Several weeks ago I found myself scrolling through the lists of flights on Skyscanner at 2am; searching for the cheapest and most convenient flights to any place that looked appetising enough to lure me in for a weekend. As expected, there happened to be a long list which almost fitted my criteria. I then faced the ultimate dilemma – Where?
A trip to Stockholm caught my eye; Friday to Sunday and only costing £35, departing from Stansted Airport at 08:00AM, and returning at 2:15PM on the Sunday. Despite the extra logistics of journeying to Stansted from Bristol, this was still by far the most attractive choice available to me. Several minutes later, I had an email form Ryan Air confirming my booking. I looked up from the screen of my phone and out into the silent and still night sky with the feeling of excitement beginning to tingle behind my knees (I don’t know why, but that’s where I feel it manifest – strange eh?), and a clear mind looking forward to my trip as opposed to the negative, unmotivated and anxiety-ridden thoughts swirling in my head of late. I had something to work towards.
In what felt like a blink-of-an-eye later, it was 8pm Thursday evening, and I was sat comfortably upon a Coach feeling more relaxed than I had in a long time (who the hell feels relaxed – and comfortable – on a coach?), on my way to Victoria Bus Station in London. Where I was to then get a connecting bus to Stansted Airport. All costing me £17.50, therefore being a much cheaper alternative than driving and paying to park.
Now, this was very much an attempt at a cheap weekend away in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. The transportation there and back therefore, was chosen due to its cost-effectiveness and not for its efficiency. This basically meant that even though my flight departed at 08:00AM Friday morning, I began my journey to said flight 12 hours previously and had to spend 5 hours sleeping on a cold, hard marble airport floor (not recommended unless your skills in this respect have been tried and tested). An interesting piece of Trivia – Although Ryan Air say they fly to Stockholm, what they really mean is they fly near Stockholm. Which meant further travel time of 1.5-2 hours to reach the city upon landing in Sweden was required. I don’t recommend this unless you’re really comfortable with travel – it took me around 16-17 Hours to reach the city of Stockholm.
2pm Friday afternoon and I’m standing outside the central bus terminal, after several volleys of messages between me and my friend Emelie. Now I use the term ‘Friend’ at this moment in time loosely – Although I do genuinely consider Emelie a friend, and think a lot of her, at this moment in time we were really just acquaintances. On account of only spending possibly 2 hours together, 6 months previously at a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand. But, we got on enough that we kept in touch since and so here I was stood in the middle of a foreign city with no real plan, when a smiling, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swedish woman gives me a hug and leads me off into the maze that is Stockholm’s Central Terminal to find our way to my hostel –Skanstulls Hostel. (Thank-you, Emelie!). Skanstulls was clean, friendly, and a competitive price at £26 per night. It’s close to amenities, and literally 200m from the metro line. – I definitely recommend. I managed to get a 24-hour transport pass for 120SEK, where it is valid on trains, buses, trams, and certain boats (there are also 72-hour tickets available as well as longer periods).
Checked-in, a brief wash and a change of clothes later and we were heading out for a brief meeting as Emelie had plans later that day. I had asked her to show me a little of what Swedish people do on a Friday. It seems nothing really changes, no matter where you are in the world – Friday afternoons/Evenings are reserved for a nice cold beer. A few beers and a few train rides later, I get invited to join Emelie and her friends for a barbecue (seeing as the heatwave we received in the U.K also hit Scandinavia). All in all – my first day in Stockholm resulted in me catching the metro back to my hostel near mid-night, exhausted, fairly drunk, and with a huge smile on my face regardless of the early alarm I had set for myself the following morning.
06:00AM came around, and my alarm sounded. I opened my eyes and found myself over-the-moon. No fatigue from travelling for a long period of time, or from lack of sleep. and more importantly – no hangover! I Jumped up, showered, packed my bag for the day and was out at a local McDonalds (the only place open to get breakfast) by 07:00AM. Taking my coffee to go, I hopped on the Metro Line to the Gamla Stan station (Known as old town), where many of Stockholm’s’ tourist attractions reside. I was a man on a mission. I was a super-tourist. Walking through the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, with no one in sight. Meandering as the crisp, cold, shaded streets gave way to pockets of warm sunlight. Being the Eager-Beaver I was, I had to actually wait outside my first destination for it to open – Storkyrkan Cathedral. A small, yet beautiful church with breath-taking architecture full of oil paintings, ornate sculptures (one particularly large, depicting St. George killing a dragon), an ornate Organ, and high-vaulted catenary-arched ceilings. I took some great photos here and definitely recommend seeing it. Also, you can get free entry with a Stockholm Pass.
