Exploring the Stockholm Harbour and Palace

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February 11th 2012
Published: February 21st 2012
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Stockholm Harbour Tour

This is the route we took on our harbour. Keep in mind that most of the harbour is frozen in February, so we were breaking ice most of the way! The little island that we went around at the far eastern point of our tour is where Absolut Vodka was created. It was made here because, at the time, the City of Stockholm had a monopoly over alcohol production within the city limits. This island was just outside the city. When they started the distillery, they sold over 1.5 million litres of vodka in a year... that's a lot of vodka.

This morning we headed down to the docks and embarked on an ice-breaking harbour cruise around the harbour islands. It was a neat adventure because overnight, much of the harbour had re-frozen, and being the first cruise of the day, the boat had some ice-breaking duties to clear a path for other boats. It was neat to see how far Stockholm stretched out (over 14 islands). We learned that 50% of Swedes have access to a cottage (owned by someone in their immediate family), and one in ten own a boat. It's no wonder these guys are the happiest nation in the world! We wanted to take a cruise through the archipelago, but we didn't have enough time. Either way, this was a nice way to see the islands, and since it was so cold out (-4 C, but it felt much more bone chilling than that), we waffled between being up on deck (covered by blankets, and enjoying the scenery) and being in the warmth below.

After the cruise, we made our way to the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan (old town), to see the changing of the guard. First we stopped to get warm (after the cold cruise) at a cute little cafe in Old Town. We had bowls (yes, bowls!) of hot chocolate and ate a local delicacy pastry called Semla (like a cream filled bun with icing sugar over it). Once we were warm, we scurried to see the guards change at the palace, which is still inhabited today by the Swedish Royal Family. After the guards were changed, we set off into the castle to see the royal apartments, to see the Swedish crown jewels, and to explore the ancient tunnels under the castle walls (where the original castle had been built). The previous palace, which was built during the 1600s, was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1697. The surviving wing was incorporated into the new palace built to replace the damaged one.

After seeing the Palace, we thought we had explored enough of the old town, and wanted to see more of the city itself, so we rode the subway into a different part of town. The first stop we took, turned out to be a boring residental area, so we got right back on the train to another part of town. We headed to this part of town because we were looking for a cheaper place for dinner (everything in Stockholm is VERY expensive, we couldn't find a restaurant that had even burgers for less than 25 pounds, or 250 kroners!!!). Before searching for a dinner spot though, we hiked up a bit of a hill (this neighborhood is on another island on the cliffs overlooking downtown) and caught some great glimpses of the frozen harbour and of the city. Very beautiful! Once the dinner search began, we got a little discouraged: most of the pubs or restaurants we walked past were charging something like $29 per person for dinner... obviously that was out of the question! After searching and searching, we came across a cafe that had what seemed like more reasonable prices. We ended up having a couple of jacket potatoes for about £10, so that was alright!

On our way home after dinner, we had a bit of extra time on our subway day passes, so we stopped off at a few subway stations. Apparently each station is uniquely decorated, so we wanted to see what different ones look like.

Here's a couple of observations we've made of Stockholm so far:

1) They're really into outdoor sports, but skiing especially. From the moment we arrived, we saw ski ads all over the place. Furthermore, it is probably one of the few places in the world that you will see a family riding the subway with their ski stuff on, and holding their poles and skis (although the skis were in a ski bag, they had their poles out). They were obviously headed out to do some skiing at a local place that was accessible by subway. This is our kind of city! (Although of note, there weren't any large mountains immediately surrounding the city, so it must have been a small ski area).

2) Stockholm is to 7-11 as Toronto (or Vancouver or ____insert north american city here____ ) is to Starbucks. You cannot walk a block without seeing at least one 7-11 convenience store in the city!!! They are obsessed.

3) They have a real cafe culture. We're not talking a starbucks or other chains cafe culture. More than any place we've been to, we saw an incredible number of coffee shops. It seems like people in Stockholm frequent coffee shops just as people in England frequent pubs. On that note, there weren't nearly as many pubs in Stockholm. But all the coffee shops are more cozy than chains like starbucks, cafe Nero (in London) etc. They seem to be independent (except for one chain we saw a lot, but even they looked much cozier), and also served warm foods and sandwiches. Alternatively, in London you would be hard pressed to find a coffee shop that is not Cafe Nero, Starbucks or Costa Coffee.

Additional photos below
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The Vasamuseet From the OutsideThe Vasamuseet From the Outside
The Vasamuseet From the Outside

The Vasamuseet is a museum about the ship Vasa that sunk in the harbour on her maiden voyage... see tomorrow's blog for our visit here!
A Neat PathA Neat Path
A Neat Path

Stockholm is quite hilly... and in the winter, quite icy. In a particularly interesting part of the landscape - where a bunch of roads went down steep hills before intersecting with one another - this upper level walkway was built. Presumably so that pedestrians don't have to slide down the hill only to climb up the hill again after walking around the corner. Many buildings have also incorporated it into upper level entry ways.

22nd February 2012

Enjoy your blogs. keep them coming. Enjoy but be careful. We love you.
22nd February 2012

Name of that cute cafe?
Hi, I went to the exact same cafe where you had "hot chocolate and a semla"! Do you happen to remember the name of the cafe? I'd really like to know so I can pass it on to friends & family! Thanks in advance! And looks like you had a great trip to Stockholm! I loved the city too!!
9th April 2012

Name of the Cafe
Hi there! Sorry, but we can't remember the name of the cafe either! We could probably remember how to get there, but that won't help you!

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