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Published: February 22nd 2020
Greetings from London, towards the end of another February half-term, and just after another wonderful mid-winter mini-break. Since Denmark this time last year, I have been continuing with the Scandinavia theme for my February trip, mainly for my sheer recent fascination with this region of the world: its history, beauty and people. Whilst Denmark last year was a lovely little trip, my mini trip this year to Sweden has to be one of my most enjoyable trips – short, but incredibly stunning and sweet. I really did thoroughly enjoy every moment of my time in this stunningly beautiful country.
On Sunday I was due to fly to Stockholm, where I booked myself into a lovely little apartment attached to the house of a Finno-Swedish family in the suburbs of Stockholm, which was to be my base for four nights and three full days of explorations there. I plan to write about my time there in three blog entries, one for each full day.
However, my trip very nearly didn’t happen, I’m afraid to say. Following a strong storm we experienced in the UK the previous weekend, called Storm Ciara, which also unfortunately cut my weekend away
in Sheffield down from two nights to one, this last weekend saw the arrival of the milder, but much longer Storm Dennis, which hit most of the country all of Saturday and Sunday. As a result, a number of British Airways flights were cancelled that weekend, including my own 13.20 flight from Heathrow Terminal 5 on Sunday. I only found this out upon arriving at the airport, as until then it was still scheduled to depart, and what followed was certainly one of the more stressful times of my travel experiences.
I pretty much spent the whole of the seven hours following my arrival at the airport at 10.00am in one queue or another, facing some friendly and helpful, some not-so-friendly or –helpful, BA representatives. Following my flight’s cancellation, I was initially automatically re-booked onto a flight the following morning at 7.30am flying with Finnair to Stockholm via Helsinki, a far too early flight time considering my two-hour journey to the airport from home. I joined a queue and first spoke to a lady who booked me on as a standby passenger for the next two direct BA flights that same day to Stockholm, as well as a confirmed
Gamla Stan, Stockholm
seat on the 13.25 direct flight the next day – BA would also give me accommodation for the night if need be. This didn’t seem too bad. Later, upon collecting my food vouchers for my delayed flight, another not-so-kind gentleman told me I was no longer booked as a standby for the following two flights, that BA wouldn’t give me accommodation, and I should go home and come back for the flight I was booked on the next day. I wasn’t willing to give up so easily, so I joined another queue along with several other passengers, all looking similarly stressed, to meet with a much nicer gentleman who told me I was indeed still booked as a standby, and who gave me an additional food voucher as the previous one was far too stringent. He also gave me a boarding pass which would allow me through security so I could take my chances on my standby in the departure lounge. I first had to check in at a “Flight Management” desk, where amazingly I met a lovely girl I used to work with 20 years ago, when we were both waiting on tables at a central London hotel in
my student days! Along with the previous friendly guy and his extra food voucher, meeting lovely Charlie really made my day in the middle of such stressful times! I said I was going to try my chances, even though I was apparently 16th
on the waiting list of an already full flight. I bade a fond farewell to Charlie, and once through security, enjoyed a delicious lunch courtesy of British Airways and my food vouchers, before joining another customer service queue to check up on the status of my standby position. Whilst there, the whole of the airport seemed to flood in on the customer service desks, as the IT system at Heathrow airport went into meltdown, causing utter chaos in all terminals and making headline news that day, adding to an already chaotic situation with so many cancelled flights that weekend.
This actually worked to my favour, as the problem was that no boarding gate information was being shown for any flight, so passengers were frantically trying to find out where their flight was leaving from, before running off to try and catch it, even though the departure time had often already passed. I learned that I was
My Trip Guidebook
Lonely Planet Guide to Sweden
now one of 22 standby passengers for the next flight to Stockholm, and as the first few people in front of me in the queue were told there were no places on the flight and accepted their position, I was again not going to give up so easily, and decided to head straight to the departure gate to try my luck there. Whilst there, I was one of 10 standby passengers in total who had made it thus far. Due to the IT meltdown, many more flights were delayed or cancelled, and around an hour after this new flight’s 16.05 departure time, the staff began to call us forward one by one to convert our standby tickets to checked-in tickets. Miraculously for ourselves, due to the IT meltdown, it seemed as though a number of checked-in passengers were unable to find this boarding gate. What followed was one of the most stressful experiences I think of my life, as for every checked-in passenger who now and then came running towards the gate, our hopes of being allowed on the flight were dashed just that little bit more. Indeed, each time a frantic passenger arrived, having succeeded in locating the gate,
our hearts sank that little bit more. After a big blow came in which I thought I heard one of the attendants say “move Waring to the next one” (I thought “the next one” meant “the next flight”), I was miraculously called forward as the sixth waiting list passenger to be converted, and was issued with my full boarding pass complete with seat reservation! The relief was incredible, I nearly cried. It turned out all ten of us were able to board in the end. There must have thus been a number of checked-in passengers who were unable to locate the gate of this flight due to the IT meltdown, but I had absolutely no qualms about taking my seat on it, as I had already experienced enough stress having my own previous flight cancelled. I found out later that the following flight that evening, which I was also booked in as a standby on, departed two hours late, and didn’t land in Stockholm until after midnight. And to my absolute horror, I also found out that the flight I’d been rebooked on the following day was also cancelled. If I hadn’t spent these seven hours of stress at Heathrow
Terminal 5, I most likely would not have taken this mini trip, considering it may have been reduced from four nights to two. I thanked the good Lord above for being amazingly blessed with being able to proceed with this trip, and I think this probably made the visit even more enjoyable and wonderful. Relief!