After the cathedral, I wanted to visit the Nobel Museum, which luckily is situated around the corner from the cathedral (takes roughly a minute to walk to). As I was super early, and the museum didn’t open until 10AM, I found myself sat outside of a café down a narrow, cobbled street having yet another coffee and soaking in the quiet peaceful streets – I have a thing for fresh, peaceful mornings, taken from the morning sat in silence, watching the sunrise over Kopan Monastery in Nepal (a story for another time). I won’t go into too much detail about the Museum as you can find out about it here. But, I will say; It left me feeling inspired by the possibilities of what our species has achieved, as opposed to being disappointed with our capability to destroy the planet and ourselves – for which we are repeatedly reminded of.
Stumbling out of the Museum and into the brightly lit square – now relatively full of tourists trying to make the most of the sunny weather – I headed to the opposite side of the cathedral where I found the Royal Palace(also free entry with the Stockholm Pass), displaying its regal architecture and ornate decorations. It was a little expensive price for entrance at roughly £10-£15 but remember; Stockholm is pretty expensive anyway. With the Ticket you get to see the Royal Apartments, antiquities, and a museum explaining the history of the Palace, from its construction to the medieval defences implemented within its design and the modifications since. it was everything you would imagine a royal palace to be; regal, elegant, and imposingly magnificent; with its velvet cushioned seats, huge crystal chandeliers, and detailed oil paintings.
From the Royal Palace I grabbed a Bus, then a tram, to the most important tourist attraction in the entire country – The ABBA Museum! I say that, but personally it wasn’t my cup of tea – if you’re with a group of friends, it would be great with its interactive exhibits, karaoke etc, but it isn’t made for the solo visitor. Still, the novelty was rather great but not worth the entrance fee – 250SEK (around £20 per adult!)
Another huge attraction in Stockholm is the oldest Open-Air museum in the world – Skansen. With its traditional Swedish villages, depicting the iron mongers workshop, the markets, and various other scenarios of culture and tradition within Swedish history. It is very similar to St. Fagans in wales in this regard, only around 10 times the size and clearly a lot more resources at its disposal. Also, to my discovery – this was a place where you don’t go solo and was made very aware of the fact everyone was clearly either with their families or on a date. This being said, I still enjoyed having a wonder around and seeing the structures which seem so alien due to their stark differences to the traditional architecture in the U.K.
This brought me up to the closing time of Skansen (4PM), and I proceeded to make my way back to Gamla Stan and wander the streets again – albeit crowded at this time, unlike the morning. 6pm quickly came around and I found myself stood across the street from the entrance to the metro station as a Swedish rock-star lookalike ascended the stairs to the Exit – Oskar. I had met Oskar 5-6 months previously in Hanoi, Vietnam, through a mutual friend of ours; Serkan. The three of us proceed to spend the following three weeks together on a road trip 3000km south to Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon). Catching a 2-hour bus from Uppsala – some 200km away – and working an 11-hour shift prior to that, I cannot express how grateful I am of his effort to meet me in Stockholm (cheers buddy). We spent the following 4 hours drinking and catching up, as well as enlisting the company of an elderly pair of women sat next to us, while a Swedish band played folk music in an Irish bar. 11pm came around and with it, a walk through the maze that is the Central Metro Station with a twist – we were both pretty drunk with no idea where to go. After a while of wandering around, we found Oskar’s train which would take him to Uppsala (which he was then to fall asleep on, miss his stop, and have to get a tax, in true Oskar-fashion), and then I found my way back to my Hostel.
The following day consisted of a 9-hour journey back home. A lot speedier than the journey to Stockholm, but with the added sadness of my short weekend getaway having ended. A great weekend, catching up with great friends, and exploring a new city in a new country.
A weekend well spent.