What I Did in Stockholm

Stockholm is a city on the water. At least, that’s how the Swedish describe it. Before I went I never would have thought that, but the islands that make up the city of Stockholm paint that picture so beautifully. For my fiancé (Hank) and I, it was a city of convenience that, in time, became so much more. In 2015 we flew to Sweden because it was the cheapest direct flight from Las Vegas; it was our gateway to Europe. We touched down on Sunday, December 27th with the invigorating and indescribable feeling one gets when setting foot in a new land for the first time. We chose Stockholm for the price tag and considered it a place to shake our jetlag before we started our first European journey. As I described in another post, Stockholm has become so much more. On my last journey to Europe we capped our trip here, partially due to the cheap flight, but also because we knew Stockholm was a place we wanted to see again.

Lodging

For both trips we stayed at Motel L, which is a bit off the beaten path. It’s located just outside the city center, but a transit stop right out front makes it an incredibly convenient place to stay. The price was great, which was what got us to initially book. We ended up loving the location because it is slightly suburban and gave us that “living there” feel, while at the same time serving our convenience needs. I would definitely recommend Motel L if you are willing to take transit, which requires only one line change.

not a bad view when you skip transit & walk back to the hotel

Food

The food in Stockholm is often very good, but can be very expensive. Being pricey is pretty much the norm when you travel to the Nordics. Despite this, every meal we ate was hearty and delicious. As mentioned in my last post, breakfast has become my favorite meal when abroad and Stockholm is no exception. There is a term in Swedish called “fika” which is essentially a coffee and pastry break during the day. This is highly regarded and never skipped. As tourists, we were happy to oblige as it provided the perfect break from the cold. For a meal or two each trip we got the quintessential dish of Swedish meatballs. I know there are many recommended places but we stumbled into Ostermalm Saluhall (an open air market of sorts) and settled down for dinner. This is a large dining commons, filled to the brim with food vendors and quickly became somewhere I highly recommend visiting. My true favorite food in Sweden is the candy; man I eat a lot of candy when I am there, bringing enough home to last me for months and months. My favorite candy is called Polly, “a chocolate covered foam drop, distilled with arrack.” I still have some from our last trip!

Things to do

Stockholm is brimming with things to do. Yet, it also has the vibe of a relaxed city. You don’t feel like you are wasting your time if you’re wandering around, even in the dead of winter. This is how we found many of our favorite views, parks, and sites. Wandering through the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan is an absolute must. But, I encourage wandering out of the main city, into some of the side streets and neighboring islands as the beauty and views are seemingly never ending.

Besides wandering (which is always highly encouraged) I had the opportunity to see and visit several sites. On the top of most lists I’ve read is the Vasa Museum, and for good reason. In the museum is a ship that sank in 1628 and was later pulled back up to the surface and preserved within the museum 333 years later. It is truly an impressive site (plus the café is great!). We also went to the castle and the Nordiska museet, which were worth visiting once. While I am not the biggest fan of modern art I thought the Moderna Museet a worthy visit, as the displays change frequently.

inside the Moderna Museet
the incredible Vasa Museum

As someone who loves to shop, Stockholm offers a surprisingly high variety of retail options. There are several streets that are lined with stores spread throughout the city. Any given street in the old town is lined with an incredible array of shops. But, in the island right by our hotel, I discovered another set of more hip shops that made for a fun few hours.

Stockholm has become one of my favorite cities. It is one of those places I think, “I could live here one day,” even if I know it’s not a realistic possibility. Sweden is an incredibly country and if you spend enough time in Stockholm you are able to witness some of the charm that keeps me coming back.

My Third European Trip

Just this past winter I toured Europe for the third time. Once again, I travelled with my fiancée, Hank, for our longest trip, 21 days abroad. At this length one begins to bypass the feeling of a vacation and transverse into starting a new life somewhere. It’s so long that you have a moment of appreciation, knowing that a large amount of time has past, yet you have just as many days ahead. We each paid $515.21 round-trip on Norwegian Air. Like our first trip, we got the upgraded tickets to get the benefits of checked bags, seat choice, meals, and drinks. Our tickets were purchased on September 24th, 2016 for our trip spanning December 27th, 2016 to January 16th, 2017. Like it tends to happen, we needed an excuse to take another journey, and once again cheap flights proved to be the perfect reason.