A bumpy flight later, particularly coming into land, but seemingly buoyed on substantially by the storm which must have been blowing winds from the UK up to Scandinavia, the flight only took 1 hour 40 minutes (the return flight was 2 hours and 50 minutes!!). I couldn’t believe that I was actually arriving in my destination. Normally I really don’t like bumpy flights at all, but this one didn’t bother me, as I was just so happy to be on my way to Stockholm!
So I arrived at 9pm, actually only four hours later than planned, and made my way directly to my accommodation for my time there. I’d booked myself into a stunning, and incredibly economical, apartment-style accommodation on the lower ground floor of a beautiful detached Scandinavian villa in the southeastern suburbs of the city, in an area called Trollbäcken. To
get there, I took the super-quick Arlanda Express train from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport into Stockholm Central train station, followed by a short metro ride on the T-Bana system southwards to Gulmarsplan, a suburban bus ride from there onto Trollbäcken Centrum, followed by a 15-minute walk through the late-evening chilled air of the suburb onto my lodgings. It was all rather chilled and magical, surrounded by gorgeous Scandinavian-style gingerbread houses, in this small piece of land jutting out into one of Stockholm’s (and Sweden’s) myriad of lakes, called Drevviken. I felt like I was walking in a dream, and then checking into the stunner of a room was the icing on the cake. I felt like I was very much going to enjoy my time there, and after knocking back a miniature bottle of whisky which I’d bought on the plane to settle my nerves after such a day, and a bite to eat, I settled into an incredibly cosy and comfortable first night’s sleep of my time there. I was finally on my holiday!!
The first full day of my adventures in Sweden I decided to dedicate to exploring Stockholm. After a really refreshing night’s sleep on an incredibly
comfy bed, I packed my day bag and headed back into central Stockholm once more. I was heading to Stockholm Central station again, from whence I planned to follow the Lonely Planet’s walking tour through the city, and take it from there. I first happened upon nearby Klara Kyrka just outside the station, where I enjoyed a lovely midday musical performance given by some of the parishioners. I ended up talking to one of the performers, a Finnish fellow who sang a solo baritone rendition of the Hebrew song “Kadosh”, who used to be a headteacher in one of the schools of the famed Finnish education system. It was interesting to learn of his time there, and his lamenting of what he said to be the demise of such an amazing system as children just seem to spend their time in school nowadays lounging around on iPads. He said he retired a few years previously as he found the position far too stressful – I can indeed imagine this, I am more than happy myself to be merely a teacher and have no intentions of climbing further up any ladders on that one. We bade farewell as he was off
shortly to catch his ferry back to Helsinki, and I began my walking tour from there. First, a walk around the modern, glitzy and commercial streets of Central Stockholm, taking in the shopping streets of Klarabergsgatan and Drottninggatan, the modern and incredibly cool Sergels Torg square, and the lovely area around Kungsträdgården. Having had my fill of the incredibly chic side of Stockholm, I then crossed the Norrbro bridge over to the old town of Gamla Stan, situated on a tiny island right in the middle of town. It is here where the original city was founded in 1250, as the centre of Swedish Viking political power moved away from its heartland around Lake Mäleren to the west, to this spot which was apparently easier to connect to trade routes. In fact, the whole city is built upon 14 islands, interspersed by beautiful waterways and connected by bridges. It really is a beauty of a city, and definitely captured my imagination whilst I was there. My walk around the Gamla Stan was thoroughly enjoyable, and due to my visit in mid-winter, did not seem too touristy and in many places was quite peaceful. I stopped off for lunch at one
Swedish House Flags
of the numerous and delightful little eateries in the region, where I enjoyed my first “Dagens Lunch”, like a lunch menu. In a country famed for expensive prices, I actually found my time there to be quite economical – I self-catered for breakfasts and dinners, and took advantage of these incredible lunch deals, of a slap-up meal, often with drinks included, for around £10. This one involved a delicious piece of roasted pork belly, with boiled potatoes and beetroot, all in a fish sauce – yummy!
