Our first day in Stockholm, actually began in Helsinki. We had a flight at 4pm, so we decided we’d grab brunch and tour the Helsinki Design District before heading over to the airport, as our guide book said, “Though Helsinki can seem a younger sibling to other Scandinavian capitals, it’s the one that went to art school, scorns pop music, and works in a cutting-edge studio.” How could we resist touring this area?
Armed with a map (below), we set out on foot to explore the Punavuori neighborhood, wandering through antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, and showrooms, hoping to collect: (1) a simple, white cube for Jim and (2) something decidedly Finnish for me.
One of our first stops was at a restaurant/bakery/cafe – Ekberg Cafe on Bulevardi. We opted for a light brunch (coffee, hot chocolate, and Finnish Cardamom Rolls. It was a chilled morning/early afternoon, so strolling with hot chocolate and a pastry felt perfect.
We wandered into a number of stores, one that stands out was a home store that was also a coffee shop (folks were sitting on furniture that was also for sale). I think our expectations were a little out of sync with reality when it came to boutiques and little shops. We’d like to blame San Francisco. Turns out, Helsinki boutiques and San Francisco boutiques have quite a bit in common. In the end, we did find a store with a near perfect white cube for Jim, but it was closed, and I ended up purchasing a tote from Marimekko, a Finnish Design House (which I believe also has stores internationally).
All in all, Helsinki was a lovely city, well-worth visiting. If I could’ve done one thing differently, it would’ve been a trip to a sauna. Next time. If you missed the other two blogs on Helsinki, please find them Kiitos, Helsinki (Day 1) and Fortresses & Coffee, Helsinki (Day 2).
After a quick hop on the ‘I’ train back to the airport, we had an up and down flight to Stockholm. Upon reading cabs weren’t regulated in Sweden we decided to master Swedish public transportation. As such, we hopped on the Arlanda Express from the airport and switched to the metro at Stockholm Central Station. It was expedient (reminded me of the Heathrow Express in London), clean, and provided wi-fi. I’ve read a few things that it’s not the most cost effective, but it was easy, fast, and pretty inexpensive (about $28), so we’d recommend it. Purchasing a metro ticket was a little more complicated.
Now, I’ve seen crazy rush hour traffic before, as I’ve been to NYC, London, Philadelphia, San Francisco, but Stockholm rush-hour traffic was insane. INSANE. For about 20 minutes we were surrounded by mad dashes (in both directions) heading toward this or that train. In the middle of all this was me and Jim making our way from the train station up to the metro station to a kiosk to buy a ticket and understand which direction we needed to go to arrive in Sodermalm (only 2 stops from Central Station). Once we figured out our direction, we hopped on the train and were at our station in less than 10 minutes and moving toward our hotel.
The weather was nice – a bit windy, a little brisk, and partially sunny. We decided we’d head out and explore Gamla Stan or Old Town (area in the featured photo). There’s a bridge with a walking path (and bike path) from Sodermalm over to Gamla Stan, which I’d say takes maybe 10 minutes to cross (if that long, probably closer to 7), so I’d recommend saving some kroner and putting on your walking shoes. We’d heard this view coming over the bridge was one of the prettiest in all of Stockholm, really highlighting the saffron buildings and historic skyline. It’s true. It’s absolutely stunning and picturesque.
Once in Gamla Stan, we walked toward and then down Vasterlanggatan, which was covered in souvenier shops, cafes, and other various shops. This is also where we had our first experiences with Pokemon Go. First, I had noticed a few stores/restaurants had mentioned having Poke Stops via Yelp or on the boards outside. I had initially (and wrongfully) thought poke (raw fish) was popular in Stockholm. It surprised me, but I’d never been here. It was only when a kid stepped on my foot and then I saw a hoard of kids running back and forth all screaming about which direction to go next. Then it hit me. We were in Pokemon Go territory. This was (definitely) foreign territory, as I don’t believe France had Pokemon Go (until a few weeks ago maybe). If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a clip from some folks in Taiwan. It felt like that. It was wild.
Once we escaped that, we managed to caught what we thought was the evening changing of the guard at the palace (Kungliga Slottet). After watching some You Tube videos like this one, we definitely did NOT see the changing of the guard. This is a bit of a bummer, as we could’ve caught it the following day, but thought we’d already seen it. Knowing it’s this elaborate, I’d recommend it to other folks. After we saw that, we continued around the exterior of the palace and also the Storkyrkan or The Great Church (also the oldest church on Gamla Stan) then across another bridge and into Norrmalm, where we saw Jacob’s Kyrka and a huge set up for a Swedish concert on Kungsträdgården, so we didn’t get to really experience/see it for all it’s beauty.
We soon decided it was time to eat and settled on Stockholms Gastabud, a traditional Swedish pub back on Gamla Stan (see below). It was windy and cold outside, but this restaurant was cozy, warm, and inviting. We probably arrived close to 7pm. The restaurant was completely full. We inquired about a table and were told by a hostess/waitress (who looked a bit like Sinead O’Connor) there were about 5 parties in front of us, and she thought it would be about a 30-45 minute wait, but we could order a beer and wait outside if we liked. We did like. The wait was well worth it (I’d say they had 2-3 seatings that night and folks were still coming after 9pm looking for a table only to be turned away). We worked up serious appetite and ordered appetizers (goat cheese & pickled beets for me, smoked salmon on toast for Jim), entrees (Swedish meatballs, potatoes, pickles, and lingonberries for me, pork cheeks, mashed potatoes, lingonberries, microgreens for Jim), and split an apple crumble dessert all paired with some Swedish beers. Oddly or interestingly, I’d never had Swedish meatballs, and I’m not sure if I’d ever had lingonberries in a savory dish. Who I presume was the owner and/or head chef delivered our meals and told us he hoped we’d like them. He gave us the tip that the meals would be best enjoyed if all elements were mixed together. Let me just say, that man is a genius. Should you find yourself with beef, potatoes, and lingonberries, please mix them all together. You can thank me and this man later for the pro tip. You won’t be sorry.
After we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant, we started our walk across Gamla Stan and back into Sodermalm, looking back on the bridge to see the city at night, excited about our further explorations the next day.