Entries tagged with “Travel”.

So on our last day of Sweden we decided to use up the rest of our Tunnelbana punches – to see the areas of Stockholm that we hadn’t yet made it to on foot…

We hit some great design stores – which Sweden is known for… Stores like Design Torget, and R.O.O.M. to name just two.

Then we walked to the technical university – in search of a t-shirt we had seen that said “R.I.O.T” (Royal Institute of Technology)… But they only had shirts in Swedish when we got there… We’ll have to track that shirt down though – too funny!

Then we headed back through the ritzy shopping area of Ostermalm – along Bibleoteksgatan – catching a quick sandwich, getting in some quality people watching, and some amazing brand names / high fashion window shopping!

To round out our tour – we headed back over Gamla Stan by foot (hoping to find some non-cheesy Swedish souveniers… with no luck) – to the hotel for our final night in Sweden.

Racks of "Tube Food" in a typical grocerySome things we noticed on our trip:

  • They seem to love food in a tube: caviar, yeast paste, reindeer meat, flavored cheeses… whole racks of tubes in the refrigerated section of the grocery!
  • Everyone in Sweden is prego… or pramming their kids through town! (Maybe there is something about getting 18 months off with a new baby?)
  • Riding your bike is more popular than driving a car – even in Stockholm. You’re even cooler if your bike has a basket on the front!
  • Get your “reflector” dangles – small reflective symbols that attach to your purse, pram, etc. Apparently in the winter it is quite dark – so everyone has these little crowns, cats, skull & crossbones, ghosts, etc. to make sure they are seen by cars when crossing streets!
  • It is a “fee to pee” country. Always have 50 Krona handy so you can use the public toilet!
  • The language does kind of sound like a sketch of the Muppet Show’s Swedish chef… without the “Bork! Bork! Bork!”
  • Almost all the buildings you’ll see aren’t the “original”… most of the wooden buildings (the construction material of choice in a timber rich country) seemed to have burned to the ground in the 1600’s.
  • Swedish radio SUCKS! Unless you like anything bad from the 80s or Queen… I mean, we heard Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” on live radio… Wild.
  • Swedes seem to like a large variety of sauces for their meals… Lots of sauces “on the side”
  • They have the BEST variety of breads at breakfast we’ve ever seen: at least 7 different kinds at each hotel buffet we had, plus tons of spreads (jams, nuttella, etc.)… Cool !

More pictures from our trip…

More boats! Today we head by ferry out to see the “Queen’s Castle” Drottningholm Palace – though technically the royal family all resides there now (instead of in the King’s Castle which is in Gamla Stan). On the grounds of the Palace there are very nice gardens, the Chinese Pavilion (which while sounding interesting, isn’t really that much to see in my opinion) – and then the amazing Drottningholm Palce Theatre… That is worth a tour for sure! They still perform many works there, during the summer months in particular, and use many of the “mechanical systems” set up for moving set pieces, creating weather sounds, etc. that were designed when the theatre was first constructed back in the 1700s! (It is now a world heritage site!)

The ride out to Drottningholm Slott was a nice ferry trip – for those of us who don’t hate boats … Lovely little homes on the water – many with their own Swedish national flag or “pennant” flag (so they don’t have to take it down at dusk, like the national flag) dotted the coastline…

We then headed back into town – and hopped on the Tunnelbana to take some photos of some great subway stops (!) – and visit some market halls to cruise for local and exotic foods… One of our favorite touring pasttimes! We hit the Hotorgshallen – in the basement of a movie theater – and then Ostermalms Saluhall.
After all this food looking – we decided we were hungry – so we just cruised into the local food court at Hotorget and picked up a quick asian meal…

From there – we decided to walk back to the hotel down Dratengoten, a pedestrian shopping street with a few touristy places but mainly local shopping and cafes… The main pedestrian shopping “street” seems to be a popular feature of most towns (including those on our drive in the country). A great thing for tourists like us!

We hunted and hunted for late Fika (aka dessert!) on our way home – but everyone seemed to have closed up shop by 8pm…

So – Sweden is green & lush in the summer, and we know first hand why: when it rains – it pours! Good thing we had moved the kayak rental to Saturday – because it was raining very solidly as we got up Sunday morning.

We headed over to M&G’s cabin where they cooked us breakfast (yum!) – hard boiled eggs, toast, oj, and of course caviar from a tube and yeast paste from a tube (swedes and their tube food!) – which of course Brian and I had to try! But a great way to start the day – even a soggy one – before packing up and heading down to the dock to take the morning ferry back in to Stockholm.

