When my husband came home from work one day ,and asked me whether I could accompany him to Sweden on an official trip in the month of April/May, I answered ,”Well, Maybe..” But who am I fooling? There was no way I would miss that opportunity . So, from that very moment, I started planning our trip. After many hurdles and uncertainities, we embarked on our journey on the 6th of June,2019 (yeah.. not in April/May 🙂 )
This was our ,then 4 year old daughter’s ,first international trip but luckily she happily slept through the whole journey of 15+ hours of plane travel. When we landed in Arlanda Airport, Stockholm on a bright sunny afternoon, I had already fallen in love with the place. The thought that this is where I would spend the next 3 weeks was enough for me to forget how tired and sleep deprived I was, with days/weeks of preparation and overnight travel. June is one of the best months to visit Sweden, as summer formally sets in and the weather is rather pleasant, with occasional rains. (Swedes tell me that June is unpredictable and I just got lucky)
The first week of our stay was in Flemingsberg, one of Stockholm’s neighbouring counties, about 17 kms from city center. It was far away from the hussle and bustle of the city . We would go on long strolls at night, through the wonderfully landscaped campus of Karolinska Institutet, which was just across the road from our hotel (Attendo Park Hotel). A good part of being in Sweden is their liberal nature which allows anyone to pass through any property. It all feels like one single land and its tough to define physical boundaries. Our days in Flemigsberg were pleasant, with a lot of time to spend with my daughter and to take her around ,while my husband went to work. It felt very safe and welcoming. Visit to Flemigsberg Centrum was a daily routine , to buy groceries and we struggled each day with all items labelled in Swedish. Bottled drinking water was the toughest to find. Most of the racks were filled with “Sparkling water”, or soda (as we call it) and finding plain drinking water was like searching for a needle in a haystack (of course a big needle in a small haystack 🙂 )
The first difference we noticed in Stockholm was the length of the days. From where I come (India), the sun follows a strick time-table of rising between 5:30 to 6:30 am and setting by 6:30pm,throughout the year . In Stockholm, the sun would set much late ,on most days after 9 or 10pm. Even 3 weeks were not enough for us to adjust to this schedule. So, our night strolls felt like day strolls and early mornings felt like mid-days.
Public transport in Stockholm is exceptional. A single communter card of 335 SEK has a validity for 7 days and gives the luxury to travel in any mode of transport (Bus, Metro, Commuter Train, Light Rail, Tram and even Ferry). And all the counties surrounding Stockholm are well connected to the city center through commuter rail, so are some of the suburban towns like Sigtuna and Upsala.
Stockholm City Sightseeing
Stockholm city is spread across 14 islands (you barely notice this when you are there), where Lake Malaren flows into the Baltic Sea. As any tourist would do,the first place we visited in Stockholm city is Gamla Stan or Old Town. A walk through the cobbled streets and narrow allies of Gamla Stan took us to the Nobel Museum and then to the Royal Palace Museum. We visited most of Stockholm’s attractions using Stockholm Pass, which made it easy for us to walk in and out of the museums without having to wait in a line. Every place in Stockholm looked like a page out of a fairy tale book. It was neat, colourful and unique. We even witnessed a royal parade while on our stroll near the Royal Palace. Most of Stockholm’s attarctions are at walkable distance from each other. To exprience the various modes of transport available, we went to Djurgarden in the Tram (which runs between Central Station and Djurgarden) , panorama tour in a double decker bus, the canals and bridges in a boat and all other places in Metro rail.
I enjoyed the best of Stockholm from the waters. Hailing from Alleppey, code named the Venice of the East, I am familiar with boat tours and the serenity of sightseeing from the waters, and floating through the canals. But what I experienced in Stockholm was beyond my imagination. On our first visit to the city, we booked the Under the Bridges tour , which lasts for 2 hours and 15 minutes. The boat passes under 12 of the bridges in Stockholm and all through the way, explains the history of the city, as we pass along the various attractions in the city. Stockholm is most beautiful when seen from its waters. The lock which connects the Baltic sea to Lake Malaren is one of the novelties I enjoyed. Here you get to experience how to move between two water bodies which do not maintain the same water levels. The second time, we took the Canal Tour, which was good too.
Stockholmers are famous for their love of being outdoors. And this love is enhanced by the presence of large expanses of greenery and parks , so much so that the whole of Djurgarden Island is a park. You pass through the famous blue gate into the Royal gardens of Djurgarden. We visited the Vasa Museum, Skansen open air museum, Grona Lund (the theme park in Stockholm), and the Nordic Museum, all on this beautiful island. Even though we visited this island twice during our stay, we could not cover all the attractions and ABBA museum being one of them 😦 . Vasa museum was what we enjoyed the most and what bored us was the Nordic museum, which became interesting only in the gallery dedicated to the indegenious people of Sweden, the Saami.