I also impressed myself greatly at this stage by being able to conduct all of my conversation in this restaurant in Swedish, as I ended up doing in about 80% of my interactions in the country. I had also, at the train station earlier, bought my train ticket to Uppsala the following day in Swedish, and was really getting to enjoy speaking the language. For a few months prior to my visit, I was using the amazing DuoLingo App to learn the language, and felt really quite confident in being able to communicate during my time there in the local language. I understand that most people in Sweden actually speak English, but I
Swedish House Flag
always try to learn local languages when I visit a place, as I find myself feeling quite awkward expecting everybody to be able to communicate with me in my language, whilst in their country. And to their credit, pretty much everyone also responded back to me in Swedish, and I just about got the gist of everything – a couple of times I did have to ask for a translation into English, but most of the time I got by. I thought the Swedish people also appreciated my taking the time to learn their language, and many appeared quite pleasantly surprised at this. It didn’t seem a difficult language to learn – although the pronunciation is quite tricky, particularly the “sj” and “sk” sounds, the grammar is not too taxing, and many words are actually quite similar in English. When learning Spanish, I tended to think of the posh, Latinate English word for something, and that also seemed to be the word in Spanish (“tranquilo” for quiet, or the posher word “tranquil”, for example). In Swedish it is the other way round – you have to think of the coarse, brusk word in English for something, and that can often
be its equivalent in Swedish (“scräp” meaning rubbish, similar to scrap in English; “stark” meaning strong; “tändare” meaning lighter, similar to “tinder”; and “drag” meaning “pull”, like drag; to name but a few examples). I imagine this comes from the fact that the Latinate words in English generally arrived with the Norman invasion via Norman French, and thus became the language of the posh ruling classes, whilst those descended from the Vikings from Scandinavia, as well as the Saxons from Germany, tended to be the poorer classes, and probably whose language came to develop into the coarser, more rougher types of words we have today in English. I really do find languages, and learning them, fascinating, and I feel that investing a bit of time in this can give the visitor a unique insight into a country’s culture and history. I was so glad to have invested all those hours in learning Swedish, even if only for a few days in the country – time well spent I’d say!
So after lunch I finished off my walk around the Gamla Stan, by taking in Stockholm’s narrowest lane, Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, at a mere 90cm wide, and a nice little
purchase at Gamla Stan’s Viking Shop, "Handfaste", of a wrought iron tealight-holding Viking boat (a wonderful treasure to my mind, though I’m not sure how the original Vikings would have responded to tealights…!). This was my one and only souvenir purchase during my time there, as I currently feel the desire to reduce my souvenir purchasing whilst on trips to only those which really catch my eye – this beautiful item certainly did! This is because I am running out of space to store or display my souvenirs at home, it will save my backpack filling up like crazy, and will also save a bit of money I’m sure…!
I returned to Stockholm Central once more via a pass by the city’s stunning and oft-photographed Riddarholmskyrkan, on the western edge of the Gamla Stan, with not another tourist in sight whilst there, and an incredibly breezy walk along the Centralbron bridge, taking in incredible westward views over the Riddarfjärden lake and equally famous Stadshuset beyond. Stockholm really is a beauty on water.
My time in central Stockholm was not yet complete though, as I’d planned a relaxing visit to the city’s most famous sauna complex, the Centralbadet, that
evening. Ah, I still very much miss my Japanese onsen, and to visit another country famous for its sauna culture was just wonderful. Although a little overpriced, I very much enjoyed my time in the Centralbadet, with its numerous types of saunas and hot baths to try, as well as a beautifully-lit, large bathing pool, and left just as it was getting really crowded with city workers seemingly there to unwind after a busy day at the office. In that blissful, post-spa dream-world state, I took the T-Bana and bus back once more to Trollbäcken, stopping off at its local supermarket, Hemköp, to stock up on my self-catering supplies for the rest of my time there. For the equivalent of two meals out, I was able to buy my three (microwave) dinners, sides, desserts, breakfasts, snacks, drinks and beers for the rest of my time in Sweden – money well spent!
That evening I settled into the classic and delicious dinner of Swedish meatballs with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce, followed by a Kannelbulle, or Cinnamon Bun (a sweet Swedish speciality), and washed down with a couple of Norrlands Guld Swedish beers – perfect! This was followed by another
wonderful night’s sleep in my accommodation’s cloud of a bed.
I was looking forward very much to my second full day in Sweden, which I will write up about in my next one.
Until then, thanks for reading, and all the best for now 😊
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