We enjoy the rest of our journey back with M&G – who were entertaining Michelle’s Dad on Monday, so we wanted to let them go at a decent hour so they could have some “free time” before their next round as tour guide! They whisked us back in to town and dropped us at our hotel – where we goofed off for the afternoon and then headed to Billstroms for dinner.

It’s the weekend! That means it is time to meet up again with Michelle & Graeme – who pick us up to take us a short ride north of town to pick up the steam boat to the island of Grinda in the Stockholm archipelligo!
M & G have the whole weekend planned (THANK YOU guys!) – and even have picked up a light lunch for us to enjoy on the boat ride out to the island.

Once we arrive – we take a short walk up the island from the boat ramp to the “check in” cabin – where we pick up keys to our two cabins. Each couple had a cute little Falu red cabin – with bunk beds, a little kitchenette, and dining table! It had heat (great for the cooler Swedish nights) – and wasn’t too far from the “facilities” – including “seewater” shower… [So – confession from V: I’ll call what we were doing “camping” – only because we didn’t have running water in the cabin. But it was fun & exactly the type of “camping” that I’m up for!]

Viki, Michelle & Graeme heading out to sea!M&G had cooked up a sea kayak rental for Sunday around noon – but looking at the weather we decided to move it up to Saturday to avoid the rain (and good thing we did – it poured on Sunday!) It took a while to hunt around for someone who was up to speed on the whole kayak rental “thing” – but once we found someone who knew what was going on – it was a snap to pick up our two, two person sea kayaks, and head out on a paddle around the island. Now, this was our first time in a two person kayak (V had done some single kayaking back at YMCA camp some where – she thinks) – and we weren’t that good at it… I think M&G ended up waiting on us alot as we headed “out to sea”… We have right hand turns down – but we were going around the island counter clockwise… so we were “out to sea” alot! But – we worked up a GREAT appetite for dinner!

We had packed our dinner clothes in the baggage areas on the sea kayaks – and they stayed dry (amazing!) – so we just changed clothes at the cafe down by the docks where we returned our gear, and headed up the hill to dinner at the Grinda Wardshus. The meal was fantastic – much more upscale than I was expecting out on what seemed to be a pretty rural island (there was a small group of grazing sheep and cows in the middle of the island – on the walk between our cabin and the dock!)… Then we headed back to M&G’s cabin for light dessert – and conversation – before falling soundly asleep (courtesy of the kayak exercise!)

What at wonderful day!

One nice thing about all Hilton hotels – the breakfast buffet is a very nice touch (and certainly helps control costs a bit – since the dollar was so weak this summer vs. any foreign currency including the Krona.)

Today we head to Skansen – the zoo / amusement park / Swedish culture attraction on Djurgarden. A cute little ferry to get over there (though Brian isn’t that fond of boats) – but a nice view of the city from the water… We enjoy the zoo aspects – and don’t understand some of the cultural exhibits as much (examples of Finnish settlements? Examples of early Sweedish farm houses? I guess it is kind of like visiting colonial Williamsburg in the states?) We feel like we’ve seen it by around 1 or so – and have just a light lunch at a typical hot dog stand outside the Skansen front gates…

From there – we continue on down the road on Djurgarden from Skansen to the Vasamuseet (the Vasa Musieum). The war ship the Vasa was one of the largest ships ever built in Sweden – and it promptly sank in the cold Stockholm waters on its maiden voyage. The funny thing – the water is so cold that it did a great job of preserving the ship itself, until it was raised in the 20th century! Pretty impressive ship – even with its design flaw… Worth a visit!

By now – we’ve walked our feet off on Djurgarden for most of the day – so we hop the short ferry back to Sodermalm to the hotel… Change shoes & head down to the “main square” on Sodermalm to catch dinner.

Ahhhhh… our first day in Stockholm.

We decide to start at the heart of the city – in Gamla Stan, or Old Town. We spend most of the day walking around the smaller island – catching the “tourist street” of Vasterlanggatan, and generally exploring every other nook and cranny. We stop for fika at Piccolino – a nice break…

V’s friend Michelle had already hooked up with us by leaving a message for us at the Hilton (yah – they give us her message AFTER we go through the whole song and dance about them cancelling our reservation!)… We hook up with Michelle and her fiancee Graeme who start our evening off with drinks at Gondolen (the Gondola). We took the elevator from “ground level” all the way up to this fun restaurant / bar at the top of one of the buildings right on the water at the north edge of Sodermalm (walking distance from the Hilton.) We had to stop and take pictures of the great view of the city – and enjoy a cocktail!