Alvsjo and time at home
Stockholm was fully booked, due to the peak of tourist season, when we visited there. Hence we had to split our trip and stay in 2 different apartments/hotels. But I guess it was more fun this way, and we got to explore two very different counties near the city, After about 10 days in Flemigsberg, we shifted to ApartDirect serviced apartments ,which is just a stone-throw away from the Alvsjo railway station and Stockholmsmassan, and just 2 stations away from Stockholm Central. The building was one of the tallest in the vicinity and we stayed on the top-most floor (16th floor),making the view from the apartment something worth all the money we paid. It was more like “living” in Alvsjo, than visiting the place 🙂 . Everyday, as soon as my husband went to work, I would finish cooking and explore all nearby places with my daughter. We would take long walks through the woods and explore the numerous childrens’ parks and shops in the area. We even gave a shot at exploring the library , but couldn’t find books in English. We got lost a couple of times, walked in circles, and had our very own li’l adventures. Kiddo celebrated her 5th birthday in Alvsjo and I hope it stays as a bright and happy memory when she grows up.
We were still in Stockholm when Sweden celebrated the Midsummer’s festival on June 22nd. Its a festival which is celebrated in conjuncture with the Summer solstice. We wanted to experience the celebrations and thus decided to visit the Skansen open-air museum for the same. We had time till evening, before the celebrations started, and we used it to visit Grona Lund , an amusement park right across the road from Skansen and adjacent to the famous ABBA museum. As responsible parents ,we only visited the children’s section of the theme park . I assure you,it was not because we are scared of the gigantic roller coasters which were towering over the sea ;).
We had not seen long queues in Sweden, but the entry to Skansen on Midsummer’s eve gave us that experience too. It was painfully slow , but we understood that we were at the right place to celebrate the festival, as whole of Stockholm had assembled there. Midummer’s eve festivities majorly involve, raising the Maypole and dancing and singing around the Maypole. There were special dance-drama performances which were delightful . Making and wearing a floral crown is also part of the day’s specialties. We self-learnt how to do it ,after many unsuccessful attempts. Overall it was a fun filled day of culture and celebrations.
Sigtuna and Mariefred
Sigtuna is the oldest town in Sweden and is about 48kms from Stockholm. It is a must-visit when visiting Stockholm. You just need about 3 to 4 hours to spend in Sigtuna. Its medieval architecture gives it a uniquely picturesque view. There are some churches and ruins too. The bus journey from Marsta station to Sigtuna was like a trip through fairy-land. Rich Scandinavian vegetation and farmlands form the sidelines of the road. But when we reached Sigtuna,it was raining and the weather had suddenly turned chilly. This town, like many others near Stokholm, is built on the shores on Lake Malaren, the primary source of drinking water in Stockholm and adjacent areas. The walk along the shores was soothing and relaxing. We could see many Indian families having their weekly picnics in this peaceful town. Finding a restaurant according to our culinary requirements was tough and we ended up just eating omelets. You would find very less option on the menu in Sweden if you do not eat bacon or pork/ham. Chicken dishes (Kyckling in Swedish), is a rare sight on the menu.
Mariefred is another beautiful town outside Stockholm. Unlike all other places we visited, Marifred could not be reached using the Stockholm Travel card. We had to go to Flemigsberg station and buy a ticket for Läggesta station ,from the ticket kiosk. This got us the experience of long-distance train journey in Sweden. The way from Laggesta station to Mariefred was nothing spectacular, but the town of Marifred was a feast to the eyes. Again, another town in the banks of Lake Malaren, it had numerous marinas and pathways lining the banks of serene water. We felt Malaren was most beautiful when viewed from Mariefred. This town is built around the magnificient Gripsholm Castle, which served as a fortress in the 14th century. It was different from the other castles which we had seen, in its architecture. This was our first time seeing a domed castle. Our daughter was mesmerized and couldn’t help but wonder why the royal family needed so many rooms after all. We witnessed a wedding while on the castle grounds. It felt so simple and cost-effective , unlike great Indian wedding extraveagenza. The best food we ate was in Mariefred, and cost us the least too. We had a few cirpy birds accompany us .
Those 17 days in Stockholm were some of the best, in terms of scenic beauty, calm and fulfilment. Also it was a dream come true to visit this mignificient city with family , during the best time of the year.