A trend we follow is buying tickets with no particular destination in mind. They were cheap, the time worked out well, and we spent the previous year daydreaming of our last winter trip. This year I was slightly busier with school so we did not plan where we wanted to go until mid-November. Hank did most of the destination specific work. He mapped a few routes and, after some deliberation, we settled on the path that we took. Having such a long time in Europe meant we could extend our stays in certain destinations and visit more stops along the way. We really enjoy planning trips this way, knowing your beginning and your ending but having endless possibilities in the middle.

How we choose the “middle” of the trip is much simpler than it sounds. There are certain places we really want to go, we link them with trains or other routes of transportation, and add in stops that pique our interests. Prague and Bratislava have stood out in our hearts for some time, as they hold a familial history for both of us. We then connect the cities and add the logical stops along the way. This particular trip took us on plane, train, bus, metro, and only a taxi or two.

Here is the path that we took and one I would highly encourage for any travelers. We left Las Vegas on December 27th and after a long direct flight we landed in Oslo, Norway on the 28th. Just a few days later we left Oslo on the 30th and flew to Budapest, Hungary where we would celebrate the start of a new year. We left Budapest on the 2nd of January and took a train to Bratislava, Slovakia where we stayed only one day leaving on the 3rd. An hour-long bus ride brought us to Vienna, Austria and we were here until the 5th. A train brought us to Prague, Czech Republic on the 5th and we stayed here enjoying every second until the 8th. Then, another train ride took us to Dresden, Germany until the 10th when we left for Berlin, Germany. Berlin was a longer stop through the night of the 13th when we flew to Stockholm for our last part of the journey (and one of our favorite cities). We left Stockholm, Sweden on the 16th for a flight back to the US.

red = plane, purple = train, teal = bus

My Second European Trip

My second European trip started much like my first, on a whim. The idea of traveling abroad had been floating in our minds (mine and my fiancé, Hank’s) since my first trip. But what solidified things for us, and what I imagine prompts most travelers, was the discovery of cheap airfare. We each paid $545 for round-trip tickets on Norwegian Airlines. This was an upgraded fare that included meals, drinks, a checked bag, and the option to choose our seats. As we were going to Scandinavia in the dead of winter, we knew that our luggage would be no small matter. Plus, nine hours in the tight confines of an airplane is time best spent next to someone you enjoy. Our trip was set to be from December 26, 2015 to January 12, 2016; pretty long for two people with full-time jobs! Luckily, we had been saving our time off and, with a few federal holidays and weekends mixed in, it all worked out.

One of the great beauties of inner European travel is that, once you’re there, getting anywhere else is relatively easy. We kept this in mind when purchasing our international flights, not necessarily picking dream destinations, but places where ticket prices were cheapest. We knew we’d be going back to Europe at some point so we didn’t need to cram everything in all at once. Many hours were spent deciding on locations, looking at the best areas to stay, and checking trip advisor and Google flights. Our route was dictated by train paths, hidden gems, and recommended spots. Having the bookends planned was exciting because it meant the entire trip was to our discretion. This was Hank’s first time in Europe and our first time together, so we knew it would be special regardless.

We began with the basics, plotting points on a map, keeping our options entirely open. Once we hammered down the places we felt were musts, we looked into transportation. A good mix of airfare and train travel allowed for essential flexibility. The flights were set, but any destination that was travelled to by train was changeable. In fact, we enjoyed Bergen so much that we opted for another day there, and cut a day out of Oslo. This was also beneficial as we originally had Brussels on our tour. However, terrorist activity and heightened threat levels eventually pushed it from our itinerary (with heavy encouragement from our parents).

A visual of our path, red is plane, purple is train

Here is the trip breakdown (which I highly recommend for anyone interested in this area). We landed in Stockholm, Sweden on December 27th and then flew out on December 30th to Bergen, Norway. We stayed in Bergen until January 2nd where we took an incredible train ride to Oslo, Norway’s capital. After Oslo we flew to Amsterdam on January 4th. After three fantastic days we took a train to Hamburg on January 7th. This was a short visit and we left via train on January 9th to head to Copenhagen until January 12th. This was our first attempt at planning a long trip and overall I think we were very successful. Plus, it served as a great learning experience for future trips.