Then M&G led on to dinner at Il Tempo for italian. (Pretty funny – the menu is in italian and sweedish… We particularly liked that in Sweedish, vegtables can be translated to “green things” – literally! As in – Chicken with green things… Kids everywhere totally “get it!”) After a wonderful dinner – and great chance to get to know Graeme and catch up with Michelle (who V hadn’t seen in something like 5+ years – since Mich’s last Atlanta visit when V’s family was still living there) – we headed out for a little ice cream.

Then G&M took us to this little overlook tucked high on a hill near the Hilton which has a great view of Gamla Stan and looking north to Kungsholmen and Norrmalm. (A great spot – which we make a note to come back to in better light to photograph the city!)

Day 5 was our last day out in the countryside before heading back in to Stockholm for the rest of our stay…

We started in the morning at the Falu Mine in Falun. The Falu Copper Mine is huge – and a UNESCO World Heritage site – so we had to walk around the huge copper pit (we passed on going down into the mine, just for time) – and broke for a quick fika at the cafe at the mine, where we enjoyed a great lingonberry tart! The legend of the discovery of copper in Falun talks about a large goat who came back to its owner with it’s horns colored red after rolling in the dirt. One of the more significant products generated as a result of the copper mining is red paint – frequently called Falun red – which was used for years (and still is) to paint many of the wooden buildings in Sweden. The contrast of lush green landscape and the traditional red buildings – a common site as we were driving in the countryside… Lovely!

Let’s explain about fika – which we got the scoop on from Greger & Fran… Apparently every day around 10:30 or so, people break for fike: coffee and cake time. Much more organized than just grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning – like in the states. Apparently in Greger’s research group – fika is very well organized… with the job of providing the cake(s) for fika rotated through the team! We loved the idea of having a scheduled break with a little coffee/tea and cake every day – that we recommend having both a morning fika and an afternoon fika while on vacation! :)

After Falun – we stoped briefly at the Sala mine (lots of mining in this region!), and then traveled on to the city of Vastaras. Vastaras was lovely, with an old center of town with “higgldey-piggledy” (as the guidebook discribes them) houses and cobbled streets. A great afternoon walk – and of course lush with greenery and flowers.

From Vastaras we headed back to the airport car rental, to return the car and take the train from the airport into Stockholm & to the Hilton Stockholm for the night.

We arrived at the Hitlon, and somehow the week long award room reservation got canceled, because they have a policy that you must check in or garuntee a room with a CC by 4pm day of check in. We arrived at ~5:30 to no room! Even for reservations booked months in advanced, with our credit card on file and our reward voucher on file… Knowing that we’re from the states (so how can we be reached reliably overseas?). We both were PISSED – to put it lightly. (And here we’d been staying on points each night at Scandics – with no trouble / no call ahead policy – a sister chain of Hilton.)

We basically had one of the most horrible customer service experiences we’ve EVER had with Hilton – a brand we trust in the states (have a timeshare with, credit cards with, etc.) and had to pull out all the stops to get a duty manager. Once the duty manager and the reservation manager conferred they found us a smoking room for the first night and then they moved us to a nice room in the newly renovated wing. Talk about a heart attack though – here we have a 7 night stay booked, and a certificate for the stay, cancelled out from under us as we’re traveling in a foreign country! And – to top it all off – some how the Hilton Stockholm deducted another set of points for the 7 night stay from our Hilton Rewards account as they “got” us that room! We’re still trying to straighten that out…

Needless to say – NOT impressed with the service at the Hilton Stockholm. Would recommend to anyone thinking of staying there – call every day to confirm your reservation! (And pray.)

Day four – and we’re off, taking the back roads to get to the city of Falun.

Some great driving through some lovely countrysides… We were traveling off of the east coast into the heart of the country’s Dalarna Region. This region is well known throughout Sweden for originating THE handycraft/souvenier item in Sweden: The Dala Horse.

Dalarna horsesSo – we had an official quest! The say that the best place to get Dala Horses – at the most reasonable prices – is in the Dalarna region, since they are made there. And – of all the towns in Dalarna, two of the most well known manufacturers of Dala Horses are in the small town of Nusnas – just southeast of the town of Mora. So – off we went!

