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Travel, Adventures

#ostockdamhagen16 Part 1: Stockholm

I had the greatest of intentions to blog while we were traveling on our whirlwind Scandinavian trek but failed completely. We returned a couple days ago and after recovering from some of the worst jet lag I have ever experienced, I’m ready to share with you all the wonderful/crazy/stressful/exciting details of our journey. Our first stop on the #ostockdamhagen16 tour was Stockholm! I’ll admit that I’m quite the naive traveler and knew very little about Sweden before our trek but that didn’t stop us from diving right in and exploring all that Stockholm had to offer.

Let me back up a bit because you’re probably thinking, Stockholm is a random destination for a vacationYou’re right and I probably never would have visited if it weren’t for the fact that Norwegian Airlines offers insanely cheap flights from Oakland to Stockholm, nonstop no less! Our original desired destination was Amsterdam but after we realized we could fly from Stockholm to Amsterdam for the per person price of a tank of gas, we decided to make our single destination vacation a multi-city tour.

The 10-hour flight was long as expected but thankfully there were screens in the seats in front of us that offered an extensive on-demand movie, tv show and game offerings. Stockholm is 9 hours ahead of us and our anticipated arrival was noon Stockholm time which would have been 3am our time. I needed the kids to sleep at some point on the plane if I were going to have any shred of sanity upon arrival. I allowed the kids to go crazy, downloading whatever movies they wanted to watch, in hopes that they would eventually become bored and fall asleep. The airline charged an obscene amount for a meal so I brought with us a pack full of snacks that I thought would be enough to get you through our flight. Little did I know, this pack of snacks would actually carry you two through the duration of our trip. Yes, I was a little heavy-handed with the snacks.

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Pretty much had the headphones on for the duration of the flight

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Goodbye America!

Around hour 6, we all fell in and out of sleep. It was a little rough as neither kid could get comfortable so both took turns doing barrel rolls in my lap in an effort to find a sweet spot. An hour before we landed, we collectively gave up on the pursuit of sleep and instead turned our attention to the anticipation of a new country we were about to descend upon. We landed and visited our first bathroom which would be the first of 52,674 bathroom visits. We really could put together a very thorough document on the state of each and every bathroom in the Scandinavian countries. We waited in line for customs which seemed like an eternity but upon our entry to the front of the line, both kids were presented with a small airplane tag for their luggage, bearing the name Stockholm Arlanda Airport in great big shiny letters. The kids were ecstatic at the offering and quickly took a liking to Stockholm.

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Arriving in Stockholm

After we were cleared through customs, came the highly stressful task of figuring out where we were and how we planned to get to our hotel. Despite all the planning done ahead of time and even having the specific train number, you still find yourself in a fog trying to sort out how to even get out of an airport let alone buy tickets for a transportation system you know nothing about. We bought tickets for an express train that was quite expensive and suddenly I became quite worried that perhaps Stockholm would break our budget before our trip even began. After much pacing and following signs with some uncertainty, we found our train and settled in for the 20 minute trek to our hotel. Let me first start off by saying that Bart is a toilet bowl compared to this commuter train. There were comfy seats, cup holders, ample leg room. I seriously thought we were on the wrong train but then I remembered the cost of the tickets and knew instantly the reason for the price. The train agent who checked our tickets took a quick look at us and back at our tickets and pointed out that I spent too much and offered to give me a refund for the difference. Immediately I knew we were no longer in America because there is no way that Bart or Muni would ever try to help me save money. Thumbs up to Stockholm!

We arrived at Central Station and after a brief 5-minute walk, we arrived at our hotel. We didn’t plan to have a car at any time during our trip so I planned all of our hotel stays near a central station for convenience. Another travel criteria for us was a hotel room that could sleep 4 people which according to european standards, is damn near impossible. Most places wanted me to reserve 2 rooms which would have blown our budget out of the water so when I found a hotel that was within walking distance to central station and offered sleeping arrangements for 4, I jumped at the opportunity. Our room was better than expected and offered a complete bathroom and two separate sleeping areas for those moments when I need to put the kids to bed before I’m ready to turn out the lights.

I didn’t plan anything for our first day because I wasn’t sure how we would be feeling coming off of a 10-hour flight and adjusting to the time change. We were a 15 minutes walk from Gamla Stan so we decided to stretch our legs a bit and head in that direction. Gamla Stan is old town Stockholm and is mostly what you see in pictures when people post the fabulous colorful buildings of Stockholm. We were immediately presented with bicycles and canals which would maintain the running theme of our trip. Gamla Stan is beautiful with its cobble-stoned streets and towering canal houses. Parts of Gamla Stan feel like tourist traps with your typical souvenir shops and local panhandlers but the neighborhoods are still beautiful and worth walking through.

