Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last day in Stockholm

I am once again sitting in an airport waiting for my flight.  I’m sitting in a glass enclosed café on the top level of the Arlanda airport watching snow plows trying to clear the runways.  Admittedly, even for someone who doesn’t mind flying, that is a bit disconcerting.  This is the last plane for a while, though, and I’m pleased about that.  I’m heading to Amsterdam for 3 nights and from there I will mostly be staying on continental Europe until April 21, when I head to London.  I hope to be using trains from here on out.  I’m already booked on overnight sleeper trains from Amsterdam to Prague and then again from Prague to Krakow.  I’m looking forward to staying on the ground.  Again, not because I have any fear of flying, but rather because trains will offer views of Europe other than just the clouds that float above.  Trains also move from city center to city center, while planes land in the middle of nowhere and require bus transfers to get anywhere interesting.  And I am already very tired of airport buses.    

One thing I’ve learned from taking so many buses on interstates, however, is that we all relegate the same types of businesses to the highways: industrial businesses, car dealers, big box stores, and outlet malls.  Other than words being in a foreign language, and all the snow, the Swedish interstate could be I-85.  One big difference, however, is that the exits on European highways (at least in every country so far) aren’t developed.  No gas stations, no fast food joints, no convenience stores.  Nothing but a road going somewhere else.  In fact, I’m perplexed about where Europeans buy gasoline.  I saw one Esso station on the outskirts of Edinburgh when we took the bus to Roslin, but that’s it.  I’m sure there are gas stations in the cities, but they must keep them hidden on the edges.  Another difference is that billboards are few and far between.  I saw exactly 2 on the 30 minute trip from Stockholm center to Arlanda airport.  It’s refreshing not to see them everywhere.  I also saw a couple of people on cross country skis gliding along what we would call the frontage road.  Now there’s something you don’t see back home!

I had about 5 hours in Stockholm today before I had to catch the bus to the airport.  My goal was to get to the Vasa Museum.  They have the only completely intact medieval Viking ship in the world.  But, alas, they are closed until mid-May.  I also just found out that the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is currently closed.  That is a big disappointment.  The advantage of traveling at this time of the year is that it’s cheap and there are no crowds.  But, the disadvantage is that some major sights will be closed because they use this time of year to do renovations before the high tourist season begins.  Oh well, I guess that just means I’ll have to come back!

I had taken a taxi out to the Vasa because it was snowing like crazy, but in the 15-20 minutes it took to drive there, the snow stopped and the sun came out so I decided to walk back along the waterfront.  Stockholm is such a beautiful city.  I want to come back someday in the summer so I can see all the boats going up and down the rivers and the parks in bloom.  There is a small park every few blocks.  It amazes me that even when these European cities were settled hundreds of years ago, they saw the value in preserving lots of green space for the residents. 

I stopped at a wonderful café for lunch on the way back.  I have developed a strategy for figuring out where to eat.  Restaurants in the touristy areas are expensive and, well, touristy.  I want a more authentic experience so I’ve taken to following people who look like regular working folks to wherever they are going.  In this case, I kept seeing small groups of people head down an alley behind a theatre.  From the main street I was on, you couldn’t even tell anything was down there.  As I neared a dead end, however, there was a little café…and that’s where everyone was headed.  I went in and ordered the lunch special for 49 krona (about $7.50).  Ordering anything is a bit of crap shoot because I don’t know Swedish and the menus outside the touristy areas aren’t translated into English, but I’m an adventurous eater so I just go for it.  In this case it was broccoli soup and a salad.  The café also had a self-serve bread area with homemade bread, 3 types of spreads (an olive tapenade, hummus, and a cream cheese/chive spread), and 3 types of artisan crackers.  It was fabulous!  This strategy is working well for me and I’m going to stick to it.

Time to go check on my flight.  This time I’m flying Norwegian…not Ryan Air, the no frills airline.  In direct contrast, Norwegian claims to have the newest, fanciest fleet in Europe, wifi on board, and they didn’t make me check my luggage.  I asked when I arrived and the very nice lady at the counter said that even though it was a little oversized, the flight isn’t full and it would be fine.  What a pleasant difference!

A few more pics below of my last day in Stockholm....
The sun is trying to peak out over the waterfront.

This is a little floating hotel.  It claims to have a pool and jacuzzi...but, where?

This is a theatre near the waterfront.  It was behind here that I followed locals to a café.

These gorgeous buildings face the water.  The one on the right is the Diplomat hotel and the one on the left is private apartments.  My taxi driver said the people who live there are so rich that they spend the winter somewhere else and only occupy the apartments during the summer. 

This ornate gate leads to a park near the Vasa museum.

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