After successfully completing our quest for our first Swedish souvenier – we continued driving around the lovely Lake Siljan on to the city of Falun for the night.

After our nice first day in Uppsala – we headed north into the countryside…

First stop – the city of Gavle, known for their annual “Gavle Christmas Goat” – a huge straw symbol of Christmas they build annually in town… Which is most well known for being set on fire (much to the chagrin of the town) by pranksters. A nice town, with a great old town area we enjoyed walking around and catching lunch in – before heading up the road to Bollnas.

Our evening destination was Bollnas, a smaller town right on a lake (most cities in Sweden are connected to water in some way) – which was quite pretty. We headed to the Scandic we were staying in for the evening – before heading into town to see if the local tourist office was open. It wasn’t – but apparently the tourism guys were still in the office having coffee and saw Brian and I and opened the office for us! (Ok – we literally had our faces pressed to the glass to see if there was anyone inside…We’re classic tourists!) Our friendly tourism guy literally pulled out all the stops for us in the office – we left with tons of material on Bollnas and the surrounding area. He also invited us to a local event – in a “Music in Bollnas” summer event series – at a local historic farm homestead in town that evening, where local musicians were going to be performing traditional Swedish folk songs. So – how could we resist going to a local event!

Traditional Swedish folk music (WeWhen we showed up that evening – american tourists at a local music show – our tourism friend was very pleased to see us! (what a tourism ambassador… He literally said to us “We all love Bollnas.”) While I wouldn’t say that Swedish folk songs are our favorite – it was pretty cool to be sitting in this big old historic barn at this homestead, getting a little local flavor!

Ahh…Vacation Time! Something to look forward to all year…

This year we headed to Sweden for about 10 days: 1 part relaxing vacaton, and 1 part visit with V’s friend Michelle from highschool and B’s friend Greger from highschool and wife Fran – who all just happen to live in Sweden!

Travel in the summer months is always a bit of a mess with tons of families, just like us, hoping to get away for some R&R. We were a little worried about our tight connection in Chicago to make our flight to Stockholm (since Chicago is ALWAYS a mess at any time of year…) And ORD didn’t disappoint… We flew standby from DIA to Chicago, since we’d arrived early at the airport (excited to be getting out of town!) A VERY good thing since security at the international terminal in Chicago was crazy!!! I’ll call it the “Watching the Amazing Race” factor: you just have to assume that everything that can go wrong about air travel will – so you carry all your luggage on (check!), jump on standby to arrive in connecting cities earlier if you can (check!), and generally hussle to the gate of your next flight and wait there (not in the food court, lounge, etc.) just in case.
It literally took an hour to get through security at the International terminal (!) at Chicago. Not to mention having to get from domestic over to the international terminal in the first place, get tix, etc. etc. Ugh.

THe flight to Stockholm was uneventful – with bad movies (Whole 9 Yards and Wild Hogs, ick. Brian will watch ANYTHING on a plane) and a little sleep.

We arrived in Stockholm jazzed to officially be “on vacation!” – Hopped the bus to Hertz, where they gave us a complimentary upgrade to an Volvo S70 (station wagon). Um – thanks but … so much for a small car to drive around the small european streets! It was like being a yuppie in a foreign country! Since we were driving around the countryside for the first few days – and planned on returning the car before heading into the city – we figured it would be fine (and it was) – but if we had been intending to drive in the city we would have asked for the smallest car they had. Just gives you more options…

Straight from the airport car rental we headed north to Uppsala, for a day or two. We jumped off on the wrong exit, but managed to stumble upon the Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) for a nice walk around some historic burial mounds, before heading into main Uppsala to find our hotel.

Made it back into town, stumbled upon the hotel, showered, and met up with Greger and Fran for lunch on the river. A very lovely and relaxing lunch – and terrific to meet up with friends in a foreign country!
After lunch Greger & Fran gave us a little tour of the city – walking along the river up to Carl Lenneaus’ house (whose 300th anniversary is a VERY big deal in Sweden this year… Apparently he started the plant classification system – back in the day…). From there – we dropped in at G&F’s apartment, in a VERY cool location right behind the main Cathedral in the center of Uppsala. Then we split with G&F for a bit – letting us meander around town a little more until we met up again for dinner. By this time we were really dragging – but trying to keep ourselves on our feet & awake for as long as possible to try to get onto Sweden time.

Many thanks to Greger & Fran for being such great hosts & putting up with our jetlag!