Over a year since booking our trip with Quark for our Arctic expedition of Svalbard, we were finally on our way! I could say we couldn’t get there fast enough, but with a 10 hour layover in Stockholm, we were excited to spend a day exploring this Scandinavian capital.
Above: A view of the region surrounding Stockholm from our airplane- stunning green, Baltic Sea, and islands!
Sweden’s capital’s airport is well outside the city, but taking advantage of a BOGO deal on train tickets, we were in the heart of the city in 20 minutes flat.
We spent an hour walking around the main shopping plaza of Kungstradgarden, the start point for a free walking tour we planned on joining. This was a particular exciting walking tour for us, because our friend Zenid, who was our Airbnb host and tour guide in Zagreb, Croatia last July, had since moved to Stockholm and became a tour guide there. We made arrangements with him beforehand to join his tour this morning.
His tour took us through the core commercial parts of the city, stopping by the Opera House, the Hay Market (which used to be an area of stalls for horses, but is now a farmer’s market), and learning about Swedish culture, in particular its coffee culture. Known as a “fika”, a Swedish coffee break is so much more than that. It is a social and professional requirement to engage in a drawn out enjoyment of an afternoon coffee. Fun fact- Swedes drink more coffee per capita than any other place in the world.
After the organized tour, Zenid took us, plus one other guy we befriended on the tour, around the old town, or Gamla Stan. We went near the palace, where we saw the changing of the guards, while the marching band played Avicii. Apparently the band makes a point of playing music by Swedish artists, old and contemporary, during the changing of the guards every day.
Above: Changing of the guards
While we strolled around this picturesque area of the city by the Baltic Sea, Zenid told us about Swedish welfare, and how everyone is basically provided for – it’s an expensive place to live, but social programs keep citizens living at a comfortable level. In contrast with what we saw in Australia, the work ethic, according to Zenid, is very high, where everyone wants to do their best.
Our next stop was to a beautiful, colorful square called Stortorget – Stockholm’s oldest square and the present-day home to concerts, markets, and lots of tourists. The brightness of the buildings belies its dark history- in November of 1520, 80-90 clergy and nobility were executed by the new king. This king had promised amnesty to those who had opposed his taking the throne, but went against his word when he had these individuals brought to this square and killed.
Above: Tim, Zenid and me in the colorful but morbid Stortorget square.
Leaving the Stockholm Bloodbath behind, we moved on to some more delightful aspects of Stockholm. We visited the Iron Boy statue, the smallest statue in Stockholm, at about the size of a fist. The people of Stockholm have adopted this little boy, knitting hats and scarves for him. He reminded me a bit of how locals in Brussels take care of Manneken Pis with his themed costumes. Meandering through the streets we stopped in the narrowest street in Stockholm, which is just wide enough to walk through, and then past a rune stone from the time of the Vikings that still showed its carvings.
Above: Iron Boy statue, with his little scarf
We ended our quick day in Stockholm at a restaurant that Zenid said offers good, typical Swedish food. I had a white fish with horseradish and butter, with a side of boiled potatoes. Apparently every meal always comes with a side of boiled potatoes.
At this time we had to say goodbye to Zenid and our new friend to catch our flight to Oslo. The train zipped us back to the airport in no time, and, leaving Scandinavia behind, we were truly Arctic-bound.