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We walked aimlessly with no real direction or idea where we were heading and turned the corner to find the row of houses I’ve seen countless times in books and on the internet. Pictures don’t do them justice. They’re big, colorful and beautiful. The architecture is wonderfully different to the styles I’ve seen in other cities and you can’t help but be in awe of the history that surrounds you from every direction. The streets are narrow and almost every corner has a cafe with rows and rows of tables lined in front of them with blankets on every chair for those who don’t mind bearing the cold in exchange for fresh air. After an early meal from one of these cafes, we returned to our hotel, tired and ready for a full night’s sleep in anticipation for a full day ahead of us.

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Per the pediatrician’s suggestion, I brought both Melatonin and Benadryl to help the kids sleep because I was deeply worried that neither kid would be able to adjust to the new time change and thus would be monsters for the duration of our trip. I’m very naive and didn’t give the medication the first night because we were all super tired and I was positive we would all fall asleep instantly and stay asleep until our normal wake-up time. Silly silly me. We did fall sleep and after what felt like an 8-hour snooze, we all awoke to discover it had only been 3 hours and it wasn’t even midnight yet. I fell back asleep no problem but was awoken what felt like some time later only to discover that it had only been 1 hour later. I awoke to both kids awake with bright eyes and excitement to start the day. Ryan and I panicked given that it was only 1am and here we were with two children who were wide awake and ready to go. In fact, Miles was already in the process of getting dressed when I realized we still had roughly 5 hours before I would accept bedtime to be over. I forced both kids back to bed while I lay wide awake in bed, questioning the trip ahead of us. Could this be the worst idea Ryan and I have ever conjured? Will we ever fall sleep? Will one of us not survive this trip at the hands of a sleep-deprived parent. In a moment of concern and panic, I quickly gave Miles and Olivia an offering of Benadryl and just like that, they fell asleep and stayed asleep until I awoke them for breakfast. Thank you, Jesus for American medication!

We went downstairs for the breakfast buffet and let me say, it was hands down the best spread I have ever seen. I’m not one for breakfast buffets but when you’re nauseous from lack of sleep, you’ll take it. I usually don’t have huge expectations for buffets having spent a lot of time in various roadside inns whose idea of breakfast buffets means a variety of sugar cereals and stale bread. I was beyond surprised to find the most beautiful spread of food I have ever seen. There was a table with pastries, meats, breads, fish, vegetables and a table with nothing but toppings to make your own granola or parfait. If you could think it, they offered it. The most amazing sight was the behemoth espresso maker that looked like a Keurig machine on crack in addition to the iPad controlled beverage dispenser that provided various juices. And the pancakes–oh, let me tell you about the pancakes! Mounds and mounds of Swedish pancakes. Oh, I died right there and every ounce of regret I was feeling the previous evening, disappeared in the mountain of food I stuffed in my face in those 16 minutes it took for me to feel full. If ever you’re contemplating a vacation destination, consider this particular hotel in Stockholm just for the breakfast–I promise you that you won’t be disappointed!

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Veggies, meats and breads table

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Any milk and yogurt you could ever want

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Variety of cereal

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Pastries

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The most interesting beverage dispenser ever

After our bellies were filled with fresh squeezed orange juice, espresso, pancakes, bacon, fruit, pastries, “citrus” eggs, yogurt, smoothies, and bread, we prepared ourselves to walk 4 miles through the city and along the canal to explore the various museums Stockholm has to offer. The walk along the canal was absolutely stunning with tall gorgeous buildings on one side and various cafes and house boats on the harbor side. We took our time, walking out to the docks on occasion to watch the passing boats and to take closer looks at the houseboats that ranged from cosy cottage to abandoned pirate-esque jalopy.

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Swedes love Rod Stewart

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The many cafes along the walk

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We crossed a bridge to the island of Djurgården where our first stop was the Vasa Museum. The Vasa museum is an impressive maritime museum displaying the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged. It is a massive ship that had sunk off the coast and was carefully put back together piece by piece. You don’t really understand the massiveness of the ship until you see it in person. The museum offered 4 floors of all sorts of facts about the ship including life in Stockholm at the time of the ship’s departure, the process in which the ship was built and even full skeletons on display from the people who had passed away when the ship sank. We were all quite captivated with the thoroughness of the museum and deemed it a very worthy visit.

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After the museum and after we talked the kids out of wanting every souvenir from the museum shop, we walked a ways up to our next destination and stumbled upon a cemetery with some tombstones that dated back to the 1800’s. Of course my guys don’t fully understand what a cemetery is and were their usual loud selves, trying to wake the dead by jumping down every walk path and scooping up handfuls of pebbles to throw at one another.

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Upon successfully calling attention to ourselves in the cemetery, we exited and made our way to Skansen which is the world’s first open-air museum dating back to 1891. I can’t say I’ve ever been to an open-air museum so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it received high reviews online and many people deemed it a must-visit destination especially with children. Skansen is one giant park with various buildings representing what life would have been like in Stockholm over the course of 5 centuries. You can walk through various buildings and settings and even see people dressed in period pieces. There are several spots within the park that you can see animals that were/are prevalent to that area one of which was the most interesting bird I had ever seen. We deemed it the dog-bird and it may not only be one of the most interesting things from Stockholm but perhaps from the whole trip. We called it the dog-bird because its mannerisms resembled that of a dog, playing with toys and wrestling with other birds on the ground. It was the most bizarre behavior I have ever seen from a bird and I so badly want one as a pet. We walked a good ways through the park and visited every bathroom before we agreed it was time to move on.

