djurgården is like escaping into a quiet oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Connected to Stockholm via a bridge all year and ferries in the summertime, Djurgården is home to museums (the ABBA, Vasa, and Skansen museums to name a few), Rosendal PalaceGröna Lund (a theme park), and a park full of walking trails.

Rosendal Palace was much smaller than we imagined, but the walk to it along the shore was a great way to enjoy the limited daylight of this time of year. The Vasa Museum is a maritime museum housing the Vasa ship,which sank on its’ maiden voyage in 1628 without evening exiting Stockholm’s harbour! It lay at the bottom of the harbour until it was finally recovered in 1961. Nathanael and I didn’t end up going in the museum itself, but we spent some time reading in the gift shop :). We did end up going in to the Nordic Museum which was really neat. There was a small exhibition on the Sami (the indigenous people of Sápmi, an area spread across the northern region of Scandinavia) and a few other nice ones on various Swedish holidays and traditions.

We wrapped up our last evening in Stockholm with some street food by a fire. I had a bizarrely delicious wrap full of shrimp salad, green salad, mashed potatoes, and a hotdog. In a wrap. All together. Mind blown? I thought so.

Next stop, Finland! What had been called a,”ferry,” by Viking Line turned out to be the most affordable mini-cruise I’ve ever seen. For only €40 each we had a cabin to ourselves for the night (so far below deck that if this had been the Titanic, we would have been the first to go) and access to a huge duty-free shop, restaurants, bars (including a disco), casino, and even a smoking room! There was a sauna and spa too, but those were extra. Crazy! Apparently people will take the ferry just between cities (sometimes not even bothering to get off) as a little vacation. Not a bad way to get to our next destination eh?

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