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We attempted to go to a children’s museum called, Junibacken because I heard it was featuring a Moomin exhibit and I love Moomin but when we arrived and saw the numerous strollers parked at the entrance, we quickly realized that perhaps this museum was too young for our guys. At this point, it was mid-afternoon and despite all the food we stuffed ourselves with at the buffet, we were running on fumes from the amount of walking we had done up to that point and collectively agreed that we needed a place to rest our feet for a bit. We remembered the various cafes lined along the water’s edge and decided to give one of those a try. We found one with various seating options outside and found a vacant couch where we bundled up with the offered blankets and settled in for a much needed rest. We drank lemonade and wine and feasted on french fries with the wildly popular mayonnaise dipping sauce. The kids, being American, wanted ketchup and despite our waiter claiming he would bring that to us, never did so the kids had no choice but to give it a go and by the end of our stay, they were mayonnaise dipping enthusiasts. I must say, being bundled up on that couch, watching the people pass by and the boats coming in and out of the docks, was a wonderful restful moment. We were all content just sitting and taking in the views that when the drinks were drank and the food was eaten, nobody really wanted to get up.

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Fries with mayonnaise

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After walking from hotel to hotel, trying to hijack someone’s wifi, we were able to find the location of a restaurant that had been recommended online as a good dinner option to families. Vapiano is a really interesting concept as upon entry to the restaurant, you are given a card that is scanned when you order your food from a different counter and you present your card when you leave, to pay. When you order your food, they cook your meal right in front of you so you can tell them what to add or omit from your dish. I’ll admit that when we finally sat down to eat, I was beyond tired but thankfully the wine helped make me feel somewhat normal again.

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Before wine

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After wine

When we returned to the hotel, I had promised the kids that we could swim in the indoor pool simply so I could rest my tired body in the spa. We had the pool to ourselves for the most part and were quite successful in wearing the children down to the point that we would be guaranteed a sleepful evening. Unfortunately, we were far too successful as Olivia was so tired, she spiked a fever a few hours into the evening. Thankfully, I was carrying a small pharmacy in my purse and gave her medicine super quick which brought down her temperature immediately. I’m not sure if the sleep deprivation or the fever or the medicine was the culprit but at one point in the middle of the evening, I heard a small commotion coming from the corner of our room. I looked and only saw a shadow. Not sure if it was the lamp or something else, I turned on the light to see Olivia sitting on top of the suitcase that was placed on a side chair. Her eyes were open but she was kind of curled up, staring blankly into the corner. After I was properly scared to my core, I quickly ushered her back to bed where she stayed for the rest of the evening. Thankfully.

On our final day in Stockholm, we knew we didn’t have a whole lot of time as we had a flight at 6ish that evening but we also didn’t want the day to go to waste so we decided to walk back to Gamla Stan for a meal and to find souvenirs. As we were walking again up and down the cobblestone streets, we stumbled upon the royal palace and watched the changing of the guards ceremony which intrigued Miles immensely as they were all holding large artillery and Miles is a boy and those things are important to him right now despite me telling him otherwise. Olivia found her souvenir immediately and Miles being Miles, not sure what a souvenir is, resorted to demanding all sorts of random toys from a Transformers car to a panda. We walked from shop to shop, trying to persuade him into getting something that would remind him of Sweden as he defiantly protested that a panda bear would remind him of Sweden. Our endless search brought us to another moment when a bathroom needed to be visited so we popped into a cafe that was filled with all sorts of comfy chairs and tiny tables. We decided a hot chocolate and coffee were necessary.

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Either we broke the boy down or the hot chocolate was very persuasive because he agreed upon a traditional Swedish painted wooden horse and a Sweden pin. After the souvenirs were acquired and a request was made for another bathroom appearance, we decided to head back to the hotel to collect our belongings and head back to the airport.

We deemed the Stockholm Arlanda Airport as one of the nicer airports we have ever visited and were quite successful in acquiring even more souvenirs from the various shops housed in the airport. Tim and I are still kicking ourselves that we didn’t get a tray that we had set our eyes on but neither one of us wanted to walk back 20 minutes down the corridor to retrieve them so we’re saving them for our next visit.

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Art in the airport bathroom

All in all, we were pleasantly surprised by Stockholm. I’ll be honest that I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect given my knowledge of Sweden consists of Ikea and Swedish pancakes. The city itself is quite beautiful and very clean for such a huge city. There are beggars as expected in a large city but they’re not obnoxious like the people you find here. For the most part, they’re quiet and most of them look like gypsies. The museums were quite different to the museums the kids have visited in the past and they did an excellent job at holding the kid’s interests. The people were friendly and all the establishments were very accommodating when we arrived with children. I would love to return one day to explore even more and to sample that breakfast one more time. Oh my, that breakfast…

Next post: Amsterdam!

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